Gurdjieff - Appealing and Appalling

"Know Thyself" is an ancient teaching for awakening. The teachings of Gurdjieff about self observation as a means of knowing the self have caught my attention and current fascination. Excited about his teachings, I immediately ordered a half-dozen books by or about Gurdjieff, indulging my addiction to books and assuaging my conscience about said indulgence with the excuse that, after all, it is for research and they are Christmas presents to me... from me. I've nearly finished "Meetings with Remarkable Men" written by G. I. Gurdjieff, so that I can neatly wrap it and put it under the tree in plenty of time for Christmas. At the same time, I've been reading Red Hawk's Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience: an Owner's Manual (another early Christmas present, I confess) a book about applying Gurdjieff's teachings regarding self observation to "Know Thyself." Thankfully, Red Hawk writes in a no nonsense, straight forward manner about how to practice self observation. Gurdjieff's writings are anything but straight forward.

Red Hawk describes the four principles of self observation to observe self in whatever activity of thought, behavior, or feeling. Observe self (1) without judgment, (2) without changing what is observed (if you change it, you've judged it), (3) with attention on bodily sensation and a relaxed body, and (4) with ruthless self honesty.

With ruthless honesty, I admit, I observed myself in perpetual judgment, mildly shocked, sometimes horrified at his schemes and scams (judgment) for making money, as I read Gurdjieff's "Meetings with Remarkable Men." The captured, clipped, dyed sparrows sold as exotic birds scam, I found particularly appalling. (judgment, stiff spine, stomach tight) An enigma in his own time, Gurdjieff is mercurial viewed through my modern lens. (Judgment) Although few in number, references to women as hysterical and weak-natured did arise and intimated misogynistic inclinations. (judgment) But then, this was 100 years ago, in a patriarchal culture with different views of morality and rights. (judgment) And so on.

With ruthless honesty, I can say that "Meetings with Remarkable Men" is entertaining (judgment) and does have some gems of inspiration (judgment), and is sometimes annoyingly vague and obtuse (judgment, stiff spine, tight stomach.) Will I read it again? I must. At the very least, it's a great tool for the practice of self observation. But then, wasn't that Gurdjieff's point? Self observe? Know Thyself? Awaken?