NOTE: This post was published in the Gurdjieff Internet Guide in March of 2003.
Toward the end of my fourth reading of Beelzebub’s Tales, late in 1986, it dawned on me that the book I was reading and studying was the best theoretical and experimental book I had ever studied.
My first experimental efforts were directed to the work of my hero Gornahoor Harharkh, as presented in the chapter The Arch-Preposterous. As I began to study his experimental work in greater detail, I soon realized that the inner sanctorum of his Khrh or Workshop on the planet Saturn was an alchemic and meditation workshop. I decided to join a Chan (Zen) meditation group. The course emphasized one of the three basic practices of Chan meditation, the so-called mindfulness-of-breath, which is the one I really needed for my experimental work. And for four years I was an active member of the group and my practice of following the breath was of great help.
During my fourth year at the meditation center, I began to discover something new in me. I began to notice that I was getting very tired and very fatigued even when I was doing nothing. Some days, I felt very dense and very heavy. I would sit down to read a book or to watch a movie, and in a matter of minutes, I would fall asleep. Even during the practice of sitting meditation, I had difficulty in keeping awake. I always noticed a heavy movement of energy flowing up and down along my spine, particularly during sitting meditation. I asked the Abbot at the meditation center for some explanation and he told me not to pay attention to it, that I was too much identified with my body, that it was probably a manifestation of my Chi.
After I left the meditation center, my denseness and heaviness were becoming unbearable. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt a strong pull down my spine, like a gravitational force that was trying to pull me down to earth, and I would fall asleep. I decided to immerse myself in a fifth reading of beelzebub’s tales. And something very interesting happened. During the time I was reading the book, I did not feel any heaviness or sleepiness. In fact, my attention intensified. But as soon as I stopped reading the book, my heaviness and sleepiness were back. During this fifth reading of the tales, I began to look for some specific answer to my personal problem. As part of my search, I also read a very interesting book with the title SPONTANEOUS HEALING, which had the following paragraph:
After conducting many experiments, Becker concluded that limb regeneration in salamanders is not fundamentally different from bone healing in humans. It, too, depends on tiny electric currents that make cells differentiate and then dedifferentiate into all the components of a new leg. His general conclusion was that, in theory, humans should have this same ability. That is, all the circuitry and machinery is there; the problem is simply to discover how to turn on the right switches to activate the process.
Maybe because I am an electrical engineer, this statement awoke in me the feeling that my problem could very well be related to certain electricity in my body that I did not know what to do with. I immediately got hold of Becker’s book and read it with great interest and enthusiasm. His book, the body electric, is one of the most fascinating popular scientific books I have ever read. Its main theme is the role electricity plays in limb regeneration, particularly in salamanders, and in bone healing. However, neither of the two books helped me in determining a possible connection between electricity and my personal problem.
In the book GURDJIEFF: ESSAYS AND REFLECTIONS ON THE MAN AND HIS TEACHING, there was a chapter on questions and responses, between Gurdjieff and one of his disciples:
Dr. B: I would like to ask a question about the relationship between work and fatigue. It seems to me there is a difference between work efforts and automatic efforts. Outer work takes energy. Inner work is the opposite——it should accumulate energy. It should even be restful if it is done correctly. But for me it is the opposite. At the moment of making an effort something believes that the gates through which energy escapes will close automatically. But it’s the opposite. I become tired. I lose my energy.
GURDJIEFF: Consciously, we eat the electricity that is in the body and transform it. This establishes in us a force. In ordinary life you automatically lose this. But here it’s not the same thing; it’s not the same kind of fatigue. This other fatigue has a future. It’s tiring but it brings you a substantial result. It refills your accumulators. If you continue, a certain substance will refill your accumulator. Today, the more you tire yourself, the more your organism will produce this substance.
The feeling that my problem could be caused by some electricity in my body became a certainty. It did not take too much thinking to make the connection between my heaviness and my fatigue and the fact that I was, at a subconscious level, eating the electricity in my body. But the question remained, what to do? How to bring the process of eating the electricity from my subconscious to my consciousness so I could work more consciously on the entire process? Unfortunately, the exchange between Mr. Gurdjieff and his disciple did not provide an answer to my question. Could it be possible that Gurdjieff provided an answer to this question in Beelzebub’s Tales?
I went like this for several weeks, thinking about my problem and my question while at the same time continuing with my fifth reading of beelzebub’s tales. Then, in one of those instances described by Nassr Eddin’s dictum, “one can never know who might help you to get out of galoshes,” I found the answer to my question right there in the tales. I was finishing the chapter The Bokharian Dervish Hadji-Asvatz-Troov when suddenly the “Eureka!” on page 916 became my own “Eureka!”
I’ll begin by quoting the parts in Beelzebub’s Tales I used for the formulation of my experiment. They all come from the chapter on the Bokharian dervish:
We entered this cave and began moving forward when I noticed that our way was lit up alternatively by what are called gas and electricity.
Although this lighting astonished me and several questions about it arose in me, I nevertheless decided not to disturb the serious attentiveness of my fellow traveler (p. 873).
During those four days he further demonstrated and explained to us much more concerning the “laws of vibrations”; but the most interesting thing for me personally was his last explanation about why and how, in that wild place remote from any place of the grouping of contemporary terrestrial beings, in this underground domain of his, there came to be gas and electric lighting (p.907).
And so, when I enquired about the methods of the gas and electric lighting in this underground kingdom of his, he related to me the following:
The causes of the origin of these two kinds of lighting are entirely different, and each of these two kinds of lighting has its own independent story (p.908).
The narrative continues on through pages 909 and 910 explaining how gas had been brought from a nearby cave where it flowed underground in natural form. Once in the main section of the dervish’s cave, it was distributed by means of “bamboos” and inflamed to produce lighting.
As for the appearance in our caves of electric lighting, the history of its origin is as follows:
Soon after we had settled in these caves, there once came to see me through a very old friend of mine also a dervish, a still very young European traveler who sought my acquaintance on account of always this same action of the laws of vibrations which interested me (p.910).
The narrative then continues through pages 910 to 915 explaining how this young European traveler, who was very much interested in the study of the laws of vibrations and soon became a good friend of the Bokharian dervish, had discovered the causes of cancer and the possibility of curing this disease by means of vibrations. After a short acquaintance with the dervish, he had returned to his native country where he had married. Then, after many years during which he was always in contact with the dervish, he had come back to the cave in search of his friend for the purpose of experimenting on the laws of vibrations. For this effect, he had brought with him several devices such as an X-ray machine, accumulators or batteries and lots of materials for electric wiring. It transpires from the story that his wife had fallen victim to cancer and just when he was ready to prepare himself to employ the cure he himself had discovered, he fell under an automobile and although not killed, he received serious injuries. It is evident from reading the story that the young European friend is a disguise of Gurdjieff himself.
And already three days after his arrival, that began which was the cause of the arising of permanent electric lighting in our caves. And it began in the following way: As we were making certain experiments by means of my vibrometers and calculating the vibrations of the electric current which produces x rays in the Roentgen apparatus, we noticed that the number of vibrations of the electric current obtained by means of these Bunsen elements, all the time either increased or diminished; and because the number of vibrations in a certain length of time were most important for our elucidations during the flowing of the electric current, it then became clear to us that that kind of electric current was absolutely useless for the elucidation we required.
This constatation of ours very much discouraged and depressed my young friend.
He immediately ceased the experiments he had begun and began to think.
The following two days he thought unceasingly even during meals.
At the end of the third day, as we were going together to the section where we usually had our repasts and were crossing the little bridge in the main section of our caves built over an underground stream, he suddenly stopped and striking his forehead, cried out excitedly “Eureka!”
The outcome of that exclamation, then, was that on the next day, with the help of several hired Tadjiks, there were removed from various ancient and deserted mines lying nearby, “lumps” of three kinds of “ore” as large as could be removed; and these were placed in a certain order in the bed of our underground stream.
Then after laying that ore in the bed of the stream, he very simply connected from the stream two what are called terminals to the slightly charged accumulators which he himself had brought, and owing to this, the electric current of the famous what is called “amperage” began to flow into these accumulators (915-916).
I had read these passages at least four times in my previous readings. I must say that every time I read them, particularly the two paragraphs above, I had the feeling that Gurdjieff was trying to tell us something that in reality had nothing to do with the actual generation of electricity. I always thought that even on the assumption that electricity could indeed be generated as it is described in the text, which theoretically is possible, the amount of electricity so generated would be insufficient to light a cave. The story about gas lighting is more credible. In this context, it is interesting to observe that the gas used in providing lighting to the cave came from another nearby cave, while the electricity used for lighting came from the cave itself. This is an important hint, as we shall see. Another important hint is that the key words such as “lumps” and “ore” appear in quotation marks. It is my experience from reading the tales that every time a word appears in quotation marks it should be taken as, or leading to, some other meaning. However, in all my previous readings I could not make heads or tales with the hidden meaning of these two paragraphs.
But during this fifth reading, like the young European, I cried out excitedly “Eureka!” In a flash of understanding I made all but one of the connections I needed in order to answer my question.
I instantly realized that the “lumps” with three kinds of “ore” taken from various ancient and deserted mines nearby, were the three brains or centers, that is to say, the thinking center, the feeling center, and the moving center; that by placing these “lumps” or centers in a certain order in the stream or underground water, certain electricity could be generated; and that this electricity could be transformed into a substance-force as Gurdjieff had said in the exchange with his disciples, by charging up the two accumulators existing near each center mentioned in In Search of the Miraculous. I also understood the difference between the gas lighting and the electric lighting referred to in the text. The two dervishes from nearby caves brought the gas lighting to the dervish’s cave. The young European who was a disguise for Gurdjieff himself, on the other hand, initiated the electric lighting in the dervish’s cave. I already knew that Gurdjieff had taught eating and transforming the electricity generated by the body and how this refills one’s accumulators. In other words, gas lighting came from outside and produced a certain kind of lighting; electric lighting, on the other hand, came from the cave itself, representing our inner being, and produced another kind of lighting, an inner lighting. I then had the inner certainty that what I had just read, particularly the last two paragraphs above, was a description in coded form of the way to put into practice what Gurdjieff was talking about.
I knew that I had made all the connections but one. There was a connection in my flash of understanding that I had not been able to make. It had to do with the underground stream in which the three centers were to be placed in a certain order. What was the nature of this underground water? We must understand that the tales is presented in such a way that one is forced to make an effort if one is to understand and to be able to extract some practical meaning from it.
I spent several weeks asking myself the questions: what is this underground water and what is the connection I am missing?
Then, one day, I suddenly and unexpectedly found the answer I was searching for. It was a Saturday morning and I was watching on PBS the very interesting series Joseph Campbell and the power of myth. Campbell was explaining a particular myth when he said something to the effect that the water in the myth represented the unconscious. The moment I heard that I woke up and turned the television off. I immediately knew that it was the answer I was looking for. It so happens that the unconscious is another word for what is known in the Teaching as automatism or mechanicalness. In no other place is this mechanicalness better described than in one of Gurdjieff’s talks:
Man, such as we know him, is a machine. This idea of the mechanicalness of man must be very clearly understood and well-represented to oneself in order to see all its significance and all the consequences and results arising from it (“For exact study, exact language is needed,” New York, February 1924, views from the real world).
I now knew that I had all the parts needed for the formulation of a realistic experiment. All I had to do was to place my three centers in a certain order in the bed of my underground stream, and then wait for the electricity to flow to my accumulators.
Once I understood that the underground water symbolically represented the unconscious, the next step was to find a manifestation in me of this unconscious mechanicalness. In order to do it, I began to practice being-mentation in relation to my heaviness and fatigue. Again and again, I engaged myself in the practice of what I call intentional being-contemplation, a combination of self-remembering and self-observation, but at a deeper level. In this way, I brought to the field of my consciousness and attention all the being-experiences (thoughts, feelings, and sensations) associated with my heaviness and denseness. To my surprise, and after a few sessions of practice, I clearly understood that my mechanicalness had been with me almost my entire life.
It did not take me too long to realize that I was now going through similar experiences and that I was characteristically reacting and behaving the same way as before. The only difference was the intensity factor. Now, because of my extended practice of sitting meditation I had gone through during my four years at the Chan meditation center, these being-experiences had intensified.
I had found one aspect of my own mechanicalness and probably the most important one: it was nothing more than a tendency that I had inherited from my father. Many times in my life I had observed the same manifestation of this tendency in him. Stimulated by the unanticipated results that I had obtained, I intensified my practice of being-mentation.
One day, while engaged in intentional being-contemplation, an important connection was made. I remembered one experience I had during a two-week Work gathering in Venezuela. The experience had taken place the last day when we all were under unusual psychological conditions due to the intensity of the Work. The task was to mimic the physical manifestations of the person sitting in front of you. The person sitting in front of me acted out my physical manifestations with such mastery that I instantly recognized my animal. Now, years later, while going through my practice of intentional being-contemplation, a connection was made and I suddenly realized that my tendency, my mechanicalness, was nothing more and nothing less than the manifestation of my inner animal.
All I had to do now was to wait for the manifestation of my animal and allow something to naturally happen, and then throw my three brains or center of consciousness upon the mercy of my animal. Then wait for the proper electricity to flow from the underground stream to the accumulators. Of course, as it is always the case — easier said than done. But in cases like this there is one and only one thing to do. It is to try and keep trying. I was very much encouraged by something Mr. Gurdjieff had said to Kathryn Hulme, “You can take force from your animal and give it to Being.”
Every time my animal appeared, and I had the opportunity, I sat and connected my centers. In the beginning, my main difficulty was that most of the time I would soon fall asleep. In more than one occasion, I would wake up from my sleep with a sudden and frightening jump, and it would take one whole minute for me to realize that I was part of the world I had come back to. On some occasions the situation got even worse. I would wake up from my heavy sleep trapped in my body, like in a catatonic state. My consciousness was wide-awake but I could not command my body to move. In any case, in each occasion, I woke up more fatigued and tired than before falling asleep. All this pointed to the clear fact that the sleep was not natural but abnormal and, I would say, of a hypnotic nature.
Little by little my animal was more and more willing to participate in the process of experimentation. Falling asleep became more and more infrequent and the fatigue and tiredness less and less intense. The catatonic states became less frequent and now are practically gone. Once in a while, I experienced an upsurge of energy in my being after a little experimentation, very different from the dense and heavy energy flowing up and down my spine. However, I could not detect a definite form of electricity flowing from the animal to the accumulators. But my experimentation was turning more and more positive and revealing. I was getting more knowledge and understanding of the nature of my animal. I was amazed that my animal was willing to participate in the process of inner transmutation.
In the beginning, the experimentation was rather random because I was in the process of discovering some pattern I could use in guiding me. I would begin with one center first and then throw the other two centers in any order, making sure I recorded the order and the results. Then, during the next period of experimentation, I would reverse the order and again record the new order together with the obtained results. As this process of trial and error advanced, I began to detect a favorable pattern. I began to discover that placing the centers in a particular order always brought better results. I do not want to describe what this order was because I understand that each person has his/her own subjectivity and what is true for one person may not be true for another. Besides, the very process of experimenting by oneself is an intrinsic and important part of the experiment. I would like, however, to describe in detail one very important result I obtained from my experimentation. I consider this result to be of a general character and one that each experimenter must go through and, consequently, must pay great attention to.
As my favorable pattern of placing the centers in the stream of my mechalnicalness began to take shape, I began to experience more and more frequently sudden changes of Being in the process of experimentation. Suddenly, something gave up and I could clearly and distinctly begin to detect a current flowing from my mechanicalness to other parts of my being. Sometimes the appearance of this sudden change of state occurred after only a few minutes of experimentation; sometimes it would take longer. And sometimes I would give up before reaching this instant of change. Since I consider this instant of time or point in my experiment to be a critical one, I will describe it in more detail.
I call this instant of time the threshold point. Threshold is a word we engineers love. It is the instant of time when a process changes from one state to another. In electronics, to be more specific, it is usually associated with the instant at which a device, such as a diode or a transistor, changes from a state of no conduction to one of conduction. The diode or the transistor is said to be OFF (no conduction) before threshold and ON (conduction) after threshold. In this sense, the device behaves like an ordinary household lighting switch with two distinctive states, ON and OFF.
The threshold point is then that instant of time at which the process of experimentation goes from a state of no conduction to a state of conduction, from a condition of no lighting to a condition of lighting. This moment is time-variant and it is dependent on many factors between the experimenter’s resolve to carry on the experiment and to go all the way to the threshold point. Otherwise the experiment would be incomplete. The experimenter will know when this point is reached by the sudden change of Being. It is also important to carry on the experiment BEYOND the threshold point.
What happens after the threshold point is impossible to describe in words and each experimenter will have to experience it for himself/herself. I have gone for several days sustained by the energy derived from a threshold point, sleeping four or five hours only and without experiencing tiredness or fatigue but, actually, feeling light and charged up. And I mean mentally, emotionally, and physically. Thinking becomes more potent and one is sustained by an overflow of emotional and sensorial energy. One can literally and factually see what Gurdjieff meant when he said; “one could take force from the animal and give it to Being.” Once we have this energy, we can share it with others. The good, positive, uplifting vibrations, as well as the bad, negative, dragging everything down vibrations, are contagious.