"In search of the Miraculous: fragments of an unknown teaching"
by P D Ouspensky
Reading In search of the Miraculous - fragments of an unknown teaching [Fragments] by P D Ouspensky was a turning point in my life. I still can remember exactly when and where I was when I first read the book, having been lent it by a friend who was in the Gurdjieff Work. I didn’t realise what a big deal it was at the time. I didn’t have a formed, inner question. However, I did have a sense there was more to life than education, work, showing off my status by the purchase of consumer goods and ‘enjoying myself’. I wouldn’t have been able to say it clearly at the time in my late twenties, but I felt the need for guidance about life, to help me respond positively to an inner, unspoken unease.
Even now, after more than 20 years, when reading Fragments I feel strongly some elemental questions:
What is the meaning of my life?
What is a spiritual search?
How can my search for the miraculous be realised in my busy everyday life?
Ouspensky’s Fragments is a theoretical masterpiece detailing the ideas of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and the principles underpinning the Gurdjieff Work. Although dry in its written style, the assertions as to Man or Woman’s lack of attention, our mechanical sleep and our place in the universe, still shock me. There are descriptions of different levels and sensitivities, the existence of finer energies and how man is influenced by nature. These ideas are not new. Passed down by our ancestors from generation to generation, the ideas permeate spiritual traditions, religious writings, sayings, fairy stories and fables. Fragments asks me to ‘Wake Up', to remember myself now. No amount of reading can bring understanding. Real understanding comes from my own inner experiences. The theory of the book needs to be a ‘practice’: finding inner silence, working with a group of genuine people and taking part in an authentic Gurdjieff’s Movements class. Below are some of my impressions from practical Group work.
Sitting silently, I am confronted with myself. Who am I? One day, life will be taken away from me. When I sit silently with other people there is a different atmosphere, more than the sum of the parts. I often leave a Group meeting with a finer feeling. It’s not that I’ve relaxed or found inner peace, or that I’m ‘at one’ with a ‘special’ group of people. It is a sense that something inside me is calling, like a weak, distant, inner voice: Be-Here-Now.
Practical work with other people challenges the comfortable picture I have of myself. Cooking a meal with others I perhaps don’t know, I can feel tense. People often reflect each other. It can be a real revelation to see myself reflected in how people are with me. Being open with others, carrying out practical tasks together, I see myself more clearly. In actual fact, the only place to see myself clearly is outside of my comfort zone.
There were no philosophical talks, just sewing. For the English people, attracted through Ouspensky’s lectures on Mr Gurdjieff’s philosophical system, this sitting together around a common table in a community dwelling was something new, but everyone worked, even those who were not well acquainted with the ideas”
Thomas de Hartmann
Our Life with Mr Gurdjieff. Definitive Edition. 2011.
Thomas and Olga de Hartmann. Morning Light Press.
Page 168, Chapter XVII: Paris and Fontainebleau
A Gurdjieff Movements class is a test of my attention. It is ‘a practice’ my body needs.
Can I perform these ancient spiritual dances or exercises correctly as they are shown to me by experienced teachers? Can I bring sensitivity, a feeling? Do I just do the movements like a gym exercise? There is often no time to think a Movement and it can feel rushed. My body can seem slow, often unable to move freely. The range of possibilities to discover myself in Movements is astonishing and endless. Some Movements are prayers and touch my feelings. The women’s dances have a grace, a feeling, and a beautiful femininity. The men’s Movements are energetic, masculine and purposeful. The positions for the different movements are exact, precise, requiring me to move my head, legs and arms often to different rhythms. When something inside lets go, I blend with the Movement, sensing my body, with a clear mind, feeling a gratitude for this precious gift of being alive.
‘No man can achieve anything on his own’ – G I Gurdjieff
A spiritual search is not self-improvement. It is engaging with other people with integrity in a genuine Group in practical tasks, being open to discovering, learning and seeing myself. A real Group is made up of people of different levels of experience who have gained from others along a historical pathway from the real Master, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.
Ouspensky’s Fragments is masterpiece for which I will always have the greatest respect and gratitude until my dying day. Now, it is far more than just a book. Transmitting something precious from people who have lived their lives before, it’s as if they’ve handed a fragile candle carefully on from one generation to another to the present Now. The spiritual teaching within Fragments is alive for me, prompting real and urgent questions:
Can I sense a finer feeling in my body?
Can I keep my attention at moments in the turmoil and distractions of my everyday life?
Can I ‘Wake Up’?
For so many people discovering Ouspensky's book In Search of the Miraculous was a life-changing moment - leading them to contact with a lineage Gurdjieff Group in which practical guided self-study can be undertaken. In this section of our website a few such people from Gurdjieff Studies write about what Ouspensky and his book have meant for them.
Like many others, my 'entrée' into the Gurdjieff Work started with an initial reading of Ouspensky's masterpiece. I recorded the date on the inside cover of my copy as April 1979
The title itself was intriguing. 'Search' signalled a journey to be undertaken. 'The Miraculous’, as yet undefined, awakened my curiosity. 'Fragments' suggested incomplete parts of a whole. 'An unknown teaching' summoned up images of a distant forgotten past, one that was rooted in an esoteric tradition
From my late teens, I was attracted by esoteric ideas but I was unable to filter them or distinguish between them in terms of authenticity. I was raised as an Anglican by mother who has always been - and continues to be - a devout Christian. I recall many unsatisfactory discussions with her when I would question the Christian interpretations of the Bible teachings. I found it impossible to accept the notion of a Divine God, Christians as having the monopoly as the chosen flock, the absurdity of two Christian armies praying to the same God for victory and the dull meaningless rituals carried out by all religions. Faith was not for me. I needed something more convincing.
New Age movements were springing up everywhere and I dabbled and experimented for a time. There seemed to be something there to be explored - a way to go deeper into myself. I felt tantalisingly on the edge of discovery and open to everything that came my way. It was at that precise moment that my father gave me a copy of In Search of the Miraculous. Timing is everything!
From page 1, I was deeply touched by the ideas which kept jumping off the page! I found myself having to re-read passages just to check if I had understood the enormity of the proposal being offered. It was as if all the pieces of my previous jigsaw were beginning to fall into place as Ouspensky masterfully summarized and provided a framework for Gurdjieff's teachings.
A new vocabulary was required to pinpoint with accuracy the many new ideas. The Ray of Creation, the purpose of organic life on Earth, Man as a machine, the multiplicity of small 'I's', Universal laws acting on differing levels and scales, self-observation, self-remembering, the food diagram, Essence and Personality, the Fourth Way, transmutation of energy, magnetic centre; these were all new notions and concepts and they resonated profoundly.
It all made perfect sense to me and I realized that I had found what I had been looking for. My exploratory searches and dabblings were over. I felt from the deepest part of my Being that here was a Way I could work with. Some notions I understood intuitively and others I didn't - at least not immediately. Neither did I feel the need to understand everything intellectually – I was happy to suspend judgement. What I felt with my Being was that acceptance of the fragments was acceptance of the Whole. Everything that I needed for my own search appeared to be contained within Gurdjieff's teachings. There was no longer any need to look elsewhere. However, it begged the question of what to do with all these ideas and how to make practical efforts in this direction. That need eventually led me to a contact with a Gurdjieff Group.
Throughout the book, a picture emerges of Gurdjieff the Man. Ouspensky not only captured and recounted G's skilful exposition of the ideas but also gives examples of how G taught the ideas through practical exercises aimed specifically at each and every one of his pupils, including Ouspensky. We begin to get an impression of a Man who was the living embodiment of the ideas. A Man in whom there were no longer any inner contradictions. It was only from such unique heights of Being that he was able to convey, with ease, the totality of the 'system'. Ouspensky by comparison was a novice when it came to a practical and emotional understanding of the ideas. In his lifetime, the ideas remained an intellectual construct. He struggled to translate the ideas into a practical line of Work on himself. His real value to subsequent seekers was his role as a 'scribe' rather than as a teacher.
I have re-read the book 6-7 times since my first reading. Each time the words fall on a different part of me. My changing level of Being is resulting in greater levels of understanding - even though the words are the same. It is truly a work of Objective Art in this sense.
Despite the difficulties, doubts and uncertainties that are inherent on a spiritual journey, there is great comfort knowing that others have gone before me - from the time of antiquity. I am deeply indebted to my own teachers and to their own teachers reaching back to Gurdjieff himself. Gurdjieff is credited with bringing esoteric ideas to the West - in a way that was conducive to our western minds. I am likewise deeply indebted to Gurdjieff's own teacher lineage for keeping the teachings alive so that we may discover them for ourselves. It's a hard debt to repay - but repay we must with all sincerity
Without Ouspensky's clear, logical and accurate exposition of Gurdjieff’s ideas, I may still have been drifting with the current. In Search of the Miraculous was the catalyst for my eventual spiritual direction. In turn, I have given this book to people who I sense have reached 'the step' and thus may be deeply touched by what they read
In my twenties I began to ask myself “Is this, the world around me, all that a human life is about? It cannot be. There must be something more I need to find.”
Organized religions and new age systems demanded that I have faith and believe in their doctrines without question - but I was full of questions.
Then, when a good friend lent me a book called ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ and recommended I read it, little did I know that it would lead to a lifetime of ‘searching for the miraculous’ in myself. As I read, it sounded so familiar, so obviously the ‘what felt right’ for me: the ideas yes, but behind the theory I also could sense something, practical, organic and at the same time a mystery.
Who had created the teaching that P. D. Ouspensky had followed and written about in his book that felt like home to me? It was a man named G I Gurdjieff, speaking to me through Ouspensky’s account of working with him, asking only that I too find a way to put his teaching into practice from personal experience, from my own efforts, and to believe nothing unless I had proved it for myself with scrupulous honesty.
Seemingly by accident, I found a Gurdjieff Group and began to attend meetings. From there I discovered Gurdjieff’s Movements: a collection of many ‘Sacred Dances’ some learnt by Gurdjieff during his travels exploring ancient religions and traditions, many choreographed by Gurdjieff himself.
The Movements for me were, and are, the primary key to my continued search; for others it is the ideas, or the cosmology.
So the journey began: from a book I am indebted to; towards an understanding of myself; going on into the future and with the help of others who had already gone ahead.