Exchanges Within: Questions from Everyday Life Selected from Gurdjieff Group Meetings with John Pentland in California 1955-1984
Those of us searching for the truth have no doubt come to see that we live our lives at a very low level of consciousness and that we lie to ourselves and others about who we are and what we understand. We have also no doubt come to see that in order to experience the truth, we must first see how deeply we resist it. We can see this resistance, for example, in the way we prefer answers to questions, or the way we constantly recoil from uncertainty and the unknown. We can also see it in the way we manipulate in accordance with our self-image the great ideas that could help motivate and guide our search—ideas related to self-knowledge, self-development, unity, freedom, pure love, levels of being and consciousness, and so on. It does not matter what teaching we follow; we are all slaves to this manipulation.
According to the great spiritual pathfinder G. I. Gurdjieff, the first step toward experiencing the truth is to see that most of the time I’m not really interested in it. It is to see that I live my life in sleep, and that to fulfill my destiny as a “three-brained being” on this earth I must wake up. The inner and outer work needed to awaken requires the help of a real teacher, as well as of a community of other serious seekers trying to work together on behalf of the truth.
One such outstanding teacher was Lord John Pentland. Until his death in 1984, Lord Pentland, who served as the president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York and founded the Gurdjieff Foundation of California, directed the work activities of hundreds of people throughout the United States who came to the Gurdjieff Work “in search of truth.” Exchanges Within is the record of some of the many questions that arose in relation to this search, as well as of Lord Pentland’s “answers.” The book shows his remarkable ability to translate Gurdjieff’s teachings into the exact language needed to help each seeker experience herself or himself as a living question in the face of the unknown. It is through this experience that awakening can begin.
What is the work that supports awakening? Exchanges Within probes this question on every page. Through responses such as the following one, Lord Pentland shows us that awakening requires the help not only of real ideas, but also of a deep work with attention, sensation, and energy: “The movement of consciousness is magic. Life is magic, would you agree? … You can’t understand life, it is the miraculous. … The point is, this magic is going on now and in order to experience it I have to have a very open muscle structure, an attention that contains all my energy … ”
Readers who are willing to turn toward their own deepest questions, especially the question “Who am I?”, will find valuable guidance for their search in these unparalleled, deep-reaching exchanges.
Copyright 1997 by Dennis Lewis. This brief review was originally published on my website and in the Gurdjieff International Review.