Gurdjieff for a Time Between Worlds | Layman Pascal

Gurdjieff for a Time Between Worlds

The following is an excerpt from Gurdjieff for a Time Between Worlds by Layman Pascal. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

What on Earth Was Gurdjieff Doing?
So this Armenian kid in the 19th-century slowly realizes that he has one dominating question in his soul. He’s addicted to a particular inquiry. And without placing this dominant query at the very beginning of our meal, we might easily misframe Gurdjieff’s entire life’s work. The question is this:

“What is the sense and significance of life on Earth and human life in particular?”

That is something like asking: What is the biosphere for in general? And what is the human species for in particular? These are hard questions. We cannot even be sure that it is fair to ask for such a “for.” Questions of purpose have become hard for human beings.

The existentialist philosophies of the modern and postmodern world helped guide us in a sober shift from naive mythic teleology toward the more clear-eyed and difficult understanding that we are not preceded by a God-given purpose. Our role in life is not inherited. We have to create it or else suffer its absence. Instead of heroically servicing our metaphysical destiny we are asked to heroically tolerate an open-ended universe with no guidebook. We must have the courage to occupy that treacherous space between the void of meaninglessness and the endless chore of inventing a culturally contextualized purpose for our lives.

But perhaps that story is hasty.

Human interpretations of reality, while being partly creative and social, are not necessarily arbitrary. Ideas about purpose may fit more or less well with the dynamics of our evolutionary history 23 which, in turn, is a subset of the energetic and informational structures of the cosmos. It is plausible that organisms — at least as much as organs — may be adapted to perform some function. Has our existentialism hitherto been too parochial, depressive and anthropocentric?

It may be solipsistic to think that the universe was organized to give us a meaning but it could be equally narcissistic to assume that all meaning is derived only from creatures like ourselves.

While we are no longer the mythic children who can say, ‘Noses were made for smelling,’ that does not preclude the notion that science and imagination, instincts and education, biology and consciousness, might provide a set of tools that collectively imply a special range of meaningful activities toward which we would be wise to align ourselves. Especially if those activities tended toward a regenerative, participatory and co-thriving biological and cultural ecosystem.

So while Gurdjieff’s dominant question might seem odd when examined through the philosophical lens of the 20th-century, it might be that the pragmatics of thriving tomorrow (and the day after) depend on people becoming much more interested in a paradigm that includes a sense, a significance & a functional purpose for both biological and sapient life on this planet.

Can we join Gurdjieff in questions of this kind? The analogy of the body helps me. It seems quite reasonable to ask about the sense and significance of our organs — and of the brain in particular. Doctors and anatomists speak this metaphorical language all the time. And while we might cautiously hesitate to imagine an all-knowing mythic architect who perfectly designed our body system at the beginning of time, we can nonetheless appreciate that the functions of our internal organs are not arbitrary. They have evolved together in a complex and symbiotic shared ecology. They have collectively and adaptively negotiated between their own independent urges for growth, power and the perpetuation 24 of genetic information, and, on the other hand, constraints imposed by the rest of the community of organs.

We do not need pre-rational metaphysics to understand that the complex energy dynamics of an ecology of organs may result, over time, in collaborative specializations that approximate our common notion of a “purpose.” The invisible hand of this marketplace results in emergent sub-functions of the whole system. These subfunctions are then regenerated in lineages that make use of electrochemical constraints (Michael Levin, et al.) that determine the forms that the genes are attempting to produce. This metaphor could be elaborated considerably but its main outlines are enough to give us some justification in discussing the functions and purposes of living forms that evolve in a common ecology. It is not merely superstitious to think in such terms about species within a biosphere — including our own species.

All the organisms fit their material, energetic and informational niche. They all transform materials into other materials that are used by other parts of the system. There is a shared context and a mutual evolutionary history. Today we might call this the “Gaia hypothesis.”

So now that we have talked ourselves down off the ledge, can we begin to ask ourselves the imaginatively spiritual, existential and ethical question: What is the special role of the human species as an organ within this system?

What should human beings be doing, both physically and psychologically, to fulfill their obligatory transformations and circulations within the greater body? There is obviously a poetry to this kind of vision but poetry is not necessarily the enemy of reason. They often seem to need and energize each other.

Regardless of the weight that you personally give to speculations of this kind, it is important in reading Gurdjieff, and considering the mission and teaching that he took up, to keep in mind that he 25 is working from this kind of quasi-shamanic context. His psychosocial and existential interventions are entirely instantiated within the governing frame of a transmodern cosmocentric and ecological vision.

That vision asserts that the purpose of individual existential development and collective human wisdom-cultivation is to serve a particular set of functions within our multidimensional ecology and to help that ecology fulfill its natural role within the complex living cosmos.

Dialogues with Layman Pascal on G.I. Gurdjieff




Praise for Gurdjieff for a Time Between Worlds

“After reading Layman Pascal’s insightful, fun, accessible, and mystery-wooing dive into the life and thought of Gurdjieff at the advent(ure) of our ‘world characterized implicitly by strangeness & betweenness,’ I find myself wanting to read all of Gurdjieff, and I know of no higher compliment for a text partially meant to widen the reach of Gurdjieff’s influence and appeal.”
Amazon Review

“Thought you thought about everything? Think again! Absolutely a banger. High fives to all involved.”
Amazon Review

About the Author

Layman PascalLayman Pascal was incarnated on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. He used to be a meditation teacher, yoga instructor & public speaker—but he’s feeling much better now. He is a writer on themes of cultural philosophy, shamanism and organic spiritual development. Lately he has been active as a board member of the Foundation for Integral Religion and Spirituality and a founder of the Beyond Interfaith project. Check him out online right here, and read his Substack here.

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