Foundation – John Stubbs

John Stubbs, Buenos Aires
Gurdjieff - Foundation

The understanding of a spiritual concept is not just an intellectual exercise but incorporates relativity.

Relativity depends on context. Take for example the idea that you have to pay for whatever you get. In a supermarket this idea is simply related to purchases of goods with money; but the same idea has a different meaning if you want to become a champion athlete, where the payment is sustained effort.

There are progressive depths of understanding too: For example, when I started work on awakening, I began by exercising more self-discipline. Soon I understood that self-discipline was itself only a mechanical control learnt from submitting to my parents or teachers. It had to be replaced by a basic personal desire for awakening. Later I understood that the desire had to become a definite personal aim, and finally I realized that I had to make a personal commitment to awakening.

When I started on the Fourth Way, I thought I would awaken within two years. This seemed right because Ouspensky had gained mastery of the teaching of Gurdjieff in two years. But I did not understand how interconnected my psychology was. My aims were far too ambitious, for example to never express anger ever again; or to remember myself all day (or at least for a few hours) as soon as I remembered to do it. I assumed that I could observe myself all the time and just take the appropriate action to change myself when needed; a change that would be made once only and would remain in place.

My understanding of awakening was based on how I guessed Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and others had awakened, without my knowing any of the inner processes they went through. And so as time went on my own progress came to a halt.

The two years passed and I realized I had only managed to understand a few things: 1) that I had not really understood what self-remembering was; 2) that thinking about myself was not the same as observing myself, let alone remembering myself; 3) that I was asleep to surprisingly many unconscious habits; 4) that I did not know my psychology; and 5) my aims were far too grand and unattainable.

My own “Mount Mandara” had sunk into the milky ocean.

But then I encountered a Fourth Way school with the possibility of doing this work with other people who were trying to awaken. Things started to change. People pointed out habits and attitudes that I had always possessed but had never seen. I heard how others understood self-remembering, and I received new insights. I noticed that others worked with small, achievable aims, which I also started to use.

This last was the big secret I learnt at that time, for unattainable aims lead to disappointment and discouragement, and maybe even giving up the spiritual path. In contrast small aims, though they can be a little bit difficult, become – with self-remembering – manageable. An example is: not ever saying the word: “interesting” but instead remembering yourself in the moment and using another word without the other person noticing. Once these aims are mastered they become mechanical and so they lose their function of creating self-remembering. Then they can be abandoned and other new aims put in their place.

This teaching was an example from the Fourth Way school, the school which was the giant “tortoise” that lifted me up and continues to sustain my work upon myself.

“Begin with the possible. Begin with one step. Try to do a little, and results will show you. There is always a limit, you cannot do more than you can. If you try to do too much, you will do nothing. But, little by little, you will see that right thinking, right attitudes are necessary. It needs time, because for so long people have been in the power of negative emotions, negative imagination and things like that. But little by little these will disappear. You cannot change everything at once.” – P.D. Ouspensky