Foundation – William

William Scholte, Toronto
Gurdjieff - Foundation

Very early on after meeting the Fourth Way, I encountered the ideas and practices surrounding negative emotions. “From the very beginning,” said Ouspensky “when observing emotions, you must try to stop the expression of unpleasant emotions. This is the first step.” So, when I would become negative, I would make genuine efforts not to express it. For a long time I imagined I was working. Not expressing my negativity was a sure sign, I thought. But slowly I began to realize that although I was not expressing it verbally, I was expressing it nonetheless. I would become reticent. Aloof and withdrawn, it would be obvious to anyone that something was not right with me. When asked, I would say I was fine, rather than express my displeasure verbally. This had a very “righteous” feel to it and I was quite satisfied that I was working.

Then, at some point, I observed this satisfaction. This startled me. I was actually pleased that my “heroic” efforts were being noticed and, in some cases, admired. I felt immediately that this was not right, that indulging in this vanity was actually hindering my work. But what to do? After some thought I concluded that the only way to avoid this would be to somehow make my efforts completely undetectable to those around me. The idea of being inconspicuous in order to combat self- importance was not new to me but, having only just noticed this particular habit of mine, I was now able to connect the idea to the matter at hand. By becoming withdrawn, I was simply expressing negativity in another more “noble” fashion, which was feeding my vanity even more.

What if I could be an actor, playing the role of William? What if, in any given scene, I could play William as he is when he is not negative at all, when his inner world is calm and at peace? If I played him well, my efforts to control my negativity should go completely unnoticed. At first, this idea seemed somewhat deceitful and I had some initial reluctance to try it. But, I reasoned, if I were to remove the possibility of any external “reward”, perhaps my efforts would be closer to the proper foundation for work- the simple desire to be present.

The first time I tried it, I immediately became intensely aware of myself and my environment. I have a very clear memory of the afternoon sun coming in through the shears and lighting up two rectangular patches on the wooden floor. I could feel myself in the chair with my entire body and could hear myself speaking as though I were someone else, listening. The negativity became indistinct then evaporated completely, the way dreams do upon waking. Those first crisp, clear moments raised my state sufficiently so that I was able to maintain some level of self-awareness for the majority of the evening. My previous efforts with negativity, made on a foundation tainted with vanity, had never produced any result comparable to what I experienced that day. Trying to work and make efforts inconspicuously, unnoticed by the people around me, has become a powerful tool that I can use to help keep my efforts on a firm foundation.