September 2021 Lessons – A Student’s Perspective

Some Fourth Way ideas I find difficult to understand, not conceptually but how they can be applied to my everyday life. One such idea is ‘third force’, of which both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky talk thoroughly about. But words in books are one thing. Finding it in life is another. This is where personal effort comes in.

What our school teaches is that in every activity, manifestation and impression, there are in fact three forces involved, rather than merely two. We take things as being either active or passive, positive or negative, on one of two ends of a pendulum. Happiness and sadness, joy and suffering, right and wrong, black and white. All concepts are balanced out by their opposite. But according to the Fourth Way there is a third force which allows something to be created out of the first two.

But what does this mean practically, in everyday life?

Some weeks ago, when we were given the exercise to focus on third force, we were encouraged to approach it intellectually, to pick an activity and figure out what the third force would be in it. I had no problem intellectually figuring out what the third force was in a particular activity, but it did nothing to change my experience of that activity, nothing to make the work more accessible. I had to approach it from a completely different perspective, so I tried feeling for it. What is the feeling, the flavour of third force? Shifting my perspective like this, changed everything.

For the last few days of that week, third force became an emotional state, a containment which allowed the active and the passive forces to play themselves out. Third force was the background that gave rise to the foreground, the environment that contained a scene. When I was trying to do something (active force) and was experiencing resistance (passive force) to my efforts, it was the emotional understanding of why I was doing what I was doing that allowed me to push through.

Experiencing third force is creating the environment where active and passive forces can be sustained together, where their friction can be given the space and used for a higher purpose. During that week it was the emotional experience which showed me third force, not the intellectual analysis. Whenever I could feel the friction between the two forces, I could observe it from my emotional center, and through emotional self-observation use the friction they generated to self-remember.

“Remember where you are and why you are here.”
Gurdjieff