The Fourth Way, Philosophy of Gurdjieff

Guest Post by Molly Knight Forde

mr g diagramMany profound and life changing moments of my life have occurred at meditation retreats centered around The Fourth Way. These methods spun out of the idea that we can work “in the world” as opposed to retreating from the world.

It is called the Fourth Way because it is not just the way of the Fakir, transformation through the body, nor the Monk who uses prayer and contemplation of the Heart, nor the Yogi who practices the Stilling of the Mind.

The Fourth Way combines all three methods through various means to be done in everyday life.

“It has no specific forms or institutions and comes and goes controlled by some particular laws of its own.” G. I. Gurdjieff

A primary tool in the Fourth Way is learning attention by using three functions, the moving center, the emotional center , and the thinking center, simultaneously. Separately these “brains” have their own way of behaving. Together they can allow me to gain perspective about myself that otherwise stays compartmentalized and unseen.

I can begin to recognize the many “I”s in my life.  One part of me will sabotage another part of me.  This is what creates conflict and distress within me.

P. D. Ouspensky, a great proponent of The Fourth Way and student of G.I. Gurdjieff, described our fragmented self as a house in which you could only turn on the lights in one room at a time. As your work progressed, more and more rooms could be lit at the same time.  Having a true Observer meant the lights were on in all the rooms. This will give you separation from your ego’s ridiculous reactions. You acquire an Observer that can see these various parts.

When you have an Observer, it is more possible to laugh at your ego’s antics.  You have traction in non reaction. You have more choice. You begin to understand what causes your suffering.

If I am unaware of what causes my anxiety, fear, anger and stress, I will continue to treat the symptoms. No amount of anger expression will cure the anger source. I may have an idea intellectually of these causes but until I am in circumstances which allow me to see, I can change nothing.

Retreats based in Fourth Way practices can provide ways to experience the three centers while doing regular activities. How does that benefit me?

I can learn how to recognize and distinguish more precisely which of these functions, my body, my emotions or my thinking are in operation.  This may seem simple but it isn’t. What I think is my emotion may be my thinking and until I see that, I cannot understand why I am triggered or why I get aggravated and angry.

Uncovering this can be the unlock to many of my reactions.  I can recognize the crux of my problems: identification with my thoughts.

Self study in an environment which intentionally sets up conditions for me to experience this makes it easier to recreate that when I get home.

When I can develop the capacities of each one of these centers simultaneously, another force comes into play. I access a clearer picture, seeing what causes the war within myself.  I begin to have control over my actions. and what affects me.

Doing meditation, The Movements, and zikr (chanting) plus mindfulness practices is the innovation of The Fourth Way.  Each one of these methods refines one of the faculties.  Meditation is for the Mind.  The Movements require my physical attention but also my emotions and my thinking.  Zikr or chanting opens my heart.

Consistent effort over a week with others will provide a more refined energy from which to draw. It accelerates the transformation of each individual.  I can also experience discipline in a way that I may not be able to enforce for myself. When I get a taste of this specific kind of Work, I start to have a visceral, emotional, and mental Understanding. This gives me a reference for how to work at home.

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The Awareness School is hosting just such a retreat  August 21-25 on Whidbey Island, WA.  Please contact me if you are interested in attending. If you know of someone who may be interested, please share this content.

Want to learn some of these techniques? We have an online group that does bi weekly mindfulness exercises. Enter your name and email on this page to receive these “practices”.

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This concludes Part 2 of a 2 part series of posts from Molly about Gurdjieff, the Fourth Way and The Movements. 

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About the author

Molly Knight-Forde

Molly Knight Forde is a professional classical pianist, meditation mentor, blogger and founder of The Awareness School. Her 30 year quest for inner knowledge led her to the practices of Zen Buddhism, The Gurdjieff Work and Sufism. As an entrepreneur, she has built teams and inspired people to achieve their goals all over the world. Since 2000, she has been leading people to freedom in the realms of spirituality, business and life.

4 Comments

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  • There is debate regarding the ability to use Gurdjieff’s ideas through groups. Some critics believe that none of Gurdjieff’s students were able to raise themselves to his level of understanding. Proponents of the continued viability of Gurdjieff’s system, and its study through the use of groups, however, point to Gurdjieff’s insistence on the training of initiates in interpreting and disseminating the ideas that he expressed cryptically in

    • I believe what you are saying is true. I believe many of his students were unable to raise themselves to his level of understanding, but those few who did propelled his work forward mostly in small arteries that cannot be found easily nowadays. I believe the training of initiates is of the utmost importance and much of his teaching is lost on the general seeker. However, there will never be a group made up entirely of initiates and so those who are may hold a gateway of higher transmission for others to accelerate their transformation. This is the epitome of the second line of Work. Group work is meant to be diverse and holds people accountable for understanding what is actual self observation and what is not.

      • Thanks for the article, Molly. The debate about who is authorized to teach the fourth way becomes secondary when one has an aim. If we know our aim, then we ourselves should judge whether a fourth way school helps us advance toward it or not.

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