We are all asleep! We are lulled into unquestioning compliance with whatever is trending. Whether we realize it or not we change; our values change, our reactions change. An example is how we respond to violent assault and murder on the television. There was a time when I couldn’t look, now it doesn’t bother me. Some things still touch me deeply thankfully, particularly anything to do with the abuse of animals, women and children and sex trafficking is just horrific!.
However, there are so many things we have fallen asleep to, for whatever reason. And because of our Rip Van Winkle persona things have changed and not always in a good way. I would hazard a guess that during the past 40 years things have changed more for the worse than for the better. I cite just a few examples just to show you where I am going with this – environmental destruction, racial and culture intolerance, failure of justice, immorality, abuse of God’s creation (women, children, the mentally disabled, nature); but I won’t ramble on; you could probably add significantly to the list. I believe however, that in our perceived inability to change things on any kind of significant level, we have put our heads in the sand ostrich-like and fallen asleep.
Sleep is an altered state of consciousness where we do not react to anything like immorality, violence and injustice. It is a state of complete non-reaction, non-responsiveness and as long as we remain asleep nothing changes. Sometimes we close our eyes and pretend to be asleep, or we play dead, in fear of retaliation, or that we might actually not have a choice to make a stand. There is nothing like fear that paralyzes action. But we are afraid of many things, darkness haunts us and we do nothing because we do not trust God to do what he has promised – to love and protect us, to draw us into the light, and never to leave us.
O Blessed and Compassionate Friend,Psalm 51 (Nan Merrill – Praying the Psalms)
Melt our hearts of stone,
Break through the fears that lead us into darkness, and
Guide our steps toward the way of peace
Contemplation, also an altered state of consciousness, but one that is connected to the Source of our being, to our creator. It is a state where we are awakened and made aware of how we can and must become agents of change for God. To illustrate what I mean, let me draw on the words of Thomas Merton who said:
Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the face that life and being in us proceed from an invisible abundant Source.Thomas Merton
Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s thinking and his connection to God (the invisible abundant Source). How different is this to being asleep, where we experience very little, and do nothing, nor do we react in any way to things that are right or wrong. We simply are not aware of anything that is happening except through our dreams. For Merton contemplation is full of life and awareness and it is a catalyst for action. It is full of gratitude which tells us it is not only a space full of life but it is a positive space, where our responses are aimed at healing.
There is another aspect of contemplation that Merton mentions and that is that it is sacred, it is a divine space where mystery holds sway. He says this is because things can happen in this divine space that we cannot understand. In other words, I might be justified in saying that it is the source of miracles, of divine alteration, perhaps it is the place where God resides and through us puts us to work in His world, answering the prayers of others, doing the work of the Lord, being the hands and feet of Jesus. I guess we need to be awake, alive and full of divine energy to do this.
But here we are in 2021, abused by every possible catastrophe the world has known, all at the same time, and we have fallen asleep. Personally I am glad my eyes are closed to witnessing how our world threatens to implode and us with it, unless we WAKE UP! But the ostrich mentality is a cop-out because there is work to be done by everyone who inhabits this earthly and holy space.
Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way
Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way is a state of consciousness that is alive with spiritual wonder and transformation. It is mostly about understanding, understanding ourselves through the observation and deep awareness of what goes on inside us. We use our everyday thoughts, fears, concerns, in short our ‘stuff’ to heal ourselves and to be able to detach from our emotional attachments that immobilize us in terms of making any spiritual progress.
In the Fourth Way, we are alive, we are awake! We welcome all that we are in Christ, we focus on all those things that stand in the way of a relationship with Christ, by embracing them as our own essence and identity, and then we simply release them as a way of making space for God, in our minds, hearts and in our bodies. The Fourth Way brings awareness to our bodies and the way that they react to what is in our hearts and our minds. If we follow in this way we will develop a much deeper and meaningful spiritual life which awakens us to the work we need to do to be the hands and feet of God in the world. To awaken from our stupor and to act in the world with compassion and love.
St Teresa of Avila
Here we are reminded of a saint who lived over 500 years ago in the 16th Century. I am speaking of St Teresa of Avila, who told us then, that self knowledge, along with humility and contemplative prayer, are the way to bring about a divine transformation in our hearts. Hearts that need to rediscover love and compassion. We need a transformation where we rid ourselves of the reptiles and demons (her words) that threaten our world, and go forward in grace, mercy and compassion in a world where love is the victor and where life is lived in the light. Contemplation will take us there.
Gurdjieff says that we have become automatons, machines, conditioned by our worldly manufacturers to respond in the way we are programmed to. In other words, we are unconscious. In this way the powerful of the world have us completely under their control. The powerful in the world, not the power of the Cosmos, the ultimate Creator. In our unconscious state we chase after dreams of overcoming the powers of the world, and restoring at least some control over our lives. Like the automatons Gurdjieff refers to, we build our super-ego to the point where it threatens to topple over and destroy us. In this state of unconscious living we cannot keep ourselves protected alone. We need to be connected to our divine Source and to all that he has created.
Gurdjieff offers us a second model called the Consciousness of Humanity in which he describes 7 levels of consciousness. I am only going to deal, for the purposes of this article, with the 4th level which is an intercessory level between what I think I can call the unconscious or mechanistic levels 1,2 and 3 which serves as a bridge towards the higher levels of the Conscious Circle of Humanity. Level 4 presents a person who acts in a balanced way in the world and his or her spiritual life. He has gained a significant degree of self knowledge and is on the road towards overcoming the violence and negative attachments within himself. He understands his role in comm-unity that it is not all about ‘I’ but that we walk a pathway hand in hand with creation.
While I dislike the male-orientated references in the Conscious Circles of Humanity, and I also deplore the suggestions in Gurdjieff’s work of spiritual hierarchy, I nevertheless respect the contribution he has made to our emancipation from the mechanistic space towards spiritual growth. Perhaps we need to view his work from the context of the 19th and 20th centuries. I have simplified Gurdjieff’s work significantly for the purposes of this article, and you would do well to read further into his principles and thinking that I have drawn from here.
Before I move on from Gurdjieff, I must talk about one more of the most beautiful things that we can attain through his Fourth Way and that is forgiveness. As a psychologist I really l love this principal which relates, for me, to selfless love. Gurdjieff points out that an understanding of yourself is pivotal to being able to forgive others. You cannot forgive whilst you hold a grudge, whilst you are caught up in all kinds of negative, soul destroying defensive actions. Forgiveness is possible from a whole, spiritually mature self, and it is beautiful because it releases you from everything that stands between you and God.
Let’s move on now to explore coming alive from another perspective. How else do we WAKE UP and take control and save what is left of God’s creation. Helen Ruce tells us we need to be curious. This is one of my favourite words, because it causes us to be interested in what is going on around us and to ask questions, to ultimately be able to make choices about what brings about light and what results in darkness. And where is the source of curiosity? It is in observation and in this instance, where we are wanting to come alive, it is in the observation of ourselves.
To ask ourselves questions like, what are we doing to protect God’s world? How are we using the gift of speech to protest against what is wrong and to acclaim what is right? How are we using our gift of movement to take action in the world, our gift of feeling to alert us to what is happening around us and to discern whether it is right or wrong? We also use our movement or action centre to be an example of what an alive and awake person looks like in the world. We need to look into our hearts and discover how we feel about what is happening around us, to question what has happened to our sense of compassion, how fear has taken over as a dominant stimulus of our behavior and our action in the world.
To write this article I have drawn on the work of a number of significant contributors to spiritual transformation. Starting as early as Teresa of Avila in the 16th century, through to Thomas Merton in the mid 20th century. Gurdjieff’s ideas have their roots way back even before Teresa. But I think that, like me, you can see a common thread in this tapestry that leans towards self-observation, self understanding, and that the main agency to bringing about this meaningful state of spirituality, is a disciplined practice of contemplation.
A second blog will follow which will outline, in more detail, how contemplation has the power to bring about an active and awakened consciousness and how it will cause us to act in the world, as a follower of Christ.
Heather Ruce. 2021. Northeast Wisdom article on racism February 2021. https://northeastwisdom.org/2021/02/wisdom-and-systemic-racism Accessed 21 February.
Teresa of Avila. Three Book Trilogy: Autobiography. Translated by the Autograph of St Teresa of Jesus by the Benedictines of Stanbrook. 3rd Edition. With Notes and an Introduction by the Very Rev. Fr. Benedict Zimmerman.
Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation
Gil Friedman. 2011 Update. Gurdjieff : A beginners guide. Gil Friedman.