Gurdjieff on finding our own work

If you have not yet heard of G.I. Gurdjieff, this may be your lucky day.

Back in 1972 I was introduced to the work of Gurdjieff by way of the work of P.D. Ouspensky. (The first book of Ouspensky’s I read was In Search of the Miraculous, the title of which in itself immediately grabbed me, as embodying my deepest yearning.) Here was evidence that deeper things that our culture denied nevertheless existed and perhaps could be found.

This was reinforcement that I needed, for I was very much alone, working without a school, without a religious tradition (having left the Catholic church as a teen) and without a teacher. If that is your situation, and you are of an intellectual bent, Gurdjieff’s work is in print and may take you far. Better, of course–in fact indispensible–is a teacher. But make yourself ready and the teacher will appear, though it may take you a while to recognize him, or her, as such. I well remember reading that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and desperately hoping that it was true, but not of course knowing that it was. In fact, I had already met the man who would become my first teacher,  but  I could not read my life forward and so didn’t know that he was. Oddly, neither at the time did he.

But the point of this post was supposed to be Gurdjeiff’s criteria for finding and recognizing our proper work:

“Gurdjieff was decisive, that his school was a school of individuation, and that a man must find his own work in life. How should he know it, how choose it? That, no one else could tell him. There were certain laws about it, however — three in particular. The goal of achievement which a man decides to aim at must be such that it involves no violation of moral norms. Secondly, he must get something for himself out of it — whether it be money, health and happiness, or honour; some genuine profit must accrue to himself. Thirdly, the task he assumes must be neither too big for him, nor too small. It’d be too big, he will incur failure, compensated by megalomania; if too small, his powers will decline even with success and his career will be embittered. But provided these three conditions be fulfilled, it does not matter what anyone thinks of a man’s work. All that is necessary is that it should fit him; and that it should be his true desire — if you like, his whim — to do it. For example, to have the best stamp-collection in the world would not appear to many people to be a life ambition of the highest dignity — and perhaps it is not. But it is a job of a man’s size: and if it is your real whim, you had better live for it. Whether you succeed is, of course, another matter.”
Philip Mairet, A.R. Orage, p. 104-5

2 thoughts on “Gurdjieff on finding our own work

  1. Funny that I find myself here:
    “if too small, his powers will decline even with success and his career will be embittered.”


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