In Search of the Miraculous

My personal quest was long, or seemed long at the time, so much so that I was surprised when I found what I was looking for.

In my early teens, I explored Eastern ideas including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Eastern mysticism in general. My interest only grew, but I did not succeed in realizing any mystical states, which seemed to me the point of the teachings I was reading, or at least the point as far as I was concerned.

The various and diverse experiments of the 1960s seemed to promise a lot, but eventually proved disappointing.

By the time I went to the university, I had narrowed my search somewhat. I saw self-understanding as the necessary first step, the place to start, to determine what was really essential, basic me, and on the other hand what was learned or acquired in one way or another. Thus began a trail that led through philosophy, comparative religion, anthropology and, finally, psychology. All disappointed me, though in retrospect I can see that I was progressing toward a still not clearly-defined goal.

Toward the end of my university career, I was taking a class called "Theories of Personality". It was one of the better classes I had taken in the area of psychology, and it had the added advantage of being at 8 p.m. rather than 8 a. m., so I was able to attend when I was at my best. I clearly remember one evening, sitting in the back of the lecture room as was my wont, and thinking to myself how the theories presented were interesting, some more so than others, but they were all just a way of looking at things. That is, none of these theories described actual parts of our psychological makeup (nor, I think, was that their claim) so what we had were interesting, they claimed even occasionally useful, ways to look at something which in itself was not actually seen, let alone understood, at all.

Not long afterwards I was on the South Side of Milwaukee with my brother. He had gone there to a music store to get something for his guitar, and I was along for the ride. I saw a used bookstore across the street and we arranged to meet there when he was finished with his business. At the time I was very interested in the "Don Juan" books by Carlos Castenada, and I was looking to find something remotely similar to pass the time until the next book came out. At the store I saw a book called In Search of the Miraculous by a P. D. Ouspensky, and when I looked at the introductory material, I saw that it was the record of the author's time spent studying under one Gurdjieff. This teacher-student relationship was the kind of book I wanted, so I bought it (25 cents as I remember) along with a few other books.

As was my custom at the time, I rarely read a new book cover-to-cover. Instead, I would open it arbitrarily, read a few paragraphs or pages, think about it perhaps, then open another book, read a little bit, and so on—this I did with In Search of the Miraculous.

One of my first impressions of In Search of the Miraculous was a kind of embarrassment for the author. I thought he was trying to make up some sort of system, which did not necessarily bother me, but I thought the strange diagrams I saw were rather crude, not sophisticated like the kind of diagrams in my textbooks. Nonetheless, I had nothing better to do, and would occasionally delve into this book along with many others.

Sometime during this period, certainly within a few weeks of buying the book, I read something about the "moving center" and about other "centers", that were a kind of theory of personality, I guessed, but it was not at all clear what this theory looked like. At times there seemed to be three, then four, then seven, then five of these centers. I formed no opinion, nor was I tremendously interested.

But one day, when I was walking home from classes, I suddenly realized unequivocally that it was my moving center doing the walking. This was not just a way of interpreting experience, this was directly viewing a real, observable thing in me. For the first time, a theory of personality was talking about something actual in me. That was more than enough to get me to take a more serious look at that strange book I had been treating so superficially.

It is perhaps fair to say that I never looked back. While I would never have expressed it in this way to myself at the time, something in me began to realize that I had found what I was looking for. I say I would not have put it that way to myself because it seemed impossible. Somehow I had come to never really expect that I would find it. In one way or another I had looked seriously for so long and path after path had proved interesting but incomplete. I had long hoped for something more, and then had nearly forgotten that I hoped. But over those years, the search had focused, even if I could hardly see that while in the midst of it. I had started to demand a certain understanding.

Within a few months it was clear. I had found what I was looking for. It was a very exciting time and it still is. I never tire of reading that book nor have I ever doubted that I found what I wanted. I knew. And I know. That was the beginning.

For some people immediately, for some eventually, a need comes to talk about these ideas with other people, test one's practice and, ultimately, find people who know more. We realize that if we are going to make real progress, we have to go to school.

I began in this line by meeting some people which eventually led to my involvement in a group begun by a student of Gurdjieff's, Willem Nyland. The work there was interesting and, I think, profitable, but I knew it wasn't exactly what I needed, and I eventually discontinued my involvement with that group.

Some time later, at another bookstore in Milwaukee, I came across a beautiful little poster showing a pair of cherubim and reading "Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Centers Accepting Students" and listing telephone numbers. The closest was Chicago, and I had no plans to go there—I imagined boring lectures for some reason—but when I came across a similar advertisement in the university newspaper with a local telephone number, I decided to give it a call.

To make a long story short, I ended up connecting with an actual school, called at that time the Fellowship of Friends, and working in that organization for several years, first in Chicago and Milwaukee, and later in California. I won't go into my experiences there, nor discuss the nature of the teaching. The ideas taught there are probably the most influential of modern teachings on the fourth way and you can look into it or not as you see fit.

Eventually, I decided to leave the Fellowship, an organization I had felt increasingly alienated from since moving to California. Nonetheless, it was a hard decision to leave. Partly because the organization itself stressed that such an act bordered on the disastrous. Partly because of all I had learned there, and the friends I had made.

I left for various reasons. First, I was no longer participating, and continued dues-paying seemed senseless. Second, I felt a need to be less secretive about my life, which was difficult to do when one's life-style was so determined by the organization, even if only in the funneling of significant income to it, and I felt unable to integrate these two sides of my life. I also felt a certain dissatisfaction with the school, mainly in the fact that its third line and my needs were increasingly diverging. While I had no illusions about finding a school with a third line more in harmony with my first line, I felt it possible to strike out on my own, or at any rate felt I really had no choice but to pursue those interests that had originally merged my path with the school but which now diverged.

So what was the difficulty? It seems rather straightforward, and normally would be—however difficult to clearly state one's own interests, once done, one follows them. The difficulty comes in with the teaching itself—how it makes clear that "false personality protects itself", and how various parts within ourselves may work against the interests of other parts. With great subtlety. And I had learned that this was so.

But something was telling me to go. And really the difficulty proved to be still another gain, in that it forced me to evaluate, to discriminate, in a way I had hardly ever done before. My decision became definite if non-verbalizable, and I set off on my own.

I left with, or at the approximate same time as, some of my friends, and it may well be this helped me leave. In general, there was a lot of agonizing and departures, many angry, at this time, as the teacher's sexual preferences became more widely known. If that affected me at all, it was only in the sense that I did not think it should have been hidden before, but I remained largely ambivalent about it. Especially as it was impossible to get any real information—those who were angry seemed to be very anti-homosexual, and any comments about particular behaviors were so colored with the vehemence of those emotions that I began to avoid those people as well.

So, for a variety of reasons, I left. I saw that my own path lay in a similar, but not the same, direction, and I felt it was time to grow in ways that I could not while I remained where I was. I felt it was again time to try to work on my own.

And that was 30 years ago.

To begin work on the fourth way, we must study psychology, the psychology of our possible evolution. It is not taught at the universities. In fact, there is no established location or organization, and this is the first step—to find where we can learn more about it. No lineages, no locations, no certificates. We may not come at first to the highest school, or even a true school at all, but we can learn even from the impostors—if nothing else, how to recognize impostors. This process of discrimination, an intelligence of the heart, is the way we progress. Is the way. But we must be mercilessly honest with ourselves.

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