‘You are in prison. If you wish to get out of prison, the first thing you must do is realize that you are in prison. If you think you are free, you can’t escape.’
G. I. Gurdjieff
Colin Wilson’s biography of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff serves as a tremendous introduction to the life and work of this mysterious and mythical figure. Born in present day Armenia in 1866, Gurdjieff would develop a system – often referred to as the ‘Fourth Way‘ – in order to assist his students to develop greater awareness, unlock their potentialities, and pursue enlightenment.
Indeed, Gurdjieff was all too aware of the phenomenal genius which lies within the human psyche. Sadly, for most people, their potential will never be realised, as they live most of their lives in a state of ‘sleep’ – slavishly adhering to regulation and habit, and seldom stepping outside the box.
Wilson’s account describes Gurdjieff’s formative years and how he was stimulated to undertake ‘The Work’ and assist mankind, before discussing his journey around Europe and the USA. The colourful anecdotes reveal his personality, and undoubted popularity, during the early twentieth century. Gurdjieff’s magnetism attracted a host of disciples, and he would eventually found a commune at Fontainbleau, to the south west of Paris.
Gurdjieff’s most notable student was the Russian mathematician P. D. Ouspensky who would develop the great teacher’s theories and write extensively on ‘The Fourth Way’. Much of his work would be published posthumously.
Wilson encourages us to seriously consider Gurdjieff’s theories and methods in the conclusive chapter. As he so eloquently states: ‘man is a like a grandfather clock driven by a watch-spring. Or like an enormous water mill driven by a muddy trickle of water.’ He champions Gurdjieff as a colossus who sought to make us aware of the vast potentialities of human consciousness.
David Fox is a freelance writer, artist and entertainer based in the UK.