About the Movements
G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) began teaching Movements in the 1920s as one part of his comprehensive approach to exploring the human condition, and his work in this vein continued until his death. The Movements are enigmatic, and detailed comments about them by Gurdjieff himself are few. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Gurdjieff placed tremendous importance on Movements, both as a practical element of his teaching and as a kind of spectacle that could serve to arouse interest in his work in general.
To a casual observer Movements appear as a dance form, and Gurdjieff did indeed describe himself as a teacher of dance. However, the outer dance forms are only one component of the practice while less apparent “inner work” is actually the primary purpose. Accordingly, Gurdjieff’s pupils usually referred to the practice as “The Movements” to acknowledge that they were engaged in something elemental. The Movements floor was understood as a place for practical study of the broad suite of radical ideas that Gurdjieff was teaching concurrently in other forums. Self awakening is at the forefront, not self expression. The joy of movement is not a sufficient objective; a purposeful work is called for.
The original choreographer of some Movements is clearly Gurdjieff himself. However, a large number of the roughly two hundred Movements are likely derived from traditional dance forms that Gurdjieff encountered during his extensive world travels, with a substantial number of them bearing hallmarks of Sufi subcultures. It is safe to say that Gurdjieff adapted freely from his recollections of such dances, allowing them to evolve as he saw fit to serve his purposes. Thomas deHartmann collaborated closely with Gurdjieff to compose music for the Movements.
Practitioners through the years have provided diverse descriptions of the meaning and purpose of the Movements, ranging from the extremely pragmatic to the mystical, to dubious variants that can only be described as fantastically obtuse. The diversity of these perspectives reflects the diversity among Gurdjieff’s many students who have attempted to interpret or to continue his work including his direct pupils and, more recently, second and third generations of proponents of his ideas. There is a controversial belief that Gurdjieff at some point designated a certain subset of Movements as valid or useful forms of practice, and urged his students to discontinue use of all the remainders. As was typical for his work, it seems his pupils received mixed messages on this issue. There are similar disagreements about how Gurdjieff wished Movements practice to be understood, whether or not Movements should be secretly reserved for special initiates, and the inevitable questions about who (if anyone) he designated as qualified to teach after his death.
Our Approach to Movements
A central aspect of our approach to Movements practice is investigating the relationship between mind and body. Examining this relationship by submitting to the peculiar demands of precisely-defined movements may facilitate and deepen our recognition of the profoundly mechanical (“conditioned”) nature of one’s self as a human being. This recognition serves as a necessary foundation or touchstone for all other efforts to establish a more genuine presence, to develop one’s spiritual nature, or to connect more clearly with a higher form of consciousness.
We strive to explore and to appreciate the mind-body relationship by methodical self-observation. Important elements of this process are work with attention and sensation. Testing the proposition that both of these functions may be subject to a greater degree of active volition than is generally recognized is an important part of the process. A new appreciation of personality, ego, awareness, perception, balance, relaxation, intention, effort, remembrance and prayer may arise naturally as part of this kind of study.
Basically, we use the Movements floor as a kind of laboratory where we allow the Movements to challenge or disrupt our ordinary ways of functioning in order to gain insight to our own nature. We also explore the very important hypothesis that coordinating this type of work as purposeful group of people, rather than as a mere collection of individuals, may have the effect of accelerating evolution of the energies required for such insight.
Despite the kind of understanding outlined above, we also recognize that our existence is a profound mystery. Or, as Sufis might poetically express it, veils often separate Lover from Beloved. We seek to approach the Mystery with humility at least as great as our courage.