Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of October 11, 2021


Fourth Way Practice

Introduction

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The Fourth Way, as it has been introduced in modern times by G.I. Gurdjieff and his students, comprises an open, graduated, effective, and comprehensive set of spiritual practices, along with a body of knowledge constituting a spiritual world view. The primary value of that inwardly verifiable world view consists in creating the context, understanding, and motivation for Fourth Way practices. Spiritual practices, including those of the Fourth Way, can enable our being to grow sufficiently within our lifetime and, along with that, the integration and purification of our will. It is through the practices that our transformation can be realized. In the process, our engagement with the practices confirms that world view, piece by piece, thereby deepening our understanding and our motivation. The Fourth Way body of practice and world view, as bequeathed to us by Gurdjieff and his student John G. Bennett, rank among the great spiritual treasures of the world.

Although we might prefer to begin by meeting the Sacred face to face, we start where we are. From this point, we build the foundation on which to grow our reality. There is an interplay, a mutual reinforcement, between the practices and our understanding. That changed understanding reaches behind the curtain of our personality, behind the automatic thoughts and emotional pettiness, into the wondrous reality of who and what we are. The practices not only enable us to see behind that curtain, but also make us more real, more substantial. We begin to see through the illusion, see what we are not, and begin to see what we could be and how to become that.

As our inner work continues, we become less isolated and more deeply connected with other people. This is one of the hallmarks of spiritual practice in life, and thus of the Fourth Way. That name comes by way of contrast with three other ways, each of which involves stepping back from ordinary life to focus entirely on either a rigorous discipline of the body, a devotional turning of the emotions, or a deep training of the mind. The Fourth Way does not involve stepping back from life. It takes place within the ordinary circumstances of life, engaging body, heart, mind, and more, in a balanced, harmonious, and shared spiritual quest. As the practices help us become more ourselves, more deeply connected to who we really are, we discover our sameness, our oneness with other people. The walls that separate us grow thin and porous.

The major religions include elements of spiritual practice aimed at daily life. The Fourth Way shares this with the religions, but without being tied to a religion. People committed to any religion can enter the Fourth Way and find it is not only compatible but respects and enhances their engagement with their religion. After all, the ultimate goal of relating to and serving the Sacred is there in both. Furthermore, people who are not connected with any religion can find in the Fourth Way a spirituality free of religious trappings or belief systems.

The Fourth Way does not involve devotion or obedience to a teacher. The leadership role in the Fourth Way is a temporary expedient to train the student in the methods and world view. At best, the leader may be one of those rare teachers who can inspire confidence in the efficacy of the path by their own example. Yet even without such a person, that confidence grows through the ascending feedback of sustained personal and group practice.

The student can only benefit from the practice to the extent they understand the rationale for each practice, because a point comes where no teacher or teaching can instruct a person on how to cross the chasm. There it is up to each individual, with their preparation, understanding, aspiration, and creativity. That is why the Fourth Way is sometimes called the Way of Understanding. Yet it is not an intellectual understanding that is needed: it is one based in experience. Practice is shaped and informed by understanding, while understanding grows through the practices. Practice is driven by motivation, while motivation grows from the spiritual depth of the practices.

The Fourth Way is also known as the Way of Service. Shared with other ways is the value placed on external actions of giving, helping, being kind, and fulfilling one's obligations perfectly. Perhaps unique to the Fourth Way, however, is the recognition, embedded in its world view, that our inner work matters greatly beyond ourselves, that right inner work produces spiritual energies needed by and useful to people around our planet, that the deeper our inner work, the greater the effect.

Even though the path depends crucially on individual practice, groups who share their engagement in the Fourth Way can be enormously helpful. Group meditation or shared work at the Gurdjieff movements can multiply the impact on us, generating much more spiritual energy than we could on our own. Each breakthrough, however minor, in their practice in ordinary life conditions by someone else in the group encourages us. Each recounting of efforts and struggles shows us we are not alone and guides us toward new approaches. The camaraderie and mutual well-wishing warms everyone and hints at the personalized and ever-present beneficence of the Sacred, Who embraces us all.

In the coming weeks, we will examine some of the methods of Fourth Way Work.

    1. Sensing
    2. Three-Centered Awareness
    3. Presence

For this week, please begin by working at relaxation. Try sitting down and relaxing your muscles throughout your body, systematically, from the top of your head down to your toes, leaving only the tensions needed to maintain your sitting posture. And then during the day, when you notice unnecessary tensions, let them go. For many of us, the face, shoulders, and abdomen are spots where unneeded tensions often arise. Notice any wasteful, needless tensions and relax them. Do these physical tensions indicate anything about your inner state? Does relaxing them have any effect on your inner state?


     

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