February 2014

Fellowship of Friends

But to us existence is still enchanted; at a hundred points it is origin still.
A playing of pure forces that no one touches who does not kneel and marvel.
Rainer Maria Rilke

According to the Fourth Way tradition, every action in the universe requires the interaction of three forces. The Law of Three, as Gurdjieff called it, permeates all actions, large and small, physical and psychological, from the creation of the universe down to a dog biting a postman.

The first force manifests as the initial impulse to accomplish something: an affirmation, the affirming force. The second force manifests as a resistance to the first force: a negation, the so-called denying force. We might think that life would be easier without this resistance, but the denying force is in fact necessary. The third force, also called neutralizing force, blends the other two forces and provides the condition for a result. All three forces are equally necessary. If one is missing, the action does not resolve and there will be no outcome. Gurdjieff called the three forces Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, Holy Reconciling.

Note that all three forces are holy. In particular, denying force is not something bad—it is a fundamental necessity in our lives, providing the raw fuel for our efforts to awaken.A few simple examples will illustrate how the three forces work:

I would like to go to a party with my friends tonight (first force, affirming). But it is a long walk and it is raining (second force, denying). A friend calls saying that she is available to give me a ride (third force, neutralizing). I decide to go to the party.

My boss calls me because he wants me to work next Sunday. His request (first force) meets my reluctance to be available during weekends (second force). The unwritten rule that by saying Yes I will enhance my position and open the door to a possible promotion provides the third force. I say Yes.

We can see that the third force is particularly important in determining the result of the action. The last example can be reconsidered in the following way:

My boss calls me because he wants me to work next Sunday. His request meets my reluctance to be available during weekends. My girlfriend, sitting next to me, says that if I am going to work again this coming Sunday, she will leave me. I say No.

From the previous examples we can also see clearly that every time a first force acts, it evokes a denying force.

If I am wandering without an aim along the streets of a city, any street is equally good, and any little eventuality that arises is neutral. I might decide to stop for coffee if the mood strikes me, or enter a bookshop to browse the new titles. But if I have to be in a specific place at a specific time—for instance, to arrive in time for a meeting—suddenly I do have obstacles: I could be heading in the wrong direction; the nice coffee break and the pleasant conversation with the waiter are suddenly denying forces which can cause me to be late for the meeting. Having an aim, therefore, evokes denying force.

We do not fully observe even two forces and
generally expect things to happen when only one force is present.
P. D. Ouspensky

In our ordinary condition, we are able to see only first and second force—and often we do not even properly anticipate denying force. We think it is enough to decide to diet and it will happen, or to get up an hour earlier to do yoga before going to work and it will happen. In practice, experiments show that we are often naive about the denying forces that oppose what we want to do.

The third force is even more mysterious. It is typically invisible to a superficial examination of a situation. Gurdjieff said we are third force blind. A special kind of attention is required to notice third force.

If you want to produce a certain effect or a certain action
and one force is missing, you can get no result.
P. D. Ouspensky

For instance: I am worried about my teenage daughter. I think she trusts everybody too easily and I am afraid she will end up in trouble because of that.I decide to have a talk with her about friendship (first force). But this affirmation immediately upsets my daughter (second force), who accuses me of not trusting her and treating her like a child.

Therefore, I choose another approach. Instead of lecturing her, I wait. One day one of her friends does something hurtful (first force) and my daughter is upset and confused (second force). At this moment, she will be receptive to my little talk, which will speak to her actual experience. I am now third force, helping the other two forces to move to a desirable resolution, a new situation. I am no longer acting as first force, initiating the situation. My daughter can now understand what I want to say.

It is a special skill to detect a third force and to be able to use it. This study and understanding how the three forces interact, and the order in which they must interact for a particular result to follow, are part of the Fourth Way tradition. A different order of interaction produces a different result. Our lack of understanding in this area is behind many of the failures in life of our best intentions.

When we want to be more awake, our mind is the first force, affirming our aim. The body, with its distractions, laziness and various attractions and repulsions, provides the denying force. This obstacle is often overlooked. Many speak about the beauty of the present, about the intense joyful fragrance of awareness. But we have to take into account that a large part of our being rebels against being present. It will find excuses to continue in the momentum of its sleep. I am tired; there is no time; this is not the right moment; I want to give my attention to something else.

It is amazing, and funny, that you have to be pulled away
from being tortured, pulled out into the Spring garden.
But that’s the way it is.
Rumi

Another example on a smaller scale: I want to be present, for a minute, right now. This affirmation is the first force. The vortex of many different thoughts constantly swirling in my mind provides the second force. If I want presence now, I need to choose for myself a third force to enable the result to manifest; otherwise, the first two forces will clash uselessly and produce no result.

I can choose among several thoughts or attitudes that will help me in my aim to be present. I can remember how dull and negative my life is when I am not present to it. I can set for myself a simple exercise to act as a reminder, such as focusing on my breathing or being aware of the sounds around me. Beauty, especially, is an excellent third force. Looking at a beautiful impression, like a flower or a fine work of art, while affirming my aim to be present, will help me not to be so absorbed in my usual thoughts and will provide something external to view—as an anchor, a tool for my attention. I am no longer self-absorbed, obsessed with my habitual worries. I am present now.

Sergio Sessini



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