Strivings and Growth

This spring Cynthia took us back to the five Obligonian strivings set out in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. The strivings are the work that Gurdjieff insisted was required for the development of “true Conscience”. Of the five only two are explicitly focused on outer work—the “paying for one’s arising” and the “lessening the sorrow of our Common Father” in the fourth and the “perfecting of other beings” in the fifth. As these two come last one might assume that they are to follow completion of the first three which are focused on individual knowledge and development. This would seem to accord with a view often heard in spiritual groups that one must first work on oneself, “be the change one wishes to see” or that peace begins at home.

It is not that these aphorisms aren’t true in many ways but looking back on my own life, it seems to me that the truth has been more complicated.

The outer work has nourished the inner; the inner has fed the outer. The process has been more exchange, more like the ebb and flow of fresh and salt in a tidal basin than the simple overflowing from a reservoir of inner development to an “outside” suffering world.

Mercy, we are reminded, once meant exchange. When needed, the Spirit seems to have few qualms about working through limited and damaged human beings. Here is an anecdote.

Unity and Diversity

Few tenets are more universally shared by the world’s spiritual traditions than the insistence on Unity and the celebration of diversity. One of Brother David Stendl-Ratz’s best-known prayers reads,

“…United make us rejoice in our diversity.
At one in our witness to your peace,
A rainbow of your glory.”

Gandhi called our ability to find unity in diversity “the test and beauty of our civilization.” The Baha’i liken humanity to a rose garden where “diversity of colors… adds to the charm and beauty…as variety enhances unity.” In Sufism, tawhid or unity is at the core even as the Beloved takes many forms. Unity is both external in interrelationship and dependence and internal in the soul of beings where God penetrates.

When I was in my mid-thirties and fresh to the Gurdjieff work, I was struggling with the alarming sight of the many contradictory i’s that inhabited within. No unity there. But one day I began to find unity in the outer world in an unusual way and it led to a decade long effort. I had enjoyed soccer off and on for most of my life but was not a serious fan. Going home on the eve of the 1982 World Cup final, I heard that thanks to a satellite global broadcast 1.2 billion people would be watching it. At the time, this was a remarkable number of human beings to be doing anything simultaneously. In fact, nothing close had ever happened before.

The conjoined attention was remarkable in itself but to it was added the symbolic knowledge that the connection was being established from above, from geostationary, gods-eye orbits that gave a view of a pristine, beautiful and borderless earth below.

The next day I joined the watching at an ethnically mixed local bar. Some cheered for West Germany, others for Italy, others for displays of soccer skills but all of us were palpably bound by the greater experience of a vast communal undertaking. The wonder stayed with me.

SatelliteA year later an eccentric, satellite-knowledgeable MIT graduate came to my office referred by a friend. He wanted help setting up a nonprofit that would encourage use of the then state-controlled INTELSAT satellite monopoly for humanitarian purposes. I helped him. The organization began by doing live radio bridges between the USSR and the U.S. and then helped distribute the LIVE AID Ethiopian relief concert in 1985 that was watched by 1.9 billion people.

In early 1987, others who had been connected with LIVE AID joined. I took a leave from my law firm to work nearly full-time with the organization. We did a global Hunger Project video conference, a demonstration of satellite aided disaster relief work, and a global broadcast with the World Health Organization on the first World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS was in a dark corner then, poorly understood and the subject of a lot of moralizing. Moreover, its existence was denied in half the world. Using pre-recorded and live segments from close to twenty countries, we were able to bring information and a message of compassion to audiences in close to fifty nations.

divine unityOur last hurrah was a 1991 global broadcast on environment and development, hosted in Moscow and extended to more than sixty countries as the Cold War ended. Gorbachev spoke. Senior UN figures were present. Then-Senator Al Gore was there and from his and other voices the warnings about global warming and other forms of environmental degradation cascaded. We broadcast live visions of a simultaneous sunrise and sunset and talked with orbiting cosmonauts speaking about the smog cloud over Mexico City. To this were added stories of economic innovation among the world’s poorest people and touching stories of wildlife preservation. It seemed like we were about to become a fixture in international humanitarian communications.

Unfortunately, the foibles, divorces and personal dramas of some of the key figures were growing in force and sabotaged outcomes. In the end, absurdly simple technical errors discredited the Moscow broadcast and with it the organization.

There were other reasons in my view that the Spirit or the “conscious circle of humanity” ceased to give the effort its support. The group had become too American; the emerging worldwide web and other technological changes were breaking the satellite monopoly. It was time to move on:

“The wind blows where it wills…you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes…” (John 3:8)


The end was of course personally shocking but at a deeper level, I knew it was the right time. A small contribution to a global consciousness had been made. For myself, I had gained a little more inner unity and enhanced discernment and was learning much about detaching from results. I saw clearly that the substance of wider unity among people of all nationalities and faiths was compassion for others’ suffering, the indomitable urge to “lighten the sorrow of our Common Father”. In my own interior, this meant greater compassion for the still struggling, disparate parts even when they caused pain to me or others. Could I have seen this so clearly apart from the outer work? Could I have had such a vivid experience of the embodied Unity in our Earth? I’m not so sure.

posted November 22, 2017 by Bill Espinosa

Bill Espinosa has been drawn to Cynthia’s teachings as he has rediscovered his Christian roots through its contemplative traditions. His background includes nearly a decade’s participation in the Gurdjieff Work, the spiritual guidance of a Rifai Sufi who has been a leading voice in peace and conflict resolution and has been blessed with help from many others including Murat Yagan. His legal career has included working with NGOs active in peacebuilding, nonviolence, international humanitarian broadcasting and children’s rights as well as with USAID and the Department of State. He has been an occasional guest lecturer at American University and most recently developed a course on peace agreements which he tested out at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine. He created an educational board game about whales and is the author of the speculative eco-thriller, WARMING!

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