When we discuss the term “alchemy,” it is first important for us to define what this science is. The general idea, is that one element will ultimately be transformed into another that is more desirable, at least in terms of the subject matter at hand. In terms of working with the Fourth Way material of G.I. Gurdjieff, it largely focuses on the spiritual alchemy of man.
Being at risk for biting off more than we can chew at one sitting, let us attempt to convey these ideas simplistically, without necessarily having familiarized ourselves with the “language” of the Fourth Way reading materials.
In the chart we are shown various elements that at first glance may be seemingly familiar to a chemist, or someone that has come across a periodic table; this notion is assuredly grossly erroneous. The elements spoken of by Gurdjieff’s student, P.D. Ouspensky, in his book, “In Search of the Miraculous,” are very different than we initially expect. To gain a thorough understanding, we would need to examine numerous texts (suggested reading given later) by both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. For now, let us attempt to explore the idea of alchemy, and how we might embark upon its use for personal development.
“The study of the world and the study of man will assist one another. In studying the world and its laws a man studies himself, and in studying himself he studies the world.” -pg. 280, “In Search of the Miraculous.”
Enneagram of the Physical Body (fig. 2)
The above image (also in our first chart), is called the “Enneagram;” it is a nine-pointed star that has essentially an infinite number of uses… mathematical, geometric, diagrammatic, and was even popularized by modern psychologists in terms of discussing personality types. For our purposes we will be using it diagrammatically to explore the ability of the human machine to transmute various substances (foods-shown in fig. 1) into higher substances.
In the main image, we have listed first, second, and third order foods. These foods are defined as physical food, breathable air, and “impressions.” We understand that man eats food and breathes air, but what are impressions? In short, impressions described by the Fourth Way material are any sound, vision, smell, or external stimuli that is ultimately received by the human organism. Considering the above types of food, why is that man does not naturally develop higher functions or higher-being bodies for his “spiritual evolution?”
There are numerous answers to the above question, and then there are theories and hypothesis. While man is potentially a divine being, he is far less in his nurtured upbringing, and the surroundings in which he exists. At least for the westerner, he/she is bombarded by a fast-food lifestyle, and a stressful work and home life. Any chance of transmuting energy for higher purposes has been lost in the lifestyle.
The typical diet containing artificial growth hormones, antibiotics, wheat, soy, pesticides, GMOs, and other numerous harmful elements, are damaging to the endocrine, immune, reproductive, and all the other bodily systems. If man’s internal functions are over-stressed and over-worked, he will not have any energy left over for the development of anything else higher, or better.
To immediately begin to rectify these issues, there are two practices that one should consider: meditation and fasting. Why meditation? Firstly the mind is constantly wasting energy with all its endless chatter. To be clear, there are particular forms of meditation that would be of interest. Over time, by learning to focus attention on the body as opposed to the mind, we will begin to train the mind to be gradually more quiet. There is still much more we would need to understand and discuss, than this little article would allow.
Only much later (under guidance) should one begin to attempt breath exercises, Kundalini, or “tantric” practices to further eliminate the coarse matter of the mind. I cannot stress the importance of not engaging in more advanced practices such as these without an instructor; there are many reasons why things could go wrong, and end up placing you in a life-threatening situation, or even permanent mental illness.
One of the best meditations to begin with is the practice of “Yoga Nidra,” which focuses on the relaxation and development of sensation in the body (proprioceptive awareness). The westerner is nearly devoid of the awareness of the sensation of the physical body.The author has strategically developed an adaptation of a practice of Yoga Nidra in the system of “Dhvaja Yoga“that will allow for a “building-up” of a series of daily practices.
These practices will essentially build upon one another in a way that attempts to make the most use of the body’s energy in terms of its trans-mutative ability. Where these types of practices can become difficult, would be not having an instructor that will be able to guide the practitioner, in terms of when to perform a particular effort, in what amount, and how often, or when to push harder.
First and foremost, because the westerner is trained to be a “thinker,” efforts are lacking in many other areas; and most certainly as a species, mankind has atrophied genetically in many areas of “possible evolution.” Though the most valuable operations for the transmutation of substances will come with an “additional shock (light blue on chart).”
To attempt to gain a short-term insight of Gurdjieff’s most important concept of “Self-remembering,” let us consider first that this is the “shock” shown on our chart in the position of “Do 48 (light blue).”
The first shock is done for us naturally by our organism (D0 192); though, we may hypothesize that the utilization of these substances would of course vary from organism to organism, or person to person, depending upon the efficiency of the organism in its ability to use the various orders of said food.
The secondary shock (Do 48-light blue), must be done consciously by our own organism, through the effort of a direction of the “intention of attention,” and the holding of this intention.
Now this is where we are at risk for “biting off more than we can chew in one siting.” Gurdjieff speaks of how mankind exists in a state of “sleep or hypnosis,” and that to begin to awaken, he must first see that he is asleep. He begins to see this for himself through self-observation, and “self-remembering.” In beginning to embark upon the journey of the Fourth Way, we will come to learn its language, the terminology, and how we can apply the theory to our daily practice of our self-development and inner alchemy.
In order to ever be able to do any real alchemical work, the intellectual theory must first have a solid foundation to begin the practice, which is why it is recommended in the Fourth Way material to learn to become familiarized first with the art of self-observation as well as the idea and practice of “self-remembering.” To get a taste of this, and get used to the idea gradually, it will be important to have a practice that teaches us to use faculties other than thinking.This is where most spiritual practices fail, in that they never get further than reading a book, or believing in deities and religious figures.
The action of the “intention of attention” is not a process of thought, but rather a sustained effort, most easily learned through a daily proprioceptive developmental technique. As said before, an example of this is Yoga Nidra, or even a martial arts practice; though the practitioner must know how to direct their attention appropriately without becoming identified with thought-forms or internal dialogue, and instead begin to become accustomed to idea of the “intention of attention” with a sustained effort.
Over a sufficient length of time, and a reasonable amount of efforts, would one be able to see for themselves that mankind does in fact operate unconsciously in a state of sleep, or constant identification with internal dialogue, or other thought-operations. This continuous unconscious mechanical operation, is a significant waste of energy that would otherwise be better used for trans-mutational efforts, given that we understand the “how and why.”
Having become familiarized with a proprioceptive effort on a regular basis, one will soon begin to feel an accumulation (crystallization) of their efforts within the physical body itself. This is when the notion of “sleep” will become very real. The sensation of the physical body in the present moment has become crystallized enough for us to take notice of the fact that we can hold attention on it, and have the sensation of it being with us here and now. When this attention is lost without the sustained effort of our intention, then we will again become identified with our thoughts, and once again lost in our machine.
The element of proprioceptive development in spiritual practices could theoretically be aligned with the development of higher-being bodies, as for example, when speaking of the creation and/or the development of the astral body. There may be a correlation with the spatial awareness of the Hippocampus (also called the “Horns of Ammon”) of the brain and the proprioceptive sensations of the skin, in terms of the crystallization of additional higher bodies.
For the whole of humanity that is in this state of sleep or hypnosis, we are also in a condition that reacts to situations rather than impartially observes without internal dialogue and conscious processing of third-order food, or impressions.
Man/woman operates in a state in which they confuse thoughts for emotions, sensations for emotions, and mental banter for valuable intellectual considerations. Upon any amount of sincere examination, the new-age notion of an “empath” is at once cut to shreds; this is not because it is not possible, but because rather mankind has no control over their own emotional states, and again often confuses their “language-based thought structures” for actual feelings.
While there is not a single organ in the human body for negative emotion, mankind has become quite adept at mimicking their parents, piers, and respected pillars of influence in these wasteful habits and the misappropriation of valuable energy.
This brings us to another point in terms of the value of a meditation practice; that is the ability to relax the body. By relaxing the body, we will in turn relax the internal systems of our biological machine, bringing much-needed balance to our internal brain chemistry and other important functions.
Fasting is another particularly important practice to use; this will also aid us in restoring balance to our internal systems, as well as detoxify the body, heal the body, boost immune efficiency, and even restore digestive function. The idea of three meals a day is absurd; digestion is extremely taxing on the body’s use of energy, and contrary to belief, the body is more efficient when it is not digesting food, or very small amounts.
If one is not used to fasting, they should begin slowly, like all other practices. The author has found that the most effective form of fasting, is in fact intermittent dry-fasting; eating both a light breakfast and light lunch, hydrating in between. Evening meals could be skipped and the next meal taken again the following day at breakfast. While dry fasting, strive to hit 16 hour intervals minimally to induce a regenerative and fat-burning state of “ketosis.” Consult your doctor before engaging in any fasting practices.
Fruits will make an excellent breakfast in their natural form, or meats/eggs and vegetables. Grains or wheat, and soy products of all kinds should be avoided. As a rule of thumb, most boxed, processed, or frozen food items with a laundry list of non-natural substances should be avoided. I am not telling you to avoid eating meat, that is a personal decision; though consider that the less-dense the food, the easier it will be on the digestive tract, and the more efficient the machine will become.
Mankind in their degenerative state, is first and foremost lucky if they have a healthy body for the transmutation of higher elements; further still, he/she is far more privileged if there is a working knowledge of how to manipulate the bodily machine for spiritual or evolutionary gains. How do we begin to understand this, or what to do? Also, what is our aim, and what does it mean for one to be on a spiritual path?
When embarking on the journey of the Fourth Way, firstly for a long time, we should do nothing until we are skilled observers, and further still until we can understand why we would want to do something. Better yet still, having someone else that knows the possible risks and rewards and be able to help us.
“Gurdjieff always took part in these discussions and explained different aspects of the organization of schools.
Schools are imperative, he once said, ‘first of all because of the complexity of man’s organization. A man is unable to keep watch on the whole of himself, that is, all his different sides. Only a school can do this, school methods, school discipline-a man is much too lazy, he will do a great deal without the proper intensity, or he will do nothing at all while he thinks he is doing something; he will work with intensity on something that does not need intensity and will let those moments pass by when intensity is imperative. Then he spares himself; he is afraid of doing anything unpleasant. He will never attain the necessary intensity by himself. If you have observed yourselves in a proper way you will agree with this. If a man sets himself a task of some sort he very quickly begins to be indulgent with himself. He tries to accomplish his task in the easiest way possible and so on. This is not work. In work only super-efforts are counted, that is, beyond the normal, beyond the necessary; ordinary efforts are not counted.'” -Pg 347, “In Search of the Miraculous.”
Looking at both our first and second diagrams, we will see that there is a hierarchical order of elements that relate to internal biological functions and bodily systems. The notion is that the more dense the matter, the lower the vibration will be, and the higher the vibration, the less dense it will be; this tends to be the case. In terms of how one would proceed with particular developmental processes, logic would dictate an “order of operations.” Though this may or may not be the case, as each organism may have its own particular sets of strengths and weaknesses, and thus must learn to abide accordingly; hence the need for outside observers, and a “school” of sorts.
To better understand this chart in correlation with chapter 9 of “In Search of the Miraculous,” we must first understand that the “oxygen-Do 768 (in yellow)” of the Physical Food Octave, is the food that we eat that eventually enters the digestive system. It is then transmuted into higher elements corresponding to higher functions, but first must bond with elements already present in the organism (Carbon 192-in red). Once the food (oxygen-yellow), bonds with the element already present in the organism (red-carbon), then there is a resulting transmutation into a higher element (nitrogen-green).
Once the element is ready for further transmutation, it must again bond with another carbon, as an oxygen to become another nitrogen. This is extremely confusing, as first of all, again, we must remember that these ideas are not the same concepts as in modern chemistry; and the elements described here do not at all necessarily correspond to the elements of the periodic table.
In the chart we will also see, that there are “outside shocks” labeled in light blue. These outside shocks are necessary at certain points to receive higher order elements; the body left to its own devices, would not be able to produce some of these higher substances without certain additional shocks. In the graphs shown by Ouspensky, Mi 12 of the third order of food (impressions), was the highest element given.
In the case of impressions being transmuted, this requires an understanding of the function of the sustained intention of various efforts of directed attention. This is where we need to begin to understand the concept of “self-remembering.” Though, this concept is not at all original to the Fourth Way system, it is more accurately described, and not obfuscated or as overshadowed by religious precepts, as in many belief systems.
To the Sufis and even early Christian Renaissance-era texts (like the Philokalia), this was often referred to as “the remembrance,” or even the “remembrance of God. The “why, what, and the how,” have also been nearly lost, obfuscated, or even mistranslated along the way. The practice of Dzogchen is also another similar set of ideas, that very much correlates to the ideas of the Fourth Way, and even the practice of “Karma Yoga” as popularized by Swami Vivekananda.
So if this all seems very confusing or extremely intimidating, that’s because it should. It is a large body of material, a life-long commitment, and in fact, probably multiple lifetimes.
Below are some theoretical diagrams showing a potential correspondence for the understanding of man in terms of the Universe in which he exists. The Fourth Way is an inter-laced and inter-connected objective science, of both a micro, and macro-cosmic scale. Each practitioner must verify for themselves the validity of the material through genuine and sincere efforts, and if they are to bear fruit from their labors, all their work must also be done in kind.
Enneagram of Yogic Practices
Higher-being Bodies and Elements (see fig. 2)
Ray of Creation (expanded)
In Search of the Miraculous-P.D. Ouspensky
The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution-P.D. Ouspensky
The Fourth Way-P.D. Ouspensky
In Search of Being-G.I. Gurdjieff
Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson-G.I. Gurdjieff
Meetings with Remarkable Men-G.I. Gurdjieff
Life is Real Only then when I am-G.I. Gurdjieff
Gurdjjieff, The Key Concepts-Sophia Wellbeloved
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