I have studied the ideas of spiritual transformation (personal rebirth) from two great men, Emanuel Swedenborg and George Gurdjieff. I have become convinced over the last 36 years that these two men—living in different centuries—understood and promoted similar principles for obtaining God’s kingdom of mutual love and heavenly happiness.
Both men put forth the premise that humankind is “asleep” and sees reality upside down. Both men stated that the modern human mind operates in a disjointed and disharmonious way, which keeps us all in a relative dream state of “imaginative fictions” in which we are not fully present in our own skins. However, on the surface of things, their two remedial systems for raising one’s consciousness concerning reality and our negative predicament seem quite different. But the more I studied the ideas of these two men (and put their ideas into practice) the more I became sensitive to their profound similarities.
Recently, while reading Jeanne De Salzmann’s* book The Reality of Being (p. 73) I came upon a section where she was describing a special exercise given by Gurdjieff to help individuals experience themselves beyond the limited and tyrannical force of the human ego and tap into a higher, divine force.
The exercise involved a circular process by which one would direct his or her attention on the right arm and say the word “I.” As one did this one was challenged to feel something real about his or her self. Then, while still concentrating on the right arm, one would express the word “am” and sense something real about oneself. Next, this circular process would move to the right leg, then left leg and left arm. Finally, after doing this three times the individual would be asked to feel and sense their entirety while using the same words—“I” and “am.”
This kind of conscious-raising exercise was never offered by Swedenborg’s system. But wait—as I kept reading Jeanne De Salzmann’s account, she added a strange twist to the exercise. She said that Gurdjieff claimed that the words “I am” could be replaced by “Lord . . . have mercy.”
Wow! That replacement of words by Gurdjieff represents a very, very special understanding of the legitimate and theological approach to raising one’s consciousness and sensing reality! This understanding is in total agreement with Swedenborg’s visionary insights.
In Swedenborg’s great work Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven), he offers the same advice about coming to a state of conquering one’s ego and sensing reality: “ . . . that good ought to be done to the neighbor from the heart, and that it ought to be believed that there is nothing of merit in deeds done from self, but only in those done from the Lord in self. For the Lord Himself alone has merited, and He alone is righteousness; and when a man believes this, he places nothing of merit and reward in what is done by himself, but ascribes all goods to the Lord; and as the Lord does it from Divine mercy, the man ascribes all things to mercy alone.” (AC n 9211)
In other words, the highest state of consciousness in the human mind involves humbly acknowledging one’s nothingness before God, Who is the ultimate reality. (Gurdjieff wanted us to feel and sense this great truth with our whole being.) Without the Lord’s constant and infinite loving mercy, our lives would turn to froth and blow away in an instant!
There is no cosmic basis for putting any faith in our manufactured egos.
* For forty years Jeanne De Salzmann led many of the major Gurdjieff centers worldwide and was given the rights to his writings and responsibility for the preservation of his sacred dance “Movements.”