I studied the ideas of both men and joined their organizations. They each challenged me with new paradigms. If it were not for my attending a Gurjieffian work group I would have easily overlooked one of Swedenborg’s most important lessons on spiritual transformation (regeneration).
Swedenborg had cleared up for me the conflict between salvation by faith alone and good works. But living a life of charity and good works unexpectedly covered over some of my personal faults that I wanted to hide from the world.
I remember the first assignment given to me on a “work day” from my Gurjieffian instructor. I was to go outside and scrape old paint from a wooden porch of the house where we were meeting. I was also asked to notice myself during this menial activity.
It wasn’t long before I became frustrated during the tedium of scraping off layers of old paint. The job went really slow. I realized that I was failing in my task. But I quickly rationalized my discomfort away by believing that the house needed a new porch instead of this exercise in stupidity.
But scraping off the paint wasn’t the point!
Rather than allowing myself to being fully identified with this nonsensical task (from my point of reasoning) I was able to step back and get a unique new look at myself. I was spending most of my energy inwardly complaining. I strongly felt that if I had been doing something of my own choosing I could have been more useful to the world—such as writing about heady topics.
I suddenly became conscious of my inner “bitching” and realized that it represented a flawed character trait that remained quiescent inside me during my normal habitual activities. This negative energy was leaking out of me as if through a sieve. I was put into a situation where I could now observe something unflattering about myself, which would normally go quite unnoticed. I was a fraud!
That is the main point of Gurdjieff’s system – to create the conditions that will permit a person to become aware of one’s true situation. Instead, most of our activities involve keeping us inwardly calm and oblivious to our inner threats. (This is a form of hypnotism.)
Next, I realized that this was what Swedenborg also was talking about when he said that good works and kind acts had to be purified by innocence—otherwise some deep personal flaw would always be attached to the otherwise noble outward optics of any good deed. (I did not want to go into the afterlife with my inner, spiritual life being obsessed with complaining.)
Swedenborg suggested that we are to look deep into our actions and identify specific (not general) character flaws. In this way God would know just what imperfections we wanted removed from our lives. (The most difficult of these flaws to identify are those which, through repetition, have become second nature.)
When this challenging process is adopted by increasing numbers of individuals, the world will get visceral and self-evident proof of the power that spiritual realities convey.