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G.I.Gurdjieff: The War Against Sleep Paperback – 25 Nov 2005
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About the Author
Colin Wilson is a renowned authority on the paranormal and is the author of over fifty books, with subjects ranging from mysticism to criminology. He has also written numerous articles and plays and contributed to several newspapers and journals. He regards himself primarily as a philosopher concerned with the meaning of human existence.
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To briefly summarize from Wilson's text, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol, then part of the Russian empire, sometime between January 13, 1866 and November 28, 1877; his exact birthdate, like the man himself, is something of a mystery.
His father was Greek, his mother was Armenian. After extensive travelling, much of it in early life, he became an influential spiritual teacher who argued that most people live their lives in a robot like condition, in a low state of awareness, akin to hypnosis, which he called "waking sleep".
Peter D Ouspensky was born in Moscow on 5 March 1878 and grew up among the Russian intelligentsia of his day. He became a successful journalist and travelled extensively in both Europe and the United States between 1908 and 1912, during which time he appears to have undergone a profound mystical experience, a sensation so powerful that it was to influence the rest of his life. He rose to celebrity status after his book, a philosophical treatise: `Tertium Organum' was published in 1912; it became a best seller. His reputation was further enhanced by `A New Model of the Universe' which appeared in 1914 and a compelling autobiography written as a novel; consult Ref . In the same year, he realised his ambition to travel to India. Ouspensky seemed intent on finding an esoteric school of `real' philosophical knowledge and a master teacher. He finally appeared to have succeeded upon returning to Moscow in 1915 where he met up with Gurdjieff.
Ouspensky subsequently studied the Gurdjieff System under the latter's personal supervision for a period of some ten years until 1924 after which they separated when Gurdjieff founded his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France. Ouspensky, for his part, set up his own organization in London: The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology which subsequently became known as the Study Society.
The most intriguing part of Colin Wilson's combined biographies is the last chapter in which he explains what went wrong for both Ouspensky and Gurdjieff; the former drank himself to death, the latter died of excessive alcohol consumption coupled with overeating and exhaustion. The author argues that this is somewhat easier to answer in the case of Ouspensky who appears to have become frustrated and eventually disillusioned at his inability to find a reliable way of breaking through to the higher levels of consciousness. This was in spite of spontaneous mystical experiences in earlier life which must have convinced him that such radically different states of awareness exist and can, to some extent, be summoned at will. Wilson suggests that the reason for this failure was a tendency on Ouspensky's part to over-emphasize `super effort' and `intentional suffering' coupled with an overly pessimistic nature which compelled him to drink too deeply of the darker aspects of Gurdjieff's doctrine. Both became overly concerned, to the point of being obsessed, with what was wrong with people instead of focusing on realizing their hidden potential and innate creativity by appropriate application of attention driven by enthusiastic interest and a positive life affirming attitude.
Colin Wilson also indicates that Ouspensky wanted to turn Gurdjieff's teaching into an intellectual system which is to miss the point that genuine understanding involves finding the right way to `shake' the mind awake. The author also makes a strong case for his contention that both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky failed to appreciate the importance of vitality and optimism-the sense of child-like wonder of the world-and gratitude for simply being alive. Wilson claims that our life energy leaks away too easily, leaving us tired even to the point of exhaustion. The author argues that the basic problem of human existence is a tendency-through habit-to take what is miraculous for granted and, as a result, a fail to perceive the `new' and fresh on a moment to moment basis. This propensity towards `familiarity breeds contempt' is particularly noticeable as we grow older. To counter it, Wilson insists that newness is the recognition of difference and this imparts energy as opposed to a state of fatigue that is engendered when we see the `same old same old' with a feeling of `here we go again'. Unfortunately, Ouspensky overlooked this vital point because of his basically pessimistic outlook. So, all of his emphasis on self-remembering, self-observation, insights into human mechanicalness and super effort ultimately counted for so little that he became a sad disillusioned old drunk, convinced that Gurdjieff's system had failed him.
Wilson takes the argument further by suggesting that there is a strongly pessimistic component to normal everyday human perception which takes the form of a kind of `free floating anxiety', as he puts it, and this so often leads to expression of negative emotions-including a feeling of meaningless-which, in turn, lead to leakage of energy and hence fatigue, discouragement and further pessimism. To combat this negative feedback loop, we have to learn to focus our attention by pouring our heart and soul into whatever we are interested in doing. The author stresses that to do anything with enthusiasm and conviction re-charges our batteries.
In order to reinforce his point, Wilson introduces an interesting model of human consciousness in which he distinguishes seven basic levels, ranging from deep sleep to the mystical experience of universal oneness. In other words, he seems to agree with Jung in asserting that the most effective way to liberation is by harnessing our innate creativity and, in the so doing, accessing energy from the unconscious from which we typically distance ourselves through unnecessary pessimism and negativity. It is interesting to note that the Quantum activist: Professor Amit Goswami makes much the same point in his latest book, consult Ref. 
All in all, I would strongly recommend this compendium to anyone interested in learning more about the lives of two of the most extraordinary truth seekers of the 20th century.
1. Amit Goswami PhD: Quantum Creativity (Hay House 2014) (ISBN: 978-1-78180-015-7) - available from Amazon.
2. P. D Ouspensky: Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. London: Faber & Faber, 1948 - available from Amazon.
Chris Allen is a Technical Author and Writer with the following books available through Amazon:
Reality Shaper: The Quantum Detective -- his latest novel
The Beam of Interest: Taken by Storm
Hypnotic Tales 2013: Some Light Some Dark
Call of the Void: The Strange Life and Times of a Confused Person: 1
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Wilson also sums up with a critical look at G's ideas and his perpetually troubled relationship with P.D. Ouspensky, (arguably) his main disciple. Definitely worth a look, even I think for those who have spent a significant amount of time reading about Gurdjieff or who are involed with the Work.