An interview with late Joanna Haggarty, a renowned teacher of the Gurdjieff Society, with a video of a Gurdjieff Movements presentation by Amiyo and Chetan’s group.
The mystic George I. Gurdjieff has created about 250 movements or dances to music that was specially designed for them. The movements show great variety and precision and originate from ancient spiritual traditions, like Sufi, Buddhist, Taoist, Gnostic or were created by himself for the modern man. The objective was to develop – through dance and movement – a more refined state of consciousness, relaxed and at the same time alert, that would free us from automatic gestures and actions, thought patterns and emotional reactions.
Amiyo Devienne and Chetan Greenberg (gurdjieff-dances.com) will be facilitating a retreat at Osho Nisarga in the Himalayas, 6-17 April 2023. Details: oshonisarga.com.
The video above is from a Gurdjieff Movements presentation performed in Munich, in 2017, filmed by Hamido (kardellmedia.de). To get a glimpse of a workshop with Amiyo and Chetan: youtu.be
from an interview with Joanna Haggarty
The exercises and dances brought to us by Mr. Gurdjieff known as ‘sacred dances’ or more generally ‘movements’ play a big part in his teaching. They include sacred dances from many different traditions as well as those he created himself. Nearly everyone who witnesses them, or takes part in them, feels that they have a very special quality that can readily be recognised but not easily explained.
It has been said that the movements have a double aim – to contain and express a certain form of knowledge and, at the same time, to serve as a means of acquiring a harmonious state of being. Because of their conscious construction they serve a higher purpose in which these two aspects eventually unite. In this way, the human body can act, can transmit and can be of service. Fundamentally, all sacred dances are about moving and being in movement. They could be called ‘meditation in movement.’ They relate to a world entered through the body but much more than just physical. Maybe we could simply say, with the Native Americans, that we can come to ‘walk in a sacred way.’
Whether working in a class or watching, one cannot avoid being struck by the enormous variety of the material. Each movement has its own character. There are movements of incomparable grandeur, apparently brought from different religious orders. There are those Mr. Gurdjieff composed himself in a seemingly limitless range, from simple to intricate, from dance to prayer. They are not variations on a theme; each has its own form, its own language. Each makes its particular demand and its unique statement. No words can adequately express such mastery.
His inventiveness is breathtaking…
It is as if each movement had been plucked from the air complete in all its complexity. Each is able to produce specific impressions upon onlookers and participants. These impressions, if one can be there to receive them, give for each a specific ‘taste’ (or ‘insight’ or even, it could be said, ‘vibration’). At the same time, if attention can be sustained, an inner process unfolds.
When people first join a movements class, they are far from knowing what to expect. In the name of self-knowledge or personal growth, they accept certain external conditions, including considerable discipline. They are asked to work in neat rows, to stay in their assigned place, and to follow the guidance of the person in front of the class, both externally and, as far as possible, internally. In short, they accept to try and participate as best they can and to understand what is asked. The teacher tries to encourage an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect so that participants can open to new possibilities rather than become blocked by self-deprecation or anxiety.
Such conditions are not particularly unusual. Certain sequences of postures are taken, with simple but clearly defined positions of the trunk, limbs and head, often to a march or some other simple rhythm of the feet. What is not so usual is the unceasing demand for attention. The call is to be awake to the body, whatever it is doing. This may vary greatly within the course of one hour.
At one moment there may be a quick march, at another moment a quiet and subtle movement sitting down, then a struggle fully to enter a very strong rhythm, then some slow bending to an exact tempo, and so on.
The class is also asked to be awake in the head, to follow unusual combinations and sequences of arm and leg movements and displacements. The conditions are such that to dream is to lose your contact and make a mistake. Yet, so long as there is an appropriate quality of attention, there is the opportunity to relax and to become quieter inside, while remaining faithful to the intended movements.
All this is not haphazard. It is not any postures, any rhythms learnt in any sequence. The movements, and the preparatory exercises which lead up to them, are constructed to allow experiences which are quite different from usual. This is made possible through a loosening of the habitual inner connections by which our postures, thoughts and feelings are tied together in our own characteristic mesh of subjective states and experiences.
As greater freedom becomes possible, so the action of the movements allows a quite different opening to an unknown world, deep inside. In these more objective conditions, the movements, the teacher and the class come together in a subtle, dynamic combination. […]
The class begins as an assembly of people who have come from all directions, bearing the traces of very different inner states. Despite all our best efforts to leave daily life outside the room, we bring ourselves as we are, with our own disorderly emotions, attitudes and personal tensions. A dreamy head, with its endless inner talking, compounds the disharmony.
Something is proposed by the teacher and everyone begins to move in unison. Each body, young or old, may be very capable or, on the contrary, very awkward. Each member of the class struggles gamely with their own difficulty, but often with mounting joy. Little by little, something changes. The miracle is that as I struggle to try what is asked, I begin to see all that gets in the way. Then the movements become not only a special kind of food but also a mirror for myself.
For many, the movements become a beloved, though often insufficiently questioned, support in their efforts to grow. Even early on, most people enjoy the challenge. A few react to their own incapacity so strongly that it may be difficult for them to continue. In any case, it is the beginning of a never-ending search to which we can come as we are and in which we can be seen. Individual problems, difficulties, blocks and the quality of attention in each person are apparent. Eventually, this class becomes nearer to being an instrument, an attentive instrument.
It may be asked whether there is really so much difference between a class of movements and an orchestra. In an orchestra there is much of what is needed for the movements: great skill, application, exactitude, care, feeling. However, professional musicians, with experience of Mr. Gurdjieff’s movements, affirm that it is not at all the same. The orchestra is served with the fluency of infinitely practised automatic actions in an environment of intense absorption. That is what, in the world of sacred dances, we understand as strong identification. The essence of the movements is the struggle against automatism and identification. There is, in the orchestra, much force in the external manifestation, but little or no force in the inner struggle for “I AM.”
Speaking personally, I could say that movements have been the love and support of my whole life and my debt to my teachers is immeasurable. […]
The Experience of Working in a Class
Working in movements has often seemed like climbing mountains. One struggles up the lower slopes with mist shrouding the higher ones. Progress, in the sense of understanding, is slow. A certain aim is glimpsed as a peak appears momentarily when the mist lifts. Then, when a pass is eventually reached, the landscape widens. More and more new peaks appear beyond. So much is felt as unknown. So much of the experience is essentially wordless. One realises that there is no end to this expedition and that, ultimately, the movements are as deeply mysterious as life itself.
It is very difficult to convey something of the actual experience of movements to those who have not tasted it. At best, it can be a succession of vivid, living moments in which I struggle and in which, in flashes, I see myself. It is a participation in which I join freely and from which I emerge awakened. […]
Joanna Haggarty was a member of the Gurdjieff Society of London and was introduced to the Work by her mother, a pupil of P. D. Ouspensky. After attending Ouspensky’s last lecture in London in 1947, she joined a group led by Kenneth Walker. She met Gurdjieff briefly in 1949, and began Movements with Alfred Etiévant later that year. She participated in two documentary Movements films and in Peter Brook’s film, Meetings With Remarkable Men, and was a movements assistant in London and Norway for many years. She died in 1994 (gurdjieff.org). This text was first published in The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members, (London) April 1995–1996. Revision: June 4, 2019.
Thanks go to Amiyo and Shantidharm of meditationfrance.com.
- Gurdjieff Movements: The Radiance of Presence – Amiyo shares the story about one of her biggest love affairs (May 2012)
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