Gurdjieff’s on Forging a Meaningful Existence

Gurdjieff's teachings challenge us to embark on the inner journey of conscious self-transformation, fuelled by sincere aspiration rather than external knowledge. We explore how self-observation, detachment, patience and leading by quiet example can encourage the awakening of others.


Alex H. Boukhari

Multiple exposure image of a young woman contemplating against a serene mountain landscape, symbolizing inner transformation and self-discovery according to Gurdjieff's teachings on conscious self-development.

We navigate the ups and downs of life, pursuing careers, chasing money, prestige or simply trying to make a living. We walk spiritual paths in search of some kind of enlightenment or sometimes liberation from suffering. We accumulate books, knowledge and ideas that distract us from the real and hard work.

On a deeper level, however, nothing changes because we do not have a burning desire to change. The sign of a real desire for change, a sincere desire, is when a person who is striving for the path is no longer interested in anything but that path.

Without inner desire, nothing external can transform us. Lasting transformation comes from conscious work fuelled by sincere aspiration. By doing what it really takes to change ourselves, we embark on the path where the meaning of life reveals itself. As Gurdjieff declared:

“Awakening is possible only for those who seek it and want it, for those who are ready to struggle with themselves and work on themselves for a very long time and very persistently in order to attain it.”

The Necessity of Self-Observation

The quest for a deeper meaning begins with a spark of inner desire, a longing for change that transcends the mundane. Gurdjieff’s wisdom echoes through the ages, reminding us that true transformation is reserved for those who have a burning desire to seek and strive. When we are disillusioned with the distractions of the outer world, we turn our gaze inward, to the only way in which the meaning of life can truly reveal itself. Gurdjieff noted:

“Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.”

Self-observation is the cornerstone of this inner work. Gurdjieff’s teachings and Buddhist philosophy converge on this point: The act of observing oneself is the first step towards liberation. Through the lens of objectivity, we begin to discern the nature of our emotions, thoughts and reactions, and in doing so, we regain the reins of our lives from the grip of unconscious habits.

In Buddhist philosophy, the practise of mindfulness and self-awareness is central to achieving liberation from suffering. By observing the fluctuations of the mind without attachment or aversion, one can gain insight into the nature of reality and the causes of one’s own dissatisfaction. This process of self-observation aligns with Gurdjieff’s emphasis on conscious self-examination as a catalyst for inner transformation.

Indeed, self-observation enables us to detach ourselves from our habitual emotional reactions. As an analogy, when absorbed in watching a movie, we experience all the characters’ emotions as if they were our own. However, the moment we become aware that we are spectators, a certain distance is created between us and the unfolding images on the screen. We realise that it is “just a movie’ and our emotions calm down.

Similarly, the practise of self-observation creates gaps between external stimuli and our reflex reactions. Instead of being carried away by anger, fear or other states, we are able to take a step back, recognise the emotion and react consciously rather than instinctively. With consistent self-observation, these moments of detachment become more frequent and allow us to master our machine-like reactions.

According to Gurdjieff, these reactive emotions are the result of a long chain of mechanical influences from outside, whether from family, society or ancient fragments of evolutionary programming. By detaching ourselves from these emotions through self-observation, we free ourselves from these causal chains and come closer to our essential nature. We are no longer slaves to external and unconscious forces – we regain our individuality and our will.

The Futility of Changing Others

The attempt to awaken loved ones by force is a losing battle. As Gurdjieff emphasised, true hunger for spiritual growth cannot be imposed from the outside – it must come from within each individual. We cannot instil in others the sincere aspiration that is an essential prerequisite for inner transformation.

This dynamic reveals a profound paradox: trying to forcefully change others often has the opposite effect, increasing their resistance or rebellion. It’s like trying to force open a tightly clenched fist – the fingers will only tighten even more. However, if you proceed gently – stroking the fingers gently and without intention – the fist will relax of its own accord.

The great Zen teacher Bodhidharma was once confronted with a similar situation: his students fell asleep during meditation. He did not scold them. Rather, he compassionately observed their breathing while they slept! This presence was enough to make them realise the value of wakefulness. Bodhidharma understood that the seeds of change must sprout from within.

Direct methods are unsuccessful, but we can create supportive conditions for the self-knowledge of others. By embodying wisdom in our own example, speech and behaviour, we plant seeds that can gradually blossom under the right circumstances. Our detached presence is like the sunlight that causes these seeds to sprout when the time is right.

This understanding – respecting the sovereign domain of each being while indirectly encouraging its growth – represents the fine balance between compassion and wisdom as exemplified in the Buddhist teachings on non-attachment. Our task is not to control, but to consciously channel our energies to water the seeds of potentiality in all beings.

In this way, through patience, insight and leading by example, we can strike the delicate balance between non-interference and encouraging the awakening of those around us without imposing our will or overstepping boundaries. The fruits of transformation will emerge organically through our conscious effort and compassion.

The Journey Inward

The meaning of life is revealed to those who concentrate fully on the inner path. By humbly surrendering to conscious growth, we enter the path that leads to maturity, wisdom, resilience and acceptance. This path leads to a kind of freedom that is difficult to express, but it is as if we are gaining more of our individuality.

Temporary gratifications no longer distract us, we focus more on the things that are more important and meaningful. It is about a noble dedication to our own development, about being true to ourselves.

Our desire magnetises meaning and draws it inexorably inwards. Here, in the silent present, we discover the meaning of life. As Gurdjieff assured us:

“If you are working inwardly, Nature will help you. For the man who is working, Nature is sister of charity; she brings him what he needs for his work.” 

Of course, this does not mean that material wealth will miraculously appear. Rather, external conditions begin to support our journey. Doors open and obstacles dissolve. Those who focus on conscious work attract all that is necessary for their growth.

The journey of self-discovery is an invitation to each of us. Do we dare to accept the challenge of transformation? Are we ready to dive into the depths of our being to unearth the treasures of wisdom and authenticity that lie within us?

As we complete this exploration, consider this: The path is within you, waiting to be walked. Will you take the first step?



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