There were many Teachers and Masters before Gurdjieff, but no one formulated the main problem of humankind the way he did. They said that humankind was in illusions, in sleep, but no one said that people are machines that cannot do, and that everything merely happens to them. That is, the level of being was made what one ought to seek, and the main sign of spiritual awakening, transformation and development in general. Therefore, in the practice of Gurdjieff’s students, there was always a lot of doing – that is, the most diverse actions, requiring patience, endurance, a high degree of concentration and ideally – awareness. I would say that the demands on the students were at time even superhuman – the attempt to use and develop simultaneously three bodies – physical, ethereal and the body of the mind – was not exactly doomed to failure right away, but it required enormous efforts from people.
Moreover, complicated exercises must always be accompanied by self-remembering, and essentially they were made so complicated in order to deepen self-remembering. Knowing from his own experience, that when rehearsing new movements or acquiring new skills, a person inevitably must be attentive and aware, Gurdjieff created practices in which this principle was used. Thus, he began to give his students sacred dances which in fact combined in themselves all the necessary requirements for exercise – rehearsing movements, and a difficult choreography and interaction between participants, requiring attention and discipline. Here, too, conscious doing remained the central element of the practice. If we take into account that in the choreography of each dance, a description of some sort of sacred law of Being was embedded and participation in it implied a deepening of the understanding of the law itself, then it becomes entirely obvious how multi-faceted this practice was. Now these exercises are taught under the name of the Gurdjieff movements, and I have heard that now seekers first rehearse them, and then come to perform them. If that is true, then one of the chief components of the purposes of performing the movements is lost – studying them in the process of practice, acquiring the skills in a state of maximum awareness, with maximum attention and in general with the greatest strain.
Gurdjieff himself called himself a teacher of dances, and many write of him now in this way. But in fact, he taught being, about which the majority of his students write in one form or another. For example, it is noted that women in studying and interacting with Gurdjieff would become more feminine, and men, more masculine. That is, the features of their innate, essential being were manifested and developed stronger than before. Interaction with Gurdjieff was a particular ordeal which many found harder to do than performing the exercises. He had too many features and habits that shocked people and provoked protest in their conditioned minds.