Make Strong! Not Easy Thing.”
I was first introduced to this exercise by my dear colleagues Amy Silver and Deborah Rose Longo at Claymont. We worked with it during both sessions of our Gurdjieff /Teilhard seminar last fall, where it definitely raised the collective fineness of the group (“fineness” here being understood as sensitivity, vibrancy, and synergy).
This exercise is particularly beloved by many Work devotees because it speaks in Gurdjieff’s own voice—it seems to have been copied down essentially verbatim by one of his students—and thus bears his presence in a particularly personal and sacramental way.
In this exercise we will be working primarily with the breath—though inseparable, of course, from its other two major components, the “I Am,” carried on the breath and three-centered awareness.
For Gurdjieff, breathing was the source of our “second being food,” which not only sustains life in the planetary body, but also contains—if the breathing is conscious and fully embodied– elements needed for the building up of our subtle inner bodies, the bodies that allow us to begin here and now to perceive and navigate in the invisible higher realms. Without trying to hold the terms too tightly, the gist of the idea is laid out in a couple of key paragraphs in G’s chapter on“Hypnotism” in Beelzebub’s Tales (520-21 in Viking Arkana edition):
“The substances of that part of the being-blood designed by Nature for serving the planetary body arise from the transformation of the substances of that planet on which the given being is formed and exists.
“But the substances designed for serving the kesdjan body of the being, which in their totality are called ‘hanbledzoin,’ are obtained from the transformation of elements of other planets and of the sun itself of that system where this three-brained being has the place of his arising and existence.
“Finally, that part of the being-blood which almost everywhere is called the sacred ‘aiëssakladonn,’ and which serves the highest part of the being called the ‘soul,’ derives from the direct emanations of our Most Holy Sun Absolute [i.e., the Source of Everything existing, or God Himself ].”
After explaining that the substances required for the building up of our planetary body are ingested in the form of food, and for our first higher body (the kesdjan body) from breathing, Gurdjieff then adds the kicker:
“As for the sacred cosmic substances required for the coating of the ‘highest being-body, which they call the ‘soul,’ these substances can be assimilated and correspondingly transformed and coated in them only through the process of what is called ‘aiësiritoorassian contemplation,’ actualized in their common presences with the conscious participation of their three independent spiritualized parts [i.e., their three centers].”
‘Aiesiritoorassian Contemplation’ is the term that Azize translates as “transformed contemplation.” If you take the “aiëss”cognate seriously, it literally means “contemplation intended to nourish the sacred aiëssakhladonn, which builds up our highest being body, the soul.” Or more simply put: consciously ingesting those being substances that emerge directly from the most holy Sun Absolute; from God. This is what these exercises, in toto, are all about. They contain the heart of Gurdjieff’s vision of transformation and the essence of his method for how to get there.
As we work with this exercise it is important to bear in mind that we are actually taking in a substance gratuitously offered to us through the Mercy of God for the building up within us of that “immortal diamond” which allows us to live here and now in those deeper waters that lie beyond death. We could all use a bit more of that substance on our planet just now!
The second component in this exercise is the I AM, which is placed on the breath: “I” on the in-breath, “AM” on the out-breath.
We have already explored in my last commentary how “I AM” and “Lord have Mercy” are equivalent phrases for Gurdjieff; they invoke and complete one another. “I AM” is not an autonomous assertion of “my” individual being; it arises within a relational field as a gift mysteriously given in each moment. The name of this field is the Mercy, and as I have been pointing out for twenty years now (borrowing an insight from that venerable wise woman Helen Luke), the root of the old Etruscan term mercy—merc—literally means “exchange.” It has nothing to do with pity, let alone condescension. It speaks of flow. “Every breath you take is the breath of God,” the rascally old monk Theophane of Snowmass was fond of saying.
We sense this gift freely flowing toward us, and realize that we do not hold ourselves in life; it is renewed in us breath by breath. Try to sense the Mercy as you say the I AM; let them dance in one another. And if you want, ponder this comment which Gurdjieff made: ”When I say “I,” something inside me stands up; when I say “AM,” something inside me sits down.” If you recall Olga Louchakova’s insight (in my commentary yesterday) about standing on the threshold of ‘innermost mystery of the ontopoietic (self-manifesting) process’—well, there you are!
As your inner sensing gets more subtle, you may actually begin to be directly aware of these higher being substances as they play in the air you take in. Just in the moment before the out-breath draws back into in-breath, you may sense them particularly pungently. But don’t strain to catch it, and above all, don’t mess with your breathing! Don’t pause or add in any artificial hesitations. Gurdjieff was strictly adamant in breathing exercises that the natural flow of the breathing not be interfered with. It is a very good recommendation for both safety and humility.
MAKE STRONG means to do this exercise in all three centers; if you float through it on autopilot, nothing will have been accomplished. While this exercise does not involve a body rotation, Gurdjieff does call for an initial “fifteen minutes relax”; during this time, it would not be time ill-spent to summon your bodily presence to full engagement. Get yourself alert, collected, and filled with sensation. Then you’ll be good to go.
The task of the intellectual center is to keep the mind from wandering; the emotional center become engaged as you realize the sacredness of the being-sustenance you are being offered and feel the Mercy of God as an intimate enfolding tenderness holding you and everything else together.
A final reflection…
At this precise moment, as we enter the eye-of the needle of Holy Week engulfed in a global pandemic, I am excruciatingly aware of the corporate and collective dimension of this exercise. When the covid-19 virus kills, it kills by taking away the capacity to draw nourishment from this second being food, the air. I breathe in solidarity with all those struggling for breath; I feel that the gift of breathing, still by grace unfolding in me, is for their sake as well. At a fundamental level, breath ties us all together. The world is closely in the backdrop as I sit down on my prayer mat these days and endeavor to MAKE STRONG. Indeed, not an easy thing.
One final, totally Gurdjieffian prophetic twist: At the end of that same chapter on Hypnotism (pp. 522-3), he notes that the invitation to transform these higher cosmic substances embedded in the air is not only a sacred opportunity but also a collective human obligation; failure to do so throws the whole system of inter-realmic reciprocal feeding off-kilter. The untransformed “crystallizations” of these higher cosmic substances reign back down on the earth—as viruses! He suggests that it was precisely this imbalance that gave rise to the first global pandemic, the Spanish influenza of 2018!
You can dismiss this as voodoo if you like, but at root, I believe the old sage may have a point. Our postmodern arrogance and skepticism notwithstanding, we humans are indeed very small cogs in a huge and merciful intercosmic wheel. As we reawaken reverence and gratitude, courage and strength will surely follow.
Read Cynthia’s blog series on Azize Exercises:
- Clear Impressions Commentary: Azize Exercises Recommended by Cynthia
- Lord Have Mercy Commentary: Azize Exercises Recommended by Cynthia
- Make Strong Commentary: Azize Exercises Recommended by Cynthia
- The Atmosphere Exercise: Azize Exercises Recommended by Cynthia
- The Web Exercise: Azize Exercises Recommended by Cynthia
- Four Ideals Commentary: Azize Exercises Recommended by Cynthia