Idea Study and Exchanges
The Work is an oral tradition, studied and practiced through exchange and verification with fellow students and mentors. Mr Gurdjieff stressed the importance of exchanging observations about one's inner work and working together in various ways - through practical work on "Work days", through the study of ideas, during "intensive" periods of study covering 3-7 days and in silent or guided meditations or "sittings".
Meetings are held weekly in small groups of peers and with those who have more experience, to open lines of questioning and exploration based on Work principles and ideas. The meetings are a living exercise in exchange among members to assist them on an individual path of self discovery and to explore our place and possibility in the universe.
Music holds a key place in the Gurdjieff Work. In his lifetime Mr. Gurdjieff, in a unique collaboration with his student, the Russian composer, Thomas de Hartmann, composed over 350 pieces of music. The study of music and its meaning is fundamental in the school. All musicians are welcome to explore this music on their own instrument with experienced guidance and pianists are given the opportunity to accompany Sacred Dance classes
Other forms of music are also sometimes explored - singing, rhythmic drumming, improvisation and spoken word, for example.
In the early years of his search, Gurdjieff spent time in various hidden monasteries and temples in Central Asia, where he experienced ritual dances and ceremonies. In studying their essential structure, he came to the understanding that these dances were being used as a language to express knowledge of a cosmic order. This language is a very exact one. Everything in it is measured, every movement has its right place, duration and weight. Combinations and sequences are mathematically calculated. Positions are arranged to produce definite, predetermined emotions or states. In the creation of such movements, every small element matters. Each detail has meaning, nothing is left to chance. Nothing is the result of mere imagination. There is only one possible gesture, attitude and rhythm to represent a given human or cosmic situation. Another gesture, another movement would strike a false note, would not produce the impression of truth. Should there be the slightest miscalculation in the composition, the truth is altered, the dance desecrated, and fantasy has taken the place of knowledge. In a lifetime devoted to study and questioning, Gurdjieff mastered the principles of this art and was able in his turn to use the movements as a vehicle for the transmission of his understanding.
The difficulty of some of the positions, the wish to achieve a more exact execution, the degree of sustained attention which is demanded, may lead the student to the discovery of unsuspected possibilities in himself. This is why, even from the beginning, the performance of these dances and exercises constitutes an important means of self-knowledge and is an integral part of the Gurdjieff method.
Can it be that the sacred dances, like other sacred forms of art, reflects not only reality itself but a way to reach it?
Instructors at the Society for Arts and Ideas have been trained from a very young age by Mr. Gurdjieff's designated responsibles - Alfred Etievan and Jessmin Howarth, and have over 40 years experience in the direct communication of Mr. Gurdjieff's Movements. Weekly classes are held at the studio in Toronto and intensive weekend seminars are held from time to time.
Movements are not offered outside of the teaching. "We cannot understand the Movements apart from the teaching, and we cannot rightly practice them with our automatic thinking and feeling. They call for the participation of my whole Presence. I must open to an energy that could have its own life in me. Then it is the body of energy, the Presence that is in movement".
- Jeanne de Salzmann.