Chapter 15: You Need to Wake Up
But still the opportunity is there. Gurdjieff used to say, “How can you ever wake up unless someone else awakens you?” Your sleep is so deep that unless someone comes along and shakes you, no external element is going to find its way to you through the barrier of your slumbers. And you are so clever that the possibility is that you will pull the man who comes to awaken you too into sleep with yourself.
Still, there is one way, and Gurdjieff used to tell a story to illustrate it which is worth understanding. He used to say that ten people are traveling through a dense forest. They are afraid of the beasts prowling in the jungle, so they all do not go to sleep at the same time; one of them is awake, and this man does not go to sleep without waking someone else. But at least one is always awake and he protects the rest of the nine who are sleeping, and before going to sleep this man will without fail awaken one of the sleeping ones to replace him. Gurdjieff used to call this “schoolwork.”
This is the very function of an ashram.
It is a place where, say, one hundred people decide to wake up on their own, but the sleep they are in is deep, and on one’s own one may forget the commitment. Our capacity for forgetting is immense!
I have heard: There was a man who was always forgetting things. No matter how determined he was to remember, he would just forget. So he consulted a psychologist. The psychologist advised him to keep a piece of string handy, and whenever he wanted to remember something, to tie the string around his finger or around his ear or to make a knot in his clothing, so the moment he caught sight of the knot he would be reminded.
Shortly after, the man wanted to remember something, so he found a piece of string and knotted it around his finger as the psychologist had suggested. But the man became even more carefree after tying the thread, because now he thought there is no way to forget. This made him forget even more easily.
At the end of the day the man returned home, had his dinner, and while he was reading the newspaper suddenly he noticed the string around his finger. But try as he might, he could not remember why he had tied the string there. Now, if one is forgetful one can forget anything - but this time the man was determined to remember what it was that he had forgotten. “No matter how long it takes,” he vowed to himself, “I shall not rest until I have remembered what it was! I shall sit and meditate, and if necessary I shall stay up all night long, but I must remember.”
So he sat there in his chair, thinking and pondering and racking his brains until two o’clock in the morning - and then he remembered. He remembered that he had tied the string round his finger to remind himself to go to bed early that night.
Yes, our capacity for forgetting is tremendous. In our alchemy of turning the truth into dreams we are very skillful.