On reading The Reality of Being
Updated: Jul 29, 2020
by Jim Baillie, a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation of Oregon
I have read many Gurdjieff-related books—probably too many. However, my experience with Jeanne de Salzmann’s The Reality of Being is unlike with any other book, in that I cannot read it unless I am in a ‘collected’ state, with sensation, feeling, and thought activated. Unless I am working at that very moment, the book does not hold my attention.
Some Work-related books are indisputably ‘well written’, when judged by ordinary literary criteria. The Reality of Being is not one of them. In Search of the Miraculous is obviously a well written book, and it can be read in the same way and with the same parts of oneself as many other books. Some chapters can be read with the same analytical mind one would use to read a work of science or academic philosophy. Other chapters capture the emotions and the imagination, depicting remarkable people confronting world-historical events. None of that will be found in The Reality of Being.
I believe this book is not interesting or exciting because it is not written from personality. It is written from essence, and addressed to essence, and essence has no interest in the merely interesting.
I was initially unimpressed by The Reality of Being—disappointed, even bored. As I now realize, I was approaching it with my personality, seeking stimulation and immediate gratification. After all, this was the long-awaited book from the great Mme. de Salzmann! What wonderful anecdotes awaited me! Maybe she’ll even explain the Food Diagram so that it finally falls into place for me! But she didn’t give me what I wanted and I soon set the book aside. Later, however, with a number of readings in a Work group, I became increasingly shocked by its effect on me, as I began learning how to engage with this book.
As I said at the beginning, I cannot engage with this book unless I am present. Therefore, the act of reading it provides an accurate measure of my state. But when I strive to meet the book on its own terms, it speaks to my condition, at that very moment, with an uncanny accuracy and specificity. It is about me, right here and now.
This book is essential.