The Right Work of Centers Creates a Vehicle for Presence

Mar 02, 2023
Molly Forde Knight sitting at piano in cathedral

When I was first introduced to the Fourth Way ideas, I was struck by the concept that we are three brained beings. G.I. Gurdjieff referred to humans as three brained beings and also three centered beings. I thought there must be a difference. I also wondered what it all meant in terms of my own transformation. 

At that time, I had certainly worked a great deal with “quieting the mind” through years and years of meditating. I had already learned that one doesn’t still the thinking mind, but develops awareness. That attention and awareness can maintain presence while the thinking does its thing until it fades so far into the background that one can experience stillness.

I was then taught through the fourth way material to study the right use of centers. This had everything to do with how I was living my life, interacting with people, making decisions, managing my career, reacting, feeling, sensing, thinking, and much more. I began to orient my attention to the functioning of my “machine;” meaning the automatic modes of operation and habitual behavior.

Because I had developed awareness, I quickly learned the skills of observing myself, but this working of centers eluded me. I did not know how to recognize what orientation I had to any given activity except one and that was playing the piano.

As a professional classical pianist, my technical skills were ultra refined as was my listening and my mental capacity to memorize, track, and execute hours worth of music. There was also my distinct sense of oneness with the music and the feelings it evoked. That non-verbal expression of such depth of complex emotion was the ultimate connection to my audience, my heart, and the "Beingness" of the music.

The thinking mind can never express this emotional aspect or execute the physical aspect of music. It is an analyzer and an organizer. It tracks what is coming next in a sequence and can hold a great deal of order. There is a time when first learning a piece that the thinking mind must show the body the sequence. The body picks up the sequence and plays the patterns faster than the mind could ever do. Think of typing or riding a bike. If you had to show your finger how to go to this location or that location to find a letter, you would take an hour to write a paragraph. 

The same goes for physical activity, dance, running, biking, even driving. Your thinking mind does not have to tell each foot to push down on a pedal or pull the handles right to turn. Your body learns the patterns and system, no longer requiring thinking. This is why we often turn to daydreaming and thinking while driving, running, biking, and walking. 

One cannot execute the feeling of the music through the mind or the body. Feeling music is a very natural quality that influences the subtleties of timing, timbre, and well… feeling. I don’t know how to describe it except to say someone lacking this plays very mechanically, almost robotically. They can have every note right and executed perfectly. They have taught their body to slow down here or get softer there by rote practice, but if the feeling isn’t there, it is a machine churning out these sounds replicating what it has heard before.

We can see this Beingness in all of the arts and can hardly describe what it is…a vivacious living quality of connection. We are moved by it. 

So ultimately, my piano playing was a perfect balance of letting my body relax and do what it knows how to do, clarity of mind free from reaction, distraction, and nerves in order to track what is coming next, and my heart able to soar in the moment which in turn determines how I want to touch the key at that moment. Too much emoting and I would lose the notes. 

There are a lot of functions going on here: the body and it’s sense of sight, sound, and touch, the thinking tracking where I am, what it means and what comes next, and my feeling the music which in turn influences the body.

With performance there are 4 kinds of memory: tactile, aural, visual, and theoretical. This says it all when it comes to the right work of centers. 

If at some point in the performance, I lose my attention due to stage fright, the fingers will go on playing as if on autopilot. I can track the black and white patterns of the keys and suddenly lose the theoretical substance (the harmonic structure) but my body will keep on playing. I can also rely on how it “goes” from my sense of hearing (a body function). I have the running account in my head of “now this, now that” as far as sequence is concerned. 

Any one of these capabilities are too unreliable to do it alone. All are back ups if one system goes awry for any short period of time. 

They are distinct but interdependent in order to create a good performance. The idea is to have each center doing its job properly in order to transcend the functional experience and become a vehicle for something higher; something closer to the preciousness of Being. 

The same goes for life in general.

One of the most poignant vehicles for learning right work of centers are sacred dances known as The Gurdjieff Movements. They are complex on purpose and a key to our transformation. 

Through the delicate balance of attention, movement and gesture, plus feeling the connection to the deeper meaning and the beautiful music, we learn to coordinate all systems to transcend our habitual nature. 

After teaching and accompanying the Movements for 30 years, I can distinguish wrong work of centers quite accurately in a class of participants. The aim for the dancers themselves should be to observe wrong work of centers within themselves, which offers clues to how they approach life. 

The Movements are fruitless if we have drilled our bodies to know the patterns but our mind and heart are not engaged (like my fingers playing by rote). No substance behind the activity…

Doing the Movements with our thinking, we will always be behind, thus unable to anticipate the next gesture quick enough (the body and the feelings are lightening fast compared to the thinking). We then cannot synchronize with the group. Also the thinking produces a lack of vitality and “beingness” in the gestures. A hand rises but it is limp or full of unnecessary tension. No one is home in the body…

If we are full of inner reaction, we disturb the ability to maintain awareness and attention, thus we lose the sequence, which causes more reaction. I can always spot those who are having a lot of reaction because they cannot follow the sequence even though their body has it down. They cannot rely on the wisdom of the body because of their own insecurity. No Presence available…

We all have predominant centers working incorrectly that influence how we live. Seeing this provides a clue to our mechanical, habitual nature and that in turn helps streamline a vehicle for Presence. 

Once the coordination of the centers is mastered, the dancer can dance the dance, free to experience the mystery and beauty of Being. 

Interested in experiencing The Gurdjieff Movements?

Join Molly Knight Forde, founder of the Awareness School, for a Gurdjieff Movements Seminar in Seattle April 8th or for a week long retreat in the San Juan islands this summer.


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