February 2013

San Francisco Gurdjieff Society Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Steven J. Moss

Roughly fifty years ago, in a quest to understand life’s meaning, Terry Lindahl started meeting with a group of other seekers in North Beach. “I was originally interested in existentialism,” Lindahl recalled, as he sat in Farley’s, where he can regularly be spotted in his trademark Fedora-style hat. “But then through reading Peter Ouspsenski I came upon Gurdjieff.” 

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff emerged as a spiritual teacher mid-century last. His synthesis of past teachings indicated that humankind has the potential to evolve its consciousness. He believed that most people live in a state of hypnotic "waking sleep," but that there are ways to penetrate this smothering blanket of mundane consciousness to achieve higher states of mind. Gurdjieff developed various approaches for increasing awareness, which included music, movements, group and individual work. A key element of these methods was to set up experiments to observe ingrained habits of the mind and cultivate moments of critical insight.

“For example, take small walks with the intention to experience the sensation of the space you occupy in the solar system,” said Lindahl. “Observe what other interests distract you from the work you intended.” Gurdjieff believed that he had to constantly innovate and create new “alarm clocks” to awaken his sleeping students until the change had sunk in.

Lindahl — who helped raise seven children, and as a licensed architect designed the original San Francisco International Airport boarding lounge, Daly City Civic Center, and Shoe Biz’s Haight Street outlet, among other projects — has spent most of his adult life intensively studying Gurdjieff’s teachings, and leading groups in its practice. In 1993, under his leadership the San Francisco Gurdjieff Society purchased what had been the New Potrero Theater, at 18th and Connecticut streets. Lindahl spent the next two decades renovating the structure — including straightening out-the theater’s slated floor — to make it a suitable for the Society.

“It amazes me to realize that this month will mark 20 years of the growth of the facilities of the San Francisco Gurdjieff Society here on the Hill,” said Lindhal. “Shortly after we moved in we roasted a lamb on a spit on the street front to meet the neighbors. We’ve had several open houses over the years, but largely have gone quietly about the business of converting the premises from a condemned unreinforced masonry building to a creditable contribution to the Potrero gestalt.” 

Lindahl’s lifelong engagement with Gurdjieff was initially nurtured by Henry John Sinclair, also known as “Lord Pentland,” who was a disciple of the spiritual innovator. Lindahl studied with Lord Pentland from 1964 until to his death in 1984, continuing for another 10 years with the Gurdjieff Foundations in San Francisco and New York. 

“The idea is to move from the Lizard brain, which only cares about survival, to a more conscience level,” explained Lindahl. “It’s a bit like taking control over your own evolution.” According to Lindahl, until the emergence of humans evolution occurred as a natural progression. Humans have the capacity to influence how they evolve, even if they don’t often avail themselves of that ability. To do so isn’t easy. “It takes attention and intention,” said Lindahl. 

“It seems apparent” said Lindahl “that presently the human appetite for information is driving a kind of evolutionary transition. However, when a criticality in the transition process is reached, the engagement of conscious awakening goes individual by individual. In concert. We have an innate longing for sense and meaning; religion is intrinsic to our nature. But classical religions frame our quest as a ‘top down’ dispensation rather than what is now emerging, due to sufficient information, as a natural ‘bottom up’ process.”     For further conversations about the Society, contact Lindhal at 550.6668 or htlindahl@yahoo.com

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