The “Harmonics of Unity” exhibition by the San Francisco Gurdjieff Society, held this month at two Potrero Hill locations, presents an overview of the interactions of art, science, and religion based on insights from Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.
The society is mounting two concurrent shows: at Farley’s and the Entropy/Consciousness Institute at 312 Connecticut Street, which serves as the nonprofit’s headquarters. The society is based on ideas and self-examination methods developed by Gurdjieff, a teacher who embraced ancient wisdom and empiricism.
Self-examination has been overwhelmed by the technological examination of phenomena, according to Terry Lindahl, head of the San Francisco society. The ancient command, “Know thyself,” has been lost in any real sense, he added. “Nowadays, self-knowledge has been reduced to knowing what I like and don’t like, red or blue, Chevy or Ford,” Lindahl said.
Gurdjieff first appeared in Moscow in 1913. Since then, groups based on his lessons to return to a life of self-examination and self-knowledge have spread to major cities around the world. Groups use the ancient and modern wisdom Gurdjieff assembled from studies that emerged from Egypt, as well as monasteries in the Middle and Far East.
Gurdjieff’s teachings hinge on the existence of three disparate brains within each human: an archicortical lizard brain, a mesocortical mammal brain, and a neocortical human brain. The lizard brain is responsible for instinctive organ functions, for moving motor and sex functions. The mammal brain carries both primitive and complex emotional purposes. The neocortical brain apparatus defines what it means to be human. In an interview with the View, Lindahl mentioned Dr. Paul Maclean, a prominent neuro-anatomist who said that when a psychiatrist asks a man to lie on his couch, the psychiatrist doesn’t know that he’s asking a crocodile to lie down with a horse and a primate.
“So the problem Gurdjieff unfolds before our eyes is how to observe and reconcile these internecine brains in daily operation; to lessen the influence of the atavistic brains and increase the flow of energy to the neocortical potential to live from coherent conscience and reason,” Lindahl said.
The task works in conjunction with the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entire universe is a “closed system” subject to entropy, or the increased loss of energy or vibration rate. Erwin Schrodinger stated in 1944, “Life feeds on a flow of negentropy,” and negentropy results from the processes of life.
Gurdjieff developed specific methods for the personal, intentional engagement of these life processes. “The idea is that to engage this natural potential one changes nothing, but undertakes a study of oneself as one is; just interject practices into your daily routine,” Lindahl said. For instance, sit quietly for 20 or 30 minutes each morning with the question, “What is up to me?” and pay attention to what each brain center is producing. Then make a plan for returning to that study a number of times during the day.
Roughly 20 society members come to the Connecticut Street building every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a day of work. Necessary tasks and an inner task are assigned as a means to direct self-study. For instance, a person might sense his or her presence while picking up an object and experience the vibrations of his or her nervous system adjusting to the weight. Members engage in a practice of movements to music that reveals to the practitioner the difficulty of bringing the three brain centers into cohesion.
Each of the brains asserts that it’s “in the right.” A group of like-minded seekers is necessary to verify the results of a kind of “detoxification from rightness,” according to Lindahl. Members are introduced to their functioning by paying attention to themselves objectively, thus bringing the oracle, “Know thyself,” into the present.
The artwork on display at Farley’s and the institute is meant to communicate the dynamics of the human situation, according to Lindahl. For instance, a mural shown at Farley’s titled “The Function of Verticality” shows a left hand and right hand reconciled by a vertical center piece.
For more information about the institute and the society: www.entropy-consciousness.org.