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The “Four Ideals” Exercise and the Four Limbs

The “Four Ideals” Exercise and the Four Limbs

Joseph Azize, 1 November 2014

It was my privilege to make Gurdjieff’s “Four Ideals Exercise” publicly available in an article ““The Four Ideals”: A Contemplative Exercise by Gurdjieff”, published in ARIES: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism, 2013, vol. 13, pp. 173–203. I will offer here, a few comments relating that exercise to the movement of the blood. Throughout, I assume a familiarity with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous.

The “Four Ideals” was taught by Gurdjieff to George Adie on 1 October 1948, and under his tuition, Adie persevered with it for five months. The article establishes the authenticity of Adie’s text of the exercise, and sets out my transcription. I made a number of comments about its first part of the text. I will not repeat those comments except to say that the exercise purports to have been given to enable an exercitant to make contact with and eventually be nourished from “reservoirs” or “foyers” of higher substances. These reservoirs are formed above the atmosphere of the earth when devotees of four “ideals” (Muhammad, Buddha, Lama and Jesus) “send their emanations” towards their personal ideal. These emanations are formed when “they pray to it (the ideal), they stretch towards it.”

First, let us take the filling of the limbs with the substances which have been “sucked” into the exercitant by means of a “thread”. First the right arm, then the right leg, then the left leg and finally the left arm are carefully filled after trying to “suck” into them substances from one of those four reservoirs high in the atmosphere above the planet. If nothing else, this is unusual. What is going on?

For the sake of this short piece, I will accept that an “ideal” does in fact exist above the earth in each of the four places designated as having been associated with the “ideal”, and that higher substances can be drawn from them into our bodies. I shall restrict my comments to the role of the limbs. The role of the arms and legs is, in my view, much underestimated in culture, both popular and religious. Their value is chiefly aesthetic. To the best of my knowledge, no one has made as much use of the arms and legs for spiritual purposes as Gurdjieff, and I am not referring only to the Sacred Movements.

The limbs also have important roles in Gurdjieff’s preparation and in other of his exercises. The attention is often turned to them, and they are often “filled” with substances, such as “sensation”, “feeling” and “the breath”. In the Four Ideals exercise, the limbs are used as “reservoirs” of the attracted substances. In the next section of the exercise, the said substances are drawn from the limbs into the region of “the level of the breast”. There, they blend with the incoming air. That blend is then “poured” into the sex organs. From there, it is sent into the limbs and other parts of the body.

This is all interesting, but let me just take ponder one discrete matter: that the limbs are said to store the sucked in substances.

First, speaking about the work of the body in general, and not only during this exercise: the limbs can take a lot of blood, and it can flow through them at faster or slower tempos. For reasons I will not go into here, it may well be that it is the blood in the limbs which acts as an “accumulator”, and with which these substances blend so that they can be utilised for conscious development, or as food for the “higher centres” (which comes down to the same thing, for conscious development is possible only when there is a normal alignment of the lower and the higher centres, and given such a normal alignment, it will occur through the vicissitudes of life). Incidentally, I do not by any means discount the importance of any part of the physical body: skin, flesh, muscles, tendons, bones, marrow, nerves, and the inter-related system of hormones, amino acids, peptides and proteins. I suspect that none of these are without a role in what I have referred to as normal alignment and in the normal operation of the human bodies.

Second, my experience, together with the sparse medical evidence I have been able to locate, indicates that is possible to cause blood to move into the limbs simply by using thought or, more precisely, self-suggestion. One can imagine that the blood is being pumped into the limbs, especially through the mass of the limbs and into the fingers or toes, for it to commence moving into them. One can also present to oneself that all or part of the arms or legs are in a warm place, wrapped in a hot flannel, or that one’s limbs are immersed in a hot bath, a bucket of icy cold water, or so on. That is sufficient to start moving the blood there. There is peer-reviewed medical evidence that “signals from higher brain centres (central command)” can increase cerebral blood flow. I would suggest that it can increase blood flow into the limbs, and – I would think – wherever there are blood vessels.

As the blood moves into the arms and legs with a stronger flow, the pulse throughout the whole of the body starts to become more even and calmer. I have confirmed this with a pulse-meter. There is significant anecdotal evidence that imagining the blood flowing into the legs can help one fall asleep more quickly. A higher level of control, but very difficult t obtain, comes when one can sense more of the movement of the blood throughout the body as a whole: what Ouspensky, and possibly also Gurdjieff, called “the second stroke or the ‘big heart’.” Miraculous, 351.

Third, my experience is that when the blood more abundantly fills the limbs, there is a heightened sense of physical well-being. One can, of course, cause the limbs to be filled by ordinary physical exercise, such as running. However, the first advantage of using a sedentary method such as Gurdjieff’s exercises is that one avoids the excitement and subsequent tiredness which often comes with exercise. Second, exercise causes the blood to move everywhere: which is fine. But the mental and emotional calmness which can come through these exercises is related to the manner in which the blood is caused to move, and the intent and knowledge brought into play. That is, the beneficial effects of these exercises are increased and extended when they are done consciously and with not just knowledge, but understanding. Fourth, physical exercise can be excessively and even fatally intense, whereas these inner practices should proceed with only “law-conformable gradualness”, Beelzebub 1172. As he said at the same page: “… only by a gradual change of the tempo of one part of the whole is it possible to change the tempo of all this whole without injuring it.” Fifth, I suspect – I should possibly say I conjecture – that we often have too much blood moving around the torso and into the neck and head, and that this is related to feverish mental and emotional activity. We should not try to interfere with that except indirectly, softly and gradually, e.g. by using the Four Ideals, or simply by mentally relaxing, and most definitely not by using chemicals or drugs.

By altering the tempo of the blood in the limbs, one alters the tempo of the entire organism. Apart from the importance of circulation of the blood and other substances in good health (“a more or less correct tempo for the transformation of the substances required for that passive existence of theirs”, Beelzebub 507-508), certain tempos are more closely related to the third state of consciousness.

The relationship of different tempos to different states of consciousness, and the undesirability of having diverse tempos within the one organism, is touched on at pp.564-565 of Beelzebub. All I wish to add is that it seems to me that through the Four Ideals Exercise, it is possible to bring about a more unified tempo, one more favourable for conscious development. I think that the role of the limbs in that process is significant. Of course, our attention to the limbs should be bi-lateral, developing both sides equally, so far as possible.



1 Anyone purchasing the ARIES article through the Brill website should note that the reference to “Beatrice Hastings” is an error. The lady concerned was “Beatrice Sinclair”. I apologise for the error.

2. The role of the blood and “threads” which connect one to finer substances is noted at In Search of the Miraculous, 97.