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Fourth Way Perspectives

Collision of Worlds
Part I

A discussion with William Patrick Patterson, author of Eating The "I". The interview occurred in the author's home in a small town in Northern California where he lives with his wife and two teenage sons. He is presently at work on a second book, which Arete will publish in 1993. This is the first of a three-part interview.

The Gurdjieff Journal: What was your aim in writing Eating The "I"?

William Patrick Patterson: It was a task my teacher, Lord Pentland, gave me.

TGJ: You did everything he told you to do?

WPP: If that were true, I wouldn't have needed a teacher.

TGJ: What is a "teacher"?

WPP: In order to teach, I would say the teacher must have realized within himself the knowledge he teaches. Otherwise, what is transmitted is only mental, only memory. I remember, too, Lord Pentland once saying "a teacher knows where to put the peg in." That is, the task must be just beyond the student's capabilities. It must demand a real effort.

TGJ: How long did it take you to complete this task?

WPP: Twelve years of writing and rewriting.

Personal & Impersonal

TGJ: Why do you think he gave you this task?

WPP: It brought me to my knees. Putting on paper my "I's" my "world," brought a remorse that literally opened the pores of my skin.

TGJ: Could you elaborate?

WPP: It was like an "unearthing." The first "dig," if you will, took me only so deep. Each successive dig, or rewriting, took me deeper. I now understand why people write fiction.

TGJ: Why is that?

WPP: Fiction allows you to look in the mirror and keep your faces on. It sets the writer in an asymmetrical position to what he is writing about. He isn't revealing himself so obviously. He can keep his lies, his images.

TGJ: In doing these "digs," what were your tools?

WPP: My only tool was a commitment to not invent anything—to write my own suffered truth. You know, "the truth shall set you free," yes, but first it kills you. That is, it destroys the images and beliefs you have about yourself and the world. As Gurdjieff demonstrated, the truth is a merciless loving.

I remember in college trying to write about myself with total honesty. After a few hours struggle, I had only one banal paragraph. Why couldn't I go deeper? It was like there was a "taboo" holding me back.

TGJ: Did Lord Pentland tell you to write without invention?

WPP: No, but once I took my theme to be the collision of worlds—that is, between the impersonal world of the teaching and the personal world of the student—I knew I had to have the "force" that comes from that demand. It was essential, too, that I not presume an impartiality, an impersonality, that was not present. We can all make ourselves look good with hindsight. I wanted to let the reader relive with me the wonder and the confusion I felt. So, eyes open now, I dove into the personal. Yes, the Work appears and disappears, but it is always there. The entire book, its architecture and writing, is all from that viewpoint. To miss that is to, well...miss the book.

TGJ: But books on the Work generally avoid the personal.

WPP: Yes, the personal is "the devil," if it's identified with. My intention was to knowingly ride this devil, not avoid it.

TGJ: How can you do this?

WPP: Think of James Joyce's Stephen Hero and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Same material, both personal, but different point of view. In Hero, Joyce is identified. In Portrait, he isn't. If the reader believes that in Portrait it is Joyce speaking—when, for example, Joyce has Stephen write in his diary: "I go to seek the unconditioned conscience of my race"—then the reader may know something about Stephen, but he's completely missed Joyce!

TGJ: What are the book's major themes?

WPP: Essentially, it is about a seeker and his seeking. It is a universal quest for knowledge, for self-transformation by a fool called "Patterson." Specifically, it concerns a search within the Fourth Way, so the focus is on the "I's," the conditioned and false self-identity, the "I"-parasites.

TGJ: Do you know the work of Robert Bly? His Iron John, for example?

WPP: No. But I did see the Moyers-Bly interview.

TGJ: It is uncanny how Bly’s king, warrior, male-mother, and so forth plays out in your book.

WPP: Yes, the roles, the connections are there. If Bly is right (and I intuit he is) then every seeker, regardless of his tradition, will work within such an archetypal pattern.

The "Other World"

TGJ: The chapter "Deep Diving" touches raw nerves, some sections particularly.

WPP: Yes, certain perceptions and experiences seem to be "off-limits" in some seekers' understanding. In Jungian terms, they deny their shadow and hence give it power. In "Deep Diving" I unwittingly went to what the Celtics called the other world.

TGJ: The experience with the Irish school girl is difficult to understand.

WPP: At that moment all I had was what I had been trained to have: the wish to self-remember. That was, literally, the saving grace. No one can know what tests they will face. One's only shield and sword is self-remembering.