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Fourth Way Perspectives

Collision of Worlds
Part II

We continue with the second of our three-part interview with Wm. Patrick Patterson, author of Eating The "I".

The Gurdjieff Journal: You say you finished the first draft of Eating The "I" in 1979, wrote four more drafts, the final one in 1989. But then you didn't immediately publish. Why not?

William Patrick Patterson: I wanted to sit with it a while, let it "talk" to me. It is a serious book on a serious subject.

TGJ: What were your concerns?

WPP: So many books by seekers gloss over or minimize the guts of their search—the human problems. It's a form of lying. I hadn't done that. I was exposing myself and others and, to a certain degree, the Work. This put Eating The "I" outside the "canon" of Gurdjieff literature.

TGJ: I don't follow.

WPP: Gurdjieff liked very much Ouspensky's Search, but in places he also said it was "wet." That is, too personal, not objective. Here I had written a book that could be read as not being a little wet, but soaked through to the skin!

TGJ: So why didn't you write a "dry" book?

WPP: The first draft was exactly that. But it was the Work talking to the Work. It didn't come anywhere close to the actual experience of "the collision of worlds" that was experienced. I didn't want to make the mistake made with the film Meetings with Remarkable Men.

TGJ: What was that?

WPP: In my opinion, the film's beginning, the movements and certain other parts are exactly right but, overall, the film forgets its audience. It doesn't speak to them, involve them. I understand the makers did not want a "bon ton" film, but they so cut the life out of Gurdjieff and his search that the film fails to inform or inspire.

TGJ: What was the decisive moment when you decided to publish?

Larresingle at the Prieuré

WPP: When I stood in the attic of the Prieuré holding an empty bottle of armagnac. In 1988 I had gone to France with my wife, Barbara, to write a travel story on the French chateaux and of course ended up in Fontainebleau-en-Avon. The Prieuré, which became a convalescent hospital after Gurdjieff sold it, had long been deserted. The door was locked but one small windowpane was broken. Just as I reached through and opened the door, a watchman appeared and shushed me out. I was out by the fountain when I woke up and realized this was ridiculous. Had I come all this way to accept the "no" of a watchman? I went back and pleaded with him, using suitable body language, pointing all over the place, crying: "Gurdjieff's maison, this Gurdjieff's." He smiled and nodded. In a kind of pig-French, I told him that my grandfather was Gurdjieff's student and I had come all the way from America to honor his past.

TGJ: Wonderful!

WPP: Well, he not only let me in but gave me a guided tour. The place was dusty, the walls cracking, the wallpaper yellowing with age. But it was so still, so alive. In the attic my attention was attracted to one corner. I noticed there, stuffed down below floor level, the tops of some bottles. The first one I touched was an armagnac bottle. Immediately, I felt it had been used in one of Gurdjieff's dinners.

TGJ: Why?

WPP: I can't tell you. There was simply this certainty. Certainly the convalescent patients weren't drinking armagnac. Also, as I later learned, it was the kind of armagnac that Gurdjieff drank, Larresingle.

TGJ: Why did this answer your question about whether to publish the book or not?

WPP: It was the "sign" I was waiting for (though I hadn't known that until then).

TGJ: You believe in "signs"?

WPP: Yes, of course. But one has to be very careful here. The psychic world is not the spiritual world. One can drown in psyche. Whatever "world" one finds oneself in, what is all-important is not the objects, no matter how subtle or potent, but the seeing itself. Otherwise, you get trapped in the objects, the story.

TGJ: In writing the book, what did you come to?

WPP: In writing the book, I recapitulated my life. The fire of the writing crystallized the material of my life, gave its form and shape a strength. The payment was that "Patterson" had to be stripped bare. This had already happened in life. Writing about it took it to a new depth, a new "death."

TGJ: There is a lot of death in your book.

WPP: We all "die" many times before we physically die. The book opens with my psychic "death," and the last chapter records still another "death." The difference in those deaths is the training I went through in the Work. It enabled me to be present to this death. It opened the way into a new life.

TGJ: Are you done dying?

WPP: Are we ever done dying? Death, I would say, is the stuff of life. The secret is to learn how to face it, use it for one's own transformation. Otherwise, death is just another dream. The uncertainty, shocks and suffering of life, the many "deaths" each of us goes through...well, the question is a warrior question: do we keep our eyes open or shut on the roller coaster ride? It's all practice for the death of deaths, the grand finale.

TGJ: I was really taken with the scene in the book where you cut open the shark, feel its guts, and feel yourself coming to life.

WPP: All we can do is to hold to the wish to be awake. Then we can sense the shock points approaching, and we can read the symbols of life. When the interval comes, we will be intact and ready to act, ready to give our energy to the non-desires, not the desires. The symbols that, so to speak, come to life for us are just part of it. Many people glue onto the symbol level and make a world of it. It's a form of idolatry.

Death of the Father

TGJ: Of all the other scenes in the book, I imagine the most powerful for you was the death of your father.

WPP: I didn't identify with my father's death, and so on his deathbed I was open to receiving the question "What does he need—now?" That was a call, a demand on a higher world, and it was answered. This could not have happened without all my years of work with Lord Pentland.

TGJ: And on the same day that your father died, there you were bargaining like an Aisor for his funeral!

WPP: There is a very powerful idea in the Work—that of "doing otherwise."

TGJ: Isn't it said we can't do?

WPP: At certain points in the Work, it tests some, either through the conditions the teacher creates, or through life. One must be ready. The student must have amassed enough clarity and certainty, enough real will, that he can act against his "I", his conditioned self-identity. That produces real heat.

TGJ: Heat? In what sense?

WPP: Crystallization.

TGJ: So crystallization takes place only when—

WPP: Only at extreme internal temperatures. Having a sensation of the whole of oneself (at whatever level) in a neutral or passive moment is only preparation.

TGJ: For what?

WPP: To self-remember in the fire of the moment. There are many instances in the book where this "firing" takes place. Also, of course, there's one helluva lot of forgetting!

The Feminine

TGJ: In the last chapters of your book you seem to focus on the feminine. Why is that?

WPP: In my opinion, the student works on both his masculine and feminine sides, so to speak. Being of an artistic temperament, the feminine archetype has played a large part in my life. When ready, I had to actively explore it so that it could be consciously integrated. I didn't recognize this until after my father's death. With his death, my work with the masculine ended in a sense (relative to that point on the life spiral) and work on the feminine began. For the last 12 years, that has been my focus.

TGJ: Your females are very strong.

WPP: Yes, the women are strong but also quite feminine. Each fed me with different aspects of the feminine that had to be integrated.

TGJ: What about Stanley?

WPP: We have "black teachers," not just "white." I learned a lot from Stanley.

TGJ: The way you describe it, your relationship almost seems archetypal.

WPP: There are many such relationships in the book. With Stanley, I saw the myth of St. George and the dragon play out. I don't say that in any grandiose way. Everyone is encountering archetypes, we just don't realize it. On the path to real I the student enters that world and wakes up to it, or is put to sleep again. Only deeper.

TGJ: Tell about killing the dragon.

WPP: The secret is, you don't kill the dragon, but you have to try. The best you can get is, as Stanley says, "a draw." We are conditioned to play to win. When we realize we can't, most people don't have the force to continue, but that's when the real fight begins. You fight not for victory but to fight as well as you can, regardless of outcome. That takes you out of the heavy duality (that people like Stanley love) to a new level of being. You lose if you fight the dragon on its own level.