Book Review: "The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Work of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky and Their Followers" by James Webb

Lately, I have had an immense interest in studying the life and work of George Gurdieff, the influential mystic who attracted a large number of writers, intellectuals and “seekers of truth” during the 20th century.

This is the most comprehensive biography about the man and his aura.

Gripped by what psychologists might term “irresistible mania,” Gurjieff set out on a quest through the Eastern world to answer deep questions -- What does it all mean? What is humanity? Is there a purpose to life? Who am I? -- Questions that may occur to most people at various times in their lives, usually to be shrugged off as irrelevant to the ordinary business of living.

Despite claims of his mystique and notoriety— “I do not know G.I., have never known G.I., never will,” according to Jean Toomer— Gurjieff made a profound impact on Western society due to his contribution of a series of methods for human development, referred to simply as “The Work,” which gained publicity through his founding of the Institute for Harmonious Development of Man.

Located in the Forest of Fontainebleau, the school aimed, through instruction on a series of difficult exercises, to help students gain control of their largely “automatic actions” and balance their physical, intellectual and emotional centers.

Gurjieff held that a man must “wake up;” that he must observe himself, study the workings of the human “machine;” that he must try to “remember himself,” be conscious of his own being and prevent his attention from wandering; and that he must recognize the division in the psyche between false personality, what he thinks he is, and essence, what he is in fact.