Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential

By Charles Tart, Ph.D.

Shambhala, 1987

Review by Howard Rheingold

One of the sayings of the Sufis is that the tragedy of human consciousness is that we think we are awake, but have merely fallen asleep in life's waiting room. In the early twentieth century, G.I. Gurdjieff, a mysterious and charismatic figure, started telling people in Paris and St. Petersburg and New York that he had learned how to awaken from the trance our parents and cultures taught us, and that could teach others to awaken, as well. Gurdjieff claimed to have learned the art of awakening from Sufi masters and other "remarkable men" he had encountered during a decades-long quest in Central Asia.

One key to Gurdjieff's method was that it is not necessary to believe in any dogma, only to perform certain experiments, to achieve the results he claimed. Another key was that it did not require complete retreat from secular life; "the Work" could be accomplished in the midst of daily life. But the bulk of the experiential component of the method was long unknown to those outside Gurdjieff's inner circle. A veil of secrecy surrounded the methods he taught directly to his disciples, although Gurdjieff was the author of several books (written in a convoluted, elusive style).

Gurdjieff died in 1949, but his disciples have continued the tradition into the 1990s. Once-secret ideas, however, have leaked out of Gurdjieff's disciples' control, and some of them were deliberately revealed. "Waking Up" is Charles T.Tart's exposition of Gurdieffian ideas in terms of contemporary cognitive sciences and plain-spoken common sense. Learning to pay attention, for example, is one of the first steps toward full awakening. Where Gurdjieff's students performed esoteric exercises, Tart shows how you can exercise the same faculty by playing a game of ordinary solitaire with the right kind of mindfulness.

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