The informant – LF – is a 20-year-old female from the Seattle, Washington. She currently is a sophomore in the USC Thornton School of Music. Her parents are part of a small sect of Islam, Sufism, and often lead meditation retreats that teach the meditation techniques of George Gurdjieff. The following is from a conversation about the meditation retreats hosted by her parents.
LF: On the retreats, they go out to an isolated place – like a retreat center. And their daily routine is, they wake up for 6am meditation. So you have to get up and be there before that. After breakfast, there’s practical work. For practical work, they do some sort of physical labor, wherever they are. At the retreat center they’ve stayed at, they’ll re-roof a building, or build a deck, for example. It’s not like charity: the work itself is a meditation; you’re getting in your body, and you’re being really physical.
There’s not a lot of talking. There’s this idea throughout the retreat of staying collected, which is, kind of like, maintaining sensation throughout your body. And it’s kind of like meditating – it’s not super talkative or out of your head. You’re supposed to, like, stay really aware. And my parents actually met at a meditation retreat, and these are traditions that have been passed down from this Turkish dude named Gurdjieff… I don’t know, he just has a lot of these philosophies and shit like that.
But after the practical work, they have these things called the Movements, which are these dances, kind of, but they’re like, derived from the whirling dervishes. It’s from this religion they associate with, Sufism. But it’s more derived from the mystics from, like, the Quran.
Me: So what is the purpose of the Movements?
LF: It’s like a meditation, and they’re really hard to do, so they take a lot of concentration and focus and intention.
Me: Do they know the moves beforehand? Did you grow up knowing them?
LF: No, my mom teaches them. She knows all of them, because she’s been doing this shit for hella long. And I don’t know them – I was always too young to participate in the retreats. But then as I got older, I would play the piano to accompany them.
Me: Do the meditations each serve a particular purpose?
LF: Yeah, they’re kind of like overcoming different physical… It’s all about the struggle. That’s the thing, is they’re enduring the struggle, and the struggle is good. And you breathe through it, and you get through it.
Like LF said, it seems that Gurdjieff’s movements and the whirling dervishes, while part of a religious tradition, transcend religion, and are ultimately meditations that allow the participant to reach a transcendent state by persevering through physical and mental struggle while maintaining a meditative mental state. Though the practices are part of the religious tradition of Sufism, the meditations can be used – and are used, evidently, by participants in LF’s parents’ retreats – for anybody wishing to strengthen their mind through meditation.
For more information regarding Gurdjieff’s Movements, see George Adam’s (1998) Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and his Teaching, Nova Religio, 2(1), 161-163.