Gurdjieff speaks in his teaching about the “existential duty”. Can you tell us more about it?
Here is a summary of the idea of the “existential duty” according to Gurdjieff:
- For Gurdjieff, the human being is called to develop and evolve inwardly. He has the duty to work on himself to become a better version of himself.
- This work implies fighting against his weaknesses, his bad habits, his automatisms. It is about becoming more conscious, more present, developing his will and discernment.
- This journey requires efforts, perseverance. It necessitates self-questioning, self-transcendence. It is a work that lasts a lifetime.
- Fulfilling one’s existential duty is taking responsibility for one’s personal evolution, rather than remaining passive or asleep. It is setting out towards more inner unity and better self-knowledge.
- For Gurdjieff, not doing this work would be a mistake and a waste of human potential. The fulfillment of this duty is what gives meaning and value to life.
In summary, the “existential duty” refers in Gurdjieff’s teaching to the moral obligation for each person to work on their inner and spiritual development, in an active and persistent way.
How can one know if they are fulfilling their existential duty?
Here are some signs that may indicate that one is on the path to fulfilling their existential duty, according to Gurdjieff’s teaching:
- One observes a decrease in their faults, vices and bad habits over time. One gains more self-mastery.
- One becomes more aware of their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. One is more present and attentive in the moment.
- Automatism and mechanicalness decrease. One reacts less automatically in various situations.
- One develops their capacity for introspection and acquires better self-knowledge.
- One becomes able to better understand and manage their negative inner states: anger, fear, sadness, ego…
- One feels more responsible for their life and evolution. One is an actor and no longer a passive spectator.
- One feels the need to learn and evolve. One demonstrates curiosity and openness.
- One experiences a growing sense of meaning and purpose in their life.
- The sense of connection to the divine or the absolute increases, whatever one’s beliefs are.
- One finds motivation in the inner work itself, not in external results.
Of course, inner evolution is highly personal. But these indicators show that one is making progress on the path of existential duty according to Gurdjieff.
How can one uncover the habits that prevent us from fulfilling our existential duty?
Here are some tips for identifying habits that may prevent us from fulfilling our existential duty, according to Gurdjieff’s teaching:
- Practice self-observation and attention. Observing one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors allows to spot repetitive, automatic patterns.
- Identify moments when one acts on impulse, without thinking. Recognize situations where one tends to react in a “mechanical” way.
- Examine areas of life where one lacks willpower and self-mastery. For instance, procrastination, food or behavioral excesses.
- Identify the weaknesses of the ego: egoism, defensiveness, excessive need for approval or control. These can be impediments.
- Detect fears that limit us and prevent evolution: fear of change, the unknown, other people’s judgement.
- Assess one’s values and identify those that only serve the ego or immediate interests.
- Honestly examine the place of leisure, entertainment, screens in one’s life. Are they impediments?
- Evaluate one’s relationships: some people or relationship habits may reinforce one’s flaws.
- Keep an introspective journal, note recurrences.
- Ask sincere feedback from a trusted person about points to work on.
By taking the time for an in-depth examination, one can identify tendencies that distance us from fulfillment. It is then about cultivating sincerity towards oneself.
This work implies fighting against his weaknesses, his bad habits, his automatisms.
Fulfilling one’s existential duty is taking responsibility for one’s personal evolution, rather than remaining passive.
To work on one’s inner and spiritual development, in an active and persistent way.