1. free from pretence or deceit, the same in reality as appearance
2. genuine, honest, frank
from Latin sincerus: clean, pure
The Work tells us that to have a chance of developing, we have to understand that we are not what we think. We cannot wake up until we have understood that we sleep. To see this, we have to observe ourselves. This is very difficult, because not only must we glimpse things as they are, we must also resist our ingrained tendency to explain things away. If what we see clashes with our imaginary picture of ourselves, we will find that thoughts, feelings, and movements automatically arise in defence of that picture. To be sincere, we have to struggle with these reactions, with these buffers. This is why sincerity is more elusive than we think. There is a difference between sincerity and expressing whichever `I' happens to be in control at the time.
Jesus tells us in the Gospels:
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed,
or hidden that will not be known.
What does this mean? One way of taking it is to realise that whatever we think or say about our actions, God sees them as they are. (God for us may be higher centres, it may be karma, it may be the God of the Bible.) In our final moments, or under extreme strain, we will realise that it is according to the standard of our actions that we will be judged by. We will then know that our illusions and lies were worthless. So we should strive for sincerity, because we cannot run away from reality forever. And once we are sincere about our life, new possibilities appear.
Now there are different areas where we must work on sincerity. We must be sincere with ourselves, with the teacher, with the group, and we must try and avoid useless insincerity in life. It is harder to work on some areas than others, and it is also more important in some areas than others.
For instance, it is very difficult to be sincere with oneself, and to avoid insincerity. Mouravieff emphasises that lies to ourselves can be very subtle. However, it is easy to make a start in everyday life, with people we meet. All we have to do is think about what we are saying, and take care that we do not talk about things we have no knowledge of. This is work on unnecessary talking. By avoiding useless insincerity, we can save ourselves a lot of energy.
However, it is possible that a lie is justified. This is what Gurdjeff calls `clever insincerity'. For instance, if someone asks us about our work, and it is obvious they have no interest in it, it is better to save our energy and tell them something convenient. Xenophon recollects an example of Socrates, who asks if it is not justified for a general to hide bad news from his troops in order to preserve their morale. (The Memorabilia by Xenophon, Book IV, II, footnote 30.
In terms of importance, Gurdjieff said the following:
if a man wishes to learn to be cleverly sincere, he must be sincere first of all with his teacher and with people who are senior to him in the work. This will be `clever sincerity'. But here it is necessary to note that sincerity must not become `lack of considering'. Lack of considering in relation to the teacher or in relation to those whom the teacher had appointed, as I have said already, destroys all possibility of any work.
When we find ourselves making `observations' to score points, or to `get back' at someone for some slight (possibly far back in history), we are actually using sincerity as an excuse for our own unpleasantness, our own internal considering. We are not being sincere for the sake of the Work.
The teacher is here to help us. However, we have to tell the doctor where we are hurt before he can treat us. We might find that being sincere with the teacher involves giving up our imagination about how things are, and giving up the pretence that we understand things, that we can `do'. It involves humility, and saying, `this description is as close as I can get to the raw experience, please help'.
In life, we drift in and out of friendships, cycling through attraction, affection, disenchantment, and disinterest with people. Sincerity is difficult to achieve or maintain when it is based on such shifting sands. This is why we must continually remember the fact that we are working with the teacher.
Sincerity with others in the group is also important. By sharing our experience with others in the group, we make it increasingly likely that others will in turn do the same. A climate of sincerity and openness needs to be cultivated. Every time we keep something back, thinking that people will not understand, or that our problems are nothing to do with the Work, we weaken ourselves and the group. When we act as if people are different, we make it easier for them to change. Similarly, when we act as if the group is a worthy, spiritual place, we help it become that.
Being sincere with others in the group often carries immediate benefits. We may find that sharing a problem removes a great weight from out mind. We become less identified with what is bothering us, and understand it more clearly. It also allows others to understand us better, and thus help us. The effort to be sincere with others can be most revealing too. We discover which parts of ourselves are hardest to talk about. We find that we are able to talk about things we would have never thought it possible to discuss, and we realise we are unable to mention things we thought we could be open about.
Ultimately we have to learn to be sincere with ourselves. This is painful. However, the lies we tell ourselves are much worse than the ones we tell others. They weaken us. Mouravieff likens the magnetic centre to an embryo, and writes that its limbs are even more fragile. A lie damages our essence. And every time we tell ourselves a lie, it becomes stronger, reinforced. This makes it harder to discern the truth about ourselves.
Many things are necessary for observing. The first is sincerity with oneself. And this is very difficult. It is much easier to be sincere with a friend. Man is afraid to see something bad, and if, by accident, looking deep down, he sees his own bad, he sees his nothingness. We have the habit of driving away thoughts about ourselves because we fear the gnawings of conscience.
Sincerity may be the key which will open the door through which one part can see another. With sincerity man may look and see something.
Sincerity with oneself is very difficult, for a thick crust has grown over essence. Each year a man puts on new clothes, a new mask, again and again. All this should be gradually removed --- one should free oneself, uncover oneself. Until man uncovers himself he cannot see.
G. I. Gurdjieff
- P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p.22, 230, 249
- G. I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, pp. 146-7
- Boris Mouravieff, Gnosis Volume I, Chapter XVII