“…if a man in prison was at any time to have a chance of escape, then he must first of all realise that he is in prison.”
Website on Gurdjieff and his Teachings
Gurdjieff International Review
In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (1949)
Pyotr Ouspensky
In Summary

Does your life feel like it’s on autopilot? G. I. Gurdjieff wants to shake you awake, giving you the tools to take active control over your destiny.


P. D. Ouspensky was waiting on a miracle – not any particular miracle for any particular problem, but just a general sense of wanting the otherworldly to break into time and space. He left St. Petersburg in 1913 to seek spiritual enlightenment in the East, only to have his journey cut short by the Great War. Returning home, he learned that one need not travel thousands of miles to encounter the holy; he finally stumbled upon his miracle one afternoon at a Moscow café in the form of an enigmatic, moustached man by the name of G. I. Gurdjieff.  


Though not widely known, Gurdjieff was one of the most influential spiritual thinkers of the 20th century; whether through his cabal of students; his esoteric music, psychology and philosophy or his role in popularising an early version of the Enneagram.  

Notoriously (and perhaps intentionally) difficult to work with, Gurdjieff was dismissed by some as an egocentric crank and charlatan, while others said he was simply pushing his students beyond their comfort zones. Such was the power of Gurdjieff’s thought that even though Ouspensky eventually fled from the man himself, he continued to promote his actual ideas. Indeed, he went on to pen In Search of the Miraculous, which remains the most exhaustive account of Gurdjieff’s teachings. Ouspensky had found his miracle, despite its odd and prickly packaging.  


We are asleep. We might believe we are awake and making free, conscious decisions, but our actions are actually the result of millions of minor, unnoticed causes working upon us. These range from cultural conditioning and biology all the way to astrological forces (e.g., Gurdjieff suggested that WW1 itself may have been the result of planetary tensions). In this sense, we are not wakeful or active participants in our destiny but at the mercy of whatever nightmare or dream we’ve inherited. We are stuck on autopilot, like machines, or perhaps like someone born in prison who does not know any other way or world.  

Our slumber also arises from identifying ourselves with our thoughts, feelings, sensations and the external stimuli of life. We might base our identity on the negative comments a peer made about us in high school, or with the bodily strength that made us the football team captain. Likewise, the academic might find her identity in her brain, the musician in her vocal cords, the libertine in his erogenous zones and so on. Life presents us with myriad false identities and, insofar as we embrace them, we remain at their mercy.

Furthernore, these multifold identities tear us in different directions, undermining any inherent sense of an integrated, underlying Self. ‘Man is a plurality. Man's name is legion.’ This is true not only of individuals but of the world’s religions, whose adherents tend to ignore the underlying connections that all faiths have in common, focusing exclusively on one specified spiritual path.  

The Sufi Faqr exemplifies the way of the body, the Christian Monk the way of the emotions and the Hindu Yogi the way of the mind. While many feel forced to choose between these three paths, Gurdjieff believes our higher Self should master and unite them all in what he deemed the Fourth Way.  

In realigning with the one and true spiritual ‘I’ beneath them, we can look down upon these warring selves from the outside and regain the distance and perspective needed to control them (rather than them controlling us). We go from being mere pawns on the board to being the chess master taking part in the game.  


Written from Ouspensky’s perspective, In Search of the Miraculous provides a relatively frank discussion of his subject. There is little propaganda or hagiography here, and that makes the ideas all the more compelling. Ouspensky’s stream-of-consciousness style also helps keep the reader engaged. Even if the philosophy can at times be difficult to follow, we always have the story itself to fall back on as we follow Gurdjieff from one place to another against the background of the Great War and the Communist Revolution.  

Ultimately, Ouspensky provides a comprehensive yet relatively easy introduction to Gurdjieff, a figure whose name recognition has yet to match his influence and whom spiritual seekers may wish to better acquaint themselves (or their true Selves) with. For those who feel overwhelmed by a thousand competing paths, Gurdjieff may help light the way home.  

Further Reading By This Author

While Ouspensky is primarily known for his works on Gurdjieff – including In Search of the Miraculous and the posthumous The Fourth Way – he also penned several lesser-known philosophical texts and novels, such as Tertium Organum, A New Model of the Universe, Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution and The Symbolism of the Tarot.

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