A Journey with Egypt

by Simon Goland, March 13, 2024

Somehow, I lucked out. My main Enneagram teacher, Russ Hudson, has been leading small groups yearly on a 3-week pilgrimage journeys to Egypt for the past 16 years. There is a lot of ancient wisdom in that part of the world, and Gurdjieff spent time there, absorbing that wisdom and birthing what will eventually become the modern Enneagram.

So, even though there was a long wait-list for this year’s trip, I was somehow offered a spot. And I went. And now that I have been back for a couple of weeks, I am digesting, integrating, and making attempts at making sense of this rich experience. Perhaps writing things down will help.

“The fundamental conflict in the spiritual quest is that ego desires spiritual enlightenment, but ego can never achieve spiritual enlightenment. Self cannot achieve no-self.”

While there are several pieces of the puzzle that are clear already, it feels as though these are circling “in a cloud” and have not yet gelled into a cohesive bottom-line takeaway type of an “I am transformed!” insight. One that I seem to be wanting to have (insert a knowing head-nod with a smile right here).

Egypt is a lot more ancient than many archeologists and their theories propose. I remembered some of the things I studied about Egypt in high-school, like how the pyramids were built. Based on what we saw and the detailed explanations provided, a lot of it is simplified, utterly incomplete, and plain wrong. There is solid (no pun intended) evidence to a very sophisticated civilization, and a whole lot more ancient, that existed in that part of the world, than what I remembered from my high-school books. That evidence might look like massive – like, seriously massive – granite blocks in a temple that align and fit perfectly together, and clearly have been carved/processed in such a way, which would require skills and tools that are way beyond what the mainstream theories about Egypt say (the only thing that can deal with such granite is a diamond drill and not a copper or a bronze hand-held hammers which were prevalent during that era in Egypt).

That incredible knowledge expresses itself everywhere, not only in architecture, but also in its alignment to the stars. How the temples are designed in such a way that, during – and only during – Equinox, the sun will shine exactly through a particular opening and light a particular chamber. And the whole temple is aligned to a particular star or a constellation, and also perfectly aligned to another temple that is located a serious distance away, which is also aligned to a particular constellation… and on and on. The whole country is full of such fascinating examples and mysteries, and we had exciting times seeing the wisdom and the mystery that permeates the land.

Yet, these mysteries go way beyond the tangible. Those in our group who were more attuned to subtle energies (and it could have been everyone, though I simply didn’t get a chance to talk to every person about it explicitly), were constantly amazed at how the temples and the structures are alive and vibrating with energy. It takes only a few moments in stillness and openness to feel the energy all around, tingling and pulsing. Just as amazing is the fact that these temples were built a very long time ago, yet the energy is still alive and present.

Then there was our group of travellers and seekers. While we had many elements of diversity in cultures, backgrounds, areas of work and passions, and Enneagram experiences, these faded very quickly. Or, perhaps, not faded but found a way to integrate themselves into a beautiful tapestry of connections, richness of conversations, with a blend of authenticity, depth, and lightness.

Then there are the Egyptian people, both the two who accompanied us and many others we met along the way. Friendly, kind, beautifully welcoming and hospitable. I have seen it many times, whereby the less developed/sophisticated the country is, by our Western standards, the more genuine and welcoming people appear to be, and Egypt was no exception.

“Unless you can feel the heart and soul and suffering of each human you meet, you cannot fully awaken. Unless you experience deeply that he or she is fundamentally just like you, you are asleep. This is the final obstacle for a human being on the path of transformation.” – Gurdjieff

Another piece that was not really new, and merely got confirmed yet again in a very evident and delicious manner is that I love Middle Eastern food. The inherent danger is when it is being served in an all-you-can-eat buffet-style option; even more so is when it happens more than once a day…

Where does that leave me, and how might I be different as a result of this experience?

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating this question. There was a part of me that really wanted something big, monumental, and life-changing be evident. Something deeper than “Middle Eastern food is my jam” or that, suddenly, I woke up one day with fluent Arabic rolling off my tongue. Or that I “saw the light” and the mysteries of the Enneagram have all been revealed to me in a dream. I have been noticing my attachment to some kind of a particular and specific “something,” which – not surprisingly – did not happen at all. Once I realized it, I had to smile to myself. One of the ongoing lessons in attachment to anything, for me, has been in realizing how it constricts my world and my awareness. Clearly there was a need for a reminder.

“My own strategy is to keep cultivating the witness, that part of me that notices how I’m doing it – cultivate the quiet place in me that watches the process of needing approval, of the smile on the face, of the false humility, of all the horrible creepy little psychological things that are just my humanity. And watching them occur again and again and again.” – Ram Dass

My Apprenticeship with Solitude phase of life continues (this is a separate story and I might write something about it), yet now that I am back home, it appears as though it doesn’t have as strong of a grip on me as it did before the trip. There is a softening and an opening within me, and solitude does not feel as heavy or lonely. Together with that, my heart is a lot more open and tender, on a fairly regular basis. I notice myself being touched and moved, often to tears, from various seemingly “little” and “insignificant” things that come across my awareness. If I want to analyze it, I can say that there is more innocence and grace that are present with and within me, for instance. Yet, I don’t want to analyze. I want to stay with the experience and the impact of these little moments. I want to allow the overall experience of life continue being lighter and more permeable, somehow, and to continue inviting me to relate to the world with more openness to joy, awe, and possibility.

“It is one of the hardest things in life – discerning where we end and the rest of the world begins, negotiating the permeable boundary between self and other, all the while longing for its dissolution, longing to be set free from the prison of ourselves. It is the theme of being dissolved into something complete and great. Because our sense of self is rooted in the body, it is through the body that we most readily and rapturously break the boundary in the ecstatic dissolution we call eros.”

So, perhaps there is a main takeaway after all.