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G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences

Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto: reviewed by John Robert Colombo

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I have in front of me a copy of a newly published book titled “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto.” It was issued in November 2012 by Traditional Studies Press in Toronto, which happens to be the city in which I now reside. The book will be of interest to students of traditional thought and this is expressed in the wording of its subtitle: “On the ideas and practice of the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff.”

To me the book is of especial interest because, in a limited way, a long time ago, I knew Louise Welch – Mrs. Welch, as she was always called. That was a long time ago – some fifty years ago. Memories sometimes serve as bridge-builders, connecting the past and the present. They do so in this instance.

Before I discuss the contents of this book, I will describe the volume as a physical object. It is a sturdy production, a new book designed to outlast the years, as are so many of the titles issued by Traditional Studies Press, which is the publication wing of The Gurdjieff Foundation: The Society for Traditional Studies. (The organization’s website identifies the organization as The Gurdjieff Foundation of Toronto: Society for Arts and Ideas.)

The publication has no dust jacket but the pages are bound in heavy boards covered in dark green cloth, and the pages are sewn together rather than glued together, so the book may be opened without worry that any of its pages will loosen or fly apart! The volume measures 6 inches by 9 inches, and the pagination goes like this: xxii + 181 + i. It is curious that the first twenty-two pages, which offer the reader an analytic table of contents (like those in P.D. Ouspensky’s “Tertium Organum” and in many of Colin Wilson’s books), appear without page numbers.

The typography is more practical than pictorial; the type is large and the lines are well “leaded” or spaced apart. The text is fairly short (perhaps 60,000 words) and each page is easy on the eyes. There is a frontispiece photograph of Mrs. Welch, taken in Halifax in 1984, which makes her look much older than the women I remember meeting over a period of two years in the second half of the 1950s.

In memory I recall Mrs. Welch as sharing some of the facial features of Maria Ouspenskaya, the Russian-born actress and acting teacher. Here she looks rather more like Marie Dressler, the Canadian-born, Academy Award-winning comic movie actress. I prefer the image in my memory to the portrait in the book!

Louise Welch’s vital years are 1905 and 1999 (so she is not to be confused with the similarly named Louise Welsh, the much younger, English-born, Scotland-based author of psychological thrillers). Mrs. Welch – Louise Michel Blinken Welch, to give her name in full – was born in New York City of Ukrainian background. She was raised in a dysfunctional family setting and received little formal education, but through her own efforts she found work as a journalist and editor. At one time in the 1920s, she wrote the “agony column” for the New York American. (Walter Winchell quipped about her that “Louise Michel went from bad to Hearst.”) Later in her varied career she worked as a director of a writer’s group for the WPA – the Work (or Works) Project Administration, the U.S. federal government’s employment program of the 1930s, now despised by Republications and forgotten by Democrats.

During the Depression she married and bore a son and a daughter. She was abandoned by her husband so she became their sole support. (Her daughter is Patty de Llosa, a writer and leader who is well respected in the circle of the Work, has has written warmly about her mother and her stepfather, Dr. William J. Welch, in a memoir that appears on one of the webpages of the “Gurdjieff International Review.” The information shared here is derived in part from that source.)

In the 1930s, Mrs. Welch worked with Benton & Bowles, the renowned advertising agency, and there she met and was befriended by a somewhat younger co-worker, who later trained to became a medical doctor, qualified as a cardiac specialist, and eventually became her husband. Together the Welches were what later came to be known as “a power couple.”

This is not the place to review her meetings in the 1920s with the English editor A.R. Orage or how through him she met G.I. Gurdjieff, in both Fontainebleau and New York, if only because she accomplished all of this in her finely written, book-length memoir titled Orage with Gurdjieff in America (1982). Offhand I would say her temperament had much in common with that of Orage. The two of them appreciated fine writing, they were practical people and skilled editors, they had an understanding of the emotional problems of other people as well as the social problems of their times, and they were entirely committed to being leaders in the Work.

Hardly any of the above information appears in the pages of “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” a fact that limits the readership of this volume to readers appreciative of the subtleties of the Work. To all other readers, the book will be seen as a tribute to a well-liked person rather than as a valuable record of transactions and experiences. Traditional Studies Press did what it set out to do; that was its aim. Perhaps a wider perspective might have resulted in a more imposing publication. Yet readers of all persuasions should express gratitude for what has been achieved.

The Toronto group was founded in 1954, the first of the ancillary groups to be recognized by The Gurdjieff Foundation in New York which had then entered its second year of operation. Its seeds were planted by Olga de Hartmann and her husband Thomas, the composer who had worked so closely with Mr. Gurdjieff on those marvellous compositions for the piano. In fact, way back in 1919, it was the de Hartmanns who had introduced Alexandre and Jeanne de Saltzmann to Mr. Gurdjieff. In the same way, while the couple were living in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, anticipating their move to the United States, they introduced the Work to Canadians in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax.

Among the prime movers of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York were Dr. and Mrs. Welch. The latter was delegated to head the Toronto group, which she did from 1955 on. I met her a year or two later, never guessing that the Toronto group was not “ages old” but “brand new.” On our first meeting, I asked her if I could join the Work, once I had moved to the city and enrolled at the University of Toronto. She delayed answering that question. Instead she asked her own question, “How did you first learn about the this work?” It was a good question because there was very little information available to the public about Gurdjieff, especially in a small city like the one in which I was born and raised. (This was well before the arrival of the so-called New Age.)

I replied that I had borrowed a copy of “In Search of the Miraculous” (published four years earlier) from the local Carnegie library, and read it cover to cover, not once but twice. Etched in my memory is her grim rejoinder: “The Table of Hydrogens is quite difficult, you know.” Then I backtracked and admitted that I had not understood all that I had read! She was happier with that reply. In general, I knew about the Priory at Fontainebleau from Ouspensky’s description, but it was months before I heard anything at all about J.B. Bennett and the foundations, institutes, and societies, not to mention the estate at Mendham. I was nineteen years old at the time.

My first meeting with the Toronto group leader took place in the upstairs bedroom of the home of Mrs. Margot Dustin and her husband Ernest whose nickname was “Dusty,” both former Theosophists, about a mile from where I now live and am keyboarding this account, and I was regular in my attendance at weekly meetings for readings and for Movements held here and there throughout the city, especially at the monthly meetings convened by Mrs. Welch. She would fly into the city from New York to conduct the sessions, on occasion with Dr. Welch, a man of genuine presence and strong voice. Once, in later years, they brought with them a 16 mm, black-and-white print of performances of the Movements in Paris, which was shown to a small group at the Ontario Science Centre.

Sometimes in attendance at the meetings were film producer Tom Daly, teacher Peter Colgrove, Dr. Paul Bura, an engineer, and his wife Sheila, who was adept in Movements, who were “refugees” from a Bennett group in England, not to mention a stunning, exotic couple: an exquisite, half-Burmese, half-French woman of great beauty (named Olga, oddly, and former wife of BBC executive Cecil Lewis) and her tall, stylish architect husband who may have come from Cornwall, where they subsequently settled. Yet in general I found the original members to be drawn from the professional middle-class of the city, almost everyone being older than I was, and it was a somewhat staid gathering of people, certainly not one given to small talk or big pronouncements. There were occasional visits from the very Gallic Alfred Etievant who would lead the Movements with lithe assurance.

Mrs. Welch’s contributions were not limited to oral instruction, for she encouraged the group to break into print. She kindled the publication of “A Journal of Our Time,” a literary and artistic “little magazine” of some deft and delicacy; she wrote a play which the group produced and staged for public performance; she generated publicity for the commercial showing at Cineplex (the world’s first “cineplex” or multi-screen movie theatre) of Peter Brook’s film “Meetings with Remarkable Men”; she served as editor-in-chief of the first edition of “The Guide and Index to G.I. Gurdjieff’s All and Everything,” which remains an invaluable resource to this day.

References to a few of these activities appear in “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” which is dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Dustin, the very woman in whose house I first met Mrs. Welch. According to the editorial note, “This publication is compiled from notes taken at meetings spanning the years 1955-1965 and 1973-1989.” My experiences relate directly to the first period, not at all to the second period, and I have no idea what happened between 1965 and 1973, a span of years that I assume were busy ones for the Toronto group, which eventually acquired valuable real estate both in Toronto and outside the rapidly expanding city.

When I was in attendance, each one of us was encouraged – even required – to ask questions, and to ask them slowly, so that the two note-takers would have time to record them, whether in longhand or shorthand I never knew. Apparently these scripts exist today, and they form the basis of the text of this book. From time to time the questions themselves are recorded here, but in most instances it is only Mrs. Welch’s answers that are given. The text itself begins like this: “My search is your search. We must each have a common wish to find out who we are and the direction in which we can grow to reach the truth.” (For symmetry’s sake, the text proper ends like this: “We have a little help here.”)

Reading these passages I am able to imagine myself in her presence and hear her refined, modulated American speech tones and pronunciations. The content of the presentations brings to my mind the content of the entries that appear in the five volumes of Maurice Nicoll’s “Commentaries.” Dr. Nicoll’s presentations are quite technical, whereas Mrs. Welch’s are conversational, parallelling normal thought processes. Both books are organized topically with long, analytic tables of contents. Mrs. Welch is a communicator of attitudes from Mr. Gurdjieff; Dr. Nicoll is a conveyer of detailed information from Mr. Ouspensky.

Her expositions make good use of “I” and “me,” though they do so with great care so as to generalize about the “I” and the “me” and make the words apply to each and every one of her listeners. For instance, she writes as follows: “The important thing is my inner work. My presence is important. I live without meaning because I am not here.” Imagine hearing these words: the “my” and the “I” are those of you, the listener.

In later years, in an attempt to understand the thrust and direction of the Work, I came to define its essence in a single word, a compound word that is a personal neologism. That word is “psychopraxis.” Here the discipline is psychological even psychical rather than psychiatric, but it is also physiological, for it is concerned with physical expression and practice; it is also blessedly free of religious, theosophical, and psychological terminology. Such ideas would have been regarded as novel at the time. Mrs. Welch avoids such exercises, and the introduction into the text of specific Gurdjieffian terms is minimized. One unexpected exception is this one: “Trogoautoegocrat,” from “All and Everything,” which is defined as “real sacrifice” or “I eat myself.”

Preserved are instances of the common touch: “If you tell me you cannot Work for fifteen minutes a day, I say that you don’t want to …. Five minutes of struggle is better than twenty-four hours of daydreaming.” There is no attempt here to innovate or improvise; the expressions of insight are refreshingly free of argument and cant or special pleading. The result is the exposition is effective and the prose is durable and in no sense dated. There are no potted expressions meant to impress the listener or express the private opinion or reservations of the speaker.

At the time I identified Mrs. Welch’s message with a simple, three-letter word – “aim.” It seemed to me at the time that she was always after us to define our own “aim.” I was surprised to realize how difficult it was to comply, difficult when not impossible! Not much about aim has found its way into the text at hand.

What I took away from the Work, right away, was the notion that what lies at the root of most personal and social problems is mechanicality … in “mentation,” emotion, and action. “Mechanicality” is a word that is instantly meaningful, yet is seldom heard or used in this sense by the outside world. On one occasion, she asked a provoking question: “My pet mechanicality is what irritates you. What is there in me that I am unconscious of, and need to be conscious of and know better?”

If I had more time and space I would compare and contrast the records of these meetings, as fragmentary as they are here, compiled not by an individual but by “The Editors, The Gurdjieff Foundation,” with more elaborate records kept of meetings with Ouspensky, Madame Lannes, Conge, and other group leaders. But there are readers (perhaps those who have been exposed to multiple teachers) who are better equipped to do so than am I.

The beating heart of the book lies in its most extended passage, a veritable lecture, which runs from page 66 to page 97. This passage covers most of the subjects germane to work on self. Unlike the shorter sections, which range in length from one sentence to one paragraph or to one or two pages, some dated, the narrative arc of this passage moves from one aspect of the subject to another aspect of the subject, and it builds, as dramatists like to express it. It begins, “I can be stirred into uneasiness … ” and it ends, “We rejoice in the joy of the possibilities.” The beat of this heart marks the ending of the first section of the book.

The second section, which records exchanges between 1973 and 1987, preserves the question-and-answer format – observation and discussion – so it is somewhat more digressive than the first section, but perhaps more engaging. Its heart beats faster. In many ways it may seem less exciting but it is more experienced, less promising but more polished, yet not having been there I cannot comment on how well it represents the occasions themselves. I would say that they do show a leader who is probing, more deeply than formerly, the content of the Work, perhaps because the members of the group are able to absorb more than they did formerly.

The book ends with a selection of aphorisms. Here are some of the book’s aphoristic expressions or pensées, most of them taken from the text itself and not from the selection devoted to them:

* “Our search is not for miraculous results, not to achieve a result, but to learn a process.”

* “My body knows what it wants, not what I want. I must teach all of my parts what I want.”

* “My Gurdjieff said, ‘I don’t bring you a system of morality, but how to find conscience.’ We must find the outlines of a structure that is more valid.”

* “Only when I have a certain level of being can I be open to a certain level of knowledge.”

* “I remember Mr. Orage saying, ‘I love you,’ said the man. ‘Strange that I feel none the better for it,’ said the woman.”

Readers of the book today may find the presentations of procedures of “the work” and the attitudes that are described in these pages less engaging than did listeners at the time. Some of the passages are more than a half century old; others have aged by at least a quarter century. Much water has passed under the bridge since then, and truisms and oral teaching techniques that were once novel are now found in best-selling books and courses on the human potential movement, leadership training, self-motivation, cognitive therapies, mindfulness training, and on the TED Lectures on the Web. Many of the formulations are indebted to Mr. Gurdjieff, who gave gifts of insight to the world, few of them acknowledged. Nevertheless, here are some of Mrs. Welch’s formulations that struck me as still valid, informative, or interesting:

* We want to go on repeating what belongs to another period. “Mr. Gurdjieff said that he wasn’t interested in anyone over five or under fifty-five.”

* “Gurdjiefff said one third of one’s life should be spent in pondering. Why was I born? Who am I? What is meant by waking sleep?” [This statement comes from the second section. I recall no earlier instances of the use of the word “pondering” in the earlier period, or any references to the importance of “sittings,” now staples of the de Saltzmann period.]

* “To me it is such an extraordinary thing that a Way exists in which one does not have to leave one’s life.”

* “In Movements we have enormous help. We have a taste of what it means to be close to attention.”

* “We are all members of the human race in a bigger way. All this is common to us. If you see this enough you can’t even hate Hitler. He was just a biological mutation of the wrong sort.”

* “When I first went to Mr. Gurdjieff’s apartment, I couldn’t bear the thought of where he was living. After I was there for ten minutes it was the whole world.”

* “Madame Ouspensky said we always have time for a love affair. This is the human condition.”

* “Mind is the greatest thing we have – excuse me, we do not have it. It is there. How do we find access to it?”

* “If wish doesn’t exist, the wish to wish does exist.”

I will end this appreciation of “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto” with one oft-repeated remark of Mrs. Welch’s. It is a favourite of mine and I distinctly recall her uttering it on at least two occasions.

She said, “Your aim is to find your aim.”

John Robert Colombo is a prolific author and anthologist with a special interest in offbeat Canadiana and traditional studies. His latest publication is the Foreword to Paul Beekman Taylor’s book “The Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff” (Eureka Editions). Colombo was recently honoured as one of the “100 Graduates of Influence” of his alma mater, University College, University of Toronto. He holds the Harbourfront Literary Award, an honorary D.Litt. From York University in Toronto, and Bulgaria’s Order of Cyril and Methodius (first class). His website is . If you wish to be informed of forthcoming reviews and commentaries on this website, send him an email. His email address is jrc@colombo.ca .

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO INTRODUCES PAUL BEEKMAN TAYLOR’S NEW BOOK “REAL WORLDS OF G.I.GURDJIEFF”

with one comment

Jo

  Gurdjieff: drawn from life by Kiril Zdanevich in 1920 (*see note below)

n

Real Worlds of G.I.Gurdjieff”n
ins, “About nine months ago.” That one should be retained.n
About nine months ago, out of the blue, I received an email from Paul Beekman Taylor. It came as a surprise because I had never met the scholar and historian of the Work, although in the past I had reviewed a number of his books for this website. In his email Dr. Taylor mentioned that he was completing another book and hence he was writing to inquire whether or not I would consider contributing a Foreword to the work-in-progress.

John
I was, frankly, flattered, as I have long appreciated t
he man’s knowledge, grasp, and approach to the history of the Work. One learns much from reading his prose. But why me? (I have not been able to answer that question. Some of us are lucky, I guess!) I replied in a positive way and asked to see a few of the chapters of the book. I read them as soon as they arrived, I responded with some editorial reactions, and I agreed to contribute a biographical foreword, as long as the author felt he was free to accept or reject the text or suggest modifications.

Here

Here is that foreword. There were no modifications. I hope it helps to draw readers not only to Dr. Taylor’s current book and also to his past publications. As I write, “Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff: Chapters in the Life of a Master” is about to be issued by Siebold and Patricia Tromp-Guégan, proprietors of Eureka Editions, an ambitious publishing house with an interesting history based in Utrecht.
ohn
Foreword / John Robert Colombo

John
This book is about G.I. Gurdjieff. But this foreword is about Paul Beekman Taylor.

John
In common with the majority of the readers of this book, I have yet to meet its author, if only because he lives and works in Geneva and I live and work in Toronto. Even thought we have not enjoyed a face-to-face meeting, that does not mean that we do not see eye-to-eye. I think we do see eye-to-eye, though he might have some qualms when I resort to the use of a tried-but-true phrase to characterize him. That phrase is “a scholar and a gentleman.”

John
Paul Beekman Taylor is certainly a scholar; there is no questioning that. He is a scholar in a number of fields, in addition to his role as a student and chronicler of the life and work of G.I. Gurdjieff. But let me make a few general points before considering the scholarship and the gentlemanly nature of the man.

John
If I may generalize, readers of this book will be people who belong to one or two groups. One group consists of people who know next to nothing about what has been variously called the “special doctrine,” the “system,” the “Fourth Way,” “the work,” or more explicitly “the Gurdjieff work.” The other group consists of people who are widely and perhaps even deeply read in the “literature” of the work; they may even be members of groups or centres that put into practice its principles. In my own mind, I dub any member of the first group a cheechako or “tenderfoot,” and any member of the second group a sourdough or “old hand.” Here I am employing words that were popular during the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898, words that were popularized in the ballads of the “Bard of the Yukon,” Robert W. Service. What the cheechako and the sourdour have in common is that each person has been drawn to the work by its enchanting features or driven to the work by the disenchanting features of man and his world.

John
Both the “tenderfoot” and the “old hand” will find in the pages of this book fascinating information, little if any of it of public knowledge. It is information that will expand one’s understanding of the everyday life of Mr. G., and extend one’s sympathy for this enigmatic man and the problems he faced on a daily basis. No reader will reach the last pages of this book without evincing an admiration of the man and his mission … the work of self-styled “Teacher of Dancing.”

John
Every reader will then begin to ask for more information about “the scholar and the gentleman” who wrote this study of Mr. G.’s life and times. Some biographical and bibliographical information about Paul Beekman Taylor should certainly help the reader to appreciate the unique qualifications of its author and how it seems he has been “tailor-made” to research and write this book. Here goes ….

John
Taylor was born in London, England, on 31 December 1930. He describes the unusual nature of his upbringing in one of these chapters much better than could anyone else. His childhood in Mr. G.’s extended family is indeed a remarkable biographical fact. In brief, he was raised by a lively mother within an enchanted circle of men and women involved in the work and somewhat later he was raised by a leader of the work in the United States.

John
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1954; his master’s from Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut, in 1958; and his doctorate from Brown again in 1961. Among his many academic honours is the fact that he has served as a Fulbright Scholar and a Fulbright Lecturer. Thereafter he taught in Departments of English at Brown University, University of New Mexico, and Yale University, as well as at universities in Oslo, Ireland, Tel Aviv, Lausanne, Fribourg, Zürich. He is now an Emeritus Professor of the University of Geneva and retired from teaching but not from searching and writing. He has been thrice married and has seven children. People whom I respect speak very highly of him; indeed, with considerable respect for his personal qualities as well as for his scholarship. He is truly a gentleman.

John
In academic life, Professor Taylor’s speciality is Old Norse; indeed, his 1963 doctoral dissertation bears the title Old Norse Heroic Poetry. Among his many scholar papers and book-length works are three volumes of translations from the Old Norse which he undertook with the great poet W.H. Auden. In addition to Old Norse, he is a specialist in both Old English and Middle English; he has also taught courses on modern American literature and Chicano writing.

John
Taylor has contributed mightily to “the Gurdjieff field.” He is one of the founding members of the All & Everything International Humanities Conference, a group of independent scholars and thinkers who have been meeting annually in various cities since 1996. He has researched and written six studies of interesting and important aspects of the work:

John
* Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer (Weiser Books, 1998)
ohn

John
* Gurdjieff and Orage: Brothers in Elysium (Weiser Books, 2001)

John

 * Gurdjieff’s America: Mediating the Miraculous (Lighthouse Editions, 2004) reissued as Gurdjieff’s Invention of America (Eureka Editions, 2007)

John
* The Philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff (Eureka Editions, 2007)

John
* G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life (Eureka Editions, 2008)
ohn

John

* Gurdjieff in the Public Eye 1914-1949 (Eureka Editions, 2011)

John
His biography of Gurdjieff takes its place alongside James Moore’s classic Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth (Element Books, 1991). Gurdjieff’s Invention of America is the product of prodigious scholarship. If The Philosophy of G.I. Gurdjieff is a little diffuse, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye is right on the ball! There is no real precedent for the present book, Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff , which consists of the discoveries made following a lifetime of immersion in the work and a half-century of research conducted with primary materials in private hands and public institutions, as well as with the ever-expanding “literature” of the work. The literature is vast for it embraces a multitude of books (patiently annotated by J. Walter Driscoll) and published and unpublished memoirs in the languages of Eastern and Western Europe and the anglophonie. In the process of researching and writing the present book, which is essentially a collection of essay-length studies, he has revealed most surprising and interesting aspects of the social and personal life of Mr. G.

John
For instance, new light is shed on members of his family in the Caucasus and on his meetings with members of the artistic community in Paris, creative people like Ezra Pound and Lincoln Kirstein. Then passages are quoted from the transcripts of secret intelligent reports from the dossiers the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (These are eye openers!) How was Beelzebub’s Tales written? How was its publication financed? Is there a ur text in Russian? The answers appear here in more detail than ever before. Unexpected light is shed on the man’s deep love of children and the way he would tweak them to remember him, his message, and themselves. This relationship resonates with the author – and by extension with the reader – because in his childhood he benefited from the largesse of Mr. G. I could go on. The final chapter is remarkable for its insight into the life that Mr. G. kept secret, and the insight into why he did so. All in all, this is a remarkable book for cheechako and sourdough alike. It gives everyone the flavour of the man and his times.

John
I have no idea where Paul will next “strike” … what part or aspect of the work that he will stake out in order to unearth its termas, its buried treasures. But from the correspondence that we have intermittently conducted, I am led to believe that future forays will take him into archives and personal records that will bring to light further hitherto hidden material – on Gurdjieff’s Caucasian roots, specifically the connection with the Mercourov family in Armenia and Russia, on the Russian years in general, and on the man’s role as a “Teacher of Dancing.”

John
I look forward to rereading the present work, now that it is appearing in print, and to reading forthcoming essays and books written by Paul Beekman Taylor … in the same way that I look forward to meeting the scholar and the gentleman in person.

Note from SW:

the info captioning the image of the cover came from the book’s author Paul Beekman Taylor via John Robert Colombo.

There is a also a wiki page about Kiril’s older brother:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilia_Zdanevich

and an article by Jennifer Walker in the  online Artes Magazine-  click on link below

Early Modernism/Futurism Had Roots in Eastern Europe as well as Paris, Moscow

‘The Forgotten Modernists: In Search of Georgia’s Avant-Garde’,  which establishes cultural links between Russia, Tiflis and Paris, and where you can read more about Kirill’s life as an artist.

Jo

hn

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana, the mysterious, and Sax Rohmer. His latest books are “Jeepers Creepers” (a collection of accounts of psychical experiences) and “Fascinating Canada” (discussions of little-known facts about a very-big country). Earlier this year he was honoured by his alma mater, University College, University of Toronto, as one of “University College’s 100 Graduates of Influence.”

MRS ADIE: from a GROUP MEETING OF MARCH 1983

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This question and answer, simple, but I think all the more valuable for that, comes from a group meeting of 3 March 1983. The first question to Mrs Adie came from Mitt.

Mrs Adie, I’ve mentioned before an attitude, particularly at work, of wanting to belong, sort of seeking approval, and wanting to be the centre of activity. And I realised today that I’d been taking this matter too lightly. I’d been brushing it as just an attitude I have. And I believe that I am in fact jealous, and that it is very negative, and it is a serious thing.”

So what is your approach to that?”

It’s something I was pondering upon, and at first I couldn’t see any way out. It seemed to be my state when I was at work. But this evening I felt strongly a reminder to remember myself.”

At what point was that?”

This evening, when I arrived here. And the moment that I came to myself, I saw for the first time, that this wasn’t really me, this state. It was just another ‘I’, and that gave me a lot of hope as to the importance of self-remembering. It was …”

Yes, but the difficulty is you get caught, and you go to sleep. Can you tie it down to particular situations where this comes upon you? That kind of thing could be part of your line of work. Everybody has it, to a greater or lesser degree, in their personality. I am sure everyone would agree, unless they’ve not seen it.”

After a pause, Helen continued: “Now the thing is how to approach that? How to use that as material for your work?”

It is connected with particular people, and there are definite times when I know the pull, that the attraction of the crowd is strongest. When I think of that now, I remember those times.”

You can’t expect it to stop immediately. It’s been doing this for 20 to 30 years. But you can have an attitude towards it if it’s strong in your mind, if you really care about it, and you think of that as material.”

There are hundreds of similar things one can think of, but that is something very specific, and that can be material for your work. If you can, choose a person or a time or a situation, where you try just to be present to yourself. You don’t try to change anything directly, externally. You don’t decide to act in this way or that way. Nothing at all will come from that. But you try to be. It’s very difficult of course, but if you can, as specifically as you can, plan at a certain moment that you will be present to yourself when you meet that person. And you let the impressions come in, whatever takes place, you don’t deliberately try and alter something; but you cannot act in the same way if you are present to yourself.”

Of course you can’t maintain it: that is a difficulty. But with exercise, with practice, doing it more often, I don’t fall in the same way. And the point is, if it is material, that is something specific. It’s a manifestation of sleep, it is considering, which, apart from the fact that it is all based on imagination … and dreams … also takes my energy.”

I have to be satisfied to be as I am, because falling into this imagination doesn’t really change anything at all.”

You feel your own inner strength”, Helen continued, allowing these last two words a certain weight. “You can feel something strong in you. Try it that way, anyway. Of course, it has to be maintained for a little while, otherwise I’m asleep and it all comes out as usual. It’s a question of practice: the more I do it, the more I can do. The more I try to maintain it, the more I can maintain it, and the more likely I am to be awakened by the thing itself. I feel the taste of this thing appearing. I really realise it now.”

And it’s very fortunate to see something like that. People often have not the slightest idea. You can describe that, if you like, as one of your weaknesses – it’s a weakness that nearly everyone has – one of your obstacles, something which you can definitely use as material. It will come and go: one minute you’ll believe in it again, but then with practice it loses its power.”

So try to be practical about that. Do you think that clarifies it?”

Perhaps Mitt signalled a silent assent. After a space Mrs Adie asked: “Does it actually make you behave in a different matter, or does it occupy your dreams alone?”

It mostly affects my dreaming. One of the main examples of it is when I hear a conversation and I can’t resist going in.”

Yes, you’ve mentioned that before. Well, in that case you could just not join in. Sometimes I can just go against it in that way. But you must know why you that at the time. You must be present to yourself.”

That is what is meant by going against the denying part. This is mentioned in Beelzebub quite often. It was in the last reading.”

I find the exchange interesting not only for Mrs Adie simplicity which contains everything one needs, but for the simple observation that there are certain manifestations which one can just stop. Too often, perhaps, we forget that we don’t have to be childish. We may not be able to do in the full sense of the word, but we can do something.

[You might also be interested in two other Helen Adie related posts:

HELEN ADIE: A SORT OF SENSATION STOLEN FROM EMOTIONAL CENTRE

http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/helen-adie-a-sort-of-sensation-stolen-from-emotional-centre/  

and

HELEN ADIE ON FEELING  http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/helen-adie-on-feeling/  ]

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

29 October 2012

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

John Robert Colombo discourses on P.D. Ouspensky’s Magnum Opus

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P. D. Ouspensky 1878- 1947

Last evening I sat down in the most comfortable armchair in our house in Toronto and read in its entirety the text of “In Search of the Miraculous.” I did it in thirty-five minutes. It was not my first reading of P.D. Ouspensky’s text, nor will it be the last time I expect to read this work, yet it took me only a 1,200 seconds.

It is true I once took a course in speed-reading, but this time I was not using the techniques that I had learned at those sessions. (Indeed, my speed-reading instructor once said, “Speed-reading is good for general reading, but not for “the four P’s” – poems, plays, pornography, printer’s proofs … and I might add philosophical texts.) Nor did I skim or scan the text. I read every word with comprehension. I recommend the practice and the experience to one and all.

You will be forgiven if you have already decided that I am out of my mind! Indeed, how could anyone read with comprehension and with recall every page of Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous”? After all, the tome is 390 pages long, with 570 words per page, a total of 222,300 words. I am referring to the edition that is titled and subtitled “In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching” which appeared on the list of Harcourt, Brace and Company of New York in 1949. This is the first edition.

It was a remarkable text then and it is a remarkable text now. Of course it is impossible for even a graduate speed-reader to embrace its contents in thirty-five minutes. Thirty-five hours might be a better estimate of the time it would take to absorb what the author had to say, and only then after repeated readings.

It was ten years after the tome was first published that I read it for the first time. A woman who was very knowledgeable about the Work privately suggest that I not boast of having read it at so young an age. She added, “The Table of Hydrogens is really very detailed and difficult, you know.” The same applies to all the book’s eighteen chapters, not just to Chapter IX which describes the indeed-difficult Table of Hydrogens.

“In Search of the Miraculous” was not Ouspensky’s first choice of titles for this magnum opus, which appeared two years following his death – the same year as death came to the remarkable man who is identified throughout the text as “G.” – George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The author planned to give it the title “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” That may be a truly descriptive series of words, but it is one that is less saleable than the present one. Instead, “Fragments,” etc., became the volume’s subtitle.

There was always the feeling that had the book appeared as “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching,” it might now be confused with another book by another author – “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten” written in 1900 by the Theosophist and writer G.R.S. Mead. Ouspensky knew about Mead’s book, for he had enjoyed an early association with the Theosophical Society, so that some confusion might have followed.

Ouspensky’s preferred title for his work was “Man and the World in Which He Lives – Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” He was preparing that work for publication in 1912-1934 while he was working on another of his big books, “A New Model of the Universe,” which was first published in 1931 and revised in 1935; the standard edition is the one issued by Harcourt, Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York in 1950. The earliest known title for “New Model” is “The Wisdom of the Gods.”

In a footnote to “New Model of the Universe,” dated 1912-1934, he states that a new book is “being prepared for publication.” At the same time we also learn from the same source that the author was working on the notion of “different time in different cosmoses … which will be the subject of another book.” He was revising the English version of a novel with the working title “The Wheel of Fortune.” That one had originally been published in St. Petersburg in 1915 as “Kinemadrama.” It eventually appeared in English as “The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.” So it might have had three titles.

Could anyone actually read “In Search of the Miraculous” in thirty-five minutes? That is an obvious impossibility. When I make the claim that I did, I failed to explain that the text that I succeeded in reading so rapidly was Chapter IX of “A New Model of the Universe” which is coincidentally titled “In Search of the Miraculous.” The book’s chapter runs from page 305 to page 342, so it is only 37 pages long, easily read in a little more than half an hour, especially as it about as is far from being technical in orientation as possible. In fact, it highlights the writerly side – indeed, the literary side – of Ouspensky’s otherwise austere temperament.

Readers of “A New Model of the Universe” may or may not recall that Chapter IX is composed of six literary sketches – “feuilletons” in French – which evoke six aspects of “the miraculous.” The sketches are both subjective in emotion and objective in the sense that their subjects are appreciated and evaluated in the contest of what might be called “the real history of the world” instead of what we know as “the history of crime.”

The first sketch evokes the magnificence of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and explores the claim made for it is that, just as modern science has conquered space, esoteric science “has conquered time.” It has done so for “it knows methods of transferring its ideas intact and of establishing communications between schools through hundreds and thousands of years.”

Egypt and the Pyramids are described in the second sketch. It discusses the construction of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau and leaves the reader with the following thought: “In reality the pyramids contain a great enigma.” One of the enigmas is anti-evolutionary in nature. On this basis alone we should conclude the existence of civilized beings prior to ourselves; hence we ourselves are not “the descendants of a monkey.”

Sketch number three is devoted to the Sphinx about which “nothing is known.” The author writes, “The Sphinx is indisputably one of the most remarkable, if not the most remarkable, of the world’s works of art. I know nothing that I would be possible to put side by side with it. It belongs indeed to quite another art than the art we know. Beings such as ourselves could not create a Sphinx.”

“The Buddha with the Sapphire Eyes” is the title of the fourth sketch. Ouspensky’s account of it – his meditation on the reclining figure – has made it among occultists and esotericists the most famous of Ceylon’s giant statues. It is located just outside the Sri Lanka capital of Colombo, and there is a photograph of it reproduced in the Commemorative Issue of “The Bridge,” a journal published by The Study Society, London, in 1977. But the author offers a verbal portrait worth a thousand pictures. This Buddha speaks to us “of a real existence, of another life, and of the existence of men who know something of that life and can transmit it to us by the magic of art.”

The fifth sketch is titled “The Soul of the Empress Mumtaz-i-Mahal” and it paints a rosy and pastel image of the Taj Mahal, a scene that never seems to cloy or lose its fascination. The Taj is a tomb, a burial site, but it is not a gravesite. Here Ouspensky develops a theory that moves into dimensions beyond the fourth, infinity being the fifth: “The soul and the future life are one and the same.”

“The Mevlevi Dervishes” is the sixth and last sketch. In Constantinople he was invited to a tekke at Pera where he had the opportunity to observe the dervishes whirl about like the planets in the heavens. He witnessed the ceremony on at least two occasions at an interval of one dozen years. He concluded that events move more quickly than do the dervishes for all their speed. For instance, in the interval, Russia itself had ceased to exist. Events that had occurred to him during those twelve years had imparted some knowledge to him. “And now I knew more about them. I knew a part of their secret. I know how they did it. I knew in what the mental work connected with the whirling consisted. Not the details of course, because only a man who takes part in the ceremonies or exercises can know the details. But I knew the principle.”

On that note this chapter ends. These synopses of Ouspensky’s sketches are meant to offer the reader a sense of the poetic side of the author’s temperament. It was Colin Wilson’s argument that the world lost a great metaphysician in P.D. Ouspensky when he met G.I. Gurdjieff. Whether this is true or not, all is not lost. We have Ouspensky’s heart and soul in the chapter “In Search of the Miraculous,” and his body and mind in the book “In Search of the Miraculous.”

Perhaps you will agree with me that this is not bad for thirty-five minutes of reading!

 

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist with a special interest in mysteries. His current work is devoted to preserving the hitherto unknown short mystery fiction written by Sax Rohmer, the English author who created the arch-villain preposterous, Dr. Fu Manchu. All this is explained on his website: < http://www.colombo.ca >

Notice of conferences, books, reviews or events of interest to the practitioner or scholar of Gurdjieff’s teaching may be sent to: Sophia Wellbeloved  s.wellbeloved@gmail.com

 

 

Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland: A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

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James Moore

Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland, A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

1. Introduction

2. The Real Question

1. Introduction

I will assume that the reader has access to John Robert Colombo’s review of this book at http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

This will save me going through the preliminaries. To a significant extent, I am in agreement with JR’s review. But I do think that the most important point a critic can make about this book is that it is not actually a biography of Lord Pentland in the sense that the genre of biography has been known in English letters: it is, rather, a polemic which takes Pentland as its chief but not its sole target. It is as if Pentland is merely a convenient, and – for Moore – an agreeable because a disdained target.

That the book is a polemic shows itself in two ways: its coverage of Pentland’s achievement is minimal to the point of mockery, and its coverage of other targets is overplayed. Thus, Moore also takes aim at what Pentland’s father, the social class to which he belonged, the Britain in which Pentland flourished, and P.D. Ouspensky. Moore sometimes takes aim at Jeanne de Salzmann and through her and Pentland, what is now clumsily known as the “International Association of the Gurdjieff Foundations”.

The title is, of course, pretentious, referring as it does to Lytton Strachey’s minor classic. But then, the author named his autobiography Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered. I doubt that he would see any pretence at all. Moore’s writing continues its steady decline. In my view, Gurdjieff and Mansfield was the best written of his books. Each succeeding volume sees further adventures in grandiloquence to the point where, in this book, Moore’s prose positively obscures his meaning as much as it reveals it. For example, speaking of the “Dunkirk Spirit”, Moore remarks: “By just such a rare and free flowing energy the aridities of Ouspensky’s scholasticism might have been irrigated. But they were not.” (p.53). What does this mean? We can see that he dislikes Ouspensky’s “scholasticism”, but he does not explain what the stated “aridities” are, or how they could have been “irrigated” by the spirit of Dunkirk. The dry four word sentence “But they were not”, seems to suggest that there was some fault of Ouspensky’s part, or that of someone else. However, as so often in this book, Moore does not condescend to explain his meaning, the basis for his opinion, or what his sources were.

Consider this line: “Here as elsewhere Pentland is litmus paper shy of turning red or blue”, (63). I do not know what he means in this context. I know what litmus paper is, and I know what shy means, but what is he saying? Moore aims for effect to the point of losing sight of why one writes.

One of Moore’s techniques in this book is to assume an omniscient voice, a manner of proceeding which allows him to criticise and condemn without needing to do more than demand that we accept his conclusions. Moore has researched many details of the world in which Pentland lived, but how can he possibly know that when he took his seat as President of the Cambridge Union, Pentland had “a sense almost of swooning vertigo”? (32) Does Moore have access to a diary or letter, and if so, why not mention it? Or is it all as much a fiction as the awkward talk between father and son which he invents?

History’s access to their verbatim conversation is decently barred by the study door” (15) Moore speaks here, as often, as if he were the voice of history, and the tone supports him when he adds: “Yet this caveat does not entirely forbid the authorial imagination an intelligent extrapolation from circumstantial evidence. Like most fathers His Lordship hardly knew how to begin.” Where is the intelligence here? What are the pieces of evidence he uses? Maybe if we knew the facts, we would find that Pentland’s father was different from how Moore imagines him. All I can see here is the operation of thoroughgoing prejudice, and that is a very different thing.

Similarly, in speaking of Franklin Farms, he mocks how “Society women with compressed lips earnestly bottling peas and beans were in a profounder sense, bottling spiritual merit.” (67). How does he know what their attitude was? Were they really so self-righteous as that? Maybe the women would have surprised him. But by filling this slim volume with “intelligent extrapolations”, and speaking as if all-knowing, Moore creates a consistent picture of pretentious and deluded wealthy folks, and then pleads its very consistency in aid of its veracity. This is not valid biography, and is cheap even as polemic.

It is difficult to overstate the extent to which the book is primed with irrelevancies which create an illusion of research, while bare of many matters which are far more important. For example, we learn that tickets to the premier of Gone with the Wind were hard to procure (51), but Moore does even try to tell us in what Pentland’s approach to the Gurdjieff teaching and methodology consisted. Yet, after the publication of Exchanges Within and several of his talks, this would have been as easy as it is desirable.

Again, Moore tells us that at one time a certain piece of news “would have imparted to Pentland’s stiff mind and body the artificial agility bestowed on a dead frog’s hind-quarters when juxtaposed to an electric coil …” (72). It is ponderously written, and not, to my mind, at all witty. But more profoundly, Moore assumes and has assumed all throughout that Pentland had a “stiff” mind”.

Moore is content to construct a paper tiger and ignore, in the published group meetings, what made Pentland the teacher he was – whatever type of teacher that may have been.

It is necessary to state that I am sure that Moore has a certain point: but he does not demonstrate it. I remember that in several meetings with “senior” people from the New York Foundation, they would gently push you into agreeing with them: it was obscene, the number of times one woman in particular would put words into people’s mouths by asking, “Wouldn’t you say …?” I had a sense, even then, that she was imitating, and my guess was that she was imitating Pentland.

I recall one chap who had met Pentland would come quote statements such as: “Don’t write that down! Remember it! Lord Pentland said: Why do we write? We write it order to forget!” How absurd. We don’t write in order to forget, but so that if we do forget, as experience shows us we often do, we will have a record. When I was in New York, about eight years after Pentland’s death, I was with Jim Wyckoff’s group. We had to remove all the items from a series of cupboards. I started to make a sketch of what was where. They got stuck into me: that was not the Work! I had to remember not use a crutch. They would remember. And so on. They really made a point out of it: they were unctuous and self-righteous.

But when, a week later, they had to restore the items, they were searching high and low for the sketch. Not one said a word to me. I started to form the opinion then that Wyckoff was a New York hippie, and before he died, I informed him that I no longer wished to “work” with him. I am gratified that to remember that I did. Because, like Pentland, he was an authority figure. But to give Pentland his due, Pentland could run a business and did establish the Foundation on the West Coast.

Still, the picture of the NY Foundation I then formed, as conceited while operating at a level lower than ordinary life, does seem to go back to Pentland. But I also felt that there was more than just that to Pentland. And I feel that the X quality which Moore has missed must have been something to do with the presence of Lord Pentland. Only by appealing to the presence of Lord Pentland can I explain why the text of Exchanges Within, which seems to me to be good but not excellent, sends those who knew him into raptures: they make a connection to what they experienced when they met him

Interestingly, Mr Adie did not consider Pentland to be anything but formidable. He did say that Pentland would go all cryptic and mystificatory or change the topic when he did not know something or felt inadequate. He also said that Pentland could play a double game, and for reasons I won’t go into now, I think that Adie may well have been right. I think that Pentland did relish the idea of taking over the Adie group in Australia, but – probably on instructions from Jeanne de Salzmann – was content to wait until Adie would die. And to give them credit, the strategy did work, but by the time it bore fruit, the groups had reduced from well over a hundred and forty persons to about a third of that number.

I should also note here that there are some very interesting stories of Pentland being bested by Mrs Staveley in verbal duels. Once he asked her, in front of others, to give an impromptu talk on the importance of obedience. It was obvious to those present that his point was that she was disobedient to either Jeanne de Salzmann or himself or both. She turned the tables on him: “Yes, obedience is important. But obedience to what?” Discomfited, he changed the topic.

So it should be obvious that I have no problem with a book which is critical of Pentland and the Foundation: but it needs reasons and grounds. This book is filled with tricks: “How far away, suddenly, seemed the hors d’oeuvre table at Claridges,” (73). Moore had referred to Claridges a little earlier, but it had nothing to do with this section, and neither is there any reason to think that anyone thought of Claridges, wistfully or otherwise. It is just a way of inserting a supposedly clever line and making Pentland look like an upper class twit. Similarly, and there are other examples, Moore mentions that pencil sharpeners were made scarce in England during the war, and then speaks of Pentland going to the USA where “the staff were … never short of … pencil sharpeners,” (62). Is that humorous? Does it have a point? It was Moore, not Pentland, who cared about such matters.

I could continue like this, but in the end, the very cynicism of Moore’s approach takes me to what I consider to be the real question.

2. The Real Question

The real question, to my mind, is about the Gurdjieff Work. If Pentland – the leader of the Foundation in the USA – was indeed, as Moore paints him, then what is the point of the Gurdjieff Work?

Jospeph Azize

September 2012

=============

See related posts:

Andrew Rawlinson’s review of this book

http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/?s=Pentland+Rawlinson

+

John Robert Colombo’s reviews this at: http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

&

he reviews Ashala Gabriel’s Remembering Lord Pentland

http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/john-robert-colombo-reviews-a-new-book-by-ashala-gabriel/

=============

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO REVIEWS A NEW BOOK BY ASHALA GABRIEL

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0

Ashala Gabriel

Remembering Lord Pentland

Not too long ago there was an uproar over James Moore’s biography of Lord Pentland, with Moore expressing exasperation with the man he had met on one or two occasions, and with readers (and non-readers) of his biography who rushed to the defence of the man who was their teacher. For those who missed the catcalls and the catfight, here is some background information.

Henry John Sinclair (1907-1984), 2nd Baron Pentland, was appointed by G.I. Gurdjieff to lead the Work in North America. He became the first head of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, leading that centre from its establishment in 1953 to the time of his death. As well, he oversaw the founding of the Gurdjieff organization in San Francisco, and over the decades he addressed countless study groups and met innumerable students throughout the United States. I am not aware that he ever ventured across the Canadian border.

He was said to be selfless in his devotion to the Work. A rule of thumb – my thumb – is that those people who knew the Baron personally, whether colleagues or students, were quite attached to the man and most protective of him – he does look frail in photographs, almost cadaverous – whereas those who knew him impersonally or peripherally, or not at all, were less disposed to be appreciative or even generous about him and the role he played.

A wake-up call was James Moore’s book “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland” which gave the man and the leader no quarter. I reviewed this stylishly written biography upon publication for this website, and it remains the sole biographical inquiry of any length devoted to the man and his work. On another occasion I summarized some of Lord Pentland’s published talks. I will not repeat here what I wrote there. I think readers may view the present publication “Remembering: Being with My Teacher” as an attempt to re-right the wrong, to re-balance of scales, to set the record straight, by offering at least one former student’s emotional tribute and appreciation of Lord Pentland at work and at play. On that level the publication succeeds.

Now that Lord Pentland and James Moore have been identified, the only other person to describe is Ashala Gabriel, the author of the publication. She is a woman in her early seventies, who has for many years worked in New York as an independent literary agent, copywriter, and psychic (or mystic, as she prefers). Ms. Gabriel is a graduate of Brown University, with a Master’s degree in TESOL (teaching English as a second language) from Hunter College, and a Doctor of Divinity degree or certificate from The College of Divine Metaphysics.

In 2002, Simon & Schuster published her illustrated book for young children, Night Night Toes. Ms. Gabriel has her own website, HeartReadings, where she writes, “I am a natural mystic. Even in my crib days, I was a frequent flier to far-off worlds – worlds as clear and close as the nose on my face.” (This detail brings to my mind the Ontario-born “natural medium” named Dorothy Maclean who with her “green thumb” grew those giant cabbages at Findhorn in Northern Scotland. In passing, Ms. Maclean’s own volume of memoirs, “To Hear the Angels Sing,” is well worth reading. I think Ms. Gabriel and Ms. Maclean are kindred souls.)

Never before have I heard of anyone who bore the name Ashala, so I checked the website Quick Baby Names where I learned the following bits of information. The website states that the name is a variant of Ashley which was popularized in the movie “Gone with the Wind.” The website continues: “As a baby girl name, Ashala is currently not a popular baby name in the USA.” The website concludes, interesting, that the name describes “a professional woman with good tastes and values, but is quite shy.” Whether or not this is true of the author Ashala Gabriel, I do not know, never having met her. But reading her prose, I do not judge her to be particularly shy, though, yes, she is somewhat tentative and certainly a sensitive woman.

Ms. Gabriel is the author of “Remembering: Being with My Teacher” published by CreateSpace in New York and her book is available through Amazon and Indigo. The trade paperback measures 6″ x 9″ and is 154 pages in length. One unusual feature of the publication is the pagination. Printers customarily reserve the number 1 for the first page, the one on the right. In this publication, the number 1 appears on the left-hand page (which means there should be a page 0)!

The text is set in a sans-serif typeface, though the typeface is generally reserved for headings, as they slow the reader down, lacking as they do readily recognizable serifs, thick and thin shapes, etc. However, the lines are well “leaded,” i.e., spread apart, so each page is quite spacious and easy to read. There are about 40,000 words here, divided into 44 chapters, so each chapter is in extent under 1,000 words long. Each chapter is a self-contained reminiscence which describes an interaction with Lord Pentland (who is referred to as “LP”). The author calls these chapters “stories,” and so does Barbara Wright George who supplies a friendly foreword in the form of a letter in which she notes, rightly, that “these stories” reveal “a teacher in action.”

A curious point about the 44 chapter headings is that they appear in lower case and systematically hyphenated – “the-invisible-cloak,” “unconditional-invitation,” “st.-george-of-the-jigsaw,” “death-and-breath,” etc. This creates a sense of breathlessness which is also characteristic of the text itself, as Ms. Gabriel enjoys hyphenating words, perhaps influenced by the neologisms of “All and Everything.” In one story, she describes how she elaborately packaged some baked goods for Lord Pentland. He observes this and draws this feature to her attention as a teaching lesson: “I was able to take in a strong impression of my tendency to always embellish everything I was asked to do.”

LP is described as “my teacher for all times” and as “a tall, stately, bushy-eyebrowed man” who is always asking “those question-less questions I’d learned to listen for but was rarely in the sort of state I was prepared to hear.” The episodes involving the two of them take place in California and New York State. Some of the encounters are entirely anecdotal, like the one called “elevator-antics.” An elevator operator responds to LP’s question about how life was treating him by saying that life has been taking him “up and down … up and down.”

The chapter “bookmark-re-marks” demonstrates how LP could be very direct in dealing with situations like the one created by the “bookmark people” who were always entering bookstores and inserting their own bookmarks in books by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. He had his followers continue to remove the bookmarks and bring them to him, and in his own handwriting he replaced the printed telephone numbers with his own phone number. “Now, don’t get caught … and don’t let any of the others at the Foundation know what we’re doing.”

The story I liked the most – because it tells us as much about Ms. Gabriel as about LP – is “cans-and-cabs.” It describes how LP set Ms. Gabriel a number of tasks to be completed in record time in downtown Manhattan a few hours before they were ticketed to fly from New York to San Francisco. Suitcases had to be claimed, delivered, etc., and she was ordered to arrive by cab outside the Waldorf Astoria to pick up LP: “Now be exactly on time, and not a minute too early.” The author describes how she conscientiously and breathlessly accomplished all of this, at one point trusting the good will of a New York taxi driver to safeguard a trunk full of reels of films of the Movements. As the cab pulls up with her and the trunk with its valuable consignment, LP descends the hotel’s steps. She had arrived at the hotel precisely on time. “Well done,” LP smiled, rather like the Cheshire cat.

LP’s remarks are hardly quotable but they are thoughtful and hence memorable. When Ms. Gabriel went grocery shopping for a group function, she returned with the exact change from the purchases. LP was pleased. “Always remember, the Work is in the details.”
On other occasions he offered these remarks: “Real doing is on the inside.” “It’s not just what you’re looking at, it’s where you’re looking from.” “Sooner or later you have to decide if you want to be visible or invisible.” He took the long view of life: “Try to look at your life in seven year increments. Then perhaps you’ll be able to see something about the larger patterns behind the events which have occurred.”

On occasion I have found that the first and last words of a book may be used to summarize its theme or content. This is so with the present book. Its first word is “my,” and its last word is “legacy.” Indeed, “Remembering: Being with My Teacher” is the author’s legacy, a tribute to Lord Pentland.

John Robert Colombo, author and anthologist, contributes the occasional book review to this website. He is known across Canada as “the Master Gatherer” for his compilations of lore and literature. He is currently collecting for publication the non-fiction writing of Sax Rohmer (the creator of Dr. Fu Manchu). The text of Colombo’s speech titled “Fantastic Elements in the Fiction of Sax Rohmer” appears on his website < http://www.colombo.ca >>.

GURDJIEFF AS BLACK & WHITE MAGICIAN: How Gurdjieff’s Four Books relate to each other & his Law of Three

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Above are some of the many images of Gurdjieff. It is interesting to see how one of these is often chosen, for blogs or publications about him, so as to express an opinion or judgement of him, to define him according to the writer’s own views.

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How Gurdjieff’s Four Books relate to each other

& to his Law of Three

A while ago I wrote a review of Herald of Coming Good which I have extended here. My initial impulse to write the review came after going to a conference in which someone told me they hadn’t read Herald, ‘because our teacher told us not to.’

This advice was probably in response and obedience to Gurdjieff’s own withdrawing of his text. However, I will show below that it is important to read Herald, as it is an essential text, it completes Gurdjieff’s teaching and in doing so the text itself draws attention to what the pupil should reject.

It also, according to James Webb, revealed three of Gurdjieff’s techniques of manipulation that he

‘consistently employed: for one man the carrot, for another the stick, for the third hidden persuasion.’

Webb goes on to suggest that Gurdjieff’s pupils:

‘might have found the keys to a dozen puzzling experiences. If they had chosen to look’, but most of them did not. (Webb, James, The Harmonious Circle, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980 p. 428).

In Herald of Coming GoodGurdjieff portrays himself as a black magician in contrast to his role a white magician in Life is real only then, when “I am”’.

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Gurdjieff’s Law of Three

In terms of Gurdjieff’s Law of Three:

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1. Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson - represents a negative or destructive 2nd force

2. Meetings With Remarkable Menrepresents a positive or creative force 1st force

3. Herald of Coming Good represents a negative reconciling 3rd force

4. Life is real only then, when “I am” represents a positive reconciling 3rd force

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So, seen in this context, although he ‘exiled’ Herald, echoing Beelzebub’s exile from the Sun Absolute, readers may ignore Gurdjieff’s instructions not to read it and like the committee who restored Beelzebub’s horns, may pardon the ill results of his teaching that Gurdjieff claims for himself in Herald. The text can now be re-embraced back into the sequence of Gurdjieff’s writings where it belongs, just as Beelzebub was himself pardoned and allowed to return to the Sun Absolute

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Time

All four of Gurdjieff’s books have themes related to time. The Tales shows a continuing devolution from past to present, while Meetings shows Gurdjieff and the Seekers ‘reversing time’ by returning to the past sources of ancient wisdom via teachings in texts and monasteries. The title of Life is Real Only Then When ‘I am‘, emphasises the eternal present while the Herald Of Coming Good suggests the unreality of the future.

If we look at Gurdjieff’s books in this way it makes sense to follow his instructions to read three of them in the order he prescribes, and also to disobey his instruction not to read Herald.

 

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John Robert Colombo reviews: Charles Upton’s latest book

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‘Vectors of the Counter-Initiation’

The Wikipedia entry for the author Charles Upton identifies him (somewhat starkly but no doubt truthfully) as “a poet and metaphysician.” He was born in San Francisco in 1948 and raised a Roman Catholic. Apparently he attended the University of California at Davis “for four days.” He enjoyed a period of association with the Beat writers of the city, and he had a collection of poems published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books, no mean achievement.

Like many another war resister, he immigrated to Canada, to the wild interior of British Columbia, where he had a series of jolting, counter-cultural experiences, before he returned to the United States. The entry notes: “In 1988 he joined a traditional Sufi order. Under his wife’s influence, Upton became interested in the metaphysics of the Traditionalist or Perennialist School … He continues to be partly identified with this school,” where his teacher or “pir” was presumably the psychiatrist and author Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. Later he wrote, “Traditionalism has given me a way to distance myself from the errors and excesses of the Left without polarizing with it.” Upton and his wife Jennifer Doane now live in Lexington, Kentucky.

What they do there, I do not know. On the off chance that Upton is employed as an academic, I searched the directories of the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University, but his name does not appear on their faculty rosters. (Note: “Transylvania University” is indeed the name of a small liberal arts college in Lexington, founded in 1780, a century before Bram Stoker began to write about the vampire-infested region around Borgo Pass and Bistritz.)

Upton is a prolific writer. Sixteen of his twenty or so books have been issued by Sophia Perennis, including the current book, which is titled and subtitled “Vectors of the Counter-Initiation: The Course and Destiny of Inverted Spirituality” (2012). The title sounds a little odd, as does the subtitle: What precisely is a “vector”? Whatever is “counter-initiation” and “inverted spirituality”? A curious note is that on the author’s Wikipedia site, the subtitle of the present book reads “The Shape and Destiny of Inverted Spirituality,” but on the cover of the book reads: “The Course …. ” This may be an insignificant detail, but it is details of this nature that catch the author’s eye. It seems the current book is a sequel to an earlier one, “The System of Antichrist: Truth and Falsehood in Postmodernism and the New Age,” a book of metaphysics and social criticism, published by the same house way back in 2001.

Sophia Perennis, the publishing house, is an imprint that has an informative website. From the site one learns nothing at all about the people who operate the press – the publishers and editors seem to be a self-effacing lot, but they are very able group, and they produce a fine product (one that I will describe a little later). But from the site one may acquire basic information about the movers and shakers of Traditionalism and Perennialism. It appears in the institution’s mission statement, which discusses the main metaphysicians who identify with this school of lexis and praxis.

“Sophia Perennis is dedicated to publishing the best contemporary writing on the world’s wisdom traditions, largely from a Traditionalist or ‘Perennialist’ perspective, as well as reprinting recognized classics. We have tried to remain faithful to Traditionalist core principles – notably the Transcendent Unity of Religions – while exploring new applications of these principles, as well as returning to the great Revelations themselves for fresh insight.”

I have yet to read other books by Upton, so I approached “Vectors” cold-turkey. Well, not quite. Well before I discovered the literature of the Fourth Way, about the time that I learned about the “powers latent in man” identified with The Theosophical Society, which was then an institution only seventy-five years old, I found a copy in a second-hand bookstore of René Guénon’s “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times.” I read it from cover to cover with a modicum of understanding and a quantum of fascination, so much so that I thereafter sought out publications of the Primordialist, Traditionalist, or Perennialist persuasion. I have yet to encounter any other soul so interested or inclined.

For some years I subscribed to that excellent, semi-annual journal called “Sacred Web,” not because it is published from Vancouver, British Columbia; not because its honourary patron is HRH the Prince of Wales; not because it is close to appearing to be a scholarly publication in a highly polemical and disputatious field; but because it did and does offer valuable insights – issue after issue, again and again. Eventually I found that its content was becoming repetitious and its tone increasingly peremptory … but because I am not reviewing “Sacred Web,” I will offer no telling instances, though one of them has to do with the bitchiest book review that I have ever read – the anathema invoked against Mark Sedgwick’s “Against the Modern World” (Oxford University Press) which bears the subtitle “Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.”

Instead, I will mention in passing a few of the impressions that my wife Ruth and I had of the Traditionalists in action at the two-day colloquium “Tradition in the Modern World” sponsored by members of the Ismaili communities of Edmonton and Vancouver and held on the campus of the University of Alberta at Edmonton in September 2006. It was a joy to hear Jean-Louis Michou and Huston Smith and realize they were carrying their years with grace. Harry Oldmeadow was given to hectoring (in the manner of Nietzsche). James S. Cutsinger presented a somewhat brilliant paper called “The Noble Lie” that went well over the heads of most of the people in the audience, including my wife and myself.

My biggest disappointment was listening to the keynote address of Seyyed Hossein Nasr. I did not say my disappointment was hearing the speech of Dr. Nasr, for he does speak with surpassing fluency, authority, and scholarly acumen. My disappointment was listening to what he had to say because he took a number of pot-shots at easy targets, like the one on Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in Regensburg, Germany. I expected more equanimity; my fault, I guess. (Query: Can someone be a former Sufi?) I found fellow members of the audience to be warm and appreciative, especially as Ruth and I were among the few non-Muslims present, whereas most of the academic presenters were aloof and edgy if not chilly.

For what they are worth, my impressions are recorded in a long and detailed account of the proceedings in “Fohat,” the journal of the Edmonton Theosophical Society, X, 4, Winter 2006. For present purposes, let me add that “the perennial philosophy” that was celebrated by Aldous Huxley in his notable book of that title published in 1946 has nothing at all to say about Guénon and Traditionalism proper, though three of the French metaphysician’s books are listed in the bibliography. So it is misleading and mistaken to identify the so-called the “philosophia perennis” or perennial philosophy itself with Traditionalism per se, especially as the former implies eclecticism, ecumenicism, syncreticism, interfaith initiatives, “one world religion,” “new age,” etc., whereas metaphysicians of the latter camp abhor such movements and despise them as heretical and diabolical if not satanic.

Now to the book at hand. “Vectors” is a handsome and sturdily manufactured trade paperback, 6″ x 9″ with viii+336+ii pages. There is an informative introduction, then twelve interesting though densely written chapters, followed by five appendices of related material. There is no index but the footnotes and endnotes are quite detailed. The text must exceed 140,000 words in length.

There is not a page of the text that is badly written; there is not a page of the text that is easy to read. Upton has a rigorous prose style, in common with that of Guénon, as well as the spirit of “parti pris.” I managed to understand much of Guénon’s “Reign of Quantity” before I chose philosophy as my college major, so I assumed that all philosophy was written in this steely fashion. Then I discovered one could write philosophy in other styles – with the ease of R.G. Collingwood, the apocalyptic energy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the disdain for “bad faith” of Jean-Paul Sartre.

What had animated Guénon’s prose was a contempt for the false values of the Western world. The position that he took is what distinguished his writing from philosophy per se, and it also led to his prose being characterized as metaphysics. In his Weltanschauung, there is a “hierarchy” of values – accompanied by the “lowerarchy” (an amusing coinage of C.S. Lewis used by Upton) of deceptions – so his metaphysics is indistinguishable from theology – in this instance, Islamic theology. There is no more thorough-going critique of the values of the Western world in the twenty-first century than the writing of the Guénonian school. Upton follows in Guénon’s footsteps; Upton’s book is worthy of the master’s. There is a cultural jihad being waged in the pages of these books.

When I review a book, I try to refrain from reprinting the copy that appears on the back cover of that book, on the principle that I should be able to summarize its arguments at least as well as any publicist. But in this instance, the copy on the back cover of “Vectors” is so pertinent, I will reprint part of it here in a slightly shortened form:

“French philosopher René Guénon, who spent many years searching for a true esoteric Way, crossed paths with many false and subversive spiritualities before arriving at the threshold of Islamic Sufism. In his prophetic masterpiece “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times,” he classed the worst of these spiritualities as examples of the Counter-Initiation. Anti-Tradition – secularism and materialism – opposes religion; Counter-Tradition inverts it; and the esoteric essence of Counter-Tradition is the Counter-Initiation. The author expands on this concept, recognizing the action of the Counter-Initiation in such areas as the politicizing of the interfaith movement, the anti-human tendencies in the environmental movement, the growing interest in magic and sorcery, the involvement of the intelligence communities in the fields of UFO investigation and psychedelic research, the history of Templarism and Freemasonry, and the de-Islamicization of the famous Sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi.”

“The Counter-Initiation has six main features: syncretism; inverted hierarchy; deviated esoterism; the granting of the temporal transmission of spiritual lore precedent over the vertical descent of Revelation; the reduction of religion to utilitarianism (magic) and esoterism to a purely technical knowledge (Promethean spirituality); and the misapplication of the norms of the individual spiritual Path to the supposed spiritual evolution of the collective.”

“This book brings together two schools of thought: the Traditionalists or Perennialists (writers on comparative religion and traditional metaphysics) and the conspiracy theorists who are investigating the origin, nature, and plans of the New World Order. The NWO researchers can throw a penetrating light on the social and political dangers presently threatening the Perennialists, who the Perennialists can provide these researchers with a deeper and wider spiritual context for their vision of human evil.”

Those three paragraphs excellently summarize the convoluted arguments of the book, better than any that I could supply. What follows are some responses and reactions to the text chapter by chapter.

Chapter 1 has the title “What is the Counter-Initiation?” The author restates his thesis any number of times, changing the emphasis to match the contexts. I take it that his thesis is as follows: “Anyone who bases his critique of the Darkness of This World on the orthodox doctrines of a single God-given revelation, if he has sufficient courage and insight, will see far; the solid fulcrum of that orthodoxy will allow him to lift a great weight of error into the light. But this perspective will _not_ allow him to see how the other religions are menaced by the same Counter-Initiatory forces that threaten his own.”

Sceptics are anti-traditional and likely secularists or materialists. Among people who accept the notion of religious or spiritual initiation are the following: deluded people and gullible adherents to the principles of the New Age who are misled by the spread of Pseudo-Initiation; people intent on attaining or wielding power who embrace the anti-principles of Counter-Tradition and Counter-Initiation; people desirous of embracing and expressing spiritual values who attain one form or another of genuine Initiation. “Falsifications of the Transcendent Unity of Religions and the Primordial Tradition include syncretism; inverted hierarchy; deviated esoterism; dominance of history over Revelation; Promethean magic; and spiritual evolutionism – the six-fold falsification of the Transcendent Unity of Religions and the Primordial Tradition.”

Upton gives numerous instances and examples of how the élites of the world over the centuries and particularly in our own time have sought and to a great degree have undermined the integrity of the world’s great religions, especially their esoteric hearts, notably Kabbalah, Catholic monasticism, and Sufism. He does not hesitate to brand these people “satanists.” The satanists sabotage structures regardless of the orthodoxy or the heterodoxy of the doctrines of these religions, establishing their own Counter-Initiations, their own competing cults and sects. About True-Initiations, little is said, and nothing is revealed. So it is understandable in the absence of details that readers are inclined to imagine a succession or transmission through the ages of grace or of superstitious practices.

Perhaps I can help here. About a decade ago, introduced to the subject of “pretenders” to thrones and “false popes,” I latched onto the word “sedevacantism.” Its literal meaning is “the seat is empty,” suggesting that it is vacant in the sense that the occupant is unqualified for the position or that the occupant acquired the position of power through illegal or immoral means. Is there a person in a position of power in the world today who has not been accused of being a usurper, an illegitimate power-wielder? (Think about the “birther movement” and U.S. President Obama, etc.) There is a Traditionalist truism that runs like this: “A bad king is preferable to a good president.”

Chapter 2 is called “Vigilance in the Interfaith Arena” and it examines diverse subjects including the characteristics of Neo-Paganism, how Annie Besant (a Fabian Socialist) was granted control of the Theosophical Society, and the nature of “social control systems.” I have always been queasy about the notion that one should support the convergence of the world’s religions, viewing the movement itself as destructive of the integrity of each of those faiths as well as harmful to the individual and to society as a whole. Upton condemns these social forces: the movement towards “global governance”; the movement toward One World Religion, United Religions Initiative, and New World Order; the movement towards secular control of the world’s religions. Upton is not beyond making ridiculous statement like “Mikhail Gorbachev … is an avowed atheist who claims to worship the earth” but he generally sticks to the subject at hand.

This chapter is a mass – close to a mess – of detail; as such it is difficult to summarize. So here is part of an interesting footnote concerning The King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue to be based in Vienna: “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia – not to be confused with the King of Jordan – may nonetheless see the Center named after him as a way of slowly introducing religious freedom into his kingdom ‘from outside.’ Before he took the throne, he was reputed to have said that he wanted to get rid of both the Wahhabis and the Americans.” Notice the scorn.

Chapter 3’s title is a mouthful, as befits a lengthy chapter: “Traditional vs. Counter-Traditional Perspectives on The Divine Feminine & The Sacredness of Nature.” The chapter begins well: “Wars inevitably produce three things: profiteering, domination, and a curtailment of human rights – and the war to save the Earth from environmental catastrophe is no exception.” It focuses on the “Divine Feminine” and the earth and the environment, first from the perspective of the Traditionalists and the Perennialists, second from the perspective of the Greens and the Neo-Pagans.

The “shadow-side” of environmentalism is “nature worship” which leads to human sacrifice “when overpopulation is seen as threatening the integrity of the environment.” Interesting insights follow on Abraham and his son Isaac and on “the anti-Islamic crimes of the Wahhabi terrorists.” There are basic conflicts: “Gaia vs. Kali” and “naturalistic vs. supernaturalistic nature-worship.” Technology is embraced by the worshipers of nature. There is an intriguing footnote about what drives serial killers: “The elites have the power to destroy whole nations and economies and ecosystems, but the sociopaths are out to rival the ruling class by proving that the ‘little guy’ can also contribute his share to the general destruction.” Serial killers and mass murderers are only doing on a micro scale what one-worlders and globalizers are doing on a macro scale.

Numerous pages are devoted to quotations about the earth from the Noble Qur’an. The basic position is as follows: “If there were no Divine Transcendence, all entities would be purely material, sealed into themselves, totally cut off from living participation in anything ontologically superior to them – like the parts of a machine.” There are intriguing insights: “Sleep during the night is life in death; sleep during the day is death in life.”

One would have to have a hard heart to read these pages without being charmed by the insights of the Qur’an into “the sacredness of nature,” but the reader wonders how much of this is shamanstvo, for notions coterminous with these may be found in the songs, stories, and beliefs of the Inuit of the Polar World. Indeed, Alan Dundes wrote one book about folklore in the Qur’an, and another book about the Holy Bible as folklore.

Chapter 4 is titled “Magic and _Tasawwuf_” and it brings into play the ideas and expressions of Guénon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, and Baron Julius Evola, to name four founders of Perennialism. The performance of magical practices is not limited to magicians or illusionists, for theurgy and thaumaturgy are present as practices in all the world’s religions, from Bön to Scientology. Upton is uneasy with this fact. Aleister Crowley used to describe magic, whether black or white, as practices that cause “change in conformity with will,” whether malign or benign. There is no discussion of terms like these in this chapter.

Instead, the author writes as follows: “Tasawwuf” is identified as “the essence of the spiritual Path in every tradition. Everything else, every political strategy, every psychological manipulation or evasion, every buy or sell order on the stock market, every twisting of, or letting yourself be twisted by, occult forces, is in some sense magic. That’s why must I reiterate, and insist: Sufism and magic are poles apart. Where there is Sufism, there is no magic. Where there is magic, there is no Sufism.”

That may be true, but saying it is does not make it so. Elsewhere the author identifies the six major or “fixed” religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. He finds exclusivity in Hinduism (one must be born a Hindu) and Taoism he finds “closed” (for unstated reasons). Earlier he noted that Buddhism is inherently atheistic (even Guénon was initially uneasy with it as a vehicle), so that leaves Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is debatable to include Judaism (after all, one needs to be born Jewish). The first two religions certainly have aspects that are thaumaturgical. Is Islam the only one of them that is untainted by such entrapments or encroachments? Or is it only Islamic Sufism itself that is free – or is it merely Islamic Sufism’s Perennialism that attains this goal? These are questions the reader is likely to ask – if only to himself or herself.

Chapter 5 is titled “The Fall of the Jinn” and it tries to make sense of the jinn, leftovers from “The Arabian Nights” one would assume, who are mentioned in the Noble Qur’an. The jinn are equated with angels, fairies, demons, spirits, ghosts, and “the psychic powers of man.” They are discussed in light of philosophy, folklore, legend, myth, scripture, and psychic and telluric powers. These creatures or creations are long-lived, but are mortal only in the sense of not being immortal. Some of them believe themselves to be gods of some sort or other. All of this is quite lively though how much of it should be taken seriously is another matter entirely.

Chapter 6 has the intriguing title “UFOs, Mass Mind-Control, and the Awilya al-Shaytan.” I find it the least effective part of the book, but in one way it is the book’s most interesting section. It is the least effective chapter because in it the author, while widely read in the literature of ufology, seems to have sidestepped entirely reading the literature that critically considers the available evidence for such aerial phenomena. It is the most interesting chapter because in it he takes pains to embrace no end of contradictory conspiracy theories, paying no heed to such matters as social and psychological expectation and fantasy-prone personalities.

Nothing at all is known about the nature of Flying Saucers and Unidentified Flying Objects, or even about their existence, so it is easy to philosophize (or perhaps metaphilosophize) about them at great length. (Circular reasoning: If there is no evidence for the existence such vehicles, there must be conspiracies to suppress the knowledge of such devices.) For instance, Carl Jung described the aerial craft as objects of contemplation, which he called “flying mandalas.” Early in his career the Swiss psychologist argued they were entirely subjective in nature, whereas later in his career he decided they had in some instances the powers of exteriorization. Jung is wavering, but not Upton: “Demonic manipulation,” “social engineering,” “saints of satan” (Awilya al-Shaytan of the subtitle) … here we are in the realm of X-Files and Matrix.

Chapter 7 is called “The Real Rumi” and is deals with the fact that the immense popularity of the Persian poet and his works in the West – the “Rumi industry” – occurs at the expense of the man’s true beliefs, Islamic and Sufic. Upton writes, “He was a contemplative, saint and spiritual master first, and only secondarily an artist.” I agree with the author, as I too find the denatured verses attributed to him that appear in English translations to be about as authentic as poetry as the standard version of “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” (which at least has the merit of being lively and quotable verse). The author says that Rumi’s “only peers in the West” are Dante, Blake, and Shakespeare. (Despite their many differences, I would opt for likening the works of Rumi to those of Walt Whitman.)

Chapter 8 has a long title “A Chink in the Perennialist Armor – Uncertainty as to the Principal Unity of Knowledge and Love.” Is it true that “Intelligence emits straight rays, whereas love sends forth wavy or flaming rays”? What about “The synthesis of Love and Knowledge is, in fact, Wisdom, without which love must remain sentimental, knowledge theoretical … “? Whoever has an interest in the Courtly Love tradition of poetry and song will find the author’s ruminations here to be both thoughtful and heart-felt.

Chapter 9 consists of an interview with the author conducted by Samuel Bendeck Sotillos. (The interviewer, otherwise unidentified, serves as a mental health clinician who writes book reviews for “Studies in Comparative Religion.” ) The chapter is titled “Drug Induced Mysticism Revisited.” Here the author is hard-pressed, despite the fact that an argument proceeds on a conversational level, to distinguish between the transpersonal experiences that are the product of psychedelics and those that are the fruit of religious devotion and discipline.

The term “entheogen” is noted, possibly to suggest that psychedelic substances need not be ingested because the body in the right circumstances is able to produce these on its own. Anyway, it is difficult for Upton to distinguish between the differences in causation, whether molecular or eremitic, but this fact should not be held against him, for it was equally difficult for William James to do the same in his landmark study “The Psychology of Religious Experience” published more than a century ago.

In passing, Upton notes that it may have been the occultist Aleister Crowley who introduced mescaline to Aldous Huxley, not Dr. Humphry Osmond of the Weyburn psychiatric hospital in Saskatchewan. Also in passing, Upton finds an odd parallel – in the first half of the 1960s there was a psychedelic “explosion” of psychic content among the youth of America; at the same time there was a rationing of it resulting from reformers of the Second Vatican Council. The author refers to Vatican II a number of times; in this chapter he characterizes it as “the Masonic coup within the Catholic church” – the ill-effects of which are being felt to this day.

Chapter 10 looks at the Templars and the Freemasons as instances of Counter-Initiations intent on the restoration of brotherhoods, crafts, secret societies, gnosticism, etc. These forces assume such forms as Vatican II, Wicca, the Club of Rome, and the “global élites.” (Ted Turner, Maurice Strong, and George Soros are three named members of the élites. (I must admit to a smidgen of superbia that the middle one is a Torontonian! Who says Canada is a dull country?)

Masonry is denounced as a “parody” of the true initiatic way. In this chapter, as well as in other chapters, it is difficult to separate conspiracy theory from conspiracy fact, if indeed the word “conspiracy” in the sense of “cabal” is the appropriate one to employ. A substitute might be “prevailing ideology,” particularly views that are liberal, permissive, progressive, etc.

Chapters 11 and 12 are titled “The Fall of Lucifer” and “Luciferian Transhumanism.” These chapters consist of expositions of themes already discussed. These short chapters could best be summarized in the following sentence: There is “the metaphysical truth that limitation is necessary for divine manifestation.” Limitation is seen in the sense of respecting natural and spiritual boundaries and traditional, time-honoured initiations. “No salvation outside the church” is a familiar form of this traditionalist principle.

The five appendices are interesting in their own right, but as they add little to the sum and substance of the argument of the book, I will overlook them here. Over all, I had three unexpected responses to reading this work. Despite the fact these responses may be dismissed as shallow, or beside the point, they are my own and I offer them for consideration.

First response. While I admire the author’s erudition and concern for humanity, I find his range of sympathy and understanding to be – while deep – narrow. I suppose if someone is intent on digging a circular trench to secern or separate the circle of the temenos from all the rest of creation, one has to dig ditches that are deep but narrow. The result is that the argument of the book is expressed in such a perfervid fashion that it “preaches to the converted.” It is unlikely to win many if any uncommitted readers, though it may sharpen and strengthen the convictions of those readers already intent on conversion or yearnings of Muslims anxious to return to their origins. Yet I recall St. Augustine’s assertion that all of creation is greater than merely the best parts of creation.

Second response. The structure of this work, like the structure of other perennialist books that I have read, is not so much an inquiry or an argument as it is a collection homilies – in point of fact, twelve homilies, each chapter being its own homily. I know nothing about the order of service in a masjid, but in a Christian church the Reading of the Gospel is followed by the sermon, otherwise known as the homily. The homily applies the principles of the biblical text to the intrigues of the world and to the perversities of man’s nature, and it informs congregants “what must be thought, felt, and done.” In this book the biblical text is a verse chosen from the Noble Qur’an – or in some instances a passage from “The Reign of Quantity” – followed by an elucidation of the consequences of the application or non-application of the principle.

Third response. I expect the value of “Vectors” lies in the vast amount of information and insight that the author supplies and offers. The form it takes is that of the “anatomy,” the literary term for a work that schematically organizes knowledge in a practical way. The “anatomy” is not to be confused with the “encyclopedia.” The encyclopedia presents knowledge alphabetically, in a non-literary way, making no connections, whereas the anatomy does so through conventional and cultural categories with loose-knit or tightly-knit connectives to illustrate diversity or depth.

“The Anatomy of Melancholy,” compiled and written by the 17th-century Oxford don Robert Burton, is the best-known anatomy in English. Another instance, in our own day, is “Anatomy of Criticism” by the 20th-century professor Northrop Frye of Victoria College, University of Toronto. Both of these “anatomies” are – like “Vectors” – well-organized repositories of recherché information, valued as much for their insights as for their overviews or surveys.

It seems to me best to regard “Vectors” as a member of “anatomy” class of books. Its structure implies that there is, inarguably, a divine order and that there is a divinity that “shapes our ends,” ignore it as we may. That is the assumption, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” and based on that assumption, Upton’s tome orders the world of fact and fancy as best to approximate that design.

John Robert Colombo, an author and anthologist of many books about the lore and literature of Canada, lives in Toronto. He has a special interest in arcane subjects. He contributes occasional reviews to this blog. His website is  www.colombo.ca

Joseph Azize: on Elton John and Leon Russell’s ‘I Should Have Sent Roses’

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I Should Have Sent Roses

Sublime, poignant, elegiac: the first words to spring to mind when I think of this melody from the album The Union, by Elton John and Leon Russell. In Gurdjieff influenced terms, I would say that the person who wrote this had to be in a heightened state of emotional self-consciousness. He had to be present to the workings of his feeling centre to allow this lyrical and sensitive melody to emerge without constricting it. Some melodies owe more to moving centre, others owe more to emotional or intellectual centre, and some, such as this, are products of the higher emotional centre. But you can tell straight away that this was written from somewhere essential. (For an explanation of the centres, see Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, 133-5; and for “essence”, see 71-3.)

Leon Russell, who has produced some of the most lyrical melodies of the last fifty years (e.g. “This Masquerade” and “Superstar”), reaches new heights with this masterpiece. I would place it almost on a par with the melody of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. And yet Leon Russell did not create it: no one but God can create. However, it is to Leon Russell’s credit that he could arrange the melody which arose from somewhere within his “common presence”. What happens in such work, and how we can recognize the operation  are matters I shall address on another occasion.

While my response is, and must be subjective, I feel that the melody perfectly matches the lyrics by Bernie Taupin, which tell the story of a lost love from the point of view of the man who has lost. The boy knows that the girl has gone, and that he bears responsibility. When he was with her, he took her for granted. Ambivalently, he goes on to say both that he would treat her better now, and that she deserves someone more thoughtful. He addresses her with understanding and self-deprecation:

Are you standing outside?

Looking up at the sky, cursing a wandering star?

Well, if I were you, I’d throw rocks at the moon

And I’d say, “Damn you wherever you are!”

This is so apt that it’s almost humorous. A “wandering star” because, perhaps, he did not fit into his place in the order of things. Throwing stones at the moon, maybe because the moon is for lovers and lunatics: she being the lover and he the lunatic.

I don’t know where to start,

This cage round my heart locked up what I meant to say,

What I felt all along the way,

Just wondering how come I couldn’t take your breath away.

At various times we all feel something like this expression of mixed confidence, self-doubt and exasperation – at the same time that he believes she should have been overwhelmed by him, he confesses that he is confounded that she was not. Like Russell, we often feel that we have long wished to express something but that we could not, just could not, because of a sort of emotional tightness. It is as if we would choke were we to try and say it.

‘Cause I never sent roses. I never did enough.

I didn’t know how to love you, though I loved you so much.

And I should have sent roses when you crossed my mind,

For no other reason than the fact you were mine.

This is strange but true: we often feel that we love but do not know how to put that love into action. And of course, there are two errors: to think that an overt action is always needed, and to forget that actions are often needed. It is only people who are thinking philosophically who imagine that no action is needed. If you have read In Search of the Miraculous, it is fatal to take the idea that we “cannot do” in a formatory way to mean that we cannot therefore do anything at all.

Looking back on my life,

If fate should decide to let me do it all over again,

I’d build no more walls.

I’d stay true and recall the fragrance of you on the wind

This is the paradox which Ouspensky paints in unforgettable terms in The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. We make a mistake, we forget ourselves and our higher aims. Then we believe that if we had the opportunity again we would not fall into the same trap. But should the occasion arise again, we would make exactly the same error: we would forget at exactly the same place. And yet, there is a way to escape from the curse, and that is to remember oneself, hence the importance of Gurdjieff’s ideas and method to religions and religious systems.

The reference to fate is especially interesting to me, because it is a topic which is exercising me at the moment. Fate acts only upon essence, and this song, as I have said, is an essence-song. It is only when we are closer to essence that we can start to have any sense at all of what our destiny or fate is: that is, what it is that we are called to above and beyond the vicissitudes of life. If there is a “law of accident”, there is also a “law of destiny” which works itself out despite whatever other causal connections and chains may be playing themselves out and, I would suggest a “law of miracles” (see “Fate” at 80, “Law of Accident” at 115-6 and “miracle” at 144).

You’ll do better than me.

Someone who can see,

Right from the start give you all that you need

And I’ll slip away, knowing I’m half the man I should be.

There is genuine love here: for love seeks what is best for the beloved irrespective of the cost to oneself. Also, love brings impartiality, and the statement, “knowing I’m half the man I should be”, is a good impartial description of each one of us.

The topic of “lost loves” is a significant one: a person who never wonders about past friendships and romances and why they ended, to use a neutral term, is quite possibly incapable of reflection. I have published on this blog one of the most important pieces I ever transcribed from Mr Adie’s diaries, just on that topic. Bernie Taupin is also responsible for one of the most touching songs Elton John ever wrote, the much under-appreciated “I Feel like a Bullet in the Gun of Robert Ford”. And in each case, “Robert Ford” and “I Should Have Sent Roses”, Taupin was working with one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and each result has been a masterpiece.

And that brings me, briefly, to the topic of Leon Russell. There is no doubt of his uncanny talent at playing the piano and song writing. As I have already said, I feel that he produced some of the greatest songs of our time. For my money, his piano playing is better even than that of Elton John, and I am an Elton John fan. I remember, in the 70s, thinking that Leon Russell would go on to conquer the world, as they say. But then something happened. What? To an extent, perhaps, he sabotaged his own career. It was never the same with him after the 1975 album Will O’The Wisp. Then, Elton John enticed him to The Union in 2010 (Elton did not have to seduce very hard, it would appear), and Russell’s own account of the production of that album is found on “In the Hands of Angels”.

I have carefully praised the melody and the lyrics rather than the track. I feel that the production is too heavy. Very often, a beautiful melody is obscured by too much backing. If you do listen to this track, try and imaginatively screen out the brass. My own guess is that T-Bone Burnett sensed the beauty of the melody, and tried to raise it to prominence with the trumpets and trombones. But I don’t think it’s worked.

Still, while the arrangement is rather more heavy than I would like, it is extraordinary that after so long out of the public eye, this artist of astounding abilities would return and reveal so much about himself. I think that took strength: the sort of strength which this remarkable song reveals.

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

8 July 2012

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

John Robert Colombo reviews: Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim

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John Robert Colombo reviews Keith A. Buzzell’s latest publication

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These days the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is much in the news, at least in the American news, occasioned by the candidacy for the leadership of the Republican Party of the person of Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts Senator and Presidential hopeful. The man who has his eye set on occupying the Oval Office of the White House is a fifth-generation Mormon, and while he has lived a squeaky clean life to date, he apparently holds as gospel truths some of the bizarre beliefs and strange practices of the Mormon church.

Recently a researcher drew the attention of the reading public to the fact that in the eyes of Mormons, God is not the creator of the world. He is not the creator of the universe either, though it seems God resides “in” the universe and not “beyond” it. This is peculiarity that should be of interest to both theologian and geophysicist. Who then did create the heavens and the earth? Genesis 1:1 of the King James Version of the Bible states that God accomplished the deed “in the beginning.” Here is the standard Christian belief in the wording of the Apostle’s Creed: “God the Father Almighty … Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

The Mormon belief, formulated over eighteen decades ago, is that God, while in no way the architect of creation, nevertheless is a dweller in it as well as its superintendent. Indeed, the location of “divine throne” is known, for it is “near” Kolob, which is a celestial body in some distant sector of the cosmos, unsuspected by astrologer and unknown to astronomer. Is Kolob a planet or a star? The Mormon writings are obscure on this point, rather like the traditional beliefs of the Inuit of the Arctic whose cosmology conflates planets and stars. It does seem that the Mormon God is more akin to mankind than to spirit-kind.

Are the Mormons Christians? It seems that they are Christians in the same way that members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are Muslims. Their membership in greater Islam is denied by Sunni and Shite alike, especially in Pakistan where the Parliament passed a statute declaring the Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslims: So there! In the same way, fundamentalist Christian denominations and sects in the U.S. heartland refuse to extend the term “Christian” to include Mormonism: Take that! Yet the Ahmadiyyas consider themselves to be good Muslims, just as the Mormons consider themselves to be good Christians.

I am not sure why it is so, but I find all of this reassuring. Perhaps it reassures me because it is so human – to cling to peculiar beliefs, in lieu of any evidence at all, and to withhold validation to designated groups on account of their differing beliefs. It reminds me of the subterfuge and euphemism employed by Palestinians and other Muslims who insist on referring to the State of Israel as “the Jewish entity.” All too human!

With respect to the LDS tradition, it is enlightening that there should be a god or demiurge who lives on a celestial body named Kolob, for it seems the divinity is a being who – or which – has some sort of physical or corporeal existence. There is no reference to Kolob in “The Book of Mormon,” but it makes its appearance in the quasi-scriptural text “Pearl of Great Price.” The subject is of interest in that one may be a good Mormon without worrying much about the nature of divinity, whether architect or superintendent of the universe. In a sense, then, belief is a matter of degree and the responsibility of the individual and hence changeable.

I could continue with a discussion of bizarre beliefs held by many Christians – such as the rise and fall of the concept of Purgatory, not to mention the existence of states of Heaven and Hell, veneration of angels and saints, prayers for the posthumous rehabilitation of the death, the physical resurrection at the End of Days, etc. All of these fall into the province of Theology, the “queen of the sciences.” The list of endless. As the cartoonist Robert L. Ripley of “Believe It or Not!” fame once wrote, “Strange indeed is man seeking after his gods.”

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What does all of this have to do with what appears below, or with the new book that I am about to review? (I use the verb “to review” with some reluctance because the book in question is a weighty one, and the arguments it presents are complex, indeed too complex to encapsulate in a relatively short review article.) The answer to the question is “not much,” except that there is little evidence for what is being described in the book’s pages. If the descriptions are taken seriously, the deductions and extensions truly follow. So the book is a disciplined work, a work of scholarly analysis. It is titled “Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim,” and I will describe the physical appearance of the volume before I turn my attention to its author, Keith A. Buzzell and to his previous publications, and only then to the general argument of the new book.

Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim” is published in 2012 by Fifth Press, an imprint based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mormon headquarters (as it happens!), which has issued earlier titles by Dr. Buzzell. It is a handsome trade paperback, 266 pages of text, plus preliminary and postliminary matter, including a glossary of scientific (but not Gurdjieffian) terms and a bibliography that includes books and articles on philosophy, neurology, cosmology, mathematics, etc. There is no index, but the text is well organized in fourteen chapters, and there are four instructive prefaces (contributed by the book’s editors, John Amaral, Marlena Buzzell, Bonnie Phillips, and Toddy Smyth). There are also innumerable diagrams, many of them in lovely pastel colours. A rough approximation of the word count is 145,000 words. Although I found a couple of minor misprints (footnotes on page viii and page 7, for instance), the text is well edited and the argument is clearly expressed.

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Now let me turn to Dr. Buzzell and his publications, paraphrasing what I wrote for this blog on September 28, 2011. (It is still archived here.) At the time I wrote: “It is apparent that there are many scientifically minded and technologically trained people like Dr. Buzzell who are ‘in the Work’ and are making sizeable efforts ‘to square’ what Mr. Gurdjieff wrote in ‘Beelzebub’s Tales’ with contemporary scientific and technological theories and practices. This is one way to ‘make relevant’ what the author wrote between 1924 and 1927, the text of which was translated into English and published in 1950 and subsequently reissued in a revised (and controversial) edition in 1992.”

Dr. A. Keith Buzzell was born in 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied music at Bowdoin College and Boston University, and received his medical doctorate in 1960 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. For the past thirty-five years, he has been a rural family physician in Fryeburg, Maine, a staff member of Bridgton Hospital and currently holds the position of medical director at the Fryeburg Health Care Center.”

Dr. Buzzell has also served as a professor of osteopathic medicine, a hospital medical director and a founder of a local hospice program. He has lectured widely on the neurophysiologic influences of television on the developing human brain and on the evolution of man’s triune brain. In 1971 Keith, and his wife Marlena, met Irmis Popoff, a student of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the founder of the Pinnacle Group in Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York. From then until the mid-1980s they formed work groups under her supervision. Since 1988, Dr. Buzzell and Annie Lou Staveley, founder of the Two Rivers Farm in Oregon, maintained a Work relationship up to her death in 1996. Keith continues group Work in Bridgton, Maine.”

This information is also reprinted in the current book. As for the earlier volumes, these are the three volumes that I reviewed: “Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales and Other of Gurdjieff’s Writings” (2005). “A Child’s Odyssey: Explorations in Active Mentation: Re-Membering Gurdjieff’s Teaching” (2006). “Man – A Three-brained Being: Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching” (2007, 2nd edition, 2011).

I have found these books to be among the most serious publications about the physics, physiology, neurology, and psychology of G.I. Gurdjieff’s thought – and also the most demanding to read. In their comprehensiveness, they remind me of Maurice Nicoll’s five-volume series of “Psychological Commentaries,” but whereas Dr. Nicoll generally limited himself to the psychological aspects of the system, Dr. Buzzell does not so limit his inquiry but attempts to relate metaphysical concepts with chemical and physical reality. The present title is no exception.

The title of the book struck me as odd for the reason that I was unfamiliar with the expression “Gurdjieff’s whim.” I assumed I was missing something – I quite often have this feeling, and with some justification! (Indeed, the phrase brought to my mind the not-unrelated, traditional Islamic words “Mohammed’s wont.”) I checked Sophia Wellbeloved’s indispensable volume ‘Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts’ (2003) but found no references there to “whim.” Nowhere else in the literature of the Work have I encountered any discussion of “whim,” so I conclude it is a synonym for “aim.”

I checked the “Guide and Index” and located “whim” (in the singular) in “All & Everything,” where it appears in the original edition on page 688 of the section on “France.” The author wrote as follows: “ … they occupy themselves out of idleness, in order to satisfy their whims, with devising ‘new-forms-of-manifestations-of-their-Hasnamussianing,’ or as is said there, with ‘new fashions,’ and spread them from there over the whole of the planet.” There the word is used in the plural and it refers to things of passing interest. I reluctantly returned to the notion of “one’s personal aim” in life and in Work. Perhaps it was related to the three aims of Group Work.

I was still uncertain about this, even after reading, on page 1, the words attributed to Gurdjieff: “to live and teach so that there should be a new conception of God in the world, a change in the very meaning of the word.”  This is equated with Gurdjieff’s personal aim. Indeed, even earlier, on page ii, in the first of the prefaces, Toddy Smyth writes as follows: “In a rare moment of divulgence, Gurdjieff revealed his own whim: to bring to mankind a new understanding of God.”

There we have it. Smyth continues: “Keith Buzzell’s work is a verification of this whim – an aspect of a new understanding of God is to recognize and to gain the capacity to actualize one’s own whim. A portion of Dr. Buzzell’s whim could be summarized as the striving to understand how self-transformation – a process that requires the action of an independent will – can be possible within a Universe governed by unyielding, automatic law.”

Smyth goes on to describe the present book as “a dynamic synthesis of the indications found in ‘The Tales’ and ‘In Search’ with recent discoveries in quantum and cosmological science.” Indeed, as Dr. Buzzell has written elsewhere, “Gurdjieff’s conception of Okidanokh represents a major aspect of his effort to reconcile science and spirituality. As such, it plays a powerful role in his new conception of God in the world. The manner in which he accomplishes this reconciliation is quite ‘oblique’ or indirect and one has to read his complex elaboration with considerable care and attention to see how thoroughly he has blended the ‘way’ of science and of potential transformation with the ‘way’ of the spirit.”

He takes pains to place Gurdjieff’s exposition alongside those concerned with quantum physics and the theory of relativity. He could have added alongside as well of photographic proof of the expansion of the universe which was discovered by Hubble and Humason during the same period.

But perhaps the key passage appears in Philip Mairet’s memoir of A.R. Orage: “Whilst they were talking in this vein, someone asked Gurdjieff if he would disclose his own ‘whim,’ and he said it was to live and teach so that there should be a new conception of God in the world, a change in the very meaning of the word.” This passage is cited a number of times, and its source seems to be an unpublished lecture of J.G. Bennett’s. Bennett quotes Orage as saying his “whim” is to publish “the best literary journal in England,” an aim he achieved. Apparently the word “whim” in Armenian and Russian expresses not merely fantasy, as it does in English, in the sense of whimsy, but determination, intent, and wish. The reader will decide whether or not Gurdjieff realized his “whim.”

In some way this “new conception” is connected with those unwieldly terms Okidanokh and Triamazikamno, the former term representing the “reconciliation” of man’s inner world of three brains with the outer world that expresses the familiar Law of Three, and the latter term the all- encompassing Ray of Creation – our individual and collective place in the world.

Each of the fourteen chapters of Dr. Buzzell’s book is composed of sections a few pages in length, and any one section would lend itself to study and analysis, as it is immersed in the vocabularies of “The Tales” (as he refers to “Beelzebub’s Tales”) and “In Search of the Miraculous.” In this sense “Reflections” could be regarded as an organized gloss on central concepts presented in allegorical and other forms in “The Tales.”

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The sheer amount of information and analysis in the book would overwhelm the casual reader (as it does the ordinary reviewer!) who has but a general understanding of and a passing interest in the mechanics of the work’s dynamics. So what I will do is parasail from chapter to chapter, suggesting some insights to be found therein. The author has made this easy to do because, in effect, each chapter examines a specific aspect of the system – indeed, each key word unlocks a portion of the whole. Here are the topics of the chapters:

(1) Whim as aim. (2) Evils old and new. (3) Generations, notably sons and grandson. (4) Conscience, reason. (5) Wiseacre, know-it-all. (6) Laws of the universe. (7) Suggestibility, including hypnotism. (8) Okidanokh, or reconciliation of science and spirituality. (9) Essence which has mellowed. (10) Organic life. (11) Individual and group place and presence. (12) Foods and the Ray of Creation. (13) Reconciliation that allows for self-perfection in a structured universe. (14) Quantum considerations as approaches to “the non-mass and mass-based worlds.”

Some of the chapters come in two parts. I noticed that the earlier chapters are highly specific and analytic, whereas the later chapters are somewhat speculative, historical, and once in a while personal. (The early explorations bring to hazy recall the detailed discussions, chemical largely, mentioned by Dr. James Carruthers Young and others at the Priory in the mid-1920s.)

There is a shift of perspective in this book from impersonal to personal, and it could be said to occur around Chapter 10. The theory comes first, thereafter its application. Indeed, in that chapter, “The Life Force,” Dr. Buzzell describes two instances of awareness and intention that occurred to him, the first stemming from an encounter with a disliked hardware clerk, the second stemming from his habit of leaving his socks on the floor of his bedroom!

Here is a brief summary of the contents of Chapter 10, which may act as a guide to how the author proceeds. Synonyms for “life force” is mentioned: Qui, Chi, prana, Shakti, pneuma, Great Spirit, Godhead (Jehovah, God, Allah). These are Eastern conceptions and there is no “action from below” and it is all “action from above.” It is Western conceptions that offer “action from below,” and these are sometimes called vitalism, will to live, élan vital, life force, formative drive, entelechy, orgone, etc. For a balance of “actions,” turn to Taoism. Newton and Darwin and Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Relativity have begun to “bridge” reduce the gap between spirit and matter (to use basic terms).

Here is what Gurdjieff brings to this notion: “There is no intimation that life of any type (non-brained and brained) was a unique or separate creation of HIS ENDLESSNESS.” Life is a universal phenomenon, the Ilnosoparnian process, with Earth as special because of the collision of the comet Kondoor. Earth, Moon, and Anulios and what they represent are “imbalanced” and hence requires special consideration.  There is much discussion of the nature of the “imbalance” based on passages from “The Tales.” “Gurdjieff carefully emphasizes the participation of the Divine Will Power _only_ at the onset of the Creation and yet has HIS ENDLESSNESS very active, via HIS Reason, _within_ the Creation.”

Everything proceeds lawfully. “The end result of the _actualizations_ of HIS ENDLESSNESS creates the possibility for the transformation and crystallization of ‘active elements’ …. ” As well: “Applying this Will, each of us three-brained begins can participate – be an active agent – in our own self-transformation. One becomes an active participant in the creation of the Higher Bodies. Efforts in this regard are _one’s own_ ; they are initiated from lower worlds and move upward. This is _evolution_ in the Gurdjieffian sense.”

The possible success of such effort leads to a discussion of “later octaves” in the Great Ray. (I would like to have known more about “coating bodies” vs. “crystallization.”) There is a section about: “All of life, therefore, is required and fulfills a cosmic need while, simultaneously, the actualizations of HIS ENDLESSNESS make it possible for certain of the three-brained begins to coat High Being-bodies.” This action is symbolically represented with respect to what looks like a multi-coloured cosmic pyramid. Movement (instinctive centre), eating (moving and instinctive), and survival (instinctive and moving and sex centre) are discussed. The role of H12, “the power of paying attention,” is discussed interestingly and importantly. Also discussed are characteristics and comparisons of first, second, and third brains.

Pages here resemble a textbook on neuro-anatomy. There is much discussion of the “location of attention” and the question is asked, “Where does ‘carbon 6’ come from?” The octaves of Food, Air, and Impressions are discussed. The subject is complicated, yet the exposition is clear, so the author deserves top marks for his hard work. In an ideal world – rather than on a planet like ours that falls under 48 laws – I would be able to summarize in greater detail the contents of all the chapters.

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The quality of any work that is serious may be judged by the influence that it has on serious-minded people. The Gurdjieff Work was introduced to the West in 1915, so it nearly one century old, perhaps a lot older in fragmentary form in the East. Texts that were written in the 1920s and published as late as the 1940s are still able to beget serious discussion and engender new thoughts and feelings. Proof of the seriousness of the Work is that it inspires Dr. Buzzell and other scholars and scientists to “dig deeper.” Yet for all its length and depth, it seems that “Reflections” is but the first half of Dr. Buzzell’s analysis. For it is promised that there will be a second volume in this series to be titled “Further Reflections on Gurdjieff’s Whim.” So stay tuned ….

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Lurking in the back of my mind, as I read these fourteen chapters, was the planet or star named Kolob and the lonely God of the Mormons, who lives in our cosmos, distant from us but not apart from existence. I must admit that this image brought to my mind Mr. Gurdjieff.

John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist based in Toronto who is interested in esoteric ideas, Canadian lore and literature, jokes and anecdotes, and contemporary poetry. His latest collection of aphorisms is called “A Strange and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore.” Check his website:  jrc@colombo.ca

Sophia Wellbeloved reviews: THE NEW AGE OF RUSSIA: OCCULT AND ESOTERIC DIMENSIONS

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THE NEW AGE OF RUSSIA: OCCULT AND ESOTERIC DIMENSIONS

edited Birgit Menzel, Michael Hageneister and Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal

SLCCEE, Volume17, – Berlin,Verlag Otto Sagner 2011

Hardcover, 451 pages,

Select Bibliography Michael Hagemeister

Twelve illustrations

ISBN 978-3-86688-197-6)

This volume is divided into four sections:

Prerevolutionary Roots and Early Soviet Manifestations, (five chapters)

Manifestations in the Soviet Period (1930 – 1985) (four chapters)

The Occult Revival in Late and Post Soviet Russia (1985 to the Present), (seven chapters)

Comparative Aspects, Continuity and Change (two chapters)

Birgit Menzel provides a comprehensive introduction, especially useful in addition to her summaries of individual chapters are some of the reasons she gives why the borders between science, religion and the occult in Russia have differed from those in the West, and at other difficulties for researchers in these fields. Some, as may be imagined, are due to the search for scattered material, some arise from language and translation differences between scholars. Others which must pose considerable problems are due to differences in terminology:

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The terms Occult and New Age have been rejected by most Russian members of, what I will call here the occult underground, (p 18).

[and ]

Terms defined in Western scholarship need modification, or further explanation when applied to Russian material, (p 19).

..

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Specialist and General Readers

My own reading of The New Age in Russia is from the perspectives of of both the specialist and general reader. I fit into both categories, having some specialist knowledge of G. I. Gurdjieff and Fourth Way teachings, but little background in Russian studies.

Although primarily a book for the specialist reader in Russian 20th century studies in relation to occultism and esotericism, this collection of essays which examines the origins and influences that formed the kaleidoscope of changing networks of esoteric and occult teachings, their interaction with changing political establishments, together with the prevailing political and international geo-political conditions, will also be of value to the general reader.

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There are two factors which, without in any way lessening the value of individual essays, may cause the non-specialist reader to take things slowly. The first is because the time indicated in the first three sections starts in the late eighteenth century and ends in ‘the present’, that is 2012, however; the essays could not be expected to form a sequential series. Most of the scholars need to establish what is happening before the period they focus on, and as the author of the introduction tells us some overlapping is inevitable. The effect of this on a reader who starts at the beginning and continues on sequentially is a kind of dizzy slippage as time seems to moves forwards, backwards and then forward once more. This displacement of the reader is intensified by the change in focus from essay to essay. Some offer a wide lens view of their subject matter whilst others present more of a close up.

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The second factor is that much of the subject matter, the influence of esoteric and occult teachings, their sources and backgrounds, the lineages of esoteric and occult teachings together with their relation to cultural influence, political actions and reactions, occur throughout most of the essays, and some of the same people occur in one, two or more essays albeit from differing perspectives and emphasis. For example, my own area of interest as mentioned above, is in Gurdjieff studies and the accounts given here have usefully expanded and repositioned my own understanding, placing him and his ideas in a common context relating to life in Russia before the flight to Europe and America. But these references occur in a number of different essays. Although there are some useful pointers within essays to related chapters, an index would have helped me to navigate this and other subject matters.

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New Age and New Identity

The overall impression given by these essays is that Russia was seeking a ‘New Age’ and a new identity for itself during the whole of the period covering at least the century from the 1880s to the 1980s, which saw almost continual turmoil, revolt, and repression manifesting in ways which often ran counter to uninformed Western assumptions. Russians faced a continuing need for redefinitions of interrelated forms of identity: at individual, local, national, and international levels, together with the simultaneous and contradictory need to preserve, hide or obliterate these identities. All of which makes for a tendency towards multiple, separate, blurred, ambiguous or contradictory personal and ideological identities in Russia.

For example Jeffrey Kripal in his On Reading Russian Mystical Literature Upside Down (pp 421 – 431) reminds us of:

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the multiple censorship of the mystical,’ [citing the] ‘almost total annihilation’ of members of the secret society the United Workers’ Brotherhood shot during the Great Terror 1937 – 38′, (p 427).

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This might accord with stereotyped Western expectations. However: we learn from Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal that:

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In the 1920s and early ’30s, the secret police worked with the occultist Barchenko [of the United Worker's Brotherhood] and the government funded Roerch’s search for Shamhala. In the 1960s and ’70s, the government denounced yoga as spiritual contraband, even while studying yogic breathing techniques, that could help astronauts, and it supported research on parapsychology, (Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis, p 400).

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The activities of Barchenko and Roerich are each the subject of essays. Barchenko in Oleg Shishkin’s The Occultist Aleksandr Barchenko and the Soviet Secret Police (1923-1938)(pp 81-100), and Nicholas Roerich in Markus Osterrieder’sFrom Synarchy to Shambhala: The Role of Political Occultism and Social Messianism in the Activities of Nicholas Roerich(pp 101-134)

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The Illustrations

The illustrations are a welcome and instructive addition to the text. Two of the images in colour are Married by Satan (1917) p 47, and KonstantineTsiolkovskii. A Polish lacquer miniature, ca. (1980) p 150. Both suggest a close association between the erotic and the occult/esoteric.

The first, a poster for the film Married by Satan looks more like the sexual assault of a naked helpless woman by demons than a marriage, and appears in Julia Mannherz’s The Occult and Popular Entetainment in late Imperial Russia (pp 29-51). She explores ambivalent attitudes to the supernatural which nevertheless appeared as commercial attractions in newspapers.

Even instruction manuals and occult journals mirrored the same ambivalent attitudes … the boundaries were even more blurred in the circus arena, on stage or on the silver screen. In the performing arts, the rational and the mysterious merged within single productions, (p 38).

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KonstantineTsiolkovskii [Artist Kukulieva Kaleriya Vasillievna b 1937]

The portrait of Tsiolkovskii (1857-1935), regarded as the father of space travel, was made forty-five years after his death when ‘he had been made intro a hero by Soviet propoganda’. See Michael Hagemeister’s essay Konstantine Tsiolkovskii and the Occult Roots of Soviet Space Travel (pp 135-150) which shows that Tsiolkovskii ‘s scientific resaerch into space travel was but a means to his esoteric ends which while they aimed for cosmic evolution leading to imortality demaded the horrifying notion of the destruction of all imperfect human beings, animals and most plants. Hagemeister writes that ‘The magical-esoteric understanding of science and technology is still prevalent in today’s Russia’ p 148).

The image shows him sitting with his feet on plans for space rockets, behind him a table of scientific equiment, and behind that again a dark sky with a suggestion of constellations and of the zodiac, his male sexual power has been emphasised by the use of phalic imagery (the rocket, his leg, the drapery). The image unites his career in both rocket science and esotericism, although, as we learn from the essay referred to above, he ‘condemned sexual reproduction as ‘humiliating’, p 139).

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Two black and white portraits emit extremes that express the times they belong in. The first on page 23 showing Gleb Ivanovich Bokii (1897-1937) in 1918, so thirty-nine or forty years old, looks more like a painting than a photograph and seen on the page it combines extreme contrasts between black and white to show the left side of the image with a dark face against a light halo shaped background and the right side of the face bright against a dark background, the ear seems to be pointed, the eyes glance upward showing white rims underneath in a way that, for those familiar with them, are remeniscent of images of Gurdjieff. This seems a staged image of occult/esoteric power but is of a member of the OGPU (the principal secret police agency responsible for the detection, arrest, and liquidation of anarchists [...] in the early Soviet Union, who was nevertheless attracted by esotericim. This image suggests the crossover, and/or interconnections between notions of political and occult power. See Note

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The second striking image on p 178, is that of “Tosha” (Vladimir Shuktomv (1957-1987)), this is most probably a photograph which has a degenreating grainy surface quality that is also clearly of the time when dissidents transfered their allegence from political ideology to the rock music of Boris Brebenshikov and the couter-culture (see p 178). I’ve given attention here to some of the illustrations because in my view though valuable additions, these are mostly underused and undervalued in academic texts.

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Cultural Influences

Russian culture was influenced both by esotericism and occultism, and by politics throughout the periods examined in The New Age of Russia, and I have not attempted a summary of what are in effect a series of summaries of the complex inter-relation of these influences. In brief, areas looked at include medicine, academic institutions and classifications, science, space travel, interplanetary travel, utopia, technology, science fiction, novels, popular culture, theatre, cinema, Shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, Neo-Hinduism, Eastern mysticism, Theosophy, parapsychology, and Transpersonal Psychology, amongst others.

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Occult and New Age Movements in Russia from the 1960 s to the 1980s (pp151-185)

Birgit’ Menzel’s essay enables us to trace the complex paths taken from the first of these dates to the second, to acknowledge Russian connections with the East, and on the way to revise general Western assumptions about the New Age in Russia.

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Although there were some similarities with the New Age in Western countries: an interest in changing states of consciousness, experimentation with psychedelic mushrooms,(Castaneda’s writings arrived in Russia) and a love of rock music, this overview shows that there were also major differences and that these are worth understanding. She writes that the state system supported research into the occult or paranormal which would not have been regarded as science in the West, that the Russian New Age was mostly a province of the predominantly male intelligentsia, while in the West it was transmitted via popular culture. Western interest in sexuality and in perfecting the body, via diet, yoga, homoeopathy, and sexual expression. did not occur in Russia where the occult underground was more cerebral, with a stronger emphasis on theory than practice, ‘the ultimate goal was ridding oneself of the body rather than unifying, body mind and soul’ ( p 185).

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Comparative Aspects, Continuity and Change.

In the first essay of the fourth section of the book Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal writes about Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis, (pp 391-420), covering a series of spiritual crises causes by the loss of faith in specific ‘myths’, or ‘all encompassing ideas’ to live by during the period from prerevoutionary and early Soviet Russia, through to Late and Post-Soviet Russia. When agrarian socialism, Marxism, Symbolism, and Futurism each failed in turn interest in occultism surged, in Theosophy and Theosophically influenced teachers amongst others.

The United States has seen a similar series of crises aroused by ‘the fading appeal of the American civil religion, also known as the ‘American Dream’ (p 403). War, fears of nuclear war, the revelation of Nazi death camps, and a recognition of social injustice induced a refusal to accept the restrictions of prevailing cultural norms and were some of the factors that contributed to the counter-culture of ‘hippies’ and ‘beats’. This became an unprecedented surge in occultism from the 1960s to the present. She concludes that the uncertainties current in Russia and the USA that are likely to encourage a continued interest in occultism.

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In the second essay of this section Jeffrey J. Kripal’s On Reading Russian Mystical Literature Upside Down (pp 421 – 431), observes the globalisation of esoteric movements which unlike religions are usually ‘very bad at maintaining stable communities, p 421). He wonders if:

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a mystical event may not only be culturally or politically dissident: it may also be cognitively and epistemologically dissonant, (p 424).

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and raises a number of issues that face the scholar of esotericism. These include the ‘censoring and suppressing ideologies of the modern-day academy, p 425), and he goes on to write that in this volume only Natalia Zhukovskaia in her Shamanism in the Russian Intelligentsia (Post Soviet Space and Time) (pp 328-3470, has been willing to recount her first hand experience as researcher-scholar, and in doing so shows the reader:

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Russian anthropologists and intellectuals taking on the practices and roles of the shaman themselves, in essence, going native, (p 430 431) emphasis added.

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Kripal’s use of the poetic and archaic phrase, ‘going native’ is a telling one. With it he refers to outdated notions of an abandonment of ‘civilised values’, a descent into an irrational and inferior way of life. These are familiar nineteenth, if not eighteenth century attitudes, all of which we must assume are not his own attitudes but those of the ‘suppressing ideologies of the modern-day academy‘ (p 431 ).

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These are almost the final words in The New Age of Russia, and bring this intricate and detailed overview of a century and more of academic study firmly into one of the major contemporary academic debates.

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Acknowledgements and thanks are due to the editors who brought this valuable contribution to esoteric and occult studies to publication. It offers evidence of the human refusal to obey or stay within defined boundaries, while simultaneously longing for security. In Russia during the 20th century these conflicting desires were expressed by politically repressive boundries, serially accompanied by a refusal to accept or to be bound by fixed, enprisoning ideologies. The two unbounded areas that continued to defy definition and which remained open for exploration during the whole century were those of the inner life, and outer space.

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Notes

1.

I found this photograph of Gleb Bokii on Google images, and it is clearly the source image for the painting shown above.

2.

Here are a couple of definitions of terms and some initials used in the text which may be of use to fellow non-Russianists, (retreived from Wikipedia (5.6.2012).

Samizdat(Russian: самизда́т; IPA: ) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader.

Tamizdatrefers to literature published abroad (там, tam, “there”), often from smuggled manuscripts.

Initials

The OGPU (1922-1934) was responsible for the creation of the Gulag system. It also became the Soviet government’s arm for the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholics, the Latin Catholics, Islam and other religious organisations [...] The OGPU was also the principal secret police agency responsible for the detection, arrest, and liquidation of anarchists and other dissident left-wing factions in the early Soviet Union.

[and]

NKVD stands for The People’s Commissariatfor Internal Affairs, Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), abbreviated NKVD (1934 – 1954).

from the entry for State Political Directorate Wikipedia retrieved 29.5. 2012

The John Robert Colombo Page: DAVID KHERDIAN’S “SEEDS OF LIGHT”

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DAVID KHERDIAN’S “SEEDS OF LIGHT”

John Robert Colombo discusses a book of poetry inspired by the Work experience

If there is any other collection of poems inspired by the Fourth Way, I am unaware of its existence. It is true that some poets, like the late Kathleen Raine, have a distinct feelings for these experiences and values, but to my knowledge Raine did not explicitly write about such experiences in any of her volumes of verse. My generalization is true for the English language, but it is not true for poetry written in the French language.

The reader with a sweet-tooth for the images and the movements characteristic of intense and intuitive poetic language, who has a command of French or who is drawn to patiently prepared translations, will have his or her needs well met by the free-verse poetry and wildly imaginative prose poetry of René Daumal. He is the literary mascot of the Work in France and a creative artist endowed with persistent and penetrating powers of invention, well deserving of great respect accorded him. In past columns for this web-blog, I have reviewed current English translations of Daumal’s books. Translations of his writings add unexpected grace-notes to the leitmotif of “quest” expressed in the French and English languages.

The writings of Pierre Bonnasse, a student of the Work in Paris who holds a doctorate in Literature from the Sorbonne, has published a multitude of books of imaginative power and value, including a collection of poems titled “Dans la nuit d’Aghtamar” which exists in an English translation that no publishing house has yet offered to issue. I will say no more about Bonnasse and his work here because I described them at some length on this web-blog in October 3, 2008, under the questioning title “Fourth Way Words?” Instead I want to turn my attention to David Kherdian and his poetry.

I began this review article with these words: “If there is any other collection of poems inspired by the Fourth Way …. ” The “other collection” was composed in English by Kherdian. It is to this collection – “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community” (McMinnville, Oregon: Stopinder Books, 2002) – that I am now turning my attention. I am doing so because it was recently drawn to my attention that the book, now a decade old, has received hardly any attention – if any attention at all – from reviewers with any knowledge or interest in work-related literature. Readers appreciate the contents of the book, but reviewers know nothing of its appearance. This is a shame. No book is truly “old.” Every book is really “new,” at least until it has been read.

Question: “Who is David Kherdian?” I asked this question four years ago in this very web-blog, the occasion being the review article titled “Possible Gurdjieff-Stalin Connection with Reference to David Kherdian” which appeared here on June 3, 2008. At the time I was trying to trace the suggestion that not only were Gurdjieff and Stalin personally known to each other – highschool students in Georgia, so to speak – but Gurdjieff wrote about their association in a chapter that was mysteriously excluded from the published text of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” I have never determined the truth (or consequences) of this statement, so I take it to be a rumour, one that is likely to lurk for decades to come, and nothing more. Here is what I wrote about Kherdian four years ago.

Answer: Kherdian is a thoughtful and productive person, an Armenian-American poet, novelist, and essayist with much experience in the Work. One of Kherdian’s books “Seeds of Light” was published by Stopinder Books and is subtitled “Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.” Another of his books is called “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub” and it is subtitled “By a Grandson of Gurdjieff.” It was praised by Colin Wilson as “one of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff Group.”

I first encountered Kherdian when I subscribed to the journal that he edited decades ago from a farm in Wisconsin. “Stopinder: A Gurdjieff Journal for Our Time” was a handsomely designed publication illustrated by his talented wife Nonny Hogrogian. Each issue offered subscribers a low-key yet concentrated approach to human problems in rural and rustic settings. Over the decades Kherdian has published about two dozen anthologies, volumes of verse, collections of memoirs, and works of fiction.

Kherdian’s article “The Vanishing Master” is almost twenty years old but it is still fresh. In practical terms it offered the author an opportunity to share his views of Mr. G., whom he describes as a man formed by his Armenian background. Armenians – as well as Bulgarians, I have noted – describe themselves as being situated at the “cross-roads of the world,” the cock-pit of history and civilization. For this reason, Kheridan finds something unique about Mr. G and his message.

“He was the very first of the Eastern teachers or Masters to formulate an ancient teaching for the West – this planet’s growing point. All the others brought their religion or ideology entire – garment, beads, and all – changing the fit and form of Western spirituality into its Eastern strictures. Gurdjieff, of mixed Greek-Armenian parentage, grew up in Armenia, at the crossroads of East and West, the Armenians being the only people who belonged to neither yet were part of both. Whether he chose himself or was chosen, we do not know. We only know that he left his school, assumed a mission and devised a plan for its execution. He called it Esoteric Christianity, perhaps because it straddled East and West, as he did, being raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then pushing East for his training before returning, transformed, to the West.”

Such is his view of Mr. G. This is not the place to present Kherdian’s interesting argument that there are now two generations of Gurdjieffians and that their aims are anything but congruent …. Instead, it is time that someone surveyed the writings of David Kherdian from the perspective of the Work. A start might be made by asking him for permission to reprint “The Vanishing Master” on this news-blog.

To repeat, I wrote the above paragraphs on June 3, 2008. Now four years have passed and I will try to catch up with Kherdian. He has his own website < http://www.davidkherdian.com > which is short on biographical details but nonetheless interesting. Born in Racine, Wisconsin, of Armenian background, he is “the author and editor of over sixty books, that include poetry, novels, memoirs, biographies, bibliographies, children’s books, as well as critical studies, translations, and retellings” (according to his vita sheet). He has edited a number of anthologies of poetries selected on the bases of “ethnic expression” and “sense of place” – i.e., the writer’s background, linguistic and social, as well as the writer’s place of residence. An hour-long documentary on his poetry, produced by the New York independent filmmaker Jim Belleau, was released in 1997. His latest book is an anthology of his own work in many genres, “Gatherings: Selected and Uncollected Writings” (Tavnon Books, 2011). In the fall of 2012 the University of California Press will publish his “New and Selected Poems.”

Here is an item from the author’s website expressed in the third person: “He is currently in the market for an agent to handle his retelling of David of Sassoun, the tenth-century Armenian epic, well known in the East but virtually unknown in the West.” (Publishers, take note!) So he has been dizzily busy as a man-of-letters. Enough of background. Here is a brief look at his Work-inspired poems.

To discuss Kherdian’s poetry, I want to place his poems in an unusual and perhaps idiosyncratic context, one that permits me to discuss the possibilities in our day of the straight-forward diction of his work – the common style: plain, direct, unornamented, unrhymed, unrhythmed, the one adapted by most poets and by most contemporary bards. The style is difficult to distinguish from prose except that the lines do not run to the right-hand edge of the page. There is no name for this style, though the words “free verse” probably best describe it, except that what is being heard or read is not “verse” (rhythm and rhyme) but “poetry” (highly associative language) – “free poetry” perhaps; yet those two words do not sound quite right. Perhaps the word “prayer” – or “meditation” or “rumination” or even “consideration” – sound more appropriate. In short, it is today’s vernacular.

I am tempted to regard Kherdian’s poems as prayers (which Gurdjieff calls “recapitulations”) because they are admissions of current limitations and appeals to an outside agency or force and also to the force or agency within one’s own self for enlightenment, salvation, redemption, whatever. The poems are highly personal, characteristically subjective. How essential they are is what this review attempts to probe. There are two contemporary works that I feel do convey some of the possibilities of poetry as prayer, particularly when performed by a singer with electronic backing. To this end I will discuss two compositions. Both of them may be heard with a few keystrokes on YouTube.

Whoever has viewed the 2010 film “The Tempest” directed by Julie Taymor will be bowled over by the visuals and soundtrack of its closing sequence, a sequence known as “Prospera’s Coda.” The Prospero of Shakespeare’s play is reinterpreted by the actress Helen Mirren in terms of a woman magus, Prospera. The final speech of the play is not delivered by the actress; instead, it is sung, or intoned, off-screen, by the English vocalist and lyricist Beth Gibbons. The effect is quite arresting, quite unsettling. The lines that Shakespeare wrote are pure poetry – rhythmical and rhymed verse:

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.

Intoned by Gibbons, they are heard not as awesome affirmation or heroic renunciation or inevitable reconciliation, but in the contemporary context as the cry of a person without craft, the outcry of a person in pain without restraint. The presentation thus goes against type. It is overpowering, in some way beyond the language of poetry itself.

The same curious amalgam of art and artlessness is characteristic of the stunning finale of the final episode seen in 2005 of the HBO television series “Six Feet Under.” Sia, the Australian singer and songwriter, intones words of pleading and meaning, heart-brokenly, directionlessly. This time the words lack the Elizabethan air; instead what they have is the simplicity of the simpleton who nevertheless suffers needlessly:

Help, I have done it again

I have been here many times before

Hurt myself again today

And, the worst part is

There’s no-one else to blame.

The words are Sia’s and the presentation is true to type. It is called “Breathe Me” and it could be likened to the confession of a person who is drowning in the despair of present-day life. It is free verse and it is very effective. But, like “Prospera’s Credo,” it is about as far as possible from the common style. Redemption is not close at hand.

The visuals contrast too. The images that appear on the screen as Beth Gibbons intones Shakespeare’s words are dreamy and nightmarish. The visuals that appear as Sia seems to trip over her own words, so downtempo, so obsessive and abulic, are the images of an automobile journey across the American continent from Los Angeles to New York City. The landscape of Prospero-Prospera’s island (filmed in Hawaii) and that of the car’s journey across the Mojave desert might well be that of the moon. In both instances, whether presented against type or true to type, the visuals and electronic and acoustic effects make the work very contemporary in a direct and unmediated way. The effectiveness of the poetry or verse lies in its presentation, here aided and abetted by the media of cinema and television.

There are no trumpets or drums, intoning or appealing women, whether maguses or fallen women, in Kherdian’s poetry. Instead, there is some hope and the anticipation of self-knowledge if not power over the negative aspects of the self in David Kherdian’s “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.” This is a trade paperback of attractive design with woodcuts by the poet’s wife, Nonny Hogrogian. It bears the imprint of Stopinder Books, McMinnville, Oregon. It consists of 202+iv pages and the year of publication is given as 2002. The effort is “Dedicated to the Memory and Living Presence of G.I. Gurdjieff.”

By my count the collection consists of 123 poems and they are arranged in chronological order in five divisions identified as “books.” I sense that book by book the poems advance from being descriptive and anecdotal to expressive and experiential. The first poems are somewhat sketchy, the last poems rather full-bodied. Yet the book is a whole and may be read from cover to cover like a log of rural experiences. The book is not like a diary – there are no personal revelations, there are no descriptive passages – so the poems have to be read for what they are, page-long, free-verse poetry. Do not look for characterization or profiles of people; they are not even noticeable by their absence.

The intelligent and insightful introduction has been contributed by Allen Roth whose name may ring a bell because he is the author of Sherborne: An Experiment in Transformation (1998). He notes that the poet and his wife, an illustrator, lived from about 1978 for nine years at Two Rivers Farm, near Aurora, Oregon, a community founded by Annie Lou Staveley, a pupil through Jane Heap of G.I. Gurdjieff. It was presumably the sole farm in the area that had and still has its own printing press. How many people have lived on these acres, how many people were weekend visitors, how many acres there are … none of this information is shared. Instead, the reader is invited to share Kherdian’s perceptions, impressions, and thoughts.

Of these poems, Roth writes, “We are given tastes, not recipes.” So there are no descriptions of exercises, meditations, or movements on these pages. It is as if the rationale for the rural retreat has been displaced or subsumed in the tasks of everyday farm life. “He is the single, full-fledged poet I know who sings of the work, although much has been written by some good writers in other forms.” Yet, as Roth notes, “These poems are noticings, of oneself in the moment of noticing: the gateway to all spiritual aspiration.” I like the plural noun “noticings.”

It is probably safe to say a reader who knows nothing about communal living and work centres will benefit from reading Kherdian’s poetry, though the reader might be puzzled by poems which from time to time conclude with spiritual affirmations that appear so to speak out of the blue: “There is a beauty in all this / beyond the telling.”

The reader can sense both the man and the poet at work in the earlier poems; in the later poem the reader can sense that they are the same being. There is an instance of this in two poems titled “i ride the red tractor.” In the first poem the “i” is identified as “a stranger to this green earth / these turbulent, thundering skies.” In the second poem the “i” is “this human form” which would “come to them” (“bird and animal / red tractor or green”) “in the halo of my love.” There is a transformation recorded here in parallel poems with the same title. It is casually presented, characteristic of Kherdian’s subtle sometimes impressionistic writing generally.

The poems are anything but innovative or subversive; they are anything but traditional or conservative. They are individual in the sense that the idiom adopted by the poet is that of modern free verse. The poet is aware of Ezra Pound who sought to introduce Modernism, which led to Post-Modernism, for Kherdian twice quotes the injunction “make it new,” a command identified with Pound. Kherdian does not make it new, but he makes it his own – here is a man here, a man in the guise of a farmer-poet – who does this and does that. Share his experiences and their meanings. In terms of the division of man in P.D. Ouspensky’s schema, it is possible to place Kherdian’s magnetic centre in his moving / instinctive centre – that is his “major” centre, his minor being the emotional.

I will not pause over the poems in whole or part that describe pigs, ducks, horses, chickens, starlings, flies, and other farm animals and fowl; here Kherdian has to contend with the reader’s remembered richness of D.H. Lawrence’s wildlife poems. Ditto for weeds, flowers, seeds, etc. Kherdian is inclined to see the wildlife that catches his eye as instances of all life:

Ah well, I tell myself, some things

just naturally resist a reasoning

mind, that’s all. And have you not

noticed how various and multiple

and mysterious everything is –

including chickens (not to mention

humans), etcetera, etcetera.

That is the ending of “the wild ones.” It is quite effective, and it would work on the podium as a spoken poem, but it tells us “a little about a little,” rather than “a lot about a lot.” Kherdian is not the poet of the big statement, but of the little insight, which is all the richer for its uniqueness. The poem “to the man or woman” is about a meditation cushion, accidentally left behind, which he then uses while shelling corn. He wonders if it will retain the impression of his body. He then ponders the act:

We want to touch everything

in this manner, with all

the parts of our bodies, consciously,

with all our feelings and thoughts,

intentionally,

for it is in this way

that we are trying to

awaken to The Farm

as heart

Only one of the poems is formal in the literary sense of that word. It is “mount st. helens” and it describes the feelings on the land when “the ashes fell.” It is formal because its stanzas are constructed like those of the classic French form known as the villanelle, except that there is no repetition of lines and no use of rhyme. I wish it were a villanelle. As it is, the memorability of the poem rests on the process of its thought and feeling, unbuttressed by stylishly or skillfully written lines. It ends:

We had been shocked into wakefulness, and the

certainly of that made us question again

the uncertainty of life and its meaning.

The structure of at least one other poem recalls the structure of a classic form, in this instance “poem” comes close to the three-line haiku, though its length is eleven lines. Five lines describe the sight of one of the farmers on a bicycle. Three lines are devoted to how the scene that is so far distant is so silent. Five lines move into another dimension, the last two being these:

I turn and do not see the invisible

imprint I have left on the ground.

There is a lot in these poems about close to indelible impressions. Reading these poems I occasionally thought how D.H. Lawrence would have done it better – or at least deeper – but then he was weighted down and occasionally buoyed up with deep passions and society’s restrictions against venting them. Yet every so often I also thought of Rainer Maria Rilke. The German poet would have approved of a number of Kherdian’s poem, especially the one titled “1,2,3,4, ducks in a row.” Lawrence would know what he thought of the inner life of the duck, but Rilke would have known better, especially in his period at Castle Duino in Trieste. And Kherdian too knows better. Without paraphrasing the twenty-one line poem, let me quote the last stanza about the sight of these strange creatures of creation:

As if it were my business. As if I, who understand nothing,

including myself, should be expected to understand

them, and know what they mean, or what

they SHOULD mean. Whose life am I living, anyhow?

The mundane task of keeping the birds from eating the fruit is described in the poem “they’re after my strawberries again.” The task is being poorly performed by the straw-hatted scarecrow. Is the poet better able to perform it? Here is how it ends:

What am I waiting for?

Heaven’s intervention? Childhood’s return?

A permanent summer sun and no villains?

Perhaps I’ll just sit back and wait

for a better poem, a better scarecrow,

and all the luck in the world,

plus a little bit more.

Everyone can use “the luck” and “a little bit more.” The expectations for the scarecrow were high, for the poet not so high, for the poem, it was the luck of the draw and the presence of perseverance and talent.

So far the poems that have been discussed and quoted come from the first half of the book. If I gave equal representation to the poems of the book’s second half, this appreciation would have to be much longer than it already is. Instead let me suggest only the following – that the later poems differ from the earlier in that the “noticings” of peculiarities and anomalies and unexpected emotions noted in the lines take on greater depths of meaning and significance in the later poems. What were sketches are now sculptures; what were two dimensional are now three dimensional.

This process of deepening and heightening is a consolidation of the poet and the process, of the man and the meaning, and it may be sensed by the reader in an occasional poem like “the cat” which describes movements of Tessie the tom cat. The description is neat and it “inscapes” the spirit of the animal, to use the verbal form of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ noun. Here is the three-line ending to the eighteen-line poem:

The hollow inbreath,

sensed but not seen,

between be and become.

The poet delves deeper or scales higher in “the death / life thing”:

when what we call life

and what we call death

join in their wholeness.

This Taoism or Buddhism or what-ism can go too far, as in the composition titled “the poet addresses his double” which looks at answers, organization, death, balance, and control, only to conclude:

Enter your life, only that.

Thank God, and be yourself.

Rather than leave it on a low note, I want to take this review to a high note and listen to what Kherdian has to say in what is obviously one of his major poems. The poem is “celebrating gurdjieff’s one hundredth,” and it is subtitled “January 13, Aurora, Oregon.” It is only seventeen lines long, seventy-two words of text (plus the nine-word title and subtitle, to make it 81 words in all). It is not a miniature literary work but in a way it is gem-like.

The poet imagines that the headlights of cars penetrating the fog are “candles in procession / walkers in Asian mountains / chanting as they come to prayers.” The mythic is contrasted with the ironic: “Here their descendants arrive / in shields of tin and glass / over mended gravel roads.” In a melange of imagery, the poet imagines “brothers, our fathers” – people in the present, people of the past – “our drum the silent wheel” – the prayer wheel apparently, but also the automobile wheel – “our prayer beads” too – “that hums under the hood.” There is the notion of poetry as prayer here too. The poem ends (if it truly ends) with three words separated by two spaces:

We Affirming Come

In its quiet way and not quite clear way, it is quintessential David Kherdian.

I could continue to discuss other poems in “Seeds of Light” and in the poet’s subsequent collection “Letters to My Father” in light of this author’s earlier prose work titled “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub By a Grandson of Gurdjieff” which Colin Wilson praised as “One of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff group.” That book alone deserves to be described, but that is a subject for another review-article, perhaps one that I will write when, later this year, the University of California Press issues David Kherdian’s “New and Selected Poems.”

 John Robert Colombo

John Robert Colombo, based in Toronto, is a Member of the Order of Canada and holds an honorary doctorate from York University, Toronto. His latest books are “A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore” (a volume of aphorisms) and “Less of Light” (the poems he wrote during the year 2011 plus a dream diary). Check his website for more details. < http://www.colombo.ca >

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO: WILLIAM JAMES & CARL SAGAN: TWO GIFFORD LECTURES

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John Robert Colombo compares and contrasts lectures delivered eighty-four years apart by William James and Carl Sagan.

 

 William James 1842 – 1910) 

Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)

It is safe to say that the Gifford Lectureships are the outstanding series of lectures in their field of study, but it is also safe to say that their field of study is hardly the pre-eminent one that it once was. The series was established by Adam Lord Gifford, a leading jurist in Scotland, with a bequest to four universities to co-sponsor a series of lectures to “promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term – in other words, the knowledge of God.” The lectures have been delivered annually since 1888, with the exception of years during the Second World War. The four universities are those of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen.

Many significant books of science and the humanities, including theology, have been based on the texts of these lectures. Recent lectures have been broadcast in part on YouTube. For some time now the Gifford website has been sponsored by the Templeton Fund which tries its level best (without notable success) to reconcile religion and science by directing some of its vast wealth to the men and women and movements who or which try to do so.

The Gifford lecturers are recognized to be the pre-eminent thinkers in their respective fields. The list of the 120 or so speakers includes “household names,” and proof of this is that so many of the speakers are recognized by their last names alone: Arendt, Bohr, Dewey, Frazer, Gilson, Heisenberg, von Hügel, Müller, Murdoch, Niebuhr, Schweitzer, Tillich, Watson, Whitehead, etc.

In that list of “last names,” I did not include James because William James, the philosopher who was a Gifford lecturer, might be confused with his brother Henry James, the novelist who was not. Nor did I include in the high-recognition category the name Sagan, which identifies the celebrated astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan. (I will compare and contrast their contributions in due course.)

It is of passing interest to note that two distinguished Canadian philosophers have lately addressed these Scottish university audiences: Patricia Churchland in 2009 and Charles Taylor in 2010. Churchland is a noted “neurophilosopher” and Taylor is a “communitarian critic” of the modern-day project of liberalism and secularism. I lack the competence to assess Churchland’s many contributions to the nexus of neurology and philosophy, but I find Taylor’s critique of “the secular age” to be suave though largely beside the point.

It is of more-than-passing interest to compare and contrast the Gifford Lectures of William James and Carl Sagan. James delivered his series of talks in 1900-02 in Edinburgh; Sagan delivered his series in Glasgow in 1985. Thus they were heard eighty years apart. The title that James gave his series of lectures is so memorable that once heard it is never forgotten. He called it “Varieties of Religious Experience.” The memorably titled book, a classic in its field, was published in 1902, eight years before his death. The Harvard philosopher and psychologist was a brilliant thinker, a gifted writer, and the co-founder of the theory of Pragmatism. As well, he was the systematizer of his chosen field with “Principles of Psychology” published in 1890.

Carl Sagan bears a famous name for his contributions to the popularization of science, especially astronomy and cosmology, which were featured in his thirteen-part, television series Cosmos in 1980. As well as a distinguished astrophysicist, he served as director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies. In due course Sagan became a leading spokesperson for “sceptical inquiry.”

His Gifford talks were titled “The Search for Who We Are” but the series was not published under that title but as Varieties of Scientific Experience. Note the substitution of the word “scientific” for the word “religious.” These Gifford lectures were delivered in 1985, Sagan died in 1996, and the book appeared in 2006. The editing, the publication, and perhaps the titling were undertaken by Ann Druyan, the author’s widow and a talented writer and presenter in her own right. In many ways the title is quite appropriate, for it recalls the earlier title of James’s book and it strikes the non-scientific reader that it could be regarded as an updated version of James’s argument, a revisioning of what is essentially a religious-scientific discussion.

James was a psychologist through and through, Sagan an astrophysicist through and through. James peered into the human soul (that is, the innermost nature of man) to find the rationale for the “religious experience.” To accomplish the same end, Sagan peered into the heavens (in the sense of the planets and the galaxies) to find the fundament of the “scientific experience.” One professor explored the depths of man, the other professor the heights of creation. James was a materialist for whom ideas mattered, and the same may be said of Sagan. The fabled “sense of wonder” was common to both men, and they conveyed its excitement when they expatiated on the surprises found in their subjects. James’s book is subtitled “A Study in Human Nature.” Sagan’s book is subtitled “A Personal View of the Search for God” in the same way that his television series Cosmos was subtitled “A Personal Voyage.” What the dual approaches to the mysteries of man’s nature and the nature of the universe is the mind of man.

Much changed in the Western world and its human values between the year 1900 when James delivered his lectures and the year 1985 when Sagan addressed his audience. The term “Natural Theology” fell out of favour and so did the unthinking respect that intellectuals paid to partisan proponents of biblical scholarship. Sagan began his lecture on “The God Hypothesis” with these words:

“The Gifford Lectures are supposed to be on the topic of natural theology. Natural theology has long been understood to mean theological knowledge that can be established by reason and experience and experiment alone. Not by revelation, not by mystical experience, but by reason. And this is, in the long, historical sweep of the human species, a reasonably novel view.”

Sagan found this view laudable, but only up to a point. Thereupon he dismissed all the traditional arguments for the existence of God (or gods) and substituted for them arguments found in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Darwin’s natural selection, arguments that account for man’s continued and unthinking belief in a hierarchy of unseen deities or dimensions. He did this in a lecture or chapter titled “The God Hypothesis.”

In the early years of the Twentieth Century, psychologists tackled the problems posed by psychical research and this would have delighted James who, after all, had served as president of both the British and the American Societies for Psychical Research. What had been regarded as the study of “abnormal psychological states” came to be considered the study of “anomalous experiences.” One of the most impressive books in the field of psychical research and parapsychological studies is a posthumously published collection of James’s occasional papers on the subject, both abstract and anecdotal, titled William James on Psychical Research, edited by the psychologist Gardner Murphy and the compiler Robert Ballou. James felt that there were “unknowns” in the field, but that they may be destined to remain “forever unknown.”

It is hard to affirm that there has been any progress in the field of Religious Studies (called Comparative Religion or History of Religion) over the last century, certainly none compared with the advances made in science, notably in physics and in astronomy. The physicist’s description of the sub-atomic world went hand-in-hand with the astronomer’s discovery of the expanding universe. James was willing to give spirit-mediums a try, being impressed with the performances of a Mrs. Piper. Sagan dismissed such performances out of hand, instancing the childish and undirected nature of spirit-communication.

In the wake of the Second World War, the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence began to be considered seriously by scientists like Sagan and his colleague Frank Drake (of the famous Drake Equation which quantifies the variables connected with the possible existence right now of other technological civilizations elsewhere in the universe). During the Cold War, Sagan took a leading position in opposition to the Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) and he discussed in harrowing terms the possibility of Nuclear Winter and the extinction of human life on Earth (with the continued existence of some forms of cockroaches and sulphur-eating worms at the bottom of the seas – a fate that casts in the shade the Christian fundamentalists’ Armageddon). All these matters are discussed by Sagan. James would have known about none of this and might well have been horrified by the way societies were behaving in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

“Forever unknown” was not the position taken by Sagan. For a scientist with both speculative and operative capability, he was surprisingly open to dissident theories and wrote remarkable essays, in Broca’s Brain and elsewhere, that examined the fantasies of Velikovsky and the fancies of ufologists. He appreciated the hold that such ideas have on all of us who live on this “pale blue dot” in our “demon-haunted world.” He had little time for spiritualists and self-styled psychics, claiming that spirit-mediums always assured him that “love is important” and never offered proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem!

James delivered twenty lectures which examined the “religious sentiment,” both personal and institutional, in which he introduced the useful division of mankind into those people who are “once-born” and those who are “twice-born.” The former accept things as simple; the latter regard things as complex. He considered sickness and health with respect to optimism and pessimism of the spirit, the notion of conversion, the ideal of saintliness and its uses, the nature of mysticism, the roles played with respect to religion by philosophy and theology, the characteristics of subconsciousness and higher consciousness … I could go on.

In the twentieth lecture, as well as in the unexpectedly personal Postscript, James offered the reader, if not a “summing up,” then a “personal take” on the subject. For instance, he wrote about the scale of the natural world and the universe:

“What we think of may be enormous – the cosmic times and spaces, for example – whereas the inner state may be the most fugitive and paltry activity of mind. Yet the cosmic objects, so far as the experience yields them, are but ideal pictures of something whose existence we do not inwardly possess but only point at outwardly, while the inner state is our very experience itself; its reality and that of our experience are one.”

In another instance, he wrote about consciously mediating thought and experience:

“A conscious field PLUS its object as felt or thought of PLUS an attitude towards the object PLUS the sense of a self to whom the attitude belongs – such a concrete bit of personal experience may be a small bit, but it is solid bit as long as it lasts; not hollow, not a mere abstract element of experience, such as the “object” is when taken all alone. It is a FULL fact, even though it be an insignificant fact …. “

James concluded with a distinction between “under-belief” and “over-belief,” whereby thoughtful people either minimized or maximized the relevance and importance of their own opinions and sentiments. He then shared with the reader his own “over-belief”:

“The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our lives also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in. By being faithful in my own poor measure to this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true.”

James justified his optimism and his “over-belief” on the basis that it kept him “more sane and true.” He even named it “the faith-state.” I found myself wondering if Carl Sagan would recognize the claim. After reading “Varieties of Scientific Experience,” I came to the conclusion that Sagan would never have embrace the notion of “over-belief” or “the faith-state.” Instead, he would have espoused the spirit of sceptical, rational, and scientific inquiry. He was assuredly responsive to the spell of mystery and the allure of the unknown, but he staked his claim on the scientific endeavour which is self-correcting and self-affirming.

In his eyes, the sciences and especially the exploration of interplanetary and intergalactic space are stepping-stones towards the goal of the “deprovincializing” of the world’s population through sharing the insights of the biologist into changes over time and the visions of the astronomer across the immensity of space. He does not discuss “worlds of consciousness” but he does find other worlds – in our solar system, our galaxy, and our cosmos. Civilizations vastly in advance of our own may offer mankind precious knowledge, “god-like” levels of knowledge. If such civilizations do not exist (we the living are unlikely ever to know) the human race is all the more precious for its uniqueness. Sagan’s universe is humbling and ennobling: Earth may be a “pale blue dot,” but it is one of “billions and billions” of such dots in the cosmos – an astonishing vision to contrast with James’s probing but humbling question, “What is human life’s chief concern?” If Sagan asked a question it would be, “What is the point of the cosmos?”

To bring to an end this comparison and contrast of the twin approaches to religion and science, disciplines that share so much because both have a human origin, I assumed I would seek out and quote parallel passages from each speaker’s lecture. But the passages did not come so readily to hand. Instead, I will conclude with a recollection of the insightful words of Sigmund Freud. The words comprise the last two sentences of the psychoanalyst’s provocative study of religion called “The Future of an Illusion.” Here are those sentences:

“No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”

John Robert Colombo, based in Toronto, is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He is currently compiling “The Canadian Adventures of Jules Verne” (texts of the seven extraordinary-adventure novels that the French writer set amid the forests and tundra of Canada) and is busy introducing “The Crime Magnet” (sixteen hitherto uncollected short mystery stories written by Sax Rohmer, the creator of Dr. Fu Manchu). < http://www.colombo.ca >

More about John Robert can be found at Jon Lomberg’s blog which gives info about their work together on another Sagan project: the DVD Visions of Mars, an anthology of science fiction about Mars, now aboard NASA’s Phoenix lander, somewhere in Mars arctic tundra, awaiting a readership of future Mars colonists from Earth centuries from now, read more at: www.citizenofthegalaxy.com


Alan Dundes’ “Holy Writ as Oral Lit” & “Fables of the Ancients?” + “Music of the Prieuré” played by Rosemary Nott

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Edith Fowke  

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO PAGE

One of my intellectual mentors was the late Edith Fowke. Her name is unlikely to be recognized outside the country, but within Canada it is not only recognized but well respected. (Her name is what is called “an aptonym,” for “Fowke” is close to “folk,” so that anyone hearing it for the first time would automatically equates the woman with the discipline – and rightly so: Edith Fowke, folklorist.) In her later years she served as the country’s leading folklorist, for she devoted the second half of her professional life to recording, collecting, documenting, and publishing folk songs and traditional tales, including myths and legends, notably Native ones – Inuit and Indian.

Edith encouraged me to compile, annotate, and publish collections of Canadian “trivia” on the principle that “one man’s trivia is another man’s treasure.” She was not prolific but she was precise and passionate. The first half of her life was spent as a political and social activist who espoused the cause of organized labour and democratic socialism. An argument with the Lewises – David and his son Stephen – who dominated the national socialist party for two generations – led her to her seek new fields of endeavour, and to train and then work as a folklorist. She was no stranger to national radio broadcasting, and she ultimately joined the Humanities Division of York University in Toronto where she taught the folklore subjects. Upset by the direction the Lewis’s were taking the CCF/NDP, she had decided that if she could not influence our future, she could reveal the shape of our past.

She was a little woman who always wore pink – coats, jackets, blouses, scarves, trousers, skirts – and her favourite hymn was Blake’s “Jerusalem.” I had the honour to lead the hundred or so mourners and colleagues in singing Parry’s version of that visionary anthem at the “celebration of her life” held at York University in Toronto. She died suddenly on March 18, 1996, at the age of eighty-three, but nobody who ever met her ever really forgot her.

 Alan Dundes (photo Saaxon Donnelly)

I always remembered Edith’s enthusiasm for the work of the late Alan Dundes. He was a Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, and until his death in 2005 at the age of seventy-one, he brought to wide public attention the cultural and psychological insights brought about by his study of “folkloristics.” He saw the discipline as one that shed light on the customs of the past and the present, but also on cultural lore and human psychology and behaviour. He caused a stir when he wrote at length about the homoerotics of American football. He did more than anyone to familiarize the North American public with the prevalence of “urban legends” so that the Vanishing Hitchhiker, the Cat in the Microwave, and the Wife on the Flight are recognized for the fabrications that they are. He argued that repeating them expressed deep-seated human needs. He published a half-dozen collections of these legends, with amusing and informed commentaries.

Readers of this web-blog will probably be interested in the themes of two of Dundes’ lesser-known books. It was Edith’s delight in Dundes’ work in general that drew me to seek out his writings and these related studies in particular. They are of concern to people who have a curiosity about the construction and constitution of world’s Holy Scriptures. The two books are available in trade paperback editions published by a lesser-known imprint: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (The company, with offices in Maryland and Oxford, has a website.) The books have quite arresting titles.

The first book is called “Holy Writ as Oral Lit” (1999) and the second is called “Fables of the Ancients?” (2003). While I usually like to paraphrase the contents of the books that I review for this website, here I will merely summarize the author’s arguments and suggest their importance. Then I will turn my attention to a newly published item that is of direct interest to the readers of this web-blog.

The subtitle of “Holy Writ as Oral Lit” is simplicity itself – “The Bible as Folklore.” Dundes argues that the Bible – by which he means the King James Version, but his approach applies to any translation or version of the Old and New Testaments – contains an immense amount of what he calls “folklore,” perhaps 20 percent by his estimate. In under 130 pages he reviews this “lore” in scripture and in very clearly, scholarly prose he notes the presence of the hallmarks of folklore – multiplicity and variety – that are characteristics of the Bible.

The biblical accounts are retellings of oral tales and the retellings differ in predictable ways. Yet far from being proof that the Bible is riddled with falsehoods, its nature attests to the value of the book as a record of the beliefs of the ancient Israelites and the early Christians, and it alludes to the problems that the texts present to scribes and scholiasts and redacteurs who have tried repeatedly to preserve them and then interpret them.

Dundas looks at how it is impossible to reconcile internal textual repetitions and variations in terms of number, name, and sequence. As well, there is duplication of texts in the various books of the Bible. Sequences of action are inconsistent. There is no agreed-upon text of the Ten Commandments, the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the names of the Twelve Disciples, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount … I could go on.

What had long puzzled me was the Creation myth described in Genesis. Which came first, “the heaven and the earth” or “the earth and the heavens”? The answer depends on whether one prioritizes or privileges (to use vogue phrases) Genesis 1:1 or Genesis 2:4. And why is the word “heaven” in the singular when it next appears as “heavens” in the plural? Dundes offers almost one hundred instances of such “confusions.” It is enough to give pause to the reader of “the Bible as living literature,” and it should cause conniptions for the “true believer” who holds to the theory of “the inerrancy” of the Holy Scripture. Biblical scholars, whether rabbis or priests, have evolved ways around these problems. Yet to Dundes, such concerns are proof that the Bible is a human document and a tribute to “the voice of the people” (to use an expression that he himself eschews). He concludes with the statement that the Bible may well be “the greatest book in the world,” but “it is truly folklore, and it is high time that it is recognized as such.”

“Fables of the Ancients?” is in many ways a more amazing study. At 90 pages it is a succinct study of (in the words of its subtitle) “Folklore in the ‘Qur’an.’” Dundes recalls that when he announced to his colleagues at the University of California that he was planning to continue his study of folklore in Holy Scripture by extending his analyses from the Bible to the “Qur’an,” he was warned that what he was undertaking might be dangerous to life, limb, and career. He was not deterred. “I soon discovered that there seemed to be many ‘formulas’ as well as several traditional stories, stories that were not simply retellings of narratives found in the Bible. To my knowledge, no folklorist has ever discussed the presence of both formulas and folktales in the ‘Qur’an.’” So Dundes is the first such commentator.

So far he seems to be the last, as well. No one has followed in his footsteps, though he does make this easy by pointing out that, unlike the Bible, which is recognized to be “the word of God” as vouchsafed to man, the “Qur’an” is considered to be the actual words of Allah orally transmitted by the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammed the Prophet. So the “Qur’an” is 100 percent folklore. It is admittedly an oral composition and one that is rich in tell-tale oral formulas and folktales. Dundes goes to great length to document these. Given more space (and time), I would identify these and discuss them. Dundes sidesteps the issue of the unusual origin of the “Qur’an,” content to comment on its oral rather than its linear construction.

The title of the book, complete with its question-mark, comes from the “Qur’an” itself. In Surah 6:25, unbelievers are quoted as dismissing the book with these words: “This is nothing but fables of the ancients.” Surah 8:31 repeats the formula: “Whenever Our revelations are recited to them, they say: ‘We have heard them. If we wished, we could say the like. They are but fables of the ancients.’” Dundes states that, given the oral nature of the “Qur’an,” it is inevitably replete with tale-types like The Seven Sleepers, Judgement of Solomon, and God’s Justice Vindicated. So the question-mark is supererogatory. He concludes: “In the ‘Qur’an there are indeed ‘fables of the ancients’ placed there by divine decree, full of worldly wisdom to be favoured and savoured for generations to come.”

The investigations of Alan Dundes would have met with the approval of Edith Fowke and of everyone else who has any experience with the composition and characteristics of the lore of the people. Indeed, it is probably a demonstrable fact that elements of folklore may be found in all literary works of any great length, from Greek epic poems to those lengthy compositions of our own day. The Modern period witnessed the composition of some very lengthy works of a sub-literary and supra-literary nature, including James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake,” Arnold Toynbee’s “A Study of History,” Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West,” and G.I. Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales.” It would be rewarding to undertake a study of works like these from the perspective of folkloristics.

 Movements:  ( no date given)

 

 Movements: 1924

Try as I might, I cannot contrive the ideal segue from these two books, written by Dundes, to the third item, a recently issued one, that has no known author but which I now want to discuss. (Come to think of it, Edith Fowke would have enjoyed it as well!) For one thing, the new work is both a booklet and a compact disk. For another, it more a souvenir of a place and period in time than it is an analysis of a powerful text studded with oral formulas, story-motifs, and story-types. The “book” to be discussed is titled “Music of the Prieuré” and it is credited to “Gurdjieff / de Hartmann” with Rosemary Nott at the piano.

The publisher is Dolmen Meadow Editions of Toronto, and the editors of Dolmen Meadow are to be congratulated for having overseen the production of an attractive, sepia-coloured “package.” It consists of one slipcase, one CD (released with the permission of Adam Nott), and one 16-page booklet (not in sepia), the text of which appears in English, French, and Spanish. The text explains what the “package” is all about.

 Rosemary Nott

 

 Adam Nott

It is a tribute to Rosemary Nott and it is a tribute from Mrs. Nott, who has been described as Gurdjieff’s “first American student.” Born in Houston, Texas, she studied the Eurhythmics of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze in Hellerau in 1922 when she first met Gurdjieff. She was a pianist and dancer in her own right. At the Prieuré, under Gurdjieff’s direction, she taught Movements, and there she had Thomas de Hartmann to guide her piano technique. Thereafter she performed the compositions she knew so well for groups in centres on both sides of the Atlantic. She died at the age of eighty-two in 1979 in London, England. She is well-loved for her dedication to the work.

Mrs. Nott recorded the “music of the Prieuré” on reel-to-reel tapes on a monaural studio recorder in London in 1974-75, and performances were “selected, digitized, and prepared for publication” by the well-known conductor and pianist Charles Ketcham, who himself has arranged and played the complete Gurdjieff-de Hartmann piano music. Illustrations to the package come from the collection of Gert-Jan Blom of Amsterdam and Mrs. Nott’s son Adam Nott.

There are twenty compositions on the CD disk and some of them have intriguing names. I have in mind “Orthodox Hymn from Asia Minor,” “The Sacred Goose,” “Lost Loves,” and “The Pythia.” With only a few years of piano practice and theory behind me, I would be hard-pressed to comment knowingly on the performances of these compositions, some of which are lodged in memory, others of which are strangers to my ears. Yet I was struck by the intentionality of the playing. “The Fall of the Priestess” and “The Great Prayer” are instances of this. Some tracks convey the impression of the loneliness of the pianist; other tracks transmit the sense of the company of other musicians. All the compositions sound alive yet ancient, or ancient yet alive.

The words “music of the Prieuré” were well chosen for they constitute a neat conceit (in the literary sense of the word). The next best thing to haunting the halls of Le Prieuré des Basses Loges at Fontainebleau-Avon is being overtaken by the airs, themes, and strains of Mrs. Nott’s piano.

 

John Robert Colombo is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the lore and literature of the country. His current books include “Fascinating Canada” (a book of questions and answers) and “Jeepers Creepers” (a collection of told-as-true ghost stories). He has also published three volumes devoted to the life, work, and writings of Denis Saurat (who also “met Gurdjieff” and is discussed in “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye”). Colombo’s website is < http://www.colombo.ca >.

HELEN ADIE: A SORT OF SENSATION STOLEN FROM EMOTIONAL CENTRE

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Anger” from Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

A Sort of Sensation Stolen from Emotional Centre”

On Tuesday, 30 October 1979, Helen Adie took a question from Vera, a young woman who had had an argument at work. She didn’t explain herself terribly clearly, and Mrs Adie had to put some time into sorting out what had happened, yet, much of the exchange is, I think, deep and of wider application for students of Gurdjieff’s methods and ideas.

Today,” Vera said, “I was annoyed with a particular person because they didn’t do what I had asked them to do … and, I, felt the situation was very valuable to try and forgive that person and just forget, and I managed to stop the negative thoughts, but, when I looked at the person, I just … I just couldn’t feel anything, and I felt, still, slightly intimidated inside.”

Nothing’s permanent”, replied Mrs Adie. “Everything is moving all the time. That you don’t feel it once doesn’t mean that it isn’t present.”

I just, no matter how much I tried …”

You tried, but you couldn’t feel anything?”

No”, Vera firmly replied. “I couldn’t feel for him.”

No. You can’t try to feel something for people, you can’t try to care for people. You wouldn’t recognize it. Maybe you do in fact have some feeling in respect of other people, but you don’t recognize it because you have an idea about feeling for people. And it’s generally a rather sentimental idea. I have a sort of picture of what feeling for somebody is. But that isn’t real feeling.”

You can’t try to feel something. But you can feel your own presence, and you can, from that, you regard that person. I don’t mean stare at them, but you take them into your experience: you’re aware of their existence. And you often don’t know whether you feel something for them or not. You may without recognising it.”

Mrs Adie paused a little before continuing: “Generally speaking, when we think we care about someone, it means we cling to them in a certain way … are dependent on them, or feel they’re dependent on us. It’s very often not the real thing. We’re looking on the wrong side of ourselves for it.”

Real feeling is something we have yet to learn to recognize. It’s a question of being free, and making a space for it. The place is there, but there’s something which we still have to understand very much about feeling. We can’t force it. It cannot be forced. You either feel it or you don’t.”

But you can make it possible to feel, and a very important step in this is to become, little by little, free of all sorts of dreams about feeling.”

I just wanted to forgive,” Vera said.

Yes, you wanted to accept.”

Yes, that’s what it was. Accept. I just cried. I couldn’t do it.”

You still had that feeling of resentment.”

I did Mrs Adie. The thoughts weren’t there so much. It was just a tension.”

The physical aspect of can remain. It doesn’t go just immediately, that’s true. But a very important step to stopping the tension is stopping the daydreaming about it. This daydreaming, these revolving thoughts only add fuel to the resentment. It makes it, gives it a form.”

Yes, you can’t expect physical sensations to go in five minutes. They may or may not: it depends on the strength of the stimulus. But if some resentment or grudge is established in your body, you can take a great deal of the force away from it by not making it go through your mind, not dwelling on it. And in time it will go, but in itself it doesn’t matter. There’s an energy there which you can begin to learn to take to yourself. You can even begin, eventually, to learn transform it. What we’re discussing is the beginning of this transformation. But now, you were aware that you had that feeling of resentment: so what did you try to do?

I just tried to be aware of myself, with that person, and … I don’t know how I tried to feel … I just tried to see that person, really, and … why it stayed stuck there, I don’t know.”

Yes, that’s quite right, but it’s because you’re expecting a result. That inhibits it, you know. Yet, the effort is in quite the right direction. You face that person, you look at that person, and you try to not feel for that person, but to feel your presence there, in a sort of free, detached way.”

And then you have to be ready to try different things. That’s where you have to use your head a little bit. Be careful. From what you’ve been saying recently you should know that the sour grapes feeling may come in. But that, and most of what we know, are not real feelings: they are a sort of sensation stolen from emotional centre, if you like to put it that way. But feeling can come. It’s possible for people to feel themselves in relation to others. It comes in different periods of their work, but it happens. It’s possible.”

To me, this is quite enlightening. The distinction between feelings (real and permanent) and emotions (partial and ephemeral) is not new. Gurdjieff made it, and several of his pupils remembered something of what he had said about this. I dealt with it in the book George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil. But I was struck by the elegant simplicity of Mrs Adie’s thought. And her statement that these emotions are a “sort of sensation stolen from emotional centre” addresses the emotion/knowledge paradox. That is the paradox that despite our knowledge we are taken by these emotions time and time again. We believe in them while realising that they distort everything in us and almost our entire process of perception. Something in us is identified with these distorting agents. Mrs Adie here explains why: it isn’t that they have no relation at all to feeling, but they are stolen from it and so are cut off from the higher energy of that centre. Also, it isn’t that they have no reality, they are sensations, they’re in the body, so they have that degree of reality. But that is not the reality for which they are made. Feelings serve knowledge and understanding, but only when sited in the right place of the alchemical laboratory which we are. This material is almost endlessly deep. Don’t be distracted by my lubrications. Go to the mistress, and make what she has said your own.

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

 

Joseph Azize is presently an Honorary Associate with the Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney. In April, he will be delivering a paper there on J.G. Bennett as a student of mysticism. He has published academically in ancient Near Eastern history, in law, and in religious studies. His latest effort, an article on Gurdjieff’s sacred movements and dances, will be published later this year in a Brill volume edited by Carole Cusack and others.

Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff: Joseph Azize Review

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Levon Eskenian

Gurdjieff’s Armenian Face

Introduction

Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff, a new recording of a selection from Gurdjieff’s music, is played by the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble, directed by Levon Eskenian. Issued in 2011 by ECM, # 2236, it takes an honourable place in the contemporary trend for Armenians and Russians to show serious interest in Gurdjieff’s legacy. Gurdjieff’s writings and music are very often understood and interpreted as if they were Western European. This is hardly surprising. The last 27 or so years of his life were spent there and in the USA (with perhaps a short trip to the East), and at the time of his death he was, for most part, surrounded by persons of West European background. But just as the Bible bears many resonances and meanings only apparent to someone familiar with the ancient Middle East, so too, Gurdjieff’s music – or at least these more folkloric examples of it – come alive when treated as they are on authentic Eastern instruments by authentic Eastern musicians.

To my ear, this is the pre-eminent selection and recording of Gurdjieff’s Songs and Rhythms from Asia and Sayyid Dances. I wonder how Eskenian’s approach would work when applied to the Sacred Hymns, and especially the Hymns from a Truly Great Temple. I’m optimistic, and I do hope this CD will be succeeded by others from the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble. Before coming to deeper issues, I deal with it track by track below, and the reader will see that while I am not much affected by some pieces, yet, the album as a whole has to be considered as something of a triumph. I would unhesitatingly pronounce it as superior, for purposes of attentive listening, to any of the piano recordings I have heard, de Hartmann’s and Rosenthal and company not excluded.

This Recording: Track by Track

The opening track, “Chant from a Holy Book”, may be the most powerful piece on the entire album. The duduk is the chief instrument here. As Eskenian notes, its “warm sound closely resembles the human voice”. The playing is influenced by Eskenian’s view that the piece, as Gurdjieff wrote it, is in the style of the “tagh”, a sacred Armenian style of pre-Christian origin. As occurs so often on this CD, the use of different instruments adds a sustained dimensionality to the work which no other recordings have ever, in my opinion, captured. The scoring is such that one can clearly and distinctly hear and hold in one’s attention the several instruments and their diverse contributions.

The “Kurd Shepherd Melody”, is played on the blul, also known as the bilur or nayy, and accompanied on the saz, wind and string instruments, respectively. These instruments are actually used by Kurdish shepherds, and their use rendered the piece totally new for me. However, it strikes me as being chiefly of folkloric, not spiritual, interest. Yet, it is of interest.

By contrast, the “Prayer”, played on “kanon”, an instrument much loved in the Middle East, has both elements. I have heard a lot of kanon in my time, and although I could be quite wrong, it seems to me that the playing and the recording provide a virtuoso crispness and clarity. Yet, despite its technical brilliance and intrinsic charm, the recording lacks a certain impact. I would have to make much the same comments about the first two minutes of track 4, “Sayyid Chant and Dance no. 10”. However, when the “chant” gives way to the “rhythmic dance” (to use Eskenian’s terms), sparks erupt. The kanon seems capable of delivering a vivid sense of the folk tradition, but the more solemn pieces somehow elude it.

Sayyid Chant and Dance no. 29” relies upon the nayy before the kanon and other instruments enter for the dance, and the effect is quite different. The entire piece has a nobility and grace, and the kanon does indeed deliver some poignant passages.

I was struck by Eskenian’s comments that the “Armenian Song” was in the manner of a love song, because if it is, it bridges secular and divine love, such is the impact it made on me. Again, it features the plaintive sound of the duduk.

When I read the notes about the different styles of “Bayaty”, and how their first passages were improvised, it struck me that perhaps when Gurdjieff demonstrated pieces like this to de Hartmann, he too, was improvising. This could account for the some of the difficulty of transcription which de Hartmann encountered. This was the first playing I have ever heard of this or similar pieces where I had the sense that the players were improvising as they played Gurdjieff’s music. Here, it is the oud which complements the virtuoso kanon playing.

It is difficult to record the oud well, but the engineers, Armen Yeganyan and Khatchig Khatchadourian, have pulled the rabbit from the hat, and enticed these delicate sounds to dwell in the digital. The rhythmic dance which follows that passage possesses a sweeping elegance.

Why, I don’t know, but “Sayyid Chant and Dance no. 9” fell a little flat for me. It isn’t that the playing is mediocre. It is perhaps that it follows several similar pieces with improvisation-like passages followed by dances.

No. 11” from the Asian Songs is a welcome change. Eskenian rightly refers to its “mysterious” melody. The enigmatic ending, almost a fade out, is masterfully managed.

I had never liked the “Caucasian Dance” which is track 10 on this CD. But when it is rendered as ‘a version of a Shalakho dance” which leads into “the graceful, emotive solo dance, called siuzma”, the effect is utterly fresh. Having heard this, I now realise that the piano rendition had a flatness, almost a black and white quality. But this rendition uses a bright palette of tones and colours to make a fascinating piece. To me, this is not really a spiritual piece, but, still, it has brio and zest.

The next three pieces are, to use an already overused word, awesome. “No. 40”, again, from the Asian Songs, is a dream. This is one of those which I had never heard before the Schott edition. I was intrigued by the piano music, but this recording, with an Armenian ensemble is rather sublime. Also powerful, is the strange “Trinity” piece, played as an Armenian trio might, on “tar, sandtur and dap” (a drum also known as the “daf”). The more I have listened to this CD, the more this piece keeps at me: there is something in its insistent rhythm and graceful melody which reminds me of the music Gurdjieff produced for the Enneagram movement of the early 1920s, as if saying that the spiritual reality to which it points is ever-present, ever-flowing.

Then follows the “Assyrian Women Mourners”. The use of duduks and a dap is inspired. They combine solemnity, grief and dignity. The final note is sublime.

As with the “Caucasian Dance”, I had not liked “Atarnakh, Kurd Song”, the “Arabian Dance” or “Ancient Greek Melody” before hearing this recording, but I have been converted. The piano simply does not do justice to the music, but here they come alive. “Atarnakh” has a simple, graceful, almost hypnotic sway. I can now understand how it could have been written to be played before a reading from Beelzebub. It is transporting. The “Arabian” and the “Ancient Greek Dance” aren’t so strong, meaning that the music doesn’t have the same power for me, yet, they’ve been rediscovered and revived, so to speak. Of these three, “Atarnakh” is by far the stronger for me.

Finally, the “Duduki” is one of the highlights, with the “Reading”, “Trinity”, “No. 40”, “Mourners” and “Atarnakh”. This double reed instrument all but speaks. Whoever the master musician is, his assured playing provides a fitting end to the album, allowing it to close, as it opened, with a powerful spiritual statement.

Presentation

The CD is very nicely presented. It comes in a cardboard cover. Both the cover and the CD itself feature a good reproduction of that picture from Gurdjieff’s lsat years where he’s sitting on a bench by what is probably a Paris building, and a large tree shadow falls across the pavement and ground floor window. The back cover of the booklet, not the cardboard, quite appropriately shows Gurdjieff’s house in Gyumri, while inside the booklet, is an evocative picture of the roof and spires of the Sanahin monastery in Armenia. It’s a fascinating complex: one could fill one’s spare time with worse things than checking it out at this Armenian wiki site:

http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Sanahin_Monastery

 

Closing Comments

The number of CD releases of recordings of Gurdjieff’s music has increased quite substantially, undoubtedly occasioned by the release of four volumes of much, but not all, of Gurdjieff’s piano music. Some of these recordings have used diverse instruments, and some have added words and singing of the interpreting artist’s own device. However, in my view, none of them, not excepting the soundtrack of the Meetings movie, have used Eastern instruments with the authority and success that Eskenian’s team does.

If I had to sum it up in one phrase, I would say that this album takes the Gurdjieff music out of the polite salons of Europe and North America, and rediscovers them in the distant, rocky and mystical East. I cannot help but feel that this is something Eskenian and his crew can be proud of. And I feel, if one can venture such a comment, that Gurdjieff too, would be proud, for he tried to link East and West by new lines of understanding. Eskenian is clearly sympathetic to Gurdjieff and his work. As the recording makes clear, he does not interpret Gurdjieff in a narrow Armenian manner, but is quite aware and respectful of Gurdjieff’s broader influences.

There is no point in repeating the many sound points which Eskenian makes in his liner notes. But one of them is critical, and presents an objective reason for interpreting Gurdjieff’s music using an Eastern ensemble:

 … these indigenous Eastern instruments are capable of producing microtonal intervals, rhythms and other nuances that are essential parts of Eastern music.

I will not go into it here, but for me, these elements are all crucial in understanding Gurdjieff’s work. He was almost an engineer of the laws of the spiritual world. These laws are such that to us they are not laws as the laws of physics and chemistry are, but partake more of the nature of art, or even magic. However, this is an opportunity to provide some important material about Gurdjieff which is not readily available. Below  I copy my transcription of some comments made by Thomas de Hartmann in an undated recording.

Thomas de Hartmann: At certain points in space, where the emanations of the earth encounter the emanations of the Sun Absolute, that means, the emanations of the Almighty, at these points is a reflection, an image – a something which can be seen, assumed, felt, from the Almighty. And, for earth people, with concentration, it is possible to visualise, to see in a certain manner, inner, the emanations of the Almighty.

Of course, for this, a very great deep concentration is wanted. Here we understand why Gurjivanch put always a great weight on music. He himself played and he also composed, and he wrote down things, and so on.

If we compare the music of all the religions, we can see that music plays a great role, a great part in – so to say – religious service. but after the work of Gurdjivanch we can understand it more, that music helps to concentrate oneself, to bring oneself to an inner state when we can ?assume with greatest possible emanations. That is why music is just the thing which helps you to see higher.

Levon Eskenian- Artistic Director

Biography

Levon Eskenian is an Armenian composer and pianist who was born in Lebanon in 1978. In 1996 he moved to Armenia where he currently lives. In 2005 he graduated from Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory with a Master’s degree in piano (class of professor Robert Shugarov). In 2007 he obtained his postgraduate degree from the class of Professor Willy Sargsyan. He has also studied composition, organ and improvisation classes at the Conservatory and harpsichord in Austria and Italy with the English organist and harpsichordist Christopher Stembridge.

 Joseph Azize, 10 January 2012
Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

Joseph Azize is presently an Honorary Associate with the Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney. In April, he will be delivering a paper there on J.G. Bennett as a student of mysticism. He has published academically in ancient Near Eastern history, in law, and in religious studies. His latest effort, an article on Gurdjieff’s sacred movements and dances, will be published later this year in a Brill volume edited by Carole Cusack and others.

GURDJIEFF IN THE PUBLIC EYE

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There is not a page of this book that will not surprise and instruct every one of its readers, including even the most knowledgeable of readers.”

 

 

John Robert Colombo Reviews Paul Beekman Taylor’s Latest Book 

 The first introduction that I had to what is now called the Work was not the result of reading a copy of “In Search of the Miraculous.” That was my second introduction to it. The first introduction was finding a second-hand copy of “God Is My Adventure” in a bookstore which no longer exists in Toronto and buying it and avidly reading it from cover to cover. The book, published in 1935 and frequently reprinted, was written in a lively and irreverent manner by Rom Landau, a British or Polish-born journalist (Wikipedia says British, Taylor says Polish) with a special interest in such offbeat and exotic subjects as the dozen or so spiritual leaders who are the subject of “God Is My Adventure.”

Landau was a first-rate reporter and lively raconteur, and in this regard he resembled his contemporary, the American journalist and adventurer William Seabrook who also wrote about what became known as the Work. Among the spiritual leaders described by Landau in vivid detail are Count Keyserling, Stefan George, Rudolf Steiner, Krishnamuri, Meher Baba, and Frank Buchman, not to mention P.D. Ouspensky and G.I. Gurdjieff. It is a motley crew to be sure. Landau’s descriptions of the latter two leaders in action constitute the first such accounts to appear between the covers of any book, as distinct from the columns of daily newspapers and other periodical publications.

I will not take the time to discuss Landau’s understanding of traditionalist teachers or try to characterize his account of the lecture delivered by Ouspensky which he attended in London or his account of a lunch and a meeting with Gurdjieff in New York City. But I was reminded of Landau and the impression that he had made on me about fifty years ago while I was turning the pages of Paul Beekman Taylor’s latest book. It is called “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” and it includes references to both Landau and Seabrook. Indeed, it would be incomplete if it had failed to do so.

First let me offer a description of this new book and then a brief account of its author before I turn to the text itself. “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” is subtitled “Newspaper Articles, Magazines and Books 1914-1949.” It takes the form of a sturdy trade paperback which measures 6.25 inches by 9 inches and has 246 numbered pages. The pages are not stitched but glued. The textual apparatus includes a foreword, an introduction, a select bibliography, and a nominal index, along with 16 pages of dimly reproduced images of Mr. G., dancers, Movements demonstrations, program notes, newspaper clippings, the Priory, etc. The soul of the book is the seven chapters devoted to excerpts and commentaries – but more about such matters later.

The publisher is Eureka Editions in Utrecht in The Netherlands, and the year of publication is given as 2010 (though it seems the book has just appeared in the present year of 2011). Eureka is the publisher of over fifty Work-related books, including numerous new or reprinted volumes by Bob Hunter, Maurice Nicoll, Beryl Pogson, J.H. Reyner, Paul Beekman Taylor, and other group leaders, participants, and observers. The website of Eureka Editions is well worth examining for many reasons.

The story of Eureka’s founding and founders is given, along with its mission and defining characteristic: “Eureka Editions is not connected to any Foundation, Institute, Fellowship, Church or other form of organization, however useful they may be.” The publishers then quote Maurice Nicoll: “The Work is not a building, a place, a book, a system, dogma or tradition. The Work is something that lives in the hearts of men and women – if they can find it.”

The author of the present work is Paul Beekman Taylor who as a youngster “knew Gurdjieff.” Born in London in 1930, he and his mother spent some time at the Priory at Fontainebleau-Avon. Thereafter he became a scholar of Old Norse and Old English and taught for many years at the University of Geneva. He is now a Professor Emeritus of that institution. Books that he has researched and written include the very useful and detailed volume titled “Gurdjieff’s America” (2004), reissued as “Gurdjieff’s Invention of America” (2007), and “G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life” (2008). The latter biography rises to the heights of James Moore’s classic work, “Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth” (1991); and, by incorporating the results of recent research, Taylor’s surpasses Moore’s biography in numerous particulars.

It is my guess that Taylor sees himself as the historian of the Work, and I assume that no one will deny that he is ideally equipped as a scholar to trace its trajectory and that no one will doubt his “feel” for the Work. When I learned of the imminent publication of “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye,” what flashed before my eye was the composition of the collection and the construction of the commentary, as well as the conviction that Taylor was the man for the job. I was more or less familiar with the ancillary literature because what also flashed before my eye was the following name: J. Walter Driscoll.

I have yet to meet J. Walter Driscoll. despite the fact that he was born in Toronto, where I live, and that he now resides on Vancouver Island, off the West Coast of Canada. I hope one day we will meet. Users of the Internet will be grateful to him for there is much for everyone to peruse on the website “Gurdjieff: A Reading Guide” edited by J. Walter Driscoll (third edition, 2004). Here is how the website describes itself:

“This edition of the ‘Gurdjieff Reading Guide’ contains a retrospective anthology of fifty-two articles, some originally published here, and others dating as far back as 1919. These provide an independent survey of the literature by or about George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) and offer a wide range of informed opinion (admiring, critical and contradictory) about him, his activities, writings, philosophy, and influence.”

In effect, Driscoll’s “Gurdjieff: A Reading Guide” is the backbone of Taylor’s “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye.” Yet for its body and soul we have to turn to Driscoll’s magnum opus. This is the tome titled “Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography” which was undertaken with the Gurdjieff Foundation of California and published in a hardcover edition by Garland Press in 1985. This standard work consists of some 1,700 entries full of delicious bits of information and iotas of insight.

Many researchers (like the present writer) have used Driscoll’s bibliography as a checklist for items to find, photocopy, read, and digest. I hope Driscoll continues to collect and annotate the ever-expanding body of knowledge about the Work. Yet the arrival of the Internet has probably stamped “paid” to future editions of Driscoll’s “Annotated Bibliography” at least in print form.

I am devoting all this attention to J. Walter Driscoll because the librarian, teacher, and archivist has contributed the foreword to the present volume. The foreword is short, only two pages in length, and it dwells entirely on the capacities and credentials of Taylor. It could but does not make the case that the “Annotated Bibliography” is the body and soul of “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye.” Driscoll seems very scholarly and endearingly self-effacing.

In his introduction, Taylor describes the present book as “an anthology of all printed materials about Gurdjieff during his lifetime.” He credits the work of “definitive” bibliographer Driscoll, of musician Gert-Jan Blom, and of historian Michael Benham, a specialist in twentieth-century Russian history. He discusses what is included because there was not enough space to reproduce every article from every newspaper or magazine in whole or in part or even at all. (That sounds like a job for the Internet.) But major articles quite often appear in full, and all the articles are succinctly and authoritatively annotated.

The years from 1921 to 1935 corresponded to a period of wide-spread public interest in Gurdjieff and his activities at the Priory, subsumed under the heading “the forest philosophers.” In all, I counted 126 articles from all periods, reproduced in whole or part, and they cover the years from 1914 to 1950. They range from the five-paragraph, anonymous notice about a hitherto unknown “Hindu” who had written “a most curious ballet scenario” called “The Struggle of the Magicians,” which appeared in “The Voice of Moscow” five months following the outbreak of the Great War and was read by Ouspensky, to the appearance of obituary notices in “The Times of London,” “The New York Times,” and “The New Yorker” in the late fall of 1949.

Taylor’s table of contents gives a good idea of the chronological arrangement of the material. There are seven chapters: 1. Early Notices; 2. What the French Press Reported on Gurdjieff and His Colony; 3. The English Press; 4. American News of the Institute; 5. The American Tour of 1924; 6. Gurdjieff’s Press 1924-1939; 7. Last Notices. The two chapters devoted to the American press are the longest, as they benefit from Taylor’s own research and editorial concentration on this period.

I am going to resist the temptation to discuss individual articles on the principle that one does not have to drink the entire ocean to know that it is salty – one drop will do; as well I will observe the injunction that it is difficult to eat just one salted peanut – and not a second and then a third. Having said that, let me suggest that worth the price of admission alone is the article reprinted from “The New Republic” (June 1929) written by Carl Zigrosser (who was subsequently appointed curator of prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). He knows his “prints” and offers his readers – and us, courtesy of Taylor – an engaging and lively account of a summer visit to the Priory as well as a notable pen-portrait of its founder.

It is interesting to read what non-Gurdjieffians have to say about Mr. G. Indeed, I find what Gurdjieffians have to say about the man and his manner somewhat predictable, and hackneyed because readers of the literature on the Work are already quite familiar with the formulations of Ouspensky, J.G. Bennett, members of The Rope, and other contemporary commentators. Independent journalists can often be irreverent and amusing, instructively so, as they fail to understand Mr. G. and his manner and method. Yet there is one editorial decision that was made with “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” that surprises me.

What we have here is the material that should comprise an anthology, yet the text is presented not as an anthology or as a casebook of fully formed “pieces,” but as an historico-critical analysis that proceeds more or less decade by decade, in effect, a history. I wonder if the book would not have been more compelling and engaging had it been arranged in the form of an anthology, with independent contributions, each one introduced with a short preface followed by a source note and a critical commentary. The volume was not organized in this fashion, but I believe it would have found more readers had it been allowed to proceed along this trajectory.

According to the publisher’s webpage, one hundred copies of “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye” have been printed. (The statement about the press-run does not necessarily preclude reprints of the first edition.) Are there so few – or so many – collectors and “completists” who buy serious books about the Work? One would think there are more readers than one hundred who are interested in the interwar period, in journalism, in the sociology of belief, in the psychology of gurus and leadership, in comparative religion, in early twentieth-century philosophy, in New Age formulations, in Traditionalist thought, etc. Perhaps so, perhaps not!

I began this review with a reminiscence about Rom Landau’s “God Is My Adventure.” Taylor summarizes Landau’s contribution quite well, identifying times and places and people, and he concludes it by quoting Landau’s evaluation: “I have been unable to perceive in the man George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff the harmonious development of man.” That is the last sentence of the second-last paragraph. What Taylor does not quote is the first sentence of that paragraph: “I could dimly discern that the essence of Gurdjieff’s teaching contains a truth that everyone in contact with spiritual reality is bound to preach.”

Wallace Stevens wrote about 13 ways of looking at a blackbird. There are 32 short films about Glenn Gould. Hokusai painted 36 views of Mount Fuji. Paul Beekman Taylor has now offered us an anthology of 126 articles about Mr. G. There is not a page of this book that will not surprise and instruct every one of its readers, including even the most knowledgeable of readers.

John Robert Colombo is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the lore and literature of the country. His current books include “Fascinating Canada” (a book of questions and answers) and “Jeepers Creepers” (a collection of told-as-true ghost stories). He has also published three volumes devoted to the life, work, and writings of Denis Saurat (who also “met Gurdjieff” and is discussed in “Gurdjieff in the Public Eye”). Colombo’s website is < http://www.colombo.ca >.                                                                                                                                        

GURDJIEFF UNVEILED: free download

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Seymour B. Ginsburg’s GURDJIEFF UNVEILED: an overview and introduction to the teaching originally published by Lighthouse Editions in 2005 is now available for a free download from the Theosophical Society of America’s website.

This highly recommended book by a valued and longstanding practitioner of Gurdjieff’s teaching is intended for ‘the beginning student, the inquiring seeker and the simply curious’. From the start the student can integrate theoretical knowledge with practical experience and gain a taste of what it means to work on oneself.

Appendices look at Gurdjieff’s relation to Hinduism; Theosophy; the study of dreams, with reference to Jung; practical exercises and the plot of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.

CLICK ON  title below to download 

Gurjieff Unveiled
Seymour B. Ginsburg    

                                                                                                                  

contact email for Sy is

syginsburg@aol.com 

                                                                                                                                                                                

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

October 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm

YALE UNIVERSITY: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR RELIGIOUS STUDIES

Yale University Department of Religious Studies

intends to make a tenure-track appointment in the field of religious studies beginning July 1, 2012, at the rank of Assistant Professor. Applications are invited and welcome from scholars with research specialties in the anthropology, history, philosophy, or sociology of religions or a tradition-specific field of study, who also possess demonstrated teaching proficiency in methods and theory in the study of religion.

Yale University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. Yale values diversity among its students, staff, and faculty and strongly welcomes applications from women and underrepresented minorities. A letter of application describing your research, a c.v., a two-page dissertation abstract, a chapter-length writing sample, a syllabus for an introductory undergraduate course, “Introduction to

Religion,” and three letters of reference should be submitted on-line at

https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/Yale/RLST

Materials may be sent to:

Methods and Theory Search, Religious Studies, Yale University, P.O. Box

208287, New Haven, CT 06520-8287

or by e-mail to

rosemary.carrion@yale.edu

The review of applications will begin October 20, 2011. Preliminary interviews will be held at the AAR annual meeting in San Francisco, Nov 19-22, 2011.

In Memoriam: Tom Daly

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Tom Daly

In the screening room of the world, a feature-length documentary film winds to a halt, and the overhead lights are abruptly switched on. We blink and wince. Thus we mark the passing of Tom Daly, one of the world’s finest directors of documentary cinema. Tom died at the age of ninety-three in Montreal on Sept. 18, 2011, following a lengthy illness.

In his public life, Tom was one of the mainstays of the National Film Board of Canada. The rudiments of the art and craft of motion-picture production and editing were taught to him by none other than John Grierson, the filmmaker who coined the term “documentary” and who founded the Board in Ottawa in 1939, then and now the world’s largest, government-owned producer of documentary films.

In various capacities over forty-four years, Tom left his mark on hundreds of the Board’s short and feature films, including those created by Norman McLaren (the Glenn Gould of film animation) and his own Unit B productions which introduced innovative techniques and ideas to the nation’s screens. In the 1950s and 1960s it was mandated that an NFB “short” had to be exhibited along with the other “short features” (cartoons, coming attractions) and the American feature film when it was publicly exhibited in a movie theatre in the country. So his productions reached immense national audiences. Often they struck the only note of “reality” on the screen.

I was especially moved in 1960 by his documentary film “Universe” which focused on the night in the life of a Toronto astronomer. We were invited to behold a “cosmic zoom” … an astronomical visualization which parallels the Ray of Creation aka the Great Chain of Being. It was done with spectacular effects and a feeling for the marvels of creation which Stanley Kubrick subsequently acknowledged to be influences on his own feature film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Tom was also a mainstay of the work in Canada. He was born into a socially prominent family in Toronto on April 25, 1918, and a graduate of the University of Toronto. Through his mother he met the De Hartmanns who were then temporary residents in Quebec’s Eastern Townships (awaiting papers to settle in the United States). Madame de Hartmann was encouraged to visit Toronto where she established what is now known as the Toronto group. Tom was active in the group until Board work required him to move first to Ottawa and then to Montreal where he led the work there. He married and raised a family and to the members of his family go the commiserations of the present writer (who was personally introduced to the work by Tom and his friend Peter Colgrove).

Tom was a gentleman of the Anglo-Saxon variety and a scholar manqué. I write manqué not in an attempt to circumscribe his talent but with the wish to extend it because he himself saw his art as coextensive with his life and with the work. Readers interested in how he did this are encouraged to read the biographical study The Best Butler in the Business: Tom Daly of the National Film Board of Canad (University of Toronto Press) by the academic D.B. Jones. According to Jones, Tom dealt with a problem the way a lumberjack walks across a log-boom: Step onto the first log, and before it sinks step onto the second log, and before it sinks step onto the third log ….

 

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Tom Daly

I knew him slightly but admired him greatly. He inspired a great many men and women of his generation, not only film-makers but also creative people in many disciplines. There is an expression that is used in the film business (and only in the film business) that applies to him. That expression is “the dailies.” It refers to the “rushes” of the day’s shooting that are available for viewing and reviewing the following day. Tom lived his life from day to day, never failing to reflect on the fine qualities of “the dailies.”

J.R.C., 18 Sept. 2011

KEITH A. BUZZELL’S TRIO OF CURRENT PUBLICATIONS: Part One

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The John Robert Colombo Page

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Keith A. Buzzell’s Trio of Current Publications 

 Part One 

The Doctor with Three Books

In front of me are three publications that have been tastefully produced by Fifth Press, an imprint based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The imprint is new to me and may well be new to the majority of the readers of this blog. The publisher’s focus is explained on its website, though even that sheds no light on why it is called the Fifth Press (rather than the Fourth, the Third, the Second, or the First Press). I guess there is a reason for the number but it eludes me! Here is the focus:

“Fifth Press was established in 2004 for the express purpose of publishing Dr. Keith A. Buzzell’s exploration of the depth of meaning of Gurdjieff’s writing. We are currently working with Will Mesa who has extensive experience plumbing the interstices of Beelzebub’s Tales. We hope we may contribute to the fabric of our work together and for all life.”

On the basis of its mission statement, Fifth Press is doing a good job in realizing its aims and objectives. Let me also add, in passing, that Dr. Will Mesa is an Cuban-born student of the Work who studied under Henri Tracol in Paris; he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering, apparently based in New York City. He once explained, “Toward the end of my fourth reading of Beelzebub’s Tales, late in 1986, it dawned on me that the book I was reading and studying was the best theoretical and experimental book I had ever studied.”

It is apparent that there are many scientifically minded and technologically trained people like Dr. Mesa and Dr. Buzzell who are “in the Work” and are making sizeable efforts “to square” what Mr. Gurdjieff wrote in Beelzebub’s Tales with contemporary scientific and technological theories and practices. This is one way to “make relevant” what the author wrote between 1924 and 1927, the text of which was translated into English and published in 1950 and subsequently reissued in a revised (and controversial) edition in 1992.

At this point it is incumbent upon me to state that if in order to understand the text of Tales as it appears in the first or the second edition I have to read it not only once, not only twice, but all of three times, once out loud, then I may make no claims to understand the book. The fact that the accuracy and authenticity of the text cannot be accepted without being challenged is not what disturbs me; after all, bookstores offer the public not one but two editions Tales as they do of James Joyce’s equally long Finnegans Wake. Indeed, relatedly, the publishing imprint Library of America was established to solve just this problem by issuing standard editions of the works by America’s leading literary authors.

In the late 1950s I was trained in the New Critical method of explication de texte, so I am wary of people who accept whatever text is at hand – pace the King James Version of the Bible – and then take it literally and erect intellectual structures like castles in Spain upon the fundament of “gospel truths.” I have observed that leaders of study groups make use of the text is largely as illustration, a passage here, a passage there, to add to the foreground or the background of the observation of interest. It is almost as if the work is too large or great to encompass as a whole.

It is obvious that Tales is a complex and demanding text – “problematic” is the word that a semiotician might use – but at the same time it meets Northrop Frye’s description of scripture as “literature plus,” so it is difficult to “get a handle on the book.” I also see it in Frye’s terms as an “anatomy,” a sum of innumerable parts that with its single structure is greater than the sum of all those parts. But all this is surmise and suggestion, as I am not going to comment on Tales. Instead, I will discuss the man who does and the way he does it – by identifying the author of these three books and by comment on a handful of his interpretations and discoveries.

There is no Wikipedia entry for Keith A. Buzzell, but I did determine the following biographical details on the Internet: “Dr. A. Keith Buzzell was born in 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied music at Bowdoin College and Boston University, and received his medical doctorate in 1960 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. For the past 35 years, he has been a rural family physician in Fryeburg, Maine, a staff member of Bridgton Hospital and currently holds the position of medical director at the Fryeburg Health Care Center.

“Dr. Buzzell has also served as a professor of osteopathic medicine, a hospital medical director and a founder of a local hospice program. He has lectured widely on the neurophysiologic influences of television on the developing human brain and on the evolution of man’s triune brain. In 1971 Keith and his wife Marlena, met Irmis Popoff, a student of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the founder of the Pinnacle Group in Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York. From then until the mid-1980s they formed work groups under her supervision. Since 1988 Dr. Buzzell and Annie Lou Staveley, founder of the Two Rivers Farm in Oregon, maintained a Work relationship up to her death in 1996. Keith continues group Work in Bridgton, Maine.”

The reference to osteopathy or osteopathic medicine caught my eye because the practice is not recognized as a medical discipline in Canada. A doctor of osteopathy is not a medical doctor in any of this country’s provinces. This might be my country’s loss, for a doctor of osteopathy is recognized as a medical physician in the fifty states of the American Union. Please note that I am not in any way questioning the value of osteopathy or the credentials of Dr. Buzzell; indeed, he seems eminently qualified in the practice of medicine and has a wide range of interests suitable for his examination of the complexities of Tales. In mentioning this fact, I am clearing up a public confusion about osteopathy!

Fifth Press has issued three handsome volumes of his books. They appear in trade paperback editions, 6.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches high, printed on quality paper, glued rather than sewn to the spine. Here are the titles:

(1) Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales and Other of Gurdjieff’s Writings. The first edition is copyright 2005; xvi+228 pages. (2) A Child’s Odyssey: Explorations in Active Mentation: Re-Membering Gurdjieff’s Teaching. This first edition is copyright 2006; xiv+297 pages. (3) Man – A Three-brained Being: Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching. This edition is copyright 2007 and identified as the second edition; ii+139.

The three volumes (which have the look of a series of books) are well designed and produced. There are about forty-five lines per page of rather small type, with footnotes, glossaries, and bibliographies. The text is illustrated with charts and diagrams, some in pastel colours. My estimate is that what we have in this trio of books is close to 330,000 words.

Regular readers of Sophia Wellbeloved’s web-blog will be familiar with the reviews and commentaries of my companion columnist, Joseph Azize, a man who is extremely knowledgeable about Work-related subjects. Joseph’s detailed review of one of these books (Man – A Three-brained Being) appeared on Sept. 27, 2009, and may be read there with much benefit.

In the same vein, a fairly detailed consideration of another title (Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales) may be read on Amazon.com where it is titled “Perspectives: A Must Read for Serious Students of the Tales” and dated April 4, 2005. This review was contributed by Seymour B. Ginsburg, a respected author in his own right. The two reviews include chapter summaries but in the main they recapitulate the contents of these books chapter by chapter. While I enjoy doing the same – reprinting tables of contents and adding running commentaries on them – I will refrain from duplicating their work, concentrating instead on a couple of points of exposition.

There is one further point to make: Dr. Buzzell has been a presenter at some of the All & Everything International Humanities Conferences. The sole conference I attended was the one held in Toronto two years ago; I reported on those sessions on this web-blog. Here is what happened on April 24, 2009:

*

At 11:00 a.m., Keith Buzzell spoke on “Do-Re-Me of Food, Air and Impressions.” He is a seasoned presenter and with slides and one handout related the Table of Hydrogens to the various types of “food” and ultimately the “coating” of higher being bodies. There is the food that grows on the surface of the earth, that exists in the planetary atmosphere, and that comes from the sun. One of his catchy phrases was “Only life can sustain life.”

Hydrogen 768 is the food of man, but the categories are “enormous.” In fact, while I did not conduct a word-count, I assume Keith used the word “enormous” twenty-one times to describe the categories on the Table, and quite rightly. He also turned his attention to the difference between “mass” and “non-mass.” At times I thought I was attending a lecture on the Joy of Chemistry. Any dieticians in the audience would have been lost!

There was an interesting analysis of the role of proteins and how modern science is revealing the facts of digestion which are in line with what is discussed in “Tales.” We learn by analogy: “Higher hydrogens digest lower hydrogens.” The speaker suggested that there is “a way of understanding how our minds can transform our physical brains.” “The input of the three brains is the substrate of the spiritual body, the DNA of the kesdjan.”

During the discussion it was mentioned that there are ten bacteria for every cell in the human body. “We could not live without all our bacteria. We have to get along with each other.” Keith quoted a teacher who asked, “How can you expect to have extra knowledge if you don’t know ordinary knowledge.” The discussion ended with a discussion of magnetic vs. mechanical fields of influence and the human will and whether it can be suborned, followed by the differences between “body” and “centre.” It was 1:00 p.m.

*

Perhaps that excerpt from my notes on Dr. Buzzell’s presentation catches some of the excitement of the exposition that is characteristic of the man and his analyses. At the conference I chatted a few times with him and his lovely wife Marlena, finding them to be a professional and knowledgeable couple very dedicated to their work and the Work.

*

Here are some thoughts inspired by paging through Man – A Three-brained Being. I find it difficult to imagine that anyone but a student of the Work with a special interest in Tales will be drawn to read and study this work of analysis. Specifically, I find it unlikely that anyone but the most exceptional chemist, physicist, astrophysicist, physiologist, or neurologist would want to commit any amount of time and energy to assessing what use has been made here of mainstream scientific theory and practice.

In a way that is a shame because it means there is little chance that there will ever be a dialogue between orthodox scientists and unorthodox but nevertheless rigorous thinkers, so necessarily compartmentalized are the scientific disciplines in our time. I seem to recall reading in a volume of recollections of life at the Prieuré that the Harley Street physicians who were in attendance in the mid-1920s spent an evening trying to identify the Hydrogens and interpret them in light of known chemical reactions. Ouspensky had a pet phrase which he used when students attempted to think outside the system or to relate non-system matters to the system. He would say, “That’s another opera.” That’s another work.

Indeed, Ouspensky titled his book of lectures The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1951); in 1989 his literary executors authorized the publication of the rest of the lectures and called the publication The Cosmology of Man’s Possible Evolution. Reading Dr. Buzzell’s current book, I have the sense that it could well be retitled The Chemistry of Man’s Possible Evolution, for it focuses on biological and chemical reactions in the production of change, movement, images, consciousness, and transformation. I will leave it to other commentators, like Joseph Azize, to delve deeper. I will leave this book, as does the author, with the opening sentences of the last paragraph:

“Our aim in this book has been to blend a scientific perspective on the physical Universe and on human biology with a perspective on the possibility of self-transformation as taught by G.I. Gurdjieff. Because it is verbal in form, it can do little more than hint, or metaphorically point toward, the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be personally lived in order to have its full meaning.”

Over all, the author writes vividly, even at times stirringly. The book opens with a lively account of how at every turn our lives have been changed by the use that has been made since 1900 of quantum mechanics and its effects. Buzzell writes, “There appears to be more than serendipity involved in the simultaneous appearance of Gurdjieff as a teacher (circa 1913) and the published insights of such men as Planck, Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger and Hubble. Superficially, the perspectives of 20th century science and of Gurdjieff appear to be diametrically different and yet, it is our contention that both herald a startlingly new view of our Universe.” Buzzell finds many parallels between passages in Tales and later scientific discoveries. In passing he relates Tales to innovations in Modernist music and literature, subjects that will no doubt attract future historians of ideas.

With great clarity the author discusses the implications of the “three-brained” being identified with Mr. Gurdjieff and, a good forty years later, the “triune” mind discussed by the physiologist Dr. Paul MacLean. The author is certainly wrong in suggesting that Mr. Gurdjieff (or A.R. Orage, his amanuensis, redactor, translator, editor, etc.) introduced the term “mentation” because as early as 1850 the word was used to refer to “thinking” or “mental processes.” Nowhere is there any consideration of the theory that is the rival of Dr. MacLean’s, and that is the theory of the bi-cameral mind of the psychologist Julian Jaynes.

Also missing is any discussion of W.H. Sheldon’s three “somatotypes” or C.G. Jung’s four-fold typology of “body types.” Not that the author is under any obligation to discuss any of these or other matters, but it would have been interesting to see how well these conceptions could have been worked into a consideration of Tales. Yet what he sets himself the task to accomplish – to explicate Tales in light of current science – he does accomplish. The intention is not so much to vindicate the scientific endeavour or to justify the unorthodox approach and language of the text, but to delve deeper into the text.  

Dr. Buzzell does. 

Part two continues this review.

John Robert Colombo, who writes irregularly for this blog-site, is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the country’s lore and literature. His most recent book is a collection of told-as-true Canadian ghost stories called Jeepers Creepers. He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria University, University of Toronto. Check his website < http://www.colombo.ca > for further details. If you wish to received notice of future reviews and commentaries, send JRC an email: < jrc@colombo.ca >.

   

JOHN LENNON: Essence and Reality: Part 20: “STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER”

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John Lennon: Essence and Reality

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

“Strawberry Fields Forever”

Off the edge of memory, rationality and time: Lennon invites us to accompany him. “Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields, nothing is real … Strawberry Fields forever!” As other commentators routinely say, this song, released as a single in February 1967, does indeed deal with nostalgia and childhood and fame. But these themes are only the platforms of departure. Our destination is floating and dreamlike; we land in meadows which have something of paradise about them: “Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about! Strawberry Fields forever!”

I cannot think of any song from the rock and roll era which goes deeper. Lennon’s lyrics move in many directions at once, searching for what is real in himself, his identity, reason and art. Lennon probes his own depths: what is the significance of his innocent childhood? What is this faith he has that somewhere there exists an endless bliss? Who am I to be in relation with you, and who are you to be in relation to me? What is the truth about us?

There is a wondering questioning here: a perception of reality always awakes innocent surprise. Relationship with others and relationship within myself go together, because they each depend upon me as an individual – upon my central “I”, to the extent that I can be said to have one central “I”. This takes us to the eternal question of ultimate human identity: the mystery of our souls, or of our essences, to use a term from Gurdjieff’s system.

Essence”, lest we forget, derives from the Latin root esse, “to be”. It is the pure being of a living organism – whatever form that life may take.Behind Lennon’s search is the understanding that a nothing cannot be related – it is superfluous. That he might in fact be a nothing, that he might not be needed was, I think, Lennon’s greatest fear. So deep a fear was it that even Lennon could not name it. Perhaps very, very few of us are different from Lennon in this respect: we share this unnameable anxiety. That, I suspect, is why, so far as I can see, writers have missed the significance of the five words: “let me take you down”. They are words not only of movement, but also of a desired relationship. Lennon offers to assume the role of guide, and, of course, a guide is in relation, he is accompanied by his charges:

Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to …

Strawberry Fields …

Nothing is real …

And nothing to get hung about.

Strawberry Fields Forever!

Living is easy with eyes closed,

Misunderstanding all you see.

It’s getting hard to be someone

but it all works out –

It doesn’t matter much to me.

No one, I think, is in my tree,

I mean it must be high or low

That you can’t, you know, tune in,

But it’s alright,

That is, I think it’s not too bad.

Let me take you down, etc.

Always, no, sometimes think it’s me

but it’s all wrong,

That is, I think I disagree.

Let me take you down, etc.

The music is masterly. When Lennon says “let me take you down”, I almost feel drawn into a secret opening beneath my feet. There is a firm pressure on that word “down”. The singer is in transit to another world, and through the sympathetic power of listening, we find ourselves drawn into his gravity. Lennon is the psychopomp, or soul-guide of this Elysian realm. On Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,the psychedelic Lucy sprang from his head to play the role of guide (“follow her down …”). “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” had been the first two recordings for that album, but when they were released as singles, it was decided not to include them on the album. It is striking then, that when he speaks in his own name on this song, he stakes his authority in a way that never happens on “Lucy”.

Speaking in the first person also makes “Strawberry Fields” more personal. The tone of the invitation is enfolded within the music and the singing: it is gentle and undemonstrative. The tones of the mellotron, which open the song (courtesy of Paul McCartney), prime the canvas in warm, hazy tones, almost speaking with a voice like blended strings and woodwinds. There is something other-worldly about it, yet, I would not call it dreamy. It is more as we are withdrawing from the earth. In these respects, “Strawberry Fields” builds on “I’m Only Sleeping”, released not long before on the Revolver album. In that song, Lennon lays in bed; Lucy’s cosmos is in the sky’; and in “Strawberry Fields” he takes us down. They’re all part of a consistent pattern of exploration which lifts Lennon’s work beyond the merely haphazard.

The image of Strawberry Fields is at once quite plain, and perfectly elusive. In his 1980 interview with Playboy magazine, Lennon said: “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs in a nice semidetached place with a small garden … Near that home was Strawberry Fields, a house near a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties as a kid with my friends Nigel and Pete we would go there and hang out and sell lemonade bottles for a penny. We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that’s where I got the name. But I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.”

Strawberry Fields” evokes a definite place, but it’s used in an indefinite way to open the doors to something which goes beyond the one site. What Strawberry Fields stands for is actually a joyous and carefree childhood. It is significant that it is strawberry fields, as in the succulent forest fruit. In Lennon’s time, few children would not have had the experience of hunkering close down and searching among the leaves of the short bush for its delicious fruit. Nowadays, we can go to the supermarket, buy a punnet, and consume them without a thought. But, for kids, a strawberry they’ve found themselves in the garden is a treat.

However, the most important thing Lennon says, or more precisely, sings about these fields is “forever”. This word could simply be an expression of affection, it could also be the echo of a prayer, and, like any real prayer, it also takes us out of time. It reminds me of the posthumously released “Grow Old With Me” (see blog 4), with its doxology: “World without end, world without end.” The same prayer is offered in Strawberry Fields. “Forever” is almost the perfect petition: it is fiat or “let it be”. In “Grow Old”, Lennon sings: “whatever fate decrees, we will see it through.” This is an attitude to aspire to: I may not understand this portion of the journey, but I affirm. Adie said that deep down, we all love of life. But life brings sufferings. Only when we arrive at our final destination are all our difficulties, and all our failings along the way reconciled, because only at the end is there an Absolute reality in which they find their final shape and complete meaning. The real world, the divine world, appears to us, we are told, as a transfiguration.

And this, I think, is the secret of “Strawberry Fields Forever”: it is the transfiguration of our lives, a mystery which Lennon had some intimation of. Thus, when Lennon says “nothing is real”, the first thing he means, I think, is that nothing is real as we see it. And this has a certain element of truth. I shall not pursue it here, but briefly, we see only a portion, and even that we only perceive in dim outline. But the dim outline is real, it’s just that we cannot see the whole reality.

The second thing which, it seems to me, Lennon means, is that especially in Strawberry Fields everything is transformed. Strawberry fields is a blessed realm: its reality is not that of our day to day reality. I doubt that he meant nothing whatsoever is real: after all, he says later in this song “you know I know when it’s a dream”.

Apparently, the phrase “nothing to get hung about” alludes to Lennon’s youthful reply to his aunt’s directives not to jump the fence into Strawberry Fields: “They can’t hang you for it.” In the song it’s more positive: it means that there is no sorrow there.

The way is not an easy one: Lennon does not hide this; some of the lyrics reflect being misunderstood. Lennon once said of the song that: “The second line goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, what I was trying to say in that line is, ‘Nobody seems to be as hip as me, therefore I must be crazy or a genius.’” A person sitting in the branches of a tree is high up. Lennon felt that by his art he was elevated above the mediocre. But did he deserve this exaltation? He wasn’t sure of that, but he was sure that there are standards: “it must be high or low”. He also experienced it as lonely: “…you can’t, you know, tune in.” Was this bad? Maybe, maybe not: “But it’s alright, That is, I think it’s not too bad.”

Lennon expresses the same sentiments in the next verse: he starts to say that he always “think it’s me”, when he changes his mind mid-sentence, “no, sometimes”. In other words, when his false ego is there, it seems there’s nothing else and never has been. That’s why at those moments he could believe that he is an eternal megalomaniac. But as soon as he starts to examine this, he realises that this is not the whole of the truth. While we are in one “I”, as it were, we can see nothing else. But as it loses its hold, other “I”s appear, and we experience this to-and-fro as doubt and confusion: “…but it’s all wrong, that is, I think I disagree.”

Before leaving this, it’s worth mentioning that in the version Lennon made at his home in Weybridge, released on the Beatles Anthology vol. 2, he sang not “let me take you down” but “let me take you back”. This confirms the line I have taken here, that Lennon is, in his mind, returning to his childhood, folding the folds of time into one fabric. It is a remembrance not of facts but of the self wherein the line between the present and the past disappears. We are granted a moment when we have an instinctive feeling of truth, and suddenly we sense a relationship with others which is so close, and so self-less, that we experience our lives as woven into a vital unity. Community is not amalgamation; the whole is made up of parts which have integrity. But there is no integrity without some form of inner unity.

In this song, Lennon reveals perhaps his most sacred belief: that in the end it all comes out right. This optimism is why, in the final analysis, so many people invested so much of their hope in Lennon.

© Joseph Azize, 2011

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

 

 

 

  

 

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp. 

 

 The ideas presented in this article were much influenced by what the author learned of the Gurdjieff system through George Adie, a personal pupil of Gurdjieff. Something of Adie’s approach to Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods can be found in George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, G. Adie and J. Azize, Lighthouse Editions, available from By the Way Books.

This is the final article in the series, Lennon: Essence and Reality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

APPROACHING INNER WORK: Opie’s study of Michael Currer-Briggs

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John Robert Colombo Reviews James Opie’s biographical study of Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching

  Some books may be described in a relatively straight-forward fashion. Other books, not so easily summarized, require much foreground and background information before they may be appreciated at all. “Approaching Inner Work” falls into the latter category. It requires information up front. But before providing that information, permit me to describe the physical appearance of the book itself.

A handsome publication, “Approaching Inner Work” bears the subtitle “Michael Currer-Briggs on the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Its author, James Opie, is a long-time student of the Work. The publisher is Gurdjieff Books & Music, an imprint and a distributor for Work-related materials. It is located in Portland and operated by the Gurdjieff Foundation of Oregon. The website is < info@gurdjeiffbooksand music.com >. The trade paperback measures 5 inches wide by 7.5 inches high, and it has xii +148 pages. The ISBN is 978-0-615-47529-5. The text consists of thirty-eight short chapters of commentary and interview, followed by an Appendix and an Acknowledgments. If I may risk a pun, this volume “speaks volumes.”

 So much for the easy part. Now for the detailed part! First, the Author. Second, the Subject. Third, the Book.

The Author: James Opie

  The “Opie” name is a respected one in literary circles, especially for the contributions of the well-loved, husband-and-wife team of English folklorists, Peter and Iona Opie. But the Opies are (as “Time Magazine” used to say) “no kin” to James Opie who describes himself as “a merchant and writer.” He was born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1939, and is a graduate of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Despite his birthplace and residence in Portland, Oregon, he has become a recognized authority on Persian tribal rugs and the origin of tribal rug motifs – both of which sound like demanding undertakings! His two books in the field are “Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia” (1982) and “Tribal Rugs: Nomadic and Village Weavings of the Near East and Central Asia” (1992). The latter title has been translated into French, Italian, and German.

 Opie was introduced to the Work in the mid-1960s when a musician friend loaned him a copy of “All & Everything.” He joined a group under the leadership of Donald Hoyt who became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation under Lord Pentland and then served as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California. Lord Pentland himself was Opie’s teacher from 1974 to 1988. For fourteen years Opie was associated with Annie Lou Staveley of “The Farm,” later “Two Rivers Farm.” Mrs. Staveley was a direct student of Gurdjieff in Paris during his last years and also an associate of Jean Heap in London. Opie is now involved with Gurdjieff Books & Music in Portland.

 It was while he was in Afghanistan dealing in rugs that Opie met Peter Brook and Madame de Salzmann who were in the midst of filming “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” On the set he also met Michael Currer-Briggs. Briggs is credited with being of material help at a critical point in the production of this major motion picture through his extensive contacts in the fields of film-making and finance. “Meetings” was released by Remar Productions (“remar” is short for “remarkable”) and Briggs was granted screen credit as the film’s executive producer.

The Subject: Michael Currer-Briggs

 Opie refers to him as “Mr. Briggs” but I will shorten his name even further by referring to him as “Briggs.” He was born in 1922 in Leeds, Yorkshire, and died in 1980 in London, England. Briggs made his reputation in television production in the United Kingdom. He is credited as producer or director of over sixty-five television productions, largely episodes of popular mystery series. These were telecast between 1955 and 1970, so British viewers of a certain age might cast their memories back to such popular fare as “Boyd Q.C.,” “ITV Television Playhouse,” “ITV Play of the Week,” “Fraud Squad,” “Aces of Wands,” and “The Mind Robbers.”

 Briggs reminds me of Fletcher Markle, the distinguished Canadian television personality, who was once married to the actress Mercedes McCambridge. Markle’s skills as producer and director overshadowed his abilities as creator and artist. In other words, Markle and perhaps Briggs excelled as “arrangers” or “packagers” of other men’s ideas. Unlike Briggs, Markle had no special interest in spiritual psychology.

These days Briggs is not remembered for those British series, but for his role as executive producer of “Meetings with Remarkable Men,” which was released in 1979, thirty years following Gurdjieff’s death and one year before Briggs’s own death. Briggs had a background in the Work that took root in London in the 1940s where and when he met Jane Heap. As the result of Opie’s book on him, Briggs will have, additionally, a future in the Work.

 The Book: Approaching Inner Work

 The text of the book consists of a series of short chapters which consist of Briggs’s commentaries on “inner work.” They are based on interviews conducted by Opie with Briggs over the last years of the latter’s life. There are thirty-eight of these and they cover a range of interests. Each chapter of commentary is titled, and some of these titles are straight-forward and descriptive (“John Bennett,” “Madame de Salzmann and a Question about Money”), whereas others are analytical and work-related (“Self-study and Seeing,” “Like and Dislike”). Overall they bring to mind – to my mind, at least – the “commentaries” that comprise Maurice Nicoll’s “Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” a much-neglected, five-volume work that is a gold-mine (I almost keyboarded “gold-mind”) of aspects of the Work which now seem to be called “inner work.”

These “commentaries” are Briggs’s words, taken from conversations and interviews that have been deftly edited and sensitively arranged by Opie to cover subjects of current and continuing interest. In a way the arrangement reminds me of a book of “table talk.” It begins with a rhetorical question posed by Briggs: ” … what can I do? What is it, precisely, that does not happen automatically, but requires my intentional efforts? Doing depends on intentionality. Intentionality depends on sincerity. It depends on the presence of I.” The book is in effect a meditation on these words.

 The friendship began in 1977 in Central Asia, aka Afghanistan, where Opie was pursuing his trade in Oriental rugs and Briggs was visiting the set of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” then being filmed by Peter Brook under the tutelage of Madame de Salzmann. It seems Briggs with his industry contacts had a hand in ensuring the flow of funds from Lord Pentland, President of the Gurdjieff Foundation, to the production crew, no simple matter. History has a habit of repeating itself. Some decades earlier, Briggs was among the first visitors to Gurdjieff in newly liberated Paris to arrive with cash (presumably the first payment of Gurdjieff’s oil-well royalties!).

 One night over dinner in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, Opie raised the subject of miracles. Briggs described them in terms of the two rivers or streams. “There are two fundamental streams, an automatic stream moving downward, toward multiplicity, and a conscious stream flowing upward, toward unity and the source of all life. Highly unusual experiences which seem to be miracles may involve merely, if one dares use that word, a lawful and transitory merging of the two streams at a particular point or event.”

Briggs gave an illustration of a “miracle” in terms of a carrot growing in a garden. To the carrot the appearance of the gardener is miraculous; to the gardener the appearance of the carrot is mundane. Points of view and levels of being are relevant to miracles. This novel illustration brought to mind P.D. Ouspensky’s example of the baked potato being more “intelligent” than the raw potato. The discussions between Opie and Briggs reverberate with references to be found in the canon of the Work. This particular conversation on the subject of miracles concludes with Briggs’s caveat: Because of “habitual patterns” of thought and feeling and response, he wrote, “I dare say ‘miracles’ have been the ruination of some people.”

Another caveat is based on the effectiveness of effort when based on full knowledge and complete understanding, and its ineffectiveness when based on faulty knowledge and limited understanding. “The exercise of listening to those who would build professional careers around certainty can be helpful. How misguided are those politicians and other public figures who wish to impress others with their certainty.” This can be very instructive, Briggs reminds Opie. “Initially, our work is not to change what is seen, but to open to a new quality of seeing, wherein we directly experience the force of automaticity in our reactions.”

These thoughts lead to a discussion of the differences noted by Madame de Salzmann between the servant and the slave. When we shirk our own burdens, we increase the loads that need to be carried by other people; when we shoulder our own, we lighten their burdens. Briggs states that we should not be overawed by the immensity of the known universe because it is matched by the unknown worlds within man. “Here our small physical size, as human beings, can be deceptive. Within us are many potential levels, many possible hierarchies. The universe is not altogether an outer arrangement.”

 Briggs has a bent for vivid imagery. He suggests that there should be founded a new organization called “The Society for the Study of Self-love and Vanity.” He suggests that this kind of odd-fellows group could bring untold benefits to its members. As an aside he explains, “This is precisely what Mr. Gurdjieff outlined in his description of a ‘real group,’ which, he said, represents an exceptional level of achievement.”

He then traced the subsequent history of this impulse and how, over the years, it would metamorphose into its opposite. “Viewed from the outside, the buildings housing the Society may grow more impressive. But inside the buildings, decade by decade, the teaching descends to a level that is all-too-human.” This section of the book – about the devolution of this society and the impulse behind it – is called “The Unusual Society.” Although it is only a few pages long, it includes more than I can easily convey here. In fact, each of the chapters is quite expressive of the modulated expression of genuine insights.

The chapter titled “Madame de Salzmann and the Question of Money” deals broadly with values and evaluations and quotes Madame as making a pointed observation. “If students of Mr. Gurdjieff do not make a film based on this appealing title – Meetings with Remarkable Men – someone else will surely do so. We would then have to live with the consequences.” It is in Kabul that Briggs takes Opie to meet the Madame (a little drama all its own) and “the need to prepare a real question.” They chat with her on the film set and at one point Madame says, “When you first come, you hear and repeat ideas, with limited understanding. Later the ideas begin to live in you, and you have real questions. Now, your interest is superficial. But in time, perhaps it grows.”

The subject of money is broached. Opie suggests the ability to make it is “dirty.” Madame disagrees. “Money, a talent for making money, is not a dirty thing. Money is the blood of society. Everything is touched by money, every relationship. No part of life is without this connection, and it brings reality to your life. When money is needed it is no longer just … idea.”

This chapter, although short, reminded me of the comprehensive talk that Gurdjieff delivered on the subject of “the Material Question.” It seems everything everywhere is material and that it really matters. Madame gives it a spin: “Your life has a pattern. You don’t see it yet, but little by little it begins to appear. Seeing the pattern of your life helps very much. If you work with a talent, it develops. Later you can teach what you have learned to someone else who stands where you stand now. Then, perhaps, you will go on to something else.”

 Briggs and Opie meet some months later at The Farm overseen by Annie Lou Staveley in Portland, Oregon. Here Briggs talked about the plan, subsequently abandoned, to cast some Work personalities as leading characters in the film. Apparently Henri Tracol was to play Father Giovanni. Briggs: “We attempted this briefly and the experiment totally failed. We saw that what each of these people had was their own. Nothing was acted. What they possessed, while genuine, was not what was needed. Films involve acting. Also, none of these senior people in the Work could take directions!”

 The next two chapters deal with the dangers inherent in the transmission of oral teachings and how the Work has proceeded following Gurdjieff’s death. Madame de Salzmann met with the leaders of the various groups and the influx of new followers and attempted to create a single approach. There were disputes. “These disputes could have disrupted relationships within and between groups. Madame de Salzmann listened more than she spoke, and, like Mr. Gurdjieff, became a still point in the center of activity. Her efforts with previously existing groups, with new centers, and with hundreds of individual members, helped clarify more advanced approaches to inner work.”

 The chapter titled “Roses and Thorns” looks at the opposites and how they must be accepted and how each person must accept responsibility. “Interest in this inner study begins to connect us with the stream of intentionality. At the outset, an impartial view of our manifestations may elude us. We have not yet learned to take the necessary step back to hear our own voices, to sense habitual bodily postures, or to experience repetitive emotional and mental patterns more immediately and viscerally. Others see much of this in us, but we do not. Yet, little by little, we begin to learn.”

Subsequent chapters consider the power of identification and the need for “self-study.” We must learn to distinguish between what is automatic and what is authentic. Briggs: “The primary change is the seeing and accepting what is seen, in the midst of our manifestations. Seeing without judging, with impartial interest, is a feature of consciousness and the stream of intentionality.” This is “a gift” that requires “preparatory work.”

“Wish and the Role of the Mind” is the first chapter in a series of chapters that deal with the role of “wish” (or “aim,” as it used to be called) in the Work. Gurdjieff’s words are quoted: “Wish can be the strongest thing in the world.” The role of man’s centres is discussed and Gurdjieff is quoted as saying that thoughts are “thinking in me.” The difference between justification and explanation is discussed.

Briggs: “When both my mind and feelings are identified with justifying or explaining, word-producing functions in the mind readily cooperate. But when there is real work to be done, this automatic part is silent. Will is called for, something intentional. A quite different part of the mind needs to appear.” Man is machinery. “Our work is to not attempt to withdraw from contact with this current. It is to learn, little by little, to relate to it with greater awareness.”

 “Emotions about emotions” is a new formulation for me and perhaps for some other readers as well. Briggs: “When my awareness of an emotion is sidetracked by an automatic reaction, by an emotion about the emotion, is it too late to work? For Jane Heap, it was never too late. We begin from precisely where we are. We come into awareness now, rather than waiting for a better moment, or the arising of more positive attitudes. Looking back at lost opportunities with regret rarely helps us. The moment to begin is now.”

A chapter is devoted to “the multiplicity of I’s” and it describes how during an afternoon Briggs assumed one identity after another, one set of responses after another set, with hardly a sense of any segues. He prefers or defers seemingly like an automaton, assuming one identity after another. Readers will find the experiences that he describes appropriate to their own everyday lives. What to do about this situation? “At every step we need peers …. Peers-without-quotation-marks can keep a person honest.”

“Risks in group work” is not the title of a chapter but it is the subject-matter of one interesting chapter, and it goes into detail about the tactics that people devise or evolve to deal with the natures of groups or schools and the natures of the people who attend them. “Jane Heap once said that Mr. Gurdjieff could see into the dark corners of all of us because he saw into all the dark corners in himself.” Briggs distinguishes between “remarkable attainments” and “unfortunate crystallizations.” At this juncture the role of “shocks” is discussed.

Here I felt the discussion was skating on thin ice, for Ouspensky had gone into much more detail, distinguishing, as he did, between the tramp and the lunatic. The former could not hold any single thought for any appreciable time while the latter could not entertain any thought but the one that currently obsessed him. However, Briggs does quote Gurdjieff: “Learn to like what ‘it’ dislikes.” There follows is a brief discussion of the role of “charm” and how it harms.

Students of the work will find the next two chapters to be of special interest – the chapter on Jane Heap of biographical and bibliographic interest, the chapter on Jean de Salzmann relevant to ongoing discussions of the drift or the direction taken by the Work since the 1960s. As Briggs explains, “Mr. Gurdjieff did not instruct Madame to continue everything in fixed and dogmatic ways. Her task was to sustain the clarity and expand the influence of the teaching, while helping relatively small numbers to experience a deepening inner engagement. Aside from exercises for beginning levels, such as you and I have discussed, Mr. Gurdjieff introduced approaches to silent work to a few people who had been with him for many years, and to others he considered prepared for this work. First among these was Madame de Salzmann.”

As Briggs expresses it, Asian teachings were making inroads in the West. “Madame de Salzmann needed to understand and assess these new influences in Western culture in relation to the Gurdjieff teaching, even as she responded to the demands of her special role. She never resisted speaking with teachers of established traditions, even traveling to meet them in their own institutions and behaving externally not as a teacher, but as a student. But the course of her work had been set long before, by Mr. Gurdjieff.” Elsewhere it is said that Madame attended the Bollingen lectures on Jung’s thought at Ascona and even journeyed to Cairo to meet the Traditionalist thinker René Guenon.

 Quite enjoyable are occasional references to Mrs. Staveley and the chapter devoted to the scalawag Fritz Peters. Briggs quoted Jane Heap on the latter personality: “In and out of groups, personal qualities are often mistaken for sincerity and truth.” A later chapter considers the special case of John Bennett, despite Briggs’s feeling that “it was difficult to discuss a figure possessing such useful skills, a great storehouse of intensity, and, from the viewpoint of those whom he influenced, a special and profound understanding of the Gurdjieff teaching.”

Bennett is seen as a man who placed “action” before “self-questioning” and risked the inadvertent mingling of all the traditions with which he was familiar with whatever one was at hand. Willem Nyland is also discussed. Had Nyland “gone off on his own” or had the rest of the followers “left the path”? As Briggs had little first-hand knowledge of Nyland, the point is not pursued.

 The chapter oddly titled “Rolling the Triangle” refers to the Law of Three, in general to the Active, Passive, and Neutralizing principles, with specific references to the Three Centres in man. Jane Heap introduced the notion to Briggs who explained how the “triangle” is “rolled” in the sense that each “role” is changed or rotated to create other bodily impressions through attention and wish. He concludes, “Inside us, potentially, are many orders of triangles.”

Later chapters refer to E.J. Gold, Idries Shah, Jan Cox, and Alex Horn, who tried to take the Work or at least its followers in directions of their own devising. A chapter is devoted to the so-called Fellowship of Friends led by Robert Burton. At one time his followers were dubbed “the bookmark people” because they were tasked to visit metaphysical bookstores and insert their own bookmarks into copies of books by Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and kindred writers. The bookmarks (handsomely produced; I own a couple) list telephone numbers of local groups. If there are still “bookmark people,” their bookmarks probably now include websites and email addresses. Briggs is surprisingly long-suffering and philosophical about these leaders and their groups: “Possibly a few people in centers led by such people sense something wrong and then look for more reliable sources.”

 The chapter “The Yen to Teach” is one of the few discussions of the role of the teacher or group leader that I have encountered, and it considers the responsibilities that leadership entails and the misconceptions that it generates. The discussion is brief but Briggs quotes a suggestive insight from his own teacher Jane Heap: “When you grab hold of something too tightly you press your own fingerprints into it.”

 The chapter “Our Final Face-to-Face Exchange” and the next one titled “Letters” describe Briggs’s failing health before he succumbed to cancer in England. They also include Opie’s importuning for guidance on how to regard the various centres, how they should relate to one another – not man’s inner centres, but the Work centres in the United States and in London and Paris. There was also what might be called the changing nature of the Work, or at least the change in direction or emphasis initiated by the Paris centre.

Briggs takes a long-range view of the effects of time and tide. “Few realize how much the Work moved during Gurdjieff ’s time in Europe in so far as he changed the way of passing on the Ideas a number of times. One period was all Movements, another his period of writing, another the intense work at the Prieuré, another work with very small groups, another a period of preparation during the war, and the last a period when in his declining years he himself had no more need and only cared for the people who came to him for their own sakes.”

Such changes or interchanges require greater efforts at cohesion. “Now we are coming to face a loneliness, where we have to take the responsibility, we have to draw closer together. This can only be done by exchange – by sharing – by watching – by remembering – in true openness. Relaxed and free and clear in our heads and hearts. What we do now we must do together and not alone. We are too weak to go it alone.”

The last chapters describe some of the ways in which Opie’s own life was affected by his friendship and fellowship with Briggs. Through Briggs, Opie grew close to Lord Pentland before the leader’s death in 1984. Then there is the almost elegiac sense that for efforts to take effect people must work together. This is expressed most clearly in one of the last letter that Pentland addressed to Opie: “I begin to see more clearly and without judgment or hostility that there is some chief weakness in our minds, in each of us, which so far we have all failed to conquer and that the Work’s future really does hang on some of us facing and sharing this individual difficulty with each other.”

It is reported that Briggs’s dying words were appropriate: “It’s all one.” And Opie’s book “Approaching Inner Work” is a work that is all of one piece. I have quoted substantially from the book, principally Briggs’s words and not Opie’s, because the latter is more than willing to step back to grant his subject the main speaking part. The book is very readable, very agreeable. In its pages I found a few facts and formulations new to me, and they may be new to other readers as well, but the principal value of this book lies not so much in what it reveals as in the demonstration of the fact that “inner work” continues, as long as we ask, in a heartfelt way, “What can I do?”

 

 

 John Robert Colombo, a Toronto-based author and anthologist, is mainly known for his work in the field of Canadiana. But he has a long-standing interest in mysteries and the paranormal. His forthcoming book (from Dundurn Group) is called “Jeepers Creepers” and it consists of fifty told-as-true paranormal experiences of Canadians with psychological commentaries. He is an occasional reviewers of books about the Work for this blogsite. For information on Colombo’s other books, or to be alerted to the appearance of forthcoming reviews and commentaries, email him at his website: < www. colombo. ca > .

Joseph Azize Reviews: THE REALITY OF BEING

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Jeanne de Salzmann

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Review of The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,

Jeanne de Salzmann, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2010

(293 pp, plus biographical note, list of de Salzmann founded Gurdjieff Centres, and index) Reviewer’s note, the book has been edited with a foreword by an anonymous team.

I have been pondering for two months: should I write a review of this book or not? The sublimity of some of this writing makes the idea reviewing it seem presumptuous, disrespectful and distasteful. At its best, this volume represents a unique spiritual literature, and bears ample evidence of the note-maker’s achievement, authority and stature. Reading in its pages for even five minutes, new vistas open, lines of study are confirmed and extended, and I receive fresh direction and hope. And yet I have questions, and even some misgivings, especially about the presentation of the material as an account of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way rather than as de Salzmann’s own Gurdjieff-influenced teaching, the decision to publish exercises, the descriptions of what I might call “higher states” (with the possibility of inviting self-delusion), and whether many people will understand anything much from the book who did not previously know de Salzmann or have not had firsthand experience in her groups.

But I decided to write when the question occurred to me: what would Jeanne De Salzmann wish for? Adulation? I cannot rush into rapture over the volume, if only because it has helped me. To fall now into gushing blandishments of the type Gurdjieff satirised in Meetings With Remarkable Men would be a betrayal. I feel a certain duty to try and impartially review this book exactly because, at first blush, it seems to defy all review.

Other of Gurdjieff’s pupils have written comparable material, the unpublished “black notebook” which Jane Heap kept comes to mind. There is some material from George Adie which is of this genre, but I have never released it, and have no intention of doing so, given my reluctance to publish exercises and descriptions of higher states because these might invite self-delusion. Some of Bill Segal’s material is of this genre, but I don’t think it can be compared with Reality of Being for power, depth or scope. So this is a unique work.

Whether those who did not know de Salzmann or her pupils can benefit from this volume is another question altogether. My guess is that those people may perhaps sense that there is something significant here, but will find it too opaque for them. It badly needs a full introduction and glossary.

Finally, before plunging this review, I must thank Dr Sophia Wellbeloved, who helped me see certain matters I had been colour-blind to. Sophia experienced de Salzmann at first hand, and her impartial but warm personal assessment merged, as it were, with the force of these writings, in which I have been immersed, to produce quite an impact on me.

The major problem, and it is a significant one, is the packaging. The issue would not arise had the book been presented, packaged and titled accurately, for example, as The Reality of Being: The “Vigilant Meditation” of Jeanne de Salzmann. The misstatement that this volume is a representation of the “Fourth Way of Gurdjieff”, which is a way in life, distorts any reading of the contents, because many of the statements here are meaningful or true only within the context of what de Salzmann calls “the work in the quiet” (48) and “vigilance and meditation” (58). This practice was developed by de Salzmann from Eastern models, as Bill Segal states in one memoir. Further, the book as edited moves backwards and forwards between “work in life”, and “work in the quiet” in a manner which is not always clear. It might be a personal development of the Fourth Way, or even a portion of it, but then, why the clunky subtitle The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff?

De Salzmann did not see this book into the press: she wrote notes which, to judge by the sample on p. 293 were like journals written up after a period spent in “vigilant meditation”. The anonymous editors of this volume have, after her death, marshalled some of these notes of her contemplative experience, and added some other “recorded statements”, (whatever form these may have taken, xviii). As the foreword states, she was: “… constantly reflecting on the reality of being and writing down her thoughts in her notebook,” (xvi). She also wrote ideas for meetings with her students. These two sets of notebooks were kept “like diaries”, (xvi), and were understood by the editors to be the “book” she referred to when she said that she was writing “a book on how to be in life, on the path to take in order to live on two levels. It will show how to find a balance …”, (xvi). At her death, the careful state of these notebooks were taken by “those closest to her” to be “a clear sign” that she had intended the material in them to “help complete Gurdjieff’s writing on a true vision of reality …”, (xvi). The editors can only mean that this book is her effort to “complete” the Third Series.

The impression of continuity with Gurdjieff, and that this is the “Third and a half series”, is strengthened by the editors’ disclosure ay p. xvi that: “She often echoed, and sometimes repeated, his (i.e. Gurdjieff’s) exact words”, e.g. the exercise on pp.196-7 of this book is also given in the Third Series. But then the editors announce two pages later that: “No attempt has been made to identify isolated excerpts taken by her from Gurdjieff or other writers”, (xviii).

Why not? I could understand if they had made an attempt but cautioned that they may not have been able to identify all such excerpts. But to make no effort? Did they feel they had no duty to Gurdjieff, de Salzmann or anyone else not to pass off one person’s work as another’s? I feel sure de Salzmann would never have agreed. A staggering number of references to Gurdjieff in the text have inexplicably been omitted from the index. Very strange.

When we turn to the index under “Gurdjieff”, we find the following entry and page references or “locators” (the technical term for the page references provided in an index):

Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch, 1-5, 295-7

It appears as if these are the only references to Gurdjieff in the volume. In fact, his name is also given at 22, 24, 64, 73, 100, 108, 120, 122, 133, 137, 172, 180, 181, 182, 183, 189, 196, 199, 235, 237, 280, 284, 286 and 292. Why omit so many locators from the index? The only argument I can see, which would not involve disrespect to Gurdjieff, is to say that the whole of the contents were so indebted to him that reference was pointless.

However, to argue thus is to miss the decisive point, as Aristotle said. It is an error for an index to omit proper names important to its readers, or to pass over occurrences of that name which go beyond mere mentions. Gurdjieff could hardly be more important to this book, yet the index has overlooked 22 or more references. Indexing is not easy: The Society of Indexers holds conferences and offers tutoring on indexing. Its web-site (www.indexers.org.au) includes this wisdom: “A good index can be much more than a guide to the contents of a book. It can often give a far clearer glimpse of its spirit than the blurb-writers or critics are able to do.” Quite so.

So, despite the often sublime contents, this book is something of an odd job. There are 140 entries. Each is of a fairly consistent length of between one and a half to two pages Presumably each piece was written on the one day (except where it was later supplemented by the mysterious “recorded statements”). Each of the 140 entries has a title, but no date, and they’re numbered 1 through to 140. The titles are written in Roman, e.g. “A nostalgia for Being” and ‘Only with a stable Presence”. These are arranged in 36 titled sections (32 sections have 4 entries, and 4 sections have but 3). The sections are unnumbered, and have italicised titles like: “To Remember Oneself” and “A Pure Energy”. Without exception, there are three sections to a chapter. The chapters are numbered in Roman numerals, and are titled “OPENING TO PRESENCE”, “TO BE CENTERED”, and so on.

The cover illustration is of a landscape beneath the night sky. In the lower heavens is an enneagram. On the earth, we see someone wearing what seems to be a bright red scarf. But it is a strange scarf: it looks as if a small inverted ziggurat has attached itself to someone’s back. Is it meant to represent the descending energies which de Salzmann writes of? Despite the Gurdjieff packaging, to put it that way, there is a photograph of the diarist, but none of Gurdjieff. Neither is an attempt made to relate her ideas to those of other people: yet this context could have helped people understand the significance of her writing. For example, she answers Hume’s enigma that one never finds a “self” (In A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume discussed the question of personal identity, and argued that we assume that we have a “self”, but in fact there is no evidence at all for this). Explaining this somewhere would make the volume more accessible for the very many people who are acquainted with Hume, but not Gurdjieff.

That is the contents. To speak of aims, the book is pretty clearly “missionary”. It is meant to attract people to the de Salzmann groups (hence p.301 with its list of centres, and its reference to the Reality of Being website, to meet the anticipated demand).

My intuition is that the actual motive to publish this quality hardback was not only to give those who knew her a substantial memento, but also to reach that elusive audience of seekers, and to establish an independent basis for de Salzmann’s reputation as a spiritual authority. Together with the previous Foundation-sponsored or inspired Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, Heart Without Measure, Without Benefit of Clergy, The Forgotten Language of Children, Tchekhovitch’s Gurdjieff: A Master in Life, and the volume of Parobola articles Ravindra edited, a bookshelf is being built up. In these books, Gurdjieff orthodoxy passes solely through de Salzmann, and other major figures such as Bennett, Ouspensky and Jane Heap barely exist, if at all. It is as if the Foundation has embarked on a publishing offensive.

Before each of the twelve parts of the volume, the editors have placed a page with some one-liners, presumably chosen for their punchy impact. The very first maxim on the very first of these pages, p.8, reads: “the child wants to have, the adult wants to be.” How could anyone write anything so glib and pat, I wondered to myself? If anything, it struck me, the exact opposite is true. But then I read the quotation in context on p.10: “We need to see our childishness in relation to the life force, always wishing to have more. The child wants to have, the adult wants to be. The constant desire for ‘having’ creates fear and a need to be reassured.” In other words, de Salzmann was explicitly speaking about the childish aspect of ourselves, not children in general. To place that sentence as a disembodied quote on a splash page was to invite misinterpretation.

De Salzmann wished to carry on and develop what Gurdjieff had brought, and yet, as Conge is reported to have said, it seemed as if Gurdjieff left something uncompleted in his work (noted in Ricardo Guillon, Record of a Search). It seems to me that most of Gurdjieff’s pupils supplemented his methods and ideas with methods and ideas from mystical traditions. My own view is that Gurdjieff’s heritage is equivalent to medicine: there is no reason why Christians, for example, should not use medicine, not matter who the doctor is, and the Gurdjieff system is one of psychological medicine.

Gurdjieff did not bequeath to de Salzmann an organization. She had to work indefatigably just to build up the Institute and to maintain its main branches in but three other cities: London, New York and Caracas. Then, through those “second level suns”, she could have an influence on other groups, and would travel to other places such as San Francisco. It was as if she had cardinals in Paris who would travel, especially to London and New York, where the councils were made up archbishops. Most of these then travelled to other places within their archdioceses. Gurdjieff had been the personal centre of his pupils. De Salzmann set up an institution which could effectively take over after the charismatic leader had gone, serving as a sort of school where guides and mentors might come and go, but the institution would survive and develop a sort of corporate personality. She had to position herself at the centre, and placed the emphasis of those aspects of the teaching she had mastered, that is, the groups and movements. Those parts where she was not quite so confident, especially the ideas and the books such as Beelzebub, she downplayed in comparison. For example, she early introduced a rule that there were to be no discussions of Beelzebub in the groups.

De Salzmann felt, it seems to me, that she needed her own special area to cement her authority. This is, I think, why she devised new means of “work” (where one speaks “from the present” after a “sitting”), and, of course, the sittings (or “quiet work”). If she was to base her authority, at least in part, on these, they had to be considered an essential component of the groups’ efforts, so she removed the competition: she stopped systematically teaching the Gurdjieff preparation and exercises. She also forbade the movements to be taught in their entirety: from a certain point in time, one only learnt parts of movements. It was said that this was to stop people like the Rajneeshis stealing them. But I do not think that that was all. I am not saying that that was not a factor, but I do not think it was determinative, because by ceasing to teach all of a movement, she ceased to teach them in the way Gurdjieff had intended. Her method of allowing only a few trusted instructors to have the entire movement from beginning to end was like thwarting an anticipated vandalism by committing it yourself.

Apart from the Gurdjieff omissions, there is another matter about the index I must raise. The problem with the entry for “tempo” is that there is none. There is a reference for “rhythm”, but there should also be one for “tempo”. At 192, De Salzmann uses “rhythm” and “tempo” as being equivalent terms. Relevant locators for “tempo” and instances where equivalents are used include 124, 139, 147 (“rhythmic order”), 182 (“the rhythms of all the functions”), 188, 192, 195, 209, 265 (“rhythm”), 272 and 273. This concept was important to de Salzmann. The understanding of tempo is linked to the understanding of the entire person in who these tempos operate. Interestingly, the English translation of Beelzebub, in the version Gurdjieff authorised, always uses the word “tempo”. Irrespective of what de Salzmann wrote in French, “they leave the general rhythm” is a mediocre translation: better to say “they fall out of” or even “they depart from” the general rhythm. But the point is in the meaning.

What Gurdjieff means is this: just as the different centres have their own individual tempos, so too, can one speak, as Gurdjieff does, of an “aggregate tempo” of our “common presence”. He says that one tempo (or, I think, limited range of tempos), is related to essence, and another much wider range of tempos supports the emergence of personality, and the other larger range supports the domination of personality. This is not the place to go into it in detail, but the tempos of Gregorian chant correspond to the tempo of essence. If one understands what one is doing, then one can change one’s aggregate tempo and thus come closer to essence. It is, therefore, a matter of the greatest practical importance.

Another obvious matter I have barely alluded to is that the struggle with negative emotion is not set out here along Gurdjieff’s method of what I might call ‘active mentation”, which is really a three-centred confrontation. De Salzmann’s method is more to seek a state where one does not feel negative emotion. That is something, but I don’t think it is enough.

There is so much more I could say, for example, her comments on “tonus” anticipate what I came to about “pitch”. But this suffices for now. This is primarily a de Salzmann book and only secondly in the Gurdjeiff line. Much of the material is of the first significance for those seeking a finer consciousness which stands behind and above our other functions.

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

John Lennon: Part 19: “How?” and “Borrowed Time”

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THE JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE 

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

 

                     

John Lennon: Essence and Reality

Part 19: “How?” and “Borrowed Time”

This blog is subtitled “Essence and Reality”, because Lennon’s artistic work embodies a movement towards truth. The quest for truth about himself (essence) and about the world (reality) bewitched him with a sort of wondering enchantment. Of course, these two poles of reality, essence and reality, are part of a triad. We shall discuss the third term in this triad in the next blog, when we consider “Strawberry Fields Forever”. But for now, we’ll see how both development and continuity are visible over the course of the ten years which separated “How?” (1970) from “Borrowed Time” (1980). Simply put, the continuity between these two gems is in Lennon’s search for real values, a search which was guided by a goal that he could feel but not articulate. In “How?” from the Imagine album, he sings:

How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?

How can I go forward when I don’t know which way to turn?

How can I go forward into something I’m not sure of? Oh no. Oh no.

We feel the questioning in Lennon’s voice, the melody line and the arrangement. A person with no English whatsoever could sense from the sound alone that this is a song of searching. There is also a subtle irony here: although Lennon sings about going forward, the tune is gently but firmly descending. The emphasis, slight but all the more poignant for that, is on the first word: “how?” The question is elegantly but firmly put. The gentleness of the music suggests what the a sensitive reading of the lyrics confirms: that Lennon is not doubting that it is possible to go forward. No, Lennon is asking how it is possible to go forward when he does not know which way that is. Implicitly, he realises that he can go backwards, but does not wish to. The first verse does not disclose what his desired direction is, but only that he aches because he does not know. His suffering comes from his unsureness. The second verse takes the querying even deeper:

How can I have feeling when I don’t know if it’s a feeling?

How can I feel something if I just don’t know how to feel?

How can I have feelings when my feelings have always been denied? Oh no.

Even more than with the first verse, there is a quiet urgency about the music. The drum both marks time and treads time: it’s suggestive of a clock telling that time is passing but all the while nothing is happening. In the third line, the words “feelings” is accented and a little anguished. But we now know, at least, that he wants not just intellectual realisation and certainty but the sense of “sureness” which comes with feeling (and, we might add, specifically of the feeling of oneself as living here and now). And Lennon knows something else, too, he knows what he does not know, he knows what he lacks. This is the key which Socrates found: that it is wisdom of realising whereof we are ignorant. As Gurdjieff said:

… most sleeping people will say that they have an aim and that they are going somewhere. The realisation of the fact that he has no aim and that he is not going anywhere is the first sign of the approaching awakening of a man or of awakening becoming really possible for him. Awakening begins when a man realises that he is going nowhere and does not know where to go. (In Search of the Miraculous, 158).

The other impressive aspect here is that Lennon realises that he confuses his feelings with ideas. We all do, and we get especially confused over ideas of what we should or should not be feeling. The result is that as we perceive our emotions, an internal and intellectual judge appears and may rebuke or praise ourselves for the emotion. This happens time and time again, and becomes automatic. When our internalised voice is critical of our emotions, especially those which are pleasurable, it often induces a sort of paralysis. Emotion is an impulse, but this judge is another impulse which condemns the first one or otherwise denies it. So it is that two internal antagonistic forces stand in electric opposition, while something very small but also very real is stricken with a sort of fear or horror. The song continues:

You know, life can be long, and you’ve got to be so strong.

And the world is so tough, sometimes I feel I’ve had enough.

The music heralds a change in mood. It is not exactly that it becomes gentler: the song already exemplifies the union of gentleness and strength which can only come from compassion. It is more that Lennon pauses for a moment in his search to consider his position, and how far he has yet to go along a difficult road. That is, at this point, the song’s centre of focus shifts from deep inside. Lennon opens his eyes and heart, and looks around. This larger perspective reappears in the next verse:

How can I give love when I don’t know what it is I’m giving?

How can I give love when I just don’t know how to give?

How can I give love when love is something I ain’t ever had? Oh no.

Again, there is not any doubt except that there is such a reality as love, or that he wants to feel it and to share it. But, he states, he has never felt love, and does not know how to share that or anything else of himself, for that matter. Could this really be true? It depends, I think, on which one means by love. Here, the love he feels in its absence is something which fills the spaces between people. When he comes to the reprise again, Lennon makes an artistically perfect swerve:

You know, life can be long, and you’ve got to be so strong

And the world she is tough, sometimes I feel I’ve had enough.

There is an almost transcendent poignancy in the way that Lennon sings “And the world, she is tough.” It isn’t whinging, it isn’t even complaining. It is objective, sympathetic and supportive all at once. When I think of the song, it’s usually this phrase which first comes to mind. Lennon then repeats the first verse, and the song is done. It has a clean, clear finish. No fade out, just a long closing chord which ends the piece on an upwards note.

How?” is, to my mind, one of Lennon’s greatest “primal” songs. Arthur Janov, author of the Primal Scream, told Lennon that a resolution of our suffering is possible by experiencing one’s own pain, and releasing it in a cathartic scream. It was a version of “getting it out of your system”. Lennon had been pursuing, among other things, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation, and left wing political causes. But he had become disillusioned with the Maharishi, and had even turned to hard drugs. Someone sent him a copy of Janov’s book, and this turned his attention, once more, to internal factors as being decisive in our situation.

Lennon had always had an intuition that the prime arena for our struggles is inside. This surfaced in early in his career, for example, in 1963’s “There’s a Place”(see part 7 of this series) and 1968’s “Revolution”, where he sings:

You say you’ll change the constitution … we want to change your head.

You tell me it’s the institution … you better free your mind instead.

This being Lennon’s basic position, Janov’s thesis met a receptive audience. The idea that all that was needed was medical therapy must also have been appealing. Lennon and Ono entered into treatment with Janov. However after a relatively short but intense period, they left. Lennon had become sceptical of Janov as a person, and came to feel that Janov was exploiting their celebrity, which was probably quite true. However, my reading is that they had benefitted from Janov’s therapy as much as they ever would. And having taken what they could, Lennon went off in his individual way, as was his wont. As often happens, however, we often can’t move on until there has been some sort of personal falling out (and we even engineer such quarrels, more or less unconsciously, when it’s time to go).

Janov’s psychiatric approach worked to a certain extent, but not, I think, because his thesis was correct. In fact, I think it’s wrong. To the extent that it does work, I suspect that it’s because it brings consciousness to our situation. The John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band album captures Lennon’s raw awareness of his situation after the Janov experience (see postings 5, 8 and 15). It is not enough, however, simply to know that I have a problem, as the self-pity on some of those tracks, such as “Isolation” would suggest. Yet, if I know my suffering deeply enough, an implicit intelligence in me (the higher part of the brains or centres, to use Gurdjieff’s terms) will often deal with the issue. That is, generally, we only think in terms of backing one of two sides: we either refuse to continue in denial and to feel guilty, or else we suppress the original emotion which the censor in us condemns. But the higher parts of our intellectual and emotional brains tacitly understand that there is no future in this conflict, and slowly, or even sometimes suddenly, our attitude changes under this new influence. How did Lennon change? This is revealed, to some extent, in the posthumously released “Borrowed Time”. Recorded in 1980, it was not released until 1984 on the Milk and Honey album.

When I was younger, ha-ha.

Living confusion and deep despair.

When I was younger, a-ha.

Living illusion of freedom and power.

When I was younger, a-ha.

Full of ideals and broken dreams, my friends.

When I was younger, a-ha.

Everything simple, but not so clear.

Living on borrowed time without a thought for tomorrow.

Now I am older, a-huh.

The more that I see, the less that I know for sure.

Now I am older, a-ha.

The future is brighter and now is the hour.

Living on borrowed time without a thought for tomorrow.

Illusions, ideals, and broken dreams. The bouncy reggae influence in the music belies the rawness of the confession. Yet, it all works. That Lennon used reggae here is not surprising given not only Lennon’s love of the genre, but also that the title words apparently were suggested to Lennon by a Bob Marley song. The music is not Lennon’s greatest achievement, but it serves the lyrics, and nicely supports the positive message, and the message beneath the words is that time, the time of our lives, is valuable. The music adds to the sagely impartiality of the lyrics. There then follows the last verse and refrain, and Lennon’s comic remarks in the fade out:

Good to be older, a-huh.

Would not exchange a single day or a year.

Good to be older, a-ha.

Less complication and everything clear.

Living on borrowed time without a thought for tomorrow.

Oh yes, it all seemed so bloody easy then.

You know, like what to wear, very serious like.

How am I going to get rid of the pimples?

Does she really love me?

And all that crap!

But now I don’t bother about that shit no more,

I know she loves me!

All I got to bother about is standing up.

I don’t wish to lose sight of what is really critical in this song, and that is the affirmation that our lives are truly valuable. Some things are good, and our time is one of them, so let’s not waste it by thoughtlessness. “Now is the hour! Use it!”, this philosopher is saying. Lennon’s sense of paradox is as sharp as ever: he says that when he was young it seemed that everything was simple, and that it was more complicated. How can this be? When we’re young, we’re cocksure, that makes our outlook on the world both pretentious and simplistic. But we don’t know how to get the hundreds of things we want, and that produces clashing waves of complexity. Now that Lennon is older, he sees more clearly. Seeing more clearly, he knows that he has been prone to over-dramatise matters, a very common failing. We all of us lose perspective at some point or other, hence the line, “what to wear, very serious like”. Also, the simplicity of youth is, to an extent, the result of the illusions, ideals and dreams. When I am totally identified with an ideal or a fantasy everything seems straightforward. Too straightforward, Lennon is saying now. Remove the distorting effect of that over-simplification, and shades of grey start to appear.

Another paradox is that at, one and the same time, Lennon can sing “now is the hour”, and yet he is aware that he was deficient in not giving a thought to tomorrow. Only to the extent that I am present now, can I see what my situation is, and anticipate the needs of myself and of those around me. Again, the artistic touch is far more satisfying and makes the point more sharply than the didactic approach. Another benefit of Lennon’s ironies is that they leave something to the listener. Yoko Ono was always trying to have the audience involved in the art. The idea was good, but I don’t think the intellectual approach to it worked. Lennon shared in her interest, but did it more traditionally and more effectively. Lennon gives you something to tease out for yourself.

And, of course, another factor in his new life is the happiness Lennon has found in family life with Yoko and Sean (see parts 3, 4 and 12). He can now relax in the love he has found, instead of torturing himself with insecurities and doubts. With this, then, we have a clear and engaging picture of how far he had come in only ten years. Lennon had, at this point of his life, engaged in radical questioning of himself, his aims and his values. This song shows the public a man, wiser and older, who has found in his life a basis to meet whatever challenges may lie ahead of him. So, despite my regard for Gary Tillery’s book, I cannot agree that Lennon was a cynical idealist. However disappointed he may have been, he always believed with an intestinal fervour that there was a way forward and that his time did mean something.

Lennon’s career was extraordinary in that, in a very short period, he experienced so much so intensely, but was always groping, even with eyes shut, for what he truly was. Just when he seemed to have been lost himself, to have drowned in narcotics, or left-wing politics, or avant-garde art, Lennon came out on the other side. It’s also telling that, so far as I can see, Lennon was never addicted to probably the most prevalent drug in the modern world: materialism. David Kherdian once said something which I could paraphrase as follows: if a person is not totally identified with success in their field, then that very success can teach them the important lesson that success is not everything. What really counts is was we make for ourselves inside.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

 

       

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

       

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

July 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm

TAMING YOUR INNER TYRANT: PATTY DE LLOSA

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 THE JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO PAGE

 

     

Taming Your Inner Tyrant

The New Book by Patty de Llosa’s Is Reviewed by John Robert Colombo

It seems an odd thought for anyone to have, but whenever I think of Patty de Llosa, what comes to mind is the image of a tyrant. Now a tyrant is someone who illegitimately seizes and wields power for his (or her or its) own ends; who illegitimately supplants the rightful ruler; who despotically brings about the ruin of the state (or the state of one’s being). Some self-styled rulers turn into mild-mannered tyrants, more authoritarian than democratic, but all of them, in time, given their head, become autocrats. All of them are sedevacantists – that is, usurpers who have no right to their thrones of power or to their seats of judgement. The worst tyrants of all are our “inner demons.”

Let me hasten to say that Patty de Llosa is no tyrant for she is not the least bit tyrannical in person! She may be a woman of firm judgement, but her judgement and deportment are tempered with a sense of considerable presence. In some ways she is mild-mannered; in others, very direct in manner – a working combination of opposites. In person, and in print, she exudes the power of concentration. Although based in New York City, she has numerous contacts in North and South America, and is a frequent and welcome visitor to Work centres in Toronto and elsewhere.

Here is one paragraph of description taken from her website: “Patty de Llosa is a Contributing Editor of ‘Parabola Magazine.’ She has led group classes, day-long workshops and week-long intensives in the Gurdjieff work, T’ai Chi and Taoist meditation and teaches the Alexander Technique both privately and in group classes. Among her most recent venues are Northern Pines Health Resort; the Peruvian Akido Association; the Lake Conference Center, New York; Columbia University’s Graduate Theatre Program and the Society for Experimental Studies, Toronto.”

As an editor and writer, Ms. De Llosa is making a genuine contribution to “Parabola,” the quarterly magazine published by the Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, now in its 36th year. She is the author of a valuable and highly readable memoir titled “The Practice of Presence” (issued in an attractive edition by Morning Light Press in 2006). In its pages she discusses five formative influences on her life. She calls these the “Five Paths for Daily Life” – T’ai Chi & Taoism, Jung & Individuation, The Teaching of Gurdjieff, Prayer & Meditation, F.M. Alexander’s Mind / Body Integration.

I now associate the word “tyrant” with Ms. De Llosa because of the title of her new book. To be sure, Ms. Llosa is a tyrant-tamer rather than a tyrannical being herself. The book is titled “Taming Your Inner Tyrant” and it bears the subtitle “A Path to Healing through Dialogues with Oneself.” (From now on, I will try to resist thinking of her as a pith-helmeted, lion-taming Clyde Beatty, wielding a mighty bull-whip!) Here are some bibliographical details.

The volume is a handsome trade paperback, 5.75″ x 8.5″, xviii + 214 pages, with a striking cover in an unusual shade of crimson which features a devil-mask that seems Middle or South American or Tibetan or Whatever! It is an all-purpose mask, fierce and fiery, evocative of the “Indian-giver” nature of depictions of powerful entities and deities in tribal art. The publisher a new one to me: A Spiritual Evolution Press, 8 Luccarelli Drive, Holmdel, New Jersey 07733, U.S.A. The company’s website < www.aSpiritualEvolution.com > was not up-and-running when I last checked. The author’s website is an active one < www.tamingyourinnertyrant.com >. The book’s ISBN is 978-0-9822323-1-6.

The text of the book consists of an introduction, seventeen chapters, and an epilogue, followed by sections of acknowledgements, author’s biography, and bibliography. The bibliography concentrates on books and tapes that are relevant to the contents of “Taming Your Inner Tyrant,” making this a book (at once a memoir and a self-help publication) that is both of interest and of use, especially to women. The book is dedicated “to my many teachers,” especially to G.I. Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann, but also to C.G. Jung and the Canadian therapist and author Marion Woodman. There are two epigraphs, the first from Gurdjieff about “the death of that ‘Tyrant’ from whom proceeds our slavery in this life,” and the second from Northrop Frye: “The tyrant is the man who narrows the scope of life, in other words creates a hell out of human life.”

The two epigraphs neatly skewer Ms. Llosa tyrant, “a hypercritical judge who monitors your every word and action, and tells you what’s wrong with you.” In the Introduction she writes about her very own inner tormentor, or tormentors, and how over the decades of her life she tried to come to terms with this inner demon, or these inner demons, principally employing the insights of Carl Jung’s “Active Imagination,” Marion Woodman’s notion of “the wounders and the wounded,” pharmaceuticals, disciplines like T’ai Chi, etc.

It is the present reviewer’s preference to refer to such a demon as “an impersonality” rather than as “a personality” – an “It” rather than a “He” or a “She” – because its essential nature is mechanicality. It can be counted upon to behave surprisingly, as if devilishly programmed. But Ms. De Llosa has found it more effective to personify or anthropomorphize these powers or presences or abilities (or disabilities) in order to deal with the legion of them. By following in the footsteps of Jung, she goes about “stripping them of their power.” She does this in an unusual way, which I will try to describe.

The seventeen chapters in effect recount the story of Ms. De Llosa’s life, which took her from her childhood in New York City to married life in Lima, Peru, and then back to New York City where she was the sole support for her three children. She worked with distinction as a writer and editor for Henry Luce’s publications. Hovering over the narrative are her parents, Louise and William Welch, who were very active in the Gurdjieff work in New York City, Toronto, Halifax, and presumably other centres as well, where their memories remain ever green.

In the pages of “The Practice of Presence” she writes autobiographically. Of particular interest is how at the age of fifteen years she met Gurdjieff at the Wellington Hotel in January 1949. The meeting left a lasting impression. (The story of the eight silver dollars that he presented to her as a challenge is a Work classic.) But in the present book, it is inner disturbances and difficulties that are highlighted, if that is the verb to use to refer to illumining “the dark side” of the human personality. Here the reader will encounter detailed descriptions of the specific approaches that she developed to handle these ever-present, ever-irritating tyrants of negativity. In doing so, she drew on the teachings of Gurdjieff and Jung, T’ai Chi and the Alexander method, etc.

Ms. De Llosa’s “tyrants” may be seen variously as “personality fragments,” archetypes, roles, complexes, secondary personalities, “other selves,” etc. The author wisely steers clear of a single definition of the dynamics involved, for she is most concerned with recognizing their presence within her personality or psyche. She does so, chapter by chapter, in terms of her own experiences. She gives these tyrants labels or names – like Woman in a Coma, the Frightened Child, Nice-Guy, and Mrs. Rigid – and then she proceeds to converse with them, questioning them, and in the process disarming them.

Each chapter comes in three parts. The first part of a chapter consists of a straight-forward description of a painful episode in the author’s life. Readers will identify with these difficulties because they are neither common nor uncommon but characteristic problems and wounds, traumas and injuries, of our time. The second part of each chapter takes the form of a dialogue between the author’s conscious self and one of her unconscious selves. Here the author’s questions appear in italics, and the answers that were given to her appear in bold italics. The third part of each chapter adds an unexpected dimension to the book, a contribution that alone is worth the list price of $14.95. This unique feature consists of advice, in bold type, about the general attitude one should take to one’s self, one’s problems, one’s possibilities, and everyday living.

Chapter 14 offers a good instance of the three-part work in progress. The chapter is titled “Woman in a Coma” and it begins with a short description of the advent of the feeling of inertia, sleepiness, and indecision that will overcome most people, usually later in life, often in the early afternoon. Following the description is the exchange in dialogue form. It may seem innocent enough on the surface, but there are surprises beneath the surface. Q. “Why am I afraid? How can I live more in balance?” A. “Know whom you serve.” The response sounds a little like the one of those replies generated by the Ouija board, but this is only one exchange in a series of about three dozen in that chapter alone. Indeed, whom does one serve? The responses provoke thinking and evoke feeling.

The unique feature in this chapter consists of a series of separately titled paragraphs. Each paragraph offers a different “take” on the situation. There are nine “takes” for this chapter and these are, in effect, nine meditations, each one a single paragraph in length. The first one seems reasonable enough: “Accept Inner Division.” The second one may seem debatable: “Only gentleness can deal with fearfulness.” The third one strikes me as very relevant: “Challenge the attitude that life is an ordeal.” The fourth one makes a distinct psychological contribution: “Question reactions, look for responses.” I could continue to summarize the rest, but instead will jump to the ninth which goes like this: “The benefit of the doubt is real, too.” These meditations are a singular and irreplaceable part of this book.

So when I think about Patty de Llosa, the conditioned response I have is to think about her as a tyrant-slayer, Clyde Beatty. But that is wrong because that is not what “Taming Your Inner Tyrant” is about. It is about learning to live with one’s contradictions, with these “presences” that Freud called “reaction formations” and Jung termed “enantiodromias.” The attractive characteristic of “Taming Your Inner Tyrant” is that the author’s approach is a awesome flowering from the tangled roots of the possibilities, contradictions, setbacks, and successes of her own life. This flowering offers readers the fruits of her own, hard-won wisdom – principles and procedures and approaches that will prove to be useful to every attentive reader.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and editor with a special interest in Canadiana and the mysterious. His current book, published by Dundurn Group, is titled “Fascinating Canada.” Earlier this year he published a collection of aphorisms called “Improbabilities.” He is an occasional reviewer of Work-related publications for this website. His own website is  www.colombo.ca      

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

June 17, 2011 at 10:01 am

EFFORTS TO CHANGE: AN EXCHANGE WITH GEORGE ADIE

THE JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

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Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

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Efforts to Change: An Exchange with George Adie,

29 November 1979


[It is possible to actually come to a point of change. The only questions are when and how. Too frequently, we’re needlessly passive before our denying factors. But it is a fact: progress is possible.]

 

Sam opened: “Last week, Mr Adie, I’ve experienced a lot of loneliness, what I call a feeling of despair, and self-pity, and thoughts about myself being on my own. I’ve tried, with what feels like some success, to work against this by choosing one person in the day for external consideration; to consider one person in the day, particularly, to shift the focus from myself. And … along with these observations, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about where it comes from.”

Where the depression comes from? What have you come to?”

Well, the events in my life are that there’s a family living with me at the moment, and they’ve bought their own house, and are going to move out. And I’m anticipating missing them. And I think that also connects with other events in my past. Two questions come from that. One is, how am I to understand this experience, and what attitude should I have to it? And the other question is, how should I work with it?”

You try to confront it. That is, you try to be quiet, balanced, and then produce this to yourself. Really, to be separate from it.”

Yes, I’ve tried after the preparation.”

It’s part of the preparation, in a way”, replied Adie. The preparation is the morning exercise Adie learnt from Gurdjieff, referred to in his book. “You’re in this state of stillness, apart from external interferences. You try to understand it. You be patient, you be present to the question. You expect to just sort of turn up a thought and then, in a flick, just find an answer: but you can’t like that. The answer has to come in different terms altogether. For instance, you say to have external rather than internal consideration for a person.”

No, what I said was to have external consideration for someone else and to shift my focus from on my own self-pity, to have concern for someone other than myself.”

Yes, but you’ve got to do the shifting of yourself first. Then external consideration can take place. To what extent it can take place will depend upon your being there. If you really confront it, or try to think about what these things really are, you will see that you’re weaving a web of nothing, creating a big mountain out of almost nothing.”

It’s just an associative sort of dreaming”, continued Adie, “what’s going to happen? You don’t know what’s going to happen at all. Don’t you see that you’re passive, you give in to it? You have to use it to come more deeply to yourself. I can speak about centralizing myself, but I’m still working peripherally … I’m still in the head and not really strongly centred in my sensation. I want more emphatic sensation. Definite. Now, what do I think? All else is this shifting peas, trivial, lightweight … almost nothing … What is the reality?

Then you speak of the feeling of loneliness. That can be extremely useful. But it is very much necessary to change it from loneliness into being alone. I need to be alone. Who am I going to take with me when the time comes? I can take no one, I can take nothing. At that time, everything, my imagination, my perceived loneliness, will be all blotted out.”

That’s from one point of view: that’s as far as my desire to not be lonely. But in fact I should take the benefit of all that unconfronted, misunderstanding within me. That is my past, in some lower form. You can’t destroy the thing. It’s pretty horrible, so I can’t afford to give in to any negativeness. But your past also yields a higher form. You are one of Mr Gurdjieff’s pupils by second stage – that’s not nothing. That’s not nothing. Now you come very much in touch with it. That’s very substantial.” As a final comment, he added: “There’s a lot of sort of dodgy stuff about it, you know, it’s very artistic.”

I see the helplessness of it,” agreed Sam.

This is the lower element, but don’t lend yourself too much to this side. There’s no need to be lonely – you can have yourself. If you have yourself then you’re anything but lonely. This loneliness means that something in me is seeking an external prop. So, let me stop seeking external props. I need a meal, I need some recreation, so let me go and have it, but, to sit moaning for props? So, be active, innerly active. Your hope is based on your immediate presence. Very definite.”

Then you can have some hope, otherwise, no hope. And to live without hope is not very good, but it’s all based on now. Now. There’s no future hope. All hope is present. Obviously what is to come depends upon now. Don’t want it to change. Use it, find it useful. Kick against the pricks. be interested, otherwise you’ll weave a sort of miserable gloom and you won’t see what happens when they leave.”

The next question, from Mick, again related to what Adie had said about “producing to yourself” the negative emotion, and confronting it with a quiet presence.

Mr Adie, I’ve found a clear voice within me that leads me into dissatisfaction and considerings. A form of personality: a fantasy voice that comes up and says “that doesn’t sound too good”, or it says “this would sound better”.”

Supposing you give an illustration, Mick, or an experience of it. What you say is clear enough, but give an example of it if you have one.”

Well last weekend I saw an a position in a newspaper for a job that seemed to be a better job than the one I have, even though it’s a good job. This is the instance when I first noticed this voice, the voice said this job sounds better, it would sound better to say.”

That you would be a sergeant rather than a corporal?”

Yes, and during the week I noticed that voice, and realised that it had been there a long time, but I had never noticed it at all, or confronted it, but I enjoyed it, and I remember daydreaming with it, playing with it. I’d like to know how to get a handle to eliminate it.”

Welcome it!” replied Adie. “Open the door! Say: “Please come in!” It will hate it if you’re there. The difficulty will be to get it to come in: it will wait until you’ve gone to sleep, and then it will come along. This is where the flash comes in: our work goes in flashes, and in a flash you can be quicker, and confront it before it can disappear. Use it, be present to it, every time it comes trotting along, medals out and all the rest, you begin to hear it coming.”

But I’ve tried that this week.”

You tried it like that? How have you tried it?”

Well, I haven’t been present to it or welcomed it.” At this, everyone laughed.

Ah. So you haven’t had the idea of welcoming it. I’ve got to be a bit quiet inside. All this takes place inside, the corporals and sergeants and all that. I have to be very quiet, I have to take my work more deeply, relax more. But that’s a good observation, and it’s the same for everybody, there’s nobody here hasn’t got dreams and hasn’t had dreams. It’s very familiar, it couldn’t be otherwise. Couldn’t be otherwise. Everybody wants to be something, to achieve something, and things around that. Dreams of success, dreams of profit, dreams of glory. It starts very early. Look at how hero worship is educated into young children. They’re encouraged, they stimulate it with books and films. Chaps that have got long legs and can run a bit faster, they give them prizes for it, and make them into heroes. Is it clearer?”

I’m not sure what you said about taking it a little deeper.”

Be more present, be deeper inside. Don’t be satisfied with your old degree of sincerity. Just be a bit quieter and confront this thing. See the stupidity of it. Didn’t you follow what we were discussing with Sam? It relates to you, doesn’t it, although you haven’t got exactly the same conditions.”

I take my work seriously, and the only thing that is up to it is my inner centre of discrimination, but if I only discriminate in my head, it’s no good. You know how it is said that nothing can exist without three forces, active and passive and neutralising. And here are three forces, instinctive and moving force, emotional force and intellectual force – broadly – and they all have to all take part. Well. they’re not centred in the toes. if anything they’re centred here, you see. And I need that sense of myself before anything.” Adie must have gestured to a part of his body when he said “centred here”.

Love and attraction is very, very powerful. It generally comes from same central place which moves the whole of you, but when we think of something, our head takes centre-stage, the body is asleep, and the head goes dodging about, looking through queer holes, and understanding nothing.”

Mr Adie, I mentioned it a long time ago”, said Ida, “about how when my husband comes home, and he criticises me for something in the house that not’s right, or about me, I get defensive and react. When I first started to try and work on it, I saw that if I was criticised I saw a need to hit back and retaliate. Now I find that I don’t retaliate.”

Not in the same form. What form does it take now?”

It’s a sullen silence.”

In a way, that’s worse from his point of view.”

Yes, because when I tended to hit back quickly, it was over and done with, but now it tends to smoulder.”

Well now, if you relate that situation to what we’ve just been saying, then you can transform that … something more is possible.”

I see the energy that’s wasted.”

Yes, and you could have that for yourself. There’s nothing that won’t feed me if I can be in the right place. More and more we try and understand what alchemy is. Alchemy is the transformation of one kind of energy into another, negative into positive; the transformation of coarse metal into fine: gold. It is always said of the alchemist that before he can do that, he has to have some gold to start with. This gold is our presence, this is the gold that we need to bring, our presence. This will transform, so that you have more energy. Well, that is a picture, but it needs confrontation. You need to compare that, that marvellous reality, with this dubious and horrible alternative.”

You can’t expect him to change, but if you change yourself, it would help him. He would be in the presence of a different process. Of course, in that connection, you’ve got to be prepared for him to be more annoyed because you don’t react quite in the same way. But, if you have your presence, you won’t offend. If you merely disdainfully put him away or close into yourself, it’s more offensive than coming out fighting. It has to be done in the presence of.”

You can’t cut off from it: you’re right in the thick of it, you wake up inside it, and then you make your transformation. This extraordinary invocation in the Bible, “thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” What does that mean? One repeats it, but what does it mean? Here is one’s enemy, very clearly, isn’t it? Enemies of my being, and here is the table. If I eat it, if I take it, I get my food, my feast. Try and think like that, think how, and of course I have to be practical, too. Try and be practical.”

This is my inner work, it’s not concerned so much with my comfort. Things will get better if I work that way, but I want to make this alchemy the key of my effort. All the other efforts are sort of partial efforts, they’re conditional upon my getting some satisfactions and all the rest. This is the only pure, unmixed effort. If I can make a pure effort, I certainly can get the energy, no doubt, but it’s difficult, it means swallowing things which in the usual way I could never swallow. And it isn’t swallowing to take them swallow them slowly and painfully. I’ve got to take them almost gladly, and that’s hell.”

I have not included the next question. The one after was brought by Stan. “ I’ve been trying to look at my dreams in my tense state. I’ve noticed the types of dreams that have been going on supporting this state.”

Part of it,” replied Adie. “They’re together. The dreams encourage the state, the state makes ground for the dreams.”

That’s really my question. I’ll give you some examples. One dream I can remember very clearly, I sat down, I imagined very vividly, and with my whole emotions, that I was having an argument with my boss, but behind that there seemed to be a certain attitude. I was in the commanding position. But I could feel all my emotional force being drawn out through this.”

Negative imagination: a definite kind of process.”

Will I give a few more examples?”

Well, what about this example? Maybe the other examples are different: what about the question here?”

First thing I noticed about it, there was a certain satisfaction in it. There was a tense state about it.”

Yes. We’ve already been told that from our childhood we have enjoyed our negative emotions, very difficult, everybody would have said at the beginning, oh, of course I hate my negativity, I don’t like it. But as you truly say there’s a certain satisfaction: there’s some dog rather liking its bone, dog in me who finds there’s something there. This thing likes the fight it’s winning. This is an imaginary I, part of false personality enjoying itself at your expense, the expense of your blood, and not only that, but of your Kesdjan blood.”

I think that as soon as I see this dangerous negative imagination, obviously I should try and change my state, because it can go on and on, and I can bleed. I have seen what my state is now, and now, directly, I want to put a stop in. Give it a shock. Register what it is, that I need to move, and change my posture, take a breath, go for a walk. Whatever helps. I can surely take that as a point to begin work. The difficult part is that I have to somehow keep on, but eventually it will slow down. It’s only got to be unguarded, and it will go again, you see?”

So, my effort is more to stop dreaming?”

Certainly, but you described dreaming mixed with negative imagination. This emotionalism has to be stopped. But how do you stop?”

There was a pause in the conversation, before Adie continued: “You take your energy away, take it to yourself. You don’t have anything to do with this poison at all. You see, if you start to hang onto it you can destroy yourself. You go to yourself. You go and take the energy in.”

What of the attitude, Mr Adie?”

The attitude? The attitude gradually changes. What attitude can I have other than that I’m being sucked dead, and soon there will be only a corpse. I’m a compulsed, forced nothing, Immediately there’s a different attitude possible, based on finer matter, move. And then I can have an attitude, an intentional attitude. The attitude I want is based on choice. I choose not to waste my force like that, so I have an attitude grounded centrally: an attitude which can look up as well as down, an attitude which is open and not closed. An attitude which can move, which is mobile. How do you understand “attitude”? It isn’t only a mental thing. It’s everything, it’s my feeling and my thought, of course, but the thought has to be connected with feeling and sense, otherwise it’s a dead thought. People commit horrible crimes when they’re cut off from feeling and sensation. If they had feeling and sensation it would be entirely different.”

I find that my whole day is a system of dreams,” Stan continued: “not all as emotional as that, but all different things, coming all the time.”

Good, you’re finding that out. Then, what is your plan for work? Now, according to what you’ve seen, according to what you’ve received, you make a plan. If you make a plan, perhaps you don’t carry it out: but you see why you didn’t. You’re still learning something. Or maybe you do carry it out for a little bit: it’s a whole process of becoming born, and being created, or awakening, which is gradual, gradual, gradual, depending on your self-impulse, and the exercise of your own small degree of will. The more you observe yourself, the more you relax, the more you will see what your state is by the set of your face, the direction of your eyes, and it will tell you about your inner state, and again you will make small adjustments. And now that probably covers all your other illustrations, but if it doesn’t, bring the other examples.”

In my efforts, I would have to try and stop dreaming all the time, wouldn’t I?”

But you can’t do it all the time”, Adie replied. “You do it some time, by intention. Nobody can make effort all the time. But you can make efforts occasionally, when you get called. Every now and then, you come up, otherwise you couldn’t make these observations. But you don’t observe yourself all the time.”

You see that you’re manifesting like this, and become despairing. But you only conclude that it’s like that all the time, because these are the things you see when you start to awaken. When you say it goes on all day, it sounds hopeless, but choose certain moments and don’t worry about the rest. These moments when you’re called are the moments when you can make effort. If you relate this to your preparation, and plan with it, you find more light each time, you have more connection with your intention when the time comes. I have to have intent, otherwise I have no power of action, and then everything goes automatically. The whole essence of what I’m trying to say is that we really have this will-potential in us, we have this possibility. This is what I have to bring into my work – at points – and I plan to allow this to be touched as often as possible. You can prepare to make use of your periodic fits of madness, because there’s something definite. That’s the practical way to work.”

Half way through the next question, unfortunately, the tape ran out.

edited Joseph Azize, 12 June 2011


JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book  

George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia

is available from By the Way Books.  

Sufism and the Way of Blame: Azize review

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Joseph Azize Book Review

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Sufism and the Way of Blame: Hidden Sources of a Sacred Psychology, Yannis Toussulis, with a forward by R.A.H. Darr,

Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois and Chennai, India

(264 pp. including glossary and bibliography).

This is an important book: it is the most accessible serious living study of Sufism I have read since Reshad Feild’s The Last Barrier, which features Feild’s teacher Bulent Rauf (under the pseudonym “Hamid”). I say “living” study, because it strikes me that its chief aim is not so much to “detail the relationship between Sufism and the controversial way of blame”, as the preface might indicate, as it is to communicate some taste of the life of contemporary Sufism. Toussulis achieves this when he presents the interview in chapter 8 with Mehmet Selim Öziç Bey, which demonstrates that there exists in today’s Sufism a beneficent and tolerant spiritual dimension which is suited to the needs of the time. The rest of the book could be considered as background, setting the stage for this interview. Bey is the only living successor, of Mahmut Sadettin Bilginer (p. 150), while Toussulis is Bey’s pupil (a photograph of them can be found at http://www.sufism.org/society/album/selim.html). Bilginer, in turn, was the youngest son of Haci Maksud Hulusi, a Naqshbandi shaykh who was initiated by Pir Nur Al-Arabi (140). On Toussulis’ account, Pir is the pivotal figure in the modern development of the malamatiyya, which is a way of referring to those who follow the way of blame. As Toussulis states, Pir exemplified the “adaptability of Sufism and Islam to contemporary conditions” (118). The icing on the cake, as it were, is appendix 1, the eight page Risala i Salihiyya or “Testament of the Righteous” by Pir himself, translated by Öziç and Darr.

 

The entire book, therefore, builds up to presenting the formidable figures of Pir and Öziç. Toussulis makes no small claims for them, especially for Pir. Before his death in 1888 (136), Pir Nur Al-Arabi declared that he was a qutb or “pole” (134), meaning that he was the spiritual axis of his own time, at least as far as some Sufis are concerned. Toussulis believes, reasonably enough, that this was critical in his attempt to “unify all the malamatiyya under his own direction” (134). The significance of this appears from chapter 7 of the “Testament”, where Pir writes that the highest station (or “achievement”) possible for anyone is that of qutb. Pir writes of this station: “… I am neither able to explain it, not can you grasp it through anything I might say of it. This station is called ahadiyya al-ayn, or the Station of Muhammad. This station belongs to the Pole of the Age (al-qutb al-zaman). … We are prohibited from striving for it. However, if the Prophet of Allah personally initiates us, it can be tasted, Otherwise it is impossible.” (This passage at 216 is also dealt with and interpreted at 191-192 in the text). {“Ahadiyya al-ayn” literally means “oneness or unity of eye” and “oneness or unity of essence”; the word “3ayn” (the 3 indicates an Arabic letter without European equivalent) means “eye”, “spring”, “source”, “essence”, etc.}

 

The deepest rationale is to present Öziç and his teaching, at least so far I can discern. This is not simply an academic study for Toussulis. His web site states that he: “is the current director of The Center for Human Inquiry in Emeryville, California where he teaches and conducts research in the practice of cross-cultural negotiation, leadership skills, and contemplative practices. … (he) combines academic qualifications … with practical expertise gained from his thirty-year long experience in Mental Health Services. (He) conducts a separate private practice as a family psychotherapist … http://resume.itlaqfoundation.com/Resume.html. So he is an interesting character and is attempting to take his Sufism into areas of broader life where it can have an effect on people who are not themselves Sufi. As I have often said in this blog, I think that more “esotericists” should be making this effort.

 

But the book attempts to also project a new picture of the relationship between Sufism and the way of blame. In doing so, it aims to reconfigure our picture of what we might expect to find within Islam (along with those elements more in the public eye). The book is both a scholarly study and an accessible account of one aspect of modern Sufism. It therefore combines readability with a solid, directed focus. Unlike most scholarly works on Sufism, it is not too dry; and unlike most popular books on Sufism, it is not too weak on content. There is still profound knowledge in certain areas of modern Sufism: and Toussulis has managed to convey something of this.

 However, the heart of it really is the interview, and sadly, I don’t feel that I can do that justice without lengthy quotes. It means that the review will be a little lopsided, but there are other issues I can cover where I think other reviewers are less likely to speak, and so, while stressing the book’s value and the significance of the interview with Bey, I shall pass on to four matters: Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism in general, of three modern mavericks (Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah), of the way of blame, and the title.

 

Sufism 

Toussulis states that: “The core of Sufism … is to discover one’s non-existence in the face of something more convincingly real” (6). This is a plausible interpretation, but of course, it is very vague: this is true of other systems. Also, I find “non-existence” more misleading than phrases such as “inchoate reality”, or even “relative” or “uncompleted”, because it is not right to say that we don’t exist. But it is true to say that we don’t exist as we could. So, what is specific to Sufism? Toussulis does not address other philosophies and systems, and when he speaks of Gurdjieff, he wrongly sees him as a Sufi of sorts, so Toussulis does not answer this question. If I could garner an answer from this book, it would probably be the Islamic dimension makes Sufism specific, especially, perhaps the position of Muhammad (who features prominently as a visitor in dreams and visions, a matter which I find unhappily redolent of Leadbeater and the “masters”).

 

I think that there’s a problem with Toussulis’ definition of Sufism: as he very correctly states: “… Sufism is a multiplex phenomenon and … the essence of Sufi spirituality can never be fully examined outside of its varying interpretations and sociohistorical contexts” (8, a point he makes again at 31 and 36). This being so, one cannot really speak of the core of Sufism, but only of the core of a particular strand of Sufism. If Toussulis can see an anomaly here, he does not directly deal with it. This brings me to what I perceive as the major weakness in Toussulis’ treatment of Sufism: I do not accept that “Sufism” is a homogenous entity, although everyone speaks about it as if it were. I doubt that it is even as coherent a phenomenon as “socialism”, for example. Indeed, it seems to me that “Sufism” is as often as not a misleading term. Some Sufis are little more than Islamic-political groupings, and others are effectively magician/exorcists within Islam. Some Sufis, on the other hand, cannot really be called Muslim at all: Frithjof Schuon whom Toussulis seems to see through but fails to expose (20), was one. Other Sufis are genuine mystics, and so on. All that these various Sufis have in common is the name. To think that all Sufis, sharing the one name, must share some essential quality is to believe in words.

 

Our ignorance does not end there. Although Toussulis is of the view that “Sufism is … rooted in, and shaped by Islamic thought” (201), the fact of the matter, at least as I see it, is that we do not know the true origins of Sufism. “Sufism” is a congeries of currents: each must be separately studied. Some – even most – Sufis are rooted in and shaped by Islamic thought, but not all. Attempts to locate Sufi origins within Islam are tendentious: many dogmatically declare this to be so. Even Hans Küng, in his study of Islam, accepts the standard line. But the Muslim accounts of the origins of Sufism are late, and even these associate it with characters such as “Suleiman the Persian” (note that he bears a Jewish/ Christian name and hails from outside Arabia) and other mysterious personages. Attempts to link Muhammad with Sufism are simply unpersuasive. Too much which is well-established about Muhammad tells against this. I do not believe that a mystic could have massacred the Jewish tribe of the Qurayza, as Muhammad did. True, I have a particular view of what is involved in mysticism, and I should be prepared to be surprised: but I am not prepared to be that surprised, Gurdjieff’s puzzling view of Muhammad notwithstanding. Julian Baldick amongst others sees Isaac of Nineveh and Syriac Christianity as having been instrumental in the origin of Sufism. I have some sympathy with their position, but although his Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism, easily demonstrates that historical strands of Sufism have owed tremendous debts to extra-Islamic sources, such as shamanism, he does not demonstrate Isaac’s influence. As matters stand today, we do not know what the origins of Sufism were. We can only describe various people and movements who either called themselves Sufis or were called that by others. However, the type of Sufism I find interesting is the type which is not exclusively Muslim. One of Toussulis’ chief goals is to promote this Sufism. For his treatment of Sufism and Islam, and the possibility of “supraconfessionalism” where Muslims and Christians combine in one Sufi order, refer to pp. 42, 116-117, 132, 149, 187-189 and 202-203.

 

Three Mavericks: Gurdjieff, Schuon and Shah

 

Unfortunately, Toussulis is not a historian, and his account if Gurdjieff is flawed. The bibliography lists only one book by Gurdjieff (Meetings) and none by Ouspensky. Without reading Gurdjieff’s own material, especially Beelzebub and (for the practical side) the lectures in Life Is Real, with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, it is not possible to have a sound idea of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Toussulis relies too much on Moore, who while competent and confident, is not always reliable. If one is to use Moore, one should have regard to Taylor’s New Life, which corrects most of Moore’s errors, but Toussulis does not.

 

Even so, some of Toussulis’ mistakes cannot be laid to Moore’s account. Toussulis states that the film of Meetings opens with “the young Gurdjieff traveling throughout the Near East with a group called the ‘Seekers of Truth’ (44). But when it opens Gurdjieff is with his father: the Seekers come sometime later. The Babylonian period does not date to “ca. 2500 BCE” (45): it is at least 700 years later. Gurdjieff did not assume “that all of humanity was gradually evolving into a new form of consciousness” (49). In fact, I have no idea how this idea comes to be associated with Gurdjieff. I see no similarity between Gurdjieff’s idea of a “unified I”, and anything in Freud (50). Gurdjieff did not say that there are “seven form of self” (51). However, he did give a seven-fold definition of man (Miraculous 71-73) which is not at all “directly derived” from the Sufi maqamat: Gurdjieff’s concern is with entirely different categories. Toussulis affirms a Sufi origin for some but not all of Gurdjieff’s movements (46). I will grant that point for the Mevlevi turning, and that he called some of his movements dervishes, but the strange thing is that no dervishes are known to have used them. I would like to see some evidence, for the “dervishes” and especially for the Obligatories, the most basic movements of all.

 

The assertion that Ouspensky grafted Theosophical ideas into Gurdjieff’s system (48) is baffling. Ouspensky was a purist. He meticulously noted where ideas he taught came from other sources. The only significant examples of this I know are his use of the Philokalia and his idea of recurrence. Neither of these are “theosophical”. In fact, Ouspensky was an arch-critic of Theosophy, having good words for very few of their productions. It is unfairly dismissive, to say that “Madame de Salzmann, Madame Ouspensky and others continued to spread remnants of the method” (58). What does Toussulis mean by of “remnants” of the method? Toussulis implies a sort of second-rate blind continuation of a barely understood legacy. I am far from being an uncritical admirer of de Salzmann, but this is cavalier treatment of someone who, from what I can see, had understood Gurdjieff as well as anyone else and better than most. To my mind, these women were towering figures.

 

Toussulis described Shah as “hardly an impostor” (56). Then, why does he provide some good grounds (54, 57 and 59) to say that Shah was fully a fraud? Even on Toussulis’ account, Shah comes across as deeply cynical and miracle-mongering. Unfortunately, after Gurdjieff’s death, Bennett was in a very emotional state, and already disposed to believe that “all his geese were the Archangel Michael” as he said once, and so he was vulnerable to Shah’s impostures. But this line is rather sad: the real shame is that Gurdjieff and Shah are tangential to Toussulis’ central point. He could, and should, have left them out, and said more about Pir and his direct predecessors and successors. The deeper reason, perhaps, for Toussulis’ interest in Gurdjieff is that – it seems to me from the slender indications in this book – that Toussulis came to Sufism through reading Bennett (63).

 

But Gurdjieff is not within Toussulis’ areas of expertise. Toussulis does not refer to Random’s essay on Gurdjieff and the way of blame in Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections. The lure of including Gurdjieff and making the book more comprehensive led Toussulis astray, and more is the shame.

 

I am also puzzled by Toussulis’ take on Schuon and his Maryamiyya. In Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, if I remember correctly, Schuon makes the most extraordinary blatantly racist comments about the “rich poverty” of Islam and Semites in general as contrasted with Aryans (if you can believe it!), and, as I recall it, rather casually made a defamatory remark about Semitic spirituality. I do not have my library with me, but when I read that, I felt that he had to be unbalanced, at least. What I later learned about the “sacred nudity” of the Maryamiyya, vouched to me by someone who had been a member of that movement, confirmed my opinion. Incidentally, a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation once told me, at least a trifle amused, that S.H. Nasr had expostulated to her when she asked a question about Schuon, that Schuon was “most certainly the predecessor of the Mahdi”. This makes me wonder how sincere Nasr can be in saying that the tariqa or spiritual way can be reached only through the shari’ah or Islamic law (21). Nasr must know that this is untrue.

 

The Way of Blame

Toussulis presents a new picture of the way of blame. He basically sees it as that aspect of Sufism where one is prepared to be critical of oneself. He summarises Ibn al-Arabi as follows:

 

malamatis … were called blameworthy because their rank, or spiritual station, did not reveal itself. They did not appear different from ordinary people because they did not make a show of religious devotion, nor did they crave any miraculous powers. Instead, they remained focused on removing the slightest taint of egoism from themselves. … they “blamed”, ceaselessly critiqued their own egocentricity for obscuring their access to God” (41, see also 73, 82, 84, 113 and 189).

 

The idea that all malamatis were heterodox and performed shocking or socially unacceptable acts is noted (84), but Toussulis explains why that is not true of all the movement. I found that very interesting, especially the role of Hallaj in this (79), but I am not convinced. Material available on Wikipedia, states that: “According to Annemarie Schimmel, ‘the Malāmatīs deliberately tried to draw the contempt of the world upon themselves by committing unseemly, even unlawful, actions, but they preserved perfect purity of thought and loved God without second thought’ (Schimmel 86). Schimmel goes on to relate a story illustrative of such actions: ‘One of them was hailed by a large crowd when he entered a town; they tried to accompany the great saint; but on the road he publicly started urinating in an unlawful way so that all of them left him and no longer believed in his high spiritual rank’ (quoted in Schimmel 86).” The book the anonymous Wikipedia refers to is Schimmel’s classic Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The quote is one that I more or less remembered, because, I cannot see that Gurdjieff – or Toussulis’ teachers – fall within just that tradition.

 

So, how do we reconcile the two? If the way of blame is nothing but being prepared to be critical of oneself, it differs from no other religious system. Every religious and spiritual system demands self-understanding, although how they express this may differ (examination of conscience, etc.). In the end, it seems to me that we’re speaking about two different things, but calling both of them the way of blame. In this respect, Toussulis’ treatment is similar to his approach to Sufism. The new theory of the way of blame is interesting, but too weak to cover all the people assigned to it.

 

Incidentally, I have never been convinced of Hallaj’s spiritual understanding, and it is typical of Toussulis’ strengths that he feels the need to balance out some of Hallaj’s extreme statements (bottom 80). That is, the common idea of “union with God without distinction” is not the whole truth. As Toussulis states, there is a necessary separation of the individual from God both before and after these experiences. I am surprised that Toussulis attributes this sensible and accurate qualification to Muhammad, and disappointed that he provides no reference for this. In reality, as Gurdjieff said, there is no complete and true union with God, although I can well imagine that – as Gurdjieff said – daydreaming associated with intense work of the emotions may produce a sensation of “cosmic consciousness” (Miraculous 116).

 

The Title

I am not sure about the subtitle. No spiritual psychology emerged with real clearness, at least not to my mind. There are references to the many selves and to human faculties, but these are not major themes. It could have been subtitled “spiritual visions” with as much if not more justice. Neither were the sources really “hidden” so much as abstruse.

 

There are hidden sources for Sufism, but this book does not refer to them, and I think that one has to respect their decision to remain hidden, and not publicize them.

 

A miscellaneous point: there are some minor errors, for example, on p. 19 Schuon died in 1984 while on the next page he died in 1998, the accurate date. Falcons will find typos on pp. xx, 11, 91, 131, 137, 189, 191 and 205.

 

Conclusion 

As I have said, the book is the best work on Sufism I have read in a very long time. Toussulis aims to, and succeeds, in presenting an attractive and stimulating picture of the modern strand of Sufism to which he belongs. But Toussulis’ strength is making positive statements. His is not a particularly discriminating intellect, and when he deals with people like Shah and Schuon, he seems to feel that if he is intellectually critical, this will mean that he is giving in to negative emotion. But this is not so: as Ouspensky correctly said, we have so many negative emotions because we do not have a sufficiently negative attitude to them. If someone suggests rape, pillage and murder, the only sane response is robustly negative. So, too, Toussulis has not, in my opinion, sufficiently critiqued the materials before him.

 

Sufism is not a unity, in any sense of the term. And Toussulis has all the knowledge needed to see this, but he does not sufficiently follow through his own research and findings. The same issue means that he does not see that the way of blame is not a unity: which has the unfortunate result that, in the weakest chapter of the book, he wrongly assigns people like Gurdjieff to it, when it would be better if he left the “mavericks” out and told us more about Turkish Sufism, and covered people like Rauf and Feild.

Joseph Azize (Joseph.Azize@gmail.com)

 

 JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

 

How Can I Make Better Observations?

 

The  Joseph Azize Page

 

 

How Can I Make Better Observations?

{Editor’s note: Very few recordings survive from Mr Adie’s groups in 1979. He told me that he thought the better material was on tapes from later years, and so that is what those of us who worked on the material started with. Recently, however, I have been listening to some of these old tapes, and I now think that this resource has a special value. Some of this material, produced when Mr Adie was stronger, is probably clearer and more direct. I was immediately struck by what I received as its power. This group had been established two years before, so it was young enough for Mr Adie to be explaining matters with the attention to first principles that is appropriate for beginners. However, the group had been going long enough for him to be able to paint his answer on a broad canvas, opening large vistas. Here I transcribe the first question asked in the Cedar group on Thursday 11 October 1979. It was asked by a young American lady who must have left groups before I joined.}

 

Mr Adie”, she asked, “over the weekend, you said to me that I don’t know how to observe: that I don’t observe. How can I learn to make observations? How can I learn to make better observations? I find it very difficult.”

 

That is absolutely vital for us.” He paused for a little, and then started a little further out from the spot where’d she’d pitched her question. “ The function of the mind is critical here. One thing I think we particularly need is to study the functions again: we talk, sometimes rather glibly, about being too much in the head or too much in emotions, but we don’t really appreciate what that is. We talk about dreams and stopping dreams and the fact that we can’t, but we aren’t always so clear on what this practically means. And now that the work has advanced, and people are trying to observe, I need to know and understand with my head.”

 

The function of the head is the mind, the reason: how to work something out consciously, how to make a choice. The mind has a certain power of discrimination between ideas. An animal doesn’t have ideas. Only man has ideas. Ideas are the concern of the mind. Feelings and sensations do not directly have this capacity, although they can warn me if my state is unbalanced. Feeling is the concern of the feeling centre, and it brings force, because the mind by itself can’t do anything. The sensation, the body, is our basic reality, the root of our existence. And clarity in each of these centres is different.”

 

Clarity brings us back to your question: how to observe. It’s obvious that if I am in dreams I cannot observe. At that point I have to remember about sleep and waking. When I’m asleep, anything is possible. I can dream any rubbish: we all know that. It’s just empty words if I talk about observing and don’t take into account that I have to be awake for it. And waking means some activity of the head: discrimination of the true mind.”

 

Mind has levels. The lowest, or most basic, is what is called formatory centre. Formatory centre is aware of something: it has some relationship to fact, it has some degree of reason. Formatory centre, if there’s any attention there at all, can discriminate between one pigeon hole and another; it can discriminate between where some impulse or another comes from. In fact, I need my formatory centre, it’s very valuable to me. If I had to work out from new everything that formatory centre has learned, my life in the world would stall.”

 

But at the same time, formatory centre is not the thing which I shall use to observe myself. It does not have the requisite degree of perspective and subtlety. So how can I observe my own functions?”

 

If there is any general rule, it’s that observation can proceed only if the head is awake. If I am asleep I can’t observe. A sleeping man will experience something in dreams: he’ll moan and he’ll turn over. If it’s bad enough, the dream wakes him up, a little. To observe I must be awake, that’s the first thing. Now what does that mean? That’s a big thing, to be awake, at any rate, to be a bit more awake – at that point we go to our body, because if we are floating about really not aware of the earth we’re standing on, we’re liable, at any second, to go into dreams again.”

 

So, we have some attention on our bodily sensation. That’s why I said the body is the root basis. If I wish to observe, I must have a reference in my sensation as a check: “Yes, it’s alright, I’m here”. I can rely on my observations a little bit if I know I am here. But if I have forgotten that my feet are on the ground, don’t sense that my feet are on the ground, if I have no sense of being here, then my observation is a very partial, dubious thing. So, for the possibility of a more real observation, all these different parts have to be partially conscious, partially connected. There has to be interconnection. Each centre has its separate clarity; they’re not all muddled up and playing each other’s roles. I have begun from the mind, but it’s now included in a greater reality. Each centre provides its unique impression without my thinking about them.”

 

Now, if what I’ve said so far sounds reasonable to you, then we can feel little bit more relaxed about the fact that our observations are very little understood so far, and observation seem to be very difficult at times.”

 

Well then, to add to that, nothing is ever achieved consciously unless there’s a wish. How would it be possible unless there were an impulse? That impulse has to have some intention, some wish to observe. I need to want to do it. I need to want to, which is the most important thing about what you were saying. You really wanted to find about this: you really wanted to find out why observation seems so difficult. I remain with that need to understand. So that effort has proved to yourself that you have a wish. You wish.”

 

What I shall see is therefore very unusual, maybe even strange or unsettling for me, because I haven’t been at all accustomed to this simultaneous awareness of attention in my three centres. And I certainly haven’t been capable of maintaining presence to the three centres while remaining in operation. I used to think that I was in charge of this organism, but I begin to find out that I wasn’t at all, I was a machine.”

 

Now if the so-called observation is to be a true one, if I am to receive a relatively true perception, I cannot be too unbalanced. An opening to impressions will help to bring me into balance, but if I am too very swayed by emotion, if my thought is too trammelled, if I have forgotten all about my body, the perceptions will be mangled; they’ll be distorted before I even try to use them or reason about them. The images and the colours will be wrong, the magnitudes will be wrong. You see how critical the work with each of the three centres is?”

 

If I am going to observe, it’s an act. It has to be an act, and that can only last for a second or two with that fine degree of conscious intention. It’s so unaccustomed, as we’ve already more or less proved in this sequence of argument, that I’m unprepared for the kind of thing that I experience, if in fact I observe.”

 

I see then that when I came here I had a fantastic idea of what an observation might be. To me it was something striking that I could formulate and write down in a book, something that would make for good reading or comparisons. Now I see that this isn’t observation at all. An observation for us now is an experience. To parlay it into words too soon and too easily is to lose it. I want the taste of it first, and the taste of it is so new I cannot recognize it. This is why so many people say: “Oh, when I saw myself, there was no feeling. I came to and there was nothing. I was empty, and it was awful.” And they become discouraged.”

 

But the conclusion is not reliable. I have too little to compare with a state of consciousness. How do I know it’s empty of feeling? Certainly, I may be free of my accustomed emotions. What a relief! If in fact I have come to, that is all that is necessary. What sort of content is my moment of consciousness supposed to be filled with? I have to be impartial to everything. I have to be impartial to everything. I am aware, more or less of an intention, what is taking place. I accept what I see, I wish to accept what I see.”

 

It’s an experience, and until I learn to support that experience without interference, I will simply weave a network of misunderstanding, confusion, thought taking the place of feeling, and so on.”

 

All this gives me some sort of connection in my mind with these very still, very refined figures that one sometimes sees: a Buddha or a yogi. One feels that there’s a master there … they’re extremely alert, they’re completely composed. Such art begins to have meaning. I see that this is a representation of a very active moment.”

 

And of course, what is absent when I’m at the beginning of a process is “I”. There is something of it there. I shall observe. I have to have the posture of a man, the posture of a woman. I previously assumed that I could observe, but I never thought about my posture really. And I don’t need to think about it as such, it has to be with me, a sense of my posture. The body begins to be the body of a conscious man. The feeling of a conscious man. Even the thought of a conscious man. Of course it can’t last for long, but the experience can lead to further related experiences, always fresh.”

 

Then the observation that ensures in that condition and with that amount of understanding can be so extremely interesting, it’s so different from anything I’ve had before. The experience that accompanies it – you can’t put it into words. How could one put into words this three centred awareness of combined working at different speeds which presents this conscious moment? It wouldn’t be possible, but this is what we’re working towards: those conscious moments.”

 

{Note the reference to “three centred awareness of combined working at different speeds”. Those who have ears to hear … For me, the sign that this is the pure Gurdjieff tradition is the naked demand for three-centred understanding which Mr Adie makes, advising and demonstrating in himself that it is both heroically difficult and heroically possible. If you would like to know more about Mr Adie, Gurdjieff his teacher, in what Gurdjieff’s ideas consist, and how Mr Adie gave them practice application in Australia, the well-illustrated book, George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia (Lighthouse Editions) is available from By The Way Books. Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

  

JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

April 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm

WAS LORD PENTLAND AN “EMINENT GURDJIEFFIAN”?

 

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO REVIEWS

 

JAMES MOORE

JAMES MOORE’S NEW BOOK

I distinctly remember the sensation that I experienced when I first saw in print the name “Lord Pentland.” What I sensed was a loftiness of person and of purpose. What I felt was the emotion of being wafted away from my usual, classless moorings: “Whoever is this fellow?” What I entertained was an heretical thought upon seeing his name in the context of the Work: “Was an English lord actually chosen by Mr. Gurdjieff to head the Work in America?”

I was late in the game. I first encountered the name and title in the early 1960s in the pages of a newly published book of radio talks. Its table of contents listed the contributors of talks and interviews broadcast on Pacifica Radio in California. I have long forgotten the names of the other contributors to this series of addresses, all of them public intellectuals familiar to me at the time. But I remember the name of this English baron who was completely unknown to me at that time. Curious!

I never met Lord Pentland or Henry John Sinclair or just plain John Sinclair, of course, but over the decades I have met with groups of men and women who knew him, attended his talks, and studied under him. They were unanimous in their admiration and respect for the man. I would ask each in turn, “What was his dominant characteristic? Why was he so admired and respected? What made him a dedicated teacher or leader?” People seemed to like the man but there was seldom a feature, chief or not, which I could identify or with which I could identify.

After all, the photographs of the man that I saw reproduced in public print, or at least those taken during his later years, showed a gaunt figure of a man with steel-rimmed glasses and querulous eyes. I once wrote, “To judge by photographs, John Pentland was a cadaverous figure of a man, toweringly tall, with skeletal skull, bushy eyebrows, and beady eyes. He resembles an ascetic, say a Cistercian monk …. “

As well, he seemed quite forbidding, almost formidable (if not slightly comic or ironic). I never could discover what psychological feature or features were so impressive, though every once in a while someone would glance around and mumble about the man’s patrician bearing, the slight condescension in his attitude and manner, etc. But then some people are never satisfied; they will accept the Sermon on the Mount only if delivered by Jesus Christ in person.

Over the years I watched out for references to Lord Pentland in the literature of the Work, especially in the “Gurdjieff Review.” I bought and read a copy of the book “Exchanges Within” which is subtitled “Questions from Everyday Life Selected from Gurdjieff Group Meetings with John Pentland in California, 1955-1984.” It was published by Continuum in 1977, and its prose captured some of the qualities of the man, which I take to be a general thoughtfulness or mindfulness coupled with directness and authority.

I found his manner of writing and speaking to be more elusive than evasive, and to this day his prose, whether transcriptions of the talks or of the sessions of questions and answers, continues to remind me of the opaque styles of J. Krishnamurti and Rudolf Steiner. The opacity could be that of some level of being: a disembodied intelligence, perhaps. The texts of the talks themselves read like … radio scripts.

The other day I checked Wikipedia’s entry and I learned a little about the man Henry John Sinclair, but next to nothing about his personality and purpose, his mission and message. He was born in 1907, but where? (The biography says London.) He died in 1984, but where? (The biography says New York City.) He was the 2nd Baron Pentland and a man of means; his wife Lucy was also titled and well-to-do. His daughter, son-in-law, and their child are contributors to the Work.

In the 1930s and 1940s he worked with P.D. Ouspensky in London, and in 1948 he spent about nine months with Mr. Gurdjieff in Paris, who thereupon appointed him to lead the work in America. (“America” means the United States; while he did visit Canada, it was for business meetings in Toronto before he had met Mr. Gurdjieff and for a visit to the rodeo in Calgary afterwards.)

At one point he worked out of an office in Rockefeller Center, representing British-American commercial interests, like an earlier neighbour, spymaster Sir William Stephenson (known as “the Quiet Canadian” before turning garrulous and acquiring the title “the Man Called Intrepid”). I recall reading a warm and memorable description of Lord Pentland at work in his office. The account was written by the youthful William Patrick Patterson who visited the baron there, was much impressed with the man, and studied under him for all of eleven years, before finding another mentor. Patterson went on to establish the Gurdjieff Studies Program and describes himself to this day as a student of Lord Pentland.

Lord Pentland served as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation from its inception in 1953 to his death in 1984, and also as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California from its inception in 1955 to his death. He also served as executive editor of Far West Editions from 1969 to his death. I sense that the year of his death marked the end of a phase of the Work in America, as phases of the Work in France and the rest of Europe and the United Kingdom were marked by the death in 1990 of Madame de Salzmann and eleven years later that of her son Michel de Salzmann.

Talks delivered by Lord Pentland at Esalen and on the campuses of American colleges and universities were delivered alike to veteran students and newcomers to the Work and printed in semi-limited editions. In print they seem somewhat abstract or at least abstracted from experience. Indeed, I reviewed three of these publications and summarized their contents for readers of this blog in 2008, where they remain archived for reading or reference.

I have gone into all this detail – peeks at Lord Pentland from a distance – for the reason that many if not most readers of this review will share experiences similar to mine, being one or two steps removed from the man and the manner. Not everyone in the Work has had a first-hand experience of the man. Savour those experiences and conceptions of the man before encountering him in relief in the pages of James Moore’s biography, which has a four-word title: “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland.”

This biography is a handsome volume published by Gurdjieff Studies Ltd. in England. The website is < www . gurdjieff . org. uk >. The book has an attractive dust jacket (designed by Linda Edmonds), card covers, matching coloured endsheets, and well-designed pages which measure 6″ x 9.5″ and which run from xx to 108. There are eighteen black-and-white illustrations. There is also a nominal index (i.e., restricted to personal names, not places or references) and a bibliography best described as sketchy. I wish the pages had been stitched rather than “perfect bound,” i.e., glued, but there are headbands, and the pages once opened almost lie flat on their own. It is a nice edition to hold and to read.

But before I do review its contents, I want to comment on the first two words of the book’s title: “Eminent Gurdjieffians.” Serious readers will catch the significance of the word “eminent,” which was not coined by Lytton Strachey but was certainly trademarked by him. “Eminent Victorians” is the title of this influential composite biography of four leading figures in Victorian England (Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Matthew Arnold, and General Gordon).

The lady and the three gentlemen were and are indeed “eminent,” though not necessarily pre-eminent for reasons of morality. The book’s appearance in 1918 coincided with the end of the Great War, and as the latter dealt the deathblow to the Kaiser’s designs on Europe, the former ended the idolatry and exposed the morality of leading public figures in Queen Victoria’s England.

Today, “Eminent Victorians” would be regarded as a hatchet-job, but for the fact that Strachey wrote well, researched deeply, and refused to moralize. Indeed, the composite biography appealed to the sceptical Bertrand Russell who read it while imprisoned for civil disobedience. In a letter he described the literary work in these words: “It is brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilized.”

Do Lord Russell’s words describe the book at hand? I will answer that question but first here is another digression. The digression concerns the author James Moore. His entry in Wikipedia and his own detailed and informative website < www . jamesmoore . org . uk > are so interesting that I could write about the author at some length. Instead, I will write concisely and somewhat cursorily.

Moore, born in Cornwall in 1929, seems to be something of an autodidact, but one who worked with the Admiralty until retirement in 1980, who holds fellowships in at least two Royal Societies, and who is the author of four books of substance and many articles of importance which have appeared in serious journals and as entries in encyclopedias.

As for his Work experience, he studied with Henriette H. Lannes from 1957 to 1978, and thereafter with Henri Tracol and Maurice Desselle. He was closely associated with the Gurdjieff Society in London from 1981 to 1994 when, it seems, he was expelled, if that is the word to use, though “excommunicated” is the one that he himself prefers. (Query: Do Gurdjieffians “shun” like Mormons?) That might be the second-best thing that has ever happened to him, his induction into the Work being the first; the jury is still out on that. Anyway, he renewed himself as an independent scholar and presumably as an independent Gurdjieffian, his status to this day.

I have read his four books: “Gurdjieff and Mansfield” (1980), “Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth” (1991), “Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered” (2005), and now “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland” (2011). His chef d’oeuvre is the second of these books, a biography rivalled only by John Beekman Taylor’s “Gurdjieff: A New Life” (2009), a sturdy and substantial work. I am still divided on the merits of the third of these books, as it adopts the tone of the tabloid press in its whining and winging, though as a human document it is full of fascinating detail.

If anyone in the Work is in a position to write short biographies of Work personalities and their essences, it is James Moore. On an earlier occasion I referred to this biographer as a precisian, an uncommon proper noun for someone who is strict and precise in observing the rules, his own or others’. I suspect that he gives a lot of thought before writing down a word. He is as stylish and exacting as Flaubert, who, it is said, worried so much over his prose that he would spend a morning inserting a comma followed by an afternoon erasing it. Moore is a writer who has to be read closely, and watched.

I have the feeling – it is an idea, really; perhaps a dream – that “Eminent Gurdjieffians” marks the first volume in a series, a series that may set a high watermark for scholarship in the literature of the Work. Such a series is long overdue. Where is there a short biography of Sophie Grigorievna Volochine (aka Madame Ouspensky)? Or a long biography of Jeanne Allemand (aka Madame de Salzmann)? Perhaps these and other biographies are waiting in the wings.

Yet in these pages Moore writes, plangently, “This book is my literary swan-song.” If so, it is sad news. Earlier I quoted Bertrand Russell’s words about Lytton Strachey’s book: “brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilized.” Do these words apply to Moore and this book? Yes and no is the short answer. The long answer follows.

Moore writes with a stylistic brilliance that is coruscating and hence sometimes blinding. His prose is delicious in the sense that the reader wants to consume more and more pages, though with full knowledge that some passages are going to be hard to digest. But is the work “exquisitely civilized”? The author is certainly a cultured man, but I would not immediately describe him as civilized, at least in terms of what he has written here. He is very hard on his subject and for these reasons one would have to read between the lines.

There is a telling anecdote about a beautiful but impressionable society lady who one day accepted a luncheon invitation from W.E. Gladstone. Asked about the experience, she replied, “I realize that I was in the presence of the most brilliant man in all of England.” The next day she lunched with Benjamin Disraeli. Asked how that lunch had gone, she replied, “I realize that I am the most brilliant woman in all of England.” Reading Moore’s prose I feel that Moore is the most brilliant writer in all of England.

He monopolizes his subject, but to demonstrate this I would have to lead the reader through the book page by page to review Pentland’s life and that would take a great many pages (or “screens”). It is an interesting life that he led, but not a very convincing one, at least to the degree that Pentland was a late developer, and it begs the question whether he developed at all; that makes Moore’s task all the harder.

Medical historian Michael Bliss had the same problem as Moore when he wrote the now-standard biography of Sir William Osler, the clinician and Regius Professor of Medicine, who had no secrets, no scandals, and no enemies. That presents a problem. How does a biographer make decency attractive in its own right? Instead of pursuing this line of inquiry, I will make a few general points.

* Moore devotes no pages at all to Pentland’s talks and interviews, even those that were published in “Exchanges Within.” So the subject’s “take” on the Work is not discussed. Pentland presided over an interesting period in the evolution of the Work – what with the introduction of all of those “sittings” – but while they are mentioned, they are certainly not considered in any detail.

* Moore has hardly anything of an interpretive nature to say about the appeal of P.D. Ouspensky’s “system” to Pentland. There is no speculation as to what Mr. Gurdjieff saw in Pentland’s spirit, mind, or manner. Possibly what he saw in his “American lieutenant” was a respectable man with the ability to relate to men and women on all social levels, which it seems is what Pentland did do.

* Moore devotes no paragraphs at all to Pentland’s business interests, a point he himself makes, as if to exculpate himself. These details would be of some social and intellectual interest. His “war record” seems to be one of evasion rather than duty, but that is not conclusively shown.

* Moore devotes no sentences at all to interpreting the man’s psychology. I am not now referring to “the psychology of man’s possible evolution” but to the dynamics of the man’s personality, his image of himself. For this reason the biography seems to me to be pre-Freudian: the subject is more a mannikin than a man in Moore’s hands.

* Moore seems uncomfortable dealing with the characteristics of the English class system, both its strengths and its weaknesses. Whenever possible he brings Gilbert Harding into the narrative. I found this interesting, but only because I have long been curious about this English broadcaster and polemicist (who spent some time making mischief in Toronto); Moore is always about to compare and contrast the two men whose lives seem to have been lived at cross-purposes.

* Moore might see himself as a social historian, offering brief histories of the decades. For instance, I learned that the year 1957 “was in some senses a funny year. Jack Kerouac published “On the Road”; Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” was translated into Eskimo and staged in a Perspex igloo …. ” Fascinating tidbits, à la John Dos Passos, but hardly part of Pentland’s world. For a short book, it is long on potted history.

* Moore is a careful researcher. I spotted no errors of consequence; two inconsequential ones are the spelling of the New Brunswick port where Madame Ouspensky disembarked (it is Saint John not St. John’s, New Brunswick); and the indecision as whether or not to hyphenate Rodney Collin-Smith’s name.

* Moore is good on the dissection of imagery. He offers a brilliant comparison of Pentland’s gaunt appearance with that of the elderly farmer in Grant Wood’s classic painting “American Gothic.” He also comments on the surprising photograph taken by Dushka Howarth which catches Pentland and Mr. Gurdjieff at lunch at a roadside café in 1949, the baron gazing into the distance, the “teacher of dance” digging into the food before him.

* In dealing with that photograph, I believe Moore tips his hand when he describes Pentland in terms of his “depthless earnestness.” These two words might well be his final insight into the man and interpretation of his contribution to the development of the Work. It is an most revealing phrase.

Earlier I mentioned in passing that I had no occasion to meet Lord Pentland. In the introductory pages of this book, Moore mentions that he did meet this “eminent Gurdjieffian,” once, almost accidentally, long before the notion of writing the man’s biography occurred to him. After reading his book, I feel that had I had an occasion to meet Pentland, I too might – like Moore – sense the man’s “depthless earnestness.”

James Moore: ‘Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland’

 

 

Rt Hon John Sinclair, 1 st Lord Pentland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Pentland: President of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York

 

 

Andrew Rawlinson reviews

James Moore’s ‘Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland’ 

It is, I think, impossible to write a good biography of someone you consider a nonentity.

James Moore does his best. We know from his previous books that this is an author with an ear for the English language. His description of Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a strange Old Testament figure with prematurely white hair, who gave the appearance of subsisting on a diet of locusts and Eucharistic wine is superb. Likewise:

The assassination of President John Kennedy on 22 November 1963 cast something of a pall over the twenty-first birthday celebrations of Pentland’s daughter the Hon. Mary Ishbel Sinclair. You expect a present but not Lyndon Baines Johnson.

And this gem:

From early youth Ouspensky had been in search of the miraculous but the sudden disappearance of his rancorous wife seemed a special marvel

- which is quite the equal of Les Dawson at his finest.

But Moore’s material here proves well nigh unworkable. He begins by covering the career of John Pentland’s father, the first Baron Pentland, with discursive ease. But he doesn’t think much of him either. Witness this description of a painting commissioned after Baron Pentland became Secretary of State for Scotland in 1905:

Tall, broad-shouldered, slim, clean-shaven, elegant and patrician, [he] poses unembarrassed like a well-achieved centrepiece in a Burlington Arcade window display. The Gilbertian flummery – the golden epaulettes, the impeccably cut uniform, the red belt, the virginal white sash, the blaze of obscure orders – are carried with aplomb yet with a hint of detachment.

The style is measured and taut. But the subject of the book does not live up to it – and neither does the rest of his family. Very few of Pentland’s class could. The First World War is delivered and dissected in short, deadly strokes.

For four tormented years The Manchester Guardian relayed deplorable events as the great Houses of Romanoff, Hapsburg-Lorraine, Hohenzollern, and Saxe-Gotha clashed and blundered through an ocean of blood to a doomed peace. Decorative old men, studious of maps, fought to the last drop of young men’s blood. Daily headlines testified to an unstaunchable wound: the despoliation of Europe; ruination of an entire generation; and the bankruptcy of the idea of progress.

Any good that might come out of that awful mess could never be ascribed to those who had managed it.

John Pentland’s life (6 June 1907 to 14 February 1984) is rolled out in a series of vignettes: minor incidents here and there, which, though linked, have yet no discernible arc.

At boarding school, Pentland’s ears are protuberant and flickable.

The title ‘Lord’ – here as elsewhere, lending to mediocrity the gloss of excellence… (This on Pentland’s succeeding to his father’s title at the age of 17.)

He got a Third in Maths Part I at Cambridge, switched to Mechanical Sciences and ended up with a Second. Moore records these achievements tautly: Unfortunately one can stumble over quite a modest barrier if it over-tops one’s competence. Away from the examination halls, Pentland did have some success: he was elected President of the Union.

Undoubtedly it was not just his peerage and boiled shirt manner which marked him out as presidential timber. He benefited from other qualities. He was incorruptible. He was overwhelmingly reasonable. His mind’s perfect vacuity was admirably suited to the role of an arbiter. His stewardship would not be skewed by any prejudice or fixed opinion. He had no opinions. As to whether the capital of France were Paris or Lyon he would maintain an impeccable neutrality until after the votes were counted. Yet toss him a point of order and he could deliver a ruling in the tones of Lady Catherine de Burgh snubbing an apothecary.

This is not damning with faint praise. It is illuminating a tepid and colourless form with the borrowed hues of more exciting lives.

Pentland’s entry into the Work is unrecorded. He went to one of Ouspensky’s meetings in London but we do not know when exactly – 1934 perhaps? – and have no inkling as to why. “I went to one meeting and didn’t go back,” he said. But Ouspensky wanted him. He was after all young, moneyed and brilliantly connected. So he was given a place at the top table and there he earnestly expounded ideas which had never occurred to him.

It appears that very few ideas did. In 1939, he crossed the floor of the House of Lords not for any ideological reason but because the Liberals were in opposition and the Conservatives in power. He became, in Moore’s phrase, a make-weight Conservative peer.

He continued in the Work, going to America in 1944 with his wife and daughter. Up until this point his participation in the war effort in Britain had been, once again, vague, tepid. Moore refers to his studied deafness to the solicitations of 1940′s patriotism.

Pentland was out of his depth with the top men in the Work (Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) and in thrall to the women (Madame Ouspensky, Madame de Salzmann). Moore doesn’t have much to go on but is clearly unimpressed by what he has found. Pentland’s account of being in Madame Ouspensky’s presence is described as patented incoherence. When, in 1948, Gurdjieff urged his followers to steal the energies of New Yorkers at Christmas prayers, Pentland’s response was a dazed goodwill but a singular incompetence.

All of this is in tune with Pentland’s deep superficiality. He prevaricated over Ouspensky’s repudiation of ‘the System’, and paid a visit to India immediately after Ouspensky’s death, thereby avoiding all the knots and difficulties which such a loss brings. When Madame Ouspensky advised everyone to seek out Gurdjieff, Pentland was one of the tardiest to respond. Holed up in Mendham, his idea was to sit on the fence as long as possible while keeping his ear close to the ground.

Yet Gurdjieff appointed him his representative in America. To begin with, this meant only that Pentland was in charge of promoting Beelzebub’s Tales – a modest appointment yet one which Moore finds baffling: Pentland was a parvenu, a class misfit, a disaffected follower of the late Piotr Ouspensky. And it didn’t end there. After Gurdjieff’s death, under Jeanne de Salzmann’s overall guidance, Pentland was promoted to President of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York. He was all diffidence; all diplomacy, all teeth and trousers.

Moore presents Pentland as the Work’s supreme company man and fixer. But this is as far as he goes. He has already noted that Pentland had occupied his chair as President of the Cambridge Union with decorum but no particular distinction. He has noted that Pentland is a pragmatic climber of institutional scaffolding. This irreducible undistinguishedness continued in America.

His exalted Work status …relied on his agreeing with Madame de Salzmann whatever she said. Had she asserted that the moon is made of green cheese, he would readily have conceded that it displays cheese-like qualities.

Throughout, he remains distinctly undiamond-like.

[The Work was] a shimmering reality, while Pentland, notwithstanding his good points, had about as much shimmer as a municipal dustbin-lid.

His Lordship miraculously transformed Gurdjieff’s wine into water. He brought to his task a patent sincerity and [his] old flair for mouth-filling incoherence… propositions which would have baffled Jacques Lacan and…whose implausibility would have been manifest to an infant of three.

Lumped together, Pentland’s logic-chopping…responses in a thousand group meetings (whether characterised as crowned masterpieces of banality or crowned masterpieces of obfuscation) seem curiously infertile.

 Vis-à-vis Gurdjieff’s awesome ideas Pentland will go down au fond as a well-intentioned if flat-footed expositor…[Yet] around him there had thriven up a wealthy and powerful authoritarian network with sharp prescriptive and proscriptive powers.

In short, Lord Pentland has no real shape, no real substance. But there he is, occupying space, seemingly close to the centre of the Work’s mission.

And James Moore has stepped up and flicked his ears.

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew Rawlinson, author of The Book of Enlightened Masters: WesternTeachers in Eastern Traditions with significant entries on Gurdjieff and the Gurdjieff Legacy (Ouspensky, Madame O, Maurice Nicoll, Rodney Collin, Robert de Ropp, Orage, Jane Heap, Madame de Salzmann) plus other entries on Bennett, Leon Maclaren, E.J.Gold, Jan Cox, Idries Shah and Gary Chicoine. was a lecturer in Buddhism at the University of Lancaster and a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Bargbara. He lives in France and is writing a book on the Hit in all its forms; the Hit as a derangement: derangement of the senses, derangement of the personality, derangement of society, derangement of reality.

 
James Moore’s book is available from Amazon UK where you can also read the review by Andrew Rawlinson.  The image of the cover is not shown on the Amazon site and the one I found on google images would not load here - ‘due to security reasons’ – so here is an image of the author.

 

 James Moore

 

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

April 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm

All & Everything Conference 2011

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The 16th International Humanities

All & Everything Conference 2011

Wednesday, 6 April to Sunday, 10 April 2011

=====================

Extol Inn Hotel

Pristavni 2

Prague 7

170 00

Czech Republic

 =====================

For full details go to: http://www.aandeconference.org

=====================

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

February 22, 2011 at 4:46 am

અલૌકિક ની ખોજ માં OUSPENSKY in GUJARATI

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P. D. Ouspensky

In response to a reader’s enquiry about fourth way

books in Gujarati Sy Ginsburg kindly researched and

found that Gurdjieff’s writings have not yet been

translated, but some of Ouspensky’s work literature

has been.

***
In Search of the Miraculous (અલૌકિક ની ખોજ માં )
Conscience: The Search for Truth (અંતરાત્મા : સત્ય ની ખોજ )
Fourth Way  (ચોથો માર્ગ )
Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (મનુષ્ય ના અધ્યાત્મિક વિકાસ ની સંભાવના નું મનોવિજ્ઞાન )

***

The publisher is

Navbharat Sahitya Mandir.

Here’s the link: http://www.navbharatonline.com

In Ahmedabad, as in other major cities of Gujarat,

one can easily find these books in

Gujarat Pustakalaya stores.


Many thanks to Sy and those who found and sent this info.

John Lennon: Essence and Reality

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Jospeh Azize page

 

John Lennon: Essence and Reality

Part 17: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the world; the experience of living in modern times. Sgt. Pepper’s captured, affirmed, and infused with a poignant affection, the culture of that entire pre-digital generation, with its beauty and ugliness, caring and neglect, altruism and selfishness, grace and sordidness. Life as lived on 1 June 1967 was photographed and pressed into one disc, in all its diversity and emotional tones, and displayed on one album cover; yet the record sounds and looks relaxed, effortless and endlessly expansive. Every human relationship is sung on that record: the love of man and woman, the infatuation of boy for girl, the connections between parents and children, friends, casual acquaintances, strangers, celebrities and nobodies, performers and audiences, preachers and congregations. It also intimated, as George Harrison said, that: “… individual love is just a little of universal love.” That is why I would unhesitatingly say that it is the greatest record of the era of records.

 

You could believe that on its cover you see every face you have known and can ever know, including your own. You have to actually hold and look at the L.P. record, not the CD, to really understand the justice of what I am saying, for Pepper’s spoke through Peter Blake’s artwork and packaging as much as it did through its music. But Blake’s efforts would have counted for nothing if the four figures in the middle had been anyone but the Beatles, or, even then, if the music had disappointed all expectations. You could have had the Rolling Stones, or the Beach Boys, or made up a quartet of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Queen Elizabeth and the Pope for that cover, but it would not have worked. The Beatles were the only group, of any type, where each member was instantly and globally recognizable, and was a valued, essential part of the whole. The cover primed us for music that only the Beatles could have produced. It set the context for that music in a way that perhaps no other cover ever has.

 

The impact of that celebrated collage on the front of the sleeve comes, in part, from the diversity of the faces which make up the assemblage: they cross all lines of country, race and age. The idea of arranging them as an ensemble is preposterous, and yet they merge into one cultural mosaic which works because the music corresponded. Neither music nor artwork could really be called eclectic, yet both eloquently blend diversities and harmonize differences. This visual unity-in-diversity is strengthened by the interplay of blue, red and yellow on the cover. The clear sky above the panoply of characters is drawn into the middle of the scene by the bright blue of Paul McCartney’s uniform; while the red of the word “Beatles” is resumed in Ringo’s and George’s costumes. One colour infuses from the top down, while the other rises from the foreground upwards, while the centre is grounded by holds of bold optimistic yellow, for example, in Lennon’s clothes, sparks of which are found on various hats and Sonny Liston’s robe.

 

The cover was governed by the concept of the album: that we’re at a concert performed by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles adopted personas, as it were, and the figures in the mosaic were people who had just heard the performance and were the sorts of celebrities the Band may have appreciated, hence George’s selection of several Indian sages. Blake thought that it might be interesting if the Beatles had also attended the concert, and so he had the wax figures included. But while they can be explained in the context of the album’s concept, those four images extended it tremendously, because to very many people, including myself, they looked as if they were privately at a funeral. The feeling it conveys is more than simply that the past is dead. The sense which I, at any rate, receive, is that the album embraces awareness of life and its passing. And this is not just hype: the grand finale of “A Day in the Life” shows that the Beatles felt something similar and had it in mind. Some writers, such as Timothy Riley, speak of a grave on the cover (Tell Me Why, pp.212-3), but there is no grave, and the flowers which some thought to be a wreath were intended only as a floral guitar. This is not just a detail, I suspect that Riley’s perhaps overly critical comments are occasioned by this misconception. On Sgt. Pepper’s, death is acknowledged, but there is nothing morbid: on the contrary, life is affirmed in the face of passing away.

 

For all this, the music is and always was primary. It includes some of the Beatles’ greatest songs (I would single out “A Day in the Life” and “With a Little Help from my Friends”). It also boasts the most artistically perfect sound of any record to that time and probably since. Unlike some efforts to jazz up the production with sound-effects, it is not overburdened with forced straining at cleverness (a fault which in my view mars Dark Side of the Moon, witness the pointless tape loops on side 1 and the cash registers on side 2). On Pepper’s, the effects are never an end in themselves; they add interest without stealing attention from the melodies, and pass away almost as soon as they appear. Had the contents of the record been flat, it would not have had the effect that it did.

 

We now live in a different age, where society seems, more than ever, to be a statistician’s abstraction made up of diverse micro-communities which have few values in common, and frequently do not even communicate without expressing suspicion if not hostility. This has the upshot that not only has there never been anything like Sgt. Pepper’s, but I am minded to think that there never will be. People who are older than I am, tell me that at the time of release Sgt. Pepper’s seemed to be everywhere. Wherever you went, it was being played. Many have commented that this record seemed to have united the Western world for the course of that one splendid summer. And this has a lot of truth in it, but then we should remember that in those days the world could be drawn together. Today, most people have no idea of the music being listened to outside of their own mini-societies. Back then, even bitter, reactionary conservatives knew of the phenomenon that was Pepper’s, and they knew that it was important, even if they saw it as negative. I recall that as late as the early 1970’s, a right wing rag said that previous civilizations had been destroyed by barbarians from without, but ours would be destroyed by barbarians from within, and to illustrate the modern Mongols, had a picture of the Beatles from the Pepper’s epoch on the cover! They hated the Beatles with a passion, but they knew who they were, and, it is so clear now, feared their power and their music. Today, there is no one in youth culture let alone music that commands anything like this recognition. (A good summary of the good Sergeant’s reception is found in Steven Stark’s Meet the Beatles. For example, Kenneth Tynan is quoted as saying that the record was “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization”, p.199).

 

Pepper’s is unique in sound and content. Even the magnificent Rubber Soul and Revolver, which glory in melodies perhaps even more consistently memorable than those on Pepper, do not possess this quality of both defining and transcending their age. No other album, by the Beatles or anyone else, could have dared and succeeded in capturing what it is to live “A Day in the Life”. And that song worked partly because its message flows in the sound, not being washed up on a coast of words.

 

The Beatles were remarkable, truly remarkable, for the consistency of the records they made during an intense period, effectively from 1963 to 1969. This should be remembered when they are compared to other acts, such as Elvis Presley who released many times more records over a longer period. In that short period, the Beatles only recorded one dud album: Beatles for Sale. That was followed by Help! While that was, for most people, not as strong as their first three landmark albums (Please, Please Me, then With the Beatles and Hard Day’s Night), Help! was a significant advance on Beatles for Sale, and included two tremendous standards: Lennon’s “Help!” and McCartney’s justly celebrated “Yesterday”. But, for all this, Help!, was a bunch of songs that had to be lumped together in a sequence for want of any other method of getting them onto the vinyl.

 

The next album, Rubber Soul, showed substantial progress in almost every respect. Although no single song on Rubber Soul is as compelling as the two immortals from Help! (at least not to my ears) the record as a whole hangs together as having an atmosphere, and conveys a mellow mood; mellow but also committed and engaged. The first time I heard it all, many years after its release, I felt: “So that’s what London was like then.” Perhaps I was wrong, but I still hear an organic consistency running through the songs. Not least, Rubber Soul shines with the much under-estimated “Girl” (see part 7 of this series). In a word, the Beatles’ music as a whole had, on this album, matured to a point where the long playing record was more than the sum of its parts. The process of maturing and deepening continued on Revolver, an album which presents some brilliant astoundingly direct music (“Eleanor Rigby”, “For No One” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”). Most critics consider Revolver their best album. It is subjective, I know, but musically, I find little to choose between Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. Further, I have a soft spot for Abbey Road and Paul’s tremendous achievement in writing the perfect summation of the Beatles’ career: “and, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love … you make.”

 

The Beatles had intended that Sgt. Pepper’s include “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane”. Had those tracks been on that record, and had “64” which McCartney had written many years before been omitted, it would have more flatteringly reflected their craft at the time of production. Briefly, the weak spot on Pepper’s is side two. It opens with George’s contribution, “Within You, Without You” which has only one flaw, but a serious one: it meanders on for too long. As stated, I am not at all fond of the next two tracks, “64” and “Rita”, which to me are merely Paul being merely clever. Imagine what Sgt. Pepper’s would sound like if “Within You” were shortened, and we had “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” instead of that pair.

 

John’s song-writing contribution is limited to five tracks: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite”, “Good Morning Good Morning”, “A Day in the Life”, and – with Paul – “A Little Help from my Friends”.

 

Lucy” was not written to induce drug taking. Both Julian Lennon and Pete Shotton corroborated Lennon’s story about his drawing a girl from school named Lucy, in an airplane, with diamonds. But of course, this does not mean that John did not surreptitiously use the child’s drawing a cover for drug advocacy. Many people disbelieved Lennon when he said that he was unaware that the first letters of the three nouns spelled “LSD”. But anyone who believes that Lennon would regularly deny drug references when he had admitted and even sung about his drug use on so many other occasions, has no business offering an opinion on Lennon, full stop.

 

Of course Lennon was under the influence of drugs during the recording of Sgt. Pepper’s and for some time before and after. He never made any bones about this. But he did not write “Lucy” as a pro-drugs song. It is one of those Lennon songs which questions the nature of reality. This questioning came under the influence of many things: the natural sense of wonder we have, especially as children, drugs, and in the case of this song, his reading of Lewis Carroll, who, not incidentally, is on the cover. This questioning was present before Lennon even used marijuana, let alone LSD (see part 7, on “There’s A Place”). I do not believe that Lennon took LSD to escape reality. It seems to me overwhelming that he took LSD because he wanted more reality of a higher order.

 

As I see it, in songs like “Lucy”, “Rain”, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “I Am the Walrus”, Lennon was implicitly asking: “is the fantasy of this song not as real to your imagination as most what happens to you in your life”? “Are there not other dimensions of reality that we do not experience?” “Why do we not experience the fullness of reality?” Such questions open many avenues for exploration. I have mentioned some of these in previous blogs. In addition, where Lennon’s signature tune features the instruction “imagine …”, “Lucy” twice invites us to “picture yourself …”. In one, we see “all the people living life in peace”, while in the other “everyone smiles as you drift by the flowers …”. I, for one, don’t see any great gulf between “Lucy” and “Imagine”, although “Imagine” is much the greater song (for example, the chorus in “Lucy” is intruded into the song).

 

What all of these “reality” songs, and others such as “Across the Universe” have in common is that they draw their magic from Lennon’s belief in the power of the mind, or, if you prefer, of creative imagination. Lennon was deep: he was not just exploring the relationship between the intellectual world and the practical world, as many others, including philosophers and economists do all the time. He was inquiring into the nexus between life as we live and experience it, and our imaginations, meaning here the working of all our projections from within, conscious and unconscious, onto the world outside of us. And this, I think is a vastly more noble and significant enterprise than anything in Western philosophy. In a future blog, I shall deal with Western philosophy, but I think that the point is too important not to avert to it here.

 

Lennon was not looking for rational foundations for his first principles, which is perhaps not an unfair way to characterize the aim of Western philosophy. Lennon started from where he was, and tried to make it better. He found that many things about his world had been projected there from within, so he starved those projections of some of their psychic oxygen by fashioning new manifestations from within himself in interaction with his surroundings. I am maybe simplifying, but I think it’s a fair simplification. (I think that something much the same can be said for Paul McCartney, and perhaps especially for “Fixing a Hole”, and I may yet explore this if I get to writing about Paul.)

 

This search of Lennon’s is, I think, the secret of “Being for Benefit of Mr Kite”. “Kite”, like “Lucy”, is a song of a different reality, one engineered by art. Lennon accidentally came across a striking Victorian circus poster. He fashioned from the words of the advertisement a melody that moves in the whimsical way of kites, to the sound of a carnival steam organ. As you listen, you can all but see the kite as it flies, dips, soars, quirkily changes direction and, finally, ascends to the uttermost height of the big top. It has the off-beat but real warmth of the Addams Family. The whole thing seems bizarre, but the actors in this curious spectacle are innocent of any clue that there might be something a little freakish about them. And because they are affectionately innocent, there is not.

 

Mr Kite” ends side one of this album perfectly. Not only does the kite soar in the air, far above the earth, but the song is a song of community: “The Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanques’ Fair. … The Hendersons will dance and sing as Mr Kite flies through the ring. Don’t be late! … A splendid time is guaranteed for all.” When Lennon announces, “And tonight, Mr Kite, is topping the bill!”, the song explodes in aural fireworks, as if a flaming torch had been lit to a box of sky-rockets and catherine wheels. (Some critics find something sinister in “Kite”. All you have to do is look at the expression on Lennon’s face in any of the shoots for the record, more of which have been made available in the 2009 enhanced-CD release. Does he look even remotely sinister?)

 

By fabricating something crisp, fresh and entertaining, “Mr Kite” removes the slightly maudlin after-taste of Paul’s ballad “She’s Leaving Home” (I find Leander’s orchestration to be heavy handed). The original intention had, apparently, been to end side 1 with “Leaving Home”. Thank heavens for small mercies. If one song on the album resonates with the exuberant magic of Blake’s cover art, it is “Mr Kite”.

 

Before leaving that, it must be said that sometimes Lennon’s element of cynicism worked like a pinch of cinnamon. In Paul’s “Getting Better”, John chips in from the background: “it couldn’t get any worse”, and so sharpens an edge to the song. But then, that song is a deceptive one. It has a rawness which, many commentators seem to miss, because, I think, it is Paul’s and so they project into it what they think of Paul anyway. Even Riley writes that: “It’s a silly love song, but it’s (Paul’s) most refreshing … What it lacks in sweep it makes up for with infectious lyricism.” I can’t see this at all. On this track, Paul sings: “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved. Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene …”. Now that doesn’t really qualify as a “silly love song” as that phrase is generally taken. It is painful, and one can object that this is Paul’s persona, not Paul. Maybe so, but one can make the effort to absorb what Paul is saying of his alter-ego: he was violent and played power games with his girl-friend. It is neither infectious nor lyrical.

 

Lennon also contributed to “With a Little Help from my Friends”, an understated song, and also an under-appreciated one, even though it’s generally considered to be a very strong song. It is the only song I know of that deals with the question of loneliness and friendship within the context of an established relationship. “What do I do when my love is away?” Billy Shears (borrowing Ringo’s voice) asks, and then the chorus queries him: “Does it worry you to be alone?” No, he answers, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” So Billy has a “love”, and yet, he feels as if he could be lonely but for his friends, and but for something else – his self. This, I think, is what lies behind the wonderful lines where the chorus ask: “What do you see when you turn out the light?”, setting up Shears’ reply: “I can’t tell you but I know that it’s mine.” This could be a pretty good description of the ineffable feeling of self-in-mystery that comes with “remembering myself”, to use Gurdjieff’s potent phrase. If I recall correctly, Paul, who wrote that line, was unsure of it, but John said words to the effect of: “Keep it in. We don’t know what it means, but we do.”

 

Good Morning Good Morning” may have been occasioned by an ad for a yellow food-substitute that generations of hapless consumers have been mis-educated into thinking is a breakfast cereal, but reflects John’s antecedent meditations on the world. Its true soul-mate is Paul’s “Penny Lane”. Like that song, it is a mosaic (that word again) of snapshots from the world. It’s a mosaic and not a congeries of photographs because it bears the overall message of the album: “Yes. Despite everything you can say against it, I say Yes!”. Because the song hangs together as a consistent whole, without breaks in rhythm or melody line, it is harder to spot its picaresque character, but it’s there right before us. The poor man and woman who are objects of the first line are not the objects of the balance of the song: “Nothing to do to save his life, call his wife in”. The very next line is addressed to someone else: “How’s your boy been?” Truthfully, Lennon declares, “I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s okay, good morning, good morning.” While the greetings are perfunctory and even robotic, the point is that there is a real person behind them: “Somebody needs to know the time, glad that I’m here.” Habits, grim as they may become, have a sense, have a purpose.

 

At times, “everyone you see is half asleep”, but later that same day, “everyone you see is full of life.” It’s not just that Lennon found the going hard in the morning, although I believe he did. His final words are “I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s okay, good morning, good morning.” As with “#9 Dream”, he admits that words fail him right now. But he’s not just talking, he’s making music, and the song doesn’t close there. There is a galloping explosion of sounds, similar to that on “Mr Kite” in that both produce an illusion of stored energy being gloriously released. Both songs end with special effects that extend the words and music into humorously managed chaos. I know that some people find a bad humour here, but I have never felt that. My conjecture is that these souls are projecting what they think they know of Lennon into the song. Listening to the brass works and the flair with which Ringo bangs the drums, how could the affirmation of the song as a whole be missed? This is the John Lennon who in that same year was positively impressed by Yoko Ono’s “piece”, where he climbed a ladder to grasp a magnifying glass and read the single word: “Yes”.

 

John also contributed the bulk of “A Day in the Life”. It may not be a coincidence that the two strongest songs on the record, at least in my opinion, are the two he worked on with Paul: “Life” and “With a Little Help”. The haunting pentatonic melody Lennon produced for the verses rivals, to my ear, the tune of “Yesterday”. However, the contents of the lyrics don’t appeal to cabaret acts, at least not powerfully, and so it isn’t widely covered. I recall, when I was young, some people, then in their late 20s, but who would have been in their late teens in 1967, standing around a piano while someone played this song. When it came to the two transitions from John’s verses to Paul’s snatch of a mini-song (“Woke up. Got out of bed.”), the playing floundered. They had to make-believe that the song flowed (the sole weakness of the song is that it relies too heavily on those two bridges). But whenever they came to the words “I’d love to turn you on”, they did turn on. The sound, the exuberance, the feeling flowing from this little coterie all cranked up. They were, so to speak, turned on. And that is how I always understood those words. Was Lennon referring to drugs? To sex? To human sympathy, or to all of them? Lennon may not have known, or more accurately, may have considered the question a non-question. But, for me, that memory of the “adults” around a piano represents in one vignette the power of this song, and is a reliable key to how to read it and Lennon’s contribution to this extraordinary album.

 

I have little else to say, but for me, the strength of John’s contribution to this album is not that he balanced Paul’s sweetness (although, as we saw in “Getting Better”, Paul’s sweetness is not so syrupy as one might always think). No, it is that Lennon consistently, on four songs, continued his exploration of the relationship between reality and perception, and, in the end, the results of his search were positive. And, in doing so, he made vivid what so many have said anyway, but few have communicated so well, that consciousness is not apart from reality, but that with one’s attitude, the three form a whole that cannot be broken down into mundane facts on the one hand and sensible opinions (or, when rebuking, not so sensible opinions) on the other.

 

I have said a lot about context. I think that the importance of context and background is part of the unfathomable nature of associations which Gurdjieff referred to. The power of context is show in one matter which struck me when I was pondering George’s contribution to this record. A lot of George’s credibility came from his being a Beatle. Preachy songs like “Within You, Without You” were received less critically than they would have been without the implied imprimatur of the other Beatles. Context and credibility is why Lennon’s voice is the standout counterpoint on “She’s Leaving Home”. When John sings “We never thought of ourselves, never a thought for ourselves”, you receive the full force of John’s unhappiness with middle-class complacency and its mercantile attitude to affection (I changed your nappies and so you must “love” me). Had George or anyone else sung those words they would have been delivered as a statement of fact. To my mind, apart from the subjective question of whether the melodies and lyrics were any good, those who critique Sgt. Pepper’s too often do so without stepping back and looking at the record as a whole, in its breathing context. Some people analyse it in such fine detail that they lack perspective on what is before them.

 

In the end, then, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the word “Yes”, spoken with full knowledge of and despite the reality of “No”. It delivered the positive message that life is worthwhile in and through the entire roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, and all the sorrow, pain, joy and delight. Your experience of reality, it says, is at least in part a function of your consciousness. And you have some influence over that.

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“For those interested in learning more about the philosophy behind this blog, and Gurdjieff, whose ideas are referred to here, the book ‘George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ by George Adie and Joseph Azize (author of this blog) is available at www.bythewaybooks.com

 

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

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JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

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2010 in review

CONGRATULATIONS & THANKS ARE DUE TO

JOSPEH AZIZE and JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO

for their continuing and outstanding contributions

=================

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 100,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 28 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 138 posts. There were 87 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 24mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 9th with 791 views. The most popular post that day was JOHN LENNON: ESSENCE & REALITY: Memory.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were en.wordpress.com, facebook.com, gurdjieff-books.net, search.aol.com, and mahalo.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for toronto, elton john, john lennon, stalin, and carlos castaneda.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

JOHN LENNON: ESSENCE & REALITY: Memory June 2010

2

POSSIBLE GURDJIEFF-STALIN CONNECTION WITH REFERENCE TO DAVID KHERDIAN June 2008

3

Osho on Reading Castandeda: first read Gurdjieff August 2009

4

GURDJIEFF & THE PRAYER OF THE HEART March 2008

5

THE PSEUDO-OUSPENSKY ON ST JOHN’S GOSPEL August 2008

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

January 2, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Constantinople Notes on the Transition to Man Number Four

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Joseph Azize

Constantinople, Turkey c 1890 – 1900

Mindful of the approach of 29 October 2010, I have prepared extracts from a typed and manually corrected manuscript which Mr Adie gave me to study called the “Constantinople Notes of Mr. Ferapontoff”. If I understand correctly, the author was Boris Ferapontoff, who was a pupil of Gurdjieff in Russia, in Constantinople, and was again with him at the Prieuré. At the Prieuré, he was a movements demonstrator, and apparently correctly predicted that he would die young. I am pretty sure that I read somewhere that he travelled to Australia. That is all I know. Attempts to locate his literary executors, if any, have proved fruitless.

What is the material? I think that, as one person said, much of it may be based on lectures Ouspensky gave in Turkey. Some of it seems to me to be pure Gurdjieff, although Ouspensky could quote Gurdjieff directly, so one cannot be dogmatic. Various ideas in these notes, e.g. those concerning karma, were never referred to by Ouspensky in “Miraculous”, “Psychology”, “New Model” or in any of his reported questions and answers. That makes me think that these notes are unlikely to be Ouspensky’s words alone, because had Ouspensky ever expressed these powerful ideas, why would he apparently discard them, especially as he stated that he aimed to pass on the system as he had received it and as a whole? Also, one of the comments about the Absolute (not in this selection) makes the Absolute sound like God, and Ouspensky repudiated that suggestion. If the sound of Gurdjieff comes through loud and clear in this extract, it’s in the pithy comment about “perspicacity”.

At the end of the day, there seems to me something unique about these notes which makes me conjecture that they represent the fruit of Ferpontoff’s own understanding of his time with both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. I think that the material deserves full publication, and would suggest a properly edited production with cross-references to other published material, including Tchetchovitch’s French notes.

I have chosen some short extracts from passages titled “Attitude to Psychology”, “The Emotional Centre”, “Work in relation to Centres”, “Work of Centres”, and “Matter of Centres”. I have edited the extracts to have a loose theme of the transition to man number four. This sample begins by stressing the necessity of having an aim. It states that the system is, above all, practical (one might add that if it isn’t taken practically, it turns into its opposite: it becomes a soporific drug). I was also struck, even warmed, by what is said about the work of the emotional centre, and pleasant sensations.

Sometimes the text is enigmatic, if not obscure. I have not tampered with it at all except to exercise editorial discretion and sometimes remove entire sentences where I judged that the material was not sufficiently striking to warrant reproduction. It isn’t as if the material isn’t all of a remarkable quality: it patently is. But for a piece like this, I thought it better not to needlessly restate here what is already familiar to us from other books. I trust, however, that enough of the background has been included to provide a good background to the practical hints with which the text abounds.

I have used three dots to indicate where I have omitted text. In Mr Adie’s typescript, there were some corrections. I have reproduced below the text as corrected, that is, I have omitted the excised typed words and have not given any special indication of the few words which were written in by hand. None of the amendments were mine, and neither is the handwriting Mr Adie’s.

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com, or respond via comments box at end of post

Attitude to Psychology

Everything is from outside. … The system is purely practical. Everyone who begins to study it must ask himself what he wants. … We have in us a possibility of a higher, finer knowledge. … Study of man is useful only in connection with study of possibilities.

The emotional centre.

Even for it distance no longer exists. Feeling cannot be permanent in man, unless it is connected with consciousness. Inverse unwinding of impressions. There is no control of emotions, even apparent control does not exist. Spinoza: emotion can only be conquered with emotion. Categories in emotional centre: fear, curiosity. Fear and lies. Only they can conquer emotions in sleep. Work has other methods.

Lying to oneself. Calling the bad good. You cannot help lying and you will not help it. Distribution of time is such that no time is left for self-observation.

What a tremendous number of fears! This emotion should only be studied; all the manifestations of so-called bravery are fear. Real bravery is something quite different. It is hard to give up suffering. We like to dream about unpleasantnesses. … Prevailing emotions may become the negative force. The emotional centre can be moved by different motors, different accumulators. Often the accumulator of emotions takes part in intellectual work. Emotional centre can understand the work of formatory apparatus. The principle of passionlessness in religions.

The emotional centre solves problems quicker but it is impossible to remember. … All pleasant sensations are useful. For, instance, smoking in a given form is balanced. Biological meaning of an unpleasant sensation is a warning of danger.

Work in relation to centres.

In the domain of moving centre: observation of pulsation. Pulsation must be mastered, otherwise many experiments will be impossible. 2) sensation of parts of the body, 3) relaxing muscles.

For the thinking centre: concentration, stopping thoughts.

For the emotional centre it is first of all necessary to free oneself from unnecessary unpleasantnesses. All pleasant sensations are useful.

The emotional centre is the starting point. Only after acquiring the second emotional centre can one acquire the thinking, making it connect with the others.

Perspicacity. It should be stolen from another centre which has it.

Work of Centres.

Incomplete work. Only formatory apparatus works to its full capacity. Man works with a very small part of his energy. A cultured man is a man who is being cultivated, who has deve1oped all that is possible. Uncultured man is divided into three categories. Man No 2 and 3 is usually the result of work.

The outpouring of energy from one of the centres. It is as though the driving belt has been taken off. We do not know how to use the emotional apparatus, we do not know how to set tasks for our thought.

With incomplete work of the factory not all the substances are produced. Dullness with a chronic cold in the head. Each organ has several functions, even the stomach.

Matter of Centres.

Each centre produces its own substances which spread out like a cloud. It also spends.

Theory of hormones. Each function requires a definite substance. To possess all substances. Not only to wish, but to be able, and to have the wherewithal to awake.

Fa 96 also feeds the organism by collecting radiations. Some throw away the ends of rays, others absorb them. Imagination and worry throw them away. One can be more tired after an hour of dreaming than after a day of work. We dream more of unpleasant things. The matter of formatory apparatus is more coarse, that of the moving centre is finer and that of the emotional still finer. We are too fond of being tired. We have huge reserves. What he1ps and what hinders. The apparatus proves to be stronger. To add qualities by accumulation of matter.

Excess. Normal work corresponds to accumulating matter. We must have excess. Only then is the work of higher emotional centre possible. There are means of increasing accumulation.

Man No 4. Each centre does its own work without interfering in the work of another. Work without superfluous expenditure of energy. No 4 is not produced by life. Broadening knowledge only by perfecting the apparatus. The first task is to balance the centres. It is necessary to find the memory of each centre. Which centre is working now? Does it work rightly? As a rule the work of centres is automatic. Noteworthy moments. To catch and to continue. To seeks means of awakening. Only when you know the taste of each centre is it possible to judge whether a given work is right. Concentration is at present impossible: adjusting the apparatus. Observing separate centres is the beginning of self-study. It is the first step. To begin from the central point with the representation which evoked the thought. Cramming. Saturation. The organism has to be saturated with substances. New organs may result from deposits of substances. Connection with the emotional centre as a result of a deposit. No driving belts.

Crystallisation after saturation. Only with saturation. But there is too little of some substances, a special effort is required.

Fusion. Our usual consciousness is consciousness of what is on the surface. Vessel with powders. Powders change place. No fusion. Man No 4 is a man who always understands in the same way. Understanding depends on what one understands with.

Fusion means a whole. Personality as one whole. Magnetising the alloy. Imbibing the substances. Acquired qualities can be lost. Fixing is acquisition of the fourth body. Fire can be due to many causes. Fixing by means of fire. Fire as the result of friction. Friction as the result of struggle between “yes” and “no”. A long process. If one conquers at once there is no struggle. Fire as result of effort. Struggle to create some kind of unity. Inimical attitude to oneself: one begins, another ends. If all struggle is concentrated on increasing consciousness there can be no wrong fusion. Struggle with the unconscious.

Wrong fusion can result even from arduous work. Necessary to break up. Wrong fusion may make the formation of the second body impossible. Wrong fusion can result, for instance, in connection with understanding what is good and what is evil, or on the basis of some fear. Wrong crystallisation in sleep when a mask is being formed.

At first struggle is only to accumulate material. The method is individual. One needs one thing, another another thing. Another may need not only not to destroy his small ‘I’s but to acquire new ones. One should begin with some very small habit. Sometimes it is very

difficult to conquer it, for it is connected with others. If one struggles with one habit several disappear.

One can increase energy only by the struggle between “yes” and “no”. If one wants one thing, to do another. Awakening needs energy. The most difficult thing is to see one’s  preponderant desire. Intentional and unintentional lies, fear, greed. Usually the chief feature is the best hidden from man. Until one begins to dissect oneself. All other features are also bad. We do not realize that we have never once made an effort in our life. But effort influenced by necessity or desire is no effort. To remember oneself is an effort, because no external shock can force us.

Effort for the sake of consciousness. Passive life. Struggle with habits gives a taste of effort, inner effort. Effort of the whole mass of shocks. If there is no struggle, there is no fixing. Struggle between different qualities. Only that which conquers can become fixed. Much will be thrown away. Inner struggle and struggle between centres

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JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

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Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

October 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Gurdjieff & Christianity: part one

Joseph Azize

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

I feel that the time has come for this blog to address the relationship between Gurdjieff, his teaching and methods on the one hand, and Christianity on the other. I have been pondering the issues for some time, but have always sensed that the issues were too big for me to tackle just now. Really, they still are, and maybe always will be. But I’ve found that the exercise of writing helps me to understand, to see where I don’t understand, where I can’t understand, and to perceive more clearly where the limitations in my thought lie. So, the fact that a topic is difficult for me, or even beyond my capacities, may be a reason to attempt it, to try to expand my range.

The impulse to broach the topic right now came from an acquaintance who asked me some pretty good questions about Gurdjieff and Christianity. Unfortunately, the information available to him is so lopsided or even distorted that he cannot even obtain a half decent idea of the possibilities of Gurdjieff’s teachings and methods. Once I addressed myself to the topic, certain very clear ideas appeared as if they’d been waiting to be articulated … and so, here we are. I’ve planned this as a series of short blogs, of no more than 1,000 words each, to present a few of my more or less tentative conclusions in crisp outline.

My first thesis is this: Gurdjieff’s teaching and Christianity have the same aim, to secure eternity with God. It seems to me to be obvious, and entirely unoriginal, to say that our lives depend upon our aim. If I have no aim, then, as Mr Adie said, everything is equal. Aim brings meaning to life and unity to our strivings. Multiple, mixed or conflicting aims lead to futility, meaninglessness and disturbance. Therefore, it is of the utmost significance that the Christian religion and Gurdjieff’s system coincide in aim.

Of course, they express this one aim in their own unique terms. But if my aim accords with that of Christianity – to attain to the beatific vision – then it also accords with Gurdjieff’s, as stated in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. There he says that it is possible for one to become “a particle, though an independent one, of everything existing in the great universe” (183, see also 162, 244-5, 384 and 452). On the Planet Purgatory, he said, souls strive to purify themselves specifically to be able to unite with and become part of the universal “Greatness” (801). In the 1930 typescript, it states:

… the souls inhabiting that planet Purgatory might have a perfect and quiet existence, with everything uniquely favourable. Nevertheless, for them these external circumstances of quiet and comfort simply do not count at all. They are entirely absorbed in the increasing labour of their purgation; and only the hope of one day having the good fortune and the possibility of becoming a part of the Greatness which is fulfilled by our All-possible Endlessness for the good of All, appears occasionally to give them peace.

There is an important reference to the beatific vision, but it is characteristic of Gurdjieff that it is perhaps secondary to unity of being. That the beatific vision is the ultimate Christian aim is trite. Catechetic texts abound in statements such as the following: “Faith is the indispensable prelude to the beatific vision, the supernatural end of man. Both are immediate knowledges of God, faith the hearing of His word on earth, vision the seeing of His face in heaven. Without revelation there would be some natural knowledge of God, but not the knowledge of faith.” As we shall explore in future blogs, this idea of the necessity of revelation is found also in Gurdjieff, and his references to “messengers from above”.

Aquinas said that “the beatific vision and knowledge are to some extent above the nature of the rational soul, inasmuch as it cannot reach it of its own strength; but in another way it is in accordance with its nature, inasmuch as it is capable of it by nature, having been made to the likeness of God.”

This, it seems to me, is also a good summary of Gurdjieff’s position. We have possibilities, as Gurdjieff said, “according to law”. The most important of our possibilities do not depend on us, they are part of the makeup of creation as it is. What depends on us is that we take advantage of our lawful possibilities. That Christians will speak of “grace” whereas Gurdjieff does not is merely a semantic difference. Christians also speak of “providence” and “predestination”, although less frequently than of “grace”, and these all come down to the same thing. Calvin utterly misunderstood predestination, and since him, the Western Christian discourse has been somewhat confused. To my mind, Gurdjieff can best explain how these concepts all fit together.

“Grace” refers to the action of God (chiefly felt in the soul, but also manifested as the rare miracle), and to the divinely planned system of the creation.

“Predestination” in human terms, is pretty much like the way that the Department of Roads laid down a broad street between Rydalmere and Parramatta. But if I want to travel to the predestined end (my home in Rydalmere), I still have to drive my car. The road is there by providence: the facilitating of road-making, driving and navigating. That I do not crash or lose my way is due to grace: that God has freely given me (the etymological meaning of “grace”) the means of availing myself of this providential arrangement.

Gurdjieff says little about grace in the first sense, although it is actually in Beelzebub, e.g. the pardoning of Beelzebub. For this reason, among others, the apparent difference between Gurdjieff and Christianity is greater than it is. But as I have said, Gurdjieff shares the aim of Christianity, to bring humanity to God. And that is the most possible significant fact.

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

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Azize Review: The Forgotten Language of Children

Joseph Azize

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

The Forgotten Language of Children

Author: Lilian Firestone

Published: New York, 2010

{This is a reasonably lengthy article, as the book provides opportunities to discuss some significant issues: indeed, it almost demands serious discussion. I commence with an overview of the book and its contents. In Part 2, I outline the “Henry” story. Part 3 provides a critique. Part 4 includes some further ideas on being with children, while the final section, headed “Conscience”, is perhaps the most important part of the review. I then attach some brief extracts from Traherne’s “Centuries”. The length of the review will have been worthwhile if it introduces a few more people to Traherne’s writing. Joseph Azize, Joseph.Azize@gmail.com, 24 September 2010}.

1 Overview and Contents

This book is vivid and profound. It relates Firestone’s personal history of activities with children under the auspices of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. Because it’s also meant to be a point of departure for one’s own discoveries, it bears a certain promise. When one reads a record like this, one feels that because new understandings and ways of relating were possible for those people, something corresponding is possible now for us. Our experiences will not be identical to Firestone’s, but they may, nonetheless, be analogous in that they’re oriented towards “essence values”, in Gurdjieff’s terms. Like any good history, this one silently invites us to ponder our own histories, to challenge our understanding, and to be responsible for living what we’ve learned.

As the title indicates, Firestone believes that children have a language of their own, one which we adults have forgotten. The key to this “language” would appear to be that it’s a tongue where imaginative cues are more important than verbal ones. In Firestone’s words: “what touches them more than words are pictures and images” (p.71). Firestone’s insight may be an application to children of Gurdjieff’s “mentation by thought” and “mentation by form” (Beelzebub, p. 15). Appropriately enough, although the book hardly seems aimed at children, Firestone uses something of the language herself, not only in her simple, sensitive prose, but also in the many photographs. I suspect that she would like to think that the book may hold meaning for some of the children who then participated. Perhaps, too, the once-forgotten language can be a factor in vivifying our adult language, unduly neglectful as it is, at times, of the value of images.

As someone who is fairly painfully aware of how poorly he writes, I admire Firestone for the apparently effortless clarity of her writing. To my mind, the mark of a good writer is that the words on the page flow so easily that the reader receives the meaning as if hearing an ordinary conversation, that is, without having to strain at the formulations or even to be aware that the writer has exercised an art. By those criteria, Firestone is a good writer. Because her style is, as I said, vivid and feeling, I never felt that what she was describing was at all foreign to me. It’s this quality in her writing which invites an imaginative engagement.

The title is, perhaps, the key to the first theme of the book: external communication between adults and children. Firestone’s entire verbal and pictorial record describes a chain of experiments in communication between adults and children. The aptness of the title is an example of Firestone’s ability as a writer.

As I read it, the next theme of the book is internal communication between parts of oneself: higher and lower; emotional, intellectual and organic. We can aim to live more consciously in two directions simultaneously: within ourselves and with others. The two themes seamlessly fit together, and without that fit, one line alone cannot long continue to be productive. I can neither communicate more consciously nor more conscience-ly with children, or with anyone else, unless I myself am more consciously present.

In the end, as Mr Adie said, “all it needs is my presence”. If a person is present when they’re with children, they are bound to have some feeling of themselves in relation to those children. Human communication can and should be marked by increasing honesty, receptivity and respect. In a genuine relationship, our being is evoked, and there’s often a wonder at the mystery of the present, at the unfolding, and at the possibilities.

Forgotten Language” is carefully, even affectionately produced. It’s a handsomely presented hardcover, the cover slip being what I think of as crimson, with an endearing naive drawing of an elephant. The contrasting touches of gold and the banding behind the author’s name on the dust jacket complement the cover almost perfectly, having strength, without being at all overpowering. Just those shades of crimson, gold and white on the cover suggest quietly glowing embers tumbled down from a fire. A little short of 300 pages, well illustrated, and published by Firestone’s own Indications Press, it’s moderately priced at $US40; further reason to see it as a labour of love. I’ve passed it on to an impecunious friend of mine, married with a child, because I think that he’ll find it absorbing and useful, and friends do each other good turns.

It’s arranged around 15 chapters, each with a theme such as “In the Kitchen”, “Money”, “Impressions”, and so on. Each of these chapters has a special interest, and is reasonably self-contained, although one should begin by reading the first two chapters to obtain one’s bearings. As I shall mention, the last chapters have a continuity which close the book. There are sundry appendices and many pages of photographs.

Chapter 3, “Challenges”, is typical of the book. It opens with Gurdjieff’s wise advice to learn one new skill, craft or language each year; an advice which, so far as I know, he gave only to adults. Taking up this advice leads to a “struggle to learn” and a recognition that we’re prone to making “reflexive judgments” and hiding behind the mechanical pretext “I can’t”. In learning new things, they all had to leave “the safety of the known” (47-8), as Firestone says.

Yet, I wonder whether learning a new craft or language does really take anyone so very far out from the safety of shore. It is not, after all, as if they had gone to the Jordanian desert to learn falconry from the Bedouin. As we shall see in the next part of this review, when they had hardly left “the safety of the known” to camp out in Canada in the company of Henry the Micmac Indian, the adults scrambled back to shore as if drowning. I exempt Firestone from this: the account indicates that she struggled admirably against forces too great for her strength as it then was. So, speaking for myself, when I read such phrases as “leaving the safety of the known”, “Children’s Work”, and “leaning on the moment”, I find a certain low level grandiloquence. No matter, it isn’t painful.

As this chapter shows, a significant part of what Firestone and colleagues learnt came through the aid of Jeanne de Salzmann and Peggy Flinsch. De Salzmann advised them to “create an event”, to prepare a challenge, and, most importantly, to be there in the “moment”. In illustrating these events and moments, ample space is devoted to the children’s reflections. One remark which seems typical, was “At the Children’s Work … when you tried something new or from your imagination, nobody corrected you. Nobody said, “You’re wrong”, “You’re stupid” … Instead you were trusted to come up with something of your own, and the adults let you do it” (50).

A critical point came when, striving to understand de Salzmann’s advice to create special conditions, they saw that they themselves “were the special conditions on which everything depended” (52). They aimed for “a dual attention to oneself and the children” (52). This requires impartiality, and that led to an exercise where each would study one child to see whether mind, feeling or body were strongest, weakest, quickest and so on, in that child (53). After this, de Salzmann gave advice which approximates to Gurdjieff’s direction to see children in their potential (53-4). There is much more valuable material like this in chapter 3. Perhaps the acme is found in Jim Nott’s quoting Gurdjieff’s statement that we can repair the past, and that we can remember how we were as children, so coming to a sympathetic understanding of these children (54-5). I especially mention this because it points to a way forward for all of us.

Without repairing the past, we cannot, it seems to me, ever come to conscience. The royal road to individuality is to awaken conscience. And, as Gurdjieff said, behind real “I” lies God. What human aim would not be related to the beatific vision? Gurdjieff said as much in different terms when, in respect of the Third Series, he said that he aimed “to share the possibilities I had discovered of touching reality and, if so desired, even merging with it.”

My own view is that what readers can extrapolate from this volume will probably be more valuable as a new attitude, or even as a mood, than as statements of principle. And I say that knowing full well that the general principles cited from Gurdjieff and de Salzmann are, indeed, gems. I’ve made a list, probably incomplete, but you can find citations from Gurdjieff at pp. 16, 27, 47, 54, 97-8 and 127-130. The last of these opens with some profound stories told by de Salzmann. That redoubtable lady features at pp. 24, 27, 43, 48, 53-4, 56-7, 61, 63, 71-2, 92-3, 127, 132-3, 140, 145 and 196. Incidentally, comparing the de Salzmann who appears in this book with the de Salzmann of the recently published “Reality of Being”, is instructive. The “calendar speech” which spoils “Reality” for me is entirely missing from Firestone’s portrait. Perhaps de Salzmann’s forte was in exchanges and what we might call “life-engagements”, rather than philosophy. I would say that de Salzmann emerges in this book as a store of practical wisdom and controlled force. Peggy Flinsch is also an influence for impartial understanding in this book, see pp. 24, 35, 36, 55, 63-4, 77, 87, 111 and 130.

The material is well-written, clear, engaging, and has a feeling quality. I find that, excepting only a few passages, it is impossible not to have sympathy with the author, and to applaud her efforts, some of which came at the price of a certain sacrifice of egoism.

2 The “Henry” Story

The most important of Firestone’s experiences appear in the story which comprises chapters 12, “Difficulties”, and 13, “Remorse”. These chapters are the climax, too, in that they form a sustained closing note. Firestone’s experience began like this: they wanted to find “a worthwhile destination” for the children’s holiday, one which “offered new meaning” (p.173). While they were thinking this way, the adults and some children from the group attended a pow-wow, where she met Henry, a Micmac from a reservation in Nova Scotia (174-5). Henry was impressive: “His life story was the first of its kind we had heard. His direct way of speaking was so striking that the children remembered afterwards what he said almost word for word” (175).

Henry emerges as probably the most practical and common sense actor in the whole book (Firestone not excluded, as she candidly shows in the “tins of food” story where she could, it seems to me, have just told a spoiled child that canned “food” was no substitute for fresh food, and refused to allow her to buy tins). When the children asked Henry whether he could sleep on the ground without a blanket, he answered: “Sure, if I haven’t got a blanket” (176). When they couldn’t light a fire because the kindling was damp, he used what he called “the Indian way”: he ignited it with kerosene. Firestone frankly discloses that the “work people” disapproved; but Henry pointed out that common sense is the Indian way (176-7). And so it was, in general, with Henry. He was efficient and capable, but if there were no jobs, he rested. “He never looked busy, never pretended” (177).

Henry told them that because the Indians had found the white man to be a hypocrite, they described him as speaking with “forked tongue” and as having “two hearts”. Henry related his stories of betrayal with impartiality, and without reproach. Firestone hoped to show him that, contrary to his experience hitherto, white people could act with “friendship and honour” (177). Henry invited them to the Canadian reservation. They agreed to come for ten days. This was to be the “worthwhile destination” for the children’s holiday. Peggy Flinsch could not make it, but they were nothing daunted: one of their leaders spoke of “adventure and responsibility”. So, off they set. When they arrived at the reservation, Henry led them to his mother’s house (178-80). His mother taught Firestone what she (Firestone) regarded as a valuable lesson, when she persuaded Firestone to let a small boy sleep on after the others had risen, rather than be awakened before he was ready. At this point Firestone says “The Indian way is about living with the reality of what is” (180). At least, I would say, that is the Indian way at its best.

But the “men on the team were restless”. There was, they said, no plan for the children, and Henry’s Indian friends had not yet arrived “to instruct the children”, who were running around playing in the woods and the lakeshore (181). In the meantime, Henry’s mother showed the girls how to make skirts from leaves. When Henry’s friends arrived that afternoon there was still no plan, and, they apparently said, there cannot be one: it isn’t their way (181-2). However: “the men on the team became irritated and gave Henry hard looks. They found an unstructured day hard to bear, but the children were happy” (182). In the course of that day, Henry and his friends showed the children how to make a “delicious, real, fresh bread” but one “of our men” asked why they hadn’t explained the process. Henry’s reply was, again, common sense: “The children can see; what’s the use of talking?” (183)

That night a musician played what they described as “traditional Indian music”. The music turned out to be Irish and English folk tunes. The children were happy, but “the men” were not. “This is not the Children’s Work”, one said, and the capitals are in Firestone’s book. I can well believe they were in the intonation, too. They decided to leave the very next day, just walking out on the Indians. Firestone alone dissented from this plan. She became bewildered: “How did principles apply?” (185)

Firestone was troubled, saying: “It was wrong to break our word to Henry. I could hardly bear the thought that, like all the others, we would betray him” (185). But, as she notes, Peggy was not there (185). Peggy Flinsch, for those who do not know, was a personal pupil of Gurdjieff. One of the leaders, Ben, told the children they had to leave immediately, and another, Bill, told them “not to ask any questions” (187). This produced a situation where “most of the children, still not understanding the adults’ cold abruptness, were resentful and afraid” (187). The children’s log stated:

From the first day, a gap seemed to form between the adults and us. The adults were always stressing responsibility. Hacking was so frowned upon that we felt guilty every time we laughed. There were few minutes of fun. … None of us wanted to go; we could see Henry was hurt. And again the adults were cold and demanding. (188)

Back home, Firestone realised that she could not “give” her conscience “over” to anyone, not even to “her” team. As she concluded: “Any group can lose its way” (197). In relating this tale, I’ve used more direct quotes than usual, in case it might be thought that I’m guilting the lily (to adapt a line).

3 Critique

Sometimes, when reviewing, I’ll make substantial comments because I find that a book has substantial value. In other instances, a long critique might be needed to justify an unflattering appraisal. This book invites comments because of its depth. You could assess foundations as being really solid but still wish to do a little more work, even if just to hose them down before building upon them. Something similar is the case here. It’s because the volume is so good that I think there’s a use in addressing what I see as a flaw in the execution. In principle, the book is great. It’s a firm, even inspiring foundation. But the surface of the foundations wants sweeping, at least in my view.

The volume could be tidier in this respect: I think that it’s too long. It seems to me that Lillian Firestone has written one and a bit books with two different if related aims inside one cover: (1) a narrative, of satisfying length, which could stand by itself as an interesting and instructive autobiographical fragment, and, (2) in the appendices titled “Themes” and “Some Principles”, a how-to-Work-with-Children manual, to use New York capitals.

My sense is that had these short appendices been omitted, and the offering of principles been left to the voices of Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and Flinsch, the principles would have been more effectively conveyed. The minor statements of principle in the text are not offensive or even distracting: some reflection, some philosophy, is often necessary. Many of Firestone’s own short meditations, if I can call them that, are very good indeed: for example, her conclusion to the Henry story. But while some salt seasons the dish, too much seizes the throat.

The book challenges conventional ideas of drilling “the right way” into children’s heads. It stands, to use Gurdjieff’s terminology, for the imperatives to be present, to remember oneself, and to manifest from “consciousness and conscience” (perhaps a hendiadys, perhaps not). The how-to manual is maybe more than simply a departure from this: it seems to me to be inimical. Firestone says that children should be allowed their own experience. I would agree, so far as one can agree with such a statement. At the least, we adults too often wish for children to share our own experience, and to accept our valuations. We often show too little respect for the child’s individuality. But why not let adult readers have their own experience, and leave the appendices out? Still, being at the back of the volume they don’t interfere with the narrative, and so the sound foundations, so to speak, remain intact.

That is my major reservation. Let’s now turn to another matter: the so-called “Children’s Work” with capitals. If we call an activity “work”, there is at least a danger that we’ll assume that we’re working simply by virtue of being on a “work team”, and the phrase will keep suggesting that back to us. And so we glue assumptions into our language. The word “work” stands for something very high: rational, connected efforts in the direction of a chosen aim. We have to earn the right to say that we’re working, especially working as a man would, with all three centres. Gurdjieff said a good deal about suggestiveness, an aspect of Kundabuffer, and the force for illusion which it represents in our lives. We would be prudent to avoid words which might feed suggestion. Again, it’s another mild aspect of grandiloquence, but it’s significant, because I tend to see it as supporting our evil inner god “self-calming”.

Thankfully, there is an easy solution. I see no reason to employ any special sobriquets. If the children are working on a pond, call it “the pond team”. If some are in the kitchen, then they’re in “the kitchen crew”. Where there is a legitimate need to distinguish, one can refer to the children in the theatre troupe, or the adults in the gardening outfit, and be none the poorer.

To return to an example from “Forgotten Language”, in the case of the spoiled kid that insisted on buying tinned food and not fresh food, it might have been possible, if in the right state, to tell her that her proposal was misconceived for the simple reason that fresh food is more nutritious than canned food-substitutes. Of course, we want to explain this without any feeling of condemnation, just addressing the matter in hand. If I can be impartial, and feel supportive of the child while speaking, something of my inner state has a chance of coming through. The other may refuse to be mollified, but I don’t believe that they do not know at some deep level what is going on, and that they’re being wilful.

By the way, Gurdjieff groups should be insisting on fresh food (organic and, I suspect, without genetic modification where possible) and freshly prepared meals. Ordering in sandwiches or pizza, and eating “sweets” is anti-essence. We should, so far as possible, banish processed carbohydrates like sugar, bread, pizza and white rice. Solanges Claustres reports that Gurdjieff said that because inner efforts use the sort of energy they do, it’s essential to at least try and give the body the most nutritious food. Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the Adies did not know that sugar was a poison. Okay, but we do, and they wanted us to pursue truth rather than limiting ourselves to what was known about nutrition in their day.

I will end this critique by mentioning another factor I’d like to “challenge”, to use Firestone’s term. That is the material commissioned in the foreword and the testimonials. The foreword is by T.R. Thurman, and praises the “firm but kind realism of the adults” (ix). The praise for the volume, for Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the adults is fulsome, very fulsome. I wonder Firestone did not find it embarrassing. Then, Thurman relates how the Dalai Lama, when receiving an honorary degree, said “so powerfully as to penetrate the stone pillars” that to educate the brain but not the heart is to create a danger. Thurman adds: “The assembled dignitaries nodded approvingly, but subsequently I didn’t notice any change in the curriculum” (x).

What changes to the curriculum did Thurman expect to see? What changes did he himself make? What changes did the Lama indicate? The fact of the matter is, as reported, the Dalai Lama made a platitudinous statement which could mean almost anything. Thurman was identified with him to the extent that he even imagined the pillars hearing his voice, and now shares his fond fantasy with us. Once more, I call it grandiloquence. A more humorous and softer phrase might be the Australianism “cosmic wombat”.

I could make comments about the testimonials on the back cover, but time is limited. Suffice to say, if you esteem gushing praise, yes, they’re good. But why “ache” for what you didn’t have? What could such an “ache” be but imagination? Does Firestone need this sort of marketing? This book is a dedication to life and consciousness past, present and future before it’s a product, and to market it like any ordinary book, with the sort of testimonials Gurdjieff satirized in “Meetings” … well, I can’t conceive that it was necessary, especially as it’s her own press and she has no external publishers to compromise with.

4 Further Thoughts on Children

I have no children of my own, but I was a child. One of the rarest insights I’ve ever heard about children was said by my late grandmother. “Children,” she said, “know who love them.” An intuitive knowledge is available to them in many ways. At some level, children, especially small children, know. They know what’s going on and what’s taking place in the people around them. My clear recollection, and it’s something we all shared whether we remember it or not, is that as a child I was very often quite impartial. I recall looking around me with the sort of feeling-impartiality that Thomas Traherne describes in his “Centuries”, and having a respect for other people as being miracles equal to myself. In book 3.3. of the “Centuries”, Traherne wrote:

Aged men seemed as venerable and reverend creatures – young men seemed glittering and sparkling angels. and women strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty. Boys and girls tumbling in the street and playing. were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die, but all things bided as if in their proper places eternally.

I recall that I was centred, that my mind was crystal clear, and my feelings were positive. The memories are absolutely crisp. I did not then realise that I was centred, but then again, perhaps I did. By imperceptible degrees, of course, this state of natural, innocent blissful perception was lost. But the realisation that I then had, effectively of the truth of the Beatific Visions, has never been lost, although for periods, sometimes for long weary periods, it has lain unremembered.

As an aside, the very first time I read In Search of the Miraculous, I at once saw that what Gurdjieff was teaching was a method for restoring the lost vision, but at a higher level, one which would relate our perception to our will, and not merely our circumstances. It seemed right that the path would lie through conscience, but never had I remotely guessed that that could commence through something as simple as becoming conscious to my own reality, beginning with physical sensation. Yet how obvious, after all, that the road to reality should begin in the one certain place available to everyone, our own individual being-reality? I tried to bring some of that understanding to Mr Adie’s book, especially the chapters “The Joy of Creation” and “The World in Amber”.

To return to our theme, Traherne saw that this tale of infant paradise and the fall is true of everyone. Children are more in essence than we are, and, as I shall mention below, the working of their centres is more united. Traherne’s writing on this subject is significant, and too little appreciated. In an appendix to this review, I attach some more brief quotations from book 3 of Traherne’s “Centuries”. But there is no substitute for purchasing a volume of his poetry, and making your own acquaintance with this profound mystic.

To return to my grandmother’s words, I think that the first effort with anyone, but especially perhaps with children, is to open to feeling. By “feeling” I mean positive emotion of myself, not mere “emotion” (see p.61 of “George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia” for the critical distinction.) I won’t delve into it now, but it’s natural that such an effort extends downwards into presence of sensation and above into presence of aim. This is another reason why I think there needs to be more attention paid to the awakening of feeling, and less to intellectual formulations such as “leaning on the moment”, which to me paints a humorous picture of leaving smudges everywhere. A moment is a breath. You can’t “lean” on it, even metaphorically. But to the degree that I am present, higher emotional centre operates with its richer time, and it as if corridors of dimensions are added to the experience of the moment. Once more, contact with feeling proves to be the gate.

In small children, the centres function more closely together. Children are both more sensitive and stronger than they will be as adults, more in essence, and so we are accordingly more responsible for our manifestations in their presences. Incidentally, I heard this from Mr Adie, but the same idea is recorded in Ouspensky’s “The Fourth Way”, so I am pretty sure it came from Gurdjieff. At p. 74 is this fertile line: “In small children centres are not divided.” At p. 121, Ouspensky answers a question as to whether a child is nearer to self-remembering than an adult. “No, not quite”, said Ouspensky. Remembering oneself, he explained, comes from one’s own conscious and intentional efforts. While children have moments of consciousness, these moments come by themselves because the emotional centre is more active in children.

So it seems to be this: the younger the child, the less division there is likely to be between the centres. One can even see from embryology how the mechanisms of the centres start to appear. The different scale of time in higher centres and higher parts of centres explains why our sense of time is different when we’re children. As Traherne said of his experience as a boy: “All time was eternity and a perpetual sabbath.” My own guess is that the operational division of centres which has begun in infancy does not end its octave of development until puberty, and is aided, or at least given its characteristic form, by the development of personality which starts to cover essence.

So it isn’t so much that images and pictures mean more to children than words: that will depend upon which images, picture and words, and which child. It is more that every word will resonate with images and pictures, and vice versa, because the intellect and the feeling are closer together. The very young don’t make the hard distinction between words and pictures that we do: that, at least, I can remember from childhood.

And of course, it follows from all this, that the higher parts of centres are more available in children, and so the mystic element of a child’s experience must be respected, and allowed space. If a person is present with a child, especially a small child, that person cannot be impatient without remorse of conscience.

Now, if children cannot make conscious efforts the way that an adult can, they yet have the possibility, even the heightened possibility, of receiving impressions of our conscious and intentional efforts. Those impressions can become active later when personality is smothering essence. It could be that neither then nor later will they be aware of having received any such impression. Impressions can be so weak as to be negligible. But no conscious effort made with someone is ever wasted, either for oneself or for the other.

Further, the effort with anyone – adult, baby or youth – should be impartial and unconditional to the extent we can manage, and maybe even beyond that. One does not make such efforts in the hope of evoking gratitude from the other. That would be manipulation, and it always, it seems to me, backfires. It leads, in other words, to revulsion, if not to outright revolt. There are no guarantees: there are children who knew Gurdjieff and even had the experience of children’s movements, who did not turn out at all brilliantly.

There are very few rules and perhaps even fewer guarantees. Corporal punishment is looked upon as barbaric today. But sometimes, Gurdjieff would spank a child on the bottom, and say that it was a good reminding factor. Olga de Hartmann relates that Gurdjieff shouted at her once in the presence of her father. That good man was appalled, until Gurdjieff explained to him that because he, the father, had not shouted at Olga, now he, Gurdjieff, had to give her that experience. And he, according to Olga, saw the wisdom in that. The late Michael Smyth recounted to me a story he had heard from Paul Beekman Taylor. I think I have it right: a child was proud of its toy watch. Gurdjieff beckoned the child over, obtained the watch, and then deliberately crushed it beneath his foot. The story did not end there. The next night, Gurdjieff called the child over to himself. The child was reluctant, but the parents helped the child over to Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff then presented the child with a real watch. No one I know would dare to do such a thing, but it may have been beneficial to the child: I don’t know, and I don’t know how to judge it.

So there are very few rules. We just have to use our individual being-reason, and in using it, develop it.

5 Conscience

The key to work with anyone, children or otherwise, is, I would now say, conscience. There is a special connection with children, and not only because our time of childhood was absolutely critical for our development. As Jesus said, we must become like little children if we’re to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Traherne refers to this in “Centuries”:

Our Saviour’s meaning when He said that whoever would enter into the kingdom of heaven must be born again and become a little child, is far deeper than is generally believed. It is not only in a careless reliance upon divine providence that we are to become little children or in the feebleness and shortness of our anger, and in the simplicity of our passions: but in the peace and purity of all our soul, which purity also is a deeper thing than is commonly apprehended – for we must disrobe our selves of all false colours, and forsake self-will. All our thoughts must be infant-like and clear, the powers of our soul free from the values of this world, and disentangled from men’s opinions and customs. [“Centuries” 3.5]

To be concise, my personal view is that Jesus meant that we must come to conscience.

To be with and to understand children, we must be with and understand our own childhoods. This both requires feeling, and brings us to feeling. If feeling is awake for long enough, this leads to conscience.

Let’s relate this to an example from “Forgotten Language”. Recall that before they walked out on Henry, someone declared: “This isn’t the Children’s Work”. How could people aiming to “work”, to become more conscious, hurl the Indians’ hospitality back in their faces, implicitly reproaching them for failing to provide the exotic but safe adventure they had dreamed of? We should never consent to compromise our innate human sense of principle: it is asphyxiation of conscience. But they were ensconced as leaders of the “Children’s Work”, and, apparently, they didn’t feel the earth-level realities of their “hard looks” and similar actions. How is this possible? What is the point of years in Gurdjieff groups if we never change?

Take that phrase: “it isn’t the work”. How can anyone confidently announce what is and isn’t “the work”? We would need to know the other person’s condition and need so fully that we could dismiss something as not being work for them. But our position and needs have so many individual aspects that I can only see in this phrase a laziness of thought yoked to a desire to have the last word. And that means that conscience is fast asleep.

What does it mean to say that something is or is not the work? Does it not mean that certain ideas, feelings, emotions, actions or omissions cannot lead to, be material for, or contribute to someone’s efforts to become more conscious? So much of what we try is experimental that we should be slow to say that others are in a dead end. But that remark is inherently loaded in the direction of being arrogantly slighting. It could be uttered in sadness, but I think that if one had feeling one would choose a different phrase. I never heard Mr Adie say it, and I’ve never heard that Gurdjieff used it. To be perfectly blunt, it sounds to me as if someone in what I think of as “the group executive” used to say it, other people heard it, it sounded impressive, and it’s been parroted ever since. Here, I’ll briefly note that “work” itself is often a hiding word. It’s a valuable exercise to sometimes try and find another word or phrase to use in substitution: this exercise brings us right up against our mental laziness.

I would have far more sympathy if a person could say that they felt something was right or wrong, or that they could sense that, for them, it led away from conscience. Conscience is the issue for all of us. I hope I’m wrong, but I think that today, both in groups and outside of them (especially outside of them) some people implicitly see themselves as “beyond good and evil”, or something equivalent to that, tolerating all sorts of selfish or even predatory behaviour, their own and other people’s, and excusing it with platitudes like “who are we to say?”, “they’re adults”, or “it’s all good”.

While we should always try and grasp the other end of the stick, “Beelzebub is replete with commandments of the Creator, and Gurdjieff himself approved this principle: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If someone falls short of a standard, it is sometimes right and appropriate to say so. Sometimes, a direct statement is the best statement. It’s always a matter of judgment. Although we may not be sure what conscience would direct, we can be sure if something aggravates the black hole in us where conscience should be.

In other words, for a long time we may not positively know conscience as the source of light it is. But, if we’re honest, we do know the absence of conscience. And, also if we’re honest, we can tell when the sense of absence is made worse. We can feel a certain hardness in us.

Firestone spoke of handing over her conscience. I wonder. Is this like the assumption about “Children’s Work”? Although it’s not meant literally, it’s assuming that we have a conscience, and that the group, any group, can take delivery of it. Fear of being on the outer of the group can actually anaesthetize the feeling of myself which leads to conscience. There is an extent, I would say a significant extent, to which group work is or by law can become antipathetic to the individuality which Gurdjieff wished for his pupils. His knowledge of that fact was, I think, the deepest reason why he pushed people out on their own, even if he re-established contact in those instances where they’d made something for themselves. (I refer to Jeanne de Salzmann, Sophia Ouspensky and Jane Heap. He wished to re-establish relations with P.D. Ouspensky, A.R. Orage and Maurice Nicoll, although they all refused his invitations.)

Two more points from the Henry saga. When they packed up, Bill told the children not to ask questions (187). Firestone does not consider how this relates to their own stated principles about how they would deal with children’s questions in the children’s work (16-8). Was it ever discussed? If not, why not, I wonder? If a group cannot discuss such matters, what sort of group is it? Gurdjieff, of course, like any sane person, was always on the side of conscience, never of conformity.

Then, of equal importance, what was Firestone’s follow up? Did she make contact with Henry by letter or phone? Send him an apology, or a greeting? A little present? Or a big present? We just don’t know. Mr Adie said once of someone who had said something quite unfeeling, and later apologized: “It was good that having said what he did, he later said something else to be added to it.” Mr Adie would sometimes mention that it was important to judge when having left impression, we should then say or do something so that when that first impression was recalled, the second would be there, too, to mitigate its effect. When I had unintentionally confused someone, he told me that I should have explained my situation as soon as possible. I felt that he was right, and asked him how to deal with the fact that I would have to say something about other people. “You don’t have to”, he said. “Just keep it simple and speak of yourself.” And he was right. As a general rule, the simplest statements are the most credible.

There is a clear criterion as to whether our efforts towards the awakening of conscience are on the right road or not: we shall be suffering, and suffering remorse in respect of our manifestations towards our parents and others. You can read any of the good material on conscience, whether in Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Staveley, and they will support this in whole or in part. This also emerges from Firestone’s own account. To have a conscience one needs to suffer analogously to how Christ suffered in his passion. As Gurdjieff was reported to have said in an unpublished talk titled “Palm Sunday”:

… the word “passion” is applied to that state in us which is called the gnawings of conscience. Whoever understands the gnawings of conscience will understand the word “passion”. To most people the taste of this function is unknown. For most people this state might not exist and they understand it only theoretically. For a final definition of the word “passion” it is necessary to add the word similar to the gnawings of conscience, since the expression gnawings of conscience is used by us too often and we are accustomed to take its meaning too superficially. Passion is a state similar to the gnawings of conscience.

Appendix

Excerpts edited from book 3 of Thomas Traherne’s “Centuries”:

All appeared new and strange at the first; inexpressibly rare and delightful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted with innumerable joys. My knowledge was divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my apostasy I collected again, by the highest reason. I knew not that there were any sins or complaints or laws. All time was eternity and a perpetual sabbath. Is it not strange that an infant should be the inheritor of the world. and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold? [from C. 3.2]

Wheat in the fields was the immortal grain of the rising sun, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates of the city were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their unusual beauty made my heart to leap almost mad with ecstasy, they were so strange and wonderful. [from C 3.3]

Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and some thing infinite behind every thing appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The streets of the city were mine. The people were mine. Their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skin and ruddy faces. The skies were mine and so were the sun and moon and stars. I knew no bounds or divisions until with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world; which now I unlearn, and become as it were, a little child again, that I may enter into the kingdom of God. [from C 3.3]

==================================

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

=============================

ALL & EVERYTHING 2011: 16th annual conference

ALL & EVERYTHING NEWSLETTER—CALL FOR PAPERS, CALL FOR SEMINARS

ANNOUNCING THE 16TH INTERNATIONAL HUMANITIES CONFERENCE IN 2011

VENUE: Hotel Extol Inn, Prague, Pristavni 2, Prague 7, 17000, Czech Republic Wednesday,

DATES: 6th April – Sunday, 10th April 2011

A Gathering of the companions of the book, ‘All and Everything, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson: A Totally Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man,’ G.I. Gurdjieff

THE ALL & EVERYTHING CONFERENCE:

Our Aim: the conference was originally conceived in 1996 as a meeting of the “Companions of the Book” and it has developed into a world forum for the presentation and discussion of recent writings, themes and music associated with the Work.

The conference provides an open, congenial and serious atmosphere for sharing research and investigation of G. I. Gurdjieff’s legacy. The conference seeks to keep the study of the teachings of Gurdjieff relevant to global, scientific, spiritual and sociological developments. This gathering is open to all serious students of All & Everything and is not under the auspices or sponsorship of any ‘Gurdjieff Group’ or umbrella organization. The conference is not intended to be a ‘Group Work Event’ and thus does not include Work on Movements or Exercises that are related to personal or group Work.

The conference includes the presentation of papers focused on the whole or part of this teaching, seminars on chapters, themes in All & Everything and cultural events. The program is scheduled so as to encourage time for dialogue and the developing of personal relationships outside the structured meetings.

DRAFT PROGRAM FOR ALL & EVERYTHING 2011

Wednesday Evening: Getting to know you session Thurs. Morning: Presentation of two papers, followed by discussions Afternoon Seminar: A chapter from Beelzebub’s Tales
Evening: Cultural Event
Friday Morning: Presentation of two papers, followed by discussions Afternoon Seminar: A chapter from Beelzebub’s Tales
Evening: open social evening
Saturday Morning: Presentation of two papers, followed by discussions Afternoon Seminar: A chapter from Meetings with Remarkable Men
Evening: Conference Banquet
Sunday Morning: Seminar: TBC
Closing Session: Where do we go from here? A conversation providing direction to the Planning Committee for future conferences.

CALL FOR PAPERS

ABSTRACTS – We are currently requesting submissions of abstracts for the papers that will be given at our next conference. Abstracts of accepted papers will be published in advance on the conference website so that delegates can prepare questions/comments. Writers who would like ongoing feedback should contact the Reading Panel.

Examples of previous papers as an indication of the variety of topics can be viewed here: http://www.aandeconference.org/reading-panel
The website is where all the contact and submission information is
provided: http://www.aandeconference.org/reading-panel
The submission form can be downloaded at:
http://www.aandeconference.org/Paper_Submission_Form_2011.pdf
and then submitted by email to: reading_panel@aandeconference.org <mailto:reading_panel@aandeconference.org?subject=Paper_Submission>

CALL FOR SEMINAR FACILITATORS FOR CHAPTER DISCUSSION

At each conference we hold seminars (questions, conversation,
dialogue) on chapters in The Tales and Meetings and other work related subjects. Our experience is also quite remarkable as we bring our questions and understandings to the group at the conference that is made up of various lineages in this teaching. This provides all in attendance to have an opportunity for a respectful and useful exchange of our understandings and experiences.

Facilitators need to have a working familiarity with the chapters or subjects that will be discussed. These facilitators are also responsible for the transcriptions of the seminar that they facilitate. The chapters for
2011 are 29, 32, 33, 34 in The Tales and in Meetings chapter 7, “Prince Yuri Lubovedsky.”

The website is where all the contact and submission information is
provided: http://www.aandeconference.org/seminar-panel
The submission form can be downloaded at:
www.aandeconference.org/Seminar_Submission_Form_2011.pdf
and then submitted by email to: info@aandeconference.org <mailto:info@aandeconference.org?subject=Seminar_Submission>

***
“Thanks to this, even the isolation of the inner life of each individual man is increased, and as a consequence what is called the “mutual instruction” so necessary to people’s collective existence is always more and more destroyed.”
- Beelzebub’s Tales, “From the Author,” page 1214
***

CONFERENCE REGISTRATION

Five day conference registration fee for Wednesday to Sunday is: £55 (approx CZK 1696, €67, $86) and due by March 1, 2010.
One day registration Fee is £14, (approx CZK 454, €18, $23)

The conference registration fee is payable directly to the A & E Conference and it is in addition to the hotel costs.

To make our administration much easier, please, if possible, register on-line with a credit card at our website: www.aandeconference.org/register

If this is not possible for you, you may register by post. Contact us at:
info@aandeconference.org <mailto:info@aandeconference.org?subject=Register>  and we will provide you a mailing address.
Please make checks payable to “All & Everything Conferences” with the form below or a photocopy.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
MAIL-IN REGISTRATION FORM – ALL & EVERYTHING 2011
Name: Phone:
Address:
City/State/County
Post Code Country:
Email:
5 Day Registration for person(s) @ £55, approx CZK1696, €67, $86
1 Day Registration for person(s) @ £14, approx CZK454, €18, $23 TOTAL (£) The Conference Registration Fee and Form are due by March 1, 2011.
Registrants will receive confirmation by email or post.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

***
“…I was composing in my thoughts the scheme and sequence of the ideas destined by me for publication and did not know then how to begin either?
“This sensation then experienced I might now formulate in words only thus: “the-fear-of-drowning-in-the-overflow-of-my-own-thoughts.”
“To stop this undesirable sensation I might then still have had recourse to the aid of that maleficent property existing also in me, as in contemporary man, which has become inherent in all of us, and which enables us, without experiencing any remorse of conscience whatever, to put off anything we wish to do “till tomorrow”.
- Beelzebub’s Tales, “The Arousing of Thought”, pages 4-5
***

HOTEL RESERVATION INFORMATION

Reservation Email: reservations@extolinn.cz <mailto:reservations@extolinn.cz?subject=Booking_for_A_and_E_Conference>

Please state that you are booking for the All & Everything Conference.

It is not too early to make reservations with the Hotel, and delegates are asked to book them early and directly with the hotel.
The A&E Conference cannot make reservations for delegates.

Extol Inn Hotel
Pristavni 2
Prague 7
170 00
Czech Republic
Reception tel./fax: +420 220 876 541
Reservations tel.: +420 220 802 549
Reservations fax.: +420 220 806 752
Contact Email: info@extolinn.cz
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HOTEL ROOM RATE ALL INCLUSIVE 4 NIGHTS (WED. EVE TO SUN. NOON)

single occupancy 3 star *** standard – CZK8685, £349, €286, $441 single occupancy 2 star ** – CZK7155, £236, €288, $364.
single occupancy 2 star ** economy-shared bath, CZK6415, £212, €258, $326 double occupancy 3 star *** – CZK 6585 per person, £ 217, € 265, $ 334 double occupancy 2 star ** – CZK 5815 per person, £ 192, € 234, $ 295 double occupancy 2 star ** economy – shared bath, CZK 5255 per person, £173, €211, $267

All options above include: “the postage,” conference facilities, breakfast, midmorning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, three course dinner, and banquet dinner on Saturday evening.

NON-RESIDENT DAY ATTENDEES – HOTEL RATE PER DAY

Non-resident Day Attendee Hotel Conference Package Fee is: CZK 748, £ 25, € 30, $38 includes: mid-morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea. (This is in addition to the day attendee registration fee listed above, and is payable directly to the Hotel, by the day attendee, when they sign in at the hotel front desk.)

PROCEEDINGS


The PDF eBooks versions of the 1998 and 2001 Proceedings are now available from our website at:
http://www.aandeconference.org/proceedings-overview

NEWSLETTER

A PDF printable version of this newsletter, suitable for distribution to your local group or community, is available at:
http://www.aandeconference.org/A&E_2011_Call_For_Papers.pdf
Please share this announcement with any like minded people you know.

ALL & EVERYTHING CONFERENCE MAILING LIST

If you lead or facilitate a Gurdjieff group and would like to recommend any colleagues to receive a copy of this newsletter and subsequent invitations, please email your request to us. If you wish to have your contact information updated, please email your request to us at:
info@aandeconference.org <mailto:info@aandeconference.org?subject=Add_or_Update_Email>

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Please email info@aandeconference.org <mailto:info@aandeconference.org?subject=Unsubscribe>  with “Unsubscribe” as the subject line.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

September 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

GEORGE ADIE: Why do you run away in your feeling?

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
=====================

Why Do You Run Away In Your Feeling?

{I have selected his material from a meeting of 5 December 1979 as a commemorative posting for 29 July 2010.}

The first question came from Richard: “Mr Adie, I’d like verification on my line of work, to be freer from the compulsion of my career.”

“You wish to be less under that compulsion? Good. What measures do you take?”

“What I have done is set aside a time to stay with my children, and also here on Sunday night after the weekend work, I was about to rush off again, doing all sorts of things, and I decided to stay behind, and help put the tables and chairs away.”

“Those are quite different, yet both could serve the same purpose, it’s true. Any sort of discipline helps, and making the work a priority will help, if you actually experience connection. Compulsive life connected with your career is one thing, and any conscious effort, or doing your duty is another. There is an unmistakable degree of contrast. And if there’s real work it will separate itself out from the compulsion in your experience. My speech even changes. Everybody can say everything they need in very few words, really. And if they say it once properly, it doesn’t need to be repeated three times.”

“Your compulsion is there in your speech, and in so much. You will be compelled in your job, unless you can use it. How? You can’t neglect it now. It’s an opportunity. It’s quite right to give place to something else, to insist on doing the preparation. It’s quite right to see your children: not to allow the whole of your life to be dominated. That’s quite right. But realize that you also have to be in it.”

“Then, understanding that you must have a job, and must come within the domain of this compulsion, the question is now: do you really wish to be free of the inner compulsion? You’ve got to find that wish in yourself. To have a wish is to have some active inner impulse. You think that we have a wish just by thinking of it? It isn’t so. You have to work until you get that wish. If you aim for it, then you will get it. Do you follow?”

“Yes.”

“That means you have before you a work to experience the wish in yourself. Try and understand that. You do a preparation or something, don’t get up until you find the wish. You have to realise: is it really worth it? What do I have to pay if I want it? Am I willing to pay for it? If you can say yes to each of those then perhaps you can begin to say that you have a wish.”

“And then you shall have to sacrifice your suffering. But if you have worked, sufficiently long and wisely, and acquired a moving balance in yourself, you will be able to bear to make that sacrifice.”

The next question, one from Azaria, came very fast upon the heels of Richard’s, she clearly felt that there was a close connection: “After the Sunday work here, I continued with the exercise, and on Monday, after the preparation, it seemed as though because of the work I could tell the subtle difference between the centre of gravity and my presence. There was an excitement in me, I had this realisation, and in looking for a centre of gravity, I found I could come to the place where my presence is real. And like Richard, I can say that I now wish to be more present.”

“You wish to be more present? Where would you look for the wish?”

There was a pause, and Mr Adie answered his own question: “In that place you cannot describe any more. Return to it, and return to it, and return to it.”

I suspect that, at this point, Mr Adie turned to Richard: “But relaxed, always relaxed. To sacrifice my suffering I must be relaxed. Could I imagine such a sacrifice being made in the midst of tension? From where could such a relaxation come? Surely from deep within, only from deep within.”

The next question was very lengthy. Opal was an elderly woman. She spoke rather hesitantly to the point of being inarticulate, saying something, withdrawing or correcting it, and then going back to her first formulation.

Mr Adie was patient with her, but when she had finished, she nervously asked whether he had understood her. “I could follow it, but then, you started using words which you disowned. You might take as an exercise to write down what your question the day before, and in the morning, read it and see.”

“We want to bring very good quality here, not just, as is said, ‘off the cuff’, not thought out. It isn’t enough to have a sincerity, I need to have my intelligence. It’s not enough to have that, I need my presence.”

“When you’re muddling things, the process of thought is absent. But if I have taken thought beforehand, there’s a process added. A conscious or partly conscious process is added. It isn’t two states, it’s more like three states, but even that isn’t a good way to speak about it. Find a better way, to formulate better. You can, otherwise I wouldn’t say what I do. Is there any question about it?”

“No. Thank you. That’s clear.”

The very next question, from Scott, about how he gets confused by words, likewise meandered. Finally, Mr Adie asked: “Did you find that anything helped you to make your aim clear?”

“No, that wasn’t very well formulated.”

“No.”

“No … it doesn’t help to find the wish,” Scott added, perhaps echoing the first two questions. In any event, Mr Adie did not think that the comment corresponded to his real question: “But you see you’ve gone back to words now. It’s a trap all the time.”

Mr Adie waited a little, and then asked: “What does it mean: ‘In the beginning was the Word?’ Surely, it means many things, but there’s a beginning, and there’s something which follows. For that to follow, the Word must change its place. The Word is essential, and yet, if it is in the wrong place, it’s the end. And the places and the forces are always changing.”

The next question, from Dmitri, was also about a lack of clarity. “I find that my difficulties start the moment I sit down to do the preparation. I’ve been trying to sit quietly, without expecting anything, just trying to see what my worries are. And after I time I give up. I feel I should logically try and draw some conclusions about what I’ve seen, but it’s all so confused in my head, and I turn away. Something in me says, come back again next time. It feels as if I’m shrinking away from doing something very definite there.”

“Supposing that is objectively true, what are you going to do?”

“I can’t make observations very clearly at that point.”

“Do you really wish to know why you turn from what is necessary?”

“Well, I’ve seen that through these years I can’t go past the first step,” replied Dmitri.

“Does that mean anything? Surely the point is that you don’t know what the first step is.”

Dmitri started arguing. “See if it is true,” suggested Mr Adie. “Can you say clearly what you mean when you say that you always fail at the first step?”

There was quite a lengthy pause.

“Surely it would mean that you are repeating yourself. So let us not evade the question you yourself started with: why do you always turn from what you realise is necessary?”

“I don’t know,” conceded Dmitri.

“No. But do you really wish to?”

“Well, part of me does,” he replied, but in such a trembling voice that people laughed.

“There you are. Part of you. You see? I can’t come to a wish partially. My wish has to really be the wish of my I, and you haven’t obtained that yet.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Now, do you really wish to? You have to face it until you do. There are all sorts of obstacles, you may not want to pay, you may not want to make effort, you may not want to suffer. Hundreds of obstacles, but if you really wish to, you will. And it’s your solitary, alone-reality which must face that question. What I am trying to do at the moment is to cleanse it a little, make it more serious, that’s all. Imagine you’re on your death bed. What would you need then? Where would you be? Face, try and come to what is you. You. Would you have any reality? This is what you, I and everybody needs, but don’t be negative about it now.”

“Yes, yes!”

“Yes, yes? … Why … why having come near a place in your intellect, why do you run away in feeling?”

“Exactly that sense of needing to flee, to look away, shows that this is your need … and that you are close to a genuine confrontation.”

“Stay, stay, stay and have a little genuine self-respect, a little genuine pride. You could be free now. What do you choose at the moment? Every second I have to choose. My old understanding is not enough. I need a new understanding, quite new. If you could realise that, you could see that nothing that I had corresponds to what I now need. I need something a bit more genuine, more perceptive, less personal. Try and have this line that you will not allow this or any of its companions to join in. You will try and have something for yourself. Try and work to find your real self. Try and find a centre in yourself. This is what we some found on the weekend, trying to find a central strong place.”

“You want to watch the posture of your eyes if you want to think. Try to place them slightly above level. You contemplate down here. You sink back into the same old quagmire time after time. I suggest to you now that when you want to contemplate, you contemplate with your eyes there. What you don’t find when your eyes are raised, you can well do without. If you can’t bring all these clever propositions, you can have a chance to free yourself. Will you work like that for a bit? Good, keep it now, for the rest of the meeting, at least.”

“Mr Adie,” said Mary, “in the past few weeks, my efforts have been very erratic, and when I’ve seen that, I’ve become negative.”

“Alright, you found you’d gone to sleep, and you became negative about it? You need to know that. Every time we awake we awake to having forgotten.”

“If we get negative every time we awake, it’s going to be rather a fruitless process, isn’t it? See, you don’t have to be negative. So go on. You make a plan, you fail. Don’t let the failure make you negative. It should have the opposite effect. You don’t deny it. You don’t pretend it isn’t a failure, but you are there. It begins to be a confrontation.”

“In confrontation I really live, you see. The ultimate confrontation: what is that?”

“The confrontation with the Absolute.” Mr Adie was speaking slowly: “Don’t receive anything negatively. Receive the failure, but don’t be negative about it. It comes like a message. You’ve got to see that. We’ve got to fail and fail and fail, and not be negative about it, otherwise we’ve got no chance. So it’s full of hope, mmm?”

“I think I expect the wrong thing from the little effort I make, because on the couple of occasions when I’ve had a better than usual preparation, and I try to remember myself at school, and I know that there are particular hours when I am particularly prone to getting impatient with the children, I still get upset …”. Denise had been in groups for quite a while.

“You mean that you’re disappointed when you don’t succeed? Then you need to see that you haven’t succeeded, at least not in that way. Exactly in that way, you didn’t quite succeed. But you still find something. You have to be more persistent. You’re rather apt to have a go and then throw your hands up if the results don’t match the ideal.”

“On the day that I saw, I became very impatient, but the next day I just didn’t want to see it.”

“Try and find a different kind of pride. It could help you. What could I accept as a genuine pride? What about me is worthy of maintaining? Is there something? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? In a way, pride is a picture. A person who has even some ordinary pride won’t sink to certain things, they’re too proud to take an advantage.”

“Where is my good opinion? What am I proud of now? Because I serve my pride and vanity. But I forget that. If I have a genuine being-pride, could I become self-indulgent, disorganised, or lazy? That is an absence of a certain kind of pride, isn’t it? I have no pride of order, no pride of duty, no pride of reliability. I’m just a sort of tramp: although I’m a rather nice person, nobody could really trust me because I might not remember.”

“So, what quality to I really want to have? If you approach it this way, I’m quite sure, I’m quite sure that you’ll have some different kind of result.”

“After all this time what we’re all finding is that we’ve got to bring more of us to the point. I made this effort and stopped, and I’ve made that effort and stopped. But I’ve had a lot of lessons now. You have a lot of material. Why not collect it together, face the situation and see what’s possible and what I really want. Remembering that I cannot suddenly free myself from any of my stupidities, I know enough to take a more dignified way … Imagine what you thought ten years ago! Full of cock-eyed ideas, wasn’t it?”

“So you have an advantageous position. Now. It can be quite new. But for this you have to keep aware of all the old dirges and sagas of misery and failure and self-accusation, and … you know, ‘without dogs, sorcerors and whoremongers and whosoever loveth and telleth a lie’.” {This is a reference to Apocalypse or Revelation 22:15.}

“All outside. Our work is all inner. So, try. Take a fresh heart for yourself. Put some things in your room. These things are going to remind you: this is what I want to be. Model your room for a serious person. Model your room for a person with the qualities which you’ve found are difficult to acquire. Build around you some condition. That’s why people put up pictures of the Buddha, Christ, a marvellous tree. Fill your room with everything to remind you. Will you try that, and don’t worry about the rest? Have you got another question now?”

“It’s a slightly different one. I noticed that when I try to do a preparation, I get an, I don’t know, no, I’m always tight in the midriff. Once I found I could get around it when breathing, to go behind it, at the back of me, and relax it.”

“What, with your attention, you mean?”

“Yes. I wanted to ask whether … I was … sort of cheating?”

“No, you try and find your own way. And if it helps you to relax, you want to be very patient and see that everything else is relaxed. Don’t try and relax that area until your face is relaxed and until your head is relaxed, and then retain a sense of the relaxation there, you see. If the belly’s really tense, then you can even physically feel it going down, can’t you?

“Yes.”

“Well then, the next thing is, can you feel it coming up again? Or do you find that it has come up? You find it has? Alright, well now, that’s the thing! Now watch it go down, and let … now let it come up.”

Obviously, Mr Adie was guiding her as she relaxed and observed the process.

“Don’t forget the duct has to be open, the shoulders have to be down.”

“And then maybe I’m magnifying it, I may have a little bit of a special kind of sensation, a tautness, maybe that isn’t an important tension. Maybe that isn’t what is my trouble. Maybe I can still feel the pot of my belly with all its need. See that everything else is right, and then probably that’s right. Many people have a lot of difficulty here. It’s a very sensitive part.”

“But the kind of relaxation we want is not only what will come easily by being able to let a thing go. It’s another kind of relaxation, it’s – if you can use the word – an inner relaxation. Watch for what it is without saying ‘this is tense’. The question is, what do you experience? Maybe I find that it’s just an idea I had. Maybe it wasn’t very tense at all. So I have to be very poised and flexible and free from my ordinary frightening formulations.”

“Get something new every day and put it in your room. Something. Pick up anything. A leaf, grass, stone, book, picture, anything. Every day one thing different, see? Create a different atmosphere for yourself, and in that atmosphere, relax. Go into a new room each time, you look around to see if it’s new, and all the other things you put. Work like that.”

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

3 July 2010

Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

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JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
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ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING …

Conscious change starts when a person sacrifices their unconscious suffering in order to intentionally experience the impulse of conscience. Prior to that point, everything is preparation. Awareness of sensation, self-observation, even “remembering oneself”, only prepare the ground for that sacrifice and for the new life which immediately follows, being, as it is, under both the law of grace and the law of cause and effect. Or so I believe.

If our spiritual efforts do not include feeling, they will atrophy and falter, and everything can be lost. We can come to the starting point, turn away, and end up as far away as we ever were. In fact, a person’s fate is harsher if they have finally found the threshold, but then turned back. Why? Because one then has a history of having retreated from that point. It becomes easier to retreat a second time. There is something in us which is practically waiting to justify retreat, even to turn negative in respect of the way. Having once backed off, you know that you can back off, and it becomes harder than ever to make the indispensible commitments to conscious labour and intentional suffering.

These commitments are, I believe, indispensible to crossing the threshold to more durable states. There are states available for us in which the entirety of our feeling is positive feeling. Negative emotion is utterly passive, even impossible, in such a state. Such states can last not only for days, but for weeks, and if they can last for weeks, they can last for months. You can see where the equation is heading. Permanent change of being to a significantly higher level is possible. And it always begins with a growth in feeling. I mean that it immediately begins with a growth in feeling. For that, we must earn many small and one major victory over negative emotion.

To die to the life of negative emotions is to awaken from a fever: it literally feels that way. The air becomes brighter, the world acquires a further visual dimension, and memories of how we used to be seem not so much unreal as “now impossible”, like some former House of Parliament in sepia postcards.

Mysteries are resolved by the peaceful light. For example, how is it that the more we feel our separate individuality the more we feel a connection with other people? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It has puzzled but not perplexed me that when I identify with others, there is actually less relation between us, and less feeling than when I am more aware of myself and not so identified. In a state where feeling is active for more than a flash, our eyes have sufficiently continuous light, and all falls into place: we see that different levels coexist.

Our unity is at a higher level. Difference and diversity do really exist at one level, perhaps even exists more truly than we had ever appreciated. We simultaneously perceive, without having to enquire, that at another level we are in a more intimate relation to each other than we could ever have thought. It is as if we are inside each other. On that level, each of us is also more truly themselves, and the ground of our unity is so bright we cannot miss it. This ground of unity is nothing other than the fact that, as Gurdjieff said, behind real ‘I’ lies God. We really do come from God, and we really are made to return to him. That is the divine plan Mrs Staveley spoke of.

So it seems to me that self-observation and self-remembering can lead to conscious change only to the extent that they include an affirmative feeling of conscience; otherwise, the action of self-remembering will always be preliminary. I don’t like to be too dogmatic about this, but my experience is as it is. Also, this interpretation corresponds to Gurdjieff’s ideas, being supported by comments made by both himself and Ouspensky.

It is not that self-observation and self-remembering won’t lead to change. They will. But with only a modest amount of conscious feeling, they have only a modest an effect. A small effect is better than none, but will take literally hundreds of years to lead to a change of level of being, if indeed the results are not forever being swept away before they crystallize.

No one can live without feeling, and if I can see or remember myself, then feeling will be there more consciously. So we can never say that we don’t have some feeling. But if it’s not sufficiently present to be the temporary centre of my consciousness, then, for practical purposes, it’s absent. From one perspective, it’s worse to have glimpses of this feeling-presence than not to know that glimpses are possible. People often find that a moment of presence has an after-effect which leaves us depressed, rather like coming down. “Why,” we wonder, “is this freedom so elusive? Where was this power when I lost my temper the other day?” The experience of making effort after effort and perennially coming only to temporary change of being can lead to despondency and even to despair.

It is, of course, significant to come to a point preliminary to genuine change, to stand before the doorway to another level of life.

But preliminaries only mean something if they lead to achievement: their meaning is realized when I go through the door. If we start to fete the door and forget that we have to go through it, we may as well never have found it.

It is feeling which motivates and enables us to make the passage, leaving behind the old, and entering the new life, unknown and yet, at the same time, intimately intuited. To be precise, the experience of sacrificing unconscious suffering and its fruit in the gnawing of conscience lead to an entire octave of motivation and capacity: we feel at once the fever of the past, our present position, and the objective promise of the future, and we also feel other things, perhaps even ineffable. So I won’t try and describe that more.

The minds of the body and the intellect don’t like blind corners: and neither does the feeling intelligence. But feeling can “see” around corners, so to speak. The intellect needs data for comparison and deduction, while feeling has only one datum, as it were. But feeling penetrates that datum, and can perceive its multiple layers or aspects. A naked feeling of confidence grounds trust in a way that a thousand reasons never will.

Gurdjieff said that the way begins above the level of life, and that much work is needed to come to the threshold. I think that some of his meaning may have been this need to have feeling operate as the centre of consciousness for more than a short time. Conscience can be present long enough to persuade us that permanent change of being is possible. Without that, I rather think that something sceptical or “faithless” in us will always want reassurance. This, to my mind, sheds light on Mr Adie’s statement that “faith is based on fact”. Gurdjieff said that faith was a divine impulse. Yet, we say little about faith unless we mean “blind belief”. The faith which provides a light when all seems eclipsed (to paraphrase Aquinas) is barely acknowledged. I think this is because that faith can only be an active fact or in us when one can bear the gnawing of conscience long enough for feeling to penetrate to something essential in us.

Because we can only work on bodies – we have literally nothing else to work on – a growth in feeling must be a crystallization of the Body Kesdjan (Persian for “the spirit of the soul”, or, in Bennett’s paraphrase, “the vessel of the soul”, if I recall correctly).

As the feeling body crystallizes, it evokes a conscious sensation which is deeper, more whole and inclusive than anything otherwise imagined. Of course we’re bound to make our first efforts by using our minds, such as they are. If one is fortunate, one can participate in movements classes or something else which can help us more continuously sustain consciousness of sensation. But conscious sensation is only a means to the end of consciousness of feeling. All too soon, the physical body must die. Endurance and immortality are properties of the other bodies (in religious terms, the soul and spirit).

There is even a danger in focussing on sensation with the eye of a Cyclops: if we forget about feeling, all our efforts with sensation will serve only to mesmerize us, to keep us in a state of obsession with sensation.

If you’re reading this blog you probably know that the role of sensation is tremendous. It is necessary for physical life. But that is only its first function. Like much else in nature, it is designed to serve multiple purposes. One of these purposes is that consciousness of sensation seals in the Body Kesdjan, or perhaps helps to keep the formation of the Body localised so that the higher hydrogens used in its crystallization are not dissipated. Further, the sort of sensation one has when the initiative has come not from the mind but from the feeling is beyond words. I say that when feeling is available for long enough, it calls the sensation because, being of a higher intelligence, it knows what it has to do to preserve and sustain itself. But it is too weak to do so until a certain stage has been reached.

That stage cannot be attained to unless the struggle with negative emotions has reached a critical level, when the human machine has been substantially cleaned. Even before negative emotion is made utterly passive, significant changes will start to appear. That is one of the beauties of the human organism: it is flexible enough to allow encouraging anticipations, and we can see what lies ahead, at least for one step. It is like anything else in life: the development is subject to the law of octaves. We advance, fall back, advance, fall back and so on. But if we’re wise, and we use our heads (instead of disparaging the intellect and giving all the emphasis to sensation) we can even profit from our setbacks.

I shall pause here: I want to try and make this clear, assuming, of course, that what I say bears some relationship to the truth of the matter. I am saying that a sense of presence, of being “different” as is often said, is good and necessary. But it is good and necessary because it is a means to a higher end. Even if we described that end as “a greater intensity of presence”, we would be wrong. It’s a presence with unique qualities of dimension and duration.

Higher levels of presence include dimensions of feeling, intelligence and, I would say, intuition, of something inimitable and ineffable. And these levels of presence become more connected and longer lasting. When they retreat, they don’t retreat in the same way: they remain nearby, you can feel their touch through a membrane somewhere inside, as it were. They bring us back more quickly when we fall, and they enable us to see more clearly what is needed. Having had continuous consciousness of feeling for a period of weeks, you can never cease to believe in the reality of the new man. This greater intensity brings us to the raw moment of work on ourselves, that is, immediate work on our bodies, not merely on our thoughts or reordering our emotional lives, necessary as those efforts are.

I’ll take the analogy of travel. I want to go, say, from Clyde to Carlingford by train. I could tell you, quite truthfully, that to get there I must go through Rosehill to get there. In fact, Rosehill is the first station after Clyde. But I could also have equally truthfully said “no gets from Clyde to Carlingford unless they first pass through Camellia”. To get to Carlingford, I also have to travel through Rydalmere, Dundas and Telopea, which are further down the line. The statements are all true, but if I think in a formatory way, I will see a contradiction. The whole truth and the nothing but the truth is that each of these stations must be passed in a given order.

I think (I would say that I am sure), that something similar happens in respect of the in