Archive for April 2008
THE JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO PAGE
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
The Garden of Truth, from: John Robert Colombo
I was browsing the shelves devoted to New Books in a favourite Toronto public library when chance led me to The Garden of Truth. The title struck me as odd, hardly idiomatic, so I reached for the green-jacketed book and read its subtitle: “The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition.” The byline read: Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Needless to say I borrowed the book from the library, and I now have three weeks to digest its contents. Twenty-one days is hardly enough time.
The dust-jacket describes its author as “one of the world’s leading experts on Islamic thought and spirituality.” He was born in Tehran, raised in the United States, educated at MIT and Harvard, and holds the position of University Professor of Islamic Studies at The George Washington University, an educational institute located (according to its website) in Washington, D.C., “four blocks from the White House.” I heard Dr. Nasr speak at the conference on Traditionalism held in Edmonton two years ago and on that occasion I was much impressed with his presence and with the respect shown to him by the conference organizers, the Ismaili Muslims of Alberta and British Columbia. It was not so much what he said that seemed important but how he said it.
“The present book is the result of over fifty years of both scholarly study of and existential participation in Sufism,” Dr. Nasr begins. Two hundred-odd pages later, he concludes, “It is for those who understand such teachings to transform theoria into actual experience …. ” I am not about to review the book, but I will offer the following bibliographical details:
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition. New York: HarperOne / HarperCollins Publishers, 2007. xvi + 256 pages. US$24.95. It includes notes, brief bibliography, and an thoughtful and helpful “Glossary of Technical Terms.”
G.I. Gurdjieff is mentioned once, in passing. The reference occurs on page 109, at the point where Dr. Nasr is describing the shaykh or spiritual master who is a link in a chain of initiation or otherwise a self-initiate: “the function may descend from Heaven upon the person. In both cases there is need of divine investiture.” He explains, “Throughout history many people have pretended to be masters and at no time as much as now, especially in the West.” He notes the increasing “number of so-called Sufi circles in both America and Europe that disassociate [dissociate] Sufism from Islam and that claim as so-called masters some whose attachment to the traditional claim of transmission of esoteric power and authority (silsilah) is either absent, suspect, or mysterious hidden.” Here I will quote him at length:
“A case in point is Gurdjieff, who claimed in the early twentieth century in France to be disseminating Sufi teachings without ever demonstrating his attachment to an authentic Sufi chain. Or one could mention Idries Shaw, who sought to teach Sufism independent of Islam in America and Europe. The authenticity of a master is judged by the quality of his or her disciples for as the proverb states, a tree is judged by its fruit. But there are also some external criteria for determining who is a real master, such as orthodoxy in the deepest sense and not only on the formal plane, familiarity with the doctrine, mastery in being able to cure the ailments of the soul, spiritual authority, and an element of sanctity. The master may be old or young, male or female, Arab, Persian, Turk, or from any other ethnicity but in all cases must exude something of the Muhammadan grace, or barakah, and display knowledge of the path for which he or she is the guide.”
This passage summarizes the traditional objection to the claim that Gurdjieff received Islamic initiation or showed its effects. Dr. Nasr does so deftly and without the pyrotechnics of Whittal Perry in Gurdjieff: In the Light of Tradition (1978).
In passing, let me make an interesting observation about The Garden of Truth. The book’s index has no entries for Traditionalism itself, or for its chief exponent René Guénon, though there are three entries for Frithjof Schuon. Two of the latter’s books are listed in the Bibliography, none of Guénon’s.
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto author and authologist whose latest books are a collection of poems, End Notes, and Gordon Sinclair: A Commentary on His Books. He has two new websites: one personal one and one professional one .
After posting the latest from Joseph Azize, see below, I saw there was a link to the Adbur Rahman site with this poem and so I am posting it here.
A Riderless Horse
Breath in my lungs,
sunlight upon my face.
O Beloved! These are gifts fine and beautiful.
Let me then breathe gratitude,
I am a riderless horse.
Let my every breath be
‘Welcome, Rider, I am glad You have come’
(Abdur Rahman, 20th August 2007)
FROM JOSEPH AZIZE
At the time I wrote the book (George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia), there were two matters I omitted: the first because I had forgotten it, and the second because, strange to say, I negligently omitted to include it.
The Morning Sun
In chapter VII of Beelzebub’s Tales, “Becoming Aware of Genuine Being-Duty”, Beelzebub advises Hassein that it is “indispensably necessary that every day, at sunrise, while watching the reflection of its splendour …” he should do certain things (p.78). These amount, I think, to the preparation as Mr Adie had it from Gurdjieff. Incidentally, Mr Adie said that this advice was meant literally, and he took it himself. He would set his alarm in order to be working at his morning preparation as the sun rose. Sunlight has the property of suffusion, so it is not necessary to be in the direct sunlight. It is sufficient to be where the sunlight can find one. Even if it is raining, it doesn’t matter: the sun is up and its force is in the atmosphere.
Solita Solano records in her diaries that on 2 November 1935 Gurdjieff said: “…morning sun is best for us, the only time of day when the rays contain certain properties necessary for our understanding.” I associate this with the Phoenician Solar Theology, as preserved by the Emperor Julian from Iamblichus the Syrian Neoplatonist: “… the sunlight which is sent forth everywhere is the immaculate action of pure mind itself.”
I did mention at p.46 of the book that Mr Adie was a single-lung invalid, and had very little of even that single lung left. The London doctors believed that it the operation was necessary, but it turned out that there was nothing wrong with his lungs at all. He said he had gained a great deal from this accident: he had to struggle with self-pity, with criticism of the doctors and so on. But the point he always returned to was that because breathing was so difficult for him, he had always to pay attention to it. That is, he used the necessity of watching his breath as a reminding factor. Awareness of the breath is extremely important in the Gurdjieff method: it brings together the raising of sensation to consciousness, and feeds the feeling. Awareness of the breath aids in assimilating the higher hydrogens present in the air. (It is also critical in other traditions: for example, see Nikiphorus the Solitary in the Philokalia.)
This awareness will not come automatically from having a breathing problem. But if I have the problem, I can make a conscious connection to my aim. I will forget my aim, but I see the circumstances when I am most likely to forget, I prepare for them, and I practice. I repeat, and repeat and repeat.
Joseph Azize Page
Al Stewart, Reincarnation and Recurrence: Part One
Joseph Azize(all quoted lyrics by Al Stewart)
“(God) also puts eternity in their minds …”, so spoke the esoteric Solomon, Ecclesiastes 3:11. And from the store of Al Stewart’s mind, intimations of eternity have been infused into some of his songs. Music, surely, is an ideal stage for such alchemy. It provides a rhythm and a tempo to mark time; and melody, performance and tone to colour, as it were, those few minutes which are consecrated to the song. And so the invocation of something beyond time comes to be expressed in time. This miracle is possible, for according to Plato and also to Gurdjieff (perhaps the greatest of the modern Platonists), time is the moving image of eternity (Timaios 37C). That line is frequently quoted, but it deserves to be pondered. It means, first, that time is in fact related to eternity. But more than this, it also means that time is related to eternity by the same mode as man is said to be related to God in Genesis 1:26 and 27.
Eternity itself “rests in unity”, it is beyond movement. But the realm of time is different: it is the world of multiplicity, change and passing (Timaios 37C-D, Beelzebub ch.XVI and Wellbeloved’s summary with correspondences to other passages in that book and the Bible, Astrology, pp.202-3). The quondam office of the church, as I remember it, told us the same thing: “Rerum deus tenax vigor immotus in te permanens”: “God of all the universe, maintaining, active, (yet) in yourself unmoved and always the same.” Indeed, one can actually sense change in and around oneself. The total sensing of oneself is sometimes called the sixth sense. I would say that this subtle feeling of “me-here-now in an ineffable relation to the flow of history” is part of the sixth sense. We are barely aware of this sixth sense, and very rarely of the specific feeling the “myself-in-relation-to-history”. But everyone has it, and some of us are more aware of it than others.
No other modern singer known to me expresses this subtle but transfixing feeling as well the under-rated Al Stewart. This sense of history is found in some stupendous songs, such as Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell”, Kate Bush’s “A Coral Room”, ELP’s “The Sage” and Loreena McKennitt’s “The Old Ways”, to name but an eminent few. But no one in folk (or folk rock) has made the sixth sense his own as Al Stewart has.
Best known for “The Year of the Cat”, Stewart’s songs often evoke a poignant sense of the passage of time, and even of a sense of eternity (which are much the same thing, for each is a different form of timelessness). In my view, the very best of Stewart’s albums can at least be said to compare with the best rock and folk albums ever recorded, even if they are not of quite the same standard of say Sgt Pepper and Led Zeppelin IV. I refer here particularly to what I consider his finest albums: Year of the Cat, Famous Last Words and A Beach Full of Shells. Like Elton John, he had a period of apprenticeship, as it were, with its own unique graces. Elton John found stardom sooner and to a significantly greater degree; and both had their blaze of glory, followed by an autumnal twilight. But they have each seen a resurgence as deeper writers, even if their largest audiences were irrevocably left behind in the 1970s.
Although I have no evidence that Stewart has even heard of Gurdjieff or Ouspensky, let alone of the idea of recurrence, the ideas are widely available, and Robert Fripp is so close a friend that he attended Stewart’s wedding. As is often the case with art, intentionally or otherwise, Stewart’s words are often suggestive but not explicit. One of the interesting features of Stewart’s writing is how often ramifying ideas are found there. In the case of Stewart, as of someone like Lennon, or in poetry like Hopkins, the openness is often deliberate: it is a function of his artistic mastery. Interpretation, then, is subjective. But it is nonetheless valuable for that, and is sparked by the high quality of the product. In this blog, I shall simply pick my way through Year of the Cat, and then in the next blog, try and relate the themes set out here to other of Stewart’s songs. Year of the Cat is an excellent vehicle for this, as it is, considered as a whole, a lapidary depiction of Stewart’s approach, his strengths and his weaknesses.
The opening track is “Lord Grenville”, the story of a British captain who for no apparent good reason, in a suicidal manoeuvre, sailed his single ship towards a hostile Spanish navy some 53 vessels strong. The entire song has a sort of feel of late afternoon, as if one were on an English cliff, looking over the sea as rays from the setting sun strike paths across the water. As is so often the case with Stewart, there is something very English about the perspective, as he sings:
Go and tell Lord Grenville that the tide is on the turn.
It’s time to haul the anchor up and leave the land astern.
We’ll be gone before the dawn returns … like voices on the wind.
… Go and fetch the captain’s log and tear the pages out,
We’re on our way to nowhere now, can’t bring the helm about.
… Tell the ones we left home not to wait: we won’t be back again.
And come the day, you’ll hear them saying: “They’re throwing it all away”.
I would say that this is the sort of song Stewart’s voice is best for: reflective but not brooding, measured but not heavy. The melody suits the words so well that it is as if they could not be conceived separately. But the philosophical rub comes in these lines:
Our time is just a point along a line that runs forever with no end.
I never thought that we would come to find ourselves these rocks again.
Is the troubadour saying that although our lives seem to be single days in a year of infinity, yet we find that day again … and perhaps yet again? In Stewart’s own take on the last line, he is referring to England, having recently been in the USA where he now resides (see generally Neville Judd’s Al Stewart and also the remastered album with Judd’s notes and Stewart speaking of the songs on the final track.) But the two interpretations are not necessarily inconsistent, and Stewart may of course feel some diffidence in speaking about a concept which few people have heard of.
To most listeners, the lines might conjure up the notion of our lives as points which either (1) stretch into infinity (the standard idea of survival after death), or (2) into chains of reincarnation. But it is also possible to recall (3) the eternity of recurrence. And these options are not exclusive. It is the third concept which is the most interesting, and which, whether Stewart intended it or not, is an available inference. What then, is recurrence?
At its simplest, recurrence is the idea that when we die, we live our lives once more, beginning with our conception as we were conceived in this life, living as we have lived this life, and dying once more as we will, and so on, many times, perhaps endlessly. Nietzsche had an idea of eternal recurrence, but it was a folly. He conceived the notion, probably based on a misunderstanding of classical ideas, that we would live this life again at some point in the future. Ouspensky’s idea of recurrence, however, is that we live this life again not in the future but in its very own time. Ouspensky sometimes described this as a sort of circle of time, but one can speak of it as if someone had drawn a circle and then traced his pencil back over the same circle.
To Ouspensky, “our time is our life”. When we die, the solar system continues, and it is in that time that we have the continuing life of the soul and the “higher bodies”. But for the whole ensemble which comprises us, soul and all, there is no more time. Time has more than one dimension, although we do not know it. When we die our souls or higher bodies continue in the linear or second dimension of time, but recurrence takes place along the planar or third dimension of time. And there may be further dimensions, too.
Each moment of time is a sort of traffic-intersection. We have come down one road, and are at an intersection. Roads branch off while the road continues ahead. We proceed directly ahead, but the perpendicular roads still subsist, the moment in time is extended sideways into infinity. Each instant eternally subsists, but we cannot look down those streets, even as they open up on either flank as we drive down the main road. We just do not see them as they spin off from our passage. And then, when we reach the end of our road, we are at the beginning again.
It is difficult to conceive how we can be reborn when our individual lives end. It is difficult, but it is not impossible. Let us suppose that Socrates sets off westward from Athens, in a straight line. Whenever he encounters water, a mountain range, or any impediment to travel, Apollo lends him wings, and he continues westwards, never straying from his path. It would seem to him, as it does to us whenever we travel, that he is always moving in a straight line, and yet he is not. The flatness of the planet is a trick of the eye. The end result of Socrates’ relentless movement in a straight line is that he finds himself in Athens once more. The same thing, Ouspensky said, happens to us in time. Time is not flat: it is three dimensional, at least.
This has an interesting corollary, it suggests to me that each person is an individual cosmos. The solar system in which we lived was here before us and it will be here after us. But if we bear our own time in ourselves, we are individual worlds which have participated in a sort of galactic ballet of individual worlds, each with their own time, just as the planets have their individual orbits, and periods of day and night.
To return to “Lord Grenville”. There is an oddity about this song. It was Grenville who sailed into oblivion, but the song is addressed to some third party to take a message to him: “Go and tell Lord Grenville that the tide is on the turn …”. This little trick, whether intentional or not, appropriates Grenville’s journey into darkness for the speaker, thus generalizing it. So there is an intimation of recurrence here. The sixth sense, “myself-in-relation-to-history” is found here, too, but more so in the next song on Year of the Cat, the tremendous “On the Border”.
The fishing boats go out across the evening water
Smuggling guns and arms across the Spanish border.
The wind whips up the waves so loud,
The ghost moon sails among the clouds, turns the rifles into silver
On the border.
… In the village where I grew up nothing seems the same,
Still you never see the change from day to day.
No one notices the customs slip away.
Late last night the rain was knocking on my window,
I moved across the darkened room and in the lamp glow,
I thought I saw down in the streets, the spirit of the century
Telling us that we’re all standing
On the border.
In the islands where I grew up nothing seems the same
It’s just the patterns that remain, an empty shell.
But there’s a strangeness in the air you feel too well.
The musical delivery is of the same elevated standard as the lyrics. I don’t think any further comment is needed. Note, however, the artful use of sea and moon imagery, and a “ghost moon” to boot. The concept of the border is deepened by being presented first as a border in space and then as a border in time. The high room from where the singer sees, in a prophetic manner, the spirit of the centuries is lit by “lamp glow”. The refrains each speak of the unnoticeable incremental changes made through the passage of time. And then the reference to the patterns immediately points us to a deeper level, for things can appear the same although the are different: streets bear the same names, the school is still there, but the street is different, the school is not what it was, and so on.
I am not particularly fond of the next three songs. Stewart is a good craftsman. He can turn out handy songs at need. But then they might feel like products, and unfortunately, he seems to me to do this on “Sand in your Shoes” and “If it Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave it.” I am not so sure of “Midas Shadow”. It has an excellent line (“Conquistador in search of gold for all the jackdaw reasons …”) and the music is fine, but it is not of anything like the standard of the first two songs, or of side two.
The second side opens with the exquisite “Flying Sorcery”. The inspired acoustic guitar work perfectly complements the lyrics:
With your photographs of Kitty Hawk and the bi-planes on the wall,
You were always Amy Johnson from the time that you were small.
No school-room kept you grounded while your thoughts could get away.
You were taking off in Tiger Moths,
Your wings against the brush strokes of the day.
Are you there? On the tarmac with the winter in your hair.
By the empty hangar walls you stop and stare … Oh, are you there?
… Are you there? In your jacket with the grease stain and the tear?
… The sun comes up on Icarus as the night birds sail away,
Lights the maps and diagrams that Leonardo makes.
You can see Faith, Hope and Charity as they bank above the fields.
You can join the flying circus, you can feel the morning air against your wheels.
The frequent question, “are you there”, and the evocative description of the young woman pilot, all conspire to place her in a timeless world. The music conjures a sense of these old planes soaring in joy, and then the magnificent lines about the illumination of Icarus and the three theological virtues (are these four planes, or stars, both or neither?) could almost move on to a backward somersault, they spring so lightly from the speakers. The very names, Icarus, Faith, Hope and Charity are magical.
The next track, “Broadway Hotel”, has a certain “thusness” about it, the tale of a wealthy woman who lives in a hotel, and finds love in an unexpected manner, but the two most powerful tracks on this side follow. Track three is “One Stage Before”.
It seems to me I’ve been upon this stage before
And juggled away the night for the same old crowd.
These harlequins you see with me, they too have held the floor
As here once again they strut and they fret their hour.
I see those half-familiar faces in the second row,
Ghostlike, with the footlights in their eyes,
But where or when we met like this last time,
I just don’t know.
It’s like a chord that rings and never dies … for infinity.
And now these figures in the wings, with all their restless tunes,
Are waiting around for someone to call their names.
They walk the backstage corridors and prowl the dressing rooms,
And vanish to specks of light in the picture frames.
But did they move upon the stage a thousand years ago,
In some play in Paris or Madrid,
And was I there among them then, in some travelling show,
And is it all still locked inside my head … for infinity.
And some of you are harmonies to all the notes I play;
Although we may not meet, still you know me well.
While others talk in secret keys and transpose all I say,
And nothing I do or try can get through the spell.
So one more time, we’ll dim the lights and ring the curtain up,
And play again like all the times before,
But far behind the music you can almost hear the sounds
Of laughter like the waves upon the shores … of infinity.
The song is sung in a sort of folk rock manner, but after the last call of “infinity”, a coruscating guitar solo brings intensity, aurally conveying the sound of waves upon the shore … The references to reincarnation are clear enough. But this idea that each action rings a note which sounds for infinity is really properly speaking more consistent with recurrence. It is the traffic-intersection of every moment in time as it branches into the second dimension of time. The idea is repeated in the last two lines: the infinity which Stewart evokes is not only the endless cycle of reincarnation, it is also the presence of the “eternal now”.
The final song on the album is the famous “Year of the Cat”, a song so good, I think it fair to say, that it was effectively recycled with new lyrics as “Time Passages”, Stewart’s next hit. The opening lines of “Cat” are splendid. Although he was apparently speaking of North Africa, the way that Stewart does this is significant:
On a morning from a Bogart movie,
In a country where they turned back time,
You go strolling through the crowd
Like Peter Lorre contemplating a crime.
The lady who appears is a strange fey creature: “… her eyes shine like the moon on the sea.” The reference to the moon and the water is reminiscent of “On the Border”. The story is a sort of adventure in an eddy of time and place, an appropriate ending for a record, which heard as a whole, leaves one with the sense of having been playing with time.
There is much to say in the next blog. I want to deal with some of Ouspensky’s ideas from A New Model of the Universe, with the concept of recurrence in one life, and with other of Stewart’s unique corpus, and especially his late brilliant masterpieces, Famous Last Words and A Beach Full of Shells. I shall try and bring the ideas together.
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 third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.
Our contributor John Robert Colombo wonders if any reader of this website has by any chance made a copy of his earliest posting. It was a review of an interesting public meeting of the Toronto Gurdjieff Group organized by its leader David Young. The venue was Toronto’s Heliconian Club. The date of the meeting was November 14, 2002. Apparently a collection of these postings is to be published, but this posting seems to have vanished into the ether! Colombo’s email address is email@example.com.
click on image to enlarge
“Doing” and “Not-Doing”
On 15 and 22 August 1990, Jim Wyckoff of the New York Foundation attended meetings at Newport. Mr Adie had died a little more than 12 months earlier. In May 1990, some of our people had visited Paris for guidance, and Michel de Salzmann had told them to try and work with Jimmy Wyckoff, as he was already coming to Sydney to visit the Foundation group there. And so Jim Wyckoff came to take questions at Newport. After that second evening, he asked me whether the meetings were being taped. He was not keen on the idea, and said that one should try and work in the present. However, he added, they have been taped and there is no need to destroy the records. Use the material, but as sparingly as possible. Some of what he said, for example, his answers to Stan and to myself have proved to have enduring meaning for me, and I think that the material may have value for others too. So let’s use the material … if sparingly. Here are a few questions from each of those nights, and then in Part Two, some comments.
15 August 1990 was the first occasion when Jim Wyckoff sat in front of a group at Newport. The Wednesday before, in a combined meeting (for this term see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia), Ken Adie had brought an exercise from his father which involved making diary notes after the morning preparation. Now, having tried the exercise for a week, Basil brought an observation about how much it had given him, and how fresh it had seemed to him to sit quietly after his preparation and spend a little time digesting it, valuing his being, rather than hurrying off into life, as usual. Throughout the day he had found himself quieter, remembering his hourly appointments. He could see himself dragged out, but then he would recollect himself more quickly.
Yes, replied Jim Wyckoff, something simple like that can help me. But I see that I cannot “do” it, and it is not something I can gain or acquire. Maybe what I need is to give something up, such as my tension, my hurry, or my compulsive thinking, so that there is room for something else. I open and listen for my work. We are made of an energy which everything is made of, so maybe something in me can correspond to what it seeks. I don’t know, said Jim, but I can be patient. If I was watching an animal in the bush, I wouldn’t rush in … I would be quiet and watch, he said, dropping his voice. I can be patient like that, with myself. Not with “my” attention, but with “the” attention. It is not mine.
Then Esmeralda spoke. Like Basil, she had been with Mr Adie for many years, and he had a profound respect for each of them, even if he sometimes found some of Esmeralda’s ways exasperating. She spoke about how she was when with her daughter, realizing that there were difficulties in that relationship, and that she had done no work at all in respect of that for years. This is how things go, Esmeralda said, I pick something up, there is a result, and then I let it drop for a number of months or years until I return to the same situation, the same area of work. I never really make use of what I could make use of, she said. The possibilities seem so rich, and I know that things can change and be improved, but then I squander those possibilities. Even listening to the question some 20 years later, its truth still has an impact. And to her credit, she did realize that she had a tendency to “not deal” with things which needed to be addressed.
Well there’s a lot that needs to be done, replied Jim Wyckoff, but that still doesn’t mean that I can “do”, does it? I need to experience, I need to learn how to perceive. I try to perceive by going out, but to perceive I need to take in, I need to be. We live under laws, I start DO RE MI and then I go MI RE DO. I know it, but I don’t feel it. I think that if something starts it can be continuous, but Mr Gurdjieff tells us that the vibrations are discontinuous. This question of trying to do something about my situation is in my way. If I really understand that I know nothing, then I can learn something. But whatever I try and learn, I put it on top of what I already have. I am brought up to acquire something, and then I get graded on it. But when I see that I am simply an expression of life, like all of nature, then perhaps I could accept to simply experience myself through the sensing awareness of the body, which is the receiving of something, not a going out. Like that. Does that make sense to you?
Yes, Esmeralda replied, thank you. Then Stan, a talented young man, spoke of his jealousy, resentment and envy in relation to his wife. He could see how it affected both of them. Jim Wyckoff asked, are you saying that you are concerned about how she treats you? Yes, answered Stan.
You’re concerned about how she treats your image, your ego?
Well, is that all you are? Your ego? Now I am asked to try and see my SELF beyond the I in quotation marks. Am I the I in quotation marks who thinks he should be considered by his wife? Or am I something other than that, from which that other I is derivative? Study your body when you’re in that state. It’s tight, and closed, but I still have that spark of life. Then, if they want to consider me, that it’s alright, and if they don’t, then that’s alright too. Am I concerned about their opinion? That’s a load of nonsense, isn’t it?
But what about my feeling? I don’t mean my emotion, I mean the feeling, this reconciling force which Mr Gurdjieff speaks of? How can I look for that, how can I touch that? I can’t make it appear, because that will be more of the ego trying. Maybe it’s there. When you work you find that something changes. I don’t mean like a rearrangement of the furniture, but the quality is different. The sense of yourself and of time is different. I don’t say “I’m going to sense myself, as if I was the author”. I don’t have to be first and foremost. You are you. Listen with your whole self, your body, not just your ears. I listen and see that I am different. How did I attract that state, not how did I do it? My preparation is not to get that state, it is to be in such a way that that can come. It could be a very interesting study. Not how to overcome it, how to get rid of it, but how to see, is it possible that something can be transformed here, although it is not something I do. You know if you put an empty cup in a sink full of water, it will fill it. You don’t have to fill it, just put it in.
Loreto then brought a question: what can I trust? That is the question, replied Wyckoff: or perhaps I should ask, can I be trusted? I get very tight, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You know how you can get up and go to work, but you know you have an appointment at 5 o’clock, say you’re going to see Shakespeare, and you’re looking forward to it. You’re working all day, but you still have this sense of anticipation. It can be like that, but not hurried. I ask myself, who am I? What am I? (His voice dropped when he asked these questions.) I listen with that inner listening, and if I don’t find it today, then I don’t find it. And then there’s the question that maybe that force needs me. Instead of me finding something, I need to be found. That is enough from the first evening.
The next week, Andrea mentioned how she had been in a conversation with someone. The other person was seeking her help in respect of something, and it seemed to be a rather intimate and personal matter. Andrea was trying to console her, and as she sat there, she started to become aware of extraordinary sense that two human beings were in contact. She had rarely ever had this type of simple contact in a conversation before. It was a discovery for her.
And it can be a discovery the next time, too, replied Jim. Our relationships with other people tend to be based exclusively on “yes” and “no.”. But on occasions a force can appear which is neither “yes” nor “no”, but recognition. If I work in a certain way, it appears. When I work, I become different. I’m a different person, and this force recognizes me: we recognize each other.
I was the second person to speak that evening. I had been struggling with anxiety about a conflict with some people, when I had remembered Mr Adie’s injunction: “Never forget the Creator. Never forget the Creator of all that exists.” That had dissipated the anxiety. (I still vividly recall the moment: I was sitting in the bottom level of a rather over-heated train). That night I woke from sleep, the anxiety reappeared, and bang, right behind it was this other recollection, and I was present, free from anxiety.
You see, said Mr Wyckoff, the situation helped you. One tends be against such situations, because they are unpleasant and tire you. But it’s as if I need the opposition, as if I were a wrestler who needs an opponent to struggle against, so that I can grow. (Incidentally, wrestling is the only sport I was ever any good at, but I doubt Jim knew that.) What is the difference in me? It’s not just a different attitude: there’s a basic change in my body too. Be observant for it. Oh, he added, it’s a good idea, if you wake up in the night, whether anxious or not, to immediately work.
The third question was from Tim, who relayed, as often one finds in groups, a fairly bare if not even despondent account of realizing that some effort was made, but feeling as if he couldn’t make any. And in fact, despite his better knowledge, he had not made an effort. How he could move in such situations?
We’re all passive, replied Jim Wyckoff. We want outside stimulation, an interesting person, a book, a film, or an idea. Such stimulation moves the energy in me and I like that, so we go to parades, football games and so on. But that quality is not what we here are after. We have had a taste of a finer quality of energy that seems to appear from nowhere, and I’ve been told that if I work in a certain way, it appears. However, my habits and my armour hold me back. I need to know the difference by taste (he lightly stressed these two words), because I identify with the better feelings which appear. I need to begin again, even if I am feeling better. Never say “I’ve arrived”, because in the next breath it’s gone. Something may be looking for me, not just me looking for it, because it would not come if it did not recognize something. Like attracts like. The difference in me is recognized by this force. So wait, be patient. But actively wait. Actively be patient. For you never know when the hour cometh.
Then Samantha spoke. She had seen a feature in herself, she said which she wanted to change. She had attempted to do so before, and it had gone for single days, but had always come back. She knew, too, that something in her was indeed attached to it. She needed to but could not change her attitude. Was she perhaps not sufficiently serious? Was that clear enough, she asked?
“Yes”, Jim Wyckoff replied, “the difficulty of course is that I want to do something about it.” He emphasized the word “do”. I want to get rid of it, or change it. “I want to do something about it”, he reiterated with the same emphasis. But what I need is to study it, he said. I cannot do anything about it because I’m the one who allowed it in the first place. Take something like tennis, for instance. Say the coach tells you that you’re holding the racquet in the wrong way, or standing in the wrong position. You want to change it, but you can’t. The old way of moving is too strong. You see?
Samantha agreed. The same thing applies here, continued Jim. When it happens try and notice what takes place without reacting to it. We don’t see our habits, we just see their effects. But to see what goes on inside, for that I need patience and observation.
Then Lindy spoke. Yesterday she had initially been able to observe what went on during conversations with a difficult person at work, even when this woman became quite upset. Lindy had felt sympathy for her, but then this person had attacked her, Lindy, which upset her a great deal. Lindy could think of the work and of observation, but she could not move, she was frozen. She had held up her hand in a gesture of protest but had not been able to speak. What could she do when she was paralyzed like that?
I cannot control anything, replied Mr Wyckoff. One can speak of self-control, and one can squash something down, but then one can also speak of work and only have but the thought of it. What really counts is the memory of being in work without any notion of controlling anything or anybody, but simply to see what happens. What was really happening? You have pictures that you were doing something and she was doing something, but what was really happening – by way of force? There is something happening which I don’t see. I record it only after it has happened, although it’s so quick that it seems to be simultaneous. But when you’re more connected you’re in a different time, and you weren’t in that different time on that occasion, were you?
No, Lindy replied. So, continued Jim, I can remember that there is something I don’t see and I can draw back. It is like how if you’re looking at that picture and you’re standing right there in the corner of the room you can’t really see it and what’s around it. You need to draw back and then you can see it. Like that.
The last question I will deal with came from Esmeralda. She returned to her question of the week before. She said that she thought had understood what Mr Wyckoff had said, but when she came to put it into practice, it was a “complete mess”. She had been with her daughter while she was practising her violin, and she tried to have a certain state with her, but it was quite the reverse, she was worse than ever. It seems to me, said Esmeralda, that when you speak, I understand something and something responds, but tomorrow, this condition won’t be there.
But something will be there, maybe, said Jim. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going to happen in five minutes, and the moment I say that, it puts me in a different place. I assume that work is only up to me … well there’s a job for me, but what comes to me, I don’t create that. I open to it, so it’s a big work. My effort is up to me, but when I allow a place that corresponds to this other force, it comes, doesn’t it? When I try and do something about it or think about it, I close. I’m ordering my life, I’m ordering the universe, even. But I wonder what’s going to happen today when we play the violin? It’s different. I don’t just listen o the violin, but to my body, because that’s where I hear the music, not just in the ears, but in the body.
To my mind, at least, Jim Wyckoff had some substantial insights. He also had a good quiet style in groups, and while he spoke, one felt a confidence that much was possible. But in retrospect, I think that Esmeralda’s experience over those two weeks was everyone’s, whether they would concede it or not. With him, we felt that it was simple. We were getting in our own way. But when it came to using his advice in daily life, then like fairy gold which glittered by night there was only dust in one’s pocket by daylight. People may disagree, but that is my view. Wyckoff could indeed deliver moments of uplift: no doubt at all. But these left little trace. However, there are techniques, there are methods: many of them. But Jim Wyckoff only really understood the use of sensation, if indeed he understood that, because he did not see that even for this, an aim is needed.
Mr Wyckoff had some tremendous flashes, and he had some follies. His answer to Samantha is an example: it was nonsense to say that a tennis player cannot change his grip or stance. They do it often. I have even checked with a tennis player who gave me some interesting information about the different grips and stances and how while older people might find them unusual at first, or awkward, he had never met anyone who could not with some attention change either. It is formatory to say one cannot “do”: incidentally, one could look up George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia in the index under “change”, “doing (do)” and “formatory (as in “formatory thought”) to see what the authentic teaching of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Adie was in these regards. Gurdjieff even said: “A man who works is always seeking for means to do.” (3 August 1944). But the concepts of change and doing are related to aim: aim must come first. The ability to do, Gurdjieff said, is the ability to attain a projected aim (see George Adie, p.56 and the materials cited there, see also the lectures “The Point of Doing” and “Doing” at pp.112-20 of that book).
If I cannot “do”, and it is so absolute as that, then neither can I study. Neither can I listen. There is no point in his advice: which is what Esmeralda effectively said. “Learn by doing”, said Gurdjieff, “repeat, repeat, repeat. Work until the sweat runs neither only from your brows but also from your heels”. “I cannot work”, said Jim Wyckoff, “I am worked.” Which sounds more inviting?
I do not say this to abuse him or his memory, but the fact is that “aim” is something Jim Wyckoff simply did not understand. As I mentioned in my earlier blog: “Did Gurdjieff Found the Gurdjieff Groups?”, he rebuffed a question about it by telling me not to think in terms of aim.
The concept of doing is distorted if approached in a formatory way. As I show in George Adie, “do” and “cannot do” can be reconciled. One needs a third force: an aim, or at least a motive, perhaps new knowledge, perhaps a new understanding. We even see people in life, with no connection to the Gurdjieff groups let alone to any religion, who change their lives. We see drug addicts beat their dependencies, we see people leave grudges behind, we see reconciliations. How could an intelligent man arrive at Jim Wyckoff’s conclusions?
I think the answer is that Wyckoff himself did not “do”: he was fortunate to come under certain conditions, and he had a mind capable to insights. But he was a rather feckless person, who never learned to think: he never acquired an ability for logical-confrontation. He saw deeply, but I never saw evidence that he could analyse. His books support me: whatever virtues they have, analysis and logic are not among them. In The Lost Continent of Atlantis (1968), he narrates Plato’s myth, with little discernable added value. He mentions that “Atlantologists” say that “Gadir” is the only surviving name in the Atlantean language (p.20). Jim would be helpless in the face of such an assertion: he would not know how to test it. But this is in fact a well-known Phoenician word, as many books on the Mediterranean would have told him. This would have lead to a more fruitful line of enquiry: the relationship between Phoenicia and Greek mythology. Typical, also, is his ending on p.92, that when man has found Atlantis, he may have found “something of himself. Maybe then he will know then who he really is and why he is here on earth.” Sounds good, may even sound great. But nothing whatever in the book has lead up to this. It is just a portentous statement he added at the end of the book. Jim certainly did not know why we were here, as he said (see below).
Then, in Wilhelm Reich: Life Force Explorer (1973), consider the statement at pp.120-1 that in “a sick world” anyone who is sane is bound to seem mad. What is madness, Wyckoff rhetorically asks, but that area where we place our devils, our enemies and our God? I read this to a friend of mine, a doctor (meaning, a physician). Oh no, she said, madness exists alright, and it is a horrifying thing. She was speaking from experience in the mental health wards of Sydney’s hospitals. Even from my limited exposure to genuinely mad people, I would say that Wyckoff’s statement is once more, big sounds, no content, and certainly no attempt to justify it. We place God in madness? What in heaven does he mean? It is not even undergraduate level. I could continue with other parts from the book, but you have the picture.
I suspect that Mr Wyckoff’s real passion was not Gurdjieff, but Reich. I think this is why Jim would mention “armour” (Reich referred to “body armour”), why he placed so much emphasis on sensation of the body, and why his real strength in the Gurdjieff work was in the movements, but certainly not in the ideas. This would explain why “aim”, “chief feature”, “essence”, “higher being bodies” and similar concepts from Gurdjieff meant nothing to him; why in fact he eschewed them.
Jim Wyckoff’s crypto-Reichianism is why he hardly ever read Beelzebub. He did not understand it, and it was a world away from Reich, with its Most Most Holy Absolute, its angels and its discourse on the reasons for man’s existence. I once heard Jim ask rhetorically: “Why are we here? Who cares, I don’t want to know. All that matter is we are here”. Well Gurdjieff cared. It was the reason for the entire panoply of ideas and techniques and his answers are the heart of his book. It is ironic that Wyckoff expresses the wish that Reich be studied without “distortion” (p.136), because that is what I feel he brought to Gurdjieff: distortion.
It seems to me now that the big problems for the Gurdjieff groups emerged in the 1960s, and it is no coincidence, perhaps that the Catholic Church went through what can only be fairly described as a process of Protestantisation during that period. Catholic theologians came very close to Luther’s idea of salvation by faith alone, and certainly not human works. The same thing happened with Gurdjieff: “work”, “aim”, “doing”, were all very hard and de-emphasized, if not done away with altogether.
Did Jeanne de Salzmann effectively Protestantise the Orthodox teaching and methods of Gurdjieff? It is an intriguing line of thought: the Gurdjieff exercises were no longer needed: one just called down higher energy. The old rituals with their rules and stately order were discarded, yet Gurdjieff had said that “every ceremony or rite has a value if it is performed without alteration” (Miraculous, p.303). So why were his exercises not performed without alteration? Look at what happened with the movements. No longer did one study the movements in detail, learning them, getting them into the body, reading the book which was there. As Gurdjieff said, “a ceremony is a book in which a great deal is written.” (p.303). Rather, as Wyckoff would tell us, one just works on the floor. One would do a bit of a movement, leave it for weeks, come back, maybe do bits of another movement for a few weeks, but then not again for a year. With Mrs Adie, however, we learned four movements regularly over the period of nine to ten months, and entered into the mystery. It is not enough to have the experience: it must be digested, as Gurdjieff said.
The next blog shall have more to say about Jeanne de Salzmann. It is time to end this one. Those who cannot bear the critique of Jim Wyckoff can simply cut and paste Part One into another document. It is unique, some of it is excellent, and I cannot see anyone else making available material by him. For those who have the stomach, however, to try and consider the facts impartially, Jim Wyckoff was a man of great talent, but he never met anyone who could help him develop his talent and whose help he would have accepted. He did meet Mr Adie, but he despised him. In the end, it was his loss, but many other people lost out too, because Jim Wyckoff played a large role in the destruction of Mr Adie’s school.
When he came to Newport, he made no attempt to find out what we had there. He just started doing things his own way. Even the new manager of an office doesn’t do that: they enquire, they go softly and see that is there, and then make changes as they think they are needed. Not Jim: no interest, not the least curiosity as to what Mr Adie had brought, who we were or how we were. He just had to bring the two groups under his direction.
It is ironic. He said so often that we know nothing. Maybe five minutes ago I knew something, but not now, he said (it’s on the tapes). But he did not live this. He was quietly cocksure of himself and his approach. Yet his mind gave out. Perhaps he had a condition I do not know of, but it seems to me that his last years, which were spent in senility correspond to his passive, indeed overly passive dispensation. This idea that I cannot keep it, I can only have moments, is insidious. This formula “not my attention but the attention” is a play with words. It is just not right: I can keep something of it, as Gurdjieff said, and as many have proved. One can change, one can coat the higher bodies, one can save one’s soul. In the end, although he did have something, Jim fulfilled his teaching: he could not do, he could not change, he did not know who he was, he could not even remember, and he died like that.