Archive for June 2008
E. J. PACE Dierctor of the Missionary Course at the Moody Bible Institute c 1919
This book on ‘The Law of Octaves’ is a print version of lectures given by Dr Pace in the USA from material that he writes comes from the Rev. John N. Wright DD of Wooster Ohio, who served for thirty-two years as a Presbyterian missionary in Persia at the end of the nineteenth century. Dr Pace had been lecturing on this for some years before publication in 1922.
Thus this material was being written down at a time earlier than that of Gurdjieff’s first appearance in Russia.
This is an astonishing collection of diagrams many which have a likeness to the diagrams that Ouspensky brought from Gurdjieff’s teaching, but which have come from a different source.
To see this material copy and paste this link
The website is worth looking at for those with a Gurdjieffian interest and a necessity for the Gurdjieff scholar. I am indebted to a reader of this blog who kindly sent this link to Joseph Azize who has sent it to us.
This book includes material from the International Conference ‘G. I. Gurdjieff from South Caucasus to Wetern World His Influence onf Spirituality, Thought and Culture in Italy Europe and the USA’ which was held in TbIlisi on 7th March 2007.
PUblished by Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film University, it has 90 pages and can be ordered from the Stichting Caucasus Foundation through the email:
It contains contributions from Massimo Introvigne, Fabrizio Romano, PierLuigi Zoccatelli, Constance Jones, Manana Khomeriki, Claudio Gugerotti, Janri Kachia and Alexander Cherkezishvili.
The College of Charleston
This paper given by Sophia Wellbeloved at the Association for the Study of Esotericism’s
Third International Conference at the College of Charleston, South Carolina in June 2008, is one of five papers given relating to Gurdjieff. The others were given by Michael Pittman, Joseph Azize, Richard Smoley and Jon Woodson, to see the full program copy and paste this link:
http://www.cofc.edu/ase//program.html to see the full programme.
‘Gurdjieff as Magus’ looks at G. I. Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) in his role as a magus. He taught pupils the acquisition of will, use of symbolism, inter-relationship of macrocosmos to microcosmos and a manipulation of cosmic laws so as to form a set of new bodies of ever finer materiality and longevity. It shows the centrality of hypnotism to his teaching about consciousness and how hypnotic techniques function in his texts and oral teachings. Gurdjieff used the imagery of black and white magic and reflects the roles of both black and white magician, using alcohol, drugs and intense pressures to entangle pupils usually for short periods of time. Lastly we will look at how the teaching has become institutionalised, necessitating omissions and redefinitions of both Gurdjieff and the Work.
Gurdjieff as Magus: Omissions and Redefinitions of the Work
Gurdjieff is not an easy man to define, and we are not going to attempt to impose a fixed definition of him here. What we are going to look at is:
How he presented himself in his writings
How he presented himself to his pupils in his oral teachings
Present day omissions and redefinitions of the Work
Gurdjieff as Hypnotist
Gurdjieff was known as a hypnotist who cared for and cured drink and drug dependency and other conditions, a role which he regarded as separate from his role as a teacher and which he continued throughout his life, (Peters 1977: 214, 220-223. Webb: 1980, 473).
Now we will look at how Gurdjieff presented himself in his texts in relation to hypnotism. You can see below the full titles and the abbreviations I am going to use when I refer to the texts
The Herald of Coming Good, privately published Paris, 1933
First series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1950
Second series: Meetings With Remarkable Men, trans. A. R. Orage, Londond: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963
Third series: Life is real only then, when “I am”, New York: Duton for Triangle Editions, 1975
In all these writings Gurdjieff refers to hypnotism; in the Tales, the two central chapters are devoted to the practice of hypnotism, in these Gurdjieff’s life story merges with that of his hero Beelzebub. Mesmer is perhaps the only historical person mentioned in the Tales who is not vilified by Beelzebub (Tales: 561-2). In the other three ‘autobiographical’ works he gives examples of practicing hypnotism himself (Meetings: 197-98, Life: 25, Herald: 11-13, see also Wellbeloved 2003:100-02). Herald focuses almost exclusively on his study of hypnotism and other occult practises.
Gurdjieff’s represents hypnotism in both passive and active functions
WAKING (hypnotic) SLEEP
(our usual waking state)
HYPNOTISM(can function passively or actively)
(usually inaccessible to us but made accessible by hypnosis )
We can relate hypnotism to the central tenet of Gurdjieff’s teaching. He taught that what we usually regard as being our daily waking state is in fact a state of sleep. Not ordinary sleep but hypnotic sleep.
In brief summary: our ‘true’ consciousness resides in what he terms the ‘subconscious’ which we are usually unable to contact. As a result of this division in our consciousness, he says that, as we are, we cannot ‘do’, our actions are merely mechanical reactions.
In Chapter XXXII of the Tales Beelzebub explains that hypnotism is the means of linking these two states of being. It can be used to act on these separated consciousnesses in different ways, for example, it can put the usual waking state, where the personality functions to sleep so that the subconscious which contains the essence can function. The advantage of doing that is that according to the teaching essence can grow and develop while the personality is a prison in which we respond mechanically to what ever happens.
So we can see that a passive experience of hypnotism, being hypnotised by events or surroundings, may function to trap us in ‘waking sleep’, while an active hypnotism, may liberate us from waking sleep and give us access to our subconscious.
Hypnotism in Gurdjieff’s terminology is thus ‘a stick with two ends.’
Here I want to look at Gurdjieff’s four texts in relation to his law of three which expresses two possible outcomes for the interaction of negative and positive forces. Hypnotism is the third force that can reconcile these forces in an evolutionary/positive way, or in a devolutionary/negative way.
The diagram below show how Gurdjieff’s texts embody his law of three.
Results from reconciliation in an evolutionary/upwards direction
- TALES Hypnotism is the third force capable of reconciling positive and negative forces + MEETINGS
Results from reconciliation in devolutionary/downwards direction
We can regard each text as representing a positive or negative force according to Gurdjieff’s own intention for the books stated in the following way:
The Tales – functions as a negative force intended to destroy the reader’s beliefs and views
Meetings – functions as a positive force – because it is to provide the reader with good material for a new creation.
Life – functions as a result of an evolutionary reconciling force – because it is to help the reader realise the world existing in reality rather than in his fantasy.
Herald – functions as the result of a devolutionary reconciling force, this is the book that Gurdjieff withdrew or ‘exiled’.
In the two books which show how the positive and negative are resolved Gurdjieff presents himself as a predominantly wise white magician in Life, and the personification of a psychotic, black magician in Herald.
Gurdjieff instructed his pupils not to read Herald, but writes in Life, that we ought not to read it. This is not a convincing strategy for someone who wants his book to be ignored. Herald shows the chaotic state of a devolutionary descent in to madness, and it is necessary to include it in order to show the full expression of his law of three.
Gurdjieff employed hypnotic techniques in all these texts. Some of these are defined by Dr Joseph A. Sandford a psychologist and clinical hypnotheapist with Gurdjieffian interests and professionally trained in the hypnosis methodology of Milton H. Erickson. Sandford gives some examples of the hypnotic techniques that are used by both men: ‘story telling, metaphor, indirect suggestion, confusion techniques and implied directives, and shocks (Gnosis through Hypnosis: the Role of Trance in Personal Transformation, Proceedings of the All & Everything Humantities Conference,2005, privately published. See also (Runyon, Carroll, Magick and Hypnosis). http://nightbreed.tribe.net/thread/33226a91-c71c-49f4-90dd-dd1f0c997091 ‘<em>Ceremonial magic is ritual hypnosis’).
Gurdjieff himself said that breaking the connection between the emotional and mental centres will cause a person to become hallucinated (Gurdjieff, 1976: 263, 192), ‘Centres are without critical faculty … when a person looks with one centre only, he is under hallucination’). All his texts are intentionally confusing: misleading, contradictory, and paradoxical, he defined himself as:
‘unique in respect of the so to say “muddling and befuddling” of all the notions and convictions supposedly firmly fixed in the entirety of people with whom I come into contact.” (Tales, 26).
Now we will look at how Gurdjieff presented himself to his pupils.
Gurdjieff’s teaching emphasised specific methodologies according to where he was and what was happening, but the content of the teaching remained the same in all periods. Here, because of time constraints, we will look at two periods indicated in the chronology below.
G. I. GURDJIEFF 1866? – 1949
1866? Born Alexandropol, Armenia, (now Gyumri)
1885?- 1910? Undocumented travels to Middle and Far East
1910? – 1917 In Russia teaching: P. D. Ouspensky meets Gurdjieff
records teaching from 1915 – 1922
In Search of the Miraculous (Search) Ouspensky 1949
1917 – 1922 From Russia to Europe with pupils
1922 France: Gurdjieff founds The Institute for the Harmonious
Development of Man outside Paris,
fully functional until 1924
1924 -1930 Visits USA begins writing. Closes the Institute but
continues to live there. Will visit the USA a further
nine or ten times.
1932 lives in Paris
1935 – 1940 Paris teaching the Rope group [and others].
1940-1945 Teaching groups in his flat in Paris
1945 Gurdjieff continued teaching pupils until his death in
P. D. Ouspensky
During this time Ouspensky records Gurdjieff’s teaching pupils: the acquisition of will, the use of symbolism, the inter-relationship of macrocosmos to microcosmos and a manipulation of cosmic laws so as to form a set of new bodies of ever finer materiality and longevity. Gurdjieff expressed his teachings with reference to alchemical processes, (Search,176, 180), transmutation and transformation (Search,193), and in relation to the symbologies of astrology, magic and tarot, among others (Search, 278-295) and Webb, (The Harmonious Circle 1980, 499-525) gives a good account of some of the likely western esoteric origins of Gurdjieff’s teaching (Webb, 1980, 499-525).
Many if not most of Gurdjieff’s pupils had some knowledge of Theosophical ideas, so his cosmology, ideas about the formation of different bodies would have been familiar to them. What Gurdjieff offered pupils that differed from Blavatksy’s Theosophical teaching was an occult practice that would enable them to transform themselves, not just a theory about different bodies but methods for creating them. This brings Gurdjieff’s teaching into the realm of magic (Versluis, Arthur, 2007: 1. ‘Magicians seek direct spiritual insight and use it to affect the course of events’, and 4. ‘the Magus seeks to have effects in the world’.)
Gurdjieff defines magicians as men who understand the laws of nature and know how to use them to transform substances and also to oppose mechanical influences, and this is not a bad summary of what Gurdjieff himself taught. He gives Christ as an example of a magician who had this knowledge (Search: 226-7, see also (Views 1976/ 1st pub 1973 in a talk in Essentuki in 1918). Gurdjieff’s definitions of both black and white magicians are inconsistent and confusing (Search: 227). He does say that ‘Black magic does not in any way mean magic of evil’ and this is representative of a theme he returns to throughout his teaching. The pupils who took part in his revue ‘Struggle of the Magicians’, had to dance the roles of both black and white magicians.
Gurdjieff agrees with Ouspensky that narcotics are used for the creation of states that make magic possible, but says that they are not merely narcotics although substances used may be prepared form opium or hashish (Search: 8-9 see also 162, 195).
There is a short paper on Narcotics and Hormones by G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘evidently taken down by Ouspensky’. Here Gurdjieff relates some of the uses of narcotics including as a help in ‘the work of Self-Observation and self study,’ he stresses that the use of narcotics is dangerous and needs to be carried out by an expert.
In 1959 the Stourton Press in Cape Town published a short paper Narcotics and Hormones by G. I. Gurdjieff, ‘evidently taken down by Ouspensky’, some of the material is in his In Search of the Miraculous. Republished in Unforgotten Fragments, Pogson, Beryl Chassereau, and Lewis Creed, 1994. Gurdjieff states that narcotics can be used to change the state of consciousness. He refers to medieval literature as a rich source on the subject. He defines hormones as ‘clouds of fine matter, finer than the gaseous matter known to us which is given off by various organs of our body. The 1920s and 1930s were a time of great interest and medical research into hormones. In 1922 insulin was first used to treat diabetes, (see also http://www.uwyo.edu/wjm/Repro/classica.htm) There are references to opium in the Tales including an complex passage pages 826-40 detailing research into the properties of opium).
Gurdjieff was teaching’ the Rope’ a group of women pupils in Paris, seeing them once or twice every day. According to Gurdjieff’s pupil J. G Bennett this group progressed at a much faster rate than earlier pupils, Bennett attributed this to the use of drugs (Bennett 1976: 232), Bennett writes that Gurdjieff carried out ‘a very extraordinary experiment, making use of methods that brought them into remarkable psychic states, and developed their powers far more rapidly’ than those of earlier pupils. He saw memoirs but is not allowed to quote from them, he hopes they will be published as they throw light on Gurdjieff’s methods as a teacher and upon ‘his use of drugs as a method of developing not only psychic experiences, but also opening hidden channels of the human psyche’. Although he was castigated for making this suggestion, there are diary entries concerning courses of injections, which Gurdjieff himself gave to the pupils, recorded in:
‘Notes taken by Solita Solano from October 1935 – April 1939 in Paris, with additional notes about Gurdjieff’s visit to New York in 1948
(Janet Flanner and Solita Solano Papers, Library of Congress, folder 6 box 6).
There are twenty-three direct references to piqures (injections) and courses of injections that Gurdjieff gave Solano and other members of the Rope group. He gave inner exercises for them to do related to the injections.
Solano quotes Gurdjieff saying:
‘After a certain age this effort [his teaching] is very difficult and often impossible. There is an artificial aid by means of physico-chemical substance… for example a substance can be injected which will furnish artificial help for prayer … If the effort and the amount of the chemical are not balanced, it becomes a dangerous poison for the organism.’ (In January, 1936, p. 18).
He had already given her ‘My first piqure and my first exercise’ (16th November 1935).
These notes are greatly abridged and there is no mention of the actual substances he was injecting, but he did take blood and urine samples from the group to check what adjustments to make to their medications. The exercises are not give in the Notes, and the results of the injections are not referred to in detail, Solano reports feeling better after the first course. Later the group are strongly affected by the injections, two of them cry and feel suicidal, Solano fears loosing her memory. Another time she asks about an increase in menstruation which Gurdjieff attributes to the injections this last suggests injections of hormones (Notes 39-40).
The group also take other medicines given them by Gurdjieff (Notes July 18, 1936, 42-43).
There are references to magic, in the first (June 18th 1936) Gurdjieff refers to ‘the mag’, Solano writes in brackets after mag ( magus, adept, master) and says that
The mag (magus, adept, master) is cunning.
… The mag is the highest that man can approach to God because only he can be impartial and fulfil obligation to God. In old times the mag was always made the chief because he had cunning. Other mags could do either white or black magic but the mag who had cunning and canning could do both white and black and was the chief of the Initiates. Man with real cunning is man without quotation marks. Angel can do only one thing. Devil can do all.’ (July 18th 1936, Notes, 42-43).
A month later he says: “Both cunning and canning are necessary to all things. This is why there are two magics. Black magic is cunning – often also is cunning and canness – you understand the difference? Black magic is ideal for being. Cunning and can-ness is like conscious and unconscious, or like two words used in Bible for meaning two kinds of evil voluntary and involuntary sin”. (Notes 49).
Gurdjieff continued to teach pupils his mix of esoteric ideas and occult practices. He was at pains to present himself in his writings and in his oral teachings in the roles of both Black and White Magician. He never sought to present himself as solely good, or other than he was which was capable of both constructive and destructive relations with his pupils. I suggest that this duality is fundamental to his teaching because he is an embodiment of his Law of Three, showing the good and bad possibilities open to a human beings and how these may be reconciled.
Some of the methods that Gurdjieff used to hypnotised and entangled his pupils were:
exhausting physical efforts
lack of sleep
use of alcohol and drugs
The demands of both Gurdjieff’s writings and oral teachings entangle the reader or listener in hypnotic paradox and contradiction . The demand for students to observe themselves was contradicted by the teaching that they were mechanical and unable to ‘do’. The statement that pupils must have a critical mind was subverted by belonging to a regime in which they had agreed to be incapable of ‘doing’ and therefore of being critical. The constant demand for ‘making effort’ was reinforced by Gurdjieff’s instruction that leaving the teaching before having reached a certain stage would be injurious. It would be better for pupils to die making ‘super-efforts’ than to continue living their mechanical lives. He stressed that the teaching was dangerous. Pupils could not avoid danger, they had to face either the danger of the teaching, or of leaving it. Gurdjieff’s teaching always took place in the last chance saloon.
But he did repeatedly warn pupils against taking his cosmological ideas literally (Wellbeloved, 2003: 216-17). He also gave clues. The astute reader or listener will find the contradictions and begin to question the texts and maybe also the teaching. The process of freeing themselves from this hypnotised state might also free pupils from much of their usual mechanically hypnotised state and allow them to connect with their subconscious (Webb 1980: 560-573). Entanglement and liberation are two ends of the same stick. One of the properties that Gurdjieff defined as belonging to the subconscious is ‘confrontative criticism’ (Tales 568). Or to express it differently, they might be able to define themselves and the world around them in terms other than those used by Gurdjieff.
Ignoring the contradictions, both those created by him and those arising in his life, the pupil may defeat the point of the teaching. Gurdjieff himself usually made sure the pupil ‘got it’ that is could not ignore the contradictions inherent in his teaching by ‘orphaning’ pupils, sending them away, behaving to them in such a way that they chose to go, or by simply disbanding the whole group. This forced pupils to reassess him the teaching and themselves (The Fourth Way, i.e. Gurdjieff’s teaching is never permanent, Search: 312).
Present day omissions and redefinitions of the Work
Once the Magus dies, his presence as embodiment is not longer there and his teaching ends. Thus, he has to be reinvented and his teaching restructured and this has happened. Gurdjieff and his teaching have inevitably been institutionalised and redefined.
Today, in foundations (organisations set up after Gurdjieff’s death by his successor Jeanne de Salzmann) and other groups, as far as I have discovered, there is no focus on Gurdjieff’s use of:
Narcotics and other drugs.
While the teaching was defined by Gurdjieff as a dangerous but quick way to acquire knowledge, membership is now for long periods, or for life. The effort required is not ‘dangerous’. The pupil is focused on ‘searching’ rather than ‘finding’, ‘receiving’ rather than ‘stealing’ or ‘making efforts’ (See http://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/ “Doing” and Not Doing” on the Joseph Azize page where he gives examples of the passive form of language used in the 1980s by a Foundation work teacher.). Gurdjieff is generally presented in a version ‘cleansed’ of occult practices. For example, the website of the New York Foundation does not include Herald in its list of Gurdjieff’s writings (http://www.gurdjieff-foundation-newyork.org/work2.html ).
The foundations have remained secretive and closed to general scrutiny. There are ‘not for public release books and videos’, one of the videos I have seen presents Gurdjieff in a romanticised sepia vision of his life as related in Meetings, where none of the contradictions of his life or teaching are mentioned. The Work has now spread out and become more widely known in versions that are entwined with other teachings (see Wellbeloved ‘Changes in G. I. Gurdjieff’s Teaching ‘The Work’ http://www.cesnur.org/2001/london2001/wellbeloved.htm A paper presented at The 2001 Conference (CESNUR-INFORM) in London).
What we might ask now is: why is there a reluctance to mention occult practices, magic, hypnotism and the use of drugs in this teaching, not only by the teacher/practitioners but also by scholars? This is a question that is important for the establishment of the discipline of western esotericism as a whole.
Traces of Gurdjieff as Magus, can be found in pupil memoirs and in Chaos Magic.
He remains fully alive in his roles as both black and white magician in his texts.
Bennett, John G. Gurdjieff: Making A New World, London: Turnstone Books, 1976
G. I. Gurdjieff, The Herald of Coming Good, privately published Paris, 1933
All and Everything, Ten Books in Three Series:
First series: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man or Beelzebub’s
Tales to His Grandson, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1950.
Second series: Meetings With Remarkable Men, trans. A. R. Orage, Londond:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.
Third series: Life is real only then, when “I am”, New York: Duton for Triangle
Views from the Real World: Early Talks of Gurdjieff: London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, 1sr pub. 1973.
Ouspensky, P. D. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, London:
Arkana, 1987, 1st pub Harcourt Brace and World, 1949.
Peters, Fritz, Gurdjieff: containing Boyhood with Gurdjieff and Gurdjieff Remembered, London:
Wildwood House, 1977 (1st pub. 1965).
Pogson, Beryl Chassereau and Lewis Creed, Unforgotten Fragments, York: Quacks Books, 1994
Solano, Solita, unpublished Notes taken by Solita Solano from 1935 – 1940 in Paris, Beinecke Library, Kathryn Hulme Papers YCAL MSS 22 Box 19, folders 484-93 Solano, Solita 1951-75, n.d.
Versluis, Arthur, Magic and Mysticism,: an Introduction to Western Esotericism, Lantham,
Boulder, New York, Toronto, Plymouth UK: Roman & Littlefield, 2007.
Webb. James, The Harmonious Circle, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980.
Wellbeloved, Sophia, ‘Changes in G. I. Gurdjieff’s Teaching ‘The Work’ 2001 CESNUR-Inform
Conference in London. http://www.cesnur.org/2001/london2001/wellbeloved.htm
Gurdjieff: the Key Concepts, London & New York: Routledge, 2003.
Stalin in 1908
Stalin in 1915
John Robert Colombo reviews the article “The Vanishing Master”
There has always been the suggestion that G.I. Gurdjieff and Joseph Stalin met as young students while attending the same seminary in Tiflis in the Caucasus. If so, they made strange bedfellows! The symbolism is surprising, yet stranger events have indeed occurred.
But what do historians make of the notion? In an earlier posting some months ago, I reported that Simon Sebag Montefiore, in his award-winning biography titled “Young Stalin” (2007), discusses the matter in a footnote and dismisses it as being a statement without substance.
Then I received an email from a correspondent in Paris who is familiar with the subject as well as with my ongoing interest in it. He writes as follows: “Through my usual obscure (and perhaps obscurantist) channels, I’ve recently had in my hands a photocopy of a review of Walter Driscoll’s ‘Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography’ by David Kherdian in ‘Ararat Magazine,’ Spring 1991. It is a very well written review and contains some interesting opinions about Gurdjieff, his background, his works, and his aims. What might be most interesting (to you, having reviewed a Russian TV program on Gurdjieff and Stalin) is this remark.”
Background: The article is titled “The Vanishing Master” and it is about 2,000 words long. It offered Kherdian the opportunity to record some of his own feelings about Mr. G. as well as his observations about the limitations of J. Walter Driscoll’s bibliography of Gurdjieffian publications, specifically about his treatment of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” Kherdian discusses what is included as well as what is not included. “But nothing is said about the chapter on Joseph Stalin, which was left out of the final MS, nor the reasons why it was left out (fear of the Cold War, presumably) – nor why – the fear of that having been removed by global events – that chapter has not been restored and the book reissued.”
My informant in Paris continued, “Kherdian does not give his sources for this affirmation.” All I can do is wonder about the origin of this idea: the missing chapter on Stalin the Man of Steel! Will it one day appear?
My informant concluded: “I don’t know if it’s possible to verify what Kherdian claims; if such a chapter about Stalin really existed, as far as I can see, it can only be in one of three places – the Gurdjieff archives held by the ‘SERCH’ in Paris, the estate of A.R. Orage, if such an estate exists, or the estate of his second wife Jessie Dwight, if she’s now dead (which is likely), and if such an estate, presumably managed by her children, exists. Anyway, getting anything from any of those possible sources would probably be as difficult as getting to the Most Holy Sun Absolute.”
Two details included in my informant’s account may be unfamiliar to readers of this news-blog. First detail: What is SERCH? This is the acronym for the association that constitutes the Gurdjieff groups in France; it stands for Société d’Etudes et de Recherche Pour la Connaissance de l’Homme. Second detail: Who is David Kherdian? He 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,” is subtitled “By a Grandson of Gurdjieff,” and is 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 a decade or so ago from his farm in Wisconsin. “Stopinder: A Gurdjieff Journal for Our Time” was a handsomely designed publication that was illustrated by his talented wife Nonny Hogrogian. Its issues offered its subscribers a concentrated, yet low-key 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. He has his own website, and although it is short on biographical details, from it I gather that his current publication is “Forgotten Bread: An Anthology of Armenian American Writers.”
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, let me mention in passing that in addition to Mr. G.’s standard publications, the author mentions two others that are not generally known or widely available. Their titles are “The Struggle of the Magicians” and “Narcotics and Hormones.” Both were privately printed by Stourton Press.
June 3, 2008
John Robert Colombo, a frequent contributor to this news-blog, is currently reading the proofs of “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.” An observer described Colombo as “anthologist to the stars” based on his contribution to the plaque affixed to the Phoenix Mars Lander launched by NASA and now resting on the surface of the Red Planet. (See “Contact” and then “Lander” on http://www.colombo-plus.ca )
Joseph Azize Page
George and Helen Adie are the Mr. and Mrs. Todd-Ashby of Carl Ginsburg’s Medicine Stories, Center Press, Santa Fe, 1991, “The Daphne Blossom”, pp. 55-9, he has kindly given us permission to post it here.
THE DAPHNE BLOSSOM
Mr. Todd-Ashby appeared at the door, tall and solid in a long dressing gown and white cylindrical fez. He was an astonishing eighty-six years old, considering he had lived the last third of a century missing his right lung, and with the other lung working at two-thirds capacity. He greeted us warmly and we followed him into the house.
The bush was in flower. Early spring. From Mr. Ashby’s window you overlooked the thick bush of shrubs and gum trees on its descent down to the beach. The ocean beyond was rough a heavy surf breaking some distance from the sand.
Adele and I had driven up through French’s Forest, past Narrabeen and Mona Vale. After the turn off to Bungin Beach we were on the peninsula with the Pittwater to the west and the Pacific on the east. We had to drive up a narrow road that snaked between tall eucalyptus. A sudden squall with a fine but heavy rain broke as we got out of the car.
I had met Mr. Ashby two years before. He was having difficulty swallowing, a condition apparently related to the operation to remove his lung. Adele rang me up and insisted I see him. “He’s very bright and lively,” she said, “in spite of his condition. I’ve been his doctor for a number of years now. He’s really very lovely to work with.” Her voice was seductive with its lilt and tiny musical lift at the end of each sentence.
“What can I do in one go?” I said. “I’m leaving for the States in two days.”
“Oh, you’ll think of something,” she said. “I know you can help him.” Adele had more faith in my abilities than I had in myself.
Mr. Ashby barely had the strength to get up the stairs at the flat where I was staying. Despite this, I noticed that he had a lively energy. We spoke very briefly. He then lay on his back on the low table I used for lessons at the flat and literally put himself in my hands. For my part I quickly observed his situation. The right side of his chest and the compensating twist , in his neck resulted in a pressure on his throat which prevented his swallowing. I saw a need to expand his ribs on his right side. But how?
A very rapid reasoning resulted in an assessment: even if his lung had been removed, he still had the muscles in his chest. It was obvious, however, that he didn’t use them. I decided that it must be his knowledge of the fact of his missing lung that led to his collapsing his chest. What he needed, I thought to myself, was a lung, an imaginary lung. I even had a process in mind.
It was a gamble to expect Mr. Ashby to accept the strange exercise I was to propose to him. I was sure he would question it. The one thing I knew of his background was that he had been a well known-architect in London before he retired to the bush. However, the exercise went beautifully. I had Mr. Ashby explore the good lung as if it moved from the inside. When he was clear as to the nature of the movement, I had him imagine a right lung that moved in the same way. His chest immediately began to expand.
“Very clever,” he said to me afterwards. “I think I’ll enjoy working with your method. It certainly made a difference to me.” Adele called me three or four times in the intervening two years to tell me of Mr. Ashby’s continuing improvement. I was pleased about his progress, but was even more astonished at his remarkable intelligence and perceptiveness. He understood completely that we had made a successful fiction together. He knew how to use that fiction totally to his advantage, and it took only one single session.
Now Mr. Ashby was undergoing a new crisis. Adele suggested we see him at his home. This time he had apparently pulled a ligament between his rib and the connecting vertebra.
His pain was very apparent in his attempt to move ever so carefully and avoid bending or twisting. Despite his pain and labored breathing, he was cheerful and talkative. His words came in short, puffy breaths as he led us to his bedroom.
Adele said, “Mr. Ashby has designed this room for himself. You must see his bed. You can raise the bottom half or the top. Mr. Ashby has designed these special pegs for the purpose, which fit into different holes to create different heights.” The bed not only adjusted, but Mr. Ashby had designed a swivel arrangement with a hook that allowed the bed to be wheeled into different positions while also staying attached to the wall As interesting as I found the bed, I was even more attentive to the two framed photographs above it. These were both of Mr. Gurdjieff. One which I had seen before showed Mr G. looking fierce with his bald head, penetrating eyes, and turned up moustache. In the other he was smiling, wearing a fez and showing an unexpected sweetness in his face.
I peered into the adjacent part of the room. There was an English oak Chippendale desk over which hung two more photographs of Mr. Gurdjieff. One of these taken in Paris in his last year showed him fully erect and present, eating his dinner. To either side of these were two photographs of Madame de Salzmann. On top of the desk sat a small gold Buddha, perhaps Burmese or Thai.
Mr. Ashby sat down on his bed and invited us to bring chairs and sit for a moment.
“Did you know Mr. Gurdjieff personally?” I asked.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “I was fortunate to have been one of his pupils. An extraordinary man.” He paused to catch his breath. “I have a group here, you know. I have been teaching his work for years.”
“Were you at Fontainebleau?” I asked.
“No, no. I met Gurdjieff much later, in his last years in Paris, just after the war. He was at the height of his powers.” Although Mr. Ashby was audibly making short and distinct gasps as he spoke, his voice was steady and clear.
Adele watched as I gave Ashby his lesson. This time I worked without words. It was my hands that spoke. I asked him to lie on the bed on his side and placed a pillow under his head to make him comfortable. By placing one of my hands on his lower ribs and the other on his hip I could gently remind him how his ribs moved, how indeed he could allow more movement differentially and subtly between his chest and hips, chest and shoulders.
He did feel immediate relief afterwards. Slowly, he got himself up from the bed. I asked him to walk about a bit and feel the differences in himself. This he did with ease.
He then left us a short while to order some coffee and cookies for us. Somewhere in the other part of the house there were servants and Mrs. Ashby. I was to meet her on my next visit a week later, when I gave lessons to both Mr. and Mrs. Ashby, and was served a dinner of caviar stuffed into avocado halves, washed down with a glass of Armagnac. Mrs. Ashby was a small tidy woman who was equally a devotee of Gurdjieff.
She had accompanied Mr. Ashby all over the world in his pursuit of teachers. In fact it was an accident in the jungles of Venezuela while visiting a Gurdjieff community that led to her injuring her leg. Now that she had limped about for twenty years, she wanted me to help her walk more easily.
She too was an apt pupil. With each move I made with my hands to connect with her, I detected an immediate response.
As I guided her to feel how she could freely use her healthy uninjured leg, I could see how her keen awareness of herself led her to an understanding of what I was asking of her. And indeed when she stood up after the lesson, one could see that she now knew how to place her weight more evenly on her legs. Her walking too was visibly easier and more confident.
As we waited for the coffee and cookies, Mr. Ashby took me aside to tell me something special. Adele left to speak with Mrs. Ashby. “As I don’t generally tell anyone about this,” Mr. Ashby said, “these words are for you and you alone.”
I understood then that I was to receive a gift, and I took his admonition seriously. Mr. Ashby spoke first about pain, his own first, and, more generally, everyone’s. Pain was a part of life and everything in life was worth attending to. He, meaning himself or Mr. Gurdjieff, learned from pain, and therefore it was of no more consequence than anything else.
Mr. Ashby then related a story about Mr. Gurdjieff. It was about Mr. G. and a wrench that Mr. Gurdjieff had used with extraordinary force. Mr. Ashby described how Mr. G. placed that wrench back on a table. He reproduced the gesture for me with his own hand. It was exquisite. Mr. Ashby repeated it three more times. The powerful force of using the wrench dissolved into a movement of such grace, such delicacy that I can still see it, still feel it as some after-image in my own musculature.
Adele returned with the refreshments. We chatted lightly. I felt a need to be alone a moment. I wandered into the living room. Near the doorway, the lower ceiling was cut away in a large oval and I therefore stood under a very deep blue recess in the oval space. It was like standing under a night sky. I watched the ocean and the heavy clouds which rolled in. A large black bird with a long and slightly curved beak perched on the outer window sill. He had a yellow circle about his eye. We watched each other for what seemed a long time. He flew off as Adele fetched me for the return journey.
It was dusk. The rain had stopped. Adele said, “Just look. All the Daphne blossoms. I’ll get you one.” She walked to the end of the drive and picked a large blossom. She returned to the car.
“It has such a lovely aroma,” she said.
The fragrance was intense. It permeates my memory of the drive back. I thought again and again of the gesture that Gurdjieff had used and Mr. Ashby had duplicated for me. I saw in it the essence of what I know in my hands, that utter delicacy that I learned from my own teacher, Feldenkrais. I saw too that it was the innocence and openness of that gesture, its freedom from any thought, any preconceived constraint, its purity of intention, that led to its possibility. And that possibility is the possibility of the heart. This was Mr. Ashby’s gift to me.