Archive for December 2008
Joseph Azize Page
A Noble Work
In Part One, I present some edited extracts from a meeting with George Adie at Newport, on Thursday 12 March 1987, with as little comment as possible. To make clear what comes directly from Mr Adie, and what does not, I offer some reflections in Part Two.
Joel spoke first. “Each day this week, when I’ve done my preparation, I’ve then made my plan for the day; and that has included taking a moving stop each hour on each hour, while I’m at work. I’ve noticed two things in particular. The first is that it helps me during the whole of the day, and I think about it not only on the hour, but also at other times, I might look at my watch, and it keeps me a little bit closer to some more conscious state. And the second thing is that I clearly realise that too often my efforts are only in the head. I found that what was happening was I might check my watch, or it might be the hour, and I would simply think about making an effort or taking a moving stop, and then go back to what I was working on. And the last few days, on some occasions, I’ve at the times –”
Mr Adie then asked: “Did you say, ‘taking a moving stop’? Exactly what do you mean by that?”
“Well, not to actually disrupt my work, for instance, if I was writing, not to stop writing, but to try to –”
“That is interesting, isn’t it? Something is possible there, because nothing ever stops. Everything is moving, everything is going away. There are impulses, but between the impulses there are also movements, yes. Good.
“This is a sort of first step to a different state. A different state means work on a higher level. You see, if there’s no intention, there’s no work. If you realise that, you cannot bear to live without any intention, which means to say that you are just a thing. But you realise that there has to be intention and there has to be work. I intend to do or not do.
“What you describe is very important, and it’s good. It begins to make a continuity, it begins to make a sort of connection between now and then, because with the law of cause and effect, now will produce a certain result.
But there’s a great mystery there. I begin to sense a different kind of life, I begin to sense a different kind of experience, quite different inside. I’m writing, but there’s something else, and that’s related to something which I manage to glimpse or formulate. It’s related to a realm which isn’t confined to this writing that I’m doing. So there are two lives simultaneously, the very necessary practical life of writing or boiling an egg or something; and there’s another life; and they’re related.”
Later in the meeting, Humbert said that he seemed to get to a stage of observing himself, but didn’t seem to want to go any deeper. Mr Adie asked him for an example. Humbert replied: “Yes, last week I had an argument with my mother. I saw her as interfering with my life, although I knew that in a way she was right. And I saw how my face changed, my posture changed, and my tone of voice changed, and all this commotion going on. And I saw this, but I couldn’t change it, and I didn’t know where it was coming from.”
“I have to go through that, ponder on it, when could I do something about it? What could I do? I want to go over it. It’s like a contest, where I realise that at one moment I have an opportunity, but I didn’t take any advantage of it. And I realize that that’s something to watch for.”
Humbert mentioned that this type of thing happened frequently with his mother. Incidentally, although Humbert was an adult, he had moved back home with his mother, who was also in the groups, although she attended a different meeting. Knowing this, perhaps, Mr Adie replied: “Yes, well it has a history. It’s a bad one, isn’t it? What is necessary is to try and stabilize yourself, and then get quiet, and then bring this happening in front of you, truly, and then be prepared to suffer it. Go through it. If you like, make yourself repeat it. How could I? Yes, but somehow to face it, to suffer for it, intentionally. Find your own way how to. It is something that you cannot leave. Your mother’s there, and hopefully she will be for many years. And you are there too, and you don’t want to leave, so there it is. There’s a very definite obstacle there. Bring it to you, prepare, bring it to you without alteration, without lying. See, repeat the foul thing, until you’re sick. Do something.”
“This is the problem, I push it to the side.”
“I know, that’s why I say don’t try and change it. Face it. Make yourself face it. Make yourself. You know what you do with a cat when it messes in the room? You take it by the back of the neck, and you rub its nose in it. And the cat understands that. It generally is enough, once. Now you want to do the same with yourself, with this animal which is so filthy. You would reap benefits: you could achieve something. And you have examples of it, so you don’t lack the material. I think you have something to work on there, you could do quite a good bit of work there.
“What we don’t realize is that the whole of life is confrontation, or could be. Confrontation can be of two kinds: conscious and unconscious. Conscious confrontation is wonderful, it’s the third force between the presence of my life circumstances and the presence of a becoming-man. Do I confront this issue, intelligently, feelingly, consciously, deliberately, or do I disappear into dreams, complaints, negative emotions, and project a world of unfairness? I wish to confront whatever is there, including my own lack of responsibility. I begin to live then, begin to receive. All the life forces on different levels coming in; some marvellous life forces come in.
“We need choice, and because we’ve got a mind, it makes all the difference. Plants respond: a plant in an unfavourable position will lean right over. A plant in a dark place will find the sun, reaching out, elongating its stock to get there. All nature is doing that. So what about us? Our response must be with some intention, otherwise we just remain a vegetable or animal, or something: two brained. All the time and on every level there’s confrontation: it is the law. That is to say, we’re receiving influences all the time. Different influences, different densities, including ideas and higher ideas, ideas specially sent, all this is our life material, and we live looking in dark holes, instead of being open.
“I have to build up a centre of choice, and that’s a noble work. And if I do, I actually reduce, by some small degree perhaps, the negative force. I do a little bit of the transformation of negative into positive, you see, which is part of the work of the creation and of maintaining the world. And you see, many people here have testified to the truth of this, because under very difficult circumstances, they’ve found that there is this reality, this realization of the gift of life, and so on.”
At first I had called this blog “A higher level of work”, intending to take as the theme Mr Adie’s answer to Joel. The question and the answer together seem to me to present a very practical way of working which anyone could participate in, given only a little will power. Neither that exchange, nor the one with Humbert seem to require any explanation. But there is something I think I can now add, with the benefit of 20 years’ experience since that meeting.
It seems to me that a major problem with us is that we identify with our tensions. I call them “our” tensions loosely, but we are responsible for them, even if our work is to dissolve them. We are so used to certain low- and middle-level tensions in the body, feeling and mind that we take them as being how we are when we’re normal, when we’re “ourselves”. Chiefly, only unusually bad tensions are recognized as anomalous, or as something impinging upon “my good state”.
It never ceased to startle me when Mr or Mrs Adie would say in a preparation, “I relax my thoughts” or “I relax my feelings”. It seems illogical: how can a thought or a feeling, concepts without any discernable material extension, be tense? Yet there is an inner movement of relaxation which corresponds to the instruction. So it isn’t nonsense, it is wisdom: an understanding which surpasses logic.
Relaxation is an opening to the possibility of movement. Tension is a restriction of movement. The power of choice is a power to exercise reason and then to freely move or assent in accordance with that reason. So the “noble work” Mr Adie referred to, the development of the power of choice, requires relaxation, and most frequently, it requires relaxation in thought and feeling. Although he never used these very words, my view is that one of Gurdjieff’s great insights is that physical relaxation can remove the foundations of the tensions in thought and feeling, and so facilitate their relaxation. But if I am identified with those tensions of thought and feeling, no amount of physical relaxation will be of much help to me. If I do not see that I am tense, why would I ever choose to relax?
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.
A review of the Toronto production of Daumal’s ‘Holy War’ by JRC
A great deal of respect is paid in Work circles to the memory of René Daumal. The poet and philosopher is honoured both as a literary artist and as a human being. His personal circumstances were such that he struggled more than most people must with life, health, and art. His own struggles bring to mind analogous circumstances and struggles experienced two decades earlier by Katherine Mansfield, the New Zealand-born fiction-writer, who is also remembered with affection in Work circles.
Parallels in their lives are striking. Both died of tuberculosis, Mansfield at the age of thirty-five in 1923, Daumal at the age of thirty-six in 1944; Mansfield at the Priory in the presence of Mr. Gurdjieff, Daumal in the company of Madame de Salzmann. There is one major difference and it concerns their art: Daumal incorporated the insights of the Work into his poetry and fiction, whereas Mansfield was no longer writing fiction (only correspondence) when she moved for the last time to the Priory at Fontainebleau-on-Avon. Mansfield’s short stories are widely read to this day, especially by feminists. Daumal has a presence on the periphery of 20th-century French poetry and prose.
In the literature of post-war France, Daumal’s writings occupy an odd place. The “odd place” is the “simplist” position he defined for himself between the extremes of Dada and Surrealism. As well, his poetry and fiction make strong use of allegory, a neglected literary device in 20th-century literature, a literature largely given over to irony. Finally, his later work and last years were much influenced and enriched by G.I. Gurdjieff. All of this has endeared him to francophone readers. Yet among anglophones readers, despite the best efforts of an array of talented translators, his poetry, fiction, and essays are not widely read.
There is always the sense that whatever the nature of Daumal’s subject matter, he is also writing about something else. (His basis is his anabasis.) The problem for English readers is that he has no direct equivalent as a writer, though right now I am going to argue that there is an English poet whose temperament up to a point reflects that of the French poet.
A comparison-and-contrast of Daumal with Edward Thomas is rewarding. René Daumal (1908-1944) was a French writer, philosopher and poet. His alter ego is that of Edward Thomas (1878-1917), the Anglo-Welsh poet. Both are poets who go beyond the world we know. Daumal found a way “behind the beyond” (to use Stephen Leacock’s felicitous expression!) whereas Thomas encountered no teacher (though he was personally and artistically close to Robert Frost who lived close by on a farm in Hampshire).
Daumal’s life was cut short at the age of thirty-six by tuberculosis in the midst of the Second World War. Thomas’s life was cut short at the age of thirty-nine during the First Battle of Arras. There is the sense about both writers that they were under siege for much of their lives and that their finest works lay ahead of them.
Edward Thomas did not find a way out of the human predicament. He did not live long enough. The oldest road in Britain is known as the Icknield Way, and Thomas walked its path and wrote evocatively about the pilgrimage that he made along it in 1913: “Today I know there is nothing beyond the farthest of the ridges except a signpost to unknown places.”
Such unvisited places intrigued him. In the poem “I Never Saw that Land Before,” he wrote as follows:
I should use, as the trees and birds did,
A language not to be betrayed;
And what was hid should still be hid
Excepting from those like me made
Who answer when such whispers bid.
In the poem “Lights Out,” he alluded to the limits of knowledge about the human predicament, “the terror of the situation,” when his life was about to be cut short:
There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter, and leave, alone,
I know not how.
So Edward Thomas entered the registry of the war poets and the war dead. Indeed, his epitaph reads as follows: “And I rose up and knew that I was tired – and continued my journey.” It was no “holy war” for Corporal Thomas.
René Daumal’s journey never ended, and in a sense it will never come to an end, thanks to his questing spirit and his questioning mind. Indeed, he waged the “holy war” of the Sufi all his life. He felt he had imaginatively encompassed the evidence of the known world and hence had a handle or even a purchase on the evidence of the unknown world. He could go to work on his personality and character and he did.
I must resist the temptation to write at length about Daumal’s prose, poetry, and fiction, as I have at hand the two biographies of the man and the three English-language collections of his writings. When I reviewed Pierre Bonnasse’s “The Magic Language of the Fourth Way” (Inner Traditions, 2008), I stressed Bonnasse’s indebtedness to Daumal’s “magical” writings and visions. I know of no finer or deeper contemporary tribute to the worth of Daumal’s life than Bonnasse’s words.
I assume the readers of this review will have a sense of the parameters of Daumal’s life and work and involvement with the Madame and the Mister, so I will concentrate on the present event, an occasion of genuine interest, which takes the form of a stage adaptation of his short prose poem “Holy War.”
The sponsor of the stage production is Toronto’s Seven Arts Study Centre (a group registered in 2006). The promotional copy that appears on the poster – which advertises the event which was held at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 6, 2008, George Ignatieff Theatre, Toronto – has been so well composed, will reproduce its words in their entirety:
“The prominent poet and novelist of avant-garde French literature wrote this prose poem as the Nazi armies were crushing Western Europe and approaching France. “Holy War” takes the battle inside. Daumal endows the words “holy war” with their truest meaning, as he evokes with ruthless honesty and rich humour the inner struggle toward consciousness and conscience. This is the unseen warfare that many spiritual traditions regard as the surest basis for peace.”
The George Ignatieff Theatre at Trinity College, University of Toronto, is a handsome, wainscotted space, suitable for guest lectures or small musical or theatrical ensembles, and there are seats for close to 200 people. The house was almost filled on a snowy night. Few if any of the members of the audience (who paid $25 for adult admission or $20 for student admission) will have reason to disagree with the appraisal that Daumal wrote with “ruthless honesty and rich humour” about “the inner struggle towards consciousness and conscience.”
This production is described as marking the centenary of Daumal’s birth. It is chastening to think that if he were alive today the poet would have reached the ripe old age of one hundred years! There was no printed program, but here are the details from the poster.
The text was spoken (recited and at times enacted) by Priscilla Smith. The dancer (an enacter too) was Dolphi Wertenbaker. The oud-player was Chris Wertenbaker. The string-player was Jeff Greene. Roger Lipsey introduced the work and led the discussion afterwards.
The sole surprise for me is that Professor Lipsey has no Wikipedia entry. He has taught art history and classical literature at the State University of New York in Potsdam, N.Y. One day I will examine his three-volume collection devoted to the life and work of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (compiled for the illustrious Bollingen series in 1977). I have long wanted to read his book titled “An Art of Our Own: The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art (Shambhala, 1988). Any Wiki entry devoted to Mr. Lipsey would need to stress his essays and his contributions to Gurdjieffian studies, at once scholarly and appreciative.
“Holy War” is indeed a prose poem. The entire text of the work of some 2,000 words is available on Google. (Type in Daumal’s name and then click on “Holy War.”) The original French text was published as “La Guerre Sainte” in the collection “Poésie Noire, Poésie Blanche” (Editions Gallimard in 1954). The translation here is the one titled “The Holy War” which D.M. Dooling translated into English for an early issue of “Parabola” (7:4). The Internet text is that of the Fall 2000 issue of the “Gurdjieff International Review.” With slight changes, it is the Dooling translation that served as the basis of the production.
Characteristic of Daumal’s writing is his thinking or pondering. (I like to pun that his writing is “ponderful.”) He is not given to visual imagery or verbal concision, but the reader or listener feels that the man is responding both as an artist and as a human being. The text begins riddlingly enough: “I am going to write a poem about war. Perhaps it will not be a real poem, but it will be about a real war.” A little prankishness goes a long way!
The prose poem ends on a thoughtful but elliptical note: “And because I have used the word ‘war,’ and because this word ‘war’ is no longer, today, simply a sound that educated people make with their mouths, but now has become a serious word heavy with meaning, it will be seen that I am speaking seriously and that these are not empty sounds that I am making with my mouth.”
Daumal’s “guerre sainte” refers to the inner war, or striving, rather than to the Islamic “jihad,” yet the “jihad” (the word is not used) is seen to be the outward expression of an inner conflict and confusion. Daumal’s warfare might be described as a “crusade” – to use the word no U.S. President after George W. Bush will ever use again – because the battleground lies between the head and heart of man rather than amid the society of men.
The poem is not a dramatic work at all but a brooding meditation with insightful asides and rich reflections on man’s “inner struggle,” the one he has with himself. Nowhere in the text do the words “conscience,” “consciousness,” or even “presence” appear – any more than does the word “evolution” appear in the first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”
The stage was evenly lit and decorated with five Oriental carpets, one of them hanging from the ceiling as an eye-catching backdrop. Seated on the stage were (from left to right): Priscilla Smith, the speaker; Jeff Greene, string player; Chris Wertenbaker, oud-player; Dolphi Wertenbaker, dancer.
Professor Lipsey appeared, sat on a bench, and spoke accommodatingly to the audience for twenty minutes. He is balding, black-bearded, spectacled, and has a gentle manner. He sketched in Daumal’s literary background, stressing that he was “a seeker of truth” as well as “a writer of great exuberance,” whose abilities were quickly noted by Jean Paulhan, the Paris editor and publisher. Daumal found himself divided between literature and spirituality, until he had a chance meeting with Alexandre de Saltzmann, who recognized his predilection for spirituality and introduced him to his wife Jeanne who introduced him to Mr. Gurdjieff.
Professor Lipsey noted, “In the world of spirituality, originality is not regarded highly. Here was an opportunity to see what an art would be like if shaped by higher ideas.” Daumal wrote about “jihad” which to him meant “extreme striving,” rather like the Christian notion of the “unseen warfare.” Lipsey surprised me by not referring to the “Bhagavad Gita,” the Eastern world’s pre-eminent epic poem of warfare, inner and outer, but the Hindu dimension was explicit in the production itself.
Dolphi Wertenbaker, dressed in orange and black, jewelry on her head and brow and ears, red cast marks on her hands and feet, danced with bare feet. With her fingers she recreated the classical mudras of bharatanatyam which she learned first in Ceylon and later in Madras, India, where her father, James George, was the Canadian High Commissioner.
Ms. Wertenbaker moved her limbs with genuine purpose, conveying a great range of emotions. She possesses quite distinctive looks. I was finally able to connect them with the equally distinctive and noble looks of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, who also taught the Movements. She danced throughout the recitation and at various points echoed the words of Priscilla Smith.
Ms. Smith bears a striking resemblance to Adrienne Clarkson, the last Governor General of Canada. The two women carry themselves with ease and assurance. Ms. Smith was dressed in blue and black and spoke with clarity and purpose. She is a New York-based actress and a special favourite of director Andre Serban. She had committed the script to memory and combined the words with appropriate movements and gestures, by turns bringing forth the text’s humour, irony, sacrcasm, indignation, lyricism, mimicry, and drama.
I will long remember her declaring with desperation “And the war has hardly begun” and affirming “I am I know I wish” and informing “There is only one right, the right to be” and concluding “He who has declared this holy war with himself is at peace with his fellow man.” At one or two points she rose out of the sea of the text as an actress, rather than as a speaker reciting lines, but not for long, but just long enough to prove that the text embraced acting as well as witnessing, as she was intent on giving a “reading,” so it was the feeling behind the words that was to be the point of interest, not any single dramatic interpretation of it.
The two musicians performed intermittently and improvisationally behind the words. There was no electrical amplification. Mr. Greene played a variety of long-stemmed stringed instruments, and Mr. Wertenbaker (the dancer’s husband) strummed the oud and various other smaller instruments. The performance ended with the last lines of the text being recited in both English and French to great effect (especially in an officially bilingual country).
The performance lasted a little over thirty minutes. The audience was appreciative but afraid to applaud and resisted doing so until Professor Lipsey joined the performers on stage. Then there was enthusiastic applause, followed by the discussion that he led. Again, the audience was reluctant to ask questions, so I posed the first one.
I noted that we had learned about the genesis of the poem from the introductory comments. I then asked, “What is the genesis of this production?” It turned out that Professor Lipsey was familiar with the text, and after the shock of the events of September the Eleventh, turned to work on it to concentrate the confusion that he and so many other Americans had felt and were feeling. Here was a way to contain the confusion and frustration and deal with it.
I pursued the question of the genesis of the production afterwards. I learned that the first production (with the same speaker and dancer and the oud-player) was held in a church in Garrison, a hamlet in the Hudson River district of upstate New York in 2003. Since then it has been performed in colleges, institutions, and theatres. The Toronto production is the ninth in the ongoing series.
When there was a lull in the questions and answers, Professor Lipsey threatened the audience: “If you don’t ask questions, I’ll read you another of Daumal’s letters.” Questions again flowed, including one that was directed to the speaker and the dancer. “What goes on inside as you perform.” Both Ms. Smith and Ms. Wertenbaker smiled inscrutably. There was some talk of how difficult it is “to keep a moment of lucidity, with a scalpel to cut through the tissue of lies.”
Ms. Smith said that the text on paper is one thing of importance, but what is more important is what lies beneath the words. Ms. Wertenbaker said that she had read Daumal’s essays on Indian theatre and was startled to learn that there is no distinction in Hindi between “theatre” and “dance.” It seems the same Sanskrit-derived word is used for both forms of expression.
Ms. Smith studied acting and vocal expression in New York with a group that was directly influenced by Peter Brook. For one of their productions, they spoke with the sounds of a number of Asian languages that they did not understand. “Sanskrit has no connectives and is almost hieroglyphic.”
The audience was interested in the instruments and Mr. Wertenbaker explained that the oud that he played was a Turkish instrument (“constructed in Boston”). “The oud is the father of the lute and the grandfather of the modern-day guitar.” Among the other instruments played were Chinese cymbals, thumb-piano, ayala tambur, and sato – all of them exotic-looking and exotic-sounding.
Then there was a low-key reception of wine, mineral water, and canapés, and suddenly it was nine o’clock on a snowy Toronto Saturday evening. My wife Ruth and I left the Ignatieff theatre, which is informally known by the students of Trinity College as the “jit.” It formally bears the name of George Ignatieff, the diplomat and father of Michael Ignatieff, essayist and biographer of Isaiah Berlin, who is currently deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. We left pondering the thought that in the midst of battle we must wend our way from the fort of war to the palace of peace.
In other words, we must find a peace within the warring elements within ourselves and only then attempt to establish a cease-fire for the world at large. So the tragic deaths of Edward Thomas and René Daumal, both of whom were victims of world wars, took on new meaning amid the evening of music, dance, and spoken word.
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto author and anthologist who has published some 200 books. These are listed on his newly reworked website . His last review for this blog was devoted to concert by Charles Ketcham and Casey Sokol at the Glenn Gould Theatre, Toronto.
Joseph Azize Page
The role of feeling in human life is all-pervasive. In art, religion, spirituality and the development of consciousness, its role is, if possible, yet greater. As a human energy, in Gurdjieff’s teaching, feeling lies between the intellectual and moving-instinctive forces on the one hand, and the sexual on the other. Since the sex centre produces the finest energies usually known to us, the role of feeling in connecting and harmonizing the work of centres is axial.
Feeling is the contact between the intellect and the soul (in Gurdjieff’s terminology, “the astral body”). If the astral body is the body of the higher emotional centre, then the feeling centre is the bridge between the higher emotional centre and the intellect.
This understanding is essential, because, in my humble opinion, the goal of “harmonious development” is chiefly achieved by the ordering action of the higher centres. For many years the work is a work of the lower centres to “discipline”, if one can use that word, themselves. This is a very difficult business, and for the great majority of people who join groups, this is practically (but not completely) all that they ever know. Perhaps, too, for this very reason, the majority of people do not persevere for the significant periods needed before the higher centres become active.
To put it another way, the lower centres can be prepared, so that they are receptive to the work of the higher centres. Then the necessary work of coating the astral body can proceed at more than a snail’s pace; and then we can see with our own eyes where we’re heading, where we go wrong, where we have gone wrong, and what to do about it. The higher centres can even repair, as it were, the work of lower centres, and ensure that they use their proper energies.
But feeling is not something we understand terribly well. Our culture is oriented towards the body and towards the head. The arts (poetry, music, painting, drama and so on) all provide possible, but only possible means of touching the feeling and harmonizing the centres, so that the organism as a whole is enchanted, as it were, with the energy of the feeling centre. But sadly, modern art is chiefly an intellectual art.
That is why the example of those who have gone before is an indispensable help. Some people have had a being-understanding of what it is to live a life in which feeling is active. With that in mind, I am presenting this material taken from a group meeting with Mrs Adie held at Newport, Sydney, on Thursday 10 March 1983. Some of the material in this meeting is critical to Gurdjieff’s practical method. At the time, we were studying chief feature, and had been requested to write, in not more than 50 words, how we saw our chief feature, and what practical steps we intended to take to deal with it. This night we handed in the assignment, and so the meeting was conducted with the influence of that task.
Everything here has been said before, but Mrs Adie’s way of saying it is valuable. She was a personal pupil of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and De Salzmann. Her unique formulations, based on her own experience and understanding, may perhaps touch some people where, for whatever reason, other forms of words would not. Her work with music and sacred movements gave her, perhaps, even greater opportunities for understanding.
Much which Mrs Adie said this evening concerned the practical use of the force of feeling. The gathering of the attention through conscious sensation, she said, is the necessary prelude to the gathering of the feeling. But necessary as the first step is, it is only the start. It can seem to be more because the development of the octave of presence can occur in a flash. Consciousness includes an understanding of the apparently instantaneous process, and teachers like Mrs Adie can illuminate the path, and separate out what otherwise might be blurred.
The first question came from Mitch, who saw his biggest obstacle as “a very strong part of me that wants to be brilliant at work.” So pervasive was this, that the 30 minutes he devoted to the morning preparation were lost in dreams about his “brilliance”, past, present and future. After she had elucidated the facts, Mrs Adie said:
“How can you let it go on? It’s so absurd. You forget what you’re doing this preparation for. That is the monster that you have to struggle against at that time. Before you begin you must find some will. You have to develop it, we have very little … so we must develop it. You remember what your interest is at that moment. It is to find your reality and stay there, so that to sit there lost in dreams must be impossible. Ten minutes is an eternity. If you’re working, ten minutes is a very long time.”
Mitch replied that at the end of the preparation he felt he had no energy to combat dreams. “I knew”, he said, that “it would be a bad day, and it was. Although I tried sensing my limbs, I didn’t remember a single appointment.”
“Yes”, replied Mrs Adie, “but dreaming all through the preparation can’t be a justification for failing. You can’t assume that you’re going to fail during the day. It’s too passive. You have to take it more seriously now. How can you reason with yourself?
“You see the absurdity of it. Feel what it is that you want. It’s feeling that you lack. Sensing your limbs is very good, but much better if you add to it some feeling of yourself and try to stay with that. It’s the unknown. That’s where the force is, the power. It’s in the feeling. It’s very good for the attention to sense your limbs. To begin with it draws your attention together. But there’s no feeling in that, it’s the feeling that has the force. You have to try to remember how you have felt yourself with some force. Then perhaps your feeling can have some weight, and you find then that it is something very desirable. But it is just not serious enough if you’re sitting down and dreaming. At the start, we have no power to combat dreaming, but by now you must have more capacity. It must be much more urgent for you. Everybody has that problem that you spoke of, dreaming of the glorious feats they’re going to perform in their own area.”
The next question, from Alby, concerned an observation of a fear of ringing someone up, and confessing to an error.
“There are two things there, first is this image, which I do not need to believe in quite so much, and secondly all the imagination which goes on around it. This has happened before: you have spoken about it before. So it’s an opportunity. This image is one of our chief enemies. Everybody has some sort of image, based on an automatic tendency. Some part of me knows that it’s pure imagination, and that it’s really very harmful. It’s strange, but it is so. I think everyone has to find their own way, but in any case, whenever I am aware of it, I can at least stop dreaming about it. I can relax inside, because a fear is always bound up with the image.
“Just let it drop, and face the situation – intelligently. Whenever you catch yourself dreaming about it, put your attention somewhere else. Don’t try and explain it, you know what it is. And now you also know that however sweet it might seem at times, there is a fear accompanying it. Every time you indulge in this dreaming about it, you encourage it. We’re educated to have it: what our parents and teachers say about ourselves and others, prizes and competitions, all part of our famous education. “Look at how clever he is!” You’ll have plenty more opportunities.”
Sef spoke about how, remembering his aim, he had a sense of presence and control. But then, what to do? The state dissipated.
“Remember when that happens that your aim is not to do something but to be. It’s partly because my personality is always wanting to do something. I’m not quite content to be just present. There must be something going on. Of course, there is something going on, but personality wants something superficial. Yet, there is something you have to do, in a way. If you’re with people, you have to have some attention on yourself, some presence, and act in an ordinary way with the people. But an ordinary way which has some concern for the people you’re with – I mean that they are taken into account.
“Don’t be too clever about it. Just be simple, or you end up stuffy and superior. It’s another identification. You can never win an argument with your personality, it’s much too wily. You just go to your presence. It can happen with people in the work … they have this air of being superior, and there’s nothing going on inside at all. It’s dreadful. It’s much better to be normal.”
At that, we broke into laughter. The next question came from Belle. Over the course of the summer holidays, she had lost what most of she had seemed to have gained. And now, she lamented, she did not have the feeling she felt that she should.
“It’s no good telling yourself you should have feeling. There is no excuse now for the preparation to be lackadaisical. You’re not there. It doesn’t come into your mind, what you’re about to do. In a way, you have to prepare for your preparation. To be aware that an important moment of your day is about to start, and that effort is necessary. Everybody goes up and down. And it happens a lot when people go on holiday. They seem to imagine, I don’t know why, that they will enjoy themselves less if they are working. But it’s not true, it’s the opposite. Perhaps they have the wrong idea of “work”.
“It is an effort. Everyone must realise that everything depends on the time of preparation. I have got to impress it on my personality, that it has to be quiet. I have to try and find some real force of my own. Personality will always be there, but there has to be something there to oppose it. And I have to realize in advance that that is what I have to contend with. There must be some force got from that preparation, and for that, there must be an effort.
“The feeling for work, the feeling of wanting to work, comes from the effort of trying to work, otherwise I let go and I don’t even miss it. I don’t think about it, or I may have a very guilty feeling somewhere, but it doesn’t achieve anything. It has to be a definite effort to maintain my attention, even if it’s for a short time.”
Someone then spoke of how in writing his task out, the second part had “come from the head”, and so he had lost the benefit he might have had.
Mrs Adie was not so sure: “No, but it’s not nothing. It’s something you can start with. And you can move on from that. It gives you a picture. And just because it comes from your head doesn’t mean it has to be discounted. It’s likely to come from your head, and there are different parts of your head. Your head could hardly play no role in such an exercise. It seems to me that you have a basis. Now see what takes place. How do you make a practical line with it? Are there definite situations where you realise it comes up, with different people? People you always react to the one way?”
“Then make appointments for those times. In general, I have to be awake much more, but how to be awake more often? We’ve tried to awaken ourselves on the hour, but if nothing happens, it’s better not even to try. You can create other alarm clocks for yourself. In fact, we have to. But there is a lazy part of ourselves which does not want to.
“It’s difficult to make a clear plan as we don’t really know what goes on. We sleep all day long, and have nothing to remember except moments of violence: if we have a frightful row with somebody, or some painful considering where we suffer acute embarrassment: then it makes an impact.”
A young woman then said that she had seen two parts of her personality. One side sees itself as a marvellous person. However, the other side, when it sees that she’s not so marvellous, plunges itself into depths of despair and anguish.
“One’s just as false as the other. It’s just another side of the same coin. We all have that. But what’s your attitude to it? Where are you in connection with it? If you find this presence in yourself, you feel it in your “I”. The absurdity won’t live with it, it can’t. If you’re asleep, it can even awaken you. What you have to find is where you react very quickly. I don’t mean to tell me right now. But that is one thing you can look at. What attitudes and reactions come up too quickly for me? In fact, these are the features of sleep. Can I find my interest in that? If I have no interest in that, I am in my personality.
“That is where the preparation is useful. I have to come away from my personality for it to be a preparation. I have to experience what is real in me. It is from the impact of that, the force, that I am reminded during the day. I cannot sleep so deeply.”
Then someone who had been in groups for 30 years remarked that his chief feature still seemed the same: fear and laziness. The fear, he saw, was often connected with the wounding of his self-image. Yet, he added, even seeing this gave hope, “because if there is something there then it must be possible to be.”
“To begin with”, Mrs Adie said, “I have not to believe in that picture. A long as things are going well, there is no fear. But once that changes, the fear arises. And at the same time, when everything seems to be going to pieces, there is nothing left but me.”
Significantly, she added: “That feeling of me can be very strong. There is something there that nobody can destroy. Only I can destroy it myself, with my own personality.
“Yet, I have to be active outside, too, I have to use my head in a practical way, see the situation for what it is, and use my head to make the situation right, but without this picture. It’s part of my life obligation. But the fear is imaginary. It’s not a fear because I fear I will fail in my life obligation; it’s because it offends my image. Remember, you can’t argue with it. Dismiss it from your mind when you find yourself going over it.
“But when you are real, nothing can touch you there. There has to be something a little more steady, a little quieter, inside. My head lets me down terribly when I am taken by fear: my thoughts become quite unreasonable. If you could remember a little more often to be more quiet in your feeling: not a lazy quiet, but a but steadier.”
I feel that this is the key, perhaps even the final key: it relates to what Gurdjieff says in the chapter “Hypnotism” about different tempos of blood circulation. It is something we must return to, but essence is active when the corresponding tempos proceed in me. The trick is to be able to sense the tempos (or range of tempos), where they are taking place, and where they are not.
The next question was rather argumentative, but something Mrs Adie said in reply was important: “If I make an effort which is really a conscious effort, then higher parts of my centres are used. The effort comes from going against an inclination, a struggle with sleep, the denying part, and if it is made for its own sake, that is one thing. But if it is mixed with a life motive, then it is muddied.
“You will find it in very small things in life: something in me does not want to do it. The smaller it is, the less significance for me personally, the clearer it is that it is done for consciousness. The efforts we make are often very simple, but an effort against the reluctance of my body and personality really counts: it produces finer matters. This creates the very highest energy. It’s absolutely magical, but people are not very quick to see it.
She then gave a new exercise, one for the production and distribution of feeling energies throughout the body. I cannot give that here. But I can say that working with it has helped me to see something quite vital, and that is the thought I opened this blog with.
The ordering of our lower centres comes from and is done by the higher centres. Once someone asked Mr Adie about the relationship between the higher centres and God. “Well they are God”, he replied. At the time I wondered if this was not a rather ready paradox. But now I would say that I know better. Mr Adie was speaking from his own experience, an experience which transcends mine.
The action of becoming a new person, the action of “salvation”, if you like, seems to us to come from our own efforts. And I think, contra Luther, that our own efforts are essential. But in fact I can now see that the effective work comes from the higher centres, although was once by no means apparent to me. I now think that Mr Adie was saying that in the same way, what seems to us to be the work of higher centres is itself the work of God, even if that is no means apparent to us.
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: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.