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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.

Part One

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.

Part Two

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.

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