Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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

GROUP DEPRESSION, GROUP RESISTANCE

From: Joseph Azize

Part One

When I started writing this blog, all I had in mind was to present some rather interesting and powerful material from a meeting of Wednesday 9 March 1983, taken by Mrs Adie. As I worked at the introduction, however, more and more ideas came together. Answers appeared to queries I had long had about group work, and these in turn raised new questions as I contemplated the significance of these new ideas.

This all brought me to the concepts of “group depression” and “group resistance”, the sort of depression and resistance which can strike a person only in a group: the sort of depression and resistance which a person doesn’t experience until they find a group, and can take the person right out of the way of conscious development irrespective of whether they stay in the group or not.

Time and again, I was struck by how many of the questions on this old tape really came down to this: “I can’t work. I feel a resistance, I’m not getting anywhere, and I feel depressed. I want a quick fix.” I was also struck by how true this was of all my experience in groups. This attitude is contagious, as it were. Even when the Adies provided the answer – and it is an answer – people could not apply this to themselves. Even when people saw others going around in the same circle, they could not help but tread that circle, too.

As Mr Adie very acutely pointed out, when people first come to groups they are often enthusiastic and willing. Why not? They have been excited by Gurdjieff’s ideas and the thrilling prospect of conscious development. They come asking what to do. But then, relatively soon afterwards, this question has disappeared. “It is as if we have lost the realisation that an action of doing is essential to any real work.” (George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, p.112) We find that it is not so easy as we had imagined, and being told that we cannot do, we take this too literally, too absolutely. And yet without the possibility of being able to do, to attain a projected aim, as Gurdjieff defined it, the method is meaningless (see In Search of the Miraculous, p.132).

I had long been puzzled by Jurgen, who had been bringing his extremes of elation and depression to groups for 30 years and perhaps still is. Only last year, I realised that something in him did not want to change: it preferred the performance and the attention of the audience. That is, he brought his questions and observations not to have the ostensible concern addressed, but for the sake of the show, rather like the ritual changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace where the military or security value of the parade is negligible. The resistance he spoke of is a resistance which takes that form only because he can bring it to a group and be the tragic problem. Others heard him, and although they had initially tried not to indulge in negative emotions such as depression, as they became accustomed to his constant wringing of hands, they feel free to indulge it, too.

I know that something like this happened to me. I had a very healthy attitude about not complaining. This is not to say that I never did complain, or indulge in self pity, but I had always felt that it was a problem I had to address. Then, after Mr Adie died, I had a good deal to do with Jana. She was like the patron saint of complaints, or perhaps the demon assigned to them. She had been in groups for probably 25 to 30 years at that point, and was one of the senior women. Others in the group all said “Yes, Jana’s concerns must be taken seriously.” Not until much later was one of the women willing to concede that Jana was “negative.”

And because it is “wrong” to be “negative”, that is only said about people in groups if the person has already been marked as not fitting in. So as she was not a black sheep, no one could say that she was negative. Then, gradually, something in me was not impeded from imitating her attitude. It has taken me a long time to try and repair that part of my past. I never sat down and articulated such ideas to myself: something in me just wordlessly picked this up. This is “group resistance”. The prevalence of certain negative qualities in the group hallowed them for me, because this was the group. So too, the prevalence of silly ideas among “group leaders” justifies them. Who am I to know better than Sadie Schmutz from Group 1 in New York?

People frequently brought this observation: “I cannot work, it is hopeless.” The Adies frequently showed what was wrong with that and why it could not be trusted. But people had “learned” in the group that it was alright to bring the question and not to use the material offered. This is “group resistance”.

When you read the material in Part Two, you will see how familiar Mrs Adie’s answers are, even if she expresses the ideas in her individual way. Imagine what it would be like if before bringing their questions, people had followed her advice, and then brought questions about what they had seen while making the efforts she had recommended. The group meetings would have been charged like suns.

What could have been done? Well, I think people are kept in groups too long. Why can people not be sent out when they are in a rut, and then, if they can overcome the resistance, they return?

This shows the significance of the fact I have commented on before in these blogs: Gurdjieff did not found the Gurdjieff groups. Ouspensky did, and he was copied by de Salzmann. The idea of being in groups for all of the rest of your life does not come from Gurdjieff. I think he was too wise for that.

Part Two: The Meeting of 9 March 1983
The first question was not recorded. The tape starts somewhere in Mrs’ Adie reply. “Yes, but we’re not trying to change anything externally. It will change of itself if we work, but we change from inside, not from outside. Relationships are a very useful source here. I have a tendency either to be hurried or to be slow, or even lazy. Certain people I am irritated by, and with certain people I am always anxious for their good opinion. That sort of thing. Take what strikes you as the strongest tendencies, and so make a serious plan each day when you know more or less what you’ll be doing, who with, what you’ll come up against, that kind of thing. And then you plan to be present to it. Then, if you are present to it, the chances are that you will not react in the same way. But that is not the object of it: the object of it is not to lose yourself in that situation.”

“We have had this task before, but it is difficult to get to grips with it, and very few people have actually got down to it, because we don’t know well enough what goes on. But we know more or less certain things which we can start with. And some things really stand out: I always expect people to be different, I cannot accept people as they are and not be disturbed by them. And then once you have started, it becomes more possible. I shall see more, because I shall be more awake. A great deal can from it, but we’re always in a sort of fog.”

{This question of preparation, intelligent and focussed preparation is absolutely critical. I shall return to it in a future blog.}

The next question was difficult to transcribe. The woman who asked the question was arguing with Mrs Adie, and spoke over her. She started by saying how she did not feel keen to do her preparation, and found the rotation exercise very tedious.

Mrs Adie replied: “As for the preparation, does it really make a difference if I am keen or not keen? Sometimes if you are not keen you get more from it, and if you really start in a serious way, the feeling changes. Something in you knows that it is important, but that is not uppermost in you at that time.”

The woman objected that she does “not feel stirred by it”. Mrs Adie acknowledged this: “No, your personality is not stirred by it. But is there not an interest attracted not by the thing in itself, but by the fact that you are taken by it, that it takes your energy, and also that it is unreal? Considering, for example.”

Another objection followed from the same person, who did not even acknowledge what Mrs Adie had said. She now changed tack: she has no line of work. Her son should be a help, but she keeps putting off doing what she should do. Mrs Adie’s reply was: “If you cannot spare him time when he needs it, then he has to understand that, somehow. But then when do you make time, do not imagine that he is bound to enjoy it. Some children do not enjoy such times.”

The next question was from someone who said that he found it difficult to find chief feature, as he has so many, lack of feeling, dreaming, etc. But, he added, he did not really care about the exercise (sic). Mrs Adie replied: “But something in you does care. It might be present only for such a short time that it seems it doesn’t count, but it’s not true. When I really need to think, it is more possible to be free of dreams. I can come away from certain recurring dreams, and I need to, because they often have other effects as well, but to stop dreaming altogether … no, that is not possible.”

Then Jana asked a question. She said that she had decided to give up her job, and thought it would be good, because she has a tendency to always be doing things. At first she could use it, but now she is “very resentful against all factors that were involved. That was Jana for all the time I knew her. She went on: “And I find I spend a lot of time and energy justifying my negative approach now, and I can’t honestly confront the conflict in me, something turns away.”

Mrs Adie replied, sensibly: “If you know that, that is already half the battle.” But Jana was not to be mollified. “But I only just see it, I don’t see it enough to act.”

Again, Mrs Adie’s reply was spot on: “In a way that is an excuse, telling myself that. I think that you see it very clearly. Try not to encourage these thoughts which disagree with the action you’ve taken. It must be very hard, I am sure, to see the other side, but it is a struggle with the denying part. You have a lot to occupy you, a – ”

Jana interrupted Mrs Adie with an insistent: “Yes, but I feel I am occupied with what Jana does not want to be doing.”

Mrs Adie patiently replied: “Your big chance is that you can formulate it to yourself. What is there? There is a denying part, but there is something also which understands that this is not to be accepted. Try and bring both sides more in front of you, and for that you need to do away with the words in your head.” Jana had to have the last word: “Yes, I agree, it’s the words.” I am sure Mrs Adie felt deeply stirred and encouraged to know that Jana had agreed with her last comment.

The next question was from someone for whom I had a good deal of respect, because she did change over the years. Iris said that something came up at her work (she was an art teacher) which made her depressed. It affected her in the stomach, and then she found she had no force at all.

“You need to have some thought, or an idea that will help you at those moments. You now know, in advance, that after the preparation, you feel better for a while, but after half an hours, this depression comes back. But although the preparation seems to be all in the past, yet there’s some recollection of it, and the purpose of it, and that a different state is possible,” Mrs Adie said. Iris agreed. Mrs Adie continued: “Then this depression is something you could really be grateful for. It is hard to see this until you’ve been able to use it, but it is material for you. Once you have seen it, you can acknowledge it, “I am depressed.” I don’t try and free myself from it exactly, not try to push it back – you can’t do that – but if you can come back, to some extent, even while you’re doing things, to this feeling of another part. Accept the depression, alright, I’m depressed. Don’t try and argue, you are depressed, I’m depressed. But I separate out from it.”

“Don’t try and prolong it, but I am aware of it. It is almost as if it isn’t you. It’s part of you, it’s an external part of you: but you’re not lost in it, you’re not drawn out of it. This is a good example of a line of work. All of these moods and states I go through … if I could only see at the end of the day how many states I have been in … it’s a thing we should do much more often, ask myself, what is my state now? If possible, without words. I try to see what is going on. I may not understand it. It doesn’t matter, but I see it and I accept it, and I separate to some extent from it. Something is separated from it. It’s going on at the same time, in another life inside.”

“And it’s not in order to lose it. It’s in order not to be taken by it. I see the force of it, but I don’t get lost in wondering what it’s all about. This seems to be something around you at the moment. But then you also have this thing about art, too, don’t you? Which is really a sort of considering. You have to accept that you do what you do, well or not so well, I don’t really know. Don’t let it concern you. Accept that that is what is what you can do, and don’t criticize it, meaning don’t consider about it. This one is above me, or this one is down there. They are all individuals, and their talents are not the same as yours: it doesn’t matter.”

“Try to accept that you are as you are, with all the ups and downs, but to see the ups and downs, and in a way to be separated from it. There is something that doesn’t go up and down, and is either there or isn’t there, and it will always come when it’s called. It’s longing to come when it’s called, but it is smothered, it can’t breath. And you can use these strange considerings and states to all upon it, but without expecting your state to change immediately. It may, or it may not.”

“Try not to look at it as something which is permanent. Try to look at it from the point of view of how it can be of use to you, how a certain struggle is required, producing just that friction which you need. It is a force. The struggle is not exactly a fight with the thing itself, it’s a struggle to come alive inside. It is a dead thing, it has a lot of force, but a dense heavy one. You try and find a finer force, which you can, don’t doubt it, as long as you free yourself from the head.”

The final question which can be made out on the tape came from a lady who complained that she had not changed in all the years she had been coming to the groups. “Oh no, I can tell you that there’s been a big change,” Mrs Adie assured her. But the woman was disappointed because “things get hold of her”.

Mrs Adie would not agree. “You see it more, because despite what you say, your sleep is not so deep as it was and not so unbroken. There are degrees of awareness, complete sleep is one thing. But the change is very gradual, and you sound more aware of what is taking place. But instead of being glad to see it, and taking action with it, you get annoyed with it, which is just throwing good money after bad.”

“But I get depressed about it, “she retorted. I love Mrs Adie’s reply: “Well that is very silly, isn’t it? Because when you see it you have an opportunity. We don’t trust to the simple effort which has to be made. I just have to come to myself and recognize the life which is in me. I always want to do something sensational.”

As Mrs Adie said time and again, once one has seen it one has an opportunity. Try not to look at it as something which is permanent. And don’t let anyone persuade you that it is.

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