Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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A REPLY FROM HENRI TRACOL IN 1951

Joseph Azize Page

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Henri Tracol

The notes I summarize here were written by Mr Adie under the heading “3 October 1951, Group II, Colet Gardens”, and placed in the same folder wherein I found the Gurdjieff group meeting of 16 October 1943. Their six pages relate to Henri Tracol’s exchanges with two persons, ‘Mr Andrews’ and ‘Mrs Brown’. I find the second exchange sound, but is not so novel now as it would have been in 1951. However, the first is unique, and deserves to be known. Mr Adie must have valued it, because he has written these notes very carefully. I suspect that he either worked from memory or had jotted down some rough notes during the meeting. Also, the meeting almost certainly had more than two exchanges. This also points to the probability of selection.

Part One
‘Mr Andrews’ had a question about the suffering he has occasioned himself by causing “a lot of trouble” to other people. Mr Tracol replied that there are different types of suffering: first, there is suffering in personality. He offered the example of the ordinary negative emotion we experience at having made ourselves look silly or bad in front of others. Secondly, he said, there is the suffering which comes when we have done something wrong “against ourselves”. With this suffering, the essential thing is not that other people have been touched by it or even know of it, but that “it has been against ourselves in the sense of the work”.

In this instance, replied Andrews, it was definitely the first type of suffering.

“Then”, said Tracol, “you have to fight very hard, probably all you can mobilize of effort of work against it.”

How?, asked Andrews, whart type of effort?

“So you can get some result when you fight”, replied Tracol.

I find it a little hard to follow what Andrews then said, but he spoke about his manifestations. Tracol may have too, yet he understood the man’s state. “But I mean the fight itself” – he used that word again – “That ought to be very very clear to you. You must know how to fight, really fight your negative emotions. Try to tell me more clearly.”

Andrews then mentioned his efforts to stop thought and to relax.

Tracol responded bluntly: “That is not sufficient now. You know that your help is ‘I’, but you must know how to do it. I will try to make you understand by a kind of pciture. You are in a house and a fire is in some part of it and you have to stop it. … We are in the presence of something quite catastrophic. You have to mobilize all your forces against it. It is quite a concrete thing that is happening, as concrete as fire … quite concrete and you have to oppose it with something quite concrete also.”

“It is a thing that demands energy against energy, or, if you will, energy to direct energy in another direction.You have to arrive ready at this feeling of yourself before a complete process after having tried and tried very much. This I want you all, when you have such an enemy inside you, to try.”

“You relax and you really try to get ‘I’. ‘I’ is an affirmation that you are there fighting. ‘I’ is like the soldier who arrives on the battlefield, who says ‘I am there’. That must be very concrete. ‘I AM HERE’. You must feel that ‘I’. It comes from your sensation. You must try to put all the force you can behind it.”

“Without that ‘I’ you can do absolutely nothing. For the moment when you say it, everything else has to disappear. Just the moment when you say ‘I AM’ you sense as much as you can. Then you begin again, ‘I AM’. Try really to understand that you can put an energy in there, and that now you must try at any cost. Then you will try and the beginning and perhaps not succeed, but try and try again. Then you will attract into your ‘I’ the energy that is in your feelings.”

Mr Andrews made a comment that it was more than a metaphor, it was a picture. Tracol continued: “You have a little sensation in you sometimes. That sensation is, right now, all that you have to lean on in your effort. When we begin to remember ourselves, we say ‘I AM’. We say it as we must, with whatever is available to us. But it cannot change anything until you have tried again and again. Then, little by little, through these unsuccessful efforts, we start to understand that the affirmation has contain a certain kind of something, and what can that something possibly be but an energy?”

“You remember how in ‘Fragments’ (i.e. In Search of the Miraculous) Mr Gurdjieff says it has to make a vibration? I have heard him say that many times with his own mouth. That vibration is a sign that the energy of vibrations is there and that energy is in that direction. You can not do it at once. You do it twice, thrice, four times, five times. I am suret aht your negative emotion is a little less after it and you will understand what the fight is.”

Part Two
A vigour leaps at me from the page. Gurdjieff had not then been dead two years. I suspect that the power of this exchange reflects Gurdjieff’s personal impact, at a close remove. Later, of course, that influence was obscured by time, but also by Mme de Salzmann’s “New Work”. The later material I have seen from Henri Tracol is not, in my view, of the order disclosed here.

Note that Tracol’s first advice was to try whatever gave results. As I have mentioned in the book George Adie and in earlier blogs, one can take the advice of not working for results too absolutely. Anyone who never seeks any result from their work is mad. The real problem, as I see it, it is identification with results, and dreaming about possible results. This will all undermine the very effort.

Further, I find the exchange fascinating as being consistent with the impression given by Mr Adie’s 1949 diary, which shows Gurdjieff speaking similarly about the importance of ceaseless struggle so that sweat pours even from one’s heels. But for me the important thing is that this robust approach is the one which for me works. The New Work only set me back.

But now, with the material I recently posted from Gurdjieff’s October 1943 group meeting, I feel that readers of this blog have access to some high quality and otherwise unpublished material which could lead to a new understanding of “effort” and how a clear intellectual understanding of true efforts can lead to encouragement.

To tie these strings together, Gurdjieff had said in 1943 that the secret is in the effort. And the effort demands an intensity only of attention or of concentration while the person remains relaxed. As Mr Adie would say, I focus or concentrate without self-tensing. There is no tension in any of the centres, just direction. This, of course, is what inner concentration is: all of the faculties are pointed towards the centre. One can look at an object while relaxing the eyes or one can fixedly stare at it. It removes some of the self-tension, perhaps, to reflect that as Gurdjieff said, the exercises should be allowed time to work. Tracol stressed the last aspect of this, especially. Do not expect to succeed the first time: be patient, and let the work operate.

In 1943, Gurdjieff stated his hope that the exercises would produce faith in our possibilities of becoming. Tracol stated as a fact that if one persisted one would feel the vibrations which lead up to “I AM”, and from this would understand what the fight is. His advice was to think of a soldier coming in to battle. Gurdjieff had prayed “May God help you with your intellect”. Perhaps these are three aspects of the same thing, for as Orage said: “Thought is the pure effort to attain the truth and takes place in the Intellectual centre.”

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Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.

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