GEORGE ADIE: PRACTICAL EFFORTS AND CHIEF FEATURE
Joseph Azize Page
George Adie: Practical Efforts and Chief Feature
Often on the spiritual road, an insuperable question arises. Part of the difficulty is not the complete and utter sincerity demanded by the question itself. A really good, hard, here-are-your-gizzards-on-a-pike question can even be welcomed. The dilemma, the quicksand we kick in, is that we don’t even know how to begin to think about the question, and as we persevere, we sink deeper into the mud of turning thoughts. This could, maybe even should, be an opportunity. But in reality it is invariably experienced as emptying and draining at best, and at worst, as soul-destroying.
Here is one of the most difficult questions: how can I make practical efforts? Openings seem to appear, the question seems resolved in one’s work, and then it returns again, and any response seems further than ever. Even harder is this: what is my chief feature? This is so obscure to us that most people in the Gurdjieff groups of my acquaintance ignore it in tacit despair. Of course, despair is not admitted: no, a self-calming line is found (e.g. we are past that, or, it is a purely intellectual question and we want questions which address one’s being). I remember one “older” person saying to me that thinking about chief feature made us fixed. But this is wrong: I would say I know that this is wrong. It is wrong because chief feature is what keeps us in rigor mortis. Intelligently struggling with it can only lead to freedom. And what is more, Gurdjieff himself agreed: just read In Search of the Miraculous where he is quoted in Ouspensky’s masterful account.
In early 1983, Mr Adie spent an evening with us studying chief feature, and gave us the task of writing in not more than 50 words what we believed our chief feature to be and how we proposed to struggle with it. Then, in the following weeks, as we continued to study the concepts, we handed in our assessments. In the third week, in the group meetings, Mr Adie read what we had written and made comments. He would not, he said, generally indicate whether what we had observed was indeed our chief feature or not. Yet, on a very few occasions he did say that the perception was correct, while on some other occasions, he made a point of not endorsing the person’s conjecture.
When I recently transcribed these meetings, I found that I had not forgotten most of the comments from the group meeting I had attended. The learning of the evening has kept coming back to me. I think that the truth of what was said, and the quality of the shared attention in that small studio, helped me to remember. It was an extraordinary night. I remember that it seemed to be illuminated, and that there was a serious calm feeling in the air as I left for home. I have decided to share just a few of the exchanges, partly because the two comments he made about Gurdjieff may of interest to others. Also, as I was working on this material, Bob Hunter’s The Tyrant Within, an interesting and even vibrant study of chief feature, arrived. It seemed to demand a response.
But to be clear, this is not the evening where he discussed chief feature. This is the later exchange, where he spoke of our difficulties in formulating chief feature, and then taking what we had said, whatever we had said, he indicated that there was a way forward, and sketched out the direction, especially for those who had found the exercise hard.
From Tuesday 15 March 1983
Mr Adie said generally: “It’s now a question of taking measure. Most of reports on chief feature are all about the place. Very few of them are direct, and very few of them really get anywhere near touching the work. There’s one from Able: ‘Greed, selfishness and desire to be appreciated. These are, in combination, all-powerful, and have been as long as I can remember. Any concern for others, excepting my immediate family, can take place only after these I’s have been satisfied. I have tried to combat certain small aspects of these I’s, but never the real thing. I have not developed a central I, an inner strength which can oppose these I’s, when they are in control, I rarely get a glimpse: usually, only in retrospect.’.
“Well this is good”, said Adie, “because it’s a straight-forward statement. Whether it’s exactly right is another matter. But it’s more direct. After a good few years of seeing, there’s something at least more or less categoric about it. My comment it is that I haven’t developed a central I, certainly, but I have been given the seed for it. You don’t disbelieve that, I think, and you have the embryo in you, even if you haven’t developed it. You were given the seed, and you have the embryo, but it may be very covered.
“So, if you have this conviction that you have at least that, and you accept this fact, that acceptance is sufficient to begin to struggle and to work: you don’t need any more. If you have it, are you going to let it rot, are you going to yield it up again at the end of your life without any profit? You know the parable of the servants who had five, two and one talents. The first rendered to his lord the five talents and another five he had earned from them, the second returned his two talents and the two he had earned, but the third, who had just one, had not invested it, and said take back what thou givest, thou hard master. Mm?
“And this question of greed: how to struggle with greed? I want to determine what it is, and how, and how to give up something. It’s no good saying ‘it’s greed, and it always comes up’. If it’s true, then what do I need to forego? What? There must be many things. Something specific: choose it, do it, and it will have meaning in relation to my wish … only in relation to my wish. All the other I’s will say it’s rubbish, not interested, and they’ll turn out the same sort of plausible rigmarole that’s been going on for so long.
“Then selfishness. How to combat selfishness? I have to choose who, and when, and how to put them in the first place – simple. But how often do I move to that kind of thought? I say: ‘Oh, I’m selfish, I must observe my selfishness, I must prepare myself and so on.’ No. All beside the point. I must choose a definite time and definite circumstances when I am going to put the other one before me. Their comfort is more than mine. Then I can confront. Then I shall see the kind of make up of it.
“Work is definite. It is quite definite.
“And then the desire to be appreciated. Everyone has it, of course. The question there is am I really unable to be without praise? It isn’t so. There have been moments when I have been free. When I am, when I know I am, praise isn’t anything to me. I am.
“I have to remove myself from these limited and limiting thoughts. I have to get out of this realm and to practice. This certainly applies to everyone, but in degree.
“I’m going to be completely merciless tonight. It’s no good stroking people. We either really want and really believe there’s a chance or we don’t; and if we don’t, it’s much better not to waste our time.”
Mr Adie then read Pierre’s note. ‘I lose my force, energy and direction mainly to unnecessary worry and considering about what people think of me, and from that, I redirect it into criticism of others.’ Is there any such thing as necessary worry? Do you still believe that worry is necessary? You see how little thought you’ve put into it. Of course, there is no such thing as necessary worry, but we proceed on the basis that there is, and we justify worry, I justify hurry, I justify the fact that I have no time for it. I accept this situation, and I plunge into the worry.
“Now about this particularly, try to be alone for a moment or two. There is a special meaning to being alone. There could be a dozen people there, and yet if you wished, it would be possible to be alone. You have to have some serious intent, and some freeness from your personality. This is aloneness for us. Then if you are alone you are free to work: if you are not alone, you are already considering, associating, reacting. So, what is necessary for you? Not for everybody, but particularly for you? What is necessary is to be alone, for some time anyway.
Then Mr Adie took Serena’s assignment. ‘My chief feature, fault or obstacle is, I think mental laziness, letting myself drift through life without wishing to appreciate the terror of the situation.’
“Not wishing to appreciate the terror of the situation? It’s just words. You can’t wish to appreciate the terror of the situation? You can wish to be: then you can appreciate it. Do you follow? You do? Good. It isn’t really mental laziness, it’s laziness all the way around, not being serious. All you can do is wish to be. If you want to get over negative emotions, it’s no good wishing not be negative. But if you wish to be, then the wish is for something you can sense in yourself, and then the result will follow. It’s no good wishing for things to be other than they are. You are not a thing, you are a living woman with the possibility of action. You wish to have that presence, and when you have that presence, all the things which you project, all the lies, gradually diminish. Take those words: “mental laziness, letting myself drift through life without wishing to appreciate the terror of the situation.” When you are, then you will appreciate what you need to: but your wish must be more immediate if it is to be effective.
Serena said: “What you said was really what I meant.”
Mr Adie replied: “Yes, but this is what you write, and that has a significance. If you disown it too easily, and don’t address what you actually wrote, you are robbing yourself of an opportunity. See, if you weren’t here you could withdraw it, and all would be forgotten. Here I can help you to confront it: you know how he speaks about being-logical-confrontation. Even saying that it isn’t what you meant may be a form of laziness. You have a fact: something in you used these words, and not the words you say you meant.
“Then you go on: ‘I need to face this every day, starting in the morning.’ It is true, quite true, but it’s a passive comment. There is no suggestion as to what to do, except for something which is impossible for you as you are.
Serena expanded: “I need to get up earlier in the morning.”
“In order to prepare? Yes, very good, then make a clear plan, because you will have to change your regime in some way: maybe eat supper earlier, or whatever. If you take that into account, you then have something practical. Choose something definite within your power and do it. But if you want to get up earlier while you don’t want to alter anything else you may find that it comes to nothing, it starts and then it stops. If you attempt that seriously over the next week, it will be different, it won’t be like this any more.
“Well, that’s all for tonight. It’s food for everybody, I think you must all have found a point of application. We all share in this. Let me see how long will it take me to get to something small and specific which I really can carry out. Make the plan, carry it out, and bring it next week.”
Mrs Adie mentioned that next week was a combined meeting. “Yes, thank you”, he said. “Then bring your observations in a fortnight; but next week, to the combined meeting, bring the effect of your work.”
Thursday 17 March 1983
Mr Adie started with the Myron, who was then working on a book. This was an exchange I have often remembered. “You wrote: ‘The major obstacle at present is the consuming belief in my professional brilliance, and all the unnecessary effort and antagonisms that go with trying to support this belief. It is an obstacle in that it hinders my ability adequately to fulfill my duties such as the preparation and pondering.”
There was a lengthy pause. “Well most of what is necessary has already been said. But you see, there’s a sense of competition there: your excellence and superiority is only in relation to others. Otherwise, how do you measure your brilliance? You’re not brilliant in comparison with a caterpillar, for instance. You couldn’t crawl up a leaf and climb back down.”
At this point there was laughter and loads of it. I can still recall people diagonally rocking on their chairs.
“It’s all comparative”, he continued. “Comparative and competitive. And the other puppets with whom you compare yourself, you don’t see them as they are at all. They are puppets whom you see as inferior, or – if you are jealous – they are superior puppets. It’s all created inside you: a whole universe of puppets. By accident, you might get a glimpse of the truth. But can you really tolerate this position? … You must be alone in your efforts for freedom, otherwise you start competing once more. All your life is competition: how good, how clever. So surely you yearn for some kind of freedom, don’t you?”
“Yes”, Myron replied.
“Well, why worry any more? The freedom’s in this other direction, alone. If you’re not prepared to be alone and seek a kind of aloneness, you’re just wasting your time. It can be full of grace, that special time. You might have a moment or two of real quiet. Working in that way is a sacred thing.”
Mr Adie paused. “Writing books can so easily be narcissistic. You know about Narcissus? Looking into the pool, loving himself. It’s a wonder no one pushed him in.” Again, laughter. He then took Sam’s observation: ‘This week, upon being called and attempting to turn inward, the question arises, what is the next step?’
“Yes, that’s right. I am called, so what is necessary? Now, at this very second. It’s always at this very second. Then you go on: ‘This question is of a formatory nature and leads away from the sense of myself into revolving thoughts and sleep.’ But it is formatory only if I don’t sense myself. Of course, if I don’t respond, it immediately turns into a poison. But the question is the next step: I turn to myself. I do nothing. I am present. What is necessary is more likely to take place if I am not interfering.
“You’ve got to find your feeling and sensation: it’s your responsibility to provide the vehicle or tabernacle in which this process can take place. Remember “I AM”.
“Remember, as Mr Gurdjieff used to say “You are Mr Gurdjieff’s pupil: you are not tail of donkey. You are possible man.”
“So, alright, you are Mr Gurdjieff’s second generation pupil. You are becoming a man. It’s not nothing.
He then read Amie’s thoughts: ‘If I have a goal and there are obstacles to face …’. Do you mean “when” you have a goal, and “when” there are obstacles to face?
Yes, Amie said.
“Good, because the first is theoretical. So when you have a goal, and when you face obstacles: ‘this negative part rises up and cancels the positive wish, so there is no longer any forward momentum. I lose the sense of myself’. Yes, broadly speaking it’s right. But now it mustn’t be “if I have a goal”. You have to a task, you have to have an immediate goal, a task. The far goal is there, but you have to have the intermediate steps, otherwise you’ll never arrive, you see.
“Mr Gurdjieff used to say that if you are going to achieve, it’s like the lamp-posts. You have to the first lamp post, then the next, then you are at the Arc de Triomphe, more lamp posts, then Colonels Renard in order to get to this room. But if you don’t pass each lamp post you’ll never get there. You have to do the thing immediately before you. That, at least, is within your power. Maybe you’ll get knocked over before you reach the far aim, but this one here seems in reach. So the work is always immediate. And our work in regard to this is at once.
Now to understand, and later I will make my resolve for a particular plan. If you make a plan to see the obstacles you will encounter them. But you will never see them unless you have an aim. Presently, what had been a difficulty is no trouble, but then there’s a bigger one before you.
And you shall succeed only by work: there is no alternative. The great reward is the sense of I which you speak of. Work until I know that I really am. I have to decide myself between I and it, between I and not I. I and all the Annies, all the Myrons.”
Mr Adie paused again: “Well, this was a bit longer than we have ordinarily had, but it was to mark a new level in our work. Bring short notes of what you’re doing for yourself. Even there you’ll find the resistance: you haven’t got the pencil or you haven’t got the paper. But it isn’t so far to get them.
Work from your understanding and limit your task to that. Not all day, just definite and limited so that you can know whether you have failed or not. And do not accept to fail. Well, we’d better stop there. Good night.”
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.