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Archive for July 2009

DON’T TRY TO ESCAPE – Wake up in it!

JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE


Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
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George Adie

Don’t Try to Escape – Wake up in it!

Don’t Try to Escape – Wake up in it!

On 29 July 2009, it will be 20 years since Mr Adie died. These extracts are from a group meeting of Tuesday 26 February 1980.

The first question was from Anne, who was pregnant: “Looking back on my work through the break, I see there’s a sort of wave like process. I go up and down. And I find that I really seem to need a practical approach. I seem to get in a slump where I don’t know; where my days are all the same, and I don’t know how to work in a practical way. I’m sort of afraid that this will continue like this, especially since I mightn’t be coming to groups for a while. I just feel there’s that continuing cycle that I can’t get out of. I need a direction, or something.”

“Well, really, you know, don’t try and get out of it. Why not, why not wake up in it? Then you could use it. We’re always trying to get out of something, you see. Something presses on us. We don’t seem to think there’s actual value in this difficulty. Try and accept this wave-like motion. If it’s truly so, it’s useful. I know I’m going down, brakes are required; I’m going up, take the brakes off. I mean, different inclinations require different types of effort, don’t they? Sometimes I need to lie down and go to sleep. Other times I need a little bit of force, I need to try and work.”

He turned to Mrs Adie: “Well, I’d like Helen to help me on this question.”

“I think you’ve covered it very completely!” she said with a humorous emphasis.

Then Mary brought her difficulty: “Mr Adie, I’ve been trying to evaluate my situation, and to find a way out of this confusion that I feel I’ve been in for quite some time. And I came to see that I don’t really know how to conduct an inner search. And quite practically, it means that somehow I don’t know how to work during the day when I make a plan. And I think that is connected with the confusion, so that my general state is rather low, and I’m so easily taken. I’ve tried to think about the meaning of the term “inner search”, what it could mean, and I’ve had some thoughts, but somehow they don’t connect.”

“You have in fact made a lot of important connections there: what you say is of good value,” replied Mr Adie. “Do you think that you’re more confused? Rather, it’s only now that you see that the confusion. It’s how you’ve always been, except that you were in it so badly that you were oblivious to it. You’ve been racing like a hare after some prey or other, or running to escape from some dog. In that chase there seems to be clarity, there’s no doubt. But all it really meant was that I’m taken, I’m going hell-bent for that one thing. I’m actually hooked. If I am fully identified all the time with one thing, I seem to know, I seem to be in no confusion. But real choice can’t exist in confusion, so immediately I approach a power of choice, it brings the awareness of confusion.

“What you say is absolutely right. But it means to say you’re seeing your confusion, and that rather sets one back – you feel less sure, you feel in query. And then you raise these very important questions which are related to it. That represents a fairly long thought, what you’ve just been saying. So you are not in that sort of absolutely hopeless situation, whatever you might seem to conclude. On the contrary, you are already beginning to pass through a gate, because you feel the need now, you see that in confusion not much is possible, and you begin to see what confusion is, you begin to experience it, there’s no doubt now. Your old certainty was more confused than the new uncertainty.”

At this point, Mr Adie turned to Adam, and asked him with [what] he was following. It was extraordinary how he would be aware of any dreaming in the groups. Adam admitted that he had been lost: he was, he said, “acutely uncomfortable”. Then, recommended Adie, “raise your eyes, and keep on with your practice of relaxing and sensing, and quietly listen.”

Adam made some movement, but it wasn’t enough. Adie prompted him: “Eyes higher still, and then relax. There’s nothing for you outside in that way, it’s all inside. Let everything come in that will come in. Try and centralise yourself. Try and cease from your tense striving. Let all that be passive, let your own central relaxed awareness be your only action, that’s the only thing that’s necessary to you, nothing else.”

Paul spoke: “I feel I’m on a plateau, and I can’t see any real way sort of up from it. I’ve been finding for some time now, my appointments during the day have been very seldom kept, and I used the stone, but now it seems to have no effect at all.” This was a reference to a task which involved moving a stone from pocket to pocket as a reminding factor.

“But that was only for a week,” said Mr Adie. “You had the right to go on a bit longer, but one goes on too long with these things. You want to go and break a window with that stone, and find something quite different.”

Paul moved on to something else: “I was talking to someone the other day, who’s not in the work, but who touched on an alternative way of looking at things. And this was, instead of looking inside, to take the concept of the universal light or the universal absolute, and looking upon myself merely as a receiver, and as a transmitter, that if one could become totally free from all the rubbish, one could then tap into any part of this universal mind.”

“Yes,” replied Adie, “but the problem about all that is this little word “if”.” People laughed at the simplicity of the comment. Paul, however, defended the concept, saying that it “seems to align with the work”.

But Adie did not agree. “In words it aligns. But you started from the fact that you don’t carry out your exercise appointments. What is going to help you do that? You say, “if I could be full of this impression”. But you’re not.”

“There’s no particular harm in what that person said, but what is their method? Looking on higher things, or what? If anybody is really working, they do what we do. There’s only one way to work. The best way is to work a little tiny bit, that’s the right way. There is no other way. If you don’t have attention, what work is possible? If you don’t awake, what work is possible? If you haven’t got some centre of cognition, what choice is possible? With no choice there’s no control. It means nothing. What we have is the eternal, absolute instructions, plus the connection with our lives. The question is work, I need to work. For that I need to relax, I need to receive impressions, I need to not identify.”

Still, Paul went in to bat for this method: “The way I was starting to work was to divest myself of the garbage, to be more free.”

“But how? How do you do that?”

“To see the rubbish, and be free of it.”

“Yes, but how do you do it? This is the question of presence, non-identification, confrontation, objectivity, all these things are necessary in order to see it. And I need to see the actual moments in my life by choice, and these are the appointments. If I don’t keep them, then I am subject only to accident when I get an odd prod from outside. What I need to do is somehow to plan a bit, a little. If I could plan very little, it would make an enormous difference. Then I would get more related, if you like, shocks or prods, or stimulus from outside.”

I will just pause here for a moment to point out the importance of what Adie said about making appointments as part of a plan for use during the day. By formulating a strategy, we exercise, in the form of exercise appropriate to a spiritual discipline, our judgment and our will. We aim to introduce an intentional current into our lives, which runs side by side with the events of the day, and then, at the decided time, we disrupt the established tempo. By consciousness, then, we come to consciousness. But to return to Mr Adie’s explanation to Paul.

“Work is work. That is the whole thing with people. Everything you read in all religions is there, but what is missing is the way to do it: have being, have love, have compassion for all people, be free, tell the truth, honour thy God. But how? And then I find I’m confused, as Mary said, which means that it’s beginning to enter into me. Directly that kind of confusion arises, as a result of seeing something, I begin to have a certain kind of discrimination. I see that this is the position at the moment. So in all this confusion, what?”

“If I understand it at all, I understand it because there is something representative in me that is capable of recognizing, not just theorizing, but actually experiencing confusion, and being present to be unable to decide … and not giving up. And if I can sustain that for a certain time, balanced, the requirement will come to me, there’s no doubt. It gives a chance for higher reason, which works very quickly, to see what is necessary.”

“Whatever you find, try it and see, and then if you find it profitable bring it, but not, not if it contradicts the work. I don’t want to take anything away from you, and if you find those concepts help you, good, then try, prove it – the work. The thing, the important point is, are any of these advices included in the work? Do they have any work in them? You started from a good point: your realisation of a lack of power, of the diminishing effect of the task, is brought about by the little bit of work you have done. None of us have worked enough, but even the little we’ve worked brings some realisation. But then I say, oh, let me find a different way.”

Paul was, apparently, put out, although I must say that he remained with Mr Adie for almost ten years, right up until Mr Adie’s death, so, at some deep level, he respected Mr Adie’s advice. But tonight he was defensive: “It was really the concept of, seemed to bring a breath of fresh air.”

“We don’t accept to resolve confusion through over-simplifications, or talking about something we cannot live. Try and have some practical experience of force in you. If you could have that, there’d be much more fulfilment. See, if I feel that I’m confused, what force can I have really? It’s a very good thing that I haven’t got any, because in confusion what would happen to it? Which way would it go? The very confusion robs me of appreciable force, but there is something of a higher quality, which can respond in a very small degree to the higher forces. If I can only contact that, then the process starts. It’s a very fine process, I need to be as much balanced as I can. I need to have my head quiet, not interfering with my body. I repeat that the head is always cut off, it’s not in control of the body at all, it’s just dreams, my head isn’t fulfilling any proper function, it just dreams, thinks of easier ways and that sort of thing, you see, but go on trying, try and come to the right reasoning yourself, you see.”

The next question, from Ellen, who was, what I believe they call a clinical psychologist, meaning that she gave/administered certain therapies or treatments to people, was rather similar: “Mr Adie, this week I’ve had two experiences which have left me in some confusion.”

“Then take them one at a time. Shortly, start with what the first one was.”

“I was reading a psychology book which presented ways of controlling one’s behaviour either by Eastern methods like meditation or Western methods of self-observation, and they presented the idea of observing one’s focus, either internal focus or external focus, and on Sunday at the work I was reminded of this when I was given a task, I was doing some ironing, and sort of got into it in my usual way, and suddenly I noticed that I was, I don’t know … sort of, probably …”

“Observation. What was the observation?”

“I suppose it would have been identified with the ironing, just rushing into it, I suppose I was lost, but … I thought … I think the idea is that I was identified with ironing, and I was reminded then of the focus, and then I tried to change that, and the next moment I found that my focus had changed to something like identified, and I was even more lost than before.”

“I think it just shows that you’re mixed up with ordinary psychology, the psychology of pathology, and the pathology of psychology and so on, and it’s all a big confusion, it’s partly what Paul was talking about, and the words are very close, meditation and internal focus and external focuses, and all that. So many words. I have to really guard. I’m sorry you’re studying books on Western psychology. In a learned way they go round and round and round and round, and when they’ve done this long circle round, they’ve forgotten where they started, and they start going on again and again.”

While Adie was saying this, people were breaking up with laughter, but he didn’t play it for laughs: “So your job to become a purveyor of psychological freedom, or of administering psychological treatment, or teaching others how to deal with psychological defects is a great danger … it’s all slightly in the realm of head-shrinking of one kind or another. All the words are there. But you see too that
the terminology about internal focus and external focus, doesn’t help you. But in trying to work, we get all sorts of reminders, connections and impressions of all sorts.”

“We don’t want to dispense with any of them, but we do need to sort them out, if we can. There’s no reason why this thought of internal and external focus really should knock me over, but first of all I have to have this experience of my inner focus, and I can talk about it without having it at all. This is the danger. If I have it, then I don’t get trapped in the words. You follow? So I need to have something going on in me that isn’t words. A word may help me tremendously: it touches something, it quickens me. At that point I need to understand the point and not go on with this word, word, word. After three repetitions, it’s gibberish. But if I can remain there, I don’t need the word: I have it, it’s transformed, it’s a force within me.”

“Take an invocation: you call. Once the call is answered, you don’t go on. You call to God, if you like. I find it’s answered. Well then, are you going to call to another God or something, or go on? No. There’s a fine contact made. If I really observe, I receive a certain living experience, very fine, very short, but in ordinary life-time, very long: now I need to be present to everything. Does it mean anything at all, what I’m saying, or does it seem an awful lot of words again?”

“It helps. I don’t let words outrun the experience. ”

“It can help now because you’re a little bit relaxed. Good. If you do a preparation, surely some of you will have had this experience, and say you manage to get a bit quiet; surely sometimes a good idea comes, you either see what you mustn’t do, or what you need to do, or how you need to be. Maybe you even realise that it’s important enough to try and make a note of it so that you don’t forget. So you go and write it down. Before you’ve finished writing it down you’ve lost it, it’s gone into words, if you’re not careful.”

“Yes, I’ve had that experience.”

“There you are. But that doesn’t mean to say you must stop writing. It means that instead of getting lured into two or three pages, we try and allow to come out what will come out while I’m present. I need to see if I’m there or not there. It means I’m continually trying, but not getting tense. Good, it’s a good question, I have to answer it for you.”

The next question was difficult to listen to and to transcribe. And yet there was a sort of serious drama about it. Tonight, Kevin, who brought the questions, contended with Mr Adie, obstructed him, answered him testily on occasions, and yet, he too, remained with him, and like Paul, was a force in the group after Adie’s death. The exchange opened up simply enough, until Kevin referred to “what I’m supposed to be doing at that time”. When Adie asked him whether he was referring to an inner work or an external doing, a very odd mantle of obtuseness fell on Kevin. He would say “I start by doing the work”, and refer to “my planned work”, but never specify which work.

Finally, in respect of this and other obscurities, Adie said: “You see, the fact that I don’t formulate clearly shows me that I don’t think clearly. I need to formulate very simply. If I mix up my inner aim with any sort of life processes, I can’t think properly. You’re inclined to mix it up, and this is what spoils an observation, but it’s good to bring it because this is how it’s straightened out.”

After much more discussion, Kevin said that he had, during the week, been in a position where he realised that he could not think or even make an internal movement. He was shocked by what seemed to him to be, I might say an extraordinary and unique seizure, an internal paralysis.

“Not unique,” said Adie, “it happens time after time. This is what Gurdjieff means by “nothingness”. It goes on more or less. all the time for all of us. What a horrible business. You were lucky, you actually had an experience of no reality at all – you couldn’t function in any way. It’s a very valuable experience. You had to struggle here to try and to say that simple thing. Well don’t leave it go, try and work on that, find out what robs, you find out what stands in the way, make appointments, try and keep them. It’s a good example.”

Kevin now asked, in what sounds to me like a rather truculent way: “My question is, is it better to try and prolong that time, or is it better to have more of them?”

Adie paused, and then replied: “Both – but you can’t do either. If you work, you will get more opportunities, and if you respond to them, they will tend in the end to get longer. But then this is words again.”

“ You see, the kind of understanding that I receive from seeing that I am absolutely fixed and have no choice, is one of these flashes which lasts for one ten thousandth of a second, but endures in my mind for weeks. It can enter into me for weeks as an influence, which I’ve received. I’ve received, let me now not let that disappear. I can’t profit by immediately identifying with that, so it helps me to be brought up to it. It’s a very subtle thing. We want to tackle it with great big spanners and hammers, but it’s not possible to do delicate things with such tools.”

Then Andy brought this: “Mr Adie, during the break period, the efforts that I have made have left me with a feeling that I lack organization, both inwardly and outwardly. The plans that I make in the morning seem to me to be, good value for me, something that I need, but it still doesn’t seem to follow a line, it seems to be scattered. Individually they’re worthwhile efforts, but as a whole, going towards something, I can’t seem to keep to an aim. I tend to go away, I never seem to be able to follow towards something.”

There is a lengthy silence on the tape. Finally, Adie spoke: “You want to go forward toward an aim. Bring it nearer. Best be practical. Remind yourself of the main direction, your main big belief, the belief you started with, that man had a possibility, that there was a path, that there was a noble life as well as an ignoble, and so on. It’s true. And what is the step now? What is the immediate requirement? I have to have these intermediate aims, because if you don’t work now, you’ll never … come to earth. How short is it necessary to make the aim? Could you make an aim for fulfilment in one hour, or half an hour? And possibly choose another moment for renewal, when the circumstances will be such that you can’t now predict. You don’t know what your state will be at lunch time, do you?”

“So, you have your immediate thought, what you’re going to try and obstruct, study, change, use transform. Try and choose something within reach, that’s important for you, and then try and have an appointment at midday, to see what kind of effort you need then. You won’t know exactly what is necessary. In principle, yes, but you won’t know the details. So in order to make it very practical, try and make a fresh near aim at lunch time. See, ideally, if we could renew our aim every five minutes, that would be a marvellous thing. In other words, we would live five minutes at a time. The trouble is that after one or twice we should immediately start to slip into a dream, and we wouldn’t even notice the end of the five minutes for which we were planning. So it’s no good trying to do a thing that we can’t. So let’s have one appointment, a little way ahead, and then an appointment to make an appointment at some time. In this way you can make it more practical, without these unfulfilled appointments and misses. There are things which you need about which you have no doubt, so what about those? And make the connections, all sorts of connections to be made with any plan.”

Now Adam spoke, in a voice I can only describe as very heavy: “I haven’t been on the search for some time. I’ve found I need to overcome negativity, evidenced in certain things that I do, recurrent situations that always trigger off absolutely predictable reactions. Right at the end of last session, the exercise that we were given gave me released energy to help me deal with these situations, but that energy was no longer forthcoming over the break.”

“Did you do the preparation?”

“You bet!” This was emphatic. “And I got more and more depressed because they were having less and less effect.” This was hammered in, and suddenly he expostulated, for no apparent reason: “No! I’m not going to speak.”

The first time I heard this, I was expecting a rebuke to issue from Mr Adie. But I should have known him better than that. He waited just a little, and in his ordinary voice, not even a particularly soft one, said: “Try, try. Just be patient. You have a chance to speak here. If I start speaking and find I’m talking rubbish, it’s a very great relief to find it is so, because then I know that that’s out anyway. Now let me open a fresh chapter and see.”

Now there was a pause, and then Adie became more direct: “You see, you stare at this point there. You’ll get nothing that way. But you could open and relax and try and receive impressions. It’s all buzzing around in you like that, you see? Or do you? Do you accept the whirligig of your own thoughts?”

Adam did open, and told a sorrowful tale of aggressive driving, losing his temper for no reason, and of how his wife was concerned that he was becoming worse, not better. He felt that she was correct. He had said to her that: “It’s stopped being a search, it’s become more like a search and destroy mission.”

“Well, you know, Adam, this search is a very real thing, but it’s a word that can lose its meaning if it’s used without presence. It’s like “wish” – you can get hooked and identified with the word “wish”, and then this sacred word doesn’t do anything for you. “Search” is a tremendous thing: search can mean a conscious presence that has faith, and looks for something higher and corresponding because of that.

“If we have a search, surely the search for us is in here, inside. It’s not going to be very encouraging at times, but that doesn’t matter: we want to come to a truth, and so we need to be open at the same time. My great difficulty is that I think I have a lot of powers and possibilities now that I don’t possess. I think I can search, but I am only capable of little searchings, yet, if I can only do that a small amount, and let the rest go, I’d have a chance. But I have big thoughts, putting the whole of my house into order, making a plan of the work, and so on. I don’t realise that it’s all very efficiently provided for, including all sorts of laws of accidents. My type is provided, my whole history has been provided. Can I alter all that? Can I alter all the people I am going to meet tomorrow, and all the accidents that are going to happen? Of course I can’t. I might as well concentrate on a small area of my being, you see?

“This is the problem,” asserted Adam, “the small things are getting less under control.”

“I’m not sure we’re talking about the same small things. I am not speaking about small outer things, but the small inner reality which is real; it is there. The high ideas and the inner response that is there. And don’t despair, or anything of this kind. But, this attitude: “I must pay attention to this”, or “It needs my determination”. What is that? Adam on the track, you see?

There was laughter at Adie’s take on Adam’s manner of speaking. “Our position is tragic-comic, there’s no question. If you could take it quietly, and put this massive fist down, and just relax it.” Adam was a large man, and probably did have a large fist.

“I hope that is something for you. And also, to take a thought on behalf of your wife helps. Think what she’s suffered. Poor woman.”

The final question of the evening came from a young woman. Her question was not so remarkable, but there was something in her way of speaking which was unusual. Adie asked her: “Do you ever hear yourself speaking, the kind of intonation? Do you hear yourself now, what kind of person is speaking?”

“I think so. I think I’m pleading with you.

“And yet, you have what you need. No plea or request or prayer can possibly be answered if I haven’t done what I myself can do. What is here will help you somewhat, in your work. And if you can listen carefully to your voice, you could hear a certain self-pitying tone about the plea, and as long as that’s there you won’t receive what you seek, because you’re sorry for yourself, and that fills the space. Yet, you haven’t got to be sorry for yourself. I have to be more there in order to get what I am asking for: then your efforts will help you. Listen to your voice, listen to how you ask.”

Finally, he turned to Adam, and made a reference to the passage in Matthew 12:43-45 and Luke 11:24-26: “You know what is said about the one who had the devil cast out of him, but after it was cast out, the devil returned with seven others worse than himself? You remember that, in the Bible? Well this is the thing: we get a moment of recollection, but then we become proud over that, and we become worse than we had been before. We don’t bring ourselves to receive it in the right way, somehow. To bring myself to it, to benefit from my experience, I have to be very simple, surely. I have to long to be humble, not puffed up. Try sometimes to come, without words to such a state, where you’re present, being, collected. It is just being: you’re not trying to sell anything, or prop your picture up. A great trouble isn’t it, propping a picture up? Well, it’s for everybody, nobody’s excluded.”

He turned to Mrs Adie: “Any advice?” he asked.

“No, no.”

“Well, goodnight.”

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Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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.

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Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

July 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm

KATE BUSH (2) Lionheart

JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE


Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
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Kate_Ivy

Kate Bush (2) Lionheart

After the arcane glories of The Kick Inside, the record buying public
found 1978’s Lionheart to be a disappointment, perhaps even a
substantial disappointment. Although I would place the title track
“Lionheart” in the same exalted class as “Wuthering Heights” and “The
Man with the Child in his Eyes”, I have to agree with the popular
assessment, for the album as a whole was too patently a rushed
follow-up. However, it had the good fortune to be released in the
golden afterglow of Kick Inside, and went platinum in the UK. It is
not just that people were keen to hear what Kate Bush had produced:
music actually sounds better if we are well-disposed towards the
artist (or to adapt Gurdjieff’s terms, if we are favourably identified
with the artist). This phenomenon of “the golden glow” is an
interesting one, and I shall return to it at the end of this blog.

To my ear, the stand out track on this album, and one of Kate Bush’s
greatest triumphs, is the title song “Oh England, My Lionheart”. This
under-rated piece strikingly, even poignantly, conjures up “merry
England”, once more evidencing the Englishness we saw on Kick Inside:

Oh, England! My Lionheart!
I’m in your garden, fading fast in your arms.
The soldiers soften, the war is over,
The air-raid shelters are blooming clover.
Flapping umbrellas fill the lanes,
My London Bridge in rain again.

Oh, England! My Lionheart!
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park.
You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames,
That old river-poet that never, ever ends.
Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in
And keep the Tower from tumbling.

Oh, England! My Lionheart! Oh, England! My Lionheart!
Oh, England! My Lionheart!
I don’t want to go.

Oh, England! My Lionheart!
Dropped from my black Spitfire to my funeral barge.
Give me one kiss in apple blossom,
Give me one wish and I’d be wassailing,
In the orchard, my English Rose,
Or with my shepherd, who’ll bring me home.

Oh, England! My Lionheart! Oh, England! My Lionheart!
Oh, England! My Lionheart!
I don’t want to go.

The song tells the story of a Spitfire pilot who has been shot down.
As his plane hurtles towards the earth and his death, he sings his
love to the green land beneath him (hence, although it’s a little
macabre, he serenades England that he is “in your garden, fading fast
in your arms”). Through this story, an esoteric idea or reality is
touched: the transcendent reality and preciousness of conscious
experience. Later in her career, Bush returned to this theme, notably
in “Some Moments of Pleasure” from The Red Shoes, and on record two of
Aerial.

The insight, an insight which I think can only ever come from
experience, is that in a moment of self-consciousness, our experience
is transfigured. There is a sort of scale of conscious experience: it
can range from a slightly more vivid sense of oneself through to an
illuminated state where it is as if heaven is present right here, as
if the supernatural breaks through into and illuminates the natural
world. The reality of the moment is often felt to have a quality which
is more than the reality of other moments, hence it is often called
“transcendent”. However much we may have read or heard of this, the
understanding of it can only come through experience: otherwise, even
if we read about it, we do not comprehend what we read. This is the
realisation which Hopkins referred to when he wrote that: “The world
is charged with the grandeur of God.” I am not saying that Kate Bush
expresses this concept in what I might call “all its fullness”, but
then who could? Yet I do find that there is, to a substantial degree,
an approaching to the transcendent in her work.

We tend to have experienced something of this as children. Usually, it
is when we are children that our lives are lived at their most vivid.
To children, there is magic in the night time and glory in the
daylight. In childhood we are more prone to the simple, direct vision
of the joy of creation and the universal adoration offered up to God
by all life (see p.26 of the George Adie book). It is not just a
question of the “being-ness” of life, one can also sense its goodness.
This, I think, is why children so often bring an affirming force of
feeling in the face of really big hardship.

I can add that, as a child, and I do not believe that I was alone in
this, I had an inarticulate sense of human tragedy. In fact, my feel
for sadness and pain was at the same time both clearer than it is
today, and also less given to melancholy. As children, we are not so
hampered by judgmental attitudes, or by guilt, self-accusation or
self-pity. Thomas Traherne described the mystical insights of
childhood very well in some of his poetry which resonate with most of
us:

All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and
delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my
entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable
joys. … Everything was at rest, free and immortal. …. I saw in all
the peace of Eden; Heaven and Earth did sing my Creator’s praises …
All Time was Eternity, and a perpetual Sabbath. (from The Third
Century, pt. 2).

I have elsewhere suggested that, in Gurdjieff’s terms, a further part
of the reason for this is the fact that in children the work of the
centres or brains is less demarcated: feeling, thought and sensation
are far closer together. The intellects of children are not so
divorced from their feelings and instincts, and not having yet fully
learned the gamut of negative emotions, their positive feelings enter
into their perceptions – and so they should, for it follows from
Gurdjieff’s ideas that the natural state of our feelings is positive
and affirming. Being more in the higher parts of centres, children
also have a different experience of time, closer to what Traherne has
described. And most importantly, in children, the feeling of being
present to oneself (an ineffable but unmistakable feeling with no
colour of changeable emotion), is more common than it is among adults.

I am not suggesting that Kate Bush’s “Lionheart” stands on the same
level as Traherne or Hopkins. Yet, consider some of the lines, such as
the one about flapping umbrellas and viewing London Bridge during
rain, and when I say “consider”, I mean to experience their poetic
impact in the song. As adults, we’re too bothered to really take these
impressions in. But children do, and these impressions feed them, as
Gurdjieff said, surely under inspiration. When I was young, I was
almost entranced by the reflection of traffic lights on wet roads.
Even the being-reality of residential lanes, which Kate Bush mentions
here, possesses a fascination for children. This “being-reality” of
objects, a sort of inherent wordless affirmation of their reality,
nourishes, I feel, an unsophisticated sensitivity in children. In
“Lionheart”, Bush refers to umbrellas in the lanes, not the streets,
but lanes, those humble, human and unhurried passageways. That small
touch is the touch of art. The song possesses clarity, and yet one can
peer deeply into its crystal simplicity, rather as if one were looking
into a stream of bright water which ran a hundred feet deep, and could
see to its bottom.

Now, before I read of what was undoubtedly Kate Bush’s own intentions in the narrative, I simply took it as the poignant declaration of a young woman, in love with England, and with the idea of romance in England. She sounds wistful yet not sentimental; romantically
possessed by the green land which Shakespeare celebrated. Something
about the light and optimistic attitude to rural lovemaking makes me
think of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Read as lyrics, “Lionheart” is
good poetry. Whether she was the first to call Shakespeare an “old
river poet” or if she only aptly used the phrase, it seems perfect
here. Those three words evoke iconic aspects of English life:
Shakespeare, poetry, the Thames and a cultured life on the river
banks. Even the little word “old”, more than just a term of affection,
reminds one of the enduring English tradition, its continuity and its
depth.

I refer to the pilot of “Oh England, My Lionheart” as a male, but I am
not sure I should. There is a video clip, now available on YouTube,
where Kate Bush sings this song dressed as a sort of air pilot. I say
“sort of”, because, but for the goggles, the coat looks rather
feminine to me. But who am I to dictate anything to Kate Bush? If she
wants to recast the expected male pilot as female, or if she makes
herself the sole female Spitfire pilot in history, and to sing about
wassailing and her shepherd, that is her prerogative. That the song
was about a pilot at all was not obvious to me: after all, in the very
first verse, she sings: “The soldiers soften, the war is over, the
air-raid shelters are blooming clover.” To go on later to mention a
black Spitfire and the funeral barge, would seem odd. Further, it is
difficult to imagine a pilot addressing England as “Oh England! My
Lionheart!” But then, she is Kate Bush, an Englishwoman avowing that
she wishes to stay forever in the heart of “This precious stone set in
the silver sea … this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this
England”, to quote John of Gaunt from Shakespeare’ Richard II (2:1).
Who are we to dictate to her?

The music is simple, and yet it sounds like the only music which could
have gone with those words. There is nothing antiquarian about either
the melody or the sound, yet the woodwind and the simplicity evoke the past, and a quiet style of English folk music. There is a sadness, but also a strength in the dignified line of the melody. Kate Bush has
been accused of “over-singing” on occasions: she does not do so here.
The gentle movement of her voice is just right for the piece. Overall,
as I have said, I find it one of her masterpieces. It strikes me as
flawless in itself. But, to my taste, at least, it stands head and
shoulders over every other track on this album.

There are good pieces of music here: I would single out “Symphony in
Blue”, “Wow” and “Kashka from Baghdad”, and there is one song which is in parts excellent, and in parts all too mediocre: “Hammer Horror”. I
only wish that this album had been an EP. “Symphony in Blue” opens the album, and like “Lionheart”, but unlike most of the tracks, has one
even tempo throughout. “I spend a lot of my time looking at blue”, she
sings, referring to blue in her room, her mood, in the sky, and “the
sort of blue in those eyes you get hung up about”. She goes on to
speak about red (“the colour of my heart when she’s dead”), and sex
(“the more I think about sex the better it gets; here we have a
purpose in life”). But the heart of the song is the second verse and
the chorus:

When that feeling of meaninglessness sets in,
Go blowing my mind on God.
The light in the dark with the neon arms …

I see myself, suddenly, on the piano, as a melody.
My terrible fear of dying no longer plays with me,
For now I know that I’m needed for the symphony.

She was not more than 20 years old, and yet she sang of her “terrible
fear of dying” and of rising above it. Is this a sign of remarkable
maturity, or of pretentiousness, or of both? When one listens to the
piece and its assured, steady tempo, one would be harsh indeed to
accuse her of over-reaching.

But what is more remarkable about the contents, is that there are two
polarities in the song: the personal and the impersonal, or
transcendent, and these are brought into artistic balance. There is
the acute receipt of impressions and also the sense that she is a part
of a larger harmony: this is why she ceases to feel accidental and is
liberated from her personal fear. Something of this polarity can,
perhaps, also be sensed in “Oh England, My Lionheart”, which is a song
about the individual and their relationship to something larger than
themselves. This precocious woman managed, on her second album, to
say something new about the relationship of the small-s self to the
capital-S Self of the organic cosmos, and to express it in a fresh and
convincing manner.

The only reason, perhaps, that “Symphony in Blue” is not one of her
great songs is that the melody, competent as it is, does not little
more than present the lyrics. The melody, in itself, lacks power.
“Wow”, the third track on side one, boasts more power, but its
deficiencies run deeper. It seems to be made up of two different
songs, both addressed to an older actor by up-and-coming actors. The
pairing is held together by the chorus, a simple “Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!
Wow! Wow! Unbelievable!” The first song within a song describes the
mixed feelings of the younger actors for the formidable veteran with
whom they are working. The second half is to an actor who will not
achieve the success he years for. As she sings: “He’ll never make the
screen … or be that movie queen, he’s too busy hitting the
Vaseline.” This actor is feted with insincere praise (“you’re amazing,
we think you are really cool”) but he is denied a role, because he’d
have to “play the fool”. The lyrics are clever, and the pocket
portraits from the world of acting are, I am told, accurate. The music
of the chorus is quite strong. Each “wow!” leaps out at you, aided by
the vocal gymnastics, where Bush sings low at just the right time. The
music of the verses is good, and the shift of tempo and feel at the
chorus brilliantly sets up and illumines the hyperbolic exclamations.
This is an instance where the gear change in a song works. Sad to say,
I do not think the same tactic works too well on the rest of the
album, and is, to my taste, overdone. The effect of the time change is
jagged on “In Search of Peter Pan”, “Don’t Push your Foot on the
Heartbrake”, “Fullhouse”, “Kashka”, “Coffee Homeground” and “Hammer
Horror”, fully six songs on an album of only ten.

Also noteworthy is the evocative “Kashka from Baghdad”, the third
track on side two. It tells the story of a man who lives “in sin” with
another, but has no other apparent friends or acquaintances: he lives
alone, visited by his lover, and remains inside the light of their
love (the metaphor she uses). Kashka’s Middle Eastern origin is nicely
conjured by the initial music, which is mysterious without sounding
like a caricature. The sentiments are beyond sympathetic:

I watch their shadows, tall and slim in the window opposite.
I long to be with them, ‘cos when all the alley cats come out,
I can hear music from Kashka’s house.

When the verse stops, the chorus erupts in a different tempo:

At night they’re seen, laughing, loving.
They know the way to be happy.

The track closes with a fade out. I cannot make out the words, but
they seem to something like: “Don’t you recognize? Don’t know you know the scene? … Let me in your love.” However, a lyrics web-site
offers: “Watching every night. Don’t you know they’re seen? Won’t you
let me laugh? Let me in your love.” Mmm. Overall, the piece is
something of a success, even if the sound of the chorus seems a little
contrived. It is not a great song, but it is a good one. I only wish
that I could have said the same for her “Gurdjieff” piece,
“Fullhouse”, which opens side two:

I am my enemy, mowing me over, and towing the light away,
… Imagination sets in, then all the voices begin,
Telling you things that aren’t happening.
(But they nig, they nag, ‘til they’re under your skin).

The rhythm is disrupted, as she hurries: “You’ve really go to ..”, and
then does she shriek: “Remember yourself, you’ve got a full house in
your head tonight! Remember yourself, stand back and see emotion
getting you uptight.” To “remember oneself”, in Gurdjieff’s terms, is
to be present to oneself as a whole: one’s thoughts, emotions and
organic instinct. The effort to remember oneself allows one to be
present to the turning thoughts which make up so much of our psychic
life, and to make them passive, so that they no longer bother, and
even cease. Despite the pointless screaming, the ideas here are good.
In verse two she sings:

My silly pride, digging the knife in,
She loves to come for her ride.
Surely by now I should know I can control my highs and my lows
By questioning all that I do, examining every move …

Once more, she is too accomplished to be pretentious: she is, as I
suggested in the first blog, the true prodigy of modern popular music.
But here, also, is the problem: the ideas are way too good for the
music. It just does not work as a song. The sudden change of pace at
the chorus does not help the song, as it does in “Wow”, it interrupts
and fragments it; and the singing is too fierce, almost hysterical,
for the chorus’s message.

Later, on The Dreaming, she attempted what may well be another
“Gurdjieff” song, “Sat in your Lap”. That effort was more successful,
at least to my ear. The last track to mention in any detail from
Lionheart is another worthy failure, the first single, and the last
track on the album, “Hammer Horror”. The opening is splendid, almost
scarlet with grandeur. The massive piano and synthesizer theme lasts
only 15 seconds, but it almost justifies the entire track. Then a
high-pitched vocal appears, eldritch and unearthly:

You stood in the bell-tower, but now you’re gone.
So who knows all the sights of Notre-Dame?

Just as the lyrics make a puzzling detour to the second line, the
music now changes completely: “They’ve got the stars for the gallant
hearts”, and then, after another 15 seconds, another complete change
of pace for the chorus: “Hammer Horror, Hammer Horror, won’t leave me alone.” The music never continues in one course, or at one tempo long enough to get into the feel of it. The song makes a picture of an
actor who has taken someone else’s role, and is now shadowed by the
former star. But the picture is a shattered one, it is too diverse to
even be a mosaic. It sounds jack clever, but clever as it is, it
doesn’t cohere. The other tracks on this album make me wince,
especially “Coffee Homeground” (which to me is pantomime of an
unconvincing type) and “In the Warm Room” (like an attempt to milk
“Feel It”).

There are some themes on this album: for example, film and theatre
appear in “Wow” and “Hammer Horror”, and “Coffee Homeground” is a
variation on the theme of Arsenic and Old Lace.

But the oddest theme on this album is that of blurring gender
boundaries. I have already noted this in respect of “Lionheart”. She
seems to be male, too, on “Hammer Horror” (it is easier to imagine a
man in the role of stalking another who has taken his role) and “Peter
Pan”, a fitting song for such confusion, for he, too, was somewhat
androgynous. Peter Pan also appears in the title track, and on the
liner notes: “Special thanks … especially to Mr. P. Pan whose tricks
keep us on our toes.” Does that mean that Our Kate, the doctor’s
daughter, was flirting with transgendering? “Wow” and “Kashka” both
deal with gay culture, and on “In the Warm Room”, a sort of an ode to
a seductress, she speaks of the woman in terms such as:

She’ll touch you with your Mamma’s hand,
You’ll long to kiss those red lips …
You’ll fall into her like a pillow,
Her thighs are soft as marshmallows,
Say hello to the soft musk of her hollows.

I cannot imagine what the masculine equivalent would be of “Say hello
to the soft musk of her hollows”, but could you imagine any male
singer, say Bruce Springsteen, saying something similar about another
male, even if he were addressing a female? There is something so
voyeuristic as to be discomforting about this song. Even its lack of
crudity adds to this sense: when Kate Bush uses measured phrases like
these it’s as if she’s serious.

Yet, this theme fades out from her later work. It is as if the album
were not only hurried, but also transitional. This brings me back to
the question of its initial reception, which I think was warmer than
deserved: how is it possible that we like one song, or several songs
by an artist, and then hear the rest of their work in what I have
called “the golden glow”? To an extent, it is a question of acquiring
a taste: it may take a while before one becomes used to hearing
something like, for example, the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
But once one has acquired the taste, it is as if one hears emotional
nuances one was previously unaware of.

Surely, however, there is more. Surely, the main feature in this
phenomenon is what Gurdjieff called “identification”, where we
associate our own self-image with the music. To the extent that we are identified with an artist, we have no objectivity. I recall being
identified with Bowie when I was younger, to the point that I
purchased Lodger when it came out, and persuaded myself that I liked
it. Now there are only two tracks on it which I can even bear to
listen to (“African Night Flight” and “Move On”).

It is not just that our taste changes. I am asking why does our taste
change? Why do we sometimes like the work an artist produces to a
certain point, but are fairly indifferent to them after that point? I
recall one reviewer who was a big fan of Bowie’s earlier work, but
wrote that they wouldn’t serve pizza on his latest offerings. What
happens?

There are two obvious answers which, in the case of Lionheart, we can
dismiss at once: first, there was no change of idiom or style, such as
when an artist switches from, say, playing rock and roll to playing
jazz. Second, Kate Bush did not simply re-record Kick Inside with
different lyrics. By that I refer to the way that certain artists
repeat their first triumphs, sticking to a safe formula. For example,
I personally find that from the time of Zooropa, just about everything
U2 have produced has been virtually the same songs with minor, barely
significant, variations. Bono continues to metaphorically position
himself in the imagined abyss between being and nothingness, and to
sing about love as if the idea were entirely original to himself.

Why is it that we tend to like the songs by one artist more
consistently than the songs of another? It could be, for example, that
one artist sings big ballads, or country and western, and we don’t
like that style. To an extent, this is a question of what one is used
to , the way that Vietnamese music sells well in Vietnam, and Arabic
music is popular in Arabic countries, but not so popular to those who
were not raised in a Vietnamese or Arabic culture, respectively.
Again, some people cannot stand a certain singer’s voice, or the speed
at which they sing, or their orchestral arrangements.

But I think that there is something deeper than all of this. For
example, I like much of the music Stevie Wonder produced between
Talking Book and Hotter Than July, but, five or six songs apart, I
don’t like Michael Jackson’s music. Yet, their styles and arrangements
were similar enough, although of course there were differences, and my
distaste is not based on Michael Jackson’s voice or his tempo. I just
like Wonder’s songs better than Jackson’s, the way that some people
like Paul McCartney’s music, but not John Lennon’s. Why is this?

We tend to think, and to talk of, one writer being better than
another, but “better” in what respect?

In future blogs, I shall explore this in more depth later, but to
anticipate: I think that we are assessing not only the music but the
person who is manifested through the music. This is not necessarily
illegitimate. Music is like the eye: just as one can tell something
about the whole of the person and their state just by looking at their
eyes, one can do something the same with their music. The state of all
of our being-functions (intellect, feeling and physical) is subtly
mixed in and apparent in the visible state of the eyes. So, too, music
is a mixture of these three functions. Even if there is not a single
word in three minutes, there is a sort of thought behind it, and of
course it is obvious that music includes emotion and physical
instinct.

One feels that one comes to know the person behind the music. The
feeling of contact is even greater, perhaps, in the case of
singer-songwriters. Although, in the case of artists like Bing Crosby,
Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley who wrote little or none of their
work, this is qualified by the way that the music they chose to sing
was tailored to them, their style and their image. In other words, the
relationships we have with recording artists are akin to the
relationships we have with acquaintances.

These thoughts arose not from Lionheart, but from pondering it, and my
response to it. Next, we will consider Kate Bush’s third album, Never
For Ever, which did, to a certain extent, rehabilitate her reputation.
Yet, I have to say, that I do not think the promise of The Kick Inside
has yet been realised, or at least satisfactorily realised, in her
career. She is still, I feel, underachieving, and the reason is a
certain self-indulgence, which we shall further explore in the next
blog.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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.

—————————————————</stron

SIMSON NAJOVITS interviewed by JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO


The John Robert Colombo Page

======================================

Simson Najovits

The writer Simson Najovits who bears a distinct resemblance to actor Michael Caine.

I have known Simson Najovits for at least forty years and I feel I know him quite well, despite the fact that over those years there have been no more than half a dozen face-to-face meetings. Between meetings we have exchanged first typewritten letters, then computer-printed letters, and now email letters. Our meetings have taken place in Toronto and Paris, though never in Montreal, where he was born in 1937.

Simson has lived in Paris since 1962. Although many of his short stories, poems and essays have been published, and he is the author of a critically acclaimed two-volume history of ancient Egypt which has been acquired by most of the major university and public libraries throughout the world, his many long prose works remain unpublished. I would read his fiction and marvel that no publisher worth his salt has ever decided to publish these works, which bear some resemblance to those philosophical memoirs written by Henry Miller. But Simson is a hyper-intellectual Miller and a scholarly one, much concerned with intellectual thought and its expression.

For years I knew Simson as an expatiate Canadian writer who made his home in Paris. Gradually I realized that he had enjoyed a long-time involvement with the Work. This association began in Montreal, where he attended Sir George Williams University, now part of Concordia University, a city university now infamous for its illiberal student activism.

JRC: What did you study at Concordia? Who influenced you the most – students or faculty?

I studied literature and political science. My biggest influence was my main literature professor, Neil Compton, who knew more about both Joyce and Shakespeare than any other person I’ve met since and convinced me that nothing could be more important than being a writer as long as one was a surly writer.

He was the only person I know who had a specific insurance policy against getting polio and he got it, and taught from a motorized wheelchair until the day the elevator he was in didn’t stop exactly at floor level and his chair tipped-over and he died. And there was my psychology professor, James Winfred Bridges, a giant of a man but somehow he projected the image of a merry, malicious elf and he instilled in me a love of Freud which has been enduring, and he was the author of what I think is one of the most impartial, neutral books ever written about psychology, Psychology, Normal and Abnormal.


JRC: Who introduced you to the Work? When and how did that come about?

From a very young age, perhaps as early as five years old, I was intrigued by what things were all about and I was a voracious reader. As a young man, I got all wrapped up in what can be called consciousness development and I came across Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum and New Model of the Universe and from there I went to In Search of the Miraculous … and from there I sought contact with the Fourth Way Work and found it with Tom Daly in Montreal, a marvelous man for whom I still have a fondness and who was terrifically patient with my impatience and romanticism; I was still a Beatnik in those days, even if in civilian life I was a staff writer for the Canadian Press News Agency, and Tom Daly was not the sort of person attracted to that kind of shenanigans, yet he nevertheless treated me with considerable forbearance.

JRC: You are Jewish in background. Were did your parents hail from? Were they Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or Ultra-Orthodox? Do you find parallels between Judaism and the Work?

My father was born in Hungarian Transylvania (now in Romania) and my mother in the Ukraine. They came to Canada when they were very young, about twelve or thirteen. My father was a decorated war hero in the Canadian Army Engineering Corps and my mother was a pious and delightfully superstitious woman. They were Orthodox and they tried to bring-up my brother, my sister and me in the Orthodox tradition and I reluctantly went through the motions (sometimes with a bit of humorous twisting) until just after my Bar Mitzvah, but I was always something of a born-atheist and it’s many years now that I’m a good practicing atheist.

Nevertheless, I’m also something of a paleo-Hebrew, you know a bit of that fire and brimstone stuff, a bit of that tsadaquah and rachmonnes stuff, righteousness and compassion, and a bit of that romantic, erotic Song of Solomon stuff. For me, standard Judaism, despite its historical importance, and like all the other residually surviving modern religions, lacks any pertinence in modern life, but paradoxically, too, Judaism, like all the major religions, is a cornucopia as well as a can of worms … and if I dearly love and have learned a lot from the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – I think the Talmud contains a huge amount of horseshit and I think the modern Hasids (contrary to the original Baal Shem Tov Hasids) are frequently detestable people with no sense of live and let live. …

As to standard Judaism, I see very little resemblance with the Fourth Way Work, but there is considerable resemblance with esoteric Judaism, with Kabalism – there is a clear similarity in Gurdjieff’s system of centers and the Kabalistic sefirot, and Gurdjieff in In Search of the Miraculous lists Hebraic esotericism among the four “fundamental” esoteric “lines.”

JRC: Aside from the obvious attractions of the City of Light, why did you settle in Paris, considering that English is your mother tongue? How did you support yourself?

I settled in Paris because it was the world center of the Work … and also because I was always attracted to France; when I was a child I read all the Horatio Hornblower novels and it would enrage me that the Royal Navy always, but strictly always, defeated the French Navy … and also because I had a tendency to live with or marry French women ….

At first I supported myself by wacky jobs of all sorts and then as a correspondent for Canadian magazines and American radio networks and then as a journalist at Radio France Internationale where after several years I became the Editor-in-Chief of the English Service.

JRC: You married and raised two children, though in later years you have lived as a bachelor. Were your wife and children ever in the Work?

My first wife was and is still in the Work nearly fifty years later and my son participated for a time in the children’s activities of the Work. Both my later wife (my main ex-wife so to speak) and our daughter can certainly be described as spiritually concerned people, but they have never participated in the Work despite discreet efforts now and again from me to get them interested.

JRC: I assume you met the Madames – de Hartmann and de Salzmann. What did they look like? How did they impress you?

Look like? Both were very handsome women, Madame de Salzmann with a solemn, wistful allure and Madame de Hartmann with a haughty allure. But it’s of course what they were which counted most. It’s redundant to say that Madame de Salzmann was an extraordinary person, but that’s what she was, even if she was not the saint that some people have tried to make her out to have been.

I saw her a couple of times a week for about ten years and she directed the quiet work meditation class I participated in, usually came out to our countryside work place every Sunday and would often visit our group meetings and movements classes where her mere presence changed everything, electrified the atmosphere.

She came across as being utterly and tirelessly devoted to the Work goals both for herself and for others, and as Gurdjieff said of her, “She knows everything,” but I think her outstanding achievement was as a master of the movements. And all that said, it also has to be said that she was capable of losing her temper, she could sometimes prudently lie when I at least didn’t think it was necessary and sometimes her answers to questions were clearly routine answers and repetitions of what she had already said many times and she had an austere side, including being a vegetarian.

And all that said, too, of course, she was the most stunning illustration of what somebody could achieve with Gurdjieff’s methods, achieve in their own way, with their own essence, so to speak, and her essence was not at all like the lusty, eccentric essence of Gurdjieff. …

As for Madame de Hartmann, she too was great person, but she didn’t play ball in the same league as Madame de Salzmann and while she had a fine critical sense, which could often hit the bull’s-eye, she also dismayed me with what was quite simply an overdose of arrogance.

JRC: You must also have met Henri Tracol and Jean Vaysse. Were you impressed? Who else influenced you? Madame Lannes? Peter Brook?

Tracol didn’t impress me, despite the fact that he was Madame de Salzmann’s right-hand-man, but Vaysse, Conge, Pauline David, Michel de Saltzmann and several others impressed me immensely – they belonged to what was perhaps the most outstanding generation of Gurdjieffians ever produced, they certainly did develop something inside them which was strongly evident on the outside and by their words and behavior they certainly influenced many people, including myself.

I knew Peter Brook well and he encouraged me in my writing and understood what I was doing; he (together with somebody named John Robert Colombo) was instrumental in my being awarded Canada Arts Council and Quebec Arts Council grants.

JRC: You have travelled much in Morocco. Did you find traces of the Work in that region of the world?

A bit of Sufism, a bit of trance-inducing gnawa musicians, lots of magical marabouts, lots of vendors flogging amulets and ingredients for casting spells, but nothing spectacular. The spectacular place for the survival of esoteric traditions, including some with resemblances to the Work, of course remains India, and concerning the movements and sacred dances, Dervish groups in Turkey and central Asia.

JRC: Your two-volume history of Ancient Egypt is a work of considerable scholarship. Did you find any earlier elements of the Work in “pre-sand Egypt”?

Certainly not! The notion of a “prehistoric, pre-sand” Egypt with immense achievement, esoteric knowledge and fabulous architecture is a loony fantasy, an historical, archaeological and climatic impossibility which is only believed by the loony wing of Egyptologists. And Gurdjieff’s statement that some of the Egyptians were “the direct descendants” of the Atlanteans and the wise extra-terrestrial beings, “the Akhaldans” with the “pyramids and sphinx [being] the sole, chance surviving remains erected … by the most great Akhaldans and by the great ancestors … of Egypt” is in the same vein and its only redeeming quality may be that just as in Plato’s original Atlantis myth, in Timaeus and in Critias, in which Plato’s purpose was to describe a great, wise ideal which could serve as the model for the Greece of his time, Gurdjieff might have been metaphorically hinting at the same thing for our modern times.

On the other hand, if Gurdjieff’s idea that many of the origins of Christianity were “taken in a ready-made form from Egypt, not only from the Egypt we know, but from the one which … existed much earlier” is also loony, it’s not loony to see some key aspects of Christianity, and notably what Gurdjieff called “the form of worship in the Christian Church” indeed owing something to what he called Egyptian “schools of repetition,” but of course in historical Egypt and not in an imaginary “pre-sand” Egypt. As for direct links between Egypt and the Work, or at least similarities, the Egyptian description of “the silent man” found in many of the sebayt, the so-called Wisdom Texts, does bear a resemblance to what happens in quiet work meditation.

JRC: Name six contemporary writers who are especially meaningful to you. How have they influenced your own life and writing?

Why only six? I could name dozens. There’s Richard Powers, a genius of plot and style and meandering in the seemingly meaningless web of our world and who is one of the few contemporary writers who coherently weaves science and technology into his novels; I think/feel that his The Goldbug Variations is a near-masterpiece.

There’s Paul Auster, who obviously takes great pleasure in writing, which has perhaps led him to write too many standard novels, but he’s done some very fine things like The Music of Chance and Mister Vertigo. There’s Pascal Quignard, who is on the cutting edge of what can be called a new way of writing, a near-plotless mix of narration, retelling of old tales, stark emotion and straightforward views about what goes on in us and in the world, as in the five volumes of his Dernier royaume.

There’s Haruki Murakami, who is a wizard of the oddball story, especially in A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There’s Michel Faber and his Crimson Petal and the White which burns your brain with how familial tragedy repeats itself. There’s Gunter Grass whose entire work is one long confession and what it’s like to be born with a cultural deficit and how he built himself into a man.

There’s Umberto Eco and especially Foucault’s Pendulum which delightfully fools about with esotericism and religion without falsifying history as some others do. And there’s Marie Drarieussecq, a fine writer of the humanistic intimate as in Bref Séjour chez les Vivants (A Brief Stay with the Living) and of the bizarre magical as in Truisimes (Pig Tales), and if she ever succeeds in combining these two elements she could become one of the greats.

And now I see that I’ve broken the Marquis of Queensberry rules and have already named eight contemporary writers, and I’ve got to admit, too, that had you been just a wee bit less arbitrary and asked not only about contemporary, living, authors, but extended your question to include recently croaked authors, I would have talked about Sam Beckett, surely one of the finest writers in the 20th century, surely somebody who best described lack of meaning and the absurd nature of life while seeing how it was so necessary to care and to “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” … and I would have talked about John Fante and especially his Brotherhood of the Grape, and Bohumil Hrabal and especially his I Served the King of England … and Jorge Luis Borges, I.B. Singer and Thomas Bernhard and Saul Bellow and Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Marguerite Yourcenar …

And had you been still more generous and asked me to name the writers of any epoch who were meaningful to me, then I would have had to write a long tome like Henry Miller’s The Books in my Life. In any case, reading has always been one of my great pleasures – both as an aesthetic and hedonistic joy and because if it can’t replace direct experience of all kinds nor the lessons of science, it is nevertheless one of the key vectors which tell the truest lies about our unraveable self and unraveable world. There is more philosophy in fiction than in philosophy.

And I must also say that if you had framed your question otherwise and spoken not only about contemporary writers who have influenced me, but of contemporary or near-contemporary people in all walks of life, I would have mentioned being equally influenced by Rothko and Giacometti, by Miles Davis and Leonard Cohen, by Igmar Bergman and Woody Allen, by Einstein and Heisenberg, by John Dewey and Richard Rorty ….

JRC: For the last two decades or so, you have devoted considerable time and energy to writing your reflections on life on this planet as well as on the illusions and delusions of spiritual practices. What conclusions have you come to?

I call it Niatpra – nihilism, atheism, pragmatism, art, the overall shift in attitude begun with the Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher-scientists in the sixth century B.C., who opted for rational, experimental, natural explanations rather than magical, religious, supernatural suppositions, who opened a war against God.

This war was unwittingly accelerated in the 17th century by Newton who despite his official belief that God had created everything demonstrated that the universe was run by mechanical laws of motion and gravity and in so doing left no space for anything but a deistic God, a God who created the universe and then withdrew from its operation, took early retirement so to speak.

And the Pre-Socratic war against God was renewed and developed during the 18th century Enlightenment and began culminating from the late 19th century with implacable science and plausible descriptions in psychology, art and philosophy which in one way or another owe much to Darwin and his “great, unmistakable principle of evolution” and his postulation of “natural and sexual selection” and to Nietzsche’s “there is simply no true world,” Einstein’s relativity and Freud’s view of our state as “essentially conflicted.”

Standard religion and standard esotericism and the notion that something called the soul have been ruined. There has been a virtual elimination of the possibility of any fundamental answer to any fundamental question. Our only lucid choice seems to be nihilism – no absolute truth, no absolute purpose – atheism – no God or gods, no metaphysics – Pragmatism – not the so-called pragmatism of crass self-interest, but the philosophy of Pragmatism, of “experimentalism” in the realm of the possible, of the search for the least imperfect answers, the answers with the best “effects” in an unknowable world – and art – art which is always glad when we come to visit its probing, its description and sometimes its celebration and which with true lies tells us more about what is, what ought to be, but what can’t be than any other medium ever invented by us Homo Sapiens.

All this doesn’t mean that it’s five minutes to the end, it is a lucid acknowledgement, a tabula rasa which can be painted on, a beginning, a passage to a new stance which may one day also be seen as a mythology, but which today comes the closest to what we believe, to the truth of no truth in which much is nevertheless possible. In other words, the world makes no sense, but a world of sense can be made, we can create sense, we can create meaning, we can live splendid, awesome lives, we can slice through the shoddy and maybe earn a tie-game.

JRC: You eventually left the Work, “not with a bang but a whimper,” I gather. When did this happen? What were the reasons for your departure? What do you see to be the future of the Work?

I wouldn’t say that it was either with “a bang” or with “a whimper”; it was in the early seventies and it was because I concluded that the Work not only doesn’t, but can’t deliver the promised goods; it can’t deliver the goods of being and understanding, of a radical transformation, of a real, central “I am” and the unfortunate truth – as far as I can make-out – is that no esotericism in the history of mankind has ever been able to deliver the goods, and that all of them in one way or another, including G.’s system, are ultimately religious, they fall back on the fairy tale of religion, on supernatural pie-in-the-sky, and to mention only a single, significant example, that’s what G.’s “Our Almighty Omni-Loving Common Father Uni-Being Creator-Endlessnes” is all about, pie-in-the-sky.

That doesn’t mean that we need over-focus on the many weird things in G.’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson which can’t possibly be valid no matter how one casuistically twists and turns Gurdjieff’s supposed intentions or metaphorical riddles, and it doesn’t mean that the book is not understandable as some people claim; it is not only understandable, it is a fabulously new way of writing mythology and it does provide very plausible postulations concerning the “machines” we humans are, how “everything happens” and “no one does anything,” our state of waking sleep and the nature of human nature.

G.’s system is pie-in-the-sky, the transformation he postulated can’t happen, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happens, there is meaningful trickle-down, there is a development of some consciousness and above all there is the development of a pedestal of perspective on oneself and on the world.

My years in the Work have marked me, they count enormously for me, and I still practice self-remembering and quiet work meditation, I still frequently dip into G.’s and other Gurdjeffians’ writings and I have written abundantly about the Work in essayistic, allegorical and fictional forms.

But the bottom line – about radical transformations, enlightenments, Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I am’ and all the other esoteric fundamental, wishful, magical hopes – is what the Buddha told a novice when he asked him what he would give him and the Buddha replied, “I will give you old age, sickness and death.” …

I think that historically the esotericism which has lied least, or pretended least, about so-called enlightenment has been Zen; when the 8th-century Chinese Zen master, Zhaozhou, was asked by a disciple to teach him satori, enlightenment, Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your dinner?” and the disciple replied, “Yes,” and Zhaouzhou said, “Then go wash your bowl ….”

As to the future of the Work, like the future of other esotericisms, I think it will stumble along and be beneficial to some, and if ever a guru of the stature of a Gurdjieff or a de Salzmann again arises in the Fourth Way then it could temporarily flourish but basically, I think that we have to keep in mind the context in which Gurdjieff operated – in my mind, he was unquestionably the outstanding guru of the 20th century and he emblematized the hope of a renovated esotericism, a possibility that a radical transformation of our being and understanding was not a pipe dream, but he was also emblematic of the failure of this hope, a magnificent failure, but a failure … and while it would be silly to deny that the Work can enhance the lives of some people in it – in it for a few years, many years or their entire lives – the most that can be expected, and only rarely, is magnificent failure.

JRC: Are there any questions that remain unasked that you think our readers would be interested in asking?

Yes, you didn’t ask me if I’m glad to be alive! My answer is the final paragraph in the book I’m now finishing called Modern : YOU KNOW, despite all the crap and corruption, all the mischaracterization and misconstruing, all the puzzlement and absurdity, all the embranglement and failures, all the cruelty and wars, the sweetness of living is such that it’s just too damn bad that an afterlife doesn’t exist, that it’s as charmingly nonsensical as The Owl (that “elegant fowl”) and the (“lovely”) Pussy, but if it did exist, if we could really travel to “the land where the Bong-tree grows,” get “married by the turkey who lives on the hill” and “dine on mince and slices of quince,” which we would eat “with a runcible spoon,” then I think the ancient Egyptians naively concocted the best option – wehem ankh, repeating life and gamboling about in an ideal state of youth.

The Egyptians ardently wanted to be one step ahead of the game, one step ahead of the scandal of death, even after the usual warranty for wear and tear had expired.

JRC: Thank you! Chimo!

John Robert Colombo is known across his native Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of Canadiana. He writes occasional reviews and commentaries on Work-related subjects, particularly when they have Canadian context or content. To watch a video of Colombo’s banquet speech at the last All & Everything Conference, held in Toronto in April 2009, check his website: www. colombo-plus. ca. Simson Najovits’s study of ancient Egypt, which is mentioned in this interview, was published in two volumes in 2003 and 2004 by Algora Publishing, N.Y. The general title is “Egypt, Trunk of the Tree” and Volume I is subtitled “The Contexts” and Volume II is subtitled “The Consequences.” For more details, check the website for Algora Publishing: Nonfiction for the Nonplussed.

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