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Archive for January 2010

THE CYNICAL IDEALIST: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon

JOSEPH AZIZE BOOK REVIEWS

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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Book Review:
: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon, by Gary Tillery (Quest Books, 2009, 6” x 9”, 169 pp. plus chronology, notes, bibliography and index.)

The cover photograph of a wintry Lennon, with the Statue of Liberty ghostly in the background, is appropriate and eloquent for this excellent book. Its subject, John Lennon (1940-1980), was one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, and, beyond any sensible argument, one of the most profound songwriters ever known to us. Its author, Gary Tillery, is intelligent, well-informed, sympathetic, and writes very well indeed. I could have greedily finished it in one day, had I had the leisure.

The contents are methodically laid out in four parts: the first three mix biography and philosophy in a readable blend, while the fourth part weaves all the philosophical strands together. This way, we’re introduced to the concepts in a narrative setting before they’re briefly reprised in a more abstract manner. So, although the last section is more recondite, the ideas are familiar. The effect of Part 4, then, is not of density but of convergence.

Reading it, I entered into Lennon’s world. I couldn’t help but engage with the issues Lennon engaged with: life in society, life as a child and as a parent, wanting and giving love, our responsibility to use our influence and power constructively (we all have these, to various degrees extents), religion, politics and art. It’s a book to make and to help you think, thanks in no small part to the quotations from Lennon.

Tillery’s thesis is plausible: Lennon correctly saw himself as a philosopher (as well as a rock’n’roller, a writer and an “artist”). His philosophy was more a developed outlook, based on his experience, than it was an academic philosophy drawn from reading and University discipline. It was not expressed in treatises, but in music, a few short books, some sketches, and perhaps most importantly, his life. Yet, as Tillery notes, Lennon did some serious reading, especially in English nonsense, literature and poetry (and, we should note, history). So far as I know, he didn’t read philosophers like Plato, Aristotle or those in the Western tradition subsequent to Descartes.

Lennon never sat down to work out a consistent system, the way a modern academic like, say, D.M. Armstrong does. Nor did he develop his philosophy by reference to classic problems such as materialism, or the problem of universals. The issues he dealt with were delivered to him as he rose from the lower middle class to the privileged caste of super-wealthy celebrities and tried to make sense of his multiple worlds. Having said that, Tillery finds five principles in Lennon’s philosophy:

(1) it was fundamentally humanistic and secular (p.50),
(2) with a faith in individuals to find their own best natures,
(3) through their love to combine,
(4) through their power to change the world, and
(5) through their altruistic aim to give life meaning (p.101).

That is Lennon’s philosophy in a nutshell, and along the way we have a fascinating account of his life and intellectual development. I could have started with the three principles on pp. 7-8, but they come to the same thing. The account is necessarily brief, but Tillery has a spaniel’s scent for the essential, and the very conciseness of the biography brings out some critical features in sharp relief. Lennon realised he was responsible for his actions, in fact responsible for his influence, and struggled to becomingly discharge that responsibility. Tillery is not the first to grasp this, but his understanding of it is extremely clear and well put (“we owe it to ourselves …”, p. 7; and “Lennon came to see it … as their responsibility to make a positive contribution”, p. 56, see also pp.100-101).

I am most impressed by Tillery’s ardent desire and ability to sum up large issues in pithy statements, e.g. in speaking of how Lennon came to rock’n’roll, Tillery says “he was groping to define himself” (p.23). At p.80, in respect of the Maharishi and Janov, he summarises Lennon’s conclusions by saying: “Leaders were substitute fathers” (p.80). At p.130, he observes that Lennon learnt, from his “lost weekend”, that “… freedom without a foundation is an abyss”. These lapidary phrases don’t come about by accident: a writer has to work to coin them. It is so much easier to just throw words at your subject. Tillery can be justly proud of his achievement, especially in this respect. It is one of the engagingly Lennonesque features of his style. It’s almost a book to hold a conversation with, and the comments below can be taken as my side of the discussion.

Tillery coins a Lennonesque phrase, “cynical idealist”, to describe Lennon (see the explanation at pp.71-4). Personally, I would have said “street-wise” or perhaps “hard-nosed”, and described Lennon as a “songwriter-philosopher”. There is something harsh or dismissive implied in the word “cynical”, and, for me, importing that nuance is rather a high price to pay for the pleasure of the paradox.

Overall, I would be inclined to see Lennon as “sceptical” rather than “cynical”. Yet neither word is really correct, because, whether sceptical or cynical, he was also, by turns, trusting, extraordinarily optimistic, and even gullible (as with some of his advisers). Steven Stark quotes an unnamed critic as saying that of all the celebrities interviewed in a series of t.v. shows in 1969, only Lennon had “a gospel, a hope and a belief” (Meet the Beatles, p.272).

He was all of those things on a cinemascope scale, and as Maharishi experienced, the turn from suggestibility to hostility could come very quickly. In that instance, Lennon had surely been seeking a father figure whom he could trust (p.80), and when Maharishi disappointed him, he lashed out. Is this cynicism, scepticism or something else? Henriette Lannes once said that no one can be adequately described by reference to one characteristic. Such as we are, we’re too divided, too psychologically diverse for that. Shortly before he was murdered, Lennon said that he knew that he wasn’t always positive, but that when he was, he tried to project it (p.155). Lennon’s insight and frankness is touching, and because he saw his fluctuations, it meant that he had the possibility of becoming more consistent.

So although the title is witty, I would quibble with it. Even the sub-title: “A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon”, raises an issue: while Tillery does deal very well indeed with Lennon’s attitude to religion, his use of meditation, and his approach to the book Mind Games, the emphasis in this book is on philosophy rather than spirituality. That is, the primary thrust of the book is with Lennon’s ethical and political philosophy. Spirituality is really the secondary stream here, as the five points of Lennon’s philosophy show.

While Tillery’s approach to Lennon is not at all like mine, neither is it inconsistent. I think that, by comparison, I probably pay more attention to what I hear in the music. The difference in methods is, I often found, stimulating. Tillery looks at what Lennon said in his songs and elsewhere, and deduces a philosophy from that. I am oversimplifying a little bit, because Tillery is quite aware of the need to consider Lennon’s life as an expression of his philosophy: he even quotes Lennon as saying: “Our life is our art” (p.100), referring to Yoko and himself, but also, perhaps, to every human being. To me, this is critical. As Gurdjieff showed, one cannot really divorce a person’s philosophy from their life. They are two related aspects of the one larger reality: their being. I shall return to this below.

Tillery nicely brings out how Lennon was concerned to be able to reach people, all people, and not just a large audience. Lennon did not see himself as over and above the working people he had come from. He never lost his sympathy. I recall an anecdote from the Beatles years, where he was being driven in London, and they’d stopped at traffic lights. Some girls who noticed him perversely scratched the paintwork of the car (I think it was the Rolls). The driver got angry, but Lennon calmly said: “It’s alright, they paid for it”. That is impartiality. Lennon was also his own most perceptive critic. I hope to get to this in the forthcoming blog on “Memory” and “Living on Borrowed Time”.

Lennon was an extraordinary mix, and this book is so interesting partly because Tillery communicates his own broad interest in Lennon’s life and work. This sympathetic interest provides many incidental reading pleasures. For example, I appreciate the story of how Lennon told the students of a university, who were protesting the University’s refusal to turn a vacant lot into a “People’s Park”, that there was no park “worth getting shot for”. Although they had sought his opinion, they rejected it, and in the event, one hundred were injured, one fatally and one blinded. Lennon’s response was equally incisive: the students had been used by an administration which had provoked them into protesting so that it could come down hard on them (p.103)

Not only was Lennon an “extraordinary mix”, he also had something of the English eccentric about him, a type Tillery may not have mixed with, but which is far more benign than the American version which becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories and the Federal Government. This English eccentricity showed partly in Lennon’s faddishness, his love of the exotic (I think this partly explains his fascination with Maharishi), and in his puzzling willingness to entertain weirdos and weird ideas.

One of these was fads, and a weird one, too, was the book Mind Games. I did read it a few years ago, but I can’t say I found anything deep or even interesting in it. Despite Lennon’s quondam enthusiasm for it, I am unpersuaded that it had any lasting effect on him. I thought it might shed light on the powerful song, but it didn’t. The imagery of “Mind Games” the song is not at all drawn from the book, from what I could see. I suspect that Lennon projected into the pretentious volume things which weren’t there, and then lauded what he saw in his fertile brain. So, although Lennon once said that it ranked with Yoko’s Grapefruit and another book, perhaps Janov’s, he seems to have moved beyond it by the time he wrote the song of the same name ( see pp.144-8). The excellent Lennonism which I quote below from p.148 did not need Mind Games, it is a well-known idea which he could have deduced for himself, and would have heard from Maharishi and, especially, from Yoko Ono. As pellucidly expressed by Mr Lennon, it reads:

If you speak, what you say doesn’t end here. … vibrations go on and on infinitely, and therefore every action goes on and on infinitely and has its effect. If you think carefully about the effect you’re going to create, there’s more chance for all of us. It’s hard to think of your every move. But your attitudes to life will have an effect on everyone – and thereby, the universe.

This, of course, dovetails with Lennon’s philosophy as expressed in “Instant Karma”, “You Are Here”, and “Imagine”, to name but some.

At this point, I should mention a matter which can be corrected in future editions: Tillery often cites Lennon interviews, but rarely dates them. For example, the above quotation is referenced, and so I can check the date if I can find the book he drew it from. But the deeper point is that Tillery does not seem to think that the interview dates are important. As a historian of some feeble description, I think that they are: when did key themes emerge, and how did Lennon’s philosophy develop? What twists and turns did it take? It isn’t so easy to conceive things in a sound historical perspective and to soberly evaluate one’s sources. But Tillery is not an amateur writer, he has all the intellectual tools, and wrote the first three chapters in chronological order. As stated, I hope that this book sees a second edition where Tillery can revise the book upwards, so to speak.

Another example of Tillery’s sometimes ahistorical approach to Lennon, is his reference to fasting, prayer and meditation, without noticing (or so it seems to me), that Lennon’s fondness for them was sporadic (p.70). I am unaware of any evidence that Lennon fasted in his Dakota years, although he did to some degree follow a macrobiotic diet (and yet, he also smoked and drank coffee). The question of meditation and prayer is trickier. Lennon referred to meditation in Skywriting by Word of Mouth, but I know of no evidence that he did more than endorse meditation at that time (pp.69-70), or that he ever meditated consistently, except when he was in India. And if he did meditate in the 1970s, how did he do so? Did he use a method, no method, or a mixture? Did he continue to use TM?

As for prayer, Lennon redefined it in pantheist, almost occult terms (as David Katz uses that word in The Occult Tradition). Also, as I mentioned in the “Beautiful Boy” blog, prayer is an important concept in that song, and impromptu prayers turn up, for example, in “Grow Old With Me”. But Tillery refers to prayer in the context of Jesus, Buddha and Milarepa and “time-tested methods of inspiration”. I do not think that that sort of prayer was significant to the mature Lennon, much as I might like to think it was. Indeed, as Tillery notes at pp.4 and 11, Lennon had tried prayer as Jesus recommended, and nothing productive came of it. (As Gurdjieff said, Jesus was speaking to his apostles, people who had been prepared. The effectiveness of prayer depends upon who is praying and how, and the attitudes of certain people upstairs.)

I don’t wish to make too much of this, it’s maybe a good fault to have, but a conscientious reviewer should mention it: Tillery seems to me sometimes to be too positive about Lennon, almost excusing his faults. Thus he downplays the self-indulgence of Lennon’s impertinent letter to the Queen returning his MBE because among matters “Cold Turkey” was slipping down the charts (p.106). I cannot credit, when the short letter is read as a whole, that Lennon was really trying to “lighten” its tone. The tone of that letter was all of a piece. Further, however Lennon may have rationalised the full frontal on Two Virgins, it carried eccentricity to a point which was bizarre, despite Tillery’s best defence advocacy (p.94). Lennon’s modesty before Mintz establishes nothing: he may have changed, he may have been shy in person, or had some personal reason for being apologetic before his friend – anything. Again, it is ahistorical to take incidents separated by the years and say that that was Lennon, as if he were a monolith. And one cannot seriously say of Lennon, by any criterion, that “perhaps he was a Buddha we can all relate to …” (p.137). Yet to be fair, Tillery does mention Lennon’s notorious violence to women (p.115).

As I said above, I don’t wish to make too much of this, because it is only a minor aspect of the book. But precisely because of the extraordinarily high opinion I have of Lennon, I feel that we must be careful not to lost perspective and slide into idolatry and identification.

The true point of my study of Lennon is that sometimes, perhaps very often, it is easier to see reality in the lives of other people than it is to see it in our own. Because of the depth of his insight, and his candid expression of what he learned at each step, Lennon’s life is the richest field I have come across of any figure in the second half of the 20th century. One of the things we see clearly in Lennon’s life is that simply wanting to love is not enough: we cannot love on demand. Something else must come first before the commandment to love can be reliably fulfilled. Just before his death, Lennon himself said:

The hardest thing is facing yourself. It’s easier to shout ‘Revolution’ and ‘Power to the people’ than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what’s real inside you and what isn’t, when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. That’s the hardest one. (p. 124, and that interview is dated!)

Earlier in the book, Tillery sums up this attitude, saying how Lennon came to realise that we have to act both “individually and in concert”, but that the “first key … is self-transformation. When considering how to improve the world, people almost always focus their attention outside themselves, which too often leads to resistance, confrontation, frustration and defeat. Actually, the only thing over which we have control is our own attitudes and behaviour” (p. 7).

This is true, at least as I see it. I mean both that Lennon’s insight is true, and that Tillery has correctly formulated Lennon’s view. So Lennon saw that we must begin with self-transformation, and he made some sterling efforts in this direction. It is an art which is expressed in and over a lifetime. But how can this insight be made practical? Tillery suggests meditation, prayer and fasting. Apart from the question of whether Lennon did use these methodically and consistently, it would be even fuller and more practical to say as Gurdjieff did, that if this is our aim, then our being must change before we can achieve that aim (what Gurdjieff calls “doing”).

To change our being, we need to transform negative emotion (a major part of the second conscious shock). That transformation begins not with a direct attack upon hatred, or a direct incitement to love, but with self-consciousness, with the first conscious shock, which comprises: “Efforts to remember oneself, observation of oneself at the moment of receiving an impression, observation of one’s impression at the moment of receiving them, registering, so to speak, the reception of impressions and the simultaneous defining of the impressions received …” (In Search of the Miraculous, p.188). And Lennon had one of those rare glimpses of the reality of self-remembering: I referred to this in the first Lennon blog.

That Lennon did not come up with a practical system like Gurdjieff’s is not a criticism. That he had so many elements of reality in his philosophy is stupendous. Lennon’s insights were astounding. But we cannot without violence separate a person’s philosophy and their behaviour: both express their being. Some of these issues are difficult, and I don’t raise this to condemn Lennon, but I feel that his apparent cruelty to Cynthia and Julian should not be swept under the carpet. It seems to me that Lennon’s cool and aloof paining of Cynthia is typical of someone who knows that he has acted unconscionably, and, incapable of making amends, transfers the blame to the other. No one behaves so maliciously as someone with a guilty conscience.

What Lennon knew and even what he felt, he could not always put into practice. This is one of the morals of Lennon’s life, rather like the lessons of Aesop’s fables.

Along the same lines, Lennon was almost fanatically competitive, especially with Paul McCartney first, and Bob Dylan second. Tillery’s comments at pp.32, 57 and 155 seem to me to be much understated. I think that it’s in MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head, where Lennon’s sabotage of McCartney’s music on what became the Let It Be album is documented. If I remember correctly, MacDonald called it an “act of bastardry”. The first time I read it, I didn’t want to believe it. After all, the motive was clear enough. I think few would dispute that Paul’s songs on that record (especially the title track, “Long and Winding Road” and “Two Of Us”) far outshone John’s. No, I think that if one is going to give an overview of Lennon’s life by way of background to his spirituality, his treatment of his first family, his insecurity and egotism, should probably be acknowledged.

Another possible example of being overkind to Lennon is the way that Tillery mentions philosophers like Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein. Is that praise by association? I am not quite sure. Tillery doesn’t mention Nietzsche, so far as I recall or as the index discloses. But if any philosopher should be mentioned in the company of Lennon, I think that it’s Nietzsche. Of course, he was not so respectable a philosopher as Kant, but then neither was Lennon. Even if it is right to mention Hegel and so on, yet I feel that Tillery pays disproportionate attention to those academic philosophers, as compared with others of an artistic variety like G.B. Shaw, Tennessee Williams (whose work Lennon idolised, see my “Tennessee” blog) and, of course, Bob Dylan.

A few books are missing from the bibliography. Goldman’s book is dirty, but it should be read, even if only to critique it, which, incidentally, I would like to do, but I lack the time. If you are a John Lennon fan, and know Yoko One, persuade her to pay me a stupendous amount of money to write a critique of it: she will be so satisfied she’ll wish she’d paid me more (and I won’t knock it back). Similarly, Dakota Days by John Green should be considered (from fallible memory, Green was one of Goldman’s sources, but he is not responsible for that). Green may have exaggerated certain matters, but I am by no means convinced everything he wrote was inaccurate. His diagnosis that Lennon had a sort of writer’s block during most of the Dakota period may be at least partly correct (see p.130). Once more, I don’t think he should be ignored.

Cynthia Lennon’s book John, is much fuller than A Twist of Lennon, which Tillery does use, and was, I would have thought, available in time for Tillery’s research. It presents a decidedly less flattering picture of Lennon, but my sense is that she has been scrupulously honest. Julian Lennon made some important points in the foreword to his mother’s book. I did not notice them here.

When books present negative images of Lennon one can try and maintain a dignified silence, lest they be given undue credibility by paying attention to them. Or one can answer them, squarely and analytically. I think that given Lennon’s fame, and the nature of the world, the first option is, finally, counter-productive. People will be coming back to Goldman (and even that weird book by someone who’d interviewed him once, and whose name I thankfully forget). If their views of Lennon are not answered, later critics will take this as a sign of their unassailable veracity. Sometimes silence can encourage, or at least facilitate, shouting.

But then, May Pang is positive about Lennon and the “lost weekend”, and I don’t recall that she’s even mentioned in this book. I find that odd, because she was an important figure in Lennon’s life. As I recall, she says that the LA period “wasn’t so lost”, and I found her memoirs intelligent and sensitive. Of course there was a personality clash (if that word is not too weak) with Yoko.

Another book which was missing, is Steven Stark’s Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band that Shook Youth, Gender and the World, published in 2006. It could have added another dimension to Tillery’s treatment, because it shows, to an extent I had never appreciated, how the Beatles’ popularity was related to their fresh approach to youth and gender, an approach which Lennon developed as he grew older. Which reminds me that the role of the female in Lennon’s spirituality, as opposed to his politics, seems to me to be missing from Cynical Idealist. Stark could also have helped Tillery to an increased appreciation of the importance of the Lennon/McCartney rivalry.

By the way, Quest Books please take note: I performed a spot check of the index, and found an error one of the 30 tests: where the index has p. 172 for the film Hard Day’s Night, it should be 170. That error was the only one I found, but the index should be revised if you go to a second, revised edition.

And I hope you do, because this book, deep and thought-provoking as it is, was a damned good read (to use a phrase Americans gave to the world).

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The 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.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.

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J R COLOMBO REVIEWS the anthropology of magic


The John Robert Colombo Page

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An eye-opener of a book written by Susan Greenwood is reviewed by John Robert Colombo

There is an amusing story that is told about the Danish physicist Niels Bohr who was showing a colleague the barn behind his chalet which he had converted into a study where he undertook his calculations. The colleague pointed out that above the barn door someone had nailed an inverted horseshoe, a symbol of good luck. He asked Bohr if he believed the horseshoe would bring him good luck. “No,” Bohr replied, “but I understand it works whether I believe in it or not.”

I was reminded of this tale when I began to read “The Anthropology of Magic” written by Susan Greenwood. It came to mind because the moral of her book – I am not offering a “spoiler warning” here so much as I am “cutting to the chase” – seems to be that “thinking makes it so” or “if you believe you can do something or if you believe you cannot do something, you are right.”

The two statements seem to be platitudes – indeed, the first is a cliché, and the second is a paradox – yet these truisms are … well … true. There is a kind of knowledge that results from “magical thinking” as there is a kind of knowledge that results from “scientific thinking.” This in a nutshell I assume to be the argument of Dr. Greenwood’s study. As for the nutshell mentioned in the previous sentence, it was Prince Hamlet (who has been called the first modern man) who boasted, “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and call myself king of infinite space …. ”

It occurred to the biologist Stephen Jay Gould while he was in Vatican City that there are two forms of authority (if not knowledge) and that these two forms are derived from “the magisterium of science” and “the magisterium of religion” and that the two magisteria do not overlap. At the time of this formulation Gould was in Rome, accompanied by Carl Sagan, the sceptical astronomer, who had a deep “sense of wonder.” They were there to participate in a scientific conference. Sagan derided Gould for his suggestion (or concession) there is any knowledge in religion, knowledge at any rate that resembles the “real” knowledge that results from the work of scientists, that produces measurable results, and that can be falsified. Gould was miffed and wrote an essay about the disagreement.

Aleister Crowley practised ritual magic the way Dorothy Clutterbuck practised the ceremonial magic of wicca. The Great Beast used to call what he did “magick,” and I seem to recall that he defined this practice as “causing change to occur in conformity with Will.” Crowley conformed to the image of the Black Magician. The White Witch may be seen in the person of Clutterbuck, who inspired Gerald Gardner, who gave much of the characteristic form and feel to the contemporary practice of Wicca, which is at home with the subtle forces of the natural and supernatural worlds. Both Crowley and Clutterbuck worked in “imaginal” realms.

These ideas and notions were rattling around in my brain (or mind) when I began to read “The Anthropology of Magic,” which is a serious contribution to both anthropology and magic written Dr. Susan Greenwood, who is Visiting Senior Research Fellow of the University of Sussex, Brighton, England. She is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a seminar to be held at Girton College, Cambridge, England. It takes place on May 13, 2010, and the title of the session is “Legitimate Forms of Knowledge?” (I imagine that the question mark is important in her address.) So Dr. Greenwood is a scholar. She is also a practitioner of magic.

First, a note of “disambiguation.” Susan Greenwood is not to be confused with her near-namesake, Susan Greenfield. The former is an anthropologist; the latter is Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford scholar and a biomedical writer of considerable ability and media-savvy and the author of numerous works, including The Human Mind Explained, and other popular and not-so-popular texts. The two Susans are very able people, but the Baroness does not profess to be a magician.

The Anthropology of Magic, written by the scholar who professes to read tarot cards and to practice the healing arts, is a big book in that it is an oversize trade paperback that measures 6 inches by 9.5 inches. It is only viii + 164 pages long but the type is quite small so there are many sentences. It was issued in soft and hard-cover editions in 2009 by Berg Publishers, an academic house based in Oxford that publishes books and journals in a great variety of fields with a specialty in modern design. Its website lists and describes its serious publications, including the present one.

I imagine Dr. Greenwood to be a fine lecturer because she is a fine writer. I am tempted to say that for an anthropologist she writes with great clarity. Her sentences are crystal clear and the diagrams that she has added to the text to display contrasts between scientific and non-scientific modes of thought are ideal for PowerPoint presentations. She is one anthropologist who is interested in communicating with a public that is academic though not limited to fellow anthropologists or magicians. In this regard she reminds me of Susan Blackmore, who in her shift from espousing parapsychology to embracing scepticism has never ceased to be a psychologist and a scientist.

Like Dr. Blackmore, Dr. Greenwood is an enthusiast and a participant who is willing to advance atypical views. But the two academics are unalike in that Dr. Blackmore works as an experimental psychologist and follows the trail of the evidence (or lack of it), whereas Dr. Greenwood is a theorist and not a scientist who is concerned with finding a place in intellectual discourse for what is regarded as the irrational. Dr. Greenwood is arguing a case, and she argues well, but after a while the reader – this reader anyway – begins to feel that he is being led to face a series of foregone conclusions.

In the next paragraphs, I will summarize the contents of Dr. Greenwood’s book and thereafter offer an evaluation of her approach. Now I will begin with the Table of Contents which neatly outlines the subject – which I take to be how an anthropologist argues that we could look at magic as a source of knowledge, and if knowledge is a form of power, then as a source of power too.

There are four sections. The first section is titled “Explaining Magic” and it describes what used to be called the “participation mystique” (it sounds better in French) and the structure and operation of magical thinking (through connections and associations). The second section is called “The Experience of Magic” and it presents what the author considers “magical consciousness” and “a mythological language of magic.” The third section is labelled “Practical Magic” and it deals with “webs of beliefs,” basically how being human we can never escape this way of experiencing the world. The fourth section is termed “Working with Magic” and deals with what might be called consilience but which the author describes in the phrase “Not Only, but Also.”

So much for the arrangement of the contents of the book. I will now try to abridge the author’s Introduction, introducing some of my own impressions along the way, but downplaying to some extent the author’s great strength: her knowledge of and respect for the theories and insights of the great anthropologists of the past and the present. She argues that the discipline has always had to deal with the subject of magic and that the approaches that anthropologists have taken in the past have told their readers more about themselves and their societies than about the theory and practice of magic itself. As well, it seems, the conception of the nature magic has changed with the times.

There are two main problems: the “ultimate irrationality of magic” and its “inferiority … when compared to science.” Nevertheless magic lies “at the heart of anthropology” because of “the issues it raises in relation to human experience.” If it lies at the “heart” of anthropology, it lies at the “heart” of men and women too. We seem to be creatures who are able to respond to the world both magically and scientifically.

The author writes, “The time has come to propose another understanding of magic, and it is the aim of this book to examine magic as an aspect of human consciousness.” She is prepared to show how it affects “everyday conceptions of reality” and how it can be “an analytical category as well as a valuable source of knowledge.” Perhaps I am taking this further than the author does when I suggest that to her magic offers a way of knowing about ourselves in the world through the imagination, a way of knowledge that augments the way we generally know the world of matter through measurement.

“When I first started my doctoral research in the 1990s, I made the decision to study magic from the inside, as a practitioner of magic as well as an anthropologist. I wanted to discover what could be learnt through direct experience.” She explored the ramifications of this approach in her two previous books, both published by Berg: “Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld” (2000) and “The Nature of Magic” (2005).

A dozen pages of Introduction follow in which she discusses cultural assumptions and contrasts the experiences of magical practice in our own culture with those in other cultures. She notes the effects of “a detraditionalisation of mainstream religions”and limns the changing face of magic in Western occultism. In the process, I acquired two new words that have recognizable meanings: “Celticity” and “Druidry.” She amusingly compares traditional “African witch-doctors with Western political spin-doctors” (like those employed by prime ministers and presidents and other political leaders to create new “narrative”). She concludes, “Magic is alive and well as an analytical category in a whole range of new ethnographies.”

She writes, “The approach taken here focuses on _magical consciousness_, a term that I use to describe a mythopoetic, expanded aspect of awareness that can potentially be experienced by everyone …. ” Despite the importance of this mode of knowledge, magic has been marginalized in what she calls our “Western rationalist culture.” The writings of Tylor, Kroeber, Freud, Durkheim, and others are mentioned to demonstrate how magic has been dismissed as deluded, dangerous, deceitful, or dumb.

Yet shamanism is not so easily dismissed because it does produce a change in consciousness in the sense of a transformation of sensations, impressions, emotions, and conceptions. These in turn affect values. The transformation of consciousness immediately brought to my mind the following lines from the poem “Vacillation” in which Yeats describes the illumination of a fifty-year-old man:

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.

Many people feel (at times anyway) blessed, but anyone who is able to bless is a magician. It would seem the poets are there with the magicians.

A consideration of the truths or insights that come to us through the medium of poetry is offered through a brief but relevant discussion of Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” Yet only one page is devoted to the nature of consciousness itself, despite the advances recorded in the 1990s by neurologists and philosophers into the mind / brain division in the field of “consciousness studies.” I guess these are not subjects regularly discussed by anthropologists, nor should we expect them in a book about the “anthropology” of magic.

Some subjects do not yield their secrets to logic and this is one of them, so with relief she switches into a visionary mode. She begins one paragraph, “I remembered a dream I had had previously in which I was climbing down a deep tunnel in the middle of the earth …. ” The dream continues and it involves a loss of skin, a round space, swimming in water, narrow tunnels, bones being picked by a large crow, etc. This is a fertile field for a Freud or a Jung!

I have maintained a daily dream diary for the last five years, so I can attest that one’s dreams are significant to the dreamer but seldom meaningful to anyone else. These motifs in the dream world may or may not be relevant to the waking world. She concludes, “This experience had a profound effect on me,” and I do not doubt her, but was it an “imaginal experience” as she suggests? Not in Corbin’s meaning of that word. A dream is an experience, but it is the experience of an illusion, and no special effects necessarily issue from it. Are any such illusory experiences meaningful and significant? I doubt it but the subject may be debated and Dr. Greenwood does debate it well.

Psychology is not much to the fore. I read Tanya Luhrmann’s Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft when it appeared in 1989, but in the intervening years, I have found little reason to recall its argument. Luhrmann found magic or Wicca to be rich in psychological insight, period. Dr. Greenfield finds it to be rich in many other fields as well.

The author is concerned to square insights from the practice of magic with the understanding offered by her discipline. “The difficulty is that anthropology is a discipline with theoretical and methodological understandings located firmly in the material world, despite attempts to value all human orientations as valid.” Yes, but is there communicable knowledge beyond the confines of the material world? She would answer Yes. I am inclined to agree with her, but I prefer to hedge my bet, like the majority of scholars and scientists, and take refuge in the Scots verdict “not proven.”

The great anthropologist Frazer is given his due, limitations and all, for he was the Darwin in his field. One upon a time, à la Frazer, there was magic which gave way to religion which gave way to science. Given the paradigm shift proposed in these pages, it seems science may now yield to religion and religion to magic. Perhaps “paradigm shift” is the wrong phrase to use here, for there are no references in the text to Kuhn and his theory of just such a shift.

Dr. Greenwood much prefers what has been called the “interpretive drift.” This is part of the mythopoeic faculty which has always been inherent in the nature of man and woman and been granted at least some recognition in every human society (except, according to convention, that of ancient Sparta). Denis Saurat saw it explained as “philosophical poetry.”

The author discusses the views of the “mystical mentality” adopted by the philosopher Lévy-Bruhl and the psychologist Evans-Pritchard. She even writes an imaginary dialogue for them to debate their points of view. She feels their views hold promise today for they agree that “mystical mentality was universal to all human beings.” The savage of the past was no less rational than is the scientist of today. The anthropologist or psychologist is on safe ground in making this observation for the statement challenges neither of these disciplines. I recall reading somewhere that a researcher once said, “Superstition is superstition. But the study of superstition is science.”

The profession of magic is very much part of the author’s life, as is the profession of anthropology. “This book tells a story about my journey to discover the anthropology of magic; it feels like a patchwork quilt or a jigsaw of pieces of information that I have picked up over the years, both in trying to make sense of my fieldwork experience and also in teaching ideas about magic in anthropology of religion courses at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, and shamanic and altered states of consciousness courses at the University of Sussex.”

So much for the Introduction. If I continued to try to paraphrase and comment in such detail on the balance of the book, I would produce a tedious review too long to be read in a single sitting, and I would do the author’s thesis less than justice. Instead, I propose to do something unusual and allow the author to make her major points in her own words. I will do so by quoting the four paragraphs that the author has written to outline her argument section by section. These are well handled.

Summary of Section One:

“This section sets out to explain theories that help an understanding of magic: not the explanations that somehow reduce magic to its effects on human behaviour or society, but the essence of magic as an intuitive process of mind. Magic is a holistic orientation to the world that is essentially relational and expansive; it is not irrational or confined to the thought of so-called primitives, nor is magic the preserve of non-Western, exotic societies. Rather, it is an aspect of human consciousness, and therefore it is especially appropriate to study magic in modern, Western societies, where it often manifests as an undercurrent.”

Summary of Section Two:

“Using my own experience, in this section, I focus on breaking down the barrier between researcher and researched to show how magical consciousness flows through emotion and the mythological imagination.” (Added to this summary are two quotations. The first one has Dr. Greenwood quoting herself about the “uncomfortable process” of “self-examination and exploration.” The second one is an observation of Jo Crow, a British shaman, who alludes to the “multidimensional” nature of this experience.)

Summary of Section Three:

“Magic is often said to be about the purported art of influencing the course of events through occult means; it is a practice that is said can bring about certain effects such as causing harm or healing. It can be conscious or unconscious as well as rational and mystical, but above all, magic involves an immaterial psychic dimension to everyday reality; this is widely described as spirit. In this section, we will explore everyday magic, from the classical ethnographic work of Evans-Pritchard on Azande witchcraft, magic and oracles (Chapter 6) to divination and healing in various cultural settings (Chapter 7).” (Also included are three quotations from Evans-Pritchard, Tedlock, and Parrish which add little to the above description.)

Summary of Section Four:

“Anthropologists working in the field encounter specific challenges when confronted with the gap between informants’ accounts of spirit beings and their own position as researchers within the essentially rationalistic academic anthropological discipline. Magic poses problems for many anthropologists; this is due to the fact that its spiritual nature conflicts with Western notions of rationality, as we will see in Chapter 8. A more inclusive scientific framework is needed that overcomes the theoretical tendency to devalue magical experience and to recognize magical knowledge as a valuable aspect of human consciousness. Chapter 9 builds on ideas developed by Gregory Bateson and Geoffrey Samuel to just this end.” (Also included are short quotations from Turner, Lévy-Bruhl, and Bateson.)

I should add that the book includes extensive source notes and an index. There is no general bibliography but there are short bibliographies for “further reading.” There is no section called Conclusion, but I soon came to the conclusion that none is required for what the author would have to say in any final section is a foregone conclusion.

Dr. Greenwood is appreciative of the anthropologists of the past who devoted their lives to fieldwork. I imagine she regards her own experiences and the effects they have caused in magical circles as a form of fieldwork. She sees the great anthropologists’ insights into shamans and magical journeys as transferrable to today’s witches and their imaginative encounters. In this undertaking, she wins on points because she is what the French describe as “parti pris.” She knows where she stands and that is where she is heading. The reader is not taken on a journey so much as allowed to explore the intellectual ground already claimed. So her study does not add to human knowledge but it does examine some of our preconceptions of the nature of that knowledge.

There is a short but interesting section devoted to the relationship between mythos and logos. I wish it were longer and that it took into account the conception of that connection in the analysis of Northrop Frye who found the relationship to be one of “interpenetration.” But to do so would have required Dr. Greenwood to enter into the woods of the archetypal world of Nemi that is more frequented by literary critics and analytical psychologists than by anthropologists and ethnologists. As well, the author spends some time with phenomenology, she never really exorcizes its demon of subjectivity, even misspelling that word on page 141.

Yet I find “The Anthropology of Magic” to be an eye-opener of a book, not so much because of what or how it argues, but more because of the position for which it argues: the postmodern notion which is rapidly gaining ground that it is not necessary to believe in anything.

Near the end of the book she writes, “Whilst participating in a magical aspect of consciousness, the question of belief is irrelevant: belief is not a necessary condition to communicate with an inspirited world.” What works, works. William James’s contribution to the notion of multiple consciousnesses – not just to multiple layers of consciousness – is acknowledged, and as a pragmatist he would have agreed. So would Niels Bohr with his horseshoe.

John Robert Colombo, an author and commentator who lives in Toronto, is an anthologist, not an anthropologist (although he did pass two “anthrop” courses at the University of Toronto in the late 1950s). His latest publication (co-edited with Dr. Cyril Greenland) is an expanded edition of “Walt Whitman’s Canada.” He is currently writing an introduction to an omnibus edition of the five Sumuru novels written by Sax Rohmer (the mystery story writer who created Dr. Fu Manchu). Colombo’s personal website is http://www.colombo-plus.ca

GEORGE ADIE: a task on hurry from 1981

A Task on Hurry, from 1981

On 24 February 1981, Mr Adie gave this task to one of the Newport groups. His statement of the task comprises Part I. Over the next week, the groups attempted to use the task to help their line of work. Then, the next week they brought their observations. Some extracts from one of those meetings, that of 3 March 1981, taken by Mrs Adie, is Part II.

Part I

Mr and Mrs Adie were in front of the group. Mr Adie introduced the task:

“How are we going to approach work more practically?

“The tasks that are given are only there as a help to work. The actual work, the actual choice is my own responsibility to do what I think is best for me. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t matter. I shall find that out. If I try, and then bring my experience to the group, I shall find it out. If I don’t try, I shall find nothing out.

“And the exercise is given, and has to be done as near as possible as said. I don’t have to think about that. Or at least I don’t have to think it out, it’s already presented. I do have to try and fulfil it and relate it to my own line of work. I must have a near aim, I must be going against something. I must be trying to achieve some change in my being state. Now how?

“Again, want to see how I am. Again, I may already know that certain habits, certain tendencies are unquestionably against my aim. Whatever my own individual aim, it takes me away. So that’s a thing I have to try and work against. Maybe I need to see more in regard to that. Alright then, in that case my aim is to see more in regard to that. And I have to relate that aim to this exercise given, and see how the connection is, and how it can be supported. I know that if I do make a resolve, and do my preparation, I shall get more reminders.

“Now this week, there’s a particular exercise given, which will be gradually expanded. But this week, I have to choose when. I have to do my preparation. It’s my own responsibility how I prepare myself, to sense myself, to relax, to become centrally placed, I know that. And I have to try and remind myself of the kind of work I’m going to do: where I’m going to be impatient, where I’m going to be irritable, where I’m going to be afraid, what habit I’m going to try to get over, laziness or gluttony or irritation, or I don’t know what.

“And in relation to that, what is going to remind me? I choose in the morning. I must do my preparation early, first thing, first thing on awakening. Then, I choose in the morning for one half hour during which I will not hurry. That doesn’t mean to say I do things slowly. I may find I do them much quicker, but I will not hurry. I will try and do everything without hurry.

“Hurry is terribly costly, it produces tension, fear and consternation and flurrying, throwing things, and catastrophes. Nothing can be done with hurry. How can any artist work in a hurry? Impossible. That’s an artist, and our work is on another plane. We cannot work if we’re in a hurry.

“The central idea of this half an hour is that I wish to observe myself. I am going to be in life: if I have an interview, a job, cooking, accounting, carrying, whatever it is. I know that this is the kind of work I shall be doing. I choose that half hour, but in that half hour I am not going to hurry. As said, it doesn’t mean to say that I have to slow down.

“Is it clear to everybody?

“Do you smell the possible result that might come from that? That one is always in a hurry, either in a hurry to escape doing something, or to get a result with less effort, or to get onto something more pleasant. Try and see. See what is required. You have some data now. See how it goes. Make a note of what you find.

“Of course you have to try and be present. And I shall need my feeling of myself. See how the requirements expand? Does it seem possible? For the whole week I try not to be in a hurry, but to do twice as much. Mm?

Mrs Adie prompted Mr Adie: “You also suggested that if they succeeded, they could …”

“Yes, thank you, I forgot that. If I make the appointment and I remember, then I am entitled to choose another half an hour in the second half of the day. But if for some reason I don’t remember, and I don’t have that half an hour, then I must leave it until the next day. It’s not like an ordinary appointment; this is something for half an hour where you’ll be working in a special way. If you fulfil, it doesn’t matter how successful you were, but as long as you fulfil it, you can then try again in the second half of the day. But if you don’t, then you miss the second half of the day. Try and see what use you can make of this to help your own line of work, your own aim.

“In the preparation, it’s a question of ten or 15 minutes, as early as you can in the morning, if you wish on one or two occasions to have a considerably longer one, you can, but at the same time, don’t just sit in a dream and think it’s work.

“If this is productive, the exercise will be built upon, so see what we can find. Don’t forget to make a note.”

Part II

When Mrs Adie came down to the meeting, perhaps 25 minutes after it had started, Ivan, who had been taking the meeting, said: “One of the things people brought, Mrs Adie, was that they couldn’t maintain the exercise for half an hour.”

“What do you mean by ‘not maintaining it’? Of course you couldn’t maintain it without any lapses.”

Pauline spoke: “I had sort of a moment … I can’t remember times.”

“But you mustn’t be too identified with the time. Can you say what happened? What your experience was?”

Pauline had a good deal of trouble even stating what had happened. After several questions and Pauline’s responses, it appeared that she had had a few moments of presence, but felt discouraged because they were so few. She had noted a tension in the stomach, and saw what she called a “boorishness” manifesting. It reminded her of something Mr Adie had reminded her of, but all she could feel “was a wall”. Her question was: “When I found it so difficult, do I keep trying to continue for half an hour?”

“If at that moment of difficulty, you realise how unstable your attention is, you have a chance. Don’t let that just slip away. You have less than half an hour before you. Can you somehow or another approach to the wish to do it?

“At first, you find there’s no wish there, because really, what can wish? However, even if you’re not fully present, but you have a feeling that there’s something lacking in your presence, then there is something there that can lead you on. Take advantage of that moment. Don’t let it go too quickly. You can’t hold it indefinitely, but if you want to, if you feel it enough, your weakness, that inability, you are working. What else could one ask for?

“You may not be able to maintain it unbroken, but it will come back, and much more often. And that is what we hope for. Everything depends on having more moments of this presence. Yet it’s no good working directly for the wish. You can’t produce a wish like that, by just saying “I want to wish. I wish.” It’s not there. It comes as a result of something. It comes as a result, sometimes, of making an effort in spite of the fact that you haven’t a wish.

“It can come when your head understands that it’s necessary. Although in many ways the head is a great obstacle, or at least the lower part of it is, we also rely on it. The head understands. The body doesn’t understand, and the feeling doesn’t understand: they have to be disciplined.

Pauline asked: “Can you say more about the different parts of the head?” You can hear, even over the tape, that the person asking this was a lot simpler and clearer than the one who had been speaking earlier.

“Well, you’ve read it of course, but until one has a real question, people forget. One wants to be careful not to become formatory in your understanding, but it’s important to know that your head is divided into three. There’s lowest part, which is completely mechanical, where really you could say there is no attention. Your attention is dragged out of you, so to speak. Then there’s the middle part, which has some feeling, and is not completely mechanical; there’s an interest, you’re attracted to something, and you find it easy apply your mind to it. And then the highest part requires a big effort, because you’re not attracted to it, it’s something you’re obliged to put your attention on. Some people find that with Beelzebub, for example [reading Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson]. There has to be an effort, you read in spite of the fact that your inclination is not to read it. Many people in their accounts spoke about the lack of wish, and it’s perfectly true, but the practical question is how do I produce it? What is going to help me feel it more?

“I’m nearly all the time in my personality, and my personality does not wish, because personality is in my head, very largely. And the feeling is in my essence, and my essence is what is real. Yet, sometimes something in personality can realise that. We couldn’t live without personality. Without the help of the more real part of personality, we should not be here: it’s largely personality that takes the initial interest in the ideas. So we to be careful not to confuse that.

“But very often personality is completely imaginary, and apart from not wishing, it’s very much against it. There’s nothing in it for that part of me, and some have seen how much that operates – that’s a very big discovery. It takes a long time sometimes. You don’t get upset about it, you can’t help it, this imaginary part is going to try to come in and spoil everything. But if you just don’t believe it, it loses some power, you’ve seen that now.

“So what else? Have there been many questions?

Gerry spoke: “Mrs Adie, there’ve been moments where I’ve known that I need to be watchful to observe myself and really try to see what’s happening, but when those moments come, and they are such that I know when they’re likely to come, but when they come, I don’t seem to be able to observe, I seem to be caught. I know in my head, anyway, that I need to plan for these.”

“Yes,” replied Mrs Adie, “you’ve spoken about that before. It certainly is a thing which seems to bother you. Of course with your present exercise something is very much more possible. In a way it doesn’t matter which time you choose, if I have an intention. You can choose a particular time when you know you’re going to have that tendency to hurry, but it’s much easier to see, I think, don’t you? It’s more restricted, in a way. It’s more specific, and a lot can be seen from it apart from the fact that whether you do or do not hurry in that time. But any other line of work should go on at the same time. It can help it.

“Yes, I feel there’s a necessity for me to care more about these moments, but when I do try and look, it seems a futility.” Gerry continued: “I feel a futility, in that when I try to observe, when there’s a negative process happening in me.”

“Did your effort not to hurry commence before that process began, or did you awake in the middle of it?”

“I wake up in the middle, or even after it.”

“If it awakens you, then that’s a moment of possibility. If you weren’t there at all, you’d have forgotten it, but if you’ve remembered it, that’s a great gift. At that moment you actually have some choice.”

“A moment of choice is a terrific thing, which has to be worked for. But what is aware of your state isn’t caught up in it. So, how can it serve you? You need to hang onto that awareness, even if the process apparently goes on. The force goes out of it. Some force is available for myself. And at the same time, it’s very difficult but you can actually observe what is taking place.

“It can’t last very long without a break. Maybe the impulse is too weak, but any kind of recollection is a moment of choice nevertheless. You have a certain choice at that moment. Your head will understand that something is possible at that moment. But it hasn’t enough power, the head hasn’t enough force. Those moments have to be cherished and fostered, and I agree, as it were, that the fact of my experience makes an impression on me at a moment when I’m a little bit more impartial, less lost. If you have that valuation, something may grow up in you.”

After a pause, Mrs Adie advised: “Don’t concentrate so much of your attention on whether I can do the exercise it or not. It’s what can come out of it. If I try, quite unexpected things can follow. I shall see many things I had not known. Does anybody have any interesting observations about it at all?”

John spoke: “I think just from being given the exercise to do, I’ve seen a lot clearer the running around, and the sort of madness going on inside. It’s even the time of the day outside of the half hour appointments. It began as soon as Mr Adie gave it, before I’d even made the first appointment. I felt: “ I need this”.

“It’s quite true”, said Mrs Adie. “ An intention has an effect. I make a plan, and if I have any presence, it has an effect, it isn’t restricted to the time planned for. Especially with something like hurry, because even if I’m not doing anything. I’m never at peace, never quiet inside.”

Jethro brought his problem: “Mrs Adie, I find that I just go at two speeds, flat out or not at all. and really there’s no half way. Maybe I misunderstood the point of the exercise, and gave way, but I found that to interfere with the speed at which I operate, my machine operates, results in real failure of coordination.”

“But you’re not asked to interfere with the speed at which your machine operates. You’re asked to not to hurry, which means not to force it to go faster. What would you say hurry is?”

“It’s putting a kind of nervous energy into normal movements …”

“Yes, and it doesn’t make you any faster, just more hectic. It can even make you do things more slowly, because everything’s chaotic, you drop something, or … all the centres are completely in chaos. Hurry is a state, a sort of agitation. The mind isn’t working, the mind is in confusion. But Mr Adie did not suggest that you interfere with the speed at which your machine operates.”

“I’m in a situation where I’m under pressure from my boss to do quite complicated repair jobs, to help get musicians and artists out of trouble. I work with a firm of specialists, so I’ve achieved a kind of concentration which enables me to do sometimes quite complex work, at a high speed, while the customer is waiting, while they should really be sort of …”

“And you find you do it quicker if you do it in a hurry?” Mrs Adie asked.

“Much quicker, yes.”

“No, that’s not right.”

Jethro was not to be moved. “Well, the job gets done somehow, and the customer is delighted.”

“Yes, but if you were not in a hurry you could probably do it quicker. If you’re in a hurry, your attention is either dispersed or completely identified with one thing, getting it finished.

“Oh, well, yes, that always happens, that always happens. I curse the phone and I curse the intercom.”

Mrs Adie laughed. “Alright. You say it’s the only way you can do it, yet you haven’t tried any other way. To do something without hurry doesn’t mean to slow down. It doesn’t mean that at all. On the contrary, it means not to hurry inside. It’s inside that all this hurry is going on, in your so-called feelings.

“This hectic, agitated feeling that you’ve got to get on with it, get it done quickly, is the resistance. You can try times when it hasn’t got to be done in half an hour, or whatever it is. But try to do it with your head operating in the right way, and your emotions quite quiet. Your emotions have got nothing to do with it. They’re not needed at that time. You need your head and your moving centre. Maybe a certain amount of instinctive centre, too, to do with tuning the instruments and that sort of thing, but it’s the emotions that interfere and make you hurry, that get in the way. If my feeling can then appear, that will even ground me.

Ivan made an appropriate remark: “May I give an example? I think if you consider a concert pianist who plays something very very fast. He’s never in a hurry: he’s extremely relaxed. I went to the Opera House the other evening, and the pianist was playing some tremendously fast passages, but his hands just went … there was absolutely no hurry about it. I think that’s what we’re trying to convey.”

“Yes, it’s quite true,” said Mrs Adie, who was herself a concert pianist as well as a composer. “I remember that was a very vital thing, always, it was even impressed on me, by my professor, to take my time beginning, for example, never to be in a hurry.” She addressed Jethro directly: “You’re a pianist yourself, if you hurry, you’ll play a lot of wrong notes.”

After a pause, Mrs Adie added: “I think you’re rather settled, you’ve taken rather a stand about this. Try and be a little more flexible in your understanding. Make an experiment at a time when you can afford to make an experiment.

“You know this about your nature that you are a very tense person, and it’s not only physically tense, you’re tense in your feelings. You agree that you’re rather tense?”

“Mm!”

“It’s not a sin. Many of us are. I think it is very largely in your feelings. It means that you should sometimes, when you have a moment’s peace, just watch your breathing without changing it. Your breathing indicates your emotional state, very much. If you’re calm, breathing is calm. Directly you get excited, the breathing gets quicker and more shallow. Remember that when you’re doing something. It can be anything, just for a moment put your attention on that area, it’s the area of your feeling. Where you breathe is the area of your feeling. Try and quieten it a little bit, and when you do that your body will also relax more.

“You need to put a little more attention on that, I think. It’s one of your big difficulties. But you’re not as tense as you were, in any case. It is already better than it was: much better. But it would help you with everything that you’ve been mentioning, especially with the particular job that you have, which is very demanding in a certain way, and needs a sort of sensitiveness, doesn’t it? If you’re dealing with musical instruments and that sort of thing, you need to be free from this sort of turmoil that goes on. I think you agree that it does go on? That you’re in a turmoil a lot of the time, and it doesn’t serve any useful purpose?”

“Oh yes!”Jethro was emphatic.

“It really is your enemy. Well, I think you need to choose your half hour very carefully, to being with, to start with, anyway. Choose an occasion when you’re doing some quite simple thing, and see if you can do it when your feeling’s absolutely quiet, and your movements very measured, and intentional, with the assistance of your head.”

Silvio brought an interesting cameo: “One day this week I did my preparation, and I made the appointment for 11.00 o’clock. As I was typing, I kept saying to myself, “I’ve got an appointment at 11.00 o’clock.” And I did that until 1.00 o’clock in the afternoon.”

“Then learn from that. Something in me gets very frustrated. But I accept that that is how I am. And then I need to be patient. I accept the fact that that is how I am, but I am not satisfied with that. I accept it, but not passively. From that there can come a wish. The realisation of that. It’s necessary to see how completely powerless I am.”

“What I wonder is, what in me was saying to myself: “I’ve got an appointment at 11.00 o’clock”?

“No one can say, only you can know. It is suspect, but maybe it is the best I have for the moment. Something in me always wants to do: to succeed in doing what I set out to do, which is nothing to do with my real wish at all. I’ve decided to do something and I’m going to do it. But it isn’t like that, a real wish. It’s a very subtle thing, and very difficult to put into words exactly.”

I have omitted a few questions. At the end of the meeting, a woman brought this last question of general application: “Should we keep the same time each day?”

“It depends on what you find,” answered Mrs Adie. “If you find it’s a practical time, no need to change it. If not, then you change it. Sometimes it’s good to change it, it depends on what you find. But if you know there’s something that you tend to spoil by hurrying, make more mistakes, choose that time, certainly.

“If the quality of the effort seems to fall off, better to make a change. It will always run down unless I apply some sort of a shock to it. And also, one becomes rather lazy about it: taking the same time saves a lot of thought, so choosing another time can be good, giving plenty of opportunity. You judge by the result. Try something, then you try it again, if it seems to yield less, change it.

“Good night.”

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
11 January 2010

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Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The 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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