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GROUP DEPRESSION, GROUP RESISTANCE

From: Joseph Azize

Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“DOING” AND “NOT DOING”

Newport
click on image to enlarge

Doing” and “Not-Doing”

On 15 and 22 August 1990, Jim Wyckoff of the New York Foundation attended meetings at Newport. Mr Adie had died a little more than 12 months earlier. In May 1990, some of our people had visited Paris for guidance, and Michel de Salzmann had told them to try and work with Jimmy Wyckoff, as he was already coming to Sydney to visit the Foundation group there. And so Jim Wyckoff came to take questions at Newport. After that second evening, he asked me whether the meetings were being taped. He was not keen on the idea, and said that one should try and work in the present. However, he added, they have been taped and there is no need to destroy the records. Use the material, but as sparingly as possible. Some of what he said, for example, his answers to Stan and to myself have proved to have enduring meaning for me, and I think that the material may have value for others too. So let’s use the material … if sparingly. Here are a few questions from each of those nights, and then in Part Two, some comments.

Part One

15 August 1990 was the first occasion when Jim Wyckoff sat in front of a group at Newport. The Wednesday before, in a combined meeting (for this term see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia), Ken Adie had brought an exercise from his father which involved making diary notes after the morning preparation. Now, having tried the exercise for a week, Basil brought an observation about how much it had given him, and how fresh it had seemed to him to sit quietly after his preparation and spend a little time digesting it, valuing his being, rather than hurrying off into life, as usual. Throughout the day he had found himself quieter, remembering his hourly appointments. He could see himself dragged out, but then he would recollect himself more quickly.

Yes, replied Jim Wyckoff, something simple like that can help me. But I see that I cannot “do” it, and it is not something I can gain or acquire. Maybe what I need is to give something up, such as my tension, my hurry, or my compulsive thinking, so that there is room for something else. I open and listen for my work. We are made of an energy which everything is made of, so maybe something in me can correspond to what it seeks. I don’t know, said Jim, but I can be patient. If I was watching an animal in the bush, I wouldn’t rush in … I would be quiet and watch, he said, dropping his voice. I can be patient like that, with myself. Not with “my” attention, but with “the” attention. It is not mine.

Then Esmeralda spoke. Like Basil, she had been with Mr Adie for many years, and he had a profound respect for each of them, even if he sometimes found some of Esmeralda’s ways exasperating. She spoke about how she was when with her daughter, realizing that there were difficulties in that relationship, and that she had done no work at all in respect of that for years. This is how things go, Esmeralda said, I pick something up, there is a result, and then I let it drop for a number of months or years until I return to the same situation, the same area of work. I never really make use of what I could make use of, she said. The possibilities seem so rich, and I know that things can change and be improved, but then I squander those possibilities. Even listening to the question some 20 years later, its truth still has an impact. And to her credit, she did realize that she had a tendency to “not deal” with things which needed to be addressed.

Well there’s a lot that needs to be done, replied Jim Wyckoff, but that still doesn’t mean that I can “do”, does it? I need to experience, I need to learn how to perceive. I try to perceive by going out, but to perceive I need to take in, I need to be. We live under laws, I start DO RE MI and then I go MI RE DO. I know it, but I don’t feel it. I think that if something starts it can be continuous, but Mr Gurdjieff tells us that the vibrations are discontinuous. This question of trying to do something about my situation is in my way. If I really understand that I know nothing, then I can learn something. But whatever I try and learn, I put it on top of what I already have. I am brought up to acquire something, and then I get graded on it. But when I see that I am simply an expression of life, like all of nature, then perhaps I could accept to simply experience myself through the sensing awareness of the body, which is the receiving of something, not a going out. Like that. Does that make sense to you?

Yes, Esmeralda replied, thank you. Then Stan, a talented young man, spoke of his jealousy, resentment and envy in relation to his wife. He could see how it affected both of them. Jim Wyckoff asked, are you saying that you are concerned about how she treats you? Yes, answered Stan.

You’re concerned about how she treats your image, your ego?

Yes.

Well, is that all you are? Your ego? Now I am asked to try and see my SELF beyond the I in quotation marks. Am I the I in quotation marks who thinks he should be considered by his wife? Or am I something other than that, from which that other I is derivative? Study your body when you’re in that state. It’s tight, and closed, but I still have that spark of life. Then, if they want to consider me, that it’s alright, and if they don’t, then that’s alright too. Am I concerned about their opinion? That’s a load of nonsense, isn’t it?

But what about my feeling? I don’t mean my emotion, I mean the feeling, this reconciling force which Mr Gurdjieff speaks of? How can I look for that, how can I touch that? I can’t make it appear, because that will be more of the ego trying. Maybe it’s there. When you work you find that something changes. I don’t mean like a rearrangement of the furniture, but the quality is different. The sense of yourself and of time is different. I don’t say “I’m going to sense myself, as if I was the author”. I don’t have to be first and foremost. You are you. Listen with your whole self, your body, not just your ears. I listen and see that I am different. How did I attract that state, not how did I do it? My preparation is not to get that state, it is to be in such a way that that can come. It could be a very interesting study. Not how to overcome it, how to get rid of it, but how to see, is it possible that something can be transformed here, although it is not something I do. You know if you put an empty cup in a sink full of water, it will fill it. You don’t have to fill it, just put it in.

Loreto then brought a question: what can I trust? That is the question, replied Wyckoff: or perhaps I should ask, can I be trusted? I get very tight, but it doesn’t have to be like that. You know how you can get up and go to work, but you know you have an appointment at 5 o’clock, say you’re going to see Shakespeare, and you’re looking forward to it. You’re working all day, but you still have this sense of anticipation. It can be like that, but not hurried. I ask myself, who am I? What am I? (His voice dropped when he asked these questions.) I listen with that inner listening, and if I don’t find it today, then I don’t find it. And then there’s the question that maybe that force needs me. Instead of me finding something, I need to be found. That is enough from the first evening.

The next week, Andrea mentioned how she had been in a conversation with someone. The other person was seeking her help in respect of something, and it seemed to be a rather intimate and personal matter. Andrea was trying to console her, and as she sat there, she started to become aware of extraordinary sense that two human beings were in contact. She had rarely ever had this type of simple contact in a conversation before. It was a discovery for her.

And it can be a discovery the next time, too, replied Jim. Our relationships with other people tend to be based exclusively on “yes” and “no.”. But on occasions a force can appear which is neither “yes” nor “no”, but recognition. If I work in a certain way, it appears. When I work, I become different. I’m a different person, and this force recognizes me: we recognize each other.

I was the second person to speak that evening. I had been struggling with anxiety about a conflict with some people, when I had remembered Mr Adie’s injunction: “Never forget the Creator. Never forget the Creator of all that exists.” That had dissipated the anxiety. (I still vividly recall the moment: I was sitting in the bottom level of a rather over-heated train). That night I woke from sleep, the anxiety reappeared, and bang, right behind it was this other recollection, and I was present, free from anxiety.

You see, said Mr Wyckoff, the situation helped you. One tends be against such situations, because they are unpleasant and tire you. But it’s as if I need the opposition, as if I were a wrestler who needs an opponent to struggle against, so that I can grow. (Incidentally, wrestling is the only sport I was ever any good at, but I doubt Jim knew that.) What is the difference in me? It’s not just a different attitude: there’s a basic change in my body too. Be observant for it. Oh, he added, it’s a good idea, if you wake up in the night, whether anxious or not, to immediately work.

The third question was from Tim, who relayed, as often one finds in groups, a fairly bare if not even despondent account of realizing that some effort was made, but feeling as if he couldn’t make any. And in fact, despite his better knowledge, he had not made an effort. How he could move in such situations?

We’re all passive, replied Jim Wyckoff. We want outside stimulation, an interesting person, a book, a film, or an idea. Such stimulation moves the energy in me and I like that, so we go to parades, football games and so on. But that quality is not what we here are after. We have had a taste of a finer quality of energy that seems to appear from nowhere, and I’ve been told that if I work in a certain way, it appears. However, my habits and my armour hold me back. I need to know the difference by taste (he lightly stressed these two words), because I identify with the better feelings which appear. I need to begin again, even if I am feeling better. Never say “I’ve arrived”, because in the next breath it’s gone. Something may be looking for me, not just me looking for it, because it would not come if it did not recognize something. Like attracts like. The difference in me is recognized by this force. So wait, be patient. But actively wait. Actively be patient. For you never know when the hour cometh.

Then Samantha spoke. She had seen a feature in herself, she said which she wanted to change. She had attempted to do so before, and it had gone for single days, but had always come back. She knew, too, that something in her was indeed attached to it. She needed to but could not change her attitude. Was she perhaps not sufficiently serious? Was that clear enough, she asked?

“Yes”, Jim Wyckoff replied, “the difficulty of course is that I want to do something about it.” He emphasized the word “do”. I want to get rid of it, or change it. “I want to do something about it”, he reiterated with the same emphasis. But what I need is to study it, he said. I cannot do anything about it because I’m the one who allowed it in the first place. Take something like tennis, for instance. Say the coach tells you that you’re holding the racquet in the wrong way, or standing in the wrong position. You want to change it, but you can’t. The old way of moving is too strong. You see?

Samantha agreed. The same thing applies here, continued Jim. When it happens try and notice what takes place without reacting to it. We don’t see our habits, we just see their effects. But to see what goes on inside, for that I need patience and observation.

Then Lindy spoke. Yesterday she had initially been able to observe what went on during conversations with a difficult person at work, even when this woman became quite upset. Lindy had felt sympathy for her, but then this person had attacked her, Lindy, which upset her a great deal. Lindy could think of the work and of observation, but she could not move, she was frozen. She had held up her hand in a gesture of protest but had not been able to speak. What could she do when she was paralyzed like that?

I cannot control anything, replied Mr Wyckoff. One can speak of self-control, and one can squash something down, but then one can also speak of work and only have but the thought of it. What really counts is the memory of being in work without any notion of controlling anything or anybody, but simply to see what happens. What was really happening? You have pictures that you were doing something and she was doing something, but what was really happening – by way of force? There is something happening which I don’t see. I record it only after it has happened, although it’s so quick that it seems to be simultaneous. But when you’re more connected you’re in a different time, and you weren’t in that different time on that occasion, were you?

No, Lindy replied. So, continued Jim, I can remember that there is something I don’t see and I can draw back. It is like how if you’re looking at that picture and you’re standing right there in the corner of the room you can’t really see it and what’s around it. You need to draw back and then you can see it. Like that.

The last question I will deal with came from Esmeralda. She returned to her question of the week before. She said that she thought had understood what Mr Wyckoff had said, but when she came to put it into practice, it was a “complete mess”. She had been with her daughter while she was practising her violin, and she tried to have a certain state with her, but it was quite the reverse, she was worse than ever. It seems to me, said Esmeralda, that when you speak, I understand something and something responds, but tomorrow, this condition won’t be there.

But something will be there, maybe, said Jim. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going to happen in five minutes, and the moment I say that, it puts me in a different place. I assume that work is only up to me … well there’s a job for me, but what comes to me, I don’t create that. I open to it, so it’s a big work. My effort is up to me, but when I allow a place that corresponds to this other force, it comes, doesn’t it? When I try and do something about it or think about it, I close. I’m ordering my life, I’m ordering the universe, even. But I wonder what’s going to happen today when we play the violin? It’s different. I don’t just listen o the violin, but to my body, because that’s where I hear the music, not just in the ears, but in the body.

Part Two

To my mind, at least, Jim Wyckoff had some substantial insights. He also had a good quiet style in groups, and while he spoke, one felt a confidence that much was possible. But in retrospect, I think that Esmeralda’s experience over those two weeks was everyone’s, whether they would concede it or not. With him, we felt that it was simple. We were getting in our own way. But when it came to using his advice in daily life, then like fairy gold which glittered by night there was only dust in one’s pocket by daylight. People may disagree, but that is my view. Wyckoff could indeed deliver moments of uplift: no doubt at all. But these left little trace. However, there are techniques, there are methods: many of them. But Jim Wyckoff only really understood the use of sensation, if indeed he understood that, because he did not see that even for this, an aim is needed.

Mr Wyckoff had some tremendous flashes, and he had some follies. His answer to Samantha is an example: it was nonsense to say that a tennis player cannot change his grip or stance. They do it often. I have even checked with a tennis player who gave me some interesting information about the different grips and stances and how while older people might find them unusual at first, or awkward, he had never met anyone who could not with some attention change either. It is formatory to say one cannot “do”: incidentally, one could look up George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia in the index under “change”, “doing (do)” and “formatory (as in “formatory thought”) to see what the authentic teaching of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Adie was in these regards. Gurdjieff even said: “A man who works is always seeking for means to do.” (3 August 1944). But the concepts of change and doing are related to aim: aim must come first. The ability to do, Gurdjieff said, is the ability to attain a projected aim (see George Adie, p.56 and the materials cited there, see also the lectures “The Point of Doing” and “Doing” at pp.112-20 of that book).

If I cannot “do”, and it is so absolute as that, then neither can I study. Neither can I listen. There is no point in his advice: which is what Esmeralda effectively said. “Learn by doing”, said Gurdjieff, “repeat, repeat, repeat. Work until the sweat runs neither only from your brows but also from your heels”. “I cannot work”, said Jim Wyckoff, “I am worked.” Which sounds more inviting?

I do not say this to abuse him or his memory, but the fact is that “aim” is something Jim Wyckoff simply did not understand. As I mentioned in my earlier blog: “Did Gurdjieff Found the Gurdjieff Groups?”, he rebuffed a question about it by telling me not to think in terms of aim.

The concept of doing is distorted if approached in a formatory way. As I show in George Adie, “do” and “cannot do” can be reconciled. One needs a third force: an aim, or at least a motive, perhaps new knowledge, perhaps a new understanding. We even see people in life, with no connection to the Gurdjieff groups let alone to any religion, who change their lives. We see drug addicts beat their dependencies, we see people leave grudges behind, we see reconciliations. How could an intelligent man arrive at Jim Wyckoff’s conclusions?

I think the answer is that Wyckoff himself did not “do”: he was fortunate to come under certain conditions, and he had a mind capable to insights. But he was a rather feckless person, who never learned to think: he never acquired an ability for logical-confrontation. He saw deeply, but I never saw evidence that he could analyse. His books support me: whatever virtues they have, analysis and logic are not among them. In The Lost Continent of Atlantis (1968), he narrates Plato’s myth, with little discernable added value. He mentions that “Atlantologists” say that “Gadir” is the only surviving name in the Atlantean language (p.20). Jim would be helpless in the face of such an assertion: he would not know how to test it. But this is in fact a well-known Phoenician word, as many books on the Mediterranean would have told him. This would have lead to a more fruitful line of enquiry: the relationship between Phoenicia and Greek mythology. Typical, also, is his ending on p.92, that when man has found Atlantis, he may have found “something of himself. Maybe then he will know then who he really is and why he is here on earth.” Sounds good, may even sound great. But nothing whatever in the book has lead up to this. It is just a portentous statement he added at the end of the book. Jim certainly did not know why we were here, as he said (see below).

Then, in Wilhelm Reich: Life Force Explorer (1973), consider the statement at pp.120-1 that in “a sick world” anyone who is sane is bound to seem mad. What is madness, Wyckoff rhetorically asks, but that area where we place our devils, our enemies and our God? I read this to a friend of mine, a doctor (meaning, a physician). Oh no, she said, madness exists alright, and it is a horrifying thing. She was speaking from experience in the mental health wards of Sydney’s hospitals. Even from my limited exposure to genuinely mad people, I would say that Wyckoff’s statement is once more, big sounds, no content, and certainly no attempt to justify it. We place God in madness? What in heaven does he mean? It is not even undergraduate level. I could continue with other parts from the book, but you have the picture.

I suspect that Mr Wyckoff’s real passion was not Gurdjieff, but Reich. I think this is why Jim would mention “armour” (Reich referred to “body armour”), why he placed so much emphasis on sensation of the body, and why his real strength in the Gurdjieff work was in the movements, but certainly not in the ideas. This would explain why “aim”, “chief feature”, “essence”, “higher being bodies” and similar concepts from Gurdjieff meant nothing to him; why in fact he eschewed them.

Jim Wyckoff’s crypto-Reichianism is why he hardly ever read Beelzebub. He did not understand it, and it was a world away from Reich, with its Most Most Holy Absolute, its angels and its discourse on the reasons for man’s existence. I once heard Jim ask rhetorically: “Why are we here? Who cares, I don’t want to know. All that matter is we are here”. Well Gurdjieff cared. It was the reason for the entire panoply of ideas and techniques and his answers are the heart of his book. It is ironic that Wyckoff expresses the wish that Reich be studied without “distortion” (p.136), because that is what I feel he brought to Gurdjieff: distortion.

It seems to me now that the big problems for the Gurdjieff groups emerged in the 1960s, and it is no coincidence, perhaps that the Catholic Church went through what can only be fairly described as a process of Protestantisation during that period. Catholic theologians came very close to Luther’s idea of salvation by faith alone, and certainly not human works. The same thing happened with Gurdjieff: “work”, “aim”, “doing”, were all very hard and de-emphasized, if not done away with altogether.

Did Jeanne de Salzmann effectively Protestantise the Orthodox teaching and methods of Gurdjieff? It is an intriguing line of thought: the Gurdjieff exercises were no longer needed: one just called down higher energy. The old rituals with their rules and stately order were discarded, yet Gurdjieff had said that “every ceremony or rite has a value if it is performed without alteration” (Miraculous, p.303). So why were his exercises not performed without alteration? Look at what happened with the movements. No longer did one study the movements in detail, learning them, getting them into the body, reading the book which was there. As Gurdjieff said, “a ceremony is a book in which a great deal is written.” (p.303). Rather, as Wyckoff would tell us, one just works on the floor. One would do a bit of a movement, leave it for weeks, come back, maybe do bits of another movement for a few weeks, but then not again for a year. With Mrs Adie, however, we learned four movements regularly over the period of nine to ten months, and entered into the mystery. It is not enough to have the experience: it must be digested, as Gurdjieff said.

The next blog shall have more to say about Jeanne de Salzmann. It is time to end this one. Those who cannot bear the critique of Jim Wyckoff can simply cut and paste Part One into another document. It is unique, some of it is excellent, and I cannot see anyone else making available material by him. For those who have the stomach, however, to try and consider the facts impartially, Jim Wyckoff was a man of great talent, but he never met anyone who could help him develop his talent and whose help he would have accepted. He did meet Mr Adie, but he despised him. In the end, it was his loss, but many other people lost out too, because Jim Wyckoff played a large role in the destruction of Mr Adie’s school.

When he came to Newport, he made no attempt to find out what we had there. He just started doing things his own way. Even the new manager of an office doesn’t do that: they enquire, they go softly and see that is there, and then make changes as they think they are needed. Not Jim: no interest, not the least curiosity as to what Mr Adie had brought, who we were or how we were. He just had to bring the two groups under his direction.

It is ironic. He said so often that we know nothing. Maybe five minutes ago I knew something, but not now, he said (it’s on the tapes). But he did not live this. He was quietly cocksure of himself and his approach. Yet his mind gave out. Perhaps he had a condition I do not know of, but it seems to me that his last years, which were spent in senility correspond to his passive, indeed overly passive dispensation. This idea that I cannot keep it, I can only have moments, is insidious. This formula “not my attention but the attention” is a play with words. It is just not right: I can keep something of it, as Gurdjieff said, and as many have proved. One can change, one can coat the higher bodies, one can save one’s soul. In the end, although he did have something, Jim fulfilled his teaching: he could not do, he could not change, he did not know who he was, he could not even remember, and he died like that.

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