Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences

Posts Tagged ‘Foundation

BEHIND REAL I LIES GOD

leave a comment »

nicoll.jpg

“Behind Real I Lies God”
Joseph Azize

Part One
“Behind real I lies God”, said Gurdjieff. And one possible expression of the feeling-quality of the relationship between real I and God is indicated by the prayer “Lord Have Mercy”. This was an important prayer to Gurdjieff: it is in exercises he gave Mrs Staveley and also the Adies in the last years of his life. It features in some of his very last movements. It is even found in Beelzebub. It is worth pondering. If one uses the method of continuing prayer I mentioned in the blog on the Prayer of the Heart, one can take it into life, and even into the Gurdjieff preparation. Then one can experience both “Lord Have Mercy” and “I AM”. Two separated but related impulses which lived together bring an almost miraculous experience.


Part Two

This statement attributed to Gurdjieff, “behind real I lies God”, and which lands with the force of a revelation, was preserved by Maurice Nicoll (Selections from Meetings in 1953 at Great Amwell House, Eureka Editions, 1997, p.14). Nicoll went on to explain that it follows that Real I can be placed on the Ray of Creation around the note “si”, just beneath the Absolute. That volume has many interesting references to Gurdjieff: see pp.105, 110, 123, 126, 146, 173, 180, 188, and 202-3 (the last two pages are from Nicoll’s very last group meeting).

Then, in another book of miscellaneous meeting notes, it is related that Nicoll had said that when he and his wife were at the Prieuré, their two year old baby Jane fell sick. Gurdjieff kept the members of the Institute up for most of the night doing unusually difficult exercises “in order to create the force which he was able to use to cure Jane … He and Mrs Nicoll always felt that he had in this way saved Jane’s life.” (Informal Work Talks, Eureka Editions, reprint of 1998, p.82). This book, too, contains other Gurdjieff anecdotes and maxims: see pp.3, 6, 17, 48 (x2), 51, 93 and 113-4.

In my opinion, however, the very best and most useful material from Nicoll’s groups is to be found in Notes Taken At Meetings January 18, 1934 to April 28, 1934 (Eureka Editions, 1996). What Nicoll writes there about the internal parts of centres, and other topics, is – to my mind – astounding. So precise is it, that one receives a shock from merely reading it. One of the bizarre diagrams in the hardcover edition of Views (p.218, omitted from the paperback, possibly because it was considered too opaque) is found in almost identical form in Notes Taken At Meetings. Nicoll’s explanation of it is complementary to Gurdjieff’s, and illuminating. In effect, one can see that it graphically and vividly illustrates an insight into our position as individuals and in the cosmos.

Although there is some excellent material in the far better known Psychological Commentaries and in The New Man and Living Time, as a whole, Nicoll’s best and most unique insights come in the three slim volumes of informal notes. Further, they often put ideas in a better form than that of the Commentaries. I have sometimes encountered something in one of these books, and then researched that topic in the Commentaries. It is perhaps significant that Nicoll did not revise these volumes of notes: had he done so he might have ruined them.

Nicoll was an immensely talented individual, and he had the advantage of spending many mornings with Gurdjieff, working at carpentry. Gurdjieff, too, clearly thought a great deal of Nicoll, and invited Nicoll to him after the death of Ouspensky, but Nicoll refused. However, I think that when Nicoll wrote he took too much care to express his meaning. His Commentaries are Talmudic in inaccessibility. Invariably prolix and didactic, they repeat themselves to little advantage, even in the one paper. I not infrequently have the sense of being reprimanded by a schoolmaster. The many references to the Gospels are not always enlightening: too often they just import a sense of preachy self-righteousness. And Nicoll has an awful habit of writing about “the Work” as if we all knew what it was, and it spoke in a clear and strident voice. “The Work” tells us this, and the “the Work” tells us that. Of course, the work in so far as it can be personalised tells us nothing. But Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and especially Nicoll, said a good deal. The Commentaries need condensation: for example, the anecdote about “Real I” is found there, at page 1647. Not too many readers have made it so far into the volumes, as evidenced by the fact that it is never cited.

The same deficiency in Nicoll’s “polished” work and the comparative vigour of his raw product is found in the two “New Testament” books, The New Man and The Mark. Nicoll had completed and published New Man in 1950, three years before he died, but he did not complete Mark. Yet, in my view, that is easily the best of the two books, even if it does to an extent assume the ideas in New Man. Lacking the “official Nicoll style”, New Man is more engaging and convincing. It also features the wonderful essay “The New Will”, perhaps the best thing Nicoll ever wrote, although it does not provide commentary on the New Testament.

Then, there is Pogson’s biography, Maurice Nicoll: A Portrait, republished by Fourth Way Books, 1987. One can receive an entirely new impression of Gurdjieff and the Prieuré from that volume. It is extraordinary that later researchers have under utilised these pages. It is not a “great” biography. Pogson’s approach is rather naive in some respects, and with her I always have a faint sense of the “prim and proper”. She describes how Nicoll moved his group to various stately English mansions and taught the New Testament, and she often says how wonderful and moving various events and talks were, but leaves it at that, as if the reader can share in the moment by reading of her own emotional exaltation. It is not so. Pogson could have made some attempt to bring together important ideas. Even the reference to Jane Nicoll’s illness does not mention how Gurdjieff asked people to make super-efforts to provide an energy. But why not? Pogson knew of this, and it exemplifies a principle, which others can experiment with.

Overall, then, I think that there is some very good and useful material in Nicoll’s legacy, which has too often been overlooked. But the difficulty is that it has been badly edited and passed on. Creed’s volumes of notes are very poorly put together, with the same illustrations and diagrams in each, and he has a habit (especially in his two volumes of shamefully muddled Fragments) of mixing together valuable and rare material with excessive quotation from Miraculous and the Psychological Commentaries. Like Pogson, but even more so, Creed’s talent is for collection. And we must thank him for that.

But anyone who made their way through these books and put together a single volume of about 200 pages called “Nicoll’s Approach to Mystical Philosophy”, systematically synthesizing Nicoll’s teaching rather than cutting and pasting from various sources, would be performing a public service. For example, the statement about real I can be expanded by reference to the diagram on p.41 of Notes Taken At Meetings, but this sort of research and editing is, sadly, beyond any of the commentators and editors Nicoll has found to date.

Nicoll is something of an outsider in certain Gurdjieff circles. For example, he does not appear in the Foundation-sponsored Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections, yet a good deal of what I might politely call material of little enduring value does, side by side with some powerful material. And the feeling is reciprocal: Nicoll’s people have their own canon of acceptable teachers: Ouspensky, Nicoll and Pogson. And, from what I can see, that is about it. Yet, as I have written elsewhere, I am more certain than ever that Gurdjieff intended his pupils, yes, even Jeanne de Salzmann, to learn from each other. He gave many of his pupils something unique and helped them to develop their own material: how could this not have been deliberate?

The question is: will Gurdjieff’s pupils ever start to reach over institutional walls and learn from each other? Will they ever be able to come together for any purpose? Why could the Foundation, the Bennett people, and others, perhaps in the USA, not come together on a Nicoll project, and invite Lewis Creed?

Part Three

After I had written this blog, but before posting it, I was reminded of something. It was in November 2003, and Mr Adie’s group had a time away with the “Sydney Foundation” group in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. Since that time, I have left the Adie group and it has joined the Foundation people. But at this week away, I was on the Adie group’s council, and I said at one of the meetings that it was difficult when the two councils got together because the Foundation group had 12 people on theirs. We had five. Let us say that my comments were not warmly received.

Afterwards I spoke to one of our people and remarked that he knew that what I had said was right, so why did he not support me? He was not happy with me: he was glowering behind his beard. Yes, he stated, tetchily, you are right, but nothing will come of it, so why raise it? As I say, he was not happy with me.

Then, at our very next meeting, David from London made the surprising announcement, looking in my direction, that “for once I had sympathy with one of your outbursts”. Further, he had spoken to the lady in New York with responsibility for that group or had someone speak to her. I cannot quite recall which, but it may have been both. She had agreed, and the council of 12 was being replaced by a council of five persons, but the lineup would rotate from time to time.

I felt like asking David when I had given way to outbursts, and perhaps should have, as to refrain seemed to encourage him in his belief that he possessed “gravitas” and ‘auctoritas”. But, conscious that I was with others of my group, I did not. Yet, I have to say, that one of them could have supported me. However, they did not.

I also felt like pointing out to the one I had spoken to that indeed he had been wrong: the change was made. So my raising it was not forlorn. In fact, it had been the catalyst to David contacting New York and introducing some practicality into their council’s arrangements.

Why do I raise this? Because in the Gurdjieff groups people often feel inhibited from raising matters they think will be unpopular. Be ever so sane and balanced as you like, the fact that you are not doing the done thing is sufficient to set you up as a bringer of outbursts.

Well, the moral of my story is, the ideas and the methods are real. The groups, and often the group leadership are not. They are illusions. if you are in a Gurdjieff group, and even in the Foundation itself, do be not afraid to be wrongly seen as making outbursts. Be centred, and speak. You have nothing to lose but your illusions.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

March 31, 2008 at 8:54 am

DID GURDJIEFF FOUND THE GURDJIEFF GROUPS?

gurdjieff-occult-magus.jpg

G. I. GURDJIEFF

ouspensky_profile.jpg

P. D. OUSPENSKY

Did Gurdjieff found the Gurdjieff Groups?
from Joseph Azize

Did Gurdjieff found the Gurdjieff groups? No, of course he didn’t. He was their inspiration, but he certainly did not found them. They were founded by Ouspensky, even down to the format of weekly group meeting and movements on week nights with days of “work” each Sunday, and regular recesses. Ouspensky had this very sensible and successful formula down pat before Gurdjieff started his regular groups in Paris during the war years, groups which he had discontinued at least 18 months before his death. Neither did Gurdjieff found the Institute which bears his name, let alone a Foundation. It is hard to imagine the word “Foundation” sitting in Gurdjieff’s mouth, unless spiced with the pepper of satire. Surely he would have sensed the “philological peculiarity” of this heavy word. Mr Adie, who was also sensitive to tones and nuances, did not find it at all corresponding to the feeling required; he much preferred the exclusively human reference of “Society”. After Gurdjieff’s death, Jeanne de Salzmann effectively found herself in charge of the bulk of Ouspensky’s English groups, which simply continued his format. To her credit, she copied that format with its “weekend works”. In fact, for all we know, Ouspensky set the pattern which Gurdjieff followed in his own war time groups, for, so far as is known, Gurdjieff had never held regular groups beforehand. Nor did Gurdjieff continue any type of group or meeting for terribly long.

There is a much overlooked part of the teaching to consider in this respect. It was disclosed in that remarkable period when Gurdjieff showed Ouspensky “the beginnings of all the methods, the beginnings of all the ideas, their links, their connections and directions” (In Search of the Miraculous, p.346), although Ouspensky takes it out of turn in his magisterial treatment. Gurdjieff told them that they took the idea of groups “too theoretically … You ought to have known more by now. There is no particular benefit in the existence of groups in themselves and there is no particular merit in belonging to groups. The benefit or usefulness of groups is determined by their success” (Search, p.232).

Note just how precisely Gurdjieff conveys his meaning: they ought to have known better after barely two years with him. It should have been staring them in the face: there is no magic in groups. They have taken the whole idea of Fourth Way groups too theoretically, they should, rather, be practical. The purpose, the aim, comes first. Assess the group. Is it successful or not?

Now if Ouspensky’s model was sensible and successful for transmitting the ideas and the methods, then like every stick, it had another end. And that end, I think, is this: one can become too dependent on a group. One can identify with them. Many people, myself included, believe that this is why Gurdjieff orphaned so many of his pupils, like Ouspensky, Orage, the de Hartmanns, the de Salzmanns and Jane Heap (although Jeanne and Jane were allowed to return).

Just as with a train, one must know when to get off. If I stay on the train after my stop, I have lost at least some of the benefit of the trip. Maybe if I wake up shortly afterwards, I can walk back to where I had wanted to go, and the trip may have saved me a great deal of time. Or maybe I have to wait only half an hour for another train back. But it is easy to imagine worse scenarios: what if I have to wait hours, days or years for another train? What if I cannot find any trains back? Or even worse: what if instead of alighting when I have reached my home station, I stay on, and make the train my home?

How does one know when to get off the train? First, and most obviously, one must know the destination. If one has no aim, it is impossible. Mr Adie insisted that one formulate one’s aim: the formulation might not be perfect, it might even be known to be imperfect, but one had to attempt it. (see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, under the indexed word “aim”). Without an aim, he insisted, everything is equal. Aim alone, he would say, can give meaning. Incidentally, St John Cassian gave exactly the same advice. The spiritual life is not a question of mandates and orders: these are all to serve its aim, an aim which each aspirant must freely choose.

So only by reference to aim can one judge how long to remain in a group. This, I think, is the deep reason why the concept of aim has been downplayed in the “new work”. That way, one never has cause to leave, one is forever searching from scratch. Jim Wyckoff, however, from the New York Foundation, advised me not to think in terms of aim (advice which I ignored even then). It was, he said, too rigid. I know that some of his pupils think in terms of “orientation” but are resistant, if not hostile, to the concept of “aim”, or at least were when I knew them. An orientation can keep you in the Foundation forever … and then there were other methods of inducing perpetual dependence, which I may come to in a later blog.

But if, as I have written elsewhere, search only has meaning because of the possibility of finding, how does one know when one has found enough in the groups? I think the answer is simple: it is when one can see and understand how to approach one’s aim. And I think all conscious aims have this in common: when one can balance the work of the three centres, one can make one’s own way towards aim. One then can and perhaps even should try in life, without a group. For as I have written in that book, the one condition a group cannot ever give you is the condition of being without a group. The group does, and by its nature must, come between the seeker and life. For a time this may be good, even desirable, and even necessary. Certainly, I tend to think that to individually acquire what we had with the Adies, I would have needed 300 years of experience. I compare it to learning a skill from someone who knows it. But an apprentice who stays an apprentice forever is a bad apprentice, and has a poor master.

I repeat, when one can bring the three centres into some balance, when one can come to a state where neither intellect, feeling or organic instinct predominate, that is, when one can act reasonably on a fairly reliable basis, despite the inevitable errors and misjudgments, then, I would say, it is time for one to strike out alone. Maybe not forever, or maybe not too far away. One may wish, for example, to contribute to the group. Such maturing, moving away, and returning is shown on the enneagram. It is the natural order of life. The parents raise the child and then the child become an adult cares for the parents in their need.

But before one returns, one must have established one’s own. What is the point of school if there is no graduation? If I am in a “school” all my life, I am institutionalized. We have to test ourselves in life. And it is not the Fourth Way if one is never alone in life.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

March 23, 2008 at 8:24 am