Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

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



Joseph Azize Page


1 Identification

What actually is identification? Is it a mood, a thought, a feeling? What part of the person is it in? Or is it part of the person at all? Is it perhaps something which invades?

One easy, perhaps superficially appealing approach would be to say that these questions are academic: I seek only to know identification in myself, to know it by taste. Surely what matters is the struggle with identification, not theorizing about it.

Well, such a response is understandable, maybe even necessary for beginners, but not, perhaps, forever. We can be too absolute, and ascribe all-purpose value to a thought or a sentiment which once served us well. Indeed, we perhaps identify most with our best ideas. Yet, very little on the practical side of the spiritual path admits of perpetually valid statements, because, as one proceeds, the demands change. Mr Adie always said that the work becomes harder as one continues: if I can include more in my effort, then I have a responsibility to include it, and if I do not strive to fulfill my responsibilities I lose that possibility. When we have had a good taste of identification then we can take action to make it passive: but in order to do so, we just might need understanding. As we shall see by the end of part 3, the salt of knowledge is a necessary part of the deep work of freedom from identification.

What is identification? The short answer is, I think, that it is emotional engagement with an object of consciousness. I can identify with anything, any recognition or acknowledgement, only provided that there is some emotional attachment. This emotionality will invariably be a form of like or dislike, attraction or repulsion. The one thing identification cannot be is impartial. Identification is practically the law of life, whether inside families, socially, at the office, in the factory, in clubs, and even in groups.

Mr Adie used to say that considering (identification with people) is worse inside the groups. Only now do I see why this must be so: it is because the greater our valuation of something, the greater the opportunity for emotional engagement. We identify with our group leaders and colleagues, with our roles and our years in groups, and even with Gurdjieff himself and other teachers. Impartiality is most needed in groups, and in respect of the spiritual path. Sometimes I wonder if it is not a law that we must be madly identified with the work before we can become free of identification and re-meet the inner work, as if for the first time.

In George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia (esp. pp.37ff.), I set out a lot of what Mr Adie had to say about identification and how to struggle with it. I included some musings on the etymology of the word, and Mr Adie’s favourite simile for understanding identification: the four stages of identification. I cannot repeat all that here, but will say that my understanding is that the tendency to identification can never be eliminated in us so long as we have consciousness, and that there are degrees of identification.

The greater the identification, the more familiar it is, and hence the more unrecognizable as sleep. Part of the problem is that identification is often invisible. It is chained so tightly to our eyes that it we see by means of it, like contact lenses we have forgotten about. We may not even be aware of a liking or disliking, we take things as being the way they should be, and we mistake the familiar for the normal. As a friend of mine commented when I told her of my idea for this blog, “identification is taking things personally”. Often this attitude of personalising is not noticeably either pleasant or unpleasant: it is our world, our air; after all, we can only look out on the world from the citadel of our own person.

Frequently, too, we honour our identifications with golden names. For people such as ourselves, our “loving” involves identification. The modern passion for being “passionate” is a passion for identification. But maybe not all our loving, maybe some of it is free at moments, or at least relatively free, from identification. And then, there are moments of compunction, when we momentarily have a perspective on ourselves and our weaknesses. At least, I believe so.

2 Knowledge

One person who used to visit the groups in Australia would say: “When I know it, I kill it”. I have thought about this from various angles, and considered it carefully. This sort of comment was, I think, critical to his approach, which was one of breaking down, of course with a view to the arising of something new. But however I ponder it, I have concluded this is an over-statement, and by being inaccurate is dangerous, because it displaces a better, more precise approach.

Knowledge is not the problem: identification with our knowledge is. Without the possibility of knowledge our situation would be hopeless. There is even a certain identification with not knowing, as if to say that one knew anything would be false pride. If we don’t value what knowledge we have, we will lose it.

So we come back to the beginning: what do we know of identification? Is identification a mood, a thought, a feeling? What part of the person is it in?

I think that identification is in different “I”s. These are formed of associations in one or more centres. Sometimes these associations are so complex that they form chains, like a series of reflexes. But knowing this gives us an opportunity for freedom: when we become aware of identification we may be able to discern which centres are engaged, and how the chain of associations operates. Then an intelligent strategy for rendering identification passive can be formulated.

This insight also explains why it seems that identifications invade us from outside. An external factor acts as a catalyst, it starts a chain of associations, and then we are lost. Once the emotions are engaged it is impossible to feel oneself as separate. But the mind can stand aside, and, as Mr Adie would say, “feeling follows thought”. We do not drive out one emotion with another, but a feeling becomes available, and the reality of feelings is more potent than that of emotions.

When I have a feeling of myself, then perspective and impartiality are possible for me. I see that I am identified with many things: my name, my age, my personal history, my clothes, my taste in food, my emotional reactions and so on. Of all identifications, perhaps one of the most significant is identification with my bodily sensations. It is difficult to explain this, but once we see how we are identified with the body, a door opens, and we can get beyond it. We are identified with our range of movement (even though we may not consciously know what it is), our posture, the height from which we look at the world, the angle at which we hold our head and eyes, the way our stomach feels after a meal, and even the myriad small tensions, discomforts, which we constantly experience.

This is the knowledge we need. Westerners have a hang-up with knowledge. I suspect that it comes from the philosophers. In an academic paper, I have contended that, after the Milesians, the Greeks, and through them ourselves, took mathematical knowledge as the gold standard, indeed the only standard for knowledge. But one only needs knowledge of a mathematical type for maths, and scientific knowledge for when one studies science. In Greek, one word, episteme, means both “knowledge” and “science”. This may have contributed to the confusion. Compare this to Arabic: there are roots such as arafa and alama which have the same sort of range as Greek episteme. However, there is another productive root, adraka, which can mean “to know”, but has a fundamental sense of “reach, catch up, attain, ripen” and so on.

Identification and Knowledge 3

Breaking the nexus between knowledge and mathematics may offer a fresh understanding and valuation of knowledge. We have identified with our knowledge, and with our concept of knowledge. Fortunately, there is another approach, the objective approach to knowledge, unidentified, based on a transcendent aim, the ground of understanding which Mr Adie spoke of in “A God Given Day”:

“Somewhere in me is a granary, a store of knowledge, of facts. These facts have a definite significance, not wavering or uncertain. This knowledge is within me in the form of a living whole, having a certain definite power and degree of understanding. This can be a present part of my reality, if I appear certain and sure upon the stage of this, my life.”

So the problem is not that if I know it, I kill it. It is that I am not there to know it, and if I am not, then nothing is alive. The important thing is to have an aim, a flare to call my presence. If I have, for example, the aim to be more available to feeling, then I need a plan. Consider three simple objects for observation: (1) The sensation of my head and in my head. Am I identified with this? Even asking the question can lead to clarity. A friend of mine mentioned that before he prays he asks God to clear his head, and it works. (2) The tensions of my body. Once more, just asking whether I am identified with them brings me to a deeper relaxation, making more control possible. (3) The tempo of my thoughts, feelings and body. These are far more important than we realize, and may even be the key to consciously changing my state. I always find, when I query the tempo at which I eat, react, or “think”, that the tempo is unnecessarily frenetic.

Such questions, I find, can “dissolve” identifications, at least temporarily. But at the end of the day, the big question is the relation between identification, or more accurately, non-identification and the Kesdjan body. It can be active only when identification is passive, but at the same time, freedom from identification is a function of the Kesdjan body. The body is, and must be, a machine. But it can be a machine which is en-spirited by a soul.

The idea for this blog really began when I realized that some identification has a positive role from the point of view of daily life. The strings of identification allow life under the sun to roll on. Without some degree of identification, the instability of our inner world would be even more closely reflected in life than it already is. Identification keeps us in one place, and with the same people for significant periods. Without identification, we would be nomadic to the point of anarchy. So, identification has a positive role, but it has undoubtedly grown unhealthily to become a canker, and the strings have become chains.

I think that the linkage of thought and emotion which we see in identification is not in itself bad, the problem is that they are not under the direction of reason.

And this lead to a practical conclusion: if identification has a value when it is present in a modest manner, then freedom from it should be a gentle action, and should be conducted with understanding. This is why I said at the outset that knowledge is needed. There comes a point, I believe, where it can be very useful to sit in the collected state, and to ponder identifications, where they come from, what their value has been, and then to bring before me my understanding that they have surpassed their usefulness, and now mean slavery. If that is done, perhaps a feeling can appear which will serve as the reconciling factor between my desire for freedom of consciousness, and the bondage of identification. The chains, then, are transformed into rational connections.



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.



Joseph Azize Page


Al Stewart 2008

Part One: Review and Restatement …

In my previous blog on Al Stewart, I took this inexplicably under-rated artist as the occasion to write about music as a possible intersection of time and eternity. I said that through the measured time of music, something beyond time could be invoked. I would add now that because measured or rhythmic time is not the time in which we live, music is already a displacement of the ordinary. The question is: will it provide something new at the same level, at a lower level (which much of it is) or at a higher level? It goes without saying that little music, just enough to moisten the tip of the sparrow’s beak, is above the level of ordinary life.

Ordinary existence isn’t knowingly lived for an aim: it is subsisting, it is passing our days. Very rarely do we live with a sense of purpose. We don’t sufficiently relate our days to our lifetimes to charge either with meaning. We don’t penetrate into the larger meaning or significance of our lives, being absorbed in the details, and in daily demands. As Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. Our lives occur to us almost chaotically: only the narrative of our physical existences lends them continuity. Providence affords a default purpose of existence: to marry and have children. But this doesn’t at all satisfy everyone, while people seek different things from their families, while others seek for more in addition to family life.

The age is desperately hungry. Music has been put to the service of the entertainment industry, but music also provides a favourable opportunity to sustain feeling, order and even reflection, if only for a brief period. Songs and even entire albums can be intense slices of life with enhanced significance. Neither does the imposition of order and rhythm mean that surprises or dis-order must be excluded: e.g. “Strawberry Fields Forever” where the breaks in regular rhythm and production are part of the message, or Stewart’s “Nostradamus” where the discombobulation effectively marks change in the narrative.

Music makes for concentration and intensity. As mental, emotional and physical beings, we find a focus in its distilled experience. Listening or dancing, we’re only subliminally aware of the passage of time. With recorded music, one can select the mood, bringing another influence into one’s emotional life, at any time.

By contrast, in life our emotions transmogrify with bizarre swiftness. Music can induce or at least support a particular emotion, providing a cradle for a profound sustained experience. Even if a poignant song holds one in its sway for a few minutes, that is remarkable, that is a grace. Take the unearthly serenity of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. It is more than merely another good love song. For just over four minutes, a magic is masterfully conjured, and held – intensely – in a pure state.

In that previous blog, I also cited Plato’s teaching that time is the moving image of eternity, and observed that humanity was created in the image of God. This dual truth provides another clue: the making of images is a sacred occupation. God and eternity are engaged in it. So too, on a lesser scale, is the artist, at least potentially. Just as one can sometimes glimpse a muted beam from God behind certain human manifestations, perhaps an expression on a face, or a certain action, so one can sometimes sense something eternal behind manifestations in time. If the artist themselves has touched something transcendental, their possibility of allowing that to come through in their music is so much greater.

Music rarely realizes its almost mystical potential: and if it did, one could not listen to it for very long. While many musicians can turn out a fair dance tune, or a sentimental ditty, very few can do what Stewart does, and perhaps no one else actually has to the same extent. By reference to his Year of the Cat album, I explored how he expresses the sense of being present to change in and around us, a subtle feeling of “me-here-now-and-in-history”. It isn’t that no one else has ever sung history, but no one has done it so often and well as to practically make it their domain. In our impoverished feeling lives, we’re often blind to this feeling of “me-here-now-and-in-history”. And yet, it nourishes many phenomena with which we are familiar: nostalgia, patriotism of a certain kind, the wistful attachment to the scenes of our childhood, and the poignant sadness at seeing those sites demolished.

I also showed that whether he was aware of it or not, some of Stewart’s work can be understood as referring, even obliquely, perhaps, to the concept of recurrence.

Recurrence says that when we die, our lives begin once more, and that they do so perhaps very many times if not endlessly. Ouspensky’s idea was that our time (note that I stress “our” time) is our life: we live this life again not in the future but in its very own time. Time, taken as a whole, not just as our individual life-times, has a first dimension: punctiliar time, that is, this very moment. It has a second dimension: linear time, the past and the future. At death our souls continue in this linear dimension of time. However, if recurrence takes place, then it occurs along the planar third or spherical dimension of time. To Omar Khayyam’s confusion, the pen of life, having written its story, returns to trace out the same tale again. To us, the page is blank, but that’s only an illusion. On this theory, the tendencies of the “previous” life are present. Sometimes one dimly remembers that one has lived certain moments before, or just as significantly, that this time this experience, this adventure, is new.

To illustrate this, I told the story of Socrates and Apollo. Socrates heads due west from Athens, never having to swerve an inch thanks to the wings Apollo has lent him. It would seem to Socrates that he is moving due forward in a straight line across a plane. But “the flatness of the planet is a trick of the eye”. Socrates eventually finds himself in Athens once more. So too, the “arrow of time” maybe travels in a circle.

But time is not simply circular, according to Gurdjieff, it is solid and spherical. Although we are unaware, it possesses a third dimension. I offered the metaphor of each moment of time as a traffic-intersection with roads forever branching off. While we continue to drive ahead in time, and to look forward, we are wearing blinkers. We do not see that at each moment we are also driving down one of those roads which has opened up perpendicular to our forward safari, and that the perpendicular roads run into eternity. Orage said: “To be aware of this simultaneity is called solid Time, or the third dimension of Time.” On the theory, and I stress that it is only a theory, occasional intimations of solid time are what we know as “déjà vu”. They may, perhaps, also be behind the sort of experience Wordsworth recalls in “Tintern Abbey”.

According to Gurdjieff, the concept of reincarnation (e.g. in Hinduism and Buddhism) is only an approximation to the truth, and the truth is better expressed by recurrence. Gurdjieff had some interesting things to say about karma, but this is not the place to expound them. Yet, Gurdjieff told Ouspensky, who told Nicoll (without whom we would not have known this) that in recurrence the executioner becomes the executed. This suggests something similar to karma, and while that may be so, it also suggests to me that, in theory, the cycle of recurrence is a function of a change in places in the law of three (see George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia).

That is, if there is anything in my speculation, then the large forces to which our lives have been subject, change places in the ‘next’ life, and excepting this dance of influences, each life would be an identical rerun of the one ‘before’. But they are not identical: Ouspensky said that there are two types of lives, descending and ascending. Suicides, criminals and such are descending . Eventually, suggested Ouspensky, they cease to be reborn. The path of conscious development is ascending and offers more choice in the ‘next’ recurrence. Orage is known to have said that in his next life he intended to remember to go to America earlier in his career. Yet, it is not the aim of the Gurdjieff system to escape from recurrence, or at least not its stated aim, even if that is a desirable consequence of becoming more conscious. Rather, Gurdjieff’s system is concentrated on this life: if one looks after that, all the rest will look after itself. Yet, it must be emphasized, as a matter of theory, it is identical to Christianity: the only realistic aim in life is to prepare the soul for eternity.

But of course, the blog also said a good deal about some of Stewart’s music. By the end of it, I had, I hoped, written enough about Year of the Cat to make you want to listen to that and to much more of Stewart’s work. In this blog, I shall write about another of his albums. I shall need to write a third Stewart blog to do justice to A Beach Full of Shells and some of his other masterpieces, such as “Modern Times” and the sublime, elegiac “Down in the Cellars”.

Part Two: Al Stewart’s Famous Last Words (1993)

In 1993, Famous Last Words was released. Like Year of the Cat, it makes a satisfying whole. As with Lennon’s songs from 1980, you feel that a youth has realised his promise, and put down sturdy roots, producing music just as enjoyable as the early gems, but deeper, as massive as the later Beethoven, in its own way. To me, it’s one of the best popular albums of the last fifty years. I’d even say that it is superior to any single album produced by Dylan, although in terms of modern popular music Dylan is unquestionably a more significant artist than Stewart. I might add that while I would not put Stewart, as an artist, in the same category as Lennon, or as a melodist, with Elton John, I enjoy his work vastly more than that produced by any number of over-rated entertainers such as the Beach Boys, the Eagles, Michael Jackson or Rod Stewart.

Stewart’s first words on Famous Last Words are:

I feel as volatile as the weather
Over fields of Scottish heather
The night before Halloween.

And his final words are:

Night rolls in, gone is the wind,
Fireflies dancing in your eyes,
And now you’re holy again.
Oh, night rolls in, oh, night rolls in.
Oh, night rolls in, oh, night rolls in.

So, appropriately for an album named Famous Last Words, in memoriam Peter Wood (who came up with the piano riff for “Year of the Cat”), it opens and closes with the night, but in both cases, nights such as few artists have ever presented so successfully. The opening words come from “Feel Like”, a song which I would described as “charged”. Stewart continues:

This is the day when all of my feelings changed,
This is the day when all of my life to now seemed oh so strange.
You know I feel like a bird of a different feather,
A trail that runs forever through a forest of evergreens.

This track should be taken with “Genie on a Table Top”, which could be dubbed “Feel Like: Part Two”. Powered by a Hammond Organ, the lyrics are vivid, cinematic, and simply brilliant:

… There was a hint of syncopation coming from the sidewalk and the street.
There was a glint of scintillation hanging over everyone you’d meet
And it makes me feel okay
Like a big yellow tractor going mowing through a field of hay,
Like a genie on a table top surfing through the month of May.
I saw a world in the window of a knick-knack shop,
And I tossed it in the air.
… There was a rush of animation bubbling about inside my soul,
There was a rin-tin tabulation coming: it was so hard to control,
And it makes me feel okay:
Like a pig with a bucket full of truffles in a French café,
Like Louis Armstrong playing trumpet on the judgment day,
Like a flying-boat captain with an amethyst lake below,
Like a winner of a marathon rolling in a field of snow,
Like a figure-skating gigolo looking for a heart to steal,
Like a simulated orgasm suddenly becoming real,
Like a big yellow tractor going mowing through a field of hay,
Like a genie on a table top surfing through the month of May.

Stewart inimitably describes how it feels to be raised in exaltation. In “Feel Like”, he has remarked, correctly from the point of Gurdjieff’s psychological ideas, that a change in the entire person comes about when the feelings have become engaged. As he states, his life now seems strange. We have superficial and ephemeral emotions in response to external stimuli, but the first real feeling is “self-feeling”. It is that feeling which is in direct contact with the real I, “essence” (see my blogs “Behind Real I Lies God” and “The Sixth Sun”). Once feeling has been awoken, the balance of one’s life suddenly seems different because it was lived in a different state of consciousness, and under the domination of personality. As Gurdjieff said, personality lives in time, but essence is in eternity. This offers some context for the line about the shop window: it is reminiscent of Blake’s “eternity in a grain of sand”, not just in terms of sentiment, but because both Blake and Stewart are writing under the influence of essence.

Perhaps I am making too much of what is only a bunch of words thrown together for the purposes of the record industry? It could be, but I doubt it, for three reasons.

First, consistency. Stewart’s lyrics are consistently deep, unlike, say Neil Diamond’s, where depth is the exception to a prevailing sentimentality. Unlike most modern lyricists, Stewart does not need to take refuge in cleverness, even if he sometimes does, such as in “Song on the Radio”. Lennon penetratingly remarked that Dylan was deliberately opaque so as to be “secure in his hipness”. Stewart, I would say, is (usually) secure in his ability.

Second, Stewart’s two “feel-like” songs have a certain individuality. Many have sung that they feel “alright”, “good”, or “so good”. Novelty can pose as individuality, e.g. Bowie contriving to be “unpredictable”. But individuality can come from something deeper, the essential I. As Gurdjieff remarked, personality always reacts the same way, essence never. There is no clear clean litmus test to differentiate the two, and they can be mixed: to me, in some of Bowie’s earlier material such as “Bewlay Brothers” and “Rock and Roll Suicide”, together with the glitz and show business, I hear something of the real person. In “Feel Like” and “Genie”, rightly or wrongly, I fancy that I hear the genuine article, presented with his accustomed artistic prowess.

The third pointer to the truth of Stewart’s art is that he is aware not only of his feelings but of larger reality. He describes bodily sensations in such a way that one must assume that an original experience prompted it, and he is aware of himself in the world (he feels like a trail which runs forever through a forest of evergreens).

So there is awareness of basic corporeal reality, but if that were all there were, it would be unexceptional. This body of work offers refinement and reflection. By refinement, I mean that for artistic effect elements of reality are heightened, while others are excluded. Consider the autumnal mellowness of “Don’t Forget Me”:

The sun is going down across the great unknown.
Lights come on inside the towers made of stone.
A muffled drum plays out of sight and all alone – Summer is over.

… It’s a never ending show, faces come and go like a river.
You’re a rainbow wrapped in grey, shake the dust away …
But don’t forget me, don’t forget me now …

The melody, the arrangement, and the saxophone all conspire to illuminate the words. Once more, the hearer cannot imagine these words with any other tune, or vice versa. It is another example of Stewart’s uncanny ability to conjure up a sense of himself as conscious to the passing of time. It is not just the memory of the old days which makes for this poignant sense. By itself, that brings only nostalgia. It is the fact that one is present to the recollections the past.

Another aspect of Stewart’s art is his interest in history. More than anyone else, he can take scenes from history and bring them alive. The result is not always magnificent. For example, I was not terribly fond of Between the Wars, although it had its moments. Sometimes he reaches for a greatness which narrowly escapes, as on “Man for all Seasons” from Time Passages. In that case, I think the problem was the musical construction of the song: despite the excellent subject matter, the melody does not weave a spell: it just does not feel like a smooth, organic piece. At almost six minutes, it sounds like two songs stitched together by good production.

On this album, “Peter on the White Sea” is a well-told tale from the life of Peter the Great of Russia, but the music just doesn’t, at least to my ear, quite rise to the occasion. It tells the story of how the Tsar and others took a boat onto the White Sea. They were struck by a storm, and even the mariners thought they were lost. But he persevered all night, and as the day broke in calm, they came into harbour by a monastery, ringing its bells in greeting. It is good, maybe even very good, but somehow not compelling.

More successful, perhaps because of Tori Amos’ melody, is “Charlotte Corday”. That gruesome identity assassinated Jean-Paul Marat at the precocious age of 24, in 1793. The murder is perhaps the best known instance of French Revolutionary politicide, partly because Marat was slain while bathing to mitigate a chronic dermatological problem, partly because the knife-plunging killer was a beautiful young aristocrat, and partly because each of them (de Corday and the butchered Marat) were depicted in rivetting, almost journalistic artworks. Stewart draws a spare sketch of a furtive apparition in a long black dress, fetched as a step on the stairs or as a shadow in the candlelight (every devotee of G.M. Hopkins knows that ‘fetching’ is an old term for ‘seeing’ an apparition). Stewart suggests a soul wandering under purgatorial licence, and fading before dawn:

Just what it is that brings her here no man alive could say,
See her for a moment, then she looks away,
The ghost of Charlotte Corday.

Stars in the window like a panoply covering everything, a river of light

… All at once there’s someone there that only you can see,
Seeking the forgiveness that will set her free.
The wind has taken away the words she wanted to say,
The sky now turning to grey, the dawn is turning away
The ghost of Charlotte Corday.

The piece is atmospheric, and memorable. In particular, the line commencing with “Stars” is worthy of mention, brilliantly evoking through the Milky Way the wonder of the spectral appearance. That the line isn’t linearly related to the balance of the song makes it, if anything, even more potent. It is quite an impressive accomplishment: while Stewart’s history-exploring tendency is given full rein, he creates an effective ghost story. In other words, he brings history directly into the present.

This relating of history to the contemporary is of course something Stewart has attempted very many times, either by way of placing sketches from diverse times side by side, as in “Manuscript” and “Somewhere in England”, or by reflection, as in “Palace of Versailles” from Time Passages. In that interesting song, Stewart sings of the French Revolution, warning “Marat, your days are numbered!”, later to comment that “the ghost of revolution still prowls the Paris streets …”. In a way, “Corday” is the successor to “Versailles”: two songs of Revolutionary outrages spawning restless spirits.

And that is an opportune point at which to introduce the spell-binding “Necromancer”, for if there is a supernatural rush on this album, so to speak, “Necromancer” is it. My only quibble with the arrangement is the introduction and the middle eight. My guess is that Stewart came up with the verses first, but was left with a rather short song. Impressed by the verses, as anyone would have been, he decided to lengthen it with the “additions”. I may be wrong, but despite the relation of the introduction to the close, the introduction and middle eight do sound to me inorganic. However, the reuse of the opening at the close is effective. That said, the song is still extraordinary.

` Oh the sweet addiction of forbidden fruit,
Oh the strange affliction that has taken root.
Oh the hidden cancer, cancer of the soul.
Oh the necromancer inside us all.

One can sense, even from these first four lines, the mantic power of the words. The rhythm and melody uncannily complement them to produce an incantation of hypnotic power.

I have never seen this many people gathered in one place together.
… Caught up in the fury and euphoria they say will last forever …

Oh the pretty candle, oh the pretty flame,
Come fly into the night with us and feel the same.
Oh the sweet surrender, oh the solemn vow,
Leave your own identity and join us now.
I believe that I have been through this before,
And I can still remember,
Maybe a past life, I just can’t tell.
The faces and the uniforms have changed
Yet there’s something so familiar,
Am I still under that same old spell?

Is Stewart referring to reincarnation, to recurrence, or is he unsure?

Oh the love of darkness, oh the vampire’s kiss,
Have mercy on a people who would dream like this … like this.

Stewart does not identify the setting or the people concerned. At one point he warns “you don’t want to know”. Are they contemporary? The gruesome vision would suit a Satanist coven and a ritual for shape changing, perhaps into ravens or owls. However, I think that Hitler is his necromancer, because of the references to a people, their numbers, uniforms, the dream that it will last forever, the addictive quality of the fury and euphoria, the loss of personal identity in something bigger, and the bizarre attraction. Perhaps Stewart was impressed by “The Triumph of the Will”.

But we cannot be sure. Sometimes such as on “Modern Times”, he teasingly creates a fictional encounter which seems to have the ring of truth about it. Perhaps he has done so here. A necromancer raises the dead, and Stewart does this: he did it for Peter the Great and Charlotte Corday on this same album. He is forever assuming identities from the past. In other words, his necromancy is, I think, strictly artistic. This extraordinary piece leads us directly to the “Hipposong”, the penultimate song on the album.

As a piece of music, I am not fond of the “Hipposong”. But, like “Necromancer”, it mentions reincarnation. The singer superciliously dismissed the plaints of the suffering hippopotamus. The last line of the song is the punchline: the haughty narrator himself comes back as a “large hippopotamus”. Instant Karma, so to speak, has got him.

But if the “Hipposong” is slight (just under two minutes), the album as a whole is dominated by the epic “Trains”, running for just over eight minutes, yet making a satisfying whole, as well integrated and tight as any two and a half minute song. I think of this piece as a classic: the past is enchanted by the glow of memory, spirited into the present by magic lantern, and then the line between past and present is peeled away.

In the sapling years of the post war world, in an English market town,
I do believe we travelled in schoolboy blue, the cap upon the crown.
Books on knee, our faces pressed against the dusty railway carriage panes
As all our lives went rolling on the clicking wheels of trains.

The school years passed like eternity, and at last were left behind.
And it seemed the city was calling me to see what I might find.
Almost grown, I stood before horizons made of dreams …

Trains, all our lives were a whistle stop affair, no ties or chains.
Throwing words like fireworks in the air, not much remains.
A photograph in your memory through the coloured lens of time.
All our lives were just a smudge of smoke against the sky.

The evocation of boyhood is simple, brief and all the more poignant for the barely perceptible restraint. The use of the alliterative “smudge of smoke” (once “puff of smoke”) is both accurate and poetical. The reference to those early years passing like eternity is very true, and there is a reason for it, which I return to in part 3. The song tells the story of the spread of railways through to the early 20th century, with slight vocal backing on the euphonious phrase “on the day they buried Jean Juarez” for an effective impetus:

On the day they buried Jean Juarez, World War One broke free.
Like an angry river overflowing its banks impatiently.
While mile on mile, soldiers filled the railway stations …

Of the soldiers, he sings “All their lives were just a smudge of smoke against the sky.” He swiftly moves on to the 1930s, “the nightmare years, then came the same thing over again, mad as the moon which watches over the plains”. Now appear trains of a type he’s never seen before: the trains which take the doomed to concentration camps, riding “to death along the clicking wheels of trains”. Rather grimly, their lives, too, are “just a smudge of smoke against the sky”.

Now forty years have come and gone …
And I ride the Amtrak from New York City to Philadelphia,
And there’s a man to bring you food and drink …
But I can’t tell if it’s them or if it’s only me,
But I believe when they look outside, they don’t see.
Over there, beyond the trees,
It seems that I can just make out the stained fields of Poland
Calling out to all the passing trains.

Trains, I suppose that there’s nothing in this life remains the same.
Everything is governed by losses and the gains.
Still sometimes I get caught up in the past, I can’t say why.
All our lives are just a smudge of smoke, or just a breath of wind against the sky.

Stewart cannot say why he gets caught up in the past: we all do, although few so reflectively as he does. I would venture that the reason is the one given at the very open of my last Stewart blog: “(God) also puts eternity in their minds”, as Solomon said. Or another factor, which maybe comes down to much the same thing, is that we are our past. (As Mr Adie said, “Repairing the past is the whole of our work because we are the past, and here we are, dead things,” quoted in “The Sixth Sun: Part One”). Our sense of passing is heightened by comparison with what abides, the way when a close one dies, we wonder why they should die while everything else survives. “Trains” has both change and continuity: the historical train system and by the jeweller-like setting of memories in the piece. I think “Trains” is an extraordinary achievement, yet not the greatest on this album. That honour, to my mind, belongs to “Night Rolls In”, a song with the simple dignity if not grandeur of “Mull of Kintyre”. The lyrics are short and simple:

Night rolls in, gone is the wind,
Fireflies dancing in your eyes,
Now you’re holy again.
Oh, night rolls in, oh, night rolls in.
It’s like a dream of a long time ago,
A footprint lost in the snow,
That covers the ground where we summered our lives,
Watching them grow from seeds that you sow,
But now the world in all its works and ways
Grays our novembering days.
The fire still glows that once was a rose a long time ago.

But the most powerful message is not actually in the words, but the music. It opens and closes with a calm, almost contemplative 20 second theme which, to my ear at least, conjures up visions of twilight as a fog, or a tide, quietly moves in. At the close, the same theme is repeated, but as the 20 seconds ends, an organ is heard, adding a religious if not devotional tone, and bringing the piece to an entirely satisfactory, and, I would say, a higher feeling of completion.

The word “rolls” nicely conveys the sense of advance, of the ineluctable but gradual movement of time. As I have shown by reference to Gurdjieff’s ideas, the great forgetting factor is indeed, just what Stewart refers to, “the world in all its works and ways”. Stewart’s art undoes the power of time: from the words “ It’s like a dream …” through to “The fire still glows that once was a rose a long time ago”, the music has more guts and power than something like “Eye of the Tiger”. Whereas “Mull” used bagpipes, “Night” evokes their spirit, the mix of poignancy and unquenchable determination.

And, indeed, the fire never goes out: the fire is the soul.

Part Three: Evoking the Timeless

In conclusion, with each of these song, it is not just the lyrics, although Stewart’s lyrics are, on the whole, amongst the very best in popular music, but also the way they blend with the music and arrangements. I have not covered the entire album: “Angel of Mercy”, is strong, perhaps Lennonesque in its acerbic clarity, while and track six, “Trespasser” is edgy. But they aren’t relevant to our study of this masterpiece.

Having been told at the outset that Stewart feels like “A trail that runs forever through a forest of evergreens”, and having feasted on a smorgasbord of history, a ghost and a necromancer, it is difficult not to feel that Stewart’s interest in history and reincarnation come together. Stewart seems to me to be aware of personal history (what has happened to Al Stewart born in the 1940s), the history of humanity (with which Al Stewart feels an extraordinarily deep empathy), and the history of the greater self (Al Stewart reborn at different points in history). The third of these is the thread on which the other pearls are strung.

When “Trains” says that early years pass like eternity, a fact noted many times, not least by Thomas Traherne, the reason is, I think correctly, indicated in Gurdjieff’s psychology. When we are born, he says, we are more in essence: personality has not yet formed. Essence being in eternity, the relationship is natural. But more than this, as children all of our faculties: organic and physical instinct, feeling and intellectual are closer together and to the higher faculties (see George Adie under “higher centres”). Also, they vibrate at a tremendously fast speed. As we grow up, they separate out more, they slow down, and the simplicity, interest and vibrancy of childhood is lost.

Because the child’s impressions both contain more of the whole person (all the faculties) and are so much faster, far more impressions are received at that time. This, for example, is how children manage to learn languages so quickly: they can intuit what words mean while we have to puzzle it out, and they absorb far more content than we do. We just receive the impression of what we’re thinking about, or of our latest obsession.

And this, in a way, is the great value of artists like Stewart. They receive fine and subtle impressions, express them, and transmit them. Because we listen to songs about the past, a sense of timelessness is created. By this magic, eternity is briefly evoked.

Post Script

For those with a strong interest in the Gurdjieff ideas, and have read “The Sixth Sun”, if there are ascending and descending types of lives, this suggests that our deaths are always manifestations of the third or reconciling force. If death is “3” in the triads, then our lives taken as a whole are either 1, 2, 3 – what I have reasoned is the triad of creative art – or else 2, 1, 3, the triad of dismantling. I did not realise this when I started this blog, so to me it is an unlooked for and striking confirmation of what I wrote about triads there.

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 third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.



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?


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.