Posts Tagged ‘In Search of the Miraculous’
P. D. Ouspensky 1878- 1947
Last evening I sat down in the most comfortable armchair in our house in Toronto and read in its entirety the text of “In Search of the Miraculous.” I did it in thirty-five minutes. It was not my first reading of P.D. Ouspensky’s text, nor will it be the last time I expect to read this work, yet it took me only a 1,200 seconds.
It is true I once took a course in speed-reading, but this time I was not using the techniques that I had learned at those sessions. (Indeed, my speed-reading instructor once said, “Speed-reading is good for general reading, but not for “the four P’s” – poems, plays, pornography, printer’s proofs … and I might add philosophical texts.) Nor did I skim or scan the text. I read every word with comprehension. I recommend the practice and the experience to one and all.
You will be forgiven if you have already decided that I am out of my mind! Indeed, how could anyone read with comprehension and with recall every page of Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous”? After all, the tome is 390 pages long, with 570 words per page, a total of 222,300 words. I am referring to the edition that is titled and subtitled “In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching” which appeared on the list of Harcourt, Brace and Company of New York in 1949. This is the first edition.
It was a remarkable text then and it is a remarkable text now. Of course it is impossible for even a graduate speed-reader to embrace its contents in thirty-five minutes. Thirty-five hours might be a better estimate of the time it would take to absorb what the author had to say, and only then after repeated readings.
It was ten years after the tome was first published that I read it for the first time. A woman who was very knowledgeable about the Work privately suggest that I not boast of having read it at so young an age. She added, “The Table of Hydrogens is really very detailed and difficult, you know.” The same applies to all the book’s eighteen chapters, not just to Chapter IX which describes the indeed-difficult Table of Hydrogens.
“In Search of the Miraculous” was not Ouspensky’s first choice of titles for this magnum opus, which appeared two years following his death – the same year as death came to the remarkable man who is identified throughout the text as “G.” – George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The author planned to give it the title “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” That may be a truly descriptive series of words, but it is one that is less saleable than the present one. Instead, “Fragments,” etc., became the volume’s subtitle.
There was always the feeling that had the book appeared as “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching,” it might now be confused with another book by another author – “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten” written in 1900 by the Theosophist and writer G.R.S. Mead. Ouspensky knew about Mead’s book, for he had enjoyed an early association with the Theosophical Society, so that some confusion might have followed.
Ouspensky’s preferred title for his work was “Man and the World in Which He Lives – Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” He was preparing that work for publication in 1912-1934 while he was working on another of his big books, “A New Model of the Universe,” which was first published in 1931 and revised in 1935; the standard edition is the one issued by Harcourt, Harcourt, Brace and Company in New York in 1950. The earliest known title for “New Model” is “The Wisdom of the Gods.”
In a footnote to “New Model of the Universe,” dated 1912-1934, he states that a new book is “being prepared for publication.” At the same time we also learn from the same source that the author was working on the notion of “different time in different cosmoses … which will be the subject of another book.” He was revising the English version of a novel with the working title “The Wheel of Fortune.” That one had originally been published in St. Petersburg in 1915 as “Kinemadrama.” It eventually appeared in English as “The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.” So it might have had three titles.
Could anyone actually read “In Search of the Miraculous” in thirty-five minutes? That is an obvious impossibility. When I make the claim that I did, I failed to explain that the text that I succeeded in reading so rapidly was Chapter IX of “A New Model of the Universe” which is coincidentally titled “In Search of the Miraculous.” The book’s chapter runs from page 305 to page 342, so it is only 37 pages long, easily read in a little more than half an hour, especially as it about as is far from being technical in orientation as possible. In fact, it highlights the writerly side – indeed, the literary side – of Ouspensky’s otherwise austere temperament.
Readers of “A New Model of the Universe” may or may not recall that Chapter IX is composed of six literary sketches – “feuilletons” in French – which evoke six aspects of “the miraculous.” The sketches are both subjective in emotion and objective in the sense that their subjects are appreciated and evaluated in the contest of what might be called “the real history of the world” instead of what we know as “the history of crime.”
The first sketch evokes the magnificence of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and explores the claim made for it is that, just as modern science has conquered space, esoteric science “has conquered time.” It has done so for “it knows methods of transferring its ideas intact and of establishing communications between schools through hundreds and thousands of years.”
Egypt and the Pyramids are described in the second sketch. It discusses the construction of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau and leaves the reader with the following thought: “In reality the pyramids contain a great enigma.” One of the enigmas is anti-evolutionary in nature. On this basis alone we should conclude the existence of civilized beings prior to ourselves; hence we ourselves are not “the descendants of a monkey.”
Sketch number three is devoted to the Sphinx about which “nothing is known.” The author writes, “The Sphinx is indisputably one of the most remarkable, if not the most remarkable, of the world’s works of art. I know nothing that I would be possible to put side by side with it. It belongs indeed to quite another art than the art we know. Beings such as ourselves could not create a Sphinx.”
“The Buddha with the Sapphire Eyes” is the title of the fourth sketch. Ouspensky’s account of it – his meditation on the reclining figure – has made it among occultists and esotericists the most famous of Ceylon’s giant statues. It is located just outside the Sri Lanka capital of Colombo, and there is a photograph of it reproduced in the Commemorative Issue of “The Bridge,” a journal published by The Study Society, London, in 1977. But the author offers a verbal portrait worth a thousand pictures. This Buddha speaks to us “of a real existence, of another life, and of the existence of men who know something of that life and can transmit it to us by the magic of art.”
The fifth sketch is titled “The Soul of the Empress Mumtaz-i-Mahal” and it paints a rosy and pastel image of the Taj Mahal, a scene that never seems to cloy or lose its fascination. The Taj is a tomb, a burial site, but it is not a gravesite. Here Ouspensky develops a theory that moves into dimensions beyond the fourth, infinity being the fifth: “The soul and the future life are one and the same.”
“The Mevlevi Dervishes” is the sixth and last sketch. In Constantinople he was invited to a tekke at Pera where he had the opportunity to observe the dervishes whirl about like the planets in the heavens. He witnessed the ceremony on at least two occasions at an interval of one dozen years. He concluded that events move more quickly than do the dervishes for all their speed. For instance, in the interval, Russia itself had ceased to exist. Events that had occurred to him during those twelve years had imparted some knowledge to him. “And now I knew more about them. I knew a part of their secret. I know how they did it. I knew in what the mental work connected with the whirling consisted. Not the details of course, because only a man who takes part in the ceremonies or exercises can know the details. But I knew the principle.”
On that note this chapter ends. These synopses of Ouspensky’s sketches are meant to offer the reader a sense of the poetic side of the author’s temperament. It was Colin Wilson’s argument that the world lost a great metaphysician in P.D. Ouspensky when he met G.I. Gurdjieff. Whether this is true or not, all is not lost. We have Ouspensky’s heart and soul in the chapter “In Search of the Miraculous,” and his body and mind in the book “In Search of the Miraculous.”
Perhaps you will agree with me that this is not bad for thirty-five minutes of reading!
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist with a special interest in mysteries. His current work is devoted to preserving the hitherto unknown short mystery fiction written by Sax Rohmer, the English author who created the arch-villain preposterous, Dr. Fu Manchu. All this is explained on his website: < http://www.colombo.ca >
Notice of conferences, books, reviews or events of interest to the practitioner or scholar of Gurdjieff’s teaching may be sent to: Sophia Wellbeloved email@example.com
J R COLOMBO REVIEWS FRANK R. SINCLAIR’S MEMOIR
‘WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY’
Neither the Work nor the expression of the Work in any given time and at any given place is sacrosanct or immune to the ravages and revelations of time. Its demystification involves, in a way, its remythologization, and this is proceeding apace in our time.
Part of the process is the shedding of light on its early history through historical research, and on its recent past through the publication of books of studies and memoirs. The historical classics are “The Harmonious Circle” written by James Webb and the two books by Paul Beekman Taylor titled “A New Life” and “Gurdjieff’s America.” Among modern-day classics is the amazing tome titled “‘It’s Up to Ourselves” written by Jessmin and Dushka Howarth. (I celebrated the publication of the latter volume, largely a scrapbook with a multitude of snapshots, on this blog – Sophia Wellbeloved’s blog – a month or so ago.)
None of these works (or others like them) has ever attain the scriptural status of “All and Everything” or even the canonical status of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” and “In Search of the Miraculous.” Yet the light they shed on the Work is a human glow which does not bathe it in a sense of wonder as much as it does imbue it with a sense of personal gratitude for assistance received and services rendered. Frank R. Sinclair has contributed two books to this class of publication: “Without Benefit of Clergy” and “Of the Life Aligned: Reflections on the Teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff and the Perennial Order.”
I have yet to see a copy of the second of these two books, but after reading the first one I will certainly read the second. The book at hand, the first one, is badly titled and poorly subtitled, but my criticism ends there – at the title page. The other 295 pages are fine by me, anecdotal in the extreme, as I will demonstrate later.
It is a trade paperback. It measures 8″ x 5.5.” and it has a full-colour cover and there are close to forty black-and-white photographs, mainly snapshots, almost all of them new to me and to most readers. The volume has been attractively designed and issued by Xlibris. There are two editions, the first in 2005, the second in 2009, which is the one that I purchased.
The title is “Without Benefit of Clergy.” The subtitle is “Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Both title and subtitle give me pause. The title attracted my attention (as should all good titles) so I decided to determine why I feel it is inappropriate. I have always associated the phrase “without benefit of clergy” with immorality – living together in sin, without the sacramental blessing of the church – and I was partially right in doing so, as well as partially wrong.
In English jurisprudence, members of the clergy were not subjected to secular laws, whether criminal or civil, but were permitted to demand to be tried under canon law. This immunity was abolished centuries ago. In 1890, Rudyard Kipling employed the phrase “without benefit of clergy” for the title of a short story set in India about the Englishman named Holden and the Muslim woman named Ameer who “shack up” (1950s expression; the 1980s expression still current is “living together”) and how their unsanctioned union brought wrack and ruin to both conservative communities. The plot proved sufficiently potent and the phrase so popular that in 1921 it became the title of a the silent movie “Without Benefit of Clergy” that starred Boris Karloff, of all people. So my original reaction to the phrase – sexual congress outside the bonds of marriage – is probably that of most people unschooled in the intricacies of English jurisprudence.
I am not convinced that the title of this book of memoirs sheds any light at all on the subject of these memoirs. Is the author telling us that his memoirs are scandalous or shocking? If so, then he is wrong. And then there is the matter of the subtitle which also irks me: “Some Personal Footnotes to the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Is the world of footnotes divided between those that are “personal” and those that are “impersonal”? Not that I am aware. Who would enjoy reading a book of footnotes? (Well, the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges may. Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science-fiction writer, may. James Moore, the precisian, who is the author of “Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered,” may, as well. But surely not the general reader with a taste for the world of the Work.)
I have done a lot of carping. It is time now for some celebration. Although I have yet to meet the author, I will take the liberty of referring to Frank R. Sinclair by his Christian name. The back-cover photograph of Frank shows him with a straw hat perched on the back of his head, rather like the humourist Stephen Leacock. It seems to give the reader leave to refer to him as Frank. If it does not do that, I have only to turn to the prose itself which is informal and off-the-cuff enough to confer permission. In fact, at one point – when Frank was asked to give the reading from the Bible at Lord Pentland’s funeral service (held in a Roman Catholic church, oddly) – he refers to himself as “a nonentity of the first order.” Now that is excessive!
In this memoir there are thirteen chapters, two pages of acknowledgements, prefaces to the first and the second editions, not to mention three appendices and one index. All of these sections are of some interest. But in the interest of brevity, I am going to short change the first half of the book and concentrate on the second half for it is largely devoted to pen portraits of personalities in the Work who have had an influence on Frank’s inner life and his outlook on life.
Readers who are interested in the early life of a journalist who was born in the shadow of Table Mountain in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1929, and who found some twenty-eight years ago that his spiritual quest had taken him to Franklin Farms at Mendham in New Jersey, and Armonk in Westchester Country in New York State, and at the Gurdjieff Foundation on Manhattan Island, will find these early pages to be a treat.
In a sense he never did leave these sheltered communities, yet he emerged in the 1980s as the successor of Dr. William Welch as the President of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. He has headed the Gurdjieff Fountain since 2009 and lives at Grand View-on-Hudson, a town of some 300 people with a high median income north of New York City. Its most notable inhabitant after Frank is Nobel laureate Toni Morrison.
From the age of eight, Frank experienced “a blaze of light” while questioning the nature of God. Thereafter he had a few near encounters with death. He graduated from the University of Cape Town, majoring in philosophy, and spent eight years as a journalist with the Cape Times afternoon newspaper. He writes about his feelings of “anguish and heartaches and sufferings” at the time, but these came to an end, symbolically at least, when he encountered an essay by J.G. Bennett called “Living in Five Dimensions,” was assigned to review Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider,” studied “In Search of the Miraculous,” and identified with the verses of the deaf South African poet John Howland Beaumont, who had a mystical connection with nature: “I did but sleep – ah me, I dream, I dream!”
About 1956, Frank resolved to seek out the source of “the teaching” in a surprisingly direct way. He placed an advertisement in the personal columns of the rival Cape Argus afternoon paper to “make contact,” and to his surprise a reader of the paper mailed him a copy of “All and Everything” along with a note: “From one human being to another, that both may have more of themselves to give.” The benefactor’s identity remains unknown to this day.
He eventually met an English gentleman named B. Fairfax Hall who was an enthusiast for private printing. In England in 1930 he had founded and operated The Stourton Press, named after the family’s house in Westminster. Hall was a member of P.D. Ouspensky’s circle before he immigrated to South Africa. In 1947 he began to print books, including Ouspensky’s “A Record of Meetings,” in an edition of twenty copies in 1951, and “The Struggle of the Magicians,” in an edition of ten copies in 1957.
Frank already knew about editorial matters; from Hall he learned how to operate an Albion printing press, which served him well when he began his own private printing at Armonk, N.Y., using the imprint Antic Press. Hall, who had compiled “The Fourth Way” from Ouspensky’s lectures, arranged for Frank to reside for two months at Madame Ouspensky’s 300-acre estate at Franklin Farms. Frank left South Africa in 1958 and did not return for some twenty years.
Frank worked and studied at Franklin Farms and there met a young woman named Beatrice Rego, a teacher, and they married. No description of the bride is offered, but there is a long account of Frank’s out-of-body experience immediately prior to the wedding ceremony. There is also a long account of life at the residence, with a fleeting reference to Madame Ouspensky (who remained in her bedroom chamber so he never set eyes on her while she was still alive) and Madame Olga de Hartmann, who came and went and once referred to him as “a piece of furniture,” but there is a very detailed account of the first visit of Madame de Salzmann.
“Here, for the first time in my life, was someone who spoke to my deepest concerns, who undeniably had an inner presence (a thought that I had no way of articulating at that time) and at the same time actually ‘included’ me in that presence, who listened in some unfathomable way, and who actually ‘saw’ me before her and spoke to me as a real human being.”
In many ways the heart and core of the book is the account of the experiences that occurred to the impressionable young South African at Franklin Farms, experiences that are unhesitatingly described as “profound and miraculous.” One such experience, following an altercation with Madame Ouspensky’s unstable grandson Lonya Savitsky. It was accompanied by intense mortification:
“But lying there prone on the floor, I suffered terrible remorse and shame at having behaved as I had done, _and at the same time_ I was witness to the miraculous appearance in me of this brilliant, golden being. It glowed in a surrounding vivid blaze of light.” He calls it “the phenomenon of the golden embryo.” Pages are devoted to examining the experience, with its configuration of the Kesdjan body, from the vantage-points of different religious and cultural traditions.
This takes us to Chapter 6 which is a departure from the norm, for it consists of the account kept by Frank’s wife Beatrice of her impressions of the various appearances of the elderly Gurdjieff in New York. Her brief memoir is full of interesting details. Overall she found Mr. Gurdjieff to be a man of “tremendous energy; anything in this life seemed possible.”
Chapter 7 is a remarkable tribute to a veteran of the Work named Martin W. Benson who is a jack-of-all-trades and someone who seems to be “all essence.” Originally a puzzle to Frank, Benson became what might be called a “best friend” for his twelve years of apprenticeship at Mendham and Armonk.
Chapter 8 is in many ways the counterpart of Chapter 7, for it is a sustained tribute to Frank’s friendship with Thomas Vivian Forman, a Cambridge-trained specialist in agriculture as well as military intelligence. In many ways, too, Forman is the counterpart of Benson – a balance between personality and essence. Frank’s love of people glows in these portraits.
Chapter 9 is titled “Annals of the Antic Press” and it describes Frank’s work in the icehouse at Armonk where, among other books, a small band of editors, designers, compositors, and press operators printed “Pronunciation Guide for Words Invented by Gurdjieff” in 1984, the forerunner of the much expanded edition issued by the Traditional Studies Press in Toronto.
By now it should be apparent that Frank is an appreciator of people. To my mind the outstanding section of his memoirs is Chapter 10 which is titled “John Pentland: The Lordly Line of High Sinclair.” Lord Pentland, chief of the clan and a scion of the illustrious Sinclair line (which seems not to include our author Frank Sinclair), was Mr. Gurdjieff’s appointee to oversee the Work in the United States. In these pages the author describes a number of the close and almost accidental encounters that he had with Pentland between 1958 and the latter’s death in 1984.
The author has no problem with Pentland’s rapier-like wit, for he felt, intriguingly, that when Pentland glared at him and wielded it, Pentland “gave him ‘his work.’” It is an interesting passage and perhaps it hinges on the somewhat off-the-cuff statement that Pentland was “old enough to be his father.” It seems Lord Pentland was the grandson the Marquis of Aberdeen, the seventh Governor General of Canada, as well as part of the family of the Earl of Elgin, an even earlier Governor General. Perhaps it was from this aristocratic tradition that he learned the arts of diplomacy – certainly of use in Work circles!
I feel that this chapter about “this remarkable and unusual man” is the “still point” of the memoirs. The next two biographical chapters are anti-climaxes, though they do have interesting dimensions. Chapter 11 is devoted to “Bill Segal: The Radical Reorientation,” and it presents this multi-talented man as “a class act.” Segal was the epitome of the active man, and even after being nearly crushed to death an automobile accident, he emerged almost as active as ever. Sinclair writes, neatly, that Segal was “humbled both in his pride and in his prime.”
Chapter 12 is titled “Jeanne de Salzmann: A Compelling Call” and it seems to me to be an apologia for the second half of Madame de Salzmann’s life. “The Unknown does not yield itself through abundant description,” Frank writes, so the reader who does not have prior knowledge of her life and work will be at sea when it comes to understanding what Frank is writing about.
I take it that he has two themes: the first is the role of the institution vis-à-vis the individual; the second is the espousal of the role of grace rather than effort and of flow rather than effort – to express it directly – that is represented by her from the death of Mr. Gurdjieff at a probable age of eighty-three in 1949 and Madame’s death at the ripe old age of 101 in 1990. Madame can do no wrong.
“I dare say,” he writes gingerly, “that when her own notes are collated and published, there will be surprising indications of the precision with which she followed the movement of the attention and the work for Presence.” As it happens, extracts from Madame’s notebooks are about to be issued by Shambhala Publications under the title “The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff,” so we will have the opportunity to judge for ourselves.
Frank is obviously devoted to Madame and he accepts her direction for the work, its “single grand verity,” which he takes pains and pages to trace back to Mr. Gurdjieff’s talks in New York, the first one on Dec. 19, 1930, and the second one on Dec. 25, 1948. The exposition in these pages is more associative than it is disciplined, so there is little doubt that he feels that what she was doing she was doing consciously and with authorization. “Madame Jeanne de Salzmann brought neither a New Work nor an Old Work, but only Gurdjieff’s Work.”
I will pass over Chapter 13, “Some Random Inferences,” because the contents are indeed random (to describe them would be to try to herd cats) and they turn out to be elaborations of points made earlier in the memoirs. The one new element that I spotted is the effort that Frank is making to enlarge to conception of the Work to include the thoughts of some new-comers along with some overlooked old-comers (to name a few men and women in alphabetical order): Joseph Azize, Michel Conge, Martha Heyneman, James Moore, Jacob Needleman, Ravi Ravindra, Sophia Wellbeloved.
Also given some recognition is the contribution of the annual International Humanities Conference (better known as the All & Everything Conference) as well as Traditionalist thinkers like Titus Burkhardt and their semi-annual publication, the Vancouver-based “Sacred Web.” This is close to an ecumenical touch, and perhaps it is a daring one.
Throughout Frank retains his modesty and the projects the air of constant amazement associated with Alice in Wonderland. “I did not drink Armagnac with Gurdjieff,” he writes, amusingly. “I belong to the post-Gurdjieff era, not even remotely a Saul among the Apostles, but a fellow traveler, feeding from those who, like Madame de Salzmann, had been before.”
The second edition of the memoirs ends with three appendices as well as a nominal index. Two of the appendices consist of reviews of the first edition of the book. The first review is a once-over-lightly appreciation by David Appelbaum. It originally appeared in “Parabola,” as did the lively interview with Frank on the subject of “Who Is the Teacher?”
The third appendix consists, surprisingly, of a review amusingly titled “The Guide for the Perplexed” and posted on Amazon.com by its author, biographer James Moore. I found it to be one of the book’s highlights, in the sense that its tone and style are totally at odds with Frank’s. Yet it hits the right note when in an impish mood Moore describes Frank as “a regular-kinda-guy whose pride in his modesty attains oxymoronic heights.”
Had Frank been born under the shadow of the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, rather than in the shadow of Table Rock, South Africa, I would be inclined to describe him as “a bloke.” Whatever the description, he is a sensitive fellow and “Without Benefit of Clergy” is certainly an entertaining and I believe honest account of one man’s rather unusual spiritual quest. He demystifies by remythologizing.
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who is known across Canada for his popular reference books. He writes about Work-related publications for this blog. His latest publication is “Walt Whitman’s Canada,” a book-length, documentary-style account of the American poet’s tour of Central and Eastern Canada in the Summer of 1880. Colombo’s website is < www . colombo – plus . ca >
JOSEPH AZIZE BOOK REVIEWS
: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon, by Gary Tillery (Quest Books, 2009, 6” x 9”, 169 pp. plus chronology, notes, bibliography and index.)
The cover photograph of a wintry Lennon, with the Statue of Liberty ghostly in the background, is appropriate and eloquent for this excellent book. Its subject, John Lennon (1940-1980), was one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, and, beyond any sensible argument, one of the most profound songwriters ever known to us. Its author, Gary Tillery, is intelligent, well-informed, sympathetic, and writes very well indeed. I could have greedily finished it in one day, had I had the leisure.
The contents are methodically laid out in four parts: the first three mix biography and philosophy in a readable blend, while the fourth part weaves all the philosophical strands together. This way, we’re introduced to the concepts in a narrative setting before they’re briefly reprised in a more abstract manner. So, although the last section is more recondite, the ideas are familiar. The effect of Part 4, then, is not of density but of convergence.
Reading it, I entered into Lennon’s world. I couldn’t help but engage with the issues Lennon engaged with: life in society, life as a child and as a parent, wanting and giving love, our responsibility to use our influence and power constructively (we all have these, to various degrees extents), religion, politics and art. It’s a book to make and to help you think, thanks in no small part to the quotations from Lennon.
Tillery’s thesis is plausible: Lennon correctly saw himself as a philosopher (as well as a rock’n’roller, a writer and an “artist”). His philosophy was more a developed outlook, based on his experience, than it was an academic philosophy drawn from reading and University discipline. It was not expressed in treatises, but in music, a few short books, some sketches, and perhaps most importantly, his life. Yet, as Tillery notes, Lennon did some serious reading, especially in English nonsense, literature and poetry (and, we should note, history). So far as I know, he didn’t read philosophers like Plato, Aristotle or those in the Western tradition subsequent to Descartes.
Lennon never sat down to work out a consistent system, the way a modern academic like, say, D.M. Armstrong does. Nor did he develop his philosophy by reference to classic problems such as materialism, or the problem of universals. The issues he dealt with were delivered to him as he rose from the lower middle class to the privileged caste of super-wealthy celebrities and tried to make sense of his multiple worlds. Having said that, Tillery finds five principles in Lennon’s philosophy:
(1) it was fundamentally humanistic and secular (p.50),
(2) with a faith in individuals to find their own best natures,
(3) through their love to combine,
(4) through their power to change the world, and
(5) through their altruistic aim to give life meaning (p.101).
That is Lennon’s philosophy in a nutshell, and along the way we have a fascinating account of his life and intellectual development. I could have started with the three principles on pp. 7-8, but they come to the same thing. The account is necessarily brief, but Tillery has a spaniel’s scent for the essential, and the very conciseness of the biography brings out some critical features in sharp relief. Lennon realised he was responsible for his actions, in fact responsible for his influence, and struggled to becomingly discharge that responsibility. Tillery is not the first to grasp this, but his understanding of it is extremely clear and well put (“we owe it to ourselves …”, p. 7; and “Lennon came to see it … as their responsibility to make a positive contribution”, p. 56, see also pp.100-101).
I am most impressed by Tillery’s ardent desire and ability to sum up large issues in pithy statements, e.g. in speaking of how Lennon came to rock’n’roll, Tillery says “he was groping to define himself” (p.23). At p.80, in respect of the Maharishi and Janov, he summarises Lennon’s conclusions by saying: “Leaders were substitute fathers” (p.80). At p.130, he observes that Lennon learnt, from his “lost weekend”, that “… freedom without a foundation is an abyss”. These lapidary phrases don’t come about by accident: a writer has to work to coin them. It is so much easier to just throw words at your subject. Tillery can be justly proud of his achievement, especially in this respect. It is one of the engagingly Lennonesque features of his style. It’s almost a book to hold a conversation with, and the comments below can be taken as my side of the discussion.
Tillery coins a Lennonesque phrase, “cynical idealist”, to describe Lennon (see the explanation at pp.71-4). Personally, I would have said “street-wise” or perhaps “hard-nosed”, and described Lennon as a “songwriter-philosopher”. There is something harsh or dismissive implied in the word “cynical”, and, for me, importing that nuance is rather a high price to pay for the pleasure of the paradox.
Overall, I would be inclined to see Lennon as “sceptical” rather than “cynical”. Yet neither word is really correct, because, whether sceptical or cynical, he was also, by turns, trusting, extraordinarily optimistic, and even gullible (as with some of his advisers). Steven Stark quotes an unnamed critic as saying that of all the celebrities interviewed in a series of t.v. shows in 1969, only Lennon had “a gospel, a hope and a belief” (Meet the Beatles, p.272).
He was all of those things on a cinemascope scale, and as Maharishi experienced, the turn from suggestibility to hostility could come very quickly. In that instance, Lennon had surely been seeking a father figure whom he could trust (p.80), and when Maharishi disappointed him, he lashed out. Is this cynicism, scepticism or something else? Henriette Lannes once said that no one can be adequately described by reference to one characteristic. Such as we are, we’re too divided, too psychologically diverse for that. Shortly before he was murdered, Lennon said that he knew that he wasn’t always positive, but that when he was, he tried to project it (p.155). Lennon’s insight and frankness is touching, and because he saw his fluctuations, it meant that he had the possibility of becoming more consistent.
So although the title is witty, I would quibble with it. Even the sub-title: “A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon”, raises an issue: while Tillery does deal very well indeed with Lennon’s attitude to religion, his use of meditation, and his approach to the book Mind Games, the emphasis in this book is on philosophy rather than spirituality. That is, the primary thrust of the book is with Lennon’s ethical and political philosophy. Spirituality is really the secondary stream here, as the five points of Lennon’s philosophy show.
While Tillery’s approach to Lennon is not at all like mine, neither is it inconsistent. I think that, by comparison, I probably pay more attention to what I hear in the music. The difference in methods is, I often found, stimulating. Tillery looks at what Lennon said in his songs and elsewhere, and deduces a philosophy from that. I am oversimplifying a little bit, because Tillery is quite aware of the need to consider Lennon’s life as an expression of his philosophy: he even quotes Lennon as saying: “Our life is our art” (p.100), referring to Yoko and himself, but also, perhaps, to every human being. To me, this is critical. As Gurdjieff showed, one cannot really divorce a person’s philosophy from their life. They are two related aspects of the one larger reality: their being. I shall return to this below.
Tillery nicely brings out how Lennon was concerned to be able to reach people, all people, and not just a large audience. Lennon did not see himself as over and above the working people he had come from. He never lost his sympathy. I recall an anecdote from the Beatles years, where he was being driven in London, and they’d stopped at traffic lights. Some girls who noticed him perversely scratched the paintwork of the car (I think it was the Rolls). The driver got angry, but Lennon calmly said: “It’s alright, they paid for it”. That is impartiality. Lennon was also his own most perceptive critic. I hope to get to this in the forthcoming blog on “Memory” and “Living on Borrowed Time”.
Lennon was an extraordinary mix, and this book is so interesting partly because Tillery communicates his own broad interest in Lennon’s life and work. This sympathetic interest provides many incidental reading pleasures. For example, I appreciate the story of how Lennon told the students of a university, who were protesting the University’s refusal to turn a vacant lot into a “People’s Park”, that there was no park “worth getting shot for”. Although they had sought his opinion, they rejected it, and in the event, one hundred were injured, one fatally and one blinded. Lennon’s response was equally incisive: the students had been used by an administration which had provoked them into protesting so that it could come down hard on them (p.103)
Not only was Lennon an “extraordinary mix”, he also had something of the English eccentric about him, a type Tillery may not have mixed with, but which is far more benign than the American version which becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories and the Federal Government. This English eccentricity showed partly in Lennon’s faddishness, his love of the exotic (I think this partly explains his fascination with Maharishi), and in his puzzling willingness to entertain weirdos and weird ideas.
One of these was fads, and a weird one, too, was the book Mind Games. I did read it a few years ago, but I can’t say I found anything deep or even interesting in it. Despite Lennon’s quondam enthusiasm for it, I am unpersuaded that it had any lasting effect on him. I thought it might shed light on the powerful song, but it didn’t. The imagery of “Mind Games” the song is not at all drawn from the book, from what I could see. I suspect that Lennon projected into the pretentious volume things which weren’t there, and then lauded what he saw in his fertile brain. So, although Lennon once said that it ranked with Yoko’s Grapefruit and another book, perhaps Janov’s, he seems to have moved beyond it by the time he wrote the song of the same name ( see pp.144-8). The excellent Lennonism which I quote below from p.148 did not need Mind Games, it is a well-known idea which he could have deduced for himself, and would have heard from Maharishi and, especially, from Yoko Ono. As pellucidly expressed by Mr Lennon, it reads:
If you speak, what you say doesn’t end here. … vibrations go on and on infinitely, and therefore every action goes on and on infinitely and has its effect. If you think carefully about the effect you’re going to create, there’s more chance for all of us. It’s hard to think of your every move. But your attitudes to life will have an effect on everyone – and thereby, the universe.
This, of course, dovetails with Lennon’s philosophy as expressed in “Instant Karma”, “You Are Here”, and “Imagine”, to name but some.
At this point, I should mention a matter which can be corrected in future editions: Tillery often cites Lennon interviews, but rarely dates them. For example, the above quotation is referenced, and so I can check the date if I can find the book he drew it from. But the deeper point is that Tillery does not seem to think that the interview dates are important. As a historian of some feeble description, I think that they are: when did key themes emerge, and how did Lennon’s philosophy develop? What twists and turns did it take? It isn’t so easy to conceive things in a sound historical perspective and to soberly evaluate one’s sources. But Tillery is not an amateur writer, he has all the intellectual tools, and wrote the first three chapters in chronological order. As stated, I hope that this book sees a second edition where Tillery can revise the book upwards, so to speak.
Another example of Tillery’s sometimes ahistorical approach to Lennon, is his reference to fasting, prayer and meditation, without noticing (or so it seems to me), that Lennon’s fondness for them was sporadic (p.70). I am unaware of any evidence that Lennon fasted in his Dakota years, although he did to some degree follow a macrobiotic diet (and yet, he also smoked and drank coffee). The question of meditation and prayer is trickier. Lennon referred to meditation in Skywriting by Word of Mouth, but I know of no evidence that he did more than endorse meditation at that time (pp.69-70), or that he ever meditated consistently, except when he was in India. And if he did meditate in the 1970s, how did he do so? Did he use a method, no method, or a mixture? Did he continue to use TM?
As for prayer, Lennon redefined it in pantheist, almost occult terms (as David Katz uses that word in The Occult Tradition). Also, as I mentioned in the “Beautiful Boy” blog, prayer is an important concept in that song, and impromptu prayers turn up, for example, in “Grow Old With Me”. But Tillery refers to prayer in the context of Jesus, Buddha and Milarepa and “time-tested methods of inspiration”. I do not think that that sort of prayer was significant to the mature Lennon, much as I might like to think it was. Indeed, as Tillery notes at pp.4 and 11, Lennon had tried prayer as Jesus recommended, and nothing productive came of it. (As Gurdjieff said, Jesus was speaking to his apostles, people who had been prepared. The effectiveness of prayer depends upon who is praying and how, and the attitudes of certain people upstairs.)
I don’t wish to make too much of this, it’s maybe a good fault to have, but a conscientious reviewer should mention it: Tillery seems to me sometimes to be too positive about Lennon, almost excusing his faults. Thus he downplays the self-indulgence of Lennon’s impertinent letter to the Queen returning his MBE because among matters “Cold Turkey” was slipping down the charts (p.106). I cannot credit, when the short letter is read as a whole, that Lennon was really trying to “lighten” its tone. The tone of that letter was all of a piece. Further, however Lennon may have rationalised the full frontal on Two Virgins, it carried eccentricity to a point which was bizarre, despite Tillery’s best defence advocacy (p.94). Lennon’s modesty before Mintz establishes nothing: he may have changed, he may have been shy in person, or had some personal reason for being apologetic before his friend – anything. Again, it is ahistorical to take incidents separated by the years and say that that was Lennon, as if he were a monolith. And one cannot seriously say of Lennon, by any criterion, that “perhaps he was a Buddha we can all relate to …” (p.137). Yet to be fair, Tillery does mention Lennon’s notorious violence to women (p.115).
As I said above, I don’t wish to make too much of this, because it is only a minor aspect of the book. But precisely because of the extraordinarily high opinion I have of Lennon, I feel that we must be careful not to lost perspective and slide into idolatry and identification.
The true point of my study of Lennon is that sometimes, perhaps very often, it is easier to see reality in the lives of other people than it is to see it in our own. Because of the depth of his insight, and his candid expression of what he learned at each step, Lennon’s life is the richest field I have come across of any figure in the second half of the 20th century. One of the things we see clearly in Lennon’s life is that simply wanting to love is not enough: we cannot love on demand. Something else must come first before the commandment to love can be reliably fulfilled. Just before his death, Lennon himself said:
The hardest thing is facing yourself. It’s easier to shout ‘Revolution’ and ‘Power to the people’ than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what’s real inside you and what isn’t, when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. That’s the hardest one. (p. 124, and that interview is dated!)
Earlier in the book, Tillery sums up this attitude, saying how Lennon came to realise that we have to act both “individually and in concert”, but that the “first key … is self-transformation. When considering how to improve the world, people almost always focus their attention outside themselves, which too often leads to resistance, confrontation, frustration and defeat. Actually, the only thing over which we have control is our own attitudes and behaviour” (p. 7).
This is true, at least as I see it. I mean both that Lennon’s insight is true, and that Tillery has correctly formulated Lennon’s view. So Lennon saw that we must begin with self-transformation, and he made some sterling efforts in this direction. It is an art which is expressed in and over a lifetime. But how can this insight be made practical? Tillery suggests meditation, prayer and fasting. Apart from the question of whether Lennon did use these methodically and consistently, it would be even fuller and more practical to say as Gurdjieff did, that if this is our aim, then our being must change before we can achieve that aim (what Gurdjieff calls “doing”).
To change our being, we need to transform negative emotion (a major part of the second conscious shock). That transformation begins not with a direct attack upon hatred, or a direct incitement to love, but with self-consciousness, with the first conscious shock, which comprises: “Efforts to remember oneself, observation of oneself at the moment of receiving an impression, observation of one’s impression at the moment of receiving them, registering, so to speak, the reception of impressions and the simultaneous defining of the impressions received …” (In Search of the Miraculous, p.188). And Lennon had one of those rare glimpses of the reality of self-remembering: I referred to this in the first Lennon blog.
That Lennon did not come up with a practical system like Gurdjieff’s is not a criticism. That he had so many elements of reality in his philosophy is stupendous. Lennon’s insights were astounding. But we cannot without violence separate a person’s philosophy and their behaviour: both express their being. Some of these issues are difficult, and I don’t raise this to condemn Lennon, but I feel that his apparent cruelty to Cynthia and Julian should not be swept under the carpet. It seems to me that Lennon’s cool and aloof paining of Cynthia is typical of someone who knows that he has acted unconscionably, and, incapable of making amends, transfers the blame to the other. No one behaves so maliciously as someone with a guilty conscience.
What Lennon knew and even what he felt, he could not always put into practice. This is one of the morals of Lennon’s life, rather like the lessons of Aesop’s fables.
Along the same lines, Lennon was almost fanatically competitive, especially with Paul McCartney first, and Bob Dylan second. Tillery’s comments at pp.32, 57 and 155 seem to me to be much understated. I think that it’s in MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head, where Lennon’s sabotage of McCartney’s music on what became the Let It Be album is documented. If I remember correctly, MacDonald called it an “act of bastardry”. The first time I read it, I didn’t want to believe it. After all, the motive was clear enough. I think few would dispute that Paul’s songs on that record (especially the title track, “Long and Winding Road” and “Two Of Us”) far outshone John’s. No, I think that if one is going to give an overview of Lennon’s life by way of background to his spirituality, his treatment of his first family, his insecurity and egotism, should probably be acknowledged.
Another possible example of being overkind to Lennon is the way that Tillery mentions philosophers like Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein. Is that praise by association? I am not quite sure. Tillery doesn’t mention Nietzsche, so far as I recall or as the index discloses. But if any philosopher should be mentioned in the company of Lennon, I think that it’s Nietzsche. Of course, he was not so respectable a philosopher as Kant, but then neither was Lennon. Even if it is right to mention Hegel and so on, yet I feel that Tillery pays disproportionate attention to those academic philosophers, as compared with others of an artistic variety like G.B. Shaw, Tennessee Williams (whose work Lennon idolised, see my “Tennessee” blog) and, of course, Bob Dylan.
A few books are missing from the bibliography. Goldman’s book is dirty, but it should be read, even if only to critique it, which, incidentally, I would like to do, but I lack the time. If you are a John Lennon fan, and know Yoko One, persuade her to pay me a stupendous amount of money to write a critique of it: she will be so satisfied she’ll wish she’d paid me more (and I won’t knock it back). Similarly, Dakota Days by John Green should be considered (from fallible memory, Green was one of Goldman’s sources, but he is not responsible for that). Green may have exaggerated certain matters, but I am by no means convinced everything he wrote was inaccurate. His diagnosis that Lennon had a sort of writer’s block during most of the Dakota period may be at least partly correct (see p.130). Once more, I don’t think he should be ignored.
Cynthia Lennon’s book John, is much fuller than A Twist of Lennon, which Tillery does use, and was, I would have thought, available in time for Tillery’s research. It presents a decidedly less flattering picture of Lennon, but my sense is that she has been scrupulously honest. Julian Lennon made some important points in the foreword to his mother’s book. I did not notice them here.
When books present negative images of Lennon one can try and maintain a dignified silence, lest they be given undue credibility by paying attention to them. Or one can answer them, squarely and analytically. I think that given Lennon’s fame, and the nature of the world, the first option is, finally, counter-productive. People will be coming back to Goldman (and even that weird book by someone who’d interviewed him once, and whose name I thankfully forget). If their views of Lennon are not answered, later critics will take this as a sign of their unassailable veracity. Sometimes silence can encourage, or at least facilitate, shouting.
But then, May Pang is positive about Lennon and the “lost weekend”, and I don’t recall that she’s even mentioned in this book. I find that odd, because she was an important figure in Lennon’s life. As I recall, she says that the LA period “wasn’t so lost”, and I found her memoirs intelligent and sensitive. Of course there was a personality clash (if that word is not too weak) with Yoko.
Another book which was missing, is Steven Stark’s Meet the Beatles: A Cultural History of the Band that Shook Youth, Gender and the World, published in 2006. It could have added another dimension to Tillery’s treatment, because it shows, to an extent I had never appreciated, how the Beatles’ popularity was related to their fresh approach to youth and gender, an approach which Lennon developed as he grew older. Which reminds me that the role of the female in Lennon’s spirituality, as opposed to his politics, seems to me to be missing from Cynical Idealist. Stark could also have helped Tillery to an increased appreciation of the importance of the Lennon/McCartney rivalry.
By the way, Quest Books please take note: I performed a spot check of the index, and found an error one of the 30 tests: where the index has p. 172 for the film Hard Day’s Night, it should be 170. That error was the only one I found, but the index should be revised if you go to a second, revised edition.
And I hope you do, because this book, deep and thought-provoking as it is, was a damned good read (to use a phrase Americans gave to the world).
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.
The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.
“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.
The writer Simson Najovits who bears a distinct resemblance to actor Michael Caine.
I have known Simson Najovits for at least forty years and I feel I know him quite well, despite the fact that over those years there have been no more than half a dozen face-to-face meetings. Between meetings we have exchanged first typewritten letters, then computer-printed letters, and now email letters. Our meetings have taken place in Toronto and Paris, though never in Montreal, where he was born in 1937.
Simson has lived in Paris since 1962. Although many of his short stories, poems and essays have been published, and he is the author of a critically acclaimed two-volume history of ancient Egypt which has been acquired by most of the major university and public libraries throughout the world, his many long prose works remain unpublished. I would read his fiction and marvel that no publisher worth his salt has ever decided to publish these works, which bear some resemblance to those philosophical memoirs written by Henry Miller. But Simson is a hyper-intellectual Miller and a scholarly one, much concerned with intellectual thought and its expression.
For years I knew Simson as an expatiate Canadian writer who made his home in Paris. Gradually I realized that he had enjoyed a long-time involvement with the Work. This association began in Montreal, where he attended Sir George Williams University, now part of Concordia University, a city university now infamous for its illiberal student activism.
JRC: What did you study at Concordia? Who influenced you the most – students or faculty?
I studied literature and political science. My biggest influence was my main literature professor, Neil Compton, who knew more about both Joyce and Shakespeare than any other person I’ve met since and convinced me that nothing could be more important than being a writer as long as one was a surly writer.
He was the only person I know who had a specific insurance policy against getting polio and he got it, and taught from a motorized wheelchair until the day the elevator he was in didn’t stop exactly at floor level and his chair tipped-over and he died. And there was my psychology professor, James Winfred Bridges, a giant of a man but somehow he projected the image of a merry, malicious elf and he instilled in me a love of Freud which has been enduring, and he was the author of what I think is one of the most impartial, neutral books ever written about psychology, Psychology, Normal and Abnormal.
JRC: Who introduced you to the Work? When and how did that come about?
From a very young age, perhaps as early as five years old, I was intrigued by what things were all about and I was a voracious reader. As a young man, I got all wrapped up in what can be called consciousness development and I came across Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum and New Model of the Universe and from there I went to In Search of the Miraculous … and from there I sought contact with the Fourth Way Work and found it with Tom Daly in Montreal, a marvelous man for whom I still have a fondness and who was terrifically patient with my impatience and romanticism; I was still a Beatnik in those days, even if in civilian life I was a staff writer for the Canadian Press News Agency, and Tom Daly was not the sort of person attracted to that kind of shenanigans, yet he nevertheless treated me with considerable forbearance.
JRC: You are Jewish in background. Were did your parents hail from? Were they Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or Ultra-Orthodox? Do you find parallels between Judaism and the Work?
My father was born in Hungarian Transylvania (now in Romania) and my mother in the Ukraine. They came to Canada when they were very young, about twelve or thirteen. My father was a decorated war hero in the Canadian Army Engineering Corps and my mother was a pious and delightfully superstitious woman. They were Orthodox and they tried to bring-up my brother, my sister and me in the Orthodox tradition and I reluctantly went through the motions (sometimes with a bit of humorous twisting) until just after my Bar Mitzvah, but I was always something of a born-atheist and it’s many years now that I’m a good practicing atheist.
Nevertheless, I’m also something of a paleo-Hebrew, you know a bit of that fire and brimstone stuff, a bit of that tsadaquah and rachmonnes stuff, righteousness and compassion, and a bit of that romantic, erotic Song of Solomon stuff. For me, standard Judaism, despite its historical importance, and like all the other residually surviving modern religions, lacks any pertinence in modern life, but paradoxically, too, Judaism, like all the major religions, is a cornucopia as well as a can of worms … and if I dearly love and have learned a lot from the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – I think the Talmud contains a huge amount of horseshit and I think the modern Hasids (contrary to the original Baal Shem Tov Hasids) are frequently detestable people with no sense of live and let live. …
As to standard Judaism, I see very little resemblance with the Fourth Way Work, but there is considerable resemblance with esoteric Judaism, with Kabalism – there is a clear similarity in Gurdjieff’s system of centers and the Kabalistic sefirot, and Gurdjieff in In Search of the Miraculous lists Hebraic esotericism among the four “fundamental” esoteric “lines.”
JRC: Aside from the obvious attractions of the City of Light, why did you settle in Paris, considering that English is your mother tongue? How did you support yourself?
I settled in Paris because it was the world center of the Work … and also because I was always attracted to France; when I was a child I read all the Horatio Hornblower novels and it would enrage me that the Royal Navy always, but strictly always, defeated the French Navy … and also because I had a tendency to live with or marry French women ….
At first I supported myself by wacky jobs of all sorts and then as a correspondent for Canadian magazines and American radio networks and then as a journalist at Radio France Internationale where after several years I became the Editor-in-Chief of the English Service.
JRC: You married and raised two children, though in later years you have lived as a bachelor. Were your wife and children ever in the Work?
My first wife was and is still in the Work nearly fifty years later and my son participated for a time in the children’s activities of the Work. Both my later wife (my main ex-wife so to speak) and our daughter can certainly be described as spiritually concerned people, but they have never participated in the Work despite discreet efforts now and again from me to get them interested.
JRC: I assume you met the Madames – de Hartmann and de Salzmann. What did they look like? How did they impress you?
Look like? Both were very handsome women, Madame de Salzmann with a solemn, wistful allure and Madame de Hartmann with a haughty allure. But it’s of course what they were which counted most. It’s redundant to say that Madame de Salzmann was an extraordinary person, but that’s what she was, even if she was not the saint that some people have tried to make her out to have been.
I saw her a couple of times a week for about ten years and she directed the quiet work meditation class I participated in, usually came out to our countryside work place every Sunday and would often visit our group meetings and movements classes where her mere presence changed everything, electrified the atmosphere.
She came across as being utterly and tirelessly devoted to the Work goals both for herself and for others, and as Gurdjieff said of her, “She knows everything,” but I think her outstanding achievement was as a master of the movements. And all that said, it also has to be said that she was capable of losing her temper, she could sometimes prudently lie when I at least didn’t think it was necessary and sometimes her answers to questions were clearly routine answers and repetitions of what she had already said many times and she had an austere side, including being a vegetarian.
And all that said, too, of course, she was the most stunning illustration of what somebody could achieve with Gurdjieff’s methods, achieve in their own way, with their own essence, so to speak, and her essence was not at all like the lusty, eccentric essence of Gurdjieff. …
As for Madame de Hartmann, she too was great person, but she didn’t play ball in the same league as Madame de Salzmann and while she had a fine critical sense, which could often hit the bull’s-eye, she also dismayed me with what was quite simply an overdose of arrogance.
JRC: You must also have met Henri Tracol and Jean Vaysse. Were you impressed? Who else influenced you? Madame Lannes? Peter Brook?
Tracol didn’t impress me, despite the fact that he was Madame de Salzmann’s right-hand-man, but Vaysse, Conge, Pauline David, Michel de Saltzmann and several others impressed me immensely – they belonged to what was perhaps the most outstanding generation of Gurdjieffians ever produced, they certainly did develop something inside them which was strongly evident on the outside and by their words and behavior they certainly influenced many people, including myself.
I knew Peter Brook well and he encouraged me in my writing and understood what I was doing; he (together with somebody named John Robert Colombo) was instrumental in my being awarded Canada Arts Council and Quebec Arts Council grants.
JRC: You have travelled much in Morocco. Did you find traces of the Work in that region of the world?
A bit of Sufism, a bit of trance-inducing gnawa musicians, lots of magical marabouts, lots of vendors flogging amulets and ingredients for casting spells, but nothing spectacular. The spectacular place for the survival of esoteric traditions, including some with resemblances to the Work, of course remains India, and concerning the movements and sacred dances, Dervish groups in Turkey and central Asia.
JRC: Your two-volume history of Ancient Egypt is a work of considerable scholarship. Did you find any earlier elements of the Work in “pre-sand Egypt”?
Certainly not! The notion of a “prehistoric, pre-sand” Egypt with immense achievement, esoteric knowledge and fabulous architecture is a loony fantasy, an historical, archaeological and climatic impossibility which is only believed by the loony wing of Egyptologists. And Gurdjieff’s statement that some of the Egyptians were “the direct descendants” of the Atlanteans and the wise extra-terrestrial beings, “the Akhaldans” with the “pyramids and sphinx [being] the sole, chance surviving remains erected … by the most great Akhaldans and by the great ancestors … of Egypt” is in the same vein and its only redeeming quality may be that just as in Plato’s original Atlantis myth, in Timaeus and in Critias, in which Plato’s purpose was to describe a great, wise ideal which could serve as the model for the Greece of his time, Gurdjieff might have been metaphorically hinting at the same thing for our modern times.
On the other hand, if Gurdjieff’s idea that many of the origins of Christianity were “taken in a ready-made form from Egypt, not only from the Egypt we know, but from the one which … existed much earlier” is also loony, it’s not loony to see some key aspects of Christianity, and notably what Gurdjieff called “the form of worship in the Christian Church” indeed owing something to what he called Egyptian “schools of repetition,” but of course in historical Egypt and not in an imaginary “pre-sand” Egypt. As for direct links between Egypt and the Work, or at least similarities, the Egyptian description of “the silent man” found in many of the sebayt, the so-called Wisdom Texts, does bear a resemblance to what happens in quiet work meditation.
JRC: Name six contemporary writers who are especially meaningful to you. How have they influenced your own life and writing?
Why only six? I could name dozens. There’s Richard Powers, a genius of plot and style and meandering in the seemingly meaningless web of our world and who is one of the few contemporary writers who coherently weaves science and technology into his novels; I think/feel that his The Goldbug Variations is a near-masterpiece.
There’s Paul Auster, who obviously takes great pleasure in writing, which has perhaps led him to write too many standard novels, but he’s done some very fine things like The Music of Chance and Mister Vertigo. There’s Pascal Quignard, who is on the cutting edge of what can be called a new way of writing, a near-plotless mix of narration, retelling of old tales, stark emotion and straightforward views about what goes on in us and in the world, as in the five volumes of his Dernier royaume.
There’s Haruki Murakami, who is a wizard of the oddball story, especially in A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There’s Michel Faber and his Crimson Petal and the White which burns your brain with how familial tragedy repeats itself. There’s Gunter Grass whose entire work is one long confession and what it’s like to be born with a cultural deficit and how he built himself into a man.
There’s Umberto Eco and especially Foucault’s Pendulum which delightfully fools about with esotericism and religion without falsifying history as some others do. And there’s Marie Drarieussecq, a fine writer of the humanistic intimate as in Bref Séjour chez les Vivants (A Brief Stay with the Living) and of the bizarre magical as in Truisimes (Pig Tales), and if she ever succeeds in combining these two elements she could become one of the greats.
And now I see that I’ve broken the Marquis of Queensberry rules and have already named eight contemporary writers, and I’ve got to admit, too, that had you been just a wee bit less arbitrary and asked not only about contemporary, living, authors, but extended your question to include recently croaked authors, I would have talked about Sam Beckett, surely one of the finest writers in the 20th century, surely somebody who best described lack of meaning and the absurd nature of life while seeing how it was so necessary to care and to “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” … and I would have talked about John Fante and especially his Brotherhood of the Grape, and Bohumil Hrabal and especially his I Served the King of England … and Jorge Luis Borges, I.B. Singer and Thomas Bernhard and Saul Bellow and Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Marguerite Yourcenar …
And had you been still more generous and asked me to name the writers of any epoch who were meaningful to me, then I would have had to write a long tome like Henry Miller’s The Books in my Life. In any case, reading has always been one of my great pleasures – both as an aesthetic and hedonistic joy and because if it can’t replace direct experience of all kinds nor the lessons of science, it is nevertheless one of the key vectors which tell the truest lies about our unraveable self and unraveable world. There is more philosophy in fiction than in philosophy.
And I must also say that if you had framed your question otherwise and spoken not only about contemporary writers who have influenced me, but of contemporary or near-contemporary people in all walks of life, I would have mentioned being equally influenced by Rothko and Giacometti, by Miles Davis and Leonard Cohen, by Igmar Bergman and Woody Allen, by Einstein and Heisenberg, by John Dewey and Richard Rorty ….
JRC: For the last two decades or so, you have devoted considerable time and energy to writing your reflections on life on this planet as well as on the illusions and delusions of spiritual practices. What conclusions have you come to?
I call it Niatpra – nihilism, atheism, pragmatism, art, the overall shift in attitude begun with the Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher-scientists in the sixth century B.C., who opted for rational, experimental, natural explanations rather than magical, religious, supernatural suppositions, who opened a war against God.
This war was unwittingly accelerated in the 17th century by Newton who despite his official belief that God had created everything demonstrated that the universe was run by mechanical laws of motion and gravity and in so doing left no space for anything but a deistic God, a God who created the universe and then withdrew from its operation, took early retirement so to speak.
And the Pre-Socratic war against God was renewed and developed during the 18th century Enlightenment and began culminating from the late 19th century with implacable science and plausible descriptions in psychology, art and philosophy which in one way or another owe much to Darwin and his “great, unmistakable principle of evolution” and his postulation of “natural and sexual selection” and to Nietzsche’s “there is simply no true world,” Einstein’s relativity and Freud’s view of our state as “essentially conflicted.”
Standard religion and standard esotericism and the notion that something called the soul have been ruined. There has been a virtual elimination of the possibility of any fundamental answer to any fundamental question. Our only lucid choice seems to be nihilism – no absolute truth, no absolute purpose – atheism – no God or gods, no metaphysics – Pragmatism – not the so-called pragmatism of crass self-interest, but the philosophy of Pragmatism, of “experimentalism” in the realm of the possible, of the search for the least imperfect answers, the answers with the best “effects” in an unknowable world – and art – art which is always glad when we come to visit its probing, its description and sometimes its celebration and which with true lies tells us more about what is, what ought to be, but what can’t be than any other medium ever invented by us Homo Sapiens.
All this doesn’t mean that it’s five minutes to the end, it is a lucid acknowledgement, a tabula rasa which can be painted on, a beginning, a passage to a new stance which may one day also be seen as a mythology, but which today comes the closest to what we believe, to the truth of no truth in which much is nevertheless possible. In other words, the world makes no sense, but a world of sense can be made, we can create sense, we can create meaning, we can live splendid, awesome lives, we can slice through the shoddy and maybe earn a tie-game.
JRC: You eventually left the Work, “not with a bang but a whimper,” I gather. When did this happen? What were the reasons for your departure? What do you see to be the future of the Work?
I wouldn’t say that it was either with “a bang” or with “a whimper”; it was in the early seventies and it was because I concluded that the Work not only doesn’t, but can’t deliver the promised goods; it can’t deliver the goods of being and understanding, of a radical transformation, of a real, central “I am” and the unfortunate truth – as far as I can make-out – is that no esotericism in the history of mankind has ever been able to deliver the goods, and that all of them in one way or another, including G.’s system, are ultimately religious, they fall back on the fairy tale of religion, on supernatural pie-in-the-sky, and to mention only a single, significant example, that’s what G.’s “Our Almighty Omni-Loving Common Father Uni-Being Creator-Endlessnes” is all about, pie-in-the-sky.
That doesn’t mean that we need over-focus on the many weird things in G.’s Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson which can’t possibly be valid no matter how one casuistically twists and turns Gurdjieff’s supposed intentions or metaphorical riddles, and it doesn’t mean that the book is not understandable as some people claim; it is not only understandable, it is a fabulously new way of writing mythology and it does provide very plausible postulations concerning the “machines” we humans are, how “everything happens” and “no one does anything,” our state of waking sleep and the nature of human nature.
G.’s system is pie-in-the-sky, the transformation he postulated can’t happen, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happens, there is meaningful trickle-down, there is a development of some consciousness and above all there is the development of a pedestal of perspective on oneself and on the world.
My years in the Work have marked me, they count enormously for me, and I still practice self-remembering and quiet work meditation, I still frequently dip into G.’s and other Gurdjeffians’ writings and I have written abundantly about the Work in essayistic, allegorical and fictional forms.
But the bottom line – about radical transformations, enlightenments, Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I am’ and all the other esoteric fundamental, wishful, magical hopes – is what the Buddha told a novice when he asked him what he would give him and the Buddha replied, “I will give you old age, sickness and death.” …
I think that historically the esotericism which has lied least, or pretended least, about so-called enlightenment has been Zen; when the 8th-century Chinese Zen master, Zhaozhou, was asked by a disciple to teach him satori, enlightenment, Zhaozhou asked, “Have you eaten your dinner?” and the disciple replied, “Yes,” and Zhaouzhou said, “Then go wash your bowl ….”
As to the future of the Work, like the future of other esotericisms, I think it will stumble along and be beneficial to some, and if ever a guru of the stature of a Gurdjieff or a de Salzmann again arises in the Fourth Way then it could temporarily flourish but basically, I think that we have to keep in mind the context in which Gurdjieff operated – in my mind, he was unquestionably the outstanding guru of the 20th century and he emblematized the hope of a renovated esotericism, a possibility that a radical transformation of our being and understanding was not a pipe dream, but he was also emblematic of the failure of this hope, a magnificent failure, but a failure … and while it would be silly to deny that the Work can enhance the lives of some people in it – in it for a few years, many years or their entire lives – the most that can be expected, and only rarely, is magnificent failure.
JRC: Are there any questions that remain unasked that you think our readers would be interested in asking?
Yes, you didn’t ask me if I’m glad to be alive! My answer is the final paragraph in the book I’m now finishing called Modern : YOU KNOW, despite all the crap and corruption, all the mischaracterization and misconstruing, all the puzzlement and absurdity, all the embranglement and failures, all the cruelty and wars, the sweetness of living is such that it’s just too damn bad that an afterlife doesn’t exist, that it’s as charmingly nonsensical as The Owl (that “elegant fowl”) and the (“lovely”) Pussy, but if it did exist, if we could really travel to “the land where the Bong-tree grows,” get “married by the turkey who lives on the hill” and “dine on mince and slices of quince,” which we would eat “with a runcible spoon,” then I think the ancient Egyptians naively concocted the best option – wehem ankh, repeating life and gamboling about in an ideal state of youth.
The Egyptians ardently wanted to be one step ahead of the game, one step ahead of the scandal of death, even after the usual warranty for wear and tear had expired.
JRC: Thank you! Chimo!
John Robert Colombo is known across his native Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of Canadiana. He writes occasional reviews and commentaries on Work-related subjects, particularly when they have Canadian context or content. To watch a video of Colombo’s banquet speech at the last All & Everything Conference, held in Toronto in April 2009, check his website: www. colombo-plus. ca. Simson Najovits’s study of ancient Egypt, which is mentioned in this interview, was published in two volumes in 2003 and 2004 by Algora Publishing, N.Y. The general title is “Egypt, Trunk of the Tree” and Volume I is subtitled “The Contexts” and Volume II is subtitled “The Consequences.” For more details, check the website for Algora Publishing: Nonfiction for the Nonplussed.
Barbara and James in Colorado
I am sitting in front of my computer in North Toronto and Barbara Wright is sitting in front of her computer in downtown Toronto, a distance of perhaps eight kilometres. We are twenty minutes apart by car, yet our communication is via the a geostationary satellite, with the signal travelling back and forth perhaps 500,000 kilometres in one or two seconds.
I reside with my wife Ruth in our three-bedroom suburban house in the city’s North York district, which is unequally divided between the Italians and the Jews, to such an extent the district is locally known as the “Kosher Nostra.” (The New York essayist Richard Kostelanetz once called our place “Colombo Central.”)
Barbara Wright – I’ll call her Barbara, as she is quite direct in manner – lives with her husband James (Jim) George in their suite in a highrise in the city’s downtown area. The balcony offers a sweeping view of the city’s exclusive Rosedale district, which Jim has known since his childhood.
The view is new to Barbara who was born in Colorado. She made California her home state for decades, at least until her late marriage, four years ago in San Francisco, to Jim. They make a formidable couple and their surroundings are awesome. The suite is richly decorated with works of Buddhist and Hindu art: statues, mandalas, rugs, paintings, etc. There is even a framed photograph of the smiling couple with a giggling Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, taken last year during a private session at the time of his last public visit to the city.
Perhaps I should recall that Jim served as Canada’s High Commissioner to India from 1967 to 1972. During his years in New Delhi he befriended two youthful spiritual leaders of the Buddhist-Bon tradition: the Dalai Lama and Chögyam Trungpa. The American disciples of the latter “crazy wisdom” lama accompanied him when he shifted his ashram from Boulder, Colorado, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he established a thriving centre for Shambhala studies. Today Jim is regarded as one of the elder statesmen of the Work in Canada, a group that includes Ravi Ravindra and Tom Daly.
As for their ages – Barbara is in her seventies, Jim is in his early nineties – think nothing of it. Both are healthy and look great. Together they generate more energy than do the hydroelectric power turbines at Niagara Falls, an ninety minutes south of Toronto by car.
Barbara and James with HH the Dalai Lama
Barbara has kindly agreed to my request to reproduce this photograph taken with the Dalai Lama who, years earlier, contributed the foreword to Jim’s recently reprinted book, Asking for the Earth: Waking Up to the Spiritual / Ecological Crisis. Jim’s current book is “The Little Green Book on Awakening,” a kind of primer on the climate crisis and work on consciousness. She has also agreed to answer one dozen questions. So here are my statements and questions, with her responses and answers.
Q. Three cities: Boulder – San Francisco – Toronto. Although I could connect these three cities with a straight line on a map, it would not occur to me to do so, but for the fact that you have an association with these three North American cities. Let’s begin with Boulder, which by synecdochy I associate with the rest of Colorado. I understand that you were not born in Boulder, a spiritual centre in Colorado, but that you were born in the city of Grand Junction. Were you educated there? Do you see yourself as a “midwesterner”?
Boulder is important because it’s in Colorado and my younger daughter lives there. Also, there is a Gurdjieff group there which I have visited regularly for over twenty years, and during that time, I have gotten to know the people in the group very well, and value them very highly. It’s true that Boulder is a kind of spiritual center, and we are very aware of that. In fact, by coincidence or whatever arranges such events, my visits often coincide with special Buddhist gatherings. For example, the Dalai Lama was in Denver once when we were having a special weekend; and last year, the new Karmapa was there at the same time that the Boulder group worked together over a four-day period of time.
Last May, since some of our people were interested in studying Chogyam Trungpa’s ideas on work in life — and since the Gurdjieff Work is described as “a work in life” — invited several friends of mine, who live in Boulder and practice Buddhism, to join us. That made for an interesting time. So we feel very lucky to be in such a place, which is not only a spiritual center, but very beautiful. In only a few minutes, we can be walking uphill on a mountain path. My husband, Jim, sometimes goes with me to Colorado, and he loves the mountains; even though he was born in Toronto, he has climbed the best and highest mountains. Of course, I love the mountains because they are an essential part of me. I was born at an altitude of a little over 5000 feet.
I was born in the city of Grand Junction, which is on the other side of the mountains from Boulder, on the Western Slope of the Rockies. Though it has about the same mile-high altitude, it had a different feeling from Boulder, Denver, or Colorado Springs, which are located on the Eastern Slope and are related to the Great Plains in the central part of the United States. It felt a little less sophisticated and possibly more genuine. A little more desert prospector or sheep herder and less like the gold or silver barons. This is in the process of changing now as the powerful homogenous force erases those kinds of differences. Now, Grand Junction is becoming well known for its wineries; the thought of which would have horrified the members of the twelve to fifteen Protestant churches in the city when I was growing up. (I believe that the members of the one large Catholic church did have a glass of wine from time to time, and probably more Protestants than we knew of did also.)
Grand Junction is high-desert country, only a few miles from Utah and its fantastic canyons and rock formations. Two rivers meet there, and the valley they form is fertile and known for its warm climate. It’s also quite a beautiful valley, surrounded on three sides by completely different and completely amazing landscapes. In fact, on a recent visit, I felt quite strongly that the beauty and grandeur of that valley somehow comprise my heritage.
My education in Grand Junction gave me a pretty good start in life. We lived close enough that I could walk to and from school and come home for lunch each day, so the 3 schools I attended from grade 1-12 seemed like an extension of home life. Many of my teachers were highly educated in the now old-fashioned classics, probably similar to a Canadian education. And, I read a lot and was outdoors a lot.
For a town of around 28,000 people there many riches. For example, growing up in Grand Junction at that time provided special opportunities for anyone to study classical music that probably don’t exist now. Every elementary school, and the junior high and high school had an orchestra, a concert band, and a marching band, with very good teachers — several just back from WWII and one at least, a veteran of the Paul Whiteman orchestra that played for silent movies. I started piano lessons at five and violin at ten, and by the time I was in high school, I was taking violin lessons at the local college, playing in two symphonies, and performing chamber music in a string trio.
As to being a “midwesterner.” Very early in U.S. history, my ancestors moved from the British Isles, Germany, and Switzerland to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and points farther east, and then to Missouri and Iowa and finally, just after the Civil War, to Colorado, leaving the southern part of the Midwest behind. Like them, I was and am a Westerner. Quite a different animal. Although I lived for six months in Iowa once long ago — and Iowa is definitely the Midwest — and I live now in Toronto — and Toronto is definitely the East — I remain a Westerner.
Q. Where and how did you first encounter the Work? Could you describe how its ideas and emotions initially affected you? Did it suddenly seem to you to answer your questions about life or did it gradually meet your inner needs?
I first encountered the work ideas in Grand Junction. A friend lent me a book by Kenneth Walker and I happened to notice the name Gurdjieff in it. Noticed and was galvanized. That’s the one, I thought. There was no reason; I simply seemed to recognize his name, just as I simply seemed to know that the ideas were true when I read them later on. The first work book I read was “Venture with Ideas” by the same Kenneth Walker, and while reading it, I really learned that I was asleep. While I was reading in the living room, too completely engrossed by new ideas and new possibilities, the water had been used up in the vaporizer I’d left running in my daughters’ bedroom, and it was beginning to overheat and starting to smoke. That was a definite shock. A wake-up call.
Another strong moment I remember was reading “In Search of the Miraculous” while waiting to have surgery the next morning. That book, and the particular passage I read that evening, also served as a call for a new way of living. Curiously, Jim and I are reading through “In Search of the Miraculous” with a small group of people, and a few weeks ago we read that very same passage. Again, a strong moment.
And I was lucky that my introduction to “Beelzebub’s Tales” was oral. The same friend who lent me the Walker books read the first chapter, “The Arousal of Thought,” out loud to me while I was ironing. It was amazing. To hear the words first rather than reading them was a very lucky event. Of course, I then read the book, as fast as I could, unintentionally reading it the way I would ordinarily read any book, in fact as Gurdjieff suggests.
Those books changed my life. The ideas seemed completely familiar, as if they spoke to my own experience and knowledge that had been forgotten. So many of my questions about my own and other’s behavior were addressed and the grandeur of creation and the living universe, which I had experienced myself in special moments, was evoked. I would describe the experience of reading these books as the experience of coming back to life. Of course, as the years went along, I discovered other needs within myself because the work gave me something in relation to those needs.
Q. San Francisco is the next city. What year did you move there? Did you raise your family there?
San Francisco was my home for forty-five years. It was there that I joined a group, met Lord Pentland and many other remarkable people, and of course, made many close friends in the work community there.
I moved to San Francisco in 1961, after going back to college in 1960 — I was one of two single mothers with kids, a rarity at the time — and getting a teaching certificate. My two young daughters and my twenty-one year old sister went with me. I was twenty-eight. In early September, we pulled a small trailer from Grand Junction to San Francisco across the desert and the Sierras, crossed over the Bay Bridge while reciting a little Hart Crane, and stayed the first night in a motel right on the beach south of San Francisco.
In the next few days, we found a place to live, a school for my older daughter and a babysitter for the younger one, and a job for my sister. I began my teaching career in a 6th grade classroom and felt very close to that class. We went to our first meeting on October 10th, with Lord Pentland and the leaders of the San Francisco work. Some notes from that first meeting are in the book Exchanges Within. That was the beginning of my work with the group in San Francisco.
Hopefully, my daughters were helped by our connection to the work. I had remarried, to an older man in the work, and we were very busy with groups and work activities. There were many people in and out of the house, and we were away a lot. But, we had music and crafts at home, and two dogs. Also, the city of San Francisco offered many cultural opportunities. There were many interesting people around our dinner table during those years. They never had what they considered a “normal” family life, but as adults they’ve realized that there is no such thing as the ideal, perfectly normal family. I’m hoping now that they feel their lives were very special, in good ways.
Q. I know you are a woman who cherishes family connection. Tell us the names of your children and grandchildren. Where do they live? Were they surprised when you informed them that you and Jim would live in Toronto?
My older daughter, Claudia, still lives in San Francisco and, along with her husband, is quite active in the Gurdjieff Foundation there. She is quite a good pianist and also quite a good poet. They have two daughters, Anne, just receiving her MSW from UC Berkeley in May, and Clara, an artist / poet who lives in Santa Cruz and is very active in community organizations. My younger daughter, Kristine, lives in Boulder with her husband. She is a healer, and uses flower essences, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and psychic healing to great and good results. Her daughter Jessamyn is finishing her third year of college and studying international law.
I do very much cherish family connections. After my mother’s death, I remembered conversations we’d had and after finding notes she had made in various books, I realized that my life, which had been so much about a search for meaning, was a continuation of hers. As is my sister’s. Now, as I get older and watch my daughters, and their daughters, becoming more and more wise, this continuity seems even more apparent. And, I wish for them all, wish that their own lives and their inquiries into the purpose of life can bring more freedom, wisdom, clarity, daring, and so on. The good things.
There were various reactions to my announcement that I was thinking of marrying Jim George. Surprise, certainly, because it all happened very quickly. Reactions ranged from excitement to opposition. A very positive Tarot reading from one granddaughter, a “Go for it, Grandma” from another, and a “You’ve got to be kidding!” from my younger daughter. Now, five years later, we’ve visited them and they’ve each have visited us in Toronto, and I think everyone agrees it’s been a good arrangement.
Q. Was it in San Francisco that you began your work as a Feldenkrais instructor? Are you still a practitioner?
In the late 70s and early 80s, Lord Pentland began using Feldenkrais lessons as part of his teaching. I believe that he could see that without real changes in the body, self development was mostly mental. Moshe Feldenkrais had been influenced by Gurdjieff and his teaching is highly appropriate for Gurdjieffians or for anyone interested in the development of the whole person. Those first lessons were astounding. I still remember the whole sensation and feeling of myself, of my whole self, as I walked down the hill after the first one.
About the same time, with his encouragement, I began to have lots of body work, which continued into the 90s. There was a double motive for this. Partly for deepening awareness and partly to improve a bad back that was the result of an early fall off a horse.
In 1992, I started my career as a free-lance editor, not only making a decent amount of money but also setting my own hours. By 1994, it seemed the time and the funds were right for me to take the Feldenkrais training in the Bay Area north of San Francisco. Again I was lucky. My trainers were excellent. They were Buddhists and tuned to the awareness aspect of the work. After four years more or less on the floor at least once a week and for longer periods several times a year, my back was many times better. Hopefully, the awareness was better also.
I graduated from the four-year training in 1999, and had quite an active practice, teaching classes in several locations, with a good number of private clients up until the time I moved to Toronto, but it’s been difficult to keep it going here. It takes time to be married! I taught some classes that met here in our condo for several months, substituted a bit at the Feldenkrais Center, and taught one at the Institute of Traditional Medicine on the Art of Sitting, in which I combined lessons for the body and sitting quietly together. I have had a few private clients, including a man who comes regularly when he’s visiting from San Francisco. Eventually I would like to be teaching more. The Feldenkrais Method is amazing.
Q. How long were you associated with the work in San Francisco? By the way, do you know Jacob Needleman, the philosopher who has published many work-related books?
I was associated with the Work in San Francisco for forty-four years — from 1961 to 2005, and I still travel to San Francisco and attend group meetings there when I can. I will probably always be related to the work in San Francisco. The San Francisco groups were begun by Lord Pentland around 1954 to 1957, shortly after Gurdjieff’s death in 1949. He continued almost monthly visits to San Francisco from New York, where he lived and where he headed the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York, the primary North American foundation.
The New York foundation had been organized by Gurdjieff himself during his last visits to the United States. Especially in the 60s and 70s, most of the leaders in the New York foundation were pupils of Gurdjieff. At the same time, there was a frequent exchange between New York and Paris, and Madame de Salzmann, and other pupils of Gurdjieff. Several times a year, some of us made trips to New York at Pentland’s invitation, usually when Madame de Salzmann was there. Often when he came to San Francisco, he brought people along with him from other work centers, like New York or Los Angeles, London or Paris. It was easy to feel part of a great, living organism, complete with a thriving circulatory system. The years until his death in 1984 were rich with opportunity to learn, study, explore and engage along with a group of like-minded, and like-hearted, people.
After 1984, at least once a month and for longer periods in the summer, Paul Reynard continued to visit San Francisco, until his death a few years ago, bringing his sensitive inner work in movements and with the ideas. He had worked as a very young man with Gurdjieff in Paris and has led the movements work in North and South America under Madame de Salzmann’s direction since the late 60s. I feel that the groups in San Francisco were given more than most of us can ever really make our own, and probably much more than we can share with others. This seems to be a theme of mine: we received many riches.
Jacob Needleman has been a friend since 1965. I value any opportunity to work with him, and admire him deeply. He has been able to find ways to bring finer, higher ideas into the main stream of life through his books and talks, and I know he continues this effort.
Q. The third city in your life is Toronto. I know why you came to this city: the catalyst was your marriage to Jim in 2006. Did you meet him in San Francisco at a Work function?
We were married on January 1, 2005, and it took me about six months to get things together for a final move to Toronto. As the third city in my life, as you put it, Toronto is very important to me, because this is the city where I live now, where my husband was born and grew up. It provides me with the opportunity to know a different set of human beings and to explore the ways they are the same and yet different from the people who live in San Francisco, New York, or Colorado. I have met some wonderful people here — especially some outstanding women, who are bright and intelligent — and have had the opportunity to widen my friendships to those not in the Gurdjieff work, which has been very good for me.
I had noticed Jim at various work functions and conferences over the years, but we had hardly had a conversation until 1999 when we were at the same conference in New York and had an opportunity to talk. Perhaps he noticed me earlier, but I wasn’t aware of it. Later, two of our granddaughters got to know each other and it was through this that Jim and I got better acquainted.
Q. You would expect that Toronto, a multicultural city with a population of more than three million people, close to half of its residents born somewhere else, would be particularly receptive to new ideas. In the 1920s it was hospitable to Theosophy. A Gurdjieff group was founded in the city in the early 1950s under the personal direction of Madame de Hartman. It was responsible for the publication of an index to “All and Everything” and also the Russian-language edition of that mammoth text. In the 1960s the city was recognized as the intellectual home of Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye. Currently groups like Theosophy and Anthroposophy are languishing here. It is common knowledge that in the city the Gurdjieff work, like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided in three parts, if not more than three. Did this scattering of energies take you by surprise? Can you offer any reason for it? Is the situation likely to remain fragmented in the future?
Because the last split happened so soon after I moved here, it did take me by surprise. It also makes me sad whenever and wherever a separation takes place — and it does take place too often within work groups — and within many other groups, even one as small as two people, such as in a marriage. There is a small, sad statement about human beings in “Beelzebub’s Tales,” in the chapter about the destruction of Ashiata Shiemash’s labors: “And gradually, as it also usually happens there, almost everywhere beings became divided into two mutually opposing parties…. ” I’m reminded of a brilliant Aldous Huxley essay entitled “Usually Destroyed” that speaks to similar human proclivities.
Also, one could talk about the problem of the ego, and I’m tempted to talk about the male ego in particular. But, having a philosophical bent, I would have to say that the underlying reason for divisions, in the Work or in religions or families or nations, is the inexorable quality of the great laws of “world creation and world maintenance,” which must govern all of life. Implicit in these laws is the fact that everything happens, and no intentional result comes about automatically. In a simple way, one can see that effort is almost always required in order to carry out any real intention. Anyone who’s married knows this, at least if they are interested in keeping their marriage intact and thriving. It takes work.
A Gurdjieff group is not immune to the pulls and pushes of life. Individual initiatives can become all important. Individual power can become all important. The need for recognition, for place, and so on — all the ordinary desires that we know too well — all that becomes important. Surely every one of us can speak about that from our own experience in many different situations, but I hope that some of us have some experience of intention, and really working toward something.
Will it ever change here in Toronto? Each of the three groups has many wonderful people, and many wonderful initiatives. In my experience with each group, I could say that the work is alive in each one. Most separations remain separations. Some separations were obviously meant to be, just as some marriages seem destined for divorce and some for a fifty-year anniversary. One hopes that areas of mutual co-operation or mutual need might arise, and this might happen someday. I hope it doesn’t require a great emergency for this to happen. However, it’s important to remember that, in my experience, the movement toward unity is always uphill. It’s neither easy nor automatic. At the same time though, the tastes we have of wholeness or unity begin to reveal to us that this work is in fact a great service. That realization helps in the ongoing attempt to struggle with the arising of individual initiatives, in myself and in others.
Q. Over the years has there been a single teacher or a specific book that has been particularly meaningful to you? Is there a musical composition that you find yourself humming in tense moments – if you have tense moments?
There have been several teachers who have been meaningful to me, starting with my fourth grade teacher and going on through college. In fact, I consider myself pretty lucky in this respect. As a college freshman, I enrolled in three consecutive Humanities classes that Neal Miller Cross taught, using a book he coauthored called “The Search for Personal Freedom.” That was just what I needed at that point in my life. I was also lucky later on to take history courses with a man named Peter Szymanski, a brilliant, Russia-educated, French-trained Polish professor who was by his choice hidden away in the high mountains of Colorado.
From childhood, I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories and Zane Grey’s novels, and read and reread a dazzling little book called “The Hidden Hand,” written in the late 1800s — don’t ask me why — I still enjoy it. When I was twelve or thirteen, I read that huge, shocking, and thrilling book, “The Brothers Karazamov.” It made a huge impact on me and inspired a certain rapport with Eastern Orthodoxy, which persists to the present time.
I have many tense moments, but no particular musical compositions come to mind. There is very often a melody humming around in my brain, but usually the one of the moment is the one I listened to most recently, or most recently played on the piano. The Gurdjieff-de Hatmann music is particularly haunting. I do love Schubert, Bach, Mozart, Bartok, and Brahms for humming. But also I like contemporary music. For example, John Adams’ operas, and most anything by Elliot Carter. Amazing, but not too hummable.
Q. You have traveled quite widely and visited Work groups in numerous countries, for instance, England, France, and Australia, in addition to the United States and Canada. Do you find characteristic types everywhere? From your perspective, are there national or cultural differences in the Work to be detected?
First of all, I would like to say that in my opinion people who are attracted to the work often — very often — have certain similar characteristics. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion, which I’ve shared with many groups over the past few years. I suppose someone could do a kind of survey someday to see if my opinion holds any truth. So, in my opinion, there are a lot of good-looking people in the Work, no matter what country they live in. The women don’t always let their beauty shine out, but still, the beauty is often there. In addition, I notice that people in the Work are very often intelligent and well-educated, artistically talented, and often creative and resourceful. They are generally very good at washing dishes, too, and figuring out how to get one hundred people in a space that really only holds sixty. But these are my very subjective observations.
Certainly every country has its characteristics. For instance, the Australians are even more independent than Americans. It’s the island — and a fairly isolated island at that — mentality. Self-reliance is the thing. There surely must be Canadian characteristics, as well as Latin American, French, English, and so on. But everywhere one goes there are similar types: the natural leaders, the real seekers who find a work for themselves, the ones who find it difficult to speak, the ones who are only interested in the Ideas and the ones who are only interested in the Movements, those who proclaim their devotion to the search and who disappear without warning, the silent ones who after years explode in anger, the drinkers, the dutiful wives or husbands who sometimes end up more devoted to the Work than their partner, the Martha types and the Mary types, and so on. Probably any group has most of these types. When you are in a community for a long time, you get to know people pretty well. In fact, you know their kids and often their parents, you go through deaths and marriages, and you all get old together, so everyone goes on being an “older” person or one of “the young ones.”
Most important though is the experience I’ve had again and again of the similarities. The serious questions are the same, almost word for word; the feeling tone of the meetings are the same. There is a kind of taste or flavour, like a delicate scent that lingers in a room, which is the same in meetings in many of the groups I’ve visited, when the serious work appears, no matter where they meet.
But a little more on differences. Usually the main difference comes from which Gurdjieff pupil first brought the work to a group. There is loyalty to that person, of course, and a kind of imprint in the mind and heart from the way he or she presented the ideas and the work. This connects to your next question, because people in the Work need to find ways to work together in spite of quite natural loyalty and fealty, which is perhaps more often unconscious and therefore stronger than we think. We need to beware of imitation.
Q. Do you have a clear idea where the Work is heading, that is, where it will be in ten years time or in fifty years? Still alive and still working are some people – Paul Beekman Taylor and Patty de Llosa spring to mind – who, as children, recall meeting Mr. Gurdjieff. I keep meeting people who knew John Bennett, but I think Joyce Colin-Smith is the only person I know who actually met Mr. Ouspensky.
This is the question that keeps me up at night. I don’t have a very clear idea where the work is heading but I can share some rather muddled thoughts about it. Some of the best people I’ve know in the Work have branched out to fortify their work using other disciplines. Patty de Llosa is a good example. She has a very serious work with the Alexander Method, which seems a good support to her work with the Gurdjieff groups. Also, as she mentions in her book, she has a serious practice of Tai Chi, and in this way, she can share her knowledge and experience with a wide range of people, using knowledge and experience that is very much influenced by her years in the Gurdjieff work.
Others use their knowledge of science or the religions to find avenues toward explaining the ideas and practices of the Work. Of course, there is always the danger of diversion or of dilution. This can happen when other traditions are brought in to help deepen or broaden the understanding. Although the study of the specificity of the Gurdjieff Work is an interesting one, it’s not easy. It’s easier to say what it resembles than what it is, so this study is too often neglected now. It requires knowing the ideas in the books as well as in the memory of the oral teaching, and you could say, it requires real thought, which is pretty scarce these day. And often, people get too interested and leave the Work in order to practise one of those other traditions.
There are others still alive who met Gurdjieff, but surely the future of the work does not depend only on having met him or Ouspensky. The future of the work will depend on what has passed from person to person. Gurdjieff uses the image of a staircase, and you can’t go any higher on this stairway until you’ve placed someone on your step. And that person must place someone on his step, and so on. Of course, we hear this and think it’s simple and straightforward.
The problem I’ve encountered is that one really does not know what that next higher step will entail, what will be required of one, having placed someone else and having moved up a step. We forget that each step is new territory, and I suspect that it is the shock of finding oneself in new territory, alone, so to speak, that may stop the development needed to help everyone ascend. It’s too easy to drift along using past methods. Imitation only works up to point. I have been very glad to hear reports about the next generation in San Francisco. It sounds like they learned something over the years and now feel the obligation to pass it along.
Up to now the Work has served as a kind of pollinator. Hundreds of people have passed through its groups and back into life. When I look at old group lists, it’s quite amazing how many people have come and gone. Once in awhile, in San Francisco, I was stopped by someone on the street who would say he or she used to be in my group twenty-five or thirty years ago, and is “still doing the morning work and / or reading ‘Beelzebub.’” The Work will probably never be huge, but I do very much wish and hope that it remains alive, even in people who no longer attend groups. It’s very much needed.
Q. That’s eleven questions. My twelfth question is the following: Is there a question I should have asked you but didn’t which you yourself would like to ask and answer?
I’d like to paraphrase Gurdjieff and be asked, Have you met any remarkable men or women through your association with the Work? The answer is yes, indeed. I never met Gurdjieff himself, but like so many of my generation, through a close association with two remarkable people who had worked with him, I felt something of the unique and specific force that Gurdjieff generated.
Since moving to San Francisco in 1961, many special people moved through my life. Some I met in the Work, others I met because of the Work, usually at special events — luncheons, lectures, and so on. Laurens van der Post, Carlos Casteneda, James Hillman, and Father Thomas Keating are only a few of the latter group who come to mind. There were many others, and many other remarkable men and women who had worked with Gurdjieff.
I heard Krishnamurti speak twice and feel fortunate to have witnessed his presence and clarity in person. I had a life-changing exchange with Muktananda in northern California, a special introduction and conversation with Chogyam Trungpa in San Francisco, and a surprisingly live connection with Lama Zopa. Also, more recently, through Jim, I have met the Dalai Lama and Chogyam Trungpa’s son along with several well-known Canadian persons of importance.
Even more important though are the people I’ve “grown up with” in the Work. There are maybe 150 people, in various locations, whom I know and care for — people I’ve worked with and now their children — and almost every one of them is remarkable.
All in all, so far, a rich outer life. As to the inner life, it is filled at best with many questions, and at worst with dreams of all that has gone before and that which will come later. But there’s always room for more.
No more questions … thank you!
John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist who is nationally known as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of Canadiana. In his latest book of essays called “Whistle While You Work,” he has combined consciousness studies with Canadian references. From time to time he reviews Work-related publications for this website.
Where are the Gurdjieff Groups Heading?
Gurdjieff brought a promise: the fourth way would transform people who were prepared to work (meaning here “make a practical study the ideas and methods, applying them in their lives”. Pupils of the fourth way would be in a school, and in these schools there would be esoteric knowledge. His people would be an ascending people, a people co-operating with the forces of evolution, climbing the stairs to the divine vision explicitly spoken of in “Beelzebub” and implicitly in “Miraculous”. Individual efforts would even have planetary and cosmic effects, a side given some emphasis by Jeanne de Salzmann. In addition to this there lay a social dimension: with his ideas and methods, Gurdjieff would make war on the old world of lies, suggestibility and “reciprocal destruction”, and forge a new one.
The vision which we had when we came across the Gurdjieff ideas was that it would be possible to become something like what Gurdjieff had been like: vigilant, aware, resourceful, capable of working in many fields, full of knowledge and feeling. The picture of Gurdjieff in the books, especially Ouspensky, de Hartmann and Nott, is of someone always connected with a higher level, so to speak. A life like that would surely be glorious whatever hardships came along, for unconscious suffering would be made conscious. Further, the entire group would be a leavening agent, an esoteric society of brothers and sisters within a host body. And I would be one individual in such a group, collaborating for a mutually understood higher purpose.
And why not? There had been extraordinary people in history, and here was Gurdjieff, clearly another one. And besides, religion required so much, and yet did not offer the means to carry it out. To me, being a Christian was like being in a French class where no-one could actually speak French, just deliver lectures about the theory, but forgot what they had just said or learned as soon as they left the classroom. As a young person, I never saw a single person change their character for the better except by effluxion of time or after massive shocks, such as a close escape from death. or by leaving the world, perhaps to become a monk or nun. This did not seem right: surely there must have be something tranformative there, otherwise, it was a farce, a mockery.
Gurdjieff promised to deliver in reality. And when I met George and Helen Adie, I realised that even after his death he could deliver. There was no doubt about that all, and I still have no doubt about that.
But did even the Adies ever preside over such a school of ascending individuals growing in consciousness and wisdom? Although the Adies had a great effect on literally hundreds of pupils, not one of us, not excluding myself, is at their level. My experience of the Foundation groups in New York and London, while not the most extensive is still sufficient for me to be sure that it is almost always those who knew Gurdjieff himself who had achieved the most for themselves.
It is as if the power left the Gurdjieff groups with Gurdjieff himself. And that is the fact, at least as I see it.
So, I repeat my question, where are the Gurdjieff groups going?
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
I have referred elsewhere to “The Four Ideals” exercise which the Adies worked on, at Gurdjieff’s direction, for a period of five months from October 1948 to March 1949. They had other exercises at the same time, particularly the “I AM” exercise. But this one is of some significance, for several reasons. The four ideals of this exercise are Muhammad, Buddha, Lama and Christ (although the diagram made by Adie shows, if I read it correctly, that there are also many other ideals). Other of Gurdjieff’s exercises mention these four ideals, and sometimes also Moses. The exercise is given to facilitate in the person who attempts it the conscious absorption of higher hydrogens. It is effectively, I would say, a prayer of a very unusual type.
There is something literally ‘wonder-full’ about these exercises. According to the transcript of a meeting in Paris of 7 December 1941, someone asked Gurdjieff how he should pray. Gurdjieff replied that this is for later, but there are substances which emanate from the sun and planets (in this respect, see “Purgatory” at pp. 760-1). These emanations, he said, make contact at certain points in our solar system, and can reflect in materialized images which are themselves images of the All Highest, albeit they are what he calls “inverted” images. There are always, he averred, materialized images in the atmosphere, and if only we could sufficiently concentrate, we could enter into contact with the image and receive the substances.
Another aspect of the Four Ideals’ prayer-like nature is that religiosity is not usually associated with Gurdjieff. He is occasionally quoted expressing something like religiosity, but not often. However, in Beelzebub (especially the 1931 edition), in his music, and in the movements, there is rather more. Much of his piano music bears titles such as “”, “The Story of the Resurrection of Christ”, or “Reading from a Sacred Book”. There are even pieces with titles such as “Vespers Hymn” and “Tibi Cantamus”. There is the entire series of “Hymns from a Truly Great Temple” and “Sacred Hymns”. The solemnity and gravity of these pieces is almost overwhelming. In fact, it takes most of us some time before we can bear to open to the music, so powerful is it. Such sublimity requires courage to stand before it. It is easier to subliminally shut down. Then there are movements with titles such as “The Big Prayer”, and “Sense of the Sacred”, which invokes the names of the four ideals. One cannot say much about this teaching without words. But it exists and is an important part of Gurdjieff’s heritage.
Gurdjieff gave directions for prayer, even while warning that it was not prayer such as we ordinarily understand, and that to be significant it has be attempted with all three centres. In Ouspensky’s ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, Gurdjieff is reported saying that the action of conscious praying could itself do for the person what they sought from a higher power.
However, neither here nor in the transcripts of Paris meetings does Gurdjieff say that prayer is ineffectual let alone not to pray. On the contrary, he actually and explicitly gave instruction in how to pray and enjoined it. In other words, prayer is one of Gurdjieff’s methods.
A particular form of prayer which he insisted upon is what might be called “well-wishing”. In one of the Paris groups, someone related to Gurdjieff that he had seen some poor children, and was distraught because he could do nothing to help them. But you can, said Gurdjieff, even if you have no resources: you can wish well for them, and then, it is a law that someone who can help shall do so. The questioner continued in the same vein, he could not assist them. Gurdjieff stopped him: you have not heard what I say. You can, do as I suggest.
Mr Adie said little about this, he placed the emphasis upon changing oneself, but he did sometimes state that we are all related. He would often speak of being in relation. We are connected by subtle threads, and so to what are the others connected? An evolving part of humanity? Mrs Staveley said more about this, and about prayer, and she was correct to.
But whatever one has learned about this, I would suggest that once more, the key lies in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. At page 569 of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’, Beelzebub goes so far as to state that the soul is made up of substances exclusively obtained from the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Gurdjieff taught that only through the crystallization of the higher bodies do we acquire immortality; and immortality, Gurdjieff said, is the goal of all religious teachings, including his own.
To someone who practices the art as the three-centred basis for engagement in life, prayer and well-wishing come naturally. The circumstances of life suggest them. The practitioner knows that prayer is no fantasy, even if it works in ways we find mysterious. But there is a wisdom and even a wonder in that mystery. A high valuation of the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation will bring a valuation of prayer, and a low valuation of the art a correspondingly low evaluation of prayer and well-wishing.
Gurdjieff advised his students to have an ideal: for example, in the meeting of 16 January 1944, with his disarming common sense, he counselled that one cannot recapture the faith of childhood, one is adult now and that faith is not necessary. Yet, he stated, if one does not have an ideal, if one does not believe in God, then one’s parent or teacher can serve as an ideal. As mentioned, on 9 December 1946, Gurdjieff advised that when finishing an exercise one could make a prayer to one’s ideal to help guard what one has received or attracted until the next exercise.
This concept of the ideal is referred to several times in the Paris groups, and it is worth studying. Many of us have found that what we thought of as ideals whether religious, political, social or otherwise were idols (ideals with which we became identified), and we came to see our idolatry as a foolishness. To an extent, Gurdjieff’s methods enabled us to see both idol and idolatry with more clarity. But it does not follow that there are no ideals or that there can be no service, no genuine being-faith. To take one’s teacher as “ ideal” does not mean to pretend that our teachers were perfect. In so far as they represent a teaching, they represent an ideal. The ideal himself, as Gurdjieff said in the Four Ideals, is high above the earth. We approach the ideals by stages. We ourselves are flawed, and are far from God, but we can take an ideal which corresponds to our situation and raise ourselves by steps.
Finally, in the Four Ideals exercise there is an order given to the movement of higher hydrogens through the body. Some of the Paris groups meeting transcripts refer to this passage of energies. Other traditions, especially from Asia, give very precise indications of how different forces move through the body. While there is no doubt that there is a sort of psychic circulation system which follows its own laws, these laws are not on our terrestrial level. The blood of the astral body (Hanbledzoin) does not behave like the blood in our veins and capillaries: it possesses a greater degree of consciousness. Hence, as Vaysse says, even if one has a skeletal deformity, one can use the preparation. If one brings consciousness to the body and the movement of the breath, that very consciousness will assist the passage and transformation of the energies.
I think that there is a danger in the reports of the Asian systems, such as those of Hinduism and Buddhism. They are so clear and precise that they almost suggest that the higher hydrogens flow like water through copper pipes. I cannot say that this is wrong, but neither is it the whole of the truth. They move with a passage which defies description even when it is experienced. What we experience of this movement we have to account to ourselves. Our account is necessarily influenced by what we already believe and have previously experienced. What seems to us to be an entry of forces may in fact be the manifestation of forces which are within: the feeling of entry may, on occasions, be a trick of the eye. What seems to us to take time may not: it may be instantaneous but presented to our experience as if sequential, and the sequence may even be the opposite of what we think. That is, the movement of these energies may be first noticed by the conscious mind when it is completing. Then the very last of a chain of unconscious or superconscious experiences is the first to impinge upon our awareness, and our awareness but sometimes, but not necessarily always, reconstruct the order and so present it to us in reverse order. Something like this happens with our visual impression of lightning.
This is all said so that one does not trust too much in second hand accounts whether oral or written, but rather in one’s own experience. Having said that, certain of the preparations which the Adies had taped do provide some very valuable information. They would warn us not to imagine what they referred to, but to watch for it. It is rather as if an experienced astronomer advised in which section of the heavens one should watch to see a very faint star.
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.