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Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland: A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

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James Moore

Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland, A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

1. Introduction

2. The Real Question

1. Introduction

I will assume that the reader has access to John Robert Colombo’s review of this book at https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

This will save me going through the preliminaries. To a significant extent, I am in agreement with JR’s review. But I do think that the most important point a critic can make about this book is that it is not actually a biography of Lord Pentland in the sense that the genre of biography has been known in English letters: it is, rather, a polemic which takes Pentland as its chief but not its sole target. It is as if Pentland is merely a convenient, and – for Moore – an agreeable because a disdained target.

That the book is a polemic shows itself in two ways: its coverage of Pentland’s achievement is minimal to the point of mockery, and its coverage of other targets is overplayed. Thus, Moore also takes aim at what Pentland’s father, the social class to which he belonged, the Britain in which Pentland flourished, and P.D. Ouspensky. Moore sometimes takes aim at Jeanne de Salzmann and through her and Pentland, what is now clumsily known as the “International Association of the Gurdjieff Foundations”.

The title is, of course, pretentious, referring as it does to Lytton Strachey’s minor classic. But then, the author named his autobiography Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered. I doubt that he would see any pretence at all. Moore’s writing continues its steady decline. In my view, Gurdjieff and Mansfield was the best written of his books. Each succeeding volume sees further adventures in grandiloquence to the point where, in this book, Moore’s prose positively obscures his meaning as much as it reveals it. For example, speaking of the “Dunkirk Spirit”, Moore remarks: “By just such a rare and free flowing energy the aridities of Ouspensky’s scholasticism might have been irrigated. But they were not.” (p.53). What does this mean? We can see that he dislikes Ouspensky’s “scholasticism”, but he does not explain what the stated “aridities” are, or how they could have been “irrigated” by the spirit of Dunkirk. The dry four word sentence “But they were not”, seems to suggest that there was some fault of Ouspensky’s part, or that of someone else. However, as so often in this book, Moore does not condescend to explain his meaning, the basis for his opinion, or what his sources were.

Consider this line: “Here as elsewhere Pentland is litmus paper shy of turning red or blue”, (63). I do not know what he means in this context. I know what litmus paper is, and I know what shy means, but what is he saying? Moore aims for effect to the point of losing sight of why one writes.

One of Moore’s techniques in this book is to assume an omniscient voice, a manner of proceeding which allows him to criticise and condemn without needing to do more than demand that we accept his conclusions. Moore has researched many details of the world in which Pentland lived, but how can he possibly know that when he took his seat as President of the Cambridge Union, Pentland had “a sense almost of swooning vertigo”? (32) Does Moore have access to a diary or letter, and if so, why not mention it? Or is it all as much a fiction as the awkward talk between father and son which he invents?

History’s access to their verbatim conversation is decently barred by the study door” (15) Moore speaks here, as often, as if he were the voice of history, and the tone supports him when he adds: “Yet this caveat does not entirely forbid the authorial imagination an intelligent extrapolation from circumstantial evidence. Like most fathers His Lordship hardly knew how to begin.” Where is the intelligence here? What are the pieces of evidence he uses? Maybe if we knew the facts, we would find that Pentland’s father was different from how Moore imagines him. All I can see here is the operation of thoroughgoing prejudice, and that is a very different thing.

Similarly, in speaking of Franklin Farms, he mocks how “Society women with compressed lips earnestly bottling peas and beans were in a profounder sense, bottling spiritual merit.” (67). How does he know what their attitude was? Were they really so self-righteous as that? Maybe the women would have surprised him. But by filling this slim volume with “intelligent extrapolations”, and speaking as if all-knowing, Moore creates a consistent picture of pretentious and deluded wealthy folks, and then pleads its very consistency in aid of its veracity. This is not valid biography, and is cheap even as polemic.

It is difficult to overstate the extent to which the book is primed with irrelevancies which create an illusion of research, while bare of many matters which are far more important. For example, we learn that tickets to the premier of Gone with the Wind were hard to procure (51), but Moore does even try to tell us in what Pentland’s approach to the Gurdjieff teaching and methodology consisted. Yet, after the publication of Exchanges Within and several of his talks, this would have been as easy as it is desirable.

Again, Moore tells us that at one time a certain piece of news “would have imparted to Pentland’s stiff mind and body the artificial agility bestowed on a dead frog’s hind-quarters when juxtaposed to an electric coil …” (72). It is ponderously written, and not, to my mind, at all witty. But more profoundly, Moore assumes and has assumed all throughout that Pentland had a “stiff” mind”.

Moore is content to construct a paper tiger and ignore, in the published group meetings, what made Pentland the teacher he was – whatever type of teacher that may have been.

It is necessary to state that I am sure that Moore has a certain point: but he does not demonstrate it. I remember that in several meetings with “senior” people from the New York Foundation, they would gently push you into agreeing with them: it was obscene, the number of times one woman in particular would put words into people’s mouths by asking, “Wouldn’t you say …?” I had a sense, even then, that she was imitating, and my guess was that she was imitating Pentland.

I recall one chap who had met Pentland would come quote statements such as: “Don’t write that down! Remember it! Lord Pentland said: Why do we write? We write it order to forget!” How absurd. We don’t write in order to forget, but so that if we do forget, as experience shows us we often do, we will have a record. When I was in New York, about eight years after Pentland’s death, I was with Jim Wyckoff’s group. We had to remove all the items from a series of cupboards. I started to make a sketch of what was where. They got stuck into me: that was not the Work! I had to remember not use a crutch. They would remember. And so on. They really made a point out of it: they were unctuous and self-righteous.

But when, a week later, they had to restore the items, they were searching high and low for the sketch. Not one said a word to me. I started to form the opinion then that Wyckoff was a New York hippie, and before he died, I informed him that I no longer wished to “work” with him. I am gratified that to remember that I did. Because, like Pentland, he was an authority figure. But to give Pentland his due, Pentland could run a business and did establish the Foundation on the West Coast.

Still, the picture of the NY Foundation I then formed, as conceited while operating at a level lower than ordinary life, does seem to go back to Pentland. But I also felt that there was more than just that to Pentland. And I feel that the X quality which Moore has missed must have been something to do with the presence of Lord Pentland. Only by appealing to the presence of Lord Pentland can I explain why the text of Exchanges Within, which seems to me to be good but not excellent, sends those who knew him into raptures: they make a connection to what they experienced when they met him

Interestingly, Mr Adie did not consider Pentland to be anything but formidable. He did say that Pentland would go all cryptic and mystificatory or change the topic when he did not know something or felt inadequate. He also said that Pentland could play a double game, and for reasons I won’t go into now, I think that Adie may well have been right. I think that Pentland did relish the idea of taking over the Adie group in Australia, but – probably on instructions from Jeanne de Salzmann – was content to wait until Adie would die. And to give them credit, the strategy did work, but by the time it bore fruit, the groups had reduced from well over a hundred and forty persons to about a third of that number.

I should also note here that there are some very interesting stories of Pentland being bested by Mrs Staveley in verbal duels. Once he asked her, in front of others, to give an impromptu talk on the importance of obedience. It was obvious to those present that his point was that she was disobedient to either Jeanne de Salzmann or himself or both. She turned the tables on him: “Yes, obedience is important. But obedience to what?” Discomfited, he changed the topic.

So it should be obvious that I have no problem with a book which is critical of Pentland and the Foundation: but it needs reasons and grounds. This book is filled with tricks: “How far away, suddenly, seemed the hors d’oeuvre table at Claridges,” (73). Moore had referred to Claridges a little earlier, but it had nothing to do with this section, and neither is there any reason to think that anyone thought of Claridges, wistfully or otherwise. It is just a way of inserting a supposedly clever line and making Pentland look like an upper class twit. Similarly, and there are other examples, Moore mentions that pencil sharpeners were made scarce in England during the war, and then speaks of Pentland going to the USA where “the staff were … never short of … pencil sharpeners,” (62). Is that humorous? Does it have a point? It was Moore, not Pentland, who cared about such matters.

I could continue like this, but in the end, the very cynicism of Moore’s approach takes me to what I consider to be the real question.

2. The Real Question

The real question, to my mind, is about the Gurdjieff Work. If Pentland – the leader of the Foundation in the USA – was indeed, as Moore paints him, then what is the point of the Gurdjieff Work?

Jospeph Azize

September 2012

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See related posts:

Andrew Rawlinson’s review of this book

https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/?s=Pentland+Rawlinson

+

John Robert Colombo’s reviews this at: https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

&

he reviews Ashala Gabriel’s Remembering Lord Pentland

https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/john-robert-colombo-reviews-a-new-book-by-ashala-gabriel/

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Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

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

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Azize Review: The Forgotten Language of Children

Joseph Azize

Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

The Forgotten Language of Children

Author: Lilian Firestone

Published: New York, 2010

{This is a reasonably lengthy article, as the book provides opportunities to discuss some significant issues: indeed, it almost demands serious discussion. I commence with an overview of the book and its contents. In Part 2, I outline the “Henry” story. Part 3 provides a critique. Part 4 includes some further ideas on being with children, while the final section, headed “Conscience”, is perhaps the most important part of the review. I then attach some brief extracts from Traherne’s “Centuries”. The length of the review will have been worthwhile if it introduces a few more people to Traherne’s writing. Joseph Azize, Joseph.Azize@gmail.com, 24 September 2010}.

1 Overview and Contents

This book is vivid and profound. It relates Firestone’s personal history of activities with children under the auspices of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. Because it’s also meant to be a point of departure for one’s own discoveries, it bears a certain promise. When one reads a record like this, one feels that because new understandings and ways of relating were possible for those people, something corresponding is possible now for us. Our experiences will not be identical to Firestone’s, but they may, nonetheless, be analogous in that they’re oriented towards “essence values”, in Gurdjieff’s terms. Like any good history, this one silently invites us to ponder our own histories, to challenge our understanding, and to be responsible for living what we’ve learned.

As the title indicates, Firestone believes that children have a language of their own, one which we adults have forgotten. The key to this “language” would appear to be that it’s a tongue where imaginative cues are more important than verbal ones. In Firestone’s words: “what touches them more than words are pictures and images” (p.71). Firestone’s insight may be an application to children of Gurdjieff’s “mentation by thought” and “mentation by form” (Beelzebub, p. 15). Appropriately enough, although the book hardly seems aimed at children, Firestone uses something of the language herself, not only in her simple, sensitive prose, but also in the many photographs. I suspect that she would like to think that the book may hold meaning for some of the children who then participated. Perhaps, too, the once-forgotten language can be a factor in vivifying our adult language, unduly neglectful as it is, at times, of the value of images.

As someone who is fairly painfully aware of how poorly he writes, I admire Firestone for the apparently effortless clarity of her writing. To my mind, the mark of a good writer is that the words on the page flow so easily that the reader receives the meaning as if hearing an ordinary conversation, that is, without having to strain at the formulations or even to be aware that the writer has exercised an art. By those criteria, Firestone is a good writer. Because her style is, as I said, vivid and feeling, I never felt that what she was describing was at all foreign to me. It’s this quality in her writing which invites an imaginative engagement.

The title is, perhaps, the key to the first theme of the book: external communication between adults and children. Firestone’s entire verbal and pictorial record describes a chain of experiments in communication between adults and children. The aptness of the title is an example of Firestone’s ability as a writer.

As I read it, the next theme of the book is internal communication between parts of oneself: higher and lower; emotional, intellectual and organic. We can aim to live more consciously in two directions simultaneously: within ourselves and with others. The two themes seamlessly fit together, and without that fit, one line alone cannot long continue to be productive. I can neither communicate more consciously nor more conscience-ly with children, or with anyone else, unless I myself am more consciously present.

In the end, as Mr Adie said, “all it needs is my presence”. If a person is present when they’re with children, they are bound to have some feeling of themselves in relation to those children. Human communication can and should be marked by increasing honesty, receptivity and respect. In a genuine relationship, our being is evoked, and there’s often a wonder at the mystery of the present, at the unfolding, and at the possibilities.

Forgotten Language” is carefully, even affectionately produced. It’s a handsomely presented hardcover, the cover slip being what I think of as crimson, with an endearing naive drawing of an elephant. The contrasting touches of gold and the banding behind the author’s name on the dust jacket complement the cover almost perfectly, having strength, without being at all overpowering. Just those shades of crimson, gold and white on the cover suggest quietly glowing embers tumbled down from a fire. A little short of 300 pages, well illustrated, and published by Firestone’s own Indications Press, it’s moderately priced at $US40; further reason to see it as a labour of love. I’ve passed it on to an impecunious friend of mine, married with a child, because I think that he’ll find it absorbing and useful, and friends do each other good turns.

It’s arranged around 15 chapters, each with a theme such as “In the Kitchen”, “Money”, “Impressions”, and so on. Each of these chapters has a special interest, and is reasonably self-contained, although one should begin by reading the first two chapters to obtain one’s bearings. As I shall mention, the last chapters have a continuity which close the book. There are sundry appendices and many pages of photographs.

Chapter 3, “Challenges”, is typical of the book. It opens with Gurdjieff’s wise advice to learn one new skill, craft or language each year; an advice which, so far as I know, he gave only to adults. Taking up this advice leads to a “struggle to learn” and a recognition that we’re prone to making “reflexive judgments” and hiding behind the mechanical pretext “I can’t”. In learning new things, they all had to leave “the safety of the known” (47-8), as Firestone says.

Yet, I wonder whether learning a new craft or language does really take anyone so very far out from the safety of shore. It is not, after all, as if they had gone to the Jordanian desert to learn falconry from the Bedouin. As we shall see in the next part of this review, when they had hardly left “the safety of the known” to camp out in Canada in the company of Henry the Micmac Indian, the adults scrambled back to shore as if drowning. I exempt Firestone from this: the account indicates that she struggled admirably against forces too great for her strength as it then was. So, speaking for myself, when I read such phrases as “leaving the safety of the known”, “Children’s Work”, and “leaning on the moment”, I find a certain low level grandiloquence. No matter, it isn’t painful.

As this chapter shows, a significant part of what Firestone and colleagues learnt came through the aid of Jeanne de Salzmann and Peggy Flinsch. De Salzmann advised them to “create an event”, to prepare a challenge, and, most importantly, to be there in the “moment”. In illustrating these events and moments, ample space is devoted to the children’s reflections. One remark which seems typical, was “At the Children’s Work … when you tried something new or from your imagination, nobody corrected you. Nobody said, “You’re wrong”, “You’re stupid” … Instead you were trusted to come up with something of your own, and the adults let you do it” (50).

A critical point came when, striving to understand de Salzmann’s advice to create special conditions, they saw that they themselves “were the special conditions on which everything depended” (52). They aimed for “a dual attention to oneself and the children” (52). This requires impartiality, and that led to an exercise where each would study one child to see whether mind, feeling or body were strongest, weakest, quickest and so on, in that child (53). After this, de Salzmann gave advice which approximates to Gurdjieff’s direction to see children in their potential (53-4). There is much more valuable material like this in chapter 3. Perhaps the acme is found in Jim Nott’s quoting Gurdjieff’s statement that we can repair the past, and that we can remember how we were as children, so coming to a sympathetic understanding of these children (54-5). I especially mention this because it points to a way forward for all of us.

Without repairing the past, we cannot, it seems to me, ever come to conscience. The royal road to individuality is to awaken conscience. And, as Gurdjieff said, behind real “I” lies God. What human aim would not be related to the beatific vision? Gurdjieff said as much in different terms when, in respect of the Third Series, he said that he aimed “to share the possibilities I had discovered of touching reality and, if so desired, even merging with it.”

My own view is that what readers can extrapolate from this volume will probably be more valuable as a new attitude, or even as a mood, than as statements of principle. And I say that knowing full well that the general principles cited from Gurdjieff and de Salzmann are, indeed, gems. I’ve made a list, probably incomplete, but you can find citations from Gurdjieff at pp. 16, 27, 47, 54, 97-8 and 127-130. The last of these opens with some profound stories told by de Salzmann. That redoubtable lady features at pp. 24, 27, 43, 48, 53-4, 56-7, 61, 63, 71-2, 92-3, 127, 132-3, 140, 145 and 196. Incidentally, comparing the de Salzmann who appears in this book with the de Salzmann of the recently published “Reality of Being”, is instructive. The “calendar speech” which spoils “Reality” for me is entirely missing from Firestone’s portrait. Perhaps de Salzmann’s forte was in exchanges and what we might call “life-engagements”, rather than philosophy. I would say that de Salzmann emerges in this book as a store of practical wisdom and controlled force. Peggy Flinsch is also an influence for impartial understanding in this book, see pp. 24, 35, 36, 55, 63-4, 77, 87, 111 and 130.

The material is well-written, clear, engaging, and has a feeling quality. I find that, excepting only a few passages, it is impossible not to have sympathy with the author, and to applaud her efforts, some of which came at the price of a certain sacrifice of egoism.

2 The “Henry” Story

The most important of Firestone’s experiences appear in the story which comprises chapters 12, “Difficulties”, and 13, “Remorse”. These chapters are the climax, too, in that they form a sustained closing note. Firestone’s experience began like this: they wanted to find “a worthwhile destination” for the children’s holiday, one which “offered new meaning” (p.173). While they were thinking this way, the adults and some children from the group attended a pow-wow, where she met Henry, a Micmac from a reservation in Nova Scotia (174-5). Henry was impressive: “His life story was the first of its kind we had heard. His direct way of speaking was so striking that the children remembered afterwards what he said almost word for word” (175).

Henry emerges as probably the most practical and common sense actor in the whole book (Firestone not excluded, as she candidly shows in the “tins of food” story where she could, it seems to me, have just told a spoiled child that canned “food” was no substitute for fresh food, and refused to allow her to buy tins). When the children asked Henry whether he could sleep on the ground without a blanket, he answered: “Sure, if I haven’t got a blanket” (176). When they couldn’t light a fire because the kindling was damp, he used what he called “the Indian way”: he ignited it with kerosene. Firestone frankly discloses that the “work people” disapproved; but Henry pointed out that common sense is the Indian way (176-7). And so it was, in general, with Henry. He was efficient and capable, but if there were no jobs, he rested. “He never looked busy, never pretended” (177).

Henry told them that because the Indians had found the white man to be a hypocrite, they described him as speaking with “forked tongue” and as having “two hearts”. Henry related his stories of betrayal with impartiality, and without reproach. Firestone hoped to show him that, contrary to his experience hitherto, white people could act with “friendship and honour” (177). Henry invited them to the Canadian reservation. They agreed to come for ten days. This was to be the “worthwhile destination” for the children’s holiday. Peggy Flinsch could not make it, but they were nothing daunted: one of their leaders spoke of “adventure and responsibility”. So, off they set. When they arrived at the reservation, Henry led them to his mother’s house (178-80). His mother taught Firestone what she (Firestone) regarded as a valuable lesson, when she persuaded Firestone to let a small boy sleep on after the others had risen, rather than be awakened before he was ready. At this point Firestone says “The Indian way is about living with the reality of what is” (180). At least, I would say, that is the Indian way at its best.

But the “men on the team were restless”. There was, they said, no plan for the children, and Henry’s Indian friends had not yet arrived “to instruct the children”, who were running around playing in the woods and the lakeshore (181). In the meantime, Henry’s mother showed the girls how to make skirts from leaves. When Henry’s friends arrived that afternoon there was still no plan, and, they apparently said, there cannot be one: it isn’t their way (181-2). However: “the men on the team became irritated and gave Henry hard looks. They found an unstructured day hard to bear, but the children were happy” (182). In the course of that day, Henry and his friends showed the children how to make a “delicious, real, fresh bread” but one “of our men” asked why they hadn’t explained the process. Henry’s reply was, again, common sense: “The children can see; what’s the use of talking?” (183)

That night a musician played what they described as “traditional Indian music”. The music turned out to be Irish and English folk tunes. The children were happy, but “the men” were not. “This is not the Children’s Work”, one said, and the capitals are in Firestone’s book. I can well believe they were in the intonation, too. They decided to leave the very next day, just walking out on the Indians. Firestone alone dissented from this plan. She became bewildered: “How did principles apply?” (185)

Firestone was troubled, saying: “It was wrong to break our word to Henry. I could hardly bear the thought that, like all the others, we would betray him” (185). But, as she notes, Peggy was not there (185). Peggy Flinsch, for those who do not know, was a personal pupil of Gurdjieff. One of the leaders, Ben, told the children they had to leave immediately, and another, Bill, told them “not to ask any questions” (187). This produced a situation where “most of the children, still not understanding the adults’ cold abruptness, were resentful and afraid” (187). The children’s log stated:

From the first day, a gap seemed to form between the adults and us. The adults were always stressing responsibility. Hacking was so frowned upon that we felt guilty every time we laughed. There were few minutes of fun. … None of us wanted to go; we could see Henry was hurt. And again the adults were cold and demanding. (188)

Back home, Firestone realised that she could not “give” her conscience “over” to anyone, not even to “her” team. As she concluded: “Any group can lose its way” (197). In relating this tale, I’ve used more direct quotes than usual, in case it might be thought that I’m guilting the lily (to adapt a line).

3 Critique

Sometimes, when reviewing, I’ll make substantial comments because I find that a book has substantial value. In other instances, a long critique might be needed to justify an unflattering appraisal. This book invites comments because of its depth. You could assess foundations as being really solid but still wish to do a little more work, even if just to hose them down before building upon them. Something similar is the case here. It’s because the volume is so good that I think there’s a use in addressing what I see as a flaw in the execution. In principle, the book is great. It’s a firm, even inspiring foundation. But the surface of the foundations wants sweeping, at least in my view.

The volume could be tidier in this respect: I think that it’s too long. It seems to me that Lillian Firestone has written one and a bit books with two different if related aims inside one cover: (1) a narrative, of satisfying length, which could stand by itself as an interesting and instructive autobiographical fragment, and, (2) in the appendices titled “Themes” and “Some Principles”, a how-to-Work-with-Children manual, to use New York capitals.

My sense is that had these short appendices been omitted, and the offering of principles been left to the voices of Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and Flinsch, the principles would have been more effectively conveyed. The minor statements of principle in the text are not offensive or even distracting: some reflection, some philosophy, is often necessary. Many of Firestone’s own short meditations, if I can call them that, are very good indeed: for example, her conclusion to the Henry story. But while some salt seasons the dish, too much seizes the throat.

The book challenges conventional ideas of drilling “the right way” into children’s heads. It stands, to use Gurdjieff’s terminology, for the imperatives to be present, to remember oneself, and to manifest from “consciousness and conscience” (perhaps a hendiadys, perhaps not). The how-to manual is maybe more than simply a departure from this: it seems to me to be inimical. Firestone says that children should be allowed their own experience. I would agree, so far as one can agree with such a statement. At the least, we adults too often wish for children to share our own experience, and to accept our valuations. We often show too little respect for the child’s individuality. But why not let adult readers have their own experience, and leave the appendices out? Still, being at the back of the volume they don’t interfere with the narrative, and so the sound foundations, so to speak, remain intact.

That is my major reservation. Let’s now turn to another matter: the so-called “Children’s Work” with capitals. If we call an activity “work”, there is at least a danger that we’ll assume that we’re working simply by virtue of being on a “work team”, and the phrase will keep suggesting that back to us. And so we glue assumptions into our language. The word “work” stands for something very high: rational, connected efforts in the direction of a chosen aim. We have to earn the right to say that we’re working, especially working as a man would, with all three centres. Gurdjieff said a good deal about suggestiveness, an aspect of Kundabuffer, and the force for illusion which it represents in our lives. We would be prudent to avoid words which might feed suggestion. Again, it’s another mild aspect of grandiloquence, but it’s significant, because I tend to see it as supporting our evil inner god “self-calming”.

Thankfully, there is an easy solution. I see no reason to employ any special sobriquets. If the children are working on a pond, call it “the pond team”. If some are in the kitchen, then they’re in “the kitchen crew”. Where there is a legitimate need to distinguish, one can refer to the children in the theatre troupe, or the adults in the gardening outfit, and be none the poorer.

To return to an example from “Forgotten Language”, in the case of the spoiled kid that insisted on buying tinned food and not fresh food, it might have been possible, if in the right state, to tell her that her proposal was misconceived for the simple reason that fresh food is more nutritious than canned food-substitutes. Of course, we want to explain this without any feeling of condemnation, just addressing the matter in hand. If I can be impartial, and feel supportive of the child while speaking, something of my inner state has a chance of coming through. The other may refuse to be mollified, but I don’t believe that they do not know at some deep level what is going on, and that they’re being wilful.

By the way, Gurdjieff groups should be insisting on fresh food (organic and, I suspect, without genetic modification where possible) and freshly prepared meals. Ordering in sandwiches or pizza, and eating “sweets” is anti-essence. We should, so far as possible, banish processed carbohydrates like sugar, bread, pizza and white rice. Solanges Claustres reports that Gurdjieff said that because inner efforts use the sort of energy they do, it’s essential to at least try and give the body the most nutritious food. Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the Adies did not know that sugar was a poison. Okay, but we do, and they wanted us to pursue truth rather than limiting ourselves to what was known about nutrition in their day.

I will end this critique by mentioning another factor I’d like to “challenge”, to use Firestone’s term. That is the material commissioned in the foreword and the testimonials. The foreword is by T.R. Thurman, and praises the “firm but kind realism of the adults” (ix). The praise for the volume, for Gurdjieff, de Salzmann and the adults is fulsome, very fulsome. I wonder Firestone did not find it embarrassing. Then, Thurman relates how the Dalai Lama, when receiving an honorary degree, said “so powerfully as to penetrate the stone pillars” that to educate the brain but not the heart is to create a danger. Thurman adds: “The assembled dignitaries nodded approvingly, but subsequently I didn’t notice any change in the curriculum” (x).

What changes to the curriculum did Thurman expect to see? What changes did he himself make? What changes did the Lama indicate? The fact of the matter is, as reported, the Dalai Lama made a platitudinous statement which could mean almost anything. Thurman was identified with him to the extent that he even imagined the pillars hearing his voice, and now shares his fond fantasy with us. Once more, I call it grandiloquence. A more humorous and softer phrase might be the Australianism “cosmic wombat”.

I could make comments about the testimonials on the back cover, but time is limited. Suffice to say, if you esteem gushing praise, yes, they’re good. But why “ache” for what you didn’t have? What could such an “ache” be but imagination? Does Firestone need this sort of marketing? This book is a dedication to life and consciousness past, present and future before it’s a product, and to market it like any ordinary book, with the sort of testimonials Gurdjieff satirized in “Meetings” … well, I can’t conceive that it was necessary, especially as it’s her own press and she has no external publishers to compromise with.

4 Further Thoughts on Children

I have no children of my own, but I was a child. One of the rarest insights I’ve ever heard about children was said by my late grandmother. “Children,” she said, “know who love them.” An intuitive knowledge is available to them in many ways. At some level, children, especially small children, know. They know what’s going on and what’s taking place in the people around them. My clear recollection, and it’s something we all shared whether we remember it or not, is that as a child I was very often quite impartial. I recall looking around me with the sort of feeling-impartiality that Thomas Traherne describes in his “Centuries”, and having a respect for other people as being miracles equal to myself. In book 3.3. of the “Centuries”, Traherne wrote:

Aged men seemed as venerable and reverend creatures – young men seemed glittering and sparkling angels. and women strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty. Boys and girls tumbling in the street and playing. were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die, but all things bided as if in their proper places eternally.

I recall that I was centred, that my mind was crystal clear, and my feelings were positive. The memories are absolutely crisp. I did not then realise that I was centred, but then again, perhaps I did. By imperceptible degrees, of course, this state of natural, innocent blissful perception was lost. But the realisation that I then had, effectively of the truth of the Beatific Visions, has never been lost, although for periods, sometimes for long weary periods, it has lain unremembered.

As an aside, the very first time I read In Search of the Miraculous, I at once saw that what Gurdjieff was teaching was a method for restoring the lost vision, but at a higher level, one which would relate our perception to our will, and not merely our circumstances. It seemed right that the path would lie through conscience, but never had I remotely guessed that that could commence through something as simple as becoming conscious to my own reality, beginning with physical sensation. Yet how obvious, after all, that the road to reality should begin in the one certain place available to everyone, our own individual being-reality? I tried to bring some of that understanding to Mr Adie’s book, especially the chapters “The Joy of Creation” and “The World in Amber”.

To return to our theme, Traherne saw that this tale of infant paradise and the fall is true of everyone. Children are more in essence than we are, and, as I shall mention below, the working of their centres is more united. Traherne’s writing on this subject is significant, and too little appreciated. In an appendix to this review, I attach some more brief quotations from book 3 of Traherne’s “Centuries”. But there is no substitute for purchasing a volume of his poetry, and making your own acquaintance with this profound mystic.

To return to my grandmother’s words, I think that the first effort with anyone, but especially perhaps with children, is to open to feeling. By “feeling” I mean positive emotion of myself, not mere “emotion” (see p.61 of “George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia” for the critical distinction.) I won’t delve into it now, but it’s natural that such an effort extends downwards into presence of sensation and above into presence of aim. This is another reason why I think there needs to be more attention paid to the awakening of feeling, and less to intellectual formulations such as “leaning on the moment”, which to me paints a humorous picture of leaving smudges everywhere. A moment is a breath. You can’t “lean” on it, even metaphorically. But to the degree that I am present, higher emotional centre operates with its richer time, and it as if corridors of dimensions are added to the experience of the moment. Once more, contact with feeling proves to be the gate.

In small children, the centres function more closely together. Children are both more sensitive and stronger than they will be as adults, more in essence, and so we are accordingly more responsible for our manifestations in their presences. Incidentally, I heard this from Mr Adie, but the same idea is recorded in Ouspensky’s “The Fourth Way”, so I am pretty sure it came from Gurdjieff. At p. 74 is this fertile line: “In small children centres are not divided.” At p. 121, Ouspensky answers a question as to whether a child is nearer to self-remembering than an adult. “No, not quite”, said Ouspensky. Remembering oneself, he explained, comes from one’s own conscious and intentional efforts. While children have moments of consciousness, these moments come by themselves because the emotional centre is more active in children.

So it seems to be this: the younger the child, the less division there is likely to be between the centres. One can even see from embryology how the mechanisms of the centres start to appear. The different scale of time in higher centres and higher parts of centres explains why our sense of time is different when we’re children. As Traherne said of his experience as a boy: “All time was eternity and a perpetual sabbath.” My own guess is that the operational division of centres which has begun in infancy does not end its octave of development until puberty, and is aided, or at least given its characteristic form, by the development of personality which starts to cover essence.

So it isn’t so much that images and pictures mean more to children than words: that will depend upon which images, picture and words, and which child. It is more that every word will resonate with images and pictures, and vice versa, because the intellect and the feeling are closer together. The very young don’t make the hard distinction between words and pictures that we do: that, at least, I can remember from childhood.

And of course, it follows from all this, that the higher parts of centres are more available in children, and so the mystic element of a child’s experience must be respected, and allowed space. If a person is present with a child, especially a small child, that person cannot be impatient without remorse of conscience.

Now, if children cannot make conscious efforts the way that an adult can, they yet have the possibility, even the heightened possibility, of receiving impressions of our conscious and intentional efforts. Those impressions can become active later when personality is smothering essence. It could be that neither then nor later will they be aware of having received any such impression. Impressions can be so weak as to be negligible. But no conscious effort made with someone is ever wasted, either for oneself or for the other.

Further, the effort with anyone – adult, baby or youth – should be impartial and unconditional to the extent we can manage, and maybe even beyond that. One does not make such efforts in the hope of evoking gratitude from the other. That would be manipulation, and it always, it seems to me, backfires. It leads, in other words, to revulsion, if not to outright revolt. There are no guarantees: there are children who knew Gurdjieff and even had the experience of children’s movements, who did not turn out at all brilliantly.

There are very few rules and perhaps even fewer guarantees. Corporal punishment is looked upon as barbaric today. But sometimes, Gurdjieff would spank a child on the bottom, and say that it was a good reminding factor. Olga de Hartmann relates that Gurdjieff shouted at her once in the presence of her father. That good man was appalled, until Gurdjieff explained to him that because he, the father, had not shouted at Olga, now he, Gurdjieff, had to give her that experience. And he, according to Olga, saw the wisdom in that. The late Michael Smyth recounted to me a story he had heard from Paul Beekman Taylor. I think I have it right: a child was proud of its toy watch. Gurdjieff beckoned the child over, obtained the watch, and then deliberately crushed it beneath his foot. The story did not end there. The next night, Gurdjieff called the child over to himself. The child was reluctant, but the parents helped the child over to Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff then presented the child with a real watch. No one I know would dare to do such a thing, but it may have been beneficial to the child: I don’t know, and I don’t know how to judge it.

So there are very few rules. We just have to use our individual being-reason, and in using it, develop it.

5 Conscience

The key to work with anyone, children or otherwise, is, I would now say, conscience. There is a special connection with children, and not only because our time of childhood was absolutely critical for our development. As Jesus said, we must become like little children if we’re to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Traherne refers to this in “Centuries”:

Our Saviour’s meaning when He said that whoever would enter into the kingdom of heaven must be born again and become a little child, is far deeper than is generally believed. It is not only in a careless reliance upon divine providence that we are to become little children or in the feebleness and shortness of our anger, and in the simplicity of our passions: but in the peace and purity of all our soul, which purity also is a deeper thing than is commonly apprehended – for we must disrobe our selves of all false colours, and forsake self-will. All our thoughts must be infant-like and clear, the powers of our soul free from the values of this world, and disentangled from men’s opinions and customs. [“Centuries” 3.5]

To be concise, my personal view is that Jesus meant that we must come to conscience.

To be with and to understand children, we must be with and understand our own childhoods. This both requires feeling, and brings us to feeling. If feeling is awake for long enough, this leads to conscience.

Let’s relate this to an example from “Forgotten Language”. Recall that before they walked out on Henry, someone declared: “This isn’t the Children’s Work”. How could people aiming to “work”, to become more conscious, hurl the Indians’ hospitality back in their faces, implicitly reproaching them for failing to provide the exotic but safe adventure they had dreamed of? We should never consent to compromise our innate human sense of principle: it is asphyxiation of conscience. But they were ensconced as leaders of the “Children’s Work”, and, apparently, they didn’t feel the earth-level realities of their “hard looks” and similar actions. How is this possible? What is the point of years in Gurdjieff groups if we never change?

Take that phrase: “it isn’t the work”. How can anyone confidently announce what is and isn’t “the work”? We would need to know the other person’s condition and need so fully that we could dismiss something as not being work for them. But our position and needs have so many individual aspects that I can only see in this phrase a laziness of thought yoked to a desire to have the last word. And that means that conscience is fast asleep.

What does it mean to say that something is or is not the work? Does it not mean that certain ideas, feelings, emotions, actions or omissions cannot lead to, be material for, or contribute to someone’s efforts to become more conscious? So much of what we try is experimental that we should be slow to say that others are in a dead end. But that remark is inherently loaded in the direction of being arrogantly slighting. It could be uttered in sadness, but I think that if one had feeling one would choose a different phrase. I never heard Mr Adie say it, and I’ve never heard that Gurdjieff used it. To be perfectly blunt, it sounds to me as if someone in what I think of as “the group executive” used to say it, other people heard it, it sounded impressive, and it’s been parroted ever since. Here, I’ll briefly note that “work” itself is often a hiding word. It’s a valuable exercise to sometimes try and find another word or phrase to use in substitution: this exercise brings us right up against our mental laziness.

I would have far more sympathy if a person could say that they felt something was right or wrong, or that they could sense that, for them, it led away from conscience. Conscience is the issue for all of us. I hope I’m wrong, but I think that today, both in groups and outside of them (especially outside of them) some people implicitly see themselves as “beyond good and evil”, or something equivalent to that, tolerating all sorts of selfish or even predatory behaviour, their own and other people’s, and excusing it with platitudes like “who are we to say?”, “they’re adults”, or “it’s all good”.

While we should always try and grasp the other end of the stick, “Beelzebub is replete with commandments of the Creator, and Gurdjieff himself approved this principle: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If someone falls short of a standard, it is sometimes right and appropriate to say so. Sometimes, a direct statement is the best statement. It’s always a matter of judgment. Although we may not be sure what conscience would direct, we can be sure if something aggravates the black hole in us where conscience should be.

In other words, for a long time we may not positively know conscience as the source of light it is. But, if we’re honest, we do know the absence of conscience. And, also if we’re honest, we can tell when the sense of absence is made worse. We can feel a certain hardness in us.

Firestone spoke of handing over her conscience. I wonder. Is this like the assumption about “Children’s Work”? Although it’s not meant literally, it’s assuming that we have a conscience, and that the group, any group, can take delivery of it. Fear of being on the outer of the group can actually anaesthetize the feeling of myself which leads to conscience. There is an extent, I would say a significant extent, to which group work is or by law can become antipathetic to the individuality which Gurdjieff wished for his pupils. His knowledge of that fact was, I think, the deepest reason why he pushed people out on their own, even if he re-established contact in those instances where they’d made something for themselves. (I refer to Jeanne de Salzmann, Sophia Ouspensky and Jane Heap. He wished to re-establish relations with P.D. Ouspensky, A.R. Orage and Maurice Nicoll, although they all refused his invitations.)

Two more points from the Henry saga. When they packed up, Bill told the children not to ask questions (187). Firestone does not consider how this relates to their own stated principles about how they would deal with children’s questions in the children’s work (16-8). Was it ever discussed? If not, why not, I wonder? If a group cannot discuss such matters, what sort of group is it? Gurdjieff, of course, like any sane person, was always on the side of conscience, never of conformity.

Then, of equal importance, what was Firestone’s follow up? Did she make contact with Henry by letter or phone? Send him an apology, or a greeting? A little present? Or a big present? We just don’t know. Mr Adie said once of someone who had said something quite unfeeling, and later apologized: “It was good that having said what he did, he later said something else to be added to it.” Mr Adie would sometimes mention that it was important to judge when having left impression, we should then say or do something so that when that first impression was recalled, the second would be there, too, to mitigate its effect. When I had unintentionally confused someone, he told me that I should have explained my situation as soon as possible. I felt that he was right, and asked him how to deal with the fact that I would have to say something about other people. “You don’t have to”, he said. “Just keep it simple and speak of yourself.” And he was right. As a general rule, the simplest statements are the most credible.

There is a clear criterion as to whether our efforts towards the awakening of conscience are on the right road or not: we shall be suffering, and suffering remorse in respect of our manifestations towards our parents and others. You can read any of the good material on conscience, whether in Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Staveley, and they will support this in whole or in part. This also emerges from Firestone’s own account. To have a conscience one needs to suffer analogously to how Christ suffered in his passion. As Gurdjieff was reported to have said in an unpublished talk titled “Palm Sunday”:

… the word “passion” is applied to that state in us which is called the gnawings of conscience. Whoever understands the gnawings of conscience will understand the word “passion”. To most people the taste of this function is unknown. For most people this state might not exist and they understand it only theoretically. For a final definition of the word “passion” it is necessary to add the word similar to the gnawings of conscience, since the expression gnawings of conscience is used by us too often and we are accustomed to take its meaning too superficially. Passion is a state similar to the gnawings of conscience.

Appendix

Excerpts edited from book 3 of Thomas Traherne’s “Centuries”:

All appeared new and strange at the first; inexpressibly rare and delightful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted with innumerable joys. My knowledge was divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my apostasy I collected again, by the highest reason. I knew not that there were any sins or complaints or laws. All time was eternity and a perpetual sabbath. Is it not strange that an infant should be the inheritor of the world. and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold? [from C. 3.2]

Wheat in the fields was the immortal grain of the rising sun, which never should be reaped nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold. The gates of the city were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me; their unusual beauty made my heart to leap almost mad with ecstasy, they were so strange and wonderful. [from C 3.3]

Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and some thing infinite behind every thing appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The streets of the city were mine. The people were mine. Their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skin and ruddy faces. The skies were mine and so were the sun and moon and stars. I knew no bounds or divisions until with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world; which now I unlearn, and become as it were, a little child again, that I may enter into the kingdom of God. [from C 3.3]

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JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

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

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JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
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ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING …

Conscious change starts when a person sacrifices their unconscious suffering in order to intentionally experience the impulse of conscience. Prior to that point, everything is preparation. Awareness of sensation, self-observation, even “remembering oneself”, only prepare the ground for that sacrifice and for the new life which immediately follows, being, as it is, under both the law of grace and the law of cause and effect. Or so I believe.

If our spiritual efforts do not include feeling, they will atrophy and falter, and everything can be lost. We can come to the starting point, turn away, and end up as far away as we ever were. In fact, a person’s fate is harsher if they have finally found the threshold, but then turned back. Why? Because one then has a history of having retreated from that point. It becomes easier to retreat a second time. There is something in us which is practically waiting to justify retreat, even to turn negative in respect of the way. Having once backed off, you know that you can back off, and it becomes harder than ever to make the indispensible commitments to conscious labour and intentional suffering.

These commitments are, I believe, indispensible to crossing the threshold to more durable states. There are states available for us in which the entirety of our feeling is positive feeling. Negative emotion is utterly passive, even impossible, in such a state. Such states can last not only for days, but for weeks, and if they can last for weeks, they can last for months. You can see where the equation is heading. Permanent change of being to a significantly higher level is possible. And it always begins with a growth in feeling. I mean that it immediately begins with a growth in feeling. For that, we must earn many small and one major victory over negative emotion.

To die to the life of negative emotions is to awaken from a fever: it literally feels that way. The air becomes brighter, the world acquires a further visual dimension, and memories of how we used to be seem not so much unreal as “now impossible”, like some former House of Parliament in sepia postcards.

Mysteries are resolved by the peaceful light. For example, how is it that the more we feel our separate individuality the more we feel a connection with other people? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It has puzzled but not perplexed me that when I identify with others, there is actually less relation between us, and less feeling than when I am more aware of myself and not so identified. In a state where feeling is active for more than a flash, our eyes have sufficiently continuous light, and all falls into place: we see that different levels coexist.

Our unity is at a higher level. Difference and diversity do really exist at one level, perhaps even exists more truly than we had ever appreciated. We simultaneously perceive, without having to enquire, that at another level we are in a more intimate relation to each other than we could ever have thought. It is as if we are inside each other. On that level, each of us is also more truly themselves, and the ground of our unity is so bright we cannot miss it. This ground of unity is nothing other than the fact that, as Gurdjieff said, behind real ‘I’ lies God. We really do come from God, and we really are made to return to him. That is the divine plan Mrs Staveley spoke of.

So it seems to me that self-observation and self-remembering can lead to conscious change only to the extent that they include an affirmative feeling of conscience; otherwise, the action of self-remembering will always be preliminary. I don’t like to be too dogmatic about this, but my experience is as it is. Also, this interpretation corresponds to Gurdjieff’s ideas, being supported by comments made by both himself and Ouspensky.

It is not that self-observation and self-remembering won’t lead to change. They will. But with only a modest amount of conscious feeling, they have only a modest an effect. A small effect is better than none, but will take literally hundreds of years to lead to a change of level of being, if indeed the results are not forever being swept away before they crystallize.

No one can live without feeling, and if I can see or remember myself, then feeling will be there more consciously. So we can never say that we don’t have some feeling. But if it’s not sufficiently present to be the temporary centre of my consciousness, then, for practical purposes, it’s absent. From one perspective, it’s worse to have glimpses of this feeling-presence than not to know that glimpses are possible. People often find that a moment of presence has an after-effect which leaves us depressed, rather like coming down. “Why,” we wonder, “is this freedom so elusive? Where was this power when I lost my temper the other day?” The experience of making effort after effort and perennially coming only to temporary change of being can lead to despondency and even to despair.

It is, of course, significant to come to a point preliminary to genuine change, to stand before the doorway to another level of life.

But preliminaries only mean something if they lead to achievement: their meaning is realized when I go through the door. If we start to fete the door and forget that we have to go through it, we may as well never have found it.

It is feeling which motivates and enables us to make the passage, leaving behind the old, and entering the new life, unknown and yet, at the same time, intimately intuited. To be precise, the experience of sacrificing unconscious suffering and its fruit in the gnawing of conscience lead to an entire octave of motivation and capacity: we feel at once the fever of the past, our present position, and the objective promise of the future, and we also feel other things, perhaps even ineffable. So I won’t try and describe that more.

The minds of the body and the intellect don’t like blind corners: and neither does the feeling intelligence. But feeling can “see” around corners, so to speak. The intellect needs data for comparison and deduction, while feeling has only one datum, as it were. But feeling penetrates that datum, and can perceive its multiple layers or aspects. A naked feeling of confidence grounds trust in a way that a thousand reasons never will.

Gurdjieff said that the way begins above the level of life, and that much work is needed to come to the threshold. I think that some of his meaning may have been this need to have feeling operate as the centre of consciousness for more than a short time. Conscience can be present long enough to persuade us that permanent change of being is possible. Without that, I rather think that something sceptical or “faithless” in us will always want reassurance. This, to my mind, sheds light on Mr Adie’s statement that “faith is based on fact”. Gurdjieff said that faith was a divine impulse. Yet, we say little about faith unless we mean “blind belief”. The faith which provides a light when all seems eclipsed (to paraphrase Aquinas) is barely acknowledged. I think this is because that faith can only be an active fact or in us when one can bear the gnawing of conscience long enough for feeling to penetrate to something essential in us.

Because we can only work on bodies – we have literally nothing else to work on – a growth in feeling must be a crystallization of the Body Kesdjan (Persian for “the spirit of the soul”, or, in Bennett’s paraphrase, “the vessel of the soul”, if I recall correctly).

As the feeling body crystallizes, it evokes a conscious sensation which is deeper, more whole and inclusive than anything otherwise imagined. Of course we’re bound to make our first efforts by using our minds, such as they are. If one is fortunate, one can participate in movements classes or something else which can help us more continuously sustain consciousness of sensation. But conscious sensation is only a means to the end of consciousness of feeling. All too soon, the physical body must die. Endurance and immortality are properties of the other bodies (in religious terms, the soul and spirit).

There is even a danger in focussing on sensation with the eye of a Cyclops: if we forget about feeling, all our efforts with sensation will serve only to mesmerize us, to keep us in a state of obsession with sensation.

If you’re reading this blog you probably know that the role of sensation is tremendous. It is necessary for physical life. But that is only its first function. Like much else in nature, it is designed to serve multiple purposes. One of these purposes is that consciousness of sensation seals in the Body Kesdjan, or perhaps helps to keep the formation of the Body localised so that the higher hydrogens used in its crystallization are not dissipated. Further, the sort of sensation one has when the initiative has come not from the mind but from the feeling is beyond words. I say that when feeling is available for long enough, it calls the sensation because, being of a higher intelligence, it knows what it has to do to preserve and sustain itself. But it is too weak to do so until a certain stage has been reached.

That stage cannot be attained to unless the struggle with negative emotions has reached a critical level, when the human machine has been substantially cleaned. Even before negative emotion is made utterly passive, significant changes will start to appear. That is one of the beauties of the human organism: it is flexible enough to allow encouraging anticipations, and we can see what lies ahead, at least for one step. It is like anything else in life: the development is subject to the law of octaves. We advance, fall back, advance, fall back and so on. But if we’re wise, and we use our heads (instead of disparaging the intellect and giving all the emphasis to sensation) we can even profit from our setbacks.

I shall pause here: I want to try and make this clear, assuming, of course, that what I say bears some relationship to the truth of the matter. I am saying that a sense of presence, of being “different” as is often said, is good and necessary. But it is good and necessary because it is a means to a higher end. Even if we described that end as “a greater intensity of presence”, we would be wrong. It’s a presence with unique qualities of dimension and duration.

Higher levels of presence include dimensions of feeling, intelligence and, I would say, intuition, of something inimitable and ineffable. And these levels of presence become more connected and longer lasting. When they retreat, they don’t retreat in the same way: they remain nearby, you can feel their touch through a membrane somewhere inside, as it were. They bring us back more quickly when we fall, and they enable us to see more clearly what is needed. Having had continuous consciousness of feeling for a period of weeks, you can never cease to believe in the reality of the new man. This greater intensity brings us to the raw moment of work on ourselves, that is, immediate work on our bodies, not merely on our thoughts or reordering our emotional lives, necessary as those efforts are.

I’ll take the analogy of travel. I want to go, say, from Clyde to Carlingford by train. I could tell you, quite truthfully, that to get there I must go through Rosehill to get there. In fact, Rosehill is the first station after Clyde. But I could also have equally truthfully said “no gets from Clyde to Carlingford unless they first pass through Camellia”. To get to Carlingford, I also have to travel through Rydalmere, Dundas and Telopea, which are further down the line. The statements are all true, but if I think in a formatory way, I will see a contradiction. The whole truth and the nothing but the truth is that each of these stations must be passed in a given order.

I think (I would say that I am sure), that something similar happens in respect of the inner journey. We can only get there through self-observation. We can only get there through self-remembering. We can only get there through sensation, through feeling, through conscience, through awakening the mind, and so on. All are true.

But what is this aim for which all of these steps are necessary? The far aim of which I speak is, and only sanely can be “theosis”, the experience of the Absolute: the infinite and eternal, all-encompassing presence which depends on nothing else. I am speaking, then, of the beatific vision, mystical communion with God. Even what I have said about feeling is subject to this.

But our position is that we, and everyone we know and know of, are stuck at Clyde. We’ve never seen anything else, and no one we know unarguably has, either. Not surprisingly, some people deny that there is anything beyond Clyde. If we eventually even get to the road sign to Rosehill, we’re rapt in wonder, at least for a while. The sense of wonder disappears, and to keep it alive we invent rituals of anointing the sign and laying flowers before it. Anyone who can make a good claim to have been to Rosehill strikes us as extraordinary. We start to identify with them, and imitate them. We think that we’re honouring the journey and the destination, but really, all our little reverences have the effect of keeping us where we are, miles from feeling. We get so used to hearing that Carlingford is so far away that we come to think “Rosehill is good enough for me”.

I have written before about the romance of the search: that is pertinent here. Searching only has meaning if there is a possibility of finding. Anyone who thinks that there’s virtue or merit in looking without hope of discovering is, literally, mad. Of course, they might not be mad in every possible respect, but in that one they are. It can be dressed up however one likes, but the idea that we are always searching is lunacy. We search only until we find. Maybe then a further search will beckon: that is quite possible, but that’s a different matter.

The practical vice of the “romance of the search” is that it keeps us at preliminaries. Too often, material I have read states or implies that a permanent change of being is not possible: we can only be present “in-between”, as it were. This is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. If we are present for a moment, even “present in-between”, we can be present for two moments, and three moments, and so on. We can be present at a higher level of being. That higher level can be long-term, and therefore it can be permanent.

It is possible to become man number 4, but how would this be possible if one did not have faith (not belief) in the possibility? I cannot imagine that the chances of a change of level of being increase if one never even thinks about man number 4, and what qualities such a person would have. I’m rather inclined to think the opposite.

And according to Ouspensky, who I am sure was speaking from his own experience, but may have had it from Gurdjieff, too: the chief difference between man numbers 1, 2 and 3 and number 4 is that number 4 has conscience. In other words, such a person is available to feeling. That is the difference. The impressions which usually would call forth, as it were, negative emotions, are received. We can even sense that something in us is ready to react in anger, jealousy, or hatred, and so on. But feeling is present, or at least its influence is, and the third force (the self-indulgent attitude) required for the manifestation of negative emotions is not there at the locus of these forces. The moment passes, and rather than negative emotion , feeling, and perhaps even a representative of conscience appears.

In A Record of Meetings (a much under-utilized book which has fortunately been reissued by Eureka), someone asked Ouspensky whether man number 4 was free of negative emotions. No, replied Ouspensky, not free of them, that would be too much to expect. So number 4 is vulnerable to negative emotion, but has conscience in respect of them. He is changing in respect of them, he is profiting from them and making them passive. He is, so to speak, eating them.

When sustained feeling is available, one is present. Not absolutely present: perhaps only God is absolutely present (Ouspensky says that perhaps only God can say ‘I’). But if we cannot say that we are absolutely present, yet we can know that we have reality. We feel safe both inside and safe to other people. We see where we went wrong, and why. This by no means makes us infallible: it’s a danger to believe so. But we have an intuition that we could come to a stage where we could actually think: and in such a state the possibilities of thinking appear astounding.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

3 July 2010

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.

=================================

SUGAR IS AN ESOTERIC ISSUE (revised 28 may 2010

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Sugar is an Esoteric Issue (revised 28 May 2010)

I am absolutely serious. Sugar is an esoteric issue, together with smoking and narcotics. Of course, it is not nearly so dangerous as narcotics, which can make conscious development practically impossible. But I am not sure how it compares to tobacco. That issue is difficult, because, among matters, people who consume tobacco invariably consume sugar, so the respective roles of these poisons in causing disease is tricky. Also, the sugars which are sometimes added to cigarettes make their smoke more cancerous (they increase by up to 60% the amount of formaldehyde in “mainstream” cigarette smoke, i.e. the smoke produced after puffing on a cigarette). Therefore, the effects of sugar and tobacco may operate jointly.

Background

Where is this all coming from? An article I wrote, dealing with sugar and its equivalents from a legal and ethical point of view, has been published in vol. 17 of the Journal of Law and Medicine (May 2010, pp.784-799).

In that article, I contend that there is a crying need for legislative intervention to actually tax sugar, ban sugar products from schools, require full disclosure of sugar content in any food (even in bread), with health warnings on confectionary, and more of the same fanatical measures. You can read the facts about sugar in the late John Yudkin’s readable classic Pure, White and Deadly. My article summarises some of the latest evidence, the vast bulk of which supports his conclusions about the relation between sugar, diabetes and cancer (not to mention dental caries), and some of which shows that sugar is addictive in much the same way that narcotics are.

That is all very well, you may say: but why put this on an esoteric studies web site?

The Esoteric Significance of Sugar

For those who know Gurdjieff’s ideas, let me say first, that sugar disharmonises the tempo of our common-presence, and second, that it damages essence.

Now, let me rephrase that for the non-initiated. Sugar is wreaking havoc on our civilization. It’s just doing it slowly and enjoyably. Gary Taubes, whose work in this area seems to me to be – without hyperbole – magnificent, writes: “Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.” (The Diet Delusion, n 27, p 454) The italics on “dietary causes” is Taubes’ own.

Over time and in sufficient doses, sugar can do great damage to a person’s body and emotions. That is, it damages essence, the real you, the heirloom with which you are born. Indirectly, sugar will even damage how one’s mind works, because the workings of the mind, body and emotions cannot ultimately be separated (although the organism is very adaptable, and can often reach extraordinary levels of intellectual and emotional functioning despite even near-fatal physical damage). Indirectly, through diabetes and, it seems, other diseases, sugar can even be fatal. And if it does indeed contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, what have we unloosed upon ourselves?

When I say that “over time and in sufficient doses, it can do great damage to a person’s body and emotions”, we must bear in mind that how much time and what doses are sufficient depends upon the person, their conscious control over their organism, their genes, the balance of their diet, the exercise they take, their sleep, their lifestyle, and other factors.

Now for common-tempo. In a talk he gave in Paris, in August 1922, Gurdjieff said that a person’s reception of impressions depends on “the rhythm of the external stimulators of impressions and on the rhythm of the senses”. Right reception, he said, would be possible “only if these rhythms correspond to one another”. In fact, he went so far as to say: “a man can never be a man if he has no right rhythms in himself.” G.I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, pp.82-83.

Briefly, as I understand it, in Beelzebub, especially in the chapter on “Hypnotism”, Gurdjieff teaches that each centre of the organism, and also essence (as a whole) and personality (as a whole) function at different tempos, and that parts of the human organism can mutually communicate only when their tempos stand in a particular relation. At p.1163, Beelzebub says to Hassein that each of the functions which compose our individuality acquires a “harmonious tempo in the common functioning”. In other words, our individuality (the distinctive nature of our being), is made up of various functionings, each of which is formed as a whole (“crystallized” is Gurdjieff’s word) and works at its own tempo in an integrated organism, in harmony with other functions operating at their proper tempos.

One can think of it as being like a car: all the moving parts have their own tempos. The wheels, fan-belt, ignition, battery, all work at different speeds, or more precisely, within different ranges of speed. In fact, they can only perform their proper function without damaging the machine if they remain within their specific speed ranges. If one could arrange all these parts so that they operated at one identical speed, the car would be useless . I am aware I am now speaking of “speed”. Shortly, a speed is absolute: it is measured from zero, but tempo is a relative speed. Tempo is meaningful only as comparing the speeds, rhythms or rates of a particular activity.

Gurdjieff says that we have two established tempos of blood circulation (provisionally taking the tempos as absolute). Each of these tempos is related to a form of consciousness: essence (sub-consciousness), or personality (consciousness). A change in consciousness can cause a change in the tempo of blood circulation, and a change in that tempo can cause a change in consciousness.

Sugar disrupts that tempo to an extent which was not, I believe, contemplated by nature, and which is not under conscious control. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that if taken naturally (i.e. directly from sugar cane), it is not nearly so noxious, if at all. This makes sense: one researcher says that refined sugar is a “genetically unknown food”. That is, it is not a use but an abuse of nature. Further, you get a load of sugar a lot faster drinking soft drinks than you ever can by chewing on sugar cane. In the right dose, and for some people the right dose is an extremely small one, sugar causes a nervous energy within the body and disrupt emotional equilibrium.

Because sugar is (apparently) the only food which provides energy and no nutrients, there is nothing good to say about it which cannot be said for anything else which makes food more palatable (e.g. cinnamon and vanilla). On the other hand, those foods have positives which sugar does not. The glucose in sugar is oxidised in the cells, and the bloodstream cops the released energy. This is the basis of the “sugar-fix”. And this disrupts the tempo of the body, and the all-important tempo of the blood circulation. In other words, sugar is a food (although I would say it is better understood as a food derivative that is, in itself, a good-substitute), and a poison, which makes it harder for essence to manifest, and easier for personality to manifest.

If you don’t believe me, try and observe carefully what happens inside you when next you ingest confectionary, cake, sweetened biscuits, soft drink or anything else to which you’ve added sugar. You may be surprised to find that what you thought were part and parcel of your natural fluctuations of mood (and, in Gurdjieff’s terms, your “state”), are in fact abnormal but familiar results of sugar ingestion.

Part of the “esoteric danger” is this: because we do not think of sugar as a slow-working poison (albeit of low toxicity in small and irregular doses), but as a food and only as a food, it hardly enters our heads to think of its effects as being unnatural. We are far more likely to attribute its psychic effects to other causes.

Also, we are so used to sugar that we tend to accept our unnaturally sweetened state (to coin a phrase which is meant only half-humorously) as neutral, or even as positive. We take so much sugar, and we see so many people who take it, that we don’t know how jumped up we are.

There is more. I could do a social analysis and say that we live in a “sugar-coated” society. And I believe we do: but that is another area. I sometimes wonder if sugar is not one of those things like tea, coffee, hops and opium, which, as Gurdjieff said, have a complete enneagram within themselves. For what it’s worth, I think that mint and garlic may be other such plants, but of course benign ones. But for now, I just want to raise this issue.

Gurdjieff, Sugar and the Tempo Paradox

There are two related objections to consider: the first is, but didn’t Gurdjieff use sugar? And, considering the different tempos used in the movements and sacred dances, surely Gurdjieff didn’t try and impose one tempo on us? So if we can changing tempos is not noxious there, why should it be different if we change tempos by taking food?

The answer to the first question is simple: yes, Gurdjieff seems to have loved sugar, and was even known as “Monsieur Bon-Bon” because of his lavish distribution of confectionary. But Gurdjieff didn’t know everything. His being was beyond ours to an extent which makes comparison pointless, but he wasn’t omniscient. He still had to find out where the shops were, and learn the English language. He had to learn: in fact, he spoke to the Adies about one particular thing he had learned (as I shall mention in the forthcoming book on Helen Adie, where I can provide the context to do justice to the issue). As with sugar, I doubt that Gurdjieff would have used tobacco so much, or allowed people to smoke as they did, had he understood the dangers, especially the risks of passive inhalation where people who do not smoke suffer from others’ indulgence.

In respect of the second question, the first point is that it is striking that what I might call the sacred dances do seem to be slower than the other movements. I am thinking of “The Big Prayer”, “The Camel Dervish”, and of those which form the esoteric series within his last series of movements. But you could contradict me on that, and I would be unconcerned. There is something deeper than all this.

And this is it: first, disrupting our standard tempos is analagous to disrupting our standard roles. Gurdjieff said that man “has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life; but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role and for a short time he becomes himself.” At p.239 of Miraculous, the phrase “for a short time he becomes himself” is italicised. I think something similar happens with tempo. Is it going too far to say that each person ““has a common-tempo for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life; but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable tempo and for a short time he becomes himself”? This would be the purpose of movements. It is done there relatively consciously. But the same thing could not be said for eating confectionaries and cakes.

The second point is that although I have been studying tempo for a while now, I have only very recently started to think that the key to the awakening of essence is the ratio of tempos. Of course, the corresponding ratios should fall into place mor easily while one is quiet. This is why the preparations and exercises Gurdjieff bought are so important. Through these, he taught how to raise certain organic tempos to consciousness. But this was taught so that the state attained could be an influence in daily life, and the results crystallized in us. As Mr Adie used to say, it’s like learning to row a boat. You start off in calm waters, but one day, with sufficient practice, you might be able to manage in rough water.

Now, in so far as the movements have to do with changing the tempo of our organism, the aim is that we remain conscious whatever the tempo and how it changes: or so I tend to think. In terms of what I have said above, it is consciousness and the ratio of tempos which are critical. The quicker my body must work in the movements, the finer the work of the mind and feelings which is demanded. A different kind of consciousness, both active and passive, is called for to take the movements and the monitor what results.

I have made this as clear as I can, but of course I cannot disclose on the net the actual methods used in the preparation and exercises. Without that disclosure there will always be an irreducible margin of vagueness. So, perhaps these comments can help: a certain physical tempo is necessary only as an aid. Essence is not a slow tempo, or any tempo at all. Essence is in feeling (real feeling, and not the emotions). Feeling centre works faster than any of the centres but for sex and the two higher centres.

When essence appears through feeling, it can handle any speeds. Once we have awakened, we can manifest. But for man number 1, 2, and 3, there is a long work required to understand, by inner-sensation, the appropriate range of physical tempos and how to bring them within their proper ranges and mutual ratio.

And I will add one last comment which I shall expand on in future writings: we can, in my opinion, only work on bodies. But if this is right, then we’d better look after them.

Conclusion

I began by speaking about sugar. I said that in addition to the physical illnesses it contributes to, it damages essence and disharmonises the tempos of our common presence. I am recommending that anyone engaged in a spiritual quest has a spiritual reason to give up sugar altogether, and a responsibility not to facilitate its use (indeed, I feel a duty to actively discourage it).

Yet, I know from experience that it is very difficult for us to logically confront such matters. Neither do I think it’s only an issue of how I raise it with people, although that is not always guaranteed to help.

I would ask you read Yudkin and Taubes, and look at the evidence. If you can get the Journal of Law and Medicine, read my article. Then consider whether sugar is not, as I suggest, an “esoteric issue”.

And if you think it is, what prevents you acting on your knowledge?

Is this an area where the ‘I’ that knows is not the ‘I’ which is present when we come to eat?

28 May 2010

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

p.s. For regular updates on the science of sugar and related problems, check out the website “Raisin Hell”, maintained by David Gillespie. I must disclose that I have struck up a sort of friendship with David (who is also an Australian and a lawyer). But the friendship is a result of our reading the other’s work. We’re friends because we agree on these important issues, rather than agreeing because of friendship. You could also read his book Sweet Poison (Penguin Books). To find the web site, enter his name, or “Raisin Hell” and the words “Does saturated fat really cause heart disease?” into a search engine.

SUGAR as Esoteric Issue: (revised 28 May 2010)

JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

======================

SUGAR IS AN ESOTERIC ISSUE

Sugar is an Esoteric Issue (revised 28 May 2010)

I am absolutely serious. Sugar is an esoteric issue, together with smoking and narcotics. Of course, it is not nearly so dangerous as narcotics, which can make conscious development practically impossible. But I am not sure how it compares to tobacco. That issue is difficult, because, among matters, people who consume tobacco invariably consume sugar, so the respective roles of these poisons in causing disease is tricky. Also, the sugars which are sometimes added to cigarettes make their smoke more cancerous (they increase by up to 60% the amount of formaldehyde in “mainstream” cigarette smoke, i.e. the smoke produced after puffing on a cigarette). Therefore, the effects of sugar and tobacco may operate jointly.

Background

Where is this all coming from? An article I wrote, dealing with sugar and its equivalents from a legal and ethical point of view, has been published in vol. 17 of the Journal of Law and Medicine (May 2010, pp.784-799).

In that article, I contend that there is a crying need for legislative intervention to actually tax sugar, ban sugar products from schools, require full disclosure of sugar content in any food (even in bread), with health warnings on confectionary, and more of the same fanatical measures. You can read the facts about sugar in the late John Yudkin’s readable classic Pure, White and Deadly. My article summarises some of the latest evidence, the vast bulk of which supports his conclusions about the relation between sugar, diabetes and cancer (not to mention dental caries), and some of which shows that sugar is addictive in much the same way that narcotics are.

That is all very well, you may say: but why put this on an esoteric studies web site?

The Esoteric Significance of Sugar

For those who know Gurdjieff’s ideas, let me say first, that sugar disharmonises the tempo of our common-presence, and second, that it damages essence.

Now, let me rephrase that for the non-initiated. Sugar is wreaking havoc on our civilization. It’s just doing it slowly and enjoyably. Gary Taubes, whose work in this area seems to me to be – without hyperbole – magnificent, writes: “Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.” (The Diet Delusion, n 27, p 454) The italics on “dietary causes” is Taubes’ own.

Over time and in sufficient doses, sugar can do great damage to a person’s body and emotions. That is, it damages essence, the real you, the heirloom with which you are born. Indirectly, sugar will even damage how one’s mind works, because the workings of the mind, body and emotions cannot ultimately be separated (although the organism is very adaptable, and can often reach extraordinary levels of intellectual and emotional functioning despite even near-fatal physical damage). Indirectly, through diabetes and, it seems, other diseases, sugar can even be fatal. And if it does indeed contribute to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, what have we unloosed upon ourselves?

When I say that “over time and in sufficient doses, it can do great damage to a person’s body and emotions”, we must bear in mind that how much time and what doses are sufficient depends upon the person, their conscious control over their organism, their genes, the balance of their diet, the exercise they take, their sleep, their lifestyle, and other factors.

Now for common-tempo. In a talk he gave in Paris, in August 1922, Gurdjieff said that a person’s reception of impressions depends on “the rhythm of the external stimulators of impressions and on the rhythm of the senses”. Right reception, he said, would be possible “only if these rhythms correspond to one another”. In fact, he went so far as to say: “a man can never be a man if he has no right rhythms in himself.” G.I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, pp.82-83.

Briefly, as I understand it, in Beelzebub, especially in the chapter on “Hypnotism”, Gurdjieff teaches that each centre of the organism, and also essence (as a whole) and personality (as a whole) function at different tempos, and that parts of the human organism can mutually communicate only when their tempos stand in a particular relation. At p.1163, Beelzebub says to Hassein that each of the functions which compose our individuality acquires a “harmonious tempo in the common functioning”. In other words, our individuality (the distinctive nature of our being), is made up of various functionings, each of which is formed as a whole (“crystallized” is Gurdjieff’s word) and works at its own tempo in an integrated organism, in harmony with other functions operating at their proper tempos.

One can think of it as being like a car: all the moving parts have their own tempos. The wheels, fan-belt, ignition, battery, all work at different speeds, or more precisely, within different ranges of speed. In fact, they can only perform their proper function without damaging the machine if they remain within their specific speed ranges. If one could arrange all these parts so that they operated at one identical speed, the car would be useless . I am aware I am now speaking of “speed”. Shortly, a speed is absolute: it is measured from zero, but tempo is a relative speed. Tempo is meaningful only as comparing the speeds, rhythms or rates of a particular activity.

Gurdjieff says that we have two established tempos of blood circulation (provisionally taking the tempos as absolute). Each of these tempos is related to a form of consciousness: essence (sub-consciousness), or personality (consciousness). A change in consciousness can cause a change in the tempo of blood circulation, and a change in that tempo can cause a change in consciousness.

Sugar disrupts that tempo to an extent which was not, I believe, contemplated by nature, and which is not under conscious control. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that if taken naturally (i.e. directly from sugar cane), it is not nearly so noxious, if at all. This makes sense: one researcher says that refined sugar is a “genetically unknown food”. That is, it is not a use but an abuse of nature. Further, you get a load of sugar a lot faster drinking soft drinks than you ever can by chewing on sugar cane. In the right dose, and for some people the right dose is an extremely small one, sugar causes a nervous energy within the body and disrupt emotional equilibrium.

Because sugar is (apparently) the only food which provides energy and no nutrients, there is nothing good to say about it which cannot be said for anything else which makes food more palatable (e.g. cinnamon and vanilla). On the other hand, those foods have positives which sugar does not. The glucose in sugar is oxidised in the cells, and the bloodstream cops the released energy. This is the basis of the “sugar-fix”. And this disrupts the tempo of the body, and the all-important tempo of the blood circulation. In other words, sugar is a food (although I would say it is better understood as a food derivative that is, in itself, a good-substitute), and a poison, which makes it harder for essence to manifest, and easier for personality to manifest.

If you don’t believe me, try and observe carefully what happens inside you when next you ingest confectionary, cake, sweetened biscuits, soft drink or anything else to which you’ve added sugar. You may be surprised to find that what you thought were part and parcel of your natural fluctuations of mood (and, in Gurdjieff’s terms, your “state”), are in fact abnormal but familiar results of sugar ingestion.

Part of the “esoteric danger” is this: because we do not think of sugar as a slow-working poison (albeit of low toxicity in small and irregular doses), but as a food and only as a food, it hardly enters our heads to think of its effects as being unnatural. We are far more likely to attribute its psychic effects to other causes.

Also, we are so used to sugar that we tend to accept our unnaturally sweetened state (to coin a phrase which is meant only half-humorously) as neutral, or even as positive. We take so much sugar, and we see so many people who take it, that we don’t know how jumped up we are.

There is more. I could do a social analysis and say that we live in a “sugar-coated” society. And I believe we do: but that is another area. I sometimes wonder if sugar is not one of those things like tea, coffee, hops and opium, which, as Gurdjieff said, have a complete enneagram within themselves. For what it’s worth, I think that mint and garlic may be other such plants, but of course benign ones. But for now, I just want to raise this issue.

Gurdjieff, Sugar and the Tempo Paradox

There are two related objections to consider: the first is, but didn’t Gurdjieff use sugar? And, considering the different tempos used in the movements and sacred dances, surely Gurdjieff didn’t try and impose one tempo on us? So if we can changing tempos is not noxious there, why should it be different if we change tempos by taking food?

The answer to the first question is simple: yes, Gurdjieff seems to have loved sugar, and was even known as “Monsieur Bon-Bon” because of his lavish distribution of confectionary. But Gurdjieff didn’t know everything. His being was beyond ours to an extent which makes comparison pointless, but he wasn’t omniscient. He still had to find out where the shops were, and learn the English language. He had to learn: in fact, he spoke to the Adies about one particular thing he had learned (as I shall mention in the forthcoming book on Helen Adie, where I can provide the context to do justice to the issue). As with sugar, I doubt that Gurdjieff would have used tobacco so much, or allowed people to smoke as they did, had he understood the dangers, especially the risks of passive inhalation where people who do not smoke suffer from others’ indulgence.

In respect of the second question, the first point is that it is striking that what I might call the sacred dances do seem to be slower than the other movements. I am thinking of “The Big Prayer”, “The Camel Dervish”, and of those which form the esoteric series within his last series of movements. But you could contradict me on that, and I would be unconcerned. There is something deeper than all this.

And this is it: first, disrupting our standard tempos is analagous to disrupting our standard roles. Gurdjieff said that man “has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life; but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role and for a short time he becomes himself.” At p.239 of Miraculous, the phrase “for a short time he becomes himself” is italicised. I think something similar happens with tempo. Is it going too far to say that each person ““has a common-tempo for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life; but put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable tempo and for a short time he becomes himself”? This would be the purpose of movements. It is done there relatively consciously. But the same thing could not be said for eating confectionaries and cakes.

The second point is that although I have been studying tempo for a while now, I have only very recently started to think that the key to the awakening of essence is the ratio of tempos. Of course, the corresponding ratios should fall into place mor easily while one is quiet. This is why the preparations and exercises Gurdjieff bought are so important. Through these, he taught how to raise certain organic tempos to consciousness. But this was taught so that the state attained could be an influence in daily life, and the results crystallized in us. As Mr Adie used to say, it’s like learning to row a boat. You start off in calm waters, but one day, with sufficient practice, you might be able to manage in rough water.

Now, in so far as the movements have to do with changing the tempo of our organism, the aim is that we remain conscious whatever the tempo and how it changes: or so I tend to think. In terms of what I have said above, it is consciousness and the ratio of tempos which are critical. The quicker my body must work in the movements, the finer the work of the mind and feelings which is demanded. A different kind of consciousness, both active and passive, is called for to take the movements and the monitor what results.

I have made this as clear as I can, but of course I cannot disclose on the net the actual methods used in the preparation and exercises. Without that disclosure there will always be an irreducible margin of vagueness. So, perhaps these comments can help: a certain physical tempo is necessary only as an aid. Essence is not a slow tempo, or any tempo at all. Essence is in feeling (real feeling, and not the emotions). Feeling centre works faster than any of the centres but for sex and the two higher centres.

When essence appears through feeling, it can handle any speeds. Once we have awakened, we can manifest. But for man number 1, 2, and 3, there is a long work required to understand, by inner-sensation, the appropriate range of physical tempos and how to bring them within their proper ranges and mutual ratio.

And I will add one last comment which I shall expand on in future writings: we can, in my opinion, only work on bodies. But if this is right, then we’d better look after them.

Conclusion

I began by speaking about sugar. I said that in addition to the physical illnesses it contributes to, it damages essence and disharmonises the tempos of our common presence. I am recommending that anyone engaged in a spiritual quest has a spiritual reason to give up sugar altogether, and a responsibility not to facilitate its use (indeed, I feel a duty to actively discourage it).

Yet, I know from experience that it is very difficult for us to logically confront such matters. Neither do I think it’s only an issue of how I raise it with people, although that is not always guaranteed to help.

I would ask you read Yudkin and Taubes, and look at the evidence. If you can get the Journal of Law and Medicine, read my article. Then consider whether sugar is not, as I suggest, an “esoteric issue”.

And if you think it is, what prevents you acting on your knowledge?

Is this an area where the ‘I’ that knows is not the ‘I’ which is present when we come to eat?

28 May 2010

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

p.s. For regular updates on the science of sugar and related problems, check out the website “Raisin Hell”, maintained by David Gillespie. I must disclose that I have struck up a sort of friendship with David (who is also an Australian and a lawyer). But the friendship is a result of our reading the other’s work. We’re friends because we agree on these important issues, rather than agreeing because of friendship. You could also read his book Sweet Poison (Penguin Books). To find the web site, enter his name, or “Raisin Hell” and the words “Does saturated fat really cause heart disease?” into a search engine.

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Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

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

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“DOING” AND “NOT DOING”

Newport
click on image to enlarge

Doing” and “Not-Doing”

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

Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TWO SYDNEY GROUPS

sydney.jpg

SYDNEY

[This is the second of a series of posts which will appear over the next few months. Some of the ideas sketched here will be more fully developed and referenced in future postings.]

Two Sydney Groups (Part One)

Reviewing the first post, What did Gurdjieff leave unfinished?, I was initially a little startled, because I had written about Jim Wyckoff in a rather blunter manner than I had intended to let the public see. I did not review those comments before having the text uploaded, and the post did not express the entirety of my evaluation of Jim Wyckoff. But the comments accurately reflect my view, albeit not tempered by any slim diplomatic skills I may command. The post should remain, because it may be fruitfully provocative.

I liked Jim Wyckoff as a person, although I did not respect him as a group leader or a thinker: his mind was fast, but as I have said, “mediocre” (I use that word in its precise dictionary sense of “middle quality, neither good nor bad, indifferent”). Wyckoff had learned what I now think of as some “tricks”, which gave the impression of profundity, but I was not the only one who felt that they had been fobbed with fairy gold, glittering by night, but dust the next morning. One of these tricks was to answer requests for advice by replying, “You cannot …” do whatever they wanted the advice about. So a person would ask, “How can I remember myself?” Wyckoff would reply “You cannot remember yourself. But you can be remembered.” Being momentarily stunned by this denial of a fundamental assumption, one would think, boy, have I had it upside down. But then, sooner or later, the question would return, it would just be rephrased. One could parody this style: “How can I be remembered? I cannot be remembered. But I can remember to be remembered. How can I cook a sausage? I cannot cook a sausage. I am cooked.” I shall return to this in future posts, as it is a favourite technique of the new work. “I cannot work. I am worked. I cannot trust, I am trusted.”

As a person, he was not, I felt, materialistic or grasping. He flew economy, and he flew a good deal. This meant something, as we had to pay his expenses. His clothes were always clean, but hardly luxurious. He was certainly not in the grip of creature comforts. He could push himself and could be generous with his time, but then he very rarely acknowledged let alone answered letters. I thought that he often manifested feeling, a feeling which was all the better for not being sentimental, but he also manifested vanity, and quickly forgot himself if touched on a sensitive spot. At times, but not always, he seemed to me to demand loyalty to himself first and foremost. Over all, he seemed to be collected or at least trying to collect himself, even when tired. However, illness knocked him over. When I saw him ill, I saw a man depleted, and he did eventually lose his memory and faculties. I do not know what illnesses he may have had, but there were some people, like Mr Adie and Mrs Staveley, who did not lose their presence or their faculties even during sickness. Those two amazing persons positively defied senility.

In future blogs, I shall expand on those comments, placing them in some context. When we return to the topic, I shall be able to explain things which at present cannot clearly be put. For example, my sense is that his mental decline was related to his excessively passive style. And I shall broach the topic of the abuse of authority and hierarchy in some Gurdjieff groups, which is important because these abuses are contrary to the development of individuals. Once more, as often happens in life, we come to the perceived conflict between the good of individuals and that of the group. However, to paint the context, I must tell the story of “the two Sydney groups” and how we, meaning the Adies’ Newport group, came to be associated with Jim Wyckoff from New York.
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The Sydney Groups

Not so long after I joined Mr Adie’s group, I learned that there were many groups here in Sydney (I already knew of at least three others), and that some people from one of these were meeting regularly with Mr Adie and some of his senior pupils. Over the following years, I learned from persons who had been in that group, one of whom had been a founding member, that it had been founded in the 1950s (I have been given different dates) and in its early years had invited CS (Stanley) Nott out on several occasions. After a rather eventful history, it seems to have stabilised, and featured a number of persons who saw themselves as the chieftains of that group. When it became clear that Nott could not or would not continue with them (once more, I have heard various accounts), he had Rina Hands visit on one occasion or more.

Someone else in the Newport group, who related the story to me after Mr Adie had died, once asked Mr Adie why the other group had not simply joined him. After all, she said to him, Mrs Adie and yourself had been with Gurdjieff, Mrs Adie was a superlative pianist and movements teacher, and you had been on the council and taking groups in London. If you had been one of the leaders in a major centre like London, why would the Sydney group, none of whom had anything like your experience and understanding, remain in a separate group? “Well”, he told her, “that is what I had thought was going to happen. We had been told to expect that, but when we arrived, it did was not at all what occurred. The group chieftains asked me for a guarantee that they would have permanent positions of leadership, and I did not feel that that sort of bargaining was good.”

I shall return to this later, as the correspondence I now have discloses that there are other aspects around how the Adies came to Australia, and how Mme de Salzmann tried to help them, of which the most important are that at some point Mme de Salzmann herself had advised the Adies to establish their own separate group (as I shall document), and Stanley Nott, who was still alive in 1965, and had founded the other group, did not like Mr Adie.

Nott’s advice to his group was clear in two points: first, they were not to join with Adie, whom he disparaged as an Ouspensky pupil, overly intellectual and unworthy to take groups, but secondly, not to let the Americans take their group over. I have been told this by several people. He apparently trusted Lord Pentland no more than he liked Mr Adie. I have never been told why, but Pentland, like the Adies, was initially with Ouspensky, and as Nott’s books clearly show, he believed Ouspensky was too much “in the head”, and lacking in feeling. This would explain why the idea of Pentland’s visit, mentioned in Adie’s letter of 3 July 1969 (see the next post) did not come to pass. The connection between the other group and the USA Foundation came by another route, which of course eventually did lead to Pentland.

Rina Hands’ advice to that group was to try and form a link with the San Francisco group, as it was closer to Sydney than any other large Foundation centre. Eventually, they took her advice, and Charles Wright from San Francisco, of whom I have hardly ever heard a good word, came out, and took for himself an expensive luxury apartment on the harbour whenever he visited, at the group’s expense. Even after more than 30 years, his stated self-importance still rankles with some people who knew him. I did not know him, but I have seen some of his correspondence with Mr Adie, and it does strike me that in those letters, at least, he struck a superior, if urbane, tone with Mr Adie.

Although he was a senior man in the San Francisco establishment, Wright was still under Pentland, who would allocate movements demonstrators to assist Wright. Then, according to my oral sources, Jim Wyckoff was invited out, I am not sure whether he was Pentland’s choice, but my sources are unanimous that Wyckoff first came as a movements demonstrator to assist Charles Wright. I was told that Wyckoff first came out in the 1970s, but I do not know. Mr Adie’s correspondence from Wright certainly predates any mention of Wyckoff, and in 1993 Wyckoff said to me that he had been visiting Australia for 19 years. Wyckoff was not exactly given to precision, so even such an apparently exact statement may well have been wrong. However, whenever Jim started visiting Australia, he operated in such a way that the group decided to continue to invite him out but not invite Wright further. Again, I stress, I was not there, but I have one source which says that there was a rather testy meeting at an airport when Wyckoff and Wright were both leaving for the USA. Each of them sat in the airport cafe surrounded by their acolytes, studiously ignoring the other camp. My source states that he went over to Wyckoff, whom he perceived as engineering the deposition of Wright from his role in Sydney, and told him to acknowledge the man. Wyckoff then went over and shook hands with Wright, but that was Wright’s last visit. I am told that Wright was quite shaken by the encounter.

My source for this incident states that Wyckoff had a subtle but effective way of ingratiating himself with the Sydney chieftains: it was stated to me that Wyckoff had a way of making the local chieftains feel important. For what it is worth, even before I had been told that, I had seen it. I soon noticed that Wyckoff allowed himself to be treated as being hosted by the leaders of the group. The same two or three people always sat by him in meetings, any meetings. Only they referred to him as “Jim”. He occasionally offered little blandishments to them and only to them: “Perhaps you could, if you wanted, try this exercise. But this exercise is only for Dick. He has been trying rather a long time.” Tom once said to me, with his studied nonchalance: “Oh, Jim is very particular about the sittings. He has a rule that that we can have them only if Dick and I are both there.”

One of the other chieftains, I will call him Hank, was once speaking of how “influences” were carried in the work. “I see the older people as passing the teaching onto us and ourselves as passing it to the younger people, so that it moves down in that way.” Yes, I thought, you do indeed. At Newport there were practically only two levels in the hierarchy, the Adies and all the rest of us. With Wyckoff, there were five levels: Wyckoff; the most important chieftains, especially Dick, Tom and to an extent, Hank; then the rest of group A; then group B; and then the others. The role of group “B” as both subordinate to, and yet the successors to group “A” was something I particularly did not like.

One trick of the group “A” people would be to make impractical requests of others, and place the demand on them to comply. This kept them in a state of dependence and also in awe of the wisdom of group “A”. It sometimes backfired. Hank once asked a lady from our group, let us call her Jana, to make the ends of celery sticks curl. “You want them curled?” she asked. “Yes”, he replied, “for the sake of a pleasant appearance”. “I prefer their natural appearance. I think curled celery sticks are a pointless gimmick”, I chipped in. “No, no, take it as a task to find how to curl the ends of celery sticks”, replied Hank with his assumed Zen imperturbality. I was never fond of Hank, at least not to a point of distraction, and was gratified by Jana’s witheringly delivered reply: “Oh, well do you have the ice water?” Hank repeated the words back to her, rather blankly, but sensing that something was about to come which he would not be pleasing. “Yes,” she replied, “that is how you curl celery sticks, you use ice water.” Hank walked away in silence. On another occasion, he asked someone to go into the bush and find some people. “How do you find them? It’s a big bush, and you don’t know where they are. Yet you can find them? How?” Perhaps he had in mind that they would blend their consciousness with the infinite and assume omniscience. Along this line, I once asked Marita, a movements demonstrator, what the banners read. They were written in the script Gurdjieff and Alexandre Salzmann had used. “Try and sense it”, she said, self-importantly. She thought it impressive, which was not my opinion, quite. I say this, because people should not accept these power manipulations – which is, of course, what they are.

Once, after Jim Wyckoff had died, we had a weekend at premises on the Shoalhaven River. The main person at that time was S. of New York. S. did not have quite the same style as Wyckoff, but the hierarchy was alive and well. Their group “A” was hands free the whole weekend for discussion, other “work activities” and swimming in the river. Their group “B”, who paid the same amount of money for the weekend, were in the kitchen and on cleaning duties the whole weekend. However, all the Newport people (with one exception, who had not been there when Mr Adie was alive and was a last minute addition) were with group “A”.

Until the end of the weekend, I was thinking that surely we would cook a meal for the lackeys, but no. I was on the council, no one else even raised the question. The subordinates did take part in the sittings and the movements, and when we had an activity of acting out a parable, they were given a saying from the Gospels, not a parable, to play around with. My idea had been to study the parables: but in their new age way, they decided to study them by acting them out. The result was a series of vignettes, most of which were incomprehensible. But I felt sorry most of all for group “B”. No one had any idea what they were doing, and when the farce was over, they collapsed in nervous laughter, thus indicating “we know it wasn’t much good, be soft on us”. I still remember two of them: one who is now a movements demonstrator and the other who has since died, holding their hands over their mouths and giggling. I received a lift back to Sydney from someone in their group “B”. I did not particularly wish to talk, but she insisted. So I thought, well why not gratify myself and ask her the hard question? And I asked her had she paid for the weekend? Yes, she had. How much? It was the same we had paid. You spent all weekend in the kitchen, I remarked. That was good, she said, she was so pleased to see group “A” relaxed. They are never so relaxed as she saw them this weekend. They have so much to do. And so people come to make love to their subordination and admire their dominators.

I dwell on this at some length, because it is a very important aspect of the worst aspects of the functioning of contemporary Foundation groups. There is a clear hierarchy, and you are subservient to those above, but superior to those below. You know your role, you keep your place, and with appropriate humility, length of service, and keep your nose clean, you can rise in the hierarchy. You never speak of knowing or understanding more, you speak of being “older” or having been many years in the work. Once when David from London was ticking me off, he said “I have been in the work for many years now, and I can assure that the longer I have been in it, the more I have seen …”. Politely, I did not laugh outright. I cannot imagine what Mr Adie would have said: he never ever treated years in service as a qualification, although he said that the effort to persevere did count for something. He used to imitate with approval, and he was a splendid actor, Mme Lannes saying “English is beWILDering, but I shall perSEvere.” To reflect now that David should think I would accept that! I could only surmise that he was used to the unwritten conventions, and did not imagine someone would not accept them.

Hierarchies and Vaticans

I refer to this entire process as the “Vaticanisation” of the Gurdjieff work. I have vastly more respect for the true Vatican, and the Catholic and Orthodox position, where priesthood is a sacrament, with an infusion of grace, graciously supplied on known and certain terms. That position is clear and comprehensible by all. If one does not accept it, one can and should leave the church. But the pretension in the Gurdjieff groups is galling and, I would say, actually inimical to the Gurdjieff ideas and methods, properly understood.

Hierarchies have a purpose and are inevitable: but first of all, there should be a bare minimum of levels, and second, they should be used to teach, not to control the individuals in the groups. People can only be given responsibilities which correspond to their abilities and their capacity to stretch themselves. I have no issue at all with that. And the line between teaching and control can be a fine one: after all, there is no education without some discipline. This is why the anecdotes I have told, although they appear sharp, are so important. One can tell, not in words, but by feeling when a hierarchy, etymologically, a sacred (hieros) source or principle (arche), has become a rigid chain of command. And if one is in such a group, then one must leave it if it cannot be changed, because the group is no longer an organism but an institution.

This exploitative hierarchy brings out the worst in the chieftains and corrupts them. While they play these games, they do not really respect each other. One of our group, Ian, was very friendly with Dick, and to a lesser extent, with Tom, both of the Wyckoff group. Once Tom said to me, almost laughing, “Ian has told me that he cannot come on Wednesday night because he is taking your oldest group.” I could see that Tom was asking me whether this was so, while at the same time indicating that he thought Ian was absurdly vain, and he didn’t really give a hoot for which group Ian “took”, he was just wondering if Ian was deluded as well as boastful. I ignored that part of the statement.

One thing is clear to me: the chieftains should join in all the work, as long as they physically can. This includes the cooking and the washing, the gardens and the toilets. While the chieftains would be allocated to groups, they would often disappear from the groups for lengthy periods of time to do the “planning.” Ian tried to introduce something like this at Newport after Mr Adie died. Why not hold out council meetings during the weekend works? There is no time otherwise, he said. Once, or perhaps twice, we went along with it, but then I said, no, this is not right. We should be with the others as we always have, and should make the time outside of these hours for the council. The others agreed with me. Some of my clearest and best recollections are of working in the kitchen with Mrs Adie, peeling vegetables, when the group numbers had fallen. I can still see Lady Pentland, advanced in years, pruning plants. Insofar as the chieftains do kitchen work and clean toilets so long as they are able, and very many do, this is good. Insofar as they do not, this is bad. I think it is a sure sign to those who are in groups. Do your hierarchies excuse themselves from the unsavoury jobs? The other jobs are their privilege, they must make time for these. And they should do their planning beforehand.

The Next Post

To wrap this post up now, I shall return to the narrative thread, not everyone in the other group, back in those distance days liked Wyckoff’s assumption of authority. While Wyckoff did then become the leader for the former Nott group in Sydney, three of the chieftains split off at that point. I have been told that this split occurred in 1978, but once more, I am not certain. One of splinter groups was established with the permission of Lord Pentland, who said that this person and his group could remain “separate but not separated”. The other two simply went their own ways rather than join what was now a Wyckoff group. I have it from another source that the most successful of these had already started his own group-within-a-group, and said that he was concerned that Wyckoff would try and impose a USA-style group on them, whereas as Australians they should develop their own distinctively Australian style. That source is likewise vague on dates. However, in the next post, I shall marshall some documents, and show – so far as they allow us to see – what happened next, when and why.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

February 29, 2008 at 7:42 pm

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