Posts Tagged ‘MRs Staveley’
2. The Real Question
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?
See related posts:
Andrew Rawlinson’s review of this book
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
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.
John Robert Colombo Reviews James Opie’s biographical study of Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching
Some books may be described in a relatively straight-forward fashion. Other books, not so easily summarized, require much foreground and background information before they may be appreciated at all. “Approaching Inner Work” falls into the latter category. It requires information up front. But before providing that information, permit me to describe the physical appearance of the book itself.
A handsome publication, “Approaching Inner Work” bears the subtitle “Michael Currer-Briggs on the Gurdjieff Teaching.” Its author, James Opie, is a long-time student of the Work. The publisher is Gurdjieff Books & Music, an imprint and a distributor for Work-related materials. It is located in Portland and operated by the Gurdjieff Foundation of Oregon. The website is < info@gurdjeiffbooksand music.com >. The trade paperback measures 5 inches wide by 7.5 inches high, and it has xii +148 pages. The ISBN is 978-0-615-47529-5. The text consists of thirty-eight short chapters of commentary and interview, followed by an Appendix and an Acknowledgments. If I may risk a pun, this volume “speaks volumes.”
So much for the easy part. Now for the detailed part! First, the Author. Second, the Subject. Third, the Book.
The Author: James Opie
The “Opie” name is a respected one in literary circles, especially for the contributions of the well-loved, husband-and-wife team of English folklorists, Peter and Iona Opie. But the Opies are (as “Time Magazine” used to say) “no kin” to James Opie who describes himself as “a merchant and writer.” He was born in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1939, and is a graduate of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
Despite his birthplace and residence in Portland, Oregon, he has become a recognized authority on Persian tribal rugs and the origin of tribal rug motifs – both of which sound like demanding undertakings! His two books in the field are “Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia” (1982) and “Tribal Rugs: Nomadic and Village Weavings of the Near East and Central Asia” (1992). The latter title has been translated into French, Italian, and German.
Opie was introduced to the Work in the mid-1960s when a musician friend loaned him a copy of “All & Everything.” He joined a group under the leadership of Donald Hoyt who became a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation under Lord Pentland and then served as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California. Lord Pentland himself was Opie’s teacher from 1974 to 1988. For fourteen years Opie was associated with Annie Lou Staveley of “The Farm,” later “Two Rivers Farm.” Mrs. Staveley was a direct student of Gurdjieff in Paris during his last years and also an associate of Jean Heap in London. Opie is now involved with Gurdjieff Books & Music in Portland.
It was while he was in Afghanistan dealing in rugs that Opie met Peter Brook and Madame de Salzmann who were in the midst of filming “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” On the set he also met Michael Currer-Briggs. Briggs is credited with being of material help at a critical point in the production of this major motion picture through his extensive contacts in the fields of film-making and finance. “Meetings” was released by Remar Productions (“remar” is short for “remarkable”) and Briggs was granted screen credit as the film’s executive producer.
The Subject: Michael Currer-Briggs
Opie refers to him as “Mr. Briggs” but I will shorten his name even further by referring to him as “Briggs.” He was born in 1922 in Leeds, Yorkshire, and died in 1980 in London, England. Briggs made his reputation in television production in the United Kingdom. He is credited as producer or director of over sixty-five television productions, largely episodes of popular mystery series. These were telecast between 1955 and 1970, so British viewers of a certain age might cast their memories back to such popular fare as “Boyd Q.C.,” “ITV Television Playhouse,” “ITV Play of the Week,” “Fraud Squad,” “Aces of Wands,” and “The Mind Robbers.”
Briggs reminds me of Fletcher Markle, the distinguished Canadian television personality, who was once married to the actress Mercedes McCambridge. Markle’s skills as producer and director overshadowed his abilities as creator and artist. In other words, Markle and perhaps Briggs excelled as “arrangers” or “packagers” of other men’s ideas. Unlike Briggs, Markle had no special interest in spiritual psychology.
These days Briggs is not remembered for those British series, but for his role as executive producer of “Meetings with Remarkable Men,” which was released in 1979, thirty years following Gurdjieff’s death and one year before Briggs’s own death. Briggs had a background in the Work that took root in London in the 1940s where and when he met Jane Heap. As the result of Opie’s book on him, Briggs will have, additionally, a future in the Work.
The Book: Approaching Inner Work
The text of the book consists of a series of short chapters which consist of Briggs’s commentaries on “inner work.” They are based on interviews conducted by Opie with Briggs over the last years of the latter’s life. There are thirty-eight of these and they cover a range of interests. Each chapter of commentary is titled, and some of these titles are straight-forward and descriptive (“John Bennett,” “Madame de Salzmann and a Question about Money”), whereas others are analytical and work-related (“Self-study and Seeing,” “Like and Dislike”). Overall they bring to mind – to my mind, at least – the “commentaries” that comprise Maurice Nicoll’s “Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” a much-neglected, five-volume work that is a gold-mine (I almost keyboarded “gold-mind”) of aspects of the Work which now seem to be called “inner work.”
These “commentaries” are Briggs’s words, taken from conversations and interviews that have been deftly edited and sensitively arranged by Opie to cover subjects of current and continuing interest. In a way the arrangement reminds me of a book of “table talk.” It begins with a rhetorical question posed by Briggs: ” … what can I do? What is it, precisely, that does not happen automatically, but requires my intentional efforts? Doing depends on intentionality. Intentionality depends on sincerity. It depends on the presence of I.” The book is in effect a meditation on these words.
The friendship began in 1977 in Central Asia, aka Afghanistan, where Opie was pursuing his trade in Oriental rugs and Briggs was visiting the set of “Meetings with Remarkable Men” then being filmed by Peter Brook under the tutelage of Madame de Salzmann. It seems Briggs with his industry contacts had a hand in ensuring the flow of funds from Lord Pentland, President of the Gurdjieff Foundation, to the production crew, no simple matter. History has a habit of repeating itself. Some decades earlier, Briggs was among the first visitors to Gurdjieff in newly liberated Paris to arrive with cash (presumably the first payment of Gurdjieff’s oil-well royalties!).
One night over dinner in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, Opie raised the subject of miracles. Briggs described them in terms of the two rivers or streams. “There are two fundamental streams, an automatic stream moving downward, toward multiplicity, and a conscious stream flowing upward, toward unity and the source of all life. Highly unusual experiences which seem to be miracles may involve merely, if one dares use that word, a lawful and transitory merging of the two streams at a particular point or event.”
Briggs gave an illustration of a “miracle” in terms of a carrot growing in a garden. To the carrot the appearance of the gardener is miraculous; to the gardener the appearance of the carrot is mundane. Points of view and levels of being are relevant to miracles. This novel illustration brought to mind P.D. Ouspensky’s example of the baked potato being more “intelligent” than the raw potato. The discussions between Opie and Briggs reverberate with references to be found in the canon of the Work. This particular conversation on the subject of miracles concludes with Briggs’s caveat: Because of “habitual patterns” of thought and feeling and response, he wrote, “I dare say ‘miracles’ have been the ruination of some people.”
Another caveat is based on the effectiveness of effort when based on full knowledge and complete understanding, and its ineffectiveness when based on faulty knowledge and limited understanding. “The exercise of listening to those who would build professional careers around certainty can be helpful. How misguided are those politicians and other public figures who wish to impress others with their certainty.” This can be very instructive, Briggs reminds Opie. “Initially, our work is not to change what is seen, but to open to a new quality of seeing, wherein we directly experience the force of automaticity in our reactions.”
These thoughts lead to a discussion of the differences noted by Madame de Salzmann between the servant and the slave. When we shirk our own burdens, we increase the loads that need to be carried by other people; when we shoulder our own, we lighten their burdens. Briggs states that we should not be overawed by the immensity of the known universe because it is matched by the unknown worlds within man. “Here our small physical size, as human beings, can be deceptive. Within us are many potential levels, many possible hierarchies. The universe is not altogether an outer arrangement.”
Briggs has a bent for vivid imagery. He suggests that there should be founded a new organization called “The Society for the Study of Self-love and Vanity.” He suggests that this kind of odd-fellows group could bring untold benefits to its members. As an aside he explains, “This is precisely what Mr. Gurdjieff outlined in his description of a ‘real group,’ which, he said, represents an exceptional level of achievement.”
He then traced the subsequent history of this impulse and how, over the years, it would metamorphose into its opposite. “Viewed from the outside, the buildings housing the Society may grow more impressive. But inside the buildings, decade by decade, the teaching descends to a level that is all-too-human.” This section of the book – about the devolution of this society and the impulse behind it – is called “The Unusual Society.” Although it is only a few pages long, it includes more than I can easily convey here. In fact, each of the chapters is quite expressive of the modulated expression of genuine insights.
The chapter titled “Madame de Salzmann and the Question of Money” deals broadly with values and evaluations and quotes Madame as making a pointed observation. “If students of Mr. Gurdjieff do not make a film based on this appealing title – Meetings with Remarkable Men – someone else will surely do so. We would then have to live with the consequences.” It is in Kabul that Briggs takes Opie to meet the Madame (a little drama all its own) and “the need to prepare a real question.” They chat with her on the film set and at one point Madame says, “When you first come, you hear and repeat ideas, with limited understanding. Later the ideas begin to live in you, and you have real questions. Now, your interest is superficial. But in time, perhaps it grows.”
The subject of money is broached. Opie suggests the ability to make it is “dirty.” Madame disagrees. “Money, a talent for making money, is not a dirty thing. Money is the blood of society. Everything is touched by money, every relationship. No part of life is without this connection, and it brings reality to your life. When money is needed it is no longer just … idea.”
This chapter, although short, reminded me of the comprehensive talk that Gurdjieff delivered on the subject of “the Material Question.” It seems everything everywhere is material and that it really matters. Madame gives it a spin: “Your life has a pattern. You don’t see it yet, but little by little it begins to appear. Seeing the pattern of your life helps very much. If you work with a talent, it develops. Later you can teach what you have learned to someone else who stands where you stand now. Then, perhaps, you will go on to something else.”
Briggs and Opie meet some months later at The Farm overseen by Annie Lou Staveley in Portland, Oregon. Here Briggs talked about the plan, subsequently abandoned, to cast some Work personalities as leading characters in the film. Apparently Henri Tracol was to play Father Giovanni. Briggs: “We attempted this briefly and the experiment totally failed. We saw that what each of these people had was their own. Nothing was acted. What they possessed, while genuine, was not what was needed. Films involve acting. Also, none of these senior people in the Work could take directions!”
The next two chapters deal with the dangers inherent in the transmission of oral teachings and how the Work has proceeded following Gurdjieff’s death. Madame de Salzmann met with the leaders of the various groups and the influx of new followers and attempted to create a single approach. There were disputes. “These disputes could have disrupted relationships within and between groups. Madame de Salzmann listened more than she spoke, and, like Mr. Gurdjieff, became a still point in the center of activity. Her efforts with previously existing groups, with new centers, and with hundreds of individual members, helped clarify more advanced approaches to inner work.”
The chapter titled “Roses and Thorns” looks at the opposites and how they must be accepted and how each person must accept responsibility. “Interest in this inner study begins to connect us with the stream of intentionality. At the outset, an impartial view of our manifestations may elude us. We have not yet learned to take the necessary step back to hear our own voices, to sense habitual bodily postures, or to experience repetitive emotional and mental patterns more immediately and viscerally. Others see much of this in us, but we do not. Yet, little by little, we begin to learn.”
Subsequent chapters consider the power of identification and the need for “self-study.” We must learn to distinguish between what is automatic and what is authentic. Briggs: “The primary change is the seeing and accepting what is seen, in the midst of our manifestations. Seeing without judging, with impartial interest, is a feature of consciousness and the stream of intentionality.” This is “a gift” that requires “preparatory work.”
“Wish and the Role of the Mind” is the first chapter in a series of chapters that deal with the role of “wish” (or “aim,” as it used to be called) in the Work. Gurdjieff’s words are quoted: “Wish can be the strongest thing in the world.” The role of man’s centres is discussed and Gurdjieff is quoted as saying that thoughts are “thinking in me.” The difference between justification and explanation is discussed.
Briggs: “When both my mind and feelings are identified with justifying or explaining, word-producing functions in the mind readily cooperate. But when there is real work to be done, this automatic part is silent. Will is called for, something intentional. A quite different part of the mind needs to appear.” Man is machinery. “Our work is to not attempt to withdraw from contact with this current. It is to learn, little by little, to relate to it with greater awareness.”
“Emotions about emotions” is a new formulation for me and perhaps for some other readers as well. Briggs: “When my awareness of an emotion is sidetracked by an automatic reaction, by an emotion about the emotion, is it too late to work? For Jane Heap, it was never too late. We begin from precisely where we are. We come into awareness now, rather than waiting for a better moment, or the arising of more positive attitudes. Looking back at lost opportunities with regret rarely helps us. The moment to begin is now.”
A chapter is devoted to “the multiplicity of I’s” and it describes how during an afternoon Briggs assumed one identity after another, one set of responses after another set, with hardly a sense of any segues. He prefers or defers seemingly like an automaton, assuming one identity after another. Readers will find the experiences that he describes appropriate to their own everyday lives. What to do about this situation? “At every step we need peers …. Peers-without-quotation-marks can keep a person honest.”
“Risks in group work” is not the title of a chapter but it is the subject-matter of one interesting chapter, and it goes into detail about the tactics that people devise or evolve to deal with the natures of groups or schools and the natures of the people who attend them. “Jane Heap once said that Mr. Gurdjieff could see into the dark corners of all of us because he saw into all the dark corners in himself.” Briggs distinguishes between “remarkable attainments” and “unfortunate crystallizations.” At this juncture the role of “shocks” is discussed.
Here I felt the discussion was skating on thin ice, for Ouspensky had gone into much more detail, distinguishing, as he did, between the tramp and the lunatic. The former could not hold any single thought for any appreciable time while the latter could not entertain any thought but the one that currently obsessed him. However, Briggs does quote Gurdjieff: “Learn to like what ‘it’ dislikes.” There follows is a brief discussion of the role of “charm” and how it harms.
Students of the work will find the next two chapters to be of special interest – the chapter on Jane Heap of biographical and bibliographic interest, the chapter on Jean de Salzmann relevant to ongoing discussions of the drift or the direction taken by the Work since the 1960s. As Briggs explains, “Mr. Gurdjieff did not instruct Madame to continue everything in fixed and dogmatic ways. Her task was to sustain the clarity and expand the influence of the teaching, while helping relatively small numbers to experience a deepening inner engagement. Aside from exercises for beginning levels, such as you and I have discussed, Mr. Gurdjieff introduced approaches to silent work to a few people who had been with him for many years, and to others he considered prepared for this work. First among these was Madame de Salzmann.”
As Briggs expresses it, Asian teachings were making inroads in the West. “Madame de Salzmann needed to understand and assess these new influences in Western culture in relation to the Gurdjieff teaching, even as she responded to the demands of her special role. She never resisted speaking with teachers of established traditions, even traveling to meet them in their own institutions and behaving externally not as a teacher, but as a student. But the course of her work had been set long before, by Mr. Gurdjieff.” Elsewhere it is said that Madame attended the Bollingen lectures on Jung’s thought at Ascona and even journeyed to Cairo to meet the Traditionalist thinker René Guenon.
Quite enjoyable are occasional references to Mrs. Staveley and the chapter devoted to the scalawag Fritz Peters. Briggs quoted Jane Heap on the latter personality: “In and out of groups, personal qualities are often mistaken for sincerity and truth.” A later chapter considers the special case of John Bennett, despite Briggs’s feeling that “it was difficult to discuss a figure possessing such useful skills, a great storehouse of intensity, and, from the viewpoint of those whom he influenced, a special and profound understanding of the Gurdjieff teaching.”
Bennett is seen as a man who placed “action” before “self-questioning” and risked the inadvertent mingling of all the traditions with which he was familiar with whatever one was at hand. Willem Nyland is also discussed. Had Nyland “gone off on his own” or had the rest of the followers “left the path”? As Briggs had little first-hand knowledge of Nyland, the point is not pursued.
The chapter oddly titled “Rolling the Triangle” refers to the Law of Three, in general to the Active, Passive, and Neutralizing principles, with specific references to the Three Centres in man. Jane Heap introduced the notion to Briggs who explained how the “triangle” is “rolled” in the sense that each “role” is changed or rotated to create other bodily impressions through attention and wish. He concludes, “Inside us, potentially, are many orders of triangles.”
Later chapters refer to E.J. Gold, Idries Shah, Jan Cox, and Alex Horn, who tried to take the Work or at least its followers in directions of their own devising. A chapter is devoted to the so-called Fellowship of Friends led by Robert Burton. At one time his followers were dubbed “the bookmark people” because they were tasked to visit metaphysical bookstores and insert their own bookmarks into copies of books by Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and kindred writers. The bookmarks (handsomely produced; I own a couple) list telephone numbers of local groups. If there are still “bookmark people,” their bookmarks probably now include websites and email addresses. Briggs is surprisingly long-suffering and philosophical about these leaders and their groups: “Possibly a few people in centers led by such people sense something wrong and then look for more reliable sources.”
The chapter “The Yen to Teach” is one of the few discussions of the role of the teacher or group leader that I have encountered, and it considers the responsibilities that leadership entails and the misconceptions that it generates. The discussion is brief but Briggs quotes a suggestive insight from his own teacher Jane Heap: “When you grab hold of something too tightly you press your own fingerprints into it.”
The chapter “Our Final Face-to-Face Exchange” and the next one titled “Letters” describe Briggs’s failing health before he succumbed to cancer in England. They also include Opie’s importuning for guidance on how to regard the various centres, how they should relate to one another – not man’s inner centres, but the Work centres in the United States and in London and Paris. There was also what might be called the changing nature of the Work, or at least the change in direction or emphasis initiated by the Paris centre.
Briggs takes a long-range view of the effects of time and tide. “Few realize how much the Work moved during Gurdjieff ’s time in Europe in so far as he changed the way of passing on the Ideas a number of times. One period was all Movements, another his period of writing, another the intense work at the Prieuré, another work with very small groups, another a period of preparation during the war, and the last a period when in his declining years he himself had no more need and only cared for the people who came to him for their own sakes.”
Such changes or interchanges require greater efforts at cohesion. “Now we are coming to face a loneliness, where we have to take the responsibility, we have to draw closer together. This can only be done by exchange – by sharing – by watching – by remembering – in true openness. Relaxed and free and clear in our heads and hearts. What we do now we must do together and not alone. We are too weak to go it alone.”
The last chapters describe some of the ways in which Opie’s own life was affected by his friendship and fellowship with Briggs. Through Briggs, Opie grew close to Lord Pentland before the leader’s death in 1984. Then there is the almost elegiac sense that for efforts to take effect people must work together. This is expressed most clearly in one of the last letter that Pentland addressed to Opie: “I begin to see more clearly and without judgment or hostility that there is some chief weakness in our minds, in each of us, which so far we have all failed to conquer and that the Work’s future really does hang on some of us facing and sharing this individual difficulty with each other.”
It is reported that Briggs’s dying words were appropriate: “It’s all one.” And Opie’s book “Approaching Inner Work” is a work that is all of one piece. I have quoted substantially from the book, principally Briggs’s words and not Opie’s, because the latter is more than willing to step back to grant his subject the main speaking part. The book is very readable, very agreeable. In its pages I found a few facts and formulations new to me, and they may be new to other readers as well, but the principal value of this book lies not so much in what it reveals as in the demonstration of the fact that “inner work” continues, as long as we ask, in a heartfelt way, “What can I do?”
John Robert Colombo, a Toronto-based author and anthologist, is mainly known for his work in the field of Canadiana. But he has a long-standing interest in mysteries and the paranormal. His forthcoming book (from Dundurn Group) is called “Jeepers Creepers” and it consists of fifty told-as-true paranormal experiences of Canadians with psychological commentaries. He is an occasional reviewers of books about the Work for this blogsite. For information on Colombo’s other books, or to be alerted to the appearance of forthcoming reviews and commentaries, email him at his website: < www. colombo. ca > .
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.
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.
Joseph Azize Page
Ferapontoff’s Constantinople notes state that: “Unity is the psychological attribute of immortality.” I would add that consciousness and conscience are perhaps likewise the intellectual and emotional attributes of immortality. The three divine impulses, faith, hope and love, may be the spiritual attributes of immortality. By contrast, death is dissolution and “tumbling to decay”, as Hopkins said. Narrowing of consciousness, stifling of conscience, closure to the divine impulses, and rigidity are all shadows thrown before the remorseless advance of death.
Life is a field in which the materials for the life-beyond-this-life are all found, and can be attracted together to create an operating wholeness. In the chapter “Beelzebub’s Opinion of War”, Beelzebub says that the ‘destiny’ of humans is “chiefly to elaborate – by means of the process of their existence – the vibrations required by Nature …” (p. 1105). On the very next page, he speaks not of producing vibrations but a sacred cosmic substance, “Askokin” (p. 1106). Perhaps there is no relevant difference: perhaps Askokin is as much a vibration as it is a substance. Beelzebub also says that Askokin is generally found blended with two other substances, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis. These latter two substances are the material from which higher being-bodies, namely, “the body Kesdjan and the body of the Soul” are “in general” formed and perfected. Further, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis are transubstantiated “by means of conscious labors and intentional sufferings”. In that process of transubstantiation, Askokin is “liberated” (pp. 1106-7).
This was known to the people of Atlantis, says Beelzebub. Atlantean males would gather in their temples for certain “mysteries” in the “special state” of self-remembering. There they would give themselves over to “active and conscious contemplation the whole time, and in this state performed these corresponding sacred mysteries, so that there should be transubstantiated in them the sacred substances Abrustdonis and Helkdonis.” (p. 1109) Thus they fulfilled two duties at once, the duties of perfecting their higher being-bodies and of serving the cosmic Trogoautoegocratic process (p. 1108). It would appear, although it is not explicitly stated, that Askokin, Abrustdonis and Helkdonis are elements of the active element Exioëhary which can be used both for continuation of the species and for self-perfecting (see pp. 277, 761 and 793). That is, self-remembering, conscious labor and intentional suffering, contemplation, normal use of the sex energy, the production of the soul and of the vessel of the soul (“Kesdjan” is said to mean “vessel of the soul”) and so immortality, are aspects of the one process, the “process of (our) existence” if lived consciously.
The same doctrine is, I think, referred to in the chapter “Purgatory”, when Beelzebub speaks of “intentional contemplativeness”, which he states is “the principal factor for the assimilation of those cosmic substances”, being those “definite cosmic substances necessary for the arising and existence of higher being-parts …” (p. 783). Once more, he tells us in this context that the absorption of the higher being-foods was considered by some of the inhabitants of Atlantis to be “the chief aim of their existence” (p. 783).
Then, Beelzebub states in the chapter “Beelzebub in America” that the practices of what he calls the Mohammedan religion were introduced because the followers of the teaching had “lost the capacity for contemplation and consequently the possibility of understanding truths consciously …” (p. 1010). Again, contemplation is placed at the beginning of a progression of conscious development.
As for faith, hope and love as spiritual attributes of immortality, Beelzebub speaks eloquently of them in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters, stating at the outset that they are the “three sacred ways for self-perfecting, foreordained by OUR ENDLESS CREATOR HIMSELF …” (p. 353). Immortality is thus the prize, but immortality necessarily includes these divine impulses, and therefore is more than a bare extension of existence indefinitely far into time, it is an immortality of faith, hope and love.
In one of the Paris group meetings, Gurdjieff spoke of forming the second body by accumulating a substance, and said that a “will” was needed for this, and a struggle. He stated that this was the “only possibility” of coming to the second body, and that “the only aim is that everything should serve this aim”. Once one has glimpsed the simplicity of Gurdjieff’s methods, many other indications of how the methods all serve the crystallizing of higher bodies spring to mind, or are more quickly spotted. Perhaps Gurdjieff’s self-remembering, the five Obligolnian-strivings, and conscious labour and intentional suffering, can all be integrated into one system: they are integrated as being different notes in the octave of crystallizing higher bodies.
That integration of the methods, their simplicity (the folding of many into one ply), is illustrated in a passage titled “The Opening for the Appearance, the Materialization and the Coating of the Second Being-Body” read on 2 August 1978, where Mr Adie stated that the road to the coating of the astral body was “by means of gradually controlled, directed and divided attention”, which all tended to the harmonization of the life processes within us. He spoke there of the need to be able to remain balanced in the preparation and also in life, so that the inner transmutations could be sustained in their integrity. This text is now in the book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia.
If the process of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation is necessary for the formation of the highest being body, the converse is also true, that the formation of the bodies makes a more conscious life possible. As Mr Adie then said: “the formation and completion of the coating of this emotional body … enable(s us) to have the power to return and to enter the daily life of outer activity without suffering the usual dispersal of the emotional body”. In fact, this is, I think, the real reason why we are always forgetting: depending upon one’s vocabulary, one can say either that the higher bodies are insufficiently crystallised or that the soul is insufficiently pure. That this is Gurdjieff’s treaching is apparent from the diagram of the four bodies and the explanation found in Miraculous.
This diagram ties in with the idea of the higher centres. The balancing of our three most amenable centres (thinking, feeling and moving) corresponds to the development of man number 4. The harmonization of the higher emotional centre with these corresponds to the development of man number 5 and of the astral body. Thus, in the Ferapontoff notes it is stated: “The matter of the astral body is to be found in the emotional centre, but it is not crystallized.” Then, the harmonization of the activity of the higher intellectual centre with these corresponds to the development of man number 6 and the mental body. In man number 7, these developments are permanent.
There is found in Miraculous a diagram where alongside the ray of creation are two columns for bodies and laws. The diagram relevantly shows that the fourth (causal) body is subject only to six laws and is made up of the material of the starry world; the third (mental) body is subject to 12 laws and is composed of solar matter. The second (astral) body obeys 24 laws and is of the material of the planetary world, while the physical body under 48 laws is made of earthly matter (p. 94).
All of these various ideas of bodies, centres, energies, matters and laws, are but perspectives from different sides of the one process. On 2 July 1982, Mr Adie said that in the preparation one could, if one’s efforts had come to that point:
… direct a part of my gaze upwards through my brows, to that higher source, the source of the all-pervasive influence of the initiation of all life. It is as if the gaze started in my centre of gravity, and flowed upward, and joined in my head at that opening, to receive the finest impressions coming from the source of everything existing.
This is a reference to the work of the higher intellectual centre and the incipient mental body, which being composed of the matter of the sun does in fact directly receive the influence of “all suns”, the source of all life. Importantly, the process Mr Adie describes is natural. The ground for it has been prepared by the harmonization of the centres, but yet there is required both an understanding and effort, albeit surpassingly subtle understanding and effort.
In this regard, a letter which Adie wrote to Mr Gurdjieff and Mme de Salzmann on 24 July 1949 is interesting. In it, Adie speaks of the latest exercise Gurdjieff has given him, and what he experiences through it, describing the “building up or materialisation of the envelope of my sphere”. He also describes the stopping of thoughts, and an awareness of the “higher emotional body or Kesdjan body or at least something leading to this”. It is clear that he has not to been told to expect it, but nonetheless the concentration of his attention and energies, as directed, has made it possible. Adie explains that when he has the stated experience no negative emotions even appear. He notes that his consciousness seems to shift or be centred in a particular part of his body which I shall not describe. Now initially, his consciousness placed itself there, but now that he is aware of it, he says, this “is to be cultivated … as if from here I am safe in regard to others”.
In the blog on the Prayer of the Heart I wrote about the Christian prayer which makes use of awareness of the breath and its flowing into and through the body. There, too, the consciousness is placed in the body. As it happens, Mr Adie was referring to a different part of the body in this letter, but the principle is clear: when the consciousness has shifted, one can intentionally, by a simple act of will, place the consciousness there again, making possible a fresh experience. The placing in the body undoubtedly provides a stool for a more continuous experience.
One does not have to speak of the higher centres to come to the point of being able to sense the movement of energies through them. In fact, it may even be counter-productive if one speaks unwisely, or perhaps more accurately, if one allows oneself to mix imagination in with what one learns. This type of dreaming can lead to sleep in higher centres. Yet, once one has had an experience of the movement of subtle energies or of the activation of higher centres, then I feel as Mr Adie did, that one should not neglect them. Incidentally, that letter provides contemporaneous evidence of the methods Gurdjieff was using in 1949, and also of Adie’s faithfulness to his teacher.
Why is Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation necessary for the development of higher bodies? It is worth pondering some portions in the posthumously published Tu L’Aimeras, translated into English and re-edited as Gurdjieff, A Master in Life: Recollections of Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch.
Tchekhovitch recalls that a friend of a member of their Constantinople group had died, and they were speaking of this death when Gurdjieff approached. One of them summoned up the courage to ask Gurdjieff to clarify “how work of a spiritual nature leads to immortality”. They knew that he had said subtle bodies could be formed, but found this obscure. In reply, Gurdjieff gave the examples of stones forming in the kidney, and salt crystallizing from saturation. So too, he said, “psychic substances” can, if they saturate the body, crystallize. Further, a substance such as salt, when crystallized, possesses qualities lacking from the salt dissolved in water. A salty liquid poured into a river will quickly blend into the river water, and while one might detect some salt fifteen metres downstream, there will be no trace at all one kilometer further on. However, if the salt can be crystallized and placed beyond the waters, then it is “theoretically … immortal”.
The river, said Gurdjieff, is life. Life carries away the energies elaborated in us. If we could somehow keep separate from life the higher substances formed by conscious labors then the substances would crystallize more quickly and, like the salt crystals, retain their integrity. Once formed, the new arising has its own destiny. Gurdjieff went on to give the example of bread: one it has been properly baked, bread can no longer be reduced to flour. “Once made, bread has a fate of its own.” But, Gurdjieff went on to add, this does not mean that one must withdraw from what we call ‘life’, as some wrong-headed ascetics do, with the result that they exhaust themselves rather than developing. One must acquire a deeper understanding of the nature of life and separation from it.
Hence, I think, the importance of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation and making a connection between our experience of it and the manifestations of our lives. One commences the day with the preparation as a means of fostering the elaboration of finer substances.
By consciously collecting oneself within one’s atmosphere, one sets up, by an act of will, a sort of magnetic field for the collection and coherence of finer hydrogens. As the relative tempos of each centre start to come into the sacred relationship, these hydrogens coalesce and form a spiritualised unity according to a pattern contemplated on a more subtle plane of existence.
For this reason, some of Gurdjieff’s exercises end with instructions to rest ten or fifteen minutes in a collected state. One example, from “The Four Ideals” which Gurdjieff gave Mr Adie on 1 October 1948, specifically states that without this “calmness” the results cannot be assimilated and the exercise will have been in vain. It even gives further indications of what is meant by the collected state. Then, in the meeting of 9 December 1946 averted to above, Gurdjieff says that one should not do anything which causes one to emanate excessively: should one wish to accumulate the desired substance, one must come to a concentrated state. The danger he says, is that the results may evaporate like cigarette smoke. In fact, Gurdjieff there recommends that an exercise be finished with a prayer, to ask one’s “ideal” (sic) to help safeguard this result, and even to use the prayer between exercises so as to evoke “a factor of recall”.
In that meeting, and elsewhere, Gurdjieff insisted upon practising and repeating. An undated pencil jotting, found with what I call Mr Adie’s “Paris Notes” is headed Real I. It reads, in part:
Practise to isolate yourself from everyone, so as to come into this presence.
Real I. This you must practise now to have every aim.
Practise for this isolation … Stop considering. … Keep all in. Real I.
As these “Paris Notes” of September 1949 briefly chart the Adies’ time with Gurdjieff, including something of the exercises, treatment and advice he gave, it is a fair conjecture that this piece either reflects a resolution Mr Adie made under the influence of what he was receiving in Paris with Gurdjieff, or even that its terse cadences record Gurdjieff’s own advice to him.
The advice seems to me to tie in with the talk on immortality recorded by Tchekhovitch, and also with another allegory which he relates. Still in Constantinople, Gurdjieff was asked about the proper attitude for a pupil. Imagine, he replied, that you are offered a house in a vast virgin forest with but one condition: you must maintain the fire beneath a cauldron. Even though no one checks on you, you are not allowed to lift the lid of the cauldron, and you know nothing about the boiling substance inside. You know only that you must keep it boiling and never allow the fire to go out. Significantly, no one but yourself verifies that you are doing it correctly. Such dedication, perseverance and honesty are the best attitudes in a pupil. Only later, Tchekhovitch said, did he come to understand what the mysterious alchemical substance might be and why sacrifice was required to obtain its gift.
It is also interesting that the stimulus for this allegory was a question about the desirable attitude in a pupil. I doubt that I am the only one who has for too long not appreciated what we have in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Jane Heap said that we live beneath our privileges. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more true than of we who have learned the morning preparation, but do not use it, or do not pass it on. Gurdjieff said of one version of the preparation: “Do this ten minutes every day for the rest of your life and you will live to bless my name.”
This explains two things: why it is necessary to use the preparation and exercises as Gurdjieff gave them, and why Gurdjieff, de Salzmann, Mrs Staveley, the Adies, all these people, insisted upon the value of trying the exercises in groups. First, the Gurdjieff exercises, and only the Gurdjieff exercises, include this teaching of higher being bodies and integrate it into the entire system in an organic manner. Bennett remarked that exciting as the Subud latihan was, he and others found that they had to go back to the Gurdjieff exercises because a strange sort of will-lessness had developed in them. Second, the more people who use these exercises together, the greater the concentration of higher hydrogens. Gurdjieff placed a lot of knowledge, very concisely and very precisely into the formulation of his exercises.
We will value Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation more if we study and value the teaching on higher being bodies. And of course, this takes us straight to Beelzebub which is filled with references, both direct and indirect, to these higher bodies and their cosmic destinies. As Gurdjieff stated, his pupils should regularly read his book, and they should read it in the manner he indicated: three times, passively, actively and bringing the reconciling scrutiny which can lead to digestion, transforming our knowledge of the book into our own understanding.
This all has an important corollary: the art should, I think, be related to daily efforts in life. We do try this, but perhaps there is scope for more concerted and ever more conscious efforts along these lines. Gurdjieff and his pupils persistently encouraged us to find ways of making connections between the morning preparation and efforts “in life”, so to speak. There is very little exchange on the exercises, and maybe that is prudent. Yet, nonetheless, perhaps it should perhaps be allowed for, even if only once a month or so, amongst those making a study of the art.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.
Joseph Azize Page
I have referred elsewhere to “The Four Ideals” exercise which the Adies worked on, at Gurdjieff’s direction, for a period of five months from October 1948 to March 1949. They had other exercises at the same time, particularly the “I AM” exercise. But this one is of some significance, for several reasons. The four ideals of this exercise are Muhammad, Buddha, Lama and Christ (although the diagram made by Adie shows, if I read it correctly, that there are also many other ideals). Other of Gurdjieff’s exercises mention these four ideals, and sometimes also Moses. The exercise is given to facilitate in the person who attempts it the conscious absorption of higher hydrogens. It is effectively, I would say, a prayer of a very unusual type.
There is something literally ‘wonder-full’ about these exercises. According to the transcript of a meeting in Paris of 7 December 1941, someone asked Gurdjieff how he should pray. Gurdjieff replied that this is for later, but there are substances which emanate from the sun and planets (in this respect, see “Purgatory” at pp. 760-1). These emanations, he said, make contact at certain points in our solar system, and can reflect in materialized images which are themselves images of the All Highest, albeit they are what he calls “inverted” images. There are always, he averred, materialized images in the atmosphere, and if only we could sufficiently concentrate, we could enter into contact with the image and receive the substances.
Another aspect of the Four Ideals’ prayer-like nature is that religiosity is not usually associated with Gurdjieff. He is occasionally quoted expressing something like religiosity, but not often. However, in Beelzebub (especially the 1931 edition), in his music, and in the movements, there is rather more. Much of his piano music bears titles such as “”, “The Story of the Resurrection of Christ”, or “Reading from a Sacred Book”. There are even pieces with titles such as “Vespers Hymn” and “Tibi Cantamus”. There is the entire series of “Hymns from a Truly Great Temple” and “Sacred Hymns”. The solemnity and gravity of these pieces is almost overwhelming. In fact, it takes most of us some time before we can bear to open to the music, so powerful is it. Such sublimity requires courage to stand before it. It is easier to subliminally shut down. Then there are movements with titles such as “The Big Prayer”, and “Sense of the Sacred”, which invokes the names of the four ideals. One cannot say much about this teaching without words. But it exists and is an important part of Gurdjieff’s heritage.
Gurdjieff gave directions for prayer, even while warning that it was not prayer such as we ordinarily understand, and that to be significant it has be attempted with all three centres. In Ouspensky’s ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, Gurdjieff is reported saying that the action of conscious praying could itself do for the person what they sought from a higher power.
However, neither here nor in the transcripts of Paris meetings does Gurdjieff say that prayer is ineffectual let alone not to pray. On the contrary, he actually and explicitly gave instruction in how to pray and enjoined it. In other words, prayer is one of Gurdjieff’s methods.
A particular form of prayer which he insisted upon is what might be called “well-wishing”. In one of the Paris groups, someone related to Gurdjieff that he had seen some poor children, and was distraught because he could do nothing to help them. But you can, said Gurdjieff, even if you have no resources: you can wish well for them, and then, it is a law that someone who can help shall do so. The questioner continued in the same vein, he could not assist them. Gurdjieff stopped him: you have not heard what I say. You can, do as I suggest.
Mr Adie said little about this, he placed the emphasis upon changing oneself, but he did sometimes state that we are all related. He would often speak of being in relation. We are connected by subtle threads, and so to what are the others connected? An evolving part of humanity? Mrs Staveley said more about this, and about prayer, and she was correct to.
But whatever one has learned about this, I would suggest that once more, the key lies in Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. At page 569 of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’, Beelzebub goes so far as to state that the soul is made up of substances exclusively obtained from the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation. Gurdjieff taught that only through the crystallization of the higher bodies do we acquire immortality; and immortality, Gurdjieff said, is the goal of all religious teachings, including his own.
To someone who practices the art as the three-centred basis for engagement in life, prayer and well-wishing come naturally. The circumstances of life suggest them. The practitioner knows that prayer is no fantasy, even if it works in ways we find mysterious. But there is a wisdom and even a wonder in that mystery. A high valuation of the art of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation will bring a valuation of prayer, and a low valuation of the art a correspondingly low evaluation of prayer and well-wishing.
Gurdjieff advised his students to have an ideal: for example, in the meeting of 16 January 1944, with his disarming common sense, he counselled that one cannot recapture the faith of childhood, one is adult now and that faith is not necessary. Yet, he stated, if one does not have an ideal, if one does not believe in God, then one’s parent or teacher can serve as an ideal. As mentioned, on 9 December 1946, Gurdjieff advised that when finishing an exercise one could make a prayer to one’s ideal to help guard what one has received or attracted until the next exercise.
This concept of the ideal is referred to several times in the Paris groups, and it is worth studying. Many of us have found that what we thought of as ideals whether religious, political, social or otherwise were idols (ideals with which we became identified), and we came to see our idolatry as a foolishness. To an extent, Gurdjieff’s methods enabled us to see both idol and idolatry with more clarity. But it does not follow that there are no ideals or that there can be no service, no genuine being-faith. To take one’s teacher as “ ideal” does not mean to pretend that our teachers were perfect. In so far as they represent a teaching, they represent an ideal. The ideal himself, as Gurdjieff said in the Four Ideals, is high above the earth. We approach the ideals by stages. We ourselves are flawed, and are far from God, but we can take an ideal which corresponds to our situation and raise ourselves by steps.
Finally, in the Four Ideals exercise there is an order given to the movement of higher hydrogens through the body. Some of the Paris groups meeting transcripts refer to this passage of energies. Other traditions, especially from Asia, give very precise indications of how different forces move through the body. While there is no doubt that there is a sort of psychic circulation system which follows its own laws, these laws are not on our terrestrial level. The blood of the astral body (Hanbledzoin) does not behave like the blood in our veins and capillaries: it possesses a greater degree of consciousness. Hence, as Vaysse says, even if one has a skeletal deformity, one can use the preparation. If one brings consciousness to the body and the movement of the breath, that very consciousness will assist the passage and transformation of the energies.
I think that there is a danger in the reports of the Asian systems, such as those of Hinduism and Buddhism. They are so clear and precise that they almost suggest that the higher hydrogens flow like water through copper pipes. I cannot say that this is wrong, but neither is it the whole of the truth. They move with a passage which defies description even when it is experienced. What we experience of this movement we have to account to ourselves. Our account is necessarily influenced by what we already believe and have previously experienced. What seems to us to be an entry of forces may in fact be the manifestation of forces which are within: the feeling of entry may, on occasions, be a trick of the eye. What seems to us to take time may not: it may be instantaneous but presented to our experience as if sequential, and the sequence may even be the opposite of what we think. That is, the movement of these energies may be first noticed by the conscious mind when it is completing. Then the very last of a chain of unconscious or superconscious experiences is the first to impinge upon our awareness, and our awareness but sometimes, but not necessarily always, reconstruct the order and so present it to us in reverse order. Something like this happens with our visual impression of lightning.
This is all said so that one does not trust too much in second hand accounts whether oral or written, but rather in one’s own experience. Having said that, certain of the preparations which the Adies had taped do provide some very valuable information. They would warn us not to imagine what they referred to, but to watch for it. It is rather as if an experienced astronomer advised in which section of the heavens one should watch to see a very faint star.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.
Joseph Azize Page
Bomb falling on Paris 1943
An Unpublished Gurdjieff Group Meeting dated Saturday 16 October 1943
On 20 July 2008, I was sorting through some papers in a folder Kenneth Adie, Mr George Adie’s youngest son, had passed onto me from among his father’s unsorted documents. Amongst them was a French language transcript of a meeting with Gurdjieff on Saturday 16 October 1943. I have not checked that 16 October 1943 was a Saturday, I am reading from the transcript itself.
Present were Mme de Salzmann and people identified as André Abadi, G. Franc, Louise Leprudhomme, Miss (Elizabeth) Gordon, Yette, Simone, and Nano. The transcript then has a return, apparently, to distinguish those above from those below, being Rene Daumal, Philippe, Méchin, (Henri?) Tracol, Aboulker, Kahn, Luc (Dietrich?), Lebeau, J. and A(lfred?) Etiévant, and J. Crochereau.
The meeting took place in two parts. The first section is said to occur after the reading of ‘Pogossian’, which we know from Meetings With Remarkable Men. Evidently, this was the first meeting after holidays. Gurdjieff asked if anyone had made any observations concerning what I have translated as “the separation exercise”. The exact French is “l’exercise du dédoublement”, literally “the exercise of making into two.” ‘Separation’ and ‘division’ are attested translations of ‘dédoublement’, and this meaning is supported by the context. Later in the transcript the French word ‘separation’ appears as an equivalent. But, unless otherwise stated, you can take it that the speakers always use the word ‘dédoublement’ when I refer to ‘separation’.
The first to speak was Dr Aboulker. He said that he had continued with the exercise, and although he had “succeeded a little” during the holidays, he now had “much less than I did back then”. He stated that he had not been able to reach “a point of coming out of myself”. He requested Gurdjieff to now give him the exercise he had promised to at the beginning of September, “to help me regain the taste of division (dédoublement).”
Gurdjieff did then give him an exercise.
Then Luc observed that he can “separate out from myself very strongly (fortement)” when he makes a very brief effort, but that it disappears when he tries to keep it.
Gurdjieff replied that it was not necessary to do it ‘fortement’, what is necessary is to do it gradually. Indeed, he said, one should never force oneself: that could lead to fixed ideas.
Luc said that he had expressed himself badly. It wasn’t the efforts which are strong (forts), but rather that the impression which he receives is strong, provided the effort is brief.
Gurdjieff replied, it seems to me, not only to the question, but also to the state of the questioner, and to what he intuited was behind the question. He did not seem to be buying Luc’s ‘clarification’. His first sentence is lapidary: “It’s in the effort.” He continued that to act a little more consciously will always be an effort, a point Mrs Adie used to make very often. However, Gurdjieff added, it isn’t necessary to do anything vehemently (violenter).
Luc’s next statement vindicated Gurdjieff’s scepticism as to his ‘clarification’. He stated that he would focus all of his ‘forces’ for a very short period, “as if trying to overcome some obstacle”. He also spoke about how he wrenched himself
Gurdjieff reiterated that that was not necessary. “Do your exercise just as a service, and little by little, you will arrive there. I did say, on one occasion, that it was better to work intensely and for short moments. But the intensity is in the attention, the intensity of concentration, and not in any shock (choc). … Your effort must be to concentrate, not to wrench.” Luc replied that his ‘nature’ refused to “separate itself out” (a se séparer).
De Salzmann gave the advice that if he concentrated in himself more, it would “happen by itself”.
Gurdjieff added that he should tense himself ‘organically’, or else he would also tense his feeling. To show him how to tense organically, Gurdjieff gave him an exercise to try before the main exercise, and invited him to report back in a week “what result you’ve obtained”, a salutary reminder for those who take so literally the idea of not working for results as to think that results are unimportant.
The Louise spoke. She said that she was no longer doing the separation exercise, but concentrating in such a way that she could “sense myself … see myself, and that it is not my head. I have the impression that I see myself as more than my head, more than my body.” Gurdjieff replied that ‘separation’ is exactly that. When Louise added that she could not, however, “feel myself as double” (the French word is ‘double’), Gurdjieff said: “But you can’t feel yourself at all. Your double is incorporeal, you are not able to feel it. It is something which is beyond bodily.”
The last question before lunch was from Lebeau, who spoke of the separation exercise, and how he sensed vibrations which reacted a certain way with his body, bringing a sense of “two separated (séparées) things”. Gurdjieff was pleased, and advised Lebeau too, to try the first exercise because: “Without that you could work for a thousand years, and all you would receive is fixed ideas, and end up a candidate to enter into a madhouse. … do the exercise solely as a service.”
After lunch, Philippe said that Gurdjieff had told him not to continue the exercises, but he would now like to begin them again them. Gurdjieff wanted to know, first, how he had been spending his time. Philippe initially said he’d been resting a little, but Gurdjieff soon established that he hadn’t been resting enough, he had had to work to earn his living, and said: “Perhaps you need a special physical respite. How do you work on yourself when you wish to rest yourself?”
What Philippe said was that he had slept a bit better while he was away. Gurdjieff was pleased with that, saying: “If you cannot sleep here, but you have slept there, we have a sign of work. You have arranged your life a little less mechanically. If it wasn’t automatic, then you were working.” This is, to my mind, is an interesting example of how encouraging Gurdjieff could be. The idea that even sleeping better is a sign of work shows that work is closer, more in such details, than we might think.
Philippe said that he felt: “the need for an inflexible rule. I would like to introduce into my life a very firm rule. I sense that I would be able to maintain it. I have never sensed my slavery so much as now. I have, without doubt, had that knowledge, but never have I sensed it to this degree.”
The ‘rule’ Gurdjieff gave him was to “Do this exercise as your work”, and then gave him a relaxation exercise. Make a program, Gurdjieff advised, decide how much time you will spend on it: 15 minutes, half an hour, one hour; and arrange to do it three times each day “as a service”. The first time, he said, the experience will perhaps be mediocre, and he won’t receive anything. But the second time it would be better, and by the tenth time, perhaps, he would be able to compare the taste of mediocre relaxation with that of good relaxation.
Interestingly, Gurdjieff said that if certain muscles did not relax, he should smack that spot. Presumably, the sharp sensation would make relaxation possible.
Then, Gurdjieff asked Philippe to give the exercise to Doctor Aboulker, who had been doing the washing up. Philippe immediately substituted the word ‘decontract’ for ‘relax’ in describing the exercise.
In a significant reference to the importance of directing thought, Gurdjieff said: “What you need is to relax and to occupy your thought with this exercise.” The word he used was ‘relâcher’, not ‘decontracter’. Aboulker then spoke of difficulties in his attempts to ‘decontract’ himself.
Even a donkey can decontract its large muscles, said Gurdjieff, but to decontract the small muscles is a job for a human cow (literally, “a man of the genre cow”).
To Philippe, Gurdjieff added that the relaxation exercise would be the first exercise of his fresh start, and expressed the hope that it would produce in him faith in his possibilities of becoming. Again, encouragement.
Philippe wanted to return to the separation exercise, but Gurdjieff said to return to that one later. In answer to a reference by Aboulker to his difficulties, Gurdjieff gave the same advice, to leave the separation exercise until after he had progressed with the relaxation exercise.
Aboulker resisted, but Gurdjieff ignored him. Turning to Philippe, he said: “Among other things, you changed one word. In place of the word ‘relax’, you’ve substituted the word ‘decontract’. Relaxation is without end. While there is a limit to decontraction, you can go very far with relaxation. It was you who changed the word. At the same time, if you could understand how you did that, you would understand yet better many of your subjectivities. But this way, you close the door to understanding. This, this is you. … I wish for you that you could understand the difference, for then you could understand many things in your life which are similar to that manifestation . Do not forget this: decontraction – even a donkey can do that. But relaxation – only the intellect can do that. May God help you with your intellect (Que Dieu vous aide avec votre intellect).”
To me at the moment, perhaps the most important sentence is this very final one. I think that too often the intellect is either adored or abused, with little appreciation of what it could be, let alone impartiality. The negative or critical side of intellect, so necessary for any discrimination, is often treated as if it were a negative emotion. As Ouspensky remarked, the reason we have negative emotions is because our attitude to them is insufficiently intellectually critical. It is a piquant human trait that when we ourselves are generally in negative emotion when we condemn others for either using the critical parts of the intellect or for negative emotion, alike.
But the transcript has also significantly helped me in clarifying what Gurdjieff was doing in his final years. Many ‘transcripts’ which are circulated, even published as authentic transcripts, have been substantially edited, and even portions from different meetings have been stitched together to form a ‘genuine’ Gurdjieff meeting. And I think one is entitled to be prima facie cautious of English translations of French language meetings. I say this because I have copies of so many originals from Mr Adie. The same editing and Frankensteining occurred in the production of Views from the Real World. Once more, I have copies of the original drafts. Mrs Staveley, who also knew that this was occurring, referred to it, more kindly, as ‘disinfecting’. To her, there was something earthy about Gurdjieff which she felt might have embarrassed some of the keepers of the flame. We see the same process in the Tchekhovitch book, where the references to the post-death apparition of Katherine Mansfield (vouched for, let me say, by Mme de Salzmann) was omitted from the English translation, together with many other interesting and even valuable excerpts. Obviously, I don’t approve of the process.
To my mind, what we need is impartiality in respect to Gurdjieff, not air-brushing away idiosyncracies we find untidy in our image of him. To do otherwise, to pretend that he was perfect or saintly, is to do him a deep disservice, because it is as if he never had to struggle. But he had denying factors, and as I heard that one lady who knew him said: “Mr Gurdjieff never tried to hide his faults”. Further, if our attitude to him is not critical, if it is anything less than impartial, we are giving ourselves over to suggestibility.
This transcript, I repeat, has not been through any editing process, although there are some handwritten corrections. Obviously, however, I have no right to make the entire text freely available. I have sent the original French copy to two people who knew him. I have retained for myself a photocopy.
Together with what I have published of Gurdjieff’s teaching to the Adies in 1948 and 1949, it seems to me that the centre of his inner work in the 1940s was in the exercises as much as it was in the movements, although these have garnered almost all of the attention. The movements can be considered as exercises for the movements floor, but they are less clear, less potent, less concentrated, to my mind; and to a very great extent they depend upon the quality of the group and the movements demonstrator. To me, the movements are something like what Gurdjieff said the Christian liturgies were, school demonstrations of which their true nature was now forgotten. But I don’t think that this has happened with the exercises, for the simple reason that Mme de Salzmann ignored them after a certain point, probably in the 1960s, and they were left to a very few people who, for whatever reason, were not affected by her “new work” and passed them on unchanged. The Adies were among these, perhaps because they came to Australia before she introduced the new work to London. So, too, Mrs Staveley, who had the good luck to return to the USA from London before the great forgetting.
To speak directly of the exercises, which are after all the chief thing, the chief exercise is (I think) what the Adies, like Madame Lannes, called “the preparation”. Secondary, although still vital, are three other types of exercise: (a) tasks to be attempted during the day’s practical activities (particularly well passed on by one person I knew), (b) exercises to relate the energies to the centres and to the whole person (my chief sources here are the Adies, Mrs Staveley and Dr Lester), and (c) preparatory exercises to help in both the preparation and the energies exercises (all the above, but also the Paris transcripts). Bennett admitted that he made changes to the exercises. I think that if one does this, and there may be reason to, one should then give the amended version in addition to the original.
Personally, I think that without these exercises just as Gurdjieff brought them, the “Gurdjieff work” is seriously crippled. People know what to do, but bit by bit, they are bound to forget how to do it. Hence the doubt and uncertainty in so many Gurdjieff groups. Hence the firm belief in the rightness of their “group leaders” and their approach: the belief is a way of coping with their unbelief. But with the exercises, one can find the way.
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book “The Phoenician Solar Theology” treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The third book, “George Mountford Adie” represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.
[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.
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.