Tag Archives: Joseph Azize

Using Moving Centre: with George Adie

This edited transcript from Tuesday 30 March 1982 is of a meeting where people brought questions about the study of the work of moving centre. The week before, Mr Adie had suggested that, to gain understanding for their inner aim, they study the work of moving centre.

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The idea was to make a plan in advance to be present and observe a discrete moving centre activity. We cannot completely follow moving centre, it is much faster than the head, but we can make an effort, and that will bring the results we seek. He added that it would be best to take simple actions which (1) involved a sequence, (2) where there was no danger anyone or anything else would be damaged, and (3) which customarily arose in the course of their days. As feasible examples, he gave boiling the water for tea or coffee, getting the mail from the letter box, and the first time in the day when you walk through the front door. When they had time and the opportunity, they should (4) study repetitive actions, as these provide special possibilities for self-study. Examples of this were raking the grass and clipping the hedge. I think that the reasons for these suggestions will become apparent.

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The first question was from Daniel, who tried to observe his sensation, but he did not know why he was doing it, and that had left him without any profit, not even a question.

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It comes back to my purpose,” said Adie. “If I don’t know what my aim is, I don’t know what my question is. Why would there be a question which means something to me without any aim? Perhaps a point of interest arises, perhaps not. But if I am trying to achieve something for a purpose, and it isn’t achieved, then I am surely interested to know why. It has to become simple and clear; as clear as if I cut myself a piece of bread, regard it on the plate, and I ask whether I eat it or not.”

But would any of that matter if you weren’t hungry? It isn’t working to put a brick on the shelf and then take it down again. That isn’t work: it’s no use to anybody. It could be but you’d have to invent some circumstance.”

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However, if you were observing at moments which arise most days, then you would need to know whether the purpose was fulfilled. You would have to have questions. You can’t necessarily answer them, but you can examine them, and there is profit in that. In trying to work in that way, extraordinary realisations will come. I can’t always recount them straight afterwards. Yet, it’s a law that there are. Whether you notice them or not depends on your presence.”

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You have to guard against a sort of tension in your head that makes you follow with your head. It’s as if I think that I can take something in with my head and understand. But it is not like that. I have to understand in the present second. Then, if I have received, I can understand more later on. However, it depends on having been there to receive.”

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Alfred said that during the week he had some feeling, but it was accidental.

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Yes, but all feelings are accidental, in a sense. You are not able to produce feelings at will. What you have is a certain possibility of dividing your attention, of making place for an aim, and having some kind of awareness and intention about it. The feelings will then be corresponding; but you can’t know what they’re going to be.”

Feeling can’t be under compulsion. You can have the idea to be kind, to help a person, while lacking the actual impulse to do so. Feeling is the result of your presence; feeling depends upon presence. Seeing and understanding depend upon presence, they are all interdependent, but the force is feeling in myself force. I can have an idea, but if there is no feeling, there is no force to fulfil. But I want action, I want some process, and that has to have feeling.”

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But what kind of feeling? I don’t know, just like that. My idea of being kind and considerate, that is one thing, that is my thought. But my feeling, what is that?”

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When feeling comes it isn’t really accidental. It is lawful, in process – but it isn’t under your control. It’s lawful and it’s available. Nobody can determine the result of the law of accident. Feeling is always available, but I have to be open to it. It depends on my state, that’s what prevents me from receiving what is available. I have mentioned before about looking through a frosty window at a railway yard. Not very romantic, but it was magical. It hinged on my state. When my state is low I don’t see the life, the light, nothing. I’m lost in my troubles all the time.”

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The condition of the preparation is totally different, and so the experience is different. You cannot remain in that condition and mix in life. As you cannot take the condition into life, so you cannot take the experience. It only comes in flashes. If you remained sitting for another half an hour, it would not maintain itself. But do I have some sort of awareness of the result, the influence upon me?”

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If I leave my room to go to the letter box, there are ages of the higher centres even in that short period. There are tens of thousands of flashes available to me. I go without any words. I wish not to disrupt that feeling, that balance. In that state, maybe worthwhile thought will commence moving, of itself. Then I have to go out, but that has taken place, that thought.”

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Patrick then asked about an observation he had made during the movements class that evening.

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First, Mr Adie asked Mrs Adie if she would like to comment, but she did not, so he spoke: “It was freedom from thought in a moment of balance. You were under different conditions, your attention was divided, and you forgot about the events of the day. I am not used to the kind of thought Gurdjieff’s movements need, and there is my possibility. Those moments of freedom can help me find how I must be placed inside myself so that the thinking brain can take its proper place: acting when needed, not interfering when not. This shows that the moving and instinctive centre together can perform the movements, provided they are allowed to. All our movements are habits: a great variety of habits. Everything is in habitual movement, not only externally but also internally.”

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You can’t do anything without movement. There may be a hundred different movements in getting up from the chair, getting a book, and sitting down again. We never think about our movements in ordinary life: what different kind of movements do we make when getting breakfast. So, which of these are we going to observe? If I say that I won’t hurry in any of my movements, I will fail. But what can I settle for? What can I accept so as not to hurry? If I am making breakfast perhaps I have one piece of toast not two, or I don’t cook breakfast. If you don’t try and think … if you could observe two or three movements that would be a substantial thing. If you’re doing repetitive work it gives you a chance – you can decide to take something small like getting the tools from your bag with your left hand, never the right.”

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Someone said that they’d painted the front door of the house with the left hand. When her husband came home he had to repaint it because it was a mess, plus she’d got paint all over the place. Not so intelligent: to have put their tongue in their left cheek while painting would have been be more sensible. It’s not very comfortable to do that, but you can decide to do it for three minutes. We have spent five minutes speaking about it now, but are we prepared to even sit and think for five minutes of practical ways to apply the ideas? We haven’t yet. It’s like thinking that it would be very nice to have a drink, but then never going and getting the bottle.”

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Take five minutes. Think of something specific and intelligent. Don’t hurt yourself, but a little bit of discomfort won’t be any harm.”

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Andrea said that she had tried to follow the movement of her hand while writing, but kept losing the impetus.

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You say you tried observing the movement of the hand while writing? What sort of movement was it? What do your movements express? Somebody competent? Self-confident? Nervous? Hesitation? Someone who couldn’t care less? If I wish to study, then I can observe. But if I don’t have that desire, then I can’t even follow. Why should I? What is the point?”

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And then I can go further: does the result correspond to the kind of writing that I need to do the job? I don’t aim to have the writing a copperplate writing. But it would be good if my writing was legible. Is my movement producing reasonable writing, without being unduly slow? Does it correspond to the task that I have? How do I move when I’m in a hurry? Hurry is inimical to my observation – I can’t observe properly if I am in a hurry. If I can see the nature of the movement, it will tell me something about the state inside. And then one begins to see the kind of dreams.”

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You find that the work goes better when you observe yourself? Yes. The problem you face is that your work doesn’t mean enough for you. A schoolboy given an algebraic sum, or something in a language he can’t understand, won’t even try if he can’t understand what it’s about. If it looks difficult, it’s much easier to look out of the window. Without some purpose, the idea of trying does not recommend itself to most people. But we apply ourselves to this because we want to find out.”

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And what is the alternative? If I do not wish to control my movements, what chance do I have? It is all connected. I move in accordance with dreams, I move in accordance with my total state. If I am in a good state, unhurried, I move in a totally different way. If I am late, or fearful, the movements are entirely different. I never think of trying to use that to obtain control. We want the quality of life which is possible when I have control.”

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© Joseph Azize, 11 . 2 . 2014

JOSEPH AZIZE: TRANSCRIPT OF GEORGE ADIE’S MEETING ON SATURDAY 18 MARCH 1989

This is from the transcript of the meeting of Saturday 18 March 1989. This was a “weekend work” day. As usual, Mr Adie opened with some ideas, to provide a practical guideline for the inner work, and then there was exchanges, first at lunch and then at supper.

Breakfast Address

All we know is our fantastic unique world: we don’t know the common life. It’s a very lonely position, and one that should be terrifying to people. But it’s never one fact by itself, one fact touches another. If I find any these reality, it gives me strength. I start to see the beauty in everything, even in people’s nature, even in people who do terrible things. They’re not devoid of a sense of duty.”

Perhaps I need a few icons to get me out of this. But then, what kind of icons?”

I often think of the saying in Revelation: “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” There is an icon. It means “I am” is instantaneous according to my work and corresponding to my effort, my work.”

We can know moments of difference if we work, because here there are favourable conditions for acquiring a certain knowledge of our inner arrangements: of thought first, then of the body and then of feeling. The world is still marvelously beautiful. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have enough freedom to come here for a full day, free of the forces which oblige other people to go lower and lower.”

Certain impressions connect to something in you, and you find a higher level of being which will disappear, for we don’t know how to sustain it. The question is, how can I build in myself this finer material? How can I acquire more of it and maintains it until it crystallises into a centre of gravity? It’s a very practical work.”

Impressions are coming not only from all different directions, but also of every different density. If we could be more open to impressions, there would be a chance then of selecting the higher impressions. We cannot afford to sink down into anything. This is what is spoken of: “Free man, move on.” A free man is not a proud one, or self-obsessed. And the laws are there: ever in life and in death. So I can die and descend or die and ascend.”

Our work is very practical, the most practical thing, because it leads to the total transformation of the whole of life. I even cut the bread better, don’t misplace my glasses every time I read the paper. It comes back to the individual: each one has to be concerned with themselves and only with themselves. If one can be concerned with oneself, then one can begin to have external consideration.”

If we accept the word “work”, that makes an enormous difference. It means that we accept to construct something within ourselves, and to have sufficiently deep impressions that can nourish me a bit, perhaps until I come again. I can be changed. My ordinary I is my misconception. I was very worried in the early days, how can I be changed into something I am not? It seemed impossible. I hadn’t had the idea of two lives simultaneously. If I only see for a moment I am changing. All the time there is the possibility of change. Fish in an aquarium, changing colour all the time. Can I find the posture that produces harmonious colour, harmonious sound? This is the only body we have, so what about it? It could function better. Try and make the work immediate by the conscious receipt of more and finer impressions.”

After Lunch

The first questioner spoke of obtaining glimpse of how he lives under compulsion. Mr Adie replied: “ You don’t recognise the forces which compel you as forces. You find yourself impelled, but we think of them as reasons, considerations, everything but forces. I need to be present to my processes. I am not present to my thought, and so it operates to compel me. In the ordinary way there is no query about the process or nature of my thought. I can question individual ideas or notions, yes, but the quality of my thought?”

Mick then spoke about seeing a rather dramatic opposition in himself. “What is important to you out of that?” asked Adie. “It’s that you’re still identified with what you say. You’re not free of it: “Poor suffering Mick, undergoing this unjust torture. Not exactly fair, is it?” Life is different from what you think. If you could see, really see that you are being pushed around and compelled by forces, then you could get some perspective on what you do, or what is done through you, and you could say: “No, I don’t think that was a very good idea.”

So this afternoon, two lives at the same time. I pull the weed up, and I see what’s happening. Try and sense in yourself: is there any being impulse? Is there any immediate decision, anything you could say I to? Could you say: “I am related to this?”

Sometimes we feel heavily assailed by something difficult. If I can manage that, that is like a big lunch. I have to make a connection, but the greater the connection the greater the transformation of material. When things have gone wrong, when something has broken, make a particular intention. It’s a challenge. Even in the fact of tragic news, I can suffer, but I don’t have to be negative about it.”

When I suffer very much, it can mean that it’s something very near me. It means that essence is being touched. The very suffering can free me from my personality, or I can plunge right into and become more hopelessly lost than ever. I am tested. I must on no account be negative, though. It’s a process which I accept. I am there, the process begins, and I find I am weak. But I want to be there, with intention.”

Paul mentioned a desire to be quiet. “ To be quiet does not mean that everything unpleasant will disappear,” said Adie. “If I am present, I can be quiet in front of this trouble: I remain, I accept the annoyance, the frustration or the irritation. My quiet depends upon accepting this. We don’t seek quiet by avoiding, that is not our work.”

What you have been spoken of is subjective, subjective and real. And you have discovered that it is all contained within: it’s localised. Everything you need is there, inside. It’s not external or out yonder. So what about my posture? The mechanical goings-on diminish when I have taken a conscious posture. If I make this effort frequently enough, something will change. This sense of frustration is all of my energy pouring out. You have an occupation which makes demands on you, coming from all angles, so you have just what you need to serve you there.”

I want to be able to recognise my insecurity more quickly. I think I’m alright, but I’m really very insecure. It would help if you could remember exactly how you were: how your shoulders were, and so on, with what sort of pressure you were moving your hands, at which point your effort started to become less precise, so that this could indicate to you, warn you, on other occasions, that you’re about to put your foot into it.”

After Supper

Mr Adie added in his answer to a question I had asked, this interesting observation. It only had a point because it was not referring to me personally. “Sometimes this work is very difficult for people who are not very negative. There are people who seem not to cause much annoyance for other people. They are quiet, and they don’t take much offence, so they’re always happy. Where are their prods? I have to find material. See what it means, this non-stop possibility that is offered. It’s a very high demand but it is possible. That is why I cannot afford to disappear in front of unpleasantness. I must learn to be able to be there but not to be negative.”

In response to Gerry, who had been more present than usual, Adie said: “This morning you saw yourself taking it methodically. You didn’t plunge into the thing. You were not quite so hurried as usual. It was more steady. The unwinding allows you to operate with more control. I need to know, as much as I can, what happens. There will be little signs, if I can read them, in my body, my feeling, and they tell me that a change of state has begun. It can remind me, give me fore-knowledge. If I wish to work, the associations come with lights, and can give me an impulse to change. I see that I saw it, I thought of it as an unwinding. It means to say that I haven’t got to start the job at a breakneck speed. It means, steady boys, sort of thing. Yes. And so there is room for me, as well as the job.”

I see that in the ordinary way, when I can go, indeed I go. I am left behind. So the irritation I feel when this is starting up is to be valued, in a way, because it warns me, and if I heed the warning, I can take measures so as to avoid identification. It makes that moment of warning more critical. I shall remember it more. It’s like a turning.”

Finally, Shaun spoke about finding a state in which he could overcome fatigue. He felt that work had come alive for him. Adie replied: “It is futile to try and recapture that state, but not futile to try to reach that level again. How?”

The fatigue appears when I am not particularly enamoured of what I am to do. So if I realise that one of the warnings is fatigue, it warns me: “What is my attitude towards the job? Is it a job I wish to avoid? Maybe then I have to do it.” I tell myself that I am tired, but really it is not that, really, something in me does not want to do it. I must be careful of how I speak. As I speak, so I think. I say I am tired, but I’m not, I’m just not interested.”

Review, Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: New York Talks 1926-1930 A.R. Orage – Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester

Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his

Grandson, New York Talks 1926-1930,

is published by  Book Studio, 2013

(363 pp. plus a selected bibliography and an index)

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Gurdjieff’s legacy has reached a critical point. In my opinion, the line which he began, and which those who follow it with more or less faithfulness call “the Work”, has reached an interval or gap. I mean by this what Gurdjieff meant: if the Work is to develop in the direction with which it began, it must cross each interval with the help of forces which correspond to the current with which the movement began. An impulse which is not true to Gurdjieff’s own line will carry it in the wrong direction.

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The first step of this line of development, the note DO, was Gurdjieff’s personal efforts: bringing his ideas and methods, teaching, writing, composing, etc. The second and third steps were, I would say, the work of his direct pupils (the note RE), and then the publication of his writings and music (the note MI). Of course, there is some overlap at each stage: living processes are like that. It is only analysis which distinguishes clearly separated stages: a trumpet does not sound in heaven to announce the end of one and the commencement of another.

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In this case the interval between MI and FA would bear risks if not only because those learned from him in person have almost all died. But the interval is even more dangerous because many important texts remain unpublished. Very few of his pupils, whether second generation or later, have access to all of his talks, transcripts and papers in their original form. Even Beelzebub, upon which Gurdjieff manifestly placed so much of his hopes, has been effectively bleached of colour by what purport to be two retranslations, displacing the text he himself authorised.

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But there is more: Gurdjieff’s method was one of engagement under fluid conditions. Unlike his pupils, he created no institutions beyond the temporary. Even before the motor accident, he had told Nicoll that the conditions at Fountainebleau were temporary. Gurdjieff rarely repeated himself, and he made pupils responsible for passing what they had learned. “What falls from the wagon is lost”. Each pupil had this privilege and burden. It is arguable that too many did not pass on as much as they could have as well as they could have. Some things can only be passed on person to person, others can be indicated or even transmitted well enough in writing – and if they are not passed on that way, may well be lost for ever. Despite the good intentions of those establishing them, could the founding of foundations have effectively served as a corporate substitute for the individual efforts required? And although associations are necessary, perhaps not associations of the type we have seen.

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Whether one agrees with me or not on every detail, my chief point here is that while Gurdjieff founded no religion, sect or denomination, the line of engagement with the ideas and methods he brought needs to be fed. Good records of personal encounters with Gurdjieff, and attempts to develop his ideas in the light of contemporary experience (e.g. the work of Bennett and Buzzell), is vital – without it no engagement would be possible for those who did not know Gurdjieff. That is why books like this one are vital for the entirety of the Gurdjieff Work.

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If the interval between Gurdjieff’s direct legacy (the notes DO, Re and MI), is to be filled to allow note FA (which must be Gurdjieff’s indirect legacy) to sound as it should, then the first three notes should be fully sounded. That is, the ability of the Gurdjieff Work to continue in the direct line initiated by Gurdjieff himself absolutely and necessarily depends upon the full and complete transmission of that legacy. To the extent that this transmission is defective, the direction will veer off into tangents. The Gurdjieff Work will lose its vivifyingness.

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Will this book be accorded the value it deserves? I am not sure. I shall not detail all my reasoning now, but basically, Sophia Wellbeloved’s analysis is correct: “… the Work is now in the process of redefining itself as a tradition.” (Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, 154) If this is so, then it follows that those within the tradition believe that they have all they need. And if one construes “need” very narrowly, this might be correct. But they do not have all that they could want and can use.

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This is, I repeat, a vital book for anyone interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. It presents for the first time the two sets of notes made by both Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester of the lectures given in New York between 1926 and 1930 by A.R. Orage. Already an accomplished intellectual when he met Ouspensky and then Gurdjieff, Orage was undoubtedly one of the wisest of Gurdjieff’s pupils. This volume furthers the completion of what I see as step 3 (fully sounding the note MI), the publication of Gurdjieff’s writings.

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First, it contains ideas of a quality far higher than what we usually meet with in life. You have to read some of it, and ponder it, to see whether you agree or not. Remain with it, and ask, can these ideas make a difference to my life? Remind yourself of them in different circumstances.

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Second, if you are going to read Beelzebub’s Tales (and everyone seriously interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas should), then, better than any other material I have seen or could imagine, this book provides assistance. Mrs Annie-Lou Staveley must have felt much the same, for when she read the passages which Nott published within his own book, she issued them as a stand-alone hardcover. Nott’s extracts totalled 91 pages out of a 228 page book. That is, the Orage notes, which he edited, form about 40% of his own work. More significantly, the contents of this volume are unedited, and run to 363 pages. Further, more text fits onto each of these pages than it does on those of Nott’s book. I would estimate that this book is at least six times longer than the generous extracts in Nott. It is also helpful that for many of the talks we have two separate sets of notes, those of Morris and Manchester. The comparison is often intriguing.

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Third, Orage’s reading is both individual and exemplary, meaning that it can serve as a model. If Orage can read like an individual, perhaps, we too can. It is a model of relatively conscious thinking. Excluding comparison to sacred literature such as the Bible and some of the Upanishads, the depth of this book invites comparison with Shakespeare (I am now more certain than ever that Jane Heap, as reported to me by Dr John Lester, was correct: Shakespeare was in conscious receipt of esoteric influences. He was also Catholic: see John Finnis and Patrick Martin, “Another Turn for the Turtle”, Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 2003, 12-14).

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To me, Orage’s material here is enlivening. It consists not only of his comments on Beelzebub, but also of his question and answer sessions with his own pupils, and of his remarks on all sorts of aspects of life. If Beelzebub was the cornerstone of “All and Everything”, Orage’s wise insights build lay part of the edifice. At random, I opened the book at p.233 and found this:

the object of these beings in Babylon was …

to make remember. So they decided to introduce

elements into works of art that would cause the

observer to question, to ask what is there strange

about this. Egyptian frescoes produce or provoke this state.

Greek art does not.

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This not only sheds a great light on what many people, not myself alone, have felt but been unable to articulate, it does so with a clarity and force which Gurdjieff lacked. These notes confirm, many times, that Orage had gained an objective understanding, or at least an understanding closer to objective than any of us are likely to achieve. What else but startling objectivity could bring someone to insights such as these, to select but three?

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A mother crying over (to us) a repulsive criminal is enslaved by an earlier actualization.” (p.2)

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The philosopher is a speculator who deals with words. The priest does not even deal in words but in symbols, but their meaning he no longer knows.” (p.165)

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Wholeness cannot be written about.” (p.324)

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I could well believe that not everyone is touched by each of these three comments, but to my mind each of them offers clear evidence of a person whose reason was alive. You would have to be both highly intelligent and discerning to understand these sayings. But imagine the state of Orage’s being for him to coin them.

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How often, since reading it have I wondered, am I enslaved by an earlier actualization? Am I dealing in symbols the meaning of which I am ignorant? I am indebted to Orage and his collaborators: people who were not even alive when he was born.

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With this volume, more useful material is available to those who wish to develop themselves. Only with that effort, only with many such individual efforts, can the Gurdjieff Work as a whole cross the interval before it now.

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Joseph Azize was a pupil of George and Helen Adie, themselves pupils of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Jeanne de Salzmann, who developed what they received in their own individual ways. Among other issues, he is currently pondering the question of fate. His latest publication, an academic study of Gurdjieff’s “Four Ideals” exercise, has recently been published in ARIES. Another academic study, this time of Gurdjieff’s attitude to fasting, which incorporates a survey of some medical experts on fasting and starvation, is slated to appear next year in another international journal.

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Joseph.Azize@gmail,com

18 October 2013

JOSEPH AZIZE WRITES: The Gurdjieff Literature 2012: Rediscovering Meetings

The Gurdjieff Literature, 2012

Rediscovering Meetings

These are simply some notes of Gurdjieff-related literature which came to my attention in 2012, and which have provoked in me thoughts which seem worth sharing. The most important of this selection is, without doubt, the MP3 recording of A.G.E. Blake’s reading of Meetings With Remarkable Men. This small CD has been significant to me. In addition to the impact of hearing the text read, I had not realised why Meetings benefited by being heard as opposed to being read. It is, I am fairly confident, because by making the effort to follow the spoken word, we receive the text in a new tempo. One’s accustomed tempo of reading to oneself allows us to pass over small words and phrases so lightly that they leave no appreciable impression. We subliminally notice certain parts and ignore others. The same is not true when one hears it read, at least not to the same extent.

But the value is even greater when the lector, to use a word from divine liturgy, reads at a pace influenced by the contents and nature of what is being read. Blake does not read at all theatrically, but allows each word its weight. The result is that countless passages, sentence, phrases and words burst into meaning for me. I shall not give examples, lest I rob the reader of their own discoveries. Suffice it to say that listening to this CD has brought me closer to Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, and, I think, helped to balance my perspective on them.

I now see that, although the text is clearly auto-mythological (which word I am coining to refer to an apparently autobiographical work which offers mythology rather than biography), we nonetheless have to start with the story as it is. The text may work within us, through the mysterious laws of association (deep calls to deep) suggesting different interpretations, dimensions and connections. But there is no need to analyse it: there is no need, if one has accepted the narrative as if it were history. The book is addressed to the whole of us; it is a loss to redirect the invitation to the head.

The movie, beautiful as it was, comprised a series of vignettes held together only by chronology. The Blake recording showed me what the film missed: as it was made, the move omitted Gurdjieff. Of course Gurdjieff was shown in it. Yes, but not in his most important role, that of narrator. Hearing the recording, one cannot but be struck by the presence of the narrator. Almost all of the words, phrases and sentences which now burst into meaning for me were spoken by the narrator: they provide coherence to the inner content. To leave them out is to make a necklace without some of the most important beads and without any thread. When de Salzmann made the Lubovedsky incident the climax, she lost Gurdjieff’s chosen ending: the last reunion with Skridlov. Re-read that last paragraph, the one commencing: “Formerly, it may be said …” and you will see what I mean. That is where the movie should have ended: anything else misses the point, Gurdjieff’s point.

This leads me to the last example I will offer of my revivified interest in Meetings. It also strikes me that Gurdjieff may have been telling the literal truth when he told of the “duel with cannon”. I have often wondered why Gurdjieff’s system never produces people like himself. From time to time, piano teachers have pupils who are as proficient as themselves if not better. The same happens everywhere, in sports, art, literature, science and religion. This never happens with the Gurdjieff work. It is said that Gurdjieff himself declared that anyone could achieve what he had if they were prepared to suffer as he had. I do not believe it. Many people in groups have suffered very considerably, and yet no one even comes close to Gurdjieff in terms of being and understanding. Why? Could it be that Gurdjieff’s experience on the cannon range was, for him, an artificial organ “to constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests”? Perhaps that accident allowed Gurdjieff to make a breakthrough. One could not set out to repeat that now, for one’s very identification with the goal would hinder the aimed for result. However, if there is something in this, it could help to explain the strange paradox which led Ouspensky to despair: the system seems true, but the promised result of development never proceeds beyond a limited level, which is hardly distinguishable from the level one finds in life.

Three Books by Pupils of Pupils

If I am right that, in some way, Gurdjieff was an anomaly, then those who knew him benefitted from close contact with that anomalous individual, because what he had could not be passed down any other way with anything like the same impact. Of course, the personal touch always makes a difference, even at universities. But I do not think that what I have said is a truism. Although Gurdjieff collected the fragments of a hitherto unknown teaching, his own being remained anomalous: he was not able to raise his pupils to his own level, and they have not been able to pass their benefit on to others with anything like the success which attended Gurdjieff. It has always struck me as lawful that the pupils who received the most from Gurdjieff were the most individual. These were the mavericks, the Orages, Bennetts, Staveleys, Heaps and Adies. I could be wrong, but so it seems to me. Only now are we starting to reap a harvest of literature about these pupils of the Master.

This is significant, because it means that the second generation pupils, those who learnt from those who knew Gurdjieff, are starting to find their confidence to speak about those who had taught them. Until recently, very few had written, partly because many of the first generation pupils were still alove. Paterson was one exception. I believe he possessed credentials in journalism. A more notable exception, both for content and depth was David Kherdian, who was already an accomplished and decorated author, and wrote about Mrs Staveley while she was still alive. However, this is rare. For the most part, we of the second generation have been silent until after our teachers’ deaths.

This phenomenon of recording the teaching of those who learned from Gurdjieff is also important because those who knew him personally were often able to apply his teaching in novel contexts. Some of them, such as Solange Claustres and especially Bennett and Nicoll, not only recorded valuable sayings of Gurdjieff’s, but also drew from his ideas interesting ideas of their own. A few months ago, I read three examples of these books by the second generation pupils which preserve something of the influence of the first generation. I will start with Notes on the Next Attention, which is Fran Shaw’s notebook of her time with Michel de Salzmann at Chandolin.

It is a nice book, very peaceful, and sometimes touching. By moments it is even powerful. De Salzmann made a substantial impression on Shaw, and she has creditably laid herself down, as it were, to allow him to be heard. It would be quibbling to criticise or analyse these quotes. They partake of the nature of poetry, e.g. “Stillness: what is still is the attention” (118). Perhaps to encourage one to meditate upon rather than hurry when reading it, it is broken into many small chapters with blank pages in between. The book, is, I think, valuable as conveying a subjective approach to the mystery of conscious development which was influenced by Gurdjieff, although it does not strike me as being entirely true to Gurdjieff’s line.

I paid hard-earned money for Remembering Being With My Teacher, by Ashala Gabriel. I feel somewhat cheated that I wasn’t warned. Gabriel places the emphasis on the two letter word in the title, to the extent that I often felt that this was an exercise in self-expression, a personal sketch with words rather than pencil lines. It certainly does not appear to me as if it was systematically written as a book intended to convey meaning to the readers. Take this passage, for example: “… I never again had a smidgeon of doubt about my naturally-mystical nature which my teacher had now demonstrated and confirmed nor about the reality of these magical-Harry-Potter-made-visible worlds he and I could avail ourselves of undetectably …” (p.114). What can this mean, and what does it matter to another soul in the world that her nature is not just naturally mystical but “naturally-mystical”, if you please? Similarly, at p.82 we read about “Having had a few touches with these splitting of atoms and reconfigurings of cells we mystics can come by somewhat naturally …”. I respect her devotion, and am not attacking her as a person, but I am critical of the decision to publish and sell these elitist and self-satisfied indulgences. I can’t see why the following, like almost all of these episodes, does not belong to Pentland and herself alone: “When I opened my eyes and slowly-emerged out of my re-incarnated-dream-body, my teacher, Lord Pentland, stood both with and before me, wearing the most unforgettably-collusive-Cheshire-cat-smile, as we co-inhabited the core of this now-silver-white-light-body-reality …” (106). The five page summary at the end of the 140 page, would have been sufficient, and some of the material there is quite good. If Gabriel would care to write something more straightforward, which sheds light on questions of general concern, I sure it could be quite worthwhile. I am keen to learn more about Lord Pentland, having myself fairly recently cast doubts on the objectivity of Moore’s Eminent Gurdjieffians. But this “book” does not enlighten me at all.

Far more to my taste is the book I most value of these three, James Opie’s Approaching Inner Work: Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching. Opie’s notes were checked by Briggs himself before his death, and Briggs, a pupil first of Jane Heap, but then of Gurdjieff, was clearly a man of some wisdom. For me, the centrepiece is perhaps the story concerning his relations with his brother at pp.45-47. What is really striking about this book is the practicality of what Briggs had to say. Compare, for example, the chapter on justifying and explaining (pp.59-62), or what is said about self-criticism and self-respect at 75-76, and certainty at 83-84. There is nothing like it in either of the other two books. Interestingly, Opie has taken care to make what he writes clear. It would be mean spirited to make this criticism of Shaw’s book – it is of an entirely different nature. This little tribute to Briggs shows the value of just doing a job without any show or fanfare, but doing it well. Opie and Shaw can be proud of their volumes, but of course, their true pride is that they accepted their vocations to write those books, and did so with something like humility.

There is just one further point about Opie’s book which I would like to note: Opie clearly disliked the “separation” (let us put it that simply for the sake of argument) between the Foundation and people like Bennett and Staveley. He does not mention this in a polemical way: his attitude merely sets the backdrop for Briggs’ impartial comments. I have no criticism of him for that, but his remarks made me start thinking: why was there ever this “us and them” mentality? Why was it ever thought that Gurdjieff’s pupils should all be in one institution or society? It is not decisive, but after Gurdjieff’s Institute folded, he could have, but did not ever re-instigate it. I could state my opinion at further length, but it is sufficient for this review to restate the question: why did these “separations” loom so large in the generations after Gurdjieff’s death? For example, the walls of suspicion which built up were such that the Gurdjieff groups in Australia, which could and should have flourished, and did so briefly with the Adies, are now practically moribund.

Gurdjieff in the Public Eye

Paul Beekman Taylor is, I would say, the leading Gurdjieff scholar today. I am making no comment in any direction about anything other than his scholarship. But as a scholar, he is in a position to, and I would suggest he should, write de novo a new biography of Gurdjieff. His valuable G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life too often, in my view, refers back to Moore’s ‘anatomy of a myth”. That is a good and useful book, and Moore’s achievement was impressive for a person with his limited academic background. I am not criticising that book. But I am certain that Taylor could produce something different, and of even greater value. And about two years ago Taylor performed a service in collecting and editing the materials in Gurdjieff in the Public Eye: Newspaper articles, Magazines and Books 1914-1949. I am presently reading his recent Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff, but apart from highly recommending it, shall not offer any review right now.

As with practically everything Eureka produce, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye is well-made, easy to read, and attractive. At least all of the known material, with immaterial exceptions, is now to be found within one set of covers. The article by Zigrosser at pp.177-184 is a minor classic. This man’s understanding of Gurdjieff was astounding. At pp.193-194 is a letter from Gurdjieff which I cannot recall having seen before. It is not profound, but it is full of Gurdjieff’s dry humour. The volume is full of small details which shed a different light on Gurdjieff. For example, for the first time ever, in Gorham Munson’s valuable article, did I learn that Gurdjieff sometimes drove “very carefully” (209), which makes me wonder, how much of the Gurdjieff legend is a caricature?

I shall certainly be mining this book for the many comments and asides which, but for it, may have been overlooked for ever. I shall not list all of them here. However, to give but one example, in the early days when journalists and visitors were able to speak with Gurdjieff directly, the question of whether other people had succeeded in achieving the aim of the system was raised. That Gurdjieff took this question seriously and answered it directly supports me in my critique of the Gurdjieff work as it is today (see pp. 34-35, 53-54 and 155, and along pertinent lines, p.83).

That Gurdjieff courted publicity, and later did not, does not – to my mind – necessarily mean that his earlier attitude was wrong and his later one was right – it may just show that different policies are appropriate at different times. A more interesting question is: if the leaders of the Gurdjieff groups were to be interviewed today, what could they show of themselves to distinguish the groups from any other self-development society, or from Buddhism, or even from religious institutions? What if the enquiry were extended to those of us who were once but no longer are in groups? Could any of us impress with our being the way that Gurdjieff did, or anything remotely like it? This is not to say that our experience of Gurdjieff has been without value – for many of us it straightened us out and allowed us to make something of our lives. Heaven only knows where I would be today had I not met Mr Adie. But I know that I am not half the man he was, and he would not even have made that comparison between Gurdjieff and himself.

The answer to my rhetorical question is obvious, but one question remains, what does this say about Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods? Clearly there is a flaw somewhere, but where? Could it be as radical as the issue of the aim of human existence? Could it have something to do with the relation between God and man? This is not the place to defend my view, but I should state it here: I do not believe that any view of human history or destiny which omits the position of Jesus of Nazareth – simultaneously central and transcendent – can be objective.

The books mentioned are available, inter alia, from By The Way Books. The CD is available from http://www.anthonyblake.co.uk, or you could try the Duversity site, which has the requisite links.

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
Joseph.Azize@gmail.com