I HAD NEVER BEFORE HEARD THAT THERE WAS SOMETHING ONE COULD DO ABOUT THIS DILEMMA
I had never before heard anything like Gurdjieff’ s formulation of man’s dilemma — man the “unawakened,” the “man-machine” imprisoned in the habit patterns of his Likes and dislikes, his vanities and fears, his greeds and envies. I had never before heard that there was something one could do about this dilemma. I listened with the kind of attention Jane Heap spelled out as ‘at-tension’ as she methodically unfolded a teaching that stretched the mind, and sometimes the credulity, until little arrows of truth applicable to me began to strike home.
The mystery enveloping Gurdjieff the man fascinated Wendy more, I suspected, than Jane Heap’s exposition of his ideas with which, after the first month of meetings, she was having rough going. The old familiar restlessness took hold of her. One afternoon in the Ritz Bar where she had taken Solita and me for a spree, she announced she would make a quick trip to California to sell her Los Angeles shop. She would leave me in Paris to go on with “our Gurdjieff studies,” and the travel book on Mexico I was writing. She asked for copies of some of my notes, to “meditate over” en route, and assured us that she was not deserting the study group, only answering in person a business call. Solita flashed me a look that said, Let her go, she’ll come back.
My emotional center worked overtime as I copied parts of the talks that had struck home — statements about Essence, Vanity and the Mask man wears to conceal his nothingness. On her last night in Paris Wendy announced that she would supplement my slender royalties — they totalled about $1800 a year — so that I could stay on and get more of “the Work,” for us both.
Solita and I accompanied Wendy to Gare St. Lazare to put her aboard the boat train. In the station cafe we had a bon voyage drink, talking as always of the “Gurdjieff ideas,” our sole topic of conversation in those days of first exposure to them. I remembered something Jane Heap had said about the bolting of beginners, a familiar phenomenon in the groups she was filtering for fidelity to an Idea. Would Wendy really return to go on with the difficult work on herself?
Wendy answered my thought in a weirdly prophetic way. She was talking about the hush-hush atmosphere surrounding Gurdjieff. She thought it slightly ridiculous, possibly even a manifestation of “fear” on the part of his seasoned disciples. How else could you explain their reticence?
“When I come back,” she said, “if I ever heard that Mr. Gurdjieff was in Paris again, I wouldn’t hesitate to walk right up to him and ask him a question or two. I wormed it out of that Englishwoman in the group — Miss Gordon, I think — that he uses the Cafe de la Paix as his Paris office.” She tossed her head, “Well, I’d go to the cafe. It’s my Paris office too, for spotting new trends. I’d simply sit and wait until he came. Then I’d walk right up … “
~ Kathryn Hulme “Undiscovered Country”
THE NICKNAME ITSELF REVEALED SOME QUALITY OR FAILING IN US
“But whatever discoveries we made among ourselves, it was to Gurdjieff that we reported what passed in our unique discussions. He in turn pointed out to each of us the faults in our thinking. It amused him to give us each a nickname, and the nickname itself revealed some quality or failing in us. Poor clumsy, stumbling Andrey, I remember, he called ‘Baba’, which in Russian means a peasant woman. The doctor was ‘Mean’, because he would part with nothing that he possessed, whether it was words or money. Ouspensky’s was ‘Wraps up the Thought’—for the reason I have already explained. My own was ‘Wavering’, because in thoughts, words and actions I was hesitant and indecisive, wavering in the balance. And Nicholas was known as ‘Jubilant Old Man’ —a description which fitted his character though it was most unfitting to his venerable appearance.”
~ Anna Butkowsky “With Gurdjieff in St. Petersburg and Paris”
THEN YOU WILL NOT BE A DIFFERENT PERSON EVERY DAY, BUT ALWAYS ONE PERSON WITH ONE AIM
“We have three tapeworms,[Gurdjieff said] one organic, one in feeling center, and one in mental center. Miss Gordon has English tapeworm. That is why I say to her every day, ‘Ah, this food is not like your English frozen beef, your kippers.’
“We must make preparatory work to have one ‘I’ not three. The work you will do now will give you unchangeable source for achieving one ‘I,’ for taking the quotation marks from your ‘I.’ Then you will not be a different person every day, but always one person with one aim.”
~ “Gurdjieff and the Women of the Rope”
OFTEN A PROFOUND EXCHANGE HAPPENED BETWEEN US, WITHOUT WORDS, AS IF TRANSMITTED BY AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE BEING
The Wooden Snake
At one of our meals, Monsieur Gurdjieff was telling funny stories, as he often did, and everyone was laughing.
Then he began to tease the women about their fear of mice. And, still laughing himself, he started searching for something on the small sideboard next to him, then tried his pockets, and took out a little snake made of pieces of wood painted green and yellow, stuck to a central thread, making it possible to make it slither about. This was obviously an irresistible opportunity for G. to pretend to threaten those around the table, giving rise to squeals and laughter amongst some of the women.
G. always knew how to create a light-hearted atmosphere like this, and he enjoyed the reactions to his jokes.
That evening, I was sitting at the table, almost opposite him. And in response to his provocative behaviour, and the reactions from others, I suddenly had the urge to reach out towards him, open handed, all smiles, asking for the snake.
G. Gurdjieff stopped dead in his tracks, suddenly serious, looking at me fixedly, without moving, his arm outstretched, with the snake in his hand. A deep silence surrounded us.
There was a very strong feeling in me that I have in a situation where I go deeper within, as in a battle to be won, decided, calm, sure of myself, continuing to hold out my hand, still smiling, facing Monsieur Gurdjieff — both of us remaining in the same positions.
Around us there was astonishment, murmurings, stifled exclamations.
Continuing to stare at me, as if reading what was in me, G. very slowly, put the snake in my hand and, still moving slowly, with a serious expression, he turned and pointed towards one of the canvases on the walls, depicting Cleopatra with the asp in her hand, held towards her heart to kill herself.
In the total silence which ensued, G. Gurdjieff, in a low, solemn voice, said something like, “She changed the face of the world.” (I could not quite hear the first few words.)
The silence became heavier. Everyone was waiting. But G. became silent, with unusual gravity, his eyes lowered, remaining in deep reflection, as if something special had just happened, as if he were no longer there, but far away…. The silence lasted a long time.
G.’s penetrating gaze scrutinised me for a long while, and I looked back into his eyes, sustaining my quiet feeling of sureness. Often a profound exchange happened between us, without words, as if transmitted by an understanding of the being.
But what had he understood? And what had I understood?!
My head could give me no explanation.
I looked for the meaning of my impulsiveness. I still have the same feeling: I responded to his provocation as if it were a challenge, and I was determined to be stronger than what was happening around me. I was affirming that I was not afraid. I have never been afraid of animals, of any animal at all, quite the contrary.
But as for G. Gurdjieff? . . . The meaning of his behaviour?… Of his words? I thought he had wanted to distract attention. But the strength of his solemnity suggested that it could have another significance.
~ Solange Claustres “Becoming Conscious With G.I. Gurdjieff”