Gurdjieff International Review
Courses and Practica in the J.G. Bennett Tradition of the Gurdjieff Work
An interview of George Bennett and Elan Sicroff
By John Amaral
A distinction of the Bennett lineage of the Gurdjieff Work has been its Practicum trainings in which numbers of people live and work together for a definite time. The aims and format of the trainings are revealing and useful for understanding J.G. Bennett’s presentation of Gurdjieff’s teaching. I sat with George Bennett and Elan Sicroff (biographies below) to discuss their history, features and effectiveness. A recording of these conversations is available at: www.usschoolofmusic.com/A&E/JGB/practica.mp3.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE COURSES AND PRACTICA?
George Bennett: So, you want to start out with what is the history of the Practicums? Well... J.G. Bennett began running Courses in 1971 in which he set out to share with people what he had learned and understood over the previous 50 years of work and searching a whole variety of traditions, but fundamentally in the Gurdjieff tradition, and he set up Courses that were carefully thought-out that he himself said were modeled on Gurdjieff's Institute at Fontainebleau in the early 1920s; although modeled they may have been but, in the way they actually operated, they were very different; they were more formal. There were classes of particular kinds and so on, and he thought that within a year, or ten months actually, that he could give people sufficient exposure to practices and ideas of the Work that would be able to take root in them in a way that would be a base for their future work and that they would be able to return to what they'd learned and have access to it, and that this would help them forward in a whole variety of ways. In many ways, he was not expecting quick results, but from my experience as somebody who went on one of those course 35 years ago, it was more as if he was planting seeds in us that have gradually germinated and I know this is true for many of my friends who were also on those courses, that things that they heard have come into focus into their understanding over many years afterwards. So I would say that the important thing is that they establish a practice.
Why do you need to be in a course where there are many other people? Because you need a certain degree of ordinary basic energy which you get from having a number of people working together. You need to have continuity of effort and continuity of purpose which you get by being in one place for a number of months together. When you work in weekly groups, it's difficult to maintain a level of intensity because of the infrequency of contact with other people and therefore certain things are possible when you're brought together in a continuous effort like that you have on a course; not that everybody is continuously working, but that you can be pretty sure that somebody in the group will be and therefore the continuity is maintained by the group, if it's not maintained by the individuals.
HOW MANY OF THESE TRAININGS HAVE BEEN HELD AND WHERE?
GB: J.G. Bennett ran a series of 5 Courses; and these ran in 1971 to 1975 and he died at the beginning of the fourth one, so the fifth one was carried on by various of his senior students and collaborators, including his wife.
Then there were a whole series of courses at Claymont Court in West Virginia; I think there were about 10 nine-month courses and 4 or 5 four-month courses.
Those Courses in West Virginia stopped in the early '90s and since then there has only been one other course that has been offered similar to that, which was here at the Miller's River Educational Cooperative in Massachusetts, in 2006. It was put on by various people who had studied with Bennett and at Claymont on Courses who had come together at Miller's River, which had put their facility at our disposal for that and now we're going to do another one next June. I'm hoping that the frequency may increase, but that depends on the demand.
We've shortened the Courses partly for practical reasons. The last one we did was 13 weeks and it was an experiment to see whether anything worthwhile could happen in such a short time (because 13 weeks is relatively short) and the answer is "Yes!" It's not the same as a ten-month Course, but nevertheless there is sufficient time and sufficient energy available for something to happen and to establish some practice in oneself and simply because the possibility of working together with other people intensively for a period of time is a value in itself.
We called it a "Practicum" recently, rather than a "Course," partly out of a sense that we didn't want to set ourselves up as "Teachers" or as the likes of J.G. Bennett, maybe you could say; we considered this as more of a group... we tried to do this as a group effort.
The other thing we wanted to see actually was whether a group of relatively ordinary people, with some experience, could transmit something or be able to be the means by which something could happen; and the answer to that was: yes, we can still have a worthwhile work together even if no individual is of any particular merit.
I think that's quite important because really the essence of the Gurdjieff Work is working with other people. It's not a way for solo efforts; it's quite obvious from the way that Gurdjieff worked with his students over many decades that we need each other. It's also true that when we work together, something much greater than the sum of the individuals is produced.
Elan Sicroff: I guess in order to understand the history of the Practicums, you'd have to go back to what Gurdjieff did in the early 1920s in Fontainebleau where he established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. This was a School. His aim to have a school for one reason or another didn't continue, partially because of his accident and other circumstances, but it was a model school of people living together for a number of years and when J.G. Bennett attended this school, just for one summer, it made a strong impression on him and it changed the direction of the rest of his life. Towards the end of his life, he started an experiment at Sherborne House, which was really modeled on the Institute at Fontainbleau, but it was more structured; he set it up in terms of 5 ten-month “Basic Course” trainings.
After the 5 Basic Courses there was to be a 6th course which was to be for people who had actually made something of the work when they went out and went away from the Practicum, which was one of the elements of this teaching that J.G. Bennett had; it was that you go on a course and when you were finished you'd have to leave, because it was a course, not a permanent community; it was a school for learning fourth-way techniques.
So those 5 Basic Courses that took place from 1971 to 1976—those were the first ones and then right before he died in 1974, Mr. Bennett facilitated the purchasing of Claymont Court which was an estate on a large piece of land of about 340 acres or something like that in West Virginia, and that was to be a model society, even more based on what was happening at the Institute that Gurdjieff had. It was going to be a permanent living situation and it was also going to have nine-month Practica or, as they called them in those days: "Basic Courses." Those nine-month courses did take place from 1976 (I arrived there in 1977) till the mid '80's. There were probably about 9 nine-month Basic Courses at Claymont in West Virginia and they were directed by Pierre Elliott, who was a student and nephew of J.G. Bennett. Then, after the nine-month courses, there were a series of shorter courses that were also given at Claymont; I don't know how many, there were probably 4 or 5 and these were not directed by Pierre Elliott; they were directed by students who had made something of their work at Sherborne, so they were mostly men and women who were in their mid-thirties who were directing these shorter two or three-month courses that took place. And then, the last manifestation of these Practica took place (I think it was in 1989): There was what was called a "live-in group" here in Royalston MA which was put on by the Miller's River Educational Cooperative and that was a modification of the Practicum; there were only about five or six students but the whole community chipped in and everybody participated so there were five or six new students but many people took part in the activity so it helped to provide the energy. Then three years ago, in 2006, there was a three-month live-in Practicum that went from Sep 8th to December 15th, that was a three-month course and now there is preparation for another three-month course which will take place next June.
WHAT ARE THE AIMS OF THE PRACTICA?
ES: The Practica events have multiple aims. The first aim that we have for the candidates who attend these courses is that, within the time that they spend at these events, they have a fairly intense experience and that they come to have a taste of something that does not belong just to this ordinary life and this ordinary world. The aim is for people to actually have an experience which will convince them of a spiritual reality, which is a difficult word to use because it's so easily misunderstood. That's why I say "the aim is for people to have a deeper experience than they ordinarily would have in ordinary life."
Another aim for these Practica is, on a larger scale, to prepare people to be able to live in a different way, so that when they leave the Practicum they have enough tools and enough experience—they've spent enough time—that they can actually start putting this way of living into practice on their own or, more importantly, with other groups of people. So the aim of this work is for people to get grounded in an experience and then to share it with others. This may not be an instantaneous affair, but that's what the aim is.
I would say that J.G. Bennett's aim for these courses was on a much grander scale, because he saw that we're now living in a doubly important part in history right now: that first of all, we're at the end of a 2500 year cycle or “epoch.” This epoch, which was brought in by the great Messengers: Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammed and others, was dominated by the idea that all men had the right and potential to realize their own spiritual transformation. This idea has gradually degenerated to the present, where men believe that they have the right to take as much as they can for themselves. A new epoch has now begun, where mankind will learn to live with what he needs, to have a respect for Nature, and most important, he will be required to work in cooperation with each other and also with higher intelligences to take responsibility for the evolution of the Biosphere.
This brings me to the second part of this double point, in which he says that we're half way through what he calls a great cycle of 25000 years. Each 25000 years there are new powers that man develops. 37000 years ago man acquired the power of speech, which signaled the contact with the creative energy. At the end of the last ice age, around 10000 years ago, according to J.G. Bennett, the “soul stuff” began to be concentrated in man. Now at the halfway point in this cycle we are at a point of maximum speed of change, and it is a period that JGB also considered to be of maximum hazard. Everybody can see around us that we have all these very positive things happening in the world; all these traditions hidden in Tibet and hidden in native America, and many others, all this stuff is coming out and is available to anybody that wants to look for it; at the same time, we have these very strong destructive forces in the world right now and we need to have a way that we can move through this time safely.
You have to say that that's one of the 'big picture' aims that JGB had for these Practica: to prepare a small number of people initially with a high quality of training, so that they will be able to spread a high quality of training themselves; so that this new way of living will begin to take root in the life of mankind.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURES AND CONTENT OF THE COURSES?
GB: The longer courses have a specific structure which you could say has to do with developmental work on three phases: of Function, Being and Will, and although the emphasis of the work in JGB's longer courses was arranged like that, this work is not something that goes on in order, where first you deal with Function and then put that aside, then you deal with Being, etc.; so all these things have to be both sequential and simultaneous. The shorter courses really are also involved with working in those three areas (more on Function than Being), and the activities of each course are varied: they include inner work in exercises, practicing a range of inner exercises, both derived from Gurdjieff and from J.G. Bennett (sometimes he took Gurdjieff's exercises and developed them himself or reorganized and simply presented them and sometimes he formed his own exercises, and we work on those); we also work on the study of ideas and practical work of all kinds. For example, household duties are so very important because a) they need to be done and b) physical work together is a very useful way of making contact with each other and you can see things about yourself in ordinary work which is also a feature of the Gurdjieff Work. The whole point about this "fourth way" is it's work in life and therefore this is not a kind of monastic contemplative existence on these courses, on these Practica; it's really a kind of microcosm of ordinary life, but compressed or intensified.
So we also practice Gurdjieff Movements, meditation, and working together in the kitchen. We do a number of what we call "special exercises" which are tasks involving what you might call 'visualizing'. This is effectively decision making in groups by visualizing rather than discussion and these are very interesting and useful experiments.
I think that's broadly speaking, the content of them.
The thing about being together is that one of the things that we are going to have to learn more as a race, as humanity, is how to work and to accept each other and cooperate, not just with each other but also with the overarching purpose of life on this earth with which we are only dimly in contact normally and we don't really take this into account but one of the things about the Practicum is that it develops in one the ability to work with other people and the presence of other people can be a spur to one's own work. For example, there is the famous Gurdjieffian idea of working to bear the manifestations of other people unpleasing to oneself; certainly you get chances to do that, which can be very positive work if done rightly, but also you get a chance to really see what it is to cooperate with people irrespective of whether you like them; for example, to come to some relationship with people that's deeper than personality and much more effective.
ES: I would say that the chief distinguishing thing about a Practicum is that it is an event which is enclosed. In other words, it is an event that takes place where people come and most of their energy is spent looking inwards in activity into this community structure that is the Practicum. So people who come on to the Practicum stay within the confines of the location of the Practicum for most of the time. There are times that people can leave; we call those "exeats," and they go out and get their shopping done and they go and relax every week or so, 'cause people need to relax, but the chief characteristic is that people stay together to build certain energies together.
GB: My experience of group work, which, I think you could say, is the common backbone to almost everybody interested in Gurdjieff's methods and ideas (and I've been in groups for many years), is that when you meet weekly, you get a great deal of support and you are able to do various exercises to connect with each other when you're not physically together, but, when you are physically together in the same place for a number of weeks or months, something else is created. For example many people have an experience of a one-week workweek or seminar; almost everybody has that; lots of different groups use that. And I'm sure everybody's experience is that, in those weeks, there is an intensity that there isn't in a weekly group meeting; that's why we do them, you know, and we're engaged in a seminar right now for that very reason. And you can say that, in some respects, a Practicum is the same as that only more so, except that it's able to cover more ground and something deepens; there is an intensifying energy over several weeks or months that isn't possible even in a week or ten days. And so the question, I think, of the purpose of keeping, by and large, having people commit to being on the property is to maintain a level of energy for Work that is among ourselves and that is very useful.
ES: Now, in terms of the content, there's a wide variety and I think you're asking about what kind of activities we have and what their content is. There are a wide variety of teachings that are available. I would say first of all, most of the content, but not all, comes from Gurdjieff; some of it comes from J.G. Bennett who worked with Gurdjieff's ideas. For example, the first thing we do in the morning is we have a morning exercise which is an exercise of attention and we use many of Gurdjieff's techniques and JGB's techniques for this practice. We also engage in practical work: students learn very many skills and they practice these skills in activity. In the activity of these skills we practice inner work; we have various tools and inner tasks which give us something more than just doing what's going on around us in the physical world. So we have some kind of inner life in practice. We also work with themes and this thematic technique that JGB developed is a way in which one goes into depth; we have an idea or subject for a day or for a week and the students keep this idea in their attention as much as possible and very often every week we have a theme meeting and most everyone will have an experience of going into depth in some way or another and they share their observations with each other. In this way, the group pools the learning that each of the individuals has had during the week. There's usually somebody sitting to answer or to comment: one of the people who are playing the role of being one of the instructors on the course will be commenting sometimes (and sometimes not) on these observations, so the thematic technique is very important.
We also study the Movements intensively; we do Movements basically every day, sometimes more than once a day. The last Practicum, we had a Movements demonstration outside of the Practicum. We traveled twice, so there's possibility for manifestation of the work outside the community; very unusual but important events. We also have classes in art, in music, in Gurdjieffian psychology and cosmological ideas, as well as other paths are sometimes taught. We've had Native American sweat lodges, we've had Buddhist meditation, we've had visitors from other paths, such as Christian mystics who come for a few days and teach what they know. All paths of spiritual inquiry that have a practical element to them can be incorporated into these Practica and it's just a question of balance; as I've said, the focus is on Gurdjieff's teaching but we have these other things too.
There are other very important practices that we have as part of the content of these Practica: every day we have a reading and we read through Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson; this first series of Gurdjieff's writings is read aloud every day. Depending upon what's happening with the course, we may have fasting days, we may have special workdays of silence. These are special workdays; they're not on a daily basis of course, but we get a taste of what being silent for a day does for our inner state.
Another practice is what's called the "special exercise," in which we learn to look at a project, say, digging the garden. We look at and we visualize it as completed and then we put ourselves in there and learn to work from a point of vision that everyone shares among all the participants; this is a way of working in which one does not need to have a leader, one does not need to have a boss, each person finds themselves in a task. It's a very useful tool for community living.
DO THE PRACTICA BEAR A RELATIONSHIP WITH MONASTIC TRAINING OR TO THAT OF GURDJIEFF'S PRIEURÉ?
GB: The Practicum that we offered in 2006 and the next one that's being offered are based on our own experience of going on Courses, and our later experience of what is useful and what isn't; at least our own experience.
Bennett himself modeled his Courses, he said, on Gurdjieff's courses at the Prieuré, so there is some connection, if you like, some kind of lineage, for people who are running the Practica now, their point of reference is what they learned by going on a course with Bennett, because none of us were at the Prieuré for obvious reasons. So there is a kind of connection and lineage.
How much is it like how Gurdjieff ran things? I think it's not very like the way Gurdjieff ran things, except that some of the content is the same: we're going to work on Movements, we're going to work on practical work, we're going to be doing inner exercises, and so on, just as he did.
What the Practicum does have in common with the Prieuré, is continuity; people came to the Prieuré for weeks, months or years, so that they were able to work continuously with other people, which I think is an important part of the Practicum just to have that; also to have in common the idea of intensity, in the sense that the energy created by a lot of people working together supports everybody's work and creates a kind of reservoir upon which everybody can draw. In relation to monasticism, there are certain features that are similar with monasticism (there is no requirement of celibacy on the other hand), but the requirement to stay in one place for a while; we ask that people who come to the Practicum commit themselves to being there and to staying on the property, except on occasional days off when people go out for half a day or a day, but by and large people commit themselves to staying on the property where the Practicum is being run, which is a feature of monasticism. I don't want to stretch it too far, but there are other things when you go to a monastery: there are rituals and prayers and you could say that our inner exercises have an equivalence to that; there's certainly a lot of practical work in a monastery: cooking to cleaning to building and we do all those sort of things too. In some ways it is very similar. What is different is that it doesn't have an overarching religious commitment or religious ritual that sustains it in that way and there isn't a rule of obedience as there is in a monastery, where, such as in a Benedictine monastery (which is the only monastery I have any experience of), you take a vow of obedience to the abbot. In this, there's not; there's obedience to one's conscience.
There are certain rules, you know. We don't allow drugs; it's not a moral question, it's simply incompatible with the sort of work we're trying to do —with attention, for example, at a minimum. The fact that they're illegal is a good reason too.
Bells were used in the Christian tradition as indeed the "call to prayer" is, I guess, in the Islamic tradition; the Angelus bell used to sound several times during the day; it would be sounded in the church and people would stop what they were doing in the fields (there are famous paintings by Millet and Van Gogh of people responding to the Angelus bell), and we use bells for the same reason: to remind people of whatever inner work that is supposed to be going on; to bring people back—to bring ourselves back to the inner work that we're striving for in that particular day; and just simply as a reminder. And it's also a spot in which everybody stops together and therefore there's a shared experience in that moment when you can know that everybody in the whole place is stopped and is striving for the same thing.
ES: It has some close resemblances to monastic training and some very strong differences. In a monastic training, people also stay on the property, but Christian monastic training is based on the idea of obedience to some person. Now, we do have a few rules on the Practica, for example no drug taking or unscheduled leaves of the property and it's true we have people who are in the role of disseminating practical information and techniques and also whatever inner substance they've acquired over many years of practice, they can help the candidates with, but otherwise, with this teaching, Gurdjieff's teaching, the hallmark of the fourth way is that one learns to awaken one's own inner guide, one's conscience; and to learn to live by conscience and what it tells us. This is really the aim and in this respect I would say that obviously, to me, this is what Gurdjieff was aiming for at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. I think it's very closely allied to that teaching, but in terms of a monastery, yes the kitchen is the heart of the monastery and also the heart of our community. Remember that Gurdjieff spent a lot of time in dervish orders and he drew a lot of his understanding of community life undoubtedly from dervish orders, as well as Tibetan monasteries and Christian monasteries. And we eat and work communally and we practice praying, meditating, doing exercises, doing Movements communally and in these respects it is similar to a monastery.
CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE RESULT OF A PRACTICUM AS A LONG-TERM INFLUENCE ON THE FUNCTIONING OF GROUPS IN THE BENNETT LINEAGE?
ES: What's clear to me is that every single one of these Practica has been for most people, a life-changing event. Because it is so concentrated and also so demanding qualitatively, it actually creates an 'event' which has had a permanence that's gone beyond its time-frame. This is something that J.G. Bennett used to tell us, that if you need help, if your work energy is low, you can go back to the Basic Course you were on and draw from that. So these Practica have been very strong events. and the students that participated have a connection which I would call an essence connection. We've worked together in such a way that we're like a brotherhood and it doesn't matter if we don't see each other for years and years; when we meet up again, there is this connection that's unmistakable to everyone, I would say, Whether we walk out on it and follow another path, or anything like that, it leaves such an indelible mark on our lives. So, because of this, because we are aware that these Practica have been more than just a period of time spent together, we all are aware of a responsibility that we have. Now, I'm not saying that we all take this responsibility in the same way or even in the same time frame, but we all know that there's a responsibility that we have, to something with this Work.
The aim is that each one of us should, on a Practicum, have a connection with something that is really special, really deep, other than that which ordinary life usually provides. For us to have this conviction that there is this way of living that's really on a different level—once you've had that, then you can go through many bad times, I mean very bad times, but this never gets lost. I'm very sure that it's guided many people. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that it's guided many people who have been on these courses and it's guided our lives.
Part of J.G. Bennett's attitude toward this Work is that it needs to be disseminated openly; it needs to be freely available and still, it needs to be freely available in such a way that the quality is maintained. It's a very tall order that is put in front of us; it's not a question of just throwing out ideas and giving things to people in a haphazard way. This is not to say that sometimes this doesn't happen because I'm sure it does, but to me this is the hallmark of what J.G. Bennett was about. As he said at the end of Witness, his autobiography, his interest in the Work had turned from being interested only or mostly or partly in his own transformation to what is going on in the world situation, and that's something that we've all been exposed to—we all know this idea; we all know it if we've been on a Practicum.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE PERSONAL RESULTS FOR INDIVIDUALS COMPLETING THE TRAINING?
GB: I said at the beginning that one of the purposes of the Practicum is to give people sufficient continuity and intensity of work to establish some practice in themselves; some practices that they can then rely on and can take away from the Practicum and work with and know that they are there. Another thing is that, in my experience, people who have been on these courses develop a certain confidence in the Work; that the Work is a source of help. It's much more than a series of exercises and disciplines and so on. The Work supports people who are working and I think it's possible that in these extended periods of work together to come to a different picture of what the Work is and, as I said, to have confidence in it and to know that some things really are accessible and not just theory; that there really are different worlds; that the worlds that are described as world 12, world 6 and so on—that these are not just an elegant scheme but reality and accessible. I think that that's one of the features I would say for people who have been on these Courses, not all of them, but in my experience having known many people who have done this I would say that there is a certain confidence that can come in this and also an understanding of the need to be together.
A lot of people who have come from these Practica have looked for ways of working more closely together afterwards. There have been a number of communities attempted, not always successfully, or people who have seen the need to work together and have formed themselves into groups to make that possible; not as many as you'd expect, perhaps, but nevertheless some attempts have been made. So the benefit for the individual is that you develop this confidence; and another of the benefits of the Practicum is that you develop something in you that can have a real experience that there are in fact higher worlds and that these are accessible.
How is this useful for other people? Because the world needs people who have confidence in the Work and who are working, and I hope that people will come from a course like this and feel some confidence. For example, that they can go back to the group they are in and be able to share what they have learned with the group, or if they're not able, that they will have enough confidence to find other people to work with and start their own groups, because I'm also sure that one of the reasons we're interested in making these Practicums available is this Work is more than ever needed and there aren't enough people doing it.
You know, I’m always struck by really good people in Work, who strive really hard, but are full of doubt. They sometimes talk about higher emotions as if they are something unattainable. They may say "when I've got my kesdjan body then I can start to do something." But I think that it would be great for them if, after many decades of being in the Work, they would have more confidence in it.
So is there a unique role for the Courses and Practicums? I just think that it's important in this Work to realize that it's for people to engage in; it's not to be analyzed; it's to be worked with. And I think that one of the things about the Practicum is that you get this experience of the proverb "To him who takes one step towards ME, I will take ten steps toward him." You really see that; you get a picture of this; of the reality of that, when you are working together for a long time. And then, that gives you a certain (I'm coming back to the same word) confidence.
I'm not saying it's all roses from that time, but then there is something unassailable in oneself.
WHO IS WELCOME TO ATTEND?
People who are welcome to attend are people who are prepared to commit themselves to three months of work together. Who have some... it's not necessary to have experience of the Gurdjieff Work, although it's certainly helpful in some ways if people have been in groups, but a lot of people have been in Courses who were not in groups but had just seen something in this work that was in this presentation was of interest to them.
You have to be sound of mind, more than body. We had a man on the last Practicum who was quite severely disabled, but he was able to deal with the course perfectly well, but it is necessary to be mentally stable; if you have a history of mental illness, it's not likely to be of benefit to you to come on such a course.
Really the requirement is to be committed and to be prepared to look for oneself. I didn't say this earlier on, and perhaps I should have said it, in comparing with monasteries: The real requirement is to see for oneself and not to take things to be... So a questioning person is needed; it's not the sort of thing that there are series of instructions passed down from on high and you follow them; we have to learn to evaluate everything that we are told against our own experience and afterwards, gradually can come the working of our own conscience which you could say is one of the main aims of the course: to awaken in people conscience and show people that there really is something that is accessible.
So who's welcome? (I've been a bit vague.) People who are sound of mind and mostly body; people who are prepared to commit themselves; people who see that there is something missing in the way we ordinarily live our lives.
And they may even see that there's something needed for the whole of humanity that needs to be different; that the only change that's going to come... changes are really needed in the way we organize things, but not all these changes are going to work unless individuals work on eradicating or at least minimizing their own egoism.
Practically every world problem you can think of is rooted in human egoism, and all one can do, as an individual, is to work on one's own.
HOW CAN ONE GET MORE INFORMATION?
You can learn more about this by going on the web site: www.campcaravan.org, or by sending email to: email@example.com.
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George Bennett was raised at J.G. Bennett's experimental spiritual community at Coombe Springs, near London. After receiving a master's degree in American history he attended the third course at Bennett's academy at Sherborne, Gloucestershire, England. George spent seven years as an international truck driver, before working for twenty years as a journalist and the co-owner of a magazine publishing business. He trained as a teacher in 2000 and for two years worked in a north London primary school. For the past six years he has been employed as a teacher at the Village School, an elementary school set up twenty years ago by Miller's River Educational Cooperative, a Gurdjieff-Bennett group in Massachusetts. George has been involved in many Work seminars in Europe and the USA and in 2006 helped to run a three-month course at Camp Caravan in Massachusetts. George is married to osteopath Ana Bennett, and has five children.
Elan Sicroff received his musical training at the Juilliard School with Jeaneane Dowis, at the Oberlin Conservatory with John Perry, and with the musician-critic Jeremy Siepmann in England. In 1972 Elan met J.G. Bennett at the International Academy for Continuous Education in Sherborne, Gloucestershire, England. He participated as a student on a 10-month “Basic Course” dedicated to providing tools for inner work to last a lifetime; and then stayed on as staff in the capacity of Music Director for two more years. Through Mr. Bennett, Elan was introduced to Olga de Hartmann, widow of the composer Thomas de Hartmann, who had composed a large body of sacred music from the East with Gurdjieff between 1915 and 1929. Mme. de Hartmann invited him to perform at McGill University in Montreal in 1975, and she guided his musical interpretation until her death in 1979. During this period she facilitated a number of Elan’s recitals of her husband’s music, both the sacred music written in collaboration with Gurdjieff, and that written in the modern idiom. From 1977-1983 Elan lived at Claymont Court in West Virginia, a Fourth Way community set up by J.G. Bennett shortly before his death in 1974. Here Elan taught music and promoted the musical work of de Hartmann and Gurdjieff, which he continues to do today.
|Copyright © 2009 John Amaral|
This webpage Copyright © 2009 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Revision: August 21, 2009