Gurdjieff International Review

Henri Thomasson

Philip Heinegg

Henri Thomasson (1912–1996) met Mr. Gurdjieff through Henriette Lannes, who remained his teacher after Mr. Gurdjieff’s death. When Mme. Lannes moved to London, Thomasson assumed responsibility for her groups in Italy and Lyon, France.

M

y wife Chantal and I had the good fortune to be a part of the groups in Lyon, France from 1977–1980, where we first met Henri Thomasson. After moving to New York in 1980, we remained in touch with Henri and his wife Michele, visiting them on vacations in France and meeting them when they came to New York.

My memory of Henri is that of a kind and gentle man, wholeheartedly dedicated to the Work, understanding of the weaknesses of his fellow man, yet unforgiving of his own.

Despite his credentials of having known Mr. Gurdjieff, there was never an inkling of elitism about him and the only references he made to his connection to the source of the teaching were comments that indicated that he remained a faithful pupil of Henriette Lannes, to whom he deferred all notion of authority. He maintained an attitude of humility and simplicity that permeated the work in Lyon. Since there were no rock stars or gurus, there was no place for groupies or sycophants. There was only a sense of urgency for all of us to see our own shortcomings and to struggle with them as best we could.

Once, in a gathering of the younger group in a café, one young man (seeking to shine among his peers or to extract a pearl of wisdom or perhaps to simply flatter Henri) complimented him on his work with the groups in Italy and asked him to say something in Italian, to which Henri simply replied, “Coglione!”[1]

Several months after our older daughter was born, we brought her on a visit to Henri and Michele. When Chantal spoke of the difficulties of getting to group meetings and Movements, Henri said to her, “Right now, you have better things to do.”

When we asked him to speak about his early experiences in the Work, rather than the descriptions of amazing insights that we expected, his answer was simply that, when Madame Lannes moved to England, he was asked to leave the Paris groups to lead the group in Lyon which she had started. When he objected that after only a year in the Paris groups, he did not feel up to the responsibility, Mr. Gurdjieff reportedly told him, “You must speak only from your own experience.” Although his manner of leading the groups in Lyon and all his writings bear witness to the fact that he took Mr. Gurdjieff’s injunction to heart, he jokingly said of his first groups “I massacred them!”

Later in life, he wrote an autobiography, Ce Que Le Temps Epargne[2] (that which is untouched by time), in which he detailed impressions from childhood that are striking in their clarity and immediacy. When I asked him how he was able to recall events so vividly, he said that he had arrived at a point where he could just allow the recollections to flow forth intact. He called it “a little book bearing witness to an outdated and faraway world with perhaps, nevertheless, a familiar perfume.” A few years later, when we eagerly inquired whether he had read the latest book published about Mr. Gurdjieff, he replied “No, I have read enough books.”

I am grateful for this opportunity to add my two mites to the story of a man who responded to the call of the Work with all his being, yet never allowed his response to become an object of pride, but instead a recurring reminder of both our lack in the past and our possibilities in the present.

~ • ~

Philip Heinegg is a Family Physician in Westchester County, New York. He was introduced to the Work at the Rochester Folk Art Guild in Middlesex, NY. Living in France for six years, he was at first in the Paris groups and later in Lyon. He has been with the New York groups since 1980.


[1] “Coglione” is Italian for asshole, jerk, stupid idiot, fool.

[2] Henri Thomasson, Ce Que Le Temps Epargne (1983), a privately printed memoir of Thomasson’s childhood and early youth.

 

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Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: October 1, 2019