Gurdjieff International Review

Pauline de Dampierre

Catherine Childe


y first contact with Pauline de Dampierre was in March 1990 when I was invited to participate in an experimental class for a study of Movements. My family had moved to Paris in the summer of 1989 and I began attending the groups at Henri Tracol’s apartment in the autumn. Movements classes began with Lise Etievan in October of 1989. It was Lise who initially opened the door to working with Pauline in the experimental class. This was the beginning of a thirteen-year work with Mme de Dampierre until her passing on November 18, 2003.

During the years I worked with Pauline, she rarely spoke about her time with Mr. Gurdjieff. The only reference she made directly to his way of working was to say that he revealed his teaching bit by bit:

I remember how Mr. Gurdjieff brought little by little, making us feel something that gave the taste of understanding, ... otherwise one gives things to people that only serve as something to talk about.

Mr. Gurdjieff told Pauline that she should write something every evening relative to the Work. She did say that these notes had been ‘lost’ and were not really interesting or useful. After Mr. G’s death, Mme de Salzmann said Pauline should continue writing.

Pauline’s genuine interest and concern for each one’s inner search was palpable. When in the presence of Pauline’s piercing intelligence and attentiveness, something was called to listen in a different way to her often simply stated observation or question, that always lifted the listener to a new level, a different perception that continued to echo long after and had an action on the inner work for many who came to see her. The living testimony to the studies and experiments which she carefully initiated can still be seen and heard: Study of Ideas, Study of The Laws, Study of Color, Work with Musicians, Work with Translation, the progression of the Studies with Movements. Each of these forms of working together had an aim that was specific, and each consisted of people she had called together intentionally, different people at different times, who would be ‘useful’ to the development and intention of the particular study. Clearly, Pauline had a vision of the direction she invoked, another vibration.

Pauline’s ‘Notes on the Work’ were written over the course of thirty years, early in the 1950’s into the 1980’s, after group meetings or encounters with Mme de Salzmann. Pauline insisted that since the words were spoken in a moment of Work it is only when they are accompanied by this moment of Work, that they would have any sense. In the beginning, small groups of two or three people worked with her at her home in Neuilly, and from time to time visiting Americans joined in the translation work. Later, Pauline formed a translation group which continued to work together at the Institute in Paris. The work intentionally took place after a movements class or group meeting or sitting so that one was already more ‘tuned.’ On one occasion someone began speaking right away of the various word possibilities one could use for the passage we had begun to translate. Pauline stopped the person from further rumination by saying that ‘thinking out loud’ is mechanical. Precise language was essential and led to many lively discussions and certainly a questioning of one’s limited understanding of the texts we were working on.

After attending Pauline’s movements study group classes, I wrote down some of the things she said to us:

At first when we begin the movements, we try hard to sense our bodies. Often however, it is the tension that we experience and not the finer lighter energy of sensation. Try to relax and sense the finer energy.[1]

Preparation and the way one prepares is important. As you rise from your preparation you are in movement. Bring this preparation and movement to your place.[2]

The movement comes from a place of tranquility. It is this place that you must remain in touch with no matter what the external gestures, return to this place of tranquility ... it is here that the movement begins.[3]

If we can actually sense that we are not ready to begin, something begins to open and becomes lighter. Although our attention is constantly diverted, this doesn’t matter because we return to this lightness. Gradually we realize that it is this lightness that we are to serve.[4]

If we aren’t able to be more or less in contact with something higher in us, we can be in contact with the need. It is important to be in contact with what is preventing this contact ... even if only physically. We will try to go past sensation and recognize how each movement affects our energy.[5]

Mme de Salzmann told us that the sense of the sacred is necessary in the movements. If there is the sense of the sacred in oneself, one has a place, a small place in something very grand, but a place, nevertheless.

In 1998 the movements study group began to work with the musicians. The dancers and the musicians worked together for several years with the musicians taking part in the class as well. Once again Pauline’s search offers a different perspective:

This music is not made to elevate us but on the contrary to allow a much higher influence to penetrate the depths that lie sleeping in us ... how to leave space for this fluidity? Principally by being sensitive to the obstacles that separate us from it.

The skillful and intentional use of opportunities to see how one was in the moment, are embedded in my experience of being with Pauline. These encounters had a way of subtly dismantling a preconception or opinion and at the same time opening to another way of being closer to something authentic in oneself.

One afternoon while Pauline dictated some thoughts and memories, I began to feel very uneasy. The reflections had become quite strange and as I became more and more alarmed, curiosity and disbelief at odds in me, she stopped in mid-sentence and with a smile, said that this wasn’t the sort of thing that would help a true seeker. Later that afternoon, still perplexed by our earlier exchange, I asked how she could countenance working with our ‘thickness’ and ‘unbecoming manifestations.’ She replied: “One does what is necessary. When you look at someone, it is by seeing what they can become, and for that one must know what is necessary. We each have our burdens, or perhaps, what is necessary to transform.”[6]

What was unique in Pauline’s teaching was the development of an organic, sensitive connection with oneself through recognizing and really sensing the tensions (physical, emotional and mental) when one begins seeing oneself as one is, without expectation, without adding anything. At the same time, the mystery of “you are not only this” opened one to another possibility. She said:

Sometimes there is an opening whether by intentional searching or by surprise. The opening is present only when there is no wish for results. Our bodies are the material reflection of the relative acceptance of our situation. Any external occurrence is reflected in our bodies. Thus, our relationships in the external world are reflected in our inner world. How can we learn from our experience of this body, constantly in relationship? How can we transform this to a deeper understanding of ‘Who am I’?

What is it about daily life, the difficulties, the pressures and tensions that allow Work? They are in the present moment, they are what is real, they can’t take us far, but it is a beginning. Wishing to change is in the future, living the tensions without trying to change is in the present and can be a first real step to Work.[7]

Although this testimony refers to specific studies that I participated in, it doesn’t convey the kindness and interest that Pauline extended to family members and to visitors that had come to work with her. She was deeply concerned that there was a welcoming atmosphere, an attention to their well-being through personal contact that would “help assimilate the difficulties of their time in Paris.” In that light I was often asked to accompany visitors. Pauline and her husband, Eli, invited my two youngest teenagers to dinner one night so that she could know them and perhaps even allay concerns over why their parents were so often out at night and on weekends. Twenty-five years later my daughter recalled the feeling of being safe and the real interest they were shown by Monsieur and Mme de Dampierre.

Eli de Dampierre called me on November 17, 2003 to say that Pauline wished to see me, and I should come to the nursing home just outside of Paris. When I entered her room, she was lying still with closed eyes, serene and radiant. I sat by her bed with my hand beside hers, in Silence. When Eli gently signaled it was time to go, her hand moved slightly on top of mine. As we walked to the car together, Eli conveyed the message that Pauline wanted me to tell the Council that evening, that it was her last night on Earth. □

All italicized quotations are those of Pauline de Dampierre. Catherine Childe worked in the groups at the Paris Institute from 1989 until her return to Canada in 2014, where she continues to work in the Toronto Gurdjieff Group.

[1] 1990.

[2] 1993.

[3] 1994.

[4] 1996.

[5] 1997.

[6] May 1996.

[7] April 1998.


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Featured: Fall 2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (2)
Revision: January 1, 2021