Gurdjieff International Review
hose born at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were members of a generation in transition, between the strictures of the Victorian age and the experimentation of the new century. The experience of having been brought up at the end of the Victorian era and then living through the Great Depression as adults forged their unique characteristics: a combination of a strong sense of privacy coupled with an equally strong commitment to frugality. This caused them, even into the time the world became more prosperous in the middle of the 20th century, to avoid any discussion of health or of the body in general, to scrutinize price tags, and to darn and re-darn their socks. I knew an elderly, very wealthy woman who would not buy new underwear because she thought she couldn’t afford it. When she called her doctor for an appointment, she refused to tell the receptionist why she wanted to see the doctor, telling her it was none of her business.
Between the two world wars, Paris was home to a stunning array of artists and writers from all over the world—all members of this generation in transition. When G. I. Gurdjieff arrived in Europe in the early 1920s, it was not by accident that he chose Fontainebleau, near Paris, to establish his Institute. Soon, many members of Paris’s artistic community, in addition to numbers of British and Americans, were attracted to Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching and became his pupils. With Mr. Gurdjieff’s guidance—sometimes gentle and humorous, at other times so strong and demanding that it may have seemed harsh—those pupils began to be able to distinguish between their essential natures and the characteristics they had acquired from their pasts and their education. As time passed and as they matured, they had to face the realities of the world around them: the aftermath of one world war and the horrors of a second one, the Depression, and the Cold War. Most of these original pupils left us before they would have to face the incomprehensible situation of the 21st century in its first two decades.
Some of those pupils were intellectuals from privileged backgrounds, many were artists, writers, and musicians of limited means, and a few were people of the earth who had to struggle for a living. What they had in common was that they were all tough characters who stood for little nonsense, who were unflinchingly honest in their self-inquiry, and were ready to be shocked into discovering a new way of being.
When Mr. Gurdjieff delivered shocks to his pupils, it was always in their best interest, and he could turn to them at another moment with words of soul-lifting encouragement. His style was unique, because he was unique. Those who accepted the challenge Mr. Gurdjieff offered them through these shocks were able to profit from his teaching.
When it was their turn to pass on his Work after Mr. Gurdjieff died, many of his original pupils became the teachers of our second and third generations. Most of these original pupils, some with the help of Madame de Salzmann, found their own voices, deepened their own understanding, and discovered their own way to live and to pass on Mr. Gurdjieff’s work.
Those who have written for the present issue—the pupils of Mr. Gurdjieff’s original pupils—describe their teachers with candor and deep affection. What comes through is the liveliness and sincerity of that first generation.
This is the second issue on the first generation of Mr. Gurdjieff’s pupils, a third issue will soon follow. □
Ellen Dooling Reynard, former editor of Parabola Magazine, is the daughter of Dorothea Dooling and the widow of Paul Reynard. She has been a student of the Gurdjieff Work since her childhood, and currently lives in Nevada City, California, where she is a member of the Sierra Gurdjieff Study Group.
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Featured: Winter 2018/2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (1)
Revision: August 15, 2020