Gurdjieff International Review
fter many decades, I still do not fully know what the Work is and cannot measure its gradual effects on my life, on what I am. I cannot say that I understand how the Work is transmitted. Nevertheless, I can bear witness, even quite uncertainly, to the help I have received and still receive, often without being recognized by the person in me who claims to work. Help comes also from people whom I would likely have missed in the ordinary course of my life, although in time I recognize them as authentic “essence friends” in the community of the Work.
From one person there came help of a unique character. What a surprise, unanticipated. And I became aware of it only after it had worked for some time patiently and secretly, unperceived within me, far from habitual commentaries and analysis.
I wish to speak of the help brought by Lise Etievan.
Her influence revealed, above all, something very simple and essential—something easily understood with the head but difficult to experience at the heart of one’s state: that nothing of this teaching can be transmitted unless it is truly incarnated. The beauty of words, the grandeur of ideas are nothing and only get in the way unless they immediately ignite the fire of experience. Lise’s presence silently indicates that nothing is possible without paying the proper price, and that paying with words leads only to an impasse. Lise does not teach anything, she bears witness, she offers the example of demand on oneself, of perseverance and courage. The force that animates her today is all the more contagious because she contains and refuses to expose it, so that she can continue to devote herself to it in secret.
One of the last people to be with Mr. Gurdjieff at the end of his life, Lise Etievan generously shares this incomparable experience in the stories she tells us. But it is through her presence alone that we glimpse the force deposited in her by that still living relationship. She has no pretension, and if she resolves, not without difficulty, to accept the responsibilities that naturally fall to her, it is always with fear that she lacks the qualities corresponding to those responsibilities.
Lise is the faithful guardian of the Movements as a teaching, which she received from Mr. Gurdjieff and Madame de Salzmann, and in the classes she leads her understanding radiates to us all as fundamental help. She teaches precision and exactness in the form of the Movements, but also—above all?—she conveys both uncompromising demand and a quality that I can only describe as radiant benevolence and profound love. There is no judgment of our faults, only compassion which leads us toward a miracle of unforgettable harmony.
In recent times lacking the physical strength that would allow her to show Movements, Lise silently watches a class led by another instructor. Until at a certain moment, concerning a simple detail, she stops us to demand greater rigor. She makes clear that she doesn’t have in mind the kind of rigor that calls for furrowed brows and tension; rather, she invites us toward another rigor that appears by itself when the feeling opens, attentive to a demand of another nature, and which can only appear when we let go of our desire to do well. What must we hold on to, what must we let go of? In opening us to this question organically, Lise makes it possible for a new and unknown force to appear in us. “Try to ask more of yourselves,” she tells us, “again and again!” The whole class then becomes animated by a mysterious quality, and each person is able to sense in himself and herself, like a perfume, the seed of what I can only call a wish.
With the intense fervor which she has the modesty to keep hidden, Lise demands and gives confidence at the same time. When she invites us to an effort that seems beyond our reach, she reveals us to ourselves. And then it is difficult for some of us not to feel under the watchful eye of a mother.
ise Etievan, née Tracol, the niece of Henri Tracol, has been in the Work for her whole life. As a young girl, she took care of Mr. Gurdjieff, keeping his apartment in order and running errands. One anecdote I have heard told attests to her innate good nature and sangfroid.
Mr. Gurdjieff was returning to his apartment with guests and at the front door was unable to locate his keys. He knocked, calling for Lise to come open the door, and flew into an apparent rage when she did not appear. Tense moments ensued, with Mr. Gurdjieff fuming and his guests embarrassed. Then Lise returned from shopping carrying two baskets of food. She calmly regarded the situation, then put down her baskets, walked past the exasperated Mr. Gurdjieff, reached up to the lintel above the door, and retrieved the keys—from their habitual hiding place. All this without a word. She then quietly opened the door and repaired to the kitchen while a now silent Mr. Gurdjieff and guests entered the apartment.
When I was a young girl living in New York City, Lise married Alfred Etievant. During the years that followed, Lise took on various roles in the New York Foundation, instructing adult and children’s Movements classes, and sitting beside Mrs. Flinsch in front of our young people’s group. Her quiet attention to us in the classes and in the group left a lasting impression on me.
At one point Lise and Alfred lived upstairs at the New York Foundation. At that time, my mother, Dorothea Dooling, was the secretary of the Foundation. Lise would come downstairs during Mother’s lunch hour to give her French lessons. These lessons were well received, and my mother went on to become, among other things, a proficient French translator. As a teacher, Lise was patient and humorous as well as quite demanding.
As I grew into my teens, Lise was a strong influence in my work life. She taught us young ones Movements. One memorable moment was when she showed us “The Little Dance” (later shown in one of Mme. de Salzmann’s films at the end of “The Initiates”). This is probably the shortest exercise in the Movements literature, composed as it is of four measures. I was an awkward adolescent, and it was the first time I felt the potential to be graceful, feminine, adult. Lise imparted this quality to us wordlessly, by example.
In 1968, after Alfred’s death, Lise and her children moved back to Paris. During the years that followed, much of Lise’s attention went to raising her two daughters as a single parent.
Many years later, I visited Lise in Paris. She was by then an active member of the French group. We went to a restaurant for lunch, and I was struck by the way in which she interacted with the people there. I sensed the degree to which she was calm and collected inwardly, while joking and laughing with the maître de and the waitresses. Lise remains, for me, an example of what it is to carry Mr. Gurdjieff’s Work in one’s being and at the same time to live life wholeheartedly, with all its joys and sorrows. She must have learned that directly from Mr. Gurdjieff, and being young, the lesson became part of her essence. Through her work, through her lifelong efforts, Lise has embodied her possibility, and I hope that someday I might also live this Work as she does. □
Didier Mouturat was a pupil of Henri Tracol and Michel Peterfalvi. An actor and director, Didier studied masked theater with Cyrille Dives, who was a participant in the Work during Mr. Gurdjieff’s lifetime and in later years. Didier cofounded a theatre school with Cyrille which eventually performed throughout France. He is the author of Life Behind the Mask: Theatre Practice as an Instrument of Self Knowledge (2016) UK: Sussex Academic Press.
Ellen Reynard has been a student of the Gurdjieff Work since her childhood. She currently lives in Nevada City, California where she is a member of the Sierra Gurdjieff Study Group.
 Lise later changed the spelling of her name to Etievan.
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Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: August 20, 2020