arthe de Gaigneron was primarily known as a teacher of Movements, and I was fortunate to have been a member of one of her classes and, subsequently, in her London group for many years.
My first impression of being in her presence was quite simply, a shock.
As a young, fairly recent member to the London groups, I was suddenly thrust into her class from another beginners class I’d been attending for a couple of years. It was the middle of the year so the class already had some experience of the Movements she was working with. She began at full speed a movement totally new to me called the Little Eleven also known as L’Onze Rapide. Being at the back, I hung desperately on to the hope that my chaotic attempts at trying to follow the others might be hidden, and even began calculating that survival might just be possible as long as I could stay relatively unnoticed.
Of course I was jolted mercilessly out of that illusion by her voice, “What are you doing, Jaune?” I was wearing rather fashionable, yellow (jaune) trousers at the time which, unfortunately, made me even more conspicuous.
It was my first real experience of being seen and for one moment before the shutters came back down, I was truly revealed.
Marthe travelled to London every two weeks and on Tuesday evenings would take three Movements classes and our group. On the alternate weeks, Peter Gloster attended our group, usually as a silent influence, and Marthe’s classes were taken mainly by Annette Courtenay Mayers and Natasha Jobst. After Peter’s death, we met as a group by ourselves.
Over the following years, a relationship developed that was maintained on two quite independent levels. Marthe was two separate people. On an ordinary level she could be chatty, gossipy even, and loved to be taken for lunch in nice restaurants by members of the group. She had definite favorites, and my wife and I were unashamedly two of those. She was also a perfectionist and could be impatient and short-tempered and inevitably there were some who took offense.
There were trips together to various places including Egypt and India. I can recall one day in Rajasthan when we had been invited to see a workshop/performance of folk dancing. There were four of us amongst a small gathering of people who were mainly practitioners of that tradition. We were given seats very close to where the dancers were working. Marthe was captivated, particularly in the way they were moving. Gradually we began to hear little comments directed at the dancers. “Not like that. Try to see where you are moving from!”
In her class the personal element of that perfectionist side gave way in favor of another order of precision that allowed Marthe to make strong demands both of herself and the class. There was always an invitation to enter the essence of the Movement, not only from the outside through faithful representation of the form, but from the inside, from essence to essence, so to say.
By the example of her own deep respect, she called each of us quite naturally to a total giving of ourselves to the Movement, so that for a moment, very simply, we might actually become what we were doing. By becoming the Movement, the class could then play its real role as an intermediary needed for the reception and transmission of the authentic teaching through an otherwise invisible language, that by its nature is secret. Transformed!
All this was received in a moment without explanation.
And so it was in the group. Marthe tended to use few words and asked the same of us, but whatever she transmitted had within it the sense that it came directly from a deeply personal and living relationship with Mr. Gurdjieff. The sense of this connection was the most powerful attraction and the strongest influence on us. There was an understanding that by trusting that in her, we could also be included in this relationship. So it was not what she said in response to one’s experience that carried weight, but rather the place of deep respect from which the words appeared that awakened listening; deepening the question rather than quietening it with a knowledgeable response.
During a meeting not long after joining her group, she asked me directly what my impression of it was. I searched inside for an honest response, and finally heard myself say, “Here I feel the presence of Mr. Gurdjieff.” This was true then and throughout the time I was with her. And to this day I owe to her the discovery, as a fact, that the taste of this mysterious wordless relationship lives in us whether we are aware of it or not.
The demand in her group was always centered on the search for a simple sincerity. Personal accounts of one’s psychology were discouraged, as was anything that might smell of “discussing the Work.”
When we began to meet by ourselves in the intervening weeks between her visits, she was, as ever, fastidious in the way she prepared us for this new challenge. In particular she stressed how important it was when we were together to be as sensitive as possible to this feeling of another materiality and not to give in to the temptation of commenting and judging, but to listen as directly as possible to one another. Our responsibility lay in the need for each one of us to be protective of the atmosphere both in listening and speaking.
“I do not think, I just listen directly, then, whatever is said will enter into me in a quite different way. This moment of real acceptance is much greater when you meet alone than if someone was there to help, because it is you who decide to take the opportunity to work at that moment.”
In the few times I visited her during her last years she became quieter, often not saying anything for long periods, and I had the sense that she had begun to live what, for me, had always been her center of gravity, what she always came back to: acceptance—to accept at any moment whatever is, without judgement.
~ • ~
Born in 1912, Marthe de Gaigneron studied art and classical dance, and met Gurdjieff in 1943. She participated in all of Mme. de Salzmann’s Movements films and was an instructor of Movements in Paris, London and the United States. She died in Paris in 2016.
Laurence Morrocco is a member of the Gurdjieff Society of London. He attended Marthe de Gaigneron’s Movements classes and group until she was no longer able to travel from Paris. He continues to participate in all aspects of Mr Gurdjieff’s teaching.
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Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: October 1, 2019