Gurdjieff International Review
ichael Currer-Briggs (1922–1980) worked in England as a producer and director of films, and similarly in British television. He first encountered the Gurdjieff teaching in his early twenties, through, and in the person of, Jane Heap, an indominable figure who was among members of “the Rope,” a group of women with whom Gurdjieff worked closely in the 1930s. Near the onset of World War II, Mr. Gurdjieff directed Jane Heap to begin teaching in London.
In time, Michael became Jane’s “lieutenant,” her “right hand,” and in this capacity made early post-war trips to Paris alone, carrying wads of cash. His notes from some of those Paris encounters include:
He lives on the first floor. Everything in the flat was in the dark, with thousands of pictures on the walls, some with holes torn in them and an odd collection of bric-a-brac all over. Dirty, shabby and dark, but not airless. He came, shuffling in carpet slippers, his trousers held up with string, but nothing could hide his face, the shape of his head or his hands.
He made me feel so despicable. When I think of all the squirming we go through in London and all the complications and mountains we throw up for ourselves. He sits there, loving and knowing all the world, caring for nothing which is not essential, only wishing to help all with all his power.
An atmosphere in that room of absolute peace, timelessness and stillness. All kinds, races and types, come into that room and all are one before him, with no difference in his eyes.
He played not the music of hell but of paradise. A song of sorrow, a mourning over the state of man, mourning for those ill-fated three brained beings on the planet Earth. It made me want to weep, for it was so sad and so full of tenderness, so compelling to remorse. I felt like a small child in front of him and could only feel that I had done what I should not have done and left undone what I should have done.
What is it that prevents me from asking him my question? What is it that stops me? What am I afraid of? Is it vanity? Is it fear? He can only do me good. The harm will only be done to me by myself. He only wishes to help and will only help me if I help myself. Can I stick it out and stay and take what comes? Please God give me strength, courage and the need to drive me through.
Here there is no wing under which I can shelter from myself. I have to stand alone. I must press my own cause and long, without help or assistance to make things easier. I have got to act even if what I do is wrong. But why does it hurt so?
This the only Way. Thank God for his Mercy in allowing me to come here.
I first met Michael Currer-Briggs in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1977, when he worked closely with Peter Brook and Madame de Salzmann as the Executive Producer for the film, Meetings with Remarkable Men. That first meeting, in a quiet Kabul restaurant, exposed his warm seriousness and maturity. Tall, relaxed of manner, always seeming to listen with an impartial ear, Mr. Briggs soon took me under his wing following our first connections in Kabul, when ReMar, the filming company, was in serious need of something I was able to supply.
Later, we also met during his visit to Two Rivers Farm, where Annie Lou Staveley, who he knew when they were both students of Jane Heap, led a rural center. Like my teacher, Mrs. Staveley, I was a letter writer, so Mr. Briggs received fat envelopes from me with abundantly stated perspectives, and even a few questions.
At the close of my final letter, I volunteered the opinion that more contacts between our center in Oregon and the Foundation centers could be helpful. Mr. Briggs’ reply came weeks later. It did not occur to me then that this response, written in spite of his grave illness, represented a taxing and exceptionally kind gesture. Instead of addressing the specific matters I had discussed, he adopted a broad view, touching on a wide range of Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching methods:
[Concerning] contact between work centres. We have to watch that the future does not arrive and find us unprepared.
Many of those who were so marvelously fortunate to come under the direct influence of Mr. Gurdjieff, Jane Heap, Mme. de Salzmann and those others who still lead us are now reaching an age when they will need to find those they can trust to continue transmission of the Ideas after they are gone.
In the intensity of their own experiencings, they received the teaching at certain times and in certain forms. Few realize how much the Work moved during Gurdjieff’s time in Europe, in so far as he changed the way of passing on the Ideas a number of times. One period was all Movements, another his period of writing, another the intense work at the Prieuré, another work with very small groups, another a period of preparation during the war, and the last, a period when in his declining years he had no more need and only cared for the people who came to him for their own sakes.
Each of those who witnessed one or more of these periods which formed for them the fundamental basis of their understanding are now passing on the Ideas according to that light. That light is only part of the whole.
Since 1949 … it has been a time of preservation and a very subtle development of his Work. Without that development as a challenge to test understanding – to keep the Work alive and growing actively – it would already have passed into mechanicality and be now descending to a level which, although positive in its way of bringing comfort to many, nevertheless would not be a manifestation of the necessary struggle to ascend the scale and reach for something higher. Always the two streams – the two worlds – in either direction.
Now we are coming to face a loneliness, where we have to take responsibility, we have to draw closer together. This can only be done by exchange – by sharing – by watching – by remembering – in true openness. Relaxed and free and clear in our heads and hearts. What we do now we must do together and not alone. We are too weak to go it alone.
According to a friend who often sat with Mr. Briggs during his final days in the spring of 1980, Mr. Briggs appeared to be in a coma for hours at time. He would wake up briefly, then slip back under. A day before his death, after not having spoken for hours, he opened his eyes and said, “It’s all One.” His eyes closed and he said no more. □
Jim Opie is a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation of Oregon in Portland. The long quotations are from his book, Approaching Inner Work: Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching (2011). Some of Jim’s other writings include: Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia (1981) and Tribal Rugs: Nomadic and Village Weavings of the Near East and Central Asia (1992). His continuing specialty in the rug field is in the origin and meaning of traditional rug motifs.
 James Opie, Approaching Inner Work: Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching (2011) Portland, OR: Gurdjieff Books & Music, pp. 142–143.
 Ibid., pp. 134–135.
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Featured: Fall 2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (2)
Revision: January 1, 2021