Gurdjieff International Review
The Gurdjieff Society of London produces a yearly publication entitled, Report of the Council to Members. These recollections of Gurdjieff by some of their members are from that publication.
ichael Currer-Briggs: I think we are all very concerned, you know, about this question of stories about him and the inability really to get the point across. Something happens in the telling of it…
Helen Entwistle: It goes wrong…
Michael Currer-Briggs: It can go wrong—like gossip…
Helen Entwistle: You don’t get the depth of it.
Michael Currer-Briggs: You don’t get the depth of it at all…
Helen Entwistle: …because we were living at a certain intensity. Something about being in his presence did produce this intensity. Some of it, of course, was very artificial in one, but nevertheless it was there. It was an intense time.
One thing he said when he was speaking very seriously to everybody there: “I am more than a thousand years old.” I forget the exact figure he gave. “Soon I go away and not come back but then, for you, the real work begin.”
Michael Currer-Briggs: What do you think he meant by that?
Helen Entwistle: He said, “the real work for you begins.” He said it to us all. Well, I think when one was there in that situation—and this was confirmed for me after he died, one was rather like a baby with its mouth open, waiting to be spoon fed, hanging on his every word, and one wasn’t growing up while one was there, one was being fed, you see. This is one aspect of it. When he was gone, one would be on one’s own. It wasn’t any longer a dream of what I would do tomorrow, it wasn’t a reflection of him, one came up against it hard.
When one was there—and I don’t think it was only because I was young in the work but it was the same for everybody—there was this question of wanting to show him how I understood, wanting to show him how I could work—like a child: “Look what I can do!” Then came the actual doing of it without any witness.
I remember one thing very clearly. For me he was a big man, quite beyond my comprehension but I have never seen anybody behave in what one might call true humility... He gave a movement, which was a prayer movement. With great difficulty he got down on his knees, crossed his arms on his breast and put his head down. For me it was like a planet kneeling there, knowing its place.
Ina Lewisohn: In a way one understood not what he said but what he meant by what he said, because he talked about food, I think, and I said to him, “You don’t eat what we eat?” “No,” he said, “I don’t eat what you eat,” and that again, I found, did not mean ordinary food...
I remember once people were doing movements and there was Gurdjieff standing... I stood at the back and heard what he said, “Nowhere, nowhere can you see what you see here...”
Roger Nickalls: Certainly, by the time I attended two of those meal-and-reading sessions, all qualms and suspicions disappeared. I had the feeling that however little I could understand this man, I could trust him. And from there it was not very far to the realization that one could not but love him...
What I saw in him—for a very short moment but with very great intensity, was Suffering. Not your grieving, complaining, abandoned self-pity but a creative light, something which, for anyone privileged to see it, must encourage him to work for what he had been shown.
Hylda Field: One more thing—on my first visit, my first three-week visit to Paris, he sent a lot of us women to the Turkish bath with Lise—he used to take the men to the Turkish bath himself but he sent us with Lise—and that night he gave me something to do every morning and every evening, very ordinary, very non-esoteric, and when I did it, I was to remember him. “It is a small thing,” he said. I was a little surprised, but I did it and some months later when I was there again, he asked me if I was still doing it and I said, “Yes.” “It is for life,” he said, and the extraordinary thing is that of all the things, all the exercises I have been given since, all the ideas I have been given, all these years, even through the bad patches that we all know, when everything else seems to have failed, that one thing has not failed me, that “small thing,” so I remember him, and for me Mr. Gurdjieff is a living person, now.
Michael Currer-Briggs: I met someone who could be a father to me... It was so large an impression that it can also be described in relation to the impression of the whole visit... In fact, I think one of the most important impressions was one of moving into another world, into an entirely different, separate world, which was a world within the world... It was such an incredibly strong atmosphere that he created, even down to the physical details, like keeping the curtains in his apartment closed so that you were always in artificial light, that you went there and were in his apartment and absolutely nothing existed outside... It was almost painful to leave the atmosphere that surrounded him. I never had any doubt whatsoever that there was something there so strong that it was familiar, as though I had been there before. Everything that happened, although it was totally and completely strange, alien and different from anything I had ever had, nevertheless it always seemed absolutely right...
What he was doing was cleaning you out and he was cleaning you out of every form of association... So, in a way one was emptied out purely by that process and you didn’t have time to think up your ordinary arranged thoughts, your ordinary associations.
I rather expected to see someone who was fiery and incredibly intense and so on... Jane [Heap] had talked to us so much about the early days at the Prieuré, which obviously created an impression on her different from what happened between then and when I first went to Paris to the flat. After all he had come to a different period in his work and was a much older man, so in a way my first impression was of a benign, humorous, marvelous, warm and wise man but sometimes I must admit I could see some frightening flashes of power and sudden changes of mood—one was somehow always aware of this possibility. But certainly, I think he always created this evacuation of everything that was in one.
Rina Hands: I looked up and could not avoid seeing Mr. Gurdjieff. The relief was boundless. Not the wild, hypnotist face of Rom Landau’s book. A square, old man dressed in blue felt carpet slippers, grey flannels and a white blouse covered with a grey dressing-gown jacket bound with wine colored braid and a wine-colored fez on his head. Above his wide grey moustache his face was dark and bruised-looking but his eyes were full of life and he seemed to look directly at me with an expression of extraordinary sweetness that absolutely smote me to the heart... It was the most difficult effort I have ever made in my whole life, but he just ignored it. He didn’t even seem to notice I was present, and I must confess I began to feel more than a little aggrieved. Then after dinner he was distributing dolls to the children and he suddenly called me in and gave me two dolls, saying, “For your labors.” I went home walking on air.
Anny Juer: When I came into contact with Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching through Mr. Ouspensky, I was shown a way. For a long time, I was content to hear the ideas, to “learn” them—almost like a child that listens open-eyed to a subject that fascinates him. But the time came when I wanted more: I wished to feel, as it were, the pulse of the teaching. I wished to have the tools to make the teaching live in me and make it my own.
When I arrived in Paris to meet Mr. Gurdjieff for the first time, I was afraid. Afraid to be disappointed, afraid of my own inability to understand. But I soon felt there was a father; I would say a symbol of all fathers, with eyes full of love and compassion. Eyes which “saw.”
Did I fear Mr. Gurdjieff? No—I stood in awe of him, as one stands before something that is far beyond one’s grasp. I found what I came to look for. Mr. Gurdjieff made his teaching live for me; he led me to slowly see and experience myself something of the great truth which we all have in us.
Helen Entwistle: I remember somebody weeping once when he was playing his little harmonium and he said, “Don’t cry now, cry after I am dead.” □
These recollections were recorded between 1978–1981 and published in The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members (1998–1999), pp. 6–9.
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