met Cora Segal, along with her husband, Bill, in 1964. A friend and colleague, knowing my interest in esoteric ideas, steered me toward In Search of the Miraculous and The Five Lectures while we were browsing in Gotham Books in New York City. I was struck by the truth of these ideas and tried for months afterward to find someone who knew about this work. I did not know that my friend was such a person.
One day, he told me that I was invited to the Segals’ apartment on East 69th Street for a gathering of people newly interested in the Gurdjieff Work. From that first meeting, I knew that both Bill and Cora Segal were the “real thing.” Mrs. Segal was tall and elegantly dressed, but what struck me most that first evening was her quiet presence. I did not even know the meaning of presence then, but her focus and stillness communicated something to me.
Mrs. Segal always spoke slowly, as if weighing the importance of each word. She was careful in her responses to our often inchoate questions, helping us begin the lifetime-long effort to come to the core of our inquiry. She gave each of us her attention, and held our attention in return. As warm and interested as she could be, to me she never became simply, “Cora.” Even after years of meetings, work periods and small dinners at the Segals’ apartment, she was always, “Mrs. Segal.” She did not ask for that. It was the response of a young person to the natural authority that she had developed through her own efforts.
Mrs. Segal taught both directly and by example. I learned from her that one need not turn away from the outer world in order to inhabit one’s inner world. She was a businesswoman, a writer and a fashion expert. She loved clothes, design and fabrics. She was cheerfully open while enjoying a well-prepared meal and conversation about a good movie or book. I once overheard her say to another woman that she thought people should look stunning at all times. It mattered to her. At the same time, she had a quiet force that was more and more apparent in group and private meetings. She truly exemplified work in life.
Over time, Mrs. Segal became a subtle guide for us young people. Under her watch, we moved from the preparatory meetings in their apartment to activities at the Foundation. She was instrumental in the way that I and others were introduced to Movements and sittings, and when it was right for us to attend an extended work period at Armonk. She provided the opportunity for me to meet, more than once, Madame de Salzmann.
Looking back, I realize how much she understood each one of us. She valued the world of silence, the meaning of which came clear to me only years later. Nothing was ever rushed. She offered us what was needed when it was needed. She did not scold but stressed the importance of things. Once, I was reluctant to accept an invitation from her to attend a special meeting because I thought I was too busy. Mrs. Segal did not disagree. She simply stated in her clear, steady voice that I should think about it for a moment, as I didn’t know when, or if, such an opportunity would arise again. She made her point and I went. I was not sorry.
My last conversation with Mrs. Segal was in 1970. After six years, the Work had become the center of my life. My wife, however, had lost interest. I did not know what to do, and I was in a fair amount of emotional turmoil. Mrs. Segal was at the same time visionary and somewhat traditional. She was a great believer in marriage and family, but also aware of their complications. She listened attentively, as always, to my concerns, and asked me to refrain from making any decisions until we spoke again, after she returned from a long, July 4th weekend. She died suddenly that weekend. This woke me up to my own mortality and the mystery of this life. My wife and I decided to end our marriage, and because we shared two sons, our relationship continued in a different way. Mrs. Segal’s death left me heartbroken, but I was fortunate to have Bill Segal step in as my next, great teacher.
Mrs. Segal had so much to offer others. She inspired me to proceed even when the path seemed steep and difficult. She once pointed to her heart space and said that, no matter how wealthy materially a person may be, the struggle in here is always the same. She made clear that no one was exempt from difficulty or disappointment, including herself, but that everything was material for our work. She was a true guide—direct, unobtrusive, caring but at the same time no-nonsense. She opened doors that I had no idea existed. I am forever grateful.
~ • ~
Cora Joan Mantel was born in 1908 and spent her childhood in New York City’s North Bronx. After graduating from Columbia University with a major in English Literature, she worked as a writer, journalist and schoolteacher. In 1929 Cora married Bill Segal. In the following years, Bill founded two magazines, American Fabrics and Gentry, where Cora worked along with him as editor. The Segals met Mr. Gurdjieff in the 1940s. Cora was one of the first group leaders at the Gurdjieff Foundation of NY. She died in the summer of 1970.
Hy Varon, a retired advertising art/creative director, currently works as a sculptor in New York City and Kingston, NY. He has been a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation of NY since 1964.
 P. D. Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1950) NY: Hedgehog Press.
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Featured: Spring 2019 Issue, Vol. XIII (2)
Revision: October 1, 2019