Gurdjieff International Review

Lawrence S. Morris

Charlotte Wheeler


awrence S. Morris (1894–1992) graduated from Yale University and served as Chief of Cultural Exchange in the U.S. Embassy in France. He was an active member of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York from 1950 until 1970 when he left to follow the mystical branch of Islam. His interest in the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff dated from the 1920s, and in the 1930s he spent some time with Mr. Gurdjieff at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau, France. He also studied with A.R. Orage. A transcript of a talk he gave in Sacramento, California in 1968, A Way in Life,[1] was published by the Lake Press. The talk was for an audience of people newly interested in the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff and is an example of his clarity of thought and expression speaking to assembled groups. Here is an excerpt from that talk that resonates as much today as it did then, over 50 years ago:

A real civilization—which surely ours is not—draws its nourishment from some central view of the nature of man and his place in the universe. When that is in a people’s blood, not just in the philosophers’ minds, every vital function will be organically related to every other. It is from such a central view that, in older civilizations, even the simplest people, often illiterate, drew a wiser understanding of life than our urban cleverness can give.

In our day we have also suffered a great barbarian invasion, this time from within. For what, after all, is barbarism if not the absence of any such understanding of life as a whole, and in consequence, the inevitable resort to violence? It was said long ago in China that when Tao is lost there is kindness, and when kindness is lost there is justice, but that when justice is lost there is the beginning of chaos. We usually blame this on anyone except ourselves. But what if violence is the very condition of our present consciousness?

The truth is that the outer world is merely our inner world thrown on a large screen. This crucial fact is almost always overlooked by those who draw up plans for a new and better society. The outer changes they dream of presuppose an inner change in us. So, the real question is not, “What kind of society should we organize?” but, “Is an inner change possible?”[2]

My initial contact with Mr. Morris was as a member of a small group he led at the New York Gurdjieff Foundation in 1965. My then husband and I had moved to New York City from Washington, D.C. where we were members of a group there studying the ideas and methods of G.I. Gurdjieff. Hugh Ripman, who was the leader of the groups in Washington at that time, referred me to Mr. Morris in New York, saying that he had “the Gurdjieff experience.” I was new to the ideas as well as to the New York Foundation.

A few strong impressions stand out from that time. The first is that from the beginning the silent demand was to sense the body, to be attentive and to remember ourselves. One evening, the atmosphere in the room where we were all sitting was such that I had a strong sensation of myself that lasted for the entire meeting. Something that perhaps was unique to Mr. Morris was that sometimes he would speak for the entire hour. I found it a bit annoying as it was not possible to bring our questions, but it never failed that at the end of these meetings something changed inside. It was an effort to sit still, to listen, inside and outside, for an hour. The demand to be present, to be there, was not spoken of, it was in the atmosphere. I cannot remember if Mr. Morris ever told us about his time with Mr. Gurdjieff. He gave us a love for the Work through how he was, his being.

Mr. Morris always invited us to participate in the celebration of Mr. Gurdjieff’s birthday on January 13th. One year it was held in a tent at the country place belonging to the Foundation. He came to us at the beginning of the evening to say that there was not room at his table for us, that we would be sitting with Peggy Flinsch. It was disappointing but ended up being illuminating for me. I learned later that Mr. Morris and Mrs. Flinsch were at the Prieuré at the same time—a long association. That evening, we saw a wonderful Japanese drama presented with Bunraku life-size puppets. A group had been studying the play and more importantly the movement necessary to tell the story. I did not know anything about Japanese drama, but I asked if this was Noh. I was told it was not in such a way that I have remembered it until now.

Mr. Morris also made a point of inviting me to meet with the group with Mme. Jeanne de Salzmann who came from Paris to visit New York every winter. He told me to listen with every part of myself, which, of course, was most difficult. Nevertheless, we worked with her once a week when she was in New York.

My more personal contact with Mr. Morris was mostly during the time we were living in New York City. My then husband and I were living on East 25th Street as he was working as a resident at Bellevue Hospital at the time. Mr. Morris lived a few blocks away on East 19th Street, so his house was within walking distance. I did not visit him often, but his warmth and generosity of spirit never failed to lift the burden that brought me there.

We would meet in his book-lined study with its large windows. He was always relaxed and light, and would speak about this and that, telling stories. In one he described a young mother visiting with her young daughter. He told it in such a way that I could almost see the child sitting on the floor. I remember hearing joy and almost wonder in his voice. We never spoke about the difficulty that brought me to see him.

Mr. Morris left the Foundation in 1970. It was a sad day for me. At the beginning of my last meeting with him, Mr. Morris quoted the following aphorism composed by Mr. Gurdjieff that was on the ceiling of the Study House at the Prieuré: Conscious love evokes the same in response. Emotional love evokes the opposite. Physical love depends on type and polarity. This was the only indication he gave me of the reason why he was leaving the Gurdjieff Foundation. I sent him a Christmas card a year or so after he left, and he wrote back that I needed to study the Gurdjieff ideas. In essence he was telling me not to contact him anymore.

I was able to visit him twice more. Once at his new address in the East 50’s in New York City where I was surprised to find myself part of a group of other visitors from the Gurdjieff Foundation. He had told me of his wife’s difficulties resulting from a series of strokes. He told me that she could be convinced that she was on fire, burning. An obviously terrifying experience for both of them, an unimaginable suffering for him. He told me this in his simple way without the slightest hint of self-pity. After she died, he remarried. I was told she was beautiful, and I was happy for him.

The second meeting was arranged by one of our former group members who had stayed in touch with Mr. Morris since he left the G. Foundation. One day in the late winter of 1984, she encouraged me to come to her apartment to see Mr. Morris who was staying with her while his wife was being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

When I walked into the living room of the apartment, the room was filled with light coming through the south-facing windows. Mr. Morris was sitting on a sofa in front of the windows. I immediately felt a strong emanation from the area of his solar plexus. The sun had been “created” in him. I was surprised when he greeted me using a name that I had wanted to be called in grammar school. It reminded me of one of the stories in Mr. Gurdjieff’s book, Meetings with Remarkable Men, when the young Gurdjieff met someone in a café who called him by a name he had in his childhood. One of the first things Mr. Morris said to me was in reference to my first marriage. We had never spoken about the difficulties I had experienced during those years, and I felt a quiet gratitude for his observation. He told me he was very old, though he did not seem so old to me. He may have been 90. We spoke about this and that. After hearing that I was living in New Jersey, he reminisced about the time during the First World War when soldiers marched down the New Jersey Palisades to Closter Dock where they boarded ships to take them to the front.

When it was enough, I drove Mr. Morris to the hospital. The last thing he said to me was, “Read Beelzebub.”

In April of that same year, my oldest son died as the result of a car crash. Mr. Morris called me almost immediately. By then he was living in Rockland County, NY to be near his Sufi master whom he had joined in 1970. We lived not far from each other but for some reason unknown, I failed to visit him again.

I remember Mr. Morris’ lightness, which he maintained through all of his difficulties; he was never overbearing or oppressive.

As a postscript, a few years ago my late husband and I received a spiral bound book of copies of Mr. Morris’ notes on A.R. Orage’s 1927 and 1931 lectures on All and Everything, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. At the end of the collection are some examples of Mr. Morris’ beautiful calligraphy, such as the following:

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I felt that, even though Mr. Morris left the Foundation, he never left the Work. He got what he needed for his own individuality. □

Charlotte Wood Wheeler was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois, graduated from Skidmore College, received an Advanced Certificate in Landscape Design from the New York Botanical Garden, and practiced as a garden designer for 25 years. Her first husband was English but was raised at Franklin Farms, Mendham, New Jersey. His parents were close to the Ouspenskys. She has been an active member of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York from 1965 to the present. She works with the Movements and with groups. She married the late Pierce Wheeler in 1999.

[1] Lawrence S. Morris, A Way in Life: The Teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff (2006) Tusten, NY: The Lake Press.

[2] Ibid., p. 2.


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Revision: January 1, 2021