Gurdjieff and Now - Blake, A. G. E.

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Blake, A. G. E.
The Music and Movements of Gurdjieff Possible Foundations Of Inner Exercises Gurdjieff and Now Back to Articles Home

Gurdjieff and Now
C om ing across Gurdjie ff was a wondrous m om e nt in m y life whe n in de e p une ase at be ing alive , indulging in e x iste ntialism , se e k ing answe rs in physics and be ing visite d by fe e lings and thoughts that just could not fit into the worldvie w that se e m e d to be gove rning the world, he had the appe arance of som e one who had be e n through all of it and com e out the othe r side . He be longe d with m any othe rs such as Krishnam urti – and I would add today, Be rnade tte R obe rts – who we re spe ak ing from anothe r place . Ye t he also had appe al be cause he offe re d ways of e x pe rim e nting with e x pe rie nce itse lf that one could do he re and now in the m idst of life . He raise d a ne w aware ne ss of what it was to bre athe , m ove , think and pay atte ntion so that one could e x pe rie nce som e thing of that Ze n-lik e quality of ordinary life two inche s of the ground. He brought into que stion the m ost ordinary and e ve ryday things we tak e for grante d. Today, so m uch of what he pione e re d has be com e m ore a part of m ainstre am think ing. The ide a of ‘se lf-obse rvation’ is now com m on in psychothe rapy and an incre asing am ount of atte ntion – though it is still m arginalize d – is be ing paid to the ‘discove ry’ of se nsation in bodily aware ne ss and m ove m e nt. The ide a that ‘we are a m ultitude ’ is to be found e m be dde d in m ode rn psychology. He was also a pione e r in drawing atte ntion to the de e p think ing that had tak e n place in ancie nt tim e s and his basic approach is now e choe d in m any fie lds. O f gre at im portance was his portrayal of hum ank ind as gaining – and the n losing – im portant insights into our condition and the nature of m an. His ide a of legominism was a strok e of ge nius – transm issions from the past that e ncode d im portant inform ation in ways that could only be re ad by pe ople who could bring the ir own psyche into ope ration in what he calle d ‘the re ason of unde rstanding’. The se arch for ancie nt ce nte rs of wisdom has be com e now a com m on fad, but the nonse nse that be de vils m ost of the atte m pts be ing m ade do not vitiate the im portance of this work of re -e valuating the past. The past is only one k ind of possible source of wisdom and Gurdjie ff also e x plore d the que stion of how highe r influe nce s could re ach us. His pupil John Be nne tt, with whom I had the good fortune to work for 15 ye ars, took up this challe nge in his que st for ways of com m unicating with highe r inte llige nce . The que stion of highe r m ind and how we can unde rstand this has re m aine d with m e as a m atte r of urge ncy and I took from Gurdjie ff and Be nne tt a way of approach that did not re quire m e to indulge in any appe aling fantasy. Both had firm grasp of an ‘abstract’ m e thod that was not base d on be lie f but on the living action of de e p e nquiry. Be nne tt de ve lope d this into what he calle d ‘syste m atics’ – a way of unde rstanding through num be r – but m ost pe ople who have com e to k now about this have attache d the m se lve s to supe rficialitie s and it has be com e a re alm of be lie f inste ad of a starting point, lite rally ‘a way of starting’ for the re st is up to us. Gurdjie ff is wide ly re cognize d as be ing pre tty unique in disdaining be lie f and advocating an e m pirical approach – find out for yourse lf. Howe ve r, this has be e n tak e n unfortunate ly in the spirit of ‘ve rify for yourse lve s that what we say is true ’. That is, the re is an assum ption that Gurdjie ff is right and we just have to com e to se e this for ourse lve s. The re has also be e n a te nde ncy for m any pe ople to fe e l, in front of Gurdjie ff’s e vide nt ge nius, that the y are so inade quate that the y are not able to se e for the m se lve s what he m e ans; with the re sult that Gurdjie ff has be e n turne d into som e k ind of saint or m age and acquire d an im m e nse am ount of hagiography. Along the se line s, it se e m s to m e that Gurdjie ff’s fam ous ‘work ’ has be e n turne d into a se t of te chnique s. Pe ople ge t toge the r to do his m ove m e nts, practical work , and to practice som e k ind of m e ditation or othe r suppose dly de rive d from e x e rcise s he showe d during his life tim e . Som e have gone on

Blake, A. G. E.

Anthony Blake was born in Bristol, UK in 1939. As a youth he became attracted to physics and mathematics but found equal fascination in the worlds of philosophy, history, and art. He entered university to take an honors degree in physics. During this time, he met and worked with physicist David Bohm. As a student he became embroiled in the campaign for nuclear disarmament. Graduating in physics, Anthony went to Cambridge to study the history and philosophy of science. He discovered the writings of John Bennett, a student of Gurdjieff. Tony Blake is now running duVersity.

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doing this for fifty ye ars – e ve n though the re is little e vide nce that any de e p change is be ing brought about. It is just lik e the situation of som e one be ing shown a m antra that will ‘libe rate ’ the m and afte r trying it for som e tim e ask ing why it is not work ing to be told that the y have not trie d hard e nough! I’ve always had a strong re sponse to those ane cdote s about Gurdjie ff in which he is urging his followe rs to think. In one of his m ost sple ndid talk s title d ‘connaissance ’ (Fre nch word for ‘k nowing’) he actually says that the whole point is ‘to k now’. In introducing e x e rcise s as writte n up in ‘Life is O nly R e al’ he te lls his audie nce to look into what the e x e rcise s m e an. It is an astonishing passage . In contrast, I discove re d for e x am ple in spe ak ing with a m e m be r of the Gurdjie ff Socie ty in London that the y hardly e ve r discusse d ‘the ide as’! The ine vitable re sult m ust be that we go on with various practice s, re ad various book s, but ne ve r ge t down to inve stigating what it m e ans. Me aning arise s whe n we tak e hold of som e thing for ourse lve s. W e can only do this by inve sting som e thing of ourse lve s. In doing this, we m ak e som e thing ne w. The prolific write r Patte rson has argue d that O uspe nsk y, O rage and Be nne tt are to be se e n as ‘back m agicians’ who distorte d the pure m e ssage of Gurdjie ff; but if the y did any re al work the y will ne ce ssarily have change d what it ‘is’. W im van Dulle m an, who has done so m uch to m ak e available the original m ate rial of the m ove m e nts and m usic, has pointe d out that Gurdjie ff’s re ndition of form s of e aste rn dancing we re no m e re copie s but a cre ative transform ation of the m through his own be ing into a unique form . Incide ntally, Gurdjie ff him se lf provide s a re m ark able m ythical m e taphor for this proce ss in his wondrous account of the ‘C hoot-God Litanical Pe riod’ (whe n God alm ost had to ask for he lp) that de scribe s how libe rate d souls who com e to dwe ll on the Holy Sun Absolute m ix in the ir individual vibrations with those of His Endle ssne ss, re sulting in a m ore chaotic e m anation into the unive rse ! Having m e ntione d an e x am ple from what De nis Saurat ack nowle dge d as a unique case of m ythological cre ativity – Be e lze bub’s Tale s to His Grandson – it is re le vant to m e ntion the gre at significance of Gurdjie ff’s bre ak with his e arlie r te aching to adopt a ne w way of e x pre ssing the ide as. Gurdjie ff said he hope d that his book would inspire future artists and write rs, but this has scarce ly com e to pass. Part of the significance of this bre ak was that it m ove d the ide as furthe r away from syste m atic e x pre ssion into a re alm whe re he art and m ind ne e d to m ove toge the r. Many pe ople , including m y te ache r John Be nne tt, struggle d ve ry hard to find ‘the source s’ of Gurdjie ff’s ide as. I have argue d (se e m y Pre face to ‘An Inde x to In Se arch of the Miraculous’) that the supposition that Gurdjie ff got his ide as from som e whe re in particular ne e ds to be que stione d. I se e him m ore as an e x e m plar of a m ode rn we ste rn approach in which ‘all and e ve rything’ is tak e n as a re source , drawing on the re alization that we live in a global com m unity. Gurdjie ff him se lf did not disdain pick ing up ide as from conte m porary scie nce , in spite of his e x pre sse d attitude that ‘the se m ode rn scie ntists don’t re ally k now anything’. I think his approach was that in e ve ry fie ld, the point is be ing m isse d, that we do not re alize what is re ally going on, that we do not se e the wood for the tre e s. In this re spe ct, I picture his work as lik e a doorway. Include d in this picture that we do not k now what is on the othe r side until we go through it. W e m ay e ve n find that the re was no door at all. W he ne ve r, in m y sm all lim ite d e x pe rie nce , I have caught a glim pse of the ‘othe r side ’ I have fe lt, as e x pre sse d by R um i, “W he n the y lift the lid, how ofte n the y will say ‘This is not what we e x pe cte d’.” The whole te nor of Gurdjie ff’s te aching se e m s to m e to sugge st that our ve ry consciousne ss is faulty. Krishnam urti in his wonde rful dialogue s with the physicist David Bohm e nquire s into ‘what we nt wrong in hum anity?’ and com e s up with his own alte rnative to Gurdjie ff’s kundabuffer. The buck stops he re . I can’t do anything with profound te achings unle ss I m ak e the m m y own. I ne e d all the he lp I can ge t. I ne e d to le arn how to le arn. The whole thing be com e s a que stion of how to start. This was pointe d out re pe ate dly by Idrie s Shah. Shah was one of m any te ache rs who Be nne tt took on. He provide d m ajor insights into what we m ight call the psycho-sociology of hum an de ve lopm e nt. Be nne tt showe d those of us who work e d with him that it was ne ce ssary to be able to ope n to ne w influe nce s in which ‘the te aching’ was be ing e x pre sse d in ne w ways, be cause pe rsiste nce in one old way le d ine vitably

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into stagnation. Accuse d by m any as be ing e cle ctic and he re tical, Be nne tt had a firm foundation in syste m s think ing and re alize d that close d syste m s can only te nd towards incre asing e ntropy. By tak ing in ne w influe nce s, the spirit of the se arch is k e pt alive . This has a gre at be aring on the que stion of practice s. In a way, it doe s not m atte r what the practice s are . W hat m atte rs is whe the r the y are alive. It is just the sam e with te rm inology, which is close ly allie d. If we use words ove r and ove r again the y lose vitality and the ir continuing usage be com e s a barrie r to unde rstanding. It is as if te rm s have a ‘half-life ’ just as radioactive substance s have . I say that m aybe what the practice s are doe s not m atte r, but the re are still som e crite ria to apply. The practice s ne e d to challe nge our assum ptions. The y ne e d to libe rate ne w insights. Som e have rightly said that the y e x ist to e nable us to ge ne rate an ‘inne r e ne rgy’ by which we can then se e diffe re ntly and the re by act diffe re ntly. The y can also be ways of consolidating that te nuous bridge in ourse lve s be twe e n the se e n and unse e n, be twe e n the two m ode s of consciousne ss that se e m to de fine our pre dicam e nt. But, the guiding authority in ourse lve s ne e ds to be from the ‘othe r side ’ and not from this one . Param ount in all this is the re cognition that we need to le arn som e thing that we at pre se nt do not. But this e ntails re alizing that in fact we do not unde rstand what we have always tak e n for grante d and assum e d we did. Tak e such an e x am ple as reading. Eve ryone assum e s the y can re ad and e ducationalists pontificate on the e fficacy of this or that m e thod of te aching re ading to childre n, but I would agre e with Gurdjie ff whe n he de clare d to O uspe nsk y that the latte r did not know how to read. How fe w of us have e ve r conside re d such a thing? Ye t this is a m ajor clue . W e have to be gin all ove r again to le arn how to re ad, walk , think , e tc. This for m e is the root ge nius of Gurdjie ff’s work . And it has to be borne in m ind whe n we want to asce nd into the he ave ns, into highe r state s of consciousne ss, and can be se duce d into disdaining what is at hand in e ve ry m om e nt. The re has be e n an assum ption that Gurdjie ff taught us m e thods of ‘wak ing up’ or som e such. I say that the valuable thing he taught was to pay atte ntion to what we norm ally do not. It can be said to ‘am ount to the sam e thing’ but the spirit is ve ry diffe re nt. I le arne d from Be nne tt that ‘wak ing up’ – whate ve r that m ight m e an for us – com e s from within. Ex e rcise s are sim ply ways of he lping us m ak e se nse of what arise s spontane ously. In a sim ilar ve in, Be nne tt pointe d out the im m e nse dam age done by those le ading groups who bully or ‘apply shock s’ to the ir pupils suppose dly to wak e n the m up, which in fact just m ak e s the m de pe nde nt on such tre atm e nt and obscure s the ir own inne r spirit. O ne of the m ost im portant are as of conce rn to us hum an be ings is the way in which we talk toge the r. I re m e m be r once ask ing John Be nne tt whe the r he thought that the re was an e quivale nt organ k undabuffe r for groups, as Gurdjie ff said the re was for individuals. Be nne tt adm itte d he did not k now. I raise this be cause we all m ust have e x pe rie nce s of the way in which m e e ting toge the r in groups we se e m to be lack ing in ability to work toge the r and unde rstand e ach othe r. W e re ly on le ade rs and syste m s to ‘ge t som e thing done ’ and it is a com m on assum ption that this is ne ce ssary and anything e lse is a waste of tim e . I also m e ntion groups be cause the y have playe d a conside rable part in the history of Gurdjie ff’s work . Group work is usually acce pte d as ax iom atic. The assum ption has the n arise n that Gurdjie ff k ne w about groups and ‘work groups’ cre ate d in his nam e e x hibit a supe rior m e thodology to ordinary one s. Look ing at what Gurdjie ff says about groups first, we can se e that his approach assum e d such groups had a te ache r or le ade r who was suppose d to be on a highe r le ve l than the re st. This has be com e e nshrine d in pyram idal institutions such as the Foundation, but it is also a fe ature of m ost ‘spiritual’ m ove m e nts. Hie rarchy and its concom itants of authority, ide ology and the lik e are strong fe ature s of such groups. I say that a dange rous fe ature of such groups is that no one can e ve r say what the y m e an. The re is always the fram e work . Always control inve ste d in one or two individuals. Always a se nse that what the y are about is already known – at le ast to the one in charge . In contrast with this, the twe ntie th ce ntury saw an all im portant line of re se arch and de ve lopm e nt into group proce ss, m ostly conducte d unde r the auspice s of psychoanalysis or psychothe rapy, but by no m e ans e x clusive ly. A crucial fe ature

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of this line was that it did not assume that we knew how groups worked at all. Pe ople we re actually willing to find out. It is significant to note that us the n young lads around Be nne tt k ne w about som e of this re se arch, in particular the work of W ilfre d Bion, now som e fifty ye ars old. His book ‘Ex pe rie nce s in Groups’ is a m aste rpie ce of discove ry and insight with dire ct re porting on Bion’s actual puzzle s, que stions, obse rvations and falte ring e x pe rim e nts. In fact, this line starte d way back at the be ginning of the ce ntury with such pione e rs as Trotte r who was am ongst the ve ry first to sugge st that groups have a m ind of the ir own that e x hibits phe nom e na we cannot othe rwise acce ss. The contrast is stark . O n the one hand the on-going assum ption that we k now how groups work to find out the truth by im itating what we be lie ve Gurdjie ff did. O n the othe r, to start from scratch. W hat strik e s m e with ove rwhe lm ing force is that what this line of re se arch re m inds m e of is the way that Gurdjie ff de scribe s such associations as the Akhaldan – groups ge tting toge the r to e x change obse rvations, pose que stions, do re se arch and find out for the first time what is really going on. I m ight add into the picture m y favourite characte r Be lcutassi, who cam e to suspe ct that som e thing not quite right was going on! Now, of course , m ost pe ople would say, ‘That is all we ll and good for such e x traordinary pe ople as Gurdjie ff is tak ing about, pe ople of a calibe r lik e Gurdjie ff him se lf. But it is nonse nse to sugge st that we m ight actually do som e thing lik e this ourse lve s.’ I say to that – balone y! I do not say this out of any naïve be lie f that we can just sit down and act in such an inte llige nt way as the socie ty Ak haldan. I am de e ply aware of the hazards and difficultie s of the proce ss. But I think that without this approach we go round in circle s, trying to le arn about the truth in ways that m ak e it im possible be cause too m uch is tak e n for grante d in the first place . He re we com e to a crunch point. It has be e n e x pre sse d by an associate of Gordon Lawre nce – cre ator of what is calle d ‘social dre am ing m atrix ’ – as the choice be twe e n ‘the politics of salvation’ and the ‘politics of re ve lation’. This in fact turns out to be re sonant with Gurdjie ff’s own distinction be twe e n ‘re ason of k nowing’ and ‘re ason of unde rstanding’ but that is for anothe r tim e . The politics of salvation work ing in a group m e ans that it look s for a savior, for a solution to com e in from outside , for the truth to be e x plaine d and shown. This is characte ristic of all spiritual groupings (and docum e nte d in Bion’s work ) but is also e vide nt whe n for e x am ple a busine ss organization calls in a consultant. The politics of re ve lation is ve ry diffe re nt and e lusive to de scription. In such a group, the re is no assum ption that the re is any answe r, savior, e tc. outside the group that can ‘solve its proble m ’. All that is e nte rtaine d is what can e m e rge from the group itse lf. This is a radical approach. The politics of re ve lation is lik e the old saying, ‘The re ’s nobody he re but us chick e ns’. It is to suspe nd all the be lie f syste m s and authority base d think ing that has pre vaile d for m ille nnia (possibly at le ast since what Jayne s calls the rise of the Bicam e ral m ind). It is a harrowing prospe ct, sim ilar to that salutary prospe ct of conside ring that one will ne ve r k now any m ore than one doe s right now, that this is all one has, and the n what? But the point is that Gurdjie ff’s work has be com e caught up in the pre vale nt social m e chanism s and worldvie ws that have the e ffe ct of displacing our own inne r fre e dom into attachm e nt to e x te rnal figure s and sym bols of authority, truth, divinity and so on. Inste ad of le ading back to ourse lve s, we m ay have allowe d it to be com e a way of forge tting our ignorance . Afte r all, ignorance was the gre at virtue approve d by Socrate s! It is all too e asy to forge t that we do not k now whe n our m inds are full of ide as that spe ak of how the unive rse ‘re ally is’ – if only we could quite grasp the m . He re I am hoping that the re is an e cho back to m y m e ntion of Gurdjie ff’s m ythological approach – ce rtainly just the first in the thre e acts of the Thre e Se rie s of W ritings but ne ve rthe le ss the starting point. This is not to say that all we have to do is to follow up on re se arch into group proce ss and practice dialogue and the n we ge t insight into re ality through som e k ind of back door. No. It is to say that we have to m ak e a start and que stion any approach in which we atte m pt to build from our ‘false ’ consciousne ss. If an e x e rcise re ve als som e thing significant to us we have to tak e it on and follow whe re it m ight le ad. Gurdjie ff’s ge nius has he lpe d us all catch glim pse s but it is the n up to us. W e ne e d e ach othe r, but it is painful to unde rtak e the harrowing proce ss of work ing toge the r to unde rstand e ach othe r. Ex pose d to this task in large groups, profe ssional the rapists collapse into ange r and de spair. The void

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thre ate ns our ve ry life . The re is a saying am ongst practitione rs of dialogue such as the gre at pione e r Patrick de Mare who first introduce d David Bohm to it, that we have to be ‘on a le ve l’ with e ach othe r. I have ponde re d about this afte r fe e ling in m y he art that this was supre m e ly im portant. I re alize d that what was e ntaile d was a ‘le ve ling up’ and not a le ve ling down. That a group on the le ve l was in its own spe cial way a true elite. It is only in a group of gre at m aturity that such a le ve ling can occur. It re sonate d with an inte rpre tation of ‘m e e tings with re m ark able m e n’ I had fe lt – that what was re m ark able about the se m e n was in the ir capacity just to work toge the r as e quals, rathe r than in the m be ing spe cial be ings. I furthe r re alize d – in m y own te rm s – that the re is profound link be twe e n spe ak ing and the will. O f course , this is in accord with the way John Be nne tt talk e d to us about the m e aning of will and is not a wide spre ad unde rstanding of what it m e ans. Eve ryone (m ore or le ss) can spe ak . It le d Aristotle to de fine us as ‘rational anim als’. But it m e ans far m ore . During the se m inar that was late r publishe d as ‘A Spiritual Psychology’ I ask e d him what was it that was truly e qual in all hum an be ings and he re plie d that it was the will. In re fle cting on this while first com m itting m yse lf to re se arch into dialogue , I sudde nly fe lt that the dialogue group had as its intrinsic patte rn the ‘com m union of saints’ that is, a group that participate s toge the r in will – or ‘se e ing’. It would be sad and bad to e nd with such lofty ide as without saying that, in spite of appe arance s, this can be a pre se nt re ality, howe ve r m uch we fall into the m alaise of m isunde rstanding. O the rs m ight the n say, ‘W e ll, isn’t this what we claim anyway for our Gurdjie ff groups? Is the re not always the im plicit pre se nce of the true way no m atte r how m istak e n and pe tty we se e m to be ?’ I think this vie w has m e rit but ne e ds to be gone into. I would say that we ne e d to conside r that the re is a k ind of m ysticism surrounding Gurdjie ff work groups – that le nds itse lf to proje ction and transfe re nce in re lation to any group le ade rs – which m ight be e x pre sse d by the phrase ‘in the nam e of’. The psychoanalyst Lacan use d the phrase ‘in the nam e of the fathe r’ to indicate how m e aning was structure d in us and this conce pt applie s he re . Gurdjie ff is the ‘fathe r’. And how ofte n we se e that groupings attache d to Gurdjie ff’s ide as carry with the m strong e le m e nts of fam ily structure . Pe ople actually re ve rt to such te rm inology as indicating som e thing good and profound. It is not. The fam ily is the basic group m ost of us have e stablishe d in us and it is a barrie r to be ing on a le ve l with e ach othe r. The fam ily is te chnically the ‘sm all group’ which m ost of us ne ve r ge t be yond. It is base d on e m otion and powe r. The critical factor to m y m ind is to do with com ing across what is not expected. This applie s to our ve ry se nse of ide ntity. In m y book ‘Structure s of Me aning’ I e x plore aspe cts of a k ind of ‘se lf-re m e m be ring’ that be com e s possible while be ing in dialogue and not othe rwise . Mind prove s to be m ulti-value d. It is re discove re d in dialogue and we ourse lve s appe ar ve ry diffe re ntly. Many pe ople try out som e k ind of what is vague ly calle d ‘m e ditation’ to ‘look m ore de e ply within’ but the se practice s ofte n e ntail de e p m isunde rstandings about what is within. Each one of us can tak e up som e inve stigation and the re by join the com pany of all those othe r hum ans ove r the age s who have m ade som e que stion the ir own and be com e ‘slave s’ to it, giving the m se lve s to it, be ating a lone path or in the com pany of a fe w fe llow se e k e rs (as e pitom ize d in Attar’s story of the Sim urg!), full of tre pidation. The se pe ople we re not Sufis, or anything e lse . The y we re pe ople . W hate ve r syste m the y had going was just for social purpose s. At the he art of it was just som e basic hum an contact, one pe rson m e e ting with anothe r just as they might meet themselves. The y playe d around, just as Gurdjie ff portrays in his account of the Saturday m e e tings in Babylon de vote d to the atrical im provisation. The y got lost. The y did not k now what to do. Le t us not be de ce ive d by im agination about som e place of safe ty or attainm e nt in which all be com e s cle ar and we do not have to worry anym ore ! As Zorba the Gre e k said, ‘Life is trouble . O nly de ath is not’. I m yse lf am m uch e nam ore d of Be rnade tte R obe rts who talk s of ge tting be yond God and duality but the n adds that she still has he r e x iste ntialist days! Myth is m yth and wonde rful stuff. In the Third Se rie s, Life is R e al the n O nly whe n ‘I Am ’ raise s the whole que stion of the e nte rprise . W hat is it about? W hat are we doing? W hat doe s it m e an? Soone r or late r we m ust give up on e x pe cting anyone to te ll us, though we m ust always strive to share with othe rs whate ve r re ve lations have be e n vouchsafe d to us. The Third Se rie s (strange ly re m inisce nt of Joyce ’s ‘Ulysse s’) e nds with an unfinishe d se nte nce . For m e , that re m ains the e sse nce

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Gurdjieff and Now - Blake, A. G. E.

of Gurdjie ff’s te aching he re and now.

© Anthony G. E. Blake 2004 Comments

Enjoyed your article
Thanks Anthony. Read your entire article and copied a few names for research. In a group for a long time -- Vernon Howard's. While he was around it was magnificent. Serious difficulties after his passing. Tom Tom Russell,
added 2004-10-24

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30/10/2004 20:28