Friday, October 7, 2011

Jerry confesses...

...and I misjudged him because 'What is God?' does indeed contain a new departure, hinted at in previous books, but now made explicit; namely, Needleman's indebtedness to Gurdjieff and 'the Work'. An indebtedness that is both intellectual and practiced with a group led by one of Gurdjieff's own closest associates.

This is fascinating because Gurdjieff is one of those people who have been loitering around my own intellectual space without ever coming under close scrutiny.

At one time, I read Maurice Nicoll, one of his circle, with great interest because he had been lent to me by a very close friend and because he was my beloved Edwin Muir's short-lived psychoanalyst. I read A.R.Orage for similar reasons - he was Muir's friend and first literary supporter - though both met Muir before they went to study with Gurdjieff.

But neither 'took' as it were - I did not find myself wanting to go deeper (at that time) and if I were honest it was because both appeared 'too dry' and exceptionally humourless, (as indeed had been those practitioners of 'the Work' that I had hitherto met -and I confess to loving Leonora Carrington's spirited sending up of such people in her 'The Hearing Trumpet').

But Needleman's account is deeply interesting and moving. He returns to a fundamental question about 'attention' - the transformative nature of true, deep attention, what would have been called in the Desert tradition of the early Church, watchfulness - that creates a space in our minds that enables us to be genuinely vulnerable to the truth - of ourselves and of the world. Such attention is a gift, hard to obtain, and we are diverted from seeking it by paying more of our attention to the contents of our consciousness rather than its quality.

Needleman makes an excellent pitch for 'the Work' as a critical way of developing this 'deep seeing' so that we can genuinely begin to discover 'I am' my presence, my essential humanity.

I expect I may have another look at Nicoll at least - I rather like the fact that my copies once belonged to J.B. Priestley. I had bought them from a bookshop in Stratford upon Avon that his widow, Jacquetta Hawkes, must have used to prune his library after he died

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