Allen Roth on Sherborne, Pt 3

As we draw to the end of the course, a poignant note emerges, e.g. in the report of how Bennett hoped that the morning exercise would produce a reservoir of energy upon which they could later draw (95).

In chapter 16 we come to the higher being bodies:

Developing a higher being body was, strange to say, the most tangible part of the Sherborne curriculum. Bennett likened the process to a ten-month pregnancy, where a ghostly interior can begin to coalesce, take shape:

“The ‘body kezdjan’ (Turkish kez, vessel, and Persian jan, soul) is a measure of our interior substantiality. This second body is no more than a ghost or shadow. It exists in the world of energies … The lower extremities of this world overlap the ‘material’ world. This is the level that spiritualism is concerned with. It is a state of existence which is only a dreamlike replica of physical existence, but without the physical world to set its limits.”

“To be in that world can be a pleasant experience, as it can be a terrifying experience, because we can meet with things in that world that are the thought-forms of one’s own life. All this is more or less available to investigation, and people have attached a good deal of importance to it because they believe it proves survival beyond death. But what kind of survival and what value it has, they don’t ask.”

This is followed by quite an important story, which directly relates to the book I am writing on Bennett: sometime it seems in the 1950s, Bennett was approached by one of the leading spiritualists in England, a man who had had experiences. He told Bennett that he had concluded that spiritualism could only lead to a certain limited point beyond which he could not penetrate, but he now knew that what mattered to him was what lay beyond that point. That is, he had proved to himself that something survives death, but “that kind of survival is not at all what I was looking for when I began this search.” (98)

Roth then relates what he has understood about the second being-body, and how Bennett had told them that:

it can develop intelligence, but without a will to regularly rouse this passive, second being-body out of its trance-like quasi-existence, it experiences no further growth. No continuous education. (98)

He then notes that said that man does not have a soul:

But he has something which takes its place. It is like a cloud that travels in different parts of him, and wherever this cloud happens to be, there is his centre of gravity. In the other parts of him where it is not, there is a feeling that nothing there matters. If it is in the head, everything in the head matters and the body and the feelings do not. Because it cannot be in all places at once, we have a division of centres in ourselves. (98-99)

By February of 1972, Roth reports, they knew each other well enough to understand the value of mutual acceptance of all that they were and had. But this did not mean that there were no problems, or that they were the possibility of negative emotion. He writes: “Mr Bennett met emotional explosion and general craziness with calm and astute perspective … He met frivolous displays of emotion or personality with cold disdain.” (100)

I will not give the details, but an interesting story is told of a woman who had a sustained manic episode. Bennett saw that she was in a state where the “lower nature” could not “bear the soaring flights” of her “higher nature,” and found a way to usefully employ her energies without direct opposition. (100-102).

At this stage, Roth says much of his own experience. Perhaps the high point for me was when he wrote: “Bennett was not teaching a technique: he was showing us how to surrender to God.” (107) This is doubly significant because I think the same thing can be said about Gurdjieff.

Incidentally, the reference to “pregnancy” in the quote from page 98 was not accidental on Bennett’s part: the period of the course at Sherborne was “necessarily attuned to the time it takes to prepare a baby – or fix the work inside oneself.” (112)

The final chapters are subdued and touch some rather poignant notes. I will end with an anecdote by George Cornelius. If it is to be believed, it is a sign of what is possible through work. He had met and worked with Gurdjieff. He was sent to Turkey, where he became so sick it was feared he would die. In his delirium he saw a photograph of Gurdjieff – and I must say I wonder how that came to be unless he had brought it with him – and had them hang it in his room (although he was in delirium?). Be that as it may:

George leaned forward and looked straight at me: “All of a sudden I heard him speaking. His voice sounded just like a wind whistling in iced-up telephone lines in the winter – you ever hear that sound? – and said: ‘Not worry, American, you not die.”

George’s delirium broke during the night. All he could remember of the past days was the vivid transcontinental reception of the voice. As soon as George was able, he returned to Paris to relate his unusual tale. Packed into Gurdjieff’s apartment were the customary visitors and hangers-on, making private talk impossible. But he found himself seated next to him for the supper. The first words to him from Gurdjieff came abruptly, like a little thunderclap inserted between two moments: “You believe now, don’t you, American? I say not die: not die.” (115-116)

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