“The Plan Is Good: Selected Writings by Annie Lou Staveley, A Student of Gurdjieff”

“The divine plan is the never-ending wish of the Creator for the evolution of being.” (54) With this volume of posthumously collected ideas, we may follow Mrs Staveley as she explores this great theme, in clear and simple prose. The pieces were composed for herself and for the benefit of others: mostly for her direct pupils, sometimes for visitors whom she accompanied along the path, but always with a thought for those whom she knew would come after. The aim and purpose of these compositions was that the goodness of the plan might be exemplified in life on earth, through our being-efforts. And that, of course, means that we bear responsibility for applying the wisdom recorded within these pages to our own lives.

To facilitate that, the contents have been carefully arranged in a sturdy and substantial volume, on good quality paper of a shade and texture which absorbs excessive light, and has been spaciously presented in the most legible of fonts. There is one modest photograph of Mrs Staveley on the dust jacket, with a snapshot of her life and work, appropriately giving centre place to the Gurdjieff Work (one particular and, I would say, powerful means for assisting the divine plan, if the authentic ideas are studied and the authentic methods used).

There is a helpful foreword by Karl Schaefer, an anonymous note “About the Author,” and two tributes at the end. The introductory material is concise, providing the minimum needed context for the 260-odd pages of Mrs Staveley’s thought. The latter is arranged in four sections, “Early Days,” showing how she came to be a pupil of both Gurdjieff and Jane Heap (and something of what that entails); “The Gurdjieff Work,” articles and pieces exploring the foundation principles of the Work); “Two Rivers Farm,” being compositions for practical purposes in connection with the life of the Farm (the centre for the practical study of the Gurdjieff Work which she founded outside of Portland, Oregon); and finally “Farm Groups.” The latter consists chiefly of Sunday addresses, striking a key note for the day’s efforts, and other pieces to assist by providing a broad perspective on the Work, Work on oneself (the first subdivision of this section) and with others (the second).

I could hardly overstate the significance of hospitality for Mrs Staveley, and how it manifests not only in the Two Rivers Farm, but perhaps even more so in these compositions. She had tasted something noble and good, full of feeling and warmth, at Gurdjieff’s table and with Jane Heap. She believed, and she demonstrates here, that the Gurdjieff legacy is accessible to all of us, at whatever level we are, and in whichever state: it only needs the effort to approach, fearlessly. In “Aim and Wish,” as much an oracle as a text, her final advice was: “Do not be afraid. No matter what happens around you, or to you, don’t be afraid. The plan is good.” (55)

The specific value of these compositions, I would say, is related to her view of Gurdjieff, namely, that he “did something that none of the other teachers in the world today – at least none that I have come across – have done or are doing. He gave techniques which, if followed, would enable the individual to come to a place in himself from which such an effort (or non-effort if you prefer) would be possible, and convinced you that only you yourself could and must carry out the arduous preparation over a long period. This is the Work. This is his legacy.” (32)

Sadly, too often, people become despondent because the Work seems too hard. Mrs Staveley knew, however, that the something which is possible for us more than repays the effort, and brought a sane and balanced optimism to the Great Work: “If I can begin to change my thoughts – my values, my attitudes – my life will begin to change.” (43) This is related to her wise approach to the question of despair, “the unforgivable sin.” (202) She wished, with a genuine being-wish, to share what she had received.

She had received and wished to share her unquenchable hope. In this respect, it is, I would suggest, of the first importance for any spiritual seeker, to grasp that our denying features are, to an extent, the result of how we once necessarily were, but that need has passed, and we can consciously outgrow those features: “The baby is total self-importance and of course has to be so, it has a right to that. Nothing else is possible. … Little by little the perceptions of the baby expand … (until) a wise parent begins to train the growing child in such a way that essence can begin to develop. … (So that, gradually) the ‘being of a responsible being’ has come to the threshold of maturity.” (212-213)

There is much here I could dwell on. I was quite struck by the piece “Criticism of Others.” No matter how many “higher” experiences we have, how many visions and revelations, until we can make passive in us the tendency to criticise with negative emotion, I doubt that we can know, as we should, the positive feelings which a balanced person was designed to have in his common presence.

At the beginning of this review, I wrote that “the pieces were composed for herself and for the benefit of others …” What I had in mind was that her insights are set out as compositions, in the strong Latin sense of a compositio, something placed in order. These pieces were, for her, a means of work – and I do not mean that in some trite way. I am not concerned to persuade anyone, but I say that I am convinced that this lady had a functioning mental body, and in her composing, she strove to allow that body to be active, the carnal body to receive and write, and the astral or kesdjan body to reconcile. Thus, insights of a higher order, were put in place, retaining some of their power, virtue, and integrity, even on this lower plane.

“The Plan Is Good” is available from https://tworiversfarm.org/two-rivers-press


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