Themes I, by Annie-Lou Staveley

Part One: Mrs Staveley

Mrs Staveley was an extraordinary woman: there is no doubt about that. I was at her Two Rivers Farm between 1 and 18 January 1996, if memory serves me well. It was an intense period. Her presence was palpable. She raised the level. The Farm was more awake, it was more a Jerusalem, because she was there.

I made that trip because, first, a bewildering experience had struck me one night, and I felt a need to understand it. Secondly, I was confused: I could not deny the reality of what Mr Adie had been and brought, but that was disappearing from the group, and little in our international contacts was so very reassuring. So were the Gurdjieff groups following merely another philosophy, just another set of ideas and practices, their attraction depending upon people like the Adies who would have been special with or without Gurdjieff? I knew I lacked understanding and that my life was at a crossroads. The understanding was needed now, or the moment would pass.

I recall, quite vividly, sitting opposite her in her library after about ten days there. She is telling me that when I had arrived she had thought: “Oh, no, he isn’t another office type, is he?”, but that she had been able to see that I had other possibilities. She said that I should not put too much trust in my head. It was not that the head would always be wrong, although those were not her words, it was more that it was tempting to have too much confidence, and to expect of it achievements which it was not fitted for and could not attain to. I trusted her. I told her of my experience. And she understood. She answered it with wisdom. Everything which has happened since then has proved to me not only how right her answer was, but how kind, how generous and how gentle. It was as if, while answering, she sent me a force from herself. That was a communion.

I recall with freshness, being in the Farm kitchen with her one morning, a day or two later. Someone had read a passage from her Memories with Gurdjieff. All around were her pupils. Mrs Staveley made a move for the door, and it was time to leave the warm and head into the sharp air.

Suddenly, my mind was passive, and I was being led by another part of me. You know how, so often we seem to be seated in the eyes and the head? You know how “head” seems to be subject and “body” object? All at once it was reversed: head was object, and somewhere in the body was subject. Yet, the head was working: it was ticking over like a dial on the dashboard, but it was beneath the gaze of the driver. I knew, I am not sure how, but I knew at once that this experience was only possible because of her presence. Had I been privileged to share in her experience? Or had higher hydrogens, localised in her, passed to me, drawing me a little higher, and that higher state had brought about a different internal alignment?

Here was evidence of what she had told me about the mind, but from a completely unexpected perspective: the head was not actually needed to walk out of the kitchen, to see what had to be done, and to do it. There is a consciousness which is beyond or above or behind our ordinary thought – I don’t know which word to choose. But she had it.

From that moment, I never have had another doubt about the unique value of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. Of course, my understanding of their relationship to Christianity has deepened, but I am utterly certain that there is a good deal of irreplaceable value in that heritage. However, discrimination is needed. And how could one imagine that discrimination might not be needed?

Part Two: Themes I

 And now, after very many years, I have been reading, once more, her unassuming little book Themes I. I see now how deep it is. There is an extraordinary wealth of sound practical advice here. It is practical, if one has a wish to confront oneself, and to work. I have this desire for being which seems not to leave humanity alone, but I am not able to actualise it because of internal resistance. Alright. Put into practice, the ideas here could enter as the harmonising factor. That is, the themes, if sincerely applied, help me to approach these forces within me: affirmation and denial, and to use them the way that a craftsman uses his tools, with understanding of their roles and properties.

Too often, I think, we try, perhaps subliminally, to knock the resistance out of the way, to overcome it. Mrs Staveley has a happy knack of being able to show what the resistance is, with great clarity, and to indicate how to use it for conscious purposes.

I will take just two examples. Consider what she writes under the heading “Objections”: “… I object to the way someone speaks or dresses or moves. Now I am going to turn that around and not exactly praise what I object to, because that could easily be hypocritical and in any case would be superficial …” (Themes I, 37)

What Mrs Staveley positively prescribes is … but perhaps it is best that you read it yourself, if you are interested. Otherwise, it would be too easy to form a hasty judgment on the basis of my writing, which is of a lower level. What I am drawing attention to here is the precision and clarity with which she paints this picture so truly, identifying so accurately something I have sensed but never been able to articulate. Yes, we should not just praise what we object to, and yes, when we hear that done we can sense that something is wrong with it. Mrs Staveley has named exactly where it misses the mark: hypocrisy and superficiality. The point is that these qualities, hypocrisy and superficiality, exist within myself. And if I can admit that, then I can use them like an electrician, for they manifest the denying principle which I need to incorporate into my efforts.

The other theme I will mention now is “The Moneychangers in the Temple” (34-36). Mrs Staveley looks at the mundane and ordinary reading, and dissolves it with higher understanding: “What is the temple? It is me, my body. And Jesus Christ represents the highest part of myself. … It is all or nothing. If Christ is to come to this temple of myself then there can be no buying or selling” (35-36).

Mrs Staveley is not reducing the cleansing of the temple to an allegory. She is not denying it as a historical event. She is finding the typology in it: my body is the temple. And again, she has performed “Djartklom” with her understanding: she separates out the affirming and denying forces so that they can be placed in conscious relationship, and the third force enter.

It is a shock to see those words: “It is all or nothing.” But they need to be confronted. Better, I need to confront them.

Part Three: And then …

The experience in that warm kitchen, that chilly January day a little more than twenty years ago, was only possible because I was in Mrs Staveley’s presence. I am sure of that. But equally, I am sure that because that experience took place in me then, it can take place again. Once the channels have been opened, once you have peered inside the door, you bear the trace.

Mrs Staveley was a most hospitable lady. She was wise.

Joseph Azize

8 August 2016

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