It was 23 May 2007, almost ten years ago to the day, when I met Madame Solange Claustres in her Paris apartment, not far from Notre Dame. I have never forgotten her, or ceased to thank her for her kindness to me. I even wrote to her recently, but then today, I learned that she had died over a year ago.
It is odd, because just yesterday I had been examining the galley proofs for my next book, The Constantinople Notes of Boris Ferapontoff, and I paused for a while over the dedications page, offering my homage to Annie-Lou Staveley, John Lester and to Solange herself.
She was a great woman, and to use that overused phrase, she was a great soul. This news makes it all the more imperative that I use the material she gave me, not least an internal exercise from Gurdjieff of great power.
I can never forget how I asked her about a difficulty, and her first words were that everyone had that difficulty. This was such a help because something in me had felt I was a monster to have such problems. Also, realising that of course every person has this issue, it helped me to see that the arising of the difficulty was lawful, and so the harmonisation, too, would be possible in accordance with law.
Then she explained to me that one should look on the “dog” (the irrational and neurotically unbalanced guilt-ridden attitude) from above. See it, from above. And seeing it, love it, for the function it came into being to fulfil. But now that function has been achieved. This guilt is no longer needed. This lesson has been learned. The dog may go now, lie quietly, and even pass on. Then she gave me the exercise from Gurdjieff.
As I write, I can see her dark but fiery eyes. I relive what it was to be in her presence, her sensing and knowing where she was and what she was about. There was an intensity about her. There was also a kindness, a deep kindness which only wanted to help what was true in me.
There is a story about her, told to me at second hand, about how a woman met her and gushed: “O Madame Claustres! I am so honoured to meet you!” And Solange replied: “That won’t last long.”
It would be unreal not to mention how hurt she was by many of the people at the Foundation (the Institute in Paris). I have one story to tell of that: when I read her book, something in it so struck me that I was shocked into being relatively awake for three days. For three days, I was man number 4. Someone from the Foundation in London was visiting. He was on the Council there. I have decided not to name him for two reasons. I will mention only the second reason: it is because his name does not matter, what counts is the principle that status and position do not make the man. I started to tell him of this experience, a minor miracle, and in his self-important way he interrupted me to say that “one has to be careful with Solange”. I asked him if he had read the book, and he portentously replied, no, he had not, but others on the Council in London and in Paris would agree with him that “one has to be careful with Solange”. That ended that conversation. He had no curiosity about the experience of inner work I was reporting, he was identified with the fact that it was Solange whose writing had helped me. I know that this attitude of blind opposition pained her. She gave her life and her considerable talents for something higher than herself. And the opponents did not see their role in her sometimes pained reactions.
It is a very sad anecdote, but it is absolutely true, and the point is that conscience must never be suffered to be silenced, even for “authorities” in the groups. And Mme Claustres spent her life learning and striving to be true to conscience.
And so, today I learn that her body has been buried in peace. May the Lord receive her soul, and may she serve Him, with her diligence and fire, as a saintly cosmic individual.
Joseph Azize, 9 May 2017