Tilo Ulbricht, “Recollections” (Pt 2)

Chronology from 1974

In Part II, Ulbricht asks what it means to be responsible in a Gurdjieff group, especially using his experience inaugurating and running new groups, with the practical activities at Bray, and in the “Science Study” established by Skinner and Lannes in about October 1974 [78-79, also 160 on “Psychotherapy and the Work”]. He continued to travel to the USA and other places like France, Germany, Armenia, Turkey, and Ghana. In 1983 he made the first of many visits to Chandolin in Switzerland where Michel de Salzmann ran summer sessions [126]. Ulbricht also mentions being asked to help with the revised version of Beelzebub [131 and 197-198] and visiting Armenia in 1991 [199-200].

The third and final part, “Wider Responsibilities” begins my mentioning how Jeanne de Salzmann had called for large conferences at which the “more experienced members” from the various groups could come together, a process which Michel de Salzmann put into action, and which eventuated in the International Association of Gurdjieff Foundations, the IAGF [201]. During this period, Ulbricht purchased a house in La Thébaudière, Normandy, was associated in the beginning of Gurdjieff groups in Ireland and Poland. The meetings with Michel at Chandolin continue to be a feature of his life until Michel’s death on 4 August 2001 [243]. Ulbricht was made part of a large number of Foundation activities, and continued to travel, including new locations like India, Brazil and Venezuela.

The book takes a rather grim turn when, in May 2018, rumours of an affair he had had with a group member emerge [288]. He resigned from the Council but not from the Society. To my mind, the low point of this part of the saga came only three months later in August, when his wife and he attended the main Society site at Addison Crescent, when “two women left, both saying that they would not stay in the house if I was there. After that I never set foot in Addison again” [289]. The last events he notes are the death of Peter Brook on 3 July 2022 [306] and seeing a film of the Normandy property in August 2022. The last line, before the appendices, is “Will it be possible to continue my search?” [309].

I shall now select some themes to discuss. The first, and in some ways the most important, is the displacement of the Gurdjieff Work by the New Work. I shall take just one aspect in this post: the exercises.

The Exercises

Ulbricht describes two of a  number of contemplation-like exercises taught to him in his first days in groups by Lord Pentland. One was a relaxation and sensation exercise, the other involved a certain “conscious representation” (my words [9]). He states that these were “very meaningful” for him.

Ulbricht says very little about the nature of the contemplation-like exercises taught by Henriette Lannes. There is good reason to believe it was basically like the “Preparation” as set out in my 2020 volume Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation, and Exercises. This was and is basically the Collected State Exercise (actually a constellation or “octave” of exercises), with which one adds a plan for the day, and – more often than not – sets appointments for times during the day when one will try to remember oneself.

Critically, Ulbricht passes over this, but he describes the top-secret beginning of the “sittings” in April 1970 [60, noting that they had already begun in Paris where they were known as “travail au calme” (quiet work [60]). It seems that these were placed on  a more systematic basis in 1974 [78, although Ulbricht’s journalistic style leaves the difference between what happened in 1970 and 1974 “unexplained”.]

Ulbricht observes that on 9 April 1972, he asked de Salzmann about the sittings, and how Lannes had given a cautious warning that they did not “have them” with Gurdjieff [67 and also 76]. She replied, in his paraphrase, that: “… it had been part of his teaching, given to individuals or in small groups, and his method of teaching had gone through many phases. She said that the Work in the main centres …. had reached another stage, there were now large numbers of us who needed the exercises which were given in the sittings” [67]. he adds that he had raised this because: “the sittings were very important to me, sometimes the only possibility of receiving help, and I was disturbed by what Mme Lannes had said.”

Yet, he notes without comment, that when he told Lannes how important the sittings were for him, she pointedly asked him why he did not speak of them more [76]. I cannot be sure what happened in Ulbricht’s case, but my own experience of the use of these exercises suggests that the value of these sittings to people rarely if ever translates into the balancing of the faculties in life, but is more how they feel during the sitting itself. In the worst cases, these sittings feed a person with nice imaginary states.

Strikingly, he recounts Desselle’s giving in 1988 what he calls “the Baking of Bread Exercise” from Gurdjieff [179]. I shall return to this later, but it must be noted now that the exercise as reported is very similar but significantly different from the contemporaneous notes of the exercise as Gurdjieff gave it. It is one of many exercises from Gurdjieff which neither I nor anyone before now has published. I do not know who is responsible for the difference: was it Desselle, did Ulbricht make an error, or what? [see also his comment on publishing exercises at 267]. However, Desselle is also reported to have given what I would describe as a tragically simplified version of the Clear Impressions Exercise (which is in my exercises book, and was brought in its fulness by Mr Adie) [77], and Ulbricht recalls Tracol giving what I recognise as an infantilised form of the Higher Sensation Exercise [100].

Of course, my own knowledge of these exercises is at second hand, whereas Desselle did at some point join the Gurdjieff groups, but I do not have any evidence that he was there when the Bread-Making Exercise was given. The effect this exercise had on Ulbricht [184-185] invites one to wonder what a difference might have been made if the authentic Gurdjieff exercises had been exclusively used.

The comments taken as a whole indicate to me the probable correctness of the sense I have formed, that long before the sittings were introduced, the exercises Gurdjieff had taught from about 1938 to 1949 were not all used: only some of them had been retained. It was commented to me by someone who had been in the London Society at this time, that when the sitting were introduced, it was said that they were an advanced form of work, but that soon enough they were being taught to beginners, and they completely displaced the exercises which had been used before.

to be continued

There is, I sense, something special in this scultpure, I think, of Augustus. I don’t think it was produced by an ordinary artist.

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