Tilo Ulbricht, “Recollections” (Pt 4)

The New Work

Ulbricht began learning the Gurdjieff system as taught by people who knew him, and who were using most of the methods and many of the ideas Gurdjieff had brought, but later on, they introduced what is known as the “New Work.” Yet, even in the early days, some elements of Gurdjieff’s system seem to be missing or at least de-emphasised. Foremost among these is the absolutely fundamental one of aim.

As I expressed in the first of these posts, “aim” is not entirely missing from Ulbricht’s account, but it does seem to have been preached rather than practised by those who taught him; neither is there any record here of he himself bringing the idea to those studying with him.

Now, in Sydney, Mr Adie would, from time to time, have us formulate an aim (he invariably specified a fifty-word limit). He would ask that we use a full A4 sheet of paper, write clearly, with our names prominent. He would then carefully read our efforts, and make handwritten notes on the sheet. Then at a subsequent group meeting, he would bring along all of the formulations for that group (there were six small groups), and make comments, e.g. this one was not sufficiently concise to be serviceable, this one was too vague, another had not understood what an aim was, etc. He really put us on the spot. I would say that he was trying to make us animate higher parts of the mind and feeling, not to be satisfied with the lucubrations of formatory apparatus. His answers throughout the year in groups not infrequently came back to this question.

The de-emphasis on aim is a defining feature of the New Work. When I once tried to discuss it with Jim Wyckoff, he was a little embarrassed, and said: “We don’t talk in terms of ‘aim’ anymore. It’s too rigid,” or words to that effect. But he would, sometimes, speak of having an “interest.” So it is not surprising that the three comments on aim in this volume which I found [154, 156, and 210] went nowhere. Michel de Salzmann asserted that it was important, but to say it could “never be formulated” is bizarre: Gurdjieff himself discussed specific formulated aims, and the question on 156: “What is the difference between aim and suggestion?” was fruitless. To the extent one has an aim one will not be suggestible, and a suggestible person has no aim when subject to suggestion; but if there has been no effort to formulate an aim, what chance is there that the higher parts of the intellect have been exercised? And if only the formatory apparatus has moved, we have no defence from suggestion, for it is incapable of being-logical-confrontation.

I also missed much reference to struggling with the features of sleep, such as daydreaming, imagination, unnecessary talking, and negative emotions. There is a certain tendency to imagination at work here: e.g. he wonders whether Henriette Lannes, who hailed from south France, may have had Cathars among her ancestors [75], three pages later, he speculates that he may have been a Cathar in a previous life [78], and he travelled to Cathar country, but his discoveries soon flatten into speculations about the Troubadours and observations on German vocabulary [268-269]. I cannot see that he gained anything from these dreams.

But a rather more odd example of this is his disappointment that reincarnation and karma were, he says, “missing” from In Search of the Miraculous [291]. First of all, reincarnation is minimised, but it is not missing: see pp. 31-32 and 40. Secondly, Ulbricht has missed the far more important comments made when Ouspensky asked about recurrence, which would (or more precisely, could) have explained why these dreams and speculations are actually harmful. Although the quotation below is lengthy, it is relevant not only to the instant question of reincarnation, but just as much to the “New Work::

“This idea of repetition,” said G., “is not the full and absolute truth, but it is the nearest possible approximation of the truth. In this case truth cannot be expressed in words. But what you say is very near to it. And if you understand why I do not speak of this, you will be still nearer to it. What is the use of a man knowing about recurrence if he is not conscious of it and if he himself does not change? One can say even that if a man does not change, repetition does not exist for him. If you tell him about repetition, it will only increase his sleep. Why should he make any efforts today when there is so much time and so many possibilities ahead — the whole of eternity? Why should he bother today? This is exactly why the system does not say anything about repetition and takes only this one life which we know. The system has neither meaning nor sense without striving for self-change. And work on self-change must begin today, immediately. All laws can be seen in one life. Knowledge about the repetition of lives will add nothing for a man if he does not see how everything repeats itself in one life, that is, in this life, and if he does not strive to change himself in order to escape this repetition. But if he changes something essential in himself, that is, if he attains something, this cannot be lost.” [In Search of the Miraculous, 250]

Hence, I see no value in his mentioning the odd comment by Gurdjieff about old souls (the source of which is Fritz Peters). Ulbricht reports that Jeanne de Salzmann spoke of Lannes not having to come again [291]. Mrs Staveley used to smile when told of such comments, and de Salzmann and Pentland made them from time to time. Irrespective of what de Salzmann did or didn’t know, what is the point of saying it? Mr Adie undoubtedly had direct insight into recurrence, but he mentioned it to me only once in order to reinforce what Gurdjieff had said: don’t speculate about it, it can’t help you or anyone else.

I must mention that while Michel spoke of “work to repair the past, to work for ‘la chaîne’, our ancestors,” the transcripts reveal that Gurdjieff brought an exercise of that name, and specific ones for that purpose. Did Michel pass them on, I would ask, or only speak of all this?

Likewise, Ulbricht often asks whether or not people had intuitions of what was going to happen [e.g. 131]. Spending any energy on this is futile.

Almost as important is the lack of reference to systematic work against false self-love, pride, and vanity. I sometimes think that serious work against these is a sign of a real advance in the spiritual life.

to be continued

This Etruscan art may be purely natural, I am not sure, but it is striking

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