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Ian MacFarlane Interviewed by Reijo Oksanen
I got to know Ian when he joined the so called Study Group at GIG, where his input was valuable and active. I got to know him much better when visiting his home in November last year. We drove also quite a mileage together when we visited Tony Blake in Scotland and Joyce Collin-Smith in Scarborough. This interview is written during our second meeting when attending the All & Everything conference in Bognor Regis.
Reijo: I think there are many who have not heard or read about Mr. Paul Beidler and The Search at Northeon Forest. When was the organization started and what attracted you to join it?
Ian: Paul went about his search quietly, so there isn't much out there to read about him, but I have a few references on my web site for those who are interested in his Work lineage. Paul, who was of Swiss ancestry, studied with Gurdjieff while he was working as an apprentice architect with le Corbusier in Paris. He subsequently spent a lot of time working in the middle-east surveying archaeological sites and during that time he became quite close with some Yezidis and was initiated into the teachings of Sheik Adi. He was a good friend of John and Elizabeth Bennett and was a founding member of the New York Foundation. Bennett, in his autobiography Witness, gives an account of a trip to the ruins of Babylon that they made together. He is also mentioned in Kathleen Riordan-Speeth's book The Gurdjieff Work. Mrs Bennett approached him in the mid 1980s about running Claymont, but he declined, having his hands full with Northeon and several satellite groups.
Paul was in his late 60s when he started Northeon Forest on a 50 acre forest near Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1973. I joined the group in 1980 and subsequently lived at Northeon for two years. Returning to Toronto, I continued attending Work Weekends three or four times a year at Northeon with other members of the Toronto group. I was an an active participant until 2001, when I emigrated to England with the intention of extending Paul's vision of the Work. Although Paul died in 1998, Northeon Forest continues to operate in the same location and many of the satellite groups also meet with them periodically. The continued operation is maintained by one of Paul's unique contributions to the Work, the Triad system.
I was quite by chance that I came into contact with Paul. I was a member of a small group in Toronto that had had some contact with Willem Nyland and Fritz Peters. Somehow, Paul had heard of our group and invited us to join The Search at Northeon Forest. I was immediately impressed by his depth of Being and his practical application of Work ideas which surpassed anything that I had previously learned, both in scope and depth. The main thrust of his teaching was based on the transformation of our Denying Forces by Intentional Suffering. In Beelzebub's Tales, Conscious Labour and Intentional Suffering refer to the first and second conscious shocks. Unfortunately in many groups today, Work on Intentional Suffering has succumbed to the 'disease of tomorrow.'
Reijo: I want to come back to that, but first tell me about your time with the Bennett school and Tony Blake.
Ian: Yes, just prior to joining Northeon Forest, I had travelled to England to study the Movements with Tony at Daglingworth Manor in the Cotswalds. The intensive six month period spent doing the Movements and Morris dancing under Tony's direction gave me a great appreciation of the power of sacred dance.
Reijo: I spent many years doing Movements when I belonged to the London Gurdjieff Society. What did you find beneficial in the Movements?
Ian: One of the most important things for me was the separation of 'I' from 'it'. There can come a point in the Movements where the mind lets go of its imagined control and the Movements happen of their own accord. This shows us the amazing capabilities of the instinctive/moving centre as well as separating the inner Witness from Identification with 'it'. Some of the Movements involve breathing exercises and are particularly powerful in this respect. This understanding was later to prove beneficial at Northeon Forest and in our Toronto group as I was able to assist in teaching the Movements. Of course, given the nature of Paul's Triad system of group organization, everyone eventually had the opportunity to lead the Movements sessions.
Reijo: Tell me more about the Triad system that Mr. Beidler used.
Ian: This is a very interesting and innovating aspect of Paul's method of teaching. I have not seen it used in other groups and one of the intentions behind my web site is to bring it to the attention of others. Most groups are arranged hierarchically with the Teacher in the active role at the top and the students following from below. Paul compared his group to a school of fish, which moved as one with no autocratic leader. The basic format is that the group is divided into Triads or groups of three seekers, and each Triad is responsible for the planning the inner and outer Work of the weekly meetings on a rotating basis. Thus each seeker has an opportunity to also be a teacher, as it were, and present inner Work of various types. The inner Work was based on the vast array of methods and techniques that Paul taught and many of them allowed for a wide range of creative adaptability, especially in regards to Intentional Suffering. Every three or four months, Paul would compose a new Program with a theme and suggested exercises which was used a guideline for the Triads at Northeon Forest and the other satellite groups in USA and Canada.
Reijo: Wouldn't that lead to a rather aimless and disjointed group?
Ian: That is one possible outcome of such an arrangement, of course. Certainly some sort of corrective influence is needed to keep things on track. Paul played that role at Northeon. I think that any group that tries to work with Triads needs at least one experienced member to define limits and guidelines as to what teachings and exercises are used or introduced. But this influence need not be autocratically applied at all times. It is the creative interplay between the methods and the adaptation of the experiences and insights of the seekers to them, that adds dynamism to the group. This is not to say that the Triads had free reign in introducing exercises. There were definite methods that Paul taught and as the senior member, he monitored the functioning of the Triads, but for the most part, by following the methods he taught and through internal collaboration, the Triads were self-correcting. In fact, quite often, it is the teacher who is learning the most from his group. Gurdjieff certainly learned and adapted his teaching throughout his career. Our group in Toronto functioned on Triads for twenty years with only three or four visits per year to Northeon Forest.
Reijo: Can you tell me a little more about Mr. Beidlers teaching about Intentional Suffering?
Ian: As is made clear in Beelzebub's Tales, Conscious Labour and Intentional Suffering are the two pillars of the Gurdjieff Work. Conscious Labour refers to those aspects of the Work whose aim is to develop and harmonize our three centers. Basic practices of this type are found in many eastern and western traditions. Intentional Suffering is of a different order, as it aims at transforming the effects of the organ Kundabuffer, basically egoism, so that the higher being bodies can grow. This growth is accomplished with the transubstantiated result of the reconciling force which results when we bring our affirming forces to bear on our denying forces. This process is based on the law of three - the higher blends with the lower to actualize the middle. Gurdjieff speaks of this process many times in many different ways throughout Beelzebub's Tales.
The Buddha taught that the cause of suffering is desire. Desire arises from egoism. The frustration of our desires causes suffering. We desire to be useful, admired, superior, wealthy or even spiritual. When these desires are frustrated we suffer from anger, resentment, greed, vanity, depression, etc. We can transform these denying forces and negative emotions with affirmations, leading to the reconciliations which feed our Being.
Working with the denying force in this way requires stamina, subtlety, and creativity. This is the pre-eminent area where the flexability and creativity of the Triads are useful for devising new approaches to seeing through the subtle traps of the ego and devising new affirmations for transforming the denying force.
Reijo: You mentioned your web site a few minutes ago. Tell me what is it all about?
Ian: Yes I have just launched a web site based on the Search at Northeon Forest. In it I have tried to present the teachings of Gurdjieff and Beidler as I understand them. You can find it at Endless Search. There are three main things that I wish to accomplish through my web site. One is to present an understanding of what Being is and what is happening when we do exercises that lead to Being. The second is to introduce a new format for group Work, based on the Triads. The third is to try and place the Work on a scientific footing.
My site is somewhat unique as Fourth Way web sites go. I have gone into much greater detail about the philosophy and cosmology behind the Work. I have also presented a comprehensive section about Work exercises along with their detailed instructions. I have done this because I think it is time that the veil of secrecy about Work practices is lifted. As I said previously, many of the practices covered under the term of Conscious Labour are available in other Traditions. Many of them may even be found on the Net, albeit under different names. For instance, how many Gurdjieffians know that Sensing exercises are based on an ancient Tantric practice called Nyasa?
Reijo: Do you plan to organize work in the UK?
Ian: That is certainly a possibility for the future. It will depend on the response to my web site. The Gurdjieff Work is still, 55 years after Mr G's death, relatively an unknown path to follow. If there was any response locally I would consider it my responsibility to assist in the formation a group. I would also consider assisting any other group that wished to implement Triads and Work with Intentional Suffering. I am definitely not presenting myself as a Teacher in the traditional sense but I do feel it is necessary for anyone in the Work to try and meet the demands of the Fifth Obligonian Striving.
Given the resources of the internet and the difficulty many people have travelling to groups, I am experimenting with an online group through my web site, complete with Triads and a weekly Work program.