Back to Articles Home
Interview with Toddy Smyth—August 2010
KT: Thank you for taking the time to give this interview to Gurdjieff Internet Guide. I hope that it can give a taste to others of the valuable connection you have extended to me over the years.
You spent most of your adult life with Annie Lou Staveley at the Two Rivers Farm community she established in Oregon. Would you tell us how you came into contact with Work ideas and how you met her?
TS: First of all, I think it’s important to distinguish between establishing a community and establishing a work centre because often the community is taken as being equivalent to a work centre. Annie Lou Staveley did not set out to establish a community. She set out to create conditions for the people that were being attracted to the teaching at that time, so the community was a result of this and was an unexpected result. The uppermost function of the Farm was always to provide the conditions to help our work, now, and to help our work in the future. I think that it’s important to reiterate this because its very easily forgotten and it takes a fine effort to come back to the original intent for the creation of these conditions.
KT: What I understand from what you’re saying is that the Farm wasn’t established as a permanent fixture, as Mrs. Staveley’s legacy of the Gurdjieff work if you like, but that it was a response to the conditions at the time, that it was what was needed in order for people to be able to work. Once it gets rolling it gets a momentum of its own.
TS: Even when it’s referred to as ‘that’ it becomes limiting, because Mrs. Staveley’s groups started with three people reading the Tales. And it began with her need to work with others. She was working with the Tales and she understood that she needed to work with others. Like Belcultassi. And then two people came. When more people came she saw that the conditions had to change, and then when more people came the conditions had to change again. The conditions were always flowing, the conditions were always passive to the need. When buildings started going up and the school was formed, that’s when you got this great outer structure that we now call the Farm but the very heart of it is that it serves the need. So from the perspective of her vision that will always be a shifting structure.
KT: How did you come to work ideas and how did you meet Mrs. Staveley? Were the two separate or were they connected?
TS: Like with most people, you can see that thread in retrospect while it’s impossible to see it in the moment. It was through a series of accidents outside, alongside a deep disillusionment with what I was finding in my life. These two directions converged and when I actually met Mrs. Staveley there was never a shred of doubt that I had finally found what I was looking for even though I could never have told anyone what it was I was looking for. I just knew it when I found her so that when I saw her I…She often said to us: “You leave the bride at the altar and the dead disinterred.”
KT: Had you read any books or had you come across this from a more intellectual perspective?
TS: The first book that I ever read that resonated with that hunger was by Krishnamurti. I read Krishnamurti when I was about 16 and that resonated with what I was looking for but he was also one of those profound disillusionments I mentioned, because I could see no indication of how to arrive at where he was pointing to. I really gave up after reading him. I thought to myself: “If you’re not going to help us, if you’re not going to show us, then screw it!” And then I ended up in Oregon by that sequence of accidents and I met a fellow who was in Mrs. Staveley’s group. After about a year and a half, when I could smell that something was going on, I asked to read a book and he gave me Our Life With Mr. Gurdjieff by the de Hartmanns. I read the first chapter and I knew that this was it.
KT: What is your most memorable experience with (or most vivid impression of) Mrs Staveley?
TS: I remember the first time I saw her very vividly. She was pointed out to me: a car had driven up and I was told that it was hers. She was sitting in the passenger seat and I only saw the back of her head. I saw her whole posture and I knew instantly that this was an embodiment of something I was born for.
The first time that I understood that I was a disciple was when she told me to do something that I thought I was not able to do. Every manifestation of hers seemed to me to be calling us to work on ourselves. Everything about her was a call to work. And it was our work on ourselves.
The thing about her is that it wasn’t so much one event, it was this consistent, unflagging call to work. She was embodying what work was. When you would speak with her she would find the grain of work in you and she would nourish it and feed it, and if there was a big crust around that grain she’d thresh it off you. Then its up to you to start this engine over and over and over again. Ultimately I believe that her aim was to get us to start our own engines. So she had to get this engine running, to turn it on.
KT: So what happens when someone like that disappears from your life?
TS: It was the confrontation of my life. Up until that time, my life was passive to being in her presence. I did everything I could to arrange my life so that I could be in her presence. A great part of myself mistook that for work on myself, just being around her, because being in her presence changed everything. But that wasn’t mine, it was something that was given to me.
So when she was gone I saw what was really mine. Well, nothing. Hardly anything at all. That’s when work really began for me. But that’s a very frightening confrontation. Now I'm a beginner. Now I'm going to begin. And you think, well, what happened in those last twenty odd years or whatever? What has been digested? The material is there, the indications are there, the small puny efforts are there. Now something has to begin. Now is it.
KT: What do you think is the nature of the lens through which she taught the Gurdjieff Work? It requires subjectivity to pass on a teaching, it has to come through a subjective lens of some sort. I want to understand more about how it came through her.
TS: It’s a difficult question because there is this inevitable subjectivity. There is also the striving to actualize ones own individuality. I guess you could call it evolutional subjectivity. Because when that subjectivity becomes the servant rather than the master, then one’s individuality can be serviceable.
I experienced a big shock when I was quite young in the work. Mrs. Staveley had been like God to me: I felt that the whole Gurdjieff teaching was embodied in her. She was brilliant in always bringing in something new from the outside, always bringing in other students of the Gurdjieff teaching, other aspects of the Gurdjieff teaching. One day she brought Mrs. March from the Rochester Folk Art Guild to visit. She was the polar opposite to Mrs. Staveley. And yet she had that unmistakable vibration of someone that you would drop everything for in order to learn from her. That was when I realized that “Oh my God, this is about individuality,” I was not going to be Mrs. Staveley; that in fact my job was to become Toddy Smyth, which was frightening – I'd much rather try to be Mrs. Staveley.
Mrs. Staveley was infinitely kind. She had a capacity to listen to you like no one in the world had ever listened to you. It felt like “This is what love must be.” She listened to everybody like that. It was just extraordinary. She could hear you, hear that part in yourself that you could barely hear yourself because it was so hidden, so that when she spoke to you, she spoke to that hunger in you. It was like: “Someone on this planet knows.” Someone knows and you thought that you’d never find anyone that knew.
At the same time, in her kindness she was absolutely merciless. She would let slip a comment, when you needed a dressing down. She was different with each of us; she knew how to speak all of our languages.
She was incredibly brilliant. As a young girl she went to a one-room school house in eastern Washington and at one point the school master came to her mother and said “I can’t teach this girl anything more,” so in her last year in this school house they set her to reading the entire encyclopaedia, which she devoured. She had an incredible intellect. You could not win an argument with her. With the more intellectually oriented people she would go wherever they wanted to go and she’d find the question, the real question that you were longing to ask but you couldn’t, because you couldn’t find it yourself. It was all unmistakably from the arena of love. That’s why this very wide assortment of types all loved her, we were all equally touched by her. She also had a wicked sense of humour; usually you’d get her jokes a couple of weeks later.
She went to college when she was quite young and married when she was young. I think she married at around 16 or 17 to an English professor who was visiting Reed College where she’d been accepted as an early applicant. She was very well read and she was constantly trying to educate us. We were very rough-cut, coarse, hippie types. She could quote a Shakespeare sonnet, any sonnet, at the right moment, just rattle it off, that kind of thing.
KT: Where there any books or authors that Mrs. Staveley felt were more important, and were there any she recommended to avoid?
TS: Above all she saw Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (the Tales) as being the most significant influence for the future. She saw the Tales as the common language that could unite the disparate groups: Gurdjieff’s own words. She didn’t recommend people new to the work to read the Tales, but after about a year or two you embarked on your first, second, third reading and kept going. Over and over she pointed to the Tales as being the teacher of the future. It wasn’t going to be dynamic individuals.
She really understood how necessary it was for something new to come in from the outside. She was always bringing in something new, whether it was a book or a person. One of the first things that she established wherever she was, was a good library.
She usually read about four books at the same time and when she found one that was really important we’d all start reading it. There were certain authors that she avoided but her emphasis was not so much on what not to read but what to read so she would constantly refine our booklist of recommended readings. She encouraged us to read but at the same time she was merciless with any tendency any one of us would develop towards saying: “Well, so and so said this or that”. She helped us to read, to listen with a critical mind, critical in the sense of not swallowing things whole. The two things she came back to were the Tales and our own experience, our own words. She would ask: “How did you work on the task? How are you working on this exercise?” Always grounded in our own experience, relentlessly, consistently.
KT: There are a lot of young people in groups at the Farm. Why do you think so many young people are attracted to Two Rivers Farm?
TS: There are complex reasons for that. One reason is that we have a children’s school and it’s something I would consider is a real evolutional result of what Mrs. Staveley started. The teachers at the school are remarkable in the sense that they have a living reconciling factor which is always the welfare of the children. Everything that they do in the school is based on that and everything that they practice is infused with it so that they strive to bring their best to the children. It’s a very vibrant, alive work and that reconciling factor keeps the teachers together no matter how they differ from each other. There’s a real vibration at the school and you can see the result in the children.
It used to be that all the children at the school were from people at the Farm but as the school matured, people from the community started hearing about the school and wanted to send their children there. And the parents started to smell that there was something going on here, they could feel something in the teachers, they could feel the atmosphere at the Farm, and these were younger people with children. The headmaster at the school at the Farm, Karl Schaeffer, has an incredible welcoming dynamic and patriarchal quality. He’s very receptive to questions.
Another reason is that after Mrs. Staveley died, and there was the lawful diminishment, some of the individuals at the Farm asked “How are we going to let people know that this exists?” Some people took it upon themselves to go out into the greater community, into Portland, and give talks. There was a gesture of reaching out into the greater community to let it be known, so to speak, that this place exists, a place where we’re practicing these ideas and if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for, come and look and see if it resonates with what you are looking for.
KT: What kind of talks?
TS: Talks concerning a very brief overview of the Gurdjieff teaching with the emphasis being on questions and answers at the end. One time one of the musicians played some of the Gurdjieff music, sometimes the film Meetings with Remarkable Men would be shown. This attracted a core group of younger people and then it seems that this in itself, through friends of friends, attracted more younger people.
KT: In this work it is said that we have to sacrifice nothing (except our suffering), and unlike the other ‘ways’ this work includes ‘work in life.’ It seems to me that a community like Two Rivers Farm, populated exclusively by people engaged in inner work, is somewhat artificial in this respect. To my mind, this isolation resembles ‘the Way of the Monk’ to some degree. Do you think this constitutes a disadvantage? If not, how does the work at the Farm overcome this 'artificiality’?
TS: First of all, about “all that is asked is to sacrifice our suffering:” I think essentially that this is so, but I also think that that’s fraught with misunderstanding and that it’s a view from Ouspensky’s perspective. I think it’s a lot more complex. If we wish for the highest potential of human possibilities everything has to be sacrificed, absolutely everything, so I would question that phrase about sacrificing suffering and examine it a lot more carefully.
Also the Farm was never meant to be populated; the majority of the people don’t live there, which was intentional. Originally it was set up so that there would be very few people living there and part of their ordinary life responsibilities would be maintaining the Farm in between work periods, in between Sundays, which was the big day of practice of the ideas with others engaged in practical tasks. However, it is a work centre so the people that do go there come for groups and for meetings.
Also, the school changes the whole complexion of the Farm because we now have parents that are not in the work who send their children there, so there is a very direct intersect with “ordinary life.”
To begin with, there was no vision of ‘the Farm’ per se. Mrs. Staveley was here in the States in the late 60s and early 70s and through her, the Work began to attract hippies: young, irresponsible people who were into free love, ‘what’s the meaning of life – let’s drop some acid!’ hippies. She had set up the form of the work exactly in the way that Jane Heap had set it up, because Jane was her teacher. Jane had a group in London and their intersect with life was that they had a shop where they learned skills and worked with customers. Mrs. Staveley did the same thing. She started off with people learning how to make fine crafts: trains, games, children’s toys and things like that. But then she saw that these young people were unskilled and irresponsible. I don’t know exactly how she came to it but it must have taken a tremendous courage because she departed from how she was raised in the work.
She said: “These aren’t just ideas to mentally masturbate on, these are real things that you need to try. Now.” So she set some people to finding some broken-down farm, a broken-down something, and using that as an analogy of taking something broken, like us, and then begin the task of upgrading it. Like taking land that is completely depleted and putting a bunch of horseshit on it. She didn’t know what was going to happen. She didn’t envision a community or anything like that. So the Farm started as a place that people went to once a week. There were no meetings out there. Eventually the group decided to move the whole operation to the Farm, making it a work centre, just like there’s a Foundation centre and a Bennett centre or whatever.
As mentioned before, Beelzebub’s Tales has always been a very strong presence in groups. We started reading the Tales after about two years in groups and from then on every group meeting started with a reading from the Tales. One of the things that made an impression on her and that she would emphasise was: “abnormal conditions created by themselves.” And at one point she asked: “Well, if we created abnormal conditions wouldn’t it follow that we could also create normal conditions?” So that became the all-consuming question: “What are these normal conditions?” and as a result we started on the most practical, physical level: It would be normal to eat food that grew in your area; It would be normal to grow your own food; It would be normal to kill your own food; It would be normal for a community to build a house instead of hiring a contractor; It would be normal to raise children together; It would be normal to work together.
The pinnacle of that question of normalcy was to start the school. There was the possibility that we could establish balanced conditions in childhood, so that the children could have a relatively equal degree of influence of work for their minds, work for their feelings, work for their body. Mrs. Staveley envisioned the future, and she saw us pretty much as spoiled material but maybe good manure. Maybe if we could begin further back with our children, always remembering that this was not to produce little Gurdjieffians, this was to produce individuals, people who are themselves, maybe a strong, sound foundation could be established. She counselled us over and over to never, ever speak about the work to our children. Yet, to practice everything we understood when we were with them, but never ever to indoctrinate them in any way whatsoever.
So to go back to your question of isolation: I think the pitfall of this kind of endeavour is that we will automatically forget why it was started. This is partly because there is a beauty in living together, in growing your own food and so on, and because we all have an innate hunger for that normalcy. But we don’t keep asking that question: “What are more normal conditions?” Do we really understand what these conditions are? The conditions we “created” are on a very physical level. When you go back to the Tales, where Gurdjieff speaks about these abnormal conditions, for me it is becoming more and more apparent that he is speaking also of more normal relationships. If you go to Hadji-Asvatz-Troov, the Bokharian Dervish, he speaks about normal relationships between people and about how they used to greet each other “At the present time among them, good or bad mutual relationships are established exclusively only according to outer calculated manifestations, chiefly according to what they call ‘amiability,’ that is, by empty words in which there is not a single atom of what is called ‘the result of an inner benevolent impulse,’ such as arises in general in the presences of all beings in direct contact with ‘those similar to themselves.’”
It’s not that that aspect of normal conditions hasn’t been established. All of our work together has been based on this, but I think that one can fall in love with the conditions and forget why they were created. And that one might consider that while what has been created is indeed more normal conditions, there’s really a whole octave of more normal conditions. This would mean that what has been created at the Farm, or elsewhere, is an aspect of more normal conditions but it’s not the whole of it.
As a result there is a certain isolation, and I think that this is the kind that occurs with every group. Somehow we feel we are set apart, we’re special, we’re doing something that no one else is doing – all that kind of thing creeps in. One has to be vigilantly going back to the intent behind why these conditions were created. I don’t mean to dig up the roots and start all over again, but you have to put yourself under that fire. What are these conditions for? They’re there to assist work on myself. Do they? Do they help, or do I get used to them and they become a way of life, so that on Monday I always do this and on Tuesday I have Movements and on Sunday I do that and then it becomes a routine. It has to be a question.
One really intelligent way to break up that routine is for groups to exchange with each other. Because each group does it a certain way and we think that that’s the work. We speak in a certain way, a certain vocabulary is used. When we exchange with other, visit each other, we are shaken up because we have to discriminate. The conditions are conditions, they are not work. So what is my work? Again I come back to that. We have to come back to that every day. It will never be an automatic thing. The conditions will always be there but not my work.
KT: What led you to eventually leave the Farm?
TS: This is another challenge for our generation. In Gurdjieff’s time he would throw people out. This is the first generation that has carried out a form of the work for many, many years. It’s unprecedented in this Teaching because it is so young. So I think the one thing that our generation is fraught with, one of the challenges we face, is how long does one put oneself under these conditions? For me, the problem is that one thing I do finally realise with almost all of myself is that my capacity to deceive myself is infinite. So when will there possibly be a time when I don’t need these conditions to help me remember, to help me work? How could you possibly say “OK, I’m ready now, I can handle this on my own,” well, no, you can’t. So we have this great danger of becoming professionals in the work, in the sense that I go to Two Rivers Farm (or wherever) to work.
For my husband Michael Smyth and I, it was life that jettisoned us out of the Farm. It was a life situation. It was very painful and yet it absolutely had to happen. Jane Heap has a wonderful expression which is “Life is always right” and maybe you could even say that life is impeccable. It didn’t take us away from the relationships but it took us away from all the conditions.
KT: I wonder what that is when outer conditions become so impossible that everything seems to be shouting at you to change direction, to do something different. Is it contact with higher forces, or do I create this for myself?
TS: I think that we’re all seeking to find the help that we need. We know that we need it because we can’t work alone: we constantly lie to ourselves. We have to take risks and be willing to fail, and to be willing to get up and try something else. That’s what Gurdjieff did, he just kept trying and he wasn’t afraid to “fail.”
One thing I learned at the Farm was how to cook. I love to cook, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. We took turns playing the role of being in charge of the kitchen. Once, just before we left, I was head cook for a particular event and I was going around checking all the crews, seeing how they were doing, do they need a hand, do they need this, do they need that, and I found that I kept going round and round in circles and nothing was needed from me. All of a sudden I had this strange feeling of “I don’t belong here. I’m not needed here.”
It was a precursor of seeing that it was time for us to leave and to find out what we had in our lives. We actually lived at the Farm, unlike most. It was our home, our life. I go down on my knees in gratitude for every minute I got to be under those conditions, but there has to be a time when you put yourself under the raw conditions of life without all this support. For me, this was my self-initiation into work because I didn’t have any of the outer support upon which I had unconsciously began to rely. But going into raw life and kind of beginning from scratch showed me that “I have to bring so much more than I realised.” And am I up for it? Lets find out!
KT: Do you see the Movements as an avenue of study or an expression of the teaching?
TS: What’s the difference? The expression of the teaching has to be an avenue of study. And it has to be that the more I bring to the Movements, like the more I bring to anything in my life, the more doors keep opening and the more doors there are to open. Movements are a unique form for expressing almost the whole teaching in the language of feeling. But I would say the same thing about the Tales – it’s all there. Mr. Gurdjieff’s great act of love is that it requires everything from me to unlock it.
I think this goes back to the question about sacrifice, that the work demands that we sacrifice useless suffering. Another aspect of sacrifice is demand. The Movements are an image of what is required in this work, of this demand – it’s all or nothing. The work demands everything. This goes back to the way of the monk, the fakir and the yogi, we keep talking about three centres but we really don’t have a clue about what that means. I think that in the Movements one can get a glimpse of this extraordinary demand. It’s absolutely all or nothing. Sure, you can get a good feeling from Movements and have a great experience, but the demand is so much greater than that. The demand is everything.
KT: Yes, because what happens in me when I do the movements is not replicated in life, even if I think that I’m working or that I’m bringing all three centres to what I do. Its not the same.
TS: Well of course it isn’t, but it must be. We have to change our thinking. The way I work in the Movements must be the way I am in my life. That’s the template. That’s the demand. That’s how I wish to meet my life. To be in my body in my life. It has to be that. Why else are we doing the Movements? Just for 45 minutes of that experience and then it just goes out the window?
KT: I hear what you say, but it’s a fact. I cant replicate it. Yet.
TS: Well no, but I have this wonderful third brain. I have to realise that this is the task and then I have to ask: “How?” How is this going to be done? How is what I received in this Movement going to be a presence in my life? My whole life. My whole life is one big Movement.
KT: What is the nature of your Work, on three lines, now?
TS: Well, I think that again our generation…you’re asking me about me, ok me.
Like many people I was extraordinarily, gobsmackingly, lucky to accidentally meet a teacher who sacrificed, and this goes back to sacrifice, who sacrificed everything – her life, her family, her likes, her dislikes, everything – for us. And it wasn’t just for us, it boosted her work up to a new level because of our need. She didn’t complain that she didn’t have a Movements class or a group meeting to go to, or that she wasn’t getting her needs met. She served those that came after her. That’s the challenge.
We were raised with such impeccable care and it’s time to pay back. And no one of us is qualified to pay anything, but the fact is it has to be done. We are, for better or for worse, the carriers of this work into the future. And our chance for self-development is that it has to go to a completely different level – it can’t be just for me anymore. It has to be for those who come after. It’s a terrible position to be in, because you see that you are completely unqualified in every sense of the word. And yet it is what has to be done.
This is very intimately related to this question of individuality. There is another idea that runs throughout the Tales relating to the development of reason, which is that to actualise ones own individuality becomes a service. It’s not just that I want to actualise my individuality. One’s individuality is needed. And we probably won’t get to find out exactly how it’s needed or why it’s needed or if it’s even going to be used. That’s not really our business. Our business is to actualise. And to fall on our faces over and over and over again. It begins with what we see needs to be done. You know, I see some trash on the road and it needs to be picked up. And I’m the one who has to do it because I see it.
KT: So how do you pay? What do you see is needed?
TS: I don’t think I’ll get to know if I’m paying or not. But we hear in Purgatory and all throughout the Tales of this relationship of Beelzebub to Hassein and then finally we hear that to get through those gates: “ONLY-HE-MAY-ENTER-HERE-WHO-PUTS-HIMSELF-IN-THE-POSITION-OF-THE-OTHER-RESULTS-OF-MY-LABORS” and “”the highest aim and sense of human life is the striving to attain the welfare of one’s neighbour” and that this is possible exclusively only by the conscious renunciation of one’s own.” Those injunctions that used to scare me so much and which I hated when I was younger have now become the Mount Everest in front of us.
The way I approach it is that I know what it’s not. “Its not that, its not this. But lets try this.” It can be when someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. I’ll never forget when I started to participate in the group in Salt Lake and someone in the group asked “What is it about this Okidanokh in the Tales, what is that all about?” and I remember fishing in my brain and trying to bullshit as if I knew what it was. I couldn’t bear to have the woman who asked the question know that I really didn’t know. So I lied and I made up something but I also said “Lets come back to this next week.” So I stayed up almost all night, reading about it over and over, writing it down, and it started a line that’s absolutely vibrating today. But it wasn’t for me. Her question made me go into something I’d never really examined. Her question. As a result she made me see that I don’t know, I’m going to begin to find out now.
All the exercises we were given in the early years, you try them for a week and then you think “Oh, I’ve done that.” Later, you try them with younger people and you find that “No, I’ve never done this exercise, there’s a world in it.” I find that something has been totally unexamined and it forces me to go deeper. In a way we’re accountable, because the next generation can spot a fake. So you have to go: “I am a fake, but I wish to be genuine.”
KT: What do you think the emergence of different ‘lineages’ means for the Work as a whole?
TS: I don’t know. Mr. Gurdjieff had all these pupils that worked upon themselves to such a degree that the force of their work attracted many, many people. Right now the Gurdjieff work is up against everything that he warned us about in the Tales in the chapter India. If you imagine Gurdjieff coming back and dropping in to any of the groups, the Foundation line, the Staveley line, the Bennett line, we would all be completely blasted to smithereens. I think our only hope is to come back to the teacher’s (Gurdjieff’s) own words, the music and the Movements. He took the trouble, a labour none of us can imagine, to write the three series. It is significant that, when Beelzebub, having completed his task at the special conference on the planet Revozvradendr, where there was an “entire satisfactoriness” of his “present functioning of all the separate spiritualized parts” of his common presence, his wish was to return to his first educator.
I think the challenge of our generation is to reconcile what we received directly from these different lineages, whether it was from Mrs. Staveley, Mr. Nyland, Mr. and Mrs. Adie, Lord Pentland, Mme. de Salzmann, Mrs. Popoff, to reconcile the living teaching that came through an individual with what Mr. Gurdjieff left of his teaching in the Tales, in the Movements and in the music. If we just go with the tangent, with the line, with the Staveley line for example, if I consider that the line is the whole of the work, then lawfully it will diminish. In three or four generations it will have become something that will be unrecognisable even by Mrs. Staveley. Our challenge is to strive to maintain a whole. That’s a huge task.
KT: We are told in In Search of the Miraculous that SI12 is the finest energy our machine produces as it is. The transubstantiation of sex energy is also a major theme in the world’s religions. How can we talk about sex in the context of the Work, without being prude, squeamish or indulgent?
TS: We just have to begin. Mr. Gurdjieff gives us so much indication to do so in the Tales. Many of us are at the point where we know that we haven’t enough energy for work. Who of us can remember themselves for more than just a flicker? I mean genuine wholeness? So we see that the energy that’s required for this kind of work, for the demand of the attention, is the highest energy produced by the body. We’re right at that threshold where we now know that we need it. We need to understand it with our minds much more clearly and then we have a long, hard road of actualising, and falling on our faces, because if anything will destroy a group it is the misuse of sex and power. It is unquestionably hazardous. We have to be intelligent and patient, but not afraid. Mr. Gurdjieff gives us every indication to begin, starting from Purgatory, and there will be more if we begin with what he gave us.
Maybe we can begin with really understanding more thoroughly the misuse of sex energy: daydreams, fantasies. I think we can begin there and go on, but it isn’t just that either. Then we can ask: “What is a normal sexual life?” Keith Buzzell has done some fantastic work with questions like that. What is the influence of Kundabuffer on sex? Think about how a two-brained creature deals with sex. We can see what’s normal in a two-brained world. What’s the corresponding in my two brains?
KT: Which person's work have you been most impressed by? You don't need to name a name, but tell us what it is that most impressed you.
TS: I would have to say two people. Mrs Staveley was such that I couldn’t look at her and not wish to work. Every cell in her body seemed to embody work. She had this capacity to put herself in your place, the capacity to hear the question that was crying out in you that you had no idea was there. It was in the way she put a glass away, the way she went down a stair. It gave rise to the response in me: “This is why I was born.” To be. And also her fearlessness. She wasn’t afraid to put anything on the table, she wasn’t afraid to try conditions that she herself had not been brought up with. I would go to her quivering with fear and she would laugh in this most delightful way and say: “Is it really that important?”
The second person would be my husband Michael. He was magic. Infinitely kind. What I discovered with Michael was a way of working through an active and a passive that really was very vital and then to go beyond. I was privileged to work with him.
KT: Do you think that husbands and wives can be in groups together?
TS: Yes, because the husband and the wife have to address this question, or rather this aspiration, of putting oneself in the place of the other. You’re really in the oven all the time with your spouse. You’re under the broiler! The possibilities are exponential. But I have to choose work on myself over and over and over again. And refine what that means. The expression ‘to choose work’ has to be constantly evolving and inclusive of more and more and more.
KT: Yes, because it would be easy to think ‘Oh well, it means not to perpetuate an argument’. But then it becomes having an argument and knowing that you’re having an argument. It’s not just walking away from every argument.
TS: No it isn’t. Again this goes back to the first line of work, the work begins with myself, and who is there? Who is there in this argument? Then the arena really widens. Who is this happening to? Who is in front of me? We’re having this argument but who is that person? All these things happen to us but who is there inside?
KT: You say that we have this wonderful third brain. How 'should' we use it? Do you think we should study the Tales?
TS: This is another vitally important question. Just to begin with, Gurdjieff instructed us to read the Tales in a precise way, resonant with the Obligatories – one within the other; each reading built upon the other. The first reading is how we usually read, automatically, with the emphasis on the first brain. The second reading is in relationship with other: other in myself and literally others, with the emphasis on the second brain. Only then, with the third reading, do we "try and fathom the gist." It is important to distinguish that Gurdjieff didn’t say that we should study the Tales with the third reading. He said to try and fathom the gist. That is a very precise and important phrase.
I think in general that when we first meet the work, through our first observations, we realize that we lie to ourselves, make up things, deflect things and wiseacre. And because we see that, we’re afraid to work with the Tales because we know that we’ll get off the track. Because of that fear we discard the whole thing and settle for passivity rather than active receptivity. That’s being cowardly. We have to try to use all parts, including the third brain, which, when functioning properly, is the hunter, the searcher for meaning.
Nor can you say that the emphasis in the third reading is only on the third brain, because we’re working to become truly three brained. With the third reading it is all three together. It helps to remember that the definition of active mentation in the Tales is the “equal degree functionings” of moving, feeling, thinking.
And we have to not be afraid of failing. I equate this with the work for self-remembering. If we had the same attitude for striving to remember ourselves, then we would have given up long ago. To dismiss efforts to engage the mind for fear of wiseacring is like dismissing efforts to remember ourselves for fear of forgetting. We keep trying. It’s the same thing with the Tales.
Don’t turn it into a thing that you put on a stand with candles and worship from afar. You have to engage with it. And you sweat and you suffer. More and more people are working with the Tales together, you read together and you search together. And everyone who struggles will always find something. To me it’s the most single act of true love, because if you struggle you will receive. He didn’t keep it for himself. Because we have to struggle it will become ours.
For example, what I keep getting in those long sentences is that Gurdjieff is asking for us to hold more and more simultaneously. We want to break it into parts, and think “Oh, I’ll take this part” or “I’ll take that part.” But you can’t take a part, you have to keep expanding, and your capacity grows, so that you can hold more and more. At the very end when he is speaking about Reason-of-knowing and Reason-of-understanding, it’s such a vast idea that he spells out, all the cards are on the table, and you’re asked to hold so much simultaneously. That is the demand. Ultimately the meaning is in the whole, not in the pieces. And the whole is so much bigger than we in the beginning have capacity for.