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Interview of Al Finn and Greg Loy
Interview of Al (A) Finn and Greg (G) Loy by James (J) Kim
(J) The first question is: how has the Nyland group changed since the time of Mr. Nyland?
(A) The biggest change occurred when Mr. Nyland died. When Mr. Nyland was alive there was a lot of stimulus from him and his presence. So when he died that stimulus went away and some people—a lot of people actually—just left because they were mainly in the group because of the opportunity to be in his presence. But what hasn\'t changed is how we talk about Work and explain Work. Mr. Nyland spent many years training people to be able to talk about Work using the exact language of Gurdjieff. He devoted his entire life to preserving the exact teaching of Gurdjieff as presented by Gurdjieff in All and Everything. Our group is directly descended from the Orage group that Gurdjieff started in New York in 1924. And that part has continued. Using the exact language—that has been sustained. The size of our group has gone up and down but the basic way we talk about Work and apply Work is the same. You can see it in Intensives like this. People who come from all over the country can communicate with each other because we have a shared language. That really keeps the group together. Mr. Nyland also insisted that we have communication between the groups around the country, different people listening to out-of-town groups and responding. That creates a definite cohesion in the way we talk about the Work.
(J) I suppose you both, with others, have taken on responsibilities after Mr. Nyland’s death.
(A) Definitely. He did not appoint anybody as the delegated successor or anything like that. He said that the elders will have to continue teaching Work and he didn\'t name them. In many traditions there is a teacher, and he passes on the teaching to somebody else. But Mr. Nyland said the elders are responsible, and while he was alive there was a lot of training. He would have a meeting and some of us had to respond to questions and then send him the meeting [tape recording] and he would listen to that and send us back a tape, telling us what he thought of what we said. That way there was a lot of intense training.
(J) Also, I suppose, as you said, people in the group back then had Mr. Nyland, to be able to listen to him as a prominent figure, and now it\'s more up to the individual person. I guess there is nobody of his stature.
(A) That\'s true. He would say that eventually your “I” is your teacher. When he was alive, he would say that the main thing is that there be a group of people working together. That\'s a new approach to spiritual development. That is, it is a group of people working together who will lead the group, not a single designated teacher. And there were endless efforts on his part to make us do various things together in order to learn how to work together.
(J) As far as the organization goes, I suppose there are two main properties or places to gather—one at the Land and one at the [Chardavogne] Barn—in the United States?
(A) Those are the largest.
(J) Next question: do your duties with the Nyland group interfere or help with your inner Work?
(G) I am going to answer a slightly wider question because I have more duties than within the Nyland group. I also publish a journal and website on Gurdjieff [the Gurdjieff International Review]. These activities provide great benefit to my inner Work but I have also observed that I get sucked into them just like anything in ordinary life and before I know it, I’m identified and not working at all. So, it’s a challenge.
(J) I was thinking something along that similar line. There was a fellow last night talking about the second and third lines of work and if it was possible to be not theoretical, but practical. As you said I become identified with these kinds of things and the question is how to balance it so that I can use it for myself.
(G) That’s right.
(A) In general, I would say that it’s been a positive influence. I have been retired now for ten years, and, so, that takes away some of the pressure of having an ordinary job that you have to go to every day. I think doing various things for the group can get a little overwhelming—you can get sucked in—can get lost in what you are doing. But in general it’s a good reminder: having responsibilities, going to meetings, responding to questions. It really feeds one’s own Work because you have to respond sincerely from your own experience; you can’t just make up something. So that’s very positive. And the last thing is, working in a group generates friction. Whether you think that is good or bad depends on what happened today. In the long run the friction is probably good for our own growth, the moment when you are going one-on-one with somebody it feels uncomfortable but that eventually leads to Work on oneself.
(G) I think of this in terms of lines of Work: one can easily let one line of Work be so self-absorbing that you let the others go, and in the long run that does not produce the results you are looking for.
(J) And so, in that sense, how do you balance it? I mean, let’s say you are working on something for the Gurdjieff International Review or something and you are really into it and so to find the balance, you kind of have to juggle I suppose or…
(G) You have to walk away from it, go to a movements class, pick up All and Everything, read it every morning, go to meetings, re-establish one’s connection with one’s Work and one’s “I.”
(J) And, would you say, in general, that having this website has been a positive influence for you?
(G) Yes. One of the biggest benefits is that I get to communicate with many different groups that have lineage back to Gurdjieff. The publication is a calling card and has provided access to these groups. I have gotten to know many people and how they think and practice Work. It’s also been beneficial because I think in a small way it has provided a form of lubrication and communication between these groups.
(A) I just want to add that the Gurdjieff International Review is very prominently placed on the internet and it gives a very responsible, solid, fair, balanced perspective of Gurdjieff’s ideas and I think that has contributed overall to the spreading of Gurdjieff’s ideas. Mr. Nyland used to demand sacrifice from us; “you are going to do this, this, and this”. And I am thinking to myself, you have just ruined my work day. And now I have to spend the whole work day not working on myself but going to the hardware store, that sort of thing where you have to actually do something for the greater group, for the greater good of the group. Or in a larger group of Gurdjieff people, sometimes, certain people would have to sacrifice their time and energy for a larger goal and aim. Mr. Nyland always demanded or tried to make us think of what’s good for the group as a whole, not for own selfish interests. So, I think that is important. That’s just background. And what Greg has done has really been helpful.
(J) That would be an example of the third line of Work, I suppose. I was also thinking about last night when you were in the position of having to respond to people’s questions. That is a big responsibility, and as I’ve heard you say before, sometimes you find yourself in a place of not knowing how to respond. I suppose that is a good place to be.
(A) Yes, then if you really don’t know, you can be in a place where you can call on your “I,” something higher to help, then what happens, happens. But eventually you have to say something. But you are in the place of being open to receiving something from a higher source, and hopefully that can help someone else. I think that the effort one has to make is to be like a channel. But I have my personality, I tend to be maybe too intellectual, and it comes out in habitual ways of talking about the Work, that’s the bondage we have. That is what we are fighting against.
(J) Sure. This question is for both of you. How has the inner Work changed for you over the years? How has it remained the same?
(A) Well, first, the thing that has stayed the same is this emotional need for something more, and the struggle against unconsciousness. There is always the struggle against our unconsciousness. As far as I can see it is not going to go away in one lifetime, and so this emotional wish for development, for growth, for one’s own inner life, that’s a constant. Yes, it may get stronger and stronger as you work more, but the struggle is definitely always there and always necessary. And when I apply Work, I think that gradually changes. Orage and Mr. Nyland extracted from All and Everything a method, starting with Self-observation and moving on to Participation, Experimentation, Conscious Labor and Intentional Suffering. There is a whole process of growth of one’s self through Work. I think we continually change—when I can apply Work, when I can be totally present to myself. The conditions in ordinary life where I can work expand as I work more and more. In the beginning it is just very simple times like when I am taking a walk but then it becomes more complicated. Eventually what’s required, and we talked about this earlier, is to become a channel for something higher and that involves knowing one’s own limitations that you discover through objective self-observations. Then being able to let go of some of that habitual stuff. We can allow for something purer to come through, hopefully, so we can be of service to someone else. It took Gurdjieff 1200 pages to write what he had to say. So it’s a large subject to summarize.
(G) My thinking is very similar. This is a difficult question to answer as all real questions are. How is my Work the same? There is a deep emptiness inside of me without Work. The Gurdjieff teaching in all its forms resonate with all of my parts. As soon as I found this teaching I knew that this was it for me. These things have never changed. However, today I am much less interested in the ideas than when I was younger. The ideas are interesting and can be exciting but over time they have become less important. Something more essential has grown up around them. Work is much simpler than it used to be. It has to do with learning how to let certain things go and feeding what remains. Also, work now has less to do with caring about my own personal self-development and more to do with coming to a place of being available to some higher energies. This is because I now know that I am not alone, that there is help available, and that when I work I am just a part of a larger process. This touches on the idea of developing an “I”, having a relationship with an “I”. It’s not so much doing something as it is learning how to get out of way, and being. It’s a classic Gurdjieff idea but it is not just an idea anymore.
(J) Do you mean something like having more impartial self-observation?
(A) Well, work experiences like impartial self-observation can change one totally.
(G) The other thing that has changed is that there is now more urgency for my Work because I see my mortality. I have limited time. This is not a new idea but now I also feel it. So that creates more voltage in the efforts that I make.
(J) The fourth question for both of you: what kinds of changes do you envision for the Nyland group in the future? Do you think that people outside of the Nyland group will be less attracted or more attracted to the Nyland group or the Gurdjieff groups in general due to the changes in the society such as technological changes? How is people’s search for meaning in their lives affected by technology? Do you see any help or interference from technology such as the internet? So, it is a question about the future.
(G) Of the Nyland groups specifically, right?
(A) It seems that the people who get attracted to Gurdjieff\'s method have a Magnetic Center that is little closer to the surface. Something in our young people is gnawing at them, that life isn’t enough as it is and they want more. Mr. Nyland would say back in the 70’s that society is getting worse and worse, and that life is more and more superficial. It is much more so now. So it is probably more difficult, but still people keep being interested. I don’t envision millions of people being interested; somehow I don’t see that. But I am hoping that the group keeps on growing. With any growth, things go up and down, we get more people, some of them leave, and it falls, and hopefully, gradually it grows, but…
(J) I suppose on a positive side, we have websites like Greg’s website, and so more information, obviously is more available because of the internet. But then as you said, such as with my kids, they, and myself included, we are more distracted because there are so much other stuff on the internet too, and so, it is like pluses and minuses. And people’s attention span isn’t quite there either.
(G) Definitely true.
(J) So, there are things to deal with, I suppose.
(G) Well, one thing that has to be understood about Gurdjieff’s teaching—which, of course, includes Mr. Nyland’s group—is that this is primarily an oral tradition. One has to work with other people. One has to be part of the lineage that exists to this day that was started by Gurdjieff himself and has passed down from person to person. This teaching cannot be replicated with technology. Technology can help propagate the ideas and can help one connect with others, but it cannot replace the oral tradition.
(G) Let’s take the Gurdjieff forums for example? That is a form of a meeting. There is a place for this type of exchange but if someone uses this as their primary or exclusive method of working with others, this will not produce the results they are probably looking for. This is not connecting with the teaching.
(J) I suppose people sometimes take the easy way out and if it’s just the internet then it’s not going to touch more of their personalities or their discomfort.
(G) It’s primarily mental. An emotional element and a physical element are also required. All three are equally important in the teaching and all three need to be developed together, harmoniously, and that can’t be done through some kind of non-personal medium. It’s just not going to happen.
(A) Can it really be done just through meetings? You need workdays, you need movements classes where you have to work together.
(J) Next question, which is for both of you, is how do you see the main differences between the Nyland group and the Gurdjieff Foundation?
(A) In my experience, the main difference between Mr. Nyland\'s group and the Foundation is in the way the method of Work on Oneself is taught. After Gurdjieff died, Mr. Nyland was one of the founding members of the New York Foundation. But later, Mr. Nyland and the other founding members of the Foundation could not agree on how Work should be taught. Because of this he felt he had no choice but to continue with groups on his own and therefore he left the Foundation in the early 1960’s.
Mr. Nyland’s method of Working on oneself is very clear and exact and based on the way Gurdjieff expressed Work on Oneself in All and Everything. Our group finds the method to be very practical. As I read more of All and Everything, I am able to verify for myself the correctness of the method being taught. Mr. Nyland also drew from Orage’s teaching in his New York group starting in 1924. Thus there is an Orage-Nyland lineage. Starting with a clear description of self-observation, Mr. Nyland describes how to go on from there to build an objective “I” and complete our Kesdjanian and Soul bodies. Mr. Nyland has left a lot of material, many meetings, tape recordings, mostly transcribed, so there is plenty of material for people in the group in Mr. Nyland\'s own words.
(G) Well, this question does come up a lot, the differences between the Nyland group and the Foundation. The first thing that comes to mind is that we have much more in common than we have differences. I think this is an important point to understand. One of the differences between the Nyland group and the Foundation is language. Our teacher was Mr. Nyland and Mr. Nyland studied directly with both Orage and Gurdjieff. So a lot of our terminology, ideas, and expressions of Work come by way of Orage. The Three Body Diagram, for example, comes via Orage and, of course, Orage got it from Gurdjieff. Besides Gurdjieff, the Foundation influences include Ouspensky, Jeanne de Salzmann, Lord Pentland, and many, many others. So there are many branches to this tree that we refer to as the Gurdjieff teaching, and these many different branches do differ from each other in many ways, even grow in different directions, but they are still part of the same whole. We are all the “results of his (Gurdjieff’s) labors.” Whether we know it or not, we need each other because each group has a different spin or understanding about the Gurdjieff teaching and we can all learn from one another if we are open.
(J) So, when the people from the different groups gather, it may be of benefit to each other, I suppose?
(A) It’s not easy. The language is sufficiently different.
(G) But a common language, I believe, is more and more coming from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, because all the groups study this book.
(J) Question: The book itself is called Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. But here in the Nyland group it is referred to as All and Everything, so how does that…?
(A) Mr. Nyland often referred to it as All and Everything but also as Beelzebub. The cover of the book says All and Everything, and the subtitle is Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.
(G) My answer to that is that when Mr. Nyland was alive, for most of his life, I suspect that Gurdjieff and the first generations of pupils of Gurdjieff all referred to it as All and Everything because that was the only book that was done at that time. Remember that All and Everything is in three series; the second series wasn’t published until the 60’s. The third series even later, so, it’s just the nomenclature.
(J) Sure. So historically, that is how it was.
(G) So in this group, it is All and Everything. Everybody immediately knows you are talking about Beelzebub’s Tales. If you are in the Foundation, most Foundation groups, not all, if you say All and Everything they think of the whole three series, and if you want to refer to just Beelzebub’s Tales, you say Beelzebub’s Tales. So a minor thing, but that is just an example of how things have evolved in different directions.
(J) Right. Cool. Good point.
(A) All and Everything is unique in that this is the first time that a spiritual teacher of such a high order has left his teaching in his own writing. I can’t say there aren’t other current living people that have done that but I can\'t think of one right now. You know, if you go back to Buddha and Muhammad and Christ, and all those, it’s all passed down verbally and then written hundreds of years later by remote descendants. And so, Gurdjieff didn’t take that chance. He actually put his teaching in the form he felt would be helpful to mankind. But to really understand Work one has to be a member of a group that is connected back to the source. The teaching is very definitely an oral tradition.
(J) I suppose there is a concern about introducing wiseacring.
(A) Yes, and it’s written in a way that you really have to be part of a group supplying the methods and when you are actually working on yourself, then some of these things that he is talking about fit you own personal experiences and they mean much, much more rather than some space journey.
(J) Right. And I guess the final question to you (referring to G) is, would you say that people can learn from being in a group like the Fellowship of Friends or is it possibly more harmful than good? How do you keep the core of truth in what you received in the Fellowship clean?
(G) Well, my wife and I were in the Fellowship of Friends for a number of years, and we learned a lot there. The members of that group were very sincere and I have a lot of respect for them. But now that I am much more educated about the Gurdjieff teaching, I realize that the Fellowship is not really a Gurdjieff group. They have adopted some of the ideas but they have no lineage whatsoever back to Gurdjieff. They also don’t do movements. The other thing I want to say is that we did not receive any harm from that group but I know of others who were not so lucky.
(A) Can I just add that such groups sort of deceive people. People think that they are learning Gurdjieff because people are very sincere but they are not really getting the essence of what Gurdjieff is teaching, in my opinion. And so Mr. Nyland always said if someone started a group who did not really teach Gurdjieff that we should have a group in the same city so there is at least a choice.
(G) And that’s the impetus for why I started the Gurdjieff International Review. In the early stages of the internet there were, and still are, many groups claiming to be a Gurdjieff group who were not and the establishment of my website was just an attempt to have something that was more authentic and reliable. And that, I think, is an example of technology put to good use, to educate, to provide options for those who can discriminate.
(A) That’s been very true. A lot of people came to our group; they checked out all the other groups on-line so they can zero in a little with their intuition on what seems to fit them. So I am seconding what Greg said about the big advantages and the dangers because it can get superficial too.
(J) What do you think of—we have talked about this before—the idea of body types? I find it useful at times but at the same time, it’s pretty much downplayed by everybody else (laughs).
(A) You mean, by body types, physical type or emotional type or thinking?
(J) That’s part of it but…
(G) You are talking about the Fellowship body types, right? Saturnine, Mercurial, Lunar, Venusian, etc. These types are rooted in Rodney Collin’s book, The Theory of Celestial Influence, and it’s a way of categorizing the mechanicality of people. In the Nyland group, it’s the astrological signs that are used, right?
(A) Not anywhere near like it was in the 60’s or the 70’s. Astrology was really big at that time.
(G) I know, but still to this day people make observations about so and so being a certain sign.
(A) It’s an unconscious way of classifying people and it’s fine, there is nothing wrong with it. It is an unconscious way of seeing certain tendencies in oneself and in grouping them, and so on. But if I think about it too much, it’s deleterious a little bit, because when I want to have an objective picture of myself, I don\'t want to have preconceived notions that are going to interfere a little bit. And so the more open I am just to being in the presence of an “I,” and just accepting what I am without trying to categorize it, I think the more I see of myself that way. And so I think it can interfere a little bit if I go overboard with this sort of thing.
(G) But it’s also useful as a way of coming to a place of understanding that we are a stimulus-response machine, and that our responses are not as unique as we believe.
(J) I guess the bottom line is, as you (referring to G) said, it’s up to us to try to wake up whether we know this stuff or not.
(G) That’s right. It’s what I said earlier, there are just so many ideas to get taken in by. These body types are yet another example.
(A) Now there is Enneagram types, palmistry…
(G) It’s all interesting stuff but I no longer have time for it, I need to come back to Work.
(J) Right. That’s all the time. Well, thank you.
(A) You are quite welcome.
Copyright 2010 Al Finn and Greg Loy
About Al Finn and Greg Loy:
Al Finn and Greg Loy are senior members of the Landhouse Group located in the San Francisco Bay Area. This group was founded in Berkeley by Willem Nyland in 1964. Al Finn has been with this group since 1966 and is today one of its senior leaders. Greg Loy joined the group in 1985. Greg also founded the Gurdjieff International Review in 1997 and serves as its publisher and sometimes editor. More information about Mr. Nyland and his groups can be found at www.nyland.org