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3.1: Doorway to the fantastic: a very brief history of the fourth way

The Fourth Way is not an invention of Robert Earl Burton, although Robert Earl Burton’s version is.  The Fourth Way emerged from the teaching of George Gurdjieff, an Armenian Greek, brought up in the cathedral city of Kars in what is now eastern Turkey. Gurdjieff, according to his own account, gathered around him a small group of seekers of wisdom, and came back from Central Asia with the System. Gurdjieff taught his version of the System in Russia where he was joined by Russian writer and thinker Peter Ouspensky. Whereas Ouspensky was an intellectual, Gurdjieff was rather an unashamed trickster (read for example The Material Question in Gurdjieff’s Meetings with Remarkable Men ). Gurdjieff claimed that he had learned the System from a mysterious monastery in Central Asia, the Sarmoung Brotherhood, which has never been identified. He presented what he had learned in a bizarre nomenclature that was probably of his own devising, in which there are traces of Greek and probably other lang

2.4: Inside the Fellowship: Under a starry sky

I remember particularly my last-but-one visit to Apollo. It was late summer. My days were spent volunteering: sometimes in the kitchen but more often moving chairs and tables for outdoor events in sometimes sweltering heat. I would also attend Robert’s events, not only meetings but also dining events.  For all of Robert’s events one would dress formally. There would be teaching breakfasts and teaching dinners at which smaller numbers of students were served excellent food by other students while listening to Robert talk. Relatively little food actually got eaten because it was understood that one did not eat while someone else was talking. Robert would do most of the talking, supplemented by occasional contributions from students when we felt called upon. Somehow a magical atmosphere of peace was created from the moment one arrived. A student would be handing out glasses either of sparkling wine or orange juice depending on one’s choice, and one would wait under the palm trees, talking

2.3: Inside the Fellowship: Impressions of Renaissance

I first travelled to Apollo, then called Renaissance, within a year of joining the Fellowship. The property is a large area of hills and a few small lakes in a remote part of northern California. To get there the only way is by car, and it takes about six hours. I hired a car from San Francisco airport and used a map supplied by the car rental company combined with sketched instructions from one of the London Centre Directors. In those days there was no sat-nav. I passed over the Oakland bridge, on through low hills and then a long journey in the flat rather drab landscape which is mostly farming and vineyards. Then the landscape changed to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, climbing up through hills laced with conifers and scrub, eventually passing Collins Lake shortly to reach the small town of Oregon House, then off the main highway towards the property. In those days it was traditional that Fellowship students from around the world would travel to Renaissance in September for the

2.2: Inside the Fellowsip: Centre Dinners

A practice regularly observed in my early days in the London Centre, but later fallen into disuse, was the Centre Dinner (dinners with the Teacher, however, continue in Apollo). One could participate as a server or as a guest. My first experience was as a guest. The idea was to create a fine dining experience. There would be a freshly ironed linen table cloth and a small centrepiece of flowers.  The guests would be greeted at the door and their coats hung up, and then ushered into the living room where pre-dinner drinks would be served. Meanwhile other students would be working with food preparation, serving and ‘restoration’ (clearing up). Once the guests were seated and before the start of dinner one of the serving students or one of the diners would read a poem or other inspiring text. Everything would be done very intentionally. Courses were served to the left of each diner and empty plates taken from the right. I do not know if this is normal in high-end dining but it was supposed

2.1: Inside the Fellowship: Meetings

Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth. —William Blake In my early days in the Fellowship there were up to twenty members in the London Centre, and new students came and went fairly often. I attended meetings about once a week, which were held in what was called ‘The Teaching House,’ a rented house in a pleasant suburb of London. The rent was partly paid by students who lived there and partly by contributions from other London members.  We sat around the room usually in a circle and there would be a vase of flowers placed in the centre of the room. Someone would lead the meeting, usually supported by another student who might or might not say anything. There would be a Work topic, and meeting leaders had a free choice as to what they would talk about, although it was always about something in the fourth way as understood in the Fellowship.  Often the topic would have been announced the week before so that students could make personal observations prior to the meeting

20: True and false personality

According to the System we are born without personality, which the Fellowship calls false personality. As babies we are in essence: intelligent but guileless. Personality is a mask through which we deal with the world and behind which we hide. In Grimm’s fairytale of that name, Maid Maleen refuses to marry the man her father the king has chosen for her. Instead she is in love with the true prince. To prevent this marriage the king locks Maid Maleen and her maidservant in a stone tower with sufficient food for seven years. The true prince rides past and calls her name, but she cannot hear him because of the thickness of the walls. In the terms of the fourth way system, Maid Maleen could be seen as essence seeking the fulfilment of her full potential, represented by the prince. The stone tower represents the protection from the outside world by personality that essence hides behind. A catastrophic war follows in which the kingdom is laid waste apart from the tower itself. What prompts M

19: Voluntary suffering and unnecessary suffering

  Voluntary suffering does not mean wearing a hair shirt or self-flagellation. It means not kicking against the goads. Things are what they are. What we wish to change we can try to change. What we can’t change we must learn to accept. But to complain about what we can’t change is just a waste of energy, and creates additional turmoil inside us which is rightly called unnecessary suffering. Complaining is a negative emotion, resentment is another. In modern parlance it is ‘could-have, would-have, should-have.’ It is weakness. If you could have but didn’t, let it go. Start from where you are. The present moment dissolves the idiocies of the past, not so as to repair them, but so as to avoid repeating them. Always consider your aim—what do you want to happen? What will happen if you express what you feel—will things be better or worse? Will it matter a year from now? Ouspensky claimed that there is nothing noble, beautiful or strong in negative emotions. There is a nobility and strength

18: The non-expression of negative emotions

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other fellow to die. —Anon. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. —Matthew 5:44 One of the first exercises we were given in the SES was not to criticise. This seems odd when criticism is so normal in everyday life, and indeed constructive criticism is often essential. We even sometimes ask for it, then summon up the courage to listen in silence and take it, if we are strong enough. It is one way (mercifully not the only way) to learn and grow. What I think was meant by the exercise was rather to eschew criticism in the sense of mere negative commentary. There is a big difference, for example, between saying, “That child will never be a dancer because she’s too fat,” (a comment heard in relation to a girl rehearsing for an end of term performance) and what could reasonably have been said instead: “Look at her e

17: Identification

We tend to get absorbed into things—ideas, beliefs, feelings of personal injustice, why that person pushed into the queue while I was waiting in the sandwich shop, that the newspaper edited out the crucial sentence in my letter to the editor and made it worse by committing an apostrophe error, and so on. I am enjoying the cake so much I practically become the cake.  In order not to be swept along by events in this way a little objectivity is required. I am not a ball in a pin-ball machine. Avoiding identification, or at least being able to jump out of the system when finding oneself in a pin-ball machine, is about being a full human being. We don’t need to get involved in the idea of trying to be higher beings in order to see the sense of this.

16: Inner considering and external considering

I remember, fairly early on in my membership of the Fellowship, freeing myself just a little from a state of psychological imprisonment. In those days some meetings were held in a rented room above some shops in Cricklewood Broadway, North London. We were sitting in a circle in a rather plain room with grey wall-to-wall carpet. I remember the carpet because I was staring at it, not feeling able to make eye contact with anyone. Something that I had learned or absorbed made me realise that there was nothing to fear. I don’t remember exactly what freed me from the fear of looking up. Perhaps I understood, as I did later, that no-one was judging me, or if they were then it was not my problem.  The idea that someone is judging us is called in Ouspensky’s terminology, inner considering. Inner considering, that is, worrying about what other people think, or even what they might have thought as a result of some incident long ago and that they have since long forgotten, used to haunt me. It sti

15: Mantras

The effect of chanting a mantra, internally or aloud, is to displace thought. Mantras are not a feature of the fourth way as I understand it, but the silent expression of work ‘I’s, short sentences or words whose aim is to help awakening, is intended at least to replace useless thoughts with useful ones.  In the Fellowship, Robert Burton invented something called ‘the Sequence’ which was or is a string of six singlesyllable work ‘I’s strung together and works much like a short mantra. While I found it moderately useful some of the time, it would get in the way of being simply present, and its main use was to abandon it once one was in the moment. Doing exercises is not an end in itself, but being present to one’s life is. In the fourth way the central and original technique for freeing the mind from useless associations is self-remembering.  In the SES a sitting mantra meditation was used, which one does for twenty minutes twice a day. It is the transcendental meditation introduced by

Call Time

  An additional post to clear up a misunderstanding. Ironically, after I had decided to leave the Fellowship, I saw confirmation from Influence C in a number plate: "CA11TME" - Call Time on all this nonsense. The irony of course is that I no longer believed that Influence C were the disembodied spirits of past conscious beings. Here they were signalling to me about their non-existence.  Apophenia is the human tendency to see meaning where there is none.

14: You are not your thoughts

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. —1 Kings 19:12  You are not your thoughts. Anything that can be observed is not the observer.  Ouspensky wrote somewhere that we are not responsible for what we think, only for what we do. It is possible to have fears or fantasies that we might do this or that which we ourselves recognise as cruel or criminal, or self-accusatory thoughts which come into our minds unbidden and unwanted. How can we work with such thoughts?  Anyone who has had recurrent unwanted thoughts or urges will have found that trying to get rid of them simply makes them stronger. It is near-impossible to stop thoughts by an act of will: it is like the instruction to stop thinking of elephants. Even the apparently simple exercise of trying to stop thoughts for one minute is almost bound to fail.  There is indeed a place of peace when unnecessary thoughts settle like dust after the rain. You have to go about it

13: Third state, self-remembering and mindfulness

In my experience it is the case that third state exists and is accessible to anyone who wants it. It is also my experience that the ability to enter the third state improves with practice. The use of it is to be able to step back a little way from situations in which one finds oneself immersed (or better, entangled—in the term Ouspensky used, identified), to gain a little objectivity.  Third state does not abolish real pain. However it puts one into a different relation to it. The experience of discomfort at the dentist does not go away through self-remembering, but somehow the acceptance of the pain puts one a little more in control of one’s feelings about it. Just the pain without the imagination. This also applies to inner emotional pain: one acknowledges it rather than trying unsuccessfully to pretend it isn’t there or struggling with it like Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.  Third state is also a place of peace, as mentioned by Peter Ouspensky. Some in the school used to make a disti

12: States of consciousness: first, second and third state

  ‘Higher’ states of consciousness were regularly explained and demonstrated (up to a point) in the introductory meetings I attended, and occasionally led, at the London branch of our fourth way school. Up to now I have put ‘higher’ in inverted commas because it is a commonplace that altered states can be produced, for example with alcohol, without there being anything ‘higher’ about them (other than being pleasant). The desire in humans for altered states is almost universal. Some cultures that ban alcohol permit tobacco and coffee, for example. Children sometimes play the game of spinning round until they feel dizzy, or the trick of squatting, nose-holding against expiration (Valsalva) and then suddenly standing up, to produce a momentary pre-faint. In the ’60s hallucinogens were popular with some groups of people. According to the fourth way, at any rate as I was taught it, some drugs can give you a taste of higher states but these states are not permanent, they do not belong to y

11: The mystery of consciousness

Consciousness is mysterious and occasions a lot of debate among scientists and philosophers, since on the one hand the prevailing scientific consensus is largely materialistic, and on the other there is no consensus as to how the flow of information in the brain can give rise to the sensation you have of being you. We can understand how to explain atoms in terms of hypothesised quarks, and chemistry in terms of atoms and quantum mechanics. Then we can begin to understand biochemistry in terms of chemistry and, on the next level up, the mechanisms of living cells in terms of biochemistry. But to try to explain cell biology in terms of quarks would be absurd. To explain the life of a complex animal in terms of atoms would also be absurd, since a whole new explanatory language is required at each level. Even so we accept that in principle there is a chain of relationships from life all the way down to the subatomic level. Whether we could in principle extend this chain of explanations up

10: Exercises and failing at exercises

The School had various exercises which changed from time-to-time, designed to interrupt the automatic and mechanical functioning of the mind (or ‘the machine’ as it was referred to).   Once I started to follow the Fourth Way, for a long time I fought feelings of inadequacy and guilt that I could not remember myself consistently or do the prescribed exercises (like remembering to keep my feet flat on the floor while dining). After a while I realised that the exercises are merely tools—there is no merit or demerit in doing or failing to do the exercises. I was doing the work for myself, so other people’s opinion didn’t matter, and in any event, for the most part they couldn’t see whether I was doing the work or not. Succeeding or failing is irrelevant: the point is to awaken in the moment. In the words of the late, great physicist Richard Feynman, “What do you care what other people think?” A further point, well made by others in the School, is that the moment you realise you have ‘fa

9: A state of hyper-vigilance

On a discussion forum an ex-student once criticised the whole idea of self-remembering. Why would one want to be in a constant state of hyper-vigilance?  A senior student once led a meeting in which he invited us to consider that he did not know how his foot got from flat on the floor to crossing his other leg, as though this were a problem, something to remark on. On reflection I am content to let my body do stuff without asking my permission every time, within reason.  To me, self-remembering is not a state of hyper-vigilance but a state in which one may rest in gentle alertness if one wishes to. Hyper-vigilance is more related to an adrenaline-fuelled state of ‘fight-or-flight,’ and I can quite see why trying to be in such a state would be uncomfortable.  There are clearly pitfalls in the fourth way work (known as the Work), opportunities for misunderstanding. This ought to be one of the reasons why the Work is carried out in schools, so that students can be mentored and misundersta

8: Self-remembering

Remember yourself always and everywhere. —G. I. Gurdjieff Remain attentive at every breath. —Gudjduvani Self-remembering is at the centre of the System. In In search of the miraculous, Ouspensky quotes Gurdjieff as follows: “Not one of you has noticed the most important thing that I have pointed out to you” he said. “That is to say, not one of you has noticed that you do not remember yourselves.” (He gave particular emphasis to these words.) “You do not feel yourselves; you are not conscious of yourselves. With you, ‘it observes’ just as ‘it speaks,’ ‘it thinks,’ ‘it laughs.’ You do not feel: I observe, I notice, I see. Everything still ‘is noticed,’ ‘is seen.’ . . . In order really to observe oneself one must first of all remember oneself.” (He again emphasized these words.) “Try to remember yourselves when you observe yourselves and later on tell me the results.  Only those results will have any value that are accompanied by self-remembering. Otherwise you yourselves do not exist in y

7: Basic ideas of the fourth way

The little essay that follows is a summary of the key elements of the fourth way.  Shortly before I left the School, but when I had already decided to leave, I was asked by a student at Apollo to write something for the London Centre Fourth Way Facebook page. I demurred, on the ground that I had very little to say. As my time in the School went on, I felt I knew less and less. I felt that many of the contributions of others were simply repeating old and stale material, much of which we had stopped working with long ago, and the Facebook page even mentioned J. G. Bennett and others with whom the Fellowship has no connection. If the School was about anything, it was about being present to each moment, it was about simplification in which the old stuff was no longer relevant. The student persisted, and I wrote the short essay reproduced here. My intention was to write only what I felt I had verified. I wanted to emphasise the requirement of verification as a piece of clear advice to peopl

6: An early warning

Not too long after joining, a fellow student told me that one senior student in the early days of the school had given up her children in order to be with the Teacher. This struck me at the time as utterly incomprehensible. This was told to me in the context of explaining how students at the beginning had to put up with far greater difficulties than we had to, in order to create the school. They had to live in very rudimentary conditions in order to establish the property at Renaissance (Apollo), for example. We who came later were the beneficiaries of their efforts, their payment for us. I knew no details. I did not know whether Robert Burton had asked her to give up her children or whether he knew anything about it. She was not in the London Centre, and when I met her much later in my time in the school, it never seemed like an appropriate question to ask. There was no place for children in the early days of the school.  This alone should have been a warning to me. But I compartmenta

5: In search of the miraculous: the Fellowship

Some nineteen years later I was working on a painting project that required great accuracy. I was painting a straight line. Suddenly, for reasons that are not clear and without looking up, I became aware of my surroundings other than just the paintbrush, and there seemed to be more light, although nothing in my surroundings had changed (I was actually in the garage). I put my attention on the point where the working surfaces met, as taught in the SES, and the line proceeded straight. A thought intruded, the feeling of presence was lost, and the line wavered also. Although this only lasted a few seconds, the thought then came, ‘I must find people who know about this,’ and that if necessary I would return to the SES and start all over again. That is how I found the School. I had an old bookmark for ‘Gurdjieff-Ouspensky Centres’ in one of my books. I remember phoning all the numbers on it—some were dead, some had been reallocated. One of the last ones I tried was a number in California an

4: How I came to be in an esoteric School: SES

When I was thirteen years old I formed in my mind and heart the very definite intention to find out the meaning of life. That was how I expressed it to myself then. I remember exactly where I was at the time, at the top of the school playing fields during a break. The possibility that it has no meaning other than what we give it had not occurred to me, or if I had come across such an idea, I dismissed it. Some years later I remember a teacher at university pouring scorn on the idea of wanting to know the meaning of life, regarding it as simply a naïve phase of youth that people grow out of. For my part I regarded that attitude in turn as simply the ignorant fossilisation of old age. Maybe it was because my life had been quite painful at times and I felt there must be something better, but it was at a time in my life when for me things were actually going quite well. The most miserable year of my life was when I was ten years old, and this was not noticed by my parents, however they had