George Adie

Gurdjieff International Review

George Mountford Adie


by Joseph Azize

I am going to tell you of a scene at the table with Mr. Gurdjieff. He sat down, we were all there together, he turned and asked me: “You understand what self-remembering means?” I answered him, I said: “Maybe I don’t understand.” “Ah!” said Mr. Gurdjieff, “Repeat so the others can hear.” I repeated, “Maybe I don’t understand.” He said: “From today, you are my brother.” I share that with you.

George Adie

I was present at his group in Newport Australia, when Mr. Adie said this. Hearing it, brought alive the importance of being open to the unending mystery of self-remembering, and, to an extent, the love Mr. Gurdjieff actualized. Looking back, I am also struck by Mr. Adie’s simple humility: that Mr. Gurdjieff had referred to him as his brother was disclosed quite impersonally with not a shade of vanity.

In a way, disclosure of Gurdjieff’s individual influence was Mr. Adie’s aim as a teacher. He said to me once that it is a law that the pupil cannot rise above the level of his teacher; he saw it, therefore, as his task to try to make Mr. Gurdjieff present to us as best he could.

George Adie was born in the United Kingdom, on 14 January 1901, and died in Sydney, Australia on 29 July 1989. The son of a furniture dealer, he had a typical middle class English upbringing. For example, he spoke of being taught to salute the British army while standing upright in his pram. His parents sent him to a boarding school where he used to spend a lot of time playing chess with his teachers. The family was, I think, Church of Scotland, and he had particularly fond recollections of the old Sabbaths, when people were generally quieter and kinder. The family were connected with some islands (I think the Shetlands), and he spoke in a sort of awe of the hard but extraordinary nature of the northern islands. He became (I believe) a stock broker, but gave this up for architecture. He was by all accounts an accomplished and innovative architect, having a keen sense of the living history and tradition of the art. The Mayfair firm he co-founded in England continues to bear his name.

During World War II he performed unpaid work for the army, designing barracks for soldiers and aides who had been moved from their homes. While keeping within the tight budgetary constraints, he designed dormitories which used the space economically, but allowed each man some privacy, especially while asleep. His approach was to arrange certain objects which were needed (such as tables and cupboards) between the beds rather than, as was customary, in banks at the end of the room. He had worked intensely at the job, motivated by an impulse of philanthropy, and was touched by the gratitude which some of the men had expressed.

Throughout his life he had a knack for polarizing acquaintances. Mr. Gurdjieff told him that, if he wished, he could be of considerable help to others, but his unconscious manifestations often offended. Mr. Adie mentioned this several times and I know that he continued to work on himself in this area. When he did unintentionally give offence, he was increasingly conscious of it, and quick to repair it. In the latter years of his life, I never saw him aloof, dismissive, or arrogant. In 1988, when answering a direct question of Mr. Adie’s, I found myself having to comment about one of his manifestations in a way that would have offended anyone else’s pride. But he acknowledged it as true, and in that moment digested and transformed the observation. That experience is still as vivid as this morning’s breakfast. I knew then that it would have been easier for me to dig up the Newport plateau with a shovel, and haul it away in a barrow, than to have not taken offence. Mr. Adie’s self-observation and degree of inner acceptance surpassed simple perseverance. He demonstrated a humility, a willingness to see himself impartially, and a capacity to be merciless with his own weaknesses.

The kernel of this strength and responsibility must have been with him all his life. He made a great many close friends, and some of these relationships were so deep that “friend” is perhaps too colloquial a term. While in Cyprus he formed a deep bond with the local muezzin, a leonine old Turk with a heart of honey. While Mr. Adie sat collected in his mosque, the muezzin climbed the spiral staircase of the minaret, never taking his face from him. The force of that gaze, changing direction as he climbed the spiral, was dramatic. Years later, Mr. Adie received a report from the mosque that when the old muezzin was dying, he had sat up, called Mr. Adie’s name in a loud voice that echoed throughout the mosque, and lay back down.

Few were indifferent to George Adie: most intensely liked or disliked him, or felt a mixture of these emotions. His depth of insight into others could be frightening. He sometimes imposed his ‘helpfulness’ on others and this would often provoke a resistance. We sometimes found it awkward to honestly tell him things which might embarrass us or offend him. But not telling him could itself cause misunderstanding. He was deeply perceptive, at times seemingly even clairvoyant and telepathic. He often knew when something was being hidden.

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As I review these few paragraphs I see how complex and unsatisfactory they are, with all sorts of qualifications: but how else can one report the history of such a relationship? He knew he had not “arrived”; he was still learning, still growing, still making more and more effort to be honest and sincere with himself and others.

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Several of the stories Mr. Adie told about being with Mr. Gurdjieff reflected poorly on himself. A group of students were on a picnic, and Mr. Gurdjieff was returning to join them. Mr. Adie calculated where Mr. Gurdjieff was likely to sit, and took the place adjacent. Mr. Gurdjieff did sit exactly there—but with his back firmly to Mr. Adie. It was more than a demonstration of Gurdjieff’s extraordinary sensitivity to people: the shock Gurdjieff gave Mr. Adie helped him to see how part of him was manipulative and identified with his teacher. On another occasion, Mr. Adie was proposing a toast at the dinner table, when Mr. Gurdjieff interrupted with a pleased and excited expression on his face: “Stop! Stop! Once I was on a ship, and there was a preacher sermonizing—mow, mow, mow. All this time I forget, but now—he (pointing to Mr. Adie) remind me!”

Mr. Adie had many talents. As an amateur inventor his innovations made money only for others. When he was learning tennis, he saw an old pro serve an ace. Immediately, his body knew what to do, and from then on many of his serves were aces. It is difficult to convey the sense of unusual potential one received from him. Whether it was mimicry, expounding concepts, painting, reciting poetry, repairing a tool, or telling jokes he was exceptionally capable. Also, he had a delightful sense of humour. The soft-shoe shuffle he did to the Cole Porter standard “Miss Otis Regrets She’s Unable To Lunch Today” was one of the funniest things I’d seen. He could always break the table up into roars of laughter. Mr. & Mrs. Adie

His second marriage, to the composer and pianist Helen Perkin, was a central feature of his life. It was a remarkable and powerful match. I have never seen another marriage where the partners so perfectly complemented and nurtured each other’s individuality. When they first came to his flat in 1948, Mr. Gurdjieff remarked, with surprise, that he had never seen such a pairing of different types, and had them seated where he could watch them. One incident, which expresses something of their marriage, occurred when a group of us were editing the transcript of a meeting with Mr. Adie. Over about fifteen pages, Mr. and Mrs. Adie had independently made exactly the same amendments, additions and alterations. And it wasn’t that they hazarded only a few minor alterations. It was striking; without consultation and for page after page they had each thought the inner sense of the exchange demanded identical changes to make the transfer from the spoken to the written word. Mr. Adie once told me: “Helen and I live by the Work.” It was, I think, the Work which completed their union.

He was once reading a few semi-poetical pieces he’d composed, all of which ended: “I am this, I am that, I am, Amen.” Someone asked him about that, and he replied that they indicated an experience of unity. “Do you not find,” he asked, “that sometimes you feel as if you are one with the person you love?” “Yes,” the questioner said, “I do.” “Then ordinary life gives you that,” he replied, “and we know it through the grace of being present.”

His meeting with Mr. Gurdjieff was crucial. He and Helen had been pupils of Ouspensky for more than ten years, and he had spent many nights drinking and talking with him. After Ouspensky’s death, however, no one was more alert to act on the advice of Mme Ouspensky to seek out Gurdjieff. After their first meeting with Gurdjieff, he urged others from the London group to go to Paris. He once said: “As we waited on the platform to go to Paris, Helen and I realized that we would have to work for Mr. Ouspensky.” This is a pregnant comment, including perhaps the idea that as former pupils of Ouspensky, they were still connected to him, bringing fruits of his efforts back to the source, and thus, even if in a small way, reuniting Ouspensky to his teacher. Mr. Adie also said: “When we finally met Mr. Gurdjieff, we saw that the alchemy we had spoken of with Mr. Ouspensky was actually taking place here.” From that point on, Mrs. Adie and he spent as much of their time with Mr. Gurdjieff as they could. On one occasion, Mr. Adie was even sent overseas on a personal task by Gurdjieff. He regarded Mr. Gurdjieff as his spiritual father.

He said that at their last meeting with Gurdjieff, who was then very ill, he motioned them over to his bed, and said, in a very low voice: “Angel help you, devil help you.”

After Mr. Gurdjieff’s death, Mr. Adie continued as one of the leaders of the Gurdjieff Work in England. He was in Madame Lannes’ Group One, which initially in 1950 comprised, in addition to George Adie, J. G. Bennett, Alfred Etievan, Jane Heap, Reginald Hoare, Cynthia Pearce, Basil Tilley, Kenneth Walker, and Aubrey Wolton. However, in about 1966, a severe lung condition obliged him to move to the warmer climate of Sydney, Australia.

As a Teacher in the Gurdjieff Work

In Sydney, despite an illness which gave him no respite, Mr. Adie brought the direct influence of Gurdjieff to a group which, for the last ten years of his life, numbered between 80 and 100 persons. He always said that his invalidism was a wonderful reminding factor. It provided a constant opportunity for him to be mindful of his body and his breath. His mindfulness was palpable. This was clear, even if you approached him from behind. He would sometimes sit with his head slightly lowered while he gathered his breath and his thoughts, and then, when he looked up at you, he could manifest a rare power, with fine feeling, which could support and strengthen you, even when he was telling you something unpalatable about yourself.

George Adie worked intensely with and for his pupils—leaving many of his own projects undone—to help them in their inner search. Despite considerable urging to publish an autobiography, he never began it, because, as he said, once he started, it would distract him from his work with his people. It was characteristic that he arranged ‘weekend works’ where the entirety of one weekend would be spent on intense inner and group Work, developing a theme over two days, and working practically, but the next weekend would be left completely free for personal matters, rest and recreation.

One day at one of our groups, someone was berating themselves for all kinds of imagined but unpardonable sins. Mr. Adie said: “Mr. Gurdjieff was always warning about ‘bad’ conscience. He said once “you are not tail of donkey, you are pupil of George Gurdjieff.” “And” Mr. Adie added, looking at the person who had spoken “you are a second generation pupil of Mr. Gurdjieff.”

Jane Heap once said to Helen Adie: “I wish George wasn’t so keen on the Work.” Miss Heap’s eye unerringly picked this trait out. But there was no doubt of Mr. Adie’s devotion to the Work, and he realized that he had to do battle with himself, his identifications and self-righteousness.

Mr. Adie demonstrated a tremendous intelligence of feeling. He was particularly touched by the idea and the developing reality of brotherhood. I speak here both of brotherhood of those within the Work, and also of the bonds connecting sincere people in ordinary life in the larger world. He often spoke about the generations yet unborn—was it possible to be in a state where one could actually feel love for them? Could this feeling of myself in relation to them be an influence in my present Work?

We appreciated Mr. Adie’s fine intellectual discrimination. It seemed that he could spot any inaccuracy or infelicity in a formulation. No humbug or waffle ever passed him by. I once described a negative emotion I had been manifesting and said that it had been just too strong for me. “Actually,” he said, “it’s not so much that it was strong as that you were weak.” “Same thing,” I retorted. He was quite kind: “No, not really. It’s a question of emphasis. You put emphasis on its strength, when it should more practically be on your weakness. And that relates to your understanding. All negative emotion has is momentum, but if you are there, it stops.” An often repeated anecdote in our Newport group is about the Work weekend when, before lunch, someone said in a dismal voice: “Let us remember this chicken that died so that we could eat it.” Before the entire table could turn morose, Mr. Adie said: “Better to say that the chicken lived so we could feed.”

Mr. Adie was natural and sincere in his demeanour. There was nothing wooden, affected or stylized about him, whether he was in front of groups, or at a Work weekend. The overly serious ‘Work attitudes’ one sometimes sees were foreign to him. It was always a source of suffering for him to see an affectedly glum ‘Work face,’ gazing without inner presence and with a church-going deportment. Equally, he disliked sentimentality, overly familiar greetings, and manifestations of ‘oiliness.’ Someone spoke once of making an effort to be warm to the person they’d been working with. He replied that feeling could be demonstrated by our state, the more fully we were present to ourselves, and that would by itself affect how we spoke and acted. One did not have to summon artificial ‘warmth,’ and then turn and ‘beam upon’ our neighbour. I would say that he wanted us to have a sincere inner cheerfulness, and to sense that inside each other when we met. He preferred that sincerity to conventional expressions, lest they become formulaic and empty.

He was emphatically not a blind follower of anyone, not even Gurdjieff. His thought was individual, as all real thought must be. We were speaking once about Mr. Ouspensky, and he said that it was easy to judge O. too harshly. It could be, he said, that Mr. Gurdjieff had made a mistake in respect of O. (as he often called him). Although Mr. Gurdjieff was a master, he was fallible. This was not a case of taking Ouspensky’s side. He said once that considering all the criticisms Ouspensky had of Gurdjieff, he sometimes wondered why O. had not simply asked Gurdjieff about them.

I once told Mr. Adie that there was a passage from Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous where Mr. Gurdjieff was quoted as saying something which I found most disheartening. Mr. Adie read the passage and then said: “No, it’s not right to say that, just as it’s recorded. Mr. Gurdjieff often said these things to reach one particular person on one occasion. Perhaps to stimulate them to see something they would otherwise miss. But if you then went back to him, you might learn that it was part of the truth but not all of it.” When I looked at the question in detail, that seemed apt. I had taken something too absolutely. Since then, I’ve noticed how in his writings, Gurdjieff will sometimes say something in unequivocal terms, and then later qualify it. Mr. Adie was always willing to confront such matters, and decide on the basis of his own experience. It has taken time, but I understand now, from ideas planted by Mr. Adie, that Gurdjieff did not want disciples or followers; he only wanted pupils. One is reminded of Gurdjieff’s aphorism, posted at the Prieuré, “If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless.”

Another example of Mr. Adie’s thinking and feeling was a phrase he used only rarely because of its deep value to him; it was the phrase “love the laws.” He was speaking here of the laws of world creation and maintenance. He could apply the ideas in a way which made them practical. And as all our possibilities for becoming are under law, he came to love the laws, and to speak of this in simple and unaffected terms. He had flashes of what he called the “universal adoration offered up by nature,” and, again, on the rare occasions he used this phrase it was animated, and he was humble.

In his last years, readings from Beelzebub were held three times each Work day. It might sound excessive, but in fact it was not. His regard for the book was based upon his experience of it. I can vividly recall him being moved to tears by passages in it. As Ouspensky once said to him, when he reported that a picture in the art gallery had moved him to tears: “Yes, you are crying type. I am swearing type.”

One incident which remains with me relates to something he once said to me at the end of a Work weekend in the year that he died. It perplexed me, and I asked him about it a few weeks later. He was surprized and admitted that he’d forgotten the comment and its context. He could not recall what it might refer to. Then he said: “Sometimes, especially when I’m tired, I just say things. If I do, please Work for me. Take my age and health into account, and help me by your understanding.”

When someone I loved had died suddenly, I telephoned him. He said to me: “No, nothing that has been created in the universe can ever be destroyed. He still exists. But perhaps he is passive. So there’s a question: you are still connected to him, but what is he connected to in you—someone becoming more conscious or what?”

On another occasion I went to him with the greatest problem I’ve ever had. I had to write it down because I could not speak about it, even with him. He read my letter, looked up, full of life, and said: “You see how much you need the Work?” He turned my entire appreciation of the situation upside down. I was so moved by his response and the sincerity of his acceptance that my ‘problem’ fell into perspective and became secondary.

Mr. Adie’s ill health was a perpetual struggle and required that he rely heavily on oxygen and medications but his strength of will and sensitivity to the needs of his body kept him alive far longer than doctors predicted. Characteristically, he retained full control of his faculties to the end, defying senility. His three final days were an unforgettably intense period for those of us gathered in his house. He exerted his force of will and struggled until he had achieved the state which corresponded to his wish. He remained there, in peace, for a short time, and then gently surrendered himself.

Thoughts on being with Mr. Adie

In reflecting on my time with Mr. Adie, I am drawn to ponder about the relation between teacher and pupil. I think there is a good deal in his formulation about his role as a pupil of Gurdjieff. Perhaps a pupil best conveys the influence of their teacher through the vehicle of the highest part of themselves. This would mean striving to be present to, and render passive elements of themselves which interfere with the purity of the transmission. Of course, a teacher cannot simply ape his or her master. The transmission is bound to be affected by the individual nature of the conduit. But the ideas and practices of Gurdjieff—properly utilized—make possible to some degree the neutralization of those factors which might alter the sense of the teaching. For this, the desire to mimic even Gurdjieff or his personality must be passive.

There is no doubt in my mind that there were elements in Mr. Adie which wanted to be treated as a master, something in him identified with Mr. Gurdjieff. It seems that we all are bound to be identified to some extent: but with what, how often, and to what degree? The unconscious desire to be ‘like’ one’s teacher is perhaps in lawful conformity with our ordinary psychology. This desire is probably another aspect of the impulse to copy the behavior and characteristics of others. In itself this impulse is not bad. Without it, much ordinary learning would be impossible. The danger is to not recognize this tendency and to identify with undesirable aspects of what we are copying, particularly those that appeal to our vanity. As I see it, this Work has a critical and characteristic danger, that the more the pupil attains, the more the temptation to see oneself as a teacher in one’s own right, the more danger of developing a ‘Messiah complex.’

This tendency may even be reinforced by the unique reciprocality and personal relationship which must exist in a teacher-pupil relationship. Mr. Adie said that after Movements classes, Mr. Gurdjieff had sometimes said to them: “Thank you for your Work.” Yet, who was Mr. Gurdjieff to thank others for their Work unless there was a personal element; unless their Work was to some extent for him, as well as for His Endlessness? In response to a question I asked him once, he said that Mr. Gurdjieff had been so warm that one simply could not compare his feeling with that manifested by anyone else he had ever met.

In a real teacher-pupil relationship, both can unite in their individual and mutual Work. It is perhaps an application of the principle of unity. Something objective is one, wherever and whenever it manifests. Where the relationship between teacher and student is objective it is part of what Mrs. Staveley referred to as the divine plan for conscious development. As a pupil, I did at times experience the reality of the relationship itself. As a conscious reality, I trust it—I can trust the relationship. So all opinions of Mr. Adie, mine and everyone else’s, are put into their proper place: they relate to an entirely lower level than the essentially eternal to which teacher and pupil aspire.

Regardless of his limitations, Mr. Adie passed on to us something which is incalculably precious. This is one of the mysteries of the transmission: despite our failings, the teaching can be passed on. If we faithfully apply and transmit it, the strength of the current will not be lost.

As a teacher, George Adie had the gift of being able to speak of his experiences in such a way that they could become factors in one’s own inner life—it was as if the pupil directly benefited from Mr. Adie’s own experience. He once described how he had performed some task for Mr. Gurdjieff, and found himself striding mightily along the street towards the apartment, elated about acquitting himself so handsomely. He suddenly noticed Mr. Gurdjieff on the other side of the street, and crossed over, smiling broadly. Mr. Gurdjieff, took him in at a glance and asked: “Young man, where is your feeling?” How many times have we, his pupils, heard this awakening question in ourselves?

So, this is the heart of the problem: in the matter of our lives, we must rely upon our own sincere decisions. In the end we are without guarantees, and no elder can give them to us. Just as Gurdjieff asked us not to be blind followers (although we need a teacher), so we cannot be blind companions (although we need fellows). Mr. Adie was fortunate in having someone like Mrs. Adie with him. Just as they were a great help and aide in each other’s inner life, we pupils need to help each other.

There is some sense in which the reality we call “Work” itself is One, so that all moments of Work, wherever and by whomever, are connected. One evening after a Movements class, I said to Mr. Adie that it seemed that there were other presences there, the presences of those who had worked on these Movements before. He replied: “They are present—in their Work.” And so it is with Mr. Adie, but perhaps only when we—his pupils—actualize this unique inner effort we call “Work.” Could it be that in making conscious efforts, the pupil in some way continues the teacher’s life?

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Joseph Azize met George Adie in 1981 and was his pupil until the latter’s death in 1989. During Mr. Adie’s life, Azize edited Adie’s writings and talks. Now a solicitor, he has published articles on Law and on ancient history. Azize is a candidate for a doctorate on Religion in the Ancient Near East. He is presently working on pieces about Gilgamesh, as “the guardian of the order of nature” in Ancient Near Eastern art. Azize is also studying the “Books of Solomon,” especially Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs in Canaanite and as interpreted by mediaeval Christian and Jewish writers.

Copyright © 2000 Joseph Azize
This webpage © 2000 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2000 Issue, Vol. III (2)
Revision: April 22, 2003