This article is taken from James Opie’s recently published book, Approaching Inner Work: Michael Currer-Briggs on the Gurdjieff Teaching, Portland, OR: Gurdjieff Books and Music, 2011, pp. 31–33. The book is available at: “www.gurdjieffbooksandmusic.com.”
Meeting another day in a main building at the Farm known as “the barn,” I asked Mr. Briggs what he had learned about inner work from Madame de Salzmann in both Europe and Afghanistan.
He lit a cigarette and for a moment said nothing.
“You touch on a quite sensitive question. Decisions related to sharing more advanced oral teachings are fraught with challenges. On the one hand, a person with access to techniques and special materials naturally wants to share them with others who may benefit. It is like having a key to a room filled with treasures. A generous person with such a key has many friends and, without thinking much about it, wants to share these riches with them. But, does the treasure really belong to him? Is it certain that access will benefit his friends? How is the person who obtained a key to sort out these questions?
“Mr. Gurdjieff’s teaching is not simply for ‘development.’ Diseased cells also ‘develop.’ As Madame de Salzmann frequently reminds us, this teaching is for ‘harmonious development.’
“Without a balanced preparation, a student may gain exposure to specific practices in ways that strengthen existing imbalances, rather than illuminating and moderating them. A person whose level of self-knowledge is rudimentary, but who is unaware that this is so, may, on hearing about advanced facets of the oral teaching, automatically seek and expect access to them. If the person can be helped to see attitudes at work within him and question what is pulling the strings, both he and the person helping him may take a forward step. Practicing a willingness to question oneself, the foundation for gaining access to further lines of teaching is strengthened.
“For as many steps as there are forward, toward seeing the truth about oneself, there are as many steps of avoidance. One pattern of avoidance involves becoming absorbed prematurely in advanced techniques.
“Consider, also, the judgment of the person who has obtained a key and feels inclined to share it. Can these generous impulses be questioned and pondered? Has the person possessing the key discussed options with a peer, or is there inner resistance to examining this with someone who may introduce an unwelcome perspective? The more we examine our motives, the more the possibility of a choice appears. Otherwise, there is no real choice, but merely the acting out of impulses involving unexamined risks.
“There is yet a further challenge. Just as it is possible to share too freely, it is possible to hold too tightly. Experience shows that a person with access to sensitive materials may relate to them with unrecognized attitudes of entitlement, or even hoarding. It is not easy to see unconscious impulses of these kinds, which relate not only to ‘power’ in the external sense, but also inside the individual, where a fundamental power-struggle needs to begin.
“If precious teachings are shared too freely, we err in one direction. If held too tightly, we err in another. Not many can function with awareness on this razor’s edge.”
While my question about Madame de Salzmann’s teaching remained unanswered, Mr. Briggs’ response gave me a great deal to ponder, then and into the future.
~ • ~
Michael Currer-Briggs (1922–1980) worked under the guidance of Jane Heap during World War II and traveled to France to meet Gurdjieff when the war ended. After Gurdjieff’s death, while following a career in the British theatrical world as director and producer, he continued to work with Jane Heap and also with Madame de Salzmann. James Opie met him in Afghanistan during the filming of Meetings with Remarkable Men, for which Mr. Briggs served as executive producer, and their meetings continued while Mr. Briggs lived briefly in the United States. The conversation related in this chapter took place at Two Rivers Farm in Aurora, Oregon, where Mr. Briggs was visiting his friend Mrs. A. L. Staveley, who had also worked with Jane Heap.
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