Fourth Way Eyes
James George Addresses the Toronto Theosophical Society
This personal account of the talk delivered by the late James (Jim) George to members and friends of the Toronto Theosophical Society was written thirteen years ago when the appearance took place. I think the account is of some cultural interest and for that reason it is being offered to readers of this blog. I has personal meaning for it marks the first time that Ruth and John Colombo met Jim and Barbara George. – JRC
James George is known in Canada as a retired diplomat, a former Rhodes Scholar, and a one-time High Commissioner to India (1967-72). In the world of the Work, he is respected as a member of the Society for Traditional Studies in Toronto and as a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York. It is said he is the leader of a Gurdjieff group in Upstate New York. He is committed to work on behalf of the world ecology movement, as is evident from a reading of his memoir, Asking for the Earth (Element, 1995). It bears the subtitle “Waking Up to the Spiritual / Ecological Crisis.” The book is introduced by the Dalai Lama who refers to the author as “my old friend James George.” The same book includes an introduction by Canada’s globe-trotting, trouble-shooter Maurice Strong who calls George “no ordinary diplomat.”
James George was a guest speaker in the Toronto Theosophical Society’s “Monday Night Lecture Series.” This is a series of talks (rather than lectures) – free and open to the general public – sponsored by the Society to represent the range of what might be called New Age subjects. Recent lecturers spoke on “Meditation and the Sacred and Healing Sound,” “A Look at Iridology,” “Theosophy and Denis Saurat,” etc. Later this year, the Society is sponsoring a dramatic reading of the full-length stage play Saving Angel written by Charlotte Fielden, former Stratford Festival actress, Toronto novelist, and meditation instructor. The play is scheduled to be workshopped professionally in November in London, England. Its protagonists are Madame Blavatsky, W.B. Yeats, and Denis Saurat. In the play this unlikely trio joins forces to exorcize the demons that possess a young woman with the glittery name of Angel Shiner.
I should state that The Toronto Theosophical Society has known better days. Madame Blavatsky herself chartered the Lodge a few months before her death in 1891, and the charter document bears the signatures of some illustrious Torontonians, including a group of famous suffragettes. It was also signed by its corresponding secretary, Algernon Blackwood, the future horror-story writer, at the time a resident of the city. The Society’s halcyon decade was that of the 1920s, when it inspired the paintings of Lawren Harris and other members of the so-called Group of Seven, painters influenced by Kandinsky, Theosophy, Richard Maurice Bucke, Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and the Arctic (with its “Sacred Imperishable Land”). Harris’s own, awe-inspired canvases of a visionary Arctic strikingly resemble the Himalayan paintings of the mystic Nicholas Roerich. The Society never did recover its strength in the wake of the Depression, two World Wars, and the march of postwar prosperity. It might have capitalized on the New Age Movement and the Human Potential Movement, but failed to respond to those energies. So the “Monday Night Lecture Series” may be seen as a belated attempt to tap into these energies – to address the mainstream from the margin, so to speak.
On Monday, June 19, George addressed a group of twenty-eight or so members and visitors about the Work. Almost all the listeners were middle-aged or older. This was not the first opportunity that members have had to learn about the Fourth Way. Some years ago David Young, the Toronto Group leader, addressed the Society about his specialty. But memories are short and the familiar ground was well covered by George, a seasoned speaker – along with his wife Barbara (about whom more later).
George is a tall, lean man, with a full head of hair and a trimmed beard, both Man-from-Glad white. From a distance he looks like the late Martin Lings. Close up he seems somewhat preoccupied and academic. His speaking style is slow and low-key, more thoughtful than thought-provoking. He began by asking the audience members if they had seen Al Gore’s documentary on the ecological crisis. (Nobody had.) He discussed Gore’s “moral imperative” to stave off degradation of nature and the environment. He found it wanting because the cause of the degradation is the devolution of the human spirit. For this to be checked there needs to be a “spiritual imperative” which will introduce a “change of view” and affect human behaviour.
It seemed to me this subject was his principle interest, so as if to present the background to his thinking, he approached the subject of the evening as a duty. He began by discussing Gurdjieff’s views on “sex energy” and four of the six levels of man. This involved short quotations from All and Everything that led to long pauses. “I hope I’m not in the process of confusing you,” he said. Until then most members of the audience thought he was pondering the weight of passages from A&E and his own thoughts on these matters. He explained he had “returned from Philadelphia” and felt “remorse” at being ill-prepared. My attention was caught by the reference to the City of Brotherly Love, but the point he was making was that by feeling “remorse” he had set the stage for a “transformative” experience which “makes it possible to be present.”
Seated beside him facing the audience throughout was his wife Barbara George whose voice when she spoke resonated throughout the room and whose insights were related in terms of her own experiences. She is American-born, and my wife Ruth, who accompanied me to the meeting, described her as sixtyish, firm of build, and dressed appropriately though reluctantly as though not for effect. At one point Mrs. George had spent forty-three years (as I recall) in the Work with the same group in San Francisco, so she knew even before somebody spoke at a meeting what was likely to be said. She talked movingly about the sense she had always had that things could be better and the world could make sense as well as “the nameless hope this life is being realized as we live it.” She also spoke about the “excitement” she felt on her introduction to these ideas in the 1960s and how she still feels it, except “now we’re older.”
During the discussion period I asked her and her husband if they were not bothered by the fact that these ideas have been disseminated and democratized in the sense that they are now ever-present throughout the Western world — to no real effect whatsoever. In their answers they sidestepped my suggestion that the public is now “innoculated” against them (at least in terms of the above-mentioned excitement) but took delight in the fact that yoga and meditation classes seemed to be everywhere and that this is an undeniable good.
In this context the couple discussed the nature of book learning versus school learning which has the power to bring about change. Mrs. George described Gurdjieff as “a searcher” all his life, someone whose findings offer a “vivifying quality that is missing in ordinary life.” Indeed, Mr. George noted that Claude Bragdon and P.D. Ouspensky had been influenced by Dr. Bucke’s study Cosmic Consciousness, and wondered whether Gurdjieff had read it.
The questions from the audience were unusually heart-felt, though they attested to a lack of basic knowledge about the Work (including the term itself) and about the principles of Theosophy. The latter was discussed in terms of the Work only in relation to the impression the Georges had of listening to Krishnamurti who, like Gurdjieff, liked to “shock” his listeners. In response to a question about the nature of consciousness, they bandied terms back and forth, like two jugglers with a single ball: consciousness, awareness, conscience, presence. The latter term seemed to elicit concurrence from the audience. There was also an illuminating discussion about the nature of will and competing wills and how “true will” resides in essence rather than in personality. My wife asked a question about forgiveness in the system, but neither speaker had a relevant text to cite or a Work-related insight though their responses were thoughtful enough.
Proceedings had begun at 7:30 p.m. There was much milling around after the conclusion of the proceedings at 9:15 p.m. It was generally agreed that the evening had been a success, more as a talk than as a lecture, more as a discussion than as a discourse. Many of the ideas, insights, emotions, and experiences shared by the Georges with the audience will likely be retained by members of the audience for a long time to come. Indeed, the suggestion that they be invited to return again in the fall was applauded.
19 June 2007
Fourth Way Eyes
Is it true that followers of the Fourth Way have blue eyes?
I have long wondered where the notion originated that the colour of the iris of the human eye has anything at all to do with anyone’s beliefs.
Some followers of the Fourth Way have blue eyes, whereas others have eyes that are other colours. To my knowledge, no one has ever kept count. For the record, ophthalmologists recognize six basic eye colours: brown (70-90%), blue (8%), gray (3%), followed by even smaller percentages of hazel, green, and amber.
The earliest source that I have found that seemingly relates blue eye colour with followers of the Fourth Way was Margaret Croydon’s feature article about the release of the movie Meetings with Remarkable Men. Professor Croydon was an authority on theatre directors like Peter Brooke. (What colour were his eyes?) Her impressionistic article titled “Getting in Touch with Gurdjieff” appeared in The New York Times on 29 July 1979. It’s available free of charge on the Web.
Here are three excerpts that focus on the eye colours of some Fourth Way followers.
1. Madame de Salzmann: A French-woman who speaks English with an accent, she has a beautiful smile, and her eyes are exceptionally clear, luminous, and very blue. I was later to think of them as “Gurdjieff eyes.” Coincidentally or not, they appear again and again in his students.
2. P.L. Travers: She too had the Gurdjieff eyes: clear, blue and translucent.
3. Henri Tracol and James George: A pale, ascetic-looking man, Tracol also had Gurdjieff eyes clear, blue, catlike, and shiny as diamonds. (The “awakened eye,” said a former Canadian diplomat – a lifelong Gurdjieff student with the same eyes.)
To risk a pun, “It’s all in the I’s … or is it the eyes?”