I was christened the day war was declared on Germany in 1939 and spent my childhood in Bristol punctuated by the sound of sirens (that haunt me to this day) and the distant sound of explosions as the city and airport were bombed. At the end of the war, my psyche was imprinted with the meaning and energy of the celebrations that expressed joy and fellowship openly in the streets, followed by a terrible sadness as I saw this decline into heedless indulgence and selfishness and lack of vision.
War and post war in Bristol
Being an only child and living in a relatively poor environment, it was only through books (and radio) that glimpses came of other worlds. I remember a critical moment in my teens. Somehow, I had picked up the idea of breaking patterns, so had taken myself to see a play – Bell, Book and Candle – which I had never done before (my parents had no interest in plays, music, etc.) Returning home, my parents gone to bed, I switched on the Third Programme (this was in the old days when there were intellectual programmes on the BBC) to catch a dramatisation of Andre Malraux’s La Condition Humaine. Something melted in my brain. I still do not know what happened, but there came over me a vision or seeing or feeling of evolution, as a force or energy driving inexorably on, indifferent to the ever recurring piles of bodies on the way. Later, for a school essay, I incorporated this vision into a prospectus of a total integration of all sentience at the end of time, strangely like the speculative picture of the physicist Tipler I was only to come across fifty years later.
I mentioned books though, and I suppose it was Colin Wilson’s The Outsider that switched me on to the idea of there being an ‘enterprise of liberation’ (I once met Wilson decades later when he heckled me during a talk I was giving at Bennett’s International Academy for Continuous Education – though we became friendly after the talk). This impact came together with the birth of attraction to modern music, painting and poetry which I regarded as gateways to other worlds. My scientific worldview was imbued with the arts playing the role of messages from the unseen. Though I did not meet Colin Wilson until much later, I did meet with Stuart Holroyd and Bill Hopkins who formed, with Wilson, a triumvirate dubbed the ‘metaphysical young men’ in the press to parallel the ‘angry young men’ renowned at that time. Stuart had just brought out (at the early age of 23) his autobiography Emergence from Chaos and I had somehow got to write to him. I had been on CND walk over three days protesting against nuclear weapons ending in Trafalgar Square. Stuart knew Kenneth Walker and regaled me with stories of Gurdjieff in Paris, dramatically conveying a picture of Gurdjieff teaching SS members one day (he was in occupied France during the war) and members of the resistance the next. He gave me a copy of his play The Tenth Chance, based on Walker’s stories, which had just been put on for a brief run in London and later I used this in creating a dramatic scenario while teaching at Bennett’s International Academy in 1971. I must mention, however, that the most memorable impression came in relation to Stuart’s girl friend, with whom I had a conversation lasting sixteen hours, and to whom I am eternally grateful, for it was an initiation into the extraordinary world of dialogue.
The first really well-known remarkable man in my story came to me as my physics tutor at Bristol University. This was David Bohm. He was regarded with awe by us students because of his heretical political and scientific views. He had been expelled from the USA for refusing to collaborate with the McCarthy committee on ‘un-American activities’ and he was become known as the physicist who wanted to eliminate uncertainty from quantum mechanics by seeking hidden variables. I think he was at Bristol for only one or two years, before moving on to Birkbeck College, London University where he remained until his death (just after finishing his last book – with Basil Hiley – The Undivided Universe). A day came when I met him face to face in a tutorial class. We students were supposed to tackle problems and seek the tutor’s guidance if we needed it. Somehow, Bohm and I started talking – I had an immense attraction to him and he was totally open and friendly. We talked about St Augustine, the nature of space, painting; such themes intertwined.
Previously, I had ‘existentialist’ conversations with a few school friends, most of us depressives of course, and had once engaged in a debate on religion that went over three days while at school and drew quite an audience. It was natural to me to dialogue though it was to be many years before I took up dialogue as a method and learned that Bohm had himself come to it and become an advocate. I had joined a small group which had the title ‘Polemics’ which had made me aware of how one can become more conscious in a group by talking. This was very different from my attempts to get into socialism. I found politics to be uninteresting and illogical, preferring spiritual postulates to political ideologies. Hearing me make a comment in a meeting, Professor George from the Philosophy Department remarked to someone that I looked like the younger Huxley (something that I remembered recently when I met Francis Huxley, the nephew of Aldous). But I had not before engaged with a man of Bohm’s depth and character. I remember glancing over at the other students, amazed that they continued with the problems and did not join in. When it came to leaving the room, I found myself as it were in orgasm and incapable of attending any lectures that morning. Instead, I walked the streets as I often did in those days somehow just trying ‘to see’.
After that day, we had many conversations, usually walking together. Only many years later did I learn from Saral Bohm, his wife, that he had come home one night to tell her that, ‘At last I have met a student I can talk to’. Needless to say, this made me feel very honoured. Bohm left for Birkbeck and I was not to see him again for some years. On another front, but essentially the same, I was following the lead given in The Outsider to the work of Gurdjieff. I read some of Gurdjieff’s magnum opus Beelzebub’s Tales in the bookshop next to the university (not being able to afford to buy it, though a friend got it for me one Christmas) and I can remember to this day the impact of his descriptions of events in his own psyche that gave me a conviction that objectivity might be possible in that realm. From learning about Gurdjieff, I came to one his pupils, John Bennett, and began to read the latter’s own magnum opus The Dramatic Universe (little realising that one day I would be helping him in the writing of the last two volumes of that work). Then learned about Bennett’s work with Subud, a mystical practice originating in Indonesia. My own state was desperate; I could not make sense of my existence and I resolved to seek Bennett out.
I went to Bennett’s study centre at Coombe Springs, Kingston in Surrey, packing Beelzebub’s Tales with my sandwiches. At that time, he had given over his centre to serving the Subud movement. In my eagerness I behaved somewhat comically, lurking by the main house to intercept him on his way to lunch. Thinking I had to earn his attention with a really deep question, I blurted out, ‘What is Original Sin?’ Much to my surprise he stopped and thought for a moment and then told me, ‘It is to try and do what we cannot do and not do what we can.’ After going to Coombe Springs I became ‘opened’ in Subud and had some interesting experiences that convinced me about other worlds but gave me no means of understanding any better how to live. Through the circle of Subud people in and around Bristol I was invited to meet with Henry Boys, a muscian who had known Stravinsky, at his home in Lacok. He played me some of the music of Gurdjieff, which I had never heard before. Expecting something dramatic and strange I was surprised at the simplicity and folksy character of the music. Later I learned that he composed the 'alternative' music for the movement known as the Great Prayer, full of discordant and modern sounds I much enjoyed. It was not to be for almost fifty years that I came to hear the full orchestrations of some of the music.
My degree course in physics finished and I was left with questions about the meaning of science. I was and remained one of those naïve people who regard science as miraculous and mysterious in its origins. Because of this, I went on to then only place in the UK for the study of the history and philosophy of science, which was in Free School Lane, part of Cambridge University. I remember with fondness my teachers there – Gerd Buchdal, Mary Hesse and Michael Hoskins – though I was not able to get any further with my search for meaning (I did, though, find an affinity with Buchdal through our common passion for the music of Schoenberg). While at Cambridge, I was following the ‘latihan’ practice of Subud, occasionally going down to Kingston for latihans in the remarkable monument to Gurdjieff built there, a nine-sided ‘djamechoonatra’ and having some strange moments. Coming out of the course with a Certificate in the History and Philosophy of Science I had to find employment or further studies. I tried the London School of Economics for a PhD under Karl Popper, where I did not meet Popper himself but Indre Lakatos a philosopher of mathematics. Lakatos told me Popper had two laws: one should not be a Marxist and one had to have a problem that could be solved by known methods. It was the latter that turned me off, since I wanted to explore the meaning of causality. It was suggested that I apply for a post in Australia, teaching science to arts students and went to an interview with my old tutor Buchdal and Stephen Toulmin, another fine philosopher of science. Eventually I learned I had the job but issues in my family led me to decide not to leave the country, so I was in a pickle.
Out of the blue the ‘warden’ at Coombe Springs offered me a post there as kitchen boy with the handsome salary of £1 a week! I accepted and thus began a fifteen year period of association with John Bennett and his work. I graduated from kitchen boy (I must mention Lili Helestenius, who was one the fierce ‘dragons’ that ruled the kitchen and was in a way my first ‘teacher’) to research fellow. Initially reluctant, I accepted a project looking into the potentials of small group discussion for students. This then became part of the innovations Bennett was making in educational technology.
The Djameechoonatra in Coombe Springs
There were many interesting characters at Coombe Springs and I regarded it as my next ‘university’, far closer to the realities of human life than before. The process going on with Bennett and his organization was complex and dramatic. The organization had the daunting name of The Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences, Ltd. which name was originally dreamt up to cover up the ‘esoteric’ activities that were centred there; but, when Bennett separated from Subud, he began to take the name seriously and hence the incursion into education. While I was with him, not only did he move into educational research and development (he had been head of coal utilisation research in the 40s based at Coombe Springs) but engaged with Idries Shah, the Naqsbandi sufi who claimed he represented the order from which Gurdjieff got his stuff and to whom a few years later he gave Coombe Springs. He also made contact with the Shivapuri Baba in Nepal, who summoned him on two occasions to transmit his ‘three disciplines’ and with the Benedictine monastery at St Wandrille, where he took Subud to a few of the monks there and consolidated his conversion to Catholicism.
The cloisters of St Wandrille
Later on I went several times to the monastery and had significant conversations with Pere Bescond, who was doing research on the origins of Gregorian Chant and had been ‘opened’ in Subud by Bennett. I only met Pak Subuh, the originator of Subud amidst crowds, at a conference in Oslo. It was then that I realized that it did not matter how ‘great’ or ‘advanced’ a spiritual teacher was, one still had to make one’s own decisions (would that I had kept to this, as I will confess later). The Subud movement had come to reject ‘thinking’ as anti-spiritual (whether this was Pak Subud’s own view is problematic) and I just could not accept this.
There were many ‘characters’ I met at Coombe Springs as I said and some of them were near to crazy. I had a friend who had become schizophrenic possibly through Subud and spent his time in a hut doing weird paintings. There was a woman who I learned had tried while a teenager to bicycle to Hitler to stop the war, who lived in another building and was wont to scream at night. There was a heroin junkie and labourer who also did strange paintings (I remember him muttering at Bennett during a movements class to ‘fuck off’). One day, the men were all agog when a soft porn actress called Dora Doll came to see Bennett about her personal problems! Perhaps the most strange of all was Karl Shaffer, a kind of playboy from America, whom Bennett for some unknown reason regarded as a son. We used to hold meetings on science education in London to which Karl sometimes came. I remember one occasion when he offered me a lift back to Coombe in his sports car and drove right through a T junction to bump the facing kerb – when we reached Coombe he was all set to drive past only to see Bennett waiting at the gates in his dressing gown. Karl disappeared into Soho but once appeared at a party I was holding with a stripper who he claimed was a priestess of Atlantis helping him to avert World War Three.
The educational work brought in some young bright young men. Anthony Hodgson was important for the development of the educational technology called structural communication and went on to become a consultant for such firms as Shell. Ken Pledge taught physics at a college and become somewhat of a recluse, immersed in esoteric mathematics (but did substantial work on the five-dimensional geometry that derived form Bennett’s ideas). John Varney, an architect, eventually created a management centre (at High Trenhouse in Yorkshire) and I work with him now on logovisual technology which evolved from structural communication. Henri Bortoft became the most well-known through his work on Goethean science.
Bennett's Building at High Trenhouse today
It was through Henri that I reconnected with Bohm and he and Bennett were brought together. Over two years, Bohm and Bennett visited and wrote each other and sometimes I was involved. There was an astonishing period for me when Bohm and I corresponded every day for two weeks on every topic under the sun (to my supreme regret all this correspondence disappeared). Many years later I edited and published the ‘Bohm-Bennett Correspondence’ based on the extant letters I had copies of. But the most memorable was when I sat with the two men and found myself acting as a translator between them. It dawned on me that they were moving back into their own frames of reference and I found this sorrowful. Bohm gradually reacted more and more against the Gurdjieff approach, being attracted to ideas of unbroken wholeness, which led him to become more or less Krishnamurti’s right hand man. Unbeknownst to me, he had been developing ideas of meaning and dialogue and later with Krishnamurti conducted extraordinary conversations as recorded in The Ending of Time.
Henri himself was moving away from Bennett and it was only much later that he was able to acknowledge the debt he owed to Bennett’s teaching of visualisation methods. It was through Henri that I came to meet George Spencer-Brown, the renegade mathematician who became widely known in the 60s through his unique book The Laws of Form. Henri and I attended a course Spencer-Brown gave on his book, which has remained with me since. Meeting him personally, we were amused at his claim to be attracted to little girls and the invention of a fictional ‘brother’ he claimed to work with. Twenty years later I found out that he claimed to have reached enlightenment sometime in the 80s!
As I said, this story is more about meetings with remarkable men than the men themselves, because I cannot possibly claim to ‘know’ them. There are many things that remain with me about Bennett, though. The first is that all people need someone to talk to, even those who are ‘great’ in some way. I was thunder-struck when, in my early years at Coombe, Bennett remarked to me that he was grateful to have someone to talk to. He had perhaps hundreds of people who looked to him for guidance but it was quite another matter to have a dialogue with any of them. Before my time he had scientists such as Brown, Thring and Foster around but they all left for various reasons and some like Thring turned against him. Throughout my life I have met dozens of people of varying capacity and fame for whom the lack of genuine conversation is a big issue. Another Bennett impression comes from when he told us young lads, when I think while we were working on clearing out a pond, Bennett in his coloured underpants, ‘Perhaps I am a holy man. A holy man is one who can enter into higher worlds at will. But I tell you that holy men also make mistakes’.
Bennett’s openness was extraordinary. It seems that, in spite of his manifold gifts and accomplishments, including charismatic charm, he lacked self confidence. For most of his life he regarded himself as a mere ‘student’ of Gurdjieff. When Shah came on the scene, he was put through many humiliations and it was not until he had given Coombe to Shah that one day he started to claim his own station. I mentioned some crazy characters. Before I came to Coombe Springs, his second wife, older than himself, had become mentally unbalanced and no doubt he was used to strange people. Never before or since did I experience such a range of humanity. One very special strange young man was Michael Sutton, still remembered with affection by many. Michael was a kind of leader of a bunch of young people who lived nearby who practised black magic. He came to met Bennett and became a significant teacher of movements later on at the International Academy.
Bennett’s openness was encapsulated in his principle of integration without rejection. It was lived by in his willingness to talk to anyone without playing the role of guru. It was also evident in his writings. He had responded to the all-embracing vision of Gurdjieff by taking it further in his own way. I was to find again and again that many people came to respond to Gurdjieff and Bennett as a basis for their own research into wholeness, rather than joining in any cult of ‘followers’. I found him eminently sympathetical because of my inherent embrace of ‘all of everything’ and also, in particular, because although a holy man he was grounded in natural science and firmly believed that our knowledge in all things could only be provisional. However, as I mentioned in speaking of his contact with Bohm, I discovered that even an all-inclusive approach tended to fall back into a partisan stance: for me Bennett and Bohm were both ‘holy thinkers’ yet they went divergent ways. This was particularly true of Bohm who later on denied he had any contact with the Gurdjieff work and did not even mention his association with Bennett to his biographer David Peat (as David told me himself).
The wide range of Bennett’s interests included his appreciation of the body and he had contact with many leading figures in this realm, including Ida Rolf. With a few others, I had sessions with her, that changed my body to the degree that I could stand without discomfort. At this time, I had committed myself to the ‘movements’ devised by Gurdjieff, which are recognized more and more as integral to his teaching and I was doing an immense amount of physical work to awaken my sleeping partner (body) which had such obvious results that even Bennett remarked on it.
When Bennett left Coombe Springs and went to live in the town of Kinston-upon-Thames, he had many visitors. One of these was a remarkable American, John Allen. I was living nearby and put him up in my flat and came to have talks with him in the pub and elsewhere. John had worked in the mining industry and had been a union worker before developing his talents in writing and drama. He was a renaissance man American style and had been in the thick of the Haight-Ashbury ‘hippie’ revolution, but had seen the need for the management of social developments. He was in London with his group ‘The Theatre of all Possibilities’ – with obvious affinity to Bennett’s ‘dramatic universe’. I was surprised when John seemed to take to me, since I considered myself to be pretty inadequate on most fronts, but delighted. I found in him a sense of history that Bennett and I shared and glimpsed in his theatrical disciplines an important method. Most of all, I sensed even then that here was a pragmatic and earthy approach to the esoteric ideas that could turn them into real influences in human life. Years later, I was to join his team in Arizona, USA, on the Biosphere 2 project (my main contribution to put together the first book about it Biosphere 2 – the human experiment). He introduced me more deeply to the work of Vladimir Vernadsky, the pioneer of biospherics, whose work I had first come across in some of Bennett’s papers. It was a revelation to see the parallels between Gurdjieff and Vernadsky in their cosmic treatment of life on earth.
Biosphere 2 in Arizona
John Allen also brought me into contact with members of his team and through the October Gallery he co-founded in London (one of many ‘global’ enterprises he set up in France, Australia, Nepal and the USA) with many of the visitors there. Though this is jumping forward in time (to the 90s), I want to mention my meeting with John Lilly. Chili Hawes who ran the Gallery wanted to organise a public meeting for him and asked me to help, because Lilly had become notorious for not being communicative while taking part in conferences and wondered whether I could ‘bring him along’. For a few days we sat around together largely reading and exchanging thrillers, since he had been told by he higher powers he met during his experiments, as he explained to us, to leave off his excursions and become an ordinary human. Lilly had been inducted into the Gurdjieff cosmology through Oscar Ichazo and it struck me all over again that Gurdjieff had played a significant role in opening people to a new vision of reality. John talked to me of his experiments with ketamine and isolation tanks and I could not help but be struck by this other example of American pragmatism (though I would argue that much could be accomplished by drinking tea while sitting in an English garden).
The October Gallery in London
When Idries Shah acquired Coombe Springs, his main activity was giving parties. I had only a few encounters with him but much enjoyed his irreverent attitude. Bennett once said to me, ‘There are different styles in the work. Mine is like Gurdjieff’s, around struggle with one’s denial. But Shah’s way is to treat the work as a joke.’ At one of the parties, which I had to wangle my way into by posing as projectionist for the movies they were showing, I made a brief encounter with Doris Lessing. This is crude name dropping but I admire her greatly and wrote her a letter connected with the theme of higher intelligence, to which she replied that she believed there were higher powers (it was about this time she was writing the ‘Shikasta’ series).
A major character in the saga of Bennett’s journey into spirituality was Hasan Shushud, a Turkish Sufi renowned for austerities and ‘voiceless zikr’, and the teaching of ‘absolute liberation’. It was only later I had much contact with him and then only through letters, when I was publishing one of his works – it came out as Masters of Wisdom in Central Asia – after Bennett had died. Hasan was one of the people who persuaded Bennett that he was now his own man and should teach on his own authority.
Though not to do with a remarkable man as such, I must mention my brief sojourn in the fromer Czechoslovakia in 1968, the time of the ‘Spring Revolution’. Unknowingly, I caught the last train out of Prague before the Russians moved in. I want to say that the Czechs I met could collectively be taken as ‘remarkable’ and I treasure my encounters with them. It was in Prague that I wrote one of my simplest and best poems; but what was most important was seeing this episode as a microcosm of human tragedy and hope. Afterwards Bennett remarked to me that he thought the higher power were doing an experiment there and ever afterwards I had the sense that intelligence and humanity could only open up somewhere for a time when it would be closed down by some fascism that might extend, as Gurdjieff seems to hint, to the ‘higher powers’ who ‘ran’ the universe.
The 'velvet revolution' in Prague 1989
One day, out of the blue a design engineer wrote to Bennett asking for a meeting and Bennett sent me as his representative. This was to be my first meeting with Edward Matchett, with whom I stayed in touch until his death in the 90s. A self-made man, he had worked himself up from engineering drawing (working with such firms as Rolls-Royce) into the realm of creative design. He proved to be another man embracing ‘all of everything’. He had embraced religion, art, music, philosophy together with engineering and innovation and was familiar with Gurdjieff’s ideas. Down in Bristol, I witnessed presentations by his students and was shocked to recognise or feel the presence of real consciousness. Ted developed deep methodologies for design that evolved in startling ways. Instead of becoming more complex and detailed they became simpler and more profound. In the 60s he was engaged by the then Department for Scientific Research and Development to investigate the nature of genius! Almost at the last moment of his year’s engagement, while walking in the grounds of his beloved Glastonbury, he ‘received the answer’, which became known as the 3-M equation: Making Media and Matter Meaningful, or Media + Matter = Meaning. This was for me – eventually – identical with Gurdjieff’s ‘law of three’ and it made a totally unlikely alliance between engineering and spiritual development. To this day, no one, including myself, has worked through the consequences of this equation.
There was a strange incident in connection with Bennett and Matchett. This was when Bennett was working at his International Academy in Sherborne, Gloucestershire. Ted told me that he had broached with Bennett the need for him to have a successor and suggested I might take that role. Bennett rejected the idea, saying I did not have the strengths, and Ted argued that he should ‘put them there’. Still according to Ted, this set Bennett off in a tirade, with him pounding his desk in rage. For me it was part of the continuing tragedy of remarkable men each embracing whole vision but seeing things differently.
Ted was intolerant in many ways but a great friend and inspiration. I particularly value his introducing me to what he came to call ‘logospheres’. These are like environments of meaning. He would set up rooms with flowers, reproductions of paintings, artefacts of various kinds; play music and show beautiful slides. I remember making a film loop of Mondrian’s paintings (he always took along box loads of art books anyway) for him and also making ‘magic crystals’ from pieces of broken glass to represent the ideas of an imaginary character I invented called Axon.
I encountered more knowledge of creativity and evolution through perhaps the most strange character of all I’ve ever met – Charlotte Bach. The name should not hide the fact this was a man, not a woman, even though ‘he’ passed himself off as a woman until he was found dead in his flat (much to the surprise of Colin Wilson who was going to write a book about ‘her’ ideas). Starting with the thesis that sexuality was the key to evolution, Charlotte evolved a theory of evolution that embraced ten dimensions of time, alchemy, shamanism and neurology. It attracted a lot of attention at the time, but many were embarrassed by the disclosure of Charlotte’s deception and distanced themselves later. I met her a few times and read a lot of her books, privately distributed (and still not published, one an extraordinary treatment of the origins on writing running to more than a 1000 pages) in amazement. As I would expect, ‘she’ knew of Gurdjieff and regarded him as the twentieth century’s greatest shaman. Intellectually, I was stretched between ‘her’ ideas of time and ‘systems’ such as the quaternary (far in advance of any Jungian treatment) and the corresponding ones I had learned from Bennett. ‘She’ remains for me a powerful enigma and signal or representative of a deeper order of intelligence, rather as if Bohm’s ‘implicate order’ had emerged in operatic splendour!
As the reader will have gathered, my story does not follow simple chronology very much. I have to remark here that when Bennett left Kingston to set up his Academy in 1971, I was somewhat distanced from him, though I did go down there to give a short course on ‘dramatic method’ (following the influence of John Allen I had picked up various methods working with a group which included a guy from RADA). For some reason he seemed to have set himself to persuade me to take part in it. He put on the pressure, denouncing me as ‘candidate for lunatic asylum’ and, finally, at a meeting with him alone in London, I succumbed. He had been ill and told me that he had been attacked by evil forces; I was even quite frightened and cowardly about this, it taking me back to moments walking the streets of Bristol in which I ‘saw’ angels and saints in cities in total slavery to the higher powers, there being no mercy for them. Then he told me that I would ‘suffer in this work’ but maybe not so much as his eldest son, George. I was crying and for the first and only time, embraced him.
Sherborne House in Gloucestershire in the 70s
I was at the Academy until his sudden death in 1974. I saw him develop his ideas about the ‘work’ increasingly in a way that reconciled it with ‘ordinary life’. I came to be the person to ‘explain’ his lectures to the students, which led, after his death, to my work of compiling and editing various books based on these lectures. In agreement with Elizabeth Bennett, I moved to close down the Academy in 1976, completing the original plan of running courses for five years, because we did not know what we were doing.
The aftermath was very difficult. I spent three months on a potato farm in Ireland while working on the books in the evenings. My host was Hugh Sherrard, brother of the Greek scholar Philip Sherrard who produced a translation of the Philokalia. Hugh was attracted to Bennett’s ideas but never had the chance to study with him. He is mentioned here because he was to prove pivotal in making a connection with another strange man, this time one I would not recommend to anyone. Leaving the farm, I returned to England, eventually to marry one of the students I met at the Academy after many vicissitudes (but that, as they say, is another story). When I returned to England I came to the house of another remarkable man in my story, the then Lord (Francis) Thurlow. I had first met him many years before, when he came to Coombe Springs with another remarkable man, Sir Paul Dukes, who had lived an extraordinary life as a spy and had done much to introduce Hatha Yoga to the West. I was deeply impressed by Francis. He was a truly educated man and had no ‘side’. He was capable of paying attention to what people said and exhibited impartial courtesy to everyone he met.
I later learned that he had had a distinguished career as a diplomat; serving in India and being present for the violence attending the partition and, as governor of Nigeria, had been deeply involved in the Biafran war. He supported Bennett’s work for many years though it is clear in retrospect that he did not find the ‘answers’ he was seeking. Not only had he witnessed many horrors on the world stage, his youngest son committed suicide at the age of 18. To this day, he has never written about his inside knowledge of events in Africa and India (and the Bahamas, where he was also governor for a time). He was at Cambridge when Wittgenstein was there and dallied with the communism that took hold of many students as a defence against the rising tide of fascism. It seemed that so much was left unresolved for him. He would help others but not himself.
Another old friend from that era was Dr Edith Wallace, a renowned Jungian analyst, who studied with Bennett at Sherborne, where she developed her tissue paper collage method of active imagination. I remember a day when I drove her down to Stonehenge, which she had never seen, and extolled the astronomical knowledge built into the stones, while she admired the colour of the lichen on the stones. A great lesson in perspectives. I was to know Edith right up until her death in 2004 and there were a few strange moments when both of us felt we had ‘something to do together’ – as if to unite two separated worlds – but even though we tried it never quite happened.
After Sherborne, I had been persuaded (perhaps against my better judgment – but it is a bit gutless on my part to put it like that) by another older student of Bennett, John Wilkinson, to take part in another experiment, this time a ‘college’, seeking for a more exploratory approach than had become manifest in the ‘American’ follow up to Sherborne at Claymont Court, West Virginia, which Bennett had had purchased just before his death as a venue for his proposed experiment in a ‘fourth way community’. In the event, Claymont proved a degenerate enterprise, lacking the guidance it had been assumed Bennett would give. At the same time, Wilkinson and I were aware of our great limitations.
The Mansion of Claymont Court in West Virgina
It was then that another figure appeared from nowhere. This was Gary Chicoine, known only at that time as Dadaji something or other. In letters to the Institute he announced himself as successor to Gurdjieff and as the new teacher of the age. It turned out, as we learned later, that he had tried this on with the Self-Realization Fellowship as well and maybe others, too. The followers of Bennett were living in the loss of Bennett and vulnerable to the claims of a ‘saviour’. The first person to respond was Hugh Sherrard, which led to others. In the event, Anthony Hodgson and Lord Thurlow led a faction of the Institute to meet with and follow this new guru. This led over some years to him acquiring all the assets of the Institute (and often the personal assets of his students as well) and the collapse of anything resembling Bennett’s work in the UK.
I was left with the College to run in Daglingworth, Gloucestershire, but soon this became a target of his acquisitions and, much to my shame ever since, I succumbed to peer pressure. There were some reasons to take Chicoine seriously. He had a considerable knowledge of spiritual techniques and sources. He had been in the US Marines and brought another measure of American pragmatism to the table. He was capable of ‘teaching action in the moment’ and intensely creative. He brought Hindu spirituality into view more strongly than Bennett had ever done. He encouraged wide reading and study of original texts. He had stumbled upon the powerful effect of music, but used in a violent way in contrast with Matchett, though both of them were linked to the same insight. And, when I first met him in England, he seemed devoted to an ongoing enquiry and exploration related to self realization.
Daglingworth Manor once home of the College for Continuous Education
Here I need to make an aside and mention two people who were ‘students’ of myself at Daglingworth, where I was exploring a very open-ended approach with minimum structure, manifesting my inherent feeling for non-authoritarian relationships. These were Richard Heath and John Kirby. Richard has become a leading light in studies of ancient wisdom and astro-archaeology and is working with John Varney and myself on developing the methodology of logovisual technology. John Kirby has deeply connected with the apparitions of Mary, and spent some years in close relationship with Ted Matchett.
It was due to Chicoine that in the 80s I spent three months in India (actually with friend John Varney) filming and recording spiritual people, places and events. I was delighted to get to Puri for the Jagannath festival (from which we get our word ‘juggernaut’) because as a child I had seen in an encyclopaedia photos of this event which then seemed to come from another planet. John and I went to the shrines of Sri Anirvan, the wonderful Baul philosopher who had taught Lizelle Reymond and guided her to Gurdjieff (I published the most complete version of Reymond and Anirvan’s book To Live Within and am still cross that more recent editions ignore this). We saw the once brother disciple of the leader of the Hare Krishna movement in a small ashram, rolling on the floor in delicate ecstasy. There were many things (only existing in memory because Chicoine acquired all the media and they are probably rotting somewhere in a basement) but perhaps I will mention Chille Maharaj as a remarkable man we had to hunt down in a remote village, who claimed to be an incarnation of Krishna and also of Dattatreya. Armed with camera I followed his little entourage down muddy and stony tracks. He was carried on the back of a disciple and from time to time stopped to give a little discourse and also to take refreshment which, I learned was neat gin. Others involved in this pilgrimage to India saw the ‘hot’ leaders such as Anandamoy Ma and Babaji as well as wild Sufis sticking swords into themselves and Sai Baba doing magic. Perhaps the strongest impression must always remain Calcutta which I could not believe in even when I was there.
The Jagannath festival in Puri, Orissa
If there is a villain in my story, it is certainly Chicoine. Like any cult leader, he manipulated people and got them to part with their cash and hand over control over their sex organs. He ended up a deranged megalomaniac at odds with his children (and some of his wives) and now lives in Sweden with a small group of adherents, regarding himself as above the mechanical masses of humanity. But he is essential to the story. One thing he brought home to me was that spirituality is not identical with morality; but also that individuals who search after greater meaning are especially vulnerable to abuse because they feel themselves to be ‘unworthy’. ‘Seekers’ are greatly at risk. They look towards unseen worlds without having the confidence of gaining access to them, so that they come to look towards personalities who claim such access to guide them and interpret reality for them. This is of course exactly the same structure which is found in religions, the only difference being one of scale. All the remarkable men I have met who are truly remarkable embody a willingness to speak ‘on the level’ with others and not as authorities.
In the 80s I finally parted company with Chicoine, resolving never to take part in any authority game ever again. The idea of dialogue emerged with urgency. Catching up on Bohm’s work, I studied his efforts to spread the practice of dialogue. My true initiation into the experience came through Anthony Judge, who works at the Union of International Associations, and with whom I had had correspondence through his interest in Bennett’s systematics. He invited me to come to a weekend of dialogue in Scotland, which I did. During the weekend I not only absorbed a great deal of the structure of the process but had some intense moments of realization in the midst of talking. It was then that I came to se that there really was an equivalent to ‘waking up’ or ‘self-remembering’ that was more than individual. These insights became written up in my book Structures of Meaning. Also of note was that Tony and his colleagues had called themselves ‘The School of Ignorance’, a title that delighted me and served to usher in a new period when I could begin to appreciate the depth of some of the lines of research done in Group Analysis over more than fifty years. I had long felt that the Gurdjieff-Bennett work had failed to understand group process well, having been operated largely through the concept of a teacher or leader and it seemed to me that now I was being a glimpse of the other half of the ‘boolmarshano’ (the teaching Gurdjieff describes in Beelzebub’s Tales as split into two parts and separated).
When I had made copies of my book on structures of meaning, I sent one to Patrick de Mare and one to Gordon Lawrence. I had learned that a major source for Bohm’s idea of dialogue was Patrick, who had been his therapist for some years. Meeting with Patrick was a wonderful moment and led to continuing collaboration. Typically, as for many of the remarkable men I happened to meet, Patrick’s work has been blocked and ignored by the profession he came from, and dialogue is still only very slowly becoming acknowledged as a necessary component of any healthy society. It was Patrick who brought home to me the significance of seeing mind as ‘between brains’ and not ‘in brains’. This simple idea is revolutionary, though implicit in Group Analysis. It frees us form the nonsense of most contemporary ‘consciousness studies’.
Gordon Lawrence introduced me to ‘social dreaming’ and the infinity and creativity of the unconscious. We have been having ‘video-conversations’ for some years now. His work links for me to that of the Amerindian medicine man, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) whom I met for a video-dialogue in Albuquerque around the same time as meeting Patrick and Gordon. Joseph works with the Tiwa language, a language of metaphor. He paints visions of the landscape and teaches in a way that has many echoes of John Bennett and Ted Matchett, in the sense that they all accept and work from the spiritual world into this apparently material one.
In the 90s I co-founded The DuVersity with Karen Stefano (who has taken on the baton of Edith Wallace's Tisue Paper Collage method), hoping to emulate in some small way the enterprise envisioned by Bennett in the form of his Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences. Ever since working with Bennett and others on the theme of the 'dramatic universe' I had longed for something like a 'dramatic university'. To this end, Karen and I arranged a series of conferences on the big ideas Bennett had fostered. During the course of these, I met Warren Kenton once more, whom I had last seen many years ago when we spent a day together in a group with open-ended discussion that ended with us casting various spiritual leaders of the time into roles for an imaginary movie based on Belzebub's Tales. Warren had become the head of a major branch of Kabbalah in the UK and remains a kind friend of ours. Another well-known figure was John Anthony West, the Egyptologist who had followed the line of RA Schwaller de Lubwicz and, like Warren, had had his training in the Gurdjieff line.
Two other remrkable men must be mentioned, both of whom contributed to our first Seminar-Dialogue on 'All and Everything'. There was William Pensinger, who I first learned of through associates of John Allen at the October Gallery. William - or Larry as he is known to friends - had been in Vietnam and married a Vietnamese professor of literature. He devoted himself to some extraordinary researches into the nature of perception and the underlying structure of reality, much of which he incorporated into one of the most remarkable novels I have ever read, The Moon of Hoa Binh. This is a masterly work by any standards, more than a 1000 pages long, containing powerful commentries on the arising of modern art, asides on quantum physics and self-organisation, episodes of sexual exploration and even equations; all around a vivid evocation of events in Vietnam (and Japan) and with an exposition of Bennett's idea of three kinds of time. Larry is now living in Thailand and still struggling to find people to talk to and take him seriously, after becoming disillusioned with what went for 'advanced thinking' in the USA.
The other man I have to mention is Robert Fripp, most well known as leader of the group King Crimson. Robert had been a student at Sherborne but we connected more strongly years later, when he had evolved a novel way of introducing people to the 'work ideas' through what became known as 'Guitar Craft' and found a way of making music in a complex way by himself as 'Soundscapes'. Larry and Robert represented for me prime examples of the way in which Bennett had inspired original and creative individuals rather than led to any postumous 'following'.
The musical theme evokes my memories of two more characters, whom I first met in Amsterdam. The first is Gert-Jan Blom, a great lover of all music, who worked with a movements teacher and musician, Wim van Dullemen, to bring the Gurdjieff music more into the public domain. Gert-Jan's labours of love extended to a diverse range of music and, quite recently, he arranged a concert for the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam that included music by Carl Stanning (renowned maker of cartoon music for Warner Brothers), Gershwin, Robert Fripp (orchestrations of his Soundscapes) and Gurdjieff. He searched long and persistently to obtain the original orchestrations of the 'movements' music that had been performed in the 1920s and recently produced them on CD, following his extraordinary compilation of Gurdjieff's own harmonium music. Almost in passing, I can mention his and Wim's involvment with Dushka Howarth, a daughter of Gurdjieff, a remarkable lady in her own right. I had the rather harrowing experience of conducting a movements class under her critical eye!
The DuVersity also began a series of 'pilgrimages' to sacred sites, first to Egypt, led by John Anthony West. Another was by Joseph Rael - to the South West regions of the USA and the Pueblo/Ute traditions - and the next to Peru, guided by William Sullivan, who had been a 'student' of mine at Sherborne and had taken up the ideas on ancient knowledge first put forward in one of the twentieth century's seminal works, Hamlet's Mill. Our most recent trip was to 'enchanted Albion', led by Richard Heath.
The great 'pyramid' at Ollantaytambo in Peru
The story comes too close to the present moment to fade into simple patterns. I’ve brushed against more remarkable men (and women) and I’m aware of some distant connections, as with the philosopher Gendlin ('thinking at the edge' and 'focusing') whom I greatly admire and the psychologist Susan Blackmore (meme theory) with whom I’ve managed only to exchange a few emails. I’m working with some interesting people – by which I mean we have meaningful conversations – but I won’t start listing names for the sake of it (apologies to those not mentioned). Perhaps my time for ‘meetings’ has past. I wanted to sketch my story out to draw attention to patterns – patterns in people and patterns in events – rather than to myself. I wanted to create a picture of some enigmatic conversation as the basis of a life; that there is a conversation behind the conversations. As a pattern emerges out of memories there is a hope that new elements are coming into play beyond it. As Koestler put it in his famous book The Sleeepwalkers we can be engaged in revolutions without ever knowing what they amount to. In Bennett’s terms, we need to participate in a greater present moment to see what we mean.
So, forgive me my (relatively) new friends for not mentioning you yet (you are all named elsewhere on the web site of the DuVersity). There may be other people I now do not remember well enough to mention. As I said, what is ‘remarkable’ for me is that we can dialogue and create meaning together. I have written my little story to encourage others to do the same. Am I dreaming that I am ‘Anthony Blake’?