Two participants contributed a retrospective of the A&E Conference that took place in Hoorn in 2015.
You can read both of them here.
ALL and Everything International Humanities conference 2015 Hoorn, by Debbie Elliott
To Holland we go for this year’s conference in Hoorn, the town with unicorns as its emblem. This was the twentieth year of the conference, the Hotel Van der Valk was the venue & what a splendid hotel it was, recently built with all mod cons & a conference room with big windows looking out onto the trees.
The conference programme had a picture of Mr Gurdjieff’s passport, his signature below the portrait photograph & the various stamps from his travels, Mr G seems to be looking out at us with his hypnotic eyes from the page, urging us on to partake in the work.
Day 1 began with the ‘getting to know you session’. There were over forty of us from different countries, the mixture of nationalities & new faces brought a new dynamic to the conference, it was a nice number of people where we could all get to know each other & discuss the work, making it a more intimate gathering. There were many first timers all eager to take part in the Q & A after the papers as well as conversing between sessions and I think all of them were impressed enough to attend again in the future.
And as always it was a delight to catch up with old faces from previous conferences and hear of their further adventures in the work.
The sun shone throughout the conference & in the evenings it did not get dark till almost 10pm and we could watch the setting sun from the front of the hotel whilst the build up to a full moon rose behind us.
Tony Blake was to give the first session of the conference & he had Darlene Franz join him with a rendition of ‘Reading from a holy Book’, Darlene on the oboe & Tony on the harmonium. What a wonderful instrument they both are but I was intrigued by the harmonium, I have a CD of Mr Gurdjieff playing this instrument & it was wonderful to hear it being played before us.
Tony’s session was retitled ‘an invitation to rereading’, and after a reading of Purgatory (from the 1931 version)Tony facilitated a discussion about how we read whilst encouraging us all to read correctly, to be aware of what we observe when we read, how we feel when we read, to discuss what comes up in our mind as we read.
Throughout the conference there was the chance to partake in the art project set up in the conference room. It was titled ‘My illustrious Presentation. A wall was lined with white board paper & white board pens, the chapter Russia was typed up & placed beside it & everybody was invited to read the chapter & then encouraged to draw what we saw from it. Throughout the conference the paper was slowly but surely filled with images relating to the Russia chapter, by the time of the banquet it was full with scenes from the first sixteen pages.
The second day began with a paper from Lee van Laer & a perspective on esoteric meanings in Meister Ekhart’s ‘Book of Divine consolation’, being a student of theology I found this fascinating. Along with this was a selection of esoteric art, mainly of the artist Hieronymus Bosch, a delight to see on the big screen as Lee discussed inner work & intentional suffering. He discussed how we must engage in intentional suffering & conscious labour to bring us back to God. The questions after this talk brought new perspectives on ideas & thoughts in the Tales about this & Lee reminded me that The Tales is written as a critique with humour & passion. The session ended with the question-do we want bliss or liberty?
The second paper was given by Paul Beekman Taylor who gave the talk Skype. Paul told us about some of his time with Mr Gurdjieff, and how Mr G saw himself as Ashiata Shiemash. Paul also explained to us the relationship between Mr G’s wife & mother. He also reminded us that Mr Gurdjieff’s dogs all had the same name. The main point of Paul’s paper was to discuss the centrigravital love in Gurdjieff’s life & relationships, with people & animals, though it was stated that during Mr G’s time in Paris when World War II was happening, he had no animals.
The afternoon was a double seminar on the chapter Purgatory, a chapter that kept coming up throughout the conference. We had copies of the 1931 version of this chapter to compare with the later published version. Before this session began, Avrom played a piece of Gurdjieff, de Hartmann music on the piano which put us all in the right frame of mind for work. The music did indeed help settle one down to the session & maybe a piece should be played before every new session. During the seminar we all took turns to read a piece if we wished & discussion of the meaning of sections brought up many ideas & perspectives as to what this chapter was saying.
After dinner, where again much discussion continued we were shown a movie on the fabulous Chartres church in France. This church is full of esoteric symbolism, much of its meaning lost over the years & surely a place where Gurdjieff himself visited though nobody was able to verify if he had. During the film there was a fabulous quote from G K Chesterton which ran something like. ‘Medieval art was made for god, art from the Renaissance was made for man, Nineteenth century art was made for art & twentieth century was no art for god’s sake.’
The seminar continued with the chapter Purgatory followed afterwards by a seminar on Professor Skridlov, continued from last year’s conference.
After lunch Ocke de Boer gave a paper on ‘Two Souls’, the lunar & the solar soul & again the chapter Purgatory was discussed. Ocke explained how we are machines used to coat our higher body, how we develop ourselves via our ego & use that development in the process of acquiring a higher being body. Ocke reminded us that the biggest enemy is our ego but it is also a tool for inner considering & we must to use our ego in the proper fashion for the development of our higher being.
The last seminar of the day was a chapter from ‘Life is real only then, when I am’, again we took turns reading if we so wished with discussion from the attendees on the meaning.
After dinner we gathered back in the conference room for an evening of music. John Amaral entertained us with various pieces on the guitar followed by Avrom playing Gurdjieff pieces on the piano. Music as always is an entertaining form of communication & as they played the sun set on one side of the room & the almost full moon rose in the opposite window as dusk fell making it all seem rather magical.
This was an interesting day of a variety of activities, as one of the attendees later pointed out the morning was rather masculine whilst the afternoon came across more feminine in tone.
The morning was talks beginning with Tony Blake who was accompanied by Darlene on the oboe & Avrom on the piano as Tony discussed ‘cosmic laws’ & ancient harmonic theory. Darlene played for us the music scales from different ancient cultures as Tony discussed these & the importance of them in the beliefs at that time. Tony reminded us that Beelzebub was a cosmic journalist who wrote about our world over the millennium & that he explained the ancient’s differences to his grandson Hassein. The cosmic laws, if understood, would give us a freedom, possibly from the terror of recurrence, and that the ancients used dance to explain their ideas, a form that Mr Gurdjieff was trying to reintroduce to people. Mr Gurdjieff always thought of himself as a teacher of dance.
The second presentation was from Robin Bloor who has designed a great poster called ‘The Fragments poster’ with all the charts & pictures that go along with the work, such as the ray of creation, the hydrogens, & the diagram of everything living. He gave each row one to share & look at during the talk, which was a great help, as well as having slides to accompany his talk. This session again brought up a number of questions from the attendees which led to a lot of discussion on the scientific understanding of Gurdjieff’s cosmic laws.
After lunch we had another interactive afternoon where I had to face my fear & trembling if singing & performing the movements.
In the afternoon Darlene Franz led a workshop entitled ‘Singing the whole world, chant circle as Microcosms’, at first I was unsure of a singing workshop, I can’t & don’t sing but Darlene coaxed us out of our shells with her harmonium & wonderful singing of chants. She gently encouraged us to find our voices as we sang along to the harmonium singing short meditative chants. At first I heard myself singing badly, quietly & not quite able to finish the lyrics because I was embarrassed at my awful voice. But, halfway through the session, during one of the chants I suddenly heard myself singing, loudly, clearly, in tune and enjoying it! I don’t recall when the change happened from bad & reluctant singing to being a part of the choir, but I thoroughly enjoyed the session.
After tea there was an open session, but a movements class was put on. I have never done the movements so thought I would partake, my ego having been boosted by the singing session. I struggled with the movements, my body wouldn’t do what it was being told & I almost gave up when somebody reminded me to just have fun with it. That great bit of advice changed my attitude & I found myself joining in, though still not doing the movements correctly. These exercises definitely improve with practice, lots of it.
And so the last full day of talks & workshops came to an end, we all retired to prepare ourselves for the banquet. The event started with a fabulous opening speech, connecting the town of Hoorn, unicorns & Beelzebub’s horns making us all laugh & rejoice. Hopefully this speech will be printed up in the proceedings for this year; it was a paper in itself. Plenty of jokes, food & alcohol went round & everybody was enjoying the social evening & the chance to continue with the art project on the wall.
A large circle gathered for the last session on Sunday, the ‘where do we go from here’ had many comments on how well the conference went, what could be offered for the future. Many remarked they wanted more talks, other wanted more music & movements & as one person pointed out where do we fit all that in? The only answer I could come up with is that we will just have to not sleep.
Review of the All and Everything Conference 2015, by Kristina Turner
As I read, a new vista opens up before me. Things I have never seen or understood before come together instantaneously, as if drawn in from distant galaxies through the cracks in space-time that open up as I sit on the dark blue conference chair. The pale April sunlight filters in through the drawn blinds of the comfortable meeting room. Skridlov, with all his emotional energy as transferred to me through his tears at the close of Meetings With Remarkable Men over the years, explodes into a supernova of new meaning and help.
For the first time I see that the style of the ancient literary school Gurdjieff describes as the “creation of images without words” enables me to reach another level of reality, hidden behind, or within, the words that seemingly describe Gurdjieff’s travels in central Asia. Farzin Deravi’s presentation at the All and Everything Conference two years earlier comes into sharp relief, where he described how autostereograms arise in the brain. This phenomenon creates an illusion of depth in an image as a result of our binocular vision, allowing a three-dimensional scene to arise from a two-dimensional image. Books of such images were popular in the eighties when I was in my teens, and I used to love them. In order for such an image to arise, one must overcome the instinctive-automatic coordination of the focus and angle of one’s seeing. I experience it as relaxing into a wider, more encompassing vision. This is precisely what happened as I was reading aloud from the chapter Skridlov that April morning at the All and Everything Conference in Hoorn.
Next year, the All and Everything Conference will have convened for twenty years. The annual Conference grew out of an exchange between Bert Sharp (UK), Nicolas Tereschenko (France) and Sy Ginsburg (US) in 1996, and has evolved into an international forum for exchange and practice of the Gurdjieff teaching. This meeting of minds, hearts and bodies provides a powerful and stimulating setting to intensify inner work in a friendly atmosphere. We have a lot of fun as well as being “them heavy people” as Kate Bush famously called Gurdjieff students in her eponymous song. I enjoyed having a glass of wine (or two!) in the glamorous hotel bar at the end of each day of heart-opening experiences and more active mentation.
I loved talking to the interesting and open people from all around the world the Conference attracts, people who are serious enough about investigating the sense and meaning of their existence to invest the time, energy and money required to make themselves available for five days of exchange with like-minded people. I spoke to a long-standing Gurdjieff student from Israel about the Kabbalah, to a sympathetic young Persian about recordings of the sittings as given by of George Adie, to a young Danish-Italian mother of two about the possibility of essence-friendship across time and space, and to a Greek dramatist about the future of the Gurdjieff teaching.
Lee van Laer’s presentation on Intentional Suffering reached me in a way I hadn’t expected. In combination with our group readings, interspersed with reflections and questions, of the chapter Purgatory, I reached a new understanding of the state of ecstasy and bliss, the push pull of suffering and joy in the heart that awakening Conscience gives rise to. Ocke de Boer’s talk on Two Souls gave me practical methods for climbing up the chakras that I practice in sittings. Robin Bloor’s Diagram of Everything Living helped me digest more completely Ouspensky’s intellectual presentation of Gurdjieff’s cosmology, which I consider an important preparation for us westerners to connect with the language of myth as used in the three series. Paul Taylor directed us on how to read the complex symbology of the prologue to Life Is real Only Then, When “I am” via Skype, appearing like a messenger from another galaxy on the screen at the front of the conference room. Darlene Franz assisted us to achieve more harmonic interaction and to abandon our crutches of self-love and vanity. Tony Blake helped us to become listeners with ears to hear, and the spiritual artists of the future.
Avrom Surath didn’t play the Movements music. He played us. The Movements music is something very special when transmitted by a pianist who understands the whole of what is happening and is an active participant in the class. Avrom played with a presence and sensitivity that made his own personality seem to melt away and filled the entire room with his availability. He moved our limbs with the rhythms and melodies he invoked with his presence. (We had an impromptu Movements class with some of the best Movements instructors around.)
Over the five days of the Conference, a sense of hyper reality seems to appear, and although all the niggles of everyday irritations and inconveniences are still there, and sometimes even amplified, a state of expansive openness and vulnerability gradually arises that is very rich. To best sum up the conference, I have to compare it to LSD coupled with deep essence-friendship, rich friction, ecstatic bliss and remorse of conscience. Hope to see you at the next Conference. We need each other.