Dr Francis Roles interviewed by Dr Peter Fenwick with Professor Richard Guyatt, 1982
MEMORIES OF MR & MADAME OUSPENSKY
DR FRANCIS ROLES
interviewed by Dr Peter Fenwick
with Professor Richard Guyatt
Roles: You want something about my past don’t you?
Fenwick: Very much, yes.
Roles: Because I was a completely ordinary doctor going through my medical career with no interest whatsoever in anything psychic or mysterious until a time when I reviewed a book as editor of the Barts journal, two books by Kenneth Walker who was on the staff then, and it pleased him so much that he made us – our family and his – one, and asked us down at weekends, and at one point he asked me to a meeting by a man called Ouspensky, his full name was Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky, we referred to him as O. I went along not expecting anything and from the first seeing this stocky figure coming in unassumingly and not putting on any kind of act at all, I hung my coat at his door – he was the first man I could trust.
Fenwick: And after you had met Ouspensky what effect did that have on your life?
Roles: It really changed it because my career was very promising when I met him. I was on the way to the staff at a teaching hospital and a specialist hospital – the Brompton – but when I told him that I would be seeing a little less of him, he said “Oh well I might see you once a year”, so I gave up my career promptly. I attended weekly meetings with him.
Fenwick: What sort of man was he?
Roles: He was a man who was determined to get the truth at any cost, he didn’t mind. He was very cultured, a literary man in Moscow, well known, editor of a paper. He suited me because my only claim to fame was that like the elephant’s child in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories I had an insatiable curiosity. I wanted to know the truth and so did Ouspensky. And so he used to ask me down and I used to sit up with him all night and we discussed – magical evenings – but he always wanted to be informed on the latest facts produced by science on man and on the universe. So we had many talks about that. He was also a very religious man and he liked getting at the inner meaning of religious writings like the Gospels. And many conversations about, which you [to RG] can bear witness to, the meaning, the psychological meaning, of parables like the prodigal son or the good Samaritan, things like that.
Fenwick: Was there any particular part of his teaching which attracted you very strongly?
Roles: I think the psychological part. The fact that man doesn’t know himself. Everything begins with self-study. Until you know yourself, you can’t really know how a human being works, how it is meant to work, any more than until you drive a car you can’t know how a car is meant to work. It is simply a question of what is meant by the strange . . . consciousness, strange word consciousness.
Fenwick: When you went down there and took part in the weekends, what did you actually do?
Roles: There was a farm of 30 or more acres and garden. My wife took charge of the ladies in the garden and about 40 people at the height came down at weekends. The men worked on the farm in the fields and so on. We put in a pretty hard two days of work and then in the evenings we sat up with him, a few of us.
Fenwick: Were you very close to him?
Roles: I think he was very glad to talk with me because I was a doctor. I first of all met them at Gadsden in Kent and then was instrumental in the purchase of Lyne Place in Surrey where we lived through the war. My wife and family were great friends of Madame Ouspensky’s family, so it was natural they lived together in that house.
Fenwick: Yes. And was your wife as interested in Ouspensky’s teachings as you were?
Roles: She started by being furious with me for going out in the evening when she was pregnant with her second child feeling terribly sick but having got her through that she was as keen as I was. She liked him and Mr Ouspensky admired her warm heart – “A heart of gold” he said, but she was Madame Ouspensky’s little pet and her eyes she could do no wrong whereas in Madame Ouspensky’s eyes I could do no right.
Fenwick: Yes. It’s said they were very strict in their house, is that true or not?
Roles: Madame had a very strict formula which she thought was the formula that Gurdjieff demanded. Actually Ouspensky was closer to Gurdjieff in spirit than Madame. But it was very much a semi-religious institutional atmosphere. And when we took Aldous Huxley and his party down there, this offended them very much. He was shown into the big dining room at Lyne Place; everybody was sitting like this and he said “How dreadful” and never turned up again.
Fenwick: And was Lyne and the house in London, were they bought at the same time?
Roles: Just before Munich Mr Ouspensky got hold from the Russian ballet of the house at Colet Gardens as it was then and we redecorated it from start to finish and he held some very interesting meetings there up to the middle of 1940 when the bombing started. He used to attend them himself and they were carried on in the different studios at the same time. And then the Admirals commandeered it during the war for naval exercises and we got it back with considerable friction after the war and redecorated it again ready for him to come for his last few meetings, when he was already a very ill man.
But I wanted to stress that for the last three years of his life Ouspensky scarcely said a word. He was training those with him to understand what he wanted without his saying anything out loud. One had to infer what he needed. For instance he’d say “Take meeting in New York.” “What shall I talk about?” “Talk about activities of man, in particular relation to crime.” And one had to try and remember what he’d said in the past and hold a meeting for him and then get torn to pieces on return.
His ideas are now coming into the picture very much: recent scientific ideas that the universe couldn’t have started by chance and be maintained by chance were very much what he taught and he also taught the psychology that man never remembers himself, himself, and the only things in his life that he remembers vividly are moments when he remembered himself. So all his teaching is directed to how to remember and it was my particular province to try and find a man with a method, which turned out to be what we call now meditation, and he showed me enough of it so that when I met, 15 years later, with the Maharishi, whom you also know [to PF], in London, I was able to recognise the method as the one indicated.
Fenwick: At the time when Ouspensky died, what do you think was his greatest contribution… with all your experience?
Roles: I think I would say that as well as the three dimensions of space, there were three dimensions of time and there was not only time as a straight line from before to after, beginning nowhere and ending nowhere, we call that the first dimension. The second dimension was time as a circle where the beginning and the end meet and everything could be described as part of some cycle. The cycles are partly in the seasonal cycles but also in repetition or recurrence in eternity; that is, not on the line of before-now-after, but on a vertical line of now.
Fenwick: When you came to take over Colet House, were you very daunted? With the thought that you now had to….?
Roles: It all happened so gradually. When he came back to England from America having been there during World War II, he called me and another man and said, “Get me three hundred people.” And I said, “Well, how long have we got?” and he said, “Three weeks, about”. “What do I say to them?” and he said, “Why say anything? Just ask them what they want.” We got the three hundred people and he held those first meetings and we carried on with what remained of that three hundred after his death in 1947.
Fenwick: Looking back over your life and judging it from a personal level, what do you feel are the most important things that you’ve learned and that you’d like to hand on?
Roles: This fact that within one is already developed and already in existence a hot line with the Absolute, a spark of the Divinity which is in the universe, the intelligence behind the universe. Intelligence is just a part of consciousness but each of us has an atom of the consciousness, an element of the consciousness, which permeates the whole universe.
Fenwick: Do you have any personal tricks or personal things which you can do to or that you practise that can bring the memory of the Divine spark back to you during the day?
Roles: Just silence. There are moments during the day provided by nature when this is possible but nobody knows about them and they pass them by. Every time we finish one set of motivations, one set of jobs, in the pause between that and undertaking the next, there is a pause when the mind is open, is free. If we pay more attention to those pauses and lengthen them so the present moment can be prolonged, this is another of Mr Ouspensky’s teachings.
Fenwick: Any tips on how you do it?
Roles: You just have to begin and go on and persist. It can’t be described by anybody else.
I would just like to end up telling a story which shows that everything is so simple really, compared with the complexity that we make of it:
Three men spent a lifetime trying to climb laboriously a wall.
And when at last they succeeded, the first man laughed so much that he never came back. He jumped down and disappeared for keeps.
The second man laughed inordinately. He laughed so that he fell down on the wrong side of the wall and suffered multiple injuries.
But the third man laughed in a good-natured kind of way and came back to help his friends.
But there is no wall! That’s what everyone was laughing at. There is no wall at all.