Professor R.G. Guyatt gave this lecture on 2nd October 1997, the 50th anniversary of P.D. Ouspensky’s death.
This extract from the lecture is illustrated in a video with a variety of relevant images.
The full lecture can be heard here.
Address given to the Study Society on 2nd October 1997, the 50th Anniversary of the death of P.D. Ouspensky
by Richard Guyatt
To start at my beginning – and I talk of 1936 – one was asked to read A New Model of the Universe, and Tertium Organum, and subsequently to show that one was genuinely interested in these ideas, before being invited to attend a meeting – the standard procedure for all people being ‘introduced’. As now, meetings were held on Thursday evenings and one had to phone up each Thursday morning to find out if one might come. Sometimes, with no reason given, one could not.
Mr Ouspensky, in his clipped and limited English, opened up extraordinary possibilities and made one see life in an entirely new way. His undoubted authority seemed to come from the power he had over himself, and the complete certainty he felt – and communicated to us – of the truths he was propounding, based on the central proposition that man is a seed, an incomplete being, only capable of developing into the full flower of his potential through his own efforts. No one else could do it for him, but he couldn’t do it on his own – hence the need for a School and three lines of work.
For us neophytes, the concept of three lines of work was given a practical expression by being allowed to work at Lyne Place – the country estate where the Ouspensky’s lived with their entourage of helpers.
Quite a few people lived there permanently or went for long visits, but the weekends saw droves of people coming down either to spend a couple of nights or just for the day. Although never formulated, for there must have been many different levels of endeavour, I understood that the overriding aim of the work we did at Lyne was to burn off all one’s excess mechanical energy by hard physical work, leaving the way free, through the practice of ‘self-remembering’ and attention, to reach the main accumulator of conscious energy in higher centres.
It was obvious that Madame was the active force in organising Lyne, keeping an eagle eye on all arrangements, whilst Mr Ouspensky adopted a passive role, working privately and only to be reached by appointment or if he asked to see one. However, his presence was all pervading; he was often to be seen riding on his pony around the grounds.
Sometimes one had skills which could be used, as when I helped in painting the scenery, designed by Madame, for the great demonstration of Movements to be held in the newly acquired Colet House. The design consisted of domes, minarets and palm trees shimmering in hot sunlight under a blue and cloudless sky. Madame proved a hard task-mistress with a constant stream of criticisms, demanding complicated refinements and often complete re- workings. There was a certain sense of relief when the last minaret passed muster.
The demonstration itself, when it took place, was a glittering affair and was of course staged in this room which was packed to overflowing. In those days the seating, consisting of rows of ‘tip-up’ red velvet cinema seats faced in the opposite direction to today’s arrangement, with the other end of the room occupied by quite a deep platform or stage. For the performance, this was curtained off with a proscenium arch and brightly lit, while the rest of the room was in darkness.
All the performers were dressed in long white robes and our palm trees and minarets made an unexpectedly suitable back-drop to these mysterious dances. The whole effect was stunning, especially to those of us who did not know them.
Towards the end of 1937 Mr Ouspensky began telling groups there was a real need to form a Society and to acquire a bigger house to allow the expansion of activities, for he expected numbers might rise to 600 members. So with the acquisition of a 39 year lease for this house the Historico-Psychological Society was born, which in our own time and due to Dr Roles’s initiative, has become the Study Society.
A tremendous amount of reconstruction of the interior was needed before this house could come into use, the main job being the building of the present concrete staircase, straight up from the hall to the top floor.
But all the physical, mental and emotional efforts which were being concentrated by so many people during this period, to establish and expand the organization, were to be frustrated by the outbreak of war. After a period of turmoil and seeing the work disintegrate before their eyes, the Ouspensky’s left for the USA in 1941.
Some comfort was to be found in our certainty that Mr Ouspensky would one day return and the work would start again. Our hopes hung on that and then we heard, half unbelieving, that he was indeed returning. This was news indeed, and Dr Roles has described the miracle of regaining Colet House – against all the odds, from the Admiralty who had commandeered it – in time for the return.
So the stage was set and expectancy ran high for what proved to be his final meetings, held, as I have already said, in this room. I was only able to come to one of them, alerted by Dr Roles (with whom I had kept in touch throughout the war) who urged me to come whatever the difficulties. As I took my seat I was aware of a general feeling of excited anticipation which was catching.
Yet Mr Ouspensky’s entrance, from the back of the stage, was a great shock. Instead of the robust authoritative figure we knew and were expecting, here was a stranger, a bent little old man, guided by an imposing lady in black, obviously gravely ill and hardly able to walk. The effect was devastating and one could feel the whole audience stiffen at the way this longed for return was being actualized.
One has only to read the verbatim reports of those last meetings to catch something of their flavour; the baffled questions and the baffling answers. It was bewildering and despairing, as if our teacher had come back to mock us, to shake us off, and to tell us, “What of it if I have led you into a cul-de-sac?” No gleam of hope, no encouragement, no farewell, just flat statements of fact that seemed to contradict all he had taught us.
My strong belief is that he knew exactly what he was doing, that he was clearing the way for a new beginning.