1941–1947: USA & England

 

There are two further periods in Ouspensky’s life which cannot be dealt with fully in this exhibition. One is the time he spent teaching in New York from 1941-47, and other is the final 9 months of his life after he had returned to England.

Wartime conditions had put paid to work in London. Ouspensky said at a meeting in January 1941, a few days before he left for the United States: ‘… we cannot work at Colet Gardens. Many people went away; it is difficult to meet in the evening there; generally, communications are difficult; I cannot stay in London; one thing after another.’

The Ouspenskys set up an operation in New Jersey and New York City which was analogous to the one in Surrey and London: a large estate, Franklin Farms at Mendham, and ‘The Studio’ on 78th Street in New York City. This period has been little studied by biographers, but it is clear that Ouspensky was not content. He found it harder to get committed students than in London and he lacked the cadre of highly trained senior students he had relied on in England; there was something of a rift between his own work and Madame Ouspensky’s.

Meeting reports show his answers to questions becoming more and more terse. In the last two or three years in the company of his closest students at Mendham, instead of discussing ideas he sat in silence expecting them to understand what he wanted without words.

Then he developed a kidney disease. His condition deteriorated in 1946, and he returned to England.

Colet Gardens

Colet Gardens

In wartime England several families had moved into Lyne Place, and others visited Lyne when they could. Colet House had been requisitioned by the Admiralty, to be relinquished only in 1946.

When he returned to England, Ouspensky gave 6 lectures at Colet House – or rather, answers to questions. He appeared to abandon the system of knowledge he had taught for  nearly 30 years, telling his students to start again for themselves.

Many of his former pupils were shocked or confused, but for others the impression was of the honesty of his answers. One couple, coming for the first time, said afterwards: ‘This man tried very hard, and told the truth. We never heard anyone tell the truth before.’

In these last months, apparently his main object was to create a vehicle of conscious memory which would survive the passage through death to rebirth. He arranged for Falcovsky, a childhood friend then living in Paris, to visit Lyne. Falcovsky was the only person who could make the connection between Ouspensky at the end of his life and at his time as a schoolboy when he was beginning to wake up.

In spite of the pain and debility of his illness he made long car journeys to the several houses he and Madame Ouspensky had occupied or visited since he arrived in England in 1921, reinforcing his memory of them. He spared neither himself nor his companions and the extreme exhaustion and frustration engendered by his unremitting resolution brought several of them eventually to an emotional threshold from which they would never turn back.

Someone said to him that ‘It was as if he were making them perform a series of dress rehearsals for some play about which they knew nothing. It was a miracle.’ Ouspensky said in reply: ‘This is not dress rehearsal. This is not miracle. This is preparation for preparation for a miracle.’

He instructed his two closest associates, Rodney Collin Smith and Francis Roles, that after his death they should ‘reconstruct’ everything for themselves. He had previously told Francis Roles he believed something vital was missing from the System – ‘If man is meant to remember himself there must be some simple natural method.’ He said he had heard ‘an echo’ of such a method in India but could never find it.

Francis Roles later commented that ‘we saw Mr Ouspensky with our own eyes reach full Self-Realiization before he died.’

Ouspensky died at Lyne Place on 2 October 1947.

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