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"May reconciliation, hope, diligence and justice be ever with you all.” Gurdjieff, 1912

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"It's Up To Ourselves"
A Mother, A Daughter, and GURDJIEFF
A Shared Memoir and Family Photo Album
by Jessmin and Dushka Howarth


        References to “The Fourth Way,” “The Enneagram,” “Harmonious Development,” and so forth, appear everywhere nowadays and the name of G. I. Gurdjieff, the man who originally introduced most of these concepts to the West in the early 1900s, is often used as a commercial attention grabber.
         The 1985 publication of
Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography, a 363-page volume, drove this home to many of us. Identifying and briefly summarizing the existing books and articles about this philosopher and writer, who had died in 1949 almost completely unknown except to a small coterie of pupils and admirers, it lists the astonishing number of one thousand seven hundred and forty- three publications (in English and French) And every year the list increases.
        Unfortunately, of the now almost three thousand publications about Gurdjieff and his work presently available, one can with discrimination and a clear conscience recommend only a very small percentage to the serious reader. Most of them are inept, misguided or, worse, sometimes really destructive. The saleability of the Gurdjieff name has resulted in an avalanche of spurious imitations. Hundreds of writings and public presentations are offered nowadays by people who never knew the man himself or had direct experience of his teaching. However they realize that by using his name they increase credibility and sales for their own work.
          For years many of us laughed at this profiteering, clumsy and blatant as it was. However such shameless exploitation not only produces ugly distortions but is cruelly unfair to those many good people who have worked quietly and faithfully for years to preserve the integrity and continuity of this valuable, and to them personally, sacred system of ideas.  
         In the Americas and in Europe of the 1920s, Asian and even Near- Eastern culture, thought and religious practices were almost unrecognized, or
were, at best, suspect. But the “Gurdjieff Teaching," reconciling as it does Eastern spiritual ideas and contemporary scientific discoveries, was practical and free of mystical trappings and cultish atmosphere. It attracted the attention and active participation of educated, successful-in-life adults, and evidently satisfied a deep need in an era of weakening traditions and modern challenges. Today that interest intensifies and continues.  
          In more than twenty-five countries around the world thousands of serious, discriminating people come together regularly in large, active groups to support each other’s attempts to verify and put into practice “The Work,” as it has come to be known. In truth, it is no easy panacea! So for many of these pupils it has been difficult to accept that what started out as such a private, if not down right secret personal study is now widely discussed, and eagerly investigated by the media. It is publicly revealed internationally not only in numerous books and magazines but also in TV documentaries and feature films, (notably the award-winning Meetings With Remarkable Men directed by Peter Brook), and ever more widely (and mostly inaccurately) on the internet...

         Despite increasing popular interest in Gurdjieff, much less is known about an essential part of his rich legacy: the extensive and exacting series of physical exercises now called simply “The Movements,” which have been variously described as “Sacred Dances,” “esoteric gymnastics,” or, as Jacques Maritain, the French theologian called them, “meditation in motion.”
         In order to introduce his new ideas to the West, Gurdjieff briefly showed his Movements to the general public in Paris in late 1923, with skillfully prepared, elaborate theatrical performances in colorful ethnic costumes, a thirty-six-piece orchestra and an informed commentary by the respected English editor and critic, A.R. Orage.  Smaller scale demonstrations were presented in various cities of the United States in 1924.
        A small number of articles appeared in the American and European press at that time (see Chapter 4) but another twenty-five years would pass before any further mention of Gurdjieff appeared in print.
          In certain circles these demonstrations attracted attention and comment and  people who expressed interest were offered the opportunity to join small study groups. However as soon as the American tour was completed, those early Movements (and another hundred or so that were developed later) were withdrawn from public access.
         Since then Gurdjieff’s students have maintained a constant effort to preserve and protect the Movements undistorted and to prevent their indiscriminate use. These are strong methods which must be used in the context of an ongoing practice of self-observation, “work on oneself,” and a careful synthesis of physical, emotional and psychological experience.
         Gurdjieff’s emphasis after 1917 on Movements as an integral part of his teaching   greatly discomfited some of his more intellectual followers. This included the Russian P. D. Ouspensky whose scientific mind demanded (and then was fully satisfied with) logical, precise explanations and formulas, which precious material he accurately reformulated both orally and in voluminous writings, thereby earning gratitude from many followers and readers.
        However, it was often the Movements that attracted Westerners to the Work and many of these gained understanding, and often had profound experiences from working with Movements long before they learned of the “Ideas” through verbal expositions. Notably my mother, Jessmin Howarth, and her friend and colleague, Jeanne de Salzmann, both of whom abandoned successful dance and teaching careers after being exposed to Movements, to devote their lives to Gurdjieff’s “System”— before reading any books, hearing any lectures or group discussions. They continued actively instructing and preserving the Work, especially the Movements, until their respective deaths at the ages of ninety-two and one hundred and one.
        When my mother first encountered Gurdjieff in 1922, he and a group of thirty or so followers had just arrived in Paris by a long and difficult route, driven out of Russia by the Revolution. Though formerly of the intelligentsia and aristocracy, these “refugees” had few European contacts or readily marketable skills and no financial resources. They spoke little French or English and even their legal status was uncertain.

        Mother, on the other hand, orphaned at an early age and having endured a grim childhood in Victorian England, had the good fortune and talent to be sent as a teenager to cosmopolitan pre-World War I Dresden for advanced violin studies. There a multi-national community of avant-garde artists and performers at the Dalcroze Institute in Hellerau welcomed her into their midst. With their encouragement and collaboration, she developed her other talents in the fields of dance, pantomime, and physical therapy, changing her life’s direction.

         Ten years later, at the time of Gurdjieff’s arrival, Mother, then thirty, was already at the peak of a career as choreographer for the Paris Opera, a sought-after teacher of Dalcroze Eurythmics and pantomime, and an esteemed veteran of the history-making theatrical experiment, Jacques Copeau’s Vieux Colombier.
          How unlikely the meeting, much less the relationship, of these two, Gurdjieff and Mother! And how difficult for me, a result, to understand years hence... [Excerpt]

In October of 2003 The Gurdjieff International Review  published advance excerpts of this book.
"It’s Up to Ourselves" by Jessmin & Dushka Howarth

 “As the years pass, I become increasingly, and painfully, aware of how few of us are still around who actually knew Mr. Gurdjieff, spent time with him, shared meals, or traveled with him. Simple, human aspects of his life are being forgotten, misconstrued, or blown up out of all proportion... [Excerpt]

Created by for Gurdjieff Heritage Society, Inc~ Copyright 2006~Dushka Howarth, President~New York~All Rights Reserved ~
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     Photographs on this website appear in Jessmin & Dushka Howarth's Book "It's Up To Ourselves" A Mother, A Daughter, and GURDJIEFF