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All and Everything Conference 2013
The All and Everything conference started as a forum for discussing Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson in 1996 and has developed in to a global forum for the presentation and discussion of the Gurdjieff teaching, attracting independent thinkers and scholars from around the world.
For me, the conference is a strangely emotional experience. It is a rare time when I feel surrounded by my kin. It is a place where I have found essence friends and made connections that span decades and that I expect will continue throughout my life. We are walking the same narrow path, separate, but alongside each other. Although our life circumstances may be quite different, in widely diverse parts of the globe, our essential, inner, experience is shared. It is profoundly affirming to be together, even for a few days.
Some of the people at this year's conference I had never met before outside Facebook. The social networking site has been a source of joy to me since I joined it in 2007. I have found likeminded people in remote corners of the world and share my daily life as well as my thoughts, feelings and experiences in the work with them. Meeting such friends in person after years of only internet contact is a moving experience.
The atmosphere of the conference is gentle, respectful, serious. Some people like to talk a lot, which is probably why they present at conferences! I try not to talk so much myself, as I too like the sound of my own voice, but like to be with, alongside, other people who are also working on themselves. I learn from the approach someone else might take to quite an everyday problem.
When some friends from the conference came to visit me a few days after the conference, and we decided to go on a day trip to see the sights of the south coast of England. As we got into the car to set off on our drive, my friend said firmly and simply: WATCH. It wasn't addressed to anyone in particular, but made a profound impression on me about how to communicate outside of the regular well-worn channels of habitual nagging and pleading.
For me, two papers stood out at the conference. The first was by Hugh Hubbard and related to the migration of early Neolithic people in Europe. Hugh explained that the ice age coming from the north and desertification coming from the south had squeezed population groups into a narrow band in southern Europe and the near East. When the ice cap receded these groups migrated and expanded into new lands, some becoming settled farmers and others nomadic herders; later with a downturn in the climate these groups came into conflict in regions with difficult geographies. Hugh related these events to the second transapalnian perturbation in Beelzebub's Tales and also to the tale of Cain and Abel in the Bible. I liked that Hugh is thinking entirely for himself, not relying on conclusions anyone else has made, but just really bringing what he himself understands to the table and looking at the pieces of the puzzle completely afresh, as if for the first time.
The other paper was by Farzin Deravi and was presented in the form of a poster. Farzin explains the phenomenon of autostereograms, where an 'invisible' image appears when you stare at a picture while relaxing your eyes. Books containing autostereograms were popular in the 1990s and I had several. I immediately understood what Farzin was pointing out, that works of mythology or scripture also work in this way. It is not what you are focusing on immediately, or the literal level of meaning, that is only significant. There is another field, which arises in your own subconscious from engaging with the surface meaning. This inner meaning has its own life in me, feeding my inner world whether I understand it, see it, get it, or not.
Long-standing participant in the conferences Sy Ginsburg, was unable to attend himself, but Stephen Aronson presented Sy's paper on the Atlantean temples in Beelzebub's Tales. Sy describes the significance of the passive and active principles within ourselves in relation to meditative states which for tied in quite closely with my thoughts on what it might mean to be a woman-mother as described in my own paper The Initiation of Motherhood. My paper explores the sacred process of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding from the perspective of the Gurdjieff teaching. I feel that it is important for women's voices to be heard in the context of the teaching, and that a more feeling-based perspective isn't lost in the head-brainy competitive wiseacering that can take place amongst males of the species!
Paul Beekman Taylor, who lived with Gurdjieff as a child, spoke on the controversies associated with the two editions of Beelzebub's Tales and Stephen Grant of the New York Foundation offered the perspective of Triangle Editions who published the revised version of the book. I felt that this was an important moment, as all the participants seemed to be aware of the experiences of the early church which quickly descended into warring factions after the teaching was first disseminated. The suggestion arose that members of the conference work together with Triangle Editions on Beelzebub's Tales. I aim to facilitate this initiative in any way I can.
There were also readings followed by talks, one of which was on Meetings With Remarkable Men. Although I barely kept up with the reading and the subsequent discussion at the time, the churning up of these passages in my psyche had effects that lasted for some time after the conference had ended. I kept coming to new realisations about the symbolic and mythological nature of the events described in Meetings.
In the evening, there were piano recitals where we listened to outstanding interpreters of the Gurdjieff de Hartmann music. Hearing it being played live by people who are really in the teaching is a privilege.
I think a key difference in this year's conference compared to others that I've participated in was that it had the right hint of academic rigour and structure to facilitate exchange and to be equitable and just. No one was able to dominate and no one was overlooked.
I hope to meet you, the reader, at a conference in the future.