Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Tuesday, June 1, 1976

Bruce Arvon recounts joining the Fellowship of Friends

[ed. - The following is from Bruce Arvon's blog, The Fourth Way Path. This post has been placed in the timeline approximately where the described events occurred.]
The Fellowship of Friends

I called the number and spoke with someone who told me that they had a series of 3 prospective student meetings and it was necessary to read Peter Ouspenski's "The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution" before one could attend but since I had read "The Fourth Way" by Ouspenski, that was OK and I would be able to come to the meetings. She told me the time and place where the meeting was to be held, which was a house in Oakland across the bay from San Francisco.

I was very nervous while driving there not knowing what to expect and worrying about what they would think of me. In the work this emotion is called considering, worrying about what the other is thinking of you. Actually, the other is mostly thinking and worrying about what you are thinking of him.

This is our lot in life and escape from this trap is long, arduous and very difficult! Gurdjieff said that we are in a prison, this is one illustration of the bars surrounding us.

When I arrived I was shown into the living room of a pleasant house in which several nicely dressed men and women were sitting in a more or less circle. No one was wearing jeans and all of the females were wearing dresses. They were mostly in their 20s and 30s and had bright, shiny and serious faces; the hostess [ed. - Anna Gold] was older probably in her 60s. Later I found out that she was the owner of the house and also a concert pianist. I and another "prospective student" were seated on a sofa and then the meeting started.

They began by different people describing parts of The Fourth Way or the system that Gurdjieff had brought to the West from the East and was described by Peter Ouespenski in his book "The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution". Each person spoke about one or more ideas of the work pretty much following the chapters in the book. Some one then asked us, the prospective students, if we had any questions, which I did. I don't remember what I asked but at that time I was naturally skeptical and so my questions must have been also.

After this session which probably lasted and hour or so, less formally, coffee and treats were served. A woman named Ellen then asked me if I wished to return for the second session which I did. After the three meetings and I had decided to join, she expressed surprise because of my skepticism she thought I would not join.

The other two meetings were pretty much the same, following the ideas written in the book plus they began talking about the Fellowship.

The Fellowship had someone they called the teacher but at this stage they did not reveal his name to us, they only referred to him as the teacher. The organization was not only interested in Gurdjieff's teaching but also Shakespeare and many other great writers and philosophers.

The Fellowship also owned many acres of land in the Sierra foothills which at that time was called Renaissance and or The Farm where they were planting grapes and building a winery. Combined with teaching one how to become conscious, the group was also taught art, literature and philosophy. Turns out it was also like a Finishing School.

This sounded perfect for me; I could become educated with all of these wonderful ideas and knowledge and also become conscious. WOW! I had hit the jackpot and it was only $50.00 per month which I could afford. The other prospect also wanted to join so we both did at that time.

It was 1976, I was 40 years old, I paid my $50.00 (the fee was $50.00 a month) and I was instructed to come the next week to a meeting in a Church on Van Ness St. in San Francisco.

I entered the meeting room which was being held in a strikingly modern church, the Holy Trinity Cathedral. The room was in the basement where chairs were placed in rows facing a raised dais. There were probably about 40 or more people seated and four sitting on the dais.

I was really nervous (considering) when I entered not knowing what to expect and also thinking all of these people were conscious and could hear everything I was thinking, all my thoughts. I frantically tried to stop my thoughts because they sure were not what I wanted known! Everyone was pleasant, nicely dressed as before at the prospective student meeting and seemingly serious.

On the dais were a very handsome man about 30 years old, Miles [ed. - Miles Barth], an older woman, Helga [ed. - Helga Barth, now Guinevere Mueller], with a German accent, another heavy set woman, Stella [ed. Stella Wirk] and a man of slight build, Harold [ed. - Harold Wirk] who was Stella’s husband. All of these people I later learned were major stars of the Fellowship. At that time and for a long time after I assumed they all had super powers and were conscious. Of course I thought I knew what conscious meant but it would be many years later until I became aware that I actually did not know what to be conscious meant.

The meetings were structured in a question and answer form. A "student", we were all students, would ask something like: how do I work with negative emotions? The leader on the dais would answer and maybe one of the other leaders give an opinion, then someone in the audience might stand up and offer up something. Usually as in all groups the same people were the ones who spoke most of the time.

Gurdjieff had spoken about a special language that only people with a certain level of development understood. The students in the Fellowship were given the impression that they were using this special language that others did not know. The words and their meanings were gathered from Ouespenski and Rodney Collin’s writings. I guess this so called special language began with the idea that man is a machine and then Robert Burton (the teacher) laid out a description of the machine using a deck of cards.

We are divided into 5 separate and distinct brains, The Intellectual Center, The Emotional Center, The Instinctive Center, The Moving Center and The Sex Center. Plus there are a couple of other higher brains which we do not have access to. Now these brains which control all of our thoughts, feelings and actions are separate and unconnected to each other and act only in their own self interest, which also causes us untold problems and illusions. Each of these brains then is also separated into three major parts, the instinctive-moving, the emotional and the intellectual. Each of these three parts is again divided into three parts.

Now in the deck of cards each of these parts is represented by a card and each of the centers is represented by a suit, the emotional center by the hearts, the instinctive center by the clubs, the moving center by the spades and the intellectual center by the diamonds. I never asked, but I guess the sex center is left out and doesn't get to play although in our daily life it is playing all over the place.

I will use catching a ball for an example. It would be recognized as the moving part of the moving center because it more or less happens automatically without any need for thinking or feeling. Drawing might be from the intellectual part of the moving center because there needs to be thinking involved in the movement. Catching the ball would be called out as the jack of spades and drawing might be from the king of spades.

In the Fellowship I learned how to use these classifications to represent all of my different behaviors and everyone else’s. Actually I felt very superior to the rest of humanity because I knew this secret language and they did not.

Robert Burton used to speak about how we did not wish to remain sleeping and were willing to work to become conscious while the rest of humanity was content to remain machines and asleep!

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