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.

Saturday, December 1, 1973

Early History of the Fellowship of Friends, as told by Student #1

The future "Lincoln Lodge" in May 1973. Photo by Drew Kampion

[ed. - From the Fellowship of Friends Wiki Space (inactive), this retrospective by Bonita H. was first published May 27, 1997. Re-posted here in the chronology, it presents a fascinating view of the early years.]
From Dec. 1969 to Dec. 1973
By Bon_ta Hight_wer
First student of Robert Burton

Foreword

I left America in Dec. 1973 with the permission from Robert Burton, to be gone for 2 years, then return to America and be with him again, as a student. He had said that if any time in that 2 years I wanted to return and did not have the money to do so, I was just to telephone him, and he would send me the airplane fare to return. In the first weeks of being in another country, I wrote him a letter. In that letter, I said that he surrounded himself with “Yes” men, and that I did not feel it was beneficial for him. It gave him an unreal view of himself, and how things were, in the school. I also asked him why he referred to the students as “his” students, or “my” students. That why couldn't he just refer to them as students. (I had been a student teacher in Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, and Hawaii.)

Soon after that letter was sent to him, a Hawaiian student went against the rules of the school, and contacted me, and told me that Robert had put me out of school.

I did not tell anyone the name of my Teacher, or the name of the “Fellowship Of Friends” to anyone after leaving America. Not even my dear husband, who has been my partner for 16 years.

So, it was not until 1996 that my husband heard those two names, while I was speaking to someone on the telephone and they mentioned them.

Therefore, I would like it to be realized that it is only with a great amount of thought, and a deep realization that the story that shall be told may be of benefit to those that came after me, in helping them to heal old wounds, and giving them a history which is not only my history with the FOF, but is also their history, which they have a right to know. Much of what shall be written has not been told to anyone in all these years.

It is my hope that those who read it may find some of the unanswered questions they may have had, over the years. Also, I deeply hope that it shall in some way, help them to heal.


“THE HISTORY OF THE FELLOWSHIP OF FRIENDS”

In Dec. 1969, I was invited to a New Years` Eve party. It was to be held in Lafayette, California.

I did not know the persons giving the party. They were said to be millionaires. It was my impression that the money was from the woman’s side. It was to be a costume party.

I was 33 years old, a housewife, and was married at the time to my second husband. I had 2 daughters from my first marriage. One was 14 ½ , the other was 13 years old. They were both from my first husband, who had been of German and Choctaw Indian decent. I had been told I was of part English, Scott-Irish, German, and Cherokee Indian decent. We had a long haired German Shepard, named “Muski.” We lived at 511 Kiki Drive, Pleasant Hill, which was close to the town where the party was to be held.

My husband did not wish to attend the party. I told him that I was to meet someone that would be very important to me at that party. I have not considered myself clairvoyant, but sometimes I do seem to know something that is going to happen, before it takes place. This might have been the most definite instance of that type of occurrence taking place. None had told me of the above important person to come into my life. I just knew it.

I had been taking belly dancing lessons in that time period of my life, and had made 2 belly dancing costumes. Therefore, I decided to wear one of them to the party.

The party was held in a large, rambling wooden house, surrounded by lovely trees. The persons who had invited me were the only ones I knew at the party. As I was a passive type person, and rather shy, I sat alone, and watched other people at the party. In time, I sat by the large fireplace, and greatly enjoyed watching the fire, and the glowing embers that came. In time, a man asked me to dance. He was a tall man, with black hair, and was quite good looking. After the dance, we sat down together and began to talk. His name was Robert Burton. After some time, I said to him, “There is something quite special in your eyes. I have never seen it before. Do you know what it is?” I do not remember the response, but we continued to talk for the rest of the evening. Eventually he said that I was the first person other than his own teacher who had recognized that special quality in his eyes. One of the statements he made that evening was, “I have found a God that has no clay feet.”

Robert was a little drunk that evening. I was “high” on some 60`s drug. Probably it was mescaline. There was the feeling of awe, and a quality that was well known by many in the 60s`—that feeling, that “anything can happen”. As I had “known” I would meet someone that would be important to my life at that party, it had not taken long to realize that it was this apparently wise and mysterious man. It was Robert Burton. I had never before met anyone like him.

There was such intensity to our conversations that at times everything and everyone else just seemed to disappear. I had entered a new, wondrous world, full of hidden portent. As the party ended, we each left, going our own separate ways.

On Jan. 1, 1970, at home, after being awake for a time, I suddenly realized I had no way of contacting that man. A sense of horror came over me. How could I have been so dumb as not to have secured myself a means of further contact?

It did not take long to make a phone call to the hostess of the party, with the aim to try and find a way to contact him. The hostess said yes, she knew him. He lived with his mother in Walnut Creek. She gave me his phone number. With great relief, I made the phone call. He was home, and we made an appointment to meet in a restaurant in Berkeley. I do not remember for sure if it was for the same evening, or the evening after. I think, however, that it was for the same evening.

I did own my own car, and could drive. It was a little pale yellow Datson stationwagon. However, I had been in a bad automobile accident in 1951, and had never really gotten over some of the trauma of that accident. I did not like to drive. I had not so very often had to drive to a place I did not know. I was somewhat upset that I would have to find that meeting place by myself. Yet, that discomfort in no way took hold of me to the extent that I would even consider not going.

In fact, the night that the meeting was to occur, my brother stopped by, unannounced. It had been quite a long time since I had last seen him. I was ready to leave when he arrived. We spoke a short time together, and I told him I was sorry, but I had a meeting and would have to leave, in order not to be late. I suppose he was rather upset with me at the time, but honestly, I was not in the least concerned with how it affected him. This was too great an event in my life to be concerned with hurting him. I really do not even remember if I had thought about it, at the time. It was only much later, that I realized that I had probably wounded him pretty badly. I had fairly much raised him from the time I was 11, and he was 7 years old, until I left home, when he was about 14 yrs. old.

That had been necessary because my parents had a Spanish/American restaurant, in Windsor, California. They worked 6 days and nights a week, and I took care of him after school. They did not return home until after we were both in bed, asleep. My older sister had worked in the restaurant after school hours.

I found the meeting place, and it was perhaps only the second time I had ever driven in Berkeley. Robert was waiting when I arrived. He congratulated me for being on time. At this meeting, he told me of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. We arranged to meet again, the next day, I think, and I was to buy the book, “In Search of the Miraculous” by Ouspensky. He gave me the name of a book store in which to buy them. I think both the store, and the next meeting, were in Walnut Creek.

We sat for hours in a cafeteria or restaurant, and had only coffee. I was worried about what the waitress would think of us spending so much time there, and spending so little money. Robert said I was not to be concerned with such things, and that it was an example of what was referred to “In the Work” as a feature in false personality called, “Inner-Considering”.

That meant that what one did and did not do, were dependent on what other people would think of our action or inaction, instead of acting from what was true in and of ourselves. I seem to recall him saying that we had to be realistic, and realize that we did in fact, not have much money to spend. At that second meeting, I asked him to autograph the book I had bought. He said, “No, it is not me that is important. It is the knowledge that I release that is important. Someday you will autograph for me, a book that you write.” That has not as yet come to pass.

At some point in the meeting, after having had some of the basics of the theories of the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky given to me, I quite clearly remember going to a toilet, and trying so very hard to “remember myself”. It might have been the first real attempt I had made to do so, and was apparently somewhat successful, as it has created a memory that lasts to this day, more than 27 years later!

At one of these early meetings, Robert said he had only been with his own teacher for 3 years. He also said that his teacher had increased his payments until he had had to hold down 3 jobs to be able to make the payments to be able to remain with his teacher. Then there had come a time when his teacher had told him it was time for him to leave, and go out on his own. Robert said, that he had traveled across the United States, searching for a student, that he may be able to teach, and was it not strange that he had come home, and found one (a student) in his own back yard.

The next meeting was held in Pleasant Hill. We were in a “Burger Bar” of some kind, and I ordered a hamburger. Much to my surprise, Robert did not talk. Eventually he said, he would not teach while I was eating. Eating would be a deviation of my attention. Of course, I finished my food as quickly as possible! I made some comment as to the negative appearance of some of the customers. Robert said that to him, they look “just right”, according to their body types.

At one of the early meetings I asked what would be needed for me to become his student. He explained that one could not be considered a student until a payment was made. He said, “What do you consider it would be worth to save your soul?” He said I was to think about those things he had taught me considering payments, and to arrive at the amount I would choose to pay. I chose to pay 90 dollars per month. I paid the amount, and became his first student.

The subject of voluntary sacrifices was spoken of. I told my teacher that I would give up many things, but I would not give up my children.

In a short time, my husband also became a student. From that time, the meetings began to take place in our home, in Pleasant Hill. From the beginning, Robert and I met 6 days a week. When my husband became a student, the meetings became 6 nights a week. The two children had a hard time, as it was necessary for them to be quiet in their rooms up-stairs, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. 6 nights a week. Of course, that was only one of the reasons their life became more difficult. Yet, that is a story for a later time.

As I had the great good fortune to be a housewife, it became possible to increase the teaching periods I had. It became 6 nights a week, plus many extra meetings in daytimes, alone with Robert. I was also given a number of personal exercises which took up alot of time.

1. I was fat at the time—weighing perhaps 150 lbs. and 5ft. 3½ inches tall. I had a wardrobe for several different sizes, as I was one of those people who had been on and off diets much of my life. One of the exercises was to make a skirt and a long vest, and a blouse.

2. I had previously colored my hair, (had a grey streak down the middle from the time I was 15 years old, due to the auto accident) and had gone through the discomfort of letting all the color grow out. I was to color my hair, as an exercise. Robert said the grey—which was no longer confined to the streak in the middle— was a sign that the hair was dead, or dying. (These are not really important, they just might be a source of humor now, to some “Who have been there.")

Quite early, I was given the exercise to make a poster, to advertise the meetings, to acquire more students. It was quite a surprise to me, and I asked “Why shall one advertise a 'C' Influence teaching?" It was one of those exercises that gave me alot of friction. I was so very passive, just the thought of carrying that out took alot of working against what “came natural” — or, “what was mechanical” for me.

I had 3 months of a teacher to myself, much of the time. So much went on in the day meetings, that I surely felt myself highly privileged, and grateful. Because of the many hours spent together, the time took on another dimension of being taught. That is to say, it could not be considered to be the same kind of a 3 month period for those that came later, and, for example, may have been mostly taught in a group, 3 nights a week.

As I remember it, the 3rd. student was a Doctor. At one time the 4 of us were doing an exercise in our back yard, doing some yard work. It seemed strange to me that I had already noticed a few times when it was necessary for Robert to “separate”, when it was not needed at all for me. I figured out that perhaps it was partly because he was a couple of years younger than I, and had not been married, or had children. Meaning, simply, a lack of experience in family life, which helps one to overcome and accept many things that are not as one would want, if it were only oneself to take into account. Another thought was that perhaps it was just due to our different body types. He was Saturn, with a little Mars. I was Venusian, with a little Mercury.

There came more students. We continued to meet in our home until there came others with a suitable home to have meetings in.

Sometime in the beginning, Robert said he would like me and my husband to make our payments in advance, so he could have enough money to make a downpayment on a Volkswagen van. I think he was using his mothers` car, though am not sure. We did not hesitate to do so, to the extent we could manage. The house we lived in made it look as if we had a good amount of money. That was not correct. My husband had saved a large amount of money before we had met, and put an unusually large downpayment on the house. Most likely we had the smallest monthly income of any in that housing tract. We did explain that situation to the teacher. He gratefully accepted what we could manage to give him, and he bought the Volkswagen Van. In its time, it carried many a student to wonderful excursions. It was sort of the “hippy car” of the time, in the 60s and early 70s. Many a hippy lived in their V.W. Vans, and many were decorated in wild and beautiful colorful designs. Robert's was destined to remain its own discrete color, with none of the fancy decorations of the time. It is surely remembered with a touch of nostalgia, for those that can remember the wonderment of the time, without coloring those memories with the disillusionment that came later.

From the beginning, it was made clear that persons that became students and left, were to have no more contact with each other. The teacher said he had devoted himself to work with those persons who wished to evolve, and it was necessary to keep the energy within the group, and not let it “leak” out, to those that left.
Bonita Guido, Robert Burton's first "student,"
in February 1973. Photo by Drew Kampion.

At one point I told Robert that I had an opportunity to belly dance at a local bar. It would include being topless, as there were the usual topless dancers there. I was told that it would be o.k. to do so, as it was possible to make the performance, “without being it.” I was delighted. I wanted to experiment with the dancing I had been taught. As I had been a nudist for some years, going topless was not something of concern to me. I invited a couple from San Francisco, who were friends of mine, to be there. I did the deed. It was exciting, but really quite hard work. I changed costumes 3 times, and had a wonderful time on stage. It seemed that doing a strip-tease act was right in my essence!!! Ha Ha. Because that was what I made it into. Between performances, the top-less dancing ladies were to serve drinks. In doing so, one dear customer was so sweet as to ask me to marry him. Oh, my, did that boost my ego! Ha. However, though I felt my performances were rather successful, I did not get the job. So it was my one and only night as a professional topless belly dancer. I was quite proud of myself to have been so bold, and was glad that I would have the story to tell if I ever had grandchildren.

Many years later, in the `90s`, my oldest daughter told me a story concerning the night I had been a topless bellydancer. She said that a boy at her school had asked her about it, because HIS FATHER HAD BEEN AT THE BAR, AND SEEN ME DANCE. Oh, my poor,dear, precious daughter!!! She said she had been horribly embarrassed!!! It was certainly NOT the first time I had embarrassed her badly, for sure, but that time had been particularly difficult for her. In many ways, I was grateful that she had waited so many years to tell me. She had not told me until these later years how difficult it had been for her, due to my “unusual” interests, of a variety of kinds.

When we were still quite a small group, one of the members named Stella, asked me if there was anything between me and the teacher other than that of teacher and student. I answered, “No, of course not.” I would like to say at this time, so many years later, that I had lied.

My second husband and I had been separated 2 times, for short periods. The final separation and divorce occured because I told him that I was having an affair with a young man that had come into school. He was a Mormon. My husband could not “take” that information, and we separated and he filed for divorce. It is too long a story to go more into, at this time.

Due to the separation, it was necessary for me to return to work, to earn money. I had begun to work as a practical nurse to earn money, and knew it was a job I intensely disliked. That was because I had taken the education to be able to “give” to other people, and the jobs I had held in “Old Peoples`Homes” had shown themselves to be a horror to me. The work load was literally impossible to carry out, and it became necessary to jump over many of the functions one was supposed to carry out. To me, it had become a nightmare of being inhuman to those precious persons for whom I had learned to value and care very deeply for. So, when I saw an advertisement to be trained as a masseuse, I quickly applied for the training. I was trained by a registered nurse, and learned the trade. Because I already had a certificate as a practical nurse, I was legally allowed to massage people. I acquired a job as a masseuse.

One day, Robert asked me if I would come to his apartment in Walnut Creek. (He had moved away from his mother as soon as he had enough money from students to get his own apartment.) I gave him the massage in his bed. After, he asked me if I would like to have sexual activity with him. Of, course, I was really delighted at the offer. I had been quite curious at what it would be like to have sex with him, a conscious being. He suggested I take a shower first, which I did. We had sex together. Afterwards, he congratulated me on not buffering, by closing my eyes. He also said he had been greedy, as he had attempted to have sex again, after the first orgasm, and had not been able to do so. I had been somewhat disappointed, as it did not seem that he had any special abilities, because he was a conscious being. Also, I did not have an orgasm. There had been no noticeable “foreplay” by him to me, but of course, he had just had an hour of massage, so perhaps that had played the part of “foreplay” for him. In other words, it was just ordinary sex, not exciting or particularly positive. The most positive part of it for me, was that my curiosity was satisfied.

Later that evening, there was a meeting at my house. He seemed much more identified with the fact that we had had sexual activity earlier that day, than I was. He made a statement to the small group, that he was “A bit low on energy that night, due to an unusual expenditure of energy during the day.” I do not think I acted any different to him that night, than at other meetings, but I supposed that I had had a lot more sexual experiences than he. That was just the impression I had had. (As a “liberated” woman of the 60`s, I had experimented quite alot in the area of sexual activities.)

At some time later, I cannot remember how long, he made a statement to the group of students that he had been celibate since he had been a Teacher. Of course, I knew from personal experience, that it was a lie. It created some confusion in me. I just could not understand WHY he would LIE about such a thing. It would have been so easy just to say he was celibate...without adding the lie, “SINCE I HAVE BEEN A TEACHER.” It did not, however, become a large negative for me, as he had preciously taught me, “It can be a legitimate tool, TO LIE. It must not, however, be from mechanical parts that, for example, just want to protect an idea of an identity, or to protect mechanical features.” So, I let it go, and did not, at the time, give much space to thinking about it. It did not in any way make me think he would have sexual activities with others, and also lie about it, still stating he was celibate. Which means, that for me, later, when such statements were made, I believed them, thinking that I had been the exception which for some unknown reason, he did not want to acknowledge. (I never told anyone this story as long as I was in his school, or in America.)

Later, at a school party, he notified me that we would not repeat the sexual experience together, because I did not value him and the experience with him, enough. He also told me not to have sexual activities that did not include a “full relationship”. That is, one in which there were several centers involved, and a wish for a relationship, rather than just a sexual experience. He said that otherwise, it would be “tramp” against myself. That is, not valuing myself enough. Earlier, he had told me that his mother had been married 5 times. Perhaps, in some way, he had wanted to try and spare me that kind of fate, with those suggestions. (As it turned out, I did marry 4 times, anyway. The last marriage became “THE REAL ONE”, FOR ME, THANK GOD!!!)

Quite early Robert had spoken of the future, in which there would be acquired a farm for those students that wanted to devote their life full time to evolution, which included learning to separate from the expression of negative emotions, and learning to “Self-Remember.”

The idea was very interesting to me. I knew I needed and wanted such conditions for myself. Since we were in the process of getting a divorce, my husband and I put the house up for sale. It quickly sold. My husband and I each received 10,000 dollars cash at the sale of the house.

Because it was so very important to me to devote more of my time to evolution, I offered Robert 4,000 dollars to start the account for the buying of a property. He did not want to accept that. He said that it was too large an amount for one person to contribute. I talked and talked to him. Finally, he agreed to accept the money, if it could be considered to be a loan, which would be repaid. I agreed. In a relatively short amount of time he informed the other students that I had made that commitment of money, and there would be a collection made to gather enough to buy a farm. At that time, he said that he would make the decision as to what would be the amount of money which he would require from each student. If one did not make the payment in the amount of time designated, they would have to leave school. At a meeting, envelopes were handed out, telling each student how much they were to contribute. The amount stated in my envelope was 800 dollars. I was surprised, as I had already given the 4,000 dollars. Yet, I paid it, without question.
[ed. - See also "Wouldn't you like to know's" Brief History of the Fellowship of Friends.]

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