Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970. Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

According to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish while, through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci), Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new and more perfect civilization. Read more about the blog.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Anna's Story

"Anna" wrote the following on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog:
Since leaving the school a month and a half ago some friends have asked about my story about [sic] and why I left. As you will see it has proven difficult to give a brief answer. If this was a “How are you?” type question that didn’t require a significant answer I am sorry and please scroll down as quickly as you can.

I’m not sure what putting all this down on paper has achieved for me personally… There’s a wish to record this internal revolution, to get things straight somehow.

If you are a current or former member you will probably recognise a lot of what’s been written. At the moment it looks like a sketch of a certain type of human’s frailty. Perhaps you have been that type of human too…

Last Summer I had breakfast at the Apollo D’Oro for what I did not know then would be the last time. I sat outside on the deck with a friend and we looked out across our little swathe of the foothills as the last strands of morning mist evaporating into another impossibly yellow California day. I ate as many of Herve’s croissants as I could and we had a funny, warm, affirming conversation. There was only one unpleasant moment: my friend who was prone to sensationalism started telling about an anti-Fellowship article that had just been published, I hadn’t wanted to hear “No, you must read it” he insisted “the guy is smart and absolutely right about some things; he went to an open meeting in London last year lead by RT and he said some interesting things about arrogance.” I felt a surge of indignation: how could someone come to one of our meetings under false pretences like that, and then no doubt distort everything to fit his agenda? It felt like a betrayal. I imagined the writer; he would be a sort of pale grey colour and slightly rat-like, someone who made a living by undermining and demeaning the things that other people loved…No I wouldn’t read his article.

After a while we were joined by B who had just been reading the article too, he was shaking his head and saying “This is serious, this is really serious”. No it’s not I said to myself, why trouble yourself, don’t even think about it, and I had hoped we could change the subject.

Before I said good bye my friend he squeezed a copy of the article into my bag. I didn’t read it until the 28th of May this year and by then it was too late anyway.

The Background

That August I had no inkling that I would leave the school, it was the most precious, most sacred place in my life and there was no question of departing. I had joined 22 years earlier, had effectively dropped out of university, had put no energy into developing a career, my only ambition was to support the esoteric heart of the school, to communicate my conviction to others. I was penniless and all my friends were members. Every Summer I would spend a month at Isis visiting inspirational friends and trying to fill in gaps in my understanding of the work and Robert’s teaching.

I had always considered myself a sceptical person as far as ideas were concerned. I had been expelled from Christian Sunday School at the age of five for loudly disbelieving the stories, and despite wishing desperately to believe in God I had never found anyone who could convince me of the existence of anything supernatural. When I was twenty someone gave me an article about quantum physics which seemed to prove that other dimensions existed. I was awestruck; could it be that the seeds of those religions and mysticisms which I had despised before lay within the folds of these other dimensions? A few weeks later a student POL showed me In Search of the Miraculous; its rightness seemed impossible to dispute.

Until I was 18 I had been at boarding school. It was a hellish experience. I was bullied, the boys would spit and jeer at me, they would trip me up and kick me and laugh when I cried, and they even beat me up once. Often the girls would not talk to me so as not to be infected by my unpopularity, and years stretched by without friends. I was terrible at sport and good at poetry; I didn’t swear, wept constantly, had spots and was despised. At university I had my first taste of peace: I just read and read and read falling in love with dead writers and the productions that had emerged from their tormented lives.

Once in the school I discovered that my love of literature had been my Magnetic Centre, Other students seemed to actually like me, I was told I was a King of Hearts which was an acceptable thing. People hugged me and I gradually learned to hug them back. I threw myself totally into this new paradise. Instead of studying for college, I did Second and Third Line work, I studied the workbooks, wrestled with ideas I didn’t understand begged other students to help me understand, to help me Verify. When I couldn’t Verify something I learned how to Suspend my Disbelief.

When I failed my degree my Life family went into a panic. Unbeknownst to me they launched an investigation into the Fellowship with the help of another family who’s child Anne Rodney had been abducted from the School and de-programmed by an experienced anti-cultist.

I remember the day that my Uncle confronted me with his findings. He had obtained a huge stack of newspaper articles about the Fellowship and when he gave them to me with his hands were shaking and his face was red. He told me that Robert Burton was a charlatan and that I had been taken in hand by the Devil. I looked at him trembling there, so full of Negativity, and said to myself “He’s a fanatic, a Christian zealot, this is an inquisition” The first article on the stack was about a girl who had cancer, apparently Robert had told her that she must pay her teaching payments anyway and if she didn’t she would lose the School and go to Hell… The article didn’t touch me. My happiness and my conviction were unswerving.

The challenge of the Sequence

Twenty years later the Sequence emerged; it was heralded as ‘the answer’ the ultimate tool that would bring us all to consciousness. I was accustomed to my Lower Self resisting Robert’s idea’s, it would try to call them “absurd” and “useless” and it was difficult not to be able to substantiate them by going to a workbook. Instead I was forced to struggle to convince myself… or find someone else to convince me to the contrary.

I felt quite grateful to Robert. He seemed to like me in his way. Sometimes he would buy tickets for me to come to Isis, and invite me to come to events without paying. Occasionally he would send encouraging messages and he seemed to wish me to move to Isis.

I wanted desperately to prove that Robert’s tool was not “a weak minded invention” as my Lower Self proposed “a vain-glory in which he was revelling simply because it was his own creation;” that he was not “wrong” as he had been with his predictions of apocalyptic events…

After repeatedly questioning other students who applauded the tool, and remaining unconvinced, I eventually willed myself to Separate from such thoughts as they clearly did not lead anywhere; and to focus instead on my own Work and my own Presence. After all what could be lost by entrusting my awakening to Robert… I was not yet conscious, and as the years had worn by my initial optimism about my chances had proven naive to say the least.

At that time (and now too) I could say that I was ‘in love with Awakening’. Four years earlier after a final crushing disillusionment with relationships the entirety of my longing had transferred itself to the pursuit of consciousness. But again this was proving a path of heartache; during the day the constant numbing pain in my chest which I had normally acquainted with the pain of a failing relationship, now seemed to be connected to the feeling that I was ‘not doing enough’ in the Work. Even though I would immediately attempt to transform this Self Deprecation into a ‘Sequence’ the sadness endured and was exacerbated by the measurable failures at doing it. At night I would go to bed heavy hearted because I felt had not done enough Sequences; in the morning I would wake up and begin again, promising myself that I would do better, that today was a new day, that there were new chances.

I was the Centre Director and spent every minute of my free time engaged in Fellowship projects. At the beginning of this role I had hoped that I would be able to bring greater emotionality to the centre; I had hoped that former directors were being overly rigid about the instructions they were receiving from Isis, and that Robert didn’t really want meetings to be as dry and rigid as they had become. In fact the guidelines and materials emerging from Isis turned out to be even more sterile than I had imagined.

As often as I could I read the Thoughts (transcripts of Robert’s meetings) and attended at least two meetings a week. Time and time again Robert stated that if we repeated these six words and ‘did’ what they asked we would at the end experience ‘divine Presence’. He also emphatically and repeatedly stated that the Lower Self (described also as the King of Clubs, a crocodile and various other monstrosities) was what prevented us from doing it.

Yet when I tried to use the tool it ended nowhere in particular. Even when I did manage to complete a sequence or two it did not bring me to what the Fourth Way called Higher Centres. It seemed like rather cumbersome way of being Present, but I saw that I was much more often Present, using the old tools. I felt that I must be missing some esoteric point. I regularly called a friend who was one of Robert’s right hand men and the chief researcher, in the hope of revelations. But even he who had daily access to Robert and who orchestrated the research which proved the sequence, could not himself illuminate it; he recommended that I move to Isis and that then everything would then become clear.

Eventually I explained to myself that the Sequence was a sort of Prayer, a ‘tuning in’ to some heavenly music… Rodney Collin’s music of the spheres perhaps. I hoped that one day it would become a constant background to my life, a beautiful stream into which I could connect and reconnect.

I would try to do it, if it was not immediately musical or poetic or logical or resonant, surely this was just my own Lower Self rebelling as Robert had insisted it would.

In November I received a number of shocks at the same time.

Predictions and Photographs.

Robert sent a message asking me to apply for a religious visa and to move to Isis, because he predicted that the apocalyptic event of 2006 would actually occur at some point later that month. When called by a friend at Isis about an application I explained that it would be impossible for me to move so quickly. I had a child and no means to do so.

I sent Robert a note thanking him for his attention and received back the message from him that my King of Clubs and Lower Self were holding me back… and I cared too much about my child and my apartment in Amsterdam. Robert’s diagnosis was not particularly shocking or mortifying to me. I considered what he said and tried to find the truth in it. Yes for sure I was in my Lower Self most of the time, and yes I didn’t hold my work in great esteem, but on the other hand I didn’t feel especially pre-occupied with lower things; I was immersed in the three lines of work and had never given any energy to the acquisition of material property.

At that moment I couldn’t in all honesty find a way to agree with his diagnosis; if I was going to be struck by the magnitude of his insights that would happen later. In the meantime I trusted that he would forgive any temporary lapse on my part.

I asked other students what they thought of Robert’s words: some said that I was lucky to have received an invitation and attention from him; some assured me that my work was strong; others said that it must be a blow to receive such a strong, and by implication truthful, photograph.

During these conversations I registered that other students became very ‘sensitive’ There was a discomfort about the possibility that I might be ‘questioning’ Robert’s diagnosis; no matter how neutrally I presented the story they tended to pre-suppose that I was Negative or resentful about it.

But I was not upset, just curious.

During one such conversation a student MJ (who incidentally is very reserved and disarmingly beautiful) told us about a photograph that Robert had given her. She used to wash dishes in the Academy kitchen as often as possible so as to be closer to the heart of things. Her husband (who incidentally was an overtly sensual and extrovert type) saw her struggling through the task and massaged her shoulders in passing. Robert happened to walk through the kitchen, and a few moments later sent back a message to her stating that she was extremely lustful and that he did not want her to work in the Academy anymore.

Her story was well stunning. We sat there silenced for a moment; we did not allow ourselves to say his photograph was untrue, because we wanted him so much to be meaningful, yet we knew his diagnosis to be impossible, and his treatment of her so unfair.

I asked myself “Does Robert really know her? Does he really know me?” Quite suddenly a quiet space inside me had opened up in which it was possible to admit that Robert could not see things as they really were; that he could be wrong.


Cycling home one day MJ called saying that Charles and Angela Taylor had been asked to leave. Charles was a good friend, we had both joined in London, we had directed the centre in Hungary together. When I made my annual pilgrimage to Isis I would always seek him out, we would wrestle with the ideas and try to come to terms with aspects of Robert’s teachings which seemed obscure. He really wanted to understand, and his mental precision, his integrity, individuality and commitment had always been inspiring.

I called him immediately. He told me he had been called on Robert’s behalf because he had been attending meetings led by an Advaita teacher named Adyashanti who according to Robert was a “B influence virus” and Charles was asked to either stop seeing him or leave. Charles answered that he did not want to stop and was expelled.

In the past I would have wept when a friend left, and the friendship would have been over. Now there was just this ‘open’ state… There was no interruption from the usual tapes, there was no analysis of what must have ‘gone wrong’ with Charles’s work, and there was no attempt to justify Robert’s strategy.

In this new openness it occurred to me that the Fellowship seemed very much like a religion; Charles had been excommunicated. At the same time four other students had been asked to leave and Robert had requested that various people be ‘questioned’ and encouraged to inform on other dissenters. It was an inquisition; I felt surprised by this observation but not upset.

But I didn’t spend much time on pondering about Robert, what excited me now was the prospect that there might be another ‘way’ to awaken. Charles had said that Adyashanti was definitely Awake and that other so called Advaita teachers were emerging everywhere. They claimed that awakening was a very real possibility for every one.

Higher Centres revisited

Charles’ words prompted me to look back at my own success rate in the Work. I had had only two prolonged and miraculous Higher States in the school and both of these had occurred more than 19 years ago. Since then there had been Presence yes: a gentle state which was not coloured by imagination or identification or negativity, I nurtured in it every way I could; it was peace, it was relief, it was sanctuary compared to the panic and strain evoked by the brutal world. I had believed that it would eventually lead to those miraculous states for which I pined, but thus far it had not.

Being Awake though… having Higher Centres in operation was different from Presence. The first time it had happened for me in the School was about 21 years ago. One day while I was climbing the steps to my office everything sort of reeled inside me, Anna had receded, I could see my hand but it did not feel ‘mine’ anymore. Every footstep, that was taken was extraordinarily meaningful, and powerful and symbolic, all things and movements were connected, every action, every object no matter how mundane was alive and vivid and profound: turning the key in the lock, extending a finger across the keyboard; the dark dustiness of the passage to my room, a piece of litter… all these things were permeated with a kind of glory and a kind of silence.

Where had Anna been during this experience? I’m not exactly sure. My awareness seemed to have been coming from her but there was none of the usual ‘interference’ there had been absolutely no Negativity and no personal agenda at play; rather there had been total acceptance, total understanding, and all was imbued with this extraordinarily impersonal, yet gloriously powerful and intimate emotion.

This brief examination revealed two startling things. First of all what we called the Lower Self or the Lower Centres, clearly had absolutely nothing to do with Higher Centres, because once in Higher Centres they insignificant, irrelevant, of an utterly different Dimension, another World…

We had learned from Robert that ‘Consciousness had degrees’ and I had believed despite my own experiences that there was a gradual progression between the Second State (a characteristic of the Lower Centres) and the Third (a characteristic of Higher Centres). I had believed that if I made the right efforts my Presence would gradually and swell to become a full blown Higher State, to be Consciousness. However in reality this had never happened.

Presence was clearly just behaviour of the Lower Self, a pleasant one yes, but it was not the Third State and it did not ‘swell’ to become it; Presence was actually part of Sleep; Consciousness was a quantum leap.

I could envisage that the Second State had degrees if one measured it in terms of the level of Negativity circulating or the amount of Presence. Possibly also Higher centres had their own levels, I wouldn’t know. But clearly the one did not run sequentially into the other.

From this perspective the Sequence was absurd. Admittedly it was a way of marshalling the Lower Self and of quashing passionate outbursts (the Queen of Hearts) and other undesirable behaviour but it it’s usefulness stopped there. Its stated purpose was to prolong and deepen Presence. Perhaps it did prolong a certain temporal slither of the experience of Presence, but it also severely narrowed my experience of the moment, reducing it into a long, cold, disciplined line.

Most importantly I remembered that Presence serene though it could be, had not been my ultimate goal; Consciousness was. From this perspective any effort to do something different was simply tightening the grip of a ‘spiritual seeming’ version of Lower Centres.

I tried to think of an analogy and came up with this: Imagine that you are longing to go swim in the sea, you stand at the water’s edge and then instead of leaping right in, believing that it’s not possible to enter directly, you take six steps parallel to the waters edge, at each step you say something like: Splash, float, cool, refresh, cool, Splashhhhh…, believing that at the end of these steps you will be actually be in the water, but of course you are not… you remain on the hard hot sand, to get in would involve dropping the notion of a prescribed route there, and this would be ‘wrong’ it would be contrary to your teacher’s instructions, so you persist in walking next to the waters for which you long, step, step, step, step, step, step… perhaps you will feel disheartened and defeated and give up in the end, or perhaps you will continue for ever, eternally failing, eternally missing your goal.

At this point a second radical question presented itself: Was Robert actually living in Consciousness? Based on my experiences of it the Lower Self was so diminished as to be irrelevant… it couldn’t have expressed itself in large terms such as greed, or lust, or fear, or the need to protect and insulate oneself, it would not have required material comfort or impressions because in that state there were no requirements; all impressions were glorious, even litter, and dirt; all were right, all was perfect as it was.

I knew a fair amount about the ‘behind the scenes Robert’ because I had been in relationships with people in his entourage. Apparently in the 80’s and nineties he had been frequently depressed and negative, his energy was often very heavy. His state had dramatically changed when ‘the Russians’ joined his entourage; he had become electrified and invigorated and emerged from seclusion to begin teaching and travelling on a tremendous scale.

At the same time more and more items were arriving from my past and placing themselves in the foreground. First hand reports of his anger and his jealousy, his irrational rages, and punishments and banishments, orgies with young men who did not want them… Birthday treats of 60 men… and so on; they all arrived and settled in full view. The first time I heard these things I had not flinched; I had simply admitted that I did not understand them and re-focussed on ‘my own’ Work so as not to be pulled down by possible unpleasantness. But this time I did not change the subject…

It wasn’t that I was revelling in indignation or anything, in fact at the time, there was only one emerging memory that really hurt. It was the fact that Robert had said that he did not enjoy the meetings and the teaching events, and that he only did them so that he could be with the boys…

I did not feel much blame towards Robert for his behaviour. Was it possible that I had in some way been supporting it? When Robert expressed an interest in owls I would go out and buy an owl card for him, and send him owl quotations; I had wanted to attract his attention, had believed that if I had more exposure to him I would be more likely to awaken. I had arranged introductions of young men to him…

Robert’s assistants were very good at anticipating his needs, I knew because I had been married to two of them. The whole of his life was organised for maximum smoothness and efficiency. Perhaps they anticipated his sexual needs as well; probably to please him they devised new logistical methods to improve everything…

What really moved me now was the excitement of recovering Higher Centres. I immediately went out and bought an Adyashanti book. I liked it, the writer seemed Awake and informed and kind and clean; but the book was hard to understand… on this first reading I raced through it trying to find what he recommended us to do, he spoke about Higher Centres which he called ‘Oneness’, but he didn’t tell me how to get there… I wanted some concrete lessons, a formula, help.

TH and Truthfulness

At the end of November a newer student called me. TH was 19 and had joined six weeks earlier after reading In Search of the Miraculous. His mother was friends with a student who had given the book to him.

He said that something very strange had happened to him and he wanted to talk about it so I invited him over.

For about two weeks he would visit me daily. I’m not sure how to present the episode and do it justice. It shook up everything; it was brilliant, and sad.

He asked me how he had appeared at the centre dinner two evenings earlier. The conversation went like this:

“Did I behave normally?”


“Oh… It was very difficult to hold myself together, I feel as if I will fall apart at any moment”


“I was sitting on the train, and ‘TH’ disappeared”

“What does it feel like?”

“Now my consciousness is everywhere, some times it is outside my body looking at it from a different spot, and sometimes it is as big as the room or as a field, or as an ocean.”

“Is it nice?”

“Yes, but I am surprised that I can still do things like walking and talking and just living, and I’m afraid that soon I won’t be able to, I have not been able to sleep”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Three days”

“How did it start?”

“I was doing the sequence”

“How long had you been doing it for?”

“About two days.”

As an Older Student I felt obliged to come up with some kind of explanation, some kind of advice. But I found myself quite unable to speak. I realised that he had gone quite beyond the realms on which I could theorize. After a long pause he asked me another question:

“Do you think everyone wants to Wake Up?”

“No of course not” I began answering “only very few people have magnetic centres… even then the magnetic centre would have to be mature enough. Believe me I am always on the look out for magnetic centres but in all my years of interacting with many, many different Life people I have never…”

I suddenly noticed my voice. It sounded awful, my words hollow and insubstantial, I just stopped speaking. After another pause I asked him “What do you think?” He answered:

“Everyone longs to wake up, they just don’t call it that. They long for better cars, or for more money, or for varieties of sexual experience, for security, or for awakening… it’s all the same”

His words were not like mine. They had a profound ‘truth’ about them, they did not carry the charisma of conviction, and they revealed mine to be just shallow opinions; ideas which I been able to believe in and which I had just repeated and repeated and repeated.

As he spoke I kept remembering Rumi poems; they seemed so relevant. Eventually I recited one and as the exquisite words emerged I felt almost as if in some strange way I was lying again. At the end he said quietly “Do you really understand the poem?”

I asked him another question. “At meetings, you had been asking about the 2nd conscious shock, what does it mean to you now?”

“It’s the heart” he answered.

When he left I was in a state of shock. It seemed that this boy had Woken Up, but the implications of this were phenomenal… I couldn’t begin to comprehend them… and he had only been in the School for six weeks…

The next day he came by again. I asked him what he had been doing and he said “de-contracting my heart”. I did not know what he meant but it sounded very familiar; just like in fact something that Adyashanti would say. Over the next few became clear that although he had never read Adyashanti he was what Adyashanti described, and other things.

I learned that he was someone who had a lot of ‘will power’, in the past he would go climbing in the mountains without equipment, and sleep without a tent in the snow. And he had been unusually persistent with the Sequence. Eventually I asked him if he thought Will was necessary for awakening and after a pause, he said:

“No. What you call Will is not Will for me. I could do those things because I wanted to, for other people they would be difficult because they do not want to do them.”

“The Will exercises about eating from the Fellowship were interesting for a while” he said and smiled “but not necessary”

“Ouspensky was mistaken about Will and many other things”

I asked him about Robert Burton.

“Something is very wrong with him” he said.

On another occasion he asked me “Is it necessary to have a Teacher?”

I began answering him with the usual tapes about needing someone who had already escaped to show one the way out… when again I was forced to stop myself in disgust at what was revealed to be my ‘lying’. After a while I admitted that I didn’t know. He said that perhaps different teachers were necessary.

Although he never at any point suggested that he was special or important, in fact he was adamant to the contrary, it did emerge that he had developed a number of ‘supernatural’ powers: he could see vast distances and ‘read’ people. He could also read and assimilate huge amounts of information in short periods of time. He knew or rather was things that Ouspensky and Colin had pointed at and could refer back to exact pages in their texts.

Yet the experience was becoming increasingly difficult for him.

When told him that I wished I could be awake as he was, he told me that I was awake, even if I couldn’t see it. He also said that he would never wish what he had on anyone; sometimes it was wonderful but sometimes it was terrible and it paralysed him with fear.

Over the two weeks he did in fact disintegrate outwardly. He stopped washing and gave away his money, his telephone and as many of his clothes as possible to poor people. He began running very long distances sometimes 50 km at a go. Although it was winter he would plunge in to canals, and he was at times frantically afraid of the experiences that were overwhelming him.

Strangely I was never afraid or repulsed by him, on the contrary I felt the most profound gratitude and awe; between bouts of fear he was so very pure and in his reflection I saw how very impure I had become.

Two Sundays later a stranger called me who had been sheltering TH after he had dragged himself out of a river. They asked me to come and pick him up from a spot fifty kilometres outside the city. When I couldn’t find him, I became very worried and called M, the student friend of his mother. I asked her if he had any history of mental illness. She told me absolutely not, and that he had been in every sense a normal teenager, albeit rather independent. I called his parents and ask them to help. Later that night he arrived on my doorstep stricken with terror. The next day he was taken away.

The Sequence, my Directorship, and Self Deprecation cease

I stopped trying to do the Sequence… Presence continued to arise, bursting through swathes of Imagination and Identification like balm.

All Self Deprecation ceased.

Christmas with the centre was very odd. I was the centre director but I had stopped believing in anything that was being said. I saw people talking about their verifications and knew that they, as I had, were actually talking about their beliefs. I saw students quoting poetry from Conscious Beings instead of expressing their own beings, I heard them using work language to fortify frailties and inconsistencies in their own limited understanding, but I couldn’t say anything. I saw them using classifications such as Body Types and Centre of Gravity to avoid experiencing more fully the wholeness that was before them. I saw all these things in myself of course too, but bit by bit these tendencies were dropping away in me, not because of any new found virtuousness or strength, but because I didn’t want them anymore. I had seen my lies and it was repulsive to reproduce them.

The most painful times were meetings. The quotations that we were forced to read were appalling. I allowed myself to register that exquisite pieces of poetry were in fact being butchered and moulded to fit the lengthy interpretations which followed them. The constant theme was the necessity of doing the Sequence. At the end of the Sequence was Divine Presence. If we did not do the Sequence we were in the grip of some scaly many toothed monster, images of which were projected onto a wall simultaneously. There were so many words to understand, so many complicated mental connections, so much Disbelief to Suspend, so much failure to separate from. The form was in itself confounding our attempts to simply be. Why couldn’t our teacher see this?

In January a friend in the Council called on behalf of Asaf [Braverman]. He had heard rumours about TH and wanted to make sure that there was no danger of the Fellowship being sued. I reassured him, but was struck by the implicit assumption that I would not find this question tasteless and cold. For Theo’s parents his apparent madness was a tragedy akin to death: their beloved son who had been musical, bright, self-disciplined, energetic and with a wealth of potentials ahead of him had been reduced to a silent almost vegetable existence.

A week later I resigned as director.

Preventative dismissal

Being free of the Director’s work load was wonderful. My domestic life was in a shambles there were business letters that had gone unanswered, and bills that had been accumulating interest for the entire duration of my directorship, there simply hadn’t been time. I took a rest from meetings for a while.

Concern for TH plunged me into reading materials that I had previously spurned as A and B Influence. I wanted to understand the relationship between what seemed clearly an Awakening and what also at least outwardly had deteriorated into madness. I read about Kundalini about Meher Baba’s Masts, about supernatural powers and about psychosis. I wasn’t able to come to any conclusions. TH became mostly silent and he stopped eating or washing without assistance. But in his lucid times he had never focussed on ‘himself’, there was no Narcissism, no hallucinations, no angels, no visions; for him it seemed the brilliance of the Real had been just too much.

My sister called me from Isis. She was worried; apparently two of my friends from Amsterdam had called her to find out where I was. As I told her about my new understandings and felt her stiffen.

I started to receive other calls from friends at Isis. They had heard that I was “having a difficult time”, I tried to explain that it wasn’t difficult but exciting. I tried to explain about the Sequence and was told that without doubt it was my King of Clubs and my Lower Centres that were resisting it. One person photographed me for using the word “utterly”; another sent me an exquisite poem from Rumi about not being troubled by doubt; but I wasn’t “troubled” I felt liberated.

Another Student asked me why I took the Sequence so seriously and that Robert would be sure to have another phase sooner or later. I answered that Robert was my Teacher and that he expected his teachings to be taken seriously, why else would he have a school?

They asked me how I felt about him and I answered that based on my own experiences of Higher Centres it seemed unlikely that he was living in them. Talking about Robert was challenging; I wondered if they would revere him so if they knew how he manipulated his entourage into compliance, if they knew how Negative he was in private. When I tried to describe this their voices became calm… and removed… it was as if somehow they equated me with the outrageous behaviour I was describing; as if I was somehow sentencing myself as dismissible.

“It is clear” one person said, “That Robert is no longer your Teacher, why don’t you just leave?” I was stunned at first by this, it was so brutal: how could I “just leave”; for 23 years Robert had told us that the Fellowship was our real family. My friends were all members… and we had an exercise not to speak to ex-students.

I began to wonder about Conscience. Ouspensky and Gurdjief had said that it was imperative part of Awakening, yet Robert had never spoken about it. Why? In the past I had always imagined that he considered us not ready for the topic, perhaps it was too ‘advanced’; perhaps we were too much under Feminine Dominance to understand it correctly.

Now it struck me that Robert was the one who had coined this term. It wasn’t in the workbooks. Other systems spoke of morality or socio-cultural conditioning. But they had never suggested that going beyond these things meant abdicating from goodness and kindness and helpfulness and consideration, these were different, they were not disposable. Perhaps Robert had quietly and gently become the predator that Gurdjieff had warned about in those who didn’t develop conscience? And perhaps we had helped him.

But no matter what new picture of Robert was taking shape in me, it was a new excitement about Awakening that was moving me.

One day as I walked through the park chatting with an erstwhile friend I sense the greenness of the place gently pressing itself into view. An avenue of trees lining up in the corner of my eye… a fragrance, an attendant peacefulness…

I heard my friend saying “But don’t you find the thirty work ‘I’s useful at all? I mean take the ‘I’ ‘Walk’ doesn’t it help you to be Present now…”. I looked at her quizzically and without irony answer “No, the word ‘walk’ is not particularly magical to me.”

In that moment I realized that I had never ‘done’ Presence, it had always just ‘arisen’. I had never tried, the trying would come a split second after, Presence would be recognised and named and called my own and there would be a scrambling to prolong… which would obliterate it utterly.

Meetings with more remarkable men

One Saturday I bought a book called the Open Secret by an English Advaita teacher called Tony Parsons. It was short and I read it in one sitting. It was perfect; he described his first experience of Higher Centres, he called it ‘being realised in oneness’; It was joy, peace silence, complete aliveness, total acceptance, unconditional love. He explained that he knew immediately that he had done nothing to deserve this state and that it had simply happened to him. Later he had become permanently ‘realised in oneness’. He explained that any ‘teacher’ who claimed that Awakening was a process which needed to be taught by himself and learned by his students, must have his own agenda for doing so.

When I got home I found his telephone number in England and called him. An answering phone said “Hello this is the home of Clair and Tony Parsons, please leave your message after the tone” after some hesitation (he was a conscious being after all) I left my number. Tony called me back, he had a friendly, ordinary voice.

I told him that I had experienced ‘oneness’, but that it had not happened again for the last twenty years. I told him that for all this time I had been in a school in which we practiced Presence and strove to Awaken. I asked him why I had not succeeded, and what his secret was, I was desperate… what could I do…?

Nothing he answered, there is nothing you can do. You can’t find something which is already there. “But why can’t I see it; what is in my way?” When you were a baby he answered, you lived in oneness, but your parents and those around you called you ‘Anna’, they told you you were separate from everything else and eventually you believed them. As soon as you left oneness you felt the pain of separation and longed to return. “But how?” I pleaded, “How can I return?”

Everyone is longing for oneness he answered, but they project their longing onto other things: cars, money, relationships, being a spiritual seeker… it is the seeker in you which is standing in your way.

A few weeks later I went to visit my yoga teacher, although she was busy she squeezed me in between two of her classes. I asked her if she was religious in any way. “Yes, I suppose I’m a Christian.” I asked her if she went to church… believed in Jesus and the bible. “Oh no” she answered. Well what do you believe in then? “Love” She answered. What is Love for you I asked. “Interest” she replied.

In February I received two messages from Robert. In the first he said that it was my King of Clubs and my Lower Self that were resisting the Sequence (this was a similar message to the one he had sent when he heard that it was painful for me that he was having sex with my husband). In the second message he sent me his love.

Is Robert interested in me? I asked myself, or is he simply attempting to align me, with the minimum possible personal involvement.

A farewell

Just before the end of the month I stopped all payments to the Fellowship. I could not bear to pay Robert another penny.

I did not feel anger towards him; I did not know who he was really. It was as if he had been some type of mirage. My teacher had been a dream, the sum the sum of my projections, my hopes and hopefulness.

I knew that he was not awake, but could not imagine him to be particularly malevolent: deluded seemed to be a better word, and hadn’t we all supported him in his delusion?

On May 28th I finally read the Sheik’s first report on the Fellowship. On May 29th I left.

One of my friends wrote to me and said how could you have left your friends of 23 years? I told her that it is so clear that if there is any leaving to be done it will be they who leave me.

It has not been as difficult as I imagined. There has not been as much shunning. Those of us who leave now are lucky.

And what about the work? There’s a certain type of certainty now that nothing can be done. The beautiful things like Presence simply arise, because we want them to; the ugly things I try not to avoid. Occasionally I force myself to read the blog; it is both wonderful and harsh.

For while I was surprised to hear Robert described as ‘evil’; I maintained the idea that we his students had been equally to blame. But two weeks ago I watched ‘What the Bleep do I know?’ The narrator explained that what we perceive in the present is collected from memories from the past… there’s that moment when you see a Shaman standing on the beach perplexed and looking out across what for him is a vast and empty sea. In reality a fleet of armed ships are looming over his cove; but because has never seen a ship before these are invisible to him…

And I know that I have been Naïve. Shards of anger cut through my day.

Consciousness… Oneness, of course is something else. The search for it was the beginning and perhaps the end of all this. Knowing and almost accepting that Anna can do nothing to achieve it has been so very liberating and so very humbling.

If there is anything to be done I suspect it will have something to do with the heart, with grasping for that fine thread of conscience that might have been lost… and with holding on to it no matter what; with allowing that organ to breathe again, to bound back from poor to pure.

"Anna" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 13, 2007:
Husband from Robert’s entourage: I don’t know why you look sad; it’s really not nice at all.

Wife of man from Robert’s entourage: In what way is it ‘not nice’?

Husband: Robert suggested that it would be better not to go into the details….


Husband: what do you think about group sex? I mean having more than one partner at the same time?

Wife: (taken aback by question, suddenly anxious, sinking feeling in heart… long pause) It doesn’t appeal to me (Wonders “Am I inflexible? Robert has so many partners, one at a time of course, but… I’m not like that, why is his question so painful?… I must be very far away from consciousness…”)

Wife: wh..why do you ask?

Husband: Oh nothing…


Husband: What do you think about paying for sex?

Wife: I suppose if a person cannot find a partner…

Husband: I mean anyone even people who can find partners. It would just be an utterly neutral unemotional arrangement.

Wife: (looks at husband he seems sure of himself… he likes this idea) I’m not sure if sex is an ‘utterly neutral’ thing. Maybe we make connections which will have many consequences, perhaps invisible to us at the time, create loose ends… (Feels terrible, why does it feel so bad when he says things like this? Is it my king of clubs and my queen of hearts, why do I mind? Robert would be different… consciousness is very far away from me…)


Husband: I have spoken to Robert and he agrees that I can still travel with him, even if I don’t… you know.


(six months and several trips later)

Husband: (calls wife from somewhere beautiful in Italy)

Wife: How is it? Has Robert said anything interesting?

Husband: Nice, interesting… very much the same old thing…

Wife: It’s so lucky that you can still travel with him even though you said “No”

Husband: Yes, yes. How are you?

Wife: Got a headache; don’t know why, it’s quite strong.

Husband: I’ve got something that will help. Look on the mantle piece in my pill box. There’s a small blue tablet.


(half an hour later Husband calls back, he sounds ‘focussed’)

Husband: Did you find the pill?

Wife: Yes

Husband: Er… what shape was it?

Wife: Triangular

Husband: Oh (protracted pause) How do you feel now?

Wife: It didn’t help.


(A year or two later)

Ex-husband: Now that there is some distance between us I feel I should tell you a few things.

Ex-Wife: Yes

Ex-Husband: You remember that time you took one of my head ache pills… Well you took the wrong one (brief laugh) yes, it was Viagra.

Ex-wife: (becomes quite present)

Ex-husband: You see I didn’t stop having sex with Robert.

Ex-Wife: Nods

Ex-Husband: And you remember I asked you about having sex with more than one partner? Well In order that the experience was less uncomfortable for me Robert suggested that my close friends participate as well…

Ex-Wife: (very present)

Ex-Husband: and then there’s the prostitute thing…

"Anna" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 28, 2007:



(Beginning of the marriage; husband and wife have agreed that it’s the higher right for him to stay in the Galleria (the Teacher’s home) for a while)

Student (Teacher’s male friend): I don’t know why you object… the sex is really not ‘pleasant’

Wife of student: It’s just that…

Student (Teacher’s male friend): I mean imagine yourself having to do it with a very fat old lady…

Wife of student: Perhaps you could just stop and be a normal student?

Student (Teacher’s male friend): Well the idea is that this will accelerate the process.

Wife of student: Yes… but…

Student (Teacher’s male friend): I mean it’s awful; he covers his whole mouth and the lower part of his face with K-Y…


Wife of student (nervously): What did Robert say when you told him that I didn’t like… you know… your having sex with him?

Student (Teacher’s male friend): He paused briefly, looked surprised, and said “Oh this is her formatory mind, her king of clubs and her feminine dominance, everybody has them…

Wife of student: Oh…


Student (Teacher’s male friend): Every morning Robert drops in to the library where I sleep and… Well I’ve found a way to avoid this; I just set my alarm earlier and earlier and clear out of there as quick as I can…

Wife of student: Oh…


(Few months after end of marriage)

Student (Teacher’s male friend): I’ve got some news (clears throat) I’ve got Hepatitis B…

Ex-wife of student: What’s that?

Student (Teacher’s male friend): Well it’s a liver disease, like hepatitis A which you get from food… my eyes are yellow and I feel tired.

Ex-wife of student: How is it transmitted?

Student (Teacher’s male friend): Normally through sex… but this is a real mystery.

Ex-wife of student: Couldn’t you have got it from Robert?

Student (Teacher’s male friend): Oh no, that’s not possible, you wouldn’t understand… Umm… You’ll have to have a blood test, and then take a course of medication for a few months… just in case…. Yes. The good thing is that I don’t have to have sex with him at the moment: at least not as long as I’m in quarantine!

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