Identifying “School”: The Nuts & Bolts

This post is intended to provide an overview of “school” for identification purposes. If you’ve had a strange encounter and are wondering whether it was a “school” encounter; if you have a spouse, or friend, or sibling who disappears on Tuesday and Thursday nights and has been reading books with makeshift, newsprint covers, read on — maybe some other things will ring familiar:

Two Main Recruitment Tactics
1) “Casual conversations” in Starbucks, grocery stores, bars, on trains, etc. Often recruiters initiate with questions about books, or claiming things like, “I’m working on a project about leadership. Which leaders do you admire?” If you’ve exchanged contact information after such an encounter and you notice a patient, yet persistent, string of phone calls from this person, yet when you call him or her back, you reach only voice mail, it is likely a “school” encounter.

If you’ve met with this person and the conversation feels oddly one-sided, as though he or she is drawing information out of you, but revealing as little as possible about him or herself, heed the red lights. If you have attended five meetings and at the last meeting he or she introduced you to a “friend” and if he or she has said something like, “Are you interested in meeting others who share your passions, interests, concerns, etc … oh and by the way … it’s very important you tell no one about this — it’s private, just for you” — it is officially a “school” encounter. And if he or she tells you that the first five or eight weeks is a “free experiment”, after which a monthly tuition will be determined, you’ve been “schooled”. For more details regarding this recruitment tactic, read How to Join a Cult.

2) “Presentations” formerly known as “lectures” — if someone invites you to a “presentation” with a vague topic, no title, and date and location to be determined, beware. If you go to this “presentation” and the presenters don’t share last names, or professional affiliations, or website to peruse; if there’s a post-presentation Q&A orchestrated by a guy named Robert with a beard and a John Boehner-like tan, you’ve hit the cult jackpot. If you filled out a “feedback form” and provided your phone number, never fear, one of “school’s” recruitment team will call.

By the way, cult expert Steven Hassan’s book Combating Cult Mind Control provides a list of clear and concrete questions to ask if you suspect you’ve been approached by a recruiter. I will provide those tips in a future post.

Recognizing The Cast & Crew
The cult known as “school” presents itself as though it is one in a long line of secret esoteric schools. Attendees are classified as “younger students” and “older students” and separated into the “younger” and the “older” classes. Robert leads the charge, while other “teachers” include Josh, Carol, Jeanine, Paul (who leads “body work”) and Michael (who “teaches Tai Chi”).

Last I knew “school’s” “classes” met at the The Faulkner Mills building in Billerica, Ma. “School” has been known to move around or create satellite “classrooms”. The Belmont Lion’s Club, in Belmont Center, housed my first two years of “school”.

Regular “Classes”
Last I knew, “classes” met every Tuesday and Thursday night. In New York City, under the auspices of Queen Sharon, apparently there was — or is — a Monday and Wednesday class. However the “classes” fall, they happen twice a week. The longer you are *in*, the more critical your stellar and unquestioning attendance becomes.

Ideas/ i.e. “Teachings”
The ideas that “school” pontificates come from the studies of G.I. Gurdjieff. However, “school” neglects to mention its source. “School” will tell you that “the work” is an “oral tradition”, insinuating that there are no published materials and that “you won’t find these ideas any where else”. It will neglect to mention publications by both Gurdjieff and some of his students, as well as the many Gurdjieff societies around the world, including one in Boston. In fact, if you want a wee handbook, order Jacob Needleman’s Introduction to The Gurdjieff Work, in which you will find outlines of the following ideas:

Aim, Self remembering; Self Observations; Three Centers — Intellectual, Moving, and Emotional; Man is Asleep; “The Work”, Multiplicity or Multiple “Is”;  Essence, Personality, False Personality; Man as Machine; The Morning Prayer; Identification; Internal and External Considering; The Law of Three; Aim and Five-Week Aim; The Ray of Creation; The “Work Octave”; Necessary and Unnecessary Suffering; The Food Diagram, etc.

“Sustainers” – “School” assigns “sustainers” to meet with its newest recruits — known as “youngest students”– outside the hallowed halls, allegedly to help them navigate this new adventure. In truth, the “sustainers” main objective or “aim” is to retain the newer students. After telling the sustainees that their conversations are private, sustainers pass on pertinent information to “teachers”.

Beginning Required Reading: Hans Christian Anderson’s The Shadow,  Robert Lewis Stevenson Dr Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, Ralph Waldo Emerson essays, a series of mysterious photocopied “lectures” that I believe were delivered by a Gurdjieff student named P.D. Ouspensky, but “school” will neglect to mention him.

Those are the nuts and bolts that I recall. I invite readers to contribute to this list of identifying factors. I’m sure I haven’t covered them all. Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Identifying “School”: The Nuts & Bolts

  1. Warren Peace says:

    Nicely done, as always. I was “in” “school” at a time when the “teachers” didn’t yet feel it was necessary to hide the fact that the “teaching” came mainly from Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (I left around the turn of the millennium). One of the (many) troubles there was that Sharon (and, before she took over “school” in a sort of palace coup, her husband, the late Alex Horn) had little or no contact with the actual Gurdjieff lineage, and therefore the school was illegitimate (fake) according to the “teaching”s own ideas about A, B, and C influences, which you can look up in some of the books I list below. I imagine that “school” now tries to hide its affiliation with the Gurdjieff lineage to avoid this embarrassment, but also so that prospective and new students don’t go googling off to find information that might give them serious second thoughts about what they’ve gotten themselves into.

    For anyone interested, here’s a rundown of the basic books that “school” used to make its students study. The photocopied texts that they use now must come from one or more of these.

    Although the “teaching” supposedly came from Gurdjieff, it was his student Ouspensky who really wrote everything down. His most important book is “In Search of the Miraculous.” This used to be “school”s intro text and was studied ad nauseam. Other Ouspensky books studied included “A New Model of the Universe,” “The Fourth Way,” and “Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.” These are all readily available in cheap paperback or Kindle.

    Gurdjieff himself wrote some freakin weird books, the weirdest (and longest) being “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.” “School” used to make its students slog through this “galactic allegory” every couple of years. Very science fiction-y, along the lines of something SF writer and Scientology crank L: Ron Hubbard might have written (and just as believable). Gurdy also wrote “Meetings with Remarkable Men” (made into a bad movie in the late 1970s by Peter Brook, the director of “Lord of the Flies”), about his supposed trips to the East to find the so-called “teachings.”

    Ouspensky’s students also wrote books that used to get studied in “school” and maybe still do. The most important of these are by Rodney Collin and Maurice Nicoll. Nicoll wrote a 6-volume series called “Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” a collection of short pieces on various “ideas” that were probably transcriptons of lectures. These were used (and maybe still are) for daily “work” on the summer “retreats” to Sharon’s infamous ranch in Condon, Montana. Another Nicoll book, “Living Time,” got studied often as well. The Commentaries used to get photocopied and passed around because the books were expensive and sometimes out of print, but there was no attempt to hide who they were written by.

    Rodney Collin’s books include “Theory of Celestial Influence,” “Theory of Eternal Life,” “Theory of Conscious Harmony,” and “The Mirror of Light,” all of which got studied at one point or another. Again, all readily available in cheap paperback or Kindle editions. These books are “scientism” at their irresponsible worst. Full of “truthiness,” to quote Stephen Colbert, but always read in the most literal, sober way. Preposterous crap.

    If you’re a “student” now or are considering becoming one, do yourself a favor and check these out. Then ask Robert and those other charlatan “teachers” about these. I imagine their responses (or more likely their evasions, including shaming you for asking about them) would be quite instructive.

    By the way, something that never gets discussed in “class” is the context in which these books were written. They were very much of the time (pre- and post WWI), especially Ouspensky’s. Read, for instance, “The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914” by Philipp Blom to understand why these guys were so inclined to consider human beings “machines” that could be “fixed.” It was completely “of the time,” and not the ancient ideas that supposedly got handed down from ancient Egypt or whatever.

    Knowledge is power.

  2. Hi Warren Peace,

    This is great info! Thanks for providing it. I really appreciate the list of books along with author’s names.


  3. Che says:

    At one time there was an “approved” reading list as well. I once had a copy of it but I don’t keep that kind of thing anymore…
    If it wasn’t on the list, then you couldn’t read it (at least for a 5 week aim).
    Shakespeare, Plato, Checkhov, Dumas, Victor Hugo, Homer, the Greek playwrights, Dostoyevsky, Dante, Tolstoy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Carlos Castaneda, Hans Christian Anderson, C.S. Lewis, Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plotinus, de Tocqueville, Ibsen, as well as all kinds of religious texts from every major religion (especially mystics). Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila were some favorites. Anything from the Renaissance. There was also a list of “approved” artists to be venerated: Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo but nothing at all that was current or “modern.”
    What a limited view of the world!
    Not to say that they weren’t great books but there is more to life. Also, the idea that certain books and works of art are VERBOTEN is always upsetting. They didn’t practice book burning but they might have.

  4. Ah, yes. I remember the “approved reading list.” It’s so creepy how I allowed “school” to start dictating these things to me. Thank God I woke up.

  5. seeker of truth says:

    I remember reading the “Work” books. We had to memorize and recite from Nicoll. We read a lot of fairy tales and taught they were allegories of the Work, blah, blah, blah. I dont recall forbidden material. We had to write term papers on different topics and I would go to the library (pre internet days), and copy stuff out of self-help books. I always got good grades! LOL!
    And we read lots of Plato- even more than when I was in college as a philosophy major.

  6. Wow. I must say, we never had to memorize, recite or write term papers. Your “school” days sound more demanding than the “school” of today.

  7. Mary Mack says:

    Some of the “Work” books were forbidden to those of us who were recruited in the late eighties and nineties. You could only read the Commentaries if you were part of the Montana or CR group. Certain works of Orage were verboten. JG Bennet, a student of Ouspensky’s, who taught a number of groups in England for many years (they appear to have been fairly intellectual regular classes, and not abusive) wrote copiously about the work and his writing was shunned. (I remember one source reported that A. Horn’s former wife A. Haas was a student of Bennett’s. When she brought AH to meet him, Bennett refused to teach him, saying he was violent, and asked him to leave.) I believe this is printed in the story “Rosie, Alex, Sharon and the Work”, but like the potato dropping thing, it may have come from somewhere else(possibly a private source). At any rate, you were also not allowed to read Collin except for one short book of letters published posthumously, Theory of Conscious Harmony, and etc. etc. The reasoning was that these so-called more advanced works would ‘blow us away’. More probably they would have loosened control by bringing in multiple and contrary ideas. Also these works tended to be much more interestingly written than Ouspensky and might have jolted us from carefully crafted stupor on “Ideas” night. When we were assigned an aim to read Gurdjieff’s work three times, my former husband dove in eagerly only to end up throwing the heavy tome out of the window in frustration. As it cost about $75, he had to go down and fetch it, although he never opened it up again that I could see. He told me later that he sold it to another student.

    One of the primary needs of a successful cult is control of information. Another is creating levels of access that a student is aware of. One of my partners, at a time when our five-week aim partners were for three month stints, was fixated on getting to be in what she termed “the weekend group”. She said she knew there was a group that went away on weekends and she wanted to be in that group. She was aware of the level, knew it was special, and knowing nothing else, wanted to be in the cooler crowd. The last I heard of her,, she had been told to go after over 20 years of coolie service.

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