My Story - 1962-2003

Elsner, Reijo

How it started

The accident, the coincidence, whatever, was bound to happen some time or another. After all I had read a lot of philosophical, psychological and religious books by 1962, when I was 20 years old.

When I was in the compulsory Finnish military training for lower officer ranks in Oulu, the Northern part of Finland, while having a chat with my friend Simo Näyhä, he said that I should read Colin Wilson's The Outsider, which was newly translated into Finnish. I bet Simo has no idea what kind of changes in my life he had got himself tangled with!

Thanks to Colin Wilson's list of published books I soon had ordered and got the first book by Gurdjieff himself. This resulted in further studies of the literature and some interesting experiences that have kept me going on (and still do).

Somehow Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men has some life of its own and I have no doubt he put it there on purpose. One sunny Sunday morning I was heading back home after I had stayed with a friend. I had Meetings tucked under my arm and felt very good. The leafy maple and chestnut trees formed a natural tunnel for my walk to the bus station a few hundred meters away. The sun was shining through the leaves and I felt better and better.

I arrived at the station where my bus was waiting. Some people were walking across the open square that did only have a small number of vehicles standing. Looking at these people made me shiver. They moved, all separate from their surroundings, but each as if pulled by a force, almost like being at the end of a rope, but at the same time somehow managing to use their own movement to go to the predestined direction.

I could not understand why they paid no attention to me and felt that I was somehow in contact with each of them separately. One woman nearly collided with me as I seemed to be in her programmed route.

I got to the bus and asked a woman standing by the door if this is the Helsinki bus. Her answer and the way it came out of her was simply too much. She did not look at me, but somehow avoided all contact. The words that came out of her mouth sounded to me more like a grasshoppers mechanical sound than what I normally heard when being spoken to.

I panicked and quickly entered the bus, found a seat overlooking the station
square and witnessed the same scene of people being pulled in all in their different directions totally separate and with no contact with each other or their surroundings.

The effect of all this was that I was filled with the energy to know more and lead me to translate the book into Finnish. (This was never published as it got lost in connection with my uncle's drowning accident - but at least I had made my version!)

In the Gurdjieff literature that I have had access to this kind of experiences, two of them, are described by C. Daly King in his book The states of human consciousness. His experiences happened after prolonged practice of trying to remember himself (under the guidance of A.R. Orage). Both of them also took place when waiting for some transport on some platform.

The books I read were by P.D. Ouspensky, Kenneth Walker, Maurice Nicoll and Stanley Nott. Mr. Nott was still alive, had followed Gurdjieff most of his life and he was writing about it.

I started correspondence with Stanley Nott in 1964 and had the pleasure to be in contact with him until his death in 1978. The correspondence resulted in the inevitable question: 'How can I join
the Work ?'. Mr. Nott answered: 'If you come to London I can put you in touch with one of the groups'.

I travelled to London with the aim of finding a job. Having settled in the Russell Hotel in the late afternoon I headed straight to Adam Nott, the first person, with his wife Rosemary, I met 'live' in connection with the Work. Adam made a lasting impression on me.
This meeting led to many other meetings, all in just seven days, with Stanley Nott, Mrs. Rose Mary Nott, David Black, Wendy Harries, Marjorie Gibson (then Bradley), Paddy Maffet, John Brooke and the man who helped me most to find a job and who became my contact person in the Work until his death in 1993, Malcolm Gibson.

What I got from all that help was the feeling that I was amongst friends and the determination that I will not go back home without a job - and it worked!

I moved to London next year, 1967, in the Autumn with my family (wife and two children). David Black met us at the station on arrival. Malcolm gave us his flat in Elsham Road to live in. I was joining the Work.

I was one in a group of a dozen beginners, many of us married and attending the meetings with their wife or husband, who went to Mr. Sam Copley in Hampstead once a week. Sometimes in his absence we met at Mr. Magnus Wechslers house near Holland Park. Both of these group leaders knew what they were doing. My contact with John Anthony West dates back to this time; John was one of the members of the group at the time. Sam Copley had as his background a long relationship with Mr. Maurice Nicoll and his approach to leading a group was termed 'gentle'. Some ten years ago he wrote about his time with Nicoll in his short book 'The Vertical Man'.

I was lucky and could start at the movements after a few months (it took many considerable time to join them). Mrs. Rose Mary Nott run the class and although my expectations were sky high I was not disappointed. My view is that the movements give you the taste of what 'work' is all about: you simply need to work to follow the instructions! But you also 'receive' immediately.

The Gurdjieff Society has a place outside London, where all kinds of different physical activities take place. Most of my time was used in different maintenance and repair teams, carpentry and gardening. Many of the people I worked with are now leading Gurdjieff groups. On the mental side there were readings from Beelzebub and frequent visits of Madames de Saltzmann and Lannes, Monsieur Henri Tracol, Basil Tilly and others: on these occasions we were allowed to put forth questions. This was not an easy task as there were often appr. 100 people present.

I recall one particular meeting with Madame de Saltzmann; in fact I will never forget it. She made a fairly long speech and referred to 'the great possibilities we all have and how we can not even imagine what they are'. Whatever the reason, this prompted a loud laugh from me and suddenly 'I' was the centre of attention of those 100 people. She looked at me, but did not say anything. Everybody was silent. I had expressed myself! I could just as well have farted!

The job I had managed to get was that of a bookkeeper in a Travel Agency and it was fairly clear that I would have to do better than that to have what we needed for the growing family. In three months, with the help of the contacts in the Work, I had a new job and in another three months I advanced from a bookkeeper to Sales Manager for wholesale marketing of Nordic menswear in a big scale. I managed this time without the help of my friends.

In four years we moved house four times, had two more children, attended groups, movements and working weekends, I travelled frequently to Finland to the menswear factory and we were able to have a social life meeting people connected with the Gurdjieff Work. My family went to Finland for three months every Summer and I could meet Stanley Nott and Malcolm Gibson often at their respective cottages and visit other friends too. In 1971 we decided that our children need to be put through the Finnish education system and we started planning to move back in the course of the Summer.

Through the seventies and eighties I managed to maintain an almost unbroken contact with the UK in that I was involved with either selling things from the UK to Finland or vice versa.
This meant that I could meet Malcolm Gibson fairly often and sometimes some of the members of Sam Copley's group and other people I had got to know in the Work. Malcolm was always very direct and sober in the way he spoke and more than once I felt like I had received a good beating during our meeting. I felt flattered when he called me 'The Finnish Intellectual', but I can now see what he meant and I am not so proud of it to-day!
Although Malcolm always maintained that he could take no responsibility for my guidance I did receive from our meetings a great amount of material with which I could work further.

In the early eighties I met Eivor, who introduced me to Tony Blake. Soon after they became husband and wife. Tony was in Finland on one of his 'missions' for J.G. Bennett's organization at the time and searching for his own way, which he now has established in the duVersity.
I felt that Tony was in touch with the active approach to the Work and I received plenty of inspiration to go on. I am glad for his support for my efforts in connection with the Gurdjieff Internet Guide; he has become one of the moderators for the Forums, which will be activated when there is a need for it.

In 1979 I contacted Lizelle Reymond in Geneva. Her book To Live Within had made a strong impression on me as it was dealing with Gurdjieff, Yoga and Samkhya. We met over a weekend. I settled in Hotel de la Paix (she lived just around the corner) by lake Geneva and had a view across the lake to Mont Blanc. What interested me particularly was that she lived her Samkhya Yoga and had seemingly no contradiction in having contact with the Gurdjieff teaching at the same time. Lizelle Reymond knew Madame de Saltzmann personally and had established a Gurdjieff group in Geneva on her recommendation.

Miss Reymond was writing another book. She lent me the manuscript and I read it over the two nights I stayed in the hotel. Miss Reymond not only had no problem in following Yoga and Gurdjieff, but she was also teaching Tai-Chi! Our meeting and her book under work made it quite clear that in her view Yoga as she knew it and Gurdjieff's teaching were complimentary to each other. There was no contradiction. She said that Gurdjieff people often have a fairly narrow view and do not take in any other ideas.
Lizelle Reymond had no doubt that one of the sources of Gurdjieff's teaching is the Samkhya philosophy that Yoga is based on. There are similarities in the law of three and the three gunas and much of the cosmology of Samkhya resembles Gurdjieff's presentation of the world (apart from the similarities on the psychological side, which are even more obvious).
I got to know that Lizelle Reymond passed away in the early nineties. The book she was working on when we met has apparently not been completed. When I read what she had written I made notes of some of the sayings, mainly by Sri Anirvan. There is a short presentation made from my notes in the article 'Thoughts on the Origins'.

Malcolm Gibson passed away in 1993. By this time I had remarried and moved to Denmark (where my wife comes from). As Malcolm put it: 'you are not sitting between two stools, but many stools'. I am still in the process of finding the stool to sit on. In August 2003 I started the Gurdjieff Internet Guide. It just might be that I am in the process of finding my stool!


Hello Reijo Elsner,

Just a note to say, again, I appreciate your efforts. I think I sent you a note once before.

A composer, singer and meditation teacher, I was a pupil of Lord Pentland in the US and Michel de Salzmann in France, over a 20-year period. I did the singing in the Meetings film that "made the valley vibrate". There's a conversation published in the current Stopinder.

I come to Denmark a lot, and co-ordinate a week-long music and meditation retreat every summer--this year from July 26-31. Some Danish friends,, organize it for me--especially Benedicte Sales. We go to a marvelous seaside church on a cliff at Steyns, near Kohe/Stroby about an hour south of Copenhagen. It's a special week and Realization-quality experiences, if one may say, have taken place for a number of us.

Well, enough for now--life and work goes on...

All best wishes,

David Hykes

David Hykes, France
added 2003-03-28

Good to meet you here David!
Dear David,
I found your site some time ago and find what you are doing with music and singing very exciting. The link to your site is under the 'Other Links' in the address I have just realized that some of your recordings are available at the Amazon and I will put them on shortly.
I read the conversation in Stopinder and can recommend it for others as well. After your comment I visited also the site of Bénédicte Sales and informed her about your comment and the GIG site.
It would be great to meet you when you are in Copenhagen. I will keep in contact to see if it can be arranged.
Best regards,

Reijo Elsner, Denmark
added 2003-03-28

The Cricket Phenomenon
I came across your essay and was interested in your report about the Woman at the Bus Station:

In 1975 I was in a living room filled with people chattering away. As I watched them talk I experienced a sensation like I was being pushed backwards. Their voices began to fall on a different space inside, and as I watch everyone chattering away, the words started to sound like crickets chirping. I sat and witnessed them energetically chirping sounds to one another like insects! I was alarmed at this new perception, but not freaked out. Of course, I was perplexed and knew not what to make of it. I was seeing in an alternate way. As if I was taking in the surroundings as they really were. And the internal pushing back action was more like an instinctive defensive reaction than an intentional one. Not to be repeated on command. Although, I sense a doorway through the practice of Self Observation, there is another hand in this.

Warmest regards,
David Aston-Reese, USA

David Aston-Reese, United States
added 2003-12-21