Reijo Elsner Interviewed by Guy Hoffman
Guy: You mentioned
in one of our communications that you and your daughter were preparing a meal
together. Could you tell me how your relationship is with your
Reijo: That is a straight question! We don't often cook together, but it is a nice thing when we do!
Well, she is right now in her teens and I have been pushing her to start asking what she really wants to do when she 'grows up'. Not an easy thing to get going, but it has resulted in her starting to ask the question of herself for a couple of years now. It has also led to some talks and trials already at 15, which is great. This is very pleasing for me, a father of four, whose other four children are now all well over 30. It is the first time when the question has really become alive for one of my children.
I am. though, not satisfied with what I've been able to do for her. Some things are under our control and some are not. For a year she has had her health problems with asthma and allergies, but they certainly have taught her how to take care of herself a little. A small detail on this is that on advice from her mother they both took up Yoga, which seems to help my daughter. The sad thing in that is that I consider myself quite a good Yoga teacher, but they don't want to know!
I am making efforts in not expressing negative emotions to her and trying to give her the kind of 'physical care' with small things around the house, serving, caring. This process has been rewarding and continuously bringing up things that are not right with me. But I try. Fighting with myself does not come as natural as fighting with others.
Wait a minute, I've counted the children again and have found out that I am a father of five....
Guy: (Laughing) Okay, what I'm really interested in is how has the Gurdjieff Work influenced you in your relations with your children?
Reijo: I don't know how you do it Guy, but this is a question I've had somewhere, only it never came up to surface. Perhaps the reason is that the truth is so unbearable. The immediate answer is that I sense that all my own children think that I am a very strange person with my interest in Gurdjieff, who is so little known and of whom they only have heard of from their father. I have not pushed the teaching down their throats at any time and they don't really know what it is all about.
And yet the influence of the parents on children is so important - that is where things start going wrong and instead of 'educating' my children in the way that I know they could have been educated, they have not received from me perhaps not even as much as I received from my own parents. I really feel that. The situation has been like this in spite of all the knowledge. The basic feeling has been right, but the practical approach contained in the wise saying 'charity begins at home' has not been exercised very much. My friend Malcolm Gibson put it in a nice way: "use your body, not your tongue."
I am learning rather to give to others. Today my daughter told me that she really thinks it is good that I do the cooking and serve it. Only thing she hopes is that I could do it 'right to the very end and serve the food with a smile in a polite manner'. She is absolutely right: I am not good at this. It is as if service is something that I hate more than anything.
Have I answered you? Or have I avoided the answer?
Guy: Why do you think it is so difficult to do the Work in a family situation?
Reijo: The word family looks very similar to familiar - at least the similarity between these two words points out to the difficulty. In a familiar situation I am more identified with the wrong idea of myself. There is a beautiful Finnish folk-saying about marriage: 'the devil dances nowhere as much as around a couple'.
If we use the word 'love' instead of 'work' I think it is easier for me to understand this (although one could argue that these two words mean the same thing - depending on the circumstances). The love based on the usual kind of self-love, in which we 'fall in and out of love', is with us in all situations and in a more concrete way within a family. You give something and expect something in return. You expect a reward, a price, a present or a prize.
I come inevitably back to the question 'what do I want' or even 'what do I need'. The question is the same when it concerns the other members of the family. In the same way that I find it almost impossible to keep asking myself what I want, I also find it very difficult to ask what my wife wants and needs and what my daughter wants and needs. I am now reminded of this same time a year ago when you asked me if it would not be a good idea to make a Work Wish for the next year, something I wished. That worked fine and I am still wishing and working on that impulse. I'm talking of fairy-tale like wishes becoming true and for this it is important for me to try to find out what my family wants, needs and wishes, but it is not easy.
Guy: Are you presently working on a specific Work idea when it comes to your family?
Reijo: Yes, on different ideas, but only one idea a time, one a day. I have become convinced that working on many things at once is something I cannot do. This may well be individual, but I can't work on more than one thing properly.
What I am trying to do is what we discussed before - to serve. This is not easy either. I don't quite understand why it is so difficult; it is like I am trying to do something that is going 'against the grain'. At the same time I have previously had the idea from business life that I am quite good at this. I've mainly done selling, which I consider to be also a service function for both the buying and the selling companies. These two 'services', what I am trying to do at home and what I have done at work as a seller, are not so different from each other. The differences, why I have had success at work and failure at home, are caused by two completely different persons, the tyrant at home and the nice guy at work.
I have of course often seen this in other people and have been quick to remark to my wife, when she has had a negative outburst after a hard day at work, that she should save the negativity for the job and behave properly at home.
So I could sum this up by saying that I am attempting to behave like a man!
Guy: From my own observations of being married three times, I'm beginning to understand that being married, or having an intimate relationship, somehow is related to the struggle of reconciling two opposing forces. Does this in anyway coincide with your thoughts on the subject?
Reijo: Definitely! At least in the sense that in marriage the couple keeps opposing each other much of the time. One may ask if the five marriages between us means that we are the experts? We cannot be called amateurs; we are more like the professionals! At least I am a professional in finding out the faults in my partner! I believe that my wife is on the level of Xantippa in her criticism of me. I try to play the role of Socrates and take it philosophically, but I do not always succeed in that. It could be a school, but I am learning very slowly.
'Struggle of reconciling two opposing forces' is an interesting way of putting it. Prior to the process of reconciling the two there has been what I would call 'the attraction of two opposing forces'. My 'professionalism' tells me that the sexual and emotional attraction lasts for some years, in my case about ten, and then it starts fading fast. It acts as the third force, the reconciling force, as long as it is active in its role. Afterwards it can more or less disappear or even change to its opposite, and instead of the 'love' there was before we now have 'hate' that was not there in the beginning.
My thoughts on marriage generally are that it is a Christian concept. It is an institution, which goes against nature. The things that go 'against nature' are those sort of things I mentioned before that are going 'against the grain'. Going along the grain is the habitual, the machine way. In the Gurdjieff sense if you put two machines together in a marriage what happens? They are considered lucky if they manage to make many more machines come into the world - nothing more really happens.
In some of the not-too-public-Gurdjieff-group-meetings notes from the forties he gives the idea of marriage in Asia: when the couple gets a child they are called brother and sister, no longer husband and wife. This is a completely new life for the couple where the only things that matter are not themselves, but the offspring. So they have to die and be born themselves. This must have been also the Christian idea of marriage - the reconciling of two opposite forces.
Guy: Thank you, Reijo!