Richard Wachtel Interviewed by Avi Solomon
Avi: Why don't you start by introducing yourself?
Richard: My name is Richard David Wachtel, I am 66 years old, I live in Jerusalem, Israel. I was a school teacher of Physics in New York City, retired and settled in Israel in 1998. I have been connected with the Work formally since the spring of 1960 when I entered the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York City. At that time I was a member of a group in the foundation and the leader of that group was Willem Nyland, who was then and continued to be till his death my teacher. Nyland's teaching is today also known as the Institute for Religious Development and apart from USA represented in Australia and here in Israel, which can be seen on the web site.
Avi: So how did you get into this 'other' business?
Richard: I was in the American army at the time, stationed within hitchhiking distance of Greenwich Village in NYC, which I liked and I used to come up on weekends when I could get away. In the village I met a number of people one of whom who was in Mr. Nyland's group and we casually started discussing certain ideas which I found attractive. Very quickly he told me the source of those ideas and recommended that I do some reading, which I did because one of the things you can do in the army in peacetime is read.
On getting out of the army, at work one day I received a telephone call from Mr. Nyland asking me if I was interested in joining the group at which I promptly said Yes. He interviewed me and after the interview said well if I would like I could join the group which was then at the Gurdjieff Foundation. I joined the group and I've been in it ever since.
Avi: What impression did Mr. Nyland make upon you?
Richard: Nothing other than he was a man who was, actually a few years younger than I am now, I was in my 20s and he in his 50s. I remember that he had a strong Dutch accent because he was from Holland, but I though he was German but I was wrong.
Other than that I don't remember any particular impressions. I was just glad to get into a group because in my reading I had learned that a group is absolutely necessary and that one can't really accomplish much in the way of work on oneself without a group. I needed a group and this was my way of getting into a group.
Avi: Was there anything in your childhood that inclined you towards the search for such things?
Richard: Definitely. As a child I was an insomniac who constantly in my sleeplessness contemplated death and nothingness and also concepts like everythingness as well as infinity and eternity and living forever and I got into some fairly spooky subjects. I would think out these things night after night for sometimes fairly long periods of time and it made me a bit strange and interested in things that other children of my age weren't interested in and conversely I wasn't interested in things that other children were interested in like sports. I was a bit of an outsider and I suppose it gave me a spiritual twist although at that time I didn't know it.
Avi: What is work and what has it given you?
Richard: What is Work? Well, I'm not going to describe work here, that's something I don't talk about in a casual way outside of a meeting, but I can say what, having been in the Work, and having applied the ideas of Gurdjieff as taught to me by Mr. Nyland, Work has meant to me in my Life. Is that acceptable?
Richard: All right, number one, Work has created in me a direction. It is a direction in which I can always experience more and more and more, I can become more and more open. I can experience a kind of 'inner growth', for lack of a better term.
I can get answers to questions that my mind could pose but never answer. My mind could ask questions, big questions like the meaning of life, why am I here? What is my relationship to Life? What is my relationship to God? Is there a God? What is God, if there is a God? It's affected my relationship to my own death, to the death of this physical body. It is affected my understanding of death in general so that I can deal somewhat differently than most people with the death of loved ones.
I've been able to simply grow in such a way that I begin to know these concepts not in a conceptual or intellectual way, but through some sort of inner experience, information.
Avi: What do you mean by information?
Richard: In some way one knows something without actually being told something, without actually having learnt it from any apparent outside source. To give you an example, death was always a very big issue with me, was always very frightened of it, but I now perceive, as I see it, not think about it, as simply the death of another human being on planet earth. It's a whole different way of seeing this death. It's not something I was told or read, It's something I know so much to the point where this information that I have can't be refuted by any outside source, I simply know it.
Avi: What special emphasis did Mr. Nyland have relative to the Foundation?
Richard: The Foundation tended to be more theoretical, more discussion oriented, Mr. Nyland stressed application in the form of actual working on oneself. He found at that time, at least according to what he told us, that those at the Foundation were not rigorous enough in their application of the ideas, that they were more prone simply to discuss it.
Also he didn't like Ouspensky, Mr. Ouspensky not Madame Ouspensky whom he liked. He didn't like that there was so much input from Ouspensky into the ideas at the Foundation. He always explained after he split off from the Foundation that Ouspensky's ideas had no place in the work that we were doing, talking about and then actually doing. As a matter of fact if anybody would begin even to quote Ouspensky at a meeting or say "Ouspensky said this" or "I read in such and such a book by Ouspensky" he would stop them right away, "we don't talk about that here"!
Avi: What about 'Beelzebub's Tales'?
Richard: That to him was the central writing. He called it 'our scriptures'. That was our Bible. Even more than anything else that Gurdjieff wrote. It was All and Everything! Everything that we needed to know was contained within that book. It was difficult to get it out of the book but it was there. As a matter of fact he even recommended it as introductory reading, which surprised me because I always thought that the book All & Everything was so difficult that it could be quite a turnoff for new people who were genuinely interested.
Avi: How was All & Everything read?
Richard: We made the effort on our own according to the instructions as written by Gurdjieff and he emphasized that we follow those instructions. He expected us to do it on our own. You know I'm talking bout the 3 readings. Only on the 3rd reading do we begin to try to ponder and to think about the ideas as such.
Avi: Are there certain types of people who get attracted to the Gurdjieff Work vs. other religions?
Richard: Work, the ideas, the whole system is basically a religion without devotion, without ritual. So people who get attracted to Work are people who do have a spiritual need but are turned off by all the hype and the ritual and the pomp and pageantry of conventional religion. Work is kind of a bare bones, no frills religion.
There's something in work, as there's probably in all spiritual disciplines, which certain people are sensitive to and are therefore attracted to it. You can't necessarily pick out who's going to be attracted to it and also once they're attracted who's going to stay. I've been surprised too many times to try to predict.
Avi: Thank You!