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Lord Pentland's Influence: Personal Recollections

Updated: Feb 16


David Sailors, 1983


John Pentland (Henry John Sinclair) lived from 1907 to 1984. In addition to being a remarkable man, he was a member of the British House of Lords, succeeding his father. He was thus known to his students in the Gurdjieff Work as “Lord Pentland.” At the end of Gurdjieff's life, he appointed Lord Pentland to direct Work groups in North America. Lord Pentland ultimately served as President of the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York from its inception in 1953 and founded similar organizations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. These recollections attempt to convey his inimitable qualities and a presence that of itself indicated a different level of consciousness.


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James Opie, Ballston Spa, NY


"Over the years I heard many accounts of experiences with Gurdjieff and had written down a half dozen. It occurred to me that there must be dozens still to be gathered and someday published. When a chance came to speak privately with Lord Pentland, I asked him if it would be good to gather such narratives while those who had been with Gurdjieff were still alive. I added that later a project of this nature would become impossible as older people passed away.

 

"Lord Pentland demurred. 'Following your plan would probably dilute the essential teaching.' He then proceeded to relate an experience of his own with Gurdjieff, in New York, late in 1948.

 

“'We had rented space for Movements classes in Carnegie Hall. Mr. Gurdjieff had been here before but was unfamiliar with this part of the building, so after the class he needed guidance to find his way out. I walked with him down a long hallway to where it formed a T, forcing one to go either left or right. Mr. Gurdjieff turned to the left but I corrected him, saying, 'It’s this other way, Mr. Gurdjieff.' We then walked together in the proper direction and exited the building.

 

“'Several days later we returned to Carnegie Hall. Movements were over, and again we walked down that long hallway. Approaching the T, I assumed Mr. Gurdjieff would remember the correct turn and walk to the right. To my surprise, he turned, with a good deal of force, to the left. Though knowing full well that this was the wrong way, I could only follow him. Suddenly, all independence of mind I possessed was gone. Mr. Gurdjieff then stopped, turned around, glanced at me, and we walked together toward the building’s exit.'”

 

"Lord Pentland added, 'He was always teaching, often wordlessly.'


"That same evening in New York, I made handwritten notes from what Lord Pentland had related about his experience in Carnegie Hall. I typed them after returning to Oregon and mailed a copy to Lord Pentland, reminding him of our conversation. A response came by return mail, written in his orderly hand and dated January 14, 1984, three weeks before his death.  

 

'"You have caught the spirit of the incident in Carnegie Hall with Gurdjieff which came to my mind when we last talked, and transcribed it very well, exactly as I would have wished. All the same, reading it again this morning, it is meaningless, a mere anecdote, without the general articulation given by the whole process of Gurdjieff’s Teaching. I feel what you and I really share is the difficulty of living this ourselves up to the point we have understood it, and passing it on. Our attempts to do so are too wordy and the more words, the less we and others understand. So I suppose that is why we turn toward these anecdotes, which in themselves are merely frivolous.

 

“'I begin to see more clearly and without hostility or judgment that there is some chief weakness in our minds, in each of us, which so far we have all failed to conquer and that the Work’s future really does hang on some of us facing and sharing this individual difficulty with each other.'” 

 

"I did not immediately see that this final paragraph comprised the core teaching Lord Pentland left for me. Reading that paragraph again and again, gradually the question came: 'What am I not seeing?,' for 'some chief weakness' surely was continuing to operate in me."


 

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 Stephanie Akers Cohen, West Linn, OR


"My first encounter with Lord Pentland was just before my seventh birthday and the last when I was 31, less than six months before he died. 

 

"When I was 14 or 15 Lord Pentland came to Los Angeles to support a craft sale the group was having. I don’t recall how our conversation began, but I was feeling very adult, wearing a fashionable turquoise knit top and floral print mini skirt. We were standing, I remember looking up at him as he said 'don’t ever forget this …' and he continued to tell me something very important. I took the moment seriously and was certain I would always remember. Sadly, I didn’t, but I have never forgotten the moment he said 'this.'"

 

"Recalling other personal exchanges with him, no matter my age or the circumstance, whatever my outer manifestation or whether I was comfortable or uncomfortable, I remember more about how I was … my posture, what I was thinking, how I felt, and how I responded … and how he was, his posture, facial expression, tone of voice, etc., but most of the words have disappeared. 

 

"When Lord Pentland chose to direct his attention on me it was as if I was the only thing that mattered to him. With few words or even the simplest gesture or facial expression, he could bring me in front of myself, revealing many different pictures of 'me' through the years, yet all of them connected to something deeper and truer, which is perhaps more important than anything he said."


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 Stan Teplick, Lake Oswego, OR


"I never had a close relationship with Lord Pentland...but he did give me something.

 

"We were at St Elmo. It was early 70's. Groups were large in those days and the meeting room was packed. Lord Pentland was in front towering over us. We sat in thick silence for some time and then people began to speak of their questions. I had not spoken in groups for many months, first out of fear and then out of insecurity and then out of habit, but I had rehearsed something to bring that day. Something about my struggle with obsessive thinking. Listening to others speaking sincerely about what they saw in themselves, I was ashamed that I could not manage to come up with a more substantial report. There was a long pause and I took a chance. It came out as a silly observation about associations and I immediately felt like I had been left back a grade and was now suddenly in a class of older, more advanced students. Lord Pentland said absolutely nothing and as far as I could see, there was no change in his stoic expression. He looked at me for a brief moment and then off into the distance. It's impossible to describe how small I felt. And how self-conscious. But at that moment there was a brief connection to what I would later recognize as a spark of conscience. After a few minutes, someone else spoke and Lord Pentland responded in great detail, and much of his response touched what I had imagined my question, my real question, to be. 

 

"Later that morning, out smoking on the veranda, Bill Caryl, our group leader, came up and put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a little smile, as if to say 'See, that's what it's about.' 

 

"But I was very young and it took many years to understand, if I even do today."


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Bill Jordan, Temecula, CA


"Indelibly etched in my memory is an impression from a summer work period at St. Elmo in 1979. One evening, as we sat at our tables after dinner, Lord Pentland suggested that some people might like to tell stories. We listened as those sitting at different places around the room responded, most telling humorous tales. As it happened, I was sitting at the head table, close to Lord Pentland, and I could sense that something was in the offing. I began to gather my attention to be ready for whatever it would be. Speaking in a way that gave a subtle suggestion that he had something up his sleeve, he suggested that we all move to what he called 'stage two' of the storytelling. Now the demand was to make up a story on the spot. As this made everyone pause, he turned to one of the men at our table and asked him if he had a story. When that man hesitated, Lord Pentland turned his gaze to me. Something in me was ready, because without missing a beat I began to tell a story that I had never thought of before. Staying anchored in my chair, I began to speak, not stopping for a moment to think ahead, and not knowing myself where the story was going. It was about a shy accountant who took his nephew to the zoo and ended up heroically putting out a fire in the elephant house. There was no pause until the end, when I felt as if I had just run down a steep hill. Lord Pentland was smiling at me, and everyone was clapping approval. That experience showed me that we have a vital creative channel from our subconscious in us that can become active when we need it."


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Paul Jordan-Smith, Grass Valley, CA


"A Master of the Lateral Octave"


I was not in a Pentland group, but three encounters exemplify how a few words could effect a “course correction” in one’s understanding.

 

The first was in response to a question I had brought to an exchange on ideas, related to that evening’s theme. Lord Pentland responded, “It’s a good question, but it’s not enough, you know. We need to feel these ideas in order to understand them.” It reminded me that the head brain cannot by itself come to a new understanding that was, in Mr. Gurdjieff’s words, “broader and deeper.”

 

The second encounter, in a small discussion group, was similar. To another of my contributions Pentland remarked, “It’s a clever question. Unfortunately for you, you have me to respond.” Another course correction: being “clever” is not enough.

 

The third followed a collective “sitting.” Lord Pentland was diagonally opposite me in the Gurdjieff Foundation’s lobby, a crowd in quiet hubbub between us. Over the throng, he called out, “Paul! I see that you have difficulty staying awake. Perhaps you could sit in the back until you ‘get it.’” (Anyone familiar with his manner doubtless recalls how he could perfectly punctuate a spoken sentence.) I replied, “Thank you. I’ll do that.” 

 

What struck me in these brief encounters was his kindness. He was a “master of the lateral octave”: one who intuitively knows when a shock could interrupt the automatic process of the moment by bridging the prevailing interval. For these I thank him again and again.


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Nancy Larson, Seattle, WA


"Because I had helped cook dinner, I was included at Lord Pentland’s dinner table at the Foundation in San Francisco. Seated next to him was a visiting English aristocrat who was telling us how he had started a business (something to do with airplanes, I believe) to raise money for the filming of 'Meetings with Remarkable Men.'  We guests were very impressed. Lord Pentland didn’t comment. Instead he took his time to tell his own story about a young woman in one of the groups in San Francisco who was a house cleaner, and took on extra work in order to contribute to the film. He showed great admiration for her efforts." 


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Yvonne C. Palese, Kansas City, KS


                                       “Lord Pentland and Mt. Tamalpais”

  

 "I was very  privileged to spend several days a year (between 1974-1980) with Lord Pentland

through his personal invitation.

 

"This was in San Francisco during his visits in spring and summer.

 

"In the summer of 1977 myself and my husband were invited to Lord Pentland's home he was renting in Tiburon, Calif. This was after several years of trips and discussions about the children's work effort which was going strong and successful for several years. Of course we jumped at the opportunity!

 

 "Being a three-day event, and again only a few guests would be staying at the house and a few more would be invited for dinner which we would be preparing, there was time to explore the surrounding area of Tiburon which was nestled in trees, quiet and very calming.

 

  "As the dinner guests arrived we met in the small living room and Lord Pentland was always such a gentleman and he introduced everyone. We had an exchange, sat quiet and he then

informed us he was going to give us a few movement exercises. I had been doing movements in Los Angeles for a few years but not with LP! We all were very clumsy and struggled through  these knowing he was really giving us a gift and we all made a good effort. After the movements we sat and had an exchange again.

 

  "This time he brought up the topic of the sacred mountain of Mt. Tamalpais which was nearby. My heart started to speed up and I was so excited to hear about the mountain, a sacred mountain named by the Indians in the region. LP gave us very special instructions as to what we had to do and how we needed to do it to receive the special blessings from the sleeping virgin.

 

 "The instructions were that we had to arrive before the sunrise so that meant we had to leave around 5am in the morning to reach the mountain park, then hike up the side to get to the peak before sunrise! If we missed the sunrise we would miss the whole experience of the sacred. I was beyond thrilled and could barely sleep!

 

 "We set the clock for 4am and left the house at about 4:30am and started our journey in the pitch black morning. It was still very foggy as San Francisco can be and we finally arrived and parked our car, then started to hike to get to the peak. Our hearts racing, knowing we had to get to the top before sunrise! It was a distance, we knew, and could barely see in front of our feet.


"It was dark, cold and everything was covered in fog. On top of these challenges I had stubbed my large toe earlier and was wearing sandals and still having a lot of pain in my toe and foot.

 

"We climbed telling each other to hurry, we must get to the top. It was now getting harder to breathe the air which was thick with fog. My husband is ahead of me but calling back to me to

hurry. Now I suddenly am having a hard time breathing! The oxygen is so much thinner. I push

myself forward really wanting the experience. Now suddenly we are out of the fog and above the clouds which are all around us and hugging the mountain. We are now not speaking and overwhelmed by the quiet! We could see for miles above the clouds and fog. The tip of the Golden Gate Bridge could be seen below us, peeking out of the clouds. My lungs felt clearer and I was able to take deep cleansing breaths.  I was aware of the surrounding plants giving off oxygen to support me in this incredible moment of time. Now I do not feel the pain in my foot.

 

"Just as the sun is rising we both sat on the large rock at the very peak of Mt. Tamalpais!

We were above the clouds and fog of San Francisco and watched the sunrise. The experience was really life changing.

 

"We spoke not one word and just watched and felt the most Holy of Holies!

 

"Both of us made the effort and we received! This was one of Lord Pentland's greatest gifts among many that he gave us.


"In Gratitude...

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Damon Lindbergh, San Francisco, CA


"Lord Pentland was the first person in the Work that I met. It was August of 1979. The San Francisco Gurdjieff Foundation on St Elmo. I was 14 years old and had just spent one year living at the San Francisco Zen Center. After arriving at the house on St Elmo at 8:00 p.m. on a Sunday night (it was the end of a work week), I was shown into the panel room which was his office. After a 20-minute interview he gave me my first instruction. 'Sit every morning no matter what. After you wash and before you eat. Try to sit at the same time and in the same place each morning. Do this without fail every day.' Fortunately I have kept this instruction for my entire life and have never missed a morning sitting."


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Ann Mia Haning, Portland, OR


"It's hard to describe invisible currents which I don't understand. In 1979 the first edition of Toward Awakening by Jean Vaysse was translated from the French and published by Far West Editions under Lord Pentland's direction. It came into my hands in 1982 without expectation as part of a seamless chain of events and I read it in a long draught. I was already planning to return to San Francisco for the second time in 1983 and was in New York packing my bags when I looked one more time at its last words:


FAR WEST INSTITUTE is a non-profit, educational foundation which has been formed by California residents interested in the inner search for one's Self, starting from the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

Recognizing the need to stay together until real results are reached, teams of people have come into existence to practice and develop various crafts, including the translation, printing and publication of important texts. From a leisure time occupation and a mental reminder, these activities have gradually become, at least for some people, part of the real world, where the forces of nature and their relationship can be perceived and studied. The same activities are also an avenue through which the public, if they are interested, can approach Far West and make acquaintance with its work.


"This was followed by a San Francisco address.


"The day after my plane landed I went to the address given and had my first direct exchange with the Institute, and thus the Gurdjieff Foundation of California.


"Lord Pentland had cast a huge net and I was one of those gathered into it. I never met him."

 

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Jim Metzner, Kingston, NY


"In the ‘80s, knowing of my interest in sound recording, Lord Pentland invited me to do a presentation during a work period at St. Elmo. I spent a day recording the sounds of construction, the activity in the kitchen and elsewhere. I took home the recordings at the end of the day and stayed up all night to edit them.  I remember feeling somewhat proud of this effort, standing before the assemblage of at least 100 people in St. Elmo, with Lord Pentland and the rest of the head table behind me, playing the recording and speaking about the sounds and how it seemed possible to tell if someone was, for example, hammering with a conscious attention or not.


"When I paused, Lord Pentland, with head slightly bowed, his profile accentuated by his shaggy eyebrows, said, 'Go on, Jim, tell us some more lies!' 


"Shaken to the core by this cannon blast, I nonetheless managed to finish the presentation and wend my way to one of a number of small discussion groups scheduled in which we had the opportunity to speak about the day’s theme.  Lord Pentland came to my group and sat next to me. It was clear that this was no accident. I spoke about feeling at one moment like a soaring eagle and in the next like a crawling tortoise. I can’t recall what Lord Pentland said, but behind the words was the wish that I take in the shock of his words in the right way, coupled with a kind of love."

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Kathleen Heinsohn-Coates, Redding, CA


"A Moment with Lord Pentland"

 

It was in the early 60's, in SF, when Madame de Salzmann was visiting.  Our Redding group was invited to a talk she was going to give. After the talk Lord Pentland came over to me and asked me what my impressions of the talk were. I had developed a headache during the talk and could only remember one thing she said...."my thoughts are like unruly children." My response to Lord Pentland was, "I found it interesting."

 

He said, "See how we bring everything down to our own level."  There we were in that moment, the tall, slender English man, so relaxed, just looking down at me with that slight smile.

There I was!  stripped of any defenses, just being there, just looking at him and being aware of my self.  The memory is still vivid some 60 years later.



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