Gurdjieffian Mothers and Daughters, in progress
Thanks in part to an ArtCenter College of Design Faculty Advancement Grant, I have been able to conduct and document four interviews which will be an integral part of a documentary film about four sets of mothers and daughters who were part of a Gurdjieff community in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. There are countless films and books about the Mother Daughter relationship. There are also many, many films and books about the 1960’s and 1970’s, tumultuous eras of countercultural revolution. I’m interested in the place where these two complexities meet – mother daughter relations in a time when feminism constituted a powerful paradigmatic shift affecting the lives of millions. My project is to make a documentary film about four sets of mothers and daughters.
In the winter of 1969, my parents drove from the San Francisco Bay area to Warwick, New York to join a community devoted to the study of G.I. Gurdjieff's teachings. Gurdjieff was an influential, early 20th century Russian mystic, spiritual teacher, and composer who taught that we lack a unified mind-body consciousness and thus live in a state of hypnotic "waking sleep."1 Gurdjieff's method to become more present, or to wake from this state of unconsciousness was called "The Work." Writers, artists, and people from all professions dug wells, chopped down trees, and broke stones by day, while taking part in meetings and sacred dances by night.
While there are fascinating elements to be explored in this spiritual, intentional community, my focus is on the women and girls of this essentially patriarchal group and specifically on learning first-hand how the teachings, situational hierarchies and personal experiences of four mothers and their daughters, shaped who they became in the years during and after their involvement in the Gurdjieff Group. I want to portray their personal stories but also to delve deeper into how their lives were shaped by this formative experience and how their roles in The Group, as it was called, were or were not gendered. These women were mothering in a post-1950’s/1960’s world where, on the one hand, they had chosen an alternative lifestyle and on the other, experienced traditional norms within that collective. They were maintaining households, raising and educating children, keeping chickens and goats, gardening, and making things by hand while at the same time, pursuing consciousness raising activities and studies. And unless they were independently wealthy, the men were earning a living, holding down jobs and attending study sessions in the evening so that while the community was striving to be enlightened, traditional gender roles and socio-economic systems were maintained.
Though based in individual and personal experience, the implications of these lives are relevant and important today in matters of women’s rights, motherhood and growing empowered girls.
1 Ouspensky, P. D. (1977). In Search of the Miraculous. pp. 312–313.
2 P.L. Travers, "George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, " Traditional Studies Press, Toronto: 1973, first published as “Gurdjieff” in Man, Myth and Magic: Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, London: Purnell, 1970–1971, serialized in 111 issues, then bound as 12 volumes.