Friday, May 22, 2009

In memorium: Betty Brown

Who is this unmasked woman?  Well, without her, you almost certainly wouldn't be logging on to this site, or reading these words.

She is my former group leader and mentor Elizabeth Brown, who died quite peacefully on Wednesday, May 20.  

She didn't like being called a teacher or a group leader.  I remember that in one of the last work events she attended, she told us: "Don't follow me... I may not lead.  Don't lead me.  I may not follow."  Unpretentious and practical to the last, she insisted from the beginning that we find our own work, and not rely on so-called "group leaders" to guide us.  I distinctly recall her saying, on many occasions as we sat together at the Gurdjieff Foundation, "What would you do if this building closed its doors forever tomorrow?"

She was disdainful of those who fell under the thrall of charismatics and blindly followed the  instructions of "power possessing beings."  In fact, when she took me into the work she made me take a vow that I would never put the Gurdjieff work--as an organization, that is-- in front of my personal obligations.  Instead, she asked me--as she asked all of her "nestlings" (we call ourselves "Brownies") to work in life.

Betty- Teal, as she was known to her best friends--was not one of those "faux Sufis" who one sometimes encounters in the Gurdjieff work.  For her, the work was never about appearances.  She was all-American, solidly middle class, watched a good deal of television, read ordinary books, cooked ordinary food, and did ordinary things.  Her husband Henry was an admirer of Melville and Patrick O'Brien and an avid Yankees fan.  They were solidly Republican (in an age when that still meant something) but never talked politics.  They even ate hot dogs

One never went over to their house only to discover one's self amidst the trappings of inner work. No, one went there and discovered one's self within actual conditions, despite the persistent ordinariness of the surroundings. Teal had a knack for delivering the unexpected, of shaking things up when one least expected it.  Not in any colorful or ridiculous way--not in the manner of one who engages in the "showmanship" of demand--but surprisingly, gently, causing you to realize that all along, there was an inextinguishable spark in her that was keeping the lamp wick trimmed, and the flame of inner interest lit.

Not to say that she was gentle at all times.  She held my feet to the fire until I flinched on more than one occasion.  

Our group was with her, in body and then in spirit, for over twenty-five years.  It takes that long, working together, to begin to discover something real--perhaps longer.  This "haida yoga," this "fourth way," this formless form, is not a way of weekend workshops and overnight sensations. It's a work that slowly penetrates into the bones of the matter until one discovers one's self up against the threshold of the unknown.

Many years ago Betty sent me her favorite translation of part of the Tao:

In dwelling, be close to the land;
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true,
In ruling, be just,
In business, be competent,
In action, watch the timing.
No fight; no blame.

I've had it posted on my computer monitor for many years now, wherever I work.

God bless all of you today.

May our hearts be open, and our prayers be heard.


  1. My condolences.

    Hard to part with a friend and mentor.

    You spoke well of someone who was obviously a genuine person.

  2. How lucky you were to have known someone like this women but at least you have touch stones like the beautiful Tao translation to remember and iam sure many other moments with her to serve you while you await the same fate as us all...i wish i had that type of mentor for myself to put my feet to the fire and or gentle wit me when needed, because sometimes someone like Betty Brown knows what is needed to help us along this path...Thanks for introducing me to her...RIP Betty Brown...e*

  3. Dear Lee,

    My condolences on the loss of your friend and mentor. My prayers are with you.


  4. Lee, I am sorry for the loss of your teacher. Much love. ~ John


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