In January 2018, one of our helpful informants for the Soho research project gave us a simple document, just as we were leaving his flat. He couldn’t remember where it had come from or what it signified, but it had been in his possession for many years. The document is A5 in size, made of thick paper and folded like a greetings card. It is printed in red on a yellow background, and emblazoned on three pages with an equal-armed red cross ‘pattée’. The front cover simply says ‘Chronos’, and the back cover dates it as 1958.
The text is as follows:
Inner left-hand page:
There is a Gate through which we all must pass that men call Time. Before this Gate there stands a Sentinel, whose name is Chronos. He bears a solitary key, which he dares not relinquish. But for those who know the way, he will unlock the Gate. But should we, unbeknowing, meet him by a chance, his mien is terrible, and cold, for we are not yet ready for his favour. But if we seek the way then we shall surely find it, and he will smile, for we have known him always.
Inner right-hand page:
If, in the midst of troubled time we stand aside
And calmly wait until the seeming storm subside;
We stand, though unawares, upon a hallowed ground,
For we have found Eternity.
Equal-armed Cross Pattee at bottom with initials ‘A’ and ‘B’ either side, and date 1958 underneath.
The Society of the Hidden Life
The card was given to us by Stan Green, a former member of Tony Potter’s group. This group was often known as ‘The Society of the Hidden Life,’ and ran from the early 1960s into the 1970s. It was a branch of the original Soho Cabbala Group, as the three main leaders - Alan Bain, Glyn Davies and Tony Potter - began to develop their own independent lines of work. Since the card is dated 1958, this means it originated with the primary Soho Group, which began to meet around 1957.
The ‘A – B’ on the back page probably refers to Alan Bain. We know that he continued to use this symbol with the cross and the initials for several further projects. However, the general view among those of us who have studied the text, is that it is likely to have been initiated or written by Glyn Davies. And then Tony Potter must have perpetuated it, since the card was passed on to one of his own group members, and Tony used variants of this text in his own teachings. So this card and the wording it contains probably involved all three of the main figures in the original Soho Group.
The manual of the Society of the Hidden Life, written by Tony Potter, contains the following passage:
…The quickest way to solve any difficulty is to stop. It is written:
‘If, in the midst of troubled time we stand aside, and calmly wait until the seeming storm subside; we stand though unawares on hallowed ground, for we have found Eternity.’
This expansion of time for action is often experienced in car smashes, but it can be produced at will.
(See also use of the quotation in Rod Thorn’s post on The Stop Exercise.)
The emblem reappears too, on a bookplate in a volume which was presumably once part of the Society of the Hidden Life’s library. John Pearce, another former member of Tony Potter’s group, discovered the book on his shelves and sent us the photo
Gathering up the Associations
I’m aiming here to point to some of the associations with the Chronos card, and to some of the possible sources, but without drawing hard and fast conclusions. It’s a work in progress - a collective exercise which has revealed some interesting connections. As for its significance, this is in a way even harder to pin down; it may have resonated with different aspects of ‘the Work’ and have emerged in different forms.
The Sentinel - Arthur C. Clarke
I’ll start with the short story, ‘The Sentinel’, by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in 1951. This might seem a far cry, but members of the early Soho Group loved science fiction, which in that era was the most imaginative kind of literature around, especially in terms of visions of life in space and the future of mankind. The story contains the following passage:
'So they left a sentinel, one of millions they have scattered throughout the universe, watching over all worlds with the promise of life. It was a beacon that down the ages had been patiently signalling the fact that no one had discovered it.'
You can listen to the story on You Tube. In brief, it’s about a space explorer, who investigates a point of light high up on one of the lunar mountains. It becomes apparent that it is a signalling station left there before the dawn of life on earth, by ‘something which swept through the stars’ looking for signs of intelligent life. If a being of suitable intelligence comes along and activates it, the forces which put it there will become aware of their presence and in some way come to help these sentient beings. As the protagonist in the story has now triggered this signal, mankind can expect a radical new development very soon.
Incidentally, this story is often pointed to as the first version of the film ‘2001’, but as Clarke himself pointed out testily: ‘I am continually annoyed by careless references to ‘The Sentinel’ as ‘the story on which 2001 is based; it bears about as much resemblance to the movie as an acorn to the resultant full-grown oak.’ (Author’s foreword to the anthology The Sentinel, 1983). This does however show the power of this particular symbol, and members of the Soho Group may well have drawn on it for inspiration.
The Dweller on the Threshold
The term ‘Dweller on the Threshold’ is known to have appeared as early as 1842, in a somewhat malevolent form in the novel Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
The term ‘dweller on the threshold’ (or Guardian of the Threshold, as Rudolf Steiner termed him) was also used later in Theosophical and magical circles. William Gray, in his book Inner Magical Traditions (1970), defines the ‘Dweller’ thus, in relation to our own connection with higher beings such as angels:
‘These, and allied queries meet us fairly and squarely at the portals between which we cannot pass until our solution of them permits us. Once, this barrier was called the “Dweller on the Threshold”, which consists of whatever in ourselves refuses admission to the Inner Adytum of Spirit for that part of us which seeks evolvement away from our purely earthly projections. Each must deal with their particular “Dweller” in their own way, for every one is peculiar to the individual concerned. The struggle with the “Dweller” is always a solitary one, and usually a most distressing experience, since it amounts to practically civil war in a divided self.’
Another allied term, ‘the Watchman’ was used in the teaching of the School of Economic Science:
‘The first function of the moving part of the reasoning principle is to watch; it is the watchman in us. It watches in the double sense of the word; it looks out to see what is abroad and watches over what is within; it is at once a sentinel and a guard.’
This quote comes from Man: A Tri-Cerebral Being, an anonymous text described as being ‘An extension to the notes of Leon McLaren, based on the work of Ouspensky - June 2000’.
The text concludes with ‘Exercise’, a practice which resembles The Stop Exercise.
Our practice is to bring the body into view, let the mind fall silent, and open awareness wide, and try to hold this silent open awareness for a few minutes; and to repeat this two or three times every day. We must bring the body into view to know that we are; let the mind fall silent so that we may a little hear and see; open awareness wide to know where we are; all three at once.
This practice puts the watchman in place, so that both the outer and inner worlds are held in observation. Practised regularly each day when we may be quiet, it enables us to come to ourselves at odd moments during the day and see our situation as it really is.
Some link with the Chronos pamphlet is quite possible here. Leon Maclaren, whose teaching prompted the paper ‘Man: A Tri-Cerebral Being’, was a figurehead at the School of Economic Science in the late 1950s, and aimed to reformulate the teaching of Ouspensky into the SES programme. About the time that the pamphlet ‘Chronos’ was produced, members of the Soho Group were themselves working on a short programme of SES studies along with their own studies of Cabbala, in collaboration with SES
Additionally, Maclaren and his colleague Francis Roles were working at the time on what was to become a short film which you can view via this link, and entitled ‘The Surface of Time’.
As for Chronos, (whose name can also be spelt Cronus, Cronos, or Kronos) he is of course well-known from Greek mythology as ‘the leader and youngest of the first generation of Titans, the divine descendants of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cronus. However, the following quote brings us closer to what Chronos may have meant to the work of the Group at that time:
‘An episode is mentioned by Plutarch in his first century account De Defectis Oracularum. He is talking about the islands scattered around Brittania, and says "there was one island there in which Cronos was held asleep under guard of Briareus, for that sleep had been contrived as his bonds and around him were many spirits, his attendants and servants."’
Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality, Sharon Paice MacLeod, p. 165.
This quote was supplied by Rod Thorn, who also notes that ‘the theme of Cronus as a sleeping (and dreaming) god could have a relationship to the role of the sentinel as (a) a borderline for 'waking up', and (b) the door into dreaming.’
As an extra association, it may be too that there is a connection to interpretations of the Enneagram within the Gurdjieff line, where Chronos is sometimes used to symbolise the Circle surrounding the nine-pointed figure, signifying the eternal cycle of time and manifestation. (Enneagram Studies, J. G. Bennett)
Plainly, the ‘Inner Sentinel’ like ‘the Dweller on the Threshold‘ is a much earlier concept than the Soho Group of the late 1950s. John Pearce also pointed us towards a book published in 1930, called The Inner Sentinel: A Study of Ourselves by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks. John comments: ‘L. P. Jacks was an English educator, philosopher, and Unitarian minister who rose to prominence in the period from World War I to World War II. Jacks was interested in parapsychology and was President for the Society for Psychical Research (1917-1918).’
The book does contain relevant themes, but there seems to be no direct link to the line of work pursued in the Soho Group.
There may therefore be precedents for using the symbol of Chronos and the Sentinel, both in fictional and esoteric contexts, but there is nothing to show that these were direct links. A loose connection with the teachings of the School of Economic Science is certainly possible, along with the inspiration which Arthur C. Clarke’s story may have brought. But overall, perhaps it is better to say that an idea or archetype circulating in the ‘ether’ was brought into focus by one or more of the Soho Group teachers, and its resonance was harnessed within a particular context, which was the evolving philosophy of Tree of Life Cabbala.
The ongoing Sentinel
The notion of the ‘Sentinel’ has continued to play a part in the formulation of Saros Philosophy, which was initiated by Glyn Davies, and based on Kabbalistic teaching. Here, it is usually seen as the watcher on the threshold, who stands at the border between higher and lower states of consciousness. As the other mentions of the Sentinel suggest, this is not always an easy borderline to cross, and the figure who guards or admits here – an aspect of our own consciousness – can challenge us. Passing the Sentinel may involve apprehension and even conflict.
Order of Sentinels
To conclude – and leaving the way open for further speculation - I’ll insert the quotations which prefix each chapter in Wielding Power by Charles R. Tetworth (2002), a treatise on magical practice. The author is said to be closely associated with the Soho and subsequent groups. These are described as ‘Instructions to Members, Order of Sentinels’. And they certainly provoke further thought!
Ch. One – Rituals of Life
Ritual requires perfected action, perfect attention, and perfect conduct. It requires the body to be disciplined, the heart to be steadfast, and the mind to be clear. Whether in Invocation, Evocation, Thankfulness, or Celebration, the purpose should be clear, the aim steady, and the power controlled. Only when these conditions are met can one be brought to that state of knowing where the unknown appears. All else is preparation, practice, and habit.
Ch. Two – Preparing the Ground
Do not bring the dust of the world into this space. It is holy: it is the Temple of the Lords and Ladies. The work is difficult enough without further complications. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Ch. Three – Time and Tides
Purpose is the little light of faith that glows quietly behind the mind of the operator. Doubt is the killer of faith, the thief of purpose. Cast out doubt; give it no room in your house. Dispatch it, send it hence, let it go.
Ch. Four – Ritual and Language
Divinity speaks to each in their own tongue. What then is the language of the Divine?
Ch. Five – Bootstrapping
To make gold, you need first a little real gold
Ch. Six – The Training of an Apprentice
The apprentice says, ‘Very good’; the journeyman says, ‘Good;’ but the master says, ‘Not bad…’
Ch. Seven – Empowerment
When the hand, the tool and the eye are one, that is one thing; when the mind and heart are engaged, that is another; but when the Creative enters, that is transcendence.
Ch Eight – Worlds and Travellers
A world is complete in itself. Which world do you want to live in? Hell, Purgatory or Heaven?
Ch. Nine - Survival
Life competes with entropy by perpetuating itself, generation unto generation
Ch. Ten – An Old Nation
You appoint your own ruler
One who knows cannot speak
One who speaks cannot know
See also this article by Lucy Oliver, based on her reflections on the Sentinel and the Chronos leaflet.
Thanks for various types of help and for our joint research to Stan Green, John Pearce, Lionel Bowen, Rod Thorn, Jack Dawson and Michael Frenda.
The Saros residential centre at Hardwick Hall, Buxton, opened in the summer of 1979. This Hardwick Hall was not the well-known stately home in Derbyshire, but a large Victorian building standing at the top end of the town, built as part of the ‘High Peak Hydropathic Establishment’, when Buxton was an active spa town. In the 1970s, the building belonged to the British Legion, and Saros was allocated use of its top two stories.
Leading up to Buxton
Saros was a direct descendant of the original Soho Cabbala group, through groups initially set up by Glyn Davies, one of the original ‘Soho Three’. By the end of the 1970s, there were many members of groups from different parts of the country who were keen to hold residential courses together, and to form an organisation ‘for the perpetuation of knowledge’. The name Saros was chosen, fundraising began, and at a meeting of a steering group held in December 1978, several of us there offered to make specific searches for suitable premises – as I recall, someone was delegated to scour the country for old British Rail properties!
My brief led me to place an ad in a Derbyshire local newspaper, and I was startled to receive the following reply:
In response to your advertisement in the Buxton Advertiser Thursday January 11th 1979, seeking property for lease. We The Royal British Legion have approx. 3000 sq ft of floor space available comprising large and small rooms situated on the upper floors of our building third and fourth floors.
The building is in a reasonably quiet part of the town, hardly any external noise enters the building. If interested please reply to the above address…’
And eventually, after various visits by Saros members, with ensuing ruminations, objections, and endorsements, it was settled. The lease wasn’t ready when the time came, but we moved in anyway. The lease was never in fact signed during the six years that courses were held at Hardwick Hall, Buxton. It all worked out fine.
The first efforts by members were directed towards getting this cavernous, dilapidated former catering college, up and running. There wasn’t much time, since the ‘Painting Week’ was to finish on Aug 4th, just a week before the initial two-week Kabbalah course would begin on Aug 11th. The first Saros newsletter, produced in the autumn of 1979, charts the frenetic activities and misadventures of the band of helpers who worked to get it ready.
Who wrote this article, reproduced below? It’s a mystery, as it was published anonymously. But if you happen to know, please tell us!
Seen here - the mezzanine rooms with their bay windows. The top one became the meditation room
PAINTING WEEK AT BUXTON, JULY 28 – AUGUST 4, 1979 - ANON
Members of the working-party arriving at the side of Hardwick Hall on Saturday 28th were startled to see a metal eggcup on a long white string trailing from a window three floors above. A tug on this contrivance caused another eggcup and a spoon to clash sonorously in the men’s lavatory. With luck and help from Mother Nature, this would produce a head from the window, the patter of footsteps beginning their downward journey, (syncopated momentarily by an outcry from the caretaker’s dog), and eventually, admission.
It was ingenuity of this kind, and dogged persistence in the teeth of obstacles, which transformed the upper floors of Hardwick Hall in the space of a week. The two large rooms had been completed by professional painters. One turned into the Men’s Dormitory, lined by monastic pallets and sleeping bags, and in the other, trestle tables were set up for a temporary dining and living area. A suite of three rooms leading off this became further sleeping quarters. Paint pots and equipment belonging to the decorators were removed from what was to be the kitchen, though all it contained was two huge sinks, and stored in the room opposite, later to become the dining room.
The real work began the following day, and at nine o’clock sharp two teams commenced at opposite ends of the building: a timetable adhered to with remarkable rigour throughout the week. Clearing, sweeping, plastering and papering was followed by a close involvement with white emulsion which lasted several days. Exotic headgear flourished when emulsing reached the ceiling, and it was a speckled assortment of sheiks and bandits who sat down to meals (invariably excellent) at one and seven o’clock. The most recognisable at this stage were the Floaters: Paul and Colin who handled technical matters like the installation of the bath, Dick who humped vanfuls of furniture from place to place, and the Supreme Commander, who was everywhere at all times.
Spirits remained generally good throughout the week, though Patience and Equilibrium, those fragile and capricious dames, occasionally had to be courted with special attention. The monotony of toil was relieved by natural disasters like outbursts of wrath from the caretaker beneath, for whom the hammer and thump of industry were less than restful; the Flood, consequent upon first trial of the bath; and the Foot, which came through a ceiling and added a pile of rubble to the flood waters beneath.
However, these were mere hiccoughs in the pattern of work which went on regardless. A refrigerator and two cookers were located through local newspapers, hauled up the stairs and installed in the kitchen. (It was bringing up the bath which almost incapacitated the male work force, though the female also handled beds and cupboards manfully.)
When most of the seven rooms and long upper corridor were white and smooth, the teams were re-arranged and glossing began. The intended dark burgundy for windows and endless skirting boards turned out closer to fire engine hues, but when by Friday the long white corridor and doorframe were elegantly lined with red, the effect was pronounced ‘cheerful’. There was a final rush on Friday afternoon to tidy up and move furniture into the appropriate rooms in preparation for inspection by the British Legion committee that evening. They came, saw, and were impressed at the amount of work done, and perhaps that it had been done.
On the final Saturday an industrial scrubber was turned loose on the filthy linoleum flooring and followed by an army of moppers and polishers. The kitchen was cleaned and looked efficient and well-equipped, ant the basics were in readiness for the first Course to begin the following week. After all, we did it! (Author unknown)
Pictures below show what became the dining room (left) and sitting room (right)
This blog gives an overview of Walter Lassally’s life, work, and his involvement with Kabbalah. You can read a fuller account at Cherry's Cache, which describes a meeting which Cherry Gilchrist and Rod Thorn had with Walter Lassally in 2014, where he shared his recollections about the early Soho Group, and gives details of his I Ching readings.
Walter Lassally was one of the Soho Kabbalists, and a famous cinematographer, who won an Academy Award for his filming of Zorba the Greek in 1965. However, his priority was the search for inner truth. As he wrote in his later years, for a talk entitled ‘The Universe and the Individual: The Cosmos and the Microcosmos’:
‘My career as world-famous Director of Photography is well known and has been written about ad infinitum. On the other hand my other activities in the realm of philosophy and esotericism are not so well known but have in my estimation been even more important and significant to me than my main occupation.’
Walter’s early life
Walter was born in Berlin in 1926, growing up there during Hitler’s ascent to power. His father worked as an animator of industrial films, and the family was cultured and comfortably-off. However, although they were Lutheran Protestants, they had Jewish roots in earlier generations, and were therefore classified as ‘non-Aryan’ under the Nazi regime. In 1938, Walter was excluded from school, and his father was put in a concentration camp. But before war broke out, Walter’s mother managed to obtain a visa for the UK, which enabled her husband to be released. The family arrived at Dover with virtually nothing. Walter spoke no English, but soon made up for that and beat most of his English classmates in the exams!
In the UK, his father was first interned as an alien, but then freed after a tribunal hearing, allowing the family to settle in Richmond, Surrey. Walter left school at the age of sixteen, already convinced that he wanted to be a film cameraman. He began as a lowly clapper boy at Riverside Studios, but swiftly became renowned as a cinematographer, shooting such well-known films as A Taste of Honey, Heat and Dust, and Tom Jones, as well as Zorba the Greek. In his early years, he was also associated with the radical ‘Free Cinema’ movement led by Lindsay Anderson, which you can hear in the clip below.
How did he come across ‘the Group’? What aroused his interest? The quotes and information included here are from our face-to-face meeting with him in January 2014.
‘It was probably triggered by an unhappy love affair that I had in the early 1950s. And that led to what I would call the search for the self. Which is still going on…First of all, I turned towards Yoga – I read Paul Brunton’s book, a classic book about Indian yoga, and then I became interested in Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.’
One day in 1956 when he was in Soho, perhaps on film business – it was a hub for the film industry at that time -Walter entered a café where an energetic discussion was taking place. This was a gathering of ‘the Group’, probably at ‘the “Nucleus” [which] was the centre of it all, the coffee bar in Monmouth Street. And someone was always in there holding forth.’
The encounter was an eye-opener for Walter, and what he discovered there became his lifeline. He described this type of Kabbalah as ‘such a wonderful system. It’s both simple and complicated. It covers all the areas…the Tree is a terribly dense, but a relatively simple diagram. It’s not hard to understand, although you can study, and study and study ...the Tree in all its aspects, the paths on it, its connections with astrology.’
A few years later, he started running his own group. During our visit, he brought down old notebooks to show us, inscribed with ‘Society of the Common Life 1962’, listing attendance of members and their subscriptions.
Astrology and the I Ching
Walter was also a keen and proficient astrologer, but his chief passion was for the I Ching. He recorded his I Ching readings for over 40 years, and turned them into a book, Thirty Years with the I Ching, which can be accessed online. (Click on the I Ching tab at the top of the Home Page then scroll down past the first article.)
These I Ching diaries, which include his own reflections on the readings, reveal much about his relationship with the Work, as well as with his teacher Alan Bain, and with Walter’s partner Kate, all of which posed challenges.
He remained committed to ‘the Work’ throughout his life. As he said to us at our meeting: ‘You have an aim, which can broadly be described as self-knowledge. The saying ‘Know Thyself’ – inscribed over the temple of Apollo at Delphi – is very important. …And now I firmly adhere to the idea that that is the only point of being on earth as a human being. Everything else is peripheral.’
Walter died in 2017, in Crete where he had spent much of his time in later years.
One theme that crops up in different branches of the Soho Tree is the idea that we are creatures of habit, acting automatically and unconsciously most of the time. The path of self-development involves waking up and stepping back from these mechanical processes. It’s likely that this theme came originally through the work of Gurdjieff.
This article looks at the so-called Stop Exercise, as used within Gurdjieff’s tradition, and the way this and similar methods were used by Glyn Davies and Tony Potter.
The enneagram, sometimes used as a symbol of the Gurdjieff Work, can be taken
as showing the importance of shocks, also known as intervals, in automatic processes.
Gurdjieff’s Stop Exercise
Gurdjieff used the stop exercise as a way of developing awareness of habitual postures and movement. We hear about it first from Ouspensky, when he was with Gurdjieff in Essentuki in 1917:
“In order to oppose this automatism and gradually to acquire control over postures and movements in different centers there is one special exercise. It consists in this – that at a word or sign, previously agreed upon, from the teacher, all the pupils who hear or see him have to arrest their movements at once, no matter what they are doing, and remain stock-still in the posture in which the signal has caught them. Moreover not only must they cease to move, but they must keep their eyes on the same spot at which they were looking at the moment of the signal, retain the smile on their faces, if there was one, keep the mouth open if a man was speaking, maintain the facial expression and the tension of all the muscles of the body exactly in the same position in which they were caught by the signal. […]
Although the exercise concentrates on physical postures, Gurdjieff believed that our thinking and feeling followed these habitual physical postures. One can end up ‘stopped’ in the midst of a transition from one posture to another, in an unaccustomed position. This in turn leads involuntarily to thinking and feeling in a new way, to know oneself in a new way. In this way the old circle of automatism is broken.
P D Ouspensky (left) taught the ideas and methods of G I Gurdjieff (right),
from their first meeting in Russia in 1915, until Ouspensky’s death in England in 1947.
Gurdjieff continued using the stop exercise in the Prieuré in the early 1920s, and again later. Thomas de Hartmann recalls several instances of the stop exercise, including a public demonstration: 
“I would like to mention what took place during another demonstration, when at the very end Mr Gurdjieff shouted “stop.” Pupils on the stage held their postures, held them quite long. Then Mr Gurdjieff had the curtain brought down but did not say that the “stop” was finished. One of the pupils did not continue to hold the “stop” once the curtain came down and Mr Gurdjieff scolded her very strongly. He said that the “stop” had nothing to do with the audience or the curtain . . . that it is Work and cannot be finished until the Teacher says; that it has to be held even if a fire should break out in the theatre.”
At some point in the 1940s, Gurdjieff produced a movement, one of the thirty-nine, in which the demonstrators unexpectedly, at their own discretion, call a stop.  I believe that this video shows a performance of this movement, with a stop taking place near the end:
The Study Society and SES
Ouspensky carried on with the stop exercise, and after his death it was practised in London within the Study Society. Francis Roles, the head of the Study Society was interested by the stop exercise and he wrote in 1962: 
“An account by a traveller to Mecca in Blackwood’s Magazine, December, 1961, contains a description of a visit to a Sufi retreat, and such of the work there as this novice was allowed to see: One remarkable exercise was carried out by all members of the fraternity.
Francis Roles (left) founded the Study Society after Ouspensky’s death, in order to carry on his work in London. He later worked with Leon MacLaren (right) to bring Ouspensky’s teachings into the School of Economic Science (SES).
Connections with the Soho Cabbalists
Glyn Davies and other members of the Soho Cabbala group were also members of the School of Economic Science (SES) and the Study Society in the 1950s and 60s (See The Soho Group - How did it work?). At one point, the entire group was invited to follow a programme of SES study, and when the Maharishi introduced Transcendental Meditation to London in the early 1960s with the help of the SES and The Study Society, Soho Cabbalists were also there.
Cherry Gilchrist recalls a more recent experience of stopping during an event organised by SES:
“For several years in the late 1990s, I took part in the Art in Action exhibition, hosted by the School of Economic Science, where I had been invited to help run the Russian Arts tent. During the set-up days before the public was admitted, I noticed that on the hour, every hour, a bell would be rung, and everyone would immediately stop what they were doing and keep total stillness for a minute or two. The effect was noticeable, and gave back a sense of calm and poise to what was, very often, a scene of frenzied activity.”
The Inner Stop
Francis Roles also mentions an “Inner Stop” exercise that was encouraged within the Study Society, which people can carry out themselves whenever they remember it . The Inner Stop is discussed in more detail by Maurice Nicholl :
“Now, apart from the exercise where the body is made motionless, which can be called Outer Stop, there is another exercise similar but different, where the mind is made motionless. This is called Inner Stop. Both have to do with bringing about a state of motionlessness. But the two exercises are not performed in the same sphere. In the case of the first, the body in space is stopped. People may pass you, speak to you, tell you how silly you look, and so on. But your body and your eyes remain motionless in space. In the case of the second, the practice of Inner Stop, you stand motionless in your mind. Thoughts pass you, speak to you, ask you what you are up to and so on, but you pay no attention to them. You will see at once that Inner Stop is connected with a form of Self-Remembering.”
Nicholl explains that the Inner Stop exercise is not the same as trying to stop your thoughts, but is more like remaining internally ‘motionless’ so that habitual thoughts and modes of reaction pass you by.
Tony Potter (portrait by John Pearce) and the Cabbalistic Tree of Life.
Tony Potter’s Stop Exercise
A type of inner stop exercise was at the centre of Tony Potter’s “Society of the Hidden Life” approach to self-development. He used it as a tool for self-observation in relation to principles taken from the Cabbalistic tree of life – Reflex (Malkuth), Instinct (Yesod), Thinking (Hod) and Feeling (Netzach). In an article he wrote in later years he describes working with the first principle of reflex. .
He talks about how we can notice other people responding to changes purely reflexively: “Simply look around on a bus or a train and notice the number of people who are fidgeting, scratching, making unnecessary movements and generally behaving in a way which can only lead one to suppose that they are not in any way aware of what they are doing.”
He goes on to explain that it is much harder to spot this kind of activity in ourselves, and that to do so we need to STOP at every available opportunity:
“By this is not meant a frantic screeching to a halt, but a gentle, controlled flow to a standstill. This is obviously easier to achieve, at first, when the body is relaxed. The mind can then be allowed to empty. Unfortunately, it is in these circumstances that the least advantage is gained. The greatest effect is achieved when one STOPs in the midst of an otherwise turbulent situation. This STOP only needs to be momentary. If it is done correctly, the depth of the effect is quite unexpected and, the first time it is experienced, somewhat startling. Indeed, it has been written:-
If, in the midst of troubled time, we stand aside,
This may sound a little melodramatic, but it is in fact, an explicit description of a properly executed STOP. It has the effect of removing one completely from the limitations of time and space and enabling one to observe the environment as a completely objective phenomenon.”
The painter John Pearce writes about his experiences of the stop exercise with Tony Potter :
“As taught in Tony Potter’s group, the Stop was a technique of instant meditation and self-observation to be practiced in any and every situation. Unlike other meditation techniques, it did not involve time-consuming detachment or special poses. Nor did it mean suddenly freezing physically. It was a way of stilling the mind, becoming inwardly aware of the body, breath and heartbeat as well as surroundings. Outwardly unobservable, inwardly time was suspended.”
The meditation room at the
Saros Centre, Buxton (1980s)
The Stop Exercise in Saros
The stop exercise was used from time to time on Saros courses, both during movement exercise and during regular work (I remember a lot of painting and sanding woodwork on courses!). The exercise was used as one of a number of techniques to disrupt habitual activity. Other methods would be to work faster than usual, or slower than usual. Ouspensky implies that Gurdjieff was very strict about stopping without any thought of harm – telling for example how a student burnt his hand during a stop. I don’t think there was quite that level of strictness in Saros, but I do recall something else that Ouspensky mentions – how people try to avoid the stop. In my case I can definitely remember once moving very carefully when I thought a stop might come, so that I would avoid being ‘caught out’!
 In Search of the Miraculous, (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977 Edition), p.353
 Our Life with Mr Gurdjieff, by Thomas de Hartman, (Penguin, 1972), p.111. There are other references to the stop exercise, on pages 35 (‘stopping’ in a tangled group) and 113 (‘stopping’ whilst on a ship en-route to New York).
 Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation, and Exercises, by Joseph Azize (Oxford University Press, 2019) p. 102. Available on Google books at https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=-NjBDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA102
 Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, by Maurice Nicoll. Volume 5, p. 1517. http://www.gianfrancobertagni.it/materiali/gurdjieff/nicoll_commentari5.pdf
 Exercise of the Month in the first issue of the Pentacle Journal, published in June 1985, edited by Tony Potter. https://esoterichistory.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/stop-exercise/
 John Pearce: Art and Reality https://johnnpearceartist.com/art-and-realityart-and-reality/