All real enjoyment is as good, from the point of view of energy production and conservation, as suffering. —J.G. Bennett


My place is where I am, and your place is where you are. Not only have I got to bear my own situation, I have to bear your situation also. First of all I have to bear the truth about myself and little by little I have to bear all truths —J.G. Bennett


Roberta J. Chromey

An excerpt from Not Your Ordinary Life [WIP]
By Roberta J. Chromey

Mrs. Popoff, who had studied with P.D. Ouspensky, was a teacher in the Work. She prepared many of her younger students to go to Sherborne, J. G. Bennett's Fourth Way School in England. To that end, in the summers of 1971 and '72, she held seminars at the Pinnacle, her house on Long Island, New York. Here is one of my recollections from that time.

The mid-day meals reminded me of stories about Hemingway as they were long, interactive affairs that went on for hours. But instead of discussing literature we would share how we'd fared with a given task, or continue a discussion of a Work idea.

The sunroom at Mrs. Popoff's took half the length of the house and was full of rectangular wooden tables and chairs. We had painted them all a matching pale green during a practical work session. Banks of windows looked out to the lawn with wide doors leading outside to a level area of grass and graveled parking.

One morning, halfway through the week, I came downstairs into the sunroom. The usual quiet sound of early morning voices was absent as I found a place at the long table. Cutlery clinked in subdued tones as everyone sat with heads bowed, concentrating on their food in studied silence. The schedule by the door had "Silent Meal" written in large hand lettering.

A small bunch of weeds with cute pink flowering heads sat perkily in a juice glass by Mrs. Popoff's place setting. She hadn't arrived yet, so I looked around and reached for the orange juice before settling down to the business of eating silently. Soon after she came in and I felt her pause by her chair before sitting down. The limp apron she wore when working in the kitchen was still on, the bib up over her white button-down blouse. A bandana held her wisps of gray hair off her face. A babushka she called it. I caught her out of the corner of my eye as she gazed intently at the little pink flowers perched on the slender green stems. She held her cup with pinky extended in a genteel manner which seemed incongruous with the apron and bandana.

The next morning the weeds were still sitting in front of her place setting and again I caught her gazing at them, seemingly entranced. On the third morning they were still there, fresh as if newly plucked.

During the discussion at lunch Mrs. Popoff brought up the flowering weeds. "You have heard me speak of the first conscious shock?" She stopped talking and took in a long breath. "Air is our second being food and taking in impressions with the first conscious shock allows us to fully digest air."

I inhaled deeply, catching a whiff of strong tea and hot buttered toast rising up in front of me. At the same time I felt my body sitting at the table, noticed the aromas of creamy potato soup and ripe tomatoes entering my nostrils and stirring my stomach. I exhaled as Mrs. Popoff continued speaking.

"The first Conscious Shock is taking in impressions." It seemed to me she was gazing with affection at the little juice glass sporting the tiny pink blossoms by her plate. "For the past three days I have been conducting an experiment." She looked down the long table with all faces turned attentively to her, no clatter of silver on plate or movement of cup to lip.

"Without the conscious shock of 'eating' impressions, life energy, including man's energy, is simply food for the moon." She paused and let that piece of information sink in. My stomach tightened, put off by the notion that in the cosmic scheme of things, Bobby Jo was just compost, like those weeds. This was my first sense of disquiet at the consequences of embarking on a quest for consciousness. Ignorance might have been bliss, I mused. I paid closer attention to what Mrs. Popoff was saying next.

"Every day I have given special attention to these little flowering weeds, taking in every detail. Normally they would have died in a few hours. I fed them my loving attention and was conscious of the impressions they in turn gave me. My second being body has been nourished. Their life's energy has been transformed for a higher purpose and look, they continue to live!"

As people around me thoughtfully returned to their soups and salads, I paused a moment, buttered toast in hand, gazing at the weeds. Their delicate stalks held plump pink blossoms aloft. I raised my hand timidly.

Mrs. Popoff had just taken a slurp of soup, a thin drip falling off the spoon back into her bowl. She put the spoon down, acknowledging me, "Yes, Bobby Jo?"

In a small voice, sure I was the only one who didn't know, but wanting to understand, I asked, "So how do we nourish our first being body?" I had no idea what a 'being body' was, but feeding it sounded important.

She smiled at me, "We are doing that now. When we eat the food on this table consciously, we are feeding our physical, or first, being body."

"Oh," I said relaxing. "So that's why we've been eating our breakfasts in silence?"

Her wide face broadened as her smile expanded and her eyes held the hint of an inner memory, "Only if you are remembering yourself as you eat in silence." She paused a moment, then decided to say more, "When we eat consciously, we are also transforming the lives we eat. As we evolve, so too will they."