but one that's seldom adequately learned
is that, like sub-atomic particles,
everything with life exists
within a field of force
in which all affect and are affected
by each one of the others;
and that we, the individuals,
and all other individuals like
a blade of grass, whale or bacterium,
are not self-existent, but the products
of this unceasing reciprocity.
Adam Curle "The First Lesson"
Adam Curle was a man of energy, and now the energy that was incarnated in him as an individual has rejoined the universal energy. In his prose-poem "Who Am I?" he wrote "Well, I am not to be confused with a particular body, the jobs it has carried out, its role in society, its appearance and behaviour good bad or indifferent, least of all the ego it thinks of as 'I' and the opinions that nourish it however wise or silly But the proper function of this fusion is to form a dwelling for the real identity, the potential for enlightenment."
His style was always linked to his experience as a teacher, as one involved in Third World development in Asia and Africa, and as a mediator. As he wrote in an article in Transnational Perspectives Mediation: Steps on the Long Road to Negotiated Settlement of Conflicts "Mediatiion is the action taken by a third party to facilitate two (occasionally more) hostile parties coming together to negotiate. It is not negotiation, which is the process of bargaining and compromising by which those parties reach an agreement; it is the attempt to remove the obstacles to negotiation. The sort of mediation that I am considering is non-official being carried out by private individuals or groups representing church, academic, or charitable organizations. It is likely to be of long duration because it aims at a resolution of the conflict, that is to say a change of attitude towards the quarrel, rather than simply a settlement. By contrast, settlements may be brought about by political, economic or military pressure, sometimes by official mediators representing powers that are acting largely in their own interests. One advantage of private, non-official mediation is that all concerned are aware that it is genuinely impartial, seeking only a reduction of the suffering caused by conflict. The disadvantage, of course, is that it lacks the resources on which official mediators can draw The impartial mediator, then, see no enemies but the mental and physical suffering of war, as much among the aggressors as the victims, if the two sides can be so characterised; and the hatred and suspicion that nourish the conflict, make it increasingly intractable. Hence his task is mainly psychological, for until these negative emotions are abated enabling a slight change of understanding to occur, no fruitful dialogue can take place. But this psychological task must be carried out as though it were mainly about (as in part it is) political and military issues, and the mediators must frame their arguments in that context."
Although he directed one of the first peace studies programmes in Europe created at the University of Bradford, his approach gave little place to abstraction and theory - no game theory math for him. Both in reading and talking with Adam Curle one had the impression of listening to a sharing in a Quaker Meeting. The ideas had been long there, deepened by experience, but they always seemed spontaneous, as if guided at that moment by the Spirit. As he wrote "There is no box of magic peacemaking tricks. All depends on love and concern informed by experience and understanding."
Adam Curle began his experiences with the nature of energy - the continuum from psychic energy to the positive expressions of energy in healing, and the negative expressions in violence - as part of the circle in London of the Russian exile P.D.. Ouspenshy. Energy and its transformations are at the heart of Ouspensky's work based on Central Asian Sufi and Mongolian-Tibetan Buddhist teaching. An analysis of Ouspensky's views is well presented in the book by Gary Lachman. In Search of P.D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2004, 341pp).
As Friedrich Nietzsche had Zarathustra
say "One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil."
Adam Curle moved beyond the Ouspensky circle and during most
of his working life was active in the Society of Friends (Quakers).
In his prose-poem "Quakers" he wrote " Of all
the groups I know, the Quakers with whom I unworthily associate,
can most be relied on for wise compassion, common sense and serious
commitment to issues affecting spiritual and physical well being
of virtually anyone anywhere in the world. Oh, yes, I know they
sometimes get things wrong, or seem a bit conventional, but always,
In True Justice: Quaker Peace makers and Peace making (London: Quaker Home Service, 1981, 106pp.) he writes "Virtually the sole dogma, if this word is not too emphatic of Friends, concerns 'that of God in every one' and this has, of course dominated our witness I trust that all Friends and all people of insight and goodwill are in any case working for peace in their own ways, hoping to dry up the springs of violence in themselves and their communities. There is so much to be done at all levels and of every sort, and everyone's potentiality is different. Any attempt to define and codify roles would merely constitute a limitation."
Curle saw so much to be done at all levels because he had a broad vision of what is violence. He wrote "I now see peace as being very much more than the absence of war. An unpeaceful situation, to my mind, is one in which human beings are damaging each others' potential for fulfilment and development in any of a number of ways: not merely by killing and maiming, cheating, making excessive demands on others, corrupting, enslaving, humiliating, deriding, frightening or deceiving. These are all forms of violence (the etymology of the word implies the 'unlawful use of force') of violating a person, of doing wanton damage. The fact that the damage need not be physical in no way affects the degree of potential harm for the victim and, albeit in a different way, the perpetrator."
Working for peace in his own way, Adam Curle put his emphasis on mediation and the training of mediators. For Curle the development of ever deeper levels of awareness is crucial for mediation which is more than just a set of techniques .As he wrote "Certainly there are a number of techniques to be learned: how to listen, how to avoid forms of speech which are covertly aggressive (as many of ours are), how to negotiate; how to disagree without offending, how to state a case etc. However, the most important aspect of mediation, as of other forms of peacemaking, are attitudes of mind, particularly respect, concern and compassion for all other human beings What is needed, and is always needed by all of us, is the fullest possible development of our humanity, our potential as human beings. This means becoming able to escape from the mindless automatism that governs so much of our lives, from senseless worries and fears, from prejudice, from ego cherishing and irritability, from vanity, from illusions of guilt and badness, from belief in separate existence. Ahead lies the vital question of how these largely inward developments can be reified within the framework of appropriate policies and structures: legal, social, economic and political."
Through his mediation work, he was constantly faced by the suffering due to violence and the difficulties to develop alternatives. He wrote of a seminar in Namibia organized by the International African Institute in 1991 which brought together 30 people from violence-torn countries "We had all experienced the horrible effects of war in at least one country: the cruelty that wells up, the torments we inflict on each other; the kidnapping of children and training of them as killers; the miseries of refugees; the pillaging bands of rootless people; the hunger and the disease; the loss of hope; the destruction of community spirit; the crazed tyrannies, which even when brought down leave a stain on a nation's soul. However, I think we were all overwhelmed by the enormity, the universality, of all the problems of the continent. I wish I could say that we came up with a series of promising recommendations. We did not. Perhaps we all learned from each other how to do a little better what we had done before, but it felt like building sand castles to stem a tidal wave."
Facing the tidal wave, the Quakers' emphasis on that of God in each person and the lack of teaching concerning systematic methods of meditation seemed to Adam as inadequate for the tasks facing peacemakers. Again he moved on, although never cutting his ties to the Quakers. He returned to what lay behind the Ouspensky-Gurdjieff teaching and techniques which was the Tibetan schools of Buddhism. In 1917 when Gurdjieff began teaching in Russia, it was not useful to put a label on ideas, and Tibet was far off and largely unknown. Today, thanks to the activity of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan approaches to Buddhism reach a wide public. Curle's starting point is the well-known saying of the Buddha contained in the Dhammapada "We are what we think. All that we are arises with out thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world". Thus it should be possible with our thoughts to make a world of happiness, positive energy and joyful labour. But the Buddhist tradition stresses that our thinking is full of fear and anger, desperation and alienation. Our lives reflect these elements making our true nature of wisdom and compassion.
Curle uses the Tibetan Buddhist image of the three poisons: ignorance, yearning, and jealousy. These three drives are closely interrelated, complex and often subtle. One leads to the other in a perpetual motion. In Tibetan thankas - the paintings which serve as one guide to meditation - these three drives are symbolized as the center, creating the motion of the world. In Tibetan teaching progress is made by first delinking the three drives and then reducing the power of each individually. As Curle notes "the crucial poison is ignorance -ignorance of the potential of our nature. However, ignorance can be overcome and with it the proclivity for violence." Curle stresses two aspects of overcoming ignorance: the growth of awareness and overcoming the identity crisis.
All arises from the interaction of energy. When this interaction favours growth and fruitful change we call it ecologically sound, understanding that death and demolition are part of the process of development -Kali is goddess both of creation and destruction .But when this interaction is impaired by false beliefs, illusions one might say, of personal supremacies and needs, elements within the field of force may be eliminated or suffer deadly damage.
Through war, poverty imposed by others' greed, oppressive persecution and gluttonous violations of the planet whole tribes, forests, civilisations, fish-filled seas, species, forms of art, religions are annihilated. The total field is then impoverished and many lives one might have thought quite separate are dismally affected; our choices are diminished, the scope of evolution narrows down.
Because we do not understand the nature and strength of the energies present in a conflict situation, our efforts at mediation and conflict resolution can be confused and inefficient. One chief failure is not to recognise that conflict is largely in the mind and that to the extent that it is, it must be dealt with at that level. Even in cases of political oppression or economic exploitation, emotional factors exacerbate what is already serious. Adam Curle from his intellectual interest in the impact of one type of energy on other energy forms and from his experience in conflict situations points to an important approach to conflict resolution - a lasting contribution.