Willem A. Nyland was born in Utrecht, Holland 1890–1975. A chemist by profession, he came to the United States and earned his doctorate at Columbia University. In 1924 he and his wife, the artist Ilonka Karasz, heard Mr. Gurdjieff speak during Gurdjieff’s first visit to the United States. After this first encounter, the Nylands began to work closely with Gurdjieff’s representative in America, A. R. Orage. Thereafter, they both remained active in the Gurdjieff teaching and often traveled to France to see Gurdjieff.
Mr. Nyland was known for his clarity and seriousness as an early student of Gurdjieff in America. He applied Gurdjieff’s teaching in his life and reached a level of development recognized by all who met him. He always placed the emphasis on Gurdjieff’s own teachings and books, with little reliance on secondary material. In particular, he stressed the importance of making efforts to understand All and Everything, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and insisted that the book be read three times exactly as Gurdjieff indicated. He also taught the specific methods for Working on oneself which he had learned from A. R. Orage and later Gurdjieff, and that it was necessary to actually apply Gurdjieff’s methods of Work in daily life rather than merely thinking and feeling about the ideas.
Mr. Nyland’s Groups
Near the end of his life, Mr. Gurdjieff asked Mr. Nyland to start a group in America, for which he would receive special material from Gurdjieff every week. After Gurdjieff died in 1949, Mr. Nyland was one of the founders and trustees of the Gurdjieff Foundation. He remained active in the Foundation until he formed his own independent groups in the early 1960s. These groups continue to operate today.
Anyone who has listened to a few of the 2600 recordings of meetings with Mr. Nyland, made between the late 1950s and 1975, cannot help but feel that Mr. Nyland was extraordinarily devoted to the Gurdjieff teaching. His strength lay in his combination of honesty, practicality, and perspective. Although Mr. Nyland died in 1975, his spirit and attitude, coupled with his teacher’s gift for clarity and communication, continue to be the hallmarks of our group.
A Remembrance of W. A. Nyland: In the Ear and Eye of the Beholder
Terry Winter Owens, former student of Willem Nyland, notes that “With the passage of half a century since the death of Gurdjieff, it becomes increasingly obvious that there now flourish a number of different threads of the Gurdjieff work… As yet, little has been written about W. A. Nyland although he had a profound impact on many people.”
Mr. Nyland and the Piano
Composer Terry Winter Owens describes what occurred when Willem Nyland asked her to go examine a Steinway grand piano that Timothy Leary had offered as a gift in the early 1960s.
You Will Not Forget Work
One of Mr. Nyland’s pupils describes how she incorporates work into her daily life? “Work in life is a way of life, a practice of the constancy of being in the midst of activity. My day-to-day life is filled with doing things, thinking about everyday affairs, being critical and going through varied and often conflicting emotions. How do I remember work when I am so engaged?”
Mr. Nyland’s Index to Beelzebub’s Tales
“After more than a half century since its conception, the very first Index to All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is at last emerging from obscurity and making its well-deserved entrée into the literature relating to the Gurdjieff Work... Few people know about the first Index. Begun over 50 years ago, and published in mimeographed format, it was developed by Willem Nyland and his groups. For those who have had access to it, it has proven to be an invaluable help for studying Gurdjieff’s teaching.”
“He Was a Root Man”
Willem Nyland describes Gurdjieff playing the harmonium. “It goes up and down and there is a little melody and there is a repetition. And it is Gurdjieff.”
In the Groups of Willem A. Nyland
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff taught that human beings are only partially developed and that consciousness, conscience and will are not given to us freely, but must be acquired by intentional efforts. His system of self-development calls for the application in daily life of a specific method of “Work on oneself.” Gurdjieff emphasized the need for undertaking this Work with others who share a common aim.
Willem A. Nyland was a student and teacher of Gurdjieff’s Ideas for over 50 years. Acting on direct instructions from Gurdjieff, Mr. Nyland taught and inspired numerous people from all walks of life, opening up for them a wide range of spiritual possibilities.
Today, the groups of W. A. Nyland continue to provide a vital source for the study and practice of Gurdjieff’s ideas. We emphasize the practical application of Gurdjieff’s teachings in the midst of everyday life. We meet regularly to discuss the ideas and how to apply them; we hold workdays where we can practice Work during simple physical activities; and we take part in the sacred dances Gurdjieff called “Movements.” Meetings, workdays, and movements are all led by experienced members.
In addition, Mr. Nyland recorded many meetings in which he answered questions and explained Gurdjieff’s ideas in detail. This material is available to group members. In maintaining the integrity and aliveness of Work, Mr. Nyland passed on an important legacy to those with a sincere wish for their own development.