talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

to someone who asked why we were born and why we die, gurdjieff replied: you wish to know? to really know you must suffer. can you suffer? you cannot suffer. you cannot suffer for one franc and to know a little you must suffer for one million francs. . . .

if you help others, you will be helped, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in 100 years, but you will be helped. nature must pay off the debt. . . . it is a mathematical law and all life is mathematics.

looking backwards, we only remember the difficult periods of our lives, never the peaceful times; the latter are sleep the former are struggle and therefor life.

(prieuré, august 12, 1924)

essence and personality
america, march 29, 1924

in order to understand better the meaning of external and internal considering, you must understand that every man has two completely separate parts, as it were two different men, in him. these are his essence and his personality.

essence is i—it is our heredity, type, character, nature.

personality is an accidental thing—upbringing, education, points of view—everything external. it is like the clothes you wear, your artificial mask, the result of your upbringing, of the influence of your surroundings, opinions consisting of information and knowledge which change daily, one annulling the other.

today you are convinced of one thing—you believe it and want it. tomorrow, under another influence, your belief, your desires become different. all the material constituting your personality may be completely changed artificially or accidentally with a change in your surrounding conditions and place—and this in a very short time.

essence does not change. for instance, i have a swarthy skin, and i shall remain as i was born. this belongs to my type.

here, when we speak of development and change, we speak of essence. our personality remains a slave; it must be changed very quickly, even in half an hour. for instance, by hypnosis it is possible to change your convictions. this is because they are alien, not your own. but what we have in our essence is our own.

we always consider in essence, mechanically. every influence mechanically evokes a corresponding considering. mechanically, you may like me, and so, mechanically, you register this impression of me. but it is not you. it does not come from consciousness; it happens mechanically. sympathy and antipathy is a question of correspondence of types. inwardly you like me, and although in your mind you know that i am bad, that i do not deserve your liking, you cannot dislike me. or again: you may see that i am good, but you do not like me—and so it remains.

but we have the possibility not to consider inwardly. at present you cannot do this, because your essence is a function. our essence consists of many centers, but our personality has only one center, the formatory apparatus.

remember our example of the carriage, horse and driver. our essence is the horse. it is precisely the horse that should not consider. but even if you realize this, the horse does not, because it doesn't understand your language. you cannot order it about, teach it, tell it not to consider, not to react, not to respond.

with your mind you wish not to consider, but first of all you must learn the language of the horse, its psychology, in order to be able to talk to it. then you will be able to do what the mind, what logic, wishes. but if you try to teach it now, you will not be able to teach it or to change anything in a hundred years; it will remain an empty wish. at present you have only two words at your disposal: "right" and "left." if you jerk the reins the horse will go here or there, and even then not always, but only when it is full. but if you start telling it something it will only keep on driving away flies with its tail, and you may imagine that it understands you. before our nature was spoiled, all four in this team—horse, cart, drive, master—were one; all the parts had a common understanding, all worked together, labored, rested, fed, at the same time. but the language has been forgotten, each part has become separate and lives cut off from the rest. now, at times, it is necessary for them to work together, but it is impossible—one part wants one thing, another part something else.

the point is to reestablish what has been lost, not to acquire anything new. this is the purpose of development. for this one must learn to discriminate between essence and personality, and to separate them. when you have learned to do this you will see what to change and how. meantime, you have only one possibility—to study. you are weak, you are dependent—you are slaves. it is difficult to break all at once the habits accumulated in years. later it will be possible to replace certain habits with others. these will also be mechanical. man is always dependent on external influences; only, some influences hinder, other influences do not.

to begin with, it is necessary to prepare conditions for work. there are many conditions. at present you can only observe and collect material which will be useful for work; you cannot distinguish where your manifestations come from—from essence or from personality. but if you look carefully you may understand afterwards. while you are collecting material you cannot see that. this is because ordinarily man has only one attention, directed on what he is doing. his mind does not see his feelings, and vice versa.

many things are necessary for observing. the first is sincerity with oneself. and this is very difficult. it is much easier to be sincere with a friend. man is afraid to see something bad, and if, by accident, looking deep down, he sees his own bad, he sees his nothingness. we have the habit of driving away thoughts about ourselves because we fear the gnawings of conscience. sincerity may be the key which will open the door through which one part can see another part. with sincerity man may look and see something. sincerity with oneself is very difficult, for a thick crust has grown over essence. each year a man puts on new clothes, a new mast, again and again. all this should be gradually removed—one should free oneself, uncover oneself. until man uncovers himself he cannot see.

in the beginning of the work one exercise is very useful, for it helps one to see oneself, to collect material. this exercise is: entering into the position of another. this should be undertaken as a task. to explain what i mean, let us take a simple fact. i know that you need a hundred dollars by tomorrow, but you have not got it. you try to get it and fail. you are sad. your thoughts and feelings are occupied with this problem. in the evening you are here at the lecture. half of you keeps thinking about the money. you are absentminded, nervous. if i am rude to you on some other occasion you will not be as angry as you are today. perhaps tomorrow, when you have the money, you will laugh at the same thing. if i see that you are angry, then, knowing that you are not always like that, i will try to enter into your position. i ask myself how i would act in your place if someone were rude to me. if i ask this question often i shall soon understand that if rudeness angers or hurts another there is always some reason for it at that moment. i shall soon understand that all people are alike—that no one is always bad or always good. we are all alike. just as i change so does another. if you realize this and remember it, if you think and do your task at the right time, you will see many new things in yourself and your surroundings, things you have not seen before. this is the first step.

the second step is—practice in concentration. through this exercise you can achieve another thing. self-observation is very difficult, but it can give much material. if you remember how you manifest yourself, how you react, how you feel, what you want—you may learn many things. sometimes you may distinguish at once what is thought, what is feeling, what is body.

each part is under different influences; and if we free ourselves of one we become slaves of another. for example, i can be free in my mind, but i cannot change the emanations of my body—my body responds differently. a man sitting next to me affects me by his emanations. i know that i should be polite but i feel antipathy. each center has its own spheres of emanations, and at times there is not escaping them. it is very good to combine this exercise of putting oneself in another's place with self-observation.

but we always forget. we remember only afterwards. at the necessary moment our attention is occupied, for example, with the fact that we don't like the man and cannot help feeling it. but facts should not be forgotten, they should be recorded in the memory. the taste of an experience remains only for a time. without attention, manifestations vanish. things should be noted in the memory, otherwise you will forget. and what we want is not to forget. there are many things that are seldom repeated. accidentally you see something, but if you don't commit it to memory you will forget and lose it. if you want "to know american" you must imprint it on your memory. sitting in your room you will not see anything: you should observe in life. in your room you cannot develop the master. a man may be strong in a monastery, but weak in life, and we want strength for life. for instance, in a monastery, a man could be without food for a week,, but in life he cannot be without food even for three hours. what then is the good of his exercises?