talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

first talk in berlin
november 24, 1921

you ask about the aim of the movements. to each position of the body corresponds a certain inner state and, on the other hand, to each inner state corresponds a certain posture. a man, in his life, has a certain number of habitual postures and he passes from one to another without stopping at those between.

taking new, unaccustomed postures enables you to observe yourself inside differently from the way you usually do in ordinary conditions. this becomes especially clear when on the command "stop!" you have to freeze at once. at this command you have to freeze not only externally but also to stop all your inner movements. muscles that were tense must remain in the same state of tension, and the muscles that were relaxed must remain relaxed. you must make the effort to keep thoughts and feelings as they were, and at the same time to observe yourself.

for instance, you wish to become an actress. your habitual postures are suited to acting a certain part—for instance, a maid—yet you have to act the part of a countess. a countess has quite different postures. in a good dramatic school you would be taught, say, two hundred postures. for a countess the characteristic postures are, say, postures number 14, 68, 101 and 142. if you know this, when you are on the stage you have simply to pass from one posture to another, and then however badly you may act you will be a countess all the time. but if you didn't know these postures, then even a person who has quite an untrained eye will feel that you are not a countess but a maid.

it is necessary to observe yourself differently than you do in ordinary life. it is necessary to have a different attitude, not the attitude you had till now. you know where your habitual attitudes have led you till now. there is no sense in going on as before, either for you or for me, for i have no desire to work with you if you remain as you are. you want knowledge, but what you have had until today was not knowledge. it was only mechanical collecting of information. it is knowledge not in you but outside you. it has no value. what concern is it of yours that what you know was created at one time by somebody else? you have not created it, therefore it is of small value. you say, for instance, that you know how to set type for newspapers, and you value this in yourself. but now a machine can do that. combining is not creating.

everyone has a limited repertoire of habitual postures, and of inner states. she is a painter and you will say, perhaps, that she has her own style. but it is not style, it is limitation. whatever her pictures may represent, they will always be the same, whether she paints a picture of european life or of the east. i will at once recognize that she, and nobody else, has painted it. an actor who is the same in all his roles—just himself—what kind of an actor is he? only by accident can he have a role that entirely corresponds to what he is in life.

in general, until today all knowledge has been mechanical as everything else has been mechanical. for example, i look at her with kindliness; she at once becomes kindly. if i look at her angrily, she is at once displeased—and not only with me but with her neighbor, and this neighbor with someone else, and so it goes on. she is angry because i have looked at her crossly. she is angry mechanically. but to become angry of her own free will, she cannot. she is a slave to the attitudes of others. and it would not be so bad if all these others were always living beings, but she is also a slave to all things. any object is stronger than she. it is continuous slavery. your functions are not yours, but you yourself are the function of what goes on in you.

to new things one must learn to have new attitudes. you see, now everybody is listening in his own way, but a way corresponding to his inner posture. for example, "starosta" listens with his mind, and you with your feeling; and if all of you were asked to repeat, everyone would repeat in his own way in accordance with his inner state of the moment. one hour passes, someone tells something unpleasant to "starosta," while you are given a mathematical problem to solve. "starosta" will repeat what he heard here colored by his feeling, and you will do it in a logical form.

and all this is because only one center is working—for instance, either mind or feeling. yet you must learn to listen in a new way. the knowledge you have had up to today is the knowledge of one center—knowledge without understanding. are there many things you know and at the same time understand? for instance, you know what electricity is, but do you understand it as clearly as you understand that twice two makes four? the latter you understand so clearly that no one can prove to you the contrary; but with electricity it is different. today it is explained to you in one way—you believe it. tomorrow you will be given a different explanation—you will also believe that. but understanding is perception not by one but by not less than two centers. there exists a more complete perception, but for the moment it is enough if you make one center control the other. if one center perceives and the other approves the perception, agrees with it or rejects it, this is understanding. if an argument between centers fails to produce a definite result, it will be half-understanding. half-understanding is also no good. it is necessary that everything you listen to here, everything you talk about among yourselves elsewhere, should be said or listened to not with one center but with two. otherwise there will be no right result either for me or for you. for you it will be as before, a mere accumulation of new information.