talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

the secret of being able to assimilate the involving part of air is to try to realize your true significance, and the true significance of those around you . . .

from looking at your neighbor and realizing his true significance, and that he will die, pity and compassion will arise in you for him and finally you will love him.

(new york, february 8, 1931)

new york, december 9, 1930

question: how can we gain attention?

answer: there is no attention in people. you must aim to acquire this. self-observation is only possible after acquiring attention. start on small things.

question: what small things can we start on? what should we do?

answer: your nervous and restless movements make everyone know, consciously or unconsciously, that you have no authority and are a booby. with these restless movements you cannot be anything. the first thing for you to do is to stop these movements. make this your aim, your god. even get your family to help you. only after this, you can perhaps gain attention. this is an example of doing.

another example, an aspiring pianist can never learn except little by little. if you wish to play melodies without first practicing, you can never play real melodies. the melodies you will play will be cacophonous and will make people suffer and hate you. it is the same with psychological ideas: to gain anything, long practice is necessary.

try to accomplish very small things first. if at first you aim at big things you will never be anything. and your manifestations will act like cacophonous melodies and cause people to hate you.

question: what must i do?

answer: there are two kinds of doing—automatic doing, and doing according to aim. take a small thing which you now are not able to do, and make this your aim, your god. let nothing interfere. only aim at this. then, if you succeed in doing this, will be able to give you a greater task. now you have an appetite to do things too big for you. this is an abnormal appetite. you can never do these things, and this appetite keeps you from doing the small things you might do. destroy this appetite, forget big things. make the breaking of a small habit your aim.

question: i think my worst fault is talking too much. would trying not to talk so much be a good task?

answer: for you this is a very good aim. you spoil everything with your talking. this talk even hinders your business. when you talk much, your words have no weight. try to overcome this. many blessings will flow to you if you succeed. truly, this is a very good task. but it is a big thing, not small. i promise you, if you achieve this, even if i am not here, i will know about your achievement, and will send help so that you will know what to do next.

question: would a good task be to endure the manifestations of others?

answer: to endure the manifestations of others is a big thing. the last thing for a man. only a perfect man can do this. start by making your aim or your god the ability to bear one manifestation of one person that you cannot now endure without nervousness. if you 'wish,' you 'can.' without 'wishing,' you never 'can.' wish is the most powerful thing in the world. with conscious wish everything comes.

question: i frequently remember my aim but i have not the energy to do what i feel i should do.

answer: man has no energy to fulfill voluntary aims because all his strength, acquired at night during his passive state, is used up in negative manifestations. these are his automatic manifestations, the opposite of his positive, willed manifestations.

for those of you who are already able to remember your aim automatically, but have no strength to do it: sit for a period of at least one hour alone. make all your muscles relaxed. allow your associations to proceed but do not be absorbed by them. say to them: 'if you will let me do as i wish now, i shall later grant you your wishes.' look on your associations as though they belonged to someone else, to keep yourself from identifying with them.

at the end of an hour take a piece of paper and write your aim on it. make this paper your god. everything else is nothing. take it out of your pocket and read it constantly, every day. in this way it becomes part of you, at first theoretically, later actually. to gain energy, practice this exercise of sitting still and making your muscles dead. only when everything in you is quiet after an hour, make your decision about your aim. don't let associations absorb you. to undertake a voluntary aim, and to achieve it, gives magnetism and the ability to 'do.'

question: what is magnetism?

answer: man has two substances in him, the substance of active elements of the physical body, and the substance made up of the active elements of astral matter. these two form a third substance by mixing. this mixed substance gathers in certain parts of a man and also forms an atmosphere around him, like the atmosphere surrounding a planet. planetary atmospheres are continually gaining or losing substances because of other planets. man is surrounded by other men, just as planets are surrounded by other planets. within certain limits, when two atmospheres meet, and if the atmospheres are 'sympathetic,' a connection is made between them and lawful results occur. something flows. the amount of atmosphere remains the same, but the quality changes. man can control his atmosphere. it is like electricity, having positive and negative parts. one part can be increased and made to flow like a current. everything has positive and negative electricity. in man, wishes and non-wishes may be positive and negative. astral material always opposes physical material.

in ancient times priests were able to cure disease by blessing. some priests had to lay their hands on the sick person. some could cure at a short distance, some at a great distance. a 'priest' was a man who had mixed substances and could cure others. a priest was a magnetizer. sick persons have not enough mixed substances, not enough magnetism, not enough 'life.' this 'mixed substance' can be seen if it is concentrated. an aura or halo was a real thing and can sometimes be seen at holy places or in churches. mesmer rediscovered the use of this substance.

to be able to use this substance, you must first acquire it. it is the same with attention. it is gained only through conscious labor and intentional suffering, through doing small things voluntarily. make some small aim your god, and you will be going toward acquiring magnetism. like electricity, magnetism can be concentrated and made to flow. in a real group, a real answer could be given to this question.