talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

new york, march 15, 1924

question: is there a way of prolonging life?

answer: different schools have many theories on prolonging life and there are many systems dealing with this. there are still credulous people who even believe in the existence of the elixir of life.

i shall explain schematically how i understand the question.

here is a clock. you know that there are different makes of clocks. my clock has a mainspring calculated for twenty-four hours. after twenty-four hours the clock stops working. clocks of other makes can go a week, a month or even perhaps a year. but the winding mechanism is always calculated for a certain definite time. as it was made by the clockmaker, so it remains.

you may have seen that clocks have a regulator. if it is moved, the clock can work slower or faster. if you take it off, the mainspring may unwind itself very quickly and the spring calculated for twenty-four hours may run out in three or four minutes. so my clock can go a week or a month although its system is calculated for twenty-four hours.

we are like a clock. our system is already established. each man has different springs. if heredity is different, the system is different. for example, a system may be calculated for seventy years. when the mainspring runs out, life comes to an end. another man's mechanism may be calculated for a hundred years; it is as though he was made by another craftsman.

so each man has a different time of life. we cannot change our system. each man remains as he was made and the length of our life cannot be changed; the mainspring runs down and i am finished. in some person the mainspring may last only a week. length of life is determined at birth and if we think we can change something in this respect it is pure imagination. to do this one would have to change everything: heredity, one's father, even one's grandmother would have to be changed. it is too late for that.

although our mechanism cannot be changed artificially, there is a possibility to live longer. i said that, instead of twenty-four hours, the mainspring can be made to last a week. or it can be the other way round: if a system is calculated for fifty years the mainspring can be made to run down in five or six years.

each man has a mainspring; it is our mechanism. the unwinding of this mainspring is our impressions and associations.

only, we have two or three coiled springs—as many as there are brains. brains correspond to springs. for instance, our mind is a spring. our mental associations have a certain length. thinking resembles the unwinding of a reel of thread. each reel has a certain length of thread. when i think, the thread unwinds. my reel has fifty yards of thread, he has a hundred yards. today i spend two yards, the same tomorrow, and when fifty yards come to an end, my life too comes to an end. the length of thread cannot be changed.

but just as a twenty-four-hour mainspring can be unwound in ten minutes, so life can be spent very quickly. the only difference is that a clock usually has only one spring, whereas a man has several. to each center corresponds one spring of a certain definite length. when one spring has run down, a man can go on living. for instance, his thought is cacluated for seventy years, but his feeling only for forty years. so after forty years a man goes on living without feeling. but the unwinding of the spring can be accelerated or retarded.

nothing can be developed here; the only thing we can do is to economize. time is proportionate to the flow of associations—it is relative.

you can easily remember such facts. you sit at home, you are calm. you feel that you have been sitting thus five minutes, but the clock shows that an hour has gone by. at another time you are waiting for someone in the street, you are annoyed that he does not come and you think you have been waiting an hour, whereas it was only five minutes. it is because during this time you had many associations; you thought why does he not come, maybe he has been run over, and so on.

the more you concentrate, the quicker the time goes. an hour may pass unnoticed, because if you concentrate you have very few associations, few thoughts, few feelings, and time seems short.

time is subjective; it is measured by associations. when you sit without concentration, time seems long. externally time does not exist; it exists for us only internally.

just as in the thinking center, associations go on in other centers also.

the secret of prolonging life depends on the ability to spend the energy of our centers slowly and only intentionally. learn to think consciously. this produces economy in the expenditure of energy. don't dream.