talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

we never accomplish what we intend doing, in big and little things. we go to si and return to do. similarly, self-development is impossible without additional force from without and also from within.

when one's body revolts against work, fatigue soon sets in; then one must not rest for it would be a victory for the body. when the body desires to rest, don't; when the mind knows it ought to rest, do so, but one must know and distinguish language of the body and mind, and be honest.

(march 25, 1922)

the stop exercise
paris, august 6, 1922

the "stop" exercise is obligatory for all the students of the institute. in this exercise, at the command "stop," or at a previously arranged signal, every student must instantly stop all movement, wherever he may be and whatever he may be doing. whether in the middle of rhythmic movements or in the ordinary life of the institute, at work or at table, he not only must stop his movements but must retain the expression of his face, smile, glance and the tension of all the muscles of his body in exactly the state they were in at the command "stop." he must keep his eyes fixed on the exact spot at which they happened to be looking at the moment of the command. while he is in this state of arrested movement, the student must also arrest the flow of his thoughts, not admitting any new thoughts whatever. and he must concentrate the whole of his attention on observing the tension of the muscles in the various parts of his body, guiding the attention from one part of the body to another, taking care that the muscular tension does not alter, neither decreasing nor increasing.

in a man thus arrested and remaining motionless, there are no postures. this is simply a movement interrupted at the moment of passage from one posture to another.

generally we pass from one posture to another so rapidly that we do not notice the attitudes we take in passing. the "stop" exercise gives us the possibility of seeing and feeling our own body in postures and attitudes which are entirely unaccustomed and unnatural to it.

every race, every nation, every epoch, every country, every class and every profession has its own limited number of postures from which it can never depart and which represents the particular style of the given epoch, race or profession. every man, according to his individuality, adopts a certain number of postures from the style available to him, and therefore each individual has an extremely limited repertory of postures. this can easily be seen, for instance in bad art, when an artist, accustomed mechanically to represent the style and movements of one race or one class, attempts to portray another race or class.

rich material in this respect is given by illustrated newspapers, where we may often see orientals with movements and attitudes of english soldiers, or peasants with the movements and postures of operatic singers.

the style of the movements and postures of every epoch, every race and every class is indissolubly connected with distinctive forms of thought and of feeing. and they are so closely bound together that a man can change neither the form of his thought nor the form of his feeling without having changed his repertory of postures.

the forms of thought and feeling may be called postures of thought and feeling. every man has a definite number of intellectual and emotional postures, just as he has a definite number of moving postures; and his moving, intellectual and emotional postures are al interconnected. thus, a man can never get away from his own repertory of intellectual and emotional postures unless his moving postures are changed.

psychological analysis and the study of the psychomotor functions, applied in a certain manner, demonstrate that each of our movements, voluntary or involuntary, is an unconscious transition from one automatically fixed posture to another, equally automatic. it is an illusion that our movements are voluntary; in reality they are automatic. our thoughts and feelings are equally automatic. and the automatism of our thoughts and our feelings is definitely connected with the automatism of our movements. one cannot be changed without the other. and if, for instance, the attention of a man is concentrated on changing the automatism of thought, his habitual movements and postures will obstruct the new mode of thought by evoking old habitual associations.

we do not recognize to what an extent the intellectual, emotional and moving functions are mutually dependent, although, at the same time, we can be aware of how much our moods and emotional states depend on our movements and postures. if a man assumes a posture that corresponds, in him, to a feeling of grief or dejection, then within a short time he will actually feel grief or dejection. fear, indifference, aversion and so on may be created by artificial changes of posture.

since all the functions of man—intellectual, emotional and moving—possess their own definite repertory of postures and are in constant reciprocal action, it follows that a man can never depart from his own repertory.

but the methods of work in the institute for the harmonious development of man offer a possibility to depart from this circle of innate automatism, and one of the means for this, especially at the beginning of work upon oneself, is the "stop" exercise. nonmechanical study of oneself is possible only with the application of the "stop" exercise.

the movement that has begun is broken off at the sudden command or signal. the body becomes motionless and fixed in mid-passage from one posture to another, in an attitude in which it never stops in ordinary life. by perceiving himself in this state, that is, in the state of an unaccustomed posture, a man looks at himself from new points of view, sees and observes himself anew. in this posture, not customary for him, he can think anew, feel anew, and know himself anew. in this manner the circle of the old automatism is broken. the body vainly struggles to take the habitual posture comfortable for it. the will of the man, brought into action by the order "stop," prevents this. the "stop" exercise is simultaneously an exercise for the will, for the attention, for thought, for feeling and for the movements.

but it is necessary to understand that to activate the will strongly enough to hold a man in the unaccustomed posture, the external command "stop" is indispensable. a man cannot give the command "stop" to himself, for his will would not submit itself to this order. the reason for this lies in the fact that the combination of habitual postures, intellectual, emotional and moving, is stronger than the will. the command "stop," coming from outside, itself replaces the intellectual and emotional postures and, in this case, the moving posture submits itself to the will.