talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)


one must learn to pray, just as one must learn everything else. whoever knows how to pray and is able to concentrate in the proper way, his prayer can give results. but it must be understood that there are different prayers and their results are different. this is known even from ordinary divine service. but when we speak of prayer or of the results of prayer we always imply only one kind of prayer—petition, or we think that petition can be united with all other kinds of prayers. this of course is not true. most prayers have nothing in common with petitions. i speak of ancient prayers; many of them are much older than christianity. these prayers are, so to speak, recapitulations; by repeating them aloud or to himself a man endeavors to experience what is in them, their whole content, with his mind and his feeling.

and a man can always make new prayers for himself. for example a man says—'i want to be serious.' but the whole point is in how he says it. if he repeats it even ten thousand times a day and is thinking of how soon he will finish and what will there be for dinner and the like, then it is not prayer but simply self-deceit. but it can become a prayer in this way: he says 'i' and tries at the same time to think of everything he know about 'i.' it does not exist, there is no single 'i,' there is a multitude of petty, clamorous, quarrelsome 'i's. but he wants to be one 'i'—the master; he recalls the carriage, the horse, the driver, and the master. 'i' is master. 'want'—he thinks of the meaning of 'i want.' is he able to want? with him 'it wants' or 'it does not want' all the time. but to this 'it wants' and 'it does not want' he strives to oppose his own 'i want' which is connected with the aims of work on himself, that is to introduce the third force into the customary combination of the two forces, 'it wants' and 'it does not want.'

'to be'—the man thinks of what to be, what 'being,' means. the being of a mechanical man with whom everything happens. the being of a man who can do. it is possible 'to be' in different ways. he wants 'to be' not merely in the sense of existence but in the sense of greatness of power. the words 'to be' acquire weight, a new meaning for him. 'serious'—the man thinks what it means to be serious. how he answers himself is very important. if he understands what this means, if he defines correctly for himself what it means to be serious, and feels that he truly desires it, then his prayer can give a result in the sense that strength can be added to him, that he will more often notice when he is not serious, that he will overcome himself more easily, make himself be serious.

in exactly the same way a man can 'pray'—'i want to remember myself.' 'to remember'—what does 'to remember' mean? the man must think about memory. how little he remembers! how often he forgets what he has decided, what he has seen, what he knows! his whole life would be different if he could remember. all ills come because he does not remember. 'myself'—again he returns to himself. which self does he want to remember? is it worth while remembering the whole of himself? how can he distinguish what he wants to remember? the idea of work! how can he connect himself with the idea of the work, and so on, and so on.

in christian worship there are very many prayers exactly like this, where it is necessary to reflect upon each word. but they lose all sense and all meaning when they are repeated or sung mechanically.

the ordinary god have mercy upon me! what does it mean? a man is appealing to god. he should think a little, he should make a comparison and ask himself what god is and what he is. then he is asking god to have mercy upon him. but for this god must first of all think of him, take notice of him. but is it worth while taking notice of him? what is there in him that is worth thinking about? and who is to think about him? god himself. you see, all these thoughts and yet many others should pass through his mind when he utters this simple prayer. and then it is precisely these thoughts which could do for him what he asks god to do. but what can he be thinking of and what result can a prayer give if he merely repeats like a parrot: 'god have mercy! god have mercy! god have mercy!" you know yourselves that this can give no result whatever.

in search of the miraculous, pages 300-302