talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

prieuré, january 19, 1923

to all my questions, "has anyone thought, while working today, about yesterday's lecture?" i invariably receive the same answer—they forgot. and yet to think while working is the same as to remember oneself.

it is impossible to remember oneself. and people do not remember because they wish to live by mind alone. yet the store of attention in the mind (like the electric charge of a battery) is very small. and other parts of the body have no wish to remember.

maybe you remember it being said that man is like a rig consisting of passenger, driver, horse and carriage. except there can be no question of the passenger, for he is not there, so we can only speak of the driver. our mind is the driver.

this mind of ours wants to do something, has set itself the task of working differently from the way it worked before, of remembering itself. all the interests we have related to self-change, self-alteration, belong only to the driver, that is, are only mental.

as regards feeling and body—these parts are not in the least interested in putting self-remembering into practice. and yet the main thing is to change not in the mind, but in the parts that are not interested. the mind can change quite easily. attainment is not reached through the mind; if it is reached through the mind it is of no use at all.

therefore one should teach, and learn, not through the mind but through the feelings and the body. at the same time feeling and body have no language; they have neither the language nor the understanding we possess. they understand neither russian nor english; the horse does not understand the language of the driver, nor the carriage that of a horse. if the driver says in english, "turn right," nothing will happen. the horse understands the language of the reins and will turn right only obeying the reins. or another horse will turn without reins if you rub it in an accustomed place—as for instance, donkeys in persia are trained. the same with the carriage—it has its own structure. if the shafts turn right, the rear wheels go left. then another movement and the wheels go right. this is because the carriage only understands this movement and reacts to it in its own way. so the driver should know the weak sides, or the characteristics, of the carriage. only then can he drive it in the direction he wishes. but if he merely sits on his box and says in his own language "go right" or "go left," the team will not budge even if he shouts for a year.

we are an exact replica of such a team. mind alone cannot be called a man, just as a driver who sits in a pub cannot be called a driver who fulfills his function. our mind is like a professional cabby who sits at home or in a pub and drives passengers to different places, in his dreams. just as his driving is not real, so trying to work with the mind alone will lead nowhere. one will only become a professional, a lunatic.

the power of changing oneself lies not in the mind, but in the body and the feelings. unfortunately, however, our body and our feelings are so constituted that they don't care a jot about anything so long as they are happy. they live for the moment and their memory is short. the mind alone lives for tomorrow. each has its own merits. the merit of the mind is that it looks ahead. but it is only the other two that can "do."

until now, until today, the greater part of desire and striving was accidental, only in the mind. this means that the desire exists in the mind alone. so far, in the minds of those present there arose accidentally a desire to attain something, to change something. but only in the mind. but nothing has changed in them yet. there is only this bare idea in the head, but each has remained as he was. even if he works ten years with his mind, if he studies day and night, remembers in his mind and strives, he will achieve nothing useful or real, because in the mind there is nothing to change; what must change is the horse's disposition. desire must be in the horse, and ability in the carriage.

but, as we have said already, the difficulty is that, owing to wrong modern upbringing and the fact that the lack of connection in us between the body, feeling and mind has not been recognized from childhood, the majority of people are so deformed that there is no common language between one part and another. this is why it is so difficult for us to establish a connection between them, and still more difficult to force our parts to change their way of living. this is why we are obliged to make them communicate, but not in the language given us by nature, which would have been easy and by means of which our parts would very soon have become reconciled to one another, would have come to an accord and, by concerted efforts and understanding, would have attained the desired aim common to them all.

in most of us this common language i speak about is irretrievably lost. the only thing left us is to establish a connection in a roundabout, "fraudulent" way. and these indirect, "fraudulent," artificial connections must be very subjective, since they must depend on a man's character and the form his inner makeup has taken.

so now we must establish this subjectivity, and find a program of work, in order to make connections with the other parts. establishing this subjectivity is also complicated; it cannot be arrived at at once, not until a man is thoroughly analyzed and pulled to pieces, not until one has probed "as far as his grandmother."

therefore on the one hand we shall go on establishing this subjectivity for each man separately, and on the other we shall begin general work possible for everyone—practical exercises. there are certain subjective methods and there are general methods. so we shall try to find subjective methods and at the same time try to apply general methods.

bear in mind that subjective directions will be given only to those who prove themselves, who will show that they can work and don't idle. general methods, general occupations will be accessible to all, but subjective methods will be given in groups only to those who work, who try and wish to try to work with their whole being. those who are lazy, who trust to luck, will never see or hear that which constitutes real work, even if they remain here for ten years.

those who heard lectures must have already heard of, thought about and tried the so-called "self-remembering." those who have tried have probably found that, in spite of great efforts and desire, this self-remembering, so understandable to the mind, intellectually so easily possible and admissible, is, in actual practice, impossible. and indeed it is impossible.

when we say "remember yourself," we mean yourself. but we ourselves, my "i," are—my feelings, my body, my sensations. i myself am not my mind, not my thought. our mind is not us—it is merely a small part of us. it is true that this part has a connection with us, but only a small connection, and so very little material is allotted to it by our organization. if our body and feelings receive for their existence the necessary energy and various elements in the proportion of say, twenty parts, our mind receives only one part. our attention is the product evolved from these elements, this material. our separate parts have different attention; its duration and its power are proportionate to the material received. the part which receives more material has more attention.

since our mind is fed by less material, its attention, that is, its memory, is short and it is effective only as long as the material for it lasts. indeed, if we wish (and continue to wish) to remember ourselves only with our mind, we shall be unable to remember ourselves longer than our material allows, no matter how much we may dream about it, no matter how much we may wish it or what measures we take. when this material is spent, our attention vanishes.

it is exactly like an accumulator for lighting purposes. it will make a lamp burn as long as it is charged. when the energy is spent the lamp cannot give any light even if it is in order and the wiring in good repair. the light of the lamp is our memory. this should explain why a man cannot remember himself longer. and indeed he cannot because this particular memory is short and will always be short. it is so arranged.

it is impossible to install a bigger accumulator or to fill it with a greater amount of energy than it can hold. but it is possible to increase our self-remembering, not by enlarging our accumulator but by bringing in other parts with their own accumulators and making them participate in the general work. if this is achieved, all our parts will lend a hand and mutually help one another in keeping the desired general light burning.

since we have confidence in our mind and our mind has come to the conclusion that it is good and necessary for our other parts, we must do all we can to arouse their interest and try to convince them that the desired achievement is useful and necessary for them too.

i must admit that the greater part of our total "i" is not in the least interested in self-remembering. more than that, it does not even suspect the existence of this desire in its brother—thought. consequently we must try to acquaint them with these desires. if they conceive a desire to work in this direction, half the work is done; we can begin teaching and helping them.

unfortunately, one cannot speak to them intelligently at once because, owning to careless upbringing, the horse and the carriage don't know any language fitting for a well-brought-up man. their life and their thinking are instinctive, as in an animal, and so it is impossible to prove to them logically where their future profit lies or explain all their possibilities. for the present it is only possible to make them start working by roundabout, "fraudulent" methods. if this is done they may possibly develop common sense. logic and common sense are not foreign to them, but they received no education. they are like a man who has been made to live away from his fellowmen, without any communication with them. such a man cannot think logically as we do. we have this capacity because from childhood we have lived among many other men and have had to deal with them. like this man, isolated from others, our parts lived by animal instincts, without thought and logic. owing to this, these capacities have degenerated, the qualities given them by nature have become dulled and atrophied. but in view of their original nature, this atrophy has no irreparable consequences and it is possible to bring them back to life in their original form.

naturally, a great deal of labor is needed to destroy the crust of vices—consequences—already formed. so, instead of starting new work, it is necessary to correct old sins.

for example, i wish to remember myself as long as possible. but i have proved to myself that i very quickly forget the task i set myself, because my mind has very few associations connected with it.

i have noticed that other associations engulf the associations connected with self-remembering. our associations take place in our formatory apparatus owing to shocks which the formatory apparatus receives from the centers. each shock has associations of its own particular character; their strength depends on the material which produces them.

if the thinking center produces associations of self-remembering, incoming associations of another character, which come from other parts and have nothing to do with self-remembering, absorb these desirable associations, since they come from many different places and so are more numerous.

and so here i sit.

my problem is to bring my other parts to a point where my thinking center would be able to prolong the state of self-remembering as much as possible, without exhausting the energy immediately.

it should be pointed out here that self-remembering, however full and whole, can be of two kinds, conscious and mechanical—remembering oneself consciously and remembering oneself by associations. mechanical, that is, associative self-remembering can bring no essential profit, yet such associative self-remembering is of tremendous value in the beginning. later it should not be used, for such a self-remembering, however complete, does not result in any real, concrete doing. but in the beginning it too is necessary.

there exists another, a conscious, self-remembering which is not mechanical.