talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

prieuré, january 20, 1923

now i am sitting here. i am totally unable to remember myself and i have no idea of it. but i have heard about it. a friend of mine proved to me today that it is possible.

then i thought about it and became convinced that if i could remember myself long enough i would make fewer mistakes and would do more things that are desirable.

now i wish to remember, but every rustle, every person, every sound distracts my attention, and i forget.

before me is a sheet of paper on which i deliberately wrote it, in order that this paper should act for me as a shock for remembering myself. but the paper has proved of no help. so long as my attention is concentrated on this paper i remember. as soon as my attention becomes distracted i look at the paper, but i cannot remember myself.

i try another way. i repeat to myself, "i wish to remember myself." but this does not help either. at moments i notice that i repeat it mechanically, but my attention is not there.

i try in every possible way. for instance, i sit and try to associate certain physical discomforts with self-remembering. for example, my corn aches. but the corn helps only for a short time; later this corn begins to be felt purely mechanically.

still i try all possible means, for i have a great desire to succeed in remembering myself.

in order to know how to proceed, i would be interested to know who has thought as i have and who has tried in a similar way?

supposing i have not yet tried in this way. supposing till now i have always tried directly by the mind. i have not yet tried to create in myself associations of another nature as well, associations which are not only those of the thinking center. i wish to try; maybe the result will be better. maybe i shall understand more quickly about the possibility of something different.

i wish to remember—at this moment i remember.

i remember by my mind. i ask myself: do i remember by sensation as well? as a matter of fact i find that by sensation i do not remember myself.

what is the difference between sensation and feeling?

does everyone understand?

for example, here i sit. owing to my unaccustomed posture my muscles are unusually tensed. as a rule i have no sensation of my muscles in my established customary posture. like everyone else i have a limited number of postures. but now i have taken a new, unusual position. i have a sensation of my body, if not the whole of it, at least of some parts of my body, of warmth, of the circulation of the blood. as i sit i feel that behind me there is a hot stove. since it is warm behind and cold in front, there is a great difference in the air, so i never cease to sense myself thanks to this external contrasting difference of the air.

tonight i had rabbit for supper. since the rabbit and the habbur-chubur were very good i ate too much. i sense my stomach and my breathing is unusually heavy. i sense the whole time.

just now i have been preparing a dish with a. and have put it in the oven. while i was preparing it, i remembered how my mother used to prepare this dish. i remembered my mother and remembered certain moments connected with this. these memories aroused feeling in me. i feel these moments and my feeling does not leave me.

now i look at this lamp. when there was as yet no lighting in the study house i thought that i needed precisely this kind of light. at that time i made a plan of what was required to obtain this kind of lighting. it was done, and this is the result. when the light was switched on and i saw it, i had a feeling of self-satisfaction; and the feeling, which was aroused then, continues—i feel this self-satisfaction.

a moment ago i was walking from the turkish bath. it was dark and, as i could not see in front of me, i hit a tree. i remembered by association how, on one occasion, i was walking in a similar darkness and collided with a man. i received the impact of this collision in my chest, so i let fly and hit the unknown man who had run into me. later i found out that the man was not to blame, yet i hit him so hard that he lost several teeth. at the moment i had not thought that the man who had run into me might be innocent, but when i had calmed down, i understood. when later i saw this innocent man in the street, with his disfigured face, i was so sorry for him that when i remember him now i experience the same pang of conscience if felt then. and now, when i hit the tree, this feeling came to life in me again. i again saw before me the unhappy, bruised face of this good man.

i have given you examples of six different inner states. three of them relate to the moving center and three to the emotional center. in ordinary language all six are called feelings. yet in right classification those whose nature is connected with the moving center should be called sensations, and those whose nature is connected with emotional center, feelings. there are thousands of different sensations which are usually called feelings. they are all different, their material is different, their effects different and their causes different.

in examining them more closely we can establish their nature and give them corresponding names. they are often so different in their nature that they have nothing whatever in common. some originate in one place, others in another place. in some people one place of origin (of a given kind of sensations) is absent, in others another place of origin may be lacking. in yet other people, all may be present.

the time will come when we shall endeavor to shut off artificially one, or two, or several together, to learn their real nature.

at present we must have an idea of two different experiences, one of which we shall agree to call "feeling" and the other "sensation." we shall call "feeling" the one whose place of origin is what we call the emotional center; while "sensations" are those so-called feelings whose place of origin is in what we call the moving center. now, of course, each one must understand and examine his sensations and feelings and learn approximately the difference between them.

for primary exercises in self-remembering the participation of all three centers is necessary, and we began to speak of the difference between feelings and sensations because it is necessary to have simultaneously both feeling and sensation.

we can come to this exercise only with the participation of thought. the first thing is thought. we already know this. we desire, we wish; therefore our thoughts can be more or less easily adapted to this work, because we have already had practical experience of them.

at the beginning all three need to be evoked artificially. in the case of our thoughts the means of artificially evoking them is conversations, lectures and so on. for example, if nothing is said, nothing is evoked. readings, talks have served as an artificial shock. i call it artificial because i was not born with these desires, they are not natural, they are not an organic necessity. these desires are artificial and their consequences will be equally artificial.

and if thoughts are artificial, then i can create in myself for this purpose sensations which are also artificial.

i repeat: artificial things are necessary only in the beginning. the fullness of what we desire cannot be attained artificially, but, for beginning, this way is necessary.

i take the easiest, most simple thing: i wish to start trying with what is simplest. in my thoughts i already have a certain number of associations for self-remembering, especially thanks to the fact that here we have suitable conditions and a suitable place, and are surrounded with people who have the same aims. owing to all this, in addition to the associations i already have, i shall continue to form new ones. consequently i am more or less assured that on this side i shall have reminders and shocks, and therefore i shall pay little attention to thoughts, but shall chiefly concern myself with the other parts and shall devote all my time to them.

the simplest, most accessible sensation, for the beginning, can be got through uncomfortable postures. now i am sitting as i never sat before. for a time it is all right, but after a while i develop an ache; a strange, unaccustomed sensation starts in my legs. in the first place i am convinced that the ache is not harmful and will lead to no harmful consequences, but is merely an unaccustomed and therefore unpleasant sensation.

in order better to understand the sensations i am going to speak about, i think it would be best if from this moment you all assumed some uncomfortable position.

i have all the time an urge to shift about, to move my legs in order to change the uncomfortable position. but i have for the present undertaken the task to bear it, to keep a "stop" of the whole body, except my head.

for the moment i wish to forget about self-remembering. now i wish temporarily to concentrate all my attention, all my thoughts, on not allowing myself automatically, unconsciously, to change my position.

let us direct our attention to the following: at first the legs begin to ache, then this sensation begins to rise higher and higher, so the region of pain widens. let the attention pass on to the back. is there a place where a special sensation is localized? only he can sense this who has indeed assumed an uncomfortable, unaccustomed position.

now, when an unpleasant sensation in the body, especially in certain places, has already resulted, i begin to think in my mind: "i wish. i wish very much to be able often to recollect, in order to remember that it is necessary to remember myself. I wish! you—it is me, it is my body." i say to my body: "you. you—me. you are also me. i wish!"

these sensations which my body is now experiencing—and every similar sensation—i wish them to remind me. "i wish! you are me. i wish! i wish to recollect as often as possible that i wish to remember, that i wish to remember myself."

my legs have gone to sleep. i get up.

"i wish to remember."

let those who also wish get up. "i wish to remember often."

all these sensations will remind me.

now our sensations will begin to change in different degrees. let each degree, each change in these sensations remind me of self-remembering. think, walk. walk about, and think. my uncomfortable state has now gone.

i assume another position.

first: i 2nd: wish 3rd: to remember 4th: myself.

i—simply "i" mentally.

wish—i feel. remember now the vibrations which occur in your body when you set yourself a task for the next day. a sensation similar to the one which will occur tomorrow when you are performing your task should take place in you now in a lesser degree. i wish to remember the sensation. for instance, i wish to go and lie down. i experience a pleasant sensation together with my thought about it. at this moment i experience this pleasant sensation in my whole body, in a lesser degree. if one pays attention, it is possible clearly to see this vibration in oneself. for this, one has to pay attention to what kinds of sensations arise in the body. at the present moment we need to understand the taste of the sensation of mental wishing.

when you pronounce these four words—"i wish to remember myself"—i wish you to experience what i am now going to speak about.

when you pronounce the word "i" you will have a purely subjective sensation in the head, the chest, the back, according to the state you are in at the moment. i must not say "i" merely mechanically, as a word, but i must note in myself its resonance. this means that in saying "i" you must listen carefully to the inner sensation and watch so as never once to say the word "i" automatically, no matter how often you say it.

the second word is "wish." sense with your whole body the vibration which occurs in you.

"to remember." every man, when he remembers, has a barely perceptible process in the middle of his chest.

"myself." when i say "myself," i mean the whole of myself. usually, when i say the word "myself," i am accustomed to mean either thought, or feeling or body. now we must take the whole, the atmosphere, the body and all that is in it.

all the four words, each one by itself, has its own nature and its own place of resonance.

if all the four words were to resound in one and the same place, it would never be possible for all four to resound with equal intensity. our centers are like galvanic batteries from which current flows for a certain time if a button is pressed. then it stops and the button has to be released to enable the galvanic battery to refill itself with electricity.

but in our centers the expenditure of energy is still quicker than in a galvanic battery. these centers of ours, which produce a resonance when we pronounce each of the four words, must be given rest in turn, if they are to be able to respond. each of the bells possesses its own battery. while i am saying "i," one bell answers; "wish," another bell; "to remember," a third bell; "myself," the general bell.

some time ago it was said that each center has its own accumulator. at the same time our machine has a general accumulator, independent of the accumulators belonging to the centers. the energy in this general accumulator is generated only when all accumulators work one after another in a certain definite combination. by this means the general accumulator is charged. in this case, the general accumulator becomes an accumulator in the full sense of the word, for reserve energy is collected and stored there during the moments when a certain energy is not being spent.

a feature common to us all is that the accumulators of our centers are refilled with energy only insofar as it is being spent, so that no energy remains in them beyond the amount being expended.

to prolong the memory of self-remembering is possible by making the energy stored in us last longer, if we are able to manufacture a store of this energy.