talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

prieuré, january 30, 1923

you have probably heard at lectures that in the course of every twenty-four hours our organism produces a definite amount of energy for its existence. i repeat, a definite amount. yet there is much more of this energy than should be needed for normal expenditure. but since our life is so wrong, we spend the greater part and sometimes the whole of it, and we spend it unproductively.

one of the chief factors consuming energy is our unnecessary movements in everyday life. later you will see from certain experiments that the greater part of this energy is spent precisely when we make less active movements. for instance, how much energy will a man use up in a day wholly spent in physical labor? a great deal. yet he will spend even more if he sits still doing nothing. our large muscles consume less energy because they have become more adapted to momentum, whereas the small muscles consume more because they are less adapted to momentum: they can be set in motion only by force. for instance, as i sit here now i appear to you not to move. but this does not mean i don't spend energy. every movement, every tension, whether big or small, is possible for me only by spending this energy. now my arm is tense but i am not moving. yet i am now spending more energy than if i moved it like this. (he demonstrates.)

it is a very interesting thing, and you must try to understand what i am saying about momentum. when i make a sudden movement the momentum no longer takes energy. (he demonstrates.) at the moment when energy has given the initial push, the flow of energy stops and momentum takes over.

tension needs energy. if tension is absent, less energy is spent. if my arm is tense, as it is now, a continuous current is required, which means that it is connected with the accumulators. if i now move my arm thus, so long as i do it with pauses, i spend energy.

if a man suffers from chronic tension, then, even if he does nothing, even if he is lying down, he uses more energy than a man who spends a whole day in physical labor. but a man who does not have these small chronic tensions certainly wastes no energy when he does not work or move.

now we must ask ourselves, are there many among us who are free from this terrible disease? almost all of us—we are not speaking of people in general but of those present, the rest do not concern us—almost all of us have this delightful habit.

we must bear in mind that this energy about which we now speak so simply and easily, which we waste so unnecessarily and involuntarily, this same energy is needed for the work we intend to do and without which we can achieve nothing.

we cannot get more energy, the inflow of energy will not increase: the machine will remain such as it is created. if the machine is made to produce ten amperes it will go on producing ten amperes. the current can be increased only if all the wires and coils are changed. for instance, one coil represents a nose, another a leg, a third a man's complexion or the size of his stomach. so the machine cannot be changed—its structure will remain as it is. the amount of energy produced is constant: even if the machine is put right, this amount will increase very little.

what we intend to do requires a great deal of energy and much effort. and effort requires much energy. with the kind of efforts we make now, with such lavish expenditure of energy, it is impossible to do what we are now planning to do in our minds.

as we have seen, on the one hand we require a great deal of energy, and on the other our machine is so constructed that it cannot produce more. where is a way out of this situation? the only way out and the only method and possibility is to economize the energy when we have. therefore if we wish to have a lot of energy when we need it, we must learn to practice economy wherever we can.

one thing is definitely known: one of the chief leakages of energy is due to our involuntary tension. we have many other leakages, but they are all the more difficult to repair than the first. so we shall begin with the easiest: to get rid of this leakage and to learn to be able to deal with others.

a man's sleep is nothing else than interrupted connections between centers. a man's centers never sleep. since associations are their life, their movement, they never cease, they never stop. a stoppage of associations means death. the movement of associations never stops for an instant in any center, they flow on even in the deepest sleep.

if a man in a waking state sees, hears, senses his thoughts, in half-sleep he also sees, hears, senses his thoughts and he calls this state sleep. even when he thinks that he absolutely ceases to see or hear, which he also calls sleep, associations go on.

the only difference is in the strength of connections between one center and another.

memory, attention, observation is nothing more than observation of one center by another, or one center listening to another. consequently the centers themselves do not need to stop and sleep. sleep brings the centers neither harm nor profit. so sleep, as it is called, is not meant to give centers a rest. as i have said already, deep sleep comes when the connections between centers are broken. and indeed, deep sleep, complete rest for the machine, is considered to be that sleep when all links, all connections cease to function. we have several centers, so we have as many connections—five connections.

what characterizes our waking state is that all these connections are intact. but if one of them is broken or ceases to function we are neither asleep nor awake.

one link is disconnected—we are no longer awake, neither are we asleep. if two are broken, we are still less awake—but again we are not asleep. if one more is disconnected we are not awake and still not properly asleep, and so on.

consequently there are different degrees between our waking state and sleep. (speaking of these degrees, we take an average: there are people who have two connections, others have seven. we have taken five as an example—it is not exact.) consequently we have not two states, one of sleep and the other of waking, as we think, but several states. between the most active and intensive state anyone can have the most passive (somnambulistic sleep) there are definite gradations. if one of the links breaks it is not yet evident on the surface and is unnoticeable to others. there are people in whom it is enough to break two connections for them to fall asleep. if we take the range between sleep and waking with seven connections, then there are people who go on living, talking, walking in the third degree of sleep.

deep states of sleep are the same for all, but intermediate degrees are often subjective.

there are even "prodigies" who are most active when one or several of their connections are broken. if such a state has become customary for a man by education, if he has acquired all he has in this state, his activity is built upon it, and so he cannot be active unless this state is there.

for you personally, the active state is relative—in a certain state you can be active. but there is an objective active state when all the connections are intact, and there is subjective activity in an appropriate state.

so there are many degrees of sleep and waking. active state is a state when the thinking faculty and the senses work at their full capacity and pressure. we must be interested both in the objective, that is, the genuine, waking state, and in objective sleep. "objective" means active or passive in actual fact. (it is better not to strive to be but to understand.)

anyway, everyone must understand that the purpose of sleep is achieved only when all the connections between the centers are broken. only then can the machine produce what sleep is meant to produce. so the world "sleep" should mean a state when all the links are disconnected.

deep sleep is a state when we have no dreams or sensations. if people have dreams it means that one of their connections is not broken, since memory, observation, sensation is nothing more than one center observing another. thus when you see and remember what is happening in you, it means that one center observes another. and if it can observe it follows that there is something through which to observe. and if there is something through which to observe—the connection is not broken.

consequently, if the machine is in good order, it needs very little time to manufacture that quantity of matter for which sleep is intended; at any rate much less time than we are accustomed to sleep. what we call "sleep" when we sleep for seven to ten hours or god knows how long, is not sleep. the greater part of that time is spent now in sleep but in these transitional states—these unnecessary half-dream states. some people need many hours to go to sleep and later many hours to come to themselves. if we could fall asleep at once, and as quickly pass from sleep to waking, we would spend on this transition a third or a quarter of the time we are wasting now. but we don't know how to break these connections by ourselves—with us they are broken and reestablished mechanically.

we are slaves of this mechanism. when "it" so pleases, we can pass into another state; when not, we have to lie and wait till "it" gives us leave to rest.

this mechanicalness, this unnecessary slavery and undesirable dependence, has several causes. one of the causes is the chronic state of tension we spoke of in the beginning and which is one of the many causes of the leakage of our reserve energy. so you see how liberation from this chronic tension would serve a double purpose. first, we would save much energy and, second, we would dispense with the useless lying and waiting for sleep.

so you see what a simple thing it is, how easy to attain and how necessary. to free oneself from this tenseness is of tremendous value.

later i shall give you several exercises for this purpose. i advise you to pay very serious attention to this and to try as hard as you can to get what each of these exercises is expected to give.

it is necessary to learn at all costs not to be tense when tension is not needed. when you sit doing nothing, let the body sleep. when you sleep, sleep in such a way that the whole of you sleeps.