talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

we always use more energy than is necessary, by using unnecessary muscles, by allowing thoughts to revolve and reacting too much with feelings. relax muscles, us only those necessary, store thoughts and don't express feelings unless you wish. don't be affected by externals as they are harmless in themselves; we allow ourselves to be hurt.

hard work is an investment of energy with a good return. conscious use of energy is a paying investment; automatic use is a wasteful expenditure.

(prieuré, june 12, 1923)

prieuré, august 21, 1923

for one section of the people here, their stay has become completely useless. if this section were asked why they are here, they would either be completely unable to answer or they would answer something quite nonsensical, would produce a whole philosophy, themselves not believing what they were saying. a few may have known at the beginning why they came, but they have forgotten. i take it that everyone who comes here has realized the necessity of doing something, that he has already tried by himself, and that his attempts have led him to the conclusion that in the conditions of ordinary life it is impossible to achieve anything. and so he begins to make inquiries, to search for places where, owing to prearranged conditions, work on oneself is possible. at last he finds; he learns that here such work is possible. and so he begins to make inquiries, to search for places where, owing to prearranged conditions, work on oneself is possible. at last he finds; he learns that here such work is possible. and indeed such a place has been created here and organized so that the seeker should be in the conditions he was looking for.

but the section of people i am speaking about does not make use of these conditions; i may even say they do not see these conditions. and the fact that they do not see them proves that in reality these people were not looking for them, and have not tried in their everyday life to get what they were supposed to be looking for. whoever does not make use of the conditions here for work on himself and does not see them—this is no place for him. he is wasting his time by remaining here, hindering others and taking someone else's place. our space is limited and there are many applicants whom i have to refuse for lack of space. you must either make use of this place or go away and not waste your time and take someone else's place.

i repeat, i start from the point that presumably those who come here have already done preparatory work, have been to lectures, have made attempts to work by themselves, and so on.

as it see it, those who are here have already realized the necessity of work on themselves and almost know how it should be done, but are unable, for reasons which are beyond their control. in consequence there is no need to repeat again why each of you is here.

i can carry on my work here only if what has already been received is transmuted into practical life. unfortunately nothing of the sort takes place, because people live here but do not work; they do so only under coercion, outwardly, like day laborers in ordinary life. i therefore propose to this section of people that they should work now as they once understood work, that they should reawaken the ideas they once had, and set to work in earnest, or that they should understand at once that their presence here is useless. as things are now, if they go on for ten years nothing will result.

i am not answerable for anything. let people try. otherwise they may present a claim for the time wasted. let them arouse in themselves their former intentions and so make their stay here useful for themselves and for those around them.

he who can be a conscious egoist here can be not an egoist in life. to be an egoist here means not to give a hoot for anyone, myself included; to regard everyone and everything as something by which to help oneself. there must be no considering with anything or with anyone. who is mad, who is clever does not matter. a madman is also a good subject for study, for work. and so is a clever man. in other words, both mad and clever people are necessary. both the cad and the decent man are needed; for the fool and the clever man, the cad and the decent man can equally serve as a mirror and a shock for seeing, studying and using for work on oneself.

moreover, you should understand for your own guidance one particular phenomenon.

our institute is like the repair shop of a railroad, or like a garage where repairs are carried out. when an engine or a car is in the shop, and a new man comes into the shop, he sees engines which he has never seen before. and, indeed, all the cars he sees outside are covered over and painted, and the man in the street has never seen their insides. the eyes of the man in the street are only used to seeing the covering. he does not see them without the covering as in the repair shop, where parts are dismantled and all stand cleaned and open to view, having nothing in common with the appearance familiar to the eye. and so it is here. when a new person arrives with his luggage, he is at once undressed. and then all his worst sides, all his inner "beauties" become evident.

this is why those among you who do not know about this phenomenon get the impression that we have indeed collected here only people who are stupid, lazy, dense—in a word, all riff-raff. but they forget one important thing; that it is not he who discovers this, but that someone has exposed them. but he sees and ascribes everything to himself. if he is a fool, he does not see that he himself is a fool and does not realize that someone else has exposed others. if someone else had not exposed them perhaps he would have been bending the knee to one of these fools. he sees him undressed, but forgets that he too is undressed. he imagines that just as in life he could wear a mask, so here too he can put on a mask. but directly he entered these gates, the watchman took off his mask. here he is naked, everybody senses directly what sort of person he is.

that is why no one must consider internally with anybody here. if a person has done wrong, do not be indignant, because you have done the same. on the contrary, you should be very thankful and think yourself lucky that you did not get a slap in the face from anyone, for at every step you act wrongly toward someone else. therefore how kind these people must be who do not consider with you. whereas, if someone has done you the slightest wrong, you already want to hit him in the face.

you must understand this clearly and behave accordingly and try to make use of other people in all their aspects, good and bad; and you must also help others in all your own aspects, whatever they may be. whether the other man is clever, a fool, kind, despicable, be assured that at different times you also are stupid and clever, despicable and conscientious. all people are the same, only they manifest themselves differently at different times, just as you yourself are different at different times. just as you need help at different times, so others need your help, but you must help others not for their sakes but for your own. in the first place, if you help them, they will help you, and in the second, through them you will learn for the benefit of those who are closest to you.

you must know one more thing. many states of many people are produced artificially—produced artificially not by them but by the institute. consequently, sometimes upsetting this state in another hinders the work of the institute. there is only one salvation: to remember day and night that you are here only for yourself, and everything and everyone round you must either not hinder you, or you must act so that they do not hinder you. you must make use of them as means for attaining your aims.

yet everything is done here except that. this place has been turned into something worse than ordinary life. much worse. all day long people are either occupied with scandal, or they blacken one another, or they think things inwardly, judge and consider with each other, finding some sympathetic, some antipathetic; they strike up friendships, collectively or individually, play mean tricks on each other, concentrate on the bad sides of each other.

it is no use thinking that there are some here who are better than others. there are no others here. here people are neither clever nor stupid, neither english nor russian, neither good nor bad. there are only spoiled automobiles, the same as you. it is only thanks to these spoiled automobiles that you can attain what you wished for when you came here. everyone realized this when he came here, but now you have forgotten. now it is necessary to awaken to this realization and to come back to your former idea.

all that i have said can be formulated in two questions: (1) why am i here? and (2) is it worthwhile my remaining?