talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)


when a man comes to realize the necessity not only for self-study and self-observation but also for work on himself with the object of changing himself, the character of his self-observation must change. he has so far studied the details of the work of the centers, trying only to register this or that phenomenon, to be an impartial witness. he has studied the work of the machine. now he must begin to see himself, that is to say, to see, not separate details, not the work of small wheels and levers, but to see everything taken together as a whole—the whole of himself such as others see him.

for this purpose a man must learn to take, so to speak, 'mental photographs' of himself at different moments of his life and in different emotional states: and not photographs of details, but photographs of the whole as he saw it. in other words these photographs must contain simultaneously everything that a man can see in himself at a given moment. emotions, moods, thoughts, sensations, postures, movements, tones of voice, facial expressions, and so on. if a man succeeds in seizing interesting moments for these photographs he will very soon collect a whole album of pictures of himself which, taken together, will show him quite clearly what he is. but it is not so easy to learn how to take these photographs at the most interesting and characteristic moments, how to catch characteristic postures, characteristic facial expressions, characteristic emotions, and characteristic thoughts. if the photographs are taken successfully and if there is a sufficient number of them, a man will see that his usual conception of himself, with which he has lived from year to year, is very far from reality.

instead of the man he had supposed himself to be he will see quite another man. this 'other' man is himself and at the same time not himself. it is he as other people know him, as he imagines himself and as he appears in his actions, words, and so on; but not altogether such as he actually is. for a man himself knows that there is a great deal that is unreal, invented, and artificial in this other man whom other people know and whom he knows himself. you must learn to divide the real from the invented. and to begin self-observation and self-study it is necessary to divide oneself. a man must realize that he indeed consists of two men.

one is the man he calls 'i' and whom others call 'ouspensky,' 'zakharov,' or 'petrov.' the other is the real he, the real i, which appears in his life only for very short moments and which can become firm and permanent only after a very lengthy period of work.

so long as a man takes himself as one person he will never move from where he is. his work on himself starts from the moment when he begins to feel two men in himself. one is passive and the most it can do is to register or observe what is happening to it. the other, which calls itself 'i,' is active, and speaks of itself in the first person, is in reality only 'ouspensky,' 'petrov,' or 'zakharov.'

this is the first realization that a man can have. having begun to think correctly he very soon sees that he is completely in the power of his 'ouspensky,' 'petrov,' or 'zakharov.' no matter what he plans or what he intends to do or say, it is not 'he,' not 'i,' that will carry it out, do or say it, but his 'ouspensky,' 'petrov,' or 'zakharov,' and of course they will do or say it, not in the way 'i' would have done or said it, but in their own way with their own shade of meaning, and often this shade of meaning completely changes what 'i' wanted to do.

from this point of view there is a very definite danger arising from the very first moment of self-observation. it is 'i' who begins self-observation, but it is immediately taken up and continued by 'ouspensky,' 'zakharov,' or 'petrov.' but 'ouspensky,' 'zakharov,' or 'petrov' from the very first steps introduces a slight alteration into this self-observation, an alteration which seems to be quite unimportant but which in reality fundamentally alters the whole thing.

let us suppose, for example, that a man called ivanov hears the description of this method of self-observation. he is told that a man must divide himself, 'he' or 'i' on one side and 'ouspensky,' 'petrov,' or 'zakharov' on the other side. and he divides himself literally as he hears it. 'this is i,' he says, 'and that is "ouspensky," "petrov," or "zakharov."' he will never say 'ivanov.' he finds that unpleasant, so he will inevitably use somebody else's surname or christian name. moreover he calls 'i' what he likes in himself or at any rate what he considers to be strong, while he calls 'ouspensky,' 'petrov,' or 'zakharov' what he does not like or what he considers to be weak. on this basis he begins to reason in many ways about himself, quite wrongly of course from the very beginning, since he has already deceived himself in the most important point and has taken not his real self, that is, he has taken, not ivanov, but the imaginary 'ouspensky,' 'petrov,' or 'zakharov.'

it is difficult even to imagine how often a man dislikes to use his own name in speaking of himself in the third person. he tries to avoid it in every possible way. he calls himself by another name, as in the instance just mentioned; he devises an artificial name for himself, a name by which nobody ever has or ever will call him, or he calls himself simply 'he,' and so on. in this connection people who are accustomed in their mental conversations to call themselves by their christian name or surname or by pet names are no exception. when it comes to self-observation they prefer to call themselves 'ouspensky' or to say 'ouspensky in me,' as though there could be an 'ouspensky' in them. there is quite enough of 'ouspensky' for ouspensky himself.

but when a man understands his helplessness in the face of 'ouspensky,' his attitude towards himself and towards 'ouspensky' in him ceases to be either indifferent or unconcerned.

self-observation becomes observation of 'ouspensky.' a man understands that he is not 'ouspensky,' that 'ouspensky' is nothing but the mask he wears, the part that he unconsciously plays and which unfortunately he cannot stop playing, a part which rules him and makes him do and say thousands of stupid things, thousands of things which he would never do or say himself.

if he is sincere with himself he feels that he is in the power of 'ouspensky' and at the same time he feels that he is not 'ouspensky.'

he begins to be afraid of 'ouspensky,' begins to feel that he is his 'enemy.' no matter what he would like to do, everything is intercepted and altered by 'ouspensky.' 'ouspensky' is his 'enemy.' 'ouspensky's' desires, tastes, sympathies, antipathies, thoughts, opinions, are either opposed to his own views, feelings, and moods, or they have nothing in common with them. and, at the same time, 'ouspensky' is his master. he is the slave. he has no will of his own. he has no means of expressing his desires because whatever he would like to do or say would be done for him by 'ouspensky.'

on this level of self-observation a man must understand that his whole aim is to free himself from 'ouspensky.' and since he cannot in fact free himself from 'ouspensky,' because he is himself, he must therefore master 'ouspensky' and make him do, not what the 'ouspensky' of the given moment wants, but what he himself wants to do. from being the master, 'ouspensky' must become the servant.

the first stage of work on oneself consists in separating oneself from 'ouspensky' mentally, in being separated from him in actual fact, in keeping apart from him. but the fact must be borne in mind that the whole attention must be concentrated upon 'ouspensky' for a man is unable to explain what he himself really is. but he can explain 'ouspensky' to himself and with this he must begin, remembering at the same time that he is not 'ouspensky.'

the most dangerous thing in this case is to rely on one's own judgment. if a man is lucky he may at this time have someone near him who can tell him where he is and where 'ouspensky' is. but he must moreover trust this person, because he will undoubtedly think that he understands everything himself and that he knows where he is and where 'ouspensky' is. and not only in relation to himself but in relation also to other people will he think that he knows and sees their 'ouspenskys.' all this is of course self-deception. at this stage a man can see nothing either in relation to himself or to others. the more convinced he is that he can, the more he is mistaken. but if he can be even to a slight extent sincere with himself and really wants to know the truth, then he can find an exact and infallible basis for judging rightly first about himself and then about other people. but the whole point lies in being sincere with oneself. and this is by no means easy. people do not understand that sincerity must be learned. they imagine that to be sincere or not to be sincere depends upon their desire or decision. but how can a man be sincere with himself when in actual fact he sincerely does not see what he ought to see in himself? someone has to show it to him. and his attitude towards the person who shows him must be a right one, that is, such as will help him to see what is shown him and not, as often happens, hinder him if he begins to think that he already knows better.

this is a very serious moment in the work. a man who loses his direction at this moment will never find it again afterwards. it must be remembered that man such as he is does not possess the means of distinguishing 'i' and 'ouspensky' in himself. even if he tries to, he will lie to himself and invent things, and he will never see himself as he really is. it must be understood that without outside help a man can never see himself.

in search of the miraculous, pages 146-149