Question: How does it happen that the truths which we believe and which we are sure of do not penetrate deeply? Why do they remain at the surface without really changing our life?
Gurdjieff: We are divided. It is a fact. Consider that we have two independent organisms in us. One is the result of our education, of everything we have acquired. The other is our original organism. This original body functions only when I am relaxed, quiet, and alone. But when I return to active life it is weak and it is no longer able to have an influence. It is the other organism which then takes over, and I can no longer do what I have decided to do. I am back to my habitual ways of doing things.
Choose precise tasks for yourself. Before you immerse yourself in life, when you are alone at home, let go of your tensions and make a program for yourself. Represent to yourself how you will act during the day, and give yourself your word to follow this program exactly. You will fail ten times, or even twenty times but the twenty-first time you will be able to do what you decided when you were alone. There is no other way for now. You must make a program.
I repeat, come to a quiet and relaxed state. Only then establish your program for the day. Then go into life and try to do exactly what you have decided. If you do it, reward yourself. If you forget, punish yourself...
You must accustom yourself to struggle. Little by little this struggle will give results which will accumulate within you. This gives strength for the future. You fail one time, ten times. But each struggle brings results, a substance accumulates in you. It is this substance which will help you carry out conscious decisions...
Life is one thing, inner work another—their substantiality is different. When you begin your work, you must be in a state of active vigilance. Your only task is your work.
Before beginning, you must prepare yourself: relax, collect yourself. And then, with all your presence, you work.
Be an absolute egoist. Forget all the rest. Forget your God, your husband, your son, money. Afterwards, put the work aside and return to things of ordinary life. This is difficult. At the beginning you can’t do it for long; you are quickly tired. If you work five minutes too long, you will be drained of all energy. That is why it is necessary to increase little by little, in order to get accustomed to it—five minutes, six minutes, then ten minutes. Only in this way can you rightly begin to prepare yourself to acquire the state that corresponds to a true man. If you work longer than that, it proves you are not working with all your presence, but only with your head. You could do that for a thousand years without gaining anything from it.
Work for a short time, but work well—with all your presence. Then let your ordinary life go on in its usual way; otherwise you will become a psychopath.
Five minutes of real work is worth more than twenty-four hours of work done any old way. Again, it is not the quantity, it is the quality that counts—short but substantial...
Begin by asking yourself if what you are going to do will, sooner or later, give you remorse of conscience. Think about it with all your presence. If you are not sure, make no decision; if you’re sure that you will have no remorse, then you can do it.
Beforehand, relax and become quiet. Then actively think and compel yourself to make a program to accomplish what you have decided to do. Later on you will lose that state. You will again become the slave of your associations. But what you have decided in that special state, take it as a task, as a service.
Do not believe in yourself as you are in your ordinary state. You always justify yourself; you believe in yourself. One must not believe—above all, you must not forget how you have decided on your program.
Without that, you will have the disease of tomorrow. Guard against that. Decide. And when the time comes, do what you decided. The most miserable man in the world is he who has the disease of tomorrow. He will never change. Fate is just—objectively just. It always brings you what you deserve. That which you have planted is what grows. But if you plant nothing, nothing of what you wish for will grow; something else grows—you need a radish and horseradish comes up. Horseradish is sometimes an hors d’oeuvre. Sometimes not.
Question: You have often said that it is necessary to repair the past, and for that one must experience remorse of conscience. When I look at my childhood, I find nothing but catastrophe—I lost my parents very early, and after that all sorts of misfortunes followed. Instead of feeling remorse, I begin to complain. I find in myself someone who feels sorry for herself, who complains and justifies herself. I would like to know how to be free from this self-pity and how to rid my thoughts of things that seem like injustices.
Gurdjieff: Justice, you know, is a big word. In the world it is a big thing. It is not just anything—it is something objective. Objective things go according to Law, and exactly as the Law causes them to go.
Remember what I have said—what you sow, you reap. And this Law not only concerns individuals, but also families and nations.
Thus, events which happen on earth often come from what has been done at a given moment by the father or grandfather. And the consequences fall on you, so it is you who must face them.
This is not an injustice. On the contrary, it is a very great honor for you. This responsibility will serve as a reminding factor. And, thus, you can repair the past of your father, your grandfather, and your great-grandfather.
If this happened to you when you were young, it is because someone has sown it. Now you harvest. One is dead, and it is another who harvests.
Don’t think only of yourself. You are a link in the chain of your blood. You cannot consider that egoistically; or, if you wish, you can think of it egoistically, but only insofar as it concerns your blood, not insofar as it concerns your little life. It is an honor to occupy this place. Be proud of it.
The more you feel obliged to repair the consequences of the past, the more you will remember all that you, too, have not done as you ought to have done. And, thus, you will have ten times more remorse of conscience, and the quality of your Being will grow accordingly. You are not a mere “dog’s tail.” You have a responsibility within the lineage of your family.
Your whole family, past and future, depends on you. Your whole family depends on how you repair the past. If you repair for everybody, that is good. Otherwise, it is worth nothing. So you see what kind of situation you find yourself in!
Perhaps you are beginning to understand what justice is? Justice has nothing to do with ordering your little affairs. It concerns itself with big things. It’s idiocy to think that God should busy Himself with your petty things. It is the same with justice. Justice has nothing to do with all this, but at the same time, nothing takes place on earth without justice.
You wish to be a real man? The attribute of a real man is to be really awake or to sleep well. Either really sleep or be really awake. It is not possible to sleep well unless one has been really awake.
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These excerpts are taken from Material for Thought, No. 12, San Francisco: Far West Editions, Spring 1990, pp. 65–71, and are reproduced here with the publisher’s kind permission.
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