The Paris Groups, 1944 (Part III, 13 January)

Thursday 13 January 1944, pp.25-32

Not previously published

This meeting began after a reading of “The Arousing of Thought,” which is the first chapter of Beelzebub. Since the previous meeting had continued with “From the Author,” the last chapter, it would appear that Gurdjieff was reading the book according to what is called lectio continua, to methodically read through an entire book, and then begin again.

The first question was from A.G. who asked whether writing might help them to think. It depends upon how you do it, said Gurdjieff, if you do it as you have been habituated to, and just bring up former associations and use the dictionary (by which I think he means us to understand “bon ton manuals”), it will only deepen your automatism; but if you can write in a way which is not habitual, and be impartial (he preferred “impartial” to “objective”), then the exercise could be useful. He said: “You will be able to think with this new quality (impartiality) if you have good exercises for the future” (26).

A.G.’s second question was whether to use the formal “vous” when speaking with people in the group, or the informal “tu.” English does not have this distinction, we just say “you.” Gurdjieff said that this question was not very interesting, and in fact a child’s question. However, his opinion was that relations between people in the group could interiorly be close, but externally, he preferred formal dealings. He said that familiarity is automatic, and can lead to bad results, including “suppositions.” Gurdjieff said especially not to be familiar with others from the group in front of third parties (27).

The next question, from S.R. was, as Gurdjieff said, somewhat similar. S.R. felt a certain liking for someone and was wondering about making his/her desire for friendship more than just a question of polarity. It is not so difficult to follow Gurdjieff here, but it is hard to accept it. What Gurdjieff said is this:

This question is not worth much. It belongs to the same family of questions (as A.G.’s). About these questions of liking, I have already given you special exercises. If you feel such sympathies, send these persons to the devil, otherwise you cannot do your exercises. If you feel this liking, send all that to the devil. Kill your sympathy. For your work, you must have no sympathies. You must kill this slavery in yourself. Your slavery is (found in) your sympathies. Until now, the law of polarity has been your law. You must have antipathy (dislike) in yourself. You must kill your fixed idea in order to make space for a new quality, that of the new man towards whom we are proceeding” (27-28)

Some notes on this passage. First, I have variously translated the one French word, “la sympathie” as “liking” or “sympathy.” Likewise, “l’antipathie” means both “antipathy” and “dislike.” Both meanings are given by the dictionary. Next, the nuance of what Gurdjieff says is that the exercises were specially produced for the people in the group. Third, I will not attempt to interpret this further, except to say that it would be persuasive to see Gurdjieff as referring to identifying with our likes and dislikes.

In response to the next question, Gurdjieff said that remorse of conscience is the first and “great instrument” which is given to us in our work in order to transform ourselves; and that we should work more on that line, even using whatever comes to us by chance (par hazard). The questioner replied that he/she would not allow themselves to experience pleasure, and Gurdjieff replied that that was not remorse of conscience. M.G. argued back: “Almost.” But Gurdjieff countered with: “No. Satisfactions are one thing, and remorse of conscience is another.” M.G. replied that he/she had been using the wrong word, and meant  something like “a state of calm” (28).

Gurdjieff was not moved: “Calm? But you do not have the right to be calm inside. You do not have the time. Consciously you must do something to awaken yourself, and to use all the impulses which are within you to give yourself that which you need. And you need remorse of conscience. It must grow within you. Here, most of those who have heard about it have understood it with the head (only), they have never felt it. These are impulses which not everyone possesses.” He expounded this, and a little later added that if one is tranquil, or is not sure of how to describe one’s state, then one cannot be experiencing remorse of conscience, and so must look for a different state in which one experiences it. One must feel the necessarily of remorse and wish to change with a “total will.” At the same time, as an aide, remember your nullity. With a tranquil life, we will never be independent. I have known many people, he said, who wished both to have pleasure and to work. They never came to remorse of conscience. But you are young, and are here, as if at school. You now have the alphabet (“Vous en êtes à l’alphabet”). Use it to learn to read (28-29).

R.P. asked about the best time for working: should we separate out a time for resting and a time for work, or is it necessary to leave everything and to work? Gurdjieff replied that, at the beginning, one should use all possibilities, even those which come accidentally. You usually forget, but when you do remember, use that recollecting at once: fix it and if you have time for nothing more, at least come to “I am” (29).

Rene Zuber asked a question about remorse of conscience. Gurdjieff replied: “We have spoken of remorse for the past, not for the present.” He said to think about all of our bad manifestations to other people in the past: it brings sad thoughts, but they are necessary. No philosophy, no “manipulations,” just remember how you have hurt other people and their families. Be impartial in this. Everyone has different factors for remorse, and feels them differently, but the process is much the same for everyone. Do not confuse “remorse” with merely being dissatisfied (30).

I think it worth carefully observing that Gurdjieff said to Zuber that he did not yet have the “necessary factors.” That is, perhaps we can say that we have to do the work of a sort of personal archaeology for those times when we have been the sleeping means of bringing suffering. In Russia, Gurdjieff told his pupils that in order to know one’s own type, and be able to consciously “depart” from it, “one must make a good study of one’s life, one’s whole life from the very beginning …” (In Search of the Miraculous, 247).

Joseph Azize, 14 November 2020

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