For 13 January: Some Principles of the Exercises (Paris Groups 1944, 23 January)

Part One

I am revisiting Gurdjieff and the Women of the Rope with the audiobook. It is helping me pick up details I had missed before. Two of these, bearing the same moral, have acquired a significance for me as we prepare for the 13th. I have added the italics. No comment is necessary

First, on 18 August 1936, it is recorded that an old Russian has just died “and Gurdjieff is very upset” (90). I do not know who the Russian was. He visited the house, he looked after the arrangements, he consoled the widow, and so on. But, he was upset. Solano records “I had coffee alone with him and he talked till half past two. He said, “I am sometimes God and sometimes I have ten thousand devils.” He seemed very upset, and for the first time, talked on and on, manifesting out loud like anybody else.”

At the end of an August, on a trip to Vichy, sitting in a cafe, he said: “Now sitting here reminds me of nine years ago when I was writing the chapter on Good and Evil. I wish know name I call, what that man name please? Made on Atlantis.”

I said, “Man’s name was Makari and he made a tablet in two pieces.”

“But what was name I call this tablet?” … There was name. I made from two names I see on those two shops opposite here. Please you call waiter, ask what name shop had nine years ago.

The waiter said, “Dé d’argent” (silver thimble). Gurdjieff’s face fell. The waiter returned to say he was mistaken, it had been the “Boule d’argent” (silver sphere).

“Aha! Now I remember. Name of stones was Boolmarshano …” (92-93)

 

Part Two: Sunday 23 January 1944, pp.55-69

Gurdjieff began by asking about what people had found from the exercise they had been given. It is clear from what follows that the exercise was not included in the transcript of the meeting of 16 January found in this book. I do not know whether it was transcribed or not.

The first remark was from G.B. who had found difficulty in giving himself a shock with one centre alone: he could do so only with heart and head. Gurdjieff said that it absolutely had to be done “independently.” He then advised to relax each centre, and then apply the shock. He added that shock was a bad word.

This entire exchange is rather cloudy. Gurdjieff made a comment about using not thought (pensée) but form (forme), reminding us of Beelzebub’s Tales and mentation by thought and mentation by form. He said that the role of the head is to be a guardian against distracting thoughts, but the exercise is to be done with “form, feeling, and sensation” (55).

Then Rene Zuber said that something Gurdjieff had told him helped him give the shock to the vertebral column, but he was finding it hard with the other centres. Again, there is a bit of conversation, but without the background, interpretation is beyond me. The same can be said for the short exchange to R.P. (probably Robert Pomereu), wherein Gurdjieff told him not to bring the breath into it. G spoke in Russian with Mme de Salzmann (56), and after the conversation she reiterated that he would say nothing about breathing, but that they should breathe as usual.

When Zuber said that he found deep breathing difficult, Gurdjieff replied that everyone found the same, but he should allow it to be as it is, not to try and change it, it would look after itself.

To A.D., Gurdjieff said that he did not recommend that during the day one tries to rediscover the state one has at the end of the exercise: just do the exercise as a service without seeking more, it will take time for the exercise to establish its effect (57).

To N.L., Gurdjieff said of his (N.L.’s) efforts to remember himself: “It is your ME which must remember itself. Not a part. The whole. Your path is good. … Not the head (alone), feeling, or sensation: the whole presence. You must remember that you are you, and that never comes automatically (58). I wonder if instead of “your ME,” he could not have said “your I.”

G.M. said that with this exercise he could not keep the state he had found, whereas with others it had lasted fifteen or twenty minutes, plus he felt nervous. Gurdjieff replied:

There is a reason for that: you are obsessed. You do not it with three centres. One of your centres is occupied with something else. Try and work at your exercise with all your three centres, then some energy will be left to you at the end of it. If everything stops, it is only one of your centres not participating in your work. (58)

Then, in an important practical question, Mme L said that when she tried to sense her spinal column, she found it hard to sense it as a whole. Many have this question, and not only touching the spine. Gurdjieff’s response gives the principle:

Do it as I said. Divide into three parts. Do each part independently: the higher part, the middle, and the lower. (58-59)

She then asked a question about her cardiac condition: Gurdjieff advised her to consult a doctor and to use cold water. I can’t be sure whether he meant to drink or bathe in the water. I think this shows that the notes are not exhaustively complete: there must have been more to this exchange.

Next, L. spoke of having an unparalleled sense of himself, but of mysteriously losing his energy. Gurdjieff said that it was always this way at the start: when one is not used to directing one’s energy, one will lose some of it. But if you accustom yourself to it, then you will gradually lose less. (59)

L. then asks about how his breathing changes during the exercise. It is a shame we do not have the transcript of what Gurdjieff said the first time. Without it, it is hard to be sure of what Gurdjieff is advising. Further, Gurdjieff’s advice is directed to L., specifically not the others, which makes me think this is not advice to take as applicable to ourselves. Besides, it apparently contradicts the advice given to Zuber above not to interfere with the breath.

Gurdjieff advised him to inhale for eight seconds, hold the breath for eight seconds (allowing your thought to be changed, finding its place), and then expire over eight seconds: “respiration will harmonise itself with the tempo of this exercise.” (59-60). I repeat, I do not think this can be taken as general advice: in particular, the advice to hold the breath until the thought has changed, and the advice to hold it for eight seconds, do not sit together too well: which advice takes priority? Yet, it is helpful to know that Gurdjieff said this. There is an exercise which Bennett taught as having been given by Gurdjieff, which includes holding the breath for a little. I had been unsure it was from Gurdjieff. Everything Mr Adie told us would have militated against that advice. I am told that Mrs Staveley, too, was unsure that the exercise was from Gurdjieff. We can now say that there is reason to believe that Bennett was right, but to add that this sort of exercise was very rarely given. Personally, I think the emphasis should be on not forcing or hurrying the breath, but being aware that it can change tempo, and that the holding of the breath can naturally be a little longer than what most of us are used to.

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