The Atmosphere Exercise, (Thursday 3 August 1944 part 1, Paris Groups, Pt XLV)

previously published in Transcripts of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings, 146-157

(At the beginning, [they work at] the network exercise while waiting for Mr Gurdjieff, Then Mr Gurdjieff arrives and speaks with Mme de Salzmann.)

Gurdjieff: It would interest me greatly to know something of your (self-)remembering. How is that matter going? Do you forget often? Is it easy, difficult, or something else? Are you drawn into life? Do you do it often? Or not often? Who does it? How? What value do you give to self-remembering? I would like someone to tell me how he conducts himself in this regard?

J.B.   I have the impression that my self-remembering is not voluntary. It is given to me at certain moments. I would like to do it at those moments when it is difficult, or I cannot do it.

Gurdjieff: It is not a matter of that. You have as a task that you remember (yourself). You do it as a task.

J.B. Not very well.

Gurdjieff: Do you forget?

J.B.   Sometimes I am in a good state and  do it well.

Gurdjieff: The state is one thing, and self-remembering is another thing. It is the business of the head. Do you remember yourself often, or do you forget often?

J.B. Both. I do it often during the day.  Sometimes I decide to do it properly resting myself, and I forget. Also, very often, I do it without having decided in advance. (209)

Gurdjieff: That means that when you should remember yourself, you forget; but when it is of no use, you automatically remember. That is not our aim at all. You must accustom yourself to remember consciously. You succeed in that only when giving yourself as a task to remember yourself with all your presence at 4.00 o’clock, five o’clock, and six o’clock, for example – and to say “I am.”

M.D. I do not understand what “remembering myself in life” might be. Already, in trying to remember myself in the best conditions of life, (even after) stopping myself and calming myself, I scarcely succeed to even the smallest degree. I can say that I never remember myself in life.

Gurdjieff: Then you do nothing consciously; all that you do, you do automatically.

M.D. Then what should I do, sir?

Gurdjieff: Give yourself a task: all or nothing. If you do not do that, you are nothing. It is necessary to succeed in this.

Mlle D.   I have done this.

Gurdjieff: You must take as a task to remember yourself.

Mlle D.   But how can I remember myself, when I cannot succeed even in good conditions?

Gurdjieff: The worse the conditions, the better the result. That is why it is necessary to do it. Do not consider the conditions, consider (only) the moment that you have decided. For all the three times, you must absolutely remember yourself. You enter into yourself. You feel that you exist with all your presence. And that, that is your task. Then stop everything. One cannot always remember oneself. What counts is doing it consciously, caring about its quality. With an automatic decision, it is worth nothing. (210)

Mlle D.   I do not understand. Monsieur, how do you intend me to understand this word “consciously” when I have –

Mme de Salzmann: Because you have decided, deliberately in advance, you sense that it is conscious.

Mlle De.   But this word has no meaning for me.

Mme de Salzmann: Wished in advance!

Mlle D.   I do it like that.

Gurdjieff: Your decision is not strong. It is not necessary to come to a decision on many things. It is necessary to come into a tranquil state, relaxed, and in this state, to fix your task. Try it. Ten times, a hundred times, you will fail. Continue, make yourself try. Little by little you exercise yourself, and you arrive at it. Not in one stroke. It is a very little thing, and (yet) it is the most important. Remember yourself consciously. Consciously, that is to say, by your own decision. Remember yourself and at the same time collect yourself, enter deeply into yourself, whatever the conditions may be. If you cannot last for a long time, then do it for a short time.

Mlle D.   I never enter deeply into myself.

Gurdjieff: Never? Not even at the beginning?

Mlle D.   I do not succeed.

Gurdjieff:  You are not doing it. You did not understand (what is meant by) “consciously,” you have just said that yourself. So do it.

Mlle D.   I do not succeed, Mr Gurdjieff.

Mme de Salzmann: From the beginning (then): you have to do it from your own decision, not randomly, not because it came to your mind. (211-212)

Mlle D. But I do it like that.

Gurdjieff: You do it badly. Do it the same way that you have given your word to be here at 7.00 o’clock. It is an example. If you do not do it like that, it is worth nothing. Give yourself your word and do it. Give yourself your word this way, and remember at that time.

Mlle D. I do it like that, but I act automatically. My decision is automatic. I do not succeed in sensing myself like a human being.

Gurdjieff: It is necessary to do an exercise to be more collected: learn to collect yourself. Choose a good moment that is conductive (to an exercise.) Sit down. Let no one disturb you. Relax yourself (relâchez-vous). All you attention, all your will, are concentrated on your relaxing (relâchement). Calm your associations down. Then, and only then, begin to think.

Mlle D.   Yes, I try that, but I do not succeed.

Gurdjieff: Wait! Do not interrupt (dérangez) and cut me off while (I am) speaking! You have never done it like this! Your discussion proves it to me.

Now, when you have made calm your associations, and only then, begin this exercise. Consciously, with all your attention, all your faculties, represent to yourself that you are surrounded by an atmosphere. Just like the (planet) Earth, man also has an atmosphere which surrounds him on all sides, one metre more or less, a certain area. In the currents of life, associations and thoughts make this atmosphere undergo certain waves. In certain places it is concentrated, or (in others) it is fading. It has movements according to the direction you impart to it: that depends on the movements of (212) your thought. Your atmosphere is displaced in whatever direction your thought goes, so if you think of your mother who is over there, your atmosphere has a movement towards that place where your mother is.

When you do this exercise, represent to yourself that this atmosphere has limits, a metre fifty (i.e. one and a half metres), let us say. And then you, you concentrate all your attention on preventing your atmosphere from escaping outside this limit. You do not permit it to go further than one metre fifty, or one metre.

When you sense that your atmosphere is calmed, without waves, without movements, then with all your will, you draw it in into yourself. You breathe this atmosphere into yourself. You consciously draw it into yourself. The more you can, the better it is. At the beginning it is very tiring. That is how you must do this exercise.

Then you rest yourself, you send the exercise to the devil. Do it as new this evening. This exercise is specially done to allow one to have a collected state. It is the first exercise. It is difficult to enter into oneself on the first go. It is necessary to oblige the atmosphere to stay within its limits, not to allow it to go further than it must be (ne le doit, i.e. for the purposes of this exercise.) It is the first exercise for obtaining a collected state.

I have given this exercise to everyone. No one has understood it, or what collection is, or given it any attention. I have seen this from what has been said to me. When you have succeeded in that, you will be able to truly have a good state, and you will be able by your will to enter entirely into yourself. When you say “I am,” you will sense that you are in yourself. You will feel in all your body the echo of “I,” and when you say “Am,” you will have the complete sensation that you are yourself. But if you do for ten years, “I am, I am, I am,” it will lead you to nothing but being a candidate for a mad house. Do that, or nothing. Begin completely again with this exercise. It is the first exercise for remembering oneself.


  1. I find this exercise very strong for gathering my energies, concentrating them inside and even for a growing inner sense of I, of I AM.

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