13 January 2018 (Making a Programme)

This was the first exchange on Tuesday 6 April 1982. Mrs Helen Adie’s answer touched on something of the first importance in the effort to remember myself more often and more deeply. In Part One, I set out the question, in Part Two, I explore what Gurdjieff said about making programmes in practical work, and in Part Three, I add my own notes. But I wish to make clear, those notes are not meant to set out iron rules or to “codify” the method of making a programme: they are merely a handy compendium of ideas. It should also be borne in mind that it is implicit that a programme only has sense if one has an aim. Without an aim, nothing has a point.

Part One

Patch was a doctor. He said that he found the ideas and the exercises fascinating, but had not actually been working. When things are going well in life, he “seduces” himself into thinking that everything is fine, but it is only when life is hard that he has ever worked.

“That is not an unusual situation”, replied Mrs Adie. “When things are very difficult, I turn to the work. But then, why is that? Something in me imagines that the work will solve my problems, but that it is not inevitable. In some ways the difficulties help me, they are material for my work. But in other ways it’s easier when I don’t have a lot of friction in life.”

“In either case, the first step of this work is to see your situation. Now, as you describe it, you are not making any effort, and something is not unhappy about that.”

“However, your head is interested. However, the situation remains that you’re not going against anything, and that is what work is, of course. So how do you propose to change this?”

Patch said that it did seem better after the preparation, implying perhaps that he would change his position by making better use of the preparation.

“A good preparation makes a big difference”, agreed Mrs Adie, “and my work is going to be different under different conditions. I have to think: what is going to work for me in these conditions which I shall be facing today? I can’t necessarily create difficult conditions, and besides they would then be artificial conditions. But I will always find friction in life, and it is just then that the opportunity for work is greatest.”

“If there was some feeling there in my preparation, then it may also be available later on at moments, and if I have feeling at those moments of friction, then I have a choice.”

“Then there is the question of moving centre. Working with moving centre, I can choose a particular time to observe it, and it helps then to do something artificial, like working with the left hand. I can learn a lot, not only about moving centre, but how my state is affected by different things. Often something in me cannot be bothered. I am not even aware of it at the time, I just lose the time. But, when I look back, I see that that is what it was, a sort of laziness.”

“The difficulty which everybody has is to choose and then to focus on some definite effort for some period. I have to choose a time which is as suitable as possible. I don’t select something where I might damage somebody.”

After a pause, she continued: “What does “effort” mean? You said that you made more effort when things were hard, but then what does effort mean? I know at least that it needs attention. You have your head attention. That is something. To have a better attention, I need to leave no room for dreaming. If you are occupied in some interesting professional work, then there will not be room for dreaming.”

“No, there is room for dreaming when I’m at the job,” said Patch.

“Then the direction of your head attention is one thing which you can try, at least for a few moments,” Mrs Adie responded. “You can’t maintain it for long, but it is always worthwhile. So what am I going to do? If I wish to take my attention from these dreams, where am I going to put it?”

“I can’t stop dreaming, but I can take my attention from it if I know where to put it. At various times I am differently taken away. I can always try and eat consciously. Even if that was the only effort you made, to take the first being-food consciously, that would be good. We regularly need to eat.”

“Then, at other times try to breathe consciously. Some idea is always available to me, if only I look for it. But remember that there are three foods. Take impressions consciously. I decide. Take one particular task such as eating consciously, and then add to it one hour afterwards to breathe consciously for a certain time. I try and get an impression of myself breathing. That effort can produce higher hydrogens in me. That is what I need – higher matters. Try that.”

“At the same time, at the beginning of each day, you have a more or less clear of what is going to take place. Maybe you have some habitual tensions. Maybe there is some particular effort which you can make with some particular patient. Are you really interested in them, in what they really need? You have a child. How old is it? Sixteen months? There is a field for work.”

“I don’t have a clear enough picture of my life. I am aware that things are going well. I am sure that there is some friction there. But if I am not prepared, then I cannot take advantage of it. But you must know, even if only an hour in advance, that a situation will be arising where I might easily become irritated, or where someone usually annoys me. That gives me the chance to call up something stable, and not react to it. If I am caught in sleep, there is very little which I can do, except perhaps to see it.”

“Take advantage of the situations. Don’t allow them to be hazy just because of the present good conditions. Think about your own energy. Consider the three foods, and where the energy in you goes. We have a lot of energy. We have a fine energy, that energy required for work, but if we don’t use it for work it will involve. Try and find some of the ideas which might inspire you.”


Part Two

In the book Paris Transcripts 1943, Gurdjieff mentions making a programme at pp. 66-67, 256 and 317-318. There may be other passages, but these are the ones I noted. We might as well start with the meeting of Thursday 8 July 1943, where someone says: “The question that concerns me at the moment is how to be able to follow a schedule – how to do what I have decided, at the time I set to do it” (66). From this is it evident that Gurdjieff has previously given him such a task. Gurdjieff replies:

First, you must learn to relax, to become quiet. Second, once that is done, think, and give yourself the task of making a programme to accomplish what you have decided to do. Of course, you will lose this state; you will again become the slave of your associations. But what you have decided in this special state, take it as a task, as a service. Third, you must never believe in yourself, in your ordinary state. You justify, you believe in yourself. You must not. You must not forget how you decided on your programme – what state you were in.

It is not trite to note that although Gurdjieff himself gave this advice, it still needed to be repeated. Thus, on 28 October, Gurdjieff said:

Before manifesting in life, when you are alone at home, relax and make a programme: how you will manifest during the day. Then tell yourself to follow the programme exactly. You fail, ten times, twenty times. The first twenty times, you fail. The twenty-first time you do what you decided when you were alone. There is no other means for now. … If you do it well, you give yourself something nice. And if you forget, you punish yourself. (256)

When someone objected: “One does not have enough will power to punish oneself,” Gurdjieff answered:

You have to get used to it. This gives strength for the future. You struggle, and this struggle gives results little by little. (256)

Finally, on 9 December, he gave someone advice to find a quiet place, sit down quietly, and come to a good, calm state, and after some time, they would cease to believe just anyone or just anything. Then, he went on:

Make a programme. If you don’t have a programme, anything – any idiot, any nonentity or shit – can order you around. Trust only this programme you have decided on while in a special state. The main thing is to decide how you want to behave, what you want to do, the relationship you want to establish with each person; that is what a programme is. … even if God comes to disturb you to do something else, you must not do it. Maybe He has come just to trip you up. You do only what you decided to do in your special state.

… Understand that I am saying something important. … (relax and) think impartially. You think about your state, your class, your temperament, and how all that is connected. You think about your programme and how you decide to accomplish what needs to be done in the months to come. For example, what relationship you want to have with this man or this woman. Having established your programme, you go into life and do only what corresponds to it. … you believe only your programme and your decision. It is the only precise path for you. There are no others, because nature puts many dogs in us on purpose in order to make us weak. It’s perhaps in nature’s interests that there be few men on the right path. (317-318)

The still valuable Transcripts of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings, includes transcripts from other years which, even if they do not use the word “programme”, have vital material concerning it. For example, in the meeting of 9 December 1946, Gurdjieff is reported as having said:

In general, it is necessary to create some automatic factors of recall. … It is very easy. For example, how do you sit down to the table? You have never ascertained with which foot you sit down. You observe that there also you have automatism. You will connect something with this automatism, for a reminder of your work. With each time that you sit down to the table, this thing will be able to act as a factor of recall. (180)

What can we extract from this powerful material?

First, the constant reiteration, even in the one answer of the same considerations tells us Gurdjieff found it difficult to get his own pupils using a programme properly, as an aide to remembering myself. Second, as the year 1943 went on, he seems to have become more aware of this, and more absolute in his description of the importance of the programme.


Part Three

Now, let us look at the “programme” as an aide to achieving one’s aim for conscious evolution. It has, I would suggest, the basic principle that it connects the collected state of the morning preparation (a form of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation) with our states in the day, and ideally makes a connection with the evening. It should, therefore, help us come to a stronger or fuller, more real, sense of ourselves as present with sensation, feeling and awareness, even while we are in the midst of our daily activities, and are preparing for sleep.

If one works to be more conscious when forming the programme, by making it immediately after the morning preparation, then the form of the programme will possess the virtue of connecting the two states to actualise a new state, not so high, perhaps, as that of the preparation, but equally valuable for being actualised in the midst of ordinary life. Time and again in the groups, we would say to the Adies that we had come to a special state in the preparation, but had lost it when the preparation ended. Time and again, they said, this is lawful. We cannot have that state in life, but we can have its influence.

There are some principles for making a programme, but note, these are only a compilation of ideas and a fleshing out of the methods taught by Gurdjieff and his pupils. These points might be found helpful, but it does not mean that there are no other ideas which can help:

(a) Commence with relaxing, becoming conscious of sensation and feeling, and so coming to a more collected state. That is, commence with the preparation as it was taught by Gurdjieff. For the preparation, see the many references to in the book George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, found in the index (the book is available from bythewaybooks.com), and my article “The Readiness is All: Gurdjieff’s Art of the ‘Preparation’”, Religion and the Arts, (2017) 21, 40-69 (now superseded by my book Gurdjieff: Mysticism …) As Mrs Adie said, if I do not constructively use the energy made available to me in my morning preparation, it may involve and disharmonise another centre’s work (e.g. make me arrogant, feed illusions about myself, etc.)

(b) The programme should be simple in the sense of clear and unconditional, but within those parameters, it can be more or less developed. For example, an easy one would be that at 9.00a.m., 12 noon and 3.00p.m., I come to myself (with sensation and feeling) whatever I am doing, and affirm internally “I Am” (see Gurdjieff at p.147 of Transcripts … Wartime Meetings: “At each of the three hours, you absolutely must remember yourself. You enter into yourself; you feel that you exist with all your presence, and this – this is your task”). A harder one might that when I meet James this afternoon, I try and be present to the tone of my voice as we speak. Then, the easier one can be filled in, as it were, so that I make that affirmation at 9, 12 and 3, and between 9 and 3 I am observing the gestures I make with my arms and hands when speaking to someone else. The programme will also ideally include a few minutes in the evening, before retiring, but also before I am too tired to do anything but collapse into bed.

(c) It can be helpful to represent to oneself, in the morning, the picture of myself fulfilling the task later in the day. This type of visualisation can include sensation and feeling. However, those who have not learned from someone who has been able to actualise this, and who have had the chance to bring their observations and receive comments, may find it impossible to grasp just what is meant by visualisation including sensation and feeling. But visualisation is never a substitute for remembering myself: rather, I must remember myself all the more, or else the exercise will be fantasy.

(d) It is of the essence, that the decision to follow the programme is made in advance, and that it not be merely intellectual, but that I sense myself (mind, feeling and organic instinct) with this decision and the programme alive in me.

(e) I should make a programme which is challenging, but not one which is too hard for me. Only experience will show what sort of programme is which. I might not be able to retain good attention for long at one stretch, but I can make such moments more regular, and they can include more.

(f) Follow this programme is a task and a service. This means valuing it, and not being disappointed if I do not immediately obtain palpable results. The results may be accruing at a more subtle level than I am aware of.

(g) One must not be discouraged however often one fails: it will take time before one can follow it. To develop is difficult, and what is more, nature makes it hard, as Gurdjieff said.

(h) If one keeps to the programme, one should reward oneself, and if not, punish oneself. These should be sensible, e.g. if Gurdjieff worked, he allowed himself crayfish, and if he did not, no crayfish. It is good to take punishments which relate to the consumption of food and drink, because the body needs these shocks, and is then more likely to remind me.

(i) Jane Heap had a principle that if one forgets, then one must get up and fulfil one’s word. So, for example, she had the plan to remember herself as she was walking down stairs. When she realised that she had walked down the stairs in an unbecoming state, she walked up to the top again, and then walked back down. If I had included in my programme, recalling myself while speaking with James, but I forgot, then I must find someone to speak with, even if briefly, or telephone James and honourably discharge my task.

(j) In drafting the programme, one aims to create some automatic factors of recall. Gurdjieff gave some examples, e.g. how do I sit down to table? With which foot do I begin walking? Which sock do I put on first? There is, as Mrs Adie said, a difference between tasks involving the moving centre and those relating to other centres. It is, I think, of the first importance, that when I keep an appointment, e.g. to remember myself at 11.00a.m., I make a distinct and sensed effort to sense a specific part of the body. This brings an undeniable reality to the moment.

(k) The programme is not to be made with no further horizon than today in mind. One should take into account “your state, your class, your temperament, and how all that is connected” plus “how you decide to accomplish what needs to be done in the months to come”. Here one might well take emotional and intellectual matters, e.g. a line of work against negative emotion and intellectual criticism. Eventually, the connections between centres must be addressed. As Gurdjieff said: “The conscious effort consists in giving initiative to all your centres”.

Mrs Adie had said that it is not inevitable that the work will solve my problems, especially perhaps these large one. But it can help me be aware of them and face them. So we need to make it clear, balance the requirements so that it is both manageable and demanding, and – making it in a better state – use it to come to a better state, a more perceptive one. I need to connect my ordinary states with the collected state. There is more to this topic: we need an aim, a programme to actualise that aim, and a corresponding knowledge. But this is a start.

Joseph Azize, for 13 January 2018, last modified 7 December 2019.

One comment

  1. Working with tasks [and thus decision] is a very important part of work as it builds “will”. In the beginning, we have little or no will of our own. Through the act of decision, visualization, implementation and gratefulness, we have the possibility of gaining will that we may give to a will that is higher than our own.

    The following is the decision exercise – one type of “programme” -given from the school I attended. It is very similar to the the one used by JG Bennett at Sherborne and Pierre Elliot at Claymont. Due to copyright issues, I am unable to provided Mr. Bennett’s version of which he references in his book “Witness” . However, as the following exercise has been made public, there are no constraints. As noted above by Father Azize, “Gurdjieff found it difficult to get his own pupils using a programme properly”. It is done as an act of service without the expectation of gain. It cannot be stressed strongly enough, such efforts are best conducted under proper supervision as working alone without proper instruction and guidance, we are easily lead astray.


    The Decision Exercise Introduction

    “Now, I tell one important thing, one lawable thing. If something you must do – some work or task – you must plan ahead of time, you can never do it at the time, but if make exact plan before you must do, then is as if have aim and all prepares for this. – Mr. Gurdjieff, Ladies of the Rope, pg. 112

    “The one sure method the value of which became more vividly evident with each passing month was the ‘decision exercise.’ This is my own adaptation of a technique I had learned almost casually from Gurdjieff and to which he refers almost casually in the Third Series of his writings, Life is Real Only Then When ‘I Am.’“ – Mr. Bennett, Witness, pg 377

    The Decision Exercise – a version from Reshad Feild

    Most of us are never taught that there are two types of thought pattern. There are night thoughts as well as day thoughts, just as there are daydreams and the dreams we have at night. There are obviously things that we do after the sun goes down which are better attended to at that time rather than during the day. It is the same the other way round. This is important to understand.

    Through this practice, little by little, we begin to build a blend of these two patterns of thought. This has the effect of providing us with a certain type of will which we did not have before. The simplicity of the practice should not mislead us into trying to make it more complicated than advocated, for the sake of getting something extra out of it.


    Before retiring to bed, having put yourself into a calm frame of mind become aware of your breathing allowing it to become slower and rhythmic, visualize something that needs to be completed in your house or garden that will take no longer than five minutes. The task should be extremely simple, such as cleaning a pair of shoes, or emptying out a cupboard that you have been avoiding for so long. In the garden, you might weed a border, trim a hedge, or simply sweep the pavement.

    All of this is essentially simple. I learned a version of this practice when I was in the boy scouts! There is nothing new in what you will be doing since these things are done every day. However, the key words here are decision and visualization, and they are used to bring us into a greater state of awareness.

    The next step in the practice is to visualize, in detail, the job that you decided to do the next day. You need to be meticulous about this visualization. For example, if your decision was to clean a pair of shoes, then you would visualize where the shoes were, see yourself getting them out of the wardrobe and placing them in a suitable spot. You would then see yourself putting down a newspaper, and taking out the polish and brushes from where they were kept. Proceed with the visualization until the cleaning process saw its completion, finally returning the shoes to the wardrobe, the polish and brushes to their cupboard and throwing away the newspaper. A portion of us will try to resist this decision that we have made, providing all sorts of excuses as to why this seems so trite, or by saying that there is no time. This is exactly the part of us that needs to come under the command of the higher self until it is willing to co-operate in every way. At the end of this visualization, therefore, try to be sure that all of you is willing to complete the task the next day.

    The second part of the practice is done in the morning and is, of course, completing the visualization that was done the night before. First you re-make the decision to do the task and then remember all the steps in the process and the time that it is to be done. At that time, follow all the details that you visualized until you have finished the job. Every act should be an act of awareness as you observe the body fulfilling the job that was started in the mind, employing the pattern of night thoughts.

    When the task is over, agree that you have completed it and in the time and in the manner that you decided, and then go about your business.

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