Gurdjieff Uses a Word for “Contemplation” (Paris Groups, 1 February 1944, Pt XV)

Tuesday 1 February 1944, pp.73-78

G.B. said that he was losing energy, especially through his emotions. He cannot follow Gurdjieff’s advice to be a good egoist, because of these emotions going towards other people.

Gurdjieff asked whether he had understood what Gurdjieff has said about struggle (lutte, literally “fight”). A cow cannot fight, but if you have the impulse, you can fight. The more material for struggling you have, the more you must thank God. “Today you intellect, thought, decision, can struggle with your emotions (sentiment).” The need is to struggle. Referring, I believe, to the impulse to struggle, one should say interiorly: “This force is my will, this force is my present, this force is for me. For all those who work, the strength of (their) functions increases. Nature helps you, she provides you with material for work. Struggle to use this thing for your work.” (73)

G.B. then asked whether this also applied to involuntary suffering. Gurdjieff replied: “(To) everything that happens within you. At the same time you are not a dog, you are not a slave. You must recognize your nullity, your slavery. Your body is weak.” He then indicated that as forces grow within us, we will become even more of a slave than before if we do not use those energies. He said that you must kill “tuer” the slavery of our functions, and achieve liberty. It is hard at the beginning, he said, but with your understanding you can suggest to yourself that you will struggle. (73-74).

Then M.H. said that he had tried to free himself from attachments, slavery, and tensions (“contractions”), but it had not helped, and his detachment had become indifference and her relaxing (décontraction) inertia. Gurdjieff said:

You have done it with your head, but the head is nothing. You have not done it with your three centres. Thinking is cheap. You have not done it while remembering yourself. Your thought is a machine. You must be entirely present in a state of contemplation (recueillement).

M.H. said that he had no beginning point for his intellectual and professional work, to which he is now generally indifferent. Gurdjieff replied:

You have not understood when I said to you: you must exteriorly play a role, but interiorly, not identify with it.

M.H. replied that he had had no success in playing a role. Gurdjieff turned to P.L., and said to him that the he had passed through this same crisis at the beginning, but could now help M.H. Gurdjieff told P.L. that it would not be easy, but he should tell him what he had done, and how. (74)

Given my desire to understand Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation, this use of the word “recueillement” is most interesting. It is the state which comes from “recueillir,” the first meaning of which is “to collect.” The verb “cueillir” means “to pick”. To add the suffix re- gives it the sense of repeatedly picking, that is, to produce something new by picking or selecting, to make a collection. Hence “le recueil” is “the collection,” a “recueil des poèmes” is an anthology of poetry. English translations of “recueillement” offer words like “contemplation,” “(religious) meditation,” and for the phrase “avec recueillement,” “with reverence.” Of course, the precise meaning of a word, perhaps one should say the “more or less precise meaning” falls to be determined by its context. Here, I think, Gurdjieff might just has easily have spoken of the state of self-remembering, but he did not. Perhaps he wished to prompt his hearers to consider his work from a fresh angle.

Miss L.’s question is very concise, but I think she meant that she found that when she was dealing with exterior difficulties, her energies were directed to meeting those difficulties, but once exterior issues ceased, then her energies were unfocussed, and effectively worked against her (74-75).

Gurdjieff replied that this was a law, that when something is going well, an opposition appears. He continued: “Remind yourself of how you were in difficult conditions. Remind yourself of what your state was. It is very easy to find it again. It is enough to isolate yourself, but you don’t know how to go back to yourself. You consider. You identify with yourself interiorly. Then you no longer think of yourself. You see only the other.”

I think what he means is that one needs to “isolate” yourself, that is, to turn inside, perhaps even to be separate from our associations. But one can bring oneself into such a state and still not be able to remember oneself, that is, to be present in three centres at once and to have a sense of one’s own individuality. I am not certain: this is a conjecture based on my own experience.

There were some other comments, of which perhaps the most important is when he advised: “Relax. That will lead you to the result, even if others are present, even in another situation” (75).

A.G. then asked one of the cloudy vague questions which are asked in groups from time to time, speaking of the need for a certain distance and wishing to work, but wondering if that would produce an obstacle. Gurdjieff said, quite simply, that he would give him advice if he knew what he meant, but he did not (75).

D.S. asked whether continually sensing one’s nullity might not cause one to lose the confidence necessary to struggle. Gurdjieff replied that he should recall Gurdjieff’s advice to exteriorly play a role, but interiorly never to identify. If he did this, Gurdjieff said, he would not lose self-confidence. D.S. replied that the this would be on condition of not forgetting. Gurdjieff responded that things always have two faces (75-76).

This needs some pondering, I would say. First, I wonder if D.S. actually found that he was losing self-confidence, even to some extent, or if it was a purely theoretical question. Next, how would Gurdjieff’s reply help? I think the idea might – I say might – be something like this. If, internally, I realise my nullity, but I see that I have to play a role with others, then I remember that with my weakness, there is a possibility of manifesting with some intention. The very fact that I can play a role means I have something, that I can act by reference to an aim. To put it in a word: playing a role gives me a path in life.

Now, the way I read D.S. saying that Gurdjieff’s advice depends upon not forgetting it, he is expressing a lack of confidence in himself, and more – a self-doubt. Then, when Gurdjieff says that these things have two faces, I do not see how he can be referring to his own advice: I suspect he is saying that the sensing of my nullity has two faces, and I have to keep these in balance. Interestingly, note the name Gurdjieff gave his publishing company: Janus. When I realised that Gurdjieff almost certainly chose or approved that name, I felt that it was pointing to his relationship to tradition: he is in it and also advancing it. The fact that Gurdjieff should speak here of two faces supports this: to sense my nullity has both a past and a future aspect. I see that I have been like that but I do not have to stay that way. It was only a short exchange, but when it is pondered, there is a lot in it.


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