BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF
IT WAS IN the middle of that busy summer that Gurdjieff asked me one morning, rather brusquely, whether or not I still wanted to study. He reminded me, rather sardonically, of my desire to learn "everything", and asked me if I had changed my mind. I told him I had not.
"Why you not ask about this then, if not change mind?"
I said, embarrassed and uncomfortable, that I had not mentioned it again for several reasons. One was that I had already asked him and that I assumed that he had not forgotten it, second that he was already so busy writing and conferring with other people that I did not think he would have time.
He said that I would have to learn about the world. "If want something, must ask. You must work. You expect me to remember for you; I already work hard, much harder than you can even imagine, you wrong if also expect me always remember what you want." He then added that I made a mistake in assuming that he was too busy. "If I busy, this my business, not your affair. If I say I teach, you must remind me, help me by asking again. This show you want learn."
I agreed, sheepishly, that I had been mistaken, and asked when he would start the "lessons". This was on a Monday morning, and he told me to meet him at his room at ten o'clock the following morning, Tuesday. When I got there the next morning, I listened at the door to be sure that he was up, knocked and went in. He was standing in the middle of the room, fully dressed. He looked at me, as if astonished. "You want something?" he asked, not unkindly. I explained that I was there for my lesson. He looked at me, as he sometimes had on other occasions, as if he had never seen me before. You supposed to come this morning?" he asked, as if he had completely forgotten. "Yes," I said, "at ten o'clock."
He looked at the clock on his bed table. It read about two minutes after ten and I had been there at least a full minute. Then he turned to me, looking at me as if my explanation had greatly relieved him: "This morning, I remember was something at ten o'clock, but forget what. Why you not here at ten o'clock?"
I looked at my own watch and said that I had been there at ten o'clock.
He shook his head. "You ten seconds late. Man can die in ten seconds. I live by my clock, not yours. If want learn from me, must be here when my clock say ten o'clock. Today, no lesson."
I did not argue with him, but did gather my courage enough to ask him if that meant I would never have any "lessons" from him. He waved me away. "Certainly have lessons. Come next Tuesday ten o'clock. If necessary, can come early and wait -- is way not to be late," then he added, and not without malice, "unless you too busy to wait for Master."
The following Tuesday I was there by quarter past nine. He came out of his room as I was about to knock -- a few minutes before ten -- smiled and told me he was glad I was on time. Then he asked me how long I had been there. I told him, and he shook his head, irritated. "I tell last week," he said, "that if not busy can come early and wait. I not tell to waste almost hour of time. Now we go." He told me to get a thermos bottle of coffee from the kitchen and to meet him at his car.
We drove a very short distance on a narrow, lightly traveled road, and Gurdjieff stopped the car. We descended and he told me to bring the coffee with me, and went to sit on a fallen tree near the edge of the road. He had stopped a hundred yards or so beyond a group of workmen who were laying a stone water-ditch at the side of the road. Their work consisted in bringing stones from either one of two large piles at the side of the road, carrying them to the unfinished section of the ditch, where other men were placing them in the dirt. We watched them silently, while Gurdjieff drank coffee and smoked, but said nothing to me. After a long time, at least half an hour, I finally asked him when the lesson would begin.
He looked at me with a tolerant smile. "Lesson begin at ten o'clock," he said. "What you see? Notice anything?"
I said that I had been watching the men, and that the only unusual thing I had noticed was that one of the men always went to the pile that was furthest from the actual work "Why you think he do this?"
I said I didn't know but that he seemed to be making work for himself because he had to carry the heavy stones further each time. He could just as easily have gone to the nearer pile of rock.
"Is true." Gurdjieff then said, "but must always look at all sides before make judgment. This man also have pleasant short promenade in shade along road when he return for next stone. Also, he not stupid. In one day he not carry so many stones. Always logical reason why people do thing certain way; necessary find all possible reasons before judge people."
Gurdjieff's language, although he paid very little attention to the proper tenses, was always unmistakably clear and definite. He did not say anything more, and I felt that he was, partly by his own concentration, forcing me to observe whatever was going on around me with as much concentration as I could. The rest of the hour went by rapidly, and we returned to the Prieure; he to his writing and I to my housekeeping. I was to return the following Tuesday at the same time for the next lesson. I did not dwell on what I had -- or had not -- learned; I was beginning to understand that "learning" in Gurdjieff's sense did not depend on sudden or obvious results, and that one could not expect any immediate spurts of knowledge or understanding. More and more I began to have the feeling that he scattered knowledge as he lived, oblivious of whether or not it was accepted and put to any use.
The next lesson was completely unlike the first one. He told me to clean the room, everything except making the bed, while he lay in bed. He watched me all the time, making no comment until I made the fire -- it was a rainy, damp summer morning and the room was cold -- and when I had lighted the fire, it smoked relentlessly. I added dry wood, blew on the coals industriously, but with little success. He did not continue to watch my efforts for very long. He got out of bed suddenly, picked up a bottle of Cognac, pushed me to one side, and poured a stream of Cognac on to the small flame; the fire burst out into the room and then settled into a steady flame. Without any comment he then went into his dressing-room and dressed while I made his bed. It was not until he was ready to leave the room that he said, casually: "If want immediate, necessary result, must use any means." Then he smiled. "When I not here, you have time; not necessary use fine old Armagnac."
And that was the end of that lesson. The dressing-room, which he had demolished silently in a few minutes, took me the rest of the morning to clean.