BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF
WHEN I WENT for my lesson the following morning, Gurdjieff looked very tired. He said that he had been working very hard -- most of the night -- that writing was very hard work. He was still in bed, and he stayed there throughout the lesson. He began by asking me about the exercise that had been given to all of us to do, and which I referred to previously as "self-observation". He said that it was a very difficult exercise to do and that he wanted me to do it, with my entire concentration, as constantly as possible. He also said that the main difficulty with this exercise, as with most exercises that he did -- or would in the future -- give to me or to any of his students, was that to do them properly it was necessary not to expect results. In this specific exercise, what was important was to see oneself, to observe one's mechanical, automatic, reactionary behavior without comment, and without making any attempt to change that behavior. "If change," he said, "then will never see reality. Will only see change. When begin to know self, then change will come, or can make change if wish -- if such change desirable."
He went on to say that his work was not only very difficult, but could also be very dangerous for some people. "This work not for everyone," he said. "For example, if wish to learn to become millionaire, necessary to devote all early life to this aim and no other. If wish to become priest, philosopher, teacher, or businessman, should not come here. Here only teach possibility how become man such as not known in modern times, particularly in western world."
He then asked me to look out of the window and to tell him what I saw. I said that, from that window, all I could see was an oak tree. And what, he asked, was on the oak tree? I told him: acorns.
"How many acorns?"
When I replied, rather uncertainly, that I did not know, he said impatiently: "Not exactly, not ask that. Guess how many!"
I said that I supposed there were several thousand of them.
He agreed and then asked me how many of the acorns would become oak trees. I answered that I supposed only five or six of them would actually develop into trees, if that many.
He nodded. "Perhaps only one, perhaps not even one. Must learn from Nature. Man is also organism. Nature make many acorns, but possibility to become tree exist for only few acorns. Same with man -- many men born, but only few grow. People think this waste, think nature waste. Not so. Rest become fertilizer, go back into earth and create possibility for more acorns, more men, once in while more tree -- more real man. Nature always give -- but only give possibility. To become real oak, or real man, must make effort. You understand this, my work, this Institute, not for fertilizer. For real man, only. But must also understand fertilizer necessary to Nature. Possibility for real tree, real man also depend just this fertilizer."
After a rather long silence, he continued: "In west -- your world -- is belief that man have soul, given by God. Not so. Nothing given by God, only Nature give. And nature only give possibility for soul, not give soul. Must acquire soul through work. But, unlike tree, man have many possibilities. As man now exist he have also possibility grow by accident -- grow wrong way. Man can become many things, not just fertilizer, not just real man: can become what you call 'good' or 'evil', not proper things for man. Real man not good or evil -- real man only conscious, only wish acquire soul for proper development."
I had listened to him, concentrated and straining, and my only feeling -- I was twelve then -- was one of confusion, incomprehension. I sensed and felt the importance of what he was saying, but I did not understand it. As if aware of this (as he surely was), he said: "Think of good and evil like right hand and left hand. Man always have two hands -- two sides of self -- good and evil. One can destroy other. Must have aim to make both hands work together, must acquire third thing: thing that make peace between two hands, between impulse for good and impulse for evil. Man who all 'good' or man who all 'bad' is not whole man, is one-sided. Third thing is conscience; possibility to acquire conscience is already in man when born; this possibility given -- free -- by nature. But is only possibility. Real conscience can only be acquired by work, by learning to understand self first. Even your religion -- western religion -- have this phrase 'Know' thyself'. This phrase most important in all religions. When begin know self already begin have possibility become genuine man. So first thing must learn is know self by this exercise, self-observation. If not do this, then will be like acorn that not become tree -- fertilizer. Fertilizer which go back in ground and become possibility for future man."