Gurdjieff International Review

Developing Attention in Movements

Thomas de Hartmann

After dinner, we had to change quickly from work clothes into city clothes—present-day gymnastic outfits were not then available—and be in the drawing-room by eight o’clock for the Movements. Mr. Gurdjieff invented new, not very complicated exercises, all connected with developing attention. There were, for example, three different simultaneous movements for head, arms and legs, with counting. These marvelous combinations occupied the whole of one’s attention and the mechanical flow of associations ceased to bother one.1

Jeanne de Salzmann

You must constantly divide your attention between something which is higher than yourself and your movement. You always lose yourself in one or the other. As soon as you stop making this effort, you become identified with the movement.

You must consider these Movements as a condition, an exceptional one given to you to work on your attention.

In so dividing your attention, you are filling the place that you can fill. One day you may be capable of more, but today, this is your place.

You do not realize enough that your attention is your only chance. Without it you can do nothing.

Usually you think about your movement, but you do not do it. You maintain your thought on the movement, and then when it is the time to do it you give up, and the movement is done, no matter how, without you.2

Jessmin Howarth

Gurdjieff created scores of exercises, combinations and sequences, mathematically calculated, designed to help sustain attention and to understand what we now call sensation, to provide shocks and new impressions, and to induce initially certain feelings and more collected states...

We realise in the movements that we are rarely awake to our own life—inner and outer. We see that we always react in a habitual and conditioned way; we become aware that our three main centers, head, body, feeling, rarely work together or in harmony. We begin to try to move always intentionally—not mechanically—and we discover in ourselves many hitherto unexpected possibilities. We find that one can collect one’s attention; that one can be awake at times and have an overall sensation of oneself; that a quietness of mind, an awareness of body and an interest of feeling can be brought together and that this results in a more complete state of attentiveness in which the life force is felt and one is sensitive to higher influences. Thus, one has a taste of how life can be lived differently.3

Pauline de Dampierre

Again and again, while making the movement, the pupil tries to return to himself and to remember the direction of his search. He must have a deeper, more relaxed, more sustained attention. He feels the great power of his automatism and discovers that he is much more its prisoner than he thought, because the moment he gives in to it, he is lost. But if this attention is sustained, a new energy appears which is higher and more active, which awakens him to himself. The body relaxes completely and begins to participate in a freer way; a new intelligence accompanies the movement. At that moment, the pupil approaches the “exact doing” of which Gurdjieff spoke... The attention that’s necessary doesn’t come from the mind; it has no name and no form.4

Joanna Haggarty

I need an ever renewed effort, with awareness from my head, to be attentive to my limbs, to the exact posture and to the movement, under the inexorable demand of the rhythm. A living link is produced in which I now become aware of the energies present. In this state, my head can quietly continue to remember sequences and my feelings may also awaken. With awakened feeling, something more durable sustains my attention.

There is no possibility of the more difficult movements being done with the body alone. The need is evident for different inner connections brought about by a finer attention. The required state is higher than the one in which we ordinarily undergo the routine of our lives.5

Paul Reynard

The formal performance of the movements, their external action, is the echo of an inner and more potent current of energy. Through the cyclic repetition of a series of attitudes—like the reiteration of a prayer—the attention is sharpened, setting free energies of different qualities and densities (what the Hindu tradition calls pranas) and allowing them to be related to one another in a new way. The outer motion is initiated through the impulse issued within, no longer from a one-sided attention, but from an embracing vigilance supported by the body, in accord with the feeling, and under the look of the mind: a threefold attention...

When one begins to study the Movements, very quickly what becomes obvious is the weakness of the attention: it has no endurance, no defense against the endless motion of the associations, and it is often unconsciously taken away at the very moment that its full concentration would be needed.6

Henri Thomasson

At first the only problem that arises in working on the movements is the establishment of the correct posture and the succession of gestures and displacements that go with it. At this stage, the attention must be focused on the parts of the body that have to perform the various movements, either simultaneously or in rapid succession. This is difficult enough, but soon another effort is needed—the turning of the most refined quality of attention one can achieve towards the sensation of oneself as a whole. For a long time one’s approach to this additional demand cannot but be very clumsy. Nevertheless, the double effort of attention does sometimes appear, bringing with it a fleeting taste of liberty which, however short its duration, is so unforgettable that it is eagerly sought for again.

Once this kind of work begins to be possible, the movements are no longer controlled by reference to a mental image alone—they depend on the acute sensation of oneself that springs from this more active level of attention. One can say now that the movement is made through and not by me. This changes everything.7

Stafford Ordahl

The written music ... must be played as if I don’t know what’s coming, trusting “something else” to inform my playing.

So, I am in front of a great paradox. The music is coming from me, but I’m not “doing” it. I have to be relaxed, and at the same time, I have to be very much there, attending to what needs my attention: the class, the sound, the Movement.

As Madame de Salzmann once said, “You can’t do it, but it won’t be done without you.”8

G. I. Gurdjieff

One thing is important: while performing all the given external tasks to the accompaniment of music, you must learn from the beginning not to pay attention to the music but to listen to it automatically. At first, attention will stray to the music from time to time, but later it will be possible to listen to music and other things entirely with automatic attention, the nature of which is different.

It is important to learn to distinguish this attention from mechanical attention. As long as the two attentions are not separated from one another they remain so alike that an ignorant person is unable to distinguish between them. Full, deep, highly concentrated attention makes it possible to separate the one from the other. Learn to know the difference between these two kinds of attention by taste in order to discriminate between our incoming thoughts, information on one side and differentiation on the other.9

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Copyright © 2013 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 2013 Issue, Vol. XII (1)
Revision: November 1, 2013


1 Thomas & Olga de Hartmann, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff, Idaho: Sandpoint Press, 2008, p. 172.

2 Gurdjieff International Review, Vol. V No. 1, Spring 2002, p. 73.

3 Ibid., p. 39.

4 Ibid., pp. 44–45.

5 Ibid., p. 65.

6 Ibid., pp. 54–55.

7 Ibid., p. 51.

8 Ibid., p. 70.

9 G. I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, New York: Triangle Editions, 1973, p. 228.