Gurdjieff International Review

A Letter to Jeanne de Salzmann

René Daumal

Originally published in René Daumal: Letters on the Search for Awakening, 1930–1944, Toron to: Dolmen Meadow Editions, 2010, pp. 261–263, this letter is reprinted here with the kind permission of the publisher.

Pelvoux, August 6, 1943

We received yesterday, Thursday, the transcript[1] of the 22nd and read it last night—and so more than ever I felt as if I was in “Paris” (I say “Paris” as others say Mecca). Your letter helps me very much. How necessary it is to hear oneself repeating, and repeating yet again, everything one thinks one knows!

René Daumal

First I want to respond to your questions:

1) Has my remembering, my sensation of “I am,” changed? It’s very difficult to respond altogether properly. In my ordinary state, I see above all the negative side: I see myself more and more submerged in a sea of identifications and, the more I work, the more I’m assaulted by all the causes of distraction. My ability to remember myself does not, then, seem to me to have changed very much. But that isn’t true. If I reflect—that is to say, if I confront my ordinary state today with my memory of the best moments of work—I see a slight change. I’ve had several moments, rare and brief, when “I am” had a new taste—new, and at the same time it was like returning to something very ancient and deeply concealed, something at the same time painful and quiet—empty and null, and yet sure of itself, which separates itself from the machine for a few moments and prevails over it. At that moment, my attitude toward my body changes completely. I no longer consider it “mine,” as my property over which I have every right, but rather as something confided to me for certain uses, which can be taken from me from one moment to the next without giving me any cause for protest. And at those moments, in fact I wouldn’t protest. It may be this deep reaction in front of the thought of death that gives me the best measure of the small progress I’ve been able to make in the quality of my remembering. But not in duration. Just there, I feel, is the great work that calls for continuity of effort and patience: “to sustain the effort.”

I also see the distance already covered when I compare the meaning of the word “being” some time ago and today. Some time ago, “being” meant “to delight in oneself”: having reached a certain state, to stop to enjoy it and admire oneself (and from there, what a fall!) Now, “being” means rather to fulfill consciously one’s place and function, and that is why I know that I am not; but I know this only when I say “I am.”

2) Concerning my “concentration of thought”—here, too, if there is a change, it’s in the direction of a struggle that is larger, sharper, more frequent; but if the enemy appears to me stronger and more numerous, it may well be a sign that I have a little more force myself. The fact is that during the exercises, or when I reflect, my thought is now cleanly split in two: in those moments the active part no longer blends with the mechanical part; and the latter I sometimes feel to be quite submissive, no longer bothering me with its associations. But here again, the issue is to make it last longer. As soon as the effort is let go, the flow of associations seems to me much worse than before.

What is developing in these days is the taste and need for struggle. An answer of Mr. Gurdjieff’s about the need to go against the body in everything it likes or does not like has recently shown me this more clearly. It’s certain that in my case I can’t apply this rule to the letter (unfortunately, because in times past when I believed I could, it gave me a great deal). But if, under the word “body,” I also include everything that is most mechanical in my functions, an entire field of work opens up. With my intellectual mechanism, in particular, I can apply the rule of thwarting it in everything, of opposing myself to its tics, its manias, its clichés, etc.—in a word, its laziness. It goes without saying that this makes my work as a writer more difficult, but much more interesting and inwardly fruitful.

Yes, I do the exercises, and I shall try to do them better and better, in the spirit you ask: “as a service” and “as one learns a trade.” The work is more and more a work “on myself” rather than a work “for myself.” The greatest satisfactions I now have in my work are the moments when I observe that the “personal” element has become less strong. It’s difficult to say, but I feel very clearly today that “I am” is just the contrary of “I, me, my.”

~ • ~

One of the most gifted French writers in the early part of the 20th century, René Daumal (1908–1944) met Alexandre de Salzmann in 1930 and spent the last 14 years of his life studying the teaching of Gurdjieff.

Copyright © 2012 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 2012 Issue, Vol. XI (1)
Revision: April 1, 2012


[1] Written notes, verbatim or nearly so, were taken at meetings with G. I. Gurdjieff and typed soon afterward.