Gurdjieff International Review

Excerpts from the Talks and Writings of

G. I. Gurdjieff

Attention is gained only through conscious labor and intentional suffering, through doing small things voluntarily.1

There Is No Attention in People

Question: How can we gain attention?

Gurdjieff: There is no attention in people. You must aim to acquire this. Self-observation is only possible after acquiring attention. Start on small things.

Question: What small things can we start on? What should we do?

Gurdjieff: Your nervous and restless movements make everyone know ... that you have no authority and are a booby. With these restless movements you cannot be anything. The first thing for you to do is to stop these movements. Make this your aim, your God. Only after this, you can perhaps gain attention.

Another example—an aspiring pianist can never learn except little by little. If you wish to play melodies without first practicing, you can never play real melodies. It is the same with psychological ideas: to gain anything, long practice is necessary.2

A Three Centered Attention

At present you have but one attention, either in the body or the feeling...

The store of attention in the mind (like the electric charge of a battery) is very small, and other parts of the body have no wish to remember.

Those who have tried the so-called “self-remembering” have probably found that, in spite of great efforts and desire, this self-remembering, so understandable to the mind, intellectually so easily possible, is, in actual practice, impossible. And indeed it is impossible.

When we say “remember yourself” we mean yourself. But we ourselves, my “I,” are—my feelings, my body, my sensations. I myself am not my mind, not my thought. Our mind is not us—it is merely a small part of us. It is true that this part has a connection with us, but only a small connection, and so very little material is allotted to it by our organization. If our body and feelings receive for their existence the necessary energy and various elements in the proportion of, say, twenty parts, our mind receives only one part. Our attention is the product evolved from these elements, this material. Our separate parts have different attention; its duration and its power are proportionate to the material received. The part which receives more material has more attention.

Since our mind is fed by less material, its attention, that is, its memory, is short and it is effective only as long as the material for it lasts. Indeed, if we wish (and continue to wish) to remember ourselves only with our mind, we shall be unable to remember ourselves longer than our material allows, no matter how much we may dream about it, no matter how much we may wish it or what measures we take. When this material is spent, our attention vanishes.

It is exactly like an accumulator for lighting purposes. It will make a lamp burn as long as it is charged. When the energy is spent the lamp cannot give any light. The light of the lamp is our memory. This should explain why a man cannot remember himself longer.

It is impossible to install a bigger accumulator or to fill it with a greater amount of energy than it can hold. But it is possible to increase our self-remembering by bringing in other parts with their own accumulators and making them participate in the general work. If this is achieved, all our parts will lend a hand and mutually help one another in keeping the desired general light burning.3


These favorites of yours also then began to have relations towards each other ... and to pay respect to each other only according to the merits personally attained by means of ‘being-Partkdolg-duty,’ that is, by means of personal conscious labors and intentional sufferings.4


But later, when they began existing in a manner more and more unbecoming for three-brained beings and entirely ceased actualizing in their presences their ‘being-Partkdolg-duty,’ foreseen by Great Nature, by means of which alone it is possible for three-brained beings to acquire in their presences the data for coating their said higher-parts—and when, in consequence of all this, the quality of their radiations failed to respond to the demands of the Most Great common-cosmic Trogoautoegocratic process—then Great Nature was compelled ... gradually to actualize the duration of their existence according to ... the principle upon which in general is actualized the duration of existence of one-brained and two-brained beings who have not the same possibilities as the three-brained beings, and who are therefore unable to actualize in their presences, the said—foreseen by Nature—‘Partkdolg duty.’5


In every three-brained being in general, irrespective of the place of his arising and the form of his exterior coating, there can be crystallized data for three independent kinds of being-mentation...

Data for these three kinds of being-Reason are crystallized in the presence of each three-brained being depending upon how much—by means of the ‘being-Partkdolg-duty’—the corresponding higher-being-parts are coated and perfected in them, which should without fail compose their common presences as a whole.6


They have forgotten everything that was essential and always for the same reason: the disappearance from their presences of the practice of actualizing being-Partkdolg-duty, the same disappearance which is the very cause of the gradual deterioration in them of the mentation proper to three-brained beings.7


The results of the persevering actualizing of the striving towards the manifestation of one’s own individuality ... are formed in the presences of three-brained beings in general in all three localizations exclusively only from the results of the actualization of ‘being-Partkdolg-duty,’ that is to say, thanks to those factors which, from the very beginning of the arising of the three-brained beings, our Uni-Being Common Father designed to be the means for self-perfection.8

Active Mentation

I find it necessary to repeat that the ‘active mentation’ in a being and the useful results of such active mentation are in reality actualized exclusively only with the equal-degree functionings of all his three localizations of the results spiritualized in his presence, called ‘thinking-center,’ ‘feeling-center,’ and ‘moving-motor-center.’9

Preparing the Soil

For the conscious developing in oneself of the given impulses inherent only in man, I intend to recommend to you some of those simple exercises which were also previously presented in detail in the program of the Institute founded by me:

It is indispensable first to learn to divide one’s entire attention in three approximately equal parts, and to concentrate each separate part simultaneously for a definite time on three diverse inner or outer “objects.” This exercise from the series for preparing the soil, is performed in reality thus:

First, all one’s attention must be divided approximately into three equal parts; each of these parts must be concentrated on one of the three fingers of the right or the left hand, for instance the forefinger, the third and the fourth, constating in one finger—the result proceeding in it of the organic process called “sensing,” in another—the result of the process called “feeling,” and with the third—making any rhythmical movement and at the same time automatically conducting with the flowing of mental association a sequential or varied manner of counting.

In order to explain to you this very important question, the difference between “sensing” and “feeling,” I shall give you a corresponding definition.

A man “feels”—when what are called the “initiative factors” issue from the “sympathetic nerve nodes,” the chief agglomeration of which is known by the name of “solar plexus” and the whole totality of which functioning, in the terminology long ago established by me, is called the “feeling center”; and the “senses”—when the basis of his “initiative factors” is the totality of what are called “the motor nerve nodes” of the spinal and partly of the head brain, which is called according to this terminology of mine the “moving center.”

For this exercise, first of all it is necessary to learn simultaneously to observe three heterogeneous results proceeding in you, each coming from different sources of the general functioning of your whole presence: namely, one part of this attention of yours should be occupied with the constatation of the proceeding-in-one-finger process of “sensing,” another with the constatation of the proceeding-in-another-finger process of “feeling,” and the third part should follow the counting of the automatic movement of the third finger.

Although this exercise is the most difficult of all the number of exercises composing this series, yet only this exercise may on the one hand correct your errors of the past, and on the other hand prepare all that is required for the future.

And for cognizing its importance and indispensability for you, as well as its real difficulty, it is necessary to do it many, many times. At the beginning you must try all the time only to understand the sense and significance of this exercise, without expecting to obtain any concrete result.

As only an all-round understanding of the sense and significance of this exercise, as well as the ability to carry it out, will perforce make it easier for you to cognize the sense and significance, as well as the carrying out, of all the subsequent exercises which are required for the acquisition of one’s own individuality, I therefore advise you to “mobilize” all your forces and possibilities, in order that you should “be able” for a definite time not to be lazy and at the same time to be, in relation to your weaknesses, quite merciless, because upon this exercise depends your whole subsequent normal life, and all your future possibilities, inherent only in man, according to law.

And so, if you really wish to have in yourself that which alone can distinguish a man from an ordinary animal, that is to say, if you wish to be really such a one to whom Great Nature has given the possibility with the desire, that is, with a desire issuing from all the three separate spiritualized parts and with the conscious striving to transform yourself into a so to say “cultivated soil” for the germination and growth of that upon which lay the hopes and expectations of the creator of everything existing, then you must always and in everything, struggling with the weaknesses that are in you according to law, attain at any cost, first of all, an all-round understanding, and then the practical realization in your presence, of this exercise just elucidated by me, in order to have the chance for a conscious crystallizing in yourself of the data still engendering the three mentioned impulses which must be present obligatorily in the common presence of every man who has the right to call himself a godlike creature.10

Preparing To Have Your Own I

I consider it necessary again to say a little about that specific totality of the results from the general functioning in the human psyche of what is called attention.

Although, in the normal man, this attention in the passive state is also a “something” of proportionately blended results of the corresponding actions of all the three independent automatized parts in his whole individuality, and is always one whole, yet in an active state such a man can consciously concentrate this whole attention of his on anything, either on some part of his common presence or on something outside him, in such a so to say “collectiveness” that all the associations automatically proceeding in him, which being the law-conformable results of the general functioning of his organism must always, as long as he breathes, inevitably proceed, will totally cease to hinder him.

Well then, I am now sitting among you, as you see, and although I am looking at Mr. L. yet I am intentionally directing all my attention, which you are not able to see, on my foot, and consequently any manifestation Mr. L. produces within my field of vision I see only automatically—my attention, which at the present moment is one whole, being in another place.

This whole attention of mine, I now intentionally divide into two equal parts.

The first half I consciously direct to the uninterrupted constatation and continuous sensing of the process proceeding in me of my breathing.

By means of this part of my attention I definitely feel that something takes place in me with the air I breathe.

I first clearly feel that, when I breathe in the air, the greater part, passing through my lungs, goes out again, and the lesser part remains and as it were settles there, and then I feel that this settled part is gradually penetrating inward and is as it were spreading through my whole organism.

In consequence of the fact that only a part of my attention is occupied with the observation of the process of breathing proceeding in me, all the mental, feeling and reflex associations automatically flowing in my common presence still continue to be noticed by the free part of my attention, and hinder that first part of my attention intentionally directed upon a definite object, but already to a much lesser extent.

Now I direct the second half of my attention to my head brain for the purpose of observing and possibly constating any process proceeding in it.

And already I am beginning to feel in it, from the totality of automatically flowing associations, the arising of something very fine, almost imperceptible to me.

I do not know just what this is, nor do I wish to know, but I definitely constate, feel and sense that this is some definite “something” arising from the process automatically proceeding in my head brain of associations of previously consciously perceived impressions.

While this second half of my attention is occupied with the aforesaid, the first half continues all the time uninterruptedly to watch, with so to say “concentrated interest,” the result proceeding from the process of my breathing.

I now consciously direct this second half of my attention and, uninterruptedly “remembering the whole of myself,” I aid this something arising in my head brain to flow directly into my solar plexus. I feel how it flows. I no longer notice any automatic associations proceeding in me.

In spite of the fact that I have done this exercise just now among you for the purpose of illustratively elucidating its details to you, I now begin at the present moment to feel incomparably better than before beginning this demonstrational explanation.

Owing to my “solar plexus” intentionally and directly taking in the law-conformable results of the air I was breathing and the results arising in my head brain of the previously consciously perceived impressions, I feel much more fully that “I am,” “I can,” and “I can wish.”

But you, if you please, do not get too enthusiastic and too animated about my state which you vividly sense and which you also desire to acquire.

This for the time being cannot happen with any of you.

From this exercise of mine which I had to do here among you for the purpose of elucidation, there has been obtained in my common presence a result realistically sensed by all of you because I already have a fully defined subjective I, and the whole totality composing it is already more or less adapted for the results of corresponding impressions and law-conformable regulating.

And therefore this I of mine absorbs this law-conformable food proper to it more intensively.

You, for the time being, must not expect such a definite result from your intentional repetitions of this same exercise.

Do not, for the time being, do this exercise in order to be strong; this also is for you only preparation for at some time having your own I, and at the same time for constating, with indubitable certitude, those two real sources from which this I can arise.

Now, without philosophizing and without your, for you, maleficent discussions, try first of all to understand the totality of all that I have said today, and then do the exercise for yourself, but without any hope or expectation of any definite results.11

Three Totalities of Functioning

The general psyche of every man on reaching maturity ... consists of three totalities of functioning which have almost nothing in common with each other.

The course of action of all three of these independent totalities of functioning in the common presence of a man who has attained maturity takes place simultaneously and incessantly.

The forming of all the factors for the functionings of these three entirely separate totalities of functioning proceeds in people in accordance also with the universal law of “threefoldness.”

For the formation of factors of the first totality, there serve as the “anode beginning,” on the one hand, all kinds of involuntarily perceived outer impressions and, on the other hand, impressions resulting from so-called “all-centered dozing”; and as the “cathode beginning” there serve the results of reflexes of the organism, chiefly of those organs having an hereditary particularity.

For the formation of the factors of the second totality, there serve as the “anode beginning” outer impressions taken in under a certain pressure and having thereby the character of being intentionally implanted from outside, and as the “cathode beginning” the results of the functioning of factors formed from impressions of a similar kind previously perceived.

The factors of the third totality of functionings are formed from the results of “contemplation,” that is, from results received from the “voluntary contact” of the factors of the first two totalities, for which moreover the results of the second totality serve as the “anode beginning” and the results of the first totality serve as the “cathode.”

One of the properties of such an actualization of all three separate totalities of functionings producing the general psyche of man is that which, by combinations of the “voluntary contact” of the actions of these three independent totalities of functioning, causes to proceed in one of them the imprintation of those processes proceeding in the other totalities, as well as those proceeding outside of the given man which happen to fall into the sphere of the subjective action of his organs of perception.

The part of this property found in the common presence of man, ordinarily perceived by people, is that which is called “attention.”

The degree of sensitivity of the manifestation of this property or, as otherwise defined by ancient science, “the strength of embrace” of this “attention” depends entirely upon the so-called “gradation of the total state” of a given man.

For the definition of this property in man, which is called “attention,” there is, by the way, found also in ancient science the following verbal formulation:

the degree of blending of that which is the same in the impulses of observation and constatation in one totality’s processes with that occurring in other totalities.

This above-mentioned “gradation of the total state” of man extends, as science formulates it, from the strongest subjective intensity of “self-sensation” to the greatest established “self-losing.”

That totality always becomes the initiating factor for the realization of a common function of the three separate totalities which represent the general psyche of man in which at the given moment this “gradation of the total state” has its center of gravity.12

~ • ~

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


1 Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, New York: Triangle Editions, 1973, p. 93.

2 Ibid., p. 90. Some sentences and phrases have been removed for brevity.

3 Ibid., pp. 89, 229–233.

4 Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1950, p. 384.

5 Ibid., p. 437–438.

6 Ibid., p. 769–770.

7 Ibid., p. 869–870.

8 Ibid., p. 1167–1168.

9 Ibid., p. 1172.

10 Gurdjieff, Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am, New York: Viking Penguin, 1975, pp. 112116. Some sentences and phrases have been removed for brevity.

11 Ibid., pp. 138–142.

12 Ibid., pp. 144–147.