Gurdjieff International Review

Renewal: Rediscovering the Truth at Each Moment

An Interview with Alexandre de Salzmann

September 16, 2012, in Paris at Gurdjieff’s apartment on Rue des Colonels Renard. Alexandre de Salzmann is a medical doctor, son of Michel de Salzmann and grandson of Jeanne de Salzmann. Before Gurdjieff died in 1949, he directed Jeanne de Salzmann to carry on the teaching of the Fourth Way and to regroup the students who were directly guided by Gurdjieff. Later, Michel de Salzmann was the leader of those groups and supported the teaching so that it could continue. It was in this environment that Alexandre de Salzmann was born and raised. Today he continues his search at the Gurdjieff Institute in Paris. Ana Maria Wangeman, Alfredo Molano and Gladys Jimeno are participants in the Gurdjieff teaching. Ana Maria lives in Paris. Alfredo and Gladys live in Bogota, Colombia.

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Gladys: Alexandre, you were born into a family that we recognize as being at the center of the Work and the transmission of Gurdjieff’s teaching in our time. How did you, as an individual, become connected to the Work?

Alexandre: That is true; I was nurtured by this family and have received their influence since my earliest childhood. From my infancy and through adolescence I accompanied my father, mother and grandmother everywhere. But after spending some time in foreign countries for my studies, there was a clear moment when I knew I had to take a step forward to become part of a group. I knew it was really up to me to do something; I could not always depend on my family. But I cannot say that I had to search because everything was there, everything was given to me. It’s as if I had matured in a propitious milieu.

Alfredo: What is the balance between that which you have been given and what you have been searching for?

Alexandre: There is no way of knowing whether or not I would have searched for anything without their presence in my life. That is why I say everything was given to me, but when I began to understand better what it was all about, my search really began.

Gladys: How did you live that daily influence you received from your grandmother and father?

Alexandre: In a very natural way. Being with such incredible people formed part of my life. I didn’t notice anything special until I saw the outside world and made a comparison. Before that everything was very normal. Sometimes I would have friends come over who were not connected to the Work and my grandmother would talk about spiritual things. Nothing changed for her. I would look at my friends out of the corner of my eye to see their reactions. For me it was absolutely natural. Simply living with my family immediately showed me something that wasn’t theoretical about presence because they embodied it completely. Thus, I received that influence before I learned about the ideas. I felt it directly from them. It’s an extraordinary gift.

Gladys: And how fortunate!

Alexandre: Yes, that is why, in the presence of children, it is important to simply be in a certain relationship with oneself. Such a gift during one’s childhood is priceless.

Gladys: Children whose parents are in the Work do not necessarily carry on with the teaching, even though they know about their parents’ practice. And as you say, that happens when something which has been received grows, then manifests, but this only happens in some cases.

Alexandre: Perhaps this doesn’t happen because at some moment the children reacted. They reacted because often the parents were absent or could not convey something despite their intentions. Perhaps the parents tried to transmit something about the ideas and not by their way of being. Parents and family members must be very careful in this regard, and, at the same time, make their children feel during those times they are away, that it is for a really important reason. But that would require that when they are there with them they are really there! Anyway, is it a necessity to bring one’s children to the Work? In reality you never know. It is as if a seed planted in them will grow—or not. In any case, it is clear that coming to this search is an intimate process, a need that manifests itself.

Alfredo: Can an influence be received without working? How and what does it depend on? Is it the example from the elders? Is it unconscious? Is it a gift? What value does it have?

Alexandre: I think that influence happens more through the subconscious in infancy and, although it continues afterward, there is a vital need for conscious work to take place. Without conscious work “foods” will not combine in us in the same way; there would be no change in quality. This is the value of the Work.

Alfredo: In the affectionate relationship you had with your family was there something that connected you specifically to the Work?

Alexandre: A thousand times over! It is true that at the beginning it is always mixed. If you love your parents you want to do as they do, be with them, please them, etc. In my case I was also fortunate to be separated from them during my studies, so there was a distance. Otherwise I would not have taken a certain step when I returned.

In regard to what I said about living with them, there is also that which they made me experience intentionally. This I realized later in life. They created conditions in my life so I could see, feel and hear certain things. But the principal thing was Being, their Being—in a direct way. It was always very impressive. The only important thing ... with love.

Alfredo: Was there a moment when you realized that connection with your Being?

Alexandre: No, because it came gradually, from my infancy. There wasn’t a moment that I suddenly realized it. It came through gentle impressions, little by little. On my part, sometimes I felt what it was to be alive by their side, and I was touched by it. I don’t know exactly when it began. But I do remember a precise moment when as a child I decided to remain quiet, without moving, sitting straight, during the January 13th celebration. We had just participated in a very small Movements demonstration. The elders welcomed us. We were seated in a room and I felt their gazes without any pressure. I realized that I needed to be there and perceive what it was to really be there. I remember that experience of not moving during one or two hours.

Alfredo: Would it be possible to become part of the Work just by watching, attending, for example, a Movements class or demonstration?

Alexandre: Yes, if something has been awakened in oneself at a certain moment it may be dormant, or more or less hidden. Then that something can recognize the quality of the attention which is present during a demonstration, and one says to oneself, “This is what I am seeking!”

Alfredo: You have lived the Work within the context of your family, but now you are the representative and the embodiment of the Teaching. How heavy is that responsibility? How do you live that, and how did you begin to live that?

Alexandre: I do not feel the weight because I am part of a group. Today, it is not just one person who embodies this influence. There is a small group of people and being with them, working with them, I participate. I don’t feel I am the only representative of this current. I am one among them. In fact, I am one of the youngest. I don’t have any pretentions. The responsibility is shared, so I don’t feel the weight on my shoulders today. I see the difference in scale between what I am and what my father, my grandmother and Mr. Gurdjieff were. Today this feeling of participation is what matters. What is most difficult is to not bring the Work down to one’s own level, to one’s own understanding. That is really terrible. There is no one who can say, “I represent this current, I have the responsibility.” That would be too big. In fact, maybe this current is even destined to go underground at a certain moment. I don’t know. We are told the forms are given for a certain time and they can change. Then perhaps I will have another role. But we are certainly in a difficult period—in transition, a passage.

Alfredo: Are you suggesting that no one person alone should take the responsibility, rather that the responsibility falls on a group?

Alexandre: There are different sides to this question: there is the need to have a leader, there is the ambition, or simply the ego, of certain people. I think that within a group of human beings there is the question of recognizing the person who leads. And if some do not acknowledge that person problems begin. I think that authority naturally becomes clear and everyone can recognize it when it comes from the total embodiment of the Teaching.

Gladys: Referring to what you said about the Fourth Way going underground, when could that happen? It is difficult to have an objective criterion, to demonstrate that this Way has completed its mission or has brought to the present consciousness or the world what it had to contribute and should disappear. Or, if it did not meet the demand or contribute anything, it should disappear as well. How can we look at this in a way that is useful to us?

Alexandre: You would have to know the aim of the Way to say whether it has completed its mission or not. In any case, to go underground does not mean to disappear. This can happen due to external conditions: too many misunderstandings, lack of understanding in the environment in which we live or because of inner conditions, the loss of general force ... then a need for re-concentration appears.

Gladys: During my visit here in France, I have been very touched by this center of great force and energy. I have felt a profound closeness to the source of the Work—a feeling which has been nourished by a trip to the Gurdjieff Institute, to Gurdjieff’s apartment, the cemetery and the Prieuré de Avon. Forms may change, or instead of one person, a group may lead the way. Alexandre, you just said we are in a transition, in difficult times. How can we face these changes, this time of transition in the Work?

Alexandre: Yes, we are fortunate to have elders in Paris who still transmit a vibration that emanates directly from the source. To face the changes when one day they are no longer here will demand a total engagement but not a heroic engagement—instead an intimate, almost secretive, engagement. This is the only approach that can support this greatness. If not, one is taken by a “need to manifest,” and one gets lost in the meanderings of the ego, which is always ready to participate in a far more “active” way.

But when one has been deeply touched by a Work idea, one carries it—it can be lived within, in a strong way and shared with others, but perhaps not necessarily in the most external way.

It is very important to respect what has been given without adding anything, without deviations. Yet, this is inevitable. When I speak I am going to introduce something that passed through me; if I am honestly capable of letting it pass through me, then what I say may be a little more personal. But it won’t be a deviation, as long as at each moment I ask, “Am I true to the source?” Then the transition to the next generation will take place as it should, with confidence in the Way. Then we can become involved with the heart of the Work without being consumed by anxiety, and that leaves room for vigilance.

Gladys: The current of the Fourth Way is spreading; there are more countries, more groups in the world and more “trends” as well. Is the expansion of the Work necessary for the Teaching to reach many cultures and everyone’s general consciousness?

Alexandre: That is a difficult question because it is true that the Teaching could, should have an effect because there is a need in humanity. But when you realize what the Teaching really means and the difficulty it represents, you see that it is impossible for everybody to accept it. Of course one can read marvelous things and dream of working, but what is important is to have a nucleus that works as profoundly as possible in order for something to be maintained—something that is alive and circulates among them, each one with his ego but not directed by it. This is a necessary movement that needs to exist simultaneously with the movement of expansion.

Alfredo: With the groups expanding, isn’t there a possibility that the essential is diluted?

Alexandre: Without question, but that is only a part. It isn’t the essential. The essential is what is lived internally, what one is searching for. The material is there, everything is there to help us. If there is a moment when each of us deeply feels the importance of a true inner relationship and the need to renew it for our own life, the current is maintained and can even evolve. Otherwise it descends.

That descent corresponds to an inevitable law—the force of the initial impulse weakens. This is why the renewal of this force is necessary at every moment. The fall that you are speaking about is a dilution where the essential is forgotten. In that case it is already too late.

Gladys: What you just said is something we have to feel in the Work and feel how important it is for ourselves as well. If we don’t there is no life, no transformation of Being. Because the ultimate aim of the Work is not just about my life. Where are we headed?

Alexandre: That’s right, it’s not for me. My father always said, “The Work is not for me.” One is disturbed by that thought. But if one tries to understand it in another way, I mean if we understand that, there is another nature within us that participates in another dimension—something universal. The Work exists for that nature. The attention is the element that allows the relation with that other nature. That is why the Work exists.

Gladys: An attention of another kind.

Alexandre: Yes, it is the only thing, the only thing we have to reconnect, to open inward as well as toward something higher, in both directions.

Gladys: To what other nature are you referring? Is it a part of us, a part of our search? Are we a part of it, with a small seed within that lets us reconnect and self-remember?

Alexandre: The Teaching tells us that we have two natures, animal and spiritual, but they ignore each other. Our work is really to live in the presence of the two natures. That presence becomes our “real nature,” the one for which the Work exists.

Gladys: You said we need to always renew a real inner relationship with ourselves as a foundation, related to trying to keep the inner work’s current alive, without declining or being diluted or getting lost due to the law of falling when the original impulse weakens. Could you tell me about that renewal that we must attend to in our work and in our search for Being?

Alexandre: It is simply not to fall asleep in the certainties that we believe we have understood—“once and for all!” Renewing is living the fact that truth cannot be captured and locked up in one of our mental boxes, but it must be rediscovered at every moment. It is accepting to stay on the razor’s edge in search of an unsteady balance.

Alfredo: Is it possible to identify that true inner relation of which you speak that the Work gives us?

Alexandre: We are told that we are fragmented, cut off from our bodies, from our feelings, despite the fact that we play sports or feel emotions!

But while we are speaking, we can open ourselves to the presence of our body and feel the life circulating within us without creating obstacles. Then our mind engages with the body. This relation has the capacity to calm the mental associations a little, and if it deepens—or on the contrary, if we see it is so fragile—that touches us, the feeling opens and we sense life circulating in us. For an instant we are connected. Gurdjieff would say, “all-brained-balanced.” We can at least go toward that.

Alfredo: Why can’t any teaching become universal without becoming political?

Alexandre: For me, to be universal is to conform to the laws and to be true everywhere. I understand what you mean, “To go into the world,” the “exoteric” circle, and inside that circle the law is politics. We cannot escape the laws of a level unless we come under the influence of laws from a higher level that includes the lower one.

Alfredo: What role does suffering play in this relationship?


Alexandre: It is central, but I could not and would not want to explain why. Because every one of us must experiment with this very strange idea that suffering is necessary. The only way is to live it and see what it would really be like to suffer in a manner that is different from this passive way of enduring, a way we know so well. Often in the Work, this may be too superficially understood, almost a caricature—“One must make efforts, push oneself a little, force oneself, and suffer in that way.” It is so difficult to understand the kind of suffering that lightens the burden that is inherent in my ordinary understanding. Nonetheless, an effort is needed, because the result of the friction that suffering brings produces the necessary substance.

Voluntary suffering, conscious suffering, is like the essential vibration of life. It doesn’t mean perpetual pain; but simply the involvement of an energy, a force as my grandmother would say, a vital energy and its perception. Then I can participate in this movement. That is why illness, for example, is a blessing because it provides something that helps us to live in a different way than for our own satisfaction, habitual pleasures and vanity. It provides something that puts all this into question and frees us. That is why this suffering can be welcomed and lived in another way.

Gladys: Ill-health and old age put vanity in its place. My question is: What are we?

Alexandre: We are alive! But we forget. Whatever helps us to be aware of the fact that we are alive, this extraordinary fact that we are living, is welcomed ... even if life is not always a bed of roses.

It is true, when we see young people we see what we were. We cannot lament our youth when we speak about old age because it was a full life, many things happened. We had that time; we lived those hours, those days, those years. At certain times we had a taste of these days, but at other times life passed us by.

So at every moment the possibility to accept is given. This is not theory. Nor is it an obligation. It is a proposal to live one’s life in that way. In other words, if I accept old age—acceptance is an approach—then I can live it, I can even feel its benefits. Perhaps the greatest acceptance is of death, but I need to see that if I refuse anything, then I block something in my life, I absolutely prevent a circulation. That is why most psychological disorders are fixations, rejection and non-acceptance. It is not always easy.

In a group one day a young man said, “I prefer to say ‘assume,’ because to accept is not always appropriate, there are unacceptable things.” So the word “assume” helped him to understand that he was concerned, and through this he was able to accept.

Gladys: We are always going against the current of life. And as we live we react because of sleep. We are always reacting, trying to make life stop. It is not easy to open oneself, to assume and accept that it is I who lives my life such as it is. Each stage is different. The challenges to consciousness are also changing with these stages of life and the Work. I understand what Mr. Gurdjieff said, that in order to develop on the spiritual path ordinary efforts are not enough. Super-efforts are needed. It is not about having to make one or many heroic efforts; it is about staying in front, being aware, a little more, with the effort that one is making at that moment.

Alexandre: Yes, that is the decisive moment, “a little more.” We are at the threshold. We are either helpless in the face of the forces of life or we catch a glimpse of the Way, and have a foretaste of the greatness of the Work which helps us not to linger over the small details that otherwise would hold us back, imprisoning us in partial understandings, a narrow view of what should be done.

If I forget this greatness that sheds light on me, I am leaning toward the technical, which does not correspond to that necessary opening. But if I am really touched by that dimension beyond me, then I do not want to get lost in the details. They are taken into account, but it is not the important matter. I am a prisoner of those images, for example, that one has to climb the ladder, that it is necessary to accomplish certain things to gain access to another level. All that is put into doubt by the true question, “Am I doing everything necessary in order to be, now, in order to live more consciously?”

Alfredo: Is that moment you referred to, “this greatness that sheds light on me,” is it a glimpse and a level of work from which one does not return?

Alexandre: I don’t know. Maybe one has to feel what it is to be in darkness in order to try to call the light, to be lost in the details in order to feel the need for clarity—to see the whole, the essential.

Ana Maria: It seems to me there is a life, a rhythm of life.

Alexandre: Yes.

Ana Maria: A rhythm within my capacity to relate to something else; at times I accept this rhythm.

Alexandre: And you can’t go against it. It is useless to try.

Ana Maria: Being able to profoundly connect with myself brings a different rhythm.

Alexandre: It is an objective rhythm.

Ana Maria: It’s not a small effort, “Now I am lost, I will try to return to myself, I don’t know how.”

Alexandre: That’s it. The question is to be sensitive enough to be able to sense that rhythm and go with it. There comes a time when one has to stop or change, like breathing. Any rigidity prevents seeing this because we have an idea and we want to follow it—we believe we have to do this or that. Then we follow this idea and we forget to feel the rhythm that you were speaking about.

Alfredo: What could be the objective rhythm of the Work, the persistence of moments of lucidity, of presence?

Alexandre: Simply, it is like a gathering. There is a time to be serious, a time to laugh together, then eat, sleep, etc. The right moment or moments can be felt by those who are aware of themselves and sensitive to the need, to the rhythm.

Gladys: The Work is becoming simpler without planning it, no need to look for a line, no need to struggle against or be obsessed by an idea.

Alexandre: At times we need to struggle, but it is not an end in itself. The problem is we forget that and then we say the Work is this, and we no longer know what “it” is!

Gladys: How can I keep the remembrance of myself and not lose the sensation, the feeling of the greatness of the Work, so it doesn’t become just one more idea, but it is a real feeling?

Alexandre: This greatness appears to me when the terrain is not occupied by mental agitations. All that I have to do is remember that I sometimes have to let the mental box of ideas be quiet and then the other dimension can immediately appear. For example, at times there is a small space between two ideas that is difficult to open, but it is always there, always possible, because it is a real space—although at times it seems virtual!

Alfredo: Remembering oneself is not the memory.

Alexandre: Yes. Memory is on a certain level. For example we say, “When an old man dies a library burns down.” But on another level my grandmother said, “The repertoire of the known can only take me to the known.” In fact the main challenge is staying in front of the unknown.

And that allows the silence to enter.

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Previously published in both Spanish and French in Revista Ojodeagua, No. 34, Bogotá-Colombia, 2013 and republished here with the kind permission of the editor Gladys Jimeno. English translation by Linda Avila, Bert Webber, Pemala Mejia, Nina Rosen, Liliana Fisher, and Kevin Langdon.

Copyright © 2016 Alexandre de Salzmann
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