Gurdjieff International Review

The Struggle To Gather Attention

Louise Welch

You have to find out how to be deeply quiet and attentive without wishing to tamper in any way—to watch, even if something powerful wants to take you in a certain direction. Remain attentive, aware, in touch with your own focus. You can experience and to some degree participate. There is a quality of feeling that comes which is deeply related to this effort.


The question, “Where is my attention now?” relates most intimately to the need to see and know who I am. I watch. I am looking for the truth. Am I this “I” or that “I”? Who am I really? How can I observe? I can only observe what functions, what manifests.

What I can trust, as Mr. Gurdjieff said, are those moments when I think, feel and sense in agreement. It is a different quality of perception then, a moment of awareness. This is moving in the direction of understanding. I must watch. It is watching, not interference, that will produce the chemical change.


I have to begin by knowing why I make the effort. Usually my attention is dispersed in dreams, caught up in little knots throughout the body and mind. Maybe the mind will turn in another direction, and I will have the beginning of control over my attention. Here is where I must begin. I cannot hit myself on the head to stop associations. What I can do is to draw my attention away from where it is caught. The whole struggle is to gather my attention together until I reach a feeling of “I exist.”

There is a struggle between my wish to gather my attention and my body’s wish to go on its way in stupid associative habits. I cannot fight directly, but I can draw my attention away.


To direct our attention: that is the tool we need... See how fragile attention is, and yet it is my only instrument for work on myself.


Work on attention is very necessary. Without attention I do not exist. Collect attention, work for attention, put attention where I wish. It is our work to find a finer attention. This finer attention can come; the machine is made for it.


A whole revision of our ideas about attention is necessary.


By reaching another state of attention I can rise above associations. I must understand what I try to do, and not try to beat my organism into something it cannot do...

I can work to free myself from associations. If I take five or fifteen minutes to struggle, it is to struggle against accidental mechanical associations. Then I begin to have a real valuation of the Work. I see what it might be to think intentionally, but I do not try to stop thoughts.


Always my attention is taken, either by a great cathedral, or by a television, etc. It is taken! But it can be free and be mine.


Now you have no command over your attention; it goes in associations. With directed attention you would sense yourself throughout, and be there, and listen more completely.


We need mirrors and conditions of Work. You and I are conditions of Work. We exist for everybody; they exist for us.


What are my agitations now? Where is my attention now? Who am I now? Hold this long enough to have some impression of myself now. Then, when I have really tasted it, decide to let go.


The attention we speak of moves. I experience it as intensely concentrated, but there is an attention in which everything takes part. Either one loses oneself or the whole self takes part; “extended” is a good way of speaking of it. It is not complete attention, and while connected with the centre of gravity it has threads to the feelings, threads to the thoughts and to the sensations. In such moments I am able to experience myself more as whole. I am my attention.

The feeling of separation of “I” from “myself,’’ for which there are many names, is a valid separation. On the other hand, the element of disconnection emphasizes my feeling of being in parts. I have to see that this is so, but there is a difference between being lost in that and being alive to it. What will bring me closest to the feeling of my whole self? I call on the effort that will bring my attention, my thoughts, feeling and sensation together. When for a moment that fusion takes place, I feel myself as a whole.


In order to carry out a task, I must call on all three centres. This is the only way I will be awake enough.

Find two times in the day when you can be by yourself, really by yourself and be quiet and relaxed. Turn toward your own centre. Turn away from the noise and whirr of the machine, toward your central possibility.

When I put my attention somewhere with seriousness, relaxation takes place; energies tend to take their correct place. I must have many impressions of myself in many different situations. My attention must go where I have decided to put it, on relaxation, on trying to go deeper, to centre myself. No words can express it. It is possible not to be lost in ideas and associations. It is important to gather attention and quiet down, disengaging oneself from tension, from fascinating thoughts, quivering emotions, noises in the street, telephone, the thought that I have something else to do. These concern, rightly, my ordinary life. They have their place. My body knows what it wants, not what I want. I must teach all my parts what I want. This is the necessary taming. I must take hold of my attention and be free of all distraction. I have to die to this distraction for the moment.


Trying to divide attention is an experiment. It is not a state of self-remembering. Self-remembering is a fused or blended attention, the attention of the real mind, the true feeling and the cooperation of the instinctive and moving parts. This is an image of the attention we wish to arrive at...

We were speaking of “I” and “we.” There is a division between what represents “I” and what represents my organism and my functions. In order to study that, we try to divide our attention. This is just one step.

With self-remembering, we speak of the three in one. The one contains three when all are rightly related. Free, true attention, which is one of the faculties that we are struggling for, includes the attention of thought and feeling. It guides the effort. If there is a passion for truth in me, this helps the effort of attention. When I undertake a study of attention, it is true that some dislike will interfere with my attention. That will dissolve into anything, even fatigue. The attention we are looking for has a free quality.

We have to try many experiments. Remember that none of them is a description of self-remembering. All are steps. These are all certain efforts to find yourself. To be free, it has to be an unencumbered attention, not committed to thought or feeling, but including everything.


How do I collect attention? What are my means for that? The more I work, the more is required; and the more is required of a certain level. The energy of attention is different from just being aware. It is the energy of a different gradation of feeling.


In Movements we have enormous help. We have a taste of what it means to be close to attention. How am I going to bring that into my life?


We have to sacrifice some of the out-going attention for inner attention.

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These excerpts are from the recently published book, Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto, Toronto: Traditional Studies Press, 2012, pp. 13, 22–24, 26–31, 80–82, 124, 136, 181. More information on the book can be found at: Photograph by Martha Henrickson, 1984.

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