excerpt from Gurdjieff’s “Views from the Real World”
Man is subject to many influences, which can be divided into two categories. First, those which result from chemical and physical causes, and second, those which are associative in ori- gin and are a result of our conditioning.
Chemico-physical influences are material in nature and re- sult from the mixture of two substances which produce some- thing new. They arise independently of us. They act from without.
For example, someone’s emanations may combine with mine —the mixture produces something new. And this is true not only of external emanations; the same thing also happens in- side a man.
You perhaps have noticed that you feel at ease or ill at ease when someone is sitting close to you. When there is no accord, we feel ill at ease.
Each man has different kinds of emanations, with their own laws, allowing of various combinations.
Emanations of one center form various combinations with emanations of another center. This kind of combination is chemical. Emanations vary, even depending on whether I had tea or coffee.
Associative influences are quite different. If someone pushes me or weeps, the resulting action on me is mechanical. It touches off some memory and this memory or association gives rise in me to other associations, and so on. Owing to this shock my feelings, my thoughts change. Such a process is not chemi- cal but mechanical.
These two kinds of influences come from things that are near to us. But there are also other influences which come from big things, from the earth, from the planets and from the sun, where laws of a different order operate. At the same time there are many influences of these great entities which cannot reach us if we are wholly under the influence of small things.
First, to speak about chemico-physical influences. I said that man has several centers. I spoke about the carriage, the horse and the driver, and also about the shafts, the reins and the ether. Everything has its emanations and its atmosphere. The nature of each atmosphere is different from others because each has a different origin, each has different properties, and a different content. They are similar to one another, but the vi- brations of their matter differ.
The carriage, our body, has an atmosphere with its own spe- cial properties.
My feelings also produce an atmosphere, the emanations of which may go a long way.
When I think as a result of my associations, the result is em- anations of a third kind.
When there is a passenger instead of an empty place in the carriage, emanations are also different, distinct from the ema- nations of the driver. The passenger is not a country bumpkin; he thinks of philosophy and not about whiskey.
Thus every man may have four kinds of emanations, but not necessarily. Of some emanations he may have more, of others less. People are different in this respect; and one and the same man may also be different at different times. I had coffee but he hadn’t—the atmosphere is different. I smoke but she sighs. There is always interaction, at times bad for me, at other
times good. Every minute I am this or that, and around me it is so or so. And the influences inside me also vary. I can change nothing. I am a slave. These influences I call chemico- physical.
Associative influences, on the other hand, are quite different. Let us take first the associative influences on me of “form.” Form influences me. I am accustomed to see a particular form, and when it is absent I am afraid. Form gives the initial shock to my associations. For example, beauty is also form. In reality we cannot see form as it is, we only see an image.
The second of these associative influences is my feelings, my sympathies or antipathies.
Your feelings affect me, my feelings react correspondingly. But sometimes it happens the other way round. It depends on the combinations. Either you influence me or I influence you. This influence may be called “relationship.”
The third of these associative influences may be called “persuasion” or “suggestion.” For example, one man persuades another with words. One persuades you, you persuade another. Everybody persuades, everybody suggests.
The fourth of these associative influences is the superiority of one man over another. Here there may be no influence of form or feeling. You may know that a given man is more clever, wealthier, can talk about certain things; in a word, possesses something special, some authority. This affects you because it is superior to you, and it happens without any feelings.
So these are eight kinds of influences. Half of them are chemico-physical, the other half associative.
In addition there exist other influences which affect us most seriously. Every moment of our life, every feeling and thought is colored by planetary influences. To these influences also we are slaves.
I shall dwell only briefly on this aspect and shall then return to the main subject. Don’t forget what we have been speaking about. Most people are inconsistent and constantly stray from the subject.
The earth and all other planets are in constant motion, each with a different velocity. Sometimes they approach one another, at other times they recede from one another. Their mutual interaction is thus intensified or weakened, or even ceases altogether. Generally speaking, planetary influences on the earth alternate: now one planet acts, now another, now a third, and so on. Some day we shall examine the influence of each planet separately, but at present, in order to give you a general idea, we shall take them in their totality.
Schematically we can picture these influences in the following way. Imagine a big wheel, hanging upright above the earth, with seven or nine enormous colored spotlights fixed round the rim. The wheel revolves, and the light of now one and now another projector is directed toward the earth—thus the earth is always colored by the light of the particular projector which illuminates it at a given moment.
All beings born on earth are colored by the light prevailing at the moment of birth, and keep this color throughout life. Just as no effect can be without cause, so no cause can be without effect. And indeed planets have a tremendous influence both on the life of mankind in general and on the life of every individual man. It is a great mistake of modern science not to recognize this influence. On the other hand this influ- ence is not so great as modern “astrologers” would have us be- lieve.
Man is a product of the interaction of three kinds of matter: positive (atmosphere of the earth), negative (minerals, metals) and a third combination, planetary influences, which comes from outside and meets these two matters. This neutralizing force is the planetary influence which colors each newly born life. This coloring remains for the whole of its existence. If the color was red, then when this life meets with red it feels in correspondence with it.
Certain combinations of colors have a calming effect, others a disturbing effect. Each color has its own peculiar property. There is a law in this; it depends on chemical differences. There are, so to speak, congenial and uncongenial combinations. For instance, red stimulates anger, blue awakens love. Pugnacity corresponds to yellow. Thus if I am apt to lose my temper suddenly, this is due to the influence of the planets.
It does not mean that you or I are actually like that, but we may be. There may be stronger influences. Sometimes another influence acts from within and prevents you from feeling the external influence; you may have such a strong preoccupation that you are, as it were, encased in armor. And this is so not only with planetary influences. Often a distant influence cannot reach you. The more remote the influence, the weaker it is. And even if it were specially sent to you, it might not reach you because your armor would prevent it.
The more developed a man is, the more he is subject to influences. Sometimes, wishing to free ourselves from influences, we get free of one and fall under many others and so become even less free, even more slaves.
We have spoken of nine influences.
Always everything influences us. Every thought, feeling, movement is a result of one or another influence. Everything we do, all our manifestations are what they are because some- thing influences us from without. Sometimes this slavery hu- miliates us, sometimes not; it depends on what we like. We are also under many influences which we share in common with animals. We may want to get free from one or two, but having got free of them we may acquire another ten. On the other hand we do have some choice, that is, we can keep some and free ourselves of others. It is possible to become free of two kinds of influences.
To free oneself of chemico-physical influences, one has to be passive. I repeat, these are the influences which are due to the emanations of the atmosphere of the body, of feeling, of thought, and in some people also of ether. To be able to resist these influences one has to be passive. Then one can become a little freer of them. The law of attraction operates here. Like attracts like. That is, everything goes toward the place where there is more of the same kind. To him who has much, more is given. From him who has little, even that is taken away.
If I am calm, my emanations are heavy so other emanations come to me and I can absorb them, as much as I have room for. But if I am agitated I have not enough emanations, for they are going out to others.
If emanations come to me, they occupy empty places, for they are necessary where there is a vacuum.
Emanations remain where there is calm, where there is no friction, where there is an empty place. If there is no room, if everything is full, emanations may hit against me but they re- bound or pass by. If I am calm, I have an empty place so I can receive them; but if I am full they do not trouble me. So I am ensured in either case.
To become free of influences of the second, that is, the asso- ciative kind, requires an artificial struggle. Here the law of re- pulsion acts. This law consists in the fact that where there is little, more is added, that is, it is the reverse of the first law. With influences of this kind everything proceeds according to the law of repulsion.
So for freeing oneself from influences there are two separate principles for the two different kinds of influences. If you want to be free you must know which principle to apply in every particular case. If you apply repulsion where attraction is needed, you will be lost. Many do the reverse of what is re- quired. It is very easy to discriminate between these two influ- ences; it can be done at once.
In the case of other influences one has to know a great deal. But these two kinds of influences are simple; everyone, if he takes the trouble to look, can see what kind of influence it is. But some people, although they know that emanations exist, don’t know the difference between them. Yet, it is easy to distinguish emanations if one observes them closely. It is very interesting to embark upon such a study; every day one obtains greater results, one acquires a taste for discrimination. But it is very difficult to explain it theoretically.
It is impossible to obtain a result immediately, and become free from these influences at once. But study and discrimination are possible for everyone.
Change is a distant goal, requiring much time and labor. But study does not take much time. Still, if you prepare yourselves for the change, it will be less difficult, you won’t need to waste time on discrimination.
To study the second or associative kind of influence is easier in practice. For instance, take influence through form. Either you or I influence the other. But form is external: movements, clothes, cleanliness or otherwise- what is generally called the “mask.” If you understand, you can easily change it. For exam- ple, he likes you in black and, through that, you can influence him. Or she can influence you. But do you wish to change your dress only for him or for many? Some want to do it only for him, others not. Sometimes a compromise is necessary.
Never take anything literally. I say this only as an example.
As regards the second kind of associative influence, what we have called feeling and relationship, we should know that the attitude of others toward us depends on us. In order to live intelligently, it is very important to understand that the responsibility for almost every good or bad feeling lies in you, in your outer and inner attitude. The attitude of other people often reflects your own attitude: you begin and the other person does the same. You love, she loves. You are cross, she is cross. It is a law—you receive what you give.
But sometimes it is different. Sometimes one should love one and not love another. Sometimes if you like her she does not like you, but as soon as you cease to like her she begins to like you. This is due to chemico-physical laws.
Everything is the result of three forces: everywhere there is affirmation and negation, cathode and anode, Man, earth, everything is like a magnet. The difference is only in the quantity of emanations. Everywhere two forces are at work, one attracting, another repelling. As I said, man is also a magnet. The right hand pushes, the left hand pulls, or vice versa. Some things have many emanations, some less, but everything at- tracts or repels. Always there is push and pull, or pull and push. When you have your push and pull well-balanced with another, then you have love and right adjustment. Therefore results may be very different. If I push and he pulls correspondingly, or if the same thing is done not correspondingly, the result is different. Sometimes both he and I repulse. If there is a certain correspondence, the resulting influence is calming. If not, it is the reverse.
One thing depends on another. For instance, I cannot be calm; I push and he pulls. Or I cannot be calm if I cannot alter the situation. But we can attempt some adjustment. There is a law that after a push there is a pause. We can use this pause if we can prolong it and not rush forward to the next push. If we can be quiet, then we can take advantage of the vibrations which follow a push.
Everyone can stop for there is a law that everything moves only so long as momentum lasts. Then it stops. Either he or I can stop it. Everything happens in this way. A shock to the brain, and vibrations start. Vibrations go on by momentum, similar to rings on the surface of water if a stone is thrown in. If the impact is strong, a long time elapses before the move- ment subsides. The same happens with vibrations in the brain. If I don’t continue to give shocks, they stop, quiet down. One should learn to stop them.
If I act consciously, the interaction will be conscious. If I act unconsciously, everything will be the result of what I am sending out.
I affirm something; then he begins to deny it. I say this is black; he knows it is black but is inclined to argue and begins to assert that it is white. If I deliberately agree with him, he will turn around and affirm what he denied before. He cannot agree because every shock provokes in him the opposite. If he grows tired he may agree externally, but not internally. For example, I see you, I like your face. This new shock, stronger than the conversation, makes me agree externally. Sometimes you already believe but you continue to argue.
It is very interesting to observe other people’s conversation, if one is oneself out of it. It is much more interesting than the cinema. Sometimes two people speak of the same thing: one affirms something, another does not understand, but argues, although he is of the same opinion.
Everything is mechanical.
About relationships, it can be formulated like this: our exter- nal relationships depend on us. We can change them if we take the necessary measures.
The third kind of influence, suggestion, is very powerful. Every person is under the influence of suggestion; one person suggests to another. Many suggestions occur very easily, especially if we don’t know that we are being exposed to sugges- tion. But even if we do know, suggestions penetrate.
It is very important to understand one law. As a rule, at every moment of our life only one center works in us—either mind or feeling. Our feeling is of one kind when another cen- ter is not looking on, when the ability to criticize is absent. By itself a center has no consciousness, no memory; it is a chunk of a particular kind of meat without salt, an organ, a certain combination of substances which merely possesses a special capacity of recording.
Indeed it greatly resembles the coating of a recording tape. If I say something to it, it can later repeat it. It is completely mechanical, organically mechanical. All centers differ slightly as to their substance, but their properties are the same.
Now, if I say to one center that you are beautiful, it believes it. If I tell it that this is red—it also believes. But it does not understand—its understanding is quite subjective. Later, if I
ask it a question, it repeats in reply what I have said. It will not change in a hundred, in a thousand years—it will always remain the same. Our mind has no critical faculty in itself, no consciousness, nothing. And all the other centers are the same.
What then is our consciousness, our memory, our critical faculty? It’s very simple. It is when one center specially watches another, when it sees and feels what is going on there and, seeing it, records it all within itself.
It receives new impressions, and later, if we wish to know what happened the previous time, if we ask and search in another center, we will be able to find what has taken place in the first center. It is the same with our critical faculty—one center watches another. With one center we know that this thing is red, but another center sees it as blue. One center is always trying to persuade another. This is what criticism is.
If two centers go on for a long time disagreeing about something, this disagreement hinders us in thinking about it further.
If another center is not watching, the first continues to think as it did originally. We very seldom watch one center from another, only sometimes, perhaps one minute a day. When we sleep we never look at one center from another, we do so only sometimes when we are awake.
In the majority of cases each center lives its own life. It believes everything it hears, without criticism, and records everything as it has heard it. If it hears something it has heard before, it simply records. If something it hears is incorrect, for instance, something was red before and is blue now, it resists, not because it wants to find out what is right but simply because it does not immediately believe. But it does believe, it believes everything. If something is different, it only needs time for perceptions to settle down. If another center is not watching at the moment, it puts blue over red. And so blue and red remain together and later, when we read the records, it begins to answer: “red.” But “blue” is just as likely to pop out.
It is possible for us to ensure a critical perception of new ma- terial if we take care that, during perception, another center should stand by and perceive this material from aside. Supposing I now say something new. If you listen to me with one center, there will be nothing new for you in what I am saying; you need to listen differently. Otherwise as there was nothing before, so there will be nothing now. The value will be the same: blue will be red, or vice versa, and again there will be no knowledge. Blue may become yellow.
If you wish to hear new things in a new way, you must listen in a new way. This is necessary not only in the work but also in life. You can become a little more free in life, more secure, if you begin to be interested in all new things and remember them by new methods. This new method can be understood easily. It would no longer be wholly automatic but semi-automatic. This new method consists in the following: when thought is already there, try to feel. When you feel something, try to direct your thoughts on your feeling. Up to now, thought and feeling have been separated.
Begin to watch your mind: feel what you think. Prepare for tomorrow and safeguard yourselves from deceit. Speaking gen- erally, you will never understand what I wish to convey if you merely listen.
Take all you already know, all you have read, all you have seen, all you have been shown—I am certain that you under- stand nothing of it. Even if you ask yourselves sincerely, do you understand why two and two make four, you will find that you are not sure even of that. You only heard someone else say so, and you repeat what you have heard. And not only in ques- tions of daily life, but also in higher serious matters, you un- derstand nothing. All that you have is not yours.
You have a garbage can and, until now, you have been dumping things into it. There are many precious things in it which you could make use of. There are specialists who collect all kinds of refuse from garbage cans; some make a lot of money this way. In your garbage cans you have enough material to understand everything. If you understand, you will know everything. There is no need to gather more into this garbage can—everything is there. But there is no under- standing—the place of understanding is quite empty.
You may have a great deal of money that does not belong to you, but you would be better off to have far less, even a hundred dollars that is your own, but nothing you have is yours.
A large idea should be taken only with large understanding. For us, small ideas are all we are capable of understanding—if even these. Generally it is better to have a little thing inside than something big outside.
Do it very slowly. You can take anything you like and think about it, but think in a different way than you have thought before.