Fritz Peters recounts an episode when he was a twelve year old boy at Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau-Avon:
He then asked me to look out of the window and to tell him what I saw. I said that, from that window, all I could see was an oak tree. And what, he asked, was on the oak tree? I told him: acorns.
“How many acorns?”
When I replied, rather uncertainly, that I did not know, he said impatiently: “Not exactly, not ask that. Guess how many!”
I said that I supposed there were several thousand of them.
He agreed and then asked me how many of the acorns would become oak trees. I answered that I supposed only five or six of them would actually develop into trees, if that many.
He nodded. “Perhaps only one, perhaps not even one. Must learn from Nature. Man is also organism. Nature make many acorns, but possibility to become tree exist for only few acorns. Same with man — many men born, but only few grow. People think this waste, think Nature waste. Not so. Rest become fertiliser, go back to earth and create possibility for more acorns, more men, once in a while more tree — more real man.
Nature always give — but only give possibility. To become real oak, or real man, must make effort. You understand this, my work … not for fertilizer. For real man only. But must also understand fertilizer necessary to Nature. Possibility for real tree, real man also depend just this fertilizer.”
From the book Boyhood with Gurdjieff p.43
Ansel Adams, Oak Tree, Sunset City, California 1962. From Ansel Adams at 100.
“Moreover, it happens fairly often that essence dies in a man while his personality and his body are still alive. A considerable percentage of the people we meet on the street are people who are empty inside, that is, they are actually already dead. It is fortunate for us that we do not see and do not know it. If we knew what a number of people are actually dead and what a number of these dead people govern our lives, we should go mad with horror.”
“And indeed often people do go mad because they find out something of this nature without the proper preparation, that is, they see something they are not supposed to see. In order to see without danger one must be on the way. If a man who can do nothing sees the truth he will certainly go mad. Only this rarely happens. Usually everything is so arranged that a man can see nothing prematurely”
“Personality sees only what it likes to see and what does not interfere with its life. It never sees what it does not like. This is both good and bad at the same time. It is good if a man wants to sleep, bad if he wants to awaken.”
Photograph by Masahisa Fukase from The Solitude of Ravens
Question: I don’t see exactly what path to follow and what aim to have in view.
Gurdjieff: A path isn’t necessary. It is only necessary that you obtain results in yourself. Collect, accumulate the results of the struggle. You will need them for continuing.
You must accumulate; you have batteries in you in which you must accumulate this substance, like electricity. This substance only can be accumulated by struggle. Therefore, create a struggle between your head and your animal.
Continue your struggle, but without waiting for results. Accumulate the results of the process of struggle. When we struggle interior with thought, feeling and body, that gives a substance in the place where it belongs.
We have no interest today in knowing where that place is. Accumulate. It is this that is lacking in you. You are young. You haven’t experience. You are empty. Continue the struggle accidentally begun. So that if you say that you are not satisfied, that proves you are on the right road. But you must not stop.
You know better than I what struggle. For example, whatever your body likes, whatever you have the habit of giving it, don’t give it anymore. The important thing is to have a continual process of struggle, because you need the substance that struggle will give you.
When people ask me to recommend my favorite biography on G.I. Gurdjieff I instantly mention Fritz Peters‘ My Journey With A Mystic.
Although the title is a tad provactive and lacking (G. was much more than a ‘mystic’ — I’m not sure a fitting term has been compiled too encapsulate the man accurately), though the book is an honest to goodness journey. A wild, fun, heartfelt ride for certain. The book’s tenor is very human, the language simple and Peters’ recapitulation vivid and objective, alive. You won’t find a more engaging recounting.
In this section, G. describes the missed opportunities of poorly composed questions. Of which, in life, there are few genuine ones:
“You see what trouble I have with students? She ask stupid questions and I give stupid answers, but even though stupid, they honest.
But same is true even when someone—very rare—ask genuine question. When I give true answer, her unconscious already know answer is true because unless already know answer, unconscious cannot ask question. But, even so, she think I make joke, so will not listen.
In teaching is necessary to remember that no one really asks questions. Impossible to ask question about something you not already know, already have good idea. So I only give answers which she already know. Answer to such question everybody already know. Is usual, when person ask me question, to already know two answers: one pleasant, one unpleasant. Not really ask question, only want confirmation; want pleasant answer from other person than self, because already know pleasant answer not right.
But. . . if other person, like myself, give pleasant answer then can say to self that I tell this answer, and so not have to worry with conscience because is my fault.
But for serious man is not necessary find new answers, but new questions. Once you ask question, this mean you already have a very good idea about answer. For teacher is important make student ask new questions.
This reason why education in your country and in modern times upside-down. Teacher in school never make new student ask new question or try to discover new thing. Only answer old questions to which everyone already have answer or can find answer in self without effort.”
Question: What is inspiration?
Answer: Inspiration is an association. It is the work of one center. Inspiration is cheap, rest assured of that. Only conflict, argument, may produce a result.
Whenever there is an active element there is a passive element. If you believe in God, you also believe in the devil. All this has no value. Whether you are good or bad — it is not worth anything. Only a conflict bewteen two sides is worth something. Only when much is accumulated can something new manifiest itself.
At every moment there may be a conflict in you. You never see yourself. You will believe what I say only when you begin to look into yourself — then you will see. If you try to do something you don’t want to do — you will suffer. If you want to do something and don’t do it — you also suffer.
What you like — whether good or bad — is of the same value. Good is a relative concept. Only if you begin to work, your good and bad begin to exist.