Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am'

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Life Is Real Only Then, When "I Am" (a book first privately printed in 1974) consists of the incomplete text of the third Series of All and Everything by G. I. Gurdjieff. The book comprises a prologue, Gurdjieff's description of five of his lectures (delivered on five nights starting November 28 and ending December 19, 1930) and a final essay entitled "The Outer and Inner World of Man".

First talk[edit]

The first talk, Gurdjieff's initial address to the New York chapter of the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, explains his goals in returning to North America. After Gurdjieff's (first) car-accident (1924), the New York group (as well as other European and Asian groups) had fallen into disarray, and maintenance of them had fallen into the hands of people he considers unfit. He goes on to speculate that there is a unique difficulty in addressing a "mechanized mentation" there caused by an "abnormally superfluous reading of newspaper literature", a unique aspect he attributes to the world, concentrated in North America.

While explaining in this lecture the origin of the general course with which he guides his Institute, Gurdjieff claims that he consulted with individuals who lived over two centuries, and[clarification needed] who approached 300 years old.

Second talk: Break from Orage[edit]

The second talk focuses almost entirely on Gurdjieff's opinion that the New York group had become completely useless in respect of the goals he had established for it the year before. He first mentions A. R. Orage by name in this talk - Gurdjieff explains Orage's selection for an administrative position in the New York group solely because of his background as a journalist, as the group needed someone proficient in English. Orage, according to Gurdjieff, capitalized on Gurdjieff's post-accident convalescence by taking on a greater role in the New York group than originally intended. Gurdjieff also accuses Orage of being motivated to join the New York group—moving from England—to gain closer proximity to a saleswoman. At the close of this talk, Gurdjieff has his secretary orate a contract which will have to be signed by anyone interested in continuing involvement with Gurdjieff's official New York group, or Orage.

Third talk: Closed talk on developing oneself[edit]

The third talk - in contrast to all the others, which many people attended - addresses a closed, select group. Here Gurdjieff explains that the meetings led by Orage for the past year have served only for "collective titillation" and that participants need to acquaint themselves with his written material, specifically An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man, in order to grasp the fundamentals of the material for discussion. He has his secretary read at length passages from this book, interrupting occasionally to focus discussion on material he considers directly pertinent. Gurdjieff gives an analogy of human life as being organized into two streams: the first stream contains those on the path to self-realization and individuality, and the second stream contains those who exist solely for the purposes of nature's 'involuntary and evolutionary constructs'. He says that while the stream we find ourselves in is determined in adolescence, and implies that the audience is in the second stream, there is hope to jump streams.

Gurdjieff illustrates seven points, allegedly "established by really wise people of all ancient epochs", which he regards as necessary for the living of an independent life. He describes three of these seven:

  1. the first, loosely equivalent to the pre-Shakespearean usage of the word "can"
  2. the second, loosely equivalent to "wish", but without the connotation of "slavish impulse"
  3. the third, "most important", absent from "the whole lexicon of words in the English language" but described as "the entire sensing of the whole of oneself"

Gurdjieff then gives this group their "first exercise", which he presents as the fourth in a series of exercises taught in his schools. The exercise, he claims, aims to develop the ability of people to split their attention between three distinct cognitive tasks: feeling, sensing, and counting pace. He goes to great pains to distinguish - for an audience unfamiliar with such distinctions - the difference between "feeling" (internal, emotional center-based association) and "sensing" (touch). He recommends using three fingers of one hand to perform this exercise, feeling one finger, sensing the other, and moving and keeping count of the third.

Prelude to the fourth talk[edit]

The beginning of the fourth talk exposes at length the series of events that occurred between the third and fourth talks: namely, the response from group members to the ultimatum given to them in the second talk and the arrival of Orage himself. Gurdjieff explains that members of the group fell into three camps: those who signed, those who refused to sign, and those who delayed signing until consulting Orage. Orage arrives in New York and requests a meeting with Gurdjieff, who agrees to meet with him on the condition that he signs the same contract given to the members of his group (which paradoxically includes himself). Gurdjieff then cites at length Orage's response (given to Gurdjieff's secretary), where he wholeheartedly agrees to dissolve his relationship with the group members and with his "old self", citing inward feelings of personal contradiction over the past year. Orage and his former followers are admitted as candidates to Gurdjieff's New York group for after paying a fine (from them Gurdjieff collects $113,000).

Gurdjieff's describes his own unexpected emotional response - a violent fit and sobbing - upon hearing Orage's apology.

In relating the above violent fit, Gurdjieff makes the comment: "I cannot refrain from relating this and describing in the style of my former teacher, now almost a Saint, Mullah Nassr Eddin...". (The Mullah Nassr Eddin lived in the 13th century.)

Fourth talk[edit]

The fourth talk represents an incomplete text of the lecture Gurdjieff gave to Orage, his former followers, and the seeds of the new group. Cryptically, it breaks from all previous topics and begins on themes of planetary composition, ecology, humanity's place in nature, and his unconventional understanding of a recurring Gurdjieff theme: "food" (which includes, among other things, air). Although Gurdjieff presents these abstract ideas as preparatory material for an exercise, the exercise itself does not appear in the text, which ends in an ellipsis during an explanation of the peculiarities of air's role in Earth's planetary composition.

Fifth talk: two exercises[edit]

This talk focuses almost entirely on two Gurdjieff exercises. It emphasizes that a necessary component of group work towards these exercises demands sincerity when it comes to speaking about results.

The first exercise consists of intentionally practicing "self-deception" - Gurdjieff explains that repeating aloud "I am", and accompanying this utterance by focusing on a real or imagined feeling of resonance within oneself, serves as a method of depositing an imagined property into a person's subconscious or into his "passive state" (as he calls it). Once something gets deposited into this passive state, Gurdjieff explains, it may help bring into fruition within the person whatever the person imagines during this practice. For example, Gurdjieff claims that with this exercise one can cure "any type of disharmony" such as a headache.

The second exercise, involving dividing attention into two parts - between one's breathing and then other definite objects - Gurdjieff illustrates in a monologue demonstration before the group.

References[edit]