You Must Have an Aim, by G.I. Gurdjieff

During the Nazi Occupation of Paris, Gurdjieff and his students dared to meet late into the night….

During the Nazi Occupation of Paris, Gurdjieff and his students dared to meet late into the night….

“You must have an aim, a serious aim,” G.I. Gurdjieff stated during a meeting with students on December 23, 1943. Certainly Gurdjieff’s aim was serious in gathering men and women hungry for spiritual awakening during the Nazi Occupation of Paris. Clandestine meetings were forbidden, a curfew was in effect; despite the darkened windows of Gurdjieff’s tiny apartment, discovery by the Gestapo of the meetings held there was an ever-present, potentially mortal risk. But all involved felt the risk was worth taking.

Notes were kept under Gurdjieff’s direction at these meetings, held at 6 rue des Colonels, where he had been living since 1936.  He had already accomplished enough for several lifetimes, from his early years as a seeker of truth in remote areas of Eurasia, to the transmission of what he’d learned through groups in pre-Revolutionary Russia, an Institute outside Paris, talks and demonstrations throughout Europe and America, and his artistic creations, which included books,  music, and sacred dances.

Ultimately, however, students were drawn to Gurdjieff for the quality of his being, for the mastery of self and depth of wisdom he manifested as a living example of what he taught. It is this that brought the American writer Solita Solano to him, and it was she who donated some of the meeting notes to the Library of Congress. Those notes later were brought to public attention in 2001 by William Patrick Patterson in his book Voices in the Dark.

But Solano’s notes were incomplete. The full meeting notes rested in the archives of the Gurdjieff Institute in Paris. Now, after years of careful translation from French to English by various Gurdjieff Foundation groups, the notes for the meetings held in 1943 have just been published in a handsome hardcover from Dolmen Meadow Editions.

Paris Meetings, 1943 contains the transcripts of sixty-eight meetings held by Gurdjieff with students from January 7 through December 20 of that year, dozens more than have previously been made public. Parabola is pleased to present the transcript of the meeting held on December 23, 1943.

Perhaps most striking in the transcript is the plain practicality of Gurdjieff’s teaching. He gives exercises and direction, always emphasizing the need to see deeper: “Make more observations. Collect more material.” Yet this prescribed activity must not happen willy-nilly. “One must never do an exercise without preparation,” he says. “All your functions are automatized. Before any exercise, you must sacrifice five, ten, fifteen minutes to relax and to calm your associations. Whether the exercise is big or little—all exercises.”

There is discussion of money and payment and wealth in this meeting’s notes. As always, Gurdjieff surprises with his approach. As the  note-taker asks a question, another takes notes for him. Of the note-taker, Gurdjieff asks about his substitute, “When he helps you, do you pay him? In one way or another?”


“In everyday life, this is a question,” says Gurdjieff. “With money or something else, you must pay him.” The substitute says that it is he who owes the note-taker, and so Gurdjieff responds that they must both pay.

How? Gurdjieff suggests that they both stand with their arms outstretched to the side for ten, fifteen, thirty, sixty minutes. “It is only then that you will be able to appreciate his help and that he will understand its value.”

The meeting opens with readings from two of Gurdjieff’s writings. Other than Gurdjieff, the only participant identified by name is Mme. (Jeanne) de Salzmann, Gurdjieff’s closest pupil and the one to whom he entrusted the direction of his teaching upon his death in 1949.

–Jeff Zaleski

Photograph by Jonathan Bean
Photograph by Jonathan Bean


Continuation of the chapter “From the Author” from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and of the “Programme of the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.”


(After dinner Gurdjieff jokes briefly with a doctor, a newcomer, and then with someone else, a writer, who puts a corn-paper cigarette on a plate.)

G.I. Gurdjieff: Now he is no longer the tail of a dog. He is a Mister. At last!
(To another writer) I hope you are delighted to see that your colleague has made such progress.

(Then Gurdjieff offers cigarettes to another newcomer. As she refuses, he asks her to pay someone else half of what she has saved until now by not smoking.)

RZ: Mr. Gurdjieff, I would like to ask you a question about money.

Gurdjieff: It is the question of the day. What a good thing. But if you had used the word “gold” it would be much better.1 Gold and silver are like English money and French money, an English check and a French check, three English zeroes and three French zeroes. If I go into a bank with a check with three French zeroes, I could put the money here in my watch-pocket. But with three English zeroes, I could put it here, and there, and even there. And everybody is very polite with me. With French zeroes, nobody looks at me.

RZ: You are asking us to bring money, to express our desire to hear your teaching by showing it with money?

Mme. de Salzmann: You put your question very badly; everyone understands it in his own way.
(Conversation in Russian.)
Never has Mr. Gurdjieff asked such a thing.

Gurdjieff: I could never have said that! I am a doctor of psychology. It would be a serious mistake.

Mme. de Salzmann: How could this have entered your mind?

RZ: But Madame, I haven’t asked my question.

Gurdjieff: You see, everyone is astonished. Everyone has his own ideas at the back of his mind. Now a misunderstanding has been created. Everyone is filled with suspicions and reservations. It is really an idiotic question.
(To PL) Do you understand?

PL: I think he just asked it in an awkward way.

Gurdjieff: It is better to finish with this before we start.

Mme. de Salzmann: A question is an important thing. One must weigh it carefully before asking.

Gurdjieff: You should have said, “for example”. That would have changed everything. But you speak categorically.
(To the others) He did not say “for example.” So it is better to put the matter aside for now. Later he will ask his question differently.

Photograph by Jonatan Pie
Photograph by Jonatan Pie

R de P: Mr. Gurdjieff, I have a question to ask you. When I do the exercise of “I am,” I manage to stop imagination and associations, and I would like to be able to strengthen my self-remembering and find a support for my will.

Gurdjieff: Continue.

R de P: So I would like to know what I can do so that my will can have more of an action on myself. I don’t have a hold on myself.

Gurdjieff: You must have an aim, a serious aim. And you must establish a relationship between your task and your aim, an aim you cannot forget. Your task concerns your aim and brings you to your aim. The first day you do it indifferently, the second day a little better, the third day, you do it whether you like it or not. It is in accomplishing your task relentlessly, without considering your mood, that you will succeed in having will. You must do this gradually. It will increase. One cannot have will all at once. One cannot go to the pharmacy to buy will.

I will give you a good way to verify this. You set yourself an aim. It can be this or that, whatever you wish. For example—I say “for example”—here is something subjective: is your father still alive? You have respect for him? Perhaps you have never had respect for him up to now, as you should have. He created you. He gave you life. He is your god; he has to be. You must tell yourself this, because that’s the way it is. Is he alive? Then he is your god. It’s only after your father has died that God can be God. God said: “I love the one who loves his father and his mother, because a place will have been made in him for Me.”

So, give yourself this as an aim. You have not had enough respect for your father. Give yourself the aim to have a real relationship with your father. Consider your father your god. He is your god. Fix this in yourself. Tell yourself this frequently. Think about it often. This aim will establish factors for self-remembering in you. After that, choose a task. Do this or that. Establish a contact between your aim and your task. Your task will remind you of your aim. If you remember yourself, you think of your task—one evokes the other.

R de P: What can I take as a task?

Mme. de Salzmann: See for yourself. Choose a task in relation to your aim.

Gurdjieff: Choose. You know what you are lacking, what you need. Choose your task yourself. It is better. I suggested an aim to you as an example. Do your task; I don’t want to advise you. And do it. Begin again. One thing must constantly remind you of the other. The action of one must call up the other. In this way, you will acquire will. One perfects the other. You automatically create will. When you become used to manifesting will in yourself, I will give you an exercise of a higher order.

R de P: Will this aim enable a deeper self-remembering in me?

Mme. de Salzmann: Yes. After that, there will be a series of exercises, but first you need something to hold onto.

L: Mr. Gurdjieff, I asked you last time how one can repair the wrongs done to someone who is no longer alive. You gave me as an exercise to remember my behavior towards this person and to experience remorse for all the wrongs I did to him. In doing this exercise, I observed that I was able to judge my behavior, to say whether it was good or bad according to the situation. But my feeling didn’t come into it. It was as if I couldn’t bring about any contact between my judgment and my feeling, and I wonder how to get out of this state of emptiness and dryness.

Gurdjieff:  It’s very simple. Is it about your father?

L: About my mother.

Gurdjieff: Your mother. Good. You are a father. You have children. Visualize your children clearly, the relationships they have with you. And what quality of relationship you wish for. And now, this quality that you wish to see, you must actually inculcate it in your children through their upbringing, by example. You transmit to your child this quality of relationship as you understand it, the one you should have had with your mother. If you work on that, you will unite your thought and your feeling. It is very simple, no? You understand logically?

L: Logically, yes, but….

Gurdjieff: You think it will happen like this if you do it?

L: I think so, but I don’t see how.

Gurdjieff: There is no better way. You cannot have everything in yourself right away; you cannot find the means all at once. Little by little you will find the means. Begin in this direction.

Mme. de S: This is wonderful.

Gurdjieff: It is the first time that Mme. de Salzmann is happy right from the start. So, many people can use this advice.
(To a member of the group) Even you, you can use it.

Photograph by Paul Morris
Photograph by Paul Morris

GB: Mr. Gurdjieff, until recently I was trying a task that was too difficult. I had to give it up. I couldn’t do it. So I have been choosing tasks that are hardly tasks at all—tasks for only one day. Sometimes I fail. And when I fail, it is worse than when I have done nothing at all. I decide not to say or not to do things. And I notice, when I fail, that I am doing the things I had decided not to do or not to say, but even more.

Gurdjieff: You have found the right path by yourself, and if you continue like this, you will see how one can do great things. It is good. I have nothing to say. Make more observations. Collect more material. Continue in the same way. A very good path. You will see that it will give you a lot.

GB: If I fail, it is not for lack of strength, it’s the forgetting. How to struggle against forgetting?

Gurdjieff: The secret is to remember oneself. This is the first thing; you must struggle with this. When you are on the right path, the devil wakes up in order to disturb you. It is a law. If the devil has never awakened in you, if he has always been asleep, then, when you are on the right path, he wakes up and troubles you. So struggle a thousand times more. You must see a thousand times—more and more—that there is a devil and an angel in you. Perhaps the devil has never shown himself in you. But today perhaps you are already an enemy to him. Or else, it is help from an angel who has sent you some kind of an assistant. There is a law: when the devil enters into someone, it is proof that an angel has entered before. Where there is no angel, there is no devil; no devil, no angel. This proves that you have a devil. Make use of these two forces, these two servants, of your nature; and use them for your egoism.

Photograph by Ihor Malytskyi
Photograph by Ihor Malytskyi

JC: Mr. Gurdjieff, I would like to ask you a question about breathing. When I struggle against associations, I can contain them while I’m breathing in. But between breathing in and breathing out, it’s as if a door opened abruptly and let in the associations. It’s rare that I can take a complete breath without this happening.

Gurdjieff: It is by inertia that the associations continue. The inertia goes on. This shows me you are not doing it the way I advised. One must prepare oneself before each exercise. You must sit, relax and calm your associations. And then you begin your exercise. I see that you are doing it without preparation. Your automatic associations are a thousand times stronger than you. They get in the way.

JC: I have an exercise for relaxing. It’s while I’m trying this exercise that I can’t manage to struggle against associations.

Gurdjieff: For this exercise also, you must prepare yourself. One must never do an exercise without preparation. All your functions are automatized. Before any exercise, you must sacrifice five, ten, fifteen minutes to relax and to calm your associations. Whether the exercise is big or little—all exercises.

“The Prosecutor”: Mr. Gurdjieff, I would like to ask you a question. During an exercise a few days ago, while trying to collect myself and succeeding better than before, I felt that the forces that are usually scattered in me came back to their center. I did this exercise for a short time, but I had a very different taste. Since then I’ve been trying to find it again, but in vain. I am powerless. I feel that I lack a center of gravity, something fundamental, a place in me where I might collect myself at any moment—with an effort, of course—which would allow me to be stronger than my outer agitation, at least at certain moments. But I can’t find it again. And now, it’s like a hunger in me. How can I work in this direction?

Gurdjieff: You have the taste of it?

“The Prosecutor”: Yes.

Gurdjieff: A medical question arises here concerning sex. Your life, for a normal existence, needs two things: food and sexual relations. Your sex life is not what it should be. I must speak with you in the presence of a doctor who is a specialist in this field. He often comes to my place—two or three times a week. He will be here tomorrow. Come tomorrow for lunch if you have the time. We will speak. The three of us will make a program. This question can interfere with your work. You need precise information. Come tomorrow; we will speak. It is impossible to speak about it like this. These are intimate things. Good. Come tomorrow. You understand me.

The “Prosecutor”: Yes.

Gurdjieff: Until then, I can say nothing.
(The writer, who was writing for “The Prosecutor,” gives the paper and pencil back to him.)
(Gurdjieff continues) By the way, when he helps you, do you pay him? In one way or another?

“The Prosecutor”: No.

Gurdjieff: In everyday life, this is a question. With money or something else, you must pay. You must pay him.

The writer: It is I who owe him. He has been very kind to me in the past.

Gurdjieff: Then you must both pay someone—like this: if you see him for ten minutes, you both stand with your arms stretched out to the side for ten minutes. If fifteen minutes, the arms out to the side for fifteen minutes; if it is half an hour, then half an hour; if an hour, then an hour. In this way, you pay him and he pays too, and you are satisfied and so is he. It is only then that you will be able to appreciate his help and that he will be able to understand its value.

Mme. De Salzmann: (To RZ, who asked the question about money) Mr. Gurdjieff has just answered your question.

Gurdjieff: (To RZ) Now, my dear “Vis-à-vis,” ask your question again.

RZ: Excuse me, Mr. Gurdjieff, but I would like to ask you in private.

Gurdjieff: He is already quite different, isn’t he? Very well, whenever you wish! When you can! Come for lunch or dinner on Tuesday.
(Gurdjieff jokes in Russian with someone about the bonbons to be paid to the “Chef.” He leaves the room to get some bonbons.)

MD: I have noticed that there are influences which act powerfully on the behavior and the mood of people, higher influences, so to speak, which we don’t notice but which act in such a way that on a given day everyone seems to be in a bad mood, and the next day, all smiles. Is it imagination? I have tried to free myself from these influences when I feel them entering me.

(Gurdjieff comes back into the room. Mme. De Salzmann translates the question for him.)

Gurdjieff: There are several kinds of influences. There is man—real man—and man in quotation marks. A man in quotation marks is always under influences. Only a real man has inner freedom. In the meantime, you are a man in quotation marks. You must do everything in order to become a real man, without quotation marks. Then you will be free. There is no other means. We are always subject to influences; a real man is only subject to cosmic influences. Of course, he feels hot or cold. But that is all. While you, if so-and-so looks at you with his right eye instead of his left, that is enough to change your associations. If your neighbor moves, there is a change in polarity, so you are under another influence. You are a slave to everything external, the small as well as the large. Thinking gives shocks, impulses for associations. These are influences, sources for your inner life. You are hungry, thirsty, you have to pee—all this controls you. The strongest influence comes from the inside.

(Gurdjieff distributes bonbons filled with liqueur, “a Jewish New Year’s dish.”)

AE: Mr. Gurdjieff….

Gurdjieff: Ah, the brother! I already recognize him by his voice. That is already a big thing. I know you by your voice.

AE: I experience the same need as my brother, but with this difference: I did not experience the taste of what was a real center of collectedness. However, I feel naturally scattered and I make efforts to come back to myself. And when I wish to make this effort, I find in myself only inertia or resistance accompanied by anxiety or by a minor physical discomfort (gesture of a heartbeat); a kind of inner tension that tends to prevent me from staying where I am at any cost. So I would like to know what I should do on those occasions.

Gurdjieff: For the moment, do this: when this state comes on, drink a glass of cold water. And even better, keep some bicarbonate of soda in your pocket. Put it in the water, mix it and drink it. Do that several times and see what happens. Next week, speak to me about it again. Do this only when this state comes on.

MH (a newly arrived doctor): Mr. Gurdjieff, may I ask you a question. It’s a question I already spoke about to Mme. de Salzmann on Saturday evening. Mme. de Salzmann told me that I don’t have enough will to complete the exercises. I can’t go on for more than about twenty minutes. The next day I tried to do more. I set myself a period of three quarters of an hour. I was able to keep to the time and I could have done more. The exercise broke down into three phases: a first phase, during which I had a very clear impression of being a hollow, empty tube; a second phase, when I wanted to put something into this tube. I had an impression, a very pleasant one at that, of becoming more solid inside.

Gurdjieff: Did you have the taste of it?
(Exchange in Russian.)

MH: There was nothing but this impression of becoming more solid.

Gurdjieff: You had the taste of it. No need to go on.
(Another exchange in Russian.)

MH: In the third phase, I was in this state that seemed desirable. Inwardly, I wished more intensely. Each time, I said, “I wish, I wish to be,” and for half an hour I felt a force rising, a force very difficult to describe, a very pleasant physical force, somewhat sexual. This led to a sexual force, to a very agreeable state from an organic point of view. This state tended to dissolve when I relaxed my will. When I said, “I wish,” it returned. The three quarters of an hour was over but I could have gone on longer. I could have continued intentionally. And so I’m rather worried. I spoke about it to Mme. de Salzmann. She advised me to remain in the state of a full tube.

Gurdjieff: When I said that it was enough, I had already understood. I have understood. And I can tell you: stop when this state comes. It could give you an idée fixe. This would be bad for the future. Do it up to the moment when you feel empty. As soon as you get to this point, stop. Do the exercise up to there and stop. Rest and forget about it. Do another exercise.
(Exchange in Russian.)
Mme. de Salzmann will explain this exercise to you. Combine it with the first one, which you’re going to stop at the state of emptiness.

MH: But I come directly to the third state without passing through the intermediate ones.

Gurdjieff: Then stop. If you were to continue, you could be taken by an idée fixe. Mme. De Salzmann will explain to you how to stop, and she will show you another exercise that will change everything. Thanks to this exercise you will be able to go further.

(Gurdjieff then jokes with someone whose wife has signalled him that it was late.)

A woman knows life, its obligations, its subtleties, better than a man. She must be obeyed.

(And, as it is late, Gurdjieff dismisses everyone.)


1 The French word argent means means both “money” and “silver.”

Reprinted by permission from G.I. Gurdjieff’s Paris Meetings 1943 (Dolmen Meadow Editions, 2017).

From Parabola Volume 43, No. 1, “Wealth,” Spring 2018. This issue is available to purchase here. If you have enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing


By G.I. Gurdjieff

G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) was a spiritual teacher, composer, and author of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson and other influential books.