Gurdjieff Exercises

Dear Cynthia,

When the Gurdjieff exercises were first introduced I tried out a few of them just to get a feel for them. For the past three weeks, I have been doing The Preparation and Lord Have Mercy exercise first thing each morning.

I’ve been thinking that this week I’ll switch to the Atmosphere exercise. I noticed in Azize’s book this should be done morning and night.

Should I continue in some way the Lord Have Mercy, too?

Please advise. How do you work with these exercises?

Thanks so much,


Hi Eileen,

You should note, to begin with, that the way these exercises are being presented to you now is two huge steps away from their original container: not only that they are now publicly available for the first time in book form, but I have now taken this even farther by circulating a small subset of them on the internet—granted, with the exercises themselves available only within a closed group…but you get the drift: one loses a tight control over the recipients. In their original context, the exercises were offered only within the closed confines of a group, and often even “subjectively,” as Gurdjieff called it: designed for a specific person at a specific place in their developmental process. The strength and readiness of the recipient were carefully monitored. Typically, a person would work on a single exercise for weeks, even months, until its fruits had been stabilized or at least deeply tasted. That is why the publication of Azize’s book has itself caused some legitimate distress in formally constituted Fourth Way groups, and why the unintentional impression—heightened in my own presentation—that these exercises can be done casually, willy-nilly, in any order or even simultaneously is misleading at best and even potentially harmful.

I have selected six of these exercises from among the two dozen or so collected in J Azize’s book because I think they have particular meat to offer our progressing Wisdom students, and—if we can get there together in some fashion, because I believe the Four Ideals exercise has particular power and efficacy to offer our world today at this Pandemic watershed. These exercises provide a way that wise, embodied, esoterically attuned contemplatives can actually offer something into our planetary atmosphere that could bring about a real shift, real healing. The five other exercises are all in some sense preparatory to Four Ideals in that they introduce you to practices and attitudes that will be synthesized in Four Ideals. That being said, however, there is no rush to get anywhere. This is literally an exploration to last a lifetime.

It would be better, after an initial taste of these exercises, to allow yourself to be drawn to an exercise that seems to have real “juice” in it for you. Stay with it for awhile until you feel an inward—not merely an outward—invitation to move on. Above all, do not pile these up like cumulative liturgical practices, each one needing daily observance. I would say that if you are going to work with Atmosphere, let go of Lord Have Mercy for a while. In any case, see if you can find your own pace and rhythm.

The best guideline here as these exercises find themselves now forced to adapt to new circumstances are: 1) keep the process spacious, experimental, inquisitive, not quantitative and dutiful; 2) to try to stick with the essential form and instructions of the original exercise as closely as possible, but feel free, where questions arise, to experiment your way to what seems the right solution. Does it work better for you to do Atmosphere twice a day, rather than once? Why? What do you notice? The willingness to experimentally test where you have questions rather than immediately looking for external guidance and to the “right “ way, will at least cultivate your inner instinct for being in partnership with a practice, not under its dominion.

All blessings,