Essence and Personality (2)


Continuing with the theme of “Know thyself!”, in our next event we would like to explore a crucial aspect of Gurdjieff’s teaching, which is that in us our essence and our personality are two different – though related – entities . This fact, if true, changes everything we think we know about ourselves, everything  we think we know about psychology and everything we think we know about our possibility for a spiritual evolution.

“Essence in man is what is his own. Personality in man is what is ‘not his own’. ‘Not his own’ means what has come from outside, what he has learned, or reflects, all traces of exterior impressions left in the memory and in the sensations, all words and movements that have been learned, all feelings created by imitation—all this is ‘not his own,’ all this is personality.”

G I Gurdjieff

In most people living in civilised society, essence remains undeveloped. In one fascinating experiment with two members of his St Petersburg Group in 1916. Gurdjieff temporarily “put to sleep” their personalities so that their essence could interact with the other people. One of the two, known for playing the fool and for failing to see the wood for the trees, became quite serious and direct. The second of the experimentees, a man quite opinionated with much to say on all sorts of topics, became suddenly taciturn. When asked to say what he would like, he could only respond, “I think I should like some raspberry jam.”

If one can have a good, successful life with one’s centre of gravity in personality, what does it matter about essence?

“A man’s real I, his individuality, can grow only from his essence. It can be said that a man’s individuality is his essence, grown up, mature. But in order to enable essence to grow up, it is first of all necessary to weaken the constant pressure of personality upon it, because the obstacles to the growth of essence are contained in personality.”

G I Gurdjieff

Once this distinction is appreciated, even though not yet understood from one’s own experience, much else begins to make sense.

Then legitimate questions arise.

“How to connect with essence?”

“How is essence fed?”

Join our next Café Gurdjieff meeting at 11am on 28 May in Central London.

Details from

Essence and Personality (1)

At my father’s funeral, amid my grief, I felt a quiet but persistent fundamental question arise in me: what or who am I? What have I inherited from my father, from my mother, my grandparents?

‘Know thyself!’ is the call from many traditions throughout the ages. I do have an inner question; a search. I do want to know myself. And I’ve had this question since I was a teenager. Other people have this or other serious inner questions, but perhaps struggle to put them into words. Words can be tricky.

In the Gurdjieff Work, there is a unique distinction made between essence and personality.

Essence, it is said, is what was mine when I was born – the essential me. Sitting in silence, at a funeral, I feel the question inside me: what is life all about? Stripped away from the usual hubbub of life – vulnerable with grief – what is the real me? What is the ‘I am’? I feel this question – it is not just a half-thought in my head – it is in me.

Personality, it is said, consists of traits overlaying essence, from my background, culture, education or experience and other influences. The chatter, the going-on-with life, the keeping busy – this is the personality. But as the Verve in their Bittersweet Symphony so clearly put it:

” … I’m a million different people from one day to the next …”

Personality can change more often than the British weather.

So who am I?

If this a serious question for you, then you’re very welcome to join our next Café Gurdjieff meeting at 11am on 28 May in Central London.

Details from