After I’d been working on my own with Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, Bennett & Nicoll, for some years, gaining much practice in working with people in sessions devoted to what’s called ‘Accelerated Learning’, NLP and Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’, I built myself a summerhouse out of the fragments from the renovation of an old house I bought—bricks, chunks of wood, rubble. It was to serve as a place for meditation and writing along the lines of George Bernard Shaw’s garden room in Hertfordshire or Henry Williamson’s Writing Hut in Devon. I envied them their reflective hidey-holes and needed one for myself. It was the fourth Summerhouse I’d built in forty years.

When I had completed the current building in 2000, the first thing I did was, modelling on Gurdjieff at the Prieuré, to inscribe the following Maxims on the six-sided pointed ceiling so that looking up in moments of informal meditation (thoughtfulness or being stuck for an idea or expression) I would find something to unlock the brain.

I might have seen any of the following in no particular order; the Maxims are all connected—they go together like horses & carriages. They come from the writings of Ouspensky, Gurdjieff & Nicoll. I’ve long since lost the page references!


■    The Work is about losing stuff rather than acquiring anything

■    Can you face the idea of losing cherished ideas about yourself?

■    Can you face the idea that you are asleep? Mechanical? In prison?

■    Can you think and observe yourself both at the same time?

■    The Work is NOT for everybody

■    People can spend their lives studying systems and system words and never come to real things. 3/4ths or 9/10ths of all ordinary knowledge does not really exist: it exists only in the imagination. This Work must be practical from the start.

■    People who only want to know and don’t know what they have to change & work on will not learn or understand. People who only want to understand intellectually will not last long…

■    Danger of producing new mechanical parts in a Centre:-
I that resolves to conquer The Work
I that procrastinates—no action
Better that the resolve never had been made in the first place…

■    The aim is FREEDOM—to be free one must be conscious…

■    We are not truly conscious though we kid ourselves that we are.

■    We do not use even a small part of our powers and our forces…

■    We are incomplete beings

■    Nature does not develop us beyond a certain point—after this we must develop ourselves…

■        ‘…we have in us [we are as] a large house, full of beautiful furniture with a library and many other rooms but we live in the sub-ground floor and the kitchen and cannot get out of them. If people tell us about what this house has upstairs we do not believe them or we laugh at them or we call it superstition or fairy tales or fables…’

■    Every teaching of esoteric origin agrees in fundamentals—A influences tear things apart..

■    CHANGE is impossible under ordinary conditions because wanting to change something about yourself is to focus on that one thing without realising that it’s only a small part of a huge integrated system: ‘everything in the machine is interconnected’. So first become aware of the machine and its interconnections…

■    We are asleep

■    We are machines

■    Study of oneself comes first

■    Individually we are many different ‘I’s;  we imagine that we are one

■    No more knowledge is possible until one’s being is changed

■    At every moment not a single action, not a single thought comes from the whole—but only from a small part of us…

■    We are enslaved by illusions and lying; by the illusion that we are free; by doing unnecessary things…

■    Only one rule— One must not do anything unnecessary

■    Effort begins in only one way—the effort to awaken

■    Before you can notice change you must know and honour how you are now

■    The easiest thing is to be quite an ordinary person—the irony is that it’s difficult to accomplish

■    Not success or failure but non-identification…

■    The need to take all the things you do seriously—without comparison we can achieve nothing.  ‘Without contraries no progression’ says Blake

■    The human mind cannot invent anything absolutely wrong…

■    All that happens happens—it could not happen differently—if it could it would have already…

■    People cannot act in any other way than the way they do act—they, like you, are machines…

■    The way people are is the way people are…

■    Things have an inner meaning (esotericism)

■    All things are connected —they appear to be separated

■    Your state of mind affects understanding

■    Consciousness of one’s nothingness alone can conquer the fear of subordination to the will of another…

■    Subordination to which you consciously agree is the only way to acquire a will of your own…

■    …everything, every conclusion, every deduction is a mental picture and is merely the result of the working of our mind…

■    Our ordinary mind is not the only one that exists; ordinary knowledge is not the only kind either

■    We must start just as we are. We cannot wait till we change, because if we do we will never change; and if we change mechanically, we change only for the worse…

■    We are irritated by other people acting as machines because we are machines ourselves. When we cease to be machines we will cease to be irritated.

■    It’s an Organic System—start anywhere you like but you must have a general idea of the System and everything new must have its place in it…

■    Everything in the System connects up together—touch all or nothing

■    People become disappointed in the Work because they take some things from it & not others—they don’t have the System but their own personal selection from it….

■    Understanding means connecting things with the whole, and if you don’t know the whole how can you connect?

■    Coming to a conclusion too soon gets you embroiled in opinion, imagination, fantasy = lying & talking too much…

■    When you separate things you will STOP mixing things in your thinking…

■    Write a programme of thinking for yourself : THINK two or three times a day

■    Move your brain deliberately two or three times a day…

■    Don’t give a lecture to yourself (or to others)— lectures are bound to turn formatory…

■    Almost all that we call knowledge is not really knowledge at all because it is merely  ‘knowledge’ of a small part without knowing the place of this part in the whole…

■    Everything comes in waves—up and down…  Acquire enough memory and enough elevation… in order that at moments of depression we will not lose the thread, will not forget what has been…

■    Always start with an ‘I’ based on Magnetic Centre

■    Gradual steps — no jumping

■    Awakening is not for those who are afraid of unpleasant things…

■    What’s the difference between ordinary thinking and thinking within the System?  INTENTIONALITY

■    The moment effort becomes easy beware of self-forgetfulness…

■    The possibility of change starts only with the possibility of beginning to Self-Remember NOW. All other things are just words.

■    Judge others by yourself and you will rarely be mistaken

■    Like what ‘it’ does not like

■    The highest you can attain is to be able to do

■    Practise love first on animals, they are more sensitive… Gurdjieff

■    The worse the conditions of life the more productive the Work, always provided you remember the Work

■    Remember yourself always and everywhere

■    We are here having already understood the necessity of struggling with ourselves—only with ourselves. So be grateful to everybody who gives you the opportunity.

■    All this can only be useful to those who have recognised their nothingness and who believe in the possibility of changing.

■    The chief means of happiness in this life is the ability to consider externally always, internally never.

■    Only conscious suffering has any sense…

■    By teaching others you will learn yourself…

■    One of the best means for arousing the wish to work on yourself is to realise that you may die at any moment. But first you must learn how to keep it in mind…

■    We are given a definite number of experiences in life—economising them we can prolong it…

Inside the Summerhouse
Inside the Summerhouse

11 thoughts on “MAXIMS

  1. Love these maxims and shared them to my Facebook page, where for some unknown reason I have well over the limit of 5,000 “friends”. I have a couple hundred extra, and a waiting list that I can never add to – that’s another 800 people, so my participation there may be a worthwhile endeavor. Hats off to you, Colin. Even though you left WITW I am grateful to see you in otherwise. best, –Richard Lloyd (email:


  2. It looks like a very nice summerhouse, Colin. Good job. But now, you may tear it down, and put the scraps and lumber back where they were. Since “After I’d been working on my own with Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, Bennett & Nicoll, for some years, ” Yes?


    1. The scraps & lumber would no longer have a place to go. Every new venture creates something new. The house is well livable and the summerhouse sinks into the landscape as do these maxims…


      1. …The idea of decrease is contained in them from the beginning and their re-assembly is subject to the rhythm of the seasons. All harvesting is a rhythmic heaping, and feasts are celebrated in accordance with this rhythm… Elias Canetti


      2. From Gurdjieff at the Prieure. One of his best periods. He had work crews there, changing who was on which crew depending on what they needed, liked, etc., remember? And more than once, they built something there, sometimes with very hard work, to his specifications, and when it was done, he’d say, like, wow, you guys did a great job! so, now tear it down, and put the stuff back where it came from. -Remember? Like the DeHartmann’s and Nott’s books about their time at the Prieure with G., re-read those if you’ve forgotten.
        It was a really Zen thing for Mr. G to do, and what else could I say, with you feeling so content about your work, and your summerhouses, and so on, Colin, except – take it all apart now!


  3. Yet another superb post that I have printed off and stuck in my tickler file, Colin, so that I will come back and revisit these maxims again in a few months. In the meantime, I’ve been working quite a bit lately on maxim #2 – facing the idea of losing cherished ideas about myself – as a result of a particularly unpleasant and quite unexpected turn of events with one of my siblings. Will probably write about it in my own blog sometime soon. And – I’d love to hear more from you on which of these maxims has prompted the most fruitful investigations on your part since you first inscribed them on your summerhouse roof.



  4. Oh Tom, what a question!

    Any answer I might offer tomorrow would be different from the one I might offer now!

    All things are connected though they seem to be separate!

    This one is the one I try very hard to stick to through everything:-

    ■ At every moment not a single action, not a single thought comes from the whole—but only from a small part of us…

    We are Multiple-I’s but we have the illusion that we are one unified ‘I’. I find this to be the most practical maxim – the one that leads me into profound practice.

    Gurdjieff would probably have asked: ‘Which self (or ‘I’) is one having to lose cherished ideas about?’

    Another maxim which is not up there:-

    ■ You never ever have to feel anything about anything unless you choose to…

    Can’t remember where this came from. But I’ve always used it in NLP courses as a potent way of disidentification



    1. Thanks, Colin! I believe there is a fundamental ontological principle underlying your statement that any answer you might offer tomorrow would be different from the one you might offer now. Much to mull over in that one sentence! And naturally I’ve printed out this reply and appended it to the original list of maxims that I’ve already placed in my tickler file.


  5. The ‘I’ of today is different from the ‘I’ of tomorrow! However [just testing!] this is today’s ‘I’s choice as well!! :-

    ■ At every moment not a single action, not a single thought comes from the whole—but only from a small part of us…


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