Gurdjieff: Young Alexis

In Tscheslaw Tschekhovitch’s excellent book, Gurdjieff, a Master in Life: Recollections of Tscheslaw Tschekhovitch, Tschekhovitch relates how Gurdjieff cured a young man who doctors had failed to cure. The young man’s name was Alexis.

Alexis had been eating increasingly large quantities of food (e.g. 20 eggs for breakfast), but instead of gaining weight, he was losing weight and becoming sick.  Doctors had tried everything and eventually he came to Gurdjieff, who took him in.

Gurdjieff made him do physical work and limited how much he ate.  He got better and eventually recovered his health.

At the end of Alexis’ stay at the Institute, Mr. Gurdjieff explained to us what had really been going on with this poor young man as a result of his excessive eating.

“In man,” he told us, “certain glands produce a definite quantity of substances for the digestion of food. Suppose, for example, that the organism produces 50 grams of gastric juices, and with these 50 grams it can transform 500 grams of various foods into elements that can be assimilated by the blood. If the organism takes in 1000 grams of food instead of 500, the proportion of gastric juice will no longer be 1 to 10, but to 20. So, heavy food, which is digested slowly, cannot be broken down into elements that can be absorbed by the blood. Only lighter food, which can be transformed by gastric juices diluted to a proportion of to 20, will be digested.

“You understand that I am not giving you exact numbers or precise data about digestion, but with these examples, you can grasp what was happening to Alexis. In fact, he ate much more than a kilogram of food and put so much into his stomach that his gastric juices as well as other digestive juices I haven’t mentioned were diluted to the point of not being able to break down even the lightest foods into elements that could be assimilated. Therefore, almost everything he ate simply passed through his organism without nourishing him at all.

“If he didn’t die in spite of all this, it’s because somehow or other his body adapted and managed to use some of the first mouthfuls that were eaten. On the other hand, since his stomach expanded more and more, he had to eat more at each meal to feel satisfied.”

Turning to Alexis, Mr. Gurdjieff said, “Now your stomach is almost normal. If you wish to stay in good health, do not eat more than you’ve been given here during these last few weeks. For a certain time, you must accept that you will finish your meals with a sensation of hunger. Now, this sensation of hunger leaves you half an hour after the meal, which is great progress, but soon it will disappear the moment you leave the table.”