The Art of Personal Transformation: A Guide to Spiritual Awakening
by Theodore J. Nottingham
We are not one person. There is no "I am," but many "I's" coming from numerous places within us. There is the "I" who is in command when it is hungry. There is the "I" who is in a bad mood, there is the "I" that loves to read poetry, and on and on. This work enables us to look at this phenomenon while it is happening. In the state of sleep, we just assume that we always act as the same person. Inner knowledge tells us that we are made up of many disconnected, fragmentary facets without unity. When such information is verified, then a presence besides those many "I's" is also present. You can no longer fall entirely for the illusion of unity.
A person beats his child in a moment of rage. In that instant, he is only adrenaline and anger. Hopefully, sometime later another part of him is going to be horrified. But it could also happen that in the moment of explosion, something in him could have seen it coming and chosen not to let it take over: "I will not go with that. That is not me. I do not need to do that." This effort leads to a dis-entanglement from a life of mechanism that leads us nowhere. One of the other great ideas of this Work is that who we are attracts our life to us. If we are always unpleasant to be around, we will end up being by ourselves. We will gather to us a certain kind of life and people.
It is no small thing to begin to see who we are. It will impact our whole life. We are not one, but many. The aim is to become one, the true one behind the many "I's". The mysterious metaphor "man is legion" refers to the multi-faceted being that we are in our separation from the unifying Source. Part of our inner work, then, is to develop an awareness of the feeling of "I" in the moment. Such an effort will allow us not to be that fragmentary self claiming to be our whole identity. Any change in the sense of "I" will also transform the world around us. If the person who is about to strike his child catches himself and recovers some patience or forgiveness, he or she is going to change their world. The child will grow up without carrying the violence into another generation.
We generally encounter the world as an egotistical bundle of personal reactions and that is the cause of so much of our unnecessary unhappiness. We must develop a feeling of "I" that is different from the one we have now. We all have the experience of constant chatter in our heads. We are always thinking something, responding to something, imagining something. We say "I" to each activity in our mind: "I hate this...I am this...I want this." But this flood of constant response and talk in our brain is nothing more than life acting on our personality and our personality responding to it. We can form in ourselves, in our own psychology, a little bit of awareness that can stand back from that torrent of thought and activity and simply see -- without response to it, without judgement or justification.
This seeing allows us to recognize that in one moment we are this "I", yesterday we were another "I". Life impacts us and our personality responds. That little bit of "observing I" within us will grow and become more powerful. Eventually it will lead to our "true I" where we will have the power to be more than merely reactions. No single I in our personality will include the whole of itself in our consciousness. The "I" that we are now cannot possibly contain all of who we are. It is a fragment. The Work tells us that what we are not conscious of will control us. When we are completely caught up in our ordinary sense of self, there is no chance of change. We are convinced that we are right, we take for granted that this is who we are. We don't create that inner space which allows a new evolution to take place. So long as we take ourselves as one person, we cannot move from where we are.
There are sets of I's that are contradictory to the ones that make you feel bad. You can say "yes" to them and "no" to the ones that make you feel bad. As you begin to distance yourself from this inner ocean, you will be able to observe parts of yourself that we are calling I's which are not only contradictory but entirely foreign to what you really care about. For instance, you can be a religious person as well as the very opposite. In order to strengthen the part of yourself that wants to be a spiritual person over against the part that couldn't care less, one has to intentionally give power to those I's that will do the work of spiritual evolution and remove power from those that will not. This requires serious personal separation. As things are now, all of these I's claim to be yourself whenever they appear.
When you make that space -- which is the detachment of the mystic -- and you see these armies of light and darkness inside, then you know where the battle must take place. You will also see that the army of darkness is much bigger than the one of light, those I's that wish to love God and the universe and transcend their selfishness. Over against them is this horde of barbarians that are only interested in being comfortable and satisfying their desires.
We say I to everything. Everything that comes along makes us feel something. We say I to it. A lot of our I's are extremely contradictory to one another. Those I's don't know each other. We are changing I's at every moment, every event, every thought, every feeling is a different I in us. They all belong to personality which is acquired over our lifetime. If we can see these I's as separate from our true self, if we do not give them our force for just a moment, that energy goes into true I and gives it more strength. Everyone has I's that they don't like in themselves -- cruel I's, lascivious I's -- we don't want to think of ourselves as that kind of person. So when we have that I, we don't acknowledge it. If we see it at all, we justify it: "well, they deserved it." Most often we don't see it at all. It comes and goes and another I takes its place.
An I happens to you because a set of circumstances in the external or internal world provokes that I. If we can see that it just happens, if we can separate and not say I to them and just refer to them as " passing I's", we begin to detach from all of the emotional bondage that these I's inflict upon our lives. The Work tells us that nothing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that inner traffic. This insight gives us independence from the external world. This is a fundamental aspect of spiritual maturity and freedom. If we look at the teachers of humanity, they were independent of the forces around them. They were truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of surrounding influences. That is one characteristic of higher consciousness.
We do not have to create any grief for ourselves as part of our spiritual awakening. Life will give us all the grief we can handle, and a whole lot more. Going into a monastery or developing an intense discipline will not necessarily lead to authentic transformation. With this teaching, we are offered the mechanism of self-change. It is very specific, very scientific. This is spirituality brought to the West so that all of us who are bred through the use of the mind are able to access these higher states through knowledge. If we cannot see we are many and insist on regarding ourselves as one, then we can do nothing with regard to our inner life.
Buffers are a psychological phenomenon that keeps one set of I's from knowing another. They allow you to live with all the contradictions because they are not seen. This is a fundamental characteristic of the state of waking sleep in which we live wherein we cannot see the whole picture.
Lower I's cannot see higher I's. How can we separate if we take everything as ourselves? Some I's can make us depressed and have power over us. We do not even challenge them. We can detect their presence by a sudden loss of force. If we are not quick enough, they will take over. It is no use arguing with unpleasant I's. All our work lies in separating from wrong I's.
Where do they come from? At birth, we have a certain nature, called essence. Everything that happens to us from that point on lays down patterns of behavior, attitudes and associations in thought. These I's are not expressive of real I, but come from what has been built up in us through experience. This is determined by where we were born, when we were born. In a different culture, our I's would be completely different. In the desert, you might have wonderful associations concerning rain, whereas in Seattle it might depress you. They are all just I's, arising from personality which is a conglomeration of acquired thoughts, attitudes, moods, opinions. We don't have to take all this as oneself. If we invest our energy by identifying with an I, we give it power. By observation, we can see that they change constantly. Eventually, we will be able to separate. What is separate from that stream of I's? Real I. This is important because the state of consciousness that we live in, characterized by multiplicity, is the reason why there is so much violence in our world. Everyone is identified, everyone is asleep, everyone has false ideas about themselves. All of the I's that arise out of personality come from self-interest. And self-interest is always in conflict with the world.
If we have an I that says, "I am an American and therefore, as a good patriot, I must have an enemy who is not an American." Here is an example of why that state of consciousness is so dangerous. Everything is turned into conflict because we cannot find the place within that does not need to fight for its vanity or for those attitudes that keep us locked in. If all of that were unplugged, and we were at peace, not easily offended, not aggressively competitive, and could go through life being goodness, this would be the result of struggling against the I's.
All of us, even "nice people", have abhorrent thoughts. If we ascribe them to ourselves, we are in the power of that thought whether we act it out or not. We must not give it our energy and say I to it, and it will pass. Those kinds of negative I's will come in cycles. If we keep refusing to allow our emotions to get attached to them (identification), we will recognize that it isn't I, but that it comes and goes. We don't have to be that thought.
In order to protect our inner being from negative events, we must become hermetically sealed. They cannot penetrate to the core of ourselves and pollute us. It is possible to keep a part of ourselves protected. The idea of selection allows us to choose which thoughts to go with. "Get thee behind me, Satan." This is inner spiritual warfare. Satan is the conglomeration of all those results of the sleeping human psychology that creates the distorted human beings -- the selfishness, the violence, the chaos within.
Self-observation is the first tool in the process of awakening. The application of any of these ideas begins with self-observation. This is an act of attention directed inwards toward what is going on in us. Instead of living on the exterior, there is a little attention and energy kept within that can remain neutral and observe our behavior. Most of the time we are so unaware of ourselves that we don't even realize how we are sitting or what our posture is like. We are completely asleep to ourselves. This self-observation begins to let a ray of light into our inner darkness. But it cannot be done automatically like everything else we do. It requires a conscious effort. We must develop some control over our energy. If it is all used up for other things, we will not have it available for this effort. The Work requires the valuation of attention and energy.
The idea of higher states of consciousness is a more intensive way of being alive. In such states, there is a presence that resonates in the now. But we leak out our energy every day so completely and in so many ways that we do not have the fuel to live in those higher states which would so thoroughly change our lives. Self-observation means that we see something recurring in ourselves. The more we see it, the less we are under its power. If we see something in ourselves, such as lying, the natural inclination is to feel horrified. As long as we stay in that condition of response to what we have observed, we have no power to separate ourselves from it. However, the non-judgmental "Observing I" will naturally begin to change our way of acting in the world. It will also lead us to forgiveness, humility, and compassion not only for yourself but for everyone else.
When we come into the world, we are like a blank tape. Everything that we experience after our birth builds our personality. All of the external situations in our life interact with our essence and that creates who we are on the surface. This self is not the true I, but the I of personality which stands on shifting sand. The Work leads us to our real self from which we can act rightly in the world. The consequences of this Work are joyful and liberating. Self-observation leads to inner separation which is the beginning of the possibility of awakening. But it must be done in a neutral fashion.
Usually, when we see something in ourselves, we either deny it or feel horrible about ourselves. Or we justify it: "it only happened this one time, I'm not like that." This scientific, psychological method allows you to see within yourself in a way that you have never seen before. The object of self-observation is to impartially, uncritically and without justifying, take an inner glance at yourself, your attitudes and behavior. Try not to have an emotional response to what you see. This creates separation within yourself between the changing I's that you are observing and something within you that is stable and real. In the beginning it is weak. This is your true I, your higher self and self-observation will strengthen a sense of real I. It will make a space between the turning wheel of I's that go through you all day and the part of you that is your innermost, truest self which is most closely linked to the source of our being which is unfathomable.
We say I to everything. Everything that comes along makes us feel something. We say I to it. A lot of our I's are extremely contradictory to one another. Those I's don't know each other. We are changing I's at every moment; every event, every thought, every feeling is a different I in us. They all belong to personality which is acquired over our lifetime. If we can see these I's as separate from our true self, if we do not give them our force for just a moment, that energy goes into true I and gives it more strength. Everyone has I's that they don't like in themselves -- cruel I's, lascivious I's -- we don't want to think of ourselves as that kind of person. So when we have that I, we don't acknowledge it. If we see it at all, we justify it: "well, they deserved it." Most often we don't see it at all. It comes and goes and another I takes its place. An I happens to you because a set of circumstances in the external or internal world provokes that I.
If we can see that it just happens, if we can separate and not say I to them and just refer to them as " passing I's", we begin to detach from all of the emotional bondage that these I's inflict upon our lives. We are told in the Work that nothing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that traffic, wherever it comes from. That gives us independence from the external world. That is spiritual maturity and freedom. If you look at the sages of humanity, they were independent of the things that came at them and were therefore truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of circumstances. One of the tricks in self-observation is to not call I's I. When you observe yourself in a negative state and say to yourself: "I'm in a negative state. I'm really angry. Someone did something that upset me..." -- this is seeing, not observing. Observing means saying: "It is in a negative state. It feels angry, it feels resentment."
What we are dealing with is a phenomenon that is separate from us. If we can observe our mechanical behavior and not call it "I", we will be able to separate from it and not have to respond automatically to it. Calling these inner disturbances "It" can help. If we find difficult and confusing this concept of many I's, and the idea that our moods and feelings and attitudes are not us, but simply our acquired behavior, then calling our mechanical self "It" instead of "I" can help us learn to separate. In meditation, it is possible to reach a peaceful place within and feel refreshed and vitally alive. But then we step into the street and suddenly we are back in the whirlwind again. Here is the practical way, the secret to learning how not to fall right back into it. And therefore to maintain that high state of serenity in the midst of the chaos that we know so well.
This Work allows us to notice who are the friends and who the enemies within us. As it is now, they are all the same since they can each claim power anytime they want. There is no control, no direction, no center of gravity where one is anchored in certain fundamental decisions about the direction of one's life and commitments. When we begin to make an inner separation within ourselves and create "observing I," we are separating a part of our psychology from the mechanical part of our personality that is continually interacting with the world. That makes the personality that is functioning in the world self-conscious because it is being observed. This takes some of the force out of the strength of feeling ourselves as that personality because now there is something else in us that feels more like us than the personality. It is no longer so self-assured. Something within is seeing our life from a perspective that is not identified and therefore it isn't caught up in the power of the daily emotional roller-coaster.
The personality loses strength when it begins to be observed. If practiced with sincerity, the real I that would choose to live in accordance with our fate, our destiny, our vocation, our purpose for being here, would act in the world rightly. As that real I gains in strength, you begin to change. Gradually the personality becomes a servant to that real I. Instead of acting out of control with no unity, it will act with real will and express your unique individuality in the way that it is meant to be expressed.
The Work says that personality is all that is built up within us from a young age. This needs to happen so that we know how to function in the world. So we move from essence -- what we are born with -- into personality, which is artificially absorbed through the culture and education but is necessary in order to deal with the world. Inner work makes this personality more passive so that arrogance, pride and all the other attributes of personality lose power. When Dorothy pulls the curtain back on the wizard of Oz and catches the little man working the equipment, the power of the mighty Oz is forfeited. That is very much the idea of catching personality for what it is. We become very vulnerable because we no longer have all that puffed up behavior made out of "sound and fury signifying nothing." When you finally begin to activate that group of I's that wants to live at a higher level, you will soon find yourself confronted by opposite I's; that powerful group that wants to stay in control and doesn't want anything to do with this self-transcendence business. Your greatest enemy is the false part of you that will not relinquish its power and will seek to destroy the other part of you that seeks the spiritual life.
The early fathers of Christianity saw the demonic as psychological phenomena. They talked about this teaching on I's as demons. A demon enters and suggests such and such an act to you and you have a choice: assent to the suggestion or reject it. In some ways, the ancient metaphors make it easier to fight internal contradictions than the terminology of the Work. If you know you're dealing with evil, you can face off with it. When it is confused with yourself, or what you thought was yourself, it is more subtle and complex.
These ideas must be employed in your everyday dealings. To be in the world and yet to be removed from it is real work. In order to accomplish this, you must find time for yourself and seek quiet space. Take twenty minutes a day for the centering that will give you the inner force to build up your true self. Again, this is why the Work has been referred to as that of the "cunning man" because we are to take the events of life -- the nasty boss, the frantic pace -- and turn them into inner gold by using them as opportunities to reach that objective space that can deal with both one's inner and outer world. When the Work is applied to challenges in the outer world, it defines and gives character and strength to your real I. From this perspective, we can be sharpened every day.
John of the Cross refers to the rock being sculpted. It doesn't know that it is being turned into a piece of art. It only knows that it is being hammered on. As we enter deeper into this teaching, we begin to feel sustained by the power behind these ideas. The point is to come under influences that are from a higher realm. There are the influences of life -- making a living and so forth -- and there are higher spiritual influences that come down through real I, through essence, through level of being, that have to do with the presence of God. These influences can sustain us through everything, including death. This Work cleanses, aligns, and puts us in connection with something that is far beyond our own means so that we are not left out there by ourselves flaying against our enemies. Ultimately there is the hope of being in touch with something that can give us the kind of support that we cannot give ourselves.
"All our work lies in separating from wrong I's." In the beginning we cannot even tell the difference between right and wrong I's since we have no guidelines. Behind all our many desires is the one desire for God. These finite desires are merely reflections of the ultimate desire for the infinite. We must therefore center our lives around making a choice, coming to a decision. We must unify ourselves around a focal point -- a decision -- which the Work defines as separating from wrong I's. We need to sort out the wheat from the tares.
"What drags us down is our choice." We have the power of choice to think in one way or in another. The I that decides to wake up early is not the same I that has to roll out of bed at 5:30 when the alarm goes off. You can notice in your contradictions that one I is in charge and that it doesn't remember the previous one. When you sit down to dinner, you often don't remember your diet I's. They don't appear until you're finished. The fact that one can recognize that "this is what I wanted to do and this is what I did" can be the beginning of seeing clues to a complete transformation of consciousness. Ideally, we should go through life in that higher place that is detached, free, self-controlled, and able to do right action in the world. This place does not get dragged down by boredom, depression, envy. This is the place that can be reached briefly in meditation and can become the place inside you which is the observer. After a beautiful meditation or worship service or having listened to a piece of music, you will notice that fifteen minutes later you are under attack and your higher state is lost. You are back in the usual momentum. You must begin to build slowly, carrying that meditative inner space into the madness of daily life.
In this Work you need to remember that you don't remember yourself. In other words, an hour into your day, after having started out quietly and built that inner space, you suddenly realize that you have completely forgotten about it. That is an important moment. Merely noticing how you completely lost track of what you are trying to be and do is the beginning of change. All of these steps and ideas lead somewhere. They lead to a definite change, a definite transformation of your being. If your aim is to be in touch with God or to have enough knowledge of God to know what your place is in the world -- what you are suppose to do while you are here, the meaning of your existence -- there must first be an emptiness created within. This Work is all about clearing out the mess that is inside everyone as a consequence of being born on this planet, in order to get behind that noise and become able to hear guidance from another source. So all the things that we are talking about -- many I's, self-observation, inner separation -- are tools. They are meant to clear a path in you that will be without self-interest and consequently will be at the service of what is divine in the world. This Work can lead you to a very great place in yourself which is your highest fulfillment.
Gurdjieff said not to take any of these ideas on faith. The only value is to verify it for yourself. The only way you can find out what it might do for you is to begin with inner separation. The key to get to the inner separation that can remove us from the hypnosis of the external world is self-observation. This is the secret of this Work. This teaching uses our daily life as the food for our transformation. The methodology begins with self-observation. Self-observation leads to inner separation which is the beginning of the possibility of awakening. But it must be done in a neutral fashion. Usually, when we see something in ourselves, we either deny it or feel horrible about ourselves. Or we justify it: "it only happened this one time, I'm not like that." This scientific, psychological method allows you to see within yourself in a way that you have never seen before. The object of self-observation is to impartially, uncritically and without justifying, take an inner glance at yourself, your attitudes and behavior.
Try not to have an emotional response to what you see. This creates separation within yourself between the changing I's that you are observing and something within you that is stable and real. In the beginning it is weak. This is your true I, your higher self and self-observation will strengthen a sense of real I. It will make a space between the turning wheel of I's that go through you all day and the part of you that is your innermost truest self which is most closely linked to the source of our being which is unfathomable. We are told in the Work that nothing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that traffic, wherever it comes from. That gives us independence from the external world. That is spiritual maturity and freedom. If you look at the sages of humanity, they were independent of the things that came at them and were therefore truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of circumstances. One of the tricks in self-observation is to not call I's I.
In this teaching, morality is subjective to a great extent. What is moral for this time was not moral one hundred years ago. What is moral in this country is not moral someplace else. The vast majority of the things to which we assign morality are subjective. That morality can change according to the person, the place, the era, the culture. This condition of self-observation cannot assign judgment, because as soon as we do so we are no longer observing but we are being it. If we are being it, we have no chance of separating from it. So if we observe something in ourselves -- such as a hateful I -- and we feel that we don't want to be that, we are investing it with our emotional energy and we are not going to be able to separate ourselves from it. Eventually, through a long process of self-observation with non-judgement, we can see which I's serve higher consciousness (goodness) and which do not serve it.
When we can be separate from it, we can pull ourselves out of the I's that don't serve higher consciousness and consequently they become weak. That is how we can have an influence on them. This idea of selecting parts of oneself is very important. Being able to be objective within oneself enough to see that there is a large crowd within us allows us to see those parts of us that have no interest in spirituality.
Now we are capable of recognizing the "enemy." These few I's that are interested in self-transcendence are the ones we want to cultivate. As they get stronger, they will help us evolve to that higher quality of being. But until we get to this point -- seeing the contradictions within -- everything remains confused and chaotic. These ideas will step on your toes. But if we apply the humility of observation, we will develop marvelous insights into how this mechanism operates. "We touch life according to implanted attitudes" wrote Maurice Nicoll. "It is an extraordinary experience to become even a little free from this acquired way of taking life and taking others...With insight into oneself, it is possible to take things in a new way."
Change involves a change in oneself. We are all convinced that the way we take things is appropriate. The Work is meant to dissolve self-complacency, this "pseudo-creation we call ourselves." We are slaves to this acquired machinery that we take as ourselves. The practice of the Work allows us to capture overviews of what we are really like and what we have been like for years. This can certainly be shattering. But it is dangerous unless we know how not to become negative as a result of these perceptions. We cannot take all our I's as ourselves, and the Work calls this conglomeration as "imaginary I." Nicoll asks the question: "Is not all development through a process of rejection and selection?" It follows that we must wonder how we can reject or select if all is one for us, if all is I. The object of this Work is to make us conscious of what is going on in us. "Here in this inner world, and in what we select and reject in it, lies the key to the Work and so to evolution."
Just remembering that we forgot to remember is an important observation. To say "I'm going to observe my impatience." Suddenly, it's Friday and I've been impatient all week but never thought about noticing it, reveals to us very clearly what the idea of sleep is about. There is a dimension of observing I that needs to break through to a larger perspective that has healing powers. One of the problems with the way the Work is being taught as we experienced it -- and as Gurdjieff saw it being done in New York to his great disgust -- is the fact that it is often reduced to a sterile psychological exercise. Even though one has to make simple efforts in the beginning, baby steps even, the whole point is that we are embarking on the greatest adventure human beings can undertake, which is to connect with that holy dimension of life, that unnamable dimension that we come from, and which transcends even our passage through this plane.
Observing I, seeing tensions in the body, has the potential of doing more than merely alert us to it. Observing I can also link you with a spiritual quality of self-forgetfulness (you remember yourself in order to forget yourself). This quality of transcendence of self is such that there is a meltdown of tension. Observing I needs to eventually remove us from the sphere of self-concern to the point where all our wrong tensions and attitudes disappear, just like in deep meditation. Such relaxation of misguided tension can come to us through a moment of higher emotional experience that becomes available through the moment of separation. We must be beware of turning this kind of observation into microscopic self-absorption, all turned in upon ourselves. Remember that ultimately the aim is to be so surrendered to the something higher that we are that we both vanish and find self-realization.
Tension comes from something emotional. If we can take the emotion out of an anxiety, then the physiology can relax. The power of observation is that it teaches us that we are not fully captives of our behavior. Becoming aware of tension begins the process of relaxing it. The process of relaxing tense muscles is directly related to our spiritual state in the moment. Awareness becomes healing and frees us to simply be in the moment. We can only have that inner liberation by a separation. Detachment or inner separation is the key. The Work does not give us platitudes but practical how-to insights. To remember some of these ideas during the current of the daily activities is to notice something about yourself. That noticing is the first step toward awakening which is a way of being in the world that is closer to our true potential.
Most daily negativity is based on self-indulgent, small minded, petty behavior that goes uncontrolled and is the result of years of habit and imitation of others. We have all had experiences where we recognized that our negative behavior was unnecessary. Any poisonous contribution to the psychic atmosphere of the world is not going to bring about harmony or good. We must get to that point where we have observed clearly our own negativity and what it generates in the world. We need to see that we are not in control, that we may want to act differently but continue to act in the way we do not want. Then we may begin to see that humanity feeds off this negativity which produces the consequences that we see all around us. Observing negativity can teach us reams about ourselves and show us why the world is in such a mess. It will also reveal to us that negativity is contagious and perpetuates itself.
Maurice Nicoll speaks of "becoming aware of a drop in level or sudden loss of force". The awareness of letting yourself go with a sudden moment of irritation is not a moral issue, but a loss of energy. We are to learn to value this life force that can be used for getting in touch with God or higher meaning. Negative states squander such energy completely. This beginning process of self-observation and separation eventually leads to being able to have a choice over the use of our energies which most people don't have. "If you're not quick enough, I's of this kind will get in and take possession of you and it may take days to get rid of them."(Nicoll, Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky)
Instead of being morose for three days and finally, some way or other, getting on with your life, become aware that on a particular day you didn't have the inner strength to not let this old habit come back in and take over. At this phase of the Work, all you can do is say:"it's taking over." You cannot keep it from doing so. Just being able to know that you have been taken over takes away some of the power of that phenomenon. When it happens unconsciously, there is nothing you can do about it. You will just be it. "We have to learn to walk in ourselves very carefully."(Nicoll) To take for granted our psychological landscape with its peaks and valleys, its dark and light areas, is to miss a universe peopled with all sorts of angels and demons. Our condition is to wander around in this vast and varied country without paying any attention to the dangers that exist there.
Just by the power of observation you will put a flashlight to this unknown world. You will begin to see the bad neighborhoods through which you do not want to travel. The esoteric metaphor of Christ born in a manger has to do with the birth in your manger, full of darkness and smells and animals, of the higher Self. The mystics say that it doesn't matter if Christ was born a thousand times in Bethlehem if he is not born within you, because then his incarnation was pointless. There is something precious within us to create. To do that, we must see our surroundings and make our way through them. Out of all of that which is petty and selfish and cruel within us, we must get to the point where we can say "not I, but Christ lives in me." That is the expression of being in touch with the spiritual self and that birth within is the Work. It is the birth of the unified self in touch with divine influences and cleansed of the madness and darkness which is the usual state of our being.
"It is no use arguing with unpleasant I's." When there are I's in you that seek to make you negative, struggling with them puts us on their level and we become emotionally identified with one side or the other. We either argue or resist them and stay engaged on that level. If instead we say "these are only I's, and I will not give them my strength; I will not identify with them and they will pass," then we can begin to have an effect on our inner state instead of just being subject to whatever turmoil is happening within. Eventually that real I in you will have more power. Behind real I lies God and that is why we struggle to get there, so that we can be in touch with God and know what that Will is for us, and have it come through our real I and guide our personality in the ways in which it is needed in the world.
As we are now we can do virtually nothing against the emotional forces within us. But if we start with the mental I's that are not as charged as the emotional ones, we can potentially control them and deal with them. Their speed is different. The speed of sudden anger is on a different scale than the speed of intellectual thought. Eventually, we can develop a mastery over all of the emotional activity within us. The Work lays down guidelines between what is right and wrong. Ultimately, this differentiation has to do with the aim of the Work, which is higher consciousness. Whatever takes away from that development is wrong, and whatever leads to it is right. What is it that interferes with the aim?-- automatic behavior, negativity, false personality. It isn't a moral judgement, but a practical and common sense approach to what is going to help or hinder our inner development. Life encourages wrong I's, namely the lower side of humanity -- aggressive, negative, greedy behavior. Those characteristics are clearly poisonous to inner development and yet are rewarded in this world.
Life and the Work have completely different agenda. Try to observe your negativity. Notice when you are negative, whenever it happens, in any of its forms. They include much more than anger, it includes frustration, vengeance, any feelings of irritation. The next step after observing your negative I's is to try not to express them. Simply refrain from expressing this negative I. An alchemical phenomenon will happen inside of you when you do not express it. The energy that would have gone into expressing this I is free energy and it will feed your real I and give you a sense of yourself. Try not to express negativity when it occurs to you and don't feel bad when it doesn't work because it takes a long time before you can get to that point. Sometimes we discover an I in ourselves that is "out to get us" because it wants our energy like a carnivorous creature. It will do anything it can to get us into a negative state so that it can nourish itself. This teaching is an alchemical method to take force out of such I's.
The idea is to turn the energy that would have gone into negativity into food for higher consciousness. This is not a process that seeks to uncover the reasons why that negativity was formed within you in the first place. What needs to be seen is not where it came from or how it happened, but to recognize that it is there and that it keeps happening. We then deal with that phenomenon in a transcendent way rather than in an analytical way.
Many people define themselves by their negativity. We are emotionally attached to our negative feelings. We enjoy them. They give us a sense of ourselves and who we think we are. They give us a sense of power because of their strong effect on us.
A first step is to try to separate the emotion from the activity. If you observe negative emotion in relation to your personality, let all of that go; don't listen to those I's; let them pass right through you, stay focused on the mechanics of the activity that you have to get through. If you focus attention on your writing hand, it will relax the muscle. Using that experience to be conscious of it produces a domino effect. You free your muscles to do the activity correctly, you free your psychology from some other connection and create a space of simply being. Intentional use of this ordinary experience of writing can then align you with a higher state. Attention to your hand writing can become a spiritual experience. There is also value in observing how the human machine works. This knowledge can make us more compassionate toward persons who have been formed and imprisoned by habits of fear and emotional attachment. Sometimes you can only observe something in retrospect. You're too caught up in it in the moment. The releasing of tensions can bring cleansing to these toxic emotions.
TOWARD THE REAL SELF
What you have taken all your life to be one being with a name is shattered into a million pieces. There is no center in which you can consider yourself to be at home, to be dependable to yourself. Nobody wants to know this. In fact, we spend our lives building up a false identity of who we are. A self-importance, a role based on what our jobs are, that give us the illusion of unity and oneness. The Work tells us that this is a fantasy, an illusion. One of the things that keeps us in such a hypnotic state is identification. The reason we are asleep, the reason we do not naturally recognize the reality of our being is because we get caught by everything. We identify ourselves, our life, our emotions, with each phenomenon that occurs.
An example:Getting angry at your child for spilling the milk. At that moment you are emotionally and intellectually enslaved by that event. You are lost in that event. Instead of being all that you are -- the rational, intelligent, loving human being -- you are lost in the spilt milk. This insight has an extraordinary range of subtlety. Life, which cares not for esotericism, mysticism, spirituality, thinks that is just fine. In fact, the more you are identified, the better an employee you are. You will work very hard for that status or all the things that society rewards you with for selling yourself into the illusion of what is important.
This Work calls life "incoming impressions," events that have an impact on you. Everything that you say I to, you identify with. Everything that you identify with, you give your force to and consequently it has power over you --a person going through their daily routine, identifying with one thing after another that comes through either the stimulation of outer or inner events such as psychological patterns, habits of reaction, ways of behaving. The reason this is extremely significant for those who are seeking something more in being alive is that this is what blocks out higher consciousness, the reality of the sacred, God or whatever you want to call it. If it's raining and that puts you in a bad mood, you have just cut yourself off from the deeper source of your being. In that moment you are dead to the essence of being alive. For those who are yearning for spiritual reality, who are magnetized toward something more than the dreary ordinariness that is not the end-all of being in the cosmos; these are the things that cut us off completely and with these are all of our attitudes that we are asleep to.
Gurdjieff would say that the third state of consciousness is the place where we become capable of loving our enemies, and that we can be like the sun that rains on the good and the bad alike. The great teachers -- especially those of the Christian Tradition -- say that our rebirth, our transformation describes the process of becoming that sun that can shine on all things in the same way. That is a level of love that we must admit we are not capable of in our present condition. The reason we are not capable of implementing the teachings of Christ or of the Buddha is because we live in a consciousness of multiplicity where the good and the not so good commingle. Our I's are not merely an interesting phenomenon to observe, but reflect a level of being that keeps us from what we are truly meant to become.
All the great teachers of all the religions tells us that we are meant to express true love, objective love -- agape -- the kind of love that can transform other people because its radiance has power. This is our birthright. This is what we are called to by religion and spirituality. Christianity in its manifestation in the world today has been polluted. It is difficult to talk about this religion without someone having all kinds of associations that are distortions and the result of unfortunate experiences. As long as we take this teaching -- which is the essence of the Christian teaching -- and apply it to ourselves, there is no problem. It is the external manifestations of religious faiths that have completely corrupted its presence in the world to the point that most wars are now religious ones. Gurdjieff used the link with Christianity as a shock. Most of the people around him were secular intellectuals completely outside of the religious institutions. B. D. Griffith, a Benedictine monk who lived in India, said shortly before his death that if Christianity does not recover its mystical tradition, it might as well close up shop. Otherwise it is a total failure.
There is virtually no place in society to find real spiritual nourishment. Imagine a place where everyone is so focused on the common aim of spiritual awakening that an authentic liberation from the harshness of the world "out there" occurs because you are among people who are genuinely working on themselves in the name of the Creator. That is what a Church is meant to be. The early eastern teachers of Christianity had as a magic key parallel to self-observation the state of gratitude. In gratefulness, there is a transcendence of self-interest, a recognition of life as gift rather than as something to manipulate for one's desires. Gratitude does focus us on the possibility of another state of consciousness. All of us have had access to these higher moments. That is why we seek them because we have some yearning for it. This system is a systematic way of achieving such experiences. In a moment of gratefulness, we may indeed transcend a situation or some psychological state and experience some moment of bliss.
The issue is: what will happen tomorrow and why can it not be sustained? When you begin to understand these ideas, you can see why it happens. Another fragment of self that is not grateful for anything is going to take over and call itself "you". Meanwhile, the you that had this grateful awareness will not provide the unity and center where you might live that out. Real gratitude is a state of prayer, which is a state of higher consciousness. But then, we have the gratefulness of the Pharisee, who was glad that he wasn't like the other fellow. True Christianity is very holistic. The idea of the incarnation proves that through the physical body there can be higher consciousness, or unity with the source of existence. One is able to use the body as a vehicle to manifest higher consciousness.
The Buddhist masters are tremendous examples of this. In practicing martial arts, their presence to reality and separation from lower levels of consciousness is so intense that their very gestures have a purity that reflects a higher state. The goal is that real I will manifest in the world. If it were present at all times, we would be acting in the world in a right way under every set of circumstances. The outcome of our actions would be goodness. If all the people around the world were in that condition at the same time, that would be called the "kingdom of heaven." Barbara Marx Hubbard and other contemporary thinkers hope for this critical mass where numerous people would reach that state. It is hard not to be pessimistic because it takes a great deal of work to get there. It does not happen automatically. That is where religion can be very superficial because of the assumption that some external ritual will do the trick. The symbols have no meaning unless an internal phenomenon takes place and continually takes place. The early teachers of Christianity were very clear about the idea that thoughts come to you.
Their method of the watch of the heart was to be aware enough of their thoughts to keep them from entering the emotions and manifesting in actions. They developed a process to observe the I's and keep the negative ones from stealing their force. This was in conformity with the idea of "cleansing the inside of the cup." We cannot do that if we think these thoughts are ourselves.
For hundreds of years, every teacher of Christianity read the Bible allegorically. St. Augustine, the father of the western Church, went so far as to try to figure out why the gospel writers mentioned two straps on John the Baptist's sandals. But stories could also be turned into profound psychological meanings that could affect your life. The idea of the literal interpretation of the Bible is a new idea from the days of the American frontier and cut off from centuries of teachings. All of the ideas in scripture are multi-dimensional, that is why they are called sacred. They are relevant and valuable because they relate directly to human evolution, to what one can become, to spiritual awakening. The number one sin according to the early fathers was pride. And that is the description of the Satan figure. The personality that pictures itself as a wonderful human being while being a stimulus-response machine is where the perversion comes in.
The stimulus-response phenomenon of our nature is "evil" by the fact that it is unconscious behavior without will or control. The false personality distorts the mechanical responses. If the conditions on this planet were different, with conscious human beings living here, the mechanicalness would develop a different kind of personality without necessarily having those negative traits. Mechanicalness could exist and not be a conveyor of evil. But the false personality that we develop around ourselves is what perverts it.
When some of these ideas begin to resonate at a deeper level, then intimate and personal insights that cannot be expressed in words come to the surface. They have to do with qualities of awareness and degrees of consciousness beyond the realm of the senses.
As you observe yourself over a long period of time and you come to see the pictures that you have of yourself, of the kind of person that you think you are and the contradictions in your behavior, as you separate from the I's that you observe, real I -- which belongs to the third state of consciousness -- becomes more powerful. This real I is you in your pristine, uncluttered existence. As it becomes stronger, it manifests and what is contradictory to it begins to weaken and not manifest. It is not a matter of something breaking through, but of growing and evolving. That higher part of us gains control and power and manifests in our behavior. The I's that we express change according to that evolution.
Moments of higher consciousness do break through and occur spontaneously. Sometimes we don't realize what is happening to us. We often do not know how to value what has happened in a moment of gratitude or deep peace. We are so asleep that we don't recognize the different qualities of consciousness that we experience. The purpose of this Work is to make such moments more frequent and more consistent. We don't have to go to a mountaintop or to a beach in order to find that peace, that state that the soul longs for. We are meant to know this state even in the middle of a traffic jam. If we are able to separate and remember to observe rather than to become irritated, then we can save ourselves from that loss of life-force and gain force by turning that energy into something higher.
Ultimately, this process leads to becoming a better human being. Knowledge and Truth are meant to lead to Goodness. We must be willing to recognize the contradictions and the need for help to lead us toward the self that we are meant to be.
When you visit your parents on holidays, you will notice that you are behaving in a way that belongs to a personality that you had when you were very young. We have entire groups of I's with certain personality traits. They take over under different circumstances, according to particular stimuli. You play one role at work and another at home. From business person to husband or wife. The idea is to achieve a level of unity and consistency that should be the characteristic of the Self. We attribute this characteristic to ourselves even though we are not like that. We can discover a quality of being that we recognize in the great saints and teachers of humanity are trustworthy in relationship to the higher Truth in every moment of life. Their actions do not contradict their level of being.
Consciousness in the moment can put us in touch with a timeless reality. Eternity in the moment. This straightforward set of ideas is meant to deal with the extraordinary things of life. There is no question that a great deal of empowerment can take place through these ideas. Imagine you are at the office and someone becomes very angry. But you stay calm and in control. You watch this person objectively and you don't react. The adrenals don't kick in as they might otherwise do. You are in control and the other person is not. This is an example of the power available through this Work. Yet it is not about personal power, because then it becomes distorted and that element of goodness which is at the heart of it is lost. Empowerment is a goal, but not for self-interest. There are situations, such as embarrassment, that rob us of our force and our ability to be present. If we were free of all of those considerations, we would have the power not to be crippled by our own thoughts of ourselves and the emotional mess it creates in us. That is a kind of liberation that is empowering.
If you were suddenly stripped of all your possessions and you found yourself in the wilderness alone, everything that matters now regarding prestige, attachments, would disappear. But you would still be there. The part that is unconditioned is what our soul yearns for, because that is the source of peace and fulfillment.
The aim is to be able to walk through life with a unity of self and remembrance of the significance of being alive unhampered by circumstances, people, and one's own past development. This is the goal that great sages, saints and teachers reached. To radiate with a higher goodness is the result of work on oneself. So from small efforts, we reach out for that state of consciousness which makes the difference between a life well lived and one not well lived.