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Maurice Nicoll

"The object of Esotericism is to connect man with the will of God."

— Maurice Nicoll 

  Maurice Nicoll, born at the Manse in Kelso, Scotland was the son of William Robertson Nicoll, a preacher of the Free Church of Scotland. He studied Science at Cambridge, before going on to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and in Vienna, Berlin and Zurich where he became a colleague of Carl Gustav Jung.

  Jung's psychological revelations and his work with Jung during this period left a lasting influence on young Maurice. After his Army Medical Service in the 1914 War in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, he returned to England to become a psychiatrist. In 1921 he met P. D. Ouspensky, a student of G. I. Gurdjieff, and became a pupil of Gurdjieff the following year. After Gurdjieff closed his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in 1923, Dr. Nicoll joined Ouspensky's group and in 1931, following Ouspensky's advice, started his own group in England through a program of work devoted to passing on the ideas he had gathered, and passing them through a series of weekly talks. Many of these talks were recorded verbatim and documented in a six-volume set of books titled Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

  Maurice Nicoll was raised as a traditional Christian but did not remain one. Gurdjieff said that the work he taught was "Esoteric Christianity", and by that he meant that it wasn't a religion but that it was about the inner meaning of what Christ taught, a teaching about the inner evolution of humanity. This wisdom saturated Nicoll's heart and mind, and through his background of education and experience he raised it to a higher level—a practical, grounded expression of the heart of true spirituality. When you read his books, you can feel the goodness of the man even as you are amazed by the insight he reveals.

  There are three qualities which are the marks of a truly spiritual person—no matter what the person or others claim about the person's spirituality. Two of them are generosity and kindness. The fact that Maurice Nicoll consistently exemplified these qualities, even while he was one of London's leading psychiatrists, gives testament to the fact that he bore the third and crowning virtue of the spiritual person—humility. Though Maurice advocated the theories of the Fourth Way, he maintained interests in essential Christian teachings until the end of his life.

Maurice Nicoll: Spiritual Giant, Gentle Genius

The Mark

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Transformation of Consciousness and Being

  "All sacred writings contain an outer and an inner meaning. Behind the literal words lies another range of meaning, another form of knowledge. According to an old-age tradition, Man once was in touch with this inner knowledge and inner meaning. There are many stories in the Old Testament that convey knowledge with a meaning quite different from the literal sense of the words. The story of the Ark, the story of Pharaoh's butler and baker, the story of the Tower of Babel, the story of Jacob and Esau and the mess of pottage, and many others, contain an inner psychological meaning far removed from their literal level of meaning. And in the Gospels the parable is used in a similar way. Many parables are used in the Gospels. As they stand, taken in the literal meaning of the words, they refer apparently to vineyards, to householders, to stewards, to spendthrift sons, to oil, to water, to wine, to seeds, to sowers, to soil, and many other things. This is their literal level of meaning. The language of parables is difficult to understand just as is, in general, the language of all sacred writings. Taken on the level of literal understanding, both the Old and New Testaments are full not only of contradictions but of cruel and repulsive meaning."

  Here lies one of the deepest ideas in the psychological teachings of the Gospels. A radical, permanent transformation is taught as being possible and 'metanoia' is the technical description of it. But a man cannot reach a permanent higher level of himself unless there is built up in him a connection of ideas that can gradually lift him beyond his present level. The idea of the self-evolution of man, the idea of metanoia or 'transformation of mind', and the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven are all connected and related ideas. Christ's teaching is about a possible individual evolution in a man. Everyone on this planet is capable of a certain inner growth and individual development, and this is his true significance and his deepest meaning and begins with metanoia.

Metanoia: From the Greek "metanoiein", to transform one's mind, awakening
 one's consciousness to a broader spiritual reality and meaningful existence.

  Upon entering the path or journey of changing one's being—and consequently—one's life, that is, what one experiences as his or her day-to-day experience of living, many have discovered that it is difficult to receive new ideas and truths which, in fact, could so radically transform their lives that they would hardly recognize themselves, or that the person they are now, strikes any resemblance to the person they were, say, just a few weeks or months ago.

  Where we live psychologically in the inner world of our being—in our thought life—is the intersection at which we meet the physical or outer world of experience. Where we live psychologically is the cause creating the very life that we experience on a moment-to-moment basis, not only inwardly in our thoughts and emotions, but every experience that we attract to ourselves. Our habitual patterns of thought, whether we are conscious of them or not, attract to us our day-to-day experiences. Taken as a whole, these thought patterns are reflected back to us in the circusmtances that we encounter in life.

  Like the opposite poles of a magnet, they attract to us our professions, the quality of our relationships, our life partners, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, where we choose to live and, as many spiritual systems claim, even the destiny of our souls. Likewise, these thought patterns also create our emotional life, determining whether we experience life's journey at the level of our feelings with a sense of joy and expansion, or with a sense of terror, fear, and contraction.

  So, the first question that each of us must answer, that is if our quest is to transform our lives into a life filled with experiences and the kinds of quality relationships we desire, is "Why do we find it so difficult to receive new ideas?" The simple answer is that due to the time period into which each of us is born, our experiences and conditioning, and the environment—both cultural and religious—that we are raised in, creates a mind within us that, like the moon ever circling the Earth, navigates the course of our lives within a closed set of ideas, conventions and beliefs.

  Some have likened the mind to a bird-cage and ideas to birds where, if you value them, some quite beautiful birds may take up a permanent nest, others may come for a brief time and then fly away, and still others may fly away never to be seen again. If you could see your mind represented as a bird-cage, what kinds of birds would you find in it? Would you find eagles freely soaring to the heights of spiritual mountaintops, or would you find vultures fighting over meager scraps of food? Would you find your bird-cage filled with droppings and molted feathers, and if so, what would this filth represent psychologically in terms of the content of your consciousness? In other words, what would you see your thought-life to consist of and what would be its psychological meaning?

  Ideas that strangle the development of the mind, traditional ideas that have no life in them or conventional ideas and cultural norms thoughtlessly or politely imitated, represent just such filth in one's mind. Likewise, a flattering or submissive mind reeks of the same stench as a mind swarming with "little nasty mice," constantly running to and fro devising petty, mean, or trivial schemes.

  To receive and think from new ideas has a cleansing effect on the mind, not only of the inner content of one's thoughts, but the effect of which is so powerful as to be felt not only on an emotional level, but is visibly recognizable to oneself and others in the physical body, in one's countenance—even in one's facial expressions. It is interesting to note that the word countenance, from the Latin "continentia" means, "the way one contains oneself", that is, what one contains within oneself—within one's mind—is expressed outwardly in our emotions and physical expressions of the body.

  What is often referred to as "spiritual mind" or "higher consciousness" contains within it just such powerful ideas. If one has a strong enough motivation or desire to change, as well as the emotional ability to take deliberate action, and can humble himself, that is, quiet one's habitual thoughts long enough to receive—and think from—thoughts coming down to us from the realm of spiritual mind or higher consciousness, one's mind will, as Dr. Nicoll says, "begin to smell less badly in the nostrils of heaven." Seeing, as has been previously stated, that the mind is connected to the emotions and body, one would expect the face to alter over a period of time as an outward sign that one has received these new and powerful ideas, and that one is consciously acting from them. But, if the face does not alter, it would only stand to reason that these spiritual ideas—ideas from higher consciousness—have not been received sufficiently to exert their effect. It seems, unfortunate as it is, that some minds are so filthy, and some people so completely oblivious or unconscious of the fact that they have a mind that can—and needsto be transformed, that there exists no possibility of change for such individuals.

  To receive thoughts from the realm of spiritual mind or higher consciousness, one's mind must be receptive. Figuratively speaking, a bowl or cup could represent the receptive mind, that is, something into which new ideas could be poured and retained. An upside-down bowl or cup would then represent a non-receptive mind. Or, the bowl or cup might be filled with so much "dirt" such that, until it was cleaned out, nothing new could be poured in or received without contamination. These new and powerful ideas from higher consciousness, for example, ideas expressed in many of the world's great spiritual teachings, cannot be received if one's mind is not receptive, or if it is filled with so much "psychological filth."

  These concepts can only be represented by ordinary images or objects because no one can draw a mind or see wrong ideas. However, using images and objects recognizable to the senses can help us to visualize things not visible to the senses, such as a mind or ideas. In other words, by using objects visible to the senses, it is possible to express the invisible in terms of the visible. This is possible provided that one realizes that the visible things made use of represent invisible things, and so are not to be taken literally, but rather, psychologically. So, a bowl can represent the mind; empty and turned upright it can mean that the mind is receptive to new ideas from higher consciousness; full of filth it represents the mind as full of false, wrong, or dead ideas; and a mind full of "water," (in the Bible, "water" refers to truth) represents a mind full of living or "life-giving" ideas.

  It is quite true to say that, when presented to some individuals, the idea of transforming of the literal sense into the psychological sense can be extremely offensive and strongly resented by them, that is, to their conditioned mind and, unfortunately, to their very great loss. When presented with such ideas, one might respond, "A bowl is a bowl, and can only mean a bowl. Why don't you just say what you mean? How in heaven's name can a bowl mean the mind?" Well, that is exactly its spiritual or psychological meaning as expressed in the language of higher consciousness, or as some might say, in Heaven. And if you say that the bowl only represents the mind, they may respond with, "Then why the devil don't you just say mind straight out instead of mixing everything up with bowls, and filth and bird-cages and vultures?" Or, you may encounter the very polite but slightly amused person who says, "This is all very interesting but rather far-fetched," and so on.

  Let us now cross over this valuable but oft-despised little bridge, which leads to higher levels of consciousness, called "psychological thinking," and which can introduce us to entirely new worlds of meaning. But you say, "No, let us keep to what is sensible and logical and stand with our feet firmly planted on the solid ground of sensory facts." Unfortunately, if we go only thus far, we may well remain at too low a level of understanding to receive any help or assistance from the realms of higher consciousness, wherein lies truth, and thus remain mechanical, that is, unconscious in our thinking, being unable to receive anything of value from "higher mind." Planted on "the solid ground of sensory facts," our bowl will remain, so to speak, "upside down." If we cannot transform literal meaning into psychological meaning, if we cannot transform the sense of the letter into the sense of that which is psychological, then we cannot awaken to higher mind, and unless we do, we will remain as "natural" or as "mechanical" men and women to whom the world appears as it has always appeared, a world created and polluted by our false ideas and lies as opposed to a world built upon the foundation of truth and reality, wherein lies freedom from violence.

  Such "matter-of-fact" men and women simply "crystallize out" where no further development of consciousness is possible. These men and women become, as it were, "fixtures" in worlds of their own creations because they perceive the world through a limited understanding, as a fixed set of ideas or facts, where nothing else can penetrate their minds, thus condemning them to the life they have thus far created with no possibility of escape.

  As many of us who have plunged the depths of despair and depression, or those who have either contemplated or committed suicide know, one's inner world, left untamed or undisciplined, can become a terrifying world to live in, and intolerable to experience for prolonged periods of time. Experiencing the terror and fear of uncontrollable oppression is simply a reflection of one's fixed and habitual thought patterns, and life can become so painful, both psychologically and emotionally that escape by any means possible becomes the only viable option. For the fortunate few who, short of committing acts of self-mutilation, perpetrating violence against others, or committing suicide, and who, as a result of accepting 100% responsibility for the content of their consciousness, their feelings and actions (as opposed to those who blame others or the world for their circumstances, feelings and actions) have discovered an "escape hatch," leading them back to freedom and the regaining of one's sanity and emotional stability, can be described as nothing less than the very salvation of one's soul.

  If one takes the time and has the courage to face the reality of themselves or the general state of humanity in the world today, one cannot possibly ignore the startling and disheartening fact that millions—if not billions—of us are living in deplorable conditions, living in inescapable bondage as a result of self-made as well as man-made prisons—prisons of despair, depression and insanity, various forms of psychological and physical illness, homelessness, starvation, poverty, and war, the scale of which is unimaginable.

  "If there is a God, why does he let things happen like war, etc. What is the Work answer? The Work answer is that man’s level of being attracts his life. Wars, cruelty, horrors, occur because Man is at the level of being that attracts such things. It is Man and his level of being that is the cause of all such things. As long as man does not try to awaken and develop himself such things will continue inevitably; Man will attract them. We are made as self–developing organisms; we can work on ourselves and we can change our being individually. If we all changed, wars would cease. Study your being. You will find that it is governed by negative emotions in the long run. As long as that is the case, you cannot receive help from a higher level. If we are created as self–developing organisms and make no attempt to use this freedom, why blame God for not interfering?"

– Maurice Nicoll –

  Not only this, but the planet itself is suffering—literally groaning—under the strain of the collective unconsciousness of humanity. Entire species of life have simply vanished from the Earth, never to be seen again as the result of man's disregard for the Earth—our home. Our waters and skies have become so polluted that nearly every form of life above and beneath the surface of the planet has become so poisoned that they are dying off as fast, if not faster then than number of human lives lost to war, starvation and sickness, posing not only a grave threat to their species survival but to the ecological balance of the planet as well, thus placing the future of the entire human race in perilous jeopardy.

  Facing this reality is, at the least, difficult if not terribly frightening. So much so that many shrink from, look away, or deny the reality because the future may be simply "too scary to think about," or that they neither have answers to what seem to be such overwhelming and insurmountable problems, or because they have little or no understanding of the nature or true causes of the calamity and chaos facing us all. Equally difficult is accepting the harsh realities of life is that it is man who is solely responsible for creating the conditions which have been brought about not only in his individual life but also upon the Earth in such global proportions.

  Given the foregoing statements, do you more clearly understand your own predicament as well as the predicament of the entire human race? Can you now see that what you ARE, that is, psychologically—in your thought-life, and that what man IS, as the outward expression of the "collective psychology of humanity", that is, content of the consciousness of the entire human race—in its thought-life, is the force creating the conditions in which we find ourselves, both individually and collectively? The question now becomes, "Do you and I, and does humanity, want to escape?"

Now, if you have from time-to-time felt or entertained the idea of a certain feeling of "unreality" about the world, or if you have felt the world and life as a mystery, or yourself as a mystery, you will not crystallize out like so many matter-of-fact people who seem to get on better in life than you, and who have no difficulties. I, however, would rather be you, for probably you will be more receptive to ideas of a certain quality than the matter-of-fact people who receive such ideas as only so much "nonsense." As it is, certain ideas may be nonsense in one person's mind and not nonsense in another person's mind. To change the metaphor, you may have, as it were, a "landing pad" for certain ideas, which only crash when received by another.

  You can only think in a new way by means of new ideas, and you must really think for yourself to the end that these ideas create within you a change of understanding and being. You cannot, when dealing with ideas coming from higher mind or spiritual mind, leave your thinking to others; you must crave for new ideas, which are able to transmit truth as if they were so much water in the desert. No one is going to help you if you do nothing for yourself. If you think in a new way, you will see things in a new way? If you change, as a result of thinking from new ideas, your view of the world will—in fact—must change. And, if your view of the world changes, you will—and must—change.

  It is oft said of the realm of higher consciousness—of truth—that ideas coming down to us from the "world of spirit" have two sides to their teachings—one being psychological and the other cosmological, that is, representing and affecting the world. Unless you change, your world will not change. Stated another way, you cannot undergo change in yourself and remain in the same world. If you begin to have a new feeling of yourself, you will also begin to have a new feeling of the world, and you and the world will change together. Your new feeling of the world will produce within you a new feeling of yourself. The two feelings will help each other to grow, for the world is your feeling of it and your feeling of the world is you. If you perceive that there is something higher than yourself in yourself, you will feel there is something higher than the world behind it. But all this, and many other things beyond expression (at your present level of understanding) can only begin with the reception of new ideas and thinking from them for yourself.

  Now, let us suppose that you have reached that stage on this journey of transformation of consciousness, that is, the point at which you have received and begun to think from some of these new ideas coming down to you from higher mind, where you are now able to observe the content of your consciousness and some of the bird droppings stinking up your thinking and your mind. The point at which you begin to observe, for example, that your thinking is negative, petty, fearful, resentful, or hateful towards yourself and others, is precisely the point where you can begin to consciously work on the development of your consciousness, to begin the work of cleansing the mind, leading to a change of being and living, as stated early on in this discussion, the kind of life and enjoying the kinds of relationships that you truly desire.

  The advantage in observing these "little nasty mice" within yourself—and they must be observed uncritically and without judgment—is that you are now in a position to observe the contents of your consciousness, ideas that are, in fact, not only influencing how you perceive yourself, others, and your world, but which are also attracting to you—moment-by-moment—everything that you experience in your day-to-day life. If you observe with a keen eye, you will also be able to recognize a definite connection between these little nasty mice and how they gnaw at or "eat" your emotional life, creating your feeling of yourself and, that by changing your thinking you gain the power to change your feelings. Through uncritical self-observation of the content of your consciousness, you have the ability, so to speak, to "catch" these little nasty mice "in the act" and stop their effect. Without such ability, further development of your consciousness, as you will observe, is all but impossible.

  If you do not observe what is taking place in your "inner world," if you do not let, so to speak, a "ray of light," that is, conscious awareness, into your "inner darkness" by the practice of uncritical self-observation, you will never see anything "real" on which to begin the "work" of transforming your consciousness and changing your being. Only through the discipline of uncritical self-observation will you catch sight of something definite to work upon. Everything else will be just so much "pseudo-work," "invented work," or "imaginary work."

  And this question of uncritical self-observation requires long self-observation. Only gradually will you begin to take notice how instantaneously the "demon" of self-justifying does everything in its power to prevent your working on yourself; it will do all it can to protect not you, but the definite negative emotion that you have caught sight of. Eventually, this will be no longer good enough for you, that is if your desire to work on yourself becomes a felt aim, goal or objective. With the disciplined action of uncritical self-observation, your aim can eventually be "tasted" (felt) in the emotions because it corresponds with its right development, and can greatly assist you in the inevitable battles that you will encounter during this process of self-change or change of being.

  What, then, are you going to do next with these definite and clearly-observed negative emotions if you are no longer eager to fly off into self-justifying or rationalizing your actions (such as: "Of course, I'm not to blame," or "It's always been like this," or "I don't deserve to be treated in this way," or "Am I nothing and don't I count?", or "Wouldn't you, under the same circumstances, feel just as I do?", or "You don't understand all I've had to put up with," or "Of course, you have everything you want," or "You wouldn't understand—no one ever does,") and so on?

  What are you going to do if you refuse these aids of self-justifying? If you do nothing, and this can be observed, the negative emotion will call to itself other negative emotions, and the energies they steal from you will begin to regress and to form symptoms, such as, if not inaction or despondency, then irritation, resentment, anger, rage, acts of violence towards oneself and others, or you succumb to any assortment of addictions—drugs, sex, gambling, etc.—even committing, for example, such acts a child or spousal abuse, or even murder. These unchecked negative emotions go, as it were, backward in you and because you cannot unmask their lying guise—for all negative emotions lie—the energies they have stolen from you will not be available for ordinary life. You will find yourself drained or exhausted, or they will animate a new sickness or reanimate old illnesses—just as a river when obstructed—will not only flood backwaters behind it but will stop the water-wheels from working in front of it. If you understand this, this represents very well the wrong distribution of energy that takes place in a person who is negative. Psychic energy, in the wrong place, acts like a poison; when we are negative we poison ourselves and we poison our bodies—and indeed—we poison other people. But, of course, through self-justifying, we cannot see that this is so. (Nothing is ever one's own fault.)

  So, to return to the question, "What can be done when we clearly see a negative emotion and will not yield weakly to self-justification," I mention only one thing, among many others, that can be done. Realizing that to permit a negative state to exist unchecked and un-arrested is to give it tacit permission to do its worst, and realizing also, as one Eastern system says, that negative emotions, when "identified" with—that is, when the negative emotion "becomes" us and we "become" the negative emotion that acts through us of its own accord—is similar to a wound in the body, and if one is serious about this matter of self-transformation, one can resolve, so to speak, to "hold court" to find out what this negative emotion is all about, that is, where it came from and what is its cause? You must hold this court in your mind—not in public. You must let the various sides of you take part in the "court proceedings." Listen to each player—prosecutor, defendants and all witnesses—and let each speak clearly. All of this requires an atmosphere of inner attention.

  You will find that indignant, furious, and bitter or blaming speakers ("I's") will each take the witness stand in their turn in this "trial" being held in your mind. But, there is one important point to remember about this courtroom—in this courtroom there is no judge. Like the woman, as told in the Biblical account, who was taken in adultery, the one, Jesus, who was expected by the accusers to judge the woman (so they could justify their stoning her to death) said only, "Neither do I judge thee. Go and sin no more. Your sins are forgiven." If you hold to this same spirit with regard to yourself and all other participants of this trial going on in your head to discover the truth about the cause of your negative emotions, after a time you will notice that the whole affair has cleared up and vanished—as it did in the Biblical account when all of the accusers turned and walked away. Then it may happen that the other persons connected with your negative state send you a message, or seem released. Why are the other persons released? Because you, in your negative state, bound these people in prison, a prison constructed of your own false ideas about them and their motivations. Then, later, you released these people by your change of emotional state, by your change of being, and consequently released yourself from the grip of your imprisoning negative emotions.

  One final point; this court held in the mind with its various speakers must be conducted with a certain amount of grace and civility. If undertaken heavily, gloomily and literally, it will probably make you more negative. Nothing useful can come of this "work," that is, in the work of self-transformation of your being, nothing can be done without grace and a certain gentleness towards oneself and others. It is important here to remember that when being crucified on the Cross, Jesus said, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." Likewise, to receive the great value of uncritical self-observation, that is, freedom from the bondage of your negative emotional states, which can lead to permanent and lasting change of being, one must be gentle with oneself, and with others who, like yourself, when acting from the unconsciousness produced by their negative states, "know not what they do." Therefore, to change your being requires that you forgive yourself—and everyone else.

Recommended Reading

Introduction to The Mark & The New Man

The New Man
An Interpretation of Some Parables and Miracles of Christ

  In The New Man, Nicoll examines the idea of sin which he takes in its original Greek meaning of "missing the mark", as in a spear thrown at some object and failing to hit its target. Subjects dealt with include the Parable of the Sower, the Grain of Mustard Seed, Metanoia, War In Heaven, and Esoteric Schools.

The New Man by Maurice Nicoll

The Mark
Further Elucidation of the Themes Explored in The New Man

  In The Mark, Nicoll examines the New Testament Gospels to reveal the esoteric teaching beneath their surface interpretation. Subjects include the idea of temptation, the Marriage at Cana, the Good Samaritan, Laborers in the Vineyard, Judas Iscariot, Sermon on the Mount, Necessity of Prayer, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Mark by Maurice Nicoll

The Work: Esotericism and Christian Psychology
by Rebecca Nottingham

  The teaching is called "The Work" and it is about the inner psychological meaning of Christ's teaching. It is a system of ideas and psychological practices derived from the Fourth Way System that originated with George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, interpreted by Peter Ouspensky, and taught by Maurice Nicoll in "Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky". Students at any stage can use this reference to find guidance into the intended aim of The Work in order to carry it forward as the sacred path it was meant to be and applies to anyone who is seeking meaning and an authentic path that leads to real personal development.

Read the Introduction to The Work