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Journey to Essence

The Multiplicity of I's

"We have no one permanent and unchangeable "I" within we are. Our "I's" change as quickly as our thoughts, feelings and moods.  We make a profound mistake in considering ourselves as one and the same person, when in reality we are different moment to moment, every thought, every mood every desire says "I".  In each case, whichever "I" is speaking considers itself the whole or permanent "I".  There is not an individual "I".  Instead there are hundreds and thousands of separate little "I's",...some hostile to each other, some in agreement with each other and many completely unknown to each other."

 G. I. Gurdjieff

"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."

 Maurice Nicoll

For students of the Fourth Way who wish to transform themselves, these teachings clearly define the nature of the False Personality, so that for the sincere seeker what is essential in oneself can become accessible.  The Fourth Way work and the sincere quest for self-knowledge in tandem with self-observation, inevitably brings us to the realization that we are not one, unchanging "I".  This is also referred to as the absence of unity in oneself.

When we first become aware of our False Personality, it is startling to see how this system could serve so obviously as a map of the internal workings of the machine. Through self-observation, one can verify that the constant struggle for supremacy and control among the multiplicity of different "I's" is practically always by accidental and external forces.

As the body grows when provided with physical food, so Essence needs psychological food to grow.  The first psychological food that Essence needs for its further development is knowledge.  Obtaining this food does not happen automatically.  One must begin to awaken before this is possible.  Through the process of awakening, one begins to feel one's "self" less and less through the False Personality.  When we draw force, through non-identifying, from an "I" or a group of "I's", and if we understand why we are doing it, the force is taken from False Personality and is then made available for the growth of Essence.  Self-observation is to make False Personality conscious to us, with all its "I's", its attitudes, pictures, roles, etc.

All self-observation leads into the questions "What in me is Essence?" and "What is False Personality?"  Self-observation reveals clearly and succinctly all of one's habits of attention and all the various acts, or as the Work calls it, our "mechanicality."  In beginning Fourth Way Work, the student is instructed to observe such things as "negative emotions", "identification", "self-love", "vanity", "self-will", "likes" and "dislikes", etc.  Although there are classical descriptions of what these terms mean, in terms of personal development, the many ways these various features work or operate within themselves often remain obscure for the student.  Self-observation can be seen here as a possible bridge that assists students in identifying or naming the many "I's" that make up the False Personality.  For those new to self-observation, the recognition that there is not one unified "I" in myself becomes clearer and clearer.  It becomes evident how much of one's behavior is repetitive, and, more than that, it becomes evident that one's defense mechanisms work very well and, in fact, keep one from seeing that one's life is lived in a very narrow and recurring circle of attitudes, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  What becomes even clearer is that "I" don't change...the "I's" do.  The key to distinguishing False Personality from Essence is uncritical self-observation, not attempting to affect the behavior in any way; simply observe, observe, observe.

Being Real

James Parkinson

"To be real we must first know what is real.  What we know isn't real."


Maurice Nicoll

From Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

Let us return to the fundamental teaching of the Work and take as an example the doctrine of "I's".  "How many "I's" have we got in us?" Ouspensky was asked.  "Have we 20 or 30?"  Ouspensky replied, "We have hundreds and thousands of "I's" in us. Only because of the action of buffers we do not see them as distinct but retain our belief that we have only one "I" that always acts and feels in the same way.  This is "Imaginary I".  It is this imagination that one has one "I", this "Imaginary I", that prevents us from changing."

On another occasion Ouspensky was asked whether "I's" weren't imaginary and he answered in so many words that "I's" were real beings in us, real persons, but because we did not see them we had the imagination of having "Real I".  "The "I's" are real," he said, "but the "Imaginary I" is imaginary.  Each "I" is a small living person in oneself."

Just as people are divided into Man #1, #2 and #3, so these "I's" in a person are similarly divided.  Each "I" has a thinking part, an emotional part and a moving part, but its center of gravity may be more in the sphere of the thoughts or of the emotions or of the actions.  Each "I" is a distinct being that takes charge of us and speaks through our telephone calling itself "I".  Some of the "I's" are very harmful to us, some are indifferent and some are useful.  A question was asked recently as to whether all our thoughts came from different "I's".  The answer was "Yes."  But not only that; all your moods, all your feelings, your actions, your words, come from different "I's" in yourself.

As we are, we have no individuality, no "Real I", no big "I" that controls all the other "I's" and arranges them in the right order.  At first it is easier to observe "I's" acting on your thoughts, giving you certain kinds of thoughts.  You observe that you are thinking in a certain way about someone.  This "I" that is thinking is an "I" that you are taking as yourself.  Or say that you are thinking about your life: this is again an "I" and you are taking it as yourself.  When you do not see this trick that is constantly being played on you, you take all these thoughts as you.  You think: 'I am thinking this.'  Or you say, 'This is how I think.'  You do not see that something is thinking for you and that you are not thinking at all.  You hear the thought of these "I's" as if it were you who were thinking them.  In fact, you think that you think.  Now better "I's" can see worse "I's" but worse "I's" cannot see better "I's".  What is higher can see what is lower, but what is lower cannot see what is higher.  When you begin real observation of your thoughts you can begin to see certain kinds of thoughts that you do not wish to accept, say, about other people, or about yourself.  Now if you think that these thoughts are you, or if you say: 'I think this," then you make one of the greatest mistakes you can make in the Work.  You give these thoughts power over you because you identify with them, so you simply go with them without realizing what the Work is continually teaching, i.e. that you must practice inner separation.  If you take everything that happens in the sphere of your thoughts as "I" then you cannot practice inner separation.  Why?  Because you take everything going on in your thoughts as yourself.  How then can you separate if you take everything as yourself, everything as "I"?  How can "I" separate from "I"?

Now as regards the sphere of the emotions, here again many "I's" exist in us that bring about changes in our emotional states.  Just as "I's" transmit thoughts into our minds, so do "I's" transmit feelings into the sphere of our emotions.  These "I's" affect the emotional state directly and scarcely touch the thinking.  Some of these "I's" can exhaust us, make us lose confidence, make us depressed, low-spirited, and so on.  Yet they are "I's" acting on us and nourishing themselves at our expense.  If we could always remember ourselves, these "I's" could not have any power over us.  But as a rule we have given them so much power that we never even challenge them and they walk in and out of our emotional part as if we belonged to them.

Now although they are difficult to observe directly, after a time in the Work you will always be able to detect their presence by being aware of a drop in the level of or a sudden loss of force (energy).  If you are not quick enough, "I's" of this kind will get in and take possession of your and it may take days to get rid of them.  We have to learn to walk in ourselves very carefully.  It is no use arguing with unpleasant "I's".  This is why the practice of inner separation is so much emphasized in the Work.  One moment of being asleep in some difficult situation will let in "I's" of this kind.  The next moment you are in their power and they will make you see everything and feel everything in their own peculiar way.  If someone in the Work at such a moment gives you a shock that awakens you to higher "I's" within yourself you suddenly see and feel everything quite differently and wonder what you were up to.  This means that the "I's" have changed and different "I's" are now in charge of you.

All practical work lies in separating from wrong "I's".  It begins first with the thoughts and then leads on to the emotions.  This means that a struggle begins in oneself between the different "I's", between being in lower or in higher "I's".  The power of this Work can give us the ability to separate from 'wrong' "I's".  Life cannot give us this power because life encourages very many wrong "I's".  This is why we are taught to observe ourselves in the light of the Work.  The Work is a system of observation and comes from Conscious Humanity, that is, from those who have gone through this battle of "I's" and attained their goal.  When we are in bad states of thinking and feeling, if we make no effort to remember better states we are dragged down.  And yet we need not be dragged down.  What drags us down is our choice.  We have the power of choice internally, say, of thinking in one way or thinking in another way.

Sometimes when we can do nothing with ourselves for the time being, we can at least retain the power of not completely consenting to our 'wrong' states, of not believing in them entirely, and, as it were, being patient with ourselves and realizing we are all wrong, and yet not seeing how to get out of the state.  Then you may be sure that you will after a time get into a better state again.  But if you fully consent to your thoughts and feelings, if you say "I" to them, in a total sense, then you will lay down in yourself something which the next time it will be far more difficult to separate from because, so to speak, you have signed your name in full on the cheque.  When you realize beyond any doubt that you have different "I's" in you, when you can hear them speaking or notice them working in your emotions, and yet remain separate from them, you begin to understand the Work on its practical side.  You begin to understand what in the Work is called the "first line of work", that is, practical work on yourself.


Recently we have been talking about the doctrine of different "I's" in us and how, unless we can see that we consist of many "I's", we cannot shift from where we are.  Before we go on, let us remind ourselves how different "I's" arise in us and what the Work teaches on this subject.  The Work teaches that we are born with Essence alone and in small children we have manifestations of undeveloped Essence.  Essence comes down to this level of the earth in order to grow, but it cannot grow by itself beyond a very small point.  Notice, by the way, that small children do not have negative emotions, which are defined by their persistence.  A child grows up among sleeping people and begins to form False Personality, which gradually surrounds Essence.

A small child never says "I".  When it begins to say "I", "Imaginary I" begins.  Many "I's" are laid down by imitation, etc. and the growing child begins to say "I" to all of them.  I suppose it could be said it begins to say "I" by a kind of imitation, by a kind of imagining itself as "I", and it hears adults always saying "I".  However, many other interesting things enter.  Now we speak of ourselves as adults.  We have inevitably, and even by design, acquired a wrong feeling of "I", that is, "Imaginary I".  If Essence is going to grow in us further, everything connected with "Imaginary I" must become passive.  Therefore, it is understandable that the Work says that unless a man can divide himself into two he cannot shift from his psychological state.  Dividing yourself into two means to divide yourself into an observing side and an observed side.  Unless a man can observe himself, he cannot change.  Such a person will remain always the same man, the same woman.  Also, you all know that as long as a person takes himself or herself as one person, as always being the same "I", he or she cannot change.

Recently there was a conversation about lying.  The Work has many things to say about lying.  For example, the deepest thing the Work says about lying is that it destroys Essence.  A person who always lies destroys his or her Essence.  Now Essence is the only part in us that can grow and bring us to another level of being.  A liar cannot grow.  Everyone has in them a great number of "I's" that lie and these "I's" are always connected with the tremendous activity of self-justifying "I's".  A person should be uncomfortable when he or she lies.  The Work says there are two forms of lying, that is, lying to others and lying to oneself.  At the same time, the Work says that lying can only be defined by a relationship to some system of truth.

If you have never been taught anything about what truth is, it is difficult to see how you lie.  A small child who knows nothing does not lie and cannot lie, but when he is taught something he may begin to lie in regard to what he has been taught.  You can only lie in connection with some truth.  If you have never been taught any ideas of right and wrong about truth and falsity, how exactly can you lie?  As soon as a man is capable of conceiving the idea of things forbidden and things allowed, he gains the capacity for lying.  Now you can lie in this Work, and lying in this Work destroys your possibilities of development.  You can both lie to other people and lie to yourself, and I would say the center of gravity of the Work teaching in this respect regards lying to yourself as the most important thing, but the Work begins by saying you must not lie to your teacher.  You may not wish to speak to your teacher about something but if you are asked to tell what happened and you lie, and this is always known, then you are in a dangerous position, not only towards the Work but towards your inner possibilities of development.  Now the system of the Work is quite a different thing.  You are then lying in reference to a definite system of truth.  You realize that any development of the psychic life is only possible through a system of truth taught to you which you begin to follow.  You have to begin to live this Work, not merely to think of it, or talk about it.  The Work is a definite system of teaching of forms of truth that if you begin to live them practically will lead you in a certain very desirable direction.  This living of the truth of the Work means work on yourself.  It means that you want to follow what the Work teaches.  But if you lie to yourself internally, as when you say you are not negative and you are, then you block the influences of the Work in yourself.

All development depends, in the esoteric sense, on relating yourself to a system of teaching which does not exist in life.  The Work is something extra.  It is the second education.  A man may be a naturally good fellow in life but this is not the idea of the Work, because the idea of the Work and of all Esotericism, including the Gospels, is to bring you face to face with an entirely different way of living in life.  And it is only through this entirely different way of living and of understanding that the aim of esoteric teaching on this earth is fulfilled.  For example, through social training you may not express negative emotions publicly by reason of your training, but this has nothing to do with the Work.  You have to get an entirely different relationship to the whole idea of negative emotions and one that is not governed by external appearanaces.

Internally, people who have learnt not to express their negative emotions in life may be infested with negative emotions.  For this reason it is so important not to lie to oneself.  On one occasion Ouspensky said, "Lying destroys Essence because Essence can only grow through truth.  A man must cease to deceive himself before he can begin to grow.  The worst form of lying is pretence.  Everyone pretends to be what he is not.  The source of all lying of this kind lies in the imagination."  On another occasion he was talking about life in general and said, "Nothing in life is what it pretends to be."  At that time he was talking about the League of Nations.  He said, "It is not what it pretends to be, just as so many other apparently excellent organizations are not what they pretend to be.  How can you expect sleeping people to create organizations far beyond their own level of being?"  I was very much struck by this, as I thought, sweeping statements about charitable organizations, etc. in life.  On one occasion we were passing a church with people coming out and he said the same thing, namely, to the effect that a church does not do what it pretends to do, to make people like Christ.  And I was reminded of what Gurdjieff said about Christianity:  "There was only one Christian, called Christ."

Now let us take lying on a practical level, and let us take in particular that form of lying that begins with "Imaginary I" and becomes connected with False Personality.  We are told in the Work parable that the human race on earth are like sheep under the charge of two farmers who are magicians, and whose object is to prevent the sheep from escaping from their power, and that, being very mean, not wishing to use any expensive methods of retaining the sheep, they hypnotized the sheep and told them they were lions and eagles, and, in fact, supermen.  This is a parable about the power of imagination, connected with "Imaginary I" which eventually creates the False Personality.  The False Personality is entirely pretence, entirely imagination, and its origin is from the "Imaginary I", that is, the imagination that we have a real "I" in us.

With this form of imagination, which keeps us as sheep asleep, we gain the most extraordinary ideas about ourselves.  We think we can do, for example, we think we have real will, we think we can decide our own lives and we can never see that everything happens, even our own lives.  We form in ourselves a kind of secret imagination and although life itself does not correspond to this secret imagination we still cling to it, feeling we are lions, eagles, supermen, etc., and never realize what we actually are like.  The imagination that we have "I", the imagination that we are doing everything from ourselves, the inability to see that we are mechanical and that everything happens to us, the non-realization of this "Imaginary I" and all the fantasies that it builds up in the False Personality, and this inability to see where we really are, this inability to see what our lives have been, all this keeps us fast asleep in a continual self-lying, a continual pretence, a continual self-hypnotism.

This state of ourselves is described in another Work parable as a driver sitting in a public house and spending all his money on drink, while his horse and carriage in which he can go somewhere real are standing outside, neglected.  You remember that this parable says the first step is to awaken the driver.  What is this drink that the driver is drinking?  It is imagination about himself, and we only have ourselves, to drink, literally to see the strength of this imagination.  What does everybody begin to do when they begin to drink literally?  They begin to boast, or they begin to reveal their secret self-imagination, how wonderful they really are and how no one has appreciated them and so on, because everyone has this secret self-romance connected with "Imaginary I" and False Personality, and this constitutes one of the most hidden sources of making internal accounts.

The first form of lying we have to study in ourselves, the Work says, is that in which we always tend to tell about something that happened to ourselves to our own advantage.  When you have to report what you said and what the other person said in some Work conversation you will find that it is practically impossible to put the matter rightly.  You will tend to put the whole report to your own advantage, by leaving out some things you said or slightly over-emphasizing other things you said.  Of course you can do the same thing the other way round by deliberately putting yourself in a very bad light through wretched self-pity which hopes for a reward.  However, people are quite certain they can speak the unbiased truth both about themselves and other people.

Certainly there are more truthful "I's" in us and less truthful "I's".  But what is the whole object of this being truthful in the Work?  It is not based on moral grounds.  It is based on the possible development of something called Essence that can never grow through pretence or falsity.  All those "I's" that lie habitually, all those "I's" that protect the central kingdom of the False Personality and justify everything, twist everything, turn everything to their own advantage, prevent this inner development of Essence from taking place.  For this reason, the Work teaches, it is so important to tell the truth to your teacher, because by this exercise you learn how to tell the truth to yourself.  And if you cannot tell the truth to yourself you cannot get beyond the sphere of the "Imaginary I" and the False Personality which cannot give you any inner development.  So it is not a moral question but a practical one.

If we begin to see the falsities in our past lives we begin to alter them in the past.  We can see lies in the past, but we only see them through work on ourselves in the present.  If our observation of ourselves has become increased now in the present and we begin to see all sorts of false attitudes, false intonations, false ways of conceiving of our own value, false blaming, etc., we are mercifully able to see the same things having operated in the past.  That is, we change the past from the present moment of work, because life is a compact thing laying coiled up in ourselves and when we die we take this coiled up thing with us.  Sometimes I have thought we can change the past more easily than the future.  This is partly because when you begin to awaken a little more to what you are like, the past comes forward and enters your consciousness, whereas the unknown future does not come forward in the same way.  Always in the future lie further temptations but you are not tempted by the past in the same way except by habit.  It is marvelous how the Work opens up your past in exactly the right way when you have begun to lift yourself in the present moment to the level of the Work.  Now you begin to see what your lying has been in the past, and you begin to understand that what is called lying in the Work is not always what you thought.  It may not be expressed by lying in work, call it, if you like, pretending.  A person can lie with a single gesture, a single look, a single intonation, a casual mannerism, a sigh, a heartbroken expression, an illness, by a hearty manner, by being always fit and well.  We all know how marvelously we have behaved and we all know what intolerable conditions we have been subjected to.  The Work says we all lead an imaginary life with ourselves.  Now this romance may take a great deal of strength from us, and in all cases, it prevents us from any real self-observation.  It has to be torn out of the heart.

The self-emotions are tremendously powerful.  Sometimes these self-romances clustered round the "Imaginary I" are sad and tragic.  We all know one another's hapless looks.  When we are based on this inner self-romance we are very weak, whether the self-romance is about being strong and cheerful, or being misunderstood, or never having had a chance, etc.  It is all self-hypnotism, and it is always a deep source of our making of internal accounts because we do not see this form of imagination which has such invisible power over us.  We do not see the "I's" that use this form of imagination that gives us a false center of gravity and makes us completely misunderstand the significance of our lives and what has happened in our lives.  It prevents us seeing our lives as they are, and asking ourselves this rather terrible question, "Why has our life been like this?"

After a time we may begin to get a Work conscience.  This makes us very unhappy, not in a soul-destroying way of self-pity and pseudo suffering, but in a much cleaner way.  This is the beginning of that force that can make you see your own lying.  It is not an acquired life conscience from your upbringing, but the beginning of real conscience which can change one's life.  It is the birth in you of something quite new, and though its action is very gentle, it is absolutely authentic and you know and you recognize its authority.  This is the beginning of awakening from sleep.  This conscience knows nothing about your being an Englishman or a Chinese or a rich or a poor man.  It is the same in everybody once it is awakened.  It has nothing to do with customs you have acquired, the schools you went to, the professions you follow, or the social position you hold.  For it, you do not exist as a personality.  The Work teaches that this real conscience which is always the same lies buried in everyone and that the Work awakens it eventually.  This conscience serves the Work.  It leads to contact with higher centers.  This conscience can never awaken as long as "Imaginary I" and False Personality and all the forms of lying connected with them are dominant, because this conscience leads in the direction of "Real I", which is totally above the level of "Imaginary I" and False Personality and all their pretences.  Remember also that lying harms others in the Work.  This is too big a subject to take up now, but remember how you treat another in your mind.

The Fragmentation of the Human Psyche

Ted Nottingham

Quote of the Month

"Knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge.  So it is incumbent on me to know my self, to know it completely, to know its minutiae, its characteristics, its subtleties, and its very atoms."

— Kahilil Gibran —

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Know Thyself,

Jeff Meyers 

The beginning of spiritual transformation is to observe our own psychology in action.

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