Journey to Essence
Gnothi Seauton ... Know Thyself
"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
— Socrates —
"Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave."
— G. I. Gurdjieff —
Gurdjieff claimed that people cannot perceive reality because they do not possess consciousness, but rather live in a state of a waking sleep. "Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies." As a result of this condition, each person perceives things from a completely subjective perspective. Gurdjieff stated that wars could not possibly take place if people were more awake. He asserted that people in their typical state function as unconscious automatons, but that one can wake up and become a different kind of human being altogether.
The picture above represents a striking image in contrasts; the storm brewing in the background against the calm and peaceful scenery in the foreground. When the impression of this image came into contact with my senses, I had the immediate sensation that I — as an observer — was watching the content of my own mind. It was as if the storm in the background represented the difficulties and challenges in my life, my worries about the future, and the anxiety I sometimes experience about situations that I am unable to change or with which I am identified.
When my attention shifted to the scenery in the foreground, I imagined the existence of a peaceful center always present within my reach, but only accessible when I am in an awakened state, when I am conscious, present, when my attention is not focused on the storms of life.
As I continued to gaze into this image, it took on an almost three dimensional quality, and I became aware that something was observing the image and experiencing thoughts about the image. It felt as if there existed in my consciousness, in this space between the outer world of events, and lying alongside of life with all of its troubles and concerns, a dimension of the self that is calm and peaceful. I realized that it is from this quite place where I can consciously choose to relate to life with forgiveness, compassion and love, but only if I seek this silent and peaceful center within, only if I long for it, and consciously live from it's inner promptings.
So, how does one become aware of, come into contact with this inner dimension of peace and tranquility? Author and Fourth Way teacher, Ted Nottingham, provides seekers with a road map to this inner dimension of reality in his article Recovering our True Self: The Journey Out of Our Negative States.
Gnothi Seauton...Know Thyself
Greek Temple at Delphi
The essence of this teaching can be summed up in this phrase chiseled over the portals of the ancient Greek Temple at Delphi: Gnothi Seauton...Know Thyself. It may seem strange that only by knowing oneself can one come to any real understanding of basic truths, not only of the self but also of the Universe. Only when one understands what is implied by the phrase "Know Thyself" can its immense importance and significance be realized.
Before one can know oneself one must first get used to the idea that, at present, one does not know oneself.
Throughout antiquity and to the present time, there runs a train of thought through great art and literature that indicates that there exist people who find ordinary life meaningless and purposeless. These people feel instinctively that there must be some other way of living, one with more purpose for existence than that which we generally follow.
The Gurdjieff Work, a method of self-transformation also known as "The Fourth Way", addresses this dilemma and introduces to seekers after truth and understanding ideas of a deeper level of living and of understanding within oneself. This enables one to enter a world that is right outside the one in which we ordinarily live. It is actually the same world, but is contacted from an entirely differently point, and is thus experienced in a far more spiritual manner.
We venture to assert that the only possible answer to the problem is to be found in the simple phrase we began with: Know Thyself. When one realizes that at present "I do not know myself", and that modern psychology cannot help (because it deals only with mental and emotional apparatus which are only a part, and not the whole man or woman as a totality), then we can possibly make a start in the right direction. It is precisely here that the Gurdjieff Work of self-transformation comes in pointing to the way by which self-knowledge can be found.
The Value of Not Identifying
According to Fourth Way Teaching, we came down to this earth from a very high level. Life here does not correspond with where we came from, and something in us knows this. Something in us remembers this.
One of the most powerful ideas in this teaching is the idea of separating or not 'identifying'. P. D. Ouspensky defines identification as "a curious state in which man passes about half of his life, the other half being passed in complete sleep. He identifies with everything, with what he says, what he feels, what he believes, what he does not believe, what he wishes, what he does not wish, what attracts him, what repels him. Everything becomes him, or it is better to say he becomes 'it'. He becomes all that he likes and all that he dislikes. This means that in the state of identification man is incapable of separating himself from the object of his identification. It is difficult to find the smallest thing with which man is unable to identify. At the same time, in a state of identification man has even less control over his mechanical reactions than at any other time." (P. D. Ouspensky, Conscience: The Search for Truth)
If we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we will admit that we spend most of our lives in this state of identification. We lose force in this way, so much so, that we are often "sick and tired" of it all. Freeing ourselves of identification is a gradual process requiring right efforts. To begin with, we must observe ourselves uncritically, simply recording our thoughts, feelings and sensations. After some time working in this way, we will have a clear picture of some of our favorite forms of identifying. We will also have verified the destructive nature of identification by experiencing its effects on us. After this point, when we find ourselves becoming identified with something, such as feeling misunderstood, we can choose to separate from it. There is tremendous freedom in discovering that we do not have to believe in and cling to our identifications. We can stop pouring our life force into them. We can choose to remember we are not that with which we are identified. We can bring our attention back inside ourselves to a quiet, centered place. In this way we may be touched by our higher, deeper self. Then we may remember what we so easily forget: We are here for a reason. Our lives have a very high purpose connected to the level from which we came. We can discover and fulfill this purpose when we have cleared ourselves of our identifications and the associated negativity.
The Object of Self-Observation
The Fourth Way system, with its three types of man: # 1 the instinctive, # 2 as the emotional, and # 3 as mental man, shows us how to become man # 4 or balanced man, in which all functions are working together in a positive connection, linked to higher centers within, placing us in the possibility of moving on to man # 5, that mysterious being all esoteric work alludes to.
The Emotional Centre is not born with a negative part—it should not be there, but it is acquired by the influence of people who are negative. By contact with adults a child learns to pity itself, to feel grievances, to speak crossly, to dwell on its misfortunes, to be melancholy, moody, irritable, suspicious, jealous, to hurt others, etc. This dreadful infection of a child is something against which nothing can be done because it is not clearly recognized. This infection forms the negative part in Emotional Centre. And this infection is handed on from generation to generation.
Another cause of our continual sleep is the belief that simply hearing and intellectually understanding a teaching will bring real results. Maurice Nicoll constantly confronted the members of his groups with this fallacy, urging them to take the Work farther by making it an actual part of their lives rather than merely giving it lip service without putting it into practice. He urged his pupils to practice of self-observation in a real way, seeing that many took it to be a function of the imagination and thinking only, and not the real observation of what one does, thinks, and feels and how they relate in everyday life. He taught that life can be our teacher and that every moment was an opportunity to awake through self-observation and honest evaluation of our actual life, thoughts, desires, and fears.
Esoteric teaching is not an imaginary thing. It is the most real thing in the world. It is more real than a cheque, more real than a house, more real than another person. It has been said that to remember oneself one must have a sense of something superior to oneself. Self-Remembering is a lifting up of oneself to another set of influences. All of you who are following the path of the Work, and have long ago understood that it is not something on the blackboard, will find that even the simplest sayings of the Work transform themselves into deeper and deeper meanings. We are surrounded by liberating ideas, whether we feel them or not.
The object of self-observation, as it is said in the Work, is to let a ray of light into oneself. The next thing that is said is that when light is let in this way many things begin to change of themselves. It is the light of consciousness that begins to change things. For this reason it is said in the Work that the light will cure us. Have you ever thought what it means, this extraordinary phrase: "the light will cure us"? When I first heard it said to me by Gurdjieff, it had such an emotional effect upon me that I was unable to speak to anybody for some time afterwards. Self-Observation is the knife that begins to separate, to remove, what you take as you, from what is real. Everything real leads to Real I; everything false leads to False Personality. But it is the dislike of being mechanical that gives the force to separate from the false. The illusion that we are conscious cleverly prevents this and keeps us asleep. The self-love will not permit us to realize that we are not conscious, so we justify all our behavior.
If you work on yourself long enough with increasing understanding, you will reach a higher level, however small, in yourself, and you will know at once that the Work is true. The door into this possibility is self-observation, that is, becoming more conscious of yourself, from what you are taught. One can begin to become more conscious of other people, and not only that, but one’s conception of the world in which one lives begins to change at the same time. The second line of work is extremely useful with regard to attaining more consciousness of ourselves through self-observation. As I said, men and women think they observe themselves already. So, if you find a friend in the Work, you should ask this friend to criticize you. This belongs to the second line. The result may be quite surprising. If you do not get negative, then you will begin to have more consciousness of what you are like. Some illusions of yourself may even be destroyed, but it is strong medicine.
The point of this Work is to save energy and not to be eaten by identifying. Unless we save energy we cannot awaken, because life and its turning events take our energy at every moment. None of the things that happen on the Earth, due to tyrants, etc. is comparable with the way in which we are used by life whose object is to keep us fast asleep. So it said we are all in prison. But we do not see this. We feel it is someone else's fault, and it is here where we err deeply.
How then can we change being? By applying the knowledge of the Work through self-observation to ourselves. And remember that you do not change by being told what to do. You only change through seeing what you have to do when you realize what your being is like.
Sooner or later the task of changing our being, of becoming, moves from simple mental learning through advice and association to the inner task of developing the intuition. How well this works is ultimately about how well we can hold tension and work within. The practical thing to 'do' then becomes the real time observation of our own attention. The Work moves within, and is no longer about character building, a better personality, becoming charismatic or invisible. There are several ways to describe this simple trick of watching or chasing your attention: the experiments of Douglas Harding, which show how to look at what you are looking out of, learning to listen with the eyes, to listen with the attention, the two-way seeing or self-remembering of Gurdjieff and the double-pointed arrow of attention, one pointed within, one without, and the art of mindfulness. To be successful in these tricks, we must be able to relax for at least a second from constantly and unconsciously upholding our sense of self. This split second of seeing who or what we really are, is our slipping behind the mind or ego and seeing through it rather than as it. Now, if you have trouble practicing experiments of the type listed above, or are unable to catch the meaning behind them, why is this? What is blocking you?
The ego1-ego2 game is a great enemy in direct seeing. When the exercises are practiced, the ego-mind is rendered quiescent, if only for a split second, but long enough for one to be free from the mind's pressure to create, project and solve problems, drama, or conflicts, such as getting what you want, avoiding what you fear, etc. But in the next instant after the 'seeing' has ended, the mind will rise up and become active once more and the ego-self, largely through memory, will then lay claim to the credit of seeing, dragging us out of eternity and taking away any incentive to actually 'see' again. An insidious trick has just been played on us, for the ego, as ego1, has just laid claim to 'seeing', and places all blame for actions opposed to seeing on a fictitious character it creates and then uses as scapegoat: the hapless ego2. Thus, we are taken out of action and thrown back where we started: identified with the mind in time. Seeing is now relegated to memory only, for we are unconscious of the whole above trick. The ego has thus kept its throne, and we, as awareness, are back asleep.
If we get what's taking place in the above experiments (by seeing it, rather than mentally understanding it), then our intuition will know what to do next, knowing now what the attention is and how it moves from one view to another. Here's a test to see if we really do see this:
Look at a familiar object, say a tree out of your window, and watch the mind as it works. Observe how this mind associates the tree with names, memories, information, etc. Notice how it does this automatically, unquestioned. Now, practice two-way seeing, the "listening attention", while looking at the tree. Allow yourself to look back at what you are looking out of, the aware silence, and look forward or out at the object as well. Can you now look at the tree without 'knowing' what it is? Without knowing what you are, simply because you are? The mind is now silent and all is okay, for nothing is separate. No separation of things, no creating of things, is needed; no labeling or judging, qualifying or describing. You are not enlightened or ignorant, for you have no need to create yourself or 'be' anything.
Now, while still observing the tree, allow the mind to work, as it rises up and again starts the process of creating objects with characteristics, separating 'you' from the 'tree', and separating the tree from everything else, as the string of associated concepts stream forth. Can you see the difference between these two states? Can you see your attention move between these two views? Can you be honest about this? Does your heart have anything to say about value and meaning in relation to these two very different states?
If you can't 'do' the above experiment, or dismiss it as unimportant, what is blocking you? Why is your intuition being shut out, and thus not picking up on this? If you think the above is not important, or can't relate to it, and still insist on someone or some system telling you something practical to do as a spiritual exercise, or if you are honest and admit you just can't follow any of it, the reason lies within, in something blocking you. Perhaps an energy knot in the emotions, most likely hidden, unconscious, but active and alive. This knot blinds as well as binds you to it, keeping you unconscious, so as to maintain the status quo of the tension and energy system of knots known as 'you'.
If seeing still makes no sense, and you are at a loss as to practical method and the next move on your path, this then is what you can do: to become conscious of what is blocking your intuition. Perhaps going back through your life story with its accompanying emotions is in order, to free you of the energy knots that bind your attention. What needs to be done will be seen, if steps are taken to improve the intuition, clarify one's values, and to hold and increase the tension of questioning, of looking. Taking advice and direction from outside as an easy way out of the tension of having to develop one's own intuition ends in robbing one of the grace that comes from within.
The Greatest Crime in the World...To Know Thyself
Every child is born with an innate search for truth. It is not something learned or adopted later on in life. Truth simply means, "I am, but I do not know who I am." And the question is natural. "I must know the reality of my being." It is not a curiosity.
Man is capable by birth to inquire who he is. So it is not a question of learning, cultivation, education; you bring the quest with yourself. You are the quest.
Your society destroys you. It has very sophisticated ways and means to destroy your quest, to remove the question from your being, or at least cover it up. And the method it uses is this; before the child has even asked who he is, the answer is given. And any answer that has been given before the question has been asked is futile; it is going to be just a burden.
He is told that he is a soul, that he is a spirit, that he is not a body, that he is not material. Or, in communist countries, he is told that he is a body, just material, and that only in the old days, out of fear and ignorance, did people believe that they have souls, and that that is just a superstition. But in both cases, the child is being given an answer for which he has not asked. And his mind is delicate, pure, and he trusts his mother, his father, and there is no reason for him not to trust.
He starts a journey of belief, and belief kills the quest. He becomes more and more knowledgeable. Then education is there, religious education is there, and there is no end to collecting knowledge. But all this knowledge is futile, not only futile, but poisonous, because the first step has gone wrong. The question was not asked, and the answer has been implanted in his mind, and since then he has been collecting more and more answers. He has completely forgotten, that any answer that is not the finding of a question, is meaningless.
So the only quality of a seeker of truth is that he does not believe, that he is not a believer, that he is ready to be ignorant rather than to be knowledgeable, because ignorance is at least natural, simple, innocent. And out of ignorance there is a possibility, almost a certainty, that the question will arise, that the journey will begin. But through knowledge you are lost in a jungle of words, theories, doctrines, dogmas. And there are so many, and they are so contradictory to each other, that soon you will find yourself, more and more knowledgeable, more and more confused.
As far as I am concerned the basic quality of a seeker of truth is to cut himself away from all belief systems, from all borrowed knowledge; in other words, to have the courage to be ignorant rather than to have borrowed knowledge. Ignorance has a beauty; it is at least yours, authentic, sincere.
It has come with you. It is your blood, it is in your bones, it is your marrow.
Knowledgeability is ugly, absolute rubbish. It has been poured upon you by others, and you are carrying the load of it. And the load is such that it will not give you any opportunity to inquire on your own what truth is. Your collection of knowledge will answer immediately that this is truth.
If you are filled with The Holy Bible, then the question will be answered by The Holy Bible. If you are filled with the Vedas, then the question will come out of the Vedas. But it will come from some source outside yourself; it will not be your discovery. And that which is not your discovery is not yours.
Truth brings freedom because it is your discovery. It makes you fully into a man; otherwise you remain on the level of the animals; you are, but you don't know who you are. The search for truth is really the search for the reality of your being.
Once you have entered your being, you have entered into the being of the whole, because we are different on the periphery but at the center we meet...we are one. You can draw many lines from the periphery of a circle towards the center; those lines on the periphery have a certain distance from each other. But as they come closer to the center, the distance goes on becoming less. And when they reach to the center the distance disappears. At the center we are one. At the periphery of existence we appear to be separate. And to know the truth of your being is to know the truth of the whole.
There is just one quality, one courage, not to be afraid of being ignorant. On that point there can be no compromise, no cheap borrowed knowledge to decorate yourself with as a wise man. That's enough! Just be pure and natural, and out of that purity, naturalness, ignorance, the quest is bound to born.
Every human being would be a seeker of truth if the society were not interfering with children. The class of children is the most harmed, oppressed, exploited, distorted class of all classes–and the most helpless. And you are taking advantage of the helplessness of small children. But you are also not responsible. The same has been done to you. It is difficult to find out who was responsible in the beginning. But as long as we can look back, this has been the situation: every generation corrupts the new generation, and anybody who wants to prevent this corruption is condemned as corrupting the youth.
Socrates was condemned for corrupting the youth, and all that he was doing was the simple process of removing borrowed knowledge and helping his disciples to be themselves and then 'to know thyself'. If anybody has served truth the most sincerely it was Socrates. But he was condemned by the court, by the law, by the people who were in power, for corruption, for corrupting young minds.
Why are they afraid? They know perfectly well that they had no foundation. So if anybody shows the young people that their knowledge is unfounded, that all their answers are bogus because they don’t even have questions, that they are only repeating things like a parrot, then they don’t have any understanding of what they are saying. Anybody who has a little intelligence will be able to understand this immediately.
Is this corruption of the youth, to bring people to the quest of the the truth? It seems it is the greatest crime in the world in which, unfortunately, we are living.
The Power of Adaptation by Maurice Nicoll
Man has more inner senses than outer senses. The object of the Work is to develop the inner senses. This, in turn, develops the perception of the outer senses.
As regards the outer senses, we notice only a minute fraction of what we see. To observe what we see is different from seeing. You see, say, a house a thousand and one times. Have you any idea how many windows it has? You see the street you live in every day. Have you observed its houses, shops, their form, outline, coloring, etc.? How many steps lead up to your flat? What is the color of so-and-so’s eyes? Now painting or drawing teaches you to observe what you see. This is taking in new impressions.
To take in more impressions is to increase consciousness. The Work says: "We are not yet properly conscious although we ascribe full consciousness to ourselves." Now if you cease to take in new impressions, you cannot learn anything new. You refuse to adapt yourself. In order to learn anything new, which the Work says is necessary up to the end of life, it is necessary to take in new impressions. It gives you new impressions and so new force. If you refuse, then you are not very intelligent. The Work says the first sign of intelligence is the power of adaptation. When people refuse to adapt to new circumstances, they begin to die. They will not take in new impressions, so the food of impressions is not sufficient and they become dead. "The number of dead people," Gurdjieff said, "walking the street – if you really knew – is incredible." Yes – one can begin to believe it if one begins to know something about oneself.If you realize you always say the same things, always take up the same attitudes, always do the same things, always have the same opinions and the same prejudices, you will see that you are really a dead person. You are psychologically dead long before you are physically dead. And it is extraordinary how psychologically dead people seem often to live a long time. But this realization that you are a dead man or woman is only possible in the force and light of the Work, through self-observation.
To observe oneself is different from observing a bus or a tree. In order to observe a bus or tree requires zero attention. To observe them – their color, shape, and so on – requires directed attention. You see hundreds of buses and trees every day but do not observe them. It is all a vague, confused picture. In the same way, your inner life is a vague, confused picture. You do not observe it, but you are in general aware of it, as you are of buses and trees. If we were not in some degree aware of our inner life we could not focus inner attention on it any more than if we are not in some degree aware of the external world we cannot focus attention on it. (Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Pages 1141-1142)
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
We ought to have the humility to admit we do not know all about ourselves, that we are not experts at running our own lives. We ought to stop taking our conscious plans and decisions with such infinite seriousness. It may well be that we are not the martyrs, or the mystics, or the apostles, or the leaders or, the lovers of God that we imagine ourselves to be. Our subconscious mind may be trying to tell us this in many ways, and we have trained ourselves, with the most egregious self-righteousness, to turn a deaf ear.
Quote of the Month
If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness. The important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.
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I trust that your journey through the GurdjieffWork.com website will lead you back to your Essence...back to your 'Real I'.
The beginning of spiritual transformation is to observe your own psychology in action.
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