Self-Observation [1]

~Maurice Nicoll

Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

Let me ask you all this question: How do you touch life? Well, how do you? It is necessary to realize that each one of you touches life in your own way. Suppose that you have some old-fashioned attitude, then you touch this so-called modern life partly through it and therefore will judge it as if you knew better. But do you see yet that each one of you touches life according to implanted attitudes? 

Recently someone asked me why he disliked a certain person. That I could not answer. How could I know why he disliked this person? Later on he said that he now liked the person. One of the most interesting things in self-observation is to begin to realize that you are always touching life in a certain ingrained way—through attitudes and buffers, etc. It is an extraordinary experience to become even a little freer from this acquired way of taking life and taking others: Everyone, tightly wrapped up in his or her acquired Personality, takes things just as he or she does every day. However, with insight into oneself it is possible to take things in a new way. 

This is one of the ideas of the Work. Must you always take things and people in the same way? Can you change? What does this involve? It always involves a change in oneself. But, of course, there is nothing wrong with oneself. How difficult it is to realize what the Work teaches about this. Are you not all convinced that your views, your judgments, the way you take things, and the ways you touch life, are right? Yes, of course you are. To realize that you yourself must change is an awkward business. It ceases to be a joke. Yes, the Work is serious. It requires an inner self-glance—not once, but twice, and not twice, but a thousand times—to see what this acquired person called yourself is really like, to see that one is often a very narrow, biassed, or even unpleasant person. Here, however, we are all sure that we know that we are not unpleasant people. 

The Work is to dissolve this really terrible self-complacency based on pictures, attitudes and buffers. The Work is to break up this maddening pseudo-creation called yourself—this no doubt proud and charming picture, so deeply-rooted, to which one is a prisoner, a slave—this acquired machinery that one takes as oneself. I have often thought of what G. taught—namely, that many moments of self-observation lead at length to whole photographs. This means that the practice of the Work leads us to catching real timephotographs of what we are really like and have been like over years and years. This can indeed be shattering. Yes, it is an awkward business to begin to see this. But it is dangerous unless you know how not to become identified, not to be negative; otherwise I say it is a very awkward business indeed. This can happen only when you insist on taking yourself as one person and when, therefore, you attribute everything you observe in yourself to yourself, to something that you call 'I'. 

The Work teaches that this is Imaginary 'I'. Of course, if you take everything you observe as 'I', then you will be in very great difficulties. But, as you know, the Work begins by teaching you very earnestly that there are many 'I's in yourself. Unless you can bear to realize this, you cannot do this Work beyond a certain point. You cannot separate from yourself and if this is the case you cannot really grasp the Work. Everything will remain personal. You will be offended. Suppose, for instance, you always identify with the 'I's that are against this Work. Then you will suffer in a manner that is quite useless. 

Have you ever really observed and got to know the negative 'I's that say all sorts of things and often blaspheme this Work? Are you going to say 'I' to them? All sorts and kinds of small ignorant 'I's try to eat us all day long. Do you know what inner separation means? If not, then these small, negative, ignorant, narrow, stupid 'I's will eat your Work force like a lot of beetles and mice and rats every day. It is a pity to give them the authority of 'I'—of yourself. You will then be dragged down from the moment you get up in the morning. It is really a tragedy to see a person in the Work, who really feels and wants the Work, quite incapable of realizing different 'I's in himself or herself. I say that it is a tragedy for a person not to understand what the Work first of all insists on—namely, that we are not one but many. If you cannot begin to see this, all your work will be in a mess. Every one of you has many 'I's which are useless and worse than useless. Everyone has 'I's that hate this Work because they know they will have to starve and even die, so they fight for their own lives and try to persuade you that they are you. If you say 'I' to them, what can you expect? 

On the other hand, if you can see them as 'I's in you that you do not care for and deliberately decide by experience not to consent to or believe in what they say, then you begin to enter the way of this Work, even if they overpower you often for the time being. There is a phrase in the Work: "This is not 'I' ". Can you understand what it means? It is interesting to notice how much vanity and pride enter at this point so that a person insists he is fully conscious and knows himself and always acts consciously from a real 'I'. Of course we don't. It is foolish to imagine we do. But it is intelligent to notice that we don't. And this begins work on yourself. It is a very extraordinary experience to begin to undergo this losing of one's Imaginary 'I'. It means a loss of vanity. But it cannot possibly be begun—indeed it is not permitted—unless your valuation of the Work is strong enough to hold you up during this loss, this de-personalization. 

The Work can only help you if you have caught hold of its teaching in one point of you genuinely—that is, so that it can touch and hold you when you have to begin to lose hold of False Personality. Let us take persons who regard themselves as solid, consistent men and women. To such people the idea that they are not one person, but many different persons, often contradictory, will be something abhorrent. They will insist that they know themselves, that they are always one and the same person, and so on. And if any rather too transparent contradiction occurs, they will justify themselves. Why? To keep this imaginary idea of themselves intact and inviolate. 

What a business it is to get a person to realize in this Work the existence of many different 'I's and to feel their existence in him or her. You recall, some of you, how some questions were answered in the earlier days of the Work. A person, let us say, asks a question like this: "I always think that . . ." The answer was: "Which 'I' thinks like this?" You will agree that it is rather baffling to receive an answer like that. But is it not a real reply? Is it not based on the teaching of the Work which begins by telling us that we must realize we are not one 'I' but many 'I's. An answer like that is a real answer. If the above person asked the question in this form: "There is a certain 'I' uppermost in me at this moment that appears to think like this ..." well, then, the answer would be different. It means he is not identified at the moment. But who of us yet can reach this step of seeing clearly that he or she has different 'I's uppermost at different times? 

Who of us can see yet the turning round of different 'I's in ourselves and from that insight not identify with any one of them and not always take them as 'I'—as you —as yourself, solid and permanent. Thinking, imagining we and others are always the same, does violence to us and to others. But if you have got as far as not quite taking every psychic event, every viewpoint and thought, state and feeling as 'I'—as you—then you begin to understand what the Work says about inner separation and selection. Some 'I's are your friends: other 'I's are your enemies. Some 'I's give you force: other 'I's rob you of force: and some actually eat you. How then can a person in the Work live in a self-complacent sleep saying 'I' to everything in him or her? Is not all development through a process of rejection and selection. How can you either reject or select if all is one and the same to you—if all is 'I'? If you keep a garden, do you not throw out weeds and cultivate and nourish and tend useful plants? Is it not impossible to do this in your inner life if you take everything as you? You have bad thoughts or bad feelings. Will you not see that if you take them as 'I'—as you—you strengthen them? 

Suppose you begin to understand this great teaching of many 'I's and of non-identifying with yourself: Well, if you identify with these negative thoughts and feelings coming from these 'I's and regard them as 'I myself thinking and feeling, where will you get to? Perhaps you will say: "Yes, but these bad thoughts and feelings are in me so what can I do?" What can you do? You can agree with them, consent to them, identify with them and give them the authority of 'I'. But supposing that you do not agree with them, consent to them or identify with them and do not say 'I' to them? Will they get stronger or weaker? Well, think for yourself. Do you think that all these people on the pavement are you? 

To be continued

From: Volume 2