by Ted Nottingham
Self-observation is the first tool in the process of awakening. The application of any of these ideas begins with self-observation. This is an act of attention directed inwards toward what is going on in us. Instead of living on the exterior, there is a little attention and energy kept within that can remain neutral and observe our behavior. Most of the time we are so unaware of ourselves that we don't even realize how we are sitting or what our posture is like. We are completely asleep to ourselves. This self-observation begins to let a ray of light into our inner darkness. But it cannot be done automatically like everything else we do. It requires a conscious effort. We must develop some control over our energy. If it is all used up for other things, we will not have it available for this effort. The Work requires the valuation of attention and energy.
The idea of higher states of consciousness is a more intensive way of being alive. In such states, there is a presence that resonates in the now. But we leak out our energy every day so completely and in so many ways that we do not have the fuel to live in those higher states which would so thoroughly change our lives. Self-observation means that we see something recurring in ourselves. The more we see it, the less we are under its power. If we see something in ourselves, such as lying, the natural inclination is to feel horrified. As long as we stay in that condition of response to what we have observed, we have no power to separate ourselves from it. However, the non-judgmental "Observing I" will naturally begin to change our way of acting in the world. It will also lead us to forgiveness, humility, and compassion not only for yourself but for everyone else.
When we come into the world, we are like a blank tape. Everything that we experience after our birth builds our personality. All of the external situations in our life interact with our essence and that creates who we are on the surface. This self is not the true I, but the I of personality which stands on shifting sand. The Work leads us to our real self from which we can act rightly in the world. The consequences of this Work are joyful and liberating. Self-observation leads to inner separation which is the beginning of the possibility of awakening. But it must be done in a neutral fashion.
Usually, when we see something in ourselves, we either deny it or feel horrible about ourselves. Or we justify it: "it only happened this one time, I'm not like that." This scientific, psychological method allows you to see within yourself in a way that you have never seen before. The object of self-observation is to impartially, uncritically and without justifying, take an inner glance at yourself, your attitudes and behavior. Try not to have an emotional response to what you see. This creates separation within yourself between the changing I's that you are observing and something within you that is stable and real. In the beginning it is weak. This is your true I, your higher self and self-observation will strengthen a sense of real I. It will make a space between the turning wheel of I's that go through you all day and the part of you that is your innermost, truest self which is most closely linked to the source of our being which is unfathomable.
We say I to everything. Everything that comes along makes us feel something. We say I to it. A lot of our I's are extremely contradictory to one another. Those I's don't know each other. We are changing I's at every moment; every event, every thought, every feeling is a different I in us. They all belong to personality which is acquired over our lifetime. If we can see these I's as separate from our true self, if we do not give them our force for just a moment, that energy goes into true I and gives it more strength. Everyone has I's that they don't like in themselves -- cruel I's, lascivious I's -- we don't want to think of ourselves as that kind of person. So when we have that I, we don't acknowledge it. If we see it at all, we justify it: "well, they deserved it." Most often we don't see it at all. It comes and goes and another I takes its place. An I happens to you because a set of circumstances in the external or internal world provokes that I.
If we can see that it just happens, if we can separate and not say I to them and just refer to them as " passing I's", we begin to detach from all of the emotional bondage that these I's inflict upon our lives. We are told in the Work that nothing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that traffic, wherever it comes from. That gives us independence from the external world. That is spiritual maturity and freedom. If you look at the sages of humanity, they were independent of the things that came at them and were therefore truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of circumstances. One of the tricks in self-observation is to not call I's I. When you observe yourself in a negative state and say to yourself: "I'm in a negative state. I'm really angry. Someone did something that upset me..." -- this is seeing, not observing. Observing means saying: "It is in a negative state. It feels angry, it feels resentment."
What we are dealing with is a phenomenon that is separate from us. If we can observe our mechanical behavior and not call it "I", we will be able to separate from it and not have to respond automatically to it. Calling these inner disturbances "It" can help. If we find difficult and confusing this concept of many I's, and the idea that our moods and feelings and attitudes are not us, but simply our acquired behavior, then calling our mechanical self "It" instead of "I" can help us learn to separate. In meditation, it is possible to reach a peaceful place within and feel refreshed and vitally alive. But then we step into the street and suddenly we are back in the whirlwind again. Here is the practical way, the secret to learning how not to fall right back into it. And therefore to maintain that high state of serenity in the midst of the chaos that we know so well.
This Work allows us to notice who are the friends and who the enemies within us. As it is now, they are all the same since they can each claim power anytime they want. There is no control, no direction, no center of gravity where one is anchored in certain fundamental decisions about the direction of one's life and commitments. When we begin to make an inner separation within ourselves and create "observing I," we are separating a part of our psychology from the mechanical part of our personality that is continually interacting with the world. That makes the personality that is functioning in the world self-conscious because it is being observed. This takes some of the force out of the strength of feeling ourselves as that personality because now there is something else in us that feels more like us than the personality. It is no longer so self-assured. Something within is seeing our life from a perspective that is not identified and therefore it isn't caught up in the power of the daily emotional roller-coaster.
The personality loses strength when it begins to be observed. If practiced with sincerity, the real I that would choose to live in accordance with our fate, our destiny, our vocation, our purpose for being here, would act in the world rightly. As that real I gains in strength, you begin to change. Gradually the personality becomes a servant to that real I. Instead of acting out of control with no unity, it will act with real will and express your unique individuality in the way that it is meant to be expressed.
The Work says that personality is all that is built up within us from a young age. This needs to happen so that we know how to function in the world. So we move from essence -- what we are born with -- into personality, which is artificially absorbed through the culture and education but is necessary in order to deal with the world. Inner work makes this personality more passive so that arrogance, pride and all the other attributes of personality lose power. When Dorothy pulls the curtain back on the wizard of Oz and catches the little man working the equipment, the power of the mighty Oz is forfeited. That is very much the idea of catching personality for what it is. We become very vulnerable because we no longer have all that puffed up behavior made out of "sound and fury signifying nothing." When you finally begin to activate that group of I's that wants to live at a higher level, you will soon find yourself confronted by opposite I's; that powerful group that wants to stay in control and doesn't want anything to do with this self-transcendence business. Your greatest enemy is the false part of you that will not relinquish its power and will seek to destroy the other part of you that seeks the spiritual life.
The early fathers of Christianity saw the demonic as psychological phenomena. They talked about this teaching on I's as demons. A demon enters and suggests such and such an act to you and you have a choice: assent to the suggestion or reject it. In some ways, the ancient metaphors make it easier to fight internal contradictions than the terminology of the Work. If you know you're dealing with evil, you can face off with it. When it is confused with yourself, or what you thought was yourself, it is more subtle and complex.
These ideas must be employed in your everyday dealings. To be in the world and yet to be removed from it is real work. In order to accomplish this, you must find time for yourself and seek quiet space. Take twenty minutes a day for the centering that will give you the inner force to build up your true self. Again, this is why the Work has been referred to as that of the "cunning man" because we are to take the events of life -- the nasty boss, the frantic pace -- and turn them into inner gold by using them as opportunities to reach that objective space that can deal with both one's inner and outer world. When the Work is applied to challenges in the outer world, it defines and gives character and strength to your real I. From this perspective, we can be sharpened every day.
John of the Cross refers to the rock being sculpted. It doesn't know that it is being turned into a piece of art. It only knows that it is being hammered on. As we enter deeper into this teaching, we begin to feel sustained by the power behind these ideas. The point is to come under influences that are from a higher realm. There are the influences of life -- making a living and so forth -- and there are higher spiritual influences that come down through real I, through essence, through level of being, that have to do with the presence of God. These influences can sustain us through everything, including death. This Work cleanses, aligns, and puts us in connection with something that is far beyond our own means so that we are not left out there by ourselves flaying against our enemies. Ultimately there is the hope of being in touch with something that can give us the kind of support that we cannot give ourselves.
"All our work lies in separating from wrong I's." In the beginning we cannot even tell the difference between right and wrong I's since we have no guidelines. Behind all our many desires is the one desire for God. These finite desires are merely reflections of the ultimate desire for the infinite. We must therefore center our lives around making a choice, coming to a decision. We must unify ourselves around a focal point -- a decision -- which the Work defines as separating from wrong I's. We need to sort out the wheat from the tares.
"What drags us down is our choice." We have the power of choice to think in one way or in another. The I that decides to wake up early is not the same I that has to roll out of bed at 5:30 when the alarm goes off. You can notice in your contradictions that one I is in charge and that it doesn't remember the previous one. When you sit down to dinner, you often don't remember your diet I's. They don't appear until you're finished. The fact that one can recognize that "this is what I wanted to do and this is what I did" can be the beginning of seeing clues to a complete transformation of consciousness. Ideally, we should go through life in that higher place that is detached, free, self-controlled, and able to do right action in the world. This place does not get dragged down by boredom, depression, envy. This is the place that can be reached briefly in meditation and can become the place inside you which is the observer. After a beautiful meditation or worship service or having listened to a piece of music, you will notice that fifteen minutes later you are under attack and your higher state is lost. You are back in the usual momentum. You must begin to build slowly, carrying that meditative inner space into the madness of daily life.
In this Work you need to remember that you don't remember yourself. In other words, an hour into your day, after having started out quietly and built that inner space, you suddenly realize that you have completely forgotten about it. That is an important moment. Merely noticing how you completely lost track of what you are trying to be and do is the beginning of change. All of these steps and ideas lead somewhere. They lead to a definite change, a definite transformation of your being. If your aim is to be in touch with God or to have enough knowledge of God to know what your place is in the world -- what you are suppose to do while you are here, the meaning of your existence -- there must first be an emptiness created within. This Work is all about clearing out the mess that is inside everyone as a consequence of being born on this planet, in order to get behind that noise and become able to hear guidance from another source. So all the things that we are talking about -- many I's, self-observation, inner separation -- are tools. They are meant to clear a path in you that will be without self-interest and consequently will be at the service of what is divine in the world. This Work can lead you to a very great place in yourself which is your highest fulfillment.
Gurdjieff said not to take any of these ideas on faith. The only value is to verify it for yourself. The only way you can find out what it might do for you is to begin with inner separation. The key to get to the inner separation that can remove us from the hypnosis of the external world is self-observation. This is the secret of this Work. This teaching uses our daily life as the food for our transformation. The methodology begins with self-observation. Self-observation leads to inner separation which is the beginning of the possibility of awakening. But it must be done in a neutral fashion. Usually, when we see something in ourselves, we either deny it or feel horrible about ourselves. Or we justify it: "it only happened this one time, I'm not like that." This scientific, psychological method allows you to see within yourself in a way that you have never seen before. The object of self-observation is to impartially, uncritically and without justifying, take an inner glance at yourself, your attitudes and behavior.
Try not to have an emotional response to what you see. This creates separation within yourself between the changing I's that you are observing and something within you that is stable and real. In the beginning it is weak. This is your true I, your higher self and self-observation will strengthen a sense of real I. It will make a space between the turning wheel of I's that go through you all day and the part of you that is your innermost truest self which is most closely linked to the source of our being which is unfathomable. We are told in the Work that nothing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that traffic, wherever it comes from. That gives us independence from the external world. That is spiritual maturity and freedom. If you look at the sages of humanity, they were independent of the things that came at them and were therefore truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of circumstances. One of the tricks in self-observation is to not call I's I.
In this teaching, morality is subjective to a great extent. What is moral for this time was not moral one hundred years ago. What is moral in this country is not moral someplace else. The vast majority of the things to which we assign morality are subjective. That morality can change according to the person, the place, the era, the culture. This condition of self-observation cannot assign judgment, because as soon as we do so we are no longer observing but we are being it. If we are being it, we have no chance of separating from it. So if we observe something in ourselves -- such as a hateful I -- and we feel that we don't want to be that, we are investing it with our emotional energy and we are not going to be able to separate ourselves from it. Eventually, through a long process of self-observation with non-judgement, we can see which I's serve higher consciousness (goodness) and which do not serve it.
When we can be separate from it, we can pull ourselves out of the I's that don't serve higher consciousness and consequently they become weak. That is how we can have an influence on them. This idea of selecting parts of oneself is very important. Being able to be objective within oneself enough to see that there is a large crowd within us allows us to see those parts of us that have no interest in spirituality.
Now we are capable of recognizing the "enemy." These few I's that are interested in self-transcendence are the ones we want to cultivate. As they get stronger, they will help us evolve to that higher quality of being. But until we get to this point -- seeing the contradictions within -- everything remains confused and chaotic. These ideas will step on your toes. But if we apply the humility of observation, we will develop marvelous insights into how this mechanism operates. "We touch life according to implanted attitudes" wrote Maurice Nicoll. "It is an extraordinary experience to become even a little free from this acquired way of taking life and taking others...With insight into oneself, it is possible to take things in a new way."
Change involves a change in oneself. We are all convinced that the way we take things is appropriate. The Work is meant to dissolve self-complacency, this "pseudo-creation we call ourselves." We are slaves to this acquired machinery that we take as ourselves. The practice of the Work allows us to capture overviews of what we are really like and what we have been like for years. This can certainly be shattering. But it is dangerous unless we know how not to become negative as a result of these perceptions. We cannot take all our I's as ourselves, and the Work calls this conglomeration as "imaginary I." Nicoll asks the question: "Is not all development through a process of rejection and selection?" It follows that we must wonder how we can reject or select if all is one for us, if all is I. The object of this Work is to make us conscious of what is going on in us. "Here in this inner world, and in what we select and reject in it, lies the key to the Work and so to evolution."
Just remembering that we forgot to remember is an important observation. To say "I'm going to observe my impatience." Suddenly, it's Friday and I've been impatient all week but never thought about noticing it, reveals to us very clearly what the idea of sleep is about. There is a dimension of observing I that needs to break through to a larger perspective that has healing powers. One of the problems with the way the Work is being taught as we experienced it -- and as Gurdjieff saw it being done in New York to his great disgust -- is the fact that it is often reduced to a sterile psychological exercise. Even though one has to make simple efforts in the beginning, baby steps even, the whole point is that we are embarking on the greatest adventure human beings can undertake, which is to connect with that holy dimension of life, that unnamable dimension that we come from, and which transcends even our passage through this plane.
Observing I, seeing tensions in the body, has the potential of doing more than merely alert us to it. Observing I can also link you with a spiritual quality of self-forgetfulness (you remember yourself in order to forget yourself). This quality of transcendence of self is such that there is a meltdown of tension. Observing I needs to eventually remove us from the sphere of self-concern to the point where all our wrong tensions and attitudes disappear, just like in deep meditation. Such relaxation of misguided tension can come to us through a moment of higher emotional experience that becomes available through the moment of separation. We must be beware of turning this kind of observation into microscopic self-absorption, all turned in upon ourselves. Remember that ultimately the aim is to be so surrendered to the something higher that we are that we both vanish and find self-realization.
Tension comes from something emotional. If we can take the emotion out of an anxiety, then the physiology can relax. The power of observation is that it teaches us that we are not fully captives of our behavior. Becoming aware of tension begins the process of relaxing it. The process of relaxing tense muscles is directly related to our spiritual state in the moment. Awareness becomes healing and frees us to simply be in the moment. We can only have that inner liberation by a separation. Detachment or inner separation is the key. The Work does not give us platitudes but practical how-to insights. To remember some of these ideas during the current of the daily activities is to notice something about yourself. That noticing is the first step toward awakening which is a way of being in the world that is closer to our true potential. life well lived and one not well lived.