Materials for the online teaching group Inner Work for Spiritual Awakening     

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                                                 TOWARD THE REAL SELF


By Ted Nottingham

What you have taken all your life to be one being with a name is shattered into a million pieces. There is no center in which you can consider yourself to be at home, to be dependable to yourself. Nobody wants to know this. In fact, we spend our lives building up a false identity of who we are. A self-importance, a role based on what our jobs are, that give us the illusion of unity and oneness. The Work tells us that this is a fantasy, an illusion. One of the things that keeps us in such a hypnotic state is identification. The reason we are asleep, the reason we do not naturally recognize the reality of our being is because we get caught by everything. We identify ourselves, our life, our emotions, with each phenomenon that occurs.

An example:Getting angry at your child for spilling the milk. At that moment you are emotionally and intellectually enslaved by that event. You are lost in that event. Instead of being all that you are -- the rational, intelligent, loving human being -- you are lost in the spilt milk. This insight has an extraordinary range of subtlety. Life, which cares not for esotericism, mysticism, spirituality, thinks that is just fine. In fact, the more you are identified, the better an employee you are. You will work very hard for that status or all the things that society rewards you with for selling yourself into the illusion of what is important.

This Work calls life "incoming impressions," events that have an impact on you. Everything that you say I to, you identify with. Everything that you identify with, you give your force to and consequently it has power over you --a person going through their daily routine, identifying with one thing after another that comes through either the stimulation of outer or inner events such as psychological patterns, habits of reaction, ways of behaving. The reason this is extremely significant for those who are seeking something more in being alive is that this is what blocks out higher consciousness, the reality of the sacred, God or whatever you want to call it. If it's raining and that puts you in a bad mood, you have just cut yourself off from the deeper source of your being. In that moment you are dead to the essence of being alive. For those who are yearning for spiritual reality, who are magnetized toward something more than the dreary ordinariness that is not the end-all of being in the cosmos; these are the things that cut us off completely and with these are all of our attitudes that we are asleep to.

Gurdjieff would say that the third state of consciousness is the place where we become capable of loving our enemies, and that we can be like the sun that rains on the good and the bad alike. The great teachers -- especially those of the Christian Tradition -- say that our rebirth, our transformation describes the process of becoming that sun that can shine on all things in the same way. That is a level of love that we must admit we are not capable of in our present condition. The reason we are not capable of implementing the teachings of Christ or of the Buddha is because we live in a consciousness of multiplicity where the good and the not so good commingle. Our I's are not merely an interesting phenomenon to observe, but reflect a level of being that keeps us from what we are truly meant to become.

All the great teachers of all the religions tells us that we are meant to express true love, objective love -- agape -- the kind of love that can transform other people because its radiance has power. This is our birthright. This is what we are called to by religion and spirituality. Christianity in its manifestation in the world today has been polluted. It is difficult to talk about this religion without someone having all kinds of associations that are distortions and the result of unfortunate experiences. As long as we take this teaching -- which is the essence of the Christian teaching -- and apply it to ourselves, there is no problem. It is the external manifestations of religious faiths that have completely corrupted its presence in the world to the point that most wars are now religious ones. Gurdjieff used the link with Christianity as a shock. Most of the people around him were secular intellectuals completely outside of the religious institutions. B. D. Griffith, a Benedictine monk who lived in India, said shortly before his death that if Christianity does not recover its mystical tradition, it might as well close up shop. Otherwise it is a total failure.

There is virtually no place in society to find real spiritual nourishment. Imagine a place where everyone is so focused on the common aim of spiritual awakening that an authentic liberation from the harshness of the world "out there" occurs because you are among people who are genuinely working on themselves in the name of the Creator. That is what a Church is meant to be. The early eastern teachers of Christianity had as a magic key parallel to self-observation the state of gratitude. In gratefulness, there is a transcendence of self-interest, a recognition of life as gift rather than as something to manipulate for one's desires. Gratitude does focus us on the possibility of another state of consciousness. All of us have had access to these higher moments. That is why we seek them because we have some yearning for it. This system is a systematic way of achieving such experiences. In a moment of gratefulness, we may indeed transcend a situation or some psychological state and experience some moment of bliss.

The issue is: what will happen tomorrow and why can it not be sustained? When you begin to understand these ideas, you can see why it happens. Another fragment of self that is not grateful for anything is going to take over and call itself "you". Meanwhile, the you that had this grateful awareness will not provide the unity and center where you might live that out. Real gratitude is a state of prayer, which is a state of higher consciousness. But then, we have the gratefulness of the Pharisee, who was glad that he wasn't like the other fellow. True Christianity is very holistic. The idea of the incarnation proves that through the physical body there can be higher consciousness, or unity with the source of existence. One is able to use the body as a vehicle to manifest higher consciousness.

The Buddhist masters are tremendous examples of this. In practicing martial arts, their presence to reality and separation from lower levels of consciousness is so intense that their very gestures have a purity that reflects a higher state. The goal is that real I will manifest in the world. If it were present at all times, we would be acting in the world in a right way under every set of circumstances. The outcome of our actions would be goodness. If all the people around the world were in that condition at the same time, that would be called the "kingdom of heaven." Barbara Marx Hubbard and other contemporary thinkers hope for this critical mass where numerous people would reach that state. It is hard not to be pessimistic because it takes a great deal of work to get there. It does not happen automatically. That is where religion can be very superficial because of the assumption that some external ritual will do the trick. The symbols have no meaning unless an internal phenomenon takes place and continually takes place. The early teachers of Christianity were very clear about the idea that thoughts come to you.

Their method of the watch of the heart was to be aware enough of their thoughts to keep them from entering the emotions and manifesting in actions. They developed a process to observe the I's and keep the negative ones from stealing their force. This was in conformity with the idea of "cleansing the inside of the cup." We cannot do that if we think these thoughts are ourselves.

For hundreds of years, every teacher of Christianity read the Bible allegorically. St. Augustine, the father of the western Church, went so far as to try to figure out why the gospel writers mentioned two straps on John the Baptist's sandals. But stories could also be turned into profound psychological meanings that could affect your life. The idea of the literal interpretation of the Bible is a new idea from the days of the American frontier and cut off from centuries of teachings. All of the ideas in scripture are multi-dimensional, that is why they are called sacred. They are relevant and valuable because they relate directly to human evolution, to what one can become, to spiritual awakening. The number one sin according to the early fathers was pride. And that is the description of the Satan figure. The personality that pictures itself as a wonderful human being while being a stimulus-response machine is where the perversion comes in.

The stimulus-response phenomenon of our nature is "evil" by the fact that it is unconscious behavior without will or control. The false personality distorts the mechanical responses. If the conditions on this planet were different, with conscious human beings living here, the mechanicalness would develop a different kind of personality without necessarily having those negative traits. Mechanicalness could exist and not be a conveyor of evil. But the false personality that we develop around ourselves is what perverts it.

When some of these ideas begin to resonate at a deeper level, then intimate and personal insights that cannot be expressed in words come to the surface. They have to do with qualities of awareness and degrees of consciousness beyond the realm of the senses.

As you observe yourself over a long period of time and you come to see the pictures that you have of yourself, of the kind of person that you think you are and the contradictions in your behavior, as you separate from the I's that you observe, real I -- which belongs to the third state of consciousness -- becomes more powerful. This real I is you in your pristine, uncluttered existence. As it becomes stronger, it manifests and what is contradictory to it begins to weaken and not manifest. It is not a matter of something breaking through, but of growing and evolving. That higher part of us gains control and power and manifests in our behavior. The I's that we express change according to that evolution.

Moments of higher consciousness do break through and occur spontaneously. Sometimes we don't realize what is happening to us. We often do not know how to value what has happened in a moment of gratitude or deep peace. We are so asleep that we don't recognize the different qualities of consciousness that we experience. The purpose of this Work is to make such moments more frequent and more consistent. We don't have to go to a mountaintop or to a beach in order to find that peace, that state that the soul longs for. We are meant to know this state even in the middle of a traffic jam. If we are able to separate and remember to observe rather than to become irritated, then we can save ourselves from that loss of life-force and gain force by turning that energy into something higher.

Ultimately, this process leads to becoming a better human being. Knowledge and Truth are meant to lead to Goodness. We must be willing to recognize the contradictions and the need for help to lead us toward the self that we are meant to be.

When you visit your parents on holidays, you will notice that you are behaving in a way that belongs to a personality that you had when you were very young. We have entire groups of I's with certain personality traits. They take over under different circumstances, according to particular stimuli. You play one role at work and another at home. From business person to husband or wife. The idea is to achieve a level of unity and consistency that should be the characteristic of the Self. We attribute this characteristic to ourselves even though we are not like that. We can discover a quality of being that we recognize in the great saints and teachers of humanity are trustworthy in relationship to the higher Truth in every moment of life. Their actions do not contradict their level of being.

Consciousness in the moment can put us in touch with a timeless reality. Eternity in the moment. This straightforward set of ideas is meant to deal with the extraordinary things of life. There is no question that a great deal of empowerment can take place through these ideas. Imagine you are at the office and someone becomes very angry. But you stay calm and in control. You watch this person objectively and you don't react. The adrenals don't kick in as they might otherwise do. You are in control and the other person is not. This is an example of the power available through this Work. Yet it is not about personal power, because then it becomes distorted and that element of goodness which is at the heart of it is lost. Empowerment is a goal, but not for self-interest. There are situations, such as embarrassment, that rob us of our force and our ability to be present. If we were free of all of those considerations, we would have the power not to be crippled by our own thoughts of ourselves and the emotional mess it creates in us. That is a kind of liberation that is empowering.

If you were suddenly stripped of all your possessions and you found yourself in the wilderness alone, everything that matters now regarding prestige, attachments, would disappear. But you would still be there. The part that is unconditioned is what our soul yearns for, because that is the source of peace and fulfillment.

The aim is to be able to walk through life with a unity of self and remembrance of the significance of being alive unhampered by circumstances, people, and one's own past development. This is the goal that great sages, saints and teachers reached. To radiate with a higher goodness is the result of work on oneself. So from small efforts, we reach out for that state of consciousness which makes the difference between a life well lived and one not well lived.

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