Friday, March 8, 2013

Why all this scrutiny?

There is a paradox at the heart of the idea of self observation.

The self that we have, the self we inhabit, is formed of our personality. Gurdjieff himself calls it "false personality," and advises us that all that we consist of in this state is lies, nothing but lies. I've heard senior members of the work triumphantly proclaim this like pontiffs, as though it were not only dogma, but in fact a delightful situation.

 In fact, many traditions agree that the self as we generally experience is a temporary entity, one that is not connected to the deeper levels of what mankind is, or what a real Self is. So, if there is little of value and worth, little that is permanent, in the self that we know, the self that we inhabit — and if that self, in its temporary nature and its attachment to the material,  is not at the center of our inquiry into spiritual work — why, then, should we study it so assiduously?

If the object of study is a Chimera — which is exactly what both Gurdjieff and the traditions maintain it is — of what use is it to study it?  (We could call it the chimeric self— an artificial, monstrous self, pasted together of many different selves.) We are collecting information on a nonentity, an illusory condition which we attach ourselves to. And indubitably, in a science, one wishes to study the real — not the unreal. So the idea of self observation seems like a waste of time. Something like watching television, a fantasy world in which everything that takes place is invented and has no effect.

 It turns out, in the end, that what we are studying is not the self. It is, rather, our attachment to it — and we study this with the aim of discovering something that is real. That is, we are studying the action that takes place in which we become identified with the false self, and not at all the events that happen to it or the idiotic things it undertakes — which are legion.

 The chimeric self is hyperactive and enormously colorful; it attracts us like moths to a candle. It's where all the action seems to be. But these distractions which lead us into ongoing psychological evaluation of the chimeric self run themselves in circles; and yet everyone does this anyway. Extended conversations take place in which observation and analysis of the chimeric self is presumed to have some potential to yield results; And almost all the results are aimed at changing the chimeric self.

But we are engaged, actually, in a contrarian enterprise. In self observation, what ought to interest us is what is not the self. Anything that is not self may be real; yet anything we happen to find that we say to ourselves is our self is a part of the chimera. So what we observe, we ultimately learn to observe with suspicion; and by a process of elimination, as we assemble a picture of our life, with every snapshot we take, we say, "well, that's not it. And that's not it. And that's not it."

The ultimate aim of this enterprise is to develop enough discrimination to clearly understand the difference between the inner — the real — self, and the outer self, which is merely a tool used by the inner self to function in the ordinary world. One has Being and is real; the other one has as much real life and animation in it as a hammer. Hammers, as we know, are incredibly forceful entities; extraordinarily useful, they can gently tap a nail into the right place, or smash a plate glass window. But if they are just flung around without any intelligence behind them, they are dangerous; and this pretty much describes exactly how or personality functions.

Mankind spends little or no time thinking about this question of the inner or the outer, because for the most part human beings are essentially unaware of this difference. They think that all of being is a kind of mushy substance that fits together without any clear lines of demarcation; and that there is one thing there, not a separated condition.

Self observation is essential in establishing a clarity between inner and outer natures, one of which constitutes Being, the other one of which constitutes its toolkit. And only once this particular matter has been entirely clarified can one begin to consider the idea of what Gurdjieff called self remembering, which is a conscious labor undertaken to refocus one's inner energies towards the growth of the real self, or Being.

 May your soul be filled with light.


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