Image from the Yale University Art Gallery:
Art in the Periphery of Empire
The word self means a person's essential being; the part that distinguishes one from others.
It's important to understand this word first by being precise about its ordinary meaning. People in various kinds of inner work often seem to want to begin from the extraordinary and dismiss the ordinary; but this is like trying to understand advanced calculus before one has mastered simple arithmetic. We must first understand from the context in which we are in before we start imagining how we will fly with angels.
So the word self has a quite precise and specific meaning; and if we want to remember the self we are attempting to remember our individuality, what sets us apart from others. Some readers may recall Gurdjieff's statement that the organic sensation of Being is what creates our individuality; and indeed, in other remarks, recorded by Ouspensky and never published, he makes further statements to this effect. No matter; what I write on the subject is already quite enough, since it does not derive from third party quotes, but my own direct understanding.
There are, however, other dimensions to the question of self-remembering. The term has an exact meaning that can be explained very precisely indeed; and it may not mean what readers expect it to mean, a point we shall soon get to.
Self is the qualities that make an individual unique. What exactly are these qualities? Usually, we ascribe them to personality; and perhaps this outward understanding is sufficient for most folks. Yet one doesn't see how utterly this dominates; and how absolutely divorced it is from actual self, the part which is rooted in the original manifestation of Being.
In mankind, this original manifestation of Being takes place along the vertical axis of the spine; and the nature of being in relationship to this manifestation can be exactly described because it conforms to an esoteric scientific principle, that is, there is an objective nature to the self which is not so far removed from ordinary understanding as to defy description.
This is another soft spot at the heart of esotericism, which easily attracts weak minds. There is above all a wish to rise above this level; and an egoistic wish to sound very important by making self important noises alluding to the fact that one can't understand, there are no words, etc. These things are true; but they belong to a level other than the one we are on, and our understanding must begin here. We cannot understand outside of the level we are on; to do so is to arrogate to myself qualities and responsibilities I do not have and can never have, because I am on this level. I emphasize this because so much of esoteric thinking and work-effort seems to be directed at the idea that I can transcend this level instead of inhabiting it. Yet if I am on this level, and there is a meaning to it, perhaps I belong exactly here.
Being on this level comes with a specific set of restrictions, limitations and laws I must work within; and while I may be able to become free of some few of them, I will then simply come under other laws. Until I die, I remain here on this level. The inner work that has to be done is on this level, not on the higher levels I enjoy prattling on about as though I were already on them, picking sweet grapes and berries to pop into my mouth. (There are an awful lot of these berry-pickers around. Watch for them, they are the ones with rose-colored glasses on.)
I will discuss this precise and eminently definable aspect of self tomorrow so that we can better understand what self-remembering actually is and truly consists of.