The painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch is a picture, among other things, of the multiplicity of “I”s present in any given human being.
While the painting works on many different levels, one important aspect of it is that it shows us as we are, inside, at this present moment. Every single one of the individuals in the painting represents, in one way or another, one of the mechanical parts, or tiny fractions of personality, that is perpetually operating within a human being's psyche.
While we clearly see from the left panel than humanity has an essence that comes from the Divine, it is dominated, in the central and right hand panel, by any number of individuals who have lost that connection and are operative under the strength of their own desires. In the right-hand panel, that desire becomes extraordinarily destructive, and serves as a warning to us. Everyone has these deeply pathological individuals in us, in addition to the ones that appear to be engaged in more benign activities in the central panel. The right side of the painting represents the dark side of Being; not an imaginary set of monstrous fantasies, but an actual inner condition which we ignore at our peril.
In order to really understand the impact of this inner reality—the fractionalization of my being into many tiny parts, each one of of which thinks it ought to be dominant—I need to understand the difference between the dysfunctional relationships produced by these fractions, and a functional relationship to a far more wholesome, higher inner energy which comes from wholeness.
When I speak about coming into relationship with a higher energy, it isn't some energy that exists outside of me, so to speak—that is separate from me and enters me to change me. This way of conceiving it creates a polarity which is largely incorrect. The energy is already what I am. I am not separate from it, and it doesn't come from anywhere other than the place of my own Being.
This place of Being is a singularity—that is, it is one whole thing, not a world divided into many different parts the way that my personality and its fractions operate; and all Being emanates from this singular wholeness, which is ever-present. When I make an effort to come into relationship with this energy, which must take place gradually and over the course of many years and decades, I'm making an inner effort to transcend the fractional nature of Being and move towards a wholeness of Being that derives itself from, and inhabits, this place of great wholeness, which is divided and unaffected by opinion.
We speak of freedom. And when we speak of freedom, as human beings, we almost always speak it in a way that implies freedom from material things—freedom from external events that affect us in one way or another.
The idealized picture of a “guru” is a man who is in the world but not of it. Yet this vision is an external manifestation related to the world of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. Maybe I think that inner freedom is freedom from those things. Yet real freedom begins with freedom from what I have inside myself, not what I am outside myself.
That freedom can only arise because of a completely new relationship to an inner energy which frees me from attachment to my inner parts, which perpetually try to dominate. In other words, real freedom is freedom from all of these different “I”s that inhabit the psyche and try to tell me how I should behave, and what I do.
If a person is lucky, they spend 30 or 40 or even 50 years in inner work, and suddenly they understand something in a new way such that they see they never actually understood it for the many decades that they thought they did. That's a point of real understanding; it qualifies as a shock, and as a revelation, but what is most important is that it signifies a real change and real understanding. I'm fortunate in discovering that I was deluded; I'm fortunate in discovering that I am not what I think I am. Real freedom consists of the good fortune to discover Being at the expense of personality.
Real freedom consists first of an inner freedom from all these “I”s that try run my life.
When I come into a relationship with real consciousness, that is, the conscious force of organic sensation of Being, I come into relationship with something quite different than any of my ordinary selves. It brings a freedom from judgment and a freedom from assumption; and it sees it once that all of the individuals in me that judge and assume are false personalities. Each one of them is a tiny piece of clockwork, a machine that tries to run the whole show on its own.
Each of these small, individual personalities in me is a singularity, as in the sense of a black hole. It is intensely selfish and wants to suck all of the energy around it down into itself. As it does so, real Being disappears into the void created by that fraction; so I am perpetually stumbling from one void into another within myself, each one of which sees its own interests as the exclusive territory that my entire Being ought to serve.
Of course, Gurdjieff said this to Ouspensky in many different ways; yet we don't speak about it much anymore in the Gurdjieff work, and the concept is nearly unknown in modern psychology, even though it is the clockwork engine that runs the world and all people in it.
This ought to be given much more careful consideration, because if I don't observe my many different parts in a direct and practical relationship to Being whole within an inner energy, I only work theoretically.
I have to achieve a union with the energy first in order to see how the other parts operate.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.