So I’d like to consider the idea — trying to sense it and feel it, not just think about it — that our sensation is a whole mind of its own, that it consists of a form of intelligence.
That intelligence is just as real and whole and absolutely valid, just as smart and tactile and flexible, as the thoughts that we think. Just as our intellectual thoughts confer a sense of personhood on us, so our sensation can confer its own individual sense of personhood.
This individual sense of personhood through sensation consists of a vibration, a contact that takes place at the cellular level. It is a way of being that the mind isn’t familiar with; and it isn’t active in human beings under ordinary circumstances, because the intellectual mind has usurped so much of the territory in which the other two parts ought to occupy. That is to say, you probably don’t understand what a voluntary sensation is — a sensation that brings its own mind to the mind you already have and think with. If you encounter this, you will immediately see that the organic sensation of Being is an experience of personhood of a different order or level than the one we generally experience in daily life. It has, furthermore, depths of refinement that function by varying degree — some parts of it are deeper, others shallower, in exactly the same way that some thoughts in the intellectual mind can be shallow and others deep. The mind of sensation has “thoughts “ in it that range from the superficial contact of the skin with various surfaces, all the way down to vibrations of exquisite refinement that exist in the spaces between the cells, the very marrow of the bones.
This range of sensation brings a different understanding what is to Be to the human enterprise. It furthermore helps to concentrate Being within the essential center of gravity within the body, which is another phenomenon that cannot be understood conceptually, but only physically, through experience. This develops over many years and cannot be imparted through a brief series of exercises or weekend retreat. The reason for this is because it requires the ingestion and concentration of various substances through impressions, which have to be gathered over a period of many years and deposited in the body in order to attract the energies necessary to and live in it. Gurdjieff explained this in rather parenthetical terms to Ouspensky, without explaining the relationship between what he called “magnetic center”— actually, the essential center of gravity— and sensation, which is barely mentioned in the terms we speak of it here in In Search of the Miraculous.
Understanding this, or at least attempting to, perhaps you’ll now already understand that there is an individual sense of personhood through feeling as well. Feeling, like sensation, is equally an intelligence of a special kind that is very different indeed than the first two intelligences of intellect and the body. It’s called feeling because it is different than emotion. Emotion is the most superficial expression of feeling, a reactive and mechanical one. Just as sensation can become voluntary, that is, awaken into its own sense of Being and begin to participate in daily activities, so emotion is able to become voluntary. That is to say, it volunteers on its own to bring its own intelligence, a vibrant living quality, to inform the perceptions of life within the moment.
When we speak of three-brained Being, we speak of and experience of life in which the living quality of the intellect, along with the living quality of sensation and the living quality of feeling, each form an independent and perfectly sensate (intelligent, insightful) entity which come together in collaboration to see life within the moment from three different perspectives.
Thus, my intellect perceives life and creates thought about it; my sensation has a tactile, organic contact with life and creates a physical experience of it; and my feeling informs an attitude and understanding about life based on an emotional empathy, a compassionate presence.
One other thing that Mr. Gurdjieff did not fully explain about this phenomenon in his texts, either to Ouspensky or in Beelzebub’s Tales, is that this three-brained activity brings three different levels of vibration into contact with one another in a single moment. Of course, one could infer that, if one understands the stories about the speed of centers which he recounts in In Search of the Miraculous; but one needs to understand it practically from the point of view of three different levels of sensitivity to life which emerge in conjunction through three-brained activity. Sensation is a higher level of vibration, a perception at a faster speed, than thought; and is consequently more able to understand life in a direct and organic — non-rationalized and uncompromised — manner. Sensation is unable to lie, because there is no time for it to create an artificial attitude between the perception and the experience. Thought can do that because thought works much more slowly; and while both sensation and thought can be selfish, thought is much more so. So sensation brings this higher level of vibration which consists of an intelligence that is more objective than thought; and so, when one thinks and senses at the same time, already, sensation places a question mark in terms of the process of thought that suspends its action to some extent.
Feeling is even faster than sensation, at vibration levels that bring, quite literally, a sacred element into the equation. The rate of vibration of feeling is closest to what some esoteric schools refer to as the astral plane (the angelic realms) and it brings a set of information, should arrive voluntarily and contribute its abilities to the process of Being, that inevitably evoke a humility of understanding which is entirely beyond the capacity of both thought and sensation. If only these three parts worked in a human being — let’s say, in most human beings — already humanity would behave in an entirely different way than it does now. When Gurdjieff describes the changes in society brought about by Ashiata Shiemash, whereby civilization began to reorganize itself according to sane and compassionate principles, he is merely describing society that functions according to right interaction of the three brains. This illustrates how critical the proper understanding of this matter is to mankind’s position on the planet today. It has the potential to be transformational; but it can only impart that transformation if human beings understand and implement the teachings.
Note: this essay is an excerpt from the book Being and Impressions.
The entire book is available in the Apple iBooks store, or as a pdf at the following page link:
Being and Impression
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.