Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Personal notes on the fundamental nature of sensation, part I

Photograph from the orchid show
 New York Botanical Garden, March 2017


Then one must change the way of working. Instead of accumulating during one hour, one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body. Sense one's body again, continually without interrupting one's ordinary occupations—to keep a little energy, to take the habit. I thought the exercises would allow you to keep the energy a long time, but I see it is not so. Wet a handkerchief, wring it out, put it on your skin. The contact will remind you. When it is dry, begin again. 
The key to everything—Remain apart. Our aim
is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one's individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic.

— Transcripts of Gurdjieff meetings, 1941 — 1945

Personal notes from March 31, part 1

I'd like to say a few things about the nature of sensation that relate to the comments I make in my book Being and Impression

It occurred to me last week, while working with one of the groups I attend, that we need to allow our sensation to develop and express its own authority.

This is a very important point, because with some few exceptions, most people — even people who have been working for many years — do not understand sensation as a voluntary or active force. The mind encounters “sensations” of many different kinds and believes that this is what the intelligence of sensation consists of; but it is no such thing. Sensation is an absolute and an entire mind unto itself which can cohabit with the mind of my intelligence; and it has its own authority, not an authority conferred upon it by the words I use to describe it or what its experiences are. This is precisely what Mr. Gurdjieff means in the passage that opens this piece.

Encountering sensation as an experience of the body — touching the bark of a tree is a good example — is a beginning. The exercise with the wet handkerchief is a precisely similar point of departure; yet it is not just the sensation of the wet handkerchief that one needs to experience, but also the silent intelligence that encounters it. It is this intelligence that we seek to awaken. All of the many exercises in sensation, sensing the limbs, moving sensation around the body, and so on, provide experiences of the flow of energy within the body, but they do not represent the awakened sensation of being.
Readers familiar with my work will know that for the past 10 years, or thereabouts, I have generally referred to this as the organic sensation of being — a term Gurdjieff also used, because the experience of it is entirely organic and cannot be termed any other way. The expression is objective, just as the experience is; whereas ordinary sensation is entirely subjective. If one reaches an objective sensation, it is comprehensive, ubiquitous, and permanent. Objective sensation is an awakened consciousness, a second mind within Being. Attempting to understand it with the first mind of the intellect is a waste of time; all one can do with the first mind is conceptualize it.

So I will say it again. We need to allow our sensation to express its own authority.
I have been asked how one can "do" that. Clearly, those who understand it is possible — even instinctively, in some cases, but in any event at least with the intellect, after many years of work — are curious about how one "gets there." The best that I can say is that one must learn to have a certain kind of trust. The mind thinks it knows everything; it pitches in itself as the boss of the whole world, and one might even say, metaphorically speaking, that the sensation and emotions turn away from it in disgust because it occupies so much of the territory and doesn't want to allow other authority to manifest. Put in other terms, the problem is that the intelligence of our sensation and the intelligence of our feelings do not trust the mind; any more than the mind trusts them. The mind, after all, has been stealing material from the other two centers my whole life; and why should I trust a thief who keeps trying to usurp my place and do my work for me? It's a waste of my time.

Part II of the notes on the fundamental nature of sensation will publish on July 7.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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