In 2001, when I underwent what one would term, in most works, an “enlightenment experience,” which is, measured in any sense, a permanent change in the state of Being, my mind shut down.
That is, my associative intellect shutdown; and while that was accompanied by a wide range of other important changes in function I won't describe here, the action of the intellect shutting down was both shocking and extraordinary. The experience lasted not for a few minutes—or an hour, or a day, but for months. During that period, I discovered that all of the "thinking" that I felt was necessary and even absolutely vital for ordinary life was in fact a complete waste of time.
None of it was necessary for daily life in any way, shape, or form.
When this part first ceased to function, it was terrifying. I found myself entirely within the moment, and everything was quite still. None of the associative thoughts I was accustomed finding within myself that drove my life from moment to moment were present; and I for some reason couldn't see how it was possible to live or get things done when there was no background noise dictating the course of action to be taken. I was alone; I was awake, and there was no background noise.
This couldn’t have come at a more critical time in my life. I had just been through what I call my own personal 9/11. I had been divorced, lost all my savings, my job, my house, and my children. I had moved back to New Jersey from Georgia and was about to start a new job at a new and very demanding company, where every possible skill I had learned over the last 20 years would be tested. Huge financial burdens were resting on my shoulders, and I was starting life all over again from ground zero. It was not the time for my mind to shut down. Not at all, not at all.
As it happened, I continued to encounter life and its ordinary tasks, and everything just took care of itself. I found myself in what one might call the eye of a hurricane, where external events took place in their usual confusing and demanding sequences, and every response that was necessary arrived automatically within my scope of being and field of my awareness without me making any effort whatsoever.
I was, for all intents and purposes, entirely separated from the automatic functions; and I could see that they were all simply part of a machine that did not have any mind in it as the term needs to be properly understood. Because I was starting this demanding new job for an extremely high performance company, it seemed doubly dangerous that this part had shut down, because I used it all the time in my business career and it seemed to me to be not only absolutely necessary for moment-to-moment functioning, but also what I had used to build my career on. I'm considered to be quite clever in both personal life and in business, you see; and whether or not that is true, that perception in others was built on the power of my associative part, which is strong and capable.
In this high performance job, I immediately found myself in situations where challenges were continually being issued to me. I was relatively new, and of course company management wanted to test me. A barrage of questions about my perceptions of the business, my experience with textiles, and what I thought “ought to be done” about this, that, and the other thing were coming at me all day long in a constant flow.
I was astonished to see that the mind of intelligence, this quiet mind that had no clear connection to associative thought, stood there doing very little or nothing in the midst of it all, while the associative mind continually spit out answers throughout the day that fit the situation appropriately. I didn't do anything. I wasn't even "thinking" of the things that my associative functions were saying. They just popped out, as though I had opened a box of cereal and was pouring Rice Crispies from it.
It turns out I am full of a lot of Rice Crispies.
These Rice Crispies were most satisfying to the people around me, but what astonished me over and over was the way they popped out without any participation on the part of my conscious mind. They were part of an automaton, a machine that knew what to do and how to do it. This was a graphic illustration of exactly what Gurdjieff said about the nature of our automatic or habitual being. It isn't even intelligent. It is actually a machine. It is no more intelligent than the CPU and the rote data in the computers that we use.
This may come as a terrifying piece of information to folk who have never had the experience, or who want to believe that their ordinary parts really have some higher meaning of one kind or another. They don't. What is true is that each one of them receives at least a trickle of information from the higher mind most of the time, so they are all capable of being informed — inwardly formed — with material from a higher source that is helpful in improving their quality. Nonetheless, by themselves, they are as meaningless as rabbit droppings.
Now, I'm sure you are feeling that I have stepped on your proverbial corns by telling you that our ordinary associations and manifestations are no better than rabbit droppings; but there is hope in this. Rabbit droppings make abundant fertilizers; and, the same way that rabbits chew grass in order to produce droppings, so we swallow and digest impressions before these associative actions are spit out of us.
Part 3 of this 6-part series will publish August 12.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.