The natural tendency within us is to perceive everything as a whole that breaks down into individual parts, rather than as individual parts that assemble themselves into a single whole. There’s an important point to be understood here relative to the question of our higher and lower natures, and what they consist of.
It has been remarked that Ouspensky once said that Gurdjieff told him the struggle between multiple “I”s in a human being eventually comes down to a struggle between only two “I”s, a so-called “good” I and a bad one. Indeed, it’s easy for us to perceive the struggle between our higher and lower natures as one of opposition; and it is natural to presume, in what is a relatively crude perspective from a metaphysical point of view, that we want the good or higher nature to prevail over the bad or lower one. This is the mechanistic and relatively worldly model of most average religious understandings.
Gurdjieff, however, pointed out that the lower develops just as much as the higher does when spiritual development takes place; that is, growth proceeds in both directions. We should thereby understand that there is a growth in both the lower and the higher nature if inner development takes place. In other words, we need our lower nature—the universe needs our lower nature. It serves a purpose.
It will confuse the issue more as I explain to you that there are, in fact, no divided natures. We only have one nature, and that is God’s nature. It is our perception of nature (both our own and that of other things and beings) that divides it into hierarchies. This is a natural consequence of incarnation; because all of material reality is structured in apparent hierarchies, according to law. The tendency to see the subtractive or dividing properties rather than the additive or uniting properties is strong in human beings, because it is much easier for us to look down at things and discern their individual natures than to look upward at what is above us — that which exists on a level we cannot actually understand, any more than bacteria understand us. We should remember, while we are considering this analogy, that bacteria in our gut exert a considerable amount of control over the way we manifest — in other words, even the bacteria get a say about how things proceed on levels higher than themselves. With human beings in relationship to the angelic kingdoms it is not that different.
In any event, our higher and our lower natures are, for practical purposes (that is, given the very narrow perspective available to us) separate entities, regardless of the fact that each one is a partial manifestation of the single whole Being which The Perfection consists of. Individualized fragments do not perceive themselves as fragments: each one perceives itself as a whole, because it is entirely unable to see the way it serves a larger purpose. The emergence of conventional intelligence as mankind understands it, which only takes place on our level of material reality — requiring a great deal of re-concentration of particulate matter, along with its consequent emergent organization, which regenerates a fragmentary consciousness that can intuit, but not fully understand, the whole — is privileged to see this, but only with effort.
In practical terms, as we experience our lives, it is as though our higher and lower natures were separate island kingdoms, one of them a tropical kingdom with great wealth and abundance, sensuality, and exuberance, and the other one an Arctic kingdom of great majesty, restraint, austerity, and intensity of purpose. Both of the kingdoms (I will let you decide which is the higher or the lower, which may add up to an amusing pastime) trade with each other; but of necessity, many of the trade items in each kingdom are either useless or meaningless to the other kingdom.
Nonetheless, they are surely capable of sensing each other’s potential: each one has items of enormous importance that may change many things in the other kingdom. These two kingdoms may, of course, envy one another and go to war; but when they do it does neither one of them any good, because neither one is capable of governing the realm of the other kingdom Their conditions, landscapes, territories, temperatures, and the action of both materials and living forms, are completely different one from the other.
So our higher and lower natures are separated in just this way, and it takes an intelligent counselor to find the materials that are of use for exchange between the two kingdoms.
This essay will be concluded in part II on Feb. 24.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.