There can’t be any real sense of Being without the development of a single “I”, an individual — undivided person — who is not fractured by the manifestation of many different persons within themselves, each one of which has a different agenda.
This teaching is automatically lost as it is presented, because when people first encounter it — and for decades afterwards, if not an entire lifetime — only one, or a few, different individuals within Being have encountered it and signed on to the premise. Some of them sign on but then aren’t willing to do any real work on it. Some of them are actively opposed to everything it represents. This is because some of the individuals within a person understand that a real and undivided “I” is a threat to themselves and their entire way of being. Individual fractions and fragments of personality, you see, have the capacity to express themselves independently and be as viciously selfish as anything you care to think of. Some of them are actively hostile to the interests of other parts of the organism (as any alcoholic can tell you) or other beings that they share it with. If you were able to see how utterly uncaring and selfish some of our parts are in relation to others, how absolutely and contemptuously they dismiss them, you would be horrified, so it’s a good thing we’re asleep to this while we are unprepared to deal with it.
None of this is really new information, of course, yet you need to digest it quite deeply and understand that right now it isn’t touching your whole being. It takes many years to unify the self into a single sense of Being, and until it happens the competing persons within you will be in constant confusion and disagreement. There is just no way around this.
In order to understand this with some new language, let us call these competing different persons within us aspects — that is, particular parts and features, like furniture within us. Some of these aspects will form strong opinions about inner work and how it ought to be done — all of us know a few people like this, both internally and externally — and even become severe about it. Others will be critical. Others will simply not have any interest. And there can be absolutely no continuity in one’s experience of Being or commitment to the development of self while this is going on.
This question of the continuity of Being — and the lack of it — is central to why you cannot work. Gurdjieff said this many times. You are not whole, there is no single “I.” For as long as this is the case, you can pretend to work, plan to get working someday, imitate work, and so on, but it is impossible for you to take in life as more than a fraction, and from moment to moment you do not inhabit the time you exist in in a continuous stream. It is broken into many different individual currents, each one of which is perceived by a different aspect, and so time appears to pass quite quickly from the point of view of the brief moments when one wakes up or has a greater sense of inward presence.
This is why Mr. Gurdjieff stressed the question of developing a single I, individuality, so often, a theme he came back to many times in his wartime meetings. The instructions he gave for working on this question were always quite simple and involved observing one’s being and one’s aspects exactly as one was in life. That is to say, there was no question of “improving” the way that one acted and treated others. One had to be present to one’s self exactly as one was.
We encounter the same ideas in Mme. Salzmann’s notes, altered though they are through a filter of editors. One cannot merely decide to improve oneself. One has to be within oneself. Only a continuity of Being can truly help an individual to become more aware of what they are; and only that organic and — I must absolutely stress this — integrated, three centered experience of Being can lead to any real change in a person. Real change — as opposed to constructions and imitation, which can be extraordinarily clever but always exist to hide what is true — only comes from a unified sense of Being, followed by an extraordinary and quite intentional suffering of what one is.
This alone, this friction, produces the remorse necessary for change.
Part II of this essay will publish on March 17.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.