Where We Stop

Part One: Where We Stop

 How is it possible that we can work at Gurdjieff’s methods and study his ideas for decades, and yet make little advance beyond a certain point? Why, after so many years “in the Work” as we reassuringly say, are so many of us so ordinary for so much of the time? Who has developed even to man number 4?

As I wrote in “Where Are the Gurdjieff Groups Heading?”, when people come to groups, they often make tremendous advances, but then, they often progress only by small steps, or tread water, or even go backwards. If this were true only of some people, or even many, we might explain it by reference to individual faults. But it seems to be the case with everyone. With many of us, it seems that particular negative emotions and attitudes even become ironed in by “the Work”. It is this which I am referring to when I ask about where we stop.

 It seems true, as Mr Adie said to us: “I think I’m awake, but I’m not. I’m still asleep.” According to an unpublished transcript, Ouspensky was asked some questions about whether people such as explorers who go to entirely new lands, in difficult circumstances might not be awoken by their experiences? Ouspensky replied that, as a rule, it was all done in sleep, only they have “different dreams”.

How can this be? How can we think that we’re awake, and yet be asleep? Could I be one of those people who thinks he is awake when really all he is experiencing is “different dreams”?

 Does not the self-awareness necessary to say: “I am awake” mean that it must be so? After all, surely I would know! But a little reflection will show that this cannot necessarily be right. I recall once at a group meeting, one man who had been in groups for thirty years or more, behaving quite boorishly, and adding: “I am aware of how I am manifesting.” Later, I discussed it with another of the “older” people. She accepted what he his actions as fair and reasonable. After all, she argued, he had been aware of his own circumstances. But I felt then, and I am certain now, that she was quite wrong in this. Although he had said that he was aware, his awareness was patently very limited, and no a priori argument can prove otherwise. However, I did not know how to explain it to her. I was too slow.

 I think that I can explain it now. As Dr Lester said to me once, a lot of our self-criticism is one centre observing and critiquing another. That is evidence of some awareness, but it is, as Gurdjieff said “semi-hallucination”.

 My thesis is that we all have, for too long, mistaken semi-hallucination in the state of relative-consciousness for being awake in the state of self-remembering. In Part Two, I explain what I mean by this, and in Part Three, I try and constructively approach the problem.

 Part Two: The Heights of Relative-Consciousness

 Part of the problem, perhaps even the most trenchant part, is that we do not understand waking-sleep or relative-consciousness. A great deal is possible for us in that second state: we can use our senses, perceive, compare, learn, analyse, build, raise families, even produce artistic and other works of great variety and size. We can have moments of rich feeling, do tremendous work on our bodies, and erect intellectual skyscrapers. Most significantly perhaps, even in this state of relative-consciousness, we can be aware of two centres: one centre can observe another, giving us a sort of stereo-vision which quite surpasses the narrow telescoping we are usually limited to.

 Gurdjieff said that the difference between sleep and the states above it is found is the strength of the connections between centres (Early Talks, p.226). In sleep, the connections are broken. The centres are separated. In bad sleep, some of the connections are not yet broken. In relative-consciousness, there is a “magnetic” connection between most of and sometimes all the centres, but some connections are too weak and so one or more centres is effectively shut out of operation. In self-consciousness or self-remembering, all centres are connected and with the correct proportionate (but fluctuating) strength. In such a state, real “I” can appear as the “fourth centre”.

 Speaking of relative-consciousness, he put it in terms of hallucination and semi-hallucination on two occasions in 1924. First, he said: “When you look with one centre you are entirely under hallucination; when you look with two, you are half-free; but if you look with three centres you cannot be under hallucination at all.” (Early Talks, 364). Later, speaking of centred-activity rather than of “looking with a centre”, although these are complementary ways of explaining the one reality, he said: “One-centred activity – is hallucination – two-centre activity is semi-hallucination – three-centre – is none.” (Early Talks, 388).

 I wonder, could it be that we stop making efforts too soon because we compare hallucination to semi-hallucination, see a huge difference, and believe that we are therefore awake?

 Part Three: Self-Consciousness

 Not everyone who “waking” makes it to semi-hallucination, and if they do, it is often not for long. So it is not as if it is no achievement, and yet, it is still sleep. It is because we have not sufficiently studied (and especially, have not studied in ourselves) the state of relative-consciousness or waking sleep, that we are liable to mistake its upper reaches as being the third state, self-consciousness.

 Self-consciousness is, for us, remote. Many experiences of self-observation are necessary, and these must gradually become longer and deeper. before they are sufficient for us to be able to call them a state of self-remembering, the third state of consciousness.

To really have self-consciousness, I must be conscious of three impulses at once: I AM, I WISH and I CAN. This is the very point, I contend, of the Third Series, Life Is Real, Only Then, When “I AM’. I shall not go through that book extracting the evidence, because I firmly believe that this is an individual task, and were I to do so, it would rob the reader. It is enough that I have pointed in that direction. Undertake the study: you may agree, you may not.

 In a state of self-consciousness, I am not only aware of my physical sensation or the sensation of part of my body, I am also receiving external impressions of sound, sight, touch, taste, temperature, ambience and so on. The internal sensations can be deepened to include my breathing and the pulse of my blood, and the workings of my nerves, at least in various parts of my body.

 In a state of self-consciousness, I am also present to my feeling. I feel my existence, very possibly also a certain love of my reality (although here the words “love” and “reality” must be taken as approximate). I feel my relationship with external reality, too, and my desire for understanding. I feel a desire to attain to my aim or aims.

 Finally, for there to be a state of self-consciousness, I must also be present to my intellectual processes. It is as if I stand behind my organism and see all this functioning: there is separation but there is also relation. What there is not, however, is identification. At least, there is only enough identification for me to be able to observe. To be precise, there is light identification without immersion.

 But if we do not believe that such a state is possible, or that if it is possible, that it is greatly to be desired, then we can never attain to it. The flashes we receive are not enough. The state must last for me to appreciate and to know by taste the difference between that and the higher levels of the second state: waking sleep. In a word, there must three impulses, consciously cognised, simultaneously. Without that, there is, at best, semi-hallucination. That state is only relatively conscious, but at least it is relatively conscious. That is why we stop there.

 © Joseph Azize, 19 December 2016


  1. We are given a gift when we come to realize we are still slumbering – in a “semi-hallucination” – even after so many years of exposure and apparent efforts. What we do with that gift will determine whether we remain in this transition state. In a possible response to the focus on “remembering”, it is said: “It is easier to forget forgetting than remembering to remember.” An emphasis on observations may allow one to come to know the taste of forgetting – physically, emotionally or mentally. Then, with those tastings, we have a choice. Do we forgo the comfort of our wakeful dreams in a fantasy world of our creation? Or, vigilantly listen.

  2. (Edited by trimming and correcting typos) When Gurdjieff wrote Beelzebub’s Tales it seems he focused the book on attaining what he called higher bodies … Gurdjieff was definitely pointing at a something to which he wanted us to see. In a way each body would have a consciousness … if we compare … what his pupils wrote about consciousness we could say the planetary body had a relative consciousness, the Kesdjan body had a self consciousness, and the soul body had objective consciousness. We could then say that the planetary body was under hallucination, and then when we attained a Kesdjan body or two centers we are under a semi-hallucination; and when we had developed the soul body we where free from this hypnosis; then combining all three bodies we had a fourth center consciousness.

    I think another reason there is a stop is because of a lack of aim. How many formulate an aim to first develop the Kesdjan body, with hopes to attain the soul body?

    Another question is does having self-consciousness mean knowledge of the self, or just a light on the self? I think Gurdjieff answered this when he said in the 1931 Beelzebub’s Tales manuscript that the Kesdjan body still had an automatic reason and only the soul body had a pure objective reason.

  3. From my observation and experience you cannot mistake self-remembering when it comes. It is exactly as Mr Ouspensky describes it – you see the object and see yourself observing it.
    There is a certain amount of ” I AMness” in all moments of self-remembering.
    One thing we must be clear about; work on the functioning of centres e.g. thought, feeling and sensation does not necessarily bring about an increase in consciousness. Consciousness uses a different type of energy. Work on functions is one type of work – we try to observe and curtail the wrong working of centres; we try to control our functions. Work on consciousness is different – we try to be more aware of ourselves; we try to remember ourselves. Both activities are work, but are different work.

    Awakening is a process, if we remember ourselves for five minutes today, maybe tomorrow I can remember myself for ten minutes.

    I am intrigued about your point that people in the work appear to stop at a certain point and are unable to progress. If what you say is true maybe this has to do with people being unable to see obstacles within themselves with a view to overcoming them. Maybe a teacher is the necessary catalyst for this.

    1. This is a very late response to your perceptive comment, but I have only just found this article. I think you are absolutely right when you say that perhaps when people stop working at a certain point, it is because they have become unable to see obstacles within themselves with a view to overcoming them. A working group with an authorized teacher is the best – indeed, the only real – way to practice this Work. A good teacher will soon perceive when students have baulked at an obstacle, and can point this out with compassion and skill. A willing student is then able, if they have a real wish to work, to continue past the point of stoppage.

      As an authorized teacher in the Nicoll line, who has been studying this work for fifty years and teaching it for thirty, I have found that the point where most students leave is when they first experience a real confrontation with the false personality. A teacher needs to combine both strength of purpose with compassion in order to help the student reach past this obstacle and really see themselves, and what in them needs to be sacrificed with voluntary suffering, so that they may continue their work. I cannot claim to have always succeeded at this. Only too often, students become affronted and indignant when their false personality I’s are pointed out to them, and leave the Work. In my experience, this most often occurs when the student has been in the Work for seven to ten years.

      If you read books and essays written by students who have left the Work at this stage, they all have remarkable and clever self-justifications for their abandonment of the group. They blame the teacher, say they were not making progress, the group did not help, and so on. Perhaps some of them are right in what they say, but more often than not it is the case that the student does not perceive the problem, or sees it very quickly and rejects it from vanity or fear. If they have the courage, and the right teacher, to help them over this stage, there is no reason not to continue in the Work, and make progress, for one’s lifetime. My own teacher died more than twenty years ago, and I no longer teach groups, but the Work continues in me now without the need for external stimulus. This experience is available to all who have the right circumstances and the will and the honesty necessary to persevere. At a certain point, the Work begins to live in one, but it is never easy and always requires courage and perseverance.

      1. May I ask you, what in your words is “false personallity”? It is not a trick question. I genuinely wish to know.

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