We cannot afford not to see and understand our own attitudes: they are absolutely critical in our lives. As Ouspensky said: “Our attitudes are like wires which connect us with events, and certain currents produced by the nature of these attitudes flow through these wires, and the nature of the current determines the kind of influence we receive from a given event. If a certain event produces an influence on us, this influence can be changed by our attitude.” (Fourth Way, 396)
That is, if there is something which upsets us, we can interfere with our upset by changing our attitude. Sometimes this is done mechanically: people disconnect and adopt an attitude of: “I couldn’t care less.” But that is not necessarily an intelligent attitude. On the one hand, there are some things which are not worth worrying about. Yet, if there is a general rule, it is probably that if matters do impinge on our lives, we should – rather than not care at all – give them their proper value, neither more nor less.
In studying the question of attitudes, of course the most important sphere is within ourselves. But what are we looking for?
I have found some extraordinary material on just this in Gurdjieff’s Emissary in New York. Orage defines an “attitude” as being a “psychological posture”. (p.494) He invites us to compare the operation and effect of our physical and psychological postures: for example, he says, our physical posture affects our breathing. This raises the question: does our psychological posture not also do so? “Try to put yourself in the attitude of aspiring, and note the effect on your breathing. Any aspiration to excel, to become more, etc.” (p.495, see also pp.518 and 532.) Incidentally, Orage defined “aspiration”, in a unique manner, as being “love of what we are designed to be.” (p.542)
On page 17, Orage is remembered as speaking of “Attitudes – mental images – induce corresponding emotions, and the emotions in turn cause actions.” This is what Mr Adie would always say to us: my feeling follows my thought. If I wish to change my feeling, I need to change my thought. This formulation is also, I think, framed by reference to Gurdjieff’s idea of egoplastikoori, but I shall not purse that lead here. Suffice to say, the “emotional postures” which we see in our attitudes (p.138), are subject to eventual change under the influence of intentional thought and “psychic picturings”. These “picturings” find their highest and most beneficial exemplars in objectively sacred images (hence the importance of religious culture).
But this is the first clue: our attitudes operate through mental images which evoke emotions and lead to actions. I would say that these form combinations with more or less distinctive features: and these combinations comprise our attitudes.
Orage continues: “Each one of us has some dominant attitude toward life. The attitude placed in us by education, reading, conversation, etc., must be found.” If we have difficulty finding our attitudes, and especially, the dominant attitude, then we can recall our education (especially in the family and among our peers, not only our schoolroom education).
Later on, Orage suggests a practical help to discovering our real attitude: to make the attempt to “strip oneself of emotional prejudices” and write down what we really think and feel about a certain person (p.58). One must be honest with oneself: and that is not easy, he warns. We need to have a feeling of being “ready to stand by for all time (of this) estimate of the individual concerned.” Interestingly, Orage gives Machiavelli and Matthew Arnold as examples of men who were so honest with themselves that they saw their attitudes and so touched essence.
All conscious evolution of man is in his essence (the real I), hence the significance of the work on attitudes: “The ability to realize our present attitude is an agent in its change. The secret of this work (lies) in change of attitude. Attitude most important.” (p.140)
Returning to p.17, Orage states that many of our attitudes come from one single basic attitude. For those aware of the idea of chief feature, our chief feature includes, or brings with it, attitudes (p.143). But our basic attitude (not our chief feature, our basic attitude) is always childish, always fanciful, and never “corresponding to the facts of the real world.” (p.17)
Then comes what may be the most important contribution Orage makes to the related studies of attitudes and chief feature: “Because it is childish, our emotions must necessarily be immature, and our behaviour in line with our emotions. The method then is to change the attitude. But not merely change it; change it strictly in accordance with the real world.” (p.17)
In a future article, I need to deal with Bennett’s insight that wisdom involves a correct and immediate perception of reality, seeing what really is. But we are far from being able to claim reason. We have however, says Orage, an “inscription of this (real) world”, and that is Gurdjieff’s cosmogony. (p.17)
As we see our own attitudes, and what they are based on, we come to see other people more clearly, and be able to choose how to relate with them (p.69).
At a more advanced level, Orage relates our attitudes to the astral body or soul, and deals with the relation between chief feature and attitudes (pp.142-143 and 569). He also relates the change of attitude to the practical technique of “as if”, a technique of which he was very fond (p.264).
Then there is this enigmatic passage: “Negative emotions such as hate, fear, anger, etc. may be transmuted into higher motions, of which they are often the embryo. This is done by change of attitude. The amount of hate in the world is limited … If by transmuting this into higher motions through self-observation, we can diminish the supply, we are really diminishing the evil of the world, or stealing from the devil.” (p.437)
So, by commencing with the simple but demanding process of study our attitudes, we end up with the struggle of good against evil, with redemption. It is quite a journey. The more I study this extraordinary volume, the more I am astounded by Orage’s illumination.
(The book is now available from Amazon.)
Joseph Azize, 30 December 2016