Pondering the Inner Experience of Time

One of the hardest parts of the contemplation-like exercises which Gurdjieff taught has always been, for me, sitting quietly in a free-from thought state, as a discipline. By that I mean that I can always accept, even quite gladly, the free-from-thought state when it comes seemingly by itself. It then lasts for a short moment, or sometimes it lasts a little longer, and on some rare occasions, it has come and stayed for quite a while, even for days. It has always been, for me, related to my efforts, even when it seems to arrive by itself, by grace.

It is related to my efforts because it comes resulting from my efforts, directly or indirectly, sooner or later. I know that it follows lawfully from my efforts because it never came in this way before I had learnt the inner work from the Adies. Further, following Mr Adie’s explanations as to how to stop thought have always helped me come to, or at least to approach, that state. Now, for example, I am typing this. I pause and recall, something occurs. I experience the state, and witness the appearance of different levels of thought within me. One of these, the lower or formatory one, is now the servant of the higher. So immediately, as I am writing this, I can affirm that my efforts do have a lawful result. It always brings with it that curious division (“two-seeing”) of attention which is one of the badges of self-remembering.

But grace also figures: there have been rare occasions when, as I said, I have been in this state for days. On one occasion, it occurred when I read something in Mme Claustres’ book Becoming Conscious with Mr Gurdjieff which it reminded me, very forcibly, of the nature of the effort. Then, there it was. And on another occasion, I was experiencing a strong and rather continuous revulsion against turbulent states arising in me. I decided: “This is serious. I need to take action”. I prepared and sat down to one of the exercises which Mr Adie had had from Gurdjieff, and when I arose, thirty minutes later, there it was, that state.

Noe the state is always different, and yet the nature is of a quality which allows me to speak of it as possessing some consistency. It would be nice to say that “I” was there, but perhaps it was not so exalted a condition as that. It may, I say “may”, have been something like Deputy Steward. No need to speculate, it showed me very much, encouraged me greatly, and it cannot be denied. It was a fact. And as Mr Adie said often: “Faith is based on fact”.

These two experiences figure in this account because there was an element of grace in them and in the experience of time they brought. In fact, in the preternatural clarity which was proper to those states, I did not just feel, I saw that the results I experienced were the result of a gift, and that something in me was present to different times or pulses. Certainly, my mind could tell that the results were out of all proportion to my efforts: a simple comparison with previous occasions shows me that. But, as I said, I have seen this. And so I believe in grace, I believe in the action of God, and that is that.

In those states, there is no issue with the experience of the free-from-thought state. It bears itself, as it were. All anxieties, apprehensions, fears, concerns or doubts are silent. But there are many occasions when, during an exercise, something in me does have anxieties and so on. They are not very strong, but yet they are effective in limiting the experience. I would describe these negative factors as marked by a certain restlessness which appears when confronted with Mr Gurdjieff’s instruction to remain quiet, free from thought, and “digest” the results of an exercise. Many, many years ago when I started, something in me feared that if I remained in the free-from-thought state for long, my ordinary mind would never come back and I would be unable to care for myself. Mr Adie helped me with that, and showed me that there are lawful rhythms or pulses in the mind, and that these will always bring me back. I do not recall that he told me this next point, but I soon established that three seconds is the very outside limit of these pulses. So, when descending from a higher to a lower state, three seconds is the most needed to make full readjustment, and it is often even less than that.

No, the more serious obstacle for me has been a sort of fear of boredom, a feeling of being unable to support sitting without thought for up to twenty minutes. What will I do? How can I sustain it without the grace of which I have spoken?

As a result of my study of this question, I have come, I think, through to another side. It is impossible to satisfactorily put it into words, but this may indicate the direction: a higher degree of attention is called for, and it is right that it should be so. A “higher degree” of attention is all-inclusive, it is not attention to this or to that, it is rather, “attention of the all”. It is called for, although it is unobtainable other with grace, and grace only comes to the graceless – but not, perhaps, to the undeserving. Again, when it does come, the grace received is experienced as being beyond my deserving. This brings two things: one of them is gratitude. The other, I will pass over.

The point I was intending to reach has finally arrived: in this state where we are able to strive for higher attention, there is a very different experience of time. It reminds me of what Gurdjieff said of the unique subjectivity of time, and again, it is ineffable, but I would say this: time is experienced within myself, not as time, but as being. In such a state one can see that the anxieties and the boredom, or rather the fear of boredom, are in the lower part of the mind. Rise above them and they disappear. Be present to them and they say: “You are in a lower part. Climb!”

The final observation to make about the experience of inner time relates to ordinary life, and not to these states (at least not directly). It is this: in ordinary life, too, time has pulses. It comes in tides. So, if for example, I have a song in my head, I may divert my attention elsewhere for a moment, but the song comes back. It has come on a tide, and that tide has a duration. So if my attention is diverted or placed elsewhere for longer than a moment, if my attention is directed elsewhere for a period of time of psychological significance, then at the end of that diversion or direction, the song is gone, as it were.

The same is also true for temptations or desires. They come with a certain pulse or tide. If they are resisted, again for that psychologically significant period, they vanish, at least for a time, often for a long time. One easy example: I have a headache. Should I take an analgesic? If I identify with the question, I will most likely take one. But if I do not, and I say to myself: “No, not now, come back to it later if you find you need it”, then I invariably discover, quite a while later, that the headache had gone and the impulse to take an analgesic has disappeared.

The same is true of negative emotion. Do not express it now, do not even think about it now, and when the tide goes out, it will go out with that tide. To an extent, this is even true of fatigue.

Now much is related to this, the nature of the centres and their energies, the work of the accumulators and so on. But it is quite intriguing: the inner experience of time is a mystery. And mysteries can be explored.

Joseph Azize, 4 September 2018

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