The Work of Instinctive Centre
We often take the moving and instinctive centres together, but at a certain point of one’s work, there is, I think, a real value in observing the work of the instinctive centre, and attempting to so live that we help its work, that is, to be healthy.
At the outset, I would stress that all work is one: it is an effort from the whole. Now, to help one make an effort from the whole, a focus is valuable, perhaps even essential. It cannot always be the same focus, because we become habituated to it. Gurdjieff himself warned about using any one of his methods too long or with identification – he called this an idée fixeor “obsession.” Also, some focusses are more accessible and some avenues of effort are more productive than others.
Exploring the value of work with instinctive centre can be a very rich focus for our efforts. I shall not restate the basic teaching about the centres, and instinctive centre in particular. This is found most of all in Ouspensky’s and Nicoll’s books. Especially useful is the diagram of instinctive centre in volume 1 of Nicoll’s Commentaries. It is a useful exercise to read the other material in Ouspensky and Nicoll, and then attempting to fill in the blanks.
Assuming a knowledge of what those authors say, I suggest that a good place to start is with the senses: to observe and to research them, one by one. There are the five well known senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. But there are also the kinaesthetic and vestibular senses, and possibly more. Even this is in itself a valuable exercise: are there separate senses of pain, hunger, and temperature? Are there others? To ask these questions is to start to observe myself and the functions of my body does three things at once, it: (1) facilitates better and more precise observation; (2) brings me into contact with essential functions in myself; and (3) provides an opportunity to live in a way more consonant with essence values: e.g. consuming better food and drink in good quantities, taking the exercise I need. And it fulfils this last purpose not only in an abstract fashion, but concretely: I come to discern, more accurately, what is healthy for me.
There is far more to this, in particular, there are certain theoretical issues I consider quite central. But at this stage a dilemma appears: to say too much or too little? I will give just two indications according to my own understanding – for what that is worth.
First, we do not try to interfere with or directly manipulate the instinctive centre. Techniques for controlling the work of the heart are completely forbidden in the Gurdjieff work. Now, the heart will beat more or less quickly depending upon what I am doing: that is natural. But although I may experience such change, I should not try to directly cause it by any effort directed to the heart. The same also applies to certain Indian yogic techniques such as washing one’s own intestine.
Second, there are certain examples of Aiëssirittoorassnian-contemplation wherein Gurdjieff gives directions concerning the breath. If they are authentic Gurdjieff exercises – i.e. they are in my book or they were taught by someone who was with Gurdjieff, and said that they were from Gurdjieff (e.g. the Six Point Exercise as taught by Bennett and Elliott), then those directions may be followed. But I have it on good authority that Mrs Staveley was unsure about the Six Point Exercise, and so was I until I learnt that it was definitely from Gurdjieff. But even then, I use it very rarely precisely because it calls for direct change to the breath.
Let us now speak expressly about the senses. There are two chemical senses: taste and smell. I suggest that being chemical senses, they may be very good places to start, because their action is concrete, and there is a theory that they are the oldest of the senses. This appears to have, and I only say “appears to have,” the result that impressions of taste and smell are received more directly and perhaps usually more powerfully than any other sense impression.
Personally, I have found it useful to put aside, at the start, questions of texture, temperature and quantity as much as possible, and to begin observing and studying tasting. Just taste and tasting, how we taste, the mechanics of it (e.g. the various taste receptors we have, and which are not only on the tongue) plus the phenomenon of tasting. When we eat or drink, we may taste one of five qualities: sweet, sour, salt, savoury, or bitter. There are theories of other tastes, such as stringent and pungent, but we will put to one side all doubtful matters right now; and one can return to them later.
When I eat my next meal, what do I taste? That is the first question, and I think it best asked working from the whole. I am not trying to become a sommelier or a gourmet food critic. I wish to remember myself, to work to acquire being-reality. Observing my tasting is a focus for these efforts. In fact, I can actually observe the qualities of taste better if I am trying to remember myself as a whole, than I can by focussing on the taste alone. The quality of attention which is marshalled by the larger effort is a finer quality attention, and although it is also including or embracing other matters, the perception of taste is nonetheless better than a narrower attention.
Also, and this is significant, with the attention of the whole of myself, the perception is a fuller one: it is not only of the tasting but of more of the “entire impact,” so to speak, of the process of which tasting is a part.