Instinctive Centre, Scents, and the Work of Dreams

Part One

This week our group took remembering myself while receiving impressions of smell and scent. We are not primarily trying to become more discriminating of scent and smell – although if I understand Gurdjieff in the chapter “Art” correctly, this may be a good and normal thing, although there are so many better things it can hardly be made a high priority. After all, experimenting with different scents and so improving our appreciation of them, must be intrinsically better than watching the vast bulk of what appears on t.v.

The main purpose of our work with smelling has been that when we become aware of a scent, we remember the whole of ourselves. Presence to the smell instantaneously became presence to myself. Or at least it can. And we have found that different scents can have different effects, and are in fact even experienced in different parts of the body. It has taught us something more about our physical organisms, and the direct connection between physical impressions, feeling, and mind.

In his poem, “To What Serves Mortal Beauty?” Hopkins says that “mortal beauty” – which we must take to be different from eternal beauty – that it “does set dancing the blood.” And that, in a few concise words, is a significant amount of its danger: it can cause us to identify with the material. But it also serves a better purpose, says Hopkins: it “keeps warm men’s wits to the things that are” (i.e. reality). Also, it reminds us that the good is also beautiful, measuring beauty by “love’s worthiest … world’s loveliest – men’s selves.” Hopkins says that “Self flashes off frame and face.” That is, we can read something, at least, of the person in the appearance.

What then, Hopkins asks, should we do when we see something beautiful? His reply is “merely meet it,” that is, just be present to it. Acknowledge that it is “heaven’s sweet gift; then leave, let that alone.” That is, do not identify with it, but rather use it to wish for “God’s better beauty, grace.” If one adds to this an understanding of what presence is, it is almost astonishingly deep. Hopkins was speaking of the impressions of sight, I have been speaking of smell, but the principle is the same.


Part Two

I will commence a personal example, although I am not sure this is always wise. I recently had a dream in which a character, let us call this person “Q” appeared. On waking, I asked, why Q and why not someone else? Pretty quickly, the answer came to me – because something in me has a resentment against Q. That is, of all the people in a particular class, instinctive centre had chosen the one against whom there has been, in me, an ongoing resentment. For what it is worth, I also had a conviction that the resentment was poisoning me. It was as if I could see this. I was not quite there, I could not quite see it, but I was certain was that that was what was happening.

It then came to me that I needed to confront this with being-logical confrontation, and to come to remorse. I made that effort. Then I worked at the Three Chairs Exercise, taking “forgiveness” as the third chair. I would say that I know this has made a big difference.

The study of instinctive centre has therefore led to this: I think that our intellectual and emotional lives have an effect upon instinctive centre, and that effect is too often deleterious. If it is correct that most of our dreams are the result of the work of instinctive centre, then the fact that our intellectual and emotional concerns appear in our dreams, may mean that instinctive centre has to process those issues. Behind this is the idea that, when we dream, our instinctive centre tries to relate the impressions of the day to our past history, our accumulated experiences, and through them, to our essence.

This could explain why it is that when fears, anxieties, and resentments surface in dreams, our sleep is disturbed: because we are not made for negative emotion, instinctive centre has to try and integrate into its recapitulation of the day material which is intrinsically jarring. In other words, instinctive centre does not wish to connect those impressions to essence except as material which has already been seen and “salted” (so to speak”) by conscious remorse. Based on clues by Gurdjieff, I suspect that this process is analogous to asking the body to digest and assimilate dog food. That is, we are feeding ourselves a lower food than instinctive centre is made for, and so too, I think, the instinctive centre in its dream-time work of making connections between the day’s experiences and our past history, is troubled. It is being asked to consume indigestible material, and so it dwells upon these anxieties and troubles: it is saying to the head and feeling, “You should not be sending me this material to process. This is material for being-logical-confrontation and remorse. Shape up.”

However, because we are so accepting of our fears, we often take the message as meaning that we should take something to make us sleep more soundly, to stop dreaming, or to solve the problem by external action. In fact, if this analysis is correct, the dreams are telling us that it is our inner life which needs amending.

This brings us to the possible connection between conscience and instinctive centre via remorse an repairing the past. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that if we realised that our negative emotions were damaging our instinctive centre, and that a critical part of its work is relating the impressions of our day to our essential self, the third force could enter our presences through this very realization.

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