Bennett on Instinctive Centre

There is an excellent chapter on the instinctive centre in Dorothy Phillpotts’ Discovering Gurdjieff, which I have already warmly reviewed.

She begins by speaking about how she had seen the working of that centre in various incidents from her life, and been struck with wonder. I will begin in the middle of her short chapter, with her quoting from Bennett’s talks during WWII. Bennett stated:

The instinctive centre has two sides, positive and negative, corresponding to what is beneficial and what is harmful to the body. It is through this direct sense of good and bad with reference to the body’s needs that the instinctive centre performs its regulative function. Its office also includes the task of watching over external influences, avoiding those which are dangerous and harmful, and seeking to augment those that are beneficial.

This it does by distinguishing between pleasant and unpleasant sensations. When the instinctive centre is working normally, it takes pleasure in tastes, smells, sounds and sights which correspond to conditions favourable to life and it is ill at ease when exposed to sensations which indicate conditions that are dangerous or detrimental to our physical welfare. (82-83)

Now, since the work of the instinctive centre is innate and not acquired, we learn that the work of other centres must be acquired, and this fact should make us more objective to our errors and those of other people. It also has the corollary that it is best to not seek to interfere with the operation of the instinctive centre through artificial breathing exercises, trying to control the heart, and so on.

In distinguishing instinctive from emotional centre, Bennett states something which, if true, is quite critical: that whereas the instinctive centre tells us what is good for the body, the true nature of the emotional centre is to distinguish what is more from what is less conscious, and “to strive towards consciousness even though the body die” (83). I need to ponder that, but it is a powerful formulation.

Bennett then goes on to say that the mechanical part of the instinctive centre is “the regulating mechanism for all physiological processes,” being able to adjust body chemistry, affording us “that high degree of independence of his environment that distinguishes (man) from all other animals” (83). Bennett does not mean that the intellect has no role in this independence, he is only pointing to the way that instinctive centre makes this possible. And that, I think, is right; and it supports Gurdjieff’s idea that man is a “different formula” from the animals. What he says about emotional part of instinctive centre is intriguing:

… (it) is responsible for regulation of a higher order. It is largely concerned with the external relations of the body, with protection against danger and disease, the reception of sense impressions and their transformation into sensations, and the adjustment of life to the rhythms and processes of nature. … (it) is, however, far more than a mere transmitting station. It is the primary and the most direct instrument of cognition that we possess.  It constructs for us a representation of the external world and incessantly relates our bodies to that world. (83)

The emotional part of instinctive centre ensures that we pay adequate attention to all three foods (83-84). This seems to me more satisfactory than what Nicoll has in Psychological Commentaries, I, 79 where he describes this part as animal love and animal rage. What Bennett next says seems to me inspired:

When necessary it [emotional part of instinctive centre] takes control of the whole organism, thrusting aside every vestige of every other activity as when a drowning man struggles for air. When all goes well with the body, there is a sense of inward balance, as of a sensitively poised seismograph ready at every moment to give warning of any impending disturbance. The sense of well-being which accompanies this state is unmistakable and when it is fully established, the transition to the third part of the instinctive centre opens up new forms of cognition, the very possibility of which we do not suspect.

He then cites Gurdjieff as having said to them that: “If you were conscious in instinctive centre you could talk with animals, even with worms” (84). Bennett relates this to intellectual part of instinctive centre, and the close connection between instinctive centre and organic life on earth. This opens up interesting vistas – could the intelligence which works through instinctive centre and transmits patterns to us. Ouspensky said that the moving centre, working through imitation, could explain how termites, for example, built their termitaries without any instruction: there is an “existing order.” But moving centre did not explain how the order was arrived at to start with (In Search of the Miraculous, 114-115), and that Gurdjieff refused to discuss this. I wonder: could it be that instinctive centre is in contact with, or at least receives from, the intelligence which creates the earth or at least organic life upon it? This would mean that it is not impossible that some of the human orders we have, the family and perhaps even patriarchy, come not from ideologies but from the instinctive centre’s understanding of the ideal pattern and order for human existence? Anyhow, Bennett continues:

The true working of will in the instinctive centre is in the intellectual part [of instinctive centre], where the almost miraculous power which the body possesses of cognition and regulation can be consciously. This is the true ‘communion with nature’ of which the poets dream. It has also the power of discerning and curing disease, and for this purpose is able to control the sources of energy in the body immensely greater than those usually available to the centres (84)

I think that all we could want in this direction will come by making efforts to remember oneself, but I also think that paying more conscious attention to the working of instinctive centre and the impressions we receive it helps us to work more consciously, and to make more connections with essence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *