First Reflection on Self-Love

It seems to me, now, that when one comes to the question of self-love, one has come to a fundamental matter in the spiritual life. Of course, one can come to it more sincerely and searchingly, or less so. But I think that, at some time, it has to be squarely faced if we are to progress. To face it there must be, I suggest, both a positive and a negative aspect, proceeding together. The positive side of the struggle is the nourishment of something real within us, the growth of positive feeling, impartial thought, and sensation of the whole of myself. The negative side is to make passive self-love in all its manifestations.

The first thing to clarify, it seems, is that there are, as Gurdjieff said, two forms of self-love: the true and the false. This is hammered in the 1923 lecture known as “Liberation leads to liberation.” So important is this talk that de Salzmann placed it at the end of the collection Views from the Real World. We can take it that, as Gurdjieff said, we only know false self-love.

It seems to me that the more of ourselves is available to see this false self-love in ourselves, the greater the chance of actualising the efforts which can strengthen the seed of genuine self-love in us: after all, Jesus said to love our neighbour as ourselves, which means having some love of self (Matthew 22:39; and Mark 12:31; and Luke 10:27). That is, Jesus assumes that we have enough of the real self-love to allow Him to refer to it when laying down a rule for life. Perhaps we have, as the human race, fallen from where we then were. Experience certainly suggests that too few of us have enough genuine love of self to be able to put His words into practice.

If this is correct, then I would tentatively suggest that this is further reason to see in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way a way to be able to be Christians. As he said: “People call themselves Christians but they do not realize that not only do they not want, but they are unable, to be Christians, because in order to be a Christian it is necessary not only to desire, but to be able, to be one” (In Search of the Miraculous, 300). On this view, it is of the first importance to all people with a spiritual interest, but especially to anyone who wishes to be a true Christian, to be able to replace false self-love with true love of self.

The second thing is, perhaps, that in the struggle with self-love, we are engaged in the struggle with a most estimable enemy. As soon as one sees it, self-love joins in at once. It is in some ways like the hydra: chop off one head and another appears. But I do not think that is the end of the discussion. What is this feature of self-love? How can overcoming it lead to and even apparently strengthen it?

Self-love, I would say, is not a thing, or an organ, or even one discrete attitude. It is, rather, an emotion of vanity and self-regard to which are attached fixed delusional opinions of my own centrality, and sensations of myself as requiring and deserving praise and pleasure. I would suggest that this is what Gurdjieff was referring to, under different words, when he said to Ouspensky:

A man can take everything in such a personal way as though everything in the world had been specially arranged in order to give him pleasure or on the contrary to cause him inconvenience or unpleasantness.

All this and much else besides is merely a form of identification. Such considering is wholly based upon ‘requirements.’ A man inwardly ‘requires’ that everyone should see what a remarkable man he is and that they should constantly give expression to their respect, esteem, and admiration for him, for his intellect, his beauty, his cleverness, his wit, his presence of mind, his originality, and all his other qualities. Requirements in their turn are based on a completely fantastic notion about themselves such as very often occurs with people of very modest appearance. Various writers, actors, musicians, artists, and politicians, for instance, are almost without exception sick people. And what are they suffering from? First of all from an extraordinary opinion of themselves, then from requirements, and then from considering, that is, being ready and prepared beforehand to take offense at lack of understanding and lack of appreciation. (In Search of the Miraculous, 151-152)

The word “self-love” is a good description for the direction and movement which this emotion provides to other emotions, other thoughts, other sensations, and hence to our being-state. It affects all our attitudes to whatever impression we may receive, whether of something within or without us. To use another metaphor, I would say that self-love seems to be like coloured glasses which we wear and which add a glare to all we see. This is, in some ways a better way of thinking (even if I think it less accurate than seeing self-love as an emotion with cancerous connections to thoughts and sensations of one’s self), because it makes the point that we do not have to have this false-love: we can take the glasses off.

The metaphor of a direction is good in that it draws our attention to the fact that self-love has this quality of always being self-referring. The metaphor of glasses adding a glare to everything our attention rests on is also good because self-love has the quality of making every small spark appear like a fire. Under its influence we exaggerate the significance of things. It renders us hyper-sensitive, taking personally what is not meant to be personal, and over-reacting. Taking all this together, we arrive at an important point: the road from false to genuine self-love may be connected with becoming impartial to oneself.

I will close this post with one short quote from Orage:

Egoism is measuring others by our likes and dislikes. We would despise a doctor who prescribed a medicine because he liked its taste. Self-love is preferring ourselves to our betters. How dare you carry on if you have never made an attempt to pay your debts or done a day’s work? Self-love is such a preference for the body that it must be wrapped in luxury. Pride is an ignorant presumption over the qualities of the organism are due to merit. … They (organs) are the results of Ancestry plus Society. Literally, I am not responsible for my conduct. It is an impertinence to be either proud or apologetic.” (Gurdjieff’s Emissary, 283)

to be continued, the illustration is from one of the Ethiopian Garima Gospels, c.500


  1. Referring to:
    “how dare you carry on if you have never made an attempt to pay your debts or done a day’s work?”
    Is this an example here of the voice of false self love?
    I’m confused by how this sentence just is plunked down as part of a list of descriptions of self love by Orage. Without saying “this is an example of the voice of false self love,” But Orage is saying so, correct?

    1. These were notes from a meeting. As I see it, their shorthand character makes them points of departure for conscious pondering.

  2. Dear Mr. Azize,

    Thank you for responding to my question. Yes, points of departure for pondering. Indeed they are!

    Please know that your online presence has profoundly affected me and encouraged me to try and work, even just a little, with greater impartiality. I am often going to your various interviews and listening to your words, so carefully chosen as you speak with your quality and value and integrity. I am experiencing renewal internally without a doubt from listening to you and the others interviewing you. I am a former member of a NY group and at this stage without too many others to speak with, in fact hardly any. Because it’s tricky what I’ve been through, (Too complex to go into here). I’m am most certainly a larvae in the work, an older person, but a larvae. And I suppose we all are larvae to greater and lesser degrees.

    This is just to say how much I love your online presence. I want you to know that you are affecting people in a most encouraging and positive way, because you are affecting me this way. Here on the other side of the globe. That is how I know this. I hope you continue to be there as much as you are able, I so appreciate your work and your words. You are feeding us and nourishing us in badly needed ways right now.
    Thank you.

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