Thinking Long Thoughts

One work weekend, Mr Adie gave us a theme which he had first learnt from Ouspensky: to think long thoughts. He said that it was one of “those mysterious things which Mr Ouspensky would say from time to time,” and that it was inextricably connected with the reality of higher parts of our ordinary centres and even of higher centres. At the time, it meant little to us, and at the time, it seemed to have been a not very successful address. But with time its impact has grown. I think it likely that it had recently struck Mr Adie, and he felt impelled to bring it, so that we would at least be introduced to the idea even if it did not mean much to us then. At that time, we were too far away, but I never forgot it, and some time ago, I approached it in this post:  Maybe it is timely to return to it.

Some rich material is to be found in chapter 9 of The Fourth Way. Ouspensky was asked whether higher centres function or “merely lie idle.” He replied that there are three theories about higher centres, that they (1) do function but are not connected with ordinary centres; (2) are latent; (3) are not working and need be awoken by the production of their proper fuel in a higher state of consciousness. (233-234) Ouspensky concludes that: “All these explanations are right, and they all come to the same thing.” (234)

Then, he comes to the working of higher intellectual centre stating that it uses symbolical forms, and “gives the possibility of long thought,” but we cannot use the higher centres as minds because “they are too quick and we are too sleepy.” (234) Ouspensky also mentioned our “lack of experience of intentional thinking on a certain line.” He stated that we need to educate that capacity:

 I can tell you what is lacking in our thinking but if you have no observations of your own about it, it will mean nothing to you. Each thought is too short; our thoughts should be much longer. When you have experience of short thoughts and long thoughts, you will see what I mean. (345)

Asked about the limitations in our thinking capacity, he replied:

Only when you have examples of a better kind of thinking in yourself, using higher parts of centres, having more consciousness, will you see on what these limitations depend. … When you know these two ways of thinking and are able to compare them you will know where the difference lies and then it will be possible to speak about causes. (345)

In the chapters on Yoga and Experimental Mysticism in A New Model of the Universe, Ouspensky makes some intriguing observations about thought. The passages in the Raja and Jnana Yoga chapters are, I would think, influenced by what he learnt from Gurdjieff, but he limits his use of Gurdjieff’s system. He gives examples of the features associated with thinking in longer thoughts.

For us, as a practical matter, I think it is already a new stage when we stop formatory thought. Thus, we more easily come to “long thoughts” if the thought is a question, and we are not satisfied with formatory answers. Both Bennett and Mr Adie suggested taking a question, and rejecting answers which were not at the appropriate level. It happens, sometimes, that only when I have exhausted what will come easily, will higher thoughts appear.

These higher thoughts emerge from the subconscious, which includes material from the higher centres. I pose myself a question today, for example, but no answer satisfies me, and I don’t try to contrive an answer. All I do is reject bad answers. Then, tomorrow, perhaps, or two days later, or two months later, an answer of another level simply appears. Why did it appear then? Where did it come from? Well, I cannot say. But surely that is a longer thought.

If this is a fair way of looking at “longer thoughts,” then they are not really the same as taking longer strides. There is a certain analogy: to take a long step is not the same as taking short step but holding it for seconds longer: the preparation for a long step is different from that for a short one; different muscles have to be used, the tension one feels before taking a short step is not the same as that before taking a long step. They are also different in that one can measure the difference between them, and calculate that this long step was, for example, the same measurement as four short steps.

Thoughts are not like that. Higher thoughts are qualitatively different. A long thought will lead to an insight which ordinary thought will never attain to. As well as holding a question, one could ponder a symbol as a way of approaching long thought.

Finally, I think that the ordinary mind can also approach long thoughts by being in the emotional or, even better, the intellectual parts of intellectual centre. As Ouspensky said, mechanical parts of centres do not need attention, emotional parts need “strong interest or identification,” and the intellectual parts need control of attention (62).

A signal point is that, as he says:

Sometimes people can control their attention and do interesting work without knowing anything about self-remembering. Although controlled attention is very close to self-remembering, there is a difference. Attention can be in only one centre, whereas self-remembering needs to work of three or even four centres. (62)

When asked about how to get higher parts of intellectual centre to work, Ouspensky replied: “Cultivate attention. … Do not let yourself think mechanically. Mechanical thinking transforms itself into imagination.” (63)

I think then, that to think longer thoughts, we need to have an impartial desire to think (emotional part of the intellectual centre), attentively hold the thought, whether as a formulated thought, a question, or a symbol, (intellectual part of that intellectual centre) without engaging the formatory apparatus, and return to the thought from time to time. Needless to say, this works best in the collected state (or the range of states which we can call collected.)


[The Dying Gaul is one of the most haunting sculptures I have ever seen. He is dying, but, if I can put it this way, his spirit has not been defeated.]


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