I have been pondering this question of how we identify with our own lives. I do not recall that Mr George Adie ever used exactly that form of words, but as will appear from the third of these exchanges below, he certainly had the content of that concept in mind when he spoke of a lack of gratitude for my life. The three exchange are from the Sunday of 6 April 1986. This time I will reverse the usual order and commence with my own thoughts.
Christianity developed the concept of the seven deadly sins: and it is a very useful one, because it enables us to quickly and yet comprehensively examine our conscience. The Gurdjieff tradition does not have quite the same concept: there is overlap between the notions of “sleep” and “sin”, but they are not the same concept.
The deadly sin I have been pondering is pride. In terms of Gurdjieff’s teaching, perhaps pride amounts to identifying with myself, with my self-image. Pride may, in other words, amount to identification with false personality. If this analysis is of any use, then it means that pride is having a picture of myself, more or less implicit, and being stubbornly attached to it.
There is, as Gurdjieff said, a true pride, which is based on or flows from humility. However, that is so far from us as we are that we need not bother our brains about it. The pride we know is, as I think, an identification with my own life. I am too close to myself. I never see myself as others see me. If I have a glimpse of how I am in reality, something in me starts to become defensive. We all know what it is when we identify with our clothes, our looks, our homes, our cars, even our haircuts. I recall a student in university saying to me: “At university, you are your marks.” We identify with them.
The great danger with liking or valuing anything is that we begin to identify with it to the point of madness. If we have any ability at all in a field, something in us identifies with it.
This identification with my own life which I am referring to is deeper than those identifications. Among other things, it means that we take our lives for granted. This is related to the reality which many have pointed out, that it is hard to imagine our own deaths. On the contrary, we seem to think we will be around forever, even if that belief is not expressed. This idea is so large that it is critical not to pass it by too quickly. My life. It means something to me. If I think it doesn’t, then I am identified with a negative emotion, genuinely a desire to get at other people whom we think have not properly considered us.
But what would it be to start to free myself from this identification with my own life? It must mean having a certain distance between the sensation of my body and my mental awareness of it. If I sense my hand while I am looking at it, I have some sort of distancing. I become aware of its reality as of a startling fact which was always under my nose but to which I have awaken. That is just a start. The same sort of distancing is possible between my mental awareness and my emotions. And when some quality of consciousness so deep that it is behind even my mind appears, then I can also be present to my own thoughts. And of course, when this consciousness is present to mind, feelings and body at once, this is indeed a step towards awakening real I. It must be that at least part of the reason that I cannot “repair the past”, as Gurdjieff counselled, is because something in me is too identified with my past. If, however, when I recall unbecoming actions and thoughts, I use the memory as a reminder to come to myself (as the Prodigal Son came to himself), and not identify with it (that is, to see that I was not there), then there is a chance that I can feel true remorse of conscience, rather than the reflex emotion of revulsion and pain.
After lunch on 6 April 1986, the first question came from Pablo. He referred to taking the stop at the first half hour, and turning to his partner. This exercise is described in the post http://www.josephazize.com/2018/03/19/george-adie-on-the-moving-stop/ where I set out Mr Adie’s morning address from the day. Pablo said that at the stop, when he turned to his partner, he felt open, and at the meeting of the eyes was very aware of himself. He is often “out there” when looking, as he expressed it, but now he was “right inside”. This did not return on other occasions: “I could not manufacture that state”, he said. The idea of a “moving stop” had been quite strong. While shovelling earth he had had a “moving stop inside”, which brought him a new dimension.
“It does,” agreed Mr Adie. “I don’t have to stop my ordinary life on earth to assert this moment.”
Pablo then mentioned that notwithstanding the good beginning to the day, one two occasions, he had been shovelling the soil, and although he saw where his partner was standing, and that if he did not change what he was doing, the earth would land on him. Twice, then, he shovelled the soil over his partner’s arm and shirt.
“Lost in some dream? It eliminates the possibility of any response to reality, or the reality of my partner. I become quite blind when caught up in thought. That I can do that, shovel dirt over someone I am working with, shows how completely cut-off I get. And of course, it can lead to very serious accidents. And then, there’s another state, quite the opposite, when I am there with certainty, and I know I am related.”
“If you could recollect what dream, or feeling or negative emotion took you away, that would be useful. Something had taken you. It is extraordinary how I am taken away without being moved, so that anything can happen. In the ordinary way, people say: “I just didn’t notice”. But think about what that really means: “I just didn’t notice”.”
“It’s worthwhile pondering those observations when you’re quiet, just for a short while, just savour it. Not to blow it up or diminish it or anything, but just to understand how it actually happens. You would have thought it impossible, surely, if someone had told you that you could shovel earth over your partner.”
“Who did in fact shovel it? It’s all a mystery. Of course the moving centre has a momentum, and generally, unless I am present, that momentum sweeps all before it. Yet, what sort of I, animated by what, could do that?”
After a pause, Mr Adie added: “If one does not retire for a moment or two, and really try and face it, then one wastes all these observations. I am responsible, now I have seen it, to try and get something out of it.”
The next question was brought by Chuck. He said that someone made some suggestions about the job he was doing. He was polite, but internally, he was critical and angry. He also saw that there was something inside which did not want to know that he was angry, and wanted to push it down.
“Yes, there is something in me which does not wish to admit to being angry, but neither does it try and push it down, as it were, which is what you said. It just wants to go on indulging its dislike. I mean, to “push it down” would mean giving up your anger, and that you cannot yet do.”
“You want to be grateful to him for making the suggestion. It’s very interesting that there should be all this internal drama, absolute refusal, and a sense of injustice, all about – what? A suggestion to help you do the job more quietly. The worst insult of all is the suggestion that you are lacking in any capacity. I mean, that really is too much. And did he say: “Excuse me, Sir”?”
At this there was a deal of laughter, and Mr Adie returned to the idea of pondering our insights, much the same as he had at the end of Pablo’s question.
“And now you ponder it, you see. We can expand these things, sometimes, very much at the table, but it still leaves something for the person to study. Otherwise, it tends to flow away again.”
The last of the three questions was brought by Jack. He did the job of repairing the panel very grudgingly. A few moments of taking a stop without really stopping illuminated the entire day. He found a great deal at the exchange with his partner.
“Yes, well, without gratitude I lose everything. Nothing has any real value. It’s a little like being in a boat with a leak. You can see the water coming in, but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.”
“It is a part of my life which I don’t live. I am not receiving the gift. Every impression, every breath is a gift. The greatest gift is my life. I so rarely get what I want, and if I don’t I grumble and curse.”
That comment about gratitude was very short: yet it is valuable.
Joseph Azize, 31 March 2018 (The picture is of the tori or gate to the Itsukushima Shrine in Japan).