What is it like to be able to remember myself, in practical terms? Surely there can be no one comprehensive answer, as each “self” is unique (at least theoretically). But the range in uniqueness is not so wide as we might think. That is, we are sufficiently similar for other people’s experiences to be relevant to this question, in fact, I would say that they are always relevant, because there are few if any things which one person can experience which no other can.
So, I shall begin with an essay by Jean Toomer, “The Experience,” in A Jean Toomer Reader, edited by F.L. Rusch. I have been told that Toomer wrote many versions of this piece. The one in Rusch, began:
On an April evening in 1926, having taken a friend home, I was on my way back to my rooms. The first stage of the return trip had brought me onto the platform of the 66th Street “L” station; and there I stood, waiting, I would have said, for a downtown train. … A train came up; I let it pass. Another went by. I had decided, it seemed, to remain where I was until prompted to move. Here on the platform I had an enjoyable feeling of being at large in the world, at peace with myself. … The night, as we say, was mine; and so was this all too rare mood of quiet aliveness and freedom …
My mind might as well have been an utter blank. Then, just suddenly, it began. I was startled by an uncommon inward event. It was as though I had been touched from within in an extraordinary quiet way that stilled my functioning and momentarily suspended me between what had been and what was come. My very life had been stopped, so it seemed, and yet I was about to live again, live anew, and strangely. Somehow I understood I was going to be moved, regardless of my wish or will, into a nameless experience. (33-34)
I have edited this, but Toomer has made it quite clear that while he was feeling peaceful, and there was nothing trivial or superficial in his attitude at that time, although he stops short of saying that he was making any attempt to remember himself. What counts is not a which words were not used, but the content of the words which were. Toomer does not exactly say what made the experience possible, after all, he did not know. He can only say what had preceded it, and neither does he imply, let alone make any claim that if the same pre-conditions were there, the same result would eventuate.
Toomer, therefore, seems to be saying that what happened to him was not initiated by himself, but it was initiated from within. We might say that nothing he did caused this awakening, but it would not have occurred unless he had been as he was, and was patiently waiting in a serene state, declining to join the tread-mill of life. He was remaining in tranquillity until prompted to move: that is, he was resisting the external prompt of the momentum of life. Only a little later does he refer to his previous “work,” by which I gather he means his work with Gurdjieff and Orage:
My attention was held to a mysterious working in my depths that instantly impressed me as an authentic action utterly different from any I had hitherto known. It bore no likeness whatsoever to anything I had ever experienced, nor to anything I had ever read or heard of others experiencing. As this unfamiliar inner-action increased I became increasingly incredulous, expectant. My sensations could not have been more strange had my body quietly left the ground and soared into the air. I had just that feeling – the impossible is happening. It can’t be!
But it was!
I was changing. Throughout my entire presence I was changing. It seemed I was being taken apart, unmeshed and remeshed. I seemed to become malleable and flowing. My very substance was in motion.
I did not exclaim, This Is It! I had no way of knowing that here was the beginning of my rise into the level of life and the experience I had worked and hoped for. This is it was said in me with undeniable authority by the action itself. What it might be I could not imagine. (34)
Toomer is now describing what it is to remember oneself at an advanced level: one’s entire presence changes, and all the parts of which the we are made up, our different I’s and our faculties, are separated out and then blended again into a unity. There is not much to say about this, but it is significant, because until our members are ready and primed, they cannot be unified – in our present state, our parts would fly apart at once. The balance of this passage needs no further comment: Toomer shows how accomplished a writer he is, as he also gives testimony of the results of his work. Truly, what Gurdjieff was able to do with people was amazing.
But this I knew. I had not started it, nor could I stop it or influence it in any way. What had begun would unfold. What had started would be carried on and irresistibly accomplished. I would go where I was moved. For I was helpless, now that help had come.
My body and my life were in the power of a Power. Sone kind of revolution was occurring in the named and unnamed parts of all of me, occurring with sheer ease and complete harmony. It was perfectly quiet. It was quietly perfect. But how strange!
My very being was at the disposal of the Power that bad come. That Power was drawing me. Regardless of me, it was moving and making. I recognized – A master is at the controls. My master has come and I have met him. And in that moment my will became his will; and I felt – Thy will be done. Thy wonderful will! (34)
to be continued