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How Can I Make Better Observations?


The  Joseph Azize Page



How Can I Make Better Observations?

{Editor’s note: Very few recordings survive from Mr Adie’s groups in 1979. He told me that he thought the better material was on tapes from later years, and so that is what those of us who worked on the material started with. Recently, however, I have been listening to some of these old tapes, and I now think that this resource has a special value. Some of this material, produced when Mr Adie was stronger, is probably clearer and more direct. I was immediately struck by what I received as its power. This group had been established two years before, so it was young enough for Mr Adie to be explaining matters with the attention to first principles that is appropriate for beginners. However, the group had been going long enough for him to be able to paint his answer on a broad canvas, opening large vistas. Here I transcribe the first question asked in the Cedar group on Thursday 11 October 1979. It was asked by a young American lady who must have left groups before I joined.}


Mr Adie”, she asked, “over the weekend, you said to me that I don’t know how to observe: that I don’t observe. How can I learn to make observations? How can I learn to make better observations? I find it very difficult.”


That is absolutely vital for us.” He paused for a little, and then started a little further out from the spot where’d she’d pitched her question. “ The function of the mind is critical here. One thing I think we particularly need is to study the functions again: we talk, sometimes rather glibly, about being too much in the head or too much in emotions, but we don’t really appreciate what that is. We talk about dreams and stopping dreams and the fact that we can’t, but we aren’t always so clear on what this practically means. And now that the work has advanced, and people are trying to observe, I need to know and understand with my head.”


The function of the head is the mind, the reason: how to work something out consciously, how to make a choice. The mind has a certain power of discrimination between ideas. An animal doesn’t have ideas. Only man has ideas. Ideas are the concern of the mind. Feelings and sensations do not directly have this capacity, although they can warn me if my state is unbalanced. Feeling is the concern of the feeling centre, and it brings force, because the mind by itself can’t do anything. The sensation, the body, is our basic reality, the root of our existence. And clarity in each of these centres is different.”


Clarity brings us back to your question: how to observe. It’s obvious that if I am in dreams I cannot observe. At that point I have to remember about sleep and waking. When I’m asleep, anything is possible. I can dream any rubbish: we all know that. It’s just empty words if I talk about observing and don’t take into account that I have to be awake for it. And waking means some activity of the head: discrimination of the true mind.”


Mind has levels. The lowest, or most basic, is what is called formatory centre. Formatory centre is aware of something: it has some relationship to fact, it has some degree of reason. Formatory centre, if there’s any attention there at all, can discriminate between one pigeon hole and another; it can discriminate between where some impulse or another comes from. In fact, I need my formatory centre, it’s very valuable to me. If I had to work out from new everything that formatory centre has learned, my life in the world would stall.”


But at the same time, formatory centre is not the thing which I shall use to observe myself. It does not have the requisite degree of perspective and subtlety. So how can I observe my own functions?”


If there is any general rule, it’s that observation can proceed only if the head is awake. If I am asleep I can’t observe. A sleeping man will experience something in dreams: he’ll moan and he’ll turn over. If it’s bad enough, the dream wakes him up, a little. To observe I must be awake, that’s the first thing. Now what does that mean? That’s a big thing, to be awake, at any rate, to be a bit more awake – at that point we go to our body, because if we are floating about really not aware of the earth we’re standing on, we’re liable, at any second, to go into dreams again.”


So, we have some attention on our bodily sensation. That’s why I said the body is the root basis. If I wish to observe, I must have a reference in my sensation as a check: “Yes, it’s alright, I’m here”. I can rely on my observations a little bit if I know I am here. But if I have forgotten that my feet are on the ground, don’t sense that my feet are on the ground, if I have no sense of being here, then my observation is a very partial, dubious thing. So, for the possibility of a more real observation, all these different parts have to be partially conscious, partially connected. There has to be interconnection. Each centre has its separate clarity; they’re not all muddled up and playing each other’s roles. I have begun from the mind, but it’s now included in a greater reality. Each centre provides its unique impression without my thinking about them.”


Now, if what I’ve said so far sounds reasonable to you, then we can feel little bit more relaxed about the fact that our observations are very little understood so far, and observation seem to be very difficult at times.”


Well then, to add to that, nothing is ever achieved consciously unless there’s a wish. How would it be possible unless there were an impulse? That impulse has to have some intention, some wish to observe. I need to want to do it. I need to want to, which is the most important thing about what you were saying. You really wanted to find about this: you really wanted to find out why observation seems so difficult. I remain with that need to understand. So that effort has proved to yourself that you have a wish. You wish.”


What I shall see is therefore very unusual, maybe even strange or unsettling for me, because I haven’t been at all accustomed to this simultaneous awareness of attention in my three centres. And I certainly haven’t been capable of maintaining presence to the three centres while remaining in operation. I used to think that I was in charge of this organism, but I begin to find out that I wasn’t at all, I was a machine.”


Now if the so-called observation is to be a true one, if I am to receive a relatively true perception, I cannot be too unbalanced. An opening to impressions will help to bring me into balance, but if I am too very swayed by emotion, if my thought is too trammelled, if I have forgotten all about my body, the perceptions will be mangled; they’ll be distorted before I even try to use them or reason about them. The images and the colours will be wrong, the magnitudes will be wrong. You see how critical the work with each of the three centres is?”


If I am going to observe, it’s an act. It has to be an act, and that can only last for a second or two with that fine degree of conscious intention. It’s so unaccustomed, as we’ve already more or less proved in this sequence of argument, that I’m unprepared for the kind of thing that I experience, if in fact I observe.”


I see then that when I came here I had a fantastic idea of what an observation might be. To me it was something striking that I could formulate and write down in a book, something that would make for good reading or comparisons. Now I see that this isn’t observation at all. An observation for us now is an experience. To parlay it into words too soon and too easily is to lose it. I want the taste of it first, and the taste of it is so new I cannot recognize it. This is why so many people say: “Oh, when I saw myself, there was no feeling. I came to and there was nothing. I was empty, and it was awful.” And they become discouraged.”


But the conclusion is not reliable. I have too little to compare with a state of consciousness. How do I know it’s empty of feeling? Certainly, I may be free of my accustomed emotions. What a relief! If in fact I have come to, that is all that is necessary. What sort of content is my moment of consciousness supposed to be filled with? I have to be impartial to everything. I have to be impartial to everything. I am aware, more or less of an intention, what is taking place. I accept what I see, I wish to accept what I see.”


It’s an experience, and until I learn to support that experience without interference, I will simply weave a network of misunderstanding, confusion, thought taking the place of feeling, and so on.”


All this gives me some sort of connection in my mind with these very still, very refined figures that one sometimes sees: a Buddha or a yogi. One feels that there’s a master there … they’re extremely alert, they’re completely composed. Such art begins to have meaning. I see that this is a representation of a very active moment.”


And of course, what is absent when I’m at the beginning of a process is “I”. There is something of it there. I shall observe. I have to have the posture of a man, the posture of a woman. I previously assumed that I could observe, but I never thought about my posture really. And I don’t need to think about it as such, it has to be with me, a sense of my posture. The body begins to be the body of a conscious man. The feeling of a conscious man. Even the thought of a conscious man. Of course it can’t last for long, but the experience can lead to further related experiences, always fresh.”


Then the observation that ensures in that condition and with that amount of understanding can be so extremely interesting, it’s so different from anything I’ve had before. The experience that accompanies it – you can’t put it into words. How could one put into words this three centred awareness of combined working at different speeds which presents this conscious moment? It wouldn’t be possible, but this is what we’re working towards: those conscious moments.”


{Note the reference to “three centred awareness of combined working at different speeds”. Those who have ears to hear … For me, the sign that this is the pure Gurdjieff tradition is the naked demand for three-centred understanding which Mr Adie makes, advising and demonstrating in himself that it is both heroically difficult and heroically possible. If you would like to know more about Mr Adie, Gurdjieff his teacher, in what Gurdjieff’s ideas consist, and how Mr Adie gave them practice application in Australia, the well-illustrated book, George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia (Lighthouse Editions) is available from By The Way Books.


JOSEPH AZIZE  has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies.    His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.


April 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm

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