Gurdjieff's teaching: for scholars and practitioners

G. I. Gurdjieff's teaching, research, books, conferences

Posts Tagged ‘conscious sensation

JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com
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ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING …

Conscious change starts when a person sacrifices their unconscious suffering in order to intentionally experience the impulse of conscience. Prior to that point, everything is preparation. Awareness of sensation, self-observation, even “remembering oneself”, only prepare the ground for that sacrifice and for the new life which immediately follows, being, as it is, under both the law of grace and the law of cause and effect. Or so I believe.

If our spiritual efforts do not include feeling, they will atrophy and falter, and everything can be lost. We can come to the starting point, turn away, and end up as far away as we ever were. In fact, a person’s fate is harsher if they have finally found the threshold, but then turned back. Why? Because one then has a history of having retreated from that point. It becomes easier to retreat a second time. There is something in us which is practically waiting to justify retreat, even to turn negative in respect of the way. Having once backed off, you know that you can back off, and it becomes harder than ever to make the indispensible commitments to conscious labour and intentional suffering.

These commitments are, I believe, indispensible to crossing the threshold to more durable states. There are states available for us in which the entirety of our feeling is positive feeling. Negative emotion is utterly passive, even impossible, in such a state. Such states can last not only for days, but for weeks, and if they can last for weeks, they can last for months. You can see where the equation is heading. Permanent change of being to a significantly higher level is possible. And it always begins with a growth in feeling. I mean that it immediately begins with a growth in feeling. For that, we must earn many small and one major victory over negative emotion.

To die to the life of negative emotions is to awaken from a fever: it literally feels that way. The air becomes brighter, the world acquires a further visual dimension, and memories of how we used to be seem not so much unreal as “now impossible”, like some former House of Parliament in sepia postcards.

Mysteries are resolved by the peaceful light. For example, how is it that the more we feel our separate individuality the more we feel a connection with other people? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? It has puzzled but not perplexed me that when I identify with others, there is actually less relation between us, and less feeling than when I am more aware of myself and not so identified. In a state where feeling is active for more than a flash, our eyes have sufficiently continuous light, and all falls into place: we see that different levels coexist.

Our unity is at a higher level. Difference and diversity do really exist at one level, perhaps even exists more truly than we had ever appreciated. We simultaneously perceive, without having to enquire, that at another level we are in a more intimate relation to each other than we could ever have thought. It is as if we are inside each other. On that level, each of us is also more truly themselves, and the ground of our unity is so bright we cannot miss it. This ground of unity is nothing other than the fact that, as Gurdjieff said, behind real ‘I’ lies God. We really do come from God, and we really are made to return to him. That is the divine plan Mrs Staveley spoke of.

So it seems to me that self-observation and self-remembering can lead to conscious change only to the extent that they include an affirmative feeling of conscience; otherwise, the action of self-remembering will always be preliminary. I don’t like to be too dogmatic about this, but my experience is as it is. Also, this interpretation corresponds to Gurdjieff’s ideas, being supported by comments made by both himself and Ouspensky.

It is not that self-observation and self-remembering won’t lead to change. They will. But with only a modest amount of conscious feeling, they have only a modest an effect. A small effect is better than none, but will take literally hundreds of years to lead to a change of level of being, if indeed the results are not forever being swept away before they crystallize.

No one can live without feeling, and if I can see or remember myself, then feeling will be there more consciously. So we can never say that we don’t have some feeling. But if it’s not sufficiently present to be the temporary centre of my consciousness, then, for practical purposes, it’s absent. From one perspective, it’s worse to have glimpses of this feeling-presence than not to know that glimpses are possible. People often find that a moment of presence has an after-effect which leaves us depressed, rather like coming down. “Why,” we wonder, “is this freedom so elusive? Where was this power when I lost my temper the other day?” The experience of making effort after effort and perennially coming only to temporary change of being can lead to despondency and even to despair.

It is, of course, significant to come to a point preliminary to genuine change, to stand before the doorway to another level of life.

But preliminaries only mean something if they lead to achievement: their meaning is realized when I go through the door. If we start to fete the door and forget that we have to go through it, we may as well never have found it.

It is feeling which motivates and enables us to make the passage, leaving behind the old, and entering the new life, unknown and yet, at the same time, intimately intuited. To be precise, the experience of sacrificing unconscious suffering and its fruit in the gnawing of conscience lead to an entire octave of motivation and capacity: we feel at once the fever of the past, our present position, and the objective promise of the future, and we also feel other things, perhaps even ineffable. So I won’t try and describe that more.

The minds of the body and the intellect don’t like blind corners: and neither does the feeling intelligence. But feeling can “see” around corners, so to speak. The intellect needs data for comparison and deduction, while feeling has only one datum, as it were. But feeling penetrates that datum, and can perceive its multiple layers or aspects. A naked feeling of confidence grounds trust in a way that a thousand reasons never will.

Gurdjieff said that the way begins above the level of life, and that much work is needed to come to the threshold. I think that some of his meaning may have been this need to have feeling operate as the centre of consciousness for more than a short time. Conscience can be present long enough to persuade us that permanent change of being is possible. Without that, I rather think that something sceptical or “faithless” in us will always want reassurance. This, to my mind, sheds light on Mr Adie’s statement that “faith is based on fact”. Gurdjieff said that faith was a divine impulse. Yet, we say little about faith unless we mean “blind belief”. The faith which provides a light when all seems eclipsed (to paraphrase Aquinas) is barely acknowledged. I think this is because that faith can only be an active fact or in us when one can bear the gnawing of conscience long enough for feeling to penetrate to something essential in us.

Because we can only work on bodies – we have literally nothing else to work on – a growth in feeling must be a crystallization of the Body Kesdjan (Persian for “the spirit of the soul”, or, in Bennett’s paraphrase, “the vessel of the soul”, if I recall correctly).

As the feeling body crystallizes, it evokes a conscious sensation which is deeper, more whole and inclusive than anything otherwise imagined. Of course we’re bound to make our first efforts by using our minds, such as they are. If one is fortunate, one can participate in movements classes or something else which can help us more continuously sustain consciousness of sensation. But conscious sensation is only a means to the end of consciousness of feeling. All too soon, the physical body must die. Endurance and immortality are properties of the other bodies (in religious terms, the soul and spirit).

There is even a danger in focussing on sensation with the eye of a Cyclops: if we forget about feeling, all our efforts with sensation will serve only to mesmerize us, to keep us in a state of obsession with sensation.

If you’re reading this blog you probably know that the role of sensation is tremendous. It is necessary for physical life. But that is only its first function. Like much else in nature, it is designed to serve multiple purposes. One of these purposes is that consciousness of sensation seals in the Body Kesdjan, or perhaps helps to keep the formation of the Body localised so that the higher hydrogens used in its crystallization are not dissipated. Further, the sort of sensation one has when the initiative has come not from the mind but from the feeling is beyond words. I say that when feeling is available for long enough, it calls the sensation because, being of a higher intelligence, it knows what it has to do to preserve and sustain itself. But it is too weak to do so until a certain stage has been reached.

That stage cannot be attained to unless the struggle with negative emotions has reached a critical level, when the human machine has been substantially cleaned. Even before negative emotion is made utterly passive, significant changes will start to appear. That is one of the beauties of the human organism: it is flexible enough to allow encouraging anticipations, and we can see what lies ahead, at least for one step. It is like anything else in life: the development is subject to the law of octaves. We advance, fall back, advance, fall back and so on. But if we’re wise, and we use our heads (instead of disparaging the intellect and giving all the emphasis to sensation) we can even profit from our setbacks.

I shall pause here: I want to try and make this clear, assuming, of course, that what I say bears some relationship to the truth of the matter. I am saying that a sense of presence, of being “different” as is often said, is good and necessary. But it is good and necessary because it is a means to a higher end. Even if we described that end as “a greater intensity of presence”, we would be wrong. It’s a presence with unique qualities of dimension and duration.

Higher levels of presence include dimensions of feeling, intelligence and, I would say, intuition, of something inimitable and ineffable. And these levels of presence become more connected and longer lasting. When they retreat, they don’t retreat in the same way: they remain nearby, you can feel their touch through a membrane somewhere inside, as it were. They bring us back more quickly when we fall, and they enable us to see more clearly what is needed. Having had continuous consciousness of feeling for a period of weeks, you can never cease to believe in the reality of the new man. This greater intensity brings us to the raw moment of work on ourselves, that is, immediate work on our bodies, not merely on our thoughts or reordering our emotional lives, necessary as those efforts are.

I’ll take the analogy of travel. I want to go, say, from Clyde to Carlingford by train. I could tell you, quite truthfully, that to get there I must go through Rosehill to get there. In fact, Rosehill is the first station after Clyde. But I could also have equally truthfully said “no gets from Clyde to Carlingford unless they first pass through Camellia”. To get to Carlingford, I also have to travel through Rydalmere, Dundas and Telopea, which are further down the line. The statements are all true, but if I think in a formatory way, I will see a contradiction. The whole truth and the nothing but the truth is that each of these stations must be passed in a given order.

I think (I would say that I am sure), that something similar happens in respect of the inner journey. We can only get there through self-observation. We can only get there through self-remembering. We can only get there through sensation, through feeling, through conscience, through awakening the mind, and so on. All are true.

But what is this aim for which all of these steps are necessary? The far aim of which I speak is, and only sanely can be “theosis”, the experience of the Absolute: the infinite and eternal, all-encompassing presence which depends on nothing else. I am speaking, then, of the beatific vision, mystical communion with God. Even what I have said about feeling is subject to this.

But our position is that we, and everyone we know and know of, are stuck at Clyde. We’ve never seen anything else, and no one we know unarguably has, either. Not surprisingly, some people deny that there is anything beyond Clyde. If we eventually even get to the road sign to Rosehill, we’re rapt in wonder, at least for a while. The sense of wonder disappears, and to keep it alive we invent rituals of anointing the sign and laying flowers before it. Anyone who can make a good claim to have been to Rosehill strikes us as extraordinary. We start to identify with them, and imitate them. We think that we’re honouring the journey and the destination, but really, all our little reverences have the effect of keeping us where we are, miles from feeling. We get so used to hearing that Carlingford is so far away that we come to think “Rosehill is good enough for me”.

I have written before about the romance of the search: that is pertinent here. Searching only has meaning if there is a possibility of finding. Anyone who thinks that there’s virtue or merit in looking without hope of discovering is, literally, mad. Of course, they might not be mad in every possible respect, but in that one they are. It can be dressed up however one likes, but the idea that we are always searching is lunacy. We search only until we find. Maybe then a further search will beckon: that is quite possible, but that’s a different matter.

The practical vice of the “romance of the search” is that it keeps us at preliminaries. Too often, material I have read states or implies that a permanent change of being is not possible: we can only be present “in-between”, as it were. This is true, but it isn’t the whole truth. If we are present for a moment, even “present in-between”, we can be present for two moments, and three moments, and so on. We can be present at a higher level of being. That higher level can be long-term, and therefore it can be permanent.

It is possible to become man number 4, but how would this be possible if one did not have faith (not belief) in the possibility? I cannot imagine that the chances of a change of level of being increase if one never even thinks about man number 4, and what qualities such a person would have. I’m rather inclined to think the opposite.

And according to Ouspensky, who I am sure was speaking from his own experience, but may have had it from Gurdjieff, too: the chief difference between man numbers 1, 2 and 3 and number 4 is that number 4 has conscience. In other words, such a person is available to feeling. That is the difference. The impressions which usually would call forth, as it were, negative emotions, are received. We can even sense that something in us is ready to react in anger, jealousy, or hatred, and so on. But feeling is present, or at least its influence is, and the third force (the self-indulgent attitude) required for the manifestation of negative emotions is not there at the locus of these forces. The moment passes, and rather than negative emotion , feeling, and perhaps even a representative of conscience appears.

In A Record of Meetings (a much under-utilized book which has fortunately been reissued by Eureka), someone asked Ouspensky whether man number 4 was free of negative emotions. No, replied Ouspensky, not free of them, that would be too much to expect. So number 4 is vulnerable to negative emotion, but has conscience in respect of them. He is changing in respect of them, he is profiting from them and making them passive. He is, so to speak, eating them.

When sustained feeling is available, one is present. Not absolutely present: perhaps only God is absolutely present (Ouspensky says that perhaps only God can say ‘I’). But if we cannot say that we are absolutely present, yet we can know that we have reality. We feel safe both inside and safe to other people. We see where we went wrong, and why. This by no means makes us infallible: it’s a danger to believe so. But we have an intuition that we could come to a stage where we could actually think: and in such a state the possibilities of thinking appear astounding.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

3 July 2010

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.

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