Posts Tagged ‘emotion’
“Anger” from Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things
“A Sort of Sensation Stolen from Emotional Centre”
On Tuesday, 30 October 1979, Helen Adie took a question from Vera, a young woman who had had an argument at work. She didn’t explain herself terribly clearly, and Mrs Adie had to put some time into sorting out what had happened, yet, much of the exchange is, I think, deep and of wider application for students of Gurdjieff’s methods and ideas.
“Today,” Vera said, “I was annoyed with a particular person because they didn’t do what I had asked them to do … and, I, felt the situation was very valuable to try and forgive that person and just forget, and I managed to stop the negative thoughts, but, when I looked at the person, I just … I just couldn’t feel anything, and I felt, still, slightly intimidated inside.”
“Nothing’s permanent”, replied Mrs Adie. “Everything is moving all the time. That you don’t feel it once doesn’t mean that it isn’t present.”
“I just, no matter how much I tried …”
“You tried, but you couldn’t feel anything?”
“No”, Vera firmly replied. “I couldn’t feel for him.”
“No. You can’t try to feel something for people, you can’t try to care for people. You wouldn’t recognize it. Maybe you do in fact have some feeling in respect of other people, but you don’t recognize it because you have an idea about feeling for people. And it’s generally a rather sentimental idea. I have a sort of picture of what feeling for somebody is. But that isn’t real feeling.”
“ You can’t try to feel something. But you can feel your own presence, and you can, from that, you regard that person. I don’t mean stare at them, but you take them into your experience: you’re aware of their existence. And you often don’t know whether you feel something for them or not. You may without recognising it.”
Mrs Adie paused a little before continuing: “Generally speaking, when we think we care about someone, it means we cling to them in a certain way … are dependent on them, or feel they’re dependent on us. It’s very often not the real thing. We’re looking on the wrong side of ourselves for it.”
“Real feeling is something we have yet to learn to recognize. It’s a question of being free, and making a space for it. The place is there, but there’s something which we still have to understand very much about feeling. We can’t force it. It cannot be forced. You either feel it or you don’t.”
“But you can make it possible to feel, and a very important step in this is to become, little by little, free of all sorts of dreams about feeling.”
“I just wanted to forgive,” Vera said.
“Yes, you wanted to accept.”
“Yes, that’s what it was. Accept. I just cried. I couldn’t do it.”
“You still had that feeling of resentment.”
“I did Mrs Adie. The thoughts weren’t there so much. It was just a tension.”
“The physical aspect of can remain. It doesn’t go just immediately, that’s true. But a very important step to stopping the tension is stopping the daydreaming about it. This daydreaming, these revolving thoughts only add fuel to the resentment. It makes it, gives it a form.”
“Yes, you can’t expect physical sensations to go in five minutes. They may or may not: it depends on the strength of the stimulus. But if some resentment or grudge is established in your body, you can take a great deal of the force away from it by not making it go through your mind, not dwelling on it. And in time it will go, but in itself it doesn’t matter. There’s an energy there which you can begin to learn to take to yourself. You can even begin, eventually, to learn transform it. What we’re discussing is the beginning of this transformation. But now, you were aware that you had that feeling of resentment: so what did you try to do?
“ I just tried to be aware of myself, with that person, and … I don’t know how I tried to feel … I just tried to see that person, really, and … why it stayed stuck there, I don’t know.”
“Yes, that’s quite right, but it’s because you’re expecting a result. That inhibits it, you know. Yet, the effort is in quite the right direction. You face that person, you look at that person, and you try to not feel for that person, but to feel your presence there, in a sort of free, detached way.”
“And then you have to be ready to try different things. That’s where you have to use your head a little bit. Be careful. From what you’ve been saying recently you should know that the sour grapes feeling may come in. But that, and most of what we know, are not real feelings: they are a sort of sensation stolen from emotional centre, if you like to put it that way. But feeling can come. It’s possible for people to feel themselves in relation to others. It comes in different periods of their work, but it happens. It’s possible.”
To me, this is quite enlightening. The distinction between feelings (real and permanent) and emotions (partial and ephemeral) is not new. Gurdjieff made it, and several of his pupils remembered something of what he had said about this. I dealt with it in the book George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil. But I was struck by the elegant simplicity of Mrs Adie’s thought. And her statement that these emotions are a “sort of sensation stolen from emotional centre” addresses the emotion/knowledge paradox. That is the paradox that despite our knowledge we are taken by these emotions time and time again. We believe in them while realising that they distort everything in us and almost our entire process of perception. Something in us is identified with these distorting agents. Mrs Adie here explains why: it isn’t that they have no relation at all to feeling, but they are stolen from it and so are cut off from the higher energy of that centre. Also, it isn’t that they have no reality, they are sensations, they’re in the body, so they have that degree of reality. But that is not the reality for which they are made. Feelings serve knowledge and understanding, but only when sited in the right place of the alchemical laboratory which we are. This material is almost endlessly deep. Don’t be distracted by my lubrications. Go to the mistress, and make what she has said your own.
Joseph Azize is presently an Honorary Associate with the Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney. In April, he will be delivering a paper there on J.G. Bennett as a student of mysticism. He has published academically in ancient Near Eastern history, in law, and in religious studies. His latest effort, an article on Gurdjieff’s sacred movements and dances, will be published later this year in a Brill volume edited by Carole Cusack and others.
Joseph Azize Page
What actually is identification? Is it a mood, a thought, a feeling? What part of the person is it in? Or is it part of the person at all? Is it perhaps something which invades?
One easy, perhaps superficially appealing approach would be to say that these questions are academic: I seek only to know identification in myself, to know it by taste. Surely what matters is the struggle with identification, not theorizing about it.
Well, such a response is understandable, maybe even necessary for beginners, but not, perhaps, forever. We can be too absolute, and ascribe all-purpose value to a thought or a sentiment which once served us well. Indeed, we perhaps identify most with our best ideas. Yet, very little on the practical side of the spiritual path admits of perpetually valid statements, because, as one proceeds, the demands change. Mr Adie always said that the work becomes harder as one continues: if I can include more in my effort, then I have a responsibility to include it, and if I do not strive to fulfill my responsibilities I lose that possibility. When we have had a good taste of identification then we can take action to make it passive: but in order to do so, we just might need understanding. As we shall see by the end of part 3, the salt of knowledge is a necessary part of the deep work of freedom from identification.
What is identification? The short answer is, I think, that it is emotional engagement with an object of consciousness. I can identify with anything, any recognition or acknowledgement, only provided that there is some emotional attachment. This emotionality will invariably be a form of like or dislike, attraction or repulsion. The one thing identification cannot be is impartial. Identification is practically the law of life, whether inside families, socially, at the office, in the factory, in clubs, and even in groups.
Mr Adie used to say that considering (identification with people) is worse inside the groups. Only now do I see why this must be so: it is because the greater our valuation of something, the greater the opportunity for emotional engagement. We identify with our group leaders and colleagues, with our roles and our years in groups, and even with Gurdjieff himself and other teachers. Impartiality is most needed in groups, and in respect of the spiritual path. Sometimes I wonder if it is not a law that we must be madly identified with the work before we can become free of identification and re-meet the inner work, as if for the first time.
In George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia (esp. pp.37ff.), I set out a lot of what Mr Adie had to say about identification and how to struggle with it. I included some musings on the etymology of the word, and Mr Adie’s favourite simile for understanding identification: the four stages of identification. I cannot repeat all that here, but will say that my understanding is that the tendency to identification can never be eliminated in us so long as we have consciousness, and that there are degrees of identification.
The greater the identification, the more familiar it is, and hence the more unrecognizable as sleep. Part of the problem is that identification is often invisible. It is chained so tightly to our eyes that it we see by means of it, like contact lenses we have forgotten about. We may not even be aware of a liking or disliking, we take things as being the way they should be, and we mistake the familiar for the normal. As a friend of mine commented when I told her of my idea for this blog, “identification is taking things personally”. Often this attitude of personalising is not noticeably either pleasant or unpleasant: it is our world, our air; after all, we can only look out on the world from the citadel of our own person.
Frequently, too, we honour our identifications with golden names. For people such as ourselves, our “loving” involves identification. The modern passion for being “passionate” is a passion for identification. But maybe not all our loving, maybe some of it is free at moments, or at least relatively free, from identification. And then, there are moments of compunction, when we momentarily have a perspective on ourselves and our weaknesses. At least, I believe so.
One person who used to visit the groups in Australia would say: “When I know it, I kill it”. I have thought about this from various angles, and considered it carefully. This sort of comment was, I think, critical to his approach, which was one of breaking down, of course with a view to the arising of something new. But however I ponder it, I have concluded this is an over-statement, and by being inaccurate is dangerous, because it displaces a better, more precise approach.
Knowledge is not the problem: identification with our knowledge is. Without the possibility of knowledge our situation would be hopeless. There is even a certain identification with not knowing, as if to say that one knew anything would be false pride. If we don’t value what knowledge we have, we will lose it.
So we come back to the beginning: what do we know of identification? Is identification a mood, a thought, a feeling? What part of the person is it in?
I think that identification is in different “I”s. These are formed of associations in one or more centres. Sometimes these associations are so complex that they form chains, like a series of reflexes. But knowing this gives us an opportunity for freedom: when we become aware of identification we may be able to discern which centres are engaged, and how the chain of associations operates. Then an intelligent strategy for rendering identification passive can be formulated.
This insight also explains why it seems that identifications invade us from outside. An external factor acts as a catalyst, it starts a chain of associations, and then we are lost. Once the emotions are engaged it is impossible to feel oneself as separate. But the mind can stand aside, and, as Mr Adie would say, “feeling follows thought”. We do not drive out one emotion with another, but a feeling becomes available, and the reality of feelings is more potent than that of emotions.
When I have a feeling of myself, then perspective and impartiality are possible for me. I see that I am identified with many things: my name, my age, my personal history, my clothes, my taste in food, my emotional reactions and so on. Of all identifications, perhaps one of the most significant is identification with my bodily sensations. It is difficult to explain this, but once we see how we are identified with the body, a door opens, and we can get beyond it. We are identified with our range of movement (even though we may not consciously know what it is), our posture, the height from which we look at the world, the angle at which we hold our head and eyes, the way our stomach feels after a meal, and even the myriad small tensions, discomforts, which we constantly experience.
This is the knowledge we need. Westerners have a hang-up with knowledge. I suspect that it comes from the philosophers. In an academic paper, I have contended that, after the Milesians, the Greeks, and through them ourselves, took mathematical knowledge as the gold standard, indeed the only standard for knowledge. But one only needs knowledge of a mathematical type for maths, and scientific knowledge for when one studies science. In Greek, one word, episteme, means both “knowledge” and “science”. This may have contributed to the confusion. Compare this to Arabic: there are roots such as arafa and alama which have the same sort of range as Greek episteme. However, there is another productive root, adraka, which can mean “to know”, but has a fundamental sense of “reach, catch up, attain, ripen” and so on.
Identification and Knowledge 3
Breaking the nexus between knowledge and mathematics may offer a fresh understanding and valuation of knowledge. We have identified with our knowledge, and with our concept of knowledge. Fortunately, there is another approach, the objective approach to knowledge, unidentified, based on a transcendent aim, the ground of understanding which Mr Adie spoke of in “A God Given Day”:
“Somewhere in me is a granary, a store of knowledge, of facts. These facts have a definite significance, not wavering or uncertain. This knowledge is within me in the form of a living whole, having a certain definite power and degree of understanding. This can be a present part of my reality, if I appear certain and sure upon the stage of this, my life.”
So the problem is not that if I know it, I kill it. It is that I am not there to know it, and if I am not, then nothing is alive. The important thing is to have an aim, a flare to call my presence. If I have, for example, the aim to be more available to feeling, then I need a plan. Consider three simple objects for observation: (1) The sensation of my head and in my head. Am I identified with this? Even asking the question can lead to clarity. A friend of mine mentioned that before he prays he asks God to clear his head, and it works. (2) The tensions of my body. Once more, just asking whether I am identified with them brings me to a deeper relaxation, making more control possible. (3) The tempo of my thoughts, feelings and body. These are far more important than we realize, and may even be the key to consciously changing my state. I always find, when I query the tempo at which I eat, react, or “think”, that the tempo is unnecessarily frenetic.
Such questions, I find, can “dissolve” identifications, at least temporarily. But at the end of the day, the big question is the relation between identification, or more accurately, non-identification and the Kesdjan body. It can be active only when identification is passive, but at the same time, freedom from identification is a function of the Kesdjan body. The body is, and must be, a machine. But it can be a machine which is en-spirited by a soul.
The idea for this blog really began when I realized that some identification has a positive role from the point of view of daily life. The strings of identification allow life under the sun to roll on. Without some degree of identification, the instability of our inner world would be even more closely reflected in life than it already is. Identification keeps us in one place, and with the same people for significant periods. Without identification, we would be nomadic to the point of anarchy. So, identification has a positive role, but it has undoubtedly grown unhealthily to become a canker, and the strings have become chains.
I think that the linkage of thought and emotion which we see in identification is not in itself bad, the problem is that they are not under the direction of reason.
And this lead to a practical conclusion: if identification has a value when it is present in a modest manner, then freedom from it should be a gentle action, and should be conducted with understanding. This is why I said at the outset that knowledge is needed. There comes a point, I believe, where it can be very useful to sit in the collected state, and to ponder identifications, where they come from, what their value has been, and then to bring before me my understanding that they have surpassed their usefulness, and now mean slavery. If that is done, perhaps a feeling can appear which will serve as the reconciling factor between my desire for freedom of consciousness, and the bondage of identification. The chains, then, are transformed into rational connections.
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.