Nearly two months ago, I dreamed about “the blue books of Ramana”. In fact they looked exactly like the collection of Maurice Nicoll’s Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff. These four volumes – from Alan Jacobs’s library – have sat on my highest bookshelf for many years.
“I dreamed I was late for an event and toiling or dashing up and down a long street to collect items which others expected. Among the parade of shops on the right, a sign stood out, advertising an unknown book about Ramana Maharshi. I forgot the title, but it was his soul in the teaching. The sign remained consistently visible. At last I investigated, walked up that side of the street, looked for its doorway among the restaurants, hairdressers and supermarkets – and found: an Indian goods emporium. My way to the counter was blocked by a herd of huge brown smelly buffaloes. I turned away, dispirited, but then the herd miraculously cleared. I made enquiry for the book, and was directed to another region of the vast shop. Upstairs where the books were. a friendly Indian woman assistant said Yes she knows the book, and got it for me. It was a set of slim old volumes with worn cloth binding, a beautiful natural dark blue, like Jim Ede’s Moroccan jacket, faded and buffed at the corners. There were three larger ones and one smaller one. I looked among the pages and wanted it very much. It contained everything in the “Talks” and other recorded conversations, and more …. what a collector’s item!
“The woman smiled and said this is not cheap. It is a first edition. How much? I asked. She replied, £700. So I couldn’t possibly buy it. She smiled. Then I woke up.
“I don’t need to buy it, for I have it in my soul – the beautiful blue covers of this teaching, the feel of the close white written pages inside: the liberation. It is enough to hold it for a moment in my hands, and remember. Maybe the significance of the 700 will emerge? This contact un-crowds my life. I touch base.”
Some difficult weeks passed; then at last I reached up for Volume Four of Nicoll’s Commentaries – which wear the same jacket. I rediscover inside, in the practical way it works for me, the soul of Ramana Maharshi’s Self-enquiry. In the last decade of Ramana’s life, Dr Nicoll was teaching and exploring the Work in his kindly way it seems by morphic resonance, in England during and after the war.
14 September 2015
Nicoll – “The Work teaches: ‘Observe yourselves uncritically and become more and more conscious of what is in your being and so become more and more objective to yourselves.’
“As you know already, this will gradually dissolve the Imaginary I, the False I, the False Personality that one has hitherto taken as oneself, and has nothing to do with the true centre of gravity of yourself called Real I.’”
He then goes on to discuss Recurrence. Ouspensky worked out a dimensional cosmology whereby we recur until the change begins to be made at birth. I don’t go fully with this, but I do observe my recurring Difficult Corner where I have failed and where I identify with what life throws at me – it is the identical misery and discomfort each time. So for me Recurrence is a psychological reality but not a literal one.
On the other hand, Nicoll feels the recurrence of Self remembering makes itSelf stronger also. There is also the idea of Conscious Man reincarnating in an earlier part of historical time, where he can prevent things from going as they did. There is a plethora of parallel universes or possibles.
In quantum physics a particle travels back and forth in time as space, through interaction. The entanglement of future probables and re-shaping is an open mystery beyond the mental reach. The standard intellect collapses here. So people say it is impossible to reincarnate in the past, because of the advancing doctrine of time; but I am not sure. There is a power of choice. The choice is powerfully identified with the genetic flow and with cause and effect; but that same power might also antedate the causality. This power clasps the self or role I think I am. The role rides off with me. The historical possibilities are limitless, but I am voluntarily confined to the one familiar.
The full form of Self remembering is “the self that knows its own nothingness.”
Reacting to life is not doing or choosing. Reacting to life is not proactive but passively being driven into the difficult corner. “To change the action of life on you by inner work on impressions, is certainly to begin to do … begin with smallest daily things. … If we say that one meaning of Self remembering is to remember the Work at the moment when life makes you negative, here is a practical idea of Self remembering. The Work is brought into intimate personal existence …”
In the next Commentary, he says Time is a dimension of psychological distance and the ways of Self remembering must be held together, else they get lost. He says Truth is silver (like the parable woman looking for a piece of silver in her house) – it is also a hatching egg: the contact must be sustained by nesting.
The Work and the way it thinks, is a lift, an elevator towards Those that stand in the light. “By means of our own thoughts, which are those of sleeping people imagining they are fully conscious, we cannot reach the thoughts that belong to people who stand in the light of Self remembering, and view the meaning of existence from that level… which weakens the mechanical power of sensual life/thinking and its apparent reality…. Now, if incoming life/impressions falls onto the Work, its energy is transformed; the first Conscious Shock.”
(The Enneagram was a significant part of Gurdjieff’s teaching – an octave of musical intervals wherein the Work’s 1st and 2nd Conscious Shocks occur at the semi-tones. At the level of 2nd Conscious Shock, negative emotions transform into positive – as I understand it.)
The Work has to be the skin on which life’s impressions fall. If they fall on me personally, I react with mechanical skinless stress, and recur. There has to be this something to buffer and transpose and filter the events. In fact my journal is this filter. It records, but it attempts to filter the data to allow passage to those who stand in the light. The data become that passage. It is like being in a wood of dark trees, and first the stems turn grey, then the same stems are illumined as light. And then there is a threshold of not knowing but being: my small self gives up trying to solve issues, but touches wood.
That is neat.
The Work is the process of transforming the negative effects of life. Touching the wood is in the present, the Now.
In the Babel or Confusion of Tongues, none of us understand each other. The Conscious circle of humanity perhaps speak in tongues, like the Pentecost. When I am not in Babel, I seem to hear another person’s being. I seem to hear many tongues of being, like a river, simply as being; and respectful of their private flow. My engine stops. Every morning, my writing’s objective is to find this point again: non-interference.
“Those in the Third Consciousness get help from higher Centres – another way of understanding their apparently insoluble life-problems. … If life could be solved, then this Work could not exist. This Work is to make life possible in the sense that you cannot understand life save in terms of something else. This something else is the Work. Therefore if the Work could fall on the Work, internally we would awake.”
Observe yourselves uncritically and become more and more conscious of what is in your being and so become more and more objective to yourselves.’
This becomes phenomenological. Instead of my assumptive and headstrong bias, lay out the sensory I’s and attachments on the table; observe uncritically and be aware.
I find this hard, because anxious I obscures all the other I’s. Also, ghastly self image of being a dog with a grimacing gyrating grinning human waving the collar over my head and trying to put it on. Ah-ha. So to observe an I is to be it from inside! Empathy. Any others?
What about wading into the sea? being biffed by small salt waves.
The king is in his counting house, counting up his money, the queen is in her parlour, eating bread and honey. Play patience with the game of life.
In general today, do not isolate the I’s, enter and engage with them consciously. Let the Work act on them. Do not analyse but observe – it is extremely difficult to observe the causes of negative emotions. Ah-ha, here is one: the fallout of Romance. My romantic-I enters and invests heart and soul into proud and happy love affairs. Sooner or later that quality begins to shift, to unseat and to change – to doubt itself; to discover it was all a projection or has become one. What about the warmth, love and happiness that drives and vitalises the projection? Understand that no state is sustained. Everything arises, settles, changes and vanishes. I have been lucky to have love affairs of different kinds in the Work. Nothing is permanent.
So there are two – dog in collar and Romance-love. These are passionate, enthusiastic states of being, and I just had a hefty dose of the dog in collar. How they run together and blur!
There are the Intellectual, Emotional and Moving centres. It is helpful to recall these, ‘phenomenologically’.
There is the I who doesn’t want to upset or offend. The I who finds it complicated to speak. The bossy controlling I, who knows best. The cliff-path exploring I. The child I. The creative art I. The perfectionist I. The liar I. The lazy idle I. These for starters. They all pretend Real-I, but they are not. Real-I offers their inclusive sub stratum. And (added later) – the ASHAMED I, which lost my way home. And FEAR-I. And GUILT-i.
There is an expression: wasting force. Locate and do not waste force.
In the Emotional centre, observe the taste of the emotions, and whether I am identified or not. In the Moving centre, observe physical and subliminal tensions, and how I hurry or move. In the Intellectual centre, be aware of the kinds of thought going on, and whether I am hooked.
(Gurdjieff Movements: Photos by Amir Kaufmann)
Intellectual, Emotional and Moving centres move at different rates. You can’t apply Intellectual centre to Moving centre, because Moving centre is much slower than Intellectual centre’s rapid transactions. But you can use Moving centre with the breath and awareness of hips, soles of feet and so on … to slow down and integrate the other two into a vehicle that stays in gear. Being aware of the three centres is helpful – to discriminate them.
Gurdjieff demonstrated that people have habits in their three centres, which are very difficult to change. It is difficult to change habits in intellectual and emotional centres; it is easier to change them in the moving centre. So he taught the movements and the dances which interrupt the habit. Work on intellectual and emotional centres must accompany and integrate work on moving centre. Many years ago I practiced slowing my negative thoughts down to the physical rate of speech. Mind stuff is mercurially self-addictive like lightning. It was amazing how quickly it got bored and the drama vanished, when I spelled out the ‘hot thought’ slowly! I couldn’t complete the sentence.
One of the many disciplines for moving centre, is hatha yoga.
Another exercise: for five minutes, put consciousness into every part of body, beginning with face muscles, to prevent being identified with a stress or wasted force. “Putting consciousness into the muscle tension is both internal and external attention. Try putting it in your right thumb – then in your left.”
Now, a question is asked (p.1253) – “What is this Work about? Why do we do it?”
The Work, the Great Work, and any form of esoteric study or spiritual practice, is done because I am not alone in the world, I live and interact with others. I am thrown in the world systemically among the moving plates of the sea, and how I interact and externally consider others, makes a difference. I cannot live with myself without it – without repeatedly trying to be aware in and as the world.
I seem to embark on long follies or illusions in my relationships and romances. Their learning curve is how I am made. I try to avoid it, and cannot – I throw myself into the golden key. In each, there is good will, love and rich data, as well as shadow. There is recurrence: there may one day come an opening through recurrence.
Aquariel – an angel of the waters and of the air through the woods of life.
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