In the rush of everyday life we forget ourselves; we forget who we are; on waking in the morning we get into the habitual comfortable position that we adopt towards what we anticipate are going to be the events of the day and promptly fall asleep into them as we identify with all the outstanding issues.
Not that, in normal circumstances, we ever wake up…
Have you ever experienced the strange sensation that is sometimes called ‘alienation’? You’re doing something perfectly ordinary and suddenly you find yourself in a trance so transfixing that you’re not quite sure that you know which limb to move next; and you feel completely detached from your surroundings—they become strange to you. I had a friend who was so frightened by his experience of these moments of alienation that, with frantic behaviour, he fought against their onset; his fear was that once he got into such a trance he might not return from wherever he might have gone. On the other hand, I am disappointed that, as I grow older, such random moments, promising detachment and escape into what Richard Jefferies called ‘The Other Side’, become less and less frequent.
Accidental, chance, experiences of alienation are not Self Remembering in themselves; you can only call the experience of alienation ‘Self Remembering’ when you deliberately get yourself there in order to separate yourself from ‘Life’, stop yourself from identifying with all the bits and pieces of life, the temporary excitements, in which you lose your self.
Once upon a time feelings of alienation occurred to me spontaneously; maybe they will again, but I have found a way to get deliberately into ‘alienation’: while I’ve been writing these two paragraphs I’ve twice found myself wondering what ‘I’ am doing sitting here at the computer hands poised—to do what? In fact the names of things escaped me so that I didn’t even think of ‘the computer’ as that, not even as a ‘greyish squarish shape, and the ‘window’ wasn’t a ‘window’ and the ‘river’ outside stopped being ‘river’. I am not high on drugs nor is it the case that I am conscious that there are a million other things I could be doing right now. Though there are.
PDOuspensky stresses that Self Remembering has nothing in common with ‘self-feeling’ or ‘self-analysis’ or being in a hypnotic trance. His own first memories of chance Self Remembering came from early childhood: he discovered that the experience occurred typically
…either in new and unexpected surroundings, in a new place, among new people while travelling, for instance, when suddenly one looks about one and says: How strange! I am in this place; or in very emotional moments, in moments of danger, in moments when it is necessary to keep one’s head, when one hears one’s own voice and sees and observes oneself from the outside… I really only remember those moments of the past in which I remembered myself. Of the others I know only that they took place. I am not able wholly to revive them, to experience them again. But the moments when I had remembered myself were alive and were in no way different from the present…
Gurdjieff called this the ‘How strange I am here’ experience.
I expect that we have all had experiences like this but because we do not have a name for them we fail to recognise them as significant in being start points for taking us to a new Level of Being. It is a fundamental process in Fourth Way teaching. The more we get into Self Remembering (most easily thought of as a brief moment of awakening) the more aware we become; true consciousness at last becomes a real possibility. Self Remembering takes you beyond ‘Sleep’ or ‘Sleep in Waking Life’ to the possibility of objective consciousness; it can provide brief insights within the sleep of Waking Life and has to be worked at to become a more permanent feature of ‘Consciousness’.
To confirm the difference between ordinary everyday awareness, staggering from one event to another, (which we kid ourselves is ‘being conscious’) it’s a useful procedure to train yourself to notice the difference by making a regular choice really to focus on what you happen to be doing, deliberately saying to yourself ‘This is me here now being me here now doing…’ whatever it might be. Then let yourself get on with life as you live it till the next time you say ‘This is me here now being me here now doing…’ whatever it might be. Take time out to examine the contrast between the two states of being: what makes them different? How do you tell the difference between ordinary everyday awareness and ‘real consciousness’? and so on. Practise this regularly. It will have many practical consequences for the quality of your everyday focus, for instance…
In In Search of the Miraculous Ouspensky says ‘…by observing in yourself the appearance and the disappearance of consciousness you will inevitably see… that moments of [true] consciousness are very short and are separated by long intervals of completely unconscious, mechanical working of the machine. You will then see that you can think, feel, act, speak, work, without being conscious of it…’ This is very useful knowledge for your machine to have.
Forgetting self is being asleep; Self Remembering is being awake. ‘…we live, act and reason in deep sleep, not metaphorically but in absolute reality… we can remember ourselves when we make sufficient efforts… we can awaken…’ In Search of the Miraculous
It is interesting to get one’s mind round the idea both of ‘being asleep’ and of ‘being awake’; naturally, we want to place ourselves firmly in the ‘being awake’ category; we feel somewhat affronted by the suggestion that we are asleep. ‘The chief obstacle in the way of acquiring ‘self-consciousness consists in the fact that people think they already possess it—that they can ‘do’, have ‘will’ and permanent unchanging ‘I’ ’, says Ouspensky. People won’t be interested if you tell them that only by long difficult work on self can they get something they think they already have—so what is it like to be asleep? and what is it like to awaken? How do we know the difference?
How to identify Self Remembering, what it tastes like, feels like, looks like etc?
There are many examples of Moments of ‘Intensity’ in which writers (poets, autobiographers, playwrights, novelists) may be assumed to be engaging in Self Remembering without using the terminology. You will easily be able to recall now examples of ‘Intensity’ from your life—things that have remained in your mind for years, maybe as a result of your saying something to yourself during the original experience like, “I shall remember this moment for the rest of my life.” We are here talking about the stuff of poetry. About life as always containing the potential for poetry.
In Meetings with Remarkable Men, Gurdjieff tells how he fell out with Piotr Karpenko and a duel was decided on. Pistols & swords were hard to come by. One Tourchaninov proposed a duel by cannon on the nearby artillery range—the idea was for both G and Karpenko to lie down on the range for a day and wait for a stray shell to hit one or both of them. Thus would the duel be decided.
At the beginning I was completely stupefied, but soon the intensity of feeling which flooded through me, and the force of logical confrontation of my thought increased to such an extent that, at each moment, I thought and experienced more than during an entire twelvemonth. Simultaneously, there arose in me for the first time the ‘whole sensation of myself’, which grew stronger and stronger, and a clear realisation that through my thoughtlessness I had put myself in a situation of almost certain annihilation, because in that moment my death seemed inevitable…
Maurice Nicoll, who knew Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and for many years till his death in 1953, ran weekend seminars on their teachings, describes a similar revelation, arising in not quite such a dramatic context, in Commentary 26.4.41:
...when I heard the New Testament I could not understand what the parables meant, and nobody seemed to know or care what they meant. But once, in the Greek New Testament class on Sundays, taken by the Head Master, I dared to ask, in spite of my stammering, what some parable meant. The answer was so confused that I actually experienced my first moment of consciousness—that is I suddenly realised that no one knew anything. This is a definite experience and was my first experience of Self Remembering—the second being the sudden realisation that no one knew what I was thinking—and from that moment I began to think for myself, or rather knew that I could. As you know, all moments of real Self Remembering stand out for ever in one’s inner life; one’s real life is not outer events but inner states. I remember so clearly this classroom, the high windows constructed so that we could not see out of them, the desks, the platform on which the Head Master sat, his scholarly thin face, his nervous habits of twitching his mouth and jerking his hands—and suddenly this inner revelation of knowing that he knew nothing—nothing, that is, about anything that really mattered. This was the first inner liberation from the power of external life. From that time I knew for certain—and that always means by inner individual authentic perception which is the only source of real knowledge—that all my loathing of religion as it was taught me was right. And although one always goes to sleep again after a moment of real Self Remembering, and often for years, yet such moments of consciousness stand always in Higher parts of centres and remain and await, as it were, the further moments of realising, more consciously what life actually is—that is to say, they are never lost, and, although forgotten in one way, stand in the background of yourself always, and come forward at critical moments to guard you…
Ouspensky’s own account of a similar experience
From In Search of the Miraculous:-
…when I began to learn to divide attention, I saw that self-remembering gave wonderful sensations which, in a natural way, that is, by themselves, come to us only very seldom and in exceptional conditions. Thus, for instance, at that time I used very much to like to wander through St. Petersburg at night and to ‘sense’ the houses and the streets. St. Petersburg is full of these strange sensations. Houses, especially old houses, were quite alive, I all but spoke to them. There was no ‘imagination’ in it. I did not think of anything, I simply walked along while trying to remember myself and looked about; the sensations came by themselves…
Sometimes self-remembering was not successful; at other times it was accompanied by curious observations. I was once walking along the Liteiny towards the Nevsky, and in spite of all my efforts I was unable to keep my attention on self-remembering. The noise, movement, everything distracted me. Every minute I lost the thread of attention, found it again, and then lost it again. At last I felt a kind of ridiculous irritation with myself and I turned into the street on the left having firmly decided to keep my attention on the fact that I would remember myself at least for some time, at any rate until I reached the following street. I reached the Nadejdinskaya without losing the thread of attention except, perhaps, for short moments. Then I again turned towards the Nevsky realizing that, in quiet streets, it was easier for me not to lose the line of thought and wishing therefore to test myself in more noisy streets. I reached the Nevsky still remembering myself, and was already beginning to experience the strange emotional state of inner peace and confidence which comes after great efforts of this kind. Just round the corner on the Nevsky was a tobacconist’s shop where they made my cigarettes. Still remembering myself I thought I would call there and order some cigarettes.
Two hours later I woke up in the Tavricheskaya, that is, far away… The sensation of awakening was extraordinarily vivid. I can almost say that I came to. I remembered everything at once. How I had been walking along the Nadejdinskaya, how I had been remembering myself, how I had thought about cigarettes, and how at this thought I seemed all at once to fall and disappear into a deep sleep.
At the same time, while immersed in this sleep, I had continued to perform consistent and expedient actions. I left the tobacconist, called at my flat in the Liteiny, telephoned to the printers. I wrote two letters. Then again I went out of the house. I walked on the left side of the Nevsky up to the Gostinoy Dvor intending to go to the Offitzerskaya. Then I had changed my mind as it was getting late… And on the way while driving along the Tavricheskaya I began to feel a strange uneasiness, as though I had forgotten something. And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself .
I spoke of my observations and deductions to the people in our group as well as to my various literary friends and others. I told them that this was the centre of gravity of the whole system and of all work on oneself; that now work on oneself was not [just] empty words but a real fact full of significance… I said that European and Western psychology in general had over-looked a fact of tremendous importance, namely, that we do not re- member ourselves; that we live and act and reason in deep sleep, not metaphorically but in absolute reality. And also that, at the same time, we can remember ourselves if we make sufficient efforts, that we can awaken.
And here is Hilaire Belloc (The Mowing of a Field from a brilliant book of essays, Hills and the Sea):-
Next morning, before it was yet broad day, I awoke, and thought of the mowing. The birds were already chattering in the trees beside my window, all except the nightingale, which had left and flown away to the Weald, where he sings all summer by day as well as by night in the oaks and the hazel spinneys, and especially along the little river Adur, one of the rivers of the Weald. The birds and the thought of the mowing had awakened me, and I went down the stairs and along the stone floors to where I could find a scythe; and when I took it from its nail, I remembered how, fourteen years ago, I had last gone out with my scythe, just so, into the fields at morning. In between that day and this were many things, cities and armies and a confusion of books, mountains and the desert, and horrible great breadths of sea.
For many years, between the ages of around six till fourteen, I had a feeling that somewhere in the world there would be a hill, a grassy slope downwards, with steam trains running along the bottom of it and a large view across open countryside reaching to other hills on the horizon. I could not figure out whether I had already been there or whether it was part of a dream. I often used to go into this trance and watch the steam train and its carriages with the HOW STRANGE I AM HERE feeling. So then, one day in my early teens, I had climbed the chalk track up Box Hill and was walking past the man who asked to be buried upside down because he believed that in the next world we came out head down thus ensuring that he’d be the right way up in his afterlife when I had a curious feeling that I was walking into my dream-scene; sure enough, arriving at the Belvedere, there it was—grassy slope downwards, with steam trains running along the bottom of it and a large view across open countryside reaching to other hills on the horizon. This was me being me there and then encapsulating all my previous hill-trances. This is the state of self-remembering. The whole sensation of myself. My self.
Get yourself into a comfortable position and think HOW STRANGE I AM HERE!
…in whatever position you happen to be, in whatever surroundings… and focus on separating yourself out from what’s around you by saying to yourself HOW STRANGE I AM HERE! Without stopping to think exactly what happened to you, write down your thoughts, feelings, ideas, conclusions. Then repeat the exercise frequently, deliberately focussing on your self as thinker/experiencer. SELF-REMEMBER in the process of thinking/feeling etc.
You’ll be able to detect the difference between thinking/feeling while Self Remembering and just thinking/feeling in the ordinary way when you repeat the exercise frequently. When you really know that you cannot remember yourself continuously, you are already near to the understanding of your being which is ‘being asleep’. When you suddenly remember that you have forgotten to remember yourself, that’s when learning begins… In customary conditions we forget ourselves. When you notice that you are not Self Remembering that’s great because only then can you Self Remember!
Ouspensky’s discovery about divided attention has important implications for anybody who would like to improve their ability to remember things in general: what one had to do was to direct attention on oneself ‘without weakening or obliterating the attention directed on something else…’ In other words, it is possible and desirable to engage in Self Remembering while in the midst of your normal everyday activities. Ouspensky stresses that Self Remembering has nothing in common with ‘self-feeling’ or ‘self-analysis’ or being in a hypnotic trance. His own first memories of chance Self Remembering came from early childhood: he discovered that the experience occurred typically ‘…either in new and unexpected surroundings, in a new place, among new people while travelling, for instance, when suddenly one looks about one and says: How strange! I, and in this place; or in very emotional moments, in moments of danger, in moments when it is necessary to keep one’s head, when one hears one’s own voice and sees and observes oneself from the outside… I really only remember those moments of the past in which I remembered myself. Of the others I know only that they took place. I am not able wholly to revive them, to experience them again. But the moments when I had remembered myself were alive and were in no way different from the present…’
You could decide to find yourself in an unexpected place or situation and begin to notice unusual circumstances to produce the “I am here now” experience; highlight the emotional shock at the moment.
The Fourth Way System…
(which is not a system) is an aid to Self Remembering; Self Remembering is essential to coming to terms with the System… Self Remembering while studying the System is the only way to attain to some kind of objectivity about it and to remain detached from it sufficiently to be able to wonder how it applies to your own life; attachment/detachment enables you to take ideas on board.
What is it that keeps us asleep?
Identification—with career, with possessions, with ambition, money, politics, religious systems, spectator sport, illness, family, children, pets, with anything that you consider to be uniquely part of you, something which to be without would make you feel diminished in some way.
Q: What is it gets us on the road to awakening?
A: Self Remembering, which helps us to separate ourselves from what we imagine to be our reality, to disidentify.
Ouspensky writes that if you want to Self Remember the best thing is not to think of yourself but to be yourself. Self Remembering = being aware of self, the undivided feeling of I-ness. Self Remembering is focussing by directing your attention both on self and on the experience you happen to be undergoing.
How can we possibly get to the undivided feeling of I-ness, of Real-I, unless we have already had a taste for it if ever so fleeting? Early childhood experiences of alienation may have provided us with an inkling of what it was like to operate out of pure essence but, surrounded by Personality events as we inevitably are when we get to adulthood we have to adopt some more determined and, on the face of it, harsh exercises ; these may appear to be cutting us off from all that we hold most dear—from things which we imagine are an inescapable part of what it is to be ‘me’. You can always slip back into holding opinions, thinking profoundly about the way the world is, reading the newspaper with interest, listening to the radio, watching TV, if you wish; everybody has opinions but it’s interesting to consider how much these opinions take you into unreality, into imagination: each attitude or opinion you hold is a picture of yourself taking a stance, pontificating, being arrogant, making the unformulated assumption that you know far more about the world and its carryings on than, given your limited perspective, you can possibly know.
Our ordinary habit is to talk without discrimination, without noticing that we are giving voice to ideas that we can’t possibly know enough about to have a sensible view. Practising Self Remembering can be strengthened every time you know for sure that in a single moment you can choose to speak or not to speak. Not talking is exercising Will. If, given the amount of talking that you do, this is likely to be difficult for you, that’s good because the advice is to Self Remember in a variety of circumstances including especially those which you know will be most difficult for you.