You have no business to believe me. I ask you to believe nothing that you cannot verify for yourself… If you have not a critical mind, your visit here is useless. GIGurdjieff
In the beginning it feels like we cannot but choose to believe certain things: that food will appear from somewhere, bottle or breast; that when we scream somebody will pick us up, if we’re lucky, and comfort us; that when we take to crawling around the floor we will get somewhere other than where we were before.
Then we get things stuck on us: Father Xmas, God, a belief in The Inevitability of Periodic Reciprocal Destruction, the need to pay taxes to support it, the requirement to go to school, selling our souls as wage slaves to the Power Possessors. We become brainwashed into believing all sorts of wacky things and we quite quickly learn to have an uncritical mind because it’s altogether more comfortable and safer to go along with the herd. Anything for a quiet life.
We learn one particular program above all: ‘This is how you have to do things—it’s how they’ve always been done…’; it’s very rare that anybody tells us we could operate with a completely different program—‘You can do things any which way you choose…’
Then we start believing what we read; a school dishes out text books on the understanding that we have to believe what we read and to learn it like a parrot or we’ll fail our exams.
There’s a strange trait in our psyche, says Gurdjieff in Beelzebub—‘that of being satisfied with whatever Smith or Brown says without trying to know more… [this became rooted in us] long ago, and now [we] no longer make the least effort to know anything that can be understood solely by [our] own active reflection…’ This process is the result of the inner evil god called ‘self-calming’, says Gurdjieff, or Anything for a Quiet Life…
Maybe it’s not such a strange trait—the pressure’s on.
Then, unfortunately it’s all too easy to hide behind a pretence of active reflection, easy to imagine that you stand out from the herd.
People ‘believe everything anybody says instead of believing only what they have been able to verify by their own sane deliberation… they no longer make the least effort to know anything that can be understood solely by their own active reflection…’ There are pretenders who like to imagine that they are engaging in acts of profound verification.
Maybe I am one such…
Three Key Notions
Against all this, Gurdjieff had crystallised in his ‘common presence’ during his ‘preparatory age’ three key notions:-
• one deriving from his dying grandmother’s advice, “In life never do as others do… Either do nothing—just go to school—or do something nobody else does…”
• as a result of that he determined to learn the real causes of all things and to go into the learning with gusto…
• …when you go on a spree go the whole hog, including the postage…
This must be done so that a certain something should flow through your whole presence, settling forever in every atom comprising it, in order to acquire ‘vivifyingness’ which I take to be a living factor that occurs when your whole being is engaged: all ‘Centres’ alive & kicking in synch, your whole brain & body fired up, neo-cortex (=Intellectual ‘Centre’), limbic area (=Emotional Centre), and reptile system (=Moving Centre) working together; able to think, feel and act in equal measure. (See the Triune Brain, Paul Maclean 1960-ish)
What would things have been like if you had decided to let Gurdjieff’s three key notions inform your Being at an early age? Perhaps if you had done so by now you would have been able to verify their usefulness (or otherwise) for yourself…
What is Verification?
Perhaps it’s simply the activity of systematically trying something out for yourself and holding yourself to it? Keats in Letter 123: ‘…Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced….’
As it happens, I am inclined to think that I had already gone through Gurdjieff’s three key notions by the time I first read Beelzebub in the 1980’s. His three bits of psycho-data chimed with me as soon as I read them—it was a bit like reading the book of myself; I recognised what he said as having already worked for me—it was how I had run my life for forty years. Verification post facto. Some had called it ‘being bloody-minded’; I asserted, with Thoreau, that I was never ever out of step—simply that I was marching to the sound of a different drum.
• When I was ten, I heard my own grandmother tell my despairing mother, for reassurance I suppose, that I’d grow out of all my manifestations of ‘being awkward’ by the time I was thirty. This determined my resolve never to grow out of them.
• Going the Whole Hog… One example. When I did two years so-called ‘National Service’ I developed a great contempt for the incompetent (but very likeable) officers, commissioned and non-commisioned, I rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis; the experience turned me into a pacifist via the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; this led to non-violence towards all creatures and I became a vegetarian and, ultimately a Tolstoyan anarchist. This was about following an argument to its very (to me) logical conclusion, never mind the postage…
• I developed an intellectual urge to get to the bottom of things; it was never enough to go along with the way things seemed to be, the way they are presented in the media. There was a man in an office I passed my time in, Andrew Merritt—1955—oh where are you now, Andrew?—who showed me how to get to the bottom of things literally by getting hold of a great fat file full of papers, letters, calculations that overwhelmed me and tipping it all out on the desk to start from the beginning, to reconstruct its whole story. I see him doing it now… This action on its own has served as an anchor for a way of unpicking the way things are.
I Looked Up to Andrew Merritt
You can verify the truth of something by taking what somebody with a reputation and some kind of credentials says and test it out for yourself. ‘So and so says so…’—they may have universal credibility but you need to find out how they have achieved it.
This happened by reverse in my relationship with Gurdjieff, at least to start with—I had already done what he suggested and found that his own description presented me with a confirmation that my way of dealing with the world, though obviously far from unique, worked. It led, I think, to at least the possibility of my being a Good Householder: applying his principles, I had achieved ‘success’ in ordinary life terms—held down a job and paid off the mortgage— but I was left with a real nagging feeling that ‘There Must Be Something More to Life Than This’—the qualification for being a candidate for following the 4th Way according to Ouspensky…
I am reminded of the Autodidact in Sartre’s Nausea who was only satisfied with something he was thinking when he discovered that some ‘real writer’ had already committed to paper what he (the Autodidact) thought he had discovered for himself.
It seemed that I was already prepared to accept the sense in Gurdjieff’s thinking at the beginning of Beelzebub; then I discovered that he also asserted, amongst other things, that we are not a Unity—there is no Unified-I—we are composed of many ‘I’s. Because I respected him through my own experience of the three key notions I had to find out what he meant by this—maybe this would work for me as well. Since Gurdjieff said one thing that rang true for me, maybe this would make sense too. This is called putting a provisional trust in an author or thinker until you’ve verified what they say for yourself.
Much later I learned to come to terms with Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People—seek first to understand before ever trying to make yourself understood. I take this to be a very important part of the process of verification—find out what somebody means before expressing your own way of thinking about whatever it might be: simply proclaiming what you think about it may block progress in understanding. I conceived a desperate need to understand the following from In Search of the Miraculous:-
Very often, almost at every talk, G. returned to the absence of unity in human beings. “One of our important mistakes,” he said, “one which must be remembered, is our illusion in regard to ‘I’…”
…I changes as quickly as thoughts, feelings, and moods, and we make a profound mistake in considering ourselves to be always one and the same person; in reality we are always a different person, not the one we were a moment ago. There is no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says ‘I.’ And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole person, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole. …But our every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept. …There are… hundreds and thousands of separate small I’s, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, we say or think ‘I.’ And each time the I is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. We are a plurality.
‘Man’s name is legion’…
The alternation of I’s, their continual obvious struggle for supremacy, is controlled [for example] by accidental external influences. Warmth, sunshine, fine weather, immediately call up a whole group of I’s. Cold, fog, rain, call up another group of I’s, other associations, other feelings, other actions. [As things stand]…there is nothing in us able to control this change of ‘I’s—we do not notice, or know of it; we live always in the last I we happened to be in. Some
I’s, of course, are stronger than others. But it is not their own conscious strength; they have been created by the strength of accidents or mechanical external stimuli. Education, imitation, reading, the hypnotism of religion, caste, and traditions, or the glamour of new slogans, create very strong I’s in Personality, which dominate whole series of other, weaker, I’s. But their strength is the strength of the ‘rolls’ in the centers. And all I’s making up Personality have the same origin as these ‘rolls’; they are the results of external influences; and both are set in motion and controlled by fresh external influences…
Boosting the Ego
Of course, the Western psychological tradition has been responsible for crystallising in us the idea that the ‘I’—the ego—is there to be strengthened at all costs. Know thyself, to thine own self be true, self-actualisation as the pinnacle of the hierarchy. There’s an unquestioning acceptance of some single Unified-I to which we are supposed pay earnest attention. So it’s not that easy to take the concept of Multiple-I’s on board—it needs a good deal of one’s own active reflection and application.
In response to the mantra ‘Know thyself’, Gurdjieff would probably have us ask, “Which self?” Many selves, many ‘I’s…
Being already familiar with the distinction GHMead drew between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’—an observer looking with relative objectivity at the antics of what it was observing—I was again already halfway there.
William James has been a hero of mine since adolescence. I—provocative-I— once deliberately incurred the wrath of a teacher in East London Polytechnic by asserting that you didn’t need to read anything about psychology after William James, whose Textbook of Psychology came out in 1892. He has everything, including things that one might want to refine and qualify; since his time there has been a crossing of swords between Behaviourists and Field Theorists and a great improvement in techniques of measurement and testing and the expert reduction of things to statistical cobblers; but all the starting points are in James, including what amounts to stuff about Multiple-I’s.
The Me and the I
Whatever I may be thinking of, I am always at the same time more or less aware of myself, of my personal existence. At the same time it is I who am aware; so that the total self of me, being as it were duplex, partly known and partly knower, partly object and partly subject, must have two aspects discriminated in it, of which for shortness we may call one the Me and the other the I. I call these ‘discriminated aspects’, and not separate things, because the identity of I with me, even in the very act of their discrimination, is perhaps… [just] common-sense, and must not be undermined by terminology…
The Empirical Self or Me
Between… me and… mine the line is difficult to draw. We feel and act about certain things that are ours very much as we feel and act about ourselves. Our fame, our children, the work of our hands, may be as dear to us as our bodies are, and arouse the same feelings and the same acts of reprisal if attacked. And our bodies themselves, are they simply ours, or are they us?
We see then that we are dealing with a fluctuating material; the same object being sometimes treated as a part of me, at other times as simply mine, and then again as if I had nothing to do with it at all. In its widest possible sense, however, the Me is the sum total of all that you can call yours, not only your body and your psychic powers, but your clothes and your house, your family, your ancestors and friends, your reputation and works, your lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give you the same emotions. If they wax and prosper, you feel triumphant; if they dwindle and die away, you feel cast down—not necessarily in the same degree for each thing, but in much the same way for all.
In Gurdjieff’s terms what James is talking about here is identification: in ordinary life more or less everything is identification; we sink our selves in what we identify with; in doing so we lose our selves and become mechanically attached to things which do not last. Gurdjieff said: ‘It is difficult to free oneself from identifying because you naturally become more easily identified with the things that interest you most, to which you give your time, your work, your attention. Be merciless with yourself; do not be afraid of seeing all the subtle and hidden forms which identifying takes…’ (ISOTM p150) Recognising the things with which you are identified is the first step towards being able to disidentify in order to find your Real-I.
William James sets off on the road towards the concept of Multiple-I’s by suggesting the categories of Material-I, Social-I and Spiritual-I. What stops him from going all the way, it seems to me, is that he chooses to refer to the categories as representing an object of contemplation (the ‘me’) rather than subjects into which we can step at will, without making the necessary adjustments, viz Material-me, Social-me and Spiritual-me. Here are further examples of identification and evidence of Multiple-I’s:-
The Material Me
The body is the innermost part of the material me in each of us; and certain parts of the body seem more intimately ours than the rest. The clothes come next. The old saying that the human person is composed of three parts—soul, body and clothes—is more than a joke. We so appropriate our clothes and identify ourselves with them that there are few of us who, if asked to choose between having a beautiful body clad in raiment perpetually shabby and unclean, and having an ugly and blemished form always spotlessly attired, would not hesitate a moment before making a decisive reply. Next, our immediate family is a part of ourselves.
Body-I, particular parts of body-I, clothes-I, family-I, son-I, daughter-I…
Our father and mother, our wife/husband and babes, are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. When they die, a part of our very selves is gone. If they do anything wrong, it is our shame. If they are insulted, our anger flashes forth as readily as if we stood in their place. Our home comes next. Its scenes are part of our life; its aspects awaken the tenderest feelings of affection; and we do not easily forgive the stranger, who, in visiting it, finds fault with its arrangements or treats it with contempt. All these different things are the objects of instinctive preferences coupled with the most important practical interests of life. We all have a blind impulse to watch over our body, to deck it with clothing of an ornamental sort, to cherish parents, wife, and babes, and to find for ourselves a house of our own which we may live in and ‘improve’.
An equally instinctive impulse drives us to collect property; and the collections thus us made become, with different degrees of intimacy, parts of our empirical selves. The parts of our wealth most intimately ours are those which are saturated with our labour. There are few people who would not feel personally annihilated if a life-long construction of their hands or brains—say an entomological collection or an extensive work in manuscript—were suddenly swept away. The miser feels similarly towards his gold; and although it is true that a part of our depression at the loss of possessions is due to our feeling that we must now go without certain goods that we expected the possessions to bring in their train, yet in every case there remains, over and above this, a sense of the shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness, which is a psychological phenomenon by itself…
The Social Me
Our social me is the recognition which we get from our mates. We are not only gregarious animals, liking to be in sight of our fellows, but we have an innate propensity to get ourselves noticed, and noticed favourably, by our kind. No more fiendish punishment could be devised… than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof. If no one turned round when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead’, and acted as if we were non-existing things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us…
Properly speaking, you have as many social selves as there are individuals who recognise you and carry an image of you in their mind… You have as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of people about whose opinion you care. You generally show a different side of yourself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his ‘tough’ young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club-companions, to our customers as to the labourers we employ, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends. From this there results what practically is a division of the human being into several selves…
This is the closest William James gets to the concept of Multiple-I’s—but how close!
The most peculiar social self which one is apt to have is in the mind of the person one is in love with. The good or bad fortunes of this self cause the most intense elation and dejection—unreasonable enough as measured by every other standard than that of the organic feeling of the individual. To your own consciousness you are not, so long as this particular social self fails to get recognition, and when it is recognised your contentment passes all bounds.
Your fame, good or bad, and your honour or dishonour, are names that can be applied to one of your social selves… It is your image in the eyes of your own set, which exalts or condemns as you conform or not to certain requirements that may not be made of one in another walk of life…
The Spiritual Me
By the ‘spiritual me’, I mean no one in particular of my passing states of consciousness. I mean rather the entire collection of my states of consciousness, my psychic faculties… This collection can at any moment become an object to my thought… When we think of ourselves as thinkers, all the other ingredients of our me seem relatively external possessions… The more active-feeling states of consciousness are the central portions of the spiritual life. The very core and nucleus of our self, as we know it, the very sanctuary of our life, is the sense of activity which certain inner states possess. This sense of activity is often held to be a direct revelation of the living substance of our Soul… I wish now only to lay down the peculiar internality of whatever states possess this quality of seeming to be active. It is as if they went out to meet all the other elements of our experience.
Now all this remains an inert idea unless you take steps to figure out what it might mean to you. An ‘inert idea’ is ANWhitehead’s concept described in his The Aims of Education; it is an idea that is ‘merely received into the mind without being utilised, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations…’ ANWhitehead’s concept in itself remained an ‘inert idea’ for me until, in his own terms, I made it my own possession—made it into a working hypothesis about how to make an idea or a bit of thinking into something that makes an impact or works in a context. When you make an idea your own you start figuring out how it can be used; you learn to verify it pragmatically.
There’s a simplistic, person-in-the-street view that ‘Truth’ must somehow be an accurate copy of what is without dispute the case; ideas must correspond with what they are concerned with. William James’ pragmatism combines a correspondence theory of truth with the far more subtle coherence theory of truth. In the verifying process, we can ask how do thoughts and statements correspond with the way things are, but we can also ask how do things ‘hang together’, cohere, or fit as pieces of a puzzle might fit together; a careful synthesis of both methodologies is then verified by feedback, by the observed results of the application of an idea to actual practice
This also fits what I call Gurdjieff’s KUB model.
It works like this: lots of Knowledge, not much working it into your Being = little in the way of Understanding; high-class Being (saint, President or Pope), not much Knowledge = little in the way of Understanding; much Knowledge deeply related to Being and relying on systemic feedback for its development = a great deal in the way of Understanding.
Keats again: ‘…axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses. We read fine things but never feel them to the full until we have gone the same steps as the author… I compare human life to a large Mansion of Many Apartments, two of which only I can describe; the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me…’ (Letter 64)
The more one finds support for practice the more certain one becomes of being on the right track. You have a hunch that x is the case; you find that others have spent a good deal of time researching what you have started to accept. This adds power & scope to what you have come to believe.
One word for Knowledge
There’s the same old problem with the words we have at our disposal…
We have one word for ‘knowledge’ and it comes about therefore that without thinking about it we presuppose that all knowledge is of a piece. It isn’t.
Knowledge is systemic; in fact there’s probably no such thing as the noun ‘Knowledge’— there are simply acts of knowing. Each stage in the system adds something to the original mere registering phase; subsequent circuits are informed by the first registration and so a sense impression on the second and third and fourth time becomes vivified into a different kind of experience. As JGBennett suggests coming to terms with ideas is a matter of gradual approximation to the way things really are; the more we keep going the closer we get to Being-congruence with things as they really are.
Conversion of the system of Knowledge into I-terms makes the point that it’s not Knowledge that changes; it’s the ‘I’ that we choose to be in when looking at the nature of experience that changes things.
The acquisition of the things we think we know is a systemic process; everything being connected there is a constant ‘reciprocal feeding’ and ‘world maintenance’ through the ‘universal exchange of substances’. We have no word for this process so Gurdjieff (who may be described as the first systems thinker) calls it iraniranumange. A systemic process goes round and round making a richer picture on each circuit. And there are systems within systems… There are emergent properties which become part of the process.
All systems have ‘Emergent Properties’ (‘EP’ in this diagram)—systems have dynamic properties.
Ideally this system should be painted on a large playground where it could be danced around with a chosen sense-impression in mind. In that way the process would be ‘vivified’ throughout the whole of your Being, thought, felt and moved through. Registering-I, Ordering-I, Making-information-I, Remembering-I, Having-an-intention-I, Attending-I, Reflecting-I, Taking-action-I… And so on…
The Concept of I-tags
Mainstream psychologist, Brian Lancaster (Mind, Brain & Human Consciousness) provides the useful neologism, ‘I-tag’, for the way we attach I-ness to each particle of remembering—I-tags are tickets to dangle on all the millions of bits of experience, momentary trances, in which you can identify ‘I-ness’ when you set your mind to it. All the little bits of experience that we’ve had come back to us complete with a sensation of I-ness: I-by-the-seaside, I-swotting-for-exams, I-buying-a-first-house, I-in-a-whole-series-of-relationships-some-more-special-than-others.
…memory images, or [memory patternings] , come complete with their ‘I-tags’. These are the basic data from which our sense of identity is constructed. In any given moment, a number of such ‘I-tags’ are presumably activated as sensory systems interact with memory… Thus I may be holding a pen which triggers one ‘I-tag’, sitting by a familiar plant, another ‘I-tag’, listening to a favourite piece of music, a third ‘I-tag’—and so on. Each ‘I-tag’ embodies my past identity state when the given entity was experienced previously. We can envisage these many ‘I-tags , as constituting a plane of the mind, which I shall call the identity plane. I use the term ‘plane’ here in a metaphorical sense only. The mind cannot be described literally in geometrical terms since it has no literal spatial attributes. Neither is the identity plane to be construed as tied to a particular plane or level within the brain. It is merely a convenient label for the sense of identity as it is generated through the processes I have discussed.
Now it is quite clear that we do not experience ourselves as being fragmented in the way that the foregoing discussion might imply. Our sense of identity is that of a single, unified and continuous ‘I’ [which is] something of an illusion… The unified ‘I’ is an entity constructed from the fragmented identity plane to make retrospective sense of mental events…
The identity plane comprises an endless flux of ‘I-tags’ from which ‘I’ is continually constructed. Furthermore, the current ‘I’ in any given moment becomes the ‘I-tag’ attached to new memories of the present scene. Again, the point is that ‘I’ never remains the same. This is a highly dynamic process whereby ‘I-tags’ are continually being drawn from memory, and, as the present scene itself enters memory, updated in memory…
Of course, ‘I’ is generated by internal inputs as well as external ones. In other words, ‘I’ think as well as perceive. Thinking is not so very different from perceiving… Both involve logical deductions on the basis of given data. In the terms employed here, thinking is the psychological process of activating memory images and manipulating them one to another. Perception involves exactly the same process but takes place in relation to sensory data.
If we follow the argument further, it is not actually the case that ‘I’ think. Rather, each memory image that is activated during thought contributes its ‘I-tag’ to the ongoing construction of ‘I’. ‘I’ is actually a product of thought, not the master of it. Interestingly enough, it further follows that if thinking were genuinely to create new connections and forms, there would necessarily be an attenuation of ‘I’. ‘I-tags’ embody my connection to past images, but a new image has no ‘I-tag’. Therefore, for the time that a new image engages the mind, there can be no ‘I’. This is indeed the case in true creativity. As reported by those who have attempted to reflect on their own creativity, the creative moments seem to come in some twilight zone of preconsciousness… this point is best left to the artists themselves. In answering a question concerning the creativity in her own poetry, [the American poet] Amy Lowell writes
…my own poems… I know as little of how they are made as I do of anyone else’s. What I do know about them is only a millionth part of what there must be to know. I meet them where they touch consciousness, and that is already a considerable distance along the road of evolution.
It may be argued that this moment of creative inspiration is the only time when we truly exist in the present, when we are not simply rehashing the past. In other words, whenever ‘I’ am, past associations are necessarily cloud-ing the present moment. Of course, as soon as the poet reflects upon the primary intuition, ‘I’ is reconstituted and can begin to work on forming the poem.
[We are left wondering if] it is possible to transcend the identity plane, which will engender a new psychological state (an ‘altered state of consciousness’). [Arguably] the moment of creativity is just such a moment of transcendence. Generally speaking, it is the fragmentation of the identity plane which constitutes the major block to realization of our highest potential, as in creativity. On account of the identity plane being an amalgam of ‘I-tags’, it is essentially conservative; it always seeks to relate to the present in terms of past identities. Memory is indeed the master here and consequently, whenever ‘I’ am, I am actually in the past. Transcendence of the identity plane is achieved through awareness of the present moment, and that means awareness of becoming.
[You might very well] object that this model seems divorced from experience. We experience ourselves as a single self, continuous and whole, and memory is our servant, not a master. However, we must be careful to distinguish the personality characteristics of ‘I’ from the feeling of ‘I’. We do have an enduring feeling of selfhood… That is not in question. But the substance of ‘I’ is open to doubt.
[You might] like to consider this point [by means] of an experiential exercise. Consider the nature of your ‘self. As you attempt to specify its nature, you will, no doubt, bring various aspects to mind. The exercise is one of detaching from each of these aspects in turn. What remains as you strip them away? Is there some core you can experience beyond the various aspects you have specified? You may consider relationships, for example. Thus you probably define yourself in part as so-and-so’s son, brother, sister, wife, husband and so on. Is it possible to be yourself irrespective of those relationships? What about career, status, possessions and so on? More fundamentally, what about dispositions and personal skills? Can you be the same ‘I’ [temporarily] stripped of those qualities of which you are proud…?
This is an exercise in imagination, but that does not make it any less important in psychological terms. The aim of the exercise is really that of a meditative contemplation of self. Indeed, experience of meditation is probably necessary for the reader to gain the insight into self at issue here.
It is possible to strip away all the aspects (and more) mentioned above. Eventually you will be left with the feeling of ‘I’. Not this or that aspect, just a feeling which cannot be put into words. And then… awareness. Simple Being.
Two Things in Relation to MULTIPLICITY
First, there is the issue of control…
Although Unified-I has the impression that it is in control… this is often not the case. Actions are planned and executed from outside of ‘I’, but nevertheless there is an ‘I’ that deems itself in control; it interprets events accordingly and thereby furthers its raison d’etre.
Second, on the subject of consciousness…
…the identity plane is one plane of mind which accounts for the unified nature of our experience of self, the stream of consciousness. However, this plane is constellated as a shifting amalgam of ‘I-tags’ and, therefore, its contents are not unified and are only a sub-set of mental activity ongoing at any one time. It is ‘I’ that is multiple and partial, not consciousness or Being.
The identity plane is conceived of as a shifting array of ‘I-tags’, each of which embodies one’s past personal connection to present impressions. From these, the sense of a single ‘I’ is generated through the work of the interpreter-I. Present impressions (which include feelings as well as sensations and thoughts) are interpreted as emanating from a single locus of control— ‘I’. Although this ‘I’ is constructed anew each moment, the impetus of the interpreter is necessarily towards continuity. That is to say, the raison d’etre of the interpreter is to generate consistent explanations of events and, complementarily, a consistent focus for those explanations —’I’. Therefore the interpreter generates a bridge between successive constructions of ‘I’. The explanations of the interpreter are set in terms of the laws of causation, which bring about the experience of time as we know it and the experience of the ‘stream of consciousness’.
We may assume that ‘I-tags’ themselves are constellated into groupings, giving rise to what have been called ‘subpersonalities’. Thus, although ‘I’ is constructed anew each moment, it tends to fall back on familiar ground by embodying one or another predominant image we have of ourselves. Rowan defines a subpersonality as ‘a semi-permanent and semi-autonomous region of the personality capable of acting as a person’, and suggests that an average person displays between four and nine such subpersonalities.
We may become aware of the multiplicity of ‘I’s through the internal dialogue by which they communicate and by means of which they are maintained. Thus, in general, we may find that the inner commentary that seems to be with us most of the time can be related to different characters, one perhaps a parental authority figure, one a hedonist, another a priestly figure and so on. Each delivers its lines to one of its colleagues in an attempt to assert its will. It can be useful to get to know these foci of inner dialogue in order to achieve greater integration of self…
Many Modes of Verification
Verification by repetition, by accumulating evidence to support a point of view, by feeling things on the pulse. This obviously does not ensure the ultimate validity of whatever it might be but it provides an added imperative to figuring out why so many people in so many different contexts have come to the conclusion they have come to.
Even so, a good question to ask is ‘What if x were true?’ What would be the practical consequences? One might choose to believe x and notice carefully what happens as a consequence of adopting the belief. It is always safe enough to put x in brackets and work with it for the time being. If it works out in practice then you can make other decisions (based on the noting of feedback) to fit into your general sense of reality.
This process may seem arduous and long-winded especially when one takes seriously the need to check it out from one’s whole Being: asking how does it fit my intellectual system, does it feel right, how does it work out in practice?— this could go on for many moons. This fits Gurdjieff’s injunction to engage in Being-partdolgduty—all Centres, all parts of the brain working together so that whatever one looks at becomes self-verifying through Conscious labour and intentional suffering… maybe over a period of many years.
How Would You Deal with This?
What is the practical application of the concept of Multiple-I’s? A simple Case Study may help verification.
I spent an afternoon with a man who was out on the very edge of things. He had been very good at his job as a top executive in a local council organisation but was choosing to find his work role very stressful as a result of being overlooked for promotion and finding himself with a newly appointed female boss for whom he was developing a deep resentment. He was stuck in a vicious circle of a system:-
First thing I noted was that the whole thing had been tipped into an abstraction: it seemed like he was stuck in the glutinous jelly of a word that carried no real meaning—as long as he considered himself to be harbouring ‘resentment’ nothing would happen, no progress would be possible.
I got him to experience for me how good he was at his job; I had him step into Being-good-at-my-job-I and figure out all the ‘I’s that could be associated with that—all the specific bits of behaviour (or ‘I’s) that had resulted in his being respected for what he did in an executive kind of way—Developing-projects-I, Coaching-colleagues-I, Getting-things-done-on-time-I, Relating-to-outside-bodies-I.
Then I got him to step into Feeling-resentful-at-the-new-woman-boss-I. It turned out that it was not just that she was a woman but that she also lived in a Big House and owned a horse which she rode about the estate—Feeling-resentful-about-specific-indications-of-success-I.
To cut the story of the long afternoon short, it turned out that Resenting-I, Being-resentful-I, had been part of this man’s repertoire for many years. The only time when he had not been in Feeling-resentful-I was when he was at college twenty years before. There, during our exploration, he discovered a Being-open-to-experience-I, Having-life-stretched-out-in-front-of-him-I. Even in his apparently successful marriage, he slipped into Feeling-resentful-I when he thought about how his wife & children got in the way of what he really wanted to do.
Cataloguing his ‘I’s as we went, laying them out on the floor recorded on bits of paper, we arrived back in infant school and it turned out that this was where, quite without his realising it, it had all started.
He had been very ill during his second year at school and his female teacher had decided that he should be held back for a year. This he deeply resented and attributed bloody-minded malice to the teacher. This generalised into Believing-that-all-women-have-it-in-for-me-I, a part of him that in some way blighted things for him for many years.
I talked to him about the idea that all human behaviour has some kind of positive intention behind it which he eventually accepted. “So what was the positive intention behind your infant teacher’s decision to hold you back for a year?”
I observed some kind of light dawning in his face. “She wanted me to have a good educational experience rather than one with a bit missing…”
“So what about the ‘resentment’?”
“Why on earth would I feel that? She was rooting for me…”
Leaving Feeling-resentful-I behind in that ancient classroom, we revisited all the experiences we had discussed; he felt reinvigorated about his college career and could understand how he might redefine his attitude towards his marriage and thought that he could now talk about issues with his new boss.
But his concluding remarks revealed a much larger unfulfilled desire: what he really wanted to do was to leave everything and go off round the world on his own! Globe-trotting-I.
I do not know how things turned out—I never saw him again!
This is how we turned a vicious circle into a virtuous one:-
The Enneagram is a system of systems on which anything may be plotted so that it comes to make sense by approximating to ‘the Truth’.
Again, this diagram should be painted somewhere else on a large playground and danced around so that it comes alive for the dancer who might start off at 9 having some pet idea in mind—something that makes a whole for them. ‘The existence of god’, would do’; ‘the non-existence of god’ would do equally well; ‘my job is the most important thing in the world’; ‘I can’t wait for retirement’—some belief or thought that feels like a whole item. At 9 ask yourself what your pet idea does for you, what it looks like, feels like, sounds like, tastes like.
Dancing round the perimeter of the Enneagram will take you through another eight stopping points:-
1. Here you take the opposite point of view with all the opposite attributes (whatever comes up)
2. Here notice that you can take 9 and 1 and swing on a pendulum between them until you come to a point of synthesis or reconciliation—you may need to pause here with Pachelbel’s Canon playing in the background…
3. Whatever temporary conclusion you come to, you need to know that everything there is in the universe goes on in spite of your parochial thoughts; your place is insubstantial
4. But sub specie aeternitatis there are endless possibilities to be explored—the potential is endless…
5. By setting your Being in such a context you can begin to notice connections hitherto undreamed of
6. The deliberate making of connections will lead you to notice the way things repeat themselves down the ages and across space
7. Patterns will emerge
8. You will become able to build these into new structures of ideas which will create a new whole
Dancing along the lines of the dynamism inside the Enneagram will help to develop even more possibilities: from 1 to 7 will help you to perceive patterns in the polarities of your life; from 7 to 5 will get you to notice the creative possibilities in those patterns which will make new structures at 8′ at 2 a new sense of Third Force (reconciling) will begin to emerge offering new potential for development at 4. Round the basic triangle 9 – 3 – 6 the persistence of the Whole will be seen in repetition; you will take a step up in the levels of Wholes.
The dancing can, of course, be done in the head but physical movement around the system can help to engage all Centres.
A complex book like JGBennett’s Dramatic Universe demands verification—it cries out to be verified as does Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. Staying the course is about going the whole hog without bothering about the postage. This dancing party is based on my limited grapple with Volume One of the Dramatic Universe which seems to place verification in a much larger context than it’s ordinarily provided with.