Multiple-I’s and a Way of Sorting Them (R10)


We imagine that we are just one single ‘I’—‘I’ brush my teeth, ‘I’ go to work, ‘I’ play with my kids, ‘I’ get angry, ‘I’ think, ‘I’ feel tired, ‘I’ dig the garden, ‘I’ shell peas, and so on; talking & thinking in a language with ‘ego’, we are bamboozled by the linguistic necessity of sticking a pronoun in front of a verb (action word) into thinking that the pronoun represents one identifiable entity; for instance, it appears that there’s just one active phenomenon, one ‘I’, to cover every one of the foregoing examples of possible actions. That’s not the case: every one of our actions engages a different part of our selves. We are many ‘I’s. Multiple-I’s. There’s a different ‘I’ comes into play in each context; ‘I’s are context-specific.

And what about the ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘they’?—without thinking, ‘we’ (all our many parts) assume that each of those is a single entity whereas, in fact, each of them, like us, is made up of Multiple-I’s—when talking to another person, some part of us rarely, if ever, speaks to the same ‘I’ twice running; they shift around inside themselves just as we do. “That’s not what you said yesterday…” “well, it was a different part of me speaking yesterday…”

Imagining that we are just one single unified ‘I’ is the source of many human tensions and screw-ups. ‘I can’t understand it… Yesterday I was on top of the world but today I feel as though I’ve fallen apart…’ Analysing this statement we can find at least four completely different ‘I’s: Not-being-able-to-understand-I, Being-on-top-of-the-world-I, Feeling-I, Falling-apart-I. You certainly would be confused if you felt that it was a single unified ‘I’ that went through so many changes in one sentence.


On the other hand, would it not be useful to discover somewhere in your Being a rather, on the face of it, superior ‘I’ that was able to stand back, or stand aside, from all this confusion and gain a measure of control over it? What will we call it when we find it? A Standing-back-I, a Standing-aside-I, a Being-capable-of-exerting-a-measure-of-control-I? Not really superior at all—just standing in a different place.

‘Invent your own words,’ said Ouspensky. ‘We need a new vocabulary,’ said Gurdjieff. The old words always lock us into a system of thinking; the words we have at our disposal create the world we imagine we live in; the words we use cause us to think in particular ways—this comes out of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. If we had another lot of words we would contrive things to turn out differently. Things would be different, not necessarily better; but it might give sufficient pause for choices to be made that would improve our construction of reality, make it richer, maybe.

And then, of course, whatever new words we invent become old even as they spill out over our tongues.

For instance, Gurdjieff referred to a new (now old) concept ‘Deputy Steward’, the part of us that learns to look after our unruly household (the inside of us) provisionally until the Master of the house arrives back off his (or her) long holiday. We are unable to keep control over the complexity of our Being until we achieve some level of Higher Being. Until then we are not worth the name ‘human’—we are simply ‘man’ (or ‘woman’) in quotation marks.

Until the Master arrives back from Brighton or Coney Island, or wherever she’s been, the unruly household consists of an undifferentiated collection of ‘I’s all squabbling with each other. There’s a loss of control.

Somehow or the other, while I was exploring the practical application of the Multiple-I (a key Fourth Way idea, especially in Maurice Nicoll’s Commentaries) concept for coaching, control, creativity and cognising (etc), something in me hit upon the notion of Meta-I. It no doubt came from my long experience with NLP where there’s stress on ‘going meta’—going beyond or outside of the way things appear to be in order to get a view from a higher or parallel level, wherever and/or whatever that might be. There you can gain a different perspective on a relationship, on the way language works, on the way we are programmed to behave in certain specified ways.

Standing in a different place, there’s at least the opportunity to do something different with your life.

In my practice, this would entail simply moving aside from a pattern of ‘I’s worked out on the floor with bits of paper depicting separate ‘I’s as they came up in a coaching session; once one’s squabbling, or at least hitherto undefined ‘I’s, are laid out for inspection one can literally look at them from a different vantage point. The invention of this process happened by accident. On the spur of the moment,  I asked the person I was working with to go right away from the pattern of ‘I’s we’d worked out together and see what it looked like from a distance. This was the birth of Meta-I.  I didn’t think it out at all—it just seemed to be the thing to do at that particular time.

Transatlantic Working

I worked with my friend Patrick Lowery in this way across the Atlantic rather than over a carpet. We discussed his inspired application of the concept by email over several months.

He said recently: –

Deputy Steward, Master-I, and Meta-I all resonate with me. It goes back to what Gurdjieff  and many others have said over & over again: human beings are abnormal… In G circles everything has to be verified, but we forget to do it. What does this all mean, the whole system, all the teachings, Objective Reason, Objective Conscience in our Consciousness? We try and pin things down [with names]—that is abnormal, a type of sickness. We [are inclined to think that we] can’t possibly be living in and around something so simple & pure—that would be insane. It’s abnormal [for instance] to say— show me your Meta I, but we [you and I] think it’s normal. [For us] it’s abnormal to say you’re just making that up, prove it!

We [3-brained beings] want things to be literal and true. We teach that to kids from the start by saying—No that’s not going to help you in the future. When someone comes along and does something that others don’t do we throw stones at them, but isn’t this exactly what G’s grandmother advised? [“In life never do as others do… Either do nothing—just go to school—or do something nobody else does…”] And isn’t this what happened to Christ but we turn it upside down and it becomes the word of God, nothing could be more abnormal…

You and I are swimming amongst the stars in our own unorthodox way, shambled, rough, bumping into other stars, plunging into darkness, collecting and discarding, losing our centre, but the dance and the music, and the cosmic joke IS.

The only thing that matters is what works. The rest is our own efforts and for me it’s working with the stuff found here on earth…

What’s It Like When You Go Into Meta-I?

There are some simple observations that can be made when a person directs their energy and makes an effort to enter this state of being. One thing that happens is my heart rate slows down, and this allows for more energy. The next thing is all my conflicting ‘I’s shift, and so whatever I might have been getting hung-up about is suddenly both seen and felt through a new lens, or from a new perspective, from a distance. This allows me to become more centred, and thus able to move on to the next thing, which is what I was conflicted about in the first place. Meta-I is like an emotional baggage handler, it is something in us that is able to sort out our crap with relative ease, so we can get on with life. This description is a small sample of its practical application. It also opens up our senses and sensations to where we are, and is a marvelous source for creative writing, or painting, music, etc…

If I’m imagining all this then that’s OK, but I am sure our design, our inscape, our bodies and minds, leans out in this direction. It is and should be as natural as rain, a fountain to clear things up.

So getting into Meta-I, whether there is such a thing or not, is the place to be when you want to stand aside from anything that is in some way bothersome. It’s a a kind of neutral place, a point of stasis, a place where anything can be made to happen, where things can be taken forward free from baggage and preconceptions…

Meta-I also allows for learning. My interest in these things is also part of my interest in education, and how a classroom could function if these ideas were part of the curriculum. There are so many ideas floating around in my mind about developing lesson plans based on Meta-I and so much of what we’ve talked about for the past few years. This isn’t to say this doesn’t take practice, and I haven’t stressed enough about how important the body is to all this. Is Meta-I a construct of Colin’s personality? Is personality a construct of essence? Is Meta-I a creative metaphor capable of moving us to become more resourceful in our daily affairs?

A Bit of a Mystery

I really haven’t been able to remember what got me so confidently into the notion of Meta-I; it perhaps needs some kind of respectable justification for working with it. So I’ve been doing some revision & back-tracking in order to attempt to make a respectable response to Patrick’s questions. I think the key is pages 352/3 of Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous… an account which meshes with a basic presupposition of NLP and fits what Patrick says here. Viz (Gurdjieff is talking):-

It’s not possible to change the form of thinking or feeling until the repertory of postures and movements is changed… Everybody has a definite number of thinking and feeling postures and movements…

[In the ordinary course of events…] it is illusion to say our movements are voluntary. All our movements are automatic. Our thoughts and feelings are just as automatic. The automatism of thought and feeling is connected with the automatism of movement. One cannot be changed without the other. [We may focus] on changing automatic thoughts, [but] then habitual movements and habitual postures will interfere with this new course of thought by attaching to it old habitual associations. 
In ordinary conditions we have no conception how much our thinking, feeling, and moving functions depend upon one another, although we know, at the same time, how much our moods and our emotional states can depend upon our movements and postures. When you take up a posture corresponding to a feeling of sadness or despondency, then within a short time you are sure to feel sad or despondent. Fear, disgust, nervous agitation, or, on the other hand, calm, can be created by an intentional change of posture.

To learn how to separate movement and posture from thinking & feeling the STOP exercise is recommended.

It consists in this—that at a word or sign, previously agreed upon, from the teacher, all the pupils who hear or see him/her have to arrest their movements at once, no matter what they are doing, and remain stock-still in the posture in which the signal has caught them. Moreover not only must they cease to move, but they must keep their eyes on the same spot at which they were looking at the moment of the signal, retain the smile on their faces, if there was one, keep the mouth open if they were speaking, maintain the facial expression and the tension of all the muscles of the body exactly in the same position in which they were caught by the signal. In this ‘stopped’ state we must also stop the flow of thoughts and concentrate the whole of attention on preserving the tension of the muscles in the various parts of the body exactly as it was, watching this tension all the time and leading so to speak attention from one part of the body to another.

This has to go on till another signal ends the exercise which is designed to offer at least the ‘…possibility of getting out of the circle of automatism; it cannot be dispensed with…’

Then there’s Libet’s ‘readiness potential’—advanced brain imaging demonstrates that the brain knows what you’re going to do in the split second before you do it—getting into that split second you become able to intercept action. This is detailed in Brian Lancaster Mind Brain & Human Potential (page 171). It’s where the STOP exercise which culminates in a split second learned response can help.

The STOP exercise puts you into a meta-position—momentarily observing yourself in a Nothing state, state of suspended animation, capable of making a decision to go off in a completely different direction. Becoming so aware of your self in action is called ‘self-remembering’ in the 4th Way scheme of things.

Following on from that there’s Meta-self-remembering (“Ah, there’s an ‘I’ in me that notices it’s in a state of self-remembering—‘this is me being me here and now’”) which is just an extension of that! Seems pretty obvious to me that once you’ve had an experience that could be called ‘self-remembering’, provided you treat it respectfully as being of significance, it’s in the muscle—available next time it’s needed—and all you have to do is to step aside for a moment to make it happen again and again. After the initial one trial bit of learning the habit strengthens the more you go round & round the circuit.

Round & Round the Circuit

Patrick said:-

Man, I suppose we could go on forever about this and not get tired, a good reminder of the energy contained in Meta-I, it gives us energy, especially when we are in pain!

I understand that other people may think you’ve come up with a magic stick, a nutty voodoo carrot that makes things easy or comfortable—how deeply our animal wants the easy life. Meta-I is like any tool that works: it demands something first, some honesty and some other things, and then it might say, Patrick you need to do a pendulum exercise, or, Patrick, you need to take a walk right now; Meta-I is a higher voice, part of us, yet from a distance on a nearby hill. This sounds esoteric but it is more like distilled action. I’ve been practising for a few years and when the shit hits the fan and I’m down in the dumps it isn’t easy at all, but I have to stick with it; sometimes it’s just a bunch of self-will bullshit, but even then I learn something.

This made me wonder if that’s it. We’ve simply hit upon something that operates in some kind of Higher Intellectual/Emotional Centre without realising it? Something that’s left after one’s stripped away all other ‘I’s, all taints that come from identifying, all opionating and so on. In his brilliant books this is the process Brian Lancaster describes—what’s left is some essence thing. It’s what happens when one goes through a ‘Litany’ of statements that serve to distinguish ‘I’ from all its apparent attachments :-

I have fears but I am not my fears,
I have ambitions but I am not my ambitions,
I have enthusiasm but I am not my enthusiasm
I have pain but I am not my pain,
I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts
I have feelings but I am not my feelings,
and so on and on: ‘I have… but I am not my…

and then the last question—so what am I then?

There’s an ‘I’ that can stand outside the whole rigmarole—call it Meta-I for the sake of something to label it with. A sceptic would present us with infinite regression at this point: what is the ‘I’ that gets us into Meta-I? What is the ‘I’ that gets us into the ‘I’ that gets us into Meta-I?  Stuff it! Just go to the other side of the room and step into Meta-I then you’ll know that it’s a something or other that’s just a few steps off the beaten track. Simply learn that trick. Distilled action, indeed.


…to move from one ‘I’ that is buggering things up to a different more productive ‘I’ is tricky for me, but it has also been successful. Stepping into Meta-I makes it possible but one thing I have noticed is the impression of the new more productive ‘I’ takes some extra work. Meta-I must be sustained long enough for the productive ‘I’ to take shape and then act, or am I just nuts. I don’t actually think I am because it seems to work if Meta-I is sustained. The new ‘I’s
impression begins to take on an emotional or feeling pull, and one can lead oneself out of all the mess of funky ‘I’s.


Probably if the new ‘I’ is just an intellectual idea that Meta-I has got us into then it won’t work. If we’re doing thinking in what we think is Meta-I, then we’re not in Meta-I at all, but in Intellectual Centre, in the neo-cortex.  In what I construct as Meta-I, I find myself waiting eventually for a multi-centred sensation (thinking/feeling/doing)— I think that’s the ‘extra work’—to make it work there has to be thinking, feeling and some kind of action. Meta-I is a kind of waiting-room where we STOP operating just in our favourite Centre—one part of our brain—one that hasn’t necessarily worked in the past. The new ‘I’ has to be felt, thought and acted on—all the centres, separately first, maybe, and then in unison.

Patrick asked:-

Do you think that operating out of Meta-I is being in a state of clarity? A state when the mind and body are able to move about through time and space without any emotional interference, sensing both external stimuli and internal stimuli—a kind of airy thing, both coming and going but leaving not much of a trace on the emotional centre. Not a cold fish, as you say, but a warmer fish with a different voice.


I wonder what makes for lack of clarity in ordinary circumstances? Maybe it’s all the irrelevant associations, identifications that intrude; all the hares we chase after; all the ‘I’s of our unruly household that fight with each other; a focus on ‘internal considering’, incessant inner dialogue rather than ‘external considering’—looking at things as they are ‘outside of us’.

Then the question is since Meta-I is still part of us and therefore seemingly subject to all the influences that affect all the other ‘I’s, how can it attain to this kind of what I suppose Mr G would call ‘objectivity’—how can it separate itself out in such a comparatively strong way when it exists in amongst all those other squabblingly subjective ‘I’s? Is there a place inside us where we can get this clarity or objectivity? Is Meta-I a kind of ‘airy thing’ capable of sensing both external stimuli and internal stimuli both together and holding them in suspension, without judgment?

Mr G has a nice turn of phrase which might work here: Meta-I is a kind of airy ‘something or other’… Fill the quotation marks how you please…

I think what I am sure about is that when I say to somebody, “Go over there and stand in Meta-I and see what things look like…” They immediately go to a place of utter neutrality without thinking about it. Free of the Centres. Ah, maybe in Higher Emotional/Intellectual Centres. Without feeling or thinking. Without commitment… I wonder how do they do that?

How do I do it? ‘Over there’ can be depicted by standing on a bit of paper with ‘Meta-I’ written on it; when I stand on the bit of paper I find myself somehow outside all other ways of thinking/feeling/doing—all that is suspended and I can make a completely new choice and, yes, I’m outside time and space…


Maybe this is connected by muscle memory only on some cellular- chemical responders located in our brains. As in a dream I had when I was walking along a straight line seemingly on a flat two dimensional field, surrounded by nothing, just one foot in front of the other along a pencil line, and then there was a voice saying,” You must see yourself from many different sides at the same time.” A sort of panoramic observation of things, but there was only emptiness. I wonder what would happen if I began to fill in that empty space with places, then add some people, then an activity, or something along my timeline?

Meta-I is first an emptiness, then it begins to fill with infinite possibilities…

Patrick asked : do you think Meta-I gives a strong exposure to the world around us, and inside us, less repellent, while single Centre working gives less exposure and a greater repellent?

My provisional answer was: I think that what happens when I imagine I get into Meta-I is that I become truly ‘conscious’—able to take (more or less) ‘everything’ into account at the same time. I accept that I may be kidding myself, of course. It feels as though I’ve left all the other ‘I’s behind me somewhere. I am not identifying with any of them—or if I am it’s only spasmodically and controllably. I may still be kidding myself!

Single Centre working, either through Intellect, or Feeling, or Doing, each on their own, staves off bits of the outside, makes us see the world as a matter of all Intellect, all Feeling, all Doing when it would be more roundly constructed by being observed in a multi-centred way. Meta-I perhaps creates the opportunity for this to happen; puts us in the position of opening up exposure to the whole of existence. Repulsion doesn’t happen then.

When I’m on Top Form (and only then), I think I’m more open to receiving what Gurdjieff calls  ‘Pure Impressions’ —things seen, heard, felt in an unsullied kind of way—those which don’t come through the usual filters—the filters of the Multiplicity of ‘I’s, of single Centres. I can ‘see’ the world in a different way from how I do when I’m identified with an A Influence, say—when I sometimes get steamed up about the New [Evil] Governmental Regime (the Power Possessors) in UK, for instance, or on the very rare occasions when I get sucked in to Facebook argument! When my Being is identified with the ‘I’s that get hooked up this way it’s no longer ‘conscious’. When I get back into Meta-I there’s an ‘I’ that becomes aware again of how limiting is our usual habitual contact with the world. That’s a useful contrast which there’s a Playful-I in me that will (very occasionally) deliberately stoke up by making provocative statements of some kind, just for the hell of it.

Patrick, is this anything like what you describe as ‘strong exposure to the world around us’?

I feel awakened to more possibilities, open to more stimuli when I’m in Meta-I. When we limit ourselves to operating out of just one Centre—identifying with its mechanisms—we seem to close down the options; we repel other angles, limit our possibilities for action, I think. It’s easy to illustrate this by being aware of what happens when we get angry (I do speak for myself!)—rage limits my capacity to figure things out, renders me incapable of taking any kind of positive action. So what happens when we get into an intellectual fix (determined to think through something logically) or become all athletic (running a marathon)?

Travelling long distance on a motorbike I find so helpful as a way of maintaining a balance of Intellect/Emotion/Moving-Instinctual Centres!

Meta-I seems to be something like an emergent characteristic of going round & round the Centre system, activating the whole brain & body.

I am aware that I invented the concept of Meta-I—as far as I know it does not occur elsewhere—at least it didn’t when I invented it. So all this is made up! The nearest thing is something in NLP called ‘meta-mirror’ which is a technique for spatially (and therefore mentally) distancing oneself from a person or situation and literally ‘taking steps’ to look at oneself and the other from a different perspective—and having done that to check out new ways of behaving. This, as I’ve said, was how I got to the idea of Meta-I… There’s nothing new really!

The key thing is to get an answer for oneself to the question—Does the concept of Meta-I add anything to one’s repertoire of behaviours in whatever way emerges?

Getting into Meta-I—How Patrick Does It…

What usually happens is I give myself a reminder or command to STOP. Then there is an inner voice, this is me here now, I begin to sense my body, my breathing, my surroundings, my eyes move around to objects, like the lamp, the box of pens, I listen to the room, I may focus on my belly, or hands, or toes, or the space my body is taking up as a whole. This may be enough, but lots of times I get up at this point and move into the kitchen, or go have a smoke. I can stand back from it all, and this gives me a different way of getting on with what I am writing or doing at the time. I cannot remember just slipping into Meta-I recently, but when I was competing in sports this would all just happen. The world slowed and a thousand opportunities opened up before my eyes (‘in the zone’, as they say) and I knew without any doubt that my opponent had no chance—it felt like real magic; then I got there in music later on; in making love; in writing off the cuff, or concentrating on longer pieces. Meta-I is the key to real change…

If Meta-I is alert while all the other ‘I’s are numb or somehow being shut off then maybe the term Meta-I is something other than an ‘I’ that allows one to step back and observe other ‘I’s.

If Meta-I is an ‘I’ that observes things as a whole, or allows a person to not give in to negative emotion, or inertia, as it is for me now, then under certain stressful conditions it would seem that Meta-I could take you into a deeper space, an open negative canvas, so we are able to fill that canvas with whatever we choose. If this space is palpable then all the centres would be going about doing what they do, and you would have a greater advantage in observing yourself and then operating within an ever-expanding system.

Or, using ‘I do not exist’ as a jumping off point, it seems very possible and beneficial to enter into this rich negative canvas, and stay there, using it as an anchor, a way of dividing attention. With one attention we sense this new Meta-I, with another attention we sense our bodies, in this way we are aware of both internal and external impressions. In this dark canvas all outside and inside stimuli become an energy that is transformative (like it always could be) but under extreme conditions slows down, and thus becomes discretionary.

Patrick referred to the extreme conditions when I was in hospital recovering from major surgery; the suspension of ordinary ‘I’s did result in my existing in some ‘dark canvas’ while in Intensive Care. It certainly did feel like that. What got me through the ordeal was using my Meta-I to navigate, as mere concepts, all the possible ‘I’s I might inhabit when I got back into working order. Conditions inside and out of me created this space.

Working with a challenging student, he said, Patrick felt his Meta-I to be under attack and he contrived to strengthen it and make it a space safe enough for him to operate in. He didn’t mean a place to hide—just the opposite, it was a place with enormous possibilities, and just where the student needed him to be.

Patrick said he felt some concern about all this because he got wind of some kind of vanity operating in him: should he indulge in anything for long periods, especially something like this where one might begin to feel ‘clever’ at working through Meta-I.  He says he’s beginning to change how he feels about this. ‘...The vanity idea is so interesting, but that is a tough ‘I’ to crack, and that ‘I’ appeared driving home from work, and was in conflict with this new canvas I was working in. All of this I’m sure needs more focus and work, especially in all sorts of different conditions and circumstances…’

Man, I Suppose We Could Go On Forever About This…

Thinking along the lines of Meta-I and its functions, it seems that this ‘I’, more than the others, needs some fine tuning at least at my end. It must contain certain properties in order for it to exist outside my own imagination, and it must belong to the life of humanity in general. It must also contain certain substances that register on some scale or chart, and if it is chemical it must also be able to change into other forms. It must also contain cosmic and psychic properties that exist on other planes, and occupy a specific place. If all this is true it must also have the ability to evolve under rigorous conditions, conditions such as near death experiences, forms of trauma, long periods of sustained work, or long periods of derangement. Also one of its features seems to be the ability to slow time, and to gather many ‘I’s into a reasonable constructional form so that our perceptions can be altered enough in order to make sensible acts, or choices.

The command STOP! must in some way trigger these operations into Meta-I By experimenting we can observe how all this happens after the command is given, as long as there is a certain amount of attention and focus given at the exact moment. I notice when I am in Being-tired-I which leads to Being-lazy-I a domino effect begins: when I go into Move-a-bit-I and then Walk-faster-I the command STOP works and other ‘I’s begin to take shape, like Writing-I or Reading-I or Doing-a-project-I and my Feeling-like-crap-I begins to dissipate. Now what would happen if I went into a extremely dangerous part of town, places I once spent lots of time in, places where there is a broad range of negative and destructive energy? If I walked around in this place in Meta-I, would it respond to its environment and go into a deeper dark positive canvas to keep the organism alive? And would this experiment be of any value? There would be no danger involved in this experiment because I know what I am doing, but there would be a definite charge of energy that I normally do not experience.

Beyond Meta-I

Patrick’s reference to the idea of Meta-I containing ‘…cosmic and psychic properties that exist on other planes…’ got me to thinking about what I’ve called Cosmic-I, an ‘I’ that’s greater than any other part of us, or, after Jung, Oceanic-I, an ‘I’ that’s aware of spreading itself across the midnight constellations. Getting to Transcendental-I does not seem to me to be any Big Deal once one’s loosened the ties of all the crap; it’s just made to seem esoteric by those with a vested interest in the promotion of Orthodoxies; I read Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart when I was 15 and that did it for me—I just knew, with heart & soul & intellect, that the experience of going to the top of a high hill and raising your arms to the firmament took you right out of your mundane self and into something which then I couldn’t define but relished above all else. Through adolescence I frequently did this as a matter of course. I lost the knack as I got sucked into the Prison House of ‘earning a living’—all the A Influence stuff—but it must have been always there underneath because now I just have to raise my arms to the sunrise to get into the feeling of Transcendental-I. After that the inevitable return to ordinary, probably unavoidable in the rush of things, Unified-I changes the way one constructs ordinary ‘reality’ forever.

It strikes me that Transcendental-I may be just another, less snappy, expression for Meta-I… Invent your own terms says Ouspensky!

People Do Things Differently

But it’s great to try what they do on for size. I can easily follow Patrick’s instructions to arrive at ‘everything feeling electric’.

…sit in the middle of a room, although outside I find more engaging, and look in any direction, when your eyes light on something move to something else, as you continue to gather things up like this, making sure your attention does not waver, a collage of images begins to build up around you, this should create a panoramic view as all things begin to mesh together. Then, going into Meta-I, things clear and a feeling of all this begins when we are present and focused. It works well for writing, but is also good going down the timeline. I think this goes along with the idea that wherever we are there are many points of view, many ‘I’s’, and it gives us relief from our myopic delusion that we have a permanent unified ‘I’. Sitting on a bench near a river, or sitting at dinner with friends and family when I practise this, everything feels electric.

In Meta-I Nature fills my senses, the sky, the grass, clouds drifting by, and the negative emotion begins to fade, I can feel and almost see that energy drifting off my body, I am again the smallest molecule joined together with everything else, from there I can move to my heart’s desire, personality dissipates and I am free, ageless, and fluid, but soon ordinary Patrick shows up once again…

Meta-I seems to lift us up a notch, lift us to see and feel all the contradictory ‘I’s that jumble around inside. The command we give ourselves seems to be an action that takes place in the moving centre, I say this because, when I enter into Meta-I, I am then able to move to the next thing with a renewed attention and vigour. Meta-I opens us to move beyond the usual restraints of our duality. It allows me to catch myself dividing things into categories of right and wrong, and getting lost in the emotional forest where clarity is obscured by my own ego.

When I find myself having a conversation with someone, unchecked my internal dialogue will automatically begin a silent conversation. Most of the time it’s a Defending-I that seems to want to run on forever, or a Self-justifying-I or a Making-accounts-I. When I give the command STOP! Meta-I emerges—a sensation that rises in my body, somewhere near my solar plexus. It seems vital to the art of self-observation, and it does get stronger as time goes by.

Is Meta-I a direct line to separating Knowing and Understanding? Once one enters into the state of Meta-I the possibilities are only limited by the amount of energy one has, and to the relativity of the moment.  Meta-I creates a non-defensive open position to what is happening in the This-is-Me-Right-Here-Right-Now moment. The world slows inside and out. Meta-I is an ‘I’ that can break mechanical thinking, feeling & doing. It feels like I’m wrestling with words here.

So that has to be a really useful strategy for really listening to what somebody else is saying; there’s an external focus, a focus that’s maybe outside of your self. How do we cue this shift of attention? When in the middle of a rumpus of some kind, internal or external, how do you cue Meta-I? How exactly does Meta-I operate as a stop-plug for internal chatter? What happens with practice? How is Meta-I creative?


Meta-I is a sensation of being. I’ve described it many times, each time is a good practice. I’m going to go back a bit to last semester, I hope this is helpful. It’s one thing to cue oneself into a state of Meta-I when sitting along a river bank, but it is a marvelous plus when things are all a jumble, and the environment is ripe with stress. During the school semester I was going from one class to another, one study to another, and then to the domestic responsibilities of home. This can become almost manic internally, the mind is turned on in a manner of speaking to categorizing, or separating things, and believing ‘I’ am in control. This lie is deeply ingrained! I probably gave the command STOP between where I physically was, and where I was going all day long, every day, during the school semester, but that can just be mechanical. This is an important thing to remember because unless all our frantic, neurotic, fearful, ‘I’s are witnessed from a new position, nothing has changed, just another loud commanding ‘I’. Sometimes when the pressure heats up there’s an ‘I’ that goes deep inside and can seem like Meta-I but this ‘I’ may just be closer to a particular role ‘I’ am playing. Meta-I is different—it has some qualities that emanate from, and are connected to my body, like I mentioned above. None of my efforts are wasted or unnecessary there. I know that now, but at times it felt like there should have been a higher degree or scale of improvement, that’s a good example of false imagination. Only after looking back can I now see how much GOOD work was being accomplished.

Here’s a list of mechanical I’s that got in the way last semester:

Needing-more-I (coffee, cigarettes, food, sex, TV, more Patrick’s-old-bugger-I’s)

Nothing terrible about being human, and nothing to beat myself up over. Working with all this takes patience and a good sense of HUMOUR.

When I give the command STOP in the middle of all these ‘I’s without a conscious effort first to recognize them, and say hello, and thank them for reminding me that what falls away is always and is near, then I’m in some state of bullshit. So it’s a good idea to get to know as many of these miscreant ‘I’s as possible. It’s easy to neglect the very thing that keeps us from entering Meta-I.

Sometimes there’s a comical array of defensive positions and postures that act on each other. Like negative magnets these ‘I’s gather with glee. I remember this as clear as the sun. I walked into our backyard and stretched my body, reaching for the stars, shaking myself, then stretching again, reaching for the stars, and when some ‘I’ in me was ready it gave the command STOP! This time I wept, sitting on the grass I wept. The icy ‘I’s just fell off, and I could feel Meta-I rising like an old friend. That may sound dramatic, and maybe it’s because Meta-I has an energy that gathers other ‘I’s and from a distance gives each a perspective and the drama is our overbearing self-importance—these I’s weaken when Meta-I is acting in us.

Since I’m usually sensing my body and am aware of this, Meta-I is a cue for a stronger Paying-attention-I, there’s a greater depth of perception, the senses become more alert (creative), my body relaxes to a tension that is subtle yet flexible. ‘I’ am more present. The mind empties but there is a flow of creative energy. This is weird but the world around me becomes what it mostly is—empty. Nothing seems that important because it isn’t—but it is. Concentration and focus increase. Time is weird too because in Meta-I all that so-called school work, all the domestic worries, kids, money, the politics of the day, are given a wide berth, and because of some energy boost, more can be done in a shorter period of time.

Less of Patrick and an inner sense of Patrick stripped of so many pesky ‘I’s reveals something closer to the eyes of a child, the ears of a child, an energy that wasn’t rusted out, tarnished, or lost. This is what has been happening lately after much practice. This is a beginning, always beginning from each day.

People who spend time in Nature may enter Meta-I without giving it a name. Bathing in Nature is conducive to this type of energy. Nothing unnecessary.

When I first began doing timeline exercises you suggested that it was important to become disidentified with what I was experiencing; you mentioned an ‘I’ that was capable of achieving this state, you called it Meta-I. For some reason I used a spaceship as a vehicle to begin my timeline journeys. This spaceship or active metaphor seemed to focus my attention, and was imaginative, creative, using the gifts we are blessed with. Since life is a dream, I didn’t see why I shouldn’t employ Meta-I during so-called real life. Since I couldn’t control my emotions, or my internal dialogue, then why not use Meta-I as a tool and see what happened.

Stopping our internal chatter takes a greater effort. I have to give the command STOP with greater force, and it does help to be in a quiet place, somewhere in the woods. But this is something I’ve only begun doing this summer, so we’ll see.

I don’t have to give the command STOP in every situation now. I can cue myself when in a crowd, at home, in a classroom, by remembering, This is Me Right Here Right Now.


Thanks so much, Patrick!

7 thoughts on “Multiple-I’s and a Way of Sorting Them (R10)

  1. A truly interesting post, Colin, and I will have to read it again to take it all in. Meanwhile, my mind kept spinning out on the differences of viewpoint that arise when we sit and talk among people who do not have English as a first language and so – as one example of difference – don’t necessarily have pronouns; or, in a culture like the one in Japan where people see themselves first as part of a group. (The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.) I will sit with this post again when I have more leisure and don’t need to speed-read my way through. It deserves attention.

    Be well …


    1. Absolutely right, Jamie, about pronounless languages! I’ve never had the experience of talking about all this with Chinese/Japanese/Plains Indian speakers who do not have the linguistic structure – verbs + pronouns (non-romance languages etc). I’ve had the hunch that one could, as in NLP, talk in terms of ‘parts work’. So the framing of my Glob could start – ‘…the part of this being that brushes its teeth, the part of this being that goes to work, the part of this being that plays with the kids, the part of this being that gets angry, the part of this being that thinks, the part of this being that feels tired, the part of this being that digs the garden, the part of this being that shells peas…’ and so on. I’d love to have the opportunity to discuss this with a Chinese, say. It’s a great illustration of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: if there’s no pronoun in one’s verbal structure what difference does that make to one’s thinking?

      The nearest I ever got to this was with learning Latin & ancient Greek: ‘amo’/’moneo’… where’s the pronominal emphasis there? I never thought of it at the time!

      Thanks for prompting this, Jamie. I only briefly nodded towards the point you raise in the first sentence of the Glob.

      (Love your poems!)


  2. Here’s a social psychology perspective on multiple-I’s that just appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times, Colin. While it doesn’t begin to plumb the depths of yours and Patrick’s fascinating discussion, it’s interesting in that it makes a similar point with regard to the fallacy of positing a single-I …



  3. If the ‘I’ is being controlled, who is controlling it? Who is that, if it is not the ‘I’ ? Isn’t what you’re calling “the I”, really just you?


  4. Thanks Jone.

    If the ‘I’ is being controlled, who is controlling it?

    I think that this question presupposes that there is only one ‘I’. Within the question there are already two ‘I’s: some ‘I’ or another that’s being kept in line and another ‘I’ that’s doing a bit of keeping in order.

    Who is that, if it is not the ‘I’ ?

    Again, it looks as though the presupposition is that there is only one ‘I’.

    Isn’t what you’re calling ‘the I’, really just you?

    Which ‘you’?

    Here maybe without doubt the logic is that Unified-I = ‘you’ = ‘I’, the subject of all the action words another ‘I’ could think think of in relation to its multiple sub-divisions: ‘I’ brush my teeth, ‘I’ go to work, ‘I’ play with my kids, ‘I’ get angry, ‘I’ think, ‘I’ feel tired, ‘I’ dig the garden, ‘I’ shell peas, and so on; 8 different ‘I’s here.

    I go with Gurdjieff’s notion that there are many ‘I’s and that until one recognises this there’s no possibility of change – no possibility, for instance, of stepping from one not very useful ‘I’ into another maybe more productive one.

    I like Gurdjieff’s very practical suggestion that one of one’s many ‘I’s should periodically ask during the course of the day, “Which ‘I’ are you in right now?’ Say, one discovers that one is in Simmering-with-rage-I, the question could easily prompt a shift to Being-calm-cool-&-collected-I. It could be more productive and would surely change one’s behaviour.


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