We amble along living from day to day, whatever the circumstances, locked into the prison of a long succession of present moments which we don’t normally think about; they add up to what we have grown into the unexamined habit of calling ‘consciousness’; because we have the word we take it for granted that ‘consciousness’ is some kind of entity that we have constantly at our disposal. It can be filled with all kinds of piffle – sinkrpoosarams, my favourite Gurdjieff neologism meaning belief in any old twaddle.
Take a person who talks endlessly about their ‘career’… Such an abstraction was always totally meaningless to me; it’s true that I did function as a full-time paid teacher for the last twenty-four years of wage slavery life but I never thought of it as a ‘career’. A person who talks proudly of their ‘career’ has, with much else probably, filled their so-called ‘consciousness’ with similar meaningless abstractions – in reality (so to speak) like myself, they just did things to pass the time perhaps imposing self-chosen meaning on whatever it was they were wasting their time on.
The good thing is that if the entity we call ‘consciousness’ can be filled it can also be emptied out like a bucket full of washing up water. Just the idea that it can be emptied is interesting; what would it be like if we did empty it? Maybe it could entertain novelty. From Nothingness can come a deliriously happy something or other. Gurdjieff said that until you can make yourself into No-thing there is no chance of developing your self (or selves).
The bucket metaphor is misleading though. Neither ‘memory’, nor learning nor ‘consciousness’ should be subjected to it; the metaphor is false, indecorous: buckets can overflow; when somebody says, “I can’t take any more of this, there’s no room for anything else, my brain hurts…” you know they subscribe to the bucket-brain model. An alternative self-reinforcing, far more resourceful belief would be ‘The more data you choose to allow to enter your neurons the more connections you’ll be able to make…’
The long succession of present moments bounces around in what, for convenience, we could call ‘consciousness’. It’s possible, looking back, to put significant moments, those which have meant something relatively permanent to us – meeting some significant person, achieving something, failing in some way – into more or less settled story-form with beginning, middle & end: meeting so & so changed my life, etc, becoming a teacher resulted in a mental enlargement that’s lasted fifty years, getting a rejection slip for a poem I sent to Time & Tide when I was 16 dogs me still. And so on.
Even the moments which seemed insignificant at the time can build to a certain neat story when focussed on and pieced together – bends in a road, getting on & off trains, arrivals & departures, a collection of places haunted by the person who was with you at the time.
Moments don’t have to cruise by us without our noticing them; they can be fixed forever; we can be very aware of every moment, as it happens. The mantra ‘I shall remember this moment for the rest of my life’ has always worked for me – great processions of events remain present in my mind because, very early on, I got into the habit of saying just that to myself; these days I rely on Gurdjieff’s concept of ‘self-remembering’ – a different label for what probably amounts to the same thing: ‘this is me being me here & now’. This is all part of my story.
I subscribe to the existentialist notion that life is completely ‘absurd’ in the technical sense – it has no ultimate purpose or meaning. This is, paradoxically, a very positive idea in that it presents us with quite a bit of self-dynamism. The thing is that we create meanings for ourselves as we amble along.
Though we are normally unaware of it every moment is a link in the great chain of so-called ‘consciousness’ and helps form emblems & patterns that go into the Other-than-Conscious Mind (archetypes, forms, metaphors) to make a meta-reality that gives shape to our thinking. For example, when I mow the lawn in stripes I’m aware of the surrounding shrubbery which gives me the meta-reality I often use to categorise experience as consisting of order & chaos, light & dark, clarity and the need to search for it, to iron it out.
Then in the middle of the daily swarm of events there come moments of severe enlightenment if you’re lucky or have been engaging in ‘Readiness Potential’ – Aha! understandings when things just seem to fall into place, a phrase in a symphony, a line of poetry, an inch of wash in a watercolour drawing. As simple as that.
How do we become alive to such meaningful moments? Something perhaps that happened in childhood to prepare us for noticing them (and finding them valuable enough to record). Something about giving them permission to land.
I stayed in a nice B&B once in Murgleton for the night. In the morning while I was eating the hearty breakfast she had prepared for me the landlady said, “Did you sleep well?” I said, “Yes, except for the noise of all those airplanes…” She said, “Ah, I noticed you left the landing light on all night.”
While everybody’s life is made up of moments not everybody makes a habit of collecting them together in the way that I know from experience is possible. Not everybody makes them into stories. Some people make up stories about abstractions rather than moments: the Great Person abstraction, the insane Desire for Profit abstraction; Career, Ruler, Terrorist, Destroyer, Teacher, Comrade, Peacemaker – abstractions all…
But, moments! Looking at an old brick or a pebble on a beach… Not everybody would have a strong feeling for an old brick or a special pebble found on a beach. On the evening of the VJ bonfire at the bottom of our suburban road (September 2, 1945 it might have been) I lost a cheap tin whistle and cried all the way home, being eventually soothed by having a warm bath. If I had not written this down the moment would have been lost forever & ever – not that it could possibly matter two hoots to anybody but me!
As a result of participating in formal NLP time-lining exercises I can easily nip back down the years and fish out moments, see, hear & feel them in detail and bring them forward into what I think of as NOW. For example, the moment in the school air-raid shelter (1944 or 5) when I heard one teacher say to another that I was a ‘round the corner’ little boy. The dimness of the earthy tunnel, her voice and the way she looked at me as she spoke, my incomprehension, being put down. I can still feel the incomprehension. Maybe that was what the world was like, I thought, no rhyme or reason, nothing you could easily understand. At least, I think it was then that I decided that I would be an open spirit, not afraid to reveal as much about myself as I wanted to. Everything can have a positive effect.
The practical upshot was that for many years I experienced not exactly a fear of authority but a judicious subservience. And I polished the idea that adults invented things to suit themselves: they could judge you in ways that didn’t make sense.
Then there was the revered prefect Austen at KGS who, on the wooden steps of the sports pavilion, said, à propos of nothing I can think of, “Do you know, Blundell, you’re a fool?” I wasn’t quick enough to ask him what he meant by that – nor, if I had thought of it, would I have been bold enough to ask it!
It seemed that everybody else had a built-in uncertainty about them; I became wary of them, what they might think of me. However, another ten years and I found it difficult to believe how far ahead I was intellectually beyond fellow students at James Graham College of Education, near Leeds, after I had assumed to start with that they must all be superior in everything to me. I concluded that I was no fool, then, and the thoughts of others began to became of no consequence to me. I had been biding my time.
During the war years, in spite of bombs & doodle-bugs, I had always felt very safe till I went to school, though one incident (1944 or 5) still stands out. I was dawdling innocently outside a shop that sold Meccano and similar upmarket toys, looking in the picture window, fascinated, waiting for my mother who’d been off somewhere, when a woman who seemed like a witch grabbed me by the arm and dragged me through the door of her flat above the shop round the side. Still holding me she bellowed upstairs, “Have you heard the bell ring?” The answer came down from a shadowy figure of what was probably another witch, “NO!” but she persisted in accusing me, cowering in a corner, of ringing her doorbell with such vigour, that I began to wish I had done so. Adults were not at all trustworthy. A moment of terror and imprisonment.
I think I’ve always felt that ‘I’ stopped at the world-me interface but that I was capable of extending my Meta-I out into the universe when I was in the right frame of mind, collecting as many moments as I could manage into a conglomerate. I think I’ve lived with the idea that life is about accumulation. Accumulation first and then fitting everything together in creative ways. Enneagram 5 – Hoarder: ideas, objects, stones, music, books, writing, bits of things with texture, shape, colour, miles (long distance cycle rides), passions, enthusiasms. There has been a total self-driven commitment to whatever I was passionate about especially all these little moments.
‘The Outsider is a [person] who has accidentally had an awakening and suddenly realised the sheer absurdity of human existence… The Outsider knows that the kind of existence most people accept is not worth calling ‘life’…’
Colin Wilson: Voyage to a Beginning