It’s well worth taking some time to… ponder the idea that we consist not just of one single ‘I’ but of a large number of ‘I’s that constantly compete for attention. For example, the reader may well now be in Reading-these-words-I but also feeling the urge to get into Wondering-what-the-first sentence-means-for-them-I while being dominated by a general Feeling-of-curiosity-I. Or else, having read so far, readers may find themselves in Being-exasperated-I and then Going-off-for-a-cup-of-coffee-I. But there may be one or two readers who make a decision (Deciding-positively-I) to… get into Googling-‘Multiple-I’s+Colin Blundell’-I. At the end of such an exciting cognitive excursion one might find a reference to the concept of Meta-I.
GIGurdjieff recommends that we ask ourselves which ‘I’ we are in at least once a day, or as appropriate – is it one that’s right for the task in hand? For example, at work or at home, listening to something baffling, we might find ourselves in Being-exasperated-I when it would be more productive to be able to shift into Listening-very-carefully-I, just like that. For Gurdjieff there’s a Master-I that manages the whole show. I call it Meta-I – an ‘I’ that’s above or beyond or detached from, but capable of master-minding, all those other scruffy ‘I’s we’re made up of. That’s the end of quite a long journey which Patrick Lowery and I have been on together for some years.
On 4th January 2011 Patrick, who lives in Rochester, New York, asked me by email if I thought that
…operating out of Meta-I was 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 as kind of airy things, both coming and going but neither one leaving much of a trace on the emotional centre. Not a cold fish as you might say but a warmer fish with a different voice.
In relation to the Enneagram, did I think
…that a person in ‘Downward Spiralling’ mode can also operate out of Meta-I? ‒ with an energy just above it all? In my own experience it does happen [wrote Patrick]. The only difference is that in DS the energy levels fluctuate more, and in my case, more pauses are needed because the emotional centre gets a bit hairy, an effect of the block or of whatever other ‘I’s are crawling around.
On the same day I replied: ‘…Robert Dilts, the great American NLP whizz, says some questions are so good that they ought not to be given answers. One such is your Do you think that operating out of Meta-I is a state of clarity? The question is its own answer maybe! Especially when you go on to say
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 as kind of airy things, both coming and going but neither one leaving much of a trace on the emotional centre…
I thought – that would be good! Getting out of Making-an-emotional-response-I and into Moving-through-time-and-space-I… But then the question is how can that be since Meta-I (at least to some people I’ve corresponded with) seems to be part of us and therefore seemingly still subject to the influences that affect all the other ‘I’s? How can Meta-I attain to this kind of what I suppose Mr G would call ‘objectivity’ when it exists somewhere alongside all those other clearly subjective ‘I’s? Is there a place inside us where we can get this clarity or objectivity? As Patrick says ‘sensing both external stimuli and internal stimuli as kind of airy things’ – Mr G often has a nice turn of phrase which might work here: a ‘something or other’, full of airiness.
I think what I am sure about is that in an exercise when they’ve laid out a lot of ‘I’s on bits of paper on the floor I say to somebody, “Go over there and stand in Meta-I and see what things look like from there…” They immediately seem to go to a place of utter neutrality without thinking about it. Free of the Centres. Or maybe in ‘Higher’ Emotional/Intellectual Centres. Without feeling or thinking. Without commitment… In ‘a state of clarity’. There’s a Constantly-pondering-I in me that wonders how they do that.
For a person in Downward-Spiralling mode getting into Meta-I is perhaps the Rescue Remedy. Just going from DS to Meta-I might seem difficult when one is in Thinking-I or Feeling-I but that would be to remain stuck in ordinary Centres. I happen to think getting out of ‘I’s that aren’t agile enough for the purpose is a digital shift that might be much more easy than it seems. Just a sudden leap out of things, like a flying fish, without thinking about it…
Is getting to Meta-I (Observer-I, Master-I maybe) the long arduous trek that strict 4th Way people seem to think it is, or is it not just a matter of ‘going and standing over there’… Perhaps one has to be at a certain level of acceptance for it to work? JGBennett was working towards quicker ways of getting Work stuff done when he died; I like to think of myself as being in his line.
Ten years later, in what I’d call Recapping-the-past-I, on the 9th July 2022, Patrick wrote to say that
While reading some old emails I came across the above! Do you remember the video featuring Rupert Spira and Bernardo Kastrup? The title of their topic was basically ‘Is everything made of matter or Consciousness?’
I knew you were onto something when you first introduced Meta-I to me. I felt that we weren’t giving this ‘I’ the status it deserved. When I first tried it out it felt like what I write in the next but one paragraph, especially ‘one leaving much of a trace on the emotional level’. The rest of what I said is good also but it’s the emotional centre that is real problematic.
I now think that you discovered our true ‘I’ or, as those guys would say, you discovered real Consciousness The Big I AM!!!!
This is a short summary of what Rupert and Bernardo were trying to get across: behind the multiplicity and diversity of people, animals, and things lies [and Multiple-I’s, as it might be] a single infinite indivisible whole which can’t be named but we could call it Consciousness. Everything to them is made of Consciousness not matter.
I’m very excited because this is all I’ve been working on. Meta-I is what Gurdjieff was getting at. There is a good reason why Meta-I is so difficult to maintain. It is up against thoughts, feelings, perceptions, ideas, sensations, all our impulses and habits. Meta-I is awareness of the Body-mind and everything that flows through us and this US is our Separate Self, the reason for all our silly internal conflicts. Meta-I is an airy thing, well not really but it can seem like that.
You created a method that reduces Gurdjieff’s system to a simple ‘I’. It still takes an enormous amount of work to keep the wolves at bay but now there is clarity.
Meta-I can be applied to any of G & O’s ideas: multiple I’s, personality/essence, law of 3, law of 7, non-duality, self-remembering, and a host of others.
Being in dire need of getting into Meta-I for myself at the moment for various reasons, it took me a bit of time to assimilate all this. After ten years of pondering!
I so distinctly remember the very instant, time & place, when ‘Meta-I’ swam into my consciousness! A friend who had been locked into the process of marching round a large number of ‘I’s written on bits of paper arranged round the carpet in my sitting-room, as is my wont when running Multiple-I exercises, perhaps becoming somewhat frustrated, suddenly, unprompted, off his own bat, stepped out of the whole process and went to a place a yard or so away from all the ‘I’s he’d recorded on bits of paper to contemplate the totality; it was clear to me that he had disidentified from all of them and their interconnected workings: he was in what I came to call ‘Meta-I’, a concept that had never occurred to me before that second.
I didn’t ask him what he was doing but it came as a cognitive flash that Meta-I is a quick way of avoiding internal chaos, of getting Work stuff done.
I thought I’d written about Spira & Kastrup somewhere but can’t find anything; it was a very memorable video! Especially the idea during the conversation that’s very much like Mr G’s Capital-C Consciousness – we’re not in that unless we deliberately step out of ordinary, everyday consciousness into something-or-other infinitely larger, or, rather, capable of what’s been called ‘helicopter vision’ in old-fashioned self-development courses. Going-to-Jupiter Vision, it could be called…
In ordinary small-c consciousness we are identified with all kinds of things in contemplating which we forget ourselves; what’s significant with Capital-C Consciousness is that we remember ourselves without thinking about it in the least – otherwise we’d be identifying with it!
Meta-I could very well be ‘Capital-C Consciousness’ or ‘Essence’ – these are just names of things/events for which no pinning down is possible or even desirable; once pinned down they take on an imaginary, therefore undesirable, life of their own. The Kybalion ends with the statement ‘Everything is mind; everything in the universe is mental’. Whatever we do in mind with the impressions we get from what’s outside us is a mental construct. We are always doing stuff with impressions unless we can keep them ‘pure’ in Mr G’s terms. Mental constructs are dubious entities.
Just as Patrick says: ‘Meta-I is so difficult to maintain. It is up against thoughts, feelings, perceptions, ideas, sensations, all our impulses and habits…’ Impressions are sullied, rendered impure, by ‘thoughts, feelings, perceptions, ideas, sensations, all our impulses and habits, all our Multiple-I’s. Back in the habitual world we make no space for Meta-I; we just play around with TFPISIH until we manage to leap into Meta-I, just like a flying fish, abandoning TPI and all the other ‘I’s we choose to develop, usually when relating to others.
On the 18th July 2022, Patrick sent an email querying the idea that Meta-I is just another ‘I’ we shift about in.
How can Meta I be part of us and subject to the influences that affect all the other ‘I’s? I haven’t experienced Meta-I being influenced by other subjective ‘I’s, it is objective and stands apart. It is awareness. You stumbled on what is aware of awareness.
Here is a story that recently happened to me.
My sister Janet (the professor of literature) experienced a terrible fall last Monday. She was at her cottage all alone when this happened. Luckily my sister Betsy was close by at our family cottage. Janet refused to go to the hospital even though she suffered terrible injuries. When she finally acquiesced to going she received the news. She had a broken collar bone, broken ribs, a fractured neck, and worse of all her blood work revealed MSG which was not because of the fall but because she hadn’t been to a doctor in 40 years.
Janet and I are very close and soon I began to sense some of the same horrible emotions I experienced after Sam’s death. These emotions were powerful, I was projecting all sorts of negative thoughts and feelings. Finally I sat down and quietly began to meditate but when I opened my eyes I went fully into Meta I. And just as before and before that the life I was experiencing came into full view, as vivid and as full of light that is always around us. Everything passed by all those negative thoughts and feelings became nothing, a no-thing. ‘I’ was aware of my body, my breath, sounds and sights. I was experiencing presence which is all there is.
Later the news arrived that Janet was doing much better, the doctor now said her blood count was good, so no MSG, or possibly not?
During this exchange of emails I happened to be in Reading-the-Rose-Macaulay-brilliant-novel-Crewe-Train-I which, curiously maybe, has nothing whatsoever to do with characters being on a train-ride to Crewe. The title is simply a reference to the mental & physical wanderings of one splendid female character who seems to me to rise above it all in her Meta-I. She could well be seen as the ‘silly girl’ in an old music-hall song:-
Oh! Mister Porter, what shall I do?
I want to go to Birmingham
And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
Send me back to London as quickly as you can,
Oh! Mister Porter, what a silly girl I am!
Except that Denham is very far from silly but a fictional depiction of a very bright woman existing naturally & frequently in Meta-I.
The novel opens with a remote kind of statement that sets the tone for the entire narrative. It’s billed by various commentators as a satire but it seems to me to be entirely about ‘things just as they are’… I can find nothing ‘satirical’ in it.
A Mr Dobie, a clergyman, wearying of his job, relinquished it, ostensibly on the grounds that he did not care to bury dissenters or to baptise illegitimate infants, but in reality because he was tired of being so busy, so sociable, and so conversational, of attending parish meetings, sitting on committees, calling on parishioners and asking them how they did – an inquiry the answer to which he was wholly indifferent.
He had ‘just enough money left him by his lately dead wife’ to fare, jobless, for himself and, in order to be less surrounded by inquisitive and sociable persons who wonder why you do nothing, and insist on conversing with you…’, he decided to go abroad. He took his 7-year old daughter Denham (who was ‘named after her mother’s favourite Buckinghamshire village’) with him to Mallorca. Being ‘self-sufficing and independent’ she ‘made few demands on her father’s time and attention’.
It strikes me that Denham has very largely acquired her father’s attitude to people and their conventional hangups. But the people who lived in Mallorca became far too pleasant, talkative and helpful to both of them and then the English caught up with them. English priests were especially galling and so Mr Dobie & Denham went to Andorra where he found an old farmhouse ‘on a bleak hill’; he ‘dug himself in with a sigh of relief and led an apathetic and contented life…’ Denham follows suit.
Relations of Mr Dobie’s first wife turn up. Denham, now 21, regards them as ‘troublesome’, holding the view that ‘people should not visit the homes of other people’ and, since meeting other people made it very difficult to avoid having to talk (‘few things were worth talking about anyhow…’) she ‘slouched softly in her old sandshoes up the rocky path in the hot sunshine’ with bread & cheese to sustain herself.
As to poor Mr. Dobie, he had a stroke that night, and died. The worry of all these visitors and all this nagging about them had been too much for him. Certainly, people should stay in their own homes.
One could decide that Denham was just an unsociable brat but it seems to me that she is a person who exists purely and simply in Meta-I, refusing to react to other people, to identify with their concerns, rising above the multitude of lesser ‘I’s she’d have to consider if she were to take the effect of others on herself seriously enough to engage with them. Her attitude to life is sorely tested when she is hi-jacked by the Gresham family, the ‘troublesome’ relations who had turned up in Andorra. In London, Aunt Evelyn imagines she assumes control over her. Key to the entire novel is that Denham does attempt to fit in but she still
…sometimes dreamed of a life in which one took practically no trouble at all. One would be alone; one would have no standards; there would be a warm climate and few clothes, and all food off the same plate, if a plate at all. And no conversation… It would be a very low-class, lazy, common life; it was better not to think about it while one was trying to be civilised and high-class. Thinking about it might cause a lapse, such as savages make from time to time when missionaries have captured and trained them. Denham, a savage captured by life, was trying to grasp its principles. She inquired continually why one thing was better than another, and tried to understand the answers, which were vague, or careless, or cynical, according to the occasion and the answerer.
Invited to go to a party, Denham asks young Audrey Gresham what kind of party it will be: “Oh, just the usual kind. Just standing about and talking…” Denham in Meta-I thought to herself:-
A way of meeting people. Of course that was what it was. Like so many other occupations. It is so difficult to meet people in this life that one must contrive all kinds of ways of doing so.
But she goes along with it and Audrey is pleased that she is ‘coming on’… Denham, however, is a woman entirely to herself and, though she doesn’t hope to fully understand it, plays the game sufficiently to fit in a little.
How wonderful, thought Denham, it must be to be able to think of all those things to say. In Andorra and Mallorca it had been precisely the same; nearly every one had talked all the time.
This paragraph continues with nice Macaulay irony as though in the mind of Denham; they are perhaps one and the same: ‘people must chatter about something…’
Talking is one of the creative arts, for by it you build up things that have, until talked about, no existence, such as scandals, secrets, quarrels, literary and artistic standards, all kinds of points of view about persons and things. Let as talk, we say, meaning, let us see what we can create, or in what way we can transmute the facts that are into facts that are not yet. It is one of the magic arts. The trouble about it is that, even more than the other arts, it is practised by the stupid, who can create nothing worth creating.
But ‘it seemed to Denham that once a thing had happened there it was and you’d better let it alone; talking about it was no use anyway…’ ‘Things happen’, says Gurdjieff.
Denham ‘dismissed one’s friends from any share in the ordering of one’s life’. She says to Arnold Chapel, with whom she grows to be on more than friendly terms and is eventually to marry, “People shouldn’t care what any one else does so long as they don’t do it to me…”
Since Arnold is a Roman Catholic Denham finds herself having to find out how to become one herself. She’d be quite happy to skip the details and just be ‘baptised straight away…’ However, to ‘fit in’, she sets about reading the books which she finds very confusing. ‘Well, there wouldn’t be any further questions from her. It was a rash subject to ask questions about; one would probably get answered…’ Then she would have to engage in further conversation.
She sighed at the idea that
…the important thing is to be thoroughly imbued with the principle of belief in the authority of the Church, and to be ready to accept, in general, whatever the Church teaches as belonging to the deposit of faith… It all seemed very complicated. Did Arnold really understand and believe all that ? Denham did not think that anyone in Andorra, except (one presumed) the priests, had bothered about it much. Why couldn’t one join a church without going into all the odd things that churches believed ? It only put one off… In thinking of Arnold she forgot the Catholic Church, and slipped into an ecstasy of love. Oh, yes, she would be a Mohammedan if Arnold wished it…
In the end she found it easy to get into the Roman Catholic church: ‘she had given no trouble and asked no questions, on the excellent grounds that, were she to do so, she would have to listen to the answers…’It is a little comforting that Arnold believes that ‘if one tries to follow the maze of one’s thoughts, one finds they’re astonishingly incoherent…’
Denham is ecstatic about an ancient delapidated dwelling on a cliff-top with a hidden cave that goes down to the sea, accessible through a cellar. She’d rather stay there than in the house the Greshams and the Chapels had taken for August in Cornwall. Arnold is very dubious about it; he’d rather not ‘squat’ in it, specially since they could be walking outside instead of ‘wasting a good holiday morning’. Denham agrees to leave the cave; the lunch she organises consists of ‘bread, ham, cheese, doughnuts, apples, bananas, chocolate’ and she reluctantly agrees to do a little clearing up before they go. She decided that ‘perfect freedom was never attained, never while you had a companion…’
Most of our expendable ‘I’s, false & valueless, no good to us, are the result of learning from other people, doing as they do, thinking as they think – what Gurdjieff calls ‘associationism’. When Arnold suggests that they ought to leave her delapidated dwelling and stay in the hired house the following night because he has a cold, she tells him he can leave her on her own there. He says he’d be anxious about her.
“What about? I mean, what do you think would happen?” It was Denham’s experience that people were always being anxious about other people for no cause shown. It was probably an inherited feeling, from the days when life was still more unsafe than it is now…
“Well, it’s pretty lonely up there.”
“Loneliness doesn’t hurt people.”
“Some one might come about the place.”
Come about the place. Another of humanity’s odd anxieties…
“It’s so awfully uncomfortable there – draughty and damp, and no proper cooking arrangements.”
“It’s not.” Denham was becoming sulky. “It’s very comfortable. I like it, and I shall stay. You go.”
“No; if you stay I shall. Absolutely.”
“It’s such rot,” Denham protested, ‘doing things we don’t like doing because some one else does them.” Thus casually she uttered her complete, disintegrating and shattering philosophy of living. Neither realised its repercussions on both their lives; the dialogue proceeded without so much as a pause of recognition…
Denham’s aunt writes a newspaper article about Denham’s hiding place and so it was discovered by local inhabitants who flocked to see it and its cave:-
…the game was up. Arnold and Aunt Evelyn between them had got her fairly in the soup. But they needn’t think she was coming back to London because of it. She might have to leave the cottage, but there were other places. One might do worse than travel round on one’s motor-bicycle from place to place, putting up where one liked. That would be the life… One wouldn’t get to know any one that way, either, and they couldn’t come crowding round the place, for there wouldn’t be a place to crowd round. It needn’t cost much, if one put up in cheap rooms, and didn’t do immense distances each day. When one got to a good place, one could settle down in it for several days and explore the neighbourhood. Of course that was the life. What a good idea. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? Perpetual rest in motion; new places all the time, and no people. And no housekeeping. The only way, outside hotels, workhouses, and prisons, of escape from that.
One of the many things that occupying Meta-I Capital-C Consciousness tells you is to keep the level of Being it entails secret from everybody else. Thus after a long solo motorbike ride Denham settles down in a Buckinghamshire village with her beloved Arnold and manages to deal with everyday events without being thrown by them.
Why wouldn’t Arnold do it too ? If he wanted to earn money, they could sell something as they went about – books or pictures or bootlaces or what not. He might peddle his firm’s books. People would buy anything.
Did it matter that Arnold couldn’t fit into Denham’s vision? No! True to her Meta-I, she could relate wholly to what she loved in him without trying to get him to be the same as her –as if that were ever possible.
It’s just as Patrick says: ‘…There is a good reason why Meta-I is so difficult to maintain. It is up against thoughts, feelings, perceptions, ideas, sensations, all our impulses and habits. Meta-I is awareness of the Body-mind and everything that flows through us and this US is our Separate Self, the reason for all our silly internal conflicts…’
NOTE It seems that Rose Macaulay ‘rubbed shoulders’ with Aldous Huxley who was a follower of Gurdjieff. It’s therefore quite possible that she acquired some aspects of Gurdjieff-thinking.