Monday, September 25, 2023
  Seven primary obstacles to self-awareness  

obstacles ahead

Identification – One of the characteristics of our psychology is that we lose ourselves by becoming absorbed into events, thoughts, and emotions.

Negative Emotions – One of the chief obstacles to awakening is losing energy through the expression of negative and unpleasant emotions.

Imagination – Our imagining that we already possess qualities and abilities that we do not have, and that can only be developed through long efforts.

Lying – Our tendency to talk about things we do not know, or can not know, as though we do know.

Unnecessary Talking – One of the chief obstacles to inner development is talking without aim or attention.

Internal Considering – A special form of identification with oneself whereby we imagine we know what others think of us and make inner accounts against others.

Vanity – Personal descriptions of vanity in action in ordinary daily life.


In the Work we are told to observe identification as it is one of the most powerful forces keeping us asleep and prevents us from awakening. Because we do everything mechanically and are not properly conscious, we identify all the time. We identify with our thoughts, feelings and what happens in outer life.

What is identification?

It is a difficult thing to describe because, as we are, we are never free from identifying so we think it is a normal condition. The idea is similar to what is described in Indian and Buddhist literature as attachment to things either externally---for example your job, the television, food---or internally---for example your thoughts, your emotions. In other words all our activities are accompanied by a certain attitude; we become too absorbed in things, lost in what we are doing. This is called identification. It begins with being interested in something and the next moment you are in it and you no longer exist.

A good illustration of identification is the cat and mouse scenario, where the cat has spotted its prey and is oblivious to everything except catching the mouse. Other examples include:

  • being identified with a task one is doing on the computer so that one is not aware of anything else around one
  • cleaning the bath and you no longer exist---you have become the activity of cleaning the bath
  • identification with one's emotions so that if you think you are depressed, all you feel is depression, you are your state
  • identification with watching television where only the program exists
  • feeling bored---identification with oneself
  • over-enthusiasm is also identification.

So, when a man is asleep he is identified with every thought that he has, every feeling and mood, every sensation, every movement, because he thinks this is what life is about and above all that it is a necessary part of life.

After observing yourself for a while and trying to remember yourself, you soon realise that you don't remember yourself and often do not even remember to remember yourself, the main obstacle to achieving this being identification with something or ourselves.

Working against identification

It's useful to think that we awake from sleep every morning with a certain amount of energy, probably quite a lot. In general this energy works by itself and makes us act in a certain way. The question arises why and how does it make us do the things we do and waste energy on useless things? Identification which glues us to the activity or thoughts or emotions is the link. Therefore, if we can stop identification we will have much more energy at our disposal.

The Work says we must struggle every day with identifying which can take different forms. One way is to apply a sense of scale to whatever you're identified with, i.e. turn your attention to something more important. Start by distinguishing important from less important, so that if you put your attention on more important things you become less identified with unimportant things.

Observation of ourselves also helps with identification because by doing this we start to have something that stands behind us and helps us see ourselves on the stage in front of us, so to speak. We begin to see different I's in us behaving in certain ways as something unreal; we see we are mechanical. Although we may have glimpses of this, the power of identification is so strong that we are quickly sucked back down and once again believe we are the I's we manifest.

As already mentioned, one of the main things we identify with is life events. Events bring objects and people into a relationship. For example, your neighbor may be someone you don't know very well, but when you hear he has said something bad about you, an event between you and him takes place.

To work with identification with events it is useful to ask oneself: `What event am I in?' `Am I totally identified with it?' This puts you in attention and helps you to be less identified with the event. We must try and draw back from the event we are identifying with and try to summarize what's happening in terms that take the feeling of "I" out of it. For example:

  • `This is called getting angry.'
  • `This is called feeling hurt and left out.'
  • `This is called being disappointed.'
  • `This is called being disorganized.'

Moments of non-identifying

When you are in a moment of not being identified you seem to be in a quiet, central place in yourself and you are aware of the different I's and events trying to advance and capture your attention. It's like having this gap, maintained by an invisible policeman, between you and the crowd. This can also be called a `Work-state' as opposed to a `Life-state'. So, in order to experience the blissful experience of a moment of non-identification it is necessary to put yourself in a `Work-state' every day, where you are protected from many unpleasant states which you would otherwise be in.

There are many ways of doing this including: remembering your aim and trying to remember yourself at the same time; reviewing in your mind something you have read in connection with the Work; going over in your mind what happened the previous day or remembering something you want to be more conscious of regarding another person or a certain situation; trying to see events and people in light of the Work.

In struggling against identification remember it needs practice first in easier moments. As P. D. Ouspensky said:

You cannot learn to swim if you fall in the sea during a storm. You must learn in calm water. Then perhaps if you fall in you'll be able to swim.

Negative Emotions - 1

There is nothing more mechanical in our life than negative emotions. – P. D. Ouspensky

Negative emotions are an example of the wrong work of the emotional centre. They are unnecessary, and an important part of awakening is to free ourselves from their grip.

Negative emotions are things like fear, anger, envy, greed, sloth, and also pleasant things like enthusiasms, passions, and certain forms of love. They are based on identification and imagination---they keep us asleep.

The pleasant type are characterised by a tendency to turn into their opposites---for example when we end up hating people we were formerly `in love' with. Real emotions do not turn into their opposites.

Properly speaking, the emotional centre does not have a negative half. Negative emotions are tremendously powerful, despite being completely useless to us. We can poison our lives extremely quickly with them, destroying life-long friendships with a few words, or making disastrous choices because we are out to prove something.

When we study the Food Diagram, we can see that man is rather like a chemical factory, refining food, air, and impressions into much finer, more volatile energies. These finest energies are used by the higher emotional centre, and the higher intellectual centre.

When we express negative emotions, we plunder this store of finer substances. We can use up the factory's entire production for a day with one emotional outburst. It is possible to use even more energy, even damaging the factory beyond repair if we go too far (rather like the effect power surges have on computers). With this energy thrown away, we have no fuel available to think our highest thoughts, or to experience our highest feelings.

So the first part of work on the emotional centre is non-expression of negative emotions---to stop this energy leak. This practise is exceptional in the Work, in that it is permanent, and available to all. (The methods and form of the Work are continually evolving, so it is usual for an exercise to be set for a specific length of time, in specific circumstances to specific people, and then only on the basis that they understand exactly why they are doing it.)

As well as saving us energy, this practise also helps us in self-observation, because we need to resist our mechanics before we can see them.

The second part of work on the emotional centre is transformation of negative emotions. This is advanced work.

Briefly, we can see that the problem with non-expression of negative emotions is that we are still having the emotion---we are just not expressing it. If we are self-remembering at the moment when an impression enters that would normally cause a negative emotion, it is possible to use the resulting energy for ourselves, rather than seeing it disappear off down well-trodden paths. This is also known as the Second Conscious Shock. In the Work, long practice at non-expression of negative emotions and self-remembering are necessary before this becomes possible.

Negative emotions often originate in the instinctive centre. If we are tired, or hungry, or in pain, these inner sensations can often be converted into negative emotions by our imagination.

A cold, a headache, a late night or a missed meal are all enough to drastically alter our behaviour. We may be irritated by far less than usual. We may feel tearful at the slightest pressure. To work with this, we need to be more aware of the life of our instinctive centre. We need to remember our fatigue, our aches, and our appetite, so that we can digest impressions correctly. One way of doing this is to be small, to slow down, and be quieter. This gives our organism more time to operate, alleviating the unpleasant feeling of pressure everyday life creates in us when we are a little worse for wear.

First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. – Matthew 7.5

Negativity towards others is often caused by us seeing in other people exactly what we dislike about ourselves. This negativity is usually accompanied by thoughts such as, `I'm not like that at all!' and `How on Earth could they do/say/think such a thing!' Such negativity will paint the victim as a `something', where the `something' label allows us to think of the victim as being different to ourselves---labels such as fool, drunkard, monster, and so on.

These attitudes prevent us seeing what we, as humans, are really like; they prevent us from learning about and understanding the full variety of human expression. This we must do if we wish to become balanced men. We can tell that our reactions to others' shortcomings are subjective, because usually we are only bothered by certain things, and are able to remain calm in the face of other faults.

We need to remember that negative emotions are a general law on this world. That is to say, virtually all people will express them, will glamorise them, will accept them as the normal. The violence of our `civilised' societies stands testimony to this. After thousands of years of history, man can walk on the moon, can harness the power of the atom, but still is unable to avoid going into a rage when his food is not cooked properly.

So we should not be surprised when people are negative, and should not condemn them for it. We are all negative. To even begin to free oneself from this law takes great and continued efforts.

One problem arising from the `normality' of negative emotions is that work on them sometimes involves behaving differently to conventional wisdom. Sometimes people do appear to behave badly towards us, and it is very easy to feel negative towards them. If we voiced our anger and frustration, people would assure us that they would feel exactly the same in our shoes.

At times like these, it is especially important to remember why we are trying not to express negative emotions. We are not doing it to `be nice', or because it's `bad' to express negative emotions. We are doing it because we wish to study ourselves, and to save energy and time. We are doing it because we wish to wake up.

We must observe the fact that we enjoy our negative emotions. Being in a towering rage can feel dramatic and exciting. We feel energised, passionate, and more alive. Sometimes we are moved to eloquence as our tongue lets fly, and caution goes to the wind. The truth is, when the Work tells us not to be negative, our unspoken reply is, `But I don't want to stop being negative!' Giving up negativity is part of the price we pay for awakening. We have to give up something if we wish to make space for something new in our lives. We can hardly be receptive to higher forces when we are busy flaying someone alive with our tongue.

Also, we have to remember that being negative does not just mean having exciting passions. It also means being ruled by self-pity, depression, loneliness, boredom, dissatisfaction, inadequacy, and envy. We should not fool ourselves that saying we do not want to stop being negative means we could stop if we wanted to. We have no control, and cannot chose not be negative. Until we recognise this, we have no hope of changing.

Work on negative emotions becomes easier when we see that our repertoire of negative emotions is quite limited. Although our circumstances change throughout our lives, and we continually encounter different situations, the basic causes of our resentments do not change. This will be things like not being recognised for one's true worth, or thinking that one needs a change in one's life.

One student had been feeling bored and unappreciated in his job. He realised this was a negative emotion when he remembered that he had felt exactly the same about his college degree, several years ago. Although the justifications were couched in different term, the inner relationship to his main occupation had not changed. Recognition of these emotions can be enormously liberating, because we start to see where they are making the decisions in our life. We have an opportunity to live more intelligently, to stop fear and anger doing all our talking.

To be in a passion you good may do, But no good if a passion is in you. – William Blake

It is important to distinguish expressing negative emotions from standing up for oneself. Non-expression of negative emotions does not mean allowing people to exploit you. If someone is rude to you, or dominates you, or starts to bully you, you have to defend yourself, or you will store up only more of the same for yourself in the future.

When we notice people probing for weaknesses, a shot across the bows at that moment can prevent a full-blown war in the future. It is possible to be firm and direct without becoming identified, without becoming negative. We can see this in the way a good mother treats a naughty child, or in the way a good dog-owner disciplines their pet.

Every situation has a certain amount of power. Sometimes you are in control, sometimes the person you are dealing with is in control. We should not become negative when we discover people using power; rather we should learn the rules of the game, and play it intelligently, according to our aims in a particular situation.

To know when to stop is to preserve ourselves from danger. – Lao Tzu

Sometimes in our lives, certain people become huge obstacles for us. Their shadow seems to fall across our whole existence. Every word they say acquires immense significance. We live in terror of them, and entertain all sorts of absurd fantasies about what they will say or do next.

In these situations, we can end up with the unnerving feeling that we are in a play. We start to see every moment of our lives in relation to this drama. In this state, we may still be reminding ourselves that we should not be expressing negative emotions. Perhaps we do not allow ourselves to voice our feelings or change our circumstances, because we do not want to be negative, because we do not want to `fail'.

We need to be intelligent here, and consider our own capabilities. It is almost certain that there IS a charm for our fears, that we can change our inner relationship to this person. But remember that non-expression of negative emotions is just one line of work. If a situation really is making the rest of our work and our life impossible, we ought to consider the `failure' option, be that walking away, or something else. We may need to learn more before we can deal with certain kinds of situation successfully.

It is very important to understand the difference between talking about negative emotions, and expressing them. It can often be useful to describe our negativity to someone else, so that they can help us see the attitudes behind this.

What is not useful, however, is when this discussion turns into a repeat of all the identification with unpleasant emotions originally experienced. Then we are simply re-expressing negativity, we are throwing more energy away, we are strengthening that certain undesirable something within ourselves. With enough repetition, this can become a negative attitude. This situation is actually far more common than the first.

We have all witnessed people describing their woes, and the intensity and passion with which they explain themselves. To describe an incident in one's past when one was negative dispassionately requires effort, because negativity is mechanical, and to avoid it, we have to cease being mechanical with respect to the circumstance that originally lead to our negativity. Often this involves changing our relationship to an event. It involves seeing something new, such as seeing that the person we are negative towards has done nothing unexpected---nothing we wouldn't have done in their shoes.

If we start to work in a group, we will certainly encounter and express negative emotions within that group. Sometimes we use work terminology to `score points', or to hurt people we are working with, or to impress the teacher. This occurs because the Work ideas have to enter through the lower parts of centres, and they become food for misuse by these parts in the same way as any other ideas does.

Another form of negativity is resentment of the teacher or the Work when things start to get harder for us. Seeing this negativity can help us see that going to meetings is not the same as being more awake. When we realise that all of our petty resentments and motivations appear in a group situation, just as in real life (if not more so), we will begin to realise that the Work is not in the meeting room or the teacher, but is inside.

Negative Emotions - 2

The notion of "Avoiding the Expression of Negative Emotions" has been misconstrued in many expositions of the work and in many people's practice. The problem comes about with the semantics of the term "Negative Emotion." What is a "Negative Emotion?" Most people who read about this Work idea assume that a negative emotion is a "bad" emotion such as anger or hurt or sadness. They assume that a negative emotion is any emotion that seems to make one lose control, one that might make a person appear weak and reactionary.

When someone interprets negative emotions in this way, they very quickly set up a conceptual hierarchy of "good" feelings versus "bad" feelings. They tend to suppress the "bad" feelings and associate right conduct with the expression of "good" feelings. Their idea of proper work with the emotional center is only to express "approved" emotions. "Approved" emotions are only the ones that express a so-called proper relationship between oneself and the Work.

When groups engage in the practice of this particular interpretation of "negative emotions," the results are the often comical if sad manifestations of 4th Way groupies: self-seriousness, the fierce need to set people straight about the correct interpretation of the words of Gurdjieff or Ouspensky, the tendency to see Types rather than people, a work-ethic verging on self-flagellation, etc. These manifestations are all examples of wrong work on the emotional center. They are best understood as "Emotional Constipation."

A clearer understanding of the idea of not expressing negative emotions begins with the distinction between negative emotions and positive emotions. A positive emotion is a feeling or emotion that arises spontaneously in response to the immediate moment. The emotional center responds to the Universe with feelings. Whatever the particular feeling, if it arises genuinely in response to the immediate state of the Universe, it is positive.

A negative emotion is a feeling or emotion that arises in response to a thought, a memory, an analysis of past events. It is a feeling that arises in response to the activity of False Personality, (or as referred to in our own school, the Android).

It has no genuine connection with what is happening in the moment; it is a reflected emotion, generated by automatic or mechanical, as opposed to natural, organic processes; it is an artificial emotion. Hence the term, "negative." Gurdjieff has described the mis-wiring of centers, how the energy of one center can interfere with the activity of another center, etc. Negative emotions are the means by which the Android, or False Personality, is able to use the intellectual center to manipulate the energy of the emotional center.

Now this can understandably be confusing to an inexperienced student encountering this idea. For example, suppose you are engaged in a business deal. You might be satisfied with the negotiations at the moment and even pleased with the deal. Later on, as you begin to think about what happened, you may decide that you "left money on the table." You may start to feel manipulated and angry at the situation. In this case, the sense of satisfaction could well have been a positive emotion, while the anger later on is definitely negative.

In another example, you may be in an emotional argument with your significant other. Your significant other might say something hurtful. Rather than show this hurt, you start telling yourself that the other person didn't really mean it. Eventually you calm yourself down to the point that you think the comment was even a little amusing. In this case, the feeling of hurt is the positive emotion and the feeling of calm amusement is the negative emotion.

Positive emotions are the domain of Essence and negative emotions are the domain of the Android. It takes a great deal of practice and a heightened sense of discernment to recognize in one's self the distinction between positive and negative emotions. So many of our buffers exist to shield our awareness from our own positive emotions. Most of us begin this work awash in negative emotions. We do not know how we really feel. Our feelings are entirely mediated by the Android. In a school setting, the practice of not expressing negative emotions is intended to break this cycle and permit us to begin to gather data on our positive emotions through Self-Observation. As generally formulated, however, this practice is incomplete. A better formulation would be: "make efforts to express positive emotions and not to express negative emotions."

Let us first examine the notion of not expressing negative emotions. Emotions and feelings are sources of energy in our organism. The expression of emotion represents the channeling of this energy throughout our organism. The part of ourselves that is responsible for channeling this energy gets turned on or brought to the fore. Any broadcasting of emotions from our organism engenders a reciprocal response from the Universe in the form of feedback. This feedback, whether from another person or from life situations themselves, is received by that part of ourselves that has been brought to the fore in our manifestation. This feedback then forms an impression that feeds the part of ourselves that was responsible for the manifestation.

When we express a negative emotion, the energy we broadcast to the Universe is directed by the Android. The reciprocal impression that we receive back from the Universe becomes food for the Android and allows it to grow. Growth of the Android means the creation of more I's and the deepening of mechanical behavior.

When we express a positive emotion, we bring Essence to the fore, and the energy we broadcast to the Universe is directed by our Essence. The reciprocal impression that we receive back from the Universe in this instance becomes food for the Essence and allows it to grow. Growth of Essence means the maturing of our true Selves and the deepening of Being. The challenge we face in a school environment with the expression of positive emotions is that this process will always seem to the Android as if we are losing control. It was to deal with this very danger of emotional vulnerability that we originally created the Android. The Android can be very crafty in coming up with ways to prevent us from expressing positive emotions.

The misunderstanding of the practice of non-expression of negative emotions described in the beginning of this article is perhaps one of the craftiest. In a school situation, real results come only when one is willing to "stick one's neck out." Sticking one's neck out means expressing positive emotions. As Gurdjieff said, "essence learns by demonstration." Even in a school, we can only learn by being willing to expose our young, immature Essence, through the expression of positive emotions, to the demonstrations of mature Essence that a only a genuine teacher can provide.

The practice of non-expression of negative emotions is very different from simply repressing negative emotions. To the best of one's ability, one attempts to observe fully the flow of such mechanical emotion in relation to the inner dialog of the Android. One attempts to observe and acknowledge the proceeding internal manifestation without giving any outward indication of this process. The benefit of this practice is that the emotional energy that would ordinarily have served only to feed the Android can now be used to feed one's efforts at Self-Observation. In this transformation, one's Observer is strengthened and one's capacity for discernment deepened.

When one merely supresses negative emotions, not only do they not go away, the energy required to maintain this suppression strengthens and makes more persistent these aspects of the Android. The negative emotion also then generally leaks out in other ways of which one may be completely unaware. Similarly, when one represses positive emotions, one also does so through the agency of the Android. The energy of these emotions becomes "stuck" and as mentioned above, one becomes emotionally constipated. The emotional center becomes distorted and dull.

To summarize, proper work with emotions involves the effort not only to practice the non-expression of negative emotions but also to express genuine positive emotions. Both are necessary for proper Essence transformation. These are extremely powerful methods that are best conducted in the context of a school with a guide(s) who can help one cultivate one's ability to discern the difference between positive versus negative emotion. The superficial treatment that the "non-expression of negative emotions" gets in most public material on the Work is the worst form of wiseacring. It can easily lead to a severe distortion of the emotional center. If by some miracle one manages to still retain some wherewithal to continue in the Work after having practiced this pseudo-technique, then one will require a correspondingly larger kick in the pants to move forward than will someone lucky enough to be starting their Work uncluttered by such a history.


In its ordinary meaning, the term `imagination' does not allow for the distinction as to whether or not its functioning is under our control. If imagination is under our control, then its uses may be distinguished by such names as visualisation, creative thinking, inventive thinking. But when it comes by itself and controls us so that we are in its power, it is `imagination'.

Imagination may be just ordinary daydreams or, for instance, imagining non-existent powers in oneself. But it is the same thing in that it works without control, it runs by itself.

Negative imagination is imagining all kinds of unpleasant things, torturing oneself, imagining all the things that might happen to you or other people. This is distinct from real fear, an instinctive centre function, which is comparatively very rare. In most cases fear is imaginary---the fear is in you. Material is borrowed from the negative part of the instinctive function, and with the help of imagination, it creates negative emotion.

When trying to explain new experiences, imagination enters because one may feel with with one very good apparatus, and explain with a very clumsy machine which cannot really explain. So one must try to deal with facts, as when imagination starts one is lost.

Then one may be more completely under the power of imagination, imagining that one can decide what to do.

Imagination does not mean conscious or intentional thinking, but imagination without any control or result. The idea is to control imagination. If, instead of that, by certain methods it is transformed into imagination in higher emotional states, one may experience bliss, but it is after all, only sleep on a higher level. And there is no way out.

One must observe the many things that are in one's own imagination to see them. One can imagine that one is making efforts to awake. Only begin with the possible, with one step. Try to do a little and results will show you. There is always a limit. If one tries to do too much, imagination takes hold and one will do nothing. Everything cannot be changed at once. Struggle with imagination does not mean that it can be stopped, because this would require much more energy. One can only attempt to stop it.

In fact, imagination takes up very much energy and turns thinking in a wrong direction. This is why verification is necessary. Imagination causes people to easily accept mechanical influences and they begin to imitate one another so that people can spend their lives studying systems and system words and never come to real things. Without verification it is imagination or simply lying. A large proportion of our ordinary knowledge exists only in imagination. It is necessary that this work be first and foremost practical.

Life can provide a test as to whether personalities are imaginary or not. When life puts you into conditions where you can enjoy what you thought you liked, but instead you find that you do not enjoy it at all, only you imagined that you liked it, then you can see that this personality was imaginary. It does not really exist, but we imagine it exists. It exists in its manifestations, but not as a real part of ourselves.

So we imagine ourselves really. Only we are not what we imagine ourselves to be.

The right use of `imagination' then would be to `imagine', or use creative thinking and visualisation, to `imagine' oneself conscious. How would you act, think, speak and so on?


From: Geo Cities

Tell a man that there are 300,000,000,000 stars in the universe, and he will believe you. Tell him that a bench has wet paint on it, and he will have to touch it to be sure. – Anonymous

Lying, in the work sense, is slightly different from lying as the word is usually used, a little more subtle perhaps. Perhaps we might think it is less damaging than what we normally consider as lying, but it is actually more damaging to one personally, as that without working to eliminate it, one can not expect one's personal work on oneself to go far.

Lying in the usual sense, is generally connected with a feeling of guilt and concealment. One knows one is doing wrong by telling something untrue. Lying in the work sense is often associated with a feeling of vanity, and it's easier to buffer that no harm is done by it.

By lying, in the work sense, I mean primarily talking about things one does not know, as though one does. Lying is associated with vanity, and also verification---verification being a possible cure. Lying comes from false personality, and the more you lie, the more you strengthen your false personality. Not lying can involve accepting humiliation, admitting one does not know everything, and thus opening the way to beginning to know things properly, especially oneself.

For example, when I was learning Japanese, I was talking about it to a friend who had studied Chinese. He said how knowing some Chinese helped him when he visited Japan.

For instance, he could guess the sign for Kyoto when he was trying to get on the right train in Tokyo to go to Kyoto, since one of the characters in Kyoto is the same as one of the characters in Beijing, and means `Capital', and Kyoto was the ancient capital of Japan. I immediately jumped to a superior position: `Oh, I've studied those characters in my class, the characters in Tokyo and Kyoto are the same, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference', with a `How stupid you are, how clever I am' in the back of my mind. False personality took the opportunity to bolster it`s position.

Later, I checked what I'd said, and found that I was wrong, only one of the characters in Kyoto and Tokyo are the same, not both. False personality was loath to even mention it to the other person, to apologize for `living'. (To apologize, for me, was an example of voluntary suffering).

Another example, I heard someone ask anther person `At confession, does the Catholic priest say “I forgive you your sins?”' The reply was `No, the priest says “Go and say ten `Hail Mary's' and ten `Our Father's', and your sins will be forgiven.”' I wondered if this was an example of lying, from the certainty with which the reply was given, as if from an expert. I can't say. It also could be an example of not verifying on the part of the questioner. The question may have been from the mechanical part of the intellectual centre, from some association with the previous topic of conversation. It could have been unnecessary talking.

If it was something the person really wanted to know about, the best way would be to find out by verification, for example, go to confession and listen to the priest, or go and find a priest who will discuss the matter of what confession and absolution of sins involves.

Here's another example. Someone was asking about the work of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, from a position of assuming it makes claims without proving them (making this assumption is lying, if you have not seen it to be true). He was saying `There are people who claim that there are three old women who are hundreds of years old, who live in a cave in India, and I don't believe that sort of thing…'. The answer `Well, you can go and look in the cave, see if they do or not, if you want to find out, and verify'.

The person was not interested in verification, he was lying, in a sense, even though common sense might indicate that it is unlikely there are no such old women. He was lying because he was talking from the point of view that he knew the truth, though he had not verified. Here, false personality is clearly evident, since really, the existence of such old women is neither here nor there, it was not really relevant to asking about this work, and would have probably no effect on this person's life or well-being.

Or recently, I was with a group of people, myself being the only native English speaker. Someone wanted to insist that the English used the word `cheese' as a farewell word, when saying goodbye. This was really quite obvious lying to a native speaker, `He doesn't know what he's talking about', think I. But to the others, what he said might have been an interesting piece of information for their false personalities to take in, and go home and tell to other friends. Vanity would display how clever it is. However, in this case, his statement was questioned, and finally we worked out he meant that Germans say `Tschuess'. He was talking about something he did not really know about, pretending that he did.

This is lying to oneself, believing one is an expert, when one is not. It can prevent one from listening to people who really do know something, and can prevent one from learning, since one already believes one knows.

Lying to oneself can be a little different again from the above examples, that involved other people. In lying to oneself, one may believe, for instance, that one is always on time, when in fact one is always late. Buffers will prevent the truth from being seen, for instance, telling oneself that `This occasion is quite exceptional'. `I'm always on time, so this is excusable to be late for once.' `It's all the fault of so-and-so, if it wasn't for them this would never have happened.' One may even call to mind some occasion when one was on time, and take that as the example one mentally refers to.

Lying such as this is difficult to deal with. One does not want to see one's faults (again, vanity would like to believe we had none). If one persists in lying to oneself, one will not see one's true position, and if you can't see your current position, you can't change. Through being invariably late, one may miss many opportunities. But if one does not even know that one is late, one will not work to change things.

How can things become visible that we are blind to? How can we stop lying? In the case of lying to ourselves, we need to be open to other people pointing out our faults to us. If your friend is annoyed---`You're late again', rather than start justifying, buffering, and disagreeing, one could ask oneself `Is she right?'

We need to be willing to accept that we may not be perfect. Similarly in lying to others, one must be willing to admit to oneself that one does not know. To know, one must verify.


Fourth Way p. 14

Studying man in his present state of sleep, absence of unity, mechanicalness and lack of control, we find several other wrong functions which are the result of his state — in particular, lying to himself and to other people all the time.

  • The psychology of ordinary man could even be called the study of lying, because man lies more than anything else; and as a matter of fact, he cannot speak the truth.
  • It is not so simple to speak the truth; one has to learn how to do it, and sometimes it takes a very long time.

Q. Would you mind explaining what you mean by lying?
A. Lying is thinking or speaking about things that one does not know; this is the beginning of lying.

  • It does not mean intentional lying — telling stories, as for instance that there is a bear in the other room.
  • You can go to the other room and see that there is no bear in it.

But if you collect all the theories that people put forward on any given subject, without knowing anything about it, you will see where lying begins.

  • Man does not know himself, he does not know anything, yet he has theories about everything.
  • Most of these theories are lying.

Q. I want to know the truth that it is good for me to know in my present state. How can I discover whether it is a lie?
A. For almost everything you know you have methods for verifying. But first you must know what you can know and what you cannot. That helps verifying. If you start with that you will soon hear lies, even without thinking. Lies have a different sound, particularly lies about things we cannot know.

The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution p. 31

What is lying?

As it is understood in ordinary language, lying means distorting or in some cases, hiding the truth, or what people believe to be the truth. This lying plays a very important part in life, but there are much worse forms of lying, when people do not know that they lie. I said in the last lecture that we cannot know the truth in our present state, and can only know the truth in the state of objective consciousness. How then can we lie? There seems to be a contradiction here, but in reality there is none. We cannot know the truth but we can pretend that we know. And this is lying. Lying fills all our life.

People pretend that they know all sorts of things: about God, about the future life, about the universe, about the origin of man, about evolution, about everything; but in reality they do not know anything, even about themselves. And every time they speak about something they do not know as though they knew it, they lie. Consequently the study of lying becomes of the first importance in psychology

And it may lead even to the third definition of psychology which is: the study of lying.

Psychology is particularly concerned with the lies a man says and thinks about himself. These lies make the study of man very difficult. Man, as he is, is not a genuine article. He is an imitation of something, and a very bad imitation.

The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution p. 37

Lying is unavoidable in mechanical life. No one can escape it and the more one thinks that one is free from lying, the more one is in it. Life, as it is could not exist without lying. But from the psychological side, lying has a different meaning. It means speaking about things one does not know, and even cannot know, as though one knows and can know.

Unnecessary Talking

Unnecessary talking is one of the chief obstacles to awakening.

If we want to awaken, we need to reduce unnecessary talking, and if you want to reduce it, you need to know what it is, both in theory and practice.

Talking has many uses. We are the only animal on the planet that has this faculty. We can use it to communicate great ideas, to ask simple questions. To express emotions, in all kinds of forms, from simple greetings, to moving poems. We can use talking to ask someone to `Please pass the salt', to give the instinctive-moving brain what it needs. There's a lot of useful, necessary talking.

On the other hand, there is also talking that has no use, that does not achieve any aim, that is simply talking for talking's sake. You aren't interested whether the other person is interested to hear what you're saying, you probably aren't aware of what's going on, engrossed in the conversation. You might well feel drained afterwards, and have no memory of what you said, it was so trivial.

Talking like this can use a huge amount of energy, and is a sure sign of sleep.

You don't even need to have another person around to be doing unnecessary talking. You can be talking to yourself, going over some old arguments, having an imaginary conversation in your head. You might be making mental notes on everything that you are doing. This should not be mistaken for self-observation---self-observation should involve all centers. If you just say what you are doing to yourself, you are probably missing a huge amount that can not be put into words.

There is no rule to tell you what is necessary and what is unnecessary talking. You have to observe yourself, see if what you are saying is of any use, and how does it make you feel? Some people are more prone to unnecessary talking than others, and will need to work on it more. For some people it may be that they do very little talking at all, and really need to speak up more often.

For myself, I fall into the first group, an endless talker. A little while ago, I went to see Notre Dame in Paris with some friends. We'd read what Ouspensky had written about Notre Dame in A New Model of the Universe, and were interested to try and see what we could see in it ourselves.

My friends stood and looked at the statues on the front, while I went on: `That looks like so and so', `I wonder what that one is supposed to represent?', `They are supposed to be the seven human types with each of the four dominant brains.', `I've heard the original heads are in another museum, maybe these are not accurate copies'; And on and on.

We walked away, on to find somewhere to eat, and one of my friends said how he'd felt quite moved by the figures. I was suddenly taken aback a little, as I'd not felt anything at all. I realized that all I had taken in, I had immediately given out in talking. I had not absorbed or digested the impression. I felt a loss, and a realization about the prison of my mechanics.

Recently I was walking through a park with someone, talking incessantly. The other person tried to tell me to reduce this, but I couldn't. Eventually, we decided an exercise, not to talk at all for the rest of the walk. Gosh, what an interesting walk it became. I started to see what was around me, and have such clear memories of the beautiful trees. The walk only lasted about an hour more, but it felt like a whole day had gone by, time was stretched. Less energy was lost.

This kind of exercise is not useful in other situations, as one does need to talk. But I learnt a lot in just a little time. I would keep finding myself feeling I had something really desperately important to say, and I would just have to break my silence. But counting to ten, and thinking `Well, I can make a mental note of it and say it later'---by the time I had got to ten, generally the thing seemed to have lost all importance, and often, I could not recall at all what this `incredibly important' thing had been!

To work with unnecessary talking, you need to begin with self-observation, to find out if you are a person who suffers from it, and to observe what you lose by indulging in it, and what you gain by refraining.

Inner Considering

What is internal considering?

When we begin this work we are told to observe certain things in ourselves which leak our energy and thus keep us asleep. One of these psychological manifestations is identification which causes us to lose a lot of energy and prevents us from remembering ourselves. One form of identification is called inner considering which is identification with oneself.

Inner considering can be divided into two aspects which are really two sides of the same thing.

Inner considering: What we believe others think of us.

The first aspect is thinking what others think of us, feeling that one is not properly treated, that one does not receive proper recognition or is misunderstood. Or we feel insulted that we have not been estimated at our proper value and say, `Do you know who I am?', meaning that if the other person did know they would not behave as they do.

A person who has a picture of him/herself as being valuable easily feels others do not estimate him/her at the same value and will inner consider. A person may be so preoccupied with whether he is treated rightly he will suspect others, for example, of laughing at him. Conversely, a man who has a low opinion of himself can also suffer from inner considering, constantly worrying if others can see he is stupid, worthless etc. Other people consider themselves worthy of special valuation because they have had all kinds of hardships, miseries and sufferings. They are offended if another person talks about his hardships and think they are selfish.

Examples of this form of inner considering include:

  • worrying that you might be seen doing something stupid and what other people will think of you, i.e. worrying about making a fool of yourself
  • worrying about inconveniencing others
  • feeling embarrassed for someone else because you think they are making a fool of themselves
  • feeling trapped by circumstances and wishing everyone or everything would go away and then it will be alright
  • feeling irritated with people, the weather, events, when situations do not correspond to how we think they should go.

Inner considering: Making inner accounts against other people

The other aspect is making inner accounts against other people which comes from feeling one has not got one's rights. The result of making accounts is feeling that other people owe us, that we deserve better treatment, more recognition, more rewards, more praise. We then write it down in a psychological account book, which we are constantly reviewing in our minds.

Again this leads to self-pity which can spill out into a long list of all our sufferings. All accounts of this kind are based on feeling that we are owed by other people and that we owe nothing ourselves.

Examples of making accounts are:

  • the waiter didn't come when you called him
  • the shop assistant served another person first
  • someone at a party didn't pay you enough attention or even seemed to ignore you
  • wondering when someone is going to notice what you've done and thank you for it
  • thinking that it's the other person's turn to pay for coffee
  • wanting to make it known how much work you've done.

Why do we internally consider?

It comes down to one's own valuation of oneself, where we identify with ourselves. The Work says that a man is only offended where he is identified with himself. First comes being identified with oneself, which is followed by being upset, hurt and offended, and thirdly comes making inner accounts.

What happens when we inner consider?

Feeling you are owed, feeling debts, wanting to get every pound of flesh from those people you think owe you, by making them apologies or make amends, puts you in prison, under greater number of unnecessary laws. As said in the Lord's Prayer: `Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors', a man can only grow through the forgiveness of others. If we inner consider all day long, secretly or openly, and are full of inner accounts two things will happen: firstly, we will be cut off from higher centers i.e. `help' as we cannot hear them over the noise of inner considering. The second is that we will lose a great deal of energy because it leads to negative thoughts and feelings and we will keep on imagining that people are doing things intentionally to us when they are not. Consequently, there will be no inner strength and saved-up force through which we can grow.


Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 1.2

A few thoughts about (gasp) vanity.

There is something very odd about vanity. It is very funny (to me) how vanity wants to be admired by people whom it thinks are inferior!

One would think that vanity wouldn't have anything to do with a `lower class' (asssessed as `lower' by vanity). Hahaha. Maybe it is because vanity believes it really is better than everybody else and because of this thinks this superior position, albeit an invention of it's own, is admirable.

Hahaha, when vanity is right `out there' in everyone's face, such as at a meeting when someone would preface a question with, `(clearing throat) Ahem, as a Man No. 4, I think…' and other `snootyisms', the late Anna Gold and I would roll our eyes at each other. Anna, for those who remember, was rather outspoken in the eyball-rolling department (as well as vocally)! hahaha

People attached to their vanity usually don't like me much. One of the reasons for this is that I do not `feed' that weakness in myself, thus I don't feed it in others. Ah, I take that back. I do `feed' vanity at my office, at the store, when I want something. I am, however, in the minor leagues where vanity is concerned---basically because one of my weaknesss is that I tend to under value myself (thanks, Mom).

When I'm `trying to act uppity' for some silly reason, usually I'm on very shaky ground. My `hot air pie' is so fragile, it can collapse with a frown coming from someone obviously unhappy with my act. (G) So, most of the time in my dealings with people (especially work type people), I find the company to be third-force to keep that old pie in the pantry. (G)

At the same time, vanity usually does not admire other people with vanity unless they have formed a `mutual admiration society' together somehow. Among the vain is also a pecking order as to who is the `highest'. Sometimes at those very late coffee shops, if, say, some hierarchy member was mentioned as being a good example of an overblown vanity feature, someone at the gathering would remark, `Well, I'm certainly glad I am AT this meeting!' (inferring if they were not we might be discussing THAT person in their absence)! hahaha So we find that vanity will defend observations of anybody's vanity. (G)

Vanity also bows to stronger vanity, especially if the bowER thinks there is some personal advantage to be liked by the bowEE. (G)

From Ecclesiastes, `the preacher', comes the line, `Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.' In this sense the way life is set up, everybody has to be in vanity of some sort because we all wear `masks'---the mask of our form and its actions which is seen by others covers everything. Humans cannot actually `see' each other in this `play of vanity.' The rock bottom `vanity' is merely an attribute of the human condition, and at this level is not `being vain' in the sense of snootyism.

I think I could turn and live with animals,
     they are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine
     about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark
     and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their
     duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented
     with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind
     that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the
     whole earth.
               Song of Myself –  Walt Whitman

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