To be present is to step out of personality and recollect being in the field of impartial attention.
June 3, 2023
January 24, 2018
A group member writes:
I remember: Early in life I adopted specific postures, gestures and ways of speaking to express and interpret my world. These came about through mimicry and necessity, shaped by my nature and predispositions. Mostly I am so inside of these habits that I cannot see how I appear from the outside. They are me and I am them. There is no separation. It is all part of my identity. Different roles that I have taken on have perhaps altered these slightly to suit societal expectations but I would say that my identity was determined at a very young age.
I watch my new born granddaughter look out from eyes which cannot see as we see, where nothing is familiar, nothing is recognizable except the warmth and compassion that she is held. Yet her being is overwhelmingly present. Watching her over the last several months discover herself, the possibility of movement, the slow and steady occupation of her body, fingers, toes, arms, legs and torso. Her struggle with gravity. And then taking that body out into the world. Where everything is a wonder. Somewhere in this journey, surprisingly quickly, a personality takes shape. Underlying this personality is the being who first arrived, naked and without the imprint of all of us who claim her as our own.
Does that being continue to live in us throughout our life? Can we return to our being?
It seems to me that if I could describe the essence of being it would be all perception and sensation. There would be a newness to everything, a wonder. Of course we cannot eliminate our experience, but perhaps it could cease to be a blindfold to what is here now.
March 6, 2016
From childhood, you have been told not to interrupt others. And this is good advice. Interrupting the automatic functioning of attention in other people makes them more prone to accidents and sudden mood shifts. But intentionally interrupting yourself is another matter.
Most of you have probably heard of Gurdjieff’s famous stop exercise. This is an example of interrupting others which can perhaps be defended by the fact that it occurred in a school among people who had agreed to the exercise. How would I interrupt myself? And why?
Let’s deal with the ‘why’ first. My sleeping life consists of the flow of automatic attention through a sequence of habitual so-called emotional states. These emotional states, sensations really, are rooted in the body where they fuel the superstructure of the personality, a linked series of identities usually constructed around social roles and related self-images such as parent, worker, victim, child, femme fatale, critic, bon vivant. These identities are recognizable by repeated postures, gestures and speech patterns which project a measure of coherence. The cherry on top is a personal story or history which explains who I am and why, available at the drop of a hat (just ask). All of this is automatically triggered by my reaction to my environment which is continuously being monitored by my automatic attention. My automatic attention reads what is going on and selects the appropriate identity. Voila! Here ‘I’ am.
The basic integrity of this haphazard and somewhat flimsy structure depends upon the sensation-states of the body. Any sort of interruption can throw ‘me’ into dysfunction, potentially making possible, or even requiring, a momentary engagement of voluntary attention. Begin with a shower. Shave left before right. Left shoe first. Toast and coffee by eight. These seemingly unimportant but never varying little details allow the parade of appropriate identities to proceed without disruption, in fact without even being noticed. That’s why we call it sleep. The Sufis also call it heedlessness because the automatic functioning makes it possible for me to be essentially unaware of what is going on around me.
Why interrupt the flow? To create a separation, a space for the possibility of observing, engaging voluntary attention, invoking presence, making possible a real response to your environment. How? Get up one hour earlier? Right shoe first? No coffee with breakfast? Pick just one activity and vow to change it. This vow is serious and it must be kept. Take the vow during the activity and repeat it whenever the activity is performed. Every time the activity is performed in the old way, it must be redone. You will establish a trigger to observe yourself every time you do it. This work can be done on your own.
In the work group, you will have many opportunities to interrupt others, either directly or by ceasing to listen. Learn to withhold the impulse to interrupt. This is a potent form of interrupting yourself.
You are entering terra incognita, a land unknown to you. In time, you can claim it as part of your life. Until then, it belongs to sleep.
July 29, 2015
I notice that when I engage in observation of self, I have an opinion about everything.
Observation becomes opinion when it passes through the prism of the personality.
One of the great discoveries of work on self is that perception can be uncoupled from the personal preferences of the human apparatus. Sensation is an electro-chemical phenomenon. Sensation-based experience is exactly what it is. The human machine then supplies all sorts of reactions…commentary, opinion, like/dislike and other emotions based on its less-than-perfect recordings of past experience.
It is possible to be neutral about sensations, to take them as data. It is also possible to take the reactions as data, just more phenomena to observe. Or you can get caught up in reacting and reacting to the reactions, a loop of increasing subjectivity which wastes energy and obscures perception.
Identifying with your reactions is the issue. I see that someone has reacted with what I interpret to be dislike to something I have said. Do I need to have an opinion about this? Do I need to justify or defend whatever I did to cause this reaction? Do I need to judge the person as wrong or silly? Do I need to experience guilt? Every one of these reactions is likely to engage further reactions, limiting the possibilities of the next moment and the one after that, perhaps wasting the whole day by the time that I finally discharge, forget and move on. Perhaps my interpretation of their reaction is incorrect to begin with. Can I withhold my opinion and related reactions and wait to see more?
What makes my personal opinions and preferences so important? Perhaps it has something to do with my love of personal history. I have all these stories that I like to tell about myself…the places I have been, the people I have met, the things I have done. These stories are my personal history, they explain who I am to others and especially to myself. They satisfy my need for identity. And they cement in place the preferences, opinions and reactions that form my personality.
Of course, past experience is valuable. The scope of perception is widened by experience…what I have seen may enable me to see more. Furthermore, some of my reactions are programmed by experiences which are best not repeated. But an ability to be neutral, to be a man of no opinion, cannot be underestimated. Most of my dependency on the past is psychological and completely useless in the present. Much of my personal history is just made up nonsense that is typically at variance with the recollection of others.
Can personal history be erased? Perhaps you could begin by observing your story-telling. Can you sense the ease and familiarity of starting the recitation? Who is the person you are describing? What picture do you paint for yourself and others? Can you then voluntarize the telling, consciously entering into the sensations, gestures, imagery and tone of voice that would otherwise be automatic? Perhaps your love of the story cannot survive exposure to impartial attention.
To be neutral, objective, impartial, lets in the light of new perceptions. Perhaps you think such a state is cold, unfeeling, disengaged. First, see if it is possible before you form an opinion. Perhaps you will find it is a compassionate state, shot through with beauty.