Man is not a Unity but Multiple

Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

~Maurice Nicoll

(1) If a man takes himself as one, no struggle can develop within him. If no struggle develops within him, he cannot change. Why is this so?

(2) If a man supposes there is only one thing that acts, thinks and feels in him—that is, one 'I'—then he cannot understand that there should be one thing that commands and another that obeys. This means that if man regards himself as a unity, nothing can change in him. The work says: "Unless a man divides himself into two, he cannot shift from where he is in himself"—that is, he cannot be different in himself.

(3) If a man is so hypnotized and therefore so asleep as to think he is one, he cannot receive the ideas of the work. What is the object of the practical side of the work—that is, the ideas and instructions relating to work on oneself? This object is to make a man work on himself by dividing himself into a work-side and a mechanical side—that is, to observe himself from the angle of the work ideas. In that case, the observing side looks at the side to be observed. So a man becomes two —an observing side and an observed side.

(4) If a man thinks he is one and a unity, and that it is always the same self that acts and thinks and does, how can he observe himself? He cannot, because he imagines he himself is one and so nothing is to be observed about himself. In such a case, a man often believer that observation means observation of something outside himself—of 'buses, streets, people, scenery, etc. But self-observation is not done via the external senses which shew only what is not oneself-—i.e., the outer world.

(5) Unless the work is established in a man by means of Observing 'I', nothing can change in him. Observing 'I' is more interior than life as sense. But if Observing 'I' is not supported by some depth of continual and renewed understanding of the work, it weakens and, in stress of outer life-circumstances, fades away—then a man finds himself simply back in life and if life is favourable at the moment to his selfinterests, he does not suffer.

(6) The establishing of Observing 'I' is to make something more interior in a man, so that it can observe what is more exterior in him (exterior not in the sense of outer exterior life, but in him, in his personality, in Johnson, if his name is Johnson). Unless this Observing 'I' is established—that is, unless a man is willing to observe himself (and himself is not anything in outer sense-given life, his house, his furniture, his money, his dinners, his garden, his business, his social position, his medals, his pedigree, his clothes, etc.)—unless he can begin this inner act, nothing can change in him. He remains the same person.

(7) After a long time in the work the inner system, which starts from willing Self-Observation—that is, from a willing Observing 'I'—begins to act and control the mechanical man. It does this by means of collecting round it all 'I's in Personality which wish to and can work. This stage is Deputy-Steward. If this persists in spite of temptations, something very strange begins to happen. Temptations in this first stage of the work are wholly struggling against doubts, evil interpretations, slander, scruples, finding fault, making requirements, and so on, for no other temptations exist for us at this stage. This is where a man must first be tempted in this way to be any good for any further awakening. Observing 'I' collects round it 'I's that can work and understand the work. They form a small group of 'I's called Deputy-Steward, which have to struggle and fight, not only with False Personality but with undeveloped Essence. If Deputy-Steward, in spite of endless failures, becomes strong enough, "Steward" draws near. "Steward" belongs to something above man. It comes at first in flashes and often when it draws near, people have great difficulties either externally or in struggles with negative states in the form of illness, etc. "Steward" comes from a different level. To receive, as it were, "Steward", a man must undergo a new setting of himself, a new ordering of his mind, or even brain cells. But this always takes place in the way best for the individual and can be endured. The work is to get in touch with higher centres. But they work in their own way so changes have to take place in a man. A man cannot produce these changes himself for he knows nothing of the new connections necessary. It is through his personal work and the struggle of Deputy-Steward in him that they are brought about—that is, what is trying to enter from above a man brings this about when the conditions are right. Once brought about, the man is a different man. His feeling of 'I' is different. His ideas and thoughts, his reasoning and his actions are different. He has undergone the self-evolution latent in him. He is "born again" as the phrase in the Gospels puts it. But all this is impossible unless a man establishes Observing 'I' to begin with and has the help of the work, via the understanding of it for himself, which means the clustering of other 'I's in him round Observing 'I', so that a small band of 'I's is formed in the chaos of his inner life called "Deputy-Steward". But, of course, if a man remains in the conceit that he is one and can only be one, and that there is always one thing that acts, feels, thinks, speaks, etc., in him, all that has been said above remains impossible of realization.