The Observation of I's and States

Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

~Maurice Nicoll

Every 'I' produces its own state. Everyone is in a certain state at a certain moment owing to an 'I' that produces this state in him or her. If you find it difficult to study different 'I's in you there are two things that help. Different 'I's are grouped in personalities within the Personality—for example, a man has a certain personality connected with his college and a quite different personality connected with his domestic life. These sub-divisions of the Personality as a whole are themselves composed of many different 'I's. On one occasion Mr. Ouspensky was talking about the difficulty of seeing different 'I's and said we should try to see groups of 'I's which might be called sub-personalities. A man goes to his club and he has a certain personality; he then goes to his office where he has a different personality; and then he goes home where he is in a different personality. The other way of studying 'I's is to notice one's state. As I said, each 'I' produces its own atmosphere, its own state in oneself. In viewing any matter, if we have any power of successive observation, we soon recognize that we take it in different ways at different times. This is because of the shifting kaleidoscope of 'I's. When a particular 'I' is predominant we view things through this 'I' and the next moment when a different 'I' comes up we view the matter in a quite different way.

Now one can easily become negative or depressed when one begins to notice this in oneself. But this is quite wrong from everything that the Work teaches us. We have no Real 'I', no permanent 'I', and have to realize it. We have to see the truth for ourselves. This continual change of different 'I's in us is exactly what we are told to observe. Sometimes people say: "Cannot you make up your mind definitely as to what you think about Mr. X? Do you like him or not?". But this question is foolish because it all depends which 'I' you are in when you happen to meet him. Each 'I' will induce a different state in you and in each different state you will view him differently.

Now if you have begun to have Work-memory through self-observation you will begin to know this already. This means that you no longer believe in your momentary different states—i.e. in your different 'I's which keep coming up in turn. 'I's cannot be overcome save by self-observation and non-identifying. A person may have the idea that he should really make up his mind definitely, let us say, about Mr. X. I will ask you this question: "What is going to make up your mind?" Each 'I' will make up your mind quite differently—that is, each 'I' will give you a quite different outlook towards him. If you begin to observe your 'I's and not identify with him you will finally get a picture of Mr. X. composed of all the different angles that each 'I' in you sees. You will therefore get a composite picture of Mr. X.—not a picture based on the opposites but a full picture of him. I will add here that this is quite impossible unless you can see different 'I's in yourself. If you have no memory arising from moments of selfobservation and Self-Remembering you will never be able to get a full picture of Mr. X. And what is the reason? The reason is that you have no composite picture of yourself yet and therefore are still in Imaginary 'I' whose power over us makes us say 'I' to every 'I'. As you know, you have to get rid of the idea that you are one unvarying person. This hits Vanity and Pride, perhaps even more especially at Pride. You know how difficult it is for a person to admit that he has changed his mind. I think this is Pride. You surely all know people, if you don't know yourself already, who think they are always the same. Such people are living under a delusion. They do not see that at every moment they change owing to a succession of different 'I's that come into their conscious sphere and take charge of it for the moment and induce a certain state. Do you remember what was said about 'I's, how each 'I' is Caliph for a moment? After a time it is quite possible to reach that stage in the Work in which you do not believe so much in yourself as a real person. This is part of the loosening process of the Work and gives a form of consciousness that life rarely grants us—i.e. the new consciousness that comes through self-observation in the light of esoteric teaching. This consciousness gradually begins to approach the Third Level of Consciousness, or the Level of Self-Awareness,- or the State of Self-Remembering, or Self-Consciousness. I can think of no better definition of what Self-Awareness means than that you begin to be aware of typical 'I's in you and do not allow them to become Caliphs and do not identify with the states they induce.

Now do you recognize your states and do you recognize that at every moment you are in a particular state and in each state you see things differently just as in walking round a house you see it from quite different angles at every moment? You may not be able to see an 'I', because I think sometimes people think of an 'I' as something written on the blackboard and do not see that an 'I' can only be detected by the state it produces in you. An 'I' cannot be recognized as an 'I' just like that. It can only be recognized by observing the intellectual and emotional state that it induces. For example, you find yourself having certain thoughts and feelings. Or you are in a mood. Perhaps you do not yet realize clearly enough that this is due to an 'I' in you that is predominant at the moment. You are identified with this 'I' and see everything through this 'I'. You are thinking through it, you are having its thoughts, you are feeling through it, you are feeling its emotions. Now if you are observing your thoughts and your emotions and after a time begin to recognize that you have had the same thoughts and emotions previously, you will begin to recognize that this is an 'I' in you, and if you have any memory through self-observation you will know quite well that these thoughts, these emotions, become quite different later on—i.e. when a different 'I' is predominant in you. In fact, you may laugh at these thoughts, these emotions, and wonder why you took everything in that way. This is exactly what an 'I' is. You cannot see an 'I' itself as you can see a human being or a butterfly or a piece of coal: it is not an object outside you. You can only observe an 'I' through its effects on you, through what it is suggesting to you, through what it is saying to you and trying to make you think and trying to make you feel. It is a very good thing to ask oneself sometimes: "In what state am I?" After a time in the Work you will find that this is a difficult question to answer because you have so many memories of different states, apart from the one you are in, that you do not accept the particular state that has come in through the 'I' that is trying to induce it and to make you believe in it at the moment. In other words, you begin to shift and sway away from your successive states—that is, from the power of successive 'I's that seek to hypnotize you and make you obey them. This is movement towards Real 'I'. Real 'I' of course obeys nothing but itself and controls all other 'I's. But in order to approach this psychological state where Real 'I' lives—and it is a long journey—you must first of all not submit to your changing 'I's which are not you, not Real 'I', but which are always trying to persuade you that they are you. Every 'I' says to you something like this: "Look now, this is what you really are. I am you and this is how you feel, this is how you really think." And I assure you that these 'I's are very clever hypnotists and in the vast majority of people their action is extremely successful. The vast majority of people believe in every successive 'I' that flits into their minds at a particular moment.

So try to notice 'I's through observing your states. We begin this Work by noticing our states and the quality of our thoughts and the quality of our feelings. Let me give you one more example. Someone came to me the other day and said: "I feel rather hopeless about my progress in the Work." I said: "Why do you not observe this 'I' in you?"

[Uit Deel III]