03 November 2006

Developing an observer

(copy of a letter)

Well, if you want to develop a 'soul', or whatever, you could try the following.

Gurdjieff sets great store by developing an ‘observer’; that is, you regard yourself as something that is watching what is going on in your mind. This is probably a prerequisite for centralisation or existential perception. This means you don’t identify with your psychology, it is something you observe. You don’t feel responsible for what you observe in your psychology, because you can’t prevent it from being there. This is often very difficult, because people do feel that their psychology is what they really are, and any part of it which they regret or think other people might disapprove of may give them serious feelings of worthlessness and despair.

There is a lot of social influence in the direction of making people feel that they ought to be able to control what is in their own psychology or to apply some fictitious sticking plaster to cover it up, but this is not helpful. People might eventually get a bit more freedom of choice about what they want to reinforce or manipulate, but that isn’t likely to happen while they are still feeling responsible for what they are observing. More often than not there are things which they are trying to change instead of observing them, and trying to feel differently about. This is both decentralising and deprives you of a lot of emotional energy, although it can be very difficult to get into the right position.

People often feel that their life has been ruined in some way or another and if they see how bad it is and how irrevocable they are afraid it is, they will give up, so it is better not to see it too clearly. Then, of course, one has to cultivate realism, but this is often not obvious because a lot of things are peddled as realistic attitudes which are not. People generally have a lot of value judgements and don’t think that there may be exceptions. E.g. going to school is always a ‘good thing’, doctors are always trustworthy, universities are infallible.

Any value judgements that have a certain amount of social support are likely to be occlusive but one can avoid becoming identified with them by remembering that in any given case there may be a large number of factors which you can’t begin to evaluate, possibly including some inconceivable ones. Of course, in the examples I have given it is not difficult to imagine counter examples; you only have to envisage the possibility of one irresponsible and incompetent doctor. Any value judgements that imply ‘shoulds’ are particularly dubious.