I remember my first journey into the world of being conscious of identification.
I had been particularly struck by its description in the book In Search of the Miraculous by P D Ouspensky – considered to be one of the key works in the exposition of Gurdjieff’s ‘4th Way’; a path of psychological and spiritual self-exploration that caused great interest in the first half of the last century.
The essence of the 4th Way’s teachings is that we have forgotten ourselves. At first, this sounds absurd; how can anyone say that when we, visibly, live with constant awareness of what we are doing, and need to be doing, at any point in our busy lives?
Our anxious state of busyness is the first clue to a door-opening discovery about our lives – if we can find some attentive time to examine it – because what we take for our ‘self’ in this relationship of self to world is in fact just the world… Or, more factually, our picture of it…
As our lives develop from infancy to self-conscious young person to adult, we coalesce our energies around those things that give us a return on our investment or which provide a natural pleasure. The former might be working for a promotion; the latter, good food from well-badged restaurants, nice cars or sex-as-achievement.
It’s an interesting exercise to sit down in quietness and write down what we have ‘achieved’ so far in our lives. Next to each of these note the objects: a good watch or jewellery, a better house than we started out with, regular holidays in the sun, etc.
Later, we find that more subtle things, like the way we look at groups of people with a certainty that they are bad, or not up to standard, or even really good, despite what others say, are parts of our perception of life that take up a large amount of our precious personal energy.
As we do this, we might dare to imagine each one of these things we identify with being ‘taken away’ and see if there’s anything left of ‘us’. There might come a feeling of being starved of oxygen if we are honest enough. So why should anyone go anywhere near this painful self-inquiry which clearly runs counter to the general view of success?
There are at least two parts to the answer. The first is that each one of these things has a potentially terrible hold over us, defining who we are by this process of identification. The second is that none of these things make for lasting inner happiness.
Happiness, in itself, appears ‘suspect’ to those who have spent some time considering what matters in their lives. Its fickle appearance and disappearance in our lives may not conform to any repeatable laws that we can control. No-one is suggesting that we should counter this by trying to be unhappy, but there is an ‘in-between’ space that we can wisely step into if we can self-observe at such times. This place of deeper awareness contains the certainty that the pendulum of happiness is a trap – a dependency built up over time, whose main secret agent is the process of identification.
These objects of identification are knitted together to form a ‘ship’ in which we sail ‘on’ our lives. Seeing their power is only half the problem. When we think that we might remove them or, more likely, lessen their importance, we are immediately confronted with a terror that we could sink, could cease to exist, unable to breathe.
This is a profound moment, for it reveals, in all its brutal power, that we live in a picture of self rather than our real self. We have all built a life conditioned by identification and it has robbed us of our real vitality.
That sense of panic, of not being able to breathe, is key to discovering what has this power over us. Humour is vitally important, too, in such a self-quest. We might decide that, somewhere deep within what we have made ourselves, there is a secret Organisation for the Numbing of the Conscious Mind. Let’s play with the letters and call it SONCOM.
For now, let’s just speculate that the opposition to our self-inquiry is so powerful that viewing it as an organised opposition is quite justified – if humourously so.
Any true unravelling of the power of identification requires companionship and a gentle approach. That’s the basis of the gentle, but nurturing methods we use in the Silent Eye.
Let’s park that and get back to our little boat. What happens if we are courageous enough to kick a few holes in our own hull? The water will come in, of course. But then we might just discover that we were really water creatures, after all…
More on SONCOM next week in #Silenti.
©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017