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.
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