Gnostic Psychology – Part 2A (Fundamentals of Self-Study)

The Knowledge of Self and Self-Study

As we have said that Gnostic Psychology is the study of the “Interior World” of each and every one of us. In order to change we must know what we presently are so that we can determine what we need to do in order to become what we want to be.

What are our goals and our objectives in life? Why are certain things important to us and others are not? What do we fear? Honest self-analysis is important, whether we are starting a business or a new relationship. Rarely do extraordinary things happen by themselves, so what do we need to do to achieve our goals?

In Gnosis the ultimate goal for the human being is complete self-knowledge (“Man, know yourself, and you will know the Universe and its Gods”).

 

How to Know Ourselves (The Method of ‘Sane Objectivity’)

“We are told that over the main gate of the Pythagorean Institute at Cretona were carved the words, γνῶθι σεαυτόν Gnothe Seauton “Know Thyself”. [1] The first step toward knowing oneself is realizing that one does not. The key to this whole problem is sane objectivity. The possibility of knowing oneself can arise only when a person is prepared to investigate their own attributes and characteristics, and his or her own behavior, as they would inquire into those of a stranger.

The subtlety of this undertaking and its difficulty cannot be overstated; at every turn one will (sometimes even deliberately) misinterpret what one sees and the constant falsity of one’s ingrained, subjective image of themselves will distort what is plainly in front of one’s eyes. To see what can easily be seen, is not so hard; but the way in which it is seen (how it is seen), that is the key.

The very first step in this Method is to look upon oneself as upon a stranger, literally, because a stranger to oneself is what one truly is. A scientist in a laboratory investigating some currently unknown creature is not afraid of what he may find, his motive is a controlled curiosity, he does not have any axe to grind in favor of or opposed to some subjective judgment regarding that creature’s graces [attributes, origins, or purpose]. He wants to find out, he looks in order to discover what is.

Objectivity, objectivity, objectivity. An objectivity whose demands shall become much greater as one progresses in these studies. [2] The second step is to organize the work.

-paraphrase from Ch. 3 (the Boat), Section 2 of The Oragean Version

 

Understanding the Work: The Boat, Vessel or Vehicle of Inner Change

“All of this, of course, is work, to be undertaken professionally; simply hearing the instructions that are given, and then dreaming about them, will accomplish nothing. What is to be done, must be done and no one else can do it for you. No one else can do it for you. Remember that always.”

The Gnostic Psychological work can be thought of as a Vehicle for Transformation.

“If others take this Vehicle, this Boat, but you do not, then others can sail somewhere with it but you cannot; Note that you must also propel this Boat… The Boat is given to you but only you can take yourself to your destination in it.

So why should one take the trouble to learn about oneself, anyhow? Because you have to live with yourself, don’t you? Divorce of such kind as this is not possible; day after day, month after month, year after year you must live with yourself until you die. Perhaps it would be as well to know something about this stranger you live with, this Mr. or Mrs. Johnson (let us say) who places you in such unexpected situations, even occasionally in such unprofitable predicaments.

Why do you not accomplish what you secretly wish, what you really seem to strive for? Is it always some outside chance or some outside injustice that hinders you, or could it perhaps be that lady or fellow, Johnson, who has something to do with it, too?

How can you use Johnson to achieve what you want? That is the question. And certainly no answer to it is possible until you know something definitely and objectively about Johnson. Self-knowledge will be painful, your subjective image of yourself will attempt to deceive you and it will not die easily; but without self-knowledge you can never become anything at all.

-paraphrase from Ch. 3 (the Boat), Section 2 of The Oragean Version

 

Understanding the Work: Getting to Know Someone We Don’t Know

In a text by one of Alfred Orage’s students (C. Daly King) The Oragean Version, he gives the following explanation:

“To get the feel of this ‘sane objectivity’ let us have a practice run. Take someone you know well, but certainly not someone you love nor certainly not someone you hate. Just someone whom you really do know quite a bit.

Now come to some considered conclusions about them, some impartially objective conclusions; describe them as if you were furnishing a report upon them for an identification to be made by a private investigator who had never seen them. Write down their physical characteristics from memory, then consider their type, their customary behavior, their personal idiosyncrasies.

Then check these the next time you see them: Are their eyes really hazel, or would you now call them blue? Is that habit they have of scratching their ear really a habit by which the private investigator may recognize them or have you given it prominence only because it annoys you?

When you have the description in good enough shape that you honestly believe it would serve as an identification,
then try it on someone else who knows them; see if it works and if that second person can put the correct name to the description you have furnished. If you succeed in this, you have done well. Now turn upon yourself in the same way.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 3 (the Boat), Section 2 of The Oragean Version

We do not suggest that you actually start writing reports on those around you, but that you understand Orage’s point. We need to have the same kind of investigative attention to detail, and then apply it to our ‘internal world’ (mentioned in the previous class). This is the purpose of self-observation, to get a truly objective image of ourselves.

 

Observation and the Two Worlds

“The starting point of official science (in its practical side) is the observable. The starting point for the work on oneself is self-observation, the self-observable. Unquestionably, these two points of departure take us in two completely different directions.

Someone could spend their whole life practicing official science, studying external phenomena, observing cells, atoms, molecules, suns, stars, comets, etc., without experiencing any radical change within themselves. The type of knowledge that transforms someone internally can never be achieved through external observation. The true knowledge that can really originate a fundamental, internal change in us has as its basis direct self-observation of oneself.

Observation is a means to modify the mechanical conditions of the world. Whereas, internal self-observation is a way to intimately change the conditions of one’s internal world. Therefore we can say that two types of knowledge exist: the external and the internal.

Some pseudo-esoteric doctrines with remarkable in depth scientific inclination belong to the field of the observable. Nonetheless, they are accepted by many aspirants as internal knowledge. In the same way that it is indispensable for one to learn how to walk in the external world so as not to fall down into a ditch, or not get lost in the streets of the city, or to select one’s friends, or not associate with the dangerous people, or not eat poison, etc.; likewise, through the psychological work upon oneself we learn how to walk in the “Internal World”, which is explorable only through the self-observation of oneself.

Really, the sense of self-observation is atrophied in the times in which we live. As we persevere in its practice, the sense of intimate self-observation will progressively develop.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 20 (the Two Worlds) 2 of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology

 

The Observer and the Observed

“If one truly and very sincerely begins to observe oneself internally, then one ends up dividing oneself in two: the Observer and the Observed. If such a division is not produced, then it is evident that we would never take a step forward in the marvelous Pathway of Self-Knowledge.

How can we observe ourselves if we commit the error of not wanting to divide ourselves into Observer and the Observed? If such a division is not produced, then it is obvious that we will never take a step forward on the path of Self-Knowledge.

How could a person who has never observed themselves internally know themselves? And in what way can someone observe themselves if that person, first of all, does not divide themselves into Observer and Observed?”

-paraphrase from Ch. 13 (the Observer and the Observed) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology

 

Observing Oneself: Observing (Active) versus Knowing (Passive)

“To observe and to self-observe oneself are two completely different things; however, both demand attention. In observation the attention is directed outwardly, towards the external world, through the windows of the senses. Yet, in self-observation, the attention is directed inward and the senses of external perception are not used. Consequently, this is the reason why the self-observation of inner psychological processes is difficult at first.

Inner self-observation is a practical means to achieve a radical transformation. To know and to observe are different. Many confuse the observation of oneself with the knowledge of oneself. For example, even though we know that we are seated in a room, this, however, does not signify that we are observing the chair.

We know that at a given moment we are in a negative state, perhaps with a problem, worried about this or that matter, or in a state of distress or uncertainty, etc. This, however, does not mean that we are observing the negative state.

Do you … dislike a certain person? Why? You may say that you know that person… But, please! Observe that person; to know is not the same as to observe! Do not confuse knowing [A] with observing [B]… The observation of oneself (which is one hundred percent active) is a way to change oneself. However, knowing (which is passive) is not a way to change oneself.

Indeed, knowing is not an act of attention. Yet, the attention directed into oneself, towards what is happening in our interior, is something positive, active… We need attention intentionally directed towards the interior of our own selves. This is not a passive attention.

Dynamic attention proceeds from the side of the observer, while thoughts and emotions belong to the side, which is observed. All of this causes us to comprehend that knowing is something completely passive & mechanical, in evident contrast with the observation of the self: which is a conscious act.

To think and to observe are also very different. Any person can give themselves the luxury of thinking about themselves all they want; yet, this does not signify that they are truly observing themselves.

-paraphrase from Ch. 21 (Observation of Oneself) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology

 

Gnostic Psychology – Part 2B (Understanding Self-Observation)

Self-Observation and Self-Remembering

As we begin to observe ourselves more and more, we begin to notice many different things we have possibly not noticed before: our thoughts, our feelings, sensations, or inner voices, etc.

“But the most important thing that we can notice during self-observation is that we do not remember ourselves… We do not feel ourselves; we are not conscious of ourselves.

With us, ‘it observes’ just as ‘it speaks’ ‘it thinks’, ‘it laughs’. We do not feel: I observe, I notice, I see. Everything still ‘is noticed’, ‘is seen’… In order to really observe oneself one must first of all remember oneself.

Try to remember yourselves when you observe yourselves and notice the results. Those results will have tremendous value that are accompanied by self-remembering. Because otherwise we do not exist in our observations. In which case what are all our observations worth?”

P.D. Ouspensky recalls his experience with Self-Observation and Self-Remembering in the following way:

“I decided to … try to remember myself while observing myself. The very first attempts showed me how difficult it was. Attempts at self-remembering failed to give any results except to show me that in actual fact we never remember ourselves.

“What else do you want?” said Gurdjieff. “This is a very important realization. People who know this already know a great deal. The whole trouble is that nobody knows it. If you ask a man whether he can remember himself, he will of course answer that he can. If you tell him that he cannot remember himself, he will either be angry with you, or he will think you are an utter fool. The whole of life is based on this, the whole of human existence, the whole of human blindness. If a man really knows that he cannot remember himself, he is already much nearer to the understanding of his being.

[So Ouspensky says: Here let me] describe my attempts to remember myself.

The first impression was that attempts to remember myself or to be conscious of myself, to say to myself, ’I am walking’, ‘I am doing’, and continually to feel ‘myself’, stopped thought.

When I was feeling myself, I could neither think nor speak; even sensations became dimmed.

Also, one could only remember oneself in this way for a very short time. I had previously made certain experiments in stopping thought which are mentioned in books on Yoga practices.

And my first attempts to self-remember reminded me exactly of these experiments.

Actually it was almost the same thing, with the one difference that in stopping thoughts the attention is wholly directed towards the effort of not admitting thoughts, while in self-remembering attention becomes divided, one part of it is directed towards the same effort, and the other part to the feeling of self.

This last realization enabled me to come to a certain, and possibly a very incomplete, definition of “self-remembering,” which nevertheless proved to be very useful in practice.

I am speaking of the division of attention which is the characteristic feature of self-remembering. I represented it to myself in the following way:

When I observe something, my attention is directed towards what I observe —a line with one arrowhead:

Self ———————————> the observed phenomenon.

When at the same time, I try to remember myself, my attention is directed both towards the object observed and towards myself. A second arrowhead appears on the line:

Self <———————————> the observed phenomenon.

Having defined this I saw that the problem consisted in directing attention on oneself without weakening or obliterating the attention directed on something else. Moreover this “something else” could as well be within me as outside me.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 7 of In Search of the Miraculous

 

The Division of Attention and Memory

“The very first attempts at such a division of attention showed me its possibility. At the same time I saw two things clearly.

In the first place I saw that self-remembering resulting from this method had nothing in common with “self-feeling,” or “self-analysis”. It was a new and very interesting state with a strangely familiar flavor. And secondly I realized that moments of self-remembering do occur in life, although rarely. Only the deliberate production of these moments created the sensation of novelty.

Actually I had been familiar with them from early childhood. They came either in new and unexpected surroundings, in a new place, among new people while traveling, for instance, when suddenly one looks about one and says: How strange! I am in this place; or in very emotional moments, in moments of danger, in moments when it is necessary to keep one’s wits, when one hears one’s own voice and sees and observes oneself from the outside.

I saw quite clearly that my first recollections of life, in my own case very early ones, were moments of self-remembering. This last realization revealed much more to me. That is, I saw that I really only remember those moments of the past in which I remembered myself. Of the others I know only that they took place. But, I am not able wholly to revive them, to experience them again. Whereas, the moments when I had remembered myself were alive and were in no way different from the present.

I was still afraid to come to conclusions. But I already saw that I stood upon the threshold of a very great discovery. I had always been astonished at the weakness and the insufficiency of our memory. So many things disappear. For some reason or another the chief absurdity of life for me consisted in this. Why experience so much in order to forget it afterwards? Besides there was something degrading in this. A man feels something which seems to him very big, he thinks he will never forget it; one or two years pass by—and nothing remains of it.

It now became clear to me why this was so and why it could not be otherwise. If our memory really keeps alive only moments of self-remembering, it is clear why our memory is so poor. All these were the realizations of the first days [of my attempts to remember myself].”

-paraphrase from Ch. 7 of In Search of the Miraculous

 

Ouspensky’s Experience with Self-Remembering

“Later, when I began to learn to divide attention, I saw that self-remembering gave wonderful sensations which, in a natural way, that is, by themselves, come to us only very seldom and in exceptional conditions. Thus, for instance, at that time I used to very much to like to wander through St. Petersburg at night and to “sense” the houses and the streets.

St. Petersburg is full of these strange sensations. Houses, especially old houses, were quite alive, I all but spoke to them. There was no “imagination” in it. I did not think of anything, I simply walked along while trying to remember myself and looked about; the sensations came by themselves. Later on I was to discover many unexpected things in the same way.

Sometimes self-remembering was not successful; at other times it was accompanied by curious observations.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 7 of In Search of the Miraculous

 

Another one of Ouspensky’s Experiences with Self-Remembering

“I was once walking along the Liteiny towards the Nevsky, and in spite of all my efforts I was unable to keep my attention on self-remembering. The noise, movement, everything distracted me. Every minute I lost the thread of attention, found it again, and then lost it again.

At last I felt a kind of ridiculous irritation with myself and I turned into the street on the left having firmly decided to keep my attention on the fact that I would remember myself at least for some time, at any rate until I reached the following street. I reached the Nadejdinskaya without losing the thread of attention except, perhaps, for short moments.

Then I again turned towards the Nevsky realizing that, in quiet streets, it was easier for me not to lose the line of attention and wishing therefore to test myself in more noisy streets. I reached the Nevsky still remembering myself, and was already beginning to experience the strange emotional state of inner peace and confidence which comes after great efforts of this kind.

Just round the corner on the Nevsky was a tobacconist’s shop where they made my cigarettes. Still remembering myself I thought I would call there and order some cigarettes. Two hours later I woke up in … far away.

I was going … to the printers. The sensation of awakening was extraordinarily vivid. I can almost say that I came to. I remembered everything at once. How I had been walking towards the Nevsky, how I had been remembering myself, how I had thought about cigarettes, and how with this thought I seemed all at once to fall and disappear into a deep sleep.

At the same time, while immersed in this sleep, I had continued to perform consistent and methodical actions. I left the tobacconist, called at my flat … [and] telephoned to the printers. I wrote two letters. Then again I went out of the house. I walked on the left side of the Nevsky up to the Gostinoy Dvor intending to go to the Offitzerskaya.

Then I had changed my mind as it was getting late. I had taken [a train] … and was driving … to my printers. And on the way while driving … I began to feel a strange uneasiness, as though I had forgotten something. —And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 7 of In Search of the Miraculous

 

Conclusion: Ouspensky’s understanding of Self-Remembering

“I spoke of my observations and deductions to the people in our group as well as to my various literary friends and others. I told them that this was the center of gravity of the whole system and of all work on oneself; and that now the work on oneself was not only empty words but a real fact full of significance thanks to which psychology becomes an exact and (at the same time) a practical science.

I said that European and Western psychology in general had overlooked a fact of tremendous importance, namely, that we do not remember ourselves; that we live and act and reason in deep sleep, not metaphorically but in absolute reality. And also that, at the same time, we can remember ourselves if we make sufficient efforts, that we can awaken.

I was struck by the difference between the understanding of the people who belonged to our groups and that of people outside them. The people who belonged to our groups understood, though not all at once, that we had come into contact with a “miracle,” and that it was something “new,” something that had never existed anywhere before. The other people did not understand this; they took it all too lightly and sometimes they even began to prove to me that such theories had existed before.

“This is an apperception“. Someone said to me, “Have you read Wundt’s Logic? You will find there his latest definition of apperception. It is exactly the same thing you speak of. ‘Simple observation’ is perception. ‘Observation with self-remembering’, as you call it, is apperception. Of course Wundt knew of it.”

I did not want to argue with them. I had read Wundt. And of course what Wundt had written was not at all what I had said to this person. Wundt had come close to this idea, but others had come just as close and had afterwards gone off in a different direction. This person had not seen the magnitude of the idea which was hidden behind his thoughts about different forms of perception.

And not having seen the magnitude of the idea this person, of course, could not see the central position which the idea of the absence of consciousness and the idea of the possibility of the voluntary creation of this consciousness ought to occupy in our thinking. Only it seemed strange to me that this person could not see this even when I pointed it out to them. I subsequently became convinced that this idea was hidden by an impenetrable veil for many otherwise very intelligent people —and still later on I saw why this was so…”

-paraphrase from Ch. 7 of In Search of the Miraculous

 

Summary

So, in this class, we have discussed the application of an Esoteric method which could be called ‘sane objectivity’ towards oneself, towards one’s Internal World. As well as the concept that to know ourselves is not the same thing as observing ourselves, since Knowing is something Passive, whereas Observing is something Active.

We mentioned, in the Ancient Mysteries series, about the need for the candidate to not have any prejudices (scientific, religious or otherwise) in order for them to actually learn something about nature, the universe and themselves. Science begins by observing and gathering data. We must do the same with ourselves.

We need to self-observe ourselves without judgments, simply gather information about ourselves as if we were a stranger, because very often we are a stranger to ourselves. And this self-observation requires effort and a special kind of attention or awareness which we must develop in ourselves.

To our self-observation, we should also add: self-remembering (the 3rd state of Consciousness), which means we are aware of ourselves as the Observer, while we are observing our Internal World. We must divide ourselves into Observer and Observed (this is referred to as ‘the Division of Attention’).

With this technique (mentioned in Ch. 20 of Revolutionary Psychology) we can begin the process of self-study and it will become very important when we go into comprehending and eliminating our defects (for more information about this, see Ch.14 of The Great Rebellion).

 

HOMEWORK:

    • This week, continue working to Remember Yourself and asking yourself: “Am I in the Astral or the Physical world?”
    • Self-Knowledge Questions (from Notes #2).

Next class we will study the Human Machine, which will help us understand more about how to observe ourselves.