Gnostic Psychology – Part 4 (Internal States and External Events)

Our Magnet

“In the field of practical life, we discover astonishing contrasts. Wealthy people with a magnificent residence and with many friends, sometimes suffer terribly, while humble middle class people often live in complete happiness. Many multi-millionaires suffer from sexual impotence and rich matrons cry bitterly due to their husbands’ infidelities…

Let us study this situation more in detail. The physical body is one of the marvelous instruments which the human being possesses in order to express themselves.

Many times we meet people who radiate an attitude of bliss, happiness, health, optimism, sympathy, love, etc. These people win the friendship of everyone: they possess a ‘force of attraction’, a ‘magnet’, they are irresistible.

Others are weak and lack ‘that magnet’ which is so marvelous: they fail when they try to receive the help of other people, and when they are owners of a business their clients gradually leave them.”

-paraphrase from the Appendix in Introduction to Gnosis

This ‘magnet’ is related with a person’s attitude & character; and Gnostic psychology proposes that a person’s attitude & character depend upon their internal state.

A person’s attitude & character do not develop in the physical body, but are expressed through it…


Life and Attitude

“In a thousand and one phrases we indicate the importance of ‘right attitude’: ‘I approached it in the wrong attitude’, ‘his attitude was all wrong’, ‘you’ll have to change your attitude if you want to get ahead’, ‘a proper attitude is needed’ and so on.

What do we mean by attitude? We mean the general state of the person relative to the object or, specifically, their emotional state in regards to it. If a man feels suspicious of an object, then his attitude is one of suspicion. If he feels fear, affection, trust, hope, then his attitude corresponds. Whatever the emotion evoked (in us) by the object, the attitude is determined by it.

Can we change our attitude towards things? Obviously our attitude can be changed for us by circumstances. In regard to most objects and persons our attitudes, in fact, change almost from day to day.

One day we like so-and-so very much and are disposed, in consequence, to act in a certain way; but the next day, owing to some change in him or in circumstances affecting ourselves, our attitude has changed, and we are cool where, before, we were warm.

Observation of ourselves will easily show how infinitely changeable we are in our attitudes, that is to say, in our emotional responses to things. But the question is: Can we change our attitude voluntarily at our own discretion, without the stimulus of a change in the object?

If we could do that then we would be on the way to becoming masters of our fate, since circumstances can affect us only as much as we are effectable. If we can adopt any attitude we choose (if we can have any emotion we like) then whatever happens is all the same to us, and then we can feel about it as we please.

For instance, when we find an attitude (according to some situation or person) too painful to continue, then we try to change the object, and, failing that, we change our internal state in regards to it.

The fable of ‘the fox and the grapes’ is applicable here. Having tried in vain to obtain the grapes, the fox persuaded itself that the grapes were sour. By imagining the grapes to be sour, the fox induced a different emotion, or attitude in itself. It no longer perceived the grapes as it had perceived them before.

The practical conclusion to be drawn is that perspective is the means by which our attitude can be controlled. Our emotions are evoked by our perspective; and to the extent that our perspective is under our control, our emotions and attitudes are as well.”

-paraphrase from Life as Gymnastics by A.R. Orage


Attitude and Perspective

“It is clear that the dominant attitude of our lives is our attitude or emotional response towards life itself. This colors everything.

As we commonly say, “some see everything ‘through rose-colored glasses’ and others have a ‘gloomy outlook’ on life”. Others again have a serious, or happy-go-lucky, or a religious, or a sporty attitude. For so many people, there can be just as many attitudes; though all can be reduced to a definite number of groups or categories. And in every case one’s dominant attitude determines every subordinate attitude.

For instance, if your characteristic attitude towards life is gloomy, then even your occasional moods of cheerfulness will be affected; they will (in all probability) be both intense and brief. Or if your dominant attitude is festive and reckless, then your moments of depression may be profound but not long-lasting.

Practically all preaching, whether religious or secular, and all teaching, whether institutional or personal, has for its real object the inducement of a changed attitude towards life.

Equally, most of the ‘traditional’ systems of therapy, including Christian Science and Psychoanalysis, aim consciously or unconsciously to bring about a change of heart (or attitude) in their pupils and patients. So all-important has it been found in its effects upon the organism as a whole, that practically every method aiming at betterment must begin with correcting the attitude towards life.

Attitude, as we can see, is conditioned by perspective. What you perceive a thing to be, you also feel it to be (whether imaged or real). If you perceive a coiled rope lying in the path to be a snake, then you will feel and act accordingly.

When you discover your mistake, and have a different view of the rope, then your emotional attitude will change.

What is our perspective of life? What do we take it to be? Is it for us a coiled rope or a snake?

Some people say that it is impossible to know for certain what life is; but in that case, we are free to imagine it (or perceive it) to be what we please; and it is only common sense to perceive it to be something useful to us.

All religious (and similar systems) aim, in short, at inducing in us a useful attitude towards life; an attitude, that is, in which we can act freely and usefully in regards to our own ends or somebody else’s.

Some religions and systems, for instance, try to induce an attitude of submission towards life, with the design of making use of us for their own advantage. Others aim at evoking an active or creative attitude towards life in us with the object of enlisting our voluntary co-operation. And all alike proceed by a common method, namely, by changing our perspective of life.

We can name a few typical life-pictures, each, be it remembered, drawn to evoke its proper emotions, attitude and consequent conduct. …Each perspective is designed to evoke an attitude or emotional response useful to somebody or other, either to the teachers/preachers or to their students/congregations.

It may be that each view, in its own way, is useful; but there can be little doubt that for most of us, in our modern times, that the image of life as a gymnasium is a greatly needed tonic.

-paraphrase from Life as Gymnastics by A.R. Orage


Life and Gymnastics

Compare the difference in your attitude (or emotional response) upon entering a gymnasium and upon entering, let us say, a nightclub, or a lecture-hall, or a funeral home. Try to realize what and how you actually feel .

When you are prepared, you have the intention of strengthening yourself, and you delight in the difficulties (provided you choose them yourself). In short, you feel at your strongest and you are working to get stronger.

The classic Greek conception of life was just that; and the gymnasium, with its lectures and discussions as well as physical exercises, was the most popular institution of Pythagorean Greece.

What is not so well known is that the gymnasium was for the Greeks a symbol of life itself. Their gods ran this planet as a gymnasium for the exercise of human beings, and all experiences were to be taken as movements, turns, stretches, or exercises in wrestling, running, lifting, and so on.

Modern people will find what the ancient Greeks found in this view of life —the evocation of a creative emotion. It is difficult to see in what other direction modern people can look for a new perspective and therefore a new attitude towards life.

The clean, strong idea of life as a field of exercise for the development of all our muscles (physical, emotional and intellectual) has still the unspoiled quality of manly and womanly idealism. And life lived in that attitude will certainly be interesting as well as profitable.”

-paraphrase from Life as Gymnastics by A.R. Orage


Life as an Opportunity

“We are living in this world for some purpose, for something, for some special reason… Obviously, there is much in us that we must see, study and comprehend, if indeed we want to know something about ourselves, about our own life, if that is what we long for…

The existence of the one who dies without having known the purpose of their life is tragic… Each one of us must discover for ourselves the purpose of our own life.

Clearly, there is something within us that makes our life bitter, and this is what we need to firmly struggle against… In order to do this, we must discover what keeps us trapped within the prison of pain…

There are people imprisoned in their dogmas and beliefs: people petrified in memories of many yesterdays, individuals full of ancestral prejudices, persons who are slaves of what others might say, horribly lukewarm, indifferent people “know it alls” who are convinced that they are right because that is what they were told, etc.

Those people do not want to understand that this world is a “psychological gymnasium” through which it is possible to annihilate that secret ugliness that we all carry within.

If those people comprehended the unfortunate state within which they dwell, then they would tremble with horror… Nonetheless, such people think the best of themselves; they boast of their virtues, they feel they are perfect, generous, helpful, noble, charitable, intelligent, responsible, etc.

Practical life as a school is tremendous, but to take it as a goal in itself is manifestly absurd. Those who take life in itself, as it is lived daily, have not comprehended the necessity of working upon themselves in order to achieve a “Radical Transformation”.

Unfortunately, people live mechanically and have never heard anything about the interior work… Change is necessary, but people do not know how to change; they suffer greatly, but they do not even know why they suffer…”

-paraphrase from Ch. 5 (To Accuse Oneself) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


Our Own Life

“Can you note the difference between your own life and life in general? What do you mean by the term my life —as when you say: “My life has been a happy life” or “My life has been an unhappy life”?

Do you mean that outside things have been pleasant or unpleasant, or are you talking about inside things —that your moods and feelings and so on have been pleasant or unpleasant?

Sometimes a person who is in a good external situation in life (with enough money and with pleasant surroundings, and without any serious trouble, etc.) is unhappy and miserable. And on the other hand, a person in very different and even adverse circumstances is often quite the reverse: they are happy.

Let us look at this situation more closely. What is one’s life?

When people wish to tell the history of their lives, they speak of events, of other people, of external things. But one’s life consists of two distinct things, which, for the purposes of self-observation, must be realized. One’s life consists not only of events, but also of states .

States are internal and events are external.

States are states of oneself, that is, internal states. They are within oneself, all states are states of oneself. Events, on the other hand, are external and come to us from outside.

It is necessary to try to see that states and events are two different things, first of all, before thinking of how they may be connected together.”

-paraphrase from COMMENTARY I — Birdlip, May 29, 1941 ‘ON ADDITIONAL MEANS OF SELF-OBSERVATION’ in Psychological Commentaries… Vol. 1 by Maurice Nicoll
and Ch. 5 (To Accuse Oneself) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


States and Events

“We need to know what life is. Everyone is free to think as they like… Yet, regardless of what people say: life is a problem that no one seems to understand…

As we have said, when people want to tell us the story of their life, they quote events, first names, last names, dates, etc., and feel satisfied when telling their stories…

These unfortunate people ignore that their stories are incomplete because events, names and dates are merely the outer aspect of their life: the inner aspect is missing…

It is urgent to know the “states of consciousness”, because each event is complemented with this or that psychological state. Remember: states are internal and the events are external; external events are not everything.

Let’s understand that internal states are: good or bad disposition, preoccupation, depression, superstition, fear, suspicion, mercy, self-commiseration (or self-pity), over-estimation of oneself (or of others), under-estimation of oneself (or of others), states of happiness, states of pleasure, etc.

Unquestionably, internal states can:
  • correspond exactly to external events
  • they can be originated by external events
  • or, they can have no relationship with them at all

In every case, states and events are different. Events do not always correspond exactly to compatible states. A pleasant event could be unrelated with its internal state. An unpleasant event could be unrelated with its internal state. When a long awaited for event finally arrives, we often feel that something is missing…

Certainly, the corresponding internal state which should have been combined with the external event was what was missing… Many times an unexpected event comes to be the one that has provided us with the best moments…”

-paraphrase from Ch. 6 (Life) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


Our Own Internal State

“Take, for instance, a pleasant event. Does your inner state correspond with it? Can you say for certain that when the outer event occurs your inner state corresponds to it?

Say you know some desirable event is going to happen and you look forward to it. Can you say that when it does come about, your inner state can meet with it in a delightful way? Or will you admit that, though the event happens perhaps even as you hoped, something is often lacking?

What is lacking? What is lacking is the corresponding internal state to combine with the external event that was so eagerly anticipated. And, as you probably know, it is usually the entirely unexpected event that affords us our best moments.

Now let us take this idea: the correspondence of internal states and external events. Unless we have the right internal state within ourselves it is not possible to combine it with the happy event.

Yet people are very much inclined (in thinking of their lives) to believe that their lives are only external events and that if a certain number of external events of one kind or another have or have not happened to them, then their lives have been unfortunate.

But a person’s capacity for life depends on their inner development —that is, on the quality of their inner states.

Because internally, concerning our states, is the apparatus for living. And if this apparatus is, for example, swamped by self-pity and worries and other negative emotions, then no matter how delightful the outer events, nothing can happen properly. And this is simply because the apparatus for living —that is, the person in themselves— is quite unable to combine in a fortunate way with such events that come from the exterior world (external life) which might give them some pleasure and delight.

A man may look forward to a trip abroad and when it comes about, this trip is an event. But that man may be so mean, so careful about small unimportant things, etc., that the whole trip is nothing but a disaster. And in such a case it will be the man’s internal state that is at fault.

So if we ask ourselves what our life consists of, we cannot say merely of events, but that it consists far more of states.”

-paraphrase from COMMENTARY I — Birdlip, May 29, 1941 ‘ON ADDITIONAL MEANS OF SELF-OBSERVATION’ in Psychological Commentaries… Vol. 1 by Maurice Nicoll
and Ch. 6 (Life) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


How to Live Life Intelligently (Understanding States and Events)

To correctly combine internal states with external events is to know how to live intelligently… Any event intelligently lived demands its specific corresponding internal state…

Nonetheless, when people review their lives, they only think it is made-up of external events… They think that if this or that event had or hadn’t happened to them, then their lives would have been better… “If I had won the lottery…”, “If I had just said something to him/her…”, etc.

They think that fortune came to meet them; yet, they lost the opportunity to be happy… They regret what they lost, they cry about what they hate; they moan when remembering their old errors and calamities… Yet, the capacity to consciously exist depends exclusively on the quality of the interior states of the Soul…

Certainly, it does not matter how beautiful the external events of life might be: if we are not in the appropriate internal state in those moments, then the best moments can seem boring to us… Someone anxiously awaits the wedding dinner as a great event, nevertheless, it could happen that they could be so preoccupied in that precise moment that they really would not enjoy it at all and that party would become for them as dry and cold as protocol…

Experience has taught us that not all persons who attend a banquet or a party really enjoy themselves… A bored person is always present at the best of parties and the most delightful music makes some people happy and make others weep…

It is very rare to find someone who knows how to consciously combine internal states and external events. It is unfortunate that people do not know how to live consciously; they cry when they should laugh and laugh when they should cry… Control is different, the Sage can be: happy, but never filled with an insane frenzy, sad, but never desperate and discouraged, calm, in the middle of violence, abstinent amidst drunkenness, chaste when facing lust, etc.

Every day we see people that are not only unhappy, but what is even worse is that they make other people’s lives miserable… Such people will not change, even if they were to get everything they think they want, because they carry the psychological disease within them… What they carry within them are damaging internal states… Nevertheless, they often classify themselves as correct, holy, virtuous, noble, accommodating, etc. They are individuals who are always looking for loopholes in order to evade their own responsibilities…

Persons like this are accustomed to inferior emotions and as a result: it is obvious that they create unhelpful psychological elements on a daily basis. Disgraceful events like the setbacks of fortune, misery, debts, problems etc., are the exclusive property of those persons who do not know how to live consciously and intelligently…

Those who learn how to consciously combine external events with internal states march on the path of success.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 7 (The Internal State) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


Life and the Internal State

“Suppose that a man, whose chief love is to be pessimistic and gloomy, complains to you that life is a bad business and not worth living.

Will you suppose that this is caused by a lack of suitable events or by the man’s inner states, and will you be so silly as to think that by arranging a nice party for him he will change? The disease is in the man himself and every day many people make their own life and the lives of others miserable owing to their wicked inner states.

Now in self-observation, try to distinguish between outer events and internal states and notice where you are standing both in relation to your inner state and to the nature of the outer event.

External events are of any kind. Outer life is not a smooth sheet of paper that we are crawling over like ants. It is full of hills and valleys, of good weather and bad weather. This is the nature of life – but, as a rule, all events we take as exceptional, or at least unpleasant ones, such as illness, war, etc. And inner states are again of every kind.

All personal work is about internal states and one must work on wrong states and try not to identify with them. If you work on these wrong states and try to separate yourselves from them, then the unpleasant events of life will not catch you so easily, and draw force from you.

Events are influences changing at every moment in their various combinations, and some are better than others, but all have to be taken consciously, even good ones and some of them are very dangerous and must not be identified with at all costs.

From what has been said, it will become clearer that one’s life is more to be thought of as one’s internal states and a true history of one’s life would be a history of one’s inner states and of negative emotions especially. Therefore, this work begins with self-observation and by noticing wrong states in oneself and working against them.

In this way the inner life becomes purified and since our inner life attracts our outer life, then by changing our internal states, starving some and nourishing others, we also alter not only our relation to events coming from outside but we even alter the nature of the events that come to us day by day.

Only in this way can we change the nature of events that happen to us. We cannot change them directly, but only through changing states—that is, through beginning to put this disorderly house in which we live into some order.

It is not the events of today that happened to you that matter (like that you lost something or something went wrong or someone forgot you or spoke to you harshly, etc., etc.), but how you reacted to it all (like what states of yourself you were in) for it is here that your real life is and if our inner states were right then nothing in the nature of external events could overcome us.

Try therefore to distinguish (as an exercise in living more consciously) between inner states and outer events, and try to meet any outer event, after noticing its nature, with the right inner attitude with the appropriate state.”

-paraphrase from COMMENTARY I — Birdlip, May 29, 1941 ‘ON ADDITIONAL MEANS OF SELF-OBSERVATION’ in Psychological Commentaries… Vol. 1 by Maurice Nicoll
and Ch. 7 (The Internal State) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


Self-Observation and Internal States

“So if we want to observe ourselves, then we must differentiate between the exterior events of practical life and the interior states of the consciousness. The work upon oneself refers to the diverse psychological states of the consciousness.

No one can deny that we carry many errors and incorrect internal states within ourselves. And if we really want to change then we need to radically modify those erroneous states of our consciousness.

The modification of these interior states will cause a transformation of our character and, as a result, we will attract new circumstances to our lives. This occurs because the modification of internal states originates complete transformations in the field of practical life.”

If, however, we do not work on ourselves, then we will always be a victim of circumstances a victim of our reaction to the external events… The key to changing our lives is to change ourselves. We can change our circumstances as much as we want, but if we do not change ourselves, then we will continue attracting the same external events to our lives.

“Events change, they combine together and come one after another like waves. There are, obviously, good and bad events; some events are better than others. But we can always learn something from an event.

To modify some events is possible, but there are others which are beyond our control and must be consciously accepted, even when they become dangerous and even painful… But the pain disappears when we do not identify ourselves with the problem that has arisen…

We must consider life as a series of successive interior states… When reviewing the totality of our existence, we can verify for ourselves that many unpleasant situations were possible thanks to wrong interior states…”

-paraphrase from Ch. 8 (Erroneous States) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology


The Best Weapon We Have

The best weapon that a human being can use in life is a correct psychological state. One can disarm beasts and unmask traitors by means of appropriate internal states.

Wrong internal states convert us into defenseless victims of human perversity. We must learn to face the most unpleasant events of practical life with an appropriate internal uprightness… We must not identify ourselves with any event.

Remember that everything passes away; learn to look at life like a movie; thus, you will receive the benefits…

Do not forget that events without any value could bring us disgrace if we do not eliminate mistaken internal states from our Psyche.

Unquestionably each external event needs its appropriate payment , that is, its precise psychological state: the correct internal state.”

-paraphrase from Ch. 9 (Personal Events) of Treatise of Revolutionary Psychology