For the Week of September 22 - 28 : Higher Emotional Center
Artist Known Only to God
Higher Emotional and Intellectual Centers … timeless … instruments of the soul … Higher Emotional Center is the seat of conscience and the organ of individuality.
- Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks, p. 349
God has granted to us precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world on account of lust and greed.
- 2 Peter 1:4
Last week, as we explored the mysterious Work idea of "The Four Bodies." This week we continue our exploration by turning to a very positive aspect of Gurdjieff's teaching: the presence, function, and reality of the two Higher Centers. We begin this week with the Higher Emotional Center and turn next week to the Higher Intellectual Center.
The Higher Centers represent one of the most compelling and beautiful possibilities for our human experience and spiritual journey. The teaching of the Work reminds us that we've been endowed with the image of God, and as a part of this essence-gift, we are each called to develop a personality, and from there, we are invited to grow into a balanced human being, and beyond Balanced Man, we are invited to wish to embody Real I. This is one way the Work conceives the journey of human development.
In past emails we have explored the Work concept of centers, our three primary brains or minds that carry out basic functions and processes of body, thinking and feeling. We learned also that each center is divided into three parts of centers – outer (mechanical), middle (emotional) and inner (intellectual). Much of humankind occupies the outer rooms of their house of being, unaware of the treasures within. The Work gives us the keys to open the doors to inner, higher parts of centers, which, when lower centers are illuminated and cleared of non-essentials, will enable us to tune into the elevated energetic influences of the Higher Centers.
What are Higher Centers?
First, the Higher Centers are always on and connected. The problem is that the lower centers are undeveloped and on account of this lack of development or incomplete functioning of the lower centers, we are prevented or limited in our use and communication with the Higher Centers.
Second, the Higher Emotional Center works with a fine energy, which in Gurdjieff's system is given the name "Hydrogen 12." At this point, it's not important to understand the label or number, but what is vital is to understand that whatever Hydrogen 12 is, it is meant to convey a very fine and powerful energy. As a result of this energy, when we become aware or enter into conversation with the Higher Emotional Center, we may experience a rush of new sensations, impressions or emotions previously unknown to us. From this deeper and higher place, new choices can be made, such as unconditional acts of loving service or kindness. And a new quality of life can emerge.
Related to this fine energy, deep understanding can arise which is akin to wisdom or revelation. This is one reason why truths are embedded in myths and fables, such as the story of Cinderella or C.S. Lewi's Chronicles of Narnia. Or Gurdjieff's Tales. Such stories can help us communicate with and to the Higher Emotional Center. So too do certain kinds of objective art: for example, Beethoven's exquisitely sorrowful "Moonlight Sonata." Click HERE for an example of what might be Higher Emotional Center manifesting as a two-year old listens and responds for the first time to a piano rendition of "Moonlight Sonata." Perhaps the innocence and tenderness of the child is a good image of what the Higher Emotional Center is and does.
Third, the Higher Emotional Center is the doorway to "higher" more vivid, clear and awakened states of consciousness. The primary obstacle to us entering into and experiencing these higher states of the Higher Emotional Center is the presence of negative emotions and their residue.
It is widely understood in many traditions, religious and philosophical alike, that certain mystical experiences or near-death events can often usher someone into direct awareness of the Higher Emotional Center, immediately bypassing negative emotions, imagination, immaturity or vanity.
Along these lines, Gurdjieff's student Dorothy Phillpotts helpfully observes that:
"The Higher Emotional Center, when reached by the normal and legitimate processes of self-development, confers powers and experiences which are entirely positive. It is at one and the same time the seat and organ of the perfected individuality. It is the permanent 'I,' for when consciousness joins it with the lower centers, the whole being is unified. Everything that can be known and experienced, both inwardly and outwardly, by a perfected individual belongs to the Higher Emotional Centre and the Higher Emotional, when joined with the lower centers, enables them to perceive reality beyond the here and now of their usual experience. Authentic clairvoyance and all supra-normal cognition belong to it . . . When consciousness in the Higher Emotional Centre is actually attained, all the self-centered motives which arise in the lower centers are made subservient to the objective motives beyond self or non-self" (Discovering Gurdjieff, pp. 129-130).
So too when J. G. Bennett was studying with Gurdjieff at the Prieuré in France, Bennett entered a higher state of consciousness following an intense series of exercises. He writes,
"Suddenly I was filled with the influx of an immense power. My body seemed to have turned into light. My state was blissful beyond anything I had ever known. It was quite different from the ecstasy of sexual union, for it was altogether free and detached from the body. It was exultation in the faith that can move mountains. I experienced a clarity of thought that I had only known involuntarily and at rare moments, but which now was at my command. The phrase 'in my mind's eye' took on new meaning as I 'saw' the eternal pattern of each thing I looked at, the trees, the plants, the water flowing in this canal, and lastly my own body. I recognized the changing relationship between 'myself' and 'my pattern.' As my state of consciousness changed, 'I' and 'my pattern' grew closer together or separated and lost touch. Time and eternity were the conditions of our experience, and the harmonious development of man towards which Gurdjieff was leading us was the secret of true freedom . . . It is not enough to know that another world exists: one must be able to enter it at will. Now I was living in eternity and yet I had not lost my hold on time. I was aware that life itself is infinitely richer and greater than all our thinking mind can possibly know about it" (Witness: The Autobiography of John G. Bennett, pp. 115-116).
Later, Gurdjieff explained to Bennett the nature of his experience of higher consciousness:
"There is a certain energy that is necessary for work on oneself. No man can make efforts unless he has a supply of this energy. We can call it the Higher Emotional Energy. Everyone, by a natural process, makes a small amount of this energy every day. If rightly used, it enables man to achieve much for his own self-perfecting. But he can only get to a certain point in this way. The real complete transformation of being requires a very much greater concentration of Higher Emotional Energy than that which comes to him from nature. There are some people in the world, but they are very rare, who are connected to a great reservoir or accumulator of this energy. Those who can draw upon it can be a means of helping others" (Ibid.).
Bearing all this in mind, Maurice Nicoll provides a helpful summary definition of the Higher Emotional Center. He writes:
"[T]he two higher centers are distinct from the lower emotional and intellectual centers … [They are] fully developed and constantly working, but we do not hear them. Their vibrations are too fine. The lower centers, unless developed, are not tuned in to them. That is to say, we cannot hear the messages that come through them from higher levels of consciousness … what is at a higher level perceives and comprehends what is at a lower level, but what is at a lower level cannot perceive or comprehend what is at a higher level. … We can understand that to be 'born of the Spirit' has to do with being born of another neutralizing force than life. Now a Conscious Man can 'hear' Higher Centers, and so can follow their unusual intimations and directions. He will not be predictable as is the life of a mechanical man … No longer a machine, … he has instead a psychology" (Commentaries, "Notes on Lower and Higher Centers," April 11, 1953, Vol. 5, pp. 1691-2).
Some Practical Takeaways…
Whatever the Work means by the term Higher Emotional Center and wherever we might intuitively locate the Higher Emotional Center in the physiology of a human being, modern scholarship in multiple fields such as neurobiology, psychology and consciousness studies, all attest to the human brain's astounding higher capacities, especially when not triggered by stress or trauma.
One area we can see this very clearly is the exceptional scholarship around the topics of empathy, resilience, beauty and happiness. For example, Brené Brown’s book, Atlas of the Heart, or Susan Cain's recent work, Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, which provide a practical witness to many important ways the Higher Emotional Center shows up in our life, relationships, creativity and grieving.
Neurologically and socially, one of the most important books that helps make the case for such a functioning as the Higher Emotional Center, is the illuminating work of Ian McGilchrist, especially Vol. 2 of his masterpiece, The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World.
And finally, it may be that the primary takeaway for a community such as The Church of Conscious Harmony and The Journey School, is the way the concept of the Higher Emotional Center dovetails with the Christian, Jewish, Sufi and Bhakti (to name a few) understanding of the heart, and its capacity to be awakened. Such passages as the following convey nearly all that needs to be said, and are worthy of our meditation:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what the hope of God's calling is, what are the riches of the glory of the [Higher Center’s] inheritance for the saints.
– Ephesians 1:18
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will [negative emotions, lower centers], hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:35ff
Listen to something sorrowful, that opens your heart and helps you feel something higher, a finer energy. Start HERE with Max Richter's agonizingly beautiful, On the Nature of Daylight.
Recall an experience of connection with the Higher Emotional Center. Write about it. Share it with another, perhaps in your Journey Group or with your Work Partner. What do you learn about the Higher Emotional Center by way of your own verification?
Ponder the relationship of worship or nature and your Higher Emotional Center.
September Practice: Singing and Chanting
Singing and chanting are both powerful forms of vibrational expression which affect us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Combined with text, sung melody intensifies the quality of the words. The vibration created – through bone conduction – can be felt throughout the entire body and radiated beyond. This week you are again invited to take a short piece of text from Scripture or another sacred writing, and create a simple chant melody for it using just one or two tones. Repeat the chant for a minute or two, perhaps prior to, or after your Centering Prayer period, or at any time throughout the day. What do you observe about the effects of these vibrations?
Attend The Journey School Thursday Class Tonight: All are encouraged and welcome to attend tonight's class for a review of these teachings and, importantly, to produce a container of beings seeking to be more conscious and whose efforts assist one another: 7:00 pm Central Time via Zoom only.