Hilma af Klint, Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 13, 1915
Beloved: This is the message that we have heard … and proclaim to you: God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. If we say, "We have fellowship with God," while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light … if we acknowledge our sins… [the light] will cleanse us.
- 1 John 1:5-7, 9
Maurice Nicoll in his seminal book on the Gospels, The Mark, notes that many misunderstand religion or creed as external worship and nothing more than a social or political invention for making people moral or obedient, or a sort of "tenacious superstition." All real religion, rather, is about real psychology; it is about another Man at a higher level of development, latent but unformed in each of us and what is necessary for us to do and think and feel and imitate and understand in order to reach that level.
Where do we who wish to know and embody this possibility begin? In the Work, we begin practically, with self-observation. In order to know thyself, as the ancient adage goes, we look in the mirror. In coming to know ourselves, we will discover not only who, but what we truly are. We will come to know God within.
Unlike what may be our habit, the Work teaches us to observe ourselves uncritically, not to analyze, judge, and berate what is observed. The light of conscious awareness begins the work; non-identification and Self-remembering with what is observed continues the transforming process; the grace of the Holy Spirit completes the work. Serious and continuous self-observation leads to definite inner changes.
The Work teacher, Rebecca Nottingham, has noted that self-observation is the beginning stage of the process in the Work called dying, as in awakening, dying, rebirth – dying to those very things you have observed. Then, rebirth is possible.* The magnitude and significance of this unfolding which begins with self-observation cannot be overstated. In order to grow from the seed to the fullness of human possibility, first one must know the current state of things – the inner state, that is.
*Rebecca Nottingham, "Self-Observation," The Work: Developing Higher Consciousness Newsletter, July 2019
What is self-observation?
"The mistake is the confusing of self-observation with knowing. … Self-observation, which is active, is a means of self-change, whereas merely knowing, which is passive, is not. Knowing is not an act of attention. Self-observation is an act of attention directed inwards – to what is going on in you. The attention must be active – that is, directed. … The attention comes from the observation side [of oneself], whereas the thoughts and emotions belong to the observed side in yourself. This is dividing yourself into two. There is a saying: 'A man is first one, then two, and then one.' The observing side, or Observing I, stands interior to, or above, the observed side, but its power of independent consciousness varies, because it may be submerged at any moment. Then you are completely identified. …
"People not only confuse knowing with the continuous act of self-observation but they mistake thinking for observing. To think is quite different from observing oneself. A man may think about himself all day and never observe himself once. The observation of one's thoughts is not the same as thinking. It should be clear now that knowing and thinking are not the same as observation."
- Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "Self-Observation," January 9, 1943, Vol. 1, pp. 231, 214
What must I observe?
"First, the Work explains carefully what you must begin to observe. … See [yourself] like an outside person. … Think what [you] would think if [you] met [such a person]. … [Observe] all the set pieces and songs, all the performances going on in [yourself], all the voices that [you] take as your own. …
"Now we speak once more of observing talking. All rules are about talking, practically speaking, and how to deal with wrong talking. It is necessary to observe inner talking and from where it is coming. Wrong inner talking is the breeding ground not only of many future unpleasant states, but also of wrong outer talking. You know that there is in the Work what is called the practice of inner silence. …
"You do not notice perhaps that you say things, or you write things, which, if you received, you would not tolerate for a moment. This is one very interesting form of self-observation and it includes observing 'inner talking.' In yourself everyone else is helpless. You can, as it were, drag a person into the cave of yourself and do what you like with her or him. You may be polite naturally, but in the Work, which is all about purifying or organizing the inner life, it is not enough. It is how you behave internally and invisibly to one another that really counts. …
"Let in rays of light into the darkness of [your] psychic life. It is the psychic life we have to think of in the Work. … If your inner attitude is right, the Work will teach you about what work on yourself means. … "
- Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "Self-Observation," January 9, 1943, Vol. 1, pp. 214 - 216
Definite, Topical and Concrete Self-Observation
"Do you, even after long, uncritical self-observation, truly begin to realize that you are not properly conscious? Perhaps one has not thought of oneself in this way. Now let us imagine a person who says: 'This idea that Man is asleep cannot seriously apply to me. I am far from being asleep. I agree others are. But I am unusually lively and always on the spot – and, by the way, I simply cannot stand that fellow X who is always showing off and making out he's different from other people.' Everyone makes remarks of this kind. It is due to a lack of consciousness. …
"What I am speaking of here is definite, topical and concrete self-observation. It consists in observing in yourself what definitely irritates you in another person. It is definite, because it is about what you definitely notice in another. It is topical because it has to do with what is going on more or less at the time and it is concrete because it demands that you get down to the concrete job of finding in yourself what you find so irritating in the other person. ...
"By letting light into inner darkness – that is, the light of consciousness – certain changes take place through its influence. Unpleasant things grow in the absence of light."
- Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "Definite, Topical and Concrete Self-Observation," July 12, 1952, Vol. 5, pp. 1597, 1598
"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 otherwise, or inside things – that your moods and feelings and so on have been pleasant or otherwise? … When people gratuitously wish to tell the history of their lives, what do they speak of? They speak of events, of other people, of external things. But one's life consists not only of events, but of states. States are inner and events are outer. States are states of oneself, that is, inner states, such as bad moods, habits of worrying, habits of fear and superstition, forebodings, depression, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, better states, states of feeling happy, states of enjoyment, and mercy. They are in oneself – that is, all states are states of oneself. Events are external and come in to us from outside. Now one's inner state may correspond to an external event, or may be caused by it or may have no relation to it. …
"It will become clearer that one's life is more to be thought of as one's inner states and negative emotions especially. To live anyhow in oneself – in this internal vast world accessible only to each person through individual self-observation and always invisible to others – is the worst crime we can commit. So this work begins with self-observation and 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, by changing our inner states, starving some and nourishing others, we also alter not only our relations to events, coming from outside but even the nature of the events that come to us day by day.
- Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, "On Additional Means of Self-Observation," May 29, 1941, Vol. 1, 16, 17, 18
"'Let there be light,' is the transcendent creative light that is present as the basic energy of everything that exists. ... It is that light that is the source of the spiritual nature of our being. It is that light that dwells in us as our inmost spiritual nature and ... shows us exactly who we are and the true state
of our relationship with God, [ourselves and other people]. ... The journey into the light, which is synonymous with the true Self ... is to make ourselves aware of the height, length, breadth, and depth of the love of Christ in taking on our human nature. … and we incarnate the contemplative state or the true Self into our lives and activities. … as a response to the presence and action of the Spirit that is more and more the guiding light in all our activities."
- Thomas Keating, Consenting to God as God Is
Homework: Drawing upon the definitions and Commentaries cited of what is and what is not self-observation, practice definite, concrete, topical self-observation.
- For more about self-observation, attend tonight's class at 7pm Central Time in The Church of Conscious Harmony sanctuary or via Zoom, using one of these NEW connections:
Open Zoom, click on Join Meeting and enter this meeting ID: 254-442-699
With this new connection, you will only see the speaker on your screen and not other Zoom participants. Please plan on connecting at least five to ten minutes early. For further tips on using Zoom, please see the bottom of this email.
- Read more about self-observation by reading the Commentaries cited in this message in their entirety. Others can be found in the index.
- We urge you to not forward this email to friends as it is for those we have said Yes to an invitation, to this particular path of access to the Way. The messages are intended to build upon one another and create a container of high intention and purpose.
- From the tradition of the Work, our primary reference will be the five-volume series, Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, by Maurice Nicoll. We will abbreviate this reference as simply Commentaries when citing. These can be downloaded as PDFs from: https://selfdefinition.org/gurdjieff/maurice-nicoll-directory/. Additional sources in the tradition of the Work will include writings by Beryl Pogson, Bob Hunter, J.G. Bennett and Rebecca Nottingham, among others.
- From the tradition of Christian spirituality, transformation and evolution, we will be drawing from the works of Thomas Keating and others, such as Thomas Merton, Bernadette Roberts and Ilia Delio.
- There is a free Centering Prayer mobile app timer available for both iOS and Android platforms. Search your app store using "Centering Prayer."
Tips for Connecting via Zoom
A device with a larger screen, like a desktop, laptop or tablet, provides the best visual experience.