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For the Week of October 20 - 26 : Levels of Consciousness

 

Jackson Pollock, White Light, 1954

"Here in my head, language
keeps making its tiny noises.

"How can I hope to be friends
with the hard white stars

"whose flaring and hissing are not speech
but a pure radiance?

"How can I hope to be friends
with the yawning spaces between them

"where nothing, ever, is spoken?
Tonight, at the edge of the field,

"I stood up very still, and looked up,
and tried to be empty of words.

"What joy was it, that almost found me?
What amiable peace?"
- Mary Oliver, Stars 
 

To these four boys God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and learning; Daniel also had the gift of interpreting every kind of vision and dream. 

When the time stipulated by the king for the boys to be presented to him came round, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 

The king conversed with them, and among all the boys found none to equal Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. So, they became members of the king's court, 

And on whatever point of wisdom or understanding he might question them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and soothsayers in his entire kingdom. 
- Daniel 1:17-20


Last week we examined the seven types of Man, a Work teaching that highlights the interrelationship between our spiritual journey and the Great Cosmos. Tonight we explore the spiritual journey through the lens of another key Work teaching, the four levels of consciousness

We are introduced to these four levels of consciousness by the explanation Mr. Gurdjieff shared with P. D. Ouspensky: "In all there are four states of consciousness possible for man. But ordinary man, that is, man number one, number two and number three, lives in the two lowest states of consciousness only. The two higher states of consciousness are inaccessible to him, and although he may have flashes of these states, he is unable to understand them and he judges them from the point of view of those states in which it is usual for him to be. 

"The two usual, that is the lowest, states of consciousness are sleep – in other words, a passive state in which man spends a third and very often a half of his life. And second, the state in which men spend the other part of their lives in, in which they walk the streets, write books, talk on lofty subjects, take part in politics, kill one another, which they regard as active and call 'clear consciousness' or the 'waking state of consciousness.' The term 'clear consciousness' or 'waking state of consciousness' seems to have been given in jest, especially when you realize what clear consciousness ought in reality to be and what the state in which man lives and acts really is" (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 141).


The Unconscious Levels: Sleeping and Waking States of Consciousness

The least conscious of the four levels is what is called sleep, which includes the dream state. In our dreams, we think, we feel, we imagine we are moving. All three centers are participating in something which seems to be reality. Yet as soon as we awaken from the dream, we realize it was not reality at all. Our three centers move at their different speeds away from the dream and toward the reality of the waking state of consciousness. This familiar movement from the dream state to the so-called waking state serves as an analogy to awakening to the “higher” or more complex states of consciousness. 

From within the dream state, our thoughts, sensations and emotions respond to the dream as if it were objectively real. A terrifying dream can cause us to sweat, tremble and cry out in the night while we desperately try to use our intellectual center to solve the problem we believe is manifesting. Yet from the waking state we know that the way out of the dream is to awaken. The moment we awaken, although we may still experience lingering emotions, sensations and thoughts from this first level of consciousness, we come to a relatively higher level of consciousness, called the waking state in the Work. 

Although most of us think, act and feel as if the waking state of consciousness is the same as objective reality, it too is only a relative state of perception. Because Men 1, 2 and 3 view the world through the lopsided and narrow perspective of one dominant center, we are still caught in a dreamlike state the Work calls sleep. As Gurdjieff put it, in the so-called waking state of consciousness we "do not see the real world. The real world is hidden from [us] by the wall of imagination" (Ibid., p. 143). 

To state it in terms that correspond to more contemporary insights of quantum physics, we "confuse the forms and shapes induced in our perceptions … with a reality independent of our thought and of our way of looking" (Wholeness and The Implicit Order, p. 8), as physicist David Bohm put it. Seeking to resolve the apparent contradictions between the physical laws that apply to our ordinary experience with those that apply to the arising of matter, Bohm realized that these contradictions arose from the nature of consciousness itself; that is, our ordinary mode of perception, in which we mistake our various points of view, our opinions, our fixed ideas and conditioning of all kinds for objective truth. Bohm called this confused form of seeing fragmentation, whereby we "approach nature, society and the individual in terms of more or less fixed and limited forms of thought, and thus … keep on confirming the limitations of these forms of thought in experience" (Ibid., p. 8). 


The Conscious Levels: The State of Self-Remembering

To move beyond this wall of imagination, the endless loop of self-confirming our own projections, the Work calls us to remember ourselves. "Only by beginning to remember himself does a man really awaken. And then all surrounding life acquires for him a different aspect and a different meaning. He sees that it is the life of sleeping people, a life in sleep. All that men say, all that they do, they say and do in sleep. All this can have no value whatsoever. Only awakening and what leads to awakening has a value in reality" (Ouspensky, Op. Cit., p. 143).

Gurdjieff said that the question of how we awaken from sleep is "the most important, the most vital [question] … but before this it is necessary to be convinced of the very fact of sleep, [and] it is possible to be convinced of this only by trying to awaken" (Ouspensky, Op. Cit., p. 143). Man 1, 2 and 3 "can know of the existence of the fourth state of [objective] consciousness. … but does not know of the third state of [self] consciousness or even suspect it because if you were to explain to him what the third state of consciousness is … he would say that it was his usual state. He considers himself to be a conscious being governing his own life" (Ouspensky, Op. Cit., p. 145). Elaborating further, Gurdjieff explained that "the third state of consciousness is Self-remembering or self-consciousness or consciousness of one's being. 

It is usual to consider that we have this state of consciousness, or that we can have it if we want it. Our science and philosophy have overlooked the fact that we do not possess this state of consciousness and that we cannot create it in ourselves by desire or decision alone" (Ouspensky, Op. Cit., p. 141). Importantly, although the Work says that this third state of consciousness constitutes the natural right of humanity, the chief obstacle to experiencing it is the fact that we think we already possess it, and, of course, no one will be interested in doing long and difficult work for something we think we already have. 

This teaching shows the central importance of self-observation. Through self-observation and non-identifying we transform the impressions at this so-called waking state of consciousness by accepting them, not seeking to change them in any way. Maurice Nicoll reminds us that "influences that can help you, coming from higher centers – that is, the Conscious Circle of Humanity – only reach as far as the third state of consciousness – namely, Self-remembering. One must distinguish oneself from life. Say: 'I am not life.' But if you are glued to life and its changing kaleidoscope – that is, if you are governed by A influences, you are in the second state of consciousness, which in this Work is called [waking] sleep. You do not distinguish yourself from life. The real aim of this Work is to awaken, and only through self-observation and Self-remembering can a person really awaken from life. But unless a man, a woman, can distinguish themselves from their habitual, mechanical reactions to life – that is, what they imagine they are – there is no possibility of awakening out of life – that is, what is accepted in Western psychology as consciousness" (Commentaries, "Self-Remembering," October 22, 1949, Vol. 4, p. 1334). 


The Conscious Levels: The Objective State 

The state of Self-remembering unfolds into an even higher or more expansive state of consciousness called the objective state, another one we may imagine we already possess. "In this state a man can see things as they are. Flashes of this state of consciousness also occur in man. In the religions of all nations there are indications of the possibility of a state of consciousness of this kind which is called 'enlightenment' and various other names but which cannot be described in words. But the only right way to objective consciousness is through the development of self-consciousness. If an ordinary man is artificially brought back into a state of objective consciousness and afterwards brought back to his usual state he will remember nothing and he will think for a time he had lost consciousness. But in the state of self-consciousness a man can have flashes of objective consciousness and remember them" (Ouspensky, Op. Cit., pp. 141-142). Man 5, 6 and 7 are all stages within this fourth state of consciousness, differing in their permanence or in the depth of immersion into the wholeness of Christ.

As Ilia Delio puts it, "We cannot know this mystery of Christ as a doctrine or an idea; it is the root reality of all existence. Hence, we must travel inward, into the interior depth of the soul where the field of divine love is expressed in the 'thisness' of our own, particular life. … It means allowing God's grace to heal us, hold us, and empower us for life.  It means entering into darkness, the unknowns of our lives, and learning to trust the darkness, for the tenderness of divine love is already there. It means being willing to … surrender our partial lives to become whole in the love of God" (Christogenesis.org).


Homework

  • Begin the day with the aim of self-consciousness. Put this aim in front of the day. Pick a particular situation that is planned: observe, see your sleep and the sleep of the other people around you, knowing that things are happening in the only way they can (Work aphorism). 

  • Practice inner-stop: observe your thoughts, speech, feelings, sensations. Is your state coming from conscious three-centered being, or habitual, recurring being?  

  • Practice looking at the sky, an animal or plant while trying "to be empty of words," as the poet Mary Oliver expressed it, non-critically observing the thing as it is in itself.  How/does  your relationship to the object change?
     

October Practice: Standing Under Stars

"The starry heaven at night impregnates the soul that has become quiet and still. It speaks to the soul of the silent majesty of God and bears witness to the kingdom of eternal Being – beyond birth and death, beyond evolution and involution. The solemn majesty of the starry heaven proclaims the presence – the all-pervading presence – of the holy Being underlying the universe" (Valentin Tomberg, Lazarus, Come Forth!, p. 277).  This month, we are invited to take time at night, after 9:00 pm and before 6:00 am, to stand or lay underneath the stars on a clear night. Let the silence of the stars and their radiance speak to you in a wordless wonder about the holy Being underlying the universe. Can you sense it?
 

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.

  1. Click on this link and Zoom should open automatically on your laptop or tablet: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9961019778?pwd=aVFLZVQwNGZSNkQ4TDRTUW9yU1Ywdz09, or

  2. Open Zoom, click on Join Meeting and enter this meeting ID: 996-101-9778, passcode: CCH

 

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