Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Something to keep in mind with Self-observation, and the need for Self-Remembering also.
I've been doing some extensive reading on the topic of Self-Observation- with respect to the teachings of Nicoll, R.Nottingham, Ouspensky, Colin etc.
These teachings on self-observation place it at the 'top' of the 'to do' list in terms of Work (Fourth Way) practices and activities. In fact, these teachings teach that it is pretty much all that should be done for a number of years, at least until the 'Observing-I' has been strengthened to some degree, and a large number of observations or 'photographs' have been stored, which describe the 'machine' at work. To aid in this, reminders may be set up (such as new habits), which can help us remember to perform this primary aim. No attempt should be made to change or judge what is observed, or to modify the machine's behaviour in any way.
As a result of the above, the idea is that our mechanical habits and nature would slowly be fully made conscious and of itself transform into a more intentional nature, a "Real-I" having been formed in us. Our real Self becoming more apparent, as opposed to what it is buried under.
These schools, in particular Nicoll, and R.Nottingham, assert that Self-Remembering shouldn't be attempted at all, and that it is rather an exalted and rare state, which may occur here and there, as a result of repeated Self-observation.
This is all well and good, and I tend to agree with the above. Self-observation is of importance at the start of any practice in 'knowing-oneself', and as a foundation for Self-Remembering. A certain degree of concentration or attention power is needed. And Self-observation can be safely carried out for a good length of time, starting with external observations on the physical body, and tending to internal (psychological) observations of our emotional states etc.
However, there is a slight danger here, and an omission that these above teachings tend to leave out- and which history seems to attest- to their own detriment.
And that is that an over-emphasis on 'self-observation' can easily lead to 'self-absorption' related to one's internal states, external habits, and external reactions. This is especially so, if one omits completely the practice of Self-Remembering.
The student can so easily get lost in 'self-observation' precisely because it is not-Self, and in fact, all of these observations are completely external to WHAT one really IS.
As a result, one could spend years observing the machine and its parts, and still not be any closer to a direct encounter with one's Self (ie. Self-remembering) or the 'big picture' (ie nondual awareness), apart from some vague feeling or random encounter. One could at best remain self-absorbed in an endless practice focusing on phenomenal objects- a practice which has reached its full potential- or at worst go completely insane (which actually happened to more than a few Fourth Way students and teachers tragically).
This is why the 'Direct Pointing' teachings such as those on Self-inquiry (Ramana Maharshi), or the Direct Path (Sri Atmananda) or other direct pointing methods such as Zen, or Mahamudra etc., are so valuable at a certain stage in the path (and yet are often given after a certain time spent in fruitful practice). These direct pointing applications offer the possibility of an encounter with what is beyond or at the origin of the merely external (phenomenal), and onto That which is actually doing the observing. Since the 'Observer' is already present, it does not need to be built (contrary to most Fourth Way teachings). Further, the original Fourth Way teachings, and Gurdjieff in particular, often mentioned explicitly that Self-remembering needed to be done in conjunction with Self-observation- otherwise, self-observation would largely be useless (this fact is often ignored in the above stream).
Therefore it is of big importance to actually learn to practice, and fit in, some work on direct self-attentiveness (Self-Remembering, or Self-inquiry etc.), along with one's practice of the observation of one's 'not-self' characteristics (ie. done during self-observation, vipassana, noting, mindfulness, etc.).