“A man who identifies with anything
is unable to remember himself. To remember
oneself it is necessary first of all not
to identify.” George Gurdjieff
Mr. Gurdjieff explains that when we look
at something we are aware of it, yet most
of our awareness goes into what we observe.
Very little goes into consciousness of ourselves
as the observer. This condition, which the
Fourth Way calls identification, is the
opposite of self-remembering.
With self-remembering, attention is divided
and we become aware of two things simultaneously:
the object and ourselves looking at it.
When attention is not divided, we can become
identified with anything: ourselves, our
other people, the past and future, money,
sex, politics, health, injustice…
the list goes on. Identification happens
when we are overly intent on something,
such as when we are agitated or rushing
or arguing. It is less evident but equally
constant when we walk, talk, eat, read,
watch TV, and work at the computer. Our
attention is so drawn by the subject that
our consciousness disappears into it.
Being mesmerized is just one side of identification.
It can also stir us to impulsiveness, urgency,
or frenzy. The degree and form of identification
can range from apathy to efficiency, and
from impatience to rage, and it can spill
over at any time in a subtle or overt expression
Paradoxically, identification makes us feel
alert and alive because it heightens our
focus on whatever we are seeing or doing.
But this always happens at the expense of
attention. Even though we are acutely
aware, we have lost awareness of ourselves
and our larger surroundings. The simple
truth is that the more we identify, the
less conscious we are, even though we may
feel justifiably interested or determined
Work on identification
Overcoming identification does not mean
losing our focus or interest. It means not
allowing consciousness to collapse and disappear.
Fortunately, we can learn to recognize that
we are identified, or becoming identified,
and this can be a reminder to engage divided
attention; to step back from
whatever we are identified with and be present.
By not expressing negative emotions, by
governing extreme reactions, and, above
all, by dividing attention, it is possible
to release identification and replace it
with self-remembering. Whatever form identification
takes, the main solution is to be present
while doing whatever we are doing. As an
aid, we can find a catalyst in our surroundings
for divided attention, such as a beautiful
object, another person’s face, the
sound of their voice, noises in the environment,
or the feeling of our own body. These can
become devices for reintroducing divided
attention. In many cases, it also helps
just to slow down, or to take a short walk
and concentrate on the effort to self-remember.
The aim is not to ignore or avoid subjects
of identification, but to transcend the
state of identification and return
to presence. As Robert Earl Burton has said,
“For identification, we give up our
greatest treasure, self-remembering.”
of interest on our web site
See videos of
Robert Earl Burton teaching
suggested reading about the Fourth Way
See the web site in
your language (home page menu)
Introductory lectures monthly
We offer a series of free introductory lectures
in cities around the world. To register:
Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
Find a center nearest you.
The foundation of the Fourth Way
Self-knowledge · Levels of
Man as a machine · Consciousness,
will, and unity
Obstacles to awakening · Three
lines of work
The theory of centers
(requires lecture 1)
Practical ways to seize and prolong presence
The 4 lower centers
The sex center
The soul, the spirit
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
How to introduce and sustain self-remembering
of Friends is a Fourth Way school with
centers worldwide. Membership is monthly.
Find a center nearest you.
Bronze statue of a centaur. Collection of
the Fellowship of Friends.
Thoughts on identification
Man is always in a state of identification,
only the object of identification changes.
A man becomes a thing, a piece of flesh; he
loses even the small semblance of a human
being that he has. So long as a man identifies
or can be identified, he is the slave of everything
that can happen to him.
We become too absorbed in things, too lost
in things, particularly when the slightest
emotional element appears. This is called
identification. It begins first with interest.
You are interested in something, and the next
moment you are in it, and do not exist any
The soul can only be created by long accumulation
of the finest energy which the physical organism
produces, and its crystallization through
the continuous attempt to become self-conscious.
But ordinary man cannot help spending this
energy… on fascination with himself
and the world round him.
One’s work is swept away when one becomes
identified. If you aren’t careful you
will spend a large part of your life in identification.
Very small things catch us. One’s machine
will identify with small and large matters
with equal intensity, so desperate is it to
Robert Earl Burton
He who hurries never arrives.
Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather
I have cast out all trouble, for it was not
outside, but within.
I see your mind tangled in knots from thought
to thought and it greatly longs for release.
Only consider at what price you sell your
freedom and will.
No human matter is of serious importance.
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