first difficulty for everybody is the word ‘I’. You say
‘I’ and do not think that it is just a little part of
you that speaks.” Peter Ouspensky
every breath we take is accompanied by a feeling of ‘I’:
I think, I want, I know best, I prefer, I am happy, hungry, tired.
According to the Fourth Way, however, all feelings of ‘I’
are small, independent functions
of our human machine. None of them is the unified ‘real I’
The difference between consciousness and functions is not obvious
at first because we are so accustomed to our sense of self in the
‘I’s, and because we are unaware of consciousness as a
separate, wordless state of presence.
Different ‘I’s pass through us continuously whereas consciousness—if
it is present—stands apart and simply watches them. But this
requires the presence of self-remembering.
Without self-remembering, consciousness falls asleep at its post and
is overrun by each ‘I’ that appears.
System explains that all of our ‘I’s represent the functions
of four independent minds called lower
centers: the intellectual center, the emotional center, the moving
center, and the instinctive center. Following is an abbreviated description
of each, but most important to understand is that all four centers
can function with or without our being conscious of them—that
functions are not consciousness.
center produces ‘I’s in the form of words, theories,
concepts, logical comparisons, and associative thoughts. It is deciphering
this sentence now. The intellectual center is mainly a storehouse
that collects, sorts, and retrieves information. As such, it usually
responds to the world with labels, definitions, opinions, and analysis.
When it cannot, it typically refutes the subject at hand.
By contrast, the emotional
center responds to people, to visual impressions, and to the intrigue
of human events both positive and negative. We experience emotional
‘I’s in the form of liking and disliking, admiring and
appreciating, feeling envious or jealous, being critical and suspicious,
or acting kind and compassionate. The emotional center is especially
sensitive to people and gets upset when they do not give ‘me’
enough due. It is also the root of our personal sense of justice and
our approval or disapproval of people’s behavior.
An altogether different realm of perception is the moving
center which produces ‘I’s through physical movement,
the pleasure of movement, and the visualization of three-dimensional
space, such as when we drive a car or solve engineering or programming
problems. ‘I’s in the moving center pride themselves on
speed and efficiency, and they get impatient with obstacles and interruptions.
Often the busier someone is, the more alive they feel. As the Fourth
Way explains, however, movement happens mainly out of impulse and
has little to do with conscious action.
Least apparent among the four centers is the instinctive
center which governs the five senses and all inner physiology
such as breathing, digestion, coughing, sneezing, and healing. The
instinctive center is also our domain of sensory perception. Through
its tentacles, we are attuned to temperature, climate, and season;
to other people being ill or sympathetic or threatening; to the fact
that we are being watched or approached from behind. These and other
instinctive ‘I’s can be very acute at times and they are
often mistaken for consciousness because of their intuitive nature
and alertness. Consciousness, however, is something more.
In summary, instinctive ‘I’s sense the moment, moving
‘I’s navigate it, emotional ‘I’s evaluate
it, and intellectual ‘I’s explain it. All four centers
overlap in the tapestry of our attitudes, moods, and actions, yet
each center has its own preferences, its own memory, its own imagination.
Most notably, all four centers—and all the ‘I’s
they produce—are a mechanical reaction to the moment. None of
them is conscious of itself being present to the moment. This they
consciousness from functions
in a Fourth Way school revolves around methods of learning to observe
the ‘I’s and gradually separate consciousness from functions,
chiefly through divided
One way to practice this is to take a walk with the aim of concentrating
on being present. As you walk, try to hold divided attention and look
at what is in front of you. Observe carefully and you will see how
random ‘I’s from the four lower centers lull your awareness
away from divided attention and into imagination.
Another way to separate consciousness from functions is to slow
down and focus on dividing your attention. For instance, try not to
rush from one thing to another. Drive the speed limit. Close your
car door gently. Pick up the phone and put it down intentionally.
Let others speak without interrupting them. Through these small efforts,
you will again see how the many ‘I’s repeatedly draw you
away from self-remembering.
Self-remembering always needs special effort and sustaining it requires
tremendous inner discipline. As Robert Earl Burton has said, “When
self-remembering disappears, one of the four lower centers immediately
takes its place, and the lower centers have no interest in being present.”
For a further explanation of the four lower centers, see The
Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution by Peter Ouspensky.
Topic for next issue: Transforming Suffering
Ouspensky said, “Suffering is the best possible help for self-remembering if you learn how to use it. By itself it does not help; one can
suffer one's whole life and it will not give a grain of result, but if one learns to use suffering, it will become helpful.”
In the next issue we will explore what this means and how to apply it in a practical way.
of interest on our web site
See video clips of Robert
reading about the Fourth Way
See the web site in your
language (flags on home page)
We offer a series of free introductory lectures in cities around the world. To register:
Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
a center nearest you.
Foundation of the Fourth Way
Self-knowledge · Levels of consciousness
Man as a machine · Consciousness, will, and unity
Obstacles to awakening · Three lines of work
Theory of Centers (requires lecture 1)
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 on a monthly
basis. For details:
a center nearest you.
of Hygeia. Marble, 350-340 B.C. Attributed to Praxiteles. National
Archeological Museum, Athens, Greece.
Thoughts on the many ‘I’s
has no individuality. He has no single, big ‘I’. Man
is divided into a multiplicity of small ‘I’s. And each
separate small ‘I’ is able to call itself by the name
of the whole, to act in the name of the whole, to agree or disagree,
to give promises, to make decisions, with which another ‘I’
or the whole will have to deal. This is why people so often make
decisions and so seldom carry them out.
principal mistake we make about ourselves is that we consider ourselves
one; we always speak about ourselves as ‘I’ and suppose
that we refer to the same thing all the time when in reality we
are divided into hundreds and hundreds of different ‘I’s.
These ‘I’s change all the time; one suppresses another,
one replaces another, and all this struggle makes up our inner life.
the ordinary way, there is neither permanence nor consciousness
in man. Each of his functions speaks in him, automatically and in
turn, with a different voice, for its own interests, indifferent
to the interests of the others or of the whole, yet using the tongue
and the name of the individual. Such are the many ‘I’s
The many ‘I’s lead one around. It is difficult to unglue
oneself from them. Some ‘I’s are innocuous, yet they still exist at the expense of self-remembering. One must try not
to take them for one’s self because they are not one’s self. You have to learn not to be fooled by your machine and the
ways it tries to undermine your work.
am I standing in the midst of this thought traffic?
realize that you need not go with these various habitual ‘I’s
is the dawn of a new life.
mind often becomes plagued when the great work of remembrance is forgotten.
with all alien thoughts. Keep your mind on what you are doing whether
outwardly or inwardly.
way toward liberation is to train your mind to live in the present.
present offers itself to us only for the second and then eludes
mockeries are not you.
becomes weary of endlessly retrieving oneself.
to firstname.lastname@example.org. We welcome
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and about working in a school. Let us know if you have topics youd
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