Presence • Awakening • Consciousness • Self-knowledge • Evolution Vol 1, No 2 JULY 2004
Being Present
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A publication of the Fellowship of Friends


"The principal effort one must make in order to awaken is to continuously see what is in the present and avoid imagination." Robert Burton

Self-remembering, simple as it is, is hard to achieve because of the psychological barriers that impede divided attention. The most pervasive of these barriers is what the Fourth Way calls imagination. Imagination includes daydreaming, random associations, introspection, anticipating the future, recalling the past, and imagining things about oneself and other people. Imagination is an invisible stream that the mind swims in, but there are visible signs of it. For example, a person with his eyes glazed and fixed is ‘lost’ in imagination. Awareness of himself and his environment is absent, entirely absorbed by the inner workings of imagination. Although the person is physically in the waking state of consciousness, he has psychologically lapsed into imagination, into the realm of dreams. Most people do not see any harm in this, partly because it is so common, partly because it is satisfying to be in imagination, and partly because there seems to be no need to displace imagination with presence.

Another kind of imagination can happen when, for instance, you look at a vista or listen to an idea, but instead start to think about—to imagine—a similar vista or a related idea. In other words, instead of actually seeing or hearing what is in front of you, you see and hear it in your imagination. It may seem ludicrous at first, but in fact we become whatever we are imagining. That is, we—our consciousness—disappear in the stream of imagination and are consumed by the subject of our imagination. Imagination can also manifest through talking (including talking to oneself), through activity (such as always being busy), even through eating (absentmindedly, frantically, or in a trancelike state such as when reading at the same time). The same thing happens when, instead of simply being present while brushing your teeth in the morning, you become preoccupied with—in imagination about—the day ahead and lose nearly all awareness of where you are and what you are doing. Forecasting or replaying incidents involving other people is yet another way that consciousness is repeatedly sacrificed for, and replaced by, imagination. All these manifestations may seem harmless and even necessary to living, yet the truth is that without the conscious presence of divided attention, imagination destroys the awareness needed to promote self-remembering. In short, it keeps us asleep.

When a person first hears about imagination, he perhaps sees it as the exception to his normally alert state of mind. He does not suspect that imagination is actually the rule; that it is an automatic function ever poised to interfere with each moment of his life; that unbeknownst to himself, he even imagines who he is and how he appears to the world. But when a person learns about divided attention and tries to remember himself, he may gradually begin to ‘wake up’ by realizing more and more often how his awareness is drawn away by imagination; how he forgets to remember himself; and that self-remembering never happens by itself. In fact, trying to self-remember demonstrates the power that imagination has over one’s inner life. It also shows what it might mean to escape from imagination and to become more conscious of the reality of each simple moment.

Interrupting and displacing imagination

As Mr. Ouspensky explains, imagination is a result of uncontrolled attention. The way, then, to work against imagination is to gain control of attention and to focus attention in the present: to look, to listen, to taste, to act with attention. It can help tremendously to slow down, to do only one thing at a time, to really pay close attention to your immediate surroundings. But even these efforts are just a first step. To be truly conscious efforts—efforts which promote presence—they must include the divided attention of self-remembering. This means being aware of looking while looking, being aware of listening while listening, being aware of doing, while doing, whatever you are doing. Furthermore, self-remembering must be sustained second to second to second. This is the main difficulty. Initiating divided attention is one thing. Prolonging it is another. So elusive is the delicate thread of self-remembering that it requires great mastery of practice and will—principally the will to keep overcoming the myriad forms of imagination. Few people suspect that the continuous endeavor to displace and disallow imagination is the struggle for one’s soul. As Robert Burton has said, “Imagination takes the place of your soul—the presence of your soul,” and “to interrupt imagination with self-remembering is the most difficult thing that a man can do.”

Topic for next issue: negative emotions
Another psychological barrier that displaces the presence of self-remembering is the expression of negative emotions. Next month we will examine the purpose of controlling the expression of negative emotions, and the significance this has in awakening.
Links of interest on our web site
• See video clips of Robert Burton teaching
• Read Foundations of Real Work by Girard Haven
• Review 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 on a regular basis in cities around the world. To register for the series, call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212) or find a center nearest you.

1—The 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

2—The Theory of Centers (requires lecture 1)
• The 4 lower centers
• The sex center
• Higher centers
• The soul, the spirit

3—Practical Ways to Seize and Prolong Presence
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
• How to introduce and sustain self-remembering

Membership information
The Fellowship of Friends is a Fourth Way school with centers worldwide. Membership is on a monthly basis. For details:
Find a center nearest you.
• Email

• Call 1-800-642-0212.

Fellowship of Friends · a religious non-profit organization
P.O. Box 100 · Oregon House, CA 95962
copyright © 2004 · all rights reserved

No part of this newsletter may be copied, reprinted, or reproduced in any form without written permission from the Fellowship of Friends.

Detail of the Youth of Marathon, bronze, circa 340 B.C., National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece.

Thoughts on imagination
Each center has its own form of imagination. All the centers can be satisfied with the imaginary instead of the real. Daydreaming does not pursue any aim, and does not strive after any result. Men fail to see a way out simply because they are hypnotized. Imagination is the force that keeps them in a hypnotic state. To awaken for man means to be ‘dehypnotized’. George Gurdjieff 
In the first state a man is immersed in dreams. Then a man wakes up. At first glance this is a quite different state of consciousness. He can move, he can talk, he can make calculations ahead, and so on. It stands to reason that he is in a better position than when he was asleep. But if we go a little more deeply into things, if we take a look into his inner world, we shall see that he is in almost the same state as when he is asleep. Imagination is always ready to work in us and deceive us. Peter Ouspensky
Mental excretion is represented by imagination, that is, a continuous production of waste images, the by-product of past perceptions, which flow through and out of the brain in a meaningless and unbroken stream. In fact, dreaming goes on night and day, without a break. Rodney Collin
When you yield to imagination, something great disappears behind something small. Imagination is the natural state of the machine. The aim of imagination is to displace presence as quickly as possible. This is why when one is present, it will offer an enticing array of subjects to lure one away.
Robert Burton

Wipe out imagination. Stop the pulling of strings. Confine thyself to the present.  Marcus Aurelius
Unless you keep the minds busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination. Michel de Montaigne
If the accumulation of false imaginations is cleared away, enlightenment will appear.  Buddha
The present moment abides, then slides away in haste. Abraham Lincoln
Any time apart from the present is nonexistent. Plotinus
If you are in Gyros, do not let your mind dwell upon the life at Rome, and if you are in Rome, do not let your mind dwell upon the life in Athens. Epictetus
If you take these fancies to be real enough to engage you, you will be led farther and farther away from tranquility.
Zen master

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