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Presence • Awakening • Consciousness • Self-knowledge • Evolution
Vol 1, No 4 • SEPTEMBER 2004
Being Present
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A publication of the Fellowship of Friends www.gurdjieff-ouspensky-centers.org

The Many ‘I’s

“The 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

Virtually 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’ of consciousness.

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.

The 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.

intellectual 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 cannot do.

Separating consciousness from functions

Work in a Fourth Way school revolves around methods of learning to observe the ‘I’s and gradually separate consciousness from functions, chiefly through divided attention.

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 s
low 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.”

NOTE: 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
Mr. 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.

Links of interest on our web site
• See video clips of Robert Burton teaching
• Review suggested reading about the Fourth Way
• See the web site in your language (flags on home page)

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.

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 contact@beingpresent.org.

• Call 1-800-642-0212.

Head of Hygeia. Marble, 350-340 B.C. Attributed to Praxiteles. National Archeological Museum, Athens, Greece.

Thoughts on the many ‘I’s 

Man 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.
George Gurdjieff 
The 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.
Peter Ouspensky 
In 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 of man.
Rodney Collin    
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.
Robert Earl Burton
Who am I standing in the midst of this thought traffic?
To realize that you need not go with these various habitual ‘I’s is the dawn of a new life.
Maurice Nicoll
The mind often becomes plagued when the great work of remembrance is forgotten.
Struggle with all alien thoughts. Keep your mind on what you are doing whether outwardly or inwardly.
The way toward liberation is to train your mind to live in the present.
The present offers itself to us only for the second and then eludes the senses.
The mockeries are not you.
Walt Whitman
One becomes weary of endlessly retrieving oneself.
Rainier Maria Rilke

Newsletter contact
Write to editor@beingpresent.org. We welcome your emails. Send us questions you may have about the Fourth Way and about working in a school. Let us know if you have topics you’d like to hear about in a future issue. 

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