This month's Missal takes a look at Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953). Dr. Nicoll was fortunate enough to have been the student and colleague of three of the twentieth centuries most remarkable teachers: Carl Jung, G. I. Gurdjieff, and P. D. Ouspensky. Even more remarkable was his own life of teaching, leading groups in England for the much of the second part of his life, and leaving us books that outline and explain the Fourth Way in his own words.
Born at the Manse in Kelso, Scotland, July 19th, 1884, he went on to study at Cambridge, received his medical degree at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and continued his studies in Vienna, Berlin and Zurich where he became a student of Carl Jung, and went on to write one of the first books on Jungian dream interpretation. He said that encountering Jung was the first important event of his life.
After a harrowing Army Medical Service in World War I in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia he returned to England to become a psychiatrist. In 1921 he met P. D. Ouspensky, student and colleague of G. I. Gurdjieff, and in 1922 became a pupil of Gurdjieff, moving with his wife and daughter to the Château du Prieuré in France where he studied in Gurdjieff’s institute. After a year in France, suffering from ill-health, he returned to England and took up with Ouspensky, who in 1931 asked him to begin teaching the Work on his own, persuading Nicoll to start his own groups in England applying the ideas he had been introduced to by Ouspensky, Gurdjieff, and Jung. Dr. Nicoll continued to teach until his death in 1953, having groups in several different residences over the years. His secretary, Beryl Pogson, copied down his weekly talks, compiling them into what later became the five volume work, Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
His interest in the esoteric meaning of the New Testament also led to several books, including The New Man. He taught that the New Testament was a guide to becoming, that everything one needed to become complete was found within oneself, and the teaching of esoteric Christianity were clues to this kingdom within. Carefully re-translating the Gospels, his work dispels many misinterpretations of the original text and points out the true esoteric meaning of the words of Christ and the disciples.
Teaching the Fourth Way principal that man as he is an incomplete organism, but can become complete through following and putting into practice the teaching called the Work, Nicoll constantly brought forth the idea that through practical self-observation one could see not only how one was incomplete, but also how one could become. If one was not naturally heading towards realization, then why not? What was blocking you? He taught that negative emotions were the most common cause of our 'being asleep', and that clearing the emotional center in oneself of all negativity was key to contacting higher forces within which could help one to awake.
He often quoted the Work saying "You have a right not to be negative". His teaching stated that we come into this existence with no negative part, but are soon affected by the negative auras of those we come into contact with and depend on. This negative influence, being false, could then be seen for what it is and thus separated from. The trouble is, as he often pointed out, is that we are in love with our negative emotions and take much of our meaning from them. We love the drama they provide, and resist any effort to separate from them. The influences that are constantly coming to us from what he called 'Higher Centers' are blocked by these negative states.
"The Emotional Centre is not born with a negative part — it should not be there, but it is acquired by the influence of people who are negative. By contact with adults a child learns to pity itself, to feel grievances, to speak crossly, to dwell on its misfortunes, to be melancholy, moody, irritable, suspicious, jealous, to hurt others, etc. This dreadful infection of a child is something against which nothing can be done because it is not clearly recognized. This infection forms the negative part in Emotional Centre. And this infection is handed on from generation to generation. "
- Maurice Nicoll
Another cause of our continual sleep is the belief that simply hearing and intellectually understanding a teaching will bring real results. Nicoll constantly confronted the members of his groups with this fallacy, urging them to take the Work farther by making it an actual part of their lives, rather than merely giving it lip service without putting it into practice. He urged his pupils to practice of self-observation in a real way, seeing that many took it to be a function of the imagination and thinking only, and not the real observation of what one does, thinks, and feels and how they relate in everyday life. He taught that life can be our teacher, and that every moment was an opportunity to awake, through self-observation and honest evaluation of our actual life, thoughts, desires, and fears.
He is perhaps best known as the author of the five volume series of texts on the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky: Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Through this collection of weekly talks we see his unwavering commitment to others and tireless work in pointing out the way home, which lies within. Through his body of work, we are left with an understandable system of how to complete ourselves,as well as a different take on the teaching of Jung, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. He was said to have a kind and gentle nature in addition to his forceful commitment, and a well developed sense of humor. He kept a quotation from Plato hung in a prominent place in all the homes in which he lived, "Serious things can only be understood through laughable things".
His explanation of the Fourth Way system, with its three types of man: # 1 the instinctive, # 2 as the emotional, and # 3 as mental man, shows us how to become man # 4, the balanced man, in which all functions are working together in a positive connection, linked to higher centers within, placing us in the possibility of moving on to man # 5, that mysterious being all esoteric work alludes to.
Maurice Nicoll: 12 Concise SuperWisdoms
1. Esoteric teaching is not an imaginary thing. It is the most real thing in the world - more real than a cheque, more real than a house, more real than another person.
2. It is necessary to catch fire. It is necessary to see we are in the presence of something real - yes, real, but finely made, and very gentle, very delicate, and beautiful.
3. Someone said, "I wish for self-mastery." Gurdjieff said at once that this was a real aim.
4. This branch of the Work suffers terribly from lip-service . . . I must confess I am astonished by the inner insincerity of people who profess this Work.
5. It has been said that to remember oneself one must have a sense of something superior to oneself. Self-Remembering is a lifting up of oneself to another set of influences.
6. The object of the Work is to cleanse our lower centers, to clear them out, to open their windows, so that they can begin to transmit these ideas and directions coming from higher centers.
7. All of you who are following the path of the Work, and have long ago understood that it is not something on the blackboard, will find that even the simplest sayings of the Work transform themselves into deeper and deeper meanings.
8. We are surrounded by liberating ideas, whether we feel them or not.
9. The object of self-observation, as it is said in the Work, is to let a ray of light into oneself. The next thing that is said is that when light is let in in this way many things begin to change of themselves. It is the light of consciousness that begins to change things. For this reason it is said in the Work that the light will cure us. Have you ever thought what it means, this extraordinary phrase: "the light will cure us"? When I first heard it said to me by Gurdjieff, it had such an emotional effect upon me that I was unable to speak to anybody for some time afterwards.
10. If a person does not nourish Work 'I's' they become feeble and may even leave us forever.
11. Many people crystallize out in their negative emotions. I advise you to avoid such people.
12. Mr. Ouspensky used to say: "I want examples, not theoretical talk. Give me a good example of self-observation or a moment of work on yourself, a moment of real effort consciously made."
- Related Sites -
(1884-1953): Links and books by and about Dr. Nicoll, from Eureka Editions.
Maurice Nicoll: Spiritual Giant, Gentle Genius
by Kathy Hurley and Theodorre Donson. "What would be your reaction to meeting a man of towering intellect, infinite kindness, commanding presence, and amazing insight into the workings of human nature, knowing that he was also the student and colleague of three of the greatest spiritual teachers of the twentieth century?" http://hurleydonson.com/nicoll.htm
Tricks and Traps
Trap: thinking through a mood. Being unaware of the sometimes subtle presence of a mood can lead us into wrong thinking. Only later will we become fully aware of the mistake. For instance, we may make decisions based on negative attitudes, such as having a bad day at work, quitting the job, and then regretting the sudden loss of income and security. The mood will block the part we played in the causal events, but we may become painfully conscious of this later.
Trick: Wait a bit. If we can remember how the above trick has caused trouble in the past, we may be able to wait out the mood, and not make any important decisions until the storm passes. Even better, we can gain more awareness of ourselves by watching the process, from the onset of the mood during the causal events, how we react mechanically, and are then taken advantage of through our now befuddled mind.
" How then can we change being? By applying the knowledge of the Work through self-observation to ourselves. And remember that you do not change by being told what to do. You only change through seeing what you have to do when you realize what your being is like. " - Maurice Nicoll
Sooner or later the task of changing our being, of becoming, moves from simple mental learning through advice and association to the inner task of developing the intuition. How well this works is ultimately about how well we can hold tension and work within. The practical thing to 'do' then becomes the real time observation of our own attention. The work moves within, and is no longer about character building, a better personality, becoming charismatic or invisible. There are several ways to describe this simple trick of watching or chasing your attention: the experiments of Douglas Harding, which show how to look at what you are looking out of, learning to listen with the eyes, to listen with the attention, the two-way seeing or self-remembering of Gurdjieff and the double-pointed arrow of attention, one pointed within, one without, and the art of mindfulness. To be successful in these tricks, we must be able to relax for at least a second from constantly and unconsciously upholding our sense of self. This split second of seeing who or what we really are, is our slipping behind the mind or ego and seeing through it rather than as it. Now, if you have trouble practicing experiments of the type listed above, or are unable to catch the meaning behind them, why is this? What's blocking you?
The ego1-ego2 game is a great enemy in direct seeing. When the exercises are practiced, the ego-mind is rendered quiescent, if only for a split second, but long enough for one to be free from the mind's pressure to create, project and solve problems, drama, or conflicts, such as getting what you want, avoiding what you fear, etc. But in the next instant after the 'seeing' has ended, the mind will rise up and become active once more and the ego-self, largely through memory, will then lay claim to the credit of seeing, dragging us out of eternity and taking away any incentive to actually 'see' again. An insidious trick has just been played on us, for the ego, as ego1, has just laid claim to 'seeing', and places all blame for actions opposed to seeing on a fictitious character it creates and then uses as scapegoat: the hapless ego2. Thus, we are taken out of action and thrown back where we started: identified with the mind in time. Seeing is now relegated to memory only, for we are unconscious of the whole above trick. The ego has thus kept its throne, and we, as awareness, are back asleep.
If we get what's taking place in the above experiments( by seeing it, rather than mentally understanding it), then our intuition will know what to do next, knowing now what the attention is and how it moves from one view to another. Here's a test to see if we really do see this:
Look at a familiar object, say a tree out of your window, and watch the mind as it works. Observe how this mind associates the tree with names, memories, information, etc. Notice how it does this automatically, unquestioned. Now, practice two-way seeing, the listening attention, while looking at the tree. Allow yourself to look back at what you are looking out of, the aware silence, and look forward or out at the object as well. Can you now look at the tree without 'knowing' what it is? Without knowing what you are, simply because you are? The mind is now silent and all is okay, for nothing is separate. No separation of things, no creating of things, is needed; no labeling or judging, qualifying or describing. You are not enlightened or ignorant, for you have no need to create yourself or 'be' anything.
Now, while still observing the tree, allow the mind to work, as it rises up and again starts the process of creating objects with characteristics, separating 'you' from the 'tree', and separating the tree from everything else, as the string of associated concepts stream forth. Can you see the difference between these two states? Can you see your attention move between these two views? Can you be honest about this? Does your heart have anything to say about value and meaning in relation to these two very different states?
If you can't 'do' the above experiment, or dismiss it as unimportant, what is blocking you? Why is your intuition being shut out, and thus not picking up on this? If you think the above is not important, or can't relate to it, and still insist on someone or some system telling you something practical to do as a spiritual exercise, or if you are honest and admit you just can't follow any of it, the reason lies within, in something blocking you. Perhaps an energy knot in the emotions, most likely hidden, unconscious, but active and alive. This knot blinds as well as binds you to it, keeping you unconscious, so as to maintain the status quo of the tension and energy system of knots known as 'you'.
If seeing still makes no sense, and you are at a loss as to practical method and the next move on your path, this then is what you can do: to become conscious of what is blocking your intuition. Perhaps going back through your life story with its accompanying emotions is in order, to free you of the energy knots that bind your attention. What needs to be done will be seen, if steps are taken to improve the intuition, clarify one's values, and to hold and increase the tension of questioning, of looking. Taking advice and direction from outside as an easy way out of the tension of having to develop one's own intuition ends in robbing one of the grace that comes from within.
- Quotes of the Month -
" Self-Observation is the knife that begins to separate, to remove, what you take as you
, from what is real. Everything real leads to Real I: everything false leads to False Personality. But it is the dislike of being mechanical that gives the force to separate from the false. The illusion that we are conscious cleverly prevents this and keeps us asleep. The self-love will not permit us to realize that we are not conscious. So we justify all our behaviour.
" If you work on yourself long enough with increasing understanding, you will reach a higher level, however small, in yourself, and you will know at once that the Work is true. The door into this possibility is self-observation, that is, becoming more conscious of yourself, from what you are taught. One can begin to become more conscious of other people, and not only that, but one’s conception of the world in which one lives begins to change at the same time. The second line of work is extremely useful with regard to attaining more consciousness of ourselves through self-observation. As I said, men and women think they observe themselves already. So, if you find a friend in the work, you should ask this friend to criticize you. This belongs to the second line. The result may be quite surprising. If you do not get negative, then you will begin to have more consciousness of what you are like. Some illusions of yourself may even be destroyed. But it is strong medicine.
" We rarely can pursue our own thoughts. The traffic in the mind prevents us. We do not 'individually' join one thing with another, or see the truth of something for ourselves. The rush of associations, the continual reactions to life, are too powerful. Few of us will say we have built much inside. We have not recreated - re-presented - the world but left it in the form of a confused sensory image.
" The point of this Work is to save energy and not to be eaten by identifying. Unless we save energy we cannot awaken, because life and its turning events take our energy at every moment. None of the things that happen on the Earth, due to tyrants, etc. is comparable with the way in which we are used by life whose object is to keep us fast asleep. So it said we are all in prison. But we do not see this. We feel it is someone else's fault. Here we err deeply.
" I will also tell you a secret. We have to will one another: this is the beginning of conscious love. " - Maurice Nicoll
" Through many a birth in samsara have I wondered in vain, seeking the builder of this house. Repeated birth is indeed suffering! O house-builder you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridge pole shattered. My mind has reached the unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving. " - Gautama Buddha
" I was never horribly self-obsessed or wrapped up in my own weirdness, but when my daughter was born, suddenly there was clarity, I wasn't angry anymore. It was the first purely selfless moment that I had ever experienced. And it was liberating. In that moment, it's like you become something else. The real you is revealed." - Johnny Depp
, on the birth of his first child
" Modern death is a matter of bright rooms and hard machines. Live long enough, and you might be filed away in a nursing home, your history scoured away, your life winnowed down to a few items on the table and some pictures of people who don't come around enough.When you are about to pass on, there is no quiet to attend you: busy fuss and professional zeal strive to bring you back, nail you to the soft cross of the rented bed." - James Lileks
" Firstly, there no such person as Death. Second, Death's this tall guy with a bone face, like a skeletal monk, with a scythe and an hourglass and a big white horse and a penchant for playing chess with Scandinavians. Third, he doesn't exist either." - Neil Gaiman
"Without a strong sense of humour, we might as well all become accountants, remedial algebra teachers and telephone sanitizers." - Tom Knapp
"You are not angry with people when you laugh at them. Humor teaches them tolerance."- William Somerset Maugham
"Laughing in the face of danger is not a survival strategy."- Terry Pratchett
Copyright 2003 - 2006 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.