This month's missal takes a look at Peter Demianovich Ouspensky.
He was born in 1878 in Moscow, where he spent his childhood. Even in his youth, Ouspensky showed much intelligence and curiosity. When he was thirteen he became interested in dreams and psychology and later in higher physics and mathematics. He left school early though, vowing never to take or pass examinations, or earn an academic degree. Instead he went into journalism and began to travel and write. He felt that the professors and universities were killing science in the same way as priests and church were killing religion. He had developed an interest in the fourth dimension from his studies, but did not pursue a scientific career.
The event that set the course for his life was in the spring of 1915 when he met the Russian mystic George Gurdjieff
in Moscow. Gurdjieff’s ideas had a strong effect on Ouspensky, opening a door to a different way of thinking.
“ I realized that I had met with a completely new system of thought surpassing all I knew before. This system threw quite a new light on psychology and explained what I could not understand before in esoteric ideas.”
He immersed himself in Gurdjieff’s teaching and made every effort to promote it. Nevertheless, the personal connection with Gurdjieff, as intense and productive as it was, proved to be of short duration. Ouspensky began to feel that Gurdjieff was becoming too authoritarian, going back on his previous pledge that no one should believe anything he said without verifying it for themselves. 1918 saw the first separation of the two men, and in 1924 Ouspensky announced that his work would proceed independently of Gurdjieff’s. The last time they met was in Paris in 1930.
Ouspensky left Russia for England and spent most of the rest of his life there, giving lectures and forming various groups. He spent the years of WWII in America, coming home to England in 1946 shortly before his death in 1947. One of his and Gurdjieff's foremost students, Maurice Nicoll,
led groups in England with Ouspensky's blessing, even after Ouspensky's passing. Several of Ouspensky's most important works, including In Search of the Miraculous
, and The Fourth Way
, were published posthumously.
The ideas of Ouspensky about man's nature and his possibilities were passed to him from Gurdjieff, and came to be known as the Fourth Way. They center around the ancient saying " Know Thyself". Ouspensky taught that man's great mistake is that he does not know himself, but does not see this. Man is basically asleep, or unconscious to himself, and therefore sees no reason to question his own thinking or beliefs. He taught that there were four levels of consciousness possible to man: sleep, as commonly defined; waking sleep, our usual state; self-consciousness; and objective consciousness. Man thinks he has all four of these, but lives primarily in a state of waking sleep, having only brief glimpses of self- consciousness.
When one realizes that one deceives oneself, that one is asleep and one's house is on fire, always, permanently on fire, and that it is only by accident that the fire has not reached one's room at this very moment, when one realizes this, one will want to make efforts to awake and one will not expect any special reward. Since we do not realize that our house is on fire we always expect a special reward. What can one do in sleep? One can only have different dreams -- bad dreams, good dreams, but in the same bed. The dreams may be different, but the bed is the same.
Another of Ouspensky's teachings was that man is not one, but a collection of many "I's", all of which are utterly mechanical, and that man does not, or will not, admit this. By finding or developing the "I" in oneself he calls 'observing I', one could begin to see this, and begin to form a center. To see how one is mechanical, one has only to observe one's contradictions, and how we cannot admit to the useless and negative sides of ourself.
One of the first points is: how to remember oneself, how to make oneself more aware, and then you will find out that negative emotions are one of the chief factors which make us not remember ourselves. So one thing cannot go without the other. You cannot struggle with negative emotions without remembering yourselves more, and you cannot remember yourself more without struggling with negative emotions.
The difficulties he has in observing these four manifestations - lying, imagination, the expression of negative emotions, and unnecessary talking,- will show man his utter mechanicalness.
He taught that man has centers, or different functions, which are either undeveloped or doing each others jobs, leading to a wrong working of the machine. By observing these centers, one can become more aware of oneself, and lessen the loss of energy, thereby increasing one's chances for self-remembering, a term for reaching the third state of consciousness, self-consciousness, a state we normally ascribe to ourselves, but seldom really experience. These centers, the moving and instinctive centers, the emotional center, and the mental center, were also used as a way to categorize men according to which center was dominant in them. When all centers were in use, working together for the best interest of the whole man, then he has a chance at becoming philosophical man, a being of a higher order, one who can remember himself.
Some think that Ouspensky himself was too much of the intellect and didn't develop his emotional side enough to bring about a final realization. Much of his teaching was given orally and in person, so we may know little of what actually transpired. We can say that Ouspensky devoted his life to conveying a system of practical psychology to mankind that seeks to bring him to a higher level of being. In his terms, he says that man was not complete, and the Fourth Way was a means to this possibility of completion. While Ouspensky's work did not convey much about that which lays beyond the mind, this description of his last moments by R. Collins shows that he conveyed a deep rapport in his final moments : "On the first of October 1947 he was found fully dressed on the landing in Lyne Place. He took his place on the sofa and called everybody together. He wore no glasses and seems for once not to need them, looking at everyone with great poignancy and benevolence... gradually a deep sense of being together came over all those present. It was clear that his end was near, but this moment was one of extraordinary peace and unity."
A good primer for the work of Ouspensky is his book, The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution.
- Above quotes by P.D. Ouspensky-
- Related Sites -
Ouspensky Foundation: "
The aim of the Foundation
is to study the evolution of human existence, and practical research into methods and techniques of self-study and self-development from the perspective of the spiritual legacy of Pjotr Demianovitch Ouspensky, and
to keep alive, to study and to continue the development of the spiritual legacy of the same Ouspensky and spiritually related persons." http://www.ouspensky.info/englishside.htm
Peter D. Ouspensky,1878–1947:
"P. D. Ouspensky was a major contributor to Twentieth century ideas. He anticipated many of the key questions in philosophy, psychology and religion that have driven and informed us throughout the century." Links to info on Ouspensky, from the Gurdjieff
P. D. Ouspensky: from Guide to Spiritual Teachers.
" I still remember the excitement of reading P.D. Ouspensky's Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution
for the first time. Ouspensky drove home the idea that in our present state we are machines, that we are a conglomeration of voices rather than a unified whole, that we react rather than do, and that we must observe our machines in order to change. " - Shawn Nevins http://www.spiritualteachers.org/p.d._ouspensky.htm
Tricks and Traps
Trap: Split Personality. Keeping our spiritual and personal life separate, we fall into a trap. We think that spiritual work is not related to our day-to-day actions and keep the two sides of ourselves, the actual personality and the spiritual ego, separate and unconscious of each other. We are thus capable of being a negative self-serving robot while believing and projecting we are a sincere seeker of Truth.
Tricks: Here are three tricks to bridge the gap between our ego/idea of ourselves and our fact status:
1. Practice a technique for seeing the personality indirectly. In the beginning, we may not be able to see ourselves directly, so the use of techniques such as dream study or journaling can help get us started on the path of self-discovery. Reading back through a journal can be a shock, we may think we are an earnest, positive and altruistic seeker, when the journal notes may show us to be a negative whiner who thinks only of himself.
2. Group Work. Nothing can help with seeing ourselves quite as much as the mirror of a group. To take advantage of the group setting though, one may need to learn to listen. Even in the work place, we may be getting all the information about ourselves we need, but refuse to hear it.
3. Watch your emotions. Take the time to sit quietly twice a day, first thing in the morning and before you fall asleep, and see what your heart is telling you. Not to the endless justifications or judgments in the mind, but to the knots or tensions in the background. Can you feel these? What are they related to? Can you bring up words to describe these knots? Do you have mixed feelings about the days events? Where are the contradictions?
"Try to understand the necessity for introducing the methods and principles of the work in your personal life and first of all the necessity for right thinking on all personal questions and their possible relation to your work. Without this, you will never reach unity. You cannot allow one part of yourself to think wrongly and hope that another part will think rightly." - Ouspensky
" Our studies must begin with our selves and not with the heavens. " - Shawn Nevins
There comes a time when our search into the possibilities of our nature must become personal. We must step out of the safe kingdom of our imagination and begin to actually observe our own mind. Now this is a tricky business. Getting personal about our search can mean many things. It does not mean it's all about us, that we are out to become big or perfect, or to focus only on our self-pity, but it means we must become capable of looking at ourselves without the filters of imagination and identification, while at the same time leaving the study of the universe until we know for sure who is studying it.
Imagination can lead us far astray. We will tend to find whatever helps to compensate for our undeveloped sides, while remaining blind to the things we do not like about ourselves. The trick of identification will aid in this hypnosis by helping us to say "I" to every voice that pops up in our crowded head. Here, we find another obstacle to our path in what Ouspensky and Gurdjieff called 'buffers'. Buffers are strange but effective blocks in our mind that keep us from seeing our contradictions. They serve to separate the sides of ourselves that live in opposition to each other. This serves to keep us fast asleep and living in imagination, identified with whatever voice is currently active, and keeps this voice from seeing the other fellows who might have been in control of our machine both before and after he came along. Now this might seem like the stuff of science-fiction, especially if we have an inflated view of ourselves, having perhaps been on the path for awhile, but a little observation of our fellow man will show us differently, and we are built the same as he. If we can muster a bit of courage, we can even ask our fellows on the path to do us a favor and tell us about ourselves.
With buffers, imagination, and identification, among other things, blocking our path to truth, how can we even start to get a glimpse into our own mind? Anything that slips past the buffers can be explained away with imagination, and we can always use identification with our spiritual ego to smooth over any discrepancies. The study of our mind might have to first be an indirect one until we become convinced of our own self-delusion. By looking within in an indirect manner, we can come to see our contradictions in a way that isn't immediately shut down by the ego's defenses. The study of our dreams is one such way. "Possibly the most interesting first impression of my life came from the world of dreams." This quote from Ouspensky shows how dreams can give us that first step into the mind.
As soon as the observing part of us is convinced that there is work to be done in our own head, we can move on to a more direct study. The art of self-observation is a direct, tricky and absolutely necessary task. The chief trap we can fall into is that of projection. We may think we are observing ourselves by describing or commenting on the actions of our body as we go through the day. This is only the mind projecting a labeling process, after the fact, and then identifying with it. Observing oneself starts with looking for the underlying motivations to these body-actions. Why do we do what we do? Can we see through to the reasons for our actions rather than just describing them? When we can see, in real time, the emotional motivators for our thinking processes that lead to action, then we can say we understand self-observation. Why you do what you do may lead farther within than simple description of your body language.
- Quotes of the Month -
" Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in right circumstances, and with right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and, having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease being a machine.
" Our ancestors were very rich and eminent people, and they left us an enormous inheritance, which we have completely forgotten, especially since the time when we began to consider ourselves the descendants of a monkey.
" If suffering did not exist, it would be necessary to create it, because without it one cannot come to correct self-remembering.
" When a man begins to know himself a little he will see in himself many things that are bound to horrify him. So long as a man is not horrified at himself he knows nothing about himself.
" Think about death. You do not know how much time remains to you. And remember that if you do not become different, everything will be repeated again, all foolish blunders, all silly mistakes, all loss of time and opportunity - everything will be repeated with the exception of the chance
you had this time, because chance
never comes in the same form.You will have to look for
your chance next time. And in order to do this, you will have to remember many things, and how will you remember then if you do not remember anything now? " - P.D. Ouspensky
" I cannot and will not think beyond the present moment." - Goethe
" Wipe out imagination. Stop the pulling of strings. Confine thyself to the present. " - Marcus Aurelius
" I'd come to realize that if a man is ever going to grasp anything it won't be by learning. His being has to change. You are what you do, not what you know. A man never learns, he becomes. To become, you must find ways and means to change your entire state-of-mind. This in turn will lead to a change of being." - Richard Rose
"Being Politically Correct means always having to say you're sorry." - Charles Osgood
"Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning." - Rich Cook
"Some mornings it just doesn't seem worth it to gnaw through the leather straps." - Emo Phillips
Copyright 2003 - 2006 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.