The Teaching For Our Time

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William Patrick Patterson
Have a Soul, Make a Soul

How often do we remember ourselves? How many times on any given day and for what duration? Whatever our answer, what's happening the rest of the time?

When I'm not in the state of self-remembrance, what state am I in? We've read about it, we've all talked about it. But does this other state come readily to mind, this state other than self-remembering?

I mean, I get through the day. I get by. Some days better than others. I work, relate, eat, return home. Go through the habit-honored routines and go to sleep, physical sleep. And so it goes.... Not to worry. I have a soul. It won't be dust to dust. I'm too important. I have a soul. Isn't that the root belief?

Some 5,000 years ago there was another belief. The ancient Egyptians believed one had to make a soul. At first the belief was that only the pharaoh could make a soul. Later, the idea of soul-making included the nobles. Still later, everyone could make a soul. At some juncture the belief passed from everyone making a soul to everyone having one. That was certainly comforting. But having a soul also meant you could lose it, depending on the way you lived. The soul had to be light as a feather or you would be fed to the hippo.

About 3,000 years ago Moses went up the mountain, spoke to God, and returned with the Ten Commandments. It was God's prescription for how we should live. Over time, these ten rules were expanded to over five hundred rules. About 2,500 years ago the ancient Greeks introduced philosophy, rationality, the love of wisdom. In Phaedrus, Plato spoke quite beautifully about his vision of the soul, its fall and incarnation. Some 500 years later, Jesus Christ introduced the idea of salvation and resurrection of one's soul through faith in God. Some 600 years later, Allah spoke through Mohammed, saying that Allah is everything, and one must surrender their life to Allah otherwise they were infidels. Some 1,300 years later another Messenger from Above appeared. He told us we had no soul but could make one. With that the long trajectory of ideas about the soul comes full circle—we have to make a soul.

But the consensual belief, constantly reinforced for thousands of years, is that I was born with a soul, God-given, no strings attached. So while intellectually I find the idea interesting that a soul has to be made—it's food for the intellect—do I emotionally accept that I don't have one?

I have read, of course, that I have no indivisible I, no free will, cannot do. I am just a bundle of "I"s. Now something strange happens, a kind of mental jujitsu I am not aware of. Because I comprehend the idea linguistically, I unconsciously assume I am not reading about myself but about other people. It's not volitional. A psychological buffer separates me from what I am reading. It keeps me asleep in the belief that I am an indivisible I.

Now when I remember myself or, better, when I am remembered, and observe—what do I observe? I observe the "I-of-the-moment." Another "I," the "self-improvement-I," almost instantly appears that wants to improve the previous "I," followed by another "I" that thinks it futile, and so the "fight-of-the-'I's" begins, a "yes" against a "no," and so it goes. Though this is observed time and again, some part of me simply won't accept that I am all "I"s and not a real I. It takes a great sincerity—and sincerity must be learned—to admit without justification or excuse that almost all my life is lived in the waking sleep of my meta-belief in myself as an indivisible I.

Four states exist: physical sleep; waking state, which is a waking sleep; self-remembering; and the fourth state in which self transcends itself—but is there a conscious awareness of them? The waking state has a seamless quality—a stream not of consciousness but its opposite. Attention is rarely in the Immediate but either ahead or behind it. Only a shock, a disruption, internal or external, breaks the hypnotic circuitry. Momentarily, the revolving mental wheel of future-past and past-future is shocked to stillness. Psychological time ends. An awareness of space appears, a certain separation. But then, almost immediately, the space is psychologized by the "I-of-the-moment." This "I" either eats me, my attention, or my attention eats it. That is, if the self-remembering is strong and lasting enough to allow for self-observation that does not devolve to reaction, then this "I" is eaten. In this eating of "I"s, the false personality, which substrates the "I-structure," weakens and allows a space for essence to grow. Will and self-knowledge develop, as does being, and a commensurate level of understanding appears. The tempo of life changes, as does one's chemistry. The physical body now well-fed gives birth to a Kesdjan body, and, like Russian dolls, the emotional and mental bodies then develop, and finally, we are told, a soul is formed. This self-transformation can only occur if one is consciously working with one's sleep. But how can this happen if I can't admit that I'm asleep?

About states, Mr. Gurdjieff says:

In order to understand what the difference between states of consciousness is, let us return to the first state of consciousness which is sleep. This is an entirely subjective state of consciousness. A man is immersed in dreams, whether he remembers them or not does not matter. Even if some real impressions reach him, such as sounds, voices, warmth, cold, the sensation of his own body, they arouse in him only fantastic subjective images. Then a man wakes up. At first glance this is a quite different state of consciousness. He can move, he can talk with other people, he can make calculations ahead, he can see danger and avoid it, 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, into his thoughts, into the causes of his actions, we shall see that he is in almost the same state as when he is asleep. And it is even worse, because in sleep he is passive, that is, he cannot do anything. In the waking state, however, he can do something all the time and the results of all his actions will be reflected upon him or upon those around him. And yet he does not remember himself. He is a machine, everything with him happens. He cannot stop the flow of his thoughts, he cannot control his imagination, his emotions, his attention. He lives in a subjective world of "I love," "I do not love," "I like," "I do not like," "I want," "I do not want," that is, of what he thinks he likes, of what he thinks he does not like, of what he thinks he wants, of what he thinks he does not want. He does not see the real world. The real world is hidden from him by the wall of imagination. He lives in sleep. He is asleep. What is called "clear consciousness" is sleep and a far more dangerous sleep than sleep at night in bed.

So the great and precious invitation we've all been given is the word he brings and the practices he gives in which there can be an awakening. One can bring a soul into life. And so the aim: Being in the Becoming of life, and so to consciously eat the inertia and negativity, and to experience the peace and the harmony, and the joy and the pleasure, the creativity, the self-expression. But it must be worked for. Conscious life, incarnation, immortality—they do not come cheaply.

This talk is printed in The Gurdjieff Journal Issue #39 as "The Wall of Sleep."