|Posted on October 4, 2012 at 11:35 PM|
When I was a young university student I discovered an important secret to improving my grades. And it was to never enroll in a class that started before noon. Now this wasn’t just because I wasn’t a morning person, but rather it was a direct result of the fact that last-call at the pub on campus was at 1 am. Fortunately, this flippancy ended up having a profound effect on my life because when I finally settled on a major, it limited the courses I could take.
To major in psychology I was required to take a course called “Theories of Personality” which was one of those survey courses that covered Freud, Jung, Adler, Fromm and all of the major theorists in the field. Most of the “Theories of Personality” courses for the January term in 1981 started before noon. However, when I looked at the course calendar, one stood out because it ran from 2 to 5 pm on Mondays.
It was taught by a young professor named Christopher Holmes and I trudged across the snowy field from my apartment next to campus on that fateful Monday and just made it to class in time. As usual, I positioned myself in the back right-hand corner of the room and prepared to be bored silly.
Dr. Holmes spent the first two and a half hours teaching the required material as I dutifully scribbled in my notebook. However, half an hour before the end of class he stopped and told us he was going to spend the last half hour each Monday teaching us a psychological system that was not part of the required syllabus. My ears perked up because this made him seem like a bit of a rebel. Little did I know...
Now before he told us anything about this rogue system, he said he wanted to teach us a profound exercise. And while I don’t remember the exact way he phrased it, he told us to notice what we could see and hear in the room; to pay careful attention to sights and sounds, to the colour of the walls and the sound of his voice, to the shape and distance of objects and sounds coming from outside. Then he told us to remain aware of what we could see and hear and also become aware of our body; to sense our head, neck and torso, to sense our arms and legs. And then while remaining aware of what we could see and hear, and while remaining aware of our body, he told us to also become aware of our breath and try to breathe in a feeling of joy or delight.
Unlike most others in that class, I was fortunate because I was able to do all three. And the moment I did so, I had the most profound experience of my life. It was like being in darkness and then turning on a light.
Dr. Holmes then began to tell us about a man named George Gurdjieff and he said he was going to spend the last half hour of each class teaching us about the most important psychological system he had discovered. I don’t remember much of the talk except that Chris said that Freud, Jung and the other people he had to teach really only dealt with how to make broken people normal, whereas George Gurdjieff was interested in teaching normal people how to be extraordinary.
Now this wasn’t one of those experiences I later looked back on and determined that it was where my life changed forever. This was because I knew, at the time, my life had turned a corner and I would never be the same again.
Now Chris told us that we were practicing something called Self-Remembering. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was very fortunate I wasn’t introduced to these teachings through the Gurdjieff Foundation or through a Bennett/Nyland/Stavely group, because they never would have taught me such exercise on the first day - but would have dragged it out over years.
Furthermore, if I had learned it through one of the formal Gurdjieffian groups I would have never have been so naive to have gone home and immediately taught this exercise to my girlfriend who also had no problem mastering it in a couple of minutes.
I was also brash enough, in the way that only young people can be, to tell her that if she wanted to continue to see me, she had to accept that I could never be that normal person I had been the day before or expect me to lead a normal life after this; because something had awakened in me that afternoon I had no intention of putting back to sleep.
I joined Chris’s non-affiliated group, took every other course he gave and asked him to not only be my thesis adviser, but to be a groom in my wedding party. He gave me a wonderful introduction to the Gurdjieff Teachings (even though he called it the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky system).
Twenty-one years later in 2002 after communicating with someone online, I took out a piece of paper and calculated that between 1981 and 1995, I had Self-Remembered (with the infusion of emotion) a minimum of ten times a day. Then when I moved to England this skyrocketed to a minimum of 50 times a day for the next 6 years (because I was forever going ‘me-here-now-wow incredible’ while Self-Remembering).
However, the final year I lived in York, knowing it was my final year (my ex-wife who was that girlfriend I mentioned earlier - in what seemed like the blink of an eye because someone got really ill and needed to be quickly replaced - was offered her dream job as a professor of Linguistics at Canada’s top university and took my kids back with her while I stayed and struggled to pay off some debts) this went up to a minimum of a hundred times a day as I tried to soak up as many impressions as I could in that enchanted medieval city (fortunately, at the time I was earning a living driving a taxi - a task that perfectly suited to Self-Remembering).
So I calculated thus:
10 times a day for the first 14 years = 51,100
50 times a day for the next 6 years = 109,500
100 times a day for the next year = 36,500
This meant that up until 2002 I had Self-Remembered a minimum of 197,100 times. And please keep in mind that this wasn’t just basic Self-Remembering, but Self-Remembering with an infusion of emotion. Shortly after this I discovered the secret to dramatically increasing the number of 5 to 10-second moments of Self-Remembering I engaged in each day. This means that the number of times I have Self-Remembered is now well over the three quarter of a million mark.
Now I am not saying all of this to brag, so much as I am using it to claim that I am an expert and master-practitioner of all forms of Mindfulness. This means that whatever I write about Mindfulness is not the result of me going to this website and that website and the other website and then mashing everything together so that I ‘appear’ to be an expert. Something Mr. Gurdjieff called wiseacring and lampooned in his major book.
Mindfulness, Self-Remembering, the Spacetime Continuum and the Observer
Mindfulness is usually defined as engaging in some practice that requires you to focus your awareness in this present moment. As such you are drawn into the 'now' whenever you become Mindful of your breathing and body, or a sunset, or the sound of the wind, or the smell of the earth, or the taste of salt.
And while there is no disputing that Mindfulness involves a present-centred act of awareness; this is only half the picture because you are a multidimensional being. And while each act of Mindfulness - for instance the act of focusing your attention on your left toe - not only grounds you temporally, it also grounds you spatially in this specific physical location.
You are not just embodied in time, but also in space, or in the spacetime continuum. So if you become aware of your right thumb, not only does this bring you into the now, into this moment, it also grounds you right here, in this location, at these unique spatial coordinates.
So to be Mindful is to be grounded in both the here and the now, in both space and time. Here, at this point in the spacetime continuum.
Simple Mindfulness involves a one-pointed here-and-now moment of awareness. It covers such activities as the focusing of your attention on your body, or your breathing, or on what you can see, or hear, or smell.
However, according to the Gurdjieff Teachings you are a three-brained being because you have an intellectual brain, a physical brain and an emotional brain.
Your physical brain monitors your sensations, so when you become ‘aware’ of something as small as your left toe or right thumb, you are practicing a simple form of sensory Mindfulness. However, there are more complex forms of sensory Mindfulness. The Gurdjieff Tradition teaches one called Self-Sensing.
And Self-Sensing involves becoming aware, here and now, in this time and place of the ‘sensation’ of your entire body as one organic whole. This is more than just becoming aware of your head, neck and torso, your arms and hands, legs and fingers because it involves sensing your entire body at once as one living organism.
Now your eyes, ears, nose and mouth are all directly connected to your intellectual or head-brain. So another simple form of Mindfulness, this one involving the head-brain, is to become aware of something you can see, or hear, or smell [or possibly taste].
A more complex form of head-brain Mindfulness involves becoming aware of what you can see, hear and smell, all together, here, in this location, and now, in this present moment. We call this Consciously Perceiving -or- Consciously Looking, Listening and Smelling [and sometimes Tasting].
When we put all of this together it becomes one of the basic forms of Self-Remembering. And this type of Self-Remembering can be summed up with the verbal formula of ‘consciously looking, listening AND smelling, WHILE sensing your body as one organic whole’. That is, rather than being a one-pointed form of awareness, it involves becoming aware of what you can perceive while simultaneously sensing your entire body.
There are three other forms of Self-Remembering. One involves becoming Mindful of the thoughts and the words that are flowing through your head-brain (or when you are speaking or reading words), while also sensing your entire body at once (something far more difficult than it sounds). Another involves the feeling and the sensory brains, where you become Mindful of your feelings, while also sensing your entire body as one living whole.
Advanced Three-Brained Self-Remembering
The final form of Self-Remembering involves a three-brained or three-centred awareness where you become Mindful of what you can see, hear and smell, while sensing your body and simultaneously breathing in feeling.
The final thing necessary for a proper understanding of this process is that any act of Mindfulness, whether it is one, two, or three-brained, is that it involves an inner detachment, an inner separation. You must be able to inwardly step back from your body in order to sense it as one organic whole.
Different traditions call this inner part different names, but this inward step back involves a stepping back into pure consciousness, or the Real ‘I’ (the name in the Gurdjieff Teachings), the Witness, or the Observer.
The Real ‘I’, our Observer, is normally hidden behind our thoughts, sensations and feeling. And when we become Mindful we awaken this timid part and force it to become the Observer observing our perceptions, sensations and feelings.
So imagine you are a wild horse and you have managed to stay hidden away. But one day you look up and become aware of a cowboy and allow him to throw a lasso around your neck. And even though you have been snagged, you can still flail and jump and move wildly around. Then suppose you look at a second cowboy who manages to simultaneously throw another lasso around your neck. This tames you a little more tame, and makes you a little more controllable. However, if you become aware of a third cowboy at the same time, who also snags you with a lasso, the three cowboys can triangulate their efforts to pull you out into the open.