Rembrandt (Portrait of Agatha Bas-Bambeeck)

I have been asked many times whether or not being present and self remembering are the same effort, so perhaps it’s a good idea to take a look at the various efforts we make and see how they are different and how they are the same.

To begin with I would say that self remembering and being present are not the same, but that they have the same purpose. When I try to self remember or to be present, essentially I’m trying to evoke a higher state of consciousness. Higher centers have different aspects, and the efforts we make to awaken high centers can focus on one aspect or another. Because it is inevitable that we will begin from different (psychological) places, we have different ways of arriving at higher centers . If I find, for instance, that I’m getting identified when I’eat lunch, I might decide to focus my efforts on self-remembering. In this situation I’m not concerned with the past or the future, so calling it being present doesn’t have the right flavor or as Ouspensky says ‘taste.’ The problem is that I have forgotten, I have forgotten the self.  So, for me, the most efficient way to become emotional about making an effort in that moment is to think about it as self-remembering. On the other hand if I am having lunch and I am anxious because I have to go to the dentist in the afternoon, then I will probably want to think in terms of being present. In this case my focus will be on staying in the present and on not letting my thoughts stray into the future. We have various efforts because some efforts work better than others in specific situations.

Part of what we are doing in choosing one effort over another is attempting to bring emotion to the effort we are making. Emotion is needed to drive our efforts. Another way of thinking about how we choose one effort over another is by looking for the weakness of the moment. Let’s say that you fall in love. Now when you are with the person you love, you will probably have no trouble being in the moment. You will want to be with the person, after all you are in love. But you will probably find that you are easily identified, and so, in this case, you will want to observe your identification and make efforts to not identify. On the other hand, when you are separated from the man or woman you love, you may find that your thoughts stray into memories of the last time you were with them or into imagination about the next time you will see them. In these moments, being present is the right effort because the weakness of the moment is that you keep being drawn into the past or the future.

Higher centers have different aspects, and the efforts we make to awaken high centers can focus on one aspect or another. In the case of being present, we try to focus our attention on the moment because we know that when we are in a higher state, being aware of the passing moment is part of the experience. With self-remembering we try to remember the self because we know that when higher centers work, we see ourselves in a very vivid way.

Here are a nine efforts that I have used extensively over the years:

Self-Observation. When we speak about self-observation, we are usually talking about observing something specific in our inner world. For instance we can try to observe a feature (a weakness) in personality like willfulness or vanity or greed. This is generally done in order to understand how these features keep us from experiencing higher centers. We can also, for example, try to observe our movements to see if we are losing energy through tension or through using unnecessary force. Self-observation is particularly necessary at the beginning of work on oneself. At first, for instance, it is not clear which manifestations are from essence and which are from false personality. In other words we can mistake a weakness for a strength because we don’t know our type, our center of gravity, and we haven’t yet accumulated enough observations about lower centers.

Being Present. Being present is attempt to hold your attention in the present moment, while keeping all thoughts about the past and the future at bay. You see and listen to what is around you and keep your concentration on that. You realize, ‘I am here, in this moment.’  Put simply being present is an effort to observe yourself in the passing moment.

Self-Remembering. Here the emphasis is on remembering, you are remembering to make the effort to create the self, which is normally absent. Self-remembering should always contain a sense of ‘I am here in this place.’ You observe yourself, but you also observe the place where you happen to be.

Not Identifying. The best way to think about identification is in relation to attention. With identification attention is drawn by the object of one’s attention. What is generally thought of as fascination can be seen as more extreme identification. If you sit in a movie theater and become lost in the picture, you are identified. Not identifying in that moment will mean remembering that you are sitting in your seat watching the film. In a sense not identifying is an attempt to find an objective or detached place from which you can remember yourself.

Divided Attention. This is where we focus on our ability to keep our attention divided between ourselves (our inner world) and what we are observing or doing. At a museum I may divide my attention by looking at a painting and, at the same time, realize that I am looking at it.

Separating. I generally only think of separating when I find myself in an unpleasant situation. If I burn my hand, I can try to separate from the pain. I can try to realize: here is my hand and here is my higher self; they are different. I separate from my hand (or my thoughts or my emotions) by holding the realization that I am not my hand (or my thoughts or emotions).

Gurdjieff_Oriental_Suite_p2External Consideration. External consideration is opposed to internal (or inner) considering. Inner considering is a particular type of worrying about what people think of you, whether they like or respect you, or whether they give you enough attention. When you are lost in inner considering, your concern is whether or not other people are attentive to you. Put simply external consideration is divided attention in relation to other people. Instead of becoming upset that others are not attentive to you, you give your attention to them. You listen and see them in front of you, and at the same time keep a part of your attention on the fact that you are there in that moment seeing and listening to them.

Bringing Scale. This is effort to try and enlarge your view of a situation. If a friend insults you and you become angry and want to yell at them, you can bring scale to the situation by trying to see the long body your friendship, or by remembering that you both are going to die. A fair portion of our unhappiness and negativity is the result not seeing the larger picture in our interactions. One of my favorite phrases for bringing scale to a difficult situation is ‘This too will pass.’

Stopping Thoughts. Ouspensky talked about stopping thoughts long before Carlos Castaneda popularized the idea–he called it stopping the internal dialogue–in the 1970s. The idea here is that if we can keep our thoughts down for a period of time, that opens up a space in our inner world, which can be filled, if we are persistent and lucky, by higher centers. I like to use the exercise when I am listening to music or listening to someone speak or when I walk.

Of course, all these exercises will all seem meaningless if you do not understand the principle of effort. The principle here is that there are parts of each of us (higher centers) that we don’t use and with the right kind of effort these higher parts begin to function. A right effort, in this sense, is when we take an aspect or a quality of higher centers, like being present or continually remembering the self, and attempt, with attention, to hold this aspect in the forefront of our experience. Really each of these efforts is a description of holding some basic realization about yourself or the world in your consciousness. The words are not important and will change over time, and the nine exercises that I listed here are simply the ones that I have found to be the most universal. Right now being present is more fashionable than self-remembering, but being present is not inherently better or more effective than self-remembering. We go with what works, with what actually helps us reach higher centers.

Also, it must be said that it has been my experience that eventually all these efforts merge together, because the more we make efforts the more we can include in those efforts. Another way of looking at this is that eventually efforts can be made directly from higher centers. At first we try and fail and then succeed and then fail again, and even when we succeed, the higher states of consciousness we encounter are experienced as flashes. But later, when this kind of inner work becomes a way of life, our efforts become more focused on extending higher states than on bringing higher states. What this means is that we may not need to, for instance, make the effort to bring scale; because when higher centers function, a sense of scale is part of the experience. It is at that point that new kinds of practices and exercises become possible.