When I was teenager, my father sometimes became frustrated with me and said, “Don’t try to be an intellectual.” The problem was that I wasn’t trying. What he didn’t understand, and what I didn’t understand at the time, was that to be intellectual was part of my essence. I had been born, to use Gurdjieff’s numbers, a ‘man number three,’ an intellectual man, as opposed to an instinctive man (man number one), or an emotional man (man number two).

Essence is difficult to change because it has its foundation in our physical make-up. It is in our genes. It is what makes us different than other people. Unlike features in personality, which have no physical base and can be changed if they are undesirable, features in essence cannot be simply reprogrammed. They are part of us, whether we think they are desirable or not. From one point of view essence is our human side, and, like humanity as a whole, essence has great potential for empathy and doing good, but it is also easily corrupted. When we speak about essence, we don’t speak about changing it, we speak about educating it.

The primary weakness of essence is fascination. Think about an activity that you are both good at and that you enjoy, an activity where you lose all sense of time. For one person it will be cooking, for another it will be gardening, and for another, painting or writing or business. If you try to be present during that activity, you will see that there is definite tendency to lose yourself. Essence indentifies with what it is doing because it feels at one with activities that support it. Again, the feeling will be: this is what I was meant to do. And that is a very powerful and comforting feeling. You will want to rest in it, or identify with it.

To say this in another way, essence ordinarily doesn’t observe itself. But it can learn to observe itself. We can even say that all effort to be presents begin at the level of essence. What does this mean? It means that false personality cannot be present. Personality doesn’t have the mass to be present. The effort to be present (or to self-remembering or divided attention) has nothing to do with opinions or thinking or education. It is an effort to transform a particular energy in the body, and for that essence is needed. When you are present, you are present to essence. This doesn’t mean that you won’t see yourselves manifest from personality when you are present. You will. Personality doesn’t disappear, but it does become passive—you can also say it becomes denying force—when consciousness becomes active.

The aim is always to bring more consciousness. And really you educate essence by adding consciousness to it. But first, before you can educate essence, you need to separate personality from essence. You need to see what is real in you and what is artificial. As long as personality doesn’t reflect essence, as long as your aims represent, not what you want, but what other people tell you want, as long as you continue to believe in imaginary traits and characteristics, your essence will remain hidden. So for a time your work on being present will need to include observations about what is real in you and what is false.

Later the work becomes more focused on balance. For example, for me because I’m intellectually centered, it is important that educate my emotions and my body. If I use my intellectual center to make decisions about my health, I will very quickly make myself sick, and if I use the intellectual center to make decisions about my relationships, I will ruin my relationships. Each center has its role, and balance means to allow each center to do what it was meant to do.

In the long run you need to remember that essence is not your real self. It is more real than personality, but in the end consciousness (higher centers) is what matters. Essence gives us real capacities, but also real limitations. A talent in essence, except in rare cases, is only a potential. A facility for running doesn’t make a marathon runner; just as an aptitude for numbers doesn’t make a physicist. At the same time a man who has no talent for mathematics can never become a good physicist, and a man who has no natural strength may make himself stronger with work, but will never be first rate athlete. I had a friend who was an artist and he liked to say that talent was cheap. What he meant by this was that lot of people have talent, but only a few make use of the talent they are given.

It would seem that some people would have a natural ability for inner spiritual work, as some people have a talent for music or public speaking, but this is not the case. No particular type of essence has a talent for being present. If consciousness could be given as an innate talent, it would be mechanical, and consciousness can never be mechanical. That said, it is true that some people have a talent in essence for expression. Such a person may be able to express their experience of consciousness—through teaching, or writing, or painting, or music—in ways that make it compelling to others. Many of our traces of esoteric knowledge and esoteric art throughout history come from such individuals. But this does not mean that there were not others, others whose inner experience was just as profound, who we know nothing about. Consciousness does not necessitate a talent for expression. For whatever reason, some people who attain consciousness choose, or are fated, to remain silent.