(A chapter from Maurice Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of GI Gurdjieff and PD Ouspensky, Book 3)
“We have to acknowledge and accept all sides of ourselves, because only through the acknowledgement, the acceptance, the consciousness of all sides of ourselves can we advance at all. This is exactly what broadens our Being. Under the influence of the memory of Observing ‘I’, under the influence of this uncritical self-observation, we begin to feel loosened from all sorts of fantastic ideas of ourselves. We begin to be loosened from all sorts of fantastic attributions to ourselves of virtues and merit that we do not possess at all. We certainly then become little children. We certainly then begin to understand what the opening words of the Sermon on the mount mean. We certainly then cease to be big, overswelling with some small pride or vanity. We begin to get an entirely new sense of ourselves, an entirely new feeling, entirely new thoughts. We cease to be the person we have imagined ourselves to be all through our lives. For this you must have a different kind of self-knowledge. Your whole groundwork becomes different. Through the influence of Observing ‘I’ you will be rescued from many dangers.
“What is our greatest danger as we get older? Our greatest danger is to crystallize out into our idea of ourselves. After a time things begin to become rather fixed in us, we begin to believe our imagination of ourselves, of the kind of people we are. What good and kind creatures we are. But this uncritical Observing ‘I’, if it is supported properly by the constant feeling and valuation of the Work, begins to prevent us from this early crystallization into a certain definite kind of person which is quite false. If we can give value to the Work, then we can give value to what Observing ‘I’ notices about ourselves, and then we shall not be in such great danger of crystallizing out into what we imagine ourselves to be, into some definite opinion of ourselves, into our own excellence, our own extraordinary merit, our own unexplained values. We are all such tiny and unpleasant creatures that it takes a great deal of self-observation to observe that we are really quite ridiculous in our vanity, in our pride. I rather fancy that some people always think that they have a marvelous gift to bestow upon other people. But what is this precious gift that people want to bestow on others? Have you asked yourselves individually what you have in yourselves worth while for anyone else to accept?
“I think after a time in the Work people become more simple in this way. And why is this so? Because they really begin to observe themselves instead of imagining that they are what they believe. They begin to see that the gulf between what they imagine themselves to have been and what they are is very wide. When this happens through the constant uncritical influence of Observant ‘I’, the whole relationship to oneself begins to change. All that you have hitherto based your value on, all your different forms of feeling superior to others, all this begins to be dissolved. You no longer build yourself up on False Personality that is your most dangerous enemy and is composed entirely of imagination. Of course, this cannot be done artificially by mock humility that which I fancy nothing is worse. You can go about looking down your nose while inside you are full of hissing serpents. No, I am not speaking of any false humility. What I am speaking about is what the Work speaks about–namely, that if Observing ‘I’ is established in you and you really begin to observe yourself and how you speak and how you feel and how you think and how contradictory the whole thing is, then you will have a very beautiful experience because you will no longer have to keep up the invented person to whom you are a slave.
“Now this can only happen in the Work because the Work must hold you at certain moments and give you strength. No one is allowed in the Work, no one is allowed by the Work, to observe themselves further than they can bear. You may be quite sure that in the atmosphere of the Work no one will suffer wrongly. A great many have not even begun to observe themselves and the reason is that they cannot do it, they cannot get beyond their idea of themselves, or rather they cannot get under their imagination of themselves. Instantly they begin to feel they are no good, of no importance, they suffocate. And yet I must remind you again of what we were told when we went to the French Institute that “Personality has scarcely any right to exist here”, and I will also remind you at the end of this paper that unless a man begins to realize his own nothingness he can get nowhere. If a man or a woman begins to see through his or her self, through all their lies, and their inventions of themselves and if they do it in the atmosphere of the Work, feeling that the Work will lead them to a new level of Being, they are safe and they will undergo little by little, a perfectly definite and real transformation of themselves, but if they try to do this without the influence of the Work behind them they will get nowhere and all their observation will be useless and simply lead to quarrels, arguments and negative emotion. We are all trying to study something that is very big, and we must realize that we are very small.”