Authentic Individuality

(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.”


Inner Life Exercise

“Get to know what a problem you are to yourself.”    -Vernon Howard



  1. Gina on December 3, 2019 at 11:48 am

    I woke up this morning, so grateful to have a method by which I can come to understand the purpose of my existence on this planet. Pure, unfiltered, objective self-observation… Any one can do it, and with the Work principles, as graciously given in our time we have everything we need. When feeling lost, I need only ask for guidance from above, and the workable principles come back into focus. Truth is not in the business of refusing a sincere request for help.
    “It will all happen to you if you will allow it to happen. You’re – remember I said you were an allower. Look up and allow what’s up there. Even if you don’t understand what’s up there, allow it to be your final and only influencer. There is such a thing as True, good, spiritual influence. Welcome that.” ~ Vernon Howard

  2. Terry on December 4, 2019 at 8:24 am

    This post on authenticity was so inspiring that it led me to write this, so I’ll just go ahead and share it in the holiday spirit.

    Remember when you believed in Santa Claus?

    You never questioned the imaginary ideas you were told
    about Santa and his reindeer and all the rest. You believed
    your presents were made by Santa’s elves in the North Pole
    and that was that.

    Then, at some point, you were told there was no Santa Claus.
    It was all a myth, nothing more, a nice fairy tale that now
    must come to an end. You were disappointed, but after a short
    time you got over it. And it occurred to you that somewhere
    deep down inside you knew all along that the pretense wasn’t
    true. You felt a bit relieved that you didn’t have to keep up
    the charade any more. You noticed your parents were relieved
    that they no longer had to keep up appearances of an invented
    Santa and all the ho-ho-ho that went with it.

    Now, don’t you see that you have gone about your life having
    the same fantastic make-believe ideas about yourself? And that
    your parents have also lived their lives in a make-believe bubble?
    Of course you do. You learned how to live your make-believe
    existence from your parents and from everyone else around you.

    And it has also occurred to you deep down inside, over and
    over again, that your self-pretense of who you think you are
    and your parent’s self-pretense and everyone else’s self-pretense
    has never been true either.

    You’re getting sick and tired of these imaginary shenanigans!

    Which is why you’re here reading these posts on this site.

    You finally want the truth. You’re ready for the truth after
    all these ideas of playing charades and stumbling around in
    the dark with an occasional crumb of brief excitement thrown
    your way. Thank God you’re sick of yourself.

    So now, let your New Life begin! You see, your new life comes
    complete with a special guarantee. Here it is:

    The myth of your Imaginary Self will pass in exactly the same
    way as your Santa Claus myth did. Your brief disappointment
    will be replaced by your relief that you don’t have to pretend
    to yourself or to anyone else about who you are. You can throw
    away your teeter-totter of ups and downs, which is what your life
    has always been, and let your Knowing voice take command of
    you for once and for all.

    So you can run to the top of that mountain and fling away the keys
    to Never-Never Land as far as you can throw them. You’ll never
    need them again. You now know for a fact that those keys never
    got you anywhere and they never will.

    And have yourself a Merry Real Christmas.

    • Gina on December 30, 2019 at 10:26 am

      Such a beautiful analogy Terry. Absolutely captures the true meaning of Christ’s teaching. Thank you for this thoughtful analysis!

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