Shock of self-remembering

Understanding Shocks and Self-Remembering in the Work

(What follows was written by Maurice Nicoll in Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky,

Volume 3

“It has been said that Self-Remembering gives a shock to the whole Being and actually provides better food for the cells of the body.  But we do not give this shock to ourselves ordinarily and for that reason it is called the First Conscious Shock, because it has to be done deliberately.  It is not done in nature.  The natural shock that is given to the body is the act of breathing. The act of breathing gives a shock to the Food Octave starting at 768 and transforming itself successively until it reaches Si 12.  This is a mechanical shock.  Now the First Conscious Shock is what was always emphasized in the earlier part of the teaching as the most important and the most practical thing that we can do.  We must learn what it means to remember ourselves and practice it every day at least more than once.  Since it is so important it is always a good thing to remind ourselves about it and once more to study it.

“There are many different ways of remembering oneself but in every case it means not identifying with something and so separating from something by feeling one is different from it.  There is no mechanical way of Self-Remembering.  It is, speaking on a lower scale, like saying there is no mechanical way of self-observation.  Both acts require intelligence and consciousness and vision.  A monk may mutter prayers all day long and miss the mark completely.  It might indeed be very much better for him if he took in impressions at a particular moment and did not mutter mechanical prayers.  On one occasion, when Mr. O. was asked:  “What is this pill that Sly Man makes and swallows?”  he said that one meaning was that Sly Man remembers himself in different ways under different conditions. …”

“Now we know that this Work teaches that the only place where we can interfere with our machine in a right way is to give it the First Conscious Shock, or the shock of Self-Remembering.  That is why aim must connect with Self-Remembering.  To try to carry out aim without any state of Self-Remembering accompanying it is to try to do from the wrong place, from the machine itself…

“O. said more definitely about Sly Man’s pill that it was different kinds of Self-Remembering.  He said:  “You must find it out for yourselves gradually.  It has to do with different influences, one kind for one person, and so different for each person.  At different hours of the day it is different for each person.”  This means that we must learn to remember ourselves in different ways.  It is one and the same thing only in the sense that it means that you separate from and cease to identify with something that is getting hold of you.  Only in that respect it is always the same.  It is always the same because it is a lifting of oneself above the level of ordinary ‘I’s, above the stream of thoughts, pre-occupations and moods, but the direction that it takes will be different.  Self-Remembering always means a fuller state of consciousness, but you do not get a fuller state of consciousness by always looking at things in the same way, because that will either miss the mark or lead to mechanicalness.  If one always looks through an eastern window, one will not see the sun all day.  If you are in a bad state you remember yourself in one way, and when in a good state you have to remember yourself in another way and it is often more difficult.  But in every case you do not give full belief to your state but to something you could be and indeed once were–something you have forgotten.


Inner Life Exercise

Remember yourself in different ways, several times throughout your day.



  1. Gina, on September 3, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Such a comprehensive commentary on the necessity for Self-Remembering this is. Most notable for me is when Dr Nicoll mentions that Remembering oneself in a ‘good’ state is often more difficult than Self-Remembering in a ‘bad’ state. After all, who in their comfort zone wants to wake up and question what they feel ‘good’ in. To understand anything, we must be an objective observer. We have everything upside-down and completely backwards. Unawareness will never seek more light ~ it is happy in the muck and mire. But if one will question and observe long held assumptions, it becomes possible to separate from the familiar, self-aggrandizing states brought about through thought and imagination. One should certainly ask the question, ‘who is this state comfortable for?’ Not to fear for it is certainly possible if one is really interested in their Life. One can then begin to catch these states in action, and seek to understand them. Brings to mind Murray Oxman’s instruction to “always do what you don’t want to do”…

  2. Melodie Machovina on September 3, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    I love how these instructions focus on the individual. There is a sense of vitality as well, since we are encouraged to find different ways to remember ourselves.

  3. Steve on September 17, 2019 at 5:19 am

    If you notice these paragraphs are telling you to be active, go into action, approach this idea of self remembering from all sides and at different times. Reading your favorite quote is good on one level, but if it comforts you into a deeper sleep how beneficial is this action. The glue of mechanicalness must be broken (separated) or you go nowhere with these ideas. Remembering yourself at odd times works to break these prison cell thoughts so you have a chance at escaping. Seeing that you are worshipping your memory, that is making memory your god, makes it clear that it’s foolish action and takes you nowhere. Now seeing all this clearly you have a chance. Good post!

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