View the Machine

This excerpt is from  Maurice Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of GI Gurdjieff and PD Ouspensky, Vol 3.

View the Machine


“There are three lines of Work.  The first line of Work is work on yourself in connection with what the Work teaches.  The second line of Work is work in conjunction with other people who are in this Work.  The third line of Work is work in relationship to what the Work is aiming at.

“In regard to the second line of Work which can be called making relationships with other people, we have to remember that the Work teaches us that we are mechanical.  This is a deep saying, far more deep in its meaning than any of us has realized. What does it mean that a person is mechanical?  It means that he or she always acts in the only way in which he or she can act at any given moment.  We think that people do things intentionally but cannot see that people do things mechanically.  A person, for example, who tells a lie under certain given circumstances, is not doing it deliberately but mechanically — namely, his or her machine always at such a moment acts in this way — that is, tells a lie.  Naturally we hate to think that we are machines in this sense.  We have the illusion that we are always doing things consciously, deliberately, intentionally.  This is not the case.  Whatever we do, whatever we say, however we behave, whatever we think, whatever we feel, is mechanical. [Gurdjieff] once said:  ‘You are all different kinds of machines–some are typewriters, some are sewing-machines, some are mincing-machines, and so on.’  This view of human nature is unpleasant and yet it is true.

“There are many scientific theories about Man being a machine.  You pour in petrol and get certain results.  What interested me very much in the teaching of this Work was the idea that from one point of view Man is a machine–that is, as long as he does not try to wake up and work on himself.  He need not be a machine if he seeks to awaken from sleep and sleeping humanity.  This interested me because it was a reconciliation of scientific and spiritual ideas about Man.  Man is a machine, but he can become something that is no longer a question of machinery,  if he follows teaching coming from those who are not machines–that is, teaching coming from the Conscious Circle of Humanity.  The apparent paradox is thus reconciled and becomes a harmonious thought instead of a contradictory thought on the opposites.  If you say:  “Is so-and-so a machine?”  I will answer you:  ‘To which man do you refer?’  He may be a mechanical man, or a man beginning to awaken, or even a Conscious Man .  If he is a mechanical man he is a machine. If he is a Conscious Man he is not a machine because he has risen above his mechanicalness and is on a higher level.  As you know, the Work divides mankind into seven categories.  Three are mechanical–Nos 1, 2, and 3 Man –No. 4 Man is transitional, and Nos. 5, 6, and 7 Man belong to the Conscious Circle of Humanity and can no longer be called machines.  But the vast majority are mechanical, governed by external impressions.”


Inner Life Exercise

Practice at interrupting mechanical thoughts.  This classic spiritual exercise works wonders for you.  Interrupt your usual thoughts by becoming conscious of whatever you are doing at the moment.  Don’t get lost in thought, but be aware of yourself breathing, talking, lifting a cup, nodding your head.  Turn your attention back on yourself and catch yourself in action.  In these moments you are seeing, not thinking, which makes life a pleasure.

–Vernon Howard, 50 Ways to Get Help from God


1 Comment

  1. Timothy Kitterman on July 15, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    I can study and talk about these ideas till the cows come home, but there is no pleasure unless I put them to the test as in doing the exercises, like interrupting mechanical thoughts. The more I value and do this work, the more I see the hell I’ve lived with my entire life, which is mechanical thought, which can be dropped, which is nice.

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