There can be no such thing as ‘a method for personal transformation’. The only type of personal transformation that is worthy of the name is the transformation that takes place when essence is separated from personality; any other type of transformation is simply a re-jigging or reformatting or rearranging of the personality-cage which is holding essence captive! We ‘transform’ our prison from one type to another, we redesign the furniture in our cell. We paint the bars on the window a different colour, or hang curtains, perhaps!
When we try to redesign or reformat our personality all that we’re doing is altering our style of imprisonment therefore – we swap one set of beliefs for another, we ditch one type of methodology for another – supposedly ‘improved’ – type. We adopt a new brand of empty jargon. This is the type of trivial re-invention that personality is adept at; it does this sort of thing all the time! According to James Moore, personality is ‘other people’s stuff made flesh in us’; it is extraneous socially-transmitted content that we unknowingly adopt and make our own. It has nothing to do with us – it just happens to be ‘what’s around at the time’. As J.G. Bennett puts it,
…personality is everything that is borrowed – taken from the outside, essence is what we are born with – what is really our own.
We can exchange one lot of stuff for another, to be sure, but at the end of the day it’s still ‘other people’s stuff’ – nothing at all has changed and we are as far away from ourselves (as we really are) as we ever where. We can go on ‘changing’ ourselves in the way that personality likes to forever, but we’ll never get anywhere by it. What’s the point, after all, in being ‘who we’re not’ in a different way?
Methods enslave the essence – we are under the impression that we’re ‘in control’ of the method, but really it is the other way around. We are so very used to being controlled by patterns of thinking, patterns of reacting, patterns of behaving that we take this as normal. We take this as a base-line. We are so very used to being conditioned by this pattern or that pattern that we no longer see what is going on; it’s as if I am so thoroughly habituated to being a dogsbody that I no longer notice it – I no longer notice the fact that I am being bossed around the whole time. ‘Autonomy’ is something I just don’t understand – the very possibility of it is foreign to me. We have been unconsciously enslaved by methods for so long that any method, any system can come along and tell us what to do without us noticing that we are being controlled by an external mechanical authority. Given that this is ‘the way things are’ therefore, the idea that all we have to do is adopt a new method and this will somehow change things is utterly ridiculous. Our essence just as thoroughly enslaved no matter what method we adopt.
There can be no such thing as ‘a method for recovering our essence’. How could we ever imagine that this could work? A method is nothing but a collection of rules and a rule in turn is nothing more than ‘a unit of institutionalized blindness’! When we follow a rule we are taking stuff for granted, we are making assumptions, and this is blindness. We are blind to whatever it is we are assuming and the consequence of this blindness is that whatever it is that we have ‘taken for granted’ now controls us! We get to feel that we are in control, but really our ‘blind-spot’ is in control, is bossing us around, is determining everything. The whole point of following rules (or methods) is that we are taking a kind of a short-cut rather than working from scratch every time, rather than having to go right back to ‘square one’ every time. rules aren’t reflective – in other word – the whole point is that we assume that they are right and then just follow them! How could a method be a method if we had to question it every step of the way? There would be no point in having it if we were to do this! Similarly, how could a rule be ‘a rule’ if we didn’t automatically accept its authority every time?
So when a rule comes along there are only two possibilities – either we straightaway go along with it, in which case the ‘assumption’ that is covered up by the rule continues to remain hidden, continues to remain invisible, or we actually look at the rule (or ‘reflect on the rule’) – in which case the assumption or assumptions associated with it come to light, become explicit or ‘visible’. What a rule (any rule) is doing is that it is narrowing down the range of possibilities so much that we end up with ‘the only the one possibility’. All other possibilities are hidden, buried, covered-over, obscured, etc. It is never the case that there aren’t any other possibilities; it is just that the rule disallows anything other than the one specified possibility, the ‘authorized possibility’ that it is pointing to. The ‘assumption’ here therefore is that none of the other possibilities are worth considering. We don’t even get so far as to see these other possibilities because the rule is directing our attention in one direction and one direction only. Rules don’t give us any choice in other words; if a rule gave us choice then it wouldn’t be a rule!
When we bring awareness to the rule then what always happens is that we see that we do have a choice. We always have a choice, no matter what the rule may be telling us, and awareness unfailingly reveals this freedom of choice. Earlier, we made the statement that ‘the rule disallows everything other than the one specified (or authorized’) possibility’; when we bring awareness to the disallowing of the unspecified / unauthorized possibilities this isn’t a reaction against the rule, it isn’t an act of aggression against the rule. We’re simply seeing that there are these other possibilities and that they have been disallowed! Seeing that the possibilities have been disallowed is of course the same thing as seeing that they are there and so straightaway the rule’s work is undone. “The seeing is the doing” says Krishnamurti. There is no need for any ‘fighting against the illusion’ – in fact fighting against the illusion only reinforces it.
We always hope (or believe) that there could be such a thing as ‘a method that will help us’, ‘a method that will set us free’. Without realizing that this is what we are doing, we hope for a method or rule to ‘do the work for us’ and free us from our predicament, even though ‘relying on rules’ is our predicament. We’re hoping to find a method that will save us because the alternative – which is that we have to do the work ourselves, without any external authority telling us what we have to do – is too daunting for us, daunting to the point of seeming impossible. Although we don’t realize what we are doing, we’re opting – as always – for a re-arrangement of personality (rather than embracing the long and arduous process by which our essence can eventually be disentangled from personality). We’re short-cutting, therefore, only the thing that we’re not seeing here is that in this business there is no short-cutting. There are no short-cuts when it comes to ‘personal transformation’! No matter how much we manage to ‘facilitate’ personality in its goals (which is to say, consciousness when it is attached to mechanical rules), it is still only going to be personality. We are still going to be identified with rules and rules are – of course – the very antithesis of freedom. The only way freedom is ever going to come about is if we separate essence from personality (or ‘consciousness from its conditioning’) and this just happens to be the hardest work there is. This is the only real work – everything else is just displacement activity.
This being the case – that the work which needs to be done is such a major challenge – is it any wonder that we prefer to keep on re-arranging the furniture in our prison cell (or ‘the deckchairs on the Titanic’)? There is something about the nature of genuine psychological work that the conditioning that governs us will always shy away from – the reason for this simply being that there is no benefit in psychological work for the conditioned self! Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The conditioned self’s nature is (necessarily) such that it can only ever be (genuinely) motivated by projects that will in some way ‘be for its benefit’. Everything we do – generally speaking – we do on the basis of the ‘suit of armour’ that Gurdjieff calls ‘personality’. J.G. Bennett says that essence is like a child which is somehow trapped inside the body of a great bear, and which is powerless to do anything to control that bear and its appetites. We could also say that personality is like one of those powered robotic exoskeletons that we come across in some science fiction films; so in this case we could say that ‘everything we do we do on the basis of the powered mechanical exoskeleton’, which has a mind of its own and is not effected by our feeble and half-hearted attempts to countermand it. We ‘put the robot suit on’ instinctively before tackling any task that we have facing us – we pretty much don’t do anything without first armouring up’. Whatever we do, we do on the basis of personality. Or as we could also say, ‘everything we do we do on the basis of thought’, not out of the essence of who we are. This is fine for some things, going to work perhaps, or taking on mechanical problems, but it is not fine for the task of psychological work. It’s simply not a job for the personality armour; it’s not the personality that needs further developing – it’s developed too much already!
What needs to happen – as we have said – is for us to be disentangled from the personality. We need to be ‘freed-up’ from our forced association with the personality-construct. This ‘entanglement’, this ‘association’, goes very deep however – it goes right down to the molecular level, so to speak. There are not any pockets of uncombined essence floating around in us – whatever part of us we look at we see that it is bonded to the mind-created structures which make up the personality-construct as if with some kind of superglue. What is more, force cannot be used to peel ourselves away from this structure because force (or ‘control’) comes only from the personality. ‘Personality’ actually is force when it comes right down to it – personality is prejudice or bias; it is the unwarranted insistence on something that wouldn’t actually be there unless we insisted so much on it!
Another way of putting this is to say that what we’re calling ‘personality’ (and which we could also refer to as ‘the conditioned self’, if we so wished) is an artificial state of affairs in that it needs to be continually maintained if it is to continue existing. If it is not continually propped up then it will cease to be, it will dissolve. To believe that one is this personality-construct is to be engaged in a constant struggle against everything that is not that structure, that set of biases. This is moreover a struggle that will never turn out the way we want it to turn out – all we are doing is ‘postponing the inevitable’ and – at the same time – steadfastly refusing to see that this what we are doing. Refusing to see that we are ‘postponing the inevitable’ is something that we value very highly in our culture – we call it ‘positive thinking’ and write lots of books about it!
Who we are before we identify with the mind-created structure, before we get entangled with ‘false personality’, neither wins nor loses, is neither right nor wrong. Who we are before we get entangled is not a player of a finite game, in other words. A finite game player is constantly striving and straining to validate a particular arbitrary proposition – the particular arbitrary proposition which is the conditioned self, the definite / fixed identity which the thinking mind tells us we are. We’re always fighting to defend a particular position, even though there is no real reason for us to do so. We can never move from this ‘spot’, therefore. We’re forever doing the same thing, forever fighting the same battle. We’re at war with the ‘arbitrary’ (so to speak); we want for that arbitrary not to be arbitrary at all, but this is a war we cannot ever win. We’re trying to make something be true that isn’t true. Just as long as we are entangled with personality we are engaged in a pointless, repetitive, fruitless, suffering-producing struggle we obstinately refuse to see as such! And if we fight against personality then – as we have said – this doesn’t work either. As soon as we fight (or struggle to control) we are defending a position without being able to see why we are defending it. All we know is that we have to defend it, and this is a finite game. To fight a finite game is to play a finite game, in other words! As we have already noted, the Infinite Game (which is the same thing as what we have been calling ‘psychological work’) is not about resisting any particular state of affairs, or objecting to it, but simply bringing consciousness to it…