In the Gurdjieff teaching the initial opening toward knowing myself is called self-observation. It stands to reason that if I am to know myself, if I am to work on myself, I will need to follow my experience. I will need to observe myself. This is not as easy as it sounds. I would say that there are five necessities for self-observation.
The first of those necessities is a new attention. Attention is a core value of this teaching, and a core value, under various names, in many other teachings. A new attention: less cluttered with thoughts and words and cares, better able to follow my experience from moment to moment.
That new attention needs to be accompanied by a new relaxation. Why is relaxation important? Our bodies, our feelings, our minds – but particularly our bodies – are subject to quite a lot of tension, so much so that it’s difficult to see where the tensions lie. Some date back to childhood; they are still there. We don’t know how to manage our bodies very well – they are gifts of God, they are miracles – but we are amateurs at living in them. We need a new relaxation that allows a new attention to penetrate, to find its way, into this world of who I am, which is a body, alive, sensitive.
Attention, relaxation, sincerity, perseverence, and sensation of oneself ...
The third element necessary for self-observation is a new sincerity. Let’s say that I’m observing myself, and I discover some immense contradiction. For example – and parents discover all the time – I see that I love my child. I love my child right now. At the same time, the child is being utterly annoying. This is a contradiction. In my observation, I detect this contradiction; it’s raw and hard to bear when I see it.
A new sincerity is needed throughout self-observation to tolerate what I see. We are bundles of contradiction, and to experience these contradictions in a direct, vivid, raw, unexcused way is part of the work of self-observation. I need this new sincerity; otherwise, I will excuse myself, explain myself away, or use many ploys to evade inner truths.
I also need perseverance. This is a long process. It’s as long as our lives. When would you feel that it’s time to stop following your experience? That it’s no longer necessary to be vigilant? Surely the last day of one’s life. Perseverance is important.
The fifth necessity may be the key to it all. This is something that Gurdjieff did not write about a great deal. He wrote just a little. Had he not written even that little, I wouldn't feel comfortable mentioning it. In one book, he mentions self-sensation, the sensation of oneself. I need to inhabit myself. If I’m going to strive to work on myself, to know myself, to understand and enrich this person so that my full potential is realized, then I need to inhabit myself.
This possibility is not found through the mind, through thought, and it is not a feeling. There is a possibility of direct sensation of myself. This has very large implications. It is the basis for an experiential way, a way based on direct experience.
For more on the Gurdjieff teaching.