There is a statement in Buddhism that before enlightenment one chops wood and carries water. After enlightenment one also chops wood and carries water. This basic statement means that before and after conscious awakening, one continues to take care of the needs of the body and the needs of life.

Before I knew better, I used to think that people who became enlightened were somehow equal to the Buddha or Christ. After I received a few epiphanies, I realized that my enlightenment experience would be unique to me: I would not be equal to Buddha or Christ, but I can be authentic in and of myself.

One’s essence (from heredity, the body’s DNA) and the ego (which begins with conditioned arising and that many people assume must be overcome) are the seeds maturing toward enlightenment, the fullest potential of one’s soul. Not everyone seeks enlightenment, it is true, and in the conditions of life there are many cases of arrested development due to trauma, entitlement, emotional neglect, and the like. These situations can be overcome with the wish for right work on self.

Gurdjieff, a teacher I follow, speaks of conscious labor and intentional suffering. Conscious labor is doing one’s work in life mindfully. Intentional suffering is the practice of enduring unpleasant manifestations of others towards one’s self. Struggle between the active and passive aspects of one’s nature, and between one’s conditioned arising and one’s essence, forms a friction that can be useful in this work. One learns to discern between false personality and real personality, to recognize what is self-deceit and what is the truth of myself. When I am true to myself I am in alignment with my wholeness/holiness.

A quote from The Mark, a book by Maurice Nicholl, Gurdjieff student, reads, “What the person is and what the person appears to be are in contradiction and so the mind is split. Deceit is the divided mind. A man speaks well and thinks evil or does well and wills evil, and so is full of hidden poison. Deceit is malice from the will, cloaked by outward friendliness.” As a human being struggles toward the truth of self, transformation becomes possible. The trick requires ruthless honesty with one’s self and one’s teacher.

Awakening, or becoming enlightened, is the capacity for authenticity in the process of becoming whole. Many people find it difficult to see the divided selves within them, because we are conditioned to think of our self as one being. What gets in the way of that is the conditioned mind, that which creates outward masks in order that others might see us as we want to be seen, not as we are. Gurdjieff taught that a human being has many different internal selves. These selves don’t always know each other, some oppose each other, and a larger magnetic self is necessary to integrate these divided self-aspects. This teaching of Gurdjieff is supported by “parts theory” in contemporary psychology.

Work on one’s self is needed in order to develop a magnetic center; it does not grow in a human without internal friction. Gurdjieff speaks of the work as self-observation and self-remembering. To “self-remember” is to hold attention to the process of self-observation without diverging into analysis of the self that is observed. Just witness how you are without turning the exercise into an intellectual activity. Note how you are, how you feel, process through your senses the life going on around and within you. Be present to yourself. Sit with it. Learn to tolerate the manifestations of others toward yourself without reaction. Work mindfully.

To see ourselves as we are is to embody the old philosophical adage, “Know thyself.” To know myself, is to accept myself as I am. Shadow work becomes important, because until I know my shadow, I am more likely to react rather than respond. Shadow work begins a release from inner darkness through the light of conscious understanding. I choose to no longer project my negative emotions on to others, and instead of finding fault, blaming, or critically judging another, I look at what is going on inside of me when I witness that projection happening. Likewise, I refrain from condemning myself, because I now understand that my undesirable behaviors originated from fear, trauma, guilt, or childhood shaming, which I suppressed to escape emotional pain.

Through my practice as an energy healer and spirit worker, I have learned that the more clarity I gain from the negative byproducts of childhood, marital, and social conditioning, the more light and spiritual guidance can be transmitted through me. The practice of recapitulation is akin to the life review of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and the purgatory experience as taught by the Catholic church. Recapitulation serves to clarify one’s life–by consciously remembering one’s life, one is able to weave the tapestry of memory into a whole.

Evolutionarily speaking, memory originates in what is the earliest part of our brain. In order to avoid repetitive learning on tasks that are common to daily life, the brain generates memory on how to do those tasks. Those memories then serve the processes of life needed by those tasks. The toddler masters walking, the student masters learning, the sixteen-year old masters driving, and further aspects of memory help us carry out roles congruent with life purpose: son, daughter, father, mother, uncle, aunt, grandparent, jobs, ad infinitum. And so much of what we learn is colored by how we feel about those things.

The body carries out tasks like gardening; the heart knows how to love the child gently through its crying sessions; the intellect holds the power of numbers in accounting as to whether we can afford that new car or not. Yet memory is not solely task oriented. Any collection of memories around any circumstance is colored by our perception of that–that memory of being held and feeling safe in childhood can relate to the memory group that also includes being held and feeling safe with the man you know you want to marry, and later you provide that emotional security to your own children.

Memories include all feelings and sensations we’ve experienced. Most of these are not held in the waking field of consciousness. Memory seems to stem from the seat of survival: the Subconscious mammalian brain stem, which can short circuit the evolutionary newer cortex in extreme danger to life and limb. A random scent can send a person back into the feeling of a certain time and place, and it is all subconscious. Sometimes this is as innocent as music that reminds us of our first love, or as extreme as a trauma trigger. I once had a friend who could not tolerate the scent of patchouli incense, which I liked to burn, because that was what she smelled when her mother beat her. With trauma survivors, the memories do not achieve closure, and thus keep repeating as any soldier with chronic PTSD can attest.

Groups of similar memories seem to be the aggregates that form the various self-aspects, or parts of our personality not yet integrated into the larger whole. A “divided self” makes sense from a task oriented point of view: some self-aspects carry expertise that help me meet the needs of life. I can cook, I can draw, I can ride a horse, drive a car, make good choices in the grocery store, yet random parts of my psychology that have not fully integrated into my personality include arenas where I have repressed emotional experience. Self-aspects stand opposed to other self-aspects when there is a conflict in conditioned thinking, feeling, or what one believes about something. A thing my mother said when I was two–“You always hurt people”–stayed with me way too long, and is no longer true, but was one more maternal criticism that left me doubting my self worth. To protect the vulnerable part of me from a mother who labelled me as “bad,” a shadow self formed that was slyly rebellious and dismissive toward her. This shadow self stood in opposition to the part of me that shut down my own authenticity in order to be an obedient, pleasing child in an arena ruled by parental and dogmatic religious authority.

The good news is that despite all that is going on under the surface, human consciousness has a capacity that can oversee the integration of various sub-personalities into an integral wholeness. This property has been called the Witness, the Observer, the Watcher, and even the Thought Adjustor (The Urantia Book). It partners conscience, yet has more of a thoughtful process that incorporates self awareness, self study, self observation, and self remembering. To remember myself is to embody my awareness of self through being here now, fully present to my perceptions, sensations, and being. Don Petacchi, my Gurdjieff mentor, termed it intentional sensation.

It’s important to differentiate between the consciousness of the waking state, which is only a very small portion of our conscious potential, and the consciousness of an enlightened being. To attain this degree of consciousness is to make the Subconscious, conscious–to bring out of the depths of our conditioned minds the true intelligence of our being which incorporates not only the intellect that social education favors, but the fullest intelligence of the emotions (heart), and the body. The intent of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way method is to harmonize the three centers of our human selves–intellect, emotion, and physical.

Gurdjieff had a technique that helps to integrate the aggregates of self that arise through memory and that also serves his Fourth Way intention: Just prior to sleep at night, activate intentional sensation, and then remember your day, including feelings, thoughts, and sensations as you experienced them at the time–this should not be a simple intellectual recall. When my first Gurdjieff teacher, Sally Ann MacLean Kelly, gave me this instruction, I was to bring my attention to the sensation of my body and then remember my day. I discovered I could only actively remember the parts of my day when I was present to myself. Some evenings an aspect of memory would deliver the entire sensory-filled parcel to my nightly doorstep, yet other days there were only portions I could actively remember.

These efforts taught me how present I was to myself in any given day, and whether I had succeeded at the effort of self-remembering. Gurdjieff himself said that it is an impossible task, yet the effort has made all the difference in my life. It helps to remember that it is not about the goal, but the journey.


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