"FURTHER NOTE ON 'I'S -- 'I'S AND LEVELS OF BEING -- Last time we spoke of different I's in us and how we are not one person but many different persons and how unless we realize this by direct self-observation we can never begin to understand ourselves or other people. In this connection we spoke of Real 'I' which it is the aim of this Work to reach, in place of having our centre of gravity in Imaginary 'I' that is the source of so much misery and misunderstanding. Just figure to yourself two Imaginary ‘I’s marrying each other. The dream-man marries the dream-woman and so on. All this, of course, can lead nowhere save in romantic novels which usually and wisely end just when the imaginary hero marries the imaginary heroine – obviously a difficult starting-point suggesting difficult situations in the future. It was also said last time that occasionally, even in ordinary mechanical life, we may experience a momentary trace of Real ‘I’. As was said, this may happen in cases of extreme fatigue, as in war, when suddenly an access of force comes, or in great danger, also in many strange ways that cannot be classified, but produce the same result. By contrast, the usual life of sleep that we are immersed in, when we identify with everything outside us, and inside us, has an utterly different taste from those brief, calm but rare moments of touching Real ‘I’, which in the work are called “moments of awakening from sleep” or “moments of Self-Remembering”. The very undeniable difference in inner taste, in emotional quality, between our ordinary and these exceptional moments shews us that there is within us some other level of consciousness, some other centre of gravity and some other level of experience -- and clearly a higher level – that we do no customarily know. Now in this Work, as in all esoteric teaching, it is said that to reach a higher level of ourselves, to make contact with ‘I’s that do not exist, so to speak, in the basement of the house of our being, efforts on oneself have to be made. We are told what efforts have to be made very clearly. For example, to take one line, we are told that a man must observe himself, he must observe that he is not one but many, that he must by practical work destroy the illusion that he has Real ‘I’, he must get to know by observation some of his prominent ‘I’s that hitherto he has mistaken for himself and not identify with them – that is, not say ‘I’ to them – because what in you you say ‘I’ to chains you to it. Once you say ‘I’ to any thought or feeling it has power over you. In hysteria, the victim identifies with every sensational and horrifying thought. There is no power of self-observation and separation. It is something like thinking that a snake in the grass is you and so not being able to separate object from subject. There is a mystery here which goes very deep and cannot be entered into now – safe to say that this Work teaches that mankind is under a definite hypnotic force to keep it asleep and prevent it from waking up. I will give one hint of this from another esoteric source. It is said in Issaiah: “The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes. (Is. XXIX 10) And in the New Testament: “This people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are full of hearing and their eyes they have closed, lest haply they should perceive with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart . . .” (Matt, XIII 15) This Work merely says that Man is asleep and that we are born asleep into a world of sleeping people who are kept asleep and spend their time in killing one another. Now the realization that we are many and not one, that the quality of our Being is characterized by multiplicity instead of unity, belongs to a stage in the journey called “awakening from sleep” which can end in a man being born again – that is, finding and becoming Real ‘I’. What then undertakes this journey? Those ‘I’s in a man which have the most understanding. We come, then, to the idea that our different ‘I’s are not on the same level. Some ‘I’s are very small in understanding – very mean, very poor, envious and stupid. Some ‘I’s are bigger, and so on. When a man begins to hear the Work with both ears, and to observe himself in accordance with its instructions, there gather around Observing ‘I’ all ‘I’s who wish to understand more. This collection of ‘I’s is on a higher level that the ‘I’s that dealt with everyday life and its affairs. This collection of ‘I’s that form round Observing ‘I’ is called Deputy-Steward and if they are strong enough to persist and fight against all these negative and disbelieving ‘I’s that attack them a further stage is called “Steward”. This is the herald of Real ‘I’. So we can put them in this way: Observing ‘I’, Deputy-Steward, Steward, Real ‘I’, in order of ascent.I said last time that one should try to observe and study the history of different ‘I’s in ourselves. Some people undertake to write their biographies. But in the autobiographies they always take themselves as one ‘I’, moving through Time. They should write instead the history of different ‘I’s in them. Now our most mechanical ‘I’s live in small parts of centres – in the basement of oneself. They are usually quite unintelligent and have no understanding. They belong to the lowest level of our Being. They take charge of us most of the day, speak through our mouths and call themselves ‘I’. They are rigid, always saying the same things in the same way. Towards the end of life it is often noticeable how the better and more understanding ‘I’s in a person get disconnected and there remain only the most petty and tiresome ‘I’s. This is impossible to understand unless we realize that a person is not one ‘I’, but many ‘I’s, and that these ‘I’s are on different levels, as on the wires on a telegraph-pole. In this Work one should aim not to go always in company with negative, weak, vain, poor ‘I’s, for they spoil everything, and produce bad, inner states. It is a common thing that while we have no power of making ourselves happy we have considerable powers of separating from unhappy states once we begin to understand what self-observation and non-identifying mean. But all this belongs to awakening from sleep so perhaps it is not so curious in view of that goal.
-- From “Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky – Volume 3” by Maurice Nicoll. This talk was given at Great Amwell House, October 4, 1947