As Nature has organized it, my automatic organism has been designed first and foremost to seek survival, security, safety, comfort, and pleasure. When I am ruled by this automatic organism—when I have no unified “I,” no real Will, and body, mind, and emotions are relatively disconnected from each other, each living their separate lives—I tend to avoid anything that this automaton perceives as a threat to these core “values.”
This in itself is not a bad thing; it serves Nature; it serves cosmic forces of which I’m usually unaware.
But at a certain point, as a result of unseen and unquantifiable influences, which are also part of Nature, but of a higher order, a higher potential, a higher function—call these B influences, perhaps, and the gradual formation of a magnetic center within me—something in me awakens a little. I get a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, so to speak, an inkling, perhaps, which, over time, forms itself into the beginnings of a question.
The question can take many forms, but, for a very long time, it remains more of a feeling than a thought—a kind of longing. Something is missing in me, in my life—something beyond just the things that my automatism craves, needs, and pursues relentlessly in its own way. Something is awry, not right, out of place. In some ways, I begin to feel like an outsider, a fish out of water, a square peg, the odd man out, a man displaced from his home and now a refugee in a world that seems all too comfortable and familiar, but somehow alien at the same time.
Over time, if I don’t simply go back to sleep, lulled by the familiarity, comfort, and seeming certainty of well-established automatic mechanisms and by the continuous yet transient flow of perceived creature comforts, this longing forms itself into a question. As said, the question can take many forms, depending on my type and my circumstances. “Is this all there is to life?” “Isn’t there something more? Something deeper? Something more real?” “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?” And so forth.
The old clothes, masks, roles, and identities don’t seem to fit anymore. I’m uncomfortable in my own skin, but don’t know why.
At this point, I’m ready to meet something different, something higher—perhaps a teaching, perhaps a teacher—which can begin to help me answer these questions… answer this inexplicable longing that sits in my gut like a knot.
It’s all very well to meet a teaching and/or teacher and be exposed to higher Ideas and to be given practical Work. But if this becomes just another way to fill a void in me—a way of satisfying the core “values” of my automatic organism as ordained by Nature or a way of escaping from myself—then all will come to naught. Something else is required if this teaching and/or teacher is going to touch me in a different way and if something deeper, higher, and more real is to be attained.
In short, I must remain in contact with that which brought me here to begin with. I must remember why I came. I must remain in contact with my initial longing and with the questions that arose out of this longing.
This in itself is already a kind of intentional suffering. It’s painful to acknowledge that I feel out of place, uncomfortable in my own skin, like an alien in an alien world, disconnected from something that I cannot yet even name. Something in me just wants to run away from this, to push it back down, to hide from it, or to simply deny it.
Yet, at the same time, this is, paradoxically, my life blood, my life saver, my thread of connection to something deeper, higher, and more real, even before I can put this into any kind of words or conception.
It’s far easier to simply push it away, to side-step it, to bury myself in the perceived comforts and pleasures of the automatic organism, and to let the wind carry me where it will. It’s far easier to allow my automatic mind to go off on its flights of fancy, its daydreams and imaginings, its formatory “explanations,” rationalizations, justifications, excuses, and “reasonings”. It’s far easier to allow my emotional nature to carry me on its currents, enticing me to explode this way, to attach that way, to veer another way, and to generally consume my daily allotment of energy in automatic ways. It’s far easier to follow my body—its automatic momentum, its needs, desires, and cravings.
It’s far easier to let Nature protect me from perceived threats to my automatic organism’s core “values.” Moreover, for survival reasons, this protection is valid and necessary.
But there’s a contradiction here, because, in this case, Nature is one-eyed. And, if I identify only with the automatic organism that Nature has given me, I, too, become one-eyed. Nature and my automatic organism are constantly striving for some kind of future perceived time and place where there will be more comfort than discomfort, more ease than dis-ease, more pleasure than pain, more safety than danger, and so forth.
But such a time and place do not exist, I realize over time. I live in a world of duality—a world of opposites where every single thing has its complementary and equal opposite. I don’t see this to begin with; my automatism doesn’t see this. So I/it keeps trying to find this imagined utopia only to find that, when I finally “arrive,” comfort once again turns to discomfort, ease turns to dis-ease, pleasure turns to pain, what was certain for a moment becomes uncertain in the next, and so on and so forth.
But in my ignorance and sleep, I continue to chase the carrot, ordained by great Nature. This is what is meant by mechanical suffering.
Nature and my automatic organism seek to protect me, for the sake of survival and well-being of the species. But there’s another side to protection. Apart from protecting me in this way, my automatic organism also “protects” me from another kind of suffering—from another kind of pain. This other kind of suffering/pain is of a different order and of a different origin, as is the “protection.”
As I slowly wake from my slumber—from my stupor—I gradually realize that I live in an upside-down, inside-out state… and in an upside-down, inside-out world. It’s not just about Nature and her plans for me; it’s far worse than this. The causes of my topsy-turvy state are unknown to me at first. I may be told the causes by a teaching or teacher—e.g. organ kundabuffer and “The Terror of the Situation,” etc—but these mean nothing to me at first. If I’m honest with myself, all I know is my innermost longing and its associated questions. But in this, I also realize that something is not right, not only in me, but also in the world around me.
This other kind of “protection” is, ultimately, a buffer against the onslaught of the upside-down, inside-out world as I was growing up. It’s a “protection” for essence, ultimately. But it’s also a rather twisted “protection,” which has also been called “false personality.”
As a baby and small child, essence is naked, open, and immature, even though it “sees” the world much more clearly and directly than I do as an adult. As such, when faced with the upside-down, inside-out influences coming in from other humans, individually and collectively—the collective Sleep—essence suffers many hurts and misperceptions followed by fear, followed by a kind of shutting off and shutting down, and/or followed by outward projection… of negative emotions and inside-out, upside-down notions. In the face of these influences, for “protection,” false personality is formed.
Put simply, as a baby and a child, it’s too painful for me to bear these influences much less deal with them. So, in an unholy alliance between my automatic organism, given by Nature, and false personality, which is the result of a topsy-turvy situation in the world today, I gradually lose contact and connection to my essence.
This is the primary source of my longing. This is what calls to me from within when sufficient higher material (B influences) has been accumulated in me—sufficient to begin to withstand the suffering, the hurt, that lies buried deep within and to hear, acknowledge, and finally begin to heed this inner voice.
At this point—the point at which the Work begins—through efforts in self-observation combined with various other practical efforts, indications of which are given by the teaching and/or by a teacher, hopefully in conjunction with group Work, I begin to see my complete automatism. I begin to see how things go as they’ve always gone, despite my best “intentions,” “aims,” and desires. I begin to see how I have up until now rationalized, justified, excused, and “explained” away this fact in order to maintain the illusions of my automatic organism and of my false personality.
Moreover, I begin to see that, contrary to the illusion that my life is getting “better,” “happier,” “more fulfilled,” and that I’m somehow “improving,” “evolving,” “learning,” and so forth, in truth, all is but “vexation and gnashing of teeth.” There’s nothing new under the Sun. In short, I see how I suffer mechanically, every day of my automatic existence. I begin to see my “nothingness.”
In contrast to this, as the awareness of my automatism, its illusions, and its impotence grows, and if I do not push this truth away, do not imagine I can change anything, and do not opt to reenter my former soporific state, so too does my longing grow. Eventually, it grows into a Wish—a Wish for a different way of Being… a Wish for a more real existence.
The friction between, on the one hand, what I see of myself and my automatic organism and false personality “protection” mechanisms and, on the other hand, my innermost longing, question, and Wish is what creates the heat for my gradual transformation.
And this is the real beginning of intentional suffering.
Intentional suffering means bearing the truth about myself—about my automatism, about my disconnection from essence, about my illusions, ignorance, and nothingness. It means standing between what I am—which is actually not who I am but more what and how I am—and what I Wish to Be.
Intentional suffering means standing in the face of whatever I find in myself through my conscious labors—through my efforts to observe myself, to sense myself, to remember myself, and much more—without judgment, without analysis, without formatory wiseacreing, without flinching, without turning away, without running away, without projecting it outward, and without pushing it back down into the darkness.
Intentional suffering means deliberately shining a light within me—the light of sensing, first and foremost—seeking to illuminate every darkest corner and crevice, seeking to illuminate the mechanisms of the “protective” shell of false personality, seeking to illuminate Nature’s survival mechanisms, and, ultimately, seeking to uncover and live once more from my essence.
What can motivate me to suffer intentionally in this way? The usual carrots simply don’t work. The usual carrots only promise “happiness,” comfort, pleasure, gain, self-improvement, self-development, and so forth. And they bring only temporary satisfaction, after which I am soon wanting again in an eternal chase-my-tail game.
In the beginning, the only thing that can motivate me to suffer intentionally in the way described—to delve into the truth about myself and to stand witness to everything that I am, warts and all—is to remember why I came here. It’s to continually access and connect with my innermost longing. It’s to remember my question. And it’s to constantly fan the flame of my Wish for a different way of Being.
How can I grow my capacity to suffer intentionally? Intentional suffering is the friction that’s necessary to produce the alchemical transformation of my Being—to reconnect me with who I AM, as opposed to what and how I am in any given moment, the latter of which changes with the slightest breeze. Again, how can I grow my capacity to suffer intentionally?
It’s a drop by drop process. I start with small things. I start with what’s first given to me, which is the suggestion to try to observe myself and to do some kind of sensing exercise (of which various versions were given by Mr. Gurdjieff, face to face, orally, and which were passed down from there, teacher to student).
I’m told, though, that, in the beginning, I cannot actually observe myself. What happens is that one “I” looks at another “I” (or group of “I’s) and then thinks it is observing something. It remains a primarily mental process, which, by itself, can bring no worthwhile results. But I’m instructed to continue to try, while also continuing my sensing exercises. It’s suggested that I continue to strive to become aware of my body and of my being in my body. Only when I can anchor myself in sensation can I begin to observe myself in a different and more real way.
These two initial conscious labors (among others)—self-observation and sensing—have a cumulative effect. Drop by drop, something grows in me and, in between mind and body—between attention and sensation—something gradually appears that might be called feeling, which is quite different from my usual negative emotions.
As feeling appears—the growing awareness of my emotional nature/body—and as I nurture this feeling by attending to breath (among other things) (without changing anything about the breathing itself), this has the capacity to connect with and strengthen my longing and my Wish, which, in turn, grows my capacity to intentionally suffer to shine the light of self-observation and self-remembering ever brighter.
This strengthening is necessary, because, as I continue to Work in this way, many things will emerge from the darkness within me—many things that I did not see before, as well as many things that I had forgotten long ago—which will be painful at times and difficult to bear. Seeing and remaining in the face of my false personality manifestations and “protection” patterns, which essentially keep me asleep, is suffering enough. But to bear the innermost hurts and fears of my essence is yet another degree of depth of intentional suffering.
I must prepare myself for this. Every smallest Work effort I make—if I remember why I came here and if I have a Wish to truly Be, as opposed to merely having a desire to escape from myself or to satisfy the automaton organism’s core “values”—accumulates, drop by drop.
Even in the early days of such efforts, in my first smallest steps—as I accumulate the substances, the force, the consciousness to bear the greater truth about myself—my efforts are paid in kind. Perhaps I don’t see immediate “results” in the ordinary way; that’s not what my Work is about. But, over time, sporadically, spontaneously, and increasingly, I find myself graced with moments—moments of, shall we say, a differentness of Being. A subtle something grows in me—something that corresponds to what perhaps eventually I will call Hope, Joy, Freedom, and even Love.
These inklings of positive emotions will also help me to grow my capacity to intentionally suffer. It lightens my burden while increasing my capacity to bear a greater burden.
In the mechanical world, happiness and sadness, like all other polarities of emotion and thought, are equal, constantly tick-tocking from one to the other. Today, I am happy; tomorrow, I am sad. Today, I believe one thing; tomorrow, I believe the opposite. I live in the illusion that I can change things—change myself—and have more happiness than sadness or have more of any “positive” side of a given duality. In truth, for every action in the ordinary world under the Sun, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Such is mechanical suffering.
In contrast, in the conscious world, happiness and sadness and all other polarities of emotion and thought are also equal, but they co-exist, merged into a greater whole. (It is said that the higher emotional and higher intellectual centers have no “negative” side—no division into two opposite sides.)
When I stand between my opposites, my contradictions, my polarities, my dualities, facing what I am and what I Wish to Be, bringing all these opposites into the crucible of focused attention, in stillness and silence of mind, body, and feeling, intentionally suffering the friction between these things—denying and affirming forces—alchemy takes place. Intentional suffering, connected to my feeling, is the reconciling force, the alchemical catalyst.
When two becomes three, three becomes one, and there is a movement of consciousness, back up the octave, back toward His Endlessness, as Mr. Gurdjieff puts it in “All and Everything.” Moreover, intentional suffering, when connected to my feeling, is related to Remorse and has the capacity, over time, to transform into the positive emotions of Conscience and Compassion. But that’s another discussion.
Moreover, it is this alchemy of intentional suffering that burns away the shell of false personality, so to speak, one “atom” at a time—all those “protective” mechanisms, both internalized in self-negation (of essence) and externalized in negation projected outward as hatred, anger, and other negative emotions. When there are sufficient “cracks” in this shell—when my capacity to intentionally suffer everything that I am has grown enough—this shell can fall away completely, leaving only essence.
Essence, once revealed again, is still immature, open, raw, vulnerable, but can now recommence its growth, supported, nurtured, and protected by that which has formed through my inner Work—through the alchemy of intentional suffering—and which might be called Steward (Gurdjieff) or Personal Witness (Egyptian).
Intentional suffering thus continues. I suffer to remain in this vulnerable space of essence, allowing it to breathe once again and to experience the world in the first person again, directly, awake, and truly alive.
As I persist, constantly remembering why I came here to begin with—constantly remembering myself, meaning my essential self—my Being grows. And my experience of myself, of life, of others, and of the world around me, even in the midst of my intentional suffering, is increasingly suffused with Hope, Joy, Freedom, and Love. Why? Because essence, as my inner child, is the doorway to higher centers—the doorway to my inner sage, so to speak. It’s also the door Home, to the greater Truth of my existence as a “particle” of His Endlessness.