Self-observation is all about not getting sucked into our own (or other people’s) dramas. Dramas pull us in – that’s what they do. We lose ourselves in dramas – it’s like watching a film in the cinema and being so completely absorbed that you forget all about yourself. If my life was one long drama (let us just suppose) then we could lose ourselves in it the whole time, on a non-stop basis. We would in that case get so absorbed in it that we would completely forget ourselves! This is what Anthony de Mello is getting at when he says that we are all ‘asleep’.
Another way of putting this is to say that we get so absorbed in our reactions to the drama that’s going on that we think we are our reactions! So suppose you say something to me and for some reason I feel hurt by your comment, then it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to identify with this reaction, and get totally sucked into the drama of it on this basis. ‘Identifying’ means that I feel that I am totally right to be aggrieved by the fact that you have said whatever it is that you’ve said, and that you are totally wrong to have said it. There is this right/wrong polarisation that takes place which then get elaborated and reinforced by the thinking process. ‘She should never have said that,’ I might think, or ‘how dare you make a comment like that!’
The more we get sucked in by this thinking process more indignant or affronted we feel, the more polarised we get, and this polarisation of ‘right way versus runway’ is what identification means. ‘Identification’ means that we feel intensely gratified and vindicated if things go our way, and equally intensely annoyed and stung if they don’t. In this state of being everything is about the drama, everything is about the reaction, and so as a result of everything being about the drama (or the reaction) there is no actual ‘self-observation’ going on in the sense that we have been talking about. ‘Being sucked into the drama’ is the very antithesis of self-observation as we have said.
The process of identification, then, is the process whereby we think that our reactions, which kick off automatically, are us. The intensity of the emotional reaction is my own intensity; it is coming right from the core of me, it is expressive of what I care about the most. My outrage is expressing my deepest most heartfelt feelings – it is coming out of the very centre of my being (or so it seems). More than this, it is an expression of me. In this way we could say that I’m ‘prizing’ my outrage, my anger, my indignation, or whatever the reaction is; it is precious to me just as I am precious to me.
And yet at the same time my emotional reactions have nothing to do with who I really am – they certainly don’t define who or how I am in the way that I feel that they do. What they do define is a generic version of us and so what we have here is the situation where I am very intensely identifying with this stance, this posture, this attitude, and we are saying – as strongly as we can – that this is me. I am saying ‘this is my position and I’m sticking to it whether you like it or not…’
There is a huge defiance, a huge obstinacy, a huge stubbornness about this and just as long as we have any strength at all left to us, we will defend this position of ours – we will defend it until our last gasp, we will defend it till the very end. This obstinacy of ours is perverse however because what we are defending is not us – what we are defending (or promoting) is ‘the generic version of us’, not the true and unique individuality of who we are. What we are defending is the acquired ‘personality’ not our intrinsic ‘essence’, to use Gurdjieff’s terms, so getting pulled into the drama causes us to think that ‘we are who we aren’t’ and – moreover – think it very strongly! We forget who we are (which is not defined in the crude, black-and-white way, and cannot therefore be ‘defended’) and identify with a ‘generic identity’ instead.
The reason we call it ‘the generic identity’ is because it’s the same for everybody – when we look at anyone who has completely lost their temper and has become consumed by rage we can see that everyone becomes ‘the same person’ at this point. All the nuances (the nuances which tell of our individuality) are lost and all that is left is ‘the ego of anger’, which is a generic self. As Jung says, when we allow ourselves to be ruled by ‘the passions’ then we straightaway become ‘Everyman’ –
The more you cling to that which the whole world desires, the more you are Everyman, who has not yet discovered himself and stumbles through the world like a blind man leading the blind with somnambulistic certainty into the ditch.
This is without question the most ignominious fate that could ever befall us – Everyman is the graveyard of individuality, a horrific type of ‘living death’.
This isn’t just true for anger therefore – every jealous person is the same person (the same person which isn’t actually any true person), every greedy person is the same person, every confused person of the same person, every proud or arrogant person is the same person, every slothful or lazy person of is the same person. What we’re talking about here therefore are the ‘five poisons’ that are spoken of in Buddhism or the ‘seven deadly sins’ that are listed in Christianity. The reason there are seven cardinal sins and only five poisons (or Kleshas) because Christianity counts desire three times as lechery (luxuria); gluttony (gula) and avarice (and avaritia). The point is however (the point that we are never ever told) is that these are states in which we lose our true, compassionate nature and ‘become who we aren’t’. The consumer society in which we live is based upon the manipulation of our passions (greed, envy, insecurity, etc) and it operates by causing us to identify with the generic identity. The generic identity is predictable and easily controlled, after all! Who we really are (the individuality) isn’t.
‘Self-observation’ essentially involves bringing awareness to this process whereby we identify with the generic identity. We see it happening. What we are observing is the way in which we get caught up in the mind-created drama and ‘become who we aren’t’, in other words. The crucial point here is that when we have identified with the generic identity we can’t ‘observe’ anything! The generic identity can’t see anything truly; it can’t see anything truly because it sees everything from a false basis – it sees everything in a ‘generic’ way, it sees everything ‘from the basis of an unreal vantage point’. This is the great difficulty inherent in self-observation therefore – the ‘great difficulty’ is that inasmuch as we are continuously identifying with a generic identity, we are also becoming unconscious, and when we become unconscious we are also unconscious of the fact that we’re unconscious. We are convinced beyond any argument that we are conscious, as Gurdjieff says. We might think that we’re ‘observing’ ourselves but we’re not – we’re just getting lost in mind-created illusions…