Lecture 11 — More About Centres

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

'Divisions' of Centres
'Parts' of Centres
'Formatory Apparatus'
Co-operation of Centres
Energies for Centres
Wasted Energy
Negative Emotions
Advance Preparation
Origin of Emotions
Power of Thought

Return to:


See also:

Wrong Functions
Studying Oneself
Properties of different frequencies

'Divisions' of Centres

In Lecture 4, I spoke of Four Minds which in this system we call Centres, and they have since been referred to on several occasions. I want to tell you a little more about centres which will help you to understand the situation. Some centres are divided into two halves — positive and negative. This division is very clear in the intellectual and the instinctive centres. In the intellectual centre it is 'yes' and 'no', affirmation and negation. All the work of the intellectual centre consists of comparing.

The division in the instinctive centre is also quite plain: pleasure, pain. All instinctive life is governed by this.

At a superficial glance it seems that the emotional centre also consists of two halves — pleasant and unpleasant emotions. But it is not really so. All our violent and depressing emotions and, generally, most of our mental suffering, has the same character — it is unnatural, and our organism has no real centre for these negative emotions; they work with the help of an artificial centre. This artificial centre — a kind of swelling — is gradually created in us from early childhood, for a child grows surrounded by people with negative emotions and imitates them.

Instinctive emotions may be negative, but they are rightfully so. They are all useful. The negative half of the instinctive centre is a watchman warning us of danger. In the emotional centre negative emotions are very harmful.

'Parts' of Centres

Then each half of a centre is divided into three parts: intellectual part, emotional part, and moving or mechanical part. The moving part of each centre is the most mechanical and the most often used. Generally, we use only the mechanical parts of centres. Even the emotional parts are used only occasionally; as to the intellectual parts, they are very seldom used in ordinary conditions. This shows how we limit ourselves, how we use only a little part, the weakest part, of our organism.


It is very easy to distinguish the three parts when we begin to observe ourselves. Mechanical parts do not need attention. Emotional parts need strong interest or identification, that is, attention without effort or intention, for attention is drawn and kept by the attraction of the object itself. And in the intellectual parts you need to control your attention.

When you get accustomed to control attention, you will see at once what I mean. First, the character of the action will show you which centre you are in, and then observation of attention will show you the part of centre.

It is particularly important to observe the emotional parts and to study the things that attract and keep attention, because they produce imagination. Study of attention is a very important part of self-study, and if you begin to observe this division of centres into parts, in addition to the division of centres themselves, it will give you the possibility of coming to smaller details and will help you to study attention.

You must, of course, distinguish attention from identification. Attention can be controlled, identification is mechanical.

Attention is one; there is no other attention. But sometimes you can act without attention — you can do many things, even normal logical things, without any attention. In other cases attention is drawn and kept by the attraction of the thing itself. In the third case attention is controlled. If attention is fixed on something, mechanical imagination stops.

Cultivate attention. You will see that then it gives different results. Think with attention. Do not let yourself think mechanically. Mechanical thinking transforms itself into imagination.

Controlled attention is possible for people in ordinary life who know nothing about self-remembering. Although controlled attention is very close to self-remembering, there is a difference. Attention can be only in one centre, whereas self-remembering needs the work of three or even four centres.

We cannot speak about doing things consciously because we are not conscious. As to doing things intentionally, if you do some work and have to give your attention to it, then, even without your noticing it, part of your effort will be connected with keeping attention on what you are doing. But if it becomes quite mechanical, you may be thinking of something else, and yet your hands will still be doing it. That will be the mechanical part of the centre. If your work needs constant thinking, invention, adaptation, you have to work with the intellectual part.

'Formatory Apparatus'

The mechanical part of the intellectual centre has a special name. Sometimes it is spoken of as a separate centre, and in that case it is called the formatory centre or formatory apparatus. Most people use only this part; they never use the better parts of the intellectual centre. But ideas of this system or similar ideas cannot be understood by formatory apparatus at all.

Formatory apparatus has very definite limitations. One of its peculiarities is that it compares only two things, as though in any particular line only two things existed. Then formatory thinking likes thinking in extremes; for instance, either it knows everything or it knows nothing. Another of its peculiarities is that it immediately looks for the opposite.

You can find many examples of formatory thinking. For instance, if I say you must do this or you must do that, people say, 'But you said we cannot do!'. If I say this needs will-power, they say, 'How, if we have no will?' If I speak of being more conscious or less conscious, people say, 'But we have no consciousness!' These are all examples of formatory thinking.

If the intellectual centre works normally — that is, if other parts do their work — formatory centre does its work quite all right. It is a registering apparatus. We are concerned only with wrong work. This refers not only to the formatory apparatus but to all the mechanical parts of centres. Only when they begin to work wrongly do they become dangerous. So there is no need to worry about their right work; what you must try to do is eliminate their wrong work. The mechanical part of the emotional centre wants to do the work of the higher part, and it is the same with the formatory centre — it wants to do the work of the intellectual centre, and as a result the moving part of the centre includes all the intellectual life of an ordinary person.


When you see, or find in your memory, how mechanically you can do the most abominable things which later you cannot understand how you could have done, then you will know what mechanicalness is. If we look back through our life, year by year, month by month, we see things we would never have done consciously, or things we did not do which we would have done had we been conscious. This is the way to think about mechanicalness.

In this connection it is important to understand the right meaning of the word 'formatory'. There are two methods of arriving at mental conclusions: 'formation' and 'formulation'. 'Formation is a conclusion reached by way of least resistance, avoiding difficulties. It is easier because it makes itself using ready-made phrases, ready-made opinions, like a stamp. Except in the simplest cases, it is generally defective. 'Formulation' is a conclusion arrived at on the basis of all the available material; it needs effort and is sometimes difficult, but it means the best we can do.

Co-operation of Centres

Complicated work needs two centres. Even in copying a passage from a book, intellectual centre has work to do. Moving centre cannot be trusted much; it controls imagination and dreams. So when it works, intellectual centre watches. If one works wholly with moving centre, one is half asleep. All co-operation of centres requires a certain degree of wakefulness. Falling asleep means disconnection of centres.

Speech is generally partly instinctive, partly moving, partly intellectual, and it may be emotional — so it may require all four functions. All parts are equally necessary, but each part must do its own work. If they replace one another, their work becomes wrong.

The idea that we do not use all of our brain but only part of it is not a new one, but psychological systems do not explain what we don't use, because parts of centres are not on the same level — they are really different machines. This system gives a real anatomy of our brain and generally of our whole mentality. This is a very important point, and if you begin to observe yourself from the point of view of attention, you can study the different values of your mental processes. This is the key to these machines.

The intellectual part of moving centre is completely different from the moving part of intellectual centre. Intellectual part of moving centre can control all our most complicated movements and invent new movements. Suppose one invents a very complicated machine, or does very intricate handwork which needs constant attention — and even constant self-remembering — in order not to break the whole thing: that would be the work of the intellectual part of moving centre.

The moving part of intellectual centre is the registering or formatory apparatus — a card-index system in the brain. It is quite useful in its place, but it is used for wrong purposes. Suppose, for instance, that one throws a pack of cards in the air and tries to make deductions from the way they come down; that would be wrong work of the formatory apparatus — and that is what we usually do.

The object of all work on yourself — self-study, self-knowledge, self-remembering — is to make your centres work better. First we have to know the machine and then we have to learn to control it. We have to readjust functions so that each does its own rightful work. Most of our activity consists of one centre doing the work of another centre. Our incapacity to reach our normal level lies in our inability to make our centres work rightly. Many inexplicable things we observe are due to the wrong work of centres.

There are two forms of wrong work of centres. Either they interfere, that is, one works instead of another, or one takes energy from another. Sometimes centres have to work for each other. If, for some reason, one centre stops working, the machine is so arranged that another centre can continue its work for a time to avoid an interruption. The original idea of such an arrangement is quite right, but in actual life it has become the cause of mental and physical disturbances because one centre cannot work properly for another. And in the state of identification they like to do wrong work instead of their own work. It has become a kind of bad habit, and by mixing functions the centres begin to mix energies, trying to get more potent energies for which they are not adapted. You can see examples when people become unnecessarily emotional in relation to things which would be better done without any emotion.

Our functions are at present conditioned by our state of consciousness. There is a slight variation: we can be a little more conscious than we are — a little more or much less. That affects functions, for if you are more awake functions produce better results; if you are more asleep, they produce worse results. This we can observe: but as a principle you must understand that functions and states of consciousness are independent of each other and exist by themselves. The state of consciousness affects functions, and increased consciousness will create new functions. Complete, real awakening will produce new functions which we do not have now.

When all four centres are perfectly adjusted, a man can think about creating higher states of consciousness — about being conscious of himself and then about being conscious of other things outside himself. This will correspond to the working of higher centres.

One centre cannot be improved by itself. All must be improved, must come to normal working. The human machine is very cleverly made and everything in it can be used for the same purpose. But on the ordinary level the work of centres is not fully co-ordinated: they live too independently, and at the same time they hinder one another and use one another's energy.

Energies for Centres

Every centre is adapted to work with a certain kind of energy, and it receives exactly what it needs; but all the centres steal from one another, and so a centre that needs a higher kind of energy is reduced to working with a lower kind, or a centre suited for working with a less potent energy uses a more potent, more explosive, energy. This is how the machine works at present. Imagine several furnaces — one has to work on crude oil, another on wood, a third on petrol. Suppose the one designed for wood is given petrol: we can expect nothing but explosions. And then imagine a furnace designed for petrol and you will see that it cannot work properly on wood or coal.

We must distinguish four energies working through us: physical or mechanical energy — for instance moving a heavy load; life energy, which enables the body to absorb food, reconstruct tissues, and so on; psychic or mental energy, with which the centres work; and, most important of all, energy of consciousness.

Energy of consciousness is not recognised by psychology or by scientific schools. Consciousness is regarded as part of psychic functions. Other schools deny consciousness altogether and regard everything as mechanical. Some schools deny the existence of life energy. But life energy is different from mechanical energy, and living matter can be created only from living matter. All growth proceeds with life energy. Psychic energy is the energy with which centres work. They can work with or without consciousness, but the results are different, although not so different that the difference can be easily distinguished in others. One can know consciousness only in oneself.

For every thought, feeling, or action, or for being conscious, we must have corresponding energy. If we have not got it, we have to work with lower energy and lead merely an animal or vegetable life. If we can accumulate appropriate energy, we can have thoughts, and can be conscious for a short time.

Even an enormous amount of physical energy cannot produce a thought. For thought a different, stronger, solution is necessary. And consciousness requires a still quicker, more explosive, energy. Consciousness is light, and light is the result of a certain energy; if there is no energy, there is no light.

Wasted Energy

We would have enough energy for everything we want to do if we did not waste it on unnecessary things. For instance, the reason why we are so formatory is that we are too dull, we do not feel enough. We think we feel, but that is an illusion. And the reason why we feel so little is because we have no energy available for the emotional centre. The worst of all leaks of energy is expressing negative emotions. If you can stop the expression of negative emotions, you will save energy and never feel the lack of it.

We can hope to become conscious beings only if we use in the right way the energy that is now used in the wrong way. The machine can produce enough energy, but you can waste it on being angry or irritated or something like that, and then very little remains.

The normal organism produces quite enough energy not only for all centres but also for storing. Production is all right, but expenditure is wrong. These leaks have to be studied, because with some kinds of leaks it is not worth going on until they are stopped: for the more one accumulates energy, the more will leak out. It would be like pouring water into a sieve.

Negative Emotions

Certain negative emotions produce precisely such leaks. In certain situations some people go through a whole range of negative emotions so habitually that they do not even notice them. It may occupy only five minutes or five seconds, but it may be sufficient to spend all the energy their organism has produced in twenty-four hours.

I want particularly to draw your attention to this idea of negative emotion and the state of negative emotion. It is necessary to realise that there is not a single useful negative emotion, useful in any sense. Negative emotions are all a sign of weakness. Next, we must realise that we can struggle with them; they can be conquered and destroyed, because there is no real centre for them. If they had a real centre, like instinctive emotions, there would be no chance; we should remain for ever in the power of negative emotions. So it is lucky for us that they have no real centre; it is an artificial centre that works, and this artificial centre can be abolished. When this is done, we shall feel much better for it. Even the realisation that it is possible is very much; but we have so many convictions, prejudices, and even 'principles' about negative emotions that it is very difficult to get rid of the idea that they are necessary. Try to think about it.

We have no positive emotions; we call 'positive' an emotion that cannot become negative, and all our emotions, even the best we can have in our present state, can become negative at any moment. Also, by their scope, our emotions are too small for positive emotions. Positive emotions include very much, whereas our emotions are very narrow. So at present we have no positive emotions. We must become free of negative emotions before we can have positive emotions.

Some negative emotions can be simply destroyed; some others we can dispose of only by transforming them into positive. But that is very far from us as we are now; we cannot do it at present. We can only prepare the ground for that — chiefly by creating right attitudes, for mental work comes first. We create right mental attitudes by understanding that negative emotions serve no useful purpose and by realising how much we lose by allowing ourselves the pleasure of having them. Then perhaps we shall have enough energy to do something about them.

As long as we think negative emotions are unavoidable, or even useful, for self-expression, or something like that, we can do nothing. A certain mental struggle is necessary to realise that they have no useful function in our life and that at the same time all ordinary life is based on them.

Advance Preparation

There are many strange things in us. First, there are things that could be conscious and are not; and second, we spoil our life by negative emotions for which nature has not even provided a centre, so that we must make one artificially. What is not normal, what is unnatural, is most mechanical.

Two things are always present in negative emotions — identification and negative imagination. Without negative imagination and identification, negative emotions cannot exist. Of course, you cannot stop bad temper just by thinking: but you can prepare the ground for stopping it beforehand. If you can create a right attitude, then after some time it will help you to stop identification and thus choke off the negative emotion before it can be expressed. When you are in the middle of it, it is too late. You must not let yourself get into a bad temper; you must not justify it. Some of our intellectual 'I's are free from negative emotions and can see things impartially. They can remind us that 'I had this negative emotion all my life. Did I gain anything from it? Never! I only paid and paid and paid. That means it is useless.'

We think that negative emotions are produced by circumstances, whereas they are all in us, inside us. This is a very important point. We always think that our negative emotions are produced by the fault of other people or by the fault of circumstances. But they are in ourselves and are produced by ourselves. There is absolutely not a single unavoidable reason why somebody else's action or some circumstance should produce a negative emotion in me. It is only my weakness. No negative emotions can be produced by external causes if we do not want them to arise. We have negative emotions because we permit them, justify them, explain them by external causes, and so we do not struggle against them.

Negative emotions are habitual. We are so accustomed to them that we cannot sleep without them. The habit is so strong that special work is necessary to get rid of them. But in the beginning work on negative emotions is two-fold: studying them, and trying not to express them. You cannot study them if you express them. If you try to stop expressing them, then you can see and study them. It is the same as in relation to unnecessary talk. Ask yourself: Is it useful? Is it necessary to express emotions which can only antagonise other people? The idea is to create resistance, otherwise we cannot observe. And this creation of resistance is the introduction to the study of emotions. Real work comes later.

Control increases energy. It may be that you have to expend a certain amount of energy in controlling some emotion, but next moment, since you do not waste energy on this useless emotion, control will increase your energy. This is the chemical action of control. You can become tired only if you suppress the expression. But I never said 'suppress'. I said, 'Do not express; find reasons for not expressing'. Suppression can never help, because sooner or later the negative emotion will jump out. If you merely suppress, you keep the identification and only shut off the external expression. It is a question of finding reasons, of thinking rightly, because expression of negative emotion is always based on some kind of wrong thinking.

No one can help you with this. It must be your own effort, and first of all you must study your own negative emotions and classify them. You must find which negative emotions you chiefly have, why they come, what brings them, and so on. You must understand that your only control over emotions is by mind — but this is not immediate. If you think rightly for six months, then it will affect negative emotions. If you begin to think rightly today, it will not noticeably change your negative emotions tomorrow.

If we have constant negative emotions, or recurring negative emotions of the same kind, we always fall in at the same point. If we observed ourselves better, we should know that this was coming, or had come, and if we had thought rightly beforehand, we should have some resistance. But if we have no right attitude, if we do not think rightly, then we are helpless, and the negative emotion happens again at the same time in the same way. This is one of the methods of controlling emotions through the intellectual centre. But attitudes must be created not at the moment of emotional explosion but long beforehand. Then, little by little, emotional explosions will come under the control of the intellect.

Thoughts can be more permanent than feelings, and in that way thoughts can influence feelings. You can create permanent thoughts, permanent attitudes, which will affect feelings in time. But before this can become possible a certain discipline must be introduced into our emotions, and a certain knowledge must be acquired in order to work on the emotional mind.

Negative emotion affects all centres. Centres are so connected that you cannot have a strong or violent negative emotion — and with the help of identification they all become strong — without affecting all centres. You cannot have a negative emotion and at the same time do something else right or even think rightly. You can eat wrongly, breathe wrongly, walk wrongly, work wrongly — do everything wrongly.

Origin of Emotions

All emotions have their origin in the instinctive centre. In a small child, centres are not divided. Negative emotions are created from material taken from the instinctive centre. This material legitimately belongs to the instinctive centre and is wrongly borrowed from it. We are in a very strange state, because positive emotions do not belong to our ordinary emotional centre but to the higher emotional centre, and negative emotions do not belong to the ordinary emotional centre but exist in an artificial centre.

The emotional centre borrows material from the instinctive centre, and with the negative half of the instinctive centre and the help of imagination and identification, it creates negative emotions. Destroying them is a very difficult work; but you must realise that as long as negative emotions exist no development is possible, because development means development of all there is in man. Negative emotions cannot develop; it would be very disastrous if they could. So if you are trying to create consciousness, you must at the same time struggle with negative emotions, for either you keep them or you develop: you cannot have them both together.

I want you to understand that stopping the expression of negative emotions and struggle with negative emotions themselves are two quite different practices. Trying to stop the expression comes first. If you express a negative emotion you are in its power, you can do nothing at that moment. When you have learnt not to express it, you can try not to identify, to create a right attitude, and to remember yourself.

Once you have stopped the external manifestation, you must try to stop the cause — not of the emotion itself but of the expression. There is a difference. Emotion is one thing; expression is another. Try to find the difference.

Almost all our personal negative emotions are based on accusation: somebody else is guilty. If, by persistent thinking, we realise that nobody can be guilty against us, that we are the cause of all that happens to us, that changes things — not at once, certainly, because many times this realisation will come too late. But after some time this right thinking, this creating of right attitude or point of view, can become a permanent process; then negative emotions will appear only occasionally. Exactly by being permanent, this process of right thinking has power over negative emotions: it catches them in the beginning.

Power of Thought

From one point of view, we are so mechanical that we can do nothing; but from another point of view there are several things which we can begin to do. We have certain possibilities in us, only we do not use them. It is true that we cannot 'do' anything in the sense that we cannot change what we feel at any given moment, but we can make ourselves think about a subject at a given moment. This is the beginning. We must know what is possible and begin from that, because then the possibility to do something, instead of letting things happen, will gradually increase.

We do not realise what enormous power lies in thinking. I do not mean that as a philosophical explanation of power. The power lies in the fact that, if we always think rightly about certain things, we can make it permanent — it grows into a permanent attitude. You may find some inclination to wrong emotional manifestations of some kind. Just at that moment you can do nothing; you have educated in yourself the capacity for this kind of reaction by wrong thinking. But if you start from right thinking, then after some time you will educate in yourself the capacity for a different reaction. Only this method has to be understood, and this understanding must be quite deep.

You can apply this method to many different things. This is really the one thing you can do. You can 'do' nothing else. There is no direct way to struggle with negative manifestations because you cannot catch them; and there is no way to prevent them except by being prepared for them beforehand. But a passing realisation that they are wrong will not help; it must be very deep, otherwise you will have an equally difficult process to prepare the ground for another manifestation. You do not realise how much you lose by these spontaneous manifestations of a negative character. They make so many things impossible.

The fact that you begin to think rightly will not change anything straight away. It is necessary to think rightly for a long time; then results will come — but not at once. It is a question of months or years to create right attitudes. By creating right attitudes you consolidate the fact that you have really and seriously decided not to give way to negative manifestations. We do not realise how much we lose in this way. We lose exactly what we want to gain.

But first of all you must stop the habit of expressing negative emotions. This is why, in the very first lectures, when you hear about self-observation, it is explained that you must learn not to express negative emotions. Everybody knows how not to show what they feel — I do not mean in exceptional cases, but in ordinary cases. All negativeness is based on identification, imagination, and on one particular feature, namely, allowing yourself to express it. You always believe you cannot stop it and therefore feel it is quite right to show what you feel. So first you must get rid of this illusion. You can stop the manifestation of negative emotions. If you say, 'I don't want to', I will believe you; but not if you say 'I cannot'.

I have given you suggestions for work with emotions: study, struggle with identification, struggle with the expression of negative emotion, right thinking about negative emotions — four practices. If you really use all that is given, quite soon you will see perceptible results. Real control of emotional centre needs self-remembering, a new state of consciousness, so it is a long way off; now we must use auxiliary methods. The most important of them in the beginning is developing a right attitude.