Lecture 15 — Identification and Considering

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

Obstacles to Self-remembering
Identification and Emotion
Negative Imagination
Considering — Internal and External
Presence of Mind

Return to:


See also:

Wrong Functions

Obstacles to Self-remembering

One cannot be aware of oneself for fifteen minutes without a very strong emotional element. It is necessary to produce something that makes one emotional, and this requires the help of the emotional centre. We are not sufficiently emotional because we spend our energy on identification, negative emotions, critical attitude, suspicion, lying, and things like that. If we manage to stop this waste, we will be more emotional.

It is necessary for each person to find for himself the moment to make a particular effort to remember himself, especially at moments when all instinctive and emotional tendencies go against it. If you manage to remember yourself then, you will know how to do it. Self-remembering cannot become formal; if it does, it means deep sleep. Then it is necessary to do something to wake oneself up. But you must always start with the idea of mechanicalness and the results of mechanicalness. Otherwise everything slips away and disappears, and you find yourself with nothing. The question is how to prevent it from disappearing. In our ordinary thinking and feeling there are many mechanical tendencies which always tend to turn us in the usual way. We want to be different, to think in another way, to feel in a new way, to work in another way; but nothing happens because there are so many old tendencies which turn us back. We must study these tendencies and try to throw light on them. Above all we must overcome the inertia of mind; then, if we do, twenty-four hours a day will not be sufficient and life will become very full. It is difficult to begin; thereafter, it is not so difficult.


One can conquer inertia only by effort: effort to self-remember, to observe, and not to identify. Consciousness is a force, and force can be developed only by overcoming obstacles. Two things can be developed in man: consciousness and will. Both are forces. If man overcomes unconsciousness, he will possess consciousness; if he overcomes mechanicalness, he will possess will.

If he understands the nature of the powers he can attain, it will be clear to him that they cannot be given; these powers must be developed by effort. If we were made more conscious, we should remain conscious machines. Mr Gurdjieff told me that in some schools they could, by some special methods, make a sheep conscious, but it just remained a conscious sheep. I asked him what they did with it, and he said they ate it.

The lesson to be drawn from the conscious sheep is that if a man were to be made conscious by someone else, he would remain an instrument in the hands of others. One's own efforts are necessary, because otherwise, even if a man is made conscious, he will not be able to use it. It is in the very nature of things that consciousness and will cannot be given. If someone could give them to you, it would not be an advantage. This is the reason why one must buy everything: nothing is given free. The most difficult thing is to learn how to pay. But if it could be explained in a few words, there would be no need to go to school. One has to pay not only for consciousness but for everything. Not the smallest idea can become one's own until one has paid for it.

Sentimental people think this sad. But as far as I know, there are no sad systems: only sad people, sad attitudes, and sad understanding. There is no reason why self-remembering should be cheerless and sad. If one realised that one was asleep and there was no chance of awakening, then indeed it would be a cheerless realisation. But the system does not say you should stop at that; it says that you should try to awaken.


When I first heard the idea of self-remembering, I saw many quite new things because it was an answer to all the questions I had when I studied psychology. So I realised at once that psychology begins at this point. I understood that man does not remember himself but could remember himself if he made sufficient efforts. Without self-remembering there can be no study, no psychology. But if a man realises and bears in mind that he does not remember himself, that nobody remembers, and yet that there is a possibility of self-remembering, then study begins. This is how it must be understood.

Certainly there can be no joy in realising that one is a machine and asleep. But we do not speak about joy and suffering, we speak about control. We realise that we are machines, and we do not want to be machines. We realise we are asleep, and we want to awaken. Real joy can only be connected with awakening or with something that helps awakening.

Complete awakening means a very big change: and that needs time, because it means acquiring new psychic functions. So we can study only the degrees or steps which a man must pass through. One can be shown the way, but one must work for oneself. By itself, learning is a small thing — for man can change only through application of the knowledge he gets. Man can become conscious of himself at a given moment. This consciousness of himself is awakening — one of the attributes of another state of consciousness.

Self-remembering has nothing to do with what in English is called being 'self-conscious', meaning a form of embarrassment or shyness. It is a permanent state. Self-remembering, on the other hand, is an experiment; one day it may be successful and another day unsuccessful. It may be deeper or less deep.

Neither should self-remembering be confused with vivid memories of childhood, which are due to the activity of the emotional centre. In a child it is more active, and moments of consciousness come by themselves. But self-remembering is a moment of consciousness that comes by your own effort. It is no help to a child to have flashes of consciousness without the possibility of using these moments.

There is nothing automatic in self-remembering. Every moment is effort. If it is sufficiently deep and sufficiently long, it is one thing, but if it is just a flash it is not sufficient. Also, if you remember yourself to the exclusion of everything else, it is one thing; and if you remember yourself and at the same time remember your aim and what you are doing, it is another thing. It depends on how much enters into self-remembering.


Identifying is a very interesting idea. There are two stages in the process of identifying. The first stage denotes the process of becoming identified, the second a state when identification is complete. If the first attracts too much attention and occupies too much time, it leads to the second.

Being in the grip of things is an extreme case. There are many small identifications which are very difficult to observe, and these are the most important because they keep us mechanical. You must realise that we always pass from one identification to another.

You cannot identify and be aware of yourself: the presence of one means the absence of the other. All things are connected; not a single manifestation is separate; they are all connected with a certain order of things.

Identification is a very difficult thing to describe, because no definitions are possible. You have to find a moment of identification, catch it, and then compare things with that moment. Identification is everywhere, at every moment of ordinary life. We do not notice it because we are in it.

Identification happens when you are repelled or attracted by something. Study or observation does not necessarily produce identification, but attraction and repulsion always do. Also, we use too strong a language, and this automatically produces identification. When one is identified, one does not exist; only the thing exists with which one is identified.

Likes and dislikes all mean identification, especially dislikes. They cannot exist without identification and generally they are nothing but identification. Usually, people imagine they have many more dislikes than they actually have. If they investigate and analyse them, they will probably find that they dislike only one or two things. When I studied it, there was only one real dislike that I could find in myself. But you must find your own examples; identification must be verified by personal experience. If at a moment of strong identification you try to stop it, you will see the idea.

Let us try from the intellectual side. You realise that you do not remember yourself? Try to see why you cannot and you will find that identification prevents you. Then you will see what it is. All these things are connected. We do not notice the temperature of our body except when it becomes a little higher or a little lower than normal. In the same way we can notice identification when it is stronger or weaker than usual. By comparing these degrees we can see what it is.

One is identified not for any particular reason or purpose, but in all cases because one cannot help it. You may not know why you identify. But you must know why you struggle against it. This is the thing. If you do not forget the reason why, you will be ten times more successful. Very often we begin struggling and then forget why.

If we could stop identification, we would have many moments like those we had in childhood: but we do not know how to begin to stop identification. If we could destroy negative emotions, if we could remember ourselves, then those things would be under our control, not accidental. When negative emotion appears, self-remembering becomes impossible.

You may think you are identified with one thing when in reality you are identified with quite a different thing. This does not matter at all; what does matter is the state of identification. Identification can be combated only by putting something against it. You must learn to distinguish the important from the less important. If you turn your attention to more important things you become less identified with unimportant things. People think that to be identified helps them; they do not see that it only makes things more difficult. It has no useful energy at all, only destructive energy.

Identification and Emotion

Identifying means losing oneself. It is a state, no matter what one is identified with. You must understand that many things you ascribe to external influences are really inside you. Take fear, for instance. Fear is independent of things. If you are in a state of fear, you can be afraid of an ash tray. This often happens in pathological states, and a pathological state is only an intensified ordinary state. You are afraid, and then you choose what to be afraid of. This fact makes it possible to struggle with these things, because they are in you.

Identification always has an emotional element, a kind of emotional disturbance. It sometimes becomes a habit, so that one does not even notice the emotion. Identification is destructive. Emotion can give new energy, new understanding. But if you mistake identification for emotion, you do not know emotion without identification; so, in the beginning, you cannot visualise an emotion free from identification. People often think they speak about an emotional function when in reality they speak about identification.

Identification kills all emotions except negative emotions. With identification, only the unpleasant side remains. Therefore love is impossible with identification.

As you develop self-remembering you begin to get to know your own attitudes better; you know what is useful to you and what is not useful. If you do not remember yourself it is easy to make a mistake about it. For instance, one can undertake some kind of study that is really quite useless. Self-remembering helps understanding and understanding always means bringing everything to a certain centre. You must have a central point in all your work and in all your attitudes, and self-remembering is a necessary condition for that.

Identification is quite different from sympathy, which is a normal and legitimate emotion and can exist without identification. There may be sympathy with identification and sympathy without identification. When sympathy is mixed with identification, it often ends in anger or another negative emotion.

Associations are again different from identification; they can be more controlled or less controlled. Different associations are a necessary part of thinking; we define things by associations and we do everything with the help of associations.

There are many forms of identification, but the first step is to see it; the second step is to struggle with it in order to become free from it. It is a process, not a moment; we are in it all the time. We waste our energy on identification and negative emotions; they are open taps from which our energy flows out.

One has tremendous energy; it works by itself, mechanically, without control, and makes one act in a certain way. Why? What is the connecting link? It is identification. Stop identification and you have all this energy at your disposal.

You cannot do this at once: it needs practice at easier moments. When emotion is very strong, you cannot do it. It is necessary to know more, to be prepared. If you know how not to identify, you will have great energy at your disposal. What you do with it is another thing. You may lose it again on something quite useless. But you cannot swim when you fall into the sea during a storm — you must be in calm water. Then, if you fall in, you may perhaps be able to swim.

I repeat again, it is impossible to be conscious if you are identified. This is a difficulty that comes later, because people have favourite identifications which they do not want to give up, and at the same time they want to be conscious. The two things cannot go together. There are many incompatible things in life: identification and consciousness are two of the most incompatible.

If you lose yourself in anything, you cannot study it. Identifying is always a weakening element: the more you identify the worse your study and the smaller the results.

Negative Imagination

We think we are what we are. Unfortunately we are not what we think we are but what we have become; we are not natural beings. We are too asleep, we lie too much, we live too much in imagination, we identify too much. We think we have to do with real beings, but in reality we have to do with imaginary beings. Almost all we know about ourselves is imaginary. Beneath all this agglomeration, man is quite different. We have many imaginary things we must throw off before we can come to real things. So long as we live in imaginary things, we cannot see the value of the real; and only when we come to real things in ourselves can we see what is real outside us. We have too much accidental growth in us.

It is often supposed that if one were to retire from the world, one would be able to overcome identification and negative emotion, but one cannot be at all sure that it would be easier. Besides, you can find descriptions in the literature of how people attained a very high degree of development in seclusion, but when they came in contact with other people they at once lost all they had gained. In schools of the Fourth Way it was found that the best conditions for study and work on oneself are a man's ordinary conditions of life, because from one point of view these conditions are easier and from another they are the most difficult. So if a man gets something in these conditions he will keep it in all conditions, whereas if he gets it in special conditions he will lose it in other conditions.

Considering — Internal and External

You may remember that in Lecture 4 I said that in our relations with other people, identification takes the form of considering. There are two kinds of considering: internal and external. Internal considering is the same as identifying. It always takes the form of inner bargaining, of thinking that other people do not consider us enough. It is very important to understand inner considering. There are so many subtle forms of it we do not notice, and yet our life is filled with it.

External considering needs a certain amount of self-remembering; it means taking account of other people's weaknesses, putting oneself in their place. Often in life it is described by the word 'tact'; only tact may be educated or accidental.

External considering means control. If we learn to use it consciously, it will give us a possibility of control. But if one considers internally, one misses moments of external considering. External considering must be cultivated; internal considering must be eliminated. But first observe and see how often you miss moments of external considering and what an enormous role internal considering plays in life.

Study of internal considering, of mechanicalness, of lying, of imagination, of identification, shows that they all belong to us, that we are always in these states. When you see this, you realise the difficulty of work on yourself. Such as you are, you cannot begin to get something new; you will see that first you must scrub the machine clean; it is too encrusted with rust.

Presence of Mind

External considering is a form of self-remembering in relation to people. You take other people into consideration and do not what is pleasant to you but what is pleasant to them. It means you must sacrifice yourself, but it does not mean self-sacrifice. It means that in relation to people you must not act without thinking. You must think first, and then act.

Your thinking will show you that, more often than not, if this person would prefer you to act in one manner and not in another, it is all the same to you: so why not do as he likes? So the idea of sacrifice does not enter into it. But if it is not the same to you, it is quite a different set of questions. What is better for you? What is better for them? Who are these people? What you want from them? What you want to do for them? All these must enter into your consideration.

But the idea is that in relation to people things must not happen mechanically, without thinking. You must decide your course of action. External considering means you do not walk over people without seeing them whilst internal considering means that you walk over them without noticing. We have too much internal and not enough external considering. External considering is very important for self-remembering. If we have not got enough of it, we cannot remember ourselves.

It is necessary to understand this principle and create standards for oneself. There is no special technique — only understanding and right point of view. Observe more. With the help of external considering, you control the impression you wish to produce. With internal considering you wish to produce one impression but produce a different one.

By practising non-identifying, by trying to control attention, you find many opportunities of studying external considering and, if you find examples, perhaps you will find methods of struggling with internal considering and transforming it into the practice of external considering.

For instance, you are talking to somebody from whom you want to get something. Say he knows something and you want him to tell you what he knows. Then you must speak in the way he would like, and not argue, not oppose him. External considering is always practical.

Internal considering cannot grow if you work; it only becomes more visible and that means it diminishes. The fact that you notice it proves that it has become less strong.

Later, we will speak about methods of struggling with emotions themselves, because there are many and very definite methods, different for different situations; but first you must struggle with negative imagination and identification. This is quite sufficient to destroy many of the usual negative emotions or, in any case, to make them much lighter. You must start with this, because it is possible to begin using stronger methods only when you can already struggle with identification to a certain extent and when you have already stopped negative imagination. This must be stopped completely. It is useless to study further methods until that is done.

Negative imagination you can stop; and even the study of identification will already diminish it. You must try to avoid identification as often as you can, not only in relation to negative emotions but in relation to everything. If you create in yourself a capacity for not identifying, that will affect these emotions and you will notice that they begin to disappear. Identification is the atmosphere in which negative emotions live, and they cannot live without it.

Continue to observe and you will find that there is a place in you where you are quiet, calm, and nothing can disturb you — only it is difficult to find the way there. But if you do it several times you will be able to remember some of the steps, and by the same steps you may come there again. Only you cannot do it after one experience, for you will not remember the way. This is not a metaphor — it is a very real thing.