by P D Ouspensky
In this system the word 'I' can be spoken of in five ways, on five different levels. In his ordinary life, Man is a multiplicity of 'I's: this is the first meaning. When a man decides to work on himself, an 'observing I' or group of 'I's appears: this is the second meaning. The third meaning is when Deputy Steward appears, and controls a larger group of 'I's. The fourth meaning is when the Steward appears and controls all the 'I's. The fifth meaning is that of the Master who has a 'Time-body': he knows the past and the future, although there may be different degrees of this.
We have many 'I's. The aim is to connect them and help them to become one 'I' interested in the work. If many different 'I's are interested and do not know one another, one 'I' or group of 'I's can do one thing or another thing, without knowing. You can say 'I' speaking about yourself only in relation to your work for a definite aim: self-study, study of the system, self-remembering, and so on. In other things apart from the system, you must realise that whatever you think of yourself at any given time is not really you, but only a small part of you, mostly imaginary. When you learn to distinguish that, when it becomes almost a habit (in the sense of being constant), you will feel yourself in the right way. But if you always say 'I' to everything without discrimination, it only strengthens your mechanical tendencies. We do a great many things without really wanting to do them at all! We feel we have to do this and that, to think about this, and feel about that: so one thing after another takes all our energy and nothing remains for real work on personal integration.
We have seen that these hundreds of 'I's in us form certain groups in which several 'I's work together. Some of these groups are natural, others are artificial; some are even pathological. The first natural division of 'I's is according to functions: intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and moving. But apart from these there are many other divisions which can be called different personalities.
We can say that personalities consist of different 'I's. Everyone can find several personalities in himself, and real self-study begins with the study of these different personalities. We cannot study 'I's individually because there are too many of them, but with personalities it is easier, for each personality or group of 'I's means some special inclination or sometimes a disinclination.
Study of particular likes will help. For instance, if you find something that you have definitely liked throughout your life from childhood, you will see that there is a certain personality built round it. We are creatures of likes; we like all sorts of things, but we have only a limited number of genuine likes. By studying them, one finds personalities. Dislikes are usually accidental, so cannot be trusted. But there are things you have always liked and there are some you just imagine you like.
Personalities can be very different. Some are based on real facts and real tastes and inclinations, while others are based on imagination and wrong ideas about oneself. It is necessary to separate personalities that can be used for self-development from those that cannot; the latter have to be destroyed, or at least subdued. Sometimes, in order to manifest one personality one has to sacrifice several others.
Life provides tests for personalities. Suppose you think you like something very much and life puts you into conditions where you can enjoy what you thought you liked, but you do not enjoy it at all; you only imagined that you liked it. Then you can see that this personality was imaginary.
Personalities can be divided. Self-development begins with magnetic centre, that is, a group of 'I's or a personality interested in certain things. When a man meets a school, his magnetic centre begins to accumulate practical and theoretical knowledge and experience which come from the study of being, and in this way it eventually becomes Deputy Steward.
Besides this personality there are other personalities, some of which can develop, and some that do not agree with it at all. So some personalities can join in the work; others are neutral and, so long as they are not in the way, can be allowed to remain for some time; some have to be eliminated.
When magnetic centre becomes transformed into Deputy Steward, you make certain decisions, formulate a certain aim, undertake certain work. Then Deputy Steward can find out which personality can work with him and which cannot. If a personality is against your aim and can harm it, or does not want it, or does not know about it, then obviously it cannot work with the Deputy Steward. So they can be sorted out: but first one must know them. Then, when personalities are put in order and are grouped round magnetic centre which now means Deputy Steward they will produce an effect on essence just by their existence. Magnetic centre is the ground from which permanent 'I' grows.
Now try to understand the most important division of all for practical use. It is the division into 'I' and (for me) 'Ouspensky'. What is 'I'? We have no permanent 'I' as opposed to 'Ouspensky'. But all our interest in the system, all our efforts in self-study and self-development, and what is sometimes called the 'observing I' all this is the beginning of 'I'. All the rest is 'Ouspensky' or 'false personality'. 'Ouspensky' is our imaginary picture of ourselves, because we put into it all that we think of ourselves, which is generally imaginary.
All study comes down to study of this imaginary picture and to separating ourselves from it. So at present you can call 'I' your valuation of the system. This is 'you'. From your attitude to the system, work in the system, interest in the system, 'I' can grow. On this basis you can separate 'I' from false personality. There is no guarantee that it will be absolutely right, but this method has a great practical value.
False personality is always against the work for self-development and spoils the work of all other personalities. It can never be useful.
Personalities in the plural are spoken of in relation to essence, for personality can be divided into different personalities which compose it. The division into essence and personality is at present merely theoretical and is useful only as a principle, for it is difficult to see it in oneself.
We do not know our personalities, so we begin to study from two ends. We study first that personality which is connected with the work and which has developed from the magnetic centre; and then we study false personality on quite a different scale. False personality is opposed to 'you'; it is your wrong idea of yourself exactly what you are not. This division is practical, for it is necessary to know definitely what your false personality looks like.
You must not confuse false personality with 'personalities' because, although they are not very real, personalities may be based on real inclinations, real tastes and likes. False personality is all false and may even pretend to like something that 'you' dislike or dislike something that 'you' really like. When you speak about false personality, you take 'you' as existing and false personality as not. When you speak about 'personalities', you leave false personality out of the conversation and discuss different divisions of what you have found in 'yourself' through systematic study.
False personality must not become 'just a word'. Everybody who speaks about it must have some picture of himself in the power of false personality. Only if this term is used like that can it give some result.
'I' is only presumed: we do not know what 'I' is. But 'Ouspensky' I know and I can study him in all his manifestations. So I must begin with 'Ouspensky'. 'I' is elusive and very small; it exists only as a potentiality; if it does not grow, false personality will continue to control everything.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that they know which is which. They say 'this is I', when in reality it is false personality. This is generally connected with our capacity to play rôles. We generally have about five or six rôles, whether we observe it or not. We may notice a certain, quite misleading, similarity between these rôles and then, consciously or unconsciously, come to the conclusion that behind them there stands a permanent individuality. We call it 'I' and think that it is behind all manifestations, when in reality it is an imaginary picture of ourselves.
This picture has to be studied. It is impossible to have a practical knowledge of oneself if one does not know one's false personality. As long as we think we are one, all our definitions are wrong. Only when a man knows that all his intentions, desires, and so on are not real, that they are false personality, only then can he get something. This is the only practical work possible, and it is very difficult. False personality has to disappear, or at least be rendered powerless to hinder our work. But it will defend itself and will not give up easily. Work is struggle with false personality which will fight back, chiefly through lying, for lying is its strongest weapon.
You must understand that you have no control over false personality. When we begin to see it we realise that it controls everything and that nothing can control it. You must separate in yourself what you can control and what you cannot control. What you cannot control belongs to false personality, and what you can control belongs to you.
In studying false personality we begin to see mechanicalness more and more clearly. Parallel with the realisation of our mechanicalness, we study how to get out of it by means of creating something that is not mechanical. To do this, we must think about what we want and separate the important from the unimportant. We can be sure that work on oneself, desire to know oneself and the ideas of the work, struggle to create consciousness, are not mechanical. And if we look from this point of view we shall see many imaginary things in ourselves: false emotions, false interests, and false ideas about ourselves. The mechanical part of us is based chiefly on imagination, on wrong views of everything, and above all on a wrong view of ourselves.
Try to avoid saying 'I' to everything. Use the word only in relation to the more conscious part of yourself: desire to work; desire to understand; realisation of not understanding; realisation of mechanicalness. These you can call 'I'. 'I' starts growing only in connection with study, with work on oneself; otherwise it cannot grow and there is no change. A permanent 'I' does not come all at once. All the illusory 'I's disappear little by little and real 'I' gradually grows stronger and stronger, chiefly through self-remembering.
Self-remembering in the sense of just awareness is very good; but little by little as you go on, it becomes connected with other interests, with what you want to get. At present, one moment you remember it, and then for a day or a week you forget it; but it is necessary to remember it all the time.
To self-remember it is necessary to keep the connection with all the other ideas of the system. Self-remembering must be based on right function. At the same time as working on it you must work on the weakening of false personality. You must understand that false personality is a very elusive thing. It is one in that it does not consist of different personalities; but at the same time it contains contradictory and incompatible features, features that cannot manifest themselves all together at the same time. So you cannot see the whole of false personality at one moment. Sometimes you can see more of it; at other times certain features of it manifest themselves separately.
Also it must be remembered that false personality is often rather attractive or amusing, particularly for people who live in their false personalities. So when you begin to lose your false personality, when you begin to struggle with it, people will not like you. They will tell you that you have become dull.
One thing false personality cannot do is make efforts. This is the easiest way to know, if you are in doubt. False personality always tries to make everything as easy as possible, always chooses what requires least effort. But you cannot learn anything or change anything without effort. So when you find an 'I' or group of 'I's that are ready to make efforts, it means that they do not belong to false personality.
Suffering is the best possible help for self-remembering if you learn how to use it. By itself, it does not help. One can suffer all one's life without getting any result. But if one learns to use suffering, it will become helpful. The moment you suffer, try to remember yourself.
The question is: Can you or can you not do anything to alleviate your suffering? If you can, do it. But if we begin suffering about everything we cannot help, then we shall certainly never cease suffering. The chief thing is to see how much imagination there is in it. We mey be perfectly sure there is none, but if we make one more effort we can often see that it is all imaginary. We have a wrong picture of ourselves, and at the same time we ascribe real features to this wrong picture. But if the picture is false, then everything about it is bound to be false, and its suffering is false too. It may be very acute, but this does not make any real difference.
Imaginary suffering is generally more unpleasant than real. With real suffering, you can do something, but with imaginary suffering you can do nothing. You can only get rid of it: but if you are fond of it or proud of it, then you have to keep it.
Work begins with struggle against false personality. Everything one gets is gained at the expense of false personality. Later, when false personality is made passive, one may gain in other ways; but to begin with, one has to live off false personality.
False personality is very difficult to identify in ordinary life because, since there is nothing to act against it, there is nothing for it to resist. But when one begins to work, resistance appears: and this resistance is false personality.
At a certain moment in the work, one must try to find one's own peculiarities. Each man has his own individual features, his own weaknesses through which he is unable to resist things that happen. These features or weaknesses may be very simple or very complicated. One man may be able to resist everything except good food, another all except talk, or he may be lazy or over-active. It is very important at a certain stage of self-study to find one's chief feature, which means chief weakness.
People's chief weaknesses are very different. If we can resist something that another man cannot resist because it happens to be his chief feature, this difference in weaknesses gives us the illusion that we can 'do'. Chief feature is in false personality.
In some cases it is possible to see clearly one, two, or three features or tendencies, often linked together, which come into everything like an axis around which everything turns. This is chief feature. Sometimes it is very definite and apparent, but sometimes it is difficult to describe. Our language has no words or forms with which to describe it, and it can be indicated only in a roundabout way. It is interesting that one can hardly ever find one's own chief feature because one is in it, and if one is told, one usually does not believe it, because it is hidden by buffers.
It is sometimes useful to collect opinions of friends about oneself, for this often helps in discovering one's features. It is very important to find what creates obstacles to our work. Until one has found it, a chief feature means constant loss of energy, so we must find this and stop it.
The best definition for chief feature is that it always makes decisions. So in connection with chief feature, think on general lines. Why did you come to read this? What do you want from this system? It often happens that people come to lectures for years and forget why they came. If you remember why you came, the system can answer your questions but not otherwise.
There are strange varieties of chief feature, and there are classical ones. One very common feature, described in many places in the New Testament, is when we see other people's faults but not our own. Certain kinds of self-pity are very common.
When we begin to study real psychology, we find that all causes are in ourselves; there can be no causes outside ourselves. We do not remind ourselves of this often enough. One little part understands that causes are in us, but the larger part continues to accuse other people. At the bottom of every favourite negative emotion we find self-justification which feeds it. We must first stop it in mind, and then after some time we shall be able to stop it in the emotion too. Lack of understanding is the first cause, lack of effort the second.
For some people, laziness is more than three-quarters of their lives. When laziness is the chief feature of false personality, then all the rest depends on laziness and serves laziness. But there are different kinds of laziness. It is necessary to find these different kinds by observing oneself and other people. For instance, there are very busy people who are always doing something, and yet their mind may be lazy. This happens more often than anything else. Laziness is not only desire to sit and do nothing.
If you always do something that false personality does not like, very soon you will find more and more things it does not like. If you continue it will get more and more irritated and will show itself more and more clearly, so that soon there will be no question about it.
But first your struggle must be based on knowing. You must know the features of false personality, and particularly what it dislikes. One personality dislikes one thing, another dislikes another thing. You must have enough strength in yourself to go against it.
Man is divided into four parts: body, soul, essence, and personality. We have already spoken about essence and personality. The term 'soul' is used in the system in the sense of life-principle. The soul may be described as a cloud of fine matters or energies connected together and bound to the physical body. As long as it is in the body, the body is alive and body and soul make one thing. When they separate, we say that the body dies. It is this that distinguishes a lump of dead meat from living flesh. When a centre is working well, the soul is concentrated there. But in an ordinary man the soul has no psychic qualities, nor is it any use your knowing anything more about it. I tell you this only from a theoretical point of view; it is simply material, although of a finer material than the body.
In an ordinary man, false personality calls itself 'I' and is active; but after some time, if a man is capable of development, magnetic centre begins to grow in him. He may call it 'special interests', 'ideals', 'ideas', or something like that. When he begins to feel magnetic centre, he finds a separate part in himself, and from this part his growth begins. This growth can continue only at the expense of false personality, which cannot appear at the same time as magnetic centre. When magnetic centre is active, false personality is passive, and vice versa.
If magnetic centre is formed in a man, he may meet a school; and when he begins to work he must work against false personality. False personality does not suddenly disappear altogether, but with the growth of magnetic centre it gradually subsides sometimes for half an hour, sometimes even for a day. The longer the periods for which false personality disappears, the stronger becomes the 'I' composed of many 'I's.
Magnetic centre may develop into Deputy Steward. When Deputy Steward acquires control of false personality it transfers all the unnecessary things to the side of false personality, and only the necessary things remain on the side of 'I'. After a long time of intensive work, a 'real I' comes, but if work slackens it cannot stay. However, if you once experience the taste of having a 'real I', you will know many things and you will be sure of many things which now you can only surmise. This will help you to keep working.
All changes happen in time. In ordinary life, false personality is there all the time. You cannot diminish false personality in terms of size, but you can diminish it in the sense of time. How many hours out of twenty-four belong to false personality and how many to 'real' personality? All changes in us happen in this way.
False personality cannot develop; it is all wrong. If we fail to progress towards our aim, it is because we have not given enough attention to false personality, have not studied it, have not worked against it. False personality is made up of many 'I's, but they are all imaginary.
Passive 'I's are controlled by other, active, 'I's. For instance, good intentions may be controlled by laziness. Then laziness is active; good intentions are passive. The 'I' or combination of 'I's in control is active; the 'I's which are controlled or driven are passive.
It may be helpful to think of progress as a change of state proceeding in stages. In the most elementary state, false personality is active and 'I' is passive. Body, soul and essence always remain neutralising. When, after many stages, 'real I' becomes active, many 'I's become passive and false personality takes up less time. Eventually, 'real I' may develop into permanent 'I', and false personality disappears altogether.
Every small change is a change of being, but this expression is generally applied to bigger, more serious, changes as, for example, from Man 1, 2, or 3 to Man No 4. This is change of being, but this big jump consists of many small jumps. Our aim is to become one, to have one permanent 'I'. But in the beginning work means to become more and more divided. We must realise how far we are from being one, and only when we know all these fractions of ourselves can work begin on some principal 'I's around which unity can be built. It would be wrong to unify all the things we now find in ourselves. The new 'I' is something we do not know at present: it grows from something we can trust. At first, in separating out false personality, we try to divide ourselves into what we may call reliable and what we find unreliable. The only practical approach is to think of the different sides of ourselves and find those that can work and those that cannot.
Without systematic work, one can do nothing. But there are dangers even in the work. If people think they can do something and at the same time refuse to work on acquiring control, they remain theoretical too long and do not realise that no kind of change is possible without big efforts. If they keep putting these efforts off until tomorrow, this continual hesitation begins to produce an effect which may lead to "double crystallisation".
If for a long time one goes on without working seriously then, instead of becoming one, one can become split into two, so that all features and all personalities are divided into two groups one useful to the work and helping personal development and the other part indifferent or even unfriendly. These two groups continue to exist side by side, trying not to come up at the same time; one may come in the morning, the other in the afternoon. This is a real danger because, if two parts begin to form like this, the indifference of one spoils the work of the other, and development stops. The second part need not necessarily be bad or antagonistic to the work, but only weak; and weakness and strength cannot grow together at the same time. So it is necessary to struggle very quickly and ruthlessly against that, lest it lead to double crystallisation.
In such a case, even knowledge and understanding cannot help without action. If one does not work on being and if will does not grow at the same time, one can understand and still not be able to do anything. If people wait too long without making serious efforts or serious decisions, they may have the beginning of this double crystallisation. Then they can get no results in their work; and after a time they may even get wrong results.