Lecture 23 — Impressions

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

Impressions as Energy
Classification of Impressions
Impressions and Centres
Impressions and Emotion

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See also:

Human Metabolism
More About Centres

Impressions as Energy

Carbon 12 may have many different manifestations, but generally we speak about it in relation to impressions. It is probably some energy of the emotional centre. But the important thing is not the source. What is important is how to bring it to bear. Normally Carbon 12 comes from the emotional centre, and Hydrogen 12 is the matter with which emotional centre should work. Impressions come in as Oxygen 48 and can be transformed into Nitrogen 24 only with the help of Carbon 12, but it happens that exactly at the place where impressions can be assimilated there is only a little Carbon 12. So we must bring it there by a special effort, and this effort is self-remembering and self-observation. So the method is important, not the source. Intensified observation brought about by self-remembering always has an emotional element. When you remember yourself you bring Carbon 12 to the right place and it can transform impressions.

Taking in impressions means that a certain energy comes in with them. All energy that you receive is food. The food you eat is coarse material; air is finer; impressions are the finest and most important food. Man cannot live a single moment without impressions. Even when he is unconscious, there are impressions.

It can be observed psychologically that impressions come in and you do not feel them — which means that they come and do not go on. But by making an effort to remember yourself, you begin to notice things. This means that impressions have become 24. Absence of Carbon 12 at the necessary place means that we are not emotional enough. By self-remembering we bring an emotional element to that particular place.

Thought can produce impressions, but the amount of impressions coming from inside is limited. The amount coming from outside is unlimited.

Impressions can be very varied. In the Food Diagram we take them as H48 because that represents the great majority of impressions. They are, so to speak, indifferent impressions — maybe of one kind, maybe of another; but by themselves they produce no effect. Yet at the same time they are food. They reach us at 48, and in our ordinary state they do not go further. Man would not be able to live in these conditions. But there are some impressions 24, and in very rare cases there may be impressions 12 and even 6, but these are exceptional. They do not enter into the Food Diagram because they transform themselves. If they come as 24 they may easily be transformed into 12 and maybe further. But they come in a very small quantity.


In ordinary man who is not learning to remember himself, some of these ordinary impressions 48 are also transformed, but in quite a different way. They are developed further, or helped to develop further, by reactions of a certain kind — for instance, by laughter. In an ordinary man, laughter, in the sense of humour, plays a very important part in connection with impressions. With the help of laughter, many impressions 48 are transformed into 24; but this is only because it is necessary for life. We could not live without impressions.

You remember I said that our chemical factory works only for itself. It produces all kinds of very precious materials, but it spends them all on its own existence. It has nothing in reserve and nothing with which to develop itself. So if man wants to awaken his hidden possibilities, he cannot rely on the mechanical means of production; he must look for conscious means. But man's organism is such a wonderful invention that everything is taken into consideration: everything has its own key, so to speak. A function that looks useless, such as laughter, helps to transform certain impressions which otherwise would be lost. If there were no laughter or humour on our level, this level would be even lower than it is now.

It can be said that for a man on the ordinary level who does not try to understand what self-remembering means, or who never heard of it, laughter fulfils a certain definite function in the organism. It replaces self-remembering in a very small way, since it helps quite dull, uninteresting impressions to pass further and become vivid. This is the chief function of laughter. Of course, there are many different kinds of laughter, some quite useless.

What I just said about laughter and humour refers only to ordinary centres; in higher centres it is no longer useful. It means that a certain impression falls simultaneously on the positive and negative parts of a centre and produces a feeling of exhilaration. It helps to see the other side, increases the capacity for seeing things. But in higher centres there is no need for it. In higher centres, we see things not as contradictions, not as opposed to one another, but we see them as they are.

Classification of Impressions

Impressions can be classified by hydrogens. Every impression is a certain hydrogen. We have spoken of impressions 48, but there may be much higher impressions. On the other hand, impressions can belong to the lower hydrogens of the lower scales. The most important thing in the division of matters in the hydrogen table is that it shows where each hydrogen comes from.

Suppose you have a certain hydrogen to think about. Its position in the table of hydrogens shows its place of origin: it may come from the interval between the Absolute and the Sun or between the Earth and the Moon, and so on. This possibility of placing hydrogens is an enormous advantage. At present you cannot appreciate the significance of the fact that in every matter, we can know not only its density but also the level it comes from — its place in the whole scheme of things.

Ordinary physical science does not yet offer any approach to this. It does not realise that matters differ by reason of their source in the Universe. You must understand that H12 has an enormous advantage over, say, H1336, so an impression that comes from 12 is one kind of impression, and an impression that comes from below the Earth, say from the Moon, is of quite a different kind. One is light uplifting matter, full of rapid vibrations; the other consists of slow, heavy, ponderous, unpleasant, harmful vibrations because it comes from some low part of the Ray of Creation. Things that make you angry, make you hate people, or give you a taste of coarseness or violence — all these impressions come from low worlds.


We speak about awakening and development, and here a cosmic fact comes to our aid. We cannot improve the food we eat or the air we breathe because they are the only kinds available to us. But we can improve impressions simply by awakening or trying to awaken. This is our only chance.

This is a progressive system. It is like alchemy in that you can make gold only if you have a certain amount to begin with. Once you attract small amounts of higher hydrogens, their magnetic properties attract other higher hydrogens. The more we have, the more we can accumulate. Remember the verse in Matthew 29: "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him."

Impressions and Centres

You can learn much more by observation than by asking questions because you yourself know what attracts and what repels you. One person is attracted to one thing, another is repelled by the same thing. Certain impressions go to the intellectual centre, yet others to the moving or instinctive centre. Some of them you like more, others less. This is all material for observation. Each centre has its own apparatus for receiving impressions, but they often become mixed. Sometimes the intellectual or emotional centre tries to intercept impressions intended for another centre, but each of them is meant to have separate impressions. For instance, the impression of smell cannot be received by the intellectual centre — it is received by the instinctive centre.

Impressions are easier to analyse than food. People can persuade you that something is good food and sell it in a tin, and then you find that you cannot eat it; but by observation, by comparing — sometimes by talk with other people — you can understand which impressions belong to higher levels and which to lower. Then, if you work and become more awake, you can learn to accept healthy impressions and reject harmful ones.

There are many harmful impressions which may spoil one's whole life if one admits them for a sufficiently long time or if one has the habit of looking for certain kinds of bad impressions. For instance, people stand in the street looking at a street accident, and then talk about it until the next accident. These people collect wrong impressions. People who gather all kinds of scandal or who see something wrong in everything also collect wrong impressions. You have to think not so much about choosing the right impressions as about isolating yourself from wrong impressions. Only by doing this will you have a certain control. So although you may not yet be able to attract desirable impressions to yourself, you can, from the very beginning, learn some control by isolating yourself from certain kinds of wrong impressions.

Man's centres are made for work with very high hydrogens and for receiving very high impressions. He may not receive them; he may have to live on lower impressions; but he is capable of receiving very fine impressions and he gets these from influences B. Each hydrogen shown in the Table is a do, and between it and the next hydrogen there is a whole octave, so there is an enormous distance between one hydrogen and another. To understand the principle, we create standards for thinking: we cannot begin by studying the whole scale in detail.

Impressions and Emotion

The possibility of further transformation exists at the point where impressions enter the body at do 48, but they ordinarily fail to develop for lack of Carbon 12 at the place of entry. In mechanical functioning, the senses immediately respond to impressions by associative thinking or imagination on the level of H48, or by emotional reactions of a more or less instinctive nature.

Very occasionally, for instance in times of emotional stimulation or danger, it may happen that Carbon 12 is brought to the point of entry of impressions. Everything is then related to the emotional state, and the man has the impression that all he sees is extraordinarily vivid, new, and significant. But in ordinary man such experiences are accidental; they lead nowhere, and are quickly overlaid with imagination. The emotional condition which gave rise to them passes and is replaced by an impulse or desire leading in quite a different direction. In an ordinary man, such experiences are disconnected and have nothing to do with the intentional development of consciousness.