Lecture 31 — False Personality

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

"I" and False Personality
A Long Process
Buffers and Weaknesses
Work on Three Lines
Method Variation
Difficult Circumstances and Integrity

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"I" and False Personality

You must realise the separation between 'I' and (for me) 'Ouspensky', because in speaking, in writing, in thinking about the work or the people in the work, one must always ask oneself 'Who is speaking?', 'Who is writing?', 'Who is thinking?' If you do that then, after a little time you will be able to distinguish who is speaking and will begin to recognise the different voices. You must know your false personality and find its features, its faces, manifestations, and voices. You must know what it consists of. Sometimes you can actually hear when false personality speaks. It is not much use going on without that, for you will only go round and round in the same circle and always returning to the same spot. When you can be sure that it is really 'you', you can speak. You must already know and mistrust your false personality. Your progress in the work cannot be guaranteed; but it should be important to do that without any question of future reward because the idea of separation of 'I' from false personality is sufficiently important in itself.

Catch a moment when your false personality wants to do something or does not want to do something, and stop her. When you find a conflict between you and her, it will depend on you how you will act. If she starts fighting, this creates an emotional storm. If there is no fight, emotions are asleep. All things come through friction — friction between the false personality and the place where 'I' can grow. Work on oneself begins from the moment one feels this division between what one trusts in oneself and what one cannot trust. What one can trust is entirely created by work. Before, it was just an empty place; but if one begins to work, something begins to solidify. But, I repeat, one can know it better and trust it more only if one knows one's false personality; otherwise false personality will mix with it and pretend to be real 'I', or the beginning of real 'I'.

People wear one or another kind of mask and believe that they are exactly like this mask when in reality they are quite different. Each of us has several masks, not one. Observe your own masks and other people's masks. Try to realise that in different circumstances you have different masks and notice how you change them, how you prepare them, and so on. Everybody has masks, but begin with your own. It is very useful to study masks. Very often we begin to acquire masks at a very early age; even as school-children we wear one mask with one teacher and another with another teacher.

It is not possible to see false personality all at once. For a long time you will see it only from one side or another, but even that is better than nothing. It is necessary to work, to study it in yourself and in other people; then, little by little, you will see it as a whole.

Who has ears to hear can hear many changes of voice. Every centre, every part of a centre, has a different voice. But few people have ears to hear them. For those who can hear, it is very easy to distinguish many things. For instance, if you speak truth it is one voice, if you lie it is another voice, if you base things on imagination, yet another. It is quite unmistakable. If you train yourself to listen, the emotional centre can tell the difference.

Suppose I call everything I like 'I' and everything I dislike 'Ouspensky', it would be a wrong separation. The 'I' from which I observe is a point; it has no material existence yet; it is only the embryo from which 'I' can grow. If I gave it material existence, it would be wrong. In relation to the work, who remembers the aim, who wants to work is 'I'; the rest is 'Ouspensky'.

A Long Process

The feeling that one cannot trust oneself comes at different moments in the work: as a delusion, as an excuse, or in a real form. But this is later on; at present it is realisation of mechanicalness. For work, a certain time and a certain persistence are necessary. Now you must do what you can; with time you will be able to measure the results of your work.

Work against false personality is a process. You must understand in yourself the power and magnitude of false personality; then you will understand that very often people have nothing else, or even if they have some possibility it is quite outweighed by false personality. False personality decides everything. In ordinary life false personality controls every moment except, perhaps, moments when one reads or thinks of something. But when one works and magnetic centre begins to grow, sometimes it happens that false personality may disappear for ten or fifteen minutes and give magnetic centre a chance to manifest itself. That is how false personality disappears. It does not entirely disappear: it just goes away for a time. This is what we must try to do: make it disappear for a time.

It is only by separating 'I' from false personality that one can work on identification. This separation is the basis of all work on oneself. This is the vital difference between people in the work and not in the work. People who are not in the work think that they are what they are. People in the work already understand that they are not what they seem to be. This separation must pass through many phases, but it must begin.

If you begin certain work, you should have a certain responsibility towards this work. But who? If you call everything 'I', you must know by now that there are many 'I's; some have responsibility, but others have not because they have nothing to do with this work. This is easily observed.

You must not put too many hopes in group work because, although it is useful for showing many things, for experimenting, testing and so on, in group work one is in an artificial atmosphere, artificial circumstances. The moment one comes out of a group, one is in natural circumstances. So group work may show the way, but work must be in ordinary circumstances. What is the use of being very good in a group if you become identified and a machine as soon as you walk out of the group?

If one feels depressed or irritated, one must first try to remember oneself and then to remember that what is depressed is not oneself but one's imaginary picture of oneself. Man's progress begins from the moment he realises that what he is is one thing and his imaginary picture of himself is another thing. When he sees that he is smaller and weaker than he thought, that he is all sham, he is on the way to development. He has practically nothing, but enough to develop.

You have been given certain ideas in the same way as Mr Gurdjieff explained them, that is, gradually, first giving one aspect of an idea and then another. Many things are explained first in an elementary way, and then more details are added. When we speak of a man who is not in the work, we say he has no 'I'. If a man starts to study and make efforts, this already means a certain state; he has magnetic centre, and magnetic centre is the beginning of 'I'. So he no longer has the right to say that he has no 'I'. Naturally he cannot say that he has a complete and permanent 'I', but he must already have a line of action, and this must mean an 'I'. It is not yet fully conscious, but it grows.

Buffers and Weaknesses

There are two things which are permanent in us — buffers and weaknesses of false personality. Everyone has one, two, or three particular weaknesses, and everybody has certain buffers that are especially important, for they enter into all his decisions and his understanding of things. This is all that is permanent in us, and it is lucky for us there is nothing more permanent, because these things can be changed.

Buffers are artificial; they are not organic, and they are acquired chiefly by imitation. Children begin to imitate grown-ups and create buffers, and some others are unwittingly created by education. Features or weaknesses can sometimes be found out, and if one knows a feature and keeps it in mind, one may find certain moments when one can refrain from acting from this feature. Everybody has many features, but two or three are particularly important because they enter into every subjectively important situation in one's life; all perceptions and reactions pass through them. It is very difficult to realise what this means because we are so accustomed to it that we do not notice it; we have no perspective. In one or two things, we are particularly mechanical and particularly blind. That is why they are chief weaknesses.

A weakness is a thing in which you are most mechanical. Things concerning which you are most asleep, most blind, and most helpless are bound to be your chief weaknesses. There are degrees in everything. If there were no degrees in our qualities and manifestations, it would be very difficult to study. We can study ourselves only because of these degrees. Even features are not always the same; sometimes they are more definitely expressed, and in rare cases they show themselves to us a little, and only then can they be found. But features are difficult to see in oneself.

You will realise better what being more mechanical means if we take another example, say illness. If we are ill, we at once become more mechanical; we cannot resist the external world and things in it even as much as we resist them ordinarily.

Work on Three Lines

If you realise that something is wrong and you formulate a desire to get rid of it, then if you can keep your mind on it sufficiently long, it becomes a certain plan of action; and if this line of action is sufficiently prolonged it can attain results. Only it is necessary to say again that several different lines of action are needed to attain results, not just one line. We have to work at the same time on three lines, or we shall get nowhere.

We must think about methods — how to awaken, which forms of work are best. But there is no point in speaking about methods to awaken if we do not fully realise the fact of sleep. There are many things about which we can speak seriously only if we have no doubts about this point. So it is necessary to think about this state and its different effects and consequences. If you take one day of your life and try to go over it, you will see that there are many things you would not have done had you not been asleep because they were unnecessary or wrong, or that you did many other things rather than one particular thing, because for that one thing it was necessary to be awake. All these conversations, systems, theories can help only if, together with these, you work on yourself.

If I am asleep and do not know it, the dangers are there just the same; so if I begin to see the dangers it is better than not seeing them, because then I can avoid them.

Method Variation

Methods tend to become less effective with time. You must always change these methods; they do not work for long — it is part of our state. Take it as a fact; there is no need to analyse it. The more new and unexpected things are, the better they will work. This is connected with the fundamental principle of all mental and physical life. We observe, in the ordinary sense, only changes in our associations. We do not feel permanent associations; we notice only changes. So when you are accustomed to them, you have to make some sort of alarm; then you get accustomed to this alarm and it does not work any more. If you make your alarm-clock ring permanently, you will notice it only when it stops ringing.

If one realises one is asleep, one must study means and methods to awaken, but it must cease to be a word; it must become a fact based on observation. Only then is it possible to speak about it with more precision and more practically. When one realises one is asleep, one is already half awake, but it is not long enough; the next moment something begins to turn in one's head and one gets carried away into sleep again. This is why one cannot awaken by oneself, why elaborate methods are necessary. One must be shaken and shaken.

The question is, Who is to do the shaking? A certain number of people who want to awaken must agree among themselves that when one of them is asleep, someone else may be awake and will do the shaking. But making such an agreement needs sincerity; those people must really want to awaken and must not get angry or offended when they get shaken.

Shaking means ordinary shaking. One finds one way, another another. Alarms are also necessary, but it is even more necessary to remember to change them as often as possible. If one feels comfortable, one is asleep, but if one puts oneself in an uncomfortable position it helps to keep one awake. Pleasant things help only sleep.

One can try to find one's own alarms, but it is necessary to have constant change and variation and choose things that will awaken one. Otherwise one can waken for a second, decide to stay awake, and imagine one is awake when one is really doing all this in a dream with dream alarms. That is why constant control is necessary, and constant verification as to whether the alarms really awaken one or simply create new dreams, or even whether one just does not hear them any more.

Difficult Circumstances and Integrity

You must try to remember yourself in all conditions. If you remember yourself when alone, you will forget yourself when you are with people, and if you remember yourself among people you will forget yourself when alone. If you limit yourself to one set of circumstances, you lose at once. The best time to try to remember yourself is when circumstances are most difficult, and the most difficult circumstances are not when you can choose to be alone or not alone but when you have no choice. And why are the most difficult circumstances the best? Because then self-remembering gives the best results. In easy circumstances, if you decide to be alone or not alone, you may get some results, but if you find yourself in a most difficult situation and still manage to remember yourself, the results will be quite incommensurable.

I do not know whether or not self-remembering overcomes things such as poor health. We are told that it produces certain chemical effects, but not at once. We can study it only psychologically. We do not know about the chemistry, but we can say that it will feel different. Generally speaking, I can say that every time one tries to study the system from a utilitarian point of view, it fails. The system is not made for that. In some cases self-remembering can produce a physical result one does not expect, but if one tries to work for this result, it will not happen.

Certainly one must try to be more or less healthy, so if one is ill one should see a doctor about it. The question of health is important, but you cannot put it together with the question of consciousness. To use these ideas in the interests of health would be quite futile, though they may help quite unexpectedly.

All these things require attention. Consciousness, unity, individuality and will are different shades of the same thing. We divide them, but they are the same. We may have them all for short moments, but we cannot keep them. If you observe yourself for a sufficiently long time, you will find moments of practically everything, but only moments. Our aim is to increase these moments, to strengthen them, to fix them as you fix a photograph.

There is always distraction, so we must have control. If we rely on circumstances, work will be in emotional parts of centres, not in intellectual parts. If it is in intellectual parts, it needs directed attention. Our centres are there, fully developed, waiting to be used, but we do not use the higher parts of them.

Knowledge by itself does not give enough power to do what you want. You must slowly accumulate energy, chiefly by struggle with imagination, with expression of negative emotions, with talking, and so on. This will make it possible for you to do what is better for you.


When I speak about right and wrong attitudes in this connection, I mean attitudes to negative emotions in general, and negative emotions in general are a subject for conversations about the working of the machine. When you speak about your own observation or your personal work, generalities will not do. You must describe which negative emotion you mean — jealousy, fear, anger, and so on.

There can be no generalisation because negative emotions are very different and attitudes are different. About one you can say one thing and about another, another thing. If we take negative emotions all together, they have a common quality, but when you speak about your own observations you must take things on a different, personal, scale. It is not enough to speak of attitudes, negative emotions, imagination, identification as though they were abstract things ten thousand miles away from you. It is possible to use these terms for the explanation of general features, but you cannot use them when you talk about your own work. You have a certain personal work to do. You come with a certain aim, you want to get something, and something inside hinders you — so you must speak about real things. You cannot just take phrases from a book.