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Sleep and Awakening - attention and consciousness

"I AM" my attention.

Conscious impressions can only enter our consciousness consciously. In other words, when I can "voluntarily" pay attention - that is, when I make the effort to direct my inner energies willingly - I AM conscious.

When I cannot voluntarily pay attention, I AM not conscious of anything. In this assertion is the foundation of the illusion of the continuity of consciousness that prevents the attainment of greater consciousness.

This is because our normal stream of consciousness is a result of a loosely connected array of "moments" of paying attention within a vast ocean of not paying voluntary attention - when I exist in a somnambulistic-like state.

The conundrum of human existence is that we are not aware of not being aware. Gurdjieff alludes to this human condition, and all of its unfortunate consequences, under the title of the "Terror of the Situation", and Jesus Christ constantly makes reference to the need of awakening and resisting sleep in the Gospels.


The key to "spiritual awakening" is to increase the capacity and capability of voluntary attention, and the key to "spiritual sleep" is to atrophy it.


How do I know when I am not paying voluntary attention, when I am not conscious? What is attention? Where does it come from? How do I strengthen it? Are there different types and qualities of attention? How does attention relate to consciousness?

Gurdjieff provides some profound insights on the nature of attention that, in his view, is the most misunderstood property of human nature and the solution to most of our problems:


(Gurdjieff's "Life is Real Only then when ‘I AM’", Penguin, pages 143-149 , and my bolding added in the text)

Although the subject which I intend to elucidate by means of the text of this chapter of the last book of my writings is entirely lacking in the mentation of contemporary people, there nevertheless flows from the ignorance of the meaning of this subject the greatest part, if not all, of the misunderstandings which take place in the process of our common life.

Not only do the causes of almost all the misunderstandings of our common life flow from the lack of understanding of the significance of the given subject, but also exclusively in it are contained all the answers to the possibility of solving the chief problem of our existence.

That is, thanks alone to the recognition and all-round understanding of the sense and significance of this subject is it possible to solve the problem of the prolongation of human life.

Before beginning the further development of this question, I wish to cite the contents of an ancient manuscript with which I accidentally became acquainted in quite exceptional life circumstances.

This very ancient manuscript, the contents of which I intend to make use of, is one of those relics which is handed down from generation to generation by a very limited number of people, that is, by "Initiates"— not such "initiates," however, as have been multiplying recently in Europe, but genuine ones.

In this case, by "Initiates" of an esoteric sect which still exists at the present time in one of the remote corners of Central Asia.

The text of this manuscript is expounded, as was done in antiquity, "podobolizovany," in the form of symbolizing, or, as it is called in esoteric science, "making alike," that is, allegorically—quite different from the form now established for mentation among contemporary people.

As the difference between these forms is very well-known to me, of course also accidentally, I will endeavor to transmit the sense of this text as exactly as possible but in agreement with the form of mentation now established among contemporary people.

This ancient manuscript says the following:

The general psyche of every man on reaching maturity, which begins on an average in the male sex at twenty years and in the female sex at the beginning of the thirteenth year, consists of three totalities of functioning which have almost nothing in common with each other.

The course of action of all three of these independent totalities of functioning in the common presence of a man who has attained maturity takes place simultaneously and incessantly.

All the factors making up and producing these three totalities of functioning begin, and cease, to form in man at different periods of his life.

The factors producing in man the first totality of functioning, unless special measures are employed, are formed, as has been established long ago, only in childhood—in boys on an average until the age of eleven years, and in girls until the age of seven.

The factors producing the second totality of functioning begin to form in boys from the age of nine years, and in girls even from the age of four years, lasting in different cases a different length of time, approximately until the attainment of maturity.

And factors producing the third totality begin to form from the attainment of maturity, continuing in the average man at present only until the age of sixty, and in woman only until the age of forty-five.

But in the case of people who have consciously perfected themselves to the so-called "all-centers-awake state," that is, to the state of being able in their waking state to think and feel on their own initiative, these factors still continue to form in man until the age of three hundred years and in woman until the age of two hundred.

The forming of all the factors for the functionings of these three entirely separate totalities of functioning proceeds in people in accordance also with the universal law of “threefoldness."

For the formation of factors of the first totality, there serve as the "anode beginning," on the one hand, all kinds of involuntarily perceived outer impressions and, on the other hand, impressions resulting from so-called "all-centered dozing"; and as the "cathode beginning" there serve the results of reflexes of the organism, chiefly of those organs having an hereditary particularity.

For the formation of the factors of the second totality, there serve as the "anode beginning" outer impressions taken in under a certain pressure and having thereby the character of being intentionally implanted from outside, and as the "cathode beginning" the results of the functioning of factors formed from impressions of a similar kind previously perceived.

The factors of the third totality of functionings are formed from the results of "contemplation," that is, from results received from the "voluntary contact" of the factors of the first two totalities, for which moreover the results of the second totality serve as the "anode beginning" and the results of the first totality serve as the “cathode."

One of the properties of such an actualization of all three separate totalities of functionings producing the general psyche of man is that which, by combinations of the "voluntary contact" of the actions of these three independent totalities of functioning, causes to proceed in one of them the imprintation of those processes proceeding in the other totalities, as well as those proceeding outside of the given man which happen to fall into the sphere of the subjective action of his organs of perception.

The part of this property found in the common presence of man, ordinarily perceived by people, is that which is called "attention."

The degree of sensitivity of the manifestation of this property or, as otherwise defined by ancient science, "the strength of embrace" of this "attention" depends entirely upon the so-called "gradation of the total state" of a given man.

For the definition of this property in man, which is called "attention," there is, by the way, found also in ancient science the following verbal formulation:


This above-mentioned "gradation of the total state" of man extends, as science formulates it, from the strongest subjective intensity of "self-sensation" to the greatest established “self-losing."

That totality always becomes the initiating factor for the realization of a common function of the three separate totalities which represent the general psyche of man in which at the given moment this "gradation of the total state" has its center of gravity.

I have cited this at-first-glance fantastic hypothesis of our distant ancestors at the beginning of the illumination of the given question, first, because it can be a very good starting point for what follows, and second, because my own attempts to make clear to myself the true significance of just this hypothesis have led me to the conclusions which I wish to impart to my readers in the present chapter.

From the contents of this ancient "fantastic" scientific assumption, that which intrigued me personally, during the course of many years, was chiefly the mentioned verbal formulation, "The degree of blending of that which is the same in the impulses of observation and constatation in one totality's processes with that occurring in other totalities.”

Though attaching great significance to everything else in this hypothesis, I could by no means understand the meaning expressed in this verbal formulation.

Especially was I intrigued by the words, "that which is the same."

What is "sameness"? Why "sameness"? For what purpose this peculiar "sameness"?

Even that idea, "absurd" for all contemporary scientists, that there proceed in man simultaneously three associations of independent nature, did not surprise me, and I accepted it with a feeling of great respect for the knowledge of ancient people.

And it did not surprise me because previously, at the time of my special verifications of what seemingly pertains to the psyche of man, carried out with the aid of all sorts of experimental means attained by contemporary civilization, chiefly by means of the science of "hypnotism," I noted and firmly established that there flow simultaneously in man three kinds of associations—of thought, of feeling and of mechanical instinct.

Most important of all is that not only do the three kinds of independent associations flow simultaneously, but also there participate in all of them the results of the three sources found in man for the transformation of the three natures of so-called "cosmic vivifyingness."

These sources are located in man as follows: the first, in a part of the brain, the second, in a part of the spinal column; and the third, in a part of the solar plexus.

These three kinds of associations in one man explain that peculiar sensation, noticed at times by everyone, as though there were several beings living in him. Those who wish to acquaint themselves more fully with these questions are advised to learn, that is, not simply to read but to immerse themselves in, that chapter of the first series of my writings entitled "The Holy Planet Purgatory.”

The Enneagram of G.I. Gurdjieff

(Christian Wertenbaker, Codhill, New Paltz, pages110-111, and my bolding added in the text)

“On another occasion, G. explained the idea of Moon from a wholly new direction. “Up to now we have talked about the Moon as the growing branch of the cosmos, as the end, or destination, of the Ray of Creation, which originates in the Absolute.

There is another level at which you must understand this idea: Given that man is the microcosm that replicates all that exists in the cosmos, this line from the Absolute to the Moon also exists in man. The representative of the Absolute in man is full consciousness, about which our knowledge is incomplete. We do know, however, that the effort to free oneself from identification creates a corresponding amount of free attention. The presence of free attention in man is a second order representative of the Absolute: it is a foretaste of what he might eventually come to know as full consciousness.

“The Moon-in-man is sensation. It is that broken part of the original consciousness of man, and it is that part towards which a man who wishes to work has a primary responsibility; for sensation in man is the growing part of his inner cosmos. The Ray of Creation inside man extends from free attention to sensation.”

In response to a question about the relationship between the growth of being and the growth of sensation, G. explained: “Just as the Moon in the sky requires vibrations from Earth for the growth of its atmosphere, sensation is the atmosphere of being. No growth of being will take place without a corresponding growth in sensation.

“Of course, when we apply the term growth to sensation, we must understand that it refers to growth of the roots not the leaves, that is, sensation is not only of a man’s skin, which we might think of as leaves, but of the entire inner structure, which includes the skeleton, muscles, and organs as well. In lifting his arm, everything on the other side of intention is sensation. A man must be able to radiate particles of free attention from the moment an intention enters his bloodstream and neurological system.

The work on sensation is the infrastructure of being.”



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