The core of the teaching of the Fourth Way philosophy is the relation between human beings and the Universal Laws that determine the tragic condition of every man on this planet and how to escape their influence. To achieve this goal, he has to acquire a higher state of consciousness that is non-existent in ordinary man. In his book “In Search of the Miraculous”, Ouspensky describes four states of consciousness:
- Sleep (nightly sleep): no direct connection to physical sensations, although our dream state experience can be affected by physical stimulation. Our reality is subjective.
- Waking state (One’s normal state – walking about): it’s a state of ordinary awareness, where our dreams trail along with us: it’s a trance-like state of ordinary life.
- Self-Remembering, or Subjective Consciousness: almost all people have in his memory, recorded moments of vivid life experience related to remarkable things which happened to them. These include moments of danger, ecstasy, strangeness or perceptions of a great beauty, but that experience is not strictly limited only to these situations. Every person who has experienced such a state can test true memory of these moments. One can remember the sounds, the smells, the sights, what he heard, what he talked about, or sensed. These are the only moments that one can recall almost perfectly, the other memories are like experiences hidden in the fog. This kind of awareness is reached by the Fourth Way students at the beginning of their path.
Objective Consciousness: this is the higher state of consciousness known by us, that one man can achieve, and it is rarely experienced by people. Even if it can be rarely and briefly experienced in extra special situations, this state is almost always a result of a work on oneself. In this state, a man is connected to his higher emotional and intellectual centers, depending on the degree of self-development he has achieved.
The first two states are natural in all men; the higher states (3 and 4) can be acquired through work on oneself, and in fact, the third state (self-remembering) is our right. We can have it by making efforts right now. The difficulty of achieving this state is the illusion that we already have access to this state. In fact, it is possible momentarily – but the slightest distraction and we fall back to the second state. The question is then, how do we remain awake to the higher state?
Through making efforts of Self-Observation, and by studying the principles of the Fourth Way psychology, it is possible to begin to free oneself from the sludge of ordinariness.
A Work Group is the key to making the right effort in the direction of self-remembering. Working with others of like mind can help to accelerate one’s own efforts, which usually fade after a short time when working alone.
This phase of work is the beginning of the step well known between the students of this system as First Conscious Shock. This is the beginning of a conscious labor on oneself. This includes the performance of exercises which requires a conscious effort that has to become a crucial part of the daily practice of the seeker on this path. He must develop the habit of observing himself during the day in all the situations he experiences. So, he can gradually become more connected with the objective “observer” and achieve the third state: Self-Remembering. In this phase of the work, the student develops what is at the beginning, only a possibility. He trains the observer who becomes the doer. This is like a gymnast who, in able to perform some gymnastic exercises, must develop his muscles: it’s a sort of being in a gym – a soul, being or consciousness- building.
Also, a student has to maintain his conscious effort during the daily alimentation, that normally is always mechanical. Speaking about alimentation, Gurdjieff taught his pupils a Persian principle saying that there are three kinds of food: the ordinary food for our body; the air and the impressions.
Without the first food, a man can live from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the lipids and the water reserves of one’s body; with the second food (air), he can live a maximum of a few minutes; with impressions, a man can’t live. Gurdjieff called these aliments “Three- Being Foods”.
So, there are three kinds of daily alimentations, and all three in an ordinary man are of mechanical nature – this is an indisputable fact!
In his daily practice, the student has to use these three mechanical alimentary actions to assimilate a sort of substance that could feed the Being (the true, innate nature of a man that is different and independent of character), and develop the higher or subtle bodies.
For the first being aliment – the food for the physical body, the student must develop the habit of making a conscious effort. He must transform the act of eating to a sort of ritual, where, instead of being involved in the act of eating only for the physical part, he must include even the emotive and intellectual parts simultaneously – all his being. It is a practice that can related to the well-known Zen Tea Ritual.
The second being aliment (air) must be assimilated consciously: there are more circumspections about the practice of Pranayama (yoga breathing exercises) in the Fourth Way system; Gurdjieff and other masters – today , Dennis Lewis – discourage the practice of breathing exercises which alters the natural rhythm of breathing and encourage the practice of simple conscious attention on the breath. The performance of exercises related to the Vipassana are good for the beginning of this practice.
The third being food of impressions is the core of the transmutation of the aliments in being food, and is also related to the better absorption of the first and second foods. An impression is the result of an experience: when we look at a landscape, we assimilate information that becomes impressed in our memory (the accumulator of our information). Ordinarily, a man acquires these impressions, but these are too weak to become an effective “food” for the purpose of self-development. The habit of self-observation and the development of a better awareness increase the absorption of incoming information and this will improve the quality of the memory we have of a determined experience.