from Ouspensky’s “The Fourth Way,” pp. 43 &54
Q. Does one acquire knowledge of oneself through self-observation?
A. Self-observation is connected with certain definite practices. If you just start observing how things happen, you will miss many things; but if you try to struggle against some of the things you see, for instance against small habits, you will at once begin to see many things which ordinarily you do not notice. Everyone has many small habits: habits of walking, habits of moving their hands, habits of sitting, standing, speaking in a certain way. This struggle is not for any particular results but merely for self-observation. Perhaps later you will find that you have to get rid of certain habits, but at present this struggle should be merely for self-study.
At the same time, if we want to develop consciousness and improve our functions, almost from the very beginning of self-observation we are advised to try and stop some of our functions which are not only useless but definitely harmful. For instance, in observing yourself, particularly in observing the emotional function, try to stop as much as possible all expression of negative emotions. Many people’s lives practically consist of that; they express negative emotions at every possible moment, on any occasion, whether suitable or unsuitable; they can always find something wrong in everything. The chief tendency of man 1, 2 and 3 is to express immediately all his negative emotions. If he makes an effort to stop this expression it gives him material for observation, and he sees himself from quite a different angle. If he makes serious efforts in this direction, very soon he will become convinced that he has no will, because it is a most difficult thing to stop this expression of negative emotions. At the same time it is necessary.
Another useless function is talk; we talk too much. We talk and talk and talk, and we never really notice it. Generally we think we talk very little, much too little, but particularly those people who talk most think that they never talk. This is a very useful subject for watching. You will see how your day passes, how many mechanical things you say in certain conditions, how many other mechanical things in other conditions. Or you will notice that you just talk and talk because it gives you pleasure, or fills your time. It is necessary to watch it and stop at least some of this unnecessary talk. Talk, imagination, lying and expressing negative emotions are in fact our chief functions.
Now if you want to ask me anything I will try to explain. We must try not only to study these ideas in the form in which they are given but also to apply them in connection with different problems. They give good keys for the solution of many of them.
We are told in this system that man has the possibility of living in four states of consciousness but that as he is, he lives only in two. We also know that our functions are divided into four categories. So we study four categories of functions in two states of consciousness. At the same time we realize that glimpses of self-consciousness happen, and that what prevents us from having more of these glimpses is the fact that we do not remember ourselves–that we are asleep.
The first thing necessary in a serious study of oneself is to understand that consciousness has degrees. You must remember that you do not pass from one state of consciousness to another, but that they are added to one another. This means that if you are in the state of sleep, when you awake, the state of relative consciousness or ‘waking sleep’ is added to the state of sleep; if you become self-conscious, this is added to the state of ‘waking sleep’; and if you acquire the state of objective consciousness, this is added to the state of self-consciousness. There are no sharp transitions from one state to another state. Why not? Because each state consists of different layers. As in sleep, you can be more asleep or less asleep, so in the state in which we are now, you can be nearer to self-consciousness or further from it.
The second thing necessary in a serious study of oneself is the study of functions by observing them, learning to divide them in the right way, learning to recognize each one separately. Each function has its own profession, its own specialty. They must be studied separately and their differences clearly understood, remembering that they are controlled by different centres or minds. It is very useful to think about our different functions or centres and realize that they are quite independent. We do not realize that there are four independent beings in us, four independent minds. We always try to reduce everything to one mind. Instinctive centre can exist quite apart from other centres, moving and emotional centres can exist without the intellectual. We can imagine four people living in us. The one we call instinctive is a physical man. The moving man is also a physical man, but with different inclinations. Then there is the sentimental or emotional man, and the theoretical or intellectual man. If we look at ourselves from this point of view, it is easier to see where we make the chief mistake about ourselves, because we take ourselves as one, as always the same.
We have no means of seeing centres, but we can observe functions: the more you observe, the more material you will have. This division of functions is very important. Control of any of our faculties can only be obtained with the help of knowledge. Each function can be controlled only if we know the peculiarities and the speed of each.