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“Self-Observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change. And in observing himself he notices that Self-Observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes. He begins to understand that Self-Observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of Awakening.”

-Gurdjieff  “In search of the Miraculous” P.D. Ouspensky

George Gurdjieff was an early twentieth century spiritual teacher whose instructions have lived on through generations. His students included Jeanne Salzmann, William Nyland, P. D. Ouspensky, Alfred Orage, Maurice Nicoll, and J.G. Bennett. Through their documentation of Gurdjieff’s teachings, the principles that Gurdjieff taught have influenced countless lives. P.D. Ouspensky‟s books are probably the most commonly known documentation of Gurdjieff’s teachings.

In Ouspensky’s book, “The Fourth Way” he conveys many of Gurdjieff‟s spiritual teachings. Gurdjieff taught that human beings are composed of three centers: mental (thought), physical (action), and emotional (sense). In many other spiritual practices, the focus of self-mastery, to struggle against one of these three. However, Gurdjieff suggests that there is a “Fourth Way” or what he referred to as “The Work”: True transcendence can only occur when we have the ability to integrate all three centers, within our everyday lives. Then, life itself becomes the teacher.

In the mid 1970’s I was invited by a teacher of the “Fourth Way” to study these teachings. Later, I learned that the only way one was allowed to study this school of thought, at that time, was to be invited. While, I found Gurudjieff’s teachings profoundly intellectual, they were also filled with a great deal of knowledge.  Actually, these teachings are not unlike those of the Buddha’s, who speaks about the middle path, which I have learned over many years that this middle path is about transcendence.

Within the heart of those who long to Awaken and serve creation, there may be a heartfelt intent. But, the intellect and emotion that many perceive surround these advanced states of consciousness, couldn’t be farther from what is actually true. You can never think these expanded states of consciousness. They cannot be understood without the experience. Consequently, within the human sleep states, thinking and wishing to be in those states of consciousness, is very different from the Being and Living in expanded states of Enlightenment. 

Many seekers are able to experience glimpses of Realization. But, too easily without proper guidance, we are drawn back into the habitual patterns and sleep states that maintain the status quo on this planet. This is where Self-Observation can become a powerful tool when used properly.

The true nature of humanity is to be Awake, Conscious and Aware. However, at this point in time, human kind is not living at those levels of awareness or in those states of consciousness. For those who seek to create a better world, we recognize that it requires a tremendous amount of energy and effort, starting with ourselves, to free one’s self from our habitual patterns; as well as, everything we have learned in this dimension. What we perceive and think has literally become a part of our biology, our cellular structure and has rooted itself into our neural networks. Those perceptions and constructs that we may perceive as intellectual or mental have moved into our cells and the hard wiring within our very brain.

Further complicating our ability to achieve expanded levels of consciousness, is our insistence on defining ourselves through the very parameters of sleep that we seek to overcome, to transcend. That is, everything that we have been taught, we have inadvertently attached to and therefore defined as our perceptual reality. How do we now accept the intense investment we have attached to in the world that we have created in our minds and the perceptions that we have believed, and still evolve? Clearly, we cannot choose both. We have to overcome ignorance and sleep states to truly evolve as a species. 

Presently, our evolution is at odds with the constructs, perceptions and ideas we have attached to that we continue to use without awareness, to define our very lives….How do people learn to let that go when they don’t even know it is an issue? Well, you can see that choosing to evolve is fraught with difficulties! Consequently, you have to be willing to “work” for your liberation, your Enlightenment. 

One’s perceptions or constructs created by the phenomenal world, are literally the antithesis of our evolution. Yet, we humans want to hang on to what be believe, because we have become attached to our own stories, thinking and believing wholeheartedly that they are REAL…Within this paradigm we end up making our lives small and stifle our very evolution. We want everything to fit into our boxes of understanding and it is not  possible to evolve and maintain control or perceptual belief, because everything is always changing in the phenomenal world.

While we may “think” we are the stories we have been told, the thoughts and perceptions that we have attached to, we are not fixed entities. We are effected by thousands of events that exist beyond and outside our awareness and understanding….Coming to the realization that you are not in control of life on this planet and that all perception stems from your own mind, is just the beginning of true understanding

Until, we reach a state of Enlightenment and Liberation everything we see, hear, perceive and think is only a projection of our own mind.

Unfortunately, we have attached to our perceptions, thoughts and beliefs to the exclusion of our very evolution. The things we have been taught about the world around us may not represent what is ultimately TRUE about this Universe… Most humans at present, if they are not awake, are not seeing the world as it truly is? Only a representation that the culture has projected on each of us, like the movie, “The Matrix”. Therefore, it becomes that responsibility of each of us to Awaken!

Over the years of living here on this little planet, we have developed very formidable personalities and Egos, which have become entrenched and continues to be deeply rooted into our cellular memory and our human psyche. To Awaken from our sleep states, we need to use all the tools available. Then, in applying those tools we have to take care to apply them properly, which can be difficult. Self-Observation can help humanity pull itself away from attachment to habitual patterns, our personalities and our Egos, which most people do not even realize cover our true Self, hiding our precious souls.

At present, most of humanity is trapped in a profound ignorance, believing in a narcissistic fashion that we are the only intelligent life in the Universe. Presently, we humans have become automatons,  living out our lives without any real autonomy or awareness, simply feeding levels of consciousness that never serve our soul needs.  Sadly, too many of us live out our lives asleep, unaware of who and what we are. We are unaware of our precious value and significance within this Universe. We have been reduced to becoming nothing more than products of our economies, families, educational institutions, religious affiliations and the consciousness that pervades this planet.

The Practice of Self-Observation

The practice of Self-Observation requires the discipline to live in the world as a witness, observing our own mind. To be very clear, this practice is not about someone else. It is about ourselves! We “work” to observe each and every one of our behaviors, thoughts, actions, and feelings, without judgement or blame. In an effort to understand the way our Egos operate, we observe to gain the knowledge necessary to change the perceptions that lead us to unproductive, ineffective and ignorant action in the world. In order to change our sleep states and consciousness, we know that each of us needs to be able to see the way those levels of consciousness operate within us. So, we watch and observe our minds, to see the habitual patterns that we are not aware of and how they have shaped, defined and limited our lives. Then we can alter those behaviors.

Practicing Self-Observation is very much like using a mantra during meditation. We focus in meditation on the mantra, allowing it to come and go. We start the meditation using a mantra but find that during the process somehow it slips away and we forget. Only, when we become aware that we are not thinking the mantra, do we draw our minds gently back to the sound. We practice this meditation without judging or intellectually assessing our behavior or looking at ourselves in terms of duality, “this is good and this is bad”. None of that nonsense is relevant. The only thing that is relevant here is seeing the patterns within our Egos and the triggers that push us into behaviors that do not benefit our souls development or our evolution.

Through Self-Observation we develop the ability to SEE where we are asleep. Then, we have the awareness necessary to recognize how our very mind can trick us into believing all sorts of things that aren’t true or relevant to our lives. This practice of awareness can begin to build the essence we so desperately need within our bodies and minds. This simple and eloquent technique when done properly can teach us to re-direct our attention toward our hearts goal, which is Awakening and Enlightenment.

While this task seems simple enough to accomplish, you may find that it is not as easy as one might think. But it is a powerful practice and well worth the ride… You will find that you are ultimately an incredible and amazing creature, who has the ability to accomplish almost anything you wish.

“Know Thyself” – Socrates

Teachers of Self-Observation, including Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and others who have mastered and taught this skill, have found over many years that it is a much more difficult task to accomplish than one may initially believe. Instead of transcending or becoming an observer of their behavior, like its name conveys, many inadvertently become self-involved and/or self-conscious. These two precepts are the antithesis of Self-Observation.  Without realizing it and “thinking” they understand the concepts presented in the practice of Self-Observation, people may end up using this technique inappropriately, by judging and criticizing themselves and their behaviors.

Within Self-Observation one of the most important aspects of doing this “work” on yourself is learning how to detach from your perceptions and beliefs, specifically about yourself. Another pitfall that exists in the interpretation of how to do this technique, is that some unwittingly turn it into a competition, thinking that it is necessary to win or to be right. But, all that we need to do is to learn how to detach from the habitual patterns that own our precious human mind.  As you practice this technique you may realize that you do not at first see or understand what you are observing. This can feel very challenging. But it is a natural response to watching the mind. You do not have to understand what you are watching, because in time it will become clear. So, with time and patience you will begin to see yourself objectively, with love and humor.

Within the process of Awakening and going into Enlightenment, you realize that the thoughts or beliefs, living in those levels of consciousness require action to be established within the cellular memory of your body and the physical world. It is not enough, in and of itself, to have the experience. You then have to put this knowledge into action, giving those levels of consciousness, reality and value and empowering those concepts to continue expanding our consciousness. Developing consciousness is a process of integration, bringing our perceptions, thoughts, feelings and subsequent actions into the world, thus into our very cells. Knowledge of expanded states of consciousness does not equal Awareness or Enlightenment.

Primary Points of Gurdjieff‟s Teachings



Struggling Against the Desires of the Body

Division of Attention


Consistent, Prolonged Effort

To truly Awaken, it is profoundly powerful to observe ourselves, to clearly see our unconscious habitual patterns. This is very different from self-analysis or being self-conscious. The difference is that in Self-Observation we suspend belief and judgment, to simply observe the way our mind works. We are not interested in finding the answer to fix ourselves. Instead, we want to learn how to “LET GO”, “DETACH” and “TRANSCEND”, lower levels of consciousness that we find ourselves involved in. We instead work to remove ourselves as part of those levels of consciousness, no longer adding our suffering  to a world already overcome!

When we use Self-Observation we need to be careful not to focus our attention on fixing ourselves. The moment we enter into those states of consciousness, like being self-conscious and critical of our behavior, we have abandoned the real work. Our soul is lost to habitual patterns of thought and emotion. The discipline of Self-Observation is being able to observe all aspects of our lives without blame; ourselves, our thoughts, our dreams, our feelings, our hopes and our fears, which all work together to feed our Ego.

“All our theories of improving the world, while we are still asleep, merely intensify the sleep of humanity.” – Maurice Nicoll

When we are so profoundly unaware of our own behavior, it is impossible to truly Awaken. In this place we only perpetuate the dream or illusory reality. Practicing Self-Observation teaches the mind to let go and we Awaken. Within this process, we have the ability to become aware of the parts of ourselves that sabotage our evolution. And yes, it may even surprise and shock you to see yourself as you really are, instead of how you “think” you are. Using this technique we can pull our energy away from those precepts, constructs and behaviors  the deplete our life force and energy. Self-Observation, if done properly will feed your soul and conserve precious life energy.

Focusing our attention on the present moment while we observe our minds, we remain connected to our hearts, souls and bodies. This is powerful. We find that absent-mindedness is diminished and the process of change begins from the “INSIDE OUT and NOT FROM THE OUTSIDE IN”. The dream world begins to fade away and our souls slowly Awaken, developing the physical essence and consciousness we have longed for. In the development of this simple and eloquent tool, we find that we become accountable and responsible for our own behavior, to our own soul.

Self-Realization comes to those people who use techniques such as Self-Observation, recognizing that all life in our sweet little worlds, stems from our own minds. The microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm. Nothing will change if we do nothing. Instead of looking for others to do it for us we take our evolution into our own hands, not only becoming aware of our delusions but aware of our profound beauty. It is up to each of us to do our own work on our own minds. As you continue using this technique you will begin to master it and the Ego’s power over your life diminishes until it is completely gone and then you are liberated, free and Enlightened.

When you make that space — which is the detachment of the mystic — and you see these armies of light and darkness inside, then you know where the battle must take place. You will also see that the army of darkness is much bigger than the one of light, those I’s that wish to love God and the universe and transcend their selfishness. Over against them is this horde of barbarians that are only interested in being comfortable and satisfying their desires.  -Theodore J. Nottingham

We literally extinguish these so called armies of darkness, when we choose to do conscious work on ourselves. We see our animal nature and the habitual patterns that drive our lives. Then, we accept responsibility by having the information necessary to actually choose another course for our lives. We gently but clearly pull our energy away from those lower levels of consciousness and we instantly uplift ourselves and all of human-kind. 

“If man sees hazard as a misfortune rather than an opportunity, he will seek to close the door to freedom rather than keep it open.”

– J.G. Bennett

This information was originally written by one of my students. I have rewritten this page in an effort to make the use of Self-Observation very clear.  By Joy S. Gilbert