Chapter One: The Terror of the Situation

By James Westly

Table of Contents | More Practical Wisdom

George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky left behind them a rich legacy of practical thought. The ideas they brought to the western world did not originate with them, nor did they originate from any man, but are, rather, universal principles that have been widely disseminated upon this planet in a variety of languages and forms, and emanate from a higher source. As a young man, Gurdjieff traveled to the ancient seats of wisdom in the East in search of esoteric schools. As a middle aged man, he returned to the West, seemingly sent by his teachers to bring these ideas back to the West where they had been lost.

Peter Ouspensky, a Russian philosopher, lecturer, and journalist, met and studied with Gurdjieff in Russia just prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. Together Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, along with a group of their students, escaped the chaos of the revolution to Western Europe and the United States. Here they both spent the remainder of their lives teaching these ideas to those who would listen.

The coming together of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky was the joining of the East and the West. Gurdjieff was a magician, a mystic, an exotic who had deeply penetrated the symbolical, allegorical, metaphorical languages of the East. Ouspensky was a highly accomplished Western intellectual. Through Ouspensky the allegorical symbolism of Eastern thought was translated into the logical, rational, ultimately psychological language of the West. In the process the teachings of a wide variety of Eastern thought were synthesized into a single system, called The Fourth Way. This was published in three books: The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, containing five introductory lectures; In Search of the Miraculous, the complete teaching interwoven into the story of Ouspensky's eight years as Gurdjieff's student; The Fourth Way, a compilation, by topic, of the notes taken from Ouspensky's twenty years of teaching in England.

Much has changed on the planet since the time of these two extraordinary men. The minds and hearts of many people have been and are being expanded. Old wisdom has been resurrected and is readily available on the shelves of Metaphysical book stores, alongside much new information, revealed through a wide variety of sources. None of these developments in any way invalidates the knowledge transmitted to us by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In my opinion, what is happening now requires the revitalization of the principles given us by these two men. It is essential that the New Age Movement incorporate these principles into its process in order that it remain grounded and practical.

Many writings and teachings that we encounter today open us up to new ideas and possibilities without giving practical methods as to how to attain such possibilities. They serve the purpose of expanding our thought and awareness. They give us more to talk and think about. Few, though, directly address what it is within us that keeps us from a direct experience of whatever it is that is their focus,be it memory of past lives, the ability to focus energy through a crystal, or simply living in the moment.

A sincere evaluation of one's capacity to live in the moment will reveal that it is the singular most difficult thing to do. What makes this so? How is it that we can focus our being into the present for only brief seconds, that we feel connection sporadically, if at all, and what does connection mean anyway?

Are the people that write about such things different than we are, do we need some genetic adjustment to experience the miraculous? Are mystical experiences available or possible for an ordinary person? The answer to all this is yes, if you are willing to work for it. There is no panacea, no quick fix, no instant gratification, no pill (as we discovered in the drug years), no recipe that will permanently elevate anyone into a state of Enlightenment.

It is possible to expand the brief moments we experience of a more awakened state if we are willing to undertake a deep examination of ourselves and our situation in order to uncover the barriers that exist in our inner world. These prevent a more profound awareness of who we are and what our condition is. This journey cannot be lightly committed to, nor are there any guarantees. It is not a short trip, but rather one that lasts a lifetime and beyond. Much of it is potentially unpleasant, as we each have many misconceptions about ourselves. Yet to perceive them and release them is a profoundly joyous experience. The first step on this adventure is to look at things as they are.


Much has been said in judgement concerning the human condition. It is not the intent of this beginning to heap more onto this pile, but to simply state some clear facts.

Our civilization now stands at the pinnacle of its development and, simultaneously, on the brink of its own destruction. We have created a technology that has launched men into space, invented machines to do our ordinary thinking, established speed-of-light visual communication globally, enabled high speed individual transportation, penetrated the secrets of the atom, fashioned artificial hearts and more. An extraordinary list. We also face massive drug addiction, wide spread political corruption, accidental nuclear annihilation, sexually transmitted incurable fatal diseases, starvation, guerilla warfare, terrorism. An equally long and extraordinary list. The individual living in this environment faces a wide range of opportunities and temptations, and it is frequently not altogether clear which is which. The ordinary person living in today's over-stimulated culture is driven into numbness and cynicism by the demands of our high pressure cultural milieu.

Yet, in the midst of what seems to be hopeless decadence, a different direction has appeared. More and more people living in Western civilization are becoming interested in nonmaterialistic pursuits. This development has been called the New Age Movement, but is actually a return to the ancient, timeless pursuit of Enlightenment. The only difference is that in ancient times only a few could afford such inquiries. Now, due to our technological advances, the pursuit of Enlightenment is something the ordinary citizen can take up. Thus it is that there is a rapidly growing subculture that is setting aside the values connected to what some call "The Illusion", and is taking up the search for Truth.

Initially this search may be driven by a fascination for the mysterious. The mind expands to accept new (old but lost) concepts concerning the nature of reality, such as reincarnation. On a deeper level, the search is motivated by a dissatisfaction with what "The Illusion" seems to offer, but does not fulfill. Our technology has given many the opportunity to experience some, if not almost all, of their materialistic desires. For many, the realization and fulfillment of their dreams has left them feeling empty, and has lead them to feel that there must be more to life. This feeling fuels the awakening of a drive to find deeper levels of meaning in the life experience.

The search may continue for some time, as the seeker wades through the wide variety of literature, techniques, and seminars available. These pursuits can be addictive and, unless the seeker finds a more permanent group of people to work with and a body of knowledge that leads deep into his or her inner world, they may find the mind filled with new words and ideas, but life just as empty as before. No matter where we go or what we do we take ourselves with us. We continue to chart courses for ourselves into new territories only to find ourselves, at a time and a distance later, right back at square one.

When this occurs and we recognize it, we are profoundly struck by the "terror of the situation". Here is where there is an opening for us to realize that, although we "think" we are in control of our lives, we actually are not. When we experience our own helplessness in the face of the "Wheel of Life", then we are ready to work. Then, maybe, something new can happen. Now the stage is set for the miraculous.

It is necessary to say here that everything that comes from this point on is not to be believed. The greatest error we humans make is to believe blindly what some authority proposes. Many of us, for instance, blindly believe almost anything that is published in print. It is equally imperative to not disbelieve anything that is proposed. Cynicism is as damaging to the human psyche as naivete. A third alternative is this: to hold what is given in a neutral place within, neither believing nor disbelieving. This then leaves a space for verification. Verify everything!! Believe nothing but what has been verified. When this precept is followed, the ideas verified become ours, we own them. No one can take them from us. Be open to all possibilities and growth will accelerate.


The path leading to the discovery of who we truly are is unknown and unknowable. Who we truly are is the unknown aspect of our journey. We move along this path by revealing to ourselves who we are not. "The illusion is not external, but internal. Our task is similar to that of the sculptor faced with a block of raw marble. The inspiration within him, the miraculous within him, knows that within that block of stone lies a magnificent work of art. His job is simple. He must remove from the block of marble that which is not the statue. Gradually, bit by bit, the figure within will reveal itself. Our task as seekers is identical. We must remove from our inner world that which is not higher consciousness. As we do so bit by bit, the miraculous beings that we are emerge. It will not be what we expected, for how can we form an expectation about something that is unknown to us?

Thus we begin identifying the internal illusion. We must determine where we are and build a foundation that is firm and

solid. We would not expect to successfully erect a tall, strong building that would stretch up to the clouds by beginning our construction at the tenth floor. We must first dig a firm foundation deep in the earth. So initially we get our hands dirty. We dig down into the earth and we find that we have certain beliefs about ourselves that are not true. These are the illusions we hold about ourselves. They are not unique to us as individuals, but are generally held by most people who have not yet awakened.

The first illusion to be confronted is that we are complete, whole as we are. To believe this is to believe that there is nothing beyond our present experience of ourselves,that who we are today is who we will be the rest of our lives.

We all know, from examples around us and from throughout history, that some individuals have managed to find something different for themselves. Certain people have learned to transform themselves in some way, have overcome limitations imposed upon them by circumstances, have broken free. These individuals were able to access some hidden talent within themselves and develop it. Each one of us in our heart of hearts wishes for something similar to "happen" to us. We may think, however, that such potential doesn't exist, or that such individuals were just lucky.

Most human beings walking the planet have brought with them some gift or gifts.We all can be more than we are now presently manifesting. We each can be greater than we presently are, both from an outer world point of view and, especially, from an inner world perspective. There exist potential functions, abilities, and powers within us that can only be developed through our own efforts. They will not "happen" to us!

How do we find them, especially when we haven't a clue as to what they are? This is part of the journey into the unknown. The first step on the path has to be the experiential acknowledgement that what we are now is not the totality, that there is indeed a greater potential lying hidden within that conventional methods cannot tap into. We must discover that as we are now we are incomplete. This cannot come just as an idea. It must be felt as an emotional experience, so that you, whoever you are now, scanning these words, can feel,somewhere within the depths of your being, the truth of this expression. You must realize that you've known it for some time, and that reading it here causes something to resonate within you.

It is not the mind, nor even the heart that has this knowingness, but rather, the soul. This is true verification. We all have intuitive powers. We all are telepathic. We all have the potential capacity to see beneath the surface of people and events. Yet as we are now in our present state of awareness, or consciousness, these capacities remain dormant, and can only be awakened through the raising of our internal vibratory rate. Only by focusing our internal energies and creating a peaceful inner environment can we become complete.


To accomplish this requires the penetration of yet another illusion; the illusion that our inner world contains but a single entity. In fact, we contain a multitude. Science is fond of saying that we only use a small percentage of our potential capacity. This implies that the remainder is somehow locked away in some hidden vault and will only be made available to us in some science fictional future through genetic engineering, or some other technological revelation. It is more the case that our energies are divided. Prior to consciously working to create an orderly inner world, our inner world is a chaotic place inhabited by a gang of disorderly people, each of whom has his or her own wants, needs and desires, all in competition with each other. This situation is not too dissimilar to the appearance of our outer world, our society.

The illusion is that we tend to deny this is the case. We pretend that we are unified beings, that we are in control, that we know what we want and who we are. Each time a voice speaks within us, we pretend that that voice speaks for the whole, as if the mayor of Los Angeles when he speaks, is speaking for the entire nation. Politically we know that we'd be in trouble, and not a little dysfunctional, if we were to believe this. Yet, when some small part of an internal function speaks within us, we believe that a unified "I" who is our totality has spoken. Spiritually, this is as dysfunctional as believing the mayor of Los Angeles spoke for the nation.


It is right here, at this point, that we must establish an important tool. Now is the time to create the Observer. This is where practical work begins. The Observer is the beginning of a connection to who we truly are. It is a neutral entity within us who is detached from what swirls around it. It remains awake and watchful.

When our attention is located within the Observer, we can't help but notice that we are indeed inhabited by multitudes. We can see that our inner world is peopled by a wide variety of characters all of whom have separate interests. Since each one of these entities calls itself "I", we simply say that we are inhabited by many 'I's, each of whom has a different voice.

When we place our attention and our potential identity into the Observer, we can begin to experience that not any single "I" within this multitude of "I"s is really who we are. Once we can establish as a perception that none of this multitude is our true self, we can move toward having more choices in our life. We can now evaluate each inner character as being separate from who we are and can then choose whether or not this character is worth expressing. Such ability to choose, however, can only begin with the creation of an Observer within, who is not involved in the wants, needs, desires and demands of the other beings who inhabit us. In the beginning the Observer has no powers and can only watch helplessly.

It can make no changes initially and is simply there to learn about our internal workings. The power to choose comes later when the Observer is more mature and has acquired some practical tools.

We all have some resistance to this idea. It is hard to come to grips with the concept that we contain a competing multitude. We can note, however, that we will act upon some "I", such as an "I" to buy something in the department store and charge it. At a time later, some other "I" will have to pay the bill and will be irritated with the "I" who spent the money. It was the case, then, that some part of us made the purchase, and some other part of us was confronted with the bill. For conceptual purposes, we can see these were two different people.

We can also observe that these "Many I's" gather together in groups having similar interests. Thus we may have a group of "I's" interested in sports, or in parenting. In fact, these groups of "I's" comprise the roles we play in our outer world existence. We play the role of parent, child, employer, employee, brother, sister,husband, wife, customer, driver, homeowner...the list goes on and on. In each role we are called by the same name. Each role expresses itself by saying "I", yet we don't experience the often conflicting values that exist between the roles. We don't acknowledge our own internal contradictions, or even notice them. We can't see how one moment we are one person, the next moment another, because there is nothing permanent in us. The creation of the Observer is the beginning of something permanent.


So how do these "Many I's" relate? What is it that creates order among the multitude? Once we are up and running as adults, we have all or most of our programing in place. We have established our roles. We have a job or a career, we're married and have started a family, we have a place to live, and a daily routine. The groups of "I"s that relate to these various roles all know their places and are activated by external stimulation. Thus, more or less efficiently, everybody knows their job and when they are scheduled to appear on stage. This is true to such a degree that our lives, when well established, can almost run themselves without our paying a whole lot of attention. The courses have been set, the direction determined, the players chosen, the schedule established. Now, we can simply set the autopilot and just check in occasionally to make sure everything is running smoothly.

A well-oiled machine has been established that can literally run itself, all on the basis of a stimulus-response mechanism. Thus our output becomes determined by whatever the input is, plus how that input interfaces with our programing. Our lives run automatically, being disturbed from time to time by some accidental intrusion or catastrophe. When these interruptions come, we scurry about, diligently reassembling the machine so it will again run smoothly, automatically.


We're now beginning to get a picture of a being that is incomplete, but doesn't realize or acknowledge it. A being who's energies are scattered, or disunified, and has an inner world inhabited by a competing multitude pretending to be a single entity. Its organization is determined by externally imposed programing set to run automatically.

Such a being has few choices. When the programing is set to respond automatically to external stimulation, life simply happens. It is not controlled by the will of the being, but by the accidental influences of external stimulation. Such a being has only the little wills of the "Many I's". Since there is no central unifying force, there is no real Will. What may appear to be a will that can accomplish something is more often externally applied pressure. The being does not "Do" anything. Everything is done for it. It cannot use the winds of life to consciously set a course, it can only be blown helplessly about by each gust that comes along. There is no purpose, no aim, no direction.


To conceive of ordinary life in such a way will be provocative to many who read this. There is no judgement in this view, simply a perception of what is. If we wish nothing further from life than what we already have, then these perceptions are of little value. If, however, there burns within a desire to penetrate deeper into the meaning of existence, if there is a sincere longing to connect to a greater purpose, to become greater than we are, then we need to take an accurate assessment of our present circumstances. The realization and verification of the above picture can be empowering. It offers the opportunity to appraise our life more objectively. If we have the courage to do this, then more is possible. There is a way out of this apparent dilemma, a practical way to begin the journey toward a more Enlightened way of living.


Exercises will be given at the end of each chapter in order to facilitate the verification of the ideas presented. Many of the exercises will be of an internal nature and are designed to enhance self observation. There is an ancient esoteric maxim that instructs "Know Thyself". We live in the illusion that we already know ourselves. Actually, all we claim as self knowledge consists of sets of habits, predilections, and programing. Consider the idea that we may actually be spiritual beings traveling in bodies. Then to know oneself must begin with the acquisition of knowledge concerning the body we're traveling in.

Self-observation is an essential practice for this. This is the beginning of Work on Oneself, or The Work. For those who are serious about their own personal evolution or development, it is a practice that will continue through out a lifetime.

Personal evolution is a creative process. Thus, although some exercises will be given throughout the book, it is the responsibility of the serious minded student to invent his or her own exercises as they proceed. The guidelines are fairly simple.

First, an exercise needs to be directed toward discovering aspects of one's inner world. One typical way to do this is to place some kind of obstacle in the path of our habitual way of interacting with ourselves and the outer world.

Next, acknowledge that an exercise is meant to serve the purpose of self-observation, and is not an objective to be accomplished. We may tend to lose sight of our evolutionary aims in the attempt to be perfect at a less important activity.

Understand that exercises need to be designed in such a way that we fail in our attempts to accomplish them. Only in this way will they show us what we need to see. By creating a resistance to some aspect of ourselves that is operating outside our awareness, we can bring attention to it.

EXERCISE 1: Create the Observer

Begin watching yourself as if you were an interesting stranger. Only record those observations that are crystal clear. Resist the habit of thinking, or analyzing. Observation is a form of meditation in which the mind is cleared as much as possible of all noise. Step back internally. Create an internal separation between yourself and that which is being observed. Observe without criticality. Be neutral, non-judgmental, and loving. Release any tendency toward self punishment, and, when you fail to do so, release any impulse to punish yourself for being self-punishing.

EXERCISE 2: Verify that you are "Many I's"

Once you have established the Observer at some level, begin to see that your inner world is inhabited by a multitude. Observe that you have different personalities that surface according to who you're with. Notice how they may even contradict each other. Accept the contradictions without judgement.

EXERCISE 3: Change some aspect of your daily routine.

Choose something simple, even as simple as going to work by a different route. Observe the discomfort this may create for some part of your being and notice that some inner voice may raise objection to the exercise or consider it stupid. Observe also that you may tend to forget the exercise. These are all ways in which our internal resistance manifests.

EXERCISE 4: Intentionally Review Your Life

Examine the major changes that have occurred from the perspective of how they happened, what were the driving forces. How did you come to be married? How did the choices in your life manifest themselves? Who did what to whom, how did you come to make the decisions you made? Release any judgement that may arise. Allow the Observer to perform this review, not some other part of your being.

Chapter Two: Consciousness

Practical Wisdom 1993-2001 James Westly

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