J. G. Bennett
Intention - J.G. Bennett
(extract from original document - " Intention")
Are we deceiving ourselves or not, when we think we are doing something intentionally?
The obvious answer is to say that when we do what we intend to do it is deliberate and when we don't, it is accidental. But this is not good enough as an answer because we can deceive ourselves, and people do. We ascribe much more intention to human action than is there. Once you see that, once you realize that there is much fantasy and self-deception about the attitude of people towards doing, you see already that people tend to say that they have done something when it has been a success, and when it is a failure they say that it is an unfortunate accident. But it may be equally accidental in both cases. We have to build up, little by little, confidence in intentional actions. This does not come from knowledge: there is not some kind of test, like success or failure, that one can apply. One has to learn to distinguish, in himself, the inner state that makes intentional action possible. Sometimes it is contrary to what one is expecting. We may imagine that we are going along one intentional line, but if we look more carefully, or some shock comes which makes us see more clearly, we see that the real commitment, what we were really doing, was something quite different, that we were not conscious of, or refused to be conscious of.
Question. I have come to realize that I do very few things as well as I should like to. Actually, that is a contradiction in terms, because, having found that I do not do things well, I thought I would want to do them properly. But I find myself saying I don't want to do that thing properly, it means nothing to me, and I find I am saying this about almost everything I come across. I seem to be bedeviled by ennui, and it is bothering me because I seem to be deluding myself about something, and I don't know what it is.
J.G.B. You have the taste, of the difference between doing things well and the usual way of getting by. You know the satisfaction of doing things well, and yet the memory of this satisfaction is not enough to work. Why is that? This is what we have to understand. How is it that we may know what will give us satisfaction, and even how to get satisfaction, and we want it, and yet we fail to do it? Some connection is not made. One part of us knows these things; another part has to do them, and we don't know how to connect these two. This is an important question, and I would like to say more about it.
If it were enough to know what is right, what will give us satisfaction, and how to do it, then it would not be so difficult to bring human life into a very good state of affairs. But it isn't so. People do not do the things that they know will give them what they want, what will make their lives good, 'and therefore it is no use explaining to them what to do. It is no use telling people what they ought to do; it is not even enough to tell them how to do it. You have discovered that. You know that there is satisfaction in doing things well, and you know that it makes a demand on us, that we have to make some sacrifice in order to do it. We have to see that our attention is available in order to do things well, and that it is not going to happen unless we can take the energy away from something else. That is what I mean by a sacrifice.
To understand this and many, many other things about man, we have to understand about will. Will is very hard to understand because it cannot be described. It cannot even be felt, because it is behind all descriptions, behind all feelings. The truth is that the word Will doesn't mean anything to a person who has not become conscious of wholeness, to be aware of himself as one whole, and that means already a very big transformation. Therefore, I am going to use another word instead of Will. I am going to speak about 'urges', and say that we have different urges. There is the urge for satisfaction, and before that there is one primary urge that we all have; that is the urge to live. If this ceases, then life cannot continue. It does cease. Not everyone has the urge to live. But if this urge goes, the body is no longer able, because it hasn't got the driving force of the urge to live behind it. A very simple way of seeing this urge to live is in our breathing. Even if someone wishes to die, he cannot stop breathing. And everything else disappears when breath is cut off. This gives us the taste of the urge to live. With men, the urge to live is not only the simple one of keeping this body alive. There is an urge also to do things, to make things. We are provided with instruments through which this urge expresses itself, especially our hands. To an extraordinary degree, our hands are the instruments of this urge. Of course our feet, that enable us to move, are an instrument for the urge to live and out- senses, particularly our seeing and hearing and touching, help us to live. Sometimes man is spoken of as the maker, homo Faber, the animal that makes things. This is an urge that is also connected with our body. It is stronger in some people, weaker in others, just as the urge simply to live is stronger in some than in others. Some people have such a strong urge to live that they will overcome almost anything that threatens to end their lives, and it brings them back to effective use of their bodies. There are extraordinary examples of people who have had something like polio, and who, with such determination, recover the use of their bodies. Others have not got such a strong urge. It is the same with the use of one's body in the outside world to make things. Some have it very strongly; some not so strongly. In some, the body is more highly intelligent, with others it is clumsy and inefficient. But these are urges that are natural and necessary to man. On the whole, we don't do much to develop the powers that are associated with these urges. We do very little to take care of our bodies until something goes wrong, and then we expect someone else to do it for us. Except in specialized skills that are needed in earning one's living, or for satisfying some whim, we do very little to develop the power of making, the power of movement. We human beings have quite a different urge in us; an urge to take hold of this world, to understand it, not simply to make things with materials that are round us, but to penetrate more deeply. This shows itself first of all in curiosity, the need to know, which we share with most animals. But with us it is provided with a much more powerful instrument than it is in any other animal. It is one of the distinguishing properties of man, that our urge to know goes beyond the immediate present. The curiosity of an animal is to find something which it has the scent of, to be wary about something which it sees or touches. Our curiosity goes far into the past, into the future, into the unknown, into the invisible world, into the laws of creation; asking questions, how, why does this world exist, what is it all for? This is a strong urge that there is in man, but it is not nearly so strong as the urge to live. Everyone will stop being curious about the cosmos when he is drowning.
This second kind of urge is truly our characteristic, and it is the birthright of man. It can become an urge to power, to know in order to dominate, to know in order to possess. It is easy to see when the simple urge to make spills over into something more than that. Then we see that there is a different place in us, something else that has this greed for the world. It has its bad side because, when it is associated with the wish to dominate, it makes use of this instrument for that purpose. It can be called man's cleverness, man's power to have ideas. It is connected with man's extraordinary memory, so different from the memory of animals. With his extraordinary power of looking into the future, sometimes of predicting the future, sometimes of dreaming about it and having visions, valid visions - all of this is an extraordinary thing in man. Man was created with this power because something very high is required of him. It is a very great tragedy that this power is being used in the world today exclusively in order to dominate. It goes beyond the body, but it is essentially external: it goes outside us. It is very incompetent at penetrating inside, and so we have this strange thing about man, that he knows so very much more about the world than he knows about himself; he is able to study the world so much more efficiently than he can study himself, because this power is concerned with the outside world. If you really look at it, you see how strangely uncurious we are about ourselves. We are very self-centered, very self-loving beings, and yet how reluctant we are to know about ourselves. Not only reluctant, but really not even interested. How strange! But it is only strange if you don't understand about the nature of this urge to know. It is an outgoing urge.
There is another, quite different urge in us; the urge to be, the need to be, the awareness of our deficiency, of there being something empty, something missing in us. With that comes a kind of longing that is totally different from the desire to know, from curiosity or from the desire to make things. This desire penetrates within. It is an urge to find the deeper reality. When I spoke about how we can retain something in the fluctuations of our daily lives, the question really points to this: how to be; how to be something that we are not, how to find something in ourselves that we have not yet reached. This other kind of urge must be seen as different, because the instrument that it uses is different. It is not the mind, with its power of thought, its speed power of forming abstract ideas and images, m is something that is different. It is not really an instrument that works in time and space: it works in another dimension. But it is an instrument also, and because it is different, the urge that drives us expresses its differently through this instrument. These are the urges that are really in the very nature of man. To live with them is normal, but of course they must be directed towards the real objects for which they are given to us. The man with these forces working in him, and working in a balanced way, is a normal man, man as he should be; what Gurdjieff calls `man without quotation marks’. People as we know them are not like that. They have falsified these urges. I spoke about the urge to know to understand this world, and that it flows into a desire to dominate, to possess, and that it does not overcome our separateness from others. Even worse, the urge for being turns itself into self-love, self-centeredness, and again, separation from others. It does not go to the depths and find the reality that is there; it is filled with fear. It is obliged to pretend, seeking to hide its own emptiness instead of accepting it so that it can be filled. So we are driven into a false life, and it is on this account that you have the difficulty that you are describing, of having what is possible, in this case particularly what is possible to be done with the second urge, how to make things right. It is a wonderful thing that is given to man, the possibility of making something good and beautiful and useful, and the knowledge of the satisfaction that accompany this. We find that we can not do this because it means some sacrifice. That sacrifice should be the natural response of the urge for being, because being can only be won through sacrifice. Because we are afraid and run away from it, we run away from all our urges, and so we lead a false and timid life, pretending. This is one reason why Gurdjieff answered a question about psychology by saying, you can't begin with psychology; you have to begin with mechanics, because man is a machine. Before you can study psychology you must find people who have a psyche, some real inner life; then you can study psychology. These urges belong to the true life of man. Each of them has its own group of instruments round it. The urge, together with its instruments, is called a centre or a brain. That is why, for example, Gurdjieff says that man is a 'three-brained being'. There is one brain connected with the urge to live; the brain of the body. That is the primary instrument that we all have. In some it is weak, in some strong, in some it is directed more towards outward activity, in some more to the physical, the inward, and for that reason Gurdjieff makes a distinction and also speaks of an instinctive centre. You have probably heard this terminology, but I am saying all this to you because I think it is important to get further into it, instead of using these words `brains' and `centers' without realizing what they signify. It is not simply a group of activities or functions. It is not only the nutrition and respiration and circulation of the blood and the nervous system and the bony structure that can be called the instinctive centre. These things are the instrument of the urge to live, and we have to learn to understand this urge and to set it free to do its work properly. Nowadays it is so terribly misdirected. Particularly by medical science, that interferes with this, that imposes something from outside on this natural power that there is in man, with the great instrument that is provided for it. An instrument that works quite differently from the thinking brain. That is why I have come to this as I have, instead of speaking to you about brains, to begin with in answer to this question. I wanted to see if you could come to it without falling into the trap of supposing that there is something in our body that thinks about how to keep healthy, how to keep a balance in the chemistry of the blood - some such thing. There is nothing even remotely resembling that. It is not a mental process of that kind. It works as a whole and it doesn't analyze; it could not work by analyzing, it is far too complicated. One can go far astray if one speaks of an `instinctive' brain and tries to understand it in terms of what happens in our thinking brain. But if you have this feeling of what it is to have in us the urge to live, this powerful will to live; and when we see what happens when the will to live weakens and finally leaves us, then you understand it better. And the will to make things, to act upon the world round us, this also is not a thinking process, though it has in common with our thinking process that it is not born with us; it has to be learned. Most of our action on the outside world is learned after birth. In this we are different from many animals. We have lost the power that a monkey has, for example, of clinging as soon as it is born. Its arboreal habitat requires that. Or the power of being able to drop from the mother and run after the herd, like a reindeer kid that can immediately do some thing that a human child takes a year or so to learn. But for a special reason, we are so formed that this power in us has to be learned from other people, and we do learn it in this way. It includes, for example, the use of speech, which is how I am communicating with you now. Speech of course is a kind of making. We are more familiar with the other brain, in the head, or perhaps I should say we think we are, because we can always follow our mental processes, but to tell the truth we know very little about what the head brain of man really signifies. We use our intellectual power for very debased purposes, mainly for gaining mastery over the material world. It is very hard to free ourselves from this habit and get beyond speech, beyond forms, to direct perception, that is, the great power to see the truth as it is, to `meet God face to face' as it is also said. Because there is such a great difference between the lower and the higher uses of the intellectual powers of man. Gurdjieff divides it into two and speaks as if there were two separate centers and two quite different urges. He speaks of the lower and the higher intellectual centers or brains, the lower one being concerned with knowing and mastering the material world and the higher with penetrating beyond time and space. He also makes the same division of our feelings.
The feelings of man, which are really the expression of his need to be, can reach very far. They can in fact bring man to union with the Supreme, with the One. There is truly no limit to what man can reach with his feelings, beyond anything that he can think about. Not beyond anything that he can see with his highest function, not beyond the unity of his will with the Great Will, but far beyond anything that his ordinary mind can know. This Gurdjieff calls the higher emotional centre, an unfortunate term, because the word emotional, I think, is so misleading. It is almost impossible for us to use the word without implying some kind of disturbance. The word emotional nearly always means for us some state of excitement, disturbance inwardly, but the true feeling is the stillness, the cessation of all movement, when Union becomes possible. That is why I myself found I was for a very long time quite unable to understand what was meant by this power of man, and it showed me how much one can be led astray simply by the use of words which give the wrong impression. Therefore I am reluctant to use that word, which, by the way, Gurdjieff himself stopped using as far back as 1924, and never used in his writings. Yet it has come into his teachings because he used it when introducing these ideas for the first time to a new audience in Russia during the first years of the first war. Sometimes some unfortunate terms are retained even when the author of them would dearly like to have them forgotten. The truth is that the state of Unity is a state of stillness, of emptiness. This awareness of the void, which is the depth of man, is where he finds what true being is. Clearly enough, this is very different from what we ordinarily call the emotional life. Our ordinary emotional life is a state of disturbance, dominated by likes and dislikes, by hopes and fears, by desires and aversions and so on; all these pairs of opposites, as they are called in the Gita. That is characteristic of the ordinary emotional urges of man. Instead of the urge to be, he has the urge to be satisfied, the urge for pleasure, the urge to possess, the urge to be accepted, the desire that other people should assure him that he is something, in spite of the fact that inwardly he knows that he is nothing. So it is useful for the purpose of description to say that there is a lower emotional nature and a higher emotional nature. But it is better described later by Gurdjieff in his book Beelzebub's Tales, where he refers to Objective Reason. That is very much better. The word reason in the way he uses it can be connected in our minds with logic, making sense, and in Beelzebub's Tales he does use an unfortunate expression, `sane logical mentation' again and again, when he is referring to something that is not at all sane and far from being logical. But if you will look at it in this way, that we have in ourselves these urges; that they are really one urge only, that is the urge to fulfill our destiny, but they flow through different channels because we have different instruments; primarily the three brains. It is because our urge to be has become so falsified, so much directed to what people think of us, how we appear to others, how we appear to ourselves, what kind of satisfaction we can have for ourselves, that the real purpose of this urge in us is covered over. Yet it is there, and it is fair to say that at the times when man is particularly misusing his powers, as we all know is the case in the present day, then this urge for being begins again to awaken and people become dissatisfied with possessing and even with knowing.
Copyright - J.G.Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett