Non-identification and Enlightened Action

Dear Wisdom Friends,

I received the following in my inbox this past week from Jerry Toporovsky. Jerry is a senior teacher of the Gurdjieff Work and was the leader of our pilgrimage to Uzbekistan in 2015. I found it so appropriate to those of us struggling to understand the relationship between non-identification and enlightened action that I thought I’d pass it on. Thanks for considering!

Love and blessing,



There is much fear and anxiety about; the time we live in can be defined as such. There is little that most folks trust; people do not fear a specific thing but EVERYTHING and will do anything to escape it. Uncertainty and doubt lead to following snake oil salesmen – destroying the competing vitriol is rarely a solution.

For us in the work the key is humility. We can be with anxiety and not attempt to escape; we can endure uncertainty and see that being so throws us off our smug island of certainty to a world of potential. We can even appreciate the pain and fear and allow them to wake us up.

Let us not lose ourselves in our emotions and remain non-identified. Be an activist if you wish, fight injustice, help those in need if that is your calling. Stay non-identified.

In addition, work on the cause of the problem, energy imbalance – stay within your atmosphere, not leaking, opening to finer energy, remembering who we truly are and connect with gratitude to the gift of being human.

With Love,

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11 thoughts on “Non-identification and Enlightened Action

  1. hmm, one more – I guess what I got from that is, identification in the Ignorance means being lost in the appearance, taking the phenomenon for the Reality.

    Divine identification means knowing the Divine, identifying with the Divine in the tree, the sky, etc.

    of course, all words are problematic, because it sounds in the previous sentence like I’m separating the Divine and the tree, or the Divine and the sky. It might be better to say knowing the tree AS the Divine, but this only has meaning if read with a totally silent mind! (silent, meaning, disidentifying from the mind:>)) tricky, tricky words!)

  2. Hi again:

    I was thinking about this issue of identification and non-identification, and some potential confusions with the terms came to mind.

    I remember when I first came across the Gurdjieff work in 1971, the whole idea of non-identification sounded dualistic to me. “I” am here and what I am identified with is “there” and I’m trying to separate myself from it. I puzzled over this until I came across someone who clarified it for me.

    The Mother (the previously referred to Mirra Alfassa) had undertaken an extensive study of Western occultism before coming to India. She did this in the 1890s and early 1900s, so it would have been before Gurdjieff was well known. But she lived for some years in Paris, where Gurdjieff groups first flourished in the 1920s, so it’s possible she was familiar with some of the same sources as Gurdjieff (though I know he was alleged to have learned much in North Africa as well as Central Asia).

    This passage, from one of her writings, was very helpful to me in clarifying the non dualist/dualist meaning of **both** identification and non-identification:


    Consciousness is the faculty of becoming aware of anything whatsoever through identification with it. But the divine consciousness is not only aware but knows and effects. For, mere awareness is not knowledge. To become aware of a vibration, for instance, does not mean that you know everything about it. Only when the consciousness participates in the divine consciousness docs it get full knowledge by identification with the object.

    Ordinarily, identification leads to ignorance rather than knowledge, for the consciousness is lost in what it becomes and is unable to envisage proper causes, concomitants and consequences. Thus you identify yourself with a movement of anger and your whole being becomes one angry vibration, blind and precipitate, oblivious of everything else, It is only when you stand back, remain detached in the midst of the passionate turmoil that you are able to see the process with a knowing eye. So knowledge in the ordinary state of being is to be obtained rather by stepping back from a phenomenon, to watch it without becoming identified with it. But the divine consciousness identifies itself with its object and knows it thoroughly, because it always becomes one with the essential truth or law inherent in each fact. And it not only knows, but, by knowing, brings about what it wants. To be conscious is for it to be effective—each of its movements being a flash of omnipotence which, besides illumining blazes its way ultimately to the goal dictated by its truth-nature.

    Your ordinary consciousness is very much mixed up with unconsciousness—it fumbles, strains and is thwarted, while by unity with the Supreme you share the Supreme Nature and get the full knowledge whenever you turn to observe any object and identify yourself with it. Of course, this does not necessarily amount to embracing all the contents of the divine consciousness. Your movements become true, but you do not possess all the manifold riches of the Divine’s activity. Still, within your sphere, you are able to see correctly and according to the truth of things— which is certainly more than what is called in yogic parlance knowledge by identity. For, the kind of identification taught by many disciplines extends your limits of perception without piercing to the innermost heart of an object: it sees from within it, as it were, but only its phenomenal aspect. For example, if you identify yourself with a tree you become aware in the way in which a tree is aware of itself, yet you do not come to know everything about a tree for the simple reason that it is itself not possessed of such knowledge.

    You do share the tree’s inner feeling, but you certainly do not understand the truth it stands for, any more than by being conscious of your own nature self you possess at once the divine reality which you secretly are. Whereas if you arc one with the divine consciousness, you know—over and above how the tree feels—what the truth behind it is, in short, you know everything, because the divine consciousness knows everything.

    Indeed, there are many means of attaining this unity. It may be done through aspiration, or surrender, or some other method. Each followed with persistence and sincerity leads to it. Aspiration is the dynamic push of your whole nature behind the resolution to reach the Divine. Surrender, on the other hand, may be defined as the giving up of the limits of your ego. To surrender to the Divine is to renounce your narrow limits and let yourself be invaded by it and made a centre for its play. But you must bear in mind that the universal consciousness so beloved of Yogis is not the Divine: you can break your limits horizontally if you like, but you will be quite mistaken if you take the sense of wideness and cosmic multiplicity to be the Divine. The universal movement is after all a mixture of falsehood and truth, so that to stop there is to be imperfect; for, you may very well share the cosmic consciousness without ever attaining the transcendent Truth. On the other hand, to go to the Divine is also to attain the universal realisation and yet remain free of falsehood.

    The real bar to self-surrender, whether to the Universal or to the Transcendent, is the individual’s love of his own limitations. It is a natural love, since in the very formation of the individual being there is a tendency to concentrate on limits. Without that, there would be no sense of separateness—all would be mixed, as happens quite often in the mental and vital movements of consciousness. It is the body especially which preserves separative individuality by not being so fluid. But once this separateness is established, there creeps in the fear of losing it—a healthy instinct in many respects, but misapplied with regard to the Divine. For, in the Divine you do not really lose your individuality: you only give up your egoism and become the true individual, the divine personality which is not temporary like the construction of the physical consciousness which is usually taken for your self. One touch of the divine consciousness and you will see immediately that there is no loss in it.

    On the contrary, you acquire a true individual permanence which can survive a hundred deaths of the body and all the vicissitudes of the vital-mental evolution. Without this transfiguring touch, you always go about in fear; with it, you gradually develop the power to make even your physical being plastic without losing its individuality. Even now, it is not entirely rigid, it is able to feel the conscious movements of others by a sort of sympathy which translates itself into nervous reactions to their joys and sufferings: it is also able to express your inner movements—it is well known that the face is an index and mirror to the mind. But only the divine consciousness can make the body responsive enough to reflect all the movements of the supramental immortality and be an expression of the true soul and, by being divinised, reach the acme of the supreme individuality which can even physically rise superior to the necessity of death and dissolution.

    In conclusion, I should like to draw your attention to one point for it very frequently obstructs true union. It is a great error to suppose that the Divine Will is always acting openly in the world. All that happens is not, in fact, divine: the Supreme Will is distorted in the manifestation owing to the combination of lower forces which translate it. They are the medium which falsifies its impetus and gives it an undivine result. If all that happened were indeed the flawless translation of it, how could you account for the distortions of the world? Not that the Divine Will could not have caused the cosmic Ignorance. It is omnipotent and all possibilities arc inherent in it: it can work out anything of which it sees the secret necessity in its original vision. And the first cause of the world is, of course, the Divine, though we must take care not to adjudge this fact mentally according to our petty ethical values. But once the conditions of the cosmos were laid down and the involution into nescience accepted as the basis of a progressive manifestation of the Divine out of all that seemed its very opposite, there took place a sort of division between the Higher and the Lower.

    The history of the world became a battle between the True and the False, in which the details are not all direct representations of the Divine’s progressive action but rather distortions of it owing to the mass of resistance offered by the inferior Nature. If there were so such resistance, there would be nothing whatever to conquer in the world, for the world would be harmonious, a constant passage from one perfection to another instead of the conflict which it is—a game of hazards and various possibilities in which the Divine faces real oppositions, real difficulty and often real temporary defeat on the way to the final victory. It is just this reality of the whole play that makes it no mere jest. The Divine Will actually suffers distortion the moment it touches the hostile forces in the Ignorance. Hence we must never slacken our efforts to change the world and bring about a different order. We must be vigilant to co-operate with the Divine and not placidly think that whatever happens is always the best. All depends upon the personal attitude.

    If, in the presence of circumstances that are on the point of occurring, you take the highest possible attitude—that is to say, if you put your consciousness in contact with the highest consciousness within your reach— you can be absolutely certain that in such a case what happens is the best that can happen to you. But as soon as you fall from this consciousness and come down into a lower state, then it is evident that what happens cannot be the best, since you are not in your best consciousness. As Sri Aurobindo once said, “What happened had to happen, but it could have been much better.” Because the person to whom it happened was not in his highest consciousness, there was no other consequence possible; but if he had brought about a descent of the Divine, then, even if the situation in general had been inevitable, it would have turned out in a different way. What makes all the difference is how you receive the impulsion of the Divine Will.

    You must rise very high before you can meet this Will in its plenary splendour of authenticity; not before you open your lower nature to it can it begin to manifest in terms of the Truth. You must, therefore, refrain from applying the merely Nietzschean standard of temporary success in order to differentiate the Divine from the undivine. For, life is a battlefield in which the Divine succeeds in detail only when the lower nature is receptive to its impulsions instead of siding with the hostile forces. And even then the test is not so much external as internal: a divine movement cannot be measured by apparent signs—it is a certain kind of vibration that indicates its presence—external tests are of no avail, since even what is in appearance a failure may be in fact a divine achievement. … What you have to do is to give yourself up to the Grace of the Divine; for, it is under the form of Grace, of Love, that it has consented to uplift the universe after the first involution was established. With the Divine Love is the supreme power of transformation. It has this power because it is for the sake of Transformation that it has given itself to the world and manifested everywhere. Not only has it infused itself into man, but also into all the atoms of the most obscure Matter in order to bring the world back to the original Truth. It is this descent that is called the supreme sacrifice in the Indian scriptures. But it is a sacrifice only from the human point of view; the human mind thinks that if it had to do such a thing it would be a tremendous sacrifice.

    But the Divine cannot really be diminished, its infinite essence can never become less, no matter what “sacrifices” arc made … The moment you open to the Divine Love, you also receive its power of Transformation. But it is not in terms of quantity that you can measure it; what is essential is the true contact; for, you will find that the true contact with it is sufficient to fill at once the whole of your being.

    1. I first encountered Krishna Prem in January, 1975. I saw a copy of his Bhagavad Gita commentary at Weiser’s, on Broadway in NYC, then the 2nd largest “occult-spiritual” bookstore in the world (Watkins, in London, was, I think, the largest).

      I still remember vividly starting around 3 PM, reading straight through into the night, then going back and reading through the whole book again without sleeping. I read it everyday for at least the next 20 years, and to date, it still strikes me as one of the greatest spiritual books of the past 100 years (it was written as a series of commentaries for a Vaishnava – Devotional Hinduism – journal in the 1930s). That book, as well as his commentary on the Katha Upanishad, are both available for free online. His “Initiation Into Yoga’ includes a wonderful biography of his life, and some of the essays written in the 1920s that made some of the greatest yogis in India consider him to be one of their own.

      I mentioned Ramana Maharshi’s estimation of him. Sri Aurobindo, who, though an Indian native was educated in England, said that Krishna Prem’s astonishing capacity for surrender to God had amazed him, as Sri Aurobindo himself recalled having been “modernized” enough to find surrender (along with the corollary ‘non-identification’) extremely difficult.

      There’s a beautiful vignette of Krishna Prem going before Mirra Alfassa (also known as “the Mother” of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) for darshan (“Darshan,” traditionally, is an outer ritual symbolizing surrender to the Divine). As he stood before her, she asked him, “What do you want?” Without any hesitation, he replied, “To give myself [to God].”

      The Mother was known – at least, among the Zen Buddhists who saw her as a fully awakened sage, the Christians who met her and esteemed her as a saint, among many others – as someone who could look into the very depths of one’s soul.

      She looked at him intensely, and then said, “But you *have* given yourself.”

      “Not enough,” was his immediately, unself-conscious reply.

      MIrra later said that rarely had two simple words moved her so deeply.

  3. This is something written over 80 years ago, by Ronald Nixon, later known as Sri Krishna Prem. Ramana Maharshi called him a “rare combination of Jnani (sage) and bhakta (devotee). Sri Aurobindo and the Mother both admired him greatly for his astonishing (for a westerner) capacity for utter and complete surrender to the Divine.

    Ronald Nixon was a British man who followed the wife of the chancellor of Lucknow University to a remote Ashram in the Himalayas. He revered her for the rest of his life as a woman and rare spiritual stature. He wrote some of the most beautiful spiritual books of the 20th century, and was greatly admired by such people as Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo. He was given the name “Sri Krishna Prem.”

    Among the many of his inspiring writings, this short essay, originally published more than 80 years ago, has a startling relevance to the events of recent weeks (well, actually, to just about everything happening in the last 80 or 800 or 8000 years!!)


    By Sri Krishna Prem

    Wars are psychic events that have their birth in the souls of men. We like to put the blame for them upon the shoulders our favorite scapegoat, upon imperialism, nationalism, communism, or capitalism, whichever be our chosen bogey. Not any or all of these are really responsible, but we ourselves we harmless folk who like to think that we hate war and all its attendant horrors. We may have had no finger in the muddy waters of politics or finance, we may have written no articles or even letters tending to inflame national, racial, or communal passions, yet we are all sharers in the responsibility.

    Every feeling of anger, hatred, envy, and revenge that we have indulged in the past years, no matter whom it was directed against and however “justified” it may seem to us to have been, has been a handful of gunpowder thrown on to the pile which must, sooner or later, explode as now it has done.

    But it is not he or they who struck the match that is or are responsible for a world in flames, but we who have helped to swell the pile of powder. For what is it that we have done? The states of hatred, fear, etc., that have entered our hearts and there met with indulgence are, as always, intolerable guests. We hasten to project them outside ourselves, to affix them like posters upon any convenient wall. Doubtless there was something in the nature of the wall that made it a suitable vehicle for that particular poster, but, all the same, the poster came from us and was by us affixed.

    Whether we look at the psychology of individuals, or at those aggregates of individuals which we call national states, the process is the same. That which we hate or fear in ourselves we project upon our neighbors. He who fears his own sex desires discerns impurity in all whom he meets; in the same way, nations that are filled with hatred, fear, and aggressive desire perceive the images of those passions burning luridly upon the ramparts of other nations, not realizing that it is they themselves who have lit and placed them there. Thus arises the myth of the peace loving nations and individuals, just because we project our own aggressive desires upon our neighbors and thus secure the illusion of personal cleanliness.

    This is not to say that the responsibility of all nations is alike, any more than is that of all individuals. Some of us have sinned more deeply than others, but the assessment of such responsibility is never easy. It is more important and also profitable for us to remember that all hatred, fear, envy, and aggressive desire, by whomsoever and however “privately” entertained, has been the fuel which prepared and still maintains the blaze. Every time we feel a thrill of triumph at the destruction of “the enemy”, we add to it, for each time we do so we are making others the scapegoats for the evil in ourselves. This is not mere philosophic talk; it is not even religion; it is sheer practical fact which any psychologist will confirm.

    None of us, not the most determined conscientious objector, not the most isolationist of neutrals, can escape his share of responsibility. Indeed, it is often just those who do not partake in the actual physical fighting who do most with their thoughts to increase the conflict. Fighting men, after a few months of experience have been gained, are often to a surprising degree free from hatred, while those who sit in comfortable isolation only too frequently indulge their own baser excitements and passions by exulting in vicarious horrors, making a cinema show out of the agonies of others, fighting to the last drop of (others) blood, and fanning the flames of hatred and violence with the unseen wind of their own thoughts and feelings.

    For there is that in all men which welcomes war; yes, welcomes it even to the point of willingness to undergo its sufferings. In almost all men there is much that social and religious convention will not in normal times permit to find expression. There is a caged beast in the hearts of most of us, a beast whose substance we should like to gratify, but cannot for fear of consequences. Usually he nourishes his subterranean life on the scraps of fantasy and daydream that filter down to the den where he sits, brooding on deeds of violence and cruelty by which he may be revenged for his confinement; and each time we indulge in fantasies of hatred or revenge those thoughts sink down and add to his ferocious energy. Sometimes we can feel him straining against the confining bars, but in normal times “God” and the policemen keep him down, so that only occasionally does he escape and the world is shocked by some deed of atrocious cruelty. When this occurs, society decides that that man’s cage is too weak to hold its beast, and, fearing the example on others if one should be allowed to escape with impunity, hurriedly proceeds to destroy both man and beast.

    It is necessary to add that the beast is not destroyed by the killing of the body which was its cage. Unseen by men it roams about, freed of its cage of flesh, free also to enter in the heart of any man who will give it temporary shelter and to urge him to the vile deeds that it loves. If men in general became aware of the extent to which this happens, they would not be so eager to kill those who commit ghastly crimes—nor their personal enemies either. This is what happens in normal times. But in times of war all is different. “Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war” is no mere poetic metaphor. The hell-hounds from within are loosed. All that was “sinful” and forbidden before is now encouraged in the service of the State. Hatred, violence, ferocity, cruelty, as well as every variety of deceitful cunning, all these become virtues in those who direct them against “the enemy”. Even those whose States are not at war feel the contagion and, taking sides in the struggle, indulge their beasts in imagination.

    Thus do the periods of war and peace succeed one another through the weary centuries of history. It is not intended to deny that in certain circumstances the open and outer violence of armed resistance may not be the lesser of two evils, for in the present state of humanity the alternative is too often a violence of thought and feeling, an obsessive brooding over hatred and revenge that is far worse than outward fighting. But never will violence bring violence to an end. As long as we nourish the brutes within our hearts with the desire-laden thoughts that are their lifeblood, so long will they break out from time to time, and so long will periodical wars be inevitable.

    The only way to real peace is the taming of those inner beasts. We who have created them, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, must weaken them by giving them no food, must re- absorb them into our conscious selves from which in horror we have banished them, and finally must transmute their very substance by the alchemy of spirit. And that is yoga: only in yoga is peace.

    The world is just one’s thought; with effort then it should be cleansed by each one of us. As is one’s thought, so one becomes; this is the eternal secret (Maitri Upanishad). Those who care for peace and hate war must keep more vigilant guard over their thoughts and fantasies than in normal times. Every exulting thought at news of the destruction of the “enemy” (as though man had any enemy but the one in his own bosom), every indulgence in depression at “our own” disasters, every throb of excitement at the deeds of war in general is a betrayal of humanity’s cause. Those who enjoy a physical isolation from the fighting are in possession of an opportunity that is a sacred trust. If they fail to make use of it to bring about peace in that part of the world-psyche with which they are in actual contact, namely, their own hearts, above all, if they actively misuse that opportunity by loosing their beasts in sympathetic fantasy, then they are secret traitors to humanity. As such, they will be caught within the web of karma that they are spinning, a web that will unerringly bring it about that, in the next conflict that breaks out, it will be on them that the great burden of suffering will fall. Of all such it may be said that he who takes the sword in thought and fantasy shall perish by the sword in actual fact.

    This is the great responsibility that falls upon all, and especially upon all who by their remoteness from the physical struggle are given the opportunity of wrestling with their passions in some degree of detachment, and so actually lessening the flames of hatred and evil in this world.

    None can escape, for all life is one. As soon should the little finger think to escape the burning fever which has gripped the body, as any to escape the interlinkedness of all life. Neutral or conscientious objector, householder or world-renouncing sannyasi, none can escape his share of responsibility for a state of things that his own thoughts have helped to bring about; for neither geographical remoteness, nor governmental decree of neutrality, nor yet personal refusal to bear arms can isolate the part from the whole in which it is rooted.

    It is in the inner worlds of desire that wars originate, and from those inner worlds that they are maintained. What we see as wars upon this physical plane are but the shadows of those inner struggles, a ghastly phantom show, boding forth events that have already taken pace in the inner world, dead ash marking the destructive path of the forest fire, the troubled and unalterable wake of a ship whose prow is cleaving the waters far ahead.

    In war or peace we live in a world of shadows cast by events that we term “future”, because, unseen by us as they really happen, we only know them when we come across their wake upon this plane.

    Sri Krishna’s words, pronounced before the Kurukshetra battle, “by Me already have they all been slain”, refer not to any remorseless, divine predestination, but to this very fact, and they are as true of those whose bodies will perish in the coming year as they were of those who fought in that war of long ago.

    Until we understand and face this basic fact, wars are inevitable, and struggling in the wake of troubled waters that ourselves have made, fighting with shadows that ourselves have cast, we shall continue to cry out against a hostile and malignant Fate, or if of a more submissive nature, to pray to God to save us from its grip. But prayers and out cries alike are useless: “Not in the middle regions of the air, nor in the ocean depths; not in the mountain caves, nor anywhere on earth is there a spot where man can escape the fruit of his evil deeds.” In the inner worlds we have made war: in those same inner worlds we must make peace, for “Mind is the forerunner of all things, by mind are all things made. He who with desire-polluted mind thinks or acts evil, him sorrow follows as the wheel the foot of the ox.” (Dhammapada)

    Sri Krishna Prem (1898-1965), was born Ronald Nixon. As a young man, he was fascinated by Buddhism and the Pali language. In 1924, he accepted the post of Reader in English at Lucknow University in India and later accepted initiation into the Vaishnava religion and was considered the first westerner to ever become a Vaishnava. He later founded a Hindu ashram, with his guru Yashoda Mai, in the foothills of the Himalayas. His works include, The Yoga of the Kathopanishad, The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita, and Intiation into Yoga.

  4. I have been contemplating from the “other side” of non-identification, i.e., how “identification” with our Creator, or for Christians, identification with Jesus, the Christ, brings me closer to our call to human completeness, wholeness, through “identification”, our identity rooted in our Creator. As we carry out our various ministries or work, non-identification can keep us from subjectivity to our ego drive towards success. Our identification with our Creator or Jesus the Christ as a Christian, frees us to enter into the world while remaining “detached” from the outcomes. Non-identification is a unique and clarifying way of stating our primary focus of union with God, maintaining a centereness in our being, and thus free to give ourselves freely away. God, Jesus, the perfect human/divine icon, and the Spirit are our identity. This is Enlightment and leads to enlightened movement/behavior.

  5. Thank you, Cynthia and Jerry for the post. Is it possible to explain “non identification” with more detail?

    Many thanks.
    Blessings and peace,

    1. I am confused by this in the second paragraph: “Let us not lose ourselves in our emotions and remain non-identified. ” That seems to say remaining non-identified is a bad thing. Then the last sentence seems to be telling us to “Stay non-identified,” which sounds as if being non-identified is a good thing.

      Admittedly, non-identified is not a term that I have heard in this context, so I join Louise Deutsch in hoping that you may explain that.

      1. Yes, Jerry could stand a little editing here; his meaning is “Let us not lose ourselves in our emotions; let us remain non-identified.”

        Meanwhile, I keep forgetting that non-identification is not a household term in Christian contemplative circles; its provenance is the Gurdjieff Work (although an implicit sense of it certainly underlies S. Benedict’s teaching on Humility in the seventh chapter of his Rule.) Identification is basically a special form of attachment: attachment to one’s sense of self or identity, as generated through the operating system of the smaller self. When one does something in an identified way, its implicit (usually) unconscious agenda is to express or assert a sense of one’s own identity. People are identified with their religions, nationalities, parish churches, enneagram type, values–almost anything you can throw a lasso of your selfhood around. In most of psychological culture, it’s looked upon as a strength and a source of motivation. Gurdjieff accurately pointed out that the sense of selfhood thereby generated is fragile, illusory, prone to violence if anything threatens it, and prone to vainglory if anything doesn’t. The Charlottesville debacle is a case in point. True identity is conferred by sinking one’s roots deep into being itself and –in the words of my hermit teacher Brother Raphael, “having enough being to be nothing.” This is also Benedict’s definition of humility, and is a guarantee of action that is aligned with love and forgiveness.

        You can explore deeper by hunting up my “Spiritual Practices from the Gurdjieff Work” teaching series on the Spirituality & Practice website.

    2. Thank you, Louise. Perhaps this excerpt from a teaching session I did on identification in the S & P Gurdjieff teaching series might be helpful.

      Of all the useful applications of this Gurdjieffian mode of self-observation, perhaps none is more useful than the help it gives us in spotting that insidious stealth bomber, identification.

      Identification is another of those Gurdjieff specialties. No other body of spiritual teaching I’m aware of nails it so well and works with it so directly. Sniffing out identification (both in myself and in those around me) as been the single most valuable piece of learning I’ve carried with me from my years in the Work.

      What is Identification?
      Identification is essentially a form of spiritual attachment. But it’s a special case of attachment: attachment to one’s own sense of identity or self-image. When you’re “identified” with what you’re doing, you’re doing it in such a way that its primary (if not exclusive) motivation is to establish or assert a sense of who you are.

      So what’s so bad about that? One of the reasons identification is difficult to spot at first is that in our culture we commonly think of it as a virtue. It’s good (isn’t it?) to be identified with your school, your church, your country, your political party. We see it as a way of “building team spirit” and as a source of motivation. To be identified with something means “to really get involved” and “to put everything we’ve got” into it! The opposite of identification, as we typically think about it, would be indifference or apathy.

      But in Gurdjieff’s take, identification is always a negative. Like an invisible millstone around our necks, it chains us firmly to our ego selfhood with its inherently defended and anxious mode of being. And when it gets loose in a group, it becomes the unseen bull in the china shop that winds up wrecking everything. Even the loftiest of original intentions get tangled up in a quagmire of personalities and hidden agendas. Organizations that run on a good deal of idealism (like churches, non-profits, and political action groups) seem particularly vulnerable to it.

      What causes identification?
      The main reason that identification is hard to spot is that it’s so closely tied into the mechanisms from which our usual sense of selfhood derive that it’s almost like trying to look at your own eyeballs! Our cognitive mind works on the principle of perception through differentiation. In order to make sense of reality, it automatically begins by separating the field of perception into binaries—subject/object, inside/outside, “me/”not me, “ etc.—then moving the separated pieces around through standard mental operations such as comparison /contrast, “either/or,” “more and less.”

      With this program running, “who I am” appears to consist of a set of defining characteristics and properties that distinguish me from everyone else. (It’s a fundamental principle of logic that identity is conferred through differentiation.) Identification, then, is fundamentally the vigilant assertion of that set of characteristics we believe makes us uniquely us. It’s the ego’s way of holding onto itself for dear life!

      But where identity is based on differentiation, there’s always a shadow side in exclusion and competitiveness, and an inherent potential for differentiation to slip into divisiveness. If I am “me” to the extent that I am not you, there’s a strong predisposition to protect my own sense of identity and to react with violence when that identity is threatened.

      Identification is a huge consumer of psychic energy and is the number one cause of burnout among clergy, political idealists, and caregivers. If you take on the identity of being a good person, a caring person, a good mother, a stellar preacher, etc., the amount of energy going into maintaining that identity will eventually collapse in exhaustion.

      Spotting identification
      Identification is easy to spot in others. You see it all around you: in excessive attachments to roles and an unwillingness to do them in a different way (because “that’s who I am!”) You spot it in continuous self-referential statements (“I am a person who….”) or in the tendency to turn every task or encounter into a demonstration of individuality. You spot it in territoriality and in touchiness.

      With yourself, it’s not so easy—and here’s where some of those self-observation skills we’ve been working on come into play. The biggest tip off to identification, is the presence of inner constriction. When you feel bracing, urgency, inner tensioning arising within you, no matter how justified you feel your position may be may be, it’s a near-infallible sign that identification is part of the mix. The tendency to see those with a different opinion as “opponents” is also a tip-off.. When the voice tone shrills, the posture becomes ritualized, the jaw and shoulders tense, you can be pretty sure that identification has entered the picture.

      The other tip-off is a disproportionate amount of effort or energy spent on a task that could reasonably be completed much more simply. I finally had to admit that identification was the primary culprit a few years back when I found myself taking nearly thirty hours each week to compose as ten-minute sermon! Under the guise of being “prepared,” what I was really up to was trying to be impressive!

      Working beyond Identification
      But is it really possible to work without identification? What, then, would supply our motivation?

      The late Gerald May, a psychotherapist and co-founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation had an arresting answer to this question, with which I believe Gurdjieff would not disagree:

      “As attachment [identification] ceases to be your motivation, your actions become reflections of compassion absolute.”

      It’s true that the ego self can only work through separation, division, comparison; it’s built right into the operating system. Identification and the ego-self are joined at the hip. But as we move beyond this limited selfhood toward what Gurdjieff calls “Real I,” a whole new vista opens up, which spiritual masters of all times and places have alluded to as the very essence of awakening. We begin to see through the eyes of a deeper selfhood that does not run the “perception through differentiation” program, but can find its bearings within a single, flowing field of reality whose nature can be directly perceived as coherent and compassionate. In this larger and more vibrant reality it is not only possible, but in fact effortless to work without investment in self-image and outcome; we simply flow in the river of compassion.

  6. Etats Unis! United States….that came to me this morning as I weeded one of the banks in front of our 100 year old church…So much unending work I thought to myself–how can we keep up with our grounds and church with ever dwindling resources—human and financial? Then a wave of wisdom teaching came over me. Ora et Labora— Gurdjief’s “Work”. My personal “state” was what I was responsible for in the moment. What can I control? My thoughts and my actions. Can I lovingly weed? Can I thank the many who have come before me to tend this church? Yes! Thank you Jerry and Cynthia for humbly passing on the wisdom teachings so we can learn to live in internal unity. Soon we will see it reflected everywhere! Preparing for the Eclipse. Praying and Working, Lora

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