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Adam Nott Interviewed by Adam Turner
Q: I am not my father and I am sure you are not yours, but I did re-read some of C.S. Nott’s books before coming here, assuming it would lay some common ground for us to start from. In one of these books it says ‘a moment of self-remembering is a moment of consciousness, not in the ordinary sense, but a consciousness of the real Self, which is “I”. How would you explain to someone new to ideas like ‘inner work’, the difference between this “I” and how people usually view themselves in their ordinary, everyday existence?
A: I suppose that is something one might have to do. The first thing that comes to mind is that one only understands the difference when it happens. It is an entirely different experience of oneself, and I’d say, if one thinks in terms of, say, the three centres usually being unrelated to each other. When they come together, then you have this completely different experience of yourself, being more and more together or more united. How that happens, of course, isn’t something within one’s control or rather, the moment isn’t within one’s control. One is given indications about certain efforts, which may not appear to have any effect in relation to the experience of remembering oneself but I am sure they have a cumulative effect. So, as it turns out, one tries as best one can, and for that, one needs guidance.
But however much guidance one has, when one tries, each time it will probably be different and not necessarily appropriate, but sometimes it is appropriate. One just has to try without looking for the result, without expecting the result. And as a result of this trying, these moments occur. So I suppose you go on. One of the effects I would say of such efforts, is a glimpse of oneself functioning more mechanically. Because when one is at a very mechanical level in oneself it doesn’t feel mechanical, it feels “normal”. But when you begin to have a taste of something else you reach a point from which you can see that, in fact, what’s going on is strictly unconscious. For example, being with someone else and realising that you’re not listening. To realise that there is a possibility of listening and that I am not listening, in a more enlightened state can be recognised as a glimpse of the truth. But something in me is unable to bear this and I lose the experience, overwhelmed by self-criticism.
Q: These ideas encourage us to be present in our bodies—to sense—but also reminds us that we are NOT our bodies. Why the paradox? Why not just accept that here we are, a mound of flesh held together with lots of complex systems, and be done with it?
A: Well, why not? But in fact it’s not a paradox because this encouragement or indication that one needs to sense one’s body is a two-way thing. Who is sensing the body? I forget this all the time and I need to remind myself the effort of trying to sense the body is actually bringing the head and the body together. It’s only when the head and body are together that the body is sensed. People talk all the time of the need to be in one’s body and it’s true, but what they mean is I need this connection between the two parts. I need to experience that I’m in my body. One forgets where the impetus is coming from; it comes from the head. It’s the head linking with the body that produces the experience of sensing. In trying to make the connection between the centres we tend to begin with the head and the body, because it is more possible. If I try to make a connection between the head and the emotions my head will be carried away by the strength of the emotions and no connection is possible.
So you need this alliance between the head and the body in order to be able to face the horse (the emotions), without being carried away by it. And then, maybe, the three can come together.
In the early days, the way that work was taught was a bit cerebral. People complained that there was no room for feelings. But in fact, it now it seems to me that this is the aim. To experience feelings as opposed to emotions is only possible with this union of the three parts.
Q: In the same book it says ‘self-remembering begins with self-sensing. It must be done through the instinctive-moving centre and the emotional centre.’ I recognise this. Most often, what I call self-remembering starts with me noticing bodily tensions in a posture, for example. In this kind of practice, what do you see as the role of the intellectual part of ourselves?
A: Are these quotes from my father? Well the influence that he was exposed to, apart from his direct contact with Mr Gurdjieff, was what we would now consider to be very formatory. And the ideas, I’ve seen some of the notes of the groups that they had in New York with Orage, and they are largely talking about the ideas. I suppose you’ve read the Third Series about Mr Gurdjieff going to New York and telling everyone they had to leave the Orage group, and give up Orage, and in the end, Orage does the same. I think what provoked that was seeing that everything was happening on this level of talking about the ideas. So now one tends to ask people to speak from experience, experience of themselves, rather than from an idea. I would say the ideas have a different place, it doesn’t mean that they are not true…
It always used to be the case that when you met someone who was interested in the Work and wanted to join a group that they had read ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, but you realise that people do not read the way they used to. So I was very surprised when I was in Ireland last weekend it was still ‘In Search…’ that really brought them to look for something else. It would apply to me too. I had parents who were with Mr Gurdjieff, I met Mr Gurdjieff, but I didn’t know what he was teaching. I only found out when ‘In Search…’ came out. And my parents, I am glad to say, didn’t try to indoctrinate me.
[It’s important to be clear about] what one means by intellectual centre. One doesn’t want to confuse the formatory apparatus with the intellectual centre. One might say the formatory apparatus is the loudest part of intellectual centre, but if you were to come back to this idea of linking the head to the body when one tries to sense oneself, there is a quiet part of intellectual centre, which is further back, and that’s the part which can make this connection. So there’s no problem, it’s got to be involved when you sense yourself.
Q: I was mowing the grass the other day, and trying to keep my attention on certain things. I noticed that my attention was here one minute, and gone the next, and that sometimes, I had no control over how and when it disappeared. In fact, the causes of its disappearance were sometimes a mystery to me. What is the value in struggling to maintain attention in these circumstances?
A: I think it depends on how one struggles. It seems to me that what you were trying when you were mowing the lawn is a sensible idea, possibly a little complex, to sense different parts of the body. Probably I would suggest, or I would try myself in that situation, to see if I could keep in contact with my feet while I was mowing the lawn. And possibly finding that I couldn’t. There’s always this possibility that by trying one is exercising the capacity, and this capacity has to be exercised, and eventually, well, it’s just like a muscle. You can’t do certain things with certain muscles if they haven’t been used, so you have to use them, and when you’re beginning to use them, it doesn’t tend to make any difference. One is not sensitive enough to realise one has a bit more strength than one did yesterday because I’m working at it. So that is the reason for trying, but one always has at the back of my mind that I don’t really know what I’m doing. So if I say that I’m trying in the way I tried yesterday this may or may not be true.
I used to think the same about interest, when it was 6%. I thought: why bother? But if you’ve got £10,000, 6% can make quite a lot of sense. Especially if you put it somewhere, because next time you look, you’ve got £10,000 and something.
Q: How do you view the importance of sensation in work on movement and attention? Can you share some personal reflections on your own work with sensation and how you have grown?
A: Well, sensation is the result of this same effort that I’m speaking about, linking the head to the body. And particularly when working on the Movements, or some Movements, a moment may appear when you realise, because of the different demands of the Movements, you can’t just keep track of everything with your head. There is something for the head, and then something else is added. The head can’t follow what was given first as well as this new thing. And so you begin to realise, this whole process has to be run, or participated in by something else than what I’m trying, which possibly is my ordinary head.
Gradually, on a good day, things come together, and because of the demands of the Movement, one is obliged to find a different way of dealing with this Movement. And very often what comes is sensing, more intense than usual, but it’s still the result of trying to bring things together in oneself, which of course, the Movements help. I would say I have reached that experience most strongly through the Movements. Not only the demands of the Movement, but also the music. So those influences together take me to a different place in myself.
I would add that, whatever depths one may have reached in oneself, they have to be found again. The idea of inner growth could be taken to mean the capacity to search. The capacity to search is there and by its exercise I am brought experiences of myself, but to reinforce them I still need to search again. One of the disadvantages of a very strong experience, like a strong experience of sensation, is that you keep looking back. I had it yesterday, I’m trying again today, but it’s not like it was yesterday, which of course doesn’t help, because you didn’t have that experience through looking backwards.
Q: These ideas share something with many ideas that have come to the West under the general heading of ‘self-improvement’, and that is, change. I think that when we look honestly at ourselves, we are dissatisfied, and that this is the cause of much suffering. We see that we are not as we think we are or as we ought to be. What is the value of trying to change ourselves, or wishing to change ourselves, in inner work?
A: Well, Adam, self-improvement is a label that isn’t big enough to include Mr Gurdjieff’s teaching. The term self-discovery is closer in meaning. I would say the wish to change may be what brings us to the Work. But in fact, what is needed actually is to see yourself as you are, , and this wish to change often gets in the way because it comes on an ordinary level. I see something in myself and I react, I want to change it. But to what? What I need is the whole picture. So the change that is needed is to be able to see without reacting, and then, from there I might be able to move in a more intelligent way in the direction I need. In fact, one of the things one encounters when engaging in self-study is this experience that what one meets in oneself is a terrible mess.
One would like to be free of this mess, and it’s only when things are really together you begin to see this mess is my material, and when I see it and react, its drains me of energy, but when I can accept it, actually, it can be transformed. That’s another way of saying that the stuff I call ‘my mess’ doesn’t need to be changed. What needs to be changed is my response to it, and that can only come through a stronger inner connection.
But when you see, when you consider Mr Gurdjieff’s teaching, it isn’t just myself in the world, it’s myself in relation to the universe. And the different parts of the universe in relation to each other. So that’s why self-improvement isn’t really an appropriate heading.
It may be a beginning. What do you work towards? One needs something to work towards, as in ordinary life. What is your aim? It applies to the journey between starting as I am now and finding presence. I have this idea of presence, and without it I would not make a start. My way of explaining this is that I need this objective, although, in fact, it’s imaginary. It is an image. This image gets you started, but it’s very important to gradually relinquish it, because it is imaginary. If I am too attached to the image I risk missing the experience of the reality that I am seeking because it does not conform to the image which started me off. I sometimes liken it to the disposable fuel tanks that fighter planes carried in the Second World War. To extend their range they used these disposable fuel tanks which they started off with, and then dropped when they were empty.
Q: The enneagram symbol is something that is talked about a lot, some aspects of it have passed into more popular usage. I studied the so-called ‘esoteric’ sequence of it, with definite qualities associated with points 1-4-2-8-5-7. For example, the opposition, paradox and balance of point 1 (moon), progressing rightly to the passivity, openness and potential of point 4 (venus) and so on. Is this something you know about, or see of value?
A: I have to say that you have the advantage, you know more about it than I do. I’m sure you know that there is a whole world of literature about the enneagram that has been developed by some nuns, which is nothing to do with how we understand it. But I have never studied it in relation to myself. My only experience of the enneagram is through the Movements, and even then I would only say that it hasn’t brought me…well I cannot see the relationship between it and the other things I feel that I have pursued, and maybe that’s a lack on my part.
My understanding is, Gurdjieff presented his teaching in different ways at different times, because if you compare the material that is so well recorded by Ouspensky when he was with Gurdjieff in Moscow, with Beelzebub, you can’t imagine that they came from the same source. They have their place and different people are brought by different things.
I once asked one of my teachers who came from Paris every week: “Why all this stuff about hydrogens and other things in ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, when what you tell us is try to sense your body?” “Well,” he said, “it’s all related.”
It was directed to a certain kind of person in a similar way to how Alexander presented his teaching. He felt he had to present his discoveries as something scientific, and in his time, that was what was important. Today much of what he wrote is more of historical than practical interest. . One of his books is called ‘The Use of the Self, which describes how he discovered what he discovered, and because he is writing from experience, what he has to say is always relevant. Much of what else he has written is speculation and therefore very dated.
Q: There are sacred gymnastic dances, or movements, associated with these ideas, which I believe you are involved in, and I believe you are also involved with the Alexander Technique. I was interested to note how the Alexander Technique is sometimes applied to problems not necessarily associated with just ‘aches and pains’, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and stuttering. The movements also work with more than just our physical machinery. Do you see any parallels between the movements from Gurdjieff and the Alexander Technique, and if so, what are they?
A: I think one has to say that you can’t fit Gurdjieff’s teaching into the Alexander Technique, but you can fit the Alexander Technique into Gurdjieff’s teaching. Because one is of such a different scale than the other, and what is admirable about Alexander is that he managed to do what he did totally on his own, and what I think people studying the Gurdjieff work can learn from Alexander is a practical application of what
Gurdfieff describes as “living in sleep.” But the Alexander Technique gives you a more focused view of how you use your body in a way which is to its disadvantage, in everyday life, and in particular the relationship between the head and the neck and the back.
But it can help you to reinforce the realisation that you don’t know what you’re doing with the body, although there are plenty of examples of teachers who keep forgetting that they don’t know what they’re doing with their body. It’s very difficult to realise that, and there are only certain moments when one is together enough in oneself to realise it. So, I wouldn’t make any connection between the Alexander Technique and Movements, except to say that sometimes you may have an experience through Movements, one of the experiences that I can remember is, moving in quite a different way and with much less effort and much more fluency, and you may have the same experience after having had an Alexander lesson. So I think what the Alexander Technique can touch is, possibly, more than is generally realised. Also it doesn’t necessarily do so. Probably, Alexander says somewhere that he says that it can touch something higher, but I’m sure he wouldn’t put it in that way because he wanted to present his work as something very practical.
Q: On occasion, I’ve seen the modern Western man described as ‘over-intellectual’. You might say, he thinks too much, but doesn’t feel or sense enough. On the other hand, these ideas ask us to ‘know ever more and more concerning the laws of World-creation and World-maintenance.’ At times I believe I know more than I can use, and on occasion, believe I see an egotistical accumulation of knowledge in others. What, do you think, is the right valuation of knowledge?
A: Well, I suppose, you’re raising the question of the difference between knowledge and understanding. But anyhow, it seems to appear. And I suppose you could say, when you say knowledge, what do you mean? Well, it seems to me that knowledge is useful material and that it can, in certain moments, illuminate one’s whole being if there is something in one to receive it in the right way, and so for example, let’s take the Ray of Creation. Let’s say I’m familiar with it, I can draw it on a piece of paper. Occasionally, I will perhaps experience it in myself, and the possibility of
coming to that experience may have been helped by my knowledge of the diagram.
And every now and then, a particular line or phrase means something entirely different because of the way I am. So you can say that without those lines of verse, I wouldn’t have had the same experience. My wife, at school, learned great chunks of the Bible, and she’s always been very grateful for that, because she’s got it there, it doesn’t necessarily mean something, but sometimes it does. And I suppose that’s the bank of knowledge. You’ve got material which can really feed you.
Q: Sometimes, I see through these ideas that it may be possible to live ‘harmoniously’, to be ‘balanced’ and to ‘love living’. Also, to find real quiet and peace in meditation. This kind of sublime state, although attractive, would appear to be at odds with the idea of striving to fulfil one’s purpose in this world, for which there must be a degree of dissatisfaction. So one might say the two are irreconcilable. What is your view of this?
A: If you take the idea of accepting one’s situation, which of course, is not just lying back and letting it wash over you, just giving up. The capacity to accept, which again actually means not to react, is not usually available, and so, one could relate it to this question of being at the mercy of one’s reactions. If I can accept what life brings me, how I am, then I’m sufficiently integrated, or my different parts have come together sufficiently, for me no longer to be on the level of reaction. I think the level of reaction tends to be one centre reacting, so I’m basically functioning from one centre and the reaction comes from one centre. When centres become closer together, there is the possibility of not reacting, and even accepting how I am.
You see, the purpose, one’s understanding of one’s purpose, will vary according to how one is. And you may see in certain moments, that the striving that you thought was necessary, isn’t the striving that is needed. Although it may have been, to get you to that point. There does seem to be a need to strive, but perhaps, well, people often talk about muscular inner efforts, and with practice you realise that the effort isn’t as muscular as you started out, but you only find that out by trying it. Just like anything, you know, you start doing Movements, and then after a while you realise you’re involving a whole lot of unnecessary tension, but you only find that out by doing it. So I don’t see that this is at odds, but it may seem to be at odds, because one has one kind of view on one level, and a different point of view on another level. And I must say, the business of coming and sitting quietly, working quietly by oneself and trying to bring a better connection with oneself doesn’t become any easier [LAUGHS]. So there’s always a demand for a certain kind of effort. If one doesn’t keep it up [LAUGHS], it becomes more difficult. If one does keep it up, it doesn’t become any easier. [LAUGHS]
Q: What challenges face the work organization as a whole as the world community reaches a more integrated globalization and the outer aspects of the teaching reach wider audiences through the internet and other media?
A: I guess you could say this is the challenge that’s facing us. I think that the essence of the teaching …somewhere it is described as what can only be passed on from one person to another, still remains dependent on that human process. So, although the knowledge of this teaching, or knowing about it is has spread, there still is the question of what can be passed on from one person to another, and I’m not saying what that is. Through the people that I’ve worked with, I’ve have been shown a certain way of being, which wouldn’t have been my experience without that encounter. Things could develop without that, and have developed without that, and are bound to develop without that, but for those who have experienced a different level of being, the demand is to continue just trying to find that experience for oneself, and possibly, to communicate it to others. I suppose you are familiar with the idea, I forget where it comes from now, but it’s in one of the books, that the only way you can progress in the development of your being is to have helped somebody else advance in theirs in terms of the ladder, and the only way you can progress up the ladder is to help somebody else on the rung below you, which I think is a wonderful formulation. And I think that’s basically how the teaching has spread in certain quarters, anyhow. But of course, once it gets in the realm of, well once it’s in print, you see, the printed page doesn’t contain any being [LAUGHS].
It is amazing that when words are spoken by a person, a living person, you have not only the shape of the words, the meaning, but also the intonation, and yet, some people can write in such a way that it hits you, as though a living being had spoken it. So that’s great writing.
Q: Finally, implicit in these ideas is the idea that we come to this world with a very definite purpose, and that this work is about striving to remember this purpose and fulfil it. I have seen the character Beelzebub in Gurdjieff’s book described as the ‘ideal, normal man, whose function on this planet has ceased’. Supposing a man achieves this fulfilment, what would be your conjecture of what awaits him?
A: [LAUGHS] Achieves, sorry, which fulfilment? What would being successful mean? It’s just like climbing a mountain. You’re walking up a mountain, and the mountain I’m thinking of is the kind you can walk up. You see some way ahead what you aim for, which looks like the top. But when you get there, you see that in fact it’s not the top, it’s on the way and then there’s another place to aim for, so I don’t think one gets to a point where one says ‘now I’ve got it.’ To think that such thing is possible is a complete illusion; but maybe even that illusion could be useful in leading one onwards.
I have no need to “conject.” It’s a different substance, you see. I was at a friend’s funeral on Tuesday, and there were several readings from different sources, but basically saying that life continues but in another form, the form of being in this body on the earth has finished, and the life has gone elsewhere, and I find that quite an acceptable idea. This thing called the spirit, takes another form. I don’t know what form, and I’m not one of those people who wonders what it might be [LAUGHS]. It could be just energy. There are elaborate schemes according to which we are said to come back in another form. That’s never really interested me. I feel that if such a return does occur then I’ll know about it when it takes place [LAUGHS], or possibly not.
Copyright Adam Nott 2009