Essence and Personality
A talk given by Mr. Bennett on 14.12.57 at the Institute for the Comparative Study of History Philosophy and the Sciences
Today I want to say something about essence and personality. It sounds very simple: personality is everything that is borrowed - taken from the outside, essence is what we are born with - what is really our own. This really is only an outline, just in order to give people the idea of it.
I was looking up one of Mr. Gurdjieff's old lectures, and particularly one that he gave at the Prieuré in 1923 on this same subject of essence and personality. There he took essence and spoke about it from an aspect that is not usual, and one that we probably have not seen written about in any books. He made the distinction that personality is everything that we think, and that essence can really only be studied in our emotional life. He also said there that personality has really only one instrument - only one centre - and that is what we call the 'formatory apparatus.' But although essence is deeper than personality, and nearer to what we ourselves really are, it is for the most part something very rough and uneducated, and its reactions are not disciplined. So that very often when with our personality we know we should behave in a certain way, or that we should like someone, then if our essence does not like that person, it is able to produce actions that our own personality does not approve at all. So that although it can be said that essence is more sincere than personality, it is less fit for ordinary life; it requires to be educated, and really nothing has ever been done to educate it. All education has been lavished on the personality.
I remember that I heard that lecture in 1923. We were never able to ask Gurdjieff any questions about his lectures and he never would allow us to speak about them, or try to understand them by discussing them together - we just had to listen as well as we could to a very, very bad translation, either by a Russian who did not know English, or an Englishman who knew very little Russian.
Therefore, when he said something quite unexpected or bewildering of that sort, we just had to put up with it. I say it was unexpected and bewildering, because what Ouspensky had been saying in London - from where we had all come to the Prieuré - was quite a different idea; we felt that essence was something good and 'high class' - that anything that came from the essence was estimable and suddenly to be confronted with the idea that essence was just an uncouth kind of animal was certainly disconcerting to us.
It is not very difficult to understand, in theory, about personality. We can see that it is a fact that the content of our different brains - or different centres - has come, almost entirely from what we have experienced since we were born. And what is more, it has come almost entirely from what we have seen, and heard, and touched, and tasted and so on - in other words through our senses. And in fact, when people begin to observe themselves they can recognise some of the content of their personality grouped round some of their habitual experiences. They can recognise also that the personality is not 'one', but that it has many 'I's, many habits, many values and interests and so on. They can even see, to some extent, where these originated. But that does not mean that they are able to observe personality. And it does not mean at all that they have really understood what personality is. I can say, speaking from my own experience of nearly forty years, that it is just eleven years ago that I really was able to see what is personality. I had studied and been very interested in this division of personality and essence, and had practised self-observation, had been in groups and so on, for all that time. I say this to you because I very seldom see any people here who have seen their personality. And therefore, when you talk about 'personality,' you are really only talking of various features of personality, or some of the content of personality. The reason for that is quite simple. That is that you live in your personality the whole time, and even when by chance, or by some shock or accident, something else is awakened in you, you do not realise that what has happened is that you have been separated from your personality. As soon as you begin to think about what has happened, you are back in your personality again. This I say to you - without any shadow of doubt - that none of you can think with any instrument but personality. It is just not possible that any of you can think with your essence. You may be able to have other experiences with your essence - but not to think. That is one fact with which we have to reckon - that whenever we think, we think only with our personality and not with anything else, and whatever we think about, and whatever thoughts we have, it is still the same. That is really the meaning of what Gurdjieff said, that to all intents and purposes the personality is the formatory apparatus and the formatory apparatus is the personality. This really makes a very big difficulty and obstacle in work, because what matters to us is that something should awaken and grow in the essence. I must say once again that very often people make the mistake of supposing that something is happening in their essence just because they are thinking about, or feeling about some unusual, strange kind of experience. It is like someone going to a picture-gallery: you may see poor pictures, or you may see very good pictures, or very great paintings, but the eyes that look at the poor pictures and the eyes that look at the very great paintings are the same eyes. Because you are able to recognise a difference and say: 'This is great, fine work, that is poor, feeble or imitated work' it does not mean that you really see, but simply that you know what is the difference. And it is much, much more than that for our inner experience, because all our inner experience we still see through our personality. Whether we think about it, or whether we feel about it, whatever we may do - it is still our personality that does it.
What Gurdjieff said about the essence being a quite uncouth, uneducated animal, is quite true - and it is true for all, because that is the first, or primary condition of the essence. And this, of course, is something that you see in the exercises that we do when, if the personality can stop, then the essence itself begins to produce our manifestations. Sometimes people are astonished at their own or other people's manifestations. They wonder: 'What does this come from?', but it really comes just from that, that they have begun to uncover their essence, and that is what the essence is like. This is nothing new, or strange; as I said, I have heard Gurdjieff say this same thing thirty-four years ago. Of course it does not mean that all the essence is like that. The difference between essence and personality above all consists in this, that the essence has different depths in it, and all that is touched in the first instance is really this part of the essence in which we have our quite undisciplined and really unconscious impulses and desires. With some people, of course, the uncovering of the essence is a very slow process because the personality is well entrenched, and therefore it is some time before they observe it. Speaking for myself, it was eleven years before I really saw the difference between the essence and the personality. I saw only this and no more the quite false, artificial mask, and underneath just that: an undisciplined and unconscious animal.
The difference, certainly, between the way that we followed then - with all the help that some of us were able to receive - and the way that most of you are now following, is that whereas it took me eleven years, it may happen to you in eleven weeks; there is such a big difference in the speed with which things can happen to people. But there is really no difference in what happens to you when you become aware of the separation of essence and personality - in whatever way you may become aware of it. Somehow or other the personality has to become passive, it has to surrender the initiative that it has really quite wrongly usurped and which it holds on to tenaciously. But even if there is this separation, it does not mean that people can really see what it means, or see the personality; because, for example, they may only experience the new life that has come into their essence. When the personality is made to surrender the initiative, it is possible for some life to enter into the essence. Instead of being - as it is in nearly all people - almost extinct, almost dead - not dead but almost dead. Really what is called 'suspended animation' describes this state - it is like a parched, dried seed that may continue to have the possibility of life for a very long time but is not alive. When moisture enters into it, then it begins to have some life and everything is quite different for it. It is the same when it is possible for some life to flow into our essence.
Of course, you have, also heard many times that what is wrong with the ordinary state of man in this world is that his essence has lost its birthright and that another has taken it - as in the story of Jacob and Esau. The personality has usurped what is really the birthright of the essence - to be the centre of our consciousness and the source of our initiative, the seat of life in us. All that has been let go. As far as can be, the personality has taken it, because the personality cannot really take what belongs to the essence, but can only rob it. So people everywhere - and we also - live in that situation so that, all the time, the initiative, the centre of experience, the consciousness, are in personality. What is lacking is life, because personality cannot have this. So that personality has only a seeming life - something that looks like life - and real life remains suspended, because there is no one to take it. You have heard all that, of course; but how to verify and experience it? That is the question.
Some of you who have had many, many years of experience of Gurdjieff's work, have tried, and followed, various exercises and tasks that really have as their aim to make it possible for a man to be for a certain time in the world - the outer life - and yet not to be identified with his personality - not lost in his personality. A little can be achieved in that way. How little it is you really only can know when the real separation has come in you. All that can be done by various efforts of attention, by various exercises and practises, is to bring about a little detachment. That, in itself, is a great blessing, because it brings a real sense of freedom and makes one very much less vulnerable and weak in all kinds of outer-life situations. But it has one great disadvantage; that all the time the effort has to be directed to keeping separated from the personality, and no force remains over for the correction of what needs to be corrected in the essence itself, and it is hardly even possible to see the essence, or to be aware of what is required in the essence. So really, at the best, this can only be called a half-measure. It is necessary, if something radical and permanent is to be changed in us, that the change should be in our essence, and that really means the education of the essence. But we cannot reach the essence from the personality. There are various laborious ways by which the correction of the essence can be brought about by very persistent behaviour according to a certain pattern or a certain rule. So that, for example, if - for some reason that it considers powerful for it - the personality imposes on itself a discipline that corresponds to what there ought to be in a person with a normally awakened essence, then it is possible that this will in time begin to bring about an education of the essence. But the really normal, right way for the education of the essence to be achieved, is that it should begin from birth. The education of the essence is really a task of childhood. And if the essence has not been educated by the age of nine or ten years old it is very, very difficult for it to receive education later because it is hardly possible to reach it any longer except by very persistent, continually repeated actions, which finally can pass through the personality and begin to affect the essence.
I must say, it has struck me very much in the last few weeks when reading literally hundreds of letters that I have been receiving from people from all over the country, that the majority of them simply ask for peace of mind, or something to hold on to, some consolation or something like that. In all these letters I see the same thing: a sick personality, unable to help a sick essence. And no-one can help, They have tried and it is of course possible - to act on the essence by violent means, such as giving people electric shocks and so on, which act directly on the essence and not through the personality, but it is a barbarous way of trying to bring education into the unfortunate essence. You picture to yourself what kind of education that is! Without any understanding in the essence of why it is receiving this brutal treatment - without any understanding of what is required of it - it is simply given a succession of shocks, and if by chance it happens that something works a little bit better from that, it is considered a very great achievement,
But, although these kind of cases are very numerous in the letters that I have been reading, there are also many cases of people with different sicknesses, where it is clear that these sicknesses really have as their cause this wrong condition of the essence - a condition of very great strain between the essence and the personality. But although all those are really very pitiable, they do not differ very much from what is called the normal state of man. The only difference is that there is not such a visible, palpable state of tension between the essence and the personality, and people are able to continue to exist without realising that underneath this personality there is something quite wild and quite uneducated. In order to be normal it is necessary that this part of us which at present is really so ignorant and so unprepared for life should become the master - should become the ruler of our life - and that the personality which is so well-behaved, so educated, so clever and so on, should give up its hold and allow itself to become the instrument, and servant of the other. Naturally, people think that this is just an absurd suggestion, and many people are quite revolted by the very idea of such a thing happening. And so long as they think in terms only of the ordinary social relationships between people, they are really quite right. Because it is a big thing, to have the whole of one's inner balance reversed, to change from life that comes from outside and is dominated by every external thing to a life that comes from inside and that does not depend upon and is not vulnerable to external things - it is as much as this that is involved in the change from the centre of gravity in the personality to the centre of gravity in the essence. But if this is not achieved, then the whole of this work is really only playing - it is really only painting over the surface. If our work continues to be - as it is in so many people - only work in the personality, it can at the very most only lead to a somewhat more comfortable existence for a certain time. What I must say to you about this, so that really there can be no misunderstanding, is that if one wishes to come to real being - to real inner freedom - there has to be a very big change in us. It is almost impossible for the personality to relinquish its hold on the initiative voluntarily - to surrender that initiative to a part it does not understand and does not trust; that is the essence. And, of course, the work only begins with this separation, because there is the whole of the primary, basic education of the essence to come. And only when the primary education is completed so that the essence is able to live as a normal being - but really only like a school-child - that the essence itself can begin to move to another stage. The second stage of the awakening-development of the essence is really something completely different from this ordinary education that should take place in children between birth and eight or nine years old. If it is achieved, that someone comes to the point where they really have an essence that is eight or nine years old, they are already quite, quite different from ordinary people, because they are real live beings and that essence will not only not die when the body dies, but it will remain conscious and able to continue consciously on its way; like a child of eight or nine if it has been properly educated. But, of course, at eight or nine years old, a child is still very, very far from being able to manage its own life or understand anything just beyond discreet behaviour. A whole stage of experience and education has to come when the child prepares to go out of the family into the world, which will last for another ten, twelve, or fourteen years. It is the same with the essence; it also has to become accustomed to living with other beings, and not only to be dependent upon what is equivalent in our inner life to the relationship between a child and its parents.
There is, in our own essence all that can develop in that way. But it is only when the essence is grown-up that life really begins in earnest for it. That is the third stage; but by that time it is really necessary that the relationship between essence and personality should have been altogether and permanently reversed, so that the personality can no longer have the initiative, and does not require constant watching in order to keep the initiative away from it. Because it is impossible for the essence to do what is required of it in face of its really great responsibilities if all the time it has to put its attention to watching what should really be no more than an instrument for its automatic reactions. So that really, by that time, it is necessary that personality should be like something dead. And it really has to be like dead, because only something which is dead will be quite passive in relation to the hand that uses it. So that by the time the essence is fully grown and has reached mature age, it starts on the third stage of its development in life and the world. The personality, by then, must have died and no longer must any initiative remain in it. It in only then that it becomes quite clear for the essence that the personality is just a shell that has no more connection with one's real being than one's own clothes.
If you come back to our own ordinary situation, you must see that it is entirely different from that. It is hardly possible for us even to picture for ourselves a situation in which the personality is dead. Such a state must appear just like complete death because there is nothing else that is able to have any initiative; because we know of nothing except thinking and feeling and all the habitual activities of our body. We know no other existence - or hardly any other - and therefore the cessation of our ordinary existence seems like death. There is the death that is simply the destruction of an instrument; but there is death of another kind that is possible here when life is withdrawn from the instrument, which continues to be usable as an instrument and is not wholly destroyed. That is really what is possible for man in the third stage of the development of his essence. Then although this personality has died, it is possible for that personality to be absorbed into the essence and to have its life in the essence, but it must die before it can come to that.
In speaking about essence and personality today, what I particularly wanted was to remind you and if necessary again and again - that the separation of essence and personality by one's own voluntary effort of attention with the help of specially devised exercises is something very precarious and - as many of you have verified - it enables one only to hold oneself apart from the personality without being able to be conscious of the essence which is in the background. If you have ever seen this for yourselves, then you must remember that and get more and more accustomed to the idea that what is necessary for all of us is that there should be such a separation so that the work in the essence can really go forward. And this essence of ours - in which all our hopes really lie - should begin to come to life. But it will not come to life as a completely grown-up, well-behaved, well-educated person like the personality. It comes to life in a strange kind of way, something like the picture of a little child inside a bear. The bear is big and strong, and very rough and wild, with no manners; the little child is inside, but cannot manage the bear. That is how you may begin to feel when you begin to waken in that way. And you realise that somehow or another that bear has got to be changed; bear, or tiger, or horse, or dog, or weasel, or whatever the wild animal may be.
If you begin to feel and see all this in yourself and really have begun to recognise and know something of the uneducatedness and of the unpreparedness for life of your own essence, then you have seen a great deal - much more than most people see even after many years of work. I remember how, eleven year's ago, during the journey from London to the coast, at four o'clock in the morning - all the way down on that journey - I really saw, and never lost this realisation of who was who and what was what in me. This is exactly the same as many of you have seen in these exercises. They are really a blessing that cannot be measured, just only because they make it possible for people to know what is essence, what is personality, what is the condition of the essence and what is the condition of the personality. And I think that many of you have really begun to see that our thinking - all our thinking - is something that is in personality alone; and that we have never had the experience of essence-thinking, or any idea what essence-thinking could possibly be, because essence-thinking really only belongs to the third stage, the adulthood of the essence. The essence-child really cannot think, even as much as the personality-child appears to be able to think. And therefore one must not forget, all the time, in everything, that whenever we think it is our personality that thinks and it cannot be anything else; and however necessary it may be that the personality should think about its own problems, it cannot think about the essence.