eye of the cyclone

is there life on earth, or are we just dreaming…


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Are We Awake?

Posted by lahar9jhadav on February 11, 2013

Are We Awake?

by A. R. Orage

 2 HOW can we prove to ourselves at any given moment that we are not asleep and dreaming? Life circumstances are sometimes as fantastic as dream circumstances; and change with the same rapidity. What if we should wake up and find waking life a dream, and our present sleep and dream merely dreams within a dream?

There is a traditional doctrine, usually associated with religion, but now and then invading great literature, that our present waking state is not really being awake at all. It is not night-sleep certainly, nor is it the ordinary somnambulism or sleep-walking; but it is, the tradition says, a special form of sleep comparable to a hypnotic trance in which, however, there is no hypnotist but only suggestion or auto-suggestion. In the first instance, from the moment of birth and before, we are under the suggestion that we are not fully awake; and it is universally suggested to our consciousness that we must dream the dream of this world—as our parents and friends dream it. Young children, it is notorious, find it hard at first to distinguish between this fancy, that is to say, their other day-dreams, and the dream their parents live in. Later in childhood, when the original suggestion has taken, auto-suggestion keeps us in the state more or less continuously. Our friends and neighbours, and all the objects we perceive, act as soporifics and dream-suggestions. We no longer, as in early childhood, rub our eyes in doubt of the reality of this world. We are fully convinced not only that it is real, but that there is no other. We dream but we do not doubt that we are awake.

Religion, it is obvious, presupposes that mortal life is a mode of sleep from which it is possible to wake up to eternal life. The New Testament, for example, constantly makes use of the imagery of sleep and waking. According to the Gospels and the Epistles we sleep with Adam and wake with Christ; and the refrain of the Doctrine is that we should strive to wake up from our present waking state and to be ‘born again’. In recent literature the idea has been exploited by Ibsen and H. G. Wells among other writers. Ibsen’s play, When We Dead Awaken, and Wells’ novel, The Sleeper Wakes, assume in their very titles that we humans are asleep but can wake.

It is naturally difficult, of course, to convince ourselves that we are asleep. A sleeping person, in the midst of a dream, cannot usually wake himself up. The dream may be so unpleasant that it wakes him; or he awakes naturally; or he may be shaken into waking. Very seldom can one voluntarily wake oneself. It is even more difficult to wake voluntarily from hypnotic sleep. And if from these relatively light states of sleep it is hard for us to wake of our own accord, we can imagine the difficulty of waking voluntarily from the profounder sleep and dream of our waking state.

But how can we convince ourselves that we are really in a form of sleep when, as it appears to us, we are really awake? By comparing the two chief states of consciousness known to us and observing their strikingly common features. What, for instance, are the outstanding features of our ordinary sleep as known to us through our recollected dreams? The dream happens, that is to say, we neither deliberately initiate it nor do we create its figures and events. And in this respect it resembles waking life, in that we do not predetermine our experiences, nor do we create or invent the figures and events we meet from day to day.1

Another common element of our sleeping and waking modes of life is the variability of our conduct. We are sometimes horrified, sometimes gratified, to recall how we have behaved in a dream situation. It is true that whatever our conduct may have been, humiliating or flattering to our pride, we couldn’t have made it otherwise. Our disquiet or satisfaction is solely an account of the presumed revelation of our unconscious selves. But how, at bottom, do these facts differ from the facts of our waking life-dreams? In life-dreams also we cut a sorry or a good figure, not by pre-determined design but as it happens; and our regret or satisfaction is equally contingent on the effect the episode has upon our self-pride. But can we truthfully say, beforehand, that, whatever happens, we shall behave ourselves thus and thus and not otherwise? Are we not subject to the suggestion of the moment and liable to be carried away from our resolution by anger, greed, enthusiasm? Exactly as in sleep-dream, our waking life is always taking us by surprise; and we are constantly behaving as we should not have imagined we could behave. Nor, in retrospect, can we truthfully say that we could have done better or worse in yesterday’s situation. If it were repeated exactly, no doubt we could. But, taking it as and when it was, with ourselves as we then were, it could no more have been different than any night-dreams we have experienced.

Serious examination of the parallelism between the two states of sleeping and waking reveals many other similarities. One more only need be mentioned here—the close resemblance of our memory as regards the experience of the two states. It is true that of our waking life we preserve a more or less continuous recollection, whereas our dream-life is a series of discontinuous memories. But apart from this specific difference our actual memory-faculty appears to behave much the same in relation to both forms of experience. We know how difficult it is to recall at will a dream of the night before; the dream was vivid, and all its details were in our mind on awaking; but in an instant the whole of it has vanished, leaving not a wrack behind. Memory of yesterday’s life-dream is not so treacherous, or capricious as regards its main features; but where today is the vivid detail of yesterday? We saw clearly a thousand and one objects, we even attended to them. We listened to conversation, we spoke, we watched men and things in the street, we read books or newspapers, we read and wrote letters, we ate and drank and did or perceived a host, that no man can number, of objects and actions. That was only yesterday, yesterday’s vivid waking dream. How many of those details remain in our memory today; or how many could we by any effort recall? As completely as the dreams of the night, the mass of our life-dreams of yesterday fade into the oblivion of our unconsciousness.

It may be feared that there is something morbid in the foregoing speculations; and that an effort to see our waking life as merely a special form of sleep must diminish its importance for us and ours for it. But this attitude towards a possible and probable fact is itself morbidly timid. The truth is that just as in night-dreams the first symptom of waking is to suspect that one is dreaming, the first symptom of waking from the waking state—the second awaking of religion—is the suspicion that our present waking state is dreaming likewise. To be aware that we are asleep is to be on the point of waking; and to be aware that we are only partially awake is the first condition of becoming and making ourselves more fully awake.


3 “Whatever the phenomena experienced, we must then always go more deeply inward and ask the question: Who is aware of all this? When we fully enter into that state in which we are aware of being aware, we move toward objective consciousness, toward enlightenment.

It is a very great work, a metanoia, to remember from moment to moment that we really are Endlessness, and to give up, in these moments, our identification with the persona. We each need to give up the importance of being “me” so that we begin to see our persona as transient, ephemeral and in that sense unreal. When we stand in the real world, that which Gurdjieff has called objective consciousness or enlightenment, we realize that we stand in the unity. We are that which is indescribable, and which Gurdjieff has called Endlessness including all our projections of High Commissions and Sacred Individuals.

Metanoia, the change of outlook described here, when it is complete, is a breakthrough in which the individual in whom it takes place is no longer a separate individual. The light of universal awareness shines, unobstructed by the persona, through the vehicle of its own form. In this great spiritual journey we ultimately come to discover who we really are. In that sense it is a journey of discovery, not of attainment. We ultimately discover that: “Thou art thy Self (capital S), the object of thy search.” Sy Ginsberg



Reijo: Then we go into dreams. Earlier you mentioned that this actually caused you problems in the earlier groups because you have been interested in dreams and dream interpretation. I find it strange as I can see no reason why it would not be allowed; dreams are part of our life.

Sy: I agree with you. I think it is because of a misunderstanding and that was part of the paper I gave here at this conference, which also appears as an appendix in Gurdjieff Unveiled. Back in 1978 when I had these big questions myself and was searching around, I saw myself as what Gurdjieff calls a “good householder.” But I still wondered at that time when I was in my early forties “is this all there is, is this what life is all about?” Then I met Madhava Ashish and he was the one who said “if you want to do what we’re doing here in Mirtola (an ashram farm actually in the Indian Himalayas up at about 8,000 feet,) go back to the West because you’re not going to stay here. Go find a Gurdjieff group” and he said “it doesn’t really matter what group, what you need is a group to make a demand upon you that is very hard to do by yourself.” At the same time he said “begin to pay attention to your dreams because your dreams will tell you things about yourself if you can learn to interpret them that your ego, your personality, will block from you.” Because he was my mentor and because I would only see him once a year for maybe a week or two at a time, we developed an extensive correspondence which he liked to have with people like myself who lived a long distance away. He would really insist that I pay attention to my dreams, record them and try to interpret them myself and then send them to him and he would make comments on them. He was in a sense an outside teacher for me even though I was in a mainline Gurdjieff Foundation group certainly for the first six years of my experience.4

Reijo: That was in Chicago?

Sy: No, that group was in Miami or a suburb in Miami, founded by a woman named Evelyn Sutta who had come down to Florida with her husband Maurice, who was a retired lawyer. She had been a Movements teacher and a yoga teacher and was very much involved in the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York. Some people found out that she was living there in Florida and prevailed upon her to start that group and I joined it about a year after she started it. Because I had this other thing, this connection with Madhava Ashish, I would occasionally mention to people about dreams and I suppose my big problem was that I didn’t keep my mouth shut. So I ran into trouble with it.

There are two talks that Gurdjieff gave in 1923 and 1924, which are mentioned in the appendix, in which he talks about dreams being nothing more than the observation of one center by another. He talked about us being three-brained beings having a physical, emotional and intellectual center and then he divided the physical into instinctive, moving and sex, so that was five centers, but he also said there are two higher centers in us: higher mental and higher emotional. Anyhow, in this talk he gave at the Prieure, he said dreams are nothing more than the centers observing one another and when you sleep the idea is to sleep deeply and there are connections between the centers and the more deeply you sleep, the more these connections are broken and he said that we do not need much sleep. I agree with him ; four or five hours is plenty for someone in the Work, provided you meditate every day. These connections get cut. But what is not said in those talks is that the connections with the higher centers, which is really who we are, our essence, call it whatever you want, objective conscience, objective consciousness, Endlessness if you like, are always streaming wisdom to us and those connections are never broken, they cannot be broken. I don’t even think in the case of what Gurdjieff calls an “Eternal-Hasnamussian-individual” in Beelzebub’s Tales are they broken.

Reijo: The only problem is that we are not conscious of what is happening in us.

Sy: We don’t hear. We don’t hear because of all the chatter going on. And there was another talk where Gurdjieff said “don’t dream” and so people got this misunderstanding that it is not part of the Gurdjieff Work. Actually Maurice Nicoll who was one of Gurdjieff’s major students and who happened to be a professional psychiatrist spoke about the value of dreams on several occasions. These talks appear in Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

Reijo: And worked with Jung.

Sy: And worked with Jung, in fact he was Jung’s protégée and as I understand might have been one of Jung’s successors had he not transferred to Gurdjieff.

Reijo: When Jung was establishing his work, he was based in Zürich, Switzerland and he had pupils from England, not only Maurice Nicoll, there was Dr. James Young and a lady called Constance Long. At one point Jung was warning everybody who he knew and who had been studying with him, not to go to Ouspensky, who was at that time establishing himself in London. In fact these three people that I mentioned went directly over to Ouspensky from Jung. Ouspensky at that time was competition for Jung.

Sy: A little ego there. But then Nicoll did go to the Prieure with his wife and his baby and a nurse from what I understand, and there are photographs of Nicoll digging ditches at the Prieure. Gurdjieff was having these people try to get out of their heads as you know. Nicoll spoke in several talks in his Commentaries that the higher centers who we are in essence, are always streaming wisdom to us, but the personality quickly covers over essence and doesn’t want to hear it. Nicoll explains this, I think, quite well and it is also explained in Gurdjieff’s own writings in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, but I think covered up almost completely. Unfortunately there are an awful lot of people who never approach Beelzebub’s Tales and we need to do it. Gurdjieff writes about it in the Ashiata Shiemash chapters. Ashiata Shiemash, who may have been an allegorical figure, is a messenger from above who again brought the teaching and the words that Gurdjieff puts in his mouth are that our real conscience, which is again who we are, is essence, or Endlessness, but it has been suppressed into the subconscious because of our improper education and therefore Ashiata Shiemash decides to devote himself in this allegory to helping people to reach what is in the subconscious.

We cannot just give up the benefits of what modern science and psychology has learned in the last 100 years and there are several ways to reach into the subconscious. One of them is hypnotism, which psychiatrists use and Gurdjieff was an expert at it. Certainly one of the ways is ordinary psychological probing, and one of them ; a major one ; is the study of dream symbolism. The nice thing about dream symbolism is that we can learn how to interpret our symbols. That is what Ashish was teaching his students all those years based on Jungian psychological principles.

Reijo: So that was some of the basis for Madhava Ashish’s teachings ; he had studied Jung.

Sy: He was not a professional psychologist but he studied Jung as did his mentor/guru Krishna Prem. He would say very often “we need to use the tools that these men, Freud, who called dreams the royal road to the unconscious or subconscious, and Jung brought us. We need to use the tools that they discovered, but we don’t need to accept their conclusions.” Many of Freud’s conclusions have been dismissed by later psychologists. In most cases, practicing psychologists are trying to make peoples’ lives better here, the mundane ordinary life, and trying to get people to function well in the world. But our aim in using these tools is to reach that part of us; the part who we really are, which is transcendent of our ordinary personality. Ashish would say “use the tools; don’t become a Freudian, don’t become a Jungian, but use their tools” and that is what he was teaching and that is what he tried to teach me and that is what I talk about in what is an appendix to the introductory book.

Reijo: I think Agi might have a comment on this. Earlier today we were discussing just the same subject. She also has Jungian analysis in her background from the late 50’s and she has been consulting people with the help of astrology and dreams since.5

Agi: I was in contact with Jungian psychology early on in my life. I also got into astrology and was in contact with a great woman, the daughter of C. G. Jung, Gret Baumann, who was herself also working with astrology and so I started to get in contact with the language of the pictures as they are described in the gospels and nearly every teaching and in stories or dreams or paintings. I see that life speaks to us also in pictures when we are able to understand them.

Sy: That’s the thing ; to try and understand them. Jung developed concepts of symbols, which might apply to large segments of humanity maybe all of humanity in some cases, of his archetypes and in many cases certain groups and certain geographical groups or certain ethnic groups. The one book that Ashish would have recommended was Jung’s Man and His Symbols mainly because of the pictures and not because of the text, and to help people to try and learn what our own symbols are in order to understand the messages that are given to us by our higher self or essence or whatever we want to call it.

Agi: Our essence does not understand the language of the intellect, only the language of pictures. That is why all real teachings all over the world are given in pictures.

Reijo: So the real way to get to self-knowledge and the knowledge we have in ourselves is through these pictures and they come to us very often and almost always in the form of dreams.

Sy: Yes. The biggest practical problem for people looking at dreams is that they say “I don’t dream” or “I don’t remember my dreams”. Psychologists know clinically ; it has been clinically shown that everybody dreams and of course Gurdjieff said that we dream in the day as well as at night. So part of it is learning techniques for remembering dreams. When Ashish was around for these 19 years, he was making this external demand on me and so I made an extra effort to record and remember my dreams and to try and interpret them. Since his absence I have found it very useful to be involved with what you might call a dream study group for the very same reasons as a Gurdjieff study group and that is because it makes an external demand on us to work to remember our dreams. So in South Florida, at the Theosophical Society in which I am quite active, I facilitate a dream study group because it makes a demand upon me to remember my dreams, just like the Gurdjieff study group makes a demand on me to remember myself and to observe the blocks to it.

I just want to mention one more thing. When I am in Chicago for half the year, it happens that there is a place called the Jung Institute (the main one is in Switzerland), of which there are several all over the world. There is a major one in Evanston, Illinois, that I have been involved with for some years and I participate in something they started there, just about a year ago, maybe it is the second time they started it. It is called a dream circle and it is facilitated by two Jungian psychologists. The participants are people like me who are interested in dreams, although maybe not interested in Gurdjieff’s teaching as far as I know but for whatever purpose. It happens to be on Wednesday nights there. It is the group itself that makes the demand and the homework you might say is to bring a dream and so you’ve got to make the effort during the week to at least bring one dream. So this is something we can verify, that is that we need an external demand made upon us to remember our dreams. Gurdjieff says you have to verify everything, don’t believe anything you read or hear, you’ve got to verify these things.

Agi: I see a lot of purpose as to why it is necessary to speak about our dreams with somebody else and that our consciousness is like a little light with which we can see a part of reality…

Reijo: …A spotlight.

Agi: …A spotlight, yes. Our dreams are coming from somewhere else and what we do when we try to understand our dreams on our own without help, is that we take the information into this small spotlight and reduce the incoming information according to our knowledge within this small spot instead of opening up for new insights, which could connect us with another place in our unconscious.

Sy: That is a very good way to put it, in fact I am having a picture of it just like you said about pictures. I think it is a very good way to describe it.

Agi: And it is often so, at least in my experience, that it is enough when someone just listens to the description of the dream and repeats it ; then we can already hear the message of the pictures.

Sy: They have what is sometimes called an “aha”. Frequently in a dream study group, the way it works is that after the presenter presents their dream, they give what they think it means and then opens it up for discussion. The other people usually start by saying “if it were my dream, I think it would mean so and so…” and very often there is an “aha” by the dreamer. But what is also interesting is that what the other person says about someone else’s dream tells more about the other person than about the dreamer. But that is okay too. The problem with the group, unlike a trusted advisor or dream study with a professional psychologist, is that dreams can be very personal. For example, Ashish had seven principals of dream interpretation. They are simple and he thought people could follow them. They are actually printed in Gurdjieff Unveiled in a simplified form, but one or two of the principles having to do with dreams is that you cannot be afraid of looking at anything. Many dreams are open to sexual interpretation, things you don’t want to talk about, all kinds of fetishes, all kinds of things. That becomes a problem in a study group. At least at the one which I facilitate, we have a kind of understanding that we won’t discuss the dreams of other people outside of that group meeting.

Reijo: This is very much the same also in the Gurdjieff work, isn’t it, because we come to very delicate areas.

Sy: Yes exactly and you shouldn’t bring the work of other people outside of the group.

Reijo: So that kind of created the idea that the Gurdjieff work is a secret work, whereas it is open to everybody but what is happening within the group is kept within the group.6

Sy: Well yes, and there certainly is a good reason for it but my experiences with some of the secrecy is that in general it is not good. I can tell you that there was a time when somebody would find out about our group and of course we had a telephone and there was no published number but somehow they would find out and they would call up and say “is this the Gurdjieff group?” Whoever answered the phone was supposed to say “we’re busy now, call back” even if they weren’t busy, because the idea was that this is serious and we don’t want people just calling up. Some of this stuff gets really overdone and my opinion is that it is to the detriment of what Gurdjieff was trying to do. He was trying to sound what he called the new Do for humanity. The idea is to reach humanity and not just some little secret group with this secret Gurdjieff teaching who think, look aren’t we special. Of course that’s all ego.

Agi: A very important expression “to do something special” and that is a poison in a group when we get the feeling that we are special, that we are more than the others and that we are an exclusive group.

Sy: And isn’t that exactly the opposite of what Gurdjieff was trying to teach, to try to make the ego or the personality passive, ; to tamper it down so it isn’t so big, to make it more passive, so that essence can grow. So many of us are miseducated. We want the ego to grow, we want to be important and all of these things. We want to be special, like you said.

Agi: Another thing in the dream interpretation: I advice people to sense the depth of the dream, so that they can sense from which level a dream is coming from. A dream can come from a bodily state or it can be a dream that describes our momentary state of being or it can come from beyond consciousness and have an important message, which opens the dreamer up for a process for the next ten years. There are very different levels.

Sy: The study of dreams is very broad. Certainly not every dream is propounding great wisdom from the Self. There are a lot of dreams where you stub your toe, or hurt your foot and it generates a dream. Ashish actually divided dreams, in addition to those kind of mundane dreams, into purificatory dreams, and what he called noumenal dreams. Purificatory dreams are these dreams that he saw in symbolic form, showing us an identification that we don’t want to admit to our personality. But if you can get purified enough, let’s say by getting rid of these identifications, then he likened it to looking through a windowpane. If the windowpane is dirty with all of these identifications, then you cannot see through it, all you see is a reflection. But eventually when you can begin to see through it, then you start to see your experience of what Gurdjieff calls the Real World.

Agi: Again, that is a very interesting point. There came a point in my life, related to my inner path, when dreams didn’t come, I didn’t get advice or corrections or any help through the dreams and it was very, very difficult this time. I know from others that they suffer when they are working with dreams and they used to use the help of dreams as a tool and there comes a time when we are not given dreams. It is very difficult to deal with this, but now I understand something about it and since then it can happen that I awake with a direct knowledge, with a direct impulse without a picture.

Sy: Then you are getting noumenal information. I think that any of us who study dreams go through what I would call dry periods. I’m not convinced that we’re not dreaming, I suspect we are, and like Gurdjieff says we have to make super efforts, so you make further effort and they start again, or you start remembering them again. That is why it is important to have the outside demands that a group or a trusted advisor gives us. As you said Reijo, it’s a tool and it’s not a replacement for the Gurdjieff work by any means, but it is another tool.

Reijo: Have you thought of using it also as a tool in the Gurdjieff groups?

Sy: Well what we do in Florida, where the Gurdjieff groups that I’m involved with at the Theosophical Society, there is also a dream study group that I facilitate and it is separate. It requires a separate meeting anyhow because of the time involved. Half of the people in it, there are about eight people in it, half of them are involved in the Gurdjieff group as an adjunct, as an additional tool. The other half are just interested in dreams and are not in the Gurdjieff work and then there are others in the Gurdjieff groups that aren’t interested in using the dream tool. But the problem in the literature, or at least in how many people understand the Gurdjieff teaching, without Ashish’s benefit, is that you don’t pay attention to your dreams. I am convinced from experience that that is completely wrong and if someone wants to avail themselves of that tool, then they should ; it is valuable.

Agi: It is very important. It is also my experience that different types of people have different ways to develop, they need different kinds of tools, they need different kinds of help or a different way in life. It is so important that we don’t think that everybody has to do the Movements, or that everybody has to use dreams as tools.

Sy: Exactly, and Gurdjieff brought so many tools. I think Bennett in one of his books, likened it to a smörgåsbord, that Gurdjieff brought us this great feast of ideas. “If take, then take,” Gurdjieff said, giving us all this stuff.

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