‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’
Frank Herbert, Dune
In a previous reflection, I considered the idea that we have just experienced a ‘reset’ moment in human history. This was prompted by current events which have, as every reader is now aware, put global society into a sudden ‘stop’ mode. The brakes have been applied sharply. This reminds me of a physical-psychological exercise used by the Greek-Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. He named this as his ‘stop’ exercise. According to Gurdjieff’s own words:
…at the command “stop,” or at a previously arranged signal, every student must instantly stop all movement, wherever he may be and whatever he may be doing…while he is in this state of arrested movement, the student must also arrest the flow of his thoughts, not admitting any new thoughts whatever…this is simply a movement interrupted at the moment of passage from one posture to another…generally we pass from one posture to another so rapidly that we do not notice the attitudes we take in passing. The “stop” exercise gives us the possibility of seeing and feeling our own body in postures and attitudes which are entirely unaccustomed and unnatural to it…the style of the movements and postures of every epoch, every race and every class is indissolubly connected with distinctive forms of thought and of feeling. And they are so closely bound together that a man can change neither the form of his thought nor the form of his feeling without having changed his repertory of postures…[i]
This extract illustrates that its function was to give the ‘student’ a necessary moment for unhindered self-observation. A person, remarked Gurdjieff, is generally not aware as they pass from one posture to another – we are ‘entirely unaccustomed’ to this point of observation to the extent that it is unnatural to us. The only way to enforce this is through an externally produced state of arrested movement.
Interestingly, Gurdjieff states that every epoch, race, and class have their distinctive forms of thought which are so tightly bound to their ‘posture’ that they cannot be changed. Later in this description it is remarked that,
psychological analysis and the study of the psychomotor functions, applied in a certain manner, demonstrate that each of our movements, voluntary or involuntary, is an unconscious transition from one automatically fixed posture to another, equally automatic…our thoughts and feelings are equally automatic.
If we now consider this at the larger scale, it implies that people are culturally bound to particular ‘postures’ of thought (aka, social conditioning); and that these thoughts and feelings are automatic (programmed). Gurdjieff’s method of breaking down these automatisms so that they could be observed was through imposing an external command of ‘stop’ that had to be obeyed. Now, what if we are to apply this to the current situation of the global social quarantines in place and the halt on global trade and business. Have we not just experienced a ‘stop’ command enforced upon us by an external impact in response to the 2020 pandemic?
Locally, and across the world, humanity has entered a huge experiment. For the first time in our known history, human civilization in most of its forms has come to a halt. We have been stopped in mid-posture – a state of arrested movement – and have been placed in a space we are totally unaccustomed to. Time now, is it not, to ‘arrest the flow of thoughts’ – i.e., our regular programming – in order to enter into a period of self-observation? What are we likely to find in this moment of ‘frozen’ introspection? What are the implications of the reset button being pressed?
We have entered a ‘stop’ phase upon an individual, community, and global level. Never before has this occurred, nor has it been possible. For most of humanity’s evolution, we existed as localized aspects of psyche and consciousness. We participated in the ‘mental life’ of those around us, the community; and later, the country. Only within a relatively short span of time has our species gained a global perspective. This began with trade routes, explorers, and conquests. Within the last century, this expanded into people having greater access to mobility and mainstream news. Yet only since the advent of communication technologies has the rudimentary beginnings of a conscious global psyche been manifesting. Whilst a collective unconscious species mind has existed, this lay beneath the conscious awareness of most people. This has now ‘flipped over’ into a physical presence in that so many more people are currently aware of psychical fluctuations across the world. We are presently experiencing these fluctuations during the 2020 pandemic. This was not possible before, even at the time of the Spanish Flu of 1918-20. Why does this matter? It matters because the effects of consciousness, although seemingly intangible, are just as important as those tangible, physical effects we are generally more aware of.
Consciousness is just as contagious as any biological virus. Perhaps more so, as it is not bound by physical parameters of movement. Consciousness is an open arena – and it spreads like ripples across fluid and intangible, interconnected fields. Each person too creates these ripples, which are then strengthened by larger community and national consciousness fields. Similar to what Gurdjieff spoke of, we are creating thought postures that belong to collectives of human thought. And as many people are aware of, like things attract and resonate with like things. It is the same with thought. This is the reason why so many ‘like-minded’ people group together. They share a common bond in their thinking. At the same time, these physical groupings create collective fields of consciousness. These fields can become powerful and very influential. They have operated throughout extreme cases, such as warfare, where people have behaved against their ‘better judgement.’ Likewise, they have operated during moments of mob violence and mob psychosis. Such collectives of thought are easy to be caught up within – that’s why they are contagious. And now, as our species’ collective psyche is growing and developing, such ‘contagions of consciousness’ are extremely powerful.
Generally, as a person becomes ‘socially programmed’ by layers of conditioning, they are absorbed into the ‘national psyche’ of their respective country. This has always operated as a useful function of social management. As a person learns to de-condition themselves, and to throw off these layers of their psychological conditioning, they create more expansive states of awareness by having access to a broader range of consciousness fields. These people are those who have had unusual impact upon others, especially when in close proximity. We are each of us affected by the ‘consciousness ripples’ emanating from others. It is how the ecology of consciousness operates. And since it is an interconnected ecology, individual awakening – or expansion of awareness – does not just remain at the individual level. As transpersonal researcher Chris Bache puts it – The ecology of consciousness is an inherently collective ecology. What we feed into our localized fields of consciousness will then go on to form part of a larger body, or consciousness field. And this, ultimately, will form part of a grander resonating field of collective consciousness – at the community, national, and global level. Therefore, what and how we think is indeed part of our responsibility. As Sri Aurobindo said – ‘But now we have, very remarkably, very swiftly coming to the surface this new psychological tendency of the communal consciousness.’[ii]
What we are experiencing now is not only a biological pandemic but also a psychological one. How we feed into this, and what is fed into this, will establish the tone of an overall psychic resonance. And this overall field of resonance can be coherent or dissonant, and many other degrees in-between. That is, if a psychological environment of fear, panic, and anxiety is created through thousands, or even millions, of individualized fields of consciousness, these will ripple out to congeal into a grander collective field of increased psychic density. The resonance of disturbance will be on a scale far exceeding the individual level. Similarly, if localized ripples of coherence, hope, trust, and empowerment are transmitted, these will not only influence local and community environments at the psychological level but also the larger global psyche. This is not voodoo or magical thinking – it reflects how the intangible realm of thoughts and human consciousness operates. Again, to repeat Chris Bache – The ecology of consciousness is an inherently collective ecology. Psychologically, we are not alone. Each person lives as a part of the world, and not apart from it. Each person has a responsibility to manage their thoughts – what they receive and process as well as what they transmit.
This present moment of a global ‘stop’ phase should give us time for reflection and consideration. Our automated movements and our automatic thinking patterns have been put on hold. We should take advantage of this unique opportunity. It may never happen again. It is likely we shall receive external impacts in our lives that momentarily make us pause as individuals – yet global ones are a very, very rare occurrence. In this exceptional moment, we should consider carefully. We will have questions now that are of great importance. For example, how should I react to this situation? What information should I allow to influence me and my psychological state? Should I join in with the widespread fear? Which is going to serve me and others better – precautionary behaviour or panic?
These shall be the questions of our time. For how we think affects not only ourselves. It affects those around us, and then further out, and further out. After all, human consciousness exists not apart but a part of a wondrous collective ecology. It is time now to think as real human beings, not as automatons.
[i] Taken from ‘Talks with Gurdjieff’ – various online sources
[ii] Aurobindo, S. (1999 ). The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development. Twin Lakes, WI, Lotus Light Publications, p38