Self-Observation in the Context of Beelzebub’s Tales: Work in Life

There are those in the Work who claim that self-observation is the center of gravity of the teaching Mr. Gurdjieff left us. They proclaim that self-observation is the core, the foundation, and the method that fits all and everything Mr. Gurdjieff said. And in certain way they are correct in their claims because it was Mr. Gurdjieff himself who introduced the teaching on self-observation in Russia that Ouspensky faithfully transcribed in his book In Search of the Miraculous (ISOM). However, the expression self-observation is used in Beelzebub’s Tales (BTTHG) only one time and it is in the last pages of the last chapter From the Author. What happened between that time in Russia when he introduced the idea of self-observation and the time in Paris when he stopped using this term in both his oral as well as in his written teaching? Well, in order to answer this question one has to study in details the transformation the teaching went through during the years Mr. Gurdjieff was in France. Suffice is to say at this point that the teaching Mr. Gurdjieff presented in BTTHG is not addressed to people in the Work and Mr. Gurdjieff very explicitly stated that he was not writing his book for those familiar with his mentation and they were those who received the teaching in Russia. Furthermore, most, if not all the so-called Work books now in existence are based on the teaching found in ISOM and hence the emphasis of the expression self-observation found in those books.

But let’s now very briefly examine what Mr. Gurdjieff had to say about self-observation in the last chapter of BTTHG, the only place in the book where the expression self-observation is used. Actually all we need is one paragraph which is the key to why self-observation was left out as part of the teaching contained in BTTHG. Here is Mr. Gurdjieff is his own words:

Before beginning to study this mechanicality and all the principles for a correctly conducted self-observation, a man in the first place must decide, once and forever, that he will be sincere with himself unconditionally, will shut his eyes to nothing, shun no results wherever they may lead him, be afraid of no inferences, and be limited by no previous, self-imposed limits; and secondly, in order that the elucidation of these principles may be properly perceived and transubstantiated in the followers of this new teaching, it is necessary to establish a corresponding form of “language,” since we find the established form of language quite unsuitable for such elucidation“(BTTHG, p. 1210).

It is obvious that for correct self-observation two requirements must be met. The first is total sincerity with oneself. Not with others because that could very well be a sign of psychopathic behavior. The second is the need of an exact language because as Mr. Gurdjieff said: “For an exact study an exact language is needed.” And here is where the fundamental difficulty with self-observation arises. We do not know how to be sincere with ourselves and we do not possess an exact language.

Observation and Constatation in the Spirit of Beelzebub

I have a very simple secret for you: The only way to teach is by example. And the best book which teaches by example is Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. No other of the dozens of so-called Work books does this. Beelzebub is the only one because Beelzebub is the teacher of living life and living life is by living and not by talking about living. So, now I am going to get into the study of the best example in BTTHG of the practice of self-observation and you will see that he did not practice self-observation at all. This example is Belcultassi whose higher being-part is now dwelling in the planet Holy Purgatory (what does this mean?).

This future Saint Belcultassi is the man who discovered his blunders in such a way that he is a true exemplary model for all of us to follow. But how he did it? He did not do it through self-observing himself. No, he did it in a very peculiar way and I will let Beelzebub himself to tell us:

“. . .showed that when this same later Saint Individual Belcultassi was once contemplating, according to the practice of every normal being, and his thoughts were by association concentrated on himself, that is to say, on the sense and aim of his existence, he suddenly sensed and cognized that the process of the functioning of the whole of him had until then proceeded not as it should have proceeded according to sane logic. “This unexpected constatation shocked him so profoundly that thereafter he devoted the whole of himself exclusively to be able at any cost to unravel this and understand. “First of all he decided to attain without delay such a ‘potency’ as would give him the strength and possibility to be quite sincere with himself, that is to say, to be able to conquer those impulses which had become habitual in the functioning of his common presence from the many heterogeneous associations arising and proceeding in him and which were started in him by all sorts of accidental shocks coming from outside and also engendered within him, namely, the impulses called `self-love,’ `pride,’ Vanity,’ and so on (BTTHG, p. 295).

The first thing we must observe (not self-observe) is that Belcultassi did not practice any form of self-observation in order to find out that there was something wrong with him. What he did was to reflect on the sense and aim of his existence. That is to say, Belcultassi did not observe himself and was not at all interested in dying to his false personality. No. He asked himself these two questions: Why I am here on Earth? What is the sense and aim of my existence here on Earth? It was upon asking himself these two questions that “he suddenly sensed and cognized that the process of the functioning of the whole of him had until then proceeded not as it should have proceeded according to sane logic.” That is exactly what happened to me one day when I came to the realization that I was living a double life, and that this kind of double life would never allow me to fulfill the sense and aim of my existence here on Earth.

Then Belcultassi did something I am still trying to do: “to attain without delay such a ‘potency’ as would give him the strength and possibility to be quite sincere with himself.” And in order to do that he worked like a devil. If you really are interesting on how Belcultassi worked on himself I strongly recommend that you follow his story on pages 295-296. Belcultassi succeeded in attaining such `potency’ and then he went ahead and together with friends who also discovered something wrong in themselves they founded the society Akhaldan “which in its time was throughout the whole Universe called `envied for imitation.’

Here is now another secret: The way to understand BTTHG and to bring this understanding into our Life and to live it in our everyday life is to make connections among different parts of the book and then bring these connections to us, to our being. That is why Mr. Gurdjieff gave all of us the task of putting one’s attention in the understanding of the whole book. Then and only then I can bring this attention into Life. Do you see the connection here between these paragraphs taken from the story of Belcultassi and the one taken from the last pages of BTTHG? Yes, you got it; the connection is to attain the `potency’ to be sincere with oneself. It is all about having this “potency.” Do we have it? But there is more in store here for all of us. Nowhere in the entire narrative about this future Saint Belcultassi is the expression self-observation ever used. But if you continue reading through page 297 you will notice that the expressions conscious observation and impartial constatations are used many times. So, what is the real secret? It is all about conscious observations and impartial constatations and not about self-observation. In fact, true self-observation rarely occurs because, as Mr. Gurdieff said, real self-observation is the function of the master and we have no master. But conscious observation and impartial constatations is the function of any serious seeker.

On the Practice of Conscious Observation and Impartial Constatation

I cannot rely too much on self-observation because it is very difficult and it is difficult because of the fact that I cannot be sincere with myself and that this damn “self-calming-god” is always following me wherever I go. He has become me and I have become him. But like Belcultassi we can engage in conscious observations and impartial constatations. Personally, and this is based on my own experience, the practice of self-observation should be limited to those rare moments in which my self-sensing and my self-remembering are very deep, something that very rarely is attained. But conscious observation and impartial constatations are practices we can all engage on a regular daily basis. And the best topic of conscious observation and impartial constatations is my own life. Mr. Gurdjieff said that the only movie worth watching is the movie of my life. I only have to observe how I live. That can be done with some objectivity and impartiality. I can even take notes and write a dairy. All I have to do is the observe how I wake up in the morning, how I shower, how I dress, how I eat , how I speak to others, my tone of voice and my gestures, how I think and what I think, how I walk, the places I like to go or I do not like to go, the people I like to see and I do not like to see, how I lie to myself, how I relate to money and things; and more importantly than anything else, how I relate to the people close to me and how I respond to the call from them and others. I have material there for years of work. And then at night, before going to sleep I can review my day. I can keep a notebook with me in which I write notes about myself. I do it. Here are two entries from last week: “1. Today I ate breakfast too fast; I was thinking too much instead of eating my eggs. 2. Today in the middle of a lecture I was giving I stopped for a moment inside of me and I asked myself: What am I doing here?”

The basic premise here is what I do. And what I do is manifested in how I live. I have to become the detective of my own life. Few years ago my daughter had a Colombian friend who wanted to marry another Colombian man but was in doubts particularly because she did not know for sure how his fiancé got the money. I had read an article of a woman who was in similar conditions and decided to hire a detective to watch the guy she was in love with. I told my daughter to tell her friend to do the same thing and she did it. In two weeks she knew that her fiancé was a drug dealer. It was not what the guy was telling her that mattered. It was what he was doing in his life that mattered. It is the same with us. We watch what we do and how we live. No self-observation but conscious observation and impartial constatations.

Be the detective of your own life.


About willmesa

I have been studying and working with the ideas of G.I. Gurdjieff exposed in his Opus Magnum Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. The intention of this blog is to share these ideas with people around the world. For more information about me, please search in Google for Will Mesa
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6 Responses to Self-Observation in the Context of Beelzebub’s Tales: Work in Life

  1. Splendid, Will! I like to imagine that my daily haiku is a slight contribution to ‘conscious observation’ – not that it emanates initially from ‘consciousness’ but from some unthought connection with what-is.

  2. willmesa says:

    I never thought of that, Colin, but now that you say it, it makes a lot of sense.

  3. The work is about being reborn. And before I can be reborn, I must die. And before I can die, I must awaken. I can die only with the help of someone who has gone the way before.

  4. Alex says:

    The way you explain it I find it to be a very helpful perspective it’s just I don’t see it as being different from the ISOM. It’s just a matter of semantics Self-observation and conscious observation are the same thing to me.

    • willmesa says:

      I see self-observation deeper than “conscious observation.” True self-observation, said Mr. Gurdjieff is the function of the Master. We have no Master. “Conscious observation” is a practice we all have a hand at and it is therefore that I separate both of them. It is very interesting to me that Mr. Gurdjieff used the expressions “conscious observation” and “impartial constatation” and not self-observation.

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