. . . Man’s ordinary state of consciousness is not the highest level of consciousness of which he is capable. In fact, it is so defective that the condition has been defined as little better than somnambulism. Man does not really know what he is doing or where he is going. He lives in dreams. He inhabits a world of delusions and, because of these delusions, makes dangers for himself and others. If this is accepted, then we ask the next questions: What can be done about it? Can man really awaken?
What other states of consciousness are possible for him and what must he do to attain these states?
Let us repeat an oft-quoted passage from The Varieties of Religious Experience:
One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness. . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.
William James was actually describing effects he obtained while experimenting with nitrous oxide. The statement, however, need not be limited to drug-induced states of altered awareness. One can, in fact, be far more specific than was James in the above passage. One can affirm, on the basis of considerable evidence, that roughly five levels of consciousness are possible for man:
1) Deep sleep without dreams. The First Level
2) Sleep with dreams. The Second Level
3) Waking sleep (identification). The Third Level
4) Self-transcendence The Fourth Level
5) Objective Consciousness The Fifth Level
Nature guarantees that man shall experience the first, second and third levels of consciousness. These are necessary for life, for the maintenance of the physical body and for the perpetuation of the species. She does not guarantee that he shall experience the fourth and fifth states. In fact, it appears, owing to an error in the pattern of man’s evolution, that mechanisms have developed in him which make it difficult for him to attain the two higher states of consciousness. . . .
The third state of consciousness is experienced when man awakens from physical sleep and plunges at once into the condition called “identification.” Identification is the essence of the third state of consciousness. In this state, man has no separate awareness. He is lost in whatever he happens to be doing, feeling, thinking. Because he is lost, immersed, not present in himself, this condition, the third state of consciousness, is referred to in the Gurdjieffian system as the state of “waking sleep.” Man in this state is described not as the real man but as a machine, without inner unity, real will or permanent I, acted upon and manipulated by external forces as a puppet is activated by the puppeteer.
For many people, this concept of waking sleep makes no sense at all. They firmly maintain that, once they “wake up,” they are responsible beings, masters of themselves, fully conscious, and that anyone who tells them that they are not is a fool or a liar. It is almost impossible to convince such people that they are deceiving themselves because, when a man is told that he is not really conscious, a mechanism is activated within him which awakens him for a moment. He replies, indignantly, “But I am fully conscious,” and because of this “trick of Nature” as Ouspensky used to call it, he does become conscious for a moment. He moves from the third room to the threshold of the fourth room, answers the challenge, and at once goes to sleep again, firmly convinced that he is a fully awakened being. . . .
It was exactly this reaction that Plato described in his account of the prisoners in the cave . . . Suppose, says Plato in his Republic (Loeb edition), that one of the prisoners in the cave, whose only impression of reality is derived from watching shadows on the walls, escapes into the world outside. Suppose he is of an altruistic disposition and returns to tell the other prisoners of the bright and varied world that lies beyond their prison. Suppose he announces that all things they have ever seen are merely shadows. Will they welcome that message? Not likely!
There will certainly be laughter at his expense and it will be said that the only result of his escapade up there is that he has come back with his eyesight ruined. Moral: it’s a fool’s game even to make the attempt to go up aloft; and as for the busybody who goes in for all the liberating and translating to higher spheres, if ever we have a chance to catch and kill him we will certainly take it.
The fact is that man in the third state of consciousness is in a situation from which it is hard to escape. He does not recognize the state as waking sleep, does not understand the meaning of identification. If anyone tells him that he is not fully conscious, he replies that he is conscious and, by the “trick of Nature,” becomes conscious for a moment. He is like a man surrounded by distorting mirrors which offer him an image of himself that in no way corresponds to reality. If he is fat, they tell him he is slender. If he is old, they tell him he is young. He is very happy to believe the mirrors for they save him from that hardest of all tasks, the struggle to know himself as he really is.
Furthermore, this sleeping man is surrounded by other sleeping people and the whole culture in which he lives serves to perpetuate that state of sleep. Its ethics, morality, value systems are all based on the idea that it is lawful and desirable for man to spend his life in the third room rather than in a struggle to enter the fourth. Teachings that exhort men to awaken, to adopt a system of values based on levels of being rather than material possessions are distrusted. Theoretically, in the United States at least, what are loosely called “spiritual values” are accepted as valid, but practically they do not carry much weight.
A man’s chance of attaining the fourth state of consciousness depends on whether or not he has experienced this state.
If he does not even know it exists, he will not long for it any more than a bird born and raised in captivity can know what freedom is like or long for freedom. Man can, and from time to time does, experience the fourth state as a result of some religious emotion, under the influence of a work of art, in the rapture of sexual love or in situations of great danger and difficulty. In these circumstances it is said that he “remembers himself.” This term is not entirely descriptive of the fourth state but it is the best available. Self-remembering is a certain separation of awareness from whatever a man happens to be doing, thinking, feeling. It is symbolized by a two-headed arrow suggesting double awareness. There is actor and observer, there is an objective awareness of self. There is a feeling of being outside of, separated from, the confines of the physical body; there is a sense of detachment, a state of nonidentification. For identification and self-remembering can no more exist together than a room can simultaneously be illuminated and dark. One excludes the other.
Several characteristics of the fourth state of consciousness have been described by A. Maslow in a chapter of Toward a Psychology of Being entitled “Peak Experiences as Acute Identity Experiences.” He emphasizes the paradoxical quality of this state: “The greatest attainment of identity, autonomy or selfhood is itself simultaneously a transcending of itself, a going beyond and above selfhood. The person can then become relatively egoless.”
One statement in this chapter by Maslow calls for some elaboration: “Peaks are not planned or brought about by design; they happen.” This may be perfectly true, but does not have to be. The whole practice of Creative Psychology is based on the hypothesis that man can change his level of being through intentional effort properly guided and persistently exerted. As a result of this effort, he will attain the fourth state of consciousness (roughly corresponding to Maslow’s peak experience)1 with increasing frequency. He will also get glimpses of the fifth state of consciousness. The difference between experiencing these states by accident and inducing them deliberately is like that between finding money in the street and earning it by the sweat of one’s brow. One may find money now and then, but it is not an event to be relied upon.
In the same way, some drug experiences may produce a state akin to self-remembering and generate what Baudelaire called “The Taste of the Infinite.” There are several ways of getting glimpses of the interior of the fourth room or even the fifth which a person may stumble upon more or less accidentally.
This is not at all the same thing as finding the key and unlocking these chambers. For this, both effort and knowledge are required.
Once a man knows that the fourth room exists, he reaches a parting of ways so far as his life is concerned. He can either try to forget all about the fourth room, behave as if it does not exist, lapse again into the state of total identification, or he can decide to play the Master Game and set about looking for someone to teach him the technique. Two factors will influence his decision: the intensity of his dislike of sleep and the intensity of his longing for real awakening. These are the stick and the carrot which between them get the donkey moving. The struggle to unlock and enter the fourth room and, having entered it, to remain there, is a task so difficult under the conditions of modern life that few undertake it and even fewer succeed. It may well be that even the appetite for this adventure is gradually disappearing from the psyche of man.
In this respect, the words of Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra may be relevant:
Alas! there comes the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man. . . . Lo! I show you the last man.
The earth has become small and on it hops the last man who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable like the ground flea; the last man lives longest.
“Self-Transcendence and Beyond” by Robert S. De Ropp is an extract from The Highest State of Consciousness edited by John W. White, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
www.whitecrowbooks.com/the highest state of consciousness