FEELING THE EXCITEMENT of being on the brink of a genuinely new adventure, I left Vail in the best of spirits with one goal in mind: I was intent on practicing self-remembering. I would keep part of my awareness on myself at all times.
I was only a few miles out of Vail when I began to see how difficult a task this truly is. After the first ten minutes I realized that I was going to have to turn off the radio because I found myself unconsciously singing along or thinking about something the announcer had said. But even without the radio, it was still incredibly difficult to keep part of my awareness on myself. I’d sit up straight in my seat and resolve to keep an eye on myself, but even with this clear intent, I couldn’t hold this split awareness for fifteen seconds. At some point later, I would realize that my mind had gone back to its old ways of thinking about whatever it wanted to.
I recalled what Ouspensky had written about self-remembering. He had noticed that his attention was usually directed away from himself toward the thing he was observing. To show this he drew a single-headed arrow:
I → the observed phenomenon.
But when he remembered himself, his attention was directed both ways:
I ↔ the observed phenomenon.
I also recalled that Ouspensky had said that this practice of self-remembering reminded him of his attempts to stop his thoughts, which is another practice I’d never thought of doing before. After I’d tried self-remembering for about an hour, I realized that it could not be done with your mind full of thoughts. Your thoughts would inevitably carry your attention away, making it impossible for you to keep an eye on yourself, which is the essence of the practice of self-remembering.
Before very long I came back to what I had learned in the past winter about the importance of being in the present and remaining alert. I could see that I had to be present and alert in order to have a chance at practicing self-remembering. But even with this insight, I would hold my dual focus for maybe a minute or less — probably less — before my habitual mindset would kick in and I’d start thinking about something, whether it was an old girlfriend, politics, finances... It could be anything. As soon as one of these thoughts would come into my mind, I’d immediately take off on that thought. It was as if someone had started that particular cassette tape, and now I was absorbed — lost, really — in thought about that particular subject. After varying amounts of time, from a few minutes to who knows how long, I would remember that, gee, I am just doing my same old thing here. I’m not participating at all in this practice of self-remembering. I can’t keep enough awareness on myself to remember my goal, let alone actually stay in the present.
I knew it was a waste of time to go over all these old thoughts that I’d already gone over a thousand times, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. So once again, I would sit up straight in the car, get comfortable physically, and renew my desire to really participate. Then for another extremely short period of time, I would be kind of aware of myself in the car, my body posture, and looking around at the beautiful mountain scenery.
So, at this early stage, self-remembering seemed almost impossible to do. Pondering this, I remembered reading Ouspensky’s description of this very phenomenon. Ouspensky says that he first tried to practice self-remembering while walking down the streets of St. Petersburg. He tried to keep his attention on his surroundings — especially the houses on quiet streets — while at the same time, he was trying to keep part of his attention focused on himself. He wanted to exist in his observations as himself. He did not want to be lost in thought while strolling about the city. And like me, he found that it was very difficult to keep his attention on self-remembering. He writes that he began to feel a “kind of ridiculous irritation” with himself for being so inept, and he made a firm resolve to keep his attention on the fact that he wanted to remember himself. For a few blocks he did quite well, but then he had the urge to have a cigarette and, with that, he forgot to practice self-remembering. He was lost in his thoughts, and about two hours later it was, he writes, almost as if he “woke up” — he remembered that he wasn’t remembering himself!
Now I could really appreciate his observation, “and suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.” When I’d first read this, without having tried to practice self-remembering on my own, Ouspensky’s experience didn’t mean much to me. But now it struck me that this was exactly what I was going through I’d never realized that my mind was so uncontrollable. I’d always been good at athletics and schoolwork, and I just assumed that I had well developed powers of focus and concentration. Now I had to admit that when it came to self-remembering, I had the attention span of a two-year-old!
Wondering what I could do to improve, I remembered that Ouspensky mentions that when he was walking through local neighborhoods practicing self-remembering, it helped him greatly to focus on the houses, the trees, etc.
I decided to try the same thing with the spectacularly beautiful scenery I was driving through at this time in western Colorado and Utah. I focused intently on the scenery, looking at all the angles of the mountains, the lay of the shadows, the hue and tone of the colors, and I found that this really helped.
Still, before very long I would get caught in a thought, follow it along to think about many other things and all the associated ideas that went with them — and completely forget my intention to be more aware of the scenery and of myself. I would find myself driving along, and I’d realize that for the last so many minutes, I’d been thinking about this and that, neither looking at the scenery or being aware that I was thinking about these things. It struck me again that I had done this all my life and had never even noticed it. I saw, too, that everybody does this all the time and that nobody notices it. I knew it wasn’t just me.
Each time I caught myself being lost in thought, I would be a bit disappointed. But at the same time, at this stage, it was kind of humorous because I kept being amazed at how I’d never before noticed how little control I had over what I was thinking about. It also struck me that since I had nothing else to do on this drive, I might as well continue to try to bring my mind under reign instead of just allowing it to wander off and think about everything under the sun. I thought, I am already great at that, and now that I'm aware of how unconscious I am, I have to do something about it!
With that very thought, I decided to keep practicing self-remembering today, tomorrow, and the next day. I resolved to keep doing this practice until I got it — until I could stay “awake”!
By the time evening set in, I could see a very small improvement. Now I had an appreciation of why G says you are “awake” only when you are in a state of self-remembering; otherwise you are in a state of waking sleep — a dreamlike state. The way my attention was jumping from one thing to another, often without finishing the first line of thought, was certainly similar to my experience of the dream state. In just one day I had learned more about myself than I would ever have believed possible!
Just before sunrise I opened my eyes and was instantly wide-awake. Even though the sleeping conditions in my car were not exactly ideal, I felt great. My mind was clear, quiet, and truly alive in the present moment. That lasted for less than a minute. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about some bug that was crawling on my windshield. Then after a couple of minutes of speculating about the bug, I remembered that I’d promised to start remembering myself right from the very start of the day. I was maybe a little, but not really, surprised that my mind was up to its old habits, practically from the moment I awoke.
With this awareness of the mind’s tendencies, I decided, okay, let me sit here for a few minutes, observe my surroundings and allow myself to become focused in the present. I sat there in the car, just as I had done the day before, slowly and diligently focusing on the scenery around me. But at the same time, I was trying to keep another aspect of my awareness focused on myself, to make sure my mind didn’t start winging off into some other land of thought. Once I felt quite focused and alert, I reaffirmed my commitment to stay “awake.” Then, map in hand, I developed a new route to get to Idaho in time to meet my uncle, who was expecting me by 5:00 PM.
With the sun just starting to rise in the east, I promised myself that at the beginning of each day, I would take a little time and get focused in this more alert state of self-remembering.
As I was nearing my uncle’s place, my first reaction was to think, Oh no, I wonder what it’s going to do to my newfound awareness to be around someone else! Will interacting with my uncle make me lose what little wakefulness I’ve attained?
What was really interesting is that the part of my awareness that had been watching me heard this thought and laughed. I could hear this other part of my mind, the watchful part, respond. It said, It doesn’t have to be that way. You can maintain this state just as well in the presence of other people as you have been doing alone. The key to your success is your will and intent; it’s not where you are. Just stay focused and keep an eye on yourself and things will be fine.
I knew this deeper part of myself was absolutely right.
That evening my uncle suggested that we go to the area’s favorite cowboy bar for some supper and a little local entertainment. Even though the setting was a little loud, it still provided an atmosphere conducive to pleasant conversation. I didn’t feel any need to tell him about my practice of this technique of focusing my mind in a new way. My only desire was to do it: to remember to remember myself. This cowboy bar atmosphere was great in that I had never been in a place quite like it. As the ambiance was totally new to me, it had a similar effect on me of being in spectacular scenery: it gave me something easy to focus on.
In fact, I found this new atmosphere and companionship helpful to my cause. I had noticed a tendency that afternoon to start analyzing some of the new insights and feelings I was experiencing from the practice of self-remembering. I realized that while doing this, I wasn’t able to practice self-remembering. So these new circumstances made it easier to simply practice this technique of being aware of what was going on in my own mind. Thus, my goal for the weekend was not to analyze anything; it was to put all my energy into trying to, as Gurdjieff put it, stay “awake”.
As the evening wore on, I found it was a little difficult to continue with my self-remembering. My cousin showed up, and I found that while I was telling him and my uncle stories about myself, it was easy for me to get caught up in those stories and forget all about keeping myself present in my observations. It was easy to revert back to the feelings I’d had at the time of the incident I was describing and forget all about self-remembering. But after the storytelling was over, and I started getting settled into this new energy pattern, I found that my ability to practice this double focus started getting stronger. The state of self-remembering began to return, even though the vast majority of the time, my mind would keep losing its focus and start thinking about this or that.
Throughout the evening, my uncle had been at me to ask this particular young woman to dance. Even though she was quite attractive, I told him that, no, I was doing fine right where I was. As the night progressed, he kept saying, “Go ask her to dance,” and so I finally decided that, yes, I guess at this point I feel I’m ready.
We started dancing and initially everything seemed to be fine: I was able to stay in the practice of self-remembering. But after having danced with her for only a short while, I began to feel the old habitual sexual attraction coming up. I saw that while I was thinking about sex, I would totally lose my focus on self-remembering. I realized that this feeling of wanting to have sex with this woman was similar to the feeling I’d experienced earlier, wondering if I was waiting for my uncle in the right place. These feelings were responses; they just came up on their own because of the circumstances I was in. Often when dancing with an attractive woman I would have thoughts about sex, but now I saw it quite differently. It seemed similar to the conditioned negative responses I had been working with when I was practicing the non-expression of negative emotions. They were both conditioned responses; the only difference is that one was sexual in nature while the other was emotional. With that realization, I did my best to stay in a state of self-remembering, and we ended up dancing for quite a while and having a good time.
Finally, my uncle and some of his friends were leaving to carry on the festivities at someone’s house. I invited this young woman to join us, and she said, “I don’t know if I should.”
With all the new insight I was getting into the workings of my own mind, I said, “Is that the way you really feel, or are you more concerned with what other people will think? You should follow your own inner feelings, if you really want to do something and feel okay about doing it. Don’t worry about what someone else is thinking.”
She said that, on second thought she would like to spend some more time together, even though part of her didn’t think it would look quite right.
During this party, I continued speaking to this young woman about the mind in a very simple way. One of the main things I’d learned recently, particularly over the last two days, was how conditioned our minds are. Another was how my mind worries more about what others might think than it does about my own feelings. This, too, was not just a tendency of my mind but of the human mind in general. Seeing how this young woman was concerned about what others thought, I talked to her about the importance of paying attention to yourself and not being afraid to get in touch with your own feelings and respect them. (Remember, this was the mid 1970’s, when people were very much concerned about getting in touch with their feelings!)
She asked about my experience of Vail, and I told her my experiences of realizing how important it is to live in the present moment and also my realization that basically all of my negative emotional reactions were conditioned responses rather than conscious choices. I related this to living your own life versus being controlled by others’ expectations. It’s wonderful to be aware of the overall situation—aware of others’ needs and concerns — but you always need to listen to the deeper part of your self.
Throughout our conversation, I was doing quite well at staying awake — in G’s sense of the word — but I also continued to experience feelings of sexual attraction. Part of me realized that even though I was relating to her honestly about what I’d been learning, I was definitely trying to maneuver myself into position to have sex with her. I could see that some of the things in the conversation about the mind, like emphasizing that we should do what we want to do and not worry about what other people think, were an attempt to get this young woman to admit to herself that she was feeling some of the same sexual urges I was experiencing, and to acknowledge that it would be fine to express them.
For one thing, I could see that a part of me wanted to experience sex in this newfound state of mind. It seemed as if having sex in this new state of awareness would be a bit like having sex for the very first time. As fate would have it, she was feeling about the same as I was and decided that she wanted to take me home with her, even though she didn’t feel quite right about it and knew that everyone else at the party would know what was happening. The nature of the evening’s interactions set us up perfectly for a more natural progression of our relationship during the early morning hours. My level of energy was still high from the last couple of days and the added excitement of knowing that I was going to make love with this attractive young woman helped me to regain a better state of focus. I really wanted to be “awake” for the upcoming events.
During our lovemaking, I realized that actually I didn’t feel any different than I usually did. In fact, I was surprised to see that my focus during sex was very similar to G’s self-remembering. This came as a total surprise. I had not seen any connection beforehand. What I now could see is that when making love, I had always split my focus in a way that was similar to self-remembering: one part of my focus was riveted on my lover and the other part on myself. What was different now is that this was the first time that I was aware of the way my mind was focused during sex. I also realized that my mind never had a tendency to think or participate in internal talking while having sex. So, for me lovemaking was a little like self-remembering: my mind was always quiet, focused, and present. I thought, No wonder making love is so enjoyable!
I departed with the rising sun, rejuvenated from the early morning activities and some unexpected insights. Shortly after I got to my cousin’s place, my uncle showed up and, with a big smile, asked me how I was enjoying Idaho. I returned the grin and said, “So far, it’s been great.” I realized that he was referring to the sex that I’d just experienced with this acquaintance of his, but I was actually talking about the whole experience that I was having with self-remembering over the last few days. The experience with this young woman was great, but it was really nothing compared with the experience, insights, and energy that I was gaining from this new practice of self-remembering.
One of the first things I did after leaving my uncle’s place was stop and buy a copy of the New Testament. I’d thought about this before arriving at my uncle’s and had decided to wait until after the weekend so that having a Bible with me wouldn’t interfere with my being present with him. I didn’t want to have my mind on anything else.
My main purpose in buying the Bible was to be able to see exactly what Jesus had said about lusting in the Sermon on the Mount. As I’ve mentioned, I had often wondered about this part of Jesus’ teaching and how it was possible to accomplish living without desire. It just seemed so natural — so normal — for some desire to arise when I was looking at an attractive woman. And how could a normal response be sinful? In thinking about this over the years, I’d always assumed that there had to be something here that I was missing. I could see that if a person was able to do this, their life would be much easier, but the how-to of this task seemed impossible. Now, however, with just a few days of practicing self-observation accompanied by self-remembering, I could finally see how this seemingly impossible task might be possible.
During these last few days, I’d begun to see how my mind was highly conditioned and much more judgmental than I would have believed. I’d seen that my mind, as G said, was at the mercy of outside influences. I’d also experienced how the part of myself that was capable of observing me and my actions did not seem to be conditioned, worried, lustful, etc. In fact, this part of my mind was very calm, detached, and observant. It felt more like the real me that I had been looking for, the “me” that was not so socially conditioned or — as in the case of lust — naturally conditioned to react. This is the “me” that is able to remember myself, to see what my mind is up to. I could see that this part of myself was not under the same influences as my habitual self, my so-called “normal” self. I could also see that it was this observing part of myself that had the potential to follow Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount at the same time it was watching all of my conditioned thoughts.
After I got the New Testament, I drove for a while with a focus on the new scenery, which truly was exquisite, to help keep my mind quiet, present, and focused on both driving and myself. When I got to a particularly beautiful spot, I pulled off the road, sat on the hood of my car, and started reading the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5–7. After some time, I saw another vehicle driving up to where I was, and my mind started thinking, This must be the owner coming to tell me that I have to leave, that this is his property and he doesn’t want people using it. What a shame, I’m not bothering anybody, it’s such a beautiful day. I just want to spend a little time here.
Fortunately, I was centered in self-remembering, and this other part of me that I am calling the “watcher of the mind” was present and heard this conditioned part of my mind doing its thing. The watcher laughed, knowing the silliness of that part of my mind fairly well by this point. It turned out that I was correct about the man’s being the owner, but he was friendly and sweet and wasn’t the least bit concerned that I was using his property for a short time.
He saw that I was reading the New Testament and started talking a little about the Lord. I told him that I’d recently had some new and startling insights into the teachings of Christianity and I’d wanted to reread some of these sections just to make sure that I was remembering Jesus’ teachings correctly. I told him that I was supposed to attend dental school in the fall but was feeling now that maybe I should put all of my efforts into knowing God better and sharing my insights with others.
He looked me right in the eye and told me that I should follow through on my plans to become a dentist and also continue my newfound relationship with God. I could and should do both.
From that moment on, I never questioned my chosen vocation again!
On the afternoon of June 20, 1975, while sitting on the beach intently looking at the majestic mountains and practicing self-remembering, as I had been doing regularly over the previous eight days, I very naturally entered into a transcendent state of consciousness.
This was totally unexpected. My mind had become very quiet, and I was just sitting there enjoying the peace, stillness, quiet, and profound contentment of being immersed in the crystal-clear awareness and silence of the witness. I had struggled long and hard to get to this state, had found answers to the questions that had been plaguing me for years, and was now totally satisfied to be able to stay “awake” and to enjoy myself and these beautiful surroundings. While my awareness was immersed in the witness and my mind was not thinking of anything at all, this unexpected and unimagined state of consciousness simply emerged. It was as if it had unveiled itself to me. This state was awesome — though that is a pale word to describe the reality — and completely different from anything I had ever known. But I was not the least bit unsettled by being in the state as it was peaceful, gentle, pure, sacred, and clearly divine.
One thing that was immediately apparent to me is that this entirely new and wondrous state was not in any way connected to, or a result of, any previous insights of mine nor was it in any way related to any of Gurdjieff’s teachings that I had been exploring. It is often called the transcendent state and it does, in fact, transcend every single thought and concept that I had ever been exposed to or imagined.
I want to reiterate that this change in my state happened with my eyes wide open at a time when I was just looking at the gorgeous scenery. Moreover, this shift in my state was wholly inner and did not involve any alteration in the way I saw or in any other physical sense. The entire change took place within me, in my awareness and understanding.
This deliciously harmonious state exposed me to an unknown part of myself that was unimaginably and undeniably sacred. There are a number of very distinct qualities that came with this state as givens. This state does not, for instance, involve any form of thinking, reasoning, or drawing conclusions. Rather, it comprises a direct knowing. It has been called the transcendent state, mystical awakening, mystical vision, one’s true Self, and many, many other names. Besides the fact that it is, as I’ve indicated, beyond our normal awareness, this state is particularly difficult for a Westerner to describe because even the concept of such a state has been missing from our culture for centuries.
© 2012 Thomas J. Anderson. Adapted from All-Amareakin: A Book for Sincere Seekers of Truth and Understanding. Used by permission. Illustration generated by AI; not subject to copyright.
This page was first published on May 17, 2014 and last revised on September 13, 2023.