Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Conscience and nondirected thought

We are assessing the tools we possess in order to know which can bring us closer to the nonexistent mountain that serves as the bridge between humankind and the absolute. And we have discovered that directed thought cannot help us in this regard - being fundamentally a product of the past and indistinguishable from the thinker. We're going to look at nondirected thought now to see if it can better approach this question of being.

We experience nondirected thought as a background of associative dreamlike monologues or images moving from one to the next by chance or through reaction of some kind. An everchanging network of simulcra through which I respond almost vicariously to real phenomena. I drive a car while replaying conversations from the day in my head, imagining myself winning nonexistent arguments and so on. While the body is engaged in the act of driving, the mind is totally absorbed in a flow of associations. It is noteworthy that nondirected thought excludes the body.

As with directed thought, associative thought cannot be distinguished from the one who thinks. No unified conscious 'I' may be defined who might separate itself from the stream of mental images. And even if such an 'I' were to exist, the hypnotic effect of associative thinking makes its independence unlikely. But thought, directed or nondirected, is not the whole arena of the mind. Other functions exist and should be evaluated as to their usefulness in this endeavor. The function I'd like to speak about now is conscience.

One must consider conscience as a non-verbal force that triggers a thought response usually in the form of a challenge to the thinker's current action or of remorse about some past action. The other night I made a sandwich. Turning to walk away, I dropped the dirty knife in the sink without thinking. After a few paces I suddenly stopped and thought "hang on, if I don't wash that knife, someone else is going to have to do it". Somewhat reluctantly I returned to the sink and washed the knife. This is a commonplace situation but perhaps deserving of more attention.

Replaying the event, I see that I had physically stopped walking before articulating the thought "hang on . . . ". Something wholly nonverbal had been almost immediately rationalised as thought. After the initial impulse to stop, followed by the thought, I was then free to either ignore the imperative or to follow it. But the important point is that I was absolutely compelled to first stop - as though something, internal or external, had forcibly dragged me from reverie into a more conscious state.

The function of conscience must therefore be to alter patterns of behaviour - behaviour which presumably takes place at lower levels of consciousness. By extension one can say that the function of conscience is to bring consciousness to semiconscious states. Take the above example - I dropped the dirty knife in the sink in a thoughtless, semiconscious state but conscience propelled me into a more conscious state in which I decided to change my action.

There are many questions which arise from this line of thought - is conscience external to the thinker or does it arise as a manifestation of thought? is conscience simply the product of culture and education? or do fundamental concepts of good and evil transcend all cultures and beliefs? How can conscience be strengthened or silenced? But, for me, the main question should be: Can conscience serve to bring us closer to an understanding of the mystery of our presence in the world?

And I think that it can.

We have discovered that conscience causes flashes of consciousness to occur in semiconscious states - uncomfortable as they may be. And although we associate conscience with self-recrimination perhaps it has other functions hitherto undiscovered. At the very least one can say that by strengthening conscience one must increase consciousness - and thereby come closer to an understanding of being. Ashiata Sheimash has much to say on the topic of conscience in Gurdjieff's magnum opus 'Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson'.

Conclusion: neither directed nor nondirected thought can be useful in attaining our goal. Conscience may be useful.


  1. This is a very insightful perspective. I think it is external to the thinker and is underneath thought. I think that is the pureness of it, there is no thinker to add past/future/emotion/logic, etc to it.

  2. I'm glad you said that Anthony - my feeling is also that conscience is external to the thinker. I need to think about this a lot more... raises many questions.

  3. (Just some thoughts) It seems the problem is that we constantly use the false sense of self even for analyzing our false sense of self. The ego would afford us clues all the while that reinforce the need for time, like blindfolded children the ego shouts out little tips or points of clarity to keep us spinning around and always needing more time. One more book, one more etc. This is where I really like where this is going. Getting access to the thought in its purity before it becomes clouded. But this is possibly not without it's challenges in that glimpsing that 'stop' moment during the daydream is possible and since its in the dream it must have an opposite so it must also happen for good not just self recrimination. Even so my thoughts immediately go to another place that we might have access to this and that is dreaming. I have often wondered if, and likely the case as it seems to happen so much of the time that we are given or shown only what we can understand at the time. Dreams being largely symbolism are such for what reason? It almost seem to often that again with the restrictions of our language that truth is pointed to. My point and question I suppose is that were you to get past the false sense of self to the one I then I believe everything would be understood automatically. The ego would be dead and you would no longer feel separation or duality and be truly one. However what we're perhaps talking about is finding a way to see or look through the window at the stream of conscience without the filter of the false self and the interpretation of that comes with it. By the time the false sense of self is done a truth or revelation may look like anything but a truth once past, future, fear, etc., are added to it. I guess where I'm stumbling is would it be something we could understand or be all symbolism's, etc. Either way I wonder if lucid dreaming would be a possible place to work.

  4. Yes, exactly, the false self looks for the self. and we don't even know which false self looks because there are so many. And we believe ourselves everytime we say 'I'.One more book etc - we are acquisitive. And we don't recognise that the search for answers is part of that acquisitiveness - we want security, to own the answer, to be the possessor of knowledge. But something underneath all that wishes to live - how can we help it?
    Lucid dreaming may be another good place to begin - personally, I've not had much luck separating out what is lucid and what is associative in dreams but I believe it can be done. Have you tried it? and, if so, where has it led?

  5. I had worked with it years ago in my early twenties and actually was having quite good results but a different goal back then. To qualify 'results', at that time my goal was to become 'awake' and aware enough to questions and/or manipulate the dream. It took a lot of discipline and I was actually starting to have some successes. I was remembering most all of my dreams and logging them, then analyzing them oddly enough in my sleep. The hour before I would wake I would somehow become awake and start recounting my dreams and the symbology. I remember being quite amazed in that my reference materials were all available. Things that I would have to look up in my books when awake were simply there. I believed (and still do) that everyone's symbology is different based on aspects of your personality, education, beliefs, etc. So one thing to me was not necessarily the same for someone else. Not the ridiculous associations you read in the tabloid type books, if you dream of money you're going to win the lottery rubbish. I finally had to break off the experiments when I started having trouble during my waking periods. The better I got with the dream work the more disconnected I became and my work was starting to suffer. I do however believe there is merit in looking into it. I have started working with it again just a few weeks ago and have had some light successes but not to the degree as before. I would just add it as a footnote and not take you off track. I would like to continue to follow your path and not derail our quest here. I mentioned it only throwing out ideas as how to reach the pure conscience. I'm sure there are other ways. For the sake of our discussion I would like to continue down the line of your reasoning.

  6. What you say is very interesting Anthony. I have long suspected that my difficulty with lucid dreaming stems from the same issue as my difficulties with waking consciousness. In both states I am too immersed, too identified. A distance is missing. Can you suggest any good texts on this subject? texts with a practical bias? I agree that, at least at the moment, it makes sense to experiment with lucid dreaming as a sideline to our enquiry - but an intriguing sideline nonetheless. Thanks so much for adding your insight to this blog Anthony! It really adds a very valuable dimension.

  7. Thank you Loplop - I will track down that text!

  8. Thank you for those links Loplop, they're really helpful. Jeane de Salzmann's book "The Reality of Being" is a posthumous publication of her notes and talks. You can find it at Amazon here:

    Unfortunately you can't get it as an ebook as far as I know. I bought the hardcover version and it was really worth the investment.

    You will find Gurdjieff's discussion on conscience in his chapters on Ashiata Shiemash in his book 'Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson". These are chapters 25, 26, 27 and 28. There have been numerous translations and editions of this book but, as far as I know, the only authentic version in English is the one published by Two Rivers Press in Oregon. You can find the book details here:

    There are, of course, online versions of Beelzebub's Tales and a great deal of debate on how much of a difference the editorial changes really make - but I prefer the authentic version.

    There is a "full version" of Daumal's 'Mount Analogue' (bearing in mind that he died before finishing the text) available through By The Way Books (see: - They are expensive but have a great range of books related to our discussions here. I don't believe an ebook is available of this text.

    It's lovely to have you with us!