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.