I want to share, to the best of my ability, the profound experiences and lessons I’ve learnt over the years. This one related to ‘Human vs. Machine in Physical training’ made many of my later lessons possible as a result. This article is not an exclusive guide on the topic. In fact, it’ll be specific to my experience and focused towards the physical training realm, a fraction of what can be said on this subject as a whole.
Some people reading this article will learn new knowledge. Perhaps someone will gain understanding. Then some people might find this obscure and confusing – if this is you, connect with me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org I may be able to help clarify this.
Knowledge by itself does not give understanding. Nor is understanding increased by an increase of knowledge alone. Understanding depends upon the relation of knowledge to being… It appears only when a man feels and senses what is connected with it.
― George Gurdjieff
Being asleep vs. being awake
Previously, I sometimes didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t know why, or how to change this to feeling like myself again. A good friend of mine introduced the concept that the common human has several ‘I’s. There are many voices speaking inside of us, that the human we know, is plurality. I have found for myself that this is so.
I started observing myself. My habitual patterns and behaviors, fears, false beliefs, struggle, and so on. This was an essential and fundamental practice on the path to opening myself up and discovering more of who I am, deep inside.
[Who am I at the essence?]
During this time of practice, I started sensing different ‘I’s. I could recognize them by listening, watching and feeling. They had different flavors. Some of which I rather disliked, others that I liked and wanted to be more like. I learnt that I had many false ‘I’s* and it was difficult to find and listen to the one true I, me, my essence.
As time has passed, I have become better at acknowledging when my false ‘I’s are about to move into action. Sometimes, and the better I become in recognizing this, I’m able to choose the way I want to be, instead of letting these mechanical ‘I’s run their automated programs. This process is taking time and effort.
“Man, such as we know him, the “man-machine,” the man who cannot “do,” and with whom and through whom everything “happens,” cannot have a permanent and single I. His I changes as quickly as his thoughts, feelings and moods, and he makes a profound mistake in considering himself always one and the same person; in reality he is always a different person, not the one he was a moment ago.”
― George Gurdjieff
Through the process of observing myself, I can detect and remove habitual patterns I feel don’t serve me and the world long term. One thing that is of great importance here is, that I would often think that I knew the right way of behaving or communicating in the matter. As if I knew what my essence wanted. However, what I discovered was that the voice in my head telling me to do/think/feel X Y Z was often one of the many false ‘I’s. If you haven’t read my recent post ‘False beliefs will hinder your growth’ this is one such example. The false ‘I’s were, and to some degree still are, difficult to distinguish between. This is why I have found it vital to have a teacher guiding me over the past few years, to avoid bullshitting myself. What I cannot see at this moment they can and will help me decipher.
The process is about developing an awake human from being asleep. Being a machine, that is. I have received the comment “You’re a machine” based on physically strong performances. The following information should tell you that you’ve insulted me rather than given me a compliment when you’ve expressed this.
By letting the false ‘I’s run their automated program it seems like there’s very little [Nothing] we can do**. The machine will simply do things on automatic with no conscious input. This is what Mr. Gurdjieff often referred to as ‘being asleep’. It is much like the cruise control in your car. You click a button and the machine keeps on going with no conscious effort.
You’re a machine! That’s risky…
If we are machines and we put our training shoes on, what can occur?
If we are asleep, we are not present. We will not know fully what we’re doing nor what is occurring inside or outside of us. Things may happen but the situation lacks awareness.
It’s similar the comment people often make that goes ‘If you didn’t post it on FaceBook, did it really happen?’ This is like, ‘If you didn’t pay attention when you practiced, does it count?’
If we go off the premise that with physical training, we’re looking to do an activity that keeps us healthy as humans and if we’re so inclined; perform, in some form or shape. With this said, there’s three areas I want to mention where you may find operating as a machine to be Not desirable:
- Confusion, False beliefs.
If you are not aware during your practice it may make you confused as to what it is, you’re supposed to be doing in your physical practice. Your physical practice may change over time but the intention behind it and the way it changes over time may be based on false ‘I’s, not your true essence. This is when false beliefs may occur leading you astray.
- Meaningless, Waste of time and effort.
Operating mechanically during training may lead to wasting essential time and effort and the practice may become meaningless. If you’re not ‘there’ you’re running into the risk of things like; not trying hard enough leading to no results, not counting repetitions/sets/seconds correctly resulting in not enough work done or too much, or not keeping track on how you’re doing leaving you with no direction.
- Dangerous, Risk vs. Reward.
When we are unaware of our internal state and external circumstances during physical activity the risk for hurting ourselves goes up. Our ability to judge risk vs. reward will go down as well as recognising when form is entering the suspicious unwanted territory. The situation may become dangerous. I think many of us can relate to an injury, big or small, occuring at moments when our attention went from what we were doing to visiting our past or future.
A way to move forward
In a correct process of starting to recognize your different ‘I’s you also start to break the sleep. You can be awake, or you can be asleep in the moment. But to majority of the time be awake, seem to require mighty efforts and practice. The ratio of being awake vs. being a sleep can indeed shift. Perseverance and consistency ring true even in this type of work.
Try this physical experiment: Straighten your arm out in front of you. Move your hand up over head and back down again. What do you remember feeling? Most people will remember what the body felt like when the hand was out in front – position A, hand above head – position B and then in position A, again. But did you consider what your body felt like in the time and space in between A and B, then B and A?
A comparable example is when you get in your car to drive home from work. Have you ever had the experience of driving from work and the next thing you know you’re driving into your garage at home? With no recollection of how you got there?
Here’s a caveat. I think that if we would put conscious effort towards everything all the time, we would consume a lot of energy and we would become quite inefficient. There will be things we want to practice and embody so that we do not need to consciously think about them every time yet other things we probably want to stay more aware of. The topic of embodiment is a different article on its own and I will not discuss this further here. But do know that this is a thang.
Moving on to what we can do at practice with start tomorrow: Start small, one step at the time. Just like many things, this is a long-term practice and process, not something you’ll be good at doing from the first moment. I also want to mention that there are several types of work that can be done here: internal sensory/body awareness, external/environment awareness, awareness on the mind and its activity and so one. I am going to focus my thoughts on the internal sensory awareness for this article simply because that is what I know best and have had most practice with.
When you perform an exercise know the intention of the exercise, how to execute it and focus on How those things feel during the full way of the movement as you do your repetitions and seconds. Ultimately it would be nice if we could be fully in the room for our whole practice. However, prioritizing feeling aware when you’re doing the exercise, comes first. Work towards staying awake for both the physical practice and its rest phase over time. Perhaps add breathing in between the movements to stay present.
A second consideration here is that improving body awareness is not easy practice when performing dynamic movements. This is especially so when doing fast movements. The body has very little time to reflect. Consider adding in static postures and slower movements that by nature are less chaotic. I’ve seen great improvements on body awareness that has carried over from less to more chaotic movements. It seems quite likely that something that is familiar in a calmer environment can then be better replicated in busier situations.
Start with the Physical
I observe a lot of people that are asleep in my environment. Changing behaviors and the way we are as people is not easy. Considering ourselves from a physical perspective might be easier to start with.
By observing such things in ourselves we can become more aware of who we are behind the many layers of conditioning we collected over the years. Becoming more Human, less machine.
For me, I consider this a fundamental matter to connect with early. If we are not here, then how do we know what is happening and in return, how can we change?
Start with the physical.
*I refer to False I’s as versions of us that is not our true self. These different I’s may manifest as different thoughts, feelings or mood etc. and will therefore result in certain behaviors. One way I have recognized these has been at times when I’ve felt like I was a different person looking back at my behavior in a situation or reflecting in the moment that ‘this doesn’t sound like me’. There’s a lot that can be said about False I’s but I hope this brief text make it a bit clearer.
** Mr. Gurdjieff suggests that a ‘man-machine’ cannot do and will have everything happen to him. The question of Free Will is something I will not discuss further in this article, perhaps in a future one. Thinking of it in terms of not being present and knowing what we’re doing can perhaps make more sense right now