fourth way® gurdjieff ouspensky school navigation arrow pointing rightPsychology navigation arrow pointing rightI's and Groups of I's

i's and groups of i's


In the Work we are told that man is not one, he is many. This means he is not always the same: his thoughts, feelings, sensations, and movements are constantly changing. With self-observation we can start to see the reality of this in ourselves. For example, I can start the day cheerfully and then I resent someone telling me what to do and I feel irritated, a negative emotion. Then I receive an unexpected telephone call and I feel flattered, my vanity, and so on.

Gradually, with the light of self-observation, we begin to see our condition, that of many different people living inside us, which are driven by external circumstances and changing impressions.

The Illusion of Unity

Generally, we don't see the Many I's in ourselves because the illusion of unity is created by the physical sensation of one body, having one name during our life, and noticing the same habits and preferences in ourselves, so we believe we are the same.

Another reason for the illusion of unity is because each I is surrounded by walls, known in the work as buffers. These are formed to prevent us seeing our contradictions.

For example, I think I am a considerate person, and perhaps, when I want others to like me, I am. However, I might see that I am inconsiderate with people I know well, and to prevent the pain of seeing this contradiction, an I (a buffer) will say, "Well, that person is never considerate towards me, why should I be considerate towards her?"

The main reason for not seeing our multiplicity is due to the power of identification. We identify with whatever I is present and give it so much power that we take the I of the moment as ALL of us. For example, when I feel annoyed with something/someone, I cannot think of anything else, I cannot feel anything but annoyance and I cannot do anything else but express it in some way. I forget that I have other sides of myself.

What is an I or a Group of I's?

An I is a unit of movement, feeling, sensation, or thought and there are hundreds of thousands to millions of them within us. Just as man is divided up into Man 1, Man 2, and Man 3, so we have I's in the intellectual, emotional, instinctive, and moving centres. As we observe more we will see we have I's in parts of centres too, for example, we see an I that is in mechanical part of the emotional centre.

There are also large groups of I's that manifest in certain situations; when these groups of I's are large enough, they form a personality that plays roles.

For example, I have many I's to do with teaching, on how and what to teach, how I relate to the students inside and outside the classroom and so on. All these I's go to form a teacher personality in me. Other groups of I's centre round my sister personality, my daughter personality, my wife personality and so on.

Where do I's Come From?

All I's are acquired mainly through imitation, education and upbringing. They belong to Personality. The acquired I's in personality fill essence which is what we are born with, such as our physical body, and certain innate qualities and tendencies.

However, we may have I's which are nearer essence, for example, learning to play a musical instrument (which is acquired) might be close to a particular essence which shows a natural (inborn) inclination towards music. Similarly, I's may be further away from essence, such as someone trying to be thin (acquired) when their essence (inborn) is naturally plump.

I's are on Different Levels

I's are not all on the same level; some are useful, others are indifferent (neither useful or useless), and others are very harmful to us, such as those that express negative emotions and lead us to bad states in ourselves.

From the point of view of the work we find that we have work I's that wish to help us, I's that hate the work, I's that are indifferent to it, and other I's that just don't know about it.

We must practice self-observation to try and get to know these many I's, especially those hostile to the work and avoid them, and likewise strengthen work I's by going with them, listening to them. If we don't nourish work I's they can weaken. By choosing I's that are useful to our aim of awakening, we no longer act mechanically in sleep, but learn to choose I's deliberately, and later, consciously.

The ultimate aim is to create one I, Real I, but to attain this, it is necessary to develop different levels of I. This a gradual process in order to gain greater control of the many I's.

Working with the Many I's

In working on oneself in relation to the many I's, we need to be able to see our true condition of being fragmented and full of contradictions. We need to see we have better and worse I's in ourselves to see what we need to improve.

This requires observing ourselves, that is dividing ourselves in two where something watches impartially what we are doing, saying, thinking, feeling. It is a painful process to understand that not only is man disunified, but so am I; to see that I have become quite negative with someone, and then later, in different I's to feel very sorry, and in different I's again that can't understand why I got so upset over a triviality.

The work says we must try and live more consciously both towards ourselves and other people. A step on the way to doing this is to get to know our many I's, and reach a state of consciousness in which we can see I's wishing to behave in a certain way, such as say something hurtful, and feel our work I's strongly enough to resist what we would say or do mechanically. This is called separating from I's and therefore not being under their power.

Another useful way to approach certain harmful I's in ourselves, is to remember that we have hundreds of thousands of I's and not every one deserves attention, in other words, we don't have to express every I.