Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Man's Most Important Mistake

--by G. I. Gurdjieff (Jun 29, 2015)

One of man's most important mistakes, one which must be remembered, is his illusion in regard to his I.

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.

Man has no permanent and unchangeable I. Every thought, every mood, every desire, every sensation, says ‘I.’ And in each case it seems to be taken for granted that this I belongs to the Whole, to the whole man, and that a thought, a desire, or an aversion is expressed by this Whole. In actual fact there is no foundation whatsoever for this assumption. Man’s every thought and desire appears and lives quite separately and independently of the Whole. And the Whole never expresses itself, for the simple reason that it exists, as such, only physically as a thing, and in the abstract as a concept.

Man has no individual I. But there are, instead, hundreds and thousands of separate small I’s, very often entirely unknown to one another, never coming into contact, or, on the contrary, hostile to each other, mutually exclusive and incompatible. Each minute, each moment, man is saying or thinking, ‘I.’ And each time his I is different. Just now it was a thought, now it is a desire, now a sensation, now another thought, and so on, endlessly. Man is a plurality. Man’s name is legion.

Try to understand that what you usually call "I" is not I; there are many “I’s” and each “I” has a different wish. Try to verify this. You wish to change, but which part of you has this wish? Many parts of you want many things, but only one part is real. It will be very useful for you to try to be sincere with yourself. Sincerity is the key which will open the door through which you will see your separate parts, and you will see something quite new. You must go on trying to be sincere. Each day you put on a mask, and you must take it off little by little.

Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff ​was an influential spiritual eacher of the early to mid-20th century.

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Previous Reflections:

On Jun 26, 2015 sheetal wrote:

Indeed a tough one to understand and put into practice. The moment "I" read the passage the question arose which part of my "I" wants to change? There are no immediate solutions to these puzzles but the practice of Vipassana provided some link : when everything is arising and passing away, so are the "I's". Having said this from a mind level the experience came while having tea. Each sip felt different and changed the taste with passing thoughts..the first one was "aha',  towards half cup it was about finishing quickly and getting on to the day,  also it meant a lot whether it was being shared with someone or it was in solitude. Upon deeper search within it was revealed that the wishes, desires that come up are arising to fulfill the Ego attached with each "I', which in turn will give rise to craving and aversion, depending upon the resultant action. Thus, the whole cycle continues. Hence, for now,  for me its difficult to catch the real one as that too will pass away. So the practice under cultivation is being very authentic to each arising "I' and holding it with love and compassion. At those points of contact with the "I' when its accepted "as is" and loved, something heals within, the mask peels off on its own, effortlessly. 

On Jun 26, 2015 xiaoshan wrote:

 There is change, and there is stability. Yin and Yang. The both are true and neither is illusion. Since everything rises and passing away, change is inevitable and any effort to holding on (refuse to change) meets with misery and hopelessness. Since there is a stability and repetition of events in the constant flow of changes, cognition/recognition and consciousness are possible, and meaning and order are possible - life is possible. I have many, many identities, similar to I have many clothes, shoes etc. But I is not Identities, unless you intentionally and unintentionally treat them as the same.  I offers stability and my identities change ... lol

On Jun 27, 2015 david doane wrote:

There is one I.  I is always changing, not static.  That I am constantly changing doesn't mean there are many I's.  I can be many different ways, display many different moods and behaviors, have many different wishes,and they are all different facets of one I.  It may seem that I has parts, some of which I like and some I hide, but I is one.  I became aware that real I is whole in realizing that I and everyone is capable of the full range of human experience and behavior.  We are each generous and selfish, caring and murderous, forgiving and petty, alive and suicidal, gentle and rapish, honest and duplicitous, embracing and racist, integrated and fragmented.  I develop and live out different qualities at different times, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, sometimes by choice and sometimes not.  I still am all of those qualities.  I am the whole package.  There are no separate I's.  At the deepest level I am the consciousness that is aware of all these aspects and orchestrates the whole symphony.  I know that I have touched the real I when I hold this awareness.

On Jun 30, 2015 Rashmir wrote:

There is a very powerful technique to explore these parts. It can be quite transformational. It is called Voice Dialogue, and has its roots in the work of Jung and Asserjoli,among others. 

On Jun 30, 2015 Betsy Blazic Micek wrote:

In the West, we are taught that seeing the slivers of ourselves as parts of our whole represents mental illness! With paradigms like "The Three Faces of Eve" and  "Sybil", we're anything but encouraged to patch together our real I. It wreaks havoc on ones grammar, however. Thanks to Gurdjieff, as ever. 

On Jun 30, 2015 Amy wrote:

 Who do you say that I am?  
My "I" Gauge/Guide would be non other than God.  If my husband, mother, son, friend were to answer that question it would not be entirely accurate.  Since God knows my every thought, deed, weakness, strength, motivation, truth . . . I have to defer to my Father on this one.  
I just hope His answer to the above question is (somewhat) close to my own.  Blessings come when our "I's" come into perfect alignment.  Amen.

On Jun 30, 2015 Germán wrote:

To me, the real I, is the one that longs for a more conscious experience; the one that suddenly realizes, that the "I" that just reacted to a certain stimuli, did it as a result of a given conditioning. That realization, all of a sudden, offers an option, and that option can take the real I, out of the loop.

On Jun 30, 2015 Sunil,Bangalore wrote:

 It is either I or the Whole. The multiple I has to merge  with the whole to become one.This removes the chaos,corruption(wishes,desires,anger.................) and complexity within and facilitates the manifestation of the soul, the real I full of  peace, love & strength. When this becomes natural & normal one finds oneself correcting the most important mistake.  

On Jul 1, 2015 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 There are three interrelated dimensions of my self: The changing self, the spiritual self and the social self. The physical, mental, and emotional aspects of my self are changing experiencing pleasures and pains, ups and downs. The spiritual self is unchanging, unaffected by the changes taking place in the changing self. The social self, the cultural self, is the relational self having a net work of different relationships helping me grow but also conditioning my changing self.The intra-personal self and the inter-personal self creates varieties of colorful experiences, pleasant and unpleasant.The spiritual self is the being  self-the embodiment of love, compassion and bliss. When I am in the becoming zone, I experience the changing self. When I am in the being zone, love , compassion and bliss arise on their own. The changing self is the doing and possessing self creating bondage in me. The spiritual self is the freeing self, the universal self. When I practice mindful awareness the clouds generated by my changing self slowly slowly fade away and I experience blissful openness, clarity and expansion of my consciousness. When I relate to others mindfully, I experience connectedness, compassion and gratitude. During that time, I am more in the being zone while I am in the doing zone. According to my experience, the being self, the spiritual self is experienced in the doing zone when there is no bondage created by my expectations.The challenge is to remain awake when I go through self-created clouds of suffering.

This is an ongoing journey fro me and I love it.
Jagdish P Dave

On Jul 11, 2015 jerard lizares wrote:

 There are times in our life that we have this craving for many things, often we are not aware of what we wished for if its real for ourselves or behind that wish is a wish of many for you.  Like this, I wish to be promoted and be in a higher position so I can gain material things like car, money and wealthy living. Behind this is I not realized that this I wished is not really all I wished for my self. I realized what  I wished to have in life is to have a contentment of the heart which I can found through sharing of what I have. That behind that wished to have that higher position, is a wished to take that opportunity to touch the lives of many through the influence I have. That is where I realized which is me. 

On Oct 17, 2018 Balwant Singh wrote:

 Any example of HOW  TO construct a new thought?