First Year Studies

Author unknown

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This paper was written in November 1978 "in response to Idries Shah's 'Learning How to Learn' which marked a sea change in material from Octagon Press and was written a year before the activation of the Society for Sufi Studies."

First edition in this format: 19 April, 2007


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First Year Studies
The notes were made to help me clarify some of the ideas raised at recent meetings. They are not a summary of these meetings; even so, they may be helpful to others, as they cover an area which seems to have been largely ignored by the **** groups.

Because human history tends to repeat itself, the great danger during any re-examination of the basic principles and practices is that a group or individual will simply fixate on the externals of some new teaching vehicle. To borrow a technical term from the behavioural sciences, remotivation - the switching of the prime focus of attention can result in the setting up of a new credenda and authority figure, a process which recreates the ritualistic charade that the original examination was designed to frustrate. In the present circumstances, Shah could well become such a figure and study group material the new credenda. Novelty, unfortunately, is no insurance against our mistaking the container for the content. To help prevent this possibility, it is necessary to realise that Shah represents a capacity. This capacity can be used to raise the threshold of comprehension of others, but to achieve this the individuals concerned have to attend to method. Concentrate on this and you will not find yourself in the vulnerable position of one whose efforts collapse for lack of direction when the teacher moves on to meet others needs. We have a chance, but it will slip through our fingers if we are unable to detach from the superficial aspects of the current teaching projection and projector. It is obedience to method, not externals, that matter. And it us up to the student to distinguish between these two


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elements. Such discrimination forms one of the essential 'tests' of the Way (designed not to 'keep people out', incidentally, but to prevent premature experience). So these notes are concerned with method - the method of learning. They start with the observation that we have to be taught how to learn: that we imagine we want to learn; and that we have assumptions about what is to be learned which prevent us learning what we need first to absorb. Let us start from first principles. If a child is to mature into a sane and healthy adult, certain basic functional requirements or appetites have to be satisfied, Thus as well as physical needs like food and exercise, there are a range of psychological needs which also have to be met. These later can be divided into various categories, and contemporary social scientists have developed numerous sophisticated terms to describe them' There is no need to list all these here; it is sufficient to draw attention to them simply, in terms of everyday speech, via such general expressions as 'emotional life', 'intellectual fulfilment', 'kinship need', 'social life', 'job satisfaction', and so forth. These constitute far from an exhaustive catalogue, naturally, but they are sufficient to remind us of the existence of the categories, for it is the relevance of these various appetites to man's spiritual evolution, not their number or definition, which is of more interest to us. This relevance can be introduced by first remarking on a very general feature of human life. Almost all the social systems known to man conduct their business, either wittingly or unwittingly, by confusing the various (types) of our functional requirements. They trade by what is in effect forgery: the substitution of satisfactions, the sublimation of one need or appetite for another. (The technical term for this process is 'functional displacement', by the way.) In this respect those groups which pursue 'truth' or spiritual development differ hardly one whit from those which like advertising agencies,


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actually make their living from such deception. I say hardly differ because there is one difference - the institutions concerned with 'higher learning' are more likely than not to be unaware of the basic confusion reigning in their house. This tendency to confuse what are in effect entirely separate functions is implicitly encouraged and carried out everywhere. It is a feature of the world we live in, and, though maybe a matter of regret, is not of concern here. It has been amply illustrated by zoologists, anthropologists, and sociologists, in both popular and specialist forms. Under consideration now is the constructive conception that only when the various psychological functions of a human being have been separated for what they are, will remedial action become possible. And by remedial action I mean the specific process which can prepare for that form of perception which he or she has a chance to gain but to which he currently has no access. The purpose here, therefore, is to encourage the necessary preliminary investigations which reveal the major source of our confusion and inability to learn in the area traditionally referred to as 'higher knowledge'. Once exhibited, it may be possible to move to the next stage, to sensitize a presently unused part of our neural apparatus with that which might be said to structure and inform the world of appearances. (In esoteric terms, of course, the two elements of this formulation can be substituted by such shorthand as 'connecting essence with reality' or 'waking up to reality', but discussion in these terms will be avoided as such expressions can amount to jargon and do not in my experience help us to get to the bottom of things.) What then is our situation? Why is our perception fragmented and partially intelligible, not panoramic, complete and harmonious? Why do we find it so difficult to learn and, more importantly, to change? The beginnings of an answer to these related questions can best be conveyed by starting with an analogy. Imagine the human


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mind as a nest, with its various needs represented by two fledglings. One of these is the legitimate offspring of the birds that built the nest, the other is a baby cuckoo, inserted there by it parasitic parents. The cuckoo's demands represent those various categories or aspects which together make up the personality, the secondary self. In terms of the actions through which we continually express ourselves, these are the intellectual, social, emotional, vocational, and amusement habits introduced earlier. These 'cuckoo' habits we acquire from an early age and, again, the process has been extensively documented by the relevant specialists, the developmental psychologists. Taking the other nestling as that part of our mind which has the potential to connect with the world intuitively and directly (and these terms are used for want of any better), we have a working analogy of how our learning capacity develops. The cuckoo's needs are so demanding, so strident, that they immediately monopolise all stimuli - to the extent of starving or stunting the growth of the other nestling. Fairly swiftly, the cuckoo becomes the sole occupier; nothing else remains. And so with our development. The needs of the secondary self become so pressing that they rule out any cohabitant, or at least suppress it with such effectiveness that it might as well not be there at all. Henceforward we grow lopsidedly. How does this analogy help explain our experiences of everyday life? Obviously, a complete answer to this cannot be attempted here, but two stands can be unravelled fairly easily. One I will deal with here, the other in section six. The satisfaction of our noisy personality is something entirely legitimate and necessary. However, in the course of this process it is assumed that the 'missing' higher perceptual part has also been fulfilled. I suspect that this assumption goes largely unchallenged because we are very ignorant of how we work (and hence the stress put on knowing oneself by many esoteric teachers). From our point of view, though, the significant part of this process


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lies not so much in the fact of the undeveloped (because unfed) organ of direct cognition, but in the confusion, fostered by an ignorance of nutritional needs, that the capacity for direct perception is being developed. In reality, other needs are being satisfied. It is this consistent misinterpretation which constrains learning. Furthermore, so widespread and compelling is the illusion of spiritual development that we find it difficult to credit an alternative way of looking at our psychic requirements. We are like the mystified greengrocer who when challenged about whey he put up his prices at week-ends, can only reply; "You don't understand. I lower my prices during the week." To give a couple of examples of this disabling condition, consider first the reactions of the emotionally unsatisfied spiritual seeker. Like people everywhere, they tend to assume (almost by the very fact of their participation in such 'selfless' actions as lending a hand, helping someone in trouble, giving charity, visiting the sick, doing thinks they don't want to do, etc) that their experiences are taking them towards their goal. Where they differ is in their assumption that the feeling engendered by these deeds are evidence that their metaphysical life has somehow been increased. In reality, it is their emotional life which has been stimulated, for this is the strongest claimant for incoming stimuli. In point of fact, such behaviour as noted above (termed 'external considering' in PDC) (Philosophy of Developmental Change) forms only some of the minimum duties of a person worthy of the term considerate, leave alone enlightened. What is in fact an ordinary human response has become confused by the 'emotionally starved' with spiritual progress. Humanitarianism, to paraphrase Shah, may be one requirement for higher consciousness, but it is a far cry from the only one. It is a condition for starting, not for ensuring arrival. To think otherwise is to labour under a delusion, and any delusion, even a socially useful one remains a barrier to learning.


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Another instance of the same type of confusion of needs is evident in students who maintain a strong preference for objective, no-nonsense, scientific type approaches to higher consciousness - the intellectual truth seekers. These folk are attracted to those systems which stress such principles as 'the need to work things out for yourself', and so sanctify cerebral behaviour. In fact, the motivation of this student is not 'truth' at all. It results quite simply from an insufficiently challenging intellectual life, and this in turn results in a search to satisfy this need wherever possible. The spiritual path is used as an exercise machine for flexing the under-used intellect and the satisfactions derived from this activity are mislabelled spiritual 'work'. As with the emotionally under-satisfied student, esoteric study has become a substitute, with intellectual relief masquerading as spiritual experience. In the extreme cases of the falsely pious or holier - than thou character, spiritual study moves from being a substitute to actually becoming a vice. In such exaggerated forms, of course, this confusion is easy to detect. Likewise, it is very evident that group meetings are sometimes used for social ends - because, say members have a need to get out of their everyday environment, or because they enjoy live entertainment, or because they seek a substitute for regular social intercourse. However, in its milder, but equally disabling forms, the confusion is less easy to recognise, even though it runs through the whole range of human functional requirements. Many symptoms of self - indulgent and sanctimonious pseudo spirituality result from feeding of vanity, pride and conceit, and false modesty under the guise of religious or esoteric 'work'. Nevertheless, though these symptoms may be obvious, the very opposite is true of the causes. These are difficult to detect in oneself as deep-seated psychological desires like the need for an authority/father figure or repression of certain feelings. Inter alia, the extract describing the behaviour of the first group of


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students in 'Third Year Studies' draws attention to the difficulty we experience here in recognising our state ('A Veiled Gazelle', p.25). A person in this confused situation is difficult to help. Duped by his seemingly 'spiritual' needs he is unaware that he is actually crippled as far a learning goes, and his confusion is so comprehensive and systematic that he will find it very hard to take seriously any diagnosis. He doesn't see the problem. A fellow traveller of this confusion of functions just outlined, and who can do much to explain the mechanics of degeneration in 'work' activity, is the proclivity to consume on the easiest or pleasantest level. If a subtle or unfamiliar study pattern is in operation, its recipients, because of their needs, will tend to extract not the developmental nutrition which is available, but will prefer to exploit the lesser emotional, intellectual, social, or entertainment gains. This has its parallel in the physical world, when people substitute a higher goal for a lower one. The original aim of discovering truth, say, fades, and is displaced by the lesser one of feeding the various (unsatisfied) parts of the secondary self. No longer desirous of achieving the original goal, success or progress is now measured simply in terms of attendance, obsessive dedication to the work ethic, conforming, being familiar with the ways of the group and so on. The various lower level satisfactions evoked by these actions become themselves the reward. It is partly for this reason that Sufi teachers interrupt studies from time to time, mix disciples, or distance themselves from them - to give students a chance to check both what they are working for and how they are working. Without such checks and balances, 'study' can become a 'narcotic. To sum up. There is nothing wrong with meeting with various functional needs of the organism. These are vital to healthy growth and there is a deleterious effect on development if any are denied or insufficiently met. Balanced and integrated development is the modus operandi and only cranks and zealots will fail to realise this. The barrier to higher development lies in mistaking


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the categories, in thinking that progress is occurring when all that is happening is emotional arousal, a sense of commitment, a feeling of belonging, or a delight in being entertained. And it is our unreflective assumptions combined with the ignorance of our own mechanics which creates and enforces this confusion. These combine to transform work in a spiritual realm into emotional solace, social service, personal amusement, family or friend substitute, or authority dependence. The result is that one need is met, but not the one fondly imagined. Man's spiritual evolution is thwarted and development takes place in what is in fact the worldly sphere of the personality. The secret thus protects itself from misuse by those who are not yet fully aware of the behaviour of their secondary selves, for, whatever the practitioners may fervently believe, the enterprise has been transformed into (at best) a social therapeutic one. Until such time as it becomes possible to detect where and when an individual is fulfilling which secondary self appetites, no amount of esoteric material or techniques will be of avail. The student will effectively remain unregenerate as far as teaching goes. To defeat this kind of confusion requires the skilful application of the correct materials by a living teacher. But awareness of the problem of learning is the essential first step for the student. The prescription can be stated easily enough, however: Read the basic psychological literature Seek out a wide variety of experiences Attend carefully to your reactions, These form the elementary first steps. Until they have been made, we are in the same situation as the man who combs his hair to cure his headache - very close to the problem, but a hell of a way from the solution. It is the condition of


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the student and his relationship to the study which are the vital factors. A Sufi teacher will ensure the right relationship but it is up to the student to put him or herself into a condition to benefit from the transformational content of the teaching projection. Only when the disabling tendencies described here have been systematically resolved will learning beyond the elementary level take place 17/11/1978


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