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Because you are always dressed up in garments that are not you, you are worried, discontented, anxious, careworn, insulted and angry.  So the Work has to do with devaluation of oneself.  This is only done by gradually observing that you are not the person that you always have imagined yourself to be, for self-observation gives you another sense of yourself.  . . . The reason why we have to separate from False Personality -namely pictures of ourselves, imaginary ideas of ourselves, imaginary requirements, phantasies of ourselves- . . .  is because otherwise, we cannot move towards the goal in this Work which is Real I.  

  Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries On the Teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky


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"I" have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to avoid disasters and avert calamities.  Added to this was an undercurrent of fear that inevitably I would overlook a hazard that would lead to tragedy.

Recently at a meeting, I stated matter-of-factly that I spend a great amount of energy preventing disasters.  My teacher’s response was, "Oh, that tricky machine." 

At that moment I felt the humor in my position.  I was able to laugh at the part of me that believed it could control life by attempting to control the small hazards of daily living.  I laughed until tears were streaming down my face.  I understood  that this way of living denied faith and trust in Life and God.

This experience renewed my interest in a basic building block in the Work: Separation. One of the great Work teachers P. D. Ouspensky says: "You must learn to divide the real from the invented.  And to begin self-observation and self-study it is necessary to divide oneself.  A man must realize that he indeed consists of two men.

"One is the man he calls ‘I’ and whom others call ‘Ouspensky,’ ‘Zakharov,‘ or ‘Petrov’. The other is the real he, the real I, which appears in his life only for very short moments and which can become firm and permanent only after a very lengthy period of work. 

"So long as a man takes himself as one person he will never move from where he is.  His work on himself starts from the moment when he begins to feel two men in himself.  One is passive and the most it can do is to register or observe what is happening to it.  The other, which calls itself ‘I,’ is active, and speaks of itself in the first person, is in reality only ‘Ouspensky’ ‘Petrov,’ or ‘Zakharov’.

"This is the first realization that a man can have.  Having begun to think correctly he very soon sees that he is completely in the power of his ‘Ouspensky,’ ‘Petrov,’ or ‘Zakharov’.  No matter what he plans or what he intends to do or say, it is not ‘he,’ not ‘I,’ that will carry it out, do or say it, but his ‘Ouspensky,’ ‘Petrov,’ or ‘Zakharov,’ and or course they will do or say it, not in the way ‘I’ would have done or said it, but in their own way with their own shade of meaning, and often this shade of meaning completely changes what ‘I’ wanted to do.

". . . when a man understands his helplessness in the face of ‘Ouspensky,’ his attitude towards himself and  towards ‘Ouspensky’ in him ceases to be either indifferent or unconcerned.

"Self observation becomes observation of ‘Ouspensky.’  A man understands that he is not ‘Ouspensky,’ that ‘Ouspensky’ is nothing but the mask he wears, the part that he unconsciously plays and which unfortunately he cannot stop playing, a part which rules him and makes him do and say thousands of stupid things, thousands of things which he would never do or say himself.

". . .  If a man is lucky he may at this time have someone near him who can tell him where he is and where ‘Ouspensky’ is.  But he must moreover trust this person, because he will undoubtedly think that he understands everything himself and that he knows where he is and where ‘Ouspensky' is. . . ." *

Each of us believes feelings and thoughts about ourselves which are actually off-center.  We waste exorbitant amounts of energy, frequently unconsciously, due to these mistaken identities. At times we may have an inkling that there is something askew in our way of being.   This understanding may lead us to search for a way out.  It may lead to a Work school.  In this school the first instruction is to observe ourselves uncritically.  Gradually through the discipline of self-observation, through being willing to speak the truth, through being in contact with others who are also working in this way, through the guidance provided by the teacher; we begin to recognize some of the "I’s" in ourselves that are Ouspensky (or in our case "Mary" or "John") and not I. Oh the freedom in those moments!  This "I" is not I! This is not something I need to claim as myself any longer.  When this "I" reappears it does not have the power it did before.  I can choose to not grasp it to my chest but instead to remember, "This is not I."  This is not necessary or helpful to my well being.  This is not in line with real I; it is not reality.

The work says this process of separating the false "I’s" from real I is like peeling an onion uncovering layer after layer and eventually we come to recognize our "chief feature".  Chief feature is the main hub around which the other "I’s" revolve.  When we recognizes "chief feature" it is a point of real choice where we can begin to become free of our  false sense of "I" forever.

This is what we work toward.  There are moments of struggle, moments of freedom, moments of being right on, moments of missing the mark completely, moments of joy and moments of frustration. Through them all we move ever closer to separating from those "I’s" that are not I, this process of separation allows our real I to emerge.

* In Search of the Miraculous, P.D. Ouspensky