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Self-Remembering, by Robert Earl Burton


One is more apt to be remembering oneself if one is trying to separate from suffering. This is not pleasant information, and it is one of the primary reasons for the system's lack of popularity. Suffering is useless without self-remembering because it is not suffering we seek, but the transformation of suffering.

We have a wrong attitude toward suffering. We think suffering is useless, and we don't know how to use it properly. When situations are difficult, one becomes negative, but one must remember oneself in order to transform suffering. Our machines think words will dispel suffering, but no words can relieve one of some types of friction. Only acceptance can minimize severe suffering.

Unnecessary suffering stems from a lazy mind; it's much easier to suffer unnecessarily than to remember oneself.

As one witnesses the months and years pass, one realizes that one's greatest suffering is, ironically, one's unnecessary suffering. One is susceptible to unnecessary suffering because it is so difficult to remember oneself. By creating turmoil, or imaginary problems, one takes many events seriously that in no way warrant concern. If a man releases his unnecessary suffering, he sees that his pursuits are hollow and that he does not exist. One must fill this void with self-remembering.

Mr. Gurdjieff said one must use voluntary suffering to awaken. One thing I have used for many years now is to keep my feet under the table flat and together. I don't turn or roll them from side to side. When I find them in the wrong place it sends a message to me to come to the present. Voluntary suffering should be inconspicuous-other people should not know one is doing it. You can try not drinking tea or coffee for a week, not having vegetables or meat-keep irritating the machine. Your soul is the pearl of great price and, like any pearl, it must be created by transforming irritation. When driving a car by yourself, sit to the right or left or far back on the seat, or sit on a cassette. Play a station you don't like; play it loudly. Do not defeat your will-use voluntary suffering for fifteen minutes and then find something else. There is a way out but you have to be creative to find it.

Is voluntary suffering an artificial pressure, or is it legitimate? - It is both artificial and legitimate; it is an artificial pressure that produces a real result.

Voluntary suffering contains an element of will, and yet such efforts should constitute only a fragment of one's day. It may be useful to avoid extreme efforts to suffer voluntarily because false personality will establish impossible aims in order to hinder one's progress and make awakening seem impossible.

Recently I watched a film about Africa. There were lines of people who had a disease that causes blindness. It didn't seem like things could get worse than that. Not only were they blind, but they were holding sticks, each holding onto the other, following each other, walking to nowhere. There was nowhere to go in that desolate place. It is a complex universe. Why is there the suffering that there is? Perhaps it is the nature of the materials that create suffering. God had to suffer unspeakably to create his astral body, and man was made in the image of God.

Students must learn to separate from a teacher's suffering just as a teacher must separate from his students' trials. Nevertheless, we will continue to be sympathetic to one another. One's self and suffering must often wend a lonely, mystical path, and I make no attempt to conceal the reality that they are melancholy companions. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the most useful `I's to promote in the midst of friction is, "How can I work with this suffering differently than a person without the system?"

We think we should not experience pain because our mothers, to the best of their abilities, relieved us from suffering. This is a dimension of feminine dominance. We were conditioned to avoid pain and cultivate a biological existence composed of smooth sleep. Awakening is a divine gift, and higher forces use altogether different rules than our mothers. They do, however, love us consciously. The gods are our parents and we are their children and they are making us, like them, immortal. Epictetus said: "I would never desert my true parents, the Gods." Nor would they desert him; indeed, he is one of them now.

Suffering gives us life. Aeschylus said, "It is wisdom's everlasting law that truth can only be learned by suffering it." Transforming suffering requires self-remembering.

There is nothing we can do about suffering except transform it and be present which, after all, is everything. The negative aspects within us produce suffering, which, if transformed, in turn produces higher centers. The best way to work with suffering is to accept it, not ward it off, but let it run its course. Perhaps the most painful aspect of suffering is wishing it to end, because by accepting suffering, one rises above it. Life has many unpleasant moments that one must endure, with or without the system. It takes a long time to learn not to run from suffering, to accept what higher forces give one. Obviously, doubling one's suffering by trying to run away from it is folly.

One cannot transform imaginary suffering into self-remembering; one can only transform real suffering into higher states.

Sadness has its place, but one needs to nip it in the bud and return to self-remembering. William Shakespeare said, "[I] trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries." The machine will experience self-pity when it receives friction. Although this feature is justifiable on one level, we must refrain from expressing it because of our aim to awaken. To identify is mechanical; to separate is divine. Avoiding self-pity is a great way for us to remember ourselves.

The only way to transform suffering is to accept it. If one accepts it, then one escapes it. Avoiding suffering is suffering itself-it is a great secret.

One's attitude toward events, and not events themselves, determines whether or not one will suffer. It is best to conceal one's suffering whenever possible. No words are as touching as silence in the face of suffering. Even in the face of terminal illness, one still has the choice of being present and adding to one's astral body; when death is near and unavoidable, self-remembering reveals itself as everything. At this point one works even more intently on creating a personal tendency to evolve. One's time is counted, and time is nearly all one has.

There must always be friction of sufficient magnitude to produce consciousness. Enduring friction without identification constitutes the greater part of awakening. One does not pass through St. Peter's gates easily.

When one experiences long periods of suffering, there is nothing one can do but endure and transform them. Massive suffering forces one to question the meaning of existence. The greater the suffering, the greater the questioning; remember, there are answers.

We have a real life, and we must transform suffering to understand it. One truly understands only what one has suffered. Give yourself this advice: "Suffering is not created for me to identify with, but to transform."

To seek relief from suffering through others instead of oneself postpones one's mastery of oneself.

Try to alleviate suffering rather than cause it. When others seem to be losing their work, hold on to your own, and self-remembering will fall into place.

It is necessary to accept suffering as a life-giving principle, and not as an obstacle. There are eminent models from all ways of life-from slaves to emperors-to guide one to a profound existence. Transforming suffering is their common theme.

One can either bend or buckle under pressure. One must stop waiting for it to end and accept it, because the only way to transform suffering is to embrace it.

In Ecclesiastes it is written, "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Knowledge and being cannot diverge. The knowledge we consume is immortal sustenance designed to produce higher centers. In order to become the words, we must suffer, and yet we must not suffer unnecessarily. We must strive to transform suffering.

We must learn how to use suffering because negative shocks can create the third state. An element within us assumes that suffering will occur to someone else. Yet awakening is not for other people, it is for you. After transforming suffering, one must avoid the tendency to slacken and lapse into sleep.

Transforming and not identifying with suffering opens up all our possibilities. Yet we know that suffering is a sweet and sour experience and is difficult to look forward to. False personality must die within us for higher centers to be born, and we experience that death.

Shocks toll us back to the present and remind us to hold fast to our identity amidst life's temporal folly. We can't expect to awaken without paying the price. There can be no victory without a battle, no virtuous crown without cause. Common sense, however, holds one together. One reason people suffer is because they think of themselves too much; thus they create their own suffering. There are many little secrets to learn in order to awaken, and one of them is that one cannot awaken if one suffers from over self-indulgence. When one learns to reduce excessive self-indulgence and to look about one, higher centers begin to emerge. Higher forces are then assured of having created a compassionate identity-an identity that will serve, rather than selfishly abuse, the Ray of Creation.

One must suffer the same trials to achieve the same spiritual results in any age. Walt Whitman said, "The same inexorable price must still be paid for the same great purchase." This refers to suffering. Each must have the fortune, and the misfortune, to verify that.

No man can know himself without carrying a heart that has endured despair. One must strive for what appears to be inaccessible, for that is where reality dwells, and only despair can scale the greatest walls.

We are all stunned periodically by shocks that draw us into reality. Try not to identify with events that you can't change. Admittedly, receiving shocks is an odd way to escape, but we are fortunate that a way exists at all. Eventually, one accepts shocks not as interruptions in one's life but, thankfully, as interruptions in one's sleep, and values them for bringing forth higher centers.

Let us be touched, but not consumed, by suffering.


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robert e. burton: self-remembering

York Beach, Maine: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1995.

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