Inner States and Outer Events: an exercise in Self-Observation

A couple of weeks ago I went to a session that was named “nature as coach.” One of the interesting exercises the teacher did with our group, was the following:

the teacher had us state a question on a problem we had to deal with in our mind, then we had to take a stroll in the park and stop at the first thing we noticed that intuitively we felt could provide us of an answer.

One of the women in this group shared her experience. Her problem was that sometimes she had dark thoughts and her question was what she could do to deal with these. Her solution when taking a walk came in the form of a tree with a really big trunk and enormous set of roots.

She said that the sight of this tree signified grounding to her. The trunk told her to ground herself back to the earth instead of diving deeper into the problem.

The teacher thanked her for sharing her observation. The follow-up was what I liked most about this walk: she asked everyone in the group to share what they saw in the tree-trunk in relation to the problem.

One rather pessimistic woman told us she thought the roots gave her the feeling of getting strangled. I saw shadow and light in the tree which to me made clear that both are part of nature and by consequence part of life. As more people shared their interpretation, I realized something I had just read in a book by Jodorowsky:

“For me they are no different, reality and dreams.”

We noticed that each of us saw a different reality in the same tree or focused our attention on completely different aspects of the tree.

Contemplating on this story today, brought me back to the days when I was reading a lot of the stoic philosophers who have this exercise of objective representation to deal with a certain problem.

An example of this technique of Marcus Aurelius I still enjoy to not allow myself to be impressed by strong personalities (17):

“Think about what they are like when they’re eating, sleeping, copulating, defecating. Then think of what they’re like when they’re acting proud and important, when they get angry and upbraid their inferiors.”
– Marcus Aurelius

The stoics believed that people are not troubled by things that happen to them but by their judgements of what happened to them. This brings me to The Work of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff I have been researching on and off for the past year or so.

In the works I’ve read on Gurdjieff it seems to always come down to start with the exercise of constant self-observation.

Gurdjieff makes a distinction between Inner States and Outer Events. The exercise lies in making this distinction in ourselves at all times. This is the start of the personal work that he proposes.

By purifying our inner life, we kind of change the way we see our relationship with outer events that happen to us. And if we realize that a certain inner life attracts a certain outer life, we will change the nature of events that will come to us.

One way to do this is to define the nature of the Outer Event to make it more clear instead of going with your immediate emotion, similar to objective representation of the stoics.

For example when you lose your phone, you could say “This is called losing something.” Or when someone sends you a text with bad news “This is called receiving bad news.”

Define the Outer Event before it influences your Inner State. As a consequence, this implies that towards most events that happen to us, one has to react not at all. To let the Inner State stay unaffected, to learn to be passive.