Essence, Personality and the Nature of Transformation by Maurice Nicoll

Maurice Nicoll is perhaps one of the most profound writers that is nearly completely unknown, and provided thorugh his work, a huge collection of inner practices and perspectives. Once you have your Enneagram type in hand, your are all dressed up with often no place to go, except into your imagination and thinking center, wherein you mistake analyzing your type with spiritual growth. We all do this until we see we are the dog wagging its own tale and going nowhere. Nicoll, much like Pema Chodron, puts you in the vehicle of NOW and gives so many ways to crack the nut of mechanical, unconscious, type-driven behavior. Enjoy this piece on Essence and Personality.

“As was said, a man is born as essence and this constitutes his real part, the part from which he can really grow and develop. But this part in him can only grow in a very small way. It has not the strength to grow by itself any further after, say, the age of three or four or five. Let us call this the first stage of a man. That is, the first stage of a man is pure essence which by itself is capable of a certain amount of growth but reaches a point very soon in which it can grow no further. I notice in some of the questions asked in your letter to me that this point about man has not been understood so I am going to repeat it again. As I said, this system teaches that the essence in a man can only grow a very short way by itself. You have to try to see what I mean. People naturally think that growth and development is something continuous or that it should be, but here is this extraordinarily interesting idea taught by this system that this is not the case. Man’s essence can only grow by itself unaided to a very small extent, and as such a man is nothing but a little child. Now in order for it to grow further something must happen. Something must form itself round essence and this is called personality. Essence must become surrounded by something that is really foreign to itself, acquired from life, which enters through the senses. A little child must cease to be itself and become something different from itself. As you were told, the centre of gravity of itself begins to pass from essence into personality. It learns all sorts of things, it imitates all sorts of things, and so on. This formation of personality around essence which is necessary for the development of essence can be called the second stage of man. But let us clearly understand what is meant here. The future development of essence depends on the formation of personality around it. If a very poor personality, a very weak personality, is formed round it, there is very little to help further growth of essence which we will speak of when we come to the third stage. In the second stage, the formation of personality is taking place, and, as was said, the richer the personality the better. But I notice that some of you do not understand what is meant here. The reason why you do not understand what is meant here is because you do not see this extraordinary situation that man is in—namely, that man cannot grow continuously from essence because essence is too weak to grow by itself. The further growth of essence depends first of all on the formation of personality and the richer the personality the better eventually for the growth of essence, but, ordinarily speaking, the formation of personality is quite sufficient for the purposes of life. A man finds himself in a good position, able to deal with life through the formation of a rich personality in him. And if he is satisfied, he is, for all life purposes, adequate. But this work, this teaching, is about a further stage of man, and this stage I will call the third stage. You must understand that this work is not really about life; it is about something else that a man can begin to attempt quite apart from whether he is a successful politician, a famous scientist, or a wellrespected butcher or baker or candlestick-maker. This work starts from 3 man as good householder—namely, from a man who has developed personality and can deal with life in his own particular way, reasonably enough. That is to say, it starts from the level of good householder, which belongs to the second stage of a man’s development. This third stage is all concerned with a possible further development of essence and that is why so many apparently paradoxical or at least strange things are said in the Gospels—such as are contained in the Sermon on the Mount—about man. They are all to do with allowing essence to grow at the expense of personality and this is the only way in which essence, which is too weak by itself to grow, can continue to develop. In this sense, personality, which is formed around essence, and must be formed round essence, becomes eventually, if this third stage is entered upon, the very source from which essence can grow further. Let us suppose that personality is in a particular person very richly developed. He is, then, a rich man, in the sense of the Gospels. He knows about everything, he is an important person, and so on. What is poor in him? What is poor in him is his essence. He is not yet a real man. What he does, he does to acquire merit, or from fear of loss of honour or reputation, and so on, but he does nothing from himself, nothing from the love of doing it, quite apart from praise, authority, position, popularity, or any other gain in the eyes of the world. Suppose that this man feels, in some way, like the Prodigal Son—namely, that he is eating nothing but husks. I mean simply that he may feel in himself very empty in spite of all Jus “richness”. He has got the finest house or jewels, he has got a well-known name, he has in some way got the better of everybody else, and yet he feels empty. Such a man is approaching the third possible stage of development. He has now reached a position in which his essence—namely, his real part—can grow, and thus replace his feeling of emptiness by a feeling of meaning. But in order to bring about in man this further development he must begin, as it were, to sacrifice his personality and to go in a sense in the opposite direction to that in which he has gone up to now. In other words, a kind of reversal must take place in him which is well-expressed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and unless we understand that this third stage is possible and leads to a man’s real development we will never understand what the Gospels are speaking about or what this system is speaking about. * * * Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Volume 1, page 3-4

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