By Anthony Blake, derived mostly from the ideas of J. G. Bennett
Concept of Energies
There is much talk of 'energies' as applying both to the body and the mind, especially in healing and therapy. Usually, the term is used in a rough and ready way for anything that cannot be measured by existing instrumentation but appears to have a recognisable effect. Of course, such 'energies' can be detected in terms of our human experience; though this remains necessarily subjective.
In psychoanalysis, there are deep problems concerning the concept of 'psychic energy'. If there are such energies, then we do not know how they are produced, stored or transmitted. Nevertheless, we commonly recognise the absence or presence of such energies as 'vitality' or 'consciousness': we are tired or not, we are aware or not.
In physics, the concept of energy took centuries to evolve. The origin of the word is from the Greek 'energeia', which means (in Aristotle) 'passing from potentiality into act'. In other words, some kind of pattern is brought into effect in the world of actualisation (such that 'something happens'). In the nineteenth century, the concept of energy was deepened by the discovery of both the equivalence of heat and mechanical energy and their difference. It is possible to totally convert mechanical energy into heat, but not the other way round. Mechanical energy is 'more ordered' than thermal energy; which suggests that there may well be some series of different quality energies, on different levels. The energy of one level can be converted into energy of a higher level, but never completely.
In physics we have 'chemical energy', 'atomic energy' and so on; but these words refer to the material base from which the energy derives and not to level. Present physics does not extend the concept of energy beyond the mechanical, even though in practice it is useful to think of molecular formations as 'containing' a 'cohesive' type of energy, for example.
Energy is related to 'work'. And work is measured as Force x Distance. If I lift a mass against the force of gravity, then I do work. This work is then a 'potential energy' associated with the mass. If I let it fall, this potential energy is converted back into kinetic energy: it is actualised. Hence the prevailing relevance of Aristotle's concept.
Following John Bennett, we are going to imagine that there is a series of energies on different levels. As we concern ourselves more with life than with material objects, these energies are more and more closely related to 'experience'. We ourselves cannot have experience without the expenditure of energy. We know that we have to eat and breathe to sustain life. According to Gurdjieff, we also need to take in 'impressions' as another kind of 'food'. There can be break-downs in our apparatus that lead to loss of experience, as in a coma. This means that what is 'behind the energy', which we referred to as 'pattern' cannot come into effect.
The reference to 'pattern' is by way of introducing a further concept. This is to postulate a realm of 'information' as 'existing' in its own right. Energy then serves to mediate between this realm and the realm of material objets and actualisation in time. An important example of a material object subject to actualisation is the brain! The information with which the brain deals may be 'contained' in what we call our 'culture' (ideas, movies, buildings, history, language, etc.) and would belong to the World 3 postulated by the late philosopher of science, Karl Popper. In many ways, the information we have is not a personal possession or attribute. The world of objects, including our brain (as an object of study), is Popper's World 1. The realm of 'psychic energies' then belongs to World 2. This is the world of subjective experience. It is in this world that we experience pain, for example.
In this model, energy has two faces: on the one hand it has objective correlates in that certain functions (such as thinking) are made possible by it; on the other hand, it is the 'substance' of subjective experience, often crudely called 'consciousness'.
The higher the energy, the closer it is to pure information. This concept parallels the Medieval Scholastic understanding of, for example, the angelic orders, or 'spiritual beings'. One school avowed that such beings were beyond matter, while others countered that they, too, had a material attribute, though of a vastly 'finer' kind to that of our own existence as organic beings. Some kind of relativity seems to us to be essential here. The question of 'finer matter' arises because energy can transform into matter and vice versa, as is stated in relativity theory. In the more occult relativistic schools, we treat a lower energy as taking the role of 'matter' with respect to a higher energy. Similarly, the higher energy is seen as taking the role of 'information' with respect to a lower energy. In this way, we can make sense of the idea that a higher energy can 'organise' a lower one. Such an idea is to be found in David Bohm's concept of 'active information'. The amount of energy involved in active information is always relatively small with respect to less active or passive information, as embedded in lower level energies. Thus, for example, a single thought can change the total state of the body.
Similar ideas can be found as explanations for the astonishing influence of teachings associated with religion that can impact millions of people.
Since we have introduced the concept of 'experience' we have to ask whether this is a limited realm, or applies throughout the whole of existence. An answer is that we have a kind of experience that is centred on what we tend to call 'consciousness' and that this has recognisable limits. We are not aware of what is happening in our bodies; when food is digested, for example. In a different sense, we are not aware of what it is that happens when we have a creative impulse: it comes 'of itself' from we know not where.
Is it possible to place our typical consciousness as an energy somewhere within the total scale of energies? To do this, we have to have some means of establishing such a scale outside of our self-reference. This may prove impossible. We would then have to argue that it is sensible to establish a scale such that there is as much 'above' as 'below' relative to our conscious experience. This would amount to an intentional anthropomorphism. However, we can take another approach, one in which life is taken to be the pivotal centre of all existence. This was the approach of John Bennett.
In his scheme of things, we have energies which belong to material objects, energies which belong to living beings, and energies which are 'beyond life'. In setting up this scheme, Bennett was aware of certain theological sciences that postulate a series of 'divine energies' but attempted to relate these to the possibilities of types of intelligence possessed by planets, stars and galaxies. It must be emphasised that such higher realms were conceived of as being literally 'beyond life'. They were not higher forms of life, or more intense life, or even more conscious life. Between each of the three realms, there were important interfaces. As we shall see, one of these is connected with what we call in English 'mind'.
Energies above life
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Energies of life
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Energies below life
Each of the three realms was partitioned into four levels, or four qualities of energy. We should pause to make clear that energy can be seen in three different ways:
- As a quantity - relating to 'matter'
- As an intensity - relating to the energy itself
- As a quality - relating to 'information'
The correlation of quality with information is a Gurdjieffian type of idea: he argued that 'impressions' can of several distinct qualities, distinguished as of different 'densities'. We would say that the 'type' of information conveyed can vary in quality.
The use of four levels within each of the three realms is a convenient way of dealing with range and variation. Thus, we can have two extremes and two 'mixed states' in-between them. In the realm of material energies, we have heat as the most dispersed and 'plastic' energy as the most organised. Between these two, we then have mechanical or 'directed' (there is always a definite direction involved) energy and 'cohesive' energy (such as we find in molecules). Plastic energy is not generally recognised as such but can be discerned in the science of rheology.
The transition from material to vital energies is recognised in terms of the arising of the 'coding informational systems' that we associate with DNA (on this planet) exemplified in a virus. Present day research involves finding out the smallest number of genes necessary for the existence of a living being.
The transition from vital to 'cosmic' (more than life) energies is exemplified in our own minds. Humans serve as a bridge between life and the cosmic realities. This can be interpreted both in spiritual and existential terms. Thus, for example, humankind may serve the biosphere by preserving it from the impact of extraterrestrial bodies.
Psychologically, it is fairly common to suppose that humans engaged in realities which are both supra and sub conscious. The usual scientist will consider our engagement in supra-conscious realities as consisting simply in our quest for knowledge of the universe. Religious people will see this in terms of a communication with God, or higher powers of some kind. Esoteric people will look for some kind of 'transformation' in human being itself. Gurdjieff asserted that we have 'higher centres' by which the cosmic energies can be contacted.
Bennett's idea was that, in the mind, various energies are only 'compresent'. It is only in the making of a soul that these energies 'coalesce' to make something new. This is tantamount to considering the 'soul' as some kind of special apparatus, capable of performing a function that the mind cannot. Such a function might include being able to experience and act in the supra-conscious realm. The concepts of compresence and coalescence are important, though require their own study.
Energies of the Mind
John Bennett made much use of a four-fold distinction of 'mental energies'. This scheme was based on two important phenomenological factors:-
1. That we are both mechanical and creative beings. We are both conditioned and free. The influences which come from both mechanicality and creativity are 'unconscious', out of sight of our awareness. They can appear identical but need to be distinguished as 'sub-conscious' and 'supra-conscious'.
2. That we have a double kind of awareness. In one kind, we are just aware of what is 'outside' of ourselves. In the other, we can be aware of both inside and outside; of the see-er as well as what is looked at.
These two distinctions enable us to set up a four-fold scheme. The first distinction is between automatic and creative. The second, between consciousness (proper) and sensitivity ( which is simply reactive). What do each of these four energies enable us to do? What is their corresponding 'work'?
Creative - this energy enables us to 'originate'. It gives a 'new beginning' outside of our automatic repertoire. Creative impulses do not arise from our consciousness but from the supra-conscious. Every act of free attention involves this energy.
Sensitive - this energy enables us to 'notice'. When something unusual happens, or when we have to do something that we do not have a complete programme for, we have to be sensitive. Sensitivity is at work in our reactions, which can be of high intensity. Pain and pleasure come from sensitivity.
Conscious - this energy enables us to 'understand'. In the Gurdjieff tradition, to understand is 'to do' and is not limited to thought. However, an important example is in understanding a difficult text. In one moment, one can 'see' what it means whereas before this was not possible. No amount of sensitive energy can provide what consciousness does. Conscious energy enables us to see the whole in the part and the part in the whole. It also gives us contact with ourselves, and enables us to be detached in the midst of sensitive intensity.
Automatic - this energy enables us to 'perform'. It is the energy we use in driving a car, once we have learned how to do so. The automatic energy operates in walking, speaking and even in thinking. Everything we do involves some 'programming'.
In Bennett's model, the average state of a human being is one in which these energies are 'collapsed' into each other. The collapse of consciousness into sensitivity means that we have the characteristic ego-sense while lacking detachment. In such a state, we tend to 'identify' with our reactions (emotions). In a conscious state (that is, when consciousness is separated from sensitivity) it is possible to choose one's emotions. Separation of the two energies can take place when there is an external 'shock'. In the realm of education, Bennett referred to this as 'challenge'. A challenge can 'wake us up'. In the Gurdjieff work, use was made of an exercise called 'the stop'. The instructor calls out the word 'stop!' while people are engaged in activities, and they have to still themselves instantly (preferably in all three centres), whereupon the two levels spontaneously separate, at least for a moment.
To have all four energies in a state of compresence - that is, not in a mixture - amounts to having a clear and stable mind. Much meditation is, consciously or unconsciously, concerned with this end. The classical Patanjali Yoga aims at 'stilling the fluctuations of the mind-stuff'; which precisely means separating consciousness from sensitivity, sensitivity being the 'mind-stuff'.
In some measure, all four energies are mixed up in the passive state. In the case of the automatic and the sensitive, this is the common 'cloudy state' in which day-dreams (in the sensitivity) are mixed up with performance in an environment. In the case of the creative and the conscious, the mix-up is evidenced by extreme egoism and belief in one's 'genius', or by an inability to make sense of the creative impulses one receives.
The 'right order' of automatism and sensitivity gives reliable perceptions. One sees what is front of one's eyes and not some dream version.
The 'right order' of sensitivity and consciousness gives rationality. One is able to criticise the operations of sensitivity, which is sometimes called 'self-criticism' and also 'impartiality'. The consciousness can act as a guide to sensitive operations, for example, in doing mathematics or writing sentences that are meaningful and to the point.
The 'right order' of consciousness and creativity gives intelligence. Intelligence requires an engagement with the unknown. This can be practised, given the preceding two. It is characterised by the quality of uniqueness.
The Mental Tetrad
A 'tetrad' in Bennett's systematics is a four-term system distinguished along two axes. Along the vertical axes of the representation used, there is what is 'given' or, sometimes, 'nature'. Along the horizontal axis, there is what is 'made' or, sometimes, 'artifice'. In the case of the mental tetrad, the vertical axis is made by the automatic and creative energies. Both are 'given' though in different senses. The automatic is given as our existing programming (though it can be changed). The creative is given from beyond the present moment. In a certain sense, the creative 'comes from the future' while the automatic 'comes from the past'. Where they meet is along the horizontal axis.
On this axis, we have the conscious and sensitive energies. In a certain sense, the sensitivity gives us access to impulses originating in our environment; while the consciousness gives us access to what is 'within'. At the same time, sensitivity gives us the parts while consciousness gives us the whole. In fact 'we' are not being given anything since 'we' are largely the combination of these two energies. We 'play the role' of whole or part, outside or inside. This is what we do in our minds. Thus, we are making and unmaking what there is.
Every lower energy 'disorganises' the next higher energy. This is not a 'bad' thing. Life itself is poised always between organisation and disorganisation. Disorganisation is necessary for renewal. Thus, the automatism produces the stream of associations and images that constantly appear in the sensitivity. This is a continual distraction, but 'stirs the pot' as it were and keeps things moving.
From another direction, in a 'moment of understanding' the consciousness operates on the sensitivity. All scientific and artistic disciplines stem from this. It is necessary for the consciousness to preserve its nature of 'seeing' if we are not to be lost in the chemistry of the sensitivity.
From yet another direction, the creativity can act directly on the sensitivity. This when we have a spontaneous impulse that we cannot explain.
When creativity and consciousness are connected, we have what Bennett describes as 'confidence': we then are certain that an answer to our needs can be found even though we do not 'know how' to do it. This is one of the most important possibilities belonging to our nature and of inestimable value. To elicit this sense in another human being is the culmination of education.
If we turn to Freudian language, then we can identify the libido or 'pleasure principle' with the mutuality of consciousness and sensitivity, whereas the 'reality principle' can be identified with the mutuality of consciousness and automatism. The mutuality of consciousness with itself has been suggested as 'third principle' concerned with meaning.
It is good to reflect on the scheme and find various examples for oneself, rather than being told. When we find out for ourselves, we exercise consciousness and creativity - in a word, our own intelligence. Nearly all contemporary education fails to address the intelligence. Instead, it relies on programming or automatism and 'interest' or sensitivity. Following what is 'interesting' tends to put the consciousness to sleep (that is, 'buried' in the sensitivity).
Bennett went on to speak about possible ways in which the energies transform each other. Here we will mention but a few examples.
1a. The link between consciousness and automatism is a way of generating sensitive energy. By close attention to the mechanisms of our behaviour we produce a 'blending' that amounts to a quantity of 'free' sensitive energy. This, in its turn enables us to learn in a faster way. Such is the approach often used in working on the Gurdjieff movements.
1b. When creativity acts on the sensitivity, a certain amount of consciousness is produced. Here we have to learn how to take advantage of what is given to us. A creative impulse can be 'captured' by the sensitivity and then we become excited and 'full of ourselves' and rapidly go downhill.
In the following model of 'right separation' we are using a concept derived from Gurdjieff, when he spoke of the 'third force' as coming from a higher place. This 'transcendental' kind of third force is the complement of the 'immanent' kind we spoke of earlier in describing how the energies are generated by a blending between them.
2a. In general, the right ordering of the energies is only possible by the action of a higher energy. The separation of automatism and sensitivity comes from consciousness. This can be practised through work on visualisation.
2b. The separation of consciousness from sensitivity comes from creativity. That is why we sometimes have the feeling that 'waking up' is a spontaneous act and cannot be 'learned'. Now, creativity is close to the will - but that is another story.
2c. The right separation of consciousness and creativity would require a higher energy still. This was called by Bennett the 'unitive energy' (the word chosen to avoid the usual sentimental associations with the word 'love'). There are many references in spiritual literature to the need to 'die to oneself' which reflect this act of separation.
Partition and Blending
The primary partition of the 'mind' is into creativity and automatism. This gives rise to two 'mixed states' that we call consciousness and sensitivity.
- Creative - spontaneous and independent
- Conscious - independent but not spontaneous
- Sensitive - dependent but not determined
- Automatic - determined and dependent
Bennett introduced the concept of 'partition and blending' in his description of Creation in Vol. II of 'The Dramatic Universe'. However, he made relatively little use of it. The principle is of some interest for our understanding of the mental energies. Basically, an undifferentiated whole is divided or partitioned into two independent levels or qualities. These can then blend together to form intermediate states.
Our idea is that the mental energies are always with us. The question is how it is that they appear to produce such varying states as we find in our experience.
The 'ground state' of the energies is as all four 'collapsed' into an undifferentiated whole. The 'articulate' state of the four energies is when each operates with some independence from the others. This latter is only made possible by a partition that comes about through the organising influence of a higher energy.
Let us say that the creative energy acts so as to separate the conscious and sensitive energies. This then enables the conscious energy to act so as to separate the automatic and the sensitive. Thus, the 'articulation' of our mental energies arises from the influence of creativity. It is more than interesting that Bennett came to associate our 'free attention' with the operation of creative energy.
The further consequences of partition are those of 'blending'. Thus, the conscious energy and can blend with the automatic to produce sensitivity; and the creative energy can blend with the sensitive energy to produce consciousness. The word 'produce' is somewhat crude: what is in view is something more akin to an actualisation. In other words, something happens that makes the particular energies register in our experience.
The combination of partition and blending operates according to what we might call the 'laws' of the tetrad, analogously with the 'laws' of the triad. These have not been worked out. An example might be as follows:
Creativity acts to separate consciousness from sensitivity, which enables consciousness to blend with automatism, releasing a kind of 'free' sensitivity.
Such a set of operations would be experienced as 'spontaneous joy'.
In the tetrad of mental energies, each of the four energies engages in giving rise to the others. Hence Bennett's characterising term of 'reciprocity'.
Qualities of Energies
As we go from the material to the vital and then the cosmic sets of energies, the dominant characteristic of any given energy changes. In the realm of material energies, the most important characteristic is quantity. We have definite amounts of energy associated with specific locations and times. In the realm of vital energies, the most important characteristic is that of intensity. Intensive scales are our model for levels of energy. In the realm of cosmic energies, the most important characteristic is that of quality and considerations of amount, place, time, intensity and so on are minimal.
When we come to the energies of mind, the most important features of the energies are 'resolution' and 'dissolution'. In other words, we are engaged in a process balanced between articulation and confusion. The 'ground state' we referred to in the previous section is one of confusion. As we suggested, the creative action of our free attention can resolve this confusion into an articulate state. It can also come about as we commonly say 'spontaneously'.
The three sets of energies - material, vital and cosmic - each have their characteristic type. This is manifest in the third of each set of four energies. In the case of the material energies, this is 'cohesion', that which gives form to the material world. In the case of the vital energies, this is 'automatism'. The automatism gives coherent form to behaviour. In the case of the cosmic energies, it is unity: hence the common expression 'God is Love', and the kind of metaphysics espoused by Teilhard de Chardin.
In the mind, the characteristic feature is consciousness. The state of self-awareness is, as Gurdjieff insisted, the key to our development.
If the third energy gives the key feature of the given set of four, then the fourth represents what is emergent and anticipatory of the next level. The peak of one set of energies matches the ground of the next set. If we arrange the scale of energies according to this idea, then it is easy to see how its structure then corresponds to that of the enneagram. In the diagram below, we have inserted the significant numbers from the enneagram figure to make the point clearer.
We might also consider that the total range of energies as we know, experience and understand them are not the whole story. The hierarchy of levels that emerges with the vital energies gives way to an intimate mutuality in the cosmic real. In other words, common notions of 'above' and 'below' no longer hold (cf. the unitive energy). The energies associated with our kind of experience may be considered, in an extreme view, as 'aberrant'. In this respect we might remember Gurdjieff's treatment of life as constituting a 'lateral octave' to the primary 'ray of creation'. The kind of sense of self we have may not at all be intensified or increased in the higher energies. This may well correspond with the religious intuition of 'self-losing' as being essential for higher perceptions.
The following is an intriguing way of representing the energies - in such a way that the wholeness of the range is made apparent. The vertical line draws attention to the energies as in a linear scale. The horizontal line draws attention otherwise: to the 'axis of individuality'. The point of intersection suggests our own position. The next cut of the line across the curved figure represents what Bennett called the 'universal individuality', while the final cut is his 'cosmic individuality'.
Role of the Cosmic Energies of Mind
The conscious and creative energies of mind represent the working of the higher functions. Such 'functions' have to do with how we can deal with experience itself. They are the critical energies involved in what Gurdjieff once called 'contemplation'. They are also how we may seek to gain access to 'higher bodies', however we understand this term. Both energies are involved in the working of the 'higher centres' described by Gurdjieff.
'Dealing with experience' is how we are able to make something out of our experience, so that is not merely 'what passes'. Orage thought of this as 'fishing in the streams of thinking, feeling and sensing' to obtain a permanent essence. Even if we eschew such an idea, there remains the phenomenon in which we are more than creatures of experience but have a place in worlds beyond the constraints of being alive.
One useful way of looking at this is to think in terms of Bennett's fundamental categories of Function, Being and Will.
Function concerns actualisation, or what happens. It concerns the behaviour of entities and processes in time and space. It is what we can know.
Being concerns the 'inner togetherness' of entities and how they are connected outside of space and time. Being concerns 'what is'. Energies as such are an aspect of being. We can be conscious of being but not know it.
Will concerns 'acts' whereby reality is realised. Will embraces both extremes of determinism and freedom. In a sense, will does not exist. Our access to will is by way of understanding.
A clue as to our interpretation may be found in Bennett's 'Deeper Man'. There he says that it is the creative energy that is nearest in nature to our will. However, we need to see conscious energy also in a new way.
Consciousness in western philosophy has been dominated by the concept of 'intentionality' as first proposed by Brentano. In this view, consciousness is always 'consciousness-of'. This fixes consciousness as always of the type that we can call 'observational'. In this type, our consciousness is always of 'objects' of some kind. It is, in a word, consciousness of function. In this consciousness, the observer- consciousness, the 'observer' is always 'apart' from the 'observed'.
In contrast, there is another mode of consciousness, which we would call 'participative consciousness'. This kind of consciousness is not an observation of what is happening but a participation in what is. It gives us an experience in which 'we' are not apart from what we experience. It has been well described by Bortoft in his recent book The Wholeness of Nature. In our terms, such a consciousness is a 'being- consciousness'.
In this light, the conscious energy serves to bring function and being together in our experience. In the section The Twofold (loc. cit. pp 301ff), Bortoft seems to reach a similar conclusion but without using the terminology we have adopted from Bennett. [see note below].
Since energies are an aspect of being, it is comprehensible that they may serve to connect function with being and also being with will.
The latter role is taken up by the creative energy. We tend, of course, to picture will entirely as an 'active something' that brings about action. This is a limited view. Will, according to Bennett, has the three faces of affirmation, receptivity and reconciliation. Affirmation is only 1/3 of the whole of will. We can say that will is active towards function, receptive towards being and reconciling with itself. The meeting of being and will is a region of creation - almost by necessity. It has been extensively discussed by Bennett under his categories of time, especially as what he calls the 'hyparchic future'. This is the future as the source of the past. Needless to say, all our ideas about causality have to be turned upside-down.
Our portrayal of conscious energy as integrating being and function, and of creative energy as integrating being and will, leads us to speculate about the integration of will and function. In Bennett's historical cosmology, the higher still unitive energy has been brought into connection with the human totality. This is usually addressed in traditional human terms as explaining the source of compassion and love in human affairs. However, we may also see it as fulfilling a cosmic role, such as we have explored with the conscious and creative energies. In this view, the unitive energy serves to integrate will and function and is still, in a strong sense, 'outside of the mind'. The unitive energy has been associated with such speculations as the 'communion of saints. However, instead of regarding this as a togetherness (being) of plural beings we might better consider it as a unity of the manifold of wills. Such a unity of wills has a single function, such as carrying the process of unifying humankind on a planetary or solar scale.
We would expect to find that such a unification process has barely touched individual human experience.
The ultimate speculation concerns the transcendent energy that Bennett postulated as the summit of the four cosmic energies. We would consider this to be the integration of all three aspects of reality - function, being and will. In a sense, this is to imagine that 'reality starts all over again' on a new basis. In this light, it parallels speculations concerning the existential status of the universe; in particular, that it might one of a succession of universes or that that are an uncountable number which we are not yet able to reach.
Bennett, J. G.: Energies: Material, Vital, Cosmic, The Dramatic Universe Vol. II, chapter 33
Bortoft, Henri: The Wholeness of Nature - understanding Goethe's way of science
"Unlike double vision, which sees the same thing twice, this extraordinary 'double vision' of imagination sees in two different ways simultaneously. The sensory vision sees the separation of distinct parts, and the imaginative vision simultaneously sees their connection and wholeness." Bortoft p. 306
"Twofold always. May God us keep From single vision and Newton's sleep." William Blake, from a letter to Thomas Butts