Have you forgotten to remember yourself?

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white tulips

This article is the first in a series of posts that aim to find the best and most effective exercises from a variety of spiritual traditions to help you live and work and write from essence (your true self) rather than from personality (your ego).

False spiritual work keeps you comfortable. Real spiritual work makes you uneasy.

        – Vernon Howard

I recently wrote about the difference between essence and personality and why writers must write from essence if their work is to have value. This is because essence is our true self. It’s what we’re born with and it’s what the Tibetans call yeshe, our “wisdom-nature”. When we write from essence our work is authentic and inspired.

Personality (ego) is the antithesis of our true nature. It is what we acquire from birth and it comprises our gained knowledge and beliefs, our opinions and  judgements as well as our fears and fantasies. It is everything we’re not. When we write from personality our work is unreliable and shallow.

If we want to bring trueness to our writing — and to our life — then we must cultivate essence and trounce personality. We must do our inner work.


A powerful way to grow essence and lessen personality is to practice present moment awareness. The formidable twentieth century spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff called it “self-remembering” and you may also hear it described as “mindfulness” or “being in the now” or “loving what is”. As the spiritual teacher Robert Earl Burton says, “That would mean tasting one’s wine or looking at the beautiful arrangement of white tulips.”

Self-remembering requires inner vigilance and if it’s regularly practised we notice that our thoughts and beliefs no longer make much sense. We wake up to reality and observe our internal and external world with honesty and clarity and a lot more humor.

To self-remember, we watch several things simultaneously: our physical bodies, our emotional reactions, our behaviour and our thoughts. We notice everything non-judgementally and openly and with an attentiveness that is easier to maintain the more it is practised.

Start self-remembering with the physical body

Let’s start the process of remembering ourselves with the physical body because it’s always there and it’s easy to see and work with. Here’s a wonderful technique from the late Vernon Howard, a remarkable spiritual teacher who offers us the “There is…” exercise that he says is designed to:

“[detach] yourself from your supposed self. Notice that in your mental conversations, you are always putting ‘I’ there. “I am watching.” The idea is for you to drop the sense of self from it and just know, just see, just realize the physical action. Now, you’re to do this whether you understand it or not. How can you understand it when you’ve never done it before?”

The “There is…” exercise.

  • Take any physical action you are doing and say to yourself “There is…” and fill in the rest. You notice the physical action you are performing and you say, “There is…”
  • So, if you are stirring the tea pot you say, “There is stirring the tea pot.”
  • If you are standing in a supermarket queue, you say, “There is standing in the supermarket queue.”
  • If you are washing windows, you say, “There is washing windows.” If you are walking, you say, “There is walking.” And so on.

This exercise helps us to separate the personal “I” of ego from the action itself. It is an effective way to detach from our personality because we are aware of the body performing the action and, at the same  time, we are learning to remove the sense of ego-I from the process. It is the first step towards self-remembering.

Do this as often as you remember.

Next week: The remarkable spiritual teachings of Vernon Howard and how they can help reveal your essence.

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The essence of good writing is essence

Sue Bell

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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