The 4th Way teaching attributes different areas of man's functioning to so-called centers. Different accounts of the teaching differ in particulars but generally centers are divided into 3 lower and 2 or 3 higher ones. The lower centers are 1. Moving, responsible for the physical body in its instinctive as well as learned functioning, 2 lower emotional, responsible for assigning values to things and emotion in general and 3 Intellectual, responsible for memory of facts and thinking in general. The higher centers are almost never available for conscious observation in man's normal life. The higher centers are higher emotional and higher intellectual. Additionally, there is a sexual center which is sometimes seen as a higher center and sometimes bundled together with the moving and instinctive functions. The moving center is also sometimes divided into moving and instinctive centers.
The lower centers are further divided into positive and negative halves. Again, each half of each center is divided in three, so that each of the three lower centers is divided in 6, for a total of 18 slices of lower centers. Each center has positive and negative aspects of mechanical, emotional and intellectual aspects of its function. Thus we can speak of mechanical part of intellect, intellectual part of emotion, emotional part of motion etc.
Mouravieff's Gnosis series contains the most detailed systematic description of the centers. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous also discusses these in some detail. Gurdjieff in his own work does not go to as much detail on centers but constantly refers to man as a 'three brained being,' with reference to the three lower centers, moving, emotional and intellectual.
The configuration of centers is expected to change as the Work proceeds. First the three centers will become subject to a single authority, the newly formed magnetic center. This is an intermediate step on the way of the lower emotional center merging with the higher emotional center. Finally, the higher emotional center is supposed to open the door to the higher intellectual center.
The core of the 4th Way teaching on centers is that the lower centers practically always work inefficiently and at cross purposes. Due to this, energy which should go into making contact with the higher centers gets dissipated and the higher centers remain disconnected from regular waking consciousness, except for exceptional moments, usually involving intense emotion or shock. Therefore, the key to accessing the higher is to bring the lower into order. Another key concept is the use of emotional shocks as a tool for spiritual work. These shocks, when consciously received, can be transformed into energy that will feed the higher centers and bring them to consciousness. The idea is to energize the lower centers so that they can 'catch up' or meaningfully interact with the higher centers. The idea is not to bring the higher down to the lower but to improve the lower so as to reach for the higher. If the lower centers work efficiently, they will work fast enough to make sense of the higher centers and there will be energy left over to feed the higher centers so that these can work as they were designed to. This condition is however very rare and nearly always transitory.
From Mouravieff's Gnosis Excerpts taken from page 19, 21, 22:
- We find the Personality between the body and the Soul. Though tied to both, it is generally more attached to the former. We have also constated that the 'I' of whom we speak every day corresponds to the Personality, known by our name.
- The question that faces us next is how we may know what the Personality is in itself. We certainly feel it within us. We are aware of it's attitudes, it's desires, and it's actions; but we are not at all able to represent it.
- Thinking about oneself evokes a certain image; of a clothed body, or a face which strives to be dignified and charming. The image is only a reflection of the Personality. If we want to discover the latter, we have to penetrate more deeply, and only introspection would permit us to discover its true face. Introspection leads us to discover that there exists a sort of little 'nebula' within us. This is insubstantial, or almost so, but is gifted with the capacity for experiencing and thinking, for feeling emotion, and for action. An exercised and sustained attention permits us to constate that this 'nebula' is mobile: it is sometimes found in the brain, and sometimes it descends to the heart and sometimes to the solar plexus. After a violent impression is made--for example after some great terror--it can move downward through the whole body to the feet. In such cases, everything goes on as if it has abandoned the general direction of the body, which it governs when it is situated in the brain, in order to act on a local plane only, in reflexes of a very elementary nature. Once the emotion has passed this 'nebula' re-ascends to a placer in the higher part of the head. We can say that the person has come back to himself.
- ...the personality is an organism. As such it has a structure. But we miss this structure because we neither know nor study it. Our attention is constantly being held by exterior facts and events, and by the mechanical reactions which they provoke within us. The first attempts at internal observation have already led us to distinguish three foci of mental life, represented by the three centers. It must be understood that these three centers are not physical points or organs, located in exactly determined places in our bodies. They are more in the nature of CENTERS OF GRAVITY for each of the three currents of our mental life. Even this is not an altogether exact definition. For example, the motor center takes an active part in all physical and mental movement. When thought initiates movements within us, the motor center is present and regulates the motor element of the phenomena. It is the same for feelings, passions, sensations, etc. Thus a discovery made by the intellectual center with the aid of the motor center, is immediately communicated to the later, then transmitted to the emotional center, where it immediately provokes corresponding reactions.
- That transmission can also take place in a different order. That is how Archimedes, transported with joy by the discovery of the principle which bears his name, ran around the town of Syracuse shouting: 'Eureka'! : thought, emotion, movement. That shows that the three mental centers which embrace, regulate and express the life of our Personality, and also constitute its structure, are not autonomous.
- Persistent introspection will later allow us to constate that each one of the three centers is decided into two parts: positive and negative. Normally these two parts act in conjunction with one another: for they are in fact polarized as the double organs of the body, which duplicate the same function or participate in the same work at the same time; our arms for example.
- That division of the centers, a reflection of the universal polarization, allows them to establish COMPARISONS; to consider both sides of the problems posed to them.
- The positive part of each center looks--one might say--to the head, and the negative part to the tail of these problems. The center as a whole constructs an appropriate synthesis and draws its conclusions, inspired by the constatations made by each of the two parts.
- An example is the process of critical analysis. It is therefore totally erroneous to consider that the names of these parts indicate a beneficent or harmful role depending on whether they are positive or negative. These terms do not imply any value judgment--any more then the constation of positive and negative charges upon elementary particles.
- If we consider the functioning of the motor center, we can perceive that these parts are inseparable one from the other, in their structure as well as in their action. With certain reservations we can say that the positive part of the center corresponds to the ensemble of the instinctive functions of the psycho-physical organism of man, and its negative part to the motor functions. In other words, the motor center is in the full sense of the word the manager of our bodies; it must equilibrate the energies that it accumulates by its positive part with those that are consumed by its negative part.
- This symmetry--this polarity--is to be found in the two other centers.
- Constructive and creative ideas are born in the positive part of the intellectual center. But it is the negative part that evaluates an idea, that takes its measure, so to speak. It is on the basis of this functional polarity that this center, as a whole, judges.
- It is the same with the emotional center, the action, the action of the negative part opposes the positive part, which at the same time completes it, for example permitting the center as a whole to distinguish the agreeable from the disagreeable.
- We can nevertheless misuse the faculties of the negative parts. This negative abuse is a real danger. The case is obvious as far as the motor center is concerned, yet here physical exhaustion acts as a control, intervening to stop excessive consumption of energy. When it comes to the other centers, the misuse of the negative parts takes much more insidious forms, which entail more series consequences for our minds as well as our bodies.
- That is how the negative part of the intellectual center nourishes jealousy, afterthoughts, hyprocrisy, suspecion, treachery, etc.
- The negative part of the emotional center receives all the disagreeable impressions and serves as a vehicle for negative emotions, for which the keyboard is very large, ranging from melancholy to hate.
- We shall have occasion to go deeper into the problem of negative emotions. Their destructive role is generally unknown, but represents one of the major obstacles to esoteric evolution.