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Comments on the Features

BY PHILLIP WITTMEYER


In the third horizontal row on the Chart is the aspect Gurdjieff called "chief feature", but which I shortened to just "Feature". The seven chief features are Martyrdom, Impatience, Self-Deprecation, Arrogance, Self-Destruction, Greed, and Stubbornness. A person's Feature is his self-image, the picture he has of himself. It is often difficult for a person to see his Feature. Since it is a self-image, it seems so normal and natural to view oneself as one does. Consequently, it often comes as rather a surprise when people find out what their Feature is. They do not always recognize it in themselves easily.

You will notice immediately upon looking at the list of chief features that none of them are what would be called desirable traits. They are in fact problem areas in the Personality, although there is nothing intrinsically neurotic or psychologically unhealthy about them. Nevertheless, they do represent a flaw in the personality, and they can lead to the downfall of an otherwise impeccable person. They often form the core of the False Personality of the individual. They are a challenge factor operating within the person something which it is desirable to overcome. In made-up stories about life, the hero is often faced with an obstacle. If he succeeds in his struggle to surmount the obstacle, he gains a prize. In real life, we are faced with the constant struggle against our own Features, and if we succeed in overcoming them, we grow in Character.

A person can have more than one Feature, and they can even be Opposites, leading to contradictions within one's self-image. For instance, part of the time a person may be acting out of his primary Feature of Impatience, and part of the time out of his secondary Feature of Martyrdom. When I do Charts on people, I list their primary and secondary Features.

Synonyms for Feature are: image, persona, and guise.

 

GENERAL COMMENTS ON THE FEATURES

A person with a particular chief feature often sees himself as just the opposite of what he is. In the Action Pair, a person with the Feature of Martyrdom often sees himself as too audacious and intolerant, so he becomes even more weak and helpless. He avoids self-will and self-assertion. He backs off and gives in. On the other hand, a person with the Feature of Impatience often regards himself as a pushover and a wimp. He sees himself as letting others push him around too much, so takes steps to remedy the situation, and he exhibits more boldness and anger. He avoids surrender and defeatism. In the Inspiration Pair, a person with the Feature of Lowliness is often constantly aware of instances where he shows pride and vanity, so he demeans himself all the more. He avoids self-aggrandizement. On the other hand, a person with the Feature of Arrogance often sees himself as too self-effacing and humble, so he exalts himself all the more. He avoids humiliation. In the Expression Pair, a person with the Feature of Renunciation often sees himself as too selfish and egotistical, so he lets himself be even more self-sacrificing. He avoids loving and gratifying himself. On the other hand, a person with the Feature of Selfishness often sees himself as too generous and self-sacrificing, so he becomes even more self-centered. He avoids hating himself. A person with the Feature of Stubbornness often sees himself as too yielding and fluid, so he becomes even more rigid and fixed in his ways. He avoids outside influences.

Feature is the Negative Personification Aspect because it exists as an absence. The person with a particular Feature has the self-image, but not the true identity, of the Counterpart Role. He lacks the reality that the Role possesses. Notice how a person manifests this in each of the Features. A person with the Feature of Martyrdom yields himself to death like a Warrior in battle. A person with the Feature of Impatience gets himself going right away like a leader King. A person with the Feature of Lowliness demeans himself to lower station like a Server. A person with the Feature of Arrogance exalts himself to higher station like a Priest. A person with the Feature of Renunciation sends things away from himself like an Artisan. A person with the Feature of Selfishness sees himself as the focus of attention like a Sage. A person with the Feature of Stubbornness sees himself unaffected by the world like a Scholar.

Notice how a person with a particular Feature manifests the Process of which his Feature is an Aspect. A person with the Feature of Martyrdom Terminates himself by giving up in defeat. A person with the Feature of Impatience Originates action in himself too readily. A person with the Feature of Lowliness sees himself Involved down to a simpler, lower state. A person with the Feature of Arrogance sees himself Evolved up to a higher, more exalted state. A person with the Feature of Renunciation Analyzes himself by finding impurities. A person with the Feature of Selfishness Synthesizes for himself by acquiring possessions. A person with the Feature of Stubbornness Assimilates himself by remaining the same.

To some extent, a person's Feature causes the person to regard himself as being in the Counterpart Role. (The next section discusses Role thoroughly.) Thus, an Arrogant person feels like a Priest, and a Selfish person thinks he is like a Sage. The person has the "image" of the Role, but without the "substance". This can have undesirable consequences. If a person were to be thus mislead by his Feature, it could cause some difficulty and unhappiness. For instance, Arrogance may lead a person to think he is good enough to do Priestly things, but he might lack the real depth of personality to carry it off successfully. Likewise, Impatience may lead a person to think he has the charismatic leadership ability of a King when in fact he doesn't, which could cause trouble for the people he tried to lead. Therefore it is wise for a person to let his Role be the determinant of his occupation and other major life pathways, but not his Feature. I regard this point as one of the more important things one can learn from the Process Aspect System in order to avoid suffering, so I want to emphasize it.

A person can have more than one Feature, and they can even be Complements, leading to contradictions within one's self-image. For instance, part of the time a person may be acting out of his primary Feature of Impatience, and part of the time out of his secondary Feature of Martyrdom. When I do Charts on people, I list their primary, secondary, and tertiary Features.

There are some significant things to say about the Features. It is important to understand certain things about this Aspect of the System, so they bear repeating here. First of all, he said the Feature "rules you". By this I think he was referring to the Feature as a self-image its nature is to perpetuate itself through life because it is a closed loop, like a continuous tape that keeps running itself through the machine, playing the same song over and over again. It causes people to conduct themselves in life almost as if they were reading their parts from the written script of a theater production or movie. The Features are self-perpetuating because they reflect back on themselves, like an image in a mirror. For instance, if you are Arrogant, you feel proud of yourself for your goodness; if you are Stubborn, you are stubborn about being Stubborn. And so it is with the other Features. You are under the power of your own self-image, and it is difficult to break this kind of rulership.

The Feature is not generally a settled part of the personality until around the teenage years, or whenever the person seeks to distinguish themselves from the parental influence. My observation is that the Feature begins to show up at about the time of puberty the time when the person usually begins to make a break with the parents, and truly develops his own personality as distinct from his family. It appears to be formed as a response to childhood experiences. Since the Feature is apparently not established from birth, this would seem to indicate that the Feature is not so firmly entrenched that it is impossible to dislodge. Indeed, the Feature is the only Overleaf which can change, although this does not happen often, and usually it is to trade one Feature for another. Enlightenment is gained by the extinguishment of the chief feature in adult life. The Essence has good contact with the personality only when the Feature is not distorting perceptions through fear. I regard these as a very important considerations. The "higher self" can only come through when the Feature is not in control of the person.

There ought to be some way to effect the extinguishment of the Feature. We have already discussed in the sections on each Feature the "hands across" method of applying the Positive Pole of the Complementary Feature. In addition to that, it seems that the Features have within themselves the seeds of their own destruction, once they are recognized and faced. The vicious circle can begin to be broken with simple awareness of its existence. This is how it works with each Feature:

  • Martyrdom: is ultimately self-defeating;
     
  • Impatience: gets impatient with its own impatience;
     
  • Self-Destruction: diminishes itself into nonexistence;
     
  • Arrogance: sees arrogance itself as an imperfection;
     
  • Self-Destruction: hates itself for hating itself;
     
  • Greed: gluttony hurts after you get too much;
     
  • Stubbornness: gets more brittle to the breaking point.


Most people go through their entire lives without awareness of the particular Feature or Features which are preventing the expression of their transcendent aspect. To become aware of it through this System is a step in overcoming this impediment to Soul growth, but there is more. I recommend a technique for extinguishing the Feature, which is called "photographing". This is simply to notice when the Feature shows up in one's daily life. This can be done during the day when one is reflecting on the events of one's life. Notice in particular the situations which bring it out in strength. This will reveal the circumstances and conditions which are feared. The next step is to anticipate when these situations are going to arise again. The fear can then be confronted at those times and shown to be groundless. The trick is to do what is feared rather than running from it. The fear will die and the Feature with it.

Many psychologists would recommend additional techniques by which Features can be extinguished, and one of those is through what is called "conditioning" in psychological terminology, or "denial" in metaphysical terminology. This is a method for modifying one's beliefs and behavior. Whenever one catches himself thinking or feeling or acting according to his Feature, then he can "deny" it. This does not mean lying to himself, saying to himself that he is not really that way, but it does mean negating it repudiating the Feature, declaring it undesirable and incorrect and then affirming the proper thought, feeling, or action. This technique will gradually diminish the strength of the Feature, if not eliminate its rule over one entirely.

Another technique that will help extinguish the Feature is one likely to be used by metaphysically inclined persons. That is to "center" the self when the Feature (or any other undesirable expression) is noticed. This means turning one's awareness to the divine aspect of the self which knows nothing of self-image, either positive or negative or neutral. One focuses one's attention on the quietness at the center of one's being turning away from the incessant chatter of the brain or clamor of the world. This is a type of meditation.

If the extinguishment of the Feature is fully achieved, the personality arrives at a state of grace in which it flows with life more easily, having no ego (false sense of identity, whether Positive, Negative, or Neutral) to protect. The Feature is an illusion. It is an image of the self that is not real. The value of the extinguishment of the Feature is to know exactly what one is, to have no self-image illusions or distorted perceptions about one's identity. Then one will be free, spontaneous, and genuine. Since a person is usually oblivious to the fact that he has a self-image problem which is influencing his behavior in a negative way, knowledge of one's Features is valuable information. It is one of the most important elements of this System.

 
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Phil Wittmeyer is a longtime Michael student and scholar of the teachings.  He can be reached at: wittmeyer@hotmail.com

 



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