Food of Impressions

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 4 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

CTT: This goes back to an idea of Gurdjieff’s that I think is worth talking about, and that’s the idea of the food of impressions. Have you come across that in Ouspensky yet? Yes?

Student: Say it again.

CTT: The food of impressions. We all know that in terms of physical diet there are certain vitamins and minerals we need, and if we don’t get them we get sick. If you don’t get enough Vitamin C, you get scurvy for instance. Deficiency diseases. Gurdjieff said that in the same way that our body needs various elements and enough of them with sufficient purity and quality of them to keep our bodies healthy, a mind needs the food of impressions. Our mind needs to take in information that actually nourishes parts of our mind, in order to maintain it and grow it. And if you don’t get that food of impressions, you get mental deficiency diseases just as you get bodily deficiency diseases.

Now most people, from Gurdjieff’s point of view, since they’re asleep most of the time, are basically eating mental junk food. They’re not getting very high quality impressions because they’re not present, not here-and-now, for all these incredible sensory impressions coming in.

So when you get nothing but junk food, you need a lot of it and it has to be real spicy to try to convince you that you’re getting something. If you’re not bringing awareness like you are now to your sensory impressions, and so affecting them in a way that turns them into high quality nourishment, then you don’t get enough nourishment and you get these mental and emotional deficiency diseases, which produces a feeling of experiential hunger at some level. Then you’re liable to do funny or dangerous or pathological things to try to get more impressions.

So, for example, some of the Sufis say — and Gurdjieff would go along with this — we need a certain amount of attention paid to us. We need it from other people. We’ve got to be recognized. We’ve got to be paid attention to. Normally we get that from our parents when we’re very little, but some parents don’t give their kids enough attention.

So what’s one way of getting attention? Be bad! It’s much better to be shouted at or spanked, and get some attention, even if it’s not the best quality attention, than to starve for attention. Very weird.

Psychotherapy has all these theories about what you do and all these techniques and whatnot. Maybe the main effective thing is the fact that the client is getting a good steady input of quality attention from a therapist, and that attention will do a lot, just as attention per se, quite aside from any specifics of its content.

Where did we start on this? I remembered my arms and legs but I lost the beginning point.

Student: Food of impressions.

CTT: Food of impressions. Right! I’ve never seen this idea developed in standard psychological texts and probably not even in the transpersonal texts, per se. I’ve mainly seen it in Gurdjieff, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it.

It came in as part of the basis of transpersonal through humanistic psychology, mainly in all the body based therapies that came along. They give you a certain kind of food of impressions with body based massage therapies, physical releases, and things of that sort. Again, they also just give you a lot of attention. So sometime when you’re seeing a client some day and you’re listening to the problem and you don’t have any idea exactly what to do, at least pay good attention to them. They can usually sense at some level when they’re getting good attention.

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