Buffer (Fourth Way)

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Fourth Way
Fourth Way

In Fourth Way psychology, a buffer is a kind of thought-proof compartmentalization of the mind. The term comes from the buffers which absorb shocks between railroad cars. Buffers make it possible for man to ignore almost anything and generally serve to keep one living in subjectivity.

Repeated denial of facts may over time create a buffer. For example, buffers make it possible for one to apply entirely different principles of ethics to different groups of people.

Getting rid of buffers is an aim of the Work. However, buffers should not be deleted too quickly, even if they could, since some are necessary for survival, at least until one's internal constitution is strengthened enough to withstand reality without the dampening effect of buffers.

Receiving shocks without the mental anesthetic of buffers facilitates fusion and formation of a consistent "I".

From In Search of the Miraculous, pp. 154-5:

You often think in a very naive way," he [George Gurdjieff] said. "You already think you can do. To get rid of this conviction is more difficult than anything else for a man. You do not understand all the complexity of your organization and you do not realize that every effort, in addition to the results desired, even if it gives these, gives thousands of unexpected and often undersirable results, and the chief thing that you forget is that you are not beginning from the beginning with a nice, clean, new machine. There stand behind you many years of wrong and stupid life, of indulgence in every kind of weakness, of shutting your eyes to your own errors, of striving to avoid all unpleasant truths, of constant lying to yourselves, of self-justification, of blaming others, and so on, and so on. All this cannot help affecting the machine. The machine is dirty, in places it is rusty, and in some places artificial appliances have been formed, the necessity for which has been created by its own wrong way of working.

These artificial appliances will now interfere very much with all your good intentions. They are called 'buffers.'

'Buffer' is a term which requires special explanation. We know what buffers on railway carriages are. They are the contrivances which lessen the shock when carriages or trucks strike one another. If there were no buffers, the shock of one carriage against another would be very unpleasant and dangerous. Buffers soften the results of these shocks and render them unnoticeable and imperceptible.

Exactly the same appliances are to be found within man. They are created, not by nature but by man himself, although involuntarily. The cause of their appearance is the existence in man of many contradictions; contradictions of opinions, feelings, sympathies, words, and actions. If a man throughout the whole of his life were to feel all the contradictions that are within him he could not live and act as calmly as he lives and acts now. He would have constant friction, constant unrest. We fail to see how contradictory and hostile the different I's of our personality are to one another. If a man were to feel all these contradictions he would feel what he really is. He would feel that he is mad. It is not pleasant to anyone to feel that he is mad. Moreover, a thought such as this deprives a man of self confidence, weakens his energy, deprives him of his 'self-respect.' Somehow or other he must master this thought or banish it. He must either destroy the contradictions or cease to see and to feel them. A man cannot destroy contradictions. But if 'buffers' are created in him he can cease to feel them and he will not feel the impact from the clash of contradictory views, contradictory emotions, contradictory words.

'Buffers' are created slowly and gradually. Very many 'buffers' are created artificially through 'education.' Others are created under the hypnotic influence of all surrounding life. A man is surrounded by people who live, speak, think, and feel by means of 'buffers.' Imitating them in their opinions, actions, and words, a man involuntarily creates similar 'buffers' in himself. 'Buffers' make a man's life more easy. It is very hard to live without 'buffers.' But they keep man from the possibility of inner development because 'buffers' are made to lessen shocks that can lead a man out of the state in which he lives, that is, waken him. 'Buffers' will lull a man to sleep, give him the agreeable and peaceful sensation that all will be well, that no contradictions exist and that he can sleep in peace. 'Buffers' are appliances by means of which a man can always be in the right. 'Buffers' help a man not to feel his conscience."

From Gurdjieff, quoted in ISOTM, pp. 159-60:

In the life of an ordinary man truth and falsehood have no moral value of any kind because a man can never keep to one single truth. His truth changes. If for a certain time it does not change, it is simply because it is kept by 'buffers.' And a man can never tell the truth. Sometimes 'it tells' the truth, sometimes 'it tells' a lie. Consequently his truth and his falsehood have no value; neither of them depends upon him, both of them depend upon accident. And this is equally true when applied to man's words, to his thoughts, feelings, and to his conceptions of truth and falsehood.

In order to understand the interrelation of truth to falsehood in life a man must understand falsehood in himself, the constant incessant lies he tells to himself.

These lies are created by 'buffers.' In order to destroy the lies in oneself as well as lies told unconsciously to others, 'buffers' must be destroyed. But then a man cannot live without 'buffers.' 'Buffers' automatically control a man's actions, words, thoughts, and feelings. If 'buffers' were destroyed all control would disappear. A man cannot exist without control even though it is only automatic control. Only a man who possesses will, that is, conscious control, can live without 'buffers.'"

See also