The Ouspensky Papers

An excerpt from unpublished meeting transcripts at the P.D. Ouspensky Memorial Collection at Yale University.

In the 1980’s, the small start-up software company I worked for in Atlanta miraculously managed a contract with the now almost infamous, AIG, the largest insurance company in the world. I made many trips to Manhattan to visit the AIG headquarters on Pine Street in the Wall Street area. On one week-long trip Elizabeth joined me. We stayed at the Holiday Inn near Times Square. Each morning I would walk to Times Square and take the subway downtown. Elizabeth would take a taxi to Grand Central Station and take a train to New Haven, to visit the P.D. Ouspensky Memorial Collection at the Beinecke Library at Yale.

At that time, and probably still today, specific parts of the collection could be requested and read on site. Visitors were not allowed to carry anything into the reading room with them. On request, they would be given a pencil and white paper to make notes on. The paper had a whole punched through the middle of it to easily verify that visitors were not walking out with any of the collection’s papers.

Elizabeth spent most of the week there transcribing meeting transcripts to the punched paper provided. Back home, she typed up the notes she took. Resulting in The Ouspensky Papers, 138 pages of unpublished meeting transcripts. A few copies were made and given to friends. Elizabeth’s introduction to the Papers says they were collected by a group of friends over a long period. So, possibly these transcripts are a consolidation of Elizabeth’s and other’s records, or possibly she was avoiding credit for them. Our memory has faded on this detail.

Here is an excerpt dated September 25, 1931:

“We have to avoid all-embracing definitions, bringing everything in one. It’s better to study things according to their manifestation and not to use generalizations. When we come to negative emotions, it will help us to understand what is useless suffering.

“By our education, by art, by literature we are made to think that suffering is necessary and cannot be avoided, and that all negative emotions such as fear, jealousy, apprehension, pride, foreboding, irritation are necessary, and that people cannot live without them; and not only that they are necessary, but that they are useful. It is illusion to think that negative emotions are a useful part in the general economics of life. As a matter of fact, there is not a single negative emotion which is of the slightest use. They are only a loss. But it is difficult to understand that with our mind. We have to study each emotion separately, whether it is useful in any sense. Then you will see that there is no profit in them and that they really can be avoided. Only when we get rid of negative emotions does development become possible. As we are now, energy is running away. Development means first of all stopping all waste of energy. What our machine accumulates during each twenty-four hours is spent during the next twenty—four hours. Sometimes more is spent than was accumulated. Man makes debts and some day he may become bankrupt and die. Development means economy, spending less than what is produced. Then, if for a long time you spend less than you produce, then new powers, new faculties, new forces appear. As long as man spends every day as much as he produces, there is no change. It is impossible to stop the leaking, the waste of energy, if one continues to have negative emotions. Negative emotions can be stopped because there is no special organ for suffering. It is invented. Only instinctive suffering is real, such as physical pain, bad smell, fear of snakes, for instance. All these are necessary emotions because they preserve life. All negative emotions do not give a useful result. There is no real organ for them, but they are made artificially, and this explains why they can be stopped. It is fortunate that they are artificially made because they can be unmade, destroyed.”

One thought on “The Ouspensky Papers”

  1. Thank You James for this insight into
    one of Ouspenky’s responses. The idea that negative emotions were not necessary was one of the first ideas that I began to “work” with. How it changed my life!

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