Last month, we reexamined our desire to awaken and labored to extract from it a practical aim. Student’s responses naturally revolved around repetitive psychological patterns that inhibited their awakening. Some formulated aims around fear, others around inner considering, and others around judgment. Since we normally think of aims as destinations to be reached, we might expect that within a year of work, the fearful would become courageous, the inner considering self-assured, and the judgmental compassionate. When we actually dig down into the roots of our psychology, however, we discover that our deeper psychological habits don’t easily bend. They cannot be changed without unintended consequences. If by some extreme effort the fearful forced themselves to curb fear, they’d not only become courageous but also obstinate and disrespectful. Their conquest of fear will have brought to life a new and equally problematic manifestation. Replacing one form of sleep with another cannot count as awakening. Therefore, the step that follows setting aims invites us to change the way we think of aims. Rather than eliminating the habits that inhibit our awakening, can we transform them into something useful? Can we use our psychology as kindling for the fire of consciousness?
“What do you want?”
“I want to know myself.”
“How does your self-ignorance manifest?”
“In many ways.”
Then start with one of these ways. An aim that stays too large remains impractical. One that begins too small is unemotional. If I’d like to stop talking unnecessarily then I must avoid a specific topic. If I’d like to become more sensitive to others then I must focus on a specific person. If I’d like to stop judging everyone then I must detect a specific trigger. The war on habit is waged through moment-to-moment battles. Win a single battle and gain an edge on the entire war. We advance in the pursuit of self-knowledge by dissipating the fog of vagueness from around why we sought to know ourselves in the first place, so that our aim stands crystal-clear in our minds as an inspiration and guide.
On January 1st this year, our community set an aim to superimpose its teaching onto the labors of the month. Having now completed this cycle, we see how a work grows when we add to it a little each day. I’d like to thank all who put their trust in this experiment, who persisted in applying the inner meaning of each labor, and whose personal verifications contributed to making this a living school. It feels like we’ve made a worthy contribution to the fourth way, which in itself is a cause for celebration. Let us raise a glass, then — like our December farmer — to standing on the shoulders of our predecessors, using their legacy to pave the fourth way into the twenty-first century.
The effectiveness of a new command is not immediate. Just like learning any new word, patient repetition lends it gradual weight. “A man thinks of what ‘being’ means,” says George Gurdjieff. “It is possible ‘to be’ in different ways. He wants ‘to be’ not merely in the sense of existence but in the sense of greatness of power. The words ‘to be’ acquire weight, a new meaning for him.” In this spirit, the third and last step of the November labor is to lend weight to our chosen commands, which can only be achieved by repeatedly and patiently applying them in the moment of trial. Repetition will gradually assign them their designated meaning.
Grape juice is a poor yield of a vineyard and negativity is a poor yield of an emotional center. But wine-grapes aren’t harvested for grape juice and neither should we settle for the yield negativity. If we work with an end flavor in mind, then a challenging harvest needn’t necessarily portend a bad bottle. In September, we examined that harvest. In October, let us consider what it might mean to refine it into a profound elixir. Which emotions would accelerate our work if we could experience them more frequently, more durably, and more deeply?
This harvest concludes the three harvests featured in the annual cycle: hay, wheat, and grape. We’ve associated harvesting hay with work on the body, harvesting wheat with work on the mind, and harvesting grape with work on the heart. In the Chartres sequence, each of these harvests is spread over two months: hay is shown growing in May and gathered in June; wheat is shown reaped in July and threshed in August; and grape is shown plucked in September and barrelled in October. This two-step principle follows a repetitive pattern. The first step features the produce of nature. The second step features the farmer’s response to that produce. A farmer of land, after all, tames and refines nature. Likewise, a farmer of the fourth way tames and refines himself, which begs the question, what is the yield of the mind, body, and heart? What is harvest in the micro-cosmos man?
If we don’t harvest in July we can’t thresh in August. If we don’t uncover illusion we can’t Be. In this work — as in any work — one thing opens the door to another, while the neglect of one thing prevents the completion of another. Having discovered our wrong thinking in July, it invariably follows that we proceed to formulating right thinking in its stead. Our August labor will revolve around winnowing the right from the wrong at the moment the habit seeks to assert itself. To fit the moment, our weapon must be brief and potent. Our right thinking must be coined in the form of an aphorism, a succinct command, the smooth stone David used to stun Goliath.
How can we work with a well-established habit? Suppose I discover that fear of the future is a predominant negative emotion in my psychology. It regularly invents imaginary scenarios of catastrophe that pull me away from reality and hinder my ability to Be. My desire to work with this habit introduces a new active force to my work. But the inertia of having spent years indulging in fear opposes this initiative and serves as the passive force. In themselves, the two forces counteract each other in stalemate. They generate self-observation, but they don’t bring about change. The fear remains, and my inability to confront it only produces guilt, frustration, self-deprecation. In order to change, the pulling and hauling of two forces is insufficient; a third neutralizing force must intervene.
June invites us to review our understandings around the physical body and preserve them, lest they rot and ruin. Since formulating an aim in January this year (or since you joined this work), what have you understood about the physical body and its relation to your aim? If you do not factor what you’ve learned into your present efforts, then you are neglecting your harvest. What have you learned about haste, about being present while dining, or about working through physical fatigue?
Observe the first hour of your day. Which weed habitually saps your good earth? Is it chronic worry? Is it a bad mood? The point is not to let these negative emotions reach a degree of intensity that depletes your good earth. Be patient, recognizing that a newly-formed discipline is inevitably weaker than a long-established habit. If you persist, then in forty days you will be bundling and burning weeds and harvesting and storing wheat. But for now, your May Labor is to photograph the first negative ‘I’ that intrudes into your day, and start formulating a work discipline around it.