A log suitable for firewood didn’t spring up last month. It grew in the course of years. Smaller branches may serve as kindling, but a fully-fledged fire such as the one that warms the personification of February featured atop this post can only be sustained by proper firewood. February hewed down mature trunks to fuel the roaring fire before which he now toasts his hands and feet.
The habits we tackle in this work didn’t spring up last month. They grew in the course of years. We discovered this during January, as we labored to set an aim for 2017. One layer of habit gave way to another. Those who initially aimed to minimize unnecessary talk discovered an attitude of vanity beneath their talking. Those who initially aimed to curb haste discovered a need of pleasing others beneath their hurrying. Our formulation of aim began around habits the size of branches, and through self-observation expanded to encompass mature trunks. “And now the axe is laid unto the root of the trees,” says John the Baptist. “Every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
The prospect of hewing down our habits and casting them into a fire is, at first, appealing. We dislike much of what we see in ourselves, especially what we cannot change. The outlook of becoming habit-less, immaculate beings suits our imaginary picture of consciousness. We begin working spurred by this prospect, and gallop vigorously till we hit a paradox: we cannot hew down our deeper habits without the habits themselves holding the axe. I can aim to speak less, but can I aim to be less vain? Is it not my very vanity that seeks to eliminate vanity and become immaculate?
Branch-sized habits are effective sparks. Aiming to speak less, my speech wakes me up. Aiming to hurry less, my haste wakes me up. I’ve forced a peg into the wheels of my mechanicality that jams their normal functioning. Thus sparked, the fire of consciousness now calls for larger logs, which forces me upon my log-size habits. How can I use my deeper habits to fuel consciousness, without these habits themselves doing the work?
I can bend a branch, not a log. What I cannot change I must accept. I cannot eliminate vanity, but I can see vanity, call it by its proper name, acknowledge to myself that I am vain. In so doing, each time my vanity boasts, my conscience is humbled. This internal contradiction between ‘vanity’ and ‘I’ affects a separation of identity that fuels consciousness in a different way than the kindling-wood of branch-sized habits. “Do everything exactly as you are accustomed to doing,” said George Gurdjieff. “But you must play a role, without participating, without identifying yourself interiorly.”
Non-identification is thus our labor for February. Can you sit at ease and watch your day unfold acceptingly, the way February sits at ease before his roaring fire? Can you shift your identity from what you observe, to what observes?