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?

Responses

  1. Evgueni Z

    It was a striking moment for me to realize that my “bad” habits and features are not useless garbage that should be burned, but rather they can be used as an endless source of the precious firewood to maintain the flame of consciousness. Isn’t it a miracle to turn something of no value into something so precious? As in the mystical transformation of lead into gold.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Evgueni, your comment reminds me of the following quotation by Rodney Collin:

      “We have to learn to accept ourselves—with all our history, our habits, tendencies and hopes and sins, past present and future. Only when the whole is fully accepted, does the slow work of healing and reconstruction begin. As long as we are trying to perform impossible amputations on ourselves or on others, no true healing can begin, because acceptance is not yet understood. Sometimes it seems to me that the pill which the sly man swallowed, and gained at once what the others worked for, for years, was ‘things as they are, myself as I am’.”

      So it does seem to be a shortcut, a miracle. I am curious to hear whether you have moments of success with this?

      1. Evgueni Z

        Yes Asaf. Before reading the February post I, for a brief moment, indeed experienced how my planning-dominance-vanity mix brought me to a somewhat higher state. Then, while reading the post, some transformation in my understanding has happened: I was looking at the picture, at the flames and suddenly, instead of seeing the fire as a process of destruction, I saw it with the “different eyes” as a process of generation. As if some kind of a mental coin flipped.

  2. Marcella Berardi

    Actually we don’t change anything, as G. said, we just have to see. Observing what happens in ourselves under our eyes, shedding light on it, is the way everything can be tranformed.This is what I am experiencing. It hurts sometime.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      This work forces a continual balance between changing and accepting. To see is synonymous with to Be. Therefore, we can use self-observation as our compass. Must I struggle against this present habit in order to see myself? Or must I accept this present habit in order to see myself? If we navigate by this compass, we are sure not to go astray.

  3. Tim

    I was about to start work on justification, as in try to stop myself from justifying, but now think its better to work on understanding justification instead. Thank you for this well written post, Asaf. As a negative martial I tend to apply the destroyer approach, even to myself, to ‘fix’ things. Better to see.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      You are very welcome Tim. Justification ‘I’s can useful signals for self-observation. Why are we trying to explain why we behaved a certain way? Why are we making excuses for something we just said or did? A group of ‘I’s is trying to protect its image, and even whilst the justification is popping out of our mouths, we can – with practice – learn to see these ‘I’s struggling to create an impression of being unified, calculated, and intentional. If you are able to see this in the moment, it is an example of evoking conscience, mentioned in the article above.

  4. Vicki Robinson

    Bad habits are other people fears of their own, they prefer you to feel/see and accept them as bad.
    Habits can be powerful in the right environment, right time and way they are communicated or way ones uses them for. To one group of people, they may not appreciate your habits such as adventure, creativity, loudness, over-achiever but for another group of people, they would be accepting of such fine habits. I truly believe more people become themselves to all others around them, it will truly stop the current culture of “mobbing” against indifferences.

  5. Hannah K

    MUSIC FOR THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY

    The movement from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” that fits with this month of February is the third movement from the fourth season “Winter”. The text that accompanies it is as follows:

    “We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
    Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
    We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…
    this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.”

    or more poetically in Italian….

    “Caminar Sopra ‘l giaccio, e à passo lento
    Per timor di cader gersene intenti;
    Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader à terra
    Di nuove ir Sopra ‘l giaccio e correr forte
    Sin ch’ il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;
    Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
    Sirocco Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra
    Quest’ é ‘l verno, mà tal, che gioja apporte.”

    Here is a link to a recording of the movement on YouTube:
    https://youtu.be/zuBo6WaHCoM

    Tchaikovsky, however, chose to depict the Carnival that takes place in Italy and other countries that adhere to the Catholic and Orthodox Christian faiths. Carnival is a time of feasting and merriment that occurs during the run up to Lent in the Christian calendar, Lent being the time of abstinence running up to Easter that replicates Jesus’s time of sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

    This is a link to a version for orchestra for you to listen to:
    https://youtu.be/onxe4g3PV-w

  6. anselmo

    Yesterday, i made extra efforts to experience the shift of identity that Asaf mentioned. I tried to watch Anselmo as a character of the “movie of life”. Like in a film he can not change his role, neither he can change the acting of the other characters. So i seated at ease and watch.
    The first transformation of identity i experienced in this work, was a shift of identity in relation to my thoughts. In other words, i started seeing in a more frequent and prolonged way that my thoughts are not the same as myself. It is as if they appear in your head like balloons and you watch them.
    Yesterday i guess i experienced another transformation in my identity. After a continuous and prolonged effort to see myself as something separate from body, there was a shift of identity in relation to my body. It seems that i reduced the identification with it. I can experience in a more frequent and prolonged way that my body is something separate from myself. Before yesterday i had moments that i observed it as something separate, but now it has more duration and frequency.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Efforts often begin in this way. The body is physical, so the moving center is the most easily observable. I can make an effort to be aware of my fingers typing on the keyboard right now, as something separate from me. I can be aware of my breathing as separate from me. This efforts is a very good start, and must then be complemented with the intellectual and emotional centers, in order to experience a more complete separation.

  7. James Raines

    While trying to observe my thoughts, I recently noticed that instead of floating by like clouds in an open sky, my thoughts seemed to be emanating from some “I” that acted as though it was observing my thoughts. I believe that this is an “I” with which I am strongly identified. Seeing this has perhaps provided an opportunity to shift perspective albeit ever so slightly.

  8. Ilia Maisuradze

    Mr. Asaf!
    Thanks for this great post. It does not merely have a sense it is changing the attitude, form of thinking and it is changing the whole perspective.
    I have Mr.Gurdjieff’s one phrase always in my mind:Each time you feel the beginning of weakness, relax and then think seriously: “I wish the result of my weakness to become my own strength.” Now, thanks to you I catch more insight and meaning.
    Dear Evgueni Z your comment was very important as well.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      This is the image Dmitry is referring to (note the brown protrusion from the top of the window, somewhat mirroring the personification of February):

      Chartres February Detail

      At first, I took it to be smoke coming out of the fire. However, I see Dmitry’s point, that it resembles the seated person. Your thoughts are welcome…

  9. Kalev K

    Look at the position of the man – does it sits easy? Not by my mind – there is some tension in that. Making of such windows was not easy work and every detail in that have some meaning – otherwise the next piece of glass would be just a bit bigger.
    May it be just reflection, what indicates that the other eye is open too and not sleeping?
    Or another man outside in the cold – you have to make walls, oven and wood to enjoy warm?
    Or …?

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      I agree with Kalev’s observation: the making of these windows wasn’t simple. You wouldn’t place an arbitrary piece in a different color for no reason.

      If it is smoke, then it isn’t emerging out of the fire evenly. Could it be a chimney?

    2. Orazio Sorgonà

      body heals and restores, during February.
      Maybe the man became fascinated at this (the fire),
      and is in imagination (his reflex in the smoke) of himslef “being the body”. This is chief feature here in the countryside, I know it for well: you become then an “elder of people”, it is chiefly identificated with gross body and food.

      I see also a pot, it may mean that he is “drunk”, it is
      in imagination.

  10. STAVROULA KOURTIDOU

    I took a glimpse of my “vain” self in a conversation I had with some unknown colleagues and how trying to convince them I became excited. My face got redder and redder and the words flew out of my mouth like the sparkles of the fire in the picture. I was fully identified. But then, as if somebody tapped my shoulder,I somehow woke up. I stopped and made an effort to be silent. At that moment I realised how my body, mind and emotion had been emptied out. I had a deep feeling of remorse. How can I strengthen the observer and turn him into a more constant remider?

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Roy. We begin with these sparks of self-observation, which are really sparks of self-consciousness, what the system calls the third state. With time and effort, they increase in frequency.
      It is important to note that although this moment of self-consciousness you describe seemed accidental, it was made possible by your aim to see yourself. When the frequency of such moments is low, we perceive them to be accidental, and as a result, are discouraged from making more efforts. But there is a cause and effect here, or you would not have valued the moment at its true worth.
      Remorse is a powerful emotion. We mustn’t let it descend into self-pity. I encourage you to view this past workshop on the topic: Returning to the Present.
      Keep up the good work!

  11. Francisco

    Let me share my understandig of this february post just to have a chance of being corrected if I’m wrong. Great if it also useful for someone. This is what I “get”:

    Our aim for 2017 has brought us, so far, brief moments of awareness, moments in which we see ourselves as actors in a movie that is our life. In this metaphor, those moments are “small fires” but having them should make us want “big fires”.

    To generate these great fires we should increase the level of our aim but that’s not what is proposed for february. We should continue our aim and, additionaly, find moments to sit down and see us again as actors of our life-movie, without pretending to change anything of the movie.

    There is also a reflection: eliminating our habits would mean having no way to light those fires.

    Regards
    Francisco

  12. Asaf Braverman Post author

    A picture is worth a thousand words. In a recent workshop we compared between the two images below. Both depict a struggle with a serpent. One confronts the serpent on its own level; the other spears it from above.

    Those who worked seriously to set aims during January were brought face to face with deep habits. The challenge we posed for February was to find ways of dealing with those habits from a higher level, a level less identified with them. So I wouldn’t say that the February labor was to “increase the level of aim” but rather to change our attitude towards what we see in ourselves. In this way, it can fuel self-consciousness.

    Beperiod George versus Athlete

  13. Orazio Sorgonà

    At times ‘Orazio’ gets quite worried or afraid, with ‘his own life’.
    In these past days however, I just wanted not to get entangled in those worries and fears, instead of trying ‘to fix things’ as they appeared at the level of the ‘lower self’. The purpose ‘to fix things’ springs so often as a reaction to identification, and thus leads also tomuch unnecessary suffering.

    Indeed I had been concerned in something I could call “Turn to God and let Him ‘do the work’ on the inside”. What I begun to verify is that actually
    ‘things are not what they seem’, even if the secondo state cannot know it, because, after all, these ‘things’ aren’t but the second state itself.

    Now I want to go on in those efforts, because I tasted Presence and as being entirely different from ‘all the logic’ of the lower self.
    And it is good being shaken where we are most identified, altough unpleasant. If you can remember your aim, you much gain when it occours.

  14. philippe bitton

    Arrogance and know it all have been my main features (snakes) that I had to face. At first a negative judgement comes up, (seeing these features as “vices” and not “virtues”). However, this is not a complete observation of the features. Arrogance can be a driving force to learn, to really know…so that if one speaks, at least one will not feel like a fool….The desire to know can be fueled by one’s arrogance. (at least so I seem to look at it)
    Thanks

  15. Aporia

    Non-identification for me (I am still very early in my attempts at personal development) hasn’t been successful. Possibly “control” is a “snake” I grapple with.

    These 2 Sumerian proverbs seem revealing. I’m still looking at them and thinking about them but they are worth sharing.

    “What is placed in the fire has a valuable role to play but leaves nothing behind when it’s gone.”

    “He could not overcome his fears, so he cut off what was fuelling them.”

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Thanks for sharing these proverbs, Serene. They do seem very relevant. The second proverb offers a refreshing point of view on this topic: since the fuel that fires our habits is the same fuel needed for self-remembering, our work is to divert the fuel from feeding habit to feeding consciousness.

      1. Aporia

        “He could not overcome his consciousness, so he cut off what was fuelling it.” in reversing the quote above or seeing the redirection of fuel as you put it, I find it revealing. I can verify numerous ways I deliberately prevent growth of consciousness without too much mental effort.