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.
Knowledge often provides this intervention. The more I see and suffer my fear, the more open I become to receiving new knowledge. Perhaps, in the midst of my frustration, I read and realize that the root of negativity is in myself, not in external circumstances. It helps me think of my fear in a new way. Or perhaps I see someone else who shares this weakness and witness the ridiculousness of their state. It helps me think of my fear in a new way. Or perhaps a friend tells me of their own fear, how they discovered it, confronted it, and successfully minimized it. It helps me think of my fear in a new way. New thinking intervenes and opens a door. I am as much a victim of wrong thinking as I am of fear.
“We do not realize what enormous power lies in thinking,” says Peter Ouspensky. “If we always think rightly about certain things, we can make it permanent — it grows into a permanent attitude.” New knowledge is a seed that spawns right thinking. Hence, our progress in this work is directly related to our intake of new knowledge. Right thinking harnesses our intellectual center to our aims and represents a proper use of that brain. “It is impossible to stop our ever-moving mind from having thoughts,” says John Cassian of the Philokalia, “although it is within our power to feed it either with spiritual knowledge or with worldly concerns.” Our minds are made to think righty by ingesting objective knowledge; objective knowledge is our daily bread.
The July labor features the harvest of wheat, the basic ingredient of bread, and the second of three symbolic annual harvests. The the June harvest of hay represents sustenance for our body and the September harvest of grapes represents sustenance for our heart. July calls our attention to consider what it might mean to sustain our minds, feed them with objective knowledge, harness them to this work, and in general, what it might mean to work on our intellectual centers.
“Work on intellect means thinking in a new way,” says Peter Ouspensky, “creating new points of view, destroying illusions." Back to the initial example, fear of the future is based on distorted thinking. It distorts scale by magnifying the few misfortunes of my past over the many blessings. It distorts verification by presuming that I’ll be unable to work with catastrophe despite my having always survived trial. It distorts understanding by proposing that there’s a way to grow without being pushed, without being tested, without transforming suffering. Until I address these distortions, I’ll continually be paralyzed by fear, despite my desire to confront that habit.
Choose a current area of work, a current habit that you’re struggling to understand. Which illusions are keeping this habit alive?