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?

Responses

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Yes, smoking underscores this principle. As a rule, we hurry to eliminate habits that we don’t like, without pausing to understand how they work. This rarely succeeds, and if it does, it only creates new, unwanted habits.

      An addiction to smoking can be a useful opportunity for verifying some of the principles of this teaching. It shows our lack of will, as you’ve observed. It shows our multiplicity, where one group of ‘I’s desires to stop smoking and another group of ‘I’s doesn’t know or doesn’t care about our decision. It shows the self-destructive nature of our instinctive center, that would voluntarily harm its own health. And it shows that third forces in the work cannot be invented; they must come out of a genuine need.

      So, yes, in the spirit of the July labor, there is much intellectual groundwork to be done around the habit of smoking.

    2. Rita moore

      As a student of the fourth way for many years, I have struggled with my habits including smoking. I was able to quit for six years due to my self observations and a work leader who would periodically quit smoking for months and then smoke for a few days and stop aging when I questioned him about this he said that he was working on identification, he was not his habit This idea really helped me in working and observing my identification with my smoking.

  1. Dean Whittingham

    Having experienced being unemployed for over a month, although I did intend to enjoy the time off, I found I could not enjoy it. In fact, this experience which bugged me day in day out (until I went back to work) also occurs during the dining exercise. What I mean is, for the whole time I was unemployed I was constantly nagged by my machine to do something. I could not just sit down and relax – if I did my machine was telling me I was letting people down by not contributing to society. This was happening even though I had put money aside for events such as this so it was not like I was relying on anyone for money – and yet my machine was telling me – your not doing enough! Transposed on to other smaller isolated exercises, the dining exercise is another which demonstrated that my machine constantly bugs me to multi-task…”your wasting valuable time if you do not do something else whilst eating”. Although I found it very easy to place the first bite aside, and to put my utensils down during each mouthful, the constant want of my machine to be doing something would send my mind into day-dreaming or coax me into reading something. Hanging out clothes, doing dishes, even being on the computer, there is this constant need to be doing more than just the task at hand.

    The question becomes, can a man who acts consciously, objectively be contributing to society more than if the same man acts in haste, multi-tasks, and is usually identified as a result? Just because society has conditioned us to multi-task, to do things quickly, to save time and money, etc etc, does not mean society is right, especially considering that most of societies customs are built around fear and vanity.

    This is a very strong habit of mine to which has not gone without much intellectual contemplation. In fact, I have verified that my machine (and thus society) is wrong because when I am in a hurry at work, I make more mistakes, things go wrong more often, there are more red lights, more roadworks – yet when I am not in a hurry, every light is green, roads are clear.

    The illusions which are keeping this habit alive are that I worry about what others think of me. It is not enough to know in myself that my conscious work, although it is done more methodically and without haste, multi-tasking etc, is benefiting more than if I was not doing it, but it seems my machine says it is more important if others acknowledge that I am ‘putting in’ based on me appearing to be ‘doing more’.

    I am worried more about what others think of me rather than giving due respect to the higher forces and all purposes which it asks of me.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Dean, what you say at the very end of your comment sums it up very well:

      “I am worried more about what others think of me rather than giving due respect to the higher forces and all purposes which it asks of me.”

      This is a very sincere observation. Until we develop a permanent ‘I’ we cannot but draw identity from the opinion of others. We have no identity of our own. If you consider the progression from multiplicity to unity as shown in the pyramid below, then moving upwards will free us from public opinion by creating our own sense of good and bad, right and wrong, useful and useless, etc.

      This, in itself, lays the ground for right thinking: once we know that increase in being comes with independence, we can photograph the part in us that fears criticism for what it is, an aspect of sleep.

      Pyramid-Levels-of-I

    2. Asaf Braverman Post author

      “If any one tells you that such a person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: ‘He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these.’” – Epictetus

      1. Dean Whittingham

        Thanks Asaf, this makes a lot of sense.

        I also have observed that there is a connection between how much my machine worries about what others think and how much it identifies with what it judges in others, as if it is a self inflicted feedback loop.

        Judge not worry not!?

  2. Myrto

    Following the last workshop, where we referred to the ‘engine at the back’ (The mechanically Thinking Mind), I did a little research on Wikipedia, with the terms Daydream and Mind wandering. I ended up to the very interesting topic of Default Mode Network (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network).
    This is the physical equivalent of the Engine at the back. The most interesting point is that this brain network, is not only performing Mind wandering when the brain is engaged in boring tasks (e.g. driving in the city), but is also responsible for the sense of self and for the perception of what others think.
    Another important point, is that Daydreams, are possibly used by the brain, out of a need to sort through issues and impressions, in the same way, as it happens with the night dreams.
    I am linking all this background with Asaf’s question about habits and the illusions behind. In my case, I am trying to understand what is the cause of my Mind wandering/Imagination, during driving back from the work. This is more intense, the more my day is full with conflicts and issues.
    My conclusion is that my lower Self, needs this, in order to sort out open issues, evoked by internal considering (what others think, checking out if there are leftovers from arguments with some colleagues) and in the end, justify itself and affirm its integrity. The brain’s job, to sort out, classify and put things in an order, is biased by the need to ‘be right’.
    So, my illusion is that my Self, my integrity and the understanding of the cosmos, will be ‘safe and neat’, as long as there are no conflicts with others, no negative occurrences, no troubles, not unanswered questions.
    The Higher Self, doesn’t need dreaming to sort things out, but true knowledge.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      What you say about daydreaming being the mind’s way of sorting out impressions – digesting impressions – falls in line with Rodney Collin’s observation:

      “Mental excretion [is] represented by ‘imagination’, that is, a continuous production of waste images, the byproduct of past perceptions, which flow through and out of the brain in a meaningless and unbroken stream.”

      Viewed from this point of view, if we were to stop this flow we would poison ourselves. Collin suggests letting it be while taking advantage of its flow. The example you give at the end of your comment, of seeing the underlying need to “be right” as the engine driving this daydreaming, seems to be a good example of such work.

      “The current of imagination can be harnessed by will and skill for a specific end, just as a waterfall can be harnessed to drive a turbine… It does not affect the basic nature of the flow, which is as though all the waste clippings of a great cinema-studio were stuck together at random and the result run continuously day and night through some forgotten projector in a back-room.”

  3. Hannah K

    JULY MUSIC
    July brings us to the second movement of Vivaldi’s “Summer” from “The Four Seasons”. The whole Summer concerto depicts the story of a shepherd. In the first movement he sits under a blazing sun listening to the bird song but as the movement draws to its conclusion the north wind starts to blow threatening to bring a storm with it. Here in the second movement the languid mood continues but in the still, sweltering air a storm is brewing. If it breaks and heavy rain comes, it will ruin the wheat harvest and shivers of foreboding can be heard punctuating the slow violin melody as the shepherd watches the sky anxiously. It reminds me how we too can lose the harvest of our Work if we do not stay vigilant to the attempts of our machines to sabotage it.
    Here is the text that Vivaldi wrote to accompany this movement….

    Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
    “His limbs are now awakened from their repose by fear of lightning’s flash and thunder’s roar, as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.”

    and the YouTube link
    https://youtu.be/9EbJchwSouA

    Tchaikovsky chose a much more optimistic view for his July piece from the collection of piano pieces entitled “The Seasons”. The subtitle for this piece is “Song of the Reapers” and the mood is one of joy and comradery. I chose this particular YouTube version not only because the orchestral arrangement increases the jovial spirit but also because it is accompanied by some photographs of beautiful paintings depicting the reaping of wheat.

    https://youtu.be/FGyjtafi46k

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Thanks, Hannah. Nice to see wheat harvest featured in Vivaldi’s work, further proof that he had the very labors we use in mind when composing his work. This means that his “Four Seasons” is a musical expression of the twelve labors of the month.

      We presently live in an intellectually oriented age. But this was not always so, and in past times people learned as much from emotion and movement as they did from thought. At some point we might want to examine Vivaldi’s composition to see whether we can correlate the emotions he generates with certain aspects of each labor.

  4. Alen

    My so called “Honesty”. In connection to the second line of work on Negative emotions, in contact with others, especially with My family.
    With Self Observation, I saw that My attitude towards My family is that ” With them I have to be honest in my reactions and in My inner World.”
    This is the illusion that covers this habit of expression of Negative emotions. ” It is fine to react with them as it is, this is sincerity”.
    With this I can get a glimpse why Mr. Gurdjieff put so much emphasis on family and blood later in life, and in “Meetings Transcript”

    Another, for Me, a bit more tricky and more thickly covered Illusion, is that as for My blood; “It” thinks it knows them. “Well I know him, he/she is like this or that”. It is purely formatory thinking. It is not accompanied with Self Observation, Remembering or external considering. this formatory thinking gives fuel to all of My internal considerings and identifications. All wrapped in “Ah, well, with them I can be frank and honest”.

    How serious am I in this Work?
    I always tried to bring the Work in to My Life. But this caused a certain fragmentation, it was never fully and completely there.
    I have come to know, that being serious, is not bringing Work in to Life, but bringing Life in to Work.

  5. Evgueni Z

    The habit I struggle to understand is another iteration of planning. Since January I realized that what I used to call “planning” is closer to “anticipation” or “anxiety”.

    I “mentally jump to” the future by either anticipating a potentially pleasant event or by worrying about a potentially harmful one. This continuous process comprises the largest portion of my imagination.

    As a result, I mostly live in the imaginary world, daydreaming about things that will never happen in a form I expect them to happen or will never happen at all.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Evgueni, you’ve answered your own comment by submitting the quotation below in another forum. The question remains, how to curb this weakness of the intellectual center so that it doesn’t take us away from the present?

      “Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.” – Seneca

  6. Kalev K

    July’s work and mind.
    Thoughts.
    My thoughts are not me, those are instruments. Like I am not the hammer I hold. But I can do lot of things with this hammer. (Also beat my fingers.)
    I have habit of falling into replacement actions – when I need something to be done, I do find myself in illusion of having lot of time and need a lot of another things to get done. Finding out of the “leading mind” and starting building the control here is my most urgent task.

  7. Jack

    My habit of identifying with the thoughts that I(Jack) is always right and my strong opinions is one I have been struggling with and observing some of the time. The illusions that are keeping this alive are 1) pictures I have of myself that I am smarter than most, 2) Illusion forgetting I am not one 3) illusion I can do while asleep.
    I have made some progress in these areas through the Work. But my Aim is to continue to make effort to Observe myself and try to remember myself when I catch myself identifying with false personality.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Jack, what you describe reminds me of an aphorism that Gurdjieff gave his group:

      “Remember you have come here having already understood the necessity of struggling with yourself — only with yourself. Therefore thank everyone who gives you the opportunity.”

      This can just as well be applied to people with whom we interact, even outside of this work. There’s always something to learn, and our stubborn attitude that we are in the right prevents us from learning that thing. So we must seek the higher right.

  8. Hannah K

    As this month we are focused on the intellectual centre, the habit that I have chosen to scrutinise is my habit of judging. The illusion that fuels my tendency to mentally judge others is the utterly vain belief that I am better than the person I am judging. I have been using the exercise that I think Asaf gave to Evgeni when he was working on judging; that is every time I judge someone, to find an example of how I do the very same thing that I have just judged in another. It is a very humbling experience and one that my machine really doesn’t like. By acknowledging that it is the same as everyone else it feels as if it is losing something, imaginary picture I suppose. So why does my machine need to hold an imaginary picture of itself? To make it feel special, unique, separate maybe? I have certainly noticed that without that illusion of superiority, everything feels a bit dull! But then maybe by giving up my imaginary picture this clears space for the higher which is, from the glimpses I have had of it, far more special and far more real and definitely worth giving up judging for.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Hannah, creating a new attitude around the habit of judgment will have to hinge around your verification that:

      “By giving up my imaginary picture this clears space for the higher which is, from the glimpses I have had of it, far more special and far more real and definitely worth giving up judging for.”

      This should become the foundation of thinking differently about others, oneself, and the need to feel superior to them. We’ll discuss this further during the workshop on Work on Intellect.

  9. András V

    The habit I started combating is daydreaming. I noticed that the main illusion that keeps it running is the feeling of unity; identification with myself. I find the hardest to struggle with daydreaming when I am in a negative state, since the negative ‘I’s come with a strong sense of I. On that note, I started observing what triggers my negativity and I found that loosing control over situations, not appreciated by others and longing for being in the right are the major causes. At the root of all these I find a feeling of superiority and the feature of dominance.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Andras, this is a little similar to Jack’s comment above, and my response is as relevant to yours as to his. I suspect that you are often ‘right’ about these ‘major causes.’ About negativity, Ouspensky said, “The worse for you if you are right!”

      The new attitude to form around this habit is to learn to find a higher right, a right that promotes self-remembering and self-observation. After all, the clashes with these people have the potential of showing you yourself. This is true for all forms of negativity: it carries an element of resisting seeing ourselves.

  10. Olga

    I have a strong habit to imagine the results I (may) gain from Work as if I already have them, instead of doing the Work itself. For example, if in a result of some practice I experience a state that is higher than my common state (i.e., I am free of negativity, my mind is calm and clear, and I can observe my thoughts and emotions without identifying with them), I start imagining this is my common state now, and thus new opportunities are open to me, and what a good girl I am that I reached that…

    If it were true, I wouldn’t need to do any Work at all, so I presume this is the way my mechanical ‘I’s try to distract me and feed my vanity along the way.

    1. Hicham B.

      I experience the same for a long period of time. It even was one of the first things I observed in myself. To dream about work and to attribute to myself qualities I don’t have.
      I believe this is one of the dangers a fourth way student may face: to dream of the work.

      Observing this in oneself means the problem is half solved. Each time I observe myself in this imaginary stream I try to remember myself and pull against it.
      Of course formulating the aim to work on this will help a lot.

    2. Evgueni Z

      Asaf didn’t offer any aphorism for this situation during the “Work on the Intellect” workshop, inviting us to suggest one. I’m thinking about “Remember the bookmark”. It refers to one of the previous workshops in which we looked at the Annunciation’s painting. The paining depicted Mary with a small detail Asaf pointed out to. In front of Gabriel, Mary still kept her finger as a bookmark for the book she’s holding. She knows that the higher state will be eventually gone and she would need to go back to the reading, to the Work.

      1. Olga

        Thank you so much for thinking on this and suggesting the aphorism Evgueni! “Remember the bookmark” resonates a lot with me, and I am inspired to start applying it from now on.

  11. Myrto

    Leo
    In the Labour of July on Chartres Window, next to the man harvesting wheat, we see a lion, the zodiac sign of Leo.
    The zodiac constellation of Leo (The Lion ), is a beautiful constellation, lying on the left side of the constellation of Cancer, one of the few constellations with a shape most resembling to what it represents. The stars forming the head of the lion, compose an asterism, often called ‘the Sickle’

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/LeoCC.jpg

    In the Greek and Roman mythology, this the Nemean lion, a fearsome beast, which Hercules had to kill as the first of his 12 labours. The lion possessed a skin which was impervious to metal, stone and wood. So Hercules wrestled it with his bare hands, and finally managed to strangle the animal. Seeing at once the unique protective qualities of the pelt, he removed it with one of the lion’s own claws, and thereafter wore it as a cloak.
    According to esoteric schools, myths are tools for encrypting spiritual laws of the path to higher centers. For example, a war, represents the idea of personal development. The kill of a being, is not just a violent act, but the achievement of passing to a higher level of consciousness.
    The lion traditionally symbolizes royalty and rulers. The brightest star of the constellation, is called with the latin name, Regulus, meaning the Little King.
    Connecting all this, it seems that Hercules, after killing the lion, has become King of some center. The image of the winner Hercules bearing the Lion skin on his head, is a nice projection of our King of the intellectual center.

    See below Hercules, at Louvre museum.
    http://www.louvre.fr/sites/default/files/imagecache/278×370/medias/medias_images/images/louvre-heracles-hercule-telephe.jpg?1321891459

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Thanks for the detailed research, Myrto.

      From what I understood in the past, Hercules overcoming the Nemean lion signified overcoming the emotional center. But we would have to examine this again, now in the context of the labors and zodiac.

  12. Hicham B.

    This post was written as if Asaf was thinking about my situation.
    Back in December 2016, I expressed my aim to work on fear. At that time I thought my chief feature was exclusively fear. Then, I realized vanity is for a great deal in my fears.
    Fear of not succeeding, fear of not being recognized, fear of not living the life “it” thinks it deserves!

    From my short experience on working with fear, I can say the first step is observation without any judgment. Just watch your fearful thoughts. Gradually real motivations behind them will unfold and you’ll gain a clear picture of your state.

    The second step is the realization that they are just thoughts, generally not justified by external facts.And here starts working on attitude. I know my fears are not justified, so I consider them as they are: ash.

    The third step is to challenge them. Let’s say I fear speaking in public, so I must find a way to speak in small audiences then relatively larger ones.

    To conclude and to speak about my situation, my fear was not as I first thought of it but mainly influenced by my vanity. It has no objective existence. Understanding it, challenging it will gradually weaken it or at least discipline it.

  13. dbastreghi

    I have been practicing the self-remembering and split-attention for few months. But It’s indeed very difficult. A little distraction is enough to trigger hours of internal dialogue, negative emotions and all kinds of unnecessary selves. The more I try, the more I become annoyed and get frustrated with my inability to maintain presence. I feel like I’m slowing down my thinking, speaking and moving. This is bothering myself and the people around me, too. Well… I’d like to share this because I hope it’s a normal feeling. Maybe more people are experiencing the same. Thanks.

  14. anselmo

    I observed that my mood fluctuates depending on the appreciation people give me. For example, if someone praises me I become happier. On the other hand, if someone judges or criticize me, this tends to make me sadder.

    If I am with a group of people and they don’t listen to what I say or don’t give me enough attention, this tends to makes me sad and Anselmo starts thinking that he is not an interesting person. On the opposite side, if people are enjoying my conversation, if they pay attention to me, it makes me happy and I will start thinking that I am a cool guy, an interesting person. So not only my mood fluctuates but also the image I have of myself.

    I believe that this explains the tendency to please others so that they appreciate me and I become happy.

    Anselmo bases much of his happiness on external and hence uncontrollable events. He is enslaved by other people’s actions and opinions.

    I believe that I have to work more on extracting my sense of contentment from the inside. On the same way start freeing the perception of myself from the opinion of others.

    1. Evgueni Z

      Anselmo, observations similar to yours sometimes lead me to the question – “what constitutes myself?”. Here is a thought experiment: What if I don’t have any social gatherings? What if I don’t have a job and therefore colleagues? What if I don’t have a family? If there are no interactions with other people – what’s left of me? How I would identify myself? Who would I be at all?

    2. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Upon further discussing and exploring this with Anselmo, we came up with the following possible aphorism by Socrates:

      “Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.” – Socrates