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?

Self Observation - Prometheus by Rubens

Prometheus by Peter Paul Rubens

Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. In their imagination, subsequent artists portrayed a hovering hero lighting a torch from the sun, flying back to earth, and stealthily distributing his contraband among humans. But if this were the case, then mankind would have received a very vulnerable gift. A flame — an offspring of Prometheus’ original shoot — would have had to be kept alive permanently lest it be extinguished and forever lost. A storm might easily quell this single flame, or it might die out overnight when it’s guards fell asleep, or it might be stolen from one tribe of humanity to another, or lost in numerous other ways. Mankind would then squander their privilege, and Prometheus — who by now has been eternally punished by Zeus for his trespass — would no longer be in a position to help them. No, Prometheus couldn’t have brought a lighted torch to mankind; he must have imported the knowledge of how to kindle fire through churning.

Churning generates friction. Friction emits heat. Heat ignites kindling. This was the principle disclosed by Prometheus, apparently against the will of Zeus. The ability to generate fire obviously civilized mankind. People could now cook food, warm caves, and light darkness. One interpretation of this legend suggests that Zeus was upset by this trespass because it elevated mankind too close the level of gods. Solar traits should not come under the control of earthly beings. But it’s hard to understand how the ability to kindle fire could place mankind on par with the gods. If mankind were ungodly savages, then the knowledge of kindling fire would have only made them more technologically-advanced, not more godlike. Something else about this revelation ignited the wrath of Zeus, some different application of this scientific principle that didn’t only change people’s lifestyle but also their character, their intelligence, their being.

So how can I use my deeper psychological habits as kindling for the fire of consciousness? I must apply Prometheus’ principle of churning. If I aim to observe rather than eliminate habit, then each time the habit reasserts itself, it reminds me of my aim. I judge, I observe, I judge, I observe, I judge, I observe. Let this back and forth movement last long enough, and my sense of ‘I’ gradually transitions from judgment to the observer. My habit has kindled a transformation; my sleep has reminded me to awaken! Regardless of whether or not Zeus intended humans to experience such transformation, when our sense of self transitions from the many ‘I’s to real ‘I,’ we touch the miraculous and become gods of our micro-cosmos. This could well have been the forbidden gift introduced to mankind by Prometheus, a secret that altered their character, their intelligence, and their being. This is the February labor.

“Sometimes it seems to me,” said Rodney Collin, “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’.” Review your January aim. Can you accept your deeper habits? Can you use them to kindle self observation?

Responses

  1. Giia Weigel

    First of all, this was the most inspiring workshop for me, thank you again!

    Have been taking notes for a while now… Mainly naming the “puppets” in order to recognize them better. Some are easier acceptable (as being acceptable – this seems to be a lengthy process) than others, but their manifestation brings Work “I”s without a fail – sooner or later. The hardest thing is to Observe without trying to “tackle the snake” (sculpture style), which more often than not is a losing battle anyway, especially if the emotion leading the fight is in full force. Helpless sensation – to see yourself in the middle of a spat, identifying and justifying and observing, all at once… Like a theater with all actors gone mad.

    The strangest was the realization that the lack of “problems” would be the surest way of lulling me to sleep. Have not quite wrapped my head around that one yet.

    As for the January aim to Slow, it has proven most helpful, especially if Mara is attacking from the front. I step on the breaks in situations that usually bring hasty reactions, i.e. I see an email from a finicky client who always questions my decisions, thus attacking my professional vanity and getting the self-admiring “I”s up in arms, and remind myself to take a step back – Slow Prayer – and respond from quite a different place. Now that I think of it – by slowing I am changing the level from where I am approaching the issue. However, there is a lot of Work to be done with Mara attacking from behind.

    Still, slowing down – thinking before acting, finishing one thing before starting another, doing something without daydreaming about the “next thing” – seems like a correct Aim.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Glad to hear the workshop was inspiring, Giia. I include below the image you mention portraying tackling the snake in stalemate. The temptation to change our ‘I’s is strong. Here is the full quotation from Rodney Collin that concludes the post above:

      “We have also 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’.” – Rodney Collin

  2. Paolo Meoli

    I have the feeling that our features, in my case my urge to help, are something that have a deep roughts in us. Being roughts, i think that there is much much life in them. The question seems to be how to use them. As you said Asaf, how we can use this life to kindle our cosciounsess?
    I really appreciated when you asked “Rather than eliminating the habits that inhibit our awakening, can we transform them into something useful?” …. It me reminds the principle of Antoine Lavoisier that said “In nature nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes”. In italian we commonly translate it as “Everything Transforms”. I found that attitude very useful to see my own psychological life, not trying to denying my inner world, judging it, fear it, but looking at all different possibility of transformation. I start to see that my dominance feature, as a part of a process of Growing, Healing, Crime, and Transformation.

    The Growing Process is when i act it unconsciously doing many thing because i think that it will be useful to someone. Usually in this octave no one ask me nothing, but a part of myself is happy doing this kind of things. My attention is more focused on my need to help. I notice that acting this need a part of myself is satisfied.
    Something for me more connected to an intelligent efforts, (i refer to it as The Healing Process) is when one asked me for help. If i know how to help him, if he asked to me something that i know, i observe that a certain link is created with that person, and often i discover something new. Also Collin call this process invention or discovering. In myself this happen when someone bring me a problem or a need and a part of me (in part intentionally in part automatically) find the space in which i can start to explore the problem using my mechanicality (the need to help) as a tool in daily life, in my work. I start to see that this is a quality of my essence. My “Talent” Bible speaking.
    The Crime Process is when i want to deny my dominance feature, because i fear them, beacause i think that is something negative, because i want to show the other that i’m good in dominating my feature. Also when i act from this need to someone that didn’t want to be helped. In this case happen that i make the other suffer.
    Recently happen something that show me how the suffering generated from my dominance feature can be transformed. For me this is Regenaration Process. I was judging a colleague because he was doing something that was not centered to our shared aim. The first “I” came from my dominance feature that says: “ he is acting in that way because he want to show to the other how much he is good, and so he is ruining our work”. I was suffering because my dominance feature cannot change the situation. So i was trying to fight against myself saying “This is how it is”. But every time that i was looking at him i had a fire in the stomach. I resist trying to think that this is the only way in which he can act right now. Until a certain point something in me changed. My stuart didn’t nothing but a new energy came and each time i saw my colleague instead of anger i start to feel a new energy in myself that completely change the scale of my attention. This new energy, at the level of chest, start to came every time my normal self (dominance feature) would be disappointed. It was amazing for me how that things wasn’t so much important anymore. This is for me Regenaration or Transformation. Is not happened because “I” did something new, i was just doing my daily efforts, but unexpectedly something new enter in me and change all the values of the Paolo- Helper (a funny way to call him that is helping me to accept it :).
    “Nothing transforms itself” – P. D. Ouspensky – The Fourth Way

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Thanks for sharing your analysis and your experience of transformation. There’s always an element of surprise in transformation, of penetrating the unexpected. Whist in the depth of identification, we cannot envision our possibilities. This is why it is necessary to develop a ‘steward’, because that element in our being is trained to continue making effort even when there is no end in sight. Its efforts are fueled by past experiences, by having seen that our state changes, that identification and suffering aren’t permanent. So with more experiences of the kind you describe, Paolo, the stronger your steward becomes, and the more you can re-experience such transformation.

      I include below the icon of St. George as a compliment to the Athlete featured above. Both are struggling with serpents. One struggles on the same level as the serpent; the other struggles from a higher level.

  3. brant smith

    The February labor is the maintaining of the fire of self observation, by using the different I’s or logs from the nearby forest. My aim from January was to reduce my passivity and grow into a more active role in my life developing my potentials. I struggle with the urge to relax for the day and wait ‘ til tomorrow’ to begin my efforts anew. Naturally after observing these habits my machine desires to eliminate them yet they are necessary shocks that when they are observed and reconciled fuel my fire to keep going. For instance we all have experienced doing some physical activity and there comes a point when we start to get tired and desire to quit. Logically after so many of these encounters with these I’s we desire to remove them yet it is precisely in those moments I have found where I desire to stop, that them in them selves give me motivation to go a little further and further until I have surpassed my initial effort. If we did not have the I’s that resist our aims then we would have no foundation to stand on and the whole system would collapse. It is within these two indomitable pylons, our highest aims and our mechanicality that our being can manifest ourselves.

  4. Roland Lindgren

    An experience with my brother. I was reacting angrily to him for what he was saying to me, which I interpreted as preaching. I decided as an aim to stop my reactions to him, hoping HE would change if I did that. after a few more meetings with him I found it wasn’t making any difference, he wasn’t changing even though my attitude toward him was now quite calm and congenial. It wasn’t until I could accept the situation just as-it-was that the turmoil between us disappeared. I quit judging him and myself. Although we still do not have a friendly relationship I am feeling better about myself and allowing him to be just as he is. I now realize I cannot do anything about others and I cannot change myself. Yes, trying to change something seems to simply bring another form of sleep.

  5. Tim

    “Can you accept your deeper habits? Can you use them to kindle self observation?”

    Absolutely! By going within I found something, a mental habit, triggered by jealousy. This jealousy would lead to a feeling of being attacked by those I felt caused the reason for the jealousy (indignant). But because I value the work more than I value my jealousy, I can more easily let the the whole negative psychological apparatus fall away. Because jealousy’s roots have been pulled up from my earth I’ll be that much more ready to use it as a work tool going forward. And the lesson to learn here, for me, is not to shun its presence, but accept its presence and use it.

    I feel I am getting closer to discovering my chief feature, this most recent discovery was a good break through.

    1. Sebastian L.

      The distinction between how the athlete and St. George handle the serpent has become clearer and clearer to me since last week’s workshop. I’ve had two occasions since then where I really felt like standing above my inner serpent, fixating it to the ground. As long as I was aware of its presence, its subtle movements, its attempts to overcome me, I remained in control of the situation. As soon as my attention was drawn away, the serpent would already have wrapped itself around my leg again.

      1. Asaf Braverman Post author

        The imagery is very helpful. It bypasses thought, which is important since the intellectual center is our slowest brain. The serpent wraps itself around our leg too quickly for the intellectual center to catch. We must use emotional understanding to catch our deeper habits, and the images help build such understandings.

  6. Mayra

    My aim in January started with observing my strong sense of duty. It happened really fast that beyond that sense of duty I found my vanity nourishing it, and I was surprised about it. I was used to relate vanity negatively to an open expression of pride, high self-esteem, and a flirty moving-instinctive center that takes care of itself. What a formatory picture! It seems that I can’t change the need of my vanity to show up, if I try to force it to be steady and hidden, it becomes a sense of duty, self-pity, a mechanical yes and rough movement and manners. So in these weeks I’m trying to let it speak and express more freely, I’m taking intentional care of the way I look, I’m trying to soften the way I move and talk and it’s strange because I didn’t expect this to work, but I feel that I complain less inside and when I do it, it really ignites my attention.

    Thank you all
    Mayra

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      “In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” – Benjamin Franklin

  7. Myrto

    Observing my habit of inner considering, I had a sense of real heat. Accepting and no judging it, sustained by ability to keep observing and the heat went on. The act of ‘acceptance’ was by itself the required oxygen around the fire.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Myrto, at the end of this post Rodney Collin singles out ‘acceptance’ as the pill that enabled the sly man advance faster than the others. If you persist in the effort that you describe in your comment, you’ll eventually experience a transformation. The sense of ‘heat’ and ‘fire’ will be replaced by something else, something difficult to describe.

      In the Hindu churning myth, Gods and Demons experience great pressure during the churning process. But Vishnu, incarnated as a turtle, experiences the pressure on his shell as ‘an infinitely pleasant scratch.’ Different parts of our being experience friction differently. The lower does everything it can to alleviate pressure. The higher thrives on it. See whether you can verify this.

  8. Destany

    Can I accept my deeper habits and transform them? I suppose on some level, I am slightly wary that my acceptance of some mechanical flaw within me will lead me to identifying with it easier.

    For example, if I see a negative emotion in me, such as sadness(my aim for January being to overcome my depression), my immediate reaction is to think of the uselessness of negative emotions and to think it shouldn’t be there.

    But how do I accept it without identification? I feel like acceptance would give it some kind of merit to exist in my psychology instead of actively fighting it.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Destany, there are two images featured in the commentary above: one of an athlete struggling with a serpent and another of St. George slaying a dragon. When you speak of “actively fighting” your deeper habits, consider which of these two images portrays your picture of this active fight. Both struggle. In the case of the athlete, it is hard to tell who will win. In the case of George, it is unquestionable that he will subdue the dragon. the question, then, is how to struggle with habit intelligently? How to apply tactic instead of brute force?

      Acceptance is being offered as one key to a more intelligent struggle with habit. We lose energy over wishing ourselves to be different. Consider this, examine the imagery, and see whether it sheds more insight into how to actively fight habit.

  9. Hicham B.

    My January’s aim was to work on my energy losses. Obviously this is a broad aim. Many leaks can be observed.
    One of them attracted my attention, after a quote posted by Jack: Angry Conversations.
    I was surprised to observe that I tend to do this many times per day. Especially, when I believe I’m right.
    Observation by itself seems to work to weaken these internal “dialogues”.

  10. Kalev K

    Starting from beginning of this year I started to observe my weight. Working here in group, the results became more colourful.
    The influence of physical, emotional or intellectual metabolim may be different. And by my experience physical have the smallest influence or are results of emotional / intellectual metabolim.
    This idea forced me to observe my inner dialogue. I found the “I”-s that really surprised me. Really good third force!

  11. David Thompson

    In the process of observing myself outside of contact with a school — in years prior to joining a school (Beperiod) — the prolonged observations of the human condition that I, and everyone else for that matter, are collectively subject to, resulted in a mixture of emotions and states, some serpentine, some ordinary, some normal, and some perhaps meta-normal. These inevitably degenerated or collapsed into the feeling of complete absurdity toward myself, and the observation of my utter powerlessness to change, or even do, anything. Provisionally (provisionally, mainly, because the continuity of its status was unbeknownst to me at the time), there was in place an observer to the drama of the human condition whom while present in the sense of being “always there” was identified with the maintenance of its present condition simply because the present abnormal conditions, were, as of yet, the highest state of “reality” this observer had obtained with any continuity.
    I say this because like any endeavor requiring sustained effort, a “glass ceiling” will be encountered and must be shattered, a death must occur, to obtain a higher level. To observe myself, while remembering oneself fills a series of vessels — one after the other. Sealing leaks at the bottom level guarantees each subsequent level will fill. Asaf’s Be pyramid is a great illustration of this: False personality has a glass ceiling, that, when broken, the vessel of observing “I” begins filling and so on. But I am now privy to the fact that each level also has a glass bottom — the ceiling of the level below. And that’s something.