(This post is part of the Labors of the Month teaching. To learn more about this teaching, watch the introductory video here)

We lay one brick over another to build a house. We match one note to another to compose a tune. We rhyme one word with another to write a poem. Anything meaningfully whole is made of meaningfully small parts. The farming of our own psychological acre — the most meaningful asset we have — should follow this very pattern. It should be approached with the same gravity that an architect brings to her magnum opus, drafting a grand blueprint that can then be downscaled into small and definite tasks.

“What do you want?”

“I want to know myself.”

“How does your self-ignorance manifest?”

“In many ways.”

Then start with one of these ways. An aim that stays too large remains impractical. One that begins too small is unemotional. If I’d like to stop talking unnecessarily then I must avoid a specific topic. If I’d like to become more sensitive to others then I must focus on a specific person. If I’d like to stop judging everyone then I must detect a specific trigger. The war on habit is waged through moment-to-moment battles. Win a single battle and gain an edge on the entire war. We advance in the pursuit of self-knowledge by dissipating the fog of vagueness from around why we sought to know ourselves in the first place, so that our aim stands crystal-clear in our minds as an inspiration and guide.

“Are there areas in which you already know yourself?”

“A few isolated areas.”

“Did this self-knowledge come by chance of by your own effort?”

“Both.”

“The self-knowledge that came by your own efforts — can you think of how you obtained it?”

“By seeing the consequences of my sleep.”

Then one dimension of your aim is to see the consequences of your sleep. “Something we have and don't need has to die,” says Rodney Collin, “and something we have not but do need has to be born.” Our aim must encompass both these elements. In the process of its formulation, we should consider what we must acquire and shed. This will lend our aim a price and underscore the value effort.

“What prevents you from seeing the consequences of your sleep?”

“Making excuses.”

Then another dimension of your aim is to compile a photo album of excuses. We’re too accustomed to populating our photo-streams with flattery: “Here I am eating ice cream in Florence; Here I am riding a gondola in Venice.” But in the pursuit of self-knowledge, a stream of unflattering portraits is much more useful. “Here I am making an excuse for why I’m late; Here I am making an excuse for why I hurt someone.” The obvious resistance to compiling an album of this kind only proves its value. We cannot work with what we do not see. If I seek to become objective about myself, I must study my beauty and beast, bearing in mind that what observes both is independent from either.

Our labor for January, therefore, is to reexamine where we stand — ask ourselves, what do I really want — and downscale that answer into efforts that fit the moment. Another year spreads before us, a full cycle of psychological farming. If you’re new to this work, examine the urge that brought you here and formulate an aim around it. Don’t worry too much about the precision of your formulation; you’ll refine your aim as we progress through each month of the year. If you’re already involved in this work, consult your photo album to see where you presently stand, where you’ve come from, and in which direction you might proceed.

Share your aim in the commentary below.

Responses

  1. Paolo Meoli

    Dear Asaf and all Community,
    for the 2018 i would learn to catch my chief feature in the moment and try to understand in what it can be transformed. I’m not able to see it clearly, but i have some traces.
    I observed in myself the urge to help the other, to enter in a new context and start to think how things can be done better, to give suggestions to people that did not ask me anything. All these tendency are mechanical in myself in the sense that i have a certain pleasure in acting them. On the contrary when i try to oppose to this tendency, immediately i feel a kind of fear that i’m not enough, that the other will get angry because i didn’t do my duty, ecc.. I’m still observing, and this feature is still unclear, but i observed that when this need to help the other come from my fear of not be enough, the action reinforce my personality. It seems to me that many of my actions comes from this fear of not be enough and so these actions are directed to demonstrate my self-importance. These actually is the opposite of helping the other, is just try to calm my fear. So on external level i want really try to not help someone if he or she didn’t not ask me. The action of helping other shouldn’t come only from my desire (inner considering) but from an explicit request of the other (external considering). I should learn to take time before enter in this kind of octave in order to evaluate the reason why i’m joining that octave. On more internal level it seems to me more evident that this thoughts about the other, about how things can be improved, about what to say to that person in order to help him, about share my discoveries, keep me in imagination defeating my attempts to praying and in so doing to Be. On this level i will try to keep in mind this thoughts from Attar: “What you lost and now you are searching is in you, and you are what prevent you to see it”.
    I suppose that this chief feature is my great weakness, but also my great opportunity. In what this feature can be transformed? I don’t know, but i will try on this new year to discover it.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Paolo. A good way to start tying down this observation to a practical effort is to find one person with whom you regularly manifest this feature and begin there. Can you think of anyone? You don’t have to mention them here by name, but it would greatly help your work to focus on one particular person.

  2. PUSHPAM SINGH

    Dear Be community members,

    Yearly aim: to be able to do what I am supposed to do in my opinion
    January aim: To be able to think
    Particular area of work: Physics
    While studying physics, or solving a problem, when I see that my formatory thinking is not sufficient to understand what I am reading, I stop thinking.
    Photo album of excuses:
    1) I will think it later. 2) I am tired to think of it now.
    3) silent wilfulness 4) laziness
    5) start doing something which takes less conscious efforts, eg eating, reading something different, listening songs, etc. i.e. creating another octaves without completing the present octave.
    What must be acquired: the attitude to make conscious effort and to do a little impossible regularly, to digest the impressions at hand before going to the next set of hand.
    What must be shed: silent wilfulness, the tendency to create more unnecessary octaves instead of completing the octave at hand, intellectual greed – the tendency to look for another set of impressions without digesting the impressions at hand, the tendency to not to Work.

    Thanking you,
    Pushpam

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      To be able to ‘think’ has to go hand in hand with what subject we’d like to think about. To be able to think about what? If we’re not emotional about the subject, it is hard to ‘think’ about it with more than the mechanical part of our intellectual center. Are you emotional about physics? Or are you studying it because you have to as part of the curriculum of your studies? Bear in mind that many subjects are not worth ‘thinking’ about…

      When you do find a subject about which you are emotional, then the ‘thinking’ you are speaking of must be developed like a muscle. You cannot expect to ‘think’ about something for six straight hours, just like you shouldn’t expect to weight lift for six straight hours. Begin with thinking for five minutes. Set the aim to focus on one topic and resist the deviations you list above for five minutes. Then ten. Then fifteen – just as you would develop a physical muscle.

    2. isa

      Dear Asaf and all loving Community person,

      Work hard, share and share happiness.
      For the year 2018, I want to express joy, Love, compassion, I want to create a place where to share and meet people. I will continue to go deeper in me and to understand my “Self consciousness”.

  3. Kalev K

    Setting the aims.
    What I really want from next year?

    To build a palace, do I have proper blueprints? I think I have. And we update them regularly. Do I have a material for bricks? Certainly yes! Do I have right tools – that’s why I am here. So forming the bricks and building the palace may proceed.

    Right work and wrong work – I have very own experience from last year: I worked all summer weekends in my grape yard, trying to get something out of our bad skiing weather. We got some amount of grapes. Making a wine, with my very short experience, I let the wort to be just a day too long on berry skins. One day too much! What is that if to compare with whole summer work? And result is that the wine that should be medicine, turned into poison. Tastes as wine, but one glass is enough to guarantee headache for whole next day. Good example for need of system and guidance in work.

    Building of aim(s) for this year is work for whole January for me. Step-by-step it starts to be clear that my aims should cover more-or-less equally activities of moving, emotional and intellectual centers.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      One day too much and an entire harvest is ruined. This seems like an unjust price to pay for a mistake. However, I bet you that next year you will be very intentional in timing the harvest properly! So this disproportionate loss is the price required for learning. The same applies in the work. An excerpt from a poem written by Rainer Maria Rilke:

      Begin ever new again
      the praise you cannot attain; remember:
      the hero lives on and survives; even his downfall
      was for him only a pretext for achieving
      his final birth.

  4. Myrto

    Something I have and don’t need, that has to die: My tendency for inner considering (high preoccupation with what others think of me). This is usually expressed as
    • Long internal dialogues justifying myself
    • Long arguing in order to convince others that I am right
    • Resistance to meet and interact with ‘authoritarian style’ people.
    My aim: Save the energy spent in inner considering, and transform it into the ability of becoming ‘Space’, in both emotional and intellectual centers. By the term ‘Space’, I mean abilities like:
    • Active listening to what others say (Not interrupting others while speaking) and understanding of their emotions (external considering)
    • Avoid excessive talking and conceptualization, transforming them into other means of essential communication (e.g. better understanding of the body language of my beloved ones, and more tenderness expressed).
    • Consider others (especially the ‘authoritarians’)’ as ‘Brothers’, instead of ‘Judges’.
    • Non judging attitude to persons who transmit high negativity. Compassion to their suffering.
    • Less thinking, thus save energy for getting into the depth of moments of no action and silence.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Myrto, it’s clear that you have invested a good amount of self-observation into your aim. This grounds it into something we can work with. “Long internal discussions…. Long arguing.” The word “long” is key because our aim, to start, must be to shorten these leaks. If we shorten them enough, elimination might come within your hand’s reach.

      So I’d begin by focusing on recovery. How soon can you catch yourself immersed in internal argument? What symptoms can you use to catch this? More specifically, is there some kind of posture that gives it away? If you find a habitual posture that comes with your habit of inner considering, then by tackling that posture you will gain the possibility of detecting when you fall into that state, and recover more quickly.

      Let us know.

  5. Hannah K

    My long term aim for 2018 is to prepare the lower centres of my micro cosmos such that the Higher can enter more frequently and for longer periods. In order to do this I need to know myself more clearly, to know what the denying forces are within my machine that resist and buffer the entrance of the Higher. The biggest and most stubborn of these denying forces are Fear, my chief feature. It comes in many forms, sometimes very openly and sometimes disguised as something more subtle; inner considering, judgement, even deviation. So my aim for January is to observe and pull against my fear feature, more specifically my fear of inciting anger or rejection in others. There is one particular person with whom I come into contact regularly who is a perfect catalyst for this kind of fear in me, so I will focus my efforts on my interactions with them.

      1. Hannah K

        So far I haven’t been in a situation with my chosen person where I needed to confront them with something that would anger them. However, knowing that it is my aim to try to transform my fear should such an occasion arise has acted as a very effective alarm to keep me awake. I know that I must be constantly vigilant whenever I’m with my this person, making sure I don’t go into mechanical behaviour with them. One way I have been preparing for this is to change my body posture when I am with them. Because they like to boss me around and tell me what to do, I usually don’t look them in the eye, often turn my body away from them and busy myself with something else while we converse. This, I realise, is my way of indirectly trying to discourage them from talking to me because their dominance makes me feel uncomfortable. So for the last two weeks I have been focusing on looking them in the eyes and giving them my full concentration when they speak to me.

  6. Shane Scanlon

    My understanding of myself is still rough and fragmented. I would like to set the aim of getting to know my false personality. One observation I made recently about my false personality is that Shane is very amused with himself when he notices an internal contradiction. I believe this to be a buffer which allows me to rejoice in my flaws for a moment and then quickly forget them. So to start with my aim I will struggle with this habit of laughing at my own absurdities and attempt to get Shane to reveal himself to my observing I.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Shane, this is a very good verification. I have seen this excuse of making light of our sleep in myself and others. It seems quite widespread and it is fortunate that you could capture it by yourself, without someone from the outside having to point it out to you.

      Since posting this ten days ago, have you learned more about this buffer?

      1. Shane Scanlon

        Hello Asaf,

        This buffer seems to have gone into hiding since I realized what it is. Given that its appearance is sporadic, I’m concerned that struggling with it might not be the be the best focal point for my larger aim of understanding my false personality.

        I have noticed other ways in which Shane’s sense of humor contributes to my sleep.

        There is a frequent link between my desire to laugh and associative thinking. I’m not sure which leads the other yet, but I do notice that very often a line of associations is punctuated when I make an internal joke to myself.

        Also, I am very reserved around people and generally have a strong resistance to talking. This resistance disappears when I think of a joke. If something amuses me, I readily share it without thinking.

  7. Mayra

    Hello everyone 🙂
    In 2017 I had different possibilities to observe my machine trying to Work. Right now in January, I’m surprised about how naturally comes to me the need of making a summary about my victories and my failures of the last year. What I saw, what I feel that I need to die in order to increase my self-observation and improve my work, is my extremely strong and mechanical sense of duty, that makes me act pushed by inertia, following someone else need. I never ask myself, “Am I really understanding WHY I’m doing this?” This way I realized that I have the tendency of avoiding real commitment, embracing someone else cause. I realized that it’s really difficult for me to be committed, first than anyone, with myself.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      This is a deep feature, Mayra, and my first question is whether you detected it yourself or whether it was shown to you by those around you. If you detected it yourself, then you probably saw it in relation to a particular person, and from there inferred that you relate similarly to other people. If that’s the case, then you should focus on that particular person and see whether you are able to bring different elements to your relationship to them.

      If this feature was shown to you by someone else, then you will first have to see it yourself – first-hand – before you can actually pull against it. In this case, your aim must revolve around the desire to see better. You have time for this, because the February labor will also involve self-observation.

      Let me know.

      1. Mayra

        Thank you so much, Asaf.
        Originally, someone made me a photograph about how easily I become submissive towards the opinions and needs of certain people (I totally rejected the photo with many different fallacies-buffers). I translate this photo in a more acceptable title: “sense of duty”. But after a few days of self-observation I realized that this aspect of my machine is occupying too much space, and that aside to my sense of duty there’s a similar emotional-taste in other mechanical manifestations like my self-pity and an urge to appear as a “humble” person to others…

  8. Hicham B.

    My aim for 2018 is to pay attention on my energy losses.
    For the last week of December, I decided to record my energy losses daily. Simply recording without trying to change anything. I have observed that every person I meet, Every thought that crosses my mind takes some of my energy away.
    In this regards, it seems that everyone is my enemy like in the parable of the Wheat and Tares. If I’m not present enough, anyone or anything can impact negatively my being.
    I want to be a “conscious egoist” as Gurdjieff calls it in In Search of the Miraculous. I need my energy to attain my bigger aim.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Hicham, being a ‘conscious egoist’ must be taken the right way. True, people tend to take our energy, but they are also often the primary source from which we can get energy back. So rather than taking the idea of being a ‘conscious egoist’ to mean being reclusive, I encourage you to consider how you might change your interactions with others so that you get energy from them.

      This puts your aim in line with Myrto’s aim mentioned above.

  9. Evgueni Z

    This quotation of Francis Petrarch recently posted by had Asaf triggered a new octave of thinking about my good old friend Haste: “The wise man does nothing hurriedly, but notes the passage of time in its flight, and longs to be where there is life.”

    In 2013 (outside of the Work context) I set my aim as to have 6 months of “breather” time. I thought that I should step out of the “Vortex of Life” for some time and calm down to see what I really want (and therefore what my true aim should be).

    In January of 2017 (in BePeriod School) I set the aim related to my Excessive Planning and Haste habits. Throughout 2017 it felt like by all this planning I was trying to “tame” the “Vortex of Life”, to slow it down, to take it under control. However, even though in different periods of my life things could go slower or faster, I still was as busy and anxious as always.

    Now, in January 2018 it became clearer that taming speed of life is not a way to deal with Haste. Rather, it’s about how I observe time (and more importantly, WHO observes it). Instead of taming “Vortex of Life”, I need to get wiser and learn to observe “the passage of time in its flight”. However, if “I” is not present, that is – if I AM NOT, then Evgueni would fall back into the old habits.

    So, my refined aim is about asking the “Where am I?” question while observing “the passage of time in its flight”. Something I have and don’t need: Habits of Haste and Excessive Planning. Instead of hurrying, note the passage of time in its flight. Something I have not but do need: Being. Long to be where there is life: ask “Where am I?”

    I’m now trying to “downscale it into small and definite tasks”, as follows:

    – Create “My Excuses” photo album, a journal with daily entries for the excuses I was able to catch (at least one per day).
    – Ask “Where am I?” when experience obvious negative emotions towards one particular member of my immediate family.
    – Observe “the passage of time in its flight” for 30 minutes in mornings.

      1. Evgueni Z

        Asaf, I followed your advice and was sharing my daily “photographs” with Olga and Kalev during the entire last week. While the exercise was an interesting experience by itself, I’ve also got from it a few more general realizations.

        First, the resistance to actually write down the excuses is very strong. To the point that I’m sure I wouldn’t be recording them without the third force of sharing it with others. Even with the commitment, I would “forget” to report until the last minute before going to bed. The third force is real and is much needed.

        Second, the resistance to formalize the excuses (that is, to write them down and therefore to acknowledge them) manifested through my machine downplaying an importance of this exercise. It was often presented internally as “waste of time”. This made me ponder on what “seriousness” means in this work, and question my own seriousness. I can sadly state that as I am today, I’m not serious about the work. This I consider the biggest lesson from the exercise.

        Becoming serious about the work would then have to be integrated into my aim refinement.

  10. Jack

    I just read my comments from last year about “Jack’s Way” or it’s all about him. To answer the question about “something we have and don’t need has to die”, It is my false personality, vanity and negative emotions “. In setting my aims for this season I want to set smaller specific aims that deal with things in my false personality and negative emotions. Things I have seen in it that I do not like and that I want to change and be changed. Things that will help me on my path to awakening and being more conscious. I am making a list of things I have seen to start that process. One that will be at the top of the list is to stop jack’s judging my wife and trying to change her. She is not interested in 4th way and jack is regularly judging her. That has to stop, and be at the top of my aims.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Jack (@jeboland), in this comment you make a specific reference to stop trying to change your wife. This is very practical and measurable. The desire to change others must be transformed into seeing ourselves. We are generally only bothered by the manifestations of others that we share in common with them.

      Since ten days have passed since you posted this comment, I am curious to hear whether you’ve discovered more about this tendency.

      1. Jack

        I have wanted my wife to become interested in The 4th Way. I have read to her on a number of occasions pages from the Commentaries and got her to view videos. A part of me knows that you must be drawn to this Work-Seek it- and not persuade others. Several times I have told myself, I will not do that again, but after a time I have. I have judged her from my false spiritual pride for not making any efforts. I see clearer now that I am not making strong enough efforts to stop this mechanical process of mine with Work on myself. I also judge her in other ways. My aims are to:
        *Not discuss 4th Way with her unless she asks
        *Every time I judge her use as an alarm to turn internal in me and see in me
        what I am judging in her. Also in that moment remember how much I
        love her.
        * Remember Myself and why I am here, not to change others but Me.
        Asaf, what I have seen about this tendency is that when I am focused on
        her I am not focused on me. Also , I am judging her mechanicalness and
        forgetting my own. This also ties into Jack being smarter and knowing all
        the answers.

        1. Asaf Braverman Post author

          This is probably the root of it, Jack. Evgueni has reached the same realization in his own way (see his comments above). There is a very strong resistance to seeing ourselves, which masquerades as the desire to help others, speak about others – or anything that deflects the attention from ‘me’ to ‘them.’

          If you use the urge to change your wife as an alarm to see yourself, then you turn a weakness into a strength. This is very practical and should factor into your January labor.

  11. Olga

    My big aim for 2018 is to stop telling lies. This habit comes from my overall lack of presence, and in particular, from my lack of presence in the moments when I talk to people. As a result, I automatically react rather than consciously respond, and fail to give sincere and meaningful answers — first, to myself, and then, to others as well. As a practical effort to start with, I am going to observe myself when talking to my mom on the phone, and I am going to try giving her conscious answers when she asks how things are going instead of automatically showing her a false picture of “Everything’s great, mom, talk to you later.”

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      This is very sweet and practical, Olga (all those of us who have ‘moms’ can relate to it!)

      Our relationship to our mother is the first relationship we ever form. Therefore, it is the most deeply programmed, and the most difficult to introduce consciousness into. Can you share with us any progress you might have made with this exercise – including if you’ve verified that you cannot do it?

  12. Kalev K

    I am still in the stage of building the aim:
    What I would like to harvest in June, in July, in September?
    What I wish to see on my table next December?
    How can I use last year labors?

    For me it seems reasonable to use results of Encapsulation, and build the aim around the monosyllabic word.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      I will be looking forward to hearing from you what this specific command will end up being, Kalev. It is a challenge of bringing order to our intellectual centers, like tidying our desks. No doubt, if the farmer doesn’t know what she wants to harvest later on this year, there’s no reason that ‘hay’ and ‘wheat’ and ‘grape’ pop up in her land spontaneously. When put this way, it sounds obvious. But we permit ourselves to be vague with regards to our own psychology.

      “We are surrounded by neglected things. Chiefly, we do not control our thinking. We think in a vague way about what we want, but if we do not formulate what we want, nothing will happen.” – Peter Ouspensky

      1. Kalev K

        I am back in the stage of photographing my day – what are my worse habits I wish to work with. Principally we have found them a long time ago, but those have become as a part of my everyday life. (as in older age a small pain is part of “normal health”) Now, concentrating on those photos, I see a bit more clearly. Like spiral within the work of one month.
        According to experience from last year – if the aim is too small or missing completely or works for one month, another year may be 40 – 50 – 60% wasted.
        That’s where I see importance to work with my own aim.
        Incorporating the monosyllabic word – using the fruits of last year work.
        For me this one word means result of work – no matter what work, but the right result of work. Using this, it helps at least a bit to overcome the vague in everyday life.
        Theoretically sounds reasonable, but turning into real life needs real efforts.
        Over last week, working on this direction, my aim for this year got even more foggy. But there is about one and half weeks until end of month.

  13. anselmo

    Anticipation is my chief obstacle to self-remembering. For example, while I am having a shower, I am thinking about an e-mail I need to respond. So my aim is to observe and understand this habit. What feeds it? Why is the machine constantly anticipating?
    On the other hand, I want to develop will. To make this practical, I will aim to be present as much as possible within the first hour of using the computer. Remember myself while I am typing, reading, moving the mouse. In other words, I want to strengthen the ability to make efforts to be.

    1. Asaf Braverman Post author

      Anselmo, I see a common thread between anticipation and computer work. Both have to do with our moving-center’s desire to be efficient. If you think about it, computers (and smartphones) amplify our machines, extend their abilities of functioning. This also means they make us more mechanical. They make good servants and poor masters.

      So have do we use technology rather than be used by it? One helpful effort is to add an emotional element. For example, I am listening to music on my laptop as I compose this comment. The music adds an emotional element, and in so doing, pulls against the urge to ‘finish and click send’; the urge to ‘do,’ to ‘accomplish.’

      You can also add an intellectual element: form the discipline when you begin your first hour of computer work to begin by reading the daily quotation sent by Jack Boland. Read it, and consider its meaning for you. Then set to work.

      Setting an aim for the first hour of your day around computer work is wise because it delineates an area of work and prevents it from being too vague. I encourage you to add emotional elements to this hour, and work on avoiding multi-tasking.

      1. Pablo Diogo

        Just like Anselmo, I’ve found out that anticipation is my chief obstacle. I’ve also tried to observe myself in order to understand why is my machine always anticipating things. The answer I could obtain from “it” was: because I have dreams,, ambitions, goals, and these are the things that give me the drive to anticipate, that keep my mind working instead of been in the present. I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear, but it is like this.