One Thing You Can Do
(from Nicoll’s “Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,” pp. 369-370)
One of the objects of self-observation is actually to observe something. Now I must say here that to take the Work-phrase “Man cannot do” in such a way that one makes no effort is a very good example of chaotic thinking in the Work. There is one thing that you are told you can do in regard to yourself and that is that you can observe yourself, that you can observe the working of different centres and that you can observe different ‘I’s in yourself, that you can observe when you are internally considering, that you can observe when you are negative, that you can observe when you are identifying, that you can observe when you are justifying yourself, and so on. This Work is to pull a person together, to brace him, and to make him have a more distinct relationship to all that goes on inside him. For this reason, you are taught first of all to observe yourself, and then to observe yourself from certain well-defined angles. A man must get hold of himself, he must steady himself, he must try to let light into himself in order to see what is going on in him and so where he is going in himself. Also he must observe where he is talking wrongly, where he is complaining and not working, where he is saying things mechanically that should belong to self-observation.
The Work must be practised. In every wrong state it is absolutely necessary to review oneself from what the Work teaches and try to see where one is. If you never call upon the Work to help you it will not be able to help you. Your relationship to the Work is an internal matter that lies between you and the Work right down, deep inside you. A person can talk as much as he likes about his difficulties with the Work. He can let the whole of the Work discharge itself into small ‘I’s. He can connect the Work with some feature in himself and turn it into a source of perplexity and worry. A man can treat the Work in a thousand different ways. But it is important how one treats the Work. It can produce very great tensions within one. Its object is to do so. But it is necessary to keep the Work, as it were, inviolate, as something utterly pure that cannot be contradicted and which at the same time is telling one something if one will only listen to what it is saying, if one will only relate oneself to what it is teaching. It is quite easy to say that one does not understand the Work, but there is a right way of saying this and a wrong way. It is quite useless to shrug one’s shoulders mentally speaking and again it is quite useless to think that one should understand the Work after a few years’ casual practicing of it. A great deal of patience is necessary, and patience is the Mother of Will. We find ourselves in a crowd of people within us and some of them say one thing and some say another. If there is valuation and if in spite of all difficulties we can feel that here is something that can eventually lead us away from our present states, and if in spite of all the failures this valuation persists, then a centre of gravity will be formed, a point in the Work will be established, and when this is so it is a very blessed condition.
So do not complain too easily, because, as you all know, it takes a very long time to learn anything in a real way in life. You remember how often it was said that if you wish to learn Chinese thoroughly it will take you all your life. So do not have too short a view. Do not think that when you begin to observe yourself and find a chaos within you you need be pessimistic. It is actually the first step in the Work, the first step to realization. What then, a person may ask, must I do? The answer is that you must begin to follow as sincerely as you can all the practical things that the Work tells you to observe and separate from. The intelligent scrutiny of oneself, the practice of a directed noticing of oneself, the application of non-identifying with certain states of oneself, remembering that certain ‘I’s weaken oneself and undermine everything one does–all this is being led by the Work. All this is following the Work. People do not surrender to the Work for a long time. They keep on trying to do things by themselves according to their own lights instead of doing things according to the Work. They continue to make the same life-efforts as before but they do not make Work-effort. But all this it is necessary to pass through, and one must pass through this jungle, through this tangled forest, this kind of darkness, until one discerns the Work and what it is saying. For a long time the last thing that we ever think of doing is to work on ourselves in accordance with what the Work teaches. We wriggle about, as it were, like a fish on the end of a line and will not submit to the gentle pull of the line which will lift us into another atmosphere. We get into a bad state and we identify with it right away. Then we see everything through the medium of this bad state but we do not think of practising non-identifying with this bad state, of seeing that it is not ‘I’. On the contrary, we say ‘I’ to it, and we argue about everything from this bad state which is quite incapable of leading us anywhere save into a worse state. We are like people standing in the drenching rain complaining that they are catching cold and saying how miserable they feel, when their own house is standing close beside them into which they can go. Very often when we stand in this drenching rain and this bad inner state, we think vaguely of trying to work on ourselves and separating ourselves from it internally by an act of consciousness and Will, but some small ‘I’ pipes up and says: “Oh, the Work is too difficult for me.”