From childhood, you have been told not to interrupt others. And this is good advice. Interrupting the automatic functioning of attention in other people makes them more prone to accidents and sudden mood shifts. But intentionally interrupting yourself is another matter.
Most of you have probably heard of Gurdjieff’s famous stop exercise. This is an example of interrupting others which can perhaps be defended by the fact that it occurred in a school among people who had agreed to the exercise. How would I interrupt myself? And why?
Let’s deal with the ‘why’ first. My sleeping life consists of the flow of automatic attention through a sequence of habitual so-called emotional states. These emotional states, sensations really, are rooted in the body where they fuel the superstructure of the personality, a linked series of identities usually constructed around social roles and related self-images such as parent, worker, victim, child, femme fatale, critic, bon vivant. These identities are recognizable by repeated postures, gestures and speech patterns which project a measure of coherence. The cherry on top is a personal story or history which explains who I am and why, available at the drop of a hat (just ask). All of this is automatically triggered by my reaction to my environment which is continuously being monitored by my automatic attention. My automatic attention reads what is going on and selects the appropriate identity. Voila! Here ‘I’ am.
The basic integrity of this haphazard and somewhat flimsy structure depends upon the sensation-states of the body. Any sort of interruption can throw ‘me’ into dysfunction, potentially making possible, or even requiring, a momentary engagement of voluntary attention. Begin with a shower. Shave left before right. Left shoe first. Toast and coffee by eight. These seemingly unimportant but never varying little details allow the parade of appropriate identities to proceed without disruption, in fact without even being noticed. That’s why we call it sleep. The Sufis also call it heedlessness because the automatic functioning makes it possible for me to be essentially unaware of what is going on around me.
Why interrupt the flow? To create a separation, a space for the possibility of observing, engaging voluntary attention, invoking presence, making possible a real response to your environment. How? Get up one hour earlier? Right shoe first? No coffee with breakfast? Pick just one activity and vow to change it. This vow is serious and it must be kept. Take the vow during the activity and repeat it whenever the activity is performed. Every time the activity is performed in the old way, it must be redone. You will establish a trigger to observe yourself every time you do it. This work can be done on your own.
In the work group, you will have many opportunities to interrupt others, either directly or by ceasing to listen. Learn to withhold the impulse to interrupt. This is a potent form of interrupting yourself.
You are entering terra incognita, a land unknown to you. In time, you can claim it as part of your life. Until then, it belongs to sleep.