• May 13, 2019

    What happens when work on self makes it possible for me to work in a selfless way? What does this mean?

    It is easier to say what ordinary efforts are like. Ordinarily, I am identified with my work. My efforts are motivated by my wish for attention and praise, a feeling of worth, to belong, to achieve a personal aim, to make money that I ‘need’ for the things I want. This is all perfectly normal and mostly unconscious, but easily observed nonetheless.

    To be identified with one’s work is to harness the enormous power derived from making work an extension of me. In effect, I defend my work with my life. I may feign a cynical attitude or pretend to be detached but without the psychological props provided by my work, I virtually cease to exist. If I can live outside my work it is because I have found an even stronger identification. Ordinary work is animated by self and is an expression of self.

    So, to return to my question, what happens when it becomes possible to work in a selfless way? Could work efforts be much more difficult if they are not powered by ego and the perpetually humming motor of identification? Where will the motive come from? I suspect there would be less resistance if ordinary self is not involved, but the power plug I have depended upon all my life has been pulled.

    And how would I feel about my work? Ordinary work comes pre-defended by my ego. My view of my work is centered in me, I know what it means and what it is worth and I have my reasons to explain why others may not accept it. Without this protection, my work is incredibly fragile. I do not see it centered in my own context but in a much wider sphere where there are many eyes and judgments, all valid in their own way. The certainty with which I make a gesture is immediately prismed when it enters the world, fractioned by the limitations it must inhabit.

    This is my surmise. Selfless work, what I might call real work, is extraordinarily difficult and exhausting, not the effortless unfolding of some spiritual fiction.

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  • July 27, 2017

    Our intentions rarely have the force to proceed. Why is that? If they do have force, it’s because they serve our vanity.

    Intentions are just thoughts, are they not? To have effect, they need to be connected to the unconscious forces that actually motivate me.

    My doctor shocked me yesterday, telling me I should lose some weight or my health will suffer. He seemed very stern with me so I was worried when I left his office. Of course, I could not have known that he was in a bad mood after his wife had run up the credit cards. His demands seemed rational at the time. I formed a vague intention to exercise more and eat less, but not much changed until that hot new girl joined accounting.

    I see my reflection in the window, how unpleasingly rotund I have become. She will never pay any attention to me. So now I resolve to take the doctor’s orders seriously. My intentions are reinforced every time I see myself in a mirror. I have a motive, although I tell everyone “I’m just following doctor’s orders” when I grandly turn down a second piece of cake at dinner. And I believe it too.

    Since I am a member of a work group, I recognize that my infatuation and resulting motive have given me an opportunity to observe self. I observe that I am quite ridiculous. I have a self-image that is 29 years out of date. I pull in my stomach when I go to accounting. I remember how I did not like to be seen in public with my aunt who was very fat. I see that I have many little programs that revolve around my judgments of fat people…pulling back from physical contact…my aunt used to sweat a lot and I recoiled when she hugged me.

    Ok, this prejudice is something I was not conscious of before. I can work with that, first by simply noticing the physical sensations when they arise. But why am I overweight?

    I observe that I have an addiction to certain types of food at certain times. I have rationalized these addictions as habits designed to maintain blood sugar and energy levels. Perhaps, but let’s see. Over time, I observe that these presumed motives do not explain anything. It seems that at certain times of the day, I am uncomfortable if I do not have a particular sensation of fullness, even if I have eaten a good meal. Why is this? I don’t know and don’t need to know. I observe the craving for that sensation when it arises and I let it go.

    Meanwhile, the girl in accounting has been fired. My doctor is surprisingly friendly and supportive at my next check-up as he unconsciously tries to undo the effects of our last visit together. I have begun to lose a little weight.

    But more usefully, I have also begun to notice how suspect my motives are. They are a soup of unexamined impressions and unconscious desires. I dress them up as rational intentions but the motive power is almost always elsewhere, in habitualized sensations and self-images that are often completely irrational. My intentions are mostly a confusing thicket of vain ideas about myself. This realization, as it grows, has unintended consequences. I am not moved to do what I used to do; my once-avid participation in certain activities is now uninteresting and my friends don’t seem to know what to do or say around me anymore.

    Perhaps at this point I will begin to encounter intent. This is a verb, not a noun. Intending is not a word-formula holding onto some desire or benefit of personal interest to me. To tend is to care for something. One of the early meanings of tending is to move in a particular direction. Perhaps intending is to choose to face in a particular direction. To have intent is to hold and care for a point on the compass without wavering. Why? Because it is fulfilling in itself.

    Intentions are in the realm of the mind, under the influence of our vanity and our habits. Intent is in the field of the will, under the magnetic influence of something larger than me. I wish for intent.

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  • August 1, 2016

    In our ‘modern’ society, nothing is more reviled than indifference. To be indifferent means you are without feeling, callous and uncaring, lacking in human sensibilities, probably empty-headed, tired and bored, to say nothing of boring. Imagine having no opinions, no preferences. Death would surely be an improvement.

    Such a broad consensus from the sleeping world should immediately alert you to the possibility that reality has once more been turned on its head. Indifference is a place of great potential, especially for our work but also for much ordinary accomplishment. Indifference has power.

    First, let’s consider what indifference is not. It is not dislike nor distaste, not lethargy or some other veiled negative or rejecting state. Indifference is to see no difference between one thing and another and not to prefer one thing over another. Indifference is not rejecting, but nor is it accepting. Perhaps we could say it is a special form of equanimity without the experience of pleasure usually associated with that state.

    What makes indifference useful? It offers clarity and objectivity. It is free from compulsion and fixation. It has no emotional attachment. This allows for something new and surprising to arise.

    From the work perspective, indifference offers the possibility of acting from real will. Most of our actions originate in emotion. Motive and emotion amount to the same thing for most of us.

    Emotion is a movement of sensitive energy in the nervous system with physical and biochemical components. Emotion is triggered by an external stimulus—perhaps a sensation, a word spoken, an association of one thing with another, which then proceeds habitually in terms of breath, posture, gesture, pulse as well as the thought-tapes that sustain and colour the emotion. Subsequent behaviour is predictable. This is not the action of will; rather it is precisely mechanical in nature, no matter how pleasant or productive it might be. Indifference is freedom from this loop, which allows for the possible action of will.

    Because indifference is without resistance or conflict, it can move quickly and forcefully in unexpected directions. It can also sit in the same spot for a long time, requiring the patience to wait for whispers from unknown places. In these periods between, like the Horse Latitudes, you may be severely tested. Perhaps you will panic into depression or senseless behaviour. The Sufis call this a Kemal state and it can be dangerous.

    In my understanding, the Kemal state is both a blessing and a test that begins to manifest when you have seen enough of yourself and the world. It is not an end state, nor is it something to be sought, but rather a point of possible transition to something new.

    How can indifference be separated from boredom or lethargy?

    True indifference is alert and questioning. The one who is indifferent wishes to proceed but not from dead habits.

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  • December 13, 2015

    Where does work on self take us? If it’s not about self-development, as you suggest, then what is it for?

    This is a most important question. If I can rephrase it a little, I would say that we need to ask: what is our motive to work?

    The great majority of humans only make efforts for their own interests, however they define them. They look out for number one, or perhaps their family, maybe their community. Even when they think they serve the interests of others, there is a definite something in it for them. These people are generally not attracted to the fourth way or any other genuine school unless it is presented as a path of self-development, in which case it is not genuine at all.

    Those who are attracted to this work have no lack of motivation in the beginning. This work has a kind of romantic appeal; it is challenging, the ideas are unusual, and there is a sense of being involved in something special, quite unlike ordinary life. Many of us initially respond to the work idea that the world has order and meaning and that life on earth may have a purpose. However, these motivations are superficial and unreliable and they usually do not last for more than a year or two.

    The romance dies when it becomes clear that this work is about struggle with self. Another motivation may then arise which we might call right action. Doing things in sleep gradually becomes distasteful while the gestures of conscious behaviour provide satisfaction. This does not mean engaging in continuous self-judgment. Rather, it is a quality of discernment that arises after the little voice in the head has stopped pretending to run the show. Discernment is to perceive precisely the quality of things as they are, what Buddhists call prajnaparamitra. It means relinquishing that which is false and loving that which has integrity, for its own sake.

    Work on self is a process, not an end. One possible result is that you may prefer being present when presence is called for, and that you have remorse when you miss the mark. This is a hard path to follow and there are many disappointments but the motivation is to respond to life with being.

    Being present opens you to influences from outside ordinary life. This is where you may begin to feel an attraction to the Work. What does this mean? To be in contact with the Work is to wish to be counted among those who work for the redemption of the earth, as the ancient Zoroastrians said. A focus on self is inevitably corrupting and it falls far short of the task given uniquely to our species on this planet, to care consciously for the gifts we have been given. This message is clear in many ancient texts including the Old Testament.

    This does not mean some sort of super environmentalism that calls for collectivist action or a political response. It is primarily an inner response. If you work for redemption, you will probably not be moved to take sides in the conflicts that arise between humans.

    Those who are able to wake up when faced with the needs of the redemptive Work must first see the reality of their sleep, their identifications, their automaticity and their lack of will. As the habits of sleep are seen and relinquished, it becomes possible to act in quite a different way. It becomes possible to serve. This is the aim of work on self.

    Real service is not a matter of right intentions. It requires ableness to be. It requires being able to hold to a connection with the heavens while standing against the demands and enticements of the ordinary world. Self-importance is the enemy. Reliability is the aim. If you are reliable, you will be given a post. Can you hold the post you are given, no matter the cost?

    Related Posts:

    Persistence – July 18, 2015

    Your Life Is Your Path – March 10, 2015

    Life’s Purpose – March 10, 2015

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