It is clear to me that the real challenge in this work is to persist. It is easy to forget to work. It is easy to be distracted by life in the world. I have all kinds of good intentions but almost no follow through. What can be done to persist?
Yes, this is the key issue. The most important requirement for work on self is simply to show up on a consistent basis. The problem is that work on self does not serve or meet my personal aims, it does not satisfy any of my hungers, it is not reinforced or supported by my habits and it is not valued in the ordinary world. This work is abstract, hard to grasp. From the viewpoint of ordinary life, work on self is an unnecessary and impractical ‘luxury’ which offers no rewards.
If work on self does meet personal needs, if it is supported by my habits, you can be sure that it is not real work. Therefore, it is very difficult to remember to work, to make efforts. To make efforts consistently, I need the right motive and this does not fall out of the sky. My very nature supplies wrong motives with the greatest of ease. Do not pretend you can decide to adopt the ‘right’ motive.
Can I begin to observe myself? My behavior? My gestures? In the beginning, there will be some sort of self-serving motive, likely some sort of vague notion about self-improvement or getting the approval of others. Over time, with a certain amount of observing, the attention of observation naturally transforms the original motive into something more objective and far more useful, which could perhaps bless you with a whiff of self-disgust. Remorse enters and takes up residence. Contrition makes an appearance. Not because I am adopting someone else’s catechism but because I see what is going on in me.
It is very important not to indulge in sensations such as remorse but to see them as helpful guides, reliable and trustworthy advisors, neither scourges for self-flagellation nor badges of honour. There is nothing special about these developments, nothing special about me. I am a product of this world and I am constructed like the rest of my specie. This realization makes possible a right motive to work which supports persistent effort.
Lack of persistence is rich and fruitful ground for observation. What are the distractions which rob me of my ability to make consistent efforts? What resistances do I have to work efforts, resistances I can actually observe in the body? Finding, observing and releasing resistance to work on self is a profoundly useful form of work on self. The rationalizations for resistance can be very amusing. Can you be endlessly curious? Do not be satisfied by the first insight, the easy explanation. Find the contractions and sensations that sustain resistance to work. How would you describe their accompanying psychological state? Is it arrogance, defensiveness, fear of failure?
Persistence in our work can also benefit from a correct understanding of obligation. This is a vast and subtle subject but we can at least open the door on it to see what is there. As one of my teachers once said to me, ‘if you want to think about someone, oblige yourself to him’. To obligate is to promise, to bind yourself. Life imposes many obligations…to parents, children, your employer. If you want a dog, you are obligated to walk it. There is value, always, in meeting your obligations in life because failing to do so weakens you, weakens your access to will. As a general rule, promise little and always do what you say.
But a work obligation is different; it has no benefit to others or to you. When you are obliged to do something for others, you are likely borrowing the will to meet that obligation from them. You may not wish to disappoint them or earn their disapproval. When you obligate yourself to do a work task, you borrow the will to accomplish it from the work, provided the task does not serve anything else. If the task is interesting to you, or promises some sort of benefit, it will probably not serve as a work task. Taking on a work obligation begins to give you a relationship to work.
Let us say that you have no interest in meditation and you feel that you are not very good at it. You could obligate yourself to come every day to group meditation, without fail, just to do it, for its own sake. Learn to exercise the will to work by choosing small, inconspicuous tasks, not worth the notice of others. And then fulfill them without fail, going whole hog including the postage, as Gurdjieff said.