One of the main concerning the work on ourselves is that impressions, if taken in consciously, are a source of food to produce what is known in the Fourth Way system as higher hydrogens. An important part of work on oneself is trying to do this through both external and internal attention.
To observe a bus or a tree external attention is necessary. This is not the same as ‘seeing’ a bus or a tree in which no attention is needed. We might see same tree every day but couldn’t describe it. To observe a tree is to look at it like an artist, observe its colour, shape, type of leaves and bark. This is taking in new impressions and requires directed attention.
We should endeavour to study daily sights, ordinary impressions in detail and increase the conscious intake of impressions. To make sure what we are speaking about, an example is needed: by noticing someone’s elegant appearance and the impression it makes on you, you might become more attentive to your own dress, ensuring your clothes are neatly pressed or adding a small brooch to your jacket. This changes the external impression to one that is more refined and it could also change the internal impression of how you feel about yourself.
Also, impressions can affect how attentive I am. For example, sitting in an elegant room with fine furniture and beautiful music, help me to be more attentive, for example, not to clatter my cup on the saucer or to listen more carefully to the music or conversation.
However, one must not mistake the acquisition of beautiful impressions as indicating corresponding inner work.
We also have the possibility of inner attention which is usually quite undeveloped in us.
Thus, our inner life is a bit like the buses and trees we see in outer life, a rather vague, confused picture which we aware of but do not observe and therefore don’t know it in any detail.
The aim in the Work on ourselves is to develop our inner attention called Observing I. Just as external attention increases our consciousness of external objects, internal attention or self observation increases our consciousness of inner objects, such as thoughts and feelings.
However, self-observation is not an end in itself. It is a tool to help us separate from our many I’s, not put all our feeling into the I’s, because what you observe internally helps you to not identify with it.
The development of internal attention or Observing I leads to the development of our consciousness that eventually leads us to an increasing sensitivity to Higher Centres and what they are communicating to us all the time.
So, how to use our attention and deal in our everyday life with both identification and imagination? Here are some simply examples, and I’m sure that all we can find many ways to achieve that aim…
- Using directed attention can help to reduce both identification and imagination.
- “Directed attention for 5 minutes, putting consciousness into every part of the body beginning with the face muscles will give definite results at any moment when it is done to prevent some difficult period of being identified.” (Example given by P. D. Ouspensky)
- Another example is when you know you are experiencing a negative emotion, direct your attention on to something, for example, smell a flower, look at it’s colour and so on, to try and push out the negative emotion, that is, to occupy the space with an intentional emotion so that there is no space for the negative emotion to occupy.
- When you observe that you are in imagination, you will often find that the imagination stops...” If attention is fixed on something, imagination stops.” P. D. Ouspensky
It’s also useful to think that we awake from sleep every morning with a certain amount of energy, probably quite a lot. In general this energy works by itself and makes us act in a certain way. The question arises why and how does it make us do the things we do and waste energy on useless things? Identification which glues us to the activity or thoughts or emotions is the link. Therefore, if we can stop identification we will have much more energy at our disposal.
The Work says we must struggle every day with identifying which can take different forms.
One way is to apply a sense of scale to whatever you’re identified with, i.e. turn your attention to something more important. Start by distinguishing important from less important, so that if you put your attention on more important things you become less identified with unimportant things.
Observation of ourselves also helps with identification because by doing this we start to have something that stands behind us and helps us see ourselves on the stage in front of us, so to speak. We begin to see different I’s in us behaving in certain ways as something unreal; we see we are mechanical. Although we may have glimpses of this, the power of identification is so strong that we are quickly sucked back down and once again believe we are the I’s we manifest.
As already mentioned, one of the main things we identify with is life events. Events bring objects and people into a relationship. For example, your neighbour may be someone you don’t know very well, but when you hear he has said something bad about you, an event between you and him takes place.To work with identification with events it is useful to ask oneself: `What event am I in?’`Am I totally identified with it?’ This puts you in attention and helps you to be less identified with the event. We must try and draw back from the event we are identifying with and try to summarise what’s happening in terms that take the feeling of `I’ out of it. Forexample:
• `This is called getting angry.’
• `This is called feeling hurt and left out.’
• `This is called being disappointed.’
• `This is called being disorganised.’