Buffers are described in the Work as “artificial appliances” that mercifully are formed in us over time to keep us from seeing all the contradictions within us because of the multiplicity of ‘I’s with different, often contradictory realities. Though in our first education, they make navigating life easier, buffers keep unconscious actions and motivations in play, so as Work students, we wish for the conscious suffering of seeing our contradictions.
“In place of having Real Conscience a man has artificial conscience and buffers. Behind everyone there stand years and years … of indulgence in every kind of weakness, of sleep, of ignorance, of pretense, of lack of effort, of drifting, of shutting one’s eyes, of striving to avoid unpleasant facts, of constant lying to oneself, of abuse and blaming of others, of fault-finding, of self-justifying, of emptiness, of wrong talking, and so on. … And however a person may wish to wake up and become another person and lead another life these artificial appliances interfere very much with his good intentions. They are called buffers. Like the contrivances on railway carriages, their action is to lessen the shock of collision. But in the case of buffers in man their action is to prevent two contradictory sides of himself from coming into consciousness together.
“Buffers are created gradually and involuntarily by the life around us, in which we are brought up. Their action is to prevent a man from feeling conscience – that is, from feeling “all together.” For example, very strong buffers exist between our likes and dislikes, between our pleasant feelings towards someone and our unpleasant feelings. To break a buffer it is necessary to observe oneself over a long period and remember how one felt and how one is feeling. That is, it is necessary to see on both sides of a buffer together, to see the contradictory sides of oneself that are separated by the buffer. Once a buffer is broken it cannot form again. … Only shocks can lead a man out of the state he is in. When a man realizes something about himself, he suffers a shock … The more a man observes himself the more likely will it be for him to begin to see buffers in himself. The reason is that the more you observe yourselves the more you will catch glimpses of yourselves as a whole.”
– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Concept of Conscience in the Work,” July 16, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 40
Other concepts in the Work related to buffers are pictures, false personality, acquired conscience, and imaginary I.