Associations have been described as “I’s” holding hands. The Work tells us that there are three types of associations:


  • Associations produced involuntarily. These happen by circumstance. Maurice Nicoll gives the example of eating a pear when a worm crawls out of it. Thereafter, “pear” and its taste, smell, shape, etc. become connected with “nasty worm,” simply because the two things happened together. It is all mechanical.
  • Voluntary associations. Herein, Dr. Nicoll puts education, and explains this to be a complex set of associations laid down voluntarily; partly by the will of another, and partly by one’s own will. However, if one labors at learning and uses directed attention, then voluntarily formed associations are laid down.
  • Associations of a high order. These are conscious associations borne of Self-remembering and work on oneself, “from the process known as the transformation of impressions, where impressions of all kinds whether arising without or within, are consciously perceived and related with similar impressions, already recorded, and connected with their centers.”
    – Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Internal Considering and External Considering,” June 5, 1943, Vol. 1, p. 302

The Work says that we do not see a person today, we see them yesterday. We are not conscious of that person, only of our associations about them, i.e., we merely recognize the person. We live in a limited world defined by our associations. The center responsible for associations is the intellectual center – the brain files away both useful and useless associations.  We can develop new associations with increased consciousness which enables us to think and see people, places, and things in new and fresh ways. We are no longer in a prison of our own making constructed by subjective habits of thought. The moment we take in an impression in a new way – in truth, without associations – is the moment we increase our consciousness.

“Our aim is for the mind to become free and still and no longer the slave of [mechanical] associations so that the inner teacher can speak. … Something new happens when you make a new connection; you stop and take a different path. You want to make light, to make new comparisons. The Work is to redeem the mind.

– Beryl Pogson, The Work Life, pp. 120-121