A, B, C Influences

Influences are the impressions that are taken in through our senses. The Work teaches that we are affected by three different categories known as A, B, and C influences.  A influences are from life, created in World 48 by its interests, commerce, conflicts, ambitions, laws, careers, mass events, media, politics, and all the personal business of being alive in the world. They have no relationship at all to B and C influences. C influences are very fine energies coming from Worlds 12 and 6, the realm of the Conscious Circle of Humanity. When they are sown into World 48, they are impacted by A influences and thus become B influences. An example is the Bible – divinely inspired, yet written by imperfect human beings. In this way, very high hydrogens (energies) are made a bit coarser so that we can understand and use them. The Work teaches us that this is how mercy comes into being here in World 48. Our three centers – intellectual, emotional, and moving – work with these energies, and the quality of our attention determines how deeply the influences are taken in.


“This is the reason why we work to organize and purify our lower centers for the reception of our higher centers. They conduct C influences from the Kingdom of Heaven within us and guide us toward our full development – individual evolution. The communication coming from the level of the Conscious Circle of Humanity reaches us not in a language of words that we can learn to decipher but in inspiration, understanding, guidance, and direction.”

– Rebecca Nottingham, The Work: Esotericism and Christian Psychology, p. 103

Acquired Conscience

Also known in the Work as false conscience, traditional conscience, mechanical conscience and artificial conscience

Acquired conscience is a vast collection of beliefs, judgments, biases and associations, which, as is implied in the name, is not inherent in us, but is formed in each of us in early life. Everyone has an acquired conscience, though it is different in each of us, according to our upbringing, the time and place we were born and many other factors.

“Tradition forms an acquired conscience in us and is stronger than individual contact with a person. Tradition makes you not yourself. You have traditional ‘I’s in you that are acquired, which makes it very difficult for you to become a real person, a real individual, free to communicate with everyone, and so it narrows down your relationship to people.

“You may privately think political agreement is a good thing but your traditional ‘I’s will prevent you from accepting it. We see many examples of this today. This means that your acquired conscience, traditional in this sense, prevents you from behaving intelligently as an individual. You are then collective and not individual in your judgment of things. You are really sacrificing your individual judgment to traditional conscience. But this is not Real Conscience: it is acquired conscience. A man stands on his honor, his tradition, his patriotism, and so on, and all this is acquired conscience, something he has been brought up to believe in, and such a man is not capable of direct individual thinking in connection with an actual situation. He will not give up his acquired conscience, which is various in different nations, whereas the Work teaches that Real Conscience is the same in everyone and not various, and through it agreement is possible.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Acquired Conscience,” February 17, 1945, Vol. 2, p. 618

Other distinguishing aspects of acquired conscience which can help us to observe it in action:

  • It is concerned with morality and dualism. It makes us divide things and people into right and wrong, less than and greater than.
  • It often concerns itself with what we want thought about us. It always self-justifies if we are found lacking in our own estimation or we are seen not living up to our façade, so it is related to pride and vanity and false personality.
  • It’s based on fear – fear of consequences, loss of prestige, criticism, not living up to group expectations.
  • The programs for happiness, as described by Fr. Keating – survival/security, affection/esteem and power/control – are a manifestation of acquired conscience.
  • It thinks things and people should be different from what they are.
  • Due to the action of buffers and multiplicity, one part of acquired conscience can be in direct opposition to another. Different ‘I’s can have different, contradictory wills.
  • It is loud, based on crowd-mentality, and mechanical; Real Conscience is quiet, individual, and new and fresh in each moment.
  • “Acquired or false conscience is … a rigid fixed thing, a mechanical thing, whereas Real Conscience is quite different. It sees everything in its true light and so judges it differently in each case. It is relative, not absolute.” (Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Acquired Conscience,” Feb. 17, 1945, Vol. 2, pp. 619-626)
  • Finally, being acquired; it does not really belong to us; rather, it imposes itself upon us and evokes a chorus of “shoulds” for ourselves and others.

Other concepts in the Work related to acquired conscience are pictures, false personality, imaginary ‘I’ and buffers.


“… The most general definition of what aim means in the Work sense is that it is to hear what the Work teaches and to do what it says.”

Setting and attempting to follow aim is one of the main efforts of attention the Work asks of us. Even if we see that we failed in our aim, but continue to Work in retrospect, we still benefit; nothing is lost. Aim in the Work gives us direction.

Aims in the Work have different scales. We may have an aim on the scale of experiencing inner liberation. Our smaller, daily aims (such as struggle against the expression of negativity or observe tone of voiceare in service to these greater aims.

 “You may see something in the far distance as your aim but in order to get to it you find that many lesser aims are necessary. … Mr. Ouspensky said that aim is like this: You see far off a light that you wish to reach. But on approaching it, you find many lesser lights, like lampposts along a road, that you must pass one by one, before you attain the final aim.”

“Aim in the Work is always connected with the act of Self-remembering. This is because in the state of Self-remembering a man can receive help, which cannot reach him in his ordinary states of consciousness. … If, at the same time as he remembers himself he remembers his aim, he may get help. For example, he may understand his aim better.

“Aim may be too general, or contain an inner contradiction, or be too difficult; or it may be too complicated and must be broken up into simpler parts; or it may have no sense in it. In making aim people usually try to run before they can walk.

 “In regard to Work on Being, the first aim in this Work is self-knowledge – knowledge of one’s Being. This applies to everyone. Knowledge of the Work is one thing: self-knowledge is another thing. Without self-knowledge you cannot make any aim about yourself. … All the many things you are told not to do, and the few things you are told to do, in the Work, are connected with the idea that Man can awaken from sleep and come under better influences. This is the grand aim of the Work. You must never forget this because personal aim must agree with the whole aim of the Work, which is awakening. It must lie in the same direction and not in some other or opposite one, because otherwise a contradiction appears. If you are studying a system about awaking from sleep, you cannot make a personal aim that causes you to sleep more deeply than ever.

 “Personal aim can only begin after some real self-knowledge is gained through direct observation in the light of the instructions of the Work. In order to work on your Being, you must see something in your Being to work on. …

 “So you must distinguish between life and the Work. There may be no reason why you should not do something in life, but every reason why you should not do it in the Work. Unless you make this distinction, you will be in a confusion about the meaning of aim in the Work. …

 – All quotations from Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries. “Personal Aim,” Vol. 1, pp. 171-174

See pages 175-176 in Volume 1 for personal aim suggestions.



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


“[T]he power to alter the structure of human life, inwardly as well as outwardly, does not reside in partial function of the psyche. Only that function which can be in actual relationship, actual contact, with all the parts of the self has the possibility of altering the self, or as serving as the channel which has the force that can alter the whole of the self. That function [is identified] as the power of gathered attention, the power of the soul.”

– Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity


It is useful to study and observe the state of attention in oneself and where it waxes and wanes in different situations. Attention is a powerful life force, an energy that can be directed but seldom is. The Work defines three levels of attention:


  1. Zero attention, where asleep in life, there is no consciousness behind our attention. Like machines, we simply move through life mechanically with no conscious attention on what is before us or what is happening within us. Zero attention belongs to the most mechanical part of the centers.
  2. Attracted attention, where there is some emotional connection or an awakened desire to what we are attending. This is where we begin to “pay” with our attention; some level of will is involved, at least to keep out distractions. This level belongs to the emotional part of the centers.
  3. Directed attention, which involves a great level of sustained and focused energy to keep the attention awake and pointed in one direction. The “payment” of attention, directed by effort and the engagement of the will, is significant. This level belongs to the intellectual or most inner part of the centers. John Fuchs describes it this way: “Focused, directed attention allows me to hear what my centers tell me, to see myself and my problems objectively as possible, uninfluenced by imagination or even the teaching. It can reveal the I which I am at the moment, cutting through the illusions that I have of myself. It allows me to produce the total inner quietness needed for the transformation of what I am into what I wish to be, for reaching a higher state. I see attention as force which gathers and focuses some of my scattered energies into one place, like a laser beam, or a magnifying lens focuses light. Attention can also be a force which helps create and increase the energy I need to carry out a task or project … Attention helps me to differentiate between thoughts, thinking and feeling.  Realize how very valuable this is, for so often we use our intellectual center when the solutions lies in our feelings. How often are we carried away by the emotions when clear intellect is needed. Attention is the ray which cuts through the cobwebs obscuring my path and shows me the kind of energy to use – intellectual, emotional or physical.” (Forty Years After Gurdjieff)


There is an even deeper level of attention where the subject-object dichotomy drops away into pure being.  But the starting point is to simply self-observe the state of attention at any given moment.


“You must try to be … conscious of all three foods [food, air, impressions] as often during the day as you can – on your own level of being. I sense my body when I set the breakfast table. In fact, I am aware of all my senses, aware of my hands holding the coffee cup, aware of the warmth of it, of the aromas of the coffee, tasting the deliciousness of it. I hear the bubbling sounds of water boiling and look at the room, seeing it in a different way. It becomes three-dimensional; furniture, pictures, the carpet, all appear as if I had never seen them before.  I feel, I see, I smell, I taste, because I am aware, awake, and I realize by contrast how often I am asleep to all this, when my attention is not gathered.”

– John Fuchs, Forty Years After Gurdjieff: A Guide to Practical Work

Balanced Man

“The numbers in the above diagram designate essential levels of being. Men 1-3 are undeveloped and act mechanically: No. 1’s center of gravity being in moving center, No. 2 in emotional center, and No. 3 in intellectual center. No. 4 is balanced in respect of having developed all centers to form a permanent center of gravity. The significant feature of No. 5 is the attainment of unity. It is a big step to No. 6, which means possessing the qualities the Work regards as real consciousness, will, and individuality. No. 7 possesses these properties permanently; such a one is a fully-developed man.”          

–  Beryl Pogson, Meetings with Beryl Pogson, p. 8


Qualities of Balanced Man include:

  • All centers and all parts of centers are developed and used rightly.
  • The centers do not interfere with one another.
  • Balance Man can choose which center and which part of center to use.
  • The emotional center is developed and can overcome violence.
  • One has consciousness of oneself and contact with higher centers.

The fundamental purpose of Fourth Way schools is to assist one’s evolution to the level of Balanced Man.



“Being: The inner cohesion of experience; it is what we are, as distinct from what we know, and is a gauge of our potentiality.”

– Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks, p. 348


The idea of being is closely related to consciousness and levels of consciousness and determines values, meaning and the perceived significance of things. Being is not the same as Essence, although Essence certainly contributes to one’s being. While the philosophical tradition’s exploration of ontology studies the “fact of one’s being-hereness,” (i.e., Heidegger’s concept of Dasein –, the concept of being in the Work is more qualitative, in other words, related to one’s level of being in any given moment and overall.


When we apply and practice the principles (i.e. knowledge) of the Work to our being, we increase understanding – and thereby – level of being.


Knowledge + Being = Understanding.


“Outer observation shows you where you are physically; inner observation – that its, self-observation – shows you where you are psychologically.  … Where we are psychologically at any moment is what we are at that moment, unless we are aware of it and separate internally from it. …


“Now it is not difficult to understand that there are different levels of knowledge. But it is not so easy to understand that there are different levels of being. … Usually people confuse existence with being. … Man is different from the animals. He is born as a self-developing organism and so is incomplete, at a lower level of being than he is destined for by his creation. … As distinct from animals, Man’s upbringing extends over a very long period, during which he acquires many things in his being – by education, by imitation, by custom. This is one reason why the being of one man is not similar to the being of another man. …


“Perhaps you have noticed that the idea of a man’s level of being always entered into religious thought and it was regarded as more important than anything else. The level of being of a saint was different from that of a sinner. Good men, bad men, evil men, truthful men, liars, sincere men, patient men, hypocrites, self-righteous men, vain-glorious men, and so on are terms referring to the side of being.


“So many things are said in this teaching about being that it is impossible to speak of them at one time. Let me mention one thing said about being which interested me very much when I first heard it. The saying was: Your being attracts your life. … It will always attract the same kind of things, the same situations, the same kind of friends, the same sort of people, the same difficulties, and so on, no matter where the person is or where he goes. To change being is to change one’s life, but to change one’s form of life is to not change one’s being. By altering your outside condition you will not change your life, because your being will continue to attract a certain kind of life. …


“People do not easily see that they have very distinct and limited outlines. They think they are boundless and free. They think they can be anything they please and do anything they wish and live how they choose. But if one begins to study one’s being – and at the same time one’s life – one discovers that one has a certain kind of being. This is a very long task. The is Work says that the study of our being is absolutely necessary.

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Psychological Commentary,” May 21 and May 28, 1942, Vol. 1, pp. 141, 144-147





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.

Center of Gravity

… a wise man [is he] who built his house on rock.

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.

But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

– Matthew 7:24-25


The term “center of gravity” originates in physics and refers to an imaginary point in a body of matter where the total weight of the body may be thought to be concentrated and, therefore, useful in designing structures and predicting the behaviors of moving bodies when acted upon (Source: Britannica). Perhaps similarly, in the Work, center of gravity refers to the basis of essential grounding from which one prioritizes, decides and acts. The Work teaches that everyone has an eternal center of gravity.  


Generally, however, center of gravity – originally grounded in essence – moves outward to what has been acquired from the particular circumstances of one’s life, such as interests, attractions, personal achievement and programs for happiness. It can then be observed that our center of gravity is outside ourselves.


“In this way, you, as it were, lose your original basis and become something acquired, something invented. Your feeling of I passes outwards into all sorts of feelings derived from life. A man feels no real inner stability when he derives his feeling of himself from life. That is, he is always afraid that something may happen to him, or to his fortune, or to his position, or his reputation. This is due to his identifying with everything that life has formed in him and this means that he only feels himself through personality. But other feelings of oneself are possible that are not derived from life and personality, and these feelings give a man a sense of stability that nothing outside him can take away. And it is from these feelings that a man begins to feel himself free, because they depend on nothing outside him, and so cannot be taken away from him. Such a man begins to be no longer so much a slave to outer things.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Internal Considering and External Considering, VII,” April 3, 1943, Vol. 1, p. 274


“If there is valuation and if in spite of all difficulties we can feel that here is something that can eventually lead us away from our present states, and if in spite all the failures this valuation persists, then a center of gravity will be formed, a point in the Work will be established, and when this is so, it is a very blessed condition.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Introductory Note on Practical Work,” December 14, 1943, Vol. 1, p. 370


Self-remembering is the beginning of the attempt to bring us back into ourselves and so into our real center of gravity.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Self-Observation and Self-Remembering,” October 21, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 535


Sometimes, center of gravity is used to describe something of importance, like a “center of gravity question” that one ponders for some time and thus it becomes a means for deeper understanding and even Self-remembering.


Consciousness and Conscience



In the Work, conscience, our means of discernment, is connected to emotional center and corresponds with one’s level of being in any given moment.


Acquired conscience is a vast collection of beliefs, judgments, biases and cultural associations, which, as is implied in the name, is not inherent in us, but is formed in each of us in early life. Everyone has an acquired conscience, though it is different in each of us, according to our life experience, gender, race, religion, place of origin and economic and cultural background, and many other factors.


Real Conscience, which the Work describes as “feeling all together,” is an inner compass or Truth-sensor which is the same in all people and eternal because it is from divine center. It is also known as buried conscience because it is obscured by inherited and acquired patterns. With the purification of the emotional center, Real Conscience, which is connected with Real I, emerges.


“The reason why you do things is quite different when you act from acquired conscience from when you act from Real Conscience. When you do a thing from Real Conscience, from consciousness of yourself and what you are like, its action is to develop essence. You make, as it were, essence understand why certain things are necessary. But if you act from acquired conscience for the sake of internal considering as to how you stand with other people in order to make a better position for yourself, then it will not develop essence because the neutralizing force is quite different. You will then do a thing for the sake of some form of merit and not from insight into the good of what you are doing for its own sake. You may be meritorious, an excellent person, and yet inwardly you may be nothing but a sham or practically so. What we learn of good from the acquired side of us by education must be shifted from that outer basis and become a genuine sincere thing which we wish to live, not merely imitate, which we wish to be and not merely pretend to be. In all this lies a great deal of very sincere self-observation …”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Acquired Conscience,” Feb. 17, 1945, Vol. 2, pp. 619-626


“Psychological evolution is an increase of consciousness, a bringing together of more things into a unity – because consciousness means a knowing together. In the same way an evolution of the emotions is a bringing together of many different feelings and this makes conscience. And the two – this knowing together and this feeling together – are the lines of psychological evolution, both for Man himself and for Humanity.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Levels of Consciousness,” Aug. 12, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 498




The Work term consciousness points to the potential of humans, through recognition of their place in the universe and through the capacity for self-awareness, to awaken to a more complete experience of being human – an existence of expanded agency, choice, will and conscious love.


“Mr. [Ouspensky] said that we could not form any conception of a ‘development of love’ without a development of consciousness. … He said, ‘This Work speaks mainly of a possible development of consciousness in Man; as Man is, he is not yet properly conscious. Love must become conscious … [A] man who reaches the highest state of consciousness is in a quite different state. While in that state he sees what everything really is. … This happens when a man becomes conscious in the highest or most real part of him – that is, in Real I in him. Such a man would understand what love of God is.'”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on False Personality and Self-Love, July 6, 1946, Vol. 3, p. 917


At its core, the word consciousness suggests knowing that we know. Bernadette Roberts refers to this as a function of the mind’s reflexive capacity. Consciousness is also clearly related to whatever it means to be created in the image of God, or manifested from the Absolute. While there are many different definitions and experiences of the mystery of human consciousness, in the Work, consciousness may be defined as the state or atmosphere by which we experience reality, including oneself. Notice that this state or atmosphere may include intellectual knowing, but also can transcend intellectual knowing. If we employ self-observation, we will soon recognize that we have a shifting kaleidoscope of I’s that produce different states in oneself: one moment we are in one state and, in another moment, another state based upon the dominance of the I’s at the fore of our being.


The Work teaches that we have four possible states of consciousness (two of which we know and two of which we do not know) but it is possible to develop a permanent unchanging I – Real I – and thus, reach a state of self-consciousness (Self-remembering, the third state of consciousness) and, ultimately, objective consciousness (the fourth state of consciousness).




“Consciousness: A fully attentive state in which, by literal definition, one is aware of everything simultaneously; but practically, of everything that one knows of a particular subject. Although we have only rare flashes of it, we are never entirely without it, and if used, it will increase in energy, because it is the subjective aspect of Being and thus of relative intensity. In man, the first degree of consciousness is sleep, when only automatic functions require energy. The second, waking-consciousness, is only marginally distinguishable from sleep. The third degree, self-consciousness, in which one is objectively aware of oneself in moments of action, feeling or thought, is everyone’s right. The fourth state, objective consciousness, gives objective truth about everything. Energy of consciousness is always trying to make connections, thus it produces desires. … Self-remembering is the state experienced when the energy of consciousness connects one to oneself.”

– Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks




“The two higher states of consciousness are connected with the functioning of the two higher centers in man.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Notes on Different Qualities of Consciousness,” November 14, 1948, Vol. 4, p. 1244



“Psychological evolution is an increase of consciousness, a bringing together of more things into a unity – because consciousness means a knowing together. In the same way an evolution of the emotions is a bringing together of many different feelings and this makes conscience. And the two – this knowing together and this feeling together – are the lines of psychological evolution, both for Man himself and for Humanity.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Levels of Consciousness,” Aug. 12, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 498






Deputy Steward

The Work teaches that we are not a unity of being, but a multiplicity.  We can verify this in our own experience through self-observation. A primary point in the Work is to divide oneself into two: an observing side and an observed side and to observe oneself from the angle of Work ideas and, thereby awaken from the mechanicality of the multiplicity, a movement toward unity of being. Deputy Steward is the name given to the experience and process of inner coherence with various I’s or aspects of the self that can work and understand. When there is a greater sense of the Work coming alive in oneself and consistently coming to meet life situations in a new way through the Work, one can know that the energy and processes of Deputy Steward are active.


“(1) If a man takes himself as one, no struggle can develop within him. If no struggle develops within him, he cannot change. Why is this so?


“(2) If a man supposes there is only one thing that acts, thinks and feels in him – that is, one ‘I’ – then he cannot understand that there should be one thing that commands and another that obeys. …


“(3) If a man is so hypnotized and therefore so asleep as to think he is one, he cannot receive the ideas of the Work. …


“(4) If a man thinks he is one and a unity, and that it is always the same self that acts and thinks and does, how can he observe himself? He cannot … In such a case, a man often believes that observation means observation of something outside himself – of buses, streets, people, scenery, etc. But self-observation is not done via the external senses which show only what is not oneself – i.e., the outer world.


“(5) Unless the Work is established in a man by means of Observing I, nothing can change in him. Observing I is more interior than life as sense. …


“(6) The establishing of Observing I is to make something more interior in a man, so that it can observe what is more exterior in him (exterior not in the sense of outer exterior life, but in him, in his personality, in Johnson, if his name is Johnson). …


“(7) After a long time in the Work the inner system, which starts from willing self-observation – that is, from a willing Observing I – begins to act and control the mechanical man. It does this by means of collecting round it all ‘I’s in personality which wish to and can work. This stage is Deputy-Steward. …. If Deputy-Steward, in spite of endless failures, becomes strong enough, ‘Steward’ draws near. ‘Steward’ belongs to something above man.

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Man is Not A Unity But Multiple,” Vol. 1, pp. 36-37


Essence represents all that is most real in us, our most essential being qualities. Like a seed, it is full of potential but unrealized and largely inactive. The Work says that essence comes down from the stars through the receptive apparatus of our parents, but it develops only up to a point through the normal life circumstances of our first education – the usual acquired programming of parents, education and cultural influences. In the Book of Genesis, essence is akin to being created in the image and likeness of God. Personality – defined in the Work as all that is acquired – forms round essence. Personality provides a necessary source of energy for the growth and development of essence once we begin our second education in awakening.


As this process of awakening unfolds, a reversal of energy begins, where personality becomes more passive and essence becomes more active. This doesn’t mean the personality goes away; it just stops being in charge. In actual expression, there is no distinct line between essence and personality; they are a mix of levels and origins and represent a spectrum of energies and manifestations, which can become increasingly unified and spiritually oriented. These ideas very much relate to the Work understanding that Man is a self-developing organism.


So essence is a divine seed planted into fertile ground. Our parents, our place and time of birth, our bodies and personalities with their unique traits and generational influences, dispositions and ways of being – all comprise just the right circumstances for the growth and development of essence. Essence might be described as what is uniquely ours in the divine/human alchemy gifted to us.  Essence is also universal, meaning that everyone is born with it. When the second education is engaged, the gift of essence is brought to its fullness. In many ways, the spiritual journey is what we do with the gift of our essence.


Note that the Work does not typically use the words “soul” or “spirit.”


“[Essence is what] is real in a person, having existed since (and theoretically before) birth. Its growth, particularly in highly artificial environments, is held in abeyance in a person’s early years while personality is formed around it, entailing a risk that this synthetic protective shell may assume unwarranted importance. Essence, the only vehicle for habitation of Real I, understands when developed that laws are the primary reality by which events and things are manifested. …


“‘Essence has to grow wings in order to ascend,’ Mrs. Pogson said. … ‘All seeds are perfect,’ she said. ‘They are made to show us something.  Dr. Nicoll loved to talk about this. The tree is in the seed. In us, the New Man is in essence and the wings are there, only what is in us has to learn to use them. That is why so much is said about Self-remembering, which in a way is using our wings, remembering that we have wings. The more you use these wings the stronger they will be. But if people don’t believe they have wings, they can hardly do it at all. … [E]very essence is unique. Always there is this truth that you don’t know from seeing the seed what it will develop into.'”

-Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks



Things in life become “events” in the Work when we combine with them, when we put our feeling of “I” in them and take them personally.  In themselves, the events of life are neutral, but when we react to them, they become events to us.


“It is not exactly that external life furnishes the material to work on, although this is true. It is rather that the way you take external life is the material to work on. Life is a changing kaleidoscope of events, always turning. The difficulty is that people take life and their reactions to life as the same thing. They find it difficult to realize that the same incident in outer life, such as a thunderstorm, is not the same as their mechanical reaction to it and does not affect everyone in the same way as it affects them. That is, the storm, which is part of outer life at the moment, and is a neutral, impersonal thing, and their mechanical reactions to it, which are personal, say, alarm, seem identical to them. Can you grasp what is meant? Some people enjoy storms. A storm – that is, an event in life – can produce different reactions in different people. Well, it is upon these mechanical reactions in oneself that one must begin to work by practicing non-identifying and all the Work teaches.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On Identifying with Your Part in Life,” Vol. 3, p. 1209


“Understand clearly that we cannot change the events but only our way of taking them. But if we have not practiced self-observation, if we have not made a new place in our minds where we can, to a small extent, observe incoming impressions before reacting to them and observe how ordinarily we would react, this will be impossible. That is, we remain machines governed by life, which is a series of changing events that overpower us in a regular rotation. Men and women glued to life cannot distinguish themselves from life. They are life: life as the event is them. Life as a series of changing events comes into us as impressions and causes us to react mechanically. We take this mechanical reaction as I, as oneself. We identify with every event, more, or less. The point of the Work is to create a conscious place or bar or customs-house where we can be conscious of the quality of incoming impressions and so detect a typical event, and what would be our mechanical reaction to it before we react mechanically to it. … For instance, you lose your money. That is an event. Your reaction to this possible event, if it has not happened to you, will not be the same as when you hear that X has lost his money. In such a case X will be under the hypnotic power of the particular event called ‘losing your money.’ You will not feel all that it means until the event in the turn of the wheel of events called life picks on you. Yes, to hear of events happening to others is quite different from the events happening to you. What does it mean ‘an event happening to you?’ It means that you, by a turn of the wheel, suddenly are in the midst of an event – say, a car-crash. That is quite different from reading about such an event. Do you see that here lies something very curious?”

Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Life as Events and our Mechanical Reactions by Identifying with Them,” Vol. 4, pp. 1256-1257

External Considering

Love your neighbor as yourself.
– Mark 12:31


Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
– Matthew 7:12


After the fundamental practices of self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering, external considering is probably the most important practice for work on the side of being. It is one of the main ways to work with and neutralize negative emotions and create understanding.  It also belongs to both first-and second-line of the Work – work on oneself and work in relationship with others.


There are several practical ways to externally consider:

  • Put yourself in the position of your neighbor. Visualize yourself as the other person, feeling into their circumstances, their difficulties, their perspectives. To do this involves both seeing oneself (self-observation) and seeing the other at the same time.
  • Look at yourself from another person’s perspective – see yourself through their perspectives and attitudes.
  • Find what we dislike or judge in another in ourselves.

External considering is always a conscious act because it depends on aim, effort, visualization and sincerity.


Note that worrying about others is not external considering because it is mixed up with oneself and negative emotions.


The Work aphorism, “If you truly understood, you would not disagree” is an understanding brought about by the practice of external considering.


“You have to direct your attention to the other person; you cannot externally consider unless you are using a very fine energy of attention. … The small I’s which hate, like, and so on, are always serving the self; but if you direct your attention to the other person, it may be that gradually you will have an intuition of what the real needs of the person are. The needs of the external man differ. Some people need health, some need money, and some need physical rest, but the needs of the inner man are nearly the same for everybody. What sort of thing does the inner man want? … You are not likely to be able to externally consider in the person’s presence unless you have thought about him for a long time when he is not there. … It is a question of seeing a person objectively without bringing yourself into it.”

– Beryl Pogson, The Work Life


“[Faith is] an awareness of levels that leads to an understanding of the principle of scale and the recognition of a pattern in existence formed by a creative act, which implies a Creator. The Greek word translated in the Gospels as faith (pistis) means ‘another kind of thinking’ and is related to obedience. …


“[F]aith interpreted as an awareness of levels is closely linked with this Work understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven. [Mrs. Pogson said]: ‘There are interesting clues Dr. Nicoll gives in The New Man when he speaks about faith in relation to unity. …


… it is clearly also connected with the power that a man may gain over himself … The Greek word for faith – pistis – is from the verb peitbo, which means to persuade, or make obey. What in a man will make all sides of himself obey him? What persuasion in his mind will bring him into a position where everything in him will yield its power to him? If a man could find this secret, he would be master of himself, not directly, through his own power, but through the power given him by faith.


“Every obstacle, every natural difficulty, is rendered powerless and must obey the will of the man who possesses faith – not his ordinary will but the will arising from another level and source in him opened by faith. He is saying that faith opens the way so that higher influences can come in and make these things possible. We have to have faith which opens the doors for these higher influences to come in.”

– Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks


“Faith is connected with the idea of transformation and so is not mere belief, on the ordinary plane, as when a person might believe in this man or not believe in him, as the case may be. As we shall see later, in another narrative bearing on the real meaning of faith – when the conversation of the centurion with Christ is mentioned – faith, in its essential meaning, denotes a conviction, a certainty, that a higher interpretation of life exists, and as a consequence, that the transformation of Man is a possibility. The peculiar quality of faith lies in this idea, that life can only be understood and solved by the sense of something higher than Man as he is, and that Man has this possibility of being transformed and passing into entirely new meanings in regard to his life on earth. It is this peculiar quality that is the essence of faith and renders it utterly different from what we usually call belief. Faith, in fact, undermines all our ordinary and natural beliefs because it leads away from worldly belief and in a direction that can no longer be confirmed by … the evidence of sense.”

– Maurice Nicoll, The New Man

First Conscious Shock

First conscious shock is an effort to transform incoming impressions in oneself — to see/hear/assimilate something in a new way, as opposed to the way we mechanically receive an impression when asleep in life.  Applying first conscious shock to oneself is a way of Self-remembering, and thereby creates new energies (hydrogens) in oneself. In transforming impressions, we are transformed, because our feeling of I is not invested in everything we see, hear, feel, think and experience. We are freer to receive higher influences.


“[I]f impressions come in and ring up the usual place [in you] there can be no digestion of impressions at all. … Now suppose you are sufficiently interested and sufficiently conscious to notice how these impressions fall on you mechanically, and suppose that you have sufficient valuation of the Work to wish to transform these impressions, which means not letting them simply fall on their usual place, exciting your usual dislikes and hatreds. In order to do this you must have some power of digesting impressions, and this is where the Work comes in. You know that the Work says that people are mechanical. Now suppose you apply a Work idea of this kind at the moment when you notice that someone is making a customary negative impression on you. If you understand something of what it means when it is said in the Work that people are mechanical, then you will not accept the impression so easily. You will realize that it is not the person’s fault. You will realize that the person always does this, always says this, because he is a machine. But of course you all know already that you will never really see in the right way the mechanicalness of other people unless you see your own mechanicalness and how you are constantly doing the same thing. Perhaps you will see what I mean by these illustrations of transforming impressions. If you have these Work-thoughts in connection with this person the impression will fall in a quite new place in you. It will be digested. But first of all you must have a new kind of thinking, some degree of metanoia, before you can transform or digest these impressions.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Digestion of Impressions,” Vol. 1, pp. 338-39


Related to the Work octave, first conscious shock is applied at the Mi-Fa interval; it is the shock necessary to transcend recurrence (do-re-mi, do-re-mi) and evolve in being and understanding. Some examples of practicing first conscious shock are remembering one’s aim, using a Work idea to see a situation or person in a new way, and practicing inner stop. In short, anything that makes us more conscious belongs to the practice of first conscious shock.


Have you applied the shock of the Work to yourself?


Future Memory


With enough photographs acquired through self-observation, we accumulate an awareness of how one is and has been.  We can become more aware of recurrence of behavior, moods, thought patterns, inner states of being and events. We can be more prepared for people and events that otherwise would trigger mechanical reactions.  In a state of Self-remembering, we can visualize an upcoming encounter or recurring pattern and send ahead conscious energy and intention for a Work idea/tool to come and meet us so we can choose and behave differently. With future memory, we use imagination in a creative and generative way to set an aim for ourselves and then visualize ourselves following the path of that aim.  The visualization draws us forth to meet the future.


Good Householder

In the Work, we begin as good householders – we conscientiously fulfill our responsibilities in life, to ourselves and others. We make the effort and learn the skills necessary to fulfill our human needs for community, psychological health, productive work, nutritious food, enough sleep and exercise, adequate clothing and safe shelter, maintained in order, beauty and simplicity. All of this is often referred to as our first education. Yet as good householders, we no longer believe in these life pursuits as ends in themselves. Life is school and everything in it is curriculum in service to the evolution of consciousness.


“A person must know how to be in life and how to use life and get what he wants from life and at the same time be in the Work. This is only possible for … ‘good householders’ – who are those who do their duty in life but do not believe in life. And you must realize that in this Work it is not demanded of you that you give up life or anything of that kind. On the contrary, this Work makes you realize that you must use life as far as you can for experience. But you must not trust life and get lost in it and think the goal lies in life-experiences.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Effort,” Vol. 1, December 19, 1941, p. 92

Higher Emotional and Higher Mental Centers

No longer will your Teacher hide,

but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,

And your ears shall hear a word behind you:

“This is the way; walk in it,”

when you would turn to the right or the left.
– Isaiah 30: 20-21


“Higher emotional and intellectual centers – which, being timeless … are unlike the ordinary minds [intellectual, moving, emotional centers] – are already developed in us and working but at a pitch too fine for us to ‘hear’ until our lower centers are balanced and purified. Higher emotional center is the seat of conscience and the organ of individuality. Higher intellectual center puts one in touch with cosmic principles.”

– Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks, p. 349


One can recall that in Centering Prayer there is a twofold action: removal of the obstacles to grace through purification of our unconscious, and the bringing into awareness of our core of goodness and the unconditional love of God. These processes sound a lot like the uncovering of the higher emotional and higher intellectual centers, giving us ears to hear their high frequencies.  The Divine Indwelling is always present and active within us; as we awaken, we learn to attune ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.


In the system of the Work, the term hydrogen refers to “the basic element or substances of life which are numbered according to what Gurdjieff called their ‘density of vibrations,’ and so can be thought of as higher or lower energies, the higher energies being finer or less dense” (Russell Schreiber, Gurdjieff’s Transformational Psychology: The Art of Compassionate Self-Study, p. 419), each having an assigned numerical value. The term “hydrogen” is not related to the naturally occurring element on the periodic table known as H1. Gurdjieff could have used any word to convey his meaning. Since Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and essential to life, it is a very good placeholder word to be used as a symbol of the great scale of ascending and descending energies in the cosmos, as if from the infinite Absolute God to the infinitesimal quantum quark.


Cosmologically, “a ‘point of the universe’ can be designated by the number of the hydrogen which predominates in it or is central in it” (P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of The Miraculous, p. 170). Hydrogens are related to the idea that every living thing eats food or is eaten, and the numbers assigned represent the level of being of each. Gurdjieff brought this forth in his “Diagram of Everything Living” [also known as the Step Diagram]:


“According to this diagram every kind of creature, every degree of being, is defined by what serves as food for this kind of creature or being of a given level and for what they themselves serve as food because in the cosmic order each class of creature feeds on a definite class of lower creature and is food for a definite class of higher creatures.”

– G.I. Gurdjieff, as quoted by P.D. Ouspensky in In Search of The Miraculous, pp. 322-323.


In the human microcosm, our bodies transform these substances into energies to be used physically, psychologically, and spiritually.


The hydrogen numbering system is also symbolic and representative. The point of the numbering is less about the numeric values and more about conveying the dynamic evolution, development, unfoldment, and doubling of the energies up and down the model of the ray of creation, beginning with fewer orders of laws, 1, and consummating with more orders of laws, 6144. One key point is that the Absolute is under fewer “laws” than all its “emanations.” The Absolute corresponds to the number 1 in part because the Absolute is under no laws other than its own will. Thus, the hydrogens also may correspond not only to the processes of digestion of “food” or influences occurring in the cosmos but also to the number of laws any given level or manifestation functions under. One can ponder also that the hydrogen table begins with the Absolute and completes with the Absolute, conveying the impression that the All and Everything that is the Absolute, from a theological perspective, occurs in, with, through, and as the omnipresence of God, at every level. This also corresponds to the Law of Seven, where the octave begins with Do and completes with Do.


“The work of the factory [human organism] consists in transforming one kind of matter into another, namely, the coarser matters, in the cosmic sense, into finer ones. The factory receives, as raw material from the outer world, a number of coarse ‘hydrogens’ and transforms them into finer hydrogens by means of a whole series of complicated alchemical processes.”

– Ibid, pp. 179-80.


“The centers of the human machine work with different ‘hydrogens.’ …


“The thinking or intellectual center is the slowest of all the three centers … It works with ‘hydrogen’ 48 … The moving center works with ‘hydrogen’ 24. ‘Hydrogen’ 24 is many times quicker and more mobile than ‘hydrogen’ 48. The intellectual center is never able to follow the work of the moving center. We are unable to follow either our own movements or other people’s movements unless they are artificially slowed down. Still less are we able to follow the work of the inner, the instinctive functions of our organism, the work of the instinctive mind which constitutes, as it were, one side of the moving center.


The emotional center can work with ‘hydrogen’ 12. In reality, however, it very seldom works with this fine ‘hydrogen.’… If the emotional center were to work with ‘hydrogen’ 12, its work would be connected with the work of the higher emotional center. In those cases … a temporary connection with the higher emotional center takes place and man experiences new emotions, new impressions hitherto entirely unknown to him, for the description of which he has neither words nor expressions.”

– Ibid, pp. 193-4.



Identification is a state where our “feeling of I” or center of gravity moves outward to a person, thing, thought or event. We become what we are identified with and thus are psychologically asleep.


“We are told in this Work that one of the things that we have to observe in ourselves is identifying. It is said that identifying is the most terrible force acting on this planet that keeps people asleep and so prevents them from awakening. As we are – that is, as mechanical people, who do everything mechanically and have not got any proper consciousness – we identify at every moment. We identify with our thoughts, with our feelings, and we identify with what happens in outer life. In this way we are kept in prison without realizing it – and only through the development of consciousness can we get out of this prison. …


“That is why it is so necessary to begin to work on oneself and to separate oneself from oneself. When we remember ourselves, we are not identified – that is, when one reaches the third level of consciousness that exists in all humanity and is really their birthright – we are in state of consciousness that can receive help from Higher Centers – namely, from Conscious Humanity – but when we are in the second state of consciousness we are always in a constant state of identifying, identifying with money, identifying with people, and identifying with ambition and identifying with oneself, and so are asleep … In the second state of consciousness, the so-called waking state, nothing from a higher level of being can reach us.”


– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Identifying,” May 25, 1946, Vol. 3, pp. 899, 901

The development of the consciousness needed to get out of the prison of identification begins with the core Work practices of self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering.

Imaginary I

Imaginary I in the Work refers to the sense or conviction that we operate as if we were one permanent, consistent, conscious person, that is, the imagination that we have a real I in us. This misperception stands in the way of inner change.


Not only are we convinced that we are a unified self, but due to pictures and buffers, we see ourselves as good, right, charming, loving and reasonable. If we observe negative emotions (thoughts, feelings and sensations that are angry, judging, resentful, envious, suspicious, despondent or blaming), we self-justify; we ascribe the cause to people and events outside of us. We do not realize that the source of all of our suffering is within us.


“Are you going to say ‘I’ to them? All sorts and kinds of small ignorant I’s try to eat us all day long. Do you know what inner separation means? If not, then these small, negative, ignorant, narrow, stupid I’s will eat your Work force like a lot of beetles and mice and rats every day. It is a pity to give them the authority of I – of yourself. You will then be dragged down from the moment you get up in the morning. It is really a tragedy to see a person in the Work, who really feels and wants the Work, quite incapable of realizing different I’s in himself or herself. … On the other hand, if you can see them as I’s in you that you do not care for and deliberately decide by experience not to consent to or believe in what they say, then you begin to enter the way of this Work, even if they overpower you often for the time being. There is a phrase in the Work: ‘This is not I.'”*


The Work gives us an extraordinary path to freedom. After persistent self-observation, we realize that we are not one I, but many I’s. We recognize that some I’s give us force and some rob us of force and we learn to non-identify with those that lead downward towards reactivity and sleep. We awaken to the power of choice and non-identification.


“If you keep a garden, do you not throw out weeds and cultivate and nourish and tend useful plants? Is it not impossible to do this in your inner life if you take everything as you? You have bad thoughts or bad feelings. … Perhaps you will say: ‘Yes, but these bad thoughts and feelings are in me so what can I do?’ What can you do? You can agree with them, consent to them, identify with them and give them the authority of I. But supposing that you do not agree with them, consent to them or identify with them and do not say I to them? Will they get stronger or weaker? Well, think for yourself. …


“The problem is an inner one. Its solution begins with self-observation according to definite instructions. So unless you can observe yourself, the Work remains dead. In order to observe yourself, it is necessary to realize that you are not one but many. Unless you can see eventually different I’s in yourself, you cannot reject or select. And without the Work and the understanding of what it is about, you will not be able – eventually – to reject and select rightly. But if this is done, new influences begin to enter your inner life. You begin to feel the beginning of new life, and very gracious it is. If you listen to it, something begins to grow.”

*All quotations from: Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Self-Observation,” May 13, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 439



The Work teaches that there are foods necessary for human life: ordinary food, air, and impressions. These three foods give energy and are necessary but the most important is the food of impressions. One can become ill from lack of any one of these three foods, or from the poor quality of any one of them, or from our improper or incomplete assimilation and digestive functions themselves. Further, the teaching states that without ordinary food, one can live for perhaps a few weeks. Without the food of air, one can perhaps live a few minutes. And the Work says that without some food of impressions, one cannot live even a moment. The degree of refinement, the digestion of the latter depends on the degree of one’s consciousness.


“We live by impressions. Impressions are the most important food of all the foods that enter the human machine. … No matter what a depressed person eats with his mouth, or what air he breathes, it will not cure him until he gets that letter that he is waiting for in which it is said that he has passed his examination, or that somebody loves him, or that he has won his lawsuit. Now a letter is not air, nor physical food: it is a series of ink-marks on a paper that convey to him certain meaning that transforms his state. …


“Now do you think we live chiefly in a world of impressions and depend upon them? What you hear, what you read, what you see, constitutes impressions – and also what we think to ourselves inwardly. Our real life is this world of impressions and how we receive them and how we react to them, and it is in this world if impressions that we have to learn to live in the right way, this very delicate world that we are continually concerned with and concerned about. A telegram [an email, a news feed] may completely alter a sense of the future. A telegram [an email, a news feed] is neither the food of air nor physical food like a beefsteak but it is a totally different kind of food which the Work calls impressions. When a person smiles at you, it is an impression and it may warm your heart and your whole being, whereas when a person frowns at you the reverse result may be felt. Impressions are psychological and yet the Work says they have a certain materiality, a finer materiality than the materiality of air or a beefsteak. …


“Being exposed to constant bad news, constant negative criticism by others, constant fault-finding, all these form a class of impressions that will not give us the right force for normal life – I mean, under ordinary conditions of life. We all remember when someone has said something pleasant to us, and we must all have noticed how sometimes a single look or word can make us feel much better. In this delicate world of psychological impressions we are like clumsy hippopotami, both to ourselves and to other people. For a long time we try to get impressions from others that will make us content with ourselves, having no strength to work against the wrong feelings of ourselves produced, for example, by flattery, by compliments, by successful moments, etc. When we are in that state our psychic life is far too delicate and not rightly based. What is it we crave most, mechanically speaking? We crave most attention, and this belongs to the satisfaction of the vanity. … To live by impressions of this kind is to live the life of this most powerful thing in us called false personality. …


“The question in the Work is: ‘On what do impressions fall in you?’ …


“When impressions begin to fall on us to a deeper level, we begin to live in an entirely new world. If you want to live in a new world you must go deeper – you must get away from the surface world of yourself and this is certainly in one sense painful but in another sense extraordinarily full of meaning and satisfaction. You then begin to realize what this means: ‘I am not this “I”‘ and this already means a certain degree of Self-remembering. Now the Work teaches that we must have constant impressions in order to live. We must have the impressions of all foods, all the fruits of the earth, because we are a microcosmos or small world living first of all in the macrocosmos or big world of nature (our first big world – i.e., the first cosmos above us called in the Work ‘organic life’). We are given the power in the marvelous organization of our senses to taste the impressions of this big world of nature. We are given the power of tasting butter and jam and bread and pears and apples and caviar and fish and meat, and of smelling grass and the sea. Have you ever thought that we have these powers already in us? … We have eyes that respond to the vibrations of light, ears that respond to the vibrations of air. In short, we are constructed to take in impressions. …


“Now I want to bring in here in this connection what the Work calls the supreme food of impressions. Let us suppose we are governed by tastes. We have heard about inner taste which can discriminate between good psychological food and bad psychological food just as our physical taste can in regard to literal food. The supreme physical impression that we can give our whole machine is that of Self-remembering, the finest taste of all tastes possible, the taste of something akin to ‘I.’ The Work says that a moment of Self-remembering supplies every cell in the body with food of a kind that it does not ordinarily get. The Work says that when you remember yourself you give a shock to the whole of you. Every cell receives force and new energy – i.e., a new food. … If you can do this, you will notice that you feel quite different, as if you had turned on the light. …


“The highest impression is the feeling of Real ‘I.’ This does not come from outside but is an impression from inside.

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on The Food of Impressions,” Vol. 2, pp. 652-657


The Work idea of impressions is also connected to the food octave and hydrogens, first conscious shock and A-B-C influences, among others.


Inner Divisions of Centers

The three centers (minds/processes/modes of consciousness/perceptive lenses) in the Work are intellectual center, emotional center and moving/instinctive (body) center – simply stated: our thoughts, our emotions and our bodily sensations or movements. The Work teaches that each of these centers also has three parts or inner processes: outer parts of centers (which take in impressions in a superficial or mechanical way so that they are not usually retained in memory), middle parts of centers (connected with attracted attention), and inner parts of centers (connected with directed attention). As middle and inner parts of centers are developed in us, we become available to influences coming from what the Work calls “higher parts of centers,” which we can also think of as receptors for the Conscious Circle of Humanity or even the Holy Spirit.


The idea of inner parts of centers conveys the human experience of inwardness and depth, but the ideas of centers and inner centers does not mean that there are literally different compartments in us. One should think of these centers and inner parts of centers as operational processes that could occur in in greater harmony with one another, i.e. peak-experiences, or intense focus/attention. Neurobiology is an especially helpful way of updating and interpreting these mid-20th century Work ideas.


“At Dorton [one of Beryl Pogson’s Workhouses] there is a chance to rest from Mr. A (oneself). This is true relaxation. And the relaxing of the outer ‘I’s is followed by physical relaxation. Then ‘I’s in the middle parts of centers, which have potential, can develop. These ‘I’s use attracted attention. They are ‘I’s that feel wonder at the beautiful, delight in new discoveries, reverence for the higher. They can look upward and inward as well as outward. All the new activities at Dorton are designed to feed these ‘I’s, for instance, painting the flower patterns, or trying to hear new sounds that are usually shut out. These ‘I’s, when they become strong and developed, will nourish essence.


“Mr. Nicoll used to talk a great deal about the journey through ourselves, about how new truth, when it is established in memory, will help memory to travel to the inner divisions of centers. Outer ‘I’s have only poor memory. New truth falls on the middle parts of centers; it connects with Work memory. As memory moves inward it develops and becomes stronger. This is one way of preparing the lower centers for higher centers.


“Q: When they are developed, can these ‘I’s in the middle parts of centers look both ways?


“A: Yes. The middle parts of centers are emotional. Here it is possible to see and hear and do new things. Until your attention is attracted, it is in small ‘I’s which do not hear very much, but wander off into associative thinking. …


“Do you realize that you are not present at a meeting until you are at least in attracted attention?”

– Beryl Pogson, The Work Life, pp. 198-199


August 16, 1959

“We began by discussing outer man. We have to discover, first of all, our outermost man and the things of which we are most unconscious. Then we worked inward, discussing the middle parts of centers and the awakening of inner ‘I’s, which can feel wonder. We tried listening and looking more from the middle parts of centers. Here is the place of reversal, of turning around. Then we talked about attention, its importance, and the methods of giving attention. Directed attention takes us into the inner parts of centers. Then we spoke about Self-remembering. In this way, we have gone through the center.


“All this has to do with moving about in ourselves. Have you begun a little to have a taste of this?”

– Beryl Pogson, The Work Life, p. 219





Inner Stop

“One of the first conscious efforts you can make after you have observed some wrong work or negative I in you is the practice of inner stop. It means to become absolutely still within yourself. You are not trying to stop your thoughts. Stopping all thoughts are not possible. Gurdjieff used to give his students an exercise to stop all thoughts in order to allow them to verify that it is not possible. But you can hold yourself inviolate against any particular thought that wishes to grab your attention by being entirely motionless inside. It has nothing to do with stopping the I itself. I’s will continue to move in and out of your awareness but in your stillness, you have become invisible to them like a rabbit that freezes when it senses a predator. You notice an encroaching negative I or negative state and instead of trying to banish it you become silent and still inside yourself and therefore are invisible to it. You don’t talk to it or contend with it in any way, you simple stay still within yourself which will give you the time to proceed to the next movement which is usually the practice of inner silence but may be a different Work practice.  However, sometimes you will find the simple act of making inner stop will be all that’s necessary to free you, even if the same I returns later. … [quoting Maurice Nicoll] ‘To practice inner stop in the mind is like making oneself motionless in space. You are not noticed … In your mind you are surrounded by different I’s. Each wants you to believe you are it. Each wants to speak in your name. Suddenly they cannot find where you are.’ …

“The sly man, in the Work sense, knows how to avoid the snares of life I’s by using the right Work practice for the occasion. Sometimes it may be appropriate to simply observe; sometimes inner stop is the right approach; sometimes you might want to practice external considering; sometimes remembering yourself is the best solution; sometimes putting your attention in some activity is the right move.  There are many options available and it is the ‘sly man’ or more correctly the ‘wise man’ who knows which practice to employ to stay awake and walk carefully through the various circumstances of life. … Practicing inner stop gives you the opportunity to decide the best course of action”

– Rebecca Nottingham, The Work: Esotericism and Christian Psychology

A Work exercise – Call “inner stop” on oneself: In mid-sentence, mid-action, mid-thought, stop.  Observe in three centers: what are my thoughts, feelings, sensations around this thing/event/person? Make note: Is this mechanical, habitual, recurring?

Inner Taste

As we progress in the Work, we begin to develop inner taste, an inner sense or faculty that makes us realize when we are negative or identified.


“[By] inner taste you can recognize that you are lying or in a negative state without difficulty, although you are justifying yourself and protesting you are not. Here the whole thing turns upon whether you possess inner sincerity or not. If not, then best to give up the Work. Inner taste can be said to be the faint beginning of Real Conscience, because it is something that recognizes the quality of one’s inner state. Self-observation and inner taste are not the same but may coincide. The more you understand the work, the more it is arranged rightly in your mind and its meaning seen, the more does it pass into Real Conscience. It is sometimes said that if we had Real Conscience the work would be unnecessary for we would know it already.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Concept of Conscience in the Work,” Jul. 16, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 41

Internal Considering

Internal (or Inner) Considering


Internal considering, the opposite of external considering, is a form of inner identifying which manifests in myriad ways due to ingrained attitudes, buffers, beliefs and emotional wounding. These include among others:

  • Complaining
  • Self-justifying
  • Feeling owed
  • Comparing oneself to others
  • Judging others and ourselves
  • Making accounts against others and ourselves
  • Self-righteousness
  • Thinking about what others think of us
  • Thinking others should be, look and/or act differently


“Internal considering is a Work term that refers to an internal psychological condition which is continually considering the self or the perception of the self by others. It makes you anxious and wonder what impression you are making, or will make, or have made. You worry that you weren’t given enough attention or understanding or that your various attributes weren’t appreciated. You are afraid you weren’t attractive enough, or amusing enough, or intelligent enough. Were your clothes appropriate, was your hair just right, were there visible flaws, social gaffs, or any appearance that was unflattering? And, most importantly, were you treated with respect, with deference, with the acknowledgement which is owed to you?


“All internal considering springs from self-love. These are all forms of identifying and behind them all is vanity. The Work teaches that the two giants of pride and vanity proceed us in life and ruin everything. They keep you asleep in yourself, obsessively thinking only of yourself, making you anxious or insecure and feeling that you haven’t been treated right according to your own evaluation of yourself. …


“A person can even make accounts against life itself. You may not feel that you have ever had a fair chance, that your parents or family mistreated you, that you made a bad marriage, that you didn’t have the opportunity to go to college or have the career you wanted, that you deserve better circumstances, fewer difficulties, more affluence, and all of this is not only written down in an account book, it is sung as a kind of sad song in the background of your psychology. It may be only a silent sad song, or you may sing it openly under the right circumstances. This is called singing your song in the Work and it is a psychologically crippling condition. …


“However, it’s just a habit that must be brought into the light of consciousness. It’s a kind of private relationship you have with yourself that may emerge when you are alone but remember that you must observe yourself when you are alone. In fact, when you are alone you may easily be in the worst company you could keep but you are not even thinking of observing yourself at all.”

– Rebecca Nottingham, Finding The Divine Within: Wisdom of The Fourth Way, pp. 151, 153-154


At the core of all internal considering is the focus on what we want and feeling that we are owed. In addition, these forms of interior complaining can activate the negative part of the emotional center

and leave our bodies in a heightened stress-response state.

Jump for the Rope

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
– Matthew 7:7


The aphorism, “jump for the rope” is an important Work prescription for those who humbly recognize the need for help from higher influences. The aphorism is based on two foundational principles:


  1. “As we are, we cannot do.” With our current level of understanding, level of being and progress in the purification of our emotional center, we cannot in and of ourselves effect a new outcome.


  1. “The Universe is response to request.” Recognizing the above, we can “ask, seek and knock” by a prayer from mind, body and heart, known in the Work as Wish – and by “jumping” – make payment with efforts of attention and will to reach for Work ideas to apply. When we make these kinds of efforts, we will be “rewarded.” Our prayers will be answered, though not necessarily in the ways we expect in our limited vision and understanding.


“You know that it is said that mechanical man is on the edge of a precipice, esoterically speaking, and that there is very little hope for him unless he looks up. If he looks up he will see a rope above his head. To catch this rope he must jump. It is just this jumping to catch this rope that the word payment or paying the price refers to. Some people think that it is a sudden thing that happens only once or does not happen. This is quite wrong. It is happening all the time, every day, when swamped with your mechanical reactions to life, you have to jump, to lift yourself to get above your machine. … Now this jumping up, this lifting up in yourself, this catching of the rope, is Self-remembering.”
– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Further Ideas About Self-remembering,” Oct. 29, 1949, Vol. 4, p. 1336


Law of Seven

“God is difficult to understand
for God is first One, then Three, and then Seven.”
– ancient wisdom saying, quoted in Commentaries, “The Law of Three,” Vol. 1, p. 115


Also known as the Law of Order or Law of Manifestation or the Law of Octaves, this principle has to do with how manifestation or action happens in time.  It recognizes that creation unfolds in some order and this is due to the Law of Seven.  At the same time, order imposes certain restrictions to creation; it imposes conditions.

“The Law of Seven governs successions of events. It states that whenever any manifestation evolves, it does so nonlinearly. There is an order discontinuity in every progression of things, in every series. This lawful discontinuity is preserved in our musical scale which, as singing up and down any octave will show, is composed of unequal steps. Do, re, and mi are equally distant from one another, but between mi and fa, there is a half-step instead of a full step. Proceeding up the scale, we have sol, la, and si (ti in some usages) separated by full intervals, but si and do having a half-step between them again.

“The Law of Seven explains why when something begins it does not just continue and continue ad infinitum; why a rainstorm abates or a grudge finally loses its venom. And the law of seven is behind the fact that there are no straight lines in nature. It is also reflected in the Ray of Creation. …

“The Law of Seven may also be called the Law of Shock, for if an additional force or energy enters a process between mi and fa it will proceed on course until the si-do interval, and if another shock or influx of energy is given at that point the process continues to its conclusion at do. In the Ray of Creation, this energy is generated by mankind and other living things. …

“The octave relationships in the Law of Seven exist in all processes, according to Gurdjieff. Seeing them is a matter of arraying whatever is to be studied appropriately or finding the right metric.  In chemistry there is a very clear example in the periodic table of elements, in which the essential characteristics of chemical elements are seen to repeat themselves every eighth element when they are ordered according to atomic weight. It is, however, unnecessary to search very far for examples of octave relationships since they are present in every project we undertake, from cooking a meal to building a house.”
– Kathleen Riordan Speeth, The Gurdjieff Work

The Law of Seven is inextricable from the Law of Three, and is also related to the Work idea of first conscious shock and the cosmic enneagram.

Law of Three

Transubstantiate in me
For my Being.

– G. I. Gurdjieff, All and Everything


The Work gives us two universal laws – the Law of Three and the Law of Seven – which have practical applications to ourselves and everyday life, while at the same time providing ways of understanding the workings of the universe.


“The Law of Three is the Law of the Three Forces of Creation.  … Every manifestation in the Universe is a result of the combination of three forces:


  • Active force or first force or Holy Affirming
  • Passive force or second force or Holy Denying
  • Neutralizing force or third force or Holy Reconciling


“First force can be defined as initiating force, second force as force of resistance and third force as balancing or relating principle or connecting force or point of application.


“These three forces are found in Nature and in Man.  Throughout the Universe, on every plane, these three forces are at work.  They are the creative forces.  Nothing is produced without the conjunction of these three forces … which … constitutes a triad.  One triad creates another triad, both in the vertical scale and in the horizontal scale of Time. In Time, what we call the chain of events is the chain of triads.


“Every manifestation, every creation, results from the meeting together of these three forces, active, passive and neutralizing.  [None of the three forces can] create anything by itself. … Nor can any two of the three forces produce a manifestation.  It is necessary that all the three forces meet together for any manifestation or creation to take place.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Law of Three,” Vol. 1, pp. 108-109


The interweaving of the three forces produces a fourth on another level – a new “something” that is not merely a continuation of a sequence or a compromise. Cynthia Bourgeault provides this analogy:  a braid is not merely another strand of hair, but a whole new category of “thingness.” So, seed/earth/sun = sprout; plaintiff/defendant/judge = resolution; flour/water/fire = bread. (see Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three)


One of the most common misperceptions is to think of second force as negative, detrimental or an indication that something has gone wrong. On the contrary, the energy of second force is indispensable for manifestation and for our transformation. However, it is important to anticipate second force in each new undertaking. Ask: Where is second force likely to arise? How can I anticipate it?


Level of Being

“Your life will be according to your level of being. If you’re being changes then your life will change accordingly. The great teaching of the Work regarding this idea is that: Your being attracts your life. If your level of being changes then the horizontal line of time will pass through the vertical line of being at a higher level. Levels are discontinuous like the rungs of a ladder, they don’t merge. That means that what exists on one level does not necessarily exist on another.”

– Rebecca Nottingham, The Work: Esotericism and Christian Psychology, p. 78

An analogy would be like different floors in a city skyscraper. If you are on the 5th floor you have a view that shows you a perspective of the street below and the surrounding buildings. But if you were on the top floor the view revealed to you is much more expansive with many more things in it. Perhaps you can even see beyond the city or see the horizon. You can see how the surrounding streets intersect, how other buildings are laid out if there is a mountain range, a river, or an ocean nearby, and whether the city is in a valley or on a hill. Transformation of meaning is possible as one’s level of being changes.  It is up to the individual to apply the Work and raise the level of his/her being and change the perspective.


Level of being is closely related to the Work idea of scale.

Levels of Man: Numbers 1-2-3

As in all models of what a human being is, this is as useful idea to quickly identify one’s primary orientation to the world: physical, emotional, intellectual. Though useful on one level, such simplification also overlooks the vast neurobiology occurring at any given time in the totality of one’s existence.  No one part can ever be separated from the system of oneself. It is useful to view these three ways of orienting toward life as processes that are weak or strong, at any given moment, or season of life. One can become more balanced by developing or accessing their non-primary process/centers.


“Man is divided into different categories. Quite different kinds of men exist. There is, first of all, the circle of mechanical humanity, as it is called, in which number 1, number 2 and number 3 men exist. They are respectively men in whom mainly one center is used – the instinct-moving center in the case of number 1 man, the emotional center in the case of number 2 man and the intellectual center in the case of number 3 man. These instinct-moving men, emotional men and intellectual men, because they are mainly ‘one-centered,’ see everything differently, each from one side, from one center. They form together the circle of mechanical humanity which is characterized by the fact that people belonging to this circle … do not understand either themselves or one another.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On A, B and C Influences,” June 24, 1941, Vol. 1, pp. 33-34


In the Work, the imbalance of relating to life through only one center (man number 1, 2, or 3) is closely related to the ideas of sleep, mechanicalness or the predominance of unconscious motivations and behaviors.  In David Hawkins’ map of consciousness, these might correlate with the levels of consciousness of 200 and below.


“A passive state in which a person acts, thinks or feels without awareness or intention. A fundamental axiom is that Men numbers 1, 2 and 3 are little else than machines operated by associations, desires, habits and reactions in the formatory apparatus or centers. An advanced stage is to discover and sacrifice the impulse to react mechanically.”

– Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks, p. 358


In the Work, we begin to learn how our centers are lined up in terms of development and emphasis. In other words, one person may learn she is mechanically a 123 person (body first, emotions second, intellect third). Once we have learned this, we can begin to focus our Work accordingly.


Magnetic Center

Magnetic center is that within us which knows that “there is something else, another idea of life, and that life cannot be explained in terms of itself” (Commentaries, Vol. 3, p.994).  It is that within us which recognizes depth and truth and may draw us toward these influences. It is not one of the three main centers the Work describes (moving-instinctual; emotional; intellectual), but rather is an acquired discernment and attraction mechanism based in the emotional center.  With it we are able to discern the difference in quality between influences, and consequently are drawn to, and affected by, B influences.  Magnetic center brings us to the Work but making effort on the side of knowledge and being are needed to keep us on the journey of transformation. In Christian terms, magnetic center might correspond to the image and likeness of God within, and might also be one of the languages the Holy Spirit uses to call, form and transform human beings further in love, wisdom and Christ.

For more on magnetic center, see Gnosis 1, pp. 52 – 62.

Man is a Self-developing Organism

The Work teaches that human beings are self-developing organisms – that we all are unfinished creations with the potential of being evolved into something far greater.


Simply stated: the aim of the Work is to provide a container, a community and a practical set of tools to help us reach our highest, God-given potential as human beings.


“All religion, all esoteric teaching, is about the fact that we are born as self-developing organisms … in order, by a certain kind of work on ourselves, to reach something inherent in us (as a new being is inherent in an egg) which is called Real I … the object is to have what is called ‘Christ’ born in us. … the Kingdom of Heaven lies within you and that means the realization of Real I. … Now the application of the Work to yourself is all about making it possible to go on a journey, spiritual or psychological, towards what is really you, Real I in you.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On Practical Work,” Dec 18, 1949, Vol. 4, p. 1348


Humanity has the potential to awaken and arise in consciousness.


“Now let us speak first of what is said about the key to self-change in that extraordinary production called the Gospels. Notice how the whole idea of self-change, inner self-evolution, begins with one magical word. This word in the Greek is metanoia. … The introductory word to the Gospels and all their inner psychological teaching is metanoia which is wrongly translated as ‘repent’ and which really means ‘change your mind.’ In other words it means ‘think in a new way.’ Meta = beyond; and noia = mind. So the word metanoia means ‘think beyond your mind’ and that is equivalent to what this Work, which is Esoteric Christianity, indicates when it teaches that in order to change we must think in a new way.”
– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Habits,” Vol. 3, February 14, 1948, p. 1124


“What we have to grasp is that metanoia – change of mind – is impossible unless another idea is grasped – the idea of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ This idea is impossible to grasp unless the concept of the individual evolution of a man is realized – i.e., that everyone on this planet is capable of a certain inner growth and individual development, and that this is his true significance and his deepest meaning, and begins with metanoia. But change of mind is useless, impossible, impracticable, save in view of this other idea that makes a change of mind possible and gives it its meaning and its fulfilment. If life on the earth is all, then metanoia is impossible. And this other idea makes all man-invented psychology unimportant and arbitrary. For if a man is born on earth as an individual capable of undergoing a transformation latent in him, comparable to the transformation of a grub into a winged insect, which possibility is latent in the grub, then a true and genuine psychology of man can and does exist – a psychology of transformation of oneself. … so if we wish to begin to understand what the Gospels are about, it must be understood that they are about a possible inner development of transformation of man, and that this begins with metanoia as its starting-point. … a new way of thinking about one’s life. Esoteric teaching is to make us think differently. that is its starting point: to feel the mystery of one’s own existence, of how one thinks and feels and moves, and to feel the mystery of consciousness, and to feel the mystery of the minute organization of matter. All this can begin to effect metanoia in a man.”
– Maurice Nicoll, The Mark



Gurdjieff Movements are exercises and sacred dances having as their aim equilibrium and unity of being,

balancing the three centers, working in all three lines. Participation involves a one-year commitment,

beginning in February and concluding in December.


Regular attendance is needed to support the Work of the group as a whole as well as each participant’s


All participation will be in-person. There is no online alternative.


Gurdjieff Movements will be offered to those who have previously participated in CCH Movements

classes or participated in The Journey School in 2020 or 2021.


Movements can be physically demanding for some people. Signature on a formal “waiver/release”

document will be needed from each participant. Specific attire is also necessary for participation.


Jack Stamps is the contact person for Movements. If you have questions, please contact the church office to reach Jack.




My name is Legion, for we are many.

– Mark 5:9


The multiplicity, also known as the “doctrine of ‘I’s,” is the recognition that the human condition is one of fragmentation of self – that there is not a single, unchanging, unified “I” who speaks, thinks, feels, acts and moves, but a myriad of “I’s” with a myriad of mechanical impulses, reactions, preferences and genetically and culturally-acquired programs.  Man as a multiplicity describes the state of sleeping humanity. This legion, this state of sleep, can easily be verified in oneself through self-observation over time. By multiplicity, we do not mean the modern psychological diagnosis referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.


“The lack of unity in a man is the source of all his difficulties and troubles. … [and] … does not work harmoniously as a whole. Man, in regard to his inner state, is a multiplicity, and from one angle in this teaching, this inner multiplicity is spoken of in terms of ‘I’s or egos in a man. Man has no one permanent ‘I’ but a host of different ‘I’s’ in him that at each moment take charge of him and speak out of him as if in his voice: and from this point of view man is compared with a house in disorder in which there is no master but a crowd of servants who speak in the name of the absent master. … [I]t is the greatest mistake that can be made either to suppose that oneself or others have one permanent unchanging ‘I’ – or ego – in them. A man is never the same for long. He is continually changing. … [One part] does not like telling lies … [and another part] likes to lie and so on. To take another person as one and the same person at all times, to suppose he is one single ‘I’, is to do violence to him and in the same way is to do violence to oneself. A multitude of different people live in each of you … which it is necessary to observe, and try to get to know, otherwise no self-knowledge is possible – that is, if one really seeks self-knowledge and not invention and imagination about oneself.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On Additional Means of Self-Observation,” June 6, 1941, Vol 1, pg. 19, 20


Negative Emotions

The term “negative emotions” as understood in the Work is distinguished from momentarily feeling bad. The Work defines negative emotions as mechanical, patterned ways of reacting, no matter the circumstance. They can be seen as “stuck energy,” that can be released with non-critical self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering. The term “negative” is not to be understood moralistically or as self-judgment.


The Work says negative emotions lie and are always wrong. How can a feeling lie and be wrong? A negative emotion in the Work is not just a feeling; it is a feeling wrongly stuck to a thought and usually has an accompanying sensation. It’s a frozen error of perception that repeatedly convinces us that something is wrong or bad, resulting in this thought-feeling.  In other words, it self-justifies its existence and in this, it is always in error.


A negative emotion is always characterized by identification. For example, if we are over-identified with affection and esteem, our feeling of I swings between feeling downcast or elated, depending on our perception of others’ opinion of us. As Work students, we become able to simply self-observe, non-identify and Self-remember around extreme feelings at either end of the pendulum.


“[Expression] of negative emotion is always based on some kind of wrong thinking. …”


“[At] the basis of negative emotions there generally lies a kind of self-indulgence [that] one allows oneself. And if one does not allow oneself fears, one allows anger, and if one does not allow anger, one allows self-pity. Negative emotions are always based on some kind of permission. …

“There is practically no negative emotion which you cannot enjoy, and that is the most difficult thing to realize. Really some people get all their pleasures from negative emotions. …


“We always think our negative emotions are produced by the fault of other people or by the fault of circumstances. We always think that. Our negative emotions are in ourselves and are produced by ourselves. There is absolutely not a single unavoidable reason why somebody else’s action or some circumstance should produce a negative emotion in me. It is only my weakness. No negative emotion can be produced by external causes if we do not want it. We have negative emotions because we permit them, justify them, explain them by external causes, and in this way we do not struggle with them. …”
– P.D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Way


Other distinctions for understanding negative emotions:

  • In the Work, the term, “positive emotions” has a special meaning and does not mean the opposite of negative emotions.
  • Negative emotions are not naturally part of us; they are part of acquired conscience that is added to emotional center in early life and over time.
  • Though small children may cry, they do not have negative emotions, which are defined by persistence and pervasiveness.
  • We “enjoy” our negative emotions; they give us “juice,” like any addiction.
  • Negative emotions are always sign-posts of our own identification – that our feeling of “I” is “stuck” to something.
  • Whatever the seeming cause, external event or person, our negative emotions come from within us, so it is always our “fault” when we are negative. As this is recognized by Work students, we take responsibility for our own negativity.
  • Negative emotions steal energy or force that could be used for transformation. We can become ill due to negative emotions.
  • Negative emotions are very powerful; they can infect others.
  • Unchecked, negative emotions are self-perpetuating, creating more negative emotions and leading to negative states.
  • All negative states, uninterrupted, lead to violence.


Other Work ideas connected with negative emotions are parts of centers, wrong work of centers, lying, pretense, feeling of “I” and acquired conscience.

Negative Parts of Centers

The three centers referred to in the Work are intellectual center, emotional center and moving/instinctive center. In modern neurobiology, these centers might be referred to as interconnected processes or processors. In our psychological experience, each of these centers has parts as well as positive (affirming) and negative (no or negation) parts. The Work teaches that there is a natural negative part to the intellectual and moving centers. The negative part of the emotional center is the seat of negative emotions, which are all acquired. Negative does not necessarily mean “bad.”  Nor does negative mean to imply a self-judgment, repression or denial of a particular feeling, thought or sensation occurring.


One could think of these negative parts as operational processes that may or may not be occurring, at any given moment. Neurobiology, Cognitive Therapy and Internal Family Systems can be helpful ways of augmenting, updating and interpreting these mid-20th century, psychological Work ideas.


“Now the infection of negative emotions (like the infection of negative thinking) introduces itself gradually into a growing child, for a child is born awake (on its own scale) into a world of sleeping people, and, by imitating them, learns only to fall asleep in its turn: and among many other things it imitates negative emotions – that is, the facial expressions, the intonations, the words and phrases that spring out of the negative states of other people. The child imitates all these and so gradually begins to feel what they represent. In this way, the negative feelings of its elders gradually communicate themselves to the child and after a time the child begins to show negative emotions and to sulk and brood and nag and feel sorry for itself and so on. … And again, what else can those who are already infected with negative emotions do, since they are entirely unaware that they are negative and have never heard of the idea, and, as a rule, if they ever do hear it, are certain that they are never negative? So, you see how difficult it is to alter this repeating, ever-recurring chain of cause and effect, this continual inevitable infection and reinfection, which is worse than any other infection, physical or moral. … The only thing that can break it is for a man to hear, see, understand and realize what negative emotions are and start with himself.”

-Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Wrong Work of Centers,” November 28, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 84


“Now a negative impression will go to its proper place – namely, negative parts of centers. … This then becomes stored with energy and will discharge itself on anyone from a trifling cause – i.e., one will become violent over nothing. Negative literature and films of crime, violence, hatred, etc., if identified with, all feed the negative part of emotional center and store it with energy. … So, we have to learn to take impressions in more consciously and not identify with negative impressions.  … This is a form of Self-remembering and the energy it uses is drawn out of the negative impressions. People imagine, however, that when they are alone or no one is looking, they can indulge in as many negative thoughts as they like. In this way they increase the material for making negative emotions, which sooner or later will wish to rush forth and attack someone and hurt them. All negative emotions desire to hurt, and at the bottom of them are unlimited forms of violence.”

-Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On Centers and Parts of Centers,” June 7, 1947, Vol. 3, p. 1041


Please see the various diagrams of the centers in the various Commentaries, including “Wrong Work of Centers,,” Nov. 9, 1941, Vol. 1, pp. 76 – 86.



The foundational transforming process of the Work consists of self-observation, non-identification, and Self-remembering. Non-identification is an effort of attention whereby one separates one’s “feeling of I” from what is being self-observed. It is the realization that, This is not “I.”  We know we are non-identified when we can self-observe non-critically. In the process of non-identification, the feeling of I is withdrawn from what is being observed; there is an energetic sense of inner separation from what is observed; one’s life force is being withdrawn from a fragment of the self, from a story, a memory, sensation, an acquired way of being.   There is always a certain degree of Self-remembering with non-identification.


“[Non-identification] is to separate oneself from so much that is continually going on inside the heart and mind and laying hold of oneself continually. …. [When] you are trying to observe yourself you must not put the feeling of ‘I’ into what you observe. You think that everything is ‘I myself.’ There is no light because you are identified with yourself. When you begin to observe yourself, to catch glimpses of yourself, to notice what is going on in you, you begin to separate yourself from yourself. This lets in light. Self-observation lets in a ray of light.”

-Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Non-Identifying,” June 3, 1944, Vol. 2

Observing I

Observing I is a neutral, non-identified internal sense or faculty that can be developed and strengthened in the Work. It can be thought of as a camera lens or a magnifying glass by which one is able to non-critically self-observe all three centers. Observing I has no voice, no commentary.  It is a silent, witnessing presence. If one experiences a commentary on what is being observed, this is simply another part of the multiplicity being activated.


“To observe oneself it is necessary to divide oneself into an observing and an observed side and … the feeling of I or consciousness must be given more and more to the observing side. That is, Observing I must be given as far as possible the feeling of I at the moment and the observed side given the feeling of ‘not I.’ … You walk about in life observing houses and people and trees and so on and do not necessarily connect the feeling of I with them. They are ‘not I’ to you. But the same division must be made internally. … Self-observation in the Work-sense is to separate Observing I from what is observed in oneself. … The idea of the Work is to make one big Observing I that stands outside the personality and takes photographs of all the I’s in the personality. The more photographs you take, the stronger will the Observing I become and the more chances you will have of coming into a new life freed from the compulsion and habits of the old life.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Self-Observation and I’s,” July 9, 1943 and July 17, 1943, Vol. 1


“When self-observation really begins, the Observing I passes gradually inwards – that is, in the direction of Real I – and as a result of the gradual penetration inwardly of Observing I it sees more and more because it gets behind more and more in ourselves.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Further Notes on Deeper Self-Observation,” December 2, 1944, Vol. 2

Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver

One of many analogies Gurdjieff gave to Work students, the Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver illustrates the journey we can make from being asleep in our mechanicality and imbalance toward being able to receive direction from Higher Centers. We wish to awaken and bring intellectual center (the Driver, drunk and asleep in the public house), moving center (the Carriage) and emotional center (the Horse) into right relationship with one another, in order that we might rise in consciousness and begin to hear the “voice” of Real I (Master).

“[T]hese three distinct things are not in right relationship to one another. The Driver is not on the box of the Carriage; the Horse is not properly fed, nor rightly harnessed to the Carriage; and the Carriage itself is in a bad condition. … [The] Driver after realizing his state must eventually climb up on to the box of the Carriage – that is, he must rise in his level to reach a place of control. But first we must understand that it is possible to take the rousing of the Driver in many steps. He must be shaken out of his drunken slumber, and then he must stand up, and then move himself out of the sphere of the public house, and then observe the Horse, and then the Carriage, and so on. After attending to the Horse and Carriage he must climb on to the box and finally take hold of the reins and start driving as best he can. As you know, the parable goes on to say that if he does all this a fourth factor may appear on the scene – i.e. the Master may be found sitting in the Carriage and giving directions to the Driver as to where he must go. … This parable is really about the whole object of the Work. The object of the Work is to reach Real I in oneself – through the long inner path through oneself, through Self-remembering and work on oneself. …. …

“We can however form substitutes for Real I which, beginning with Observing I, are called in ascending sequence of importance and power Deputy-Steward and Steward. … You will see in [this] parable … that there is no chance of our attaining to the level where Master or Real I exists or of hearing his voice and receiving his instructions as to what we have really to do with our lives unless we first of all waken out of the sleep, out of the stupor that we exist in, which is represented by the Driver sitting in a drunken sleep in the public house. … If the Driver realizes that he is in a drunken sleep this may be sufficient to make him try to wake up. With what is he drunk? One thing is imagination. We are drunk with imagination. … As you know, the Work speaks about Imaginary I. Man believes that he has Real I as he is, just as he imagines he is fully conscious. … Now if a man realizes that he has no Real I, no Real Will, that all he has felt and thought about himself in this respect can simply be called Imaginary I, then he is beginning to awaken from the drunken sleep in the public house where he spends his money in imagining. … You will then see the necessity for beginning with self-observation – the observation of one’s sleep. …

“Now I … come to the idea that the Driver must climb on to the box. To drive he must ascend above the level of the ground. But before this can happen he must say: ‘I will drive.’ That is a decision and it is followed by having to go up. Now here is something very strange, because actually he has to go down. He cannot drive from Imaginary I, from false personality, from anything in him that thinks it can do. He will never be able to drive from pride or vanity, but only from what is lowest in him in this respect – from what is most simple and humble and genuine and sincere. So, to go up he must go down. When he says: ‘I will drive,’ if he thinks he can do it himself and for himself, he will break reins, smash wheels and fall off. This decision ‘I will drive’ must be said with a delicacy of understanding that implies the existence of something else being necessary. For where are you going to drive? You will have to be told and then obey and so you are not the Driver in the imperious sense of the man who imagines he can do and merely does what he pleases. To do in the Work-sense ultimately means to obey the Master who may suddenly appear in the Carriage.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Parable of The Horse, Carriage and Driver, Paper I,” Dec. 22, 1945, Vol. 3, pp. 823-826


See also:

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver, Paper II,” Dec. 29, 1945, Vol. 3, p. 827

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Parable of the Horse, Carriage and Driver,” Jul. 1, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 464 – For teaching on connecting – via harness and reins – the horse (emotional center) with the driver (intellectual center.)


Parable of the House with Many Servants

The following is from Discovering Gurdjieff by Dorothy Phillpotts. She is quoting a lecture by J.G. Bennett.


“[Bennett speaking] ‘The way in which it is possible to bring harmony into man’s being and to raise his life above the level of the mechanical parts of his centers, was illustrated by Mr. Gurdjieff in a parable ‘The House with Many Servants.’


“‘Try to conceive,’ [Gurdjieff] says, ‘a great estate with many servants; indoor servants, gardeners, farm workers and the like, but no Master, no Steward or overseer. Suppose that each of these servants imagines himself to be the master and owner of the estate. Each will disregard his fellow servants and, if he gets the opportunity of giving orders will do so as if he alone were concerned in all the welfare of the house.


“‘There being no overseer, each servant will do whatever work his caprice may dictate. The groom will go into the house and do the cooking; the cook will go into the stables and wash the horses. In time the whole house will be in disorder and yet each servant will continue to think that he and his activities are the sole and only interest of the whole place.


“‘This state of chaos may continue indefinitely or it may happen that one of the servants, wiser than the others or perhaps taught by some bitter experience, will realize that something is wrong and discover that things can be otherwise; that there are possibilities of quite a different existence for the house and for its inhabitants if only order and discipline could be introduced. Others among the servants may come to similar conclusions. One may have heard, for example, that there should be a Master of the house and that the real aim and purpose of their existence is to serve a Master, and that the Master might come to the house if it were made ready to receive him.


“‘If these wiser servants really understand the position, they will know that none of them is fit or able to receive the Master and that before his advent the house must be brought under the control of a Steward who knows the Master and his wishes. They will, therefore, set themselves, in the first instance, the task of preparing for the Steward. They will begin by agreeing to recognize one amongst themselves as Deputy Steward and entrust to him the task of getting the cook back into the kitchen and the groom to the stables; they will try to support his authority with the others, and will expect him to answer for them all in dealing with people outside the house.


“‘At this stage the estate still presents a picture of multiplicity and there is no person in it who can claim any rights either as against the other servants or in respect of the house as a whole.


“‘If the Deputy Steward so succeeds in his work, that he imbues the majority of the servants with desire to know and serve the Master, and deals with the remainder either by bringing them under strict discipline or, if they are utterly recalcitrant, by expelling them; then comes the moment at which the Steward comes to the house.


“‘The Steward knows the Master and he acts in the Master’s name. From him the servants learn – not those simple duties which the Deputy Steward taught them – but the will of the Master and their true and highest welfare. They forget their separate interests as they come to understand what the Master can bring them. Finally the Master himself comes to the house.


“‘At first perhaps for a few moments only for they cannot support the glory of his presence, but ultimately, when all are purged forever from the illusions of self-hood and separateness, he will make his permanent dwelling with them and they will find infinite happiness and eternal security.’


“[Bennett again] ‘The main point of the allegory is to emphasize the differences of level. The servants and Deputy Steward are all on the same level. They belong to the parts of the centers in which we usually live. The Steward is different; he is not the Master, but he comes from the Master and knows the Master.


“‘It is through the emotional center the Steward appears. The intellectual part of the emotional center is the seat of [Real] conscience. Without conscience we should never be able to work by ourselves without help. Until conscience comes, help is needed. This means that, until the intellectual part of the emotional center wakes up, we have not an infallible sense of values by which to judge ourselves as a whole. Conscience has been called by Mr. Gurdjieff the voice of the Steward. The Steward speaks to us in a quiet voice, which we cannot hear amid the vociferous clamor of the many I’s, each proclaiming some petty interest or desire, or even some idle fancy.'”


Related Ideas: Real I, Real Conscience


At the level of waking sleep, humanity is at the effect of circumstances and events, swinging between opposites, alternating between liking and disliking, happiness and despair, hunger and satiety, birth and death, etc.  There is no consciousness from one side to the other, no recognition of the pattern of mechanical reactions and negativity.  Sometimes pendulum swings are small in both scope and time and sometimes they are extreme in both level of identification and cycles of time between the poles.  As Work students, we are invited to become conscious of the opposites in ourselves and not trust them – not identify with them.


“[The pendulum depicts that] mood swings are inevitable …. The moral is twofold: first, it is habitual for us to take the easiest course and, second, we cannot hold onto a state for long … ”
– Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks


“Why is it so important to get somewhere into the center of the pendulum and not swing to and fro? Because here, between the opposites, lie all the possibilities of growth.  Here influences from higher levels reach us. Here, in this place where one can feel one’s own nothingness and where one is therefore free from contradictions, influences and meanings coming from higher centers, which have no contradictions, can be felt. Not regarding yourself as good or bad, not priding yourself on being just or otherwise, not thinking you are well-treated or badly treated, not being caught by either movement through identifying, you come into this mid-position.”
– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Opposites, Part IV,” September 13, 1943, Vol. 1, p. 329


Real I lies at the center of the pendulum.


Self-observation over time can yield photographs, which Maurice Nicoll describes as treasures to be sought after by students of the Work. While the Work uses the term pictures for self-reflections that are always flattering to oneself (similar to snapshots we have kept while throwing away the ones that don’t make us look good), photographs are representations of ourselves over time that build Work-memory by making us conscious of all parts of us.


“A photograph is not a single observation but a series of observations of oneself over a period. One becomes aware of something separating from what hitherto was the undigested mass of oneself, covered over with advertisements and pictures of oneself. One is startled to catch a glimpse of this photograph which does not correspond with any of the pictures one has used of oneself. Pictures of oneself and photographs of oneself are totally different things. They can never agree. One has possibly an uneasy moment. It is as if a ray of light had got into the dark-room, where one spends one’s time in developing these often sad but always agreeable pictures, and thrown an image of something unknown on the wall. ‘So I am not what I thought,’ one mutters. Exactly. One now [may become] negative in many ways. For every moment of slightly increased consciousness, every experience of seeing oneself as machinery – that is, of awakening – is usually followed by a host of I’s that wish to keep you in their power and make you fall asleep again.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Personal Realization That One Is A Machine,” March 22, 1947, Vol. 3, pp. 1011-12


“[M]omentary self-observation will not change you, but if you try sincerely to observe yourself two or three times a day, although you cannot alter yourself, you can at least become conscious of how you are behaving. This daily work on yourself builds up new memory which can begin to change you. It will begin to weaken your immediate reaction to the situation.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Chief Feature,” Feb. 25, 1950, Vol. 4, p. 1372


So it is that a practice of self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering can – over time – develop photographs or Work memories, which yield real change in the Work.

“[If] you have observed it, even while you do it, over a long time you get a Work memory laid down in you that by a kind of accumulation will make you less and less willing to do the thing that you have always done. This will make a curative force which results from self-observation. Do you understand that there are two memories – the ordinary memory of a person asleep that is almost always based on internal accounting and negative states, and another memory which the Work begins to form in you which is based on self-observation. This more conscious memory spread over many years is the memory that can cure you. Remember, the light can cure you. Light means consciousness. In the ordinary way, we live our lives without a ray of light entering at all. In other words, we are not conscious of what we do, we simply do it over and over again.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Chief Feature,” Feb. 25, 1950, Vol. 4, p. 1371


“For a long time I had a powerful picture of myself that I was being good, helpful and self-sacrificing. But after a time in the Work, through the special memories arising from self-observation, and through a succession of ‘Time-body photographs’ I realized that this picture was false. Then of course one feels as if the bottom of oneself has been knocked out. Then you begin to change and the influences of the Work coming from Higher Centers that are always trying to change you can be heard and even actually perceived working on you internally. What is the reason? The reason is that you have lost your ordinary feeling of I which is centered, quite wrongly, in false personality. You may, and certainly do, feel lost. But you may be sure that this experience will not be allowed to happen to you until you have already got something in you from the Work that you can hold on to during the difficult time.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Pictures of Oneself,” Nov. 5, 1949, Vol 4, p. 1338


“Now it is only by developing this consciousness in time-body that you can begin to see your chief feature. You will begin, as G. once said, to take photographs of your life, not snapshots, but time-photographs, and you will begin to see that all through your life you have behaved like this or like that. This will make you begin to see that you have always been a nuisance to other people, always been difficult or dishonest. Of course, your picture of yourself is quite contrary to such an idea. … Now a time-photograph will come only when the exercise of daily self-observation begins to show you things in yourself that have been controlling you the whole of your life. So you will come nearer to being about to see what your chief feature is. ”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Chief Feature,” Feb. 25, 1950, Vol. 4, p. 1372


Positive Emotions

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:7


In the Work, the term, “positive emotions” does not mean the opposite of negative emotions. Positive emotions are free of identification. They are a state of being above the level of ordinary emotions; they emanate from higher centers. For this reason, positive emotions have no opposite; they transcend the opposites. A peace beyond understanding – unencumbered by so-called normal concerns – is an unperturbable center, rooted and grounded in experience of Presence, of the Divine Indwelling.  The Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23) – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – are examples of positive emotions and thus have a deeper expression than what we normally might experience.


“All positive emotions come from higher centers – and that is why we have to work on negative emotions. Their quality is such that they have no opposites in them. That is, they are Third Force, or as the Gospels say, ‘Holy Spirit.’ They are ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ – not ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ No one can create, call forth, make, a positive emotion. So Mr. Ouspensky said: ‘Positive emotions come as rewards.’ That is, if you have privately, solitarily, and in the loneliness not of your negative self but your own spirit, decided, made a decision, not to identify or feed a particular negative emotion – if, in short, you have shut the door and entered into yourself (as it is said in Matthew: ‘enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret’) then, ‘your Father, which seeth in secret, will reward you’ (Matt. 6:6). What is the reward? You will taste positive emotion for a brief moment – something blessed – that is, filled with such bliss that nothing of human love-hate emotions can be compared with it. What we regard as positive emotions, feeling fine, feeling fit, and on top of the world, self-admiration, etc., can turn in a moment into negative emotion. Such emotions, such pleasant emotions, are not positive emotions; these never change into opposites but visit us and then withdraw.


“But unless we work – really value this Work on negative states, struggle not to believe them, … erect the God in ourselves, the individual spirit … then indeed we are cut off from all inner help and all the deep background that higher centers can begin to give, once we build up and make the intermediary receptive instrument. … All humanity could be helped – if they made this receptive intermediary apparatus in their minds and hearts.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Negative and Positive Emotions,” Oct. 30, 1948, Vol. 4, pp. 1238-1239


Centering Prayer is totally in service to creating this “receptive intermediary apparatus” as we consent to the presence, action and love of God.

Programs for Happiness

“Programs for happiness” is a core idea found in the teachings of Thomas Keating on the human condition, which he uses to refer to various psycho-spiritual processes rooted in developmentally appropriate needs for survival/security, affection/esteem and power/control. These “programs” originate in infancy, internalized throughout childhood and engaged, often unconsciously, throughout one’s lifetime. Programs for happiness can become a point of reference for “likes” and “dislikes,” appetites, drives, interests, and a host of other ordinary human endeavors and expressions. Programs for happiness help shape the formation of one’s acquired conscience and personality


“According to the evidence of developmental psychology, each human being recapitulates the pre-rational stages of development toward full reflective self-consciousness that the human family as a whole has undergone in its evolutionary ascent. In the first six months of life, the infant is immersed in nature and has no awareness of a separate identity. As the infant begins to differentiate a body-self, its emotional life clusters around its instinctual drives for survival/security, affection/esteem, and power/control. Image patterns, emotional reactions and behavior gravitate around these instinctual needs and create elaborate and well-defined programs for happiness (or programs to avoid unhappiness) that might be called ‘energy centers.’  With the gift of language, the child begins to internalize the values of parents, peers and the prevailing culture, drawing its self-image, self-worth and value system from the values and expectations of the group. This process of socialization compounds the complex networking of the energy centers.


“The greater the extent to which the child feels deprived of instinctual needs, the more its energies are invested in emotional programs designed to satisfy one or all of these needs. When these programs for happiness are frustrated, upsetting emotions such as grief, apathy, greed, lust, pride or anger instantly arise. If these emotions are painful enough one is prepared to trample on the rights and needs of others, as well as on our own true good, in order to escape the pain. … The gradual building up of the emotional programs for happiness initiated in early childhood expand into energy centers around which one’s thoughts, feelings, reactions, mindsets, motivation and behavior gravitate. As each new stage of developing human consciousness unfolds, an increasing sense of separation emerges, along with the corresponding feelings of fear and guilt. We come to full reflective self-consciousness with the pervasive sense of alienation from ourselves, other people, and God. We feel more or less alone in a potentially hostile universe. …


“[Upon reaching adulthood] instead of evaluating our emotional programs for happiness, our rational faculties justify, rationalize and even glorify them, [though, by this time, much of their original justification may lie buried in the unconscious]. …


“Genuine human growth incorporates all that is good on the more primitive levels of consciousness as one ascends to higher levels. Only the limitations of the earlier levels are left behind. For example, the need for security and survival, a biological necessity for the infant, has to be integrated with other values as the organism experiences the unfolding of its human potentialities. …


“[The human condition under the influence of one’s programs for happiness] manifests its radical self-centeredness in various expressions of human activity: in material pursuits such as wealth and power; in emotional satisfactions such as relationships; in intellectual goals … in social goals such as status and prestige; in religious aspirations .. and even in spiritual commitments…



“The Gospel calls us forth to full responsibility for our emotional life. We tend to blame other people or situations for the turmoil we experience. In actual fact, upsetting emotions prove beyond any doubt that the problem is in us. If we do not assume responsibility for our emotional programs on the unconscious level and take measures to change them, we will be influenced by them to the end of our lives. As long as these programs are in place, we cannot hear other people and their cries for help; their problems must first be filtered through our own emotional needs, reactions and prepackaged values. No amount of theological, scriptural or liturgical study can heal the [separate-self] system, because as long as our emotional programs for happiness are firmly in place, such studies are easily co-opted by them.


“The heart of the Christian ascesis … is to face the unconscious values that underlie the emotional programs for happiness and to change them.”

– Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ

Real Conscience

The object of the Work is to awaken Real Conscience, also known in the Work as buried conscience because it is unknown and unavailable to us – submerged under all that is acquired in us. It is said that the Work can take the place of Real Conscience as the latter is slowly awakened. Here are three of the many descriptions in the Commentaries of Real Conscience and its extraordinary possibilities for us.


“[The] beginning of Real Conscience can change one’s life. It is the birth in you of something quite new, and though its action is very gentle it is absolutely authentic and you know and you recognize its authority. This is the beginning of awakening from sleep. This conscience knows nothing about your being an Englishman or a Chinese or a rich or a poor man. It is the same in everybody once it is awakened. It is nothing to do with customs you have acquired, the schools you went to, the professions you follow, or the social position you hold. For it you do not exist as a personality. The Work teaches that this Real Conscience which is always the same lies buried in everyone and that the Work awakens it eventually. This conscience serves the Work. It leads to contact with higher centers.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Doctrine of ‘I’s, II,” Feb. 3, 1945, Vol. 2, p. 609-610


“If we had Real Conscience the whole world could unite and all police, law, war, military control, and so on, would cease, because Real Conscience, which is buried in all of us, is one and the same, and if all people had Real Conscience they would understand one another and speak one common tongue, one common language. In this Work we try to study a language that will bring us together, that we can all understand, and its object is to awaken Real Conscience.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Acquired Conscience,” Feb. 17, 1945, Vol. 2, pp. 619-626


“If you observe different moments of your lives, after a time you catch a glimpse of yourself over a period, all together – that is, your consciousness of yourself increases. But first you must try to observe everything in yourself at a given moment – the emotional state, thoughts, sensations, intentions, posture, movements, tone of voice, facial expression and so on. All these must be photographed together. This is full observation and from this begin three things: (1) a new memory of oneself, (2) a complete change in the conception one previously had of oneself, (3) the development of inner taste in regard to the quality of what one is observing internally. … The more you understand the Work, the more it is arranged rightly in your mind and its meaning seen, the more does it pass into Real Conscience. It is sometimes said that if we had Real Conscience the work would be unnecessary for we would know it already.

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Concept of Conscience in the Work,” Jul. 16, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 41


  • Inner taste can be said to be the faint beginning of Real Conscience, because it is something that recognizes the quality of one’s inner state.” (Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Concept of Conscience in the Work,” Jul. 16, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 41)
  • “[The] awakening of Real Conscience undermines the personality little by little, and first of all attacks or makes uneasy the false personality and all these pretenses and façades and external appearances that we spend so much force on keeping up until the Work begins to dissolve us.” (Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Acquired Conscience in the Work,” Feb. 17, 1945, Vol. 1, p. 621)
  • Real Love springs from Real Conscience. (see Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Acquired Conscience in the Work,” Feb. 17, 1945, Vol. 2, p. 622)







Real I

Real I is real identity, the Self, innate, whole, permanent, a unity of Being, rooted in God, in Ultimate Reality, free of content and untouched by circumstances. It is uncovered and experienced through the consistent and practical work of self-observation, non-identification and Self-remembering. In Christian terms, Real I is related to the idea of being created in the image and likeness of God.

Qualities of Real I include:

  • Ground or essence of being – immanent
  • As it moves to the forefront, it expresses as a coherence or unity of being
  • Center of gravity is in oneself and not circumstances or people; Real I is not unduly affected by life, allowing for non-attachment.
  • Self-love dies; there is no concern for self. Love of God and neighbor is a way of being.  Real I is unable to hate or resent.

“The Self [Real I] is beyond, yet innate, in all form – timeless, without beginning or End, changeless, permanent, and immortal.  Out of it arises awareness, consciousness, and an infinite condition of ‘at homeness.’ It is the ultimate subjectivity from which everyone’s sense of I arises.  The Infinite Reality does not even know itself as ‘I’ but as the very substrate of the capacity for such a statement. [Behind Real I lies God.] It is invisible and all present. In ordinary terms, it is more like a quality that is devoid of any innate content but is capable of any content. It is the quality that makes experiencing or witnessing possible.  The source of the Self is the reality of Divinity.  Although it is the source of existence, it is not subject to it nor is such a term applicable.”
– David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., I: Reality & Subjectivity

“All religion, all esoteric teaching, is about the fact that we are born as self-developing organisms … in order, by a certain kind of work on ourselves, to reach something inherent in us (as a new being is inherent in an egg) which is called Real I … the object is to have what is called ‘Christ’ born in us. … The Kingdom of Heaven lies within you and that means the realization of Real I. … Now the application of the Work to yourself is all about making it possible to go on a journey, spiritual or psychological, towards what is really you, Real I in you.”
– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On Practical Work,” December 18, 1949, Vol. 4

Reciprocal Maintenance

In the ecosystem of all creation (called by Gurdjieff the Trogoautoegocrat), There is an active exchange – a giving and a receiving, a dynamic equilibrium – not only from higher realms to lower but also from lower to higher. There are no closed systems. Everything belongs, everything is in dynamic relationship, and cosmic harmony is sustained by the giving and receiving of energy by all beings. P.D. Ouspensky recounts Gurdjieff’s description of the interdependent relationships of different classes of beings: “Above all, … [i]n nature everything is connected and everything is alive. The diagram of this classification is called the ‘Diagram of Everything Living’ [commonly known as the step-diagram].

“According to this diagram every kind of creature, every degree of being, is defined by what serves as food for this kind of creature or being of a given level and for what they themselves serve as food because, in the cosmic order, each class of creature feeds on a definite class of lower creature and is food for a definite class of higher creatures. …

“Each square denotes a level of being …The hydrogen [number] in the lower circle shows what the given class of creatures feeds on. The hydrogen in the upper circle shows the class which feeds on [them]. And the hydrogen in the middle circle is the average hydrogen of this class, showing what these creatures are” (Ouspensky quoting Gurdjieff, In Search of the Miraculous, pp. 322-324).


As Work students, we serve as living transformers for the transubstantiation of energy. We give as we receive.


The Work idea of recurrence points to the reality that situations, difficulties, and stressful personal interactions in life will recur unless something changes in us. Through the Work, we have the opportunity to evolve, but first, we must awaken to our own role in the recurrence. We learn that life is a school and everything that comes to us is curriculum that is offered to us again and again until it is no longer needed.


“The ordinary circle of things in our lives in turning continually, daily, weekly, yearly, brings us to the same points in sequence. As the special memory, the consciousness of oneself, grows through uncritical self-observation, the taste of this always returning to the same points, this taste of recurrence in life, becomes stronger until it is stronger than the attraction of the points one revisits … All this is very confusing for a long time unless one realizes that in this constant returning and the consciousness of it one can have a new attitude and a new way of reacting to the old. The effect on oneself may then change. … Work-memory – this returning of familiar experiences – may begin to awaken one to oneself, because it becomes a source of inner flatness or even misery.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Chief Feature,” September 2, 1944, Vol. 2, p. 507



For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
or your ways my ways, says the Lord.

– Isaiah 55:8


To understand scale is to understand that there are levels upon levels of creation and being, from the infinitesimal to the infinity of the cosmos.  There are levels of being, there are levels of consciousness, there are levels of meaning.  Scale teaches us that our perspective is small and relative, and thereby full of error when not considered in the context of the Whole.


Events are on different scales.  For example, losing a wallet happens to millions of people every day, not just to “poor me.” There is the violence of an argument between two people and the violence of war between countries. Scale teaches us that our life and so-called problems cannot be addressed from the level at which they were created; we need to rise to a new level to seeing, being and understanding.


“Everything in the Universe, visible and invisible, known and unknown, is at some point in this vertical line. Everything is inevitably at some point in this vertical scale, for everything finds its own level in it, according, as it were, to its density, like objects floating in the sea. All evolution, in a real sense, is to pass from one point to a higher point in this scale. Scale means ladder. In all the diagrams we are going to study, this idea of the Universe as a ladder or scale is found, and that is why it is so necessary to gain some preliminary conception of the significance of this vertical direction, that does not lie ahead of us, in the future of Time, in next year or the next century, that does not lie either in Space or in Time, but lies in another dimension – namely, above us. In a limited way, we all know of the existence of this vertical line, for we all know better and worse states of ourselves. …


“Man is born as a self-evolving organism. He can rise from one level to another in this vertical scale. And that is why there is such a thing as esoteric teaching. All the knowledge belonging to this system is about the possibility of man’s undergoing an inner transformation and rising in the scale of being…


“The Universe is a series of stages, of levels, of degrees, extending vertically from the highest to the lowest, and everything is at a certain point in the Universe. The chair you are sitting on is at a different point in the Universe from yourself. … Man as a child of the Universe, as a product of it, bears in himself the stamp of the Universe – that is to say, Man has scale in him.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Effort, Vol. 1, pp. 102-104


Apprehending scale can inspire feelings and states of awe, wonder, humility and oneness. Therefore, scale, when applied to oneself, can be a tool for Self-remembering – for seeing and feeling from a different level and thereby neutralizing identification.


Scale is illustrated in the Work teaching of the Ray of Creation and shows us that we are at a very low level of being compared to the level of planets, galaxies and the level of the Absolute. But we can awaken, evolve and rise to the level of the Sun/Son – to Christ-consciousness.


Self-observation is the first step in the foundational threefold Work practice of self-observation-non-identification-Self-remembering. Although studied separately, they are, in fact, a threefold movement, one incomplete without the presence of the others.

This practice is a living exploration of the structure and parts and conditioning of the centers and personality fragments known as “I’s.” We may have had the conviction that we operate with a permanent, consistent, conscious I that directs affairs, but the Work will quickly shatter this illusion and, in fact, labels this as Imaginary I.  

A fundamental Work practice is what Maurice Nicoll calls “definite, concrete, topical, non-critical self-observation,” activating the faculty within oneself of Observing I – that is, dividing oneself into an observing side and an observed side – viewing a detail of one’s life and observing it as if a scientist: the thinking, the emotions and the sensations associated with this point of observation. Self-observation is the starting point of the Work and matures overtime. Its force is a powerful ray of light into our inner darkness and, seeing what we are really like – the person that we don’t see and never suspect ourselves of being – can prompt true inner development.

“The object of self-observation is to increase consciousness, because if it is emotional, the man becomes conscious of the fact that he is, [for example,] envious and his position is infinitely better than it was before. Why? Because his consciousness has increased.  … And this instantly means that he can begin to work on his envy and perceive it acting whereas before he was unconscious of this factor in himself. … Observing I observes you and feels itself different from you.  … I took myself envying as myself without realizing for a moment that it was envy. But now I can see myself envying as distinct from my Observing I – in short, I have established something in myself that is not my ordinary self. In that case, I can make room for other people in the sense that, seeing and knowing my own envy, I am not criticizing them as I would if I only found fault with them for being envious and judged them without seeing my own envy.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Self-Observation,” July 16, 1949, Vol. 4, pp. 1318-1319


As self-observation is practiced, one will begin to see all sorts of things about oneself and how we have taken ourselves for granted and justified everything, while being full of criticisms and judgments of others. Once we begin to uncritically observe the world inside of ourselves and how it manifests outside, we can no longer self-justify, no longer judge, no longer find fault with others. But, of course, we still do, but inner taste will no longer let us get away with it.




Self-remembering in the Work is both a state and a practice that moves us from the sleep of so-called waking consciousness to self-presence or self-consciousness, a state in which a person is aware of their own presence, aliveness, and being: I, here, now. Self-remembering is a vast subject and has been called the “master key” to Gurdjieff’s teaching.


Rebecca Nottingham explains the state of Self-remembering: “There is more than one meaning to the term Self-remembering because of its depth and breadth. The first meaning is that Self-remembering is a state, specifically, the third state of consciousness … [where] we can receive influences from the higher centers, or the Kingdom of Heaven within us … The attributes of the third state are self-awareness, individuality, a degree of will, consciousness, and Real I. … She goes on to explain the practice of Self-remembering: “The practice of Self-remembering is an exercise in which you lift yourself up internally, above the thoughts, emotions, and traffic of everyday concerns and psychological activity into a place of silence and stillness. The traffic is going on below you but you are not engaged in it in any way. You don’t acknowledge it or even observe it and you don’t contend with it. For a moment you are above it, untouched by it in quiet receptivity.

“Then there are degrees of Self-remembering that every Work practice embodies. This definition means to bring consciousness of the Work to the experience of incoming impressions. it means to apply the Work ideas to yourself when you experience incoming impressions … Every Work practice is a degree of Self-remembering because each carries a taste of, and briefly touches, Real I” (The Work: Developing Higher Consciousness Newsletter, September & November 2019).

Self-remembering is the third step of the fundamental triadic movement of practices in the Work, the first two being self-observation and non-identification. Each is to be practiced, using all three centers, at the moment of taking in an impression in order for complete digestion of the impression to take place.

From a spiritual perspective, we understand and qualify the state and practice of Self-remembering as Self-remembering in Christ, and as such, there is a quality of both diminishment and expansion. We are aware that, as St. John the Baptist said, “I must decrease; Christ must increase” (John 3:30). This quality of being is what the mystics often refer to as our oneing in Christ, wherein we are deeply present to the abiding union that is, as Gurdjieff said, “holding both ends of the stick at the same time”: the human and divine.


Then something wondrous happens as Maurice Nicoll explains: “Through Self-remembering we come under new influences which otherwise cannot reach us. If you feel the extraordinariness of your own existence, if you feel the miracle of your body, of your consciousness, of the world that surrounds you, if you begin to wonder who you are, then you are in the state necessary for Self-remembering. … Look at your hands, do you know what they are or how they move?  Or, look at the trees and ask yourself how it is you see them, and many other things of similar nature.  In all this, the sense of mystery is in us, the sense of the miraculous. … You can find it here, now at this moment” (Commentaries, “Self-Remembering,” Jan. 27, 1945, Vol. 2, p. 601).


The word “sin” comes from the Greek word Hamartia which means “missing the mark,” a term from the art of archery. We miss the mark when, instead of aiming for the source of true happiness, the Divine Presence, we pursue what Thomas Keating refers to as our “programs for happiness” that will ultimately deplete or harm us spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and even physically. Missing the mark is a normal part of human evolution and awakening, especially in the context of life as school.  As consciousness and intention awaken in us, we grow in awareness of all the ways we are asleep.


“What does missing the mark actually involve? It presupposes a target, and the center of the target, which is called the bull’s eye.  … The purpose of the art of archery is to hit the target every time, or to get as close to doing so as possible. … What would be the proper response to missing the bull’s-eye if you were an apprentice?  Obviously, try again. … That is all you have to do. … It is a skill to be learned gradually, and it is learned by adjusting the body, the nerves, the muscles, and the tension of the string and its relation to the arrow.  … The right effort goes into the preparation and the skills to be attained.  Once they are attained, the archer scarcely has to look at the bull’s eye. … In other words, to allow the divine energy to work through us through the preparation that has been done through many, many failures.  We are not relying on our own skill to do this, but on becoming an instrument at one with the divine action that is manifesting in this particular skill.  Only now the skill is in the service of others and responding to the events of life, whether eating, sleeping, drinking, walking, working, thinking, talking, playing.  In the spiritual journey, purity of intention and the love of God enable us to hit the target in each of our daily activities, effortlessly.”

-Thomas Keating, “Sin,” Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ


“[A] man who acts only from Truth, from doctrine, from ritual, sins … [that is] misses the whole idea of the teaching about inner evolution, about re-birth, about regeneration. He misses the whole point of the Gospels. Consider for a moment all those who, historically, have acted from Truth without goodness. Consider religious history … When Good comes first, a man acts from mercy and grace. Then he is made whole. When he is whole, he no longer misses the mark. When Jesus is parting from the man whom he has healed [at the Pool of Bethesda], he says to him: ‘Behold, thou are made whole; sin no more.'”

-Maurice Nicoll, The New Man


Man 1, 2, 3 are referred to as mechanical humanity. Each of us has a dominant center that influences our primary behavior and orientation to life:


Man 1 – the one of action, who has the center of gravity in the moving center.

Man 2 – the emotional one, who feels, is sentimental and romantic and has the

center of gravity in the emotional center.

Man 3 – the one who thinks, calculates, and researches, who has the center of

gravity in the intellectual center.


Because all the centers are interrelated, we also have secondary and third-order patterns known as “stacks”:


Moving-centered individuals might be:            1, 2, 3 or 1, 3, 2

Emotional-centered individuals might be:        2, 1, 3 or 2, 3, 1

Intellectually-centered individuals might be:     3, 1, 2 or 3, 2, 1


It is important to note that “dominant” does not imply most conscious; rather, this is the primary, mechanically-generated, go-to center, the most likely to be exerted, especially in a crisis or situation of some immediacy. For example, call to mind a notable event: What was your first reaction? A physical sensation or movement? An action-plan? Weeping, or other emotion? What was your second center that was evoked? And, finally, the third center? Upon reflection, it is likely that you will see that this is an observable and repetitive pattern in your life. Thus, your stack. If the response elicited was in this order — sensation→action-plan→emotion — then your stack would be 1-3-2.


Our early formation, education, experiences, and life events, including great joys and deep traumas all shape our developmental orientation and our level of being. Number 4 Man is conscious in more or less all centers so that one center does not usurp the function of another, and each center does its own work as may be appropriate to the situation.


A conscious exercise would be to pick a day, a week, and attempt to observe an event/s and note the mechanical manifestation of your centers and consciously evoke the lesser-used centers in your reaction/response. Also, you may wish to explore how you may consciously feed the two neglected centers with higher influences.

The Four Consents

Drawing on the work of the theologian, John S. Dunne, Thomas Keating presents the spiritual journey as a pathway of consents drawing us through each stage of a conscious life, from infancy to old age and ultimately, death. The Four Consents are navigation tools for a fully participatory, embodied life, and offer a way of answering the question, “What is God asking of me now in this life I’ve been given?”


These consents are:

  1. To Goodness: we consent to our basic goodness of our being with all its parts — to the profound truth that we are loved and loveable before we do
  2. To Participation: we consent to accept the full development of our being by activating our talents and creative energies and by participating in life engaging these gifts.
  3. To Diminishment: we consent to accept our non-being and diminution of self that occurs through illness, aging and death and the letting go of everything we love in this world, whether persons, places or things.
  4. To Transformation: we consent to let go of all that is left, in other words, to the death of the self; we consent to be transformed into Love.


Experientially, these consents are often not linear and we may loop back through them at various stages of life, especially if we haven’t fully accepted each of these dimensions. Consent is an unfolding process of becoming, moving deeper into yes, deeper into the fullness of who we already are in Christ as divine/human beings.


“In growing up we … did not know that God was actually present within us; we had to look elsewhere for the security, affirmation and freedom … that only the divine presence can satisfy. The spiritual journey – which is the whole of life – is a training in consent to God’s presence and to all reality. …


“This gradual training in consent is the school of divine love in which God invites us to accept the divine plan to share the divine life with us in a way that transcends all that the human imagination can foresee.”

– Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love


The Fourth Way

The Work speaks of four different ways to work on ourselves. The first way or the way of the fakir (an ancient Muslim term for an ascetic) works on the will through mastering the body.  The second way, or the way of the monk, works on the will through the mastering of emotions.  The third way, or the way of the yogi, works on the will through knowledge and intellect.  Traditionally, these three ways required some form of renunciation of the world and of one’s life. The Fourth Way is the way of the householder in the world, where all aspects of oneself are addressed simultaneously amid ordinary life.


“[T]here is a Fourth Way which is a special way … It is different from others first of all in that there is no external giving up of things, for all the work is inner.  A man must begin work in the same conditions in which he finds himself when he meets it, because these conditions are the best for him … So at first one continues to live the same life as before, in the same circumstances as before.  In many respects this way proves more difficult than the others, for nothing is harder than to change oneself internally without changing externally.”

– P.D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Way


“[T]he Fourth Way differs from the other ways in that the principal demand made upon a man in it is the demand for understanding. A man must do nothing that he does not understand, except as an experiment under the supervision and direction of a teacher. In the Fourth Way the more a man understands what he is doing the greater will be the results of his efforts. This is a fundamental principle of the Fourth Way. The results of work in it are in proportion to the consciousness and understanding of the Work. No ‘faith’ is required in the Fourth Way; on the contrary faith of any kind is opposed to the Fourth Way. In the Fourth Way a man must see for himself. He must satisfy himself of the truth of what he is told.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Four Bodies of Man – Paper III, The Four Ways,” Vol 1, pp. 233-234


See the February 2020 issue of The Mark for various articles on the Fourth Way and life as teacher.

The Three Lines of the Work

“There are three lines of Work: Work on oneself; Work with and for others; Work for the group or school or the Work itself.”

-Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks


“All three lines are necessary. The first is Work on oneself. This includes Work on the side of knowledge and Work on the side of being. To work on knowledge means here to work on knowledge of the Work. To work on being means to observe oneself from the standpoint of what the Work teaches so that one actually sees one’s own [self], one’s negative states, internal considering, identifying, mechanical talking, mechanical disliking, self-justifying and so on, and to struggle with them. [It’s important to note that Work on the side of being includes feeding oneself with higher influences, devotion and worship.] …


“The second line of Work is work in conjunction with other people in the Work. [Examples of this include participation in The Journey School Thursday Class, Journey Groups and Work Partner relationships.] Unless you practice the first line of Work you cannot practice the second. Again, unless you practice the second, you cannot practice the first rightly.


“The third line of Work is … to help the Work in general and try to see what is required of us and not talk wrongly or harm the Work. Right valuation and right attitude to the Work belong to the third line, but they enter into everything, because unless one has valuation and right attitude one will work neither on oneself nor with others nor for the Work. … A man working by himself and only for himself cannot get anywhere. To begin with, he has not the force to do so.”

-Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “The Three Lines of Work,” September 29, 1943, Vol. 1, pp. 334-335


The Work Octave

In the Work, the Law of Octaves (aka the Law of Seven or the Law of Order of Manifestation) is a template of organizing and explaining the evolution and experience of phenomena in seven stages or steps. The Work Octave describes the order of manifestation of our progress in the Work, beginning with Do, Re and Mi:


Do – Valuation of the Work: Wanting a new manifestation in our lives, we wish. We make effort to grow in knowledge of Work principles.


Re – Application of Work ideas: We do not accept Work principles at face value but verify them for ourselves. We apply them in our own lives – to our own being.


Mi – Realization of personal difficulty: Through self-observation, we acknowledge patterns and mechanical behavior in ourselves that have kept us from healing and growth.


The first three steps are the ones most spoken about in the Work, because for a long time, we cannot get beyond them. And so we begin again at Do; our wish – our valuation – becomes stronger.


“If you have no self-observation, if you cannot act more consciously at a particular moment when things are difficult, you will continue to lay down in yourself the same pattern. You may flirt with the Work as many people do, you may think it is interesting, but remember that the Work Octave starts with evaluation [i.e. to value the Work] as Do, and application of the ideas to yourself as Re. Certainly this is a big step. Remember that you are the subject of the Work, you yourself. The Work is not something outside you. It has to come into you, or, you have to put it inside yourself and begin to live from it and view everything that you do and think and feel from the power of the Work. When this begins your whole memory of everything, of yourself, of other people, of your past tribulations – and remember that everyone makes so many internal accounts in life that each person secretly feels that he or she only has tribulations – will begin to alter. This is psychological transformation.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Memory,” January 7, 1945, Vol. 3, p. 592


“All our movements and actions are subject to the Law of Seven. They begin in one direction but cannot pass the interval in the octave. We go up to the note mi and return to do. To go further, there must be an additional force from within and from without. Today it is mainly our head, our thought, that is touched by the Work. The body and the feeling are indifferent and recognize no demand so long as they are content. They live in the moment itself and their memory is short. Yet the wish must come from the feeling, and the power to do, the ‘capacity,’ must come from the body. These separate parts each have a different attention, whose force and duration depend on the material they have received. The part that has received more material has more attention. …


“In the ascending octave toward consciousness, remembering oneself is the shock that is necessary to pass the interval between mi and fa – the first conscious shock. It brings a force that can only come from the wish, the will. We must make the will grow degree by degree, step by step.”

– Jeanne de Salzmann, The Reality of Being


“I want to talk about crossing this Mi-Fa gap. This is how Dr. Nicoll represented the Work octave for us on a smaller scale in his own private diagram [see diagram below]. … The gap at Mi cannot finally be crossed for a long time, but it can be represented many times on small scale. You have to cross the gap many times before you finally cross it. … First an idea is repeated in the group. … Some will dismiss the idea, thinking they’ve heard it before. Some resist it. And some hear it only vaguely. But after many repetitions someone may hear it [Do]. And then at the next meeting someone else may hear another idea, and so on. Then they know the idea. That is the second stage [Re]. Then there is a further stage of acknowledging it by applying it to oneself [Mi]. Then comes the next stage, understanding. There is a bigger gap here, between acknowledging and understanding [the Mi-Fa interval]. Understanding comes from acting according to what you have acknowledged in yourself, and then it becomes part of your being. … Then the octave continues and goes much faster – deciding, willing, doing.

Diagram 12. An octave of learning.


“X: On the right side, Do-Re-Mi, we remember after we act; and on the left side, Fa-Sol-La-Si, we remember before we act.


“MRS. POGSON: Yes, that is a good description. Every small increase in understanding makes you realize how much more there is to understand. … There can be many octaves like this.”

Beryl Pogson, The Work Life


Three Centers

As in all models of what a human being is, this is as useful idea to quickly identify one’s primary orientation to the world: physical, emotional, intellectual. Though useful on one level, such simplification also overlooks the vast neurobiology occurring at any given time in the totality of one’s existence.  No one part or “center” can ever be separated from the total system of oneself. It is useful to view these centers as “aspects” or “processes” that are occurring at any given moment.


The three centers referred to in the Work are intellectual center, emotional center and moving/instinctive center – simply stated: our thoughts, our emotions and our bodily sensations or movements. Complete self-observation in any moment consists of non-critical awareness of all three centers. One can become more balanced by developing or accessing their non-primary process/center(s) and in becoming aware of habitually using one center when another might be more effective.


“One of the most interesting ideas found in this system of teaching is that man has several different minds and that the intellect is only one of the minds he possesses. Each of these centers is ‘mind.’ Each of them represents a different kind of mind. Centers can be roughly compared with very delicate and extremely complex machines, each machine being designed for a different purpose and use. Moreover, each machine is made of separate smaller machines or of machines within machines, and these can work by themselves. That is, the whole center or whole machine can work, or only a small part of it. Everyone possesses these highly complex and delicate machines, but knowing nothing or next to nothing about them, people are liable to use them wrongly.”

-Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Some Notes on Wrong Work of Centers, Part I” October 18, 1941, Vol. 1, p. 68


“The Work is to harmonize them, a task that becomes possible in the light of consciousness gained by self-observation and the application of knowledge and will.”

-Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks


“According to Gurdjieff, the truth can be approached only if all the parts that make up a human being — the thought, the feeling and the body — are touched with the same force and in the particular way appropriate to each of them. Otherwise, development will inevitably be one-sided and, sooner or later, come to a stop. Without an effective understanding of this principle, all Work on oneself is sure to deviate from the aim. The essential conditions will be wrongly understood, and there will be a mechanical repetition of forms of effort that never go beyond a quite ordinary level.”

-Jeanne de Saltzman, The Reality of Being


Please see the various diagrams of the centers in the Commentary, Vol. 1, pp 76 – 86.

See also the definitions for negative parts of centers, inner divisions of centers, and higher emotional and mental centers.


In the Work, a time-body is the living recording of all thought, experience and events – past, present and future – in the life of a being. Every entity in the cosmos has a time-body. In a very real sense, the “issues are in the tissues,” both in the physical body and the body of the Universe.


The characteristics and experiences of our ancestors are literally encoded in our time-body, through DNA, acculturation, modeled behaviors and even stories that have been passed down to us.


There are scales of time-bodies represented in the Universe. In its collective sense, it’s another term for field of collective consciousness. As individuals, we are a part of – both influenced by and influencing – collective time-bodies; for example the time-body of the United States.


The concept of time-body has great meaning for human beings, as self-developing organisms.


“[T]he 4th dimension of time contains all one’s life. We experience it moment by moment. It runs very fast and is only halted by the feeling of now. Our life lying extended in this dimension, inaccessible to our senses, is all there – in this invisible dimension. For this reason everything we do now affects the past as well as the future of our life. One act of non-identifying now influences your past as well as your future. Your relation to people in the past will change, by work on yourself now. Not only will you change your own past, but possibly theirs.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Time-Body,” Sept. 28, 1946, Vol. 3, pp. 945-6


“[I]f you look at ourselves, an understanding of the past makes it more possible to be aware in the moment. … Remember the future depends on understanding the past. When you see yourself in an event over and over again, when you see how it has been, this alters things. Keep some vision of recurring events. Remember that tomorrow will be like today because today is like yesterday, unless something changes.”

– Beryl Pogson, The Very Next Thing: A Guide to Real Conscience, p. 35.


“The ‘long body’ is all one’s consciousness seen as one: how one’s life would appear to a higher power, on a higher level of being. What will be left at the end will be our relation to events, how we have taken our lives. This is our thread. After we come into the Work, we recognize and separate from events so the thread becomes different. A being at the highest level of consciousness, that of Real I, can be aware of the whole life as a solid. Can you now see how important it is to raise our level of consciousness? As long as we are in life, in the events, in time, we are confused and we do not know what to do. It is only when the consciousness is raised that our lives can be seen as a whole. It is only Real I in us that can see our lives as a whole. But we don’t have contact with Real I until the door to the higher centers is opened. The only thing we can do, then, is to ask for a vision from this higher level.”

– Beryl Pogson, The Work Life, p. 207


Related Work ideas: Memory, Recurrence, Events, Time

To Awaken – To Die – To Be Born

Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies,
it produces much fruit.

– John 12:24


“Everyone knows that the New Testament says that a man can be re-born, or born again, or born anew, or born from above (literally interpreted). … This means in the language of the Work that a man cannot enter the Conscious Circle of Humanity unless he is born anew or born from the Work. Strictly speaking, the Work would say: ‘Unless he is born,’ because physical birth is not being born in the esoteric sense. When a man ceases to be mechanical man, when he becomes conscious, when Real I appears in him, then he is a Man. …

“Now I would like to read you something that G. said many years ago: ‘… To begin with, let us take the well-known text about the seed which must die in order to be born: Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. …

‘We must find out what this means. ‘To awake’, ‘To die’, ‘To be born’ – these are three successive stages.

‘If you study the Gospels attentively, you will see that references are often made to the possibility of ‘being born’; several references are made to the necessity of ‘dying’; and there are very many references to the necessity of ‘awakening’ . . . ‘Watch, for ye know not the hour’. . . and so on. But these three possibilities of man, to awake or not to sleep, to die and to be born, are not set down in connection with one another. Nevertheless, this is the whole point. … [The] fact that he has not ‘died’ prevents a man from being ‘born’; the fact of his not having ‘awakened’ prevents him from ‘dying’ and … without having ‘died,’ he is prevented from ‘being.’

“We have already spoken enough about the meaning of being ‘born’; this relates to the beginning of a new growth of Essence – the beginning of the formation of individuality, the beginning of the appearance of one indivisible I.

“But in order to be able to attain this, or at least to begin to attain it, a man must die, that is, he must free himself from a thousand petty attachments and identifications which hold him in the position in which he is. … Attachment to things, identification with things, keep alive a thousand useless I’s in a man. These I’s must die, in order that the big I may be born. But how can they be made to die? They do not want to die. It is at this point that the possibility of awakening comes to the rescue. To awaken means to realize one’s nothingness, that is, to realize one’s complete and absolute mechanicalness, and one’s complete and absolute helplessness. … And in feeling his nothingness, a man should see himself as he really is, not for a second, not for a moment, but constantly, never forgetting it.

“This continual consciousness of his nothingness and of his helplessness will eventually give a man courage to ‘die’, and that is, to ‘die’, not merely mentally, or in his consciousness, but to ‘die’ in fact and to renounce actually and forever those aspects of himself which are either unnecessary from the point of view of his inner growth, or which hinder it. ”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “On Rebirth,” Nov. 13, 1943, Vol. 1, pp. 348-51


Work on the side of knowledge + work on the side of being = understanding.


“There are two sides to the Work where effort can be made, and these are the only two sides on which a man can evolve. The first is on the side of knowledge, and, in the case of this Work, the effort lies in thinking about the ideas and forming one’s own individual intimate and inner connection with their meaning, and nothing is more important to start with. A man must think, speculate and ponder, take into his mind, dwell on in his own way, imagine and form his phantasies, his own sense of the Work, as a genuine starting point in himself. … The Work then begins to shed a light in the mind. The second is on the side of one’s being. Efforts on the side of knowledge are different from efforts on the side of being. It is quite easy to find this out for oneself. Man can develop in two directions and two only – on the side of knowledge and the side of being. Only these must go hand in hand. The resultant is understanding. As was said earlier, this Work must be based on understanding. … Understanding is the most powerful force we can create in ourselves. Nothing better can be sought for in the long run than understanding and in the Work a man is defined as his understanding. A man is his understanding.”

– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Commentary on Effort,” Vol. 1, pp. 93-94


“I think the deep instinct to check everything, verify everything, seems absolutely essential. In fact, it is this friction between the instinct to believe and the instinct to question which forces us to that state of Self-remembering where alone things can be truly assessed. …


“We were taught – and I understand it better every day – that understanding is not the product of one function in man, but the resultant of several functions working in harmony. For example, if one appreciates something with the mind, one ‘knows’ it; if one appreciates it with the emotions, one ‘feels’ it; if one appreciates it with the external physical organs, one ‘senses’ it. But if one simultaneously appreciates it with the mind, emotions and physical senses, then one really understands it. This is very rare as we are. It can be developed. But in order to do so, something like ‘Self-remembering’ is necessary – that is, one has to remember all one’s functions and their relations to the thing in question. …


“By understanding everything becomes simple. We see what is, objectively. Where we stand, objectively. What we can do, objectively. Understanding avoids useless friction, pointless struggle. Makes us steady, tolerant, kind, ‘understanding’. Gives us weight. To reach real understanding we must study more, much more, verify in worldly terms all that has been said or felt.”

– Rodney Collin, The Theory of Conscious Harmony


“[Through] the regular practice of [Centering Prayer] the dynamism of interior purification is set in motion. This dynamism is a kind of divine psychotherapy, organically designed for each of us, to empty out our unconscious and free us from the obstacles to the free flow of grace in our minds, emotions, and bodies.”*


After we begin our prayer practice in earnest, we may find ourselves experiencing unexplained and normal emotions such as sadness, grief, anger, fear, anxiety, and others. This can also happen when we are deeply listened to, such as in Journey Groups or in a container of nature, silence, worship, Eucharist and community.


“[The] consequences of traumatic emotional experiences from earliest childhood are stored in our bodies and nervous systems in the form of tension, anxiety, and various defense mechanisms. Ordinary rest and sleep do not get rid of them. But in interior silence and the profound rest that this brings to the whole organism, these emotional blocks begin to soften up and the natural capacity of the human organism to throw off things that are harmful starts to evacuate them.”


“The psyche as well as the body has its way of evacuating material that is harmful to its health. The emotional junk in our unconscious emerges during prayer in the form of thoughts that have a certain urgency, energy, and emotional charge to them. You don’t usually know from what particular source or sources they are coming. There is ordinarily just a jumble of thoughts and a vague or acute sense of uneasiness. Simply putting up with them and not fighting them is the best way to release them.


As relationship with God deepens through the prayer, the Divine Therapist begins to show us aspects of ourselves that had been hidden. The Work of Inner Christianity, working synergistically with Centering Prayer, gives us tools to bring these old patterns fully into the light where they can lose their power over us. In the Work, this is called purification of the emotional center.


*All quotations from Open Mind Open Heart, by Thomas Keating




“Wish is the most powerful thing in the world.”
– Work aphorism

The primary wish in the Work is the wish to awaken, to increase consciousness and to be transformed.  Therefore, it is often referred to as Real Wish, as opposed to the small and mechanical wishes of everyday life, e.g., “I wish he would stop acting like that.” “I wish it would rain.”

Wish is connected to and enlivens the will and engages all three centers of our being – intellectual, emotional and instinctive/moving.  It is a full body Yes to a short or long-term aim.

Wish is the most powerful thing in the world because the Universe is response to request.  Ask and you shall receive, although not necessarily in the way you think it should look. In Christian terms, Wish is related to faith and the power of our thoughts, words and will. Wish may also be a deeper expression of a certain type of three-centered prayer.

“One of three impulses that help one acquire [access to Real] I: ‘I can, I wish, I am’ (G. I. Gurdjieff).”
-Beryl Pogson, Brighton Work Talks