When I’m really emotional or trying to figure out tangled thoughts, physical work can bring me to a state of calm-abiding and centered grounding. The action of my body during work focuses my mind away from an endless revolution of counter-productive thinking, and while my attention is focused on the moment I’m in, my subconscious is freed to post solutions to the dilemma that anxious preoccupation with a problem had been blocking. So by turning to physical exercise or work, I open the door to finding a solution to things that need resolution.
In his Fourth Way method, Gurdjieff talks about conscious labor and intentional suffering. Working on a task as described in the above paragraph is a description of one of the benefits of conscious labor. Being mindfully centered and totally focused on the task at hand is to be grounded in the present moment instead of preoccupied with any gymnastics of anxiety that arise.
The task of intentional suffering required a lot of work on myself before I could begin to understand it. Nobody likes to suffer, and much of my life I have given priority to what is comfortable instead of what is uncomfortable. I needed a new understanding of what it is to suffer intentionally.
Let me take a small, but easy example, because I think this one relates to many of us. As a young woman, I was terrible about procrastinating on doing the dishes. When I saw my own laziness, I resolved to do something about it, and while I was at the Gurdjieff group, I begin to volunteer as part of the clean up crew, and offered to do the dishes. Soon enough, the action of doing the dishes became a meditation for me. Focused on my task, my mind was calm and restful instead of loud and annoyed with the repetitive thought, “Why should I have to do the dishes?” Et cetera.
I learned I could suffer intentionally just by giving up a bad habit. Whatever there was about the habit that gave me a sense of comfort created in me a sense of struggle that took will power and concentrated effort to maintain. If I went to sleep on it, I lost the battle.
There is a new front to the battle: To maintain inner peace and equilibrium with annoying people. I am not claiming mastery here, just sharing a level of understanding that I have gained. A bottom line has been sacrificing the thought: “This person is annoying!” To sacrifice the thought is to become open to a new thought: “This person also is human, doing the best they can, and his situation is not so different from my own!” When I am fully open to this awareness, my heart opens and my being is transformed in a deeper way to human caring.
The lifework of Jesus called Christ seems to have been to uplift humanity into loving one another as we love ourselves. This seems in accord to me with the Buddha’s mindful compassion. I think of the human species as in a process of evolution. I think of the few who have awakened themselves to a state of all seven-centers consciousness and the many who have yet to take up the battle. My new goal is to have patience with those who do not yet perceive the need to awaken. Those of us who may be a few rungs up the ladder have an obligation to help those who are still at the first rung. And it feels like there is no more time.