A Note on Effort (audio)

(Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Vol 3)
The Work speaks of the necessity of effort.

Strictly speaking, it says that it is necessary to make right effort.  The method of Sly Man is to make right effort:  he sees what particular effort is necessary at a particular time, and when things are too easy for the time for him, he creates difficulties for himself, as, for example, by doing things in the most difficult way.  In life, acting mechanically, we do things in the easiest way, which is always the most mechanical way.  In making effort in the Work-sense, it must be understood that anti-mechanical effort is meant.  So the Work begins with general instructions on the practical side to work against one’s mechanicalness.  This gives new impressions.  How can one cease to be a machine if one always behaves mechanically?  Man is a machine but his transformation into a conscious being is awaited.  So his general task is to work against his mechanicalness.  This needs special kinds of interesting efforts, for his mechanicalness lies in all centres… In a large sense, people avoid extra and interesting effort and remain heavily at the level of mechanical effort–that is, what they are compelled to do by external circumstances–that is, as machines.  Now Work-effort is not what we are compelled to do by external circumstances.  The Work and Work-effort belong to something extra, outside nature, outside life–something very interesting…The secret lies in taking your life as an exercise.  To do this interesting thing, a certain vision of life is required.  All the background of the Work, all the teaching about the Cosmic Ray, the Sun-Octave, and the significance of Man, can give this vision, if you know it well mentally and then imagine it so that it better connects with the Emotional Centre.  To know what you know, you must also imagine it with directed imagination.  Then you see your life as a miraculous adventure–that ceases to be so once you identify with it.  Then it is all spoiled and life no longer becomes your teacher but your taskmaster, your Pharaoh.  It is only when we lift ourselves, when we can take life as this interesting exercise, that life can become our teacher… With this attitude we gain the sense of being in life, not of life or caused by life, and this is a preliminary to that form of Self-Remembering where the three factors, (1) the seen object in outer life, (2) my observed reaction to it, and (3) I myself, constitute a triple simultaneous consciousness–a full triad–that is, a being conscious in 3 forces at the same time.   It is clear that the usual state of being always identified with life and its worries can never give such results. This vision, therefore, which I have mentioned, is one belonging to a right development in the understanding of the Work, which is to lessen the power of life over us.  One must get this vision–in which the centre of gravity of the whole Work lies–a vision of the Work that lifts us above life–in short, this Rope which we have to catch hold of.  Hold this Rope, when you catch it.

O. said that what people find difficult is that the Work changes as you understand more. What was said may be no longer said, but something different.  For example, you are told at first in making effort in the second line of Work not to try to like one another, but to stop dislike.  This is one kind of anti-mechanical effort.  This is surely very clear.  It can be done.  You can stop disliking.  If done, it leads, almost without our being told, to the next effort in scale, in ascending octave, “that we have to like what we now dislike.”  There is great density of meaning in this sentence.  It applies to outer and inner–to the object and to oneself.  Now you can do nothing of all this if you are too externalized, too far out, too far in front of yourself, too identified with seen objects, with life, seeing everything outside you, and so a mere sense-machine.  You have to see that a person is not outside you but is your idea of him, your imagination of him, your reaction to him (or her), and not the object you see via your senses.  Here begins the real effort as regards the second line of Work–work, that is, about relationship, work about enduring without negativeness one another’s unpleasant manifestations.  Only in this way can an accumulator be made among ourselves that eventually gives force to all of us.  For one person can, if a Work-group is established, give force to another, without knowing it, simply by working against his or her mechanicalness privately.

I will here remind you of what the work says of life.  It says that under the 3rd force of life, things always divide, disunite, and are at war–as life shews us.  One party splits into two mutually hostile parties and so on.  Now the 3rd force of the Work unites.  It holds people together who in life would at once split and hate one another.  Through the 3rd force of the work–and, let me emphasize–the work done by each person on himself or herself in the light of the Work–an accumulator can be made, by uniting people in a common understanding through a common language.  The supreme effort that has to be made in the Work is to feel the Work.  Seek the Work first, fight for it, keep it alive–and then all the rest follows… Now in ordinary seen life, where people, even religious people, do not practically work on themselves each day, they accumulate a substance which cannot lead to unity.  For example, they criticize one another, talk scandal privately, slander each other secretly and hate each other–in short, make every kind of internal account against one another.  They are mechanical people, and just because they do not work they remain mechanical.  As a result, there is formed a thick, heavy, psychological substance which G. called by one of his strange words–something like Tzarvarno.  “This substance,” he said, in so many words, “accumulates in life and makes all right relationship impossible.  This substance has no Holy Spirit in it.  It is dead.”  He said it was due to the unnatural outward and inward manifestations of people to one another and was an accumulation of evil actions, thoughts and emotions, of which people do not understand the consequences.  The Work calls it simply “making internal accounts.”  Now remember, the slightest, unworked-on “evil” towards another mounts up and makes this thick, dead substance.  Where?  In oneself.  One may suspect how often illness is due to this dead substance, daily formed.  Now everything the Work teaches us to practise, to make effort about, is to prevent this heavy dead substance from forming itself.  A good daily and nightly incinerator for negative states is necessary.

To keep the Work alive one must make effort…  To like what we dislike is one great key to giving up useless suffering.  This releases us from our cramped judgment of others.  Through this we begin to feel “nothingness” rightly.  One, as it were, pushes off from the shore of oneself into the unknown–into what seems nothingness–where only the Work can meet us.  The Work cannot meet us if we are full of our usual Personality.



  1. Melodie Machovina on January 13, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Great audio! What a coherent and complete excerpt this is. It tells you everything you need to know about the human condition and how to correct it, in a nut shell. I also loved the part about work study groups, and how each individual’s effort can affect other group members in a positive way. Wow, how powerful!

  2. Gina on January 13, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    “Taking your life as an exercise”…We are here on this planet to complete a very important mission – to change the kind of human being that we are presently. Whatever type of individual human we are presently, is exactly the type of being which must be changed. And our life is perfectly designed for us to fulfill this mission. But supreme effort is required, which really separates the chaffe from the grain. This is obviously not for everyone, only those who just can’t put up with their trash anymore!

  3. Steve on January 19, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    “The Work cannot meet us if we are full of our usual Personality”… It one or the other, you can’t be in a dark room if you have the lights on. It takes effort to or maybe a wish to want something higher than our usual ways. You can’t be negative and still be positive. Climbing up the inner mountain takes effort and desending down the inner mountain requires no effort…it’s easy to observe ourselves to see which one we are doing.

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