To understand why we call this practice the Work, take a moment to watch this video:
Degrees of Attention
We go through our day in varying degrees of attention. Most of our daily tasks call for minimal attention, such as dressing ourselves, eating or interacting with friends and family. Some tasks require more attention; such as reading a book, drafting an email or attending a job interview.
We can perform the first group of actions while simultaneously performing others: dress ourselves while speaking on the phone, eat while chatting with our friends or interact socially while sending and receiving text messages. However, we cannot perform tasks that require attention alongside other tasks without harming our performance. We cannot read a book while speaking on the phone, draft an email while chatting with our friends, or attend a job interview while texting.
Attention and Will
Our attention is subject to our will. If we desire, we can perform any task more attentively. We can bring attention to dressing, sensing the fabric of our clothes, matching the colors of our shirt to our slacks and shoes, etc. We can dine intentionally, tasting each bite, each sip, etc.
But we needn’t be professionals in any field to verify that we can bring more or less attention to the simplest actions, and this demonstrates that:
Dressing inattentively is effortless; dressing intentionally requires effort. Eating inattentively is effortless; tasting the food requires effort. Directing attention through will requires effort. This explains why Gurdjieff called his methods of self-development The Work.
Awareness and Consciousness
Directing attention is not the end of the Work; it is a means by which, we become conscious. Few teachings make the distinction between consciousness and attention, and this is where the Fourth Way differs from most other systems. The Work is not only about being attentive; it is about being conscious, and consciousness is self-awareness. George Gurdjieff called this self-remembering. Peter Ouspensky called it divided attention. More recently, it has become popularly known as being present. Call it as we may, without the distinction between awareness and consciousness, our efforts to be conscious can only yield partial results.
I have invited writers of all ages and cultures, and from all walks of life to share their successes and failures in their efforts to be conscious. Their posts form the foundation of ggurdjieff.com. Subscribe to receive our posts by email.
pursue one aim—to be able to be.”
– George Gurdjieff