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19. Fire Drills

Nicoll writes:

There is one thing you are told you can do in regard to yourself and that is that you can observe yourself. You can observe when you are internally considering, you can observe when you are negative, you can observe when you are identified, and you can observe when you are justifying yourself. For this reason you are taught first of all to observe yourself and then to observe yourself from a certain well defined angle. The Work must be practiced. In every wrong state it is absolutely necessary to review oneself in what the work teaches and try to see where one is. If you never call upon the Work to help, you will not be able to be helped. For a long time the last thing we think of doing is the work on our self in accordance with what the Work teaches. We wriggle about as if like a big fish on the end of a line and will not submit to the gentle pull of the line which will lift us above our self. We get into a bad state and we identify with it right away. Then we see everything through the medium of this bad state, but we do not think of practicing non-identification with this bad state and seeing that it is not Everything lies in relationship, in how you relate yourself to things. You cannot change the things themselves, but you can change your relationship to it. All this work is about changing our relationship, both to our self and to life. We can change our self through the medium of higher influences providing we recognize them, that is, provided we recognize that there is an existence greater than ours. But we cannot change life in general, nor can we change other people. Remember that the whole question lies in changing our relationship to things, in taking things in a new way and so in thinking in a new way about everything. (Nicoll, Com. Vol.I)

I would like to talk about "fire drills." There is a Fire Drill Week and the Fire Company has open house and tells everybody to practice fire drills with their kids, and some of you may, and some may not. Mostly you go and you think it is a great idea and then you come home and you plan to do it and then you go to sleep and you don't do it. Now if you haven't had a fire that probably doesn't bother you much, but let's say you woke up and there was a fire. If it was a very small fire, you might call the Fire Company and they might put it out - then you wouldn't be aware that the fact that you didn't have a fire drill wasn't very meaningful. But should you wake up and the flames are very hot coming through the door and there's a lot of smoke, you may find that your mind is in total confusion. Thoughts will run through, "What should I do? What kid should I go for first? Should I go for the money? Should I try to get my wallet? What should I do?" You are running around, you are doing nothing effectively and you are in a bad state - deep trouble. Well, that also applies to the work.

The work always tells you, prepare beforehand! So a lot of us think, "I know the work. I read the work. I heard it, I read the task. When a bad state comes, I'll be ready." And a little bad state comes and you are ready. A big bad state comes and you find your mind racing, you don't know what to do and you get confused. You forget to work - you forget what you should do. You can't work and then maybe a half hour later you wake up and the house has burned down; you slapped a kid, or broke a thing or you yelled at somebody, or whatever. So, the thing to do is to do a fire drill. What I am going to give you is just a fire drill that I do. You can do any fire drill that you want. If you woke up in a fire you might go for your money before your kid, you might go for your kid before your money. You might go for your youngest first and your oldest last, it doesn't matter. It is up to your values and your plans. I am just going to give you a drill that I go through. Long thinking prior to a negative state is important - to have a plan of what you are going to do. So here it is: (and I am talking about large negative emotions.)

The first thing I would do when contending with a large negative emotion is to Sense. I would immediately put all my attention on my left hand and try to get a sensation developed. Once I can start to feel that sensation what that has done is establish the fact that I wish to work. That just states, "This is a time I wish to work." It's a reminding factor that I'm going to work. Now in some bad states, like I was talking about the rabbit in the jungle, the only thing I can do throughout the entire state until it changes and the sun comes up, is keep my attention focused on my left hand. That may be the only thing possible. If I can do that and maintain that, it takes a certain amount of energy away from the negative state. It changes it.

The next thing: Let's say I am able to do something. I would become passive. I would stop internal dialogue, because that stops the thinking center from contributing to it, or falsity contributing to it. I would do my best to stop internal dialogue. Of course I would probably continue to hear internal dialogue, but I would give it up as fast as I could or ignore it, and I would not believe it, or try not to believe it. I might listen to it and get some pretty good ideas, but I would mostly try to stop it and be passive.

The next thing I would do is pray. A quick prayer. Often one phrase is helpful, like, "The Lord is my shepherd," or "Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart...." I would make some statement that I cannot possibly do this without the Lord. That is the first acknowledgement. If anything is going to be done it is going to have to be done as if of myself, but the Lord is going to have to do it. Without Thee I can do nothing. With Thee, everything is possible. And it will be a phrase that has real meaning to you.

So, I sense, I stop internal dialogue, and if I'm capable of continuing to work, I say a prayer.

Then, I would start to try and observe myself - and of course observation is not just knowing you're in a negative state, it is to actually observe your negative state, which is entirely different. I would start to try and observe my body, the state of my emotions, and I would start to try and pull my experience of who I am into the observing T.' The further I could pull the feeling of who I am into that which is observing, rather than that which is having the state, the more work I will have done. You make yourself available to higher influences. Then, if you are able to do that, what is happening is you are starting to not identify. When I am observing, what am I observing from? It says observe from an angle of the Work. The angle I observed from is that this, (what I'm observing), is a mirror of my internal state. So I get out and a guy slams his car into my brand newly painted car. I sense, I pray, and then I start to observe. I observe from the saying, "This is not about my car. What's going on now tells me about my internal state, my level of being, and where I am in the spiritual world. It is telling me about what I can change. What change has to take place in order for me to become different?" And you can observe from anywhere you want, but you should have an idea of what you're observing from, what angle of the Work you are going to watch it from.

If I was successful in pulling the feelings into the observing part (if I was really able to do that), I imagine I would start to feel what they call Self-remembering. I would start to have an awareness of myself in this situation - not only what's out there, but my reaction and an awareness of being in the state doing the Work. Briefly, you will be given gifts of Self-remembering.

That would be my fire drill. And depending on the size of the fire is how far I would get through the drill.

When I say pull the feeling of who you are into the observing T we could also talk about the church teaching one should elevate one's thinking - elevate one's rationality. In order to observe the world from doctrine, one must elevate his thinking. In church you elevate your thinking. The minister's talking to you about spiritual things, he's talking about elevating your thinking, and you probably do. You've probably had that experience. You feel elevated; your mood changes. Well, you could go to a meditation and do the same thing. Elevate your thinking. And that would be a true experience.

Who wants to do an experiment? This box that looks like a present here, represents your present state, and is something I want to see one of you come over here and elevate. Try to elevate that box. (A woman lifts it up.) That was a real experience, wasn't it? You could feel the shape of it, the size of it, the weight of it, etc., right? Now, in regard to elevating your thinking: You are in church or you are by yourself or you are at a religious retreat and you have an elevated state. It is fairly easy, like lifting a light box such as the one you just lifted or saw lifted, and it is pleasant.

What the Work asks you to do is to elevate your thinking during a negative emotion. Say you have just driven your car into the parking lot and it is newly painted or it is brand new. You arc coming out of the grocery store and someone pulls up next to you, fairly close, and just as he gets there he opens up his car door real hard and scratches your paint. You step over and you expect him to turn around and say he's sorry. Instead he turns around and says, "Why the hell can't you park your car further away?"

Now, you sense your hand and you say to yourself, "Oh yes, I'm supposed to elevate my thinking...." (group all laughs.) So now, one of you come up here and we'll pretend you are picking up a similar present box in that state. (The woman tries to pick up the second box and finds it too heavy to pick up!) See, there is a real experiential difference between working in an active state (that's called Self-Observation in the Work) as opposed to elevating one's thinking in an abstract way.

If you imagine lifting a light box 20 times a day, and then imagine lifting a heavy box 20 times a day, which do you think would lead to strengthening you more? Right, the heavy one! So, you get a lot of benefit out of really working during a difficult state. That is the time to work! That is the primary time to work. The benefit you get is determined by how hard you work and how hard you are willing to work. It takes effort. Trying to elevate your thinking during a negative emotion is a good fire drill. Gurdjieff calls it super effort.

All of us have had this experience: You start on a new exercise routine - say you are going to jog every morning, you are going to eat healthy food. You start out real good and then in about three weeks you start thinking, "I'm really tired this morning. I don't think it's good to run every day. I heard someone say you should run every other day and give your body a chance to change and adapt to it, you know."

Then later you might say, "You know I've heard that running too often might hurt your ankles." And then your direction changes and you find you are sleeping every Saturday morning instead of jogging. Maybe a year later you suddenly say, You know, I think I'll try to get in shape this year..."

Whether you're trying to study, read the Word, diet, exercise, or change this or that, things go in circular patterns. It happens with eating, drinking, anything.... Gurdjieff says that is due to the nature of things and if you don't make super effort - conscious effort and attention - then everything goes in a circle. Man repeats his life over and over and he doesn't change because at the time of change it takes super effort. But it can be done if he is willing and starts to practice the Work in the ways he can.

The level of Work is the same way. If you hear about the Work and you apply the small tools then you have small success. All of a sudden the time will come when you have an opportunity to do great Work. It will be the time when you least want to do Work. It is like you've been jogging for two years and you've been doing good work, and now it is February and not only is it raining, it is ice raining and about 8 degrees out and you had a horrible night. You just got to sleep, the baby has been crying and you just fell asleep and then your alarm rang and it is the time to jog. Now is the time. It's up to you.

The reason people stand up and applaud when great athletes come across the finish line is because they are applauding those people who are willing to use super effort. That housewife coming in during the last Olympics (1987) was an outstanding example of someone who made great effort. And that is what we all have to do.

We are leaving you these thoughts and giving you something to work on. Lift up the two packages, see what you have ahead of you and do the task, of course. The task is to make a true friend of someone for whom you mechanically have a dislike. Now that doesn't mean you have to talk to them! It is not like you have to end up best friend to this person. However, you will be lifting up a heavy box since your dislike is a negative state. That is the time to work!

The Lord and the Work throughout talk about loving the neighbor as yourself. To learn to do this as a process is very important. It establishes that this is the real aim; to come to a true appreciation for your neighbor, for the Lord in your neighbor, and for all the things the Lord has created.

One of you was saying last class that you noticed your mechanical reactions to people in church. With some work, something took place and you were able to see the people for the first time when you gave up your negative reaction. With work, you may come to where you have a positive reaction for those people. You may find you have a very strong positive reaction for someone you used to have a negative reaction to. I don't mean make a good friend, I mean get to a point where you truly have positive reactions to someone that you didn't have positive reactions toward before. We have studied many tools to help you in this task. And if you can do it with one person, it shows it is possible for you to do that kind of Work.

You can do the task with everybody. Watching people come into church and observing yourself is one of the greatest ways to observe your mechanical man that there is. You will observe that your reaction has absolutely no truth in it in relation to that person. The proprium does not like anything about the neighbor! But you can use effort and attention to change your association with the sphere that is present.

You can start to have positive reactions by consciously choosing to think: "Oh, isn't that a nice dress." "What a healthy looking person," or "Boy, he is a good business man," or whatever! If you choose to, you can try to find a higher level positive reaction ("She is so thoughtful" rather than, "What a nice dress,") but as long as it is positive instead of negative, that is a good result of effort.

Slowly you may start to develop a true appreciation for people. If you find one person that you really had a strong negative reaction toward and by the end of the season you have a strong positive reaction, you will know you have gone through a true change. And like I said, only the Lord can do that for you, but you will find that He can do that! With Him it is possible! That is what the Work is about.


Make a friend (even if only in your mind) of an enemy, or someone you formerly had a strong negative reaction toward.

Remember available tools and use as many as needed: sensing, stopping internal dialogue, praying, observing, not identifying, external considering, forgiving, changing the context, or any other tool.

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