For a number of years I was particularly interested in the teachings of the Russian mystic philosopher Gurdjieff (usually pronounced gurd-jeff) and his foremost pupil Ouspensky. Primary to Gurdjieffâ€™s teachings was the idea that human beings live life in a state of psychological sleepâ€”highly conditioned, inwardly divided, with little self-awareness, pushed and pulled mechanically by cosmic forces. The main technique offered by Gurdjieff to combat this psychological sleep was a practice called self remembering. Self remembering is basically what the name suggests; it is a process whereby you learn to remember yourself instead of being lost like a conditioned robot wondering the world fully identified with whatever happens to steal your attention at a given moment. Self remembering is a kind of simultaneous outward and inward awareness; it is a consciousness of consciousness and recognition of oneâ€™s relationship to a larger whole.
To learn to self remember one must first learn to self observe, which is basically a light version of self remembering. A major part of self observation is the realization of how little a person remembers her or his self in day-to-day life. We are usually lost and fully identified with the world and circumstances. We usually operate on autopilot and simply react mechanically to the world without stepping back and assessing the logic and sanity of our thoughts and hence actions. Only by first recognizing our mechanicalness can we hope to learn to self remember and thus step outside our mechanicalness.
To change something, you have to first recognize that thing in which you should change. To take a simple example, say you are a person who has made it a habit not to wear your seat belt while driving. This of course is not exactly a wise form of behavior seeing as seat belts greatly reduce risk of serious injury in even minor auto accidents. To change such a habit as not buckling up, a person must first observe the habit. Second, after observing the habit, the person must start buckling up. And after that behavior is repeated over a period of time, buckling up becomes the new habit.
Habits are unavoidable. But what is avoidable is self-defeating habits. Instead of making it a habit of grabbing a handful of m&ms when you come home, like the commercials would like you to do, you could make it a habit of grabbing a handful of grapes. Instead of making it a habit of getting angry when someone cuts you off in traffic, like your idiot ego would like you to do, you could make it a habit of calmly reacting and continuing on as if nothing happened. By making your habits conscious, you can change them for the better. You have control to choose differently if youâ€™ll just take that control.
Although consciousness is key to changing habits, it should be noted that there is nothing holy or grand about consciousness. Consciousness is a state of dualism; it is simply the awareness of otherness. And with that definition of consciousness anything able to recognize difference, such as a lowly electron recognizing the difference between a proton and another electron, can be defined as conscious. What consciousness is good for is merely shedding light on the unconscious. Consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg of unconsciousness. If there were no unconscious, there could be no conscious. It is the mechanically incomplete picture facilitated by unconsciousness that maintains the duality and otherness required to maintain consciousness. To be fully conscious of the unconscious is to no longer be consciousâ€”in such a state duality collapses into pure being.
Self observation and consequent self remembering is a process of unconsciousness contraction. Most peopleâ€™s lives consist of certain recurring patterns based on poor habits. And the most fundamental of those poor habits is the belief in separation: the belief that the seemingly outer world is somehow different and thus separate from what you think about it. That belief is the king of disempowering beliefs and yet it is the primary belief of humanity. We are sleepers living life in a robotic stupor in need of alarm clocks to help ease us out of our trance.
So, here are some Alarm Clocks and Exercises to help you wake up enough from autopilot to change some poor habits:
- If you wear a watch, each week set the time on the watch different. Say one week you set it to be 25 minutes fast, another week 17 minutes slow. With the incorrect time, every time you look at your watch, youâ€™ll be forced to figure out what time it really is and so youâ€™ll be forced to snap out of your mechanical stupor and remember yourself.
- Try to do everything as quietly and thus gracefully as possible. Open and close doors as quietly as possible. Walk as quietly as possible. In order to do such things quietly and gracefully you will be forced to remember yourself.
- Become weary of your use of the word â€œIâ€ in day to day life. Who is this â€œIâ€ of which you speak? Is this â€œIâ€ different than We?
- Become weary every time you say â€œI believe.â€ Why do you believe this? Is the belief just a lazy habit, just a belief to support an objective, or have you really thought it all out and tested the belief rigorously?
- Tell someone you live with, or around, that you are setting out to change a habit. Then ask that person to help keep you honest and remind you.
Unfortunately, by the time most people are in their late teens, they have let themselves become conditioned into the same basic robots that they will be buried as. All the new knowledge they acquire throughout their lives is stifled by their conditioned mechanicalness. Awakening yourself enough as to be able to change poor habits is an essential aspect to becoming a whole human being rather than a common human robot. Although simply a first step, by placing the kinds of Alarm Clocks & Exercises listed above in your life, youâ€™ll start to put yourself in more and more situations whereby you can recognize poor habits and thus choose differently.
And remember, although the variety of habitual thoughts and consequent habitual behaviors is immense, the choice is always the same: separation or wholeness? Which is your old habit and which do you want to make your new habit?
Note: Habits must be dealt with on the level of the mind. Do not get wrapped up in trying to change the form of the world. You need simply to change your mind about the world.