Maurice Nicoll: Simple Explanation of Work Ideas 2

Maurice Nicoll: Simple Explanation of Work Ideas

Maurice Nicoll: Simple Explanation of Work IdeasEveryone is two people – the person we suppose ourselves to be, and what we really are. Only Self-Observation shows us this. We cannot understand that we are two people unless we begin to understand what it means to observe ourselves.

We see a world outside: that is what our senses give us. But the senses are turned outwards from oneself and cannot see what one is.

But we have an organ inside ourselves which can observe this thing called oneself. By means of it, we can see our thoughts, feelings, moods. This is the beginning of becoming another person.

Our life depends on this thing called ‘oneself. If we wish to have a different life, we, first of all, have to realise what kind of life we have now. All forms of suffering are due to this ‘oneself.

As long as we remain this ‘oneself our life cannot alter. It will always attract the same misfortunes, disappointments, and so on.

So the Work begins with seeing what one is like, what kind of person one is. For example, if we treat people without consideration for their feelings and do not know it, we shall always be suffering from their wish to keep away from us. But not seeing what we are like we blame others. Unless we see that we are behaving like this we cannot change. Other people realise what we are like: as we are, we do not – until we begin to observe ourselves. Through not seeing what we are like, we believe we are not properly treated.

If we observe what we are thinking and feeling, what we are saying, how we are acting, after a time a new memory begins, a memory about ourselves. From then on, we begin to realise we are not what we supposed ourselves to be. We will begin to behave differently, not to blame other people, not to feel owed something. We will begin to realise we are two people and always have been. What we have supposed ourselves to be is imaginary.

When we see the contradictions between our imaginary ‘ourselves’, and what we really are, we begin to change, because we are being parted from the illusion of ourselves. We begin to realise that we have rested on an entirely false basis.

When we observe what we are really like we make ourselves open to receive help – help that can really change us. Help cannot reach us while we are self-satisfied.

This Work says that help exists for those who begin to realise, in every daily act, in everything said and felt, that they are not really what they suppose themselves to be.

When we begin to observe ourselves sincerely our whole fate begins to change. But this means noticing, over a long period, the way we talk, the way we think, the criticisms we make, the resentment of what is said to us, the way we react to others, the opinions from which we argue, the way we are flattered, how we judge others, our vanity, cruelty, moods, emotions. Unless we detach ourselves from these things, we remain mechanical.

Our psychic life, our inner life, is in darkness, until we begin to let in a ray of light, of consciousness of what is going on there. For this to happen we have to divide ourselves in two – an observing part, and an observed part. When Observing 11′ is established in us, it is from this ‘I’ that everything else follows. It is small and weak to begin with, but it is like a window to let in light.


The object of Self-Observation is to enable us to change ourselves. But its first object is to make us more conscious of ourselves. Only by making ourselves more conscious to ourselves does it enable us to begin to change.

In ordinary life, we see only what is outside us, and do not notice what is going on inside us, how we think, and feel, and speak, always in the same way. But we have an internal sense. It is undeveloped, but it can be developed, and begin to show us what we are like – and thereby we can be changed.

We cannot be changed unless we see the kind of person we are. We practise Self-Observation in order to increase our consciousness, and without an increase in consciousness nothing in ourselves – or in mankind – can be hanged.

The practical side of this Work begins with Self­ Observation and not with trying to change outer circumstance or other people: but it must be uncritical Self­ Observation.

We have naturally a small degree of Self-Observation, but it never gets beyond a certain point. We begin to criticise ourselves. We stop and begin to put ourselves m the right, to restore the ordinary feeling of ourselves. We have to pass beyond this point, and have the strength to bear what we observe, calmly. This is difficult because we are identified, attached to ourselves and, naturally, are only concerned not to be foolish or ridiculous.

We have to observe, not only that we have done something wrong, but what happens inside us afterwards. There can be no change in us if we are stopped by self­ criticism.

In order to begin to observe oneself begin with something specific; for instance, talking or behaving under certain circumstances. We must get to know these things thoroughly, objectively, without criticising. When we notice that words come out of our mouths willy-nilly we begin to see that we have no consciousness, and that there is something not ourselves in us, which we cannot check.

We have to study ourselves as if we were another person independent of ourselves.

Man is mechanical, the Work says, and he reacts to life mechanically. The first step in changing oneself is to realise gradually that what one takes as oneself is a machine.
We do not see into ourselves. We are living in a state of internal darkness, and nothing can be changed unless we let light into this darkness. We imagine we know ourselves. But we are reacting automatically to life at every moment.

Self-Observation shows us this bit by bit; and Self­ Observation, by letting in light, begins the change in us by its own action: for this light is consciousness, provided that it is uncritical.

The illusion that we are conscious, and that we are one, prevent us from changing. We believe we have a permanent, unchanging ‘I’. First, we must observe ourselves uncritically.

When we begin to realise that things speak out of us and actions take place from us without our consciousness, we begin to get a new view of ourselves. But we think we know and that we remember, until Self-Observation shows us that we are not what we imagine but are machines. Then, uncritical Self-Observation will prevent many things from taking place in us, and show us what is not us at all. It is being asleep to ourselves that makes us go on behaving as we do.

This Work begins with oneself, and its aim is to change oneself. We miss the point if we think it is about external affairs. Everyone is a point of possible change, and change, whether of oneself or of the world lies here. If we change, we make room for others. But we cannot change unless we observe ourselves. We are deluded by thinking that what is outside us should be changed.

Through our attitude to others all kinds of frictions arise, and we do not see that we are responsible for the situation. But we can become aware that we criticise, and that what others said of us is true. This would mean that we had observed ourselves sufficiently to become more conscious of ourselves and it is this that alters a situation.

Self-Observation is to make us more conscious of ourselves, and this is the starting point of this system called the Work.


Change means to change what one is now. One can no longer retain the same opinions or judge others in the same way. It is not to add to what one is, but to change ones being.
From this Work, man is regarded as not conscious. The first increase of consciousness we can develop is through real self-knowledge, by means of Self-Observation.

We imagine we are fully conscious. We live – the Work says – in a world of sleeping humanity, and we ourselves are asleep. Anything can happen in this world, and everything does merely happen. It always will, unless we wake up. If we could awaken, a new world would become possible.

First this requires the acknowledgement that we are asleep, and then the giving up-of the illusions and pictures of oneself.

All our theories of improving the world, while we are still asleep, merely intensify the sleep of humanity.

There are four states of consciousness actual and possible to man:

4 State of Objective Consciousness
3 State of Self-Awareness of Self-Consciousness or Self­ Remembering (First truly waking state)
2 So-called Waking State
1 Sleep with dreams

In the first state of consciousness we are actually asleep in bed. In the second state of consciousness, we walk about the world, occupied with our daily affairs, thinking we are awake. But the third state of consciousness is the first truly waking state, and is actually our right. The fourth state is consciousness of the truth of things as they are.

Unless we can attain the third state of consciousness we cannot receive help. Help can only reach us when we realise we are asleep. Man asleep cannot obtain help.


We can get help if we work on ourselves, and through Self-Remembering raise the level of consc1ousness in ourselves to a higher state. Then help can reach us. When one realises one is asleep one realises one must have help.

There is a Work parable that illustrates the situation of man at present. Mankind is fast asleep, and is walking towards the edge of a precipice that it oe not see. But an individual man can wake up to the realisation that he is on the edge of a precipice; and if he were to open his eyes to this he would see that there is a rope above his head which he can climb up: but in order to reach this rope he has to jump. When we are on the level where we imagine we can be helped as we are, no help can reach us.

For anything better to exist, we must change ourselves.

Complacency, self-satisfaction, vanity, ignorance – all these and many other things prevent help from reaching us.

Prayer was originally to ask for help to lift on to a higher level of consciousness. The Lord’s Prayer is des1gn d to make a man remember himself, for an entire change of his being, so that help can enter him.

The nature of help is, first, to show us where we are wrong. This Work teaches that there is help, but it only touches a man and makes its presence known when he lifts himself up to it, that is, when he lifts himself up to the third state of consciousness. If we really feel our situation, we will try to lift ourselves to a new level of consciousness.


Help exists but can only reach the third level of consciousness – called the state of Self-Consciousness, or Self-Awareness, or Self-Remembering. This is the first truly waking state.

To become conscious we have to begin to observe ourselves; we have to observe what we are saying, what we are thinking, what we are feeling, what sensations we are having, what our movements are.

We have to observe ourselves aright, from a definite starting-point, in a definite direction. First, that we are not one, but many. We are a thinking man; an emotional man; a moving man; an instinctive man who feels hungry, thirsty, hot or cold, well or ill.

All these are separately controlled by what the Work calls centres. Intellectual centre controls our thinking, and emotional centre controls what emotions we feel; moving centre controls all the movements of the body, and instinctive centre looks after all the inner workings of the body, such as the digestion of food, the circulation of the blood, breathing, and sensation.

We often think one thing and feel another because the different centres do not work in harmony. If a man observes himself only in relation to intellectual centre and emotional centre he will see that he is two people and not one.

The mind of moving centre works differently from the mind of intellectual centre – for instance, the moving activity of the hands when playing the piano, in contrast to the intellectual activity of the mind when thinking and conversing.

The working of the body is controlled by instinctive centre. It looks after all the inner work of the organisation of the body of which intellectual centre knows nothing.

If we wish to know ourselves in the right way to be more conscious of ourselves, we must first observe these four men in ourselves. Take for instance getting up early, and the difficulties involved, showing we are not a unity.

This shows how intellectual centre cannot by itself control other centres. Two centres must be in agreement to control a third.

The first stage in self-change then is to realise that one is not one person. We must realise we are four different people; four people with different minds.

Each centre has a certain amount of force available to it at a particular time to work it. If this force is used up it cannot do its work properly. We cannot go on using one centre for as long as we fancy. The force is exhausted.

But we can then use another centre. Everything we do takes force – thinking, feeling, moving about, eating, drinking. Mechanically we act from the centre which is stored with force and is attracted by something. We must understand that if we are exhausted in one centre it is possible to use the force in another.

Our lives are distributed over the centres. Each has its different interests which are not antagonistic but complementary to each other, and each is necessary for human life. Balanced Man means a man in whom all centres work normally and have their right periods of activity.

Now the intellectual and moving centres can be made to act by direct effort. We can work out a problem, concentrate on something, or do some muscular task. But we cannot make ourselves have a particular emotion, or make ourselves hungry, cold, hot, etc. To a certain extent, we can resist an emotion or sensation, but we cannot direct what kind of emotion or sensation we have.


All men have Intellectual Centre, Emotional Centre, and the Instinctive and Moving Centres, but in different men these centres are very differently developed.

First example : take a man who likes activity and a man who likes to think – a Number 1 Man and a Number 3 Man. If they try to meet they each wish to talk of things which arise from their predominating centres. They are alike in that they both have the same centres, but they are unlike in that one has developed in Moving Centre and the other in Intellectual Centre.

Humanity is divided into three types of man – Number 1 Man, Number 2 Man, and Number 3 Man. Number l Man has to be further classified according to whether he is:

Number I Moving – whose primary concern is with action and muscular work.

Number 1 Instinctive – whose primary concern is for physical comfort, and who will be lazy and inactive.

The Majority of mankind is either Number 1 Instinctive or Number 1 Moving Man.

Number 2 is emotional man who feels everything. At one moment he is enthusiastic and exalted, the next he is depressed and moody. He is concerned with his likes and dislikes. His life swings between hope and despair, enthusiasm and dejection, love and hate, like and dislike.

Number 3 is intellectual man. His centre of gravity lies in Intellectual Cente, he is a theorist, with a theory about everything. His own thoughts and other people’s recorded thoughts interest him more than anything else.

Each of these three men is characterised by having one centre mainly at work. An educated man, however, is not merely 1,2 or 3; the other centres to a certain extent work in him.

First example: take a Number 1 (moving) 2 3 Man – a soldier. His emotions make him moody or sensitive or jealous. He is pre-occupied with himself, and not good at exams.

Second example: take a Number I (instinctive) 3 2 Man. He is also a soldier, fond of sport. But he studies the history of wars, and strategy, and perhaps non-military subjects. He gets through exams quite easily; but he feels little, is not upset or moody, but a harsh disciplinarian.

So six formulations of man can be made: 1 2 3, 1 3 2; 2 1 3, 2 3 1; 3 1 2, 3 2 1.

A 1 2 3 (instinctive) Man is concerned chiefly with eating, will be lazy and disinclined to make effort. Governed by his body, he will be easily depressed, become sulky and moody. Such a man hardly thinks at all.

Which of these men we are can only be found out by Self-Observation. But proper approach to life necessitates the proper working of all centres – and to approach situations with the wrong centre is useless.

Each centre requires its own development.

Mechanical Humanity is lopsided because life is viewed through one centre only; and consequently the people belonging to the mechanical circle of humanity do not understand one another.

The aim and object of this Work is to reach Balanced Man, Number 4 Man. Number 4 Man has all the centres more or less equally developed, so that one centre does not usurp the function of another, and each centre does its own work as may be appropriate to the situation.

To reach Number 4 Man it is necessary to work on oneself consciously. Number 4 Man is not mechanical. People who have begun to reach the level of Number 4 Man begin, at the same time, to understand one another.

To begin to approach Number 4 Man a person must be w1llmg to develop those sides of himself which are lacking in development. Therefore no new experience is useless, once one understands the direction in which evolution lies.

In life people do not understand one another because they have no common language. The first step to understanding one another is to learn a common language.


We have seen that man is not one, but four, each centre in him being a different mind. He is in fact multiple. Over a long period Self-Observation will show us this multitude, to each of which we say ‘I’.

At every moment these ‘I’s change: now one, now another speaks, and one may contradict another, or at least know nothing of what the first ‘I’ said.

We ascribe to ourselves many things which we do not possess such as full consciouness, will, and a real, permanent “I” that never changes.

This is illusion. Man has not one will but many contradictory wills. Man is not conscious but lives almost all his life asleep. He has not a permanent ‘I’ but a multitude of ‘I’s. Man is compared in a Work allegory to ‘A House in Disorder’. The Master is away, and the servants are doing what they like. When the telephone rings, they speak and pretend that they are the Master, and make all sorts of promises and orders under this pretence. Some of these servants feel that there is a better state possible. They see clearly what is going on, and band together with the intention of putting order in the house, in the hope that this will attract the return of the Master.

Each ‘I’ in a man has been acquired from some experience in life, from imitation, from environment, from something real, from fantasy, from profession, etc.

Man is not born with Personality, but with Essence. Personality begins to form itself very early in life, as soon as the child begins to imitate. At this point it acquires affectations, mannerisms, etc. Eventually, the child takes as himself all that has been acquired.

Observing oneself from the standpoint of many ‘I’s, we begin to realise it is not the same person always speaking, though we call it ‘I’. We notice that different ‘I’s speak at different times of the day, taking charge of us. We are changing all the time. Some ‘I’s are waking up, some ‘I’s are going to sleep. One ‘I’ makes a promise that other ‘I’s know nothing about. Some ‘I’s are very dangerous, and if we want to develop we have to prevent them from taking charge. These’re especially the “I”s those twist things, that lie about everything, that are revengeful or bitter, that are full of self­ pity or malice.

A baby is born as Essence, and is awake in so far as it really is Essence. It is, of course, small, but quite real. But, being bo amongst sleeping people, it soon falls asleep. It begins to imitate, and that is one reason why Personality is formed.

Try to observe yourself from the standpoint of different ‘I’s existing in you, and notice how they often contradict one another. Notice the ‘I’s you are when you are alone: notice how they change when anyone comes into the room. Try to notice the intonat1on with which different ‘I’s speak.


Unless we see what factor in ourselves stands in our way we cannot grow, cannot undergo an inner development. If we wish to develop we have to be able to observe ourselves.

It is usual to see all our difficulties as being due to causes outside ourselves because this is all we do see. But if we begin to realise that it is ourselves, our level of being, that attracts our life, and understand the necessity of working on ourselves because our problem lies in ourselves, we can begin to change. If we can come to the point of realising that our problems lie in ourselves, we know that everything depends on our efforts to change ourselves. And unless we come to this point of consciousness everything will remain, not nearly the same, but will get worse.

We must try to discover by Self-Observation what it is that keeps us in the same place in ourselves.

To change life means to change ourselves. But mostly, we have the illusion that change for the improvement of our life depends on outer circumstances, and that those ought to be different. This is what makes us unhappy.

The first thing we have to do to change ourselves is to give up our suffering. But people won’t – they struggle to keep it.

The Work says that the world is governed not by sex or power, but by negative emotions – that is by certain states of the emotional centre, called negative emotions. This refers to suffering. Unless we give up suffering, we cannot change. The first sign of wrong attitude to life, the first illusion, is useless suffering. This happens because we approach life through our own ideas of what it ought to be, and imagine that what happens to us is exceptional. All this produces suffering, because we have not understood the nature of life, and don’t wish to know. We struggle with difficulties – yes – but think of our lives as spoiled.

We, therefore, come to a new standpoint: that of realising our lives are spoiled by suffering, and wishing to be rid of all useless self-pity, and the sense of grievance and despondency. We have to feel that life owes us nothing, and other people owe us nothing. On the contrary, we have to feel that we owe to others and owe to life more than we can repay. In the words of the Lord’s Prayer, properly translated, we should ask for our debts to be cancelled, ‘as we cancel the debts owed to us’, not ‘forgive’. As we eliminate from ourselves the idea that we are owed something by others, so do we become free. The feeling of being owed is useless suffering. When we struggle with this we are suffering usefully.

This effort needs Work ideas. Life ideas encourage useless suffering, and in the end deprive us of pleasure, happiness and new interests.

To change oneself one must be free from petty attachments and forms of imagination about oneself that hold us in the position we are in life. We are attached to everything in ourselves: vanity, stupidity, merit, beauty, elegance, accomplishments, self-evaluation, etc., and particularly to suffering. These must be weakened for a change to take place. Or it may be that we are attached to the other side of the same coin – to the idea of not being ambitious, of not bothering about life.

The Centres

Intellectual Centre is born with a negative part and a positive part, as in order to think there must be a comparison – an ability to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

The Emotional Centre is not born with a negative part – it should not be there, but it is acquired by the influence of people who are negative. By contact with adults a child learns to pity itself, to feel grievances, to speak crossly, to dwell on its misfortunes, to be melancholy, moody, irritable, suspicious, jealous, to hurt others, etc. This dreadful infection of a child is something against which nothing can be done because it is not clearly recognized. This infection forms the negative part in Emotional Centre. And this infection is handed on from generation to generation.

Negative emotions may take very subtle forms but eventually they all lead down to violence. Once negative emotion passes beyond a certain point it rouses deep-seated factors in the Instinctive Centre, and people then want to hurt and murder one another.

There is a particular reason why negative emotions are even worse than this. We have two Higher Centres in us – Higher Intellectual, and Higher Emotional – that are fully developed and working, but we are not in contact with them. When we feel a lack in ourselves, an emptiness, a sense of futility and of being lost in a world we do not understand, it is due to the fact that we cannot hear Higher Centres. But if we made contact with Higher Centres in our ordinary state, our lower centres would be rendered a thousand times worse, more intense.

We can live in a better world, in this world, if negative emotions are reduced to a minimum.

If, after having observed our negative emotions, we struggle with our emotional life, we shall see that our whole attitude to life needs changing. It is impossible to overcome negative emotions alone, because they are involved in our whole attitude to life! Every situation needs a new standpoint by which to think of it; our whole idea of ourselves has to be changed, and this is work on oneself. The Work is designed to put us in touch with Higher Centres, but while we are governed by negative emotions, the influences coming from Higher Centres cannot reach us.


From the standpoint of this Teaching, man is not one – he is not a unity. From the point of view of centres, he is three: an intellectual man, an emotional man, and an instinctive­ moving man.

The Work also speaks of man in terms of knowledge and being. These two sides form him – he is both, not merely his knowledge, nor merely his being.

First, consider Being. Different kinds of animals have different being. The being of a snake is different from that of a grasshopper, and the being of a grasshopper from that of a pig; and a pig has different being from the being of a tiger. A carpenter selects his wood according to its suitability for a job. If some stock of wood has not matured rightly he will say something to the effect that its ‘nature’ has gone out of it. He is talking about being.

It is not difficult to realise that people have different kinds of knowledge, but it is not easy to realise that they have different kinds of being. The conception of being is emphasized in the Work, and we must try to realise what being is, and why the concept is so stressed.

First example: A man of superior knowledge in his field, but who does all kinds of mean and petty acts, is full of envy, cheats, steals information without acknowledging it. Although this is obvious to us he does not realise it and is astonished that people do not like him. Without understanding that this man has two sides – knowledge and being – we shall be baffled by him. We dislike his being, and we can describe his level of being as such and such.

Second example: A man has no particular knowledge, but is not malicious, is not mean and petty, does not cheat, keeps his word. Although in knowledge he is undeveloped, his level of being is higher than the first man’s.

If we value only knowledge, we shall admire the first man, whatever he does, because of his knowledge; and despise the second because he is ignorant.

This judgement will define us because we shall then have poor being.

This is the tendency today, to make heroes of criminals. But a criminal cannot be taught because his level of being will always use his knowledge in a criminal way.

We make use of our knowledge according to our level of being. For instance – two people with harmful knowledge of a third person: it is their level of being which determines their behaviour.
From this, we can see that knowledge and being are different, and that our relation to our knowledge is governed by our being. To give knowledge to a person of being lower than his knowledge results in its misuse.

The Work teaches that our knowledge and being should have equal development. If the two are approximately equal, the result is that we understand our knowledge.

Understanding is defined as the resultant of knowledge and being. Knowledge by itself, being by itself – neither alone gives understanding. We can know a lot and understand nothing. We can develop on the side of being to a point, and yet be stupid or ignorant.

In order to change, we must develop on the side of knowledge and on the side of being. If we only study the system intellectually, nothing will change. If we try to work on being without studying the knowledge, we will come to a stop. There will be no increase of understanding. When we begin to understand what we did not understand before, there is the chance of change precisely through the understanding.

A man is his understanding, and he cannot develop save through his understanding.

It is said that our level of being attracts our life and that if we wish our life to be different a change in our level of being is necessary. That means that as long as our being stays the same the same kind of things will happen to us, no matter the place or the circumstances.

We can see that knowledge and being are relative in different people. Relativity of knowledge can be understood, but relativity of being is more difficult to understand.


Man is regarded as unfinished, incomplete, imperfect. He has the possibility of completing himself, perfecting himself, and all that is necessary for this lies in him.

He is an experiment in self-evolution. As he is mechanically, he is incomplete and undeveloped but is capable of a further inner development. For this reason, it is said that man is a self-developing organism.

In the New Testament, man is compared to a seed. It is said that unless a man dies to what he is now he cannot evolve into what is possible for him. A definite transformation is being spoken about by which the experiment can be completed. The idea that man is a self­ developing organism means that he cannot develop under compulsion. To see God in the flesh would mean man being compelled to believe by the evidence of the senses but man cannot develop in this way at all. He can only develop through understanding.

If man is a special experiment on this earth as distinct from the animals which cannot undergo an individual evolution, what does it mean? It means that a man can only develop eternally if he begins to understand the necessity of it, and seeks for the means himself. It is only through eternal freedom, which is one’s understanding, that a man can evolve. No external compulsion can bring this about. When we see we are wrong and realise what we are like and how we behave, then from this basis self-evolution becomes possible. We begin to change when we begin to understand ourselves, and see the need.

Man is free to change himself through his own understanding. This is the only sense in which he is free-and this freedom no-one can take from him. No-one can change life, or other people; but each person can change himself. This system begins with a man, with oneself with you – and its object is to change you yourself.

No rules, rituals, ceremonies or regulations, even if their aim is to develop man, can change him unless he begins to understand.

The Work, therefore, begins by teaching that we must try to enter into ourselves and begin to see ourselves. Prayers pilgrimages etc., are useless because they are taken externally. It is only through new knowledge and work on our being that new understanding can be born.

The next idea is that man is in a bad situation on this earth. The earth is a small point in the solar-system, the solar-system a small point in the Milky Way or Galaxy, and the Galaxy is only one of many Galaxies. Man is in a bad position under many laws which do not necessarily contribute to his well-being. Cosmically speaking, man is a small thing n the universe, a new experiment which might be wiped out in favour of another experiment. Man becomes of consequence only when he realises his meaning and destiny and begins to live more consciously.

If man were only a machine he would not suffer his inner painful doubts and uncertainties, simply because he would then be a machine: but everyone knows in a dim way that this is not the case – and that they should be different.

The third idea about man is that as long as he remains asleep and mechanical he is used.

If man were incapable of doing anything about himself, his position would be without hope – he would be subject to all that happens around him, floods, disease, war etc. It would be his sole life.

But if man is created a self­ developing organism life cannot fulfil him and is not supposed to fulfil him: his full meaning is not in life. But life uses us owing to our position on this planet. Re­ arrangement of outer things still leaves us under the same laws that use man. As long as being remains the same, mankind attracts the same kind of life, recurrently. The only starting-point of change is in us – in our spirit.

All mankind is asleep from the point of view of this system. We are asleep, and in this state mankind can do nothing. Today mankind is being used more and more by cosmic forces outside him because he has discarded the power to awaken.

This system turns round the central point that man is a self-developing organism, capable of evolving through his understanding, and changing his level of being – by which means he can come under new influences and reach help.

In the first two states of consciousness we are mechanical and cannot change. Only at the Third Level of Consciousness, or Self-Remembering, can man alter his situation on this earth.


(‘The more our outward man dies away, the more living is the inward”: St Paul).

Man consists of two parts, Essence and Personality. Essence is the part that can grow.

At birth a person is Essence, but it is undeveloped, The baby has to grow, and each centre has to develop its mind and intelligence. A baby lives in Instinctive Centre: little by little it begins to develop in Moving Centre – to walk. It understands scarcely anything. Life is at a great distance from it, and it lives in its own world. When it begins to speak and understand something of what people are saying, life comes nearer. Personality begins to be formed.

Life comes in as impressions, which fall on the different centres, and form rolls. Impressions are deposited on rolls in the different centres. At birth the centres are blank, save the Instinctive Centre, and a small part of Moving Centre.

Everything we have learnt is stored in these Centres. All our habits – mental, emotional and physical – are stored in these rolls. By means of these roles Personality is built.

People with similar roles may feel connected, and those with dissimilar ones may feel at a loss with one another. But people who have different rolls, who differ in Personality, may feel drawn to one another: in such cases it is some similarity in Essence.

We have to understand that Essence is very soon surrounded by Personality. What we are born with is surrounded by what we acquire – beliefs, opinions, customs, etc. What we are taught forms Personality. What Essence is, what we really are, remains undeveloped. But a man only grows through a new growth of Essence.

If in life we wish to be the foremost authority on some subject, and study to do so, we increase Personality. If we do something solely to be first, all our efforts lead solely to a growth of Personality – and this will be at the expense of Essence.

In Esoteric teaching, man is regarded as a seed capable of individual development. The part of man that can grow, as a seed, is Essence. But during our upbringing, our sense of ourselves, our feeling of ‘I’, gradually shifts from what we really are to what we acquire from life. Strictly speaking Essence is what we are. Personality is what is not us.

Through a vague feeling of this, people sometimes try to avoid life. But though it is true that simple people are more essential, their Essence has not developed beyond a certain point. Their understanding remains that of a child.

The Work says that Essence is capable of only a very small development by itself. In order to grow beyond a certain point, it must have food. An acorn feeds first on the substance that surrounds the germ of life contained in it. When it has developed as a plant, it draws nourishment from the sun and the earth. With us, the point is to form food in us that later can f ed Essen e. This food is the Personality. Unless Personality forms itself round Essence by the action of life, Essence cannot grow further than a certain point.

Essence can grow by itself up to four, five or six, say. It then stops. A child then leaves its Essence and becomes more and more immersed in the slowly forming Personality. It is taught what to believe in, what is useful, and so on – a confusion of things.

But this Work says, despite this, that Personality must reformed; because if we wish at a later stage of life to grow md1v1dually, we cannot do so without this food of Personality. We can only grow at the expense of Personality.

What is the inner situation of man, as regards his possible individual development? Man is created a self­ developing organism. The real development is the development of what is really him, what he was born with, the growth of Essence.

Through education and external circumstances in general, and through imagination, Personality takes charge of us. Personality becomes active and Essence passive. This means that we believe in all we have imitated – this side we have acquired, and take as ourselves. It can be to the extent that all that is real in us practically dies.

Nevertheless, Personality must form itself in a man to relate him to life, and the richer the Personality, the better. But it is only a step towards development. Development begins when all this food is made disposable to Essence for its further growth. In other words, the development of Essence can only take place at the expense of Personality, and of certain results of its formation in us. We can only grow by making Personality passive. This enables the Essence little by little to become active and grow.

So if we desire to change, we have to begin to go against ourselves in a certain way – against what we take to be ourselves. All the psychological teaching of this system is connected with the central idea of a development of Essence at the expense of Personality – a development that is impossible unless Personality has been formed first of all, since it depends on Personality for its fulfilment, and particularly on the quality of the food that is stored in Personality.


The quest on of the development of Essence does not lie in trying to find what in Essence itself should develop.

It ts not a matter of making Essence develop as it were by force, but allowing it to develop. Essence cannot develop because 1t is surrounded by Personality.

A particular side of Personality is False Personality. It is said that False Personality is constructed out of imagination. Imagination is one of the most powerful forces acting on our inner life, in the inner world of reality in which we live. Take an example of, in early years, reading a book and imagining oneself the hero – we believe ourselves to be what imagination tells us. When imagination has been consented to, a false feeling of oneself has created a false feeling of ‘I’. This is the basis of False Personality.

As we grow up and Personality is formed, instead of being ourselves, we cease to be ourselves and gradually become an invented person._ The centre-of-gravity of the feeling of ourselves passes into the artificial feeling of ‘I’ which is composed of imagination.

For the essential feeling of oneself is substituted a misleading feeling of ‘I’. It is this invented side this Imaginary ‘I’ or False Personality that prevents Essence’ from growing later on in life.

False Personality is our self-liking, self-love, self­ admiration, and the source of self-pity and negative emotions.

The development of Essence after Personality has been formed depends on rendering False Personality and Imaginary “I” passive.

That means that we have to discover by Self-Observation what is real and what is false in us. For in Personality there is both much that is useful and much that useless. But we have to see that we imagined ourselves first in some grand walk of life, and are actually ordinary.

As False Personality is composed of imagination, we must try to observe some of its forms. Try to observe lying – for instance telling a story in such a way as to put oneself in a favourable position, to make oneself appear more clever or more in the right than one is. We don’t like admitting we are wrong.

We are the slave of our Imaginary ‘I’, for at all costs we feel bound to keep it alive and defend it both from others and ourselves. Consequently, we are always lying – by boasting, justifying and pretending. And we seek the satisfaction of being taken seriously by other people, by asking for praise and encouragement. If we fail in this, we feel depressed and hurt, or hate people.

The False Personality in people injures relationships: they cannot be real, for it is pretence of the imagination. If the Essence of one person is attracted by another’s Essence something real is possible – if Personality does not ruin the situation.

A child, from being real in its early years, is then, from the necessity of having to meet outer life, forced to imitate other people. It begins to be something not itself, and to believe in it.

The feeling of ‘I’ passes outwards into the growing Personality, and owing to this formation of Personality there is nothing real in the sense of this feeling of ‘I’. Everything the child imitates and invents concerning itself forms many different ‘I’s. So when grown-up we are a conglomeration of ‘I’s which may act in different ways at different times.

But Imaginary ‘I’ or False Personality acts in such a way as to make us believe that we are one and the same person at all times. We are sure that we have a single, unchanging and permanent ‘I’.

Unless we realise we are not like this we cannot change. For we also believe that we have Real Will and can ‘do’.

But we are a ‘house in disorder’. We are many people each with a desire – not one person with one will. This is why we cannot ‘do’. Only a man with real individuality has a Real Will and can do.

When we begin to observe ourselves with the aim of seeing different personalities, the power of Imaginary ‘I’ begins to be weakened. We see we are different from what we imagined ourselves to be. When we really see the different ‘I’s speaking, an illusion about ourselves begins to be destroyed, and we pass a little nearer to the state in which Real ‘I’ can come nearer.

As long as False Personality is in power Essence will be incapable of growth. But once we begin to realise our situation Essence is no longer held in check. Our inner situation begins to alter, and as Personality becomes passive, so does Essence develop and become active.



In order to change himself, a man must work on himself. But there are both useful and useless efforts. As an example of useless effort, take the instance of an irritable man who, hearing of this system and not understanding it, gives up smoking. The result is that he becomes even more irritable.

Effort must be intelligent, and it must be based on the direction the Work teaches, and on what we have observed in ourselves in relation to the Teaching.

Unless we have observed ourselves and seen what we have to work on, nothing useful can result from any efforts we may make. If one has observed one is irritable, one is in a position to work on oneself usefully.

All efforts made must be useful in three respects – to the Work itself, or to others in the Work, or to oneself.

The First Line of Work is to change the kind of person one is. The Second Line of Work is in connection with one’s neighbours – those with whom one is working, who are nearest in understanding. The Third Line of Work concerns the Work itself. For instance, we must think of what might harm it and what might help it and realise that if we behave badly or talk badly we harm the Work itself and other people in it – and ourselves, so that without seeing the reason we can no longer work on ourselves.

The Teaching lays down these three lines of Work. No­ one can work only for himself.

The first useful effort we can make is the effort of Self­ Observation – learning to observe ourselves uncritically. This requires great and continual effort, because it must be done consciously. Try to observe for a short, given period, for we have not the force to observe longer, thoughts, emotions, sensations, movements. It is necessary to find the right state internally, where we really want to observe and realise that we can, by seeing, for instance, that we think one thing and feel something quite different.

Ordinarily, we are identified with everything that takes place within us – every thought, mood, sensation, emotion. This means that we take it as ourselves. We put the feeling of I into it, and for this reason, nothing can change in us.

Let us return to the irritable man. Suppose he fully observe his irritation – then his situation has changed because instead of being identified and being his irritation, he is to a certain extent separated from it. He is separated because he can observe it as something which is not himself. He can see it as an object. He has drawn out of it some of the feeling of ‘I’, and the greater the power of his Self­ Observation, the less power will the irritation have over him. He is no longer so identified with himself.

This has been brought about by the establishment of Observing-I -. the first step in making a new system in us, which is the first practical aim of the Teaching.

The greatest hindrance to self-evolution is that we are constantly identified with what attracts our attention at a given moment. And for this reason, we forget ourselves. But our natural right is the third state of consciousness, the state of Self-Remembering. Unless we can begin to Self­ remember, we are identified with everything. We thus live in a state of inner disorder, identifying with our surroundings. That is why we are said to be asleep. We are so accustomed to identification that we only feel the taste of being identified.

When we identify with a problem, a person, a feeling, a situation, we put ourselves under its power. We are mastered by it. Self-mastery begins with struggling with identifying.

It is possible, too, to identify with working on oneself, by forgetting that one’s small aim is not everything. Aim must not be done publicly; that causes identifying and gives no result.

It is particularly difficult to free ourselves from identifying because we feel our best work is done by being identified.

By being identified we see only one side of a question. If we are instinctive man, for instance, we identify with the food we are especially fond of. Instinctive Man becomes the steak he eats. We become whatever we identify with- money, woes, hatred, etc., and cannot remember ourselves.

To remember ourselves we must not identify. To learn how not to identify we must first not be identified with ourselves. For this reason, we must learn and practise Self­ Observation. When we realise we need not go with a mood etc., but can draw the feeling of ‘I’ out of it, we begin to see what not identifying with ourselves means.

Maurice Nicoll: Simple Explanation of Work Ideas
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Maurice Nicoll: Simple Explanation of Work Ideas
We see a world outside: that is what our senses give us. But the senses are turned outwards from oneself and cannot see what one is.