For the Week of July 16 - 22:
Conscious Labor & Intentional Suffering
Frida Kahlo, El Sol y La Vida
My Father is still working, and I also am working. As long as it is day,
we must do what the One who sent me wants me to do. When night comes, no one can work.
- John 5:17; 9:4
In our continuing study of humanity, we have just touched on our highest capacities for engendering states of being that align with our divine-human destiny – conscience and consciousness. We have explored the centrality of a transforming will – a will to God. Now we can ask, what is the application of a transforming will? As will to God becomes all and everything, what is called forth?
The fruits of a surrendered, flowing, receptive will include conscious labors and intentional suffering, which Gurdjieff also called our being-partkdolg-duty. While usually referenced together in the Work, these are two distinct states and actions that manifest as self-love diminishes. J.G. Bennett introduces these ideas in The Sevenfold Work:
"[O]ur lives are required for 'something.' If we provide that 'something' our lives will have fulfilled their purpose, and we will be set free from our debt. Our own individual fulfillment will then be made possible. This cannot be in isolation .... We not only need one another, but we have an underlying connection by this very fact that the whole of the human race is needed for a certain purpose. If it fulfills this purpose, this human race of ours has the possibility of moving to a very different level of fulfillment, where a new significance can enter human life …
"Just to live a moral, well-ordered life is not enough. We need consciously to fulfill the obligation to produce the special energies that are required of us … [through] 'conscious labors and intentional suffering.'"
What is conscious labor?
"Conscious labor is nearly the same as what we call 'service.' It is to serve the purpose of our existence, and this is very much concerned with the future of mankind. [Gurdjieff] always emphasized the obligation we have to serve the future: to 'prepare a better future for mankind.' We must learn to make present sacrifices for the sake of the future. …
"As parents, we all see and recognize the necessity to make present sacrifices for our own children's futures. This is true, but too limited. … How little we are ready to do without things now, to place restraints upon our desires and impulses of the present, in order that a better future should be possible. …
"It is around such things as these that the meaning of 'conscious labor' is to be understood. … [I]t is necessary to know what has to be done. It is an exceedingly difficult thing to serve the future rightly. Many people want to do good for the future, but … [t]hey do not know how to sow the seeds that will make a better future."
- J.G. Bennett, The Sevenfold Work
Thus, conscious labors are beyond our normal duties and obligations and even beyond ordinary service to others. J.G. Bennett adds this nuance: "We can work very hard to achieve something and such efforts are, of course, legitimate … becoming better, stronger, free from this or that trouble, attaining higher levels of being and so on. None of that belongs to conscious labor. Conscious labors must always come under the requirement of acting without regard to the fruits of action. …
"Seeing what is necessary [as necessary] is the first condition of conscious labor. It is only when we do what has to be done simply because it has to be done that work can liberate us from our own egoism. If we work for reward, this reward is bound to be connected with the satisfaction of something in us and almost certainly this something will include our own egoism, self-love. …
"Gurdjieff always presents the idea of conscious labor as connected with service to the future, as the sower sows the seed in hope but unconcerned with who will reap the harvest. … Why must this be? It is because the future is the realm of creation; it is open to be created while the present is closing up, perishing, coming to an end."
- J.G. Bennett, Talks on Beelzebub's Tales
What is intentional suffering?
"If you knew how to suffer, you would not suffer."
– The Acts of John
"The best and most beautiful characters we meet in our ordinary life
are nearly always molded by suffering rightly borne."
- J.G. Bennett, Is There Life on Earth?
"If you don't transform your suffering, you'll transmit it."
– Richard Rohr
To understand what is meant by intentional suffering, let us first nuance our understanding of suffering:
Unnecessary or useless suffering is due to our identification with acquired attitudes and expectations, from ill-will, dislike and judgment of others, from doubt, possessiveness, arrogance, self-pity, small wills, grasping, i.e., all the suffering arising from self-importance and concerns with me and mine.
Unavoidable suffering comes to us by accident or from events beyond our control, such as war, disaster, disease or death.
Voluntary suffering occurs when we willingly suffer to accomplish a life aim, such as an athlete in training, or a student laboring for good grades or a householder working for a promotion at work.
Intentional suffering is when we willingly work to serve an impersonal or altruistic vision, one that is directed more towards service to others or to the Work, and not for any personal gain. We willingly engage in conscious labors, which may involve difficulty, inconvenience and even trouble for ourselves. Bennett says without intentional suffering, conscious labors will become dry and empty. Why? An affirming, moving-toward of the will is needed to sustain our efforts and attention.
"One of the things that has to be understood is that right living will always involve payment and sacrifice. It is not fashionable nowadays to accept the necessity for suffering, because we do not wish to admit the necessity for suffering if we are to serve. …
"It is not enough to have the good will to serve and suffer. … It is also necessary to have new kinds of perceptions, a new of understanding of other people; otherwise, we are liable to blunder. … Therefore, we have also the obligation to understand human life better. This understanding starts with the understanding of what human life is for … not just as a being to live successfully on this earth, but essentially as a being who has obligations to fulfill and who, through fulfilling these obligations, can fulfill himself. …
"[T]the third line of work must involve suffering. This is especially connected with the feeling nature, for our feelings have to be sacrificed if we are to fulfill our obligations. We have to do what we dislike, disregard our inclinations and allow demands from outside to command us. … Hence the term intentional suffering: we do not seek to suffer but this comes when we put ourselves under an obligation that makes sacrifice unavoidable."
- J.G. Bennett, The Sevenfold Work
Does this mean we are to be unhappy, plodding creatures? On the contrary! We know from stories of Gurdjieff, experiences with Thomas Keating, and examples of the greatest of spiritual teachers that they radiated joy, expressed humor, appreciated beauty, and exhibited at times a child-like curiosity and uninhibited wonder about life in the smallest of its details – all while engaging in intentional suffering.
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.
- Poem by Rabindranath Tagore,
as quoted by Victor Frankl in his book Yes to Life in Spite of Everything
"Whenever there is a need of something for the sake of the future, there is a need for people who are able to bear the stresses that will come with change; and there has to be preparation….
"How is it to be with us? It is not enough to say: 'I wish to serve. I must be able to serve.' [Or] 'I’ll serve when it suits me,' because it works out that we have to serve just when it does not suit us. 'Watch and pray for ye know not the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh.' We have to be like the air and let everything take us, deny ourselves to nothing, let everything be transmitted through us. …
"If you come into this Work only for what you can get for yourself, you will be disappointed. But something else can enter, the realization that it does not matter what one can get for oneself as long as one can do something that is necessary. This is a real step in our transformation. …
"[I]t is a great thing not to see suffering as an affliction. For that the inner eye must open which can see things as they really are. You come to see … that suffering is required; and you no more want to avoid it than you want to avoid putting your next foot on the ground when you are walking. In the spiritual path, joy and suffering follow one another like the two feet and you come to a point of not minding which 'foot' is on the ground. You realize the contrary that it is extremely uncomfortable hopping all the time on the joy foot."
- J. G. Bennett, Talks on Tales of Beelzebub
- Choose one area of your life to practice conscious labor or intentional suffering. Non-critically observe patterns of useless suffering. Non-identify and Self-remember. The Welcoming Prayer is an excellent practice for a three-centered, embodied way of digesting both useless and intentional suffering.
A note on sharing: To share is courageous; it is a gift to you and others. It opens one to the possibility of being "a fool for the Work." It affirms observations in being and imprints a cellular knowing. It is also an art-form. A Work-form, so to speak. That is, to share in the Work is to put oneself under the authority of the Work: non-critically self-observing, non-identifying, and Self-remembering in all three centers while sharing. Brief. To the point. Without specific references to others. Without story.
All are encouraged and welcome to attend tonight's class for a review of these teachings and how they are landing in you: 7pm Central Time via Zoom only.