Thousands of ‘I’s
are generated by the four lower
centers each day. Some ‘I’s
are accidental and appear at random. Some
are predictable responses to our daily lifestyle
and habits. Others are evoked by new or
changing circumstances. But all of these
‘I’s happen mechanically. None
of them are related to self-remembering
and the effort to be present.
Robert Earl Burton has pointed out, the
cycle of mechanical ‘I’s is
clearly depicted in the “Wheel of
Fortune” card (X) in the
tarot deck. With the turning of the wheel,
each ‘I’ rises to the top and
momentarily claims the crown of our identity,
only to be dethroned and replaced by the
next ‘I’ that comes along.
mechanical ‘I’s are not harmful
in themselves. The harm is that, as they
replace one another, they also displace
presence. Each ‘I’, regardless
of its subject matter, tries to pull us
out of the present and into imagination.
As Mr. Burton said recently, “The
mechanical ‘I’s are all impostors
of Real I,” and “If one is not
attention, one is certain to be drawn
into imagination by the four lower centers.”
sustain divided attention, we need to develop
work ‘I’s that can override
mechanical ‘I’s and promote
presence. Work ‘I’s are intentional
thoughts that encourage self-remembering.
Internally, they say things like, “Be
present, Divide attention, Avoid imagination,
See what is in front of you, Don’t
with these ‘I’s, Return to self-remembering.”
Mr. Burton explains that this effort is
the esoteric meaning in The Bible (Exodus
21:23-24) of, “An eye for an
eye”—work ‘I’s countering
mechanical ‘I’s with the effort
to promote presence.
‘I’s, however, do not say ‘I’.
They are neutral, brief, and instructive.
Their job is to deflect imagination and
promote presence. Mr. Ouspensky described
this when he said, “Consciousness
is something different from thought. You
use thought [work ‘I’s] just
to give a push, and then it begins to move
in this direction and you become conscious
[present] without thought.” What he
did not say, however, is that presence usually
does not last long by itself. Work ‘I’s
have to keep giving it a push.
of Friends, we develop specific work
‘I’s to help us be present.
For instance, we have a practice of trying
not to judge people or situations. The reason
is that, as Mr. Burton explains, judgment
‘I’s are one of the most common
ways of losing presence. One moment we perceive
something and the next moment we fall asleep
in an ‘I’ that is judging what
we perceived. In Mr. Burton’s words,
“Judgment immediately ushers in imagination
and severs presence.” When this happens—or
even better, right before it happens—the
antidote is to engage a work ‘I’
that says, “Do not judge, stay up,
stay present.” The urge to judge,
however, may reassert itself, so the work
‘I’ has to keep working if we
want to stay present.
occasion where presence often gets displaced
is in the shower. It is a time when the
‘I’s casually imagine that they
are thinking: by planning the day ahead,
replaying an event from the past, or entertaining
a pleasant hope that may or may not be possible.
Meanwhile, all these ‘I’s displace
presence as we go through the routine of
bathing, dimly aware that we are even in
a shower or tub. It may seem like a harmless
place to have to engage work ‘I’s,
yet Mr. Burton keeps reminding us that promoting
presence is not reserved for special occasions;
it is for every occasion. In this regard,
the Sufi, Gujduvani, advised, “Struggle
with all alien thoughts, be always mindful
of what you are doing and thinking whether
outwardly or inwardly, so that you may put
the imprint of your immortality on every
passing moment of your daily life.”
our web site in
Robert Earl Burton teaching
reading about Fourth Way ideas
Esoteric keys to understanding The
We offer a series of free introductory lectures
in cities around the world. To register:
Call our USA information line (1-800-642-0212),
Find a center nearest you.
The foundation of the Fourth Way
Self-remembering · divided
attention · consciousness
Man as a machine · the many
Barriers to self-remembering ·
working in a school
The theory of centers
(requires lecture 1)
Promoting and prolonging presence
The 4 lower centers
The sex center
The soul, the spirit
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
Practical ways to introduce and sustain
of Friends is a Fourth Way school with
centers worldwide. Membership is monthly.
Find a center nearest you.
Statue of a lion. Collection of the Fellowship
Thoughts on Work ‘I’s
If a man lives without inner struggle, if
everything happens in him without opposition,
if he goes wherever he is drawn or wherever
the wind blows, he will remain such as he
You must understand that external things matter
least of all. It is the internal things that
are important, the internal war.
Being familiar with principles is one thing,
harnessing knowledge to them is quite different.
With every breath, either self-remembering
consumes imagination or imagination consumes
self-remembering. Every move one makes without
presence tightens the chains of sleep. Presence
reveals how feeble thought is. Things that
interest the many ‘I’s do not
interest the higher centers.
Robert Earl Burton
Thought devours the spirit, it eats it away
instant by instant. The real war, the important
war, is this war.
fight continues all one’s life.
is a war that opens the doors of heaven. Happy
the warriors whose fate it is to fight such
matter how you prosper, there will rise before
your face a hundred smirking ‘I’s.
matter how subtle the sleeper’s thoughts
become, his dreams will not guide him home.
must fear the inner consequences of your own
forgetfulness. If you are drawn away, come
back as soon as you can.
At first you find yourself behind the veil,
even if you are practicing remembrance. After
that comes unveiling, which is presence.
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