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MARCH 2005 • Vol 2, No 3
Presence • Awakening • Higher Centers • The Beloved • God
Being Present

a publication of Fellowship of Friends

Work ‘I’s

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.

As 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.

Most 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 dividing attention, one is certain to be drawn into imagination by the four lower centers.”

To 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 identify 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.

Work ‘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.

In the Fellowship 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.

Another 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.”

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Links of interest
• Videos of Robert Earl Burton teaching
Suggested reading about Fourth Way ideas
• Esoteric keys to understanding The Bible

Introductory lectures — monthly
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.

1— The foundation of the Fourth Way
• Self-remembering · divided attention · consciousness
• Man as a machine · the many 'I's
• Barriers to self-remembering · working in a school

2— The theory of centers (requires lecture 1)
• The 4 lower centers
• The sex center
• Higher centers
• The soul, the spirit

3— Promoting and prolonging presence
(requires lecture 1 and 2)
• Practical ways to introduce and sustain self-remembering

Membership information
The Fellowship of Friends is a Fourth Way school with centers worldwide. Membership is monthly. For details:
Find a center nearest you.
• Email

• Call 1-800-642-0212.

Statue of a lion. Collection of the Fellowship of Friends.

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 is.
George Gurdjieff
You must understand that external things matter least of all. It is the internal things that are important, the internal war.
Peter Ouspensky
Being familiar with principles is one thing, harnessing knowledge to them is quite different.
Rodney Collin
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.
Jalaluddin Rumi  
This fight continues all one’s life.
There is a war that opens the doors of heaven. Happy the warriors whose fate it is to fight such a war.
The Bhagavad-Gita
No matter how you prosper, there will rise before your face a hundred smirking ‘I’s.
No matter how subtle the sleeper’s thoughts become, his dreams will not guide him home.

You 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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