In order to make progress in the Work, one must have an aim. Without aim there is no consistent struggle and one is more or less adrift in the sea of A influences which simply make one run in circles.
The difficulty with the concept of aim is that one cannot know the precise path which one has not traveled. People may see flashes of something but they do not have a realistic assessment of the distance to travel. Thus, setting a too specific initial aim is silly and unrealistic. The aim will change as the goal and territory become better understood.
People have different motives for undertaking the Work. Some may wish knowledge, others to help the world, some to be master over themselves. In Gurdjieff's words, only mastery over the self is a reasonable goal, since any other goals may only be reached through this first one. One may begin with the goal of 'reaching enlightenment' and soon find that this must be scaled down to something much more immediate and attainable, such as remembering oneself at least once per day. One can have specific goals only for that which is at least in theory within reach.
Making specific checklists on what is or is not an acceptable learning experience or lesson of life is presumptuous and fruitless and actually goes counter to the goal of learning. Choosing a general direction is however necessary. This general direction can be described in terms of the service to other/service to self duality, of objectivity vs. forcing one's subjectivity on the world, of wakefulness vs. sleep and so forth. Such basic values can provide a framework for placing the intrinsically unpredictable and unanticipatable events of a spiritual path in context.
From Gurdjieff's Views from the Real World, Pages 90-93:
- Make one thing your God Question: How can we gain attention?
- Answer: There is no attention in people. You must aim to acquire this. Self-observation is only possible after acquiring at-tention. Start on small things.
- Question: What small things can we start on? What should we do?
- Answer: Your nervous and restless movements make every-one know, consciously or unconsciously, that you have no authority and are a booby. With these restless movements you cannot be anything. The first thing for you to do is to stop these movements. Make this your aim, your God. Even get your family to help you. Only after this, you can perhaps gain attention. This is an example of doing.
- Another example, an aspiring pianist can never learn except little by little. If you wish to play melodies without first practicing, you can never play real melodies. The melodies you will play will be cacophonous and will make people suffer and hate you. It is the same with psychological ideas: to gain any-thing, long practice is necessary.
- Try to accomplish very small things first. If at first you aim at big things you will never be anything. And your manifesta-tions will act like cacophonous melodies and cause people to hate you. Question What must I do? Answer: There are two kinds of doing - automatic doing, and doing according to aim. Take a small thing which you now are not able to do, and make this your aim, your God. Let nothing interfere. Only aim at this. Then, if you succeed in doing this, will be able to give you a greater task. Now you have an ap-to do things too big for you. This is an abnormal appe-tite. You can never do these things, and this appetite keeps you from doing the small things you might do. Destroy this appetites forget big things. Make the breaking of a small habit your aim. Question: I think my worst fault is talking too much. Would trying not to talk so much be a good task? Answer: For you this is a very good aim. You spoil every-thing with your talking. This talk even hinders your business. When you talk much, your words have no weight. Try to over-come this. Many blessings will flow to you if you succeed. Truly, this is a very good task. But it is a big thing, not small. I promise you, if you achieve this, even if I am not here, I will know about your achievement, and will send help so that you will know what to do next. Question: Would a good task be to endure the manifestations of others? Answer: To endure the manifestations of others is a big thing. The last thing for a man. Only a perfect man can do this. Start by making your aim or your God the ability to bear one manifestation of one person that you cannot now endure without nervousness. If you wish, you can. Without wish-ing, you never can. Wish is the most powerful thing in the world. With conscious wish everything comes. Question: I frequently remember my aim but I have not the energy to do what I feel I should do. Answer: Man has no energy to fulfill voluntary aims because all his strength, acquired at night during his passive state, is used up in negative manifestations. These are his automatic manifestations, the opposite of his positive, willed manifesta-tions. For those of you who are already able to remember your aim automatically, but have no strength to do it: Sit for a pe-riod of at least one hour alone. Make all your muscles relaxed. Allow your associations to proceed but do not be absorbed by them. Say to them: If you will let me do as I wish now, I shall later grant you your wishes. Look on your associations as though they belonged to someone else, to keep yourself from identifying with them.
- At the end of an hour take a piece of paper and write your aim on it. Make this paper your God. Everything else is noth-ing. Take it out of your pocket and read it constantly, every day. In this way it becomes part of you, at first theoretically, later actually. To gain energy, practice this exercise of sitting still and making your muscles dead. Only when everything in you is quiet after an hour, make your decision about your aim. Don't let associations absorb you. To undertake a voluntary aim, and to achieve it, gives magnetism and the ability to 'do.' Question: What is magnetism? Answer: Man has two substances in him, the substance of active elements of the physical body, and the substance made up of the active elements of astral matter. These two form a third substance by mixing. This mixed substance gathers in certain parts of a man and also forms an atmosphere around him, like the atmosphere surrounding a planet. Planetary atmospheres are continually gaining or losing substances because of other planets. Man is surrounded by other men, just as planets are surrounded by other planets. Within certain limits, when two atmospheres meet, and if the atmospheres are 'sympathetic', a connection is made between them and lawful results occur. Something flows. The amount of atmosphere remains the same, but the quality changes. Man can control his atmo-sphere. It is like electricity, having positive and negative parts. One part can be increased and made to flow like a current. Everything has positive and negative electricity. In man, wishes and non-wishes may be positive and negative. Astral material always opposes physical material.
- In ancient times priests were able to cure disease by bless-ing. Some priests had to lay their hands on the sick person. Some could cure at a short distance, some at a great distance. A priest was a man who had mixed substances and could cure others. A priest was a magnetizer. Sick persons have not enough mixed substances, not enough magnetism, not enough 'life'. This 'mixed substance' can be seen if it is concentrated. An aura or halo was a real thing and can sometimes be seen at holy places or in churches. Mesmer rediscovered the use of this substance.
- To be able to use this substance, you must first acquire it. It is the same with attention. It is gained only through conscious labor and intentional suffering, through doing small things vol-untarily. Make some small aim your God, and you will be going toward acquiring magnetism. Like electricity, magnetism can be concentrated and made to flow. In a real group, a real answer could be given to this question.