To non-identify take nothing seriously except the Work
P. D. Ouspensky
Your valuation of something is your estimation of its worth, or the price you would put on it. In this essay, I am going to use the old saying, `Actions speak louder than words.' We will consider valuation as demonstrated by the way someone acts, rather than by considering what they claim to value. How do we decide what value someone places on something? In this essay, we will take it that if someone spends time and energy on something, they value it according to the amount they expend on it. If I play poker every Saturday evening, for instance, this is evidence that I value poker to the extent of giving up one night a week to play it. That is my valuation of poker, not the valuation I claim to have for it when I talk to a non-gambling friend.
Looking around in the world, it is clear that people have wildly different valuations for the same things. I read about professional football players in the newspapers, and it is clear that they have a far higher valuation of the sport than I do. They spend a large proportion of their waking lives involved with it. I might see it on a television screen every other week. But those values are not really out there. Out in the world, there's just matter. The value we place on things is down to us. This is not to say that valuation is irrelevant, of course. We all must have felt at times that a lot of the world's problems would be solved if people only understood what was really important.
Now there is an idea in the Work that we must have correct valuation if we wish to progress in awakening. But what is this, and how can we achieve it? One definition of correct valuation is that it is valuation which is useful to your work. That is, you value things in such a way that you are able to work on yourself to the best of your ability. Now there are no hard and fast rules here. Work takes different forms for all of us, so we cannot say `correct valuation is always attending meetings' or `correct valuation is reading Gurdjieff for six hours a day'. You have to look at your own life.
That being said, it is possible to see incorrect valuation. Although reading Gurdjieff every day does not equate to correct valuation, it is probable that reading Playboy instead is incorrect valuation. Similarly, going to a meeting does not necessarily show correct valuation, but missing it because you've had a hard day at work and want to watch your favourite soap on television is probably incorrect valuation.
Now we have probably all experienced correct valuation of the Work. It might be just after remembrance of a Work idea has saved us from unnecessary suffering. It might be after a particularly good conversation with a friend, when we feel that we really understand things much better than we did before. Or it might be after curling up with Beelzebub's Tales all evening, our emotions stretched and strained! At these moments, we feel great gratitude for the Work. We feel we would actually like to spend a lot more time `doing the Work', perhaps wondering why the next meeting is so far away, or why the conversation has to finish.
But these moments pass. Using valuation in the sense of `actual valuation', most of us do not have correct valuation for the Work. How can this be true? Well, look at what you spend your time and energy on. Do you not spend it on beautiful daydreams and fantasies? Do you not spend it on worrying about what `people' will think of you? Do you not spend it expressing unpleasant and unnecessary emotions? Do you not spend it talking about things you haven't the faintest interest in? These are the things you actually waste your life on, these are the things you have real valuation for. You have no value for the Work when you are telling lies, or uttering slanders, because the Work tells you not to do these things.
So we have to consider why we continue to value such worthless things when we have at other times experienced correct valuation of the Work. There are several ways of answering this.
One answer is that we are not unified. The `person' who talks so knowledgeably about the Work usually disappears when you go to sleep at night. In the morning, a rather less noble creature emerges, a creature whose preferred occupation is lying in bed. These people occupy the same body, but they are as distinct as two people in the street. They each have their own ideas and desires, their own goals and motivations. If you become the person who likes to sleep in bed, then you may not even have heard of the Work. Even if you have, it won't make much sense, because what's really important for you is lying in those nice warm sheets, not trying to `remember yourself', whatever that is. This is the idea of the Many I's.
Another idea is that we forget ourselves. We become caught up in whatever the action is of the moment. We fall asleep, hypnotised by the conversation we're having, the emotions we're feeling, the thoughts we're thinking the list is a long one. In the Work, this psychological phenomena is called identification. The above description may also remind you of the Buddhist idea of `attachment'. When we are identified, we have no chance to make our correct valuation, because we do not exist to make the valuation. There is just an event. We have to remember who we are, to have some semblance of identity, to even have a chance of evaluating something.
So we want to have correct valuation in the Work, and we have some ideas what it might be, but at the same time we can see some formidable obstacles to maintaining it. To overcome these obstacles, we have to become more emotional. We have to care about our life, and about how we're going to spend our next precious hour. To do this, perhaps we could consider how little time we really have, and how the end could be much sooner than we expect. We could think about the scarcity of opportunities. We could think about how much time we have already wasted, and how we cannot hope for anything different if we do not change ourselves. We could consider how it is only an accident of our birth that we have the freedom to think about our lives at all. These are just a few ways to remind ourselves of what is really valuable; each of us must think of our own. We can only have correct valuation when we are remembering ourselves.