Several weeks ago, I asked my spiritual teacher for advice on how to work with the compulsions I experience during a bipolar episode. She suggested I read what G.I. Gurdjieff or P.D. Ouspensky had to say about Will. After several library searches, I finally found a copy of Ouspensky’s The Fourth Way, and what he had to say about Will gave me some much-needed direction.
Both Ouspensky and his teacher, Gurdjieff, viewed Man as a sleeping, mechanical automaton. What’s normally thought of as will, or free will, is actually a line of action that follows our desires. Since our desires constantly change, the direction of our will changes with them, resulting in a line of action that goes every which way. We think we’re heading in a straight line. That’s part of being asleep.
To develop true Will, Ouspensky said, one must save enough energy to be able to struggle with weaknesses in the personality and to resist following one’s desires. If a person doesn’t have enough energy to resist strong urges and big weaknesses, tackling something smaller and less difficult will save one’s energy. These smaller battles also increase a person’s capacity for making the larger efforts.
It’s the friction generated by these struggles that create the energy needed to fight bigger and bigger battles. I forget this. During an episode, I become so focused on surviving and getting past it, that I forget to use it. If Ouspensky is correct, the efforts I make in controlling my attention (taking it away from distorted thinking, for example) and observing myself help to grow true Will in that moment.
He said, one must try not to “escape” from the friction, which would call for a minimum of distraction. Granted, he wasn’t talking about individuals with mental illness, so all this must be filtered through that particular lens. Like most things, a balance must be found. How do I hold the tension of resisting desires and controlling weaknesses in my character without stressing myself into an even worse mental state?
I believe I’ve started that process. Last winter, I thought surviving a six-day bipolar episode was more than I could bear. This current episode has lasted over three weeks, and while I’m certainly sick of it, I’m managing. As my compulsive eating and spending rise and fall, I resist to the best of my ability. Now, I’ll try to turn my attention to the energy being created by that resistance and use it to further my cause.
“Will has to be used,” Ouspensky said. ”We are never ready for Work, but we must Work all the same. If one has an inch of Will and uses it, it will grow.”