Lecture 26 — Acquiring Will

by P D Ouspensky

Contents List:

Practical Work
Conscious Unity
Little by Little
Seeing Oneself
School Discipline
Creating Moon in Oneself
Intention and Super-Efforts

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From Aim to Consciousness
Lecture for Degree XXV
Who Were You?

Practical Work

What does it mean to work practically? It means to work not only on intellect but also on emotions and on will. Work on intellect means thinking in a new way, creating new points of view, destroying illusions. Work on emotions means not expressing negative emotions, not identifying, not considering — and, later, work on the emotions themselves.

But what does work on will mean? It means work on one's actions. First you must ask yourselves: What is will in Men 1, 2, and 3? It is the resultant of desires. Will is the line of combined desires, and as our desires constantly change, we have no permanent line. So ordinary will depends on desires and we can have many desires going in different directions. The line constructed out of all these angles is the resultant. This is our will. It may go in one direction one day and in another direction another day, and we think it is straight. So it is really the result of our blindness.

We have to ask ourselves on what the will of Man 7 could be based. It must be based on full consciousness, and this implies knowledge and understanding connected with objective consciousness and a permanent 'I'. So three things are necessary: knowledge, consciousness, and a permanent 'I'. Only those people who have these three things can have real will: that means a will that is independent of desires or anything else.

Will is a relative term: there are different wills on different levels. A mechanical man who never thinks of development has only a multitude of small wills that are themselves mechanical. He has a certain desire: one side of him wants to do something and another side is afraid he will be punished if he does it. A struggle ensues between the different tendencies, and the result of this struggle we call 'will'.

Conscious Unity

If you wish to develop will, first of all you must become ONE. At present you are many and have hundreds of 'I's and hundreds of wills. If you want to develop an independent will, you must become one and conscious. Will depends on unity and consciousness.

If mechanical man succeeds in doing something, it may be because he is afraid not to do it or because he expects some reward, whether in this life or the next. In either case, the motivation comes from outside.

If we had free will we would not be machines. How can a machine have free will? And how can we change? It has already been explained that there is a possibility of change, but a very small possibility; and many different combinations of favourable circumstances are necessary in order to begin. Later, with each step, it becomes more and more difficult and requires more and more effort; and then, after some time, it becomes easier. But first a certain combination of circumstances is necessary, and later hard work as well, because school is necessary. Without a school it is impossible to change oneself. Difficulties are so great and man is so weak that he can do nothing alone.

Little by Little

At present our will belongs to groups of 'I's based on one personality out of many. But real will means one will, so it can belong to only a single 'I' or, if you like, to essence. So first we must be one at least at certain moments and then try to work to create will. One cannot become unified at once. Will is bound to come and go: at one moment we shall have will, at another moment there will be none. It will be a long time before we can speak about anything reliable in us, let alone anything permanent.

Will cannot grow without effort. You have to save energy to collect enough for struggle with certain weaknesses. Suppose you realise something is a weakness and that you must struggle with it, but you find that you have not enough energy; you can then try to do some smaller thing which is not so difficult, and in this way you will save energy. Generally speaking, we miss the opportunity of making small efforts. We disregard them, do not consider them important enough. Yet we can increase our capacity for making efforts only by making these small efforts which we disregard.

Unity is realised only after realisation of inner conflict. Inner conflicts are constant; nobody lives without them. They are normal and always there. But when we begin to work, conflict increases. Work means struggle with conflicting things. We have a certain aim, but many of our 'I's do not want to go that way, so naturally conflict increases. But the creation of unity is not the result of conflict: it is the result of struggle with conflict. We are many and we want to be one: this is the formulation of our aim. We realise that it is inconvenient, uncomfortable and dangerous to be so many. We decide to be at least less divided — instead of five hundred to become five. I feel that I must do something and I don't want to: this is conflict, and by constantly recurring it builds up resistance and produces unification.

Resistance may be very different in nature because we have many habits, physical and mental, which sometimes we cannot overcome. Habits may be so strong that there is no place for anything new. There we come again to the question of schools because, by oneself, even if one knows, one cannot overcome either mental or external resistance.

Unity is not between centres, but between personalities or groups of 'I's. Each centre has its own work and our centres are too co-ordinated, for the work of one centre mechanically produces work of another centre. This is not at all desirable, and it is partly due to this wrong co-ordination that personalities are not sufficiently connected; many of them are quite independent and contradictory.


In order to study how to begin work on will, how to transform will, one has to give up one's will. This is a very dangerous expression if it is misunderstood. It is important to understand rightly what 'to give up one's will' means. We have no will, so how are we to give up what we do not have?

First you must realise that you never agree that you have no will; you agree only in words. Secondly, you must understand that we do not always have will, but only at times. In our state, will means a strong desire. If there is no strong desire, there is no will and so there is nothing to give up. At another moment we have a strong desire that is against work, and if we stop it, it means we give up will. It is not at every moment that we can give up will but only at special moments.

And what does 'against work' mean? It means against rules and principles of the work or against something you are personally told to do or not to do. There are certain general rules and principles, and there may be personal conditions for different people.

Everything is relative. We can 'do' some inner actions, for we have a certain control of our thoughts: we can think about one thing or another. This is the beginning of possibility.

If we continue to keep our interests directed in a certain line, our thinking process acquires a certain power and, after some time, it can create at least moments of self-awareness which, when it comes more often and stays longer, can begin to change other things. So there are ways out of this absolute mechanicalness. But if one is in conditions of ordinary life, without knowing that everything happens, one can do nothing. The real possibility of changing these conditions begins with control of thoughts and control as far as possible of consciousness; that is, with inner work on ourselves. By doing this inner work, by trying to acquire control of oneself, one learns how to 'do'. It does not mean one can 'do', for one cannot; but if one begins, then, little by little, one learns how to 'do'.

Real discipline is good, but if it is just arbitrary invention, then it can give no result. The most important aspect of discipline is not expressing negative emotions and not indulging in negative emotions. Mechanical tasks cannot give any result, but if you catch yourself in a moment of negative emotion and stop it, this is discipline.

If we want to be in the work, we must verify all our thoughts, words and actions from the point of view of the work. So if you want to work, you are no longer free: you must lose the illusion of freedom. The question is, are you free now? Have you something to lose?

That is why self-remembering is necessary. Self-remembering is not only self-awareness; it means also a certain capacity to act in a certain way, to do what you want. In our logical thinking, logical knowledge, we divide consciousness from will. Consciousness means will. In Russian, for instance, the same word is used for will and for freedom. Consciousness means will, and will means freedom.


In every particular line of action, aim is the controlling factor. In study or work on yourself, you must have a certain aim. This aim will control your actions.

If you ask what there is in us that can control, it is magnetic centre. At present, in relation to our personal work, our aim is to be under the control of magnetic centre and not of stray 'I's, one of them interested in one thing and another in another thing. If every one of them wants to control us, it means that in the end nobody controls. But if we are controlled by magnetic centre, it already means a certain control.

The determination and definition of aim is a very important moment in the work. It usually happens that one defines one's aim quite rightly, in quite the right direction, only one takes an aim that is very far off. Then, with this aim in view, one begins to learn and to accumulate material. The next time one tries to define aim, one defines it a little differently, finding an aim that is a little nearer; the next time again a little nearer still; and so on, until one finds an aim that is quite close — tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. This is really the right way in relation to aims if we speak about them without more precision.

We can find many aims that have been mentioned already. 'To be one'. Quite right, a very good aim. 'To be free'. How? Only when one acquires control of the machine. One person may say, 'I want to be conscious'; another may say, 'I want to be awake', or 'I want to have will'. These are all aims on the same line, only at different distances.

Before you can reach remote aims, there are many things you can do here and now, and that is where this system differs from almost all other systems. Nearly all other systems begin with aims at least ten thousand miles ahead which have no practical meaning; but this system begins in this room.

Again and again we must return to this question of what we want from the work. Do not use the terminology of the system but find what you yourself want. If you say you want to be conscious, that is all very good — but why? What do you want to get by being conscious? You must not think that you can answer this question immediately. It is very difficult, but you must keep coming back to it. And you must understand that before the time comes when you will be able to get what you want, you must know what it is. This is a very definite condition. You can never get anything until you can say, 'I want this'. Then perhaps you may get it or perhaps you may not; but you can never get it unless you know what it is. You can formulate it in your own way, and you must be sincere with yourself. Then you can ask yourself: 'Will the system be able to help me to get it?' If we remember our aim, think about it, find more and more reasons why we should work, our will shall move in one direction and shall get stronger. If we forget our aim we get slack.

I have spoken about the question of aim because I advise you to think about it, to revise what you have already thought about aim, and think how you would define your aim now, after a study of these ideas.

Seeing Oneself

I would say that what a man can get, what can be promised him on condition that he works, is that after some time of work, he will see himself. Other things that he may get, such as consciousness, unity, connection with higher centres, all come after this — and we do not know in what order they come. But we must remember one thing: until we get this — until we see ourselves — we cannot get anything else. Until we begin to work with this aim in view we cannot say that we have begun to work. So after some time, we must be able to formulate our immediate aim as being able to see oneself — not even to know oneself (this comes later), but to see oneself. Man is afraid to see himself. But he can decide to take courage and see what he is.

School Discipline

If will remains undeveloped, the development of understanding will not help much. One can understand a great deal and not be able to do anything about it. So from the very beginning one must start making serious efforts to develop will. With the will of Men 1, 2, and 3, we can control only one centre using all the concentration possible for us. Yet centres are dependent on one another. Control of more than one centre can be obtained only if you put yourself under some other will, because your own will is insufficient. This is why school discipline and school exercises are necessary.

We have no real will; we have only self-will and wilfulness. If one understands that, one must have the courage to give up one's will. In a school, special possibilities to give up one's will are made, so that if you give it up, later you may have your own will. But even without those special possibilities, if people watch themselves and are careful, they can catch moments when strong desire is present and ask themselves what they are to do in the light of the system. Everybody must find what his own situation is.


Both self-will and wilfulness are manifestations of the same thing — generally, resistance. It is will created and controlled by opposition. This will we have: but it does not come from us, it comes from the obstacle. Self-will is when, for instance, someone sees that a man does not know how to do a thing and offers to explain, but the man says, 'No, I will do it myself', 'I will decide it myself', 'I don't want to listen to anybody', and so on.

Wilfulness is much the same, only more general — it can be a kind of habit. It is mechanical will, generally based on wrong assumptions about oneself and one's experience.

Self-will is self-assertion. If you compare self-will with a normal action, there is always some opposition in it — you want to do something you should not do. It is very characteristic in work. In studying ideas, you know that you must avoid certain things, but you want exactly those things. If you start with this in thinking about self-will, you will find your own examples.

In the work, there are only two things opposed to one another: work and self-will. Self-will wants to talk, for instance, and you must not talk about certain things because, if you do, you will only tell lies; there is a rule that you cannot speak about the ideas of the system to people outside before you know and understand them. A struggle ensues, and the result is according to which of the two conquers.

In this way, from the very beginning you meet with ideas of the work opposed to self-will. If you forget about the work, you are not working against self-will. The only way to struggle against self-will is to to remember the work. It may be that at one moment the work does not enter at all, but at another moment it does enter, and in that moment you can understand what giving up self-will means. Ask yourself: Is it right from the point of view of the work, or not? This is struggle against self-will.

In an ordinary man, will follows a zigzag line or goes in a circle. This is why it is necessary to subjugate will. The subjugation trains it so that afterwards it can follow a definite line. When it becomes strong enough, it is no longer necessary to limit it. So will cannot be left as it is at present, for now it runs in all directions. It has to be trained, and in order to train will, one has to do many unpleasant things.


Opportunities for training will always arise where there is friction. In the work every moment one has to overcome laziness, inertia, wanting to stop. If one does not work there is nothing to overcome, but if one works at anything one always has to overcome one's desire to stop working. Only by friction can you create energy and develop will.

It is necessary to be active in the work; one can get nothing by being passive. We forget the beginning, where and why we started, and most of the time we never think about aim, but only about small details. No details are of any use without aim. Self-remembering is of no use without remembering the aims of the work and your original fundamental aim. If these aims are not remembered emotionally, years may pass and one will remain in the same state. It is not enough to educate the mind; it is necessary to educate the will.

We are never the same for two days in succession. On some days we shall be more successful, on others less. We must try to control what we can. We can never control more difficult things if we do not control the easy things. Every day and hour there are things that we could control and do not; so we cannot have new things to control. We are surrounded by neglected things. Chiefly, we do not control our thinking. We think in a vague way about what we want, but if we do not formulate what we want, nothing will happen. This is the first condition, but there are many obstacles.

Effort is our money. We must pay with effort. According to the strength of effort and the time of effort — in the sense of whether or not it is the right time for effort — we obtain results. Effort needs knowledge — knowledge of the moments when effort is useful. It is necessary to learn by long practice how to produce and apply effort. The efforts we can make are efforts of self-observation and self-remembering.

When people ask about effort, they generally think about an effort of 'doing'. That would be lost effort or wrong effort, but effort of self-observation and self-remembering is right effort because it can give right results.

Self-remembering has an element of will in it. If it were just dreaming, 'I am, I am, I am', it would not be anything. You can invent many different ways of remembering yourselves, for self-remembering is not an intellectual or abstract thing; it is a moment of will. It is not thought; it is action. It means having increased control; otherwise of what use could it be? You can control yourself only in moments of self-remembering. The mechanical control which is acquired by training and education — when one is taught how to behave in certain circumstances — is not real control.


Will is measured by time. Our will lasts for about three minutes. If once we give up three minutes of will, tomorrow another three minutes will grow. Giving up will is not one action, it is a continuous process. A single action means nothing. There are many principles you must follow. And you must avoid thinking in extremes, imagining the most difficult cases. Start with simple, ordinary cases. Giving up will means only remembering about the work. This way you learn how to create will; it is the method of developing it.

Remember that giving up will does not mean doing something. This happens very seldom. In most cases you are told not to do something. Self-will means preferring to act by yourself and, in our case, ignoring the work and the principles of the work.

A man who comes to a school must be ready to accept the teaching and discipline of the school; otherwise he will get nothing. He cannot acquire will unless he gives up self-will, just as he cannot acquire knowledge unless he gives up self-opinion.

The first thing you have to decide is to do your own work and to do it regularity, to remind yourself about it, not to let it slip away. We decide to make efforts and then just ordinary things, ordinary octaves, interrupt it and we forget all about it. You must make yourself work regularly. The chief difficulty is what to do and how to make yourself do it.

Try to think about your work, what you are trying to do, why you are trying to do it, what helps you to do it and what hinders you — both from outside and inside. It can be useful to think about external events because they show you how much depends on the fact that people are asleep, that they are incapable of thinking rightly, incapable of understanding. When you have seen this outside, you can apply it to yourself. You will see the same confusion in yourself on all sorts of different subjects. Once you realise this, you start to think in the right way.

If you arrange with yourself to make regular efforts, that will help you to go on. This is one of the realisable decisions you can make. In the work you must make only possible decisions, and decisions which have to be remembered.

There are periods in ordinary conditions when nothing happens, and then there are crossroads. All life consists of streets and crossroads. Turning at crossroads may even become systematic if one has a centre of gravity. Then one thing will continue to be more important and one will always turn in the same direction. Inspiration has nothing to do with it. It is simply the realisation of a moment when you can do something.

Creating Moon in Oneself

There is an expression in the system, 'to create moon in oneself'. It is a symbolical expression, and symbols in the form of diagrams or symbolical expressions are used for very definite purposes. A symbol expresses many ideas at once. If it meant only one idea, the answer would be simple; but a symbol is used to avoid long descriptions and to put many ideas into one sentence. In order to decipher a symbol, it is necessary to know the order of ideas included in it.

Now, if we ask what it may mean to create moon in oneself, we must first ask ourselves: What is the Moon's function in organic life? The Moon balances organic life — all external movements are balanced by the Moon. What will happen to this function if the Moon disappears? Will it be beneficial to an individual man or the opposite?

We must realise that all this refers to being. What are the features of our being? The chief feature is that we are many. If we want to work on our being, to make it correspond more to our aim, we must try to become one. But this is a very far aim.

What does it mean to become one? The first step, which is still very far, is to create a permanent centre of gravity. This is what creating moon in oneself means. The Moon is a permanent centre of gravity which balances our physical life, but we do not have such a balance in ourselves; so, when we create this balance or centre of gravity in ourselves, we do not need the Moon.

But first we must decide what the absence of permanent 'I' means. We have been told about many features of this, but they must be established definitely by observation; and in order to come nearer to the idea of creating moon in oneself we must distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant. Then we must struggle against the features which prevent us from becoming one: imagination, negative emotions, and self-will. Before this struggle can be successful, we must realise that the worst possible kind of imagination, from the point of view of obtaining a centre of gravity, is the belief that one can do anything by oneself. After that, we must find the negative emotions which prevent our doing what is suggested in connection with the system. For it is necessary to realise that self-will can be broken only by doing what one is told. It cannot be broken by what one decides oneself, for then it will be self-will.

Let me repeat: work on being is always struggle — against what you like doing or dislike doing. Say you like roller-skating and you are told to remember yourself. Then you must struggle against your desire to go roller-skating. What is there more innocent than roller-skating? But you must struggle against it all the same. Every day and every hour there are things we cannot do, but there are also things we can do. So we must look at a day and see what we can do but do not do.

There can be no rule 'You must remember yourself'. If you are told to do or not to do something, and you do not try, it means you do not want anything, you do not want to work.

You have sufficient knowledge. Now it is necessary to work on being because we always try to escape from doing what is suggested.

The first time you do not do what was suggested, find the cause; the second time, find another cause; and so on. Then find the negative emotions which prevent your hearing what is said. It may be that you dislike someone that day, or the weather, or something in a newspaper; then you feel justified in doing nothing. In any case, you shall have forgotten to struggle.

Intention and Super-Efforts

Four kinds of things can happen to us — by accident, cause and effect, fate, and will. Struggle must be by will, by intention. And you must be aware of your intention. You cannot make an effort and not be aware of it. What is important is will-action.

Will has to be used. We are never ready for work, but we must work all the same. If we are ready, then we are given other work for which we are not ready. In work one must try to use will — in so far as one has it. If one has an inch of will and uses it, it will grow — first to two inches, then to three, and so on. In the work we must learn to make super-efforts.

A super-effort can have many characteristics, but generally it is doing not what you think best but what you are advised to do. From our own intentions we are ready to do many things, but we are not ready to do or not to do what we are told. Super-effort differs from ordinary effort not only in degree but also in kind. Super-effort is effort made consciously, as much as we can, for a definite purpose which is not required by any external circumstances. We never really make serious efforts; it is all pretence, for we do not know what it means to make efforts. In exceptional conditions, when we are obliged to make efforts, we make them; but not super-efforts. Besides, the ordinary efforts one makes in life are necessary, useful. A super-effort may look useless for its purpose.

It is likely that the more efforts you make, the more you see you cannot 'do'. Then make still more efforts and realise it constantly; make it more permanent. Then you will see that you are not always in the same state. People in ordinary life cannot 'do', but for you it is different — all the time you must try to 'do'. You are always identified, and you must not identify. You must watch your talk. You are constantly negative, and you must struggle against negative emotions. You must remember yourself. All this is 'doing'. You must observe these things and try to change them.