Metaphorically, man’s usual state of awareness when he is up and about can be characterized as a “waking sleep.” In such a state he is capable of many sophisticated actions. Nevertheless, he has very little attention – so little that this state can be characterized as a kind of sleep. He can drive a car, cook and eat food, have conversations, write novels, paint paintings, and so on. And yet he can do this with very little attention. Even if he has a supreme skill it can be automatic.
Most people happily spend most of their lives in this state.

The Work suggests that there is another state available to man that has a higher quality of attention. This state can be characterized by the word “self-remembering.” In self-remembering one simply has more attention. With more attention, it becomes possible to be aware of several things simultaneously.

One can be aware of oneself and, at the same time, aware of something external that one is doing: washing a plate or drinking a cup of coffee. In such a state the senses – sounds, visual impressions, touch, smell, and taste – are more alert and hence the experience is more vivid. With the extra attention, one can be more competent at doing something, but this is not the primary motive of attempting to “self-remember” – and it is not guaranteed that one will be more competent. One may already have an excellent automatic habit for doing something well.

Self-Remembering and Self-Observation

If asked, some may insist that they often self-remember and self-observe. They do not, but they may believe that they do. The practice of self-remembering is difficult to maintain. A simple exercise can reveal this:

Stay still and observe an object in the room, maintaining a sense of one’s presence and at the same time being aware of an object in the room, say a chair. Time this, for about a minute, all the time dividing one”s attention between the object and oneself. What do you notice?

Surprisingly, the more one attempts this, the more difficult it can become.

Now try self-observation. With self-observation, the attention is focused inwardly to observe one”s inner world. There is still attention directed to the outer world, but the focus is the inner world. Observe the posture that your body is in. Again, try to maintain this for a minute. What do you notice? In both situations, the attention is divided.