The Decision Exercise – J G Bennett





It has been argued that the Decision Exercise is one of two summative pieces of work that JGB made towards the end of his life. It is also commonly recognised to have its own ‘inner intelligence’ – it works in ways we hardly perceive, at least in the short term.  JGB himself declared his experience of it as being the only ‘real thing’ in his day. Why so??




As we know, this work tradition often makes a distinction between being Asleep and being Awake. The Asleep world is one of mindless associations, day-dreaming, losing oneself in impressions, identifying with one’s surrounding. The Awake world is the opposite: one of active engagement, intentionality, attention-ality, principled response and conscious movement.




‘Waking up’ can come in an instant to any one, but there is a problem with maintaining it, and many of us, once awake, immediately go to sleep again. There is then an issue of sustainability. Hence work…..



JGB goes into considerable detail to explain how progress in ‘staying awake’ can proceed through the transformation of the Selfthrough a series of steps from the world of bodies; to the world of spirit; and on to the world of creative realization



In fact, these progressive steps are associated with different ‘Selves’: the Material Self, Reactional Self, Divided Self, True Self, and Universal Being.



Movement through them also demands the requisite energy forms:

Automatic; Sensitive; Conscious; Creative; Cosmic.



Indeed, movement from one to the next comes about through the build-up of one energy form, presupposing transfer to the next in the chain. This is how the selves are developed.



For Bennett, these ‘levels’ were literally ‘Worlds’ we can enter and experience. Each with their own characteristics.



JGB referred to this engagement in terms of The Three Lines of Work as defined in January 1973 at Sherborne.


The First line represents the movement from the sleeping state to the waking state;



The Second – the movement from the waking state to the active state. 



The Third – the movement to becoming active in relation to the Cosmic Principle.



From these, we can see, that working at one ‘line’ does not guarantee progress to the next – something more is required.



For JGB, human brings had three essential elements – Function, Being, Will– and three ‘centres’ – Head,Hands, and Heart. Most of the work exercises relate to one or more of these. However, they are not equally available to us. It might be quite difficult to work on ‘Being’ and ‘Heart’ – and Will – since they lie beyond our physical entities. It follows that body-work, and functionality are more available to us, and these in turn provide links with Being, Will, Heart; for example, we can have the intention to direct (Head/ Intellect) our bodies to do something. Indeed, as we have found out in the Decision Exercise, if the body is not involved our intentions can quickly fade. Hence the need for body-based forfeits when one does not meet the commitment.



From such intentional work come reliability, which connects us with Will. But, first we have to make a judgment about what is the right thing. Having chosen the ‘right’ thing to do, how confident are we – and others! – about doing it?



The Decision Exercise works within a framework of these elements, centres, and qualities of judgment and intention as a means to accessing the higher worlds of consciousness, creativity and indeed, universality through how we act and respond.



Noticing is a gift for JGB and a first step towards separating from the world of sleep and, again, many exercises aim to provide the conditions of Noticing, if not Noticing itself. Noticingimplies having the Attentionto do so. Making a conscious Judgment about what we have noticed is another level within the experience, and indeed forming an Intentionon what to do about it. But, as we know from experience, Intentionis not enough, and Decision is another level again. So, a kind of tetrad or hierarchy of NoticingJudgmentIntention and Decision.



We might express these graphically as a triad:




………………………..4) Decision




2) Judgment                                                 3) Intention




……………………….1) Noticing



We can see how this Tetrad expresses the stages of the Decision Exercise.



First, we have to Notice something (stage 1).



Second we have to make a Judgment – why? (stage 2)



Third, we need to image it as an Intention of something to do – the review the night before and bringing it to mind after the Morning Sitting (stages 3 and 4).


Fourth, the Decision itself – the die is cast – the task will be done (stage 5).


The form of the Decision exercise needs 1), 2), 3) and we can experience any of them depending on the energy available to us. But, as Gurdjieff reminds us, we can only work according to the energy we possess. Indeed, for JGB, it is all a question of energy: both what we do to gain it and what we do to lose it. Commitment to Decision in this exercise is a primary energy source, and takes the exercise to another level.



But, this only occurs when the exercise is completed: the task is done (stage 6) and we review the work (stage 7).



Beyond Decision is a level of Will that is no more or less than an expression of the Great Will itself. Indeed, some would argue that we do not have any will, that the best we can do is Decision. Anything above this ‘is’ the realm of the Great Will realizing itself.



What keeps us from making progress in this exercise is all the constraints of what JGB calls the ‘lower nature’: sensuality, which is any and all forms of self-gratification, and self-grasping; destructiveness, which includes all forms of rejection of others; giving the wrong impression – dishonesty and deceitfulness; personal ambition – for financial gain or status; idleness – which is really another form of sensuality; self-will, or the belief that we know better than others, and better than God in particular (whatever we consider God to be).



However, being overly judgmental about ourselves and our work can also be another part of our ‘fallen nature’; for example, lack of success with the exercise might lead to a form of self-criticalness, or sense of failure.



Neither is it true to assume that getting rid of these unlikeable aspects of the lower nature is the means to ‘spiritual enlightenment’. JGB also reminds us, from the Sermon on the Mount, that ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. In other words, blessed are those who have seen there lower natures as inevitable, and given up on the desire of transformation. This emptying out of Being can be the necessary step to its full realization at the right point in the transformatory process: once we give up on the hope of transformation, we transform. In terms of the Enneagram, this state of being might be seen as the Second Conscious Shock (point 6), and is necessary for there to be further progress.



For some, this shock, recognition and acknowledgement only occur when death is imminent. One of the purposes of this work, of which the Decision Exercise is a key component, is that it should be realised much earlier and within the time span of our earthly existence.



 Michael Grenfell

August 2018


Acknowledging reference sources, according to my own view, from J G Bennett, Ben Bennett and Robert Fripp.