What is the Work is a question often posed at the beginning of each semester at the Gurdjieff Foundations as well as the question: "Why do you keep coming here?"
These are questions not easily answered, as one's ideas of the meaning of Gurdjieff's Work tend to change over the years. At the very beginning when he showed up in Moscow and began to accept pupils the first thing he would ask them was, "Why are you coming to me?", And "What is your aim?" And then he would say to them that if their aims and his correlated (and at the time he declined to describe his personal aim), then they could walk along together for a while. But at some time in the future perhaps their aims will diverge, at which time they would of necessity go their separate ways.
He made all of this very clear to everyone who came to him – that to follow him was not easy and would never be easy but only get harder and harder, because "man" is a swine, unbalanced and malevolently formed. Gurdjieff said the same thing that Jesus said: "Man's name is Legion."
In physics work is defined as a certain amount of energy required to stimulate activities among the molecules of water in order to raise their general temperature by 1°. That's pretty cheap work, and Mr. Gurdjieff emphasized the fact that his Work was very expensive, requiring many zeros. One, 10, 100 and so on. He once said to the D Hartmann's that he could raise their temperature to 100°C (the degree at which water turns from liquid to vapor), but that they could not remain there but would return to their own temperature. He told them that they must work on themselves to increase their temperature to 100°C and keep it there.
Notice that if you have water in a container and you heat it up to 100°C it will evaporate and become water vapor and no longer constrained by the container that held the liquid – now the vapor is constrained by the shape of the room you may be in, and there is no way (according to entropy, the second law) for the vapor to condense back into the bottle. So, not only do you need an alchemical vessel or bottle but you also need it to be in the shape of an alembic, so that the vapor condenses in the alembic and drips down into another container, but that which is in the new container is purer because the contaminants and debris remain in the alembic.
So, as an alternative method of looking at this one can use the image Gurdjieff used of the vessel containing metal powders, where they heat will melt them into larger and larger chunks – less "Legion", and more single person. That is the right direction.
These larger chunks can be made magnetic, or radioactive or radiant. There are many things one can do once one has become a single individual that are not within the scope of powers of the ordinary man.
Of course, these new powers must not be used, because they are simple signposts that one is headed in the right direction – they are Great Natures own powers which as a last resort she bestows upon a man in an attempt to get him back inside the net of illusion. One must recognize them as what they really are – signs that escape from lower orders of laws is imminent. This means that that point is that where a man must be more discriminatory and vigilant in order to congeal these new powers so that they cannot be taken from one – one must fuse them into one's own being.
But most of us are so very far from that. One of the aphorisms that used to be in Dr. Welsh's basement and which came from the Priere said "I Love He Who Loves Work".
Once upon a time it was a thorn in my side – I did not know what the work entailed and I did not want to work, as far as I knew as my associative thinking allowed me to consider what work was.
Now I see differently, and I am eager to work, according to the five strivings: on myself, with others and for the Work itself. I have become a grateful servant, a watch guard on point, and I Am Responsible. I Have an Aim and cannot be dissuaded from it.