Sunday, October 25, 2020

Ethics, Music, and Beauty

Yesterday, when I got up in the morning, the question came to me of whether there is an ethic expressed in music. 

It’s a difficult concept to come to. After all, music is a language without any words; it is the language of the feeling. In this sense, there’s a high standard in music; music, at its heart, ought to be beautiful. While the interpretations of beauty are often subjective — even Leonardo da Vinci himself pointed out that extraordinary ugliness represents a special kind of beauty — human beings, whether secular or religious, have little doubt that beauty is real. Beauty emerges from comparative: it is excellent, it stands out from the rest as being more pleasing. It has an aesthetic quality. I think you’ll agree it’s hard to imagine a person who’s repelled by everything; just about every living creature has attractions of some kind, and some of them are aesthetic.

In fact, we might say that all attractions are ultimately aesthetic. The word aesthetic derives from the Greek aisthesthai, meaning that which is perceived

Beauty is, in other words, that which is both perceived and considered through evaluation to be better than other things that are perceived. It emerges from an action of discrimination. That discrimination takes place in perception, in observation.

In our essential nature as vessels into which the world flows, all creatures which are alive take place in perception of one kind or another. This is in the nature of life; as I explained yesterday, a tablet of soft material into which impressions are engraved. In the case of human beings — and probably, one might presume, other creatures as well — the act of perception includes a reciprocal action of discrimination, in which things are evaluated and ranked in an order. This is where the idea of ethic enters, because ethic is derived from another Greek word, ethos, which means nature or disposition, but extends itself to the concept of customs, of morality, a moral order.

Thus it is nearly impossible to separate the idea of ethics from the idea of order; and beauty is a consequence of the ordering or ranking of things. All of these are tied together in a single action that takes place in a human being when they see something that appears to be beautiful.

By the time we appreciate beauty, and think to ourselves, “that’s beautiful,” the evaluation has already been made. It takes place in a subtle place that cannot be picked apart by psychology or physiology. It is an action of the spirit. It would be impossible to teach any algorithm this action, because algorithms are creatures of mathematics and not of the soul. We may know, for example, that an algorithm is beautiful in the way it expresses a mathematical truth; but the algorithm can never know that of itself. It would have to be told. Yet in man, and in other creatures, the appreciation and perception of beauty is part of our nature. When a bird chooses their mate, a significant part of the decision is made by how beautiful the mate is. This is true of many animals. A selection by preference takes place. We focus on that in regard to sexual reproduction, but selection by preference is the predominant action of agency in its relationship with the outside world; in other words, the soul is drawn towards what it loves the better. Swedenborg made much of this in his evaluation of how human beings operate from within.

Yet this selection by preference, this evolution of beauty and its accompanying aesthetic and ethic ( right or natural ordering), does not belong to mankind. It is a thing much greater than we are; and one need only appreciate the extraordinary aesthetic of nature and the creatures and objects it produces — take a look at a gem beryl crystal, for example, or praying mantis that is indistinguishable from a leaf —to understand that beauty and its accompanying satellite natures are inherent. They arise with or without man. The same beauty that man perceives today was present 70 million years ago during the age of the dinosaurs. It is certain that dinosaurs, during that era, had their own appreciations of beauty — the extraordinary crests that some of them developed, as well as the now confirmed fact that they bore coats of striking feathers identical to those of birds today —and none of that beauty was there for man. It existed unto itself.

In this way, we know that beauty exists unto itself, and is not just for us. We also know that it bespeaks an order related to this selection by preference, which is the universe in search of its own beauty.

Music, in its own right, speaks of this ethic. It is not the ethic of man, however, which seeks to impose one set of values on another persons in order to regulate their behavior. It’s an ethic free of such constraints, free of the intellectual prisons we build for ourselves. Feeling, left entirely to its own action — which is in a certain sense what music does — creates an extraordinary world of its own that centers around this idea of beauty, which is instinctive within human beings. It is also a shared language; the inflections of minor keys, for example, are understood by all humans to represent a certain kind of sadness. You can feel this; one doesn’t need words to explain it. Certain vibrations affect the human nervous system in that way, because this is how feeling works. It doesn’t need thought to regulate it. Rather, it regulates thought; or, at least, it ought to.

Getting back to Leonardo’s observation that ugliness is also beautiful, we see that beauty is in the “I” of the beholder. Not the physical eye; this is just a machine, although one in and of itself of great beauty. It is in the personage that perceives that beauty resides; it arises from relationship with what is perceived. There is a deep mystery behind perception and love; certain objects have greater beauty than others in any discriminating hierarchy of aesthetics, and among aesthetes— those who appreciate beauty as a primary interest — there is often broad agreement about what beauty consists of. Some of this is formed by culture; but a deeper part of it belongs to the collective unconscious of mankind, and beyond that and even deeper part belongs to the spiritual being of mankind, that is, it resides in the soul itself.

All things, in their essence, our beautiful, even things that seem horrible to us, because all things in creation emanate from the spiritual entirety of God. All things are created through love, exist within love, and emanate love. Love, furthermore, contains its own opposite within it in a fundamentally loving way, which is another mystery of the spiritual life that can only be penetrated through great suffering and acts of perception too deep for the ordinary mind to encounter or explain. I can’t explain myself except to tell you here that it is quite true and worthy of contemplation.

The point I am working towards here is that both the hierarchy of aesthetic order and complete indifference to it are necessary. Beauty inhabits its own octave, in which each note of the octave represents a different level. Every one of them is necessary in order to construct the octave. It is a whole thing that cannot be dissected with the rational mind;but, like the musical octave, songs and symphonies can be created with it. Some of them will be dissonant; it is in the nature of any octave to have the capacity for producing an extraordinary range of relationships, each one of which is a valid expression within the movement of the notes.

This may seem like a rather wide-ranging material relative to the question of whether there is an ethic in music or not. Yet I think that all of these things need to be considered in the question. Any ethic presumes the existence of the good; and I defy anyone to conceive of a world where the existence of the good can be denied. Even a bad person ( as measured by others) believes their own badness to be the good. Within the context of material creation, goodness is relative; and this is where we discover hierarchies, comparisons, and rankings. Yet there is a metaphysical goodness, a goodness of the spirit and the soul, that represents a higher truth; and music can come to that objectively, because it doesn’t belong to the rational mind. Feeling, which is what music touches, has a more sensitive and nuanced ability to understand. The very fact that that understanding isn’t in words is what makes it strong and gives it depth. It stands alongside sensation in this regard. Both of them are representatives of the good.

What that means can only be explored spiritually, and not deductively, by deconstruction, rationalization, and so on. It may, however, with enough examination, provide an interesting new center of gravity from which to consider music.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


June 14

This morning, the clock quietly marks time in the office.

Despite the irritations and insistences of my ordinary parts—the restlessness of the body, the wandering nature of the associative mind—there's a stillness at the heart of being where things begin.

I receive life.

I often speak of the goodness of life, of how the very action of life flowing into me has a quality of a finer nature regardless of what it is that’s received. The kingdom of heaven involves being present to that finer quality of vibration which flows into Being through life and awareness.

I'm part of that; I can participate. I don’t have to set myself apart from life as a creature that can do things, that is in control of this and that and has to have achievements to validate itself. I can just Be. This is actually more than any achievement; it belongs to the goodness of life, not me, and I just align myself to it.

Thank God this is possible. It changes everything.

After I participate in this at the root of Being, I can then do everything else as I always and naturally do; but it’s already transformed, because it begins by drinking this goodness which is the water of life as it flows into being. It's the water in the desert that Moses found; it comes from the stone, the foundation, of my Being, the bedrock that supports and holds up everything that life is.

As I drink this water of life into me, quite gently and without any effort to do anything else but be there for it, a food flows in from the impressions of Being. This food is the truth of the goodness of heaven, which feeds life. It's the manna that sustains Being in the midst of the desert. I thought I would go hungry; my fears begin there.

But I won't.

It occurs to me how different the world would be if we were all preoccupied (occupied before our actions) with a wish to just be good, ordinary human beings. Not magical, powerful beings, but just beings with an intelligent and active wish to be good towards others and to appreciate the value of this life we’ve been given. If I examine my actions I see that too much of me fails to start in this place, on this level. Whether I'm doing it inwardly or outwardly, too much of me is devoted towards the idea that I should climb mountains and be a king of this or that. I don’t remember to just fulfill my ordinary responsibilities and meet my duty with care and attention. I’m busy dreaming about the great things I can be or the great things I can do.

In the meantime, the great thing that flows into me, life itself, gets ignored.

Can I see that I think I’m more important than life? This is where all the problems begin.

It’s worthwhile to come into relationship with this finer vibration of life itself, and ask myself, what is life? How am I now? I can do this all day long. It changes my relationship to life and I see how I just don’t know and cannot know what will happen next. I have to accept the conditions now, not reject them and try to to direct them.

If I accept the conditions I’m in now, their goodness influences me more directly.

If I'm under the influence of the goodness of what takes place now, I correspond to it; my own Being reflects it. In this way I become good through goodness, instead of trying to be good through myself. In fact, I don’t know what to be good is; I keep thinking I do, but all this is part of that same ego that thinks it knows everything.

If I become good through goodness, I begin to understand what it means when the Lord’s prayer says, Thy will be done.

I begin to see how I resist the goodness that is offered: always thinking I know better. It is strange that we humans are universally and eternally offered a goodness to inhabit, right in front of us at every moment, flowing into our bodies as the water of life and the manna of heaven, and we just say no to it. That’s not good enough. We want something better than heaven. Better than God. Better than goodness.

Even more strangely, we think we know what is better than heaven, better than God, better than goodness. Every day we pose and strut and act like we know more than the great teachers who brought us these messages. We critique them as though we knew more than they do about God and goodness.

This is the reality. When we are faced with things that are better than us, instead of recognizing them, keeping our mouths shut and bowing our head to receive their goodness, we race about shouting them down. This happens in every life as an individual; when we see it happening in the world at large in our society, it is nothing more than the collective, much louder noise of our individual beings.

Ah, then we get upset at how loud and dissonant it is. We don’t realize we are just listening to ourselves at greater amplification.

These are just my thoughts and impressions this morning. I’ll go forth into life and have to suffer some of this behavior myself. It’s not so easy to be free of it. I can’t think my way out of it. But the more I come into relationship with myself and ask myself this question, “what is this life?” the more I may open myself, quite gently and just a little bit, to a better quality of impression, a slightly better sense of goodness and value.

Within that goodness and value of life as it flows in lies all the love of God for his creation.

Even in the midst of the worst that the world can bring, it is the first thing worth seeking. It is assured.

Go... and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Parting of the Red Sea

In the last post, I briefly discussed the inner meaning of the plagues in Exodus. I told my friend Paul I'd say a bit more about that this morning. 

What I have in mind is the famous passage about the parting of the Red Sea.

For many years, scientists have attempted to come up with literal explanations of how this could have happened. It’s a big stretch; the body of water is huge, and the physical forces that need to be invoked to part it are commensurately enormous. Placing an army and a fleeing populace in the middle of such a cataclysm without doing permanent damage to them is a neat trick. 

The bottom line? It didn’t happen as an actual event. It’s an allegory.

It hardly takes a psychologist to see that Pharaoh represents the inner tyrant we all carry in us; the outer part of ourselves and its ego, which reigns supreme and musters a powerful army of rationalizations to enforce its opinions, impulses, and desires. This creates an entire kingdom of outwardness, the part of ourselves that faces the world and wants to rule it. In a reflexive paradox, the ego is blind to the fact that in wanting to rule the outer world, the inner world becomes collateral damage. We begin by thinking we can control others and the events surrounding us; but it always ends with us exercising tyranny over every part of ourselves that tries to remind us this is not only impossible, but wrong. 

We don’t know how to rule the inward kingdom within us wisely; how much more certain can it be that we can’t rule any outward kingdom wisely either? 

Good question. Ibn Arabi took it on in his little-known but extraordinary masterpiece (one of many from this medieval Sufi master-of-masters) The Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom. Get a copy and read it. Expensive- but you won't regret it.

The tyrant in us pursues the inner parts that wish for  freedom, that experience nothing but fear and loathing under the rule of the ego. In the story, Pharaoh has a heart, but it is hardened, not once, but repeatedly. This means we build barriers within ourselves that refuse to acknowledge a loving attitude. We have the potential for it; but we keep failing to achieve it because we reject the good counsel of our spiritual parts. “Be kind and gentle,” they say; “be loving. Don’t try to control everything.” This counsel runs up against a hardened wall, those evil ministers and counsellors inside of us; and spiritual and psychological damage take place (the plagues.) The ministers are built of rationalizations and earthly desires, especially our wish to control by any means necessary.

All of this culminates in the parable of the flight from Egypt into the wilderness, which is a journey from the known — from civilization and all that it stands for — into the unknown, a place that is wild and by definition represents a piece of psychological and spiritual territory where instead of everything being controlled, nothing is controlled. While traditionally, wilderness and wild animals often represent lack of order and consequent danger, in this case, the wilderness represents freedom: an opportunity to live not under the tyranny of ego, but in an unknown place. 

In that place, nourishment comes from unexpected sources, given by the spiritual (manna from heaven) and water springs counterintuitively from rocks. There is nourishment everywhere in life, says the parable, even in places where it looks like there can’t be any. The world is rich in food, not poor; and if one trusts in God, says the parable, one will be fed. What we see as a desert is a place of spiritual abundance. A place of trial, yes; but also a place of sustenance and support. As all that the Israelites had is shorn away in its daunting austerity, a new truth is discovered. In the Abrahamic religions, the desert goes on continuing to convey this powerful symbolic value of transformation through suffering and trial for millennia, through the New Testament, and into monastic practice around the world.

But back to the parting of the sea. The water in the sea represents the truth of ordinary life; this is one level of its meaning. It also represents the unconscious, that part of ourselves that still preserves our spiritual life and protects it from the depredations of our ordinary literal psychology and the tyranny it inflicts on us. It's as though it were a veil drawn between what is known (Egypt, and the tyranny of the Pharaoh) and the unknown — the wilderness, that place where nothing is certain and animals (representing various parts of the psyche) run free. Animals, of course, have a much more complex set of symbolic values in the Bible, but no time for that here, except to mention that the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, especially the Garden of Earthly Delights, explore that in great detail — the whole painting is a visual representation of biblical parables of various kinds, which Swedenborg called correspondences: illustrations of heaven by analogy.

The armies of ego can’t cross the water. It parts: it has a natural tendency to allow the spiritual to pass through it without resistance, but the temporal, the natural, can’t complete the passage. In a supreme irony, Pharaoh and his army are of the water — they are of ordinary life — and instead of being able to pass through the veil that separates it from the wilderness, they are consumed by it: the waters close over them and take them back into the truth of ordinary life. In the literal sense, in this parable, Pharaoh and his army die; but that death is merely a return to the ordinary, to the order, the assumption, the predispositions that were already there. Water, ordinary truth, is their natural element; they can't escape it.

In the meantime, Moses and his people, the inspired spiritual portion of our Being, find safe passage. For them, the barrier of the truth of ordinary life is penetrable; and passing through it represents an invitation to discover a new relationship with both the world, each other, and God. Moses and his people literally (in a figurative sense, ha ha ha) go on to build a new world which is filled with miracles, but still ordered under law. This society is ruled not by the Pharaoh, but by Ten Commandments directly from God himself. Higher laws, they are engraved in stone; that is, of the earth and its nature, not of man (again, Pharaoh) and his own ideas. The higher (God's law) is expressed in the lower (stone) which receives it. It forms the character of the lower.

Furthermore, that which is built on a foundation of stone is durable; and Christ powerfully revisits this idea in the naming of Peter (Petrus, or stone) upon which the church is built. Peter is thus given an extraordinary authority: he represents law. 

Again, more could be said. Blah blah blah. But I think that’s enough for this morning.

There is a deep sorrow that penetrates the universe. We all have our ordinary sorrow, the sorrow of Pharaoh who fears losing his gold and his concubines and so on, and can’t control those uppity Israelites. But this is not the sorrow of the spirit. 

The sorrow of the soul is made of a finer energy that comes from a higher level; and it does not manifest by default in human consciousness or character. 

The sorrow of the soul is the finest substance penetrating universe; it carries and is by definition too rich a food for any human being to take much of. You can read about this the writings of the religious ecstatics of the middle ages, especially female writers such as Hadewijch and St. Teresa.

Descriptions of annihilation in bliss, which are common to many traditional religions, are all tales brought back from a deep contact with the sorrow of the soul, which produces not just ecstasy, but also agony at the same time. Joy and sorrow are not two different things; they are joined together in the Lord, and dispensed in small measure according only to need; never to desire.

The paradox of this is that the natural part of us, if it ever tastes such a thing, longs for it so powerfully that all else may be forgotten. The danger here is that we cannot take our eyes off the level we are on in the life we have been born into; we have responsibilities and duties in the outward world. That’s why we were put here. There's a point where the inward and the outward forces of the soul need to be balanced and we have to accept the level we are on and do the work that is required in it. 

A wish to be consumed and annihilated by the bliss of the Lord has its worthy aspects; but we were not put here for that, rather, to take in the impressions of Being and of life. Principally, to encounter the deep organic sorrow that penetrates the universe and can flow into the very marrow of our bones to feed the growth of the soul.

 Only by deepening our life and our experience of it can we begin to sense how that sorrow penetrates all of existence.

It's said, in some practices, that to take this in and concentrate its force, to suffer along with God, is the greatest task any human being can aspire to from their inward parts. 

It's furthermore said that the sacrifice Christ made on the cross was meant to represent a willingness to take on that suffering. This is a spiritual and metaphysical suffering which is only roughly approximated by the way that Christ was nailed to the cross and died.

These are spiritual matters; and although Christ represents them physically in the act of his sacrifice, they point towards an inner action of equal magnitude which must remain a mystery until we encounter it through our own sensation of Being.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Plague Time

This morning, there is, as always, an invitation to stillness in the body.

The mind searches for where it is; and the mind, the intellectual mind, always searches within itself, because that's all it knows.

Yet, as Kierkegaard pointed out, there is a part of living and Being beyond the mind which he refers to as the absurd, that which lies beyond the rational; and it is a devotion to the absurd, the willingness to surrender to it, that marks the action of faith (interested parties will find this passage in Fear and Trembling.)

The part of me that senses myself can search for stillness and being outside the intellect.
Absurdly, I discover that my Being has an intelligence independent of the mind. I can study myself here in this moment without invoking the intellectual mind as the tool. It is very useful; but it comes after.
I don’t have to begin with my ideas about energy centers and chakras and the tandian and so on. Perhaps those ideas are tired and worn out anyway; I heard them from other people. I just want to see how I am right now without these ideas inflecting the exploration.

No confirmation bias.

I receive the breath more deeply in me. Where do I receive it? Never mind naming the physical place; what is the faculty with which I receive it?

What is the relationship between sensation and breathing?

This enlivening force is molecular and exists in the interstitial bonds between them.

What is the relationship between my molecules as they bind together? The breath animates this. I could be in relationship to this and be more attentive. There are two levels in me; they touch each other here in the midst of my awareness, and I can feel both the energy that forms me and the energy that enlivens me. It's everywhere in me.

It flows as the blood of the soul through my entire Being.

So I quietly experience my sensation. I receive life. This is my duty; to first receive life.
We are born of a love that gave us life. If we let go and trust it it can guide us.

The following words are attributed to Christ in the Gospel of Thomas: 

“Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man."

The lion is outer life; if I take it into me deeply as a food and I digest it, I am blessed by the impressions it brings. This is the feeding of the inner by the outer.

If, however, the lion eats me — if life takes me away from my sense of being, my inner self—I'm cursed, I am harmed. Life has taken me away from myself and it owns me. It will do what it wants to with me. I lose what I am, and outer life makes of me what it is.

To be blessed is from an old English word meaning to be consecrated with blood. This idea is related to ancient traditions, including the marking of the doors of the faithful with blood in Egypt so that the angel of death would not visit them in the final plague of Exodus.

One can think of this life that begins in us before thinking and before the world as our firstborn, our original nature; if we don't cherish it and aren't wise with it, the world will take it from us and kill it like a lion who eats its prey.

The lion springs on us unseen, in the blink of an eye.

There’s no need to blame the lion; it's a creature of nature and only does what comes to it naturally.
But I don't have to be food for the lion. I don't have to surrender what I am to life. It's equally natural for me—if I wish— to consecrate my life with a mark of attention; to take the most essential part of myself, my innocence (the blood of a lamb) and mark the door to my inner life with it, as a sign: I live here.

This is my house. My life is born in it. My family, what is sacred to me, lives here.

This mark of blood is an action taken in preparation. A mark of attention and innocence and suffering, which serve as a preparation for the moment when life comes to take me from myself. That happens in the night, in the darkness — that is, when I'm inattentive and asleep.

Only a physical sign — the connection between my breathing, my sensation, my blood — can mark the gate that allows entry of impressions into me. If I stay within myself, I'll receive my life. If I do not mark the door of my life with my mindfulness, it will be taken from me. I'll forget who I am and where I am and what I'm doing, and immediately I’ll become agitated and helpless. I won’t be acting from who I am anymore. I’ll be acting according to the laws of all these outside forces that disrupt me.

I'll be a freaking idiot.

Each one of the plagues of Egypt represents an inner challenge, an aspect of my spirituality and my psychology, presented in allegorical terms.

The water that changes into blood represents the death of everything from life that ought to animate me.
The frogs represent lower thoughts. (The intellect.)

The lice represent lower, physical impulses of the outer world that feed on me. They seem small, are even invisible, but there are hordes of them. (The body.)

The plague of flies represents desires that feed on me. (The emotions.)

So we see that the second, third, and fourth plague srepresent the failure of the intellect, the body, and the emotions to have a right relationship with the world.

The pestilence of livestock represents a collective failure to recognize the sacred, which prevents me from being fed with the spiritual food that life offers me in every moment. Live stock also represent spiritual wealth or value, which is lost.

The boils represent negative outer manifestations.

The thunderstorm of hail and fire represents the destruction of my own outer values in the world around me as a result of my spiritual dysfunction.

The plague of locusts is metastasis—this the same destructive force spreading throughout the land, that is, all of my outer world. Everything’s corrupted.

The darkness for three days is the veil that descends over my Being—my intellect, body, and emotion—so that I'm asleep and cannot see my life.

There’s a lot of drama here; and I in no way intended to explain this when I began my diary post this morning. But here we are. Surprise!

The point is that the most precious gift I have been given in this life is life itself. It's a physical and actual, not intellectual and theoretical, embodiment of what is sacred and miraculous and beautiful in the world.

I've been put here within this condition of life as a custodian; it's my sacred duty to deepen my sensation and come into greater contact with the Being of this life which has been granted to me by God. I must make a better effort to become a responsible custodian. Otherwise, I'll surely stay in the slavery to the outer world which is represented by the kingdom of Egypt in Exodus.

My body and my mind and so on are of this kingdom; I must inhabit it, and I need it for work and the relationship of society. But I am not of Egypt; I need to establish a land within myself which is free of it, not ruled by the tyranny of the outer self. That requires an journey. Exodus is about an inner journey towards God.

All of this can begin with an attentive relationship that takes in the fine details of the energy within me. This may sound like an action much too small to have any affect, but its cumulative results are huge if I sit every morning for a little while and just sense myself.

Eventually I find out that I exist before anything happens; and this is a very profitable place from which to conduct further investigations into the value of my life.Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


June 3

I sit quietly, trying to evaluate the state of my being in the midst of the many different thoughts that arrive.

Some of them have insight; they see inwardly and touch on something larger than my ordinary state. Other thoughts are clearly of the ordinary.

I try to distinguish between them.

I have a lot of opinions and seek other people with the same ones. Opinion sets me apart from other people; and I see how I seek to remedy that by finding people with those like mine. The difficulty with this is that that will always set me apart with yet other people that don’t share those opinions. All of this is driven by a subjectivity that is inherent in me.

There is another part within Being that comes from a much larger place that isn’t attached to opinion. It often appears as nothing more than a shadow; and I am rarely aware of its animate nature. This is the spiritual part, which exists, metaphorically speaking, underneath the thick layers of my ordinary awareness. It has been buried so deeply that it’s easy to pretend it isn’t there or dismiss it with psychological labels such as the unconscious or subconscious. It’s an entity with far more scope and power, far more vision and intelligence, than all of my ordinary thoughts and parts, which are relatively fragmented and rarely organize themselves into anything approaching legitimate coherency.
Years of contemplation and self observation have created a state within which this vast and mysterious force of inner Being is closer to me than it was when I was younger. It nudges me up against the ordinary parts of myself and I see them in much more detail. The experience is decidedly uncomfortable; I'm far less interested in who I am that in what I want.

This is where my willfulness has gone astray; and it has gone astray not just in the body with its fairly straightforward and relatively stupid desires, but in the intelligence and the emotion, which are equally dedicated to having their own way with things. If I’m really seeing myself, I see this as it happens, not as a Monday morning quarterback. It’s even more difficult to do this without interfering, to really inhabit the contradiction of my life. I need to see that contradiction if I want to become more real, less subjective, less opinionated. It is a consistently painful process. Yet I need to develop a desire in relationship to that, rather than the simpler desires that just scratch various itches.The desire to Be is a greater aim and needs to have a greater respect assigned to it.

It rained this morning. As I open the window in my office, the wood thrush is the first bird that I hear. It occurs to me how I’m surrounded by these many smaller creatures, birds, squirrels, chipmunks and the like. Each one of them has a beauty and goodness in them that is taken for granted. There isn’t a single creature around me that doesn’t express a truly extraordinary mystery whose roots run deep into the existence of the planet itself. The things that have taken place to create and sustain life on earth represent the miraculous; yet I go about my day as though it were normal.
From time to time, if my spiritual part is more open and receives impressions more deeply, I realize there's nothing normal about anything; that even the texture of a rock or the curl of a leaf is miraculous.

I’d like to remember that a bit more today. I’d like to relax and let this larger faculty of spiritual perception enter me and inform my action. I’d like to sense myself. I would like all of that to happen consistently, with a loving attention to the details.

In order to do that, I’m going to have to suffer who I am more directly, because it comes with the territory. I will need to listen to others in a way I often don’t want to; I will need to see how I resist things and argue about how I am right.

Can I do that? If I inhabit the spiritual part of my being, it will help. It has a developed capacity for this kind of receptivity.

But I need to have a wish for relationship with it in order to gain that support.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

An Inverted State of Being

June 8

It's 6:00 am; the old French clock in my office has just marked the moment with its chime. 

I’m here in front of my computer again, beginning what will be the last week before I return to work. Our office will be on a staggered schedule so I’m only going back for two days a week, but it marks the symbolic end of this stay-at-home orders and the first wave of the pandemic disruption. I say first wave because the aftereffects of this experience will echo through the nation and the economy, and the world at large, for many years to come. It has ended many lives; it has permanently changed the rest of them. We will have to confront the challenges of this new outer condition in ways we don’t yet imagine.

As always, I begin the day examining the nature of my inner condition. I want to remain precisely aware of that throughout the day, never forgetting that the inner exists as an active force of its own, and that the relationship between the inner and the outer parts of my Being needs to be nourished.

We live in a life where the outer part of our being is usually quite active, and the inward part is passive. This isn’t just a question of activity; it’s a question of awareness. You could call it the conscious and subconscious, if you wish; yet the psychological terms don’t sufficiently describe the condition, because they label the two entities as things and confer a false impression that we already know enough about them, that we understand them.

There's an inverted state of Being available to us where the inner part becomes active and the outward part is passive. This is actually a huge change in terms of the way we experience life, because the inner part then begins to receive life in a different way than we otherwise knew was possible. Instead of Being flowing outward into life, which drains us of spiritual substance, life flows inward into Being, which feeds it. 

Now, unfortunately, there is no on/off switch to invert the polarity of Being; and  for most of us, the active part is decisively located in our outward nature. It becomes helpful, however, to confront my life — to be in it as much as possible — asking myself, how am I receiving this? 

The whole act of assumption which we engage in perpetually, without thinking for even an instant about it, relies on remaining hidden in order to function. Asking the question of how I receive life may help a little bit in terms of trying to see this action more clearly.

When life flows inward into Being, a living thread of awareness is created. A different kind of vibration arises from within, because now a center of gravity is forming. This has a taste, a flavor, that can’t be mistaken for anything else. It's the taste of the spirit and the taste of life. Within it, the finer substances of the Holy Spirit, of Grace, concentrate themselves. The secret meaning in the Gospels of water being changed into wine is when life (water) flows in and changes in to this higher substance through transubstantiation. 

The effect of this on us is like drinking wine; a fine, warm vibration that animates being in a new and different way. It opens our soul, our spirit, to a new experience of life. Only the inward part of ourselves can actively sense the sacred; and when it's active, receiving life, we suddenly discover that the simplest things are actually sacred. People who take psychedelics often find this from the very first time they take them; and they are astonished. Yet the effect, of course, wears off; and it wasn’t produced by a natural rearrangement of our organic machinery, so it costs much more than it should.

When I receive my life and this thread that feeds Being becomes alive and active, 

I am. 

There is nothing missing, nothing to be added. 

It isn’t complicated; it isn’t filled with my thoughts. They become a minor event that takes place in the background, not the motive force for my existence. They aren’t a part of my inward nature and my soul; they're a satellite entity. I can forget about them and just be. 

It produces an organic satisfaction unavailable to the thinking mind alone.

From within this place, which produces its own silence, I can give thanks for Being. That thanks is not directed by form or philosophy, not dictated by religion, morality, or presumption. It emanates from the heart of Being without provocation or impediment. It is a natural state. Some call it a natural state of prayer; it is said — and there is truth in this — that the whole universe is perpetually engaged in an active state of prayer that we don’t sense most of the time. Prayer, to us, always takes on a form and has proclamations, supplications, observations and statements in it: it is a thing of the mind. 

Yet there is a form of prayer that exists naturally as a sensation and a feeling; here the mind participates as an observer, not the director of operations.


Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.