Sunday, September 25, 2016

Notes from Spain, part I

Entrance to the Prado
Madrid, Spain

I arrived in Madrid this morning, a cool autumn day with the sun streaming across the countryside as we flew in. At the check in desk, watching the staff go about their quite ordinary tasks—nothing special here, one might think—I was suddenly struck by how absolutely human we all are; and how we so deeply share this oddly contradictory condition of beauty, empowerment and... helplessness... that our incarnation imparts to us.

 There are times when I think that we don't respect our lives, and we don't respect each other; above all, we don't respect, utterly and absolutely respect— perhaps one could say consciously respect—our lives.

I come here to Spain to follow the search that I began at the age of nine;  that was the year I saw the concentration camp at Belsen, of course, but it was also the year in which I went to the Prado and saw the Garden of Earthly Delights. No other painting in the world, perhaps, captures this condition of beauty, empowerment and helplessness in such a compelling way; and its imagery has followed me inwardly throughout my life, as though the painter infused his creation with the same esoteric force of Being that Gurdjieff buried deep in the pages of Beelzebub's Tales. Both works seem related to me; they are works of transformation, works of genius, that destroy everything we think we know about the world. 

As I stood at the check-in counter of the hotel, something in me was yet again destroyed— if we wish to be, after all, we must be willing to be destroyed over and over again, and start over forever. I was destroyed, then; and I am destroyed now, a scant few minutes later at breakfast, by the power and the beauty and the mortality of our own creation. We contain this world, just as it contains us; yet it is so clearly worthy, and we are so clearly not.

We live in a world obsessed by the outward form of terrorism; yet I think we have a terrorism inside us that will not admit the great quality of our Being. That great quality emerges first and forever from Being itself, and yet we deny it in favor of the world. 

This inner terror, I think, is what causes us to do the terrible things we do to one another; those things, whether great or small, always begin from a deep, sinister, and perpetually unspoken fear. Oh, we pretend we know it; but that's just window dressing to help us sleep at night. Where that fear begins in us, in me, I am uncertain; a lack of trust, surely, but I suspect some even deeper thing. It is Satan; the adversary. There is an ancient worm in us. I live within this terror—it  is always touching me somewhere, looking for the weak points—and there are many. 

Every time the touch of God pierces the veil of fear I dress myself in, for a moment I can appreciate the great beauty of this life, and my failure to meet it honestly' and that is always where my question lies.

 How can I better honor this life?


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, September 23, 2016

How the Lord speaks to us, part I

I suppose it's typical for people to think that the Lord speaks to us in worldly ways, telling us to do worldly things. Preachers and religious ecstatics often report that this is what the Lord does; He tells them to do such and such or so and so. Indeed, even in the Bible we hear such stories. And we would have it that way, because our ways are the ways of the world, and we want worldly things. Our desires are never attached to love; they always come from objects of one kind or another.

But the Lord doesn't speak to us in the ways of the world, or of the ways of the world — not, if you will excuse the pun, in so many words. The Lord speaks to us in the Lord's way; and the true speech of the Lord is not only wordless— it says everything in its entirety at one time, with no words.

 I can report to you that what the Lord says is of the soul and the spirit, not the world and its things. And one wordless word from the Lord is worth all of the world's things and everything they represent.

If we even once hear this silent word, we are given all things at once.

I would report to you now that the Lord says and does everything only out of love; indeed, there is nothing but His love, and everything that happens in life, no matter how bad it is, emanates directly from His love and is a direct consequence of it. His intention for us is always and forever loving; indeed, of itself life cannot ever consist of any other thing.

 I'm sure this is confusing to all of us, because we don't see how bad things such as war and murder could come from the Lord; yet every eventuality and every arising comes from the Lord's love and the need to come back to it. There is a mystery inside this which I cannot explain, because it lies beyond my capabilities; but I do know that we lie within the love of the Lord at all times, and that His mercy is infinite.

 The reason that it's said we should trust in the Lord is because of this boundless love and this infinite mercy. I have felt this love and mercy many times; and it exceeds all knowledge. It only comes by the word and out the word of the Lord; even though it is wordless, it comes in this way, because it is speech without speaking, and knowledge without knowing. In itself, it teaches of nothing but love and the way that love develops us, sustains us, and supports us; I, in my iniquity, am deeply unaware of this, and unable to sense it except through grace. I think that worldly things matter, because I don't have this perspective unless grace helps me.

One cannot truly hear the Lord with the mind, because the mind is a weak thing. There is a capacity of being and of the soul that can hear differently: such that the mind knows it does not know, the body knows it does not sense, and the emotions know they do not feel; and in this un-knowing, un-sensing, and un-feeling — a complete unknown in which there is no "I" — there God is born, and we are his children.

 Perhaps readers don't understand this. That's a good thing; because what I speak of lies beyond understanding. Anything that we think we understand cannot really help us in life. Once we know we understand nothing – once we are certain within the very core of our souls that we are unworthy and without understanding— then, perhaps, in a single moment anywhere, at any time, the Lord will come.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

shearing the sheep

I'm 61 years old, or thereabouts — my birthday is in 10 days – and I don't know much about anything.

The older I get, the more apparent it becomes to me that our lives are mysteries. Everything is a mystery; our surroundings just look familiar from day to day, so we make too many assumptions about them. It's the stripping away of all these assumptions that can help me see something real; and yet those assumptions are very firmly glued to my being.

Last night (I write this from Bangkok on August 21) I met with a group of young people here in Thailand who are quite intent on discovering something real about their lives. They sense maybe I can help them. I'm not sure that's true; but I do my best to share my experience. In any event, one of them, George, talked about freedom and how he wants freedom.

I asked him what freedom means.

It turns out — and I think that there is probably a general truth in this — that freedom means, for both George, his girlfriend Dia, and his brother Ronald, an absence of personal obstacles. He wants to be free to do whatever he wants, to achieve his aims. And yet of course this freedom is outwardly directed. Most of our concepts of freedom are outwardly directed; revolutions are founded on this principle, and millions have died for it. We forget what inner freedom is, if we even know it's possible.

Without seeing that I am inwardly enslaved by my assumptions, the chance for freedom is remote. Yet I'm unable to shear myself of assumptions; it's not as though they are just wool I can cut off with a pair of clippers. My assumptions are very deeply rooted in me, so much so that they are not going to be pulled out without a lot of pain and bleeding. Life keeps getting hold of them and yanking them violently these days, and the anguish is intense; there are nights when I can't sleep. It's at times like that that I see both the depth of an inward connection with something higher, and the contradictory and intense attachment to life and the outer world.

Both conditions are true.

What can I do about it?

I can't do anything. Perhaps the most striking feature of my life is my helplessness.

How am I?

I'm not sure there are explanations. There is just an encounter with experience. Every moment is a mystery that I resist; every event is an unpredictable and new horizon I need to face. The best way to do that, I find, is to keep reminding myself that I don't know anything, and that I need to stop making plans and just be here for what happens, responding to it intuitively and with flexibility.

I'm not sure that this is good advice for young people; I'm not sure that it is good advice for anyone else. I can only derive it from myself; and I can only apply it to myself. Each of us has to discover such things quite intimately and personally. Grafting them onto ourselves from the ideas and examples of other people is always intensely challenging.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Original pamphlets from the Institute for the harmonious development of man

From the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. 

The pamphlets are available in English (scanned, and visible at the link), French, and German. Both the English and French copies contain detailed medical and biometric record-keeping forms that offer some interesting insights into the ambitions and interests of Gurdjieff and his followers in establishing the Institute. In addition, the pamphlet lays out a mission statement which will certainly be of general interest to the community.

 Very high quality PDF scans of the original documents are available for download at the link.

These pamphlets are recently discovered property originally belonging to one of Gurdjieff's early and close associates.  They're part of a larger set of documents of very reliable provenance which date from the 1920's and 1930's, and are being published here with the appropriate permissions of the current owner. 

It's likely they will be offered for sale at a later date. Interested parties may contact for further particulars.

More archival material from this collection is expected to be published as it's reviewed and prepared for distribution and sale.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Original pamphlets from the Institute for the harmonious development of man

From the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. 

The pamphlets are available in English (scanned, and visible at the link), French, and German. Both the English and French copies contain detailed medical and biometric record-keeping forms that offer some interesting insights into the ambitions and interests of Gurdjieff and his followers in establishing the Institute. In addition, the pamphlet lays out a mission statement which will certainly be of general interest to the community.

 Very high quality PDF scans of the original documents are available for download at the link.

These pamphlets are recently discovered property originally belonging to one of Gurdjieff's early and close associates.  They're part of a larger set of documents of very reliable provenance which date from the 1920's and 1930's, and are being published here with the appropriate permissions of the current owner. 

It's likely they will be offered for sale at a later date. Interested parties may contact for further particulars.

More archival material from this collection is expected to be published as it's reviewed and prepared for distribution and sale.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

"Don't you remember he said recently, 'We must not oppose forces higher than our own,' and added that not only one must not oppose but even submit and receive all their results with reverence, at the same time praising and glorifying the wonderful and providential works of Our Lord Creator."

—Hassein, quoting his grandfather Beelzebub, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, chapter 3.

 Where God shines least for us is often where He shines the most. Therefore we should accept God equally in all ways and in all things.

—Meister Eckhart, from The Master's Final Words

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Contradiction in the nature of one's whole being, part II

Arjuna finds himself confronted by the inward struggle of his entire life: the two families lined up against each other to do battle. He doesn't want to engage. Yet for all its spiritual teaching, all of the philosophy, insight, ideology, and guidance that Krishna's commentary delivers, the overall message, the essential message, is that Arjuna has to go out and engage with his Being, engage with his life. And it is this inward life, the one locked in apparent conflict, that he must engage with: because somehow, his identity, his awareness, and his consciousness have not accepted the task of placing themselves in the midst of this struggle with a willingness to sacrifice, and even to die.

In order to see myself, I need to place myself in the middle of these contradictions and the battlefield engagement that they represent in an inward sense. This was the insight that struck me when I was meditating last week. I can't escape from myself; and in me, the unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be.

This saying isn't a philosophical gadget meant to distinguish reality from illusion in an outward sense; and trying to understand it in terms of outward existence in the world around me isn't that helpful. It is about what takes place in me. There are parts that have Being and awareness, and parts that are mechanical and automatic.

 Above all, in order to do this, I have to live my life. The whole of my life, formed as it is, provides not only a field of action — a "battlefield" inscribed on a scroll that extends from my innermost being to the outermost world and cosmological events — it provides a material of suffering where alone I can prove my worthiness.

Victor Frankl characterized it thus:

 Dostoevsky once said, "there is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings." These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful...

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even in the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man's inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

—Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston (hardcover edition) pgs. 63-64.  The passage has been edited for brevity; refer to the original for the full scope of his remarks in this section. 

 I think it's fair enough to say that Arjuna's struggle is one to become worthy of his own suffering; this is the battlefield all of us operate on, and it is not an outward battle with the world. It is a struggle between our two natures and the effort to manifest them honestly alongside one another. We can't engage in the struggle if we try to eliminate our lower nature; it is only with its presence and action that any better side of ourselves can be manifested.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Contradiction and the nature of one's whole Being, part I

Tallman State Park, Palisades, NY

 August 14, 2016

In meditation last week, I was examining the contradiction of my higher and lower nature from an immediate practical point of view, and it suddenly struck me quite clearly that I have never quite understood the meaning of the Bhagavad-Gita.

 The classic tale of the battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas has always seemed to me to be the matrix, the outward setting, within which Arjuna's spiritual crisis takes place. It was only last week that it occurred to me that the setting is actually an inward one; that is to say, the conflict between the two families represents Arjuna's inner battle with his own nature, which has a higher and lower side.

Arjuna can't sort out the confusion between the many different inward parts of himself, which seemed to be locked in conflict and determined to kill one another, since there seems to be no way they can live together in the same Being. I'm reminded here of the struggle between the sacred and profane, which always takes place within the midst of ordinary life and can't be easily sorted out. As human beings, for example, we are always confronted with the contradiction between the inevitability and truth of our sexual lusts, and the attraction to a chaste purity represented by the influence of the Holy Virgin and Christ. We aren't going to sort these two influences out from one another very easily; they are both real, and one seems to preclude the other. Man and woman live their lives out poised in the "battlefield" between higher and lower influences; this is the realm of choice where we must make decisions about which God — which impulse — we will follow.

 In this realm of choice, which appears to be a battlefield, we struggle for the ownership of our own attitudes and the nature of our Being. Rereading "man's search for meaning" by Victor Frankel over the last week (I have not read this fine book for many years, but it must be considered absolutely essential reading for anyone engaged in spiritual effort) I was struck by the following comments:

"It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils...  

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the "race" of the decent man and the "race" of the indecent man...  

Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those steps we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes to all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp."

—Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston (hardcover edition) pg. 81.  the passage has been edited for brevity; refer to the original for the full scope of his remarks in this section. 

Frankl emphasizes the essential role of the choices we make, even in the most adverse and extreme circumstances — perhaps, most importantly in the most adverse and extreme circumstances.

This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. "I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard," she told me. "In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishment seriously."
—ibid, p. 65

 These circumstances are the ones where our choices become most important.

In the next post, I'll return to Arjuna's dilemma.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Solar Emanations, Part III

Fig Tree, Saigon

"It is only because the data for the sacred impulse of being-Conscience do not take part in the functioning of this consciousness of theirs that the action of the law of Solioonensius, as well as of other inevitable cosmic laws, as­ sumes these abnormal forms which are so lamentable for them."

—Beelzebub's Tales, page 573.

There is a second "inevitable cosmic law" connected with solar activity. This law is actualized by the phenomenon known as a coronal hole, which produces solar wind.

The solar wind from coronal holes was also obliquely described by Gurdjieff, but did not receive a special name, as did solioonensius. It serves a different purpose. Openings in the magnetic field of the sun—as opposed to CME's (coronal mass ejections, or flares, erupting from sunspots)—are accompanied by emanations of the sorrow of His Endlessness, that is, emanations of Divine Sorrow, which are consonant with emanations of Divine Love (they're the same thing, actually.) These emanations exhibit varying degrees of strength. 

The solar wind allows a human being to sense the feeling-emanations of the Divine, which are of a different order than the sensation-emanations of the Divine as connected to sunspots. These feeling-emanations consist of a feeling-sense of the utmost and most profound sorrow of God; they are received spiritually within Being when the solar wind flows. This, as with the energy of sunspots, opens us to the Divine inflow; but it produces a form of inward suffering which, it must be stressed, simply is not present in the case of solioonensius. This suffering relates strongly to Gurdjieff's remorse of conscience; and that inward receiving is most emphatically a kind of inner work which demands the participation of the receiver.

 The meaning of the phrase "intentional suffering" becomes important here, because intentional suffering, in this case, means an intentional inward going towards the sorrow that is being received. That is, one's wish must form an active relationship with the suffering. This action of objective and intentional suffering is distinctly impersonal, and shouldn't be confused with egoistic suffering. Objective Reason—the faculty Gurdjieff tells us solioonensius helps engender—

There is an interesting correspondence here between the action of objective conscience—which is of course tied to the arising of remorse of conscience in mankind—and the lack of proper sensation and understanding of solar phenomena in mankind. If one develops the capacity to receive and organically understand the emanations emitted by the sun, sensation of Being, the sorrow of His Endlessness, and the experience of both objective conscience and remorse of conscience are reciprocally tied together in an interactive spiritual field of energies which directly augment one another. Such action underscores how deeply tied man's spiritual development must be to corresponding cosmological phenomena. It's another subject worthy of much deeper contemplation.

One other point worth mentioning here is that Gurdjieff gives us, in chapter 34 of Beelzebub's Tales (Beelzebub in Russia) an inadvertent explanation of our sun's sunspot cycle: it's tied to the action of the comet Solni—and, of course, orbital comets have known and consistent periodicities.

By following the sunspot cycles, it's possible to know what times are most propitious for inner work; that is, even if we are not personally able to sense the effects of solar emanations, simply knowing the times at which they are more powerful can put us on our guard in multiple ways: first, we prepare ourselves in order to be more than usually suspicious of our egoistic motives, especially during periods of sunspots and solar flares; and second, when solar flares or coronal holes exist as active features on the sun, we devote a greater amount of time and attention to our inner efforts, in the certain knowledge that the timing is propitious.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Solar Emanations, Part II

As Gurdjieff pointed out,

"...although science appeared among them from almost the very beginning of their arising and, like everything else there, periodically reached a more or less high degree of perfection, and though millions of so-called 'scientists' must have arisen among them, not once did the thought enter the head of any one of them... that there is any difference whatever between the two cosmic phenomena they call 'emanation' and 'radiation.'"

—Beelzebub's Tales, P. 135

Let me just mention here that radiation, which belongs to the right or descending side of the enneagram, is on the whole destructive; emanation, which belongs to the right side, is constructive. The first is material, the second is spiritual; and their two actions are mutually codependent. Readers ought to contemplate this carefully, as it is a rich area for inquiry and questioning.

The point of the current discourse is to distinguish more precisely between two different kinds of solar emanations. The sun actually emanates a wide variety of energies, both natural and spiritual, and these energies serve a vast range of purposes within the solar system and its environs, all of which are related to the evolutionary development of the solar system, its planets, and even the sun itself. Today we're going to discuss the difference between energies emanated by sunspots, which produce what Gurdjieff called "solioonensius," and the energy emanated by coronal holes, which produce gaps in the sun's magnetic field and release solar winds.

Solioonensius is, as Gurdjieff describes it, a process whereby "help" is sent to three brained beings (in our case, humans.) This energy manifests, in properly receptive Being, as a much deeper and more grounded sensation of Being, one in which one's inner gravity is more perfectly aligned and one's sensation of self undergoes a corresponding realignment towards the vertical. The entire sensation of self then acquires a correct religious understanding, that is, one instinctively and correctly senses one's place in the cosmos and the mysterious but absolutely ubiquitous presence of the Lord. This is, of course, the feeling of "religiosity" which Gurdjieff described, which is only properly understood once one senses the powerful and irrevocably sensate and emotive properties of the emanations as they are received. Solioonensius creates, in a word, an inner revolution through Grace; and this is the help we can receive if we are properly prepared for its action.

Sunspots emanate Divine Presence even in the absence of CME's, but in subtler form. With or without flares, the receiving of solar emanations of this order opens human beings to the Divine inflow in greater measure: we receive a greater portion of the energy of the Holy Spirit.

Summarizing the action of solioonensius, it's important to understand that while it makes it possible to revitalize one's sense of the sacred—presuming one's inner work is active—and immeasurably deepens the active sensation of Being, it is not a form of work per se, but a form of Grace—a gift that accelerates inner development.

This discussion will conclude in the next post. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, September 5, 2016

On Solar Emanations, Part I

Incense burners, Saigon

''...the beings of other planets await the action of Solioonensius with impatience because thanks to it the need for evolving, in the sense of acquiring Objective Reason, increases in them by itself."

—Beelzebub's Tales, page 571

In ancient times, priesthoods had to undertake complex astronomical calculations (especially if they lacked sensitive adepts) to advise their kings, religious organizations, and populations of the best times to conduct intensified religious efforts. Nowadays, we have the benefit of sophisticated solar telescopes to achieve the same results. Only knowing the precise nature, however, of the sun's actions can enable us to understand what potentials lie here—potentials deeply tied to cosmological law and the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance.

Gurdjieff once said he was "in the solar energy business," and although we may, in this day and age, see it as a technologically prescient witticism of one kind or another (it's tempting to see humor in it) he meant it quite literally. It is, you see, certain that like ancient priests, he felt the emanations of the sun directly and organically, which is a capacity the organism can, and will, develop if enough inner work is done.

As in Patanjali's sutras on the various methods of acquiring yogic power, the ability to sense solar emanations can be acquired in several different ways. It can be conferred through long and arduous inner work effort; or it can be given as a Grace (much less common) or acquired temporarily through the use of drugs, principally psychedelics. In the first case the principal vehicle through which one can acquire the capacity for such receptivity is suffering; and the various traditions, including Gurdjieff's Fourth Way, have certain levels of understanding on this matter—some allegorical, some quite literal and still others which (as in Gurdjieff's case) are metaphysically correct, if extraordinary and challenging.

In any event, these abilities can be acquired; and once they are, an adept working under the influences becomes organically sensitive to solar emanations, which are (to us) primarily electromagnetic in nature. I say "to us" and "primarily" largely because emanations, which are of a different class entirely than radiations, are not electromagnetic and cannot be sensed using ordinary physical instrumentation, since they are spiritual in nature and made of materials too fine to measure using ordinary physical tools. As it happens emissions from the sun always include a perfect balance of natural and spiritual parts, only one of which (the natural part, radiation) can be detected and measured using natural (scientific) instruments.

We'll continue this discussion in the next post. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Prayer for Mercy

This recording of the Gurdjieff/De Hartmann piece "Prayer for Mercy" features Don Olson on Piano.
Published and presented with Don's permission.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Guilt, part IV—Spiritual scrubbing

 As so often happens, one subject gradually segues into another, so perhaps it seems like we are veering off the question of guilt — yet it is the anchor that began this conversation, and one will see that it binds it as we go forward.

 In terms of the inward practice which "goes against guilt," as I would put it, de Salzmann says:

There is in us naturally a permanent conflict between the psyche and the organic body. They have different natures—one wishes, the other does not wish. There is a confrontation that we must reinforce voluntarily by our work, by our will, so that a new possibility of being can be born.

The Reality of Being, page 242

If we examine this closely, we may see that guilt, in the overall sense, arises in the context of this permanent conflict. It's a snapshot of the struggle between the spiritual and the natural, the soul and the body — which is, indeed, what the text this quote is drawn from —  conscious struggle — is all about.

She speaks here, let us note, about a confrontation — which is a different word than conflict, where she opens the commentary. Conflict means a clash; confrontation means bringing face to face. The first word implies the struggle; but the second one brings us to a higher piece of spiritual territory, where what is emphasized is not the clash, but the seeing of our two natures.

That seeing needs to become objective — unattached — not pejorative, that is, guilt-ridden. Yet we dwell perpetually and powerfully within the pejorative and guilt-ridden perception of our lower nature, which is an animal that really can't help the way it is.

It deserves compassion, rather than contempt and condemnation; yet we so rarely turn our love towards our lower nature, bound as it is to impulses that do not belong to heaven or to God. We ought to have a little more sympathy, so to speak, for this particular devil; even the devil, after all, has a vital role to play.

Perhaps I can ponder the idea of seeing my guilt, like all the other parts of my lower nature, objectively: there it is. I can't cleanse myself of it, because its properties are deeply rooted in all the parts of my lower nature. Spiritual scrubbing, no matter how much practical antiseptic I apply, isn't going to relieve me of that burden.

Only the entry of a higher energy, and the Glory, Grace, and Mercy of God, can relieve me of my sin — which is a concept also interestingly linked to this question of guilt.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guilt, Part three — A love which chooses

 As was discussed in the last two posts, the idea of guilt is often closely associated with the idea of doing one's duty, whether inwardly or outwardly. It becomes especially succinct as a question when it's examined in relationship to outward circumstances; because ultimately, most of the inward rotation around this particular axis of one's being takes place as a result of outwardly instilled values. We are told — whether by the church, society, our parents, friends, or employers — that this and that, such and such, is our duty. If the forms around us have sufficient force and get to us young enough, they can instill various external (and essentially subjective) values in regard to duty that last a lifetime.

What Gurdjieff wanted us to understand is that there is an inward set of values born of the spiritual self that is independent of these things. Meister Eckhart, Swedenborg, and Ibn al Arabi would all, I feel sure, have agreed with this premise; because, quite simply put, it is true. The difficulty that human beings have is that we have no true connection with our inward and spiritual self, so we have lost the sensation of these values. Oddly enough, if we need to have any sense of guilt at all, it probably needs to relate to our lack of a connection with this inward property of a higher principle; yet because we think all the real principles come from outward sources, we never bother feeling guilty about that.

In a sense, seeing my lack (Jeanne de Salzmann's phrase for it) is related to this idea of guilt; not, specifically, in the sense of feeling guilty (emotionally bad) about it, but more directly just knowing that this lack is there — that I don't understand my lack of connection to the sacred which might instill a sense of duty in me. Those of us who have a spiritual sense at all have at least a faint taste of this in regard to our inward presence: and this is what can be awakened and sensed in a greater way through prayer and meditation, as opposed to psychological contemplation of outward circumstance and our spiritual and temporal clash with it. The whole point of prayer is to awaken a sense of conscience from within Being, derived from God, which would call us to right spiritual and temporal action at once. That right action, as it happens, would be derived not from guilt — this machine that forces from outward circumstances — but from love, which is where all real right action has to be born.

We need, in other words, to engage in all right action first from love, and not from guilt. The inward journey requires us to free ourselves from guilt, which compels, and discover love, which chooses.

 This brings us to the question of Jeanne de Salzmann's comments about our two natures, and what we choose.

I'll examine this in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How the Lord speaks to us, part III

Well, you know, this is the third part of my little essay on how the Lord speaks to us.

It might seem arrogant for me to presume to tell you these things, but it's my responsibility to pass on how the Lord speaks to people, because so few people hear Him these days or can report accurately and from personal experience on what He wants mankind to know. It has fallen on my shoulders — absolutely unworthy shoulders, so much so that I should be ashamed of them – to take on this task, and this is a question I cannot explain. No man knows why God gives us the tasks He gives us.

 It is very important for everyone to know that God's love is so infinite and so merciful, and that there is really nothing but love present at all times. You should know this. Your life, formed exactly as it is now, is a whole thing given to you out of love alone. Your life represents an individual manifestation of God's love in living action. Your life itself receives the love of God and arises from it.

Mankind has grown very far apart from God — our sin magnifies itself by day and by night — and all of the ancient ways are slowly being forgotten. God sees this, but He does not want us to fall away too far from Him, and so He is sending many reminders in these terrible times, in which hell shouts its own power, so that we will not forget Him or His promises to us.

 If any man or woman were to abandon everything else and rush to God to pray on bended knee for their salvation, how quickly he would answer them! But we are modern people, and no one believes this. One has to go back to the Middle Ages to understand the time when these things were still understood. We have been falling away more and more from an understanding of God ever since those times; the great flowering is long over. The things that appear to us to be strong — our rationality and our technology — are actually the weakest parts of us, and are slowly destroying both our societies, our cultures, our traditions, and even the planet we live on.

We're terribly confused about this and we are so much in love with these things — rationality and technology — that we refuse to believe in their destructive power, even though it manifests itself more and more with every passing moment. To be sure, there have been other moments of reckoning in human history — but this is an astonishing one.

It's very important to turn back to the ways of the soul and to establish a daily practice of prayer now. This must be secret, private, and bathed in the deepest of humilities. If we do not go into ourselves and an act of universal contrition, we will not receive the grace we need to see us through this.

The grace is abundantly available; but it cannot come, if we don't ask for it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Guilt, part II—unto the death

 Mindfulness practice — the effort aimed at an inward presence and attention — requires me to be in the moment and see how I am.

Perhaps I interpret this to mean seeing I'm this way, or that way — I'm happy, or depressed, or nasty, or reactionary, or generous, or forgiving, and so on. Yet each of these evaluations becomes a static and assigned condition once it's identified. I tell myself, upon seeing this or that, that it is so, that it is true; and perhaps one of the things I may see is that I am guilty about one thing or another.

In adopting this idea of guilt, I generally take the fourth definition cited in the last post (the state, meriting condemnation and reproach of conscience, of having willfully committed crime or heinous moral offense.) In other words, I may see that I blame myself. That can sometimes be the precise inner state I am in; and, when it arises, it generally attaches itself to some outward action.

It's not uncommon, for that matter, for it to attach itself to my evaluation of how" good" my inner work is; how much effort I made, how attentive I have been, how seriously I take my work — whatever the word means to me — and so on. And then I blame myself. It's very common for us, whether we are in Gurdjieff group meetings or sessions with our psychologists, to talk about how we see ourselves as having failed in one way or another. That failure is always (unless we are cheerfully unattached sociopaths or psychopaths) some form of guilt. In other words, I blame myself for not having performed my duties.

The classic representation of how seriously a man or woman ought to take their duty — at least in Christian culture — is the crucifixion of Christ, who took his duty unto death in the way that God assigned it. In a more secular context, I'm reminded of Lord Nelson, who at the Battle of Trafalgar, lying mortally wounded below deck on his ship, was reported to have said with his last breath, "I have done my duty." Either way, we understand duty here to be something that is a requirement unto the death.

If we're reminded here of Gurdjieff's adage that the only thing that could save man or woman would be a constant sense of the inevitability of his or her own death, it's an appropriate association. We should remember that we are mortal; and we should remember, with utmost seriousness of purpose and of soul, that we only have a brief period on this planet in which to fulfill our duties, which ought to be our primary aim. In Nelson's case it was duty unto Caesar; and in Christ's case it was duty unto God. It's not an either/or proposition, either; one must inevitably fulfill both duties as best one can. Or at least this is the way we generally understand it.

In a materialist sense, devoid of religious context, we might say that we try to do our duty strictly in order to avoid guilt; but that is the way of a selfish man, as described by Swedenborg. The selfish man only does his duty out of fear for himself (he doesn't want to feel guilt) and fear of others (he does not want others to condemn him.) This is not enough. Fear of guilt, whether inner or outer, is not sufficient. One must do one's duty because it is the right thing to do; one must choose, moving past one's inward fears, to do the right thing because it is right, not because you want it for yourself.

In this sense, we need to transcend guilt, in both its humorous and unamusing forms, in order to understand where we are. Hopefully, for readers who understand Gurdjieffian terminology,  this explains why he said, consider outwardly always, inwardly never. Guilt is the essential form of inner considering; and it serves almost nothing except ego.

This of course leads us to a complex and not easily examined question about whether a lack of inner considering has something to do with sociopathy; but I will not take that up here.

Instead, the question turns to what duty is and how we understand it — since right fulfillment of duty would be the aim, rather than simple avoidance of guilt.

We will take that up in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Guilt, part I—A failure of duty

Tulip, Sparkill, May 2016

The other day, I was over at my friend Sylvia's and we briefly discussed the idea of guilt.

Guilt has two aspects. Outwardly, it's assigned by societal authority: it consists of blame which is legislated by the courts, the church, the government, other people.

Inwardly, however, the aspect is quite different. It is assigned by ourselves, to ourselves.

In this way, it is possible for a human being to be guilty outwardly in the eyes of the law or society; but to be guiltless inwardly. When a person is objectively guilty of reprehensible, criminal, terroristic, or ethically or morally  unacceptable conduct, but feels no inward guilt, we call them a sociopath or a psychopath. I've known such individuals. The interesting thing here is that it's possible for a human being to assign themselves no guilt whatsoever, no matter what outward circumstances may suggest is appropriate.

 On the other hand, a person can feel immense guilt inwardly without any obvious objective outward reason for it. We frequently joke about such things, referring to "Catholic" guilt, "Jewish" guilt, and so on. In this folk version of guilt, it is our religious upbringing that causes us to feel guilty about all sorts of things, whether it's appropriate or not. When we assign blame towards ourselves, in other words, it takes place quite often independent of outward truth or action. In extreme cases, guilt can be associated with severe depression.

My conversation with Sylvia led me to ask myself exactly what guilt is, and why the inward and outward versions of it seem so disconnected with one another. In researching the meaning of the word, it turned out that its etymology is uncertain; it comes from a Teutonic root, gylt, that has no  specific equivalent in other languages. In German, it is Schuld; which means, more or less, responsibility for wrong action. French renders it culpabilité, culpability, which is about the same thing.

Turning to the Oxford English dictionary, one discovers the word has a depth that belies its simple and linguistically detached origins. We are offered (among others) the following:

1. A failure of duty, delinquency; offense, crime, sin.
2. Responsibility for an action or event; the fault of some person.
3. The fact of having committed, or being guilty of, some specific or implied offense; guiltiness.
4. The state (meriting condemnation and reproach of conscience) of having willfully committed crime or heinous moral offense; criminality, great culpability.

 The first definition is certainly interesting in terms of Gurdjieff's teaching; a failure of duty. This is, to be sure, the specific abrogation of responsibility he assigns to mankind's inward deficiency,  hence his phrase being-Parktdolg-duty, which is commonly understood to mean "duty, duty, duty," or, three centered duty. Any way one chooses to read it, the emphasis is clear enough.

 The abstractions of inward blame for our actions are tangled questions. The inexorable concrete realities of outward blame, whether in relationships, jobs, or social contexts, are relentless ones. In both cases, they spring from a complex of opinions that inflict themselves on us—whether psychologically or materially.

But the practical action of these inner and outer daemons requires a different kind of examination when weighed on the scales of spiritual practice; and that is the question that interests me here, which we will take up in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Movement and the molecular sense of law

Hacienda Temozon, Yucatan

Because I'm married to a movements teacher, I have for many years been closer to the movements end of the work. I interact with a lot of movements people due to my wife's associations; it's safe to say they are a clan of their own within the Gurdjieff work. I mean it in the best way possible when I say that they all think they are, like the blues Brothers, on a mission from God.

 They are... well, we all are.

This unique Gurdjieffian clan has a mystique to it. The movements are considered, for all intents and purposes, magical; and people who aren't movements teachers and aren't privy to the arcane lore of the movements clan (it's not that arcane) sometimes get the impression that movements people are "more special" than the rest of us — an misleading impression, but there you are.

This particular branch of the work is strongly dominated by body people — that is, people whose strongest ability is located in moving center. They're all wonderfully intelligent people; but few of them, in my experience, have an intellectual prowess of higher order— any more than the intellectuals in the Gurdjieff work are great dancers.

I recall, here, the error of excellence Socrates recounted in the apology:

"Because each of them performed his craft well, he considered himself to be most wise about the greatest things—and this sour note of theirs overshadowed their wisdom. "

The take-away here is that while dancers may find it all too easy to think they're thinkers, it's nearly impossible for thinkers to think they're dancers.

The veiled, yet-progressive, devaluation of thinking in the work by shamanistic impulses (which of themselves, in modern people, are very nearly always the result of a deplorable intellectual laziness) is regrettable, because a great deal more thinking ought to be done about the movements. The movements needs thinkers to dedicate their attention to the theoretical and practical intellectual structure of the practice, as well as body people to perform them and emotive people to play the music.

In this sense, folk with inner strength vested in each of the three centers need to come together in this study and collaborate. My point to my wife on this was that the advanced movements people ought to invite those who devote their energy to thought about the work to sit and watch the classes for weeks and months and ponder their significance from a much different point of view. This is a real task, not some casual suggestion. If the foundation were truly serious about its business more things of this kind would be considered and implemented.

Recently, there was (finally, after too many years) a movements presentation that an audience was invited to —  preparation for something I've publicly advocated for many years now, that is, a presentation of the movements for the general public. Allowed, as I was, to sit in the audience and see the movements, which is a vital, but almost universally ignored, part of work with movements, I was able to take in some fascinating impressions.

Now, let us remember that Gurdjieff routinely did movements performances with audiences. He well understood that the movements was not at all just for the participants, but above all for the audience—whose task it was to take in a very special set of impressions created by those participants.

In this peculiar way, the movements have always been intended as a communal service to those who see them rather than just a Self-centered, inward activity for those who perform them. This is essential yet forgotten fact may eventually be resurrected and transform the movements both from within and from without into what they were always meant to be. We can but hope.

 In any event, back to these impressions. One of the movements in particular, which had many intricate movements like clockwork, in which the participants join and then separate, turn, multiply, divide, and move up and down — no, not all the movements are quite like that — demonstrated law in an intuitive way that connected not just with our impulse towards the higher, but reflected, in a very real sense, the action of law in terms of movement on the molecular level. Specifically, one obtained a conceptual impression of the DNA molecule and the way that the parts of it touch one another, come together, move apart, fold and unfold, and replicate itself. Encoded in this movement are the laws that make biological life function.

That is, of course, as it should be; law is universal and acts in the same ways on every level. It shouldn't be any surprise that we find information of this kind encoded in the movements, even if there are other layers and levels encoded within it as well. The fascinating thing is that one can sit there, listen to the music, watch the dancers move, and see what takes place in cells, as well as the cosmos.

I'll share one other impression I had out of many. These movements are very, very ancient. They are records of an impulse that has been passed down through mankind since before there were civilizations as we know them to build buildings or write things down. These specific movements themselves are even very ancient; for a moment, there was transmitted to me the certain knowledge that I was seeing and participating in something older than the pyramids.

 Back to my point about having thinkers sit and watch movements for weeks and months as the classes work. That first observation — about the DNA — was relatively low hanging fruit, gleaned from a single performance; and in my opinion sheds a new and fascinating light on the nature of the Gurdjieff movements. If such insights can be gleaned from a one-off performance, just imagine how much more we might understand from a concerted effort.

 The writers— those who are more able in the area of the intellect and emotion —in the work have been offering their material to the world at large for generations.

It is now, more than ever, time for the movements people — the body people — to also offer their own work to the world at large in a much more generous way.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

No Conscience, part II

Hudson River Highlands, New York

In the midst of serious adversity which effectively unmasks the lowest motives and intentions in the persons and institutions (and let us remember that the institutions are always nothing more than the people who compose their membership) one can be thrown under the bus. Such actions may be profoundly unjust and stand out as remarkable, even in a lifetime of similar events. 

When this has happened to me, it often turns out that everyone involved is willing to turn their back on me and not speak out on my behalf, even though it could be objectively proven that I've not done anything wrong—in point of fact, even in cases where I was the one person in the train wreck who had done everything right. Perhaps readers will recognize this from similar experiences of their own. Those who try to do right are too often punished for it.

Such situations anger me immensely, and I immediately fall back into old and well-established habits, which in my own case consist mostly of elaborate revenge fantasies.

I am (at least in my own eyes) a masterful plotter and one of the world's great experts in finely crafted revenge. Yet I never take revenge on people; and I've noticed this over and over again throughout the course of my life. I'm great at thinking out revenge; but there is something in me that simply refuses to carry it out. It reminds me of what Viktor Frankl says in MSFM; it is never right to do wrong to another, even if they have first done wrong to you.  It's my lifelong practice to walk away from wrongs done to me. no matter how angry I am and how much outward bluster I project.

One needs, I think, to have an inherent instinct for such sobriety— restraint— that's connected, at its deepest point, to conscience; and conscience is tied at its root to the manifestation of that divine spark of Being which has its origins in the Lord. 

We lose that connection at our peril; for if conscience and its partner compassion don't ultimately inform our actions, what then of our humanity? 

Is it the betrayal that disturbs us most about the thirty pieces of silver—or is it, at its root, the contempt for the value of an entire human life and all it represents? The measured distance between betrayal and death is formidable; they may go together from time to time, but one is, I think we can agree, much worse than the other. In Judas' action, it's the sanctity of human life that's violated; hence the only repayment can be in kind.

Our willingness to judge others needs to be tempered by an inner sobriety, if we have it: "there but for the grace of God go I," as it's said in AA. I may say that in an outer way, but the phrase is different once I taste it in an inner way; it demands a sensitivity towards others that has to measure itself against my anger and judgement, and prevail. 

There is always a struggle in this area; there can be no real value, even in conscience itself, without the testing of it. Our whole lives become, in one capacity or another, a constant testing of us; and I can't discover what I am without experiencing the lowest and least appealing parts of myself and learning to go against them.

The unexpected depths of my own anger and reaction in the midst of adversity never cease to astonish me; I am, at such times, always strongly divided between an untouchable inner Self and an outer one which is not just toiled by, but completely at the mercy of, my outer circumstances. 

My awareness stands between these two forces, and I have to choose. It's between the quiet truth of my inner resources and the bluster and bravado of my outer impulses that I have to choose; and isn't it always thus in the midst of confrontation? It's easy to pick the path of serenity when all is well arranged and calm; but it's what happens in the storm that shows me to myself for what I really am.

Inwardly, it's all about my lack. I end up feeling ashamed for my base impulses; wishing I had a less reactionary attitude; questioning the balance between my inner and forces. I have a pretty good moral compass, overall, so I suppose I ought not complain too much; once I quit drinking I've managed to largely avoid doing too many things to others, I think, which are objectively wrong. I've had to walk some thin lines and navigate some gray areas, to be sure; no hands come through this life we deliver to one another completely clean. 

At the very least, during those times, a real question about what is right and wrong has stayed in front of me; and I have not forgotten my words to my late friend Rohan, to whom I said, the last time I saw him, that the most ethical course of action is always the one that does the least harm.

We forget this, collectively, at our peril; yet it seems to be forgotten all too often.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.