Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Resistance and negativity, Part II

Thunder God, Tawaraya Sotatsu
Kyoto, Japan
Photograph by the author

I’ve been party to some discussions about negativity lately where one good friend forwarded a longstanding hypothesis of his about it, suggesting that we are always negative, but that we just don't see it—which is, to a certain extent, true. 

Yet the nature of negativity, and the way it functions, deserves an in-depth examination.

A number of years ago, I suggested to people that I was working with that we undertake a long-term study on a single subject, and proposed negativity. It was a mistake on my part, because everybody immediately became very negative about the idea. It was almost comical to see their reaction to it; everyone was completely identified with the reaction, and they couldn't see that they were already, immediately, negative, which was part of the whole question in the first place. 

Just why are we negative?

For many years, I've noticed that I'm often more negative in the morning. To me, it’s always seemed that it has to do with the speed at which my centers are working, and the degree to which they’re integrated. The less connected my centers are, the more negative I seem to be; and they are always at their worst in terms of speed and intercommunication in the morning when I wake up. 

It's true, I find that I have a powerful countervailing energy in me in the morning; there is a complete and organic sensation that opposes the problem, such that I have a certain power against it. Yet the negativity is undeniable.

Some weeks ago, I was in China, and woke up in the middle of the night, about 3 AM, lying there in the dark. This is always a remarkable moment in which, I find, it's possible to observe specific things that arise, since so much of my habitual inner system is shut down. The landscape clears itself off, so to speak—the fog lifts—and it's frequently possible to observe a specific thing that's arising in me from the outside of it, as it were. 

On this particular morning, I saw negative thoughts arising; one after the other. They seemed to come absolutely from nowhere; yet at the bottom of each one, at its base, was fear. Each one of the thoughts rose up from this root of fear like a separate stem that produced a flower of negative thought. Each of those flowers was a threatening—even terrifying—thought about something that could go wrong in the future, over which I was basically powerless. 

All of my fears are like this, I find; they are fundamentally imaginary in the most literal sense. That is to say, they create an image of something that isn't real and they project it on the screen of my awareness, presenting it as though it were the truth. It's very much like watching a fictional television series and somehow believing that all of it is fact. I know that the people on the screen are actors, and that the circumstances are completely contrived; yet a large part of me becomes deeply invested conviction that all of what is happening is true. 

Fear functions exactly that way, as far as I can see, in most cases. There is a difference, of course, when one’s life is in immediate danger; that's a different story. But my imaginary fears – the ones which my psyche seems to delight in tormenting me with — are just like these TV shows. They aren’t real. No matter how much I forecast and project, it's impossible that events will turn out quite the way I expect… or fear… them to.

In any event, when I become negative, it's not just a private thing. Occasionally, I blow up. I lose my temper and I yell at someone. This is quite typical of most of us. There are some few exceptional individuals (like my wife) who hardly ever blow up and lose their temper; but for the the most of us, on average, we do get upset and yell. It usually happens abruptly, unexpectedly, and often even over something minor; and it can be very intense, even explosive.

While my friend was hypothesizing about how we’re always negative but just don't know it — again, there is some truth in this — I pointed out that these explosive episodes don't necessarily indicate a perpetual baseline of negativity. I liken their arising to what happens in bombardier beetles. For those of you unfamiliar with this insect, it's capable, when attacked, of emitting an amazingly powerful jet of toxic liquids sprayed in the direction of the aggressor. It achieves this by taking two otherwise inert chemical substances that it stores in special glands and bringing them together in an explosive chemical reaction. 

This is precisely how that type of negativity works in us. The body stores various reserves of different (chemical, material) energies which are relatively inert in their own forms, but highly reactive when brought into contact with one another. Some of these chemicals are kept in close proximity to one another and held in reserve against emergencies. Because it's quite expensive to use energy this way, the body only brings these energies together when it perceives a real threat. (This is much like poisonous snakes, who don't use their venom every time they bite, but only when it's absolutely necessary. Venom is costly in biological terms; and the energy of anger is equally costly in its own way, so we ought only use it when it's truly needed.) 

Unfortunately, because of its force, explosive anger has an addictive quality, and some people become enamored of using it, or have broken mechanisms in them that constantly bring these chemicals together even though there ought to be a much clearer function of separation. Individuals like this are usually labeled bipolar by medical professionals, because the extremes of their behavior stand in marked contrast to one another.

Anyway, we’re like bombardier beetles; when these substances in us are brought together, they blow up. Gurdjieff explained this phenomenon in precisely the same terms when he was speaking to Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous. It is, I'll admit, a technical point; yet it illustrates the fact that we aren't, by default, perpetually negative. We are perpetually resistant, though; and that is a different question. But in terms of being perpetually negative, it simply isn't true. 

We need our negativity; there is a lot of force there. It's just how we use it that matters.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Resistance and Negativity

Thunder God, Tawaraya Sotatsu
Kyoto, Japan
Photograph by the author

This morning, I was studying the resistance in me, and I realized quite suddenly that resistance is a whole thing

In order to discuss this, one first has to understand what resistance is. I have resistance in me, there is no doubt; but what do I resist? What does it consist of?

What I resist is what Mme. de Salzmann called "higher energies": the influence of a higher level. Now, the word influence is used all the time in the Gurdjieff work, and it’s an accurate one; yet the way that we understand this word in today's world somewhat divorces it from the importance it originally carried: that of something that flows inwardly, of a current, a movement like water. Let us remember that water can have enormous force when it flows. Influence, in other words, can have enormous force, if it’s allowed to arrive. Influence is the selfsame energy that Swedenborg referred to as the inflow: the inward flow of the Divine. This force, which is actually the force of Love and the force of God Himself, is always flowing into everything and is always trying to reach man. Man is not conscious of this; and the whole idea of sleep, as Gurdjieff defined it, has a powerful relationship to this. We are unconscious to the extent that we are not aware of the Divine influences that attempt to enter us. Consciousness, in other words, consists of an awareness of the Divine and a receiving of its inward flow. This has a great deal to do with the numerous essays I have written about solar influences and the substantial materiality of Love as a force,.

When I resist, what I resist is this influence of the Divine. Put bluntly, and without any beating about the bush, I actively resist God. I don't let God in. So when I speak about opening to a higher influence, what I really mean is allowing the inward flow of the Divine into me, rather than resisting it.

A great deal of fuss is been made over the idea that it is physical tension that blocks the inward flow. This is certainly true in many ways; yet the inward flow is the result of a three- centered cooperation; and the resistance that arises in me also arises in each of the centers, in such a way that when I talk about resistance, I can't talk about resistance and physical tension alone. I also resist with my mind; and I also resist with my emotional force. So my resistance to God is three centered, just as my receiving of God ought to be. 

This means that I need to study resistance not just as an set of circumstances, but as a whole thing.

Examining this question a bit more, I see that I tend to focus on specific instances and say, “I'm in reaction to this,” or, “you’re in reaction to that." 

The reactions are all a form of resistance; and yet I don't see that I'm not in reaction to — resisting — individual things; my reaction and my resistance are a whole ball of wax. That is to say, all of me resists God; not just some parts — and this “all of me” resists God all of the time, not just once in a while, when I notice it. I’m in a constant state of reaction and resistance, and I need to see that in a more holistic way, not just by seeing the fractions. It would be useful for me to see that I am completely in resistance now, fully, and in all ways.

I've observed many times that one of the most fundamental recognitions one can make about our nature is that we are vessels into which the world flows. 

I should not just be receiving the inward flow of the Divine, that is, inward flow of the magnetic, higher substance of Love; I should also be receiving the world, which carries in its own distinct measure of particles of this substance to me. The world, that is, objects, events, circumstances, and conditions, are all made in the first place of this magnetic force of Love — it is the nature of their fabric itself— and in receiving these things deeply into me, I am receiving the substance of Love. Yet I resist it; I'm perpetually in reaction to it. And because I am in reaction and I resist with all of my parts, I don't receive anywhere near the amount of this Love that could be feeding me that I need in order to develop my being. 

I have resistance in my three different centers in three different ways, each one of which is blocking the inflow of the Divine:

—I resist with my body physical tension.
—I resist with my argument and analysis.
—I resist with my emotive force. 

Each one of these activities is a habitual and mechanical response to outward life that prevents me from taking it in objectively, that is, as it is. When I resist it physically with my tension, I don't accept the forces that act on my body. When I resist it with the mind through analysis and argument, I create complex structures that block the simplicity of what we are from being apparent to me. And when I use fear – which is probably the most powerful reactionary force, and one that interferes almost constantly—I shut out the influence of Love itself, which is the very antithesis of the fear.

In this way, I spent a good part of my life in a trembling, abject refusal to receive the Lord — Love itself and Life itself — into the body of my Being. I could receive this force as a whole thing with all of my parts; but each one of them, in its own way, has a fear of surrendering to the “enemy” and allowing this influence to enter me. 

So I need to study this in greater detail in order to understand.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Shadow of a Picasso Sculpture 
MOMA, New York

An interesting short movie by Cedric Bluman.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The suffering of being

 Lamentation of Christ
Colijn de Coter
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Photograph by the author

 For us, on our level, suffering has three aspects. The first level of suffering is suffering on behalf of myself. The second level is suffering on behalf of others and my community. The third level of suffering is suffering on behalf of God, which is what Gurdjieff was referring to when he discussed human beings evolving to the point that they could take on a portion of the sorrow of His Endlessness.

 All three levels of suffering are absolutely necessary. Nothing can be skipped here; it reminds me of the old AA saying,  "The elevator to sobriety is out of order. Please use the steps." We live in a world where everyone wants to avoid suffering — and how can anyone blame us? We have surrounded ourselves with technological comforts that allow us to minimize it; we have invented new religious practices that deemphasize it; we want to use logic to understand it. This was the mistake my friend made when she suggested we can become zero and let the love through. (See the last post.) This is an entirely theoretical prospect arrived at through logical deduction about our nature and the nature of God; and while one can reach completely correct theoretical understandings by such methods, they are utterly useless in practical understanding of what we are and what is necessary for us. It's actually a wrong kind of thinking, because it takes on very lofty subjects and pretends that they can be divorced from the realities we live through.

There is a deep and absolute requirement for the confessional in the Catholic Church. Any individual that believes we can do without confessional as part of the religious process — that we can somehow do an end run around our sin and the need to own up to it on the most intense, intimate, and deepest emotional level — is just kidding themselves. There is nothing egoistic about confessional; it is part of the most necessary dissolution of ego. The Buddhists — the real Buddhists, not the feel-good Buddhists — have a similar understanding, as was pointed out in this essay in Shambhala Sun January 2013. I keep referring readership back to that article simply because it doesn't pull any punches and gets us back down to the ground floor practice, which is the same in every real religion.

When connects with a real emotion regarding inner suffering, and true religious feeling arises, all three levels of suffering take place at the same time. They correspond in their own right and in their own way to body — suffering of self and one's physical being and embodiment — emotion — suffering of desire in regard to community and others — and intelligence — suffering on behalf of a higher principle. These three types of suffering, taken together, form a single whole suffering of Being, which is not personal.

 Suffering of Being touches on the lowest levels of anguish that are experienced in true religious ecstasy. It is, in its own way, a minor preparation for the complete anguish that is necessary if one wishes to truly surrender. Because it is what one would call three centered suffering, it creates this fourth mind of suffering which is an objective, not subjective, suffering. The three sufferings of our own level are all subjective, because they do not take place at the level of being — each one is just a component of objective suffering, and cannot by itself attain objectivity. This is in the nature of all three centered activities; each of the centers functions in a subjective manner, and it is only when they combine their work at the objectivity can arise, because the combined work passes across the barrier from the natural to the spiritual world, in which a trinity is at work, and the note sol is embodied.

 Will talk a bit more about the suffering of being in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Material Nature of Being

Christ Church 
Sparkill, NY

Merry Christmas to all my readers, regardless of your convictions or faith. 

We celebrate all religions together today — it is our task to bind to the faiths back together around the heart of the One and True God.

I was speaking the other night about how absolutely material… how granular… inner work becomes.

We don’t generally experience our being as material. Experiencing the material nature of Being is different than having a physical experience of being. It’s very difficult to explain this difference in words, but I will try.

The physical nature of my being (emphasize the lower case) is a powerful, yet rather coarse and direct, experience of life. All of my ordinary sensation is tied to this; all of the pain I feel, all of the physical satisfaction I participate in. Yet all of this is of this level alone; it arises on this level and it manifests according to the requirements of this level.

The material nature of Being is a different thing. I have often referred to it in the past as the organic sense of Being, because it is global and is tied to an inner awareness of the organism that comes from a different level. It is a living thing of its own; that is to say, it has an objective nature that does not belong to me as I am. Yet the organic sense (or sensation, if you will) of Being is not, in itself, a complete expression of the material nature of Being: it is a foundation for it. The material nature of Being is only sensed after long years of preparation through the organic sense of Being. 

During this long, gradual process—decades in which the organism takes in impressions in a new and deeper way—finer materials are deposited in the organism. (Gurdjieff called this the coating of higher Being-Bodies.) Those fine materials—again, very gradually, because there are no short cuts here—build up an mass that develops more and more gravity within itself. That same mass acquires a magnetic property that attracts more fine substances to it; and to the extent that the magnetism is sensed and respected—to the extent that I participate—it continues to elevate the inner rate of vibration.

Eventually I begin to sense the world in a very different way. The world, and life itself, have a specific texture to them. This texture is a kind of fabric (hence eastern references to tantric practice, which means loom practice) that permeates all Being. The inner, physical sensation of that texture is a foundational building block for a new kind of feeling-sensation of Being. 

This foundation structure needs to form in conjunction with an intelligent and intelligible force of awareness before a living, compassionate emotional connection to life and to Being can truly arise. Through this graduated practice of acquiring a sense of the material nature of Being, we prepare ourselves for a different level of emotive experience, which can’t emerge unless the connection to the physical experience has a firm foundation of understanding—not through the mind, but through an appreciation (a comprehension) of the experience itself.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Becoming zero and letting the love through

 Adoration of the Magi
Jan Mostaert
 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
 photograph by the author

A friend of mine recently had the following comment about the question of self observation and suffering (I am paraphrasing her comment a wee bit, but it is presented almost exactly as she made it.)

You say the aim of self observation is to see how we are unable to love, and then to suffer for that.
I feel uneasy about that-- that there is some kind of misunderstanding at work here, some kind of invisible egotism. I suspect it's the same as with goodness: Only God can love--IS love. If that's the case, what's up to us is to become zero and let the love through.

 This friend, unfortunately, has not read any of the very extensive material I've written on the subject, and took that one comment out of context and (before even discussing it with me) passed it on to another individual, illustrating for me the great danger of trying to take another person's understandings and pass them on before one has actually understood them for one's self. 

This is a habit I see around me again and again as I grow older: people take complex subjects that need a great deal of study to understand, read a few lines gleaned from the material, and proceed as though those few lines illustrated something important which they understood and could pass judgment on. This is very typical of all of us — I myself have been guilty of it at times — but every time I see it happen around me, it reminds me that I ought to sit down and read something quite thoroughly if I want to better understand the subject. Attention spans around the globe are growing ever shorter, and nowadays people want to read a single sonnet and claim they understand Shakespeare.

In any event, what my friend was talking about — she is a brilliant and deeply experienced student of the Gurdjieff ideas in her own right — is essentially true. But she blithely skips over the vast piece of territory one has to cover before one can "become zero and let the love through." When one reads it, if one has any kind of critical facility at all, one realizes that this is on the order of a lyric from a Beatles song. We can just all run around singing, " become zero, let the love through, yeah yeah yeah," and presto! All our spiritual aspirations will be rewarded and the problem of our lovelessness will be solved.

 It's a Disneyland kind of thing. Disneylanding — the process of turning absolutely everything in the world into a theme park event of one kind or another — has become a universal external activity. I fear it is on the order of becoming an inner activity as well.

I come back again to the passion of Christ, which has been the subject for a good part of the fall season in this space. 

Do we all really think that that illustration of God's love and what it takes to embody it is just some casual fairytale? 

Do we really think that we can excuse ourselves from the kind of effort that Christ made on our own behalf? 

Do we really want to think that Christ's selfless and extraordinary act—meant to illustrate what is required of all of us—was some form of invisible egotism?

Ignoring or expunging the understanding of Christ's sacrifice and the relationship to the interval between si and do  tosses out the baby, the bathwater, the bath basin, and the washcloth, soap, and shampoo. If we are going to take Christ into ourselves, as Gurdjieff advised his students to do (see Frank Sinclair's Without Benefit of Clergy)  we must take the suffering into ourselves as well — all of it — which is an action very closely related to taking on a portion of the sorrow of His Endlessness.

I'm quite concerned here, after reading my friend's remarks and understanding the consequences of talking about suffering in this way, that I may have somehow accidentally left the impression in readers that the kind of suffering I am speaking of has something to do with egotism... or myself. So I think I will treat that in a few additional posts after the Christmas season.

In the meantime, may God's utmost blessings fall on earth, and all of humanity, on this Christmas Eve 2015.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An exchange on morality

Christmas Tree
Metropolitan Museum of Art

A remark from a discussion thread I am involved with:

"Moral relativism will be the death of our civilization but the only sure foundation for absolute morality is religious."

My own comment:

 As to the question of absolute morality. It is a difficult one. I think we can agree that morality is, in general, subjective — that is, different individuals and societies invent their own versions of it. For example, marrying a 12-year-old to a 30-year-old was morally acceptable in traditional societies of the Middle Ages; now, of course, it isn't. Child labor would be another good example. It was nearly ubiquitous until the end of the 19th century.

An objective morality would be a morality that withstood the test of all times in all societies. It would have to, by default, occupy a very high moral ground. By consensus — at least among religious authorities of many different flavors — the great spiritual avatars of various societies, which would include Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, etc. — set the bar very high. Their followers progressively lowered it until all kinds of depravity became permissible. 

Nonetheless, I think that we intuit, both as individuals, societies, and even as a collective (if brutally dysfunctional) civilization, that there is an objective morality, just as Socrates and Plato argued that there is an objective good.

I myself intuit, nay, affirm, that there is an objective good — but that I am (we are) separated from that objective good because of a lack of inner unity, which is the theme of all the great traditions. It's the search for that objective good, I think, that ought to preoccupy us. It is no simple matter, as centuries of history have proven.

 Traditionally, one of the root origins of the word religion has been held to mean re-connecting (=re, again, and religare,  to bind fast.) So an attempt to reconnect with these higher ideals creates the foundation for an absolute morality, that is, a morality that does not emanate from man, but from some higher place.  I have heard it argued (and, I think, successfully) many times that the search is more important than what we find, since a willingness to question and the possession of a critical mind — which challenges itself as much as, or even (preferably) more than, anyone else — is more likely to stay the hand of immorality than any presumed certainty will.

Meister Eckhart, who I think was the last living master for the highest forms of Christian thinking, was quite certain that such a higher morality (he discussed it in terms of the good) emanated from beyond our material and temporal considerations. I agree in both theory and practice with his assessment of the situation. His Complete Mystical Works, while unusually expensive, is an investment the thinking Christian will never regret. 

This leaves us in rather swampy ground, because we are forever attempting to impose temporal and material solutions on metaphysical and spiritual questions. This always leaves us in conflict: and that is the nature of life and society, that it stands between the higher and the lower, always attempting to create a positive middle ground where human value can be honorably discovered and recognized. 

 This position of man between heaven and hell is an equally deep traditional one. Dante's hierarchy is a linear one; but the exchange between heaven and hell, even when it is a horizontal one (i.e., on this level) is a circulatory mechanism.

 I'm working on the central panel of Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, which contains just such a circulatory mechanism. His cautionary tale, which is far more disturbing, lies in the right hand panel. That is where we are headed if we do not take heed.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The five strivings on the enneagram

There are times when one is studying particular question and suddenly stumbles across something so obvious one wonders why one didn't notice it years ago.

The above diagram (click here for a larger and better image of it) details the way in which Gurdjieff's five obligolnian strivings position themselves on the enneagram. They do so in the exact order of the original progression of the strivings, which is below.

 In hindsight, it's patently obvious that the strivings would have to fit perfectly into the system described in The Universal Enneagram. In this particular case, it's rather interesting, because the correspondence is so exact. They constitute, in their entirety, a hierarchy, and that hierarchy must lawfully correspond to the hierarchy described by the enneagram. 

One simply needs to understand how they correspond to the enneagram: and here is how.

     "The first striving: to have in one's ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and absolutely indispensible for the planetary body.

 The first striving is specifically related to materiality, the note re, and the embodiment of physical being in the planetary body. All of these needs must be fully met first.

     "The second striving: to have a constant and unflagging instinctive need for self-perfecting in the sense of Being.

 The second striving relates to the emotive force of desire, wish, and striving itself. This corresponds directly to the note mi representing those same forces.

     "The third: the conscious striving to know ever more and more about the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance.

 The third striving represents intelligence, mind, and its embodiment.

Taken together, we immediately see that the first three strivings relate to the natural, or worldly, side of the diagram and the three lower centers of body,  emotion, and mind.

     "The fourth: from the beginning of one's existence the striving to pay as quickly as possible for one's arising and individuality, in order afterward to be free to lighten as much as possible the sorrow of our Common Father.

 The fourth striving occupies the position of the note sol. Readers should take note that this is the exact point at which Gurdjieff introduces the idea of God, because this is the spiritual side of the diagram. This one simple fact reveals the inexorable logic of the strivings, and the way that they follow the spiritual notation of the enneagram.

     "And the fifth: the striving always to assist the most rapid perfecting of other beings, both those similar to oneself and those of other forms, up to the degree of the sacred 'Martfotai,' that is, up to the degree of self-individuality.

 The fifth striving embodies purification, that is, the effort to "perfect" the spiritual effort of all beings.

Readers will undoubtedly ask me why there is no sixth striving. It's a reasonable enough question. The reason there is no sixth striving is that the five strivings, taken together as a whole, already represent the sixth striving — wisdom — which requires all of the components of the first five in order to manifest.

This is an interesting point, because it implies a summation that takes place when the notes re, mi, fa, sol, and la all work together in an inner sense. We should note that according to the actual (as opposed to physical) location of the second conscious shock between the notes si and do,  once one has acquired Being at sol, the evolution of the octave is automatic up to the point between si and do. This particular fact isn't discussed much in the Gurdjieff work, because it's poorly understood, but the point is that after the acquisition of Being, evolution up to the second  conscious shock proceeds more or less automatically. It is the long period of preparation and the tremendous suffering that is indicated by the incorrect location of the shock between sol and la. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that the location of the shock in the wrong place indicated the kind of work that was necessary — but he never said it was the kind of work that was necessary before one got to the shock. 

It's the kind of work that is necessary within the shock in order to pass over it. 

This particular shock represents a tremendous and in fact unbelievable sacrifice, which is a point I have tried to make over and over again in relationship to Christ's passion and crucifixion, which is the ultimate illustration of what is necessary in that interval. A very long period of preparation is necessary before one can develop the wisdom to stand on the threshold of that shock and completely surrender.

A great deal of work with friends, associates, and other people has convinced me that everyone underestimates what is necessary here. Everyone thinks that we can somehow just "let go," and let some magical kind of godlike substance come into us, thereby avoiding all of the suffering that is really necessary to destroy our egos. This is in fact the essence of new age ideas, which have in many ways polluted the Gurdjieff work even with some of the oldest and dearest friends I work with, people who are objectively much older than me and ought to in the end by now know better.

Well, I have opened up a can of worms here this morning on these points, and I should wrap things up here before I am any deeper in my galoshes. But more will need to be said about this particular subject.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Feminine Nature, Part II

Portrait of a Woman
Rembrandt, Risjkmuseum, Amsterdam
Photograph by the author

Paternalistic societies arose, originally, out of an understanding that a man's first responsibility is to honor and defend all the women around him. A man's role throughout life in every way is one of service to all who he has next to him; but especially the women.

 Much of this touches on deep questions of Love, and the extent to which a human being has opened themselves to its influence. It's clear enough from the Wartime Transcripts that Gurdjieff had some distressingly mistaken understandings of Love; and the same is true of some prominent followers who have attained much and are even today considered to be important teachers of his work. 

This is an unsurprising condition; a teacher’s weaknesses are always passed on to the pupils, just as the teacher’s strengths. Much of what Gurdjieff said on this subject (see, for example, transcript number 16 in Wartime Transcripts) was halfway to being correct, but halfway is nowhere near enough. A man who is truly loving cannot steal, or hate, or reject anyone around him; anything to the contrary is a lie, and so we need to take some of his advice on these matters very carefully indeed; it may do us harm instead of good. Too many otherwise good people have suspended their critical thinking on this matter before they reach a truly material understanding of Love and its nature; and in cases like this, inner work produces the precise opposite of what is intended, along with the conviction that it is right.

I have seen this personally in many people who think they understand something real. They don’t know what it is to materially receive Love. Even those who do are subject to constant temptation; the difference is that those who do are overall less likely to succumb to it.

 These matters are very complicated and we aren't well-equipped to contemplate them on our own level. What is useful is to enter an ongoing confrontation against all the parts of ourselves that are unloving (engaging in this is, as I have pointed out elsewhere, the only real point of seeing) within the context of the higher and largely unknown Love our wish embodies— a Love that does not belong to us, but can inwardly form real Love inside us. 

If we come into intimate contact with these forces, if we materially receive Love, we can forever return to a communion with the material nature of Love in any moment where what we ought to do is unclear, or when we are manifesting in a way that is not right. 

If we concentrate enough of the material force of Love, its inner magnetism, in our Being, our inner compass will not deviate from what is right. The beginning effort of returning to sensation in the Gurdjieff practice is the kindergarten activity of an active return to the material force of Love. 

In this practice, we're very lucky if we can even reach the first grade of elementary school.

 Every Being actually wishes to be female and strives, in the esoteric sense, to be female, because every manifestation of material reality wishes to give birth to the Perfection. It is true, at the same time, that all of material reality and creation is a giving birth of the Perfection. 

In this way, all that takes place is an infinite unfolding of flower petals (the Flower Ornament Sutra is a beautiful yet long-winded documentation of this process) in which Perfection begets Perfection. Yet within each Perfection that is begotten (each Being that arises) the wish to beget Perfection yet again is the natural and instinctive reaction. The universe and Being are eternally fecund female entities eternally being impregnated and eternally giving birth. We can catch some of the flavor of this in Meister Eckhart's sermons; and were he but daring enough — he did not live in times that left him the opening — he might have explained this in more detail, because it seems certain he understood it quite well within his own practice.

In this way, we men can understand that we, too, are women, which ought to offer us a liberating window on our masculinity. 

I'm afraid it doesn’t, really; masculinity has acquired a dull and barren stupidity that stains it, and is carried throughout societies all over the world. It's actually a strange form of self-hatred; and if we want to understand the question of sins of the fathers, we can begin here.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sarah's birthday

In memoriam

My sister Sarah Suzanne van Laer Hansen would have been 56 years old today.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Feminine Nature, part I

Bamboo forest, Kyoto
Photograph by the author

Epanding on the idea of the inherently feminine nature of all creation, there are consequential understandings to be reached about the nature of men and women, and their relationships.

On this level, all masculinity is by default dependent on femininity for its nature. Just as the bad serves the good – on every level subordinate to God, each higher thing has an opposing lower nature, which is obliged by law to serve it — all of being outside of God Himself emerges, ultimately, from the fecund and essentially feminine nature of material reality and the act of creation which eternally (outside of time) gives birth to it. Just as God is the male principle that puts the seed in material reality, so are all things birthed from its femininity. 

In this way we understand that all men are, in a subtle sense, utterly dependent on women for everything that they are and all that they do.

 Men cannot be men without women, and a man who truly understands his manhood will begin to understand that it is supported by everything feminine around him. All of the women that he knows, beginning with his mother, extending to his female siblings, his female children, and all of the women who he ever knows, including the ones who he Loves — and if his heart is truly open, he will Love all women — are what create his existence. This is true even for men whose sexual choices are other men, because even in those cases, the women around the men are the persons who support them and whom they serve. 

No man can be a man without women; and they deserve his eternal gratitude for this.

In this way every man ought to be the servant of all women and honor them. Men have an extraordinary responsibility and duty towards women. To violate this is one of the greatest sins a man can commit; et it is not uncommon, because men are generally drunk on their manhood and do not understand it in the least.

A man needs to extend his being deeply into his own femininity to understand how, at the core of his being, he is also a woman designed to receive the seed of the Lord. This is much more difficult inner work for men that it is for women; because man's nature is more separated from the fundamental nature of material reality, they have a greater distance to cover in the understanding and receiving of Love. That distance tempts men to unusual kinds of irresponsibility in this area; and that separation is what gives rise to a great deal of the violence that men are so overwhelmingly guilty of.

This question goes well beyond both psychology and  sexuality, because it is a spiritual — not a natural — question, and we are accustomed to understanding everything according to the natural sciences instead of the spiritual ones. If men were able to understand this question more organically and intuit it spiritually, they would be quite different creatures.

Men and women have a fundamentally different relationship to sexuality, because a man is always, through the action of his sexuality and orgasm, unconsciously attempting to return to the feminine and surrender his masculinity in a merger with his root of origin. Women have no basic need to do this, so orgasm is actually less important to most of them; while they appreciate this experience and can enjoy it as much as men, their own intimate and emotional nature draws them first to a wish for emotional satisfaction in which the femininity of sex (because in a certain subtle way, on our level, all sex is feminine) is joined together and celebrated. In point of fact, they have a more sensitive and intelligent understanding of sexuality than men do. Men experience sex almost solely in terms of the orgasm, after which it is over; whereas women understand it as a holistic and chronic entity that includes child bearing and the raising of families. I think that men have, in some very perverse ways, cheated themselves of a deeper understanding of this because of the way our society understands these questions.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The hand that shapes me

I remember from many years ago how the sensation of God being directly with me is sometimes like the sensation of great invisible hands holding me; and this morning I wish to also speak a little about that, in light of the post I wrote earlier, which was posted day before yesterday.

I have hands, and I know that I can shape things with them. I have done this instinctively in many ways since I was young, and I have shaped many things. 

I think these are my hands, and the shapes I make are my shapes; yet this isn't quite right, is it? I'm not myself; I am a representative of the Lord, and everything that is shaped is not shaped by me, but through me. 

The Lord acts in exactly the same way that the hand acts: He reaches out, He touches, and events and things are shaped by Him. 

Thus the Lord is in one way much like hands, and we have hands because we are much like Him.

 The difference is that his hands are conscious hands, hands composed of the Perfection and of consciousness itself, and we are at best mere digits of them — at best. We seek to become more conscious because to the extent that we are aware of the Lord — which is the point of having more consciousness, not to serve ourselves, but to serve Him — his hands can act through us. The more conscious we are, the more perfectly.

Of course we’re never perfect. Yet I do urgently need to understand myself more clearly in terms of opening myself to the influence of the hand that shapes me. Without the divine energy that gives me Being, that enters me and causes me to act, I am nothing. 

I always think that energy is me and that I have something of my own; it's only when I can begin to draw a distinction and see that I am simply the product of the hand that shapes me that I begin to understand anything new about life. At that point, so often, it's much easier to let go, because I can find relief in the idea that it isn't all about me and what I do. 

I don't have to be God. 

We live in a world where everyone thinks they have to be God — after all, what do you think terrorists are doing? They think they need to do God's work for Him, like everyone else — they just have a much more grim view of what God's work is.

Well, hopefully we'll do better than that. In any event, nobody needs to do God's work for Him. We cannot do God's work for Him. When we try to, it is as though our hands decided to do things for us without us agreeing, for example, they decided to break eggs and make an omelette at a moment when we urgently feel that what is necessary is to till the fields. (I know this is an old-fashioned analogy, but there you are.) 

Yet I always think that I’ll do God's work for him, don't I? 

I think I can do.

 This sensation of the hand that shapes me can become quite organic and physical, quite organic and emotional. It doesn't have to be just a thought in my mind. It has the potential to be all of me. 

Then something different can happen in me, because the influence of real Love can enter me and help me to grow inside.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Intimate Art of Seeing and the Question of Love, Part II

If I become more attuned to this finer energy of cellular attention—an energy that is quintessentially solar in nature— I begin to acquire a completely different sense of life and what it means. This finer energy is what supports and sustains the manifestation of all life on the planet; as I become more aware of it, I don’t see the earth I walk on in the same way, and I don’t see the sun in the sky in the same way. I don’t so much see the sun as feel the sun. In the gnostic gospel of Thomas, this is what Christ means when he says a person who seeks and finds will be astonished. The original word derives from Latin extonare, to “thunder out.” 

What Christ originally meant, I feel certain, was that a person can discover and concentrate this inner magnetism. That is to consciously know the solar nature of the power of Being.

I begin to realize that I am part of a completely different enterprise than the external affairs a man or woman generally concerns himself or herself with. Human matters have, in point of fact, almost nothing whatsoever to do with the great work of the sun or the planets; although that connection is certainly possible, we have (as Gurdjieff so eloquently pointed out in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson) disconnected ourselves so decisively and so thoroughly from this work that we haven’t even the slightest inkling, really, of what it might mean to participate more fully and deeply in it. 

The work of the sun is above all a work of Love; and if there is one thing we can see is lacking in mankind as it exists today, it is that very same Love. Magnetism in its gross sense is a material projection of Love, but magnetism also exists in much finer and more concentrated forms than the grossly physical. In mankind we call the automatic manifestation of such finer magnetism charisma; and we recognize its power, even though it’s generally destructive when it arises spontaneously in human beings.

Developing a finer sensation and a more precise attention attunes me much better to the magnetism of the sun’s emanations; I earn the opportunity to understand life from the context of a different level, on whose behalf I undertake work. 

By work, I understand several quite specific things, the first of which is to become intentionally aligned with this higher, or solar, energy. In order to do this I cultivate my connection to the energy with this finer, tactile quality of wordless attention; and I participate in an inner intention to go towards that energy. My inward movement draws a reciprocal response from the energy itself; we move towards on another.

The second action of my intention in work is to receive, and suffer, what Gurdjieff called the sorrow of His Endlessness. The sorrow is, of course, that same substance so perfectly expressed by the passion of Christ; yet I think Gurdjieff’s term is a quite good one, and summarizes all of its nature for both Christian and non-Christian peoples. As such we’d best use it.

No one else I know of—no other spiritual teacher—has expressed the receiving of this sorrow as a material substance (particles) in quite the same way as Gurdjieff; and he was only able to do this because he was familiar with this intimate practice of work which I speak of here. It’s not a type of work at all familiar to most spiritual teachers, as we see from both outward teaching and literature. Gurdjieff brought, here, one of the most esoteric and essential points of any spiritual teaching to his pupils. It’s a very high level of inner work—the highest, in point of fact—and  it was, in a word, nothing short of revolutionary to disclose a matter this esoteric to the world at large, no matter how elusive a real understanding of it may remain to the average person. 

In any event, this work of receiving is also a distinctly magnetic work, since magnetism is what concentrates the power of Love and draws it together in a form that has more material effects on us, and on the world at large. In doing so, magnetism concentrates the power of Being and of consciousness itself into manifestations of Being at higher levels. The world is, at its subtle levels where mankind can’t see it, being drawn into ever deeper and more loving relationships; an intricate web of relationship entirely dependent on this force of Love forms and evolves. All of manifestation and life itself is dependent on this subtle force. Emmanuel Swedenborg, who spent most of his life trying to understand the nature of the world through what was (for his time) a consummate understanding of the physical sciences, eventually understood that this much more subtle force of Divine Love lay beneath and animated all creation. 


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.