Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Questioner Within Me, Part I — Confirmation Bias

Merode Altarpiece (Detail)
The Cloisters, New York 

Confirmation bias
is the phenomenon whereby a person believes something, and then looks around them for evidence to support the belief. 

It's a common mechanism in human beings; and anyone who wants to aspire to objectivity needs to be deeply suspicious of it in themselves. Yet we're all perpetual victims of confirmation bias; it's nearly impossible to avoid. One might just about say we are hardwired for it; it is built into us. And it is one of the favorite tools of the ego.

Confirmation bias begins with what I believe is mine — that is, my beliefs. This begins with an endorsement of my own agency and an unspoken — even unconscious — that "I" am the agent of my own activities and even my life itself. Simply put, it states that everything is about me.

Implicit in the endorsement of my own agency, in most cases, is an assumption that I am right about things. The via negativa — the "negative path" — attempts to avoid this by assuming that I am wrong about things, which can be quite useful. It attempts to head confirmation bias off at the path.

Gurdjieff was committed to helping his pupils avoid confirmation bias. "Question everything,", he advised them. "Even me.”

Well then. Let's question everything.

Ahhh…  Suddenly, it's not so easy, is it? When we encounter people who purport to embody true spirituality,  who say or do things congruent with our own beliefs and expectations, we’re eager to find what we expect to in what they do and what they say. Before we know it, we and other like-minded people find ourselves in a community where everyone agrees on things, quotes the same material, uses the same words (which spread through the community's language like a virus) and nods sagely at one another in rapt consensus. 

Outsiders, heretics — anyone who challenges these deeply held and deeply cherished beliefs and assumptions — are calmly and quietly nodded at sagely, and dismissed. That dismissal often comes in the form of passive-aggressive attack, where the collective membership of a group, organization, or cult dispassionately and patronizingly ostracizes the dissenter, advising them that they just do not understand the "higher wisdom" of the elders.

 Every spiritual organization is in danger of behaving like this. The sign of a solid one is that it tolerates and even encourages dissent —with love. 

We are supposed to fold both assent and dissent into the ranks of our practice; and yet the evil inner God of self-calming encourages us to edit out the dissenters. They make us feel upset, after all; and we shouldn't have to put up with that, should we? After all, we are intelligent adults who have spent many years on our spiritual search, and we shouldn't have to put up with these damned idiots who challenge everything. 

They are disturbing our carefully cultivated inner serenity, the fools.

Even though Gurdjieff told us they are the first people we need to keep things on the straight and narrow.

 Well, this sounds like a description of an outer process, doesn't it? Yet it isn’t. The questioner within us is treated in exactly the same way as I’m describing here. If I don't admit the one who objects to my inner practice — if I don't test its strength by doubting and looking at the opposite side of the question — if I don't disbelieve what I believe in order to see if I can truly believe it — I can't wear down the sharp parts and hard, resistant bits of the ego that insist on making everything its own. 

So I have to question even the inner questioner.

In the end, as harsh as it may seem — and it isn't meant to seem that way, as I don't think it's harsh at all in the end — I have to burn down every inner village I erect. Most especially, my assumptions and the things that I cherish the most. In my own case, as I grow older I see how I have nourished many opinions and ideas about other people that are dismissive, pejorative, destructive, angry, resentful, and so on. I have long-winded inner dialogues about how this or that person is, or — equally destructive — how this or that situation is, leaving me to opinionated and egoistic conclusions about how things ought to be — most of them designed to make me look better, if I'm honest and I peel away enough layers of this onion.

Once I have Potemkin villages like this built in me, my inner dialogues make sure that they are always nicely painted and properly populated.  At that point, every new incoming impression encounters my confirmation bias and is, in one way or another, co-opted as a support for the structures. 

I make the world say what I want it to say, inside me.

Generally speaking, in my own case, I don't realize that I am getting to the bottom of my own confirmation biases until I have to give up something that makes me extremely uncomfortable. An idea about another person, for example, that entitles me to hold on to my condemnation of their behavior. These things are extremely subtle, and capable of morphing into new forms the moment I confront them, so the only way to detect and question my own egoism is to dig down layer after layer through these sediments. All of them have been deposited through past associations; and it never occurs to me that, like an archaeologist to wants to prove a pet theory, I am arranging the layers to say what I want them to say. I have, in short, no objectivity about the nature of my own life.

Yet as a more objective perspective develops — and this is possible, to the extent I am willing to give up the things I love — the inner things, not the outer ones, let me stress that — I begin to discover what we might call objectivity. 

More on that in the next installment on this question.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gone Fish

Gone Fish

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Small-Minded Individuals

Christmas window 
Saks Fifth Avenue, New York

A reader asks:

I noticed a strange thing happen ,as some times before ,obviously ,but stronger now.
I noticed I was asleep and I went in direction of thoughts and seeing myself as if from above the planet but for real.
Then I remembered to kind of break that state and go with sensing instead and sensing the body started to "kick off" and then I  noticed as if another "me" struggling to actually impose its fantasy/thoughts of what to do and what  awakening is about and with all the structures of thought or of what I consider my life or me.

Do you know what I mean? I assume the other "thing" is personality(because of the "allness" of what it seemed to think of as "me" or "my world") or mind and not just one "I".

My comment:

We always have multiple beings within ourselves struggling with one another for supremacy. These are small-minded individuals. There is, on top of that, a large small-minded individual. If I become sufficiently aware of the small small-minded individuals, they gradually coalesce into more of a whole who is the large small-minded individual.

 So here you and I are, more or less living in our large small–minded individuals, and attempting to understand where we are. 

That individual uses thinking to try and determine most of what goes on; and indeed, it's useful, because that thinking can lay some intelligent foundations unless it goes into aberrant territory— led either by the emotions, which often delight in dark places, or the body, which only wants pleasures.

 This idea of investment in sensation, if I can remember, is very useful, because over a long period of time I can train the body to think more actively through it. With enough effort, eventually, maybe the body will wake up and my sensation will become more permanent and alive. That would make a difference; this thinking within the large small-minded individual won't. So I need to get over the conviction that the thinking and the impressions the conclusions I draw from them are going to help save me. They are not part of the enemy; there is no enemy. But they are part of a distraction that keeps me from paying attention to the living elements within me that ought to be honored more attentively. I have these many fascinating different living elements in me, each one of which emanates from a spark of divinity; and yet I employ them all willy-nilly, like a village idiot who has been given a fine clock and uses it to prop open the gate on the pigsty.

This is one of the reasons that I find it useful to abandon the interpretive methods and just try to sense life as it comes. Real interpretations of life derive from three centered work; and they are rare enough, and anguishing. All the other interpretations are fantastic inventions, as you observed here. Fantastic inventions have layers; and each successive layer pasted on top of the prior one gives the illusion of superiority. In a certain way, without devaluing the facts of life, one has to abandon the illusions of superiority for a comprehensive understanding of inferiority of everything that arises within me, here on this level. 

I use the word inferior not to mean substandard, but below. That is, everything here happens below a higher level which is quite different than the layers of fantasy which gets stacked up in me. 

That higher level has an objective nature which I am alienated from.

Well, I think I have gone on enough about this. You get the idea.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Gods of War: The Sixth Beast

The Sixth Beast

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Further notes on the deconstruction of the second striving

Metropolitan Museum, New york

In December, a close friend in the Gurdjieff Work contacted me with the following comments about the deconstruction of the second striving:

Not sure quite what to say here. That is, what you say is true but it seems to be said in the tone of an attack. So while I agree in principle and personally feel quite strongly that consciousness is attention is love, and that it's time to wake up to the fact that it is everywhere around and in us, I can't go along with attacking myself or the rest of us for not being perfect lovers Jeepers, Geez, I'm only human! G himself often attacked us for our failings and I did the self-attack thing into the ground years ago and ended up sick, learning it is easier to try to be perfect than to be who you are.

My response was as follows: 

Let's remember first that it is Gurdjieff himself who brings up this issue of "self-perfection"—not me. So if anyone has to be charged with the issue of making perfection the goal, it's him. If you find the idea of perfection is distressing, I would suggest your fundamental quarrel must begin with what he said, not my comments about it. 

I explored the question on the terms he laid down when he made the remark. I happen to agree with his idea about perfection being a goal; in other words, my examination of the question is doctrinaire in the sense that it accepts his statement and then attempts to understand it.

Your own core issues are a struggle with a tendency towards perfectionism. Since that's a trigger point for you, you tend to have a confirmation bias that reads this struggle into the material you encounter. I believe that's worth thinking about. (This question of our confirmation biases is a fascinating one that we all ought to look at more often than we do, I think.) 

At the same time, I honor your question, and agree with your conclusion — we should not (ever) engage in self-examination that becomes self-destruction. Indeed, our whole point of life and living is to build positive value — which is more or less the point of my contention that we ought to become perfectly loving. I think, oddly, that we are both saying the same things here, each in our wildly different way.

As it happens, if you were following the long thread of my writing on the subject — which I don't expect or ask you to do— you would know that I have recently begun to speak about The Perfection, which is my own phrase for my experience of what Ibn al Arabi refers to as The Reality, or,  more concisely put in Christian terms, God.  

We all inhabit this Perfection, which is eternally loving and eternally knowing (that is to say, wholly loving and wholly knowing, outside of time.) That Perfection is available to us as a daily and permanent inner experience, according to the level of inner magnetism we develop and the degree of inner sensation we acquire. It is an undeniable and ubiquitous condition that the organism was designed to receive and concentrate in the form of greater and greater love, as it develops. (Being exists to concentrate Love through magnetic attraction, which is a material and organic process related, at its root, to breathing and organic sensation.)

The Perfection coexists with ordinary life, but stands outside and aside from it as a separate influence — in other words, it is the second nature we oft talk about, but don't really understand. Perhaps one ought to point out here that we won't understand it and can't understand it — the whole point of it is to become the active source of our question, which needs to migrate out of our minds and directly into the energy from which it draws all its life and power.

In gross metaphysical terms, the Perfection by default arranges everything so that it is already perfect — even apparent imperfection. A right relationship to organic sensation can lay the foundation for understanding this in immediate terms that get past the inevitable dilution with words, allowing the mind of sensation and the mind of feeling to more fully participate in a direct, active, three-centered experience of this perfection. I fear this question of the other two minds is poorly understood, in general.  From what I can see, people don't generally understand what I say when I speak about the two of them becoming much more active.

One of the unfortunate — to us — consequences of understanding the Perfection better is to understand that everything, arranged exactly as it is — with all of the woe, anguish, fear, and destruction that it also contains — dwells equally within the immediate and absolute Perfection of God.  (Every time a person has what we call, in the work, "a moment," they have for an instant brought the centers close enough together to experience, to a greater degree, the Perfection— which was always already there..)

In other words, everything we fear, deny, or struggle against is actually perfect, because it is there to help us. 

This is a confusing conundrum our (I include myself here) ordinary parts aren't able to process; and I doubt they ever will be. (Again, I am hardly the first person to say this — Ibn al Arabi, Swedenborg and Meister Eckhart all got there first, each in their own inimitable way.) But the three-centered process of Being can help us to encounter this in a way that includes understanding from a different direction.

 Oddly, this leaves us in a peculiar position, metaphysically speaking, because all of our progressive doctrines which presume we going from "here" to "there" and in which we "improve" are somehow wrong; again, something that can't be properly processed. The irony here is that we already dwell within Perfection, and just don't know it.  (Christians who speak of being held in the eternally loving hands of Christ and God are speaking of this, whether or not they have anything more than a theoretical experience of it.  We don't go from anywhere to anywhere; we go from now to now.)

I think the majority of your own personal struggle has been a growth into greater awareness of where we are, in these same terms. That's what I intuit about you, anyway, and from my perspective that growth has been a healthy, powerful, and positive one that has allowed you to transcend many self-created obstacles. I'm in the same boat, struggling with a similar class of self-created obstacles, so your process and results inspire me and give me hope. 

This kind of process is reciprocal and, I think, why we work together in groups, after we strip away all the blah blah blah.

Things have changed in me since last fall, radically in some ways, and I now spend my days contemplating this state from a more direct and practical perspective, inwardly formed through these other two minds—which can become much more alive in us, according to magnetism.

 I make no call as to where that will lead, except to here, or what it means, except what it means now. The most delightful and intriguing thing about it is that it brings me to a sense of immediate presence where I don't know the meaning, but know that I can help "create" life as it stands—on the fly, in this moment. 

That process can be filled with love and effort, which I always need as companions to overcome my perpetual and immediate limitations.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Out of Darkness

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Returning to the Glory, Part II

 Early Christian grave marker
Metropolitan Museum, New York

 It's the evening for me now. 

I have spent the day deeply, profitably, and satisfyingly divided between the Presence of the Perfection and the manifestation of my own decidedly and amusingly imperfect Being. 

I have made a deal with this devil which seems to work out well for both of us, even though half of me is going to hell most of the time. 

It's good to see this; God wants me to remember that half of me wants to go to hell so that I will keep at least 51% of me on this (the Heavenly) side of that deal. Otherwise, once I die, a great unpleasantness will ensue.

 I have had occasion today to notice the ubiquity of gratitude that permeates Being when one remembers the extraordinary things that take place in life. They seem so small; yet everything of God is in them. 

I remember, for example, being about eight years old and walking down the small lane, lined with ditches, that lay between two streets on  the way to my house at Pikartenkamp 18 in Hamburg, Germany. 

Every day these ditches lay on either side of me, and in the spring and summer there were frogs in them. 

This is not all of it, not by half; the walk between the S-Bahn and my house was a brief trip to a rather magical kingdom.

It was 1963; you could still smell the war somewhere in the trees, even though it had been over for about 19 years. Eurasian magpies haunted the train station; I was pretty certain, at the age of eight, that they represented magical beings of some kind—not quite sure which ones, but definitely magical. 

There was a Baba Yaga house on the way home nestled under a massive, improbably dark and mossy thatched roof of greenish straw; and that roof was itself dominated by an even more massive grove of pine trees, which hung their branches over it like the dark hands of fate. 

Collectively, the whole thing looked like a witch's hut to me; again, I'm pretty sure it was one, and it inspired fear in such a way that I would run by it on my way home, sensing a malignancy that, while almost certainly imaginary, provided the excitement necessary to propel me towards home just a little bit faster.

Later, I would come to the ditch, which had a few standard and relatively unimportant wetland plants growing in it. It was the frogs that were special; I was fascinated by them — as I have been ever since I was a tiny child, perhaps three years old, when my mother reports that I sat still by a pond for an extraordinarily long amount of time (impossibly long, according to her, for a three-year-old) until I actually caught a frog — a feat she was certain would be impossible for me.

I guess I really liked frogs.

In any event, remembering those things today; while passing by a house with coaxial cable coiled up on its side like a starving snake; watching birds dart into trees overhead; it occurred to me that everything is indeed perfect, and that the presence of God animates us not only within being, but animates all things. 

I could taste the way that it stretches from 1963 to 2015; I could taste the way that everything lives in me as it lives in all people, and that there is a poetry not just of substance, but of spirit, that carries us forward into the dawn of each new day.

Gratitude penetrates every one of these events; and perhaps it's possible to live with the devil and deal with him, while also letting go of everything he represents, and even appreciating the fact that he helps me to remember God.

This, anyway, is what I think to myself tonight on the night of December 16, in regard to the passage of this day. 

It's all part of returning to the Glory, which is always here when I look for it.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 24, 2016



Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A culmination to life on earth

 Central Park, New York
December 2015

Today we will come back to Paul's other question:

The question remains did g see an end or culmination to life on earth - in which we are serving something higher or lower than ourselves - autoegocrat...etc? 

 I think this question somewhat misses the mark. One has to examine a wide variety of premises and truths in order to get to that.

First of all, there is no end or culmination to anything, technically speaking.  

Within eternity— which is existence outside of time, in which all existence is a perfection, a singularity — nothing culminates and there is no progression. There is only truth, which is a whole thing and remains undivided by progressions, fractions, or interference of any kind.

 Yet this is of course (at least for us) a hypothetical condition that totally belies the progressive nature of material reality. 

Within the context of material reality, of course, everything comes to an end — whereby we might say that everything culminates in one way or another. Yet there is no actual ending, because all  culminations take place from instant to instant, leading to a new state which is at once both a completely new beginning and the end of itself, since it immediately gives birth to the next state.

This is heady philosophical stuff, isn't it? 

Yet it leads us inexorably to see that within the state of absolute and objective — as opposed to limited and subjective —Being, questions such as the one Paul is asking become pointless. Our task is to Be — and within Being, such questions are supremely unimportant. 

This is a matter of practice. While we need to engage in theory and philosophy, we need to understand the division between those things and practice, and honor them both.

How Mr. Gurdjieff viewed these questions remains a mystery. But one can presume what his intentions and attitudes were from where we are now, leading me to believe that what I have just said would probably conform to his understanding.

 I'm sure readers want a more precise answer than this one, but I can't give it, except so: 

Inhabit Being. 


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Gods of War: The Fifth Beast

The Gods of War: The Fifth Beast

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is there a limit to love?

 Central Park, New York

My friend Paul, whose comments serve as a counterpoint to this space, asked the following questions in December:

On reflection one thing that does seem to be missing in g's remarkable psycho-spiritual cosmology is any kind of 'ending' or second advent that we find in the christian faith. There is ultimately a 'new world' in the gospel good news.

Also in the traditional g teaching this finer material energy (or love) is in limited supply and simply not available to slugs en masse. This is also seems quite distinct from the gospel message wherein everyone can be 'saved'. Certainly g's son Dr michel salzmann made it v clear that for him this 'nectar' should not be wasted on the masses....for whom there would not be enough anyway - they would have to make do with Oprah Winfrey - or the like....

The question remains did g see an end or culmination to life on earth - in which we are serving something higher or lower than ourselves - autoegocrat...etc? 

 I believe the first remark seems to be incorrect.  Gurdjieff did indeed propose a "second Advent" or "New World," which consisted of a rebirth of man within a cosmological scale marked by his original (and in some ways actually unimportant) numerology. The rebirth is a regeneration of consciousness, entirely comparable to Swedenborg's Regeneration. Although the men spoke in different languages tailored for different times, their teaching actually came from the same inner tradition, a fact which any discerning reader who studies both men carefully will eventually see quite clearly. The premise of regeneration is a rebirth within a world of spiritual Being, rather than material being. I have written much about this process from a practical point of view in this space.

As to the second point, I believe the point of doctrine is incorrect. There is an unlimited amount of finer material energy. It is only unlimited supply relative to those who can receive it; the number of those people is indeed extremely limited, not because the energy is limited, but because the human beings are limited. If one understands Swedenborg properly, one sees that one's ability to come into relationship with the energy of love and receive it is related to one's wish. Most people just don't want to be loving, which is certainly the cardinal and original sin. If one looks around oneself one sees this quite quickly, which ought to be alarming — but we are by now numb to it. Readers who have an inkling of this and want to understand a bit more about the relationship between Gurdjieff's practice of the growth of essence (instead of false personality) and Swedenborg's comments about what happens to personality after we die need to read part two of Heaven and Hell, in which certain things about Gurdjieff's practice become very clear indeed relative to what takes place after death.

 So why did Gurdjieff imply there are such limits to a substance so powerful and ubiquitous? It is a simple matter of human psychology. He wanted us to wish for God, to wish for love; and, like will and every other potentially conscious feature in mankind, we don't wish for it, because we think it is abundant. It is only if we perceive it as scarce and desirable that we strive for something — again, take a look around you, it is this way with humans in everything, so much so that the mechanism barely need be described. He deceived his pupils in this regard; but by doing so, he was doing them all a favor. Besides, anyone who truly attempted his work would eventually discover it was a lie, anyway, by which time it would not matter. I only tell you this because it's true and I know it's true. It can't change anything for you or anyone else, because one still has to develop the real wish and be willing to suffer, whether there is a lot of love, a little love, or even — as is pretty much the case right now — no love at all, relative to the "masses" of humanity.

Misunderstanding of this point, which arises strictly within the ego and asserts itself in a bogus form of superiority and elitism, leads people to strut about making impractically stupid remarks about it.  I say, impractically,  because through practice, anyone who receives love in a right way automatically knows there is no truth to such things; yet egoists love to boast about them. It makes them sound important and it makes them appear exclusive. One ought to be where of people who do such things, because without exception, people who want to sound important and appear exclusive think they are God. 

Need we have a discussion about how grave an error this is? 

I think not.

At the same time, it's distressingly true that it's pointless to share love with those who are unprepared to receive it; and it's distressingly true that almost no one alive today, with the rare exception of those who engage in serious inner work — and there are less of such people than one might think, to be sure — is interested in changing. Mr. Gurdjieff himself recognized this and acted accordingly, displaying quite intentional kindness to people who he knew had not a whit of interest in his work and would never undertake it. This is the best we can do for people who are satisfied with themselves as they are; and it is absolutely required that we still love them regardless. Many a spiritual toe is badly stubbed on this point.

 I will have to address the second point in another post on Jan. 23.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Gods of War: The Fourth Beast

The Gods of War: The Fourth Beast

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Returning to the Glory, Part I

Christ Church, Sparkill, NY Dec 12 2015

Every day, I return to an examination of the Glory of God, which is with me every day in ways that cannot be explained using words alone. 

I report it to myself and others in words; and I don't discount them. Yet the Glory, the Perfection, cannot be described in words or contained in words because fully two-thirds of it comes into man's Being through the two minds that do not use words, that is, the mind of sensation and the mind of feeling.

 This is a difficult proposition, because in every human being, two thirds of the material that creates Being are not from the material of words. They are conscious material that arises within the context of sensation — wordlessly — and feeling — again, wordlessly. These two parts of man's Being that do not use words are overwhelmed in almost every sense by the domination of the intellect and words, which co-opt every other process into themselves and manipulate it.

Three-centered Being, as Gurdjieff called it, involves opening far more concisely to these influences of feeling and sensation. Words are then left behind; and yet we are stuck inside them, so to speak. They blind us to the Glory and the Perfection which flow inwardly first—as it happens—through the other two minds—if we are open.

 Because one cannot properly describe the influence of these two minds —  they are active and living influences, unlike the flat and relatively colorless observations of the intellect — one is left attempting to find a way, using that two-dimensional medium we are now engaged in, to describe the Perfection and the Glory accurately, incorporating the sensation and feeling that have flowed in from the other two minds.

It is always inadequate.

Most of the misunderstandings people have about life come from their inability to live in an active manner within all three centers. Atheism and agnosticism begin and end with this problem; no one can sense God properly without opening, and one can know precisely to what extent a human being is open to higher influences by their understanding or misunderstanding of the Glory, which is also called the Perfection. 

The deeper the immediate (not theoretical or hypothetical) sensation of the Perfection, the more impossible it is for a human being to do wrong to others or to deny God; and the deeper the feeling of the Perfection, the less a human being is ruled by their own ego and the more that humility grows in them so that they see what Glory is, and how tiny they themselves are in relationship to it.

I have seen that it's impossible to explain this to people, no matter how hard I try, because we human beings form a very hard shell around themselves that protects us — protects the ego — from anything true that might try to come in on this subject.  Everyone has one; the people who are sure they don't have one generally have the biggest ones.  People project their shells around them using enormous amounts of psychic energy which ought to be feeding much more important parts of themselves. This has a good deal to do with the subject of buffers, which I won't go into here.

The shell has an equal effect of preventing people from excreting and eliminating the poisons they collect in themselves from their self–serving intellectual exercises, which contaminate their inner Being and render them, in many cases, more and more toxic. Almost everyone I know who has this problem is completely unaware of their toxicity and even, in point of fact, nurtures it and celebrates it as an asset. This is not uncommon even in people who firmly believe they are on some high kind of spiritual path. We all have toxic parts that we nourish, which we ought through right Being learn to discriminate against.

A proper feeling and sensation of the Glory changes all of this, but it has to begin outside the mind of the intellect — even though we always discuss it and conceptualize it from within this mind, a dilemma which has no easy solution. Once one has a proper feeling and sensation of the Glory, one does not need to believe in God, because God is eternally present within one, inserted directly into the deficiency of Being which we all participate in. 

This presents human beings, if it happens, with a kind of suffering which is unusually helpful to the development of right Being. Gurdjieff came up with all kinds of interesting perspectives, observations, and truths about this suffering which have been progressively turned away from their (originally, essential) Christianity — a grave mistake — and into the service of, in many cases, more secular understandings that conceal their destructive nature beneath powerful veneers of misguided intelligence. Nothing can lead a man so firmly away from God as a belief in his own intelligence.

There is an unerring objectivity to the Perfection, and there is an unerring objectivity to the Glory. Now, it is true that that unerring objectivity has, in its entirety, created the situation I am describing here, and that the Perfection and the Glory give birth directly through their very nature to the imperfections we live within. 

That is only because we need a force to work against. One cannot climb a ladder without lifting one's own weight; and there is no spiritual profit in letting angels lift us up.  We need to work for ourselves to open to the Perfection; there is no real alternative.

This morning, in prayer and meditation, I was reminded that the Glory and the Perfection is a whole thing that cannot be divided into parts. 

This is how all of life is — it at once contains everything we are and everything we can be, and calls us within this moment to realize both of those things within one whole awareness.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Gods of War: The Third Beast

The Gods of War: The Third Beast

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A critical mind, part IV

Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights
by Hieronymus Bosch

Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

—Mark 8:37, King James Bible

 Another vignette by Hieronymus Bosch, with an interesting esoteric meaning for students of the Gurdjieff teachings.

 This image is taken from a critical point in the Tantric circle where earthly influences are on the wane and the entire processional is circulating back towards the higher, heavenly influences in the upper area of the central panel.

The three people on horses represent the three centers. Each of the horses represents a feeling, or emotional impulse, that which provides the power or force that drives us forward into our spiritual life.  This tells us that the feeling part of our centers is what supports our spiritual work and gives it the force it needs.

The riders are so closely aligned with one another because all three centers are working together.  This is part of what has made the turn back towards heavenly influences possible.

Collectively, they carry an upside down, clearly dead blue fish — representing (blue) the earthly world and the ego. (see Bosch Decoded for an explanation of the ego as a fish and paintings by Bosch.) The ego has been killed in the very act of swallowing egoistic temptation — symbolized by the red smaller fish in the larger fish's mouth. The rabbit perches on the fish as a symbol of fecundity, the endless birth of the eternal through God, which has now become possible and is an ascendant influence.


A human being is given a soul, an inward part, which they ought to become responsible for. One might say that one becomes responsible by sensing inwardly; that is, attending to the sensation of the inner self. Yet we always sense outwardly; and we even mistake ordinary outward sensation for the kind of sensation we ought to be having when we attempt to do inner work. So we are always devoted to and even enslaved by the outer world.

Traditionally, what a man owes God in exchange for his soul is prayer and thanksgiving. All religious services understand this and reflected in their process. It is, in fact, a deep inner need that transcends verbal understandings to give thanks and praise to God; and only when our deepest emotional parts, the feeling parts of our three centers, are in harmony and participating do we truly understand the comprehensive nature of this need, which ought to be spontaneous, unplanned, joyful, and perpetually loving.

Once we experience it that way, there is no other alternative to it, and the ordinary rote expression of the form is no longer interesting.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Gods of War: The Second Beast

The Gods of War: The Second Beast

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A critical mind, part III — an inner abandonment

Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights
by Hieronymus Bosch

Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

—Mark 8:37, King James Bible

 We come back today to this poignant remark, but first, a comment on this simple little element from the Garden of Earthly Delights, which has an entire parable in it.

 The pink stem of this blossom represents divine influence, a thin thread that gives birth to a material element (the blue sepals); these initially protect the bud of the flower.

This particular image was very carefully chosen. If we count the sepals, we see that there are seven of them, representing the law of seven. (the plant we are looking at is,  in other words, a polymerous one, with seven whorls in the form of a spiral.)

By now, in this element of the painting, they have already given birth to a handsome pink flower, representing the birth and (here) maturation of the soul within life. Note that all of the blue berries, which represent the material world and all the elements in it, spill out of the pink flower — the soul. In other words, the world does not contain the soul — the soul contains the world.

Yet the world is a dangerous thing; it has birthed several red fruits of temptation along with the ordinary blue worldly berries. The allegory here is one of the subordinate nature of the world to the soul. The elaborate stamens which gracefully protrude from the flower represent the potential for further fertilization and fecundity, which is the domain and prerogative of the soul—not the earthly berries, which we can see are just going to lie in the ground and rot.

 One can take the statement about what a man gives an exchange from his soul from both the inner and the outer point of view. The overall inference from the passage is that a man may well trade away his soul for the world, definitely a losing proposition. We are left to ask ourselves: what could possibly be worth a deal with the devil of that kind? Yet if we believe in the world, the soul is a trivial thing of little value in relationship to the riches of the world. It is only through an organic awakening of sensation that we begin to understand how extraordinarily precious and unusual the soul is, and how deeply it can inwardly form our life so that everything is new and quite different than we thought it was. An awakening of this kind creates an inversion of value which can only be understood through actual participation, not reading about it.

Yet the soul is given to us by God; and if we are going to give anything in exchange for it, we owe He who gives it to us. Taken with the rest of the passage, we see that we pay with the world; we "lose" the world, we abandon it and turn instead towards God. This abandonment is a spiritual abandonment, because we are unable to materially and physically abandon the world without dying. Instead, we inhabit the world willingly and wholeheartedly, while at the same time rejecting it with the critical faculty of our spiritual insight.

 This is not an unloving or a cruel rejection; it is not an insensitive rejection. The rejection is objective, that is, it rejects the world in favor of our inward being, which is now no longer a psychological condition, but an organic one. One needs to understand this quite practically.

It is a tricky thing to say "no" to everything and not be caught by that so that it becomes an act of destruction and negativity. The ordinary self takes this action very easily and uses it for its own purposes; and, in point of fact, it's quite necessary to use this action in an ordinary way at times.

This is why I need to become quite intimate with myself, very critical and intelligent in my inward observation, and quite discriminating in my understanding of the difference between the critical mind of the inward soul and the critical mind of the outward self.

They are definitely not the same thing.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Gods of War- The First Beast

The Gods of War: The First Beast

Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A critical mind, part II — the disappearing soul

Detail from The Hermit Saints 
by Hieronymus Bosch

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

—Mark 8: 35-37, King James Bible

Christ's statements sound like an abstraction, a hypothetical or theoretical position — and I believe we are tempted to be drawn into complications in examining what he said here. Yet the premise, the essential meaning, is not that difficult. A man's inwardness, what he knows within himself, is his own soul; and the whole world is all the other material he encounters. A man who knows his own soul has integrity; that is, he is in a state of spiritual wholeness. Gurdjieff called this "three centered being." It is something that comes before the outer world and exists of itself; it is, thus, of Christ and of God, if we wish to speak of it in Christian terms. One can also call it Being. Being comes first; then the world.

 Yet if I gain the whole world, I think the world is in me first, and I am of it. This idea of me being of the world is the mistaken one; and the idea of the critical mind is one of the spiritual rejection of this idea. I'm not of the world; it does not beget me, all the material and external evidence to the contrary. Like all souls and all being, I am first begotten by God. Then I encounter the world. If I do not use my critical mind to reject the literal, naturalistic, and materialistic premises presented to me by my senses first, I swallow the world whole and in doing this it swallows me.

Buddhism has a certain perfect ingenuity in understanding this and attempting to direct us away from being swallowed. If we understand Christ's words, he brings an equally perfect ingenuity to this practice.

This is a very delicate practice, in some ways, as one has to properly see both of one's natures in the moment in order to intelligently discriminate between them. Without inhabiting a Presence within the finer energy of the inward flow of divinity, it is impossible to maintain balance, because the world is an enormously convincing and powerful force. Only if I maintain a critical attitude towards the outward events and bring myself into an intentional, active, intimate, and above all loving relationship with the finer energy that is available for my inner work in that moment can I possibly hope to navigate these waters. This idea of repeatedly "coming back to myself" which we hear about so often in inner work doesn't have so much to do with remembering that I ought to be working; that is the intellect, pointing in a direction. It involves much more returning to the influence of the energy that can support my essence, my inwardness, against the onslaught of outer events and circumstances.

One eventually finds a balance. Yet that balance is always invested, rooted, in a finer energy that I participate with. I need to see that at all times in order to understand better this mystery that inwardly forms me. I myself, and my life, belongs to this energy, which forms the soul — quite exactly, in this case. And if I do not "lose" my life, if I don't reject it first in favor of the soul, the soul disappears.

 The last phrase in this particular quote from Christ is perhaps the most poignant.

What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

 This can have several different meanings, which I will investigate as we move onward through these posts.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A critical mind, part I

Detail from The Hermit Saints 
by Hieronymus Bosch

If you have not by nature a critical mind your staying here is useless.

—G. I. Gurdjieff, Views from the Real World, aphorism 27

Back in December I mentioned the idea of having a critical mind.

This idea is interesting to me, because Gurdjieff himself said that for those who did not have a critical mind, attempting inner work was, essentially, useless.

 If we turn to the Oxford English dictionary, we discover that critical means, first and foremost, given to judging; especially given to adverse or unfavorable criticism, fault-finding, censorious. (The quote is exact.) Given the precision with which Mr. Gurdjieff usually chose his words, we realize that he was suggesting we have to reject things. In point of fact, we have to judge and reject things first, which is more or less — we might think — an unloving action.

Why on earth would he suggest that?

 The question is of great interest to my inner process and my state of Being. As I am, I'm gullible. I believe just about anything that comes along, especially if it tickles my emotions in the right way. This is true of everyone, and applies to nearly everything. What I believe in first and foremost is materiality and the material world. If I examine this carefully, and understand the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg — who had a very good grip indeed on this particular problem and man's relationship to it — I see that this coerces my entire being, from the beginning, to believe in what he called a naturalistic explanation for everything. That is, instead of being in immediate and direct relationship to a divine energy, the inward flow of that energy, and understanding all of the world in relationship to the hierarchy I find myself in, I take the things around myself for granted, and think that the point of life lies in the material substance of things, rather than the divine inspiration which creates them.

If we turn to Ibn al Arabi and Meister Eckhart, we find that they have exactly the same understanding. No surprises there; for every human being who achieves a proper critical insight understands that we must reject the world and the things in it in order to understand things from a different and higher point of view. This rejection comes in terms of an attitude, an inner position, not an actual and literal rejection.

The rejection is a spiritual rejection.

This is a tricky thing, because unless one comes into relationship with a finer energy, one doesn't know what this is. It's very easy to form a material and literal rejection, which actually represents a form of negativity that is destructive. People confuse this subtle point all the time; and consequently they reject the world in ways that cause endless troubles.

The spiritual rejection — which only the critical mind can produce — represents a positive rejection, that is, a rejection in favor of God, in favor of the higher. The critical mind judges the world first in order that none of it may contaminate the mind, most especially, the mind of the soul. All of the world is rejected up front and at once, so that the soul can then use its intuition and its understanding to accept those parts of the world that are real and true, but only in relationship to their value in terms of understanding God.

One must start out not believing in anything.  Mr. Gurdjieff represented this in all of his actions towards his pupils and the world; in doing so, he represented a genius of a kind that is easily misunderstood, since it was based on demonstration, not intellectual argument.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.