Saturday, April 30, 2016

The kingdom of heaven is within

Pratihara, 10th Century A.D.
National Museum, New Delhi

The kingdom of heaven is an inner kingdom.

Hardly a new idea, Christ explained this several thousand years ago. Yet perhaps I get confused because I think that this refers to a location that is, in conceptual terms, geographic. Yet the geography of the soul is not locational. Not in the sense that we understand the physical world.

The geography of the soul is a geography of influences; we are closer to, or further away, from influences, that is, the kingdom of heaven is determined to a large extent by which influences we are under in an inner sense. So it's a question of state, not of physical location, whether a conceptual physical location or even an actual one (as those who think we rise up into heaven after we die would conceive of it.)

State determines everything; and state can, as anybody knows, undergo transformation, sometimes even within a single instant. The physical world mirrors these truths and establishes them as fundamental; yet they are merely correspondences (that is, physical laws and actions are) and merely serve as faint mirrors of the question of state from a spiritual point of view.

The world is largely composed of materialists. Even those who are professedly spiritual, especially fundamentalists (they are the most materialistic of all) are generally materialists. We all fall prey to this kind of mentality, because our physical body — with all its ironclad limitations — stubbornly insists on materiality, even though it is designed as a receiver of the spiritual. The ironies here are untold; but that's how it is.

So the kingdom of heaven is an inward or inner state; and it is incontrovertibly present within every human being, at all times, because the kingdom of heaven cannot be separated from the material; the material is the final emanation of the kingdom of heaven on the spiritual Ray of Creation — which is a different Ray of Creation than the physical one Gurdjieff mapped out in his teachings with Ouspensky. (There is yet another example of a spiritual diagram which strongly tempts us to think in material terms.)

The abundance, Grace, and Glory in the kingdom of heaven are immeasurable. They exceed all comprehension and descend (there's that erroneous reliance on location again—my bad) into the material as the temporal expression of God's goodness.

Yet God exceeds time. Gurdjieff, in his soliloquy on the creation of the universe, recognizes that. Much can be learned from attempting to understand that God and time are actually opposing forces; there are subtleties here that deserve contemplation.

In any event, the purpose here is to remind us — to remind myself, as is usually the case in these diaries of mine — that the kingdom of heaven is already here. There should be no doubt of this; and there should be trust in God. When we discuss our lack, our lack always locates itself spiritually under the dual influences of the presence of doubt and an absence of trust.

These two factors are what create the tension that blocks us.

 To make the work organic, to develop the sense of the marrow of one's bones, is to transcend the presence of doubt.

This does not by itself guarantee the presence of trust.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Christ Pantocrator
devotional object commissioned for the author

April 15.

For readers, a recent letter to Chantal and our mutual family members:

Dear all,

Contemplating an icon- this icon- as an object of focus for prayer rather than as "art" has raised relevant questions for me about the material as opposed to the spiritual.

We usually see art as an object of one kind or another. And we speak of art largely as a question of aesthetic experience. That is, it comes, as some of us may think, from a higher level (see the below link) and represents ideas about both philosophy, order, beauty. That is to say, at the root of it is more than just an experience of personal pleasure; there is a deeper question about meaning.

The assumptions here are plural; first of all, we presume that the enterprise of art is about meaning; secondly, we presume that the search for meaning can be objectified that is, embodied by an object outside ourselves;third, that it is a worthy and valid enterprise to engage in a search for that meaning, and that the discovery of that meaning has a value to everyone, that is, it is also objective and transcends our egoistic impulse for pleasure alone.

This is perhaps an awful lot to read into the simple act of looking at an icon (or any other painting); yet it is always present within the action. And of course there is more; the complexities of human interaction with art and objects have many layers.

Taking these complicated questions into account, the simple fact is that one looks at an icon and thinks to oneself (mechanically, of course) "Oh, what a lovely piece of art." In other words, the first reaction people usually have to religious icons is that they are a form of art; and that they are "nice." [Except for those who have a demonic objection to religion, as Swedenborg would have explained it.] 

I'm sure Chantal has spent many years hearing such things about her icon painting; and if I know her –  based on my own feelings about such kinds of praise – it probably makes her cringe, since she understands that the enterprise involves "something else" much greater than how good the skill is or how "nice" the image looks.

There's an inherent difficulty here, because the icon was not created for that purpose. It's a focus for spiritual effort, that is, a material object that is meant to temporarily– that is, within time —help concentrate spiritual essence within the action of inner work. There are cosmological dimensions to that action that I can't discuss here since it would require several hundred pages. My apologies.

For me, what becomes interesting here is to see that I can't possibly understand how icons which have actually been used for practice — such as the older ones I have — represent far more than the images or the spiritual ideas. Each one has been the focus of an individual human being's spiritual practice and thus stands as an extraordinary record of inner work, which is alluded to by the existence of the piece.

These "real" icons (Icons which have actually been used for their intended purpose) are, in other words, representatives of sacred being-effort by proxy. The inner work, which took place in time (not in heaven, which has no time) has acquired a marker in the material world; and we are unable to evaluate the meaning of those markers at all unless we also engage in the same kind of effort, at which point we discover that icons have a purpose and a meaning which is entirely different than what the world of art is all about.

This is a tricky thing. It doesn't devalue art. Or the related enterprises of appreciation. It does tell us that "art" isn't the same as what icons are, and that we are mistaken to see them as such. They represent an elevation from the level of the search that art proposes— which is an outer and more material one — to an inner search of a more subtle and refined variety. When we encounter an icon, we're leaving art behind. One might say that all art of the sacred isn't art anymore; in fact, it wasn't art in the first place. This is especially true of icons; but it raises major questions about the difference between secular art, which has only temporal value, and spiritual art, which has eternal value, that is, a value that lies outside time. This is a question which I think Meister Eckhart would have well understood.

This suggests that when we look at an icon which has been used for its proper purpose, we need to use our powers of respect first, and only then our powers of appreciation; whereas with art, generally speaking, one begins with one's powers of appreciation and then, maybe, has respect.

All of this around about commentary on the difference between the spiritual and the material which Chantal mentions.

The teacher must become Christ. This was the meaning of Mr Gurdjieff's "Christmas present" offer to his followers on Christmas Eve as reported by Louise March and, eventually, presented in Frank Sinclair's book "Without Benefit of Clergy." We can acquire teachers in life, that is, other human beings, and if we are fortunate, eventually we will learn that every human being is actually a teacher if we understand that question properly. Yet all of them are proxies for Christ. This does indeed have something to do with the Holy book Christ is holding in this icon: 

"Love one another as I have loved you."

The material, in all of its forms, always serves as a proxy for the divine.

We can't "be" conscious, but consciousness can become a vehicle for expression of divinity.

This article sheds a bit of objective light on that:

I could say a great deal more about the difference between our perception about what comes from a higher level (see the first paragraph) and what actually comes from a higher level. For example, anything we can think of does not come from a higher level, but is already a proxy. Once something has identifiably embodied the name of God, it has already moved into the material.  The layman's way of putting this would be that once you can think of it, it isn't God, which relates powerfully to the via negativa. Meister Eckhart explained it by saying that people want to see God the way they see a cow.

We are all herdsman.

 This outlines the extraordinary difficulty of coming to anything spiritual, since we inevitably come to it from a lack, that is, a fundamental deficiency that arises once the conceptual mind enters the picture. Our lack begins with our conceptual framework. I'm not sure anyone in our work has discussed how this particular question relates to Madame's admonition to see our lack. this is another subject that deserves a book rather than a paragraph.

With love and warmth to all of you,


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Remorse for one's parents

Sphinx capital, National Museum
New Delhi

Not long ago, the question came up of what Gurdjieff meant by “remorse for one's parents.” There is, after all, a movement by this name. 

The sensation of remorse, including that of remorse of conscience, is closely related to the Sorrow of His Endlessness. The Creator is not only endless; He is endlessly sorrowful. 

We're collectively invited to share this burden which, as I have pointed out many times, is one of the greatest aims and responsibilities one might undertake in spiritual effort. Even the Creator feels remorse; and when we take on remorse for ourselves, we mirror that suffering and take on suffering on His behalf.

 Gurdjieff pointed out many times that our parents, for us, are God. Because of this, our relationship between our parents and ourselves— which is a natural, or earthly relationship —is a perfect mirror, on this level, for our relationship between ourselves and God, which is spiritual. In this sense, remorse for our parents represents the taking on of the sorrow of our parents.  

It does not mean that we have remorse for them,  that is, that we feel remorseful towards them. It means we have remorse on their behalf, that is, we take on a portion of their suffering as our own. 

This action forms deep inward bonds of both natural and spiritual community, acknowledges our inward and outward obligation to parenthood and our specific parents, and reinforces the great line of continuity which Mr. Gurdjieff emphasized so many times in his teaching — and it turn recurrence, from generation to generation, of a spiritual obligation which must be shouldered without flinching.

When we take on remorse for our parents, we therefore suffer on their behalf. We are engaged, on this level, in exactly the same work — one might call it a practice or preparatory work — that we are called on to undertake spiritually in terms of the Sorrow of His Endlessness. It is, as Swedenborg might put it, a type of correspondence: remorse for one's parents on this level inwardly forms material in us that is capable of better understanding the aim of work on the spiritual level.

The principle is really quite simple. I could explain it more, but I think I have said enough here for readers to properly understand the question with a bit more pondering. I would just like to remind everyone that this question has to be  understood organically, and in a three-centered Way, not just with the mind. Remorse for one's parents, just like taking on a burden of sorrow for God, must first be understood with all three centers if the higher centers are to participate at all.

  To put it in expressly Catholic and Episcopal terms, it is meet and right and our bounden duty to at all times and in all places take up suffering on behalf of others; especially those who, because of infirmity, disability, or any other kind of inability, can only suffer unconsciously within themselves for what they are. 

The action of humility and compassion is, in its most essential nature, to take on the suffering of those individuals who are unable to to suffer so that we can lighten their burden. This is a real form of  intentional suffering.

Gurdjieff was once asked, “Mr. Gurdjieff, how do you love someone who is stupid?”

 Mr. Gurdjieff paused for a moment and replied: 

"Love is that.”


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Morality and denial

Mohini (female representation of Vishnu)
National Museum, New Delhi, India

 This question of awareness and morality leads me to the observation — the conviction — which I have had for some time that all of us are morally compromised in one way or another.

Our moral compromise always lodges itself in a firm denial which insists that, one way or the other, we are right to be the way we are, or that there is some excuse for it.

Although some might think I have some minor authority on this, that, or the other thing, I'm not at all sure that's the case; I generally feel much more than inadequate on any given subject, when I see the scope of what is required for a real understanding. I do, however, have some considerable authority on denial, since I am a recovering alcoholic and have seen it in such detailed operation in an addiction environment.

Almost everyone suffers from denial in one or another area of their lives, and its most salient feature is the certainty that one is not in denial. We are, in a word, delusional about ourselves; that's the gist of it. We are reminded of it every time a famous person like Dennis Hastert (Republican House Speaker in the United States) is outed for grave moral misdeeds committed earlier in their life; in his case, sexual misdeeds. Because sex is such a common piece of territory to err in, many of us have misdeeds of one kind or another buried somewhere in our sexual past; it's a complicated and tragic question which nearly always renders women or younger persons the victims in one way or another. That's a question for another essay; but for readers determined to ponder this more, read Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree.

 The point I am trying to make here is that we are all compromised in one way or another; everyone is, indeed, a sinner. The function of denial is to rationalize sin in one way or another, instead of suffering it. Modern society has advanced the cause of denial a thousandfold; the culture of self-indulgence encourages us to manufacture excuses and forgive ourselves for our transgressions. Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't find forgiveness for ourselves as well as others; but this does not mean we should not ponder the gravity of our error, which is an enterprise that ought to be forever undertaken if one wishes to gain spiritual perspective.

How are we, really?

 When I hear of others who are outed, or punished, for misdeeds, I always say to myself these days, "there but for the Grace of God go I." This, of course, is what alcoholics say when they see another alcoholic; but it ought to be, I think, what we always say when we see another human being, no matter who they are or what their condition is. We are all in this sorry state together; and compassion and mercy, while emphatically the property of God, can nonetheless be borrowed—as best we can—for our treatment of fellow men and women.

 If one is in denial, of course, one has no need to employ such tools. After all, there is no need to exercise remorse if one is unwilling to see the sin.

 One of the values of my practice of self observation, of attempting to see how I am and who I am, over these many years, has been to at least obtain some clarity over the nature of my denial. It requires a willingness to be truthful about who and what I am, and enough compassion for myself to forgive myself, even as I truly experience the remorse for what I am. It becomes, with time, a most organic process.

 If Meister Eckhart were still alive today, he might tell us that our sin is sent to help us; that it is good for us, because it helps us see who we really are.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Awareness and morality

Reclining Nude
Lee van Laer 2016

Today, I'll be presenting my monograph on the question of objective conscience at the all and everything conference in Salem, Massachusetts.

I wrote the monograph last year, and it turned out to be an unwieldy thing, nearly 11,000 words long — objectively impossible to boil down into a 20 minute presentation. I have settled for something that captures the spirit and essence of the subject, but does not express the academic detail in the paper.

While contemplating the subject, I realized that what we think of as conscience in English is thought of as consciousness in most Latin languages. That is to say, what is objective is an awareness, not a morality. It's important to distinguish between the two.

Awareness has the potential to be moral — in fact, morality is inherent to awareness — but morality need not be aware. That is to say, morality can function on a mechanical level. This is the downfall of radicalism and fundamentalism: both of these attitudes create a mechanical morality that relentlessly expresses itself regardless of circumstance. Western readers in general may recognize the disastrous process of Islamic terrorism as representative of this; American readers may think of anti-abortion constituencies, with their insistence that even a raped child should be forced to give birth to the baby. In both cases, the morality is a morality with a logic to it, but it is an unaware morality that imposes itself upon society without any conscious understanding of the consequences. I believe we can agree that any morality that destroys others merely in order to impose itself is a very questionable enterprise.

Readers should remember that the reason Gurdjieff stressed consciousness over every other quality in man is because that awareness alone allows a real morality to emerge. That is to say, any enforced morality that is written in Scripture, but not lived within conscious practice, will inevitably turn into a hateful thing that oppresses those who attempt to employ it. This has been  seen so many times in history it hardly bears mentioning.

One of the concerns that occurs to me today is the question of consciousness versus morality within my own inner being. There's no doubt that I have been raised with a wide range of moralities; they apply to all kinds of behavior. Financial, sexual, intellectual, religious, and so on. Like all other human beings, in one way or another, I've agreed to sign on to these moralities; but I don't always live up to their mechanical operation, that is, no matter how many rules I am given to follow, I inevitably break some of them. Everyone around me does the same.

So, I see that our inward moralities are unconscious, not conscious.

What has interested me for many years in relationship to the pursuit of awareness of a higher energy from within being is the absolute and incontrovertible fact that an awareness of this kind brings with it an unwritten, unspoken, and undefined morality that is nonetheless precisely and comprehensively compassionate. It's only with the presence of this energy that there is anything truly compassionate in me; and when it is not present, I clearly see the operation of the morality machine, along with all of its contradictions.

It becomes quite interesting to watch the machine in operation, because it routinely makes emphatic proclamations on situations and people that are not compassionate and that are not moral. Once one knows the difference, one is attuned to seeing it more readily in ordinary operation of awareness. The morality machine makes these proclamations with the absolute assurance that they are right. It may even be correct; but it is mindlessly correct.

That in itself raises the question of whether it is possible to be mindfully incorrect; and if so, whether or not that is better.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Birman Totem Mask

Birdman totem mask
Lee van Laer 2016


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Suffering and The Perfection

Venugopala (form of Krishna Playing the Flute)
Late Chola, 12th century A.D.
National Museum, New Delhi
Photograph by the author

The Perfection is a Grace sent to help us develop understanding. 

It's a rare thing to experience the Perfection, because to do so for more than a few moments is overwhelming. Our organism isn't designed to receive God's Glory in this way for any extended period of time.

The Perfection exists at a level so far above our own that to contact it for anything more than brief moments is, on our own level, basically unlawful. Now, through Grace and Mercy, God may offer glimpses of the Perfection in order to remind us of His Glory. Yet this only happens after long periods of suffering on His behalf, and is sent strictly to remind us of His infinite Grace and compassion.

The Perfection can't be described in words, so it's not really possible to transmit the exact nature of it. An encounter with the Perfection is unmistakable. Those who are fortunate enough to experience it know at once exactly what it is, since it transmits its own nature purely and perfectly at the instant of its arising, which is infinitely Graceful.

The most compelling feature of the Perfection is its ubiquity. It 's ever-present and ever-active. All things arise from it, consist of it, and perpetually dwell within it; even, paradoxically, all of that which appears to us to be coarse and low, fallen or evil. The Perfection is all-encompassing; this is a Great Mystery, eluding the collective rational ability of all comprehending minds. 

That in itself is yet another demonstration of God's Glory; the Perfection emanates perpetually and directly from God's own heart of hearts.

The Flower Ornament Sutra is a document whose entire purpose was, originally, to describe the Perfection; while it may seem to us repetitive and long-winded (it is) the exhaustive descriptions make no perceptible mark worth noting in relation to the full scale of the Perfection, which effortlessly surpasses even an infinite amount of additional books just like it. 

The character of effortlessly surpassing is the essential character of the Perfection, which can be applied to all objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. Existing in this and every instant with them, all across every universe, the Perfection effortlessly surpasses all universes. 

In Buddhism the term Dharma is used; it means, in essence, truth, yet even truth is effortlessly surpassed, since truth is merely a pale reflection of the Perfection.

We suffer inwardly in order to prepare ourselves for the Perfection. The reason for this can only be understood through the suffering itself, which organically and wordlessly prepares us for the Perfection; which, like the inner work that precedes it, cannot be put into words. One could say it emerges from silence, but it also effortlessly surpasses silence, both before and after its arising.

Every angelic visitation, from whatever level, contains elements of the Perfection, although it may not be completely expressed. The mystery is only unveiled to the precise extent necessary under any given set of circumstances. Often the Perfection is revealed without the tangible presence of angels, as they are not necessary for its manifestation; it effortlessly surpasses the angelic kingdoms.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The life of the soul itself

There is an endless abundance that flows from the Lord which is expressed in all His creation.

We are within this abundance even as you read this, although perhaps it is just a proposition, hypothesis, or an idea for us, and we can't sense or feel it. 

Yet that abundance is eternal and real and we are able, through prayer and sacrifice, to open our hearts and souls to that abundance in such a way as to directly participate. I say this because it is true, not some thing one reads in books, imagines, or merely wishes for. 

Never doubt it.

Every human being ought to rightly turn all their efforts towards this inward opening, since there can be no greater gift in life than this life of the soul itself. In righteousness, we strive to know within the very marrow of our bones that such a thing is possible. 

This was called magic in the old world; but it is the true magic, the inner magic, not the nonsense magic of events and things in the outer world. That kind of magic, even when it happens, is a false magic and a worthless one when compared to the magic of the soul itself.

This true magic of the soul which is sent by the Lord is the transformation of the lead of our lives (an honorable but base metal) into the gold of the kingdom of heaven. 

One taste of this kingdom is worth a thousand lives; after such a taste, one knows the Glory of the Lord directly, and there is no other knowing needed.

I can't describe what one pays for this because it is so deeply inner; but while it costs all we are, it is well worth the price, and one pays willingly—even eagerly. The Perfection is at hand then; and the Perfection migrates from an outer circumstance which we participate in into an inner one where we are allowed, through Grace, to dwell.

 All the psalms are about exactly this abundance and this inward transformation of abundance. Did you know that? It's true; but they are just pale mirrors of the abundance of the Lord.

One might think there are better things than this in life, but that isn't so.

Take heart, then, and know that the Lord is with you.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Anti-egoistic suffering

Lee van Laer 2016

April 7, India

Here in one of the principal countries of my many lives, I've been prompted to contemplate the nature of inward and outward suffering, which I fear isn't very well understood; this by way of adepts under the influence of personal Graces which even they themselves often can't see. Old souls often shine, in a given lifetime, past the limits of their own vision; and through Grace one is sometimes a beneficiary of such light. I know one such individual here, and her presence has been very feeding during this trip.

It's easy to talk about suffering; much more difficult to understand it, and even yet more difficult still to understand it organically, which is actually the principal aim of the Gurdjieff work. One can adopt countless aims on the way to this point of work, but for those who work, if the question is properly understood, there is no other valid inner destination.

In order to undertake such inner work it might perhaps be best to forget everything one knows, or ever thought one knew, about suffering, because it is not really useful in understanding what it means from a spiritual point of view. It is not at all what the mind can think of, because it is a fully three centered activity, absolutely reinforced by the higher centers. 

Without their participation it remains ordinary.

Gurdjieff understood such suffering in a different and more radical and fundamental way than any other recent teacher, and even those who study his ideas have, for the most part, a theoretical or general idea of what he meant by the term or the practice. Outside the Gurdjieff work the term is even less understood, to the point where in many works folk pointedly think the aim of inner work is (ultimately) to NOT suffer. 


Inward suffering needs first to become organic; then spiritual. In order to become organic, a foundation of sensation needs to be created. This organic sensation—which is acquired, as Gurdjieff explained, by the coating of inner parts (a physical alchemy of cellular and molecular transformation)—lays the basis for the receiving of other higher substances, all sent through Grace. All of this work can be prepared for by personal effort; but none of it can be initiated or continued without Grace, which is why both Gurdjieff and de Salzmann reminded pupils that help has to be called for. 

All preparation, in fact, consists of calls for help of one kind or another, although it may not look that way to the uninitiated. Movements, prayer, and self observation; all issue subtle calls to the the astral presences able to transmit Grace, and (one hopes) we eventually attract their attention. 

One moves through the realm of sensation by way of the deeper absorption of impressions, which lead to a foundation able to receive higher substances. Those substances may bring periods of bliss; but the entire aim of coating being-parts with such substances is to increase the organism's ability to experience conscience and remorse of conscience—that is, to take on even more inward suffering. 

Not bliss.

Over time, such inward suffering comprehensively limits the action of ego and prepares the ground for actual experiences of organic compassion. We're not done yet, because this form of compassion brings the capacity for even more suffering; and it is in these places that the action of higher centers begins to touch us.

Most folk I know generally understand this idea of suffering as a bad thing; right away, when I attempt to explain suffering, they start to try and argue it away in one way or another, under the assumption that to suffer is painful. 

Yet this is to understand the question from the point of view of egoistic suffering, which is the suffering we generally understand in ordinary life. That's painful, all right; and one cannot be blamed; there is, after all, no other point of reference under ordinary conditions. 

Yet the suffering I speak of is what one might call anti-egoistic suffering, since it consists entirely of doing precisely what Gurdjieff spoke of when he said we must take on a portion of the suffering of His Endlessness, that is, God.

It's our sacred Being-duty to perpetually perform this task, regardless of external circumstances or needs. It is, in fact, a great reward and privilege which one learns to earnestly seek once one has had the taste. 

Suffering of this kind is the sweetest food ever eaten; manna from heaven, and Grace to undertake it.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

april 14

Ship of Fools
 Hieronymus Bosch

April 3, New Delhi

Neal and I saw the Hieronymus Bosch show on April 1 in Den Bosch, the Netherlands. I can't imagine a more appropriate day — April Fools' Day. More than a few of Bosch's paintings remind us of what fools we are, and the first painting in the exhibition is — for those of you who have not already guessed — the Ship of Fools. This constitutes one of Gurdjieff's notable coincidences, if anything does.

 Bosch had an outsized impact on the art not only of his own generation, but future ones, and its reverberations echo down through the current day.  Those in the know sense this almost instinctively. The show is, as it happens, completely sold out, and the museum has added extra hours to accommodate the crowds. One can only imagine the sensation this show would have caused had it been in a major museum in, for example, New York City, such as the Metropolitan. We are all attracted to mystery; yet we forget that we live in the midst of it, and that life itself, as it is lived today, is the great mystery. Bosch managed to bring that across his paintings in a way that no other painter ever has.

 The show is in large, dark rooms, filled with crowds; the paintings are individually lit so that they gleam like small, colorful gems emerging from the darkness. One can't help, after visiting the show, but have the impression that the crowds viewing the paintings are much like the hapless souls that hover in the darknesses and peripheries of Bosch's infernal landscapes: attracted to light, but at the mercy of forces greater than themselves. Emerging into the daylight of the small town of s"Hertogenbosch, with the bright, expansive evening sky of a spring in the Netherlands above us, I was left with the same taste I had when I first saw the Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado in Madrid at the age of nine: a taste of other worlds. One thing that truly struck me after the show is that it is nearly impossible to understand Bosch's paintings unless one has read Emmanuel Swedenborg's books; so much of his imagery is drawn from the same revelatory sources that informed Swedenborg's writing. It's striking that this hasn't been more directly recognized — perhaps that is because, unlike Dante's Divine Comedy and Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell, the world has come extraordinarily late — if it has come at all — to the realization that these paintings represent a body of works of revelation, not just invention.

The day when that is more fully understood will come.

 Flying to India on business immediately after the show, I am, as ever, struck by the nature of our helplessness. We think we have agency; but that same agency, that belief in ego and our ability to do, is such a tiny and temporary thing when measured against time and the universe, our attitude towards life and ourselves is inexplicable. Once one weeds out the work by followers and imitators, and the work whose conceptual foundations had input from apprentices, the entire body of work by Bosch challenges our assumptions about everything.

What has value, he argues, is that core spark of divinity that lives within the essence of every human being as an objective form of consciousness, or conscience. (Readers may be aware that I am going to do a presentation on this subject at the All and Everything conference in Salem, Massachusetts on April 21.) We are all divinely inspired by that spark; but we are, to the last one of us, not responsible to it in the way we ought to be.

 This weighs on me continually in the form of remorse, which is a burden that weighs more as one grows older.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Exuberant Nude

Exuberant Nude
Lee van Laer 2016


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Help from the sun, part III

Lee van Laer 2016

 So, a little bit more on my observations about the sun.

 As I was saying in the last post, we seek to come under higher — in our own case, in this solar system, solar — influences when we work. 

In order to do this, we must first lay a firm foundation of sensation planted in lower influences within us. Both feet on the ground, as the saying goes. Then we're in a position of stability from which we can receive something higher. 

All of the many things said about the inward center of gravity are about this stability and the need to locate oneself within it. That action itself, more than many others, becomes strongly dependent on influence from the sun, since the help from the sun powerfully magnifies our inward center of gravity and helps to align it with a polarity that imparts verticality to our inward structure.

Those who understand what I am speaking of here ought to, if they're more interested, spend some time correlating the manifestation of the inward sense of gravity with solar flares. Every time the inward sense of gravity suddenly and most powerfully magnifies itself and creates this alignment which can come to be so known so well, take a look at current activity on the sun. You'll find that almost without exception, every solar flare powerfully produces and deepens the inner gravity of sensation of Being at the instant that it arises; and, in fact, that most sunspot activity in general produces energy that feeds one's inner growth of Being. Coronal holes have a slightly different but corresponding effect; filaments likewise.  The action is attractive and progressive, because once one has gold, one can get more gold. This is one of the most essential and esoteric secrets of alchemical teachings: "gold" is the material—the substance—from the sun.

I've been observing this inward action and tracking its correspondence to this activity for some number of years now. At first it astonished me; now, I simply remain fascinated, but above all, grateful.

This interesting phenomenon was well known to ancient peoples who had no idea of the instrumentation we deploy today in our effort to understand the sun. In those ancient cultures, the level of work within schools was high enough that people acquired an understanding of where these energies came from without needing to resort to technology; and Gurdjieff brought us this understanding because he himself already was, as he used to say, "in the solar energy business."

I'm not quite sure exactly how much Jeanne de Salzmann understood of this matter, as it pertains to our dependence on solar assistance. A great deal, perhaps; yet I don't see a precise clarity in her texts on sensation, and those who I work with closely — many of whom worked with her very closely for many years, even as family members — don't have many stories about her speaking about this. It seems the technical understanding may help some people who feel her instructions are difficult to penetrate, if only by linking various materials in Ouspensky's writing, and Beelzebub's Tales, to this overall question of work with sensation. Although it manifests within us, of course, as strictly and deeply personal —  as it should, as it must — it is a cosmological function of which we are all small parts. 

Understanding the machinery may help us to avoid grinding some of our inner gears as we attempt to see how we fit into the picture.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Man and Woman

Man and Woman
Lee van Laer 2016


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Help from the sun, part II

Woman with ancient ritual object
Lee van Laer 2016

 I'm sure there are those who will find the juxtaposition of this casual and frivolously upbeat drawing with a serious subject jarring; but I set this post template up some time ago and I think that the juxtaposition offers a lighthearted counterpoint to the gravity of our discussion, so I'm going to leave it as it is.

Coming back to chapter 113 in The Reality of Being, a bit more now about the nature of the organic sensation of Being and its place in our work.

 Readers may recall a recent essay about the nature of lunar influence and the relation of moon to sensation. This is quite important, and I've written about it in a number of different essays which are probably worth searching for throughout the blog over the decade I've been writing it. But we'll come today to a more specific understanding about the role of the sun in relation to this question.

In pondering  The Substance of "I", a reader may get the impression that it's possible for us to do some kind of special work of our own whereby we can concentrate, manipulate, or deposit this subtle energy to coat our being-body parts using our own agency.

While there is some truth to this, one must recognize our limitations; we can't do much, because we are untrained, insensitive, and more or less helpless. The essential and absolutely vital action of seeing this — our lack — is one of the most important tasks we undertake, because it helps soften our egoistic belief that we are in control of everything and will do this and that to develop ourselves in an inner way. You may take note, if you will, of how often spiritual practice pitches itself to the idea that God is in charge of everything, yet then subtly and secretly tilts itself towards the idea that one can control everything and carefully guide the ship into port. It happens everywhere; ego always makes its most comfortable nest in the midst of professions of humility.

 The substance, the material, which is under discussion here is a fine substance that is extracted from the air; this is explained in In Search of the Miraculous (see chapter 9.) De Salzmann alludes to this indirectly in her piece, when she cites the importance of an attention to breathing; but the critical role of the sun is not discussed.

Solar influences play an essential role in our ability to undertake this kind of work. The sun is constantly radiating and emanating various higher energies which reach the planet in a number of different forms. Each one of them has a specific and law conformable action on the atmosphere of the planet which directly affects the ability of human beings to conduct an inner work in conformity with higher principles. Almost all of these energies will help a human being to work more intensively if they are sensitized to it; but all of them are useless without a corresponding sensitivity, and some can even be damaging, as Gurdjieff explained in his discourse on solioonensius.

This is not a theoretical matter, and it's quite important to understand it from a practical point of view, lest one think that all moments are equal when it comes to work, or that all possibilities are always available. The rhythm and cycles of our inner work are strictly dictated by the availability of energies from the sun; they do not arise because we make "super-efforts" or pay much better attention. We can do those things, true; but they are useless if applied at the wrong time. It is like a swimmer at the mercy of strong currents; one has to learn to swim with the current, not against it, and to know which currents are present and the directions they are running in. So there are times when work is much more possible, according to laws governed by the solar influence, and times when it is much less possible.

I've spent a lifetime watching people blame themselves for not working hard enough, typically unaware of the influence the sun has on them. It's important to understand that we seek to come under higher influences, and that in doing so, we have to understand that they have their own direction, their own intensity, and a rhythm and timing that does not belong to our own preconceptions.

 More on this in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Woman in Grey Robe

Woman in Grey Robe
Lee van Laer 2016


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Help from the sun, part I


Lee van Laer, 2016

I see from my work with others that there's a great deal of confusion and a lack of understanding about the precise nature of organic sensation, the sensation of Being, and ordinary sensation, which is a quite different thing.

I'll do my best to offer my own experience to readers so that they can gain a more precise understanding, if only in the mind, for now.

Everyone should understand first that ordinary sensation arises in and of the body. It belongs to the body, and it has an exponentially lower rate of vibration than the organic sensation of Being. There is another critical difference; ordinary sensation of the body is always passive — even if I engage it and work with it — and the organic sensation of Being is active. That is because ordinary sensation is mechanical, and the organic sensation of Being is conscious. The organic sensation of being is a conscious manifestation at the lowest levels, the foundation, of Being itself.

In order to understand this better, one needs to understand the exact location that the organic sensation of Being occupies in what we call the Ray of Creation, which reproduces itself quite precisely in humanity in a miniature form. The organic sensation of Being is the awakening of the lower octave, the one underneath humanity, whose material representatives are atoms, molecules, and, in direct contact with the microcosmos, cells. Those interested in biology will note that cells work directly with molecules — this is a bridge between the active and conscious organic life of the microcosmos directly below us, and the mechanical (relatively speaking) action of the physical world.

In any event, the organic sensation of Being is an active force that awakens, of itself, not a passive force I work with. I need to work very intimately and quietly and in great detail within myself to begin to taste the action of this force.  This force is founded on a substance that arises actively; Jeanne de Salzmann offers a detailed description of it in The Reality of Being, # 113: The Substance of "I." I won't quote it here; readers should become responsible to look at it for themselves.

 In this chapter, which is assembled from several different groups of notes in her diary, she makes a number of important points about understanding and working with the sensation, but one can't understand anything she's saying unless one understands the specific distinction between these two forms of sensation.

The organic sensation of Being arises at the exact point where the ordinary sensation of the body and the ordinary existence of the body touch the octave below us, which is a critical point of transmission. That point within Being, which bridges mechanical physical and subtle spiritual forces, is where being flows downward to give life to the octave below it; and this is what one feels when one feels the organic sensation of Being: the flow of that force or energy, which is material. Now, she talks a good deal about "how" to work with that energy; and while everything she said is excellent, one ought to remember that one has to discover one's own understanding of this work, and follow the laws, logic, dictates, and intuitive action of the energy as it arises within oneself. Merely aping her own method of working is not enough, and may lead a person to attempt to force the action rather than to work properly on their own.

It is not an imitative work.

Therefore I will not give instructions on how to work with this energy, although there are ways other than the ways she describes.

In the next essay, I'll talk a little bit more about this subject.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Easter Bunny

Easter Bunny

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, April 6, 2016

Where we exist first

The Girl Goes Bold

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

Everyone ends up, at one time or another in life, having to cope with depression of some kind. It's normal. Depression is an odd thing; I have friends who are engaged in epic, heroic — no exaggeration — struggles with destructively dysfunctional children, who somehow manage to keep their chin up and be positive, and know others who become deeply depressed for no apparent reason. Depression is a paradox that draws a red line through everything, a line that irrationally bisects life as it meanders between events.

Andrew Solomon — a man whose book Far From The Tree simply must be read! — recounted his experience of this in the noonday demon.  His thoughts on the matter are far-reaching. Yet an encounter with this experience may take on a different color for those engaged in the act of inward observation and an effort to cultivate one's soul, one's essence.

I generally get depressed at this time of year. Knowing that it is cyclical, and that there is a seasonal aspect to it, I do have the chance to prepare; and that has at least armed me to cast a more clinical eye on the nature of my negativity as it arises. I've noted years ago that I am always most negative in the morning, before my centers establish a harmonious rhythm and speed between and one another; and it is at this time that paranoid, negative thoughts — each one a separate person who wants to impose a dark interpretation of life — compete within the associative part of my mind for supremacy. It's really quite remarkable how creative these paranoid negative thoughts are. One wonders which dark crevices of the soul harbors such fears. Yet there they are; undeniably a part of me, and if I don't have a part of myself that sees them from inside myself, yet outside themselves, I think that they are who I am.

This is the great danger. When I think that my negative parts are who I am, when I identify with them — that is, I become them, instead of seeing them as things that arise in me— They acquire the weight of truth. This is quite normal in human beings, and almost all of the negativity we see expressed in today's society and today's politics — 99.99% of it, in point of fact — emerges from exactly this phenomenon. Almost everything we fear is imaginary; and yet we buy it, everything, including the postage for the envelope.

Bosch fearlessly delved in to this dark pool of fear in his visions of hell; yet this is an inner restaurant where we serve ourselves, not some external threat to our existence. We ought to become clear—all the real threats to our existence come from inside ourselves,  because that is where we exist first.

 I exist first here, within myself, and I need to see that more clearly. If that means that I come up against my depression as an objective force, rather than just a subjective one, there's the potential to understand it as a passing phenomenon, instead of a permanent state.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Man and Woman in Love

Man and Woman in Love

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.