Sunday, July 31, 2016

The molecular sensation of Being—An emotional comprehension, part I

Mayapple flower, Tallman State Park
photograph by the author

 Our outward being is wrongly formed. Yet we continue to focus our efforts on it.

When I study myself and my relationship, I always find that it is the inward attitude that forms a right connection to the higher energy. This connection can be durable; and if I am attentive and actually willing to submit — as opposed to just talking about it — it will always come and help support my inner effort. This inward sensation of Being, this intimacy, is where all of my potential for real Being lies. Yet I am always looking for relationship outwardly, and always believing that somehow these outward parts, which are grappling hooks designed strictly for engagement with the outer world, will change something for me inside myself.

I don't necessarily see that each of these outward parts has a rigidity to it that does not want to submit. If I really come to an inward relationship with the higher, with God, and allow myself to participate in the inflow, I come under a different influence which can regenerate and reform my inward Being. Although "schools" propose an endless series of exercises, both physical and intellectual, which will help make this happen, in reality all that does is lay a foundation, a groundwork, of preparation. In the end, there has to be an actual act of will, a submission, in which I am inwardly prostrate, humbled, and prepared to receive.

How can that be described? I suppose it can't, really. The action is much closer to what can be produced in prayer than in all the other nonsense conferred upon me by alternate practices. Yet I know that there is a possibility that lies deep within Being, at the core of life, within the torso, that consists of a real feeling of Being. It isn't part of sitting up straight or doing movements; it isn't part of emptying the mind and entering the void. It isn't a silence; it isn't freedom. It is a feeling of Being.

 This feeling part, this part with an emotional comprehension, knows what is necessary in terms of submission in the way that none of the other parts can know it. The mind and the body are missing this capacity; they can play back up, but neither one of them can — nor can the two of them together — come to it on their own.

The idea of regeneration of my inward Being is dependent upon this emotional comprehension and feeling of Being. I must receive this impression more deeply and more often if I wish to Be.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Some comments about time, part III —A call to worship

Lee van Laer
Created on the iPad Pro using procreate

 So what is "missing" from these Eastern energy practices?

Readers should understand that I am not trying to cast aspersions on such practices; I am simply pointing out their relative to larger religious questions, in order (hopefully) to correct some potential misunderstandings about them.

Energy moves in two directions around the enneagram. There is a flow from right to left (clockwise) which is a descending and then ascending movement. There is also a flow from left to right (counter – clockwise), a descending and then ascending movement.

The reasons for this are metaphysically complex and beyond the scope of this essay, but the essential take away for our purposes today is that there is an energy that rises up from the lower octaves — the microcosmos below us — and there is an energy that extends downward from the macrocosmos above us.

 Each of these energies is equally vital to our inward work, and each of them produces unusual and very interesting effects on our Being. Either one of them can act independently; and when it does, remarkable experiences generally ensue. An individual can become attached to either set of these experiences, the upward or downward flow, and believe that that constitutes an end in itself, rather than understanding we are bridges that stand in the middle.

Our bodies are temporary. They are meant to die, and in certain senses, efforts to keep them alive longer than they need to be or ought to be are deeply misguided. Death is not a bad thing, but a good one, and ought to be welcomed by every being that legitimately engages in an inward effort to reach God. We will not, after all, truly reached God until we die; so if we actually want to do that (instead of just talking boldly about it) we had better incorporate this idea of death as a positive thing more deeply into our work from the very beginning.

This energy coming up from below, qi, is essential for our connection to the earth and has extraordinary properties that can help feed the organic sensation of Being. It is, indeed, directly connected to breath (as was elaborately explained in Gurdjieff's conversations with Ouspensky) and has, as I explained earlier, a connection to the formation of the astral body.

This is, however, as anyone who understands at least the theory of such matters knows, one of the lower — in fact the lowest — of the three higher being bodies. The ultimate aim is to begin to receive energy that can feed the growth of the causal and then the mental body.

Of course it's easy to point out that we are getting ahead of ourselves here; yet one does have to point that out, because an excessive focus on the development of the astral body without an understanding of the context in which that occurs can mislead people into excessive amounts of emphasis and focus on fragmentary practice. This kind of fragmentary practice can all too easily become egoistic — it's about me, my energy, my health, and so on. It isn't, in other words, about the surrender that is so essential to inward practice.

 How do I know the difference between the various energies?

The Divine Inflow issues an irrevocable call to worship.

The call to worship is organic, intimate, spontaneous, and ubiquitous.

That is to say:

  • it's deeply grounded in sensation and the energy of the organism; 
  • it's extremely personal and private in nature; 
  • it's voluntary, that is, take place on its own without the interference or manipulation of the mind; 
  • it's found always and everywhere within Being.

 I will always recall my own teacher's attitude towards Tai Chi, Qigong,  and so on. She well understood the difference between these energies and what we attempt to open to in the Gurdjieff work. It's quite true that there is no harm in these energies, and no harm in practicing them; but if one is genuinely committed to Gurdjieff's system, it's imperative one properly understand their context.

This is not the work we are engaged in; mixing it up or confusing it can easily distract us from understanding the full scope of the practice.

 I realize this has taken us a bit far afield from time, but since the last two essays led us here, so be it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Some comments about time, part II — time, re-explained

Lee van Laer 2016
 created on the iPad Pro using procreate

As I said in the last post, one can definitely understand Gurdjieff's comments about time in the context of Meister Eckhart's teachings on eternity — that which lies outside all time and all creation, that is, God — and Swedenborg's principal of the connection to the divine, the inflow.

 The inflow is, of course, quite literally an influence — the direct flow of divine or higher energy into Being. This is not the same as the energy that is acquired through breathing, which the Chinese call qi, and which is actually a lower form of energy connected to the formation of the astral body. Yoga and qigong have a fascination with this energy, which can produce interesting results and allow the manipulation of the physical world (to some extent) but doesn't actually do any of the things people claim it does — you'll notice that people who practice qigong for health and up, pretty much, dying within the same number of years that the rest of us do. It's the same with yoga. Get over it. There are more interesting things to consider here.

The flow of Divine energy into Being is a form of much higher energy. Founded in the organic sensation of being, the inflow nonetheless makes itself possibly only through the action of even higher energies still. This energy is the energy of Divine Love and Wisdom, which flows into the body as the Holy Spirit. It was called prana in the ancient yoga schools, because it is quite literally the force that gives life. We might, technically, understand qi as the energy of the lower octave rising up to meet this energy of the Holy Spirit which descends from above — traditionally represented by a descending dove in Christian painting.

This particular inflow, the inflow of Divine Love and Wisdom, which is what Swedenborg taught about, produces a different set of results, largely centered around emotional suffering (receiving the sorrow of His Endlessness, according to Gurdjieff) and the development of compassionate Being. What is germane to the question relative to our discussion of time is that it arrives from outside of time, that is, it comes from that place which Meister Eckhart would have said is beyond creation. It is, in essence, eternal — so, to the extent it is received, it imparts perceptions of the eternal to the Being that receives it.

While one can easily understand the nature of things from Gurdjieff's chemical factory and the idea that energy with a higher rate of vibration causes a corresponding slowing down of the sense of time, this is a rather technical way of viewing it. Swedenborg's explanation of the inflow and its relationship to the eternal, which we can receive and participate in, is a more tactile perspective on the question, at least in my opinion.

 There are other aspects to this energy that seem to be completely missing from some of the Eastern energy practices such as qigong. More on that in the next essay.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Some comments about time, part I

The various qualities of angelic energy 
are equally expounded in order and chaos
Lee van Laer 2016
Created on the iPad pro using procreate 

 May 12

When we grapple with questions about time, they are often lived on large (for us) scales, involving an effort to comprehend a phenomenon infinitely larger than we are. That is to say, we think about it; and then we succumb to the standard trope of, "oh, wow." That is, the subject provokes superficial emotional reactions of awe and astonishment. This kind of enthusiasm may be touching, but it turns out to be, on the whole, useless. A form of titillation, if you like. Don't think that my dismissal of it implies I don't engage in the same myself. I'm just trying to point out that our attitudes towards this question tend to be formatory.

It becomes more interesting, I think, to examine time within the microcosmic scale of our own experience.

The more one becomes aware of the organic sensation of being, the slower time passes. Now, this is striking, because as one ages, it's generally commented that time seems to go faster for most people, simply because they have lived longer, and every day is an increasingly smaller increment of the totality of their impression of their life. Measured against this totality of life, the individual days seem shorter, because the life as a whole is longer. Or so the idea goes.

Becoming aware of one's organic sensation has the opposite effect. Time slows down, not just a little bit, but a good deal; and one continually gets the impression that a particular day, or even a brief series of events, is taking an extremely long time. Now, that's not an uncommon sensation or perception when one is "bored;" that is, when one has an inwardly uninterested attitude towards life or the immediate events in it. Perceptions of that kind are usually somewhat excruciating; and we're all familiar with them.

Yet the total impression of life as it flows in more deeply creates a quite different impression. The landscape of an individual day seems vast; and because a larger number of impressions are absorbed more deeply, the scale of things affects one more directly. I often have the feeling, during the day and at the end of it, that an individual day has been a very long journey indeed. I just returned from China, having been gone only a scant seven days, and only in-country for five full days. The trip seemed to me to be as long as some of the trips I have taken three weeks to complete. The three-week trips seem to encompass entire lifetimes. Really, the dilation of time has become quite striking for me.

The last time I wrote about this in any detail, I pointed out the universe was created because the conscious-taking-in-of-impressions slows the action of time—a point, of course, made by one of Gurdjieff 's pupils at the end of Glimpses of Truth (in Views From the Real World)—; and thus, in its totality, the relationship of consciousness to the material overcomes the action of time, even though we are too small to see it in its total scale. I still stand by this conclusion; readers who are interested can read the original post on the question here. Yet this is a theoretical position on the question, that does not necessarily illuminate us as to the exact practical nature of taking in impressions in ordinary life, and what our perception of time has to do with it.

 It's interesting, isn't it, that this telling observation is for all intents and purposes the summary of the meeting in the first discourse of that book? Perhaps this is the primary view from the real world — time does not exist. It is, according to Gurdjieff, the "ideally unique subjective phenomenon;" leaving us with little or no doubt that we can indeed perceive it quite differently than we usually do.

The perception of time depends on the development of the inner organism. I could re-explain this in Swedenborg's terms — in fact, I think I will. See the next post.

What I can say for certain, for those of you in this work who have a great interest in inner development of a practical kind, is that impressions can't have any other effect if they fall more deeply into centers. One would need to pick up In Search of the Miraculous and acquire more than a cursory familiarity of the exact processes in the chemical factory in order to understand why this is so; but I suppose that those with less intellectual inclinations would probably be more interested in understanding how one can come to a better direct experience of this question.

 In this case, one comes once again to the question of organic sensation, and an understanding of why de Salzmann spent such a very great deal of time laying a foundation for people to discover an active relationship to this question. Without it, you see, the deeper and more thorough digestion of impressions, with its consequent effect on the inner perception of time, is quite impossible.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The passage to sol

In facing life, I am driven by the force of my ordinary "I," whose very possibility of existing depends on the world that surrounds it. This "I" has a deep fear of being nothing and is afraid of not having security, power, possessions. 

The Reality of Being, P. 69

This passage describes exactly the right hand side of the enneagream, the side of the natural world and personality, where Desire (security), Power, and Materiality (possessions) dominate every inward transaction.

These are the forces that dominate unless we pass to the note sol, which represents Being. And so in essence the entire book is about the attempt to gather enough energy to effect this passage.

In reality, the material in the book is remarkably repetitive. (Not, mind you, in a bad way.) This only becomes apparent when doing analytical readings which involve words searches. In doing this kind of research, one extracts similar passages over and over again in the book and collects them into a single separated document. The content of any text, when highly concentrated in this manner, often reveals both how frequently a particular idea comes up, and how consistent the manner in which it’s expressed is.

The consistency of the material in Mme. de Salzmann’s notes has been remarked on before; Stephen Grant noted to me some years ago how the tone and content off her diaries changed little over the course of the many years she kept them. One could interpret this as a lack of novelty, of new ideas; or of being “stuck” in one place. 

Yet the astute reader—one, that is, who is able to understand the material at a level of depth that moves past rote analysis or simple emotive hero-worship (an ever-present danger with material from teachers)—will know at once that there was a specific aim on the table in de Salzmann’s teaching; and that this aim was very, very specifically focused on two essential points of teaching

1. The need to effect the passage from fa to sol, that is, from the right-hand side of the enneagram  to the left, into Being;
2. The role that sensation plays in the development of real Being.

There are many peripheral observations and insights in her teaching, but these two tasks, which are fundamental to any subsequent inner development, were her main points of work throughout her lifetime. There was little dwelling on intellectual or theoretical material; that was willingly sacrificed in pursuit of this singular effort. 

We may appreciate this better if we remind ourselves that the amount of intellectual and theoretical material that can be developed in relationship to this particular cosmology and its attendant inner work is absolutely vast; folk tend to dive into it and get lost in it, often forgetting to come up for air. 

One might be well served here with the admonition that any exchange that does not keep her two primary principles firmly not only in the mind, but also in the body and the feelings, as one exchanges  is missing the point. The dual aims of organic sensation and the development of Being ought to come first in every instance of inner work, and not be subjugated to the force of discussion of theory.

One last note on this question of the passage to sol.  Readers should take note that Beelzebub's journey to the solar system also represents his passage of the same kind; and Gurdjieff's entire book is actually about this same subject.  

The point may be, in hindsight, an obvious one; but it is essential.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Some thoughts on happiness, part III

Reclining Buddha,  Wat Pho, Bangkok—
his pillow
Photograph by the author

When Gurdjieff wrote about the five obligolnian strivings, he actually described all of the wish – sensations connected with real spiritual happiness. 

 If one engages in all five of the strivings, one discovers happiness; or, rather, one discovers the path towards it, which is in fact different happiness itself flows into us through Grace; and it always takes the form of the sorrow of God. It's connected to what Madame de Salzmann called “a nostalgia for Being;” yet that expression hardly begins to do it justice, even though the longing it embodies is quite correct. 

 One might consider, as well, that one can be unusually happy and joyful inside within the spirit and not at all show this outwardly. This is a common condition within the receiving of Grace; an initiate learns that this condition must be received and valued in secret. As Jesus pointed out, there is much in the way of prayer that needs to be secret; just as Grace and Mercy need to be received, as well, secretly. This is because the outward display and expression of God's relationship to a person almost instantly becomes vanity and attaches itself to every material thing around it.  Hence the reason that a person ought to pray in secret and be rewarded thus in secret. When one receives God’s happiness, that is, when the sorrow enters and one sees the ineffable and immeasurable joy of God's love through that sorrow, one cannot put it on public display. It is a thing without words to begin with; and when God gives us such treasure, we mustn't hang it in the parlor room. There are many ways to express God's gifts and joy outwardly, but all of them consist of establishing ordinary and correct outward conditions of three brained being — that is, performing one's task rightly and treating people decently is already the correct expression. Racing about waving one's hands in the air talking about how glorious God is is just about the wrong thing to do every time. God's glory does not need advertisers.

 Working thus, for many years I've been at a loss of exactly how to explain the question of happiness relative to spiritual development. I have never been happier in an inward sense since I first knew God; yet it's quite likely that my outward parts—which are constrained by law to behave outwardly and are, to a fault, not well aligned with Godly works and Being—don’t always make me appear to be happy. 

Or even nice.

It's quite possible for the inward and outward parts to be in direct contradiction on this subject. One can, for example, be receiving the inward flow of God's divine Grace while one is at the same time outwardly quite angry. This is an important form of work, because one can't understand exactly what one is until one sees these two quite different streams within oneself and begins to understand that it will always be this way.

 This balance of beatific and material influences is exactly what Gurdjieff and de Salzmann called us to. It's definitely different than religions of yogic bliss and inward perfection of Being on earth. It is, in point of fact, decidedly Christian, because you'll notice that Jesus had to endure terrible trials and was not — emphatically not — perceived as some magical, glowing, angelic person by all those around him. His practice was inward; and it took people of commensurate development to see and appreciate that. The reason that there is no tradition of laughing portraits of Christ, or stories about jokes that Christ told, or the drinking parties he hosted, or records of his bloopers, is because his work was not about happiness as we understand it outwardly. 

It was about seeking heaven; and that is not, in the end, not at all about happiness as we generally understand it.

 Readers should be careful not to think that I am in any way against happiness. Even I — shockingly! — act like I am happy from time to time, and also go through commensurate bouts of depression. We're all subject to these laws in an outward sense. 

Yet I feel it's quite important to distinguish between all of these outward activities and the outward influences of life, and an inner relationship that cultivates the higher energy that can receive God's Grace in a very different way, so that our inward appreciation of life —as opposed to outward search for happiness—grows into a quite different creature than our outward one.

Perhaps one might say that on this path, what we need is to let happiness find us—in the way that God intends it—

which is not our way.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Some thoughts on happiness, part II

Reclining Buddha,  Wat Pho, Bangkok
Photograph by the author

Today I'll speak  directly from my own experience on the subject of happiness in some detail.

The sorrow of God is the sweetest and most beautiful substance in the universe. It is not unrelated to Rumi’s “musk,” which can actually manifest as an extraordinary sweet smell (...something like opium, for those of you who know what that smells like) but of an even higher nature and quality, since the sweetness manifests in the organic nature of sensation, not just through the nostrils. 

The sorrow of God is a direct emanation of the love of God. We might roughly formulate it by saying God’s Sorrow + God’s Love = God’s Mercy. The point is that one cannot know real "happiness" until one encounters the organic and emotive experience of this substance, which flows into our Being. While it isn't different, fundamentally, from the "higher energy" that Madame de Salzmann asks us to work to receive, it is of an unusually high order and only long preparation with the initial stages of the energy can prepare us to receive God's sorrow on a more regular basis. 

Even then, it is such a privilege to receive it that it only comes through Grace as God chooses to dispense it. Too much would harm us. That is sure.

 God’s sorrow engenders true happiness within Being

Just how, you might ask, does it do that?

The sorrow offers us material support in our effort to develop and purify our souls so that they're worthy of heaven. Because we should only and forever want strictly and exclusively to develop and purify our souls in this way, if we become rightly aligned (which does not mean we are “developed” or even “good”) we unerringly and organically sense the need to develop in just such a manner. 

Mankind ought to permanently have an organic sensation of wish in this direction—but we don’t. If we did, we would perhaps know true happiness.

True happiness consists of real humility; of an actual sense of who we are and our deficiencies — as opposed to the ridiculous fantasies we all live through for most of our lives. True happiness brings a certain knowledge that heaven exists, and that we are candidates to enter it — but only if we participate in God's true work. 

So true happiness always consists of a striving to reunite with God. 

We can have an untold number of emotional sensations such as love for foods, activities, people, and so on, all of which make us “happy" — or, at least, they do something to us which we "like." (What it likes.) There's nothing wrong with this; and indeed, a life without all of those sensations would be grim indeed. There is nothing wrong with being joyful. That, too, ought to be shared when the energy for it is correct — and even that is a very specific thing when it comes to inner work. 

But all of these emotional sensations are connected to life rather than connected to our work for, and on behalf of, God; and only a real taste of God will awaken us to the nature of God and the true happiness that can only come from an internal, and eternal, effort to reach for heaven.

Real happiness only comes from within the soul and is a gift from God; and real happiness does not resemble what we generally understand as happiness. 

It's quite different.

More on this tomorrow.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Some thoughts on happiness, part I

Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Bangkok
Photograph by the author

Yesterday, I was engaged in various discussions about the nature of happiness with a friend of mine.
First, he cheerily sent me some material from The New Yorker

Now, one of my personal "favorite" articles on the subject— an article about Buddhism—was called "Not For Happiness,” published in Shambala Sun in January 2013. 

Alas. My friend (we'll call him R.) was not at all amused by this fine old article. He found it too grim and unhappy ...might I, ahem, point out he should have been prepared for that, given the title? As is in the way of such things, R. counter-quoted Vivekananda:

"The first sign that you are becoming religious is that you are becoming cheerful.  When a man is gloomy that may be dyspepsia, but it is not religion. To the Yogi, everything is bliss, every human face that he sees brings cheerfulness to him.   That is the sign of a virtuous man.   

What business have you with clouded faces?   It is terrible.   If you have a clouded face, do not go out that day, shut yourself up in your room.   What right have you to carry this disease out into the world?

Anyway, R. and I are both opinionated older white males — already a poisonous combination — and have been engaged in spiritual work for quite some time, so no one should believe any damn thing we think or say. Furthermore, it's very easy for people like us to just slam quotes around. 

Bah humbug, I say.

Instead of further quoting, I thought I'd share some of my own thoughts on the subject with readers.

 Happiness as we generally understand it is a temporary emotional condition. All conditions are, of course, temporary; but I think it's important for us to recognize how ephemeral and connected to material things happiness is. There is nothing wrong with attempting to get it or to have it; but the whole question does not take the nature of spiritual work into account.

 There's a great difference between being materially happy and spiritually happy. I've known many very wealthy people over the course of my life, and I can say with reasonable certainty that not one of them has been even materially happy. It turns out, you see, that no matter how much you have, it doesn't actually make you happy. Not in terms of the soul and spirit, where it truly matters. Happiness related to the left-hand side of the enneagram, that is, higher energy and the inner work of the Spirit, is quite different than material happiness. If one has never experienced spiritual elevation of a legitimate kind, one will consistently mistake material and earthly happiness as being something along the lines of spiritual happiness; but this is not the case. They are very nearly opposite to one another, and as different as night and day. 

 Gurdjieff said (on more than one occasion) that “pleasure is shit.” It belongs to the material world. He consistently pointed us to a much deeper world of the spirit in which we take on a portion of God's sorrow; and this was considered, in his eyes, to be the highest work that we can engage in. Yet without a real taste of this — which is an actual material substance of the spiritual world (yes, I know that's confusing, but there you have it) — one can't understand why sorrow would make one happy.

Nor can one understand why one's aim ought to be to participate in the sorrow of God.

I'll discuss this more in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Worlds and things — To be secure in the Lord, part III

There are Starry Lights of Uncertainty in Her Eyes
 Created digitally on the iPad Pro using Procreate
Lee van Laer, 2016

 So here I am, continuing my Tuesday morning soliloquy of May 10.

 Readers who study The Reality of Being closely will see that the question of coming into relationship with forces — specifically, of course, higher forces, although she often glosses over the fact that we must absolutely and irrevocably also come into an equally sound and grounded relationship with lower forces — is essential to any real understanding of practical work in the moment. Most work in the moment consists of one form or another of dreaming about working. If we learn to see ourselves, we become, I think, quite surprised to see how much of our "work" consists of just this kind of dreaming, if we are honest with ourselves. We think we are serving ourselves a full cask of wine every day, but in fact, we sip a thimbleful if we are lucky.

Coming into relationship with the forces that drive manifestation involve an inhabitation of the material, and an awareness of the way desire and power attempt to shape it. We can only see this if we acquire Being; and then, Being must be purified.

 Readers who doubt that this precisely and exactly recapitulates the entire meaning of de Salzmann's teaching, as it relates to the enneagram, ought to turn back to the link from the last post; and then, most specifically, to her remarks from page 52, where she explains the question of purification, that takes place at the position of the note la, and has an intimate relationship with the question of intentional suffering.

Of course, for those who study the system carefully, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the diagram so precisely reflects her teaching; there you are. How else could it be?

 To me, the biggest question here is how my relationship to this world (and these worlds) I live in and the forces that act both within me and within this world of my life, which is entirely composed of many different forces, can be inwardly formed in such a way that I understand the question of service she so succinctly brings us to. What am I serving? Why should I serve it? I can't know the answer to these questions unless I come into relationship with a higher energy; until and unless I come into relationship with the Lord.

I had an experience related to this seeing of the action of forces within me a week or so ago, before I returned to China on this most recent trip. I was filled with a very helpful energy; and I saw at a certain point that I am secure in the Lord.

 This phrase has a specific inner meaning, and refers to a state in which the molecular and organic inward state of Being has assumed a well ordered, protected, and assured state as the result of help from a higher level. These things do not happen easily or come lightly, and much payment must be offered, many sacrifices must be made, in order to become secure in the Lord; yet if one has this experience, one realizes that all of that payment was nothing in comparison with the support that is sent. We truly do live in a universe of forces; and the love, mercy, and compassion that can come to us in a very material sense is the benefit of our inward religious practice. These are not things one can do anything with; and they are not ideas to impress ourselves or one another. They are just facts of the inner state, in which a person can come to know the infinite love and compassion — the mercy and the intelligence — that all of these forces represent.

 The generosity with which we are formed, the love which inwardly forms us, is what helps us to become secure in the Lord. To the extent that I make an inward effort, so do I become secure in the Lord. There is, in my own experience, no greater privilege than a sensation of this, undeserving as I objectively am.

 I live every day within love, life, and prayer, in the hope that I can come to sense this compassionate action within my Being, and turn myself over to the forces that can help me to purify myself.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Worlds and things — It's not just about the seeing, part II

Some Creatures Have the Golden Eyes of Angels
 Created digitally on the iPad Pro using Procreate
Lee van Laer, 2016

  May 10, Shanghai

I'm thinking a bit more this morning about what I said in the last post: in this way, materiality is a world — desire is a world.

 The word world has Germanic roots, which were a compound that originally meant age of man. We sense here, perhaps, curious sense of the meaning that nods at a lifetime and all that is in it. Yet today, while it has many meanings, it tends to indicate the material universe or all that exists; everything. So if it reminds us of Gurdjieff's famous title, All and Everything, that would be most appropriate.

What is striking me this morning, this very early morning in a hotel room — I am gifted with more than my fair share of those — is that a world is so often seen by us in terms of the things in it. Gurdjieff asked Ouspensky to consider the meaning of the word world at some length; yet what strikes me about the discourse (check the link, which is edited and does not contain the full text on the matter) is how formally the discussion places the word in the context of things. There is, to be sure, some discussion of ideas; and yet we need to turn to Jeanne de Salzmann's much later writings (see the Reality of Being) to understand the absolutely essential role the question of forces plays in the matter of worlds.

 In fact, there is only one world, which is a world of forces. That one world divides itself into the three primary forces, which have various names including the Holy Trinity (which de Salzmann very notably refers to exactly in its religious sense in one of the quotes at the link.) Those forces, in turn, give birth to a subsidiary range of forces according to the law of octaves, creating a fractal universe governed according to the enneagram.

 So when we discuss the word world, applying our conceptual understandings and assigning a wide range of things to that word (yes, even ideas are things) I think we are tempted to forget — no, in fact, we aren't just tempted, we actually forget — that we are always referring to forces here. In our passivity (de Salzmann's word), our sleep (Gurdjieff's word), we fail to observe and participate in the evolution of forces; we don't see where we are.

 This may seem remarkably conceptual and abstract, occupying some lofty piece of intellectual and philosophical territory, but it's nothing of the kind. This action takes place quite directly and organically, even right now, as an intimate relationship — or lack of it — within the body. Being must come into relationship with this question in order to properly understand. One has to inhabit the play of the forces, the world.

 In any given moment, my Being consists of my world — this play of forces. After all the abstractions, concepts, and cosmological correlations are dispensed with, I am in this world of being, and that is the only world there is. It is stuffed full of things in the form of ideas and objects; but it acts only through forces, which are also what give the ideas and objects there being in the first place.

 I had a very practical demonstration of how we can't see where we are in the form of an email from a lovely young woman who has many deep issues it is not my place to resolve for her. She is intensely angry about something that has little or nothing to do with me — at least directly — but when I asked her to attend to responsibility she does objectively have towards me, she could not resist lashing out with a horrid and deeply personal comment about me. There can be no doubt that the comment was meant to be personally damaging in an intimate way.

This comment came from a person who openly posts and professes what a terrifically loving, forgiving person she is. The woman engages in this (to me) embarrassingly public activity constantly  as a kind of personal marketing tool, but is unable to see the spectacular contradiction between what she professes in her mind and in public, and the way she actually behaves. Which is, objectively said, anything but kind and loving and in fact reaches into a kit of intentionally harmful actions whenever she is in the grip of the forces that cause anger.

The incident is illustrative to me in several ways. First of all, I had to be very aware of both comment and the nature of my response, which was very carefully neutralized so as not to attempt to teach or criticize in any way. The temptation to lash out in return was strong; but if I want to understand what world I live in, I must see the play of forces and use intelligence and compassion to restrain the mechanical actions that want to respond equally to bad force when it is directed at me. This is a tough job, as we all know. It can only be conducted if I take some lessons from Madame de Salzmann about seeing where I am inwardly.

That action of seeing is not, after all, just about seeing things and nothing else. If it does not translate into an intelligent perception of where I am, and then into a compassionate attitude — purification through the action of the force of compassion within Being — then all the seeing in the world is absolutely useless and goes nowhere.

 The seeing, you see, has to serve — and it cannot just serve myself (which is the microcosmic application that inner work tends to focus itself down to with the microscope of self observation.)

It must also serve others; and it must serve the Lord.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Through Grace Alone, Part III

Tiger Hill temple, Suzhou

This series of essays on personal inner practice is dedicated to the memory of Rohan Gupta.

I'm often puzzled about why Grace does not fix me or cure me of my sin, that I might better be a good person- or, if not truly good, at least better than I am, for I see most surely that I am not good and not worthy. It strikes me often that God ought to spend His blessings more on those who are the most deserving; and that those who, in the most ordinary ways display His goodness, ought to know him first and most.

Yet it doesn't work that way; for I have learned that God sends Grace as He pleases, not in the way that it pleases me. He often works through the most broken vessels; He works not when vessels are fit, but most eagerly when they are not fit, since there is nothing God loves more, perhaps, than taking that which is unfit and making it fit. He makes whole; and one can never make whole unless one begins with what is broken. (We should learn from His example.)

Grace, in a word, is sent to help us see ourselves as we are; and it is through that seeing of our selfishness (for if there is anything at all which we need to see within ourselves, it is this) that we can learn what must be surrendered. In seeing, this alone is what to see; and if I see enough how self-willed and self-centered I am, perhaps I will finally bend my knee. This selfishness, after all, is where I break; I break myself within myself, and then break others. My inward being is inattentive and uncaring; and the more I see that, the more I am called towards God, who alone might help me. There is no self-help here except through God's help.

I keep thinking that everything that happens to me is in this world and of this world; and I rarely remind myself that all of this world is so absolutely finite and temporary. Nor do I remind myself that God, though His Grace- and most particularly, for us, Mary and Christ, through their Grace- are trying to prepare me for the kingdom of Heaven, which is eternal and everlasting. While it is entirely true that this kingdom is within, what I do not see is how "within" does not end in death; and that this life is nothing more than a preparation for what is much greater, by Grace, and through Grace, and with Grace. If I lose my way here in life... which is so easy... I will with equal ease lose my way to Heaven. It's really my investiture in this world, without reserving God's inward portion of my Being for God alone (and that, mind you, is exactly where I lose myself and become lost, not only to self but to God and Heaven) that costs me everything. I pay out the good coin of my Being (given by God alone) into this greedy till that hoards everything for itself.

There is a way to come into life in every moment through Grace; sometimes more, sometimes less, but to always let Grace act, directly through this tense and resistant veil of my ego. Grace is a strong thing, in the end, and if I become more willing it must have its way with me despite my inabilities—despite my resistance, despite my unworthiness. This is the most glorious aspect of Grace, that is, its durability.

Some speak of Grace as if it were a delicate thing, but Grace is in fact the most durable force of all, because it is of Heaven. If Grace once acts in truth, and I submit, then Grace can ever be within me. It is the foundation of all faith.

So although I accommodate it, I do not trust in the weakness of the flesh; instead I trust in the strength of the spirit, which effortlessly includes that weakness, and is yet made whole in Grace and in faith. 

In the name of Christ Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha; may all the great works of God's Love be brought together. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Through Grace Alone, Part II

Tiger Hill Temple, Suzhou

This series of essays on personal inner practice is dedicated to the memory of Rohan Gupta.

I was in the garden a few days ago when the Presence of God came to me, as it so often does (for I am no stranger to Him, though He surely is to me) and I knew of Him at once—as one always does, for one never wonders whether God is God, when He comes!—and I was reminded, as I so often am, of how His Presence comes despite my abject sin and unworthy nature; for that is precisely the essence of His love, that He loves us despite our nature. And although I have endured (for it is a kind of glorious and perfect anguish) His Presence so many times, this one time seemed different; for He gave it to me through Grace that I could see so clearly that the kingdom of Heaven truly lies within us and is gifted through Grace. One can easily know this without truly knowing it; and one only truly knows it once God knows it for one. Known through God, any one thing (no matter what it may be)  is quite different than when I know it through myself. So beware of the difference between knowing easily, which is of this world, and knowing truly, which is of God.

 It is in us but not of us; and this is how we can know so clearly—how I know so clearly—where the kingdom of Heaven is located. This though I am never more than poised on its threshold, for to cross into that (for now) forbidden Glory is to die; and we are all fated to live out our allotted time on this earth before we can cross over into that eternal Glory which is not only promised, but ever present. Until then, we taste; but we do not wholly eat of that fruit.

So this Grace comes to bring Glory; and in that instant I know what Mercy is, because God sends Glory through Grace simple because of His Mercy. 

OH most glorious Lord! How unworthy we are to receive thy Grace. 

One must know this through the mind, the body, and the feelings, all three ways; for one way to know it is not enough, nor are two. We must know it, as the most ancient prayers say, with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our minds. It's in this way that we are brought into the light of the Lord.

This light must be a most secret light within; not one carried on one's sleeve for show. In fact, the better and the more one worships the Lord in secret—and constantly, one must always worship constantly—the more He will reward us.

When the Presence of the Lord flows into us—as it did the other day in the garden (and, dearest ones, there is even a glorious little taste of it in me now, for He is ever generous)—we know the Lord directly, and not through books or the words of prophets. This is what He wishes for us; to be in the smallest and most intimate sense touching His Being from the inner darkness of our own soul. That darkness may be a lack, an insufficiency; for it is born in sin. Yet it is also the same darkness from which Love is born, because the two need one another, and we cannot know Love unless we know sin and go against it. These are complex mysteries one must explore within one's self; yet this principle of coming to the Lord on blended knee, in inner darkness, is essential. One must do this many times, always in the most abject position of an inner submission; and the more one submits, the more Grace can penetrate. 

This is Islam— submission.

Grace comes as a power, a force that flows into us. One knows God through that power which is not an earthly power and has no outward earthly uses. What it can transform always lies within a human being and never outside them; so we must forget any ideas about outer transformation (which we will cling to very stubbornly, even if the Lord should bless us in great measure) and surrender all things in ourselves, trusting to the Lord alone.

These are things I know are true, not through my own works, but the works of God. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Through Grace Alone, part I

Tiger Hill Temple, Suzhou

The following essays on personal inner practice are dedicated to the memory of Rohan Gupta.

One might think that in this day and age of modern technology and the miracles of the material world, we have lost God; that His Presence is a distant thing and that it's maybe even a fantasy, a superstitious idea brought forward through time from an ignorant past. Indeed, the Presence of God—the idea of it—seems somehow insufficient in the face of modern life and suffering.

Yet the Presence of God is real, and can be received at any time. I furthermore affirm to you that the Presence of Christ Jesus is not only real, but can enter us at any time and save us in that moment— in this very moment, even— through Grace alone.

Now, I know that to us this does not seem possible, but this is because we don't know what Grace is and we don't know who Christ is. He will not, you see, be who we expect Him to be and He will not appear to us as we expect Him to appear, any more than His blessed Mother Mary is who we think She is, or will come to us in the way that we expect Her to come. 

I should perhaps warn you that Their love is a sword that pierces hearts, though in a way most beautiful.

These understandings are hard won, for men and women; and there is no greater evidence than Christ's crucifixion, which stands for all time not just as a signpost not just of His Glory, Grace, and Mercy, but also as a mark in the earth that underscores how much we ourselves are meant to bear in life, in order to come to God.

We must bear everything, in short, and we must bear it for all time within ourselves, especially those things we want least to bear and which offend us the most. We must suffer; and yet we don't understand this at all. All our suffering is selfish and petty, not matter how deep we may think it is. It's only when we understand what it means to suffer not only ourselves, as we are, but also on behalf of others that we can begin to understand. And this is a great thing, a great work which God puts upon us and gifts us through Grace, that we may eventually (we are not ready yet) bear His own suffering in some small measure.

The kingdom of Heaven comes through this Grace and this Suffering; and it is born within us as Glory, through Grace and Mercy. 

I know I speak much of these things when I write, and that perhaps they seem strange or foreign- after all, of what possible or practical use are Glory, Grace and Mercy in this world of things?- yet these are precisely and absolutely the very forces we must most understand most in order to come into the kingdom of Heaven, which rises up from every root and grows from every leaf.

That root and those leaves lie within us, for God has built the foundations of Heaven in every man and woman as surely as He created the world. Christ will come within this very root and within these very leaves, if only we will let Him. 

Yet this takes a spiritual sensitivity born only of long and loving efforts, for if we came to God easily and without much work, we would not Love Him much; we fallen creatures only know how to love what we have paid for dearly. So we must submit; and this is a sublime and subtle effort that must be conducted from within, and over long years, with much prayer and many trials. These trials I speak of are inner trials. Outer trials, for all their spectacle, are quite ordinary and everyone must meet them on one way or another; but they are never voluntary in the way that the inner trials we must set ourselves will be. And it is this tasking of ourselves from within, towards what is within, wherein we must firmly plant the feet of our soul. It is a testing of who we are, what and why we are. This must be done of our own will. Then, eventually, angels may see us, and Christ may come.

This mystery is born within this present moment, and the kingdom of Heaven can be here in any instant; indeed, it often arises so, when it is least expected, and in the least things. This is why one needs to be attentive to God and to prayers, for He may Grace us with His Presence in any instant and we ought to rightly be ever-ready with prayer and thanksgiving in this moment, honoring the eternal possibility of God's Presence, 

which means His Presence NOW.

When I say that Christ can enter us and save us it does not mean what you think it means; for the way that Christ saves is not the way that man saves, or the way that man thinks He saves. Christ's saving is through Truth; and that Truth is sensed, not merely thought of. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Light; yet that Way and Truth and Light are not what we conceive of or a thing we explain. Together they are Love; and we do not know real Love except through God, who is real Love. All other love—the idea of it, even—is a shadow of God's love. 

This is both the Buddha and the Dharma.

There is much afoot in the world today that suggests techniques whereby we can come to God; but in the end there are no spiritual technologies. The one "technology" is God; and God lies beyond technology.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Worlds and things — a despair at the root of the soul, part I

Sparkill, NY

In order to see a visual representation of what this post describes, please refer to the enneagram of worlds at the link.

 In understanding the circulation of material, desire, power, being,  purification, and wisdom, one must understand each of these names of God, or notes (forces) on the diagram represents a world of its own. In this sense, a "world" represents an octave of its own — and it is well-known that every note represents the "do," or absolute (beginning or apex) of a subsidiary (lower) octave of its own.

 In this way, materiality is a world — desire is a world — and so on.

Three of these worlds (material, desire, power) belong to the natural world as we know it. The other three worlds belong to the spiritual world. "World" in each case represents a whole related suite of influence (i.e., an octave) that acts.

An individual generally becomes identified within one world or another. In that way, a person can become completely identified with materiality, and all of their life with their major interest in that influence. In this case, desire and power are used to magnify what can be obtained materially; if a person is identified with desire, they use power and material to magnify their desires; if a person is identified with power, they use material and desire to  magnify their power; and so on. Interestingly, the spiritual side of the diagram operates according to exactly the same principles, so that an adept may become identified with being, purification, or wisdom.

Those who think about this may understand how this question is directly related to the yogic siddhis (perfections.) Each one of these belongs to a world (note); and so rightly explained there are actually a total of nine siddhis (not five or eight), three of which are related to the absolute, conscious labor, and intentional suffering, the other six being consequences of a completed octave (each) related to the six other Names of God. One could write a whole book about this, but there is not enough space to do so in this post. Sorry.

 I can't iterate all the different possibilities here, but anyone who thinks carefully on what I am saying will see that the diagram can help explain almost any situation that any human being is in, since if you know which particular note they are invested in (be they monk or materialist), one can also use the same principle to understand all that's motivating them within the subordinate octave of that note. (This explains precisely how Gurdjieff was able to accurately assess people and their possibilities per his descriptions to Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous, but it is a science, so don't try this at home.)

 I'll give one simple example: a man is deeply invested in the first note, re, of materiality, and never passes that note — he remains in the natural world, at that level. Nonetheless, within the subordinate octave of that note, he achieves wisdom (si) and thereby acquires a very high level of informed authority over the material. This is a very big thing, even though the results of it are limited to a single note and have extremely focused consequences.

There are 9 x 6= 54 iterations of this which taken as a whole will always exactly define a person's current position in regard to both inner and outer development... furthermore the system is wholly dynamic and interactive, so there are actually 2,916 (54 x 54) points of information to evaluate in the full analysis of an individual human's inner state. (I already told you this was a science. Cases where analysis of a person need to run this deep are, thanks goodness, exceedingly rare. The dominant forces almost always determine the general trajectory, the rest being nuance.)

 This numeric digression wasn't really the point of this essay, so I will let readers think on this for themselves — which can be done at great length.

The point that I wanted to make here is that we can use the diagram to see, among the nearly infinite things that it explains, that the world is inhabited is roughly divided into two sets of forces that need to be reconciled: a world of things (the right side) and a world of ideas (the left side.) Now, these two sides mirror one another, so the world of things contains a powerful reflection of the world of ideas; and the world of ideas is powerfully mirrored by the world of things that, in some senses, appears to give rise to it. Actually, it doesn't — in metaphysical terms, the world of things is birthed by the world of ideas, because in metaphysics, all of the energy in the diagram actually flows backwards, something that can also happen in yoga and spiritual work, which is yet another subject we have no time for today.

 What we have here is a situation where for the most part, all of the natural sciences and everything external that human beings do pretty much belongs to the world of things. The world of ideas, which is the only world that can have any real action on it, appears to be weak from the perspective of the world of things.

The world of things looks incredibly powerful due to the material manifestations that arise from it (think of nuclear explosions, for example.) In the world of things, the world of ideas (the higher world that ought to be served) is perverted into a world that serves the lower. That is, from our  materialist perspective, we see ideas as tools to come up with things. If we have a spiritual perspective, we understand that all things ought to be used as tools in the service of ideas. So the conflict between religion and science in the modern world is a conflict between things and ideas; religion says that things should serve ideas, and science says that ideas should serve things. Materialism is an inversion, in other words, of a cosmological principle that we ignore at our own peril, as our destruction of our societies and environment makes clear.

 I bring this up only because materialist philosophy has been engaging, in the Western world, in a steady destruction, dissolution, and discrediting of the world of ideas for some time now. If it cannot be applied materially or it doesn't make money, it isn't worth pursuing. This leads us to a world where the arts and philosophies that can inwardly form something real and and actually make life worth living are being flushed down a toilet of stuff.

There is an appalling emptiness at the heart of this that leads to a despair at the root of the soul; and yet this emptiness is sold on every billboard and injected into every product.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.