Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Guilt, Part three — A love which chooses

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

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

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

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

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

I'll examine this in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How the Lord speaks to us, part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Guilt, part II—unto the death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will take that up in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Guilt, part I—A failure of duty

Tulip, Sparkill, May 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Movement and the molecular sense of law

Hacienda Temozon, Yucatan

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

 They are... well, we all are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

No Conscience, part II

Hudson River Highlands, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, August 19, 2016

No conscience, part I: sobriety

Hudson River Highlands, New York

People conceal their nature and their motives; and the masks we wear don't just conceal our inner nature from one another, they conceal our inner nature from ourselves.

In this way we become the lies we create; and although our innermost soul always knows what we are, because of our sleep, we're unable to see it. Identification, as Gurdjieff referred to it, means among other things an investment in these lies— these bad intentions, as Swedenborg might have put it—which grows so strong that we become the lie, involuntarily: instead of living our lives, our lies live us.

Over the course of my career, this has more than once come to my attention when a series of grave circumstances involving money caused me to see that people around me whom I thought to be decent people and believed I understood actually had no conscience. Whenever this happens, it's surprising and disturbing; it's been said of me that I am too trusting, and perhaps that's true. But others are often very good at hiding what they are; and it is only the worst of circumstances that brings out their true colors.  In this way we sometimes find out we're surrounded by demons who are very effective at posing as angels. It's only the ones with less shame that make themselves obvious.

In the midst of such objective iniquities, I've been re-reading Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl; it recounts exactly such circumstances, although, to be sure, the ones he speaks of were much worse than the ones I'm in the midst of.

Outer life and action may compel us (as Arjuna discovers) to participate in awfulness; in Frankl's experience, there were prison guards who had to play their role at the camps as oppressors. Yet he reminds of a commander at Auschwitz who nonetheless found subtle ways to exercise real compassion towards the prisoners, so much so that after the war ended Jewish camp inmates hid the commander and extracted a promise from the Allies not to punish him before they turned him over. 

So there are ways of playing one's role in the midst of a very bad situation and yet preserving, within, the human dignity that recognizes and holds sacred the value of our humanity. This is what distinguishes us from animals; and from one another. In Frankl's book he calls such people decent people—as distinct from that other race (Bosch would have painted them as the race from Hell) non-decent people.

I've too often watched people abandon their compassion, their humanity, all of the deep inner caring for one another that they ought to exhibit in the pursuit of money; it's quite astonishing, really. While this happens they abandon, at the same time, their adulthood, their rationality, their ability to weigh and measure. Suddenly they become the creatures of a corruption of their inner selves, and one sees it; these folk were never the reasonable, gentle, thoughtful or caring people I thought I saw on the outside; they're actually cruel and ruthless and could give a rat's ass, as the saying goes, for others, simply because money might be lost. One watches them then go at one another's throats as though lives destroyed are less important that the piles of cash that ought to be piled up. It reminds me of what a billionaire friend of mine once said of the class of immensely powerful, monied people he routinely works with: they are all morally bankrupt.

It's a very short step from this place of moral bankruptcy, of putting money before human values, to the one where one is pulling the gold teeth out of corpses  next to the gas chambers at Auschwitz; yet folk seem not to see this. The difference is one of circumstance, not of action; and there are many folk who act in exactly this way, but then go home imagining that their values—and their souls—are intact and wholesome.

How did we get here? 

Or have we always been here?

What distinguishes us from one another in these circumstances is conscience; that is a sacred quality which has, I would say, a sobriety in regard to objects, events, circumstances and conditions. It's this inner sobriety that we need to cultivate; else we are consumed by the drunkenness of the events in our own lives. We swallow them and become inebriated.

I know a good deal about sobriety, having practiced it for nearly 35 years; and it only has meaning in regard to drunkenness. That is to say, if one is not an alcoholic, if one simply does not drink—for whatever reason—this isn't what I mean by sobriety. The sobriety of which I speak only arises through abstinence in the face of an overwhelming urge to do otherwise. 

It's the restraint, in other words, that characterizes real sobriety, not the abstinence: and that restraint must arise from well-considered, deepest inner convictions, from a pondering of life and circumstance that arises not in the mind, but the soul. 

Such restraint is more often than not the product of real suffering. This is how we learn.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Past tense

 It's often said that tension gets in the way of our inner work; that we're too tense. 

Yet I want to work in the moment; and the tension that gets in the way so often seems to be not physical tension, but the past-tensing of inner work.

 It goes like this: I'm talking about how we just had a sitting, and great things happened in it; or they didn’t. 

Or I'm speaking about something that happened to me last week and how I experienced it (usually, it was some negative thing. I don't speak about the positive things in life because that's supposedly not how we “work.”)  

Or I talk about how great the work we just did in our group was, if we sat quietly together. 

Or I'm speaking about someone who is already dead who said such and such. 

Or I am referring to what we just read, or what I read last week, and so on. Whatever it is, it's in the past tense.

 Does this sound familiar?

It strikes me how distinctly lacking an effort to work now is. That's the whole point of inner work, isn't it? Yet even when one calls people to work now, if they begin together, and there is such discussion... well, in three minutes, everyone is talking about things that happened long ago, or theories, or books that they read. There's an extraordinary inability to focus on the present moment and how I am now, and no one actually sees it, even though seeing myself now is rather essential to the process.

Everyone wants to have B-ing and C-ing without A-ing, which is this action of working in the moment. I can't be and I can't see if I don’t A— that is, have an attention in the moment. That attention, of course, has to be a different kind of attention, which is another subject. But the point is that it has to be there first. My intention needs to be focused on the present moment first, because right now, in this moment, is when I can work. If I past-tense the moment, I outsource the work efforts to other times (which don't actually ever exist except as concepts) and other places (which also don't exist relative to the fact that I am only ever in the place I am in now.)

 This may sound like a philosophical proposition, but if I attend to myself intimately — and yes, this intimate attention is the type of “A" I recommend be exercised before I try to "B" or “C”— then something else happens.

Intimacy includes the breathing and sensation; yet it comes before them and consists of an action of attention that takes place on a very personal, sacred, and molecular scale within the action of my Being.

 The word intimate means deep seated, most inward. It's borrowed from the Latin intimus,  which means inmost. 

It's in this inmost depths of my Being where the sense of the soul resides; and if I don't see through this sense, I don't see.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


The unexpected range of expectation
Lee van Laer, iPad pro & apple pencil, 2016

A., a long time friend and neighbor in the Gurdjieff Work – came over yesterday and talk turned to All and Everything,  or, as it is also known, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

 Our conversation percolated overnight; and in light of a number of different circumstances, which spread threads out through posts that will take place two months from now, events planned for the fall, and things that have happened long in the past, some few things occurred to me while I was taking a shower. I feel certain they are important to pass on, because most important thoughts, by and large, take place in the shower.

 First of all, the obsessive reading, rereading, discussion, and analysis of this book is a great mistake. The book is like medicine; it is designed to treat a condition — our inner condition — and anyone who takes medicine knows that you ought to take it only for a certain period of time, and then stop.

One doesn't just keep taking more and more medicine over and over, forever; and furthermore, one doesn't always just take the same kind of medicine forever either. One takes a dose, allows it to have its effect, and moves on. Of course, one may need to re-treat from time to time; but one should limit the doses of medicine to what is necessary, not just partake of it wholesale according to one's greed or for its immediate effects.

The same can be said of The Reality of Being; we should not read these vital books over and over, obsessively, like dogs gnawing bones.

When Gurdjieff was alive, he did not have books of this kind to read. He read extensively and voraciously, through many different kinds of material. He was a seeker of truth; and he did not stop, like so many of his Greek orthodox family, friends, and acquaintances, with the Bible (although that is a perfectly good place to look, mind you.) He sought far and wide: he did not sit in recurring meetings with his hands folded, in his lap primly discussing the sacred text.

 In this context, it's best to remind ourselves that a collapse onto our own literature and material is about the same as material that falls onto the surface of a black hole: everything gets sucked in to a single point, and the light goes out of it. An obsessive-compulsive focus on the literature of the Gurdjieff work — and especially the subject of this essay, All and Everything — ultimately constitutes the antithesis of what was intended with the material.

 All and Everything is an extraordinary book. It has what are quite literally magical properties: read even once in its entirety, with even a small amount of attention, the medicine penetrates deep into Being where it can have effects on the deranged operation of our unconscious that help straighten things out over a period of many years. The reason it can have this effect is because it was written by a master that understood both the aim, purpose, and process of mythology: and he created a practical mythology for our times which can be ingested in the way the ancient spiritual myths were, only suitable for the digestive systems of modern man. These things operate in realms outside the range of our ordinary thinking (as they should and as they must); they operate in the same way that Christ's parables did, and do.


So misusing the book can produce contradictory results. The most important lesson that brings us is that we must go out into life to discover what is true; and Mme. de Salzmann's efforts, teachings, and the personal words from her diaries bring us that selfsame lesson. Book-work may be good; but I think we must not become a book work. One must constantly remind oneself that we are in a life work, and immerse oneself in the process of one's life — not the things in books.

Furthermore, we must immerse ourselves in the process of our own lives, lived from our own perspective — not our own lives lived from Gurdjieff's perspective or Jeanne de Salzmann's perspective.

This is the task we are given. We surrender it to the excessive influence of others at our peril:

 "When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden...

 This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears... will never be able to throw away his life."

—Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston (hardcover edition) pos 73-75.  The passage has been considerably edited for brevity; refer to the original for the full scope of his remarks in this section. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Thought and awareness


 I was walking the dog yesterday, and it came to me in the moment how absolutely unconditional God's Love is.

It sounds theoretical to say that God loves me just as I am, that he loves all of us just as we are — unconditionally loves us — and in most senses, for most of us, most of the time, it is. But it is possible to have an organic experience of this in which the absolute, rather than the philosophical, nature of God's love penetrates us so that we see it with awareness, rather than thought.

 We confuse awareness with thought all the time. They are actually not the same thing at all. It's possible to have complete awareness without any thought whatsoever. That experience can be extended; and if it comes, it may well be alarming. I'm speaking, of course, about having this experience in the middle of every day life, not with one's eyes closed while one is contemplating the darkness of one's inward being.

This awareness contains God's love within it, because it is essentially receptive to His Truth. We are able, if we make spiritual effort, to dwell directly within God's Truth at any moment in our lives; but we don't do this by thinking our way into it. We do this by coming into relationship with the feeling sensation of being, and waiting.

The feeling sensation of being is a form of organic awareness that doesn't have thought in it. It is the Being of the second brain, that is, the body. Once that awareness is awakened, if it participates with the mind, there is what one would call a two centered awareness that can await for the third center to participate. If this feeling-sensation then arrives to contribute its own non-thought awareness, we participate in life with all three centers. Then one can wait some more; and if one is fortunate and quiet, as though one was  watching birds and patiently waiting for one to come near, God's Truth can enter us.

 I have seen this. It is a way that we can know what real Love is.

 This property of loving us just as we are is wholly sufficient; that is, it doesn't need anything added to it. In the same way, unto God, we are wholly sufficient. Nothing needs to be added or subtracted; everything needs to be honored, just as it is. Awareness honors in a way that thought is unable to. There is a sweetness to this.

We can come into a relationship between ourselves and the Lord in this way that is quite simple. It doesn't need the scripting that we want to apply to everything we encounter.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Making mistakes

A person I know was recently commenting about how they had made an obvious mistake, a serious mistake, in their lives and realized right after they made it that they had made it because they were — as we say in this work — “asleep"; and that they saw that they wanted to be more aware, more conscious, because they wanted to avoid making mistakes

This was the point of consciousness, in their mind — if they were conscious, they would make less of these mistakes, because they would know where they were and what they were doing.

It sounds like a pretty good theory. If we are conscious, after all, things ought to go better, right?


Things don't go better just because we’re conscious; presuming, that is, that we have any idea at all of what consciousness consists of, or how it affects us. 

In reality, for the most part, we don't. Consciousness, on the ground floor (and a significant number of the upper stories) represents an awareness not of ourselves, but of God and his purposes. Real Consciousness inexorably draws us into deep religious impulses, feelings, and a willingness to suffer that has little to do with actual external events or the proper ordering of our ordinary lives; it's not a set of tools for us to fix everything external.

So I don't really know what it means to be conscious—at least, for the most part, I don't. And if I want to get a lesson from the canon of what consciousness can and can't do, I need to remember that in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, some of the highest being-bodies in the universe—archangels charged with orchestrating the movement of heavenly bodies—made horrible, horrible mistakes. Then higher cosmic individuals set to correct those mistakes made further mistakes. 

We can reasonably presume, for the purposes of this argument, that the allegory is directly applicable: even the most conscious beings make mistakes externally. We know that this is, in fact, true, because Gurdjieff himself (we’ll credit him, for the sake of this discussion, with a degree of consciousness significantly above the average person) admitted that he had made mistakes. Things went wrong in his life. And so on. 

The fact is that consciousness is not a tire patch to keep air from leaking out of our life situation. It’s an impulse towards a higher principal. That is the essential nature of consciousness. Presuming that it's going to fix the mistakes we make for the things we do wrong, that it's going to cure us of our ills, our sins, our weaknesses, is a mistake. 

If we really acquire any additional consciousness of a legitimate kind, one thing and only is certain; it's going to make us suffer. No one wants to suffer; and so the minute any real consciousness appears on the landscape, all of one's ordinary being musters its forces, draws the wagons into a circle, and does everything it can to fight against it.

On another point related to this, this morning my wife pointed out that it's touching to hear so many people in spiritual works struggling with understanding how to speak, what to say. 

I asked her if she understood what the root cause, the source, of this inability to speak to things was. She confessed she wasn't sure. 

The root cause for our inability in these areas always begins with the fact that we do not have a connection to the higher energy and to our sensation

If we have these factors present, our manifestation is quite different; because it’s grounded, we can then receive something that helps us to speak from a true place, instead of waffling about being unsure of what to say or what things mean.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What feeds me?

From an email between friends yesterday, on the subject of what feeds us.


So is it fair to say that since the Sun offers us something for inner life and the air we breath has the same possibility that everything in nature has something to offer? Of course one would have to know how to receive it - not automatic?


I think one would say it is the entirety of life that can feed us. 

That entirety is comprised of many different elements, each one a different kind of food — in the same way that we might set a table with a dozen dishes and 40 or 50 ingredients in them. Not only is each meal of this kind of different, but throughout life, we sit down to the table of impressions and are continually fed with these rich variations. All of them are exactly like food; composed from the same ingredients, but creating an extraordinary variety of flavors and energizing us in different ways.

Every day is like that. As time dilates and we see the extended length of our being as it moves through each moment of the day, we continually encounter new kinds of food: our emotional impressions of our inner selves and our outer conditions, the sensory pleasures of real ordinary food, sacred impulses, and interactions and relationships. All of those foods help to grow being; and being is comprehensive.

 I never know what is going to provide the best kind of food in a moment. Sometimes the least expected things become a higher kind of spiritual food. At other times angelic energies are sent. One just doesn't know what will come next; and hence, perhaps, the phrase, "my cup runneth over." That phrase is not just an analogy, but a real description of how generously we can be fed if we become more open to the inward flow of the divine intelligence.

There are times when the inflow is less available, when my being has a low state of energy and not much is being sent. 

But then there are many times when it is much more powerful; and I understand that as Grace, because it is always sent, never anything I do.

Every time I try to force myself to see some higher purpose or ingest some higher food, it's an empty action. I always have to wait with my lamp lit.

Psalm 33

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.Praise the Lord with the harp;    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.3 Sing to him a new song;    play skillfully, and shout for joy.
For the word of the Lord is right and true;    he is faithful in all he does.The Lord loves righteousness and justice;    the earth is full of his unfailing love.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;    he puts the deep into storehouses.Let all the earth fear the Lord;    let all the people of the world revere him.For he spoke, and it came to be;    he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,    the purposes of his heart through all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,    the people he chose for his inheritance.13 From heaven the Lord looks down    and sees all mankind;14 from his dwelling place he watches    all who live on earth—15 he who forms the hearts of all,    who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army;    no warrior escapes by his great strength.17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;    despite all its great strength it cannot save.18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,19 to deliver them from death    and keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;    he is our help and our shield.21 In him our hearts rejoice,    for we trust in his holy name.22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,    even as we put our hope in you.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Always the first thing

 We woke up this morning on an overcast day. It's damp outside, feeding the foliage with goodness. I am filled with a quietly satisfied sense of Being which doesn't demand a lot of addition in order to have meaning.

My wife and I were lying in bed and she was discussing an argument she is having with a movements teacher from another city. This other movements teacher wants to split points of doctrine and argue about how a movement should be done correctly.

 Everyone wants to be the boss, don't they?

It's interesting how we want to stand on protocol. Christ's objections to the scribes and Pharisees were that they were just such people; they want to write things down, keep track of them, and have doctrinal arguments about them. We all run into a lot of this.

Yet this misses the point. The molecular sensation of Being, the feeling sensation of Being, is always the first thing that we ought to inhabit.

This permanent sensation of Being, which ought to be a vibrant, intimate, molecular and emotional foundation to our entire lives, is generally missing. Especially when we start using the intellect. Once that takes place, we grasp everything at hand and weaponize it; we forget compassion, and love, and all the other gentle things we ought to bring to one another, and we fashioned spears with pointy ends that we stick in one another.

Being always ought to come first. One doesn't need to have arguments if one inhabits Being in a proper way. If one starts there, it is possible to receive life in a way that's quite different.

We have the potential to deeply understand the ideas of Glory, Grace, and Mercy. Not to just understand them as concepts, but to live within the practical action of their force. This can be a remarkable thing; life begins here.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Feeling-Sensation of Being

 "...thought and will could not exist unless there was a similar action and cooperation between life as it inflows and the spiritual organic structure underlying our brain. Life flows from the Lord into that organic structure. Because the organic structure cooperates, it perceives what it is thinking.

The spiritual organic structure consists of long strands in helixes.”

Emmanuel Swedenborg, from True Christianity

One can call molecular sensation molecular; but at its heart, it is a feeling-sensation of Being. That is, it is emotionally rooted. It is the point of work at which the emotions are firmly tied to the material in absolute relationship.

Swedenborg used the term “regeneration” when speaking of the way our outward being needs to be re-formed. 

That re-formation can only happen through an inward agency. Outward agencies that suggest they are able to re-form the inward being are misleading. 

The only way that inward being can be re-formed is when it is in relationship with a higher energy; and this, always and everywhere, has to start first with a better connection to sensation—an organic connection to sensation. It's only within this context, this connection to sensation, that Being can begin to form properly; and it’s only through the regeneration or re-formation of Being that the outward truly changes.

If I come into an organic relationship with myself, and that organic relationship gives birth to a legitimate feeling of Being, then perhaps I can begin to actually separate myself from myself, rather than engaging in intellectual manipulations that appear to be a separation, but aren't. If I form an organic sol, an inward center of gravity, then I begin to see my outward parts, the “others," more clearly. I see that each one of them is an intellect or self with its own nature, which has its own opinions and wants to influence everything that "I" want to do.

In this sense, real life forms around the feeling sensation of Being. If I don't have this emotional comprehension of Being, real “I” can't form, because real “I” is inverted from my ordinary mind. 

When I say that real “I” is inverted, I mean it in the following way: 

The natural, or ordinary, "I" is founded on sensation— then intelligence— then feeling. 

Real I, spiritual “I,” is founded on feeling— then intelligence— then sensation. 

So when we look at the spiritual self and the natural self, we can say that they exist, in relationship to one another, in exactly the way that the Star of David is constructed: each has equal weight and value, and together they make a full form, but they’re inverted in relationship to one another. 

So if we take the triangle as an analogy, we can see this massive baseline anchoring the triangle of natural Being, which consists of sensation. That sensation has polarities on its opposite sides of mind and body; and at the apex—the point to which the system can rise if the connections are healthy—lies feeling.

In the spiritual self, the foundation comes from above, consists of a baseline of feeling, which is composed of intelligence and feeling, and it points downwards towards an inverted apex of sensation. 

I understand this is complicated, so one needs to try and sense it with the parts of one's Being, not think about it too much. The point is that the natural self creates a set of relationships that inwardly form a stable entity, or “I", of gravity; this is an anchoring factor. The feeling-sensation of Being, on the other hand, begins from a much broader place of my ordinary life and points downward, forming a relationship with sensation that quite different. 

We need both of these faculties; our organism is designed to mediate this intersection.

I intended this to be more of a tactile, rather than intellectual, essay on the subject. I can only urge the reader to search within the tactile sense of the inward feeling-sensation of Being to discover what this idea of regeneration means in a living way, within ordinary life; to see all the parts of personality; to see how each one of them is both wrongly formed and at the same time highly influential. 

If I can't create a center of gravity in myself to counteract the influence that each of these outer parts has – that each of these orbital personalities in me exercises— they dominate me, and my feeling-sensation of being remains inert.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.