Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sin, lack, and the world

August 27, Shanghai

I've been pondering, on this trip to China — my seventh of the year — our inward connection to what is real, which is the only thing that can bring a sacred dimension to our experience of life.

 What is real is God; and the inflow connects me to that when it is active. Absent this, there is no real; there is only this construction called “I,” my personality, which is a reflexive creature held hostage by the events of the world and the things it craves. My Being, when it is invested in this part, lacks the properties of compassion and intelligence that human beings professedly value. I talk a lot about these values; but they have no durability and no real existence unless a higher influence inwardly forms what I am.

 If I learn to see anything about myself and I am honest with myself, I know this; if I don’t, I ascribe to myself the power to create and to have compassion and intelligence, never understanding that real compassion and real intelligence are only related to the inward flow of the divine and my relationship to it.

 When that is not with me, I'm helpless.

 Yesterday, after I finished my morning prayer according to the form of Glory, Grace, Mercy, I was touched — as happened a number of times during the day — by the Presence. In each case, it was a light touch meant not to interfere with me or who I am, so it came without  coercion, just as a gentle reminder of the Lord. It is just as though there is an old friend, a deeply loved one who I fail to remember from moment to moment, who touches me on the arm from time to time to reassure me that they are present. When this Presence touched me, I was reminded of the phrase, "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” All of me is indeed of the world; and this gentle Lamb of God, which touches me like an old friend, reminds me of that and of my sin, my lack.

I bring this up because in the moments when the Presence is active, there can be no doubt that I understand in the deepest and most organic sense how I sin; and this is deeply related to the idea of my lack. I pondered this yesterday, because both sin and lack are of the world, and they are united. It occurred to me, in taking in a more comprehensive and organic understanding of this question, that the idea in the phrase, of the world, embodies and enfolds both sin and lack as a single entity.

 Looking up the word sin, I discover it has a relationship to a Latin root meaning guilt. Sin is a lack of responsibility: I am responsible for action that goes against God. By default, this is action that is selfish; I act on my own behalf, not God's, and I think only of myself. We should note here that Emmanuel Swedenborg defined ungodly action in exactly this way; yet when we come to the ideas of Jeanne de Salzmann, and encounter her teachings about seeing our lack, perhaps we don't quite see the connection. 

What I lack, in its most essential form, is responsibility to God. My whole life and my whole being is a sin; and my whole life and my whole being represents the lack. Sin, re-examined and redefined in this manner, is my whole being and all that it is, when it is not aware of and responsible to God. (I pointedly don’t capitalize the word being here, since it represents a lower creature and not the inward Being which has a real quality due to its relationship with God.)

 So my whole life and all that it is is a lack; a sin. It implies both responsibility and guilt, the essential form of sin, because I have not put God first and don't make an effort to dwell within God's will. This is the true heart of sin. It doesn't form itself around the core of my wrongdoing; the wrongdoing comes later, after I forget God. If there is an original sin in myself and in mankind, it begins with selfishness, the failure to see what I am responsible to. I don't know my place. I think my place is in the world and of the world and consists of my responsibility to it; I don't understand that I ought to put God first, and discover responsibility to the Presence of God before I discover responsibility to the world. 

 In this way, my sin is my whole life. Everything. The reason that the Lamb of God taketh away the sins of the world is because it brings me a reminder of the Presence; and in that gentle touch, which is filled with nothing but love, I must always and forever within that moment know of God and my place. No one knows this touch can be mistaken of it; without it, I am bereft of understanding, because the only real understanding is that of God, and my own understanding is as nothing before it.

 Well, this little essay seems to have captured what I was getting at; and I think I will wrap it up here lest it become more complicated that it needs to be. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Notes from Spain, Part III: Basket Case

On the train to Seville. 

The landscape sweeps away from the tracks in all directions: undulations militarized by strictly ordered regiments of olive groves. Ochre and sienna creep up out of the ground to cover the sides of buildings, as though the land were determined to slowly swallow them. Under the ancient eyes of ruined hilltop fortresses, the authority of modern power lines and agriculture seems weak and wholly temporary. That impression is underscored by the staccato remains of abandoned condominium developments. No matter what man puts in this landscape, the dialogue between geology and time is the only thing that remains indelible.

In the archaeological museum in Madrid, one exhibit features the exceedingly rare remains of Bronze Age basket work. These finely—truth be told, exquisitely— woven baskets and fabrics are reminders of how deft the arts of natural craftsmanship were in an age where the most practical of everyday items were not made of metal or plastic, but organic: they had a level of love, care, and attention in them that can't be found in any of the everyday objects we use today. They had an unsurpassed level of mindfulness in them, which conferred a respect for existence that becomes disposable when objects lose those qualities. That respect, marked in the herringbone twirls of fine grasses, was later transferred to the embossed and incised lines of pottery, where the decorative marks referred to the woven qualities of the baskets it imitated. Even today, despite our unpracticed eye, such references often remain subtly present in our art and architecture: decoration which seems to be almost casual carries echoes of the ancient valuation of painstaking handiwork.

In the same way that all the arts and crafts echo the natural world and our relation with it, our inner world is a crafted thing woven from the impressions we take in. That's easily forgotten; our thoughts and emotions begin to lose their color and appear as mere forms of entertainment, designed not to deepen our relationships, but merely to serve as reservoirs of pleasure to be tapped and drained. In doing so, we fail to properly honor their source; we lose the direct and palpable connection to outer nature which helps form our inner nature. 

There are analogies between this and the regiments of olive trees; we think the landscape of our lives is just a place to plant trees and press their fruits for oil, rather than an ancient and honorable place of dynamic interactions. An inversion occurs here—instead of seeing that we serve life, we think that life serves us. This inversion is the downward movement of the enneagram through re, mi, and fa; it is the descent of Saint Anthony into stagnant waters of darkness, the unconscious realm of the ego. 

It may seem odd to suggest that something as mundane as scraps and fragments of bronze-age basketwork can offer a clue to our indifference in the face of life; but it is this neglect of inward craft, of an understanding of how life is formed and what forms us, that cheapens and devalues our experience. The threads and strands of life are the leaves of many fine grasses, each one absorbing and storing a bit of the light of intelligent experience that enters it; woven together, they have the ability to create a basket which, although it is only as durable as the length of our life itself, nonetheless serves in greater ways, for the benefit both of ourselves and others.

 It can contain care; it can contain attention and mindfulness; even wisdom. But only if we engage attentively as caring inner craftsmen may this take place. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Notes from Spain, part II: the distance from mortality

Stela of Hernan Perez
Bronze Age
National Archaeological Museum, Madrid

 Over the last month, I've been engaged in a reading of the translation of the Iliad by Robert Fagles, as an adjunct activity to my studies on Mediterranean history, which began with The Making of the Middle Sea by Cyprian Broodbank. Both books are outstanding works of their kind, and give deep insights — in so far as we can gain them— into the roots of Mediterranean, and thereby European, social and cultural history.

No book other than The Iliad can better emphasize the degree to which a fascination with violence and warfare — terror incarnate — infuses our cultures. This is an ancient thing. Yet in the midst of this carnage, the idea of a radiant Being that transcends it is always present. Even in the Iliad, drenched in blood thought it is, the idea of a nobility that stands higher than the violence — higher, even, then the petty gods that drive its narrative forward — is ever present. 

This is, in the Iliad, oddly embodied not by the gods, who in terms of their emotional development are as tiny (or perhaps even tinier) as the men they manipulate, but perhaps most of all by Achilles (see Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson) who despite his reputation as a terrible killer cleaves to an ideal of principles, dressing himself in golden armor crafted by the god of fire. He is willing to die, and accepts his mortality; but he also understands that the real measure of glory is achieved by staying true to one's own beliefs. He lives fully; when he rages, he acknowledges his rage, and when he grieves, he grieves mightily for the death of his beloved Patroclus. He is, in other words, truly human: and he refuses to live other people's lies, unlike egoistic Agamemnon and crafty Odysseus.

It was the habit of Bronze Age peoples, in the Iberian Peninsula, to erect megalithic monuments at various places in the landscape. The one heading  this post shows a radiant being; but, more
commonly, they depicted stick figure warriors, wearing the horns of bulls, surrounded by their chariots, weapons, and shields. Although some questionable opinions suggest they were grave markers, the fact that they are most frequently found near ancient crossroads more plausibly suggests that they were markers or reminders placed within the landscape — symbols of both power and mortality.

Dating from the same age in which the events in the Iliad take place, they serve today — as they did then — as reminders that no matter how grand and powerful we think we are, death is ever present. One doesn't need to celebrate death as part of a warrior culture in order to understand this simple fact. Ancient peoples, as it happens, were much closer to the ideal of their own mortality than we are, and one can see it everywhere in their art. It's just as true of medieval art as it is of ancient art.

Living within the awareness of our own lifetimes, mortality seems to be very far away. Within any given instant of life, the understanding of my own death is as far away as possible; it is, as Gurdjieff put it to Ouspensky in his comparison of levels, or cosmoses, as big as the difference between zero and infinity. To put it one way as well as the other, "I" am at zero — and my death is infinity. 

I know nothing about it, no matter what I may choose to imagine. 

 While it's always possible to contemplate the question of death  with an approach through the arts — whether poetry, painting, or theater — these always end up being philosophical and intellectual pondering. One needs to acquire an organic understanding of one's own death, and one can only do this through sensation, that is, the molecular sensation of Being. 

That, of course, is a difficult question, since human beings so rarely develop this sense. It's accompanied by powerful emotive and feeling-understandings, since the development of the molecular sensation of being inevitably attracts the third center (feeling center) to participate in the work of the mind and the body. It isn't until all three centers participate that one begins to come to a deeper sense of how mortal one is. Only this can inform one's respect for life as it stands, which is an ongoing mystery that penetrates us to the marrow.

 Sitting here in my hotel room Sunday morning, drawing together the threads of yesterday's experience, I see the difference between the experience I am writing about and the intellectual and philosophical ideas that surround it. They, as well, are like the difference between zero and infinity. I have one cosmos which is my life, and I inhabit it – God willing, organically, not through the abstraction of the mind. 

That is a truly extraordinary cosmos that contains, as Gurdjieff would have put it, all and everything.

Then there is the cosmos of these written ideas, which is at the same time much larger — it reaches roots out in so many directions — and at the same time smaller, because it can in no way encompass the depth, the compassion, the intelligence of life as it stands, as it is lived. 

It is imaginary.

 All of us, myself included, are so often drawn into the quicksand of our ideas. There is a much simpler and more organic intelligence through which we can live; and although both of these aspects of our life are valid, we need to rediscover a center of gravity in the organic intelligence, not the imaginary one.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, September 26, 2016

How the Lord speaks to us, part II: I should submit to this life

 I should submit to this life.

I don't know what life is; I think much about life, but without understanding. I attempt to form understanding from the perspective of creatures, because that is all I know; yet understanding emanates from a much greater source that lies beyond creation and all of the creatures that represent it.

Understanding is a whole thing that does not come in parts and cannot be divided; yet I do come in parts and I am divided, so it's only through grace that I can experience this greater understanding of which I speak.

Even then, I cannot do anything to achieve this; much trial and suffering and many years of effort are required even to prepare the ground in which grace can take root and grow. Only faith can prepare that soil; and only suffering can water it. Yet my faith is weak and by tolerance for suffering is low. I don't see how I need to submit to life in order to receive it properly.

I think I can have my life and do what I want to with it; and if I don't get my life and it doesn't do what I want, I'm not satisfied.

Yet God has given me exactly the life I need and the life I should have — indeed, every aspect of life is not only deserved and precisely attuned to my needs — it is also crafted precisely out of a great love for my Being, which the father wishes to preserve and help grow in all ways.

When we say our Father, we forget that we mean that the God is both my Father and your Father. He is our Father.  We must cease to see this as an allegory. It is a fact. Like all fathers, he has taken it upon Himself to do everything for us and assume all of our responsibilities, to care for us and give us the most perfect conditions in which we can grow as His children. Now, any parent knows that children have very headstrong and foolish ideas about what may help their growth; and both the father and the mother are tasked with great difficulty in providing structure, discipline, the education that is needed for the child in order to grow into the full and enormous potential that the child represents. The child often doesn't like this.

So it is with my own life. My Father— for so He is, just as He is right now, in  this instant, also your Father— has crafted my life quite exactly to meet all these needs; but I am an infant, a headstrong soul that has all my own ideas — based entirely on misunderstandings and selfishness — about how life should be organized. God knows better; and it is only in submitting to His will that I have any hope of outgrowing my childishness.

The Lord speaks to me at times quite directly and fills me of an instant with this entire and undivided understanding.

Then I know without words, and I see without eyes, and I understand without thinking that I am loved and supported, and that everything is exactly as it should be. Not from a philosophical, theoretical, or intellectual point of view; but in relationship to the love of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit. In relationship to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and all that it represents.  In the name and presence of the Blessed Virgin. These are all the real things in life, which I forget in my pursuit of creation, which is actually empty and has no good qualities to it aside from the ones that emanate from the Lord Himself.

 This is why Meister Eckhart says in so many sermons that we must know God in all things and see God in all things; for when we see the things and know the things instead of God, we know things instead of God in all things. Once we know God, then we actually understand. But for as long as we know things, we are like blind creatures.

I think we are all like that. Blind creatures. It's strange how we can't see the way that God acts and how His love gives rise to every action. Yet that's just as true of me as it is of anyone else, except in so far as grace relieves me of my blindness.

 I should submit to this life. God will come; that is something I can trust without doubt, no matter  how far away from him I am.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Notes from Spain, part I

Entrance to the Prado
Madrid, Spain

I arrived in Madrid this morning, a cool autumn day with the sun streaming across the countryside as we flew in. At the check in desk, watching the staff go about their quite ordinary tasks—nothing special here, one might think—I was suddenly struck by how absolutely human we all are; and how we so deeply share this oddly contradictory condition of beauty, empowerment and... helplessness... that our incarnation imparts to us.

 There are times when I think that we don't respect our lives, and we don't respect each other; above all, we don't respect, utterly and absolutely respect— perhaps one could say consciously respect—our lives.

I come here to Spain to follow the search that I began at the age of nine;  that was the year I saw the concentration camp at Belsen, of course, but it was also the year in which I went to the Prado and saw the Garden of Earthly Delights. No other painting in the world, perhaps, captures this condition of beauty, empowerment and helplessness in such a compelling way; and its imagery has followed me inwardly throughout my life, as though the painter infused his creation with the same esoteric force of Being that Gurdjieff buried deep in the pages of Beelzebub's Tales. Both works seem related to me; they are works of transformation, works of genius, that destroy everything we think we know about the world. 

As I stood at the check-in counter of the hotel, something in me was yet again destroyed— if we wish to be, after all, we must be willing to be destroyed over and over again, and start over forever. I was destroyed, then; and I am destroyed now, a scant few minutes later at breakfast, by the power and the beauty and the mortality of our own creation. We contain this world, just as it contains us; yet it is so clearly worthy, and we are so clearly not.

We live in a world obsessed by the outward form of terrorism; yet I think we have a terrorism inside us that will not admit the great quality of our Being. That great quality emerges first and forever from Being itself, and yet we deny it in favor of the world. 

This inner terror, I think, is what causes us to do the terrible things we do to one another; those things, whether great or small, always begin from a deep, sinister, and perpetually unspoken fear. Oh, we pretend we know it; but that's just window dressing to help us sleep at night. Where that fear begins in us, in me, I am uncertain; a lack of trust, surely, but I suspect some even deeper thing. It is Satan; the adversary. There is an ancient worm in us. I live within this terror—it  is always touching me somewhere, looking for the weak points—and there are many. 

Every time the touch of God pierces the veil of fear I dress myself in, for a moment I can appreciate the great beauty of this life, and my failure to meet it honestly' and that is always where my question lies.

 How can I better honor this life?


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, September 23, 2016

How the Lord speaks to us, part I

I suppose it's typical for people to think that the Lord speaks to us in worldly ways, telling us to do worldly things. Preachers and religious ecstatics often report that this is what the Lord does; He tells them to do such and such or so and so. Indeed, even in the Bible we hear such stories. And we would have it that way, because our ways are the ways of the world, and we want worldly things. Our desires are never attached to love; they always come from objects of one kind or another.

But the Lord doesn't speak to us in the ways of the world, or of the ways of the world — not, if you will excuse the pun, in so many words. The Lord speaks to us in the Lord's way; and the true speech of the Lord is not only wordless— it says everything in its entirety at one time, with no words.

 I can report to you that what the Lord says is of the soul and the spirit, not the world and its things. And one wordless word from the Lord is worth all of the world's things and everything they represent.

If we even once hear this silent word, we are given all things at once.

I would report to you now that the Lord says and does everything only out of love; indeed, there is nothing but His love, and everything that happens in life, no matter how bad it is, emanates directly from His love and is a direct consequence of it. His intention for us is always and forever loving; indeed, of itself life cannot ever consist of any other thing.

 I'm sure this is confusing to all of us, because we don't see how bad things such as war and murder could come from the Lord; yet every eventuality and every arising comes from the Lord's love and the need to come back to it. There is a mystery inside this which I cannot explain, because it lies beyond my capabilities; but I do know that we lie within the love of the Lord at all times, and that His mercy is infinite.

 The reason that it's said we should trust in the Lord is because of this boundless love and this infinite mercy. I have felt this love and mercy many times; and it exceeds all knowledge. It only comes by the word and out the word of the Lord; even though it is wordless, it comes in this way, because it is speech without speaking, and knowledge without knowing. In itself, it teaches of nothing but love and the way that love develops us, sustains us, and supports us; I, in my iniquity, am deeply unaware of this, and unable to sense it except through grace. I think that worldly things matter, because I don't have this perspective unless grace helps me.

One cannot truly hear the Lord with the mind, because the mind is a weak thing. There is a capacity of being and of the soul that can hear differently: such that the mind knows it does not know, the body knows it does not sense, and the emotions know they do not feel; and in this un-knowing, un-sensing, and un-feeling — a complete unknown in which there is no "I" — there God is born, and we are his children.

 Perhaps readers don't understand this. That's a good thing; because what I speak of lies beyond understanding. Anything that we think we understand cannot really help us in life. Once we know we understand nothing – once we are certain within the very core of our souls that we are unworthy and without understanding— then, perhaps, in a single moment anywhere, at any time, the Lord will come.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

shearing the sheep

I'm 61 years old, or thereabouts — my birthday is in 10 days – and I don't know much about anything.

The older I get, the more apparent it becomes to me that our lives are mysteries. Everything is a mystery; our surroundings just look familiar from day to day, so we make too many assumptions about them. It's the stripping away of all these assumptions that can help me see something real; and yet those assumptions are very firmly glued to my being.

Last night (I write this from Bangkok on August 21) I met with a group of young people here in Thailand who are quite intent on discovering something real about their lives. They sense maybe I can help them. I'm not sure that's true; but I do my best to share my experience. In any event, one of them, George, talked about freedom and how he wants freedom.

I asked him what freedom means.

It turns out — and I think that there is probably a general truth in this — that freedom means, for both George, his girlfriend Dia, and his brother Ronald, an absence of personal obstacles. He wants to be free to do whatever he wants, to achieve his aims. And yet of course this freedom is outwardly directed. Most of our concepts of freedom are outwardly directed; revolutions are founded on this principle, and millions have died for it. We forget what inner freedom is, if we even know it's possible.

Without seeing that I am inwardly enslaved by my assumptions, the chance for freedom is remote. Yet I'm unable to shear myself of assumptions; it's not as though they are just wool I can cut off with a pair of clippers. My assumptions are very deeply rooted in me, so much so that they are not going to be pulled out without a lot of pain and bleeding. Life keeps getting hold of them and yanking them violently these days, and the anguish is intense; there are nights when I can't sleep. It's at times like that that I see both the depth of an inward connection with something higher, and the contradictory and intense attachment to life and the outer world.

Both conditions are true.

What can I do about it?

I can't do anything. Perhaps the most striking feature of my life is my helplessness.

How am I?

I'm not sure there are explanations. There is just an encounter with experience. Every moment is a mystery that I resist; every event is an unpredictable and new horizon I need to face. The best way to do that, I find, is to keep reminding myself that I don't know anything, and that I need to stop making plans and just be here for what happens, responding to it intuitively and with flexibility.

I'm not sure that this is good advice for young people; I'm not sure that it is good advice for anyone else. I can only derive it from myself; and I can only apply it to myself. Each of us has to discover such things quite intimately and personally. Grafting them onto ourselves from the ideas and examples of other people is always intensely challenging.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Original pamphlets from the Institute for the harmonious development of man

From the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. 

The pamphlets are available in English (scanned, and visible at the link), French, and German. Both the English and French copies contain detailed medical and biometric record-keeping forms that offer some interesting insights into the ambitions and interests of Gurdjieff and his followers in establishing the Institute. In addition, the pamphlet lays out a mission statement which will certainly be of general interest to the community.

 Very high quality PDF scans of the original documents are available for download at the link.

These pamphlets are recently discovered property originally belonging to one of Gurdjieff's early and close associates.  They're part of a larger set of documents of very reliable provenance which date from the 1920's and 1930's, and are being published here with the appropriate permissions of the current owner. 

It's likely they will be offered for sale at a later date. Interested parties may contact for further particulars.

More archival material from this collection is expected to be published as it's reviewed and prepared for distribution and sale.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Original pamphlets from the Institute for the harmonious development of man

From the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. 

The pamphlets are available in English (scanned, and visible at the link), French, and German. Both the English and French copies contain detailed medical and biometric record-keeping forms that offer some interesting insights into the ambitions and interests of Gurdjieff and his followers in establishing the Institute. In addition, the pamphlet lays out a mission statement which will certainly be of general interest to the community.

 Very high quality PDF scans of the original documents are available for download at the link.

These pamphlets are recently discovered property originally belonging to one of Gurdjieff's early and close associates.  They're part of a larger set of documents of very reliable provenance which date from the 1920's and 1930's, and are being published here with the appropriate permissions of the current owner. 

It's likely they will be offered for sale at a later date. Interested parties may contact for further particulars.

More archival material from this collection is expected to be published as it's reviewed and prepared for distribution and sale.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

"Don't you remember he said recently, 'We must not oppose forces higher than our own,' and added that not only one must not oppose but even submit and receive all their results with reverence, at the same time praising and glorifying the wonderful and providential works of Our Lord Creator."

—Hassein, quoting his grandfather Beelzebub, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, chapter 3.

 Where God shines least for us is often where He shines the most. Therefore we should accept God equally in all ways and in all things.

—Meister Eckhart, from The Master's Final Words

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Contradiction in the nature of one's whole being, part II

Arjuna finds himself confronted by the inward struggle of his entire life: the two families lined up against each other to do battle. He doesn't want to engage. Yet for all its spiritual teaching, all of the philosophy, insight, ideology, and guidance that Krishna's commentary delivers, the overall message, the essential message, is that Arjuna has to go out and engage with his Being, engage with his life. And it is this inward life, the one locked in apparent conflict, that he must engage with: because somehow, his identity, his awareness, and his consciousness have not accepted the task of placing themselves in the midst of this struggle with a willingness to sacrifice, and even to die.

In order to see myself, I need to place myself in the middle of these contradictions and the battlefield engagement that they represent in an inward sense. This was the insight that struck me when I was meditating last week. I can't escape from myself; and in me, the unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be.

This saying isn't a philosophical gadget meant to distinguish reality from illusion in an outward sense; and trying to understand it in terms of outward existence in the world around me isn't that helpful. It is about what takes place in me. There are parts that have Being and awareness, and parts that are mechanical and automatic.

 Above all, in order to do this, I have to live my life. The whole of my life, formed as it is, provides not only a field of action — a "battlefield" inscribed on a scroll that extends from my innermost being to the outermost world and cosmological events — it provides a material of suffering where alone I can prove my worthiness.

Victor Frankl characterized it thus:

 Dostoevsky once said, "there is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings." These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful...

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even in the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.
Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even one such example is sufficient proof that man's inner strength may raise him above his outward fate. Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

—Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston (hardcover edition) pgs. 63-64.  The passage has been edited for brevity; refer to the original for the full scope of his remarks in this section. 

 I think it's fair enough to say that Arjuna's struggle is one to become worthy of his own suffering; this is the battlefield all of us operate on, and it is not an outward battle with the world. It is a struggle between our two natures and the effort to manifest them honestly alongside one another. We can't engage in the struggle if we try to eliminate our lower nature; it is only with its presence and action that any better side of ourselves can be manifested.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Contradiction and the nature of one's whole Being, part I

Tallman State Park, Palisades, NY

 August 14, 2016

In meditation last week, I was examining the contradiction of my higher and lower nature from an immediate practical point of view, and it suddenly struck me quite clearly that I have never quite understood the meaning of the Bhagavad-Gita.

 The classic tale of the battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas has always seemed to me to be the matrix, the outward setting, within which Arjuna's spiritual crisis takes place. It was only last week that it occurred to me that the setting is actually an inward one; that is to say, the conflict between the two families represents Arjuna's inner battle with his own nature, which has a higher and lower side.

Arjuna can't sort out the confusion between the many different inward parts of himself, which seemed to be locked in conflict and determined to kill one another, since there seems to be no way they can live together in the same Being. I'm reminded here of the struggle between the sacred and profane, which always takes place within the midst of ordinary life and can't be easily sorted out. As human beings, for example, we are always confronted with the contradiction between the inevitability and truth of our sexual lusts, and the attraction to a chaste purity represented by the influence of the Holy Virgin and Christ. We aren't going to sort these two influences out from one another very easily; they are both real, and one seems to preclude the other. Man and woman live their lives out poised in the "battlefield" between higher and lower influences; this is the realm of choice where we must make decisions about which God — which impulse — we will follow.

 In this realm of choice, which appears to be a battlefield, we struggle for the ownership of our own attitudes and the nature of our Being. Rereading "man's search for meaning" by Victor Frankel over the last week (I have not read this fine book for many years, but it must be considered absolutely essential reading for anyone engaged in spiritual effort) I was struck by the following comments:

"It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils...  

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the "race" of the decent man and the "race" of the indecent man...  

Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those steps we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes to all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp."

—Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Beacon Press, Boston (hardcover edition) pg. 81.  the passage has been edited for brevity; refer to the original for the full scope of his remarks in this section. 

Frankl emphasizes the essential role of the choices we make, even in the most adverse and extreme circumstances — perhaps, most importantly in the most adverse and extreme circumstances.

This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. "I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard," she told me. "In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishment seriously."
—ibid, p. 65

 These circumstances are the ones where our choices become most important.

In the next post, I'll return to Arjuna's dilemma.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Solar Emanations, Part III

Fig Tree, Saigon

"It is only because the data for the sacred impulse of being-Conscience do not take part in the functioning of this consciousness of theirs that the action of the law of Solioonensius, as well as of other inevitable cosmic laws, as­ sumes these abnormal forms which are so lamentable for them."

—Beelzebub's Tales, page 573.

There is a second "inevitable cosmic law" connected with solar activity. This law is actualized by the phenomenon known as a coronal hole, which produces solar wind.

The solar wind from coronal holes was also obliquely described by Gurdjieff, but did not receive a special name, as did solioonensius. It serves a different purpose. Openings in the magnetic field of the sun—as opposed to CME's (coronal mass ejections, or flares, erupting from sunspots)—are accompanied by emanations of the sorrow of His Endlessness, that is, emanations of Divine Sorrow, which are consonant with emanations of Divine Love (they're the same thing, actually.) These emanations exhibit varying degrees of strength. 

The solar wind allows a human being to sense the feeling-emanations of the Divine, which are of a different order than the sensation-emanations of the Divine as connected to sunspots. These feeling-emanations consist of a feeling-sense of the utmost and most profound sorrow of God; they are received spiritually within Being when the solar wind flows. This, as with the energy of sunspots, opens us to the Divine inflow; but it produces a form of inward suffering which, it must be stressed, simply is not present in the case of solioonensius. This suffering relates strongly to Gurdjieff's remorse of conscience; and that inward receiving is most emphatically a kind of inner work which demands the participation of the receiver.

 The meaning of the phrase "intentional suffering" becomes important here, because intentional suffering, in this case, means an intentional inward going towards the sorrow that is being received. That is, one's wish must form an active relationship with the suffering. This action of objective and intentional suffering is distinctly impersonal, and shouldn't be confused with egoistic suffering. Objective Reason—the faculty Gurdjieff tells us solioonensius helps engender—

There is an interesting correspondence here between the action of objective conscience—which is of course tied to the arising of remorse of conscience in mankind—and the lack of proper sensation and understanding of solar phenomena in mankind. If one develops the capacity to receive and organically understand the emanations emitted by the sun, sensation of Being, the sorrow of His Endlessness, and the experience of both objective conscience and remorse of conscience are reciprocally tied together in an interactive spiritual field of energies which directly augment one another. Such action underscores how deeply tied man's spiritual development must be to corresponding cosmological phenomena. It's another subject worthy of much deeper contemplation.

One other point worth mentioning here is that Gurdjieff gives us, in chapter 34 of Beelzebub's Tales (Beelzebub in Russia) an inadvertent explanation of our sun's sunspot cycle: it's tied to the action of the comet Solni—and, of course, orbital comets have known and consistent periodicities.

By following the sunspot cycles, it's possible to know what times are most propitious for inner work; that is, even if we are not personally able to sense the effects of solar emanations, simply knowing the times at which they are more powerful can put us on our guard in multiple ways: first, we prepare ourselves in order to be more than usually suspicious of our egoistic motives, especially during periods of sunspots and solar flares; and second, when solar flares or coronal holes exist as active features on the sun, we devote a greater amount of time and attention to our inner efforts, in the certain knowledge that the timing is propitious.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Solar Emanations, Part II

As Gurdjieff pointed out,

"...although science appeared among them from almost the very beginning of their arising and, like everything else there, periodically reached a more or less high degree of perfection, and though millions of so-called 'scientists' must have arisen among them, not once did the thought enter the head of any one of them... that there is any difference whatever between the two cosmic phenomena they call 'emanation' and 'radiation.'"

—Beelzebub's Tales, P. 135

Let me just mention here that radiation, which belongs to the right or descending side of the enneagram, is on the whole destructive; emanation, which belongs to the right side, is constructive. The first is material, the second is spiritual; and their two actions are mutually codependent. Readers ought to contemplate this carefully, as it is a rich area for inquiry and questioning.

The point of the current discourse is to distinguish more precisely between two different kinds of solar emanations. The sun actually emanates a wide variety of energies, both natural and spiritual, and these energies serve a vast range of purposes within the solar system and its environs, all of which are related to the evolutionary development of the solar system, its planets, and even the sun itself. Today we're going to discuss the difference between energies emanated by sunspots, which produce what Gurdjieff called "solioonensius," and the energy emanated by coronal holes, which produce gaps in the sun's magnetic field and release solar winds.

Solioonensius is, as Gurdjieff describes it, a process whereby "help" is sent to three brained beings (in our case, humans.) This energy manifests, in properly receptive Being, as a much deeper and more grounded sensation of Being, one in which one's inner gravity is more perfectly aligned and one's sensation of self undergoes a corresponding realignment towards the vertical. The entire sensation of self then acquires a correct religious understanding, that is, one instinctively and correctly senses one's place in the cosmos and the mysterious but absolutely ubiquitous presence of the Lord. This is, of course, the feeling of "religiosity" which Gurdjieff described, which is only properly understood once one senses the powerful and irrevocably sensate and emotive properties of the emanations as they are received. Solioonensius creates, in a word, an inner revolution through Grace; and this is the help we can receive if we are properly prepared for its action.

Sunspots emanate Divine Presence even in the absence of CME's, but in subtler form. With or without flares, the receiving of solar emanations of this order opens human beings to the Divine inflow in greater measure: we receive a greater portion of the energy of the Holy Spirit.

Summarizing the action of solioonensius, it's important to understand that while it makes it possible to revitalize one's sense of the sacred—presuming one's inner work is active—and immeasurably deepens the active sensation of Being, it is not a form of work per se, but a form of Grace—a gift that accelerates inner development.

This discussion will conclude in the next post. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, September 5, 2016

On Solar Emanations, Part I

Incense burners, Saigon

''...the beings of other planets await the action of Solioonensius with impatience because thanks to it the need for evolving, in the sense of acquiring Objective Reason, increases in them by itself."

—Beelzebub's Tales, page 571

In ancient times, priesthoods had to undertake complex astronomical calculations (especially if they lacked sensitive adepts) to advise their kings, religious organizations, and populations of the best times to conduct intensified religious efforts. Nowadays, we have the benefit of sophisticated solar telescopes to achieve the same results. Only knowing the precise nature, however, of the sun's actions can enable us to understand what potentials lie here—potentials deeply tied to cosmological law and the laws of world-creation and world-maintenance.

Gurdjieff once said he was "in the solar energy business," and although we may, in this day and age, see it as a technologically prescient witticism of one kind or another (it's tempting to see humor in it) he meant it quite literally. It is, you see, certain that like ancient priests, he felt the emanations of the sun directly and organically, which is a capacity the organism can, and will, develop if enough inner work is done.

As in Patanjali's sutras on the various methods of acquiring yogic power, the ability to sense solar emanations can be acquired in several different ways. It can be conferred through long and arduous inner work effort; or it can be given as a Grace (much less common) or acquired temporarily through the use of drugs, principally psychedelics. In the first case the principal vehicle through which one can acquire the capacity for such receptivity is suffering; and the various traditions, including Gurdjieff's Fourth Way, have certain levels of understanding on this matter—some allegorical, some quite literal and still others which (as in Gurdjieff's case) are metaphysically correct, if extraordinary and challenging.

In any event, these abilities can be acquired; and once they are, an adept working under the influences becomes organically sensitive to solar emanations, which are (to us) primarily electromagnetic in nature. I say "to us" and "primarily" largely because emanations, which are of a different class entirely than radiations, are not electromagnetic and cannot be sensed using ordinary physical instrumentation, since they are spiritual in nature and made of materials too fine to measure using ordinary physical tools. As it happens emissions from the sun always include a perfect balance of natural and spiritual parts, only one of which (the natural part, radiation) can be detected and measured using natural (scientific) instruments.

We'll continue this discussion in the next post. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Prayer for Mercy

This recording of the Gurdjieff/De Hartmann piece "Prayer for Mercy" features Don Olson on Piano.
Published and presented with Don's permission.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Guilt, part IV—Spiritual scrubbing

 As so often happens, one subject gradually segues into another, so perhaps it seems like we are veering off the question of guilt — yet it is the anchor that began this conversation, and one will see that it binds it as we go forward.

 In terms of the inward practice which "goes against guilt," as I would put it, de Salzmann says:

There is in us naturally a permanent conflict between the psyche and the organic body. They have different natures—one wishes, the other does not wish. There is a confrontation that we must reinforce voluntarily by our work, by our will, so that a new possibility of being can be born.

The Reality of Being, page 242

If we examine this closely, we may see that guilt, in the overall sense, arises in the context of this permanent conflict. It's a snapshot of the struggle between the spiritual and the natural, the soul and the body — which is, indeed, what the text this quote is drawn from —  conscious struggle — is all about.

She speaks here, let us note, about a confrontation — which is a different word than conflict, where she opens the commentary. Conflict means a clash; confrontation means bringing face to face. The first word implies the struggle; but the second one brings us to a higher piece of spiritual territory, where what is emphasized is not the clash, but the seeing of our two natures.

That seeing needs to become objective — unattached — not pejorative, that is, guilt-ridden. Yet we dwell perpetually and powerfully within the pejorative and guilt-ridden perception of our lower nature, which is an animal that really can't help the way it is.

It deserves compassion, rather than contempt and condemnation; yet we so rarely turn our love towards our lower nature, bound as it is to impulses that do not belong to heaven or to God. We ought to have a little more sympathy, so to speak, for this particular devil; even the devil, after all, has a vital role to play.

Perhaps I can ponder the idea of seeing my guilt, like all the other parts of my lower nature, objectively: there it is. I can't cleanse myself of it, because its properties are deeply rooted in all the parts of my lower nature. Spiritual scrubbing, no matter how much practical antiseptic I apply, isn't going to relieve me of that burden.

Only the entry of a higher energy, and the Glory, Grace, and Mercy of God, can relieve me of my sin — which is a concept also interestingly linked to this question of guilt.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.