Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In The Soul Alone, Part II: The Sobriety of Grace

The Alhambra
Granda, Spain

There is something in the soul in which God is bare, and the masters say this is nameless, and has no name of its own. It is, and yet has no being of its own, for it is neither this nor that nor here nor there…

 you should enter into God, into blessedness: for in here the soul gets her whole life and being, and from this she sucks her life and being, for this is wholly in God and the rest is outside, and therefore the soul is always in God through this, unless she turns it outward or lets it be extinguished within her.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, sermon Ninety-two, page 449

Life is a noisy thing, and I am noisy with it. The self is a cacophony of opinions, demands, and attitudes.

Yet this sobriety of Grace can come.

The life and being of the soul is the real life and Being I seek. It is a tangible thing, an inward condition that is not just of the mind, but rather of the entire being. I can physically feel the joining of the mind, the body, and the feeling at the very point where God flows into Being. Yet I have no mastery or command over this; God determines everything.

There is no point in attempting to believe in God. 

You should not believe in God. Believing in God is useless. 

The only thing that is useful is to know God; and that never comes through believing.

 It’s more likely, unfortunately, that evil will come of believing in God. Evil can never come from knowing God, because knowing God is the antithesis, the opposite, of Evil. Believing is of the imagination. The imagination is a tool; any tool can be used to destroy as easily — more easily, in fact — as it is used to create. So imagination doesn’t really help. Belief does not help. Only opening helplessly and wordlessly to the influence of God can help.

When Meister Eckhart says I should enter into God, I understand what he means. God can come; and he generally comes if I call — but not always. I am required to call through prayer at all times; my discipline and humility arise from the fact that he comes as he wills and when he wishes, and it is in my place as a servant to wait. I need to understand this over and over again, because I don’t understand very well that I'm a servant, and the master, that is, the Lord, has to teach me repeatedly. I'm such a bad servant that I even forget to pray or think I have better and more important things to do. This is true even though I know God and know I am a servant — so I am poor household help, indeed, and yet his mercy tolerates me nonetheless. (I should have been fired. That’s clear.)

Entering into God consists of presenting an inward question, reaching out a tendril of intelligence — spiritual, tactile intelligence — towards that divine spark of the soul which is always in touch with God, even when I forget it is there. There may be no answer; but that wordless, silent, nameless reaching out from within towards within is what issues a call to God. There is always an intelligible response, no matter how faint; as though I were calling in a huge mansion to a very distant wing, and the master, who is busy with much more important matters, does hear me, raising one pinky finger in a room to remind me that he hears and will be there when he is able. 

And I sense, from the servant's quarters, so far away, the slightest movement in the air around me—the gentle movement of that finger.

It's like that.

Everyone, I think, who is religious would like to know God, or at least they think they would. But no one understands — even I have great difficulty remembering— that we have to give up everything we are and go out of it in order to know God. This is almost impossible for us, because we cling to ourselves with a fanaticism that can only be appreciated once we lose it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

In The Soul Alone, Part I: A Condition of Helplessness

The Alhambra
Granda, Spain

“God is in all things as being, as activity, as power. But He is fecund in the soul alone, for though every creature is a vestige of God, the soul is the natural image of God. This image must be adorned and perfected in this birth. No creature but the soul alone is receptive to this act, this birth. Indeed, such perfection as enters the soul, whether it be divine undivided light, grace, or bliss, must enter the soul through this birth, and in no other way. Just await this birth within you, and you shall experience all good and all comfort, all happiness, all being and all truth. If you miss it, you will miss all good and blessedness.

Whatever comes to you in that will bring you pure being and stability; but whatever you seek or cleave to apart from this will perish. Take it how you will and where you will, all will perish. This alone gives being - all else perishes.”

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, sermon two, page 39

This morning, I ask myself these questions:

What is the ground floor of the relationship between myself and my Being? 

Do I know anything about myself, or about Being?

A lifetime, more or less, of inward study has convinced me that by myself, I have no Being. If the Buddhist concept of the illusion of the Self has a foundation under it, it lies here, in my manifestation absent the presence of God. 

There’s a kernel, or core, within this existence that gives birth to Being; we call it the soul, and only it receives the Presence. One comes, eventually, after many years to clearly know the difference between receiving the Presence and being within one’s own self, which arises in the context of ten thousand kinds of falsehood. When the inward flow into the soul is present, there is truth and nothing else; when it is not, there is a vast construction (a Tower of Babel) of apparently great significance, constructed of nothing but lies.

Hieronymus Bosch adorned many of the demons that populate his paintings with pearls, representing lies – the pearl looks beautiful, but at its heart is a fragment of worthless pollution, an element that does not belong in Being. We all adorn ourselves in this way. It’s how we exist. Gurdjieff called this practice the creation of false personality; but that set of words is rather dangerous, because the instant we use it, we smugly think we know something about it, even though it is only our own false personality saying that. Only the inflow of the divine Presence can bring an actual understanding of what those words mean, and how far away from it our ordinary self is. Absent that — absent what Meister Eckhart is talking about in this quote — every understanding is false.

It’s striking to me to see how different these two qualities are, and how helpless I am if God does not help me. That help is not present so often, and so I stumble about through my day doing my best to adjust my attitude and effort through the false and inferior workmanship of my personhood. 

So I’ve come, here, to the threshold of the relationship between myself and my Being: it’s one of helplessness.

Seeing and understanding helplessness is very much analogous to addiction and denial. It’s impossible for me to see my helplessness unless I am sober through Grace; until that happens, I am always in denial about it. Life can put the lesson about it in front of me ten thousand times a day, and I won’t see it. There is a massive construction in me that is completely asleep and unaware of the actual condition of my life, the truth of it.

If Grace comes, I not only accept helplessness, I’m grateful for it, since God is where all goodness comes from— and I ought to submit to that truth. Grace helps me to know that; everything else denies it.

There needs to be a reconciliation between the affirming of truth through Grace and the denial of it through Self. This is a reconciliation of Being. That only comes through the humility of truly submitting to the helplessness, of letting go, letting go, letting go, and inhabiting the truth of life as it stands, rather than the imaginary control of life as a directed path I am the master of. 

This question of thinking that I am the master of a directed path is a disease that infects every one. The first thing that it crushes is humility.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Shanghai, Oct 15, 2016

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tenth Anniversary—The Cosmology of All and Everything

This is the 10th anniversary of this web log.

Life has followed many unexpected trajectories since I began this enterprise; by the time this entry publishes (I am preparing it, as is not uncommon, over a month in advance) there will have been well in excess of 715,000 page views at this site.

This statistic becomes most meaningful in the context of service; because although it's quite true the space serves me first as my own personal diary of study and experience, it serves second the Gurdjieff Foundation and the Work as a public record of one student's perspectives, and it serves, third, all the individuals with a personal search—the "third force" who come to read it.

 Of the three, of course, you, the third source, are to me the most important. In the end, if this effort doesn't support the readers and their personal efforts, it supports very little. The whole aim is to bring a living work and movement of the present, today's world, to folk — not the historical record of a work of that kind that existed in the last century. We must, together, make an effort to bring a work of the living, not the dead.

One could go on and on.  I tend to. However, let's get on with the business at hand.

Today, I'm publishing an essay on the cosmology of All and Everything. The full text is available at the below link:

The Cosmology of All and Everything

The book, along with its cosmology, of course deserves to have much longer, more intelligent, and more detailed pieces written about it. That is to say, this work is entirely inadequate.  It simply represents a collection of thoughts that have been circulating in me for some time. Hence its title as a partial work. It is just a fragment of what ought to be said.

The essay is of course, a potential candidate for the annual All and Everything Conference, to whom thanks and kudos for their efforts in the international annual effort to investigate these questions. 

 I would also like to extend my thanks to my wife, who initiated the impulse to look at these questions; and to the members of the Louisiana and Arkansas Gurdjieff foundations, who, although they did not contribute directly to this work, participated in the seminal questions and exchanges that laid the foundation.

My thanks, as well, to the entire worldwide Gurdjieff and Fourth Way community for all the collective efforts to keep questions of this nature alive in today's fractured world.

 And finally, a special thanks to the readers who have come back year after year; the readers who have only come once; the readers who have not yet come but will. A writer and his or her readers form an organism together; this is a mysterious process of creating shared value and meaning. In today's world, we depend on the creation of positive value and positive meaning to fight against all of the destructive things that surround us. I hope we can keep doing it together. On that note, don't miss the last portion of the essay in which some connections between Gurdjieff's work and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning come up.

Insh'Allah, there will be future anniversaries of this space. 

Until then, may God bless you all.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The swimming pool

Bangkok, October 8

I’m pondering the question of thinking on an intimate scale, internally.

Internal thinking doesn’t consist of having thoughts. It consists of entering the entire experience of one’s inner sensation of oneself, of one’s Being. 

This is related to Gurdjieff’s concept of “I am,” but it does not involve intoning the words or thinking the words with the mind. It involves discovering the meaning of these words within the context of sensation and feeling, which is quite different than saying them and trying to think one’s way into an understanding of them.

I’m accustomed to thinking on grand scales; I think we all share this proclivity. Human beings, if they are anything, are dreamers and conceivers of vastness. We like nothing better than to engage with ideas, entities, and events much larger than we are; even the movies in our popular culture reflect this. In our rush to embrace the huge, we forget the small. We never pull our focus back into who we are and where we are

We constantly become the things that happen instead of the receivers of the things that happen.

Studying this tendency in myself this morning while swimming in the pool here at the Sheraton Hotel, I was struck by the impression that every object, event, circumstance and condition I encountered instantly became an abstraction to be catalogued, rather than an intimate encounter with the experience itself. I find that there is even a tendency to come to everything that flows into Being before it gets there and to prepare an abstraction to receive it, that is, to receive it into a box, an inner piece of territory, that has already anticipated it, knows where it goes, has it defined, and can contextualize it. 

There's very little opportunity to take in anything truly new, intimate, or at depth when this kind of activity goes on.

As I studied this, swimming the breaststroke in objectively beautiful surroundings — certainly an accurate reproduction of the Holy Planet Purgatory — it was interesting to see how the experience of the pool and the water, the foliage and the tropical trees, changed when I engaged in a less predetermined inward state and received the impressions just as they were. It provoked a religious response.

Later this morning, at breakfast, there was a moment when I understood having a real appreciation for my immediate conditions. 

There is a three-centered kind of gratitude available to us in which the simplest objective understanding of everything we have been given provokes an active, intelligent, and organic gratitude. This is another level of religious impulse; and whenever I encounter that feeling (which does not happen every day) I understand that the idea of gratitude is a theoretical one unless Grace supports it. 

I don’t know how to have gratitude on my own; and I don’t know, for that matter, much about allowing the world to flow into me without the preconceptions I meet it with.

This question of thinking intimately and on a small scale, of coming into a molecular relationship with Being, activates a kind of vibration that is more prone to receive life. It always begins there; we are vessels into which the world flows. That is the beginning; and yet it is constantly forgotten, this idea of being there as everything enters us… being there not with a game plan, but with a sense of mystery and an openness that does not presume.

It’s a gentle thing, this idea. A bit of humility can bring me to it if I have an interest.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The molecular work of Being—DNA and the soul, part IV

Jan van Eyck
Diptych of the Annunciation, right side
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

You must remember that there is nothing dead or inanimate in nature. Everything in its own way is alive, everything in its own way is intelligent and conscious. Only this consciousness and
intelligence is expressed in a different way on different levels of being—that is, on different scales. But you must understand once and for all that nothing is dead or inanimate in nature, there are simply different degrees of animation and different scales… All the matter we know is living matter and in its own way it is intelligent.

—Gurdjieff, as reported in In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky, P. 317-18

Under the right set of inward conditions, the inner workings of the cells improve in such a way that the cells themselves gain an incrementally but steadily increasing consciousness of themselves and their activities; in other words, this level below us acquires a new consciousness in relation both to itself and to us, as we are, at our own level of consciousness.

These two awarenesses, due to the expression of these new molecular structures in the cells, furthermore acquire awareness of the level above them, that is, they develop the capacity to receive the sacred.

The development of our own cellular sensation, and our consequent awareness of it, is an exact and direct fractal model of what takes place on the level above us. We function, in relationship to the levels above us, in the same way that cells do in relation to us. Our own awareness forms a metaphysical type of DNA which encodes the makeup of the sacred; and in our life actions we either express or don't express the "proteins" that engender the activities of the sacred on the level above us. We can, in short, learn a great deal about our relationship to the angelic levels of Being by understanding our own relationship to the cellular level of Being.

The angelic and heavenly levels of Being are connected by these subtle threads all the way down to the molecular and atomic levels of Being. It is sometimes possible to physically sense these threads, whose energies are mediated, within the range of our own consciousness, through our nervous system. Encoding (the preservation, imparting, and exchange of information) takes place throughout this structure on every level; and all encoding is ultimately spiritual in nature, even though it finds its expression through the mediation of natural forces. Due to his strong background in the sciences, Swedenborg had a firm grasp of this principle, although he expressed it a little differently than I have here.

Every inner effort we make is communicated down to the cellular level throughout the body. Cells, in response to the impressions that are received, immediately respond by expressing a range of proteins which they assume to be appropriate to the impression. Thus, an impression of muscular relaxation causes cells to express proteins different than one of muscular tension; meditative states cause the expression of proteins different than the ones in a cheering sports fan; and so on. When Gurdjieff said that "everything is material" he was referring, in many ways, to this phenomenon. Our attention to ourselves, in other words, has an immediate molecular effect on our bodies, and on our level of Being.

The action of mindfulness, or attention, is thus an action directed at our cellular Being. It may have gross (noticeable physical and psychological) results, but the actions engendered by attention and mindfulness begin at the moluecular level. Developing the capacity to sense the moluecular (as opposed to the psychological) nature of Being thus forms essential part of a deeper, inwardly directed understanding.

So what, then, of the idea of man's "two natures"—the natural and the spiritual nature—and the eternal metaphysics of mankind's struggle between its angels and its devils? Does it all come down to nothing more than folded strands of DNA nestled against one another, spitting out proteins? Is enlightenment nothing more than a form of inner molecular enhancement? And if so, does God end up as nothing more that a sequence expressed in base pairs?

I think it helps here to begin with the idea of information. The word itself implies that which is intelligent, which both contains and potentially confers understanding; and it also conveys the concept of that which is inwardly formed. It is, in other words, both intelligent and embodied.

Information contains instructions about state, which is, arguably, the most fundamental question of spirituality; and at the bottom of all reality, such as we understand it, lie the base elements of information in the form of energy.

 Consciousness arises as a result of aggregates of information; and comprehension arises from consciousness. DNA rests at the top of the atomic and molecular food chain, yet at the bottom of the food chain of evolution, life, and awareness; it forms a bridge between passive matter and matter with agency. Although its constituent elements are, taken individually, passive matter—by themselves, adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine, and uracil exhibit no agency or reproductive capacities—collectively, in relationship, they undergo a seemingly impossible transformation. They become active matter.

Jeanne de Salzmann's interesting characterization of mankind as essentially passive, in its ordinary state, places us at a similar juncture between the passive state of the material world and an active state in the spiritual one. There is, in other words, a potentially transformational state available to mankind in which a human being passes from the passive world of the dead—"let the dead bury their dead," as Christ said—into the world of the living: this, a new world of active spiritual agency. In transformational terms, one can no more say that this new world of the spirit is the same as the old world of the natural as one can say a rock is the same as a worm: they are both lowly and material, but of entirely different orders of Being. 

The fascinating thing here is that the potential for this spiritual Being is inherent; in the same way that the potential for DNA and its engendering of life is built into physics and chemistry from the ground up, our spiritual nature and its full potential exists within the structure of DNA from the ground up. 

The old joke goes that it's turtles all the way down; but what is forgotten whenever the joke is told is that it's turtles all the way up, as well. 

God is, hence, in and of all things; ubiquitous as ever, in forms of agency and nuances of expression that transcend any final material understanding.

Oh, and, yes...

We are turtles.


PS. Extracurricular reading for today:

 Swedenborg and Ibn al Arabi,  on man as a perfect embodiment of God's nature and Being

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The molecular work of Being—DNA and the soul, part III

Jan van Eyck
Diptych of the Annunciation, left side
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

"When we talked before about the octaves of food in the three-story factory we saw that 'all the finer 'hydrogens' needed for the working, the growth, and the evolution of the organism were prepared from three kinds of food, that is, from food in the strict meaning of the word—eatables and drink, from air which we breathe, and from impressions. 

Now let us suppose that we could improve the quality of food and air, feed, let us say, on 'hydrogen' 384 instead of 768 and breathe 'hydrogen' 96 instead of 192. How much simpler and easier the preparation of fine matters in the organism would be then. 

But the whole point is that this is impossible. The organism is adapted to transform precisely these coarse matters into fine matters, and if you give it fine matters instead of coarse matters it will not be in a position to transform them and it will very soon die. Neither air nor food can be changed. But impressions, that is, the quality of the impressions possible to man, are not subject to any cosmic law. Man cannot improve his food, he cannot improve the air… It is exactly the same with food… If man could improve his food, that is, make it finer, he would have to feed on water and breathe fire. It is clear that this is impossible. 

But while it is not possible for him to improve his food and air he can improve his impressions to a very high degree and in this way introduce fine 'hydrogens' into the organism. It is precisely on this that the possibility of evolution is based… a man who makes higher 'hydrogens' the food for the upper story of his machine will certainly differ from one who feeds on the lower ‘hydrogens.'"

—Gurdjieff, as reported in In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky, P. 321-22 

Human beings have the capacity to develop a molecular sensation of Being. This expression relates to our cellular sense of vibration. 

Depending on the expression of certain cellular proteins, cellular components change their electrochemical properties in such a way that the activities of cells emit finer energies which can be consciously sensed by our ordinary levels of awareness. This heightened sensitivity represents a change in Being whereby we are invited to more directly participate in "sensation"; not the general and average sensation of our life activities, our limbs, and the ordinary sensations of touch and feeling, but a different and quite new level of sensation in which we more consciously participate in the activities of our cells. 

This participation doesn't take place through any manipulation on our own part, but rather through an active sensation provided voluntarily by the cells themselves. That sensation represents the action of protein expression by DNA, most notably, the expression and participation of proteins that are not ordinarily active in our cellular makeup. We might call these "hidden proteins," or "esoteric" proteins, since the coded information for their expression is always present as a latent sent of instructions in DNA.  Like many of the instructions encoded in the genome, these instructions are only activated under specific circumstances; like retroviruses, they lie dormant within the genome, waiting for the required, or optimum, set of circumstances to rise in order to be called to action. This type of latent DNA information is now well known; what is not yet well known is that all efforts to higher consciousness depend on these latent, yet fundamentally inherent, encoded sets of instructions. 

The simplest explanation for why psychedelic and other mind-altering drugs do what they do to the human psyche is that they provide, from the outside, molecular information that provokes the DNA in cells to express these latent possibilities in the form of uncommon, yet ultimately quite normal, proteins. The information is already there; the drugs trigger the responses from the cells. The implication here is that the genome contains pre-existing information for expressing the psychological and spiritual components of enlightenment. The idea finds some interesting correspondences in Christian and Buddhist doctrine affirming a universal potential for spiritual enlightenment.

Consciousness is thus already easily demonstrated not just as a set of neural events involving electrochemical exchange, but a protein-and-molecule-based phenomenon already encoded in the genome. Our genetic code, furthermore, contains far more potential for many types of consciousness than is usually expressed in the average individual. Every variety of religious experience embodies the expression of a pre-existing, encoded potential within our DNA; so religious experience and the sensation of God are quite literally part of our evolutionary heritage. Gurdjieff's "hydrogens" aren't elements at all; they are simply molecules and proteins expressed by our genome.

These esoteric proteins haven't yet been identified or studied; yet the implication here is that a far more sophisticated potential for consciousness might be directly explored through a better understanding of these physical properties. It's an extension of the already well-understood idea that there are pharmacological solutions for mental disabilities such as depression. Our contact with psychedelic drugs and their psychoactive potential has given us intimations of these possibilities, but a better understanding of the genome may unlock potentials heretofore only guessed at. What if, for example, there is a "Jesus protein?" While the idea may sound sacreligious, the question needs to be asked. The central question here may be whether there is a way to pro-actively engender positive social behavior through the direct stimulation of cellular proteins responsible for a sense of the sacred. If inner peace, in other words, is a cellular chemical event—not, per se, related to external conditions, as yogis have taught for generations—wouldn't it be deeply unethical NOT to make it available to the public? 

The well-documented, unusual sweetness of temperament in Down syndrome children already points us in a direction here, demonstrating that genes CAN produces such results. If we can, putting it in Gurdjieff's terms, fix the malevolent consequences of the organ kundabuffer (which was itself a professedly physical—that is, ultimately, genetic—intervention) shouldn't we? Cosmic individuals have, according to Gurdjieff, already attempted this task; perhaps modern genetics ought to now take up the matter from a different direction.

In the absence of such a development, we continue to need to become responsible for our own efforts in this direction. It may be the answers are, after all, too complex for direct physical intervention (at least now); but to investigate the soundest of scientific basises—genetic basises—for Gurdjieff's teachings and methodologies may be overdue.

Installment 4 of the Molecular work of Being will publish Nov. 20. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

35 years of sobriety: an exercise in love

My 35th anniversary of sobriety is today.

Nothing humiliates a person so much as discovering how weak they are through an admission of addiction to alcohol. I learned my own nothingness the hard way, early on; and it has served well throughout a lifetime. It put the ego in its place, even if the ego is — and it always is — resilient.

We alcoholics not only hit bottom; we bounce off it for the rest of our lives.


 Now, on to the subject.

Inner work isn’t an intellectual exercise.

It isn’t an exercise in exercises.

It's an exercise of love.

Love lies at its root, and love should guide every action that takes place within it. This is too easily forgotten; it often becomes a complicated, stiff and inflexible esoteric practice of one kind or another, with too many rules and rituals, conventions and requirements.

I think all of this garbage ought to be thrown out in favor of an essential humanitarian understanding.

This is a work of human beings, with all of their strange and disorderly habits. Isn’t that the whole point of Gurdjieff's magnum opus, All & Everything? We must make efforts to become real human beings, and if there is a reality of Being — any kind of reality of Being — if it is not firmly grounded in an effort of love, why bother?

What other value can there be?

Some students of esoteric lore may say that we are too crude and undeveloped to love, and that we can't approach that question yet, because we have to do all these other things first. Love, this odd creed suggests, ought to come later. Must come later — because we are no good at it yet.

But this simply isn’t true. If we can’t love, we ought to at least behave as if we can love.

Of course this would require us to treat each other decently, and that would be difficult. People would much rather indulge their cruelties and find excuses for them.

But I would counsel each person in any spiritual work to ruthlessly scrutinize their attitudes towards this question. I think most of us will quickly find that we spend little time, very little time, attempting to understand how to love. We will attempt to understand almost anything else first, such as how to understand complicated philosophical questions, how to have more power than the other person, how to get more money, how to achieve the desires that gratify us, etc.

We may even claim that we want to understand ourselves: and I suppose this is laudable, insofar as it goes.

Yet the whole practice of outer considering demands, more or less, that we try to understand the other: that we get out of ourselves and attempt to discover empathy and sympathy for the other person — a fundamental requirement, if one thinks about it, of discovering what it is to love.

When we consider the phrase, consider outwardly always, inwardly never — it suggests that we ought to love the other and not ourselves.

Some may want to argue the point and tell me I am wrong, but in my eyes, this means that we ought to forever strive to exercise the best example of loving behavior we can towards other people, which we must inevitably find will grate horribly against our egoistic impulses. Outbursts of unloving behavior may be the inevitable consequence of a guilty soul; but we cannot wallpaper over it and move on. We must pick ourselves up and make amends.

Admittedly, those who have not practiced sobriety against the objective evil of alcoholism for many years may not understand this practice of making amends the way we sober alcoholics do; but others, I think, ought to learn it.

We truly need to practice a more active form of love in our spiritual work. An intelligent effort of love. One that continually reminds us to put ourselves second when we always want to put ourselves first.

We may never win this battle, but it does not mean we shouldn’t fight it.

Essays on the Molecular work of Being will resume Nov. 17. There are two more essays in that series.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.


But, my friend, abstain from evil, and do what is good, and believe in the Lord with your whole heart and your whole soul; and the Lord will love you and give you love for what you do and faith in what you believe. Then you will do what is good because of love and you will believe because you have faith, which is confidence. And if you persevere like this, a reciprocal partnership with the Lord will develop and become permanent. This is salvation itself and eternal life. 

If we did not use the powers that have been granted to us to do what is good, and we did not use our minds to believe in the Lord, what would we be except a wasteland or a desert, like ground that is so utterly dry that it repels rather than absorbs rain? We would be like a sandy field where there are sheep that have nothing to eat. We would be like a spring that has dried up, or like stagnant water around a spring that is blocked. We would be like a home where there is no harvest and no pond; unless we left there immediately and looked for an inhabitable spot elsewhere, we would die of hunger and thirst. 

—Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity, vol. 2; page 23

Monday, November 14, 2016

The molecular work of Being—DNA and the soul, part II

Our Lady of the Dry Tree
Petrus Christus
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

My deep wish is to submit entirely to an inner voice, the feeling of the divine, of the sacred in me. I know that a higher energy—what religions call God or Lord—is within me. It will appear if the mind and the body are truly related.

Jeanne de Salzmann, The Reality of Being, p. 260

When we take in impressions, the way that we take them in has an inevitable, direct, and fundamentally physical effect on our cellular mechanisms. Ultimately, the finer material of impressions that flows into our body causes cellular reactions of an extraordinary variety; specific proteins and other molecular entities are expressed as a result of these interactions and come into contact with the genetic material in the nucleus of our cells, causing it to undertake appropriate (or inappropriate) responses as a result of those entities and the messages they impart. New molecular entities are then produced; and those have an impact on the further work of the DNA in the cell and the cell itself.

 In this way, all of the impressions we take in create (in the course of a lifetime, unto itself) an "eternal-internal" exchange in which both the nature and quantity of various molecular structures and substructures in the body is determined. All of the activities we undertake either increase or decrease the presence of various intercellular and intracellular molecules: proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and other substances; and these determines the nature of our entire physical functioning—but also, in the sense of “fineness,” that is, the finer energies which Gurdjieff and de Salzmann urge us to cultivate — they determine both our spirituality and our psychology. 

When de Salzmann said that everything is in constant movement, always going up or down, that nothing ever stays in the same place, she was referring to the cosmos in general, but it applies just as much to the microcosmos under discussion here as to anything else. Our bodies are always producing a range of molecules that either build on our inward growth of Being, or act against it.  

This book on genes, in other words, provides an important mirror to Gurdjieff's idea of the chemical factory in mankind; and it offers us the potential to gain a new form of insight into the genetic nature of our spiritual being, and the way that the performance and function of our physical being relates to it. 

 It’s already established that the cultivation of spiritual being can effect actual, measurable material changes in the body on a molecular level.  Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation practices can produce physical changes in organs;  they also change the way in which the brain functions. A material expression of function through DNA is the ultimate ground-floor vehicle for that change; so perhaps the reason that it takes so many years for any real spiritual change to take place in the human being is because of the unusual delicate, intricate, staggeringly complex, and constantly changing nature of cellular activity. It takes many years, one can see, for finer impressions to create enough change within enough cells for them to collectively reorganize the structure of their molecular relationships enough to truly change Being. 

In this sense, spiritual effort is indeed an incremental undertaking; and we may intuit here that there are physical and chemical laws governing it that are difficult to overcome. If there is such a thing as "instant enlightenment" — a matter that has historically created more than a few disagreements, especially in the Zen schools — it’s extraordinarily unusual for just this reason.

When the inward sensation of Being changes such that one senses different vibrations, and in particular when one acquires the capacity to sense higher and sacred vibrations, it takes place because of rearrangements of chemicals within cells on the molecular level. Cellular mechanisms need to be retrained over a long period of time to produce the molecular relationships that can make this possible; and they need to be not only retrained, but learn to produce proteins, etc. (Gurdjieff's “finer substances”) in much greater amounts, because sensitivity depends on having enough “finer molecules” available to do the work of sensation that’s necessary. When we work on our sensation, when we make efforts to be, it may seem to us that we are making them with our mind or through our feeling, but we are really engaged in changing the inner relationships of our molecular and cellular Being.

 The matter is worthy of a great deal of consideration, and may perhaps lead us to a greater respect for the collective inward effort we are undertaking. We’re not just trying to reeducate our attitudes, our feelings, and so on; we’re engaged in a reeducation of our genes themselves, since we’re “retraining” the genetic material at the heart of our spiritual being so that it better aligns with the higher senses of purposes which are built into it—but which generally remain dormant.  

There’s an interesting aspect of this in the context of the word “opening." A spiritual engagement, a freeing of the spirit or soul, is often called an opening. We know that the DNA molecule is folded into an extremely complex shape; and that its folds undergo metamorphosis as it brings various parts of itself into contact with one another in order to synthesize new molecules according to the instruction sets encoded in the on/off switches that lie in long strands of the DNA molecule outside the genes that used to be thought of as "nonsense" encoding (for example, “pseudogenes”), but which are now increasingly understood to perform many vital functions. Spiritual awakening may well involve literally opening folded areas of the DNA molecule so that they are allowed to make new kinds of contact with one another and express new potentials.

Mukherjee reports: “In 1988, a National Research Council document on the Genome Project made a crucial projection about the future of genomic research: “Encoded in the DNA sequence are fundamental determinants of those mental capacities—learning, language, memory—essential to human culture. Encoded there as well are the mutations and variations that cause or increase the susceptibility to many diseases responsible for much human suffering.” 

—Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene, Scribner iBooks, from the section So, We's the Same.

It is just as certain that all the capacity of our spiritual being is not just encoded, but also hidden within, our DNA; that all of the possibilities we have for consciousness and Being are already in there; and that they are simply not expressed, because appropriate relationships and conditions haven't been fostered and formed.  This is, for those familiar with it, strikingly reminiscent of Gurdjieff’s contention that man already has “higher centers” within him, but we are just not in contact with them. 

His comment that one must of necessity make contact with the lower in order to contact the higher – that the process is entirely reciprocal — makes even more sense—molecular sense—in this context:

"Each cosmos is an animate and intelligent being. Each cosmos is born, lives, and dies. In one cosmos it is impossible to understand all the laws of the universe, but three cosmoses taken together include in themselves all the laws of the universe, or two cosmoses, the one above and the other below, determine the cosmos which stands between them… by passing in his consciousness to the level of a higher cosmos, a man by this very fact passes to a level of a lower cosmos." 

—Gurdjieff, as quoted in In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky, P. 333

It's already well understood that in terms of mechanical physical characteristics, DNA encodes all kinds of latent information which is not expressed except under a specific set of circumstances. Yet we always conceive of this understanding as applying to physical characteristics such as hair color, height, susceptibility to particular diseases, and so on. It's rarely considered in the context of our psychology and spirituality — yet it should be obvious to all of us that it also works in exactly this way: 

Most notably, perhaps, children with Down syndrome have an extraordinary sweetness of temperament, as if in inheriting an extra chromosome they had acquired a concomitant loss of cruelty and malice (if there is any doubt that genotypes can influence temperament or personality, then a single encounter with a Down child can lay that idea to rest).

—Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene, Scribner iBooks, from the section The Birth of a Clinic.

Disturbances of the mind and of the soul are well known to have genetic and molecular origins, just as physical features do. This has been recognized for a long time; yet there's a vast difference between maladies caused by defective genes, and spiritual potentials concealed by latency.

Installment 3 of the Molecular work of Being will publish Nov. 17. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The molecular work of Being—DNA and the soul, part I

Madonna Enthroned
Rogier van der Weyden
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

I am but a small man. How can I criticize religion and science? What then is possible? I begin to think that perhaps there is some truth in them; it is impossible for everyone to be mistaken. So now I set myself the task of trying to understand what it is all about. When I begin to think and study impartially, I find that religion and science are both right, in spite of the fact that they are opposed to one another. I discover a small mistake. One side takes one subject; the other side, another. Or they study the same subject but from different angles; or one studies the causes, the other the effects of the same phenomenon, and so they never meet. But both are right, for both are based on laws that are mathematically exact.

—G. I. Gurdjieff, Views From the Real World, New York, Feb. 20 1924

"...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

I've been reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene, which is a fine piece of writing and an engaging historical documentary of our evolving understanding of the natural world and heredity. The book is highly recommended.

 The genome— DNA and RNA molecules, to be specific — marks the place where the microcosmos of the atom and its essential assemblies — molecules — create the world of what we call the living. 

In the world of metaphysics, the understanding that the spiritual expresses itself materially in a structure of helixes is not a new one — Swedenborg understood this through his remarkable and highly unusual spiritual insight. He described the actual structural nature of DNA and its role as the structural foundation of our organism (brain); yet he even more presciently assigned it spiritual attributes. That is, he intuited a direct connection between the material and the spiritual lying at the base of Being. 

To put it as simply as possible, he said that God flows into man through our DNA; and there can be no doubt there is a genetic component to man's spiritual impulses. After all, all of human impulse is governed, in the end, by the process of natural selection, and from the ubiquitous presence of spiritual inclinations throughout societies over the entire course of man’s history, we can directly infer that our DNA selects quite powerfully for that characteristic. Evolutionists may argue one way or another about the reasons for that; yet the existence of it is an inarguable fact. Spirituality is built, quite literally, into our DNA: and like all the other characteristics we express, it is ultimately regulated by these tiny molecules.

 Yet it is, perhaps, impossible to fully appreciate the incomprehensible intricacies of how life arises and reproduces itself without understanding just how complex and—in a very practical sense—self-aware these molecules are. They undertake tasks of enormous complexity, tasks well beyond the abilities of today's supercomputers, on a scale so small and at such great speeds that even a single cell in our bodies is engaged every second in a set of tasks far too complex for any current technology to replicate.

The laws, logic, physics, and chemistry behind these forces create life. I sometimes wonder why scientists are so obsessed with re-creating life, as though we were going to do something better than nature has already done it. Man, after all, has consistently proved an ability only to do things much worse than nature does—far more destructively, and with no appreciation for consequences. Modern science has so far proven to be a blind man with no morals. These questions are worth pondering; and every sane-thinking, three brained individual ought to be pondering them.

In any event, what has provoked my interest here relates to a specific ability of the molecular machinery in cells. Genetic material, in response to its environment, has the ability to change the proteins it expresses in order to better use the material around it. This was known as early as the late 1940s, when Jacques Monod (who spent World War II researching bacterial metabolism in an attic in occupied Paris) saw that bacteria,  when put in a medium of glucose and lactose, selectively consume glucose first, and then undergo a phase change of growth before starting to eat the lactose. It eventually became apparent  that the bacteria change the proteins they express midstream in order to digest lactose; that there are molecules which regulate this behavior; and that the sequential instructions for the process are directly encrypted in the DNA of the bacterial genome.

 In order to understand how this relates to spiritual work, it's important to understand that in the intersection between the natural and the spiritual, much of the arrangement that allows the natural body to sense the spiritual relates to the molecular arrangements within the cells. As in the case of the bacteria with glucose and lactose — which are foods— all of the cells in our body feed not only on sugars, but also on oxygen (what Gurdjieff called the second-being food) and, above all, impressions. Yoga focuses a great deal on changing the relationship of Being to air; and yet as a discipline it does not deal with the nature of change imparted by the ingestion of the third being-food, impressions. Impressions are not even generally recognized as a food by science, something which is by now long overdue.

Mukherjee explains, furthermore, that the essential nature of DNA and RNA and the way that they operate arises from the relationships (read here, impressions) they create; it is not just the code that they embody, but the incredibly intricate, complex, and sensitive relationship between the various molecules, which takes place constantly in real time, that leads to all the things that make life possible.  It is not, in other words, the planks of wood that make a boat — it is the relationship between them. In the case of the genome, all of those relationships are made possible by the way the molecular structure of DNA takes in impressions exchanged between itself and proteins. 

DNA, like human beings, furthermore has a set of inner exchanges — whereby it exchanges information within itself — and outer exchanges, where it interacts with incoming molecules, and ions. Everything mediating this process of exchange with the cell is, at its point of origin, determined by the cell’s DNA, which contains dynamic instruction sets which respond to changing conditions both inside and outside the cell.

If you will recall here Gurdjieff’s remark that the outer cannot affect the inner—it is always the inner that affects the outer—it's worthwhile to consider the idea that our DNA is the physical representation of the inner on the microcosmic level. No matter what impressions we encounter, at the molecular level, every protein—every amino acid, every molecule and ion—expressed by cells in response is a product of the engine driven by DNA. 

All of our molecular responses, our energetic, electrochemical responses, are generated, regulated, and replicated by the DNA molecule and the work that it does inside the cell. If one kind of impression comes in, instantaneously, one kind of electrochemical neural responses take place — and a different impression produces different group of these responses, stimulating the production, release, or retention of a different set of regulatory molecular entities. 

We—our beings— are, in the end, a macroscopic summation of these molecular entities and their interactions; and in every instance, within the body, being as it stands is composed of these collective entities and the way they work in relationship. 100% of this is regulated by the moment to moment work of our DNA — which truly works in the moment, every moment. 

As such, the inner state of the organism is a mirror of outer conditions, and forms a response to them on a molecular level. This is taking place in us always and everywhere, for as long as life lasts.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The arrogant, ignorant piece

Shanghai, Nov. 11

An individual who read today's Facebook post about the recent US election made the following comments about the post on someone else's timeline. 

“This arrogant, ignorant piece is all about Lee van laer’s little world. He wouldn’t recognize the sly man if he met him, much less the Work. He is too puffed up with himself to see others. Van Laer imagines here an emotional narrative that says nothing real about what the American people are and wish for or why they chose to elect this president. Van Laer doesn’t even bother to get simple facts right. Lord Pentland once remarked to a very lost member of a group, “The work is for trance-formation.” He noted at another time, “Gurdjieff fashioned his teaching so dumb people can’t really distort anything.”

This last remark is interesting. It may well be true; and if so, it is good news for the critic. He must be very smart indeed!

Years ago, I used to receive very similar destructive comments from people when I allowed comments in this space. They all generally sound about the same, so much so it’s surprising. Every person who posts such drivel imagines themselves to be special in a good way; whereas the opposite is so evidently true to anyone who has acquired proper reading skills.

I will confess that in my own eyes, if this was the kind of individual the Gurdjieff work actually produces or was even intended to produce, I would resign from it immediately and make every human effort to oppose its propagation and even its very existence, for I would see it as a dire threat to the spiritual integrity and goodness of all mankind.

Fortunately, my 30+ years of direct day-by-day experience working with many people who knew Gurdjieff, Lord Pentland, and Mme. Salzman personally have led me to firmly believe that this is NOT the kind of individual the Gurdjieff work hopes to produce; so I breathe a sigh of relief on that point. I don’t have to quit just yet.

Nonetheless any such personal attack certainly deserves a bit of further examination. The man intends to hurt me; and this is not a right attitude at all. 

The writer, interestingly, appears to be a person of British (!) nationality who appears to think he knows a very great deal more about American politics than I—a sixty one year old American resident and citizen— know. He may; perhaps he is a professional politician, which might explain the overall tone of his comments. If so, he is perforce excused; the man cannot help himself, and lies beyond the help of others as well.

For my own part I know little about the British people and their political system and can’t presume to say much about what they may wish for. Perhaps the British have very excellent. yet absolutely secret, teskooanos with which they are observing we Americans. Who knows?

In any event, what I found helpful about the comments—and yes, they are in some ways mildly helpful, one must take the good one can get and extract it from the bad— is, first, his reference to my “little world.”

Everyone’s world is in fact quite small. This bracing invective is a good reminder of that. I’m indeed limited by the scope of my own Being—my Yezidi circle. No matter how large I think my thinking is, it's only ever a set of tiny events that take place within my own event horizon. The important thing here, I think, is to know that for myself.

 In light of this incontrovertible fact, the writer delivers his critique in an atmosphere of dense irony which apparently escapes him: he, too, is writing from his own little world—as must we all. I won’t presume to judge the exact size of his own world, small or large, but from the negativity and outrage it conveys, I suspect it may be an alarming world to live in, even if it is huge—as I hear for example hell is.

He scores again, early on. I am indeed also too puffed up with myself. I have lived with this all my life. What an ace he is! For a brief, slightly painful moment, I admire his aim.

In point of fact we are ALL too puffed up with ourselves, which is a part of the human condition that preceded from the collapse of the original, sinless universe as a result of the chootboglitantical disaster. I won’t digress more on that here (there are other essays) but there you are.

I appreciate his reminder, but on reflection the point is, one must admit, yet another rhetorical one. His aim may be excellent, but he's only shooting fish in a barrel. One wonders of what real use it is to “accuse” me of being in a state we all share. Although it isn't intentional, he deftly helps prove this point himself; it's puffed up with the full fury of a caged sparrow.

He’s now done it twice... let us see... let us see where we go next.

The next damning flaw: I “imagine an emotional narrative.” 

Well, that too is true. So does he—his argument is once again undoubtedly a reflexive one—and yet I can find no sound principles of condemnation in it, so we will let it stand. 

Let us pause here for a deep breath and consider his skills. It’s something of a feat to pack this many reflexive arguments into such a tight little piece, but the writer has done so with apparent ease, implying he has considerable expertise in this area. There are more positives to be found: repeatedly accusing another of exhibiting qualities we all share, while exhibiting them one’s self, allows for an admirable ease of presentation, no matter how low the standard may be. 

My post, he goes on to report, “says nothing real about the American people and what they wish for.” 

Well, he has stumbled a good bit here. One might be tempted to help pull his feet out of his mouth if one weren't upset with him. This is clearly untrue; it pretty clearly and definitely says the American people wish for a different president, which the popular vote absolutely demonstrated. One can’t be sure how he has managed to miss this; it suggests either a severe attention deficit or some other tragic and perhaps even congenital conceptual challenge. We should definitely extend sympathy and leniency on this point, since his words are so clearly heartfelt.

He then claims I have not even got simple facts right, without citing any of the facts he takes issue with. I rather suspect he has not got any real examples to offer, as is often the case with such tirades, but there you are. Accusations of this kind without explanation are in my experience rather useless, but they do help distinguish people who have actual critical minds from those who just believe they do, despite often decisive evidence to the contrary. 

We reach here a sad, but by now inevitable, conclusion. 

His aim, we discover, is simply to belittle me and my writing, and nothing more. How he manages to conflate this with any spiritually valid motive whatsoever remains a mystery on a scale up there with dark matter, but there you are.

He goes on to wrap up his condemnation of both my spiritual and ordinary intelligence (he has covered all the bases, our villain!) by citing Gurdjieff and Pentland as authorities. The action, in this case, is something like the effect one might get if Goebbels started quoting Kierkegaard, but what of it. It's still exactly the type of flourish one ought to end with, don't you think?.

Here's my point.

The idea that one has the right to belittle other people’s spiritual experience and understanding in such a way has gained currency in some dark and, in my opinion, utterly horrid corners of the Gurdjieff work. I’ve encountered it more than once before. The delusional nature of such attitudes ought to speak for itself, but weak people sometimes mistake it for a sign of authority or strength. 

I would fain counsel: 

beware of any and all individuals who behave as though contemptuous and intentional attacks on a person's personal spiritual work—whether public or private— is acceptable. 

It is not and never will be.

Nonetheless, it is a good thing that this gentleman has chosen to get out there and make his world known, whatever huge size it may be. We certainly need to know precisely who others are and what they are all about before we decide whether or not to work with them... or even serve them tea.

I have thus supported his effort and thanked him for it. Perhaps he'll grow. I wish it for him; the good news is that there is ample overhead available in his case.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.