Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Conflict and Cooperation, part III: Inner Listening

Princesse Albert De Broglie, by Ingres
Metropolitan Museum, NY

When I speak about listening in my inner work, I probably don't see that one of the things I don't listen to is these parts I don't like so much. 

Think that over. 

If there's a person around you in your life you don't like, who bugs you and think is a kind of jerk, you don't listen to them much, do you? They just get dismissed. Every once in a while, of course, in our life, it turns out that someone you thought was a jerk it isn't a jerk at all; and you probably should have been listening to that “jerk” much more closely that you did, but just as you realize that, you discover it's too late. You have alienated someone you urgently need. 

Our inner processes work very much the same way; the way that we act outwardly is almost without exception a direct reflection of the way we are arranged inwardly. So we can presume from our outer action that we are doing exactly the same things inside ourselves that outside ourselves; we just aren’t aware of it. 

So if we want to listen, we need to engage in an inner listening. 
One of the paradoxes of this idea of listening is that we tell each other that we ought to listen to each other outwardly; where really, the problem always begins inwardly. I can’t tell you how often I have had people who have, objectively, serious, and even pathological ego problems that cause them to not hear a single thing others ever say to earnestly tell me how important it is for everyone to listen to them. Sitting in the middle of experiences like these would be absolutely comical if it were for the danger such individuals close both to themselves and others.

So let’s forget about the idea of listening to others outwardly. One can do that all day and all night, for decades, and not really understand anything about  how we don’t hear for ourselves how we are inside.

Of course, in the by now utterly habitual jargon of the Gurdjieff work, this idea of inner listening is more often called seeing; and that is an unfortunate label, because it implies that everything is visual. When we use the idea of seeing, there arises a certain unstated and unexamined tendency towards superficiality—simply because when people see something, instantly they think they understand.

My wife and I went to the Metropolitan Museum last year, and while we were there, we looked at paintings by both Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Barnett Newman. This particular painting — Princesse Albert de Broglie— happens to be one of  my favorite paintings by Ingres because of the ethereal quality of the silk. While extolling its virtues to my wife, I explained that minimalist painters were inspired by these works, which gave birth to ideas about color we see coming to maturity in the abstract Expressionist movement. My wife was deeply skeptical when I told her that; but I was quite sure of it, because I instinctively sensed, as an artist, that this is how it took place. Admittedly, I was drop-kicking the idea — but I knew it in my gut.

Concord, Barnett Newman, Metropolitan Museum, NY

Now, my wife was pretty sure I was making this stuff up, because she saw the paintings and thought that was enough to know what they were all about. She didn’t in the least suspect that abstract artists such as Newman looked at paintings by Ingres and found expressions of great value in them which were later investigated in their minimalist work with color; no. She just assumed that because one was a painting of a beautiful woman and another was a painting of a big scrubby area of color that they didn’t have much to do with one another, other than both being “art.” She simply liked one and didn’t like the other... and assumed that pretty much served as an understanding.

When we got home, my wife looked up Ingres on Wikipedia. Imagine her astonishment when she scrolled down to the last comments about Ingres... and discovered that Barnett Newman actually cited him as an influence!

“How did you know that?” she said incredulously.

Well, I didn’t know it because I was smart or educated… It was because rather than seeing the paintings, I was listening to them. This is a deeply inward process.

So one may have seen a great deal; but  but that does not necessarily mean one understands what one has seen.

In this way we can come to the idea that seeing and understanding are not the same thing at all.  When I listen, I have wait attentively, openly, in suspense; when I see, things come in easily and I quickly become too facile with what I perceive.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Conflict and Cooperation, part II: Cooperation of inner being

Cooperation of inner Being involves taking all the forces into account within the field of awareness — an awareness which does not by default adopt a partisan attitude in relationship to any force. It doesn't, for example, say “personality good — essence bad;” it doesn't say, “ego bad, spiritual self good,” or what have you. It arrives objectively, beginning and ending without presumptions about the nature of each part. And here I want to make an absolutely critical point: one’s inner forces are hereby treated as equal partners so that each one retains a degree of respect which it not only needs but deserves.

If we don't give our various parts the respect they deserve and (in egoistic senses) even demand, we are setting ourselves up so that all of our parts actually work against our intention to become more whole. 

Ibn Arabi makes the following comments in Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom:

Do not ever forget the evil commanding ego which you carry within you. Do not ignore its presence. Instruct your most valuable minister, reason, to treat it well, to be in continuous contact with it, because it knows best how to govern the barren deserts of your realm. It has power, and it lies in its hands to do good, if it so wills, or to cause disasters, if it so wills. If it is treated well, there will be peace in the land. Your enemies will be subdued, and your treasuries will be secure. Let all your will and efforts be made to make ordering that which is nearest to you. And that which is closest to you is the result of your efforts and of your work.
If you order that which is good in you to attack that which is bad, in hopes that the bad may turn into good, you may frighten also what is neutral in you.  Then you will create hatred against you among them.

— Ibn Arabi, Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, trans. Tosun Bayrak, Fons Vitae press 1997, pages 71-72.

What Ibn Arabi is saying is that inner forces which we often see as competing with one another, as sources of conflict and tension, can become powerful allies if we understand how to treat them properly. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Conflict and Cooperation, part I: a selfishness of Being

A while ago, I encountered questions from someone about how forces act. 
This person was reporting that from what they saw, the many different forces that manifested in them were competing with one another.

Of course this comes on the heels of various conversations about tension, relaxation, and so on. Everyone knows we have a certain amount of tension; this is even necessary. But we also know there's a point at which it becomes a drain on us. At that point, we change the word, describing it as stress, even though it is more or less the same kind of tension — two opposing forces which meet each other and can't resolve their differences. 

Friction arises. So whether we call it tension, stress, or friction, there are oppositional forces. I think we all recognize that. 

This description of us as being composed of forces which compete is of interest. The OED defines it as  “The action of endeavoring to gain what another endeavors to gain at the same time.” The word is derived from two Latin roots, -com, together, and -petere, to seek. So the word, in its fundament, means to seek together. And two very important points need to be made in regard to this. 

First of all, this seeking can add take place either consciously or unconsciously: parts of ourselves can be aware they are both seeking, or they may seek without knowing each other at all. 

Secondly, this seeking may take place in such a way that one gains at the expense of the other; or, on the other hand, it is possible for it to take place cooperatively, in such a way that both gain.

In order to simplify the second term, let us say that it is a question of conflict versus cooperation.
Therefore, competition can be conscious or unconscious; and it can be a process of conflict or cooperation. Generally speaking, because we are unaware of the fact that we are made up of many different parts (we incorrectly assume, by default, that we have an inner unity that is in fact almost never present) whatever we seek in ourselves is unconscious. Our parts — our intellect, our body, our emotion – are selfish, and seek only for themselves. Now, I think we can see immediately that this is a very important point, because it reveals that the root of our selfishness, which is the chief feature that causes the egoistic downfall of Being and the degradation of the soul, lies in this piece of unconscious territory.

Let's call this a selfishness of Being. The selfishness of Being arises because the parts are unaware of one another; and although this does lead to spiritual corruption, it's not by default "sinful," because the parts are unconscious and unaware of their failure to behave properly. Yet the moment someone attempts to awaken their inner Being so that the parts become more aware of one another, such selfishness becomes sinful — because now the parts known one another and ought to operate on behalf and in support of one another, and yet still don’t do so. 

This sheds new light on three of Gurdjieff’s aphorisms:
8. If you already know it is bad and do it, you commit a sin difficult to redress.

21. Only conscious suffering has any sense.

29. Blessed is he who has a soul, blessed is he who has none, but woe and grief to him who has it in embryo.

I could explain this further, but I'd like readers to think this over more for themselves. While doing so, consider the proposal that all of the aphorisms are actually about this question of the relationship of inner centers, that is, the entire set of aphorisms is an allegory about our inward state, and not our outward one. I think most will agree that they read quite differently if one considers this question in light of the idea of conflict, cooperation, and competition.

An understanding of selfishness is critical, because if our inward parts aren't educated towards cooperation and unselfishness, it’s impossible for us to discover cooperation and unselfishness in outward manifestation. The beginning of ourselves, the way that our being is arranged, is unconsciousness and broken; and before that is repaired, all the manifestations that follow it will be equally unseemly.

Let’s examine this for a moment in light of Gurdjieff's ideas about the harmonious development of man. In harmony, wave forms don't compete with one another; they complement one another. They support one another. That is to say, there is a cooperation between them that produces a fluidity and beauty that is simply not available if they compete. 

In a conceptual sense, scant millimeters mark the distance between harmonic conflict and harmonic cooperation. The slightest deviation from proper tuning of harmonics puts musical notes into competition with one another. While it’s true that the competition increases if the disharmonizations takes place across a broader range, the finely tuned ear can detect dissonance at the moment it comes into being. So when we speak about listening, this is quite important. We have to “hear” the inward tuning of these harmonics of Being within the range of awareness in order to bring them into harmonic cooperation. Otherwise we find ourselves in a state of inner dissonance. 

One ought to be clear, we can't get rid of the forces in us; they are there whether we want them to be or not. At the point of awareness— that distinct and glorious point of mindfulness, which can bring so much even though it seems so small —it becomes a question of tuning the forces so that they don't compete, but rather cooperate. 

This is what we could call a cooperation of inner Being. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Notes on the movements presentation, part II

As the dancers reach Notes of the Octave, the almost Spartan presentation undergoes a change.

Colored light floods the stage in the form of vertical bars of color, representing the spectrum. The color story continues to evolve throughout the rest of the presentation to good effect; the impression is both beautiful and ethereal, the essence of minimalism. Who would have thought that a simple peach or green background would so transform a stage? It's perfect… and filtered through this gentle medium of light, we begin to enter the heart of the movements, the definite dances that describe life and effort according to an unknown form.

Unknown, I say, because nothing like the movements Gurdjieff has created exist anywhere else. They are strange; they are inexplicable; they are beautiful. They encode attitudes of relationship and worship from many different works and worlds; each position represents an inner attitude towards both life and God, and a bridge between the two that can be sensed in the body through attention. Even though they change from one to the next with breathtaking speed, each one is iconic and individual.

If one wants to understand Gurdjieff's “haida yoga,” that is, "hurry up yoga", one can sense it here in the demand to comprehend so many different sacred attitudes flowing together in such brief periods of time. It's as though the history of religion has been compressed into brief, essential minutes of interaction. Buddhism and Christianity have of course preserved the tradition of mudras expressed with the hands, but these are mudras for the whole body. One after the other, like Morse code; and indeed, one is even called Morse Alphabet Followed by a Prayer.

It's a work that cannot be measured against other existing works, because it has taken a left turn somewhere and gone off the road and into the garden. It's a beautiful garden; yet a strictly ordered one, tended not according to whim, but by law.

And law, it turns out, is a most powerful gardener; because in the strictest order and the most demanding execution, the most absolutely beautiful and informative flowers take bud and bloom. There is a moment, a point, at which I recognize that of course it is this way; it has always been this way, and it must be this way. The Gurdjieff movements embody what I call The Perfection; of course, everything embodies The Perfection, but this is a refined, distilled, and concentrated expression of it, which transcends the individual performers.

It reminds me that we're elements; each one of us a particle of something much greater which has a responsibility for interaction that transcends our individual prejudices and natures. I'm reminded that I need to learn to put aside my egoism in order to participate; I am reminded that I am part of a much greater whole and that the sacred feelings which penetrate me are only available to the extent that I agree I should participate, instead of attempting to stand on my own and take.

These movements set themselves apart from our society, which is all about standing on my own and taking. They set themselves apart from fashion and culture, history and art, and stand alone on the stage as though they've emerged from a sealed Sumerian crypt, whole and intact, after thousands of years. Initiation rites that have preserved themselves since the dawn of civilization, unchanged. I'm reminded of the subtle, inexplicable Presence in Egyptian statues, in the Lamassus and bas-reliefs from Nimrud. The same objective dignity is present here, but it's not in any way as static as the ancient arts of sculpture.

It vibrates; it sings.

Yet it sings with all the gravity and substance of a Gregorian chant, something that reaches deep into the echo chambers of the soul and creates resonances that linger throughout the body, penetrating every cell.

Who could have known that such a simple form would convey such depth? It's impossible. Yet I suppose such depths may escape those souls which are not prepared to receive them. After all, life is like this: it is the surface of an ocean which we stare out at in wonder, appreciating its vastness; yet we don't suspect that the vastness we wonder at on the surface is merely on tiny fraction of the life that supports it from below; the immensity of all that exists before the surface can ever manifest.

In the movements, some of that sacred energy, the vibration that supports the very existence of the universe itself, peeks through the fabric of our reality and makes itself known, as if to say,

"I am here. Come join me, in life."


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Notes on the Movements Presentation, part I

No impression exists in a vacuum, and it is impossible to separate the summary of impressions that reach into Being in any given moment.

So when I arrive at the New York Foundation movements demonstration on Sunday, May 21 at 3:30 PM, I bring the whole of my life into it with me.

My 85-year-old mother is here with my childhood friend Peter from Germany, someone I have known for over 50 years. Along with us are my daughter and her boyfriend; my stepson, his girlfriend; and a wide range of friends from the Gurdjieff work, many of whom I have known for thirty years or more. Not to mention the fact that my wife is taking part in the presentation.

I walk out of a bright, breezy, sunny spring afternoon into the darkened room of the Miller theater at Columbia University while contemplating—among other matters—business, travel, and the death of my cousin Elodie not three days ago from pancreatic cancer. Such are the current intersections of life, death, love, and family; and they all come together focused within this moment of great contemplation.

In this case, it’s a very special moment, because I have spent most of my adult life in the Gurdjieff work, and this is the first time in over 50 years that the movements have presented to the public. Objectively speaking, it's a moment long overdue. Because this is a public event, the room bustles with respectful, quiet understatement, the exchange of an audience before the event begins. We have, thank God, become perhaps just a wee bit more ordinary.

Eventually, almost seamlessly and without any jarring impression of transition, the event flows naturally into its opening the way that a stream of water reaches a larger body. Anne-Marie Grant, Jeanne Salzmann’s granddaughter (a statuesque woman if ever there was one) brings her own peculiar, quiet, and gathered dignity and delivers a candid, soft, and heartfelt introduction to the movements. She has the genius of the ordinary at work in her; and she carries it with humility. This a right thing. Her delivery is, in a word, perfect.

For most in the room, the movements perhaps need little explanation; yet in case we have forgotten it, she brings the question of attention, of consciousness, and what these questions mean to us.

Her remarks are intelligently brief; soon the room darkens even more, and we are offered a single Gurdjieff/deHartmann song, Song of the Fisherwomen, by way of introduction.

Those presenting the movements come out against a puritanical white background. It may be, I think to myself, a mistake... too severe?

Yet here we are. It is as it is.

The atmosphere is minimalist; there is nothing to focus on but the dancers, dressed in monochromatic white and ivory. The first range of movements they present are exercises of various kinds. But already, by the time the first one has passed, we move together into an octave where a sense of the sacred that’s been lost for many centuries in most places palpably enters the room.

It doesn’t come from above, from the sides, or from below; it emanates, which is to say it permeates and penetrates from all sides. This energy, which is brought down from a different level — yes, even though it does not come from "above" as we understand it, it descends — enters with a distinctive emotional quality.

One must perhaps be prepared, sensitized, to receive this particular substance, because it's refined and does not make itself available without intelligence, sincerity, commitment, and effort — all of which must exist before I demand their presence. In fact, demanding their presence is useless, because it is only their voluntary appearance that makes such sensitivity possible. Yet I sit here penetrated by this feeling – substance, which fills my whole being with a sense of understanding that is not available through the rational mind.

I’ll try to describe it.

 I’m in an ancient temple, which has always existed everywhere and is here even now. This temple has been with mankind since the beginning of its history, and, like the kingdom of heaven, it is always inside us. If we are fortunate enough to discover it, we carry it around with us: and events like the movements, which represent the sacred expression of the rites of worship in this temple, are simply there to affirm and remind us of its presence.

When I enter this temple, I enter a timeless place of respect, compassion, and mercy that penetrate all of Being. I am within the sphere of influence of the ancient rites of initiation; I am within the memory of how love is passed from generation to generation, unstintingly, objectively, and without distinction. It seems impossible to understand, yet these movements express that love in their very order and simplicity. They have stories of the whole world in them: information of a subtle, ethereal kind that does not easily subject itself to rational analysis.

They are a container for the Dharma—for truth.

They look easy; yet I know that they are nothing like easy, having done them myself for many years. They request a love of relationship for the sake of relationship itself, and they express that relationship according to law.

A sacred feeling-impulse enters my body and flows irresistibly through me. It's one of gratitude and insufficiency, compassion and unknowing. All of these things are present; and our participation together as both dancers and audience allows this substance of feeling to flow most abundantly. Tears come to my eyes over and over again as I realize, through the medium of the movements and what they bring, how rich and extraordinary this life is, and how often we are given the opportunity to affirm both the life of our loved ones and families, our own life, and to confront the inevitability of death, which confers a different kind of sobriety upon us.

That sobriety, as well, is evident in the intent and concentration of those doing the movements. It's as though they understand that time is short and we must concentrate our efforts; that it’s never enough to just reach for God in an outward way, but that one must also reach inwardly in new and different ways that one has never thought of before. The movements themselves, in their own way, are an exact part of what one never thought of before; who could have thought such things up? They are extraordinary. Anyone can see that. While indubitably an absolute part of life, a hidden part of life, they are also apart from life and speak of an effort in life that requires a different attitude.

It's pointless to try and review these movements from an aesthetic point of view. One understands as the event progresses that they are designed to evoke a feeling-relationship that transcends our ordinary understanding of art. They are not art; they are a science designed to help us feel God. It is nothing like the science we expect or calculate; it is a science not of laws and formulas, but of movement and relationship.

Inevitably, the ordinary parts of me enter and blend in. I receive the higher material that the movements bring; yet  I'm also judging, watching, criticizing. These two parts meet within my own area of consciousness. I'm not really able to eliminate the lower parts; I have to gently and lovingly tolerate their action within this context.

Yet one impression from the beginning of the presentation stays with me powerfully: the entire world is breathing a sigh of relief. This moment has been much too long coming, and is at the same time desperately needed. A representative moment in which the collective memory of mankind, which reaches back many thousands of years, is gathered together at a point of Being that we need to remember now, in this time of great trial for humanity.

One can only hope that this represents a point of departure from which more such demonstrations will be made, because it is so urgently necessary for these movements and the energy they bring to be shared, rather than hidden.

The process needs to enter the flow of ordinary life and percolate through our societies; the energy that the participation from the audience brings needs to be spread out, like fine tendrils and roots, into the world around us. This finer food, I sense, may feed things we cannot see and change events in subtle ways that improve the possibilities outwardly, as well as inwardly.

This, I think to myself,  is a seed being planted; may it be watered well and grow.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Receive, absorb, digest, part two

I spoke with my wife about this question of how impressions are dealt with by the various centers, or brains, and she had a bit of difficulty understanding some bits of it, so I’m going to explain it in a different way.

Imagine that there's a window pane. The sunlight is coming through it. 

Now, the sunlight represents the impressions; and the windowpane is the intellect. (There is a trick to this, because the intellect of each center — its thought ability, which exists in each center uniquely relative to its own type of work and ability — is all part of the windowpane. However, for the purposes of our comparison we will just pretend for now that the windowpane is the intellect or intellectual center, the intellectual brain that thinks, by itself.)

This intellectual brain has a set of preconceived ideas and concepts that applies to everything that comes through it. It’s like a film of dirt on the windowpane. Some of the window pane has a little dirt; some has a lot. There are windowpanes in general that are heavily coated with dirt and some that have a lot less. But whatever there is on the window pane, it obscures the sunlight which is coming in. 

Thought is like this. As an impression enters, the preconceived thought – whether it is an intellectual, physical, or emotional “thought” — blocks a significant portion of the impression from entering and falling deeper into the room. 

To make matters worse, all of the light that it does not block is recolored, so it loses some of its strength and does not go as deeply into the room as it would otherwise do.

Because of all this, the objects in the room (here, the analogy for the room and its contents is the physical body) can’t receive the sunlight that they would ordinarily receive; and so they don’t store the warmth—at least they don’t store the majority of the warmth—that they could store if the windowpane were transparent. 

So this is the analogy of the body, which could be absorbing impressions much more deeply and at much higher levels if the “windowpane” of the overall intellect wasn’t dirty and smeared.

Ultimately, this means that later, when the sun goes down, the objects in the room can’t radiate as much heat as they would have been able to if they had absorbed all of the blocked impressions and stored them properly.

In this way, the human being receives, stores, and then re-emanates impressions. 

During this process, the impressions are concentrated, purified, and raised to a higher level — in exactly the same way that physical digestion works. Yet because the food that is being ingested is of a much higher level, it produces much higher substances. 

For our purposes, let’s understand that a higher substance is a substance that brings love and compassion into Being. 

And perhaps I will talk about that in the next post.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Movements and obedience

When one watches the movements, one perhaps thinks first that one is watching a form of dance.

It may be, in other words, perceived as what we usually consider to be a form of entertainment.

Now, modern dance as it's currently practiced may approach the idea of embodying the sacred, it's true. Yet the idea that dance might illustrate universal laws is probably quite foreign to the world of dance as we know it today. Dance is supposed to express beauty, grace; it’s supposed to be about joy and celebration, or — perhaps —pain and suffering; that is to say, it presumably expresses an emotional state. Of course there are theoretical and intellectual components to it; and one can’t deny its very physical nature. Yet I think we would mostly agree that modern dance is, above all, some form of emotional expression.

Yet the way that Gurdjieff's sacred movements are constructed, they reveal the granular nature of the world; and in order to explain that, one has to look at the world of science, of physics and biology.

It may seem like these dances are a long way from physics and biology, but—and perhaps inevitably—they’re directly tied to its understandings.

On one level (and there are many) the movements can be seen to represent the folding and unfolding of molecules as they interact with each other; they reflect the atomic structure of creation, and the way that it locks and unlocks various gates and doors as the parts interact with one another. All of the molecules in the bodies we are in, and all of the molecules that organic life uses in order to manifest, move in specific patterns according to law, come into contact and then let go, fold themselves into different positions at different times, in unusually powerful and extraordinarily ordered sequences. When one watches a sacred dance, a Gurdjieff movement, one can see such action expressed on this level.

The Gurdjieff movements, along with the music that accompanies them, are expressions of lawful principles that govern all being. This isn't an abstraction; and one needn't understand the rules in all of the detail, one needn't grasp the minutiae, in order to understand the overall message, which is one of law-conforming principles. There's a great beauty in this, of course; yet above all, the movements are here to bring to us, in a visual and feeling format, the obedience that governs the universe.

Experiencing this obedience in a practical way requires an awareness of a certain level. One has to know one’s place; location, a sense of exactly where one is, is necessary. And in a certain way, it doesn't matter whether one is one of the dancers located in the middle of the movement, or an observer who is watching the movements take place. Either way, one needs to know where one is. The movements can help evoke a wish for this kind of understanding, an understanding of location.

One can’t really understand where one ought to go unless one first understands where one is. So the movements help us to see where we are. One can’t, from my point of view, watch the Gurdjieff movements and understand the relationship of the locking and unlocking, folding and unfolding parts that take place in uniquely timed rhythms without thinking of Gurdjieff's law of three and law of seven; and reaching, by way of intuition, an understanding that these laws govern the work of both molecules and universes. Material things follow the same laws throughout the known universe, on every level; the movements simply happen to be an expression of those laws as they might be understood from this level. The ubiquity of law guarantees that it functions in the same way on every level; so even the DNA molecule is embedded in the movements themselves.

The movements, in other words, are an artistic expression of scientific principles; they may be, in their own subtle way, the best expression ever of Gurdjieff’s adage to mix the best of the East and the West, and then seek.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Receive, absorb, digest, part one

Man is symbol of Laws of Creation; in him there is evolution, involution, struggle,
progress, and retrogression. Struggle between positive and negative, active and passive, yes and no, good and evil. Each struggle between yes and no creates a something which (depends) on something further. Without struggle, no progress and no result. Every breaking of habit produces a change in the machine. Piece all lectures, etc., together; if no paste nothing will stick.

— Lecture given by Gurdjieff about March 2, 1923

This brief quote is interesting when considered in light of perspectives that attempt to make everything relative, claiming there is no good and no evil, and asserting that there are no results, etc. 

People love to pretend they grasp such matters because it makes them feel more important about themselves and what they think they know. I’ve run into any number of theoreticians and metaphysical “experts”,  for example, who think there's no such thing as evil. If they were raped or murdered—or, God forbid, their children were—they would immediately form different opinions. 

It’s easy to dismiss the types of struggles Gurdjieff speaks of if one hasn’t had personal encounters with them — and most people spend most of their lives worshiping the "evil inner God of self calming,” author included. We don't want to struggle; and yet we have to be shattered if we want anything new to happen in us.

Well then. I don’t intend to embark on a longer soliloquy about this opening quote. I just thought it interesting. Let’s forget about the metaphysical arguments for a little while. 

How are you inside yourself now? Stop for a minute and just take a look, attempting to come into relationship with the organic presence of Being. 

By this I don’t just mean feeling the weight of your rear end on the chair, or the sensation of one foot. 

I mean the entire sensation of life and Being as it arises. 

Where is that now? 

Where does it come from? 

Why is it here? 

Is it going somewhere? 

If so, where?

There ought to be an essential satisfaction in the act of Being; yet even in the midst of an organic manifestation which has a solid center of gravity, sometimes, satisfaction escapes Being. It is a slippery thing; and it only arises in direct proportion to what is received and digested. 

This matter ought to be carefully studied, because the study itself helps the food of impressions to be received, properly absorbed, and digested.

These three actions are different actions and need to be understood as different from one another.

 To receive impressions is an intellectual exercise, that is, they are filtered through thinking center. They either take on the color of thinking, according to past associations and what is (mostly, mind you, accidentally) present in thought as they arrive—or, they move through thought more transparently and can fall more deeply into the body. This requires a greater transparency of thought, which means that our fixation on our psychology needs to relax and dilate in order for impressions to enter without interference.

To absorb impressions is physical — they move to the center of gravity of Being (if they're of sufficient quality, and taken in with an appropriate attention) and penetrate into the cellular material and, most particularly, the marrow — which is not just a marrow of the bones, because every cell has its own marrow within its nucleus, just as the bones have a marrow composed of cells. (You may not know it, but cells have complex cytoskeletons in exactly the same way that our bodies do.) 

To digest impressions is emotional. This takes longer than receiving or absorption, because many complicated things need to take place with impressions once they enter the body. At the finest level, all impressions involve the adjustment of trillions of molecular arrangements in order to be absorbed and integrated into Being; the so-called “conscious” mind is absolutely incapable of any such work, but the “subconscious” mind — which includes all of the “buried” intellectual capacities of the body and the emotions — is not only fully capable of such work, it was specifically designed for it.This is one of the reasons (there are more) that Gurdjieff said the subconscious mind should more properly be considered as man’s true mind.

It’s only by digesting impressions properly that we begin to approach a depth of feeling experience that reveals the extraordinary capacity for love and compassion which a human Being is designed to experience. So this question ought to be pondered more seriously, instead of glossing it over with the intellect and assuming one has understood anything.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Today, try to be much more precise about seeing where one's work is. 

See exactly.  Don't make mistakes.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On three brained being, part five: inhabiting each brain as a form of worship

Each of the minds, each of the brains, represents the intelligence of the creator. That is to say, mankind as a whole is a vicegerent (a representative) of God; but in the same way, each of man’s brains is a sacred reflection of one of the essential qualities of God. That is to say, intelligence, sensation, and feeling represent three key aspects of the holy Trinity, that is, they are godlike qualities and in their essence perfectly reflect God’s intention. One can easily say that these are reflection of God’s nature: God thinks; God senses; God feels.

The fact that we so significantly interfere with an honest manifestation of this reflection does not detract from its nature in the most essential sense, that is, no matter what we do, we can’t change the fundamental aspect of these brains. Within the core experience of each brain lies a spark of the divine; and that inhabiting each brain within its own realm, that is, living one’s Being through any one of the brains or all three brains, is actually a form of worship. This means that when I inhabit the intellect, it has the potential to become a form of worship; but only when I fully inhabited, that is, I relax the inclination to control it and instead enter it. 

Exactly the same thing can be said about the brain of physical sensation. Each part of the physical body as a representative of God’s being; and this applies not only to the hands, the feet, the lungs, the thorax and the abdomen, the sex organs, and so on, it also applies to the individual cells, which have a being and a manifestation of their own. It’s the inhabitation of this subtle, granular, and exquisitely detailed aspect of our sensation of the body where we first discover the invitation to experience our body, our inhabitation of it, and its nature as a form of prayer. 

This means that every action, every position, every movement and every motion is a form of prayer. To understand this from within the body of sensation is a very high practice, but is certainly possible. All movements and all yoga, all tai chi, are based upon this premise, even though they don’t quite understand this particular aspect Being in exactly this way. Human beings are, you see, inclined to encounter worship and prayer and yet not quite recognize it; or, typically, recognize it with the intellectual mind alone, not understanding how to think from the body or think from the feelings. 

Above all, in order to inhabit this practice, it can’t be romanticized. Rapturous investment in a feeling attitude towards it won’t help. There has to be a sacred objectivity which is founded in humility and acceptance that brings us, very slowly and very gently, to the organic understanding we need in this area.

In the same way, every feeling is a form of prayer. This is a subtler and more difficult form to enter; and it is marked above all by nostalgia, a sorrow and longing for Being. 

In daily life, I think we overlook the potential for an ordinary — that is, properly ordered – relationship the three brains to help us form an intelligible relationship with God. Inhabiting the three brains the way I describe here is, in an overall sense, a high practice, and may represent a form of aspiration that seems distant from daily life. Yet it shouldn’t be; because the opportunity to experience daily life from this perspective is immediately adjacent to our Being as it stands.


Note: this essay is an excerpt from the book Being and Impressions.

The entire book is available in the Apple iBooks store, or as a pdf at the following page link:

Being and Impression

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

On three brained Being, part four: Helping each brain find its own right food

Buddha statue 
Metropolitan Museum, New York

I’m pretty much oblivious to the fact that each of the minds in me needs a certain kind of material that’s going to support my work. Because the minds cooperate with one another (or, at least, they should) they need each other’s help to get the material for their own work. 

Yet this often doesn’t happen.

When we speak of mindfulness, which is a bit of a vague word that gets used all the time to describe attention, the kind of mindfulness that is actually needed is an attentiveness to the question of what material each brain needs for its own work. 

The sensation of the body, for example, needs to feed on its own kinds of food — its own kinds of impressions, of relationship, of contact — in order to remain healthy and function properly. The same is true of the emotional part, my feelings. Often they’re starved of what is needed for their own work and end up being frustrated an angry because of it. They don’t have verbal ways to express this, so they do it in other ways.

If each of the brains doesn’t receive the right kind of nourishment and find the right kind of stimulation, it can’t do the work it’s supposed to. As it turns out, it’s quite easy to feed the intellectual mind, because it stands in front of everything that comes in monitoring it. There are books, media, and so on. But what feeds the body and what feeds the feelings may not be at all so obvious. While it’s understood that sensations cause pleasure — and that people seek sensation for that reason, such as the taste of food, or the touch of a loved one upon the skin, or drugs — and that feelings also bring such types of satisfaction, if they are stimulated by enjoyable inputs such as music or art — none of these things have been developed, in modern society, into formally organized forms that represent a proper “diet.” Traditional societies sometimes had such types of form, but they are largely dying out in the midst of the cacophonous chaos of modernism.

It thus becomes necessary for each human being to take personal responsibility for understanding, from an intimate point of view, that is, from within the core and essence of their very being, the mind of sensation and the mind of feeling. This means that we need to practice intelligent discrimination in terms of what comes into us from both of these brands; and it also means that we need to be quite present, quite attentive, as these two brains are working, because this helps them to find what they need. In point of fact, sensation and feeling are quite intuitive in terms of understanding how to feed themselves; but when they are masked and misdirected by impulse, personality, and prejudice, they don’t have much room left to move.

When we speak about the need for a practice of presence, for a mindfulness, for an attentiveness to our Being, we speak in general about helping each mind to find exactly what it needs in terms of support in order to do its proper work This is a practice that takes many years.


Note: this essay is an excerpt from the book Being and Impressions.

The entire book is available in the Apple iBooks store, or as a pdf at the following page link:

Being and Impression

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On three brained being, part three: living each mind from within itself.

The intercession of Christ and the virgin
 Lorenzo Monaco, before 1402
 Metropolitan Museum, New York

I can’t stress enough how important it is to begin to understand how each mind has its own Being which needs to be recognized, valued, and respected.

The so-called “ordinary”self which I am used to experiencing life through — it is actually a medium through which impressions of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions flow — is the only basic experience I have of my life. To discover that I can experience life through my sensation as an active, living form of Being— or that I can experience life through the active, living mind of feeling — is astonishing. These are different orders of Being, simply because each one represents a whole and intelligent part of myself that I have little or no experience of as an active entity. I can’t think my way into that experience. (There is no way to provoke it artificially, except with hallucinogenic drugs which temporarily awaken those parts in what are essentially bewildered and disorganized states. Doing this may be exciting, but it has limited practical long-term value, beyond verifying that sensation and feeling have their own living minds.)

I have to discover the wish of my sensation and the wish of my feeling. I can’t just have a wish that lives in my intellect. It frankly isn’t enough. And to conceptualize — which is, basically, to think with the mind —of how I ought to respect the other two parts of myself isn’t enough. What I propose is that I have to live each mind from within itself in order to understand the way in which it is an actual mind.

This is a difficult proposition. The mind of sensation and the mind of feeling need to become awake — quick, alive — in order for me to begin to understand what it means to live each mind from within itself. If this takes place, a new form of balance and harmony establishes itself, because an enormous amount of additional information about the present moment flows into Being as a conscious experience.The combination of these three minds, when each is active and inhabited, creates — exactly as Gurdjieff explained — a fourth mind, which is a unique entity of awareness that experiences Being in a manner quite unlike the divided minds which do so individually, and (as is so often the case) alone.

So I need to strive with all of my being, insofar as possible, to support this effort. The path to it it is never clear, because the intellectual mind will always want to think its way towards the other two minds. It’s best, under the circumstances, to have an entity of thought that questions and probes, that holds itself in suspense against its own conclusions, forever waiting. 

Here is the essential principle: thought that doubts itself has more power than thought that believes in itself. 

In this sense, each of the minds, if it is selfish, that is, consumed with love of itself rather than the love of its neighbors (the other two minds, in this case) is blind and unable to establish relationship. 

This underscores Swedenborg’s principle of unselfishness versus selfishness as that which divides heaven from hell. The principal works the same way internally, in regard to the inner minds of the centers, as it works in the outer world. If the mind, the body, or the emotions dedicate themselves to a love for the other two centers and the support of them, rather than the love and support of themselves, they build a kingdom of harmony and trust. 

If a center — for example, the body — cares more for itself than for the mind and the emotions, the body begins to think and act only for itself. Lust — the acquisition of pleasures for the body – and gluttony are two deadly sins directly associated with this action. Wrath and envy are emotional sins that arise from the selfish indulgence of the emotional center; and so on. Here, it isn’t the nature of the individual sins that we need to understand and consider: it's the selfish action of the individual minds, when they do not form an intelligent, loving relationship with the other two parts.

This is one of the esoteric and the most essential meanings of the idea of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It applies to the idea of the three minds; an understanding that can be a help in seeking relationship from within.


Note: this essay is an excerpt from the book Being and Impressions.

The entire book is available in the Apple iBooks store, or as a pdf at the following page link:

Being and Impression

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.