Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Practice makes practice, part I

Notes from March 30

One of the things that I consistently hear from people struggling with their effort to understand their lives—who and what they are—is what one can do about one's condition. I hear this all the time these days... as we age, the question becomes more and more pressing... especially (and interestingly) among men.

So many folk sense that they lack something; there’s an almost instinctive understanding that we’re missing an inward connection that makes the difference between Being and not-Being. We so often see ourselves “slip away” and come back repeatedly throughout the day; and there is just no durability in an inner sense. Nothing reliable to hang one’s spiritual hat on. It isn't possible to have a good attention, to be mindful; it is even impossible to truly see how one "ought" to work.

People have an irresistible urge to do something about this. I get asked about it all the time.

I don't think we understand, really understand, how thoroughly true it is that man can’t do anything. We’re in an inner work, one kind of work or another — for example, it could be Buddhism, Sufism, or Christianity — where we’re taught exercises, and believe they’ll will help us get to this or that magical inner place. We think we can meditate or pray ourselves into awareness; that we can do workshops, retreats, heath yoga, hot yoga, tai chi, and somehow widen our awareness. This or that special posture, drumming, chanting, a prayer, the intonation "I am"—can produce results. Even channeling energy through crystals or burning cleansing herbs. The list of spiritual-technology inventions is endless. We live in an action-oriented environment, where there’s a constant belief that I can produce those sought-after, lofty results...


In the Gurdjieff work, there are a group of exercises which the master himself relied on as a method of — supposedly, at least – producing results.

I’ve spent most of an adult lifetime surrounded by other adults who’ve made efforts of this kind and still make them, who feel baffled and sense that after thirty or forty years they still can't understand what they ought to do... how to grow a better inner connection within themselves. 

After watching this for all these decades, I have concluded that the exercises don't actually work.
Yes, they may produce results for a time; but then they go away. The exercise becomes the result; and this is a terrifying thing, because when the exercise becomes the result, one becomes locked into a program of spiritual calisthenics where one gets up every morning and does inner jumping jacks, push-ups, and chin-ups... then one does them some more during the day. 

Rah, rah, rah, say our inner cheerleaders: perhaps we can get there using sheer enthusiasm.  This works in youth; but as we age, the convictions flag, and perhaps with good reason.

In the midst of all this exercise, in an attempt to do something about what is wrong inside  (nothing is actually wrong)– to do something about one's lack of Being — one has become a devotee of exercises and effort, not Being and awareness.

Now, one must be very careful not to misunderstand what I’m saying; because exercises are helpful to the limited degree that they lend assistance; and an effort is always necessary. But mistaking effort and exercise for practice is once again a terrifying thing, because exercises aren’t practice; they are a preparation for practice. One makes efforts and does exercises in an effort to learn how to practice. If the efforts and the exercises were the practice; one would already know how to practice, and one would be getting those beautiful and marvelous "results" that everyone wants… or, at least, thinks they want – because when and if a person really got "results", they would to a certainty deeply conflict with one's established ways of being—

making one distinctly uncomfortable and leading to the discovery that everything one believes is, in one way in or another, subtly contaminated and false. 

The balance of my notes from March 30 will publish on July 1.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Some thoughts about an approach to inner work in the summertime

I'm surrounded by so many influences.

There are, of course, both inner and outer energetic influences of a subtle nature that can’t be so easily measured or discussed; and then again, as a consequence of these, there are thousands of influences of a more coarse variety that flow into us from external sources. Let's call it ordinary life.

I encounter hundreds of different spiritual practices and approaches; the number of different kinds of yoga, of new age therapies, of Buddhisms, Christianities, and flavors of Islam is bewildering. Maybe I'm from time to time drawn to Zoroastrians or Judaism; maybe to Hinduism, maybe to some form of shamanism. Maybe I practice tai chi, or yoga, or Qigong or the Alexander technique —no matter what, everyone is attracted to some idiosyncratic version of practice and signs onto it wholeheartedly — or doesn’t, because of an inability to commit to anything definite. And I suppose that all of these outer practices and influences are, for the most part, “good” — as my teacher Betty Brown said, “well, it can’t hurt you.”

But if that’s the criteria I use to select my practice, it seems inadequate: it seems to lack discrimination.

Of course all of this outer form looks like it has something to do with my inner work, just as many Americans adopt diet as a form of identity, in the belief it may cure their health problems.

Yet one can't, I feel sure, adopt one's form as a cure. If one wants to understand inner work from a new point of view, one ought to throw everything out. Absolutely everything. Inner work verges on the edge of the absolute, the transcendent, which is untouchable and unknowable, unmanifest and perfect, and beyond any comprehension — the incomparable. Real inner work comes up against the margins of the incomparable, the impossible, and the unknown, and understands that one can never go beyond those boundaries.

One can only receive the emanations and influences that come from beyond them, which are a form of help.

So one has to throw everything out. One shouldn’t make plans; one shouldn’t plot out how one is going to do one’s inner work, or what one will do; one needs instead to come into an intimate contact with an energy that flows into Being, and know that only that mysterious force is what may prove useful in coming to a new sense of self.

That sense will have nothing to do with any of the outer influences. It won’t look like Jesus or Buddha... even though they may both be in it.

It is the wujūd that matters; the finding.

Thinking about things and laying out plans is useless. I have to come to my life helpless and alone, knowing from the beginning and from the very core of my being that I am alive and valuable, but otherwise know nothing.

I can perhaps suspend judgment on all things and let life flow into me, observing the many different conflicting values, opinions, and sheer idiocies that arise in my mechanical parts from moment to moment. All of these things have to be tolerated. I have to move through these parts of life without being touched by them, constantly receiving a different influence.

That alone can transform; and staying in relationship with it alone is the only thing that matters to me. It knows what is necessary; I don’t.

So faith, hope, and love all involve coming into relationship with this conscious influence that flows inward into Being.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Under obedience, love prevails: part III: a direct influence

Part of a series of notes to myself about Love.

So it is possible to put myself directly under the influence of this Love. That may seem distant or theoretical, but it isn't. This material force of Love is not only all around me; we are made of it; everything that exists around us is made from it; and no action, no object, event, circumstance, or condition, arises that is not already at its root, and in its entire nature, Love. That expression is absolute. 

This force, this energy, has a limitless power that cannot be touched or altered by humanity in any significant way. We can participate; we can contribute; but we can’t divert and we can’t own. We are either called to communion or we turn away from the altar, but the service takes place eternally.

The human organism was built as a perfect receiving instrument to sense, accept, and transubstantiate Divine Love according to specific laws. In doing so we are given the privilege—if we should attain this level—of coming directly under its influence. This only comes through great sacrifice, because of the powerful forces within us that oppose such transformation. 

There shouldn't be any mistake about an indulgent rapture or heavenly bliss regarding this Love. Love contains and expresses a perfect and radiant sobriety of purpose. Rapture and bliss are components of Divine Love; but its intention is infinitely higher than these experiences. One has to submit in all gentle, inward purposefulness and receive without expectation; this is my task. I am meant to receive and think of getting nothing for myself; I need not worry about such things, for within the Love of the Lord all my needs are seen to; they become His needs and are attended to most perfectly, because He knows exactly what is needed. This was one of the points of the Sermon on the Mount. 

Shanghai, March 3 2017.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Under obedience, love prevails: part II: The three basic antidotes

Part of a series of notes to myself about Love.

Now, as to Love being placed within time by my intellect. 

This struggle between Love and neglect never takes place within time, for it is eternal. It forever takes place now, in this moment, within me as I am

So I don't understand it with my intellect; it is personal; and it isn't temporal. 

It is unknown, personal, and immediate. 

If this sounds familiar, it ought to, because it is a key to the gate of practice.

I need to apply the basic antidotes to the three bad attitudes created by intellect:

1. Understand, both physically and emotionally
2. Become responsible, personally
3. See how I am, immediately—which means in this moment

All in the service of Love; otherwise, I neglect. I become a parent who forgets to feed his or her children and instead goes out partying to all hours of the day and night. If I wonder why my relationships with loved ones, friends, and even the person behind the register at the grocery store are often damaged and unhealthy, it begins here. 

With my neglect.

So it's very important to understand that this struggle, which I don't even sense because of my neglect, is taking place in me at all moments. It’s the basis for my existence; yet I externalize, and I think that my existence is based on all the outer factors, not the struggle between the Love which is the source of my Being—all Being—and the neglect which I show towards it.

This Love is not some idea of how we should treat each other, or some simple emotive reaction. It's a force that flows into all of reality. It actually creates reality at every moment; physical explanations of the universe which attempt to understand it by material means will never succeed, because they don't understand that Love, which is a transcendental force, is the source of all motion and being. 

In order to begin to understand the Love I lack, I have to have a real physical experience of this much higher Love as an objective force which enters me. That isn't so simple; because that is just the beginning. There is a certain need to sense this force with more parts than just the intelligence of my body. Yet without understanding, and the actual experience, of this Love, this higher energy, this force which creates me, I will never begin to understand how I neglect it and how absolutely different it is than everything that emanates from my personality and my ego. I won't see that my personality and my ego, nearly every part of the being that I generally invest myself in, are intensely opposed to this force of Love because they would have to give something up in order to let it manifest; and they are first and before anything else selfish.

It's helpful to begin to see that all of my attitudes and ideas about this question are theoretical. 

In order to do that, I have to put myself under obedience to Love. 

Now, this idea of putting myself through obedience is a very important one, because the fact is that I don’t want to obey anyone or anything else. I am extraordinarily willful — and, at the same time, like an addict, I’m in complete denial about that. 

Something is going to have to change.

Everything people say about being objective, about being impartial, about becoming free, having freedom, enlightenment, and so on, is all actually about obediently putting myself under the influence of this Love. I can forget about all the other words about freedom and whatnot. There isn’t any freedom; there is only love. People who prattle on about freedom are dreaming.
If one does not obediently enter the stream of Divine Love, none of this talk comes to anything. Already, if I want freedom, I misunderstand, because that is my own desire — not an obedience to Love.

When Gurdjieff speaks of objectivity, what he actually speaks about is higher Love. Higher Love is objective; Meister Eckhart's sermons do a good job of explaining this. Nothing can manifest objectively without a primary, inner action of this force; yet human ego and opinion have a great affinity for action under the pretense that they know about it and are under its influence. Gurdjieff’s talk on the meaning of life, which delineates the difference between "pure" and "impure" emotion, is just a discussion about objective Love, by way of the use of a different terminology. 

Shanghai, March 3 2017.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Under obedience, love prevails: part I: the three bad attitudes

Part of a series of notes to myself about Love.

A great struggle takes place between Love and neglect. 

When I speak of this in words, at once my intellect does three things: it believes it understands, it makes it impersonal, and it places the question as one that takes place within time. 

The intellect can't understand this question, because it is the original source of my neglect. It's the selfishness of intellect, its refusal to cooperate with my other parts, that causes it to neglect. It already thinks it knows better than my body or feeling because its facility with facts has caused it to become arrogant. I'm always seeing life from within this condition and have a tragic blind spot to it. 

The situation is never impersonal. The instant I fail to see my personal responsibility for this neglect I'm mistaken; yet I always want to see the struggle between Love and neglect in one of a few abstracted ways. Let’s call them the three bad attitudes:

—“That one isn’t loving." A drama played out almost exclusively using others. In this drama others are cast as inferior to me in understanding Love. They neglect; I don't. One might call this the religion of selfishness. It wears a mask of self-righteousness. 

—"Humanity is unloving"— A vast conflict painted on a global canvas; a theatrical event of physical and metaphysical proportions. In this drama the whole world is broken. I am (or will become) a sage who can somehow help fix it. Everyone neglects, but I am the sage who knows it. This could be called the religion of arrogance. It wears a mask of purity. 

—"No one loves me." Here, I'm a victim of the unloving character of others, which is a bad force directed against me personally. I am neglected. This could be referred to as the religion of inferiority. It wears a mask of surrender. 

There is, of course, the flip side of this coin, whereby the intellect instructs me that everyone is loving, Love conquers all, Love is eternal, etc. This trivializes Love because it reduces it to something that humans think they can understand; and the bottom line is that we can’t. The most we can understand is a reflection of Love; and it is, at best, a very distant reflection indeed. We have various flavors and versions of this “Love is all you need” philosophy in spiritual work; more often than not, when encountered in this way, it becomes a tool for dismissing the reality of how distant we are from real Love. 

My selfish and egoistic parts don't want to see my lack of Love—ever—as a failure on my own part that emanates from me. Most of us are blends of the three bad attitudes, but one usually dominates. Each one of them draws their hypnotic power from an underlying truth which has been twisted into a shape that prevents me from recognizing it. 

Shanghai, March 3 2017.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Work Without Quotation marks, part II

Jonah and the whale, folio from a Jami-al-Tavarikh 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

The following post is part 2 of the foreword  to my new book,  Novel, Myth, and Cosmos:  on the Nature of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

The question that I keep asking myself is how there can be a new and different—a vital, more inward —work for today.

This, of course, becomes the absolute responsibility of every individual to embody for themselves – and yet we are required both by duty, honor, and circumstances to embody it in the context of today's world, not by trying to turn the clock back and conform to a concept and model of “work” that was introduced 100 years ago, designed for the society it arose in.

There are, to be sure, countless universal and timeless truths in Gurdjieff's work. In some interesting ways, the best single possible source we have for a “preservational template” of the core Gurdjieff teaching is his magnum opus, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. Yet even here lurks danger, because by turning the book into a Bible, one inadvertently digs a cheerful looking pit lined with stakes, and then perhaps proceeds to lure others towards it.

Our approach to the book thus has to be flexible, creative, re-interpretive, and innovative. It can serve as a template for work; and it succeeds in doing so because it’s entirely (thank God) detached from the departed times and now-obsolete societies that Gurdjieff worked in. It covers what I call the long arc of time, delving into the ancient history of mankind, and viewing man across an expanse of millennia that renders the snapshots, conventions, and circumstances of individual cultures and societies moot.

Gurdjieff did us all a great service by writing this book, because it becomes the model for further future development due to its status as a piece of high art— real art, that is, art that continues to live from generation to generation and produce the same impression, regardless of the societies that form around it.

Attempts to analyze the book and create static entities that set its ideas into rigid forms is, in this sense, a profound mistake. The text was designed with flexibility in mind; to allow its message to quietly slip into the inwardly deepest psychological crevices of the reader, regardless of the external circumstances they find themselves in. Its storytelling has a completely different effect than reading quaint anecdotes about Gurdjieff's behavior, or engaging in repetitive behaviors that imitate the way he conducted affairs hundred years ago. And perhaps most importantly, it effortlessly transcends the stuffy Victorian inflection of Ouspensky's works.

Human beings always look at what’s around them and delude themselves into believing, more or less, that surrounding conditions have always been the way they are now; we can’t see how much things have changed in the last 30 years. We’ve been here for all of that change, after all, and because it’s been incremental, the landscape doesn't look that different to us, even though 30 years ago the way the world communicated, the number of people on it, the resources we shared, and so on were drastically different than they are today.

Waiting for some new "teacher" to arrive on the scene and show us how to reconfigure the external form of our inner work engenders a kind of passivity we cannot possibly, I think, afford to engage in. Each of us needs to actively seek a newness of form from within where we are; and that newness of form has to emerge authentically, organically, with conviction and as much sincerity as we can scrape together, from who we are and where we are. We cannot paste bits and pieces of the “Gurdjieff Historical Society” onto ourselves, hoping that the protective coloration will somehow legitimize our inner work.

There will always be those that argue we can have no such work if we dare to change it; and historical perspectives are the very safest place to hide for those who fear and those who wish to remain passive.

Now, mind you, conservatism is an essential and very good force, to some extent; and anyone knows me knows how absolutely dedicated I am to the honor and preservation of tradition. But we only preserve traditions by testing them, living within them, and reinventing them for the present moment; tradition is not something that preserves what took place long ago— it is something that lives what we are now while taking the past gently into account and respecting it.

In Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Gurdjieff gave us a brand-new mythology. The scale and scope of his effort were staggering; he single-handedly attempted to reinvent the sacred. It's that action, perhaps, more than any of the external trappings surrounding it, that give us an indication of how grave our responsibility is and how much it will take for us to embody a real inner work, rather than vigorously inhabit and imitate a form. There is no doubt, all of us will imitate; and all of us will get some things wrong. But if we don't live from within ourselves first, always testing the boundaries and questioning the sentimental historical territory our understanding emerges from, we betray the principles of inner work, which must always incorporate the living force of today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A sense of resignation

I resigned from my job a week ago, as part of a plan of intentional change—to move on to new and different things.

As I let many people at the company whom I've worked with over the last 4 1/2 years know about this, there were a wide range of reactions.

What struck me the most about these moments was the relationships that have been formed. I see that sometimes I think, when I go through my life, that in my job it's the money I make for the company or the material achievements that matter; and there is some minor truth to this. But these relationships between people are of the very greatest value. This is the real currency with which we trade in life; it creates a value for each of us far greater than any money or material things can possibly create. Our happiness never comes from the money or the material things; it comes from the quality of the relationships we form, and the quality of the people we form them with.

This is an absolute fact, an objective fact, that is rarely clear to human beings as they go through the confusing course of everyday life. Material objects carry a tremendously powerful attraction, don’t they? Perhaps I like them more because—unlike human beings— I can control them more easily. They can’t push back, after all; and my innate selfishness causes me to enjoy controlling things.

One needs to develop a different sensation of Being in order to understand this question of relationship properly; and one needs to understand our nature as collective organisms, the interaction and interpenetration of all the forces in our Being, in order to receive relationship in a way that feeds us more deeply. Because our capacity for this is generally rather limited — we haven't developed the inward relationship we need in order to understand this most fully — we certainly form relationships and value them. But not enough.

This is because our relationships aren’t truly formed around sacred feeling. Instead, they are formed around our ordinary feelings, which are very different ball of wax.

A sacred feeling is touched by a higher energy and consecrated. This consecration of our relationships ought to take place all day long, because relationship is the great benediction which God has bestowed upon conscious beings. It is the force that creates the universe; and it manifests on our level through our relationship with other people.

Basically, what this means in simpler terms is that every relationship is a form of sacred blessing from God. Even my relationships with the people I dislike have a sacred quality, because they represent the Creator in one way or the other. When sacred feeling enters my relationships with people, compassion and conscience are defaults, not options. Yet it's only through the manifestation of Grace that this can take place.

Yesterday, we were with our dear friends P & C and we had a conversation on a wide range of subjects. At some point during the conversation, we discussed Göbekli Tepe and other great monuments; and speculated on what our society will leave behind us for future generations to remember.

At the time, I remember thinking to myself that it is the record of our relationships, written in the hearts and minds of generation after generation, that will really matter.

 If we can bring a better quality of relationship to life and pass an understanding of that quality on to future generations, I think we can build something much greater than buildings or temples. We can build on a current of love that has the potential to flow through mankind; and that has a value very different than the things we make or exchange with one another. In my own experience, it's a much greater value, and ought to be the focus for everything that mankind does.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Work Without Quotation Marks, part I

Jonah and the whale, folio from a Jami-al-Tavarikh 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

The following post is part 1 of the foreword  to my new book,  Novel, Myth, and Cosmos:  on the Nature of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson.

Working, as I have recently, on collections of archival material that date from Gurdjieff's lifetime, including letters, pamphlets, and other material, it occurs to me how thoroughly dated the historical material related to Gurdjieff's original visits to New York have become.

We are nearly 100 years on in time from those dates in the early 1920s. To put that in perspective, when I was young, that was about the distance in time we were from the Civil War. 
The archival materials in question, that is, date from what now amounts to an distant past. The very flavor of the materials is different than the flavor of life today; the world tastes different now.  Although, taken as a whole, human behavior and spiritual psychology has remained consistent  (and always does), the external arrangements of human affairs have accelerated so drastically over the last hundred years that societal conventions, accepted moralities, modes of communication and discourse, and even the way people dress and what they do for work has completely changed. 
We might as well compare today's society to ancient Babylon as compare it to the society that Gurdjieff was living and teaching in.

Now, this isn't to say that human beings don't face the same exact inward questions that they did back then; questions of the soul are incredibly durable. They emerge from and center around processes that are organic and independent, in many ways, of external surroundings, which are forever superficial relative to the natural depth in man (cf. Wilson van Dusen’s book of the same title.) That is to say, a man's inner psychology proceeds in the same way whether he is in the desert or on a boat in the water. The two different environments certainly provide a different set of impressions, but the equipment that processes them doesn't change; nor do the tensions that arise within from the need to respond—whether to a lack of water or an excess of it. To put it a little differently, as I did to someone a bit earlier this morning, the way we work and the amount that we work from within is not dependent on whether we have a lot or a little bit of money. Both conditions produce important possibilities for inner work; and of itself, either one could also make it more difficult, which might also be necessary — work that is easy may not be worth doing.

In any event, it becomes apparent that it's impossible to view the way that the early Gurdjieff work unfolded, or the ways in which Gurdjieff interacted with others or collected money, and understand how they might be meaningful to the ongoing conduct of a real and vital inner work in today's society. Everything that emerged from the man in response to the conditions that surrounded him was strictly temporal and designed to address the way people dressed, thought, acted, earned a living, and formed relationships with each other at that particular time in world history. If people had dressed in sweat pants, posted to facebook, and used smartphones in that age, we would have seen a different work designed for different people. Yes, it would absolutely have been founded on the same principles; but the point of the way that the outer form of inner work is created is that it is reciprocal: it’s designed for the times it arises in.This is why, as Gurdjieff so pointedly explained to Ouspensky and others, schools form and disband where their work is done. They don’t imitate each other or themselves; in fact, as he also pointed out, once the work of the school was done there are always “leftovers” which imitate it, not understanding how schools function,  and somehow hoping, by aping the form and behavior of the school, to continue its work.

Hence trying to reproduce the attitudes, conditions, interests, and structural form of an inner work — a school, as Ouspensky would've called it — that existed 100 or even 50 years ago for today's society is almost certainly pointless. The age of the Internet and computers has changed the external form of society so much that completely new and absolutely unanticipated situations have arisen. These external conditions require a kind of creativity and spontaneity that in fact does relate to Mr. Gurdjieff's behavior 100 years ago; but we may not understand what that means, or how to implement it, because we have no one at his level of understanding to guide us. 

What I'm getting at here in regard to Mr. Gurdjieff's behavior was the arch, unpredictable, and disruptive way that he treated everyone around him. Back in those days, society had much clearer boundaries for "unacceptable" behavior, and it was (ironically) easier to find ways in which to bash the envelope — to challenge assumptions, to upset the apple cart. 

Upsetting the apple cart has, in today's world, become the norm: and so perhaps, one might argue, a retreat to hidebound tradition is exactly what's needed. Yet I'm not sure about that; no retreat to hidebound traditions will save us. 

We can’t protect the future from the present by imitating the past. 

Circumstances cry it out: something entirely new is called for!—yet the form of the Gurdjieff work, as it was established about 100 years ago — and which took its present “mature” form about 50 years ago— keeps attempting to be what it was. 

We do this in sheer defiance of the facts that things are not what they always were. Things are never “what they always were”; they are always new and different. In real life, consistency is a perpetual illusion crafted by the repetitive nature of superficial appearances. 

Yet we try to preserve the same rituals; we reflect back on the same sets of historical documents and rehash them endlessly. We form defensive boundaries around the traditions as though we were attempting to establish a new religion. All of this is a complete contradiction, my view, to the living, organic, vital, disruptive snapshots we get of Mr. Gurdjieff—for example, the one that emerges from Martin Benson's memoirs. 
Part two of the foreword will publish on June 15.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Elwood, NY June 2017

The baseline of my experience of life and of myself always begins with the sensation of Being in the morning.

The mind is weak, and until the sensation of Being acquires durability, the mind can't conceive of anything that will keep its attention on life in a way that is engaged and active. Yet I keep relying on my mind, as though it could be durable. I need to see that it isn't durable at all.

When I accept that the intelligence of the body has much greater force, more power, I allow it to manifest in its own way so that it can support the other parts of Being. I allow the vibration of that sensation to penetrate every cell, every molecule of the body; and that becomes the foundation for my attention in life this day.

It's like this now; and I speak to myself from within that place in order to help form a definite reminder, an exact reminder, of what's necessary in order to inhabit this day like a human being instead of a thing.

I have the capability of forming all my relationships from this place, whatever they are. Surely and certainly they are quite different when formed from this foundation than when they are formed from the mind, which is an undisciplined animal that races around at the behest of the emotions all day long. without any clarity.

I invest more and more as time goes by in this need to be more exact and definite. Clarity in the mind comes from settling of all the silt and mud in the water; and that settling only takes place when the stillness of the body, its organic ability to anchor Being, accompanies the action of thought. Thought has the ability to be intelligent and penetrating, but without this companion it's flighty and foolish. It constantly tries to arrogate abilities to itself which it doesn't have. It needs more discipline, and that comes not from thought itself — thought is unable to police thought — but from the other parts of Being, which are stronger and, wordlessly, equally intelligent.

It's this force of the intelligence of sensation that can help focus the intelligence of the mind and point the compass needle towards a more durable understanding of relationship. Relationship always has to begin inside first; it's only after that that it encounters the outside and forms a second-order relationship.

Well, anyway, these are the thoughts for this morning as I sit here. I will keep them brief and stop here.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Our Standardized Emotion, and Something Else

Church in Ekmul
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Shanghai, March 1.

There’s no doubt that as we deepen our inner work, emotion plays a greater and greater role in it. 

One suffers one’s own manifestations more and more; more and more, one sees one’s insufficiency.

In general, under ordinary laws and ordinary conditions, we see ourselves as insufficient unto life, that is, objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. We don’t have enough stuff; good things aren’t happening; there’s nothing nice around us; and life ought to be better. Turning the seppuku knife towards our own emotional belly, we blame ourselves for the things that aren’t working out. And — of course — we blame other people. Our standardized emotional sense of insufficiency spends most of its time blaming in one of these two directions.

Yet I don’t think that a real sense of insufficiency has anything to do with these outer conditions... 

it's, well, damn it... 

it's insufficient.

One only begins to experience what I would call real feeling — as opposed to standardized emotion — once one begins to feel one’s life in relationship to God: and by this, I mean that God which consists wholly of Love and Wisdom and nothing else—

Whose transcendental essence is that unknowable, all-powerful Love and Wisdom from which all True Being emanates. 

The experience of that, of course, is a mystery that I can't put down in words; but the consequences of discovering my own being juxtaposed against this force of awe and wonder are always and forever profound.

The thought about this that came to mind this morning was thus.

God put so much of his work into vessels that are so unworthy to receive it, because he has no other choice.

It would not be difficult to discuss the metaphysical implications of that statement, but it would end up being well beyond the scope of any short essay. The thought that followed that insight is perhaps far more important:

Given that insight, what am I responsible for now?

Real feeling, as I call it, emanates from a definite and irrevocable sense of one’s own insufficiency — the chasm between what real love and wisdom are and my own ability to be loving and wise. Only when I am thrown into the middle of that emotional disconnect and experience the anguish that arises in that place do I begin to know what real feeling is. 

It calls me to a service to, an obedience towards, a much greater force. And this exact point of work is what focuses me so clearly on the question of my own responsibility.

Real feeling helps me to know how I do not love

Not just to know with the mind; it also helps me to understand with the body and the feelings — so real “feeling” is actually an action by all three of my thinking parts, the thinking of the mind, the thinking of the body, and the thinking of the emotion. The intelligence of these three parts working together creates a synergy that allows them to also combine their strengths (the physical parts of their action) and, ultimately, also the feeling parts of each of these three parts. 

In this way, there are actually nine interactive elements at work in any real feeling —nine elements active in what Gurdjieff called “three brained being,” since each of the three parts also has three parts of its own. 

The action of real feeling, in other words, forms an ennead, a ninefold action, which is in its own way a completed octave.

This is just the first step, mind you, on understanding what real love might be — and the frightening thing, if we want to view it from the perspective of God, is that rather having us trust in God, God is having to trust in us, because He has no choice other than to engage in this activity — which is essential for the maintenance of the universe — using what are essentially broken devices— that is, human beings who are sinful, willful, disobedient, and unloving.

The Divine is truly a great taker of risks here. Love emanates downward through the levels of the universe to try and find its expression through unloving creatures. It must be a singularly lonely task; maybe this is where part of the Sorrow of His Endlessness begins.

The idea of frail and morally—if not mortally—compromised creatures as vehicles is hardly a new insight, if we view it from a biblical perspective. Beginning with Moses, God assigns responsibilities on epic scales to characters who know — and insist to God — that they are inadequate to the task. This recurring theme of reverting to weak players and requiring them to play the strongest roles is something like the position we all actually find ourselves in life. 

We can fail — we do fail — we must fail. 

And yet the very fact that we fail is already built into God’s assignment of duties; and it is our failure that marks us as creatures with the potential for success; because creatures that are already successful need no attention from God.

Hence Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 12: my strength is made perfect in weakness. (Don’t hesitate to read the whole verse, rather than just this tiny quote!)


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Talks with P & C

Sayil—Ruta Puuc
Campeche, Mexico

February 20

We had some close friends from the work over last night. In a wide-ranging discussion, we touched on several subjects I want to pass on.

 My friend P. expressed his vision of the question of Christ from the point of view of the traditions and our own work. His observation was that the Jewish faith placed the arrival of the Messiah in an impossibly distant and essentially unreachable future; and the Christian faith places the Messiah in an impossibly distant and unreachable past. I agree with him; and I thought I'd expound upon that in a bit more detail.

 God, and Christ — the two are not different – exist in eternity. 

Eternity is a place outside of time; so even as we begin to conceptualize about the temporal "location" of Christ, we've already misconceived the situation. Christ is not subject to temporal constraints; the condition of God's existence is immediate, tangible, and pressing, not temporal, ephemeral, and without priority. Indeed, the question is of the utmost priority, since all other conditions flow from it.

P. reported a story told to him by Louise March about something which took place while she was  working directly with Gurdjieff translating Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson. They were working on the passage with Ashiata Shiemash.  During the reading of the material, Gurdjieff very earnestly engaged with Louise, pressing her for an answer: 

"You believe? You believe Ashiata Shiemash?"

 Louise pondered the question for a few moments, taken aback, then answered him by saying, "Yes. I believe he was real."

"Not was," replied Gurdjieff sternly. "Will Be!"

 This story, while unique unto itself, carries some echoes of the tale reported in Frank Sinclair's Without Benefit of Clergy, in which Gurdjieff exhorted his pupils to visualize Christ as an immediate presence.

One other note about last night. P. mentioned recent discussions about Gurdjieff's idea that one man, alone, can do nothing.  This remark has always been taken in the context of work in groups, framed around the idea that we have to form these little groups and sit in circles with our hands primly folded in our laps; and that that somehow constitutes what inner work is.

Make no mistake about it; I will never doubt the value of working in groups. No matter how primly one folds one's hands in one's lap, no matter how erect one sits, and no matter how correctly one speaks, work in groups may still produce something of value. Yet I think the point about a man alone may be missed.

One man alone, of course, can do nothing.

 But for one man with God as his companion, all things are possible.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Conflict and Cooperation, part IV: seeing and not seeing

So the associations we have with the word seeing—which are by now deeply ingrained—cause us to assume that when we use the word we have actually seen; yet even if we have seen something, perhaps we haven't understood it — we don't know. 

In the end, all valuable inner action comes from the realm of unknowing, that is, an agency that stops knowing and starts listening, on the way towards understanding. 

These three pillars, seeing, listening, understanding (one can liken them to intellect, body, and emotion)— well, one can argue about this one or that one and how relatively important it is, but all of them are necessary, and they form a cooperative — not competitive — inward environment. 
The inner environment needs to become one where forces don't rub against each other and compete all the time. Of course competition is necessary; and suffering is necessary. But there is a point at which there also has to be cooperation.

Gurdjieff was, in many ways, a master who thought we should storm the gates of heaven. He said to his pupils, truth can only be acquired by force and more force. (From a lecture given about March 2, 1923.)

All of Gurdjieff’s ideas are powerful, but not all of them, by any means, entered from stage left or right as mature entities. Some of them, let us be frank, were downright crude at the beginning; even he himself admitted that in hindsight. By the time he grew old—and by the time Jean Salzmann and then Michelle Salzmann came along—the understanding of the use of force within the Gurdjieff work underwent a considerable evolution; and the idea behind it as we currently understand it is far more nuanced and intelligent than it was when it was perceived as a way of muscling one's way into spirituality using brute force, which is an idea which finds its roots in Hatha Yoga. 

Yes, we do need to have conflict, tension, and suffering; we do (urgently) need to be broken inwardly; but we also urgently need to form a cooperative community that is loving and intelligent that can survive the difficulties that those struggles unleash. That is to say, in essence there needs to grow a kernel of being — always being gently fed by the struggle — that has a completely different attitude.

Perhaps all of this sounds new and different. Perhaps you think to yourself, "that's not doctrinal." But when we fall victim to dogma and believe only what we have read in books, we failed to conduct our work in an intelligent and growing manner. If there’s a manual about how to grow mustard, and it only covers how one grows mustard in conditions where there's enough water, for example, or where the day generally produces an average of 13 hours of sunlight, that book becomes useless the minute that one enters a territory where the conditions are different. For example, one where the soil is more alkaline, or there is less rain so one can't rely on the manuals.

Every spiritual text we read may be seen as a manual that maps out the territory a particular individual covered. Taken across a long trajectory, what the traditions teach is, of course, averaged out to more evenhanded, tried and true, and time-tested forms; but the danger of that is that the forms, at the same time, become steadily diluted. 

So we need the overall measurement of the tradition; but we also need the spicy, pithy reports of individual experiences, which look into all the nooks and crannies that were smoothed out as the tradition developed. Many people have features that render them more suitable for one nook or cranny or another; so the average practice always lacks some of the intensity needs.
There can be intensity in cooperation as well as competition. In fact, the Gurdjieff work is largely about intensity and cooperation; but that is a faculty that it says we need to develop in the face of intensity amidst competition. 

The struggle is supposed to produce cooperation; not more struggle. Gurdjieff himself said that the struggle did not go on forever:

Sacrifice is necessary,” said G. “If nothing is sacrificed, nothing is obtained. And it is necessary to sacrifice something precious at the moment, to sacrifice for a long time and to sacrifice a great deal. But still, not forever. This must be understood because often it is not understood.Sacrifice is necessary only while the process of crystallization is going on. When crystallization is achieved, renunciations, privations, and sacrifices are no longer necessary. Then a man may have everything he wants. There are no longer any laws for him, he is a law unto himself.

—In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky, page 33

Over the course of my many years in this work, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of unintentional — and, let’s say it— unconscious severity. Some serious folk think that being severe is necessary, and good. There is, in other words, a disturbing form of Puritanism afoot; and this is found throughout the practice. 

It isn’t just found in the Gurdjieff work; one can discover this in almost any religious practice. It stems, I think, from some fundamental misunderstandings about our inner nature and the need to discover a cooperation between the parts. 

This cooperation has to be a loving cooperation, not one based on punishment following anger towards one’s inner or outer manifestations.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.