Thursday, November 30, 2017

Agreement and suffering

Gargoyle, Troyes Cathedral

I recently said that mechanical suffering is suffering I’ve agreed to; and I think this deserves some explanation.

In theory, my suffering only emerges from agreement. It relates to my desire. I suffer when the world does not align with my desires: I lose my girlfriend or my money. The dog dies. My sister dies. My mother dies. Trump is elected. The antique vase breaks, my car crashes. People are polluting the planet. You get the idea.

In each example, I suffer because my desire is that these things not take place. All of them run contrary to my desires. So it’s very easy to suffer when any one of them takes place; it happens automatically. This is why it’s called mechanical suffering.

This kind of suffering is the only kind of suffering we generally know; and it runs deep indeed. No one can deny it. Yet it isn’t so easily seen that all of it is egoistic suffering. It arises because the conditions that create it run counter to my desires.

One might also call this selfish suffering; in any event, for all the legitimate tragedy it appears to embody and entail, it represents a relatively unexamined form of self-involvement.

There’s a second, and very different, kind of suffering that is undertaken from a completely different point of view. 

Gurdjieff called that point of view non-desire.

This term is a bit tricky, because it doesn’t actually mean “what I do not want.” It means, rather, everything that lies outside the scope of my own desire. What I “do not want” actually lies within the scope of my own desire; and non desire represents a very much larger world. So allowing my non-desires to prevail over my desires involves a huge shift in perspective which becomes entirely impersonal. Non-desires are the actual conditions which surround me— as opposed to the conditions which I wish surrounded me or wish didn’t surround me. 

I haven’t in any way agreed to suffer for my non-desires; and in this regard my attitude towards the objective truth of objects, events, circumstances and conditions is entirely lacking. To suffer on behalf of my non-desires is to suffer on behalf of what is true, not what I wish for. And that suffering must be Catholic, that is, ubiquitous and all-embracing. It isn’t suffering for me; it’s suffering on behalf of God.

Now, you might think that this kind of suffering is too big for a human being to take on; yet it’s nothing of the sort. The need for its exercise isn’t on cosmological levels, but rather lies within the exact, intimate and precise perception of everything as it is, exactly where we are. This aspect of seeing as suffering is not spoken of much in the Gurdjieff work; yet they are intimately linked. The difficulty lies in the fact that so much of the suffering that seeing prompts in us is still egoistic suffering. 

We feel bad for ourselves and how we are. 

And we judge.

Yet the point of inner work is to come to a much different kind of suffering; and for as long as one remains confused about the difference, it’s impossible to understand what is missing.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A prepared condition of surrender

Capital, Autun Cathedral

A few days ago, I talked about Love as the binding force within being that glues the mind and the body together.

Well, in fact, Love is the binding force that glues everything together, but we need to understand it practically in this particular instance instead of just theorizing.

In order to allow this love, which is always present and which God wishes to send to us in great abundance, we need to put ourselves into a prepared condition of surrender.

Gurdjieff's way of expressing this was to say we had to "realize our own nothingness." This is exactly the action that creates a prepared condition of surrender; yet perhaps some new words are needed for it. The minute the ego hears the words Gurdjieff used, the defensive barriers are raised and the portcullis comes down; archers man the battlements. So it creates a bad reaction that already strongly prevents the understanding from having any chance of taking root. It probably worked quite differently when he gave it to people in person.

This prepared condition of surrender has to come from a very clear and concise seeing of how I am in life and how we are all the same in the midst of a great mystery we do not understand. The organic condition of agreement that comes from the center of gravity in me is capable of receiving that impression; but my ego and my personality are. So I need to search for something in myself that receives life, organically and very deep in the body at a level where there is no argument, and acquires the humility necessary to see that everything — absolutely everything — is a grace and a gift that has been given to me. In point of fact, the entire universe and everything that ever manifests is a single thought in the mind of God, and has been created with an infinite amount of Love and put here with an infinite amount of effort.

The sacrifice that is required for this perpetual and eternal act of creation, which is still ongoing, is absolutely unimaginable, but we take everything for granted like fools. It's possible to have that run into the body like an electric current, which creates an irrevocable humility.

Admittedly, this is a high practice, but it is directly connected to the realization of my own nothingness. Insights of this kind will be extremely rare, but perhaps I can process the understandings that precede it in such a way that I'm more prepared in case it comes.

What isn't seen by human beings is that the entire planet and all of the conditions on it, no matter how atrocious they may seem, emanate from a perpetual and limitless state of Grace. Participating in that more consciously may reduce me and my ego to the point that I can agree with the conditions and see their absolute value, instead of constantly trying to turn all of them into a relative value — which is always relative to my own desires and what I wish for. This turning of things into a relative value is the origin of Gurdjieff's phrase, “organic shame."


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The role of a center of gravity

Capital, Autun Cathedral

Today, I should like to explain a second point that is important to consider.

The mind always goes away. I don't pay attention. And I don't seem to be able to "create" a permanent force in me that will change this.

The role of remorse of conscience must be understood here.

Remorse of conscience has a function. The function of remorse of conscience is to create a center of gravity in being that allows an organic agreement between being and the conditions it encounters.

I need to come into an organic agreement with the conditions I find myself in.

Another way of putting it is that the premise of Being has to change its location. It cannot be located in the mind. I have to discover a different premise within me. Without this center of gravity I'm speaking of, I will always have opinions about what takes place in my life and I will always be judging everything.

This kind of activity is useless in relationship to being and has nothing to do with actual being. It is a parasitic state that has attached itself, on the one hand, to everything "I am," and on the other hand, to the outside world. It feeds on both of them equally in order to sustain itself.

I can't really get rid of this creature; but it does not have to eat all the food that arrives. It should be given enough to keep it happy and occupied and no more. In a certain sense it can be put to sleep once this happens, so that it doesn't interfere so much with my efforts to become a real human being. There is an art to this that needs to be learned, and the ground floor of it is rooted in self observation.

This is a colorful analogy,  of a type which I typically enjoy creating. Unfortunately, it may distract us from the point.  So let's stop enjoying it for a moment (insofar as anyone may enjoy the discussion of parasites that feed on them) and get back to the center of the issue.

This center of gravity in Being must be discovered as an active force that grounds me. The head does not have to be flighty and up in the air and floating around all the time. It's possible to create a center of gravity in me that counteracts this. This is a law that relates to the physics of Being. Of course, the Love that was discussed in the last post is essential to this; so remember that as well.

If I don't understand this from the point of view of inner physics and laws, and the presence of an actual gravity that is fed by the smallest, most granular and molecular parts of Being, I will miss the point. I need to insert myself down here in the sediment, not upstairs in the room where philosophies are discussed. All the nutrients are here in the lower levels where the roots grow.

 This question of forming an agreement with conditions is essential. There are a lot of ways of talking about it that have become habitual, about seeing and so on. So let's stop being habitual and form a new habit, for the time being, that is rooted in the idea of forming an agreement with conditions I find myself in.

That agreement has to be organic in nature and correspond directly to the actual conditions.

 Please try to understand this without thinking about it. Live in it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The binding force

Capital from the cathedral of Autun

I should like to make something clear for those who struggle with the question of why the mind and body don't form a permanent relationship with one another.

There are many technical reasons for this that could be brought into a discussion; yet the binding force between the mind and the body has a specific nature and is identifiable.

This force is what is lacking between the intellect and the sensation.

The force is, quite simply put, Love. That Love has, in very general terms, two aspects that both need to be present and reconciled.

One is the inflow of the divine; this is the energy that is often referred to as "flowing in through the top of the head." Yet this energy does not just have to flow into the top of the head, but can flow through the entire being, anywhere. At any time.  Stop limiting your conception of what is possible in this area and learn how to be in a prepared condition of surrender.

The second energy is a love that exists within me, so to speak, for myself. It's impossible for the inflow to take place without a corresponding non-egoistic love of self that has already manifested. In fact, I never love myself and I'm always terrified of what I am.

Now, of course, the mind is going to get involved with an endless series of thoughts about this and all the exercises that have been taught and so on. Yet the only thing that's important to understand that I must completely surrender and be open to both of these kinds of Love. Together, as they blend within the body, they form a kind of "glue" that attaches an active and permanent sensation to the body, which then allows it to form a new relationship with the mind. The feeling can enter.

I'm not going to say much more about this right now, but I would like readers to ponder this for some time, organically, and really try to take the understanding of the question in.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


June 15, 2017

This morning, I want to expand on a fairly complicated philosophical perception I understood several weeks ago. I wrote some fairly complex essays on it which appear in this space.

But this morning, I'd like to discuss it in in simpler terms, and just express it as a relationship with this moment in life.

Awareness exists before I experience it as an infinitely compressed point, a complete potential much like the way the universe existed before the Big Bang. Everything that can ever be is compressed before Being in this single point of awareness. I carry it within me; and as you read this, you also carry that infinitely compressed point of awareness that can expand into Being within you. We all participate in this.

In every moment, this awareness unfolds completely and realizes its absolute potential in my Being. This is not a process that only happens once; it happens continuously. It is happening in me now as I write this; it's happening in you as you read it. But we are unaware of this eternal and continuous expansion of awareness into Being, because we take it for granted.

It's possible, through the force of love — which is a material force that gathers its substance throughout life and forever grows within our Being — to perceive this moment of eternal expansion of awareness. It is a mysterious moment, because our awareness — our mindfulness — is born from what appears to be nothing (in fact it is everything) and then encounters the world. It already contains the whole world in it, before it is born. In birth, it simply unfolds into Being in much the same way that a DNA molecule unfolds to interact and create life.

We don't know where it comes from; we generally don't participate in it, but just follow it through habit. We always get there, in our ordinary experience, after the event is over and decide to critique it or make unnecessary adjustments to it.

Yet coming into an intimate and direct contact with this mystery as the expansion of awareness into Being takes place is a fascinating action. It is deeply organic, rooted in our physical, intellectual, and emotional experience of ourselves — which are three different forces that meet together at all times in the place where awareness expands into Being. They are the functional medium that receives the expansion. Well, that sounds kind of technical, but there you are.

Anyway, this morning, I want to call your attention to this, because it is such a beautiful and small thing to live at this point of awareness and treasure it.

Everything can change in life if I put my attention here first.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Meditations on death, part III

Gurdjieff alluded to this sensation of being when he said, at the end of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson,

The sole means now of saving the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant in their presence a new organ, an organ like kundabuffer, but this time having such properties that every one of these unfortunates, during the process of his existence, should constantly sense and be aware of the inevitability of his own death, as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes, or attention, rest.

The molecular sensation of Being is tied so firmly to a direct understanding of life that it by default includes an understanding of death within it.

This penetrates being in a way that is difficult to describe; in Zen, they call it attaining the marrow. It distills the essence of what life is and includes death.

This is a conscience of the body; that is, it is a feeling-capacity born within the emotional center of the body that senses both life and death together, that is, it summarizes all of the understanding and awareness that is possible for the body.

This will probably come as a surprise to some students of the Gurdjieff teaching; conscience, after all, is referred to in the work as something that appears as a result of proper three centered work, and a factor that is engendered by what he calls organic shame.

The idea that each of the individual centers could have its own experience of conscience may seem, at first, bewildering; yet it's inevitable. Because each center engages in its own kind of three centered work (each center has an emotional, intellectual, and physical component) each center is functionally capable of experiencing both conscience and remorse of conscience in its own right, according to the structural function of its own nature.

Hence there are three kinds of conscience in us which blend together to form a whole conscience; and there are three kinds of remorse of conscience. The law of three, in other words, affects conscience and remorse of conscience within the individual centers themselves, simply because it is a functional law at every level and in every operation.

Sensation summarizes the functions of life and death by putting them together within an active vibration of feeling. That active vibration of feeling begins in the emotional part of moving center; and it is possible to assign the function of the sensation of life as a holy denying factor.

This is because when I affirm life, I affirm myself; and when I affirm myself, I affirm myself as a self separated from God. This action of "I am" which is so essential to the initial formation of real Being on this level, has the paradoxical and puzzling effect of denying God while affirming myself. Hence holy denying.

From this perspective, death is actually the holy affirming principal within both this center and all the centers. That is because the death of the self, one other the intellectual, emotional, or physical self — whether the death of the conscious mind on this level or the death of the body — surrenders to God, to the creator, and by surrendering affirms Him/Her.

Thus death, which we see in many ways as an "enemy," is actually the sacred force that brings us back to God.

These two forces within sensation — holy denying, the sensation of myself, and holy affirming, the sensation of death — are unified within a vibration of sacred feeling that relates very powerfully to the sorrow of the Creator. Bringing the holy affirming and holy denying of this kind into contact with one another automatically creates a polarity that attracts the particles of the sorrow of the Creator, which are then deposited.

So there's a technical explanation for why sensation is so vital to the foundation of our work; it helps to form conscience and remorse of conscience at a higher level of vibration than what can arise in the intellect; and it is only when this particular level of vibration is formed that we can begin to vibrate or oscillate at a level that allows the even higher vibrations of conscience and remorse of conscience from the feeling part of the center to enter. There's a hierarchy of vibration built here; and it is built through the contact between life and death, which could be seen as an unexpected result — except for the fact that it fits perfectly within the system and is an entirely lawful and even necessary interaction.

Last night, my stepson's fiancé was discussing her feelings about a grave matter which she has given me permission to share. Earlier this week, her younger brother committed suicide. Her brother had a long history of depression, and the circumstances were objectively gruesome. She was baffled by observing that two completely contradictory emotional forces were present in her at the same time: grief and gratitude.

This was a compelling example of the presence of conscience in a feeling context: and it was what put me on to the understanding about sensation, and the understanding that each center experiences its own form of both conscience and remorse of conscience. This means that each mind within Being, each one third of what contributes to three brained being, has its own whole experience which it can bring.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Meditations on death, part II

But to cross over into the other stream is not so easy "merely to wish and you cross " For this, it is first of all necessary consciously to crystallize in yourselves data for engendering in your common presence a constant, unquenchable impulse of desire for this crossing, and then afterward to undergo a long corresponding preparation. 
For this crossing you are required above all to renounce everything that you consider "riches" in this stream of life, but which in reality are automatically and slavishly acquired habits. 

In other words, you have to die to everything that makes up your ordinary life. It is just this death that is spoken of in all religions. This is the meaning of the saying which has reached us from remote antiquity, "Without death no resurrection," or in other words, "If you do not die, you will not be raised from the dead. " 

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, G. I Gurdjieff, pgs 1129-1130

It's possible to develop an organic capacity for sensing one's own death.

Our life and our death are directly related, and belong to one another. It’s impossible to separate them; and yet they exist in relative separation within our psyche, because we love life and are functionally unable to conceive of our own death as anything except a theory. We live; and that is all we want to know. This is in its own way a rightful form of selectivity; of course life loves life, because this is the way that love and life ought to manifest together. Love flows into life and creates life; this is where Being emerges from, and all of creation participates in it.

Yet all of creation inevitably includes death, which is an enormous force that drives life forward in every instant and particular. It would be impossible for life to exist if it did not have death within it. Immortality would create a static force that’s contradictory to life. Life has a purpose; it has a function. And it cannot fulfill its function without death.

In order to understand this better, we need to understand that life, as an idea, exists in and emanates from a higher realm that transcends all the organic material instances of life as we know it. Of course this is what I might call highfalutin’ thinking, that is, thinking along very lofty and inaccessible premises; but it is true. The idea of life, what it represents, is larger than life itself as we encounter it. It has a sacred quality because it emanates as one of the principles of the universe. It is one of the great names of God, and closely related to the absolute Himself, since He is all life and all love.

The principles of cosmological evolution create a requirement for death, which must be present at each complete turn of the wheel. It represents hope; it represents regeneration and rebirth. Just as Christ said we cannot put new wine in old bottles, we must die to ourselves in order to receive the force from a higher level. This is an ancient idea; and although the idea of physical death is terrifying to us, when we think about dying to our old self or our old ideas, we accept it, because we understand that if we wish to grow, some old parts of us which misunderstand or are damaged will have to die in order to make room for the new parts.

Death and love go together hand-in-hand throughout life. I can feel the love for all of the ones I know who have died; they have not left, they live here in my heart. In a certain abstract way, which is related to a sensation of the astral level, all of the Being that has ever existed is also here in my heart and finds its expression through me. I become responsible to every being that has ever lived, every life that has ever taken place — anywhere, even perhaps in other galaxies — because I am a representative of life and must strive to manifest in all of its meaning, all of its glory, all of its truth. Anything I do to degrade that or dishonor the sacred action of life itself is against life. So perhaps, if I don't sense my life wholly enough and understand its relationship to death, I am already beginning to dishonor the sacred nature of life. It is all too easy for me to "live" and in doing so to go against life by dishonoring its sacred principles.

We have an organic tool in us that is meant to help us sense life in a very practical, deep, and immensely material way. That tool is called sensation. Yet I'm not using this word in the ordinary sense of sensation; I'm referring to a much deeper level of vibration that can awaken within every cell in the body. I've often referred to this as the organic sensation of being, but lately I have decided it is meaningful to refer to it as the molecular sensation of being, because it is tied not to a cellular but a molecular awareness of being. The cellular awareness of Being is one level of the sensation, but it is not deep enough. It must go deeper, always deeper.

If I come into relationship with this tool of molecular sensation, I sense myself as an aggregation of life itself; I sense that life arises at a level much lower than me, and that I become a summary of its nature, not a singular expression, but a collective awareness. I am not made of a single creature; my being consists of an uncountable number of creatures, every molecule being a creature, a creation, that builds into this form called life. This is not a theoretical idea, but a very practical way of living that can bring me back to the ground floor and the facts of my existence, instead of the heady psycho-spiritual thoughts I like to engage with.

And it brings me closer to the question of death, which needs to be examined further.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Meditations on death, part I

June 13

Last night, my stepson’s fiancĂ©e called with the news that her younger brother had committed suicide.

This comes on the heels of the death of my Dutch cousin Elodie, who died at 48 years old of pancreatic cancer; she was the light of many lives. And it reminds me once again — reminds us all once again — of how death follows us everywhere as a companion.

We would rather forget about this; it seems terrifying, and every death is a small tragedy. Measured in the terms of individuals, the tragedy is intense and terrifying; yet measured against the collective nature of life and its manifestation, it is a little thing. This may sound silly to say, but the evidence is there: researchers recently discovered that a person’s attitude towards death tends to be more positive than negative as one approaches it.

Somewhere in the human soul lies an understanding that death is not so awful after all.

This seems contradictory; the sense of loss from death is so overwhelming. Yet the combination of contradictory feelings about death is lawful; if we feel real consciousness, experience real conscience, it contains all our feelings, not just the ones that we prefer or expect. Emotion is a complex blend of perception and, in its highest form, can extract all the information available in a situation, not just the information we selectively perceive with our ordinary Being.

Buried within the experience of death, hidden from public view, is the fact that it is a benediction and a blessing, and a normal part of what it means to be alive. God has blessed us with life; and if we really think that God is all-merciful, supremely intelligent, and has love towards us as His greatest intention, how can we believe that death is not a good thing in the end? It is a gift to us, like the gift of life; it makes life all the more precious and ought to focus our attention quite clearly on the extraordinary beauty that life bestows. It ought to focus our attention much more clearly on the value of love, which we constantly squander on foolishness and argument. Death has the capacity to remind us of everything valuable in life.

Anyone who has lost a loved one will be able to relate to that feeling. Death is a gift and a blessing that gives us the capacity to see who we are; to feel real remorse of conscience for the way we have treated our loved ones — and even ourselves. It bestows a kind of sobriety upon us in the midst of the confusion of our life, and helps us to see what is really meaningful. If we come in to a fuller and more respectful relationship with death, it can help us live.

This is a mystery; because of course the loss of those we love is difficult to bear. Sometimes almost too difficult. And it is a silly thing to pretend that some intellectual philosophy can correct that. We have to contend with the real struggle of our emotional being, not come up with theories about how we ought to feel better, or to not feel at all. The rational universe is a fraction of being, not the whole thing. Feeling transcends rationality and helps us to perceive the contradictions we inhabit. It can help us to reconcile those contradictions; but only if we are immersed in the whole of feeling, the acknowledgment of the conditions of life as a truth, the Dharma. It is a form of mercy, if we can only see it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Notes from May 28

I'm increasingly interested in the understanding of detail when it comes to inner work.

Like everything else in the universe, we’re composed of countless tiny particles. One might think that our awareness doesn’t extend to this level; and under ordinary conditions, of course, it doesn’t. But if we want to feed our being, we need to develop a much finer attention to these particles of our Being.

When I use the word finer, I mean it literally. The attention has to, so to speak, break itself up (although it is no breaking, but rather a unification) into an endless series of tiny points that are each one of them like a star in miniature. So imagine that you’re composed of stars; and that you’re furthermore composed of so many stars that you are, in fact, an entire galaxy.

Sense your Self as this galaxy by thinking not on the scale of our own galaxy, which is far too huge to comprehend, but on the scale of the galaxy of your cells and their molecules. This can be comprehended in a completely new way if I take responsibility for it.

Attention needs to manifest with this level of detail, which is accomplished through the medium of a higher energy which suffuses the body. If you want to, you can call the energy prana, or the Holy Spirit. It’s the animating force. Either way, this fine attention to detail is how I feed my Being.

I can begin to understand that this energy carries different degrees of the vivifying vibration and force according to how it is received, how receptive I am, and planetary and solar conditions. So I participate not just at this finer level of detail; through it, I am introduced to a much larger picture. The organism needs the right kind of food in order to grow into this perception.

In order to understand this, I can use another analogy. If one thinks of the digestive system, it extracts all of the nutritional value that I need from my food on the molecular level, absorbing proteins, vitamins, other nutrients.

My life is much the same way; and my soul feeds on the impressions of my life in the same way that my digestive system feeds on the coarser material of food. It feeds on my life at a molecular level.

In order to understand this better, it's helpful to understand every small thing I encounter as a "molecule" of food. The idea of mindfulness — which is spoken about a great deal but not always very carefully explained — is (if it is practiced with a deep understanding) the idea of a very close and detailed attention to these “molecules,” of each individual and very small impression as I encounter it.

It's possible to turn the attention to this level of detail and engage with one's life on a much smaller scale which, although it may sound contracted and appear not to have the grand scope and drama I expect (even demand) that meaningful things consist of, actually provides far more nutrition for the growth of my Being.

A finer vibration can arise in me and correspond to life in this way.

Do this all day long; but don't talk about it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.