Friday, January 19, 2018

A Great Sense of the Soul



There ought to be a gentle love that infuses each action of a human being; yet it cannot be there without a different kind of sensitivity.

I wonder whether we see how we are given no choice but to live within the contradictions of life, in which our aspirations towards the great sense of the soul are tempered by the realities of our own inner limitations. We will, for example; hurt others; and so much of that hurt comes from inadvertent expressions of the way objects, events, circumstances and conditions endlessly recombine themselves so as to challenge us.

One also might call it fate and karma; it doesn’t matter. The fact is that the configurations of the universe contain both good and bad; they cannot be any other way—and we are caught up in it. The theoretical territory of higher metaphysical planes where everything is “good” (as though that were even possible without measuring against an opposing bad) is unhelpful and even deceptive; on this level, evil is evil. No use in whitewashing it. All of us are required to inhabit this polarity and even the best of us are forced at times to navigate waters beset with every kind of reef and sandbank. Rare indeed is the man or woman who never does anything completely free of evil; just as every evil person also paradoxically embodies good, in some small action or another. It is rather a question of who and what inside us chooses, and which force predominates.

Those of us inclined towards the great sense of the soul hope always and forever to not be evil; yet so often that hope finds its fundamental expression in seeing the evil we already have, not that which is headed for us as we stand here like deer in the headlights. Today—not in some theoretical or hypothetical other time or territory—we will meet evil in ourselves and others and be forced to deal with it. There are, forever, choices on the table.

Sometimes, as in matters of love, one person’s evil will be another person’s good—and this is even more confusing. Yet love on our level is also like this; while it still wields ultimate power (as Swedenborg points out, every man’s own love, good or evil, is the substance and fabric of his whole Being) it cannot exercise the temperance God is able to bring to it. Indeed, because of this, love suffers—because it knows itself better than we know it, and suffers for the ends it cannot help being turned to in this material universe.

Love, then, needs our help. First of all, it cannot be without us: we are the agents of Love on this level, and must help it find both its way and itself within us.

Second, we are responsible; and if we can respond to the presence of love—its very material, molecular, and organic existence within us as an active force—we can perhaps bring to this life a little bit of that gentle expression which ought to infuse each moment.

We can, in summary, inhabit life today; we can be more gentle and caring; we can attempt to understand.

These may seem like big ideas, but they can find the reality of their own Being within the small and utmost daily actions of the moment.

Hosanna.






Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Manifesto of Grace

St. Dorothy and St. Catherine
Museé des Beaux Arts, Dijon
Master of the Passion of Darmstadt, circa 1440

There is an eternal Grace that is forever present within us.

God sends so much goodness, and so much beauty, and so much of His Perfection into the world at every moment that no matter how much evil humanity engages in, it is impossible to overwhelm it. Do you see this? I have seen it every day.

Grace is the power of Love; and everything in creation, even the worst of it (whatever that is) is made from that beauty.

When we open our hearts to receive Grace—through long and diligent action, through obedience and submission— eventually it rushes in so quickly and so deeply and profoundly that no force in heaven or on earth can stand against it; for we are the children of the Lord and One with Him, and He does not forget us, no matter how much we may forget Him.
There is a just and righteous obedience that’s necessary, that’s true; and we must submit to it in the midst of our sin and confession, because it is only through this humility of knowing nothing and a confession of sin (which is nothing more or less than turning away from the Lord) that we can render ourselves vulnerable enough to receive the Great, and Good, and Just Grace that is afforded unto us, as God’s creations.

God rushes us into us then in the same way that air rushes in to fill a vacuum; for there is no more natural place for God’s Love to dwell than in a man’s or woman’s heart, and no worthier receptacle was ever created for that Love.

One can know this immediately and personally; there is no need to wait or to argue, to hypothesize or engage in conjecture. The Lord’s Grace is already present within us, in that secret place where the Great Sense of the Soul resides.

There are times when I am so close to all this beauty that the rapture it induces seems impossible; yet I am tasked to live this life in an ordinary way, and have no privilege to celebrate it, no matter its intensity. Rather that rapture becomes a daily companion that informs (inwardly forms) the absolute goodness of everything that takes place. Indeed, the greater my acceptance, the more honest my admission of how God walks with me in every footstep, the deeper that inward formation.
One might ask, why witness such things in this way? Well, we live in a world where so much evil witnesses; every man, woman and child witnesses for his or her self, and nowadays men and nations become the bearers of dark torches and prophets of woe. The devils have many voices, and loud; and they are unloving, for devils use all love for themselves. It is in their nature.

Someone must stand against them and speak for truth and goodness; everyone who stands on the side of God must speak out in truth and goodness, against these numerous damnations.

Don’t despair; because no matter how many devils speak, they cannot overcome love. The more it is tried and tested, the stronger it becomes; and it is the duty of every good religious man and woman to stand here, in the midst of God’s Beauty, Grace, and Goodness, and to bear those trials together.

It’s true, in doing so we must confront our own fear and sins and anger; but we never do this alone, because God’s love is always here to help us, if we wish it.


Hosanna.






Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A senstivity to contradictions


From the Altarpiece of St. Margaret
Museé des Beaux Arts, Dijon
Master of the Cobourg Roundels, end 15th century 

I’m filled with contradictions.

The difference between awareness and the lack of awareness is the difference between seeing the contradictions as they manifest, and believing that there is nothing contradictory in me.

In reality, I’m made of many competing forces. My awareness occupies a place in the center of them, if it is there.

I have many different wishes and desires. All of them are partially intelligent and wish to satisfy themselves. It takes a greater intelligence to help align them with a greater vision; and even then, they are persistent, because they do contain some fraction of the truth within them. Often, that fraction is close enough related to legitimate motivations and needs of the soul that it gives up its independence reluctantly.

So in a certain sense, I can entertain wishes and desires and even celebrate them, as long as I don’t become their victim. I become their victim if these elements of partiality begin to dictate courses of action that harm others (first) or myself (second.) I put others first because if I harm myself, at least the damage is limited, whereas if I harm others—especially in conditions where I am responsible for their welfare—my sin is grave indeed.

Nonetheless, I will find it inevitable, at times, that I contradict even this, after I know it intelligently. If I do that, I commit a sin which is difficult to redress.

So I am here in Hong Kong, reading Epictetus, digesting his stoic material, and examining my own contradictions. Yesterday in the elevator, I was surrounded by many Chinese people who were doing their best to do what people in elevators do: ignore each other, and be polite when we had to acknowledge one another. It occurred to me at that moment, as I saw the contradictory and abstracted flow of associations moving through my mind, and the impressions that were coming in in the elevator, that every other individual in that elevator had an equally contradictory and abstracted flow of associations taking place at the same time.

All of us were, collectively, in relationship and in community in that elevator, yet the relationship was incomplete and the community was fractured. We live, in this sense, in isolation, each one bringing their own contradictions collectively to each moment in time, which we then experience together. The community is tangible; yet the contradictions we nurse are invisible.

This particular moment may not seem very useful, yet it illustrates quite strikingly how isolated I am. How isolated we all are. No wonder we yearn to discover a loving relationship with other people; to come into relationship in a way that is free, that has a genuine spirit of goodness to it and is unhesitating and uncritical. We are even willing to do harm in order to get such relationships (think of what happened to Troy, which is fresh on my mind as I read Epictetus.)

Following on my earlier meditation on the nature of love on this trip, and of the inevitable contradictions that arise within the context of this question, I’m interested in exactly what our sensitivity to contradiction is. We are required to inhabit it, whether we want to or not; what is not required is that we see it.

To see it — or to even wish to see it — is a higher level of effort, will, and aspiration than to just let the contradictions run my life.

They can run my life; they do, in many cases, run my life.

Yet I need to be in front of them and ask them why they are so insistent, why they have such a great wish to exercise power.

Hosanna.






Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

On self remembering


Now our Lord says, "Whoever abandons anything for me and for my name's sake, I will return it to him a hundredfold, with eternal life to boot" (Matt. 19:29). But if you give it up for the sake of that hundredfold and for eternal life, you have given up nothing; even if you give it up for a thousandfold reward you are giving up nothing. You must give up yourself, altogether give up self, and then you have really given up.

—Meister Eckhart, sermon 17

What does self-remembering mean?

The self, experienced from our perspective, is a complex object. Any opinion that the self can be “observed” in a context that limits it to the status off what can be observed is already insufficient; in reality, the self expands to fill the available space, when considered from this angle. So there is no theoretical or practical limit to what can be observed; and conventional imagination is unable to grasp both the scale and scope of the matter.

I think the first time I had an inkling of this was at the age of nine when I first saw Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights; and although it’s impossible to comprehend the vast nature of the teaching which that painting attempts to impart, it implants a seed. It is, in its own way, the late medieval version of Gurdjieff’s All and Everything; our psyches embody not only the possible, but the impossible, and the soul has no definable boundaries from within which we can accurately measure its nature. Certainly not, in any event, from within; yet in the practice of self-observation and self-remembering, that is where it’s proposed we begin.

Eckhart’s contention, then, that we should “give up self” implies an abandonment of our attempts to measure that which cannot be measured; his exhortation here is very nearly Buddhist in its scope, and seems to fly in the face of the whole idea of self-remembering.

Having spent the greater part of a lifetime engaged in a discipline which is, in large part, based on this selfsame activity, the practical experiences by now outweigh the philosophical conundrums; and the question still remains. There is an apparently inexhaustible reservoir of advice and direction from which folks pump “self-remembering help” materials for the public; and it is burned like so much fossil fuel, filling the atmosphere of the inner planet with spiritual smog. Perhaps it is more in the naming of things than the doing of them that the devil collects his dues; for the moment we name what we do, we presume some mastery over it, whereas it would seem the whole point of self-observation is, in the end, to see that we do not have any mastery.

In this way, perhaps the living of life with an inner eye turned towards it ought to remain nameless; and in this sense we ought to forget about both self-remembering and self-forgetting. A presence that accepts the material of life as it flows inwards does not need definitions of the mind; it creates its own parameters which are composed more of wordless feelings and sensations than of the words that capture them.

Reading Jeanne Salzmann’s comments about imagination of self (The Reality of Being, # 72) it’s possible to intimate how much imagination plays a role in this situation; and in the contact of that compound essay, especially its last few lines, perhaps we catch a glimpse of Eckhart’s direction:

“The imagined "I," my imagination of "I," will continue to be reinforced even in the most unconscious layers of myself. I must honestly accept that I really do not know this. Only in accepting this as a fact will I become interested and truly wish to know it. Then my thoughts, feelings and actions will no longer be objects for me to look at with indifference. They are me, expressions of my self, which I alone am here to understand. If I wish to understand them, I must live with them, not as a spectator but with affection, and without judging or excusing them. It is necessary to live with my thoughts, feelings and actions, to suffer them, from moment to moment.”

To live with and to suffer is to sense and to feel; not to think over. It is the immediacy of the inner action that connects us to a greater sense of being, not the intellectual inferences.

Earlier in the passage Salzmann says,

“But today the controlling influence is the idea of myself, and this imagined "I" desires, fights, compares and judges all the time. It wants to be the first, it wants to be recognized, admired and respected, and make its force and power felt. This complex entity has been formed over centuries by the psychological structure of society.”

We don’t really see it, but it is this exact entity that thinks it can observe; this entity which thinks it can see, and remember. 

And it’s this particular “self” which Eckhart refers to when he speaks of abandoning the self.

Hosanna.






Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Obligate consciousness, and duty

Auberive, France

I recently coined the term “obligate consciousness” in order to try to better define the nature of the relationship between man and God. This term embodies an ancient idea that man and God are dependent upon one another and not actually separated.

While there are texts all the way from the Vedas through to relatively modern times (Ibn Arabi, Gurdjieff, Swedenborg, Sri Anirvan, etc.) that allude to this, it seems worthwhile to investigate the term in the context of this expression.

Obligation, in the Oxford English dictionary, means the binding together of one thing with another. The word derives from the same root as ligature, that is, a tether that binds. The idea that we are bound to God is embodied in the Catholic and Episcopalian ritual of prayer:

it is meet, right, and our bounden duty at all times and in all places to give thanks unto the Lord.

Of course, this is a formalized version of Gurdjieff’s subtle adage to remember oneself “always and everywhere"; —it means much more than it sounds like it means—but more important, it expresses the point of our duty to God, and the fact that we are bound to Him, not at all in the sense of bondage, but in the sense of reciprocity.

It is impossible to be separated from God, even if one denies God and disclaims His existence. Even that action is, paradoxically, of God, because all things are of God. If it sounds confusing to you, consider the fact that you are your own God; yet undoubtedly, you have parts of yourself that are confused and reject the others. This is a normal condition, and every person with a conscience is plagued by it. One can’t sort one’s psychology out without confronting it.

In any event, we are obliged towards God: that is, we are bound to God by the very nature of consciousness itself, which is a manifestation of God’s Being and Presence. Even the relative ignorance and darkness of the human intellect, which is tiny, cannot dispel this condition or entirely cut the tether. We are bound to God through duty; we are God’s representatives, and our conscious nature and Being itself are already microcosmic and fragmentary representations of God’s entire Being.

The part of a human being which is most supposed to be able to sense this organically (rather than think about it) is one’s feeling part; and it does this through the sensation of sorrow and remorse, whereby it relocates its sense of value so that one understands one’s relationship not to oneself — this, of course, is what we are always obsessed with, even though it is unimportant in the end — but to God. And coming around to that point, feeling has a powerful tool that is supposed to help realign our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others and to God.

It is called shame.

It is from a German root, Scham; and worthy of examination from that perspective alone. The Oxford English dictionary describes it as follows:
the painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honor or disgrace one regards as one’s own), or of being in a situation which offends one’s sense of modesty or decency.

Now, the Germans have a word which means, roughly, brazen or outrageous: unverschämt. We could also say, unashamed, but that doesn’t quite convey the sense of violation that the German word has built into it.

If one forgets ones obligation to God, if one loses the ability to sense that, this particular faculty of Unverschämtheit—outrageousness— can exercise itself without restraint. And we see a very great deal of that in the world today.

It is, basically, the opposite of humility, which derives from the word humus, for earth. To be humble, in other words, means to know where one is — in a very low place, on earth. Once one forgets that, one has mislocated one’s value and thinks that one is God.

Perhaps we could roughly equate that with egoism; yet egoism is no longer sufficient to describe modern human behavior, because egoism has recently undergone an inflationary event much like the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. It has expanded to proportions that in its own "eyes" release it from obligation — it is no longer, in its own vision, bound by any sense of obligation or duty towards something higher.

It would be putting it mildly to say that this will not end well for humanity. 

Yet here we are.

Hosanna.









My new book is now available in paperback, and as a PDF.  While the book, in its first half, discusses Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson at considerable length, it also looks at the nature of the universe in some depth from a cosmological point of view in the second half, The Information of the Soul.


For the text of the introduction, see the PDF link.


Novel, Myth and Cosmos at Amazon (paperback)

PDF file for digital devices cab be ordered at:

Novel, Myth and Cosmos PDF format


An iTunes bookstore version will be available soon.






Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

On what we value, part VI—a summary


This series of essays has covered a fairly wide range of territory, but its central premise is quite simple. We don’t know what to value. Egoism causes us to value ourselves in almost every single situation we find ourselves in. And egoism, like all the other features in being, is not a psychological action or theoretical premise; it isn’t, furthermore, an intellectual feature which can be expelled by an action of the mind. It uses all of our parts, intellect, sensation, and emotion, for its own purposes. It is, in other words, a collective entity, not one who can be dealt with from a single point of view. Even if one constructs significant intellectual barriers to it, it will find ways around them using the other parts. So a harmonious approach to the discovery of real being — which is what Gurdjieff advocated — needs to be employed; an approach which integrates all of the centers and re-forms their value around a right understanding.

Practices that understand this correctly from the technical point of view that is, in many senses, essential to the process are rare. Every tradition understands this, in one way or another, from an allegorical or metaphysical point of view; yet perhaps we need to apply a science to it first so that we understand exactly what is going wrong. That science cannot be a science of mechanistic rationalism; because it cannot presume that everything is an accident.

In order to truly understand the need for our lack of value, we must understand first the entire integrated technical process of where we are going wrong; because every assumption that starts from a point other than the exact point where the incorrect valuation takes place already creates its own mathematics, which will acquire in most cases an absolutely consistent structure of its own which nonetheless deviates in every way from the structure that is necessary. The cases in which this takes place are as numerous as the individuals who undertake spiritual effort.

The exact place where our sense of value goes wrong is right here and right now. It is well to examine that carefully; because if we do not study this exact point where the division between selfishness and unselfishness, decency and indecency, heaven and hell, takes place, we can’t understand anything about why our world is the way it is.

Perhaps the greatest irony in this situation is that because of our ability to take in and concentrate both consciousness and the representative of the Creator (the particles of sorrow) we cannot only alleviate God’s suffering; it lies within our power, if a community works this way, to alleviate a great deal of the suffering we must undergo ourselves; this, because when a community works in this , a powerful force of love is attracted which can act against the forces of entropy and dissolution on a local level.

It must take place, of course, within individuals first, before it can manifest in community; and here is why it is so important for us to consciously undertake a search for valuation which begins in God.

All the valuations which attempt to invert that understanding and point in other directions are always doomed to end in failure and violence one way or the other.

Hosanna.










My new book is now available in paperback, and as a PDF.  While the book, in its first half, discusses Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson at considerable length, it also looks at the nature of the universe in some depth from a cosmological point of view in the second half, The Information of the Soul.


For the text of the introduction, see the PDF link.


Novel, Myth and Cosmos at Amazon (paperback)

PDF file for digital devices cab be ordered at:

Novel, Myth and Cosmos PDF format


An iTunes bookstore version will be available soon.





Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 1, 2018

On what we value, part V—the difficult actions of the soul


Do not forget that Gurdjieff said, in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, that existence in the universe must, in the end, be nothing but suffering. Our search for value must be tied to this action; indeed, it means nothing without it, and of course the Buddhists know how essential the question of suffering is to the action of spiritual search. This question is central to all real religious traditions regardless of their age or origin.

The action of the sorrow as a universal “active representative of God” that is collected and concentrated along with the concentration of consciousness as an action that leads to the distillation and purification of that consciousness as it absorbs, without exception, all of the impressions and encounters. This is a terribly difficult activity; the conscious soul is not excused under any circumstances from encountering all of the consequences of creation, including the ones that appear to be negative or evil. It has to free itself from subjective (personal) experiences and interpretations related to this and attempt to understand it in the larger context which Sri Anirvan explains to us. In doing so, it must employ the feeling faculty, which is the most sensitive part of a human being; and that faculty, which provides a connection to astral forces (read The Sixth Sense) comes into its full operation at the note La on the Enneagram, that is, the point at which purification takes place. This is associated with the throat in the chakra system; and it is, logically enough, related to purification because the representative of God (the particles of sorrow) are what allows God to speak. That is what a representative does: it carries a message from what it represents and presents it: it stands in the place of what it represents and speaks for.

In this sense, then, when we speak about listening in all inner works what we are listening to, in the end, is the voice of this sorrow the way that it expresses itself. It offers us an opportunity for emotional purification through its action, if we listen. Listening involves being willing to take on the suffering in a conscious way — Gurdjieff’s “intentional suffering.” While I haven’t written many things about this over the years, this is probably the most comprehensive overview on the subject, because it ties so many of the questions together — and, of course, centers around a valuation of being that begins in God and not in myself.

The most difficult action of the soul, however, isn’t in absorbing the emanations of the sorrow of His Endlessness; and it isn’t taking in the often horrifying impressions of the terrible violence that we do to one another on this planet, or the results of accidental catastrophes such as tsunamis or storms. The most difficult action for every soul is to stop its mechanical action of egoistically locating its sense of value in itself. I use the word difficult because the soul has to give up so much in order to turn its sense of value inside out.

Swedenborg argued that the line between selfishness and unselfishness demarcated the boundary between heaven and hell; and everything in Gurdjieff’s teaching about recognizing one’s own nothingness also turns on this point, if it is understood. In a certain way a soul has to give itself up to discover the real value of life, which lies in God. It is a soul sacrifice; but it is not a sacrifice to the devil. Instead it is a sacrifice to God. The irony here is that the whole action of the soul under ordinary circumstances is already the sacrifice to the devil that everyone fears so much in Christianity and other religions.
 I’ll wrap this lengthy discourse up with a practical example. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and was plagued, at once, by selfish automatic thoughts about a situation I am currently in in which I thought I should get something. Thoughts of this kind our persistent in all of us. Yet at the same time, as is so often the case in the middle of the night, the organic presence of the Lord was active; and I had to keep turning my attention back to her relationship with that, because that was the priority: to rediscover and really concentrate the relationship with God, which consisted of directly suffering my incarnation and mortality. The part in me which wished to yet and to have from life, and that felt the situation I was contemplating was somehow unfair, had to be dialed all the way down to zero; and it is like this with everything I want for myself. In the ordinary action of life, it is acceptable want for oneself up to a certain point; but no more. And the relationship with God must absolutely come first. It has to be inserted as the postulate, before my opinions and cravings.

The situation reminds me of Gurdjieff’s adage that a man should make as much money as he can, but only with his left leg.

Hosanna.









My new book is now available in paperback, and as a PDF.  While the book, in its first half, discusses Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson at considerable length, it also looks at the nature of the universe in some depth from a cosmological point of view in the second half, The Information of the Soul.


For the text of the introduction, see the PDF link.


Novel, Myth and Cosmos at Amazon (paperback)

PDF file for digital devices cab be ordered at:

Novel, Myth and Cosmos PDF format


An iTunes bookstore version will be available soon.






Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.