From the Cloisters Collection, Metropolitan Museum
In the allegory of man’s two natures depicted in the tapestries of the unicorn at the Musée de Cluny in Paris, the noblewoman is the representative who stands between the two kingdoms. The kingdoms are represented by the lion and the unicorn, each one of them a mode of Being in its own right. Let’s say the lion is the tropical kingdom and the unicorn is the Arctic kingdom. They could be brought together; but they will only come into right relationship with a wise and experienced mediator who’s aware of both of their modes of existence and the needs thereof. No one will ever be able to turn a lion into a unicorn, or a unicorn into a lion. It’s patently impossible. They can, however, be brought together in harmony, which is the aim of inner spiritual work.
Conducting this inner diplomacy is a delicate matter; it needs to be conducted in secret, because allies of the tropical kingdom don’t want it to have a trade relationship with the Arctic kingdom. They base their whole existence on the premise that such a relationship would damage their own interests, and they align together to do everything they can to prevent it. So the representative conducts their negotiations in secret; anything they do in public is likely to create more resistance against the alliance. This is why the work is an inner, or esoteric, work.
Now I come to a more specific point. We find ourselves, as actual living entities, engaged in this enterprise. It isn’t a theoretical action, but a practical one that takes place every day within us. We're continually tempted to engage in activities that try to force one nature to overwhelm the other, or in any event impose its strict rules. The lower nature wants the higher nature to become a magical tool for it; the higher nature wants the lower nature to be its servant. Because, in all of us, the lower nature is the more powerful kingdom throughout most of our lives, it tends to constantly try to use force and coercion to achieve its goals instead of understanding the needs of the higher nature, which is one that requires the lower nature to intelligently serve it. The servitude is not bondage or slavery, but an action of love; and because the higher nature better understands love than the lower one, it will always act loving in the exercise of its kingdom powers, if it is allowed to.
We want to undergo a transformation in which we “become” the higher nature. This, however, is absolutely not the nature required of us within this life. It is the bringing together of the two natures with our own being as a mediator between them, where we suffer the division between the kingdoms and attempt to heal it — to cross the water between the two islands, so to speak — that should be our purpose, if we can but understand it.
There is a further lesson about the nature of reality and its manifestation on the table here. The entire universe with all of material reality is created strictly through the emanation of love. Love cannot exist selfishly, without an object, so God created the universe specifically so that His love could be expressed within it.
This means that all of the actions that take place within material reality, no matter how monstrous or absurd they may seem to us, have at their root a loving action. The complex metaphysics of this lie beyond the understanding of humanity; and, of course, within the realm we are in, we are required, so to speak, to act “as though” good and evil existed, and even to oppose the downward movement of what we perceive as evil forces. We cannot stop this action; nor should we; but we can trust the action of making a choice between good and evil, of taking sides between them, because the polarity itself is a lawfully required element. This means that even though there are no “lower” and “higher” natures when seen from the perspective of unity, that perspective belongs to God alone. Every other created being is required to participate in the world of polarity. Only God has the privilege of standing above that; and that is the place of the greatest suffering, suffering so intense and universal that it would destroy any created being who attempted to occupy the position. We can take on small portions of that suffering within our experience of the two natures we perceive; and that suffering always emerges from accepting the division an understanding that the two natures will always be separated from one another. It is in our action of suffering that we ameliorate that division, that separation. Students of Gurdjieff will recognize the holy planet purgatory as an essential location for the resolution of this division; but I will not go into that here other than to say it’s worth reading that chapter in light of this essay.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.