Friday, November 15, 2019

The Metaphysical Organs of Being

October 5

the boy in the middle was a Yezidi… (a) circle had been drawn round him… he could not get out of it until it was rubbed away. The child was indeed trying with all his might to leave this magic circle, but he struggled in vain.

Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men

 How does one come to understand one’s life?

There's a current that flows into us from God which provides complete understanding. That understanding is God’s understanding, not our own; and because we are not aware of the existence of that understanding, we rely on our own, which will always be a thing defined by the material, whose limits are circumscribed by the material. It's the same circle described in the quote. This circle represents our life and who we are as we are, without God’s influence.

The paradox here is that the understanding from our life, which appears to be everything we are and all that we know, is actually the precise thing that prevents us from experiencing real life, which exists outside the circle. We create within ourselves a thing, an abstraction, that represents life, and we sign onto it with all that we are. Everything in our being. It even comes back to us in our dreams in an endless set of iterations that reflect the confusion we’re in. 

 There's a different understanding. This complete understanding actually dials everything we are down to zero, because it isn't our understanding and has in fact nothing to do with the construction we’ve made. It’s an understanding that moves within the present moment and brings a new relationship to it. It’s an understanding that informs according to what is, not my dreams.

Someone asked me a while back how one acquires this understanding, and among the circle of friends engaged in this conversation there was a sense of laughter. Basically, a disbelief that there could be any answer to this question. There was also, of course, the tired old Gurdjieff trope that there are no answers hanging in the air. This fossilized idea continues to be regurgitated no matter what one does to counter its toxic effect on inward investigation.  Folks who sign on to it as a mantra and cling to it like a life preserver repeat it because perhaps it makes them feel important.  In fact, it's categorically untrue. Remember — answers are responses, and everything in the universe is a response of one kind or another to a corresponding arising. This means, in objective fact, that there are nothing but answers. The whole universe is an answer. 

We are answers.

 In any event, there was a response available here, as well, and I made it. 

The way we acquire this understanding is organically.

 This organic response which leads to understanding is the reciprocal response from Being engendered (note this word up in your dictionary and ponder it, because it is used very intentionally here) by the inflow of God’s Mercy. A whole thing takes place here which is not susceptible to verbal interpretation; one has to be within it to understand such understanding. 

The point is that it exists, not that one can define it.

True understanding is not acquired by the physical organs, who are mere middlemen. The metaphysical organs have to participate. These metaphysical organs of being relate to Gurdjieff’s higher being bodies, which are in fact metaphysical entities: the astral body, for example. It’s interesting that you never hear people speaking about these entities as metaphysical entities, even though it's quite obvious.

 The metaphysical organs receive vibrations from metaphysical sources. The vibrations they receive do not even register on scientific instruments, because they are metaphysical. Gurdjieff alluded to this when he spoke of emanations. 

If your metaphysical organs are atrophied, they don't sense:

Blödsinn, Blödsinn, du mein Vegnügen...
Stumpfsinn, Stumpfsinn, du meine Lust

If I try to understand my life physically and from the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that surround me, I'll fail. All of these things – which begin quite easily, from an early age, to appear as though they are everything that I am and all that is — are essentially beside the point in the question of understanding my life from the metaphysical point of view. 

It's only the force of God’s mercy that flows into me that matters. 

There is no other force from which the true nature of life can be understood: and all the things in life become a distraction from that fundamental truth.

 Notes on the Next Attention by Fran Shaw is a good place to begin if one seeks active commentary on this question. It defines the condition that such work ought to rediscover itself in within us better than any other book from the Gurdjieff work.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Representatives within Being, part II

 I’d like to say a bit more about this idea of being representatives within Being.

We’re caught in a world of confusing influences. Outward circumstances pull us every which way. It’s difficult to keep focused on honoring existence, on what ought to be done. I need the gravitational force of Grace within me to help keep me centered and focused on my responsibilities, which always ought to be to God and thoughts of God first. If everything in me has a center of gravity that begins with a relationship with God — an inner relationship with the Grace that arrives that starts every moment, right now— then I remember my responsibility.

 When we speak about “self remembering” and ”self-knowledge,” we often think that this is remembering myself and knowing who I am, knowing myself. Yet it would be more helpful if we understood these terms from the perspective that the "self" in question is God. 

It isn’t my self I'm remembering; if I remember rightly, what I remember is that Being which creates me, not myself. 

That Being is a powerful creative force that gathers my existence together at the point of my intelligence and consciousness. “I” oversee that moment of the creation of Being and inhabit it, but it's not my own property. If I understand my role correctly, I'm like a supervisor hired to oversee a vast factory which manufactures all kinds of miraculous things, who never owns it and has to treat every employee and product that is manufactured as precious. Some of the parables about vineyards and servants are about this question, phrased in terms appropriate to the times in which they were told.

Anyway, this vast factory is what I call my life. When I remember myself, if that ever happens, what I remember first isn’t that what Lee does, or how important and wonderful he is (I'm not in the least important and I’m certainly not wonderful) but the extraordinary, inherent, living, and active value of this quality called Being within me, which through its own eternal Grace (Grace outside of time) already causes me to Be

I inhabit a demand and a responsibility from that instant forward (that is, within all instants.) That responsibility is forever present; it’s my duty to bring myself into alignment with it, to sense it.

When I speak of extraordinary, inherent, living, and active value, I think these are the four qualities vital to an understanding of life. Being is extraordinary: it inhabits the order (the order) of this level, but it comes from a level much higher than this. It is inherent because the quality of Being penetrates all the other levels of the universe along with this one, in quality and intensity according to its concentration. There is nothing without Being.  It is living because it is constantly growing and changing and learning about itself.  It is active because it is imbued with that quality called agency, which cannot be separated the conferring of responsibility. It is this last quality of being active that endows Being with intelligence, purpose, and direction.

 I find it helpful, while inhabiting the inward flow of Being, to remind myself as often as I can of these principles, not by using the words for them, but through the active sensation of Grace which automatically aligns Being in such a way that the qualities are remembered — wordlessly. They have to be embodied without the words, inhabited as a garment. This helps to protect me from the elements, keep me warm, and instill a sense of gratitude for the fact that I am given gifts of life and Being, clothed in the garment of God’s love, and can make an effort to give thanks for it.

May your heart be close to God, 

and God close to your heart.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Representatives within Being, part I

Sept. 29

 Speaking last night with some very close friends. 

The question came up of how common it is for those engaged in “spiritual work” of one kind or another to think they are better than others. This is not just common to religious fundamentalists, who are often infected with this disease. It comes as a packed suitcase with nearly every practice, and human beings are in perpetual danger of traveling everywhere with it. Every group of practitioners seems to think they are the chosen people of one kind or another.

What is forgotten today is that everyone is chosen. Even the worst of us have been chosen by God as his representatives within Being. We are asked to inhabit this life and honor it, regardless of its conditions.

The conditions aren’t going to be good. No one ever said they would be.  No one, however, said they would be bad either. They exist as themselves without these labels. It is what takes place within us that characterizes their nature; and as agencies of God himself, we become responsible for what takes place within us in order to characterize. A faculty of discrimination emerges; and we, not God Himself, assume ultimate responsibility for the good and the bad by engaging with conditions.

The less concentrated and balanced one’s attention is, the less likely it is one can honor the conditions of being. Discrimination becomes personal and selfish without balance. Balance, in its own turn, is conferred by Grace (the inward flow of the Divine) and humility. If these two forces (humility dependent upon Grace, as always) are present and active, human beings are always aligned with the good. Yet, of course, because of the collective delusions of mankind, most of the time human beings believe they are aligned with the good before they ever have even the first understanding of Grace and humility. This, of course, provokes the opposite: one thinks one is special, one thinks one is better than others. The fundamental effect of Grace and humility is self-evident: under these influences, one does not think such things. It ought to be the first understanding in us—not the last.

If one stays close to oneself, pride is an easy thing to see. Each one of us carries it on our shoulder for all to see; yet we never see our own pride, we only see that of others. If we see our own pride, the first thing we feel is shame. Beware of those with no shame. It is an essential component of Being; I speak here not of selfish shame, which is related to inner considering, but unselfish shame, which drinks in the inward flow of Divine Grace, and sees how one is lacking. If we drink this, we drink wine, not water. It fills us with the Holy Spirit and we know how we are: not better than others, but in need of being better than ourselves. If I am in need of being better than myself, I perpetually strive to align myself more perfectly (perfection is a very distant—in fact unattainable— goal) with God’s Grace, which can help me. I can’t help myself. If I think I can, already, the pride is at work.

 I have to begin again every day on this, because I am not easy to educate. I can learn this lesson 10,000 times and it is only after that that perhaps I will learn it properly on time number 10,001; and then it’s nearly certain that on time number 10,002, I have to begin again, because I forgot yesterday’s lesson. Do you understand what I'm saying?

 If I learn to submit to the Grace of God, which allows humility to be born at the expense of me as I am, then I remember my lessons. I never remember the lessons of Grace and Humility because I’m a good student or have a good memory or have finally understood something; I only remember them when Grace arrives and engenders humility in me.

 Well, of course, this isn’t exactly what we talked about last night. But most of these thoughts follow on it.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

King Crimson, Part II

King Crimson, Part II

Just before the concert — and, to be confessed, before I fully developed the above analogy — I mentioned to one of the folks attending with me that King Crimson engages in “the molecular deconstruction of musical form.” 

This was only half an observation, to be honest, because the other activity King Crimson engages in is the molecular reconstruction of form. 
The form—the body of compositions, which is the singular vehicle whereby its fans have for years known the band—the musicians encounter night after night is repeatedly taken apart and put back together in the moment, with a spontaneity that exceeds the demands and the laws of the form itself. 

This dynamic is a different enterprise than the static form which fans perennially expect; for example, 21st Century Schizoid Man, the standard encore song. Compositions like this exist, to all appearances, frozen in time: well-worn, fraught with age and baggage. Yet the song (and the listener) benefit the most when hearing the piece as though it were newborn in this moment—which it in fact is. Only our habitual parts, which are generally more powerful than we realize, ever assume otherwise.

 Let me speak a bit more about this exercise of form. One of the songs performed on Saturday night, Easy Money, began by sticking rigorously enough to the form proposed by the composition. Musical compositions are very analogous to a daily routine or discipline; let’s think of it in monastic terms: a set of intelligent repetitive actions meant to focus us so that we can make a sound (excuse the pun) effort from within ourselves.  My friend Sylvia March has a poster in her kitchen of the Zen master Suzuki Roshi, bearing a quote that says: 

if we lose the spirit of repetition, our practice will become difficult

We need, in other words, an intelligent form that we commit ourselves too. In the case of King Crimson, the compositions offer that form.

Just as in any other inner discipline, the idea of the form is to make a complete commitment to it in such a way that it offers the opportunity to exceed its own value. The form itself creates that opportunity, because there could be no reach beyond if it didn’t exist in the first place; yet it’s only from that place which intentionally constrains that any reaching can take place. An irony, perhaps, to consent to be bound through strict limits in order to discover the potential for freedom, but there’s no other way to begin.  Robert, at the beginning of the VIP talk, pointed out that it is always from this perpetual re-beginning that everything takes place.

 The idea of being bound through limits in order to seek freedom is, metaphysically speaking, the fundamental nature of the universe itself. Attempting to engage and mirror such action within the context of a musical composition on stage may seem too prosaic and trivial. Yet it touches on that same sacred action that Robert brought up before the concert. There’s nothing overinflated about the idea, though it may sound so to the uninitiated.

After seeing the first two concerts in this series (for me) of three in 2017, I spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the performances by listening to various albums, both studio and live, in order to take in a wider range of new impressions of the band and its work.  

We human beings enjoy thinking of ourselves as special and apart from creation and its lawful requirements, but they’re inescapable. This means that any enterprise – whether it’s scrubbing a floor or playing ”prog-rock” music (I’d argue KC is not prog-rock but a different beast entirely) – inevitably expresses the cause-and-effect of lawful existence in ways that we may not be immediately aware of. Hence, as Robert sits down to write a composition, or the band plays it—or as I myself write this and that piece—there are aspects to the creation and emergence of that kraeft that may not be immediately evident to us as we participate. 

In the case of King Crimson, the music manages to bring an aural and physical intensity that expresses universal law through a mutable music form. I’ve had this same impression of the Gurdjieff movements, especially through the formal performance of the New York Gurdjieff Foundation’s movements members two years ago.  In both the movements and in the musical expression of King Crimson as an organic unit, we see and hear the action of law on man. Some may object to this potentially heretical (to Gurdjieff pupils) comparison, because the forms are quite different, but at their core they’re both examining the same thing. The fact that King Crimson is a mostly musical, not physical, form of expression allows it to investigate a different set of questions. 

Now, I’ve never spoken to Robert about this, so I don’t know what his opinions and observations about his own musical exercises are. I can only offer my impressions of them. I wrote down a few notes during the concert, one of which seems particularly correct to me. 

“Combining surprisingly, rapturously melodic pieces with sheer intentional mayhem. Yet not mayhem in any traditional sense of the word: dismemberment of the body. What is dismembered are our notions of what music is, or ought to be: in this molecular deconstruction of sound, something new emerges. The band is re-creating and discovering harmony where none should by right exist.”

 This impression of an absolute and satisfying harmony emerging from a complex construction of dissident elements is something that continues to fascinate me in KC’s music. It speaks of potentials we don’t really see in life; of a possibility of a whole life being created from elements that, on the surface of things, ought not to fit together well or make sense to us. And, indeed, much of life is like that; it consists, like the chord progressions of King Crimson, of unlikely elements who don’t make the most familiar bedfellows. 

These life-elements defy routine prediction; and they collide with each other with an intensity and potential illogic. Yet they quickly find their relationship to one another; and as they do so, they immediately express an emergent form that becomes a greater thing than the individual parts. What might have been cacophony discovers unity; what might have been unpleasing becomes a food that unexpectedly satisfies.  

As a member of the audience, I have no inherent right to expect that anything will be pleasing in the first place – although I may come with that demand. Yet I discover that it’s my job to see and hear what is, not what I want it to be. The impressions are powerful: and they leave no room for my opinions in the end. They become a part of me. I’m now responsible for this tiny corner of the universe and what it has produced. The privilege lies in being a beneficiary of the enormous work and precise intelligence that has gone into creating and presenting this material.

Well, this review has gone on long enough; and having written it, I sense it’s not quite like the usual review of a concert. Yet King Crimson is not your usual band; and the work it’s doing demands, in my opinion, a new and different kind of examination that moves beyond the ordinary — just as the music does.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

King Crimson, part I

I’ve been meaning to write a review of a King Crimson concert ever since 2017; and the time is now upon me, after seeing the September 21 performance at Radio City Music Hall.

 I was fortunate, through the kindness of Mr. Fripp himself, to attend the VIP session before the concert. During the session, Robert gave a brief but succinct summation of what interests him about the music he writes and plays, and the band that plays it. According to this speech-in-the-moment moment, his chief interest centers around Presence: both the Presence of the music itself and of the band members. Robert alluded to, in his talk, the need to approach both the playing of and listening to the music from a sense of this Presence. 

He cast the performance venue as a sacred space in which the opportunity for this Presence exists; and he reminded us of the importance of the audience in receiving the music in order for the unifying circle of Presence to be completed. There is, in other words, a demand on any audience to receive the music that’s played with the respect due to it, taking into account both the form and the effort of the musicians themselves… and if this happens, a special kind of inner and outer unity may ensue.

This brief summary can’t possibly do justice to all he said. From the questions and answers that followed, however, it was possible that few, if any, in the audience ( VIP or otherwise) of necessity share this question of Presence, the notable center of gravity in both Robert’s compositions and the band’s effort. 

This inadvertently illustrates how obscure the question of Being is to the average person. The terror of the situation, if there is one, is how thoroughly and absolutely this question is overlooked— both in ordinary life, and in King Crimson concerts.  

I approached the concert from a different point of view last Saturday. I’ve always liked King Crimson; this is how my interest in the band started out, and it developed before I ever heard of Gurdjieff. Yet on Saturday night I decided that I’d approach the music from the point of view not of how I liked it, but where I was in myself and what was happening. I wished for a certain distance from myself, paradoxically engendered by coming closer to myself.

The inner premise, in other words: King Crimson is not here to be liked or disliked. It represents an organic effort which should be appreciated—insofar as possible within a subjective world— objectively. That is to say, it doesn’t matter how I feel about King Crimson; my responsibility and my duty in encountering this band and the man whose work supervises its creative activity is to appreciate it in the sense of simply taking it in for what it is.

It may seem odd to propose that one approach a creative venue and then hypothesize, from the outset, that one shouldn’t care how one feels about it. Yet in the world of Gurdjieff ideas, the world of ordinary feeling — of like and dislike — is a casual, entirely untrustworthy place, only meaningful relative to real feeling, which is a feeling of that selfsame sacred quality Robert brought up in his talk before the show. 

That can be trusted.

So how do I properly honor the effort and the intelligence that goes into such a performance?

King Crimson is not an ordinary rock band. The music is demanding, as Tony Levin pointed out later in the VIP talk. This is part of what attracts him to it. Yet it isn’t just demanding; in this band, one senses an organism every time it plays. It’s a living thing, with every member creating a part of its body: heart, lungs, bones, kidneys, and, I suppose – Robert will hopefully forgive me — even bowels and their inevitable byproducts. (Nothing can exist without such a lawful element.)

Extending this analogy, the action of this organic body begins as the musicians “consume” and “digest” each composition. In doing so, they breathe in and out, they encounter all the disparate elements of the composition, they incorporate those elements into their bodies, build a structure out of them, and eliminate the waste. This is to be done, mind you, as consciously as possible, and not individual by individual, but collectively, where all of the molecular structures of the music — the intervals, the silences between notes, and the notes themselves — are ingested, exchanged, digested, and eliminated as one moves on to the next moment. This produces an entire body of Being.

 That body of Being  is the ”band”—the living musical event—folks refer to as King Crimson. This creature is, quite literally, a metaphysical entity, because its Being emerges as an energetic creature projected through the flow of time—gathering itself together to rehearse, the inward breath, and executing performances, an outward breath. King Crimson is a living thing; and while we don’t necessarily identify enterprises of this kind as creatures, under the medieval nomenclature of creature as anything existing in creation (think Meister Eckhart), it certainly qualifies. 

It’s the unity of it as an entity that becomes of interest, because this is what creates the organism that invites us into its work.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Some notes on sorrow and selfishness, part II

 This brings us to the question of the difference between the sorrow of God and my own sorrow. They’re not at all the same thing; my personal sorrow is temporal, not metaphysical, and essentially selfish. 

As I learn to see myself more clearly, I learn this over and over again; and perhaps, as I exercise intelligent discrimination, I’ll begin to see how my desire is driven by my personal sorrows, not by a wish for God. 

Catherine of Siena proposes an impersonal sorrow that, through experience and manifestation, drives us towards a greater wish for God’s love. Yet sorrow also has the potential to be a strictly selfish, personal, and material function, and in that guise it drives us directly towards the devil. Catherine struggles to explain this early on in The Dialogue:

 Some actually extend their cruelty even further, notably refusing the good example of virtue but in their wickedness assuming the role of the devil by dragging others as much as they can for virtue and vice. This is spiritual cruelty: to make oneself the instrument for depriving others of life and dealing out death. Bodily cruelty springs from greed, which not only refuses to share what is  one zone but takes what belongs to others, robbing the poor, playing the overlord, cheating, deforming, putting up one neighbor’s goods — and over their very persons — for ransom. (Ibid, p. 34).

 One needs to read all of this section in The Dialogue in order to get a flavor of how personal sorrow, and the physical and material desires it births, produce a directly contradictory result to God’s sorrow.

I want for myself; and no matter how much I try to expunge this quality, it remains durable. I sincerely doubt we can truly free ourselves of this impulse by any action that stems from our own volition. It’s spoken of, of course; and yet I stubbornly cling to the belief that freedom, if it exists, is up to me: that it’s within my grasp. I don’t see that the issue of my grasp is the essential problem in the first place. 

A close examination of this question of my own desire and my own sorrow uncovers the personalization. When Gurdjieff wrote his essay The Meaning of Life,  he characterized the impure as that which contains self interest. To be objective, in other words, an emotion has to be pure. Untinged by personal desire.  There is little or no difference between Gurdjieff’s idea of pure emotion  and Meister Eckhart’s emptying of self in such a way that even the last iota is gone; only then can God enter – and at that moment, He (God) has no choice. The parallels between this and the Buddhist concept of the extinction of ego are clear enough. Yet without that selfsame knowledge that Gurdjieff equally emphasizes in the aforementioned essay, which in its essence boils down to one simple point, the fact that I am selfish, no realization of it is available. Self-knowledge and the suffering thereof are thus inextricably linked; if I suffer intentionally, one of the things I must suffer is the inner vision of, and an intimate contact with, my own selfishness.

If the buffers that Gurdjieff proposed to Ouspensky have one single chief feature, it is that they all  rotate around an axis of selfishness. Every buffer prevents me from seeing how selfish I am, no matter how it functions or in what position it’s placed. I don’t want to see my selfishness. One is unable to avoid comparisons to Swedenborg; in his universe, as well, it is our love of ourselves that leads us to hell. The devil loves himself above all else; it is in his nature. And this devil is what drives every one of us most of the time. 

 When people speak about the effort at self-knowledge as being one of seeing, and they discuss seeing this and seeing that in themselves, perhaps the overarching aim ends up being overlooked: the aim of seeing my own selfishness. It raises the question of whether seeing is to be pursued without discrimination and without aim.  Is it an entirely Catholic science? Or should we attempt to understand that there is a purpose to it, and that this question of selfishness must be inserted into every observation so that I can measure against it?

I would argue the latter. If I don’t see my own selfishness, what does it matter what I see? In the effort to acquire knowledge, perhaps even — dare I reach for something this high? – Gurdjieff’s “pure” knowledge, this knowledge of my own selfishness and an intense personal suffering of it it is the only wasp that may sting me towards God; and without the pain of that sting, I may just stay where I am, because it is in my nature.

I’m very comfortable here, after all.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Some notes on sorrow and selfishness, part I

While considering Gurdjieff’s discussion of the sorrow of his Endlessness, let's try referring to the  opening words of Catherine of Siena’s dialogue:

True contrition satisfies for sin and its penalty not by virtue of any finite suffering you may bear, but by virtue of your innocent desire. For God, who is infinite, would have infinite love and infinite sorrow.

The infinite sorrow God wills is twofold: for the offense you yourself have committed against your creator, and for the offense you see on your neighbors part. Because those who have such sorrow have infinite desire and are one with me and loving affection… Every suffering they bear from any source at all, in spirit or in body, is of infinite worth, and so satisfies for the offense that deserved an infinite penalty. 

True these are finite deeds in finite time. But because their virtue is practiced in their suffering born with infinite desire and contrition and sorrow for sin, it has value. 

—Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, Classics of Western Spirituality, translated by Suzanne Noffke, 1980, page 28.

 Catherine has a considerable number of observations about charity and virtue, which, as I’ve observed earlier, are closely related to the idea of conscious labor and intentional suffering.  To go one step further, Gurdjieff’s concepts of the infinite nature of God, his  intense preoccupation with purgatory, and his citation of God’s sorrow as an essential  thematic element are remarkably consonant with the material presented and examined in Catherine’s dialogue. It seems difficult to believe that the conceptual structure of Beelzebub’s Tales doesn’t owe a considerable debt to this piece.

 Catherine was a notorious religious ecstatic. Speaking from my own personal experience of religious ecstasy, I can say with great certainty that specific things she says are derived from that state. For example:

… I have already told you that suffering and sorrow increase in proportion to love: when love grows, so does sorrow. (Ibid, p.33)

 Her thematic blend of the perfect balance of joy and suffering are descriptive of religious ecstasy —which cannot be described in any adequate way— but more importantly, they echo Gurdjieff’s own words on the subject of happiness and unhappiness, as quoted by his perennial sage, Mullah Nassr Eddin:

 Every real happiness for man can arise exclusively only from some unhappiness also real which he has already experienced.

—Beelzebub’s Tales, p. 377

 Once again, we encounter details that must convince the serious scholar that Gurdjieff’s teachings, although framed in a completely unconventional storyline, reflect absolutely traditional and well-established ideas drawn from the deepest parts of the Christian mystical tradition.

It’s fallen to me over the years to speak a great deal about the Gurdjieff practice and my own practice; yet I rarely, if ever, refer to or speak rapturously from the religious ecstasies that formed and grounded my own inner practice. The kernel of that lies within everything I write; yet although rapture can be fundamentally instructive, and extraordinarily informative ( it forms the inward core of the soul) it isn’t useful to anyone else except through personal experience. It can, moreover, become a vice if one does not understands its imperative; and it needs to be firmly balanced by the rational. 

I think Catherine does a better job of this than Hadewijch; yet both have significant value. Perhaps the fact that Gurdjieff’s core teachings are, at their well concealed heart, drawn from Christian mysticism explains some of the powerful negative reactions they have attracted from  traditional Christian institutions. Mystics have often been treated suspiciously; their teachings seem dangerous, because they reach towards those unspeakable desires the church cannot so easily answer to or explain. The institutions are, inevitably, formulaic; and mysticism admits no formulas, but instead insists on the abandonment of them.

 Yet perhaps it’s not fair to say that mysticism admits of no formula, because in its essence mysticism has only a single formula, and that is the formula of love. Gurdjieff’s work has been accused of not being loving enough — and yet in my own experience, it asks us to discard and abandon all our previous concepts of love for the time being, in the hopes of encountering a new and deeper love: one that springs from these deep roots of Christian mysticism, that touches on the edges of the inner ecstasy of God’s personal Being, and that calls for us to understand love as a material substance that creates everything and flows through everything as a powerful current, not just of our unspeakable (nonverbal) desires, but also as the fundament of all Being.

 This idea of love does not have room for our emotional attachments, which are casual and subjective. Perhaps we come closest to understanding it from an intellectual point of view when we encounter Hadewijch’s love as a force of annihilation, which consumes everything we are in our first encounter with it, and demands everything from us. This, again, is an exact, though functionally limited, description of religious ecstasy. Our conventional understandings of love leave us with the idea that it has to “feel wonderful;” and yet there is nothing wonderful about this love: it is a terror and a burden, an extremity of anguish that cannot be survived without the ecstasy that accompanies it.

From a metaphysical point of view, we might say that God is comprised of an exactly balanced proportion of the good and the bad, and that His suffering arises from the fact that there is no way to have one without the other. 

We are called as His charges to share that suffering. It calls to mind Walt Whitman’s quote,  I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.  

The way Catherine puts it is less personal:  “in loving me you come to know more of my truth, and the more you know, the more intolerable pain and sorrow you will know…” (ibid, p.33)

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Gravity of Being

Sept. 20

The other day, I was speaking about sensing the gravity within my own Being. 

Someone asked me exactly what this means, to sense the gravity of Being.

In order to approach this question, it helps to understand gravity from a new point of view. Gravity isn’t just a physical force that exerts itself from one object to another depending on its mass. Gravity, in terms of metaphysical humanism and inner spirituality, is the force of concentration of Being.

 Of course Being has mass, among other things. It’s substantial, and one of the results of the concentration of God’s love into relationship is an increase in mass. But to understand it from this mechanical point of view alone would be to miss the entire point of existence.

We live within a play of forces. All of those forces arise from love; yet they have many different natures, which are referred to as the Names of God. The Names indicate the various different natures. None of these names or forces are entirely mechanical, because they all arise from a conscious source, that is, God.

Now, sensation is a force within us. It is part of our Being. We anchor ourselves within sensation. Anchors are weights; and weight is a function of gravity. Therefore, perhaps we can begin to understand that sensation itself is a function of gravity, that is, the force of concentration of our Being.

 This is why it’s important to gather ourselves and sense our inner gravity. Of course the metaphysics of it are interesting to those who like such things; but the practical experience of an inner gravity is a phenomenon of a different order than our thought about it. If we approach our inward sensation of Being with the right degree of intimacy and sensitivity, we will begin to sense the actual action of the concentration of Being within our sensation.

 Now, this action is always taking place in one way or another. But we are almost always unconscious of it. To become conscious of it, to be able to actively — as opposed to passively — participate in the action itself is an important step that we must learn to take. This active participation does not consist of interfering with the force or directing it, but rather coming into relationship with it with intelligence and respect. I need to see it for what it is: the action of force from a higher level within me. Becoming aware of this may help me to understand my place; and the better I understand my place, the more possibilities I have for my own intelligent and compassionate development.

 Of course this idea of understanding my place has something to do with the force of concentration of Being, that is, gravity, because I form a microcosmos within myself, and bring it into relationship with the macrocosmos. My place is a very small one; yet like a tiny dog, I think I'm very large and important. I yap at everything that comes towards me as though I were in command of the situation.   

All this yapping prevents me from seeing my place. I've planted my feet in my imagination rather than my inner gravity; and I go outward from my imagination. 

If I plant my feet in my inward gravity, the gravity of my Being, and then allow life to flow into me, it’s a very different proposition.

I think you get the idea.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reciprocally Loving

Helen at Montrose, with BACON!

Sept. 19

Some thoughts I have had as my mother steadily deteriorates and loses most of who she is to one stroke after another.

There’s a lot of discussion over the years about aim, and what inner work is “for,” and so on. Everyone has an opinion.

Most of the opinions are inflated. Perhaps even mine. But as we age, and are confronted with the facts about our inner selves and the inevitability of age and death, some things become a little clearer.

First of all, we all have far too many grand ideas—about ourselves, and every other damn thing. The presence of God and Love of God are much simpler (and far more mysterious) than the complications of our intelligence.

 Secondly, our purpose – the purpose of all life and all being and even our “work” – is to open our hearts and allow life to flow into us more deeply and simply. It is becoming available to this Presence of the inward flow of love that’s important.

Third, as we enter our lives with perspective and humility, our daily bread consists of both the inward flow of the Divine Presence and of the flow of our lives into our own Being. It is the blend of these two things that creates the spirit with which God would prefer we live our lives. 

This consists of a material action, and not the thoughts I have about it.

This action of allowing life to flow more naturally into Being is essentially and reciprocally loving. In order to be reciprocal, it must first become essential; and in becoming essential, it touches the heart and that secret innermost place where God knows us and wants to love us.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Senior Editor, Parabola Magazine.