Sunday, January 16, 2022

What is the role of the thinking mind in work?


 A question was recently asked about what the role of thinking has in one’s inner work.

There are many answers to this question; and the most profound of them touch on metaphysical matters which cannot be so easily expressed in words.


Nonetheless, in the specific question of the inner work itself, the effort to know oneself and to be, a distillation of the understanding of what thinking does, combined with an examination of the question of remorse of conscience conducted at depth — and over a long period of time — a rather specific answer emerges.


The role of thinking is to go against selfishness.


I will explain this in more detail now.


First we need to ask ourselves what thinking does. How does it function, what is its modus operandi?


In terms of function, we'll take the definition of using one’s mind actively to form connected ideas. It's a way of ordering impressions and bringing them into sound relationship with one another. Impressions begin objectively; and to the extent that thinking treats them so, it also remains objective. The moment that it's tainted with self interest, it becomes impure and no longer accurately reflects the original order that is inherent in what it perceives and orders.


In classical thinking, as well as medieval Christian thinking (which was perhaps the last great moment of legitimate religious thought in Western culture) what takes place outside of man comes from an order which is divine, that is, of God. Put in alternate Platonic terms, it is from a higher order than the one we inhabit. So in idealized thought, which was certainly the apotheosis of the Socratic and Platonic Schools, rightly ordered thought and the sound relationship that it establishes and propagates is objective — it is based on the objective external facts, not the subjective internal interpretations which, in the Socratic dialogues, consistently turn out to be faulty in one way or another. 


Our self interest inevitably compromises this ordering process; and so thinking, if it wishes to fulfill its rightful duty in the objective ordering of things — a point which, on the whole, the entire book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson was written about — must overcome the subjective, the selfish. In this sense right use of thought serves primarily to go against selfishness and the wishes and desires of the self, which are almost inevitably childish in their undeveloped nature.


Remorse of conscience now enters the picture. Remorse of conscience is a thought process whereby the careful and more objective examination of one’s behavior, actions, and (most especially) the treatment of others is turned to the purpose of awakening a feeling of remorse, which alone may stimulate our entire Being, including the thought process, to a more objective and contrite vision of one’s life. 


If thinking doesn’t serve this purpose first and before everything else, life remains unexamined. An unexamined life is issued to oneself in order to bestow the express permission to be selfish and do anything one wants; and this is exactly the problem with it. It engages in inner considering only, and never in outer considering. So thinking, in its right form, is not just there to serve a function of going against selfishness: it is there to place a demand in oneself to outwardly consider, but to never inwardly consider.


This particular group of insights is helpful in examining Gurdjieff’s contention that the thinking center is a “policeman.” The policeman, aside from exercising vigilance, is there to make sure that laws are obeyed and that order isn’t violated. 


By primary implication, this means that it is in our basic nature to disobey law and to violate order. Our thinking is what stands between us and those violations. If we want to understand what the violations are, that’s a somewhat different question; then we have to devote ourselves to studying the laws of world creation and world maintenance, because we both create and maintain our inner world, and we need to understand what laws they fall under: our own subjective laws, or laws that relate to the unselfish service required in order to be a member of the society.


The policeman is our thought; and my thought must be quite clear about where it is and what it's doing. It can’t constantly fall under the influence of its own opinions; it needs to be constantly questioning itself in order to function well. It should never, in a certain sense, assume it is correct about anything; and it should be very clear about putting its foot down in every instance of selfishness, both identifying it and steering action away from the selfish choice. This is, in essence, what Gurdjieff means by “conscious egoism.” Egoism is a conscious sense of self in these terms; and the self that is conscious, aware of how tiny it is and how vital it is that it come into right relationship with both the world and other people, never engages in selfish behavior. This is, of course, an impossibly high standard which protagonist Beelzebub nonetheless, according to his own accounts, meets during the entire course of his tales.


This explanation, of course, may seem too simplistic; yet it’s basic enough to understand the role of thinking in a straightforward way, uncontaminated by convoluted logic or metaphysical permutations. 


It’s all about using the mind to remember not to be selfish, 

right here, 

right now.

Be well today.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Worthy of the Dog

 

Sunrise, Piermont Marsh, June 2 2021

June 3, continued

We had a disagreement about getting a dog. 

This got me to thinking about dogs and what they represent.

Dogs are traditionally used to indicate creatures of a lower order, that think only of their own urges and yap and growl and bark. Gurdjieff likens us to a village filled with dogs and remarks that our dogs aren’t under control. (Paris Meetings 1944.) And much can be made of these rich analogies. 


Yet there are two ways in which dogs are on the whole far superior to men; and this is in loyalty and love. Human beings are rarely loyal and rarely loving; whereas for a dog, the whole reason that the planet created the species and put them next to us is because they are our teachers of loyalty and love. In these two areas, they know everything and we are the fools. Think about it; no other animal knows these qualities like a dog does. Not a single one of them. 


Dogs are masters. 


One of the big questions about a human being is whether they’re worthy of a dog. Most people aren’t worthy of a dog; we can’t even come close to their standards for loyalty and love. In order to deserve a dog, a good dog, one must have a wish about loyalty and love and have a wish to unselfishly learn about these two qualities in their purest form; because that’s what a dog brings to the table, apart from all of its other objectively lower qualities. You can’t learn about loyalty and love from a cat; any idiot who has had a cat or two can tell you that. You can learn a lot of very important things from a cat, but not those two things.


So in order to understand why one ought to have a dog in the first place, one needs to understand that one isn’t loyal or loving. Maybe the dog could teach one something about that. Even then, if one is selfish, the whole thing is going nowhere. The dog begins by demanding unselfishness; because this is the ground floor of loyalty and love. The dog has to be taken care of, even more than a baby; it depends on us for food, for shelter, it depends on us to take it for a walk to fulfill even its most basic function of going to the bathroom. We have to be entirely unselfish in our care for the dog, it has to come before our own interests. Human beings that don’t understand these things are already unsuitable as dog owners: they’re too selfish.


Of course it’s arranged this way. If loyalty and love aren’t founded on unselfishness, they might as well be built on sand. The first trickle of water will erode the ground they stand on and they’ll slip away, taking the whole imaginary structure with them. A dog owner, once they’re fully committed and all in and unselfish towards the dog, has already learned something about the fundamentals. Then perhaps, one can begin to learn about objective loyalty and objective love, each of which is entirely unconditional and not based on intellectual thought and rationalizing. These two qualities must be pure — unselfish — if they’re to be real, and we as humans are required to work towards that, unlike the dog, who begins in that purity and knows it like it knows the marrow of its own bones.


A dog is a lower creature; and of course God is the highest Being, a Being so high that He/She is not created. Yet God is exactly like the dog, in the same way that God exists universally throughout the bottom of creation as well as universally throughout its apex.


God is unconditionally loyal to humanity and unconditionally loving: this was what Christ tried to teach us. Even if you murder the dog, the dog still understands what love is, because you can’t take love out of the dog. This is, of course, by way of analogy: of course it’s possible to abuse an ordinary dog so much that it is ruined. Yet if it happens, this is man’s doing, because by nature the dog’s ability to be loyal and to love is in its own essential right indelible. You can ruin one dog in this way, but you can’t ruin the whole dog, because the whole dog is all dogs and it still contains all of loyalty and all of love within what it is.


I speak of murdering the dog here because that’s the daily intention of our selfish being. We actually have an intention to murder loyalty and murder love within our selfish being, because love and loyalty require selfishness to be put aside — and selfishness always wants to be the center of attention. 


Think about this for a little while. At the root of our action, at the beginning of what we do as selfish creatures, we want to kill the dog. Swedenborg didn’t put it in these terms, but he well understood that given its way, the evil in us would have the death of loyalty and love served for every meal, and as snack foods in between. It takes a special kind of work to preserve loyalty and love: the dog can do it without effort, but for us, it isn’t so easy. We must continually put ourselves aside in order to be more like a dog.


In this way, being more like a dog, we become closer to the lower part of our self. We humble ourselves, we bow our head and bend our knee to the Lord, and we most fully acknowledge our role as lower creatures. 

If then, having recognized our nothingness, we devote ourselves to loyalty and love in the same way that the dog does—if we do it with the same consistency that the dog understands far, far better than we ourselves do— then maybe we’ve learned something. In these two areas of loyalty and love, the dog is the master and we are the servant.


This story of the dog could be extended in many directions, because as we are we do have a pack of dogs in us, but they're wild dogs. They haven’t learned order and respect. They can become some of the most important part of ourselves, but only if we work with them in order to help that come about.

Be well today.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Stop Thinking About The Mind


Sunrise, Hudson River, June 1 2021

June 3 2021


 Perhaps there’s a certain irony in “I am.”


Perhaps the whole idea of saying “I am”is a subtle part of a concealed agenda to change the narrative in ways that aren’t properly understood.


When I say, “I am,” I begin a narrative. “I am this. I am that.” I am what I think, what I feel, what I sense. 


Imagine if, on the other hand, if what I said was, “this is I”?


“This is I” is the perspective of the observer rather than the narrator. 


If I begin right here, right now, with nothing else added, I see myself as I am.


This formulation occurs to me because of the nature of mind and the way it perpetually creates narrative. Last night, I jotted a note to myself which said, the first step in understanding the mind is to stop thinking about the mind. Our difficulty with the intellect is that it rules everything and we apply its filter everywhere. To stop thinking about it can be quite useful.


I find myself between ideas and activity. Here I am; I have thoughts, and things are happening. Yet I’m not trying to think or to do. Instead I'm looking for the question that lies between the ideas in the activity. 


Where am I? 

What is happening? 

There is no plan.


I do this breathlessly, as though I were waiting for an answer important enough that there’s a sense of urgency to it. Of course I’m breathing — don’t be silly, you! But there is a delicate, exquisitely poised moment of awareness within the breath that has an unscripted expectation in it: the sense that something very important will arise at any instant, and that I need to be attentive towards it. 


—Perhaps it is already arising, right here and right now! 


So I don’t worry about thinking; I’m just here. Thoughts are a side show I don’t need to crack the door open on; I can hear their noise, but it’s not what I came for.


Somewhere here, between ideas and activity, there’s a finer energy that I come into relationship with. I don’t know anything about this energy; I don’t make it, it doesn’t belong to me. 


Yet it creates me; in its very vibration itself I know that it is life and that I receive it and that everything springs forth from it. So here I am, with this opportunity to participate very directly in life in a way that has nothing to do with my narratives and everything to do with my Being. In this enterprise, I send everything that isn’t useful to the devil.


Equally, in this enterprise, my sensation becomes a constant companion, quite naturally there — without any direction, without any forcing. 


I don’t have a sensation. The sensation has me. 

I don’t have feelings. The feelings have me. 


In the same way that this whole mind of Being belongs to the whole mind of Being within the planet, each of my parts belongs to that same wholeness of mind. So I don’t have life; life has me. It's vibrant; it is animated. Life on this planet is a comprehensive vessel which effortlessly contains my Being along with all the other Beings in it. I’m just a participant.


The help comes from above. I’m just here. I don’t have any wrong energy in me. The energy that’s produced is generally quite right. The life of the organism knows quite well how to produce an appropriate energy. It’s my relationship to it that’s not harmonious. So I need to attend to that. 


To have a quite good attention, to be poised between ideas and activity, right here, right now. To be objectively sensitive and receptive to that finer energy. 


It has all kinds of potential I’m not measuring if I don’t attend.


Be well today.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Narrative, Part III- Pre-Narrative Being

 


June 1 2021

To this day, the immigration forms that one fills out on the way into China still have one touching feature that they’ve had ever since I first started going there over 35 years ago. 

The reasons for travel into China are listed with boxes to check: among them are business, transit, tourism, and a fourth box that says, quite simply, “settle down.”

These two words have always fascinated me, because they carry within them the implication that one might go somewhere just to settle down. Not to do this or that, to take some outward action, but to just quietly be there, with a sense of oneself. 


Do we ever enter ourselves from within—immigrate into Being,—just in order to settle down? 


Usually, when we approach our inner lives, we’re either tourists — we’re there to see the sights and yet don’t care much about them — or we’re business people, that is, we want to engage in transactions or fix things. There is, of course, that third feature where we’re just “in transit,” that is, we become interested in our inner life for five minutes and then we’re done with that and we move on to all those important things that need to be done outwardly. 


The idea of settling down, however, implies a wish for residency from within — a residency in that selfsame body consciousness, an active experience of physical location, that otherwise remains so elusive. We’ve forgotten it. We’re marching our army to Moscow; there’s no time for such stuff.


One of the terrifically damaging functions of unbridled narrative is the stress it produces. Because narrative is built of contradictions, situations where the words give rise to conflicting direction and opinion, it’s a stress machine. Contradiction and conflict breed paranoia; and, in a most unfortunate way, these three features drive narrative forward in exciting ways. They tends to breed more contradiction, conflict, and paranoia; and the next thing you know, people are destroying the world around them and killing each other. The Napoleonic vision, in other words, sets us all on the warpath. We never see this when we take the first step; and every step after that first step appears, per the dysfunctional nature of the narrative, to be a logical one. Yet not a single one of these steps was ever logical; and that’s because none of them were informed by body consciousness.


Body consciousness is fundamentally separated from Napoleonic vision. Because it doesn’t rely on narrative to receive life, everything that begins there is free of all things outside the immediate impression of life. It can, at first, be a shock to find oneself in this place, because it essentially invalidates all of the narratives that preempted it in the first place. Suddenly, one is here, in this moment; and there is no narrative. One is just here. This place encompasses a vast silence that has nothing to do with all the words, the stories, the heroic tales of justice and injustice. It’s a quiet place. 


We don’t see the way that narrative drives stress. We talk about it; yet we never really penetrate the organic ground floor of our being, where it’s less an object for yet another narrative and more of an experience that can be observed and evaluated. 


The evaluation of narrative and its consequent stress needs to take place silence and stillness, not from within a place of agitation and further narrative. This is the value of meditation; it may help us to step back, to withdraw from the narrative in such a way that we see its futility. It’s not, mind you, that narratives are entirely futile; it’s the way we identify with them that is futile. We never disbelieve them enough. We confuse ourselves with our narratives. The act of meditation and sensation, the act of mindfulness, pulls us away from the narrative into a moment where we remember that we’re simply creatures that breathe in and out and have a life. One might call this an experience of pre-narrative Being.


When we use the often amusing and usually dismissive phrase, “you should get a life,” what it’s meant to indicate is that the person engaged in the activity being examined is wasting their time on something completely meaningless. 


Yet the life that we need to get is the life of mindfulness, the life of the body and its own rightful consciousness. This is the life that begins before the narratives seize us. In approaching it we need to beware that we don’t just construct more narratives about it. We need to invest ourselves in the un-narrated origins of being within our sensation.


This is a new place worthy of our search.

Be well today.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Narrative, Part II—Narrative and Scale


May 31 2021

In order for both individuals and societies to function in a healthy way, narratives on a larger scale are necessary. This is where mythology comes into play; religion and even politics can be equally powerful in this action. Yet narratives on a large scale, in human beings, are surprisingly subject to paranoia. Narratives built on threat carry great power because they use the negative force of emotion to drive themselves; it always takes more force to create and sustain a positive narrative than a negative one, because the tendency with all things is to go down.


Narratives built of the smallest things, incremental narratives, are almost always built from the moment and its immediate experience. The body-consciousness, within an organic sensation, is always the receiving place for immediate experience. It never moves past the scope of immediate experience because it’s built to live breath by breath, touch by touch, sight by sight within the present moment. 


It’s in the incremental construction of narrative within the present moment, the gentle and far less influenced action of intellect and emotion within the body of sensation, that we discover the most valuable narratives. They’re small things that bring our attention back to the interaction between our Being, life, and nature. The residence in the body consciousness its residence in life itself, not narrative. It’s immediate. The Bhagavad-Gita is a narrative of enormous scale; the dishes consist of me taking a dirty fork and washing it. Thinking about the Bhagavad-Gita may inspire me in one way or another, but it’s never going to do the dishes; and in my attention to life, it turns out it’s far more important to know how to do the dishes, to wash my laundry, to sweep the floor, than it is to know about vast armies from ancient cultures fighting each other while they contemplate philosophy. 


This is probably why the story of the Zen monk who knows how to sweep the kitchen, to all appearances a simpleton, properly becoming the abbot of the monastery is such a durable one. It’s more important to know how to sweep the kitchen that it is to philosophize. Philosophy is an action of the intellectual and emotional narrative; sweeping the floor is an act of simple body-consciousness.


In Gurdjieff’s Paris 1944 meetings, it’s commonplace for those attending to bring up big philosophical questions; and Gurdjieff’s response is always the same. He tells them they’re not at the meeting to philosophize, and that no one is interested in it. Always, always, he points the students back to exercises and an attention to the present moment. Almost all of the exercises, with a very few and decidedly esoteric exceptions, are exercises in an awareness of the body-consciousness. 


Gurdjieff, in other words, was dedicated to drawing people back into a body-consciousness understanding of life first. He always told his pupils, in regard to philosophy, that such things were to be discussed “later.” This is because he wanted them to develop an investment, a residency, in body-consciousness first, before anything else was attempted. This illustrates his vision — in his own narrative — of the primacy of body-consciousness over the other two forms of mind. In this model, mind is composed of three things — intellect, feeling, sensation — but there’s an order to this composition. The base of the triangle runs from sensation to intelligence, with emotion at its apex. 


I say that it runs from sensation to intelligence because the origin of the three-part mind begins always and first in sensation. When we consider sensation, we usually believe that we should use the intellectual mind to contact sensation; and in fact it’s nothing of the kind. This formulation is exactly upside down. What’s necessary is for sensation to contact the intellectual mind; Being needs to begin there and move into intellect, not the other way around. 


Even the simplest inversion of our assumption about intelligence contacting sensation will immediately reveal the very different function that takes place when sensation contacts intelligence. By the time that happens, sensation is already a living thing and has reacquired the independent agency that’s been taken from it over the course of a lifetime. Once sensation is the primary locus for the receiving of life through body-consciousness, then intellect joins it. These two functions create a fertile ground for the receiving of what is called real feeling.


Again, this takes place in the smallest of actions, not on the grand scale of historical and international — even cosmological — narratives. Attracted as we are to the grand narratives of the cosmos, we don’t see that the tiniest thing is that grand narrative. If we were able, through body consciousness, to see the cosmological scale of the tiniest action, this would be a really big thing. We might then be drawn towards that which can truly help us: a mindfulness towards the smallest action.


Not long ago, someone spoke of moving into a new house and having all their things packed in boxes. At the end of the moving-day, exhausted, they wanted to some food; but they didn’t have the simplest things available to them, because all the cutlery was packed in a box and they didn’t know which one it was. Exhausted and hungry, this friend went to a neighbor and asked to borrow a fork, knife, and spoon; and when they received this cutlery from the neighbor, a friend of theirs who lived in the building they’d moved into, they felt a powerful and deeply rooted sense of gratitude for these simple tools. 


A whole new appreciation of having a fork, knife, and spoon took place.


This is an example of how our understanding of life can realign itself. A new, higher feeling arises in us which contains no narrative, but, rather, a truth of the moment. That always resides first in sensation; then in intellect. Only after these two are joined in an orderly way does feeling enter. 


It’s true that in general, impressions of this kind form by accident and almost always expectedly; yet the cultivation of the body consciousness can fundamentally change the accidental nature of that experience. Because the proper natural order is for sensation to come first, once it begins to do so, it gently and gradually re-harmonizes all of the molecular vibration being in such a way that these experiences are far more common. We become more interested in sweeping the floor than our Napoleonic vision of our lives.


 Be well today.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Signs of Hope and Faith


This past Christmas season and on this new year, still in the midst of the pandemic, largely isolated and watching the steady and inexorable deterioration of both our society and the planet, my mind has been much on the death of loved ones and the inevitable unraveling and dissolution of each and every object, event, circumstance, and condition — the end of each moment and of each life.
I sit this morning in the midst of a moment when one of my best friend's wives is dying of bulbar palsy, and another best friend has stage four cancer.
One would think these are depressing and difficult moments; and one would think that opening the new year with contemplation of these subjects is not good enough, that one ought to be thinking about positive situations of optimism and continuation and hope and goodness.
Just two days ago a rather wonderful and blessedly uncomplicated man, Eddie, who does some yardwork for us from time to time ended up behind me on his bicycle as we rode along the Hudson river… a fortunate accident of time and circumstance. Eddie always seems cheerful, despite the fact that his wife died tragically some 10 or so months ago. He announced to me that he’s always optimistic – and indeed he sounds so, which is touching in a way that can't quite be described. He seems to be a molecular nexus of happiness in the midst of these lives of ours that produce so much turmoil, consternation, and end for each of us in death. It is a good thing we have these souls to buoy us, else we should forget what is real, and sink.
That same night, there was another moment when our closest friends in work and faith, Catholics as it happens, came over and we discussed the act of keeping the faith. It had occurred to me recently, I reported to them, as it has in the past, that I live in the midst of heathens who want to have nothing to do with God or religion, that do not believe in Jesus or the hope of rebirth and resurrection in the covenant between God and man. And I reported further to them that I see it as our duty to keep and carry forth the faith on behalf of all those who do not—to carry the inner light of God's truth within and witness it, without judgment or condemnation, without expecting others to believe what I believe, without blaming them for their failure to be loyal to God and to Truth in the form and function of the church and the immeasurable blessings of the Holy Virgin.
I can't expect others to believe in these things; it would even be unreasonable and wrong of me to try and impose faith or belief or the truths I have inwardly encountered on others. For whatever reason – and it is God’s reason, not mine, which is why I am bound to respect it—this is how the universe was built, the way in which the cosmos was constructed, and each soul has to find its own way and be responsible for it. We can only meet this difference which His creation demands with love; and the tolerance of every great difference that God has created and allowed to be, even the tolerance of those who are evil, is a test of who we are and how much we believe in God's love. Often this is a great test, because evil is a great thing and has its way over so much of what is.
If this were not necessary, God would never have allowed it to be so; and in the end, even evil will be redeemed. I know in the marrow of my bones that God's Mercy is now and forever infinite beyond our comprehension.
In the midst of all of this, the weight of the burden of dissolution and death remains heavy on my shoulders, and I woke up with it this morning, anticipating a visit today both from those who are in dire health and those who are dying.
This is how we will begin the new year today; not only remembering those who have already died, but living face to face in relationship and love and faith with those who carry the seed of their own death so obviously within them—instead of just spending it with those of us, like myself, who do not have the crimson flag of death’s face planted in the front yard of their life at this very moment – even though perhaps there is one there that cannot be so easily seen… which is in truth ever the case, for all of us.
Just as I awoke this morning, having slept reasonably well, the weight of this burden blossomed in me, and I remembered at the same time the signs of hope and faith that have been given to me throughout this life, which is a Grace and a Blessing I all too often fail to give thanks for and do not appreciate enough.
I have seen the future on more than one occasion, clearly and with eyes open to its truth; this must seem impossible, yet it's true. This already proves that I, and all of mankind, understand almost nothing of what time is and the way it manifests, that our science completely misunderstands the nature of time itself and the relationship of our psyche to it.
I have been touched by the Virgin, and know that She is a real being; I thus call witness.
I have been transformed in ways that have no definition through light that has no material or earthly origin, and lifted up into realms that I do not understand and have, so far as I can see, earned no right to inhabit or participate in.
All this time I have carried the doubt which is both the curse of mankind and the greatest gift ever given to it, and been plagued with the desires and lust and fears—and pleasures—which are equally great burdens and blessings. And all this time I have been allowed to ask the strange, the beautiful, the miraculous and also the profane and destructive questions that can arise in a being in the midst of these tests of life and love and faith.
In summary, I have lived this life as a man or woman must live it,; for there is no other way.
I still do, for now; and I don't know what will come. But I have been given so many signs of hope and faith. So many signs. They speak of mysteries that we cannot and will not understand; they point a finger into ways we cannot see and paths we have not yet traveled.
This is where I am, as ever—on the edge of the unknown, with only the hope and the faith of God's light to shine into the darkness before me. God has sent enough signs; I should find peace enough in this to go forward into this new year knowing there things.
That blessings are real and true, that lives do not end, and that love cannot die.
All of these understandings, mysteries and conditions of unknowing are burdens that we are required to carry in the course of our life. As I recall the courage of those who are about to die around me, I am lifted up into God, who lives in the life of the heart and the life of the community. Perhaps these moments will give me more courage to be more loving, more in relationship, with those around me. These are areas which, no matter how much I work on, I see that I fail in again and again because of that fundamental selfishness that infects us all in one way or another.
And so today I go forth with the signs of hope and faith sent not only in the works and situations of the world and of the angels, but also witnessed in the hearts and minds of those others around me who have such great courage in the face of their own trials.
I wrote a personal ballad after Christmas to capture the poignancy of loss one so often feels around this time. It is a true Christmas song, but not one about frosty snowmen and jing-a-ling bells.
One might say, perhaps, that it is too depressing; but I think not, because it exerts a steadfast hope through witness. 

It can be heard at the below link. It's a bit raw, but it needs to be.


These are my thoughts for this morning. May the Lord be with you.


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Narrative, Part I


May 31 2021

We live in a world of narrative. 


Ultimately, all words used in the service of narrative of one kind or another, and its influence on humanity is inescapable. Narrative is fundamentally sequential; and all of the arts, which are alternate forms of narrative, exploit this property in order to create narratives, whether verbal or nonverbal.


Yet the aim of this narrative is to explain not just the nature of narrative itself, but also its limitations. To that extent, although it’s inevitably self-referential, the narrative you’re about to read points towards a territory that comes without narrative.


When we hear the word narrative, our associative mind — which is in the business of assumptions — automatically assumes that it knows what the word means. Yet we rarely think about it. A narrative is a construction; it’s a sequence of ideas and memories cut and pasted together in order to impose an order on them, whether artificial or real. 


Of course one of the dangers lies in the fact that artificial and real narratives are difficult to distinguish from one another, a fact that has plagued mankind throughout its history and is dramatically magnified in today’s society by communications technology. Yet it’s the inner question about personal narrative that we examine here, because the function of narrative is to impose meaning of one kind or another on one’s life; and everyone has a real need for meaning of one kind or another. One of the classic symptoms of depression, emotional dysfunction, is a feeling that nothing has meaning anymore. This kind of dysfunction frequently leads to suicide; and so it is in fact life-threatening, underscoring how important an intact, comprehensible, and intelligent meaning has for us. Without a narrative, that can’t emerge.


Yet the fact that narratives may or may not be true, and have widely varying degrees of connection to reality — as well as a widely varying connection to positive emotional values such as compassion and empathy— has a huge impact on human life. They color our perception; and they color it in such a way that the color is indelible. Once one believes in the narrative, becomes convinced of its truth, that narrative affects everything that it encounters, bending the light of each and every incoming impression into its own gravity well.


In this way narratives can become, quite literally, “black holes” which suck everything around them into their event horizon. When this takes place, it’s called “insanity;”and yet perhaps the term isn’t quite correct, because what one might call it is dysfunctionally extreme sanity. That is to say, it has all the features of sanity —a healthy mental outlook, as sanus, the Latin root of the word “sane” implies. It mimics health, even though it is itself unhealthy. This reminds us, perhaps, of cancer cells, which have a certain kind of superhuman health to them which nonetheless threatens the life of the organism.


Narratives are what one might call a three-centered activity. The mind organizes them; the emotion provides them with the power and energy they need to exist; and the body gives them a place to live. So there are three types of minds involved with any narrative. Yet it’s a striking and very important fact that of these three minds, only two of them truly have the power to create and sustain narrative, and those two are the intellect and the emotions. The intellectual mind is the creative force which organizes narratives around words and feelings; and feeling, being the locus of force for narrative, is the sustaining power of narrative itself. Without emotional force, narratives quickly run out of steam and collapse.


Only the body, as the receiver and residential locus of narrative, does not participate in these architectural and motive activities. The body, quite simply put, is not capable of constructing narrative. It isn’t built that way. It’s the house that narrative lives in, not the narrative itself.


This becomes quite useful, because the body has a certain kind of objectivity in it as a result of this situation. The body-consciousness is a house: we reside within the body-consciousness.


Being a resident of the body consciousness is to be a resident of the part that receives the harmonic presence of the other. It also receives the harmonic presence of physical things. In both cases here, by harmonic presence I mean the vibration, the molecular cloud of energy, of objects, events, circumstances, conditions and — most importantly — people.


While narrative is built from conflict and resolution, the body simply receives. There’s contradiction in feeling and in thought; this is a daily thing, a routine observation. Anyone who spends even a moment observing himself will notice this quite early on. Within narrative, we live in a world of contradiction. Contradiction means, quite literally, “spoken against;” it goes against the word, against the narrative. The very word itself points out that narrative is a competitive activity, unveiling its roots within not just our being but also the ego. Narrative has to discriminate, to sort out facts and fiction one from the other. It also has the capacity to blend fact and fiction, one of its chief features. Subjectivity blends fiction into narrative seamlessly.


The body doesn’t do any of this. It exists, as it were, outside the narrative. It’s just the place where the narrative is constructed: the real estate, not the mansion. Furthermore, the narrative itself isn’t us. We’re the narrators; yet we believe, unless we’re meticulously mindful, that we are what we narrate. Identity politics is all about this. Yet while we wail and moan about identity politics and their negative effect on the world, we fail to see that our inner life is likewise constructed from identity politics. As Swedenborg pointed out, we are what we love; and above all most of us love ourselves first before anything else. Even if we hate ourselves, it’s merely an inverted form of egoism that makes us special because we are bad instead of good.


The body consciousness doesn’t make any of these mistakes. It’s a whole mind unto itself which knows, in a simple and functional way, precisely what it is. It receives life without a narrative.


This is an enormously helpful part of ourselves, because it’s possible to help us separate narrator-self from narrative-self by investing in the awareness of the body. This is where a new understanding of organic sensation becomes invaluable. Organic sensation, once it arises and becomes permanent within Being, helps to dissipate the illusory nature of narrative. It saps it of power, because it provides a rooted force that exists before narrative enters. 


Narrative can, in the objective sense, be measured against this rooted force; and the moment that narrative is measured, we can refer to it as an act of questioning. We don’t say to ourselves “my narrative is true;” we say, “is my narrative true?” 


Note that these are exactly the same four words, yet their action upon us is entirely different. One of them leads us down the road into delusion unless we’re absolute experts at the construction of narrative — and almost none of us are. The other one leads us down a road where we examine our narratives much more carefully. This is by far the preferable road; and yet the fork occurs in sensation, a place that almost no one lives in.


This is why the recovery of the body consciousness and a re–centering of our being within it is so important. The health of our being and our agency depends on this action, because if we don’t begin there, no matter what we do, we have no reasonable degree of separation from narrative. We’re unable to measure it at all from inside its perimeters. 


Because the body-consciousness exists outside its perimeter, it can always measure it.


Narratives, in mankind, are a form of worship. Worship, in its root meaning, is a form of worthiness or valuation. We invest most of our perceived value in our narratives; it’s why they seize men and cause them to do objectively insane things such as fight wars. War itself is in fact an outgrowth of narrative. And this brings the question of narrative and scale into play.

Be well today.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, December 31, 2021

What is the Primary Function of Memory?

  


There was a discussion the other night about self remembering in which someone asked what it actually consists of.


It’s useful to think of my various minds as members, that is, “limbs” with which I both sense my world and move about in it. Arms and legs, if you will: tools through which consciousness extends its agency into contact with the world. 


In this way, the mind of feeling engages in emotional contact with the world; the mind of sensation engages with physical contact; and the mind of the intellect engages in organizational contact. These limbs have, like the myth of Osiris, been separated; the body of agency and consciousness has been cloven  asunder and the parts aren't available in any kind of unity. The “re – membering” of the self is a reassembly of the limbs, a reattachment to the body of consciousness and agency.


Consequent to this question of remembering was the question of what memory is


I raised the question of what the principal function of memory in this work (specifically, the “Gurdjieff” work, that is, the ancient work of The Reconstruction of the Soul) might be. 


Although I posed the question, no one answered it; and so it falls to me to give you the answer here.


The principal function of memory in the Gurdjieff work is to engender remorse of conscience.


Once this is said, it seems self evident; yet, I feel quite sure, you have not heard it put in these terms before; and this is probably because the thinking part of the ancient work has been in large part atrophied by modern living.


In order to explain this principle in greater detail, one needs to examine the nature of the question in a bit more precise terms.


Events give birth to three different types of memory:


Memory of feeling

Memory of "things" and their relationships

Memory of the body


Each of these types of memory has a unique and different characteristic from the others; and each one acts within the emotional, intellectual, or physical center according to the nature of its origin. Each of these types of memory, moreover, is a function of the impressions that created them, which “engrave” the molecular relationship of their nature into Being.


These three different kinds of memory combine together, if agency is active and the being is “re –membered”, into an active conscious condition that can engender remorse.


I say that this is the principal function of memory in the ancient work because, although memory has many other different and quite important functions — for example, my wife pointed out that memory supports me in knowing who I am — the most important thing that an organism can undertake is an objectively moral and ruthlessly intense examination of its own agency, action, and motives. All of this work, in modern terms, could be called an examination of the “ego;” yet what is at stake here is a more delicate matter, that is, the growth of the soul, which is an independent entity not ultimately subject to the authority of the ego. 


When we look at this function of memory, we begin to see that it is in fact a spiritual activity of great depth and meaning. Yet this is entirely ignored and actively misunderstood, because memory has become the victim of science and sentiment, removing it from the domain of the soul and placing it instead in a much more profane context. 


At its best, memory engenders the religious impulse in a human being, and it does so strictly based on the objective evaluation of one’s Being and one’s nothingness. Once the ego gets hold of it, however, it appropriates everything that memory can achieve and memory becomes a reflexive stimulus for desire rather than an entity for a sacred process.


May God bless your efforts at Being today. Be well.




Warmly,


Lee

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.