Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Gurdjieff was Wrong, part I

Jan. 8

 Periodically, I happen to browse the many threads of discussion online, most recently on Facebook, about the Gurdjieff work. 

Some disturbing features of these discussions have come to my attention.

The first of these is that there is an obscure but persistent belief that there is some “pure” version of the Gurdjieff work. That Gurdjieff established some inviolable, immutable version of his work that was whole and intact and perfect, and that his later followers, especially Jeanne de Salzmann — who comes under a good deal of fire for this — somehow contaminated that work with foreign practices, changing it until it no longer resembles his original work.

These ridiculous assertions would be laughable if they weren’t so destructive. Similar remarks have been made in general about Gurdjieff’s work, ever since he died, of multiple individuals and branches of the work; and indeed, the work has never been the same since he died, because the way he brought it was his way. 

This particular work, however, did not belong to him, as he very clearly said from the outset. 

Perhaps the difficulties arise from his unique nature; it’s hard to imagine that another individual vouchsafed the understandings of what we call “the fourth way” would have taught it the exact same way he did. A close reading of what Gurdjieff said in In Search of the Miraculous (should we choose to believe this source) will reveal that that would be impossible, anyway; a true “fourth way” school has a specific aim, works to achieve it, and then disbands once it is over. If the fourth way school had an aim, for example, of making an extraordinary painting about "the work," they wouldn’t be teaching movements; they would be teaching how to mix paint in the right color. And so on. So the idea that there is one way of teaching this work is a functional absurdity from the beginning.

The assertions that the work has one version and that various individuals haven’t remained loyal to it is a self-serving approach to things; above all, it is a product of egos who believe that “they” are the insiders who have the insights necessary to keep the work pure, and that others don’t. I’ve seen this manifest itself in innumerable variations over the years; and every single one of the people who approaches the work in this way, “nice people” though they may be, is completely blind to the way their own ego prompts them to pretend that they have some kind of ownership of the purity that’s necessary. I have seen this in versions that don't just stand at the borderline of arrogance, but rush over it like an invading army.

If we return to one of Gurdjieff’s earliest essays, The Meaning of Life, which was almost certainly a piece of writing and not a lecture that he gave in person — the earliest members of those groups commented on the essay as “originally read to us as “Pure and Impure Emotions” —we can note that he said purity is defined by the presence or absence of self interest.

This brings me to the second disturbing point, which is that when I encounter things written by “outsiders” about the work of the Gurdjieff Foundation, they almost always share two chief features. First of all, they're unerringly incorrect in their understanding of how the Gurdjieff Foundation presents the Work; and while we can excuse them for being wrong — after all, they aren’t in the Foundation and privy to the way it conducts its business — we can’t excuse them for presuming to know things about which they know absolutely nothing. This is a form of unexamined arrogance that should have been nipped in the bud of every mind that produces it; and yet it grows like roses, nothing but roses, in the presence of beings who definitely ought to know better.

Secondly, they tend to lay too much blame at the feet of Gurdjieff’s followers, especially Jeanne de Salzmann. They are happy enough to appropriate the words from her personal notes in “The Reality of Being”; but they then claim that the direction she took the work in wasn’t pure. This is a chief feature in critics of the Gurdjieff Foundation and its inner affairs, all of which are actually none of their business.

We come back on this second point to the question of what the work really is and who has “ownership” of it.

It is objectively accurate to say that both everyone and no one has ownership of the Gurdjieff work. It only exists to the extent that it manifests its influence and the power of its energies in an individual; and yet it is greater than all the individuals, so no individual has even the slightest chance of grasping its scope or depth. This is true, it must be said, of even Gurdjieff himself. 

And more on that in the next installment of this essay.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Faith, Love, Hope, and Time, Part II

I have a very close friend, Rip, who I’ve known by now for over 47 years. I met him one night in September 1973.  At the time we were both freshmen at St. Lawrence University. The exact circumstances of how we met are unimportant. 

What is important is that Rip and I instantaneously had an affinity for one another that had a certain tone, a harmonic vibration, of the way that our essential persons interact. This is not about the pastiche of our personality; Rip and I have quite different personalities. This is about our essential inner harmonic vibrations, which have always been highly attuned to one another, much better than with most other people I know. 

Rip called me two nights ago on Christmas Eve and we had a cheerful, rather ordinary little conversation about where we were and what we were doing. Our conversations tend to go on for quite a long time because our harmonic vibrations instantly lock together whenever we speak to one another. The rhythm, the tonality, the syncopation of our exchange is always identical and its character has been exactly the same for the entire 47 years I have known him. 

I realized this after I got off the phone with it, and I remarked upon it to my wife. I then said, “our future reaches into our past to create itself; it knows what it needs to be, and it moves backwards through time to provide it.” 

My life has created this friendship with Rip by moving from now back into the past—because it is what is needed. It has what I would call an eternal determinism in it that transcends the event itself. Another way of describing this determinism is comprehensive. That is, it holds all things within it, both within and outside of time.

This mystery explains many different things, among them how we can have psychic insights that exactly describe future events in our lives. I’ve had a number of these over the course of my lifetime, and described them elsewhere, so I won’t go into that here other than to say it’s not possible to have a dream about the future in its exact detail unless it already exists. The point isn’t about whether such psychic phenomena are possible; indubitably, they are, and my family has always had a weird propensity for sensing these things. The point is that the phenomena are only possible because the future creates the past in an exactly equal measure to the way that the past creates the future. They are codependent entities involved in a reflexive action that affects both of them.

This casts a significant light on Gurdjieff’s proposition, “Use the present to repair the past and prepare the future.” The present moment is a fulcrum upon which both the existence of the past and the future depend. They are balanced, both of them, on this moment, which can tip them back and forth (change their attitudes relative to the fulcrum) according to the degree of awareness that is exercised in this moment.

We don’t perceive the future as creating the past; and the closest we can ever get to the past or the future is now. 

Yet now exists as a point on a sphere that moves in all directions, from itself back to itself. What appears to us to be over hasn’t happened yet from the perspective of now; and what appears to us to be happening next has already taken place.

This may seem bewildering or overwhelming, but it leads us to a moment where we may see that we have to accept the condition we are in, since both the inevitability of its past and the inevitability of its future are part of the whole thing that gives us Being in the first place. It’s likely that the Buddhist perception of illusion has something to do with a higher intellectual insight about this matter.

The role of consciousness in this field of forces is to assume a deterministic role of its own. 

Consciousness establishes an independent subjective determinism according to the degree of awareness in being. This slows and can even stop the passage of time from a subjective perception. Yet the establishment of this subjective determinism is also what we would call responsibility and freedom, that is, an awareness that divorces itself from the deterministic matrix that it inhabits both in the preceding and subsequent moments it encounters, but that assumes responsibility for the determinism of its attitude, its inclination, in this moment. 

In this sense, freedom is actually a full and conscious inhabitation of the comprehensive determinism of Being, as well as a decision about how to exist within it. Gurdjieff’s proposition was that man needs to exist within this field of comprehensive determinism according to what he called “three centered being.” Three centered being is perception by the conscious mind of intellect, feeling, and sensation of the experience of being the fulcrum. 

The fulcrum behaves differently when it is aware than when it is unaware. We can understand the fulcrum in several different ways. 

One is to see it as the place where all these forces meet and exert themselves on the fulcrum. If we see it this way, we become victims of the forces using us for leverage. This is our average (and pathological) perception of the fulcrum of Being.

Another way of seeing it, however, is seeing the fulcrum as the place that determines the relationship between the past and the future, the place that has the most—rather than the least—power. Even a tiny movement of the fulcrum has a massive effect on the way that the past and the future balance one another in us within this moment. Such is the nature of fulcrums. 

This is to say that a tiny change in our own inner attitude can cause the past to lift up the future, or the future to lift up the past. Either way, the point is that our attitude in this moment can serve to elevate our perception of what has already happened to us, or elevate our perception of what is to come.

The astute reader may have already in this one sentence recognized that the elevation of our perception of what has already happened to us is called faith; and that the elevation of our perception of what will happen to us in the future hope.

This leads us to the point of the fulcrum, which is love. 

In this way, we see that faith, love, and hope are all related in this question of time and its action on Being. Its furthermore explains why Gurdjieff, in his chapter on Ashiata Shiemash, listed these three properties in that order: Faith, Love and Hope. 

It describes the nature of their relationship in metaphysical space.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Faith, Love, Hope, and Time, Part I

 A good deal of my writing over the last 10 years has emphasized the fact that modern science, and we ourselves, don’t really understand what consciousness is. 

Consciousness, awareness, is a fundamental property of the universe; and I’ve written about that quite extensively, especially in Metaphysical Humanism.

This brings me to another subject we don’t understand properly at all. That subject is time.

The relationship between time and consciousness is essential. Time and its passage can only be perceived through consciousness; they’re intimately related. The perception of time passing is, furthermore, subjective, and completely unique to the individual impressions of it. 

It is, furthermore, functionally relative in a physical sense, one of the essential points of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Time passes differently in relation to other objects depending on the speed that an object is traveling at.

This raises the question of whether there is a relationship between velocity and consciousness. Yet what I want to point out now is that time is far from a linear process.

Because consciousness perceives time outside itself, we sense a separation between consciousness and time. This separation may seem theoretical, but masters such as Meister Eckhart have spoken for many centuries of eternity, that is, the state of existence outside time. 

Gurdjieff proposed God as a separate entity from time, which he called the merciless Heropass. Calling it merciless separated it from God even more in a conceptual sense, because God’s essential component is mercy, and time has none. In this sense, while God is totally aware and totally loving, such to the extent that it is, time is a dead and utterly unconscious thing. 

We now need to examine this from another point of view, that is, the perspective of meaning. Time appears to impart meaning; after all, we presume to derive meaning from the relationship of cause and effect through time. Yet once again, here the metaphysical thinker departs from the traditional view of time, because in eternity — a state of awareness that Meister Eckhart insists we’re able enter — meaning is ever greater than it is within time. It assumes an absolute, rather than relative, nature. To be within eternity is to discover the absolute consciousness and eternal love and mercy of God. Outside of eternity, we enter the realm of the infinite subjective. 

Thus we say that the flow of the universe and Being itself is infinitely objective within eternity, and infinitely subjective within material reality.

Time is ubiquitous within material reality. That is to say, the linear perspective imparted to it by our process of awareness does not actually exist. As with the quantum state, which is a single whole fabric from which the universe perpetually and instantaneously arises, time is a single whole state from which causality and meaning instantly and perpetually arise. This has been recognized by modern physics, in a general sense, because physicists agree that time as we understand it does not exist — mirroring the statement by Gurdjieff at the end of the first essay in “Views From the Real World.” He says, “time does not exist,” but what he really means, what he is saying to the protagonist in this story, is “time as we perceive it does not exist.” 

Time runs both forwards and backwards. The philosophical and metaphysical propositions I’ve just stated result in some interesting consequential observations about the nature of time as we do perceive it.

We perceive the past as creating the present and leading to the future. Yet it’s just as exactly true, from a metaphysical point of view, to say that the future creates the present and leads to the past. That is to say, time’s reach extends in both directions and imparts both directionality and inevitability backwards from now into the past. 

This implies that the entire act of creation is essentially deterministic, that is to say, there is an inevitability to it. This inevitability is not, however, inflexible, because the sense of the universe is such that everything that ever can happen must happen, a proposition that modern investigators of the quantum state have already forwarded. One of the consequential results of this is the theory of the multiverse, that is, the theory that there are an infinite number of universes realizing all the possibilities that can ever be realized. My own point about this, raised some years ago, is that the multiverses are co-incident, that is, they all share the same material at the level of the quantum state. This condition would explain some of the peculiar aspects of quantum nature.

The question of determinism, otherwise broad enough to serve as a starting point for many other discussions, thus becomes moot, because determinism is locally inevitable, but globally meaningless. Not in the sense that it has no meaning, but that encompasses all meanings and thus obviates the need for a detailed examination. We can simply say that its ubiquity renders the collective action of subjectivity unimportant in the largest sense. 

This may not be much comfort to us. We live, after all, in an infinitely tinier, much more focused sense of unawareness inhabiting a specific timeline of determinism.

One might say that the universe is built upside down from our ordinary perception of it. Our own future in this specific timeline of determinism is what determines our past. 

The future reaches back into the past to create itself. 

Thus each object, event, circumstance, and condition that we encounter is not of necessity an act of creation taking place now and moving forwards into the future; it is quite equally an act of necessity taking place now and moving backwards into the past.

In the next post, we'll examine this in more detail, and uncover some surprising relationships between these questions and Gurdjieff's propositions about the matter.

PS. Readers should take note of the Egyptian Ankh in the above photograph (taken at the Louvre) in comparison to the illustration in the next post. The relationship will be obvious.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 12, 2021



Dec. 25

Self-awareness is not a proposition for happiness.

It’s commonplace for people to think that if they are self-aware, their life will be better. Human beings don’t realize how much of their so-called “happiness” depends precisely on not being self-aware. To be asleep, to be functionally un-conscious of one's inner life and how one is both inside and outside, allows perception and awareness to dismiss the many extraordinary contradictions that one has within one, as well as the powerfully tempered and hardened selfishness one nurses as though it were the most precious thing one had.

To be self-aware is to be thrust, without compromise and in the absence of any refuge, into the middle of these questions in such a way that one cannot escape them. 

One has to actually be with oneself; and I can’t think of anything less “pleasant.” 

The word pleasant is derived from the Latin placere, which means (among other things) to calm. When we are pleased, we are placated. We are placid. We remain undisturbed by what takes place. This is the ordinary state of consciousness without self awareness: it spends much of its time in fantasy and egoistic inflections about how great one is. So long as this goes unexamined through functional awareness of the moment and an ability to see our inner lives, we can be happy a good deal of the time. We can be pleased. We can pretend that everything is just hunky-dory for large swaths of time, until the next event that upsets the apple cart comes along. Because we have no continuous awareness of this condition in our moment-to-moment examination of self, we remain oblivious to the situation.

Self-awareness requires us to be with ourselves throughout the day, not in intermittent flashes of insight. This can be a trying, difficult, and disturbing experience. It relates to Christ’s comment about the Son of Man having nowhere to rest his head. There is no place within true self-awareness in which to take refuge. This fox has no den. 

I bring this up in large part because I spend most of my life in communities of people who are, at least superficially, wholly devoted to the pursuit of self-awareness. I’m not sure they know what they would be getting if they had it. For the average person, in fact, I think self-awareness is possibly the worst thing one could get. It takes an extraordinary constitution, one forged in a crucible of inner and outer suffering, to tolerate a psychological condition of this kind. If it were not accompanied by other important phenomenon such as the organic sensation of Being, it would be devastating. Only the balance of manifestation through the mind of the body prevents it from tipping the applecart all the way over; and hence the need for a firm foundation in sensation before anything else happens. It is what will keep you upright if you want actual self-awareness.

We are not the creatures we think we are or the creatures we believe we wish ourselves to be. If we face the creatures we are, we're sure to become confounded. It’s almost certainly beyond the purview of our own average understanding to fathom ourselves. We can only rely on assistance from a metaphysical realm that we have little knowledge of or access to. Surrender of this kind puts the ego firmly in its place; but it never stops squirming. And this is another thing that will have to be lived with throughout every day.

Strange to say that if there is refuge here, it lies in the realm of ritual and bells, of Psalm and prayer, of hymnal and devotion. There is something about the vibration of consistency in a religious context that helps to focus effort per the statement I scrawled on a piece of paper earlier this year which sat on my desk for months reminding me of this condition that cannot be escaped.

“I return to you in faith.”

This return is the only place that one can turn one’s attention. 

It must be done repeatedly and without expectation of reward. 

It must be done understanding that there is no place in our lives, if we wish to know ourselves, for anything but God. 

Yet we are filled with ourselves; and it is the suffering of this exact condition itself that is necessary. We will not be filled with anything but ourselves until we've managed to see all of ourselves in such a way that we can no longer tolerate ourselves, no longer find solace in the platitudes we feed ourselves, no longer trust what we are to be anything but this tiny, uninformed, unintelligent, disobedient self. 

Finding myself in the midst of this process, I have no great insight, no advice. 

I myself simply return in faith every morning. 

I have nowhere else to go.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Immersion and understanding


December 22, 2020

A friend of mine recently said that one can’t understand anything unless one is “outside” it. 

This in response to my comment that one doesn’t understand an experience unless one is immersed in it.

The idea that we can be outside of anything raises questions. For example, when we think of physics, can we be outside of it? Physics creates us; we are always within it, even as we think of it. If metaphysics causes us to arise, and we think of metaphysics, we are still within metaphysics. And so on. The point is that it is nearly impossible to end up “outside” of anything. Transcending every boundary simply means that a new boundary has formed, expanding the parameters.

We can examine the question with a fairly simple thought experiment. I am a human. I want to understand dogs. Dogs are not human; so I am outside them. Yet by being outside them I haven’t really gained any experience or understanding of dogs at all. No matter how much I analyze their behavior, they remain dogs and I remain human; their experience will be forever closed to me. The only way in which I understand dogs is the way in which humans understand them. I can't be a dog. 

Furthermore, I’m never going to understand dogs as, for example, a rat who perceives them as a predator will. And so on. 

So the understanding of dogs, in my case, is completely subjective and doesn’t actually consist of a whole understanding at all. It is simply a different perspective.

The closest I can come to understanding the dog, in fact, would be to completely immerse myself in the idea of dog, to try to become a dog in my own experience and behavior. I don’t just have to observe the dog; in some strange and indescribable way, I have to be the dog. Native peoples have traditions of totem animals embodying this idea: the understanding is gained through immersion, by adoption of the totem's character and even body itself. 

Modern science sees it the other way around. It purports "objectivity;" yet we have all seen well enough by now that modern science throws eight pounds of baby out with every eight ounces of bathwater it touts as the answer to all and sundry. Science likes life cold and hard; but actual human beings are warm and fuzzy. To become a "scientist," to try and see things from outside, poses contradictions from the beginning. 

Even the meaning of the word understand has some contradictory properties built into it in relation to this question. To be under, in the first place, means to be lower in status than; and to stand means to be in a specific, particular position.

 So to under-stand doesn’t mean to grasp or to comprehend so much as to see one’s inferiority and acknowledge it. We're not adding complications here; just looking at some pretty basic stuff; and almost immediately we arrived a place other than where we thought we were, eh?

To understand can, by inference and etymology, be interpreted as being "immersed in, while seeing. That is to say, the idea of grasping our position, as tiny parts of a much greater whole, sensing it, experiencing it. In this sense the whole point of understanding and the meaning it embodies is in the context of immersion, not transcendence.

We could further argue that all ideas of transcendence are illusory. Every belief in transcendence is marked by the expansion of the envelope. It reminds one of the old Zen adage: once you have attained the limitless void, go further. 

Transcended the transcendence, they advise.

Immersion, to be dipped in something, is a different proposition. To be immersed in this life is the irrevocable property of our being. We only cease immersion in this particular life at the time of death; so death is the last great immersion for every creature. Until it comes, we may imagine transcendence; but these imaginations are the stuff of dreams, not the practical encounters that consciousness actually engages in.

I suppose that the tension between transcendence and immersion, between ignorance and understanding, arises from the question of whether or not we can transcend anything. 

Do we want to be different; or do we want to Be

Gurdjieff’s adage was never, 

“I am, and I wish to be different;” 

it was always, 

“I am, I wish to be.”

I could have it wrong, but this sounds a lot more like immersion than transcendence to me.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Dig Deeper


Dec. 21 2020

Some few conversations over the last week have reminded me of how strong Ouspensky’s influence remains in the Gurdjieff community.

To be sure, my first exposure to Gurdjieff’s ideas was from the now famous and oft-cited In Search of the Miraculous; yet this book is above all a highly technical and essentially intellectual examination of esoteric ideas, not a practical reflection of Gurdjieff’s actual personal teaching. We have many, many books from his pupils with a wealth of anecdotes that illustrate how radically different his actual approach was from the 1920s through 1949 when he died. I’ve also been told by those who knew him personally that he was nothing like the image Ouspensky gives of him; and I’ve also been told by those that knew him personally that the Gurdjieff work as it exists today is for all intents and purposes nothing like the way he worked in person with his people.

Gurdjieff’s work, as described by those who knew him, was warm and human, personal and direct; and it was furthermore lighthearted and interesting, not stiff and formal. There was a lot of joking around and casual behavior; not everything was focused on mechanical and technical interpretations of working and people trying to bootstrap themselves by “having a good attention” and so on. He was remarkably human; he revised his opinions when he found them insufficient; sometimes, he was wrong. People argued with him. He drank too much. The man was human; and the rigid bar of iron representing the standards of the Superman which Ouspensky seems to present is deeply flawed, in the end, when one measures it along its entire length and holds it up to what actually happened.

I raise these questions because so much of Ouspensky’s influence still flows through the mainstream currents of the Gurdjieff work. I hear talk of man numbers one through seven, chief feature, crystallization, blah blah blah. The stuff has become a catechism, in both senses of the word: both instruction by means of question-and-answer, and a way of interrogating others. Broadening the question even more, it has become a list of rules that everyone has to examine and more or less agree are true. Or argue about.

When Gurdjieff used the expression, “bury bone deeper,” he meant it to indicate that he was concealing esoteric truths within his texts. The dangers, of course, with his texts are at least twofold: first of all, in that it’s all to easy to dig in all the wrong places in a landscape as vast as Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson; and, secondly, that what Gurdjieff buried his bones in was a giant pile of bullshit. 

Gurdjieff was a world-class expert in bullshit, as everyone who knew him reports; and you can’t dig into his work or his writing without getting your hands dirty. That’s part of the point of it all. 

You can’t dig into yourself without getting your hands dirty either, for that matter. 

We need to examine our own bullshit. We can begin there.

The difficulty with Ouspensky’s texts is perhaps more insidious and pervasive, because on the surface they don’t appear to contain any bullshit. Ouspensky presents, intentionally, as bullshit-free; he opens up In Search of the Miraculous by talking about how he had encountered all this bullshit searching for truth, and couldn’t find it anywhere. But now — at the beginning of this book — Ta-da! It can finally be revealed! 

The Truth. The teaching that is not bullshit. 

And he proceeds to reveal it in a 300+ page stream of deadening Victorian language that hammers one nail after another into the coffin lid of other metaphysics and theologies, as though he were a new Martin Luther with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why has this book and the ideas it carries become such a fixture in the Gurdjieff work? It would be interesting to pretend the book didn’t exist. The Gurdjieff work and even the Gurdjieff literature by his own hand would look very different without it, wouldn’t it? It’s almost as though Ouspensky serves as a graft on the root, changing the whole character of the plant.

When I began this essay, my point, in general, was intended to be that this work is not a theoretical work. 

This occurred to me after a friend of mine made some pontificating comments about good and bad that almost certainly had their roots in Ouspensky’s writings. Ouspensky’s writings play Plato to Gurdjieff’s Socrates; and we can be sure we are not always hearing what was said in this sense. Good and bad, in the translations and even in Gurdjieff’s own words, often turn out to have theoretical overtones related to aim and so on. But, just as it occurred to me this morning when pondering this subject, there are no armchair positions to be had when one examines, for example, the subject of concentration camps. I have been to them; and places like this are where the pontification ends and reality pokes its ugly head into the conversation. 

The Gurdjieff work does not allow reality to poke its ugly head into the situation these days; it has formed a large hairball of esoteric fur it licks off itself that insulates it from the real world. 

Gurdjieff, for example, ran his own personal soup kitchen; yet how many people in the Gurdjieff work do practical things of this nature for those who are poorer than they are, and are suffering? Not a lot, so far as I can see. In point of fact, instead of giving poor people on the street money, Gurdjieff people I know delight in telling the story of how he was with a woman (I think this comes from a member of the Rope, but perhaps someone will correct me on that) who gave a homeless person who was down and out on their luck money, whereupon Gurdjieff made them go to them and take it back, saying, “it didn’t cost you enough and it isn’t enough to do him any good.” 

The story may be apocryphal, but the way it is sometimes wielded as an excuse to do nothing in the face of desperation disturbs me.

In the same way, I note how frequently people in the Gurdjieff work lean on quotations, stories, blasts from the past of various kinds. There is always some authority greater than our own to quote, isn’t there?

Are we to slavishly follow; or do we carve our own path?

Yesterday, my wife and I were in the kitchen and I was at the dishwasher loading it. I remarked to her that I’ve never been that great at investing; I frequently predict the future with accuracy, but I almost never take advantage of it financially.

“It’s not your path,” she replied to me reassuringly.

“I’m over 65, and I’m still trying to find my path,” I said to her.

That is to say, although Gurdjieff contributed significantly, even perhaps essentially, to my search, it is not his search. It isn’t Ouspensky’s search. It is a unique, difficult, questioning, at times confusing, yet fluid and flexible and intensive, examination of life and its questions, that cannot just use Gurdjieff as the magnet that draws all the iron filings together. 

Gurdjieff brought a method of inquiry; and it was not the end in itself. Turning back towards the method over and over again to discover the meaning is a mistake. The meaning lies outside the method.

This is not a technical work. The bone is buried deep in life, not in a book.

We must go out and get our hands dirty.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 3, 2021


Beryl var. aquamarine and Lepidolite

 This morning I ran across a public comment about crystallization, and a question about what it means to "de-crystallize" oneself in the sense of Gurdjieff’s teaching.

This rather Ouspensky-ish term, which is probably mentioned more in In Search of the Miraculous than any other book, is not currently used at the Gurdjieff Foundation. One hears it quite rarely. Yet of course the idea belongs to part of the core of the teaching.

The person asking the question wondered what crystallization means, and how one goes about struggling against it. 

The word crystal comes from the Greek krustallos, which means, among other things, ice. And of the word was conventionally used to describe something transparent. So the ideas of coldness, a high degree of hardened order, and transparency are all contained in this word.

If we're crystallized, what is in us is highly structured. This means that we have constructed an inner system, a set of ideas and beliefs, that are interlocking and support one another. They allow us to see the world through the lens they create: it appears to be transparent, but it forms a powerful barrier between us and the world as it is. They inflect the light that passes through them, the accurate light of the real world, and impart a character of their own to it. Because our structure is unique and idiosyncratic, the character that the crystallization imparts is both subjective and distorted. At the same time, because the crystal is transparent, we’re convinced that what we see through it is accurate. Transparency deceives us by imparting the illusion that the barrier isn’t there. We speak and act from the conviction that what we see is accurate and that our responses are equally so.

This relates, if one thinks about it, to Gurdjieff’s statement “man cannot do.” While it appears to be a statement about our limitations, it could also be taken as an admonition, that is, we should not “do.” 

If we take it from this perspective, perhaps we can see that when we try to reach conclusions and take actions when we view the world through our crystal, we are doing. On our own authority we have filtered the world through a lens of our own making and are now trying to act upon that input.

In this sense, we touch on one of the big ideas about chief feature, another traditional expression that has fallen by the wayside over the years in the formal and perhaps more esoteric work of inner circles in the Gurdjieff work. Gurdjieff once said to Ouspensky (again, I refer to text found in In Search of the Miraculous) that the simple way of understanding chief feature is that “everything” about Ouspensky is chief feature. That is to say, chief feature refers to the crystal, the lens, we have formed in ourselves through which we  perceive everything that happens and attempt to take action as a result of.

In order to understand that we even have a crystallization in us, we have to begin to see that the transparency our vision of life affords is distorted; we need to study the nature of the way that lens affects the light of awareness as it passes into us. The dual actions of seeing and of questioning everything thus become connected to the idea of crystallization and how one begins to undo its results.

Crystals are beautiful things, of course. I’m a mineral collector and I have quite a few of them around me as I write this, including some gorgeous examples of beryl and spodumene. The point is that crystals are quite attractive and once we have one, we see it as precious. This is a pretty good description of the structure we build within ourselves through which we wish to interpret life.

One thing that is certain to penetrate, dissolve, or even break a type of crystallization in a person is suffering. That, and huge shocks. The difficulty with the huge shocks is that they break the crystal and there’s no telling what will result from that. Sometimes an even harder and more intense crystal immediately re-forms as a kind of protection, which then becomes nearly impossible to overcome. 

Suffering is generally preferable because if it is engaged in intentionally, that is, if I meet the suffering of my own life and experience it, it gradually dissolves the barrier between me and what is seen, which largely forms in the feelings. I could write a great deal right now about how feeling becomes crystallized, but I won’t do so. 

One should just think about this quite carefully while observing the way one reacts to things. Much will become clear in that simple action over time.

 The idea that crystals have both order, beauty, and transparency as inherent qualities is quite interesting when we think about it in terms of Gurdjieff’s comments on crystallization. We love all of these things: we like things to be ordered, we like them to be beautiful, and we like to be able to see through them. We have a fascination with it. As we love these things, so do we forget the way they form a barrier between us and the unadulterated truth of our situation. Truth is a revolution that challenges and even destroys order; it is not always beautiful; and the moment it is distorted by an illusionary transparency, it looks exactly like truth, except that it isn’t true anymore.

Those familiar with the Reality of Being will quickly recognize the connection between the last statement of illusionary transparency and the ideas, attitudes, and practices that Jeanne de Salzmann attempted to bring to her own work.

Pondering this question, I’m well reminded of the statement my own teacher Betty Brown made to me in the last years of her life. “The things we love the most are the first things that have gotta go.”

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, April 2, 2021



Good Friday, 2021

One wants to know where one is.

But this is quite difficult; because already, one doesn’t have a full sensation of oneself. The Being isn’t a single thing; it exists in fragments. A full sensation, an organic sensation, can reassemble the self; it can be that one has a single self. But even then, one has the exact same single self that one had when one was in fragments. The fragments are now just in relationship; they have a magnetic attraction that has gathered them and realigned them so that the broken edges fit together.

But where is this a single self, with its many parts? 

Its many parts are both physical and psychological; they have an objective existence from a molecular and atomic point of view, an objective existence from a cellular and corporeal point of view; and yet these are not just assemblage of materials, but also allocations of consciousness that manifest individually by scale and according to the nature of the materials that they are related by.

Wow, doesn’t this sound complicated? Well, it is. Consciousness, which is ever-present, locates itself within scale and according to scale. 

If it manifests with accuracy within us as human beings, on our level, the first thing we see is that we’re in the middle of a mystery. We inhabit a particular tier on a scale of vibrations; and as we become whole within ourselves, we may at first just see that simple fact alone. It’s only one fact; but it’s a real fact, not the imaginary stuff I have told myself my whole life. Within the context of this real fact there is the potential for not just a real sensation — which grounds the fact in the inevitability of its truth — but a real feeling. That real feeling is one of humility and remorse.

Humility and remorse aren’t experiences so much as locations. If one has real remorse of conscience, it’s a place to be, not a feeling that passes, a desire or an impulse. It’s a landscape that one dwells in with a truth as real and as solid as the sensation of the earth beneath the feet. It’s magnetic; it doesn’t lie. One could say this is a terribly uncomfortable place, because of course we prefer to lie about everything; and in fact we not only prefer it, we’re experts at it. It’s not a hobby for us, it’s a profession. 

Yet the profession that we need to undertake, the craft we need to learn, is that of remorse; only by learning this trade can we locate ourselves accurately both within the scale of our own tiny lives and within the scale of the planet.

All of this needs to be undertaken while all the garbage we have swilled and filled ourselves with is still there, because it won’t go away. In point of fact, the garbage serves a function, because without perceiving it, no remorse. Only a true garbage collector who knows what he is can feel remorse. It’s a big thing to know that one picks up trash; it’s an even bigger thing to be humble about it, and to not only attend to one’s own trash, but to make oneself responsible for all the trash one encounters, everywhere. 

Only a garbage collector can help organize things, establish right relationship and put the landscape into a right condition. Folks who are not conscious garbage collectors just inattentively throw their garbage all over the place, everywhere. The results are self evident. One will always be a garbage collector. There are two kinds: those who live in their piles of garbage and become them, and those who separate themselves from the garbage and retain a sense of identity, honor, and agency independent of the trash.

The attentive garbage collector eventually becomes a recycler. Every single piece of trash within Being can be recycled with economy in order to help it return to value of one kind or another. This can’t be done casually, because in order to recycle the trash it has to be sorted out and each individual piece has to be examined in terms of its nature and what substances it has in it so that it can ultimately be reemployed to better ends. 

Understanding myself as a garbageman in a dump is useful. Maybe I can acquire some dignity by admitting the facts to myself. In the end, the search isn’t for the gold (which is what I’m usually looking for—I naively keep telling myself that there’s going to be gold somewhere in all this garbage), but for the plastic. The inert materials that are cluttering up my insides; the things that resist decomposition and haven’t been returned to the soil, where they might be of actual use and provide nourishment.

But I don’t want to get completely stuck in this analogy.

I’m here this morning; and I’m just trying to sense myself, quite gently, without any force. 

The sensation is a natural character that brings itself to this moment; I can go to it and be with it as a friend. I can let the breath out of myself gently until it reaches the last impulse of departure.

 I can pause and wait attentively for the place where it turns around and I breathe the air back in. 

I can feel the fullness, the magnetism of this substance as it enters.

The garbage has been put aside for just a moment.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.