Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thinking differently

From a series of notes to myself written during May 2018. 

 There's a need to think quite differently.

What I believe I know about thinking is quite inaccurate and formed around a part of thinking that is really quite primitive.

Thinking ought to have the freedom to it that carries no predetermined results within it. It should not be contaminated by confirmation bias; it should be allowed to manifest by itself, without being stuck in the repetitive modes that it usually finds itself exercising. What I think of as my ordinary thinking is what the Buddhists call “turning thought”; really, it is just the engine that provides movement for thinking, which keeps itself in what we would call the idle position by spinning around aimlessly with whatever material happens to be immediately at hand.

Obviously, an engine that is idling can’t provide much impulse to life. It is always ready; but the energy in it is weak. The gears it has at its disposal rarely engage. Instead, there is a pointless busyness, which I accept as a given without looking any further.

There is a place within thinking that is quite still and is just as organic as my sensation. I often don't have an experience of this place. It's not a complex place with an extraordinary number of sophisticated ideas and relationships iterated in it. We all do have such places — and intellectuals have places of this kind which are much stronger and more impressive than others — but the place I'm speaking of is a place that is actually, if you will, quite empty.

It's highly intelligent; but it's not cluttered with facts or metaphors, nor does it work with them directly. It may produce facts and metaphors; but this is not its primary function. As with the rest of being, its primary function is to enter relationship in an intelligent way. And that actually doesn’t have anything to do with the enormous pile of facts that I can fill myself with, rearrange, explain, and emphasizing my exchanges with others.

This primary function of thinking I speak of, which — oddly, I am sure you are thinking — is an emptiness or stillness, has a silence in it that is prepared to think but does not do so unless it is necessary.

This silence lies at the root of all thinking within life, but it is passive, not active. If the silence is allowed to open even a small window on the rest of the activity within life that involves thinking and being, it receives life in a different way than the other parts of thinking. This can be called the organic intellect of being. It is a companion to the organic sensation of being. Already, if it becomes active, it represents a more focused, intense, and intelligent force of thought — emptied of the usual nonsense — than anything I bring to life with my ordinary thinking parts.

It's alive; it's active. If it arises and participates, only then am I thinking differently.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Attitude and desire

From a series of notes to myself written during May 2018.

I don’t really see how attitude and desire color the moment of response. The things that have already happened and the things that I want to happen are both in the way of allowing me to respond instinctively in the present. My instincts have a pretty good idea of what is right, if I live responsibly and make an effort to form an intelligent perspective. But if I am always the slave of my attitudes and desires, it ruins me. I don’t know what is right. Right begins to emerge from social and political, religious and civic, sources rather than the inherent understanding within my own being.

There is another way to say this. There is a rightness that comes from man, and a rightness that comes from God. They are not the same thing. Humanity is constantly confusing the rightness that comes from man — a subjective rightness that is constantly changing and creates one disaster after another — with the rightness that comes from God. The rightness that comes from God is unfailingly loving. This is a huge demand, and in direct opposition in the rightness that comes from man. I say it is a huge demand because it goes against both attitude and desire; it emerges from a place within being that is free of both attitude and desire.

When I say that this is free of attitude and desire, it’s difficult to understand what that means. After all, rightness that comes from God has its own attitude: but it is God’s attitude. It receives life instead of trying to control it. In receiving life, it attempts to understand that desire should arrive from love and then meet life, not meet life and then try to slap love on it like a Band-Aid. The love has to come first. Love has to come first before I form attitudes; in love has to come first before I formed desires. The inflow is love. It is inherently loving; and if it forms my being, my instinctive being, I already bring a part that has a love and humility in it to life as it arises.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The moment of response (no definite plan)

From a series of notes to myself written during May 2018.

Well then.

Here I am. There’s no question, there is life and I am within it.

Yet I don’t have a plan on how to fix life—and I don’t really know what it is going to do to me. I probably know something about how I'm going to respond; and yet that can be unpredictable as well, because many of my parts respond quite powerfully to life whether I want them to or not. So I need to keep a close eye on those parts with the living force of my Being.

I need to be there so that I can fully experience what I am and how I respond, without making a definite plan for how to do so in advance.

My definite plans won’t work anyway. If there is one thing that’s certain, it’s that my thinking part is unable to anticipate what takes place in life. It is simply too slow; and there are too many variables outside me. I can think something through to what I believe is perfection and then discover that it blows up in my face because most of what I thought was imaginary. So what I need to do is be intelligently prepared to inhabit the moment of response.

The inflow has an innate or inherent capacity to be present in the moment of response. This is what it's for; the energy is designed to help create and form relationship. One could think, in one’s imagination, that the energy of the inflow has all these different magical or sacred purposes, but its fundamental and primary purpose is relationship. There are many subsidiary and auxiliary side effects, but relationship is the ground floor of why the energy flows into me, and it is my sacred Being-duty and responsibility to be present in the moment of response in order to establish right relationship.

Now, of course, you might say to me, “How do you know what right relationship is?” And this would be a good question. Right relationship is a relationship that honors the other, and inhabits the moment with love. This needs to be an active and instinctive arising, not one crafted by what society has taught me, the religious, political, or social ideas I have been taught, or even the wide range of beliefs that have arisen in the as a result of this education. If I come into relationship with the inflow, those parts — those artificially crafted sections of my being — are available as tools, but I have to choose from the toolkit. There has to be a master craftsman in charge of the operation. Otherwise I won’t build a cabinet; wood will just get nailed together in random ways. It may make a structure, but it won’t serve a purpose or hold anything. It will probably tip over when I least expect it.

So I need to have this relationship to an active and instinctive arising. This instinctive arising within me is a sensation, and an intelligence, towards life that does not derive from what I think. It begins before I think. Many things can happen after it; and thinking is one of them. But the key to it is that I have to get there and be there before I think of anything.

The moment of response cannot be lived effectively if thinking tries to live it. It has to arise from parts of awareness that have an inherent capacity for what takes place now; not what took place before, or what I want to take place later. What took place before is already contaminated by my attitude; and what will take place later is contaminated by my desires. Both attitude and desire take me away from what is needed now; and it’s important I see that, because both of them color the way in which I enter the moment of response.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

An instinctive relationship to life

From a series of notes to myself written during May 2018.

One always tries to make a plan for how to meet life in one way or another. All of it takes place in imagination; there’s an effort to form an idea of how life ought to be, and then try to do two things: first of all, to make me conform to that idea through my behavior, and secondly, to try and thereby “force” life to be what I want it to be. One subtle issue with this is that I don't see how I am forcing — I always think that somehow what I'm doing is justifiable.

There are many ways that this applies to my day-to-day, ordinary life and the simple actions that I need to take care of, such as earning a living, cooking meals, interacting with others, and so on. That could be a whole discussion. But this morning, I want to discuss  how we meet life from an inner and a spiritual point of view. By spiritual, I mean according to the dictates of the inward flow of energy, which we ought to sense but usually don’t.

This idea of a planned approach, whereby I will be prepared for everything, set myself tasks, put aside special parts of the day where I meditate and attend to life, and so on, is all necessary. There is no doubt about it. I can’t live without structure. But let’s face it, life arrives as a big, messy, unpredictable situation. It doesn’t matter how many plans I make; life won’t conform to them. The outward world is endlessly creative and does not establish its direction or sustain its force through me. So there needs to be something within me that has a capacity for responding to that that is flexible, intelligent, and creative.

That living force arises from the inward flow of energy, which I call the inflow. This energy is inspired from a divine source that cannot be logically explained; it is the source of all life, and it transcends thinking in every way — at least, the kind of thinking that I am accustomed to doing.

In order to allow this energy to arise in me, I need to discover an instinctive relationship to life. By instinctive, I mean by impulse — that is to say, according to the natural force that arises within Being.

 This natural force is an impulse — it is that which imparts force and creates movement.  Force and movement are not inanimate in thinking creatures; they arise from a living impulse called agency.  Each of us has an impulse in us created by the inflow, the force of life which does not arise within material but only expresses itself through it. Our difficulty lies in the fact that we rely excessively on our relationship to material, and then interpret everything through it. If we came into an intimate relationship with the inward energy of the inflow, we would not make this mistake.

My life arises naturally. No matter what I do, until I am dead, life will always arise naturally in a reciprocal relationship: my inward life arrives naturally from the inflow, and my being exists. The other side of this is that life arises naturally from outside, in the form of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. I find my life in the intersection between these two situations, which are actually not separated, even though my experience of them is.

Being has a capacity to arrive quite naturally and without any excessive force or rigid form. It can arise naturally and gently and place itself quite precisely at the point where my awareness brings these two situations together. I need to have a flexibility of intelligence and attention that places itself quite gently in this place and then sits there, quietly and in stillness, awaiting the moment of response.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Dishonorable World

The word honor is an ancient one, having preserved both its sound and meaning directly from Latin. It can mean respect, esteem, or reverence, accorded to exalted worth or rank. It can also mean chastity, purity, or a virtue of the highest consideration, dignity, etc. (Meanings are taken from the Oxford English dictionary.)

We ought to be treating one another honorably. That is to say, we should discover a genuine value in our relationship with others, and intelligence of action that causes us to speak kindly, act with charity and meaningful compassion, to actually see other human beings as living persons, not objects for us to oppose or approve of, as our whim dictates. In this context, it is even possible to treat one’s enemy honorably — which was an important part of many ancient traditions. In fact, civilized traditions place a greater emphasis on this than degenerate ones.

The idea of civilization relates directly to the idea of awakening this City of God within us. All of the denizens of the City have — unlike us — honorable and loving intentions. If we are under the influence of this City, our intentions are equally honorable and loving. We take thought before we act towards others, and our action makes an effort to be good, that is, to outwardly consider the other.

Humanity, unfortunately, is decisively degenerating. If you look at the average person in today’s world, they are filled with opinions and hatred, dismiss others who do not believe what they believe, and feel entitled to say horrible things about other people whenever they feel like it. They have no restraint; they embody no decorum; their intelligence is the absolute slave of coarse emotions.

Coming into relationship with others involves a great deal of suffering, and it can’t be undertaken without the awakening of that selfsame conscience which Ashiata Shiemash determined is necessary for the development of human beings. Conscience does not manifest without a struggle, because our outward personality is powerful and wants to have nothing to do with it. We need to find a niche for conscience within ourselves, a safe place for it to reside intelligently in the course of our everyday actions.

The situation is alarming to me personally, because I so often run into people who claim to be spiritually “developed” in one way or another, and yet display haughty, arrogant, dismissive, and even hateful attitudes towards others. The contradictions in these individuals are shocking, and even more shocking is the fact that they are absolutely blind to them.

How can this be? Is it truly possible for someone to study a set of esoteric ideas, especially Christian ones or those of Gurdjieff, for many decades and end up understanding nothing about this matter?

I’m afraid so. It doesn’t matter how much inner effort one makes or how much one “awakens” if the heart doesn’t open. The man or woman who does not acquire humility can acquire the whole world and all its treasures, both inner and outer — but without humility they are nothing. Nothing is nothing; it is not good or bad, but it does not exist. Existence is predicated on the presence of conscience. This feeling quality of being is unmistakable; and it has no arrogance. It always honors.

The awakening of conscience, as Gurdjieff called it, leads to a completely different set of inward ideas and attitudes, which then impose a certain authority over outward action. You can easily see the difference between people who act from conscience and those who do not.

Victor Frankl called them decent and non-decent people. These are people who actually care — have a wish — about how they treat others, and they understand the physical, substantial, and material meaning of the idea to act through love. 

Not through some theoretical idea about love which selects only what one likes; but the idea of love as a whole thing.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Exactly as it is, part V— A Divine Intelligence

In part two of this series, I said, “We acquire myopia through our inattention; and we rely on our forms to deliver our results, instead of our intelligence and intuition.”

I think this is worthy of some further examination. Once we adopt an external form, membership in an organization of any kind, it becomes a vehicle for our aspirations. Unfortunately, the aspirations end up becoming a part of the vehicle, instead of a part of ourselves.

We have a divine intelligence and intuition that is emanated into us through the action of life itself. Our very Being and all that we live and breathe is created by this; the divine is manifested through the action of life in every circumstance. Yet instead of understanding that the results of relationship are our direct responsibility, and that every action we take affects that, there’s this odd belief — which everyone is, in varying degrees, a victim of — that the institutions we become members of have an intelligence that automatically renders our ideas effective, and embodies our behavior.

This is never the case; it is always we ourselves who are responsible for the way the institutions function. Not the ideas that create them. It reminds me of situations I have found myself in many times during my professional career, where the owners of small private companies personally fail to take steps that meet the needs of their business, and then get angry and blame all their employees when things go wrong. They never stop to think that the institution — their business — is their responsibility, and that if things go wrong, it begins with their own personal actions, not the rest of the institution.

If we personally fail to directly, intelligently, and compassionately exercise the manifestation of the divine intelligence which we are responsible for embodying, and the outer results — the results of the institutions — are then failures in one way or another, it is not the failure of the institution. Everyone who is a member personally owns the failure. And until each member of an institution or society becomes personally responsible for their action inwardly, everything remains impossible.

When Gurdjieff was preparing material on his chapter about Ashiata Shiemash in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, he pondered this question at great length. Understanding that Faith, Hope, and Love had all been tried as a means of saving mankind, and that more drastic steps were necessary, he recognized that only the awakening of conscience — which alone survived in humanity as a vestigial organ of the Divine — would still be able to do the job. And he furthermore realized that mankind would need to have a completely different set of institutions (structures of existence) in order to awaken that conscience. The structures needed to be reconfigured so that conscience is awakened automatically.

Yet where is our individual conscience today? What is our relationship to it? How doe we use our time, and honor both ourselves and others?


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Exactly as it is, part IV: The City of God


Concerning the nature of the soul


The universal real Soul, within the heart and in the world

1. Om / [The teacher should say:] “Now, what is here in this city of Brahma, is an abode, a small lotus-flower. Within that is a small space. What is within that, should be searched out; that, assuredly, is what one should desire to understand.” 

2. If they [i.e. the pupils] should say to him: “This abode, the small lotus-flower that is here in this city of Brahma, and the small space within that—what is there, there, which should be searched out, which assuredly one should desire to understand?” 

3. he should say: “As far, verily, as this world-space (ayam akasa) extends, so far extends the space within the heart. Within it, indeed, are contained both heaven and earth, both fire and wind, both sun and moon, lightning and the stars, both what one possesses here and what one does not possess; everything here is contained within it.”

4. If they should say to him : 'If within this city of Brahma is contained everything here, all beings as well as all desires, when old age overtakes it or it perishes, what is left over there-from?”

5. he should say, “That does not grow old with one’s old age ; it is not slain with one's murder. That is the real city of Brahma. In it desires are contained. That is the Soul (Atman), free from evil, ageless, deathless, sorrowless, hunger-less, thirstless, whose desire is the Real, whose conception is the Real.”

“For, just as here on earth human beings follow along in subjection to command ; of whatever object they are desirous, whether a realm or a part of a field, upon that they live dependent—

6. “As here on earth the world which is won by work (karma-fita loka) becomes destroyed, even so there the world which is won by merit (punya-jita loka] becomes destroyed.”  Those who go hence without here having found the Soul (Atman) and those real desires (satya kdma} —for them in all the worlds there is no freedom. But those who go hence having found here the Soul and those real desires—for them in all worlds there is freedom.”

Excerpt From: Robert Ernest Hume, “The Thirteen Principal Upanishads.” Pages 262-63

It’s said that the kingdom of heaven is within. In order to understand this, it’s important to remember that the kingdom is composed not just of a single entity, but many different places, vast lands that have cities in them. And just as the outer is a reflection of the inner condition of mankind, and actually not a real entity but just the reflection — that is, the inner gives birth to the outer, and not the other way around — the inner kingdom of heaven is constructed much like the outer world appears to us. The difference is that although we see the outer world is real and the kingdom of heaven as an imaginary or abstract construction, in fact it is the other way around. It’s necessary to reverse this understanding within Being in order to begin to understand the kingdom of heaven as an experience rather than an idea.

The kingdom of heaven has a representative city within each person, which is the City of God. This is a very ancient understanding, as its presence in the Upanishads shows. But the understanding need not be distant. It is available today within us, under the right conditions. You can verify it.

 The city of God is located in the heart of each human being. It is an actual city that exists on a different level in us.

This miraculous City is a hidden, and in many senses forbidden location; generally speaking, the city of God is closed. It is the entryway to our portion, or residency, in the kingdom of heaven; yet we are not really ready to live in the kingdom of heaven. We were born and designed to live here on earth, which is a place of exile in which we undergo trials. So every time we attempt to escape life with practices that bring us to inner states of “nothingness” or “bliss,”—each time we seek the void— we’re attempting to escape the very conditions that are most essential for the growth of the soul. It does not mean we have no entitlement whatsoever to immersion in nothingness and bliss — in fact, nothingness is not nothingness, and bliss is not bliss, and both of them are permitted as experiences to mankind — but attempting to transform our outward or inward spiritual life into a perpetual state of this kind would avoid the kind of trouble, difficulty, chaos and conflict needed for the soul to grow in its humility and devotion to God.

As the narrator in the Upanishads explains, In it desires are contained. That is the Soul (Atman), free from evil, ageless, deathless, sorrowless, hunger-less, thirstless, whose desire is the Real, whose conception is the Real. 

This particular place in the heart is the exact place that is opened by God during religious ecstasy; and it releases all of a human being's true inner wish, the divine wish, which is both of the kernel of being and its essence, the alpha and omega of existence which is hidden from us. The reason it opens so rarely is that the experience is, for the most part, overwhelming. Yet it can open in a small way and feed life; that is to say, allegorically speaking, if we make a good in our effort and align ourselves in humility with God, we are able to establish an encampment outside the city where we can await the arrival of the master, which only happens if the gates are opened. Living in this encampment requires great patience.

One should not try to open the heart, the city of God, on one’s own. Certainly there are exercises that can do this, but there are reasons mankind is not supposed to open the inner flowers or the city of God on its own. To hope for God to open these places through prayer, supplication, and devotion is fully permitted, since to God all things are allowable; but to force them open using “skillful” means is forbidden.

Now, because there are ways and means of constructing our spiritual life, both outwardly and inwardly, and we create forms of both kinds, we begin to see ourselves as architects. Indeed, born into life, the ego sees itself as an architect from the beginning, somehow crafting its own life and being. Yet we never craft anything that has anything to do with being; being emanates from God, and will never be subject to our own construction. We mistakenly think, because our ego runs everything, that we are the architects of life, and that the structure we inhabit — the building of our being — is both something that we understand, control, and have power over. This  entire idea is so profoundly mistaken it’s difficult to convey it; we don’t see how thoroughly this idea of ourselves as architects penetrates every crevice of our life and every action that we take. Even if we adopt a spiritual stance that insists we don’t see ourselves this way, that itself is often part of our architecture, what we think we have built. When we deny our view of ourselves as architects, we do so as sly and clever human beings who have simply added another wing to the building.

Consider, if you will, a different view of ourselves in life: that is, as residents. The resident does not own the building or the apartment, but leases it; he or she is an itinerant, only therefore the length of the lease. During the tenancy, the resident has a responsibility to keep the apartment clean; to maintain good relationships with the other renters, to be respectful to the landlord, to understand the privilege that comes with being able to rent. There are many other analogies to spiritual life; no need to list them all here. The point is that if we see ourselves as residents, we no longer run the show, but instead become individuals with the responsibility to help maintain the place where we live. This applies to both our inner and our outer life.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Exactly as it is, part III: An Organic Relationship to Life

In the regard of this practice, exactly as it is, we ought to begin to understand the world from Meister Eckhart’s perspective:

 Some people want to find God as He shines before them, or as He tastes to them. They find the light and the taste, but they do not find God. A scripture declares that God shines in the darkness, where we sometimes least recognize Him. Where God shines least for us is often where He shines the most. Therefore we should accept God equally in all ways and in all things.

— Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, page 588

Exactly as it is requires us to put aside our assumptions and our confirmation bias, our self-fulfilling prophecies, and engage in a simple observation of the facts. The moment that there's an inflection, it's not our world we are participating in, it is God’s; and the difference can be known in the organic relationship to life.

The organic relationship to life is formed from an organic, that is, gravitational, relationship within each of the parts: thinking, sensation, and feeling. The relationship begins at a molecular level and consists of a vibration that centers being within a field of gravity. That field as an electromagnetic potential belonging to a different level than my psychology or my personality; and it attracts the impressions of life in a quite different way, because they are no longer in orbit around my inner planet, which is the location of my psychology and personality. They fall into the gravity field and enter the center of being, where they add to the mass of being. The confusion that the circulation causes is replaced by a stillness that receives.

This is the place where God lives; it is a place where the kingdom of heaven touches the inner life. On the human level, this place which has an organic connection is called the city of God; and, although it may sound peculiar to you, this location, which forms the center of our being, it is a secret chamber which is not allowed to be opened by ourselves. It forms our Being; but it emanates from God, and even though the impressions that we take in feed the building of that city and affect its  structure, the city does not belong to us. We can become a resident; but we are not and can never be the architect.

For as long as we conceive of ourselves as the architects of our being and the mayor of our city, we increase our arrogance. Even if we do so in a negative way by presuming humility by way of personality, intelligence, in psychology — adopting it as a superficial truth glued to everything we think we are — we are still attempting to create something, rather than inhabit what we are. If we carefully observe the questions we ask in our spiritual search and the way that we present them to one another, maybe we can see how insidious this tendency is. It permeates everything. The organic relationship to life takes a completely different position which is well worth considering from the actual experience, not from a theory about it. Yet the organic relationship to life, which is born from the inflow, the influence of God, must awaken from within on its own. We are not actually able to awaken it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Exactly as it is, part II—A Special Mess

New York Orchid Show, 2018
Bronx Botanical Gardens

One of the assumptions that I seem to hear a great deal from people is that we can become free of our negativity, that we can overcome the mess within ourselves, the turning thought, the monkey mind, the chaos of our lives and our ordinary being. This is actually an aim for most people in spiritual work; one wants to get better, one wants to fix one’s life so that one is deep, contemplative, relaxed, spiritual, wise, insightful, and whole. All of these impulses come from the ordinary part of our being, which desperately sees — if it sees anything first — all the confusing parts which we are told are there. Well, let’s admit it — we already knew they were there anyway, as if we needed Ouspensky or Gurdjieff to tell us about this. But when spiritual teachers tell us we are a mess, suddenly, it’s important. Before they did so, the mess was ordinary — and now it’s a special mess. I can do something with it. What I may be able to do is beside the point — the mess now has more meaning.

Yet in our rush to “understand” Gurdjieff’s point of view — in fact no one but Gurdjieff will ever precisely do that, because he, like everyone else, was an idiot, a unique individual that no one else will perfectly replicate — we forget that the whole point of life is struggle. As I put it to some others a week ago, all of these messy parts within us have a function. Even the mess they are in is part of that function. Without this negativity, without chaos, there is nothing to work against. As I pointed out during that conversation, if we look at what God did with it, we realize that chaos has enormous potential. In relationship to our chaos, we need to become our own gods, struggle with it, and form a universe with laws.

This idea that “a man cannot "do” has a certain truth to it, but again it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One thing that a human being can certainly do is struggle; what we struggle with, if we understand struggle, is our negativity, our opposition. We are all filled with it. An impulse to try and become free of it fails to see the value behind the negativity. If it were not there as a spur, we would never try anything. So we need our negativity as much as anything else; and it is only in seeing it and positioning ourselves against it with intelligent effort and meaningful affirmation, that we generate an inner energy that can help create enough heat to fuse our parts.

That fusion happens organically and naturally if enough struggle takes place; but the struggle cannot just be in the mind. The struggle — which is not exactly a struggle, but a form of acceptance — must take place in all of the parts. There is a field of engagement in the thinking, but there is also a field of engagement in the body and in the emotions. In this field of engagement, which has both inner and outer aspects, I train myself to see my negativity as a fact. In order to do this, I cannot be identified with it; there has to be a separate part that sees the negative polarity in action. That part sets itself against the negativity; and this effort generates the force that is needed to attract reconciling influences to my inner work.

We are not, in other words, meant to become free of anything. We are meant to inhabit life and immerse ourselves in it, everywhere we go, not just in some special place. It’s absolutely critical that we meet life exactly as it is, where it is, as much as possible in order to experience this.

The idea that the only place we encounter an opportunity to come into relationship with a higher energy, an intensified sense of being, and work with others in that state is within our own special spiritual organization is a destructive one which should be wiped out. The “special conditions” we spend so much of our lives wishing for and relying on in order to encounter inner growth are supposed to be a ground for preparation. Not a place we go to to soak up higher energy and then just forget about once we walk out the door. We must make an effort to use our inner energy to be fully engaged in life first, and then go to the special conditions as a touchstone. What we are forgetting is that the real “special conditions” are in our life itself, in the ordinary part of it. Instead we are too often allowing ourselves to become hypnotized by our spiritual organizations.

This all too often may lead to the kind of hypocrisy whereby we profess a love for all mankind, but in reality love only ourselves. It's a trap many individuals who are otherwise sincerely devoted to their religious groups and spiritual practices find at least one foot stuck in. We acquire myopia through our inattention; and we rely on our forms to deliver our results, instead of our intelligence and intuition.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Exactly as it is, part I

There’s a conviction, I think, in nearly every one who pursues a spiritual life that if things were we were different, we would be more spiritually whole. We have an illusion of “progress” in front of us at all times: always, we are deficient, and always, we ought to do better.

I don’t mean to dismiss this urge towards improving ourselves. It’s natural; and there is something about the human character that embeds it deeply in the marrow of our bones. Yet if we really want to see ourselves as we are, it can’t begin with the idea of changing how we are. The dilemma is that the instant we see anything about ourselves, the urge to adjust it arises. We instantly sort what we are into good and bad, desirable and undesirable parts; and this tendency inserts itself into our spiritual practice, the level of attention we have, our frustration with the fact that we are not present to ourselves or our lives, etc. When we observe, and report on it to ourselves and one another, we always seem to see some kind of deficiency. All we seem to see most of the time is a disability of one kind or another.

The two pitfalls here are confirmation bias and self-fulfilling prophecies. Spiritual works generally tend to tell us we are sinful or asleep; and once we begin there, everything we see is colored with those presumptions. If a spiritual work were truly objective and intended to help us see ourselves as we are, to see life exactly as it is, it would not begin by telling us that we are deficient. It would simply ask us to observe. In the Gurdjieff work, because we are told up front we are asleep and don’t attend and don’t have a good inner connection and so on— the premises of the Gurdjieff work are almost entirely founded on this concrete platform — when we begin to look at ourselves, we do so expecting to confirm this. If we encounter information to the contrary, we dismiss it. This may be justified to some extent; but we train ourselves, through shared culture, habit and expectation, in such a way that these impressions are reinforced. We repeat them year after year in meetings and before you know it, they are a mantra.

This is where the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy comes in. If we keep telling ourselves that only the “special conditions” of our spiritual work bring us together in such a way that our inner lives can be more whole and receive a more enriched substance of life, how are we ever going to discover that it is life itself, in all its messy and chaotic variety, that is going to help us enrich our inner lives? We’ve already decided — and announced to everyone else — that the special conditions of our spiritual organization (it could be any organization) are the only conditions in which real growth can take place.

This is a selfish attitude, yet every spiritual organization tends to manifest it. It divides the world into us, and everyone else, and if we are looking for a world that is filled with rich relations with everything and everyone, starting out with a division of that kind is already at fault. We have even divided ourselves inside ourselves, as Jean Salzmann points out:

I seek what I am, to be what I am. I have a habit of thinking of “body," on the one hand, and of "spirit or energy" on the other. But nothing exists separately. There is a unity of life. I wish to live it, and I seek it through a movement of return toward myself. I say there is an outer life and an inner life. I say this because I feel myself as distinct, as existing apart from life. There is, however, only one great life. I cannot feel separate from it, outside it, and at the same time know it. I must feel myself a part of this life.

— Jean Salzmann, The Reality of Being, page 203

Perhaps most importantly, this raises the question if we are even being selfish towards ourselves; a question well worth examining. But the point is that however we decide we are going to see ourselves in advance — and make no mistake about it, any part of ourselves that comes from where we ordinarily are does this, even if it protests that it doesn’t — it becomes a prophecy that fulfills itself. If we see ourselves as spiritually incapable, we will be. This rarely gets discussed in the Gurdjieff work; but if we don’t grow a strong affirming part that makes a good effort under the assumption that we can be more whole, that we do have possibilities, we might as well forget about making any effort. This work was not designed to found itself on a pessimistic attitude. It was designed to struggle against that.

Any attempt to disengage in order to see ourselves has to be a disengagement first from the assumptions; whether negative or positive. And yet our exchanges, both inwardly between our various selves and parts, and outwardly towards others, always engage with the assumptions first and then proceed.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.