Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A Residence for the Soul, Part 4—Working with Instinct

Capital from Villelongue
Photograph by the author

Gurdjieff made several remarks about working with instincts during his wartime meetings:


I have noticed for a long time that very often, and concerning very different matters, an interior voice told me what I had to do. I perceived it, I heard what it said, but without acting on what it told me. I have acted otherwise and afterward I see the voice is always right. I would like to know if I should pay no attention to it
or on the contrary follow it more?


Do nothing about all that. Buy a little notebook, make a record. Write down, but do nothing. That voice is your instinct; sometimes instinct can appear through the consciousness, but it is rare. Perhaps it will prove that you have true instinct.

Wartime Meetings, meeting six

And again,


I understand well the struggle against the negative emotions but what troubles me the most is a very light side of character which jokes even about my very misery. This prevents me remorse and pity. How can I get rid of it?


This proves that you do not know what you are looking for. You interest yourself in these questions without partaking of your instinct. You have said it very well. I understand why you do not advance. I know the secret of why you stamp on the spot, on two, one, two; up to now, your instinct was isolated. It never took part in your work… But you understood what I explained. You have felt that your interior is never interested in these things for which we are working. Something in you remains apart, it looks. Another part in you does something else—you work without instinct. Everything works—head, feeling, except that which must. It has never done anything to change.

Wartime Meetings, meeting seven

And here the third mention of instinct:


…Real love is objective; but in Paris objective love doesn't exist. You have made the word sentiment
for sex, for dirty things; you have forgotten real love.


But must one seek to repress it for the sake of the other?


Regard it as a weakness and put it aside. And at the same time, use it for looking at yourself. Profit from everything. And from instinct you will perhaps be able to feel real love. The taste will perhaps come to you.

 If the rest of the material is at  the very least suggestive, this clinches it. When he uses the word instinct, Gurdjieff is referring to a higher or spiritual part, which can cause us to “feel real love.” That is quite definitely a higher thing within the context of any religious teaching, religious or otherwise. Christ’s love was, after all, real love – and even the most ordinary Christian understands the difference between Christ’s love, which was the love of God Himself, and our own love, which is insignificant and weak.

 In summary, when Gurdjieff speaks of people working with instinct, he is not speaking of the lower or primal instincts — he is speaking of the spiritual instincts. And we have to understand instinct, like all other properties in the universe, especially the Names of God (the metaphysical powers which are bestowed upon creation over and above its material aspects) — as being subject to the law of octaves and an inherent evolutionary development, which was outlined above in the context of the enneagram. (One can also refer to the diagram for a visual impression.) Our instincts are either primal or spiritual — and at any given time, a human being always has a complex balance of these two impulses within themselves. In fact, like all other phenomena, they function according to the multiplications in the law of octaves, so the influences they have upon one another — a blend of higher and lower vibrations in constant and complex interaction — can’t be construed as a simple progression from our primal instincts to our spiritual ones.

The question, rather, is whether we are able to create a preponderance of force in our spiritual instinct, so that it guides our primal instincts in their actions.

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Residence for the Soul, Part 3

Capital from Villelongue
Photograph by the author

 In order to understand the action of personal consciousness and its relationship to awareness, it’s useful to see how many different individual conscious entities — molecules, plants, animals — combine together in communities across the surface of our planet. We can be sure this process is universal, reflected and multiplied throughout the Multiverse. 

Yet there is no need to think on this vast scale in order to understand how this functions; and in fact thinking on the vast scale question is a mistake, because we become attracted to it and draws us away from its reflection in the mirror, which takes place in us and is right here where we live within ourselves. The human mind loves to stare up at the stars, so to speak, while stumbling around and tripping over every object around it.

 The impressions that we take in at any given are enormously complex; it would be quite literally impossible to trace out the sum total of all the molecular ignitions and neurological registrations that take place in one nano second as an impression enters the human body, and there are many millions — probably trillions, all taken together, because every molecular neurological event is an impression on a tiny scale.  Multiply this by one second, and there are trillions of trillions; multiply by a minute or hour, and one organism is taking in so many impressions, recording so many molecular relationships, that there is no computer anywhere, no algorithm writable, that can keep track of all of it. (Then we need to multiply it by the number of independent organisms, of course,  both within us and outside of us, and so on. You see the staggering nature of it from this perspective.)

Fortunately, we reduce the sum total of our impressions to a more manageable set of experiences; yet it is still a vast array of information. Awareness is designed to sort through all of this and craft what we call the experience of Being. Yet Being has a number of different levels or depths. The superficial level is always lived according to the gross implications of impressions and their relationship to food, sex, and survival. It’s safe to say that life begins there, and need go no further if one isn’t interested. Yet impressions, clearly, have the capacity to evolve in much more sophisticated, nuanced, and interesting ways; they can go beyond the instincts of the animal and into the engendering of the soul, a subject have covered many times in my books about religious iconography of the Middle Ages. It is this movement within that goes past the animal and into be human we are interested, because all of that depends on the way in which Being is engendered (inseminated and born) by our impressions and the way they form relationships within us. Gurdjieff was profoundly interested in this question; yet very little time is spent, comparatively, discussing this specific aspect of his teaching.

My impressions form a complex network within me; and yet they can’t “speak” to me unless they are connected to one another by association. These associations can be crude, in which each one of them derives its force from the primal instincts (food, sex, survival) or they can form a set of associations of greater refinement that relate to spiritual instincts. In order to understand the relationship between these two sets of associative fibers, we need to understand the primal instincts in the following manner:

 Food =  materiality (physical properties)
Sex = desire (emotional properties)
Survival = power (intellectual properties)

 This is where we generally find ourselves in terms of both the impressions we receive from moment to moment in daily life, and in terms of the way we draw our associations together in a web that grows over the course of our life.

 The spiritual instincts are quite different, and function as follows:

Community = Being (higher physical properties)
Justice = Purification (higher emotional properties)
Mercy = Wisdom (higher intellectual properties)

In this context, the word “higher” means, higher rate of vibration. So if impressions acquire a deeper network of inward relationship, they vibrate with more intensity — that is, they are able to exchange information more quickly and in more complex ways. This is pretty straightforward — I doubt anyone would argue that such a thing isn’t possible. External human behaviors alone, let alone intellectual achievements, demonstrate that faster information exchange can result in improved performance of many kinds. The difference here is that we are not looking at “improved performance” as a goal for material gain, as it is usually viewed in the outer world, but as a state of existence within consciousness — that is, a heightened awareness. And that awareness itself is quite different than rote consciousness alone, which of itself is a property assignable to almost everything that has an action in the created universe.

 Our soul, our awareness, exists within the realm of this residence of consciousness; and it is a fragment of God’s own awareness. Much of what Christ said in the brief passage quoted from John is related to the growth of this seed of God’s own awareness within us; and this is where we find ourselves if we operate according to our spiritual, rather than our primal, instincts.

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Residence for the Soul, Part 2

Capital from Villelongue
Photograph by the author

Here we reach a critical point about who we are. 

Impressions flow into us constantly, and if we are not aware of ourselves, this conscious action, which is the coarse material of consciousness, cannot be refined into a greater understanding of Being. 

That only takes place if all three of our parts participate in the flow of impressions, both inwardly and outwardly. So when we think of Christ as the one that prepares a place for us, we could think of him in terms of the holy Trinity: thinking, sensing, feeling. Christ is a whole man. Christ is not an event that took place in the past for historical personage in this sense; Christ is an immediate force that dwells within us now. 
 We forget the immediacy of this action. In fact, we are so glued to literal interpretations of biblical psychospiritual teachings — so “sophisticated” in our own supposedly “thinking” — that we overlook the immediate question of consciousness as a residence for Being, and the three centered force that can potentially help us become aware of it. I think that the peoples, both secular and ecclesiastic, of the middle ages had a much more accepting attitude towards Christ as a force that is active within us now, rather than an invoked abstraction.

 Consciousness, in this sense, is a place where the soul lives, and that place ought to be a comfortable place for our awareness to rest. As with home invasion, forced entry will not bring good results; we cannot cheat or argue our way into a home we wish to live in. Perhaps one can rent or buy; but one has to gather enough money to make a down payment. There is the outside chance that we will just be invited in, but counting on anything for free is a mistake. We are to approach this residence which is offered to us with great respect, understanding its value, and cherishing the opportunity to be within it; because if we handle this properly, it is a safe place to live.

 Readers are encouraged to think about Matthew 7, in which Christ lists a set of behaviors which are, each of them, actions of awareness— a capacity to intelligently weigh one’s position and action in light of truth— and then likens it to building one’s house “upon a rock.” The point is that the parts we are given within, the Trinity of intelligence, sensation, and feeling, have the capacity to create a residence for the soul which is safe — built on a rock. 
The rains come in with them floods, the wind speed upon the house, but it stands. These are clearly references to Meister Eckhart’s Gleichgültigkeit— all things being equal. Consciousness experiences all of the slings and arrows of life, yet with awareness comes an indifference to them: the capacity to remain within one’s residence in safety, no matter how much the outer world may batter us.

 It may seem like a reach to claim that our impressions and memories can blend in such a way to create a place of this kind; yet the fact is that the “coarse”materials of our being, all of the impressions and memories we have taken over the course of a lifetime, have the capacity to undergo a refinement, a distillation, whereby they grow a set of inner rootlets or tendrils which are of very quality indeed, so fine that the forces that connect them are actually vibrations of a molecular nature. As this network of awareness grows within Being, we discover that what we thought was consciousness is merely a place where our true Being lives.

 What that true Being consists of is a question for further exploration.

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Residence for the Soul, part 1: Many Mansions

Photograph by the author

In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 

—King James Bible, John 14: 2,3

 I’ve been interested, over the last week or so, about how impressions blend within us in order to create what we call our Being.

 This is a cumulative process that follows us over a lifetime; and yet, at any given instant, I think we generally fail to sense the totality of impressions that are coming in,  and the way that they blend with everything that has already happened.  In each moment, consciousness consists of this and only this; to argue about whether it actually “exists” or not is a moot point. We inhabit consciousness; it is a residence for the soul. 

It’s not a thing, it’s a place: it’s where we are.

 Perhaps it seems strange to refer to this sense of ourselves as a place that we live, rather than what we are. Yet this was precisely what Christ meant when he said, “my father’s house has many mansions.”   The idea of awareness of the soul is presented as a residence here: and it is presented as a very personal residence, a house. A house is, traditionally, a place inhabited by a family or small group of people. The word is intentionally used here, because it implies a very personal residence: a place of personhood.

 Yet in this deceptively simple text, an expansive proposition.  This “house,” which is God’s personal dwelling place, has many mansions.  Consciousness, the residence for the soul, is thus likened to a large, impressive residence; it has the capacity to contain many persons. Here we are introduced to multiple metaphysical concepts in a single phrase. The most important of them is, out of many, one. The “many mansions” are the astonishing varieties of consciousness which arise throughout the Megalocosmos — what Gurdjieff called the Multiverse. All of them are part of the great unity of Being within God, which occupies the “house,” the very personal place — as Swedenborg would’ve explained it — which is God’s very own Being.

In this passage from John, Christ goes to “prepare a place” for us. In other words, Christ is a mediating force (again, a person, that is, a personal force with its own unique identity) who has both the authority and the ability to enter this residence of consciousness—the Father’s “house,” God’s own personal consciousness— and prepare a place, that is, open up a mansion, a vast place for residence, so that we may enter. By receiving us into himself, we are invited to take up residence in this place of consciousness: and the consciousness is distinct from what we are, because our identity is, in a mystery that can only be probed through experience, not just consciousness itself, but that greater force of awareness which  is not of consciousness but perceives through consciousness.

 This, of course, is a relatively overwhelming scale of concept. Yet we cannot grasp the action of our own impressions, the way they blend, and how we experience our own awareness and consciousness (two different things) unless we appreciate the action of our inward impressions of life. 

In this place, we inhabit the mansion: only we aren’t aware of it. The mansion has countless rooms (memories of past impressions and their consequent associations, combined with our impressions of now) which blend together to create an entire “mansion” which we reside in. The Biblical distinction between awareness and consciousness is covered in many parables about the Lord of the house and its servants; it is an unusually (for any age) sophisticated psychological teaching about the nature of impressions and the way that they function. Our impressions and associations, our memories of our lives and the events and people in them, are, in this analogy “servants;” they form a collective body of many different beings, awarenesses—what Gurdjieff would have called “I’s”—that inhabit this mansion.

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Go Out and Live, Part 4—To See Reality

Photograph by the author

 I understand that this has become what appears to be a complex scientific and philosophical discourse; yet the point that I made in the beginning— manifest your work within, then go out and live— is an entirely practical action, not based on an intellectual structure or plan. 

It is, rather, based on a robust intelligence rooted in the body which has a practical and uncompromising willingness to show up for what happens regardless of my fears and attitudes about it, and engage. This is a messy process which does not, I discover, conform to my lofty spiritual principles and the imaginary ideas I have about what a good (or bad) person I am and all the abilities I do or don’t have. It doesn’t conform, in fact, to anything I suppose; the only thing it conforms to is itself, and it is a continual manifestation of truth which I must put myself in front of.

 Gurdjieff was interested in helping us to understand how to see reality; and the seeing of reality is all about manifesting the work within ourselves, perceiving and participating in this world of impressions which we ingest, making it our own from a practical point of view with more than just our minds, and then taking that experience and the very solid basis of living that we form within ourselves out into life so that we can encounter it, as he would have said, “objectively.”

 It is possible, by digesting one’s impressions thoroughly enough, to begin to form a solid basis of being, a more concrete platform for experience, that you carry through your life at all times. This part of yourself, which is more thoroughly integrated (inwardly connected by those innumerable tiny routes I described earlier) has the capacity to remain stable and receive impressions through all three centers even while the ordinary psyche, which retains its flighty habits, does its usual job of attempting to navigate through life, often with a hint of egoistic desperation. I am not going to get rid of that part, so I might as well make friends with it, and, like a patient parent, attempt to counsel it as it gets buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

 I bring this question up because we must understand that we need to form this more durable part of ourselves; and we cannot do this without a much deeper perception of how our various parts take the world around us in, and the cooperative nature of their enterprise. We are, as my personal business card states, “supervisors of various engines of creation.” This means that our intelligence ( by this word I do not mean our intellect alone, but our entire psychospiritual Being) has to be poised within us to perceive all of the creative actions that take place, both within ourselves and within others, in the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that arise around us. In doing so, we will surely discover how inadequate we are; and yet we will also discover that a great deal of growth is possible.
 Forming this durable part allows me to maintain an anchor that guides me through this process, a place that I can return to at any time when I begin to forget that in the end, it is only the action of my Being that provides a reliable foundation and basis for life itself. Eventually, of course, I will see that this Being does not truly belong to me, but I simply have the privilege of participating in its action, which is much larger than my individual manifestation; and, in a mystery and paradox that cannot be explained in any verbal manner, I will equally see that I must become more responsible for my individual manifestation within this context — even though I do not belong to myself or to anything or anyone but God, I still have a responsibility to be within what Gurdjieff called “I am.” 

That “I am" is a community and a set of relationships, a dynamic environment of experience, intelligence, and obedience. 

Without those features, there is no “I.”  

Without the formation of a more durable part that receives, none of these perceptions are much of anything more than a theoretical construct which I think might help me in life.

—Part 4 of an essay written November 18, 2018, Sparkill, NY

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Go Out and Live, Part 3— a Single Action of Being

 Photograph by the author

As the parts of me that are able to perceive life in a more complete manner begin to cooperate more fully, I see the peculiar and extraordinary way in which impressions form inner tendrils that connect themselves to one another within me, in much the same way that fungi form mycorrhizae (innumerable tiny threadlike rootlets.) These rootlets— which can actually be physically sensed at times, a fascinating experience — connect the elements of my being, the totality of my physical, intellectual, and emotional impressions, in a single network that supports the existence and function of my psyche. I begin to see more specifically that the fragments of my impressions can be gathered together into greater wholes. What is perhaps even more interesting is how so many different wildly disparate impressions of life, which involve every single aspect of the many worlds we inhabit, come together in a single action of being. 

 The manifestation of the work within me, the way that it arises within the inner darkness of my own Being (actually a Being of countless much tinier creatures, which I supervise) relies on how soundly I digest my impressions by the work of the three different faculties which receive them, and how well they integrate themselves with one another. The more fully integrated they are, the more food I receive, and the healthier my psyche is. So it’s my responsibility to become more sensitive, more aware, more intelligent, more obedient to this process in order to see how I am and what my life really means.

 This idea of a single action of being, which has become its own thread of discourse in my examinations of life, is the purpose of my inner work. That is only a beginning premise; because the single action of being by itself only matters in a relationship, and, just like the bacteria on the floor of the ocean, or the centers I have which come into relationship with one another, it is only in the coming into relationship with others that I can contribute the elements of Being that they do not have to their support in life; and that they can do the same for me. In this way, it’s possible to see that all communities and relationships are built on the same premise of supporting one another so that we make up for the lack that the other has, understanding that they will do the same for us (we hope) so that all of us benefit in supporting our efforts to live responsibly and with an intelligence and love towards one another that helps us feed ourselves both individually and as a community.

 This was what Gurdjieff called the law of reciprocal feeding; and if we study biology carefully, we can see the way in which the material universe and all of creation is structured in a manner to support the development of the psyche, the spirit and the soul, to a very subtle kind of reciprocal feeding which, though it may have its roots in the material world, provides a molecular path for the evolution of the spiritual within the conscious range of living beings.

—Part 3 of an essay written November 18, 2018, Sparkill, NY

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Go out and Live, Part 2—An Intelligent Partnership

Photograph by the author

Neal and I had Sylvia over last night and the three of us had an extended exchange over dinner about the nature of our work. 

 While we were speaking, I tried to explain the experience of how I meet each new impression and see how it deposits material within each of the centers. While doing so, I had occasion to work for up to an article in the latest scientific American called “Team Players” by Jeffrey Marlow and Roger Braakman. Now, I realize that few of you have a digital subscription (or any subscription at all) to scientific American, so I’ll briefly describe the article. It is complex, so be a bit patient.

 Vast amounts of methane gas and sulfate perpetually seep up into the ocean from beneath the seabed. A great deal more of this greenhouse gas ought to reach the Earth’s atmosphere than ever does; scientists have been aware since the 1980s that the methane and sulfate disappear somehow, but no one understood why. In the early 2000’s, it was understood that several different kinds of microbes were digesting these substances, anaerobically oxidizing the methane. They were eating about 80% of the methane and sulfate seeping up into ocean water, creating massive Carbonate mounds.

 What has become apparent over the last few years, through some highly technical sleuthing, is that there are a number of bacteria engaged in this activity, and that each one of them in the complex partnership functionally lacks some of the genetic material required to do the essential tasks. They rely on their partners, who do have that genetic material, to support one end of the function, without which they could not survive. In order to achieve their tasks and live, in other words, these various bacteria, which are distinctly different species, must completely rely on a community of others who “speak” completely different languages when they do, which have completely different capacities for living.  Only their relationship to one another keeps them alive; and each one of them, strangers though they are to one another, contributes something absolutely essential to the process:

"The newly discovered cells' genomes often lack the ability to make all the amino acids needed to build their protein or the nucleotides for constructing their DNA, suggesting they acquire these building blocks from neighboring cells with a surplus. These communities also appear to extract energy from the environment through a collective process: individual cells perform certain chemical conversions and pass the product down the chain to other cells for subsequent reactions.
—ibid, see above link.

 This is very much like the way my centers operate in relationship to one another. Each one of them is absolute essential to the process of living, and each one of them contributes an extraordinarily vital part of the impressions that I take in about the world. When a single impression comes in, it is a food. 

But alone, no one center has the ability (the “genetic material”) that’s needed to digest this food. Like the bacteria described in the article,  functionally unable to support itself and live without the abilities and work of its partners. It can contribute at best one-third of the essential process needed to understand the impression and help it feed me more deeply; but anyone center is completely lacking in the capacity of its two other partners to perceive (contribute to the digestion of) that same impression. 

They must cooperate in order for me to think, sense, and feel my relationship to each impression as it comes in. 

This arrangement, this deeply complex community of relationships, is what keeps me alive and allows me to digest my life. Yet I don’t understand the fact; and I certainly don’t understand that the universe is arranged in this way from top to bottom. The bacteria in the seabed, in other words, have a lesson to teach me if I want to learn something from them.

Describing it to Sylvia and Neal last night, I attempted to explain how my intellect perceives an impression one way and it answers me, sinking down deep within my being. Yet my sensation appreciates that impression in a quite different way, bringing it into me through a quite different neural network and depositing its material in yet another location; and my feeling appreciates it in yet a third subtle and intelligently nuanced manner, depositing the material throughout the body in a third way.

 What all of this means is that when an impression flows into me, in order to be digested, the various parts need to fully cooperate so that each one of them provides the vital intelligence of its own perceptual ability to the understanding of that impression of life. Now, I fully understand that this is difficult to comprehend, even intellectually — which is why the experiential tools of sensation and feeling need to participate even here.

Generally speaking, impressions flowing to me in a very fragmented way, and I tend to take in an impression quite clearly with one center but not the others. It’s a fractured world of perception; yet perceptions can be much more whole and to be deposited much more deeply if all three parts are participating, and it is absolutely inevitable that my entire experience of life will change if the way that I take impressions in changes. 

—Part 2 of an essay written November 18, 2018, Sparkill, NY

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Go out and Live, Part 1- Manifest Your Work Within

Fence at a ruined abbey near Canigou
Photograph by the author

Manifest your work within—and go out and live.

 This is the definite aim, in the external sense, of our inner work. The aim is not to sit in discussion groups, or conceal my relationship to life itself within the darkness and relative safety of a meditation practice. The aim is not to be part of an organization that makes my spiritual search safe for me, surrounded by like-minded persons who will agree with most of what I say.

 The aim is to become a human being with a whole experience of one’s inner and outer life, to breathe that in and out during every possible moment through the faculties of intellect, sensation, and feeling, and own that capacity as a fundamental premise of life which takes place without believing in all of my assumptions and predisposed attitudes.

 Beginning there, where I have the capacity and intention to live, a willingness to be in my ordinary life as it is— and a willingness to doubt myself, whatever I may think I am— I go out to life, that ordinary place that isn’t safe, where people don’t agree with me, and I have no idea what will happen next.

 Out there (right here, right now) I inhabit life as it is. I try not to construct arguments with it. (I will, but I try as best I can to listen to them.) 

I make an effort to remember that I am here and that most of what I think up is questionable. 

I  make an effort to remember that I am here and most of my reactions are carefully thought out and deserve more of my attention.

 Above all, I am trying to live. To inhabit life, to inhabit the experience of it, to understand myself as a resident of this moment, and not just a resident, but the one who perceives creation within it. Both the creation of all that takes place, and the creation of the perception of it. This is a humbling experience, because I realize none of this could possibly have much of anything to do with me as I am; forces much more complex and greater than my own awareness are at work all around me, and I ought to be intelligent enough to see that, and obedient enough to submit to it. Any presumption I have that this is about me is faulty from the beginning, though that is the presumption I always have about everything,

 Especially my inner work.

—Part 1 of an essay written November 18, 2018, Sparkill, NY

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

It's likely I'm Wrong

Well, people think they are really important. 

Really, we all do.

This despite the fact that one can walk down the street in (for example) New York City on any given day at all and pass literally thousands of people, all of whom are of more or less the same importance. 

On this level, nothing can actually be of any greater importance that what this level allows. The most powerful human (materially or spiritually) can never be more than human; everyone puts their pants on one leg at at time; everyone eats pizza of about the same quality.

Everyone dies.

In the midst of these established and inescapable facts—which most folk assiduously ignore for as long as possible, perhaps even an entire lifetime, up to the last breath—we live

We live inflated by self-importance and delusion. We live without regard for any real potential, because we are living according to a set of personalized rules that have nothing to do with the facts. We all think we are entitled, in this area, to our own facts.

This brings me to a remark Gurdjieff made to some of the members of the Rope:

Moreover, I tell in objective sense I not complete objective mentation have. I not yet complete initiate. There are many thousands complete men on earth; not in the world, but on earth. I still have far to go.

So much, I would think, for our impression of Gurdjieff as some kind of completed Being. 

Initiation is not something accomplished in a single action; it’s an evolutionary process. Initiation takes place in increments—usually one tiny grain of truth and inward Being at a time. One can get lucky—but don't ever count on it.

One wonders, perhaps, what Gurdjieff meant by complete. What is certain is, we are not. Yet in any given moment we experience ourselves as ”complete”—as capable, as though we have ability of one kind or another. 

Yet under any objective set of observations and principles, our imperfections stand out—and it is a sign of the true initiate that as often as possible, one ought to see these faults first and always, and keep them in front of oneself as advisors in every situation within ordinary life:

Here I am. 

It’s likely I'm wrong in this moment, wrong about something I cannot quite see and which I probably don’t want to see.

Hence I ought, as Dogen used to say to his acolytes, to respectfully take good care about how I behave.  

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A New and Different Kind of Depth

Photograph by the author

There needs to be a new and different kind of depth within.

So much of what we engage in isn’t received at all by our inner parts; our impressions flow through us and create reactions, but they don’t deposit any durable substance of Being within us. Lacking that, we aren’t even aware of the problem; our superficiality seems normal, and even begins to appear to be a benefit of some kind, because it fosters and feeds our selfishness and allows us to even more easily lack consideration of other people—as if we weren't good enough at that already.

I wonder, as much on my own behalf as for anyone else, how much we see that. 

It needs to be experienced as a fact and a truth, and not merely confronted using the intellect, which nods very sagely when it hears about the matter, but otherwise does little. The effort that’s needed to change any of this is much more visceral and physical. It involves leverage provided by the sensation and the feeling, either one of which actually has some strength and sinew to it—if only it were awake to the need.

Instead, folks use their minds and their mechanical parts to leverage almost everything they have to deal with in life. No one sits down within their bodies and their feelings to truly sense how they are; they just sit down inside their minds and think about how they ought to do this. What needs to be seen is that the mind that’s capable of real insight is made of a different kind of material—has a different level of vibration—than the mind of the intellect. The intellect is a professional at fantasy.

Of course you read this and think you understand what it means. Maybe you do, even a little bit. But in all likelihood what you have within you is for the most part an acquired and constructed understanding: an understanding acquired from others , not gleaned from the hard work of your own inspected and related inwardness. It’s an understanding which is furthermore constructed from bits and pieces you’ve picked up from here, there and everywhere and glued to yourself like the bits of shell a hermit crab disguises herself with so she can scuttle across the sea floor without being eaten.   

One has to do better than this. And in order to do that the bits and pieces have to be discarded—admittedly at great risk, because the soft parts will then be exposed—so that what is true within you can be seen.

You have to develop an understanding which first of all belongs exclusively to yourself, not what others have told you; and secondly, is rooted in the organic sensation of your Being in such a way that it becomes a single whole thing, not a patchwork of ideas you’ve stuck together willy-nilly all over your psyche in a manner that suits your own tastes.

This requires adoption of a form with some real demands; it can’t be a touchy-feeling practice of new and strictly personalized invention. One needs to be a member of a tradition.

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.