Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Resolution and Being, part II

Cloisters, Abbey of St. Hilaire

In some way, subtle and difficult to define, with every future event that my being forecasts and imagines, there is a belief in resolution –that is, I believe a satisfactory ending for that particular imaginary situation can be reached.

The situation’s even more complex than that, because my imagination forecasts both things that will definitely happen (unless I die) such as eating a meal, or getting home safely and going to bed, and things that almost definitely won’t happen, such as winning the lottery, and so on. 

My imagination, in other words, has the capacity and the habit of forecasting both the possible and the impossible; and unless I have sufficient awareness to discriminate between the two, it’s likely to confuse me, sometimes in disastrous ways

And what's the function of this “imagination?” Well, it serves as an agent for resolution; that is to say, it prepares me to make decisions and take actions that will lead to resolutions in the sense of solutions, answers to questions. 

So I have a psychic function, which uses both intellectual, emotive, and physical elements of Being, that is designed to serve resolution. This particular capacity relates especially to the physical life of the body, and ordinary requirements for being, such as getting food, forming relationships, reproducing children, and so on. All of these various actions require intermittent resolution of one kind or another– some frequently, some only a few times during a life, but there’s always an underlying—and perhaps overbearing—aim and goal. 

And there’s always this presumption that things can be resolved, that is, something which is imagined can be attained. That attainment, furthermore, is always viewed as a form of ending, because it answers the two main questions posed by the imagination– what will happen, and what do I do about it?

The imagination is a creature that takes on its own life. It frequently operates without any direction (this is BTW the source of inward creative function) and it produces all kinds of material which may continue to repetitively churn itself out long after its purpose has already been served. (Obsessive-compulsive disorders center around this mechanical activity of the imagination. Everyone has some features of this disorder, but in a self-serving action of denial, society only tips its hat to the most obvious clinical manifestations.) 

This part has a great power, because it helps to drive life forward; and in the absence of any awareness about that power or the function itself, it can take over my life. I need, in other words, enough force of Being to not live in my dreams and my imagination. This is worth examining more, because it is strongly connected with Gurdjieff’s teachings about sleep.

Before I move on to the personal psychic consequences of this belief in resolution, I just want to point out how strongly our literary and mythical arts are connected to the idea. Speaking as an editor, I’ve pointed out many times that what is satisfying in storytelling, drama, mythology is the laying out of conflict and the achievement of resolution. Story lines that don't follow this very broad requirement are somehow deeply unsatisfying; and no matter how the modern world has attempted to divorce itself from this trajectory by creating fashionable open-ended stories that begin nowhere, stay nowhere, and go nowhere—all with much sound and fury—storylines without a resolution always seem to ultimately fail. Compare high-quality productions that ultimately go nowhere, such as HBO's The Sopranos, with its repetitive resolution of small stories without any true resolution to the whole series, to Breaking Bad, which follows a relentless downward slide into disaster. Breaking Bad’s trajectory, negative though it is, finds a fair portion of its genius in achieving the resolution that The Sopranos never quite finds. 

It is going somewhere

It ends

Existentialism alone turns out to be a very weak partner in dramatic contests: it's too one centered, too intellectual. From a certain perverse point of view, with human beings, we sense it is better to end badly than to never end at all. 

Perhaps this peculiar and inverted understanding of meaning is what leads to so many apparently senseless acts of violence. We want our myths –our stories about what life means –to be resolved. The satisfaction we seek is a highly emotional one: its source, in other words, lies beyond mere existence, in a realm that can't be defined by facts alone.

More often than not, the most satisfying stories – and these are the ones that overwhelmingly prevail in literature and the arts–are the ones where good triumphs over evil. There is something so deeply satisfying about this that it's difficult to explain using conventional psychology. The soul of mankind itself has a wish for this kind of resolution: that the better thing will happen. The fact that the better thing is all too often profoundly subjective hardly matters; and cultures form their identities around agreement on what the better thing is, which is part of the whole point of myth in the first place.

Wishing you good on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Resolution and Being, part I

Menhir of Conozoules

I was driving across town last Wednesday night, headed towards the Gurdjieff Foundation. If New York City is the heart of the universe on earth, The Gurdjieff Foundation is at the heart of New York: an open secret, a place of intentional stillness at the heart of the great city where everything pauses, where the silence of the soul quietly makes itself heard.

How can I describe these December evenings, which contain perfections too sublime to measure? One drives through Central Park, stone walls looming up on either side, the bright lights of the city glittering like stars through the bare branches of the trees… it's always an experience filled with atmosphere and mystery, a bubble in the midst of time between places.

East side, West side. 
Job, Gurdjieff work. 

A moment of suspension. Eternity defined not by its expanse, but by its limitations.

This time around, however, for a moment a different dimension opened around me. Everything that could possibly be was in this dimension, all of it in movement, somehow simultaneously compressed into a single instant— and also opening expansively throughout time and space, as if it included, with ease, the entire nature of the universe. 

I don't like to use overblown phrases like that, but it seems necessary in order to describe just how deep and wide this dimension of existence was.

In this single instant, I had the distinct impression that nothing could be resolved. Not just in this one moment, but ever. This was a doorway into another universe, a comprehensive dimension of existence and understanding that opened for one nanosecond and then closed again: but within it were all things.

In order to explore this moment in more detail, I resolved to take a look at what the word resolution means in the first place. I did so; and I was surprised. So, etymology first, and other  impressions afterwards.

The word resolution quite literally means, in its own right,"re– solution," in the sense of something that is dissolved, broken into parts. It derives from the past participle in Latin resolvere; and that, in turn, is related to the Latin solvere, which also means to disperse, dissipate, and loosen. Hence we have a word which means, in English, to find an answer to (solve) or wrap up (resolve)– both implying a bringing together of various disparate elements into a whole—which had a nearly opposite meaning at one time.

We can reconcile the apparent contradiction by understanding that if we take many different elements, let's say, different soluble powders, and put them together in water–a solution – they are unified. They become whole in a new way. Yet the word resolve is far more complex than just that; it evokes many questions about just what we actually mean when we use it.

It's an unusually rich word. Running through the definitions in the Oxford English dictionary, we discover the following meanings:

1. To melt or dissolve, reduce to a liquid or fluid state.
2. To disintegrate, to break up, separate into constituent or elementary parts.
3. To soften. To disperse or dissipate.
4. To slacken or relax, as in the limbs.
5. To cause to pass away.
6. To separate a thing into its component parts.
7. To reduce by fundamental analysis into more elementary forms principles or relations.
8. To pass into another form or into simpler forms.
9. To reduce, transform, or change to something else.
10. To untie or loosen.
11. To answer or to solve, as a question or argument.
12. To remove, clear away, or dispel– for example,  as in doubt
13. To decide, to determine what's up.
14. To determine or decide upon.
15. To free from thought complexity; to bring certainty, clear understanding.

The way that I conceived of the word’s meaning on Wednesday night related to the idea of solving problems, of reaching an end to things. An ending in which things are explained, in which satisfactory answers are found, in which loose ends are tied up and one finally knows or understands something. 

In order to attempt to get to the bottom of that, allow me to explain a little further.

There’s something in me that thinks, with all of my being, within all of everything that is happening to me, that the various situations in life can be resolved. I’ll get the merchandise I am manufacturing shipped; I’ll make the money I hope to make; I’ll have the conversations I want to have, feel the feelings that are satisfying, eat a good meal that is properly cooked. 

In a nutshell—I’ll get the girl. 

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Tissue of Awareness

Photograph by the author

Eventually, the awareness of sensation begins to form substances within the physical body that are of the physical body but bring new organic capacities to it.

The awareness of sensation is connected to the development of the astral body; but without getting into the metaphysical principles here, which are admittedly important, one needs to discuss the function what else sensation can help take place. 

Practical matters.

We all know that we have three centers – at least, those of us who have study this question seriously have eventually developed some capacity for understanding how we dwell within one of the three centers most of the time; and perhaps we have even developed a capacity that can see each of their operations separately.

Sensation helps to grow a tissue within the human body that connects the centers. That tissue is a physical thing, a new and different network of neurology that consists not just of physical nerves, but roots that grow through the body. 

And what, you might ask, do we need these supposed roots for?

These roots are quite physical things, energetic pathways that form between the centers. The tissue is a connective entity that allows the centers to communicate with one another in a quite different way. When Gurdjieff speaks of the idea that the three centers come together to form a fourth entity, he is absolutely correct: and yet what he doesn't explain is that this entity can't form or exist without the connective tissue that allows them to coexist as equal awareness is.

Some readers of this piece, even experienced students of the Gurdjieff method, may argue that one can't actually see the differences between the centers or be precisely aware of them, and so on. I had an highly experienced friend tell me recently that all this was subjective and that we're just making it up. (!)

If you're having this reaction, your work on the question has been theoretical so far and you need to throw away everything you understand and start over. Or just leave the Gurdjieff work; it has done and can perhaps do little for you. You're possibly better off somewhere else, perhaps a Zen practice or whatnot.  And may God truly bless that new effort.

There is nothing theoretical about this question; and unless one has a truly three-centered experience, one doesn't at all understand what the function of an awareness of sensation and an awareness of feeling bring to the table. 

These two particular awarenesses are essential functions of the beginning of Gurdjieff’s intentions for us; and nothing that is truly awake or aware or conscious ever takes place in a us unless the active awareness of these two other centers begins to participate.

Even after the active awareness of sensation begins to participate in a voluntary way in the action of Being, and feeling begins to enter, the growth of any substantial amount of connective tissue between the centers takes many years. There may be ways to accelerate it; but one always runs the risk, when doing that, that the tissue will not form in a harmonious way. It is a quite delicate thing and it needs time to grow and form the right connections between the parts. There are 10,000 different ways this can go wrong. The best way to approach it is to engage in a gentle, intimate, and attentive inward work over many years and allow this particular capacity for conductivity to grow naturally. It has a much better understanding of the way to connect the centers than any theoretician, guru, or Yogi can bring, because it is inherently intelligent in its own right.

When I say that this connective tissue is composed of roots, I mean it quite literally. Once these roots are properly developed, they become an integral part of organic sensation. There is no need to search for them or attempt to invoke them; they’re as natural to the action of awareness as roots are to a plant. The analogies with the natural world of plants are nearly endless, because as they form, they form symbiotic relationships with the essential components of inner awareness, incl. molecular awareness, in the same way that plants form relationships with bacteria and fungi. 

These relationships become sustaining forces in the growth of Being. In the same way, they draw the water of awareness upwards into the centers, feeding them with substances that help them to grow, to spread their leaves, and to blossom. 

This is just a description of the physical process. The connective tissue I speak of is an energetic entity that also helps to inwardly form all of our psychic and spiritual life. It makes contact with all of our memories and begins to weave our inner life and all that we have ever been together into a single whole through the network it creates. The energy of our Being begins to flow along these roots and weave our inward life together in exactly the same way that piece of fabric is woven. 

We begin to inhabit ourselves –this fabric is something that we wear to clothe our psyche, but we wear it inwardly. We begin to see that the the Emperor with no clothes was always an inward entity in the first place, not an outer one; and that what was always lacking in the first place was this connective tissue, which is not an entity in its own right, but a means of communication between the parts.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The critique of the three parts

Photograph by the author

Gurdjieff explains, in Beelzebub, how the three primary forces of the universe begin to “criticize” one another when under the influence of the emanations of the most holy sun absolute, or other suns.

This may sound like an obscure cosmological concept that needs no further examination from the perspective of our level, but that isn't the case at all. The important point to consider here is that he was giving us an analogy between cosmological principles and the function of the three centers as we understand them; that is, the ability of each of the centers to function as an independent entity, with a fully conscious and functional mind of its own, and the ability to criticize the actions of the other two centers.

If one doesn't have a practical understanding of how this function operates, one can't possibly understand any of the premises of Gurdjieff's work from anything but an intellectual point of view; and that by itself is entirely deficient and insufficient, because although it can know a very great deal about Gurdjieff's work, it cannot understand it properly.

First of all, we need to understand that the intelligence of sensation and the intelligence of emotion are entirely whole and functional intelligences which are quite different than that of the intellect. The intellect is functionally unable to take either of these two roles on and perform it effectively. 

Secondly, we need to think about what it means to criticize. This means, in its overall context, the ability to observe and evaluate. Not to find fault with; although that could certainly become part of the process of evaluation. 

So we need to understand that only speak of observing ourselves, we can't just think of observing ourselves from the perspective of a single whole “I” which observes all the parts; we have to first consider the idea that each of the parts is a whole "I" in its own right, with the capacity to observe and evaluate the function of the other two parts.

What this means is that I need to see and evaluate the functions of my intelligence and my feeling with the awakened capacity of sensation; I need to see and evaluate my sensation and my intelligence from the awakened capacity of feeling; I need to see and evaluate my feeling and my sensation from the awakened capacities of intelligence.

These awakened capacities are not just what is call "conscious;" they are aware — that is, they function within a field of watchfulness that's quite different than just knowing and being conscious.

Once again, it's necessary to understand these intelligences and the way in which they function by living within them—living within the awakened capacity of these parts. Although this is certainly a fragmentary experience at the beginning of anyone's inward work, it can eventually become a more powerful influence. Then we begin to see not just that our awakened sensation anchors our Being; we also begin to observe from within it, to (for example) truly see the mind and the feeling as independent entities from the perspective of the sensation which we inhabit.

This can also be done with the feeling; if it arrives—a special condition under most circumstances—it, as well, can see and sense and watch the other two parts, intellect and sensation, from within its own capacity

So my awareness has this threefold action; and I need to learn exactly how that functions and understand that before I presume to think that I "know" this or that, or that I "understand" this or that. If these capacities become aware, I discover that I probably don't know anything; and I probably don't understand much of anything either. The three faculties, acting in a concert of awareness and critique, balance one another in such a way that it tends to put us into a state that the Gurdjieff work conventionally calls "question."

Now, perhaps we ask ourselves, what's that all about

It could well be that our understanding of these various capacities as awakened and aware entities in their own right is relatively weak, or merely just a concept that we have absorbed and attempted to digest with our intellectual parts. 

So there needs to be an effort to become much more sensitive within and acquire a better understanding of this which is based in practice and not just through our theories.

I think that part of the issue here is that the mind thinks it knows everything — and, in knowing everything (which it doesn't) it believes it understands everything (which it emphatically doesn't). There are important capacities of intelligence (a property that belongs to each of the centers, not just one of them) that cannot be understood through the intellect alone. Indeed, the center with the greatest capacity for the sacred is feeling, which is in its essence, the ability to sense and form a relationship with the levels above us. 

We can't do this without our emotions; and yet they have to be raised to a level of awareness rather than just reaction. Reaction is mechanical or reflexive; awareness is watchful and discriminating. Even after decades of attempting to strike an intelligent (three-centered) balance between these three parts, the feeling part is a delicate mechanism which can only function in the presence of energies fostered and offered by the other two parts. This support structure is what we attempt to create when we bring the mind and the body together; without the support structure, no feeling. 

And without feeling, no right sense of God, which is an essential aim of inner work.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Organic Happiness, part 3

Photograph by the author

Relationship and satisfaction arrive as a result of my alignment with God’s will and purpose, which may not be expressible in words, but take up residence in the body and in the Being and in the feeling in a way that cannot be comprehended by the intellect. 

The intellect can observe; the intellect can participate; but the intellect does not have the skill or the insight necessary to create these conditions.

What does create the inner conditions is another question; but it certainly isn’t outer events. So if I expect happiness to come from listening to a great song, or falling in love, or making some extra money or eating some good food, I can agree that this is the case; but only to the extent that it creates temporal happiness, which is highly subjective and completely subject to the whims and circumstances of life as it happens. It isn’t real happiness; it’s temporary happiness. 

Spiritual happiness, on the other hand, is objective happiness. 

It penetrates throughout the entire realm of the soul and all of its awareness; it comes from God and acts within us. Perhaps it’s asking too much to live life as though this were the kind of happiness that mattered; yet I find it far more central to the question of life. Within the context of my ordinary and outward life, there’s no doubt, I am happy or unhappy from moment to moment; yet that never seems to be where life is primarily located to me. 

My true happiness arises from where life arises; from the condition of my soul and not the circumstances of my life. Although I may need to remind myself of that from time to time when life begins to appear overwhelming, I’ll never forget it for as long as I am in relationship with the higher energy of God’s Grace.

 As a consequence of this, when people ask me if I’m happy, I’m never quite sure what to say. Do I try to explain to them that it is only within the condition of Grace itself that true peace of the soul can become available? Folks would find this tiresome rather quickly.   Maybe even instantly. 

So I try to say as little as possible about having a relationship with God, unless someone asks about it. 

It’s a sign of the times that hardly anyone ever asks about this. Now, it’s true, folks in the Gurdjieff work ask about it; but outside of that context, having a real inner relationship with God is of almost no interest to anyone.

Yet if I don’t love God first, I don’t think there is any real happiness in me.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Organic Happiness, part 2

Photograph by the author

Whenever I’m touched by the least portion of Grace, nothing else matters. It is not that it loses what value it has, but rather that I see everything through its relationship to Grace and its action in the soul; and even this one single instant of a connection with God—should I be so fortunate as to receive it— renders all things valid, satisfying, true, right, and meaningful within the context of Being. 

This is called the Peace of God which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7); but it’s only conferred by starting out with a right inner relationship to God.

 This is, in a nutshell, organic spiritual happiness; and organic spiritual happiness is a blend of many different feelings which all exist simultaneously. 

My friend R. (who is, by the way, a professed atheist) presumed to dumb it down and just call all of it “love;” but this is too simplistic for me, because each feeling we have is a thing unto itself. They may all be fractions of this greater thing called God’s Love — that is of course true — yet God’s Love takes on so many magnificently different aspects in its manifestation within the soul that to call it one thing somehow cheapens it, renders it one-dimensional, since we associate the word love so easily with things of the world, failing to understand its breadth and depth.

This blending of many, many different feelings is described by Gurdjieff as conscience (take note he did not call it love here) as the experience (I’m paraphrasing, because I feel lazy and I don’t want to look up the source quote) of having all the possible different feelings one could have about anything, experienced at the same time

What he’s trying to explain with this is a spiritual experience, not a temporal one: and he’s furthermore describing what one might equally call “happiness,” because conscience – should it ever manifest in an individual in a right way — is in complete and absolute alignment with God’s own wish, and brings us to a moment wherein we feel all things at all contradictions are resolved. 

There is a wholeness of experience embedded in this moment. That can only happen, of course, when the inflow is present; one has to be under a higher influence. When we are truly aligned, through God’s gift of Grace, with his will — ah, then we are truly happy.

In the many years I worked at Silver Lake with Frank Sinclair and other folks from the Gurdjieff work, Frank always referred to this as an inner alignment. Of course he wasn’t unique in this particular remark; but he brought it quite deftly, and with considerable intelligence. The traditional hand movement, perhaps considered an affectation by those who don’t appreciate such things, is a vertical hand moving downward in front of the body — a position that will probably be familiar to Buddhists as well. It indicates the verticality (another word Frank uses frequently) of the moment, the action of a higher influence passing down through us. It equally indicates alignment, the movement of that usually tangled piece of our awareness, a knotted fishing-line within us, into a straight line that has a weight at the end.

This particular analogy (my own) is quite apropos, but the point of it isn’t the alignment of the fishing line, which has become straight and has what the Buddhists would call ”right attitude” when the inner alignment takes place. It’s the weight at the bottom of the line that makes a difference. If I'm attracted to the alignment, rather than the weight that creates it, my attention may not be in quite the right place. 

There has to be a weight within Being, a personal center of gravity, that attracts this vertical descent of the energy of Grace; and the weight of that attention, the gravity (or, if you will, magnetism) that it creates is what matters. That is a place of residence, and although it allows movement in any direction, it does not consist of movement itself, but is rather an absolute stillness.

I defy anyone who’s experienced this to say that that absolute stillness — and the alignment that it creates — are anything other than relationship and satisfaction, that is, real happiness. 

Unattached happiness.

Sparkill, Nov. 23, 2018

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Organic Happiness, part 1

Photograph by the author

The other day I had a discussion with my friend R., who (like everyone else I know, including myself) thinks he knows everything. This disease has infected most of humanity; and its roots run quite deep, as Plato’s apology so amply demonstrates.

 In any event, the question of happiness came up. My comment was something to the effect that I no longer gauge happiness in terms of anything other than my inner relationship. The word itself, in relationship to its temporal effects, seems insufficient and superficial. It’s only the inner condition that determines whether or not I am satisfied; and when I am satisfied, it’s not necessarily what we mean when we use the word happy.

The word happiness originally derived from the English word hap, chance or fortune— hence, the word happenstance, among others. The first record of the word as meaning “very glad” dates back to the 1500’s (OED); before that, almost all the meanings in the English language relate to having good fortune of one kind or another. Fortune itself, of course, comes from a Latin root meaning good luck. So the way we use the word today is quite different than what it originally meant. Its original meaning was fundamentally material and outward, related to good fortune in a material sense — in other words, the events of outer life or things in the world.

Nowadays, we commonly say we’re happy if we feel good inside. And, of course, all our standard ordinary emotional reactions derive from outer events. We eat a good meal; we see a pretty woman or a handsome man… they fall in love with us. We make a killing in the stock market, or our dog loves us. Etc. All of these are outward events; and it turns out, in the context of the word as it’s used today, that happiness always depends on these outer life events and circumstances.

I’d like to propose a completely different idea about happiness—one that probably isn’t much considered without having a proper and correctly ordered inner experience.

Happiness of the kind that we generally refer to when we use the word is a material happiness. It’s of this level; it’s attached to the outer world of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions.

Yet the effect that all these things produce is a distinctly inner one; happiness belongs to the inner world alone, and whether one experiences it as an emotion, which is at a lower rate of vibration and more superficial in terms of the way it constitutes our being, or a feeling, which is at a higher rate of vibration and penetrates to the soul, it’s always an inner experience. I think our failure to distinguish between the inner and the outer in life somewhat blinds us to this.

This raises several questions. 

Does all of our inner experience have to be dependent on outer events? 

Or does our inner life have a satisfying validity of its own before the outer events take place?

What is real — that is, true, essential — happiness?  What inspires it? Where does it come from?

 Is there such a thing as an organic happiness? A happiness that is rooted in the marrow of the bones, rather than the outward circumstances?

My hypothesis — based on my own experience – is that true happiness is a strictly inner event, and that furthermore it cannot possibly arise from the objects, events, circumstances, or conditions of the outer world. It’s a spiritual experience, not a temporal one; and it is directly related to the condition and temper of the soul itself, rather than the winds of fortune and the direction that they happen to be blowing in at a given moment.

I believe that Victor Frankl made this clear enough in Man’s Search for Meaning; in his recounting of concentration camp experiences, he makes it quite clear that no matter how bad the outer circumstances were, it was ultimately the value and quality of his inner experience that created meaning, that is, actual value. The concentration camp, obviously, had a very low value — it was an example of extraordinary misfortune for anyone to be incarcerated in this manner. Yet it was possible to discover inner values that sustained life and made it worth something quite extraordinary, even in the midst of such catastrophe.

This simple illustration might, some would say, prove to be enough; yet there’s a deeper question at hand here, and it is man’s relationship to the spiritual inflow of a higher energy — Grace, or Prana — which we call the influence of the Holy Spirit in Christianity. 

This inflow is, as I’ve pointed out many times, substantial, and ever-present, if we wish enough to be available to it. This is what can create real “happiness”; yet the word is entirely inadequate here. Only the inward flow of the influence of God, through such Grace, can create true happiness. If one has not experienced this inward flow of Grace, one doesn’t quite know what true happiness is; once one experiences it, there is and can be no other real happiness. 

And one also understands that Grace transcends any ordinary emotional description, because Grace brings a spiritual satisfaction entirely independent of the world and its things.

Sparkill, Nov. 23, 2018

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Residence for the Soul—Coda

Photograph by the Author

November 25, Sparkill

Last night, we had dinner with our good friends D. and G. 

G. and I got into a brief discussion about the word consciousness and awareness. There was an objection to the way I used the term "awareness" in discussing this essay.

 For those of you not familiar with the Gurdjieff work – one would presume some of the readers of this space may not be— it’s important to be aware (ha ha ha) that the word “consciousness” is used very specifically both by Gurdjieff and in the work he left as his legacy, to describe a “real”state of awareness, that is, a heightened state of being aware that is “conscious” instead of just being aware in an ordinary way, which Gurdjieff referred to as “sleep.”

There is an irony implicit in the way the words are currently used in the Gurdjieff tradition. The word conscious stems from a Latin root meaning “to know;” whereas the word aware comes from Germanic roots. One could almost conflate the two— the meanings are somewhat cross referential. 

Yet the Latin root definitively refers to a word meaning to know...

...whereas the Germanic root definitively refers to a word meaning to be watchful

As such — keeping in mind Gurdjieff’s distinction between the action of knowing, which is considered superficial, and the action of understanding — which is present ted by Gurdjieff as a spiritually deeper "wisdom practice"– the word awareness is actually far more appropriate to describe what the Gurdjieff practice attempts to develop, and, in fact, what spiritual practice in general is aimed at. 

We are, in other words, generally unaware of what the two words mean, or how they ought to be used.

Using this approach, the term "consciousness," while still extraordinarily vital (why should consciousness exist at all? ...in the world of mechanistic rationalism, it shouldn't) , refers to an inferior position relative to awareness. 

Consciousness knows; awareness understands. 

The reason that I make this distinction in my own language is because consciousness is ubiquitous and penetrates all of the material universe, down to the lowest level of molecular Being, whereas awareness is specific to the ascending octave of spiritual intelligence and understanding of what one knows.

If we wanted to refer to it in terms of the enneagram, we could say that knowing takes place on the descending portion of the octave (right hand side of the diagram) and understanding takes place on the left-hand side. Equally, consciousness arises and completes itself on the right-hand side of the diagram, and awareness on the left. The passage from fa to sol represents the passage from mere consciousness to awareness—from nonbeing (mechanical consciousness) to Being— spiritual consciousness, real "I."

My friend G. objected to my use of the word aware instead of conscious because we habitually use the terms conscious and consciousness in the Gurdjieff work because of tradition and habit. There is no doubt, mind you, that this word conscious is of real significance; it shows up 405 times by word count in the first translation of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. The word conscience, on the other hand — which, by the way, stems from the exact same Latin root as conscious, also means “to know,” and (to confuse matters even more) is the same word as conscious in the romance languages — appears only a paltry 91 times, despite its central place in Gurdjieff’s arguments about man’s nature.

 Word counts aside, I think the point here is that when we speak of being conscious, we fail to understand the difference between ordinary consciousness, which is on the whole a rather mundane thing (even molecules have it) and awareness, which is a form of watchfulness, or, as it is so often called in the Gurdjieff practice, seeing. Awareness is far more on the order of having an inner attention—a watchfulness— than consciousness alone.

One ought to be more specifically aware of how we use words; and we should indeed make sure that we use words with all of our spiritual intelligence, not just our automatic parts.

 Some might say that this kind of analysis is on the order of splitting hairs. Yet if we want (as I do) to understand the fundamental nature of consciousness—

what it is, and whether or not it is a universal force of much greater scope than what modern science allows it—

and furthermore understand it in the context of awareness, which I maintain is a higher order of this fundamental ground of consciousness that has capacities consciousness alone does not embody—

we need to look at the question quite carefully and define its terms according not just to literary tradition (as is the case with Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson) an unexamined habits, but with respect to their original root meanings and the context that confers upon them in modern discourse.

Wishing the best for you on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, February 1, 2019

A Residence for the Soul, Part 5

Photograph by the author

 Like so many essays I begin, I want to speak about something simple and then end up following many different threads. The simple thing I intended to speak about when I began this was the question of how impressions blend within me, my own experience of it. I need to come into a more intimate contact with that; and in order to do that, I need to come into a more intimate contact with my sensation and my feeling.

In any given instant, my nature is a composite of what is received in that instant and the records of what has already been received before. I am a vessel into which the world flows; but the vessel already has a character, and the inflow itself alters the character of the vessel even as it receives. This is a truly dynamic inner environment; and I need to rely on my spiritual, or inner, instincts to sense this environment. It is, after all, a home — a mansion, to me — where my awareness resides. If I see myself as a resident within this environment, rather than as the environment itself,  there may be a degree of what Gurdjieff referred to as objectivity. I am an inhabitant of my life and this world; and the nature of my inhabitation is life itself, awareness itself, that is, the metaphysical entity that inhabits this physical realm. This can be experienced pragmatically rather than as an act of imagination; the metaphysics lies in the function of the three centers, whose awarenesses are functionally and fundamentally greater than the physical world they interact with.

We can come back to my analogy about John 14: 2,3  here, because the inhabitant of the house (the Lord) or the mansion (my own awareness), however you want to view it, is not the same as the house that they live in. Life is a set of experiences; the self is the entity who perceives them. The mansion is, in one sense, the material world and the individual lives that inhabit its various rooms; yet it also has an inner meaning, which is related to the many constructions that are built from our impressions over the course of a lifetime. We erect a residence of our intelligence, attitude, opinions, experiences, and memories; then our awareness inhabits that residence, whether consciously or unconsciously — that is, whether actually aware or relatively unaware of the fact that we reside within this structure that has emerged in us through molecular relationships.

In this sense, sensation is quite useful, because it gives us the opportunity to examine the molecular relationships independent of the subjective memories, attitudes, and so on. All of those things inhabit this body which consists of sensation. Examined independently — that is, from the perspective of the mind of sensation, and not the mind of intellect — we begin to gain some distance from the impressions themselves and become more familiar with the vessel. It’s quite different than becoming familiar with the body through doing yoga or playing tennis. The action is much more subtle and takes place on a cellular level. It is integrated; and this is what ought to interest me the most.

When Gurdjieff said that a man does not have a soul, but needs to acquire one, he may have been alluding to this need to become more familiar with what we are, to see this question as a question of residence and awareness, rather than possession and consciousness. Everything we inhabit, we inhabit temporarily — then we move on. 

What moves on is the soul. It is essentially, like the wayfarer in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, an itinerant: clothed in simple peasant dress, equipped for a journey, moving from house to house and inn to inn as a traveler through life, not one who sits in one place. The residence, in other words, is a mobile one, both inwardly and outwardly.

 This idea is certainly unfamiliar to us overall. We expect residences to be permanent; and so we want to fix them in place. All of us get “stuck” like this by attempting to pin ourselves down in a particular range of impressions and ideas. We choose one piece of turf, one room in the house, and prefer to think it is better than any other. This prevents us from blending our impressions in creative and unexpected ways, which is essential for the growth of the soul.

Every human being is guilty of this. The question is whether we are allowed to let anything shake us up enough to discover something different.

Over the course of a lifetime, impressions form a rather extraordinary and deep web of experience within being. It is possible, from the right place within one’s awareness, to touch countless aspects of being which have all come together in this particular point of time to form my awareness as it is: that awareness to include everything that can be thought of or felt or sensed right now. 

Reviewing this from within the context of the present moment, over and over again, has a definite value in terms of self-remembering.

warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.