Saturday, March 28, 2020

Blue Herons

Last night.

Neal & I go up to the chicken coop together to close it. The coop is on the hillside of the Sparkill gap; as we climb, we gaze out over the slope of our tiny glacial valley into the twilight of the western sky.

The language of astronomy is a subtle one; it touches something deep in the soul that can't be expressed in mere words. Venus and a new crescent moon are shining partners in that poetry. A faint, almost intangible pink infuses the atmosphere, steeping in the deeper blues of evening.

As we watch, an astonishment of great blue herons suddenly flies+- into sight. Their huge wingspans and stately, measured progress render them unmistakable.

Four! Migrating great blue herons. Jehosaphat.

These creatures of the North American continent exceed geography; somehow the elegance of their lines, the curvature of their necks, the languid and perfectly stylized rhythm of their flight, make them look like creatures of the ancient Nile, come alive from an Egyptian fresco.

It’s calm. It’s breathtaking. All of it proceeds in that peculiar new quiet that the lessening of traffic has brought us.

Life has slowed down in physically measurable ticks. The act of social distancing has given us back time—for perhaps the first time since we were children, we hesitate.

We stop.

We actually take the time to see ourselves and where we are.

We’re not racing to the next appointment, the next money-making event or money-spending event.
We’re just here, in this small yet magnificently expansive and inexpressibly beautiful moment of now.

Others are breathing equally deep this moment of pause. Perhaps, just perhaps, scales are falling from our eyes and we’re beginning to see ourselves as a little bit human again, instead of performing monkeys for the technology and "value" systems that have been thrust upon us by our modern institutions.

Ideas can infect us and ruin us just as completely as diseases can. Usually, we don't see this; we humans love nothing more than being corrupted by our own dogmas. Yet nature doesn't know such things, or breathe them: no cash changes hands as blue herons fly. No man makes sound to guide them.

The prevailing dialog is that the pandemic has arrived, and we’ve lost our way. But I'm not so sure about that. Perhaps our way was lost long before this, and we’re finding it again. To be able to refocus life within the present, to re-discover each other as human beings? No other force could have given us this gift. To see each other and to care. We didn't have enough time for much of that before; and now it turns out that’s the only thing we should have made time for.

Love has the opportunity to be born again in this moment. It comes on the wings of birds at twilight; it shines down on us from satellites and planets. It’s in the native plants just showing their tips above the cool ground of spring; it’s in the awakening branches dressing themselves in their first green of the year. Into all of these creatures and events, life flows in from that secret, silent, sacred place that feeds all Being.

This is not a conceit or a romance – it’s simple enough, if I see it, to be true:

Love is already here in Being itself. This gift is freely given.

All I need to do is listen carefully—intimately—within me and respond to its call.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Small Piece of Bread

The arrival of the COVID-19 virus on the planet has everyone, it seems, thinking on a cosmic scale. 

The discussions remind me of how committed most of us are in trying to understand things from a vast perspective.

There isn't anything wrong with this, but it definitely distracts us from trying to understand things on the scale we live on, which is the whole point of our inner work.

There comes a moment where perhaps one can realize that our attention ought to be devoted to what is in us now and what is immediately around us now; it simply can't be effectively devoted to the vast scale of time and the size of the universe. 

In my own experience, inner work consists of trying to come back to this moment and live much more simply, with some honesty and an eye turned towards what's immediately true. Leave for later the grasping of the whole scale of life itself and attempting to paste grand meanings on to it. 

This is a big meal, a banquet, even, and perhaps I ought to plan for it, but I should understand it will take place later, 

and that for right now I should eat a small piece of bread—and be satisfied, and grateful.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Enslavement and Obedience

I say of virtue that she has an inner work: a will and tendency toward all good, and a flight from and a repugnance to all that is bad, evil, and incompatible with God and goodness. And the worse an act is, and the less godly, the stronger the repugnance; and the greater the work and the more godlike, the easier, more welcome, and pleasanter it is to her.

Meister Eckhart, The Book of Divine Comfort, from The Complete Mystical Works, p. 540

I see my slavery to my functions. Perhaps I also see that a force from another level is here. But if this force is not engaged, if I am not related to it, my functions will take the energy, and I will be even more enslaved than before. 

There must be voluntary submission, a voluntary obedience. I wish to stay in front of this insufficiency. I do not see it enough, I do not feel it enough, I do not suffer from it enough. To feel this lack calls a more active  attention. It is as if a door opens to a much finer energy.

Jeanne de Salzmann, The Reality of Being, P. 218

The action of good and evil is reflected in the corresponding laws of slavery and obedience. 

We’re all under law of one kind or another; there’s no choice in the matter as an overarching principle. Even the archangels are under laws; and creation itself—which is perforce a greater entity than the archangels—is under a total of six laws.

Humanity is under 48 laws; paired, they form 24 opposing sets of principles or influences. Those influences, in turn, beget octaves of their own natures. We can take one example, obedience and enslavement, to examine the question.

The angelic octave of obedience can be construed thus: material (physical) obedience, emotional obedience, obedience of thought, obedience of spirit (being), obedience of sacrifice, and obedience of intelligence. The classic biblical story of obedience is Abraham’s obedience to God in the sacrifice of his son. We know at once from the nature of the story that Abraham had developed himself to the level of the obedience of sacrifice at the time of the story. This is the note in the octave (law) of obedience that influenced his decision to comply with the apparently horrifying command. In the story, his son represents everything he acquired at the note below, that is, his Being—which was born of the obedience of body, heart, and mind during the progression of the first three notes. 

Obedience is voluntary—and this is what differentiates it from enslavement, which is involuntary and compulsory. The principle of voluntary (evolutionary) verses involuntary (entropic) force is a ubiquitous one in the world of 48 laws; there are 24 voluntary laws and 24 involuntary laws. In Gurdjieff’s terms we refer to the involuntary laws as mechanical laws; the voluntary laws are angelic and conscious, that is, they involve and require a voluntary choice for their influence to be invoked. We should furthermore note that agency plays an essential role in the action of all the 24 angelic laws: the individual must make a choice, exercise agency (see Emmanuel Swedenborg), in order to come under those laws. De Salzmann’s notes in The Reality of Being speak a great deal about voluntary versus involuntary action; and in fact her notebooks are largely about the effort to come under this voluntary set of angelic laws through the concentration and intensification of Being, which imparts agency and makes voluntary action—good— more possible.  

Enslavement, on the other hand, is the opposite: its actions are involuntary and dictated by  descending forces, which act mechanically to drag one "down," that is, away from Being. In traditional and Christian religious terms these forces are termed demonic; in Gurdjieff’s terms they’re mechanical; either way, they lead to enslavement, because choice is steadily taken away as they act.  

We love what is good to us; and so if we love evil, we become the lover of evil and the embody properties of evil. Redemption may always be possible; but it’s by no means guaranteed. Make no mistake about it, however; we never own evil. Insofar as it’s present, evil owns us in exactly the same way that insofar as He is present, God owns us. A human being can’t have two masters; and so one is owned by either God, or the Devil (who is not a single individual, but any and all individuals owned by evil.) 

This ownership by evil is traditionally represented in stories about selling one’s soul to the devil: that means allowing evil to own one’s inner self in order to gain outer material reward. The stories are told as if the devil takes one’s soul only after death; but the fact is that the devil takes one’s soul from the instant the decision to go with the evil is made. If we are not obedient to God, we’re enslaved by evil.

Another way of considering this is that evil is transactional, whereas good is unconditional. The good does not ask for recompense in exchange for obedience. The good always volunteers to be good because to be good is right; whereas the decision to be evil always has to be accompanied by a form of payment. The directions of commitment are material and physical (i.e., transactional) or spiritual and metaphysical (i.e., loving, and without expectation.) We make decisions of this kind all day long without being aware of it; and in this regard Gurdieff insisted we must be aware of our intentions, and what we do.   

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Single Note of Being

It's important to cultivate the stillness that arises from a certain kind of inward vibration.

It's easy to talk about silence and stillness; that is one thing. It's a different thing to come in to an intelligent relationship with the vibration of Being.

The word comes from the Latin vibrāre, which means to move rapidly to and fro. 

How does this word, this expression, correspond to my inward experience? 

Isn't that the opposite of all this stillness and silence I'm supposedly cultivating?

My Being begins in a state of vibration. 

Everything within me is in constant, extraordinarily rapid movement. I arise because of the nature of vibration in my atoms, which resolve themselves in the relationships of my molecules. Already, even at this level, the movement senses the need to come into a relationship of stillness: crystalline structures such as DNA are formed. They create a relationship between the eternal vibration of their components, and the need to be still in order to discover a new relationship between one another in structure. Everything moves; but it is the pauses between movement that are inhabited by awareness.

When we speak of a finer energy that we can come into relationship with, it begins here.

My effort to truly be alive centers around sensing the molecular nature of my Being – not just the gross particulars of my manifestation. The human body has an absolutely astonishing capacity to sense in this way, if the physical part of our intelligence is awakened.

Although this vibration is extraordinarily rapid, the consequence of its manifestation in relationship is a stillness. I know this seems paradoxical, yet I experience it directly. I invest in this directly at all times during the day; this stabilizes my inner parts. My outer parts are like an unruly stable filled with animals, and I have to tolerate this barnyard. But my inner parts have an alternative, which is to come under this influence, the underlying and much more powerful stable part of myself.

It’s these roots – which are myriad, very fine tendrils of energy –that connect me to the source of the universe itself. This isn't hyperbole; the whole universe, which I’m a part of, is composed of these molecular vibrations. It's the foundational level of Being, and if I don't come into a more intimate relationship with it, I’m detached from the source of nourishment I need in order to Be. There are countless overtones and undertones, but Being begins with this single note.

So, like the cosmos, my inner universe begins in movement and ends in the stillness that arises as its consequence. I'm able to come into relationship with both of these qualities because awareness makes it possible.

Movement makes the world arise; but stillness receives it. Coming into relationship with both of these qualities in a practical way opens me to potentially receive the sacred feeling-quality which governs both movement and stillness.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

There Is Only One Thing Right Now

Tuesday, March 24

There is only one thing right now.

This one thing is life and Being. It sounds like two things, but it isn't. 

It's single and whole.

It begins here, in this moment, as I sit here quietly this morning before the day really begins. 

There is a silence in me that exists before these words arise. 

I am. 

I am here.

There's a subtle — well, perhaps not subtle at all, in fact, it is quite insistent — vibration in me that sounds the note, establishes the consonance, of my being here. It has no thoughts or opinions. 

It's alive. 

I am alive.

It's up to me to determine how I take this in and what it means to me. I sense it as relationship; relationship with a sacred quality that gives rise to everything. In most of creation, the material world, this relationship is passive; it exists, but its interactions are automatic. In me, and humanity, other living creatures, the relationship becomes active. This is especially true in human Beings, who are born with a sacred duty to heed this call. I'm called to take a new kind of responsibility towards it and towards life.

That responsibility does not consist of grand things. I'm not going to save the world. The responsibility begins here within my silence, and extends from the stillness at the center of my soul towards the world. It's formed of very fine tendrils of attention. Those tendrils of attention reach towards the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions of my life and receive them as they arise. 

I take these things in gently and hopefully with a sober, intelligent, and respectful towards the fact that I'm able to sense them at all. That's a gift; and I ought to respect it—not intellectually, as a theory of goodness, but as an actual experience of the goodness of life as it flows into me in every small and quite detailed particular.

Yesterday I had the occasion to eat a few things in which the true goodness of life suddenly blossomed within me. There are times when putting a bite of food into one's mouth is recognized as a sacred action. It's the small moments like that that stand out to me in life. One bite of food can be a more important experience of Being than the sum total of all the stress, anxiety, concern, or fear that I feel throughout the rest of the day. If I intentionally locate my spiritual center of gravity in the small things and attend to them with love and respect, everything else is different.

The experience of the Lord is in the small details. 

Today I wish to be there for them with all of the intelligence, sensation, and feeling that I can concentrate within this silence and this vibration of Being.

“Ich lerne sehen. Ich weiß nicht, woran es liegt, es geht alles tiefer in mich ein und bliebt nicht and der Stelle stehen, wo es sonst immer zu Ende war. Ich habe ein Inneres, von dem ich nicht wußte. Alles geht jetzt dahin. Ich weiß nicht, was dort geschieht.”

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, March 23, 2020

And Deliver us from Evil

Eve and the serpent, from the museum at Reims Cathedral

The noblest thing in man is blood, when it wills good. But the most evil thing in man is blood, when it wills evil. When the blood rules the flesh, a man is humble, patient and chaste and has all the virtues. But when the flesh rules the blood, a man is haughty, angry, and lascivious and has all the vices.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 56.

The word deliver stems from the latin de (away) and liberare (set free.) Implicit in the word is the idea that we’re somehow enslaved by evil.

As I explained in Metaphysical Humanism, the difference between obedience and slavery is that obedience is voluntary. In both the life of the world and the spirit, I have a choice between voluntary and involuntary impulses. Involuntary impulses are what Gurdjieff called mechanical; yet once again we see an odd sterilization of language at work here. The Lord’s prayer never said, deliver us from the involuntary or mechanical. It says deliver us from evil; and I think we can all agree that inflections of good and bad hardly belong to the world of machines, which displays a material and spiritual indifference to morality. What the prayer means is that there is evil, unadorned and undressed; we need to come to terms with that proposition first and foremost. Evil is a real and living thing, just as good is; and both are living simply because we choose between the two alternatives and give them life.

Perhaps this is going to far, of course, because life exists before any choices; it’s the inflow of Divine Love that brings life in the first place. Yet Divine Love can’t be divine, or offer humanity choice, without the alternative to Love being laid on the table not just as a possibility, but an actuality. Hence our difficult position as the arbiters (judges) of choice, the ones who decide whether good or evil will prevail in us.

This is an essential and existential inner choice we all make. Our difficulty arises, perhaps, because popular culture, as well as traditional religion, tends to externalize evil and assign it independent character, as though it were a thing unto itself—a force, the dark side.  

This is because of a too-literal physical understanding of evil, as well as a misunderstanding of its metaphysical nature, which is organized not by individual creatures but by the laws. Creatures (things of creation, which expression covers all things and beings) express the law; it is not of them, but by them. Law is expressed in one of two ways: automatically, involuntarily, by compulsion of law and circumstance; or voluntarily and consciously. Here we can perhaps see the seeds of Gurdjieff’s great emphasis on consciousness.

Evil doesn’t have an independent, metaphysical character of agency. It’s a potential which can either be actualized or not. Its agency and existence always depend on the creatures that express it, since evil is a manifestation of will that goes against the good, goes against the other, and goes against God. Without creatures of will, there could be no evil.

The sum total of this result—evil in the hearts of created entities with agency—is that evil manifests as a set of results, inflicting intentional harm on other creatures. Where evil exists, individual agents bear responsibility: not God.

If we want to be delivered from evil, we’re requesting liberation from a form of slavery. Yet in order to understand that slavery, we need to define it; and evil begins with our intentions

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Views from the ground floor, part I

My friend M. recently expressed interest in studying the Sermon on the Mount; and he asked me to write a bit about it.

I decided to take it up, since it seems like a good project to work on during our self-imposed viral isolation. It is, after all, one of the great spiritual classics of civilization; that being said, it seems arrogant to believe I can possibly bring any new insight to the meaning behind what Christ taught us. We are, however, obliged to make efforts not just physically in terms of sensation, and emotionally in terms of feeling, but also with our minds. I under took this project, therefore, with an effort to examine the words carefully, look at their meanings, and intuit the teaching behind the rather simple phrases.

Well, there is nothing simple about these phrases. Each one embodies a universe of intelligence once one begins to examine it with a critical mind and relate it to practical effort and inner work.

Each one of these brief essays as a starting point for one's own inner exploration of the meaning that Christ brought us. It is at the same time both universal and intimately human, even cellular, in scale. 

As I said to a close spiritual friend recently,  I’m not trying to climb the Empire State building. 

I’d just like to get out of the basement and get a view from the third floor.

Let’s call this set of essays, then, Views From the Ground Floor

Introduction to Views From the Ground Floor:  an examination of the beatitudes

Every line of the beatitudes begins with the word blessed.

The word was originally an English word, blēdsian, based on blōd, or, blood. The word may have originally meant, marked with blood, that is signified with a sacred bond of blood relationship—a very ancient tradition indeed.
 Marking with blood was a sign of protection or favor. It brings the one who is marked into a special relationship with the one who marks. They are bound together.

The English word was used in the middle ages to translate the Latin benedicere, to praise or worship. Later relationships with the word bliss are self-evident.

We derive a rich range of meanings here, all of them related to the idea of being selected, bound to, and in relationship with. While the modern context of the word as meaning favored by or receiving Grace from God retains its validity, looking at its roots offers some rich insights into the importance of the question of our relationship with God.

Relationship is an active thing that cannot be left to accident, even in ordinary life. Anyone who neglects their relationship with, for example, their loved one over their child learns this in painful ways. In order for a relationship to remain active and be successful, it requires attention. We cannot just leave it as it is and expect it to work out. Our initiative, our agency, is required.

Again, using the analogy of our ordinary relationships within families and societies, these things are eternally fluid and evolving and require constant attention and creativity in order to help them remain healthy and work out well. Our relationship with our spiritual side, our relationship with God, requires an equal attention.

Keeping this in mind, perhaps it's interesting to read beatitudes substituting the words in relationship with God for the word blessed. This idea of being in relationship with God is also expressed as being present, or being in the presence of God. 

The best book I know of on this subject is Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Heidi Knecht-Seegers Yoga class offer

Heidi’s zoom meeting yoga class every day at 5:30 pm. Eastern standard time.

 I’ve been doing this. Recommended.

Heidi's text begins here:

Please send me your email address for class announcements.

 Here is the info for Sunday's class

Heidi Knecht-Seegers is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Heidi's Yoga for All 3-22-20
Time: Mar 22, 2020 05:30 PM EST

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 523 314 623

Heidi’s Paypal address is Contributions are welcomed if you participate.

Love in the age of Covid19, part IV: Being is the meaning

Statue of Ur-Ningirsu, detail
Circa 3110 BC
Photograph from the Louvre

Over the last week or so, I’ve received a number of pieces from various friends that were written by people who claim to "speak for" the virus, so to speak. 

In these pieces, the virus (who speaks surprisingly good English, considering it’s a nucleic acid) explains how it has actually arrived on the planet to help us, by calling attention to how we are trashing our environment, how poorly we are treating each other, and so on. In some of the other pieces, it's an author saying more or less the same thing — channeling the virus so that we can understand it.

I have nothing personal against these pieces, and I'm not trying to make fun of them. They’re touching, but a bit too romantic for me. They project a sense of cosmic adventure that correctly identifies many of our human deficiencies, and convey an overall sense that we ought to do better. Nothing essentially wrong with that, I’d say; although telling all the folks whose relatives die and whose livelihoods are destroyed by the virus that it’s ”for their own good” and a loving action does run the significant risk of sounding snotty, and is unintentionally but grossly disrespectful of human suffering. 

Suffering may be good for us and build character, even spiritual growth, true; but I’ve never seen anyone set out to intentionally seek it because of its inherent goodness. That’s rare. Besides, as Christ says, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:34.) Enough suffering comes to us naturally without the need to invent more of it on our own. When it does, respect it. Don’t reformulate its nature by invoking metaphysics; accept.

I was awake last night in the middle of the night for about an hour, sensing this inexplicable, yet insistent, Being in the dark and pondering such things. 

What I want to speak about this morning as a consequence of my pondering is the question of meaning and how we deal with it. I recently completed a book called Metaphysical Humanism, which is an exploration of why things mean anything at all in the first place; so I've been doing a lot of thinking about the subject. What the essays by the virus or about the meaning of the virus evoke for me is our urge to read meaning into everything we can; and, of course, our equal habit of writing meaning into the things around us. (I myself, of course, am guilty as charged. Mea culpa.) The essays by and about the virus’ metaphysically positive nature raise questions for me once again about meaning.

One of the points that Metaphysical Humanism makes, although perhaps it doesn't state it outright, is that meaning is invested in and begins in Being, rather than the other way around. That is to say, put in the simplest of terms, Being doesn’t mean. Meaning is. Or, to turn it into an imperative, Be, don’t mean. (And, by the way, its corollary imperative: don't be mean.)

Being is the meaning. Everything begins by Being; and there’s an intellectual, and emotional, and a material component within our Being, gifted through these three intelligences—intellect, feeling, sensation—directly capable of perceiving Being first, before our intellectual parts begin to interfere with Being and interpret it. If these organs within us are properly developed, Being is our primary mode, experience, and understanding of existence; and we begin to discover that the meaning we read out of and write into our lives is a secondary arising. It's a subset of Being, not the primary component.

Being, as I have said for almost two decades now, rests within a fundament of Love, out of which it is created. Our attempts to understand this will always fall woefully short, because that Love is infinite in its being and infinite in its capacity. We are extremely tiny organisms, who have by design and effort managed to concentrate a tiny bit of that Love around a gravitational focus of consciousness. We call these reassembled fragments of love our lives; and we live our lives forward into mystery. (Credits to Stewart Kauffman’s fine book Reinventing the Sacred for that phrase. Another reference worth considering is Jeanne de Salzmann’s The Reality of Being, which recapitulates her struggle with the exquisite accuracy of this deeply inward vision of life.)

Yet in the end we cannot read our way into understanding. Our understanding of Being isn't going to come out of books – or this essay. 

It comes out of our engagement with and relationship to life as it takes place. This is a highly unpredictable and messy place, this life experience, and it stubbornly refuses to conform to our interpretations or our expectations. Even the virus knows that.

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't impart meaning to life; nor am I saying that we shouldn't write heartfelt essays in an attempt to interpret it. Not at all. 

What I’m saying is that we begin in Love and Being, not in explanations and meaning. 

If we work inwardly to inhabit Love and Being first, explanations and meaning arise naturally, not through the artifices of our intelligence and craft. The first time one encounters this truth inwardly as truth—not as a construction of truths, which is a different animal entirely— it’s surprising and dramatic.

Who knew?

Eventually we learn that this experience, so mysterious and inexplicable, is what has always been referred to by humanity as the sacred.

Embedded in that mystery of Being is what Love is.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.