Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Dwelling places

I sit quietly and gather myself. There is a vibration, an undertone, that unifies being. 

I come into relationship with it. In it, life is a single whole thing, not a fractured series of different parts and experiences.

Life begins here for anything that happens. This never changes. It’s always the case. Yet this particular state, this gathering of attention, seems oddly foreign to most people. 

If the center of gravity, the magnetic force of attraction between the particles of my awareness, isn’t developed, doesn’t focus itself, I can’t sense how I am as a whole creature. 

Without gravity, there is no planet. 

Without a planet, there is no dwelling place. 

Without a dwelling place, I cannot be.

Everyone wants a formula that will tell them how to be. Yet there is no formula outside this gathering of attention and this investment in the gravity of sensation. This can’t be undertaken as an exercise. It isn’t an exercise. Exercises are explorations, experiments. 

This is life. 

I need to take it much  seriously than an exercise. I need to see how it’s deeply rooted in me; how absolutely everything in Being revolves around it. Why don’t I see this more clearly, and see it always? My attention isn’t good enough. Most of me doesn’t take life seriously enough. I think there will be time to live later on, after I figure things out. Yet I need to figure life out now, not later when I have time. I need to stop being distracted by everything that takes place around me and see how I am and how I wish to be much more clearly than I can with my thoughts. My thoughts are disorganized and confused and wander around without a center of gravity. 

Something more definite needs to be formed in me. I sit down in the morning and decide to do an exercise to see what happens. But why don’t I sit down to live?  To see life within me and be with it, not as an exercise, but as a fact? 

A definite thing. Not a hypothesis I am exploring, in the hopes of producing some effect.

That definite thing is already at hand as I speak, as I write this. 

Thank God, I think to myself. 

A higher influence, finer particles of being, flow into me. A sense of relaxation is available. I don’t have to reach for this or do anything; it’s wish for expression is already present in its nature. All I need to do is soften myself enough to receive it. It isn’t just the tension of my muscles that resists this inflow of divine energy; it’s my psyche, my constant worrying, my belief in the thinking part as the center of gravity. It is incredibly insistent about this. It will give long speeches about it, defending itself. Yet when it comes to sensation, it quickly becomes apparent that it is clueless. If I take refuge in the Dharma — the truth — of this sensation I see how powerless my thinking part actually is when it comes to living. It is media; it is commentary. But it isn’t breathing in and out.

I often think that all the anxiety I have, the worrying I do, denotes a kind of caring. Caring is very important, after all; it is one of the fundamental forces that creates being and helps it exercise its agency. But caring is not of the mind. Caring begins in the body and in the feeling, not in thinking about itself with rational constructions. Caring is a harmonic vibration that lies very close to the heart of the magnetic center, of my center of gravity. It doesn’t even begin with the word; it begins with an inner attitude that gathers itself. This gathering of the inner attitude into a core’s care in itself, in its essence. It is a direct reflection of God’s care for the universe and for being; that care doesn’t go away or exist somewhere else, it is directly expressed in the fact that I exist. It isn’t expressed after I think about it, or later, when I notice it. It is already expressed here and now as I sit here within my experience. My value already arises here in this; not in the constructions that are layered onto everything I do and everything I am later on during the day.

It’s true, I’m going to take satisfaction in a business task successfully executed, or delight in a piece of music I’m working on; but those come after. 

Being always comes first.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Notes from the Genius Master

Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Sparkill, NY

May 26.

Today will be a day which takes place only in the immediate circumstances I’m in.

It’s these immediate circumstances I’m interested in. The mind, along with the media and the Internet, invites us to participate in this vast sprawl of ideas and scale. Yet this isn’t how human beings evolved at all; our whole organism is biologically attuned to the perception of the immediate.
The word perceive is derived from two Latin roots, -per, ‘entirely,’ and -capere, ‘take’. So it means, in shorthand, to take everything in. That everything, per our sensory apparatus, is what takes place in my immediate circumstances. The intellect has the capacity to expand its interests well beyond that; yet in doing so, I frequently overlook what’s taking place right around me.

What is taking place around me, in its own turn, overwhelms what is taking place in me; and when I don’t see what is taking place in me, it metastasizes. That is to say, it loses touch with the intimate intelligence and perception of my own Being. I immediately fall under the influences not of my own perception and experience, but imaginary things of greater scale. These things tend to usurp my relationship with life.

My relationship with life can be much more intimate and directly related to my body and my sensation. It’s impossible to overestimate the usefulness of this relationship, if I can discover it. Until I do, I think I know everything. My intellect is incredibly assertive and bossy; it runs around like a wild animal, proclaiming its opinions about all and everything. It’s a nearly unstoppable force. If one ever gets a chance to see it in operation from an inward perspective that sits apart from it, one is astonished by its versatility as an invader: Atilla the Intellect.

It can’t, in a word, be trusted. It’s too clever and imaginative; it doesn’t root its conclusions in the act of breathing in and out, of perceiving the immediate.

Yet in fact the immediate is where everything truly important takes place.
It doesn’t do me any good to know what Boris Johnson is up to if the dishes don’t get done. The WHO response to stats on the use of hydroxychloroquine and death rates won’t sweep the kitchen floor.

Zen Buddhism is rife with tales of how the the guy in the kitchen, who seems to be a dull nobody quietly pushing a broom, ends up being appointed as the new master of the monastery—over all the resident Genius Masters of Buddhist doctrine.

These stories are about attention to the immediate and presence. The Genius Masters are super clever, but they don’t attend. Every human being I know, including myself, has a hyperactive clan of Genius Masters in them.

Life can become far more interesting if they shut up for a little while.

I recently tried to explain this to a friend. They got very upset over a one-sentence remark I made about how one is never going to awaken the intelligence of sensation with the intellect.
This person called me and delivered a seven-minute soliloquy on what I didn’t understand, how wrong I was, the way in which I subtly disrespected them and their practice, and so on. My answers to this were commensurately brief; there's no way to come up against the thinking part and win. It’s absolutely certain in its own mind that it is the Genius Master of every situation. The broom pusher isn’t worth the time of day.

Yet there’s more value in this pushing of brooms, this simple attention to the detail of daily-ness, than in all the thinking one can do. Thinking is actually more useful, on the whole, in the small-scale than the large one. If I think carefully about my next action, for example, making sure there is nothing I can trip over in my workspace while I’m moving about in it, it’s far more likely to have an immediate positive effect on my Being that thinking about the world economy. If I trip, I’ll injure myself; I can do something about that.

I can’t control the world economy.

So thinking on the scale of the world economy, which my hedge fund manager friend does all day and all night, isn’t useful for me. I suppose perhaps it’s tremendously useful for him; he wants more money. To him, that is the immediate. But it’s none of my business, is it? I’m not a hedge fund manager. And perhaps it's what I imagine myself to be that is important. Or, put in even more precise terms, it's what I experience myself to Be that’s important. I’m not a thing, a profession, a writer, a musician, a textile executive — I’m a creature, a human being. All these other roles are just roles that come afterwards. If I’m truly intelligent, my being is rooted in my existence, not my role. Existence exists within the immediate, not in the thoughts that attempt to fold it into a specific form.

Those are the thoughts this morning from the Genius Master. From time to time he’s not a total idiot.

He just acts like one most of the time.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Sparkill. 
Photograph by the author.

May 25.

“There is a finer quality of life that is metaphysical in nature; and it expresses itself in organic perception. “

This is a phrase from my diary entry yesterday. My wife questioned it, saying she didn’t quite understand what I was getting at here.

The question is actually quite complex, and takes more than a bit of discussion.

First of all, the word physical is taken from a Latin root, physica, meaning things of nature. Nature, in its turn, comes from the same root as the English word natal, meaning, that which is born. 

That which is physical is that which is born, which exists; and a close examination of Meister Eckhart’s sermons will reveal that these two words, taken together, indicate creation — the material creation, everything that is “born” of God. In both the science and the theology of the Middle Ages (which were not separated in that era) everything was born of God. There was little or no question about it, either in European society or elsewhere. Just about every society has a creator myth. There was, in other words, at one time in every human society the understanding that some metaphysical entity, some entity beyond nature, had given birth to it.

This, of course, did not satisfy the western scientists of the “Enlightenment,” who felt that being "enlightened" was above all the dubious quality of seeing that nature gives birth to itself. Of course, this is quite impossible; and yet the transcendental nature of creation has been shoved off to an impenetrable veil behind the Big Bang, which scientists of today’s era conveniently either ignore or dismiss. The only thing that matters in their own minds is what they can see and touch — even though, in a spectacular irony, the majority of their instruments now measure things that can’t ever be seen or touched, because they are either far too large or far too tiny. 

This shrinking down of the human mind and its understanding of the universe into tinier and tinier scales has produced some very interesting results, but in the meantime, the human soul and the human psyche have been progressively shrinking with it, and they are now so tiny that the world doesn’t have the ability to form good relationships anymore. Good relationships are built not on physics — nature, what is born — but metaphysics, that is, matters of conscience, quality, and love, which do not of themselves exist in matter, but only in the consciousnesses that perceive it — which are by their very nature or birth metaphysical, not physical. They are born not of matter, but of Being.

This thing called consciousness, or awareness, is born within matter, but it isn’t of matter; if it were, we could bottle it and sell it in grocery stores. It would be cheap and easy to find. Yet it isn’t cheap or easy, and our understanding of death and the threat that it carries is in large part based on this understanding, in the instinctive core of ourselves, that awareness isn’t cheap and easy to find. It’s not made of stuff. It is made of finer materials. We don’t know what those finer materials are; but our search for it with instruments and flasks and chemicals will never reveal anything. Religion and philosophy, in the classical pre-”enlightenment” era, made some considerable progress towards illuminating those questions; but, being creatures of the humanities and not the material sciences, they have been flushed down the toilet by modern academia and the technological society, which insists that its relentless pursuit of the material is the only thing that matters — aside, of course, from money, which has quite decisively replaced God as the source, in the modern human mind, of all things born or created.

Yet in the existence of love alone we can be certain there is a finer, metaphysical quality of life. This mystery confounds scientists more easily than philosophers; and everyone, religious or not, seeks it in one way or another. Scientists love science; but they don’t know why, anymore than a baseball fan knows why they love a hot dog. 

It’s in the relationship between organic perception and what it perceives that love or a lack thereof arises. That is to say, for reasons once again unbeknownst to science, atoms and molecules assemble themselves into extraordinary structures which require the ability to express awareness and receive impressions. The mechanistic rationalists would have it that this happens by accident, with no intelligence guiding it; but the idea itself is stupid, in the classical sense of the word, meaning a stupor or daze in which intelligence is unable to perceive the facts so plainly in front of it. 

Intellect is the only part of man’s Being that has the luxury of being able to separate itself from the other parts completely, and construct wild fantasies about everything. Organic sensation and feeling are much more closely tied to the immediate work of perception, and find it much more difficult to lie about things, although exaggeration is well within their range.

Understanding the question of this finer quality of life rests on use of the word quality, which means particular property or feature, that is, of what kind something is. It contains within it, in other words, the action of discrimination, of differentiating between things. 

The word fine is derived from the same Latin root as the word finished, which means completed. So when we speak of a finer quality of life, we speak of a perception of life that is more whole, less dazed, less in a stupor — less stupid. It is, to put it differently, a search for the intelligence that gives birth to life within this moment. That intelligence is embodied in our own awareness; and if we ignore it in favor of obsession with the material things we encounter, we already fail to embody the wholeness which consciousness has the potential to perceive.

The word organic refers to the organ of perception, the instrument, which is the body. Our perception rests here, prepared to perceive. Using the word perceive is equally important in referring to wholeness, because to perceive derives from two Latin roots, -per, which means entirely, and capere, which means to take. 

To take in entirely.

Gurdjieff frequently spoke of acquiring what he called impartiality — that is, wholeness. There is a wholeness to life; and organic perception, the action of taking it in wholly, brings us into a relationship that appreciates the connections between everything. 

This engenders a new kind of respect for life and being which is not available without a different kind of mindfulness.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Notes from May 20

May 20, 2020

Some comments I encountered last night caused me to see that mere association with the ideas and working groups is not always enough for people to develop a good understanding of what this work is.

This work has a value that comes from beyond this level. In the first place, human beings have a poor understanding of levels and most of us rarely, if ever, legitimately and deeply encounter material from another level that is retained long enough to inwardly form a center of gravity — even a temporary one, let alone a permanent one. Without a center of gravity, nothing is properly understood, because it’s quickly forgotten and all becomes relative, merging in to the background of everyday life as though nothing had happened in the first place. In order for something to become real in a human being, the center of gravity has to form strongly and take things in deeply and they have to seat themselves in Being in such a way that understanding becomes more objective.

During this process, many disturbing things take place in relationship to the ego. For one thing, as the center of gravity grows, ego finds less and less territory to occupy, and it erects stronger and stronger barriers to protect itself. While it does this, it becomes less and less visible — it goes into hiding. Its reactions to things that it sees as threatening become commensurately stronger; and as it withdraws into this defended territory, it actually gains strength because it is more concentrated. This is a situation every adept will eventually need to deal with; and it is not a happy one, because the ego cannot be eliminated and its activities become more intensely disruptive as it retreats. There is no easy advice on how to approach this problem.

The point about valuing the work and the level it comes from is essential. Ego alone is never able to do this. It just says it can. In truth, it is the weakest partner. The center of gravity, which can value things, stands in direct opposition to ego. It represents the actual concentration of astral forces. Gurdjieff called this formation of the astral body. The astral body is a metaphysical entity with physical connections to our ordinary being.

Nothing, as I said before, is understood or appreciated without a solid center of gravity; and this phrase is not an allegorical one. The center of gravity can be sensed through organic sensation in direct proportion to its formation and how much material it retains. It ought to be permanent, and it ought to be constantly feeding itself throughout the course of ordinary life. It’s a particular harmonic tone, an actual note that sounds in the body. The law of octaves can’t be properly understood until one feels the sound of this note within sensation; until that happens, the law of octaves is a theoretical structure. 

This particular note sounds as a bell that resounds throughout being and whose undertone is always present. It doesn’t go away. Experiences of sensation and being and consciousness that go away are mostly either imaginary, or so ephemeral and fleeting that they can produce no real result. Only the sounding of this inward bell can produce a result; and that only produces a result if the bell is properly forged and of the right shape.

Every human being forms their own inward center of gravity; so every human being has a bell of a slightly different shape or tone, but once the bell is formed, it’s a reliable partner in terms of the tone it produces. 

Gravity must be stronger than the words. It can be; it must be.

Without an inward center of gravity, wish is weak and one has no clear vision of life as a substance that flows into Being. With an inward center of gravity, Gurdjieff’s table of hydrogens becomes an experience, not a set of numbers on a piece of paper. Until that happens, everything is seen from approximately the same level: the Gurdjieff work and everything in it is actually a pathological psychology, not an organic state of being. Whole branches of this work can develop and evolve along these lines without ever going any further.

The more unified being is, the less doubt there is about unity. The sounding of the inner bell that is formed through sensation is the beginning of unity.

This beginning of unity is always characterized by feeling.

 A single note of real feeling, truly rung, does not deteriorate. 

It produces a lasting result that suggests further notes. It attracts vibration to itself. It is legitimate; that is to say, it is lawful. Inner gravity is capable of obedience; without it, nothing obeys, and life proceeds in the usual chaos. Life is a force unto itself; without obedience, it goes anywhere it wants to, which is another way of describing Gurdjieff’s mechanical man. The astral forces that affect us will have their way with us if we do not have a solidity, a durability, that serves in a lawful way. By serving in a lawful way I can actually acquire a degree of freedom that is not available if I subject myself to my average willful state, which is of the ego and not of Being.

Last night I wrote this additional note to myself: think about it. 

We are where we are and we have what we have because we lack respect. Wherever we are, however we are, whoever we are, it is like this. We lack respect. If we are rich, our wealth is there to teach us this. If we are poor, the same. Either we think we already have respect; or we think we’re so important that we don’t need it and that in fact it is owed to us, not the other way around. In this regard, we are fools. We could do much better; but we don’t bother.

This may seem like it’s not connected to the rest of this thought, but it is actually integral. We lack respect for the Gurdjieff work. We lack respect for tradition in general, we do not deepen it enough in us. We are like drunkards. We swill life, thinking it will fill us, but all it does is send us to the toilet over and over again. We are middlemen. We don’t take in the material that could stay with us and help us grow from within.

Think about all these things the next time you wake up and say to yourself that you aren’t working, that you have been asleep. 

The entire universe is at stake here. Don’t be lazy.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

A secret Practice


If one practices long enough, one eventually receives a secret practice. 

Very little should be said of this, simply because the practice is secret. That is its essence; and even to mention it is a matter of gravity.

Behind every great teaching lies a secret, esoteric, inner practice that cannot be violated. It is born from time to time in the souls of men, and those who are vouchsafed with it must keep it secret. We only see the surface of it from the words that the various Great teachings leave us.

As to how this secret inner teaching functions, or what it may lead to, this is also secret. This is not to say that it is better or worse or indifferent to other ways or teachings; merely that it is close to God and cannot be touched by the things of the world. So it must be kept secret.

Even so, the secret teaching has effects, external manifestations, that bring understandings essential to coming closer to it. It will always remain secret, because its life is born in the hidden heart of the soul and could not ever actually be brought out into the coarse air of life, even if one had a wish or a will to do so. The things that belong to God are locked away so thoroughly that only the heart itself can come to them.

One thing that I have found is certain in discovering these truths is that one cannot keep the world and follow the truth. God can come much closer to a person; but in order to do that, one must increasingly leave the whole world behind in ways that human beings refuse to do. The Kingdom of Heaven demands a complete release of the world and all its things; one must put them behind oneself—as Christ said, “away with you, Satan.” (Matthew 4:1-11.) 

Satan is the world.

We cannot just decide to leave the world behind us; we must do it. God asks for everything; and to the extent that we give it, we receive everything in return. This is an ancient knowledge passed down through many generations of humanity, which has been deeply corrupted over time. Remember Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his son. The son in this parable is everything that is born in us of the world.

The Kingdom of Heaven is filled with a glory and a perfection that transforms the things of this world; but that transformation is unattainable unless one surrenders all the things of the world first. One must go first and only to God in the heart, and nowhere else, casting aside each of the temptations that comes throughout the day.

These temptations are incredibly convincing. Today we see them in the addiction of human beings to politics and hatred; these are poisons that infect the soul, an illness much more dangerous than Covid 19. Even the best, those who think they are immune or superior, fall victim to it with so much ease that they can’t see it. Mankind is in the grip of a destructive force that consumes souls with a great appetite. Only by giving up this world entirely can any other world be gained.

We are surrounded in every instant by beauty and glory that would blind us if we turned our eyes directly on it; so perhaps it’s best, in some ways, that we can’t see it. But we need to somehow rediscover the fact that it is there; and we won’t have any opportunity to do that for as long as we cling to the world.

If one gathered people and told them truthfully of how to come closer to the heart, no one would listen. The ears cannot hear because the body does not receive. The eyes cannot see because the mind has already created its own image. When the tongue speaks, it is a slave and not a servant. Even what we taste and touch is a function of our lust and not a desire for God.

Many years ago I understood that the desire for God was the only thing real in me. In the midst of all my other desires, this one hunger stands like a tree in the desert, sinking its roots down into me and spreading its leaves towards the sun. 

The shearing of sheep takes many years; and I am hardly free of the devils that beset us all in our search for Being. Yet I have also learned that if we are steadfast and our care is earnest and honest, God will meet us halfway. 

From where we are, in relation to God, halfway is already all the way, because if God meets us halfway, our arms are already open, and He rushes into us with grace and forgiveness, even though he is the Father we scorned and the Mother we lost. 

Perhaps it’s dangerous to speak of such things; human beings are consumed with hatred and devils, and too often hate God first and before all their other hatreds, because this is what life does to them. So if I speak in this way, I will be hated by some. I already know this. 

Yet the hatred is not a hatred for me; it is a hatred for God and His Kingdom. The creatures of our personal underworld begin by thinking they are God, and hating God accordingly. This is how the ego works. 

We think that by calling it the ego, an innocent sounding, "scientific" term, that we are objective and can master it; but it was the ego itself that named itself ego in order to disguise its evil. It has always ever been thus with human beings: once we have put a safe name on it, we gaze upon the visage of our own damnation with equanimity.

Lest you doubt me, think of how Christ was crucified. 

He was not crucified by others; he is crucified by us. 

This is a lesson we turn our eyes away from, because we would rather love ourselves than love God and love Christ.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Love and freedom, Part IV: The Root of Image

In the act of awareness, it isn’t the nature of the image that is formed that matters. 

It’s its source.

If I believe I’m the source of the image, I become God. In doing so, I at once render the inwardly formed perception—the imagined— as my slave. 

Because it is of me, it ought to obey me. 

The problems with this mode of perception are perhaps self-evident, but let’s examine them anyway. If the image is of me, but does not obey me—which must eventually and inevitably turn out to be the case, because my perceptive premise is fundamentally false to begin with—a cognitive dissonance arises. I become angry and frustrated, either with myself or events, because they aren’t obeying me the way they should.   

If, however, I recognize that the image is not mine, then I discover a relationship of a very different kind. For one thing, it’s stripped from the beginning of the assumption that I understand it. Understanding thus becomes a formative, foundational part of consciousness: the act of perceiving and forming an image becomes in the moment it takes place a curious exploration, rather than presumptive ownership. 

This matter of the moment of perception is quite critical. Gurdjieff said that the transformation of what he called “higher hydrogens,” the finer substances of the astral body, could only take place if the attention was intentionally placed at the point where impressions enter: that is, the place where imagination is active. In invoking this image of astral body, Gurdjieff is alluding to the metaphysical property of perception, rather than its physical properties. This is important because the physical is always a consequence of the metaphysical, not the other way around.

The inward image that’s formed is quite different if curious exploration takes the place of presumptive ownership. There is a difference between an experience of self that assumes it already knows what things are, and an experience of self that receives things of themselves, not of the self. The decision on how to perceive, the inner attitude, is always formed within the instant that an impression is received. Swedenborg’s choice between love of God and others versus love of self equally always takes place in the moment. Discrimination is perpetual; agency must always choose a perspective. The action doesn’t have a beginning and an end; it demands a state of active engagement in the formation of the image..

In this sense, our being is formed by imagination: the way we receive images and impress them into the conscious action of our awareness. We can equate our relationship to imagination, to the images formed in us, to the critical juncture where we perceive other things as they are, or things as we think they are. Whenever we perceive things as we think they are, we’re the prisoners of ourselves – enslaved by our assumptions. 

What is certain in this action is that things will not be what we think they are: they cannot be. They are other than ourselves and no matter how much we insist on it, they cannot acquire either our consciousness or our characteristics. 

Despite this objective fact, anyone who watches their mind and actions in conjunction with ordinary emotion will quickly see that we do exactly this all the time. Gurdjieff called this identification; confusing objects, events, circumstances and conditions with ourselves. I think the investigation in these essays offers some help and understanding how that mechanism functions in a more detailed and precise way, along with its obvious logical flaws.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Love and freedom, part III: The Identical Image

Imagination, the formation of image within, results in a reflection of reality created within consciousness. Consciousness is metaphysical; it contains all of the results of the physical in a metaphysical medium that it is impossible to weigh, measure, or directly detect with instruments. The consequences of this arising we call consciousness are also metaphysical; agency forms around a set of metaphysical forces in relationship with the physical, but not of it. The most prominent and fundamental of these is love. In its most fundamental aspect, it consists of caring: of having a preference, an inclination, in one direction or another towards that which is perceived. 

If the concern is formed through ego and the imagination believes that what is perceived belongs to itself, then the care is unidirectional, that is, it is perpetually self-inflected and acts to the maximum extent possible in disregard of the external. The external exists only to serve the form created in imagination. I think the average reader can easily see the multiple human pathologies that derive from this perceptive inclination. What is important to understand is that it all begins with the assumption that consciousness and agency make about the image that is formed.

If, on the other hand, the concern for the external, for what is perceived, is formed through an uninflected receiving-quality in which agency understands that it is a participant in, not an owner of, what is perceived, a different kind of reciprocity arises. To any sane thinking individual, it's clear enough that this second form of perception is a far more accurate description of the actual circumstances. After all, the pre-existing qualities of reality cannot actually belong to the agency that perceives; they were there beforehand. We can see from this that imagination has, within it, an inherent potential flaw, since consciousness and agency are able to willfully misinterpret it. 

In light of the above, any misinterpretation may seem intentionally egregious; after all, the facts are apparently obvious. Yet consciousness does not know this as a fact without long and deep reflection. The nature of the image being formed—imagination—must be deeply examined and considered in order to understand it, because in the act of perception itself, the natural tendency of agency is to make the mistake of believing that the agent is the owner. 

This mistake is just as loving as the alternative option; but it is an act of self-love that quickly becomes incapable of interpreting the external in any mode other than sociopathy. This underlying current is ubiquitous and infects human thinking and emotion in a viral way: it takes over what is there and uses it to replicate its own form. Hence the entire act of perception quickly becomes one of ego-love. 

This use of imagination is both effective and powerful; yet it ultimately discounts the external. This is where we all, to one extent or another, find ourselves. We’ve formed an image of the world which argues quite powerfully that it belongs to us. Almost all our acts of agency emerge from this imaginary template, which has as its root intention a preference to interpret the world as being our own. The mechanism, thus formed, subsequently designs itself to reject whatever doesn’t fit this picture.  

All inner spiritual effort consists, in one way or another, of freeing ourselves from this pre-formed image of reality that we carry within us. Jeanne de Salzmann’s advice that we forget about everything we know; Eckhart’s insistence that every shred of ourself must be abandoned in order for God to enter; the could of unknowing; Buddhist abandonment. Every action of letting go is an effort to help the template of inner imagination re-form around an image that is, in a supreme irony, not different

It sounds like a paradox: the image that’s formed remains identical. Hence the Zen adage: before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. What changes is not the image, but our attitude towards it. And indeed, Jeanne de Salzmann once said the only thing we can change is our attitude.  

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Love and freedom, Part II: The Formation of Inward Life Through Imagination

In the first essay of the series, we established that freedom is actually love; and that real love is not untethered, but obedient.

Now I’d like to examine the relationship between freedom and imagination. This came up for me last night when I was considering the idea of what enslaves us, what prevents us from being free—what prevents us from being loving.

Imagination is the formation of an image, reflection. All consciousness forms reflections of its perception within itself. This is in the nature of consciousness: it acts as a mirror in which the image of the world is formed. 

Because consciousness is an agency, it chooses its attitude towards image. The world exists before consciousness in a quantum state; it is both a wave, a series of vibrations in relationships that move through time, and a particle, that is, a progression of individual entities existing in punctuated static expression moving through time and space. This sounds very complicated, so we can just boil it down to the idea that reality is both a wave and a particle – until it is perceived by consciousness, at which point it acquires one or the other character.

Because consciousness is a receptive medium upon which reality impresses itself, the difference between the wave and the particle are differences present in the nature of consciousness itself. Consciousness, in its reflection of reality, has the capacity to perceive what it sees as belonging to itself, with consciousness in relationship to it, or belonging to consciousness, which implies an ownership.

The difficulty with this act of perception is as follows. If consciousness sees the form that is created – the image, the imagination (the active imaging) as belonging to itself (ego) it forms a static entity, a particle, a thing which it can possess. 

If awareness sees created form as belonging to itself, it’s a wave—a movement—, which cannot be owned by awareness, but only experienced. To an extent, both forms of perception are "true"; yet in the action of Agency (perception) a discrimination must take place. One might say that we have to choose between whether we belong to the world, or the world belongs to us.

For the most part, all of us are trapped in the image we form, which we think belongs to us. Zen’s koans about reflections of the moon in water and mirrors are about this issue. There can be no freedom found in an image we believe belongs to us, because the belief itself has already relieved us from the obligation of obedience. Here we only love what we think is ours, and nothing else. This is not just a philosophically flawed premise; it's metaphysically flawed, and does not reflect reality as it is. The human consciousness and the nature of agency do provide the capacity for reflecting reality as it is, but only within the medium of loving obedience. This is the antithesis of destructive philosophers such as Ayn Rand. 

There is no reality unless an agency perceives it; yet the initial response of that agency to the perceived reality is what’s critical. Clearly, from a metaphysical and philosophical point of view, the reality that is perceived has a pre-existing quality, else it could not be perceived in the first place. This means that the agency of perception cannot possibly own the results. The results belong within consciousness, but are not of it. Consciousness, in an action of loving agency, receives and is obedient to its impressions, rather than believing it owns them. This fundamental acknowledgment of stewardship takes place in the absence of an assumption of ownership. 

I am; but I do not own. I receive instead of taking; I acknowledge instead of insisting.

From this point of view, we begin to see that the way that image forms in us—the way our imagination functions—has everything to do with the way that our inward life forms.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Love and Freedom, Part I

The word free is originally from a Sanskrit root, pri, meaning love.

I hear folks talk about freedom all the time; we look at ourselves and our inner work and we proclaim it’s about becoming "free," without truly understanding what that word means or even thinking about it. 

Free = good, right? End of story. Wave the flag.

Who thinks of freedom as being loving? Not many; generally speaking, it’s seen as a liberation from laws, rules, and so on, not as an obligation towards God and others. 

Yet love is an obligation towards relationship; so at its root “freedom” doesn't mean liberation from laws and rules. It implies, rather, a greater understanding of and obedience to them.

It’s quite likely, in my opinion, that the French word for true, vrai, also derives from the self same root. In this etymological interpretation, freedom consists of love and truth. A search for freedom is a search for love and truth, not exemption from obligations and rules. Not, mind you, an escape from ego, either. Perhaps this is why Gurdjieff said we need to acquire conscious egoism. If we look at his aphorisms about faith, hope, and love, we see that in his estimation, love and consciousness are equivalents.

 Love is conscious; and consciousness is loving. This is inherent in the nature of consciousness and love. They are not separable qualities. 

Lest we lose sight of this metaphysical and cosmological law, let’s remember the central role that these two qualities played in two of the preeminent metaphysical authorities of the western world. Meister Eckhart sermons are peppered with conflation of the two; and Emmanuel Swedenborg’s magnum opus is entitled Divine Love and Wisdom.

A recent conversation where the word Love came up prompted me to describe my experience of sensation and feeling thus:

Whenever real feeling arrives in me, it is always a manifestation of love. 

Love is dimensionally complex; it has its own octave of development. We already know what the two highest notes preceding do in this octave are: remorse of conscience and sorrow. It’s straightforward enough: sorrow is the note si; sensing and receiving what Gurdjieff calls the sorrow of His Endlessness in order to relieve a portion of His burden is the highest calling a conscious being can aspire to; so it has to represent the final note in that often before the return to the divine. Since remorse or conscience is the action that leads to that, we know that it occupies the note la. This is entirely consistent, by the way, with my contention that these two notes represent purification (la) and wisdom (si.)

Remorse or conscience, when experienced, is one of the deepest forms of love, as is sorrow. In its own octave, Love reaches its highest evolution in human beings in these two forms, which perhaps have very little to do with what we believe our day-to-day experience teaches us about the emotion of love. Yet to experience real remorse and real sorrow in the form of higher feeling is the most intense experience of love one can have. This isn’t the love of our emotions; it’s the love of our feelings, which have a much higher intelligence, located as they are on the left hand or ascending side of the diagram.

Working backwards—sometimes, it's easier to see things that way—we can infer that the note sol represents love of others, in relationship. This kind of love is often spoken of in the Gurdjieff work, especially after work weekends or work weeks, because the point of work together is that we develop a collective energy that makes it possible to actively sense this. Because it doesn’t need a shock to evolve into remorse from this point (the shock actually comes between remorse and sorrow) one naturally develops an evolutionary understanding of remorse from this love-through-relationship. It is the love for others that begins this process; and this is why Emmanuel Swedenborg said that Godly behavior begins with love for one's fellow man, and then for God. This kind of feeling-love only emerges after one crosses over from the right to the left hand side of the enneagram.

The three types of love on the right hand side of the diagram are easier to describe by moving upwards through the scale. The note re represents the material world. Love at this level consists of cravings. They are, largely, body-cravings. This is where selfish physical love manifests; and most of our fear reflexes are grounded in this particular kind of love, in one way or another. It is the love of having for oneself.

This particular note is not always just a crude response to environmental demands such as food, water, and so on. It can be intensely transformed through the receiving of solar emanations and the concentration of divine substances in such a way that the ingestion of food becomes a sacred action. The central role that food plays in Christ's teaching is a function of this action; and it can naturally lead to much higher understandings if ones work begins there. Hence Gurdjieff's emphasis with his pupils to paying attention as they eat, and his equally powerful emphasis on the action of meals taken together, which evokes the notes re and sol at the same time – a powerful invocation of the primary notes in both triads , re mi fa and sol la si.

The second note on the right hand side of the diagram, mi, represents lust. It's an escalated order of craving, in which one does not just wish to have, but also to acquire and own. It is the love of desires. Love of desires is not aimed at the immediate, but expands to encompass the future.

The third note fa represents the love of power. This is the love not just of wish, but control.

Astute readers will notice that the seven deadly sins center around the loves on this side of the diagram.

Go. and sense, and be well.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.