Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Thereness of Being


Quarry chain, Manitoga 

A conversation last night. The question of how thought and feeling affect the way I perceive life, and the idea that there are three parts of myself that perceive life. The word pondering came up. What’s the difference between thinking and pondering? The proposition was forwarded that pondering consists of three-centered considering.

The word consider comes from the Latin considerare, probably comes from sidus, sider, stars. Thus we infer that to consider is, in a broad sense, to take things in and discriminate according to a measurement on the scale of the cosmos. Interestingly, this brings us to Gurdjieff’s adage, consider outwardly always, inwardly never. We should, in other words, measure that which is not ours according to the scale of the cosmos; but that which is our own, we should measure only on the scale of ourselves. 

The point appears to make some sense, and deserves further examination. 

I believe we well understand how we think about things; and how we feel about them. We are not so clear about how we sense things in terms of our physical sensation. 

The word ponder comes from a root that means to weigh; this is a physical action. Human beings have long used such as balances (scales) to weigh things; and as such, it becomes apparent that we've become accustomed to the idea that weighing is done with an external instrument, artificially. 

Yet the quintessential act of weighing anything is to pick it up in the hands and use one’s own sensation to weigh it, to judge its heft. The action of pondering involves this weighing of an idea from within, according to the inner sensation — the physical sensation — of what it is. There's nothing particularly new about the concept that thought, ideas, and someone are physical objects with the gravity of their own: we speak of ideas as though they had gravity and weight. ("The weight of the evidence, etc.)Yet this is not conceptual; there is a physical fact connected to it which remains unexamined, because we dwell mostly in the realm of theory when we talk about things, instead of evaluating them from the point of view of this capacity.

The active physical sensation provides the thereness of Being. When Gertrude Stein remarked, of the fact that her childhood home in California had changed so much it could not be recognized, “There is no there there,”she was speaking of an external condition; yet we have exactly the same condition within us. Our childhood home is our essence, our sense of Being; and our sensation provides the thereness of that Being. 

For most of us, as human beings, there is no there there. And without the development of an organic sensation, the gravity we need to remain present is absent.

To ponder is to weigh; to sense the mass of what confronts us. And make no mistake about it, everything we encounter has a mass of one kind or another. Lest we become confused about this, let us remember that when we eat food, we take in mass; and that mass is collected in aggregations of cells and neurons that receive our impressions. The collected physical existence of a group of neurons and the electrical connections that they make together forms our impressions and memories; and it is no stretch whatsoever to understand that those particular collections have greater or lesser value — our discrimination is based on the measurement of the mass of those aggregations. This may sound conceptual, but it is firmly placed in biological fact. All life consists of the collecting of mass, its concentration, its reorganization into new structures, and the relationships between those structures.

One should think very carefully about this, because we contain a molecular cosmos within us that reflects the overall structure and action of the larger cosmos that surrounds us. The cosmos functions according to relationships of mass; asteroids, satellites, planets, suns, and black holes all regulate their interactions through, among other things, the concentration of mass. The whole universe is, in other words, a collective device that ponders: it weighs its own thereness and brings it into relationship with its own mass. 

From a certain perspective, for the cosmos, this is an inner activity. That inner activity of the cosmos, of which we are and infinitesimally tiny part, is akin to our own measurement of Being.

We cannot understand this without the development of an active sensation. To this end, all of our activities of being ought to be turned first; because unless it functions, the function of thought and feeling, no matter how amazing they may be, remain limited by the missing partner. 

As Gertrude Stein also said, in Everybody’s Autobiography, “you are extraordinary within your limits, but your limits are extraordinary!” 

To have a permanent sensation of Being ought to be ordinary. We don't; and that of itself is extraordinary.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

An interlude

 Dec. 29

We do not know the way that life has brought us to exactly where we are through purpose. Intention and purpose surround everything; yet in regard to our own awareness, a dark veil is drawn across them, and we mistakenly think that intention and purpose belong to us, and do not come from some other place we cannot understand.

Our ego begins where  we believe in our own intention and purpose. This obsession consumes human beings in a singular way. Even through science alone, the most basic of the disciplines, we can see that intention and purpose belong not to mankind, but to nature; that simple fact, of course, is either turned into a mechanical proposition or romanticized. The truth: that intention and purpose flow into being from a higher level that lies beyond nature and beyond man, is either faintly sensed or completely forgotten.

This is a big thought. It is a preamble to my own question about my own life. 

Exactly as I am, here, this morning, I have been created, brought into being, and grown up through a set of experiences to exactly this place. All of that is exactly where I ought to be and I am exactly what I ought to be, in the sense that intention and purpose have created me as I am. 

I emerge, here and now, from the fabric of the quantum state to be as I am because this is the way the universe has arranged itself since the beginning. There is a purpose and an inevitability that has led not only to the exact conditions and circumstances of my own life but that of all other lives.

That is yet another big thought. Yet it comes down to me accepting exactly where I am. My associative thinking and my fantasy, my imagination and my ego, constantly conspire to argue that something ought to be different somewhere; that something else should have happened, that others should have been kinder to me, that I should have been given more or that I should have taken more. That I am deserving in one way or another. 

As Henri Trachol once said of a question I asked him, comically rolling his eyeballs,  “I, I, I.”

This reply — which was not all he said, but was quite enough — sums everything up, doesn’t it? 

Do any of us see that this is how we actually are?

There is a force that can penetrate to the heart that is much greater than this one, this insignificant force of my own. If I get even the least taste of it, it reminds me that my own force has no power. I have simply been given the privilege of inhabiting a tiny fraction of that force which  does have power; and I ought to inhabit that with an unending amount of gratitude. 

When I get on my knees and pray in the morning, if my prayer is serious and heartfelt, I always sense this and see my inadequacy. That is the only point of prayer, in my experience. To remind myself of my own nothingness.

Today I want to resolve to be grateful for every single thing, to go against the thinking that tells me I deserve. I wish to invest myself in the faith, love, and hope of a new awareness of God. A new devotion to Christ. An appreciation of what is, rather than an inner argument about what I want for myself.

It must be frankly said that despite all my years, I am still trying to learn to do this. There is no easy path.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Love and Suffering; Waves and Particles; Feeling and Being

One of the things the changes with an active sensation is that one discovers in every moment the way that life flows into us.

One might think, if one studied the subject of impressions, that I speak here of impressions and how we take them in. Yet impressions fall into many categories, and they are all, in a certain sense, objects. When we see things, we see them as objects. When we hear things, they are less physically tangible, but they still become objects in our intellectual assessment, that is, “noises,” “songs,” or “speech.” When we feel things they become “pleasure or “pain.” In each case, the mind classifies them according to a system and they become objects in that system, objects which can be anticipated, collected, sorted out, and — ultimately, relative to the act of agency — produced.

Yet the impression of life and of the impressions of it (please excuse the reflexive nature of the statement) are not objects. The question of this is related to the quantum state, although it may not appear to be so on this gross level. When we make these things objects we turn them in into fixed locations which can be referred to. Gurdjieff called these “associations.” And indeed, they serve a function in this sense. Yet all impressions are not fixed locations — they're waves of energy that move through us, that sink into us. Even the nature of associations of the past, of memories, is a fluid one, because although they seem to be fixed — for example, the fact that my sister died is a fixed location in my memory — they're actually always in movement. My sister’s death never exists by itself in a box that I can open and look into, although in a certain abstract sense that is exactly how memory functions. My sister’s death only exists as a wave, in context. So it has the same paradoxical nature — exactly the same nature, and this is important — as a quantum phenomena. This shows us the very precise analogy, which is no coincidence, between the ambiguity of the quantum state and the nature of consciousness. Consciousness is actually, like all other things, a product of the quantum state: it has all of its features, reconfigured and expressed according to the appropriate level.

Life flows into us. Life is not a fixed particle; it is a wave. Life has nature of its own that carries a distinct vibration which exceeds the nature of all other impressions, because it contains them. It is possible to experience this through organic sensation of Being, through a sensation which becomes alive and exists in its own right as an additional mind within the body. This is, for all intents and purposes, a second body.

In ancient systems — which have reconfigured themselves into popular metaphysics– this second body is called the astral body. “Astral” in this sense means planetary, but in a certain sense planetary also means “of the stars,” because planets and stars are on a higher level than we are. Planets are part of the physical body of a star’s system. By developing the astral body, the body of sensation of Being, one begins to participate in energetic exchanges of a nature belonging to the planetary level of the solar system, that is, the influences (among others) of the earth and the moon. The entire system of astrology was originally developed to measure and qualify these influences as they are expressed in mankind. Those forces can have a conscious or unconscious effect on human beings. Only if the organic sensation of Being is developed are those effects conscious in any sense. If the astral body is developed, it lays the foundation for the development of the mental body — which, as we have been examining over the last few series of posts, is actually the feeling body and is not an astral or planetary but a solar body. The mental body comes under the influence of the sun.

These additional bodies are additive awarenesses that do not subtract from or substantially change the nature of the physical or coarse awareness. The natures are separated in existence and action, although they are conjunctive. Their influence does of course affect that awareness, but it is always present, and because it moves under its own law it will always have features that cannot quite come under the rule of the higher bodies. 

I turn back once again to the analogy of your digestion, which must be undertaken by the molecular intelligence of the body alone. If you tried to digest food with your mind you'd die within a few days, because your mind — the intellectual mind you're reading this with and live most of your life "through" — is entirely incapable of work on that fine a level. In the same way, if the astral or mental body tried to “digest” the coarser material we work with in our ordinary planetary body it would botch the job. 

In this sense, as we are we become responsible for the work of digesting our ordinary life. We can’t depend on higher spiritual powers to do it. They play different roles, work with different substances, and have different intentions. This will give readers an additional clue to what Gurdjieff meant by “work in life.” 

And it is always been a tradition among the higher levels of esotericism that the living of life in an ordinary way according to a true awareness of life is the highest practice of law.

I opened this essay with the point that life flows into us. It's our objective to come into life with the direct impression of that energy in the way that it falls into her being as a sacred substance. The presence of God is directly instilled in us through this experience. There is no functional difference between God and Love and Life; they are of one. The best possible source for intellectual and conceptual understandings of this in a more comprehensive way are the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg; yet there can be no substitute for the experience developed through sensation, because it’s of a practical nature.

Some of my friends have asked me repeatedly to “explain” how one develops an organic sensation of Being. The only thing that I know for certain is that much suffering is necessary. One must be with one's suffering and come back to it again and again with courage and resignation, confront it over and over again and be willing to go on. 

One must not give up.

In this work, the more that one develops a relationship with life and with these additional bodies we can grow, the more one must suffer. The level of detail to which suffering eventually develops, the fine-grained nature of its pervasive influence throughout the experience of life, and the intricate relationship between love and suffering which is of molecular nature and arises, as it happens, in the quantum state, can hardly be explained. It can only be lived. 

Yet we might be able to say that love is a wave and suffering is a particle, if we wish to oversimplify.

Think about that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Feelings and Quanta

Virgin Nursing the Christ Child with Four Angels

Jean Hey was a geographic contemporary of Hieronymus Bosch and they would have moved in the same circles. This painting was executed during roughly the same period when Bosch was working on the Garden of Earthly Delights. Like other Northern Reniassance masters, his paintings display an extraordinary refinement. Certain elements in the background of the Nativity with Donor portrait of Cardinal Rolin are direct stylistic links to some of the symbolism and pictorial convention used in Bosch's work, the Adoration of the Magi in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in NY. This exceptionally fine Bosch painting was influential and elements from it are to be found elsewhere in other works of its time. 

 The connection between quantum physics and feeling is much more intimate than anyone realizes.

Quanta are energy packets— forces — which embody two energetic characters, paradoxically reconciled in the ambiguity of their relationship. The ambiguity—the uncertainty —is what essentially defines quanta. If we say that they are waves, we are wrong; and if we say they are particles, we are wrong. If we say that they have a duality, a wave/particle duality, then we are essentially correct. In this way, their essential nature, the reconciling factor that defines them, is the uncertainty itself, not the wave or the particle.

A wave is fluid, an entity in motion which moves through space and time; and a particle is static, something that can be fixed in space and time. The idea that both could be one thing is paradoxical to us; in the material world, entities resolve either as particles or waves that move through them—not both. Conceptually, we can liken the quantum state to the cataphatic and apophatic approaches to God: knowing God by what He is, and knowing God by what He isn’t. One searches for God by fixing him in a known place, the other by moving through the unknown. Awareness initiates the search; before it intervenes, there is an energy present, a potential contained within a force, but it has not manifested in the material world. That potential is a metaphysical potential. 

It may not sound like it, but pursuing this question is very much a family thing; I remember my maternal grandfather trying to express the mystery and beauty of it to me when I was objectively far too young to appreciate it. 

I can, however, remember how he felt about it; he had a sweet and indescribable love of the mystery of it all.

Our feelings, which are very fine substances more intelligent and refined than our emotions, are equally ambiguous. They contain the character of both waves and particles within them, because they arise from the emanation of love at the quantum level. 

Only through the agency of our awareness and the choices dictated by our intention do they acquire either static or fluid natures. Both static and fluid natures are necessary in feeling, because feeling needs to have the capacity to form material bodies within us and the capacity to allow vibrations to pass through them as a form of influence. At the moment that feeling arises in the deepest fabric of our being, it either forms a “particle” or creates a “wave.” 

Until feeling arises, we cannot say that it is a fixed thing or a moving wave. Both are useful. Yet they have to identify themselves through an encounter with our awareness; and most of that takes place subliminally, embedded deep within consciousness in a faculty that Gurdjieff referred to as conscience. 

The territory of conscience is that selfsame territory of inner responsibility – the ability to respond — which I spoke about earlier. This observer, the conscience itself which is also consciousness, is what resolves the duality of the feeling into either a fluid wave or static particle. Thus feeling has deposits of particles that exist in us, resolved from their quantum arising, and it also has waves that move through us. As in the physical universe, the particles affect the waves and the way that they interact. This is how memory functions within being: it is a deposit and repository of the particles of feeling. Experience is the immediate conjunction of wave formation within the substance of the particles of feeling. So both characters of feeling are present at any given time, as they are in particles of light: and indeed, we can understand light and its unusual nature as being very closely related to feeling. They are not separate entities; and thus the strong influence of the sun, however subliminal and unconscious it is for people, on human beings.

You may not feel yourself as a fabric of very fine particles of feeling, or as a wave that moves through them: yet this is an essential definition of who you are and what we are as beings. It takes a great attention, like that of an athlete on a surfboard riding a wave, to truly come into any intimate contact with this; yet with training, and with the grace of concentrated will and intention active in us, we can inhabit both the waves and the particles of our being much more actively, which is how we reach a deeper and more intimate feeling within ourselves. This capacity is not the skill of the intellect or of learning; not in any conventional sense of studying facts. It’s an organism that grows within the inhabitation of Being. It’s organic, rooted in the fine threads of the soul which spread throughout our body and collect and store information.

I said I would speak a bit more about the nature of light, which is misunderstood by physics. We should begin here by pointing out that astronomers and astrophysicists that study the universe use light for all of their observations about the age of the universe and when the Big Bang took place. According to modern astrophysical theory, the Big Bang took place about 13.8 billion years ago, on a Thursday.

I point out the Thursday because the idea that we actually know when the universe was created is an absurdity. Every few years, astrophysicists discover a galaxy so far away and so extremely well developed and organized that they scratch their heads in puzzlement, saying, “nothing this organized should have existed this early in the universe.” In other words, an object appears in their telescopes and they say, “that can’t be there.” But it is. Recently we had yet another example of this.

The obvious explanation is that the universe is far, far older than Big Bang theories can account for; but no, even in the face of fairly conclusive evidence, scientists will explain to you that that can’t be. They base this on their theories about light and how it functions; yet we don’t actually know how light functions. Photons are quantum animals of the finest pedigree: they are both waves and particles, and flaunt both characters whenever you do experiments with them, those annoying little buggers. 

They shouldn’t be able to do that. But they do. And then there’s quantum entanglement. Nothing should be able to do that. But it does.

Let’s add light to the list of “physical” manifestations within our universe that have abilities they shouldn’t have and do things they can’t do, at least according to modern science.

Light has many characters that haven’t been well understood; among is the ability to create matter as we know it. Scientists will tell you that light can’t do this; but in a certain verified sense, it already does. 

Nuclear fusion solar engines forms all the heavier elements in the universe through nucleosynthesis, as was explained in considerable detail by Fred Hoyle during the 20th century. . Hoyle’s work on how this takes place still stands as the seminal understanding in this field. Hoyle was also an outspoken advocate of panspermia, the idea that life did not originate on earth but is everywhere in the universe. The recent discovery of bacteria buried in sediments over 100 million years old that are still alive injects yet another argument in favor of this idea into the dialogue. 

But I digress. What I want to mention is that light itself, in its encounter with unresolved metaphysical materials (quantum state energies) in interstellar space, actually collapses their wave/particle duality and creates the cold gas of the interstellar medium that populates the space between stars and galaxies. Within the last 20 years or so, scientists became aware that there was way, way more of this gas than they ever imagined. Where it’s all coming from remains a matter of debate. The idea that it’s still being created is too outrageous to consider.

At least for now.

I maintain that for reasons that cannot be understood through physical mechanisms alone, the process of universe-creation is eternal. It exists outside of time and is always taking place. Light is the agent for this transformation of something this out of nothingness.

We are a long way, here, from the question of feeling and how it functions — or at least you might think so. Yet remember that the action of feeling begins, within its arising in the material, right at the point where waves and particles resolved themselves from the metaphysical medium of the unknown which they reside in.

This is taking place within us right now; it isn’t something that took place during the Big Bang, or that happens out there, away from ourselves where we can observe it with instruments. It is integrated into the fine fabric of Being itself. In this sense, all things are quantum phenomena: at their finest degree of resolution, objects, events, circumstances, and conditions arise from this mystery. Our feelings, equally, arise from mystery; our awareness becomes responsible for them. This responsibility and the awareness that carries it are metaphysical, not physical, properties. We already know this by studying the physical and seeing its limits. Quanta separate themselves into waves and particles; but they cannot know how to feel. 

This comes from a higher influence that lies outside their realm. Feeling transforms the nothingness of inertia, of not caring, into a movement that both has a location and forms relationship from it.

Think about that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Feeling-Body


Madonna Enthroned with Saints
Detail from the Moulins Triptych

It’s quite important, in inner work, to stop thinking about things theoretically and to stop hypothesizing about this and that. One has to physically, emotionally, and intellectually experience the facts about the development of an inner life and additional being-bodies in order to begin to grasp what Gurdjieff was actually up to.

This takes a great deal of practical work and a surprising amount of suffering. The suffering doesn’t end; any illusion that one is going to obtain some hypothetical “freedom” by achieving this or that stage of "enlightenment" is mistaken. 

The roots of humanity grow deep down into the emergence of material reality from the quantum level and life from the cellular level. 

Humanity’s nature is, taken as a whole, an organism of its own that has multiple levels of awareness available to it, each one of which inhabits a different physical and energetic body. These bodies don’t have the same individual capacities for perception. The material body, as it stands, has one level of perception available to it which is irrevocably different in terms of understanding than the astral body. In turn, the astral body, which is formed in organic sensation, is irrevocably different than the mental body. The mental body is actually a feeling-body, not one of the intellect. It can’t grow until the astral body is well-formed, which under any ordinary circumstances takes multiple decades... or lifetimes.

Gurdjieff intimated this in certain remarks to P. D. Ouspensky, which can be found in “In Search of the Miraculous.” The distinction between the label of the mental body and its actual nature is not, however, clarified. Only practical experience can bring one to an understanding of this distinction.

The formation of the feeling-body consists of a refinement of the capacity for suffering. Suffering creates one of the finest substances available on the human level, a harmonic vibration essential to spiritual food and the consequent growth of the soul. Most of the suffering that we encounter is coarse and intense; suffering on the level of the physical body, the first body, encompasses suffering of the body, the emotions, and the intelligence, magnified and exaggerated in ways that are only appropriate to the level of the physical body. If one understands the nature of suffering from this perspective, it is all of the body and thus becomes a question of survival. The brutality that humans visit upon one another emerges reflexively because of the coarse nature of this particular material. What it means, from a practical point of view, is that most of what we think of as suffering from the ordinary level, the physical level, is a gross reflection of the finer kinds of suffering that are necessary for inner growth.

A finer suffering can arise. Most religious traditions, at their esoteric core, both recognize this and offer paths in that direction. Yet without the inflow of finer substances from a higher level, that suffering will not mature. 

Spiritual suffering eventually becomes a trial against the negative influence of the ego, against selfishness. This is only achieved with the help of higher forces of which we know little and understand even less. Again, Gurdjieff intimated this in several of his very early talks. The ego itself is a metaphysical force, an entity produced by consciousness, and is what one might call the “holy denying” portion of awareness of the astral body. By its very nature, struggle against the ego is already a ground-floor entry into the metaphysical levels of feeling.

The growth of the astral body is rooted not just in organic sensation, but in the additional capacity of the awareness of one’s own nothingness. Gurdjieff’s aphorism, “like what it does not like,” is related to the growth of the astral body. Some of the things I allude to here I speak of in shorthand, and must be sought from within, as their implications do not submit well to translation into human language. It's a territory of faith, not intellect, that is, a territory that emerges from the subtle tissues of feeling that must grow within Being in order for it to mature and form a good connection to the soul. 

The concept of the soul is intimately related to the question of the physical, astral, and mental body; feeling creates the roots that connects all these different bodies to one another. It evolves in refinement as it grows. This paradoxically removes one from imaginary ideas about spirituality and other levels, while enhancing the perception of one’s legitimate nature, along with the multiple bodies, on this level. 

One eventually recognizes the simple fact that, as we are, we are confined to this level and must await death in order to discover the implications of our nature on the levels beyond it. This is why Gurdjieff saw death as a benefit for those who truly live, rather than a tragic end. The vision of death as a tragic end is a vision that belongs to the physical body. Already, the astral body, if it's inhabited, has a different understanding, and the mental (again, feeling) body yet another one.

As I’ve mentioned before, each of these bodies is an actual body that is inhabited and lived in, not an allegorical entity.

In a sense, then, our work is always a movement towards feeling. 

Yet we navigate in the darkness of our coarsest and least helpful feeling; we navigate by touch, constantly distracted by the gross and overwhelming feelings of the physical body and its urges and desires. To make matters even more difficult, these feelings are entirely legitimate and need to be allowed to exist. 

It's much like a small, thin person trying to control a very large dog on a leash. Without the right touch, we all know, what the dog will do is whatever it wants. There has to be a deft relationship with the dog, one that establishes mastery through sensation, love, and cooperation, not sheer force — because a small thin person will never have the force of a large dog. 

It is, rather, the perception and intelligence of the small thin person, along with their touch on the leash, that can make a difference.

On a final note. My friend Livia and her crew have just premiered their Christmas show. Use the link below to see it; and please make a contribution to the Vanaver Caravan to continue its work.

Into the Light

May you be well within on this day,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Feeling and Time

When I spoke about feeling in the previous post, perhaps I didn’t emphasize enough that I'm not speaking about my emotions and reactions. Feeling is a deeper thing than emotional reaction. Emotional reaction is like the surface of the ocean. It appears vast; and it’s what affects us directly when we are sailing on it. But it is just the surface of something much deeper, on a much larger scale, that penetrates everything we do.

At the heart of feeling lies the love creates the universe. We are a fragment of that love; reduced as we are to a tiny size, we can only ever participate in a fraction of it, yet that expression is a sacred duty, a religious obligation. Our duty, our obligation towards feeling is to move past the surface of our psychology and into the depths of the soul, where feeling finds its most intimate roots.

In order to explain this a different way, I’ll invoke a paradigm from the plant kingdom. All growing plants form symbiotic relationships with fungi, without which they could not live. The fungi are invisible networks of mycorrizae, a fine web of rootlets that grow around the plant roots and throughout the soil into unimaginably large organisms, completely invisible, which nonetheless serve as mediators for all the nourishment the plant collects for its growth.

Feelings are much like this. They exist under the surface of ordinary being, beneath personality, in a very fine web of Being that feeds everything we are, all that we love. They actually serve as the connective tissue between God’s influence, the life of the soul, and our ordinary being. 

The analogy with the way that fungi interact with trees and other plants is quite exact; and this is no coincidence, for in every case the material reflects the spiritual. We only know that our feelings exist in the same way that we discover fungi exist; their fruiting bodies, mushrooms, occasionally sprout up in order to reproduce. Then we see them, and marvel.

Even here, the analogies continue, because mushrooms are things of extraordinary fragility and beauty; they can be edible and ecstatically aromatic, like truffles, or deadly poison, like the Death Angel. They can be psychedelic: they can give us visions. Woo hoo. 

The point is that feeling contains an essence that has been distilled in the same way that fungi distill finer, elemental essences from the world around them: said essences are concentrates of dispersed qualities expressed by the divine. 

Those essences, in the case of fungi, have multiple natures which we can learn from. They have these fruiting bodies, organs of sexual reproduction, which are in many cases of great visual beauty; they have these essences in them which can be poisonous, psychedelic, nourishing; they give seed by putting out invisible spores that propagate the fungi. All along the way, they are planetary organs of great beauty, of mystery, of secrets nourished, secrets held, secrets told.

Our feelings are very much the same. They have an impact on our psyche that is much greater than our emotions; they are made of finer substances than we can generally sense with the coarse, ordinary parts of ourselves, and help to digest the impressions we encounter and collect. Feelings are the deep mirror of emotion; we have emotion all day long, and rarely understand that underneath it feeling is functioning. 

Feeling connects us to the soul; and what it builds in us over the course of a lifetime deepens according to our attentiveness.

When I say that we need to become responsible to our feeling, as I did in the last post, what I’m speaking of is a sacred religious responsibility towards this organic property of Being; and it’s clear enough I didn’t explain it very well, because I was in the midst of describing a deep impression of the moment that made it sound like this is the kind of thing one encounters in psychotherapy.

I’ve been in psychotherapy more than once; and I have nothing but respect for the profession, which is of great value. Yet it is very different than an exploration of the deep territory of Being and feeling.

I will leave that subject for the time being, although I may come back to it. I want to discuss a related phenomenon which may appear on the surface to have nothing to do with the subject of feeling, but in fact has everything to do with it, because feeling itself, taken on the scale of societies and planets, is a tissue that functions to connect time.

Really it does.

Day before yesterday, my friend Paul, with whom I have shared many metaphysical discussions, pointed out that if the future already exists, it calls the existence of free will into question. This is an ancient dilemma that has been contemplated by philosophers and religious masters for thousands of years. The contradictions are evident: if free will exists, it means things can change and be different; yet if the future already exists, everything has already been determined, and the way we behave according to what we think is our “free” will can have no impact. 

Uh oh. In the early Christian era, this dilemma led to crisises of thinking about salvation. God is all-powerful and universal and exists outside of time; so if a Being is going to be “saved,”that is, redeemed of sin, God is making all the decisions, and they are already made. Redemption takes on an inevitability that either pre-saves or pre-condemns any individual; and their own will and action have no impact on it. An all-powerful deity makes for universe, in other words, of puppets.

Gurdjieff’s solution to this idea was to conceive of a broken universe in which even God is fallible: that is, not actually all-powerful. In essence, this conceptually accurate definition neatly defuses the issue of free will; but at the expense of an all-powerful God. 

As to why it's conceptually accurate, I will simply point out here that  descriptions of God as powerful, all-powerful, or broken are all inadequate; every one of them actually implies a limitation of one kind or another by assigning a quality. According to the ancient and important tradition of apophatic theology, one identifies God by knowing everything he is not. 

Anything one can think of is not God.

 Let us leave that thought and move on.

Ah, I fear this essay may run too long. Because we have only just now reached the deep end of the pool and we must keep swimming.

In point of fact, material reality is an illusion. All reality is created, ultimately, from quantum energies, which are not material entities in the way we encounter, experience, or understand them. Quantum physics has made this quite clear. 

This dilemma has, however, vexed our poor physicists for over a century by now. This is a fact I quite literally learned at my grandfather's knee: he was one of the founding fathers of quantum theory, and I remember him speaking to me of such things even at the wee age of 5 or 6. 

Oh My Quanta.

One of the consequences of this understanding is that we discover material reality has flexibilities that appear to be impossible according to its own nature, such as quantum entanglement, which produces phenomena that directly violate fundamental tenets of physical reality, such as the speed of light: quantum entanglement functions instantaneously, hence exceeding the speed of light. 

Yet there it is.

One of the peculiar properties of our current understanding of quantum physics is that time travel is scientifically possible. From what we can see where we are, it's actually more theoretically possible by a wide measure than interstellar travel. 

All time is, from a certain technical sense — and also from an actual spiritual sense — simultaneous, that is, everything exists within eternity, a place that lies outside time and comprehends time as a part of itself — just a fraction of what it is. This is why the future can be sensed by human beings (see my post of two days ago.) 

This sensation of time is ultimately connected to feeling, which I may be able to explain later if I don’t run on too long. However, the point here is that time is a reflexive entity: it isn't a linear progression going from past to now to future, but rather a field of energy that's engaged in a perpetual simultaneous dialogue (we could call it a PSD) with itself. This is a fairly simplistic but nonetheless accurate description of the quantum state from which material reality arises; and the nonlinear dialogue of time implies that events from the future can affect the now (take the example of the dreams, again, in my post two days ago) or even the past. 

Time is not a progression; it is an exchange of relationships that acquires an order that does not ultimately reflect its true nature. (See my book Metaphysical Humanism regarding the formation of order.) In this sense it is indeed possible to do exactly what Gurdjieff said when he advised his pupils, “use the present to repair the past and prepare the future.”

What he was indicating here is that the present moment, and the mindfulness and attention that accrue to it insofar as we make inward effort, have the ability to directly affect and change the past and the future. This is because the dialogue that takes place within the intelligence, attention, mindfulness, and feeling is eternal, that is, it is a part of the PSD of the universe that functions outside of time to reconfigure the energetic state of things. 

In this way what appears to be a fixed material past may be changed in the same way that the future may refer to us and advise us of its nature. Thinking creatures, in other words, assume a direct responsibility for the work of God.

This idea is by far nothing like a new one; Ibn Arabi referred to human beings as the vicegerents (officeholders) of God. We are, that is, God’s representatives in the material realm; and unto us consequently accrue great responsibilities for helping to repair and reconfigure the fabric of creation. We may do it increment by increment; but this is our real purpose.

Because the universe is created through love and love alone, a deeply spiritual feeling (it is the feeling of creation itself and love itself) penetrates everything in tiny measure. Like all other creatures that can perceive, we collect it in the same way that bees collect honey, or that fungi around tree roots allow the roots to collect essential minerals and water for the growth of the tree. Those collections of the very fine substances of love, which arise as energies at the point of manifestation from the quantum state, are relationships which function like mycorrhizae. They grow within beings and eventually produce fruiting bodies.

Our feelings arise from these actions. They are, ultimately, rooted at the base of creation in an infinitesimally fine web created of light. 

BTW. It should be mentioned here that light has especially fine functions that are completely misunderstood by modern physics, but, OMQ, that’s another subject. 

And I think I have gone on long enough for today.

Perhaps I’ll write a bit more about this tomorrow.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The sacred duty of feeling

I’d like to talk about a different kind of attitude about the way I feel.

We feel good; we feel bad. These are facts. All the religion and esoteric practice in the world won’t change that much. 

I have to be present to my actual feelings as they are, which probably includes feelings of frustration or sorrow or anger that I feel the way I do. I ought to be feeling different. I ought to be feeling good. Why are these feelings so bad? And so on.

What is important is that I become responsible for my feelings. 

As an organism with the capability of expressing feeling which was created, among other reasons, expressly to have this capacity, I'm responsible to have these feelings. It's my duty; it's my role; it's what I'm here for. I begin there. 

There are much larger metaphysical reasons for all of that, but we can start with the ground-floor idea that I have feelings and that it's my duty to have these feelings. I need to embody them; I need to own them instead of denying them or rejecting them. That is to say, I have to accept my feelings. They’re real. I can’t use whitewash to cover them up or an eraser to wipe them off the blackboard. 

I need to be with them as they are.

This idea of becoming responsible for my feelings is very different than controlling them. To be responsible means to be able to respond, to have an intelligent relationship towards feeling that listens to it, acknowledges it, responds to it in an appropriate way. Most of my frustration with feeling arises from a denial of one kind or another. I’m not in relationship with myself; so of course I’m not in relationship with my feeling. 

My feeling is an important and delicate part of my inner mechanism — so important, in fact, that outside of the physical functions regulated by breathing and sensation (which are themselves intimately connected with feeling) feeling becomes the most important thing that there is. If I don’t have a sensitive and intelligent relationship to it, if I’m not responsible to it, everything goes off the railroad tracks right away. 

Yet I live most of my life without seeing that I have to be responsible to my feelings.

My attitude towards my feelings needs to be one that invests in them with a positive, objective, and introspective capacity that tries to see the whole of things as they are. 

Gurdjieff once described a moment of real conscience as having all the feelings that one could possibly have about something in one single moment. This is a big idea; it implies an ability to be comprehensive about feeling, to grasp all of its implications in a single deft action, somewhat like the idea of Zen enlightenment whereby 10,000 warriors are slain with a single blow.

Having a moment like that involves bringing the whole of one’s being to the point of one’s existence. This includes all of the many millions of memories, both cellular and intellectual; the action of sensation in the moment, including breathing; the feelings one has. In each instant we're a comprehensive summary of all that we have been and where we are at this moment. There's a place within the soul that can grasp this in its entirety; yet we aren't really ever in touch with that. 

We do brush up against it; it can be our partner, even if its entirety lives within a mystery that we can’t penetrate with our ordinary mind.

I am all that I am. 

Within this experience arises an attitude, an inclination towards all that I am and what I am. The inclination needs to be one that takes responsibility and assumes ownership for feeling. My feeling isn’t forced on me from other people or outside events; it arises within me and I need to be responsible for it. 

In a certain way, I often force it on myself and then blame others; so there's usually some inappropriate and excessive use of force at work here. 

Sometimes just seeing the feelings as they are, and not treating them as enemies, but simple facts, allows me to see them in a new light. For example: if I’m depressed, I’ll just accept being depressed for a little while. Having this kind of feeling is a responsibility: this particular kind of feeling needs to exist on the planet, or it wouldn’t arise. How do I become responsible for embodying and manifesting that feeling?

This may seem like a peculiar idea, but think about, for example, terror. In moments of great terror where catastrophes take place, there are always some people that embody my mother’s famous family folk saying, “when in trouble, fear, and doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.” 

There are those that do that. 

But then there are those who in the face of great catastrophe become responsible for their feeling of terror yet then go forward courageously, embodying it and yet at the same time still seeing the way forward. These are the people we call brave, courageous, and so on.

In order to further illustrate this, another family story. John Merrill, who is not a direct ancestor but married my great great grandmother after she had already given birth to my great-grandmother Annette, was a drummer boy in the Civil War. 

He was 13 or 14 years old. 

Imagine the courage that a boy of that age has to demonstrate to march in front of troops towards enemy lines who are shooting lead bullets at him. 

Surely this takes a kind of emotional courage that is responsible for the fear and yet goes forward through a sense of duty. 

This same young man later had the courage to marry a woman whose husband had flat-out up and disappeared, help her raise her young daughter, and father two additional children. We only have a single dim picture of him in the family album, but through that roughly defined black-and-white photograph emerges the echo of a man who took responsibility for his feeling. 

He fulfilled his duty.

This reminds one of Gurdjieff’s idea that an ordinary man who fulfills his duty often does more than the dreamers who think of themselves as being—either now or someday in the future—spiritual giants of one kind or another. He had a Russian word for that, the obyvatel. 

I’m not going to be a war hero at this age; at least I hope not, because if I still earn that status in this lifetime, it will mean things are about to get very much worse than they already are, and they are already quite bad enough, thank you very much. 

But I can become a human being who is honorable enough to face their real feelings as they are, and suffer them. 

There needs to be an effort to suffer feeling with dignity and intelligence, instead of rejecting it. 

If I see the act of having feelings on the human scale as a sacred responsibility, perhaps I'll meet each feeling I have with a little more respect than I do when I say to it, 

“I don’t want to have you. You crappy feeling.”

Disowned feelings get up to all kinds of mischief. 

The photograph is Annette Merrill-Hazen, my great-great grandmother, who was adopted by John Merrill after her father Edwin Lewis disappeared. Like my mother, she has an air of introspective stoicism about her. Make no mistake about it: these women were made of steel. They had to be, what with the men they had to deal with. 

Annette Merrill married John Hazen, a direct descendant of General Moses Hazen, a revolutionary war figure of colorful but questionable character. His feelings sometimes got the better of him, apparently; per historical records, atrocities ensued. Men, it must be said, do terrible things in war.

Yet later he appears to have perhaps achieved some good; may God have mercy on his soul.

Go deep in your heart, and be well-


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Family Stories, and the Nature of Time

This is a true family story from the 1800's.

My great-great-grandmother Helen Reed was born in Watkins Glen. According to family accounts, she was an Episcopalian, an accomplished horsewoman, spoke fluent French and Swedish (which she learned from her housekeeper) and was skilled at the Victorian parlor activity of table tipping, a form of séance. 

Her reputation as a psychic did not come casually. 

As a young woman, she married Edwin Lewis, an opera singer. They moved together to his family seat in Ohio.

Not long after, a newlywed, she woke up one morning and insisted that her new family take her to the train to return to Watkins Glen. This baffling behavior on the part of a new and untested member of the family puzzled everyone, but she insisted that she had to go. She had, she explained, had a dream of her sister’s funeral procession. 

Her sister was dead. She had to return to Watkins Glen for the funeral. 

No doubt shaking their heads at the absurdity, the family duly put her on the train, and she arrived in Watkins Glen to attend the funeral of her sister on time. 

There was, clearly enough, absolutely no way she could have known by any conventional means her sister had actually died on the very night of the dream; but she did.

The marriage, already off to a rocky start, was not to go much better. She gave birth to a baby girl, Annette. While the child was still an infant, she and her husband went on tour in the Midwest where he sang at various opera houses. One night, he finished his performance on stage and left the stage to walk back to the dressing room where his wife and baby were waiting for him.

He never got there. Somewhere on the brief walk between the stage and the dressing room, he disappeared — never to be seen again. This was, mind you, in a relatively small town, and there were few means whereby one could hide and leave without being seen. To this day his disappearance remains a family mystery; there was no sign before it of dissatisfaction or trouble.

Helen remarried John Merrill, whose New Testament Bible (badly in need of rebinding) is sitting next to me as I write this. He's at the top left in the picture.

Here as well is the seashell picture frame containing a silhouette of her mother which Helen Reed made for her on her birthday.

Like Helen, I've had distinct and unambiguous dreams of the future which have then come to pass exactly as I dreamed them. The talent, if you can call it that, for apprehending the future clearly runs in the family. Yet such talents never function well when you need them to; and when they do predict things, they are almost always bad ones. A friend of mine who had died in 1999 came to me in a dream three times in the month before my sister died in 2011, three nights in a row, because I didn’t understand his message until the third time. (I’m a dunderhead.) That third time I understood he was coming to tell me that a family member would die, but I didn’t know which one. 

It was only after Sarah’s death that I got it.

Immediately after Sarah died, that very night, I dreamed in great detail of a chicken dead in the coop. This chicken had unique plumage so one could easily distinguish it from others. The detail in the dream included the exact position the chicken was lying in in the coop. The next morning, I went up to the coop and there was the exact chicken, dead, quite exactly as in the dream. 

The event re-proves beyond reasonable doubt that the future already exists and can be anticipated; and it equally underscores the futility of such information. No one really needs to know that in the future a particular dead chicken will be lying in a particular place. There is a cosmic sense of humor at work here.

The other, most distinctive psychic dream I ever had was equally mundane and useless. In 1994, I was living in Manhattan and had a detailed dream of living in a completely different house in a completely different place, where I was fixing the screen door and had to go through a series of steps that included walking all the way around the house from the inside to the other side through the garage. I remarked on the dream to my now ex-wife at the time, because it seemed so utterly mundane and meaningless. We were living in an apartment in New York City, and the forecast of the house anywhere in our future seemed remote. 

Why even dream of such an ordinary thing, so completely removed from our circumstances?

A year later, through a series of disruptions which involved the aforementioned friend who told me about my sister's impending death (he was still alive at the time) we suddenly found ourselves living in a house in Georgia. I’ll spare you the details about how all of that took place. 

In this new house, within a week or two of moving in, I had to install a screen door. I was halfway through the task, walking around the house outside amongst the bushes between the wall of the garage and the front yard, when I suddenly realized that I was reliving the dream I had had in exact detail. To say that it freaked me out is an understatement. 

The point, as I said before, is that the future already exists. Our perception of time is flawed; and we do have the capacity to perceive time in such a way that future events are visible to us.

These events are called psychic; but I would call them spiritual. The soul can know things that the mind is incapable of comprehending. On occasion, the soul touches the mind to remind it of its superior nature; and when this happens, we suddenly discover that our assumptions about time, material reality, and mortality are all incorrect.

Of course I’ve had many other psychic experiences, some of them involving hauntings and disturbingly unpleasant. We have developed thick calluses over our psyches that protect us from such things, and surely it is, for the most part, for the best. Helen Reed was always disturbed by her psychic abilities; she was a devout Christian, and she felt that the things they brought to her were contrary to Christian spirit. I’m not sure that’s true; but what was certain was that when she had second sight, it almost always predicted something awful. 

One does not learn to live with such things so easily.

We live in the midst of mystery. God flows into each of our Beings according to a set of laws and circumstances beyond our comprehension. Each of us is born where we are for a reason, has the parents we have for a reason. All of this is related to our spiritual development. We even have the family histories we have for a reason. All of it is part of a connected thread. 

Traditional societies and ancient civilizations had a much more powerful understanding of this than we do; most of it has been forgotten. According to Swedenborg, all objects, events, circumstances, and conditions consist of what are called, in his exposition, correspondences: each manifestation in the material world corresponds to a parallel object, event, circumstance, or condition in heaven or hell. Material reality is, in this conception, a form of mirror held up to the spiritual world which reflects it. In this sense, there is an animism to nature; but said animism exists solely in the fact that everything is a reflection of God’s Being, expressed in the coarse and concrete terms of the material. 

Today I will go about most of my business as though each of the material circumstances I encounter were of the ordinary and had no metaphysical nature. Yet already I know this isn’t true; because I live, and I breathe, and the substance of the soul and the spirit, spiritual Being, is what creates the harmonic undertone that follows me wherever I go. I call it sensation; it's a musical note that is struck by the existence of life itself. All of these notes blend together in us. This is why Gurdjieff called his Institute the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. 

Harmonious development exists within this moment, and it is our responsibility to conduct that orchestra. 

For those who are interested, Helen Reed is the older woman seated in the lower left side of the photograph. She has my grandmother’s sister Helen on her lap; and my grandmother Grace is directly to Helen’s right, with an expression that presages both her and my mother’s roguish sense of humor.

Go deep in your heart, and be well-


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.