Friday, January 29, 2021

What is this awareness?


What is this awareness?

The action of awareness is the convergence of many different vibrations that arise at the quantum level and form increasingly complex yet lawfully constructed relationships as they move from atoms to molecules to organs. This statement is a scientific fact. 

Yet I live within awareness, not within the quantum, atomic, or molecular vibrations themselves.

Or do I?

The desires I have, the way I feel and think, represent the present rate of harmonic vibrations in me. They have a cumulative effect that results in feeling.

If I listen to myself carefully, as I am, and come into this relationship with harmonic vibration, it has a certain tone or quality that determines my attitude and my wish for the moment. I want to be alive; and I want to have what is called, in plain tongue, “satisfaction.” That is, to have enough of what is right and necessary to be content.

The harmonic rate of vibration in me is a joining of many different things — the word harmony itself means to join together. If I try to be more attentive and aware, if I try to sense the harmonic rate of vibration in me, it often gives me a direction, and inclination, as to what is necessary and the direction in which I can go to find it, to find contentment.

Sometimes, to be sure, the harmonic rate of vibration suggests that I should just be still and be where I am. This is a very good moment, because if I listen to it carefully, and I'm content with stillness alone, I can often come into an even better relationship with harmonic vibration and understand it more deeply. Moments like this are an education that helps me to carry that interest into outward life and be more sensitive to harmonic vibration in the midst of all the stuff that happens.

I can make an effort to create a more cooperative environment within myself through this kind of listening. More often than not, the harmonic vibration helps to bring to the threshold of awareness the various needs that the parts have: for example, the body needs some exercise, or a little bit of raspberry jam. 

If I listen carefully and attend responsibly to those needs, all of the parts work better together, because each of them needs a bit of attention and gets quite frustrated if it doesn’t get any. My feelings equally need attention, as do my emotions (the two are at different rates of vibration, feeling being at a finer rate than emotion) and if I pay attention to my feelings and my emotions, and help them come into a better relationship and overcome their frustrations, things will work out better inside me. 

Again, I need to listen to what is happening inside me.

Interestingly, the word “obey” comes from a root that means to listen in a direction: to attend to. So in a certain sense, attending to the harmonic rate of vibration in me is a form of obedience, of listening. To attend to conditions.

In turn, the word “conditions” comes from Latin roots that mean, essentially, “say with,” or, “agree.” 

This means that to obey conditions is to come into agreement with myself, to have my intelligence and my awareness correspond to the harmonic vibration that arises in me. 

The vibration encourages, in other words, an attention towards a certain kind of self awareness, which we might also, if we wanted to use Gurdjieff terms (do we?), call “self remembering.” But perhaps that term isn’t so important.

What is important is to recognize the need for care; the need to care about being alive. Attending to the harmonic rate of vibration within me is an essential part of that care. 

Here I am. 

My whole body is alive with a very fine, probably (except through organic sensation) imperceptible harmonic vibration of Being. 

That vibration creates what I am in this moment; and it begins in a deep stillness within that has, at least initially, no connection whatsoever with all the agitation in my parts or what is around me. Paradoxical, that this harmonic vibration which is in movement arises in stillness; yet that can also be sensed if I make a little bit of effort.

If I put attention into this moment of harmonic vibration, and I sense what is needed in order to encourage its relationship and support its movement, all of my parts will cooperate in return.

None of these ideas are new. They were known, in different forms and using different words, to all of the great masters of the past who studied the inward nature of the human condition. Today we can understand it in part through the lens of our sciences which know things about matters such as quantum states and atoms and so on; perhaps this will pique an interest in us if ancient masters and their perennial wisdom aren’t good enough. (I notice that almost everyone thinks they know so much more than ancient masters these days.) 

Perhaps, on the other hand, it won’t pique an interest; I don’t know.

What I do know is that when I pay attention to the vibration that arises within me, I see how sympathetic it is to the action of Being itself. It's much more than a simple physical phenomenon (if we can call the construction of what we call reality from atoms, molecules, and quanta simple, ha ha ha.) It contains Love in it; and that Love, which acts as an underpinning for the arising of reality, can be sensed as a presence that animates us all. 

Weirdly — I noticed this last night when sitting in the dining room — it even animates pots and pans hanging on the wall. Just in a different way than it animates me. They have Love in them too.


My existence is more temporary and more intelligent than the cooking utensils. Yet they serve me, and not the other way around. What does this mean? I'm in the middle of an extraordinary and magnificent set of events that can include such things, and yet I sling the pots and pans around carelessly. 

Perhaps I should have a little more intention and pay a little more attention, eh?

Today is a new day. Maybe I will; maybe I won’t. How much I care about life and what it is, is up to me. The more invested I am in a relationship with the harmonic vibration within me, the more I care about life and what it is. And the more that I care about life and what it is, the more the door within me opens to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

I’m not a worthy visitor to that place; and far from an occupant. But I have a wish to move closer to the door, which forever emanates a wisdom and benevolence that would benefit me if I exposed myself to its radiance.

It’s time for morning prayer now, so I will wrap this little soliloquy up. But I hope to remember its observations within me today,, to take a little bit of it with me as a companion — maybe even to remember it the next time I encounter the pots and pans.

 Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Trip to Purgatory

 In the course of our discussions about Purgatory, my friend Bernardo — who originally asked me to write a bit about the subject — sent me a few quotes from the chapter that, when I was reading them, suddenly resulted in what I think is a rather stunning recognition.

On January 22, 2014, I had an incredibly vivid dream, one of those “teaching dreams” that one rarely encounters in a lifetime. It was striking enough to me that I posted it on the blog.

It was only this morning when I was reading the quotes from Purgatory that I realized what the dream actually represented.

The first quote

"When we were there, you probably noticed that we always saw and sensed that from there all the space of our Great Universe or, as your favorites would say, all the 'skies' reflected, as it were, the radiance which recalls the radiance of the famous and incomparable 'Almacornian turquoise.' Its atmosphere is always pure like the 'phenomenal-Sakrooalnian-crystal.'”

In my dream, the following comment:

One other vital feature strikes me as I gaze on this scene. There is a striking, magnificent, pastel blue sky with a hint of sea green and graceful, amorphous clouds in subtle herringbone patterns. 

The instant I see it, it falls deep into my body. The impression is one of the deepest Grace and serenity, of an overarching glory, the deification of nature and, indeed, the Presence of the Lord Himself in this landscape. 

The second quote

"Everywhere on that holy planet, in corresponding gorges, are convenient caves of all kinds of 'interior form' – made partly by Nature Herself and partly artificially – with striking views from their entrances, and in these caves there is everything that can be required for a blissful and tranquil existence, with the complete absence of any essence-anxiety whatever in any part of the presence of any cosmic independent Individual, such as 'higher-being-bodies' can also become.”

In my dream, the following comment:

As we continue up the hill, the bus somehow morphs into a wooden cart drawn, as improbable as it may seem, by a donkey. I’m in the cart, and the German woman, who has now exhausted her role, is still with me. We are passing one site after another that seems somehow compelling, interesting, worth stopping for, but we plod on towards the top of the hill. As we move upward, sets of impressions strike me.

There are numerous stone crypts embedded in the ordered, trim green grass of the hillside. It is vaguely reminiscent of an Etruscan necropolis. As we pass the first set I sense these are very interesting, representing catacombs or some other ancient underground earthworks worth seeing. It seems, in point of fact, like these holes are a major part of what I came for, that they are maybe somehow connected to the essence of my journey.


I realized today that this was undoubtedly a dream about Purgatory; and that it was not, in fact, a dream at all, but an actual visit to the planet, hosted by Louise March, who I did not successfully identify in the dream at the time I had it. This is the reason for the presence of a German woman I did not personally know in what was otherwise a clearly psychic dream. She was the tour guide; and nothing needed to be said, because the lesson was implicit.

The point I am going to make here is that Purgatory is not an allegorical place in the least. It is an actual dwelling place for souls on the astral level; and Gurdjieff’s descriptions of it are a clear indication that he had been there.

Not only that, it seems clear enough from here that the parallels between some of the imagery and tone in Northern Renaissance religious painting, which emerged from the esoteric schools that built the Gothic cathedrals, are drawn from a tradition that recognized Purgatory. Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps the most telling of these paintings; but overall, the astonishing crystalline clear vision of Northern Renaissance painters was an attempt to pictorially render the atmosphere of the planet and the effect it has on vision in the way that Gurdjieff describes it.

I will mention here as an aside that it’s entirely impossible to understand what Northern Renaissance painting was all about without understanding its esoteric religious roots. The turquoise skies in so many of these paintings are drawn directly from those who saw the skies of Purgatory in the midst of religious practice and astral dreams; and the clarity of vision that they brought to everything they painted was drawn from that same well of spiritual inspiration. 

No wonder all the other artists in Europe looked to them for how to paint. It was patently obvious: they had all the mojo. Northern Renaissance painters—the best of them—were progenitors of objective art.

Purgatory, being the most astrally important planet in the universe, creates a corresponding reflection of itself in our spiritual life on earth. We have access to its character, its quality, its landscape, its denizens — both good and bad, because, like the landscape in my dream, it is at the same time impossibly beautiful and indelibly corrupted — to the extent that we deepen our inner work and our devotion to God.

Understanding that Gurdjieff’s description of this place is actually a report of an extraordinary spiritual and metaphysical journey to a real placeoutside the confines of earth as we know it, one begins to believe that all of the other places he described are not just clever elements of magical realism, but also real destinations in the cosmos.

It’s often said that there are multiple aspects to Gurdjieff’s work; and it’s often assumed that those aspects are various allegorical meanings. Yet I very rarely hear anyone say that one of the aspects is that what is taking place in his “parables” is real. 

If we strip the allegory from his reports, we're left with something even more bafflingly extraordinary and impossibly beautiful than the intimations of hidden meaning we so routinely assign to them... What I would say to the reader is that do not doubt, you may yourself someday tread this ground—if you have a real wish to be.

The situation reminds me quite succinctly of my encounter with the Virgin Mary in 2001, which conclusively proved to me that she is absolutely, unequivocally, uncompromisingly and irrevocably real—and that the entire story of Christ is equally real. It is categorically impossible for Mary to be real without everything else being real — as Gurdjieff pointed out, for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different.

In any event, after I read Gurdjieff’s comments and understood today my dream, much better than the clever interpretations I wrote in 2014, I realized I too have been to Purgatory.

I will confess, with all of the caveats it comes with, there is quite simply no place I would rather be.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Hyphae of Being


In the last essay, I compared the “rootlets” that connect all the different impressions of Being to the hyphae of fungi. This is a quite exact analogy, and anyone that doesn’t appreciate why needs to read Merlin Sheldrake’s fine book, “Entangled Life.”

Human beings have three different major bodies that exist on this level and express themselves in physical substances. The other important bodies, which Gurdjieff called “higher being-bodies”are metaphysical bodies and the subject for a different discussion. The "physical" being-bodies are three, as I said: 

1. The Body of Intellect

2. The Body of Feeling

3. The Body of Sensation. 

I use the term "body" here in the sense of the main or central part of something, not just the physical structure, but the center of gravity or locus of its nature. A body, as in a body of collected works, is not an atom, as it were—that is, a single thing unto itself with an essence of its own that cannot be divided—but a molecule: a collection of many different atoms in relationship. These atoms and molecules arise from quanta: packets of energy that exist as both waves of movement and particles of existence.

It’s important to understand the quantum, atomic, and molecular nature of these three bodies, since they are the expressive mechanism through which all of experience arises on the physical plane. While it may not seem useful to have this thought at this particular moment, the thought you are having as you read this — the comprehensive sum of your ability to take it in, correspond to it, react to it, understand it, and so on — are a gathered expression in our space/time-continuum of quantum, atomic, and molecular forces that are at this very instant in operation to create your Being. 

The very fine texture of this fabric of energy should be appreciated as we continue to explore the subject. You and I are not some separated events able to study this clinically from a distance: we are in it as we raise the questions about it.

The three bodies of intellect, feeling, and sensation weave their own separate integrated networks according to their own natures. Yet there is also a fabric, a connective tissue, that binds them together into a single thing. This network of roots that I speak of begins, like everything else, on the quantum level; and it is a network of relationships — energetic and physical relationships — between Atoms, Molecules, and Quanta— which just so happens to be the title of the once-famous (and now very expensive) quantum physics textbook my grandfather Arthur Ruark wrote with his partner Harold Urey

The point is that what we are as beings emerges from this fabric; and so thought, feeling, and sensation are bound together by it. 

It is strictly scientific to say that this field of atoms, molecules, and quanta exists as a rate of vibrations, harmonic relationships between various energies. 

We experience them as thought, feeling, and sensation; yet they are bound together at their roots by their energetic relationships, not the names we put on them, which are gross approximations of much finer events.

Over the course of a lifetime, impressions are recorded in this field of harmonic vibrations and they create “notes” or resonances that reverberate and repeat throughout the course of a lifetime. Some are stronger; some are weaker; some have great influence over others, and others are overwhelmed and helpless. It is in the nature of awareness to be able to reinforce the harmonics, consonances, and resonances of this environment: and that is what produces character. The nature of the person’s Being is according to their action as the conductor of this molecular orchestra. 

It is well, in this sense, to think over your actions quite carefully, because each one of them has an influence, no matter how subtle, across the entire range of the whole. How they work together matters a great deal, even though each action we take seems to be nearly inconsequential to anything but external circumstances. In fact, each action we take is incredibly consequential to internal circumstances, but we act without intelligence or consideration and generally fail to recognize this fact. 

In this way we may become fools, buffoons, or charlatans; such fates are commonplace, and every human being ends up collecting a set of experiences within the three bodies of Being that occasionally end up playing these roles.

The intricate blending of the energies of the three bodies of experience is a cumulative one, whereby the weight, impetus, and momentum of the whole becomes more and more determined over the course of a lifetime. It takes a highly trained and acutely sensitive engineer to drive this locomotive; and so we see that most of us, as we grow older, become less and less able to influence various directions which we took up when young and did not understand the consequences of. The old folk saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is a superficial rendering of this essentially metaphysical problem of Being. One of the points of observing yourself is to understand this problem at its root. We are what we are; as Gurdjieff once said, “for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different.” The increasingly determinate nature of Being within the context of age thus takes place according to laws that constrain development in random or in new directions; so direction has to be chosen carefully, at every moment, less the chosen direction turn out to be both unprofitable and impossible to redirect.

 Without an understanding of this situation and the laws that govern it, one is inevitably prone to stumble through life like an idiot from one event to another, imagining that one has control over things while instead being enslaved and ruled by circumstances. This is a typical picture of how we are, one that Gurdjieff presented to his pupils many times. He called it the action of “being mechanical.”

All this by way of understanding how fine, how intricate, how delicate and how exquisitely intelligent the network of Being within ourselves actually is. That network is an expression of consciousness that transcends material reality; traditionally, it is called the soul, and again traditionally, it touches God. That is to say, this ineffable and inexpressible quality of Being that binds our impressions, experiences, memories, feelings, sensations, and the facts we encounter is part of an energetic fabric that creates the entire universe and everything in it. The way that we mature as beings has a great deal to do with how finely our inner planetary system is formed.

A great gathering together of Being takes place over the course of a lifetime. It is an alchemical process whereby many different kinds of substances which we might call elements are gathered, brought into relationship, reacted, distilled, reconfigured, and then brought into new relationships yet again. Those substances are the impressions of the three different bodies. Eventually they concentrate themselves into an entity that human beings call a “lifetime.” 

Yet the lifetime itself is not just what a human being experiences, but a metaphysical substance connected to a fabric of energetic resonance we do not understand and have little direct contact with. It is an intelligence of its own composed of the “particles” of intelligence of which each of us represents an infinitesimally tiny fraction.

While all of this seems quite technical, it brings us back to an action that is commonly known among human beings: the contemplation of one’s life in its entirety as one ages. There is a need for awareness — which is a distinct body separate from the bodies of intellect, feeling, and sensation — to understand itself and to create a summary of what it is. The kingdom of heaven, which is a metaphysical entity expressing a quality called insight, is accessible only through this action. Insight opens doors to the selfsame metaphysical bodies I mentioned earlier, which otherwise remain closed (with the possible exception of chemical assistance such as psilocybin and or other psychedelic drugs.) 

If we look at a group of different plants growing together near each other— for example, a maple tree, a juniper, and a pear— we can’t see the very fine network of fungus that connects all of them to one another and has a direct influence on every single one of them: their nutritional health, their size, their responses to one another (and yes, they do have such responses — go read the book.) Yet it is this fine unseen network connecting all of the large bodies that ultimately regulates their health and growth. Without the network, each one of them would just die, because no plant can survive without the partnership of its mycelium.

We have exactly the same situation inside ourselves. This fine tissue that connects our parts to one another is always vibrating; it is always alive; it is always nourishing us. Every thought, feeling, and sensation that we have is a manifestation of the relationships in that tissue; and we ought to develop a much deeper respect for each of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations we have in order to avoid misleading  soiling, or even rending this very fine fabric of our Being.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Holy Planet Purgatory and its Denizens


I was asked some months ago to make some commentaries on Gurdjieff’s well-known and complex chapter in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, The Holy Planet Purgatory. 

The chapter is a fascinating excursion into many ancient ideas, including understandings drawn from the yogic and Christian traditions,about the nature of our inner organization. But I’d like to speak about it in more general terms without focusing on attempts to interpret Gurdjieff’s idiosyncratic parables.

We are generally unable to understand how the entirety of all the impressions that fall into us over the course of a lifetime form a single whole. It appears to us, from the perspective of our intellect and the way it functions, as though memory and the collected impressions of Being are largely a function of thought; we remember all the stuff that has happened to us, putting it in very gross terms. 

Yet the Body of Sensation and the Body of Feeling have equally powerful memory that functions a bit differently than the memory of thought. Collectively, all three of these Bodies— which are metaphysical bodies of memory, in the sense of their collected and intimately shared remembrance of the past — merge during the course of a lifetime, whether consciously or unconsciously. 

All of the impressions that we form in us function in exactly the same way that hyphae function in mycelium, growing fine threads that connect the entire presence of Being together. One’s Presence gradually forms as a real thing with a quality corresponding to the density and relationship of these threads. This is not a subjective opinion about the matter, but a fact. If you really want to know how Being functions —an understanding that can only be acquired by coming into a strong relationship with this function — you cannot do it without understanding this simple fact.

What the fact tells you is that the formation of Being, which is ultimately a metaphysical entity, is mirrored by the way that physical processes form entities. This is no great surprise, but it takes some experience and some thought to understand it properly.

I’m sure by now you are asking yourself what this has to do with Gurdjieff’s concept of Purgatory. 

It is in fact essential to understanding his view of the human soul. Being forms, inevitably, with the sum total of all the impressions that fall into a creature. In the case of human beings, those impressions form a quality and a level of Being different, for example, than that of a snail. But there are correspondences within human beings as well; and all of the traditions of totemic animals and their relationship to human beings come out of native traditions which recognized the correspondence between various levels of Being within humanity. Some people are more like snails; others are wolves. Some very few become actual human beings. 

The sum total of impressions form a single whole thing. There is not a single impression that falls into a creature during its lifetime that can be erased from the manuscript that is written in the molecules of the organism. Even the things which are forgotten by the conscious mind, as in the case of humans, are essentially indelible. This means that all of the evil one encounters as impressions in a lifetime is just as present in Being as all of the good. This is one of the secret meanings of the otherwise rather average saying, “with much good comes much bad,” which I have heard bandied about as an adage during my entire near – lifetime career in the Gurdjieff work. 

The point is that the good and the bad are both external and internal; and for the growth of the soul, the external bad — which appears to be the great enemy, because when it threatens, it sometimes threatens our biological existence — is by far the lesser of the two evils. It is the internal bad, the internal evil, that we must be on our guard for, because whether we like it or not, and no matter how many prayers we turn towards it, it is an indelible and permanent part of our Being in the same way that all the other impressions we have encountered are. The dense matter of “roots” that connects all the parts of our Being connects and integrates these parts as well; and they have their own influence on the way that the web or network of inner connections functions.

When Gurdjieff explained to his readers that no matter what souls did, they ended up developing in such a way that there was an imperfection or flaw in them that prevented them from entering directly into God’s presence (the Kingdom of Heaven) he was referring to the indelible quality of the impressions we ingest. We cannot help, given the way the quality of our Being is assembled from impressions, from having the bad in us as well as the good; one could put it in technological terms and say that evil is built into our infrastructure by the nature of our impressions. The only way that we can manage it is by making sure that the wholeness of our Being contains and has a conscious authority regarding that part; there is a great risk in every human being that it will work the other way around (that the bad will instead assert an unconscious authority), and you can see that at work in the world without even trying.

The Holy Planet Purgatory, in other words, is where we find ourselves after a lifetime of inner work, when we discover that we have within us that exact place, that planet, which is a place of astonishing beauty and great glory, formed of this impossibly dense and magnificent collection of a lifetime of impressions. In there lurk the demons as well as the angels. 

If one’s inner work matures in any sense, one begins quite actively to live in this planet, rather than seeing it as an allegorical presentation. And one acquires, accordingly, the capacity to occasionally sense the glimpses of God which Gurdjieff mentions in his chapter. (I have taken to calling this capacity the capacity for seeing The Perfection.)

There is a need to become responsible for this environment. It is not an environment one comes to or has an understanding of early in life. Many different parts of ourselves need to be knit together into a different kind of fabric in order to sense the existence of this planet in us. Along the way, we learn about qualities such as Mercy and Grace which Gurdjieff doesn’t talk about so much. 

Instead, he uses the word consciousness, which is actually the same thing.

Without a willingness to sense and come to terms with the whole of one’s life, attempting to understand the material in the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory is a waste of time. No technical understanding of how things are put together will drive this car. Focusing on the technical aspects of the chapter is to assign oneself the role of a mechanic. Indeed, every instrument of technology needs mechanics who understand it and are interested in it; but the point of the car is not to have mechanics or garages. 

Ultimately, every car is there to be driven by a driver. 

This is an action of responsibility; and in the analogy drawn here, it is a responsibility towards the whole of one’s life in a comprehensive way that emerges organically from the entire organism.

I shall think some more on this and perhaps write a bit of additional material later on.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

All material copyright 2021 by Lee van Laer. No part of this text may be reproduced or distributed to others without the express permission of the author.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Kingdom of Heaven

 Some thoughts from September 18, 2020, early morning.

We are born into this life at the threshold of a great journey. It places us in a moment where we travel through a vast landscape of experience, filled with impossibly beautiful objects and beings, extraordinary creatures, fantastic situations that no novelist could dream of. 

It is a whole world created through a magic that we ourselves also carry inside of us. Our soul is the heart of a single atom in this vast landscape that is called the universe.

Life falls into us and forms a substance of increasing gravity as we grow older. The kingdom of heaven is attracted into that gravity and begins to re-create itself in every soul. It is born again a new with each creature that lives in this universe; and so it expands its footprint throughout the universe, providing a place for the awareness of Being to live.

Eventually, the concentration of the substance brings us to a different and new understanding of life that is so different and so new that it cannot be brought out into the daylight where it can be seen and discussed. It is a sacred thing born of God himself, and can only be carried at the heart of Being in the soul where no other things can fit and no other things belong. 

To the extent that we come into relationship with this sacred place and at sacred substance, we discover the truth of the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is within.

There are many secrets of heaven; and yet the greatest one is always the secret of the relationship between ourselves and God. When, in the Bible, God says, I am a jealous God, it does not mean jealousy in the way that we usually understand it. The word originally came from the word zealous, hence zeal; and what it means is that God is a great and relentless energy that gives us Being. God’s aim is to Be; and we embody that aim. In this way God is a jealous God; there is only one wish, and it is the wish of glory, the wish of grace, the wish of the love that can be borne in each of us with all of the same great power that God himself exists through.

It may be that I speak of things here that sound obscure or don’t relate to the Gurdjieff work; and yet this is the heart of the work itself, to have the Kingdom of Heaven born with in us. That is why this work is called esoteric Christianity. It is what is born within us, the inner, that we seek.

We go on this journey which is a journey of many trials. The journey is a journey towards this mysterious, infinitely beautiful, and tragically wonderful landscape that the soul inhabits. Many of the pieces that Thomas de Hartmann wrote under Gurdjieff’s direction contain harmonic intimations of that landscape, and can occasionally offer glimpses of it; and yet those glimpses are available everywhere if we turn our eyes, our intelligence, our feeling, and our sensation towards life as it is — instead of living in our imagination and our ego. Our imagination and our ego are like tiny closets in a great house which we have decided to live in, instead of coming out into the house and being in relationship with all of the rooms and their many wonders.

Eventually, feeling gives birth to a quality of the soul that transcends ordinary life. It has no pretensions; it engages in no speculations, because it has no connection to that function and instead receives. 

It does not receive once in a while, but always, and everything that it receives is received in order to honor the Glory, Grace, and Mercy that is sent by the Lord to sustain us on this journey. Those three qualities are the manna from heaven that sustain us in the wilderness of life.

This journey into the heart is a journey into everything that is good and is precious and is whole in life. The Lord, in His abundance, sees to everything along the way if we just listen. It is important not to get tangled in the ordinary things of life because they will snare us like brambles and prevent us from letting go of the things that hinder our union with the soul.

One can give no map to the kingdom of heaven; it is not a place. It is an event. We are already within it, but blind to its nature.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Where does my intention begin?


Sept. 10 2020

Where does my intention begin?

The word itself comes from Latin roots that mean to reach for or stretch towards. My intention, in other words, is part of my wish, what I care for. Both care and agency are fundamental and scientifically inexplicable properties of matter; as I’ve pointed out before, even molecules in cells have agency and care about what other molecules around them are doing (see my book Metaphysical Humanism.) It is true to say that every molecule in my body has a wish. The agency of each molecule is its “I”, its individuality, what gives it its self as distinct from other selves. Bound to that at the root of it arising is the wish that comes with it. These inherent properties are embedded in the cosmos and in every particle of it.

My intention, the one that I have on this level, is an emergent property that represents the summation of all the intentions in my molecules. The whole universe works this way; intention (care) is gathered and concentrated in increasing amounts, because it represents the re-collection of the dispersed will of God. I discussed this in another book, The Reconstruction of the Soul, which appears to be about medieval art but is actually about what we are as Beings.

In any event, enough of the book ads. The point is that our intention is a verb, not a noun. It is a living thing that evolves to the extent that it is concentrated; and we even have an intention towards our intention. Intention exists in a tense; that is to say, it is past, present, or future in its own right. If I look backwards towards how my life was, my intention is directed in the wrong way. This creates attachment to the past, something every human being is familiar with. Psychologists and social workers make their livings on that kind of attachment. Or, conversely, my intention is directed at the future. This is how billionaires make their fortunes, and also drives many of the engines of material life.

The idea of directing the intention towards the present is an interesting and different one, and certainly one of the aims of most serious inner religious practice. In order to investigate the question of how this is undertaken, one needs to contemplate the question of where one’s intention is born. Where does it arise; when does it arise? What is my relationship to it now?

One ought to be reminded here that Swedenborg said that the summation of what a human being becomes, all of the meaning they embody and what their possibilities consist of, rests in their intention. In his cosmology, good intentions, and intentions of love toward God and others, lead one to heaven — which is a metaphysical state of loving relationship in community. Bad intentions, on the other hand, lead one to hell, which is a metaphysical state of caring only about oneself and what one has. Human beings, when they are born, are placed in the middle between these two potentials.

I will probably come back to this, though I can’t be sure, as these explorations are fluid. The thought that I had about the question of intention yesterday is that I always end up with my intention after it’s too late to see it born. This is a complex and unfamiliar conceptual reasoning, I know. What I am getting at is that I always want to encounter my intention when it is mature, when it is already a whole thing that has an intelligence of its own and knows where it’s going. Intention that says to itself, for example, I’m going to go to the supermarket and buy some beans. This is, we might say, the intention of the known. That’s what I want.

Yet the intention I am more interested in exploring right now is the intention of the unknown. It is the intention that is born. The intention that arises right now, which senses all the potentials and has its antennae turned towards them in anticipation. What this intention intends is to be there. This is a different kind of intention than wishing (as past – directed intention does) that I hadn’t been there (wherever that was) or wishing that I will be there later. It is a wish, to use a tired old phrase, to be here now. What isn’t tired about this rephrasing of the question is that it proposes a different kind of intelligence towards intention, one that places it firmly in the present.

It occurred to me, last night, when I was contemplating this question that the story of Christ’s Nativity is about exactly this question. Christ represents God’s intention; it is being born in this present moment, amidst animals (our animal nature) in a humble place. It is nurtured by Mary, the pure, unadulterated, generative power of God. It is assigned an extraordinarily high value. (The three Kings.) It has a physical nature (gold), the ability to sense (frankincense), and an awareness of its own mortality (myrrh, used for embalming.) 

The point is that the intention, God’s intention, is discovered in the place where it is born. This narrative is a narrative of intention placed in the present. All of the possibilities for rebirth, a refocusing of being, a renewal of life, are concentrated here.

Perhaps it’s impossible to “locate” intention in me as it is born, in the place that it is born. Perhaps not. One thing is sure: I can conduct an investigation of this question. My intention is, after all, molecular in nature: it is part of the very fine substances that form the grains of Being. I often advise others that instead of dreaming about the stars and the cosmos, they might consider investing much more of their intention and attention to the question of sensing these molecules of Being. The texture of life, its taste and its quality, are located in these relationships and their intentions towards one another. The whole body — and by body I mean all of its manifested parts, physical, intellectual, and emotional — has this texture in it, which can become a sensible (tangible and accessible) part of perception.

The intellect, which is what we usually use to understand life — the use of the word “understand” is ironic, because we actually understand almost nothing of life in regards to what it really is — is a creature of evaluation. Intention directed towards the past or the future evaluates. Its usual dialogue is one of two things: I wish I hadn’t ended up here or, conversely, I wish I was over there. 

Intention directed towards the present moment is not evaluative. It is perceptive. And herein lies the difference: it is not dedicated to the proposition that things should be different than they are. It is dedicated to the investigation of things as they are. The intention is to perceive things as they are. Not inflected by the countless opinions that arise in the past and future tenses of this verb.

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Not about potatoes


We have a duty to think about life as we live it.

When I say it’s a duty, I mean that to think about life is a sacred task we’ve been given. We live in a universe that engages in a contemplation of itself; and each one of us is tasked with a portion of that activity.

There are those who think about life without fully living it; and those who live life without fully thinking about it. Neither one is sufficient in the end. They must be done together in order to bear fruit.

This is a universe, as well, where things bind themselves together. That’s how the forces that surround us and create us work. 

When we think, and we live, we bind life and thought together. 

Each one is an action, not a result; each one goes to a new place as it arises and continues.

I came to this observation quite simply while walking along the road at lunchtime, as I passed by a pile of very large pieces of granite, each weighing more than a car, that had been to cut into rectangles and were lying on the side of the road by the woods, awaiting a destiny that seemed to be certain when they were moved to where they are but is now in question, like everything else. 

The observation was accompanied by the sorrow of understanding. This is a natural product of living and thinking about life at the same time. Because we so rarely have an impression of it, we aren’t that familiar with it; but we ought to be. It is what lends life its sweetness.

Now, you might think that thinking is done with the brain, but this isn’t true. The whole body thinks. Every cell, every nerve in it thinks. Even the molecules in the body are engaged in the process of thought, because thought is a whole thing that encompasses the entire organism, not just part of it. If you had to look for where a thought is in you, you couldn’t locate it. It’s metaphysical, even though it appears to arise inside the body. 

It is, in other words, connected to something very subtle and refined that represents a force we poorly understand and pay much less attention to than we should. All of our sensations and feelings are part of thought about life; it’s not just the ideas we piece together from concepts and associations. Life itself is, in this way, a thought.

Unfortunately, thinking has for some strange reason acquired a bad reputation in the Gurdjieff work. Everything seems to emphasize sensation first — rightly so, in some ways, but the intellect seems to get thrown by the wayside as though it were a cheap piece of goods, whereas, in fact, it is one of the most important faculties we have. It's the best tool to bind understanding of the other centers together; and without it, let us be frank, we would not just be idiots, we would be morons. (The word is derived from the Greek, meaning foolish.)

Thought is a whole thing that emerges from Being to assemble the meaning we perceive. We can understand it, in this sense, as a product of cooperation between our intellect, our sensation, and our feeling, yet it is a legitimate emergent property in its own right. This means that it becomes a greater thing than just what the intellect provides. In real thought, intelligent elements from each of our parts are present. Our intellect, our sensation, and our feeling combine selected perceptions to create thought.

This happens all the time; but we don’t notice it, because we're generally unaware of ourselves and how we function. Yet when we have a reaction – for example, let’s say we get angry — almost instantly, all three centers participate; our intellect arouses protestation, our sensation fires us up with a rush of adrenaline that prepares us to fight about it, and our feeling becomes the trigger on a weapon. Everyone knows what this feels like.

A balanced perception is different. It does not rush to the moment unconsidered in the way that an emotional reaction does. More could be said about this, but I’m focusing for the time being on the function of thought about life.

We are capable of much deeper thoughts about life than we think we are. Life is an experiment we are meant to be deeply immersed in; and we are supposed to contemplate the contradictions, paradoxes, beauty, and mystery of this process in every way we can. Those various qualities are always combined in each object, event, circumstance, and condition; yet what is typical of our behavior is an insistence on focusing on just one thing, in an obsessive/compulsive manner. To take all of the qualities in at once requires a larger vision, a less narrow focus. Deeper thought helps to bring that possibility into Being within us.

For whatever reason — probably because it’s true — Walt Whitman comes to mind. He was a man who thought quite deeply indeed about life, and his Leaves of Grass is a record of that. The book is a call to us from the place we do not go to very often; and yet it reminds us that that place is, in fact, a home that we left when we were children and have forgotten to go back to for a very long time. 

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Contemplation of the Great Potato, Part III


Bovina, NY
Sept. 2020

To the extent that a center develops its own impetus, it is called voluntary. The work the center needs to do is undertaken not because of some outside provocation, some artificial demand imposed by intellect. Demands from intellect, no matter how lofty their inspiration or motives may be, are always theoretical and hypothetical. Now, it isn’t that we don’t need theory and hypothesis; far from it. They are in fact quite necessary. Yet we keep deploying them on their own, as though we could direct the campaign of consciousness from our armchairs. A voluntary action within a center arises because the center has formed, through suffering, three conscious parts of its own:

Authority. This is the intellectual part of a center, and if it develops as a voluntary force, it can recognize itself and undertake critical evaluation of its actions. It’s usually the affirming part of Being.

Presence. This is the physical mass that both anchors and receives impetus towards momentum. This principally functions as the denying part of Being. 

Care. This is the part that embodies conscience, that is, a care for what is done—connected, at its most intimate root, to God’s wish. This is the reconciling part.

Despite their principle character, all of these parts of Being are able to play affirming, denying and reconciling roles depending on circumstances. Perhaps if we think about it a bit we can see how the polarity of intellect and body interact in the contradiction between the expectations of the intellect and the suffering of the body. Some folk think, for example, that if there is suffering, there can be no merciful God; such a being would not allow it. Yet the polarity is what ultimately binds intelligence to body: it arouses inquiry into the relationship. 

This is a complex subject worthy of much further discussion; and again, Christ’s example becomes a foundation for that exploration.

Each one of these voluntary parts is actually connected, at the quantum level, to the roots of God’s creative and originating action at the base of creation. We spend far too much time considering the crown of creation to realize that its greatest beauty lies not in the pinnacles of its achievement, but the foundations it’s built on. As human being we’re much closer to those foundations; and the dazzling ability to contemplate the heavens often distracts us from that part of creation we are closer to and better equipped to come into relation to. 

Perhaps it will come as a disappointment or a shock to folks to be told that that is in fact our role; we are lowly things and destined, should we choose to meet our fates responsibly, to come into into a closer spiritual relationship with the roots of the cosmos. 

In this sense we are much like the mycelium of fungi, which penetrate the roots and cells of every single plant on the planet—as all the animals—creating an essential symbiotic relationship without which life could not exist. (Read the book at the link! It will blow your mind.)

Fungi remain mostly unseen; yet they perform many miracles. 

Our souls are like this too and perform a similar function. It is a subject for very much contemplation.

Authority, momentum, and care are all essential; yet without momentum in a center, authority and care are relatively helpless. It is the presence of impetus that imparts momentum; and once momentum is there, it is done.

What, you may ask, is “it?”

One speaks here of God’s Will. To the extent that we inhabit being and that the parts come voluntary, so much more so does God’s Will, not one’s on, form and direct Being. The practice of presence is an effort in this direction. In such a state, a voluntary state, the root of Being functions according to a different, higher set of laws:

What is to be done is understood organically, instinctively.

How is should be done is equally understood in an organic manner.

The response to the outer world is also instinctive and organic.

In each case we speak here of what is not automatic but conscious. Voluntary action arises from true consciousness: not the reflexive reactions of the couch potato, but an active response by the voluntary  awareness of each center, functioning in its own right according to the work rightfully apportioned to it. 

Consciousness is not some pompous faculty collected in the thinking center which thinks it is better than others or should rule over them; it knows its own business and sees to it. To have parts that know their own business and see to it is to be free, to be new, to be different. It involves an unfamiliar alignment of attitude. Attitude in this case is born from the authority of a center, not my opinions. Centers are designed, at their heart, to deal with the facts of existence, not beliefs about it. Beliefs are like infections, diseases that create fevers in the parts of centers and cars them to engage in aberrant behaviors. Centers, by themselves, don’t have bad attitudes; as Gurdjieff said, there is no actual “negative center” in man. Negativity in us arises because of the tension created through inattentive centers. 

It can be a wonder to discover one’s self in the midst of the active work of centers. They know what to do. In this sense they are as intelligent as our digestion, which knows how to sort out the endless molecules it encounters and very selectively absorb exactly those which are needed in relatively distant parts of the body such as the lungs or brain. The digestion does this without us directing it.

Ou centers are equally capable off sorting out all the impressions we encounter and dealing with each of them in an entirely appropriate manner. Think about that: we have a set of engines in us which know how to sort out life.

We just aren’t using them. Or, alternatively: they aren’t using us. The point is not so much who uses whom, but that we ought to be in a reciprocal relationship with these functions which were designed to serve one another

Ponder that for a while.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.