Friday, April 30, 2021

Friday Jan. 15 

I’m in the stillness this morning, pondering value, tradition, and effort.

I need to value life and what it is as it is. Life extends itself into time at great depth when I'm present to it. To the extent that I am present to it. Each day is a whole life.

Life comes from a tradition. It's not just the tradition of biology and evolution, although that is important. It's the tradition of thought, being, of family and society, of relationship and trust. We can't break biology and evolution; they belong to a world larger than the world man. But these other traditions, the ones that belong to our world, those, we can break all too easily. If we don’t begin with the value of life, we'll mishandle them and drop them and they'll break like a china teacup.

Life requires effort. Effort is the engagement with this material world. That engagement extends into the spiritual, but it begins here in the material. Effort is physical. Only after it's physical can it reach towards the spiritual. We need to struggle with what we are, the way we behave, with our ideas of ourselves.

In this sense, value represents feeling. Tradition represents intellect. Effort represents the body.

There’s another thing that struck me earlier this week. 

There’s always an end — here, there, and everywhere. Things always have an end. 

But where do they begin?

I can see ends all around me. Every result, every consequence is an end of one kind or other. Those things are fairly easy to perceive. Yet it’s much more difficult to perceive the beginning of anything, because one can only know when something which ends began after the end is here. Very often — almost always, in fact, unless one is predicting some physical result in science — things begin and the end of them is nowhere in sight. It can't even be imagined. Later, after a thing most extraordinary (sometimes, disastrous) takes place, everyone says, “who would have thought that could happen?” 

The beginning wasn’t identifiable; it didn’t make its results visible.

Yet if we don’t penetrate to the beginning of our question, we can’t really know where we are. It reminds me of Gurdjieff’s story of the Karapet of Tiflis; he got there first. As I’ve mentioned before, Peggy Flinsch, who knew Gurdjieff well, tells us that he put that story in the book at the very end of the process, after the whole book was written and deemed complete. It was, in other words, an addition to this vast work. One could call it, so to speak, Gurdjieff’s final word — a second final word that came after Beelzebub’s final advice that mankind would need to grow organ that made him perpetually aware of his death if anything were to be done on the order of healing.

I’m also reminded of a friend’s story. He was present when someone in the room asked Lord Pentland, “What do you know that I don't know?”

Lord Pentland answered, “I know to begin again.”

Pentland wasn’t searching for the result. 

He wasn’t searching for why there was a result. 

He was searching for the beginning. 

There are questions here about the role of intention.

Our question forever lies in the beginning of things where we are; not in what takes place later. The ordinary mind is accustomed to seeking its answers in the past and deriving its anxieties and pleasures from the future; but it all takes place in a now that it forgets.

The ordinary mind needs to be trained to be here, now, in the beginning, and to open itself to the beginning without prejudice. 

This is where time flows in and slows itself to match the tempo of one’s contemplation; and that is where the stillness begins.

 May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Movement of Being

Jan. 10, 2021

Reading the Gurdjieff wartime meeting from Thursday, June 20, 1944.

My first reaction to this text was a summary, in some senses, of all the texts in this book, still available as I write this in French only.

That impression is one of so many exercises being given, very specific exercises person by person, according to who they are and what they say. 

It’s certain that this particular practice has died out in the Gurdjieff work; in fact, perhaps only Gurdjieff himself could have done it. 

One begins to wonder whether the heart of what he was trying to do with people died with him in this respect.

One worries, equally, about how every Tom, Dick, and Harry adopts one or another exercise for themselves or gives it to others, thinking it will “help” them, in the face of the incontrovertible evidence that no one really knows what they are doing in this regard. The fact that Gurdjieff frequently warns his followers that what is good for one person in terms of an exercise could be dangerous for the next underscores the folly of this approach; and yet it continues. Those who propagate such practices do so on a foundation of self-justification that withers in the light of plain facts. 

It raises the question of whether reading this book will help people at all if they believe that somehow this or that applies directly to them. One needs to be quite careful with that idea.

Caveat emptor.

A second impression. Gurdjieff’s methods had changed considerably by this time. The intense pressure of the war, the crucible of oppression and fear that surrounded everything, transformed him into a deeper and deeper and more and more humanitarian creature, one more than ever focused on the inner well-being of those who came to him for help. Underneath his gruff behavior and his curses, his outright dismissal of questions, a loving heart.

The third impression. Gurdjieff repeatedly tells people not to work too much. One third of the time. That’s all. Anything more, one exposes oneself to the danger of the idee fix, the obsession. One should learn to let go of this work as well as hold onto it. That requires a deft touch and an active intelligence.

And this fourth impression. 

We are very confused inside. The outer world isn’t going to give us answers for this. There aren’t any there. The July 20, 1944 meeting is in some senses a signature meeting for this question. 

I translated it last night and was somehow removed from what it said. My personal reaction was, “it isn’t interesting.” I critiqued his attitude towards those who questioned him and felt a generalized lack of connection with the proceedings. Admittedly, I was a bit tired and did the translation toward the end of the day, and I'm a morning person who tends to concentrate their attention and experience of Being in the earlier part of the day and let it relax later. 

This morning I woke up and came back to the meeting because I was looking for a piece from the translations to share with some others for a discussion group later in the week.

The fourth impression, of how Gurdjieff keeps turning people back towards the repair of their own inner car, was now a much stronger and more compelling one. I saw at once how absolutely right he was in everything he said. The text is important not because of the minutia of his exchanges and exactly what he says to others, but in the gist of his message, which is that we keep looking outside ourselves for answers—where there aren’t any. 

We aren’t even prepared to receive answers; if a real one came to us, we’d mistake it for something else, trip over it and then pick ourselves up and carry on as though nothing had happened. One has to prepare a ground from within to receive something true; and yet we all definitely want to have everything true without a prepared ground to rest it on.

This is directly related to Christ’s admonitions about those who build their houses on sand. (Matthew 7:24) If my own inward being isn’t in order, if I don’t manage to bring my relationship with the personal under some kind of control and into some kind of order, everything from outside that comes into me is instantly transformed into subjective material, and no matter how true or untrue it may be, what is certain is that it will make me more, not less, subjective. A subjective mechanism can only give subjective results.

This is the critical issue regarding Gurdjieff’s methodology. If we do not ruthlessly examine how we are from within, and constantly question our attitudes, opinions, behavior, everything we do, in a healthy — not destructive — way, we are doomed to a collapse into the selfishness of our personality, we are slaves to what has been created in us from without. 

The house of "I am" is destroyed by the rain, floods, and wind.

I live in a world where I am watching people collapse in exactly this way. I am watching friends I have known for many years collapse into bizarre forms of subjectivity in which they believe objective untruths with a zeal I never could have imagined. Their belief that these things, which they seize on as intensely as Gollum clutched the one ring, are true is nothing short of incredible. 

Yet there it is.

I have pondered this for some months. There's no way to fix the damage that this kind of subjectivity does. Observing it, I note that most of it comes from a beginning root that says “I am this. I am that.” 

It never, ever, comes from the root of my own premise for life, which is, “What am I?”

To this, the simple statement, “I am.” 

Between the polarity of “I am this” and “what am I?” we find “I am.” So the formulation becomes: 

I am this.

What am I?

I am. 

Holy affirming, holy denying, holy reconciling.

This is a deeply inner process, which we must take responsibility for ourselves. No one part of it can be ignored. It is what creates the movement of Being.

 May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Gurdjieff was Wrong, part II


How can I dare to say that Gurdjieff was wrong? 

There is no daring here. The statement is objectively true. 

Gurdjieff was a human; and humans are fallible. The premise of Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson is that everyone, even angel and archangel, is fallible and makes mistakes. 

We don’t, however, need Gurdjieff’s book to tell us that people are wrong and make mistakes. The information is kindergarten-level.

For some peculiar reason, when a human being who acquires a legitimate degree of inner authority comes along, human beings around them invariably begin to make the consistent mistake – as a result of their own inner weaknesses — of believing that that person is in one way or another infallible. We see this in the propagation of political fantasies about various leaders, who are deemed by their followers to be completely infallible, no matter what kind of outrage they indulge in, but the instant that we do this in regard to a spiritual teacher, we forget ourselves and who we are and what we are up to and become blind worms following a scent in the mud. Nothing can dissuade us from the belief that the teacher was always right. Even if they, too, begin to indulge in outrages. Examples are too vulgar to even bother citing.

This would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. Gurdjieff constantly changed and revised his teaching throughout the course of his life; anyone who reads his own books and the reports about how he worked over the various decades will see that there were periods distinctly marked by different approaches. For example, he inveighed against breathing exercises with great vigor in the earlier years of his work; and yet it is abundantly apparent from his 1944 wartime meetings that he was teaching breathing exercises.

This one example alone serves to underscore the danger of believing that anyone "understands" Gurdjieff’s work, or that it had an original pure version that has been violated by later followers (even ones he personally appointed to follow him.) The difficulty here is that if you read enough of Gurdjieff’s original work, and hear enough about what he said to others from original sources, you can draw opposing conclusions with ease, and make up anything you want to about the "pure" version of his work. It's a complex structure with mistakes and inner contradictions in it; it was an evolving entity, and Gurdjieff changed its nature according to the level of his understanding and the nature of his own Being as he brought it to people—as well, mind you, as the people he was brining it to. This is in the nature of every human enterprise. Spiritual teachings are not exempt; and yet human beings insist in placing them on altars and worshiping them instead of examining them critically.

It’s true, there are probably some central tenets to Gurdjieff’s work; for example, he told us to question everything. He directly instructed his pupils throughout the course of their lives to examine even what he told them critically, and to determine what was true about them. It imposes upon every follower of Gurdjieff, then, the obligation to begin by rejecting everything he said, to disbelieve it, to investigate for themselves. That’s a central tenet. Yet this particular baby gets thrown out with the bathwater very early on in people, who become convinced of Gurdjieff’s veracity and then rewrite everything about him to conform to their own version of it.

Gurdjieff made a lot of mistakes. Some of the things he told people were just plain wrong. This doesn’t just apply to the metaphysical cosmologies he brought; and there are even contradictions there. For example, Gurdjieff’s writings are loaded with 40' containerloads of metaphysical philosophy; and in particular, when he was teaching Ouspensky and the earliest groups we know of, it appears just about everything was about that. Any casual reading of In Search of the Miraculous will reveal that the philosophy very nearly overwhelms the practice. 

Yet when we come to the 1944 meetings, some 25+ years later, every time a group member attempts to discuss something philosophical, Gurdjieff dismisses it outright. 

He had changed. That’s all there is to it. If he hadn't changed over all those years, there would have been something wrong with him. he wouldn't have represented the idee fix, the obsession, which in 1944 he repeatedly warns his pupils against.

He also changed his working methods; and once again, any casual reading of meeting records from either 1943 or 44 will reveal how extraordinarily specific his instructions to different individuals were. What was good for one person was bad for another; and so on. He was most certainly wrong on some of his calls, because he wasn’t perfect; and a close reading of the wartime meetings will reveal, to those attuned to more subtle inflections of personality, that he wasn’t even always sure about himself. One catches the whiff of doubt. He understood what another said; he didn’t. Things needed clarification. And so on. One sees the process of uncertainty at work even in the master himself.

Even in the original handwritten Russian drafts of Beelzebub' Tales, he was uneven, fallible, exploratory, and said things that later underwent significant changes. He was human. This is a fact. He made plenty of mistakes, and he was sometimes wrong. 

So the chimera of a pure, unchangeable essence of his work is just that — a mythical beast assembled from the parts of other beasts. Nothing, in sum, is ever always correct; but some things are always wrong. This pasting together of various ideas to create something pure which never existed and never will exist is always wrong, whether we do it with politics or spiritual traditions. Purity emerges from selflessness; and the pasting together of things to create a self-serving version of purity is always wrong, because the enterprise started out with a false premise to begin with. 

It begins rooted in the essence of its own failure; which is perhaps a metaphor for where we must always begin our inner work, doesn't it?

The weakness and failing lies not in the failing itself, but the failure to recognize it.

This assembling of false premises in order to reach a true one is a human habit; we see it around us all the time. What marks it above all other things is the obsessiveness and fanaticism with which people pursue it. It disturbs me that the Gurdjieff Foundation has become a whipping boy appointed to receive punishment for all the sins of the Gurdjieff work, whatever they may be. It isn’t perfect; from within, it well knows that. The difficulty here is that the accusers on this matter don't stop to examine their own conscience.

I was in Paris last January, just under a year from the date this was written, and met with individuals who are deeply inserted in the direct tradition of Gurdjieff’s work. They worked in their whole lives with the people that formed the innermost core of Gurdjieff’s circle in the last 10 years of his life. One of them told me that, "of course," the Gurdjieff work today is nothing like people imagine it in the way they conduct the affairs of the work. 

It was fun. It was casual, it was relaxed, it was warm. People acted like human beings. Gurdjieff argued with people; and they argued back. 

They enjoyed what they were doing.

The unfortunate situation is the way in which some have turned what was once a warm, human, and entirely fallible enterprise into some rigid kind of structure implying punishment for those that don’t conform.

Of course, there are those who want things to be that way; because then their egos can be exercised and they can have control. 

They imagine themselves to be important. 

They think they are on a mission from God. Perhaps so.

But that mission is by its nature a deeply inner and secret mission, that has in the end little or nothing to do with all of the outward trappings of power and control and importance that can be acquired. 

Human beings are obsessed with the idea, in other words, of pursuing an understanding of their own nothingness by becoming something.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Gurdjieff was Wrong, part I

Jan. 8

 Periodically, I happen to browse the many threads of discussion online, most recently on Facebook, about the Gurdjieff work. 

Some disturbing features of these discussions have come to my attention.

The first of these is that there is an obscure but persistent belief that there is some “pure” version of the Gurdjieff work. That Gurdjieff established some inviolable, immutable version of his work that was whole and intact and perfect, and that his later followers, especially Jeanne de Salzmann — who comes under a good deal of fire for this — somehow contaminated that work with foreign practices, changing it until it no longer resembles his original work.

These ridiculous assertions would be laughable if they weren’t so destructive. Similar remarks have been made in general about Gurdjieff’s work, ever since he died, of multiple individuals and branches of the work; and indeed, the work has never been the same since he died, because the way he brought it was his way. 

This particular work, however, did not belong to him, as he very clearly said from the outset. 

Perhaps the difficulties arise from his unique nature; it’s hard to imagine that another individual vouchsafed the understandings of what we call “the fourth way” would have taught it the exact same way he did. A close reading of what Gurdjieff said in In Search of the Miraculous (should we choose to believe this source) will reveal that that would be impossible, anyway; a true “fourth way” school has a specific aim, works to achieve it, and then disbands once it is over. If the fourth way school had an aim, for example, of making an extraordinary painting about "the work," they wouldn’t be teaching movements; they would be teaching how to mix paint in the right color. And so on. So the idea that there is one way of teaching this work is a functional absurdity from the beginning.

The assertions that the work has one version and that various individuals haven’t remained loyal to it is a self-serving approach to things; above all, it is a product of egos who believe that “they” are the insiders who have the insights necessary to keep the work pure, and that others don’t. I’ve seen this manifest itself in innumerable variations over the years; and every single one of the people who approaches the work in this way, “nice people” though they may be, is completely blind to the way their own ego prompts them to pretend that they have some kind of ownership of the purity that’s necessary. I have seen this in versions that don't just stand at the borderline of arrogance, but rush over it like an invading army.

If we return to one of Gurdjieff’s earliest essays, The Meaning of Life, which was almost certainly a piece of writing and not a lecture that he gave in person — the earliest members of those groups commented on the essay as “originally read to us as “Pure and Impure Emotions” —we can note that he said purity is defined by the presence or absence of self interest.

This brings me to the second disturbing point, which is that when I encounter things written by “outsiders” about the work of the Gurdjieff Foundation, they almost always share two chief features. First of all, they're unerringly incorrect in their understanding of how the Gurdjieff Foundation presents the Work; and while we can excuse them for being wrong — after all, they aren’t in the Foundation and privy to the way it conducts its business — we can’t excuse them for presuming to know things about which they know absolutely nothing. This is a form of unexamined arrogance that should have been nipped in the bud of every mind that produces it; and yet it grows like roses, nothing but roses, in the presence of beings who definitely ought to know better.

Secondly, they tend to lay too much blame at the feet of Gurdjieff’s followers, especially Jeanne de Salzmann. They are happy enough to appropriate the words from her personal notes in “The Reality of Being”; but they then claim that the direction she took the work in wasn’t pure. This is a chief feature in critics of the Gurdjieff Foundation and its inner affairs, all of which are actually none of their business.

We come back on this second point to the question of what the work really is and who has “ownership” of it.

It is objectively accurate to say that both everyone and no one has ownership of the Gurdjieff work. It only exists to the extent that it manifests its influence and the power of its energies in an individual; and yet it is greater than all the individuals, so no individual has even the slightest chance of grasping its scope or depth. This is true, it must be said, of even Gurdjieff himself. 

And more on that in the next installment of this essay.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Faith, Love, Hope, and Time, Part II

I have a very close friend, Rip, who I’ve known by now for over 47 years. I met him one night in September 1973.  At the time we were both freshmen at St. Lawrence University. The exact circumstances of how we met are unimportant. 

What is important is that Rip and I instantaneously had an affinity for one another that had a certain tone, a harmonic vibration, of the way that our essential persons interact. This is not about the pastiche of our personality; Rip and I have quite different personalities. This is about our essential inner harmonic vibrations, which have always been highly attuned to one another, much better than with most other people I know. 

Rip called me two nights ago on Christmas Eve and we had a cheerful, rather ordinary little conversation about where we were and what we were doing. Our conversations tend to go on for quite a long time because our harmonic vibrations instantly lock together whenever we speak to one another. The rhythm, the tonality, the syncopation of our exchange is always identical and its character has been exactly the same for the entire 47 years I have known him. 

I realized this after I got off the phone with it, and I remarked upon it to my wife. I then said, “our future reaches into our past to create itself; it knows what it needs to be, and it moves backwards through time to provide it.” 

My life has created this friendship with Rip by moving from now back into the past—because it is what is needed. It has what I would call an eternal determinism in it that transcends the event itself. Another way of describing this determinism is comprehensive. That is, it holds all things within it, both within and outside of time.

This mystery explains many different things, among them how we can have psychic insights that exactly describe future events in our lives. I’ve had a number of these over the course of my lifetime, and described them elsewhere, so I won’t go into that here other than to say it’s not possible to have a dream about the future in its exact detail unless it already exists. The point isn’t about whether such psychic phenomena are possible; indubitably, they are, and my family has always had a weird propensity for sensing these things. The point is that the phenomena are only possible because the future creates the past in an exactly equal measure to the way that the past creates the future. They are codependent entities involved in a reflexive action that affects both of them.

This casts a significant light on Gurdjieff’s proposition, “Use the present to repair the past and prepare the future.” The present moment is a fulcrum upon which both the existence of the past and the future depend. They are balanced, both of them, on this moment, which can tip them back and forth (change their attitudes relative to the fulcrum) according to the degree of awareness that is exercised in this moment.

We don’t perceive the future as creating the past; and the closest we can ever get to the past or the future is now. 

Yet now exists as a point on a sphere that moves in all directions, from itself back to itself. What appears to us to be over hasn’t happened yet from the perspective of now; and what appears to us to be happening next has already taken place.

This may seem bewildering or overwhelming, but it leads us to a moment where we may see that we have to accept the condition we are in, since both the inevitability of its past and the inevitability of its future are part of the whole thing that gives us Being in the first place. It’s likely that the Buddhist perception of illusion has something to do with a higher intellectual insight about this matter.

The role of consciousness in this field of forces is to assume a deterministic role of its own. 

Consciousness establishes an independent subjective determinism according to the degree of awareness in being. This slows and can even stop the passage of time from a subjective perception. Yet the establishment of this subjective determinism is also what we would call responsibility and freedom, that is, an awareness that divorces itself from the deterministic matrix that it inhabits both in the preceding and subsequent moments it encounters, but that assumes responsibility for the determinism of its attitude, its inclination, in this moment. 

In this sense, freedom is actually a full and conscious inhabitation of the comprehensive determinism of Being, as well as a decision about how to exist within it. Gurdjieff’s proposition was that man needs to exist within this field of comprehensive determinism according to what he called “three centered being.” Three centered being is perception by the conscious mind of intellect, feeling, and sensation of the experience of being the fulcrum. 

The fulcrum behaves differently when it is aware than when it is unaware. We can understand the fulcrum in several different ways. 

One is to see it as the place where all these forces meet and exert themselves on the fulcrum. If we see it this way, we become victims of the forces using us for leverage. This is our average (and pathological) perception of the fulcrum of Being.

Another way of seeing it, however, is seeing the fulcrum as the place that determines the relationship between the past and the future, the place that has the most—rather than the least—power. Even a tiny movement of the fulcrum has a massive effect on the way that the past and the future balance one another in us within this moment. Such is the nature of fulcrums. 

This is to say that a tiny change in our own inner attitude can cause the past to lift up the future, or the future to lift up the past. Either way, the point is that our attitude in this moment can serve to elevate our perception of what has already happened to us, or elevate our perception of what is to come.

The astute reader may have already in this one sentence recognized that the elevation of our perception of what has already happened to us is called faith; and that the elevation of our perception of what will happen to us in the future hope.

This leads us to the point of the fulcrum, which is love. 

In this way, we see that faith, love, and hope are all related in this question of time and its action on Being. Its furthermore explains why Gurdjieff, in his chapter on Ashiata Shiemash, listed these three properties in that order: Faith, Love and Hope. 

It describes the nature of their relationship in metaphysical space.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Faith, Love, Hope, and Time, Part I

 A good deal of my writing over the last 10 years has emphasized the fact that modern science, and we ourselves, don’t really understand what consciousness is. 

Consciousness, awareness, is a fundamental property of the universe; and I’ve written about that quite extensively, especially in Metaphysical Humanism.

This brings me to another subject we don’t understand properly at all. That subject is time.

The relationship between time and consciousness is essential. Time and its passage can only be perceived through consciousness; they’re intimately related. The perception of time passing is, furthermore, subjective, and completely unique to the individual impressions of it. 

It is, furthermore, functionally relative in a physical sense, one of the essential points of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Time passes differently in relation to other objects depending on the speed that an object is traveling at.

This raises the question of whether there is a relationship between velocity and consciousness. Yet what I want to point out now is that time is far from a linear process.

Because consciousness perceives time outside itself, we sense a separation between consciousness and time. This separation may seem theoretical, but masters such as Meister Eckhart have spoken for many centuries of eternity, that is, the state of existence outside time. 

Gurdjieff proposed God as a separate entity from time, which he called the merciless Heropass. Calling it merciless separated it from God even more in a conceptual sense, because God’s essential component is mercy, and time has none. In this sense, while God is totally aware and totally loving, such to the extent that it is, time is a dead and utterly unconscious thing. 

We now need to examine this from another point of view, that is, the perspective of meaning. Time appears to impart meaning; after all, we presume to derive meaning from the relationship of cause and effect through time. Yet once again, here the metaphysical thinker departs from the traditional view of time, because in eternity — a state of awareness that Meister Eckhart insists we’re able enter — meaning is ever greater than it is within time. It assumes an absolute, rather than relative, nature. To be within eternity is to discover the absolute consciousness and eternal love and mercy of God. Outside of eternity, we enter the realm of the infinite subjective. 

Thus we say that the flow of the universe and Being itself is infinitely objective within eternity, and infinitely subjective within material reality.

Time is ubiquitous within material reality. That is to say, the linear perspective imparted to it by our process of awareness does not actually exist. As with the quantum state, which is a single whole fabric from which the universe perpetually and instantaneously arises, time is a single whole state from which causality and meaning instantly and perpetually arise. This has been recognized by modern physics, in a general sense, because physicists agree that time as we understand it does not exist — mirroring the statement by Gurdjieff at the end of the first essay in “Views From the Real World.” He says, “time does not exist,” but what he really means, what he is saying to the protagonist in this story, is “time as we perceive it does not exist.” 

Time runs both forwards and backwards. The philosophical and metaphysical propositions I’ve just stated result in some interesting consequential observations about the nature of time as we do perceive it.

We perceive the past as creating the present and leading to the future. Yet it’s just as exactly true, from a metaphysical point of view, to say that the future creates the present and leads to the past. That is to say, time’s reach extends in both directions and imparts both directionality and inevitability backwards from now into the past. 

This implies that the entire act of creation is essentially deterministic, that is to say, there is an inevitability to it. This inevitability is not, however, inflexible, because the sense of the universe is such that everything that ever can happen must happen, a proposition that modern investigators of the quantum state have already forwarded. One of the consequential results of this is the theory of the multiverse, that is, the theory that there are an infinite number of universes realizing all the possibilities that can ever be realized. My own point about this, raised some years ago, is that the multiverses are co-incident, that is, they all share the same material at the level of the quantum state. This condition would explain some of the peculiar aspects of quantum nature.

The question of determinism, otherwise broad enough to serve as a starting point for many other discussions, thus becomes moot, because determinism is locally inevitable, but globally meaningless. Not in the sense that it has no meaning, but that encompasses all meanings and thus obviates the need for a detailed examination. We can simply say that its ubiquity renders the collective action of subjectivity unimportant in the largest sense. 

This may not be much comfort to us. We live, after all, in an infinitely tinier, much more focused sense of unawareness inhabiting a specific timeline of determinism.

One might say that the universe is built upside down from our ordinary perception of it. Our own future in this specific timeline of determinism is what determines our past. 

The future reaches back into the past to create itself. 

Thus each object, event, circumstance, and condition that we encounter is not of necessity an act of creation taking place now and moving forwards into the future; it is quite equally an act of necessity taking place now and moving backwards into the past.

In the next post, we'll examine this in more detail, and uncover some surprising relationships between these questions and Gurdjieff's propositions about the matter.

PS. Readers should take note of the Egyptian Ankh in the above photograph (taken at the Louvre) in comparison to the illustration in the next post. The relationship will be obvious.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, April 12, 2021



Dec. 25

Self-awareness is not a proposition for happiness.

It’s commonplace for people to think that if they are self-aware, their life will be better. Human beings don’t realize how much of their so-called “happiness” depends precisely on not being self-aware. To be asleep, to be functionally un-conscious of one's inner life and how one is both inside and outside, allows perception and awareness to dismiss the many extraordinary contradictions that one has within one, as well as the powerfully tempered and hardened selfishness one nurses as though it were the most precious thing one had.

To be self-aware is to be thrust, without compromise and in the absence of any refuge, into the middle of these questions in such a way that one cannot escape them. 

One has to actually be with oneself; and I can’t think of anything less “pleasant.” 

The word pleasant is derived from the Latin placere, which means (among other things) to calm. When we are pleased, we are placated. We are placid. We remain undisturbed by what takes place. This is the ordinary state of consciousness without self awareness: it spends much of its time in fantasy and egoistic inflections about how great one is. So long as this goes unexamined through functional awareness of the moment and an ability to see our inner lives, we can be happy a good deal of the time. We can be pleased. We can pretend that everything is just hunky-dory for large swaths of time, until the next event that upsets the apple cart comes along. Because we have no continuous awareness of this condition in our moment-to-moment examination of self, we remain oblivious to the situation.

Self-awareness requires us to be with ourselves throughout the day, not in intermittent flashes of insight. This can be a trying, difficult, and disturbing experience. It relates to Christ’s comment about the Son of Man having nowhere to rest his head. There is no place within true self-awareness in which to take refuge. This fox has no den. 

I bring this up in large part because I spend most of my life in communities of people who are, at least superficially, wholly devoted to the pursuit of self-awareness. I’m not sure they know what they would be getting if they had it. For the average person, in fact, I think self-awareness is possibly the worst thing one could get. It takes an extraordinary constitution, one forged in a crucible of inner and outer suffering, to tolerate a psychological condition of this kind. If it were not accompanied by other important phenomenon such as the organic sensation of Being, it would be devastating. Only the balance of manifestation through the mind of the body prevents it from tipping the applecart all the way over; and hence the need for a firm foundation in sensation before anything else happens. It is what will keep you upright if you want actual self-awareness.

We are not the creatures we think we are or the creatures we believe we wish ourselves to be. If we face the creatures we are, we're sure to become confounded. It’s almost certainly beyond the purview of our own average understanding to fathom ourselves. We can only rely on assistance from a metaphysical realm that we have little knowledge of or access to. Surrender of this kind puts the ego firmly in its place; but it never stops squirming. And this is another thing that will have to be lived with throughout every day.

Strange to say that if there is refuge here, it lies in the realm of ritual and bells, of Psalm and prayer, of hymnal and devotion. There is something about the vibration of consistency in a religious context that helps to focus effort per the statement I scrawled on a piece of paper earlier this year which sat on my desk for months reminding me of this condition that cannot be escaped.

“I return to you in faith.”

This return is the only place that one can turn one’s attention. 

It must be done repeatedly and without expectation of reward. 

It must be done understanding that there is no place in our lives, if we wish to know ourselves, for anything but God. 

Yet we are filled with ourselves; and it is the suffering of this exact condition itself that is necessary. We will not be filled with anything but ourselves until we've managed to see all of ourselves in such a way that we can no longer tolerate ourselves, no longer find solace in the platitudes we feed ourselves, no longer trust what we are to be anything but this tiny, uninformed, unintelligent, disobedient self. 

Finding myself in the midst of this process, I have no great insight, no advice. 

I myself simply return in faith every morning. 

I have nowhere else to go.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.