Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Voice of the Silent Mind


Happy Halloween. A sarcophagus (this one from the collection of the Louvre) seems appropriate to both the date and the post.

Enmeshed as we are in its action, it’s quite difficult to see how the mind interferes with almost everything.

When Gurdjieff wrote Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, his intention was that the material would penetrate beneath the surface of our conscious mind into our subconscious mind, which he called our “real” mind. This mind is quite different than our conceptualization of mind; it's not a theoretical construction. Yet our idea of it is theoretical; and thus, even though we think we know what he meant when he referred to it, we don’t. 

The subconscious mind is a highly organic entity that penetrates the whole body much like the mycelium of a fungus. Every cell is connected by it. It's so different and so unusual compared to our ordinary "thought" that we can’t even properly think of it. An experience of it is the only thing that can gain meaning.

I’ve noticed that a high percentage of folks following Gurdjieff’s ideas follow them based on widespread adoption of theories and thoughts. This is the same problem that was described by Zen master Ta Hui. The need to sit down quietly and be quite empty is forgotten in the midst of the urge to express opinions and make noise. 

In the midst of opinions and noise, the subconscious mind is buried. The intellect is the sand; and the subconscious is Egypt. Those who are confused about why Egypt was chosen as the symbol for the subconscious should read Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven, in which he explains the importance of the Egyptian understanding of correspondence and how it relates to the inner spiritual world of man. That understanding is completely forgotten in the modern world.

In any event, what is interesting to me this morning is the nature of being relative to the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind isn't theoretical and has nothing of the theoretical in it. Intelligence and sensation, such as we may still experience them, are rooted in this mind which sees the world not the way I wish it was, but the way it actually is. In this sense it's a powerful organ for perception that has become completely dormant in people. Folks are so busy, in this and other works, telling each other “how it is” that the voice of the silent mind is completely drowned out. Not a whisper of it can be detected in ordinary day-to-day activity. It’s as though there were a mob of hooligans with pots, pans and wooden spoons, marching through town banging on them and shouting chants about how important their mob was.

It takes tremendous restraint to avoid participating in this activity, because it is strongly magnetic and accretive and it draws everyone into it because it looks and sounds important. Crowded places filled with people making a lot of noise seem to signify events that ought to be important because they display a crude kind of consensus; and human beings crave consensus of one kind or another because relationship is natural to us. What we don’t see is the quality of our consensus.

Think about this carefully, please, because that one last remark says everything about not just the outer conditions in which we work and live, but also about our inner Being. 

Inner Being tends to function in exactly the same way. The things that make the most noise and attract the most attention — strictly by contraction, mind you — are the ones that seem to be important. We rely on the contraction of our Being around “important” ideas, and attempt to get others to do the same. In this way we develop a correspondence of contraction that's not at all useful in experiencing our Being. Being needs to be concentrated; and this correspondence of contraction creates an ersatz concentration. It looks real. We believe it. Yet it's an aberration. Even more perversely, we refuse to let go of it because we're so convinced that it serves us.

The quality of our consensus needs to be carefully examined. When Gurdjieff speaks about “relaxing the small muscles” — something that he discusses quite commonly in the meetings of Paris groups in 1944 — he’s not just talking about the physical muscles of the body, but all of the muscles that draw intelligence and feeling together, the metaphysical muscles of the subconscious mind. Artificial contraction and tension between them eventually damages their function. Then the belief arises that the ersatz concentration is the real thing; and almost nothing can convince a person otherwise. The first thing they will do if you try to explain this to them is argue about it,  to bring useless opinions to the table which would be better left unspoken and even better still, untouched in the first place.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Notes on Our Molecular Responsibility


April 10.

I've been given a life in the wholeness of Being, but do I sense it?

My very atoms belong to this planet, not to me. There's a part of me which believes everything belongs to me, but the idea itself is absurdly false. Even the simplest critical evaluation of our nature reveals its emptiness; yet it insists. 

It believes it is powerful.

The wholeness of Being isn't my own wholeness of Being, but an individual iteration of the Being of the planet. In this sense, I’m like one of the microbes that inhabits my own body; I'm part of a vast and essential chemical process which I make a tiny contribution to. The quality of my contribution depends on the quality of my chemistry; and this is not just in the crudest sense of what I'm eating and drinking, but the actual quality of the rate of vibration between my molecules, the way that they come into relationship with one another. The quality of my thinking and feeling, the quality of my sensation, are dependent on the quality of vibration between molecules. If I’m quiet and I enter into myself more deeply, with less tension, I can begin to sense this.

This sensation produces a sense of wonderment; because it's so different than what my mind assumes and the way in which I rush about like a bull in a china shop. Even the least touch of a finer quality of Being already reminds me of the fundamentally extraordinary nature of the chemical relationship on this planet, the energetic relationships, which are fully embodied and absolutely expressed within each manifestation of nature: blooming forsythia, narcissus and daffodils, birdsong. The moment in which spring reawakens revitalizes the chemical exchange, and I can participate.

All of these events are sacred phenomena; and each one of them can be more deeply received by the atoms and molecules of my Being, because it was specifically designed to participate in this in a very special way. Let me emphasize this: it isn't me that is very special, but the nature of the planet and my dwelling within that nature. It's an immense privilege to fulfill the responsibilities and duties that devolve upon any single creature gifted with the opportunity to be here. If rightly sensed, it brings no inflation of ego, but rather an expanding experience of humility and gratitude.

We can be touched by the chemical relationship that we are vouchsafed; it comes into us with each breath of air, each sip of water. Being more sensitive to these little things in a mindful way helps us to better appreciate what we have been given and to appreciate the wholeness of Being which is our birthright.

There's a quiet joy available in this place where the wholeness of Being arises; and there's an equally quiet and quite sacred sorrow. 

The two coexist in a place that is untouched by other concerns; and all goodness can be found there. 

The goodness of the whole planet is born in this silence. It is unto itself; I add nothing to it, nor do I take away from it. 

It has no need for advocates or arguments; but it does have a need for relationship. 

I serve to the extent that I helped fulfill that need.

Coming to a more organic understanding of the chemistry of our nature and participating more deeply in the molecular nature of our Being provides a foundation, a beginning, from which I can explore this question with greater respect than the one I have, on average, when I'm not paying attention. 

Even right now, the chemistry of the air that I breathe is influencing me; do I sense that? I’m already in participation. Here it is. 

Where am I? 

Do I have respect?

 These are the questions that are with me this morning.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, October 25, 2021

For M. G.


April 5

For M. G.

Mark well these words from the holy communion, because everything I am about to say relates to them.

We do not presume to come to this table, or merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. 

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. 

But Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy; grant us therefore, gracious Lord, to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may ever more dwell in him, and he in us. 


Sometimes impressions are too intense and too personal to share. 

As work becomes deeper in the parts of being are more harmonized, impressions sink into the body more deeply and enter realms where it is impossible to describe their action without using too many words and already thereby missing the mark entirely.

The various parts of Being work at very different tempos and it takes many years to learn how to have a presence of Being and a connection to sensation that harmonizes these tempos better. To do so is already a rare thing, and it’s easy to assume one has an understanding of this when in fact nothing of the kind is there. It engenders a kind of arrogance that forms a pimple on the face of one’s work which looks normal to all those who are like this. Everyone accepts it. There is a consensus that these pimples are normal things and that in fact one ought to have them. The more, the better.

Ultimately, each impression ought to be about a feeling relationship. The ultimate goal of harmonizing the policeman of thought and of the landowner of sensation is to make room for true emotion to enter. That entry always begins with remorse of conscience; and together these three things can lead to real feeling, which is the door to the secret inner realm where all true work of Being takes place.

Last night, I said to my wife that this is not a place that anyone, from their ordinary parts or selves, wants to enter. All of the ordinary that’s in us would prefer to stay outside the temple engaged in all the “festivals of light and color,” the processionals and ceremonies that take place in profane territory. These are all amusing distractions and the preference for them is strong. It’s only inside the temple, where the sober action of relationship with God takes place, that anything real happens; and the need for doing anything real isn’t at all apparent to us.

The work is not meant to take us to a place that we like; it's meant to take us to the places that we don’t like. And this seems paradoxical; why should anyone want to go to a place they don’t like? 

This needs to be contemplated very carefully. All of the most important things in life, all of the higher feelings and the things we can understand inside the secret parts of ourselves where it really matters, are in the places we don’t like. The secrets of what it means to be were hidden in those places precisely to keep those within us who have no real interest in Being from touching them.

Well, I could say a good deal more about this, but it is nearly impossible. What occurred to me last night, and what can perhaps be said—although I have my doubts—is that an individual’s life is so vast and contains such an extraordinary and comprehensive cosmos of its own that, if it's properly digested and understood, rivals any galaxy or even collection of them in its scale. The responsibility for an entity of this magnitude is overwhelming; in fact, one comes to know that one isn't truly capable of being responsible for it. One only comes to know one’s own nothingness in the face of one’s own scale.

We're not just nothing unto the cosmos; we are already nothing unto ourselves within the scale of ourselves.

In order to sense this, we must first sense the scale of ourselves; and in order to sense the scale of ourselves, we must learn the value of even one single impression. 

A true and deep receiving of a single impression can already change our inner universe beyond measure; one impression, truly received, can change the course of a life forever. Two impressions of such quality are almost too much to hope for; and if there are, through some stroke of divine Providence, three of them, then all of life can be renewed.

This, of course, is an allegory, a parable; and yet it captures the general gist of the matter.

The difficulty with this work is that it has nothing to do with how happy we want to be; it has to do with how much we're willing to suffer. The whole of life is in fact constructed in that way; and yet we begin upside down in relationship to the question, and stay there, standing on our heads...

insisting that it’s the best pose.

A note to readers:

M. G. is not Mr. Gurdjieff, but a friend currently dying of a debilitating degenerative neurological disease.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Force and Function


Dove courtship
April, 2021, Sparkill
The male dove preens himself elaborately to show the female that he has ample down to line their nest with.

It’s commonplace to discuss the action of the various individual centers as functions. 

For example, Gurdjieff says that sex is a function. Because we tie sex so closely into intimacy, emotion, and even — in sometimes significant ways — to feeling, we don’t see that it's actually just an engine that drives things. In objective terms of the overall function of the organism, it’s like a dynamo or carburetor. It has no more technical purpose than a hammer or a wrench. Yet we get very tied up in it, because it’s a very big hammer and the use of it produces immense satisfaction.

The problem with hammers is that they can be used to destroy things as well as drive nails.

The discussion I’m interested in this morning, however, examines function from a larger point of view. There are lower functions and higher functions. Higher intellectual and higher emotional centers, for example, serve as very different functions than the lower centers. 

In order to understand the question from a fundamental point of view, we first have to understand what "function" means. As a noun, the definition of the word is “an activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing.” It comes from the Latin to perform, to have an action: and so a function is a part of the self that provides force of a certain kind. 

In this context, we can see that intellect provides a force; sensation provides a force; feeling provides a force. When Jeanne de Salzmann says we exist within “a play of forces,” she’s calling our attention to the fact that all of the parts of ourselves are forces that our conscious mind finds itself in the middle of. When we're identified with one center or another, we confuse “ourselves”— our being – with the function of that center, with its force. It becomes everything "we" are. It’s something like the electricity in a lamp: instead of being the agency that turns the lamp on and uses its light, we mistake ourselves for the electric current, and so we are “stuck in the lamp” like Aladdin’s genie. )The fairytale, by the way, is a spiritual allegory about identification and desire. Other parables about lamps, for example, the opening verses of Matthew 25, refer to the same question of force, identification, and the conservation of being, which is otherwise immediately expended.)

I'm drawing here with very broad lines, creating a sketch which one might spend some time thinking about and refining, filling in the details. What I’d like to get to here is the fact that unity of Being, continuity of Being, is yet another function.

Sensation can create unity of Being; and yet this isn’t an end in itself. It's merely another function that we need in order to live. It is, in point of fact, a far more important function than the average function of the other centers, because it's an emergent function that arises because of cooperation between the centers. 

If a person becomes a truly “three brained being,” the function available to them for manifestation already comes from a much higher level; and yet their manifestation and their functions still take place on this level. That is to say, the function and its inner action are always paramount. The nature of its influence on the outer functions in this level are far less important than the nature of its influence on awareness and Being. In this sense, once the function of individuality (undividedness) is present, everything should proceed outwardly exactly as it always has. That, at least, from the point of view of any other person. The intention is not, of necessity or by default, to “use” this function to “improve” our life, its conditions, and so on. Such a thing may happen; but it isn’t really of so much interest relative to what takes place inside, to the kind of seeing that begins—the type of impressions that are taken in.

This question of the impressions is a quite interesting one, because in a state where the function of unity is active, exactly the same impressions — all of them — are available that were there before there was unity; and yet now the impressions have, from the point of view of function, “changed type,” because the functions now take place within a rate of vibration that corresponds not to the subjective nature of impressions, but to their objective nature. An impression can be subjective or objective; and yet this paradoxically depends on the perceiver, not the impression itself. The impression by itself is in a certain sense inert; it's the receiver that characterizes its nature.

We could examine this from a molecular and biological point of view with some profit. By itself, a virus is inert and can do nothing; it can't respirate, it can’t even reproduce. Cells, however, play a completely different and superior role in the existence of the virus, because cells can be either passive, in which case they're receptive to the virus and have no defenses, or active, in which case the virus is unable to penetrate the walls of their cells. On average, cells are often, like ourselves, passive in this regard. They need to be "awakened" in order to resist infection: on the alert, aware, from a molecular perspective. So you see, even molecules need an attention in order not to become identified and taken. This is, mind you, an analogy; and the molecular biologists would rightly cry foul on it from a technical point of view, for reasons a bit too complicated to explain right now. The analogy, nonetheless, is still to my liking.

In the same way as our poor little cells, if I'm passive, if I have no unity of being, everything that comes into me takes me over and replicates itself in me. I’m not the authority. I don’t have the force — the function — in me to resist my infection by outside events, which enter me and propagate themselves (through association, repetition, and obsession)  to take over the life of my inner Being. 

Yet if the function of unity is available to me, I resist. My “I am” is stronger than the outside world; and even though all it does is gather the force of my Being around this single and quite simple awareness of “I am”, this changes everything, because I'm no longer the subject of invasion. I have borders, I have a border patrol. The organization is different.

I'm not the victim any more.

It’s quite difficult to describe the unity of Being in any average words. The function of sensation is essential as the grounding force in this action; intellect and feeling interchangeably play active and passive roles, another subject too complicated to get into here. The point is that if all three functions are present and accounted for, the fourth function appears. 

Everything that's perceived is evaluated differently under such circumstances. This does not provide comfort; on the contrary, it's a distinctly difficult place to inhabit, but it conveys a reliability that allows us to begin to approach understanding of intentional suffering. 

By doing so, we can begin to lay a foundation for true remorse of conscience; and on that foundation, it’s possible to begin to build a real inner church.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

In Memorial: Sarah Hansen


Today is the 10th anniversary of my sister Sarah’s death.

I don’t quite have words for this because I have no idea how it will feel. Time has changed and transformed my relationship to this event in inner ways that continue to evolve. Over the last 10 years I lost the rest of my nuclear family with my father’s death in 2014 and my mother’s death last year from Covid 19. 

It’s sobering to stand alone in the shoes of such loss and look at outwards towards the world.

This is actually a day with no number on it. It is just here. Whatever I do today, I'd like to come to it without haste, remembering that there is enough time to get here from wherever I am inside myself. 

How can I begin together from within myself on a single note, as though I was a single creature?

We often share amongst one another the notion that we’re a part of everything, that we're not separated from the world we live in, the people we know, and the universe we inhabit. Yet that is known mostly — if it is known at all — with the mind, which is a weak partner. My intelligence is a thing of the air.

My molecules, however, are of the earth, and know much better how they are a part of everything else. Because of their nature, they're far more educated than my intelligence is in this regard. If I form a good relationship with them, I can live more through a part that has actual wisdom regarding this question. So the foundation of my effort today begins in the cells, the molecules, the intimate texture of my being — not in my head which ponders these matters.

My sister’s death is a part of that organic fabric of being. I meet the truth of it with love, because this is the only ligament that connects the tissues of the matter.

Surely I wish she were here in body; but that cannot be. She is here, instead, in spirit; and so I am with her today, as much as I am with myself.

Warm regards to you this morning,


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Community of Consciousness


April 1

Over the last couple of days, multiple discussions about how we form a brotherhood in our efforts to become whole within ourselves; and that the action of doing this is not actually in order to serve ourselves — although that’s in part a consequence of the effort — but to serve everyone else, and the planet.

This idea of ourselves—which is anything but theoretical—as part of a collective, a single organism that functions as a whole, is the most essential part of spiritual understanding. In order to understand it well, we have to understand to some extent by analogy, using the mind quite precisely as an instrument that perceives relationship.

In considering our practical biology, we now know that we are not individual organisms. We are not just a collection of about, give or take, 15 trillion cells; those cells are, functionally, a collection of trillions upon trillions of molecules. In turn, we are not just “ourselves;” billions upon billions of “foreign” bacteria live within us, and trillions of viruses. We depend on all these tiny separate and individual creatures, on their micro-communities, for our very life itself. Our own cells form larger collective communities that make organs. And so on. 

An individuality emerges; and it has a superior awareness that we call our “consciousness.” Yet consciousness, at every level, can only be formed by community. There is no “consciousness” that exists by itself apart from others.

Our planet is in turn a “single” meta-consciousness of its own formed from all the living organisms on it. When I speak of our experience as ”chemical participation” in this vast organism, I indicate that it’s possible (unlike the abilities of our individual cells) to become aware of our place and what we’re doing. Indeed this is one of the natural functions of true awareness, which most humans don’t have. If we acquire it, we certainly understand that we are part of a whole thing called organic life on earth. What we furthermore don’t understand is that this has more than just physical aspects to it; in the same way that the body has a soul which is a metaphysical entity, so the planet itself has a metaphysical entity; as does the solar system. There is a metaphysical part of the solar system, and its intelligence, that participates in the body of a much larger entity called a galaxy; and so on. There is, in other words, a functional and practical metaphysical entity that creates the fabric of the universe and its whole intelligence. 

Romanticizing all this by way of emotive rapture doesn’t serve the scale, the depth, the profundity of the phenomenon. We can only serve that scale organically.

We are built, in our own small part, to organically sense all of these things; but only with effort. It doesn’t come just because we think about it; the participation begins in the molecular and chemical action of our Being, not in the thoughts that arise as a consequence of it. Thought must be the director of the orchestra, conductor, the perceiver; yet the thought has the ability to perceive with more than just thought itself. Sensation and feeling are also forms of thought. All three of these forms of thought need to be awakened in order for us to become an effective node in the network of awareness that we share on an individual, communal, and planetary basis.

Even one taste of this helps us to understand how limited we are within the contracted limitations of our own selfishness and our obsession with how everything is for us. The body isn’t that intelligent on its own; all it knows is “everything should be mine.” 

Mankind is automatically enslaved by this. It takes a greater Being to understand differently.

Yet the effort to acquire a greater Being is usually a weak one. When our own desires prevail, the desires of the body, we don’t grow up; we remain as children, greedy and emotionally dysfunctional. Only by struggling against what we think we are can we become what we actually are.

In this way it’s helpful to understand that I think like a child; I feel like a child; and I sense like a child. All of these parts are dominated by the ego of the body, which wants only for itself. I can’t get rid of that part; but if I struggle with it, I can help it to see from a larger perspective and to become more interested in a greater good. 

The myth of the hero centers around the struggle; to see a communal call to being that is greater than the safety or gratification of the individual. All goodness in human culture and in the soul itself centers around this idea in one way or another.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Purple Love Grass


A song I wrote two weeks ago, now up on Youtube. The copy on YouTube gives a little background on the piece, but I will offer a little more readers of this space.

Since Covid-19 struck there's been a distinct uptick in the number of mentally unwell, homeless, and addicted people around the New York City Port Authority bus terminal. I walk through the streets surrounding the terminal four days a week, early in the morning and in the very late afternoon. It’s a journey that takes me outside the safe parameters of my suburban middle-class life and into the belly of the beast that consumes mankind all too easily—if we don't make efforts in another direction.

Speaking as a recovering alcoholic who will, God willing, see my 40th anniversary of sobriety just under a month from now (November 16) I realize that, quite literally, “there but for the grace of God go I.” So while I'm repelled and irritated at the crazy, stoned, and drunken people who alternately sprawl in pools of their own urine in doorways and lurch into me yelling angry nonsense, I also feel a terrifying and overwhelming compassion towards them, because they are also me.

I had a distinct energetic impression several weeks ago of a different level of vision of this piece of territory, where I saw that heaven reaches down into this level, and hell pokes up from underneath into it as well. 

Sometimes the things that look like heaven are from hell; and other times the things that look like hell are from heaven, because we're not trained to see the difference, and pay too little attention in the first place.

This song is about that experience.

Musically, it's perhaps not entirely typical of me, but I suppose that's OK.

Here's the link to the song:

Purple Love Grass

Lyrics below.

I thought I held a fragment

Of some universal truth

A balm to ease my conscience

Restore my fading youth

But Mercury’s in retrograde

And I don’t know what to do

Words begin to fail me

And I’m tangled up in blue

I thought I was so real

Until I woke up late in life 

And I realized I’m just Abraham

Holding up the knife

When there is no God to stop me

I bring the blade down hard 

And then stare across the barren earth

Of the killing yard


And sometimes I see angels    

In the middle of the day

Standing in the traffic

Looking for a place to play

And other times the junkies

On the sidewalk catch my eye

But I’m always in a hurry

And there isn’t any time to cry

A thin voice inside me says

You gotta let it go

It’s gonna be alright

Heaven told me so

I said love

And the power of mercy

Gonna bring the light    

I said love  

Is what we smoke in heaven

To put the world at right

Love and the power of grace

They gonna set you free

Won’t you smoke 

A little love grass

With me

I said love grass

A little purple love grass, oh yeah

I said love grass

A little purple love grass, oh yeah

Ulysses didn’t realize

When they tied him to the mast

When it’s time to get those ropes off

You better do it fast.

And sometimes I see angels    

Wandering the streets

Wearing tie dyed T shirts

Looking for some food to eat

And other times the junkies

On the sidewalk heating spoons

Chance to catch my eye

As though I’ll be with them soon

I’ve learned it all the hard way

You gotta let it go

It’s gonna be alright

Jesus told me so

He said love

And the power of mercy

Gonna bring the light    

I said love  

Is what we smoke in heaven

To put the world at right

Love and the power of grace

Gonna set you free

Won’t you smoke 

A little love grass

With me

I said love grass

A little purple love grass, oh yeah

Love grass

A little purple love grass, oh yeah

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Struggle and Intensification


March 31.

My ordinary parts and the parts that have a wish are different. 

The whole point of work is to intensify the consciousness, the awareness, of the difference between these two parts. At first the part that has the wish is weak and can barely be seen. Everything about it is philosophical, theoretical. It has taken root in the mind but it has no substance, no material that makes it a solid thing in the body.

One can live one’s whole life in this way. To have the wish take root in the body is a matter of the right soil, the right temperature, the right amount of moisture. The first thing that’s needed is to create those conditions; yet if I don’t know anything about them, I'm stumbling around in the dark.

Suffering can help. In point of fact, the whole effort of work is directed towards intensifying the struggle, because for as long as one is alive, one inhabits the territory between these two natures, the inner and the outer nature. During the course of 1944, Gurdjieff repeatedly told his Paris groups that they had to focus on developing the inner nature and understanding it as distinct. 

Group members repeatedly bring outer material about ordinary things, and he repeatedly dismisses it as uninteresting and absolutely worthless relative to group work.

This question of struggle is essential. One cannot engage in struggle until one is relatively free of the outer influences, to the extent that they manifest but one is not identified with them. They don’t go away. It means we're there with them and we struggle with them. We're increasingly confronted with our own contradictions; and the more we develop, the more intense that confrontation becomes. We have to suffer our location between these two eventualities of being. The worse it gets, the better. As Gurdjieff says in one meeting, he sometimes derives enjoyment from watching someone who has so far spent their life in roses fall into the thorns.

The worst of it, perhaps, is when we begin to see that playing a role absolutely depends on our being exactly as we are, with every bit of filth that's in us active and busy doing what it does, while we stay with it and see it. This is not an act for the faint of heart. Inevitably, the human instinct is to either be the filth and forget about real Being, or try to “use” real Being to exterminate the filth. In addressing either case, great restraint is necessary, and this can only be exercised using will. First, the mechanical will to be as one is; second, the conscious will to stay there within it. This is, in one of the senses of the term, conscious egoism, because the “I am” has a demand put on it to make bedfellows with the mechanical nature of the outer ego.

Is this “liberation?”

I can’t tell you. 

I’ve had experiences that enlightenment aficionados would call “liberation”; not just momentary ones, but experiences that lasted for days and weeks and months. It turned out they weren't for me. 

What I can tell you is that the demand that the Gurdjieff work puts on us is quite different than this “liberation,” which in my own estimation serves only as an illustration of one side of what we are. Gurdjieff demanded that we inhabit both sides; and this makes him unique, because in his work there is no escape from the fact of our subjectivity. Only conscious immersion in it puts us at the axis of Being; and it’s only from that locus that anything objective might result.

In this sense, this work isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t “produce” anything like what one expects or what the ordinary parts desire or what one has read about and been told by the “magical beings” who serve as spiritual guides who will help us calm down, achieve bliss, and be nice to everyone. It invites us to sit between the angels and the devils and suffer the condition.

This is in fact a very rich place; Gurdjieff described it as purgatory. In the general sense of the word, it’s quite certain that he saw this action as a means of purification, whereby we could eventually express (that is, extract by pressure) the selfish elements of our being so that they don’t contaminate our awareness or judgment. Struggle and suffering, remorse of conscience, are essential to this process. 

Don’t come here if you don’t want to work in this way. It’s not the place for you. 

They are passing out halos over there, and on the other side they are passing out pitchforks. Go collect one if that’s where you feel you belong. Lots of people get along just great by doing this. It is the fashion.

Just remember that if you pick up a halo or a pitchfork, you are done for. 

There is no change after that.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Martha Henrickson's work

I'd just like to call the reader's attention to Martha Henrickson's web site.

Martha has been an artist for many years, following her own muse, who continues to sing.



Wednesday, October 13, 2021


Spider silk on pussy willows
Sparkill, March 2021

 March 30, Sparkill.

I can only locate myself and remember myself within this life.

There’s a relatively dominant part of every human being that resides mostly in dreams. It’s a submarine operator; the events in it take place automatically, directly beneath the surface of reality and what actually takes place, functioning as a machine of domination that thinks it controls the ocean... and thereby the whole damn world.

In actual fact, life is a real ocean on a real planet with a real atmosphere, and the submarine is a tiny, contracted place with an artificial atmosphere run by a crew of individuals who think they're important, know everything, and can call all the shots. In reality they’re isolated from the amazingly rich variety of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions outside the submarine, which alone contain everything that's needed in order to provide experience, insight, and food for the crew. 

The submarine crew has failed to understand its dependence on the world around it and thinks it’s the only thing with a mission, the only thing of importance.

Periodically the submarine comes to the surface and the hatches open and the crew suddenly remembers that there are such things as sunlight and fresh air. These are like the moments when we wake up and suddenly see that we’re in life—and yet know very little about it. 

No wonder. We’ve been shut in our submarine, pouring over arcane charts of our own exclusive creation, plotting courses through abstract representations of what's actually out there.

I bring this analogy up because of the need to understand our position relative to real life as it stands. The submarine is both our ego and our subjectivity; it has encapsulated itself and submerged in order to hide from the real world. It has powerful elements of combativeness and paranoia in it; it’s a delusional, tiny little military dictator-ship patrolling the superficial parts of our life as though it were actually in charge of them.

The acquisition of Being has something to do — perhaps everything to do — with coming into sensation and becoming aware of the submarine. 

Sensation begins one's existence outside the submarine.

Sensation of Being puts us in touch with the living, breathing reality of our bodies and the chemical interaction of our Being with the planet itself; not a thing of fantasy or imagination, but the actual reality of where we are. 

It’s more important than ever to sense in this way, because humanity is ruthlessly engaged in the wholesale destruction of the reality of where we are right now, and it’s only by re-centering ourselves within the actual, physical awareness of gravity, the pumping of blood and the breathing in of air, that we can hope to remind ourselves both as individuals and a species as to the very natural and organic nature of our relationship—both with ourselves and the planet. Only in this way can we hope to come to respect it and protect it better.

In this sense, coming into sensation, sitting zazen and coming into contact with our Being in a silent way, has nothing to do with attaining some lofty metaphysical space, but rather an encounter with reality as it stands. 

This encounter is both physical and metaphysical; if I characterize it as principally metaphysical, I miss an important point. The metaphysical begins with the feeling of soil between my toes and breath within my lungs. It’s the awareness of this that itself engenders the metaphysical; awareness is both of nature and greater than it at the same time. It has both of these characteristics, which need to come into harmony with one another.

I am as I am; I need to encounter the truth of this. There’s no power washer available to strip my ordinary functions away from me. I’ll be excited, happy; I'll be sad, confused. The aim is not to lift myself out of life as it is but to insert myself into it more consciously. Acknowledge its authority.

I can’t expect to turn the submarine into an aircraft. It will always be a submarine. When it comes to evasive maneuvers its skills exceed my own — it was built that way from the beginning. I need to learn how to use it as a tool for exploration rather than as a weapon.

The difficulty here is that the ego tends to weaponize everything. I don’t know about you, but my own ego is particularly good at this, and it occasionally even weaponizes itself against the other parts of me, because it constantly feels threatened and believes that its life is perpetually at stake. I need to learn how to make peace with this relatively hostile and paranoid entity. Intelligently allowing it enough space to conduct its operations is a part of helping to reassure it. Criticizing it constantly won’t help to do anything except feed its paranoia and mobilize its resistance.

So I begin here this morning in sensation, acknowledging these things. 

My sensation of Being will be my companion all day, if I allow it the space it needs to manifest voluntarily instead of being bullied around by the submarine crew. 

I can rely on the sensation of Being to remind me that there’s a world outside the submarine, even if I find myself stuck in it peering out through a periscope most of the day. I may even convince the crew to surface from time to time and breathe in some real air. That would be refreshing! 

Maybe, in those moments, I’ll remember that I am a human being participating in an extraordinary chemical experiment that extends to every object, event, circumstance, and condition I encounter during the day.

An investment in this experience of the chemistry through sensation can be extraordinary. I can remember that I’m a molecular creature, that every molecule has a life of its own that needs to be respected and given room to participate in the collective nature of my Being.

May you be well within today.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.