Monday, January 31, 2022

Notes from June 16


Today would have been my mother’s 90th birthday.

Only the body can remember the body. The head just thinks it can remember the body. Only the feelings can remember the feelings. The head just thinks about feelings.

During the day, I need to be more gathered. To stay close to myself. Each of the brains, the centers, needs to first establish its autonomy and independence so that the other two brains are clear about its nature and each one of them functions using its own energy and according to its own form of work. Only then, when the centers are working properly as individuals, can they combine and cooperate to create a fourth awareness.

I am frequently caught in a trap where I think that what I am doing “isn’t enough;” but if I don’t know what enough is, then how do I know what isn’t enough? 

The fact is that I don’t know whether what I am doing is enough or not. 

I just need to be here, doing this.

Equally, I frequently tell myself, when I catch a glimpse of myself, that the way I’m working isn’t good enough. So instead of seeing what I’m doing, I’m criticizing what I’m doing. There is a difference.

The higher part of myself issues a call, but usually it just reaches the answering machine.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 29, 2022


A review of I Am Stories, by Fran Shaw

I completed the book, "I Am Stories," and then spent a week contemplating it by allowing it to digest and not fiddling much with ideas about what I thought of it.

The book is a perfect book. A series of a memoirs about inner work with Michel de Salzmann, thinly veiled — I think more as an artistic device to separate us from associations, rather than an effort to conceal identities — with a patina of pseudonyms. Perhaps this device also makes it a more accessible to a general public, I'm not sure. It certainly plants its feet in a slightly more mythological piece of territory than any average day-to-day memoir would, and for this reason alone I think it was a good idea. It becomes an everyman's story—an everywoman’s story—and the journeyman’s character who inhabits each tale becomes a linchpin. Everyone arrives as an apprentice; everyone lacks understanding; the only place it can be discovered is by asking questions, and exploring them through and in relationship with the others. There's no other territory here. The gentle guiding hand of Le Clair, the clear one, is ever-present. Yet he becomes a prism, a reverse transparency through which the refracted and individually colored lights from a single ray are turn around, rejoin their point of origin, and are regenerated into a mirror of that same transparency which presents itself in the first place.

We might call this transparency understanding, because each character, in confronting the confusions of their own ego, is led by the act of relationship – just being together and making effort in an atmosphere of mutual interest and sincerity — to moments when everything drops away, when the inward nonsense clears up as if a thunderstorm were over. It turns out the thunderstorm was needed — perfect thunder; but now mindfulness enters in its own right — perfect mind. And for a moment, the journeyman inhabits and shares the craft, the transparency, and the clarity of the master.

Descriptions don't do this book justice. It's an experience that needs to be engaged in. I read it, in the beginning, with a light touch of skepticism, as is my typical approach to everything. I start life with the part of me that rejects everything in encounters saying, "that's BS." (I say that about myself more than anything else, but that's another matter.) In this case, the book quickly won me over, because Fran has a delightful and subtle touch to her prose which always, through means I am not entirely clear about, conveys a liberating lack of deadening weight and a loving sense of humor. Every foible we encounter in the book is our own foible; every doubt is our own doubt—but they don't become burdens to carry or knives to wound ourselves with. They are flaws in our love that can still be loved. And in the transformation that takes place as they are stripped down to their bone and revealed for the love that they actually are, rather than the torment we believe we suffer, a new idea arises.

I found myself crying during some of the stories in this book. I can’t even exactly say why. I just did. I am reminded of myself by it, perhaps; of how I forget, of how involved I am with myself, and how I have the potential and the opportunity to come back to something real.

There are few, if any, books about the Gurdjieff work of this quality, although Jane Madeline Gold’s “Down From Above, Up From Below," comes to mind. Both books are exquisitely and essentially human, free of technical jargon and obsessive focus on the confusing underbrush of Gurdjieff’s many cosmological theories. They differ in this: that Gold’s book is about a person, herself and her own experience; whereas I Am Stories is about people; all of us. The books need each other; each perspective is, I think, necessary, and they are oddly complementary, despite the considerable difference between them. I Am Stories is a book about community; and thank God for that. 

I doubt another book of this quality will emerge a second time from the bosom of the work’s results any time soon. 

It is a superior idiot of a book.

 with warm regards,


Friday, January 28, 2022

The Functional and Spiritual Nature in Man, Part III

One of the failures of mechanistic rationalism is that it assumes that everything comes from the same place: that there’s only one level, the physical level, and that everything is physical. This invests all of what we are and understand in the functional alone. It presumes that impulse — the motive partner of function — is also functional. 

Yet impulse is the sister of agency; and function is unable to explain agency. “I am — I wish to be” is the prayer of agency over function: and agency does indeed rule function, in the same way that God’s will rules creation.

I began thinking about this subject because I’m so interested in the question of sorrow and forgiveness. That is, the question of real feeling, which is so central to the question of why inner work exists in the first place. In order to undertake such a work, and work to understand ourselves, we need first to understand how little there is in us that’s real. Our functions are, as Gurdjieff pointed out, indeed mechanical; and the moment we acquire even a small amount of real inner gravity, such as may come about from great struggle or tragedy, we realize this and see that there’s something more than just function at work in us. 

Once touched by real feeling, one never loses the taste for it.

As we are, we’re unable to forgive; and yet the aim of real work on one’s Being  is to become completely immersed in sorrow, down into the marrow of the bones, which consequently engenders and gives birth to the potential for forgiveness.

It’s quite interesting to me that in today’s Gurdjieff work, a counterrevolution is underway among some to propagate the idea of joy. This is in some senses the opposite of what Gurdjieff intended; and yet there isn’t any doubt that joy has its place in the Gurdjieff work. 

The difficulty is that one can’t make it central. That same tendency is strongly afoot in the Christian church, which plans not one but both feet quite firmly in said territory. Yet we can learn from the church, no matter far it may have strayed from its origins, about the place of joy, because the place of joy is absolutely and irrevocably rooted in the tragedy of Christ’s crucifixion. The resurrection can’t take place without death; and the resurrection is the source of joy. 

We mirror that understanding in the Gurdjieff work when we discuss the idea that we must die to ourselves in order to be born anew; and other works as diverse as Meister Eckhart’s Gnosticism and the Enlightenment of the Buddhist practice acknowledge this as well. To go straight to joy is to wish to get to heaven without the dying part.

Gurdjieff, of course, wrote the entire book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson in order to bring the reader to the moment where they discover that their only hope is to grow a new organ that makes them aware of their mortality. 

It’s a trick in which the music stops playing and the magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat — a dead rabbit. 

This is where we really are. Real feeling offers us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the ice cold reality of the place we occupy in this universe while we are in our physical bodies and our souls made slaves, without compromise, to the functional nature of the cosmos. It’s only in the slavery to the functional nature of the cosmos and to fate itself that we begin to understand the suffering that’s needed in order to become a real being. In a certain sense we’re incarnated strictly in order to appreciate that situation. But if we only appreciate it with our intellect, we’ve gone nowhere; we don’t care that the rabbit is dead.

I had a moment earlier this week, which has been a very rich week for solar influences, in which I more clearly saw the intensely tragic situation we are left in by the death of those around us. The death of one’s entire nuclear family, leaving one alone as the sole survivor, is an awful gift. It’s a rich field for the growth of remorse; and one begins to appreciate how others are also in this position. 

If we reach an age old enough to appreciate such things, to truly taste them in the innermost depths of our souls, we begin to see how the molecular chemistry of being and the emanations of the sun combine within us to produce feelings connected to unknown places, where the metaphysical nature of the soul is revealed without words. This is a place of great suffering which we should earnestly wish for; we can’t attain the sobriety we need if we don’t get there. 

Experiences of this nature cause me to examine almost every action that I’ve ever taken and to see, over and over again, what a fool I’ve been and how little I’ve really understood. Even the least of my actions, undertaken in what I thought were good intentions but were actually naïveté and self-serving stupidity, are to be regretted. 

I have no respect. I have no understanding. I don’t care about others enough. These are simple facts and I don’t have a right to feel sorry for myself about it; but I do have a duty to deepen my understanding of these things in order to be able to stand up more straight in my life and not do this again, not do it anymore, and to use the spiritual — not functional — action of feeling in order to remind myself of my duty.

If I catch myself up in perpetual identification with self remembering and the incessant flow of experience it brings into me, I miss the mark. Life is not just a series of experiences to report. I can’t come back to the group every week talking about how this happened and that happened. 

No one really cares what happened. 

What might help is to talk about what my questions are; and to not talk about how great the magical flow of being and sensation and awareness is in the moments when I encounter it, but to bring the question of how I am here and now. 

I need to bring the water up from the depths of the well, to do the work, rather than just extemporize about how great and wonderful the water is.

In this sense, I’m meant to suffer — but to suffer intelligently, with an aim in mind, and to suffer willingly. This is, after all, the entire point of Purgatory — a soul in Purgatory suffers willingly, with a purpose, because they understand that their punishment is just and that there is an aim to being in Purgatory: that one may be able, with great effort, to expiate one’s sins and free oneself from Purgatory.

Do we really think we can do that through the simplicity of joy? 

Perhaps; but I defy anyone who has studied Gurdjieff to find this proposition in his writings or the records of his meetings. This is not to say that there is no simplicity of joy, or that we cannot or do not deserve it from time to time. It’s simply to point out that the center of gravity for these questions lies in the suffering; that’s the root of the tree, and it’s where Christ was hung on it. Of course the tree has branches and leaves that spread into heaven and receive its emanations; but the tree without its root is a dead thing. Christ was hung on a dead tree rather than a living one, in order to illustrate to us that it was his suffering that brought the tree its life. The dead tree of the cross was even put together with the intention — horrifying as it sounds — of creating the possibility of suffering, because the suffering and the death of Christ were not just God’s will; they were necessary in order to provide the material for the resurrection.

There is the possibility for a resurrection within us; and there is a possibility of the joy. The joy is immeasurably great; but it can’t come about without the intention, the dead tree that lives only through our effort and can only be elevated through our own willingness to die, and the suffering attendant upon all of this action. If we really look around ourselves within the action of organic sensation and organic feeling, we see where we are: and this is where we are.

In the midst of all this, there’s only one thing that matters, and it’s work. This is a work without inflection; it can’t be depressed, or angry, or punitive, or authoritarian. All of those are qualities imposed by the ego in one way or another. A work has to be objective; it has to learn how to take things in, most especially the sorrow, without touching them but simply allowing them to be as they are. The moment we touch anything as it acts in us, we manipulate; and the manipulator is always of the devil.

Gurdjieff alludes to this in the Paris 1944 meetings, where he frequently advises his pupils to send what manipulates “to the devil.”

Allow me to briefly note, for those who are interested in such things, that the right side of the enneagram is functional and the left side is spiritual. In this sense the right side represents the devil and the left side represents the angel; and because they are part of the same system, this is why we have both a devil and an angel in us.


For those who are interested, there will be a special post tomorrow outside the usual 3-day schedule.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Functional and Spiritual Nature in man, Part II


Sunrise, Hudson River
June 9 2021

Almost everything we think we “feel” isn’t actually feeling, it’s emotion. Feeling — real feeling — is of a different order and always begins with the immediate and irrevocable understanding that it’s a sacred impulse. All true religious impulse begins with real feeling; and yet it’s difficult to sort out for most people, because emotion can be so intense that it deftly mimics this impulse quite effectively. 

There’s a level of emotion, engendered by ego, that directly reflects divine feeling but is so intensely infected with ego that it turns the results upside down. Religious fanaticism is directly born of that damaged reflection. Because the difference is very poorly understood when seen from the perspective of this level and without the experience of real feeling, its destructive results are what mechanistic rationalism uses to accuse religion of being dysfunctional. Human beings do not even suspect that almost all of what we call “religion” is of this level and does not embody the beginning of actual religion, which is rooted in real feeling.

We have the capacity to feel at a depth and a level that is not of the self and has nothing to do with our own self interest. Real feeling is entirely free of those interests; and the understanding it imparts draws us inexorably towards several important religious impulses that belong not to ourselves, but to the nature of God. These two impulses, which are also easy to misinterpret from this level, are sorrow and forgiveness.

In the midst of what should have been the greatest of personal sorrows, when Christ was hung on the cross, he said, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Christ embodied real feeling; and because real feeling is always selfless, his concern while he was dying was not for his own condition but for the condition of those around him. The comment in the Gospels (see Matthew 27:11-14) decisively illustrates that Christ’s understanding of feeling was from a different level than our own.

We thus see that sorrow and forgiveness, in the context of metaphysical awareness and real feeling, are divine forces that have nothing of our ordinary self in them. Our concern becomes one of absolute concern for others; and it’s thus difficult to use the words compassion, empathy, or sympathy to describe it, because each one of these presumes in one way or another that our own self interest has come into relationship with the self interest in the other; whereas in reality real feeling eclipses our own self interest and puts it aside as unimportant. This is a higher level of concern; and once again, in Scripture, when Christ says “greater love hath no man than this, to lay down his life for his brother” (John 15) the reference is to real feeling. It’s a feeling so great that one’s own life matters not; and how many of us can claim to have a feeling even remotely related to this during the course of ordinary life? It’s only during very great trials that we may have such an experience; and this is a clue pointing to the essential role in suffering to bring us to a real understanding.

In examining these questions, one must begin by understanding that it’s the duty and the responsibility of any conscious entity to take on the task of the regeneration of awareness into the gravitational field of metaphysical and divine consciousness, which realigns priorities not just on the spiritual, but also the functional level. 

This question of the functional level needs to be examined more precisely, because Gurdjieff spoke often of the fact that much in man is nothing more than a function — for example, he said that sex, which human beings believe is a very high activity, was nothing more than a function. Because most of our lives are lived out on the functional level, we confuse functions with spiritual qualities day in, day out, in almost everything we do. We live in an emotional landscape, a magnetic field which is attracted or repulsed by everything around it in millions of different ways all day long; and we don’t suspect that there’s a feeling-landscape which completely inverts and changes the nature of the emotional landscape if it manifests. It realigns everything.

A study of the difference between the functional and spiritual parts of our nature, which is directly related to a study of the emotional and feeling parts and the difference between magnetism and gravity, can be of great service in sorting the conceptual framework of this question out. 

Yet the essential aim of all inner work, in the end, must be not just to awaken the organic sensation, but also to awaken the organic feeling in us — the real feeling, the sacred feeling of the divine, which is forever searching for vessels within which to express itself. 

All great art, all great architecture and music, in fact every achievement of any significance in the temporal world, springs from a manifestation of that expression. This is why the Gothic cathedrals were built; and the fact that we make nothing of this kind, nothing of this great beauty and sublime substance, in the modern age is because we are clueless about these things.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Functional and Spiritual Nature in man, Part I


Partial Solar Eclipse, over the Hudson River
June 10, 2021

The difference between emotion and feeling is as great as the difference between ordinary and organic sensation.

We have ordinary sensations all day long; to be ordinary means to be of an order, belonging to a certain level and structure, and our ordinary sensation belongs to this level and the functional structure of our body. When I say the functional structure of our body, I mean its average ability to sense the things that are around it and respond to them effectively.

Organic sensation of being is not the same thing. It’s of a completely different order; it’s a tissue that connects the ordinary body to the astral body. The astral body is a metaphysical entity that draws the substance of its relationship not just from the magnetism of ordinary life, but from the gravity of the planet. Thus we could say that organic sensation is a function of gravity and not magnetism, as I have explained elsewhere.

It’s not just easy but inevitable that without an actual experience of the organic sensation of Being, one confuses ordinary sensation with it and so the word sensation, as I use it when I write and speak in group work, is consistently misunderstood. So consistently that I suspect no more than a few percent of the people I speak to actually have a specific idea of what I am talking about; everyone else begins with misinterpretation, and things go south from there on… all the way to the swimming pool bar at the resort.

The best way to approach this, of course, if one doesn’t understand the difference, is to first and foremost assume that one doesn’t know anything at all about the subject; when my teacher first introduced the subject many years ago and gave me clues as to the difference, that’s how I approached it, because I understood that she was talking about something from a different level. Then again, ever since I was a child there was always an undertone of sensibility on this subject; and so perhaps you could say I was predisposed to eventually acquire an understanding. As I mentioned to someone yesterday, you can’t actually teach anyone anything they don’t already understand. And that is a tricky thing because if you don’t do the work yourself, no teacher can ever do it for you.

In any event, emotion and feeling are separated by the same enormous chasm, belonging as they do to two different levels. I haven’t spent a great deal of time contemplating the relationship of magnetism and gravity to emotional feeling; yet it’s clear enough that emotion is subject mostly to the laws of magnetism and that feeling can only arise from the function of gravity. In this sense the concentration of gravity within the universe has a greater force than the simple force of physical attraction; and so while atoms are built of electromagnetically attracted particles, they begin to manifest the subtle influences of gravity as soon as they arise. As we all know, greater concentrations of atoms form molecules, and molecules form subordinate physical structures of endless variety. All of them acquire functional relationships at one level or another to the force of gravity, which is the root of awareness and consciousness.

The important take-away from this is that feeling is an essential function of consciousness; more important, in some ways, than the intellectual function of consciousness. Swedenborg gave them what amounts to parity in his seminal work, Divine Love and Wisdom;  and all of the great medieval Christian thinkers were aware of the functional relationship between these two elemental aspects of awareness, which combined together to make the water of the universal consciousness. Meister Eckhart’s mysterious reference in the Book of Divine Comfort, “emptiness makes water run upward and performs many other miracles of which it is not the place to speak now,” refers not to ordinary water but to consciousness. The water of universal consciousness is on the level of the physical universe; but the wine that it can be transformed into (run upward) is on a divine level. When Christ changed water into wine during the marriage at Cana, it was the transformation of ordinary consciousness into its metaphysical counterpart. This is traditionally seen as the first of Christ’s miracles (John 2:11); and the reason it’s first is that this is where the beginning of what Swedenborg called regeneration—and what we today call spiritual transformation—takes place.

The changing of water into wine, in other words, is not just a higher level of intellectual understanding. It’s a functional and fundamental transformation of the embodied and physical consciousness of the universe into the metaphysical consciousness of the divine. Ordinary consciousness and all of the ordinary universe on this level is a mere reflection of that divine consciousness, a tradition embodied in most metaphysical systems, and strongly rooted in the West in Neoplatonism, by far the most muscular of the Western world’s classical metaphysical traditions.

Yet the intellectual and academic understanding of these matters, while fascinating, does not address the fundamental need within ourselves to understand the difference between emotion and feeling. 

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Some notes on sensation


June 8 2021

How to simplify? How to just be where I am?

Maybe in this way I can conserve enough energy to actually be within myself.

Is it enough to just be within my own sphere?

If I have sensation, I’m not so much at the mercy of what takes place. The moment it goes away, I am.

Am I immersed in an illusion or simply lacking inclusion? The illusion in fact arises from what isn’t included.

Is sensation of the body or a bridge to relationship with the body? 

Here, I have some more distinct impressions of the question. Sensation is a body manifestation, like everything else, but it's not the body. It’s a new tissue.

Sensation is actually part of the tissue of a new body that is formed that connects the subtle harmonics of the existing centers.

The question was asked last night, what if I’m not the center of things? What if it’s not all about me?

This brought me back to the chemical and molecular experience of life. The center of a practice which reminds me that I’m part of a community. I sense it in the grain of the wood. 

The organic sensation of Being helps make this possible; I need to develop a respect, even a reverence, for it and come into it in relationship continuously, quietly, knowing quite fully and with every fiber of my soul that it is the unknown which supports my effort.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

What is the role of the thinking mind in work?

 A question was recently asked about what the role of thinking has in one’s inner work.

There are many answers to this question; and the most profound of them touch on metaphysical matters which cannot be so easily expressed in words.

Nonetheless, in the specific question of the inner work itself, the effort to know oneself and to be, a distillation of the understanding of what thinking does, combined with an examination of the question of remorse of conscience conducted at depth — and over a long period of time — a rather specific answer emerges.

The role of thinking is to go against selfishness.

I will explain this in more detail now.

First we need to ask ourselves what thinking does. How does it function, what is its modus operandi?

In terms of function, we'll take the definition of using one’s mind actively to form connected ideas. It's a way of ordering impressions and bringing them into sound relationship with one another. Impressions begin objectively; and to the extent that thinking treats them so, it also remains objective. The moment that it's tainted with self interest, it becomes impure and no longer accurately reflects the original order that is inherent in what it perceives and orders.

In classical thinking, as well as medieval Christian thinking (which was perhaps the last great moment of legitimate religious thought in Western culture) what takes place outside of man comes from an order which is divine, that is, of God. Put in alternate Platonic terms, it is from a higher order than the one we inhabit. So in idealized thought, which was certainly the apotheosis of the Socratic and Platonic Schools, rightly ordered thought and the sound relationship that it establishes and propagates is objective — it is based on the objective external facts, not the subjective internal interpretations which, in the Socratic dialogues, consistently turn out to be faulty in one way or another. 

Our self interest inevitably compromises this ordering process; and so thinking, if it wishes to fulfill its rightful duty in the objective ordering of things — a point which, on the whole, the entire book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson was written about — must overcome the subjective, the selfish. In this sense right use of thought serves primarily to go against selfishness and the wishes and desires of the self, which are almost inevitably childish in their undeveloped nature.

Remorse of conscience now enters the picture. Remorse of conscience is a thought process whereby the careful and more objective examination of one’s behavior, actions, and (most especially) the treatment of others is turned to the purpose of awakening a feeling of remorse, which alone may stimulate our entire Being, including the thought process, to a more objective and contrite vision of one’s life. 

If thinking doesn’t serve this purpose first and before everything else, life remains unexamined. An unexamined life is issued to oneself in order to bestow the express permission to be selfish and do anything one wants; and this is exactly the problem with it. It engages in inner considering only, and never in outer considering. So thinking, in its right form, is not just there to serve a function of going against selfishness: it is there to place a demand in oneself to outwardly consider, but to never inwardly consider.

This particular group of insights is helpful in examining Gurdjieff’s contention that the thinking center is a “policeman.” The policeman, aside from exercising vigilance, is there to make sure that laws are obeyed and that order isn’t violated. 

By primary implication, this means that it is in our basic nature to disobey law and to violate order. Our thinking is what stands between us and those violations. If we want to understand what the violations are, that’s a somewhat different question; then we have to devote ourselves to studying the laws of world creation and world maintenance, because we both create and maintain our inner world, and we need to understand what laws they fall under: our own subjective laws, or laws that relate to the unselfish service required in order to be a member of the society.

The policeman is our thought; and my thought must be quite clear about where it is and what it's doing. It can’t constantly fall under the influence of its own opinions; it needs to be constantly questioning itself in order to function well. It should never, in a certain sense, assume it is correct about anything; and it should be very clear about putting its foot down in every instance of selfishness, both identifying it and steering action away from the selfish choice. This is, in essence, what Gurdjieff means by “conscious egoism.” Egoism is a conscious sense of self in these terms; and the self that is conscious, aware of how tiny it is and how vital it is that it come into right relationship with both the world and other people, never engages in selfish behavior. This is, of course, an impossibly high standard which protagonist Beelzebub nonetheless, according to his own accounts, meets during the entire course of his tales.

This explanation, of course, may seem too simplistic; yet it’s basic enough to understand the role of thinking in a straightforward way, uncontaminated by convoluted logic or metaphysical permutations. 

It’s all about using the mind to remember not to be selfish, 

right here, 

right now.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Worthy of the Dog


Sunrise, Piermont Marsh, June 2 2021

June 3, continued

We had a disagreement about getting a dog. 

This got me to thinking about dogs and what they represent.

Dogs are traditionally used to indicate creatures of a lower order, that think only of their own urges and yap and growl and bark. Gurdjieff likens us to a village filled with dogs and remarks that our dogs aren’t under control. (Paris Meetings 1944.) And much can be made of these rich analogies. 

Yet there are two ways in which dogs are on the whole far superior to men; and this is in loyalty and love. Human beings are rarely loyal and rarely loving; whereas for a dog, the whole reason that the planet created the species and put them next to us is because they are our teachers of loyalty and love. In these two areas, they know everything and we are the fools. Think about it; no other animal knows these qualities like a dog does. Not a single one of them. 

Dogs are masters. 

One of the big questions about a human being is whether they’re worthy of a dog. Most people aren’t worthy of a dog; we can’t even come close to their standards for loyalty and love. In order to deserve a dog, a good dog, one must have a wish about loyalty and love and have a wish to unselfishly learn about these two qualities in their purest form; because that’s what a dog brings to the table, apart from all of its other objectively lower qualities. You can’t learn about loyalty and love from a cat; any idiot who has had a cat or two can tell you that. You can learn a lot of very important things from a cat, but not those two things.

So in order to understand why one ought to have a dog in the first place, one needs to understand that one isn’t loyal or loving. Maybe the dog could teach one something about that. Even then, if one is selfish, the whole thing is going nowhere. The dog begins by demanding unselfishness; because this is the ground floor of loyalty and love. The dog has to be taken care of, even more than a baby; it depends on us for food, for shelter, it depends on us to take it for a walk to fulfill even its most basic function of going to the bathroom. We have to be entirely unselfish in our care for the dog, it has to come before our own interests. Human beings that don’t understand these things are already unsuitable as dog owners: they’re too selfish.

Of course it’s arranged this way. If loyalty and love aren’t founded on unselfishness, they might as well be built on sand. The first trickle of water will erode the ground they stand on and they’ll slip away, taking the whole imaginary structure with them. A dog owner, once they’re fully committed and all in and unselfish towards the dog, has already learned something about the fundamentals. Then perhaps, one can begin to learn about objective loyalty and objective love, each of which is entirely unconditional and not based on intellectual thought and rationalizing. These two qualities must be pure — unselfish — if they’re to be real, and we as humans are required to work towards that, unlike the dog, who begins in that purity and knows it like it knows the marrow of its own bones.

A dog is a lower creature; and of course God is the highest Being, a Being so high that He/She is not created. Yet God is exactly like the dog, in the same way that God exists universally throughout the bottom of creation as well as universally throughout its apex.

God is unconditionally loyal to humanity and unconditionally loving: this was what Christ tried to teach us. Even if you murder the dog, the dog still understands what love is, because you can’t take love out of the dog. This is, of course, by way of analogy: of course it’s possible to abuse an ordinary dog so much that it is ruined. Yet if it happens, this is man’s doing, because by nature the dog’s ability to be loyal and to love is in its own essential right indelible. You can ruin one dog in this way, but you can’t ruin the whole dog, because the whole dog is all dogs and it still contains all of loyalty and all of love within what it is.

I speak of murdering the dog here because that’s the daily intention of our selfish being. We actually have an intention to murder loyalty and murder love within our selfish being, because love and loyalty require selfishness to be put aside — and selfishness always wants to be the center of attention. 

Think about this for a little while. At the root of our action, at the beginning of what we do as selfish creatures, we want to kill the dog. Swedenborg didn’t put it in these terms, but he well understood that given its way, the evil in us would have the death of loyalty and love served for every meal, and as snack foods in between. It takes a special kind of work to preserve loyalty and love: the dog can do it without effort, but for us, it isn’t so easy. We must continually put ourselves aside in order to be more like a dog.

In this way, being more like a dog, we become closer to the lower part of our self. We humble ourselves, we bow our head and bend our knee to the Lord, and we most fully acknowledge our role as lower creatures. 

If then, having recognized our nothingness, we devote ourselves to loyalty and love in the same way that the dog does—if we do it with the same consistency that the dog understands far, far better than we ourselves do— then maybe we’ve learned something. In these two areas of loyalty and love, the dog is the master and we are the servant.

This story of the dog could be extended in many directions, because as we are we do have a pack of dogs in us, but they're wild dogs. They haven’t learned order and respect. They can become some of the most important part of ourselves, but only if we work with them in order to help that come about.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Stop Thinking About The Mind

Sunrise, Hudson River, June 1 2021

June 3 2021

 Perhaps there’s a certain irony in “I am.”

Perhaps the whole idea of saying “I am”is a subtle part of a concealed agenda to change the narrative in ways that aren’t properly understood.

When I say, “I am,” I begin a narrative. “I am this. I am that.” I am what I think, what I feel, what I sense. 

Imagine if, on the other hand, if what I said was, “this is I”?

“This is I” is the perspective of the observer rather than the narrator. 

If I begin right here, right now, with nothing else added, I see myself as I am.

This formulation occurs to me because of the nature of mind and the way it perpetually creates narrative. Last night, I jotted a note to myself which said, the first step in understanding the mind is to stop thinking about the mind. Our difficulty with the intellect is that it rules everything and we apply its filter everywhere. To stop thinking about it can be quite useful.

I find myself between ideas and activity. Here I am; I have thoughts, and things are happening. Yet I’m not trying to think or to do. Instead I'm looking for the question that lies between the ideas in the activity. 

Where am I? 

What is happening? 

There is no plan.

I do this breathlessly, as though I were waiting for an answer important enough that there’s a sense of urgency to it. Of course I’m breathing — don’t be silly, you! But there is a delicate, exquisitely poised moment of awareness within the breath that has an unscripted expectation in it: the sense that something very important will arise at any instant, and that I need to be attentive towards it. 

—Perhaps it is already arising, right here and right now! 

So I don’t worry about thinking; I’m just here. Thoughts are a side show I don’t need to crack the door open on; I can hear their noise, but it’s not what I came for.

Somewhere here, between ideas and activity, there’s a finer energy that I come into relationship with. I don’t know anything about this energy; I don’t make it, it doesn’t belong to me. 

Yet it creates me; in its very vibration itself I know that it is life and that I receive it and that everything springs forth from it. So here I am, with this opportunity to participate very directly in life in a way that has nothing to do with my narratives and everything to do with my Being. In this enterprise, I send everything that isn’t useful to the devil.

Equally, in this enterprise, my sensation becomes a constant companion, quite naturally there — without any direction, without any forcing. 

I don’t have a sensation. The sensation has me. 

I don’t have feelings. The feelings have me. 

In the same way that this whole mind of Being belongs to the whole mind of Being within the planet, each of my parts belongs to that same wholeness of mind. So I don’t have life; life has me. It's vibrant; it is animated. Life on this planet is a comprehensive vessel which effortlessly contains my Being along with all the other Beings in it. I’m just a participant.

The help comes from above. I’m just here. I don’t have any wrong energy in me. The energy that’s produced is generally quite right. The life of the organism knows quite well how to produce an appropriate energy. It’s my relationship to it that’s not harmonious. So I need to attend to that. 

To have a quite good attention, to be poised between ideas and activity, right here, right now. To be objectively sensitive and receptive to that finer energy. 

It has all kinds of potential I’m not measuring if I don’t attend.

Be well today.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.