Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Wedding Day Story

Sept. 5

There comes a moment where things pivot. 

Instead of experiencing a resistance to being what I am, a resistance develops to being what I am not.

This is talked about outwardly in the media when people come out of the closet and so on. We have made a cult, especially in America, of celebrating our individuality and affirming ourselves. Yet that affirmation always seems to swirl around the outer manifestations of what we are, in a little whirlpool that is all about us. In America, the individuals do it; the culture does it. This is the kind of vortex that pulls us into Afghanistans and anti-vaccination pogroms.

Yet the question is always what I am inwardly; and anyone that spends any time in introspection will realize that one doesn’t know who one is. More often than not one discovers, on close examination, that one is just a hairball of outside influences that has formed and is, all too often, choking off the compassion and sensitivity towards others that ought to be present.

I say ought to be, because there is an imperative to compassion and sensitivity that is too often forgotten in the absurdity of rational arguments that everything is relative and has approximately the same value. This kind of thinking excuses the inexcusable; and yet it dominates. Hence, here we are on the planet manifesting everything one can possibly think of that is inexcusable.

I can’t control that; I can’t control the overwhelming negativity of the media — it seems no matter which way it leans, the only thing it has to sell is what is bad —and I can’t control our slide down the luge we're on. I can only attend to the living things inside me and around me; I can only make a better effort to be as I am.

That effort sometimes seems to be strangely unintelligent relative to the machinations of the rational mind; it isn’t filled with the imperatives from the outer world. Yet at the same time it’s even more strangely alive, attentive—a vibrantly intelligent emptiness waiting to be filled with the next moment which does not try to plot everything in Machiavellian terms.

In this sense, the tension arises between the imperative of being here as a creature who senses and lives, and not being “elsewhere": inhabiting an ersatz existence seized by dreams and imagination. The dreams and imagination have to be tolerated, because they can’t be banished; but they need to be seen for what they are. They have no real discipline or intelligence.

Who am I? 

I’d like to get through this day looking at that more closely. I want to see the confusion inside me and understand that I have missed something essential about the nature of this existence. I'd like to live a little more, feel a little more deeply, understand a little more sensitively. I'd like to stop more often and ask myself where I am and whether the thoughts I’m having and the impulses I’m following are honorable ones. This doesn’t seem like so much to ask; yet it seems certain I’ll fail at this more often than I would like to.

By now you may be asking, what does the photograph have to do with all this?

Yesterday, we were trying to get to a friend’s wedding on time; being late, we decided to park at a friend’s house that was right next to the church. I couldn’t reach the friend—who doesn’t live there, the house is currently rented to two tenants, one of whom is another friend—to ask if it was okay, there was not enough time. When we pulled in too the driveway one of his busybody neighbors—quite frankly a bullying type, who he has cautioned me about in the past—began flat-out berating us about parking there even though there were plenty of spaces and the person who owns them is one of my best friends. The woman has appointed herself as the parking police for the block. OMG.

Instead of further confronting the bully, who, it became increasingly apparent, was absolutely determined to have the last word on our perceived transgressions, we decided to back down and leave. This put me in the awkward position of having to go back to our house (which is actually walking distance, the only reason we drove was because of our scheduling issue), park the car, and take the 10 minute walk to the church from the house, compounding the whole late-for-the-wedding thing into a poisonous little black cloud in me. I have established anxieties about adhering to schedules. I have disturbing dreams about being late for things all the time.

Consequently, during that walk to the church I was filled with rage and resentment towards the bully and fantasizing about all the (objectively, non-starter) things I could do about it. Irony aside, all of this was pathologically stupid; it was a foregone conclusion there was nothing to be done, and it was a fact that it was my own inattention that put me in the situation I was. 

I had to find a way to walk that 10 minutes and put all of this out of me — which, quite frankly, is far too brief a schedule to deal with negative emotions, as everyone knows. 

Despite the odds, my inner dialogue — which was firm in regard to the fact that it was my own damn fault I was where I was, and that it would probably work out fine — prevailed, and it did work out fine. I walked into the church just after the bride got up to the altar, so although I only saw that one critical initial moment from behind—a unique point of view, come to think of it—I was there for the whole formal affair. Damp and sweaty, to be sure, but there I was. And carried away in the celebration of this union, 100% of me forgot — at least for the duration of the reception — about the bully woman.

One would think that negative thoughts of these kind, once kicked in the seat of their pants, would slink out the door quietly and not come back. 

But no. 

As I was falling asleep last night the bully reappeared, berating me for parking at my friend’s house. The fantasies of revenge reappeared with them. The whole package had just been waiting in the wings, plotting to waylay me when I was most vulnerable.

I had to remind all of these thoughts all over again that some things just have to be put behind us.

This is the kind of inner mess that seems routine. And it’s the resistance to this kind of thing, the resistance to being a slave to this kind of nonsense, that interests me now. Dealing with reactions of this kind is on the order of living a little more, feeling a little more deeply, understanding a little more sensitively. 

I think the point is that I manufacturer and carry my own curses; and yet the only one I’m cursing in the end is myself. 

There’s far too much of that going on. It needs to be seen more clearly.with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Some Observations—Sept. 2

Sept. 2.

Some observations.

There's a tendency to want things to be magical. This is a poisonous attitude; it's a demand in me for the world and its nature to exceed the laws that govern it. I want the system to be rigged so that it produces things that favor me in one way or another. I don’t see that I can’t be a favorite; that everything is under law. In fact I want everything to be under law except me. I want to be different and have exceptions made for me so that I can do as I please and still get "good" results — that is, the results I want, not the results that are needed for others, for the planet, for life itself.

Let’s face it, sometimes the results required under law have nothing to do with what I want and in fact stand directly opposed to it. Do I ever think about this? Do I understand that I’m part of something greater and have a role to play that may have nothing to do with the imagination and desire that I paint my world with?

So this is one thing I'm pondering this morning.

Another thing. About the conditions. The conditions are exactly as they are. When things are easy, it’s easy to work, it’s easy to love people and to think that life is filled with joy. I’m reminded of Gurdjieff’s comment, in the notes from Paris groups in 1944, where he says, “bad things are easy.” 

Generally speaking, much more is available to work with when things are going badly and conditions are difficult. Of course I don’t want that. I want everything to be arranged so that I sit on a soft cushion and feel and think good things and angelic forces bathe me in the soothing balm of their silence. It’s another way of believing I’m making “progress” and that all will be well instead of struggling with my hypocrisy and inattention. 

I can’t struggle with hypocrisy and inattention if they aren’t manifesting.

The third thing. Life begins itself centering around selfishness. Being has to be dragged away from selfishness, under most ordinary conditions, kicking and screaming. We need to come to a point where Being walks away from selfishness consciously and willingly. It can only do that if it is solid, founded on sensation, awakened in an objective intelligence that understands its position relative to law in an organic way. 

This is adult Being. I see that I usually don’t want adult Being; I want baby being, which just wants to eat delicious food and have its own way with everything. 

Everyone fusses over baby being because it’s so cute and makes goo-goo sounds. I forget that it shits itself and can’t clean its own diapers, and is dependent on everyone around it for its very survival. Being needs to grow up; and it even needs a good spanking from time to time.

I remember when I was an artist and did large oil paintings. There was a way to do this safely. But I always knew that the real paintings began when nothing was safe, and I was literally trembling like a leaf as I tried to approach a canvas and do work on it. 

This is a very different kind of painting than, for example, Northern Renaissance painting, which is actually an extremely refined kind of craft. I'm talking about the painting of terror and the unknown, where the demand of the artist is to channel a force they do not understand into a medium that they have refused to impose predictions and conditions on, instead submitting to its laws. 

In moments of painting like that, one has to acknowledge in an instant that one is inadequate to every law, that one doesn’t know. It is willingness to stand on the edge of the unknown and make a record of it not just on the canvas, but within one’s own being. 

One already knows the mark that is made, the record that is kept, will not meet the moment well enough; that it will be insufficient, that it will be flawed, that it won’t be good. 

This is something like the way I am in life every day. If I'm not willing to suffer the humility of meeting this canvas of life, and putting a record on it, I become even more of a nothing than I am when I do so.

At the same time, I can’t blame myself for being nothing. That’s just the way it is. Part of my spiritual duty is to discharge the responsibility of being mostly nothing. Being nothing can even be helpful. 

I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:

It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Seven Psychic Factors, Part IV

Given that Gurdjieff didn’t mention the various roles of these additional psychic functions in the effort to become a Godlike creature, it seems worthwhile to engage in a brief discussion about the nature of inner development in regard to their action.

Gurdjieff always maintained that a man can do almost nothing until he he acquires real “I” —  Being. Once this is achieved, the further lawful development of his organic individuality depends on the purification of Being; because Being inevitably acquires impurities and wrong data through the course of its development. Unless one becomes aware of one’s Being, one doesn’t notice the difference between data which is dead wood, holding one in place or even dragging one down, and data which corresponds to further development. In the metaphorical sense Being is the point at which the wood of one’s life becomes a flotation device rather than an anchor. Wood is a very apt substance for this metaphor, because — like our past – it is dead material, yet it remains to either present itself as an obstacle blocking the path or a tool to be used in moving forward.

In a notable coincidence, while I was working on this essay this morning, a friend of mine called my attention to this passage and asked me what the word AiĆ«ssirittoorassnian means. The few notes I have on its derivation come from Ted Lebar’s dictionary of words from Beelzebub’s Tales, and indicate roots in Armenian words meaning loving or fond of and donating or gift-giving

The general sense of it is that one undertakes, within the whole of one’s presence, a loving and generous reevaluation of one’s entire life and being. 

It’s impossible to fully appreciate this question without a deeper examination of the subjects raised in the chapter on Hypnotism (see pages 568 – 570). 

And the sacred cosmic substances required for the coating of the highest being-body, which sacred being-part of theirs, as I have already told you, they call soul, can be assimilated and correspondingly transformed and coated in them, just as in us, exclusively only from the process of what is called ‘AiĆ«ssirittoorassnian-contemplation’ actualized in the common presence by the cognized intention on the part of all their spiritualized independent parts.”

Taking the principle of remorse of conscience into account, this process is by turns — and in its whole — nonjudgmental, compassionate, loving, and sorrowful. It consists of sensing the entirety of one’s life and Being within the octave context of all the notes in the enneagram: one’s material body, one’s desires, one’s power, one’s being, one’s flaws, and one’s inherent developed wisdom, at whatever level that rests. 

These six components blend themselves into a single whole “absolute” Do – we become, as Gurdjieff intimates elsewhere, the God of our inner world—whether whole or fractured, stupid or smart, hateful or loving. It is only in the conscious embrace of this wholeness that we can mirror the action of God’s love within the created universe; and we were all along meant to be just such mirrors. This inner world of our Being is what it is and must be unconditionally loved as it is. To do so is a form of taking responsibility for one’s life, one’s fate, and one’s karma. It is, in fact, a form of the remission of sin and the expiation of karmic debt, because by assuming God’s role, we discharge a responsibility to manifest His love which makes such remission possible.

We should note that what Gurdjieff describes here is directly related to remorse of conscience — the critical octave force at the note La representing purification — and corresponds to an inward action of the human being which mirrors God’s loving inward action towards his creation. 

This action is a preparation for the understanding of what real love consists of.

The beginning of this work can only take place once one has first become responsible for oneself by completing the triad on the right hand side of the enneagram and reaching the note Sol. Then remorse of conscience enters the picture; a human being becomes a candidate for purgatory. And it is in the deep and loving — as well as sorrowful – contemplation of one’s entire nature, the whole thing, everything exactly as it is, that contributes to the development of the soul. 

Many planetary and solar influences impinge upon and support this process; and one who becomes sensitive to these forces will be able to take advantage of the help that they send.

Remorse of conscience, in other words, belongs to the spiritual or left-hand side of the enneagram; and perhaps Gurdjieff did not mention the characteristics, actions, or exercises related to this side of the diagram because the people he was working with weren’t prepared to absorb this information. His reference in the third talk to “very complicated” exercises perhaps alludes to the difficulty of work in this area.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Seven Psychic Factors, Part III

This brings us to the threshold of a discussion about the question my friend originally asked, which is, “what are the other four functions?” He noted that these “missing” functions, although mentioned in the third talk, are never adequately explained in the other text or literature one is familiar with. And indeed, there seems to be a vacuum here, in which specific forces and their nature are introduced and discussed, but only in the sense of the worldly forces.

Perhaps Gurdjieff felt that a discussion of the metaphysical forces was premature; and this is entirely possible, because his work was at that time still relatively new, with – again, relatively — few practitioners and a scant (at the most) decade or so of practice in the West, perhaps, generously, two decades. We come, however, to these questions now with nearly 100 years of cumulative practice and community and it’s time to examine them in greater detail, a more fecund and fertile soil, so to speak, having now been prepared.

In meeting this moment we come to the perpetual danger that everyone will just absorb this information with their intellects, that is, superficially and without any organic participation — and this is an inevitable consequence of writing and reading. The action of thinking things through, discerning the laws and laying them out on paper and in structures, is very different than the practice of Being; yet the collision must be tolerated in order to, as Gurdjieff himself says, “learn ever more and more about the laws of world creation and world maintenance.”

So I would caution the reader to do your best to sense your body through the whole of your organic sensation; to see what part of your organic intelligence can participate, and to invite a visit from your organic feeling to support the examination of these questions, both that which has gone before and that which I’m about to elucidate.

First of all, I’ll note that only three of the four psychic functions or “crystallizations” under examination here — the “unknown” ones, that is — can be subject to any definite analysis or description. The reason for that will become apparent. Secondly, I note that these three identifiable forces are identifiable not through great effort, intuition, or argument, but quite simply by default, because they belong to the ordinary set of immutable laws defined by the diagram.

We already explained here how the first three forces Gurdjieff iterates fit precisely into the diagram and have traditional relationships defined not just by the yogic systems, but also by simple common logic, and, thirdly, according to Gurdjieff’s own system for the way we need to begin, in the natural world, with sensation, intellect, and feeling. 

The second group of forces belong, inevitably, to the notes Sol, La, and Si, and represent, in their turn, the following crystallized (sevenfold completed) elements:

Sol — Being

La — Purification

Si — Wisdom

Each of these “crystallized elements” represents a completed subordinate octave: that is to say, for example, Being can be perfected on one of seven different levels, and if all seven are completed, it’s a whole note. Exactly the same principle applies to purification and wisdom. 

This leads to a complex structure in which we understand that there are 49 (7 x 7) different potential levels of development for an individual Being; I’ll leave that to the reader to ponder. The point here is that the first three forces Gurdjieff speaks about in this essay, founded upon the most important force, organic sensation of being, have the aim of crystallizing Sol or Real “I” in a person. If this step is completed — and one can infer that his exercises aim for that — then the much more important and higher spiritual work of purification and the attainment of wisdom can take place.

In a certain sense, by this time, I have defined and answered the initial question; and yet at the same time we have not spoken of the seventh force in man which can crystallize, that is, Do, the absolute. I believe any discussion of that is well beyond the scope of this essay, it being enough to merely point out that the possibility is inherent within the systemic nature of the enneagram. I will merely, in the end, refer the reader to the following quote, the first of two places in the talk where Gurdjieff refers to man as a “godlike” creature:

It was just for this purpose that your group was organized and is now reorganized to consist of people who have more or less cognized the absurdity of our ordinary life and who, although you have not yet sensed it with all your Being but are seriously striving to take in what you have cognized, are continuing to learn as many aspects of the objective truth as possible so as to determine, in accordance with this, your own real individuality, in order to manifest afterwards in everything in a way corresponding to a Godlike creature.

He ends the talk with this same descriptive. The aim is to become one who corresponds to a godlike creature. This is related to the Do of the enneagram of man.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Seven Psychic Factors, Part II

Let's map these three forces Am, Wish, Can on the enneagram, as follows:

Re: The entire sensing of the whole of oneself (in yoga, the root chakra is located at this point.) For the sake of brevity, “Organic Sensation.”

This represents the first or foundational note on the enneagram, materiality. In a general sense it represents moving center.

The material exists before anything else can take place, and its reality must be fully established and inhabited for further action within the diagram. In a metaphysical context, things must first be, their material must be manifested; and the entire sensing of the whole of oneself represents the completed octave of materiality within man, that is to say, the subordinate octave of the note Re is in fully developed relationship and becomes a whole or single thing: indivduality. 

Much could be said about this, because it indicates quite clearly that man’s sensation has seven different aspects of force within it and can develop at one of seven different levels within a human being before the note is mature and whole in its own sense —an action necessary if it’s to participate fully in the further development of its superior octave.

Note in passing that Gurdjieff’s idiosyncratic understanding of yoga and the Tantric system thereby assigns greater power and force to the root chakra, located at the base of the spine, than it does the abdomen, which is the traditional source of spiritual force and power in Eastern systems, notably esoteric Buddhism. This highlights a singular feature of Gurdjieff’s work, which differs from related esoteric works specifically and primarily because of its emphasis on sensation as the first and most important principle of Being. He iterates that point quite clearly in this essay, which makes it notable for that reason alone.

Mi- Wish 

This is the second note on the enneagram of man, representing desire (in chakra practice, the sex center.) It’s the source of fecundity in human beings, whether material or spiritual, and carries enormous force. In a general sense this note represents emotional center.

Fa- Can

This third note represents the third chakra, located in the abdomen. It represents power, ability. In a general sense it represents intellectual center.

From this brief recap, we see that the three initial psychic forces Gurdjieff sites as “exclusive to man” follow the three forces on the right side of the enneagram: material, desire, and power. These all belong to the right hand or “natural” side of the diagram and represent the three forces (along with the shock of conscious labor) that are necessary in order for a man to complete passage from Fa to Sol and develop being, a “real I.” 

Hence Gurdjieff’s citation, later on in the text, of the following paradox: “…on the one hand, these impulses can exist almost exclusively when one has one's own genuine I and, on the other hand, the I can be in man almost exclusively when he has in him these three impulses.“ This iterates the reflexive and codependent nature of the action of these forces in the context of the enneagram. 

In this sense the apparent paradox is not contradictory, but arises because of the interdependent nature of the forces. It’s worthwhile to consider Ibn Arabi’s conception of spiritual forces, which appear to be separated and independent of one another but which are all part of a single whole. Forces which appear on our level to be different from one another are all actually manifested aspects of a single force from a higher level; the presence of subordinate octaves and the fractal structure of the enneagram (see diagram) underscores this fact. Although Ibn Arabi did not use the enneagram to describe the situation, he probably knew of it.

I should mention in passing here that the six psychic forces (of which more in a moment) iterated in the diagram are usually approached like oatmeal: there is no organization to material, desire, power, being, purification, and wisdom in secular and ordinary spiritual analysis of the forces. The enneagram puts them in a context and relates them to one another according to a structural system where the interactions are not random and accidental, but lawful.

Gurdjieff gives further clues to the essential role of sensation in his passage where he remarks, “Only such a man, when he consciously says "I am"—he really is; "I can"—he really can; "I wish"—he really wishes.” We can hereby relate “I am” to the action of sensation, the note Re. This may be of merely technical interest; but perhaps not. “I am — I wish to be” would therefore become the relationship of the notes Re and Mi; and “I can” — known from movements incantations, less so in writings — relates to Fa. “I can” thus represents the role of the intellect in this triumvirate of forces.

All of these relate, as I said before, to the right or natural side of the enneagram, the descending octave in which the material world is created (in man, organic sensation of being) and then plunges itself into the inevitable consequences of relationship, wish and power, that is, desire and impulse. This is the worldly existence we dwell in; and just as there’s an organic sensation of being at the beginning note of this octave, so is there an organic wish and and organic intelligence — forces which we rarely, if ever, encounter in ourselves. Gurdjieff wished for us to develop organic sensation, organic wish, and organic intelligence, because these three “crystallizations” (completed functions, whereby we can understand that the word “crystallization” means, precisely, “completed subordinate octave” —casting considerable new light on that term) are what engender Being, Sol, real “I.”

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Seven Psychic Factors, Part I


I was recently asked by a friend in the work to comment on a remark Gurdjieff makes  in the third talk of the third series. This talk begins with the title, “Delivered by me to a pretty rarefied assemblage.”

His choice of words, so often the case, is arch. Rarefied can mean “distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people;” but it also means “in air of a higher altitude, where it is more difficult to breathe.” The suggestion indicates that one has to make more than the usual effort under these conditions. A struggle is proposed; and of course he gives us one.

Gurdjieff goes on, in the first paragraph, to point out that his intention is to deliver information that will prevent us from being a vehicle for “collective titillation.” Titillation is the arousal of interest or excitement, especially through sexual suggestion. One need not intuit his dissatisfaction with previous efforts to understand his work—he states it outright. Said efforts, according to his choice of words, have taken place largely in the intellectual and sex centers of his pupils. The indication that his listeners should stop reading newspapers and magazines, intellectual fodder of the first order, underscores this. 

His further and repeated insistence that one ought cognize and sense with “all of ones being” expands on the question. Having dealt with the primacy and partiality of intellect and sex energy, we begin to see that the missing lower centers here are sensation, feeling, and intuition — all common subjects for Gurdjieff in his exchanges with members during the wartime meetings of 1943 and 1944.

My friend’s question hinges on the remark Gurdjieff makes about the need to crystallize seven different “data” in himself, specifically inherent only in man, which function in strict accordance with the law of seven. During the talk, Gurdjieff iterates only three of these. We know, however, that it’s possible to understand what all seven of these “data” (i.e. understandings and forces) consist of if one understands them from the perspective of the enneagram. 

This gives us a further clue to the nature of the diagram itself in the context of this conversation, because Gurdjieff is indicating that the first three “data points,” information about the nature of inner force and its action, have specific natures. The questions here must be:

  • What are those three forces?
  • Do they fit into a tangible model of the diagram — whether already familiar or not?
  • Can we deduce the nature of the other four forces from that point? 

We might call what follows an examination of the enneagram of man. Familiarity with The Universal Enneagram and The Sixth Sense will be helpful with what follows here, but is not absolutely necessary.

Gurdjieff immediately makes it quite clear that these “data” actually indicate forces acting in man, because he remarks first of all that they are “psychic factors,” that is, motive the elements of the soul, and secondly, that they “engender in the presence of man three definite impulses.” 

These three forces have specific and unique individual characters which he proceeds to iterate. They are as follows:



“The entire sensing of the whole of oneself”

He furthermore indicates that the third force, the entire sensing of the whole of oneself, is “of all the seven exclusively proper to man impulses the most important,” because, he tells us, in its association with the first two, “almost composes and represents the genuine I of a man who has reached responsible age.

In order to cast further light on the exact nature of this “entire sensing of the whole of oneself,” it’s useful to recall the following quote from Wartime Meetings 1943, meeting number one:

“Our aim is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one's individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic. It is something which makes you independent, when you are with other people.”

Gurdjieff refers to an organic nature of sensation multiple times during the course of these meetings; and of interest here is the fact that he says in this third talk that it is “the most important” of the seven impulses. This means that it is foundational. It represents the bedrock upon which the structure of being rests. 

I’ve discussed this question of organic sensation as being the “first attention” in other writings; and we can understand it, both from experience itself and from Gurdjieff’s remarks, as the glue which holds Being together. Gurdjieff’s remark refers to the fact that that the organic sense of being creates our individuality. The functions of thinking (can) and desire or emotion (wish) have no true or lasting binding force within us without this organic sensation. 

This sensation, furthermore, is impartial — it’s the entire sensing of the whole of oneself, not the sensing of one limb or another limb or the feet and so on. That is to say, it’s what I refer to as the molecular sensation of being—an octave relationship with every cell in the body. 

This is emphatically not the same as the sensation we generally encounter in exercises; it is of a different order, hence its appellation as organic; and it is the essential entity that Gurdjieff and Mme. De Salzmann so urgently wished to awaken in pupils. Continued efforts in this most essential of directions were most recently championed within the Gurdjieff Foundation by the late Jean-Claude Lubtchansky; and still find a strong voice in Patty Llosa, who is still with us. I fear, nonetheless, that the vital importance of this question is in general poorly understood, which is probably why I sometimes begin to sound like a broken record on the matter.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Friday, March 11, 2022

The First Attention, Part II


The first attention begins in the body. 

This is the grounding force from which life builds itself into Intelligence, Feeling, and Being. 

If it’s not grounded in sensation, I become a balloon without a string that ties me to the railing. The balloons are either filled with air and bounce on the ground in any direction the wind blows them; or they are filled with helium and drift off into the sky, again, wherever the wind blows them. A balloon needs some helium in it to rise vertically and strive for something higher; but it needs to be tied down or it’s lost.

So when I talk about a work that always begins again, the question is what the beginning is. 

I put this to some folks last night and they all talked about where work begins for almost an hour and never mentioned the sensation once. There were one or two members in this gathering who know how meaningful this question is, but one of them was absent and the other one is reticent. So no one brought the question of sensation in the way that it needs to be brought already, in every situation, at every moment. 

My sensation should never leave me.

My understanding of work should begin with that.

If  I'm working in such a way that I say to myself, “now I’ll sense my right hand,” or, “now I will sense my feet on the ground,” this is a good beginning, but it’s not real sensation. It’s just practicing. Real sensation is alive and does not need to be instructed to come into the moment, and this is what I need to be full of. 

The filling exercise was about acquiring the material for this, which depends to some extent on the breathing of air and the taking in of finer substances in it. These substances need to be concentrated in the body over a long period of time until a critical mass is reached in which sensation becomes permanent.

This matter is generally treated as some kind of a secret in the work, but because most of the older people in the work are now dying, certain things need to be written down and explained quite precisely so that there is at least some form of written record. It is clear enough that those able to pass this work on verbally — which is the most important task, of course, and the only really vital one — are dwindling. Perhaps most of what is left will end up being available only in written form, and if no one writes precisely or clearly, important understandings may be lost.

I was challenged by someone about why I don’t teach them the filling exercise. 

The answer to this is simple: I don’t know this exercise exactly as Gurdjieff taught it. 

What I understand is the results of the exercise; I don’t just understand the results of the exercise, I understand the aim of it. There are times when one can’t understand anything about where one is going unless the destination is made specific, is described. Organic sensation of being is the destination of the exercise. In a certain sense, this exercise can be undertaken in a thousand different ways — but only from with in life, from where we are now. It involves the first attention, the attention of sensation within the moment. The awareness of a breath, the capacity to stop in the midst of everything without anyone seeing it happen in you and saying, “here I am” with the body — not the intellect.

Perhaps I should mention that it's never the exercise itself that brings "results." It is the understanding imparted from the exercise that may bring results—later, perhaps much later. Exercises are temporary signposts on the way to Being. Not filling stations for my gas tank. 

Perhaps it’s useful to just begin here with this concept of the first attention. Much of our inner potential rests in this piece of territory.

On behalf of our search for inward relationship,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The First Attention: Part I


I often say, “what is working?”, and acknowledge that I'm not quite sure what I'm up to in this effort to be more attentive to life. 

Yet I already have a set of formulas about what work is —and I apply it everywhere, to everything. The assumptions get in the way, because I assume that sitting and meditating is working — or that sensing myself is working — or that coming back to myself after I have been asleep is work —and then, not uncommonly, I berate myself for failing to do these things. 

I’m reminded of Dr. Welch, who frequently came into the room where we were meeting, plopped himself down in a chair, and quite firmly pronounced: 

“Why don’t I work?”

He said this with conviction, in a way that implied he understood what work was and that he didn't do it. So work is something specific; it’s not everything I do at any time. 

Work, in the sense he meant it, is how I bring an attention to my life.

Yet he was not necessarily indicating the attention of the intellectual mind and the way that it notices something and comments on it. There has to be a first attention that begins in the body.

So what is working and how can I reconfigure my ideas about it? 

How can I come to my work as a completely new thing?

Is my work to be there at a specific time? To be there in a specific place? Is it an action? Is it an experience? Is it a question of where my presence is located? I need to keep this attitude of uncertainty alive within me as I sense myself. 

The first attention of the body says, “here I am.” This is the foundation. The house must be built on a foundation. If it isn’t, the house itself is unsteady; it drifts around like a structure that has been floated by water and in danger of imminent collapse.

This work I speak of is not, furthermore, an excessive focus on my inward life — for example, sitting in the lotus position with my hands folded in my lap, eyes closed, earnestly contemplating the darkness for hours at a time. This can so easily become selfishness. If I characterize this as my “work,” it’s all about me. Even if I am trying to reach the void, it’s my void — not this world which I was tasked with inhabiting.

As long as there is a contradiction between my inner and outer work it’s a difficulty.

A few other things occur to me in regard to this question. It’s better to do nothing than to try and force my work. Also, how am I preparing? Perhaps I lack focus. I can’t try to do everything or say that my work is everything. There’s a tendency among us all, especially those enamored of New Age philosophies, to try to merge our understanding of life into the cosmic all and make a soup with the whole damn kitchen of ingredients in it, saying, “it’s all good,” and, “everything is everything.”

When we say everything is everything, we spread the butter so thin it’s all toast.

At a certain level, a universality and a connection between everything is quite true. But we're very tiny creatures at the bottom of God’s Ray of creation — in every sense — and it is up to us to be much more specific than this. Our tasks are limited and connected to just a few things, not everything. Trying to merge with everything already has a whisper of arrogance in it. Something as tiny as we are can never merge with everything. 

We are particles of His Endlessness;and particles must be true to their nature as particles.

On behalf of our search for inward relationship,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

God's Ray of Creation


It’s said, in the apophatic tradition, that nothing can be known of the nature of God, and that whatever can be known is only known through not-knowing; that is, we draw closer to an understanding of the nature of God through an iteration of everything God is NOT. What God is NOT is, furthermore, anything we can think of; therefore, it is only by unknowing that we can know God.

Of course the equally important and historic cataphatic tradition directly opposes this idea; yet the tradition inside the Gurdjieff work has, for many decades—perhaps all of them—been dedicated to a somewhat one-sided propagation of apophatic practice.

Gurdjieff’s third obligolnian striving implies, if indirectly, that we can at least know something of God, if only by knowing His laws. Yet the knowing of those laws may by inference bring us closer to knowing more of God’s own nature. So there is a potential cataphatic (God-knowing) path open to us here.

In order to understand the place of the created universe in the Being of God, we need to see it as the first note in God’s Being: that is, the note re of the enneagram. This places the universe at the bottom of the Ray of Creation of God’s Being: all other aspects of God are ascendant.

In the traditional chakra system, this is the root chakra, the baseline of the material. Those familiar with my work in The Universal Enneagram will know that this is the first force of existence, in the following progression:

Re = Materiality (the entire universe)

Mi = Desire

Fa = Power

Sol = Being

La = Purification

Si = Wisdom

Do = Absolute

Because in many traditions, including Swedenborg and Gurdjieff’s esoteric cosmologies, the universe is a reflection of God’s Being, we can easily extrapolate and apply an enneagrammatic (ninefold) nature to God based on Gurdjieff’s cosmology. In Gurdjieff’s world, if the universe is structured according to the laws of three and seven—also known as the law of octaves—then God’s own Being must in like measure embody those exact same laws. 

This leads us to the insight that, despite our apophatic tendencies, we can know God’s Being through the laws of our own universe—once again, per the third obligolnian striving.

This means that God has first of all a material nature—the universe, the body of God— which also represents the moon. This universe (along with all other like universes) is the bottom of the ray of creation of God’s own Being. In this sense the multiverse (the uncountable number of universes) composes the cells of God’s body. Each universe is a single cell.

There are several striking conclusions to be drawn from this. First of all, it means that God’s physical body is the note Re, the material force of the multiverses; this is, as Gurdjieff specifically implied in Beelzebub’s Tales, the place where God resides. 

He resides here, however, not as a separate entity occupying a space different than Himself; the multiverse is the body in which God arises and dwells. This aspect of the material nature of God sheds additional and perhaps important light on Gurdjieff’s comment that “everything is material.” Yet as with mankind, the consciousness that arises is far greater than the materiality it resides in.

Second of all, because of the reflective nature of the cosmos, we can understand that the material universe itself resulted from the “collision of a comet” with the “earth,” which otherwise would have represented the end of the ray of creation. In the enneagram that original end would have represented “desire” or “wish,” and bear some thinking about. 

Was it God’s encounter with the force of time (as described in Beelzebub) that caused the collision that split the material universe off from the rest of His Being? 

Thirdly, because the moon is strongly—and most importantly—associated with the action of organic sensation, it means that the universe/multiverse (God’s Body) is His sensory tool for perception. This adequately and accurately explains Ibn Arabi’s comment that “Man is to God as the pupil is to the eye,” made at the very beginning of The Bezels of Wisdom. The role of all conscious beings throughout the multiverse is to take in the microcosmic perceptions which God’s body requires for its maintenance and function. The reason for this lies in the initial position of the material on the octave.

 This explains much. Yet it leaves us with magnificent questions; because it means that God has transcendent and metaphysical aspects of His Being which embody desire, Power, Being, Purification, and Wisdom: all of which are simply precursors to an Absolute that transcends each of them.  

Each of these aspects makes an individual contribution in kind to what is called Glory; Glory represents the entirety of the enneagrammatic nature of God. 

Understanding this underscores, for those who understand what the nature of organic sensation is, the need to inhabit it as fully and constantly as possible; for it is through a “permanent” or unflagging relationship with this force that the primary Being-duty of our existence is discharged. “Presence” is perception; to receive is to live according to God’s law, at the beginning of this great octave. 

On behalf of our search for inward relationship,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022



The future already exists. It exists as a thing unto itself, which already is what it is and won’t be changed by my desire. From the perspective of eternity, it is conceptually in the past and has already taken place, because eternity dictates that all of time is a single thing with its elements inseparable from one another. This whole relationship is like a human body in the sense that one cannot separate the organs and remove one without all the others ceasing to operate.

This changes everything, and casts some light on Jeanne de Salzmann’s comment that the only thing I can change is my attitude. Making peace with things as they are is the equivalent of making peace with things as they will be and making peace with what took place in the past.

From this perspective, perhaps we can understand that knowing the future is in a certain sense unimportant. One could know the future; but it’s our attitude towards it that we need to know. Our attitude — our inclination — leads us backwards towards the past or forwards into the future from where we are now, and determines the nature of both memory and desire. If we wish to have healthy memory and desire now, we do so by knowing our attitude towards the past and the future. This is another way of phrasing Gurdjieff’s adage to use the present to repair the past and prepare the future.

On behalf of our search for inward relationship,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.