Sunday, May 29, 2022

I am, but I wish to be


Piermont Pier, January 2022

Jan 8, 2022.

I am;


I wish to be.

So often we hear the words, "I am — I wish to be" as I am and I wish to be. Yet there’s a different way to read this.

As I sit here this morning at 5 a.m., on a cold morning of 21°F, I’ve already been awake for an hour. Our black cat Marlowe, who has perhaps one single white hair somewhere on his body, woke me up at 4 AM expecting to be fed. This isn't uncommon with Marlowe; like many cats, he lives strictly on his own time and no one else's. 

There is snow across the land; and in the darkness of the silence, a presence hovers.

Because we've been back in the office, I haven't been sitting in the morning and writing the way I used to during the Covid lockdown. Yet for the last three weeks, because of the surge in the omicron variant, we've been working from home again and it has brought me back to this practice, at least temporarily. 

The situation reminds me of how much life is filled with "I am." I am this, I am that. This and that must be done. Everything gets a name; and everything is urgent. But all of these everythings that are named are an outward everything; and everything that is urgent is an outward urgency. 

The inward life is different, much more vital; and yet so oddly, so easily forgotten.

So there are two “I “Ams.” One of them is made of the world in its outward forms; the other is made of myself as I live and breathe, in this body, a creature of the immediate moment that forms other things in its mind. 

When I lie awake in bed for an hour in the morning, developing a close and molecular intimacy with myself, my sensation, my breathing, "I am" not of the outward world and all the things that supposedly make me who and what I am. There's a paradox afoot here: the closer I get to myself, the more intimate I become with my molecular being, the closer I am to God. Yet this "I am" that I grow close to is not of myself. 

It is in a certain sense a denial of everything "I am" —a rejection of the form and the naming of things in favor of a simple closeness to Being. Wishing to be, in this very real sense, is the alternative to the "I am" of the world. 

So there are two of me. And perhaps this means that the formulation "I am—I wish to be" was misunderstood, is misunderstood, will always be misunderstood by the part of me that "is" – that is formed by all of these things of the world which I "believe" to be me. I am and I wish to be are not at all the same thing.

When I sacrifice the world in favor of this intimacy that brings me closer to the self and God, I sacrifice the names and places. 

I sacrifice the deeds and histories. 

I sacrifice the desires and urges, the lust for myself. 

Now I am alone; I have abandoned myself. 

And it is in this very abandonment of myself that I discover myself. When I cease to be what "I am,” only then can I Be. I need to Be first—before the names and places, before the deeds and the histories.

There is a movement from I am into the wish to be. The first is of the present; the second is a hope for the future, an aspiration to manifest evermore steadfastly under the steady and unrelenting gaze of the unknown. I say relentless because the unknown presses down upon the known with all the weight that the endless future gives it. It presses what is known down into a two dimensional surface, a flat place; the unknown is where the third dimension of everything arises. What is known, in other words, is all of selfishness; and the unselfish self, the self of God, lies forever on the other side of this "I am." 

I must go there; it is my home. 

Yet I am a traveler that has to leave all his bags behind and set out without a ticket. I'm given no schedules. There's no list of destinations. I need to have the courage to not know myself anymore in order to become known.

The Love of God is in this.

These are my thoughts for this morning.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Questioning from Love


Jan. 7 

It's the first snow of the season, and at 6 AM, as I am writing this, the snow is still falling.

The French clock, gears engaged, is ticking in the background.

I am here, alone, in the morning, engaged with my body, my sensation, and my mortality. 

The emotional and intellectual parts are quiet now; most of presence is concentrated in the body, where it always begins and where it ought to be seated firmly in order for the other parts to function well. Because this has been a normal condition for me for many years I take it, perhaps, far too much for granted and so I haven't been pausing in the morning in this way on a regular basis for some time. But it’s ever interesting to come back to it, because it forms a more focused reminder of what it means to inhabit a body, to breathe, to be with my self in a deeper and more intimate way. 

It is, in a certain sense, a guilty pleasure to indulge in the simplicity of these facts. Perhaps it is best I leave it for periods of time, else I would grow too fond of it, and that won't do. In the meantime, I confront the inexpressible beauty of the fact that I have no idea of what I will write at this moment. It will simply arrive; I will simply participate.

It does come down to the facts. I mentioned yesterday that a greater interest develops in living within the facts and the truth of my own limitations. There’s a difference between my limitations and my potential. Potential exceeds, in some sense, the limitation of every moment, because potential is a gift of grace that descends via the arrival of a higher energy that the body is able to receive under the right conditions. 

Potential is never realized by me; it belongs to itself. It is a universal cosmological phenomenon caused by the concentration of elements and energy. Every living creature — and every part of creation — is capable of fulfilling potential as it is bestowed by the Creator. This is part of a mystery rarely accessible to the ordinary mind. In some senses it almost doesn't do to think about it; thinking cannot properly honor it or do justice to it. This is the territory of the unspoken and the unknown.

This unspoken and unknown quality enters the world of my limitations, when it does, without reservations. I will create forms to embody it, because this is part of my duty as a living creature. Yet I will remember as I do that its essential quality remains beyond the grasp of any form. I'll remember this not with my thinking mind, or the way I feel about it, or even my sensation itself, but with a blend of all three, an organic embodiment of a question. 

Here I am.

What does this mean?

What is the truth of this moment?

As S. said the other night, “I make some kind of effort. I get a result… Then what?”

It is the "then what?” that matters here.

A thought emerged in me yesterday — of all places, during my weekly therapy session, but why not? It’s as sacred as every other moment — and stated itself roughly as follows: 

It is our duty to question things as an act of love, rather than questioning from anguish or through the destructive forces of doubt. 

I think human beings have forgotten to question as an act of love. Questions oft come out as violent things, opposed to others, selfishly demanding that the answers pertain only to ourselves. This is the opposite of a question that emerges from love, and how it ought to manifest. I read a brief article recently that pointed out how frequently Jesus Christ answered the questions of others with more questions. He was a great adept at the art of questioning, and frequently framed His call to a sincere and unyielding presence towards life in the form of questions. 

Who are we? 

Where are we? 

What are we doing?

This questioning from love is a different kind of questioning than what human beings are generally used to. This is why it was so unfamiliar; and why it has endured in the face of permutations, perversions, and persecutions for 2000 years and more. To question from love is the most essential act a human being can undertake; to question from real love, not the love that we make for ourselves, that is of ourselves, for ourselves, and about ourselves—but to question on behalf of that greater love that can descend into our souls and fill us with a longing for brotherhood and sisterhood and care for one another. 

That unique and sacred love which we do not generate within ourselves, but that is given as the gift of creation to all those creatures, molecular, organic, and energetic, which receive it.

So it’s useful, this understanding that we ought to question from love first and always. It’s possible, through this action, to discover for what real love is, because the action itself lives very close to the nature of love, its essential nature, what it really is, as opposed to the twisted forms we hammer it into on the anvils of our ego.

Well, my goodness, this is quite a loquacious result for what appeared to be such a little thought when it first came. I suppose it contains much greater depths in its nature then I realized when I had it; so it must not be from myself, and it must please God that it has manifested.

These are my thoughts for this morning. May many blessings descend upon you.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Monday, May 23, 2022

What mountains have you climbed lately?


Notes from early January

There comes a moment when one realizes that there’s no real escape from one's limitations, and this can become quite interesting. I spend much of life dreaming about my limitations. How I’ll overcome them, how I actually have power and can control things. It's not just in me that this takes place; the whole society I live in is childishly obsessed with the idea of superheroes, human beings who have magical powers, persons who overcome impossible odds and exhibit immortality of one kind or another. Our movies are full of it. These people with these great superpowers are at the same time selfish, weak, and silly most of the time. 

The contradictions are never examined.

All of this creates an influence in which I begin to dream that I have no limitations. This inner condition, which humanity shares, leaks out into society and creates all kinds of horrifying results.

But in fact what I'm interested in now is my own limitations, and the facts. The fact is that I'm a tiny creature living a brief, tiny life, which is even smaller than usual due to isolation. It reminds me of the way my teacher Betty said, “life is so daily." That is to say, it’s a small, routine, and mostly predictable thing, for the most part, that repeats itself over and over. I'm occasionally amused by the idea of helpless hamsters, trapped in cages, running on a wheel in place, but my life is very much like this as well. No matter what we do we can't escape the limitation of our own lives. The limitations of this body, of this moment. These are the facts.

If I accept the limitations of where I am and what is true, however, and I spend a bit less time dreaming, I begin to see that every single thing in me could be of interest if I had a good attention to it. The action, this inner action, which is a gentle gesture of attention, calls me to a kind of humility as I accept my circumstances. In the midst of my nothingness, I finally have the opportunity to be something – to have being. The gift of limitation is the ability to encounter being.

 And that can strangely overcome limitation in a certain way.


The substance of ourselves, the fact of what we actually are — as opposed to our dreams — needs to become more concentrated. This only happens through attention and sensation. It's a form of alchemy. Furthermore, being a human being is a fluid condition. If I freeze it, it ceases to be; so I have to discover a way to inhabit the fluidity. The fluidity of this present moment. The moment I begin to define it and criticize it, I’ve already forgotten to inhabit it.

Can I accept my limitations with grace?


The question is a nearly constant one: why don't I stay here? Why do my thoughts occupy me so much and take me away from “work”—whatever I think that means?

If you have this question, I will speak to it for you, rather than speaking of myself, although I’m no different.

You don't have a good attention in the body, without tension. You don't have something active, some thing alive in the body and in sensation which you are in a relationship with. You’re wrapped up in your psychology, in your mind. You can’t do much inner work there.

The energy needed for this attention isn't psychological. That's a different kind of energy. It's not that psychology isn't important in the work, but the point is that this kind of energy is useless in terms of coming into a relationship with the body, with sensation, with the foundation of being. There is a higher energy available. You need to learn about it, to come into a better relationship with it, to let it inwardly form what is needed. 

Dismiss each word, and sense instead.

So why are we so attracted to your life and all the things that happen in it? Why does it have such a grip on the imagination and constantly drag us back into it instead of staying present and closer to the inner work which are supposed to be a constant companion in daily life?

Only being can be real. Everything else has to become an activity in relationship to it — an accessory. 

We cannot make being an accessory.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Friday, May 20, 2022


Nov. 26

Breathing in and out this morning, with an active mind that has some focus on things of interest.

Because so many of the words in the English language originally derived from Greek or Latin, especially the long ones, one occasionally forgets that it is a Germanic tongue; and that its core linguistic tradition is just as rich as the Latin one, although perhaps less well researched, since the Mediterranean cultures were writing things down and keeping records long before the Nordic ones. In a certain peculiar irony, the English language has been the vehicle through which Latin words are most widely spread through other cultures, since English has become something of a lingua franca throughout the business world, leaking its way into many other tongues—even back into German, where the scattering of English words into German conversation is so commonplace that at times one might begin to think the Germans were speaking a pidgin form of English, instead of the other way around.

The German word that comes to mind today is Danke, which means “thanks.” "Dankeschön” means, “thank you very much,” although it literally means "thanks nicely." This has an irony built into it, since the word "nice" is ambiguous at best and, when pronounced sarcastically, means its opposite, making it at least two — and probably many more — words. 

The German “schön,” which means nice or attractive in English, is in turn related to the German verb ”scheinen,” means to appear — a double edge sword here, since the word “dankeschön” thereby morphs into apparent, instead of actual, thanks. Like the use of the word thanks itself in English, it can imply a superficiality of thanks; thanks, but not real and sincere thanks. 

Outward thanks.

Yet the word Danke, which so clearly applies to outward situations and conditions here, also gives us the route of the German word Gedanken, which means thinking and thoughts. (The phonemes of the German "danke” and the English word "think" are directly related because of this.) And here it immediately begins to refer to our inner life. 

What interests me about this today is that it implies that our thought itself is intimately, not causally or casually, linked to giving thanks. The act of thinking itself is a form of giving thanks — it is saturated from its very root with the idea of gratitude. The old English “thancas” originally meant both thanks and thought.

This implies a consonance between thinking and gratitude. The two ideas, linked at their root by this common linguistic heritage, have become separated; but ancient peoples used to see them, in a certain way, as synonyms—implying that there was once an understanding that thinking and gratitude are at the very least directly congruent, if not in the end the same thing. 

Perhaps we can begin to see that the purpose of thought is from its inception to give thanks, and that the act of thought itself is a sacred act, an action that should be precisely attended to and consciously honored in the ordinary course of daily life. One ought to be paying attention to one’s thoughts at every moment. 

Gurdjieff often used to remind his pupils that the thoughts should be a policeman; and this has many intriguing inner meanings. Notable is, of course, the idea that in order to do this, thought must police itself first — it must have an awareness of itself which is both attentive and critical. 

I notice that in conversation, this habit is almost completely absent in most people. Things are often blurted out without any attention whatsoever, often using vague terms, employing words incorrectly, and allowing an emotional inflection to expressed things in an incorrect an in accurate way, so that people don't actually say what they mean or intend to say. And, in fact, it seems that people are too often speaking without any actual thought whatsoever. Betrayals too many to count lurk in this habit: betrayals of self, betrayals of others. 

When we forget to be thankful, attentive, and grateful for thinking, we employ it carelessly—we're clumsy with it, and then it gives bad results because others can often hear this and may well be offended by it. If you think it over, perhaps you'll see that this is the most common way in which speech causes things between people to go south.

Beginning to see thought and the words that accompany it as a sacred action is thus a quite important thing. It's literally built into our language.

The point of this little soliloquy is to call us to have a greater attention—not just to the body and our sensation, which is essential, of course, but through that process to also have a greater attention to our thought, and to be thankful for the fact that we can think at all, before we think anything else. 

Proper thought begins in and is rooted in gratitude and thankfulness. Its origins live deep in the heart of human experience, where compassion can, if it's attended to, feed everything that proceeds from it— both thought, and sensation, and feeling. Thought is an equal and vital partner in this compassionate action that arises from the root of being. 

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Told ya so… the coincident multiverse, revisited with a twist of lime

For the geeky ones among us:

About seven years ago I explained a few things about the multiverse which are detailed in the below links.

Today Science News published a slightly mutant version of this understanding at the following link:

The scientists who came up with this theory are almost right; the only thing they “don’t get” is that the multiverse they are describing isn’t just mirrored, it is coincident. That is, all the universes (and there are many of them) share the same matter.

I still think this subject is pretty interesting; and it’s refreshing to see science actually begin to touch on the facts about things, for a change.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022



November 23

We become filled too much with the world and not enough of the earth.

The more involved I am with the world and the craziness that takes place in it, the more distracted I am and the less I acquire and conserve an organic relationship with my immediate surroundings.

 My thoughts and my frustrations about what takes place "out there" in the world where human beings are up to all kinds of nonsense and insanity, in which they influence one another to do terrible things — and this with great enthusiasm — occupy me instead of the impressions of what is around me.

Already, this could begin with the simple sense of breathing and the experience of the core of my body, in a rich and vibrating channel of awareness that extends from the top of my head down to the face and the shoulders, through the center of my body and downwards into my solar plexus. This channel is the central channel of the body,: in yoga, sushumna. It’s the passage through which air flows downwards into my being; and although there are many molecular relationships with my life, especially in the tissues of my body and the foods that I eat, the molecular relationship between breath, the lungs, the blood, and the immediate sense of my Being is one that is constant, a bit different than the one from the foods that I eat.

The simple fact of this constancy means that it can be relied on, should I pay reasonable attention to it, to bring me back to my self and away from the distraction of my thoughts.

I am paying a bit more attention to this this morning because the subject interests me and I have been, in general, more immersed in a study of sushumna from a practical point of view.

That is to say, what is the nature of its function in relation to immediate life and breath?

This question is closely related to the question of our molecular sense of being, which is very much involved with the earth because it is of it. And understanding the molecular sense of being, we understand that our awareness is of the earth, as well as our body and its function. So even these thoughts I have now are not of the world—man’s “world”—, but of the earth. The planet has produced all of its life forms and all of the awarenesses within them as a single whole thing, nothing truly separated from the other – no matter how much appearances may imply that that is so. This means, for example, that all of the bacteria that live in me and help me digest food, for example, with their own individual awarenesses, are in their collective nature a single part of my whole awareness.

Perhaps it isn't so useful to think of that; yet without the concept, the theory, how can I begin to understand myself from an organic and molecular point of view — a view from this moment that goes beyond the theory and penetrates deep into the body? If I don't come into this moment through such a relationship, how else could I do so? Certainly not through my thought – at least the thought of the intellect. It can think of relationship, but I need all of my parts to engage in a relationship. I need my feelings and my body as well as my thoughts. They need to be brought together in a concentrated conjunction that softly, yet firmly, insists on the unity of my being, the wholeness of my existence here on this earth.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Devastating Form of Grace


Nov. 20

How do we find a work of our own for this time?

I’m beginning this morning with a sense of the core of myself, of the center of my being. There’s always a thread that connects me to this part of myself, this inner residence with its organic nature. Yet it's often the case that I am a bit closer to this in the morning.

So starting from here, I've been considering the fact that we need to reinvent this idea of "work" and what we are, and take responsibility for it not through the books we have read and the words left behind by Gurdjieff and Jean de Salzmann and the like. 

The work is a living thing, an organism, a creature that exists through the energy it generates like any other creature. It must breathe and eat and live in this moment in order to survive. It cannot exist as a scavenger of corpses. Or, rather, it can—but in doing so, it becomes a lower creature, and this is not in its true nature.

So I have to become a cell in this organism, a living element that also eats and breathes and lives in this moment. Trying to exist on the leftovers from past meals is not enough. I need to bring the whole of myself to this meal and this breath, not look backwards to the meals that were eaten yesterday and the air that was present yesterday. It’s the air that is present today that I’m interested in.

I want to become a human being. This isn't so easy; and it's so obvious, isn't it, that what takes place in most of the world today is subhuman, feeding off the corpses of what went before. We live on a planet where society has become a zombie movie, where creatures that are dead to their human nature attack everything around them that isn't infected with their corruption and drag it into the whirlpools of confusion. 

It’s a struggle, a struggle for life itself, to remain whole and human in the midst of this catastrophe. Yet as bad as it seems, it has probably always been like this, because humanity has a proclivity for swallowing the past without paying attention to the way that it deflects us from the present.

There's a need to become responsible, in the sense of in our work in the Gurdjieff practice, for today and what it is, and embody both the work and the practice in the context of today's world and today's responsibility, with as little reference as possible to the past, especially in so far as we idolize it. There is a thin line between reverence and worship; and we want to revere the work, not worship it. To worship it would be to become unquestioning and dogmatic; to let it cool and solidify. It needs to remain warm and liquid, to be quick and not dead.

This work is a devastating form of grace. It cannot be encountered without a willingness to die to what is already known. How ironic then, that we keep referring to what we already know between each other over and over again. 

It's in the spirit that I wake up every day believing with every molecule in my body that this is the only moment that exists. There is no other time to work, and there is no other place. There are no books here in this time and place, just me and my effort and my thought, my feeling and my sensation. I don't carry Beelzebubs Tales to His Grandson around as reference material when I am working at the office or cooking in the kitchen. It's not the Bible. I don't open The Reality of Being for advice when in a discussion with my children. I try instead to open my heart. It has far more material in it, if I only pay attention. 

I try to be here with my molecules in a state of attention that does not make assumptions based on the past. 

I don't know what is going to happen right now; and although the past supports me, it does not truly make me, because only the present moment makes me.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Gurdjieff and Gödel, part III


Prout's Neck, Maine

Beneath the Stones:

Here in our own present lie buried the raptures and conceits of the maturation of the Enlightenment (if it did indeed ever mature): dogmatic belief in the perfection of the sciences and the process of science itself; a heady blend of romanticism incongruously mixed with hard data, as though the two were not oil and water inevitably destined by their very nature to separate at some future date. This is exactly what the beginning of the twentieth century brought us in terms of world views: incompatibilities adopting each other out of both exuberance and expedience. It produced a kind of intellectual drunkenness. 

On the one hand, Gurdjieff produced his own antidote to this absurdity with an arch-absurd anti-absurdity, Beelzebub’s Tales, which seeks to explain the inexplicable nature of the non-perfect system by way of myth. On the other hand Gödel, presumably on the other side of the question—although was he really?—sought to explain that very same thing with a mathematical proof of insufficiency.

I say, was he really on the other side of the question, because Gödel was at heart a metaphysician… just a mathematical one. We’ve encountered this type in the Gurdjieff universe before, in Ouspensky—a kindred demon, albeit of a lower order than Gödel, at least intellectually. 

Gödel’s metaphysics were a transapalnian perturbation; world-breaking: mathematical systems themselves, as they already were, were unable to prove their own consistency. Weeping and gnashing of teeth: what do you do when you discover the very tool crafted and expected to certify perfection is imperfect?

This is a form of metaphysical self-awareness: an awakening, as it were, of mathematics to its own nature which can be likened to the awakening of the mechanical, sleeping human being to their own nature as proposed by Gurdjieff. 

In each case, that awakening is to the lack of a previously assumed and taken-for-granted self-perfection; and it was exactly so that Gurdjieff described it when he explained, for example, that a man who thinks he already has will does not work to obtain it.

The collapse of the “perfect world” of European Enlightenment, a singularity of science and mechanistic rationalism consuming all the mass in its path, into the chaos of the First World War was the initial wake-up call to the western world that things had always been broken and were going to remain that way; but the sciences came late to this particular party, out of the arrogance and presumption that they somehow existed as pure things apart from the societies they arose and existed in. 

And, of course, the conceit that they were the only thing that wasn’t  already broken.

Segue to Purgatory, Gurdjieff’s perfect planet, to which all Beings throughout our Great Universe must eventually go. The very atmosphere is infused with the scent of God Himself, who deigns to drop in from time to time to offer scant rays of hope to the denizens trapped, seemingly forever, in this perfect residence for the ultimate results of imperfection. 

A close examination of the situation reveals that it isn’t just Gurdjieff’s universe that’s broken… the fix is broken as well. 

God does not have an answer as to how those with the flaws instilled by their existence itself can be purified; and Gurdjieff never offers a resolution to this problem.

As to the nature of the flaw… essentially, it is the subjectivity of the denizens of purgatory. A subjective element that can’t be eliminated, no matter what. This is, for all intents and purposes, the same issue revealed in Gödel’s incompleteness theorem: a mathematical system that cannot prove all its own axioms through its own internal logic is myopic, unable to completely know itself. 

It can only be called objective if it attains the unattainable: purity through uncompromised consistency of reason. 

We can note here that the single reason God no longer admitted the “results” of his evolving creation into heaven itself was because their very existence was imparting a new, subjective element to God’s Being. It all leaves the intellect beating the bushes for birds that simply will not fly out, no matter how bright the plumage or sweet their meat. 

Nonetheless, the hunter must ever hunt; and eventually learn to be satisfied with the hunt itself, and not the elusive prey it forever promises… 


 to yield.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Gurdjieff and Gödel, part II


Prout's Neck, Maine

It’s the inevitable proclivity of the biographers of spiritual figures to focus more on the ways they influenced others than to examine the influence others had on them. Historical influences on spiritual charismatics are to be investigated and acknowledged, of course; but the mythology of gurudom, especially when examined uncritically and from the inside, always tends to elevate the status of the guru to an ivory tower from which influences only flow outward. 

Thus, in discussions about Gurdjieff, far more is generally said about his influence on A. R. Orange, Thomas de Hartmann, Jeanne de Salzmann and P.D. Ouspensky than is ever said about their influence on him. Yet their influence on him was profound indeed; even a casual review of the few remaining handwritten first drafts of Beelzebub’s Tales (and yes, I’ve seen them in their original) leaves no doubt as to how much of the book’s final form can be owed to Orage. A very great deal indeed, as it happens. Equally so the “Gurdjieff” music: its DNA may be Gurdjieff’s, but the organism it gives rise to is emphatically de Hartmann’s, as any serious review of his own oeuvre quickly reveals. And as to the movements? What they are today is very nearly owned by Jeanne de Salzmann, as are the increasingly tattered remnants of the work Gurdjieff left behind when he died. This is not to say that the work as it stands is in any way invalidated; but it is a garment, and every garment eventually wears thin enough that patches cannot repair it, and it needs to be replaced. This is why a spiritual work needs, ultimately, to produce weavers and seamstresses and tailors… not leaders and gods.

In evaluating Gurdjieff’s work, it emerges in its own right as something “perfect,” at least as viewed through the powerfully internalized mythology of its followers. Yet this is a mythology that does not serve it well, because the romance of the perfect system, the “unified field theory” of spiritual Being, was born of the same romanticism that birthed such ideas about mathematics and the sciences. From the perspective of the sciences, it turns out, it’s permissible to have spiritual systems that are flawed; that is expected. But to have mathematical systems that are flawed would be unforgivable.

Yet that is of course exactly what Gödel proved to be the case. And Gurdjieff himself was, as I have pointed out before, the “Master of the Broken System,” the progenitor of a cosmology in which creation itself was broken and had to be rearranged with “lawful inconsistencies” in order to function as originally planned. (See my book Novel, Myth and Cosmos.) 

If this situation seems to be oddly reminiscent of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, perhaps it’s a not a coincidence. It seems frankly impossible that a man of Gurdjieff’s formidable intellectual capacity would have missed the major developments taking place in that field during his lifetime, and, in point of fact, before he wrote Beelzebub’s Tales. Here, in Gödel, was the mathematical proof that the universe was broken… it had to be. Gurdjieff’s universe is intentionally incomplete — from necessity, and not by accident. The existence of systems themselves comes with the inevitability of “lawful inexactitudes;” and the idea of shocks, influences coming from outside the system, is applicable here as well. No system with inherent flaws at its root can exist or function without a deus ex machina, an outside influence that supports it.    

Let us consider here the proposition that that outside influence may be…


If a system, whether mathematical or cosmological, must be used despite the fact that it can’t be fully trusted, faith is necessary. Thus generation after generation has put their faith in the discipline of mathematics, conveniently ignoring the fact that it has an irreconcilable flaw in it. 

This is not dissimilar to man’s relationship to God in Gurdjieff’s cosmology. In the case of the cosmos, God is the system… and yet Gurdjieff’s God is, uniquely, fallible. He does not foresee the consequences of a cosmos constructed in the way He originally envisioned it… perfect, mechanical, with all of its parts logically accounted for and functioning automatically. The consequences are… well, fallible. They come at the expense of the very thing that God is. His own Being is compromised by the results of a perfect system.

This is of course an analogy for our own mechanical nature, yet it’s far more. It is a critique of the nature of machines themselves. 

Machines as they are are incomplete. 

Mathematical systems are incomplete.

Self-referential systems can never be complete.

Pause for a minute and consider the idea that God created the universe in order to introduce an inexactitude in His own Being that could overcome the self-referential incompleteness which constrained him in his existence as a single entity.

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.

Friday, May 6, 2022

How to Adjust To The Dark

It seems, on the face of things, absurd to think that I would write a review of my daughter's recently published book. The whole thing smacks of nepotism in too many ways to mention. But I'm doing this for an intelligible reason.

Although my daughter grew up around my lifelong interest in the Gurdjieff practice, she’s had relatively little direct contact with it over the years. Unlike many children of the work, she didn't attend work weekends with me or do what they call "children's work." She simply absorbed ideas, attitudes, and energies through osmosis.

Nonetheless, some striking and remarkable congruencies have emerged between her new book, “How To Adjust To The Dark," and ideas that are prevalent both in Gurdjieff's teaching and his writings.

"How To Adjust To The Dark" is an intelligent, literary coming of age novel, with prose and poetry reflecting off each other like mirrors in the midst of the perennially anxious collisions of adolescence and young adulthood. Although names have been changed, the book is largely autobiographical, and I lived through it with my daughter, although of course only as seen through the narrow and inevitably biased lens of my own person. 

I think it's fair to say that the central premise and argument of the book is created out of the tension between desire and non-desire: desire being the destructive force that drives anxiety, self-doubt, and a wish to find love that—in painful irony—ends up being unattainable simply because of the desire itself. 

These impressions are fleshed out in the real substance not of philosophical ponderings, but the tensions and catastrophes of ordinary life and relationships. The sex and the drugs blend with scholarship and angst; and yet throughout there’s a poise, a balance in which the observer manages, though on initially unsteady feet, to keep remembering to return to a center of gravity—a balance that continues to question, to measure, and to seek pragmatic accuracy instead of self-pity.

This particular question, of the balance between desire and non-desire, is present throughout the narrative. It blends with an increasing bias, over the trajectory of the book, towards Meister Eckhart’s Gleichgültigkeit—the premise that all of the elements in Being have equal validity and need to be taken into account collectively, in an atmosphere of detachment and acceptance. And the tension between desire and non-desire, along with the ensuing struggle, is of course a central idea in Gurdjieff’s works. 

From that perspective this particular book taps directly into the root of that question in a very gritty and personal way. There is absolutely nothing theoretical about the struggles of sexuality, identity, and essence, especially in a young woman. The book furthermore restores these questions into the hands of the feminine, the receptive, the one perpetually in danger from the aggression of the male element both in ordinary life and in inner being. 

Even more striking is the conclusion the author comes to at the very end of the book, which echoes a core statement by Gurdjieff in such an astonishing way that to give it away here would be a disservice. It is an Odyssey that ends approximately where his Magnum Opus begins; and no reader familiar with Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson will miss the inflection on the last page, which came wholly from the author’s experience, and not from any background in things Gurdjieff.

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Hence my recommendation to readers.



Thursday, May 5, 2022

Gurdjieff and Gödel, part I


Prout's Neck, Maine

Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theory was originally conceived of as a mathematical problem; yet in a universe that runs, largely, on the principle of mathematics, it extends itself rather effortlessly into the question of the nature of Being. 

Simply put, the theorem states that no consistent mathematical system is capable, using its axioms, to prove all the truths about its own nature. Every system must, no matter how logical and apparently perfect, contain elements that cannot be explained using its own set of rules.

Extending this principle to the question of natural law and Being, it suggests that no matter how lawful a universe is, it’s not capable of explaining itself from within the context of its own laws. There must always be something contradictory—inexplicable, irrational— at the heart of any system of mathematics; and in this same way, our own system of physics and natural laws must inevitably contain a mystery at the heart of itself. No perfect truth can be obtained. There’s always something missing.

The theorem itself was a shock to the mathematical community when Gödel presented it. The mathematical community of the 1920s in Europe, and most particularly Austria, which was the hotbed of intellectual fermentation during that period, was infused with a romantic optimism that seems to have been the natural outcome of a late peak in the Age of Enlightenment. The hubris of the community, as reported by historians, caused mathematicians and scientists to believe that everything could be known, if only with enough effort; that everything could be proved and that the system of mathematics and the physical, chemical, and biological laws that it revealed were a thing of flawless beauty. 

The aim, in fact, of a primary faction of the mathematical community in Gödel’s time was defined by its stated aim of discovering the proofs that would verify this. In this sense the best mathematicians were not just number crunchers; they were aesthetes, men and women (few enough women, but there were a few) who believed in the beauty and goodness of numbers, the beauty and goodness of the universe and of natural law. They saw mathematics as an expression of a perfection; and whether or not they were religious, the impulse behind the ideas was, because it beheld a world in which everything made sense, everything was put together perfectly. The question of whether or not there was a God behind this was almost unnecessary. It was the perfection itself that attracted them. Mathematics, in its own right, was the religion.

This was the climate, the atmosphere, that the mathematician P. D. Ouspensky found himself in as he began his search for the miraculous; the same impulse infused him, and the same not entirely secret hope for a perfectly rational, consistent, and aesthetically meaningful universe informed his own search in the books he wrote before he met Gurdjieff. For the mathematicians, this was a rational search that took on the nature of a spiritual one.

This was not the birth of mechanistic rationalism, for those who deny the existence of God; mechanistic rationalism itself, the belief that everything was a machine that could run without a God, had roots well back in the age of Enlightenment. But perhaps it was it apotheosis; a belief that the machine could be perfect. Machines, after all, don’t have parts that don’t make any sense and serve no purpose. When we construct a machine, every part in it has an intelligible relationship from one part to another, so that there isn’t, for example, a random gear that does nothing and seems to have no purpose relative to the rest of the machine. In a properly built machine, every part of it can be explained.

Mathematics was believed to be such a machine; and, in the world of mechanistic rationalism, the universe — which was evidently built on the principles of mathematics, since this is what was used to explain everything and apparently could — would also be such a machine. Everything explicable. Everything logical, rational, predictable and understandable, if only mathematics were correctly applied.

You could explain everything.

This is the world in which man is God. We human beings of the 21st century still live in the backwash of this mistaken principal; and despite the fact that the mathematicians itself proved that the idea is, ultimately, a lie, it’s still stubbornly believed, because human beings would rather believe a lie over almost anything that involves the truth.

In any event, there can be no doubt that Ouspensky, in his turn, influenced Gurdjieff, even though the way the historians of the Gurdjieff work usually present the situation, the influence flowed in one direction only. This is of course quite impossible; the whole point of human relationships is that they’re reciprocal, a fundamental fact that Gurdjieff presented within his own system as passed to Ouspensky. Ouspensky’s search for perfection, his devotion to mathematics, must have all made an impression on Gurdjieff and influenced his view of human proclivities and, most particularly, the proclivities of mathematicians. We can’t expunge this influence from Gurdjieff’s future work, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson; some fraction of Ouspensky’s DNA  leaked into his book, by whatever means, just as Jeanne de Salzmann’s influence did. 

with warm regards,


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola magazine.