Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Original Action of the Soul


April 28, Sparkill.

When considering the limits of thought, the question arises of what we can know; and whether we can know anything. 

The word know, in the English language, arise from old English cnāwan, which means to recognize or identify. The word is quite ancient and comes from an Indo European route shared by the Latin gnoscere, which readers will recognize as the root of the word gnostic, which means of what is known, of knowledge. The word, of course, has esoteric overtones and always has.

But why is that?

The esoteric overtones behind the Indo European root stem from the essentially mysterious act of knowing. Knowing does not necessarily consist of intellectual constructions that weave multiple complex interpretations of meaning together; and that is because that action comes after knowing, which consists of recognizing or identifying. To recognize is to see again: to re-cognize. This means to know again, or recall to mind. Both are reference to the act of bringing the attention back to the present moment, or being mindful. And to identify is to assign a unique sameness or consistency to what already is: to see it in the present moment for itself.

All right, then, you may say to yourself. What is the point of all this etymology?

The point is that to know is not about forming intellectual patterns regarding what is seen. That is the aftermath of seeing. To know is the act of seeing what is; of seeing what is not later, after the fact, but now; and of recognizing it for itself with mindfulness and clarity. There is a wholeness in this action that relates not to the construction of forms but of consciousness itself; and of course consciousness itself is always the great mystery, hence the intimate and ancient relationship between the word know and the word gnostic. The relationship tells us that even in the earliest of times when language was first developed, the nature of consciousness was recognized as remarkable, mysterious, and unique.

Perhaps this is because when consciousness first arose, human beings understood how strange and precious it actually was; and later, taking it for granted, we began to forget that it was special and began to abuse it in a thousand directions, especially by using thinking to construct forms with it. Be that as it may. The essential point, the one that I wish to turn the ship around and point out here, is that knowing is the action of taking in an impression. Not creating constructions around it to draw many different conclusions, but taking the impression in as a whole thing.

This takes more than one part of ourselves; and the parts that are doing it need to be balanced. Usually, one part — almost invariably the emotions or the thinking part, and more often the emotions — takes 90% of what an impression consists of in, weights it irrevocably towards its own fraction of true perception, and forces the other parts to come along behind it with the attitude that that creates.

There is a different possibility here. The mind can stay still, rather empty, quite attentive and right there in the center of what is happening, at the front end of it. This is what "to stay in front" of something actually means. The mind is poised in the moment, empty, yet quite active, prepared to take in what happens.

It isn't so influenced by what already took place. It isn't so influenced by what will take place next. It does not adopt an entirely referential attitude towards what is taking place. It is simply here what is taking place, accepting it right where it is for what it is. If one reads attentively, between notes of meetings with Gurdjieff and Madame Salzmann’s diaries, one can glean actual descriptions of this. 

Secondly, at the same time the mind remains poised in the moment, the sensation is active and the organism is prepared to receive what takes place as a physical sensation, an actual vibration that enters it. Already, if these two elements — intellectual poise and physical, organic sensation—are present together, feeling is primed to play its role. And then, when the impression comes in, a real knowing takes place, because an impression has actually entered the body in the way that consciousness was meant to receive it.

This action is as mysterious as gnosticism proclaims it to be, because it is very close to the original action of the soul, which is the sacred purpose for which human consciousness exists and serves in the first place.

To confuse this with the knowing of our intellectual constructions is a great mistake, because they are two quite different things, and the same word should not be used for both of them.

Nevertheless, it is, and so we must sort it out a bit.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Limits of Thought


Shadbush in bloom
Sparkill, April 2022

April 25, Sparkill.

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Matthew 6: 27-29

The other day, a friend sent an extremely dense and intricately argued proposition regarding the attitudes of Westerners towards eastern theater, and the implicit prejudices that Westerners bring towards everything they view from other cultures.

The piece was argued well enough, but it was of an intellectual density and complexity typical of academics. Some people are quite attracted to this; and yet it occurred to me at once on reading it that it had nothing to do with the real human condition, with what we are or how we act. This is a complaint that my daughter had about getting her PhD in English; she went to brown, so she was at a higher level of academia than the average student to begin with. Her observation was that academia was wrapped up in a bubble universe of its own, filled with incredibly dense arguments that no one else was interested in. It had nothing to do, she concluded, with the real world.

This led me to, of all things, some thoughts about the density of thought in general. I believe the quotation from Matthew is an illustration of the fact that Christ Himself thought about such matters. Human beings get lost in arguments and their density; and they never see it happening.

In order to understand this better, let's understand it from a new point of view. Think of the digestive system. 

Of course you are going to ask what the digestive system has to do with thinking. It’s not just an analogy we bring in to play here; because the digestive system does an enormous amount of thinking, only on a scale so small that it's inaccessible to us in our present state. The digestive system consists of countless smaller organisms (bacteria in our gut) chemically interacting with our nervous system by exuding various signaling molecules; and our gut, taking cues from what is present in that environment, makes a series of incredibly complicated decisions, molecule by molecule, about what needs to be absorbed from the food that is eaten and taken into the body proper, versus what Hass to be discarded.

It is very safe to say that if we had to think that process through in our level, it would prove to be impossible. We couldn't feed ourselves, and we would die. Yet that kind of thinking is completely unavailable to us; although we can make microscopic decisions in the sense of the gross bulk of foods we eat, thinking and decision making on the microscopic level, which has a density and complexity far beyond the capabilities of our intellectual mind as we know it, is frankly impossible.

This illustrates in a rather simple way that there are densities of thought completely inappropriate to us, densities to which we should not aspire.

The matter leaves me with the following impressions about human thought and the nature of complexity as we encounter it in ordinary life:

1. Human beings often try to think of what need not be thought of at all.

2. Thinking of what should not be thought of is unproductive and actually leads nowhere.

3. Knowing what to think of should be an essential component of human thought.

I shall speak first of this last, because it is perhaps the most critical element within focus here. Human beings don't know what to think of; they think automatically, without any direction, and follow every associative lead the moment it comes up. That's because thought is programmed randomly, much like the search pattern of ants when they are seeking food. It follows short paths in random directions and makes decisions on which way to go based on a simple stimulus/response mechanism wired into the emotions and physical sensation. Unless there is a supervisor, it thus tends to produce randomized results that, once organized, appear to have a logic and a structure to them. But because of the randomized origins of this thought, the structures themselves are actually random and may produce just about anything you like. This is why human beings come up with so many wild fantasies disconnected from truth or any objective reason.

In order to counteract this unproductive and ultimately destructive way of thinking – I say destructive, because it too often produces aberrant thought patterns that cause violence and harm to others — one must know what to think of. And this involves an exercise from within the demands a critical mind, that is, a mind that refuses to accept the obvious and acknowledges its tendency towards random thinking. Hence Gurdjieff’s adage, "If you do not have by nature a critical mind, your staying here is useless." What he does not say – but should have – is that it is not the minds of others one needs to critique, but rather one's own mind. This is the essential action in knowing what to think of.

Generally speaking, a human being needs to reach the age of about 40 years or so before they have gathered enough material to begin to contemplate what one should think of, as opposed to what one does think of. Even then, it can take a number of years to begin to know what to think of. In undertaking this process, it is first necessary to identify what should not be thought of; and this, actually, consists of most of what we "think” of. Close examination will reveal that much of what we believe we are thinking of is actually garbage. 

These very dense fields of academic thought our a good example of that; they mount incredibly impressive, complex arguments about various matters and present them as though the world turned on them. The intricate nature of these thoughts, the turns of phrase they employ and the crevices they explore tend to act as an elaborate form of ballet that draws the attractive viewer in. I say “attractive viewer” because, of course, many are not so attracted by this… and it is of course the ones that are we are discussing here, although everyone actually engages in this density of thought in one way or another. Seeing them for what they are, it is possible to see them as falling in to category number two, thinking about things that should not be thought of.

In order to understand this question of what should not be thought of, a primary corollary appears. It is as follows:

Polarities can never be resolved by arguments about their nature.

I bring this up because the majority of dense thought and argument originates in polarity and emerges from it bias in one direction or another, attempting from the very beginning to prosecute an assault upon the opposing proposition. Mankind has absolutely founded its societies, governments, and legal systems on this premise. 

Yet the dysfunction within these institutions originates with our mistaken thinking about polarity and the assumption that it can be resolved by thought and argument– which is the point of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, or at least the quoted section of it. What he says there is absolutely critical in regard to this matter; and yet it appears to be a short one off unworthy of great contemplation.

Let's come around to premise number one, that human beings are constantly trying to think of what ought not be thought of. 

Why does this happen?

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


April 19 – How It Is

Perhaps one of the great dangers of Gurdjieff’s approach to inner development is understanding "I am" in the wrong way.

The ordinary mind get ahold of this idea; and before you know it, it gets involved with itself. How am I? I'm like this. I'm like that. "I am" observing this and that about me.

More and more “I” inserts itself into this equation of thought, this formulation that continues to investigate itself, and gradually — if not all of a sudden, which is commonplace enough already — everything is all about me and how I am.

Yet the world is not about how I am. The world is about how it is. And the "it" is that selfsame it that Gurdjieff mentions in his aphorism, "like what it does not like."

What it likes is itself. And what it likes to be involved in is a vanity that it is important, that what takes place in it matters, that to engage in self-evaluation of itself is meritorious. It becomes, in the end, quite literally, an egoistic investigation into the ego. It is, furthermore, supremely self-important, because it presumes an elitism regarding self-observation and self-examination that puts one apart from others and, because the ego has seized the activity as its own, superior to them. There's a professed humility present; but it is not an actual humility. It is ego-based humility. And there's no doubt that even the medieval monastics were rightfully wary of exactly this kind of thing.

There, then, is the problem. Yet it does us little good to speak of problems without trying to understand where a more effective path may lie.

It wasn't directly congruent to this line of contemplation, but yesterday it occurred to me that another great danger in the Gurdjieff work is this presumption of spiritual superiority, of the chance to enter an elite who has greater possibilities than the average person. Gurdjieff's work, from the moment that Ouspensky encountered it—which puts us back to 1917 or 1918, over 100 years ago –pitched itself towards that harmonic overtone. People are “asleep" – they are inferior —but there's a possibility of waking up. It might seem reasonable to claim that any aspirational discipline, whether internal or external, would have to take a position something like this; and yet a danger arises at once, because the discipline at once seems to migrate towards a place where one can become other—better than others, rather than to become what one is

To be awake, I feel sure, is to become what one is, not some ersatz and improved version. 

Gurdjieff's whole teaching about essence and personality was about exactly this question, and is worth revisiting on that point alone. Some core understandings emerge from that process. It's very different to become what one is, instead of becoming some better version of oneself. 

To know what we are, then – this is a proletarian effort, and it is exactly that effort — of the obyvatel, the good householder — that we ought to be undertaking. Not the one that put us on a pedestal from which we can examine ourselves, whether for assets or defects. From this point of view, seeing ourselves as good or bad is already a conceit. To presume we can judge ourselves, as much as the presumption that we can judge anyone else, is a form of narcissism. And judgment, of course, is an intellectual activity involving comparative thought and a "feeling" – whether real, imagined, subjectively constructed or objectively legitimate—that lead to a conclusion of some kind, a place to stop in which we imagine that we now know something.

Staying balanced on the edge of the unknown is a quite different thing, I think you will agree: and what we are to ourselves, as well as others, is essentially unknown if the initial premise of “sleep” is legitimate. We are called to a state of consciousness without inflection: and this, indeed, leads us to the edge of an investigation of what Meister Eckhart meant when he referred to indifferenceGleichgültigkeit, in German, which means, in its most exact translation, all things being of equal value. 

The English phrase equivalent is "all else being equal," a qualifier for certain situations, which ought, according to the master,  to be applied not as a qualifier but as a definition of everything we experience. 

In a state of indifference, it is not possible to be better than. It is only possible to be as good as.

That, of course, is the positivist perspective. One could also argue that it is only possible to be as bad as; and that, as well, can bear fruit if it's examined with intelligence rather than malice.

How is it?

This question doesn't contain “I” in it. And within that is the kernel that might sprout from one of the three chief esoteric prayers I engage in the mornings. That particular prayer, the second prayer, is quite simple, like the other two. And yet although it is quite simple I've spent over 20 years contemplating it without really penetrating much of exactly what it means, other than to know that it poses questions for me that I need to confront.

That prayer is as follows: “There is no I, there is only truth. The way to the truth is through the heart."

And I think I will end here for this morning.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, August 21, 2022



April 3.

While I was preparing my hot drink this morning (I quit drinking coffee well over a year ago, so I drink a non-caffeinated beverage with oat milk in the morning) I had a thought about personhood.

Now, we live in an extremely mysterious universe, with an incredible and complicated number of things going on. To give just two examples, extracellular vesicles and the behavior of honeybees.

In the first case, extracellular vesicles were long thought to be “junk” from cells with no specific purpose; but it turns out that they are message capsules containing molecular information cells use to speak with one another. In other words, they’re communication vehicles; and the trillions upon trillions of pieces of information that cells in, for example, bacteria and plants, are circulating perpetually around us is a staggering amount of information. Considering that science still doesn't even understand some of the most simple and basic functions inside cells, imagine trying to untangle the language they use to speak to one another in real time. 

Add to this the fact that we now know (due to some studies at Cornell over the last few years) that honeybees visit foreign hives on a regular basis and are admitted freely, without conflict, to circulate in them. The behavior is routine. This means that bees are actively communicating between hives within their flight range; and it means, once again, that there is a network of information connecting all the honeybee hives in a particular area, with inferences about honeybee communities that show us we don't know hardly anything about how their community actually functions. Remember that this is an insect that has been studied probably more than almost any other insect because of its importance to our agricultural community.

Multiply this by billions of different organisms, all of which are communicating with one another in trillions of different ways at all times – including all the plants, fungus, algae, lichens, nematodes, and bacteria in the soil — and you get a living planet that has a character and an identity we don't even bother acknowledging. We just tear it apart and dump chemicals on it.

In the midst of this immensely complex environment, the chances that science will ultimately understand how everything works are exactly this — zero. The amount of information being exchanged and the number of organisms exchanging it at any moment probably exceed, at this single moment in time, a trillion times all the computing capacity available on the planet; and that's a very conservative estimate. Because of the complexity of the information being exchanged, one would need to build a supercomputer for every single organism currently alive on the planet to effectively reproduce the entire picture of what is going on. Interpreting it would take that many more supercomputers.

Confronted by this mystery, which science purports to “know“ things about —and there’s no doubt that it is effective, within the tiny limited range that it operates — we purport to “know” what a person is; and, as my atheist, agnostic, and more science-minded friends insist, God cannot be a person.

Of course this argument won't fly very well with Christians or other religious peoples; but who listens to them, anyway?

Let me explain something fundamental about the universe and how it works that doesn't take a supercomputer to figure out. Unless, of course, you want to count the human brain as a supercomputer — it is one — an organ that goes sadly underutilized by the vast majority of operators who have one.

Each and every phenomenon you see around you is a fundamental property of the universe. That is to say, the consequences of creation, the nature of quantum and classical physics, and the atomic and chemical interactions of molecular substances are inevitable. Everything that takes place is not only replicable (the ground floor test of the scientific method) but replicates itself over and over ad infinitum. Even evolution, that supposedly uniquely creative mechanism that gives rise to different species and organisms, is remarkably and even extraordinarily repetitive. It solves the same problems over and over again in exactly the same way, often separated by hundreds of millions of years. Take, for example, the ichthyosaur and the dolphin, which are nearly identical in form, even though one is a reptile 250 million years old and the other one is a contemporary mammal.

Evolution solves the same problems over and over again in the exact same way because that's what works. Its actions are inevitably constrained by physical and chemical law; and it exactly conforms to them.

Personhood is exactly like this. It’s built into the nature of the universe and of reality as we know it. The universe always forms personhoods in varying degrees according to level. This is because they reflect the underlying nature of God and of law. You couldn’t have a universe if God did not have universes in Him; and you can't have people if God isn't a person. 

Another way of understanding this, if you wish, is the dharma, the Buddhist concept of truth, which is (loosely put) the absolute truth that contains everything. Because the nature of the dharma is internally reflective, all things are connected to all other things. Of course modern Buddhism views this, somehow, as a strange vehicle for the negation of everything, but that's a long philosophical discussion I won't engage in here. The point is that the universe is a whole thing reflecting a higher truth that is contained in the body of God, and personhood is a fundamental property of that body.

There's nothing particularly unique about life on earth. Life exists all across the universe; and so do people. It is only the insolence and vanity of human beings that leads them to believe we can't say that’s true until we "prove" it. Simple logic reveals the facts without the extraneous operations of the scientific method, which demands external proofs through replication. This is where science makes its self stupid; it trips over the feet of its own fundamental dogma on its way out of the starting gate. Don't get me wrong here; I am a strong supporter of science, but from both physical and metaphysical point of view one must strictly acknowledge its limitations in order to use it effectively. It is impossible to use science to understand the greater metaphysical questions behind the universe.

In examining the question of personhood, remember that our personhood is a precious thing and connected, at the root of its arising, to the nature of divinity and to the sacred purpose for which all creatures were originally created. This means that both our personhood and the personhood of everyone around us should be deeply respected as a sacred universal quality that needs to be honored, nurtured, and loved.

Science won't tell you that. But if we let them, our bodies can sense it.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Spiritual Blood


I've used the term "spiritual blood" in the last post; and I think it deserves some commentary.

Gurdjieff’s term “hanbledzoin” refers, in general terms, to the blood of the astral body, and from the point of view of where we are now, this is the spiritual blood of man. In the Holy Communion, when we refer to the "body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" it's a reference to the spiritual blood, not in an abstract or allegorical sense, but the actual spiritual blood of the astral body, which has its own bloodstream, lungs, heart, brain, and so on. 

This is because each higher body is mirrored by the functions of the lower body. They actually share, in a corresponding manner, the physical locations of the ordinary body, although the way they work in it is quite different. Those interested in greater detail about how this works are encouraged to read about correspondences in Swedenborg's works. The human body itself is a corresponding entity that reflects the structure of the kingdom of heaven; and every higher body that man can develop is a more refined version of that same correspondence.

I want to stress once again that spiritual blood is a real thing and not some allegory to be applied. It isn't conceptual; it's a fact that we can grow additional higher bodies, and that they have functions quite different than our ordinary body. The first function the astral body has is to awaken higher feeling; and that is because the food that the higher bodies need to grow comes through feeling, most especially the feeling of love.

Spiritual blood is what carries the energy that makes it possible for this feeling to arise; and it is a very high food indeed. However, it functions in the same way than ordinary food functions for the ordinary body. That is to say, the astral body digest impressions which enter the spiritual blood as concentrate and give the life force to Being which enables growth and further development. 

Because this is a very rich food, and astral blood itself is a concentration of that food, there are other creatures both external to us and in our own Being that can find it highly profitable to feed off our spiritual blood at our expense. Instances of this were actually described by Gurdjieff, although I won't go into it in detail here. The point is that your spiritual blood is a real property, a place where you concentrate the results of your work in order to feed the bloodstream of the astral body. 

All of this is closely connected to the development of the soul.

Under ordinary circumstances, none of this is awakened in a person, and this is why Gurdjieff said that a human being does not have a soul unless they work. A soul, in this sense, is something that must be acquired. There is, of course, an ordinary soul that transmigrates from lifetime to lifetime retaining the seed of a capacity for the birth of the astral soul; that's a complicated question which once again I won't get into here. The important point is to understand what spiritual blood is.

The connection between a permanent sensation of Being in one’s spiritual blood is a deep one. There is a reciprocal relationship between hanbledzoin and sensation. They feed one another and amplify each other. 

This, however, only takes place if one concentrates one's attention within Being in a responsible way.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, August 15, 2022



The longer I spend in the Gurdjieff work, the more I realize that it has individuals in it for which the work is entirely unsuited.

There may be a work that suits them, but it is not this one. To think that this work suits everyone would be sheer foolishness.

In particular there are individuals in the work who harbor a secret hatred for religion — sometimes it’s not so secret – especially Christianity; and there are those who harbor a secret hatred for the work itself. They conceal themselves behind the veil of words which we use to exchange with one another; and of course this is no different than the way people who harbor secret hatreds function in the ordinary world, or even in the mesoteric worlds of other religious practices. 

It's easy enough to learn the form of the words in any work work; and then one can be any way one pleases inside oneself, and look to others like one is part of the community. The only evidence one may occasionally see of their inner aberration is a tendency towards a Machiavellian exercise of power.

There is an imbalance in these people and ultimately there is no point in working with them. You could do it for lifetimes and nothing would result, because they have committed themselves to their hatred, and they believe that a commitment to hatred is actually the most important feature they can have in order to carry their inner work forward. This is in fact a form of insanity; and it’s almost impossible to root out once it establishes itself. It concentrates its intensity so that it can consume more of what the soul needs in order to survive; and eventually this parasitic "work" in a person who undertakes it acts like a vampire that has drained all the spiritual blood from their Being, all the while creating a nearly perfect shell of appearance around them that allows them to stay in a work and continue to appear normal. This takes place because the work they are in is now the place where they feed the darkness that has come to roost in them; and they don't want to leave the restaurant.

One needs to be very careful about such things. Not paranoid, mind you, but perceptive of where a person is in their inner life and what their center of gravity is. The fact remains simple enough: no matter who a person is and no matter where they are, in the work or not in the work, a taxi driver or a president, if there is not a living and tangible core of love in their action towards others, a humility in their assessment of themselves, they are already a danger to themselves and everyone else. And should be treated accordingly.

One of the most frightening lessons to be learned from all of this is that every individual has such an individual in them – a certain part which tries to keep itself secret from all the other parts and which harbors just such hatreds. Part of inner work is to acquire the strength for great vigilance so that one can see this part and its attempts to subvert what is right in one's life and one’s Being. 

With enough inner work, over the course of many decades, the place of existence for this part of Being grows smaller and smaller and it becomes more and more desperate and prone to attempt disruption of one kind or another. The good news about this, if there is any, is that by this time Being has usually acquired enough strength to withstand its assaults.

Anyway, I bring this up because of the last post about opinions. Opinions are, so to speak, of the devil and ought to be treated accordingly. When Mr. Gurdjieff said in meetings that this or that could be “sent to the devil,” whatever it was generally had something to do with one's opinion about things. Cf. opinion; a view or judgment formed about some thing, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. 

That describes just about everything we usually are.

Think for a moment about how very different we would be inside, if our views and judgment were formed based on love.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, August 12, 2022



April 2

One of the things I don't see is that every opinion I have is formed in my personality.

The obvious consequence of this is that every opinion I have is wrong. I don't see this because I love my opinions, and I cling to them. They are in fact the thing I love the most, probably more than other people or God. This means my priorities are always badly screwed up.

My essence and the part of myself connected to the soul don't have opinions in this way. They are more fundamentally grounded in love; and their potential to actually care for important things is much greater than anything my personality produces.

I can tell the difference between whether I am more in my essence or in my personality by seeing whether I am filled with opinions or filled with love. Once understood, this difference is striking when it is examined.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Intuitive thought

 March 18.

We make things too complicated.

Perhaps this is just human nature; perhaps not, I don't know. But I see the tendency in all of us to become deeply involved with complex thought patterns, obsessions, really, that draw us away from the experience of life and the act of breathing in and out here in the body.

Gurdjieff frequently spoke of obsessions, idée fixe, and warned his pupils against developing them. We could take the idea as one of identifications, but it's really more intense than that. It's not so much forgetting ourselves in a single thought, as it is in getting lost in a thicket of them. Complexity comes in the form of bramble patches in the mind; we stumble into it, and it clings to us. The more we struggle, the more difficult it is to escape. 

The mind is entangled in the products of its own ability to produce complex relationship.

There is a good place for complex relationship, but it needs to be held at arm’s length. If we don't remain separate from it, when we sink into it, we're lost.

The attention has a good deal to do with remaining separate, because if it has the least thread of intelligence in it it stands back a bit from the complexity and distinguishes between each thought and Being. It's this distinction between thought and Being that is important. By all means, have all the thoughts you wish to; but Be while you are having them. This means to not forget the body and the breath while you think. Thinking becomes alive in a different way through this practice. 

You see thoughts as they arise.

Ordinary, or as Gurdjieff called it formatory, thinking has about as much intelligence as ants do in it. That is to say, it's programmed to wander around according to a set of associative rules, encounter this, do that, and so on. Very formulaic. The study of ants has shown that the behavior of individual ants is exactly like that. What takes place when many of them work together using these simple rules becomes very complex and displays what is called emergent behavior; a colony of ants behaves much more intelligently than an individual ant, sometimes astonishingly so. 

The pattern of our ordinary thoughts is nearly identical to this. They're relatively stupid and follow automatic programs. Like the search patterns of ants, they're programmed to produce and follow random behaviors designed to yield, over the broad statistical average of their action, meaningful and rewarding results. 

But in human beings, rather than recognizing these individual thoughts for the relatively mechanical creatures they are, we take them as gospel. Each one that pops up has the tendency to convince us that it's what is true at the moment. If it weren't for the moral structures that society imposes on people, taught from outside, this tendency would quickly become disastrous. When it is untethered it produces insanity of one kind or another. In this sense (the sense of undeveloped man) we badly need those automatic patterns instilled by social form.

Men and women have, however, the capacity for a very different kind of thought, which is not formulaic, but connected to much deeper resources within Being. The use of what we call attention, which is not so much a property of the mind but rather a connective tissue between the mind, the body, the breath, and feeling, can bring us into a relationship with that kind of thought. 

We might call this, for the lack of a better term, intuitive thought. 

The word intuit comes from the Latin verb intueri, which is constructed by -in, “upon,” and ”tueri,” to look. Right away, using this expression intuitive thought, we see that it is thought which we see from a distance, that is to say, we are present to the thought as we have it instead of identified with it. 

Here in intuitive thought there arises a whole, not a partial, quality to awareness that recognizes formulaic thought – which, mind you, cannot be eliminated —for what it is. This causes the onlooker, Being itself, to refuse to get drawn into the entanglement of formulaic thought. 

Gurdjieff actually explains this precise feature of Being in the meeting of June 6, 1944:

M. G. : On the one hand you keep the sensation of yourself and on the other hand you drive out associations, you don’t allow them to invade you.

G. M. : To be able to search for them, one needs a kind of image. Is it the sensation and the sense of self?

M. G. : Not of oneself. The sensation and feeling of your presence. The head must continuously control what is being done in me. I sense. On the one hand, all the time, I sense; on the other, my attention does not allow my associations to disturb me. My attention is completely occupied. My head is awake. All the time I do this. My head makes sure I sense, and it hunts associations. She doesn't even have time to represent anything to herself. You understand? … This thing, almost no one can do. Also, everyone should understand my response to our esteemed M. It’s of tremendous value for all those who work to be able to understand this thing. It's a very big thing, difficult. Consciously you're busy with two things: you sense, you control all your presence, and at the same time, you chase the associations. Automatically, without you, your atmosphere is elevated. Everything that’s usually scattered becomes concentrated. You’ll collect yourself and you’ll become yourself.

I think it's safe enough to say that when we are lost in the complexities of our thought, this is impossible. And indeed, he says it's very difficult. Yet if we don't learn to take a step back from the complexity of our thinking and identify it for what it is, we don't have a relationship with thought: we are thought. 

An intimate relationship with feeling and sensation causes us to be 2/3 more than thought. They, in their own right, are also forms of thought, but they don't use words to think. When presence connects their living force to our Being, they add qualities to active, living thought that formulaic associative thought can't express. 

If one wishes to know where our capacity for real love begins, one needs to look here in this area. It's something that needs to be looked at for many years in order for an understanding to begin to arise. 

What is certain is that it will not arise within the thicket of complex thoughts which appear to contain intimations of what direction to go in, but are actually just a forest to get lost in.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Announcement: The Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff Blog is Moving!

 Dear Readers: 

Since November 2006, I've offered my readings and observations about the Gurdjieff work free of charge at blogspot.com.

I initially took this on as a responsibility towards the Gurdjieff work so that at least one of the traditionally reticent Gurdjieff Foundation's member's voices would be a regular presence amidst the relative cacophony of online exchanges about Gurdjieff. 

I have done my best, good or bad, to serve in this regard. Readers who have followed the trajectory have participated in an enterprise that has generated nearly 1.5 million views over the course of its existence.

 The enterprise has been demanding; and there are times when I have thought about giving it up.

I didn't. In the end it turns out the enterprise has legs of its own, and I merely supervise the activities.

Change, however, is in the air. Sixteen years is long enough in one place. I've recently decided to move the blog to substack. This will to some extent "modernize" it; and it will also transition the blog to a paid subscription model. 

The new home is here:


The annual subscription is $60, or, conversely, $6.00 per month.

There may be those who object or complain; to them, I do not apologize, although I understand everyone's impulse to get things for free. There is a point at which you have to pay for what you get, modern world notwithstanding.

Substack posts will commence on Aug. 9. 

Posts will continue at blogspot.com through the month of August, for free, but paid subscriptions will officially begin in September, after which no new posts will be appearing at Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff. 

You'll have the opportunity to read all the same posts for free during the month of August at substack, and, should interest, conscience, or a combination of the two prompt you to begin subscribing immediately, please feel free to do so.

Occasionally, some posts at substack will be free, but regular readers will be required to pay if they want to have access to the full content.

nb. Effective immediately. archives dating from 2006 through 2017 will no longer be available on line, but will be made available on request to paid subscribers only. This resource represents over 10 years of posts on a wide range of Gurdjieff and other topics. I think the $60 per year subscription is a fair enough price for it.




Saturday, August 6, 2022



March 15

We speak of "identification" as though it's something that takes place somewhere other than here, where we are, right now.

Yet we are identified with every word that comes out of our mouths, and with every thought that lies behind it. 

It's possible, as was demonstrated to me recently, to conduct an entire conversation among multiple people about "work ideas" that appears to be serious, heartfelt, and well informed, in which nearly every single individual in the conversation is identified almost exclusively with their own ideas, opinions, and prosecutes them in a completely mechanical manner. This, right after an aim has been set to do exactly the opposite. 

In the midst of conversations like this about, for example, inner considering, the first thing that takes over is — guess what? — inner considering. It begins to drive the exchange and before you know it all the individuals in the conversation have 100% forgotten what the conversation was supposed to be about in the first place, and trample across a range of unrelated subjects wearing army boots, automatically following the first thread of thought that either irritates or stimulates them.

For this reason, that is, that we follow everything that emerges from our mouths like sheep, it's best we speak little, and even then with a very focused direction.

But can we do this?

The first question should always be how grounded I am in my sensation. 

The companionhood of sensation is the first anchor in Being that helps to prevent complete identification. It may only help 10%; it might help 90%; but if it helps 1% it's better than zero, which is where we are most of the time. We think zero is 100.

And without developing sensation as an absolute and permanent foundation of Being, we'll never discuss anything in a straight line for more than 30 seconds, or discover a nexus from which Being can be consistent from one moment to the next.

I think on this matter  carefully, because very much turns on this question.

I'll keep this observation simple today and say no more. 

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022



The word "grief" comes from the Latin gravis, meaning heavy. In the sense of its derived French origins, it means a burden. The modern meaning is one of deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death.

Even animals, it has been noted, are capable of feeling grief; so it has deep biological roots and an evolutionary function. It's a shared property fundamental to a certain level of life on the planet. 

But what is it actually for?

Grief arises above all out of a sense of loss; and most especially a loss of some thing one deeply cares about. In this way, it is a call to deeper care; to a more conscious recognition of where the value in life lies. In this sense it is a property of one's spiritual evolution, the education of the soul.

Although it may not be evident at first, grief is connected to will. In order to live, one must care about life; when one doesn't, we say they have "lost their will to live." They don't care anymore. This illustrates the bonds between caring and willing: will has nothing to impart movement to it, or maintain momentum, without care to accompany it. 

On the divine level, this caring is love, hence the classic pairing in Swedenborg's “Divine Love and Wisdom.” Quite simply put, they go together. And in seeing this, we begin to see that grief is connected to seeing the lack of caring which can impart movement to wisdom. It's an effort to recognize what is real, what truly has meaning, through the sense that one has lost it.

This is the reason that grief is necessary, otherwise we wouldn't have it. It serves a function in our being; but it's one of the higher functions, not one of the lower ones. When I grieve, I engage in an activity that reminds me of why life is worth living; and this activity centers around the value of others, if it's a healthy one. After all, if I grieve only for my own loss, it's a selfish action; but when I grieve in a comprehensive way, not just because of the loss of an individual but because of the presence of loss itself, it begins to have a new value. 

This has been recognized for generations in the great religions; in Buddhism, it is valued because once we develop a comprehensive and spiritual sense of loss, we begin to see the transitory nature of all things. In Christianity, our grief in the crucifixion of Christ is a remembrance of God's love in the face of loss, and how sometimes loss must be endured in order to show that love at its highest level. These are deep matters worthy of many months and years of contemplation.

It's important to remind ourselves that grief needs to be, as much as possible, impersonal as it deepens in us. While it's true that it usually begins — true grief, that is —through a personal loss, if we stay with it and develop perspective on it we see that it leads deeper into a question of a more universal nature, and that the vibration — the harmonic resonance—of grief takes place on a finer and deeper level of the universe than that of the ordinary energies we encounter. 

We begin to touch something much greater than ourselves.

That something is related to the same thing that Gurdjieff called "The Sorrow of His Endlessness." This is a particulate matter, a quantum force composed of energies that penetrates the entire universe. That may sound like a big statement, but for those who have spent enough time in efforts devoted to the harmonic development of Being, it is a force that is objective, universal, unavoidable, and fundamental in terms of any real religious experience. Christianity contains esoteric references to this force in the sense of Christ as the Man of Sorrows. 

This is a substance that helps create the fabric of reality, not a concept or an emotive inflection. Until it is encountered that way, all discussions about it are theoretical; and I can fairly say, based on many years of experience, that it isn't so helpful to try and discuss it with people that do not already understand this in the marrow of their bones.

All of the things under discussion here have to be felt in the marrow of one's bones, and this is where grief itself already resides if it arises. Being itself is a second being-body larger than ordinary or natural being; it has flesh, blood, bones, and marrow of a different kind and quality than our natural flesh, blood, bones, and marrow. Grief is in the marrow of that second body. We could equally say that seeing forms its flesh, that suffering is its blood, and that sorrow are the bones. 

This body has a comprehensive humility in its nature.

Seeing is what helps to form the exterior body of this second inner life; suffering is what causes circulation of the impressions that seeing brings, delivering them to the various parts of the body that need the "oxygen" or air that allows the body to breathe; and sorrow is what forms the skeleton, the structure that supports the body. 

In the bones of that skeleton, the marrow of grief contains the concentrated substances that can, if they are prepared, receive the emanations of The Sorrow of His Endlessness.

I don't speak of average matters here; and one never undertakes discussions of the astral body and its nature without reservations, because the understandings related to it do not translate well into the language of this world, which was designed for other purposes. The higher languages designed for that purpose are long forgotten and lost, and were originally musical in nature. Nonetheless, it's useful to try to clarify some of these matters, if only to leave a record for others to trace within the roots of their own Being. 

Grief can teach us to love less the things of this world and more the things of the soul; and therein lies a much greater love than we can have of things. In such loss, grief teaches us that human beings are much more than things, even though we so often see them as such, whether we want to or not. 

Suddenly we awaken and realize our lack towards others, especially those we loved.

Because this lack is universal, and because it is so fundamental to our failure to love, grief helps us to touch something much larger than ourselves and begin to understand our selfishness in a deeper context that can ultimately lead to the reconstruction of the soul, if we follow that path.

Hoping that you find yourself in good relationship today,



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.