Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts on our nothingness, part one

Light in the cathedral, Semur-en-Auxois, France

Having tolerated several interruptions this morning, I come to a moment when I try to pull together a point that has solidified for me.

When Gurdjieff says that we should come to a sense of our own nothingness, I suspect it is often taken the wrong way. 

The point is to come to a sense of our own nothingness in an objective manner. This means we cannot come to a sense of our nothingness through an emotional understanding of lack (another aspect of inner work from Gurdjieff’s protégé Jeanne Salzmann, also perhaps often misunderstood) or any overwrought or deeply emotional way whatsoever. We can’t come to a sense of our nothingness with the wish to purge ourselves of what we are; it is not an ascetic action, it is not an abject surrender. It is a factual and experiential inward flowing of where we are, stripped of external opinions.

Of course it’s difficult to understand this, because any such experience immediately becomes personalized and the ego seizes it to use it in one way or another... it’s even possible, for example, to sense one’s own nothingness and use that as a way of feeling superior to others. Believe me, the ego knows how to do things like this all too well! 

I think the point is that my nothingness has to be absorbed as though I were a sponge and it was a fluid that penetrated me. The sponge and the fluid are two different things; and the sponge doesn’t have opinions about water, it just takes it in. 

So much of life ought to be like this.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time over the last few months examining, in detail, the many tiny parts of the inner machine that have seeds of evil in them. Much of us is built of these gears which turn constantly in directions that do not edify our constitution; yet we don’t see them. It can be quite shocking to discover how much of what wants to turn the wheels on our car is made of petty and even hateful things.

In any event, even this becomes too personal. And the fact of my nothingness is impersonal. It is simply true. I want to grasp vast facts about the cosmos, but I am unable to manage the simplest life tasks when it comes to compassionate and decent treatment of other human beings. This is incredibly common, especially with people in spiritual works… no one wants to suffer what we are without doing it personally. 

And it is that impersonal suffering which is accepted as a fact, as the ground floor of our condition, which must be examined and absorbed.

I shall try to say a bit more about this in the next few days.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

On the action of feeling, part II

Madonna and Child (detail of work in progress)
icon by Chantal Heinegg

Part 2 of notes from Shanghai, April 9, 2017

Real feeling is the organ designed to permanently install a sense of our lack in our Being. Because we need to measure our own love, which is weak and unfocused, which lacks aim and purpose, against the Love of God, we must develop real feeling. This is the only part of us which can touch that greater Love and thereby take its own measure—to know whaty we are. 

That action, which is an extremely sacred action, is actually the action to which all of the great arts — music, dance, poetry, and the visual arts — aspire; and it is the aim, as well, of objective art: to bring the feelings to a point where they can actually touch what is real. 

To bring the question of nothingness into us sounds important and dramatic, and makes us feel like we are on a mission to achieve something. In fact, seeing my own nothingness eventually becomes an act of egoism, because there is a perverse negative importance in the idea that I am nothing. Not only can I be something important by being nothing; I can even feel sorry for myself about it. I can then perhaps even mount a jihad against my nothingness. The whole thing is disturbingly sneaky, because the ego is circling this activity like a hungry wolf — the way it does with everything.

Let me make this clear.  The ego has absolutely no power over real feeling. By the time real feeling emerges, the parts of personality that gave birth to ego as we conventionally understand it are already crippled. There is no way for this largely external force to stand in the way of a three-centered experience of one's life; and it is impossible for it to do anything but submit in the face of real feeling, which instantly brings into relationship the difference between my own capacity for love and God's. When I stand in this place, there is absolutely no question that I am — and no question that, in this moment, within this Being, there is something—

not nothing. 

It is the inadequacy, the insufficiency, of this something upon which all of the questions turn. 

I measure the insufficiency of my something against God.

All real measurements of time and distance are taken through Love. Love measures the distance between heaven and hell in each human being; Love measures the distance between man and woman and between human beings and God. (see Swedenborg’s explanations of distances in heaven.) But it always takes that measurement in relationship to the real, that is, things that are. It cannot take that measure against nothingness, because nothingness is the antithesis of what is real. And we all contain a bit of something real in us. Even the worst of us, even the Hitlers and the Stalins of the planet, have what is real in us. It is not a question of nothingness, of what is not; it is always a question of what is, measured against that infinitely greater Love of God.

Those familiar with my book Glory, Grace, and Mercy and the principle of the three great prayers will recall that the third prayer reads,

I call to thee from the depths of mine iniquity;
I have not delivered myself sufficiently onto thee,
I know not how.

This prayer is an extension of Jeanne Salzmann’s original call to us to see our lackThe prayer is, in fact, the exact extension of that act of seeing, which must be born of our active sensation, forward into the sense of its need for contact and rebirth within a voluntary, organic feeling of Being. 

The call from the depths of my iniquity is an indication of place and ability: I am far from God, and unequal to him. 

The phrase is, however, not put in the physical terms — terms related to the act of voluntary sensation — of the expression, seeing my lack. It is instead rendered in terms that describe the distance between my own love and God's Love, which can only be understood through feeling—through Love, which is the tool that measures. 

It then proceeds to describe my capacity, that is, what is possible for me from the level of feeling I am on; and it describes the situation not in terms of nothingness, but in terms of a failure to understand. Once again, we are in feeling territory here, not the territory of sensation, because I have to actively feel my unknowing, not just sense it. 

That is to say, unknowing must not be a merely physical or intellectual perception; I must suffer it emotionally. 

There are important connections here between the organic feeling of Being and the action of remorse of conscience; without the inner actions in question, remorse of conscience does not enter the picture except as a theoretical attitude. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On the action of feeling, part I

Madonna and Child (in progress)

Yesterday, my wife talked about a reading she attended which was was, among other things, about seeing one's own nothingness.

Ah, Yes. The sacred writings. We gravely transcribe them from other languages and read them to one another as though they were going to change things in us. I would be tempted to laugh, except that the situation is so very dire indeed.

A very great deal has been said about seeing our own nothingness. People repeat this like parrots. Yet the phrase goes unexamined; and it deserves examination.

Do we have nothingness; is there such a thing? To speak of "our own" nothingness implies that it's a characteristic we have, that one can somehow ascribe it to us. Yet there is no such thing as nothingness; already, the universe begins with something. 

There is existence. There is Being. And it is impossible, quite frankly, to recognize nothingness from nothingness. If nothingness actually existed, even then, something would need to recognize it. 

Else, no conversation at all, about anything. Ever.

I think perhaps one begins, right away, to see from this that the idea of seeing our own nothingness, taken at face value, is utterly worthless. We haven't really pondered this; we don't understand it.

When the idea of seeing our own nothingness is mentioned, it only means our own nothingness in relationship to something else which is greater. It is not an absolute nothingness; it isn't an emptiness, a not–being. It is a being that lacks

So it is not the nothingness that we have to see; it is an inadequacy, a lack, an insufficiency. It isn't that I am nothing — I am not nothing. As a particle of His Endlessness, of God himself, I am something; it is just that I'm an infinitesimally small something, something that lacks. So, relatively speaking, I am “nothing,” which actually means, not nothing, but instead something—something very tiny and inadequate.

I only measure this purported and nonexistent “nothingness” relative to that something which is God; and since we cannot know God in any real way from our level, but only through His action, which is Love alone, what I am "nothing" in relationship to is Love. 

This is something I can in fact see; my love is "nothing" in relationship to God's Love. If I see my own nothingness, I don't see nothingness at all; I emphatically see something, which is that I am — and in that action of seeing that I am, I see how tiny and insufficient my love is relative to God's Love.

There are those, to be sure, who will hold up their transcendental experiences of annihilation and bliss within annihilation, of going into the silence and the light, as examples of how wrong I am about this. I am familiar with such experiences, and they don't suffice in terms of understanding this question. 

We are not supposed to go towards the light. It is far too easy to take refuge in nothingness; from a spiritual point of view, it might be said, any idiot can do it. It takes a great deal more work, effort, and inner courage to see my lack — which is a much better way of describing the situation, and the phrase which we rightly ought to be using in place of this faulty idea of seeing our own nothingness. If we truly had nothingness, we wouldn't be; the fact that we are at all calls us to a responsibility to be more than nothing. We are first called to see that we are something; and yet even that it isn't enough. 

We then need to see what we are.

Here is where the action of real feeling comes in. One can spend decades working on the awakening of organic sensation; and it is absolutely necessary. Even if one achieves something real in the realm of sensation, it then takes decades for it to develop a complete and permanent aspect within Being. And only then does real feeling begin to have any permanent action within Being; because without that foundation, no matter how impressive its action, it is always temporary and leaves one confused about its purpose. One catches the smell of the chicken soup wafting through the kitchen; but there is no broth on the tongue, there is no meat between one’s teeth.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The gravity of respect

The Tortoise. Page from "The Wonders of Creation."
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Notes from Shanghai, April 9.

Yesterday, I was having lunch with a good friend here in Shanghai. Speaking to her across the table at a posh, modern restaurant on the Bund, it suddenly struck me how different we were. 

She had never thought of inner work; of what it means to have Being. The matter simply wasn't of interest to her, it wasn't a question. Yet this is a 46-year-old woman who has certainly been through her share of struggles and wonders what her life is all about.

I see a good deal of this when I'm over here. Under the conditions here in China, I'm working "alone;" I'm not surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals. The people I work with are just like me in terms of external factors: we all have an attraction to money, power, sex, food, and so on. The mechanical levers that provide movement in our external lives are all the same.

Yet there is this inner difference between us that is vast. I care about a question within life that is of almost no interest whatsoever to these others. 

It's like this not just here in China, but everywhere. What's everything to me is nothing to most people.

There is some intimate and subtle difference between me and others on this point; and I cannot say exactly what it is. 

If I don't know what it is, how much danger am I in of losing it? Do I know what the spark of my work, my inner life, consists of, where it comes from? 

If I don't come into intimate contact with it and have a perpetual respect from it, am I not always in danger of losing it? How precious, how valuable do I think this is? 

I treat it like it is a horse I can always bet on; yet that may be a mistake. Part of my question must always be what the spark of life is, and how I honor it. 

Without the gravity of respect, everything may be at risk.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Organic Agreement of Being, part 2

Notes from Shanghai: April 7 2017

This morning, I began to read Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. Part of my program to fill in voids in my understanding of English literature, which were created by my concentration on German literature during my college years.

One of the things that strikes me this morning is that the attraction of the external so strongly encourages us to forget to lead our own lives. We are exposed to so many other things; so many other lives, so many other influences; and each one attracts us. Instead of being drawn into ourselves to see how we are and what we are, we are drawn outside towards how other people are and what they are. This is a nonsensical conflict; because of course we ought to invest ourselves quite firmly in what we are, and yet this tension arises. One wants to be someone else.

At the same time, as Woolf so subtly and deftly captures it in the very first pages of her book, sacred influences flow into us. They are varied; and sometimes a person who is "insane" is more open than others, more prone to see the transcendent in life. One must pay back from this secret deposit of exquisite moments, thinks Clarissa to herself; and it is so. This is the sensitivity to the small and daily things that Meister Eckhart said were so vital to an understanding of God's priorities.

It brings me back to this question of organic agreement — to agreeing to my life as it flows in. After 17 years of studying this question of being a vessel into which the world flows, which has led to as many new questions as it has understandings — probably more — this question of the inward and outward flowing of life and being is still acute. Even if one is aware of it and responsive to it, the question remains as to whether or not one is in agreement with it. To be in organic agreement with it is to have a consonance of purpose between the intellect, sensation of the body, and the intelligence of feeling. Only by bringing these three parts together at the point where the inflow takes place creates an agreement: that agreement is a harmony.

Following the trace of the words, one discovers that agreement comes from a Latin root that means pleasing; and of course the word harmonious is also used. Harmonious is pleasing; agreement is pleasing. 

That is to say, it satisfies something real; and satisfaction is a kind of food. 

By extension, agreement is a kind of food; and agreement with what I am, with who I am, and where I am consists of a willingness to acknowledge that food and consume it. If we look carefully at Virginia Woolf's treatment of her characters at the beginning of the book, we see that they are accepting and consuming their lives in one way or another; so there is an understanding implicit in the writing that perhaps hasn't been recognized from the esoteric point of view.

I don't bring this up to extol the virtues of Virginia Wolf; one simply has to take into account that this woman, who had an enormous and insightful talent not just for writing but in actually seeing things about the human condition, suffered enormously during the course of her life, and as a consequence saw some things that generally escape us. This question of harmonious agreement — which, by the way, absolutely can include conflict, it's important to remember that — is essential to understanding the human condition. 

I don't agree with my condition; this is where all the problems begin. If there were a harmonious agreement present in life, an organic agreement as to what is, I'd be quite different. Instead I begin by disagreeing; first with myself, and then afterwards with everyone else. 

I can see the results of this all around me, yet I'm blind to the fact that it begins with my failure to achieve an organic agreement of being within me. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Organic Agreement

Notes from April 2

Yesterday, a close friend and I were discussing the way in which experience arises in us and we encounter it. He brought up a technique presented during a retreat led by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse.

The idea suggested was that as each thing arises within us, we see it and put it aside, so that we continually move on without attachment. This seems like an entirely correct practice to me. 

He also brought up the point that in the old days, in Tibet, in some practices the Masters continually created chaos and disruption in the practice of the pupils, so that they never got comfortable with their work. 

Gurdjieff did the same thing; work of this kind becomes a war against bad inner habits. And it is entirely necessary, in a certain way, because the minute a person gets comfortable with everything and arranges their inner and outer work so that is it serene, attractive, and undisturbing, one stops working and rests in an artificially created atmosphere of bliss. Even if the bliss is real — and it certainly can be — it creates an insulated bubble through which real material for growth can't enter anymore.

In any event, while we were discussing it, I pointed out something specific about the nature of seeing each thing that arises within us and putting aside that I'd like to share with readers. It is not enough to just see and then put aside; in seeing, I have to agree.

Agreeing is a subtle practice, because it requires something quite different of me. I can't just see alone; this is too passive, and it's one of the pitfalls of self observation. If I just observe, I run the risk of creating an imaginary world where "I" am objective and apart from what is seen, rather than understanding that the duality of who is seeing and what is seen needs to be resolved. 

I need to agree; and this means that within the action of seeing, I have to agree that "this is what is true."

It's not quite exactly right to say, "I agree, this is who I am," because the metaphysical question there is complex and not so easily or lightly resolved. 

But what I do is agree that this is what is true

That is to say, following the analogy of it being necessary to have all three notes to form a three note chord, the three parts of this action are:

—the observer
—what is observed
—the agreement

Agreement acknowledges the truth of the situation, the Dharma. So I agree that it is so. Inwardly, not through logical argument. And I want to stress this very strongly, because this agreement I speak of is not an intellectual agreement or an argument. It contains no spur suasion. 

It is an organic agreement.

It's quite important to remember this, because the tendency is to reject what is so, to explain it this way or that way, to qualify it, define it, adjusted, own it — pretend I am in control of it or that it belongs to me — and then put it aside in one way or another, thinking I have dealt with it. This is an insidious practice that helps nothing. The instant that I think I have made something my own, that it belongs to me in this way or that way, I have already dismissed it as unimportant, because now I am the authority. I don't really see how I make myself the authority constantly in all matters. To become a servant is an entirely different matter; and it begins with this question of agreement. Truth has an objective quality that can’t belong to me.

 The organic agreement does not contain words. It contains facts; and, as one may learn, real facts are so often not expressed in words.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Personal notes on the fundamental nature of sensation, part II

Photograph from the orchid show
 New York Botanical Garden, March 2017

Personal notes from March 31, part 2

(continued from the last post)

The mind, after all, has been stealing material from the other two centers my whole life; and why should I trust a thief who keeps trying to usurp my place and do my work for me? It is a waste of my time.

I need to see this quite clearly. When Gurdjieff spoke about wrong work of centers, he was discussing just such thievery; but he didn't explain the results of that problem, which are — emphatically – that the centers don't trust one another. 

So there is a terrible lack of trust in me, and I need to get out of the way of my other parts in order to let them actually own the one-third of my Being that is their rightful territory. If one rightly understands all the different exercises in Gurdjieff's wartime transcripts, one begins to see that all of them have something to do with this question.

The feeling, like sensation, absolutely has its own authority, which is again completely different than the authority of the intellect and the authority of the sensation, that is, the mind of the body. Of the three, it has the most powerful and comprehensive authority, because it is closest to God and has the capacity to come into contact with the higher emotional center and allow a transfer of material from the sacred into my own Being. 

One should never underestimate the extraordinary power of such an experience; yet these should not be peak experiences that come once or twice a year — or a lifetime — during an intensive retreat or meditation period; Nor should they be experiences induced by someone else, where a teacher opens the pupil. The whole point of developing harmoniously is to bring the centers into a relationship gently, without manipulation, so that they naturally express these abilities throughout ordinary life, every day.

Of course folks generally think that such things happen only under "special conditions;" and so,  repeating this commonly held misunderstanding over and over and reinforcing each other's confirmation bias regarding the subject, everyone trains each other to only have such experiences when one is in touch with the magical work, the magical people, the magical conditions. 

This is a kind of magical thinking that simply hypnotizes everyone who works into thinking that they can't work in their ordinary life. In fact, the exact opposite is true; it's in ordinary life that one has to work in order to understand these experiences, and is so often the ashram, the organization, the culture that indoctrinate people into getting it backwards. 

Alas. This is a terrible habit, but there is no way to break it; because our spiritual cultures are also good. It's just that we love them too much.

Back to the point of the authority of the centers other than thinking, which thinks it is the only authority; if we were familiar with the authority of the sensation or the feeling, truly familiar with it, we’d respect it. But we have no respect. 

We need to develop not only trust, but a capacity for respect; because in many ways, when the authority of the mind submits to the authority of sensation and the authority of feeling, it is submitting to a hierarchy in which it occupies the bottom rung of what can be perceived. It is, of course, an absolutely necessary faculty; yet it plays the lesser role in this interaction. Once one understands that, a wide range of other things can be understood. But one must understand this through the actual experience of the authority of sensation and the authority of feeling, not through my theoretical explanation of it.

Sensation and feeling are the silent intelligences in us; neither one of them uses words to express itself. If one enters the silence, as it is so often described in meditation, one enters first through the silence of sensation and then through the silence of feeling, both of which are worlds of enormous power that do not use words to say or do anything whatsoever. 

So the stillness, the silence, are directly related to our ability to cede the authority of the mind in favor of these other two intelligences.

Sensation is the vehicle in which Being resides. 

Feeling is the vehicle in which Being can come to know itself. 

The role of the intelligence is as the vehicle which sees; but it is not a vehicle which does.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Personal notes on the fundamental nature of sensation, part I

Photograph from the orchid show
 New York Botanical Garden, March 2017


Then one must change the way of working. Instead of accumulating during one hour, one must try to keep constantly the organic sensation of the body. Sense one's body again, continually without interrupting one's ordinary occupations—to keep a little energy, to take the habit. I thought the exercises would allow you to keep the energy a long time, but I see it is not so. Wet a handkerchief, wring it out, put it on your skin. The contact will remind you. When it is dry, begin again. 
The key to everything—Remain apart. Our aim
is to have constantly a sensation of oneself, of one's individuality. This sensation cannot be expressed intellectually, because it is organic.

— Transcripts of Gurdjieff meetings, 1941 — 1945

Personal notes from March 31, part 1

I'd like to say a few things about the nature of sensation that relate to the comments I make in my book Being and Impression

It occurred to me last week, while working with one of the groups I attend, that we need to allow our sensation to develop and express its own authority.

This is a very important point, because with some few exceptions, most people — even people who have been working for many years — do not understand sensation as a voluntary or active force. The mind encounters “sensations” of many different kinds and believes that this is what the intelligence of sensation consists of; but it is no such thing. Sensation is an absolute and an entire mind unto itself which can cohabit with the mind of my intelligence; and it has its own authority, not an authority conferred upon it by the words I use to describe it or what its experiences are. This is precisely what Mr. Gurdjieff means in the passage that opens this piece.

Encountering sensation as an experience of the body — touching the bark of a tree is a good example — is a beginning. The exercise with the wet handkerchief is a precisely similar point of departure; yet it is not just the sensation of the wet handkerchief that one needs to experience, but also the silent intelligence that encounters it. It is this intelligence that we seek to awaken. All of the many exercises in sensation, sensing the limbs, moving sensation around the body, and so on, provide experiences of the flow of energy within the body, but they do not represent the awakened sensation of being.
Readers familiar with my work will know that for the past 10 years, or thereabouts, I have generally referred to this as the organic sensation of being — a term Gurdjieff also used, because the experience of it is entirely organic and cannot be termed any other way. The expression is objective, just as the experience is; whereas ordinary sensation is entirely subjective. If one reaches an objective sensation, it is comprehensive, ubiquitous, and permanent. Objective sensation is an awakened consciousness, a second mind within Being. Attempting to understand it with the first mind of the intellect is a waste of time; all one can do with the first mind is conceptualize it.

So I will say it again. We need to allow our sensation to express its own authority.
I have been asked how one can "do" that. Clearly, those who understand it is possible — even instinctively, in some cases, but in any event at least with the intellect, after many years of work — are curious about how one "gets there." The best that I can say is that one must learn to have a certain kind of trust. The mind thinks it knows everything; it pitches in itself as the boss of the whole world, and one might even say, metaphorically speaking, that the sensation and emotions turn away from it in disgust because it occupies so much of the territory and doesn't want to allow other authority to manifest. Put in other terms, the problem is that the intelligence of our sensation and the intelligence of our feelings do not trust the mind; any more than the mind trusts them. The mind, after all, has been stealing material from the other two centers my whole life; and why should I trust a thief who keeps trying to usurp my place and do my work for me? It's a waste of my time.

Part II of the notes on the fundamental nature of sensation will publish on July 7.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Practice makes practice, part II

Notes from March 30, part II

...If the efforts and the exercises were the practice; one would already know how to practice, and one would be getting those beautiful and marvelous "results" that everyone wants… or, at least, thinks they want – because when and if a person really got "results", they deeply conflict with established ways of Being, making one distinctly uncomfortable and leading to the discovery that everything one believes is, in one way in or another, subtly contaminated and false...

This, of course, isn't the kind of "result" that people really want; yet a subtle practice actually leads in that direction. Real awareness produces a profound spiritual discomfort, and even anguish. Folk often shy away from this confrontation and discover ways of obliterating it by going into the "silence", by accepting immersion in stillness and nothingness… which is not enough, and actually consists of an avoidance of life-Being-responsibility.

In any event, getting back to this idea that people can "do" something. This is simply impossible. I can't do anything; all of the activities I undertake are just placeholders for real activity. When real activity arrives, it’s the result of the work of the organism, not me; the spiritual body of practice becomes actionable (assumes its own authority) and begins to take precedence over all the manipulations I impose on myself. 

When the spiritual action, the inward action, takes precedence, it is because the inflow is taking place. I am what is called "open" in the Gurdjieff work; of course there are various other words for it, but in the Gurdjieff work that specifically means the same thing as what Swedenborg does when he talks about the inflow. 

It’s the arrival of the Presence that can transform. Nothing else has that ability.

That Presence is not my presence. When I start talking about “having” a sense of Presence, I am already using the wrong words for it. I never "own" a sense of Presence. My Being hosts a Presence; but that Presence is not me. It comes from a much larger place and has much more power than I have; in fact, unlike me, it can “do.” And this is the difference between what I think about work and what work actually is. The difference between actual practice, and thinking about preparing for practice by doing exercises.

One never knows when the Lord will arrive. This isn’t a date or time marked on any calendar. And when the Lord does arrive, when this presence does manifest, it needs to be most available always within life– not in the context of some ashram or meditation chamber. 

Living, inhabiting my life, is not a cloistered activity. Real being is designed to travel every road and meet every person, not be shut up in a closet somewhere where it can light candles and chant. Real being encounters the moment—the unevenness, the otherness, the discomfort of other human beings, and takes that into account lovingly — because presence has loving it, whereas I do not.

I should like to remind everyone that love is truly the aim of inner work. This is so often forgotten; and just as much as one ought to have an organ in one that constantly reminds oneself that one has an irrevocable sensation of Being, one also needs to grow an organ that loves. Or, to put it more exactly, that can receive love; that has an irrevocable feeling of Being. That organ isn’t the awakened mind of sensation, which receives and is a vehicle for Being. It is the awakened mind of feeling which can receive real feeling. 

In this sense, our body (sensation) and emotion (feeling) are simply mirrors that can reflect the image of God's Presence, God's love. Presence without Love is worthless; love without presence is unstable. One needs both; but there is tangible hierarchy in which there must first be Presence before there can be Love. There may be unstable possibilities where Love comes before Presence, but they are not durable, because presence is the foundation upon which love is built.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Practice makes practice, part I

Notes from March 30

One of the things that I consistently hear from people struggling with their effort to understand their lives—who and what they are—is what one can do about one's condition. I hear this all the time these days... as we age, the question becomes more and more pressing... especially (and interestingly) among men.

So many folk sense that they lack something; there’s an almost instinctive understanding that we’re missing an inward connection that makes the difference between Being and not-Being. We so often see ourselves “slip away” and come back repeatedly throughout the day; and there is just no durability in an inner sense. Nothing reliable to hang one’s spiritual hat on. It isn't possible to have a good attention, to be mindful; it is even impossible to truly see how one "ought" to work.

People have an irresistible urge to do something about this. I get asked about it all the time.

I don't think we understand, really understand, how thoroughly true it is that man can’t do anything. We’re in an inner work, one kind of work or another — for example, it could be Buddhism, Sufism, or Christianity — where we’re taught exercises, and believe they’ll will help us get to this or that magical inner place. We think we can meditate or pray ourselves into awareness; that we can do workshops, retreats, heath yoga, hot yoga, tai chi, and somehow widen our awareness. This or that special posture, drumming, chanting, a prayer, the intonation "I am"—can produce results. Even channeling energy through crystals or burning cleansing herbs. The list of spiritual-technology inventions is endless. We live in an action-oriented environment, where there’s a constant belief that I can produce those sought-after, lofty results...


In the Gurdjieff work, there are a group of exercises which the master himself relied on as a method of — supposedly, at least – producing results.

I’ve spent most of an adult lifetime surrounded by other adults who’ve made efforts of this kind and still make them, who feel baffled and sense that after thirty or forty years they still can't understand what they ought to do... how to grow a better inner connection within themselves. 

After watching this for all these decades, I have concluded that the exercises don't actually work.
Yes, they may produce results for a time; but then they go away. The exercise becomes the result; and this is a terrifying thing, because when the exercise becomes the result, one becomes locked into a program of spiritual calisthenics where one gets up every morning and does inner jumping jacks, push-ups, and chin-ups... then one does them some more during the day. 

Rah, rah, rah, say our inner cheerleaders: perhaps we can get there using sheer enthusiasm.  This works in youth; but as we age, the convictions flag, and perhaps with good reason.

In the midst of all this exercise, in an attempt to do something about what is wrong inside  (nothing is actually wrong)– to do something about one's lack of Being — one has become a devotee of exercises and effort, not Being and awareness.

Now, one must be very careful not to misunderstand what I’m saying; because exercises are helpful to the limited degree that they lend assistance; and an effort is always necessary. But mistaking effort and exercise for practice is once again a terrifying thing, because exercises aren’t practice; they are a preparation for practice. One makes efforts and does exercises in an effort to learn how to practice. If the efforts and the exercises were the practice; one would already know how to practice, and one would be getting those beautiful and marvelous "results" that everyone wants… or, at least, thinks they want – because when and if a person really got "results", they would to a certainty deeply conflict with one's established ways of being—

making one distinctly uncomfortable and leading to the discovery that everything one believes is, in one way in or another, subtly contaminated and false. 

The balance of my notes from March 30 will publish on July 1.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Some thoughts about an approach to inner work in the summertime

I'm surrounded by so many influences.

There are, of course, both inner and outer energetic influences of a subtle nature that can’t be so easily measured or discussed; and then again, as a consequence of these, there are thousands of influences of a more coarse variety that flow into us from external sources. Let's call it ordinary life.

I encounter hundreds of different spiritual practices and approaches; the number of different kinds of yoga, of new age therapies, of Buddhisms, Christianities, and flavors of Islam is bewildering. Maybe I'm from time to time drawn to Zoroastrians or Judaism; maybe to Hinduism, maybe to some form of shamanism. Maybe I practice tai chi, or yoga, or Qigong or the Alexander technique —no matter what, everyone is attracted to some idiosyncratic version of practice and signs onto it wholeheartedly — or doesn’t, because of an inability to commit to anything definite. And I suppose that all of these outer practices and influences are, for the most part, “good” — as my teacher Betty Brown said, “well, it can’t hurt you.”

But if that’s the criteria I use to select my practice, it seems inadequate: it seems to lack discrimination.

Of course all of this outer form looks like it has something to do with my inner work, just as many Americans adopt diet as a form of identity, in the belief it may cure their health problems.

Yet one can't, I feel sure, adopt one's form as a cure. If one wants to understand inner work from a new point of view, one ought to throw everything out. Absolutely everything. Inner work verges on the edge of the absolute, the transcendent, which is untouchable and unknowable, unmanifest and perfect, and beyond any comprehension — the incomparable. Real inner work comes up against the margins of the incomparable, the impossible, and the unknown, and understands that one can never go beyond those boundaries.

One can only receive the emanations and influences that come from beyond them, which are a form of help.

So one has to throw everything out. One shouldn’t make plans; one shouldn’t plot out how one is going to do one’s inner work, or what one will do; one needs instead to come into an intimate contact with an energy that flows into Being, and know that only that mysterious force is what may prove useful in coming to a new sense of self.

That sense will have nothing to do with any of the outer influences. It won’t look like Jesus or Buddha... even though they may both be in it.

It is the wujūd that matters; the finding.

Thinking about things and laying out plans is useless. I have to come to my life helpless and alone, knowing from the beginning and from the very core of my being that I am alive and valuable, but otherwise know nothing.

I can perhaps suspend judgment on all things and let life flow into me, observing the many different conflicting values, opinions, and sheer idiocies that arise in my mechanical parts from moment to moment. All of these things have to be tolerated. I have to move through these parts of life without being touched by them, constantly receiving a different influence.

That alone can transform; and staying in relationship with it alone is the only thing that matters to me. It knows what is necessary; I don’t.

So faith, hope, and love all involve coming into relationship with this conscious influence that flows inward into Being.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Under obedience, love prevails: part III: a direct influence

Part of a series of notes to myself about Love.

So it is possible to put myself directly under the influence of this Love. That may seem distant or theoretical, but it isn't. This material force of Love is not only all around me; we are made of it; everything that exists around us is made from it; and no action, no object, event, circumstance, or condition, arises that is not already at its root, and in its entire nature, Love. That expression is absolute. 

This force, this energy, has a limitless power that cannot be touched or altered by humanity in any significant way. We can participate; we can contribute; but we can’t divert and we can’t own. We are either called to communion or we turn away from the altar, but the service takes place eternally.

The human organism was built as a perfect receiving instrument to sense, accept, and transubstantiate Divine Love according to specific laws. In doing so we are given the privilege—if we should attain this level—of coming directly under its influence. This only comes through great sacrifice, because of the powerful forces within us that oppose such transformation. 

There shouldn't be any mistake about an indulgent rapture or heavenly bliss regarding this Love. Love contains and expresses a perfect and radiant sobriety of purpose. Rapture and bliss are components of Divine Love; but its intention is infinitely higher than these experiences. One has to submit in all gentle, inward purposefulness and receive without expectation; this is my task. I am meant to receive and think of getting nothing for myself; I need not worry about such things, for within the Love of the Lord all my needs are seen to; they become His needs and are attended to most perfectly, because He knows exactly what is needed. This was one of the points of the Sermon on the Mount. 

Shanghai, March 3 2017.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Under obedience, love prevails: part II: The three basic antidotes

Part of a series of notes to myself about Love.

Now, as to Love being placed within time by my intellect. 

This struggle between Love and neglect never takes place within time, for it is eternal. It forever takes place now, in this moment, within me as I am

So I don't understand it with my intellect; it is personal; and it isn't temporal. 

It is unknown, personal, and immediate. 

If this sounds familiar, it ought to, because it is a key to the gate of practice.

I need to apply the basic antidotes to the three bad attitudes created by intellect:

1. Understand, both physically and emotionally
2. Become responsible, personally
3. See how I am, immediately—which means in this moment

All in the service of Love; otherwise, I neglect. I become a parent who forgets to feed his or her children and instead goes out partying to all hours of the day and night. If I wonder why my relationships with loved ones, friends, and even the person behind the register at the grocery store are often damaged and unhealthy, it begins here. 

With my neglect.

So it's very important to understand that this struggle, which I don't even sense because of my neglect, is taking place in me at all moments. It’s the basis for my existence; yet I externalize, and I think that my existence is based on all the outer factors, not the struggle between the Love which is the source of my Being—all Being—and the neglect which I show towards it.

This Love is not some idea of how we should treat each other, or some simple emotive reaction. It's a force that flows into all of reality. It actually creates reality at every moment; physical explanations of the universe which attempt to understand it by material means will never succeed, because they don't understand that Love, which is a transcendental force, is the source of all motion and being. 

In order to begin to understand the Love I lack, I have to have a real physical experience of this much higher Love as an objective force which enters me. That isn't so simple; because that is just the beginning. There is a certain need to sense this force with more parts than just the intelligence of my body. Yet without understanding, and the actual experience, of this Love, this higher energy, this force which creates me, I will never begin to understand how I neglect it and how absolutely different it is than everything that emanates from my personality and my ego. I won't see that my personality and my ego, nearly every part of the being that I generally invest myself in, are intensely opposed to this force of Love because they would have to give something up in order to let it manifest; and they are first and before anything else selfish.

It's helpful to begin to see that all of my attitudes and ideas about this question are theoretical. 

In order to do that, I have to put myself under obedience to Love. 

Now, this idea of putting myself through obedience is a very important one, because the fact is that I don’t want to obey anyone or anything else. I am extraordinarily willful — and, at the same time, like an addict, I’m in complete denial about that. 

Something is going to have to change.

Everything people say about being objective, about being impartial, about becoming free, having freedom, enlightenment, and so on, is all actually about obediently putting myself under the influence of this Love. I can forget about all the other words about freedom and whatnot. There isn’t any freedom; there is only love. People who prattle on about freedom are dreaming.
If one does not obediently enter the stream of Divine Love, none of this talk comes to anything. Already, if I want freedom, I misunderstand, because that is my own desire — not an obedience to Love.

When Gurdjieff speaks of objectivity, what he actually speaks about is higher Love. Higher Love is objective; Meister Eckhart's sermons do a good job of explaining this. Nothing can manifest objectively without a primary, inner action of this force; yet human ego and opinion have a great affinity for action under the pretense that they know about it and are under its influence. Gurdjieff’s talk on the meaning of life, which delineates the difference between "pure" and "impure" emotion, is just a discussion about objective Love, by way of the use of a different terminology. 

Shanghai, March 3 2017.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.