Thursday, January 19, 2017

God's wormholes, part III

Humanity is the Earth's nerve ends, through which planetary vibrations are received for transmission.

—Gurdjieff, during a meeting either June 30 or July 17, 1922

Divine love is the same from eternity to eternity. The nature God’s love has now and will have in the future is the same nature it had when creating the world.

If you understand all this in the right way, you will be able to see the universe as a coherent work from beginning to end, a work holding purposes, means, and results in indissoluble connection.

—Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity

So, although these essays on God's wormholes are at least intriguing, you might wonder what the point of it is?


The point, for me, is that in this very instant we represent the inflow of God into His material creation. We are conscious representations of God's Love and its force of expression through us; and although, under ordinary conditions, we remain largely unaware of this, it is possible – through the development of a voluntary and awakened sensation — to directly experience the arrival of the presence of God through the permeable membrane of creation.

We rest on this side of that membrane; yet the "higher energies," the "finer materials" which Mme. Salzmann so emphatically calls on us to receive are, in point of fact, the receiving of the force of God's love itself as it arrives in this universe and manifests. Extraordinary spiritual possibilities rest in coming into relationship with this force. All of one's spiritual essence begins to align with God's love in a different and new way.

So we are able to consciously experience all of the cosmological phenomena which I have discussed in these three essays. Our organisms are designed to do precisely that; it's why mankind exists.

Generally speaking, creation— animals, plants, and so on— receives the manifestation of God's love through this permeable membrane that rests at the base of reality passively — that is, there is no conscious awareness of God's presence, just a unity with it.

Mankind, however, has the capacity for active, conscious awareness of this presence. That's a very different thing; because it implies a completely different responsibility.

 Sense yourself for a moment and understand your experience of life from this perspective. Relax enough to receive a hint of this subtle vibration of the divine which animates everything. It moves through us as a current; it enlivens everything that we do, all the emotions we feel, all the sensations we experience, all the thoughts that guide us. It is life itself; we receive life

So we do not have anything ourselves as we are; but we receive the manifestation of the divine within our Being. It does not belong to us, but is a gift we are meant to be responsible for.

 Every human is ultimately responsible for trying to understand this and what it means. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Relationship and offertory

Relationship is an offertory and a sacrifice, not a means of acquisition.
Yesterday, after breakfast, this thought came to me in regards to how we perceive one another and how we come into relationship with one another.

It seems to be worth holding front of me within me in an intelligent and sensitive way as I begin the day today.

When I come into relationship with other people, there’s always an element that seems to want to acquire something for myself. We have fairly simple and straightforward words for this, such as egoism and selfishness, but they tend to oversimplify and mask the core experience.
These forces in me have a disrespectful insistence in regard to others, and they’re always trying to dictate the terms of relationship. They are living forces, with a subtle animation to them that undermines any attempt to live honestly and with compassion towards others. If one wanted to view them in mythological or metaphysical terms, one might call them the roots of evil. But perhaps we don’t need to go anywhere so grand in order to see the simple matters, such as the fact that they want to acquire from others.

This use of relationship with others as a means of acquisition is a habit rooted in the fear that I can’t ever have enough, and that I need to protect myself by getting more. So personal transactions become, in a subtle and insidious way, a means of mining and extracting other beings for intellectual, emotional, and physical gratifications. I think a little self-examination will reveal, in anyone, a drift towards this tendency.

How different life would be if it emanated from a sense of offertory — of offering what I have to others. Without expectations, without insistence — just laying out a table of inward abundance and offering it to others, presuming that I have enough and can simply just give. Now, an abstract conception of this isn’t going to help me much, but if I’m connected to something more alive and intelligent in me, it's possible to understand the idea of offertory. After all, it’s entirely built into every system of prayer and worship; and although it always seems to point towards God and “go there,” it’s easy to be unmindful and forget that it starts here.

This idea of sacrifice in relationship is equally important. If I understand relationship in terms of sacrifice, I see that I not only offer — I am also willing to give up for someone else. That is, I not only undertake an inward work of generosity and compassion in regard to them, but I also suffer on their behalf — inwardly, in terms of what our relationship costs — for the challenges they face themselves, their own inadequacies, the struggle they have to engage in. So I agree, and sacrifice, to shoulder the burden of others as well as myself.

This isn’t something that can be undertaken outwardly. It’s not the same as helping someone else get a bowl of rice or pay their bills. Those can be good things, such acts of charity — yet an act of charity that reconfigures my inner understanding is more powerful, and can serve as a foundation for everything else that I do.

It’s true these concepts set a high standard, one that I will certainly fail at. But keeping the ideas alive in me can at least help me to engage with my own contradictions and question exactly what I’m up to when I enter a relationship with other people, no matter how trivial the transaction seems to be.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 16, 2017

God's Wormholes, part II

Once we understand the principal of God as law flowing into a “vacuum” that receives His  Love — an endless series of vacuums, that is — we understand that the nature of the human being is identical to the nature of the universe, and that we began as an emptiness into which God’s Divine Love must most perfectly flow. Meister Eckhart mentioned on more than one occasion in sermons that if a human being empties themselves, God must perfectly flow into them, because once the human vessel is thus unimpeded, God has no other choice. 

In this way, every human being becomes a microcosmic universe which has the potential to Be and consequently fully re-create all of God’s Divine Love in its entirety, in the same way that each universe expresses this absolute law. This is a real potential, which mankind was created for—not a potential that lies beyond our ability. The fact that we don't fulfill that potential is a different matter.

Remember that according to Gurdjieff, God created the universe because time was eroding his place of existence. Let's consider that before the universe was created and God came in to relationship with creation through His Love, he could sustain himself at his place of existence only through self-love. This was a situation that contracts, rather than one that expands; in other words, there is a lesson learned: even Love itself cannot love alone. It must have an object and exist reciprocally in order to maintain itself. We enter very high-level philosophical and theosophical territory here, but Gurdjieff’s explanation of universe creation (which was of itself somewhat inadequate, but the best that could be achieved given the subject of his book) was meant to illustrate Swedenborg’s contrast between selfishness and unselfishness. Unselfishness is heavenly and moves towards God; selfishness is hellish and moves towards the devil.

Now, folk ask why there is a devil; and one needs to understand that this is because he is a part of God like everything else. Even God’s own impulses circulate between a selfish love, which is godly but involutionary; and an unselfish Divine Love, which is evolutionary. So of course the universe reflects this: it's a mirror of God. Before creation, God was trapped in a cycle of involution and understood that only through circulation into a creation which renewed itself through relationship could this cycle be overcome. All of creation recapitulates that tension and that circulation, because it is a natural reflection of God’s own need to come into relationship, in order for Love to not be and remain a forever contracting entity.

Cosmologically, we might understand here that God’s original condition was something like a black hole: that is, His Divine Love could have contracted forever until it became a singularity. If Divine Love becomes a singularity, it closes itself off from everything and contradicts its own nature. It was thus constrained by its own nature — which cannot actually contradict itself — to engage in the act of creation, even though God knew from the moment it became necessary that creation would be forever functionally and practically separated from Him, and have to struggle to return — a situation that carries an inevitable and unintentional aspect of cruelty.  This begets the great material anguish that lies at the root of creation.

Given our nature, we're forever tempted to see this all in temporal terms; but this action is eternal, which is to say, it takes place outside of time and is always taking place in everything

Hence Gurdjieff's All and Everything, whose timeline of events is, metaphysically speaking, equally eternal.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, January 13, 2017

God's wormholes

Detail from St. John the Evangelist at his Desk with his Symbol the Eagle
Gabriel Maelesskircher, 1478 

The membrane between God and the universe is permeable.

The best materialistic way to explain the way the barrier between God and man arises and is maintained (insufficient though it is) is to explain it in terms of dimensions and wormholes.

God, who is in His entirety all Love and all Goodness, exists as an essential quality beyond the universe. He is not elemental—and these properties of His are not elemental— because an element is material and His Love and Goodness are resident within all of The Reality (as Ibn al Arabi called God) which transcends the material. 

The Reality exists dimensionless and universal beyond our own universe; yet it flows into our universe through an infinite number of cosmological structures which amount to what we would call wormholes. All of The Reality flows into dimensional time and space by a process of osmosis; that is, each universe (for there are an infinite number of them) consists of a “depressurized” space, or a vacuum, that is at its inception bereft of Ideation, Love, and Goodness. 

Because the "pressure" between God and each universe is imbalanced, God flows into it naturally.

God flows into all creatures, and yet remains untouched by them all. He has no need of them. God gives nature the power to work, and her first work is the heart. 

Observe that all creatures prove that they have emanated and flowed forth from the divine nature, and they testify to this in their works. 
—ibid, p. 155

I am sure of this: if my soul were as prepared, and if God could find as much room therein as in the soul of our Lord Jesus Christ, He would fill her as perfectly with "this flood": for the Holy Ghost cannot hold back, but must flow in everywhere where he finds room, and to the extent that he finds room. 
—ibid, p. 322

God, furthermore, flows into each universe unimpeded and naturally, because each of the infinite universes is a natural and perfect extension of his nature and there can be no separation between the nature of God and the infinite creation that proceeds from Him. The law that creates the universes is as natural as every physical law that we observe on this level; and all of them have a nature and consistency that we see and understand (so far as we do see and understand them) to the extent that they must conform to this natural perfect law of God. Physicists and mathematicians have marveled about how precisely the universal constants are attuned to create life; yet this precision is a direct consequence of the nature of God and His creation. 

The intrinsic, underlying divine reality and intrinsic capacity to become manifest cannot produce anything else divine that is intrinsically real and has an intrinsic capacity to become manifest. Therefore another God of the same essence is impossible.

Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity, Volume I, p. 27. The above quote from Swedenborg's  is succinct, and essential to understanding the following subject.  Check this link for an expanded version of his views on the subject.

I explained in my essays on the coincident multiverse that all of these universes must be of the same nature because of these laws. 

Now, some say that God is above law; and some, for example Ouspensky's seminary student, say that God is subject to law; but both of these understandings are entirely mistaken, because God is law in exactly the same way that God is God; law is His nature, and no creature can be above or below its own nature, nor is it subject to its nature. Nature and Being are one, and so God is in his Being law itself. This is what creates the universe. Because of this, we cannot have a different universe.

Reality is eternally (outside of time) and forever (within all of time) perfectly created by this flowing into by God’s perfection. I explained many years ago in Chakras and the Enneagram (an early and quite incomplete work) that this inflow is an inflow of love; and so we can understand that the law of all universes is, at its foundation, love. It is not love in the way we understand it, because it’s perfect love. The point is that this love is woven into the fabric of the universe we exist in below the quantum level, a level which we are able to effectively hypothesize, but cannot quite see from an instrumental point of view.

The infinite number of “wormholes” or interstices through which Divine Love flows into the universe create a fabric which weaves the entire state of creation together into a unity. Indeed, it can’t be any other way, because the permeable membrane between God and His creation is penetrated solely by love, thereby unifying everything at its source.

We call the initial penetration of God’s love through this membrane, into our own universe, the “Big Bang,” and physicists have correctly understood that this particular event, which appears to be unique to us, in fact takes place eternally and infinitely due to the nature of God and His fundamental Love. There is a cosmological outflowing into each creation that cannot be measured.

Now, as to the nature of God and his immortality. Gurdjieff indicated that even God can die; and to a certain extent, limited strictly to the lifespan of our own universe, he was correct. Yet what he actually meant by this (presuming he fully understood what he said, which is uncertain) is that this universe dies, and God in it dies with this universe. Because God lies beyond all universes, however, the death of God from the perspective of this universe is nothing more than the death of a single cell in a single leaf in a tree with an infinite number of cells and leaves. Even this analogy is inadequate because of course God is nothing like that; a tree dies, and the infinity of the godhood is invulnerable.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

a center that works by itself

Madonna Standing in an Arch
Maestro de La Madonna André, c. 1500

Combined 3 centered work is impossible until each center has been taught to work by itself.

—From notes of a meeting with Gurdjieff, Jan. 25, 1923

What does this mean, for a center to “work by itself?”

In order to understand what this means, we need to understand the difference between voluntary and intentional work. Mme. Salzmann speaks of a voluntary sensation; Gurdjieff speaks of both voluntary suffering and intentional suffering.

I have explained this before, but I think the concept needs perhaps to be explained more exactly. 

First of all, Gurdjieff didn’t mean ordinary work when he used the word work. When a center is working, in the sense that he used this term, it has acquired two faculties which it does not have under ordinary automatic—that is, mechanical— conditions. These are the faculty of understanding— that is, an intelligence that is active, and wish, that is, a desire to work, to engage in a spiritualized activity. 

We can attempt to understand the terms understanding and wish more precisely in the sense of infusion. 

The centers have become infused with these two qualities, understanding — which corresponds to Swedenborg’s Divine Wisdom — and wish, which corresponds to Swedenborg’s Divine Love. We can call it understanding and wish, or we can call it wisdom and love — both are correct.

The infusion of any center— intellect, body, or emotion — with these divine qualities, which result from the inward flow of the divine as a manifestation of God, that is, a more conscious intelligence — awakens the center so it can work by itself. 

It cares about working.

So when a center understands how to work by itself, it means that the center works under its own volition — that its own intelligence brings it to the work effort. Under these conditions, the center participates voluntarily, that is, under the energy of its own effort, in the action of Being. When Jeanne Salzmann describes a voluntary sensation in The Reality of Being, she is indicating a condition whereby sensation acts within its own intelligence and appears within the experience of Being.

Feeling center is capable of exactly the same kind of awakening and voluntary action.

Yet such voluntary action is not yet enough. What it represents is that the center in question has learned to work by itself; and what is ultimately necessary is for the centers to work together

True, through voluntary action, much becomes possible; but it’s only when intentional work — intentional sensation (= conscious labor), intentional suffering — begin that anything more definite can be sensed. This is the point where real aim finally enters one's inner work.

It’s quite important to understand these questions directly and through experience. One needs to make an intelligible effort to become open to the inward flow of divine love and divine wisdom in order for them to inwardly form a capacity in sensation and feeling. In this context, Swedenborg’s teachings form an important and perhaps even essential adjunct if one wants to understand Gurdjieff’s teaching from a cosmologically broader point of view.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Akbar's Tomb
Agra, India

In Islam, there’s a word ḥaqq, which means truth, reality, appropriateness, rightness, responsibility, and duty. 

It's said that one must discover the meaning of this word within oneself and for oneself. 

A man who does this attempts to fulfill his responsibility towards God and society on the basis of his own inner realizations, not by imitating what others say and do.

According to Ibn ‘Arabī, the human goal is to find the ḥaqq of the heart. That is to say, an individual is responsible for discovering this quality inside themselves.

Another word for this — one which could be, I think, a bit more accessible to those of the Western mind — is to understand the center of gravity of this question.

By this I don’t mean an intellectual (mental) center of gravity composed of words and definitions. I’m speaking of the center of gravity that one can physically feel in the gathered intention of the soul.

The gathered intention of the soul is a different thing than what one thinks. It has an actual weight that holds it together and draws both life and meaning into it, anchoring them. This is something that arises from the action of the inward flow of the Divine Intelligence, and a quality that takes many years of inner work to come into relationship with. 

If a person has heard of an inner center of gravity, they generally think they know what this means long before they have an actual physical experience of it. (Eventually, if it develops, they are shocked and stunned and see that they thought that they knew something which they actually had no idea at all about. Keep in mind that everything you think is like this. It will help.)

In Zen, having this experience is called having Zen in the marrow of the bones. There are a number of stages of Zen understanding: flesh, blood, bones, and marrow. Each one is valuable, but they represent successive penetrations deeper and deeper into the physical body of a certain kind of gathered energy of intention. (Keep in mind that the word intention also doesn't  mean what one thinks it does. It's necessary to discover a new practical meaning of this word which has nothing to do with the mental idea about it. If one develops that, one can understand much more about suffering as well.) 

For the sake of our own purposes in the Western world, I have renamed this the gathered intention of the soul so that Westerners can approach this idea from our own point of view. Islam and Zen both have an esoteric understanding of this principle, but it seems to have been somewhat lost in Christianity. The only place it is still mentioned is when, during the communion, it is mentioned that we receive Christ in the body and blood

Well, of course, this is the flesh and blood of Zen; but as to the bones and the marrow—well, in Christianity, the only place we encounter these ideas is in seeing Christ nailed on the cross; and perhaps the trauma of that moment too radically obscures the esoteric meaning, which has many different levels. Christ allowed himself to be crucified in order to give us a parable which would penetrate to the most excruciating, difficult, and meaningful parts of Being without obstruction; yet, of course, our emotions attached themselves to this so firmly that it is often difficult to separate from them.

Ḥaqq is a vital element of understanding what we ought to be responsible to. Of course, it’s closely related to the idea of the Dharma in Zen; and in Christianity, the way we might speak of it is drawing closer to the heart of Christ— an activity that walking the maze in Chartres is meant to mirror. 

Yet in all of these practices, what we are attempting to do is identify, with all of our parts — our mind, our body, and our feeling — what the rights of God and the rights of the world we live in are.  Not our own rights — the rights of others. In determining and understanding the rights of God and others, we ultimately determine what our own rights are as well, but we have to do it that way around — not starting from our own self.

We can do this through the gathered intention of the soul, which through its own center of gravity naturally concentrates itself in order to better understand its relationship to others. 

We can’t do it just through mental constructs, philosophies, or theories. Above all, we can’t do it by listening to all the things other people say and do, their opinions, their rules, and so on. We come to it by suffering the sight — the inward sight — of who we are and what we owe.

I think mankind has gradually abandoned the idea of the gathered intention of the soul, not just in the western world, but also in Buddhism and Islam. This is because there isn’t an understanding of it as a substantial and physical experience that transcends the thoughts we might have about life— a hidden realm which is mysterious, and which the Western mind and our sciences don’t know much about. Everything has become too outer and too grounded in materialist philosophies, which are infiltrating and compromising even the most nonmaterial esoteric practices.

Over the last centuries, humanity has been engaged in a wholesale abandonment of these fundamental principles of spiritual development which might lead us back to a real valuation of one another that is based on understanding, rather than instruction. We spend too much time trying to instruct one another and very little time trying to understand one another.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

One third water — two thirds sand

Detail from St. John the Evangelist at his Desk with his Symbol the Eagle
Gabriel Maelesskircher, 1478 

Some months ago, an individual irritated with my expressing of opinion angrily expressed his opinion about it.

 The absurdity of the situation, along with the intentionally harmful negativity directed at me, caused a great deal of thought. 

It turned out, in the end, that his remarks were very helpful because they evoke so much pondering in me, so my initial impulse to thank him for speaking out has been doubly correct, in my estimation. 

Readers may know I’ve been publishing my blog — short, for those who don’t follow such things, for weblog, which is, in essence, an online diary — for over 10 years. Overt the years, I’ve certainly been subject to my share of criticism and attacks for publishing a public diary. Some believe it is an entirely ego-based activity, and that anyone who does such a thing is consumed with their own self-importance. However, the irony of stating such a thing online — a piece of fuel thrown directly on the fire of the critic's own self-importance — ought to escape no thinking creature.

The question I asked myself this morning is, should I be writing a diary of this kind, and keeping it? It's not exactly a new question, but I do revisit it from time to time in this space.

This leads us inevitably to an examination of the question of diaries in general, and — in this case — the diary of Jeanne Salzmann.

Yes, we are referring to the Reality of Being.

Mme. Salzmann’s example suggests there is ample precedent for keeping a diary of one’s inner work. Now, in her day, she could not publish it the way we do today, but she certainly shared almost all of the thoughts in it in one way or another, over the course of many decades of personal work with others. The material in Reality of Being, in greater part, consists of preparation and records of material from her own work which she intended to share with others

No one I can recall has ever accused her of being arrogant, puffed up or egoistic for making her efforts to share her work.... er, well, perhaps a few arrogant, puffed up and egoistic individuals, but besides that.

The whole premise of working together, after all, is to share our work — and if we all start accusing each other of egoism for doing so, well then, we are from the outset damned: both individually, and together. 

This concept isn't even just a premise — it's a requirement. We are supposed to share our work. Failure to do so can even be considered an abrogation of responsibility.

The absurdity of trying to conduct any human affairs whatsoever without ego, anyway, should be self-evident. It’s profoundly mistaken to believe that we can somehow expunge it from our manifestations. 

This brings me, more pointedly, to Salzmann's motives for writing a diary in the first place. She meant, in the long run, for these notes to be published, and left instructions to that effect. 

So she had in mind an activity something like online blogging—that is, its predecessor, the publication of a book. This was a long term aim — to share the work with others. 

One can argue all day long about her motives, and whether or not they were free of egoism (I doubt that had much to do with it, but we must ask the question). The point is that the "result" was inevitably going to be material widely shared in a public venue... even if her result was posthumous.

Times have changed. Today we can share publicly and online. If that helps even one other person—as I have always maintained to myself,  rationalization though it may well be—then it is right and reasonable to share, no matter how many individuals attack one for making public one's thoughts and personal inner efforts. 

Such people cannot, perhaps see their own cruelty (if they do, their shame is doubled) ; but they do show it to others. They are permitted to be cruel, because it’s a free world, in the sense of expression, and they are required to make choices—which may include cruelty. So in a perverse kind of way, even though I feel contempt for such cruelty, I have to respect it and understand that such folks can do no better. In reality, the better parts of themselves undoubtedly squirm inside in agony while this kind of activity takes place; and, imprisoned by it, they can find no escape... having been through similar situations myself, a certain quiet compassion arises. If they really feel the need to vent their negative emotion publicly, it’s their call.  As one can see actions of this kind can trigger good results in many directions, so said outbursts may grow up straight, even if if born misguided.

Although I certainly can’t claim to keep a record of perfection or even 100% consistency on not being negative towards others in my diary space, I do my best. This doesn't mean I’m not going to defend myself if some objectively cruel individual comes on with the aim of doing harm to me or my readers— who must, if they participate, suffer along with me in these unpleasant manifestations. One cannot just lay down like a doormat and allow destructive individuals to trample wherever they want.

Many people have published their records of the Gurdjieff work, and their own efforts, over the years. The activity is hardly controversial by now, or at least it would not be, if it weren’t for those that feel the need to attack others for doing so. One has to wonder exactly what the motive for those attacks is. I can’t dare to say; but no good ones come to mind.

There are those, of course, who claim that the Gurdjieff work has nothing to do with goodness – even though Gurdjieff himself made it pretty clear that it does. Such people sometimes seem like blacksmiths that want to take hammer and tongs, grab the ego with pincers, heat it in a bed of coals and pound it with hammers until it achieves some exotic new shape that they have approved in advance. I’ve seen folk like this in operation throughout my career in the work. Their attitudes speak for themselves. Some of these folk make a lot of "progress" recruiting people and leading groups and so on. 

It's very nice for them, I suppose. It reminds me of what Betty Brown once said to me about such folk:

"All that power. What good does it do them?"

I was meeting with S. yesterday, a local teacher of inner practice, friend, and confidant.

We talked about the entry of feeling — real feeling — into work once feeling becomes voluntary, and not theoretical. She agreed—it's impossible to express this kind of negativity towards another in the moment when voluntary (or better yet, intentional) feeling is present. 

The reasons for this are self-evident to those with an understanding of this; and no one who does not have that understanding can be properly trusted.

Keep this in mind the next time you run into someone who is misbehaving in this way. 

Taking them seriously is like trying to quench one’s thirst from a glass that is one third water, two thirds sand.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Being is the embodiment of Love

Madonna with two angels
Maestro de La Leyenda de Santa Ursula
c 1480

To be within this life at exactly its own level of suffering, as it is, is a sacred responsibility. 

It's sacred simply because this life is a gift given to me through which I am meant to suffer what is, along with God. God manifests in order to gain His experience as it is; and I am to Be within that experience with Him.  

I love this duty because it is love incarnate; and love reciprocal. It is an active exchange within, which embodies Love and allows both an offering and a giving. So there's depth; and that depth is depth of Being. Being is the embodiment of Love.

I meet this duty of Being without meeting it on behalf of myself. It's true that I benefit from it to the grace of my soul; but the benefit is ultimately God's and God's alone. For my own sake I not only benefit but suffer. That suffering involves the greatest part of what I am required to endure and accept in the course of my life.

There is a distinct division between the spiritual parts of my Being and the ordinary parts which have to navigate through the external events of life. After many years of an investment in the organic sensation of Being, this distinction becomes pronounced in the parts and can be intelligently separated so that they live alongside one another, and one does not impact or influence the other. 

They shouldn’t be mixed, anyway; my consciousness ought to be poised neatly between the two and quite clearly see the difference. This can be the most interesting experience, because it truly illustrates the precise meaning of the phrase “to stand between two worlds.” For many years, I always felt that the idea was to get away from one world and into the other, that is, to somehow become “more spiritual.” This seemed like a goal. And indeed, some particularly deep and intense spiritual experiences seemed to draw me very far over to that side of the river.

Yet now, in the midst of a range of deeply troubling and distracting external circumstances—all of which have had to be allowed to play themselves out exactly as they are— the divisions become extraordinarily clear and illustrate my position in a definite way. I can study that. In this way, I see how sacred the responsibility to remain here in this position is. There is an enormous generosity in the place that the Lord assigns me. It is abundant with Grace; yet it’s only by going through the experiences—the passages—which are devoid of it that I can reach a place like this one.

Even so, I can’t dwell here perpetually. There is a lawful swing of the pendulum that will put me, inevitably, on one side or another of circumstances. 

Nonetheless, the oscillation becomes less pronounced over time, and the more I remember this quality of responsibility to life as it is, the more stable the position I occupy becomes.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Exactly what I am right now

Detail from St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist with donor
Joan Mates c. 1410

I think that somehow my insufficiency exists outside of me, somewhere else; that it isn’t part of exactly what I am, right now. If I perceive myself as having a lack— something I need to do, in order to better understand myself, I need to have this perception quite clearly — and I only perceive it partially, then I think it isn’t part of me as I am now. It seems like a separate thing. I don’t understand how thoroughly it is integrated into everything I am in my ordinary state.

It’s as though I were the stem or the leaves of a plant and saw my roots, but could not feel that they were part of me, even though they were what sustained me.

This idea that my lack is in fact part of what sustains me and creates me and gives me my possibilities is an important one, but I’ll have to get back to it later. Right now, for myself, the point is that my insufficiency is now. My lack is now. I am inhabiting my insufficiency and my lack at this moment. I can’t speak of it as though it were somewhere else, a thing to be dealt with later. I need to inhabit it now.

I go through the objectively troubling circumstances of outer life, which whip me back and forth like a flag in a stiff wind, not seeing that I actually cannot do. When I hear Gurdjieff’s words to that effect, I always think that they apply to some other person, or all other people – but not me. Me, myself: of course I can do. I do all the time. Ha ha. I’m blind to this infection of hubris. 

I’d like to establish a much deeper and much better sensation of this insufficiency, this lack. That is to say, I’d like to sense its immediate presence in my presence. If I could establish a proper connection with it, a lively insight, and understood that it is a companion that saturates my Being, I might get a little closer to understanding. This idea of it saturating my being reminds me of the way that Original Sin began to saturate the universe after the Chootboglitanical period, during which God’s emanation of the law of three became blended with that of his creation and its own identical, although microcosmic, emanation. 

Of course understanding it from that point of view is theoretical and would take some time, research, and study — I’ve done that, but readers may not have — but the point here is that I am saturated with this lack, it penetrates every part of my essential being. It’s not just in my personality. If our essence were not equally lacking, no matter how developed it is, there would be no need for Gurdjieff’s holy planet purgatory, a place of purification.

Ah, there I go again. I’m intellectualizing. It’s a bad habit of mine. I love to wander off into these thickets of association which are magically dense and have wonderful blooming flowers in them. The point is that I seem to think my lack and my insufficiency are somehow not quite part of me—something held at arm's length— whereas all of me is exactly that. 

So this question:

— Exactly what I am, right now —

Which isn’t phrased as a question, but just a statement that allows inquiry relative to its premise, is the essential one. It’s useful to investigate it from the premise of this lack; the danger there is that I’ll engage in confirmation bias by seeing lack everywhere. Perhaps in this particular case, that will be true; but I don’t know. First I just have to see exactly what I am right now. Not where I am — what I am. Exactly what?

That could be undertaken in so many ways, but undertaking it from the perspective of sensation and feeling, in combination with intelligence, seems to be the priority.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Myth and the Law of Falling

Now there are two reasons for creating types for the typeless, for giving shape to what is actually without shape. First, we lack the ability to be directly raised up to conceptual contemplations. We need our own upliftings that come naturally to us and which can raise before us the permitted forms of the marvelous and unformed sights. Second, it is most fitting to the mysterious passages of scripture that the sacred and hidden truth about the celestial intelligences be concealed through the inexpressible and the sacred and be inaccessible…
—Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works, Trans. Colm Lubheid, Paulist Press, 1987, p. 149

"If two of the goals of the intellectual tradition are to overcome dogma and to assert the absoluteness of the Real, the third is to recognize the proper role of myth in human understanding and, if necessary, to revitalize mythic discourse. The Enlightenment succeeded in establishing supremacy of instrumental rationality by rejecting the cognitive significance of myth and symbol, which are characteristic of Scripture and much of religious discourse. The invisible realms to which the traditional language referred — God, the angels, life after death, human perfection — were seen as unintelligible and meaningless, because they could not be addressed by the empirical methodologies of instrumental reason.”
—William Chittick, "Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul," One World Publications 2007, page 69

Some people tend to object whenever someone tries to “explain” what Gurdjieff wrote about in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson; and from a certain point of view, indeed, the book is to be swallowed whole like a pill, where it will do that subtle work of the soul that must be done out of the sight of the ordinary mind. 

Yet there are times when it’s enjoyable to try and understand the allegory of the book, even though it has many layers.

Last night, a friend of mine asked about what the chapter, The Law of Falling, along with The system of Archangel Hariton, might mean

The chapters are exceedingly brief, and seem to offer no expository information related to the remainder of the book; yet their inclusion is beyond any doubt intentional, and they ought, therefore, to have a specific meaning. After all, one can’t say “bury bone deeper,” if there is no bone.

Saint Venoma  discovered that “everything existing in the world falls to the bottom.” In his words, “this stability is the point toward which all the lines of force from all directions converge.” 
— Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, from the chapter The Law of Falling

Now, from the point of view of the physical world, of course we’re dealing with gravity. But in terms of the metaphysical world — the world of the intellect, the soul, and Being — all the lines of force from all directions converge on each point of consciousness as it manifests. Thus, each consciousness represents a “world.” So everything around it “falls” towards conscious being wherever it exists. This reflects one of the three basic principles of conscious Beings: we are vessels into which the world flows. That is, all our internal worlds of experience are vessels for the external worlds of manifestation.

Now, when an “object”— that is, an event, circumstance, condition, or idea — arises, it falls into the receptacle of the conscious being closest to itThis captures the gist of St. Venoma’s analysis of the situation. 

Venoma’s conclusion was that this cosmic property could be utilized for the locomotion needed between spaces in the universe. 

What he meant by this is that the law of falling can be used to bring different consciousnesses, or worlds, into relationship— that is, to bring them into communication with one another. 

Let’s recall, here, that the entire contents of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, all of which is, in its entirety, a body of information, takes place on a spaceship that utilizes this law of falling. We can say, allegorically, that the information generated on the spaceship Karnak “falls” into our conscious being when we encounter it.

There is, however, a problem with this form of transmission, as St. Venoma discovered. That is, “the atmosphere surrounding most of the cosmic concentrations would hinder the direct falling of the object dropped in space.” That is to say, the planets, or worlds, onto which the information needs to be transmitted are resistant: they don’t want to accept the information. He therefore constructed a ship with special glass walls and shutters that destroyed the resistance in the path of the ship (the information being conveyed.)

Let’s pause here for a moment and consider the “ships” as bodies of mythology—information and/or religious teachings—which, as he points out, have “wings” attached to them — much like the mythological creatures we call angels, which appear in religious art of the ancients all across the planet. These bodies of intelligence and tradition are easily attracted to every planet (being) they come near; and yet because of that proclivity, they need constant maintenance:

great care and considerable knowledge were needed to keep the ship from falling off course. While the ships were passing near any center planet, their speed often had to be reduced hundreds of times below their usual rate.

Now, when considering the idea that Gurdjieff called his fourth-way system “haida yoga,”or, hurry-up (accelerated) yoga, perhaps we get a clue as to what he was talking about here.

The new means of travel invented by the Archangel Hariton consists of creating a chamber where, when anything enters, it is more or less automatically expelled. The substances in the chamber are thus always being changed. From a material point of view, one might say this describes a jet engine, more or less; and indeed, that’s what my old group leader Henry Brown said about it many years ago when he read us the chapter. Yet Henry (God rest his soul) never brought up the possibility that Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson itself was the spaceship; that the mythology it was transmitting (in the form of Beelzebub and Hassein) was its living cargo; or that the propulsion method of this “ship” is designed to expel anything from the outside world that comes in, using it as a means of propulsion but at the same time rejecting it: in other words, an allegorical way of representing the action of questioning everything.

The description of the spaceship Karnak, with its new means of propulsion, has a characteristic property of freedom: when surrounded by other external influences that might affect it, it expels them and uses them to help it move forward; and when it is not surrounded by such things (a world without atmosphere, that is, what Gurdjieff would call objective circumstances), it naturally falls in the direction of the nearest planet, that is, into the deepest part of being.

 Gurdjieff’s final remark at the end of the chapter on Archangel Hariton is as follows:

… both in convenience and simplicity, contemporary ships are beyond comparison with the early ones, which were often exceedingly complicated and at the same time had none of the possibilities of the ships we use now.

Gurdjieff was well known to use the classic Zen master’s technique of braggadocio when referring to his own work. Here, it certainly appears he's telling us his method is superior to that of other schools: something that he certainly made no bones about telling people quite directly in other situations.

As to the efficacy of his methodology: 

I opened this particular essay with Dionysus the Areopagite’s quotation about how some things must be hidden from the ordinary mind. Gurdjieff’s principle of “bury bone deeper,” often cited by his followers, is an old idea which Gurdjieff simply thought up new words for. 

The point is that mythologies need to be constructed to bypass the ordinary, opinionated and compromised mindset of the average person so that the undamaged, deepest inner parts of the human psyche can ingest and digest them. Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson is exactly such a work, the only work of modern mythology specifically so designed. It “bypasses the atmosphere” of resistance in people so that it can reach the surface of their planet, that is, fall into their being. 

All of this, mind you, in service of this revitalization of mythic discourse proposed by Chittick, the necessity of which was realized by Gurdjieff almost a century ago. 


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, December 30, 2016


I’m spending more time this week to be a little simpler and just try to come into relationship with the weight and the gravity of Being. 

I’m pondering things. To “ponder” means to weigh; and it strikes me that we need to weigh who we are and where we are in life. 

In Christ’s famous remark about loving God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself, he says, “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 

That which hangs has weight; and all of the law—in relationship to our Being, and everything that is said about it—is “drawn downward” from this Love by gravity. That is to say, Love in both its guises—Love of God and Love on my own level— provides a support on which all other parts of my existence hang. Perhaps I’m not explaining it so well, but I hope you get the gist.

So my life actually depends on how I Love. It is above me, speaking not just metaphysically but in terms of what I am as a Being — it is greater than what I am. And there is a tangible physical gravity present in the manifestation of Love. 

That gravity is easily obscured by romantic love and lust, and even more easily forgotten in the daily pressures of life. So I don’t quite see, mindfully see, intelligently see, how everything that proceeds in life is suspended from love like a pendulum. 

That pendulum —consisting of “all the law and prophets,” metaphorically speaking — swings back and forth slowly, in broad, rhythmic measurements, describing a consistent arc between the polarities of our lives.

I live under law— not the laws of societies, but the inexorable fact of existence and the physical events that drive it. These are objective. It doesn’t matter how I feel about life; it moves forward. Things happen; people die. All of it is according to both natural and spiritual law; that is to say, laws that are visible and known and laws that are invisible and unknown. Regardless, an order exists; and whether I want to or not, I must conform to it.

At the same time, I live under “the prophets:” those who “speak for God” to describe Being and the Law. Some people describe one, others may describe the other; but what we come to here is the stories that are told, which are distinct from the law, and reflect it, at best, superficially. Yet men are the vicegerents of God; we do speak for Him, even if in only crude approximation of His Glory.

Nonetheless, both the law — objective reality — and the prophets — subjective reality — are dependent on love for their Being. In commanding me to understand this, Christ asks me to ponder — to weigh — the question of what my life is in the context of love for God (law) and love for my fellow man (prophecy.)

Somewhere in the weight and the gravity of my Being, Love holds a central place. The pendulum of my life is suspended from it; it swings back and forth, but it is always subject to that great force. 

If I don’t respect that and attend to it, life loses its meaning. So I can’t just take it for granted: I have to search for it earnestly, intelligently, in every situation.

Sometimes, it is enough to just do the dishes quietly and lovingly. 

This can be much more important than all the things that I think are special. It is important to see that the dishes are special; that hot water is a gift; that to clean something is a privilege. 

Have we forgotten this, as a people? 

Or are we destroying ourselves with our addiction to miracles?


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.