Saturday, March 17, 2018

The single sense of Being, part II

The Blessed Virgin Mary
The Cloisters, New York

Of course, we always return to the question of what can effect this unification of Being.

And there is only one single thing that can possibly do it, no matter how many exercises one tries to engage in. That is the fundamental organic and living connection to our sensation, which connects the current that flows within being that can open the rest of Being to the inflow.

That inward flow or influence from a higher level provides a very fine material that allows the emotional center to do the work that is necessary to unify Being.

Even that takes a very long time, yet of course we want quick results. We want to be "better" right now, or at least by no later than tomorrow. Even worse, we want to be better. This will never happen; and we are wasting your time on it, dreaming about how we will improve ourself instead of attending quite specifically, intimately, and organically to this quite simple question which lies at the root of everything we think we wish for.

There is a huge difference between the single sense of Being and the ordinary parts, which exchange places automatically and pose, each one of them, as being complete. Only the single sense of Being can provide enough perspective to understand how thoroughly we become identified with one or the other centers; and, as Gurdjieff says, only our sensation can create your individuality. Only the organic sense of Being can lead, eventually, to one “I” which experiences the world continuously without having it divided into constant fugue states which interrupt one’s observation of one’s nature.

I suppose that readers presume some smooth path towards this with clear signposts; but there is no such thing. It is an uneven road that needs to be traveled in many directions at the same time in order to reach one’s destination; an enormous amount of creativity and flexibility needs to be applied, and above all this flexibility is necessary, because falling into the trap of a form or a rigid set of ideas about how one ought to do this or that is certain to ruin everything. Our opinions and judgments are the first things to meet most of life; and every one of them wants to assert itself and create just such a box and stuff our Being into it.

Only if we bring a loving and compassionate attitude to our work with ourselves, one that embraces rather than dividing, can we hope to slowly introduce the parts to one another in such a way that they cooperate. Once again, sensation provides the vehicle for that, because it brings a sense of gentle mystery to what we are. It is the first introduction to a finer substance that can manifest within the body, a more subtle and higher rate of vibration that has a wish to form a relationship with us. One minute of work like this is worth a thousand hours of philosophy.

I’ve explained this before, but it’s always worth understanding it from a new perspective. Think of the way that the solar system is arranged, with magnetic energies flowing from the sun through the Earth’s magnetosphere and eventually being transferred to the moon. Mankind is built in exactly the same way; and as I have again explained before, we are meant to come under solar influences in this work. That is meant quite literally; we are required to re-create the ray of creation within our being. This means that we transmit higher energies which we receive from the sun through our body and bring them to the moon. Many ancient esoteric systems embodied symbolic languages that showed this relationship (think of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon) and it is only recently— speaking in historical terms—that human society-at-large has, for the most part, forgotten this relationship.

In this system, roughly speaking, sensation — physical sensation of a higher kind — belongs to the moving center, which mediates the connection to the moon or lunar influences.

Feeling is under solar influences, and our earthly being stands in the middle as intelligence.

So feeling is the most sacred of the properties, being closest to the sun and receiving the higher influences from the Lord; intelligence is the next most sacred, mediating (when it is properly arranged) conscious relationship between the sun and the moon; and the third sacred property is material existence, represented by the moving center and manifested through sensation.

A truly sacred energy of a finer kind must flow downward through the opening created by feeling, into the embodiment of intelligence which represents life on this level and exists within the center of our being, also called the heart in esoteric systems, and then flows downward into the moon, or sensation, which is the receiving vessel that takes the energy downwards into lower levels of the cosmos, which for us includes ourselves and even the molecules we are made of.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The single sense of Being, part I

Cathedral, Lyon

Coming back to the question of why it is so difficult to come to an inner sense of oneself, why one doesn’t “work.”

There can’t be any real sense of Being without the development of a single “I”, an individual — undivided person — who is not fractured by the manifestation of many different persons within themselves, each one of which has a different agenda.

This teaching is automatically lost as it is presented, because when people first encounter it — and for decades afterwards, if not an entire lifetime — only one, or a few, different individuals within Being have encountered it and signed on to the premise. Some of them sign on but then aren’t willing to do any real work on it. Some of them are actively opposed to everything it represents. This is because some of the individuals within a person understand that a real and undivided “I” is a threat to themselves and their entire way of being. Individual fractions and fragments of personality, you see, have the capacity to express themselves independently and be as viciously selfish as anything you care to think of. Some of them are actively hostile to the interests of other parts of the organism (as any alcoholic can tell you) or other beings that they share it with. If you were able to see how utterly uncaring and selfish some of our parts are in relation to others, how absolutely and contemptuously they dismiss them, you would be horrified, so it’s a good thing we’re asleep to this while we are unprepared to deal with it.

None of this is really new information, of course, yet you need to digest it quite deeply and understand that right now it isn’t touching your whole being. It takes many years to unify the self into a single sense of Being, and until it happens the competing persons within you will be in constant confusion and disagreement. There is just no way around this.

In order to understand this with some new language, let us call these competing different persons within us aspects — that is, particular parts and features, like furniture within us. Some of these aspects will form strong opinions about inner work and how it ought to be done — all of us know a few people like this, both internally and externally — and even become severe about it. Others will be critical. Others will simply not have any interest. And there can be absolutely no continuity in one’s experience of Being or commitment to the development of self while this is going on.

This question of the continuity of Being — and the lack of it — is central to why you cannot work. Gurdjieff said this many times. You are not whole, there is no single “I.” For as long as this is the case, you can pretend to work, plan to get working someday, imitate work, and so on, but it is impossible for you to take in life as more than a fraction, and from moment to moment you do not inhabit the time you exist in in a continuous stream. It is broken into many different individual currents, each one of which is perceived by a different aspect, and so time appears to pass quite quickly from the point of view of the brief moments when one wakes up or has a greater sense of inward presence.

This is why Mr. Gurdjieff stressed the question of developing a single I, individuality, so often, a theme he came back to many times in his wartime meetings. The instructions he gave for working on this question were always quite simple and involved observing one’s being and one’s aspects exactly as one was in life. That is to say, there was no question of “improving” the way that one acted and treated others. One had to be present to one’s self exactly as one was.

We encounter the same ideas in Mme. Salzmann’s notes, altered though they are through a filter of editors. One cannot merely decide to improve oneself. One has to be within oneself. Only a continuity of Being can truly help an individual to become more aware of what they are; and only that organic and — I must absolutely stress this — integrated, three centered experience of Being can lead to any real change in a person. Real change — as opposed to constructions and imitation, which can be extraordinarily clever but always exist to hide what is true — only comes from a unified sense of Being, followed by an extraordinary and quite intentional suffering of what one is.

This alone, this friction, produces the remorse necessary for change.

Part II of this essay will publish on March 17.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Confluence of truth, Part V

Eve and the Serpent, the Cloisters, Manhattan

“I do not see that I am like a puppet, a machine set in motion by influences from outside.”

The Reality of Being, Jeanne Salzmann, P. 12

Last night, when I was falling asleep, I had a specific thought about this matter and its relationship to our wish, to what we want. It’s the case, throughout life, that we encounter innumerable examples of what one might call “completed” confluences of truth, that is, truths that have arisen outside of ourselves either in a general way or in specific other beings, and we decide we want that confluence of truth, not our own. Each confluence of truth, in other words, blends with others, endlessly forming and reforming. This is in the nature of truth: every object, event, circumstance, and condition is a form of metaphysical water, and these properties cause truth to behave in exactly the same way water does. Think that over; because it is an important metaphor. Understanding it properly will help to understand many other things. But one needs to understand this with all three of the centers, not just the mind. When one understands that point organically through sensation and feeling, many things will change quite decisively.

In any event, for now think about the fact that we are constantly interested in the confluences of truth of other people, not our own. We want to be like her, or like him; we want what he or she has. Or we want what it has, if it is some massive institution we wish to be a member of. We have no separation from our desires, and every one of them comes from outside.

There are actually two sets of desires and every human being. One of them is on the planetary or astral level, and it is this exact set of desires I am speaking of here. They are the same desires spoken of in the quote that opens this essay. There is a second set of desires that comes from the solar level, an inner set of desires that are not initiated by influences from the outer world (ordinary influences) and have a much higher aim in mind. That aim is awakened, and livened, and motivated by love alone, but without concentrating enough of the divine particles of Being in one’s awareness, through constant suffering and inward effort, one cannot come under these influences.

In the meantime, the intense focus on (identification with) influences that belong to other persons or circumstances draws us away from proper attention to every influence that can help us grow spiritually. Most of these influences come from very small things, as Meister Eckhart says in his last sermon. That is to say, they are granular and consist of what we would look at, under ordinary circumstances, as very unimportant things. What he is referring to, of course, are visions of The Perfection, which are individual intuitive understandings of the divine and sacred nature of all the risings. Spiritual work is aimed at encountering more of this “microscopic” or “granular” material because the encounter with this kind of material consists of encounters with and ingestion of the divine particles of Being (Gurdjieff’s impressions) that can effect an inward transformation. These are all very tiny things, these precious substances, and they might be revealed in a spot of light on a polished stone, or the angle that a plastic box of dental floss opens at. They will most likely not consist of the giant magical events that we encounter, spectacular landscapes, extraordinary symphonies. Those things are all much larger than we are and we can appreciate them, but they can’t really be used for our work in the same way that the smallest things can. When we build our inward spiritual home, we build it one grain of sand at a time, not with huge blocks that rise to the heavens. It is always built with a proper kind of attention; and that attention needs to be “free,” that is, located precisely where the confluence of truth concentrates itself in Being.

It’s quite important, in other words, to learn how to be ourselves and not anyone else. This wish to be someone else, to be in some other place, at some other time, doing some other thing, is a destructive property that wears Being down instead of building it up.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Confluence of Truth, Part IV

Statue of Mary from the Cloisters, Manhattan

“…from behind the chaos, I may feel the action of a vibration that is wholly different in its intensity. This vibration is more subtle, and it is difficult to attune the slower vibrations that hold me back, which are too incoherent. But there is something that responds. I feel an influence more luminous, more intelligent than my usual awareness. And I feel a wish to obey this influence, to serve it. In order to attune myself, I become more sensitive.”

The Reality of Being, Jeanne Salzmann, P. 255

Jeanne Salzmann spoke many times about influences and how they affect us. These comments are found throughout The Reality of Being, almost always with remarks that we are subject to outside influences that steal our energy and degrade our Being. She also speaks extensively about coming under higher influences; and, as well, balancing ourselves so that we are not influenced too much.

The questions deserve more specific examination. Take note that the word influence was originally used starting around 1385 meaning “a flowing from the stars that acts upon the character and destiny of people.” This was borrowed from medieval Latin influentia meaning a flowing in. The word itself, in other words, was originally astrological and is identical in every way to Swedenborg’s inflow, which represented a flowing in from heaven.

Those who have read The Sixth Sense will understand quite clearly that Salzmann and Gurdjieff were using the term in precisely the same way, with the same quite literal meaning “an energy that flows inward into us from the stars.” It can be a bit confusing to read Salzmann’s notes to herself about the word “influence” in The Reality of Being, because the inaccuracies that inevitably arise when one takes a person’s private notes, edits them, and shuffles the deck of cards, so to speak, to assemble apparently whole pieces of material which are actually a patchwork give the impression that she was suggesting we should somehow separate ourselves from both sets of influences. Instead, our aim ought to be to discover how to let the higher or solar influences predominate, since they can rightly guide our spiritual action, whereas the lower influences generally find this impossible. (What we call “lower” influences are astral influences that emanate from a planetary level. Of themselves, all they can produce are results related to the surface of the earth.)

This is why Meister Eckhart’s  Gleichgütigkeit is not indifference, or a suspension of discrimination — even though, once again, some of the things that Salzmann says suggest just that. If there is any suspension of discrimination, it is the "suspension" of the action of our ordinary self, that is, what is attached to this level. The higher discriminates quite clearly and it can be felt both through sensation and emotion if these two faculties become more organic in their action.

In any event, this question of influence should be compared to confluence. 

Confluence is what flows together; and while influence relates to the stars when it is properly used, confluence relates to what flows inward from all directions, including both stellar and "ordinary" influences. 

Confluence, in other words, represents the collection of all influences, their coming together—the word originated from the Latin cōnfluentum which means exactly that, a flowing together.

Although in the Gurdjieff work this idea of influences, of forces, and of lower and higher energies is a predominant concept, what is rarely discussed is the point that this Confluence of Truth is exactly where we find ourselves. 

All of the influences, both higher and lower, that arrive in us, regardless of our relationship to them — which can be active or passive, conscious or unconscious — come to exist together at the same point in Being:

I seek what I am, to be what I am. I have a habit of thinking of "body," on the one hand, and of "spirit or energy" on the other. But nothing exists separately. There is a unity of life. I wish to live it, and I seek it through a movement of return toward myself. I say there is an outer life and an inner life. I say this because I feel myself as distinct, as existing apart from life. There is, however, only one great life. I cannot feel separate from it, outside it, and at the same time know it. I must feel myself a part of this life. But it is not enough to desire this or to seek an intense sensation of it. I can enter into the experience only if I have first come to unity in myself, only if I have come to be a whole.

—ibid, p. 203

Now, here is a subtle point which I wish for you to ponder long and carefully in order to appreciate it properly: the Confluence of Truth takes place whether or not the being in which it is taking place is conscious of it. 

This means that the divine action of participation in Truth and in Being is lawfully inviolable and inevitable. It is only our attitude towards it, our participation, that can be changed.

Therefore, instead of being concerned about which individual influences we are under — whether we just had a “very wonderful sitting” with magical inner experiences, or are yelling at our spouse — our concern can be refocused not to the individual influences, but the confluence of truth which is taking place within us in this moment. 

A concentration on this moment and that experience can bring our work to a point of seeing which not only sees, but understands where it is located. And, as I have pointed out many times, if we are lost, whether within life or within the spirit, we must first determine so far as we can exactly where we are standing, before we decide where to go next. We must locate our place before we decide what our destination ought to be. I want, for example, to go to Paris; but if I don’t know which direction north, south, east, and West are, I can forget about it. This is how we usually do things. We get up in the morning and decide to go to Paris and then we walk any old which way, thinking we will get there.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.v

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Confluence of truth, Part III

Capitals from the Cloisters, Manhattan

“…in practicing this I see that a very close relation is created between my body and this fine material. I can feel this substance of "I" in the body. It is of another order. But for now it is without its own force, powerless, without material. I need to have a more lasting awareness of it as a totality.”

The Reality of Being, Jeanne Salzmann, P. 237

Well then. This idea of the confluence of truth, where did it come from? 

It is something I saw as a natural consequence of our life one morning while I was working with others at the Gurdjieff foundation. It may seem like an idle thought, but it came to me at the time as something important enough (as is obvious) to write about, because it is actually a rather big idea and the chances of an average human being experiencing the confluence of truth in any significant way are, on the whole, rather low. Most of the people that I meet are much too involved with their own ideas about this and that, especially their personal reactions and opinions, which are very very important (to them) that they aren’t interested in trying to repose within sensation and take in objective observations about their own life or our nature. It’s much more exciting to become an imperfect idiot, that is to say one that is not fully formed. (The Latin perfectus means completed, past particle of the word perficere which means accomplished, finished, or complete.) To become a perfect idiot means, in other words, to become completely whole, completely oneself; and to inhabit oneself. 

Perhaps, when I explain it this way, it begins to make more sense to the reader and you may see how this whole thread is tied together into a single line of understanding. The confluence of truth, which was the original point of this essay, is an exact description both of our nature, what we are meant to inhabit, and the overall potential of our consciousness. There may be other consequences; of course everyone wants to see God or have psychic experiences. But is that really the point? I have done both of these things; and neither one of them is anywhere near as satisfying as to inhabit my own humanity with as much love and humility as I can open myself to receive. These are small and humble things, not the deeds of powerful gods and those who can manipulate, craft, create and destroy; all they are are the inward deeds of one who is able to receive life as it arrives. It is a rooted and earthly talent, to be sure; and yet the relationship with God seems so much more vital and realistic in an everyday way, from this perspective, then the bombastic possibilities of rising towards heaven.

If I call us, then, to a more prosaic experience of life, I do no more than repeat Meister Eckhart’s famous last words, in which he said,

“It often happens that what seems trivial to us is greater in God’s sight than what looms large in our eyes. Therefore we should accept all things equally from God, not ever looking and wondering which is greater, or higher, or better. We should just follow where God points
out for us, that is, what we are inclined to and to which we are most often directed, and where our bent is. If a man were to follow that path, God would give him the most in the least, and would not fail him.

It often happens that people spurn the least, and thus they prevent themselves from getting the most in the least, which is wrong. God is in all modes, and equal in all modes, for him who can take Him equally.”

From Meister Eckhart: the complete mystical works, page 588


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Confluence of truth, Part II: a perfect idiot

Capitals from the Cloisters, Manhattan

A perfect idiot is an individual who completely embodies the confluence of truth within their Being with complete equanimity — not indifference, aloofness, or distance, but equanimity, the understanding of the equality (roughly speaking) of all objects, events, circumstances, and conditions.

I was having a conversation with a group of people traveling from the Gurdjieff Foundation back home quite some time ago, and I was trying to explain that the particular quality we refer to as Being is created through the material transformation of substances. 

This can’t be effected without receiving the material, which Jeanne Salzmann referred to as a “finer” material, within Being; and that particular material — which I refer to as particular specifically because it is composed of actual physical particles—is only absorbed to the extent that we form a different relationship with sensation. So one can’t become a perfect idiot unless one forms a new relationship with the physical sensation of Being. This is the foundation of an organic ability to receive finer particles and participate in the action that Gurdjieff, rather abstractly, referred to as the “coating of the higher Being body parts.”

Our effort to engage in this action is an effort aimed specifically at becoming perfect idiots, that is, our own individual whole and complete expression of the confluence of truth that has arrived within our own Being. This isn’t really that complicated a matter, since becoming an idiot does not mean becoming a guru or a teacher or some fancy kind of spiritually enlightened Being, but, rather, becoming most entirely and exactly human. This idea of becoming human, in the real and organic sense of the word, is far more important than all the lofty spiritual territory human beings think they have the right to occupy — and furthermore think they actually have the ability to attain. There are thousands of different higher states we could consider here, but there is only a single state of humanity, of perfect idiocy, and that state is shorn of all the pretensions and does not have any altars to stand on or worshipers to populate it. It is a position of abject humility, because one has, in the position of a perfect idiot, done nothing more than accept one’s responsibilities to become the individual expression of God’s whole and perfect Being that one has been assigned to express. Given the task to bloom into a single flower in the course of our own lifetime, to become a perfect idiot, is to bloom into that particular flower, and not some other flower that one decided as a child or even as an adult would be a very nice flower.

Blooming into a flower like this is a tricky thing, because it involves allowing the confluence of truth to exist unto itself, without trying to craft it into some alternate entity. Take note that human beings are, above all, craftsmen of one kind or another — that is to say, we are unusually crafty creatures — and it is nearly impossible to resist the temptation to meddle with everything that comes our way. That, as well, must be included in our confluence of truth: but the whole point of inward development is to include that and then stop fiddling with it, which is an action that Gurdjieff referred to as "titillation."


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Confluence of Truth: becoming a perfect idiot

Sculpture from the Cloisters, Manhattan

A moment comes when I experience a feeling of total solitude, when I no longer know how to relate to what surrounds me. Everywhere, always, I feel alone. Even when I am with close friends or my family, I am alone. I do not know my relation with them, what actually connects
us. This feeling of solitude and isolation is created by my self-centered thought—my name, my family, my position. I need to live with this solitude and, passing through it like a door, come to something much greater: a deeper state of total "abandonment," a state of "individuation."
This is no longer a state of isolation, because the isolation is included, as well as the entire process of thinking and experiencing, with all the provocations and responses involved. When we understand this process on all levels of consciousness, we are free from influences in that our
thinking and feeling are no longer fashioned by outer events or inner experience. 

When the mind is without provocation or response, there is "abandonment." Only in this state can we find the real.

—The Reality of Being, Jeanne Salzmann, P. 168

Every human being represents an individual and completely realized truth of its own kind. Now, it is equally true and a matter of objective fact that every single manifestation in the universe represents an equally valid truth; but a human being collects many truths within Being. That is to say, a human being is a summary of the truths they encounter, a mirror of truth itself.

But to say that we are a mirror of truth is still inaccurate, because we are not just mirrors, but repositories. Many different threads of truth come to rest in each human being; and those truths cover both microscopic and macrocosmic data, such that both very small and very large truths of many different kinds find themselves resident together with any human being. The Buddhists attempt to explain this with the term Dharma, which is interesting but nearly useless, because it lacks precision and has become a kind of jargon. The term is useful only to the extent that it is used to refer to the confluence of truth, which takes place in awareness.

Confluence of truth means the coming together of truth. Truth has an infinite number of different natures and truths all have equal value in that all are true; yet we would probably agree that the truth of, for example, a glass marble and Christian philosophy are quite different things. Yet to a certain extent, within a human being, they discover an equality, being recorded within Being as things that exist, concepts to ponder, or facts to deal with. Being becomes the great equalizer which takes all truth and expresses it within Being itself, which is the only vehicle capable of both taking truth in, comprehending it, and sorting it out into organized structures.

Meister Eckhart certainly understood the nature of this confluence of truth, because he spoke about it many times in terms of the German word Gleichgültigkeit, which is a specific quality that objects, events, circumstances, and conditions have in common. It means, literally, “equal validity.” In man, in other words, all things have equal validity; yet human beings, of course, do not take all things as equally valid. In our ordinary state we pick and choose, and we want to decide for ourselves what is valid and what isn’t. This is contrary to a state closer to God, in which all things are equally valid — in which we stand as agents occupying a point in space-time representing the confluence of truth in that particular place. This sounds, of course, like some kind of a science-fiction description, but it is not at all: rather, it is a description of human beings as representatives of God, in which each one of us inhabits a distinctive awareness of our place in the middle of a singular confluence of truth.

This idea of a singular confluence of truth is equivalent to Gurdjieff’s idiots, individual expressions of Being equivalent to the ancient Greek word ídios, meaning “one’s own.” The word, in the sense he used it, was meant to denote an individual or individualism — and in this sense, according to Gurdjieff, even God is an idiot. Individual derives from the late Latin word individūus, that which is not divided, or, whole. In this sense, every Being with consciousness represents a whole and undivided single and unique expression of a confluence of truth, a repository into which everything that that Being receives is deposited. 

Perhaps, as you gather these various threads, you will begin to get the gist of what I am saying here about this. The fact is that if we wish to be what Gurdjieff called “objective,” we do not get to pick and choose what we like and don’t like. We inhabit the confluence of truth that we represent without compromise. This does not relieve us from the responsibility of discrimination or action, but it does impose upon us the requirement of understanding our place first. Hence the emphasis on seeing ourselves. When we see ourselves, we do not just see our reactions, our associations, our virtues and vices. Instead, we are required to inhabit everything that we are, all that has taken place within us, every single experience, fact, understanding, and so on that has converged upon us up to this point within our Being, and measure it all according to a force of intelligence and Being that includes it. It is this inclusion that is important; because in order to become what I would call a perfect idiot, one has to embody everything that has taken place in one’s life—as well as everything that is taking place at this instant — simultaneously.

 That, of course, sounds like a tall order, because it is impossible for the intellect to undertake such an action. Yet the confluence of the three centers, the active participation of the mind, the emotion, and the body of sensation, is well able to encompass this action. It isn’t even necessary to keep all of the confluence of truth in mind at one time, because the confluence of truth within Being becomes the tip of a needle, which penetrates the current moment quite precisely with what we refer to as presence.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Two new books

Announcing two new books which are part of a fund-raising effort.  I'm offering two quite different books, because those who aren't interested in one may be interested in the other.

 The unicorn tapestries (click on the link to go to the page)

 During our trip to Burgundy in 2017, Neal & I stopped in Paris and visited the Lady of the Unicorn tapestries.  On a follow-up trip to the cloisters museum in Manhattan this December, I visited the unicorn hunt tapestries.

 I originally intended to write a monograph on the lady of the unicorn tapestries alone, but after the Cloisters trip I realized it was impossible to write about one without writing about the other.  

 The Unicorn tapestries offers original esoteric interpretations of the two groups of tapestries, and explains why they are related to one another—not just because of the unicorn theme, but because of the way in which they treat  the masculine and feminine, as well and higher and lower, nature in spiritual work. 

 This book is extensively illustrated. It is an excerpt from a much longer book called "The Reconstruction of the Soul" which will be published later in 2018.

An Organic sense of being  (click on the link to go to the page)

This new book is a collection of the longer essays and monographs published over the last year in the Zen, Yoga, Gurdjieff blog. The book is illustrated with pictures of stained glass at the Museum in Lyon, taken during our trip to Burgundy.

In addition, it includes an unpublished monograph  on the meaning of the word "monster," and how this question relates to the development and experience of our inner world. This monograph, like many others seeing the light of day this year, commemorates the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's famous novel, Frankenstein.

Sales of these books are intended to help to fund editorial costs for material that is being prepared for future publication. This archival material in question will be of significant interest to the Gurdjieff community. Those who participate are being given an opportunity to materially contribute to this effort.

I have so far funded this project entirely out of my own pocket. Your contributions, if any, all be deeply appreciated.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The island kingdoms, part II

From the Cloisters Collection, Metropolitan Museum

It’s useless to believe that the philosophies, attitudes, or information of either kingdom is going to overwhelm and correct the other kingdom. Each of their ways of existing and the things that they believe in and think are completely correct for their own realms; and this needs to be deeply respected, because an effort to graft inappropriate thoughts, forms, and actions from one kingdom to another can lead to unintended disaster.

In the allegory of man’s two natures depicted in the tapestries of the unicorn at the Musée de Cluny in Paris, the noblewoman is the representative who stands between the two kingdoms. The kingdoms are represented by the lion and the unicorn, each one of them a mode of Being in its own right. Let’s say the lion is the tropical kingdom and the unicorn is the Arctic kingdom. They could be brought together; but they will only come into right relationship with a wise and experienced mediator who’s aware of both of their modes of existence and the needs thereof. No one will ever be able to turn a lion into a unicorn, or a unicorn into a lion. It’s patently impossible. They can, however, be brought together in harmony, which is the aim of inner spiritual work.

Conducting this inner diplomacy is a delicate matter; it needs to be conducted in secret, because allies of the tropical kingdom don’t want it to have a trade relationship with the Arctic kingdom. They base their whole existence on the premise that such a relationship would damage their own interests, and they align together to do everything they can to prevent it. So the representative conducts their negotiations in secret; anything they do in public is likely to create more resistance against the alliance. This is why the work is an inner, or esoteric, work.

Now I come to a more specific point. We find ourselves, as actual living entities, engaged in this enterprise. It isn’t a theoretical action, but a practical one that takes place every day within us. We're continually tempted to engage in activities that try to force one nature to overwhelm the other, or in any event impose its strict rules. The lower nature wants the higher nature to become a magical tool for it; the higher nature wants the lower nature to be its servant. Because, in all of us, the lower nature is the more powerful kingdom throughout most of our lives, it tends to constantly try to use force and coercion to achieve its goals instead of understanding the needs of the higher nature, which is one that requires the lower nature to intelligently serve it. The servitude is not bondage or slavery, but an action of love; and because the higher nature better understands love than the lower one, it will always act loving in the exercise of its kingdom powers, if it is allowed to.

We want to undergo a transformation in which we “become” the higher nature. This, however, is absolutely not the nature required of us within this life. It is the bringing together of the two natures with our own being as a mediator between them, where we suffer the division between the kingdoms and attempt to heal it — to cross the water between the two islands, so to speak — that should be our purpose, if we can but understand it.

There is a further lesson about the nature of reality and its manifestation on the table here. The entire universe with all of material reality is created strictly through the emanation of love. Love cannot exist selfishly, without an object, so God created the universe specifically so that His love could be expressed within it.

This means that all of the actions that take place within material reality, no matter how monstrous or absurd they may seem to us, have at their root a loving action. The complex metaphysics of this lie beyond the understanding of humanity; and, of course, within the realm we are in, we are required, so to speak, to act “as though” good and evil existed, and even to oppose the downward movement of what we perceive as evil forces. We cannot stop this action; nor should we; but we can trust the action of making a choice between good and evil, of taking sides between them, because the polarity itself is a lawfully required element. This means that even though there are no “lower” and “higher” natures when seen from the perspective of unity, that perspective belongs to God alone. Every other created being is required to participate in the world of polarity. Only God has the privilege of standing above that; and that is the place of the greatest suffering, suffering so intense and universal that it would destroy any created being who attempted to occupy the position. We can take on small portions of that suffering within our experience of the two natures we perceive; and that suffering always emerges from accepting the division an understanding that the two natures will always be separated from one another. It is in our action of suffering that we ameliorate that division, that separation. Students of Gurdjieff will recognize the holy planet purgatory as an essential location for the resolution of this division; but I will not go into that here other than to say it’s worth reading that chapter in light of this essay.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The island kingdoms, part I

We live in a world that carries the perception of divisions.

The natural tendency within us is to perceive everything as a whole that breaks down into individual parts, rather than as individual parts that assemble themselves into a single whole. There’s an important point to be understood here relative to the question of our higher and lower natures, and what they consist of.

It has been remarked that Ouspensky once said that Gurdjieff told him the struggle between multiple “I”s in a human being eventually comes down to a struggle between only two “I”s, a so-called “good” I and a bad one. Indeed, it’s easy for us to perceive the struggle between our higher and lower natures as one of opposition; and it is natural to presume, in what is a relatively crude perspective from a metaphysical point of view, that we want the good or higher nature to prevail over the bad or lower one. This is the mechanistic and relatively worldly model of most average religious understandings.

Gurdjieff, however, pointed out that the lower develops just as much as the higher does when spiritual development takes place; that is, growth proceeds in both directions. We should thereby understand that there is a growth in both the lower and the higher nature if inner development takes place. In other words, we need our lower nature—the universe needs our lower nature. It serves a purpose.

It will confuse the issue more as I explain to you that there are, in fact, no divided natures. We only have one nature, and that is God’s nature. It is our perception of nature (both our own and that of other things and beings) that divides it into hierarchies. This is a natural consequence of incarnation; because all of material reality is structured in apparent hierarchies, according to law. The tendency to see the subtractive or dividing properties rather than the additive or uniting properties is strong in human beings, because it is much easier for us to look down at things and discern their individual natures than to look upward at what is above us — that which exists on a level we cannot actually understand, any more than bacteria understand us. We should remember, while we are considering this analogy, that bacteria in our gut exert a considerable amount of control over the way we manifest — in other words, even the bacteria get a say about how things proceed on levels higher than themselves. With human beings in relationship to the angelic kingdoms it is not that different.

In any event, our higher and our lower natures are, for practical purposes (that is, given the very narrow perspective available to us) separate entities, regardless of the fact that each one is a partial manifestation of the single whole Being which The Perfection consists of. Individualized fragments do not perceive themselves as fragments: each one perceives itself as a whole, because it is entirely unable to see the way it serves a larger purpose. The emergence of conventional intelligence as mankind understands it, which only takes place on our level of material reality — requiring a great deal of re-concentration of particulate matter, along with its consequent emergent organization, which regenerates a fragmentary consciousness that can intuit, but not fully understand, the whole — is privileged to see this, but only with effort.

In practical terms, as we experience our lives, it is as though our higher and lower natures were separate island kingdoms, one of them a tropical kingdom with great wealth and abundance, sensuality, and exuberance, and the other one an Arctic kingdom of great majesty, restraint, austerity, and intensity of purpose. Both of the kingdoms (I will let you decide which is the higher or the lower, which may add up to an amusing pastime) trade with each other; but of necessity, many of the trade items in each kingdom are either useless or meaningless to the other kingdom.

Nonetheless, they are surely capable of sensing each other’s potential: each one has items of enormous importance that may change many things in the other kingdom. These two kingdoms may, of course, envy one another and go to war; but when they do it does neither one of them any good, because neither one is capable of governing the realm of the other kingdom Their conditions, landscapes, territories, temperatures, and the action of both materials and living forms, are completely different one from the other.

So our higher and lower natures are separated in just this way, and it takes an intelligent counselor to find the materials that are of use for exchange between the two kingdoms.

This essay will be concluded in part II on Feb. 24.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

We Die Tomorrow, Part IV

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

Continued from Feb. 15.

In examining the root of the word pornography, we discover that it comes from a Greek root combining the words for prostitute and write, hence, writing about prostitution.

Yet prostitute itself comes from a root that simply means “exposed publicly, offered for sale.” So most properly put, pornography is not about sex, but about being too public. At least sexual pornography has a certain honesty to it, because it is willing to look shamelessly on the animals we really are. Personal pornography, that is, the ostentatious display of one’s ego- activities for all to see, is perhaps more disgusting and dishonest—yet our media-obsession celebrates it with a level of aggression hitherto unmatched by any other society. The Internet has made unwitting pornographers of almost all of us.

Obviously, there are some activities that can be public without being pornographic — but those activities are activities that relate to honorable behavior, respect for others, love of one’s neighbor and of God, and so on. The celebration of hatred and violence, of divisiveness and cults of personality, are all worse forms of pornography than the sexual form, yet they are not just widely tolerated — they have become the status quo. Perhaps this gives you an inkling of why Gurdjieff hated journalists so much.

Of course we are speaking here of the external matters in the way society is formed, and that is not quite my point, so let me get back to it. No matter what context we find ourselves in—even in small groups with a few people—putting the most intimate details of our innermost spiritual life on display is just not how things ought to be done. Once again, my teachers, Henry and Betty Brown, set the standard for that.

One needs to quietly much of what takes place within oneself in relationship to one’s spiritual practice and inner quest and not share it too much with others. As Epictetus said, when at a banquet, one should never tell others how they ought to eat, but instead attend to eating properly in the way one ought to eat oneself. Real Being is taught by example, not instruction.

It is, furthermore, a messy task. It involves a great deal of inner suffering and direct forgiveness of others. This kind of work has to be done quietly as well, because the pain of forgiveness is worthless if it is not suffered alone.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

We Die Tomorrow, Part III

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

God is required to consume death at every moment of His own existence; it is built into the very fabric of creation, and because God’s food for His own Being consists of the experiential flow and concentration of all creation throughout eternity, God is forever condemned to consume death as an intimate part of his own Being – experience.

While this has been understood in some general terms by numerous esoteric schools throughout mankind’s existence, and was accurately summarized as a parable through Christ’s actual crucifixion, perhaps one example of an entire people that understood this is the Mayan culture of Central America, whose esoteric practice is now mostly lost to us. The complexities of that culture may be difficult to extract, and a great deal of it may seem sadistic or morbid, but any lengthy exposure to their arts and architecture leaves one with the inescapable impression that they understood how intricately death and life are interwoven into the fabric of the universe, and how God consumes this material as a form of suffering. Consciousness swallows life while it lives; but it swallows death at the same time, because the two are inseparable.

Of course the greatest angelic Being of Gurdjieff’s cosmology, Ashiata Shiemash (the name means Ray of light from the Sun) told his followers that life consists, in all parts, always and everywhere, of suffering. It cannot be any different; we are made of the body of God, we are all part of a single thought in God’s mind, and that thought, in its conscious aspect, consists not just of life and consciousness — the re-concentration of God’s particles of Being — but also death, that is, the cyclical, and not just circular but fundamentally spherical, inhalation and exhalation of the consciousness of Being, which is the breathing in and out of the universe. In consuming death as part of His Being-food, God must endlessly suffer not just the life of His own creation, but also the death of it. We become participants in this action and we cannot avoid its consequences any more than God can, because we are part of Him.

In this sense, Gurdjieff had Buddha’s teaching exactly correct: in the beginning, when Buddha brought it, it consisted specifically not of the cessation of or escape from suffering, but the practice of intentional suffering — that is, a willingness to take on God’s burden with Him, which is a way of becoming one with Him.

So let us acknowledge for a moment that right now we are in a universe in which death is perpetually occurring, and that God has no choice but to swallow the substance of that suffering and sorrow, not “tomorrow,” but now and forever.

This bestows a much better sense of the sobriety incumbent upon us. Even though we die “tomorrow” (that is, at some later time we would prefer not to think about) everything actually dies, right now, forever—let us again consider just how precious all moments are in light of it.

 This kind of information needs to be digested quietly and without reference to magical experience. I am not saying that there can’t be magical experience, or that one should not have it; what I am saying is that magical experience comes only in service, and it is always in service, if properly understood, to a deepening of the understanding of suffering. There is only one path to anything one might call “liberation;” if there is a real liberation theology, it is liberation from the delusion that we are immortal and excused somehow from the suffering that is necessary in order to create and maintain the universe. Real liberation consists of understanding the obligations attendant upon us, should we choose to make an effort to consciously participate in this process.

This is why, coming back to the original questions posed here, spiritual life is a most private matter and needs to be treated that way. The displaying of most parts of one’s life in a very public manner is an unfortunate form of pornography.

This series will conclude on Feb. 18.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, February 12, 2018

We die Tomorrow, Part II

Capital at Basilique St. Madeleine, Vezelay, France
Photograph by the author

Continued from Feb. 9.

When my wife asked me what this matter of inner measurement consisted of — what I meant by it — I said to her, the yardstick is death.

This isn’t being overly dramatic; we must measure every moment and our action in it relative to our mortality if we want to understand how much sobriety is necessary in our action. In point of fact, a great deal of sobriety is necessary; it is nearly unlimited, because we are tiny, mortal creatures and in the perspective of the universe, its scope, and our temporary nature, we ought to feel a sense of what Gurdjieff called organic shame in relationship not just to our whole lives (we always love to see these things on some grand scale) but in regard to the molecular, granular nature of our action, of each small thing we do.

Gurdjieff, of course, offered this formulation of always remembering our own death in the last few paragraphs of Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson; yet one can find the exact same formulation in the discourses of Epictetus. The idea was not, in other words, a new one at all, so there is no need to dramatize Gurdjieff’s adoption of it. He simply saw what was true and had been known to esoteric schools for thousands of years, and reported it.

I will say it again in a slightly different way: in the landscape of attention, death is the yardstick by which we measure.

We think that we die tomorrow; but we die always. It is not a matter for some other time; and the path to understanding our own death is through the organic sensation of Being. There is no other way to approach this. Intellectual formulations are useless in this regard, so until one develops an organic sensation of Being, the question will always remain theoretical. The development of that sensation and the consequent understanding of death as a living force lead to some radical rearrangements in Being; and even then, they are only a beginning. These are not, furthermore matters that bring any comfort; and since we often seek comfort first when it comes to spiritual matters, it can be quite disturbing to discover that real inner work does anything but.

In pondering this further this morning, in a later conversation with my wife—on my China trips, these talks get broken up  into discreet little packages by breakfasts, hotel checkouts, taxi rides, and airport waits— a question of the larger picture emerged.

While it’s true that our experience of death as an active force in life needs to become absolutely organic, intimate, and personal, understanding it from a much larger scale is still important in order to put a perspective on Gurdjieff’s comments about the suffering of God, and the place of our own suffering in relationship to it.

The universe exists on death.

This series will continue in part III on Feb. 15.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.