Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The binding force

Capital from the cathedral of Autun

I should like to make something clear for those who struggle with the question of why the mind and body don't form a permanent relationship with one another.

There are many technical reasons for this that could be brought into a discussion; yet the binding force between the mind and the body has a specific nature and is identifiable.

This force is what is lacking between the intellect and the sensation.

The force is, quite simply put, Love. That Love has, in very general terms, two aspects that both need to be present and reconciled.

One is the inflow of the divine; this is the energy that is often referred to as "flowing in through the top of the head." Yet this energy does not just have to flow into the top of the head, but can flow through the entire being, anywhere. At any time.  Stop limiting your conception of what is possible in this area and learn how to be in a prepared condition of surrender.

The second energy is a love that exists within me, so to speak, for myself. It's impossible for the inflow to take place without a corresponding non-egoistic love of self that has already manifested. In fact, I never love myself and I'm always terrified of what I am.

Now, of course, the mind is going to get involved with an endless series of thoughts about this and all the exercises that have been taught and so on. Yet the only thing that's important to understand that I must completely surrender and be open to both of these kinds of Love. Together, as they blend within the body, they form a kind of "glue" that attaches an active and permanent sensation to the body, which then allows it to form a new relationship with the mind. The feeling can enter.

I'm not going to say much more about this right now, but I would like readers to ponder this for some time, organically, and really try to take the understanding of the question in.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


June 15, 2017

This morning, I want to expand on a fairly complicated philosophical perception I understood several weeks ago. I wrote some fairly complex essays on it which appear in this space.

But this morning, I'd like to discuss it in in simpler terms, and just express it as a relationship with this moment in life.

Awareness exists before I experience it as an infinitely compressed point, a complete potential much like the way the universe existed before the Big Bang. Everything that can ever be is compressed before Being in this single point of awareness. I carry it within me; and as you read this, you also carry that infinitely compressed point of awareness that can expand into Being within you. We all participate in this.

In every moment, this awareness unfolds completely and realizes its absolute potential in my Being. This is not a process that only happens once; it happens continuously. It is happening in me now as I write this; it's happening in you as you read it. But we are unaware of this eternal and continuous expansion of awareness into Being, because we take it for granted.

It's possible, through the force of love — which is a material force that gathers its substance throughout life and forever grows within our Being — to perceive this moment of eternal expansion of awareness. It is a mysterious moment, because our awareness — our mindfulness — is born from what appears to be nothing (in fact it is everything) and then encounters the world. It already contains the whole world in it, before it is born. In birth, it simply unfolds into Being in much the same way that a DNA molecule unfolds to interact and create life.

We don't know where it comes from; we generally don't participate in it, but just follow it through habit. We always get there, in our ordinary experience, after the event is over and decide to critique it or make unnecessary adjustments to it.

Yet coming into an intimate and direct contact with this mystery as the expansion of awareness into Being takes place is a fascinating action. It is deeply organic, rooted in our physical, intellectual, and emotional experience of ourselves — which are three different forces that meet together at all times in the place where awareness expands into Being. They are the functional medium that receives the expansion. Well, that sounds kind of technical, but there you are.

Anyway, this morning, I want to call your attention to this, because it is such a beautiful and small thing to live at this point of awareness and treasure it.

Everything can change in life if I put my attention here first.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Meditations on death, part III

Gurdjieff alluded to this sensation of being when he said, at the end of Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson,

The sole means now of saving the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant in their presence a new organ, an organ like kundabuffer, but this time having such properties that every one of these unfortunates, during the process of his existence, should constantly sense and be aware of the inevitability of his own death, as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes, or attention, rest.

The molecular sensation of Being is tied so firmly to a direct understanding of life that it by default includes an understanding of death within it.

This penetrates being in a way that is difficult to describe; in Zen, they call it attaining the marrow. It distills the essence of what life is and includes death.

This is a conscience of the body; that is, it is a feeling-capacity born within the emotional center of the body that senses both life and death together, that is, it summarizes all of the understanding and awareness that is possible for the body.

This will probably come as a surprise to some students of the Gurdjieff teaching; conscience, after all, is referred to in the work as something that appears as a result of proper three centered work, and a factor that is engendered by what he calls organic shame.

The idea that each of the individual centers could have its own experience of conscience may seem, at first, bewildering; yet it's inevitable. Because each center engages in its own kind of three centered work (each center has an emotional, intellectual, and physical component) each center is functionally capable of experiencing both conscience and remorse of conscience in its own right, according to the structural function of its own nature.

Hence there are three kinds of conscience in us which blend together to form a whole conscience; and there are three kinds of remorse of conscience. The law of three, in other words, affects conscience and remorse of conscience within the individual centers themselves, simply because it is a functional law at every level and in every operation.

Sensation summarizes the functions of life and death by putting them together within an active vibration of feeling. That active vibration of feeling begins in the emotional part of moving center; and it is possible to assign the function of the sensation of life as a holy denying factor.

This is because when I affirm life, I affirm myself; and when I affirm myself, I affirm myself as a self separated from God. This action of "I am" which is so essential to the initial formation of real Being on this level, has the paradoxical and puzzling effect of denying God while affirming myself. Hence holy denying.

From this perspective, death is actually the holy affirming principal within both this center and all the centers. That is because the death of the self, one other the intellectual, emotional, or physical self — whether the death of the conscious mind on this level or the death of the body — surrenders to God, to the creator, and by surrendering affirms Him/Her.

Thus death, which we see in many ways as an "enemy," is actually the sacred force that brings us back to God.

These two forces within sensation — holy denying, the sensation of myself, and holy affirming, the sensation of death — are unified within a vibration of sacred feeling that relates very powerfully to the sorrow of the Creator. Bringing the holy affirming and holy denying of this kind into contact with one another automatically creates a polarity that attracts the particles of the sorrow of the Creator, which are then deposited.

So there's a technical explanation for why sensation is so vital to the foundation of our work; it helps to form conscience and remorse of conscience at a higher level of vibration than what can arise in the intellect; and it is only when this particular level of vibration is formed that we can begin to vibrate or oscillate at a level that allows the even higher vibrations of conscience and remorse of conscience from the feeling part of the center to enter. There's a hierarchy of vibration built here; and it is built through the contact between life and death, which could be seen as an unexpected result — except for the fact that it fits perfectly within the system and is an entirely lawful and even necessary interaction.

Last night, my stepson's fiancé was discussing her feelings about a grave matter which she has given me permission to share. Earlier this week, her younger brother committed suicide. Her brother had a long history of depression, and the circumstances were objectively gruesome. She was baffled by observing that two completely contradictory emotional forces were present in her at the same time: grief and gratitude.

This was a compelling example of the presence of conscience in a feeling context: and it was what put me on to the understanding about sensation, and the understanding that each center experiences its own form of both conscience and remorse of conscience. This means that each mind within Being, each one third of what contributes to three brained being, has its own whole experience which it can bring.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Meditations on death, part II

But to cross over into the other stream is not so easy "merely to wish and you cross " For this, it is first of all necessary consciously to crystallize in yourselves data for engendering in your common presence a constant, unquenchable impulse of desire for this crossing, and then afterward to undergo a long corresponding preparation. 
For this crossing you are required above all to renounce everything that you consider "riches" in this stream of life, but which in reality are automatically and slavishly acquired habits. 

In other words, you have to die to everything that makes up your ordinary life. It is just this death that is spoken of in all religions. This is the meaning of the saying which has reached us from remote antiquity, "Without death no resurrection," or in other words, "If you do not die, you will not be raised from the dead. " 

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, G. I Gurdjieff, pgs 1129-1130

It's possible to develop an organic capacity for sensing one's own death.

Our life and our death are directly related, and belong to one another. It’s impossible to separate them; and yet they exist in relative separation within our psyche, because we love life and are functionally unable to conceive of our own death as anything except a theory. We live; and that is all we want to know. This is in its own way a rightful form of selectivity; of course life loves life, because this is the way that love and life ought to manifest together. Love flows into life and creates life; this is where Being emerges from, and all of creation participates in it.

Yet all of creation inevitably includes death, which is an enormous force that drives life forward in every instant and particular. It would be impossible for life to exist if it did not have death within it. Immortality would create a static force that’s contradictory to life. Life has a purpose; it has a function. And it cannot fulfill its function without death.

In order to understand this better, we need to understand that life, as an idea, exists in and emanates from a higher realm that transcends all the organic material instances of life as we know it. Of course this is what I might call highfalutin’ thinking, that is, thinking along very lofty and inaccessible premises; but it is true. The idea of life, what it represents, is larger than life itself as we encounter it. It has a sacred quality because it emanates as one of the principles of the universe. It is one of the great names of God, and closely related to the absolute Himself, since He is all life and all love.

The principles of cosmological evolution create a requirement for death, which must be present at each complete turn of the wheel. It represents hope; it represents regeneration and rebirth. Just as Christ said we cannot put new wine in old bottles, we must die to ourselves in order to receive the force from a higher level. This is an ancient idea; and although the idea of physical death is terrifying to us, when we think about dying to our old self or our old ideas, we accept it, because we understand that if we wish to grow, some old parts of us which misunderstand or are damaged will have to die in order to make room for the new parts.

Death and love go together hand-in-hand throughout life. I can feel the love for all of the ones I know who have died; they have not left, they live here in my heart. In a certain abstract way, which is related to a sensation of the astral level, all of the Being that has ever existed is also here in my heart and finds its expression through me. I become responsible to every being that has ever lived, every life that has ever taken place — anywhere, even perhaps in other galaxies — because I am a representative of life and must strive to manifest in all of its meaning, all of its glory, all of its truth. Anything I do to degrade that or dishonor the sacred action of life itself is against life. So perhaps, if I don't sense my life wholly enough and understand its relationship to death, I am already beginning to dishonor the sacred nature of life. It is all too easy for me to "live" and in doing so to go against life by dishonoring its sacred principles.

We have an organic tool in us that is meant to help us sense life in a very practical, deep, and immensely material way. That tool is called sensation. Yet I'm not using this word in the ordinary sense of sensation; I'm referring to a much deeper level of vibration that can awaken within every cell in the body. I've often referred to this as the organic sensation of being, but lately I have decided it is meaningful to refer to it as the molecular sensation of being, because it is tied not to a cellular but a molecular awareness of being. The cellular awareness of Being is one level of the sensation, but it is not deep enough. It must go deeper, always deeper.

If I come into relationship with this tool of molecular sensation, I sense myself as an aggregation of life itself; I sense that life arises at a level much lower than me, and that I become a summary of its nature, not a singular expression, but a collective awareness. I am not made of a single creature; my being consists of an uncountable number of creatures, every molecule being a creature, a creation, that builds into this form called life. This is not a theoretical idea, but a very practical way of living that can bring me back to the ground floor and the facts of my existence, instead of the heady psycho-spiritual thoughts I like to engage with.

And it brings me closer to the question of death, which needs to be examined further.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Meditations on death, part I

June 13

Last night, my stepson’s fiancée called with the news that her younger brother had committed suicide.

This comes on the heels of the death of my Dutch cousin Elodie, who died at 48 years old of pancreatic cancer; she was the light of many lives. And it reminds me once again — reminds us all once again — of how death follows us everywhere as a companion.

We would rather forget about this; it seems terrifying, and every death is a small tragedy. Measured in the terms of individuals, the tragedy is intense and terrifying; yet measured against the collective nature of life and its manifestation, it is a little thing. This may sound silly to say, but the evidence is there: researchers recently discovered that a person’s attitude towards death tends to be more positive than negative as one approaches it.

Somewhere in the human soul lies an understanding that death is not so awful after all.

This seems contradictory; the sense of loss from death is so overwhelming. Yet the combination of contradictory feelings about death is lawful; if we feel real consciousness, experience real conscience, it contains all our feelings, not just the ones that we prefer or expect. Emotion is a complex blend of perception and, in its highest form, can extract all the information available in a situation, not just the information we selectively perceive with our ordinary Being.

Buried within the experience of death, hidden from public view, is the fact that it is a benediction and a blessing, and a normal part of what it means to be alive. God has blessed us with life; and if we really think that God is all-merciful, supremely intelligent, and has love towards us as His greatest intention, how can we believe that death is not a good thing in the end? It is a gift to us, like the gift of life; it makes life all the more precious and ought to focus our attention quite clearly on the extraordinary beauty that life bestows. It ought to focus our attention much more clearly on the value of love, which we constantly squander on foolishness and argument. Death has the capacity to remind us of everything valuable in life.

Anyone who has lost a loved one will be able to relate to that feeling. Death is a gift and a blessing that gives us the capacity to see who we are; to feel real remorse of conscience for the way we have treated our loved ones — and even ourselves. It bestows a kind of sobriety upon us in the midst of the confusion of our life, and helps us to see what is really meaningful. If we come in to a fuller and more respectful relationship with death, it can help us live.

This is a mystery; because of course the loss of those we love is difficult to bear. Sometimes almost too difficult. And it is a silly thing to pretend that some intellectual philosophy can correct that. We have to contend with the real struggle of our emotional being, not come up with theories about how we ought to feel better, or to not feel at all. The rational universe is a fraction of being, not the whole thing. Feeling transcends rationality and helps us to perceive the contradictions we inhabit. It can help us to reconcile those contradictions; but only if we are immersed in the whole of feeling, the acknowledgment of the conditions of life as a truth, the Dharma. It is a form of mercy, if we can only see it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Notes from May 28

I'm increasingly interested in the understanding of detail when it comes to inner work.

Like everything else in the universe, we’re composed of countless tiny particles. One might think that our awareness doesn’t extend to this level; and under ordinary conditions, of course, it doesn’t. But if we want to feed our being, we need to develop a much finer attention to these particles of our Being.

When I use the word finer, I mean it literally. The attention has to, so to speak, break itself up (although it is no breaking, but rather a unification) into an endless series of tiny points that are each one of them like a star in miniature. So imagine that you’re composed of stars; and that you’re furthermore composed of so many stars that you are, in fact, an entire galaxy.

Sense your Self as this galaxy by thinking not on the scale of our own galaxy, which is far too huge to comprehend, but on the scale of the galaxy of your cells and their molecules. This can be comprehended in a completely new way if I take responsibility for it.

Attention needs to manifest with this level of detail, which is accomplished through the medium of a higher energy which suffuses the body. If you want to, you can call the energy prana, or the Holy Spirit. It’s the animating force. Either way, this fine attention to detail is how I feed my Being.

I can begin to understand that this energy carries different degrees of the vivifying vibration and force according to how it is received, how receptive I am, and planetary and solar conditions. So I participate not just at this finer level of detail; through it, I am introduced to a much larger picture. The organism needs the right kind of food in order to grow into this perception.

In order to understand this, I can use another analogy. If one thinks of the digestive system, it extracts all of the nutritional value that I need from my food on the molecular level, absorbing proteins, vitamins, other nutrients.

My life is much the same way; and my soul feeds on the impressions of my life in the same way that my digestive system feeds on the coarser material of food. It feeds on my life at a molecular level.

In order to understand this better, it's helpful to understand every small thing I encounter as a "molecule" of food. The idea of mindfulness — which is spoken about a great deal but not always very carefully explained — is (if it is practiced with a deep understanding) the idea of a very close and detailed attention to these “molecules,” of each individual and very small impression as I encounter it.

It's possible to turn the attention to this level of detail and engage with one's life on a much smaller scale which, although it may sound contracted and appear not to have the grand scope and drama I expect (even demand) that meaningful things consist of, actually provides far more nutrition for the growth of my Being.

A finer vibration can arise in me and correspond to life in this way.

Do this all day long; but don't talk about it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Notes from May 23

It's quite difficult to gather life into a single whole thing.

In order to do so, my Being needs to be gathered into an increasingly related condition. There are fibers inside me that need to be gathered, sorted, and gently pulled together. Those fibers are impressions of life.

Together, they need to be spun into threads; and then the threads need to be organized into a warp, a structure which supports the fabric of my soul, and a weft: the objects, events, circumstances, and conditions that move through it, back-and-forth, as the warp threads move up and down in various patterns to contain and discipline the action of the weft threads.

This textile analogy is why Sanskrit refers to Tantric practice; tantra means loom.

As we age, the responsibility for undertaking this task so that the fabric of our life is more whole grows. The roots of its action need to go down into the finest and most detailed parts of Being; this requires a kind of inward scrutiny that exists apart from inner exercises, and even apart from receiving a sacred energy. It is a religious responsibility that lies within the realm of my own Being, and not what is given to me or acquired.

This is because no matter what is sent from above, or rises up from below, the action of my own life, my karma, takes place on this level. The action of relating that karma to the level above and below is deeply affected by Tantric action. The threads that are woven on this level reach into the level below me and the level above me; so all of the actions and deeds in this life have the support from below and a responsibility to what is above. They are, collectively, a material that binds levels.

This can be actively sensed, because the levels below and above are active within this one as well, and my being is a living manifestation of that truth. It can be sensed with the cells if a certain kind of energy is present. That may or may not be possible; but the action of a careful and considered self-examination is possible, and needs to be undertaken at all times. I can’t take anything for granted, even the idea and fact that I am alive right now. I need to suspend my judgment of others and myself and see exactly where I am—very exactly, quite precisely. This will involve a summary of all of life as it is now, including what it has been before this, and the potentials it puts in front of me.

This represents a form of inward intelligence; and in its active and sacred form, intelligence is an expression of love. So all of these actions that are described, which begin with gathering life into a whole thing, are intelligent actions of love.

I'd like to remember to honor that today through a better attention to the smallest things.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Notes from May 27

Notes from May 27

There is a natural intelligence of Being that expresses itself through the action of life. Life expands from a presence of awareness which is infinitely compressed within Being.

That presence of awareness can never be sensed from within its compression, because that part belongs to God and remains unavailable. We do, however, have the capacity to come into an intimate relationship with the molecular sensation of Being. This molecular sensation exists directly at the threshold of expansion, where awareness becomes a real thing and life can be lived.

It's difficult to explain how very natural this ought to be; how it shouldn't be strained at, but arrive gently and compassionately within Being so that we are unified. It doesn't take place in the presence of opinion or polarization; it's as organic as the natural action of ourselves, which already knows what to do.

Being also already knows what to do. It's the rest of me that doesn't understand this question.

This doesn't mean that I can be stupid about life or just live it like an animal. On the contrary, it involves a much more conscious relationship to this force of intelligence, which is an organic force of intelligence and not a force of intelligence that emanates from the mind. I'm so absolutely committed to the intelligence that emanates from the mind that I don't really know much about this other intelligence, which is free from the mind and expresses itself independent of it. Again, this ought to take place quite naturally and with great ease; it isn't something that has to be reached for and fretted over. The more I fret, the more certain it is that this quality cannot become itself as it ought to be.

I've been studying this quality for many years. It becomes ever deeper; and it promotes a relationship with feeling that is quite different than my ordinary attitudes and understandings. It ought to penetrate to the marrow of the bones. This is where the action makes the most change; deep within being, at levels that are not accessible to the conscious mind. As a point of information, everything that is accessible to the mind the way I understand it is useless in regard to this work and can't come close to touching it.

My mistake is that I so often attempt to understand with the mind instead of allowing the organic nature of effort to undertake the right action which it alone understands.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ideas and DNA, part II

Hopefully now the reader has understood a bit more about the relationship between the physical world of DNA, and the spiritual world of ideas, and how exactly analogous they are to one another; how they function according to the same law, even though they appear, on the surface of things and without any deep examination, to be quite different.

What is necessary now is to understand in much more detail what a molecular sense of Being consists of, and how that might be applied to practical work in daily life.

The difficulty with this question is that “one can't get there from here” — that is, one can't get up in the morning and just decide to exercise one's “molecular sense of Being muscles” and thus develop them. Not directly, anyway, because these muscles — that is, the entities within us that can develop the force necessary to mediate this perception — are made of a very fine material that is difficult to assemble at first and can be easily torn or put together in a wrong way.

In order to explain this, I’ll need to invoke another natural comparison, in this case, the very fine mycorrhizae or roots that form a fungus.

A fungus exists as an extremely complex microscopic network of delicate roots. We can think of the human nervous system as a mirror of this same entity. In any event, the roots are invisible and spread throughout the medium they live in (typically, soil or a log, although they can also inhabit other materials.) These roots have to grow for a long time and make an enormous number of connections, form a huge network, before any fruiting bodies in the form of mushrooms emerge.

We have a similar network that can grow within us in our nervous system. The molecular structure of our nervous system is the medium through which all of the information our cells exchange with each other must communicate; and it can undergo permanent changes in its nature, but only if it’s cultivated for a very long period of time. I want to come into an intelligent contact with the molecular sense of being.

An intimate contact.

In order to do this, I need to learn an entirely new language which, in the Gurdjieff work, is called sensation. Unfortunately, word itself is already deceptive; although it arouses associations of a physical perception, it is actually derived from the Latin sēnsus, which is a word that means not body, but feeling.

When we speak of developing a permanent connection to sensation in the Gurdjieff work, we are actually speaking about a connection not just to the body, but to this special quality called feeling. Because of the initial physical condition of sensation, which is a distinctively physical perception, we spend many years making an attempt to connect the body and the mind through this essentially simple understanding, failing to see that what we are ultimately aiming for is a new feeling of the body. That is to say, although it has a physical manifestation, this new sense of Being is ultimately tied to a much finer emotional perception which is no longer an emotion.

Emotion is a word which means to move out, remove, or agitate, from the Latin ēmovēre.

The word feeling, notably, derives not from the Latin but from a Germanic root, felunge, which means something a bit different: touching, or the sense of touch. The way that we might compare and contrast the two is to point out that emotion involves an experience that takes me away from myself; whereas feeling takes me towards myself. In emotion, I go out of myself and am identified with ("taken by”) what is happening; in feeling, I get into touch with what’s happening by going inward and seeing it. This understanding of sensation and feeling, of coming into a much more intimate sense of contact with myself, is the essence of sensation.

I must learn to understand sensation as an experience that is already much larger than the experience itself.

Sensation manifests in utter silence. It contains silence within it; and whenever I come into relationship with it, there’s a whole part of me which maintains absolute silence—even as it lives and breathes (and sensation has its own breath.) So if I am in full relationship with this sensation, this feeling of being in touch with my inner life in an entirely new way, I’m also in full relationship with a silence that accompanies the noise of my ordinary parts and of regular life.

That silence can manifest itself actively. When it develops durability, it is nearly invulnerable, because it is an active force that has a real wish more powerful than the one in my mind.

I understand that this may puzzle many folks; yet this question of a molecular sensation of Being, a molecular feeling that arises as a silent partner in my inner work, is an essential one, and I need to penetrate the veil of my thoughts and opinions to reach the grounded force of this aroused conscience. It is very different than the parts I’m accustomed to; and without this assistant, I remain too weak to sustain any inner effort for long.

This is a common complaint with inner work. People speak so often about a weakness in their attention; about how they "go away."

One has to become obedient to a durable force in Being; only by doing this will one discover the force which prevents one from going away. It is not enough to complain about how one loses one's intelligent sense of self, or describe it to others; and it is not enough to just see it. Seeing it, having an intelligent (active) experience of it is absolutely necessary, but one must go further into the molecular contact. This involves an intentionally more detailed experience of Being, not a vague one that keeps using the word "something" to describe my inner state. A much more definite understanding needs to arise, and for as long as I allow my mind to be weak and not do the necessary work on it, I will always be deficient and unable.

It’s too easy for all the ideas to sit there folded up. In that state they’re inactive and cannot touch one another in the way that is necessary; they can't arouse real feeling.

The ideas need to be unfolded in me through a molecular sensation, which is a risky business. As soon as ideas are unfolded they become more vulnerable, and one needs to take more care with them.

It's the same thing with DNA; everything in the universe that dares to take the risk of reproducing itself to give birth to something new also risks contamination, dilution, the loss of integrity. Yet this risk is necessary in order for fecundity to realize its purpose; and some deviation from the natural order into a new order is always necessary. So I have to go into the molecular sensation with the understanding that I’m not safe here; and at the same time I have to go into it knowing that this is a support which will guide me if I trust it, because it is naturally organized to support my effort.


New Book.

This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses. 

Click the link below to buy a copy of the monograph.

The Sixth Sense

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ideas and DNA, part I

Idea (OED):

1. In Platonic philosophy: a supposedly eternally existing pattern or archetype of any class of things, of which the individual things in that class are imperfect copies, and from which they derive their existence. 

2. The conception of anything in its highest perfection of supreme development; a standard of perfection; an idea.

The word is originally derived from the Greek word ideîn, to see.

To have an idea is to have an insight, an inward vision.

We can see from the root of the word that it has an important relationship to the concept of understanding; because it relates to seeing, that most important action that brings consciousness into contact with finer and much higher substances, that is, closer to God.

We often consider this word as having something to do with conceptualization rather than observation; and that is indeed an important meaning. But to observe and to conceive actually have common roots, because the original root of the word conceive is from the Latin concipere, which means to take in or perceive.

Nowadays to conceive means, among other things, to become pregnant, that is, to allow the natural fecundity of the world to realize itself, to allow reproduction to take place. Yet we see that this relationship to fecundity has something to do with seeing; in other words, seeing gives birth.

There is rich territory to explore here. But this morning what I want to talk about is the relationship between ideas and the molecular nature of physical reality.

Each idea is something that gives birth to a whole realm of understanding in the spiritual world. The Platonic concept of an idea — an eternally existing pattern or archetype — locates that archetype or pattern in the spiritual realm, that is, a transcendental realm. The word "chair," for example, represents a class of objects that’s so vast it covers almost anything one might sit on. It even covers chairs that do not exist in the physical world, such as the heavenly thrones of angels and archangels. The point is that an idea exists in the spiritual realm, or (if you will) the left side of the enneagram, whereas DNA exists in the material realm—the right side. They have a roughly reciprocal relationship.

The way that both of these entities function is similar. A single idea — for example, the word obedience, which I’ve recently taken under consideration and examined as a necessary and essential practice — contains a vast amount of information packed into it. The word obedience covers so many different understandings, practices, attitudes, and aspects of awareness and understanding that it staggers the imagination. Yet all of it is contained within this single word, "obedience." It’s as though all of the information in this one word, this one idea, were carefully folded up — a long string of information (let's say, for the sake of argument, a string as long as the distance between our own sun and another sun.) Yet all of that is folded into a tiny point which contains everything.

In the action of folding, many of the subsidiary meanings and understandings connected to the idea of obedience are brought into contact with one another in exact ways, and it’s the interaction between them that produces the fecundity that the word obedience is able to express. That fecundity gives birth to the many smaller ideas surrounding obedience which enrich it and carry it forward through life in many different areas of understanding.

I think you get the idea. The point that I want to make here is that this spiritual or metaphysical expansion of an idea from the single original point of its metaphysical existence (which lies outside space and time, or, is imperceptible) into the nearly infinite points of its expression when it unfolds into space and time (becomes perceivable) is identical, in terms of correspondence, to the way that the DNA molecule functions. It, too, contains a vast amount of information that allows for reproduction; and it is also folded up into a complex shape which, if it were fully expanded, would extend for about 3 meters.

Keep in mind here that we are talking about a molecule which when it is folded, is only about 6 µm (micrometers) across. Yet inside this incredibly compacted and objectively tiny physical space is contained a vast amount of interactive information which is capable of reproducing to form the bodies we inhabit; and, by the way, producing the thoughts that we have, as well as the selfsame thoughts about ideas that we are examining right now.

So an idea, a seeing of something, acts quite like this DNA molecule. It’s a creature of the spiritual world, an entity of insight, that is apparently confined to a single point of existence and yet contains a vast understanding within it. That understanding is all quite improbably compressed into this single point, for example, once again, obedience.

If you are thinking that this sounds something like the universe before the Big Bang, you're correct, of course, because the universe was also folded into a point exactly like this before it expanded, and the analogy extends from the DNA molecule to the world of an idea, all the way to the world of the universe as we know it.

This ability of understanding to exist compressed into a single point which can be expanded from that point into everything that exists is an essential description of the character of God; and ideas and DNA, as well as the universe, all function this way because they are all a part of God and cannot express themselves in any way that departs from the Being of God Himself.

The derivation of the words idea and conceive indicates that this action of seeing is intimately connected to the act of creation, or birth.

This means that I cannot remain indifferent to it. The act of creation is an unpacking of higher, more sophisticated principles the reside within this single point and their expansion into lower realms. So when an idea comes into my mind, it enters from a higher or spiritual realm, but unpacks itself and expands into this realm, where it can undergo reproduction.

Thus a single word such as obedience is not just a word or a concept (which is, of course, derived from the same Latin root as the word conceive.) It is a fecund reproductive entity which wishes to give birth to its progeny in the realm that it contacts. That progeny is what carries it forward and continues its existence. So when we see, we are engaging in this fecund activity which is actually not just an action of observation but also a process of birth.

Something new can be born in us when we see. The act of observation facilitates the expansion of idea into reality, that is, it helps the higher principles of the spiritual realm unpack themselves, extend into every direction, and manifest in the physical realm.

In the DNA molecule, the idea of life and everything it can do is encoded in the four bases; and see how miraculous it is when the molecule unfolds itself and creates copies, which then give rise to variations and engage in new relationships. We have what we call life.

It's easy to understand this, from a conceptual point of view. From the physical standpoint; the molecular standpoint. Yet perhaps we don't understand that ideas also represent molecules and function in quite the same way.

I often speak about developing a molecular sense of Being. Perhaps, reading this, you may at least conceptually (through seeing with the mind) understand why I speak about this; although, of course, when I speak about the molecular sense of Being, I am not speaking conceptually, but rather quite literally, because our ability to see must become molecular in nature — it must go down to that level of detail and it must perceive within the context of the forces that create life in that realm. We’re capable of sensing that with our bodies if we develop enough of a connection to them. This is at its root a scientific, not metaphysical, question; yet science and metaphysics aren't actually different disciplines.


New Book.

This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses. 

Click the link below to buy a copy of the monograph.

The Sixth Sense

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Obeying the law, part III

We must understand that our organization exists in life on two levels. One level, which alone gives true meaning, is that of the work, our search, with all the conditions it requires. The other is the official or outer aspect, which is only a cover, nothing more, but which can help us pursue our work without disturbance. This distinction seems easy to understand but in fact is not. I have seen that this official side, organized to meet the image and routine required by life, always reclaims its rights and tends to impose its structure on the work, that is, to impose a form that responds in no way to its true order of values.

—From The Reality of BeingJeanne Salzmann,  # 51To Organize 

This little series of essays about law, subjectivity, and our wish to escape any kind of obligation ends up being, as it must, about obedience.

When I say that we wish to escape any kind of obligation, I speak about how we are—both inwardly and outwardly. The ego rejects obligation of any kind, and it’s crafty in its efforts to construct ways of avoiding it. It certainly doesn't want to be obliged to others, and it doesn't want to be obliged to ourselves either. It is a fundamentally disobedient creature, a child. One might see it as the part of us that has never grown up and only wants for itself.

Obedience is an essential part of understanding. There will always be undisciplined and childish parts that want to run the show; and they will always manipulate emotion in order to try and get their way. Emotion is their number one tool and their modus operandi. This is why it’s so important to develop a relationship to feeling, which has an entirely different center of gravity and is an objective force. But feeling cannot arise without obedience. Feeling is intimately related to obedience and it can only enter once the parts become more obedient to one another—and to a higher force.

This week when working with other people I spoke about our effort to become obedient in language that didn't really use that word. It involved the observation that we must become much more detailed in our work.

We need to focus our attention on the granular material, the molecular stability, of our physical relationship to Being. This idea of molecular stability is one that has come up a great deal this week, because the molecular stability of our attention— which is a physical, not mental, property we can acquire—is what creates durability.

All of the complaints that one hears about being unable to stay with oneself, unable to have a good attention, and so on, are about the fact that I am disobedient. My obedience, my attention, needs to acquire durability; and this has to be done through a very fine kind of work with the attention that lies in the details of Being, not in the grand gestures.

Ego loves to focus on the grand gestures; and in its sneaky efforts to undermine real inner work, it’s constantly inviting me to speak about the big things and how wonderful they are; to rhapsodize about working together and magical energy and so on. It's a very subtle thing, but such emphasis on the miraculous implies an ability to escape from law, instead of submitting to it. The "freedom" we talk about too easily becomes some kind of an excuse not to have to discipline ourselves or be critically intelligent about our inner work.

Focusing on the tiniest things, which can't be celebrated with grand language or exchanged with one another as some kind of secret magic we share, becomes a kind of discipline in itself, because it builds the work in us molecule by molecule, which is what’s necessary. It can easily take ten— twenty— thirty years to attain any real durable quality of Being in a person, because of the molecular and incremental nature of this work.

No one wants to take that long to do anything, of course, because we would rather get results over the weekend.


New Book.

This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses. 

Click the link below to buy a copy of the monograph.

The Sixth Sense

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Obeying the law, part II

Liberation is not to be found in judging the "bad" or the "good." It is in the disappearance of the ego and the union with everything and everyone. The only bad is ignorance, the only good, awakening. Yet everyone wants to direct or be directed as he likes, to judge and criticize before seeking to understand. This attitude is fundamentally false. What we have to seek is not to impose an order, but to enter into an order, an order that existed long before us. It is the order that is important, not the organization.

—From The Reality of BeingJeanne Salzmann,  # 51To Organize 

At the beginning of this discourse on where we are in the action of law (see part I), I mentioned that many people engage themselves with a romantic notion that all paths are different, and so on. I'm embarrassed to report that I have heard this kind of thing so many times that every time someone starts to spout it, the inner critic in me automatically boots my inner “blah, blah, blah”commentary module. People have truly weak minds, it's a common problem; it takes most of a lifetime to develop a strong mind, and human beings are generally lazy about the intellect and the rigors that it requires to properly develop a capacity for a real critical thinking that is creative, rather than destructive. It is, furthermore, the first thing that falls by the wayside when people decide to be "spiritual."

 I say that it's a romantic notion basically because most people who talk about this are doing so—I hate to say it—because of spiritual selfishness and a wish to excuse themselves in particular from the rigors of a path — any path — that requires obedience to higher law. Some individuals I work with furthermore make a great show of insisting on telling everyone else that no matter what people say, all of it is always only their own opinion, their own experience, etc.—as though there were no great laws to be observed, either outside us or within us. This is utter nonsense, but it can sound very important and intelligent. (Am I judging? Yes, I am judging.)

We have to see how tiny we are and how absolutely constrained we are by law. Otherwise, we just act stupidly in everything we do. That's okay if all we want to do is stumble through life; but if we want to develop a real intelligence, it has to begin with the fact that we’re constrained by law in an absolute sense. It's not all relative. We may have the right to act stupidly, but it is not an obligation. One can demand more of oneself.

To say that everything is different and everyone's path is different is true within a range, but it's an incredibly limited range. You could say that we all live within a different temperature; there are tiny, incremental temperature differences between the bodies of most living things, and within the range of humanity, human beings definitely cover, let's say, a range of average inner temperatures between 97° and 99°. Everyone has a different temperature within that range; but we all live within that incredibly narrow range. Compared to the range of temperatures that operate in the known universe, which spans many tens of thousands of degrees, we operate inside the tiniest fraction of that.

It's like saying everyone's body weight is different. That's true; yet once again, it operates within an incredibly narrow range constrained by physical law regarding the possible weights of human beings. We will never see, for example, an adult that weighs 3 ounces or 10,000 pounds; yet we see things all around us that weigh micrograms or hundreds or thousands or even millions of tons. So our differences, apparent though they are, are strictly constrained and exist within an incredibly narrow range.

Spiritual work is the same way. The "many different paths" that people want to believe in are all actually constrained by the law of three and the law of seven, and every single path conforms to the evolution possible relative to those laws. So it might equally possible, and is in fact more accurate, to explain spiritual development by saying, "all paths are identical," because all paths are perfectly described by esoteric law, which is objective, not subjective. This, in a nutshell, is a large part of Gurdjieff's message to Ouspensky as communicated in In Search of the Miraculous.

We live in an extremely subjective age and we don’t, I think, in the least see how thoroughly it has polluted everything we think about, touch, and propagate between each other. We celebrate subjectivity; and we guard it jealously. I speak about this specifically because I have been keeping a close eye on my own subjectivity and I see quite clearly how inescapable it is. It has emotional reactions to everything that is foreign to it; and in every single instance, those reactions want to co-opt me into a subjective perspective about my ideas, opinions, and being.

This is an active force in every human being. If one hasn't seen this in operation, one’s self observation is deficient and one needs to do a great deal more work.


New Book.

This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses. 

Click the link below to buy a copy of the monograph.

The Sixth Sense

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Obeying the law, part I

Our work needs to be organized. Efforts that are accidental and anarchical will lead to nothing. My efforts need to be disciplined and subject to rules, to laws of another order above the ordinary level. So long as I do not see the imperative necessity of submitting to this order, I believe in my ordinary "I" and do not really work, do not advance toward my aim. I have to recognize this necessity.

—From The Reality of BeingJeanne Salzmann,  # 51, To Organize 

Recently I encountered an individual who wanted to emphasize a romantic trope about how all paths are different, everything is relative, and so on.

This person has a great deal of conversance with the Gurdjieff ideas. They're a friend.

Yet the way they presented these ideas verged on sophistry; and this wish that we have to make everything relative and subjective is dangerous.

All paths are identical in a certain sense. Everything is governed according to law when it comes to development and evolution; and this is true in both the natural and the spiritual world. One can no more escape the consequences of law on this level, or any level, than one can undo the fiber of the universe and then re-weave it into a new form. Maybe God can do that; I don't know. But people can't.

Yet I see human beings constantly attempting to achieve such works using their mind, because they don't like the universe the way it is and they want everything to be an exception for them in particular — even though the way they usually present is as though the exception were universal, and meant for everyone. The sneaky presence of the ego in these statements is always overlooked.

The law of three and the law of seven strictly constrain the possibilities for human development, and every individual on this level, regardless of their own individual and inward level of development, is on the same turning wheel and subject to the same laws. Even if I have developed to say, man number six, I'm still on this level and subject to its laws in exactly the same way as man number two. So we have a certain equivalence, we share the exact same path, even though we find ourselves on different points of it and may have different levels of understanding. I can't travel to man number six without going through man number two; and he can't get to where I am without going to man number six, because it is part of the same path.

I don't really like to use these man numbers as analogies, because the whole concept seems stuffy and outdated (even though it has an obvious validity) but here it is appropriate enough to remind everyone that there are hierarchies and that everything fits into its place according to a set of laws and principles that can't be changed by wishful thinking.

The minute I think that everything is flexible and relative, I'm tempted to make an exception for myself (which is what everyone wants) and believe that, in terms of development, all things are equal.

Nothing could be further from the truth; and if one does not understand what the laws are and how to obey them — obedience being the most important feature of an intelligent understanding of the path — one can't really go anywhere. Ego function is almost entirely dedicated to producing such states in people. It's how it preserves itself. This is why a human being that wishes to develop must subject themselves to an outside obedience. It's only through this than any freedom can arrive; that freedom is also always constrained by law.

It may sound strange to say that freedom is attained by obeying the laws; but this is the same everywhere. The moment that I choose to disobey the laws, I risk imprisonment. And we all want to disobey the laws, because we would rather serve ourselves than God.


New Book.

This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses. 

Click the link below to buy a copy of the monograph.

The Sixth Sense

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The roots of Being, part VI: exactly where I am

Another specific point of understanding that came up earlier this year. 

A person I know spoke about how confusing it was to them that they lost their work whenever they weren’t in a set of formal conditions where they were with other people pursuing spirituality. 

This is such a common condition; we come to our idea of our spiritual life with a lot of theories and ideas, which are much higher than what we can actually achieve, and then we're surprised when we get out into life and it doesn't work out so well.

It's easy to be spiritual when I'm sitting on a meditation cushion at the Zen retreat or the Lake Conference Center. It's easy to be spiritual when I'm in church or at home in prayer where no one is bothering me. But these places are the places where it is in fact the greatest waste of time to be spiritual. My soul, my spiritual nature, urgently needs to be out there in the world where it's tested and asked to contribute its energy to others — not in here where it just wants to—please excuse the irreverence—suck on God's teat. It's fine to nurse at God's bosom up to a certain point, and it's necessary, but there's a point where I have to be willing to become an adult and become more responsible. I have to get out there, outside myself, and take risks and engage in forms of growth that are much more difficult. It's really easy to become an infant that breast-feeds at the heart of my work, whatever it is, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, what have you, rather than going out into the world in a different way.

I have to become more responsible; and truly, really, it's possible to spend nearly an entire lifetime without doing that. 

If I become dependent in this way, of course I'm confused; I want the rewards of effort, but without paying for them. When I become excessively dependent on the crutch of my spiritual form and my spiritual organization, the inner muscles I need never quite develop the strength they require in order to help me walk. To come back to the analogy of the plant, it's like leaves and branches; they have to grow upwards and expose themselves to wind, to risk breaking, in order to develop the strength that will support them so that they can grow and expose themselves to sun. 

I need to risk breaking parts of myself off in order to help them become strong enough to receive what is necessary for inner growth.

Well, anyway, let's not rely excessively on this analogy of plants, perfect though it is in its own way. The point I'm trying to make, once again, is that I can't be a philosopher. My ideas and my philosophy about spirituality always exceed what I'm actually capable of, and I fall into delusions about who I am and what I can do.

Another example that came up earlier this year was that of being in direct and conscious relationship with another person, which is a very simple moment and not hard to reach. Yet I'm not in that moment much, even when I do grow roots into my Being. 

That's because a simple moment like this is actually a very high form of work and it's terrifying. When I look into another person's eyes directly and with honesty, and with an awareness of exactly where I am, the branches are exposed and the wind is high. Everything in me might break; at that point that's exactly where I ought to be. 

I don't do this very much, because it's scary and I have to actually admit in a practical way that I perpetually live in the midst of the unknown when it happens. 

Yet all of the love that my feeling parts have the capacity to receive is available in just such moments; that love is everything, and I ought to be willing to risk everything to receive it. Grace wants to be within this moment. I need to see that much better. 

The problem is that I think I am capable of very high and lofty kinds of work, whereas really, the most basic proposition is quite difficult for me. If I saw this better, there would be more humility. To tell you the truth, the humility even needs to come first; because if the feeling part develops a humility, an organic shame, it increasingly develops a willingness to suffer moments like this — and that is where real work could begin.

 It wouldn't, in this case, begin on the Zen cushion; it would begin at the checkout counter in the supermarket, or on the subway train.


New Book.

This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses. 

Click the link below to buy a copy of the monograph.

The Sixth Sense

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.