Friday, August 18, 2017

The organic intellect of being, part V: A voluntary intelligence

A voluntary intelligence is this organic intelligent intellect of being which arrives on its own, without being demanded, divorced, or manipulated.

It makes its appearance within being and supports the effort and the work without any prompting from the associative mind. There is a stillness that is preserved within its Being, carried into ordinary life, from which this capacity flows; and it manifests according to the magnetism of Being, the inner gravity of sensation.

It's a peculiar property of this organic intellect of being that it can’t manifest without its partner, the organic sense of Being. The two have to be there in conjunction in order to support one another's work; otherwise, they remain weak. And although you may think, well, it's a chicken/egg thing, it isn't in fact a chicken/egg situation at all. In our inner hierarchy, which has some peculiar inversions in it (maybe I will try to explain them later) the organic sensation of Being must arrive first in order to anchor the organism and its functions. Without this pendulum that swings back and forth to regulate activity and lend weight, an intelligence and Being that arises from sensation, the intellect of Being can't express itself; and the feeling of Being most certainly can’t express itself until the other two are aligned and in conjunction. Even though in order of rates of vibration the progression is intellect — sensation — feeling, the regulatory mechanism — the reconciling factor — in the relationship is always sensation. In this sense, without holy reconciling, neither holy affirming nor holy denying find the ground of Being for their manifestation.

My teacher Henry Brown used to call this phenomenon, a voluntary intelligence, the effortless effort. It can’t be invoked. The stillness arises. It is a companion to the active movement of the ordinary mind, and actually needs it as a support: yet it is the higher part of mind and of intelligence. It needs to volunteer itself, by itself, as this stillness that has its own capacity for receiving. And that stillness does not have any of the analytical components we are using to describe or discuss it here; in fact, all of the teachings about the mind: free attention, false personality, identification, my “parts”, all of this material falls away. The ideas here are like dead pieces of skin that are sloughed off in order for what is living and real to become manifest. Even using the word silence or quiet is unhelpful; once again, already, it’s analytical. I need to just be within the stillness, and appreciate the motion all around me, including my own motion, which surrounds the stillness. The stillness is the seed of the soul which receives life and all its Grace.

While all of this is essential and important to practice, it is also important to understand quite precisely exactly how it relates to the ordinary parts; and this is important in general terms, because in order to understand the disabilities our ordinary form of consciousness imposes upon us, it helps to know the way the harmonic structure functions, in the same way that it is good to understand music from a theoretical point of view. To extend the analogy, there is an entire theoretical structure of music which can become very helpful in the elaboration of it; yet in the end, in the practice, one must play music, which is very different than thinking of it. One must, in general terms, both think about it and play it; yet one shouldn’t think about it while playing, and one shouldn’t play it while thinking about it. The two exist side-by-side, but are separated; the playing is the higher activity, because it is the perfect and absolute expression of truth relative to what music is; within playing, there the stillness lies. Yet all around that, the theoretical structure forms the shell for the seed which can grow: so there you are.


Part 6 of this 6-part series will publish August 21.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The organic intellect of being, part IV: The Organic Intellect

So just what is the organic intellect of being?

Many masters discuss this question. One might say it is the least foreign of these three pieces of territory that fall under examination in spiritual work.

In point of fact, Zen Buddhism is highly interested in the development of the organic intellect of being; while one hears very little about sensation or feeling in Zen, the emphasis and focus on the organic intellect of being is strong. One hears this also in Meister Eckhart's discussions and sermons; and one hears it in constant and very verbal references to “the silence” which one hears in the Gurdjieff work. I've pointed out the irony of this activity, talking about the silence, before.

There's an intelligence that does not use words, just as there are other parts of being that don’t use words. Sensation doesn’t use words; it can't. And feeling doesn't use words; it can't either. We are left with the peculiar dilemma that only the intellect can use words, but because that is part of the way that it functions. So when we discuss an intellect that does not use words, we speak of an intellect that can conceptualize and imagine; but that conceptualization and imagination are not verbal. They become verbal after the intellect acts; or, they don't.

I say, they may not—they don’t—because they do not always need to.

The organic intellect of being has the capacity to grasp everything that is necessary about a situation or fact without any words at all participating.

From the Greek language, we use a word for it which has come down to the present day, Eureka. Eureka means  “I have found it;” traditionally, it’s said to have been the word that Archimedes used when he suddenly realized, sitting in the bathtub, that equal weights of gold and other less valuable metals would displace different amounts of water because of their relative densities.

Eureka is a moment in which something is comprehensively discovered; it instantly is understood from all its sides, in every aspect. Astute readers may remember that this is precisely how Gurdjieff described the word consciousness to Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous. The subject came up in the context of the word conscience, which is the eureka moment of feeling, but here we are examining it in terms of intellect:

" 'Conscience' is again a term that needs explanation.

"In ordinary life the concept 'conscience' is taken too simply. As if we had a conscience. Actually the concept 'conscience' in the sphere of the emotions is equivalent to the concept 'consciousness' in the sphere of the intellect. And as we have no consciousness we have no conscience. "Consciousness is a state in which a man knows all at once everything that he in general knows and in which he can see how little he does know and how many contradictions there are in what he knows. "Conscience is a state in which a man feels all at once everything that he in general
feels, or can feel.

—P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, p. 154

Conscience is the same word as consciousness in the Latin tongues. We can see in this particular instance that the word was quite exactly used to mean not "conscience" that is, amorality as understood in the Western sense of the word, but feeling-consciousness, that is, a comprehensive and total awareness. That awareness is a eureka; and it consists of a conscious and comprehensive understanding and seeing of everything at one time, without any words. One ought to come back to this idea; because this idea of the Eureka moment, where everything is grasped comprehensively and in its entirety in a single instant, is a shared feature of the higher part of each function. Intellect, feeling, and sensation all have this capacity to grasp life in its entirety, and comprehensively, in a single instant when the higher part is functioning. They are on a different order of intelligence than our ordinary Being.

I'll fall back on some personal experience here in order to give readers some insight on the matter. I've often explained to my wife and others that one engages when one engages in a creative activity, whether it be writing, poetry, more music, there often comes a single incident in which one understands the entire scope of the question. The best example I can think of in my own life — and I have many, so I need to selective – was when I was speaking to a friend from the Gurdjieff foundation on Christmas Eve some seven years ago when I suddenly, in a single instant, had an insight that unlocked the secrets of the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.

In that single instant, I understood, in the broadest sense of the word, the entire scope of the painting, its subject, and everything that it was about. Without analyzing the individual details (I couldn't, the painting wasn't in front of me) I knew that this key unlocked the door and that it was possible, using it, to see every object in the room and understand its place and purpose. I have for the last seven years been working on that project, and it's true that there are some things which have taken me a bit of extra work to get out of the closet, which was very densely packed, as one might imagine. But the point is the understanding behind all of the writing I've done was comprehensive and instantaneous.

This was an example of the organic intellect of being in action. It can understand everything about a situation instantly, comprehensively. Now extend that intellectual capability to the feelings… and to your sensation… and think about what that means in relationship to what Gurdjieff called “three brained being.”

This capacity flows into the ordinary parts on a fairly regular basis in small amounts. It's called intuition, among other things or, instincts. Either word will suffice. The point is that when it flows into ordinary life, it vastly enhances understanding. It is meant to be a far more active part in life and balance equally with the ordinary intellect, but it rarely if ever does this. When it does so – that is, when it manifests strongly, — it usually does so in the presence of other significant imbalances which have tipped the scales towards this particular function. In those cases, the person is called a genius — and it turns out that again, in most cases, genius is accompanied by severe deficiencies in other areas. Autistic people are the best examples of this; some of them can be absolute geniuses in the organic intellect of Being when it comes, for example, to painting or music; but they are functional idiots in every other area, because they lack essential connections that ought to be there for the ordinary parts.

Those connectors act as necessary moderators which impart a certain practicality on this level; and while the lack of those connections for the ordinary parts has freed up a much larger pathway for the expression of the organic intellect of Being, this is a useless capacity when it takes place in the absence of a right relationship with the outer world and ordinary life. Here, one can see how important it is for the parts to develop harmoniously and in relationship with one another, and how absolutely important it is for these higher parts to have strong and healthy relationships with the lower ones, which are also absolutely necessary for functional being.

Well then. We've established that the organic intellect of being has an instantaneous capacity for grasping everything; and we have equally established that it needs a good connection to the lower parts in order for it to function well.

Yet perhaps it’s impossible, under ordinary circumstances— in the middle of ordinary life —to ask us to truly escape the constant and demanding chatter of the ordinary mind, the associative mind. Hence all of the emphasis on meditative practices to quiet the mind so that one can conduct an observance of the inflow without being identified with it. These practices can be quite helpful, because if a practitioner gets far enough into them, they experience what is called "opening" in the Gurdjieff work; there is an active separation between the higher and lower mind, such that the higher mind can begin to flow into Being more directly. This function is identical in action to the function of a voluntary sensation; and of course one hears that word talked about repeatedly in Jeanne Salzmann's "The Reality of Being."

Yet one does not hear anyone speak of the arrival of a voluntary intelligence, which absolutely must be spoken about now, if we want to understand this question properly.


Part 5 of this 6-part series will publish August 18.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The organic intellect of being, part III: Rabbit Droppings

This brings us to the next step in our analysis of the situation, which is, a critical mind. One of Gurdjieff's aphorisms is, for he who has not a critical mind, his staying here is useless.

Of course, it's generally understood that he meant this in regards to the Prieuré at Fontainbleu, the place he had established for the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. But in reality, if one takes this same aphorism from the point of view of the old adage, "be here now," one understands that it is no use to be here now if one is simply standing here in the middle of the rabbit droppings. That is not enough.

No, one must have a critical mind — that is, one must question the rabbit droppings.

I'm sure that most of us, when we decided to undertake a spiritual practice, expected it to be loftier than the examination of rabbit droppings. Nonetheless, as any scientist might tell us, studying the excrement of creatures can tell you an enormous amount about their lifestyle, behavior, diet, digestive abilities, micro-and macrobiotic health, and so on. So rabbit droppings are actually a rich source of investigation, if I have a critical mind.

And that critical mind needs first of all to understand that what I am looking at are rabbit droppings.

Until I realize this, a great deal of my analysis of my associations holds them in high regard and thinks that they are anything but rabbit droppings. Their spherical nature, their consistency, their elegance are all appealing features. I like them. And when Gurdjieff said, "like what it does not like,” what he was essentially saying is, “don't become enamored of your rabbit droppings. Don't let your associative thoughts become the focus of your spiritual life.

Even after many years spent studying these questions, one tends towards trying to approach inner work from the point of view of the outer and associative parts. This is impossible. It will never work; and yet the associative parts are absolutely convinced not only of their own value, but their efficacy and infallibility in the pursuit of spiritual matters.

In reality, they are worthless, and need to be ignored.

They can be there; but they can't be allowed to call the shots, because all they are is automatic functions that pop up in response to external stimuli. This was the essence of my experience back in 2001 when I started the new job; and although one does not live forever in such states, they merge and blend with the ordinary state to some extent, so that the organic intellect of being can function, on one level or another, with a healthier and better connection to parts. This is part of the action that the inflow helps to engender.


Part 4 of this 6-part series will publish August 15.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The organic intellect of being, part II: Ground Zero

The ordinary intellect, which Gurdjieff and his followers called the associative intellect, is a reflexive tool that’s built to automatically respond to what one is surrounded by externally. While I don't really like to out my personal inner experiences to the public, in this instance, I’ll make an exception, because I think it is illustrative of the nature of that creature and what we need to understand about it, if we want to ever come to it with the degree of skepticism, questioning, and intimate observation that's necessary in order to understand it better.

In 2001, when I underwent what one would term, in most works, an “enlightenment experience,” which is, measured in any sense, a permanent change in the state of Being, my mind shut down.

That is, my associative intellect shutdown; and while that was accompanied by a wide range of other important changes in function I won't describe here, the action of the intellect shutting down was both shocking and extraordinary. The experience lasted not for a few minutes—or an hour, or a day, but for months. During that period, I discovered that all of the "thinking" that I felt was necessary and even absolutely vital for ordinary life was in fact a complete waste of time.

None of it was necessary for daily life in any way, shape, or form.

When this part first ceased to function, it was terrifying. I found myself entirely within the moment, and everything was quite still. None of the associative thoughts I was accustomed finding within myself that drove my life from moment to moment were present; and I for some reason couldn't see how it was possible to live or get things done when there was no background noise dictating the course of action to be taken. I was alone; I was awake, and there was no background noise.

This couldn’t have come at a more critical time in my life. I had just been through what I call my own personal 9/11. I had been divorced, lost all my savings, my job, my house, and my children. I had moved back to New Jersey from Georgia and was about to start a new job at a new and very demanding company, where every possible skill I had learned over the last 20 years would be tested. Huge financial burdens were resting on my shoulders, and I was starting life all over again from ground zero. It was not the time for my mind to shut down. Not at all, not at all.

As it happened, I continued to encounter life and its ordinary tasks, and everything just took care of itself. I found myself in what one might call the eye of a hurricane, where external events took place in their usual confusing and demanding sequences, and every response that was necessary arrived automatically within my scope of being and field of my awareness without me making any effort whatsoever.

I was, for all intents and purposes, entirely separated from the automatic functions; and I could see that they were all simply part of a machine that did not have any mind in it as the term needs to be properly understood. Because I was starting this demanding new job for an extremely high performance company, it seemed doubly dangerous that this part had shut down, because I used it all the time in my business career and it seemed to me to be not only absolutely necessary for moment-to-moment functioning, but also what I had used to build my career on. I'm considered to be quite clever in both personal life and in business, you see; and whether or not that is true, that perception in others was built on the power of my associative part, which is strong and capable.

In this high performance job, I immediately found myself in situations where challenges were continually being issued to me. I was relatively new, and of course company management wanted to test me. A barrage of questions about my perceptions of the business, my experience with textiles, and what I thought “ought to be done” about this, that, and the other thing were coming at me all day long in a constant flow.

I was astonished to see that the mind of intelligence, this quiet mind that had no clear connection to associative thought, stood there doing very little or nothing in the midst of it all, while the associative mind continually spit out answers throughout the day that fit the situation appropriately. I didn't do anything. I wasn't even "thinking" of the things that my associative functions were saying. They just popped out, as though I had opened a box of cereal and was pouring Rice Crispies from it.

It turns out I am full of a lot of Rice Crispies.

These Rice Crispies were most satisfying to the people around me, but what astonished me over and over was the way they popped out without any participation on the part of my conscious mind. They were part of an automaton, a machine that knew what to do and how to do it. This was a graphic illustration of exactly what Gurdjieff said about the nature of our automatic or habitual being. It isn't even intelligent. It is actually a machine. It is no more intelligent than the CPU and the rote data in the computers that we use.

This may come as a terrifying piece of information to folk who have never had the experience, or who want to believe that their ordinary parts really have some higher meaning of one kind or another. They don't. What is true is that each one of them receives at least a trickle of information from the higher mind most of the time, so they are all capable of being informed — inwardly formed — with material from a higher source that is helpful in improving their quality. Nonetheless, by themselves, they are as meaningless as rabbit droppings.

Now, I'm sure you are feeling that I have stepped on your proverbial corns by telling you that our ordinary associations and manifestations are no better than rabbit droppings; but there is hope in this. Rabbit droppings make abundant fertilizers; and, the same way that rabbits chew grass in order to produce droppings, so we swallow and digest impressions before these associative actions are spit out of us.


Part 3 of this 6-part series will publish August 12.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The organic intellect of being, part I

Over the weekend, I spent some time at an intensive work day with a major work figure who is now quite elderly.

This individual well understood the principles I write about; and they transmitted them almost without error to those who were in attendance. This is unusual, because for the most part, even experienced folks don't seem to know precisely what they are talking about; and this person did. It's good to know that there are some who fully understand, on a basic level, the practical aspects of this teaching, what to emphasize, how to emphasize it, and how to go about acquiring a new understanding from an inward and organic point of view.

This brings us to a subject which needs more specific treatment. It arises as a consequence of some of the things that were said over the weekend; and while I would say that the person who was transmitting this Dharma did not say anything inaccurate, there were areas where more specific information and much more precise thinking was needed.

The individual spoke of the need for precision in inner work, but mostly in regard to sensation — which, fair enough, is indeed where most people need to concentrate their intelligible efforts.

But the question of the intellect and its role was largely left out, other than to say that the higher part of the intellect is silent.

At another point in the conversation, it was accurately indicated that both the higher and the lower part of every function need to participate together, to meet, in order for real inner work to take place; that's entirely true. Yet the description of the mind as silent when it is engaged in its higher functions is not entirely accurate; or, perhaps it is, but its conjunction with the lower mind and the need for an organic sensation of intellect was not discussed.

Put more precisely, although it does indeed involve sensation (for no such state may arise without that) the correct term for it would be organic intelligence of being, or, the organic intellect of being.

Having thrown both of these out there, I think we’ll stick with the organic intellect of Being. And in order to use this term in conjunction with its partner terms, let's understand that there is an organic intellect of Being, an organic sensation of Being, and an organic feeling of Being.

In separate pieces, I've explained that this idea of what is organic needs to be used in conjunction with the word fundamental. That is to say, it is of the body, of the organs; and at the same time it forms the foundation for this apparently (but not actually) ephemeral quality of consciousness called Being.

So there’s a foundation for Being, and it’s “built into” the organism.
It is substantial; it is material. It exists—let’s be clear on this— at the molecular level. It is so substantial and material that for each of the functions — intellect, sensation, and feeling — the vibration can be actively, inwardly sensed when it’s present. This means that one participates in a universe of “inflowing vibrations” which arise in the organism as a response to life itself — both inward and outward life — and feed its functions. The concentration of these vibrations is a concentration of responsibility, a concentration of the ability to respond.

This understanding of the phenomenon as food is quite important, because it’s the feeding of the organism that allows special parts of it — we would call, for example, the astral body a "special" part — to grow.

We’ll refer to these functions as the organic functions, as opposed to the automatic functions of mind, body, and emotion. These three different organic functions, organic intellect, organic sensation, and organic feeling, are each active entities. And today, it's the nature of the action and manifestation of the organic intellect of Being I’d like to discuss.


Part 2 of this 6-part series will publish August 9.

Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Honey, part II: The Grace of existence

My beekeeping equipment
April, 2017: during installation of this year's bees

April 29

So I just want to speak today about the gathering in these impressions and the way that we take in the nectar of our lives.

 Everything that flows from life into Being is food for us. That is, of course, a theoretical concept that is easy for the mind to grasp; but to live within the active experience of impressions flowing in as a food is a rich and overwhelming experience. The description of "manna from heaven" in the Bible is a reference to taking in life in this way; understanding physically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, that life feeds the soul in such a beautiful and satisfying way that each moment is nearly impossible to describe and comprehend. 

There is an ecstatic component to such experiences, of course; yet this takes place more when the alignment of Being is not quite right. If the inward parts are developed properly, this otherwise ecstatic property of receiving life becomes a more balanced experience in which both the joy and sorrow, which each have an infinite emotional depth, are taken in equally at the same time in such a way that one experiences and understands the Grace of existence.

 To take in the Grace of existence quite directly brings an appreciation for what life is and why we have it. The act of living, no matter what comes from it, is an experience of Grace, because the entire situation exactly as it is encountered is a blessing and a glory.  This is why we call it the Perfection.

There's no element of self or ego in this; and I can know the difference, because the instant that self and ego interfere, I have opinions about it instead of receiving the Grace. 

Now, the opinions are a tricky thing, because they can go in any direction; and they usually like to go south, because that is easier. Yet if there are no opinions, one is balanced in the moment and opinions do not go up or down; they become silent. 

Instead, a stillness of mind encounters life, and within it, God is always there.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Honey, part I

Every once in a while, I like to speak about the relationship between the Being of nature and the nature of Being.

The two are related; and we can often learn a great deal about the nature of Being from the world around us, from a conceptual and occasionally even practical point of view.

Today I'm going to return to a subject I’ve written about before, but with a slightly different level of understanding and intention.

There’s a close connection between the structure of a honeybee colony and the nature of Being. It's not just a romantic notion; the way that bees collect honey is a mirror of the way in which our consciousness functions.

I was explaining this to my wife this morning in the following manner:

All of our life, and everything in it—every object, event, circumstance, and condition— is a form of nectar. When I use the words every object, event, circumstance, and condition, of course it sounds generic, vague, and probably insubstantial. It's a theoretical bracket to include everything that happens to us.

But try for a moment to extract that essential concept from its theoretical framework and apply it to the smallest detail of our lives; because this is where the rubber hits the pavement, where we can really see something true.

The tiniest thing, like a delicate leaf on the stem of an herb, or a red light at a traffic stop — the pattern on a tablecloth, the curved shape of a silver spoon — each one of these things is an object, event, circumstance, and condition. We encounter an object in our life; each encounter is an event; there is a context, a surrounding circumstance for each encounter; and there are conditions in which the encounter takes place, that is, our psychological state, the temperature of the day, etc.

The point is that every single thing that happens to one in one's life, every single impression, is a form of nectar. The arisings of the universe are a material exuded in order to encourage us to appreciate, collect, and concentrate its fecundity within the container of Being—i.e., consciousness.

All of this material flows into the body constantly, which is the meaning of the first prayer of my three-part prayer practice: we are vessels into which the world flows.

This understanding is absolutely this central to the beginning of understanding anything about what we are. Along with sensation — which is the active participation in the inflow — this understanding of inflow, of being vessels, is the foundational principle upon which all inner work must rest. That foundation must be practical, that is, experienced in practice, not theoretical, some idea we have about things, which we will inevitably romanticize. One can't allow oneself to become all starry eyed and magical about this — even though the process is indeed magical. One must practically experience it and live within the condition.

Now, we’ll note that life "exudes" all of these substances as a form of nectar, because they attract consciousness. (and, by the way, hence identification.) Impressions are the nectar that the flower of life emits in order for the honeybees of consciousness to collect and concentrate them. This works in exactly the same way as a beehive. The mind goes out and gathers the nectar, the honey, of impressions and stores it in the body.

This is a complex process, because an extraordinary number of blended substances arise from it, all of them composing a whole thing which we call a life, but which is actually a concentrated repository of responsibility, that is, an ability to respond to life.

The reason that life, that Being itself, is arranged this way is because of the need for God's self-disclosure. God wants to know himself; at this can only take place through the concentration of responsibility, that is, the gathering of this nectar of life into receptacles that concentrate it in exactly the same way that beehives concentrate honey from flowers.

This is a reproductive process that takes place within us under the supervision of a queen: and that Queen is the Virgin Mary, the ruling source of all fecundity that gives birth to everything we are. She, as the feminine principle and an aspect of God, rules the planetary world. She also rules the inflow one in the ray of creation as it moves from the sun towards the moon through the earth. As I've explained in other essays, this is why Mary is often shown standing on a crescent moon in traditional religious imagery.

If one wants to extend the analogy further, one should understand that the nectar serves as food for the hive — for the whole consciousness — and it also serves as a material in order to raise more brood. That is to say, in gathering honey in the form of impressions, consciousness gains the ability to reproduce itself.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Organic feeling

Hudson River, from Grandview, April 2017

Notes from April 19

This morning, I was having a discussion with my wife about the nature of feeling and how it assists us in understanding life.

Feeling is quite different that emotion; we have emotions, but we receive feelings. Feelings come from a different place and being; they’re connected what higher part of Being, rather than all of my ordinary outward manifestations. As one grows older, if one is fortunate enough to develop more comprehensive inward connections, one gradually develops an organic connection to feeling. Feeling becomes voluntary; that is to say, it begins to participate voluntarily, under its own authority, because it has found a place in which it can manifest according to its own right.

So I can have an organic feeling about my life, a feeling that’s inherent and impossible to put into any kinds of words whatsoever. This is an important point to understand, because organic feeling isn't rational. It can't be explained; trying to explain it is in many senses a waste of time. It inwardly forms a different kind of connection with my life.

The best example/examples I personally have of this are my relationship with two people who’ve died: my friend Joe and my sister. In both cases, these people did a great deal of damage to our shared emotional relationship; they were troubled individuals who, despite being — I think— good, loving souls, were confronted with so many karmic consequences in this one lifetime that they didn't know how to deal with them, and lashed out at others accordingly.

It wasn't until after they died that my real feelings for them became apparent. Death, in other words, became a gift that unveiled what real feeling towards them might be, instead of the emotional reactions I constantly had.

The unveiling that death confers upon relationship, if real feeling participates, invariably shows that love conquers everything. This can't be used as some naïve trope with which to explain the world; because it's inexplicable, in that the world won't allow itself to be explained on these terms, at least not rationally. Explanation, you see, isn’t a feeling; it’s a rationalization of one kind another.

Feeling is a coming into love.

And this coming into love, which is brokered by God's own love, is sent in small parts through feeling. It can't be sent in any large amount, because it’s a powerful elixir and we aren’t capable of receiving it in quantity.  If we’re fortunate, we receive just enough of God's love to position ourselves inwardly with understanding, where we can begin to see that love is more important than our outward reactions or our opinions or thoughts about another person.

Well, you are probably saying to yourself, there he goes, as usual; first he tells me that something can't be explained, then he tries to explain it.
Well, that's true; but that in and of itself is also a rationalization, and we are trying to move beyond rationalization into a tactile, organic and mutual understanding between one another about what love is.

Love always forgives.

I'm not like that; most of me doesn’t want to forgive in any sense. Yet when I want to draw a lesson from outward life about how love always forgives, I'm reminded of the story about the Iranian woman who mounted the gallows to confront her son's murder just before he was executed.

The event sent shockwaves through the Iranian community—and the world at large. This woman, in that one instant, became a teacher on behalf of God. She spoke the truth of God's will and mercy, not man's words of vengeance and murder. Even though we’re not on the gallows (except, of course, metaphorically) we are not a condemned prisoner, not an accusing mother—although that this is where judgment leads; it is destructive. This force of judgment, that ought to help us to reach sound conclusions and make good decisions, too often gets turned to our darker side. Forgiveness is in fact the only thing that can turn us back from the dark side so that we once again face God—in life, in love.

Speaking on this leads me to the question of organic shame — which Gurdjieff cited as the foundation of objective morality.  Organic shame is clearly an aspect of organic feeling.  I will discuss that in the next post or two.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts on our nothingness, part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much of life ought to be like this.

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

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

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

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


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.