Opening Magical Channels

Witches Dance

Someone once asked me, “What exactly are you teaching?” I was a bit shocked that someone might ask such a question of an author who has dedicated himself to teaching the Craft of the Wise. But as the question settled—and I considered its source—I began to ask myself a question in meditation, similar to the stark question posed by a casual onlooker, but also unique. The question I sat with was: “What is this?”

It’s a good question to begin asking yourself in your own meditations. As you ask the question, inhale, and hold it for a second at the level of the solar plexus chakra. “What is this?” Don’t seek an immediate answer, because that’s just your head talking. You want a response that goes deeper. You want the whole body to resonate with this question—and then ultimately respond in a way that illuminates, sheds light on your magical path, and frees up channels of energy.

Don’t seek an immediate answer, because that’s just your head talking…

That’s really the point of the meditative inquiry process that I propose in both Wicca: A Year and A Day, as well as its companion volume, Wicca: the Second Degree. It isn’t to make you good at mediation. It isn’t to pose silly questions. It’s to make you good at your life. It’s to open up previously choked up channels of magical power. So often, we live unconsciously in ways that are dictated by habit, convenience, and a deep need for pleasure. Nothing wrong with any of those motivations—as long as they don’t interfere with your spiritual progress.

The problem is that these habitual patterns actually do get in our way—whether or not we choose to acknowledge this. Habit actions might make us comfortable, because they’re familiar. But they are not powerful channels of magical energy. Magic just gets stuck, blocked, ineffective and “murky” when we, ourselves, become caught up in relying on them for responding to every situation in our lives. The process of meditative inquiry moves our blocked energies around—almost like how acupuncture moves Chi around the body. The process wakes us up. And the responses we uncover by asking a question and listening deeply frequently startles us into new, brave actions. It changes our consciousness. And that, as Dion Fortune would say, is magic.

Is Meditation a Problem?

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About five days ago the Atlantic posted an article entitled “Dark Knight of the Soul” which was intended to warn readers about the potential harms from meditation. I’ve provided the link below so you can take a look at the original text.

The article  documents the so-called “negative” experiences some may have following meditation. Some beginning meditators report experiencing anxiety, sadness, “terror,” confusion, and more. For over two decades now, a whole slew of trans-diagnostic research on the effects of meditation across various health disciplines has arrived on the scene and has made big news.meditation2

This research has helped to guide the field of mental health into developing new psychotherapies. But the research has shown that meditation is by and large successful in assisting as either a complementary or first line treatment in literally every field of health science. That being said, in the field of psychology, we have known for a long time the limited benefits and drawbacks of meditation for individuals who are in the pro-dromal state of psychosis or who have an active form of psychosis. Meditation practices were never intended to control  such issues, and stepping onto any spiritual path that teaches how to “uncork” the emotional issues of your past is bound to cause individuals to brush against their long-repressed emotional content. That may, in fact, include anxiety, sadness, “terror,” and confusion.

It isn’t to say that meditation causes this–but rather, the material is brought forward from the individual through the meditative process. For most people, these emotional experiences are transient–and they may not have any direct impact on anyone’s “effectiveness” in everyday life.

It isn’t to say that meditation causes this–but rather, the material is brought forward from the individual through the meditative process.

stacked stonesThe article seemingly makes a “direct link” between meditation and the strikingly dramatic, unsettling experiences of the individuals who appear in the article. However, we know nothing of these individuals’ back stories. We know nothing of their mental health or illness, their traumas, emotional repression, drug or alcohol use. There are many factors that can contribute to long-lasting, destabilizing  experiences that have nothing to do with meditation itself. In fact, it may have been just as likely that there would be some other “triggering” experience that these individuals would encounter along their lifetime. If they had just eaten a Twinkie, would we be seeing articles about the dangers of eating Twinkies? Okay, bad example.

It is important to understand that meditation is not necessarily meant to “soothe the soul” either. Any spiritual path worth its salt will shake you up. It will cause you to look deeply into the causes of your suffering, disempowerment, and the patterns of your life that have contributed to or compounded your difficulties. In the popular western mind, meditation is all about “blanking the mind” or “feeling groovy.” So it may come as a bit of a shock that meditation, as a practice, takes you down some rough emotional road here and there–especially at the beginning of your practice. That can be difficult to swallow given our western intolerance for any kind of discomfort. And yet, feeling our feelings is really the only way out of the tangled mess we create by suppression. Medication, drugs, alcohol and “pushing your feelings waaaay down,” only compound any suffering or disquiet you may feel already. The only way out is through.

Any spiritual path worth its salt will shake you up.

Is meditation harmful? I think the bigger question is–are the alternatives (e.g. suppression or drugging) any better for you? The answer on both accounts is a resounding no.

If you have an evolving or active serious mental health diagnosis, it is important to seek treatment. Meditation may not be right for you now. But there are many other spiritual practices that can complement any treatment you receive.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/372766/

From my forthcoming work–Wicca: Another Year and A Day

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The “meaning” of life takes place on a much larger scale than our own personal lives. Our lives are just a momentary speck. They are the most recent manifestation of a long lineage of consciousness expressing itself in endless forms. Once your life is finished, another takes its place and continues to express this impersonal flow long into an unfathomable future.

They are the most recent manifestation of a long lineage of consciousness expressing itself in endless forms.

The same immense, powerful, vast and impersonal tide of energy that gives birth to solar systems and swallows them up in black holes, also gives birth to the temporary forms that we inhabit. Life must fulfill itself. When we become dissatisfied and unhappy, it is because our own “personalized” version of life is not occurring as we “want it to happen.” Thus, on a small scale, we impede the vast and impersonal flow of this force and attempt to make things happen according to our individual plans. To live a more fulfilled existence, we must detach from this Alchemy2notion that “its all about me,” and live our lives as agents of this unknowable flow that manifests as just this moment.

Sisyphus and Finding the Great Balance

MythI used to love Greek myths when I was a kid. The hero deeds, the great feats, the Gods all spoke a language that hit in the gut. They weren’t stories that appealed to my mind so much as they were appealing to my dreams. Now, because I’m both a psychotherapist and a pagan, I’m going to reference the old-timers, the granddaddies, the myth-makers of psychology: Freud and Jung. Both of them contended that myth and dreams both originate from the same place. They represent the body speaking.

…something “other” awakens within us and comes to life….

When the mind settles away from the known shores of conscious thinking, planning, working, and communicating with others, something “other” awakens within us and comes to life. It’s the life of our bodies, with its own set of demands, which usually has little (if anything) to do with the social demands and expectations of our everyday lives. Yet we live in a split way. We have sort-of parallel lives running, with each sphere almost blind to the other.

Living in this split way leads us to disempowerment, discomfort and ultimately suffering. We feel dissatisfied at some level with our lives, our work, our partners, families, communities and ourselves. But we can’t quite put our finger on the problem. Why? Why do we feel this way? And how can we come into a greater accord with the twin rhythms of our lives—the mind and body, light and dark, conscious and unconscious processes?

…we live in a split way. We have sort-of parallel lives running, with each sphere almost blind to the other.

The myth of Sisyphus might give us a clue. Sisyphus was the God who was consigned to the underworld and given the task of forever pushing a tremendous boulder up a hill. As soon as he reached the summit, the boulder would roll back down and he would have to start the task again. So the question this myth raises is whether or not Sisyphus is bound to suffer. It also asks whether or not we will suffer, for the heroes, Gods and Goddesses of myth are really ourselves.images2LS5LLH6

Sisyphus will suffer if he lives out of synch with the task before him—pushing, pushing, pushing. If he stands there and thinks, “Oh hell no! This is bulls**t,” then he has misaligned himself. Suffering and disempowerment will ensue. But if he throws himself just into the pushing, and simply does just what the moment requires of him, then the mind and body align. The world opens. Power floods in. In that state of alignment, there is no room for preferences, a product of habitual thinking and a lifetime of patterns that always leads to misalignment, confusion, dissatisfaction and loss of power in our lives.

It isn’t easy to live in alignment. Old habits and preferences die hard. Most organisms want to experience comfort and pleasure as much of the time as possible. But there is no power when you live in that way. It’s living lopsided. Living as a slave to our preferences leads exactly to where we are now: stressed, unhappy, dissatisfied and disempowered.

At the time of the Equinoxes, it is time for each of us to take stock of balance. Do we have it? Are we living in it? This Fall, take time to throw yourself into your life fully with no gaps. Push the boulder. Be an instrument of the universe and do the thing that needs doing in this moment. This is living in balance—moment by moment. See for yourself the difference that living in balance will have.

Living Lughnasadh

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There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “If you’re falling, you might as well dive.” It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy to do. What this saying implies is for us to meet the moment head-on; to do what life requires of us, despite our own ideas about the requisites. When it rains, take out your umbrella. When something funny happens, laugh. When someone needs help, reach out a hand. But we don’t live like that. If you’re like most people, when you meet the moment, you think things through, you judge and weigh your options. You consider the people involved and decide if they are worthy of your efforts. You project your thoughts into the past and the future to see if whatever the moment needs right now is “appropriate.”

When it rains, take out your umbrella. When something funny happens, laugh. When someone needs help, reach out a hand.

As children we throw ourselves into life wholeheartedly. We leave nothing out. We live this way until we meet our school friends that teach us that some things are worth doing and others not. We learn how to edit what we say and what we do. We learn what people are “in” and which ones are “out.” We learn how to “fit in” no matter what the cost, the damage to our souls, or the harm we inflict on others. In essence, we practice living our lives protecting our egos. We separate from life and its requirements and learn to act in ways that create lasting harm to the world around us. We learn to live out of synch with life, with our instincts. We learn to live from a humming core of fear. We learn to only serve ourselves.

Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-NAH-suh) is the Gaelic word for the pre-Christian harvest festival that focused on the bounty of the first reaping. It is the first of three harvest festivals in the pagan wheel of the year, the second being Fall Equinox, and the third is Samhain. The rites of Lughnasadh center around the harvesting of grain, understanding that the killing of life also means the sustaining of life. One of the most basic motifs in world mythology and ritual is that of coming into harmony with the realization that life must feed on itself. When we see this fact clearly, it is difficult to live in harmony with it.

cauldron smallerSo what do we do? Do we shun reality? In some spiritual traditions, for example among the Jains of India, the goal is to not participate in the self-feeding fire of life. They take great care not to ingest living things and avoid killing animals or plants for food. They wear cloth over their noses and mouths to prevent accidental inhalation of insects. The Jains’ response to the ever-burning fire of life is to extinguish it. Some might see these practices as an extreme, but they are certainly one valid set of responses to the horrific notion that we must kill in order to live.
Other traditions, such as those of the Upanishads, feed the fires of life.

…coming into harmony with the realization that life must feed on itself.

All of life is Agni, or fire, in their view. Food that they eat is fire (or energy). Food gives the body its fire/energy. The Upanishads rituals involving viewing food as a sacrifice; not to turn away from the realities of living, but to embrace them, meet the moment as it requires. In the Upanishads’ view, life is an ever burning fire that needs to be fed. If you’re falling, you might as well dive.

The same holds true in the view of contemporary pagans who see the grain (and other food we eat) as a willing sacrifice. But these ideas and the philosophies that buoy them extend far beyond the rites of harvesting. Lughnasadh encourages us to live our lives just as the grain to be harvested, doing what needs to be done, sacrificing our ideas and notions of life in order to actually live organically, vitally, presently.