I’ve just finished reading Working on Yourself Alone By Arnold Mindell (See Review below). He takes an interesting approach to meditation, breaking it down into a process and actually showing different types of meditation processes that a person can work with. What I like best is that he shows how to achieve meditative states of awareness using different channels of experience. This is not something usually addressed in works on meditation because the focus is on teaching meditation within a specific cultural context, but the value of this kind of approach is that meditation is approached as a process with specific steps that can be followed and broken down as needed, in order to determine what works or doesn’t work.
Meditation as a process isn’t confined to one way of doing meditation. There are different types of meditation and different results. Pathworking, for example, doesn’t work with the body in the same way that a breathing meditation would work. Perhaps what most interest me with this book is that the author claims that its not pain that motivates people to change but rather a mixture of love, self-discipline, and enlightenment. I think there’s some truth to that, but I think that pain can be a good motivator toward change. Certainly it causes us to be aware of who we are and how we experience life. However, I’d say that following through on sustained change is where discipline, love, and enlightenment come into play. These keep us on track, while also informing us of the progress we’ve made with our work, and even in meditation there is a need to see some kind of result (though how that result manifests is something that can only be experienced as opposed to predicted or defined).
Meditation as a process does, for the most part seem to be applied around the body. What this means is that the body is an essential element of the process. The body needs to be factored in as an essential element of meditation that be examined to understand what is stopping someone from effectively meditating. I think that the mental chatter should also be included in that examination as a symptom that can be explored to discover root issues that the person needs to work on. I’ve used mental chatter or monkey mind in my meditations to discover or explore issues that are stopping me from being fully present in my meditation and this in turn has lead to internal work that has allowed me to process and heal from those issues. Some of that work has also involved movement, which the author touches on at some length. Movement is an overlooked component of the meditation process because of the usual stereotypes associated with meditation, but even in those stereotypes movement is a component that has relevance to meditation and its effectiveness or lack thereof.
I like to apply process to everything I do, because understanding the activity flow and components helps you understand what works or what needs to be changed. A given technique becomes much easier to change or replicate once you understand how it works and what components define it. You can strip away the non essentials and still get something significant to happen because you understand the underlying principles that inform how the process works.
Book Review: Working on Yourself Alone by Arnold Mindell
The author applies a process perspective to meditation, explaining how different meditation techniques work and how to achieve meditation by switching techniques. I found it to be a useful book, especially as he demonstrates it through his own practice. He shows how to switch to different meditation modalities and also shows how to strip the technique of cultural context. One downside of this is that he is stripping away certain contextual information that might be useful for the meditation practice. Nonetheless the author does a good job of exploring how meditation works and what can be done to more effectively meditate.
4-24-13 I had a dream this morning. I was on a road trip with Jim Nadenicek, a friend I knew in my State College days. We were driving through Pittsburgh and just happened to be going by my old elementary school, so I asked him if we could stop in. We did stop and I saw a few teachers I vaguely recognized and read into a woman I knew as a kid. She gave me advice about how to conduct myself around other people. Then I went outside and Jim had this jeep. My car had broken down and we needed to go to the auto repair shop to see what was wrong. An interesting dream that I’m still processing, but I see certain themes in it that are consistent with internal work I’m doing right now. My dreams have become more vivid since I’ve been doing Zhine meditation regularly.
My newest book, a Magical Life has just been published by Immanion Press. A Magical Life is the collected blog posts of this website from 2008 to 2010, which comes out to roughly 250 pages (pretty amazing, eh?). In this book I candidly share my life journey as a magician, demonstrating that magic isn’t just something you do, but something you live. You’ll read about various experiments, some successful, some not, as well as the intensive personal work that I’ve been engaged in during those years. A Magical Life is a snapshot of the life of a magician, my mistakes and successes, and my on-going work to know myself better, so that I can become a better person. It is also an exploration of magic that shows how magic shows up in the life of a magician.
I’m pretty pleased to be putting this out, because while it is essentially a journal collection there are a lot of ideas and experiments I worked on in this pages, including some I’d forgotten about. If you wish to order a copy, go here.
I came across a couple articles decrying the rise of intolerance in the Pagan community. Joseph Nichter discusses his own experiences with intolerance in the Pagan community, while Peter Dybing notes the rise of intolerance in the Pagan community in the last few years. The sad truth is though that this intolerance has been around a lot longer than the last few years. Perhaps, if anything, the internet with its continued evolution has just made it much easier to see the not so pleasant truth of the Pagan community: there is a fair amount of intolerance when it comes to a variety of topics including the practice of one’s spirituality, experimentation in magical work, whether magic is even part of Paganism anymore, as well as cultural issues surrounding how Paganism is accepted by mainstream cultures. As someone who has been labeled a fluffy bunny from well before I began professionally writing in 2003, I can tell you that Pagans can be pretty opinionated. I write that tongue in cheek, because I must come off as pretty opinionated in this blog post.
But the reality is that this isn’t any different from any other religious community. Christianity has its sects as well, which disagree on matters of doctrine and culture. At least we haven’t, as of yet, started calling each other heretics and engaging in more violent activities. Instead it’s just online flame wars, and people getting their @$$es handed to them for expressing opinions. I’ll probably get some flak for this but I’m used to it. I wish I wasn’t though. I wish the Pagan community really was better and not so intolerant. But I learned in the 90′s that wasn’t the case. I actually went on a hiatus from the community because I was disgusted with the amount of negativity and intolerance being expressed. And in the years since it hasn’t changed…This is nothing new under the sun, nothing sudden that has just occurred.
That doesn’t mean we just should sit back and not do something about it. However to change it we need to explore what that change would look like. I think a better appreciation for diversity would be a good start. Instead of labeling people as fluffy bunnies or decrying what they choose to do spirituality, we need to accept that even if we don’t agree with someone’s spiritual choices it doesn’t make him/her a fluffy bunny or anything else. Agree to disagree and leave it at that. And if you feel the need to get in a debate ask yourself exactly what that debate is supposed to accomplish. Most like its just you venting hot air because you don’t like what someone is saying or doing, but do you really want to invest your time and energy in that way?
And if there are issues to debate let us debate them civilly, with agreed on rules of interaction and dialogue that foster a space of collaboration and cooperation. There are any number of resources that can be explored and used to help accomplish this. The book Dialogue Gap by Peter Nixon, is one such resource. And perhaps most important. Don’t let the people who are being intolerant win. Keep doing what you know is right and keep speaking up. I once was interviewed by the Pagan Centered Podcast. Everyone on there was hostile toward my work. It was a great example of Pagan intolerance, but after the interview was over I didn’t let it stop me. They could call me names, tell me I was fluffy and hand my @$$ to me, but what they couldn’t do was stop me. If anything their intolerance inspired me to continue speaking because I realized that if I did stop speaking up or writing, I’d just be letting them have the final word, and in the process glorify the intolerance that they advocated for. In any given community there will always be those people who are intolerant and have a loud bark. Ignore them and keep doing what you need to do. There will always be intolerance, always be people who will sit in judgement, arguing that they and they alone know best. They are wrong, but you can’t change their mind, so focus on your work and make the world a better place. Speak out against the intolerance, as needed, but don’t expect to change it, unless they are willing to actually accept that there can be other perspectives in the world that are as valid as their own.
Dark Sun Radio recently posted the interview they did with me late last year. You can listen to it here.
Lately I’ve noticed several acquaintances going on a media diet. They recognize that they are putting too much time into media and saturating themselves with a lot of needless information. I’ve gone on my own media diets in the past, and still continue to, to this day. For example I don’t have Cable, and I don’t ever plan on having it. I don’t want to watch all the commercials just to see a show, especially when I can watch the same show on netflix without all of the commercials. But my media diet has also extended to the news for the most part. I don’t get a newspaper and I don’t listen to the radio for news. I do read yahoo news, but I realize I need to cut down on that. Recently I was asked the following question:
Do you think that as the world gets more crowded and people become more busy with work, entertainment, technology etc. that finding this space/time becomes more difficult than say 100 years ago? And if so does that make magical practice all the more important?
The person asked the question in relationship to a status update I made about the importance of making sacred space and time for your magical work. And my answer is that I think all the different forms of entertainment can create a filtered reality, where what is filtered out is a person’s awareness of self and the need to make sacred time and space. As much as I am a proponent of pop culture magic and using media for magical purposes, I also recognize that the saturation of media provides so much information, so much other things to focus on that it can be really hard to be present with anything that isn’t media related. I certainly see this to some extent with people around me. Everyone is obsessed with having the latest smart phone, tablet, ipad, etc, and most of the time their eyes are on the screen fixated on whatever they are working on or playing (the irony is that right now my eyes are fixated on this screen as I write this). People are so caught up in observing what’s going on around them that they are forgetting how to act, how to be present right here and right now.
I think magical practice is more important than ever because it teaches us to act, to rip out the filters and actually explore reality instead of just observe it. Magic is about creating space and time, about engaging reality and what you want to change about reality. The magician knows that a filtered reality is just a reality that has been fed to us as a way of directing what we think and see. All the technology we have doesn’t intrinsically improve our lives so much as it filters our lives, distracts us, and otherwise just causes us to ignore our own reality. While I can and do appreciate being able to check email on a phone or write a book on a tablet, I nonetheless also recognize that all the media devices provide a lot of distractions and a way for people to disengage. Magic is about engagement, about being in a specific space and time and using that space and time to interact with reality.
All of the media we have does present us with a lot of information and used just right that information can be helpful for magical work. I enjoy employing pop culture magic when its appropriate, but even then it’s about getting rid of the filters and engaging reality directly. And that’s really the point of magic. It brings us to the here and now, shows us what could be and allows us to mediate reality instead of just observing it go by. So get off the phone and the ipad and video games and create some sacred space and time for you. Be here now.
A little while back I got a reading done by my friend Erik Roth. He does shamanic astrology, and I highly recommend his services. I’ve gotten my astrological reading done in the past, and each time what has struck me about the readings has been the accuracy of the description of patterns in my life. It’s not so much that the person has read my future but rather has shown me some existing patterns as well as other ones to be aware of. I’ve found the same to be true with Tarot readings and other forms of divination. What is being read are patterns of information and behavior and from that a person can get a good idea of what s/he needs to anticipate in the future.
Pattern recognition is the recognition of certain patterns of influence in your life. Those patterns of influence originate from both within you and the environment around you. One of the reasons I’m willing to consider the validity of Astrology is that I do think we are effected by the cycles of the planets around Earth. If nothing else there is a gravitational effect of some type and who is to say that doesn’t have some influence on us? Even if that isn’t the case, being able to look at your life in relationship to specific patterns can be enlightening in terms of what it helps you work on. For example, I’ve just entered into a cycle with Pluto, which astrologically speaking is the dark night of the soul for me. The recognition of this pattern allows me to prepare for it. The Pluto cycle is about breaking things down, but this doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Instead it can be a positive experience, where I plan for and use the cycle of Plutonian energy to my benefit.
The same applies to a Tarot reading. Someone does a reading for you and what it supplies you is an awareness of patterns of information. The cards don’t reveal the future but they show you what to look out for. Of course the only problem with this approach is that when you are looking at specific patterns you may not be aware of others. Pattern recognition helps you to be aware patterns, but it also acts as a filter so that you may only see those patterns. This is why although getting a divinatory reading can be helpful, sometimes it can be just as helpful to leave yourself open to experience to see what happens.
I think that what I found most helpful about the astrological reading is that it gave me a general sense of what to be aware of and provided some focus on key areas of my life that may need some work. All of it was accurate and how I knew that was because even without the reading I was already working on the issues and patterns the reading described. In that sense it affirmed my current work and showed I am on the right path. Never hurts to get some confirmation…though as always keep yourself open to whatever comes your way. The obvious perspective can box you in and cause you to miss out on other opportunities.
In February I decided to create a wealth magic entity, specifically a sales magic entity. I was feeling frustrated with my lack of sales for my day business and I felt that what I needed was some help getting those sales. I realized I was too close to the situation so I created the sales entity (picture above) in order to help me improve my sales. The entity was supposed to help me find my ideal prospects and then help me close sales. I fueled him initially with the stress, frustration, and anger I was feeling about not having enough sales, and then tied it also to any sales activities I did. I finished the creation of him at the end of February. I have since done a variety of sales activities including cold calling, offering classes, and offering free coaching sessions.
It’s now mid April and since the creation of this entity there has been more activity in my business. From mid March to Mid April I’ve seen a rise in prospects with me having meetings with 3-5 new prospects each week. These prospects have come from classes I’ve offered, but have also been referrals and in one case even a person who wanted to connect via Linkedin. The prospects ranged from being solopreneurs to having employees, and some of them are very successful while others are struggling. All of them have needed an outside consultant. Thus far I’ve had one yes and quite a few no’s (which often means not right now).
I’m not ready to rule out that this entity is a success because if you read enough sales books one of the realizations you quickly have is that you hear no quite a lot. In fact, one of my favorite sales books is titled Go for No, which posits that you will hear no a lot more often than you will hear yes. Also this entity has only been in existence for a short while and I recognize that all of my activity is teaching it how it can help me. However, I also see the need to tweak the entity in order to improve its performance. I’m going to focus on improving its prospect finding.
When you create an entity like this one, you can learn a lot from its early performance and use that as an indicator of what to work on or help it improve. If you expect the entity to be perfect from the get go, you will be disappointed. There is always room for improvement, and if you recognize this, then you can examine the initial actions of the entity and refine what it does so that it produces better results. So that’s what I’ll do, based off what I’ve learned so far. It works, but it needs improvement.
3-20-13 Last night Kat and I got into a conversation about how I really don’t let people get me things. It’s a behavior she’s observed before, and it’s one that has played out numerous times in my life. She asked me where it came from and I dug in deep and found this old wound from my childhood (where else, right?). I remembered being giving gifts by my step mom and dad, only to have those gifts taken away in order to punish me. For example, I remember getting a Nintendo with some games. On a routine basis the Nintendo was taken from me for anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months at a given time to punish me…and even when I did have access to it, I was told I should be playing outside and thus my time was minimized on it. When I moved from my dad’s I wasn’t even allowed to take it, even though it had been given to me as a gift. And that wasn’t the only they took away from me on a regular basis as a way of punishing me. While this particular approach to parenting wasn’t the worst thing that they did to me, it definitely left some scars and wounds, right up to including not trusting that what someone gives me is really mine.
Since my original post about Zhine, I’ve been continuing to work with the technique and as is often the case I’ve taken to doing a bit of experimentation with it. My experiments have involved the core technique of maintaining awareness, without actually thinking or analyzing what you are maintaining awareness of. This has been challenging on occasion, as will be evident by how I’ve chosen to experiment, but it’s also been a good discipline tool.
My first experiment has involved focusing my awareness on an object someone else is using. For example, at a networking lunch, I choose to focus my awareness on a fork. Thus I continually maintained awareness of the fork, including not only when it wasn’t being used, but also when it was being used. I was able to do this at a networking lunch, although that could be a challenge as well, because I did need to maintain enough awareness of myself to not come off as staring, or being aware of when people were addressing me. Consequently I split my mental focus so that part of me focused on the fork, while the rest of me observed the social niceties around me. I did feel I was able to focus and be aware of the fork, but I’ll admit that my zhine experience wasn’t as deep as it could be by virtue of needing to maintain a specific level of awareness. I’ve repeated this exercise a few times and each time while I’ve been able to achieve a meditative awareness its not as deep as when I’m alone just focusing on an object.
My second experiment involved focusing on a living creature, one of my cats actually. I sat down in the living room and chose one cat to focus on. Whatever he did, wherever he moved, I stayed focused on him, while ignoring the other cats. Maintaining Zhine with a living animal was an interesting experiment because every time I started to get interested in what he was doing, I needed to refocus on the intent of the exercise, which was simply to be aware of the cat as opposed to studying the cat. I didn’t find that his movements distracted me per se, but more what he was doing. Still as I continued practicing Zhine with my cat, it gradually became easier. One interesting side effect of this was that this particular cat showed up in my dreams while I was doing Zhine.
My third experiment involved focusing on a leaf outside my window. What was challenging with this experiment was that sometimes the leaf would move and when my eyes tracked it I’d become aware of dust on the window. I’d then need to refocus on the leaf and its movement. Still this exercise has been steadily getting easier as I’ve continued to do it. However the leaf hasn’t shown up in my dreams. I wonder if my emotional attachment to my cat is part of why he shows up in my dreams.
As always when doing Zhine at a certain point I find that the “reality” of what I am studying shifts and seems to become more real than anything else, myself included. It’s as if I’m entering into a dream, which makes sense given that Zhine is supposed to help you achieve dream yoga. Nonetheless I’ll admit I find this shift fascinating and I am already thinking of how I can use it for other acts of magic beyond dream work.
Jason recently posted a fantastic post about doubt and why it is useful for your magical work. I agree with his perspective that doubt is useful and that we shouldn’t automatically accept that just because we’ve gotten a result that it is the actual result we wanted. I think magicians are afraid to admit to doubt, or to be critical of their magical work. After all, admitting that you’re magic didn’t quite work out can make you wonder if it’s in your head, or if you really know what you are doing. But that’s a negative perspective about doubt. Admitting doubt can also help you recognize where you can improve your magical work, can help you be critical of your process, and can help you recognize when the magic hasn’t worked the way you wanted it to.
One element of doubt he didn’t touch on, which is just as important as acknowledging the doubt you feel about your magical work, or acknowledging when your magic hasn’t stacked up the way you like, is the crisis of faith that inevitably comes along. You know, when you doubt that magic even exists, or you doubt whether or not you really feel the connection to what you’re working with. And just as I agree with Jason that not enough people post about their failures, I also think not enough people really post about their crisis of faith or how they work through it.
One of the reasons I write in this blog is to actually share my on-going work, and that includes the moments I feel doubt, or an experiment doesn’t work out, or to just show my very fallible nature. I do this for a couple reasons. One I do it to keep myself humble and to recognize that regardless of what anyone else may think of me, I am not always successful with magic or life. No one is, but I do like to think I learn as much, if not more from my failures, as my successes…and that leads to the second reason. I have always wanted to provide people with examples of both success and lack thereof in my work. I want my readers to recognize that there is a magical process and that part of that process involves finding what isn’t working and acknowledging it and working on it. I don’t just do this with my blog, but also my books, because I don’t think it’s authentic to just present your successes to other people. Not only does it set an unrealistic standard, but it encourages a mentality of one-upmanship instead of genuine collaboration and improvement.
There have been times I’ve struggled with my beliefs around magic. There have been times I felt disconnected and wondered if what was I doing was really making a difference. And I’m glad I’ve had those moments, because they present an alternative perspective, but also when the magic works out, it really allows me to see that it’s not all in my head, that there is something going on, and that what I need to do is not give up. I need to improve what I’m doing, and use the doubt I feel to give me some perspective, so I can ask hard questions. I agree with Jason that more people should share what isn’t working, and what doubts they feel. Yes it can make you feel vulnerable, but it can also be liberating, and help others see that they aren’t alone and that magic isn’t always a success. But doubt can also help us become better magicians if we are willing to use it as an opportunity.
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