Some thoughts on Applying Process to Meditation

meditation 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.

Systems and Liberation

In the Spiritual Dimension of Music, R.J. Stewart makes the following observation: "The best that can be said for any system is that it is effective in doing what it claims to do and that it leads to its own demolition via the liberation of those who employ it to reach new conclusions, fresh insights, and real inner or outer growth." In God Emperor of Dune, Frank Herbert makes another point, one that all magicians should consider carefully, when he argues that words distort the ideas they represent by framing those ideas into systems. Systems, while providing routine and a sense of social order, can also create ignorance if people don’t examine the beliefs they adopt when they rely on that system to structure their perceptions of the world. My approach to magic is based on the concept of process. I don't really think of it as a system, but I recognize that a process approach can lead to a systematization of a spiritual practice. And the dangers mentioned above are realistic to any system. This is also why I find it useful to encourage experimentation, as such experimentation allows a person to challenge the system s/he is part of, and strike out to create his/her own approach. Experimentation is necessary as not only a creative exercise, but also an exercise in critical thinking. Experimentation, as an exercise in critical thinking, recognizes that no one system has all the answers or liberation for all aspirants. Consequently the creation of a new entire system can be the opportunity presented to explore liberation, but at some point that system will also become dogmatic.

To put it another way, the evolution of magic as a spiritual practice occurs because there are people who are willing to step beyond the systems they originally learned, and move past the religious dogma that sometimes accompanies magical work. Anything a person learns ideally helps the person to eventually move beyond it, and when the person has moved beyond s/he evolves as a person. This isn't to say that s/he won't still have use for what was learned, but rather s/he will not let it define their lives or their practice.

When something defines your life to the point that it dictates who you can be, with no room for growth or liberation, it becomes dogma, confining the person to a narrow existence. That confinement can only be combated by recognizing the limitations, and challenging them through the choice to experiment and do something that goes outside the norms espoused by the system a person is in. This consideration is why I take a descriptive approach to magic, as opposed to a prescriptive approach. A prescriptive approach, while initially providing guidance, ultimately confines people with specific rules and limitations, and most often these rules and limitations are inspired by social norms. A descriptive approach provides guidance, but also encourages a person to go in different directions and to test what s/he is learning. There is no set rule or limitation that insists on a particular stand or way of acting.

That's one reason I've focused on experimentation in magic and life. Instead of sticking to a particular tradition or religion I've found that genuine liberation is better found through the pursuits of actively exploring the wonders of the universe and discovering what you can do with it. Instead of letting the words of a holy book define my life, I've chosen to define my life through my exploration of those wonders. I find that such an approach encourages liberation because any system that is derived is continually questioned in relationship to the experiences a person is having. Such a system is inevitably moved past with the recognition that it served its purpose. Liberation is more important than sticking with the comfort and limitations of a system. It is by testing ourselves and the world we are in that we can find liberation, though it might be fleeting, and thus the work continues!

The role of results in your process

Last week Mike wrote an article on results vs mechanics. I agree with his stance that doing magic for results is different from doing magic that is focused on process (or mechanics). A process oriented is focused on tweaking your process in order to improve it, and understand how it works. Nonetheless I also think that results play an integral role in a process oriented approach to magic.

Results are indicators that tell you if your process is working. If you don't achieve the desired result, it indicates you need to do more tweaking, and if you do obtain the desired result it indicates your process works. Nonetheless it can also tell you if you need to improve that process. I use results to tell me what works in my process and what doesn't work. Without results, I can work on a process, but I won't know if its viable until I've executed it and gotten a result.

Results matter in your process. So even though my approach to magic is process oriented, I know I need results to measure my process and evaluate where changes need to be made.

Do you think results are relevant to a process or mechanics approach to magic. Why or why not?

Book Review: The Power of Habit (Affiliate Link) by Charles Duhigg

This is a must have book if you are a business owner. The author provides case studies that show the power of habits and how habits can make a difference in your life and business. He also supplies excellent ideas on how to change negative habits. The book is well-written and the core concepts are easy to understand. You'll come away with a new appreciation for habits as well as tools for how to change them!

The Process of Magic

Magic is a process. Strip away all the religious trappings, esoteric terminology, and ceremonial tools and what you have is a process that people use to turn possibility into reality. Understanding this process is all you really need to successfully do magic. Everything else is icing on the cake, and yet, as I'll show that icing is the expression of the process of magic for each person. Your Definition of Magic: The most fundamental principle of the process is the definition of magic that is applied to it. That definition is a description and explanation of magic and its place in your life. Many magicians will rely on the definition that someone else came up with for magic, most notably Aleister Crowley's definition, but I would urge my readers to develop your own definition of magic, instead of relying on someone else's. I've discussed definitions and their relationship to magic at some length in Multi-Media Magic and Neuro-Space Time Magic, but I'll discuss them again in this book to illustrate why it is useful to develop your own definitions instead of relying on someone else's.

Results:  We are told not to lust for specific results, and yet if magic is to be effective, we need to know the specific result we are shooting for. This means we need to clearly define what it is we want our magical activity to achieve. Knowing your result doesn't mean you lust for it, but it does provide direction for the magical process you are engaged in and indicates whether or not your magical process is working. A result is the expression and embodiment of your magical process, and it is also an indicator of what you can improve on with your magical process. If you haven't achieved the specific result you wanted, then you need to look at your magical process and make changes to what you are doing. A result, positive or negative, will always provide you information about your magical process and what you need to do to improve on it.

What activities are you doing?: A process is comprised of the activities you are doing to realize that process. Each process has steps that a person performs, so in planning your magical process out, it's a good idea to look at what steps you are taking. If there's a particular order to the steps, then arrange them in that order so that you can look at your process and/or zoom in on a specific step. Knowing the steps you will take to realize a process can help you answer several other questions.

Why are you doing it?: You may be able to answer this question by looking at the desired result you want to achieve, but chances are that while a specific result will contain one reason why you are doing the magical process, it won't provide all reasons. It's good to spend some thinking about why you need to do a particular magical process. What are your motivations for doing it? How will it help you improve your life (or the lives of others)? What need it doing this process fulfilling for you?

How does it work?: How does your process work? Answering this question is essential to understanding what happens when it doesn't work as well as what you'll change about it. You should be able to describe in detail what every tool does, what every gesture or word contributes to your magical work. If you can't explain it, then why include it? Even the role of a deity or an entity should be something you can explain. How your process work, how the steps you do provide you the ability to turn a possibility into reality is something the magician should know. When you know how your process works, it will always work. And when you know how it works you can always improve on it.

Where/when: For some people this will be an important part of their magical process. They might choose to do magic at a particular time of day or week or month. I personally don't think it's that relevant, but remember what I said about your definition of magic. Your process of magic is one that is personalized. If the time of day and where you do something is relevant to your process then include it in your process.

There are some other variables we should also consider that aren't traditionally considered part of the magical process, but nonetheless should be considered because they are very relevant to the practitioner. The practitioner is a key component of the magical process and if we don't consider these variables, then we ignore how we are influenced by them to our own detriment. The beliefs and values that a practitioner has is derived from these variables. Being able to examine these variables will help the practitioner understand how the magical process is allowing him/her to express those beliefs and values or determine if there is a conflict of interest. If there is a conflict of interest, it is suggested that the practitioner go back to the drawing board to build a magical process that accounts for these variables.

Culture: Your cultural background and interests will inform your magical process. What you identify as your culture is an influence that affects what magical forces you'll work with. If you're a Celtic reconstructionist, then you'll want to draw on that cultural information for your magical process. Or if you're like me and you find pop culture to be interesting, then you will want to use pop culture icons as part of your magical work.

Ethics/Morals: If you follow an ethical code, then you will need to consider that code in your magical process. Likewise if you have particular morals that you follow, those will need to be considered. Trying to do a magical process that goes against your ethics or morals will always fail. If you're someone who tends to take a shades of grey approach to life, then you'll likely be able to find reasons that will justify doing the magical process, but I'd still look at that part of your process very carefully.

Ideology: Ideology is another factor to consider, particularly as it pertains to types of magic. If you identify as an anarchist, trying to do some form of money magic will likely be harder to pull off given how linked money is to the structures that the anarchist might oppose. Your ideology can also be a religious belief system and as such that particular system will need to be considered when performing magic.

What would you include that I haven't included? What would you exclude that I've included?

Changing what you've learned

I recently finished reading a lot of Mantak Chia's works and implementing the practices into my daily work. I do find the practices useful, even if a lot of his books are repetitious. Even with that repetition, what I did get was a better sense of his process and how it works, as well as how to cut out a lot of the extraneous features, to still obtain the same result. Seems to me that's really how magic works. You figure out the process as another person describes, then you cut out what doesn't work, add what does, and work it. Certainly, I can appreciate that how Chia has presented his techniques work as they are, but I also could see where a couple steps could be dropped entirely to refine the process and still get the same result. And that shows me that any process isn't set in stone, and is always mutable. It's just dependent on whether or not the person feels confident about changing the process.

What do you think? How comfortable are you with changing what you've learned?

Process is not control

In a discussion I had with one of my students, I brought up the point that the process is not control. It might seem to be contradictory to say that and yet also say that when you know the process of how you do a given magical activity, you can then make changes to the process, but actually it makes complete sense. I'll explain why. The first issue to note is that for the most part control is really based on insecurities, on tension and stress that we don't want to feel and try to repress. Control, in most circumstances, arises from this stress, and we will act out that stress and tension re-actively as a way of trying to assert control of not only our internal awareness, but also our external surroundings.

However, control can be healthy, in a very specific way. Control is healthy when it is applied to a person's reactions and responses to a situation. While we don't have even complete control of our reactions, we do have some control and with conscious work we can acknowledge the triggers of those reactions and then make an informed choice as to whether or not we want to re-act or consciously choose. We can also modify the unconscious triggers, provided we do the necessary internal work. In that context, control is healthy. It becomes unhealthy when we try to control everything else, and creates blockages and tensions, because such control is usually indicative of unresolved issues.

The second issue to note is that in order to truly understand a process, you first have to submit to the process. You need to do the process step by step, and learn how it works. You can't change it until you understand it...actually you can try to change it, but the results are usually disastrous. So to understand a process you need to submit to it and do it. Only after you've worked in a process, and come to understand its mechanisms, can you begin to change it. Even then you don't control it, so much as you understand how it works, and so can see where you can make modifications to improve the process. We call this personalization, but the magician must still submit to the process to test its efficacy.

You might wonder then what the point is for doing magic, if you're not more in control as a result, but I'd argue that control is a fixation and obsession that tends to stay further out of reach when you try to grab it, as opposed to when you let go, trust your process, and work your system, as best as possible. The reality of magic is this:

Magic is one process, among many, with a variety of sub-processes that can help you balance your internal life, and provide you more awareness of possibilities in your life. It's up to you to make the deliberate and informed choice. A deliberate and informed choice can only occur when you actually understand yourself well enough to know if your choice is an automatic one based off unconscious triggers, or a conscious one based off awareness and understanding.

Let go of control. Process doesn't need to be about it. Process, instead, can help you make a deliberate and informed choice, because you understand how your process works and also your place in it. And making a deliberate and informed choice is more effective and powerful than trying to control everyone else and every situation.

In fact, if you find yourself using magic to solve situations that come up in your life, it's time to stop and critically examine what is calling those situations into your life. You will likely find that it is actually you calling those situations into your life, and usually because you need to learn something. So stop, examine the situation, own your feelings and responses, and then make a deliberate and informed choice on how to handle it. If that includes magic, then that's fine, but recognize how your internal issues feed into the situation, before using magic. Otherwise whatever results you get will only temporarily work, until you actually deal with your level of responsibility for the situation.

Trust your process and work your system...and make informed and deliberate choices. That can be the most powerful magical working you ever do, and it doesn't even need to involved anything overtly occult.

Some further thoughts about process

In a discussion I had recently with one of my magical students I elaborated further on the difference between chaos magic and experimental magic. Chaos magic, aside from being associated with servitors and sigils, is also about paradigmal piracy. You determine what paradigm works for you, you adopt it for as long as it's useful, and then once you've gotten your result, you move on. Experimental magic, on the other hand, is focused on a more processed oriented approach and so recognizes that in order to really under a paradigm, system, methodology, or whatever word you want to use, you've got to spend time learning the system, learning how the methodology works, before you can really begin to use it successfully. Consequently process is built into experimental magic much further than in chaos magic. And, if anything, the issue with chaos magic is that while you might be able to get a result one time from using a system to address an immediate need, without fully understanding it, you can't really know the process or know if you'll get a result that meets your needs each time.  That kind of understanding doesn't occur over night, or in a single working. It occurs over time, with study, practice, and yes experimentation. To really understand a paradigm of magic, it needs to be something more than just a convenience to be used because it fits an immediate need.

This is why I've never used Voodoun in my workings. Sure, I could pick up any of the books I have on it, sketch out a ritual and do something, but I don't understand the system enough to really feel comfortable doing that, nor do I really want to offend one of the Lwas just to get a result. If I really wanted to integrate voodoun into my magical practice, I would need to study it for a while, do rituals strictly in that system without integrating other practices in, and experiment within the process of that belief system. Eventually, if I knew about it, I could begin to incorporate external elements.

So experimental magic is less about rolling a dice and picking a spiritual system for a day and more about really getting hands-on experience with a given system, and process plays an integral role in that, because it's process you need to learn to really put it all together.

Process instead of results

For many magicians, my work still falls into the category of chaos magic, and so to them I am a chaote. I, on the other hand, disagree, because while there are certainly elements of chaos magic I draw on, I also utilize a wide variety of other systems. To which one might say, "Wait a minute Taylor isn't chaos magic all about taking different systems of magic and mashing them together and using what works to get achievable and demonstrative results?" Yes it is, and there's a very distinct difference from my own approach, because while I acknowledge that results are important, my focus is on process, specifically understanding how what I'm doing works and how to refine and improve it. Process is key to truly understanding magic. Results are just road signs showing you the way, but process is how you get there. Without understanding process all you have is push-button magic. You may get results, but just achieving results isn't enough. Process is how you refine and define those results. Process is how you experiment, instead of just doing magic. When you know your process you can change it, test it, develop it further. So while my work may seem similar to chaos magic, it's really not, because it's mainly about process, and less about results.