I read my first fantasy book when I was 7 or 8. It was The Hobbit and it conjured up a magical world of adventure that I was fascinated by. I didn't stop at The Hobbit. I read the Greek Myths and then I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and later the Dragonlance sagas. Inevitably my favorite characters were the magicians or the people who somehow or another got some magical object that gave them an advantage in the adventure. As I grew up, I never got over my fascination with magic or fantasy books for that matter. And as I read each book, I thought about magic a lot and wondered if it was real or just some element of fantasy. Yet it was because of fantasy books that I discovered that magic was real.
When I was 16, a fellow student in my high school sat me down and told me about his experiences on the astral plane. He later admitted that he told me his experiences because he noticed I liked to read fantasy books and he was hoping to freak me out. The last thing he expected was for me to ask, with baited breath, if I could learn myself and if there were books on the topic. The next day he brought me a couple books and I eagerly read them and did the exercises, to see what would happen. At last, I had found out magic was real and more importantly that I could do it myself. It wasn't the same magic as what I read about in fantasy books, but it was something and I took that to heart. I read every book I could find and talked with whoever else was interested in the same topics. I tested everything I read, eager to see what I could do and how far I could take it.
Lately, in my meditation group, we've been doing some work with space/time magic meditations and with spirits associated with space and time. In our most recent session I had the group do a meditation with Purson, a goetic demon who has some specific skills related to time. What I also told the group was that it's important to recognize that their experience of Purson is subjective and that he is only as real as that person wants him to be. That may seem like an odd statement to make, but the group was comprised of people that ranged from atheists to people who believe in the objective existence of spirits, and so I felt it was important to acknowledge that a wide range of experiences could happen that would nonetheless be significant to each participant and wouldn't necessarily invalidate any of the experiences. All the participants accepted that explanation and then we had our various encounters with Purson.
Spiritual experiences, by their nature, are subjective. For example I believe that spirits are objective beings in their own right. Note the word believe. Believe is a word rooted in subjectivity. That's what I believe, but I can't really prove it. I can tell you about my experiences and I can cite other people who've had experiences in their own right which tells that what they encountered is real, but its ultimately subjective. For that matter so is the argument that the spirit is just a psychological aspect the person is drawing upon. Again we can find a variety of people who will argue that position and draw on their experiences, but it's still subjective.
Every day I make it a point to give myself a moment of stillness. That moment of stillness isn't a short moment either. It's as long as it needs to be. Usually it occurs shortly after I've had breakfast and before I've started my work day. I do it then because I'm still just waking up and its an optimum time to still myself before getting into whatever the day will involve. This moment of stillness is my meditation time. I do a series of meditation exercises, all of which lead me deeper and deeper into a state of stillness, which unfolds within it non-conceptual awareness.
Non-conceptual awareness is the experience of being without doing, judging, categorizing or filtering anything. You just are. The value of that experience is that it allows me to just be without stressing about anything I need to do. Sometimes in the process of doing that work, some emotions will come up or some thoughts will happen and I don't go out of my way to dismiss them. I just let them be as well, because I find in doing that it really brings my awareness to where I need to be, present with whatever is coming up that needs to be worked through, accepted, or otherwise processed.
One of the reasons I apply process to my magical work is because with good processes in place, it makes easier to innovate and experiment with magic. I learned that in the business world and I've applied to my spiritual practices over the years to great success. You can actually learn a lot by taking the practice of one discipline and applying it to another discipline. In business, processes are used to solve problems, design and implement solutions, and to encourage creativity. Process encourages creativity by cutting out extraneous busy work, to focus on what really works, but in order to discover what works you necessarily need to work the process.
A lot of times creativity is treated as a chaotic experience, which occurs when a person is inspired. But in my experience, creativity is quite structured. Process provides the necessary structure for creativity to flourish in. Whether I'm writing, painting, or practicing magic, having a process in place allows me to work with my creativity as a resource. I'm not just waiting for inspiration to hit me...I'm actively cultivating it as part of my process.
Lately I've been doing a lot of internal work around aging. When I was at Pantheacon a couple weeks ago, I got into a conversation about aging and my realizations that in some ways I've been very resistant to it, wanting to stay young forever. I've never had an issue with dying or death, because I've had multiple near death experiences, but aging is something I haven't wanted to acknowledge. Yet at 38, I feel a difference in my body. I wake up and I need to stretch more than I used to. I have a bit of a belly now, and I eat less food because my metabolism is slower. I have less hair on my forehead and I realize I am changing. I am still relatively young, but aging happens and no matter what creams I put on my face, or how much or little food I eat, or what exercise I d0, I can't change the fact that I am aging. What I can change is how well I take care of myself.
In the Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts, Seth (an entity channeled by Roberts) makes the following observation about aging and people: "If you desperately try to remain young, it is usually to hide your own beliefs about age, and to negate all of those emotions connected with it." It's an insightful point that made me think about my own fixation on age. I realize I am so resistant to aging because I have this particular image of myself, this particular state of being, and what I see in the mirror doesn't reflect that. I'm changing and being in denial about that change isn't really serving me.
Lately, in the magical experiments community, I've been doing some experiments with pathworking techniques, and my fellow members have been gracious enough to try my ideas out. I've been paying close attention to their feedback and one consistent issue that has come up is how important context is for shaping a pathworking in such a way that people actually connect with whatever you want them to connect with. If there is not enough contextual information provided it can be hard to know what, if anything, you've connected with.
The right context provides enough information to orient the person in the pathworking and then leaves the rest of it up to the person. I take a very minimalistic approach to pathworking, ideally providing as little information as possible in order to see how the people involved will connect with whatever is being worked with. Determining how much context and what context to provide has been the interesting challenge. I don't want to provide too much because then I could potentially be steering the pathworking toward specific outcomes and I want to pick what information I share so that I can see what people pick up independently of anything I've shared.
In Awakening the Sacred Body, the author asks a hard question: "Who does your spiritual practice benefit?" That question isn't asked often. In fact, I can count on one finger the number of times I've come across this question in all the books I've read. It makes me wonder why this question isn't asked more often, but I think we can answer that by simply recognizing that a lot of the focus in spiritual books is on helping a person improve him/herself. Ironically, what isn't recognized is that in some ways what this encourages is a lot more focus on the self than on other people.
I think there's an assumption that goes into spirituality, which is that if a person is engaged in spiritual practices they somehow are becoming better people or more enlightened, or whatever else, but the problem with that assumption is that there is no guarantee that being engaged in any type of practice automatically makes you a better person. And that may not even be the point of the spiritual practice. Spirituality isn't always about making a person into a better person. It's a relationship, but what comes out of the relationship is also informed by what goes into it. Why we engage in spiritual practice is ultimately a personal matter.