Archive for the ‘silence’ Category

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 5: Silence and Self-Transformation   2 comments

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4]

Butterfly-TransformationOne of the great benefits of silence, at least about one’s inner work or “self-work,” is that no one will dump their opinions and energies onto what you are doing, and distract you, or load you with their attitudes and claims, weaknesses and dreams, if you limit their access to your work of changes.  (Let them see the results instead.) Choose your audience wisely if you feel you must talk about such experiences and insights.  American culture in particular suffers at this time from a compulsive confessional mode.  Purge, share, spill, vent! it says.  But keep silent by default, at least at first, and you will have many fewer obstacles to deal with.  Ignore this ancient counsel to keep silent, and you’ll find out from experience why it’s an integral part of magical training, and one of the four powers.

That said, the magical journal is a fine outlet for a “space to talk.”  Not surprisingly, many who keep a journal find it useful to write at least some entries in a code or cipher, in another language, etc., to maintain the veil of privacy necessary to maximizing effort and energy put into the work.  As with most paradoxes, “guard the mysteries; constantly reveal them”* illustrates valuable teaching.  Say nothing; get it down in words.  More about the journal later.

Sometimes the strain  of inner work can lead to imbalances; we choose means and modes of change and growth that cost us more than they deliver.  The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) records his struggles for insight and inspiration and poetic fire through a program of conscious “derangement of the senses” through means both culturally acceptable and unacceptable (his life bears study!). I quote here from his youthful letters**:

I am lousing myself up as much as I can these days.  Why?  I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a seer … the point is, to arrive at the unknown by the disordering of all the senses.  The sufferings are enormous, but one has to be strong, to be born a poet, and I have discovered that I am a poet.  It is not my fault at all.  It is a mistake to say: I think.  One ought to say:  I am thought.

I is for somebody else.  So much the worse for the wood if it find itself a violin.

I witness the unfolding of my own thought: I watch it, I listen to it:  I make the stroke of the bow: the symphony begins to stir in the depths, or springs onto the stage …

I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.

The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses.  Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences.  This is unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed — and the great learned one! — among men — For he arrives at the unknown!  Because he has cultivated his own soul — which was rich to begin with — more than any other man.  He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them.  Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!

So, then, the poet is the thief of fire …

Rimbaud wrote this in 1871, when he was just 16.

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Much to note here — more than I will address in this post.  First, his age:  in fact he composed all of his poetry before he was twenty, when he abandoned further creative work, though he was to live almost two more decades after that.  Some of his furious intensity, drive — and imbalance — stem from the energies loosed in adolescence, which most of us deal with to varying degrees of success as we mature.  The Victorian magician, poet, mountaineer, addict and occultist Aleister Crowley engaged in similar practices, perhaps surviving them better in the short run, and gaining more from them, while still suffering from partly self-cultivated imbalances and excesses along his chosen path.  Many Westerners crave intensity — we struggle with a deep desire to feel powerfully, and sometimes, to feel anything at all — and the broken lives that result from our excesses, binges, addictions and self-destructive choices testify painfully and graphically to that desire, and to a yawning lack in our cultures that cannot answer or satisfy it.  Hence our compulsion to seek such nourishment elsewhere, in productive and unproductive ways.

Rimbaud’s last line quoted above — “the poet is the thief of fire” — also echoes adolescent rebellion, defiance and fascination with one’s own seemingly Promethean forces and capacities that can make teenagers so self-involved and oblivious of others.  The thrill-seeking, the experimentation, the moodiness all mirror tremendous inner changes as the foundations for adult life are laid.  To plumb our inner darkness — we can see it exteriorized in film after film of violence, sex, death and the depths of traumatic emotion — is to encounter the threshold of the unconscious, the lower astral plane, the scraps and debris left over from that initial self-making that we mistake for all of what we “really” are, when it is simply a part, but not the whole.  Why let any one thing define us?  Yes, a certain wisdom can indeed issue from intense and “heavy” experience.  But — and again, how many of us can speak from experience! — it is not conducive to enduring happiness or balance or a capacity to grow and experience as much as possible.  We cannot kick out the walls of our world and then expect any sort of roof to remain preternaturally suspended over our heads (unless we’ve put in the time to build it).  Better to walk out the door and at least for a time to wander in the woods, with just sky above us.

Silence in some cases can of course be destructive.  After every gun-related “incident” in the U.S., the shooter is subjected to endless scrutiny for “signs” of imbalance, paranoia, anomie, psychopathic tendencies, and so on.  Our cultural sense of disconnect repeatedly festers and spawns terrible destruction and suffering.  Or as novelist E. M Forster says in Howard’s End:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect…

In every culture individuals arise who both confront its darkness and lose their way, as well as see a way through.

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The magical journal is a priceless aid in the work of transformation.  Think of it as an alter ego, a second self or at least a second memory.  Occultist Paul Foster Case illustrates its value in the following passage***.  He speaks about learning the significance of the first ten numbers, 0 – 9, but his words apply much more widely:

I have been instructed by a teacher who could not speak my language, wholly by means of numeral and pictorial symbols.  In a few hours I received enough material from that man to last me for years.  Indeed, I don’t suppose I shall ever exhaust the significance of what I learnt from him in a few summer afternoons.  Thus, were there no other reasons, the fact that number symbols are so useful a time-saving device should recommend them to you in this busy age.  When you have fixed the fundamental ideas in memory, you will soon learn that none are arbitrary.  Then you will begin to see the connection between these ideas …

Get a notebook.  Divide it into ten sections.  Head the first page of each section with one of the ten numeral signs.  Then copy the attributions … into your book.  This is important.  To copy anything is to make it more surely yours than if you merely read it.  The act of copying increases the number of remembered sensations connected with that particular item of knowledge … Once you begin the notebook, you will be surprised at the amount of material that will begin to flow in your direction.  It will seem that a mysterious power has begun to send you information about numbers from all sorts of sources.  You will also discover that as soon as you provide a means for recording them, many ideas about numbers which you will recognize as coming from a higher, yet interior, source will enter your field of consciousness.  After a year, the notebook will be an index of your progress … and by that time you will have learned to regard it as one of the most useful works of reference in your library.

As with so many pairs of opposites, balancing silence with its useful counterpart of keeping a written record will reward the effort made.  Duality is an energetic system that can work like a spiritual generator.

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The first post in this series looks at kinds of knowledge.  The second shows how wanting to know leads to discoveries about our real selves.  The third looks at daring and how it is a kind of freedom.  The fourth focuses on the importance and potency of imagination.

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Images: butterfly;

*Beat and Pagan poet Lew Welch: “Theology,” 1969.

The True Rebel never advertises it,
He prefers his joy to Missionary Work.

Church is Bureaucracy,
no more interesting than any Post Office.

Religion is Revelation:
all the Wonder of all the Planets striking
all your Only Mind

Guard the Mysteries!
Constantly reveal Them!

**Arthur Rimbaud, Collected Poems.  (trans. Oliver Bernard). Penguin Classics, 1986, pp. 6-12.

***Paul Foster Case, Occult Fundamentals and Spiritual Unfoldment, Vol. 1: Early Writings. Fraternity of the Hidden Light, 2008.  p. 72.

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Full Moon Reflection 2: More and Less   Leave a comment

Compassion has no religion.  Silence is not always indifference.  O great, listening, witnessing world, you too have something to say, something you always are saying, without words.  What comfort we can offer, miles and lives away from the families of the Sandy Hook school victims, and from other, newer sufferers since then, may consist of not filling the airwaves and spiritual spaces further, with our own shock or anger or sadness or dismay, or whatever other responses events may next provoke in us.  Even if we do not know the families or victims or any of those touched by an event, we may send sympathy, because we are not stones.  This is prayer, too.  But every turn of the world changes us because we’re in it together.  A great service is to love those who need love, and not merely to feel, to emote.  We can do more than relive pain, especially another’s pain, or make it ours.  Suffering needs no extra rehearsals, no practice.  There’s always more than enough to go around.

We’re not stones, but we may raise them into a cairn, a act that by its solidity and palpable weight can lift suffering even a little, if it may, stone by stone.  Let earth bear a portion of  the weight.  Allow this elemental power of Earth to transmute, to compost and transform, as it does all else that comes to it.  The turning of the year again toward light in the middle of winter, the planet doing again what the planet does each year, can be solace too, earth re-establishing its balance.  Soothing motion of the familiar, wordless touch with its animal comfort.  Moon growing again towards fullness, light on the world in the middle of darkness.

But sometimes we hate comfort.  Too often solace can reek of appeasement.  We stiffen.  One more easing is too many.  Intolerable.  Like words — already more than enough.  With no ready target we seek out whatever will serve, anything to shut up the noise, the roar of raw nerves jangling.  Anodyne.  Oblivion, even, at least for a while.

Grief is too steady a companion.  It knows us, it seems, deeper than a lover.  OK, we get it.  Pain too has something to say that will not be denied.  We make a place for it, and it moves in, gets comfortable, settles down for too long.  (How long is memory?  Is recollection what we consist of?  Do we relive, instead of living new? Does this become our only, instead of our also?)

When words do not do, I bring silence to the altar.  When I cannot pray, then that is my prayer, just the act of moving toward the altar, a center, a focus.

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The house has cooled overnight when I get up to write this.  In between the last two paragraphs, I open the door of the woodstove to put in another two logs.  In a turtleneck and sweats, I sit on the floor, feet toward the fire, with my laptop where its name says.  Warmth, says the body, unrepentant in loving what it loves.  Warmth too, radiating from the electrical current flowing through the machine I write with.  So little, but a little.  A start.

Return   Leave a comment

After my father passed away in the winter of 2008, I wasn’t able to scatter his ashes the following spring as I’d planned.   A cancer diagnosis laid me low soon after his final decline, and his childhood home in Niagara Falls in western NY state, as well as the farms he had owned and worked for decades, and where I grew up, were 450 miles from my wife’s and my home and jobs in CT. During my medical journey, we’d also bought a house in VT, and with follow-up radiation and a personal leave from our work, along with numerous loose ends to tie up, there’d simply been no good time.  And the task and my intention, if not my father’s, deserved good time.

My dad had always been indifferent about the whole thing.  Beyond asking to be cremated, he seemed to feel, perhaps from the many animal deaths and births that inevitably accrue in a lifetime of farming, that one more dead body was something to dispose of, but nothing worth much fuss.  “Throw me on the manure spreader when you go out next, and toss me at the back of the cornfield,” he’d  always say in his wry way, whenever I asked him one more time about his wishes. That was what we did with the occasional calf that died of pneumonia or scours.   In six months, crows and time would eventually leave just whitening bones. But at the time of my dad’s death, we no longer owned the farm, and in any case, beyond a certain undeniable fitness to his request, a desire to make that one last gesture for the good of the land, as human fertilizer, there was the small matter of legality.)

This summer a family reunion in Pittsburgh provided the opportunity to attend to this final matter.  My wife and I drove there and back, and on the way out last Friday afternoon, after a slow cruise along Lakeshore Drive that hugs the south shore of Lake Ontario, we made our way to downtown Niagara Falls and then over the  bridge onto Goat Island.  So around 2:00 pm or so, you could have seen me squatting at the edge of the Niagara River, a few hundred yards above the Falls, on the second of the Three Sisters islands that cling to rocky outcrops in the rapids. The day was overcast but pleasant — typical of western NY, with its delightfully mellow lake-effect summers.  Between my feet rested the heavy plastic bag of dad’s ashes, in the plain box the funeral home had provided.

I had nothing to say — no particular ceremony in mind.  Words earlier, words around and after his death, words a week or so ago in a dream, but nothing now.  This was for experiencing, not talking. Six years before, I’d returned my mother’s ashes to the Shellrock River in the small Iowa town of her childhood.  That day, the easy meander of the river, the June sun on my back, the midday stillness, and the intermittent buzz of dragonflies skimming the water lent the moment a meditative calm.  As my wife and two of my mother’s cousins watched, I slowly poured the powdery ashes into the river, and the water eddied and swirled as it bore them downstream.  Watching the ash disperse downstream, I felt peace. Thus we can go home.

This day was different.  A steady damp breeze rustled the leaves of the trees.  On another treeless outcrop a short way upriver, the harsh voices of the flock of gulls were only intermittently inaudible over the tumble of water and the dull roar of the falls downriver.

I sat, heels in mud, watching the current on its endless course past and away.  When I opened the bag of ashes, a sudden gust of wind caught some and dusted my left arm, which startled me, then made me smile.  It was as if my father approved — that behind his gruffness, the elemental beauty of the spot, a family favorite, might matter after all.  I brushed off my arm, and then poured the chalky ash into the spinning waters and watched it spread and then, eventually, the water cleared as it washed away.

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Silence and Discovery   Leave a comment

My wife has a designated daily mid-afternoon contemplation period at 2:00 pm.  “I made a commitment,” she reminded me again this morning, when we were planning the day and I sweetly noted that her set time conflicted with other tasks that needed doing. While another time would probably serve her better (read “be less inconvenient for the people who live with her”!), I respected her response, because I know how precious an established positive habit is in transforming my own life.

One of the first discoveries almost anyone makes who sets out on a path of spiritual exploration is the apparent initial state of our individual inner worlds.  If you make room for some down-time to relax and grab your recommended minimum daily requirement of silence and commune with yourself, you frequently get brought up short:

After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored.  This teaches us one very useful thing.  It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored [with us]! (68)

These words* by Orthodox Christian monk, bishop, writer and spiritual director Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) strike home, for me at least.  While boredom is a particularly American problem, it’s not unique to us.  Others know it, but with our incessant desire for entertainment and stimulation, to be bored is the prime cause that drives us toward whatever is new.  Even information about recent events we don’t yet know about, information which in a different world might actually be more useful to us, is called simply “news.”  “What’s new?” we ask.  Think about what really is “new.”  Are you finding it at 6:00 pm nightly on your media source of choice?

Bloom continues his examination of boredom and the challenges of “inwardness” and stillness:

Why is this so?  It is because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion and for life.  If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond to incitement, to excitement.  In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction.  Something happens and we respond, someone speaks and we answer.  But when we are left without anything that stimulates us to think, speak or act, we realize that there is very little in us that will prompt us to action in any direction at all.  This is really a very dramatic discovery.  We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things.  How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves. (68)

Bloom doesn’t exaggerate about that emptiness in us, and yet of course there are indeed wonderful riches inside us all, just as we suspected.  The difficulty I face in accessing them measures out for me how outward-directed I have become.  How much I have to dig to regain one darkly shining edge of those inner worlds shows me where I have work cut out for me.  (And that itself has become one of my spiritual exercises, rather than wasting time feeling guilty or making unlikely resolutions to do better.  When you can’t do anything else, do laundry, or dishes. You’ll get something done that needs doing, ground yourself with a physical act, feel better about how you spent your minutes, and even carve out another space where you realize you can be both meditative and “productive” at the same time.)

As with so many things, balance is priceless.  For everything else there may not necessarily be a spiritual MasterCard at hand, but you get the idea.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (here and here, among others), the challenge of becoming cause in our lives, of living consciously and with intention, is a prime Druid discipline, as it is in almost every spiritual tradition in some form.

Bloom points out an opposite trap we can also fall into.  Now that you’ve given yourself the delicious gift of downtime and reflection or meditation or contemplation, whatever you prefer to name it, “you will not be pulled out of it by the telephone, by a knock on the door, or by a sudden upsurge of energy that prompts you to do at once what you have left undone for the past ten years.”  And you make another find, when “you discover that the world does not falter and that the whole world — if you can imagine it — can wait for five minutes while you are not busy with it.  This is important, because we usually deceive ourselves, saying, ‘Well, I must do it: it is charity, it is duty, I cannot leave it undone.’  You can, because in moments of sheer laziness you will leave it undone for much longer than the five minutes you have chosen” (86-87).

Then at length the gifts of silence and inner discovery begin to open up.  But the less I say about them here, the better.  You already know what they are, from those rare precious moments when they already manifested to you.  What is fleeting can eventually become an atmosphere that accompanies you and cloaks you.  Such deep silence rings with a powerful intensity.  If you’re fortunate, you’ve met someone who radiates this as a living presence.  As the Bhagavad Gita says, “Even a little practice will free you …”

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*Bloom, Anthony.  Beginning to Pray.  Ramsey, NJ:  Paulist Press, 1970.

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Updated 4:31 pm 7/24/12

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