Archive for the ‘John Michael Greer’ Tag

Earth Mysteries — 4 of 7 — the Law of Limits

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

“Everything that exists is subject to limits arising from its own nature, the nature of the whole system of which it is a part, and the nature of existence itself.  These limits are as necessary as they are inescapable, and they provide the foundation for all the beauty and power each existing thing is capable of manifesting.”*

Though it’s not good New Age gospel to admit it, we’re faced with limits and boundaries all the time, and more to the point, that’s a good thing, for the reason Greer points out, and for others.  Limits are the counterweight, the resistance for our training, the sparring partner to keep us in fighting trim.  Rules change on other planes of existence, but to manifest power and beauty here, limits are absolutely essential.  They’re the valve that allows us to build up pressure in the boiler, the enclosure that intensifies the heat of the fire, the focus for the laser — or the conscious, persistent human intention that manifests a goal.

Physical limits allow us to give shape to things, and to have a reasonable expectation they’ll stay in that shape, usefully, predictably.  These rules don’t apply in the same way elsewhere.  All of us have had experience on, and of, at least one other plane, the astral, where most dreams occur.  You know how fluid and changeable the forms and shapes are there.  The dog chasing you morphs into a car you’re riding in with the person who bullied you in high school.  You look closely and that person’s hands aren’t holding the steering wheel any longer, but clutching a bouquet of flowers instead, two of which turn into ropes that winch you so tight you can’t breathe.  You struggle, wake up gasping, and — thank God! — you’re in your bed. It’s the same bed as last night, last week, last month, the bed which someone made years ago, and it stays put, reassuringly solid and unchanging beneath you, obeying the laws of this physical world.  You slowly come back from the feeling-sensation of your dream on the astral plane, welcoming the heaviness of your physical body around you, touching a few of the things here, pillows and sheets, your partner, a pet curled against your thigh or your face, the nightstand or wall beside your bed.  Familiar, stubbornly solid objects and beings, responding to gravity and inertia.  Yes, things mostly stay put here, in this world.  Though we all have stories about the car keys …

The image at the top comes from a site with its own take on freedom and limits.  What I find interesting is the image of flight presented as one of limitless freedom.  Yet flight depends on air, resistance, lift, momentum, wing span and area, an appropriate center of gravity, and so on.  Not everything stays aloft after you fling it into the air, and flight in a vacuum like in space follows different rules than flight in an atmosphere.  It can seem paradoxical that freedom increases the better we understand and work within limits.

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*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Image:  glider.

Earth Mysteries — 3 of 7 — The Law of Balance

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

Here, in the third of this series on J. M. Greer’s principles from his book Mystery Teachings, we come to the Law of Balance:

“Everything that exists can continue to exist only by being in balance with itself, with other things, and with the whole system of which it is a part.   That balance is not found by going to one extreme or the other or by remaining fixed at a static point; it is created by self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint.”*

The Dao de Jing (Tao Te Ching), another keen guide to the natural order of things, observes, “Extremes do not last long.”  After storm, sun.  After destruction, rebirth.  But what are we to make of natural disasters?  How in hell, literally, are we supposed to “live in harmony” with an earthquake or hurricane or tornado?

Our science, which is just another word for knowing or wisdom, has only begun to recover some of the nature wisdom of our ancestors and spiritual traditions.  And perhaps too much time, at least in some of the “hard” sciences, is spent in pursuit of a grand theory, where close observation might serve our immediate purposes better.  But we’re recovering lost ground as we can.

The horrific tsunami of December 2004 in southeast Asia makes for a good study.  Here and there, among the human and natural devastation in its wake, are curious and instructive stories.  The case of 10-year Tilly Smith, vacationing with her parents in Phuket, Thailand, merits recounting.  According to the Telegraph‘s article, Tilly saw the tide drop unnaturally, remembered a recent geography lesson about tsunami warning signs from her school back in the U.K., and alerted her parents.  They were wise enough to listen to their daughter, warned the hotel where they were staying to evacuate inland, and over a hundred lives were saved as a result.

Another story comes from off the coast of India, in the Andaman Islands.  One of the aboriginal peoples living there is the Onge, who still practice hunting-gathering.  When the sea level dropped abruptly, the tribe responded immediately.  After a quick ritual scattering of pig and turtle skulls to propitiate the evil spirits they perceived at work, they retreated inland.  Unsuspecting tourists and local fisherman walked the exposed beach and gathered the fish floundering there, only to perish in the approaching monster waves.  The National Geographic account from about a month afterwards includes commentary from Bernice Notenboom, president of a travel company specializing in indigenous cultural tourism and one of the few westerners to have visited the area.  She observed of the Onge, “Their awareness of the ocean, earth, and the movement of animals has been accumulated over 60,000 years of inhabiting the islands.”

While this isn’t exactly expert testimony, every member of the tribe did survive, and her reasoning is sound.  The commercial influence of Western culture has uprooted many tribes, and this is something Notenboom does know, since she’s on the forefront of it with her tour company.  She remarked that one day in another nearby village, an old man approached her and said, “It is great to have you here, but let’s not make it a habit.”  There can be a cost to careless physical ease and the acquisition of material abundance, and if we “gain the whole world and lose our souls,” to paraphrase the renowned Galilean master, we may be swallowed up, figuratively or literally.

Balance doesn’t mean stagnation.  Many Westerners have felt the stirrings of a vague dis-ease with their own lives.  We point to this or that cause, shuffle our politicians and opinions, our allegiances and subscriptions to cable, but to reuse the almost-cliche, it’s another version of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  When the problem is systemic, tinkering with symptoms won’t help.  The “solution” is not one single thing to apply like a band-aid, but it will indeed involve changes of heart, which will come in different ways for different  people over time.  Anyone who has a single prescription for the troubles that ail us is frankly talking out his ass. Getting the ____ into or out of political office won’t budge the problem.

The “self-correcting movements to either side of a midpoint” of the Law of Balance sound so innocent.  But whenever the balance shifts, the corrections come just as predictably and inevitably.  Whether we like them or not, welcome or resist them, is another matter entirely.  We forget that we’re not “in control”:  there’s no helm to manage, no boss to prop up in place so that “things keep going the way they always have.”  Already they aren’t, and they won’t.  We’re part of a whole:  whatever happens to the whole happens to us, and what happens to us happens to the whole.  This is good news for those who work with the whole, and bad news for those who think this particular rule doesn’t apply to them.

There is such a thing as natural “justice” — it’s another name for rebalancing — but not always as humans would have it.  There’s no court of appeal when we’ve fouled the air and water, destroyed local economies with mega-corporations, junk-fed ourselves sick, fought our way to a glutton’s share of the world’s resources which are running out, and tried to rationalize it all. Now we have to find ways to live through the re-balancing.  What tools do we need? The inner resources are still available, though we’ve burnt through so many outer ones. The classic question of “Where is wisdom to be found?” really needs to be answered individually.  It’s a fine quest to devote a life to, one that I happen to think is far better than anything else you can name. Right now especially, money certainly doesn’t look like it’s worth the game. I know that I feel more alive looking for wisdom, and finding a piece of it I can test and try out in my own life, than I do swallowing anybody else’s brand of fear and paranoia and cynicism.  This blog is a piece of that quest for me.  Whose life is this, anyway? Make of life a laboratory for truth.

In the end, balance really is a matter of the heart. One Egyptian image of the after-world that’s stuck with me is the Scales of Anubis. The jackal-god of the Underworld places the human heart of the deceased in his scales, to weigh it against the feather of truth, of Ma’at, the natural order, cosmic justice or balance.  (For inquiring minds, that’s Anubis to the right of the support post.) Only a light heart, literally one not weighted down by human heaviness (you can fill in the ____ with your favorite kinds), can pass muster. One distinguishing quality of the truly holy or wise ones that we encounter in their presence is a lightness of being, a kind of expansion and opening up. There is always possibility, a way forward. Whatever happens, we can face it better with that kind of heart beating in our chests. Look for that, in others and yourself, in your quest.

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Image: scales of Anubis.

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Edited/updated 11 October 2017

Earth Mysteries — 2 of 7 — The Law of Flow

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

The second principle or law Greer examines is the Law of Flow.  Before I get to it, a word about spiritual or natural laws.  In my experience, we tend to think of laws, if we think of them at all, in their human variety.  I break a law every time I drive over the speed limit, and most of us have broken this or some other human law more than once in our lives.  We may or may not get caught and penalized by the human institutions we’ve set up to enforce the laws we’ve established, though the majority of human laws also have some common sense built in.  Driving too fast, for example, can lead to its own inherent penalties, like accidents, and besides, it wastes gas.

But spiritual or natural law can’t be “broken,” any more than the law of gravity or inertia can be “broken.” Other higher laws may come into play which subsume lower ones, and essentially transform them, but that’s a different thing.  A spiritual law exists as an observation of how reality tends to work, not as an arbitrary human agreement or compromise like the legal drinking age, or monogamy, or sales tax.  Another way to say it:  real laws or natural patterns are what make existence possible.  We can’t veto the Law of Flow, or vote it down, or amend it, just because it’s inconvenient or annoying or makes anyone’s life easier or more difficult.  There are, thank God, no high-powered lawyers or special-interest groups lobbying to change reality — not that they’d succeed.  Properly understood, spiritual or natural law provides a guide for how to live harmoniously with life, rather than in stress, conflict or tension with it.  How do I know this?  The way any of us do:  I’ve learned it the hard way, and seen it work the easy way — and both of these in my life and in others’ lives.  Once it clicks and I “get” it, it’s more and more a no-brainer.  Until then, my life seems to conspire to make everything as tough and painful as possible.  Afterwards, it’s remarkable how much more smoothly things can go.  Funny how that works.

OK, so on to the Law of Flow:

“Everything that exists is created and sustained by flows of matter, energy and information that come from the whole system to which it belongs and return to that whole system.  Participating in these flows, without interfering with them, brings health and wholeness; blocking them, in an attempt to turn flows into accumulations, brings suffering and disruption to the whole system and its parts.”*

“Participating in these flows, without interfering with them,” can be a life-long quest.  Lots of folks have pieces of this principle, and some of the more easily-marketed ones are available at slickly-designed websites and at New Age workshops happening near you.  But note that the goal is not to accumulate wealth beyond the wildest dreams of avarice.  (As Greer points out, if the so-called “Law of Attraction” really worked as advertized, the whole planet would be a single immense palace of pleasure and ease.  Though who would wait on us hand and foot, wash our clothes, make our high-priced toys, or grow and cook our food, remains unclear.)  Flow means drawing from system, contributing to it, and passing along its energy.  “Pay it forward” wouldn’t be out of place here.

If all this sounds faintly Socialist, well, remember that as Stephen Colbert remarked, “Reality has well-known liberal bias.” It means sharing, like most of us were taught as toddlers — probably shortly after we first discovered the power and seduction of “mine!”  But it could just as easily and accurately be claimed that reality has a conservative bias.  After all, these are not new principles, but age-old patterns and tendencies and natural dynamics, firmly in place for eons before humans happened on the scene.  To know them, and cooperate with them, is in a certain sense the ultimate conservative act.  The natural world moves toward equilibrium.  Anything out of balance, anything extreme, is moved back into harmony with the larger system.  The flows that sustain us also shape us and link us to the system.  The system is self-repairing, like the human body, and ultimately fixes itself, or attempts to, unless too much damage has occurred.

Ignorance of this law lies behind various fatuous political and economic proposals now afloat in Europe and America.  Of course, what’s necessary and what’s politically possible are running further and further apart these days, and will bring their own correction and rebalancing.  We just may not like it very much, until we change course and “go with the flow.”  That doesn’t mean passivity, or doing it because “everybody else is doing it.”  Going with the flow in the stupid sense means ignoring the current and letting ourselves be swept over the waterfall.  Going with the flow in the smart sense means watching and learning from the flow, using the current to generate electricity, or mill our grain, while relying on the nature of water to buoy us up, using the flow to help carry us toward our destination.  Flow is not static but dynamic, the same force that not only sustains the system, but always find the easier, quicker, optimum path:  if one is not available, flow carves a new one.  The Grand Canyon is flow at work over time, as are the shapes of our bodies, the curve of a bird’s wing, the curl of waves, the whorls of a seashell, the spiral arms of galaxies, the pulse of the blood in our veins.  Flow is the “zone” most of us have experienced at some point, that energy state where we are balanced and in tune, able to create more easily and smoothly than at other times.  Hours pass, and they seem like minutes. Praised be flow forever!

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Images:  river.

*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Earth Mysteries — 1 of 7 — The Law of Wholeness

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

Updated and edited 22 June 2017; 14 Dec 2017

Readers of this blog know I frequently quote John Michael Greer.  As a writer, blogger, and leader of another Druid order, he challenges me to dig deeper into my own order and understanding of Druidry, and examine its teachings more critically, as well as ponder the implications of his cultural criticism.  While his popular blog The Archdruid Report deals primarily with the consequences of Peak Oil, and offers productive strategies for thriving in the coming hard century or more of scarcity and turmoil, as we transition to a post-industrial age, most of his other writing centers on his spiritual journey until now.

As a case in point, his most recent book, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth (Weiser, 2012), is a reimagining of The Kybalion*, published anonymously in 1912.  Greer asserts as his book’s underlying principle that “The laws of nature are the laws of spirit; this is one of the great secrets of the Mysteries.” He reworks the seven principles of the earlier book into insightful observations about spiritual ecology, framed as spiritual law.  Here’s the first one, the Law of Wholeness:

“Everything that exists is part of a whole system and depends on the health of the whole system for its own existence.  It thrives only if the whole system thrives, and it cannot harm the whole system without harming itself.”

The American myth of rugged individualism and self-reliance, part of the cultural story we Yanks have told ourselves over the decades, has served its purpose, and possibly run its course:  it may be more of an obstacle now, in an era when we need cooperation and interdependence more than we need stoic endurance.  We’re interconnected, and what I do affects you. One of my teaching colleagues always used to laugh at the idea of non-smoking sections in restaurants.  “It’s like imagining there’s a non-peeing end of the swimming pool,” he’d exclaim.  “A feel-good label doesn’t make it so.” I cannot harm myself without harming the whole system. But anyone buying wholesale into the myth of individualism doesn’t want to hear that.

Rather than seeing the divine as standing outside nature, here’s a way of perceiving the universe as a single immense feedback loop.  Suddenly the Golden Rule isn’t just a good moral guide, but also blindingly obvious common sense.  What you do comes back to you.  What goes around comes around — not because “God punishes me,” or because of “karma” or “sin” or anything other than what goes in, comes out.   Computer programmers know it as GIGO:  garbage in, garbage out.  Maybe it’s time for LILO:  love in, love out.  As long as we see the world as a collection of separate, discrete individuals rather than an interconnected series of networks, we’ll kill, abuse, pollute, steal, etc.  And likewise, as long as we believe that we should be free to do something that “doesn’t hurt anyone else,” we live in illusion.  Everything that each of us does matters to all the rest of us.  We’re interconnected, linked up to each other in astonishing ways that we’re only beginning to discover.

At first this seems to dump all the guilt for why things suck squarely on our shoulders, and a lot of people today are sick of guilt.  Rightly so:  it doesn’t accomplish anything except to poison the heart and to distract us from moving forward.  It’s only useful if it goads us into constructive action and that’s rarer than it should be.  But guilt isn’t the same thing as responsibility.  Accepting responsibility is the death of victimhood.  If I begin to see that everything I do has an effect, a consequence, then my life matters in a way it may never have seemed to matter before.

To put it another way and quote a Wise One, “If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.”  In the midst of nihilism and cynicism and hopelessness, each word, thought, deed and feeling carries weight, shapes the universe for good or bad, and leaves a trail, a wake, a ripple, that will flow outward from my life now and also after I am gone.  I matter, and so do you, simply by virtue of being alive and here in this place, now.  To not choose to act, or to act foolishly and blindly is to waste a priceless opportunity to contribute to the commonwealth, the res publica, the Republic, this shared world of ours.

Who among us can deny that even small acts of kindness or cruelty committed by others have an effect on us out of all proportion to their apparent scale?  Can we then imagine for a moment that our own acts don’t set in motion a similar set of ripples?  We don’t have to be “big” to matter.  Love has no size.  Any is much.  Blessed be this life, gift to others and ourselves, chance to act, to love, to participate in the Web, to leave ripples at our passing, to vibrate the strands with our existence and choices, to play on life and pluck its melody, note by note.

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Image of Mystery Teachings:  Amazon.com

You can read the Kybalion online and download a PDF of it.

Image:  ripples.

Secrets, Part Three

Yes, secrets can be dangerous.  But live long enough and you notice that most things which may be dangerous under certain conditions are often for that very reason also potential sources of valuable insight and energy.  Poisons can kill, but also cure.  Light can disinfect, and also burn.  Different societies almost instinctively identify and isolate their favorite different sources of energy as destructive or at the least unsettling, just as the physical body isolates a pathogen, and for much the same reason:  self-preservation.

For many Americans and for our culture in general, sex is one great “unsettler.”  We need only look at our history.  Problems with appropriate sexual morality have dogged our culture for centuries, and show no signs of letting up, if the current gusts of contention around contraception, abortion, homosexuality and abstinence education mean anything at all.  Wall up sexuality and let it out only on a short leash, if at all, our culture seems to say.  Release it solely within the bonds of heterosexual monogamy.  Then you may escape the worst of its dangerous, unsettling, even diabolical power.  You can identify this particular cultural fixation by the attention that even minor sexual miss-steps command, surpassing murder and other far more actually destructive crimes. Let but part of a breast accidentally escape its covering on TV or in a video, even for a moment, and you’d think the end of the world had truly arrived.

a Mikvah -- ritual bath

Other cultures diagnose the situation differently and thus choose different energy sources to obsess about and wall up, or shroud in ritual and doctrine and taboo.  For some, it’s ritual purity.  At least some flavors of Judaism focus on this, with the mikvah or ritual bath, various prohibitions and restrictions around menstruation, skin diseases and other forms of impurity, and the importance of continuing the family along carefully recorded bloodlines.  The first five Biblical books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, list such practices and taboos in often minute detail.

The Bible also testifies, in some of its more well-known stories, to the fate of individuals like Jacob’s brother Esau, who married outside the family, and thus forfeited God’s blessings and promises that came with blood descent from their grandfather Abraham.  And one need only consider Ishmael, son of Abraham but not of an approved female, who is driven out into the wilderness with his mother Hagar, a slave and not a Hebrew.  This Jewish Biblical story accounts for the origins of the Muslims, descendants of Ishmael or Ismail.  (The Qur’an, not surprisingly, preserves a different account.)  The flare-ups of animosity and sometimes visceral hatred between Jews and Muslims thus originate quite literally in a family inheritance squabble, if we take these stories at their word.

If secrets have at their heart a source of potent energy and culture-shattering power, no wonder Americans in particular suspect them.  We like to think we can domesticate everything and turn it to our purposes: name it, own it, market it, even cage it and sell tickets for tourists to see it in captivity, properly chastened by our mastery.  But the numinosity of existence defies taming.

Such an oppositional stance of course almost guarantees conflict and misunderstanding and ongoing lack of harmony.  But the experience of some human cultures tells us that we can learn to discern, respect and work with primordial forces that do not bow to human will and cleverness.  (Likewise, Western and American culture have demonstrated that fatalism and passivity are not the only possible responses to disease, natural disasters, and so on.)  Master and servant are not the only relations possible.  For a culture that prizes equality, we are curiously indifferent to according respect to sex, divinity, mortality and change, consciousness and dream, creativity and intuition as forces beyond our control, but wonderfully amenable to cooperation and mutual benefit.

So how do secrets fit in here?  The ultimate goals of both magical and spiritual work converge.  As J. M. Greer characterizes it,

… the work that must be done is much the same–the aspirant has to wake up out of the obsession with purely material experience that blocks awareness of the inner life, resolve the inner conflicts and imbalances that split the self into fragments, and come into contact with the root of the self in the transcendent realms of being (Greer, John Michael.  Inside a Magical Lodge, 98).

Of course, much magical and spiritual practice does not (and need not) habitually operate at this level — but it could.  “By the simple fact of its secrecy, a secret forms a link between its keeper and the realities that the web does not include; a bridge to a space between worlds,” Greer notes.  This space makes room for inner freedom, and so the effort of maintaining secrecy can pay surprising psychological dividends.

Keeping a secret requires keeping a continual watch over what one is saying and how one is saying it, but the process of keeping such a watch has effects that reach far beyond that of simply keeping something secret.  Through this kind of constant background attention certain kinds of self-knowledge become not only possible but, in certain situations, inevitable.  Furthermore, this same kind of attention can be directed to other areas of one’s life, extending the reach of conscious awareness into fields that are too often left to the more automatic levels of our minds … Used in this way, secrecy is a method of reshaping the self … (Greer, 116-117).

Thus, the actual content of the secret may be quite insignificant, a fact that baffles those who “uncover” secrets and then wonder what the fuss was all about.  Is that all there is? they ask, usually missing another aspect of secrecy:  “things can be made important–not simply made to look important, but actually made important–by being kept secret” (Greer, 118).  The effort of maintaining secrecy and the discoveries that effort allows can mean that the supposed secrets themselves are often next to meaningless without that effort and discovery.

In this case, the danger of secrecy lies in what it reveals rather than what it conceals.  Once we discover the often arbitrary and always incomplete nature of the web of communication (and the cultural standards based on that web), we perceive their limitations and ways to step beyond them.  Here secrecy has

a protective function on several different levels.  To challenge the core elements of the way a culture defines the world is to play with dynamite, after all.  There’s almost always a risk that those who benefit from the status quo will respond to too forceful a challenge with ridicule, condemnation or violence.  Secrecy helps prevent this from becoming a problem, partly by makng both the challenge and the challengers hard to locate, but also by making the threat look far smaller than it may actually be (Greer, 127).

Secrecy forms part of the “cauldron of transformation”* available to us all.  Most of us balk at true freedom and change.  We may have to relinquish comforting illusions — about ourselves and our lives and the priorities we have set for ourselves.  So like a mouse I take the cheese from the trap and get caught by the head — I yield up the possibility of growth in consciousness in return for some comfort that seems — and is — easier, less demanding.  All it costs is my life.

Guard the mysteries; constantly reveal them, goes an old saying of the Wise.  The deepest secrets we already know.  That is why awakening confers the sensation of coming home, of return, of reclaiming a birthright, of dying to an old self, of extinction of something small that held us back — so many metaphors that different traditions and cultures and religious and spiritual paths hold out to us, to suggest something of the profound, marvelous and most human experience we can have.

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Images: cartoon; mikvah; cauldron;

* See John Beckett’s excellent blog post on this topic here.

Secrets, Part Two

Secrecy often emerges as a national issue in times of crisis. Recall the debate over the Patriot Act enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks, and the kinds of broad governmental powers the Act authorized, including significant reductions of citizen privacy.  Secrecy can become central to state security, and exists in uneasy tension with the “need to know.”

President Kennedy declared in an April 27, 1961 speech that unjustifiable secrecy is repellent,  dangerous, and virtually un-American:

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.*

Of course, he was addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association, and also standing implicitly against the Communist bloc and its perceived threat to the West.  (You can listen to a portion of Kennedy’s speech on Youtube here.)  Nevertheless his points are well-made, and still almost painfully applicable today, in the wake of Wikileaks and similar events.

Yet secret societies, in spite of Kennedy’s assertions, do have a long and well-established place in the history of America, and many still thrive today.  They flourish at many colleges like Yale, with its Skull and Bones the most famous — or notorious — of several societies for college seniors.  Another similar and infamous example, though not affiliated with a school, is the Bohemian Grove.  Both have generated entertaining conspiracy theories, books, films, and news articles, all of which occasionally offer pieces of the truth.  Both exist, and both count among their membership some of the most powerful and influential people in the world.  Bohemian Grove counts among its members George H. W. Bush, Clint Eastwood and the late Walter Cronkite, according to a Univ. of California Santa Cruz website.**  Should we be worried?!

Opening Night at Bohemian Grove

Many sororities and fraternities also share elements of secret societies, depending on their charters and missions.  Still other similar organizations enjoy spotless reputations, such as the PEO Sisterhood, mostly public in its support for education, but still retaining some secret aspects.

Secret organizations are in fact particularly American, or were in the past.  At the nation’s founding, all but two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were by some accounts members of the Masons or other society.  In the late 1800s, roughly 40% of the U.S. population belonged to the Freemasons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, the Grange, Knights of Columbus, Order of the Eastern Star, or other secret, service, fraternal or social organizations.  The 19th century was in many ways the heyday of such groups, which have declined since, even as Americans began to lament the loss of community cohesiveness and devotion to public service, unaware of the irony.

To step even further back in time, secrecy was after all crucial to the survival of Christianity, which took form as a sect within Judaism, and within a generation was perceived as a threat to Rome.  Suspected Christians were arrested, forced to worship the reigning Roman emperor (who in some cases claimed divinity) and recant their faith, or face execution in various bloody forms, including by wild animals, in the Circus Maximus, Colosseum or Amphitheater.  Until the emperor Constantine in the 300s made the religion a recognized faith of the Empire, Christianity was often an underground practice, with the ichthys (sometimes called the “Jesus fish”) as one of its secret signs, by which fellow believers might recognize each other.

The range of contexts in which secrecy manifests can be surprisingly wide.  The discipline of keeping a secret sometimes serves as a test for membership in a group.  If you can keep a secret about something insignificant, then you may earn the right to gain access to the greater secrets of the group, because you’ve demonstrated your integrity.  Shared secrets are a key element to defining in-groups and out-groups.  In the Middle Ages, much knowledge was automatically assumed to be secret.  If it was disseminated at all, it appeared in a learned language like Latin or Greek which only literate persons could read and access, and as often it was a zealously-guarded guild or trade secret which only guild members knew.  Significantly, the Old French word gramaire meant both “grammar” and “magic book,”  and is considered the most likely source of the word grimoire, also meaning a magic book.  Inaccessible or secret language and hidden or secret knowledge were the same thing, and occult meant simply “hidden.”

Some kinds of knowledge are experiential and therefore in a different sense hidden or secret from anyone who hasn’t had the experience.  Consider sex:  there is no way to share such “carnal knowledge” — you simply have to experience it to know it.  And thus Adam and Eve “know” each other in the Garden of Eden in order to conceive their children.  Many languages routinely distinguish “knowing about” and “knowing” with different words, as for instance  German kennen and wissen, French savoir and connaitre, Welsh gwybod and adnabod, Chinese hui/neng/zhidao. The kinds of experiential knowledge humans encounter in a typical lifetime are substantial and significant:  first love, first death, first serious illness and so on.  Note how these are often connected with the experience of initiation, discussed in a previous post.

It’s vital here to note that it is not secrecy itself but the nature of the secret that is crucial in assessing its significance accurately and dispassionately.  I continue to cite J.M. Greer for his lucid and keen observations about the importance and potentials of secrets and secrecy, and the influence of his thinking pervades this series of posts.  I mentioned in Part One that though we all take part in the web of communication, there are ways to see it from the outside and more objectively.   We can occasionally and briefly free ourselves of its more negative effects and minimize its compulsions, then return to it for its positive benefits of human solidarity and companionship. As I’ve mentioned, solitude can temporarily ease its influence, and grant us a clearer space for reflection.  Another group which experiences a consciousness apart from the web are sufferers of mental illness, who are sometimes involuntarily forced outside it.  There they may perceive the arbitrary nature of cultural assumptions and behaviors, the “blind spots” inherent in every culture  and human institution, and the hollowness of social convention.  Their unwitting shift away from the web can make their perceptions, words and actions bizarre, frightening and difficult to manage.  Clearly there is danger in breaking the web, or leaving its patterns of coherence that allow us to make sense of the world.

Greer observes:

To have a secret is to keep some item of information outside the web, so that it does not become a part of the map of the world shared by the rest of society. A gap is opened in the web, defined by the secret, and as long as the secret is kept the gap remains. If the secret in question is something painful or destructive, and if secrecy is imposed by force rather than freely chosen, this kind of breach in the web can be just as damaging as the kind opened by madness.  If secrecy is freely chosen and freely kept, on the other hand, it becomes a tool for reshaping awareness, one with remarkable powers and a range of constructive uses.**

An examination in the next post of the conscious use of secrecy for positive ends will conclude this series.

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*A transcript of Kennedy’s entire speech is available at the JFK Library here.  (The quoted portion above begins in section 1, after the prefatory remarks.)

Bohemian Grove dinner image and article.

Grimoire image.

**Greer, John Michael.  Inside a Magical Lodge.  p. 116.

Secrets, Part One

If you believe that everything should be “out in the open,” you’ll probably admit to a certain impatience with concealment and secrecy. We’ve heard the old saw: “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” and up to a point we believe it.  Particularly in the U.S., we equate openness with being “aboveboard” and honest.  “Don’t beat around the bush.”  “Say what you mean.”  “Be upfront about it.”  We admire “straight talk.”

The Freedom of Information Act helped make at least some government activities more transparent, and we often welcome “full disclosure” in a variety of situations.  We still think of ours as an “Open Society,” and the current practice of large and anonymous campaign contributions from corporate sponsors has some American citizens up in arms. We’re wary of the con, and we tend to suspect anyone who doesn’t “tell it like it is.”  We’ve got talk shows where people “spill it all,” and public figures starting at least with Jimmy Carter who began a confessional politics by admitting he had “lust in his heart.”  But not all secrets are sinister.  They do not automatically concern information anyone else needs to know.  Each of us has some things that are innocently private.  And in fact, well beyond this concession, secrecy can serve remarkable purposes that conspiracy theorists and even regular citizens rarely acknowledge.

Some secrets, of course, appear to be built into the stuff of the Cosmos.  Robert Frost captures this in a brief two-line poem, “The Secret Sits”:

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

We circle the thing we’re after, all the while convinced it’s there, that something will answer to our seeking, but somehow we still persist in missing it.  In spite of a couple of hundred years of scientific exploration, and prior to that, millennia of religious and spiritual investigation, existence and meaning and purpose often remain mysterious and not easily accessible.  What matters most to us springs from sources and energies we can’t simply subject to laboratory scrutiny and then write up in learned journals and magazines.  As some of the Wise have put it, “the eye sees, but cannot see itself” (at least not without a mirror).  Something about the nature of consciousness blocks us from easily comprehending it.

In our search, we reduce matter to atoms (literally, “unsplittables”) and think we’ve arrived at the true building blocks of the universe, only to learn that atoms can indeed split, and that they’re composed of subatomic particles.  Quantum physics further reveals that these particles are probabilities and exist only with the help of an observer.  Space-time itself is generated by consciousness.  We live in a “nesting doll” universe, worlds inside other worlds, an onion-like cosmos of endless layers.  True secrets, it appears, can’t be told.  They’re simply not part of the world of words.  As the Tao Te Ching wryly has it, “The Way that can be talked about isn’t the real Way.”  If that doesn’t have you pulling your hair out, it can at least cast you down into a terminal funk.  Where can a person get a clear answer?

Serious seekers in every generation come to experiment with some form of solitude, and if they persist, they may discover some very good reasons that underlie the practice of removing themselves even briefly from consensus reality and the web of communication we’re all born into.  This web helps us live with each other by building enough common ground that we can understand each other and cooperate in achieving common goals.  But it also builds our entire world of consciousness in ways we may not always want to assent to.  However, solitude by itself isn’t reasonable for most people as a lifestyle.  As my mother liked to remind me, “You have to live in the real world.”

But this “real world” runs surpassingly deep and wide in its influence.  Author, blogger and Druid J. M. Greer notes,

The small talk that fills up time at social gatherings is an obvious example. There might seem to be little point in chatting about the weather, say, or the less controversial aspects of politics, business, and daily life, but this sort of talk communicates something crucial.  It says, in essence, “I live in the same world you do,” and the world in question is one defined by a particular map of reality, a particular way of looking at the universe of human experience.*

We need maps – there’s a reason we developed them.  But they limit as much as they guide.  We could even say that this is their genius and power – they guide by limiting, by reducing the “blooming buzzing confusion” of life to something more manageable.  Advertizing does this by simplifying our desire for meaning and connection and significance into a desire for an object that will grant us these things.  Trade one symbol – money or credit cards, paper or plastic – for another symbol, a status symbol, an object sold to us with a money-back promise to grant wishes like a genie’s lamp or the cintamani, the “wish-fulfilling” gem of the East. (If that’s not magic, and a questionable kind at best, I don’t know what is.  How much more wonderful it would be – how much closer it would come to “true magic” — if it actually succeeded in quenching that original desire, which is merely sidetracked for a time, and will re-emerge, only to be distracted again, by another “new and improved”** model, spouse, diet, house, product or lifestyle.  We need a remarkably small minimum of things to flourish and be happy.  In a territory far beyond the blessed realm of that minimum, the market survives, yes, while the heart slowly dies.***)

Greer continues,

We thus live in an extraordinarily complex web of communication, one that expresses and reinforces specific ways of thinking about the world.  This is not necessarily a problem, but it can easily become one whenever the presence and effects of the web are unnoticed.  To absorb the web’s promptings without noticing them, after all, is also to absorb the web’s implied world-view without being aware of the process – and what we do not notice we usually cannot counteract.

The very common habit of passivity toward our own inner lives, a habit that is responsible for a very large portion of human misery, shows itself clearly here.  It’s one thing to accept a map of the world as a useful convenience, one that can be replaced when it’s no longer useful, and quite another to accept it unthinkingly as the only map there is—or worse, to mistake the map for the world itself.*

A secret breaks the web.  It remains something apart, the fragment that doesn’t fit.  It’s the puzzle piece left over that doesn’t match the gap in the nearly-finished picture staring up at you, that one annoying bolt or washer or other component remaining after you’ve put together the “easy to assemble” appliance or device.  It’s the hangnail, the sore thumb, the mosquito bite of awareness that something’s off-kilter, out of whack, out of step, no longer in synch.  We have words for these things — we can name them, at least — because they happen to us frequently enough to break into the web.  And we struggle to fix them as soon as we can, or barring that, ignore them as much as possible, that uncomfortable fact, that inconvenient discovery. As Churchill quipped, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”

I’ll continue this topic in Part Two.

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*Greer, John Michael.  Inside a Magical Lodge, pp. 114-115.  I reread this book about once a year, and its lucid style makes this pleasurable apart from its subject matter. In addition to being a “guided tour” of the workings of lodge dynamics (fraternal, magical and social) and group magical practice (with an example magical lodge that Greer examines in considerable detail), the book is a clear, demystifying meditation on group consciousness, secrecy, and the magical egregore or “group mind” at work in all human organizations, institutions and collectives, including families, churches, political parties, companies, clubs, sports teams — the scope is immense.

**As comedian Chris Rock says, “Which is it, new or improved?!”

***As a teacher at an expensive private school for students whose parents expect them to gain admission to the top colleges and universities in the country, I here acknowledge that I myself participate in another kind of wish-fulfilling enterprise marketed to a considerable degree to that now widely suspect 1%.  In defense of the school, however, if not of myself, every year scholarship students are admitted solely on merit.  They succeed out of all proportion to their numbers in earning top class rankings and coveted admission letters to the best schools.

Ten Thousand Things

One of the more useful skills I’m practicing with Druidry (we all learn our lessons from many sources, in different guises and from different teachers, throughout our lives) concerns binary thinking.  It’s easier to recognize when we’re not practicing it ourselves.  You’re with us or you’re against us.  It’s good or it’s bad.  You’re young or you’re old.  Hot or cold.  1% or 99%.  And so on.  Next door in New Hampshire, the state license plates famously read “Live free or die.”

We can get distinctly uncomfortable around ambiguity that doesn’t fall into one or the other of two neat categories. Advertisers after all market to categories, and spend time labeling both products and consumers so they can target their products.  WordPress asks for tags and categories.  If you have something to sell that doesn’t fit under a label, you can have a devil of a time getting it on the shelves or in front of people’s noses.  Likewise, if you want to locate something that doesn’t fit a category, it can sometimes be a long challenge to track it down.

Of course, we can see plenty of this dualistic patterning in action now on a large scale in the States, and without needing to look any further than our presidential primaries.  Just tune in, and you’re sure to hear some variant of the following, especially across party lines:  one candidate’s or party’s ideas and proposals constitute all Goodness and Light and Upright Living, while the other threatens our very way of life.  Filled with greed, selfishness, and all signs of true evil, that Evil Other will — if we make the mistake of listening to/believing in/voting for them,  deliver us individually and as a nation into the hands of utter darkness, despair and destruction.

  Of course the drift into binary or polar thinking doesn’t originate or end with politics.  As author, blogger and Druid J. M. Greer notes, “Binaries exert a curious magnetism on the human mind.  Once we get caught up in thoughts of yes or no, right or wrong, love or hate, truth or falsehood, or any other binary, it can be hard to realize that the two poles of the binary don’t contain all of reality … Druid philosophy offers a useful tactic in situations of this kind.  When you encounter a binary, you simply look for a third factor that is not simply a midpoint between the two poles.  Find the third factor and you convert the binary into a ternary, a balanced threefold relationship that allows freedom and flexibility.”*

We all know numerous proverbs and images of three-ness.  “Third time’s the charm”; the three parts of a syllogism (thesis, antithesis and synthesis); beginning, middle and end;  the Three Blind Mice; Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; Father, Son and Holy Ghost; the examples are nearly endless.  What they amount to is a widespread recognition of the liberating and creative power of Three.  As the Tao Te Ching says (Ch. 42), “From the One comes Two, from the Two Three, and from the Three the Ten Thousand Things” of existence in this world.  The key is not to stop at two if we want to create.  Move on to three.

Greer amplifies the discussion of binary thinking in a post on his weekly blog.  He notes that

… the hardwired habit of snap judgments in binary form is always right below the surface. In most cases all it takes is a certain amount of stress to trigger it. Any kind of stress will do, and over the years, practitioners of mass thaumaturgy have gotten very good at finding ways to make people feel stressed so that the binary reaction kicks in and can be manipulated to order.

That’s when thinking in binaries goes haywire, the middle ground becomes invisible, and people think, say, and do resoundingly stupid things because they can only see two extreme alternatives, one of which is charged to the bursting point with desire … or fear … Watch the way that many people on the American right these days insist that anybody to the left of George W. Bush is a socialist, or tfor that matter the way that some people on the American left insist that anybody to the right of Hillary Clinton is a fascist. Equally, and more to the point in our present context, think of the way the peak oil debate was stuck for so long in a binary that insisted that the extremes of continued progress and sudden catastrophic collapse were the only possible shapes of the postpetroleum future.

Binary thinking is evolutionarily useful, Greer notes, because it allows us to make snap judgments that can save our lives in crises.  But in situations where more careful thinking is not only possible but necessary, our ancient wiring and programming can leave us stranded at one pole or another, in stalemate, with no sense of the way forward.

Greer continues, observing that (in various kinds of Druid and magical training) “Back in the day, beginning students used to be assigned the homework of picking up the morning paper each day, writing down the first nine binaries they encountered, and finding a third option to each binary.”  This bit of training can offer a salutary unlocking and rebalancing of the debates of the day — or of any complex problem handicapped and hampered by sharply polarized thinking.

This useful little exercise [of identifying and expanding binaries] has at least three effects. First of all, it very quickly becomes apparent to the student just how much binary thinking goes on in the average human society. Second, it very quickly becomes at least as apparent to the student how much of an effort it takes, at least at first, to snap out of binary thinking. Third and most crucial is the discovery, which usually comes in short order, that once you find a third option, it’s very easy to find more—a fourth, a ninety-fourth, and so on—and they don’t have to fit between the two ends of the binary, as most beginners assume.

Ternary thinking isn’t just a liberating technique for the person who practices it.  It carries with it a desirable ripple effect, for

… when a discussion is mired in reactive binary thinking, it only takes one person resolutely bringing up a third option over and over again, to pop at least some of the participants out of the binary trap, and get them thinking about other options. They may end up staying with the option they originally supported, but they’re more likely to do it in a reasoned way rather than an automatic, unthinking way. They’re also more likely to be able to recognize that the other sides of the debate also have their points, and to be able to find grounds for mutual cooperation, because they aren’t stuck in a mental automatism that loads a torrent of positive emotions onto their side of the balance and an equal and opposite torrent of negative emotions onto the other side.

Given how shrill our political dialog has become, and how intransigent and loath to compromise the principal players remain, we could use a healthy dose of such thinking.  As one of the Wise has said, “God is what opposites have in common.” For me that means that the “truth” of a matter is less than likely to lie at either extreme of a binary, but somewhere else — not “in the middle” necessarily, as though God were a moderate or centrist deity.  The Tao Te Ching also notes (somewhat wryly, I’ve often felt) that “Extremes do not last long.”

But beyond the political sphere, the ternary in other settings leads us directly to the Ten Thousand Things, the world of possibility and options and freedom.  To give just one personal example, after my cancer surgery and the follow-up radiation  months later, I was weak and suffering from uncomfortable and chronic internal radiation burns in the lower colon.  “I’ve got to get better or I’ll have to quit my job,” I thought.  “I can’t work like this,” when almost every bathroom visit brought blood and pain.  Binary alert!  I was able to arrange a medical leave, during which a change of diet, specific exercise, rest, an inspiring class I audited, and several new activities and spiritual practices have helped with healing.

One of the latter is the subtly powerful principle of “both-and.”  Rather than stalling in a binary, embrace the whole.  So often I hear people saying, “I’m so upset!” or “I can’t believe it!” or some other incantation.  The more often they repeat it, the more forceful their mental and emotional state seems to become for them.  (Our most common targets of “black magic” are typically ourselves.)

“Both-and” works like this.  “I’m upset and I can also be calm.” Both are true.  Rather than denying what may be a very real state or situation, include it and move outward to include more.  This avoids the resistance or denial that often plagues affirmations or stubbornness or exertions of the will, as if we could force the universe to do what we’re simultaneously insisting it must not to!  (I want to be calm, but “I’m so upset!”)

Whitman, our old American proto-Druid, gets it.  “I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.” Both-and, alive and well.  And as he also and famously said in “Song of Myself,” “Do I contradict myself?  Very well then I contradict myself.  I am large, I contain multitudes.”

The Ten Thousand Things all are moving about on their many and beautiful ways.  Come walk with me, and with them.

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*J. M. Greer, The Druid Magic Handbook, 19.

Images: NH license; Obama; Gingrich; Whitman.

Resolutions — New Year’s and Others

It’s no accident that this time of year turns us toward thoughts of resolutions.  After the family gatherings and excess of the holidays — and let’s be honest, some excess and abandon can be fun, or would be, if our Puritan strain didn’t kick in, and kick us — we can feel slack and listless.  We’ve crested the peak of seemingly endless sugar and fat in our holiday diet — unless New Year’s Eve is the bigger holiday for you, in which case you’re just getting in training.  In the shadow of the sugar low, just combine these things with cloudy days, at least here in the northeast U.S., and you face a perfect storm of sloth and dejection and mild to severe loathing.  At some point our usually inevitable American self-improvement gene then steps forward, and it’s off to fix ourselves.

Whenever we push happiness or improvement into the future, we can be in trouble.  If it’s in the form of satisfaction with ourselves, twice the trouble.  How many times have we started and quit some scheme of fix-up?  Lose weight, get in shape, hold your temper with the left- or right-wing relative who always gets under your skin, forgive your neighbor, keep a diary, save more money each month, clean the basement or garage — paper for all the lists of vows and resolutions could keep Staples in business all by itself.  And if you truly enjoy flogging yourself, you key in your list to your favorite electronic device, so you can torture yourself with it several times a day.

You should know I tend not to make many resolutions.  Partly, my personal standards are lower, I’ll admit — and that makes things easier.  I confess to a startling capacity for indolence.  Both my wife and I have had years where we’re either flat out — busy, or flat out — in sloth.  Partly as a result of that, I’m a pragmatist.  No use flailing and contorting to begin something I won’t finish.  Shorten the list, I tell myself.  Throw it out altogether.  Delete the to-do’s accumulating on your virtual or actual desktop.  Be realistic.  You’ll be happier not making yourself miserable with what you fail to accomplish.  Or just keep it off the list in the first place.  Guilt may be a Catholic specialty, but most Americans, regardless of religious ancestry or affiliation, have managed to add it to their personal repertoire of masochism and psychological waterboarding.  Thus do I lower expectations.  And I’m only exaggerating slightly.  Low expectations let me rejoice in walking down a hallway and back — once — after my cancer surgery. Then twice.  And so on.  In three months I was jogging three miles a day.  Which was not my intention, and would have seemed daunting at the outset.  I just increased my distance a little each day.  The gifts of fresh air and daily sunrise were more than half of my success.

Which brings me to magic.

Not a transition you saw coming, I imagine.  Enough for at least a couple of readers to stop in disgust.  We’ll ignore the fact that what gets called “magical thinking” is exactly what propels many of our resolutions to change.  Such thinking is indeed unrealistic, because — to use the physical metaphor — we try to do the equivalent of the Boston Marathon without first taking up merely a short daily walk.  Too often we simply crash and burn.

So let’s define magic as most actual practitioners do:  the art of creating changes in consciousness in conformity with the will.

This isn’t the “will” of willpower, as if we could compel the universe to do anything it isn’t already inclined to do.  That kind of will is the popular image of the witch or magician, however, muttering arcane mantras and spells, and perhaps waving a wand.  It’s Harry Potter magic, which is why many practicing magicians found the Evangelical Christian hysteria (here’s a more balanced overview) over the book series and its supposed promotion of “Satanism” and “witchcraft” to be hysterical, as in funny.  See how far you get waving a wand and shouting “Expelliarmus” or “Avada Kedavra.”  (“Expecto Patronum”* might get you incrementally closer to achieving something, if only because it may lead you to focus on a positive.)

Actual — as opposed to Hollywood or popular — magic is a matter of discerning the patterns and tendencies of the natural world and its powers and forces, and then aligning oneself with them.  Quite simply, any other approach is highly unlikely to succeed.  As Druid and occult author J. M. Greer observes, if it “ignores the momentum and flow of natural patterns, it’s clumsy and wasteful of energy.  It’s much like trying to cross a lake on a rowboat without paying attention to the winds and the currents.  If you ignore these, you can put plenty of effort into rowing and make very little headway, or even end up further away from your goal than you started” (The Druid Magic Handbook, 18).  Blindly asserting the will is rowing while oblivious to movements and energies of the larger world.  Far from being supernatural, magic is thus deeply involved with the natural world.

The will involved in magic is much better identified as intentionality, and it’s intentionality that helps our New Year’s resolutions actually succeed.  Greer continues:  “Real will is effortless.  It corresponds, not to struggle and strain, but to what philosophers call ‘intentionality,’ the orientation of the mind that locates meaning in objects of experience” (20).  He gives the example of choosing to look at a window, or through a window at something on the other side.  The well-known image of faces or a vase offers a similar instance.  It’s by intention that we shift our perception.  Strain has nothing to do with it.  You perceive the two dark faces in profile looking at each other, or you perceive a white vase on a black background.   It’s hard to see both simultaneously.  But intentionality lets you shift between them.  It’s a choice.

One technique, therefore, for training the will or the intentionality, is to do something simple and comparatively effortless.  Set yourself a ridiculously easy task, follow through on it, and record your results.  The purpose of this training is to reveal and separate all our defeatist and negative self-sabotaging attitudes from an actual act of intentionality.  For instance, five times during the day, stand up, turn three times in a circle and sit back down again.  Record the date and time on each instance that you do this.

Now presumably nothing interfered with your success, except perhaps a mild feeling of embarrassment.  But you set up an intention, and manifested it without strain.  You simply did it.  Yoda’s words are apropos here:  “Do, or do not.  There is no try.”  The “trying” is the strain, the effort of will to do something you actually don’t want to do.  Intentionality bypasses that.  You simply do it because you decided to.  This is a form of preliminary magical training:  doing small, effortless, things you know you can achieve without strain, in order to gain confidence in intention.

Because intentionality is a choice, not a struggle, many aspects of our lives can come under its influence.  Greer continues,

If you face a challenge with confidence, for example, you chances of success are much better than if you face the same challenge full of doubts and worries.  Intentionality is the reason why.  What the confident person sees as potential opportunities, the worried person sees as potential obstacles, and they are both right, because whether something is an opportunity or an obstacle usually depends on how you choose to approach it (Greer, 21)

— that is, on your intentionality.

We use a form of magic whenever we make a resolution — in this sense, we’re all magicians at work.

The difference between intentionality and ordinary ideas of willpower explains many of the failures that bedevil beginners.  When you try to use magic to will the world into obedience [in the case of a resolution, you will yourself to change your own behaviors and habits — ADW],  you set up an intentionality of conflict between yourself and the world … The harder you try to make the world obey, the more it fights back, because all your efforts reinforce the intentionality and amplify the conflict.  Change your intentionality to one of moving in harmony with the world, and the conflict disappears (Greer, 21).

This is not unfamiliar territory to Christians, either, or shouldn’t be.  Jesus says, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him.”  “Turn the other cheek,” and so on.  In other words, don’t make additional and entirely unnecessary trouble for yourself.  Don’t stand in your own way.

Because we often practice “black magic” on ourselves, sabotaging and short-circuiting our own best intentions with negative thinking and self-limiting behavior, and setting up conflicting, opposing intentionalities, we waste time and energy “rowing against the current.”  Many beginning magicians

try to use magic to achieve financial prosperity, and it’s common for their efforts to backfire and leave them poorer than they started.  Why?  In many cases, their magic focuses on wanting what they don’t have.  This sets up an intentionality of wanting and not having, and so they end up wanting money and not having it.  As with so many things in life, the more energy they put into chasing something, the faster it runs away (Greer, 22).

Because Greer has such insightful and useful things to say about intentionality — and thus resolutions — I want to let him have (almost) the final word:

If you want to use magic to become prosperous, your intentionality has to focus on being prosperous, not on wanting to be prosperous.  One effective approach starts with noticing the prosperity already in your life — if you have a roof over your head, three meals a day, and the leisure to read this book, after all, you have more prosperity than half the people on this planet — and letting the change in focus from wanting to having gently redefine your intentionality toward wealth.  Another useful strategy focuses on seeing opportunities for abundance around you.  This redefines your surroundings as a source of opportunity, and as [our life energy] follows intentionality, and shapes experience, opportunities appear (Greer, 22).

So to sum up, practice intentionality with actions that don’t haul negative habits of thinking along with them.  Focus on having and being, rather than on wanting and lacking.  Experiment.  Use the power of choice to shift consciousness — to see the vase, the faces, or whatever your intentionality is.  Repeat as needed.

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Images: resolutions and faces/vase

Postscript: when I was searching for the first image, a list of resolutions, I came across pictures of computer screens, too — another meaning of resolution — the pixel resolution or clarity of image that a screen possesses.  Likewise, my clarity in visualizing the goal — of having or being what I desire — is key to “keeping” my resolutions.  Imagining what it is like being and having what I desire is halfway to my manifesting it.  I already know something of what it feels like to succeed. (I’m using this strategy as I revise my nanowrimo draft.)

*”Expecto patronum” — (Latin, literally, “I await a patron/protector”) summons a familiar or symbolic representation of the self to protect one against negative energies, such as Dementors in the HP series.  Harry’s patronus is a stag, as was his father’s.  Of the three spells I cite above, this one is good defensive magic and actually works well against nightmares. The following is part of the entry from the Harry Potter wiki on the Patronum spell:

A Patronus is a kind of positive force, and for the wizard who can conjure one, it works something like a shield, with the Dementor feeding on it, rather than him. In order for it to work, you need to think of a memory. Not just any memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory… Allow it to fill you up… lose yourself in it… then speak the incantation “Expecto Patronum”.

Remus Lupin teaching Harry Potter the Patronus Charm

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