Spitrituality: how do you know it is working?

Over at Magic of Thought  there was a thoughtful reply to my Psychology and Magic post. After making some interesting points Mike ended his post with a question.

“So, I have a question for Jason, and anyone else thinking about these things: If you are doing magick for an awakening / enlightenment / personal growth, which techniques focus on that? How do you go about it? And how do you know if it’s effective?”


Before we can discuss these questions we have to first narrow down what we are talking about when we discuss enlightenment or personal growth. For some the journey is upward, going higher and higher towards God, even speaking of union. For others the journey is deeper and deeper peeling back layers of the self to reveal a core. For some, it is about being as natural as possible, getting back to our  animal natures and honoring ourselves as we are. For yet others it is about building a divine identity – an isolate intelligence that will outlive this life.

All these views are valid, and some of them will take you to the same place. For me though it is not about going inward or going upward. It is not about going anywhere. There is nothing to build or destroy. There is nothing outside oneself to get, nor inside to find.

It is about waking up from the fragmented and mechanical awareness that we all have so that we can see what reality is. Once it is found it is about allowing that non-dual awareness to regain its natural stability. In this way we understand the ground of being.

This awareness is always there as it is fundamental to our nature and reality itself. The path is about clearing the obscurations that block it. While the clearest teachings on this that I have found are expressed in the Dzogchen tradition (specifically the Upadesha), the more I look the more I am convinced that this is the essential meaning of many (though not all) of the worlds religious teachings. Some accentuate certain aspects of this better than others.

Now, as to how this is accomplished, there are many ways. Some are direct, and some are quite roundabout. The direct ways are not better than the roundabout ones nor the other way around. Each has their own benefit in the relative sense.


So, getting back to the question, which practices are focused on this? If you are really living your life for this goal, every action is connected with it. Some are aimed at realizing that Gnosis, some are aimed at stabilizing it, and some are aimed at expressing it into the world through action.

Obviously I am a meditation advocate – depending on the meditation of course – but other practices are focused that way as well. Devotional practice, astral exploration, ecstatic practices, sacred substances, intense energy work, sex yoga, dream practice, sacred questing, pilgrimage, kabbalistic tree work, planetary gate work, and other types (though certainly not all) ceremonial practice.


The question of which practices are focused that way is easy. The question of how you know they are working is harder, but it is also more important.

It is a subtle thing to judge, this kind of attainment. What makes it really tricky is that even when one attains a great goal or realizes a high STATE of realization, you are still a long way from stabalizing that awareness into a STAGE of development. You can attain something like K&C, or Crossing the Abyss or Rigpa, or Samadhi or whatever goalposts you are working with but that is no guarantee that you are stable in that gnosis. This is where the whole “grade strucure” thing falls apart. You can walk the spheres and cross the abyss and call yourself a Master of the Temple, but that doesnt mean that you are going to maintain that awareness. You can find Rigpa, even get to the point where you can enter it just by remembering to, but that does not mean that you are living in that state 24/7.

I sometimes use the analogy of a foreign place. First you hear about the place, and you have some half formed ideas gleamed from TV shows and stories of people that have been there. This is like hearing about spirit. Next you do hard research to learn solid info, you get a guide, and you plot a course of travel. This is the stage that most occultists get to. Next you actually travel and visit the place; staying a while but returning home. The gnosis that you gain from that visit changes you. The more you visit, the more it changes you. Eventually people there get to know you and you get to know them, but still as an outsider. This is Finally you move to the place and it becomes your base. From here you can travel back as necessary to the places you have already been, and even stay for long periods of time and do the things that you used to do, but your base is at the new country.

So how do you know it is working? You know based on your experience of the state and stages and how these ripple through your life.

Of course you can’t judge the inner experience of other people and at times it becomes necessary to evaluate a teacher or peer. How to do this? You must judge by how they act. Do they act out of love and compassion or selfishness and petulance? This is not about being all peace and love – sometimes compassion demands that you sock someone in the nose – it is about whether a person is a master of their emotions and thoughts or whether they are clearly mastered by them.

To borrow some thinking from Integral Life Practice, people generally develop from Egocentric, to Ethnocentric, to Geocentric, to Kosmocentric, to Transcendent world view. Rather than destroying or replacing the previous view, each level contains the levels before it. This means that someone operating from a Transcendent view will possess an ego, and know what it is to experience the assults on ego that come from insults or hurt – they will react very differently.

Some very advanced people will act very differently from how a person expects a “spiritual” person to act. This often has more to do with the expectations of the person looking. Most people want their spiritual teachers to be dead from the neck down and be “beyond” all the dross of the world. Unfortunately these people will almost always be disappointed when they look close enough.

On the other hand, many teachers use the idea of “Crazy Wisdom” to act like cads or villains. At the end of the day though, it is easy to see through. If you look back and see the wisdom and how everything worked out better, it is real. If you find yourself leaving the ashram without your girlfriend or your wallet, well, lets just say that is probably not crazy wisdom.

Anyway. I have rambled enough for now.

About Inominandum

Author. Sorcerer. Consultant. I have 30 plus years of experience making magic a reality for myself, my clients, and my students. For a complete background go to www.strategicsorcery.net
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23 Responses to Spitrituality: how do you know it is working?

  1. RO says:

    nice! That “Ashram” in your example could also be a hippy commune/organic farm collective in Bastrop Texas. Crazy Wisdom… heh.

  2. WSA says:

    Jason, thank you for this insightful, thought provoking post. I recently had someone I deeply respect, an elder, much farther down the Path than I define “enlightenment” (where enlightenment = the Buddhist idea of Awake) as a facility much like athletic prowess and one that does not necessarily guarantee control of the ego.

    The context was a conversation about all the “enlightened masters” who violate their vows and prey upon their students either ethically or financially. That’s always been such a problem for me, it REALLY sticks in my craw, and frankly, might be an obstacle for me on my Path. I said to her “so, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that it’s like someone who is an Olympic skier who can also be a sh** personally. And she said “Exactly!”

    She talks about there being two related and hopefully concurrent Paths; the Path of Healing (recognizing, understanding and moving beyond the ego) and the Path of…. hmmmm what did she call it? I can’t remember for certain, but the idea was that it was a Path of Awakening and stabilization of Awakened Realization (in what you call a Stage, I guess.) She holds that one can walk one without walking the other; like being the world’s best skier but personally being the world’s worst jerk.

    In all my years of study, I have not run into that idea before last week. She claims that this is where Westerner’s misunderstandings primarily stem from; that misunderstanding we have, that we believe all who are Awake are also transcendent of ego. She went further and said in more ancient times it was much more a practice to walk both Paths concurrently but now it is much more that one would cultivate the facility to be Awake (your stabilization of Stages?) without having put in the requisite study to be equally stabilized on the Path of Healing… and therefore not having transcended the ego.

    Strikes me this, if true, would be a most insidious and dangerous person. One who possesses the charisma of A Being Awake but without the facilities of compassion and ethics required of one wielding the sword of charisma. Dangerous to students, indeed.

    I wish you would comment on this idea. I know you have spent considerable time in the East surrounded by the traditional local culture and ethnic practitioners of various Paths. Have you run into this idea? Is it true in your understanding and experience?

  3. Great post Jason.

    I have always liked Ken Wilber’s presentation of the states and stages. Although, perhaps predictably, the notion of the ‘ethnocentric’ stage being one up from the egocentric bugged me big time when I read his books and it still sticks in my craw. It reflects a rather crude understanding of indigenous wisdom systems on his part. His model also kinda poops all over magic as an endeavour. And his integral practice system has almost no facility for incorporating ATR or other indigenous religious elements, which suggests it isn’t all that integral. Though, I really like his 3-2-1 shadow technique thingy.

    Anyway, amen about judging teachers by their actions and not their press releases. I wish I had grasped that 10 years ago – it would have saved me a lot of heartache and money.

    • Inominandum says:

      Ken Wilbur is great for presenting stuff like states and stages, pre/trans fallicy, and other types of dividing the mystical experience. But yeah, I have a lot of problems on some of the same issues you do as well.

      Not the ethnocentric thing though. Where would you put ethnocentric if not just above egocentric and below geocentric? I mean, he is not really making it a race thing, it can refer to any type of group.

      I think he does have a poor understanding of indigenous wisdom systems. Integral system could well include shamanic and ecstatic elements of indigenous cultures, but as to the ATR’s, you have a point. The question is though (and I am not claiming to answer here) are the ATR’s seeking to answer the same questions about consciousness, ethics, and spirituality that the systems integral draws upon does. Certainly there is also no room for regular theistic non-mystic Christianity and Islam either – the issues at hand are different.

      I also think Wilbur conveniently ignores the fact that many of his own teachers, practice magic that would fall under his “magical thinking” category.

      I suppose he would point out that from the holistic view, that there is truth at every level of the spectrum and that one is not forsaken but included when a higher level is achieved.

  4. Well, considering that integral theory is supposed to be a “theory of everything” it really shouldn’t matter whether the ATR’s appear to seek to answers to the same questions about consciousness and ethics etc.

    More importantly, the ATRs DO seek answers to the same questions.

    The idea that they don’t is very much based on the common misconception that they are primitive, backward and dark (which is a racial bias) and therefore couldn’t possibly touch the same profundities as Asian mysticism – which Wilber is highly biased toward in his model. Take for instance Yoruba culture and spiritual cosmology. Every bit as sophisticated, complex and mystical as any of the Asian wisdom traditions. It is deeply concerned with ethical and spiritual refinement of people – offering subtle and very ancient ritual systems to attain increased levels development to those ends. It just happens to come from the continent that Wilber and most westerners can’t help but put anywhere else other than into the ‘ethnocentric’ stage of development.

    And this is where the stages thing comes apart, exactly because it creates a hierarchical structure; one which inevitably is skewed to raising the systems and world-views Wilber holds dear above others. For someone who is such a big proponent of non-dual consciousness he has and embarrassingly dualistic way of describing the world.

    I think it works best as a model for combining western psychology and science with asian mysticism in a rational coherent way. Otherwise it’s quite broken in IMHO…

    • Inominandum says:

      Anything claiming to be a theory of everything is bound to fall short. You can look at Wiburs photo from the cover of Brief History and tell right off the bat that he is an egotistical jackass. But he is a smart egotistical jackass.

      To be honest I usually find myself arguing against him rather than for him, but allow me to play devils advocate for a few….

      Wilbur is very highly biased towards eastern mysticism, true, but that is his background. Its important to note though that he is biased towards mysticism wherever it is found, not just the systems he likes. You cannot view an entire religion or system as falling into one place on his schema. Tibetan Buddhism for instance would fall all over the place, with Dzogchen and Shinay/Lha tong at the top, and Tantric and Shammanic practices further below. The magical aspects of it would be even further down the field. All these things would be practiced by one Lama.

      Christianity would likewise be all over the map. Centering Prayer and other contemplative methods would be near the top. Prayer and listening would be a step down as they relate to God in second person terms. Novenas and Fundamentalism would be even further down because they tend to objectify God and spirit as something “out there”.

      So in the case of the ATR’s if you are looking for a place to stick them on his chart – it is simply not going to be there because no religion is in one place.

      Practices that relate to specific external spirits and dieties as out there will be lower on the spectrum, and concerns that are purely within an ethnic, social, or cultural group will likewise be lower on the spectrum. Practices that open one up to relating directly and interacting with Spirit will be higher, as will concerns that are global in nature. Practices that relate to spirit in 1st person – divine within, enlightenment, realization of ultimate reality that is normally obscured will be rated higher as will practices that have a cosmic nature.

      He does not deal with ATR’s, but he doesnt deal much with a lot of things. The chart is there to be used. Where on it do you place various aspects of your tradition?

      It is important to keep in mind that the spectrum holds truths and useful tools at each level. It is not a matter of forsaking one for the other.

      The bias that mystics have against magical thinking is something that we have talked about before yes? How has the teachings of Thomas Keating and other Christian contemplatives meshed with your magical practice. Honestly, if it was not for Dzogchen, I would have a very tough time with the mesh myself, but Lama Vajranatha, Lopon Tenzin namdak, and Namkhai Norbu are all first class Mystics and Mages – so I got to see how the tools of “lower” vehicles get used to support the more subtle practices of the higher ones within a tradition.

  5. Andrew B. says:

    I guess what I take away from this is the need to develop some sense of the personal landmarks one should experience. How do I know when I’m in a egocentric or an ethnocentric consciousness? When am I geocentric or Cosmocentric? When am ‘I’ transcendent?

    When I watch that dumb Kony video, I may experience an awareness of compassion and want to help, but I’m still acting within an ethnocentric consciousness really… aren’t I? I’m allowing myself to be manipulated with images and words collected and arranged by a member of my tribe. It has the illusion of geocentric consciousness — “I’m trying to end the power of a murderous villain!” — but it may be that I’ve only had my consciousness ‘raised’ a little, and it’s even possible that I’ve sunk into my own ego further.

    The egocentric part of me is annoyed that I’ve been doing this in one way or another for as long as I have, ‘without getting results’ – without moving to a new stage. And yet, I have changed stages, but in such ways both subtle and gross that it’s hard to explain exactly what happened. The ethnocentric part of me is happy that there’s a little tribe of folks that I’ve been helpful to, and the geocentric part of me is aware of how interconnected my life is with so many others… But It’s kind of like I’m all these different awarenesses at once, and never completely in one. A worlds-traveler, if you will.

    ‘Is arriving at one’s new home’ an obvious and definite awareness? How does one know where one is in the stages?

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  8. Ona says:

    This is a fascinating subject, and I just want to add a bit from my own experience, relating to this: “How has the teachings of Thomas Keating and other Christian contemplatives meshed with your magical practice.”

    I find that it meshes thus for me: First and foremost, we serve God, the Source, the Absolute, because that is our core, our Being. The myriad spirits of the world are like the people of the world or any other created things: each has skills and specialties and strengths and weaknesses. Each is also an expression of God, manifesting in Creation. Just as I might call a plumber to fix my plumbing, I might work with Yemaya when a friend is suffering terrible sorrow. Or I might call upon the Archangel Michael when someone is haunted by demons. Or I might ask Ganesha to open the doors to opportunity for a friend in financial crisis. For that matter, I might ask important spirits in my life to help me in my own spiritual development, when I am failing to see some truth or feel blind to a teaching that is being revealed in my life. My own practice includes sitting in silence and unknowing, as the Christian mystics describe. And it also includes regular work with spirits in the ATRs I am initiated in and from other pantheons.

    (Could I just ask God for things using unadorned prayer? Probably. But for me the spirit work is like art and music – so beautiful, and such a lovely part of my life.)

    I think some of the ways magick can be a wonderful aspect of development towards recognizing our true nature is in exercising all of our faculties. We need to become soft, pliable, and open. The cycles of light and dark that characterize spiritual development can be accelerated and enhanced by magickal work. Just as one example, when you can surrender enough to allow a guardian spirit to possess you, you learn something very deep about who you thought you were. You are not a little guy in your brain planning your life. You are a vehicle for divine energy. You are connected to a god or goddess far bigger than you. As another example, many people find that the more magick they do, the less ritual they need and the more magick seems to just be the unfolding of everyday life – intention after intention, synchronicity after synchronicity. One might even start to see that one isn’t really “doing” all of it. It’s just blossoming by itself. Ones life starts to synch up with Divine Will, one could say. That doesn’t mean you never have “bad” things happen. I suppose one way to think of it is that you start to truly understand that “every event in your life is a direct communication from your Holy Guardian Angel/God/etc.” That connection, when experienced, is profound.

    This is a really interesting conversation. Thanks for the post. I doodled over after seeing a post and tweet at magickofthought.com Peace.

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  10. Wow, Jason, thanks for the great response. Much love. I’ve written back on my blog.

  11. jody says:

    Nondual realization becomes established when attention is able to rest on awareness itself without getting distracted by any objects within awareness. Nondual enlightenment is the product of the neurological changes which occur in the context of non dual realization over a given amount of time (usually years).

    Since ordinary awareness is always non dual, the fact many of us have not yet recognized this is proof that enlightenment is not conceptual, nor is it a “higher” state than what we are experiencing in any moment of our lives. Yet, since many of us trade in concepts about enlightenment and what it is like, including those used in this post, we find ourselves anticipating some kind of unusual and extraordinary peak experience, rather than recognizing and identifying an ongoing condition that has always existed within us. In this way, we keep our enlightenment always at arms length away, enchanted by the pretty pictures we trade about it, NONE of which have any bearing at all on the actual reality of non dual awareness as it exists in each and every one of us.

    • Inominandum says:

      I agree that non-dual realization is established by awareness resting in awareness itself rather than the contents of awareness. I agree that there are neurological changes, but would say that there is more than that to non-dual enlightenment. You are not JUST experiencing a neurological phenominon. You are experiencing the base of being itself.

      I agree also that it is always there and from the perspective of itself cannot be called higher or lower or anything else. HOWEVER, the method of the establishing the realization does differ and just about every tradition on the planet speaks in terms of higher and lower paths. In Nyingma for instance Dzogchen is a path in and of itself with its own base path and fruit. One does not have to enter it through a lower vehicle, though one can. But that does not stop it from being spoken of as the highest vehicle.

      Ultimate truth does not erase relative truth, even the relative truths surrounding methods of realization.

  12. jody says:

    Two relative truths for you:

    1. You are ALREADY experiencing being the base of being itself. However, this experience is not meeting your expectations about it.

    2. Your expectation about what experiencing yourself as the base of being would be like is probably the main reason you cannot recognize what is true right now in this moment.

    • Inominandum says:

      Two relative truths for YOU.

      1. I am experiencing the base of being and it IS meeting my expectations about it.

      2. You have no clue what someones expectations and experiences are based upon a blog post. So perhaps, rather than playing Rigpa-police, you should do as the traditions suggest and mind your own experience.

      • jody says:

        Care to describe your experience of being the base of being?

        • Inominandum says:

          I tend not to entertain people that show up on my blog acting like they have appointed themselves my guru and generally acting like snide asshats.

          But, I can sum it up in two words that came to me the first time I experienced it: Ultimate Ordinariness.

          • jody says:

            So true. I’m sorry I’ve rankled you. I imagine you’d agree that seeing the ultimate ordinariness is seeing that you never had to go anywhere to find it. Thus, I was thrown off by your travel metaphor and led myself to believe you were speculating. It seems I was mistaken.

  13. Inominandum says:

    I don’t recall making a travel metaphor. Quite the opposite in fact. What I wrote in the post above was :

    All these views are valid, and some of them will take you to the same place. For me though it is not about going inward or going upward. It is not about going anywhere. There is nothing to build or destroy. There is nothing outside oneself to get, nor inside to find.

    It is about waking up from the fragmented and mechanical awareness that we all have so that we can see what reality is. Once it is found it is about allowing that non-dual awareness to regain its natural stability. In this way we understand the ground of being.

    You do not have to tracel to find it, but you must learn to recognize and remember to recognize it. Also once recognized there ARE still steps to take to truly see. In Dzogchen terms one uses Rushans and Semzins to recognize Rigpa, Threkchod to learn to stay aware, and Thogyal to allow the natural state to fully effect your perception and being.

    • jody says:

      Honestly, I’m a little too excitable when I encounter metaphors. I tripped on my interpretation of this statement:

      “Next you actually travel and visit the place; staying a while but returning home.”

      I’d characterize it as a process of infusion. The more you can stay with rigpa, the more infused the wetware gets. This might be a lot more nitpicky than you care to deal with, but this metaphor produces a lot less conceptual overhead, IMO.

      • Inominandum says:

        I would have thought that the metaphor of “moving in” to a place was counterbalanced by my explicit exhortions that there was nothing to build and no where to go.

        Anyway, Rigpa is not the final stage. There is still more to do after that. You need to let that Rigpa transform your perception in a more or less active way – this is what Thogyal is for in Dzogchen, and there are other paralells in other mystical traditions. In Christianity they talk about the uncreated light.


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