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?”
WHAT ARE WE REALLY TALKING ABOUT?
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.
WHAT PRACTICES ACHIEVE THIS?
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.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IT’S WORKING?
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.