I can’t help myself, I’ve been thinking about doubt again! Reading over some of the posts on this blog I started getting a bit anxious about all the uncertainty that our hip postmodernism seems to be embodying (self-referential narcissism also being a PM trait J) If faith based belief systems seem inaccessible to us, what as a magician do I do in order to prevent a descent into madness?
In my day job as a psychological therapist I was recently reading a great article by the systemic psychotherapist Barry Mason. In it he maps out the shift in his understanding of how certain he felt he could be in his work with families and asks the question, “is uncertainty mainly a path to creativity or a path to paralysis?”
As he grapples with this question, he outlines three types of knowing: unsafe certainty (based on out dated or inaccurate assumptions), unsafe uncertainty (one’s environment provides neither safety nor coherent beliefs) and finally safe uncertainty. Safe uncertainty exists when one’s environment and strategies for managing life allows for uncertainty to be lived with and even embraced.
Now I like this a lot – in my own journey I have experienced faith based certainty which gave a period of respite. For me it provided a warm fog that “protected” me from much of life’s sharpness. As I have previously, I felt a genuine grief when I had to walk away from certainties that were no longer congruent with my experience of reality. My certainty was no longer safe.
Mason talks about the need to cultivate curiosity and seeks to frame the therapist’s role as being one of an explorer who seeks to embody “authoritative doubt”.
Magicians are generally those interested in exploring the terrain of the psyche and body rather than rushing toward union with the divine. Curiosity, experimentation and reflection create an interactive process where the Self becomes a lab from which working hypotheses can be derived and refined. Such reflective experiments can be wide in their parameters and address the big issues of our sex lives, the food that we eat and what we think about death.
I have to confess, my problem with “believing” in things has followed me on my journey. I am a half-hearted Thelemite and a piss-poor pagan. Crowley both annoys and inspires me and I find most polytheistic theologies inane. What I have always been drawn to are those outsider Gods of consciousness. These are the Magician Gods that embody the archetype of the individual who is seeking to wake up. Shiva, Odin, Set, Sekhmet, Mercury – truth seekers who themselves are wrestling with the mysteries of the universe. Wisdom and power are hard won for these Gods – eyes are sacrificed, brothers are killed, and periods of celibacy are embraced. It’s this type of consciousness or awareness that I am seeking.
In the face of not knowing, I can still step up and exercise some existential heroism. As a magician I chose myself as the locus of my Work and attention. I may need a school or good friends to check my narcissism, but as a magician I have given up pleasing Gods – I will start with transforming myself. If they happen to like this Promethean willfulness, good for them! This act of Becoming is my expression of the law of Thelema. While I have it, I choose to revel in this gift of consciousness.
This focus on becoming and the discovery of Will has not been an act of teeth gritting and über-humanity; one of my primary goals has also been the cultivation of receptivity. In and through a greater awareness of the space between things, the life force (Kia, Tao etc.) can then flow. This is less a magic of enforced will, more an exercise in observing where the fault-lines of probability are and then enhancing them.
Coming back then to my initial question of how to minimize my impending breakdown, I choose to act. Paradoxically this also entails the action of non-action -“sitting with” and accepting mystery and the limits of what can be currently known. My own personal praxis centers on the use of approaches that at once develop Will and also help me sit with mystery and not knowing. Still curious, still exploring.