A good friend of my once observed that we should pay more attention to what we find ourselves doing rather than what we think we should be doing. What my friend (who is both a therapist and magician) was pointing towards was that we often cause ourselves suffering through the endless cycle of searching, aspiration and acquisition. “If I just gain mastery of x, acquire this book or undertake this training then I will know who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing here!” Sadly this doesn’t really work does it? We might gain a temporary sugar-high from rebranding ourselves or spending far too much on fine books (or wines), but if your anything like me we end up caught in a solipsistic loop where we end up exhausted (and frankly bored) by our endless self-narrative.
My friend’s theory was that if we pause for a moment and reflect on the things that we actually do and enjoy doing (hence why we keep doing them), then we are probably getting close to understanding something about what we really desire. Desire often gets a bad press, but personally I feel that our problems with distraction and consumerism are often our attempts to flee from the cost that our real heart-longings might ask of us. The quick-fix is really no fix at all and contrasts radically with the type of awakening and attentive self-listening that will allow us to look down to the soil in which are personal roots are really bedded.
Such self-reflection is rarely easy and in making the effort to “tune-in” to these realities, we may have to turn-down or reject the versions of ourselves that others may want us to buy into. This willed antinomianism allows the creation of a space in which we might experience a greater sense of cognitive liberty in experimenting with our dreams. This is the demarcation of the magical circle – a lab in which we create the optimal conditions for self-examination. In waking up to “what we find ourselves doing” I have often opted for a period of elective self-limitation. In a world where endless choice and speed are valued, a period of monastic retreat often allows the cultivation of clarity.
As we push our hands down into the dark soil of our unconscious, we risk the possibility of contacting some of the core aspects of what drives us and those things that cause us to feel most alive. The discovery of this “dark matter” is rarely linear and the value of art, dreams and synchronicities should not be underestimated. Often the untidy syncretism of our altar spaces, reveal more to us than our ordered book shelves.
One of my personal routes to accessing such gnosis has been through the use of dance and shaking states. In seeking to loosen the tensions and defences that often get located in what Wilhelm Reich described as “body armour”; I often have a sense of a deeper instinctive knowing emerging in and through the body. When I move in response to the music my self-consciousness slowly melts away. This type of “shape –shifting” may well relate to the way in which the body allows us to process aspects of the self that the conscious mind struggles to make sense of. Interesting research is beginning to explore this territory, and it may be the “darker” more instinctive drivers of the early or “reptilian” brain get processed more effectively when we actively engage the body. As I dance I often feel that in my messy embodiment, I am making sense of my early and deepest drives (for more on this see “The Compassionate Mind” by Paul Gilbert and Peter Levine’s work on trauma).
In reconnecting to the “what is” of the moment, rather than becoming stuck we create the possibility of emergence coming from a place of depth. Stirred by the memory of some conversations with a Setian Priest, I keep returning to the concept of how important “need-fire” is in the pursuit of my own initiatory work. Whether one self-defines as a magician or not, one of the primary indicators of whether a goal will reach fruition relates to the degree to which we are motivated by burning need. To follow a path of the basis of whim or fashion may provide a temporary distraction, but it is unlikely to adequately fuel significant transformation.
In many ways these observations connect to the “Chaos Craft” project (and forthcoming book) mentioned on this blog. In contrast to the often hyper-accelerated go-getting that one might associate with Chaos Magic, this project has sought to integrate the inescapability of the moment made manifest in time and the spirit of place. We make no claims to lineage or secrets shared on Grandma’s knee, rather this is a Witchcraft born of a connection to a raw coastline, the beating of drums and a desire to awaken. This is the Witchcraft we found ourselves doing.
To look into the mirror and truly see ourselves requires real bravery. To let go of the script of how it should be and to ask “What is it that I find myself doing…?” is truly revelatory. It may reveal the nature and extent of our current desires and also our need to escape from the current constraints that block our unfolding. There are no simple answers but it is a beginning.