Frustration/meditation

I’ve been a wee bit frustrated this last week, which more or less accounts for how little I’ve been active on the socials, and why this post is going up several days later than I would have liked. I have a low tolerance for frustration, and a tendency to say “fuck it, let’s watch Netflix” when things go pear-shaped.

For most of the last month, I’ve been focused on two things: a large writing project, which I hope to share with you next spring; and a mundane, work-a-day freelancing gig which pays poorly but fit my schedule too well to say no to.

The writing project, while fun and exciting, is going very slowly. Normally, when I get into the writing groove, I can crank out two thousand words a day without breaking a sweat. With this project, I’m lucky if I make half of that total, and it’s hard getting even that much.

As for the freelance gig, last week brought about some technical issues beyond my control. They’re supposedly getting fixed, but for now they’ve dropped my productivity (and my pay) down to about a third of what they were the week before.

When I add in the health-related challenges my family and I have been dealing with…yeah, I’m not the happiest camper.

Still, I’m feeling pretty good, all things considered. Mostly because I’ve been curling up in bed around six o’clock every evening, and letting an audio book read me to sleep.

This is quite frankly awesome in and of itself, but by going to bed so early, I’m usually up no later than four the next morning. This is even more awesome, since it gives me a solid hour or two of quiet in which to wake up, do my morning prayers and rituals, and settle into my day.

I think magic is everywhere, but there’s something particularly magical about the pre-dawn hours, where in my neck of the woods everything is silent and still. The only things speaking are the owls, the wind, and my tea kettle.

I’ve needed that more than I usually do.

Taking this time—especially over the last several days—to just sit with my thoughts and feelings has been tremendously helpful and healing.

It’s a form of meditation that goes largely ignored, at least in Western magical circles.

For the most part, when a magician goes about “meditating,” they attempt to either focus their mind on a single thought, or else remove all thoughts from their mind. In both cases, judgment is implied. In the first case, it is the one and only thought which is good. In the second, no thoughts are good.

Contrast this with mindfully and purposefully setting your mind to the task of sitting with whatever thoughts may arise, without judgment. This isn’t the same thing as daydreaming or letting your mind wander. Rather, it’s giving yourself the space to allow what is really going on in your head to take the reins.

Or, to use another metaphor, it’s giving the salad dressing time to separate into its component parts.

Try it sometime.

Playing the Fool

In the Tarot, the Fool is often considered the first of the twenty-two cards in the Major Arcana. This ordering isn’t universally subscribed to, of course, but in most modern decks, the card is given the number zero, and placed at the beginning because that’s how math works.

Image of the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

In many older decks, however, the Fool bears no number at all, and this is sometimes taken to mean it belongs both nowhere and everywhere. And, “Because Reasons,” there are few schools which place the Fool as the second-to-last card, sandwiched in between the card called Judgement and the card call the World.

Myself, I lean toward putting it at the beginning of the suit, mostly as a nod to a popular and sometimes useful conception of the Major Arcana as a whole.

The Hero’s Journey

In Western storytelling, there’s a narrative pattern which seems to crop up rather frequently.

Someone, usually a someone of no particular note or skill, is called to adventure. At first they refuse, but ultimately they are drawn into an epic journey.

During their adventures, they face many challenges, all of which lead up to some huge, decisive crisis. They deal successfully with this crisis, but are profoundly transformed by it.

Finally, the adventure over, they return home.

This pattern is often called the “Hero’s Journey,” or the “monomyth,” and it was popularized Joseph Campbell. A professor of literature, and a student of comparative religion and mythology, Campbell’s work on the subject is so well-known as to fall safely into the realm of pop-culture.

In fact, George Lucas himself credited Campbell as being a major influence on the Stars Wars film series.

Campbell’s work has also influenced many Tarot readers’ approach to the Major Arcana. More specifically, many readers consider each of the cards of the Major Arcana as being one step or stage on the archetypal Hero’s Journey.

In this view of the cards, the Fool is our Hero, and on its own it represents the very beginning of the journey, where our innocent and naïve would-be adventurer has just set out, full of youthful energy, despite their earlier misgivings. Each subsequent card in the Major Arcana is a kind of way station along their path, representing the challenges or lessons which the Fool must face, understand, and overcome. Finally, at the end of the Major Arcana, and in true “monomythic” form, the Fool returns to the World, transformed and complete.

If you’re interested in the details of this Hero’s Journey approach, and how each card of the Major Arcana fits within it, you can find many different takes both online and in books. I may even bring my own version to the table someday, but for now, though, I want to focus on the Fool at the beginning.

Beginner’s Mind

Shunryū Suzuki was a Zen Buddhist monk and teacher, whose work helped to popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States during the late 1950s through early 1970s. He passed away in 1971, at the age of 67. Just prior to his death, a number of Suzuki’s talks on Zen were collected and published in a book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

This concept of “beginner’s mind” (called “shoshin” in Japanese) is worth some deep consideration, and I highly suggest you read Suzuki’s words on the subject for the real truth of it. To give you the briefest, most surface-level description in my own words, the beginner’s mind is one which is eager, open, and holds no preconceptions.

It is the innocent and naïve mind of one who has just embarked on their path, without any real knowledge, but with great enthusiasm.

To me, the Fool possesses just this sort of mind. And it’s a mind we sometimes experience ourselves, to one degree or another, during our daily lives.

Think of how you feel when you first encounter something new which draws your attention. Maybe it’s a new city you’re visiting, or a new book you’ve decided to read. It might even be a new skill to learn, or some other topic which almost seems to call you over to explore it.

There’s excitement, right? Enthusiasm? Maybe even sheer joy?

Whenever we encounter something new and thrilling, whatever it may be, we experience a kind of passionate ecstasy. And it’s this initial passion, this feeling of a mind open, enthusiastic, and holding no preconceptions which the Fool represents.

It’s the height of “Foolishness” to throw one’s scant belongings in a bag, leave the known behind, and step out into the realms beyond our experience with nothing but hope and wonder to guide us.

It’s also might be the wisest thing we could ever do.

Foolish Meditation

This week, I wanted to connect with the Fool, and their beginner’s mind. That raw, unbridled enthusiasm and confidence which only innocence and newness can inspire. Tapping into Fool energy is a powerful way to rekindle one’s passion for things which may have become “old” or “stale” in our eyes. It also serves as a wonderful method of “reformatting” ourselves and our attitudes when we feel stuck in old patterns, or “in a slump.”

The easiest way to tap into this “Foolishness” is through a simple meditation exercise, which almost doubles as a kind of journey in and of itself.

For this exercise, you’ll need a relatively comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. You’ll also want to find an image of the Fool from the Tarot. I recommend the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for this exercise, but any will do so long as it invokes that sense of “beginner’s mind” for you.

Place the card in front of you, or otherwise find some way to hold it comfortably so you can see it for the duration of the exercise. When I do Tarot meditations, I usually place a stack of two or three books on a table, and then lean the card I wish to focus on up against them.

Once you’re set, begin with your eyes closed. Take a deep, full breath in and let it out slowly. Do this again, slowly and deeply, and feel your body start to relax. Breathe in, breathe out, and just let all of your muscles slowly release their tension. Focus first on the muscles around your eyes and mouth.

Breathe and relax. Let a slow, comforting wave of relaxation flow down your body, from your head through your shoulders and torso, then finally your legs and your feet.

Feel your body relax and become heavy, breathing in and breathing out.

Once you feel totally and fully relaxed, slowly open your eyes and look at the Fool in front of you.

At first, let your eyes wander over the card however they wish. Let them take in the card as a whole, or allow them to focus on some specific detail which draws your attention. Whatever happens, happens. Just breathe, relax, and experience the card as though you are seeing it for the first time.

After a few minutes, take hold of your attention, and shift it to the background of the card. The far distance. See what is there. Let your eyes thoroughly explore the landscape behind the Fool.

Don’t leave any sight unseen or unconsidered, but slowly turn your attention toward elements of the card which are nearer to you.

Take in each detail of the card, slowly and carefully, from those furthest away to those nearest, until you are left regarding the Fool themselves.

Here is the Fool, with their beginner’s mind. Innocent, free of cares or preconceptions. No prejudices cloud their judgement, no shame obstructs their intention. They know nothing of the path before them, and so fear no dangers which may be ahead.

The whole of their being is filled with the simple delight of this: their leap of faith into the unknown.

Let these ideas swirl in your consciousness as the image of the Fool comes to life. See and feel the Fool in their beginning, with a mind open and full of joy and wonder at the newness to be found in even the simple objects surrounding them and you.

Imagine the card and Fool within not just as some lifeless picture, but as a doorway to that Great Beginning. Let the Fool’s enthusiasm and innocence become your enthusiasm and innocence.

And, should you feel it begin to happen, let yourself enter the card and become the Fool. Let the beginner’s mind of Fool fill you and thrill you, until there is no longer you and the Fool, but you as the Fool.

Feel this connection, this unity, and embrace the Foolish mind full of openness, innocence, and fearlessness. Let all preconceptions fade. Let every breath feel like the first breath your ever took. Let every moment come and pass as if time itself is nothing more or less than the constant flow of the New and Exciting.

Stay in this place however long you wish.

Then, slowly, allow yourself to come back to yourself. Allow the Fool to part from you. As the Fool settles back within the card, and you settle back into the place of your meditation, allow the card to become an ordinary picture again.

But let the feeling of this “Foolish” experience remain with you.

Breathing in, breathing out, still relaxed, allow this connection with the Fool to recede into the background, but know that a thread of it still remains, and that you can pull on it whenever you wish. Because once it has been felt, once you have truly experienced it, there is always a lingering echo of the Foolish mind. And that echo can be listened for, and embraced again, as it is needed.

As you slowly allow yourself to return to the world around you, that place where you began, know that you’ve taken a leap into the unknown—and the World is waiting.

The ship that you sail in

In Western astrology, the first house is the most important House. It’s the house where your Ascendant is found, and the planet which rules your first house is often called your “chart ruler.” It marks the hour of your birth, and determines the placement of every other house in your chart. It represents you as an individual, and it sets the stage for all of the other elements in your life.

Your motivations, your objectives, and the overall course of your life are all signified either by the planets in your first house, or by the planet which rules it. Some astrologers have even said that the first house determines your physical appearance, right down to your height.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is that your first house is also sometimes called “the ship that you sail in.”

This idea of your body or your “self” as a sea-faring vessel is an old one, with nautical comparisons stretching back at least as far as Hellenistic times. One of the titles for this house in Greek can be translated as “helm.”

You can also see this “self as boat, life as ocean” metaphor outside of astrology. You might have heard about the “Breton Fisherman’s Prayer,” which United States President John F. Kennedy had on a plaque which he kept on his desk in the Oval Office.

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

It’s a powerful image for a powerful metaphor, and one worth exploring with a bit of meditation.

The Captain at Sea Meditation

This meditation is designed to realize and use this nautical connection between yourself and a ship at sea. It is very easy to follow, and should only take a few minutes to get into. Once you’ve become familiar with it, though, it can be a powerful tool for navigating life’s many storms.

To get started, find a relatively quiet, comfortable place to sit or lay down. You should feel at ease, with your back straight, but otherwise there are no real requirements for your posture. Just make sure that when you breathe, you are able to completely fill and empty your lungs. Slouching can make that difficult. If you want to listen to some sort of “white noise” or other audio, a good idea might be a track containing sounds of the ocean. It’s not strictly necessary, though.

Once you’re comfortable, and are sure you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes, you can begin.

Close your eyes and take a long, slow, deep breath. Then, exhale, long and slow, letting your body relax.

Do this again, taking in another slow, deep breath and letting it out. As you exhale, feel the tension leave your muscles.

Pay particular attention to the muscles of your face. Let the area around your eyes relax. Feel the tension around your cheeks and your jaw release.

Keep breathing and keep feeling more and more relaxed. Your neck muscles are becoming looser, your shoulders are easing down, your arms are heavy and soft like clay.

Breathe in, slowly and deeply. Exhale, slowly and fully. Until your entire body is fully relaxed, heavy, and at ease.

Let yourself breathe normally, now. Calm, relaxing breaths. And focus on the sensation it gives you. The rising sensation as you inhale, the falling sensation as you exhale. Breathing in, breathing out. Let the gentle rising and falling of your breath become the gentle rising and falling of your body.

Feel this sensation for a minute or two, this rising and falling, then allow your mind’s eye to take in your surroundings.

Fading in, you begin to see details. Wood, ropes, masts, and sails.

You are standing on the deck of a tall ship—a first rate ship of the line, of the sort which ruled the seas during the age of sail. Masts that were the trunks of tall, straight trees stand against the sky, immense sails which catch the wind suspended and stretched upon them. A sturdy hull and decks which have born uncountable sailors, and weathered hurricanes of untold force, lay beneath your feet.

Look all around you at the ship, its rigging, and its crew. You are the captain here, ruler of this vessel upon the sea, and all that you survey is for you, and answers to you alone.

Stand here for a while, feeling the gentle rise and fall of this ship, the ship in which you sail, and let its every detail become fixed in your mind.

The wheel, the rudder, the sails and rigging. What sort of flag are you flying? What sort of figurehead is on the bow

What is your ship’s name?

Who are the crew? What do they look like? What are their names? Which responsibilities does each one have? Who swabs the deck? Who repairs the sails? Who is your “first mate?”

You are only just now realizing this ship exists, so don’t worry if you can’t get every detail this time. You can always return again. Now that you know it’s here, you can see the ship whenever you want. And you can always choose to return from it when you want, confident that both the ship and its crew will carry out your orders and intentions just as you command.

Remember, though, that each member of your crew possesses their own wisdom. They each have their own set of skills and their own experiences, which may, of course, be your own experiences and wisdom, just seen in their proper perspective—or perhaps they are more.

Your first mate has been at sea for a long time, and could tell you many tales and give you excellent advice.

Your navigator knows the sea well, and can read any chart or map.

In your captain’s quarters are your ship’s logs, diaries, and many secrets. Maps to buried treasure? Letters from lost loved ones? Powerful artifacts found and collected on your previous journeys?

The ship is yours.

The ship is you.

It holds everything you need and only what you wish.

After you have explored, begin to more deeply feel that gentle rising and falling of the sea.

The details of the ship begin to slowly fade as you begin to realize that rising and falling is the rising and falling of your breath.

Slowly, taking as much time as you need, allow yourself to come back to that comfortable, quiet place where you started your journey. Breathe in, breathe out, slowly and deeply. Feel yourself return to your body, still fully relaxed and at peace.

Do not rush, but only once you a ready, open your eyes.

Using this meditation

I really enjoy this meditation and find it immensely useful when I feel myself “adrift” or “battered by storms.”

If you find yourself feeling “stuck” or without energy or motivation, slip on board and take stock of the situation. Are your sails tattered? Is the rigging failing? Has your ship sailed into a “dead calm?” Talk to your first mate and get the crew moving.

Feeling overwhelmed by a dozen different tasks hitting you all at once? Batten down the hatches, get together with your navigator, and come up with a fresh course to see you through.

Unsure what to do, or looking for a bit of inspiration or advice? Retire to your captain’s quarters and read over some “letters from home,” or maybe take a look through all those chests and crates you’ve been collecting down in the hold. Maybe there’s a strange idol that could use some investigating.

The sea may be great, and your ship may be small, but once you get to know it and its crew, it’ll take you anywhere.

Meditation isn’t everything

If you hang around a group of occultists for long enough, sooner or later you’re going to hear some variation on the phrase: “You need to meditate every day.”

Sometimes this is presented as a kind of best-practice recommendation, but other times folks will outright state that without daily meditation, magic (effective magic, anyway) is impossible.

This is…certainly a position one could take, but it’s not the only one. And in this post, I kind of want to unpack the role of meditation in Western magic. I also want to offer what might be a different perspective on what “meditation” even is, as well as a few different “meditative” techniques which you can try.

Why daily mediation?

The idea that you have to meditate in order to be good at magic is a common one. If you read most any “How To Magic” book printed in the last few decades, you’re bound to find it. And while we can argue about the precise origins of this idea, for all practical purposes it really comes down to one person: Aleister Crowley.

Now yes, yes, I know! If you’ve taken more than a cursory glance at the history of what we might as well call “The Western Esoteric Tradition,” you’re already shaking your head and wagging your finger at the screen. Crowley neither invented the idea of meditating for magical success, nor is he the only one of his contemporaries who practiced it.

But he did popularize it, to a degree that no one else in the tradition could even pretend to claim.

Crowley’s whole magical “schtick” was that every human being has a “True Will,” and that it’s both the right and responsibility of every human being to discover what their True Will is, and then to go about doing it. And in Crowley’s opinion, the best way to accomplish this was to combine ceremonial magic (as taught to him by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) with the meditative disciplines of yoga (as taught to him primarily by Swami Vivekananda).

The idea is that by mixing “magick” with “mysticism,” one could most reliably achieve what the Golden Dawn described as connecting with one’s “Higher Divine Genius” and what Crowley called the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.”

The key word in the above sentence is “reliably.” Crowley acknowledged that there were many people throughout history who appeared to have made contact with their Divine Whatevers, without any real training or practice, but that it was more or less by happenstance that they did so. It was his goal and aim to provide a consistent, guaranteed system, by which the average person could attain this connection. And the system he developed along with George Cecil Jones required both daily magical ritual as well as daily meditation.

In one of the very first books written for Crowley and Jones’s magical order, Liber E vel Exercitiorum, they include instructions for the fundamental meditative practices required of members. Here’s an excerpt describing four positions or “asana” which are recommended for meditation…

You must learn to sit perfectly still with every muscle tense for long periods.
You must wear no garments that interfere with the posture in any of these experiments.
The first position: (The God). Sit in a chair; head up, back straight, knees together, hands on knees, eyes closed.
The second position: (The Dragon). Kneel; buttocks resting on the heels, toes turned back, back and head straight, hands on thighs.
The third position: (The Ibis). Stand, hold left ankle with right hand, free forefinger on lips.
The fourth position: (The Thunderbolt). Sit; left heel pressing up anus, right foot poised on its toes, the heel covering the phallus; arms stretched out over the knees; head and back straight.
Various things will happen to you while you are practising these positions; they must be carefully analysed and described.
Note down the duration of practice; the severity of the pain (if any) which accompanies it, the degree of rigidity attained, and any other pertinent matters.
When you have progressed up to the point that a saucer filled to the brim with water and poised upon the head does not spill one drop during a whole hour, and when you can no longer perceive the slightest tremor in any muscle; when, in short, you are perfectly steady and easy, you will be admitted for examination; and, should you pass, you will be instructed in more complex and difficult practices.

So that’s Crowley’s take in a terrifically-simplified nutshell. But what does that have to do with meditation in the occult or esoteric schools today?

Well, like it or not, Crowley’s thinking—and even many of his specific methods—is woven throughout almost every corner of the esoteric tradition you’re likely to come across these days. Whether you’re looking at Wicca, “ecclectic” witchcraft, or “New Thought,” you’ll find concepts like “True Will,” “visualization,” and, yes, daily meditation showing up over an over again.

And yes, as I wrote above, he’s not the only one to blame for this situation. One can point to Theosophy, and folks like Edgar Cayce as other examples. It’s my contention, though, that the seemingly inseparable marriage of magic and meditation is mostly Crowley’s fault.

Blame? Fault? Is meditation a bad thing?

If you’ve been reading this blog of mine for a while, you might have gotten the impression that I’m not super on-board with many of Crowley’s takes. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we each possesses a “True Will,” for instance.

As for his take on meditation, I’m in slightly more agreement with him than I usually am, but we are definitely not on the same page. I think he presents a far too narrow view of what meditation is, and I also think that meditation isn’t the only way to achieve the results most practitioners are actually going for.

I should also point out that there are many magical traditions out there which neither recommend nor require daily meditation. Medieval grimoires, astrological magic from the renaissance? You won’t find much that looks like meditation in there, and you can find countless other examples from other cultures and time periods.

So let’s do some unpacking, and think a bit about why many of today’s Western magicians meditate, and what might be some other ways to accomplish those goals than sitting on the floor for an hour.

What is meditation, really?

The general idea of meditation you’ll find kicking around the magical community today tends to represent it as “sitting still and quieting your mind,” or words to that effect. You’re supposed to find a comfortable spot, hold a particular position, and either tell your brain to focus on one specific thought, or else to shut the hell up entirely.

To do this, you’ll see a number of different techniques, many of which have been cribbed from Eastern religions. Mantras, mudras, breathing techniques, and various visualization exercises are scattered throughout most of the literature in print today. Sometimes these techniques are presented using Sanskrit terms (such as “asana” and “pranayama”) but sometimes they’re just described in an exercise and left unnamed.

Here’s the thing, though. A lot of the people I see writing about meditation in a Western magical context seem to have missed the forest for the trees. They spend an enormous amount of time describing technique after technique, and exercise after exercise, but they often fail to describe what the actual goal of doing all of this is.

In my opinion, the goal of meditation, in this context, is to achieve what I’m going to call “The In-Between Mind.”

The In-Between Mind is a state of awareness and thought which is somewhat in between that of your typical, waking consciousness and your typical, dreaming consciousness. It’s a bit like being half-asleep, yet profoundly aware at the same time. It’s “daydreaming,” but directed and purposeful.

I’ve heard this state referred to as “The Numinous” and “Gnosis,” but those few times I’ve seen or heard it adequately described all more or less explain it in terms similar to what I wrote above. You’re looking for a state of mind where, on one level, you feel disconnected from “mundane reality,” but at another level, more deeply connected to “something else” than you can easily put into words. And that lack of words is probably why so few authors even try to write about it. Regardless, you’ll know it once you experience it—it’s an unmistakable feeling.

Now, to be fair, in other contexts the goal of meditation is different. This is particularly true when you look to the Eastern religions from which a lot of the techniques are derived. I’m not addressing these other purposes, but rather sticking solely to that In-Between mental state which I believe sits at the heart of the “Western Esoteric Tradition.”

Mystical mind states without meditation

Now that I’ve at least tried to explain what meditation is actually for in a Western magical context, let’s talk a bit about alternatives. As I said, it’s possible to get into this In-Between Mind without using the typical meditation techniques you’ve probably read about.

First up, yes, there’s the use of increasingly-legal entheogenic or psychedelic substances. Let’s get that out of the way.

Cultures all over the planet, all throughout history, have made ritual or ceremonial use of plants and plant compounds to achieve an altered state of consciousness. And yes, this goes for people of “white, European” descent as well. Despite the pearl-clutching admonitions of certain witchcraft authors from the 1970s through the 1990s, there is absolutely a long, storied history of mind-altering “flying ointments” and other such chemical aids in European cunning traditions.

So, if that’s your jam, well…I’m not saying get busy with the hashish and psilocybin, but I’m also not telling you that it’s wrong or “ahistorical propaganda.”

However, when I say “meditation alternatives,” I don’t really mean mind-altering substances, but rather other practices which can get you into the In-Between Mind.

See, the meditation you read about more or less relies on that idea of “quiet” that I wrote about above. It gets you to the In-Between Mind by dialing down conscious thought. Put in more technical terms, meditation is an inhibitory process. There’s another kind of process, though, which can get you to the same place—an excitatory process.

Consider dancing to the steady rhythm of a drum beat. Just like the use of entheogens, you’ll find ritual or ceremonial music and dance all over the world. Sometimes this dancing is accompanied by elaborate costumes, and multiple dancers all playing at or performing certain roles. They are wholly immersive experiences which are designed to excite the mind and drive it toward the In-Between state not by quieting conscious thought, but by more or less drowning it out.

You work yourself up to an “ecstatic state” and overwhelm your workaday, mundane mind.

It’s important not to go too far down the often-problematic road of cultural comparison, but even a cursory survey of world religions shows a wide range of excitatory practices with long histories of uniting the mind to something “higher.”

One’s “Higher Divine Genius,” perhaps?

A grab bag of exercises

Since I think it’s legal requirement that any occult or esoteric author who writes about meditation has to provide an exercise or two for the reader to experiment with, here are a few of mine. Some of these fall on the “inhibitory” side of the graph, but others are more “excitatory” in nature. Also? I think most of them are quite fun and fairly easy to do.

The Counting Walk

Here’s my favorite inhibitory method: go for a walk.

If you can, do this outside, but this is also excellent when you’re on a treadmill. Wherever you do this, though, make sure you aren’t in an environment where you need to keep a constant awareness of your surroundings. Busy streets, bad neighborhoods, or bear country probably aren’t the best places to attempt this.

Begin just by taking a leisurely stroll and breathing normally. After you’ve settled into a relaxing, comfortable pace, start counting every time your right foot hits the ground. Don’t stomp your foot or anything, just walk naturally, but start counting whenever your right foot lands. “One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. Four.”

That’s it. Just count from one to four, saying the number either in your head or softly under your breath each time your right foot makes contact. One. Two. Three. Four.

If you like, you can begin to add a bit of counted breathing to this exercise. Exhale completely, then on the next “One,” begin to inhale, filling your lungs completely by the time you’ve hit “Four.” Then, at the next “One,” begin to exhale and finish with your lungs empty when you hit “Four” again. Repeat. When you do this, though, be sure to adjust your walking pace if needed. If you try this while walking briskly up a hill, well, don’t mention my name to the paramedics.

After a while, and a fair bit of practice, you might find a pace where this is very comfortable and relaxing. At that point, you might want to try expanding your breathing practice into what Israel Regardie called the “Four-Fold Breath.” That is, inhale for a count of four, then hold your breath for a count of four. Then you exhale for a count of four, and hold your lungs empty for a count of four. In four, hold four, out four, hold four, repeat.

It can be pretty tricky to do the four-fold breath in this walking manner, so definitely just ease into it at the start. Find your pace on some decent, level ground, then do one cycle and see how you feel. Then maybe try doing two cycles. Then maybe three. Give yourself breaks in between if you need to, and don’t push yourself too hard.

I find that a ten or fifteen minute Counting Walk with the Four-Fold Breath is really relaxing, and I quickly enter that In-Between mental state without feeling light-headed or that I’m struggling for air.

The Movie Scene

Here’s a fun excitatory exercise. I call this the “Movie Scene,” but you can use any scene from a movie, television show, or novel. Regardless of the source, choose a short scene from a work of fiction which speaks to you. Maybe it’s inspiring. Maybe it’s energizing. Whatever the feeling, make sure it’s something which you want to experience and deeply explore.

Give yourself between ten and fifteen minutes to try this out. When you first begin playing with this technique, you can do this while sitting down, laying down, taking a walk, or taking a shower. As with the Counting Walk, I wouldn’t do this somewhere dangerous, and I certainly wouldn’t do it while driving a car.

With that said, imagine the scene in your mind as best you are able. Maybe you can picture it, maybe you can hear it. Whichever of your senses you can engage, engage them all and really try to immerse yourself in the scene. At first, you can imagine that you’re just a bystander, observing the scene without participating. With practice, however, you may find yourself able to take on the role of one of the characters. Regardless, go through the entire scene in exactly the manner in which it was written or performed.

To be clear, don’t try to make any changes to the scene, or add your own editorial flourishes. Rather, let it play out just as you remember it. Once you’ve hit the end of the scene, start it again from the top, only this time try to add even more details. For instance, if the scene takes place over a breakfast table, be sure you’re picturing (or smelling, or tasting) all of the foods which are present. If it takes place on a frigid mountaintop, make sure you’re feeling the cold wind.

Go through the scene several times, from beginning to end, adding in as much detail as you can, and immersing yourself in it more and more deeply. Really feel as though you are there and participating. Let the events and emotions completely envelop you.

As you improve, try physically acting out the scene and saying your lines out loud. This might be easier for some scenes than for others, and again make sure you’re in a safe place to do this, but it’s well worth trying.

The actual act of performance is incredibly excitatory if you can pull it off, and it’s not really that hard once you have a little practice. To be honest, the hardest part is probably working past the idea that you’ll seem “silly” doing it. Give it your sincere effort, though. Do it while alone in your room, or otherwise not around prying eyes or ears. Or, if you’re in a magical group with other like-minded people, maybe offer it up as something you can all try out.

Depending on the sort of Movie Scene you’ve chosen, and how often you practice this, you can get quite deep so be sure you’re in an environment where it’s not only safe to immerse yourself in the scene, but also that you have the time and space to mentally and emotionally recover afterward.

Self Possession

This is another fun one, and it’s incredibly useful even outside of a meditative context. It can be either inhibitory or excitatory, depending on where you take it. As with the Movie Scene described above, give yourself a good ten or fifteen minutes to try this at first. With just a little practice, though, you’ll probably find that you’re able to do this for an hour or more at a time with ease.

Before you begin the exercise, take a few minutes to think about what you’ll be like in twenty years. Think about the studies you’re pursuing now, the practices you are working on, and the life experiences you are aiming for. Consider what twenty years of patient effort and success will mean for you. Really give this some thought. Maybe you can picture where you’ll be living or what your average day will be like, and that’s great, but what you’re really looking for is how you will feel and how you will think.

Once you’ve got an at least somewhat decent handle on this, take a few relaxing or “clearing” breaths, then try to immerse yourself in the future mind you imagine. Trust me, this is easier done than said.

I call this exercise “Self Possession” because that’s the sort of “vibe” you’re going for. You want to imagine yourself reaching forward in time, making contact with yourself twenty years from now, and then bringing that future self back to “possess” your body in the present. You want to connect with yourself after two decades of life experience, practice, and study.

What will it feel like to achieve most or all of the goals you’ve set for yourself in the present time? How will your thought processes seem after so many years of magical practice? What will you think about your current struggles given twenty years of perspective?

I wrote that this exercise is useful even when employed outside of meditation, and I meant it. After only a little practice, it’s possible to enter a “Self-Possessed” state almost at will. And I find this especially helpful when I’m angry at something or someone, or when I’m otherwise not necessarily thinking all that clearly. What’s more, I’ve actually found myself “remembering” solutions to various problems I’m experiencing, almost like my future self remembers how he solved them.

Where this exercise really shines, though, is when you’ve progressed to the point where you can not only bring up this mental state at will, but can retain it as you go about your day. I don’t mean to say that you can always live in a “Self-Possessed” state, but rather that you can invoke it before, say, taking a test or speaking in front of a group. Any time you feel ill-at-ease, try taking a few moments to bring in your Future Self, and then see how that affects not only your attitude but your performance.

As an added bonus, there are various visualization or “affirmation” practices which have at their heart imagining how “success” will look and feel. For example, if you are looking to move into a new home or apartment, you might meditate on how it will feel to sit in your new living room, or to work in your new garden.

In this Self Possession exercise, you’re immersing yourself in the most ideal future you can imagine, and then living and acting as though it has already come to pass. That’s a powerful affirmation.

Do it on the daily?

So I’ve shared my thoughts on how the whole “daily meditation” thing became so popular, and I’ve given you some ideas about alternative practices which are a little less of the “sitting around and clearing your mind” variety. Now, I should probably say something about how often you should practice.

The bottom line is that meditation, of any sort, is a skill. And skills really only improve with regular practice. The key to being able to enter into that In-Between Mind state with ease is to get into it frequently. So I don’t think it’s a mistake to say that yes, you should probably do something to get into this state every day.

Where I think some people do make a mistake, though, is in thinking there’s only one way to get into it in the first place. Or that once you find one method which works, you need to stick with that method and avoid experimenting with others.

In my opinion, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe one day your practice looks like sitting on the floor and getting your mindfulness on. But the next day? Maybe it looks like taking a Counting Walk. Or maybe it looks like Self-Possession while you’re standing in line for coffee, or working out at the gym.

Also, there’s an idea that with regular practice you should find yourself sitting and meditating for longer and longer stretches of time. I really think this is missing the point.

One of the earliest forms of meditation I experimented with was a simple count-down technique, versions of which I’ve seen in several books since. It begins with sitting in a comfortable spot, taking a few deep breaths, then closing your eyes. You relax your body, usually imagining that relaxation like a wave spreading over you from head to toe, and then you begin counting down in your head.

The version I learned had me count down from one hundred to one. With each number, you’re supposed to imagine that feeling of relaxation deepen, so that by the time you reached “one,” you were completely relaxed and completely at peace.

I still do this exercise from time to time, since I find I can get really deep when I do, but for the most part I find that just a few deep breaths and a conscious effort to relax is enough to get me into a fairly decent In-Between state. Most days, it takes me about thirty seconds to get there. What’s more, I don’t tend to hang around in this meditative state for very long. I’m usually there just to accomplish whatever magic I need to attend to. If it’s, say, something like an affirmation or just checking in with the spirits, then I’m probably in and out in around five minutes. If I’m “journeying” or doing “astral travel,” then yeah, I might be in this state for anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour.

The point here is not to boast or anything, but rather to explain that once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you should be able to get into a meditative state quickly and reliably whenever you need to. Also? You shouldn’t find it much of a challenge to stay in that state for however long you wish to or need to.

So that’s my take on meditation. Let me know if you try any of these exercises, and how they work for you.

If nothing else, I hope they’ve inspired you to look beyond the “conventional” techniques and try something new.

Have fun!

Seriously, just meditate

I don’t know whether or not meditation is the most divisive topic in the magical community, but it has to make the top ten. Some magicians swear by it, others have sworn it off. And each side regularly sends waves of arguments across the No Man’s Land in between.

For those in the pro-meditation trenches, the arguments for it usually go something like this:

  • The best magical results are obtained when the mind of the magician is focused entirely on the working. Meditation helps you train the mind to achieve this focus.
  • Meditation allows you to quiet the mind and shed your workaday thoughts and worries. This means you are better able to pick up on subtle energy currents, and to develop or improve your psychic prowess overall.
  • Through a combination of meditation and visualization exercises you can improve your skills at raising, shaping, and directing magical energy.

You’ve probably seen these arguments before, because they’re often brought up no later than chapter three of most beginner-level magic books. Meditation is hugely popular with popular occult authors.

Then, there’s the anti-meditation army. If you’ve not yet met them on the battlefield, some of their arguments go like this:

  • Meditation is an “Eastern” spiritual practice which only made its way to the “West” in the last few hundred years. Since there were magicians in the “West” before this, and their magic worked just fine, no one needs to meditate.
  • Related to the above, meditation is culturally-appropriative and a-historical.
  • Meditation creates an artificial sense of calm and serenity, which lets you ignore problems, both within yourself and in the world at large. This dangerous habit, called “spiritual bypassing,” is at best an avoidance mechanism that actually hinders your spiritual growth.

Personally, I’m a fan of meditation, and I don’t believe the arguments against it hold much water—mostly because I think they come from a place of misunderstanding.

The word “meditate” comes from the Latin meditari, meaning “to contemplate or ponder.” Since at least the eighteen hundreds (when “Eastern” religious practices really started to take off in the “West”) the term “meditation” has been used as the English translation of various Hindu and Buddhist terms coming from the Sanskrit root dhyai, usually said to mean “to contemplate.”

The word “meditation” has also been used to describe religious or spiritual practices outside of Hinduism and Buddhism, including some found in Sufism, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In short, any time an English speaker saw someone sit down, close their eyes, and have themselves a think, the word “meditation” got slapped onto what they were doing.

It’s an umbrella term, which is just as readily applied to practices we have in the “West,” like those championed by a certain Catholic priest…

In 1675, a Spanish priest named Miguel de Molinos published a book called The Spiritual Guide. In it, he recommended and described a form of Christian prayer which bears more than a passing resemblance to “meditation” as espoused by nineteenth-century occultists. In fact, Aleister Crowley himself was a fan of this book, and compares it to the work of a contemporary: Swami Vivekananda, an Indian Hindu monk, and one of the people most responsible for introducing Yoga and Vedanta to the English-speaking world.

Unfortunately for Miguel de Molinos, while his Spiritual Guide was originally well-received by the church, critics of his ideas eventually won out. He was arrested, tried for heresy, and sentenced to life in prison. Miguel de Molinos’s story is an interesting one, and if you’re looking for a fun way to spend a Friday night, do a bit of Googling for it.

Anyway, within a few years, his teachings became known as the heresy of “Quietism,” and merely possessing a copy of Molinos’s book was enough to get you automatically excommunicated from the church. And that should probably tell you something about why “meditation” didn’t really take off in the “West” until the occult explosion in the nineteenth century.

But we’re getting a little off track. The point of this language and history lesson is to show you that meditation is just a word. A sloppy, imprecise word we might do well to throw away, but the words we use aren’t really all that important.

What is important is what we do.

In a magical context, when we meditate, we sit down, we shut up, and we pay attention. That’s pretty much all there is to it. At its most basic level, any practice you’re liable to see taking up space in a how-to-magic book boils down to these three things:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down.
  • Keep still and silent.
  • Focus and observe your mind.

That’s it.

Sure, some magical traditions recommend pretty involved and highly technical practices, and some of those practices can border on the appropriative. It’s a fine line, and when a “Western” wizard starts bringing in maraṇasati or pranayama, they’re probably drifting over that line, but that’s neither here nor there.

You don’t have to sit in uncomfortable postures, breathe in rigid counts, or stare cross-eyed at equilateral triangles for hours on end.

Sit down. Shut up. And pay attention.

And we could all use more practice with that.