So I belong to this group where we get together and every month a different member of the group presents something, usually of a mystical nature or at least something kind of "forbidden knowledge"-y. Sometimes we have guest speakers come in. One month we had Australian witch/pagan/mystic/writer/teacher Gede Parma talk. I bought one of his books from him and had him sign it. It was Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft (Llewellyn, 2012).
Lately I've kind of had to kind of, get over myself, because there are all these folks significantly younger than I, you know, like, teaching me stuff. It's humbling, but I have to put myself in the mode of "Whatever, we're all just everybody sharing what we've all learned, it's cool." Plus, if someone has spent more time studying or doing something, one might say that actually, they are older than another person is in that field, in a manner of speaking. Like if I've spent sixteen hundred hours studying yo-yo tricks and you have not, I am older than you in the field of yo-yo-ing. P.S. I have spent no time in the field of yo-yo-ing. P.P.S. Strictly speaking that is not 100% true. Allow me sometime to tell you about the phase I went through in high school where I carried around a yo-yo everywhere to unroll at any given moment because I thought it made me look quirky but really I just looked like an asshole. P.P.P.S. I could no tricks on a yo-yo other than make it go up and down, the same way I learned no tricks on a skateboard other than stopping, starting and going down the street.
But so anyway. I listened to Mr. Parma talk and was taken with a couple things. 1) He does not pepper his speech with lots of likes/ands/ums/totallys the way that lots of flakey Victorian Trading Company pagan-y types do. To be fair though, I too also pepper my speech with lots of likes/ums and totallys and I have been known to order things from the Victorian Trading Company. 2) Mr. Parma is extremely articulate. His word choice was so poetic that many times I thought Maybe I should be writing this down but I'm having a nice head buzz taking this all in, which is how I feel when I'm really in the moment enjoying a stimulating performance that I don't want to end. He kept saying things (none of which I can remember now, the talk being eight months ago) that seemed like really good little singular quotes that belong on a post-it somewhere in my life (on the fridge? on the computer? on a bumper sticker? on a social networking platform?). So all I am left with now of the talk was the memory that it was awesome and poetic but with no lasting lessons learned. If you asked me to tell you what the talk was about, in trying to describe it, I'd just sound like I was caught in a the game is up! kind of a way being pretentious, trying to show off, all like I go to talks! but am caught revealing my inability to understand what the talk was about.
Let the record reflect though, that I did understand what the talk was about, I was just too much in the moment to be taking notes and pictures. (This is how I know it was a really good event; there were no pictures of it. The mark of any good event is that there are no pictures. At a good party for example, people are too busy enjoying themselves rather than whipping out a device to document the experience, devices at parties being the crutches of emotionally lazy people unwilling to even try to make a connection with other humans. The mark of a good party? No pictures.
I want to be one of those people who has spiritual experiences and participates in mystical stuff, but my laziness gets the better of me in terms of my participation level in my own home. Sure, I can make an alter, but then that means I have to do something in front of it. Or occasionally clean it. The most spiritual work I think I'm willing to do is read about mystical stuff and meditate twice a day. At this point, the meditating is hardly spiritual; I'm just sitting still doing nothing for 20 minutes at a time; I'm hardly, you know, drawing down the gods when I do it. At best, in my beginner meditation level that I'm still at, I'm reconnecting the circuits in my frontal lobe. But it would be nice to get to some kind of "unified field cosmic consciousness" they always talk about in transcendental meditation (TM). One day maybe.
And so that brings me to some of my favorite quotes in Ecstatic Witchcraft.
I don't profess to belong to any religious/spiritual affiliation. My spiritual sensibilities are patchworky, and even sometimes fluctuates based on my mood. I take a little of "this" from "that school," a little of "that" from "that philosophy," a little "sprinkle" from that "psychological phenomenon" and so on. (Why I had to use quotation marks on all that is not clear to me.) Sometimes all of it gets tossed out the window, sometimes it changes up based on new evidence (or lack of it), and sometimes I don't know what to think. I'm foreclosed on the topic of things beyond the veil of common consensus reality. But it helps to have a definition of what religion is, and I liked this one Mr. Parma offers on page 81:
"Currently I define religion as an externalized expression of spiritual impulse felt and contextualized in community. With this comes agreed-upon terms, ways of conduct, rites and ceremonies, and common cosmologies."
There it is. This is a much better definition than the bland definition of religion like "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods" or "a particular system of faith and worship." I like the looseness of spiritual impulse contextualized by a community, and the working of cosmology into it. Contact OED!
On the same page, I enjoyed the permission to let go of evaluative process during an attempt to achieve an altered states of consciousness:
"...The idea is to let go of any need or impulse to analyze, judge, or evaluate during the process. After grounding and disengaging from energetic conduct (the process itself-both internal and ceremonial), then it is, of course, appropriate and absolutely encouraged that we seek to interpret the experience, and the analytical mind is welcomed back in."
What I like about this is what I remember learning when I learned TM. (To be clear, Ecstatic Witchcraft isn't about TM. This quote is about being in a trance. But I couldn't help but think of applying that quote in reference to my experience as a meditator. And pretty much throughout the book, whenever the author talks about trance in the book, I thought about it as meditating, even though strictly speaking, I don't think that's exactly what he had in mind.) My TM teacher told me to not evaluate the process of meditation while actually meditating, to refrain from telling myself "this isn't working" or "I'm not achieving the state I should be in." Instead, evaluate afterward the meditation. Or better yet, evaluate how the meditation is working by the quality of my time in-between meditation sessions. That should be how one evaluates ones progress in my practice. And that's why I like Mr. Parma's advice to refrain from evaluating the experience while it's still going on.
I've been told over and over by TM teachers that you don't actually have to "believe" in the good things meditating does for you for it for it to be working, which is one of a few reasons why it is important not to judge the meditation experience while one is doing it. I joked to one of the teachers, "So it's not like I have to say 'I believe in fairies! I believe in fairies! to make it work?," and she said that no, I don't have to convince myself. It was frustrating in the beginning; I wanted extreme results right away so I felt like I was supposed to visualize that it was doing something. Now I'm realizing that a) I was probably trying to hard but also b) I'm not sure that the effectiveness of meditation works that way. It's more subtle. But I'm still new at this, so we shall see.
I also love this quote from page 82 about the function of ego. I know there's a lot of focus on shedding your ego in some types of meditations and religions etc., but I like this thought about the focus of what it does for us:
"The ability to truly release, surrender, let go let God (or gods) in is vital to successful trance possession. The ego is to be honoured only insofar as it is able to discern, on the mundane level, individuality from one another. Without groundedness we might never be able to recognise personal communion, experience, expression, etc., and this contrast of Self from Self is the essential differentiation that induces ecstatic epiphanies of consciousness becoming at one with universal awareness."
Yeah! This quote reminded me that one doesn't understand how special it is to have an epiphany of universal consciousness unless one actually has an individual consciousness. (Now it would just be nice for me to actually have a quantifiable experience of universal consciousness they always talk about in TM, but whatever, maybe that will happen in my future.)
And to that end, Mr. Parma writes on the same page (this is in the middle of a description of a ritual, but what I really like is the description of how to talk about a person's individuality):
"In essence, this step concerns itself with the sense of "I am" and individuality held and nourished within a unitive ocean. The "you-light" is the carved and vibrating vessel that your entire self has become at the point in the process."
This reminds me of this really great thing I once heard a rabbi say, something to the effect that a really good family is one that is a complete unit but that which allows each person their moment to be the focus. Each member of the family gets the spotlight sometime, but there is a unified whole. I feel like the best groups of people I've ever been in, whether it's a group in a college class or a one night group at a party, or a band that works cohesively, there's always this shared sense that everybody in the group is integral to the group but knows just the right moment to let each particular person shine, everyone enjoying being both spectators and performers at just the right moments. There are so few situations that I've felt this way in, where the dynamics are just that perfect, and it is truly magical. I am sad when the night has to end, the performance has to end, that people have to go home and go to bed. The fact that these perfect groups that successfully recognize and celebrate the "you-light" of each member while appreciating the whole are so rare in my life means that they're all the more special when they do happen.
One of the things Mr. Parma writes about was in reference to a quote (pg 121) from another witch, Ravyn Stanfield, who said, in reference to trance possession: "Our bodies are made for this." He writes: "We are incarnate; body is spirit-all is spiritual; we are designed for the capacity of magickal undertaking. Trance is part and parcel of a well-trained human being. Again-if you can breathe, you can trance."
I like this but replacing "trance" with "meditation." I wouldn't say I go into a trance when I meditate; it's more like a really relaxed state. But particularly what strikes me about this quote is the business about it being a natural thing. The TM world teaches something to the effect that our minds naturally want to go into a state of bliss, that the bliss state is its true state, and that bliss is what we are meant to do. I find this both comforting and maddening at the same time. Comforting, because well, if we're meant to do this, it is natural and means that there actually is a blissful state that exists. And we're hardwired to do it! How delightful! Does that mean there's some sort of blissful intent in the universe?! How delightful! On the other hand, this is maddening to me because I am not always able to access whatever this "bliss" is. Does this mean I am incapable? Am I fucked up beyond that "bliss preprogramming" that I'm supposedly hardwired for? Is my wiring all fucked up and that's why I can't access bliss? And am I fucked up beyond repair? Did I do this to myself? Am I the one person who is incapable etc etc etc? You know, as a "baby meditator" sometimes I think these things. And then sometimes I don't think these things because I might be having a TM session that is closer to the stereotype of what I think a TM session should feel like, and it's great, but I can't always replicate it. And furthermore, I'm not even 100% sure that's the state the same bliss state they talk about in TM practice.
Also on page 121, I found a nice description on the veil separating us from the otherworld, and that veil is the subconscious. That's nice and satisfyingly science-fictiony, that the subconscious is that curtain: "Therefore, the shadow forms the edges of the periphery-it is as the subconscious. The veil is the glimmer, or what I like to call the "ripple," that we all feel when we are close to the otherworld."
This quote reminds me very much of the business I hear TM teachers talk about when they're paraphrasing Maharishi (the guy who brought TM to the west, the Beatles bla, bla, bla), in reference to feeling like you're on the edge of going into that TM-y state of consciousness; and the example they always give is "I see the outline of the tree, I can see it's a tree, I know it's not NOT a tree" type of thing, like you can recognize that there's something kind of cosmic or transcendental that's there but you're not quite able to grasp it clearly with your awareness. It's like, the veil is glimmering or rippling but it's not totally apparent how to really experience it. Sometimes when I feel like I might be experiencing something kind of cool when I'm meditating, like when I start to feel really relaxed, there's a moment where I feel like I have to open my eyes and look at the clock to make sure I have enough time to relax into the really good part of it, like to know how much time I have to exist in that space so that I'm not late to work. At some point I realized that if I feel the need to look at the clock and it's early on in the session, that's shorthand for my body telling me I'm getting relaxed. It's kind of like when I was in the dorms in college, before anybody took any kind of recreational drug, they called their parents first, to get that out of the way so they could relax into their drug experience not worried that their parents might call when they were you know, "experiencing a different reality." Me wanting to look at the clock when I'm starting to relax into my meditation is my body telling myself that I'm nervous that I'm going to get so relaxed that I'll lose track of the time I've allotted for the session and then I'll be late for work, but since I'm starting to feel relaxed I just want to take a look at the clock so I know how much time I'll have for feeling relaxed. I know you're asking, Why the hell don't you just use an alarm clock? The reason I don't use an alarm clock is because TM teachers have told me not to for meditating because it shocks your nervous system.
Another quote in Ecstatic Witchcraft that I liked was about how so many of the problems we make for ourselves are about the feeling we're each incomplete. I like this idea very much, and it's a little like "You had the power in yourself the whole time!"-style of advice but enlarged to encompass a description of one's self (page 178):
"To emphasize the art of healing as the restoration of wholeness...is to give credence to our deepest natures. We are always whole, all of the time; however, we often forget and therefore need to re-member. In other circumstances we become so off-center, off-balance, that the wholeness blurs, and we lose our foundation and footing (the prime cause of so much dis-ease)."
I read that above quote aloud to my smart-ass husband and his response was:
"I had my tonsils taken out when I was five."
--which I conquered with the next paragraph, which was:
"We fall and we begin to fear; this erodes our self-esteem, self-honour, and power from within, and we begin to become deceived by the illusion that all is lost. Nothing can be truly lost that is truly yours."
I marveled at the "Nothing can be truly lost that is truly yours" line, at how elegant it sounded.
Then my husband let loose, "But if you lose your key if it falls in the sewer."
So there's that. Apparently if your key falls in the sewer it wasn't yours to begin with. Or something.
On page 92 there's this prayer to chant that's part of a technique for restoring the aforementioned wholeness:
Call Wild to Wild
Call Self to Self
In the circle that lies
Between the worlds
But really I just like it because it reminded me of the line from the poem in Twin Peaks where they go "One chants out between two worlds."
Although Parma writes poetically, on page 204 there's a really good bit on not feeling like you have to sound like you're speaking in tongues when you're describing a numinous experience:
"In having taught channeling to many people now, it seems the first and foremost problem arises when actually speaking or conveying the information received - which is a confidence issue. No one ever has trouble receiving a vision or feeling an intuition; however, many people stumble when they feel forced to express this is a way that will sound cohesive and coherent to their partners. The best way to ensure freedom of flow here is to not judge yourself as you convey. Simply go with the flow of whatever is received and understand that you do not have to sound like some archaic prophetess or Renaissance magician to be an effective vessel or channel thereof."
I like the idea of using this advice for anybody communicating their authentic feelings in any sort of context. Sometimes words don't exist (or we don't have a command of them) for what we're trying to communicate but feelings do, and we should trust them. I'd like to say that we don't have to talk in zen koan riddles to communicate experience as long as we're being honest. I know, I know, easier said than done. I would like to add, however, that at the times that we don't have a grasp on the words to communicate the true message of what we're trying to say, it is the responsibility of the listener to pay attention to the tone of the speaker. They may need to intuit what the speaker is communicating courtesy of the tone, mood and other cues.
This quote about not feeling like you have to sound like some archaic prophetess makes me think about that sketch in the fourth season of Mr. Show where the metalhead teenager becomes the Dali Lama, and in writing to his metalhead friend back home in response to Van Halen winning a video award reformed-metalhead Dali Lama writes, "And it is good news about Van Halen. Like the lotus, they bloom for you again and again."
And finally, on pg 219, Mr. Parma writes: "The art of altering consciousness is just as much about shifting paradigms as it is about inducing psychic trance."
I know I'm not the first person to say this of course, but I really do believe that the first step in inducing change in the world is changing ourselves individually. And we do this with personal work, whatever that means for each person. And each person's "personal work" is different. For some folks it's about going into a trance. For others, it's meditating, or maybe even talking stuff out, writing, mulling shit over, blogging, stitching and bitching, podcasting, complaining incessantly to the right people -- whatever it takes, we need to each be doing that for ourselves first.
|Potent magic be yours! Love, truth and wisdom.|
Thank you, Australian shaman, for signing my book!
Now tell me, would you more or less likely to have read this blog post if I'd called this blog post "Like the Lotus, Van Halen Blooms For You Again and Again"?