SAD, Depression, and Woogity Support

2017/01/03

Clinical depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. Close in numbers would be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and of course there is some overlap. (If you’re unfamiliar SAD is essentially a temporary form of depression brought on by reduced sunlight in winter months)

Before I go farther I’d like to make two things clear. Depression is a mental health condition, it is an umbrella for a variety of neurological conditions where the brain cannot produce or process certain neurotransmitters most commonly associated with happy moods and motivation. Depression isn’t feeling bad or sad, it’s not just an emotional funk to snap out of, it’s a literal physical condition in the brain. You can no more cure depression with thinking happy thoughts than you can cure anemia by thinking iron-laden thoughts. Secondly what I will be discussing is not, in any way, meant to supplant medical treatment. What I discuss can help manage depression in some cases, deal with the edge of it, but it will not cure it, and shouldn’t be assumed to be a replacement for proper medical treatment. Like any medical condition you can do magickal workings to help support it and the medical treatment, but a serious condition will not be cured by magick alone.

I’m part of this statistical group. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and have for almost 20 years. I deal with it better now than I did even a decade ago due to three things: light therapy, medication, and woogity. I want to share what techniques I’ve found work the best for me, and while these are more specifically how I manage SAD, I believe they may be of some relevance to people with depression.

First and foremost the best technique for managing depression I have is my meditation practice. Specifically anapana/vipassana meditation. While part of a bigger rant, let me say that all meditations are not equal, and not useful, and in this situation anapana has what we’re looking for. Anapana has a variety of benefits not found in more generic meditations but this is overlooked by pop-science articles that claim colouring books are just as good, as they they measure things like heartrate and brain waves, ignoring the point of the meditation. Relevant to SAD/Depression anapana helps you identify thoughts, chains of thoughts, and where they come from. This is very important because sometimes when in a depressive episode it’s hard to know where a thought comes from, do you really not want to go to that party cause you won’t have fun, or are you thinking that cause you’re depressed? Anapana can help you see where that thought comes from. Anapana also teaches you to catch distractions and thoughts as they form and redirect your focus. Again this is useful for a depressive episode because it is common to get caught in depressive loops, and not necessarily realize it or be able to break it. This helps you learn to catch the mind, and redirect, if only for a little bit. There are a lot of great resources to learn about anapana, I’ve written about it before and there are of course youtube tutorials.

The second technique I use is Pore Breathing and Compacting. This goes to the cause of SAD, a lack of sunlight. Sit comfortably somewhere you can see sunlight, if you can sit in the sun that’s best, and in a pinch you can do this with artificial lights and connect to the Sun energetically, but doesn’t seem to be nearly as potent. Perceive your body as empty and hollow, it’s like a clear crystal vase, no muscles, skeletons, or organs inside, no channels or energy centres, just a clear crystal surface in the shape of your body. Now as you breathe in, draw the light into your body, it travels in with the breath but also through the surface, it remains inside on the outbreath held in by the crystal and your will. Repeat this, increasing the intensity of the light until after several minutes you are as radiant as the sun yourself. For you first few times, I recommend stopping here, just breathe normally for a bit, and open your eyes and go about your day.

For a more advanced version once you’re radiant it is time to compact that light. On each in breath the light contracts, pulling into the centre of your chest a little, staying there, slightly smaller, as you breathe out. Each breath pulls it a little bit more into the heart centre, and a few minutes you should have a radiant brilliant pearl in your heart centre. Leave it there, and over the day it will dissipate slowly letting solar energy into your body.

A small warning with this technique though, Solar Energy can make it a bit hard to sleep, at least until you get used to it. So you’re better off doing this in the morning or early afternoon.

As said, these are in no way replacements for proper medical treatments, but I’ve found these very useful to supplement my medical work around my health, and perhaps they can be beneficial to some of you.

If you have any recommended supplementary techniques that have worked for you, I would love to hear them, and I’m sure they might benefit other readers.


Ritual: Breaking The Cycle

2016/05/23

Last weekend I was at “Gather” which is the unofficial name many folks use for the House Kheperu Open House. It is by far my favourite magickal convention; I literally start planning for the next year on my way home. It’s run by some friends of mine and I help out in some minor ways, and I’ve been attending and teaching there for over a decade. Like any convention there are some awesome folks, and some folks we wish weren’t around, but overall it’s probably my favourite crowd too. Magickal conventions often a niche, which is excellent, but creates a bit of an echo chamber in some ways, Gather though…Gather pulls people from everything. Vajrayana Buddhists, Zen Buddhists, Greek Polytheists, Norse Heathens, Satanists, Kemetic Pagans, Santeros, witches from pre-Gardnerian trads, atheists, neo-Pagans, Jewish Qabalists, O.T.O. and Golden Dawn folks, Christians, even a Catholic priest, and so much more. You have skill ranges from “I read a book on magick, and I’m curious” to “I literally wrote the book on this.” In terms of intelligence there more people with psychology and science degrees than I can shake a wand at. (Not that I believe degrees are the end all be all of intelligence, but these serve as good markers that I find lacking at a lot of other conventions. It’s also the only magickal convention that when people see me compulsively solving Rubik’s Cubes people ask if I have more, so they can do them too) Yet at Gather, everyone meshes, and we hold conversations across these huge divides to a degree I haven’t really seen at other events.

This Gather I ran two rituals, one solo and one with two friends, and I wanted to talk about the latter.

We called the ritual “Breaking the Cycle” and to be honest that title was (if I remember the conversation right) more or less a place holder until we thought of something better, and we never got back to that. Though we do have a new potential title I’ll discuss at the end. The idea was to allow people to release something from their past, embrace or work on something in their present, or move toward something in their future. Yes, that’s a bit vague, but when you’re doing large rituals broader goals that can be personalized are more likely to be useful.

The basic schema is the ritualists embody Past, Present, and Future, and open up a sacred space of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey allowing us to work with the participants on things at any point in their timeline. In this ritual I was the Past. The sacred space is cast in a triangle, representing Past-Present-Future, rather than more traditional circles using elements/directions. The space casting idea is based upon one that appears in Casting Sacred Space, an excellent book on different methods of opening ritual space.

The style of ritual my friends and I work with in this case is a fairly spontaneous one in terms of speech. There is a lot of embodiment, and letting the force and the spirit or whatever talk through us, so the script I provide is only the loosest of indications of the type of things we might have said.

To perform this ritual you need three ritualists, three cauldrons, three sterno cans (or another source of fire that fits in the cauldrons), flash paper (enough small pieces for everyone, the size of a business card works), and pens.

Everyone has their piece of paper before the ritual begins, and pens are provided in the centre of the space.

Arrange the three cauldrons with the sterno cans lit at the edge of what will be the space, the ritual will be performed inside the triangle formed by the cans, so make sure they’re spaced far enough that all the participants can fit inside the triangle. To start with though all the participants are outside of the triangle, only the ritualists are inside it. Before starting the ritualists are to think of what it is they want to work with, and a single word to represent it, and then write this on their piece of flash paper. The person representing the Future selects something in the present they want to work on, the person who is the Present selects something in the past they want to let go of, and the person who is the Past selects something in the future they want to work toward.

The ritualists meet in the centre of the triangle of cauldrons and sync up their energy. In our shared tradition this is simply just holding hands and running energy in a circle between us, bringing us to a more harmonious state. The ritualists then go and stand at their cauldron, facing out from the triangle. The ritualists take a moment to connect to their Temportal Aspect, to root it in the cauldron, and invoke it into themselves. For me this involved me taking a moment to feel myself moving forward in time, and then throwing my mind down the stream the other way, I mentally linked myself to a past life, not because of any inherent trait of that life, but just to anchor myself into going backwards, to root myself in the Past and going that way.

Past: “Ancient of Days, Forger of Time. I call upon the Past, the Bedrock upon which everything stands. Let the Past move into the Present.” The embodiment of the Past turns to face the centre of the triangle.”

Present: “Life ever-birthing the World, Master of the Dancing Moment. I call upon the Present, the river which flows through all things. Let the Present open into the Future.” The embodiment of the Present turns to face the centre of the triangle.”

Future: “Dreaming Ones, Weaving Ones, Bright Child Unborn. I call upon the Future, the open sky in which all potential rests. Let the Future become the Past.” The embodiment of the Future turns to face the centre of the triangle.”

The three Times pass their traits in the triangle, connecting to the other Times, and creating a triangular flow and space.

Future then approaches Present.

Present: “What do you bring me?”
Future responds. Present takes the flash paper from Future and burns it. Future returns to their corner, and Present approaches Past.

Past: “What do you bring me?”
Present responds. Past takes the flash paper from Present and burns it. Present returns to their corner, and Past approaches Future.

Future: “What do you bring me?”
Past responds. Future takes the flash paper from Past and burns it. Past returns to their corner.

((That part of the ritual is designed to further reinforce the variant flow of time within the space. Up until this point everything has gone from Past to Present to Future, but here it goes from Future to Present to Past to introduce a counter-current into the space.))

Past: “The participants are now to enter the Triangle, through the space between Past and Present.”

The participants walk into the triangle, in single file, and spiral toward the centre of the triangle until everyone is in the space. We assigned someone beforehand to lead everyone in and out of the space, just to make it flow better.

Past leaving the cauldron circles the participants in the centre of the triangle: “I am the Past. Everything you have ever done resides in me. Every action that has made you who you are, I contain. I am the foundation upon which the present and future are built. Come to me to release your pain, your regrets, your patterns of thought. Give to me that which holds you back, that which keeps you in the past, not in your future or present. Through me find freedom from what has been.”

Past returns to their cauldron. Present then circles the participants: “I am the Present. Every moment you experience in me. I am the moment that is eternal. Your past is always behind you, your future is always ahead of you, but I am always here with you, in every moment. Come to me to build who you are, to shape your life and your self. In this moment of eternity I am here, give to me that which you want to embrace and nourish, or that which weighs you down. Through me find power in what is.”

Present returns to their cauldron. Future then circles the participants: “I am the Future. Everything that ever happened to you leads into me. I am what you will become, I can be beautiful and terrifying. Come to me to grow, to change, to become. Give to me your hopes and your dreams and I will bring them to you, let me know what you want and I’ll make it so. Through me find glory in potentials.

Future returns to their cauldron.

Present: “You’ve heard our Voices, now decide. Are you here to let something go, to embrace something, or strive toward something? Distill this idea into a single word and write it on your paper, pour your heart and energy into the paper, and then take it to the Time who rules it.

The participants write down their focus and take it to the Temporal Avatar. Each of us did this in a different way, I’ll describe mine.

The participant approaches the Past which is me. I held out one hand and took their paper from them, and with my other hand I held their hand, and clasped both with my hand holding the paper. Each person got a unique message from me at this point, what follows is made up, but vaguely like the things I said. “I am the Mother, and I am the Grave. As the Past I hold everything that occurred to you. As the Mother I love you, and as the Grave I can take this issue of yours and -“ I light their paper in the cauldron “and I can let this die so you are free.”

Everyone goes up to the appropriate Time and has their focus thrown into the cauldron.

Past: “You have touched your Past”
Present: “Your Present”
Future: “And your Future.”
Past: “Now you can be Free”
Present: “Now you can Grow”
Future: “Now you can Become. *Pause* We now ask that you leave the triangle through the space between Present and Future.”

People are led out of the space through that boundary. The Times uproot their Time from their cauldrons and walk to the centre of the triangle. Joining hands they release the Time from the space and themselves. ((This is fairly easy, the closer these Time traits are to each other the more likely they are to fall apart))

That was the ritual, in some ways very simple, very short, but it was also very potent. We had a few folks in tears, a few that took a bit to come down, but it was really beautiful. It also seems to be very effective. That ritual was performed on Saturday, I came home Monday night and had a job interview on Tuesday, and by Thursday I had started my job. My focus for the future was getting a job. My friend who was the Future is finishing up a highly specialized medical degree, and she loves her placement, unfortunately there are no jobs open at that place…well, there weren’t, as soon as she went back she was told someone just gave their two weeks, and everyone there wanted her to apply for the job. My friend who was the Present has been doing an externship at a place they enjoyed, similar story though, no room for them, but they found out the week they returned that a space would be opening up. Though those two weren’t focusing on jobs directly the opening of the career paths are connected to their focus. Two of the ritual participants also have gotten jobs in the week after the ritual. Of course, not all the results or focuses were job related, people have reported things moving forward in their various arenas.

Due to the amount of people getting jobs right after the ritual though we’re thinking of renaming it from “Breaking the Cycle” to “Do you want a job?”

I wanted to share that for two reasons. First I love Gather and the friends at it, so thought it would be interesting to give people some insight to the type of things that might happen there if you ever decide to check it out. Secondly I want to talk more about what I’m doing on this blog. I share techniques, I talk theory, but I want to post every once and a while with more of an example of “If you followed me around magickally, this is what you would have seen me do this week.” I find I learn just as much knowing what other people are doing, as I do from listening to more theorizing on magickal practices.


Magickal Failures and Deadzones

2016/04/01

Failure is a part of magick. It’s a good part of magick, a healthy part of magick. It’s also a #$^#@$^#$ing frustrating part of magick some times. I’ve talked about how Failure is the Sign of the Magickian before. (Five years ago O.o) I stand by that to this day. If you never fail at magick, you’re either deceiving yourself, or not trying.

That said there are times when failure isn’t a good thing. Specifically when it’s chronic and general. As much as I say failure is the sign of a sorcerer, success has to be a big part of that formula too, and I can sadly think of some folks who tend to swim in the failure side of the pool. There can be lots of reasons for this: maybe they don’t know how to tactically root their magickal goals in reality? Maybe their techniques are flawed? Maybe they’re shooting too high or abstract? Maybe they’re just idiots who don’t know what is going on? Maybe they’re crossed? I doubt the last one, it seems more often than not an excuse to avoid working on the self. “No no, my magick is perfect, someone’s cursed me.”

I’ve talked about this on my facebook a bit recently, and some forums, but I want to discuss one of my major failures. I want to reframe it first though, because I don’t think it’s the chronic and general failure from above, and I would like to think I’m not deceiving myself in that regard.

When it comes down to it, I can’t do employment magick for myself. I have a pretty good success rate with clients. It’s not a specialty, but I can get things working for folks generally. Myself…not so much, to the point where I wonder almost superstitiously if my magick is interfering with mundane functions.

I just finished the 31 Days of Magick, and I admit, I didn’t stick through all the way again, but did most of it. I decided though, to focus everything on the same goal. (Note: Generally you can make a case about doing too much different magick on a single goal being a bad choice. Possibly true in this case, but not being able to influence jobs is a trend in my life, so I’m assuming this is another piece of data on that line)

I did all the tactical and strategic planning. I made sure my goals were SMART Goals like I’ve discussed before, I broke it down into micro and macro enchantments. Micro: Find an appropriate job post. Enchanting the cover letter, working on the HR personnel, etc. Macro: Get the job. I even tried to different routes. Enchanting very specifically for a specific job I wanted, and more general “This is the type of job experience I want.”

I gave both a timeline of a month, which is a bit short I know, but I also don’t think it’s unreasonable. Also in this time I was searching on my own, as well as having an employment agent trying on my behalf. Nothing.

I’ve tried different approaches, tactically, magickally, mundanely. And it never quite pans out, I am certain it’s not an issue of technique because even if one or two methods were flawed, something should have stuck by now. (So thank you, but I probably don’t need your “Surefire get a job spell”) I have friends with similar issues, but other blocks. A friend of mine is like this with relationship magick. He can do pretty good work for others (but results tend to favour fast and furious relationships, not more emotional and stable ones) but not for himself. I’ve seen it (and experienced it) with a friend and healing, can’t stop a sniffle for herself, but actually really proficient in working on other people’s health.

My ponderance is if you have eliminated things like poor planning, techniques, goals, and skills, and if the failure tends to be in the same area, what causes this, what can be done?

The easy/obvious answer falls somewhere along the line of astrology/fate/karma. And I can’t necessarily say it’s wrong, maybe there is some factor in our existence that says “You can be good at these things, alright at that, but magickally you can’t touch this” but that shuts down inquiry, investigation, and experimenting. If there is one thing I dislike, it’s being told that I literally cannot have the capacity to do something, just ask my son that resulted from such a claim. (Long story, don’t ask)

Are these some sort of block to work through? I can totally see where my childhood condition growing up below the poverty with parents working at least three jobs between them to put food on the table could interfere with the way I perceive and interact with employment. But I’ve always had good jobs, and almost every job I get is a step above the last, so I’d like to think I’ve come to some terms with it, and this relies on giving my subconscious a lot more power in my magick than I like. (It’s a huge factor, but some forms of magick shouldn’t really be swayed by it). Maybe if I come to terms with it, I’ll be able to work employment magick?

Maybe it is something that can’t be helped, I don’t like that answer, but it’s always a possibility. Maybe this magickal deadzones can teach us how to work around things. Like when I am employed, I’m great at manipulating things for more money. When I was in sales I could easily outsell my team, in office work I could always magick my way into overtime if I needed more money. Raises were usually granted. I could work to better my job, just not to get one. Maybe we just need to skip the deadzone and focus on what we can do.

I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve seen enough people I considering competent, if not actually down right good, sorcerers who have these spots that they can’t influence. So if you have one of these places. Don’t feel bad, you’re in good company, and it might not be your fault. The task is to work with what we can, strive to understand it, and always push forwards.


31 Days of Magick: Redux

2016/02/29

Back in December I posted about the 31 Days of Magick

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Basically it’s the idea to do something magickal, and different each of the 31 days of the month. I got about a week in during the January run before my health severely bottomed out on me, and I just couldn’t continue. Thankfully March has 31 days too, and I’m feeling better. (Okay, today I’m not, but in general I am) So I figured I’d start this again, and I recommend it to people.

Some of the days might seem super simple, and that’s fine, to me the value is to do things different. We often get into routines with the type of magick we do, and that’s fine, it’s hopefully what we’re good at, but it’s also good to flex our other magickal muscles every once and a while. So take the time, do a little something each day, and stretch yourself. You might never go back to the one form, but at least you gave it a try.


Buddhism 101: Emptiness

2016/02/25

Believe it or not folks, this entry was one of the main reasons I started this series, and it will probably be the last post of it for a while. I still might intersperse some Buddhism 101 stuff as I go, but I’m wanting to start posting about other stuff again.

This was a weird post to write, I actually discussed with my teacher if I could write it, and got permission. Technically it’s against a vow I’ve taken, I’m not to discuss Emptiness with people who don’t understand. Seriously. The reason of this vow is a historic one, back when the tantric side of Buddhism was far more secretive than it is now, most people who weren’t Buddhist didn’t know the concept of Emptiness, and even many Buddhists didn’t focus on it (which boggles me). The trouble is, as you’ll see later in this post, if I say “All things are Empty” unless you know what that means in a Buddhist sense, you might misunderstand. In fact, it kind of sounds bleak doesn’t it. It’s all empty, nothing is real…what’s the point? This is why the vow says don’t talk about it, because people will misunderstand it, and it will discourage them. Who wants to practice a religion that says you’re empty and not real?

That said, the secretive nature of tantra is changing, for better or worse, and part of that is the fact that a lot of people are familiar, at least in passing with the idea that Buddhism says all things are empty. This post is actually a response to that.

First things first: Emptiness, also known as Sunnata in Pali, Shunyata in Sanskrit, and Stongpa nyid in Tibetan. It literally translates as Emptiness, it’s not a translation problem like “Suffering.”

While the doctrine of Emptiness is important in my understanding of Buddhism, it seems like it’s something that grew in important. It gets very little treatment in the Pali canon, mostly just interpreted into stuff. By the time of Mahayana it became more important, the understanding being that all things are Empty. Then into Vajrayana not only are all things Empty, but Emptiness is the true nature of reality, and in the quick (dangerous) path to Enlightenment you need to learn to experience it.

It’s most popular expression is from the Prajnaparamita Sutra (The Book of Perfected Wisdom) which states “Form does not differ from emptiness, and emptiness does not differ from the form. Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.”

Simple enough.

I’m going to discuss it mainly from a tantric position, also, because Tibetan Buddhists are really good at classifying and nitpicking I’ll point out there are literally dozens of types of Emptiness we recognize. I’ll be discussing generalized Emptiness, but there are more specialized forms of it.

It is translated in English alternatively as Emptiness, Nothingness, and more recently Openness. None of these translations do the concept justice. When using the term Emptiness in Buddhism it isn’t a reference to a hollowness or a lack in the way one might say that the bottle is empty. Nothingness is not the same in Buddhism as it is in Western thought, it doesn’t refer to a void or non-existence. Openness has a bit more of a poetic truth to it, but still does not hit the mark.

Unfortunately due to the centrality of Emptiness in Buddhism, and its long history, several classifications and types have been categorized and written about. It is not a concept easily explained, but it can be pointed to and overtime a practitioner can truly experience it and understand what was being acknowledged.

On the simplest level Emptiness refers to being empty of an inherent and distinct individual nature, it is essentially in this form the flipside of Buddhist Interdependence. To borrow and abuse Plato’s classic example of Form take a table. We might all know that a table is a table, but what makes it so? What is the inherent nature of a table? What makes it distinct? Why is it a table and not a footstool? What makes it separate from everything else? Now add in a dash of an abstraction of the sorites paradox. If we have a table and cut it down the centre it is no longer a table, but what happened to its “table-ness?” If the table-ness was real how could a cut undo it? If we cut the table in half through the legs we still have a table, but one half as tall as before, how is this still a table when it is missing half its height? How short could we make the legs before it stopped being a table? Even without human agency if we watch a table over time it will rot, fall apart, and become a pile of rubbish, and that pile of rubbish is not a table, yet we cannot say where the table-ness went nor identify the moment it was a table, and the moment it was not.

From a Buddhist perspective the table is Empty, it is Empty of inherent characteristics, it is made up of a combination of elements; material, a surface, supports, purpose, and understanding, and as those elements change we realize the table is not a table, it is just a unit of temporarily coherent elements we think of and use as a table.

Now take yourself as a person. What is your inherent distinct individual nature? You know you are you, but what makes you you? If you were to suffer a brain injury and lose your memories or mental faculties, would you still be you? Some would say yes, and some would say no, but if you had a true inherent existence, then there could be no disagreement. If there was a “real” you, there would be no question. Look back at the person you were a year ago, five years, ten years, are they still you? But how many things have changed? How can that person and you be the same? On a physical level in the last decade every cell and particle in your body has been recycled, destroyed, and built a new, there is not a particle in your body that was there ten years ago, yet you say you are the same person despite having not a single particle in common with 2006 you. When you were a child you a fraction of your height and weight, but if that child was you what were they missing, or what do you have now since you’re twice their size? If you lost a finger in an accident, would there be less you? If you forgot a vacation you went on, or got over a temper problem, would you still be you? It is hard, or arguably impossible to point to what you really are.

Going back to the table, it’s not just a matter of the form of the table, but its composition that make it empty. The wood from the table used to be a living tree, but now it isn’t, when did it cease being a tree and begin being a table? Both tree and a table are empty, but you can see how they are connected. The tree did not become a table by a miracle, a person cut down the tree (either by hand or through a mechanical device), so that person is as much a part of the table as the tree is. The sun’s light nurtured that tree, so the table is composed of sunlight as well.

When you look at the particles in the tree it might contain carbon that was once in the lungs of Caesar Augustus, or part of the body of a forest animal, those are all part of the tree, and the table, and those all show how the table and the tree are empty. The table could not exist without all of those things, and an infinite chain more. The table is empty of its own nature but instead is an aggregate of everything. Your table is not a table, but your table is also the saw blade that cut it, the mountain that metal was mined from, and the person who dug it out. Your table is the person who crafted it into a table, it’s the carbon distilled from the air as it grew, the water used to transport material inside the tree, the sunlight, the star that exploded over four million years ago to produce the particles that would be recycled into the earth, and thus the tree, and thus the table. All of this, and many many more things make up your table. Your table is empty of an inherent being, but through that it is connected to everything.

All things are Empty. They are always Empty, it is merely a matter of being aware of it, and accessing it.
Emptiness could be described both as Empty, but also Full, filled with everything. It is an undifferentiated potentia.

It is common in many Buddhist practices to “dissolve into emptiness” or to “rest in emptiness.” This does not mean Nothingness, but that state of infinite potential and connection. When you see yourself as empty it does not mean to be hollow like a tube, or to cease to exist. Instead it means to recognize that you do not exist independent of anything, but infinitely connected to, and not separate from anything else. You are connected to everything and anything. When you dissolve into Emptiness you still exist, but you enter a state of understanding that you do not exist in any inherent or independent way, you exist in relationship to every element of everything else.

By accessing Emptiness, that infinitely connected and undifferentiated reality as the basis of all things, you can also create anything. When you dissolve into Emptiness, you can then reform yourself in any way, looking the same, but being composed of the stuff of the gods or divine archetypes. You dissolve into Emptiness, so that you can arise and reform yourself into anything.

Emptiness is also very important to the understanding of Compassion in Buddhism. After all, how can you not express and experience Compassion for other people when you realize that both you and them are Empty, and thus connected, even the same. You are them, they are you. Put poetically: The heart of Compassion is Emptiness.

If you’re curious for a bit more detailed of a look, I recommend The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is just a very basic explanation of Emptiness. Considering it’s broken down into over twenty categories, and is still a huge part of Vajrayana debates you can tell it’s a complicated topic. Hopefully though my middling explanation of it though will help you understand that when Buddhists say something is Empty/Void it isn’t a nihilistic thing, but an infinitely connected perspective, one meant not to instill a sense of nihilism or depression, but connection and compassion.


Buddhism 101: Karma Followup

2016/02/21

My entry on karma had some good comments I wanted to address.

Harry, from The Unlikely Mage, corrected me in my use of terms. That technically Karma is cause, and Vipaka is result, at least historically. I don’t find that supported in Vajrayana Buddhism. In fact despite the language I used about karma being the result, we frame it as both the cause, and the effect.

While it might be easy and convenient to split things up into cause and effect, there really isn’t a distinction. Every cause is an effect, and every effect is a cause, and even if we take a specific event, like the punching analogy from the first entry cause/effect blur into an infinite sequence.

We tend to think of it as I punch you, you get mad and dislike me. But really it’s I get mad (effect), I’m mad (cause) so I punch you (effect), I punch you (cause) you fall back (effect), you fall back (cause) and get angry (effect), you get angry (cause) and dislike me (effect). Even that sequence could be broken down thousands of times into smaller units of both thought and action. As is I started part way into the sequence with me getting mad…but what caused that? And what caused that? And what caused that? This plays into the Buddhist concept of interdependence that I want to talk about next post, but basically everything is infinitely connected and entwined. There is no way to separate anything, so we see karma as cause, and effect, because they’re not different really, just a different point on an infinite continuum.

While in some ways it could be less precise, I like it because it eliminates the illusion of concrete events of cause and effect, and reveals a continuous stream of them. We do use language like karmic seeds and karmic ripenings to differentiate between karma as cause, and karma as effect in specific cases, but it’s clear they’re both karma.
Uratriura also brought up a good point (one I might have wanted to elide) “Since karma seems to be resolved in the here and now and only specific sections taken to other lives the theory of having several souls forming a group of “learning” from each other (or resolving each others karma or being interwined in each others karma) seems to be obsolete. It simply seems to be a random gathering in random lives. But when and what is this rare case of meeting up again in other lives?”

So I mentioned that interpersonal karma essentially dies with the people, and meeting up again in other lives happens rarely. I misspoke in an attempt to simplify matters. Remember how at the end of my last post I stressed that everything that happens is karma? Same is true for meeting people. What I should have said is technically you probably have some karma with everyone you encounter, so much so that it becomes meaningless to fixate on. In Buddhist theory this is commonly expressed in the idea that every sentient being has been your mother at one point in time. While this might not be literally true, the idea is what matters.

Let’s take some simplified math with generalized numbers. Modern humanity has been around for 200,000, average lifespan for most of that time was about 35 years. So assuming you’ve been incarnating on Earth all that time (Buddhism says it could have been elsewhere), and that you’ve been human all that time (you could have been anything), and we’re not counting human species that came before us, just to make the math simple, you’ve had nearly 6,000 lives. So that’s 12,000 parents, assuming monogamy (which is just false historically) that’s 6,000 partners. Let’s assume, for not reason other than to make more numbers, that you had on average four kids per lifetime, that’s 24,000 children. So we’re up to 42,000 people who have been parents/lovers/children. We’re not even including siblings, extended family, or non-family relationships.

You can quickly see how many people you’re connected to. Add in two more siblings, and three close friends, and we’re up to 57,000 people. That’s just 200,000 years as humans, not including life on other planets, or dimensions, or whatever. So while I said it’s rare to meet someone from the past. I guess it’s more accurate to say it’s rare to meet someone from the past, and have it be relevant or important in any way.

So while you might meet someone again, and you might have karma to “work out” it’s not a significant thing…it’s probably the majority of your relationship. Also, it’s not about them. If you didn’t meet up with them ever again, you’d still eventually be able to work out that karma in other ways. Like people who hold great (possibly justified) anger at someone else. Sometimes they can confront the person and work it out, sometimes they can’t, but over time it’s dealt with. Meeting up and working through karma is convenient, not cosmically significant. Karma is also not a perfect one-for-one, which is why Western notions of it often fail. Imagine I have karma with someone whom I abused in a past life, my karma is around my hate/ignorance to that person, but realistically anyone I encounter who “triggers” that karma can let me work through it. It doesn’t have to be the original person, just someone who “reminds” me enough of them to bring out that same mental/emotional pattern.

Now I’m getting more speculative, because it’s talked about less in these terms. When it is important, it’s probably due to something really intense. Here is where I shit on soul mates. I’m sure we all know at least one elderly couple who still seem to be very much in love, and have been so for decades. When people say they’re meeting up with a love again, because they’re soul mates and love each other so intensely, it again ignores the 11,999 other lovers they had (assuming the historically false monogamy), unless they claim to be really monogamous, over 9000 times. So when I say intense, I mean something more than love. In fact I’d argue you’re more likely to be connected to someone through hate or fear in the case of being murdered. Traumatic deaths stick with you more reincarnating because they’re an intense emotion at the moment of death which is imprinted in the mind, and part of that imprint is the person. When you’re murdered that fear/anger is the last thought and it fills you completely. But if you love someone, while it can be intense it’s not this flooding/pulsing emotion after all those years, so it’s not as prominent if you die slowly and naturally.

I find in interesting that all the people who claim they’re meeting up with old lovers or people to learn from again because of “karma” are people from cultures/religious upbringings that don’t have karma. I never hear my Hindu or Buddhist friends (who were born/raised that way) talk about it like that in any way. Perhaps it goes back to my last post as well about the idea that it’s said we really don’t know what’s going on with karma, that only highly-realized beings can really have that insight, so there is an arrogance to assuming that something is A) Karmically/Cosmically important, and B) that you can tell, you’re just that advanced.

Theoretically there are also karmic vows which are imprinted in the mind. While strictly a Buddhist thing (Mahayana and Vajrayana) I don’t see why it has to be limited to them. Vows often include mentions of future lives, and if you take that seriously, it becomes part of your mind. So when you reincarnate it, or at least the seed, is there, and if someone else has similar, you can be connected. Maybe not some cosmic bungee cord drawing you together, but just practicality. You’re both born in a time and place that gives you access to what you need to fulfill you vow, maybe born in a major city with a Buddhist population. You both are drawn to Buddhism, eventually through trial and error find a temple/teacher that clicks, and meet. It’s not karma drawing you two together to complete the past, but who you are leads you to make similar life choices and that leads to you meeting up. It’s similar to having friends who you always run into in public, because you have the same taste in movies, music, and food. You’re not cosmically tied, it’s just you have similar ways of thinking and only so many options.

The next question they brought up is about karma’s “storage.” As mentioned there is no universal track-record of karma, but wouldn’t there still need to be a place where karma is stored or recorded? After all if it’s action and reaction, you can’t react to something in a future life without an action. Is this higher self? If the universe doesn’t care, what brings it up again. If insignificant karma more or less dies with the body, who decides it’s insignificant?

A great and complicated question. I believe it is in Theravada Buddhism but I know during some of my initial training around anapana and vipassana the body itself was called the Storehouse of Karma. Our karma is recorded in our very being. Here is where it gets abstract. Our bodies “remember” everything that isn’t resolved, or that is significant. When you meditate, as in anapana or vipassana styles, you will eventually get distracted by physical sensations. In fact what you don’t realize is that right now, everywhere, your entire body is filled with sensations, but you ignore it, you block it out, and your attention isn’t clear enough to notice it. Your body feels the slightly draft of air that subtle shifts a hair on your arm. Every square centimeter of your body has dozens of sensations happening right now, it’s aware of heat and cold, even if you think about it, and can’t perceive it, there are probably itches and stabbing and shifting feelings everywhere. It might sound hard to believe, I didn’t initially until I did a retreat. After two days of nothing but meditating on the breath, you can see sensations everywhere. You could focus on any part of your body, and feel what is happening, temperature, pressure, pulses, itches. We have to ignore all this or we’d be overwhelmed.

Theoretically these unnoticed and random feelings are the karma playing out in our body, or representations of it, and when we ignore it (all the time) nothing happens, if we give in (get angry at that itch and scratch it) we reinforce it, and if we observe it but don’t react the karma is weakened, and eventually goes away. Less abstract think about a fight you had with your mother, think about it, hard. Now, do you feel that somewhere in your body? Maybe a pressure in your head, racing pulse, a sinking stomach. That’s your body record of the karma involved in the fight.

Now, you’re more than just your body. This is also stored in the mind. Like every time the topic of that fight comes up, you might feel guilty for what you said, or angry because it’s unresolved, or proud because you stood up to your mother, whatever. That’s a mental imprint of the karma.

So who decides if karma is insignificant? Believe it or not, you do. The person that holds onto karma, and makes you accountable to it in future lives? It’s you. Those imprints are in your body, and if they’re strong and unresolved they’re imprints in the mind which carries over into the next life. If you’re still attached to something, the universe doesn’t take that attachment and then drop it into your new baby mind, you carry it with you. If you still have karma around anger, it’s not the universe trying to balance cause and effect which gives you anger issues in the next life, it’s you, it’s been in your mind they entire time. No one can forgive you, and no one can make you guilty, it’s all about you.

Now, since for the sake of simplicity I misspoke previously. I’d like to say I’m not discounting, discrediting, or denying the more woogity side of karma, the magickal energetic side of it, but that the vast vast majority of karma is better explained as a mental imprint, a conditioning of mind/soul. I think the fixation on the woogity side of karma is problematic, and impractical. It’s like people who cry ghost or bad energy for everything that happens, without looking and mundane practical causes and ways of dealing with things. Not every random bad mood is someone beaming hate into your soul (cause you’re so special you’re worth that), sometimes it just happens, in fact I’d say almost all the time that’s what is happening. Karma is the same. Sure something might be happening due to some woogity out there karma influence, but chances are, butt number of 99.99% of the time, at least, it’s interpersonal/mental karma.


31 Days of Magick

2015/12/30

(My Buddhism posts will resume in the new year, holidays eat up too much time)

I wanted to share something that sprang out of a group I’m a part of, the 31 Days of Magick

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Basically it’s just a list of 31 types of magick to do over the course of January. None of them are that difficult, so it’s not asking too much, but it’s asking for a lot in terms of technique, which I like.

Whenever I feel myself in a magickal lull or slump I pick up a book with a good variety of exercises (usually something fairly beginner, as they have the most breadth) and work my way through it. Not because I really need to learn another way to ground, or how to cast a spell with a playing card or whatever, but because I need something different.

I find the same thing with physical exercise, I hit a slump or plateau and have to change something, just a little, to break through and get going again. Even if it’s just putting my hands farther apart or closer together in pushups to work slightly different muscles.

In a magickal slump, you need to flex a few new muscles, and in general I think it’s good practice to do things outside of your normal practice.

That’s what I really like about this 31 Days of Magick. I don’t see myself flipping my life into something even more amazing through it, but I might, but more I see it as something to work my magick a bit differently, to challenge myself and include a few new things, even if I don’t use them again.

So I invite everyone out there to join in with the 31 Days, do something different, after all isn’t magick about the experiment?

(And if you’re interested in looking into the Strategic Sorcery community, then pop over to Jason’s blog, see what it’s about, and consider joining.)

Make it a great new year folks.


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