In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty. – Robert M. Pirsig, in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
There are two kinds of high country: mountains and meditation. When you climb a mountain, you experience euphoria at the summit even though your dead dog tired and may only have very little time to spend a few precious moments there. This is physical and mental transcendence.
When you meditate and slow your brainwaves to an alpha level, you reach mental heights that are often inaccessible when you’re working, commuting, and cleaning up the house. You are in an altered state without the physical danger of physical mountains, exhaustion, or high altitude sickness. Nonetheless, the euphoria is just as real as what you experience on a mountaintop.
While within this euphoric state, we know many things and understand deep in our souls that we are without limits. What powerful moments. The challenge, whether you have climbed a physical mountain or taken a transcendent mental trip is to avoid relapsing to mundane goals and fears when you return to level ground.
The euphoria is like a drug that slowly wears off; the feeling vanishes day by day as the slings and arrows of the temporal world slink back into your thining. The best medicine is climbing another mountain or meditating into the places where the air is thinner and facts and images become less certain.
You can stand upon mountain tops in your meditating, whether you imagine yourself to be there or take a shamanic journey higher and higher into the thin air of dreams. When you return, your friends may think you’re on drugs when, in fact, you’ve had an experience with no equal.
The euphoria is not, however, like being high on drugs. It’s more of a realization of who you truly are and what is truly within yourself. As we used to say years ago, you are at one with the universe. That’s better than fame or money or even your favorite wine.
Before my knees and ankles turned to dust, I loved Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. Now, I’m exhausted climbing the flimsy drop-down stairway into the attic. I prefer mountains over meditation, so age has cramped my style. And yet, meditation still takes me to these summits where I see heaven and earth combined.
Most magic is fairly easy if all you’re looking at is a set of directions. It can become more complex if it’s so-called high magic and requires a complex ritual. It can become challenging if multiple preparations are required, including herbs, candles, purifying oneself or one’s house, and other activities or ingredients that one may wish to hide from friends and family.
Regardless of the approach one takes, the one aspect that cannot be overlooked no matter how perfectly one follows the directions and prescriptions for an intended result is belief. Magic requires belief in order to function, or, as some might say, your beliefs create your reality. One point I emphasized in my three hoodoo novels is that when a conjure woman does a spell, she doesn’t look back–if she throws it into a stream or lake, for example–because looking back to check on the spell signifies doubt.
Those who don’t believe in magic think that the necessity of belief is “convenient” for those trying to convince you magic is real. That is, if you don’t believe, it won’t work. But how can you believe, if you’ve never seen it working?
I believe I’ve written here before that a lot of those who hoped The Secret and other books related to the “law of attraction” would change their lives for the better were disappointed with the results. Why? They didn’t seriously believe the process would work. Perhaps some of them wished for changes that seemed so logically impossible that even the enthusiasm they felt after reading a book like The Secret wasn’t strong enough to extinguish their doubt.
Most of us are “programmed” by society or our ever-hopeful (or partially cynical) belief systems that small changes are more likely to happen in our lives than huge changes. We believe it’s more likely that we’ll find a dollar bill on the street than win a Powerball lottery jackpot. This suggests how we should proceed with magic. Since small changes seem more logical to us, we can focus our magic on small changes. That is, rather than trying to use magic to become suddenly rich, we can use it to do better financially this month than last month. Instead of trying to heal ourselves or a loved one from a dread disease overnight, we can focus our intentions on feeling better than the day before.
We can accept this, so we’re less likely to doubt our first experimentations with magic. That’s what we build on. When those seem to work, we can focus on a result that’s slightly more challenging.
Of course, our overall belief system helps or hinders our magic. If we think that Murphy’s laws rule the universe, we will be less successful than if we are generally positive and tend to see the best in other people until proven wrong. Or, if we spend ten or fifteen minutes working on a spell intended to help a loved one feel better, but then spend the rest of the day worrying about them getting worse, we’re undoing our magic because our energy is more focused on something negative than something good.
When it comes down to it, magic is part of an individual’s approach to life. One has to be open to new experiences and systems of thought that are outside the everyday realm of logic to make magic work. If you want to make magic a part of your life, you need to make your life a part of magic; that is, begin with meditations and interpreting dreams and reading about those who’ve had transcendent experiences. No surgeon goes into an operating room thinking, “This procedure isn’t going to work.” S/he has many years of education and practice before stepping into that OR. Likewise, magic requires (usually) an equally time-consuming and diligent study of how the world works and how the self works before you can do what looks so easy in the Harry Potter books and movies.
Like any other discipline, magic and medication seem to work better when people learning about them are content with taking baby steps first. Nobody takes one piano lesson and then expects to play at Carnegie Hall the following week. Yes, if you truly believe, you can change your life in an instant. But we’re brought up in a science and technology world where logic is the prime mover of the universe, so large-scale belief on the first day one encounters magic is a hard row to hoe. Over time, and with patience and practice, we can prove to ourselves that magic works. We may never convince our friends, but then that’s not really important because seeing the universe in an alternative way is our path, lonely as it may be.
We can all conquer that “catch-22” about magic and belief if we devote time and effort and faith to our studies. It’s not an easy path, yet I think it’s a wonderful path.
My hoodoo novel “Lena” is currently on sale on Amazon for 99₵.
Years ago during one of the new age tidal waves of enthusiasm for all things psychic, spiritual and otherworldly, I took a course in one of the disciplines of the day that promised to show me how to improve my psychic powers. The course did what it said it would do.
While the course followed a set lesson plan everywhere in the country where it was taught, those of us in Bob’s course probably saw many phenomena and discussed many ideas that weren’t on the agenda elsewhere. Quite simply, the reason was Bob and his enthusiasm for everything that might tangentially be related to the course’s core ideas.
Bob had the kind of vision that would have made a university’s doctoral dissertation committee proud, for he was forever “surveying” the literature and finding new associations to ideas most people would have lost track of in the more obscure footnotes. The downside, however, was that if he were writing a new age doctoral dissertation, he would never finish it because the data about practices, techniques, theories and methods was, of course, open ended and could never be compiled into a definitive research paper.
Keys to Everything
During late-night, after class discussions, Bob was forever saying “if we can just find the key, we will finally know how everything in the psychic world works.” This was, of course, what we wanted to hear. But, once again, there was a downside to this approach because it meant that every time Bob came across an ancient (yet newly discover) system/book/method, THAT was suddenly the key to the world–in his view. We went through phases on new keys and newer keys. Certain principles of Yoga became a key, followed by an in-depth study of Huna mysticism, and then some of the deep secrets being channeled by discarnate entities.
Bob’s enthusiasm led us to discover many new ideas (new to us, though often very ancient) and to consider that there are many approaches to new age techniques that, in fact, are more related to each other in substance than might initially be obvious. People talk about the same things with different words and/or enhance what they’re doing with rituals that make the object of their work appear alien when, in fact, it’s similar to something one already knows.
I don’t know if Bob ever found his master key because those of us who were the mainstay members in his courses moved away over time and lost track of each other. In some ways, Bob couldn’t stick with each new thing long enough to totally understand it or to see if it could be totally integrated into the techniques we were already practicing. Sadly, many of us started to become a little jaded about some of the new ideas Bob brought into the classroom because we knew it was a matter of time before they were proclaimed as the new key.
But what about last week’s key and the key from the week before that?
My thoughts in those days–and since–have probably traveled down many roads I never would have seen had it not been for Bob and his preoccupation with keys and the idea that something miraculous was always just around the corner. Then, as now, I believed that we create our own reality and that whatever we perceive as keys and miracles are our own creation. Bob didn’t believe that and we had many debates about whether or not he was creating clues (without consciously knowing it) and throwing them out onto the road ahead for him to find later.
While we never came to a common ground on this subject, I’ve carried his scatter-shot enthusiasm with me for forty years because it keeps me young, open minded, and willing to look at alternative ideas. Perhaps we all need a Bob in our lives who can’t stick with anything long enough to fully know it but who serves as a catalysts for the rest of us.
Thanks for the ideas, Bob, and for showing me so many real or imagined doorways.
Johannes Eriunega, an Irish theologian and philosopher who lived in the 800s, said, “All that is, is light.” Niels Bohr (1885-1962), a Danish theoretical physicist who developed the foundation mathematics for Quantum Mechanics, said, “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
In between the 800s and today, sages and physicists have said many things about the illusory nature of the reality we perceive with our physical senses. Goodness knows, those of us whose writing is characterized variously as science fiction, fantasy, or magical realism have put our spin on the large gap between consensual reality and the actuality behind the veil.
I used the NASA photo above in the header of my Facebook author’s page because it not only fits the fiction of a writer of fantasy and magical realism, but defines the belief behind my stories. I am not only a star gazer, but am also graced with occasional glimpses of our shimmering, star-spangled crystal-colored world as it actually is.
You can be, too, if you haven’t already discovered that the vision of the Large Magellanic Cloud in the NASA photograph–or the night sky when the gods allow you to see it without interference from man-made light–is very much the same as an atomistic view of a rock or a person or a table, play with the exercise below.
Matter is mostly empty space. When I was young and still an adamant believer in a materialistic view of matter and logic, a minister at an alternative church told me that there’s no such thing as matter. What we believed was solid, wasn’t really solid. While he was a good friend, I thought his view was absurd.
Now that I’m the age he was when he told me that, I meet with the same “are you off your rocker” comments when I say he was right.
We need our physical senses to navigate the world as we believe it to be. If your physical eyes showed you a Magellanic Cloud in front of your face, it would be impossible for you to function. However, with a bit of practice, you can see that the structure of the table in your room or the mountain outside your window–at their basic levels–looks like that cloud.
Instead of taking a journey from the Earth to the Moon, you’ll be taking a journey from the illusory world of “physical matter” to the actual star-spangled realm inside the world your physical eyes have convinced you is there.
Unlike the law of attraction and other practices that require you to believe they’ll work before your experience tells you they’ll work, you can see the stars inside your table without having to be certain there are stars inside your table.
Sit in a comfortable chair and stare at your table and consider what it might be like to shrink yourself to a creature much smaller than an electron and fly over, under and through that table. How would it appear?
Relax and then silence the constant chatter in your mind about the chores waiting for you, what you had for dinner yesterday, and everything else your inner dialogue is constantly focused upon.
Close your eyes and imagine you will soon become an a very small firefly sitting on the back of your chair.
If you don’t already have a preferred meditation technique, you can use a modified form of self-hypnosis or a biofeedback process to reduce the frequency of your brainwaves and slow down your pulse rate.
Think to yourself, “I am going to a deeper level of consciousness, 10…9…deeper and deeper…8…7…6…with each descending number I am deeper than before. . .5…4…3…deeper. . .2…1…I am now at a deeper, healthier level of consciousness.” You can vary the words you think depending on what makes you the most relaxed.
With your eyes closed, pretend you’re a very tiny firefly. Imagine yourself flying around the room to take a look at the objects in it. What do the chairs, curtains, books, TV set, and pictures on the wall look like from this perspective?
Once you’ve explored the room, consider the table. Fly around it and see what it looks like from all sides. When you are ready, think something like the following, “I’ about to fly inside the table.”
Fly up to it and stare at its “surface,” just covering there. While doing this, imagine that it’s an impressionist painter’s table, composed of flickers of paint and light. See it growing larger the way a JPG grows larger when you increase its size slowly to the point where the pixels get farther and farther apart.
Now, when the table is so large that it’s component “pixels” are so far apart you can easily fit between them. fly inside it. How does it feel? What do the different “colors” of the table appear to be when you examine them closely?
Hover in place and until everything you see appears like the night sky, shimmering and crystal colored and radiant.
Assuming you haven’t fallen asleep, fly outside the table and–in your firefly form–sit or stand on the chair you chose before you did your meditation countdown.
Think to yourself, “At the count of three, I’ll awake into my everyday reality feeling happier and healthier than before…1…2…3.” Open your eyes.
The first time I successfully did this journey, I stood up too soon and as I took my first step away from the chair, I fell. Why? The floor wasn’t there. I was still seeing things with my firefly’s eyes. So wait there a moment and make sure everything looks “normal” before you leave your chair.
Does this journey work the first time? I can’t say. Does one “see” more clearly each time they do it? I can’t say, because it’s better if you have no preconceived ideas about whether of not this exercise is easy or difficult or whether or not it takes practice or it doesn’t.
Becoming a sparkling firefly and fluttering around the living room requires a sense of play. Or, if you don’t like flying, become an ant (or whatever you prefer). This is a game of “let’s pretend” that should be relaxing in and of itself. Have fun. Sooner or later, you will realize that your let’s pretend has become real at a deeper level of consciousness.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”
In a recent post called On Looking Inward, author Dani Shapiro begins with “Increasingly, we are scattered.”
Yes we are. The Internet and other addictions pull us away from listening more often to the voice within.
It’s especially interesting to me to think about just how often I’m not looking inward. I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing stories about characters who are looking inward. But, as I commented on Dani’s blog, it’s as though these characters are my children and I’m giving them better than I’m giving myself.
In Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, protagonist David Ward is told by his wild woman grandmother when he is a child that the important things in life are found within. By the end of the book, I think he understands her wisdom.
He went through hell to understand it. The paradox is that I wrote about him going through hell to understand it and I’m wondering if I understand it. David, like Robert Adams in The Sun Singer, goes through a spiritual transformation that I (at times) I’m witnessing through a glass darkly.
I need to buy some Windex, wash off the class and follow the examples of my fictional characters rather than saying, “I’ll just check Twitter and Facebook for a while today and then I’ll go light a candle and look for other worlds within the flame.”
I know what’s more important, but the addictions of the outer world are very strong.