De Regnis: Visualization, Meditation, Contemplation

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of visualization, meditation, and contemplation.

On Visualization

Visualization is the act of using the imagination to form in-depth images in the mind. While this may sound like mere daydreaming, visualization is far more powerful and capable of creating whole immersive worlds. Using the imagination to create images, then, implies a greater sense of“image” than simply a mental picture, and visualizations should indeed be more than just a fleeting thought in the mind. Visualization makes use of the mind’s full range of senses and perception to create an image, both from the physical senses and the ethereal senses. Visualization is essential in picturing or working with spirits, traveling mentally to other spiritual realms, and understanding and directing the flow of cosmic forces, just as the physical senses are necessary in helping one walk around a city or engaging in conversation with a friend.

Humans interact with the world with five primary physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste,and smell. As humans have evolved to have refined and delicate organs of sight, the sense of sight tobe the strongest and first developed imaginative faculty of the mind. The relative ease of picturing the face of a friend, guessing how something might look now based on past experiences, or recalling a vivid visual memory can attest to this. However, the most intense and immersive of memories,dreams, and visualizations generally make use of all the senses. It is by all the senses working together that people interact with the world, and when one sense is hindered, the other senses compensate by bringing more information to the mind so as to comprehend physical reality.

The mind can be thought of as a machine that processes data. It can be argued well that humans do not experience the world directly, but only through the filter of their senses. For instance, though many people might perceive an icy lake as cold, someone with nerve damage in the hands might not perceive any change from that to a blazing bonfire. Similarly, though people might perceive one apple as red and another as green, someone with colorblindness might not perceive any difference at all between the two. The senses deliver sensory data from the physical world to the brain, which processes and unites them into a more-or-less coherent perception for the mind to understand and work with. However, the mind is more capable of creating and understanding the world than the brain itself is; while the brain can only process the information that the sensory organs give it, the mind can process all that and more all simultaneously.

A simple visualization exercise begins with physically picking up a small everyday object, say, a pencil. Observe the pencil: looking at it with the eyes is not enough. See every detail of the pencil,every groove and edge, every dent and scratch, the color differentiation on the eraser, the smooth sheen on the graphite, the angle the graphite has been worn down by writing. Feel the weight of the pencil, the temperature of it when picked up and how slowly its temperature changes when held, the smoothness or roughness of its parts. Smell and taste the pencil, the thick odor of its graphite, the rubbery tang of the eraser, the skin and sweat rubbed onto it with use. Hear the pencil and listen closely as the graphite squeaks and rubs onto paper or wood, the dull quiet brush of the eraser rubbing off the marks. Completely witness the pencil using every physical sense.

Afterwards, put the pencil down and close the eyes. Recall every memory, every perceived sensation of the pencil that was obtained from witnessing it, hear how it sounded, smell how it tasted, feel how it felt, see how it seemed. Recreate the pencil in the mind from the perception of weight to the perception of smell to the perception of how light reflected off it. Hold the complete image in the mind for a minute without letting it dissipate, then let it go. Half an hour later, try it again without picking up or observing the pencil in the meanwhile. Try it the next day. If details are lost, go back to the pencil and find those details and bring them back into memory. Over the course of several days, slowly increase the time spent visualizing the pencil from one minute to five minutes.

Once the pencil can be recalled in its entirety at any moment, repeat the same process with something a little larger or a little more complex, then again with something even larger or more complex. Proceed from the pencil to a fruit, a chair, a bed, a door, an empty room, a sparsely decorated room, a fully furnished room, a house, a building, a forest. Over time, the process of visualizing increasingly complex things, places, and people will become easier and the images more in-depth, more lifelike, and more real to the mind. Experiment with more complex things, such as an instrument playing a song or a meal being eaten. Learn how to recreate or newly create whole things in the mind, and the mind will be strengthened and capable of working with the immaterial realms of spirit.

On Meditation

Meditation is the act of reflecting or measuring oneself mentally, permitting one’s own mind to come to terms with itself by itself independent of external stimuli. In a sense, it allows the mind to settle down into stability unperturbed by thoughts that arise. The mind has been described,in one sense, as a mirror: it reflects anything put in front of it, though its true nature is clear and reflective. By letting the mind be reflective instead of reflecting something, the true nature of the mind can become known instead of the constantly buzzing, chattering, thinking mind that humanity has grown accustomed to.

The breathing exercises in the previous section lay the groundwork for meditation, and indeed form a style of meditation on their own. By focusing one’s awareness on a single, repetitive, cyclical act, one begins to shake the mind free from the thoughts that cloud it. When such thoughts arise in meditation, let them arise and let them pass without clinging onto them, following them, or becoming angry at their arising. All one needs to do is return to the original act of being aware.

While the breathing exercises focus on being aware of one’s own breath, meditation begins by being aware of one’s own thoughts instead of thinking them. Sit as before, comfortably and relaxed, and begin the fourfold breath exercise for a short while. When ready, having focused the awareness on the breath and permitting thoughts to arise and pass, begin becoming aware of the arising of thoughts themselves. Note where they appear to arise in the brain and in the mind, what other string of thoughts or stimuli caused a thought to arise from simply being aware of thoughts,and let them go. If a particular thought cannot be let go, say “I will think of this and deal with it later, but now it is time to let it go” and do so; if the thought persists as in a repetitive song, permit it to continue and direct the awareness away from it. Whenever the awareness attaches itself to a thought instead of being focused on the arising of thoughts, and whenever this is realized, bring the awareness back to the arising of thoughts without anger or shame. This should be practiced for five minutes a day after breathing exercises every day, working up to ten, then twenty, then indefinitely.

After this has been established with some level of repeatable skill, turn the awareness onto the act of being aware itself. Though perhaps recursively confusing, this focuses the mind on its own reflective nature without being reflective of anything; in this state, the mind is free of thoughts and can enter into deeper levels of trance or spiritual states suitable for magical working. Begin as before with the fourfold breath, then being aware of the arising of thoughts. After being aware of how thoughts arise in the mind, become aware of the mind and the act of awareness, of awareness itself. Hold that awareness, not letting other thoughts intrude as usual. Maintain this for as long as one can, and repeat the process every day. This may sound and seem difficult, but once attained can be repeated with ease.

On Contemplation

While meditation allows the mind to focus and explore itself on its own terms, letting other thoughts arise on their own as they will until they arise no more, this same focus and single-mindedness can be applied towards a thought to greatly expand its ability to be understood. As opposed to merely thinking a thought, focusing one’s awareness on a thought, topic, or concept allows the mind to fully enter into and explore it. This style of meditation is called contemplation, and in contemplation one comes to understand and support something from its fundamental axioms to its furthest implications.

Before beginning contemplation of an idea or thought, it helps to be intimately familiar with that idea or thought. Precede the contemplation with extensive reading, note-taking, discussion,and even idle banter involving the concept. Learn about its history, its development, its uses, its origins, its risks, its benefits, its correspondences, its associations, its causes, and its conditions.Whatever can be learned about it ahead of time will help in contemplation.

As before, begin by sitting comfortably, beginning breathing exercises, and enter into a meditative state. Consciously call up the idea or thought to be contemplated, then focus all awareness on that, exploring every thought that arises based on that original thought. If other completely unrelated thoughts arise, let them arise on and out on their own as before; if a thought can be made to fit or be associated with the contemplation, explore why.

As opposed to meditation before, where one wants to abstain from thinking consciously with a part of a distracted mind, contemplation seeks to completely absorb the mind in consciously thinking with its entire force.As opposed to meditation, where the mind is kept from wandering to focus on itself, contemplation allows the mind to wander down paths and avenues of thought related to the topic. Images,smells, sounds, memories, colors, and related thoughts that arise during contemplation, unless the mind is truly wandering off the path into distraction, help illumine or offer details or nuances or meanings to the topic being contemplated. Thoughts that seem to come from “outside” the mind,especially when contemplating the seal of a spirit, may also be indicative of the topic.Contemplation is not simply thinking about a thing.

Contemplation is completely absorbing the mind into a thing, deconstructing it, inspecting every aspect of it from every angle, discovering new angles and new aspects, using different techniques of thought to understand and comprehend it, and relating the meaning of it to one’s own experience: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and eternally.

De Regnis: Breathing, Intonation, and Prayer

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of breathing, intonation, and prayer.

On Breathing

Proper breathing involves the use of the nose to both inhale and exhale, as well as extending the abdomen instead of the chest when filling the lungs. These are important traits to get the most use from the lungs without being too abrasive or rough on the respiratory system. Most of the capacity for air in the lungs is toward the bottom, but expanding the chest to fill the lungs concentrates the air toward the top where the lungs make less use of the air. By extending the abdomen slightly instead of the chest, one can take deeper, longer breaths that fill the lungs up more completely. A deep, complete breath fills up the lungs from the bottom to the top, expanding the abdomen first and then the chest; when exhaling, the top of the chest is pulled in first, emptying out the lungs from top to bottom. Using the nose to inhale helps clean the air flowing into the lungs from the outside while moisturizing it to keep from drying out the lungs; similarly, using the nose to exhale keeps more moisture within the body. Using the mouth to breathe is nearly always poor practice except when large amounts of air are needed quickly.

The basic means of controlling one’s breath is to be aware of the process of breathing itself. To begin, sit comfortably with the back straight, with the legs cross comfortably atop each other as on a cushion or with the feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to it as in a chair. While breathing slowly but steadily and comfortably, divert the mind to pay attention to how the chest rises and falls, how the abdomen extends and contracts, how the lungs feel when full and empty, how the nose inside feels when air flows through it, how the outside of the nose and upper lip feels when air moves across it, how the air smells, how the air tastes, and so forth. Importantly, one should be aware of breathing itself, not the process, memories, or sensations experienced as a result of breathing. Breathing should be, at least initially, maintained as an exercise in awareness and not in contemplation or to be used as a foundation for other thoughts. When other thoughts beside the act of breathing intrude, let them go, put them away for later, but return to the act of breathing. Breathing with awareness should be practiced for at least five minutes a day every day for a beginner, working up to ten, then twenty, then indefinitely.

Once the ability to breathe simply and with awareness has been established, practice the fourfold breath technique. To start, clear out the lungs by making a short, popping, “p-p-p-p-p” sound with the mouth, expelling the lungs of all air. This done, breathe in for four counts (second, heartbeats, or whatever unit of time feels comfortable), hold the breath for four counts, exhale completely over four counts, and hold the lungs empty for four counts. Try not to shut off the throat or nose when holding the lungs full or empty of air. Although one is encouraged to count mentally to four in the beginning, the rhythm of breathing in the fourfold breath should become natural and without the need to mentally time the breath. Attempt to perform the fourfold breath exercise with awareness as before. Repeat the process for at least five minutes a day every day until it can be maintained indefinitely.

On Intonation

Intonation is the act of using the voice to project oneself forcefully, clearly, and intentfully. Those who are trained in singing, public speaking, or neurolinguistic programming may already under-stand such an act, but most people know only how to use their voice to speak, whisper, and yell.While these methods of using the voice have their place in ritual, intonation is the use of the entire body to speak aloud and not simply the voice and mouth.

Although speaking is essentially a physical process, the use of the voice to speak also involves two other magical skills: breathing and the mental ability to produce words and ideas. Voice is the ability to combine the two into a single process, taking the spirit and mind and transforming them into a perceptible physical sensation. This gives these things form and communicates them to other people, something that mere thought alone or mental projection cannot accomplish except in the most adept of spiritual workers. Not only can the combined use of breath and thought communicate to other people, but the spiritual component of the two can do the same for spirit sand immaterial, nonphysical entities. Just as people can be snapped to attention and commanded,so too can forceful and correct use of intonation bring about change and command in the spiritual realms of the cosmos.

Intonation has the effect of vibration on the body and diaphragm, and is indeed called “vibrating” words or sounds by some groups of magicians. It is similar to the act of singing, where one uses both the throat, chest, and belly to project the voice. To practice this, sit or stand straight and practice deep breathing for a short while. Once the breath is regulated, extend the arms out to the sides, take a deep breath and project the sound “ah” from the belly. Let it reverberate from you,slowly at first until it spreads up through your chest, then through the arms to the fingers, then out through the mouth. Hold the voice steady, letting no vibrato give a warble to the voice; control the voice. Do this at a low singing voice first, then try it again with a slightly louder voice, then a quieter voice. Try it later with a slightly higher pitch, then a lower pitch. Repeat this process over several days until the sound “ah” can be intoned at any level of loudness and pitch that you can naturally make without causing a sore throat or hoarseness.

Once the sound “ah” can be intoned well, repeat the process with other sounds. First attempt other vowels: “eh”, ”ee”, “oh”, “augh”, “oo”, and so forth. Once these are mastered, attempt simple consonants with vowels: “kah”, “gah”, “tah”, “dah”, “lah”, “rah”, “sah”, “zah”, and so forth with other consonants and with other vowels. Repeat the process with disyllabic words, then longer words. After some practice, any word will be able to be intoned easily but forcefully.

On Prayer

Prayer is the act of calling out and invoking the attention, aid, and power of another entity upon which one relies. Generally, this is to higher beings such as saints, gods, or God, but is essential to communication with any divine or spiritual entity. Prayer may also be done with oneself as a guide or method of meditation or contemplation, focusing inwardly to the soul instead of outwardly to the spirits. Either way, prayer is a method of communication and communion with the divine.

Prayer may be done spoken or silent, alone or in a group, standing or sitting. However, it is generally good practice to pray alone and either kneeling or standing, with the hands clasped, pressed together, or outstretched. In practice, this is similar to or performed identically as contemplation,except on a practice or offering to the Divine or a particular aspect of it. Absorbing oneself in prayer is key to coming in true contact with the Divine. Prayer may be performed off of a set prayer memorized or written down, or it may be spontaneous and come from the heart; set prayers may be preferred for repeated rituals, while spontaneous prayer is better for contemplation and communion in the moment itself with the Divine. The location of prayer is similarly performed at the same place, such as in a temple or at a particular altar, or it may be made as one walks and travels around in the world. The means by which one prays can be intensely personal or highly communal with others, either controlled and rehearsed or free and ecstatic. Even if a prayer is rehearsed and read aloud from a set written text, however, prayer should always come from the heart and meant with the mind, never simply being read aloud for its own sake.