By Mark Stavish
Edited by Alfred DeStefano III
The essence of the spiritual path is our individualized self and our understanding of “I,” or what it means to BE. Without our individuality, we could not begin the Path of Return, sustain it, nor reap the benefits of the experiences gained therefrom. We often hear that the phrase “I AM” is the most powerful statement there is, because whatever comes after it is what we are identifying with as the essence of our being. What we identify with then becomes the active filter through which we experience and interpret life.
As a child I remember my great-uncle Eddy, a hypnotist and mystic, telling me, “We are suggested into the world, and we are suggested out of it. The power of suggestion is all-powerful.” He would then retell the story of Moses on Mount Horeb who, upon seeing the “burning bush” asked, “Who are you?” To which he heard the reply, “I am, that I AM.”
Now, there is hardly anyone who has not at least heard this Sunday School version of the story. In Kabbalah, the Divine Name – or creative word of power – associated with a direct perception of reality, the summit or crown of being as Kether, is often translated “I am, that I am.” However, “Ehieh ascher Ehieh” should really be “I am that which is unfolding, or becoming.”
While the importance of this particular Divine Name was not emphasized in Kabbalah until the twelfth century with the appearance of Maimonides’s text, Guide for the Perplexed, it did attract the attention of many Christians interested in Kabbalah. For us, however, we see in it the foundation of all spiritual practice, psychological inquiry, and both the cause of and solution to life’s problems – the power of self-identification. It will be no surprise, then, when we point out that “I am” is the psychological idea associated with Aries, the first Sign of the Zodiac, in modern astrology. This also allows us to better understand what Jean Dubuis meant when he stated that we must rearrange our inner energies to their original formation, that of YHVH (Yahweh), or the name of God associated with Aries; we must identify ourselves with our Being and our power of expressing that “beingness” without getting lost in it – as in the so-called Biblical “Fall,” when we became lost in our own creations.
As we’ve pointed out in previous articles, the notion of self is simultaneously complex and simple. So before we can undertake great occult practices – be it ritual or mantra recitation – we need to understand what it is we are dealing with, what it is we already identify with so strongly that it prevents us from moving in the direction we now desire. To do this we need to constantly apply the alchemical axiom of “solve et coagula” or “separate and combine.”
The method itself is the application of what is widely known as the Dis-Identification Exercise. This practice is well known to students of Theosophy, Gurdjieff, and Psychosynthesis. Yet, like so many practices, it is often rushed over in an effort to get to the “higher teachings.”
This belief in “higher” and “more powerful or important” teachings – so widely indulged in by modern students of esotericism – can be likened to ignoring the quality of work being put into building the foundation of a house…so that you can get the roof on it! It is a recipe for disaster and is one of the meanings of the tarot card The Blasted Tower. Here, a premature effort is made to advance on the Path of Return – premature because the fundamental lessons of self-inquiry and self-discipline or control have yet to be fully appreciated. This is based on the erroneous belief that one “moves beyond” various practices, rather than assimilating them and building upon them.
The following practice, if done with relaxed attention and patience, performs the same function as the Mindfulness Meditation common in many Eastern practices in that it allows us to directly perceive the underlying contents of our own mind.
In fact, there is no moving beyond the following fundamental practice, as it is the essence of the three great injunctions from the Greek mystery schools:
- “Know thyself, and you will know the gods.” – We know ourselves through introspection.
- “Become the Master of Thyself.” – We master ourselves by knowing what we are composed of.
- “Seek union with Thyself; become your Higher Self.” – We unify the various aspects of being through conscious effort or desire to understand and be fully aware.
“I” as the basis of being is clearly displayed in Western philosophy as well with the following statements:
- Descartes: I think, therefore I am.
- Pascal: I love, therefore I am.
- William James: I do, therefore I am.
In this, we see our Beingness; we express ourselves through thinking, feeling, and action (Thoughts, Words, and Deeds). This is referred to in Vajrayana as Body, Speech, and Mind. To help us better understand the contents of our mind, along with the thinking, feeling, and acting that result from it, we need to dissociate from these contents so that we can perceive them more clearly. This will help us understand what direction to take in our spiritual path.
The following version of the Dis-Identification Exercise is based on the radical formula used by Roberto Assagioli, founder of Psychosynthesis. It is used in the Institute for Hermetic Studies year-long “Apprenticeship Program” and, as stated, its form and function are the basis for all esoteric practices. Many of you are familiar with Psychosynthesis from my previous writings, as well as from the writings of Dr. Joseph Lisiewski. My own introduction to this unique school of psychotherapy came from Dr. Peter Roche de Coppens, an esotericist and student of Assagioli and Pitirim Sorokin.
Critical to the performance of this – and any spiritual practice – is preliminary relaxation through slow, deep breathing. This need not be measured or counted in any way; simply breathing slowly and deeply for two or three minutes will suffice. While relaxation is not the goal, it is both the foundation and the result of all inner or mental work. As His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma Order, has said, “Enlightenment is the ultimate relaxation.” This should be written down and meditated upon – not simply taken at face value. Contemplate how being relaxed allows you to function effectively, spontaneously, and creatively in even the most fast-paced and demanding situations. Athletes, medical personnel, and soldiers all function at their best when – despite what is happening around them – internally, inside, they are relaxed and focused on the task at hand. They are then able to be spontaneous, that is, guided by authentic intuitive directions resulting in actions unfiltered by their intellect or emotions. For intuition to be intuition it must generate productive results, and this can only happen when we trust it. Trust is a function of relaxation. Thus, intuition, spontaneity, inner freedom, and positive life-enhancing and life-changing activities all stem from being relaxed.
Once you are relaxed, recite out loud each of the following statements. Pause after each statement and notice your reaction to it. Then, repeat it again. Do this at least three times, pausing between each recitation, before moving on to the next.
- “I have a body, but I am not my body.” (x3)
- “I have feelings, but I am not my feelings.” (x3)
- “I have desires, but I am not my desires.” (x3)
- “I have a mind (thoughts), but I am not my mind (thoughts).” (x3)
- “I am.” (x1)
When you come to the final statement, “I am,” state it once only and notice your response. If needed, repeat it again. Then, at some point, state it as “I am, that I am.” Again, pay attention to your responses.
After you are familiar with the basic exercise, still taking your time, change the word that you stress in your recitation. This is a common hypnotic induction technique and is designed to overcome unconscious barriers to accepting an affirmation, prayer, or suggestion. For example, you say, “I HAVE a body, (pause), BUT (pause) I am not my body.” Or, “I have a body (quickly), but I am not my body (slowly or quickly).” By experimenting with different rhythms and stressing different parts of the statements we can begin to better understand the power and subtlety of mantric and verbal recitations.
Meditations on the Self, and identification of self as inseparable from Self, are critical in later very subtle and direct practices designed to overcome the last vestiges of duality. This identification of “self/personality/daily consciousness” with “Self/immortality/divine seed” is essential in our identification with the cosmos. How can we speak of Cosmic Consciousness if we are excluding something from the cosmic?
With this in mind, we may finally understand Jacob Boehme’s statement that “Heaven and Hell are within us” and the much-abused quote (Titus 1:15), “To the pure all things are pure.” One modern translation even states “to the pure in heart all things are pure.” Here we see that the original scripture is implying that purity is of the heart, or mind. What then does it mean to have a pure mind? The Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” It is easy to think of the practice of purity being undefiled, or better, undisturbed, clear, and without error. Thus, purity in the physical sense is similar to purity in the moral sense: to be of one nature – undistracted. A pure heart or mind, undisturbed, allows us to see “God.”
The importance of dis-identification is that it allows us to widen the gap between stimulus and response, or reaction from our habituated patterns. This gap or pause is our opportunity to have a shift in awareness or even a direct knowing or awakening – enlightenment, if you will. It is in this gap or period of openness that insight and illumination take place. The more we can de-habituate ourselves, the more freedom we create for ourselves – freedom of thought, feeling, and action. But this freedom must be earned, that is, born of self-awareness and not unconscious instinctual impulses. As has been pointed out by Jean Dubuis, the action of the individual on the descent and that of the individual on the ascent may even be the same, but the cause and understanding will be radically different.
Over the next few weeks we will give further instruction on how to approach this question of the “I” or Self and how it relates to initiation, as well as how to prepare ourselves for authentic spiritual initiation in the modern world.