Self-Identity and the Path of Return
by Mark Stavish
Edited by Alfred DeStefano, III
In continuation of our previous discussion, reflection upon the nature of our “self” or, more precisely, our concept of ourself, is the basis of all esoteric practices. In the initiation rituals of various schools we are told that we are to retain control over our emotions, thoughts, and actions and not allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by others or to lose our self-control entirely. As part of her initiation into the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha and Omega (a successor to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn under Moina Mathers), Dion Fortune (as with each member before her) took the Oath of the Neophyte, in which she affirmed, “I will not…place myself in such a passive state that any uninitiated person, power, or being may cause me to lose control of my thoughts, words, or actions.” In doing so, she affirmed direct and personal responsibility for her own Thoughts, Words, and Deeds, thereby assuming control over her life. All that would happen to her – good, bad, pleasant, or crushing – was a result of her own state of mind and the resulting words and actions it created. In this way, she prepared for the establishment of her independence from circumstances (independence being the virtue of the Kabbalistic sphere or domain of awareness called “Yesod” or “Foundation”) by assuming full responsibility for herself and her life.
During one of our frequent conversations, Alfred DeStefano pointed out to me that this responsibility is further elaborated upon by Kenneth Grant as the “Three Keys to Inner Peace” in his book Outside the Circles of Time (Chapter 8, “The Initiation of Aossic”):
Refinement, Subtlety, and Silence. These are the three keys to inner peace, as they are also the three keys to “occult” power. Not political power, not the power desired by the ignorant, but power to control the forces of the worlds that are hidden within the manifest world, the world of appearances. (Footnote: World of appearances is the literal meaning of the word phenomena.)
The phenomenal world has no real existence apart from its noumenal source. The world is not searching for anyone; but people are searching for the world and are failing to find it, because they are the world and they are really searching for themselves. But because they are not refined, are not subtle, are not silent; because they are gross and full of noise, the world appears to them also as gross and full of noise. They are identified with these qualities, they are them, and therefore they cannot control them.
Only by refining the gross into the subtle, the world of the object into the world of the subject, the wake-world into the dream world, only thus can be found the key to “occult” power. It may be found only in total silence, when the mind has ceased thinking, when the mouth has ceased speaking, when the eye has ceased projecting images. Only then can the formula of dream-control lead to total awakenment [sic] from the delusion of living.
These three keys to occult power are represented by
- Thought, which is a refinement of the waking state.
- Dreaming, which occurs in the subtlety of sleep.
- By the cessation of both 1 and 2, in which absence there shines forth the Silence of Pure Consciousness liberated from the thraldom of waking and dreaming.
It is therefore necessary to become habituated to the idea, to live perpetually with the idea, that the whole of an individual’s life—all that can be remembered of it—has been composed by the individual as a play is composed by a playwright. It is a fabrication, a lila, a masque or dance in which the individual is the sole actor; and even this actor is but a figure in the play… [Kenneth Grant, Outside the Circles of Time (London: Frederick Muller, Ltd., 1980) 83-4.]
Refinement, Subtlety, and Silence
Refinement of the waking state is achieved through reflection, mental training, and self-discipline, where “self-discipline” is a state combining self-appreciation, self-application, and self-unfoldment. Subtlety is the ability to skillfully use what we know so that it is instinctual; that is, it is an extension of ourself. This is clearly understood by both Grant and Jean Dubuis, who both emphasized the importance of the dream experience. Here, in the inner world, we have the opportunity to express ourself as we are and to establish a quality of awareness that embraces the inner and outer worlds. To do this, we must actively cultivate the dream state and actively practice taking information into the inner domain as well as extracting information from it. This creates a state of inner initiation or movement toward wholeness. Dubuis would often state that we should actively desire to be able to read, write, or perform some task such as mathematics while in the dream state. Doing so not only triggers the much-valued state of “lucid dreaming” but also allows us to remember, or to bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious functions of our mind.
In accomplishing this goal, we are encouraged to utilize the period before sleep, when we are relaxed and nearing sleep, to visualize (or at least affirm) the reality of our ability, perhaps with an affirmation like: “Tonight I will dream, and during this dream I will read, comprehend, and remember upon waking any information put before me.” You can also be daring and experimental and seek to read the Archives of Nature: “Tonight I will dream, and during this dream I will read and comprehend the pages of ‘The Apocalypse of John,’ and remember upon waking all that I experience.” Here you are seeking to read a particular text and, of course, any text that is important to you may be used.
Silence is the key to it all.
It is in silence that we experience Beingness, Self, pure consciousness unelaborated or modified. This happens across the day to us, but we do not notice it. We have repeatedly referred to this as “the gap between stimulus and response” – that period of relaxed yet attentive freedom we so often rush through on our way to another thought, emotion, or action. Silence is the watchword of the Mysteries. How often have we been told:
- To Know, To Do, To Dare, To Be Silent.
- Those who know are silent.
- Silence is golden.
- “That which naught but silence can express.”
Silence is the beginning and end of the Work. The practice of silence is what allows us to peel away the layers of psychic noise that surround our sense of self and thereby limit it with negating self-talk and refutations (negative affirmations) such as “I can’t” or “I don’t know.”
As we have pointed out relentlessly, the Corpus Hermeticum (Book Eleven) states:
- Consider this yourself. Command your soul to go anywhere, and it will be there quicker than your command… Order it to fly up to heaven and it will need no wings, nor will anything impede it… And if you wish to break through all this and to contemplate what is beyond (if there is anything beyond the cosmos), it is in your power.
- See what power you have and what speed! You can do all these things and yet God cannot? Reflect on God in this way as having all within Himself as ideas: the cosmos, Himself, the whole. If you do not make yourself equal to God you cannot understand Him. Like is understood by like. Grow to immeasurable size. Be free from every body, transcend all time. Become eternity and thus you will understand God. Suppose nothing to be impossible for yourself. Consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything: all arts, sciences and the nature of every living creature. Become higher that all heights and lower than all depths. Sense as one within yourself the entire creation: fire, water, the dry and the moist. Conceive yourself to be in all places at the same time: in the earth, the sea, in heaven; that you are not yet born, that you are within the womb, that you are young, old, dead; that you are beyond death. Conceive all things at once: time, places, actions, qualities and quantities; then you can understand God.
- But if you lock up your soul in your body, abase it and say: “I understand nothing; I can do nothing; I am afraid…” What have you to do with God? … For the greatest evil is to ignore what belongs to God. To be able to know and to will and to hope is the straight and easy way appropriate to each that will lead to the Supreme Good. When you take this road this Good will meet you everywhere and will be experienced everywhere, even where and when you do not expect it; when awake, asleep, in a ship, on the road, by night, by day, when speaking and when silent, for there is nothing which it is not.
- Now do you say that God is invisible? Be careful. Who is more manifest than He? He has made all things for this reason: that through them you should see Him. This is the goodness (to agathon) of God; this is His excellence: that He is made manifest through all. Though you cannot see what is bodiless, Nous is seen in the act of contemplation, God in the act of creation. …Reflect on all other things in the same way within yourself and you will not be led astray. [Translation by Clement Salaman, et al., The Way of Hermes (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2000) 57-8.]
But in order to do this we must first dis-identify – even if for only a little while – from those things that limit us, and enter into the Silence. Here, even if just for a moment, we can begin to reformulate, or rather experience anew, the wonderful potential that is our Self. In this way, we begin to establish the quality of imperturbability or (as the Buddhists like to say) equanimity, and prepare ourselves for the deepest, most profound, and even most frightening aspects of initiation: what the Aghora Tantrics of India say is the goal of tantric practice, namely, overcoming our limiting feelings of shame, disgust, and fear. In doing so, we experience what it means to be alive.
For now, continue with the practice of Dis-Identification as given last week, and rest in the silence. If your mind wanders, affirm “I Am” and bring it back – then relax. Do this often for brief periods and notice how refreshing it is. Next week we will explore lucid dreaming and the importance of nightmares on our path.
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