The following essay was originally written in 1999 for The Wyoming Valley Society for Esoteric Studies. As a result of conversations with various teachers over the years, I have expanded on the original themes and added additional commentary for clarity and elaboration.
“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature: external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these – and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.” – Swami Vivikenanda, Raja Yoga
The familiar question “So, how long does it take before I see results?” is often heard in an esoteric lodge or group, after explaining an esoteric technique to a new comer to the Work. By asking “How long does it take?” the student reveals several things that are endemic to modern esotericism.
Lack of Patience: Quarterly Reports and Annual Earnings
Many folks approach esotericism as if they were looking at a business plan: short term thinking, quick returns, minimal investment, and regular reinforcement through ‘dividends’ (paranormal phenomena) seem to be the areas of focus. This lack of ‘long term investment’ strategy short changes their teachers, fellow lodge workers, and most importantly themselves.
The truth is real, inner growth takes time! If it takes a minimum of eight to twelve years to become a doctoral candidate in the arts or sciences, how can we expect it to take any less to become proficient in esoteric practice? Note that the key word here is proficient, not expert, or master, but technically capable with dependable results. Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, a student of the later W.E. Butler, and co-founder of Servants of Light (SOL), stated in one interview that it takes nearly ten years to become skilled in magical techniques. Jean Dubuis, founder of the French alchemical society, The Philosophers of Nature, has often stated that it can take up to twenty years of serious esoteric practices to develop a working dialogue with one’s “Inner Master”.
In the Rosicrucian Manual published by the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC), there is a section devoted to the topic of psychic illumination and the attaining of Cosmic Consciousness. The article, written by the organization’s founder Harvey Spencer Lewis, makes several points that are worth restating.
- The most progress is often made by those least concerned with it.
- Psychic development is uneven, and often only manifests itself in times of great need.
- The length of time for Mastership is unimportant.
“Looking at it broadly, the five or six years required to bring the average member to the very threshold of Mastership, as compared to one’s whole cycle of incarnations, is like a pencil dot on a line a mile in length. But how we can magnify that dot and lose site of the line!”
Yes, in five or six years it is possible to bring a student to the ‘very threshold of Mastership’. Yes, the threshold, but not across! In the Golden Dawn, the first three and a half years were spent practicing only one or two rituals. The next few years involved learning core techniques which many schools now take for granted. Thus, five or six years of intense and specific study was required to learn the necessary techniques to bring one to the inner point where they might actually become an Adeptus Minor (i.e. inner initiation), and not just in theory.
Very few students ever progress inwardly that quickly, but along the way they have the interior experiences that drive them onward to that point, where one day, they will cross the threshold into true mastership. This crossing may be in this incarnation or in another. The relevance of time is important only to the ego, and not to the soul. If your desire is truly soul inspired, then time will be unimportant to you, and the domain of service will.
If you seek to grow, then serve, and serve anonymously, from behind the adepts veil. Then you will be in good company and the crossing will not be far off.
All esoteric exercises are designed to repair our psychic vehicles from the ‘damage’ they incurred in taking on of incarnation. Since they speed up the process of repair, or reintegration, on the cosmic scale their effects are nearly instantaneous, it is only to the time-space of Earth that makes it appear long or short. However, some ideas are worth keeping in mind when doing exercises.
It has been stated to the author by both Jean Dubuis, and Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki that it can take up to 18 months for an esoteric process to work itself through. In addition, exercises aimed at the lunar world, of which most are, can take several months for integration, but, we find they are most powerful in relationship to lunar cycles. Thus, we may be doing an exercise every day for several months, but find that it is most ‘effective’ for the days of lunar strength during the month. Although we are not sensing it, the effects are accumulative, but the power is expressed most easily during the full moon.
Other exercises aimed at Briah take even longer, as they can be affected in their initial stages by the effects of the solar year. Thus, a minimum of an entire year may be needed for these exercises to be established within our psyche. Like the ‘lunar’ exercises however, once they are in place, or their function re-established, we are no longer dependent on astrological cycles for their functioning, it is always available to us.
“The Great Work is, before all things, the creation of man by himself, that is to say, the full and entire conquest of his faculties and his future; it is especially the perfect emancipation of his will assuring…full power over the Universal Magical Agent. This Agent, disguised by the ancient philosophers under the name of the First Matter, determines the form of modifiable substances and we can really arrive by means of it at metallic transmutation, and the Universal Medicine. This is not a hypothesis. It is a scientific fact already established, and rigorously demonstrable.” – Eliphas Levi, Transcendental Magic
Concentration: or Why System Junkies Fail
Concentration is one of the key fundamentals to success, visualization and meditation are the other two. But concentration is not just a mental faculty, it is also an attitude, an approach to one’s inner life. If we spend all our time looking for the ‘right system’ or combination of techniques that will give us the experience we are seeking then more often than not we defeat ourselves. Pick a system and set of daily practices and stick to them! Good solid basics give more results than the most complex of magical endeavors. Accumulating initiations and techniques from diverse sources takes us away from what really matters – the initiation into our Heart, and conversation with our Inner Master. It is better to chant ‘OM’ every day for the rest of your life and nothing else than to technically know a half dozen systems of magic and end up with nothing but psychic indigestion. Keep it simple and direct, like the flight of an arrow, and then you will hit your mark.
Along these lines we are also confronted with certain contemporary realities regarding various systems of practice: many are very specialized and do not have a complete overview of the path from beginning to end. Some systems are very devotional, others more ritualistic, some purely mental, and many are completely disconnected from traditional religious practices of which we may be familiar, but which themselves are incomplete. What are we to do? How are we to piece together a suitable ‘path’ for ourselves that will provide us with direction, stability, and means to achieve the outcome of realization?
In truth, all great spiritual masters were iconoclastic to some degree, even if their character and history is rewritten after their passing to make them more marketable to a wider audience. Therefore, it is within our right to undertake some degree of spiritual experimentation and idiosyncratic syncretism. However, this can only effectively be done when we have a strong and solid base to build upon. That base can only be achieved by practicing within a traditional system for as we have seen, for a minimum of five to ten years, and often with the guidance of one or more qualified teachers.
Just as one cannot become an engineer in less than four years of college, or a doctor in less than eight to ten, one cannot expect to have sufficient experience to know what is helpful on their path from what is detrimental in less than the same amount of time. Even here, one does not simply go to the university at the age of six, but goes through elementary and high school first. That makes for twelve years of education prior to another eight or more in a highly specialized field. From this it is easy to see why many felt it could easily take up to twenty years of study and practice to become a genuine adept.
However, this still requires a concentration of mind at the time and moment we are working. We must focus our mind on the task at hand, and for many, this skill can take time to develop. Concentration is so foundational that we readily see it mentioned by various authorities on yoga more so than meditation. Concentration is part of the foundation that leads to meditation, but meditation without concentration is day dreaming. Once learned so that it can be applied easily, concentration as a mental force opens all the doors to all the realms we wish to enter.
Concentration is described as being the ‘master key’ with which we can solve all our problems in life: psychological first, and from that, physical and material as well. It is concentration of all of our intellectual resources and abilities – slowly at first if needed – on the problem or situation before us that when maintained allows breakthroughs in realization. By proceeding slowly we build the image or idea in our mind organically and are absorbed into it without force or stressed effort. Just as a child carefully places one block on top of another carrying nothing for the time it takes to make a tower, so we must slowly and with absorption in the moment allow our mind to focus on the task at hand. When this done, organically and without concern for ‘technique’ or ‘method’ we will find ourselves in a state of deep concentration regardless of our external circumstances. Instead of rushing from task to task because we feel we do not have enough time, focus and do each task well. Concentrate on what you are doing and it will then be done well, and in less time than if rushed or impatient. As the old Russian saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.” Like any new physical or mental practice we wish to form into a healthy habit, concentrating on what we are doing takes practice. In the beginning we will be exhausted, but in time, we will increase our ability and endurance.
Sri Aurobindo states that concentration has three powers:
“By concentration on anything whatsoever we are able to know that thing, to make it deliver up its concealed secrets; we must use this power to know not things, but the one Thing-in-itself. By concentration again the whole will can be gathered up for the acquisition of that which is still ungrasped, still beyond us; this power, if it is sufficiently trained, sufficiently single-minded, sufficiently sincere, sure of itself, faithful to itself alone, absolute faith, we can use for the acquisition of any object whatsoever; but we ought to use it not for the acquisition of the many objects the world offers us, but to grasp spiritually that one object worthy of pursuit which is also the one subject worthy of knowledge. By concentration of our whole being on one status of itself, we can become whatever we choose; we can become, for instance, even if we were before a mass of weakness and fears, a mass instead of strength and courage, or we can become all a great purity, holiness, and peace or a single universal soul of Love; but we ought, it is said, to use this power to become not even these things, high as they might be in comparison with what we now are, but rather to become that which is above all things and free from all actions and attributes, the pure and absolute Being. All else, all other concentration can only be valuable for preparation, for previous steps, for a gradual training of the dissolute and self-dissipating thought, will and being towards their grand and unique object.” (p. 45) – Powers Within: Selections from the Works of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Compiled with an Introduction by A.S. Dalai.
In closing, let us consider the words of “The Mother”, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual companion states that through concentration we can accomplish our desired goals in three days, three hours, or even three minutes when our mind is focused.
“Essentially, from the general point of view, particularly, from the intellectual viewpoint, the most important thing is the capacity of attention and concentration, it is that which one must work at and develop. From the point of view of acting (physical actions), it is the will: you must work and build up an unshakable will. From the intellectual point of view, you must work and build up the power of concentration which nothing can shake. If you have both, concentration and will, you will be a genius and nothing can resist you.” (p.41)
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