Verse Clipped by Tiger’s Maw

Beauty even of a ravaged world
made all the more cruel
by suppression
of the One Needful Thing
is heartrending
for its shades and values

Watching the Sun rise
over Thames, Nile,
Ganges, Amazon,
Mississippi —
you catch glimpses
through the mist and storm
of mountains upon the air

And you wonder
Which peak is Meru?
Upon which do Sambhu
and Parvati sport
among the goblins?
In what foothills
do the Witch Queen
and windy Devil dance?

Exulting in Moonlight
or suffering by day
I feel each
as a lick by the tongue
of the Mother’s faithful tiger
Roughing away the scurf
of all actions, all patterns,
the sources of all pain
And here is immortality

Cultism in Occultism

You’ve seen me write in the past of my experiences with the so-called occult community — and you’ve likely gotten the impression that I am not especially dazzled by what I’ve seen. I do not intend to be overly negative, but frank discussion and honest conversation is how we grow.

Despite my underwhelming experiences with these groups, every few years I feel the urge to poke my head back in out of a very human need for common ground and socializing with those who can sympathize with strange experiences. I’ve made some very good friends this way, of course, but I by and large encounter some of the worst of humanity with each peek in the door.

For those of us with experiences which put us by default out of bounds for the constructed reality of our prevailing culture, there is this need for some sort of sub- or even counter-culture in which to feel more at home. There isn’t anything wrong with the impulse itself, but like most instincts it can lead us into trouble if we do not temper it with reason and experience. For most of us, social instincts lead us to tribalism and cliquishness, a tendency which may aid survival under some circumstances but when unchecked by other social feelings like empathy, compassion, and willingness to listen can easily become snobbishness, superiority, bullying, even bigotry.

Some years ago, my Guru warned me against being a cheerleader for other people. At the time, I was not sure what he meant by it — but as is common with the Guru’s insights it was soon made clear by events playing out before my eyes. Several prominent occultists — each author to several books and having strong followings — with whom I was acquainted and friendly began to reveal more and more their true colors. In some cases, it was as simple as pettiness arising from arrogance, but in some it was outright hatefulness barely disguised as spiritual aloofness. These in particular revealed themselves to be merely angry and afraid, hiding behind an above-it-all directness. A few such individuals, I’m not proud to say, I had been following closely and from whom I was seeking support and affirmation. Much of my public facing at the time was in some way supporting them or seeking their approval. Once the veneer began to peel, however, I understood what my Guru had meant and realized the foolishness of tying myself to the views and reputations of others.

Perhaps it is always so, but I am watching just now what seems to be an explosion of occult sycophancy. I’m watching my magicians, witches, and mystics — ironically enough — joining in on witch-hunts and cultish pile-ons, disguised of course as quite righteous defenses of those other bullies who disguise themselves as teachers and leaders.

Thus do the so-called mages and wise ones commit every error of the politicians and organized religions institutions they make such a show of criticizing or even combating (to what avail I have yet to see). I see professional spiritual workers making public sensitive private details of their clients to gain social capital in ways that even corrupt Catholic priests would find immoral; I see intellectual honesty being rewarded by mob attacks orchestrated by “elders” as fragile and afraid as any white male conservative they believe themselves above; I see sexual predators being defended in public by those who proudly declare a willingness to “believe victims”. What wisdom has truly been gained? What proof of attainment?

Groupthink, cheerleading, cynical self-interest, dishonesty, unself-aware hypocrisy — these are all obstacles for the mystic and magician, but they’re also signs of an immature mind. It is with great pain that we become aware of them in ourselves, made all the more difficult by keeping society with those who encourage and value them for the advantages they bring. Unfortunately we have in occultism a great many petty cult-leaders and would-be intellectuals we do not care who they harm if it shields their fragile little selves from reality for another day and plenty of willing subjects who are merely happy to have some Big Name’s approval.

My advice, if you want any, is to avoid public occultism in general. As you may be aware, other than this blog and my astrology practice I tend to keep to myself. But insofar as you choose to engage, be mindful not only of with whom but, more importantly, how and why you engage. If you see people set up as leaders and instructors falling into high school clique behavior, ask yourself what it says about them and their community. If you find yourself falling back on high school clique habits, give yourself a hard look and ask, “Why?” We’ve all been there, but why do we end up there? It’s an opportunity for growth when we notice it, but gone unexamined it can sink us like a lead weight — even if the people around us play along because they can get something out of it.

“Power Corrupts”

“The Shakti will meet you halfway but the impetus to transform comes from you.” ~ Sri Dhruvanath

There’s truth in the saying that “power corrupts”, but it is a misunderstood truth. Power can’t corrupt in a vacuum. Rather, it allows us to bring what it is within us out, with the type of power determining precisely how it can show itself. Money is a type of power, as are political authority, academic respect, community organizing — the list goes on. If what a person has within them is compassionate (for example), having the power to put it into effect does not suddenly make the person a monster, but if the person had within them spitefulness, the more powerful they become the more they will enact that evil in the world and the less they will care about specific targets. When people say, for instance, “more money, more problems,” it isn’t that the problems actually multiply, but that they maintain scale with the level of wealth because the individual’s level of discipline with their money has not changed; it is the same with any form of power.

This all being the case, I am not condemning power but encouraging it. Improperly understood and incorporated into one’s thinking as an excuse for avoidance, “power corrupts” is a mighty tool in the hands of the haves against the have-nots. But let us not forget: magic, psychism, and meditation are all sources of power.

We have the Sanskrit word “śakti” which translates literally as “power”, and much like the English word power it is interchangeably used to refer to all manner of strength, force, and ability; śakti can grammatically indicate anything from raw physical strength to force of will to abstract energy to skillfulness. Of course, in Tantric Yoga we recognize all types of power as emanations of the One Power, Śakti with a capital Ś. Whether we approach Her as one Goddess or many goddesses or as an abstract force, we are each able to channel a particular amount of Her through our minds, bodies, and all other areas of our lives according to our karmas:

Perhaps I am born rich or become rich because I have done some work to open the way for wealth; or I gain political power because I have done what it takes (in this life or previously) to make myself a channel for this particular śakti; or, to get weird, maybe I have psychic power because I practice Yoga (whether or not that’s what I call it, whether or not it is in this life or due to work in another time) and clear out my subtle energy channels enough to send and receive information by them.

Take note that at no point above did I mention desserts. I don’t have to be a good person to attain any or all of the above, I just have to have opened the way for them in ways appropriate to each. The difference between a “good” person and a “bad” person is just the sort of internal pattern — what we might ordinarily call “personality traits” — allowed to come forth by the application of ability. A person born to wealth is neither automatically better or worse than you or I (assuming you, the reader, weren’t born to wealth; if you were, feel free to ask for my PayPal info), nor does it imply any particular intelligence, bravery, or skill in this lifetime (regardless of bootstrap-related claims).

In times like this, when many people feel distinctly powerless in the face of worldwide environmental degradation, global events, national politics, and economics which seem to be on an almost otherworldly scale, it important that each of us heals our own relationship with power. For many, it is a matter of bare survival to figure out which forms of power they can draw from; those of us who have a handle on survival for the time being also have the luxury of revising our entire mindset on the matter. We don’t need to be aiming at wealth, fame, or political authority in order to find the value in power. In fact, everyone will find that they want and need power in different ways because everyone will have a unique set of needs to fulfill. But this is precisely why many of us practice magic, Yoga, or other occult and esoteric arts and sciences. Maybe you are searching for comfort and meaning in a world which presently seems quite hostile to the individual, or maybe you are trying to build a world more suitable for your children. Even the purest of mystics require access to power; Mother Śakti is the only way to escape rebirth.

Whether your goals are personal, charitable, or spiritual — or, as with many magicians, witches, and Yogis, some amalgam of the three — powerlessness is not the way to achieve them. The more obstacles stand in front of us, the more power is needed to remove, destroy, or navigate around them. We must find, channel, and own up to the power we need, not avoid it out of fear, anxiety, or misguided scruples. As to those scruples: power need not be “power over”, as it is first and foremost “power for” and it is our thoughts, words, and deeds which determine the value of its manifestations.

Jai Śakti!

Book Review: “Psychic Witch” by Mat Auryn

Psychic Witch: A Metaphysical Guide to Meditation, Magick & Manifestation by Mat Auryn (2020, Llewellyn Publications)

I’ll be honest: I pre-ordered this one because I like the cover art. It evokes for me the experience of browsing the Metaphysics shelves at Borders or the New Age shelves at Barnes & Noble back in the ’90s. It’s got the sort of “soft spookiness” of a lot of books on Wicca and witchcraft from when I was growing up. For the same reason, though, I wasn’t particularly optimistic about it. The online marketing for the book was clearly not aimed at me. Besides that, I’m pretty out of touch from modern witchcraft literature these past many years. I haven’t been especially impressed with a lot of it that I’ve seen, given that much of it anymore is full of high-flown poetic language alongside extremely rudimentary magical practices. That’s more or less what I was expecting from Psychic Witch, and I would have been happy just to have gotten an entertaining, nostalgic read.

I did get that nostalgic hit I was going for; picking up a Llewellyn book on witchcraft with simple but evocative black-and-white artwork is an experience which always takes me back to youthfully exploring outre ideas, my first forays into goth rock, and heading out into the woods at dusk to search for local spirits. But I got a lot more than that.

I’m now actually working through the exercises of Psychic Witch, step by step, as described, and I’m finding the whole thing an excellent refresher. Not only that, the practices herein are helping me to fill in gaps I’d left myself over the years.

It’s important to say that if you’ve been around the occult for a while, there’s not much really new in Psychic Witch. Much of it is familiar to me from past work with witchcraft, Yoga, and Franz Bardon’s Initiation Into Hermetics. The real benefit I’m getting out of it is a structured way of revisiting those aspects of psychic development which find utility in pretty much every other form of magical practice. Auryn’s step-by-step approach, founded in not only his own experience as a practitioner but also as a teacher, makes the material very digestible and applicable in a variety of directions. A favorite part of the exercises for me, and one which I know a lot of people will find helpful, is the focus on deepening one’s awareness with their own physical senses prior to, and as a baseline for, their subtle senses. In occult circles, it’s pretty common to try to make a leap over a perceived ontological gap between the physical and the “astral”, treating psychic and mental phenomena as somehow different in kind from bodily ones. Auryn cuts this error off at the source by grounding everything in the experiences we all know through our familiar old corpses.

For those newer to the practice, the same factors will make Psychic Witch an excellent next step. Whether you’re brand new, or have already done some work, you’ll find a lot of growth here. You won’t need much in the way of tools or materials to get through the exercises. Even the “spells” toward the end of the book rely on the the inner skills you’ll have picked up by that point rather than on exotic ingredients or complex rituals; those familiar with some of the better examples of New Thought will find a comfortable fit. The metaphysics of the book are similarly accessible. Auryn eschews the use of any particular cosmology or theology in favor of a paired-down and relatively universal approach which makes the practices easy to slot in to just about anybody’s core practice — or even to use it as a core practice until one finds their place.

While Psychic Witch is specifically marketed toward witches, it neatly recommends itself to any practitioner of magic or anyone desiring to be one. Beyond that, I will be suggesting it from here on to anyone asking for a good place to start their magical training. Auryn’s friendly voice and the sensitivity with which he adds experience upon experience and the sheer essential nature of the material make Psychic Witch a new standard for core occult training and, for me, a very pleasant surprise.

Click here to purchase your copy while helping me and your local independent bookstores all at the same time!

Mere Feelings

With an uptick in general stress levels, I’m seeing an increase both in the idea that emotions are uniformly to be despised and, on the flip side, that every emotion is worth sinking into in the name of self-care. Even here we find our society polarizing; ever was it thus! And, as ever, the truth — by which I mean the most helpful, actionable position — lies somewhere in the excluded middle.

Approaches from Stoicism to Christianity to Buddhism are often rallied to the claim that human emotions are somehow beneath the superior or spiritualizing individual. Vedanta and Yoga can also easily find themselves so abused. A close reading of the primary sources involved, however, finds much more nuance in their positions.

In the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius — one of the most important classics of Stoicism, and certainly the most influential for the average modern reader — we find numerous instances of the good emperor expressing a very deep experience of his own feelings and passions. While he seems to be of two minds on their value, he does not ignore them. A friend and self-described Stoic once opined to me that he found even Marcus’s desire to keep such a journal to be a sign of uncured vanity, and thus a failure of Marcus’s Stoicism. To me, this is a rather extravagant interpretation; philosophy should not make a person inhuman, but encourage the better parts of their humanity. It perhaps says more about the observer’s need to judge Marcus’s looking for a means to explore his own experiences while leaving his insights to posterity than it says about Marcus’s success or failure in his philosophical endeavor.

More in my wheelhouse, we have the common notion of detachment found in Yoga, Vedanta, Samkhya, Buddhism, and on and on; more or less every spiritually-oriented Indian philosophy, whether Hindu or otherwise, gives some attention to detachment. Those in the West who immediately embrace it tend to do so in the same spirit in which my friend misconstrued Stoicism; for them, detachment means apathy and apathy in the modern sense of simply not caring. A bit more charitably, many such individuals perhaps see repression as the only alternative to license.

Others, however, take detachment as license. This interpretation is founded in the relativistic notion that since nobody can know for sure what is a good or an evil action, any action may be performed by the mystic so long as it is done with detachment or “lack of ego”. The Karma-Yoga of Bhagavad Gita is often cited as support. Again, this is a misreading. Lord Krishna is only speaking of the performance of unpleasant duties in a spirit of surrender as a means to purify the mind; material consequences still accrue from actions taken in this way even if the psyche is made more free thereby. It is quite a stretch to take from this the idea that any and every fleeting emotion should therefore be indulged. An Avadhuta or Mahasiddha may act in any way they wish; for the rest of us, “Do what you will, but choose wisely!”

Emotions are emotions; feelings are feelings; thoughts are thoughts. There is neither inherent good nor inherent evil to them. They are functions of our bodies and minds. While changeable, they have purpose in survival as well as motivating a number of higher pursuits. They cannot be dismissed out of hand, and repressed emotions universally go septic as they churn in warm darkness below the surface of the psyche. Detachment is for the Yogi the healthiest angle of approach. The truth of detachment is simply that we recognize that emotions are emotions; feelings are feelings; thoughts are thoughts. We neither indulge nor repress them, but learn to observe. This way, we redirect the energy of our emotions into the very act of observation itself, not only gradually starving potentially distracting or destructive cycles of their motive force but also learning about what lies behind those processes in the first place.

Feeling our emotions and thinking our thoughts is not the problem. The problem is in letting them run away with us. They must be acknowledged just as bodily sensations must, and just the same they must be appropriately gauged for severity, diagnosed, and treated for what they signify rather than for what they look like on the surface. Here is much of the work of Yoga.

Becoming Untouchable

Not long after the last article went public, I received an unrelated text message from a close friend asking me about day-to-day methods for managing anger. Working a public-facing job as I do, I’ve become somewhat expert at that, though that’s not to say I always do it perfectly. But this does return to our previous topic: calming the mind is a gradual process. Certain activities (or substances) may calm us down temporarily, but what we really need to do is build the habit of calm. It takes time and effort, but we can certainly get ourselves to the point at which calm is the norm and anger, fear, panic, anxiety, hatred, and so forth are exceptional. The very same process will eventually parch the seeds of those mental states — though that degree of restraint will take most of us far longer to achieve. If you are having difficulty with one of these afflicting mental fluctuations, please first re-read that last post linked above. For those of you who have already read it but want a brief reminder, it is this: awareness of your own mental and emotional patterns is already a huge step toward resolving those patterns, while knowledge of consistent effort over time as the only way of building healthier patterns is a tonic to despair and frustration.

But if you’re not already a meditator, what are the options for putting this into practice? More to the point of my friend’s question, what can be done during normal daily life to cut these harmful patterns off before they really get moving? In answer to these questions, here is a three point plan for managing these afflictions in our lives. Note that these are not graduated steps, but concurrent aids and constant tools. They all work best when used in tandem and daily.

1: Introspection

This one isn’t easy in isolation, but makes a necessary adjunct to the following two. This method simply consists of paying attention to your own mind and behavior. Granting that this isn’t always easy when in the midst of anxiety or anger, you can usually spot the moment your response is triggered. Do not discount how important this is! While a seemingly small realization, finding that split second of transition from self-controlled functioning to semi-conscious adrenaline beast is a big step toward creating the sort of hairline crack into which the wedge of free will may be inserted.

Once you’ve discovered this transition point, start inquiring into it: What does that transition feel like? What are the physiological and psychological signs of it? How do you know when it has gone beyond the point of no return? For example, when my anxiety is triggered, I immediately feel the muscles in my upper back and neck tensing up. This is my moment to stop the cycle. If I allow it to continue, I will feel a flutter move through my body (likely the moment when adrenaline begins to pump into my system in a big way) and I begin to feel angry; I’m more of a “fight” than “flight” sort of person, so I prepare for a conflict which now feels inevitable. I have found over time that I can catch myself here, as well, though the space is much smaller. If I do not, my vision will blur and everything will appear as if I were looking through a red filter. At this point, I just have to ride it out and mitigate as best I can. Your pattern may be similar, but could be quite different; the important thing is to keep your wits looking for your own cues and make note of them. The more familiar with them you become, the better able you’ll be to use them in future instances.

2: Japa

Japa is a practice common to Yogis of all stripes, as well as religious Hindus and Buddhists. Simply, it is the mental repetition of a mantra. Tantric and yogic literature love their folk etymologies, analyzing the roots of words (usually in Sanskrit) in such a way as to draw out their esoteric significance. One such interpretation of “mantra” is “man” + “tra”, with “man” being short for manas or mind, and “tra” meaning “protector”; ergo, mantra means “protector of the mind”.

There are two principle ways of applying japa which for convenience I’ll call sitting japa and walking japa. Sitting japa is a form of simple concentration, or contemplative prayer for those of a devotional bent, in which you sit in a comfortable, straight-backed position, and regulate your breathing by repetition of a mantra. The procedure is as follows:

Sitting Japa

  1. Sit cross-legged on the floor, using a small cushion as a wedge beneath your sit-bones.
  2. Close your eyes or fix them in a relaxed manner upon a single point (a dot on the wall, the image of a holy personage or deity, a candle flame, the burning tip of a stick of incense, whatever).
  3. Breathe in by pushing your belly out and out by relaxing your belly; do not suck air in or force it out, as this causes further tension and can trigger anxiety. Try to keep your in and out breaths the same length without straining. Take a few such breaths to get a good rhythm and to begin breaking down tension.
  4. Repeat your mantra inwardly; depending on the length of the mantra, repeat it one or two times at a leisurely pace as you inhale, then the same number of times as you exhale. Keep your breathing pace regular and relaxed; adjust mantra repetitions to your breath, not the other way around.
  5. Use a rosary or japa-mala to count off your repetitions; a standard mala has 108 beads, which is traditional, though 18, 33, 54, or other symbolic numbers are suitable. Orthodox Christians sometimes use a knotted rope or string to count off prayers; this also works if you do not have a mala. Some yogis also use their right thumb to count off the joints of their little, ring, and middle finger of their right hand, equaling nine; the thumb of the left hand can then be used to count off each group of nine on the joints of all four fingers equally 12 rounds or 108 total repetitions. Choose the method which is most suitable to your situation. Counting is not strictly necessary, but is a good way of ensuring that you spend around ten minutes on the practice; you can also set a timer for 10 or 12 minutes, or start with 5 minutes and work your way up. Don’t sweat such details; use what aids you and discard what gets in the way.

While the goal is to concentrate your mind on the mantra alone, do not strain at it; if you find your mind straying from the mantra, gently return your attention to it and continue. Over time, this will become more natural and you will have less trouble with it. Even with some experience, however, you will have days of distractions and will have to catch yourself from time to time. Don’t worry over it; just keep going.

I recommend sitting japa once or twice a day, morning and/or evening; it can be done as a lead-in to the simple meditation given below.

Walking Japa

Once you are accustomed to your mantra in sitting japa, you can bring it with you into your every day life. The procedure is very simple: when you have no need to be focusing on any other mental task, chant the mantra inwardly. That is, when you are not writing, speaking, or otherwise having to focus on anything else, repeat the mantra in your mind. If sitting at a desk waiting for the next task, or taking a leisurely walk, you may wish to join the mantra with your breath in a relaxed way; if walking at a brisker pace or something of the sort, you may instead repeat the mantra on its own cycle regardless of breath. In any case, make the mantra the centerpiece of your mental environment; return to it as soon as a task is done.

Walking japa can be a massive help in driving the wedge of free will into an apparently intractable mental event; not only does it give you mental breathing room throughout the day, you may also begin japa the moment you notice an internal triggering event. It may not entirely halt the pattern, especially early in your practice, but it will still provide a little distance which can be key in extricating yourself from the situation before it gets out of hand or at least reminding yourself that you have a choice in how you respond. Again, the idea is short-term interruption and long-term weakening of old patterns and the building up of new, healthier patterns.

Choosing a Mantra

A mantra is traditionally given by one’s teacher, but this is not always an option. Here, I present a small selection of mantras suitable for anyone’s use. Though any of them can be further empowered by a Satguru’s blessing, they do not require a Guru.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namah (pronounced something like “om gung guh-nuh-puh-tuh-YAY nuh-muh-huh) is the seed mantra of Ganapati (Ganesha). In addition to aiding in concentration, this mantra is helpful in removing obstacles, opening pathways, and pacifying local spirits.

Om Namah Sivaya (pronounced “om nuh-muh she-VAH-yuh) is the core mantra of Lord Siva, the Absolute Consciousness. He is known by many names and titles, including Bholenath, the Lord Who is easily pleased, and the name Siva itself means “auspicious” or “good”.

Om Amrta Tejahara Hum (pronounced “om um-rit-uh TAY-juh-HA-ruh HOONG”) is one of the mantras of the Buddha Amitabha; it is said that anyone who faithfully chants his mantra will be reborn in his Pure Land wherein it is significantly easier to attain enlightenment. Other versions include the Japanese Namo Amida Butsu, Namomitabhaya Buddhaya, and Om Amitabha Hrih.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me is suitable for Christians; it is known as the Jesus Prayer and is commonly used for contemplative prayer among Orthodox Christians.

While the above include Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian options (and many other religious traditions present possibilities, including the Sh’ma Yisrael of Judaism) it is not necessary to be a “believer” to make use of this technique. Choose the mantra above which resonates most with you, or another one from your own tradition and get to work; for the present purposes, it is the capacity of mantra practice to aid in concentration which is most important.

3: Zazen & Shikantaza

Shikantaza, Japanese for “just sitting”, is perhaps the simplest form of meditation there is. But simple isn’t easy! For most people who try to jump right into it, such a practice can be a form of physical and mental torture. The goal of shikantaza, insofar as there is a “goal” at all, is to simply remain aware; over time, obstacles to awareness dissolve on their own simply through the power of relaxed consciousness of them. But we must work our way there.


  1. Sit as you did before while doing japa. (Note that you may use your japa session as a lead-in to this meditation.)
  2. Breathe naturally; if your breath gradually changes during the practice, that is okay, but avoid sudden shifts if you can.
  3. Keep your eyes open and relaxed; with your neck straight, let your gaze drift down so that you are looking at the floor about three feet in front of you or else at a blank patch of wall, an icon of your choice, candle flame, burning tip of incense, or any other place to rest your vision. You may also close your eyes, keeping them either slightly down-turned (if you are stressed or anxious) or slightly up-turned (if you are drowsy or weary). Different sources will tell you that one or other of these is the “right” way to do things; try both and decide for yourself which gets you the better result.
  4. Once you are settled in, begin to mentally watch your breaths. Mentally follow your breath as it enters your nose, flows into your sinuses, then back and down into your lungs; follow it as you exhale, rising out of your lungs, through your trachea and sinuses and back out in front of your chest.
  5. With each cycle of in-and-out, count; once you reach seven or nine (choose in advance which you will use), start again at one. Inhale, exhale; one. Inhale, exhale; two. Inhale, exhale; three. And so forth. There is no need to count the total number of cycles or track how many times you reach the full count before starting over.
  6. As you continue this counting, allow any thoughts, emotions, or sensations to simply arise and set of their own accord. Notice them and continue breathing and counting. If you find yourself having been drawn away from your breath and your counting by any given thought or sensation, simply acknowledge it, return to your breath, and start over at one.

It is a good idea to establish a specific period of time for practice. A traditional method is to watch the tip of a stick of incense and continue practice until it burns itself out. Of course, setting a timer and placing it out of sight so that it does not distract is also a possibility.

Again, I must emphasize that none of these methods work overnight — though I don’t discount the possibility of certain results coming quickly. What is most important is consistency over time. Those two factors in tandem can do great things, but if either is neglected the whole thing falls apart. If all of this is new to you, begin with any of the above three points and add the others in as you feel comfortable doing so; I find that japa is the easiest place to start, but begin wherever feels most natural for you. Most importantly, wherever you start — keep going!

The Mind's Undisturbed Flow

The state of restraint is when there is a disappearance of outgoing samskaras and the appearance of restraining samskaras. These emerge in the mind at the moment of restraint. The mind’s undisturbed flow occurs due to samskaras.

Patanjali, Yoga Sutras III.10

We often speak of “enlightenment” as if it were a sudden, once-and-done event that arises as if from nowhere. We all know that there’s more to it than that, but our language around it can be very misleading. This is because we tend to treat all mental events this way; every thought and emotion is as if unique, spontaneous, and uncontrollable. I haven’t allowed myself to become angry, I was made mad — that is to say, forced into anger with no input or recourse. But like so many things in our lives, mental states are a matter of cause-and-effect and they follow clear patterns.

Meditation is the process of stilling the mind so that pure Awareness may shine forth in its nakedness, and this is achieved through graduated degrees of concentration. While this is framed in many ways, one of the more precise ones comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Patanjali focuses throughout his teachings on the psychology of Yoga and not so much on metaphysics or theology. For Patanjali, meditation is the exercise of weakening those samskāras — mental patterns — which turn the mind outward by generating and strengthening samskāras which turn the mind inward.

The use of this model is not only to gain more intellectual understanding of what one is doing, although there is practical value to that. More immediately the understanding of the presence of these samskāras is useful for warding off despair. We will have many apparent failures on the path of Yoga, 100% of them the results of outward-tending samskāras. As we discipline ourselves and push forward, however, we will encounter more and more sits during which our minds successfully turn inward, and those will both lengthen and deepen. Of course, we will continue to have shallow or distracted sits, but they will become less common and easier to overcome. When we understand that we are working with subconscious patterns, we can then more consciously engage with them with the knowledge that such things don’t change overnight.

This is a universal lesson; it applies to every sort of mental pattern, even those which we don’t immediately relate to our spirituality. Magicians can of course avail themselves of this perspective in determining how best to facilitate concentration during their operations. More importantly, everyone who meditates, for whatever purpose, may learn the value of consistency and of being realistic in their expectations of themselves; discipline is a good thing, but it can too easily cross over into self-flagellation.

Moreover, in times of stress and trouble we must remember that external circumstances trigger the activation of samskāras. People with strong fearful samskāras will likely respond to stressors with fear, and so forth. Meditation is a tool for overcoming these patterns, at first retraining them to something more useful and, eventually, doing away with them to allow for genuinely spontaneous decision-making. It can be a great help to remind ourselves of the nature of this process frequently, for even this small step grants us the little mental gap necessary to observe such patterns in action and so perhaps stop them before they activate or simply sit with the activated patterns rather than letting them run wild.

In troubled times — and all times are troubled! — take your toolkit with you into the world. Meditation is not merely what we do on the cushion. Internally chanting mantra (japa) is a simple way over time to generate that much-needed mental distance which allows us to observe our own patterns at work rather than being carried away by them.

Om Namaḥ Śivāya