Category Archives: Spirit

How we manage communion with Spirit as well as community with others. AKA religion.

Church of Green and Blue

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Church of Green and Blue

Jason’s recent editorial at the Wild Hunt has spurred me to write here, after a three month hiatus. In his article, Jason makes some good points about the growth of Pagan affiliation in the U.S. compared to its relatively small level of infrastructure and influence. On the question of how to create more engagement among the estimated one million or so Pagans, his answer is better funding for more targeted journalism.

In a related post, Thorn does a remarkable job of laying out the numbers involved in making a living as a spiritual teacher. She ends her piece with this insight:

A big fish in a small pond creates ripples that have impact, but they share the same ecosystem as all the other members of the pond. And outside the pond? Probably no one has ever heard of them.

I have been grappling with these issues since I started Serpentine Music in 1992 and began teaching in 1994. In the 1990s things looked very different, as both Jason and Thorn have pointed out. The publishing industry was stronger then and so was the workshop economy, so between big advances and reasonable speaking fees it was possible to earn a decent living as an author and teacher.

In 2000 I had a couple conversations with Carl McColeman (then the music buyer for New Leaf Distributing), about what it was going to take for Pagan music to become as big as New Age music. Carl had just written an article for New Age Retailer on the topic. We both agreed it was only a matter of time before the market for this music grew to something like the size of the market for books like The Spiral Dance.

We turned out to be wrong, partly because we didn’t foresee the tanking of the music industry, but also because we weren’t thinking big enough. The market for Pagan music never grew to the size we had hoped, but meanwhile its lyric imagery and values were absorbed into the musical mainstream quicker than we ever thought possible. From early artists like Sinead O’Connor, The Pretenders, and Tori Amos, to more recent bands like Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire, popular music has become filled with songs of shapeshifting, of communing with nature and spirits, of the seasonal festivals. To a certain extent, all musicians are Pagan now.

So the current market for books, music and workshops has made a certain kind of leadership and livelihood nearly impossible to sustain. Yet on a cultural level the influence of Paganism in this country is profound and far-reaching. Our small pond is rapidly being absorbed (some may say siphoned off) into a much larger waterway. And here is where I disagree with some commentators: I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as a huge win.

Learn to Breathe Outside the Pond

If anything, this is a time in the U.S. when spiritual affiliations are getting even looser and less important than they have been for the past 40 years. And when people do feel the need for more spiritual support or community infrastructure in their lives, they are likely to either get more training to carve out their own path, or go back to a version of their childhood faith. Soon after our conversations, Carl returned to his roots and became a Christian mystic.

So I don’t think trying to engage the larger Pagan population with more Pagan-focused journalism will work. On the other hand, the mainstream press is full of casual and profound mentions of Paganism, in every conceivable context. Take this recent example from The Guardian, where in an offhand comment about the fashion industry, Glenn O’Brien of GQ says, “Creative people are natural pagans…It’s the only way you get to talk about Venus and Mercury and Jupiter.”

Unquestionably, we need good journalists reporting on every level of society and culture. Just like we need authors and teachers to remind us how to live a good life. But I think we lose the battle for influence as soon as we start pitching things exclusively to a Pagan audience. One million Pagans don’t even see themselves as an audience—they are Iowans, or lapsed Catholics, or doctors, or yoga moms.

If you are a teacher and writer who happens to be Pagan and would like to make a living at teaching and writing, here is your challenge: meet people in other ponds. Develop totally unrelated groups of friends, and figure out how to talk about what you do so that they can understand. Speak at industry events where your religious affiliation is at most a side note. Sharpen your game, retool your ideas, become a better communicator, learn from others who are a few steps ahead of you. If you can translate your spiritual beliefs into a heartfelt approach to whatever else you do, people will listen.

The rapidity with which the larger culture is absorbing Pagan values is very exciting, but it also means that even in our small pond we need to be more ethical and informed. That’s why Cherry Hill Seminary is such a treasure, and why active bloggers like Jason and Thorn who keep raising the level of online discourse are too.

The number of people who read this blog will always be small, but my goal here isn’t to pump up pageviews or even necessarily to reach more Pagans. It is to develop my ideas, to practice different kinds of writing, to share experiences that have shaped my life. And ultimately, to create stories that are good enough to speak to everyone who finds solace and inspiration in the great big Church of Green and Blue.

Fire in the Earth

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FireintheEarth

There is very little I still hold from my days of Feri (or Faery) study and practice. That stage of my life was rich in drama and wonder, and I was blessed with a circle of close friends engaged in the same pursuits. We kept each other on our toes, exploring all sorts of things we would have never considered before, from the practical to the wildly esoteric. Yet most of what I learned I do not use in my own practice or my teaching. I left Feri behind some years ago but managed to keep my friends, no small feat.

Feri was part of the flowering of Bay Area mysticism, a movement that heated up in the 1960s and 70s, fusing science and faith, ancient myth and modern discovery, Eastern and Western philosophy, into something new. The flowering took on all forms of expression: literature, poetry, psychology, art, film, environmentalism, education, spirituality, medicine, social activism, theoretical physics, and so much more.

As a child of this whole movement more than any one particular strand, maybe I was destined to part ways with both organized and disorganized religion and form my own understanding of spirituality, magic, and leadership. Central to my effort over the past couple years has been a re-thinking of the elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and how they relate to the cardinal compass points of North, East, South and West. My personal practice is rooted in this new, evolving model, and it informs everything I do.

This is where I find myself drawn to one Feri gem: the simple phrase Fire in the Earth. For my purposes, I have taken the phrase out of its original context and placed it in the South. I think of it as a refinement of the traditional associations with Fire—creativity, sex, passion, expression, ecstasy—because my goal is effectiveness in the world.

It has never made sense to me that Fire is in the South while our bodies are associated with Earth in the North. Not to make this a commentary on Pagans and physical health, but I think the split does lead to both a lack of physical vibrancy and a tendency toward ungrounded, unsustainable magic. Fire in the Earth challenges us to develop the spirit within our bodies, creating a magnetic, vibrant health that supports our will and prevents us from overextending ourselves.

To me, magnetism is the key. It is different from mere charisma, which wears off because it is an affect, not a core state. Magnetism is a fiery physical presence that both generates energy and draws like energy to it—a much better condition if we are truly interested in manifesting our goals, or succeeding at any creative expression. It is the opposite of fire run amok, and the walking wounded teaching others to reach for ecstasy without first cultivating the strength to handle it.

What does this re-alignment mean in practical terms? It means building a container to match the energy you want to pour through it, giving that fire a wide hearth in which to burn brightly. It means creating the steel in your spine that is only forged through white heat. And most of all it means acknowledging that there is no “pure” fire, no source of light and heat separate from that which moves within us. The force that drives the flower does so only through the green fuse.

Fire in the Earth. We sit at the edge of our own caldera every day. The question is, what are we doing with it?

9th Annual Brigid Poetry Festival

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Brigiddoll

It is time once again to pull out your journals, those scraps of paper and backs of envelopes where you have jotted down verse throughout the year—you know you have—and offer it up to the Goddess Brigid, patron saint of Ireland. Brigid loves poetry, excels at smithcraft, is an accomplished healer, and midwife, and in my experience also appreciates a fine whiskey on her Feast Day.

Which is tomorrow. Or as I prefer to think of it, the entire weekend.

This Silent Poetry Festival has been going on since 2006, and has become a wonderful, international event, with people posting poems in honor of Brigid on their blogs, Facebook, Twitters, Tumblrs, and other such devices.

If you would like to join in, here’s what to do:

  1. Post a poem either on your blog or on our Facebook page. (Yes, I know it says 2011 but just ignore that, Facebook won’t let me change it.)
  2. Share your link either here in the comments section or on that aforementioned page.
  3. Take some time in the coming week to dim the lights, pour your favorite libation, and read some of the poetry offered up to Brigid.
  4. Sleep deeply, wake refreshed.

That’s it! Extra credit for posting children’s poems, photos of gatherings to read poetry aloud, and other mirth to celebrate the return of the light. Please help spread the word, so others may partake as well. (And if anyone can help me credit the photo above I would appreciate it.)

Here is a poem I have been inspired by lately. It is a prayer of Ludwig van Beethoven, after he realized that his deafness was incurable.

Beethoven’s Prayer

Oh God give me strength to be victorious
over myself, for nothing may chain me to
this life. O guide my spirit, O raise me
from these dark depths, that my soul,
transported through Your wisdom, may
fearlessly struggle upward in fiery flight.
For You alone understand and can inspire me.
—Ludwig van Beethoven

May the light return for all of us this year.

Three Times a Wood Passes for Rain

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That is the line I woke up with a few weeks ago. Three times a wood passes for rain. It gripped me and I rushed to write it down before it vanished. As I wrote, there spilled out from behind it a whole dream that was just as poetic and mysterious. In the final scene, I am sitting on the lawn of my parent’s house, next to my mother’s casket.

I think about the dream a lot, but only now do I have the first idea what that opening line means. And that is because I went to Jenya’s memorial on Sunday.

drive up from seattle to vancouver

Jenya Bohr was an aikido buddy of mine, but our deeper bond came from his role as high school teacher to my son Bowen and nephew Alex. Jenya helped Bowen graduate when he only wanted to take junior college classes. And he helped Alex graduate by putting up with way more than he should have. But being an effective teacher to Alex meant propping him up, being in turns cajoling and reassuring, overlooking his massive academic failures, and constantly believing in the good he had inside him. Jenya excelled at that.

This Samhain was the third anniversary of Alex’s death, and I managed to get through it without too much extra heartache. But on Sunday I found myself crying with several of Alex’s old teachers at the memorial, not just for Jenya but for Alex. One teacher told me she’d had a dream the night before Jenya died that she went to visit and he was dead, smiling with his eyes wide open. Her immediate thought was, “I have to tell Alex!” which woke her up, because she remembered Alex is already dead and therefore Jenya must be, too.

Alex’s death flipped a switch in me. I grew up with a highly developed instinct for managing unpredictable behavior. Being the family harmonizer, the “responsible one,” became second nature to me, so I recreated my starring role early on by marrying a borderline personality and having kids young. I had enough energy for all of that, then Alex joined us and it all got turned up to eleven, all the time.

While raising three children, then four with Alex, then five the next year as his sister Rose came to live with us too, I clung to aikido like a mast in a storm. It was what I did to find my center, and to breathe and move from there in relation to others, even multiple attackers. Aikido absolutely got me through those years, re-patterning me so that I no longer tolerated anyone who kept trying to knock me off-center, unless it was an actual teenager under my care. And once the teenagers started moving out there was no more organizing principle for the marriage, so it too went away.

There is the normal pace of healing when we change the habits of a lifetime, and then there is the turbo-charged version. Alex’s death brought me to an unbearable rawness, as I faced once and for all the limits of my power and responsibility. I began setting new standards for relationships of all kinds, and held to them no matter the consequences. Internally, I ruthlessly weeded out old emotional patterns that kept me off-center, losing 35 pounds in the process. As a result, I am happier and healthier now than I have ever been. 

In my dream, there is an implication that after the third time something changes. The woods do not pass for rain. What is seen is fully revealed. There is also a vein of premonition through the dream, as my mother’s advancing Alzheimer’s registers in that stark final image. May her current quality of life continue for a long time.

Three years have passed since Alex’s death, since the turbo-charged period of change began that led me to this place. Yet it is never a far walk back to the grief, despair and loneliness that his death also ushered in. Jenya’s memorial reminded me of this fact. I walked through those woods again, and came out the other side. And today it is raining for the first time all season.

Redefining Luck

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It has been eight years this month since I left the family home I’d made in Sebastopol and moved out to the coast. With little money, a fledgling career, and two daughters still to support, it was a leap of faith greater in magnitude than any I had yet tried to pull off in my life.

The past eight years have been marked by significant losses and hard-won gains. My business crashed in the downturn and I scrambled to build a new one. My father, nephew, and several friends died. As hard as I worked, progress was always slower than I hoped on many fronts.

And yet, I have had tremendous luck. Not the kind of luck that means my worries are over, not the luck that prevents me from having to make hard choices more than once. But a slender thread of luck and serendipity is all we need sometimes to affirm that we are on the right path, doing what we’re supposed to be doing, no matter the risk.

Golden Gate Bridge 75th AnniversarySometimes it’s the small pieces of luck that feel the best, like approaching the Golden Gate Bridge on its 75th Anniversary just as the sun sets behind it. Or catching the most beautiful moonrise by virtue of getting home late after a hard day.

One of the first things I needed in my new life was to rebuild my wardrobe for where I was going, not where I’d been. I had no money for clothes, but sometimes I’d have a sudden urge to visit one or another of my favorite stores. Invariably, the one thing I really needed would be there, in the perfect color and size, at a super cheap price.

Other times my luck was larger and more harrowing, for instance when I had no work for several weeks at a stretch. I was doing everything I could to generate more work, so I took my unwanted time off as a nudge from the Universe to sit down and write that book. Each time, I had just long enough to finish the project before work started flowing in again.

And then there were numerous instances when bad stuff happened in mild ways, or things broke but the damage was minor. At every turn there was something that tested my faith and resolve, and unfailingly the answer came back: Yes. You are on the right path. Keep going.

You don’t pass this kind of luck by. You thank it, accept it, be grateful for it. Gratitude increases both the size and frequency of luck, helping you stay healthy and live longer in the process. It is absolutely my magical tool of choice.

In his memoir, Robert Johnson names this kind of luck “slender threads,” “the mysterious forces that guide us and shape who we are.”

The possibility of the slender threads operating at all times is so staggering that most of us can’t bear it…Life is not meaningless, it is overflowing with meaning, pattern, and connections.

Serendipity, synchronicity, luck, fortune, fate. Call it what you will; it will answer.

I still have grand ideas of the kind of luck I want, and I continually shoot for them. Maybe soon one of those big plays will succeed in a flash of light. Meanwhile, a million little moments of luck glitter on the path all around me, lighting my way down the road no matter what.

Before the Wind Comes Up

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Spring comes early to the North Coast, and with it comes the wind. There are very few days in the Spring when the air is still, and many more when the house is buffeted all day by wave after wave of cold, thundering marine air.

Some nights the wind picks up around 4 am, loud enough to wake me up. I can feel it testing the give of the glass panes on my window, like a crazed tympanist tuning a drum. Even though I am well-protected and warm, I reach for a pillow to protect my head from the blasts.

This is a wind that works on all levels—the exterior and the deeply interior. Some days I have only to look at the wind blowing outside to feel it at work in my own mind, tearing loose what is hastily nailed down and forcing the trees to anchor their roots even deeper.

This morning I looked out through windows glazed with a season’s worth of salt spray and saw the treetops motionless against the sky. Throwing on a light sweater, I took the dog outside for an early walk in the sweet light of May Day. It was a morning when everything seems possible.

Even when still, the wind is a palpable presence here. It danced in a slow-moving swirl around me, full of energy but relaxed, letting the dew hang on the tips of the tall grass until it ended up on Vince’s fur, or slowly steamed away in the sun.

On other walks I have felt halfway around the folly of my clothes choice. I prefer to think of dressing as giving instructions to the elements on how to behave, the result being that I am frequently mad at myself for not dressing warmer. But today, even with just a t-shirt and thin sweater on, I was never cold.

That in itself seemed like a hopeful sign that something new was possible, was in fact presenting itself right there in that moment. And it felt like if I just walked one more circuit in that perfect balance of cold and warm, I would fall into synch with it too. The door that had formed from Winter’s blasts and then blew itself open in the Spring would be there, and I would have the eyes to see it and step through.

Usually my reverie gets punctured in some way before I return to my house and get to work. But today nothing has interrupted the flow of that golden energy. In fact, as the day matures toward afternoon the treetops still hover in disbelief, waving quietly to themselves and letting the sun penetrate their innermost branches.

In this morning of grace I felt inspired to write. Miraculously, the day has cooperated, and this blog of my heart that I have left unattended for too long finally has a new entry. I feel whole again.

It is still a time of stripping away in this country. Too many people are struggling too hard, far too much of the time. But something new and wonderful is most surely rising up, with all the force of Spring and a gale wind behind it. If you step outside, maybe you can feel it too.

When the Past Comes Back to Save Us

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Memory is an odd thing: slippery as a fish, shapeshifting and disappearing with the flick of its tail. We call our memories ours as though we had some dominion over them. But nobody knows why memories surface when they do, after decades of absence.

In his final years, my grandfather was tormented by a rhyme from his schooldays that he could only remember part of. It was a verse listing the presidents, and each time we visited he would recite what he knew: “Washington, Adams and Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe. Adams again, then…”

He begged my father to look it up for him, ask a librarian, do something to ease his mind by recalling the rest of the verse. Each time my father promised he would, though I could tell by the look on his face that he would not. He never did.

The past can haunt us, but it can also come back to save us.

It was the Spring of 2008 when out of the blue I remembered my first piano recital, in 1967. I was five years old, the youngest student and therefore first on the program. Our recital was held at the Chapel of the Chimes in downtown Oakland, with its beautiful Julia Morgan architecture.

The room seemed cavernous to me, and my family sat on a pew several rows back. I remember feeling confident about my piece, and calm about playing it in front of everybody. When my name was called, without hesitation I walked up to the front and sat down, played my piece, took a bow, and returned to my seat. That was that.

What I remembered most in the Spring of 2008 was how matter-of-fact that performance had felt. There was no moment of hesitation, none of the agony and nerves of later recitals and performances. I had no idea why the memory had surfaced, but used it as an opportunity to reflect on my current life of public speaking and teaching. Did I ever feel so calm and confident about performing now? Would I ever find my way back to that simplicity?

When a memory from the distant past revisits us, we turn it over in our minds for a few hours or days and then it recedes again. This memory did not. For weeks it kept returning, as I planned workshops, traveled and taught. Then, that Summer Solstice, my father died.

His death was quite sudden, and took us all by surprise. I was about to fly to Portland and teach, so needed to coordinate with my family to make sure his service was scheduled for right after I returned. That’s when I learned that his funeral would be held at the Chapel of the Chimes.

I had always intended to speak at his funeral, to honor what an important figure he was in my life. Now I learned that neither my sisters nor my mother wanted to. I would be the only one of us to speak, and therefore first on the program.

How could I possibly rise from my seat and proclaim that my father was dead? Because if I spoke about him in the past tense he surely would be gone, and therefore his return would be impossible. In that extreme, surreal state of grief, writing his obituary and then his eulogy, flying and planning and teaching and returning to speak again, returning to the scene of my earliest memory of public performance, seated now in the front row of a room that seemed so very small, that memory saved me.

By some miracle the words had come that I wanted to say. I wrote them down. I felt calm, sitting next to my mother waiting for the service to start. When it was my turn I got up, went to the lectern, said my piece, thanked the crowd, and sat back down again. It was done.

That simplicity had returned in the moment I needed it most. Unmoored by grief, there was no part of me left to be nervous or insecure. There was just this piece, the delivery of it, making people laugh and cry, and then the long drive home, wondering all the way what had just happened, how I had been so lucky to have a memory come like a lifeboat and carry me through rapids that I hadn’t even known were going to be there.

What Would Sarah Winchester Do Now?

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Amid all the national clamor for sane gun safety laws, one forgotten figure keeps coming to my mind: Sarah Winchester. The heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, Sarah felt hounded by the spirits of those who had died by those rifles—Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, and many others. In 1884 she moved to California and bought a farmhouse in San Jose, where she ordered construction to proceed around the clock to trap and confound those restless, vengeful spirits.

I visited the Winchester Mystery House with my kids several years ago, during a trip to PantheaCon. What struck me then were the parallels between the Spiritualist circles that Sarah Winchester moved in 100 years ago, and the New Age community still so prevalent in the South Bay. They shared the belief that the spirit outlasts the body, and can be communicated with through channeling and other methods. Both provided a means for (primarily) women to cope with the loss of loved ones, and to experience a kind of spiritual transcendence not found in established religions.

Today what strikes me about Sarah Winchester is not her troubled personal story but the very fact that she felt responsible for how her fortune was made. To feel answerable to the victims of gun violence—is this even on the radar of the people now made wealthy by the Glock, the Bushmaster, and other weapons flooding our streets and killing innocent children?

Spiritualists in the 19th century were generally liberal—most abhorred slavery and were in favor of women’s suffrage—yet stayed focused on the spiritual realm. Women of that era did not have much political power, even those of great wealth such as Sarah Winchester. But today the social landscape has completely changed, and particularly around gun violence women are flexing real muscle.

If Sarah Winchester were alive today, maybe she would be an active member of the Women Donors Network, which just kicked off the Women United For campaign to take a leadership role on the issue of gun violence prevention. In an era where women’s activism is changing the game of national politics, she would certainly find more constructive avenues to channel her deep grief and guilt.

Perhaps her nearly 40 year project was simply the result of an addled mind, a harmless hobby for a wealthy eccentric. Maybe she was better off donating anonymously to local charities and living alone with her ghosts. But somehow I think Sarah Winchester might rest easier today knowing that the cause of her private torment is now being acted on by the entire nation.

We may never hear of a single wealthy gun magnate who is currently grappling with a guilty conscience. Perhaps they don’t exist, or maybe their are viewed as personally weak rather than principled.

Either way, the numbers of innocent dead have grown too large, their stories too anguished for us to ignore. And if we do finally enact universal background checks and outlaw assault weapons, I think the Winchester Mystery House should be part of the story of how America confronted its revolutionary roots and eventually, after too many generations, turned away from violence.

Magic is a Way of Living

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In September of last year, I posed a question on Facebook about magic:

How do you define magic? What is it? How does it work?
I’ve never liked Dion Fortune’s definition, that magic is “the art of changing consciousness at will.” I’m thinking of writing an article about why it’s so bad, but first I’d like to hear what others think. No pressure, mind you…

Little did I expect such an overwhelming response: 55 generous, thought-provoking comments by a range of brilliant people. Re-reading them now feels like being in the best graduate seminar ever. Needless to say, it has taken me a while to digest it all.

My impetus for asking the question was to continue the work I started in The Baby and the Bathwater, and examine the foundations of my spiritual training. I want to explore what I was taught versus what I now believe about aligning with the elements, working magic, creating community and using ritual for transformation.

This will eventually lead to a bigger work, probably a rewritten and expanded version of my dissertation on the priestess. These days I write books one blog post at a time, so for now I just need to dive in. Defining magic seems like a good place to start.

“Magic is the Art of Changing Consciousness at Will”

I first heard Dion Fortune’s definition of magic in the early 80s, and it has taken me this long to figure out why I don’t like it. It turns out that 30 years is not an unreasonable amount of time in which to fully change our consciousness around a single issue—especially if you apply a great deal of willpower to it.

And that’s the key to why I rejected Dion Fortune’s definition.

The big fallacy in the “focused will” model of magic is that consciousness is hierarchical. The mind sets its goal, you use breath and a bunch of other stuff to clear the channel between your head and all those lower chakras, create a circuit of energy flowing into your solar plexus, then beam out that laser-focused will to activate your desires.

Even if this method works for some people, for me it just highlighted the model’s deeper flaws. Because what happens to the minority report? Sure, our minds can overpower just about any conflicting signals coming in, but is that really what we want?

I reasoned that the proof of this philosophy of magic would lie in studying the lives of those who live by it. Were there any teachers or practitioners out there whose lives as a whole I admired? What were they successful at manifesting, and what were the obvious caveats to their success? Most importantly, did they have healthy relationships? Were their children happy and thriving, or disturbed and struggling?

In the end, out of a few hundred I found maybe a handful of people who I felt were grounded and sane as well as successful at this type of magical practice. So I abandoned that approach entirely and turned to dreams, particularly dream incubation, to see how well that worked.

As I wrote here, dreams are an excellent means for both listening to and integrating that minority report. If there is something I want to manifest, I ask for dreams about it. Without exception, this has helped me be wiser in what I ask for and better able to integrate the changes that come.

What About the Body?

If consciousness is not hierarchical, what other methods can we use to change it? In my experience, transformation starts in the body, as far away from the head as possible, then slowly makes its way into our minds. And because deep wisdom arises in the extremities, the more focused and overpowering our will is, the more difficult it is for this emerging wisdom to register in our awareness.

Dreamwork helps. Trusting dreams means trusting the wild reaches of consciousness, following them and learning their logic. It really helps to do this with a solid group of friends who can help you identify those emerging patterns and keep your bearings at the same time.

But dreamwork can also be very heady. We need a physical practice too, like aikido or chi gung.

Aikido helped me learn how it feels when my will and mind are aligned and in right proportion with the rest of my body. It taught me at a far deeper level than any other practice how to expand my awareness, how to be aligned with the flow of power, how to move strongly with a centered focus that comes from the body as well as the mind. I use it every day.

The Consciousness of Everything

At last, I had found a combination of practices that enabled me to trust both what I asked for, and what I received. It was a much more complicated and demanding process than the one I’d been taught, but in the end felt so much simpler.

There were a number of responses to my original post that took a Taoist view of magic: being in the flow makes things happen. This is true, but it’s kind of like saying that jazz improvisation is easy, when making it look easy is actually the end of a very long process of mastery.

More than anything, magic is a study in paradox. So it was probably no coincidence that the other day I came across a great quote about magic by Carl Jung, a master at understanding paradox:

Everything that works magically is incomprehensible, and the incomprehensible often works magically. The magical opens spaces that have no doors and leads one out into the open where there is no exit. We need magic to be able to receive or invoke the messenger and the communication of the incomprehensible. Magic is a way of living. If one has done one’s best to steer the chariot, and one then notices that a greater other is actually steering it, then magical operation takes place. (The Red Book, 314)

For now, “Magic is a way of living” is a good enough definition for me. Because magic is what you see and experience when a whole bunch of other things are finely-tuned and working well. Maybe it sometimes looks like a mere act of will and mindful focus, but the reality is so much more interesting, and rewarding.

Office Supplies and the End of the World

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Last weekend my friend Claude told me a great story from the recent Bioneers Conference, where R. Carlos Nakai spoke about his recent trip to meet with Mayan elders.

Carlos Nakai asked these Mayan elders about the end of their calendar, and just what the heck it all meant. Was it really true that their ancient calendar was coming to an end next month?

They answered yes, that was true.

“Well,” he asked, “what happens then?”

To which the Mayan elders replied, “We make a new one.”

In that moment it all became clear to me. Maybe you see where I am going with this already. If not, just think of all the months and years we have had to endure the endless 2012 prophecies, the New Age screeds with terrible graphics, the Christian fundamentalist cults, the incessant Facebook posts about paradigm shifts, eclipses, stone tablets, and ominous political movements.

It has all been completely unbearable, but after hearing Claude’s story I felt instantly better. Because it turns out the solution to all this doom-mongering is not global social upheaval at all—far from it.

In the end, the only thing that can restore balance to our tattered world is something we really should have thought of sooner: office supplies.

When you think about it, office supplies have been at the root of so many world civilizations meeting their demise. Either they’re writing down things they shouldn’t, or hiding them somewhere then forgetting where they put them, or in some cases neglecting to record the most important things, and suddenly all is lost.

No one seriously considers paper clips, until it is too late. But now we are presented with a golden opportunity to reverse the trend and end this profound clerical error. All it will take is for each of us to go to our nearest office supply store, buy an adequate amount of paper (all sizes), pens (let’s get different widths and colors just in case), scissors and push pins, and send them to the Mayan elders, c/o Guatemala.

Then when everyone comes down from Mt. Shasta, or Macchu Picchu, or wherever else they’re going this Winter Solstice, they’ll fire up their mobile devices and there, like a modern-day Christmas miracle, will be a deluge of posts and re-tweets of pictures from the sacred council chambers of Central America, where the Mayan elders will have revealed their brand new calendar!

Then maybe our millennial fever will finally play itself out, and we can all get to work cleaning things up and solving tough problems, the stuff that post-its just won’t fix.