Every once and a while I get an urge to write a blog that is highly academic. Really, I have always wanted to be a Professor (apart from the poor treatment of non-tenured faculty in modern academia).
First, understand this will be a post about self-compassion. The co-opting of the Buddhist religion by just about everyone is probably a fair critique (McDonagh, 2015). In fact, it probably is the most understated form of cultural appropriation. Even in academic settings, self-compassion is often framed as a type of mindfulness. You can separate out the technique from the religion, of course, as we will do here. However, we need to realize that these techniques tend to lead to certain changes. Of course, while I like Taoism a hell of a lot more than Buddhism (even though they are sometimes related), the perspective I am writing from here is one of a Chaos Magician with heavy Taoist leanings (for the purposes this blog).
So much of what is comprised within modern occult materials leads to the "Love Thyself" refrain that it is very difficult to know what exactly that even means in practice. This sentiment is often coupled with the idea that “Self-Esteem” is key. Certainly the Left Hand Path frames the sharpening of your ego as a primary goal, as well as achievement. It turns out that academically researched, “Self-Esteem” in the best of cases is rather a difficult idea. Self-esteem always has a component of comparison. There is good self-esteem and a bad self-esteem. It’s a self-valuation. If you are on the “bad” or “poor” self-esteem side of things, you are told to go improve your self-esteem, which usually means some sort of achievement. That is not the easiest goal, if you are in a bad place (Breines, J. G., & Chen, S., 2012).
Magicians are doubly hexed by this whole “self-esteem” notion. Some magics, especially sigils, incorporate a substantive level of belief and confidence-effects into the formula of efficacy. (Really, it’s a part of all magic, it’s just that spirit-based magicians tend to want to downplay it.) Another important point which is often given lip service is the notion of detachment. Peter Carroll pretty clearly tried to appropriate Buddhist techniques, but that’s ok since Aleister Crowley clearly tried to appropriate Hindu techniques via Yoga. Both philosophies involve detachment, but why and how does this relate to the idea of “Self-Love?
Let's start with an exercise:
People are generally far more compassionate toward their friends than they are toward themselves. So, we are going to “clone” ourselves and literally become our own best friend. Through the magic of perceptual shifting, we can do this whenever we need to. Imagine in all five of your senses that you are talking to a friend about their problems, limitations and failures. You might notice that you take a certain tone, body language etc. Now, imagine a friend talking to you about your problems and limitations, trying to work on solution orientated discourse, not just complaining about the problems and issues.
You are working with a friend who does not judge you and who truly wants to help you, on actionable steps that you can take. Have a real discussion in your communication with your internal representation of your friend. Notice in your meditation where you place them in space.
Now have a discussion with yourself.
Does that situation go as well as the constructive session with the compassionate friend? How does your tone of voice change toward yourself?
Now, as a trick, try to imagine a version of yourself AS the compassionate friend. Have a conversation with yourself as that friend. Become that friend to yourself. Remember, you have already imagined yourself as the compassionate friend, so why do you think it is more difficult using your five senses to experience that version of yourself? What other insights do you get from doing this?
As a final part of the exercise, try to have yourself talk to yourself from this position of compassion and the perspective that everything is just an experience. How does reducing that experience down to information input and not associating with that experience help you detach, improve and grow?
Did you feel more motivated after talking to your compassionate friend with a solution-oriented view, or would you feel more motivated by talking to yourself in a harsh manner? Most people, as it turns out, respond much better to the compassionate solution-orientated approach (Breines, J. G., & Chen, S., 2012). This fact is not at all intuitive and goes against our "go-to" approach in the west, aka Work Harder/Do Harder”. Breines points out the fact that this harsh self-talk increases stress which actually decreases performance. In the worst cases, it becomes crippling.
Surely, when you do not have self-esteem, the language of the Self changes. These might sound familiar, "It’s just how I am", or worse, the "I can't". Some "experts" suggest changing the “can't” to “won't”, but in reality, there are real limits to the pain-based self-change ideals. Really, it all goes back to the cultural lie of “work harder= success”. It is an American lie that infects our self-being.
Psychology (and often, occultists) would often say you need high self-esteem for magic. The rise of self-compassion (directly appropriated from eastern religions) is, in fact, a reaction to the holes in the self-esteem theories. The research says that self-esteem always involves comparison to other (internal or external) reference points. There is always a measure of "how good you feel about yourself" in relation to other states. The comparison eventually leads to "not-as-good" ideas and voices. Essentially, the comparisons effectively act to tear down self-esteem if a person's situation changes. Eventually this reduces self-confidence as well.
Self-Compassion vs. Self Pity
Goldstein points out that "Because one’s awareness is totally consumed by subjective reactions, one cannot step back from the situation and adopt a more objective perspective. In contrast, self-compassion requires that individuals do not over- identify with their emotions, so that there is ‘‘mental space’’ in which to extend oneself kindness and recognize the broader human context of one’s experience" (Goldstein & Michaels, 1985; Scheff, 1981).
Neff goes on and says "Self-compassion, therefore, involves being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness. Self-compassion also involves offering nonjudgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies and failures, so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience" (Neff, 2003).
Self-Pity then becomes the state in which we DO overly identify with a subjective reaction (usually, at the basis of a comparison.) Let's leave out the kindness explanations and describe this in a more Taoist way. Is the experience which we are attached to any more intrinsically real then the opposite experience? Are any of the experiences more valid in themselves? No, they are all just experiences. Or, from the NLP perspective, they are just information. Is experiencing the pain and suffering any more valid than the joy? Not really, although the joy feels better, it is not more valid, as all experience is valid.
Self-pity is not adaptive to the situation and does not allow for a person to make objective judgements about the situation, only subjective judgments about themselves. The judgement does not mean it’s more valid in the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps version of negative reinforcement, self-harshness, and self-pity. The bootstrap mythos would say, “Well, just believe you can do it and get off your ass!” but this harsh self-aggression only serves to disempower the individual even further. On the flip side, one can easily see how a person might "Get off their ass and DO" and it would only serve as a temporary aid in their self-esteem. In fact, it might be just enough of a boost that the person would stop taking in new information and thus, sooner or later, crash.
This comes down to different strategies of motivation, only one of which is sustainable. The “beat yourself up” (cause yourself pain to remind yourself to avoid similar situations) and the “move toward positivity in self-analysis” methods. The bootstrap- “beat yourself up” method might work in the short term, but in the long term it pretty consistently associates the "ego" or self-voices with pain. The subconscious mind's goal is the avoidance of pain (aka survival instinct) so the real lesson it learns is to ignore you eventually. Any changes you want to make = pain, so they must be bad. This path of the inner critic is by far hugely destructive and it is something we struggle with for a long time even as magicians. There are, of course, people who say "Nah, that ain’t me".
Ask them how much they drink.
Remember, pain reduction is the goal of the subconscious mind and what does alcohol do?
This of course means that the opposite is true as well. Positive reinforcement is the enhancement of the relationship between the self and the subconscious mind
Exercise 2: That Inner Voice.
Repeat Exercise 1 doing only the last step. Think about and question yourself on how your motivation changes. Are you more or less motivated when using the positive self-compassion model, or more motivated by the self-critic?
Repeat the last part of the exercise, drawing that compassionate self into your throat and asked it to fill every part of you with that compassion and self-love.
Although that is a fast modification, there is a lot more you could do once you began amplifying those sensations of self-compassion via the methods detailed in Hands on Chaos Magic.
The “kill your ego” this and “kill your ego” that of the new age verbiage has always irritated me. You cannot kill your ego. However, your "ego", (the story of the “I”) CAN certainly be ill-adapted to current situations. Really, pride, self-confidence, and self-respect can be utilized to good effect, but the attempt to be humbler then thou, well it is best summed up with this and this. Simply put, you need your ego to survive and most human communication is about influence. That said, sometimes we can get stuck on an experience and overly identify with that experience in a way that is non-adaptive. People will act in ways that are self-destructive. Of course, if you go tell yourself "STOP that shit, you asshat", well, that’s counterproductive. On the flip side, people who claim to be without ego are lying. They just have mutated their ego to fit a certain set of expectations based on the culture of the new age market. Essentially, their ego and self-esteem are based in how well they conform to that particular world view (see the comparison). The important thing, (and self-compassion seems to generate this) is that "Self-compassion increases self-improvement by allowing a belief that elements of mind are changeable and improves motivation and success outcomes" (Neff, 2003). It’s not the end of the ego transformation that really is important, only that the ego can change and transform. That fact makes the motivation to change and how you do it all the more important.
Sometimes Stress is a Sign: a further cog in the machine
Before going into another exercises, let's not forget these technologies are appropriated. Mostly, I might say “so what” to that, but we have to take a look at the greater culture surrounding the appropriations (and more importantly, how that affects the magic.)
Mindfulness means you produce more. There are countless Silicon Valley companies, including Google, using mindfulness and self-compassion techniques. Is it really compassion they are pushing? Compassion for what? Meditation and these types of exercises lower stress which improves performance. Certainly you could transform yourself to be more present and more self-compassionate in line with what you need to do to succeed at a job. But what is going on here? You are transforming yourself to be a better, more productive slave for a corporation. Google throws around nice terms like “search within”, and many Silicon Valley companies have people meditate.
The truth is that teaching people to meditate and accept their lot a) Reduces stress so lowers medical bills. b) Allows the corporate master to eke out just a little more of the person's time and energy for productivity. c) Builds a more compliant slave.
Does this sound like freedom? NO! It is hypnotic, meditatively induced compliance.
Sometimes you are stressed out and your internal voices are all so pissed off BECAUSE THEY SHOULD BE! They are the internal warning signs that something ain't right. Sure, a lot of the time these angry internal voices are in fact internalizations of external people but sometimes you need to step up and listen.
While new age philosophies will often deride anger, as a magician sometimes we have to ask what the anger is really about, because sometimes you should be angry!
USE THIS EXERCISE WISELY, IN SUPPORT OF YOUR OWN HAPPINESS, NOT JUST TO BE A FUCKING COG!
Exercise 3: That Inner Critic: A Chao-Alchemy Voice Transformation
Silencing the Inner Critic is one of the hardest things to do. It is also (mostly) not possible. However, taking a page from Hands On Chaos Magic, a few NLP techniques, and a dash of self-hypnosis, we can turn the corner on the Inner Critic.
First, the Inner Critic is more like a collective than a singular voice. You will have more than one of them. If you have ever talked yourself out of an idea, or harshly criticized yourself, you are well familiar with the Inner Critic.
Relax. Breathe. Center.
Remember a time that you were really harsh on yourself. Or, imagine what it is like when you are overly harsh on yourself. Pay attention to your own body language, including posture, eye movement, and other cues. Notice how you talk to yourself. Hear the language you use, the tone, the pitch, the speed. Notice what pronouns you use when you talk to yourself. Pay attention to how you structure statements and the cadence of speech. You may notice that this originates within a certain spatial area around you or from some specific position within your body. The voice(s) will probably make you feel uncomfortable. KEEP GOING.
Move the voice to your throat area. Notice any changes. Force the voice to use the “we” or “I” pronoun. Notice how the voice changes. Despite the discomfort, ask the voice what positive purpose it serves.
Every internal voice, even negative voices from the subconscious, will have a positive intention. Usually the negative voices are trying to keep you away from some sort of pain.
The hard part is that you have to express compassion (just like you did above) with the voice and even express non-judgmental love (regardless of what the voice says). Just keep going and asking what is its’ positive intention, what is its positive purpose? Eventually, while speaking as the “we/I”, it will give you an answer. Often times, you will just know the answer is true (the epiphany, or “ah-HA” moment).
Keep expressing that compassion and love (it is self-love, hard love at this point). After the voice softens, tell the voice you are willing to listen and work with it. That you might not do what it is advising, but you will always listen and consider its point of view. Notice how that changes the voice. Ask the voice, in compassion, acceptance and non-judgmental love how you can best work with it. Make suggestions, assure it that you will listen, ask it if there is a positive way it can be heard while meeting its core purpose. As it is speaking about you via the “I/We Voice”, remember, this is you talking to you. Compassion directed at the Voice is compassion directed at Yourself.
Keep expressing that love and compassion towards the voice. Eventually it will reflect that same love and compassion back to you.
Keep going and do not stop until you get a change (and you will). It might take several sessions to get to a point where you can really work with the voice, but you will find out that it can bring tremendous changes to your day to day existence.
At the end of the session, LAUGH OUT LOUD. This is just to give you an extra boost after a potentially difficult time. (Laughter is also an effective form of banishing).
What happens when you do this effectively? How can the self-compassion work change you? Self-compassion towards your harshest internal critics softens all of the voices. Your internal obstacles start falling away. You gain room for growth and internalize positive motivational stimuli. This is significant movement towards greater and greater self-compassion and expression of self-love.
These methods of personification can be explained more comprehensively via some of the shadow and servitor work chapters of my book, Hands on Chaos Magic.
Part II: SELF-COMPASSION & PRACTICAL MAGIC: so what does this do to your magic?
Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133-1143.
Goldstein, A. P., & Michaels, G. Y. (1985). Empathy: Development, training, and consequences.
Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Leary, M. R., Tate, E. B., Adams, C. E., Allen, A. B., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 887-904.
McDonagh, M. (n.d.). Mindfulness is something worse than just a smug middle-class trend » The Spectator. Retrieved May 9, 2015, from http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9355692/whats-wrong-with-mindfulness-more-than-you-might-think/
Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of research in personality, 41(1), 139-154.