2017. Reflections on the Service received.
Over the next few weeks we'll see plenty of annual roundups landing in our inboxes and on our small or larger screens. It seems fair to presume that the common verdict on 2017 will be comparatively mild, simply because it followed on the heels of the beast of all years, 2016. Next to the year that took Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman and far too many other cultural icons from us, yet in return gave us nothing but the current cartoon of a US President, any year can get off stage without blushing. Like most cognitive bias the 'halo effect' is a wonderful thing when it works in your favour.
For me the years 2014 to 2018 form a particular magical period that will only end late in the coming year. Due to personal reasons - and after having crossed the Abyss in 2013 - this 4 year period is marked by working with and adjusting to the forces of the female side of Saturn. Having walked - and often crawled - more than 3/4 of this path by now, I can see as many things on this journey that I have lost, as insights that I gained. The one thing, however, it took for certain from me was any remaining residue of competitive spirit.
It's ironic, right? Sometimes we hear people say something - a simple straight forward sentence - and yet their words strike us with the power of sudden insight as if they were ascended masters in disguise... One of my Gestalt teachers often used to say: 'Everything is always present. Mostly we just forget to choose.' It seems in these rare moments we startle from our everyday slumber and wake up just long enough to take in a single sentence, to allow it to enter into us and to touch us - then we return to sleep. And still, despite being surrounded by our dream landscapes again, we are no longer the same.
Sometime in 2004 my then manager and I left a meeting. We walked down the corporate office halls in a large building until we arrived at our desks. There, almost speaking to himself, I heard him say the words:
'Imagine all the things we could achieve if we invested all the energy we spend competing into collaborating. Imagine where we could be by now?'
His words have always stayed with me; and not a week has past over the last 13 years when I didn't repeat them back to myself. Today I realise competition - while practical in limited degrees for pure training purposes - makes a terrible tool when applied to real life. In fact it might have become already the new 'opium of the masses'? There is so much wrong with the concept, it is actually hard to list all its negative effects. But here are a few for starters:
- Competition derails our motivation from pursuing a goal because it is the right thing to do, into pursuing a goal because simply no one else (yet) has achieved it. Competition keeps us so busy with 'being first' that we forget to ask 'what for'?
- Similarly, competition drains our energy from discovering our own unique path and instead locks it up in an infinite loop of constantly measuring ourselves against others. The spirit of competition thus forms the opposite of the spirit of true innovation: The latter is not interested in going one step further than anybody else on an already beaten track, but rather in thinking what nobody else was able to think before.
- Essentially, competition is an engine that feeds the ego - both of individuals and groups. It depends on us constantly creating and upholding mental boundaries between in- and out-groups, as well between winners and losers. If we choose to look beyond our own 'team' competition thus is an essentially divisive force.
- In most cases competition doesn't achieve anything meaningful or long-lasting, except for constantly pushing the boundaries of 'peak performance' in whatever discipline that is. Solving the worlds burning issues, however, might not require more peak performance, but getting down to the damn problems and working on them - however non-glamourous they are.
- Finally, if you now say, but isn't competition a great motivational boost which can be applied to anything, even the world's most burning issues, you still haven't understood it. Go back to the first bullet point above: The pride you feel in having 'won', i.e. outperformed others is the heart at the problem. Competition - just as much as its two horses pride and shame - are the blindfolds we comfortably keep on wearing, so we do not need to see the real problems requiring our attention and help. Competition is opium for masses.
Coming to the end of 2017 thus might be a good milestone for reflection: Where have we unnecessarily competed against others - and for what purpose? The things we are most proud on in 2017 - do they stand by themselves or only when measured against shortfalls or achievements of others? Over the course of this year, how much have we been caught up in the old winning and losing game? And at the end of this 365 day cycle, did we come any closer to getting off the cheap competition-drug - and possibly considering working in service instead?
My own list is patchy at best. I guess that is okay? After all I don't want to step into the trap of competing against myself. Better one step at a time. And a great final step for 2017 is to acknowledge all the powerful service I was blessed to receive from others over the last 365 days.
So here is an abbreviated shortlist of all the wonderful people by whom I received significant service in 2017. They all left a mark and are now part of my journey. For that I am truly grateful and want to thank them all. Hopefully I have had - or will have in 2018 - a chance to repay them in likeminded service. So that the scales remain in good balance...
(1) Believe it or not, but first on this list comes the most unlikely organisations of all: The Catholic Archdiocese of Freising / Munich for putting in all the effort, attention to detail and care in bringing back the amazing temporary exhibition 'Klausur' in the old abbey of Beuerberg. You can find a detailed report of it in this blogpost here.
(2) Secondly, my thanks go out to the 'Kulturverein Hausruck' and the lovely Irene Keller. The exhibition on 'Demons, Superstition & Folk Belief' they brought to live was nothing but spectacular and one of a kind. We desperately need more of such wonderful adventurers and cultural entrepreneurs in our country! You can follow me on a magical walk through the exhibition here.
(3) Thirdly I feel deeply grateful to Prof. Dr. Marco Frenschkowski for having the courage, perseverance and folly of organising the first 'Grimoire Conference' in Leipzig. Only through his efforts was it made possible to assemble such renowned speakers for several exciting days in Leipzig - as well as to have the privilege of holding many of the Leipzig grimoires in our own unqualified hands. What a great chance it was to meet old friends in person and make new ones.
(4) Fourthly, and most importantly I want to thank Quareia Publishing and the many excellent people behind it. Had it not been for their trust, encouragement and active help, my book 'Cyprian of Antioch: A Mage of Many Faces' would have never seen the light of day - and so many fascinating facets of the life of our old demon-saint would have continued to escape at least my attention. Now, this experience also taught me how very little money there is in book publishing - especially in a world where Amazon reign freely over book prizes and their own lion share in it. Still, all of the small profits of the book go directly to support Quareia Publishing and their exciting endeavours for 2018. So ordering your Holiday copy now is an act of good service to people who deserve the best.
(5) As one project leads to another, from this book project also came the unique collaboration with Marissa Newell from Veil of Earth. All I shared was an initial idea - stemming from an old papyrus prayer which found its first-time English translation in the book. In this beautiful prayer Cyprian aims at nothing less but exorcising an entire lineage... From this initial idea, Marissa now produces the most stunning original incantation bowls. Again, all profits go to the shop owner - and I cannot think of a more magical Holiday gift.
(6) Finally, I also want to thank the man known as 'Gnothi Seauton' for inviting me to his ThothHermes Podcast. Just like many things in 2017 this was an entirely new experience for me. In a world obsessed with ego and pace, I do like my occasional dose of anonymity and silence. Going against my own grain, though, Gnothi convinced me to follow him into the rabbit hole - and I believe we had a wonderful conversation about magic, life, St.Cyprian and work that might emerge in 2018...