What I learned on Magick from Therapy
Since Israel Regardie claimed any magickal training should start with psychotherapy many authors have repeated this statement. Yet rarely have I seen accounts where magicians share the benefits from going through therapy in relation to their magickal works. As I have the privilege of living in both worlds at the moment - the therapeutic and the ritual - let me share a personal example of how these experiences can enrich each other. But be warned - this might not be the typical magickal blog post therefore...
Last year I started training to become a Gestalt-Therapist. The education is supposed to last between two and four years depending on how far or deep one choses to go... So on the Therapy side of life, I am pretty much a freshman or Neophyte. But let me share why I decided to get involved in Therapy in the first place after having spent a decade on intense magical training and only having made it half-way up the Tree of Life...
Well, here is a long story in a nutshell: the final rite that brought me from Netzach to Tiphareth was an intense four week exercise focussed on the forces and spirits of Saturn. It marked my transition from the physical triad to the spiritual one as well as the final raising of the veil of Paroketh as I described in the article on the Dweller on the Threshold. I had been seeing this four week rite coming for an entire decade and had an enormous amount of respect for it.... First week no permanent sleeping, second week no eating, third week no talking, fourth week all-together, framed by two full Saturn planetary rites on each Saturday and closing on a long funeral rite on the last day. If you want to let go of your ego, this seemed like an awful good choice to me.
I conducted the entire exercise in April 2010 and need to thank my wonderful wife - who isn't involved in magick - for making up with me during these intense weeks. On entering the rite my goal was to let go of anything I held onto, except for my love to life. I asked Saturn to take everything away, skin me, until there was nothing left but a shining light - or a fading spark? Without getting into the details of the experience, during the funeral ritual on the night I finished my HGA and I established contact and he welcomed me in the most beautiful and unexpected way.
But let me come back to my original point... Why did I decide to get involved in Therapy after such a seemingly successful magickal rite? Well, I was standing at a crossroad: At that point my magickal workings had become so intense that my day-to-day life sometimes felt like a distraction. Like something that had to be done, before I could return to the next phase of my magickal journey. At the end I guess it was the impact of connecting with my HGA that allowed me to realize that this separation of life inside and outside of the temple felt awfully wrong...
Why would true magick need me to chose between day-to-day life and time spent in my temple? What was the door to my temple nothing but an illusion? My kitchen could become a temple, my living room, my car, a visit to the grocery store or a night out with friends. Every second and every place had the potential to be my temple. The challenge was I couldn't realize that potential yet; I felt chained to that beautiful empty space behind our house in the old saddle barn...
As painful as it seemed, I needed to break these chains. And it was a dreamlike image that convinced me of doing so: I saw myself giving my son a ride to his school in a couple of years - and thinking of this ride as a distraction. I saw myself being in the car with him and not being present in the moment - because of my desire for the next ritual to come. Because of the tragic illusion that magick needed to happen in a circle.
I guess overcoming that illusion was the first thing I learned from Gestalt-Therapy: Every moment presents a risk, every moment is an encounter with the unknown. May we be robed in our temple, inhaling incenses consecrated to spirits, or may we be cutting vegetables in the kitchen, or sitting in a meeting... Now, reading this is NOT the same as allowing this knowledge to enter your heart. You have to meet people who are not one, but ten steps ahead of you on this journey. Then things suddenly become obvious and easy and you simply see the difference, one step at a time. The man I am learning Gestalt-Therapy from is probably four miles ahead of me...
I'll give you an example which might sound awfully strange, but follow me... Here is how he made spirit(ual) contact to a book in one of our training sessions: He held a peach in one hand and a theoretical article on Gestalt-Psychology in the other. He read a single sentence and caressed his underarm with the soft skin of the peach, repeating the sentence he had read aloud. 'Do I like what I feel? Does this sentence feel good to me? Are we making good contact?' he asked himself. When he concluded that the contact they had made was fine, he continued with the next sentence... The next sentence was a beast of a tricky thought and he clearly didn't like it. Rather than rereading it he spit out that piece of the peach and said 'I think I am just going to skip this piece? We would I try to make a bad piece of a peach taste better by chewing longer on it?' So he went on and found a clear and succinct sentence coming next... He continued in this way for what was probably fifteen minutes, but felt like an eternity to me. His ability to create contact with the words of the book, while exploring the peach with all his senses was simply amazing: he tenderly caressed his skin with the peach, he smelled it, licked it, than put it to his cheek like a kiss.. and after fifteen minutes had eaten the entire peach and probably read about ten sentences from the book. 'This' he concluded 'is the beauty and risk that sleeps in every encounter. What a risky undertaking to read this book? Who knows how it tastes, how it will feel on my skin, what it will do to me once I swallowed it? We have to relearn that every encounter is full of erotism. Establishing contact is always an erotic act - because erotism doesn't mean anything but an experience we are involved in with all of our senses... The problem for most of us simply is that we have forgotten how erotic the world around us is.'
On that afternoon my entire approach to ritual magick changed. There was something to explore in every moment of the rite.... How would it feel like to a perform a long ritual in a similar way like he had eaten that peach?
Having spent more than a decade on magickal training, I needed to return to Malkuth and learn it all again. But this time with my eyes closed and my heart open. Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt-Therapy had summarized much of this experience, of the hidden beauty and quality of a true encounter in his famous Gestalt-Prayer.
It expresses the curiosity it takes to establish real contact with the unexplored - just like my teacher had exemplified in reading from the book while eating the peach... He didn't control the nature of the encounters he made on this journey; some were simply more 'tasty' than others. But what he did control himself was his attitude and openness to except each sentence, each smell or touch of the peach as something completely unique and unexplored...
I guess this is just one of many lessons to come which I will hopefully take away from therapy and build into my approach on ritual magick. And here is Fritz Perls' wonderful Gestalt-Prayer:
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other,
If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, 1969)