When I wrote the earlier parts on Working in Service I knew there needed to be at least one more. The first one is focussed on tearing down the divide between inside and outside, the second one explores the concept of creativity in relation to working in service magically. In this third post I am looking at the fundament to all of this - our ability to live in self-confidence.
Curiously, I came across many people who assume self-confidence is a byproduct of repeated success. They understand success as the prerequisite for self-confidence to emerge at a later point. No successes, no self-confidence. The path is all laid out in front of us - as we walk from inability by way of training to success and self-confidence in the end. Initially I couldn't tell why, but this approach always seemed deeply flawed to me. Luckily after many years of work on the subject I know why: Our level of self-confidence isn’t dependent on previous successes, but on the extend of our fear to fail. If we only started to believe in ourselves once life had confirmed our permission to exist by achieving successes - what a frail fundament to build a happy life on?
Let me get this point really straight - as it seems to me there is huge misunderstanding in our current Western culture around this: If the meaning of life, if the reason for our very existence was to emerge as the winner, to succeed and to continuously push others into defeat while ensuring our own survival - why have we been given so many talents that go unrecognized in pursuit of continued success? If being the champion was the meaning of life, why hasn't evolution rid us of all the excess baggage we carry with us since endless generations: the baggage to see beauty, the baggage to heal, the baggage to sacrifice, the baggage to be creative with no end in mind, the baggage to fall in love, the baggage to care for others, the baggage to work together... Evolution had done an awful job if ‘success’ had been our main purpose in life.
Instead let's turn the coin: We know for certain that going through life is a constant challenge, an endless series of surprises and gains and losses, a chain of pearls of unknown events ahead of us and blurred memories behind us, a series of what Zen buddhists simply call exercises. Yet, paradoxically we also realized that the meaning of life is not necessarily to succeed in these. Rather it seems we are meant to fail and struggle in many, to succeed in a few and just about to get away with the most. Why then are we here, we might ask?
Many religions have taken long routes to answer this question of course. They tell us about sins and redemption, about letting go and becoming desireless, about many things that make perfect sense. These days we can walk along all the possible explanations as if they were a long buffet table and we can choose our flavor of the night, or month, or chapter of our life...
I have chosen mine long ago. Eating it ever since never got boring because I find its taste compellingly simple: We are thrown into this sea of challenges, into this chaos of unexpected successes and failures and meaninglessness to simply be formed by it. To endure whatever we need to go through and more importantly to change because of it. Life is a laboratory. Like we all, I work in it everyday. Sometimes it exhausts me. Most often it inspires me with all the treasures it reveals. There are treasures in failures and treasures in losses, there are treasures in sicknesses and treasures in dying. Some of them are painful to touch, some of them burn and leave scars. Luckily we aren't hear to walk through life unscarred. All of us will get tattooed and imprinted and marked and folded inside out by life either way... There is no escaping untouched and unchanged.
The wonderful thing is, we really have a choice here: Our self-confidence doesn't need to be a function of the successes we achieved. When I am wrong, when I have lost control, when I look stupid, when I am not liked, there is nothing that is threatened but 'I'. What a relief!, one may want to shout out, It's only me who is threatened! Damn it, that's the best news ever! Because the amount of horribleness that can happen to me, is now limited by the circle that I call myself.
Planetary spirits, elemental beings, demons and angels are wonderful teachers on this path. Wonderful teachers to help us learn that we are way too small to matter - and neither do our successes or failures matter. What matters instead, is how they affect and change us. How we chose to react to them.
Somebody once said to me: Nobody is as interested in your success in life as you are. I guess, he meant it to push me even harder, to take even more control of my life and to drive even more determined on the roads towards success... Today I read this sentence very differently. It comes with a huge relief. If nobody is any more interested in me than myself - that means if I am not too worried about how I am doing, wether I succeed or fail, or win or lose or stay in love or fall out of it - then nobody else can really be bothered? Realising that I actually don't matter that much is truly awesome... Because it means at the end of all of this there is no race to be won. There is no battle to emerge from. There is no higher judgement to come.
What we will find in the end is a look back at each day we lived through. A moment when we pass again through every feeling we ever had throughout this entire life. A brief glimpse of all the faces and beings and sights and scenes we watched and were a part of. There will come a moment when our entire life - like a huge stack of old photos - will merge into one. And all of our own faces, as babies, as teenagers, as adults, as old men will merge into one. It will be faceless and formless, but full of life’s stories. This will be the essence of who we were in this life. And by creating this essence, this consciousness charged with life, we will add another stone to the mosaic on the floor of the great temple. A stone that isn't judged by its color or polish or surface. Because however it turns out, there will be a place where it belongs, right next to others. Only they together will grow that image, life by life, they were meant to depict...
So what does all of this have to do with working in service magically? Let me put it this way: Having a balanced self-confidence that is largely independent of failure or success is critical to working in service in magic. Why? Because we simply do not hold any control over the outcome of the operations we get pulled into. The actual goal we are working towards is unknown and so are most criteria to judge wether our job has been done successfully or full of flaws. When we work in service in magic we are simply there to do as we were told - yet according to the highest standards possible at this very moment. In most cases we aren't really given enough details to understand the bigger scheme of things at all. And unfortunately this is where things tend to go awfully wrong quite often.
Magicians who have an imbalanced self-confidence - one that still relies on recurring confirmation through successes - often have trouble dealing with the fact that from a human level in this process there will be neither confirmation nor fault nor failure. There literally won't be any criteria to assess 'how you have done'. There simply will be a journey, one step at a time. And it might span over centuries, millenials possibly. Magicians have worked on it before us, they might be working on it right now next to us without either of us knowing, and magicians will be working on it in the future. Our role in magic is not that special or unique that a whole persona could be built from it. It is much more question of execution, of collaboration, of receiving and passing on, of becoming an open threshold.
To do this successfully - i.e. in a way that allows other beings who work on the same process to reach through us, to work with us, to use our talents and sometimes bodies and minds - is a great craft and skill that takes years to be built and life-times to be refined. Yet, it takes a strong character to begin with. Someone who is centred in the deep-rooted faith that anything she contributes is incremental and nothing is ever lost.
: : Continue reading Part 4 - On Aggression : :