"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." -- C.S. Lewis
The very first step on our magical path is to understand what we are not. Some magicians refer to humans as spiritual beings in meat-suits. We are conjoined to the flesh we were born into and still there seems to be a difference between 'us' and our bodies. As we progress further on the path we begin to realise that we are not only vested in a suit of meat, but also in a suit of emotions and a suit of mental patterns. All of these together create the makeup of our mortal personalities, the house we live in.
Thus before we can get anywhere in magic - or life in general - doing a thorough inventory control of what is present within this house is a first and crucial precondition to success. The goal is to gain a minute understanding of all the different layers of materials we were created from - as well as the specific qualities, compositions and dynamics these substances assumed over time as part of our personality. It is this knowledge and understanding of ourselves that enables us to alter and change ourselves as we progress - and to ultimately turn ourselves into effective tools of magical work as Adepts.
Of course there are many ways to gain this knowledge of ourselves. We could call life a school that doesn't teach any other subject but to realise ourselves. So the good and bad news is: there is no rush towards these lessons, yet also no way to avoid them. The only thing we get to choose is how uncomfortable or painful the process of realisation will be.
In general the simple rule applies: the more we walk away from them, the harder the lessons will be. Yet, the more often we decide to walk towards them voluntarily, the more choices we might be given on the context we will be learning in.
So what are the techniques our magical lore gives us to walk towards these lessons of self-realisation? The answer is, they are legion, but they all start with introspection.
Introspection is the self-examination of one's conscious thoughts and feelings. In psychology, the process of introspection relies exclusively on the purposeful and rational self-observation of one's mental state; however, introspection is sometimes referenced in a spiritual context as the examination of one's soul. Introspection is closely related to the philosophical concept of human self-reflection, and is contrasted with external observation. Introspection has been a subject of philosophical discussion for thousands of years. The philosopher Plato is thought to have referenced introspection when he asked, "…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?" (wikipedia)
Now as we embark on the adventure of introspection, the problem one quickly encounters is that we lack a language for observing ourselves. The predominant amount of our vocabulary is directed externally, towards the outside world. As a matter of fact language was created to describe the visible world and make interaction with it easier. Once we enter into the subjective realm of our minds the boundaries of language easily start to blur. Philosophers, priests and magicians have wrestled with this challenges for millenials - to bring objectivity to our subjective inner realms - while artists have greatly enjoyed it.
Overcoming this barriers in most cases goes along with an either-or decision. Either we give up on language at all, we stop trying to verbalise what is going on inside of us and silently withdraw into a state of pure observance. This is the path of Eastern Mediation, the Zen path of self-realisation through silence and observing. This path recently has been re-discovered by western psychology and mental science in their attempt to leverage it for healing chronic mental disorders. The fascinating results can be studied under the term 'Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy'.
Or we can chose another approach to pierce through the veil of inner subjectivity. Supplementing the Eastern path of silence here we discover the Western mystical path; rather than on non-attachement it relies on direct involvement, conscious experience and active introspection. Where the former aims to calm our mind into a state of non-perceiving or all-perceiving, the latter leverages the nature of the mind to grasp on to anything and everything and to realise itself through experience.
What follows are two specific techniques of introspection taken from the Western path. As mentioned above, they can be supplemented by applying meditational techniques and observing in silence. Yet, their real strength lies in using the power of our minds to actively examine the nature of our mental, emotional and spiritual bodies.