Rethinking Our Bodies

It takes little effort to look into most forms of mysticism and find something involving the body and the supernatural forces supposedly within. Energy channels and chakras, planetary correspondences and and vortices, many a form of mysticism treats the body as some supernatural system. Even if it’s not part of a given practice, someone has, is, or will add some spiritual-physical elements by shoehorning it in.

Now as any reader remotely familiar with me knows, as much as I find “blueprints” of such things useful, I’m also cautious about them. It’s too easy to turn a mystical practice into a checkbox of experiences one can merely hallucinate instead of experience. But when it comes to this “psychoanatomy” as I call it, I get the value and appeal even when it’s obvious bullshit.

Our bodies are part of our experience, part of reality, and they should be part of our spiritual practice. I mean you can kind of ignore them, but hunger, horniness, or a stubbed toe are going to bring you back to your body, like it or not.

A moment to look at your body quickly reveals how it reflects – and affects – your mental (dare I say even spiritual?) state. Tensions in your mind manifest in your body, emotional reactions are burned into your physical ones, and sense memories can flood you with recollections. It’s complicated,it’s complex, and not dealing with our bodies in spiritual practice just leaves out part of us.

Someone dealing with any form of psychoanatomy is at least being aware of our bodies and deconstructing and rethinking them. To think of the body as energy flows, or correspondences, or chakras can help see and even “take apart” old habits of thought, tension, and reaction. Sure, some of the techniques we use may be utter bullshit (and there’s plenty on the market) but rethinking your body is valuable.

It’s also something I think a lot of us really need to do. I get why people may buy some hack Quigong book or try to align their energy centers or use emotional support oil, or whatever. In my own meditative work I’ve become painfully aware of my tensions and how my body reflects deeper psychological processes. Sometimes you hurt, or feel uncomfortable, or suddenly have overwhelming musical reactions and you really want to deal with that.

It’s easy to fall into bullshit mysticism over the body. I’m sympathetic.

As spiritual practitioners, mystics, and the like, it’s also a reminder that people may have some real insights from their otherwise ill-informed practices. We shouldn’t just be sympathetic, but should help them out with healthier practices of bodily mysticism – or just recommendations for a good therapist. Even the crap may bring insights, and we can make sure those are channeled in a useful way.

– Xenofact

The Mournful Monk

Mystics like myself face some deep questions when it comes to the use of violence. This is understandable as we’re people who take a connected view of reality. When you start severing connections, you have some things to deal with.

Violence is a blunt instrument, and history – and oft experience – teaches us it’s limits. Scorched earth, mourning families, and societies falling into punitive revenge as a method of “justice.” We also know the personal effects, from coping with loss to people who become addicted to the high of anger and revenge. It’s easy to see why many a philosopher and mystic has said “hey, people, let’s lay off all the killing.”

At the same time, like it or not, violence can be the answer. There are times it’s the best tool, or the only tool left, to deal with some pretty horrible situations. Whatever the fallout, sometimes it seems not using force is the worse option. Violence may not solve problems, but it can sure as hell delay them, decrease them, or give you time for better solutions.

This area has often troubled me, but something that helped me make sense of it comes from Buddhist tale.

The story has different forms, but essentially it takes place in “older times” where a Buddhist monk is on a boat crossing a river with various passengers. A man (sometimes a madman) begins threatening people with a knife, obviously going to kill people. The monk cracks the man over the head with an oar, killing him. When the surprised people interrogate the monk, he simply and sadly notes that the now-dead man would have created a lot of bad karma, and he was being merciful.

It’s one of those koan-like tales, with stunning contrasts make you think. Is it more merciful to use violence at times? You may actually prevent someone from leaving a horrific legacy (karma). It’s violence for the sake of compassion.

As I think of this tale further, the monk did not posture or brag or even accept praise. His action was part of his practice, albeit an extreme part – he reduced suffering and potential suffering in the world. He did not take on a career of vigilantism or seek vengeance on the allies or friends or neighbors of the man he killed. Violence was a tool, not his personality – he kept being a monk.

Violence that prevented worse and that was done in a way that didn’t corrupt the committer nor those around him.

This further reminds me of Taoist teachings that recommend against glorifying violence, displays of weaponry, and taking a cautious, mournful approach (and some would argue, more covert means). Violence may be needed, but you can avoid the trap of getting really into it. Violence can be addictive, and it can become all of your personality, as we’ve oft seen in history, from people to countries.

This story and these thoughts have helped me understand violence in context of a more mystical view. It may be necessary, but should never be the goal. It should be something that you use to prevent worse, not glorified. Finally, make sure it doesn’t change who you are into something worse by doing it for what you hope are the right reasons. It’s an approach that takes a more connected approach to the world and our hard questions.

I admit in the world at this time it may seem naive. But having seen how people will fight for what they care about, and how violence corrupts those who do not care, it’s something to think about. It also means you may act in ways violence-inclined people can’t comprehend – the monk’s target never saw him coming, after all.


Discomfort In Belief

In the sphere of mysticism and magic, one will find an emphasis on belief in many modern practices. Belief makes things happen, gods are created or sustained by belief, etc. This is not a modern idea by any extent, but I feel it’s more prominent today than I would expect, and I’ve been analyzing it now and then.

So yes, this column is not just an attempt to communicate, but organize my own thoughts. What can I say, I believe this will work.

Last pun, I promise.

I think the sheer prominence of emphasis on belief in mystical practices has been amplified by such believe-to-achieve stuff like “The Secret” and its related and origin documents. There’s been something about the 20th and 21st century that has emphasized the idea that we can just believe something and have it happen. It’s both highly individualistic and also very comforting to people – and that’s where I think this prominence gets “sticky.”

It’s comforting to think you can change your mind and change the world. It’s comforting to think your destiny is in your hands. It’s comforting to think that there are gods that just exist as you believe and there’s no one in charge but you. It’s comforting – until you think about how we really believe.

A lot of our beliefs are handed – or forced – on us by parents, society, friends, and our own poor choices. A lot of what we believe and have believed is not something we chose, and even if we “take control” are we that sure we’re making the right choices? A lot of what’s us has its origins outside of us.

This means a lot of beliefs are unconscious. We say we may believe something in a ritual or attempts to “focus out will,” but do we really? Are we believing something, just reflecting what’s already there, or is there something else crawling beneath our thoughts? If you’ve ever been to therapy you know how much stuff is just under the surface – and that’s not comforting.

Whatever power our beliefs do have (which I may, perhaps, write more about) they’re also working with – or conflicting with everyone else’s beliefs. Taking a materialist or mystical viewpoint, our beliefs – already quite complex – are forming a web with everyone else’s beliefs. It might not be the one we want.

Then, finally, there’s the idea that our beliefs shape supernatural – or supernatural-like powers. That may sound comforting to think you have power over the gods, but far less comforting when you think about the above. And all that is even less comforting if you have any concept of the gods and spirits being independent entities

So “belief affects reality? Yeah, probably, but it’s not comforting, it’s not a source of unlimited power, and it’s very complex.

Perhaps this is why the “believe to achieve” type quasi-mystical B.S. sells and keeps selling. It gives us hope of power and control – and when we don’t get what we want or confront the complexity of the universe, people buy more. It’s not comforting and is easily challenged, so for some people you buy another book or take another class.

Belief is just part of life. It has its role – and that role is not to make you feel better or in charge.