Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Sometimes a simple but strong experience reminds us of one of the basic principles of esoteric practice. For me, it was the edge of the sidewalk of Toronto’s Spadina Avenue.
My home in Mexico is in a mountainous area, and I often take walks – mini-hikes, really – on some of the trails that wind through the lower hills. I’m used to clambering over boulders, and I’ve scraped my knee or hand enough times that I have respect for the hazards of this sort of exercise.
But coming down 5,000 ft to the heavier air of downtown Toronto did something, and when I slipped on that sidewalk two weeks ago, for the first time in my life I managed to dislocate something, to whit: my left elbow.
Although I also managed to put a fracture in the radius bone, the specialist’s verdict after 10 days was that provided I avoid sharp impacts for a month or two, all should be well. I don’t need surgery to fix the fracture, and the elbow is gradually regaining its flexibility. What’s taking over now is the memory of the pain, more than the actual ache of the still-inflamed tendons and soft tissues.
Apart from the problems of trying to sleep with an arm that doesn’t want to be in the position I have to place it, the thing I’ve noticed most is the sheer defensiveness I fell into. It’s a New-Age truism that we encode fear in our bodies, but it’s a truism because it’s true. I’m not only staying off the hillside trails (obviously), I’m wary of doorposts, street corners, people with shopping bags and cats around my feet. I can understand the psychology of hypochondriacs much better than I ever did before.
The vital beingness of the body is overlooked in a lot of Qabalistic work. It’s seen as the terminus, the end recipient and manifestor of various ‘energies’ we produce or experience. But it has its own basic selfhood, and it (or it plus the brain) stores or associates fear-memories in the places where pain has been experienced. It can’t ‘speak’ in the manner of the subtler levels of consciousness, but it does communicate in visceral ways such as reactivating encoded pain-trauma and remembered difficulties; or, sometimes, a feeling of shame that was induced in childhood by bullies, teachers or parents. Just as the fat cells and various organs store certain substances that are hard to eliminate through the usual excretory channels, so the nervous system stores bad memories in physical locations.
This comes clearer when we look at how much time is spent in the early stages of any form of spiritual training in teaching the student to relax, breathe deeply and expand the areas of the body kept perpetually tense. Breath-work is perhaps the most universal of all spiritual practices, yet I find many people drop it from their private work when nobody is checking on them any more. Yet reflexes such as holding our breath or breathing shallowly don’t disappear: the lungs store or reflect or manifest a lot of tension, since they’re an intake-output interface with the world. We need to continue to focus on breath and breathing.
On school of thought says we should talk to hurt parts of the body to re-program what we have tied up in them. This can be useful, but the first step consists of acknowledging then accepting that the body is holding these memories. Mystery school training begins, for example, with the work of Malkuth, the Kingdom, wherein we reacquaint ourselves with our bodies and physical environment, and this is followed up with the work of Yesod, which helps heal the etheric residue. (Think “lingering preconscious attitudes” if that phrase doesn’t suit you). And this type of thing often needs to be revisited at later stages, when a half-released pain or shame memory is restimulated by more demanding magical or yoga practices, and has to be addressed.
Right now, for example, I feel mildly embarrassed that I’m afraid of further injury to the elbow, even though such nervousness is to be expected. If I lose my balance, I can’t yet put my weight on the left arm with confidence, because the joint is still swollen and weak. But the double level of this – embarrassment at my human fallibility as well as temporary disability – means there’s more to look at and to feel out before I can resume full magical practice with its extravagant signs and gestures.
When I was teaching a group regularly in Toronto, I sometimes used a particular exercise that had people tracing the primary forces of the different sephiroth on the floor of the temple. This would culminate in Malkuth, and it helped people realise that the physical self is the unwilling recipient of everything else going on with us. It’s the servant that has to serve nine other sephirothic masters. It has to manage on a perhaps dubious diet, function with limited sleep because we wanted to stay up and watch the end of the movie on a weeknight, and work a full week in order to help us sustain a viable lifestyle.
We steal from our bodies in this way in a manner we might never dream of doing with higher levels of being. Yes, the body needs to experience demand in order to function optimally, but that demand often becomes excessive. My body just wasn’t ready to adjust to a sudden increase in air pressure, a high oxygen level (it’s used to less) as well as urban pollutants, while taking a two-hour walk around downtown with consequent sensory over-stimulus.
Now I have to spend a month rehabilitating my relationship with my left arm to overcome the consequences of all of that.
Love is the law, love under will.