Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
No path I’ve ever studied with any seriousness has failed to stress the importance of accepting the negative side of things. The totality of being is what needs to be embraced, say all the teachers, and just striving for the Light alone isn’t enough. There’s special danger in New Age-y, Light-based teachings that stress the positive all down the line, because they simply leave the ego in charge. Negativity is not an abstract concept for abstract consideration, but something that’s an integral part of our existence. If we can rationalise or simply meditate on it till it’s seen as okay (which is usually a crafty form of rationalisation or repression), then we aren’t learning what the shadow side has to teach.
It’s been just over 17 years since I was first initiated as a member of the Temple of Thelema, the order to which I belonged for the next 16 years. There were six of us becoming Acolytes on that gloriously sunny Saturday, in an Oddfellows Lodge in Weston, a suburb of Toronto. I chose as my name in the Order a Latin motto meaning “My care is for the future,” and strove to honour it thereafter.
This was also the same day I first met David Shoemaker, who is our Temple’s guest speaker in Toronto on October 20. David was moving up into a higher degree in the T.O.T., having come in from his then-home in Indiana for the occasion.
The next morning, the world seemed bright and full of meaning. I knew I’d made a significant move in my life, something I wanted to share with a friend who called around noon. But her news was that my mother had gone into hospital into a coma at the same time I was being initiated. At 79, after ailing for some time, she was not expected to come out again. She died three days later.
It was a needed release for her, for she was ill and depressed. But I still keenly felt the loss.
A year later, three of the six of us initiated that day were gone, and another left within the year following. People I’d come to know and love passed through the system and quit, or simply quit. After a dozen years of remarkable service to the Order, David, too, was gone; and finally I was, too.
Throwing philosophy or Crowley quotes at our losses can help, but not much. If we can’t feel a loss as a loss, there is something missing in ourselves. For example, I can honestly say I wanted to stay in the Temple of Thelema, but I’d reached a point where my learning curve had flattened out, and I could envisage no further role for myself there. Encouraging words were sometimes offered, including on my last visit to the Order’s headquarters in Los Angeles, but they didn’t address the growing gulf I faced between my wanting to stay in, and my deeper feeling this was no longer my home.
The year since I resigned has only pushed me further away from my old community. I had vague ideas in my head about an eventual new group, but nothing as ambitious as the Temple of Our Lady of the Stars, nor did I expect things to move as rapidly as they did. But what happened, happened. And it has created rifts with some people who used to be friends, but seem unable to stomach the reality of someone pursuing his actual True Will.
One thing I learn repeatedly, and more intensely each time the process recurs, is that our outward agendas aren’t what our lives are really about. I might follow a particular practice for a week or a year, but its ultimate purpose is not some goal or attainment, but simply to put me in a position where I’m open to considering whatever comes next. Endlessly. Even moving on to new degrees within our system is just another means toward the same end. And that end is never clear, except that it’s someplace beyond the point of the previous ending.
The dark side of life, the shadow and the negativity, is the harbinger, the anchor, of the ‘real’ path we’re on, as opposed to the apparent one. True Will is never something that’s exercised by the mundane ego, the conscious self, but something that tugs and guides us towards the place we need to be for the next lap. Endlessly.
For me, the paradox is that as this becomes plain, and my best-laid plans are exposed as flimsy delusions, I feel an increasing gratitude that this is so. I still have a sense of my losses as I move on through, or feel pain at the absence of old friends and colleagues. But there is, at least, a way to walk. And accepting that ‘negative side of things’ isn’t some occasional inconvenience, but an essential signpost of where that way lies.
Love is the law, love under will.