Do what thou wilt shal be the whole of the Law.
A few weeks ago, I had my ‘Adonainth birthday.” If you don’t get the reference (Adonai works out to 65 in Hebrew gematria) it means I now get to collect a full pension.
This week, I’ve felt bombarded by age-related observations, though not everyone might have picked them out as I did. For example, I came across a quote from Henry Kissinger, who at 91 has a new book out, called World Order. In an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel, he commented: “I have learned, as I wrote, that history must be discovered, not declared. It’s an admission that one grows in life. It’s not necessarily a self-criticism. What I was trying to say is you should not think that you can shape history only by your will. This is also why I’m against the concept of intervention when you don’t know its ultimate implications.”
Then there was an interesting, extended Facebook exchange initiated by David Shoemaker, who wrote, “It has been observed over the centuries, and certainly in modern mystery schools of my acquaintance, that advanced spiritual attainment rarely occurs before midlife – meaning roughly age 35. As one potential explanation for this phenomenon, it occurs to me that midlife is the first time when life-force and wisdom are both in sufficient supply to fuel the attainment. This attainment involves the careful application of the life-force to the seeds of wisdom in the mind, body and soul, so that they can germinate. After midlife we gradually become less vital. Before midlife, we don’t have adequate self-knowledge, personal maturity, and life experience to apply the life-force intelligently.”
There’s also another school of thought, I should add that, as The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage (Mathers version) points out, the experience of Knowledge & Conversation needs to be pursued to its end prior to the age of forty, and the setting in of a certain caution. And then there are exceptional cases such as my Buddhist hero, the Ch’an master Xu Yun (‘Empty Cloud’) who attained his liberation at age fifty-six, and lived on for over sixty more years.
And there’s the traditional Jewish viewpoint that no-one under forty should study Kabbalah. And so it goes. Physical age isn’t irrelevant but it can be too simplistic a means of addressing the human predicament.
I opened with the Kissinger quote because it rang an echoing bell in my mind of a line from Jung. The notion of the discovery of history, as opposed to its declaration (O, that Kissinger’s modern heirs listen to his late-life wisdom!) ties in with one of the processes of aging, in that life comes up for review. In the doing of this, a lot of assumptions become partly unmade, or drop away.
In the closing paragraph of Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung speaks of the person who has “seen and experienced worth and worthlessness, and who at the end of his life desire to return into his own being, into the eternal unknowable meaning.” And he closes by observing, “it seems to me as if the alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”
That sentence has fascinated me for years. But generalising out of all these different perspectives is just that – generalising. The whole point of Jungian individuation, as it is of a Thelemite following his or her will, is to distill the unique out of the general. We each have our own ways of accomplishing and screwing up our spiritual paths, and for me, my current life-phase appears to be about seeing how both activities have been critical to a Tao that called for both activities. I’m not (I hope and think) into my dotage yet, but at times it seems some inner self is setting me up, not for a late-life apotheosis, but a breaking down of categories and standards. My personal history, which was always somehow about ‘getting there,’ needs to be rediscovered, or reperceived, as an ‘unexpected unfamiliarity,’ not as something to be shaped by my will. And patient observation rather than intervention often seems preferable because I see I really don’t know the ultimate implications of my own course(s) of action.
As David Shoemaker fairly notes, there just isn’t the vitality after a certain stage, and I’m not into extended magical ventures as I once was. But as described in my previous post, Other Trees, I increasingly find a shadow Tree, much like the Tao I just referenced, that’s operating quite separately from, or even against, my conscious activities. Part of the Thelemic process (or processes, I should probably say) is about coming to recognise that will operates separately from conscious volition; and that with time, the gap between “I want” and “This is how it’s going to be” seems to become both wider yet mutually more entwining than used to seem possible. No doubt this perception could have come to me earlier – the notion’s hardly ignored by Crowley in his writing. But it didn’t; or maybe, I refused to accept it without a fight.
Thelema, as propounded by Crowley for most of his life and as practiced in the mystery schools (A.’.A.’. especially) is focused on fixed requirements and attainments, and I have no quarrel with this. Having goals set for me got me past some seemingly fundamental blocks within myself, and showed me that what I believed to be unattainable was possible through what we might call ‘dis-attainment’ of the worse aspects of my mundane self. I affirm the value of disciplined practice, and I still follow a steady daily regimen.
Yet I’m persuaded, by the drop in magical ‘hunger’ as well as by some of the petty infirmities of being in the official old farts’ club, to step back from major assaults on the mountains of initiation, and to take things from a different vantage-point to my old one. The paradox is, provided we take time to look carefully at what’s being shown to us, a respectful stepping away from formal or overly rigid aspiration actually makes the patterns clearer, and the obscurity more fascinating.
One of the problems with aging is that some older and irritating habits of the mind reassert themselves in later life. This affects things such as concentration in meditation as well as interpersonal behaviour. The former is personally frustrating, and the latter explains why many older people can be just unpleasant. And combined with such things as erratic short-term memory and slower coordination, this can produce some of the depression often seen in the elderly.
Yet upon steady reflection, such ‘depression’ can also be perceived as a fear-based reaction to the faltering of our fallback reactions and mechanisms. Thelema doesn’t scorn the Unmanifest, or not-ness in general, but rather teaches us to embrace it. I’m not saying I rejoice in my occasional ‘senior moments,’ nor in the kind of sour mood in which I happened to wake early this morning. But there is always hope and help in other spells, and embracing the times when the power flickers off or fades out isn’t impossible from an initiated standpoint.
Such times just offer us another facet of unexpected unfamiliarity, and a different standpoint on how – and which – Will has actually shaped our history.
Love is the law, love under will,