Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
One night, forty-five years ago, I spontaneously entered a wrenching spiritual crisis. I was at a meditation circle held by a group I associated with at the time when it cut in, but otherwise there were no special, external circumstances to trigger it. I was ‘ripe’ in some way, but not because I felt myself to be in a state of emergency – quite the opposite. I was, overall, feeling more in control of my own direction than I’d been through my teen years, and reasonably certain about the near term.
The self-lacerating darkness of that night yielded in the morning to an extraordinary state of mindfulness I’d never experienced previously. And as this peaked, I found myself in a mystical ecstasy, experiencing, even seeing God for the first time in a direct way, and as an infinitely loving Being. The old cliche, “God is love,” was a transcendent, self-evident fact for an hour or two that morning, when the Light was so bright it was close to painful.
I still think that I touched what Thelemites call Knowledge and Conversation that morning. I was, for a time, in a vision of Solar beauty and love. It subsided after those stunning, terrifying hours, but by then I’d already committed to change my entire life. I joined The Process, the group that held the meditation circles, and had an extraordinary experience with their community in the next two years. Oddly, being quite doctrinaire in their own system, its senior members were only marginally interested in my visionary transformation. When there was a deepening of it, to include conscious voice-contact, around seven months later, it was acknowledged and dismissed, and thereafter I scarcely mentioned it. Yet even after I left The Process, in the summer of 1972, I still felt intermittently in touch with It. I called it Christ because that was a comfortable label, though it never spoke to me as any discernibly conventional Jesus. When, years later, I attended my first Thelemic public event, a version of it kicked in once more, and I entered a new phase of the original learning.
There are times I wonder if it’s entirely illusory, a fantasised candle amid the human darkness; and others when I catch my own mind imitating a sense of its presence or mode of ‘speech’. Then there are times when the otherness, the objectivity, around it is crushingly convincing. At such moments, I feel it’s deepened with the years, and that everything I do, think, feel or write that’s of any worth, occurs within its aura.
I’m careful to avoid claiming any of this as true or full K&C, especially since the initial experience didn’t remain in place, and the contact has been inconstant. Yet I find the few descriptions of K&C that I come across familiar. I was there. Maddeningly, I just didn’t have the training and preparation to remain in the neighbourhood. Anything I’ve done since has been a kind of backwards process of doing what I would, ideally speaking, have done before it hit. My apparent ‘assignment’ is to find the route back to it. Acknowledging this took a long time, since initially I over- or under-interpreted what happened, and had to learn to fit it into an honest perspective as a really cool near miss. And then to see where that left me.
In Zen, there are two primary schools – the ‘sudden’ school, Rinzai, and the ‘gradual’ school, Soto. In practice, I understand, people in either tradition undergo both sudden and gradual illumination; and I’ve often wondered about whether such a division applies to Thelemites. Some aspirants go straight up the mountainside, and in eight or ten years have full, lasting K&C, or more. And some toil at it for decades, maybe without comprehending what they’ve actually grasped; for awareness of individual truth steals up on many people, who might be unaware of what they can see or say.
I don’t doubt that as the years roll by, there’ll be many people appearing in both categories. The principal hazard could be that ‘Soto-Thelemites’ might claim to have achieved more than they should, while the ‘Rinzai-Thelemites’ could have a flash like my own experience, and claim a deeper illumination than their due. As we all know, there are many people who make claims that aren’t matched by their actual state.
For whatever the approach, the ‘big’ flashes need to be worked on, deepened, and applied (long sigh…) to everyday living. True Will needs a human community to receive its effects. The high road to K&C requires the smoothing out of a lot of wrinkles in the personal psyche, which isn’t a priority for fast-track wannabes. All the traits, moods and failings we project onto friends, foes and teachers need patient, frustrating examination, so we can pull the psychic energy invested in them back to the Centre, whence it originated; and, to quote the Gnostic Mass, to where lies the HGA, ‘brooding and breeding.’
It’s a truism that older people are less susceptible to mystical ecstasies than younger ones. We’re just consistently less impressed with what goes down after a certain age. So, what scared the bejeezus out of (or into) me at twenty is less potent and significant now I’m in my sixties. I’ve done dozen of invocations in the past few years that exceed what I was capable of envisaging back then, and I don’t really expect a vision of Love in the skies above me a second time in my life. Though I’m up for it if it’s offered.
The wide difference in people’s means of experiencing inner events needs to be considered in this context. Some of us have to learn to accept our feelings and their validity, a long war all on its own. Others are prone to the opposite, to vivid, intra-psychic events that result in mind-rending shifts during the first two decades of adult life; and they might find their real need is to tone down the fireworks, which isn’t an easy task either.
And some of us need to just let the donkey plod along, carrying the soul where it must go. albeit with gentle but consistent prodding. There is for all of us, in this Thelemic trek, no final goal, but only an endless journey. To quote Liber LXV, Cap V, V. 51:
“Let not the failure and the pain turn aside the worshippers. The foundations of the pyramid were hewn in the living rock ere sunset; did the king weep at dawn that the crown of the pyramid was yet unquarried in the distant land?”
Love is the law, love under will,