The following is part I of the text of a talk recently given on behalf of the Temple in Toronto by Darren White.
There are many roads to one Truth, as they say, and there are many Paths that provide insight and guidance to attaining that Truth. But ultimately you must choose one Path, and any given Path will have its own language, its own roadmap for the territory it deals with. I am a big proponent for going it alone for a while, especially since I tend to be the type who learns best when self-taught; but one of the benefits of the benefits gained from self-teaching is developing the ability to recognize the authenticity of the musings, teachings and perspectives of others, from the standpoint of practical experience. And once the ability to discern has been honed, a proper appreciation for the ageless researches of human spiritual endeavor, of which we are the inheritors, is possible.
When I was in my early 20’s there was a point when my spiritual progress seemed to reach a block. Not a dead end, really, it was actually more like having strayed too far into the dense undergrowth, far from the beaten roads; or more accurately, it was like finding myself in a big, dark vault of apparently empty space, with no landmarks to gauge anything by.
I had avoided reading books on philosophy or any other pertinent subjects through my teen years, feeling that reference to the preconceptions and assumptions of other human beings would only cause me to fall into the same limiting modes of thought. (This partly reflects the misanthropy I felt in early adolescence, and my stronger identification with Nature.) At some point around the age of fifteen I had, for some reason, been struck by the intuitive notion that all answers could be found by quieting the mind and looking deeply into things. Although in my early 20’s I did begin to read a few philosophers, I had by then spent an enormous amount of time on long walks in deep meditation, untangling the knots in my brain by processes I failed even at the time to understand clearly. When I finally did reference some of the great minds of philosophy, I felt vindicated insofar as they seemed to be describing many of the same theories and conclusions I had arrived at independently.
But my approach was still purely intuitive, my methods unscientific. My understanding lacked the clearly laid-out theory that would elucidate the inner territory of the mind, and thus facilitate further exploration. A key realization I had come to in my explorations of the soul was that stating: “This is how things are” with a full-stop was really only establishing a boundary beyond which one was unwilling to explore further. But in learning to catch myself in the temptation to make such statements, and in daring to move beyond such self-imposed boundaries, I found myself exploring a dark and presumably uncharted realm.
It was several years before I returned to that unconquered territory, and there were a few years I fell away from spirituality altogether. But eventually, having spent some time getting into Buddhist thought and Zen meditations, I found my way almost by accident to the Qabalah. I had picked up a book about Aleister Crowley’s Magick, anticipating more than anything else something that would enable me to conjure demons and get into some dark, cool stuff. I was initially perplexed to be confronted with a series of essentially apologetic chapters defending against Crowley’s bad reputation, followed by Rites like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and its Greater form, along with various others, the purpose of which evaded me at the time. Though I wasn’t getting the black magic I was perversely curious about, the book stuck around with me for whatever reason, and I became somewhat fascinated by its contents, as well as those of the elusive and mysterious Book of the Law.
That book on Crowley’s Magick seemed to assume the reader already had some grounding in Qabalah and the Tarot. I hadn’t, and didn’t even realize the Tarot was anything more than the old fortune teller clichés purported. The Tree of Life was altogether unknown to me. But one day, as I was reading over some books on astrophysics and contemplating some of the ideas that had been generated throughout twentieth century science, I happened to start reading some of Crowley’s exposition on his 0 = 2 theorem, and something clicked. I suddenly started to see his writings in a wholly different light. His commentary on Liber Samekh revealed a deep and keen insight that bridged the gap between philosophy, critical thinking and spirituality. His philosophies mirrored my own, belying similar rigorous introspection; but they went much further and were fully fleshed out, with systematic exercises. His purported approaches were along the sensible lines that I had already begun to see as self-evident from Nature.
As I continued to read and learn more, studying up so as to understand the array of subjects that tied into Hermetic Magick, I came to realize that the Qabalah — as exemplified by the Tree of Life — was in fact a map of the Universe, and of the soul. It was the very self-same map that I had been lacking, back when I was groping in the darkness. But as with any map, seeing the relationship between the map and the territory itself is the important thing for its facility and practical application.
The Tree of Life with its various attributes, correspondences, layouts and extensions can and should be the subject of ongoing study over a long period. Though initially the amount of information and ideas connected with it can be overwhelming, the idea of memorizing correspondences and compartmentalizing ideas aids the process immensely.
It’s not uncommon, actually, for people to get excited about the Tree of Life as a sort of intellectual puzzle, playing with it in different ways, noticing patterns within it, even discovering new ways to twist, turn and rearrange it. This “intellectual play” can yield a lot of fun ideas, but I find often people get a little carried away with it. It’s helpful to employ a means of critical analysis Crowley seems to have adapted from his father in the form of the question: “To what end?” It’s much like with Gematria, the process of discovering deeper meaning in Hebrew words and their relationships to one another, by adding up the numbers ascribed to each of a word’s letters. After undergoing the mental aerobics working out the Gematria of a word or words, then ruminating over the results, one can come to Satori-like moments of insight or awakening, and this may imbue something with deeper meaning; or it may connect synapses in the brain in a new way that feels akin to unclogging blockages. But it also has the potential to obsess, such as when people go off the deep end with the “meaning” they find in numbers and connections. How do you know if you’re going off the deep end? Ask again, “To what end?” What is the actual upshot of the information that is obsessing you? And is it obsessing you? If there is a feeling of latching onto the importance of it, this can be an indicator. If you’re reluctant to let go of it, like it’s dangerous to let go of it, then it’s all the more important to release it — nothing will actually be lost by releasing it.
This brings us to a very important mental exercise to practice regularly: un-attachment. The feeling of obsession is actually one we can probably all relate to, given the right analogy. It could be obsession with the job you’re currently trying to get done, that your mind keeps recycling back to, which prevents you from being able to relax and do things like meditate. It could be the current hot-button topic that sets you off. It could be an unresolved issue in your relationship or dealings with another person. The mind wants to keep flowing in that direction once it has some momentum. Here we can see the analogy of “Mind” to “Air,” constantly flowing, whipping this way and that. This is its tendency, and stilling its wild motion is one of the goals of meditation.
(Continued in Part II)