Today we will post another part of a book I wrote a few years ago but chose not to publish. The book focused on building a foundation in Hermetics/Franz Bardon Training. Our focus then in this post, the first few steps of mental training, the part that gets people stuck for years in Initiation into Hermetics (IIH). I also got stuck on various exercises mainly down to the reasons I already mentioned in the ‘Common Subjects’ and ‘Why no progress’ post.
Concentration and Will Power is such a huge component here that I think it is often overlooked. We all come to this with differing levels of concentration, so we get advice of saying you need to relax and let the thoughts settle. Possibly, for some this can be true I think but for others a more disciplined and forceful approach to mental training can also work as they may have very little force available to relax from. So be aware of this when taking advice from people on these subjects, including myself. Quite simply build this internal force so that ‘you’ notice’ a significant difference in your ability to concentrate, then apply this new force in order to get desired result in your exercises, then experiment with relaxing this force while still achieving desired result of exercises. So, we basically take two forceful steps forward and one relaxing step backwards.
You may be asking why I am using concentration as the solution to all our Mental training problems. Well, because whether it is single pointed awareness, vacancy, visualizations or transplantation of consciousness, they are all in my opinion applications of concentration requiring at the very least a bare minimum ability. Some may naturally have this bare minimum so think nothing of these exercises, they have always been able to do similar things, while others lack this resource and will take a long time to get past the requirements of the exercises if they do not first build up the required concentration.
Now first we need to clearly define what I mean by concentration. As unless we make it crystal clear it is easy to misinterpret and go down another path that wastes valuable time. Concentration here then is the conscious, forcing of the mind onto a particular subject, object, etc all these being labeled under the term object of meditation. Concentration is the exclusion of all things other than your chosen object of meditation. So we must not confuse it with Attention, as though attention is often spoken of as a synonym for concentration, for our purposes they are different. Attention is the all encompassing welcoming of information equally, it does not reject anything. One is general and one is specific.
We need both of these, in my experience they feed each other and the more our capacity to concentrate grows we generally get a corresponding growth in our awareness. So before you return to the step 1 exercises of IIH it makes sense to build this mental muscle of concentration as much as we can. So what I provide here in this Mental section all has this fundamental of concentration at its center. We are aiming for an unusual level of ability to concentrate, with a degree of focus and intensity you have not had previously since being utterly focused on cartoons as a child.
I would advise also not to seek perfection in every exercise, it is like any activity, repeated exposure to an activity usually means we get better at it. Often methods come second to exposure so managing repeated exposure becomes a key. Little and often is our mantra here, I took the approach of treating my day as the time to experiment and build my exposure every chance I got. Perhaps going to the bathroom when I worked in an office and doing concentration exercises on the toilet, visualizing things in the office, taking every opportunity. I remember another one of Justin B the Magicians blogs where he mentioned super imposing things into the environment around him in coffee shops. So I never relied on the morning or evening sessions as sometimes life does not go to plan, if that is your only time to progress then things will be slow. Use the day to find every opportunity to improve and test yourself against Bardons requirements in the official morning and evening session.
Let us establish a base from which to do all our mental and indeed other exercises. The ‘Mind Check’ is something we are taking as inspiration from European Schools of Fascination and Mesmerism. This is something that you want to get into the habit of doing throughout your training (and these posts) whether we mention it or not. At the most basic level this is a self-appraisal to see where we are at mentally, emotionally and physically, we wake ourselves from whatever subconscious slumber we were in. We take a moment from ‘doing’ to actually look at the thoughts that are flowing through our mind, to feel the emotions and acknowledge them and lastly to take notice of the sensations that our body is sending us. We do not dwell on any of this (it should take no longer than a few seconds), we simply turn our attention to it and make this a habit before and after every practice session. Our practices are like laboratory experiments, we need to have data before and after, we need records (our journal) and we need to pay attention to recurring themes to see if these are positively or negatively influenced by the practices, thoughts, people and environments. Every practice has this ‘Mind Check’, before and after, we then journal our discoveries.
The First Challenge – IIH Step One Mental Exercises
We repeatedly see people struggling on these early exercises. There is a variety of reasons and no one size fits all solution. But there are several things that contribute to creating an environment of success.
Firstly as I have mentioned previously we all come to these exercises at different levels of ability. Some with developed concentration and a still mind, others in the midst of chaos looking for a way out. So if you have no background in doing any kind of mental work, mindfulness or meditation then you need to have a bit of patience with yourself to complete these exercises as opposed to holding your self to Franz Bardons early timetable.
Stick to what he says and do not try and reinvent the wheel. This first part of Step One Mental exercises is to observe your mind and not forget yourself. Nothing more nothing less. So set a timer for 30 seconds and observe. For such a short time you will quickly gain success as all you are doing is observing – if you cannot meet the 30 second requirement then I suspect you be misinterpreting what you need to do. A quick check to see whether you have the ability to observe, other than obviously doing it is to shut off the mental chatter for 30 seconds at a time as you go about your day. Conciously shut it off, be aware that it is shut off and resist the urge to let the chatter resume. If you can do this then you should be able to do the observing as it is basically the same thing.
You will find perhaps a new experience where you can perceive these thoughts off in the distance and see them approach, pass by and leave, as long as you do not engage with them. So in this way you can gradually add more time in 30 second increments. That is it. Now as a result of being the observer thoughts naturally begin to slow down leaving big gaps between thoughts.
At this point your general awareness of self, your thinking, emotions should become a little bit easier to see. You can now advance this awareness by making it a priority to be mindful of your day. In the next mental exercise we are asked to keep our mind focused on the activity we are doing, with no mental activity outside of that. For me this is what is a huge part of success here in these early exercises and also a huge part of success in truly getting to know our own minds. This is where Bardon advises people to be focused on one activity at a time in their daily life, sounds simple enough and a common sense approach. But I think the extent to which this can be trained is often ignored or even neglected, leading to other difficulties. So what do we do? We know it makes sense to be focused on work when we are working but how else can we apply this? Well it means if walking to the bus you are only walking to the bus, there is no mental activity! It is silent. This will be weird for some people as it brings on an almost robotic feeling. But try…
It sounds very simple, but maintaining it throughout your day is the key. I viewed this is as a challenge to maintain mental fuel, I am trying to build my resources in IIH not spend them. So any undisciplined thought is spending my savings, once you get it, it is liberating to a degree as you are no longer giving fuel to your worries and fears. It can seem quite strange almost like you are an automation, as you are just doing things with no mental chatter, but gaining this control takes us in the opposite direct of a robot. Everything starts to become conscious, every action, activity etc. So mindlessly tapping fingers on a table would be brought under control, we would notice and stop it. These unconscious actions are all leaks, stop them all and life gets interesting.
Next comes focus upon a single thought/theme, so much so that no other thoughts should come into your mind. Here it is easy to complicate it, for example I usually use whatever it is I am trying to achieve in auto suggestion. So if I want to improve my Spanish for example, and that is what I am doing in my auto suggestion then this mental exercise of step one will be used as an additional support to my learning while being a subject that I am motivated to pursue and interested in, so learning Spanish would be the subject of my single pointed focus subject as it gives me a good chance of success due to my natural interest. I will then mentally go through all the approaches that I am using to learn, think about how it will feel to be able to use these sentences in real life and how great it will be to be fluent. So learning Spanish is my theme and all the thoughts that flow from this is what I am singularly focused upon. Do not get caught up on some micro thought that wanted to come in but did not, there will always be other thoughts that want to come in from yourself and floating around from others. Just because other thoughts wanted to come in does not mean you failed. You only fail when you forget your own stream of thoughts and find yourself focusing on and following another thought unrelated to your subject. A quick note hear as I am sure it will be suggested by others, yes of course you perhaps should use the Theory section of Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics as a source of subjects to use, as this benefits your training. I would say use whatever gives you the best chance of success initially, then as you gain confidence in your ability you can use other subjects you feel less interest in.
Next comes the well-known void exercise or vacancy/emptiness of mind exercise (VOM/EOM). To have no thoughts. You absolutely can achieve this; you just need to firstly do the prior steps that are the causes for this last stage. So, the three prior stages all create the cause for the result, VOM to appear. It is an application of concentration upon stillness to exclusion of all else. If these preceding steps have been taken then you can enter into this VOM, but bare in mind that there are many depths to this state. There is also the problem of improved awareness to deal with.
What do I mean by this being a problem? Well, an exercise where you yourself are the judge of whether you had no thoughts or not is determined by how aware you are to your thoughts. So, this is like the confidence of a beginner and the doubts of the professional. The beginner is possibly so unaware of the contents of their own mind that they believe they have easily completed the task, yet for those who have worked carefully through the proceeding stages they now notice that they are aware of thoughts in the distance that want to come in but are almost scared off by our subtle awareness of them. For some they count this awareness of a distant thought as a failure in the exercises – so never move on, while those unaware of the thought waiting or even quietly entering their mind, confidently move on to the next step.
This is not cut and dry, the more awareness you have the more you are aware of, so, the more thoughts you keep finding, keep this in mind when completing this exercise on your return to IIH. If you go through the 100 days (we may release 100 days at a later date) and then return to IIH and go through the proper steps of Step one you should be able to pass this stage. If you still feel you are unable then it might be good make sure you are not expecting some unbreakable level of Samadhi. You have to remember this is Step one and it would not be a very balanced book if such a standard was required in the very first step.
Attention: If you disagree with this approach that is okay, different does not mean wrong. Let us know what you think in the comments.