This work is copyright (c) 1998 G'Noas Qohazior. All rights reserved. This work may not be edited or altered in anyway, and may not be distributed in any form other than electronic transmission.The purpose of this lesson series is to provide a generic grounding in the study of "occult arts and sciences." It will provide a step by step guide to prepare for, and learn, the basics of grounding and meditation as well as more "complicated" studies.
This is the first lesson in the series and deals with basic practices applicable to all forms of study. It will avoid theological and/or philosophical complications and deal exclusively with techniques and methods that either do apply or can apply to any "system."
One thing to keep in mind while reading THIS lesson is that it does not apply exclusively to "occultists," "new agers," or pagans. The first form of magic (1) was prayer (2), and it is still the most common (and often most effective). The sections entitled "Fundamentals" and "Basics" apply to anyone-- a devout Southern Baptist will find them just as useful as a practicing Cabalist or a Tantrika. In fact, the section on Fundamentals is good practice for anyone.
Footnotes will be indicated by a number in parentheses and are hyper link enabled.
As mental health is a fairly subjective term, and is beyond the scope of a simple web page to define or determine, I will concentrate on "physical fitness." If you've had a check-up recently and your doctor has told you that you have good cardio-vascular health, you should be able to merely practice the methods in this section until they become habit. If you don't have good cardio-vascular health, these methods will help improve it--and if you just don't know, practice them until they are easy and habitual. In any case, following these practices will improve your physical and mental well-being and make the lessons in the rest of the series easier and more effective.
Walking is excellent for general cardio-vascular health (3). Many of the various systems also have various rite and rituals that require either walking or standing for stretches at a time. Building up the strength and endurance in your leg muscles now gives you a chance to work on them when you come to them, rather than finding out that you don't quite have the endurance you need when you make your first attempt.
The standard stretching exercises recommended for running, jogging and/or aerobic workouts are excellent flexibility training. Whether you actually exercise or not is up to you, but the "warm-up" and "cool-down" routines provide a good basis for the flexibility to attain some of the specific postures in some systems as well as the endurance to maintain postures (even simple ones) for 'meditational' lengths of time.
Breathing is arguably the most fundamental and important of all the physical processes of the body. While eating and eliminating waste are both just as necessary, breathing is the most constant, and most easily affected, of the processes necessary for life. The practice of breath control is called Pranayama (4), and it can make profound changes in your outlook and emotional state, as well as your physical health.
One "problem" with 'Western Society' is that Westerners tend to breathe too shallowly. This is not something noted in most circles simply because it's been that way for hundreds (or thousands) of years--but you can see the difference for yourself simply by breathing slower and deeper.
Breathe slowly and deeply, using your diaphragm as well as your lungs--your belly should expand when you inhale, and your lungs should be empty when you exhale. There are two ways you can learn to do this: one is to use your belly to inhale by pushing out your abdomen to pull air into your lungs and then using your chest to finish the inhale; the other is to simply exhale as much as possible and let the inhale take care of itself. When you take fifteen breaths or less a minute (counting both the inhale and exhale as one breath) you have been successful. Practicing Deep Breathing ten or fifteen minutes at a time, several times a day is a good start and a great way to learn how to do it--once you've learned how, try to breathe deeply all the time.
Whether you practice Deep Breathing constantly or not, a great way to calm yourself, or to "get a grip" on pain or anger, is to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This is easy to do, and very effective. Some people will tell you to visualize "good energy" or white light coming in on the inhale and "bad energy" or some other color leaving with the exhale. With or without the visualization, the exercise is calming and greatly helps with focusing your thoughts. It is also easy to do before you get into the more formal Pranayama exercises.
The following exercises can be useful however far along you've come with "proper breathing." Some are general and some are more specific, but they are all simple exercises that can provide some benefit to beginners and adepts alike. Tantrikas say that their effectiveness is increased by concentrating on your "third eye."
A simple centering technique, Nadi Shodan will help clear your mind of distracting thoughts whether you are planning on meditating or just want to relax. Sit upright in as comfortable a position as possible that keeps your spine erect. Hold your right hand near your nose, palm facing you, with your thumb and ring finger curled and the other fingers flattened. Close your eyes and relax. Using your thumb to close your right nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril. At the end of your inhalation release your thumb and use your ring finger to close your left nostril; exhale slowly and compleatly through the right. Keep the same posture and breathe in through your right nostril, switching thumb and finger at the end again to breathe out through the left. This is one 'pranayam'--a cycle of twenty pranayams is good for beginners. The pranayam should be done smoothly and gradually, don't hold your breath on the inhale or pause on the exhale--just breathe slowly, deeply, and as one smooth process.
A general cleansing technique, Anulom-vilom will help clear your sinuses and nasal passages. The posture and method is the same as Nadi Shodan, with few changes. Exhaling quickly through the left nostril, then inhale quickly and deeply; exhale quickly through the right nostril, then inhale deeply and quickly--this is one pranayam. Continue, alternating nostrils, for fifteen or twenty pranayams.
A more advanced centering technique, Sukh Purvak is done the same way as Nadi Shodan, except that it should be done sitting cross-legged (in the "lotus position"), and that the breath is held at the end of both the inhale and the exhale. Pause only as long as you can without strain or discomfort. Three to five pranayams is good to start, but the most benefit will be derived by slowly increasing to fifteen or twenty pranayams at a time--once each in the morning and evening.
The more formal Pranayama exercises should be done with the nose only. Using the mouth to breath during these practices decreases the benefits in several ways--not the least of which is by diverting oxygen away from the nasal passages which are designed to filter the air and enhance the oxygen absorption by the lungs. This list is by no means exhaustive.(5)
It is crucial that you be able to observe and judge your own actions and emotions objectively. Rationalizing any shortcoming or condemning yourself for understandable lapses are both equally harmful. If you do not expend the necessary time or attention to achieve a goal and then explain away the failure, you'll never be able to commit the effort you need. Conversely, if you constantly focus on 'failures' and dismiss successes, however small, you will never be able to expend enough effort to overcome your own expectations.
The following techniques will, or at least can, help you to sharpen your concentration as well as help you recognize times or circumstances that may be counter-productive to concentration in the first place. While I would suggest practicing all the methods outlined below, you can obviously pick and choose from among them. It is important, however, to follow through on any you choose to start, since not following through would, as mentioned above, set you up for expecting failure. Also, many are interconnected and are either easier to learn if you have followed preceding exercises or become easier as you start later ones.
The purpose of this technique is to minimize self-distraction during meditational or passive exercises. When the mind is trying to focus on a single object it will often try to distract itself; one way it does this is by creating discomfort or subtle movements in the body. This technique will teach you how to recognize and overcome these self-induced physical distractions.
Lie down in a position that is comfortable. Close your eyes and relax. Do not move any part of your body at all--don't blink, stretch, move your fingers, or even your tongue. Don't let your mind run away on long trains of thought, keep your attention focused on passively observing the reactions your body has.
No matter how comfortable you were, the position will shortly become agonizing. This is because we are used to making subtle movements constantly, and your muscles will not be used to maintaining one position for any length of time, even if they are relaxed. Remain perfectly still as long as you can-- once you move, even a finger or an eyelid, the exercise is over. The first time you try it, you will probably not last much more than a minute--don't worry about it as this is normal. Continue the practice until you can remain motionless at least fifteen minutes.
An additional option would be to try this in a sitting position. I would suggest waiting until you can remain motionless for at least five minutes while lying down, but once you start practicing both exercises, they should progress at about equal rates.
This exercise (7) is to prepare you for later attempts or more advanced techniques.
The exercise is easy in theory--simply assume a comfortable posture, relax, and don't think. As thoughts drift across your mind, acknowledge them and 'withdraw' from them. The goal is to not think of anything at all--to have no thoughts whatsoever.
Unlike the technique above, it is neither simple nor "automatic." Motionlessness can be achieved merely by constant practice, but mental quiescence requires an effort that is almost self-defeating. It is important to work on, however, as it is the only way that mental distractions can be lessened. Do not get discouraged (some people work for years merely to attain a second or two of mental silence) and do not give up. Even if you do not remove all thoughts at any given time, careful observation will show that you will be able to diminish the number of distracting thoughts significantly.
It is something without a specific goal--any attainment at all is a success, and any improvement is a grand success. But any success at mental quiescence will also require constant practice in order to maintain it.
A trance (8) is the state you enter when your mind focuses on a single thing--the ability to enter a trance at will is the method of most "magical operations," including prayer. This exercise enables you to develop the ability to intentionally enter a trance.
Find a subject of no consequence, something with no spiritual, emotional, intellectual or useful connection to yourself, such as a candle flame or the movements of an ant on the ground, and focus your attention on it. It should be some kind of process rather than an action, but it should be simple and easy to follow without a great deal of movement. Do not try to anticipate or interpret the actions, movements or results of the subject, simply follow it without thinking of anything else. You do not need to affect the subject of concentration, merely devote your entire attention to it.
This exercise has many practical applications, but for purposes of this lesson, we will confine the objective to maintaining concentration and avoiding distractions. As with the practice of Motionlessness, this technique is simple and straight-forward, and merely requires practice to achieve success--but like the practice of Motionlessness, it requires constant practice to maintain.
Decide on a meaningless object and stare at it. Blink as little as possible, but do not cause discomfort or strain. After a very few moments, the object will begin to distort in any number of ways--this is because the brain is used to constantly shifting the focus of attention. Do not look away from the object, just concentrate on keeping it free from distortion. Your eye will pick up details in the surrounding area in an attempt to get you to shift your gaze, and the object will seem to warp, move away or towards you, or 'change' in other ways--do not shift your attention in any way.
This exercise is possibly one of the most 'cross-cultural' techniques in this list. The practical applications are innumerable when you get to more advanced studies; you should be able to see applications you can use now simply upon reading it.
Decide on a simple word or phrase of a few syllables or less. Any phrase will do; the most important aspect is that it is easily remembered and easily imagined. The classical chants "Aum," "Yod He Vau He," "Om Mani Padme Hum," or even "Amen" or "God is with me" will do--or you can discover or make up one of your own. It can be meaningless and used simply for practice or it can have some personal charge for you. As long as it is a simple phrase that flows easily. This is called a "mantra." Once you have decided on a mantra, repeat it aloud a few times to see how it sounds--then simply imagine it over and over. Close your eyes, relax, and spend several minutes doing nothing but imagining the phrase repeated rhythmically in your mind. Do this several minutes at a time, several times a day. Eventually it will seem to repeat itself, possibly even appearing in your sleep--this is a good sign.
The purpose of this exercise is to help improve concentration and the effectiveness of your imagination.
In order to develop this skill, choose a simple shape, such as a triangle, circle or square, and concentrate on it. Close your eyes and imagine the shape, holding it without distortion or distraction for as long as possible. Once you can do this for several minutes, try doing it with your eyes open-- projecting it "over" whatever you happen to be looking at.
Once you can visualize a simple shape, without distortion or distraction, for several minutes with your eyes open, move on to more complex shapes. You can either choose combinations of simple shapes, such as a circle within a triangle within a square, or more detailed images, such as a basketball or a light bulb. Repeat the process, beginning with your eyes closed and moving to opening them.
Please remember that these are generic descriptions. You may find a source that contradicts (or seems to contradict) the following outlines. Don't worry about it, just use whatever seems best to you. On the other hand, you may think of something to add or change that makes it seem more effective for you; that's fine as well--these are merely guidelines to help get you started and should not be taken as a 'final word.'
Grounding, Centering, and Cleansing are all inter-related, in fact they are sometimes used almost interchangeably. They have very similar, and often overlapping, functions, and are only separated her for ease of description and for clarity in the case that the system you choose to follow treats them all differently.
Grounding is simply "bringing yourself into the here." It is a process of removing your mental and emotional distractions to 'where' you are--of bringing yourself back down to earth, so to speak. There are many ways to do this, the simplest of which is to merely stop thinking of anything but where you are at the moment and why you are there. Unfortunately, this usually does not keep the distractions away for more than a few seconds. Here are a few techniques that will help remove the distractions in such a way that they are easier to control:
Breathe slowly and deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth, holding for a second or two between each. If you are grounding yourself in preparation for a specific event, visualize that event as you calm yourself. If you are merely grounding yourself in order to calm down, visualize an image of yourself at peace--sleeping, meditating, whatever you see as your most serene and productive state.
In many cases, this will be sufficient for grounding and centering.
This requires a bit of preparation, but can be very effective even in times of extreme agitation or distraction. In order to have a "safe place," you must first build one. Simply imagine or remember a place where you feel safe and secure, where you feel nothing can touch you. You might remember a place from your childhood such as a tree house, a creek in your grandmother's backyard, your room, or something else--or you might imagine a warm cave with a fire going, a forest glen surrounded by oak and filled with wildflowers, or the dream house you plan to build in the future. Whatever you imagine or remember, it should be immediately recognizable and give you a feeling of security.
Once you have decided what the place is, you must "build" it. Using the Visualization technique described above, imagine it at least once a day. Spend as much time and effort as you can imagining the details--what everything looks like, where everything is, even what it smells like. If you spend enough time "building" it, the details will eventually become so clear that they are instantaneous--whenever you go there it will be like actually visiting.
Once you have the details so clear that they become 'automatic,' merely visualizing the place will have a grounding effect, although if you are preparing for a specific thing you may still have to center yourself.
This technique is the simplest of the three described, and is arguably the "original" technique. To do this you merely concentrate on your physical connection to the earth. If you are standing on the ground, simply close your eyes and 'feel' the earth through your feet--or kneel or sit and touch the ground with your hands and feel the earth at all points where you touch it. If you are in a building, no matter how tall, do the same thing but extend the 'line' through the building materials to the earth itself.
Again, if you are "preparing" for something in particular, you may still have to center yourself.
Centering is simply "bringing yourself into the now." It is a process of ridding yourself of plans for the future or thoughts of the past; of being the person you are at the moment. There are many ways to do this, as well; a few of which are outlined here:
Simply perform the Nadi Shodan exercise described above while concentrating on the area just behind and between your eyes (the "third eye" of popular occultism; more accurately the Ajna Chakra of Tantrism). Continue until you are completely "in the present."
GATHERING THE LIGHT
Breathe slowly and deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine a white or golden light coming in as you inhale, and a smoky grey cloud leaving as you exhale. This is particularly useful as a "follow up" to the Calming Breath technique for grounding.
Simply take a comfortable position and visualize yourself. Form a picture in your mind of how you are at the time. Make the visualization as accurate as possible--in the same position you are, breathing the same way and speed you are, doing everything you are doing when and how you do it at the time.
There are an infinite number of methods to center yourself, almost anything can be used--even repeating a meaningful phrase or passage until you are only thinking about that passage and nothing else...
In most cases, systems referring to "cleansing" are referring to the spiritual purification of an object. Sometimes, however, it refers to the spiritual purification of one's self. In this case, it usually is merely a matter of ridding yourself of "mundane" thoughts so that you can concentrate on the spiritual. More complicated forms of "psychic cleansing" will be dealt with in later lessons in this series, for now we will concentrate on a few "preparatory" techniques.
If you are planning on spending some time practicing one of the following "Advanced Techniques" or one or more of the practices described in later installments of this series, it can be very helpful to prepare yourself by "psychic cleansing." Although given individually, the following techniques can be "mixed and matched" in any combination to better effect.
Take a bath or shower (a bath is generally better) slowly and deliberately, keeping in mind the entire time that as you wash away the dirt and grime you are also washing away any bad or baneful things that might be "clinging" to you. It doesn't matter if they are bad thoughts you've had during the day or bad things people have done to you. It doesn't matter if it's some temptation you had or some transgression you committed. All that matters is that you remember with each scrub that the soap and water are ridding you of them as much as they are of the dirt. Once you are finished, towel off.
It is better if you then go on to do your exercise straight from the bath before getting dressed, though a bath robe or very loose clothing is preferable to "normal" clothes if you cannot be naked.
Simply practice the Pranayama technique as described above, continuing for several minutes rather than some specific count. You should continue until you feel "fresh and clean." This can be hard to gauge without having experienced a cleansing before--but it is effective after the Bathing technique above, and once that has been done, it can provide a "standard" for gauging the success of more esoteric techniques.
This is particularly suited to times when the Calming Breath/Gathering the Light techniques for Grounding and Centering are used. You must already be grounded and centered, and be relaxed (but alert) both mentally and physically. Breathe deeply and slowly, imagining a white or golden light coming in with each breath. Imagine the light staying within you as you breathe out, growing in both brightness and size every time you inhale. As it grows, feel the warmth "burning away" anxiety, fear, and any 'bad' thoughts or feelings. Continue until your entire body is filled with light and warmth.
As has been mentioned many times in this lesson, prayer is the oldest and most common form of magic. It is also the most "personal" and most variable. The following descriptions are given for those people who prefer to have a formula to follow. This list is neither definitive nor comprehensive, rather, it is suggestive. Take these descriptions as a starting point, or ignore them compleatly and do your own thing.
Devotional Prayer has one of two goals, becoming closer to the object of devotion or becoming more like the object of devotion in some way, and takes two obvious and immediate forms. The first is to simply Visualize the object of devotion using the technique describe elsewhere in this section. The second is to use the Sound Concentration technique described above to repeat the name, a relevant phrase, or a specific mantra. The drawback to using Visualization as a devotional technique is the necessity of a quiet environment while using the Sound Concentration technique can be done anywhere, at anytime, no matter what else you may be doing.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
Praying to give thanks is probably the most commonly known form or prayer (though it is arguably not the most commonly performed). The popular conception of prayer (kneeling, bowing your head, or adopting whatever posture your religious beliefs dictate) is greatly improved when you can perform it without fear of distracting thoughts wandering through your mind. However, using the Sound Concentration technique can be quite effective as well-- repeating a phrase of thanks over and over again in your mind can be done wherever and whenever you want, no matter what else you might be doing, and displays (and ingrains) an attitude of gratitude that is difficult to demonstrate in any other way.
PRAYER OF INTERVENTION
Praying for intervention, whether an object or an act on your behalf, is arguably the most common form of prayer practiced in our society. The two most effective ways to perform it, though, are fairly rare. The most obvious, in light of this lesson, is the Visualization technique described below. The most common practice is also effective, though usually overdone. Simply pray, intensely and without distraction, on your knees (or in whatever posture is most religiously suitable), once. Set aside a time and place that will be quiet and in which you will not be disturbed. Relax and devote your entire attention and effort to it, then forget about it. Do not pray for it again, and do not spend your time looking for its fulfillment. As the saying goes, "all prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is no"--no amount of begging or expectation will change the answer one way or the other, nor will it speed up the process.
Visualization (9) as a goal-oriented practice differs only slightly from the technique described above as a concentration building exercise--the difference being that an object or action that means something to you is visualized rather than a meaningless shape or form. Visualization is not a skill that needs to be practiced in order to be effective, but practice can greatly improve results. The more "accurate" your visualization, and the more detail you can hold in your mind, the more effective the results will be.
Visualization works best when you can set aside a time and place that will be quiet and in which you won't be disturbed. Music can be helpful to relax you as long as it is soft, low and instrumental--relaxing music that also distracts you defeats the purpose. Visualization is most effective when it is repeated regularly, preferably on a daily basis.
Meditation (10) is not the only way to achieve a meditative state, but it is the only way to achieve it in an easily controlled manner. The meditative state can be used for many things, but most are beyond the scope of this web page. For our purposes, the consequences of the meditative state themselves are the goal--mental and physical relaxation as well as mental sharpness and emotional balance. Following are several different types of meditation techniques based on, or incorporating, the Basic exercises described in the previous section.
Any of the techniques described in the section entitled Basics can be used to achieve a meditative state--in fact, if you've practiced them to any successful degree, you've most likely achieved a meditative state already.
Ideally, transcendental meditation (11) (or TM, as it is commonly called) is achieved by practicing Mental Quiescence until you can go for hours without having a single unintentional thought. It is not impossible as it sounds, but it is impractical and very time consuming at best. Fortunately it can be achieved in other ways. Though still time-consuming, it is possible to combine various practices to achieve the same result. The benefits of the meditative state are not the only benefits of TM. Aside from the mystic powers folklore tells us about, studies have shown that two hours of TM a day can replace eight hours of sleep. If, however, you wish to pursue this aspect of TM, this web page is insufficient--you will need to find a more specific site, get a book, or better yet, a teacher to learn it properly.
By remaining motionless, practicing Sound Concentration on a mantra, and Visualizing some meaningless object in complete detail, you can achieve a state of Not Thinking. The idea is to distract your mind from its thoughts long enough for it to transcend itself. Remaining motionless simply keeps your mind from being distracted from the meditation. Practicing the Visualization and Sound Concentration at the same time makes it easier to avoid all the thoughts other than the meaningless objects of those two things--the mantra you choose will eventually begin to "repeat itself," requiring no thought or effort on your part to maintain it; when that happens you simply stop visualizing your object without replacing it in your mind.
The process still takes a lot of time and effort, but it is much easier and quicker than simply learning how to stop thinking.
This is most often used merely to achieve a meditative state, though it has other uses in some systems. To do it, simply practice Sight Concentration on whatever object on which you wish to meditate until you can visualize it in minute detail. When you can do this, remain motionless while visualizing the object with complete concentration.
Originally a technique of Zen Buddhism, the Walking Meditation combines aspects of simple meditation, object meditation, and exercise. One of the very few meditation techniques that does not require motionlessness (and the only one covered in this lesson), Walking Meditation is unique in many ways.
Find a place, preferably a natural environment like a garden or park, where the ground is fairly even and free of debris. Cross your hands comfortably across your abdomen and unfocus your eyes. Do not cross your eyes, or stare off into the distance so that you cannot see what's around you, rather keep from looking directly at anything around you. Walk at a slow, comfortable pace, breathing slowly and deeply, and not looking directly at anything. When done properly, you will be able to see everything around you, your range of vision will increase slightly to each side and above and below you--do not let this distract you. It may be easier to learn how to see properly by practicing while sitting still--if you do, don't worry about remaining motionless. What you are doing is practicing Object Meditation on your entire environment (rather than a single object) while changing the environment subtly and slowly.
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(2) Prayer was the first form of magic--asking a power larger than yourself for help or intervention. As religion developed and a priest class formed, the supplication took more complicated forms, nominally to increase the effectiveness but arguably it was mainly to support the need for a separate class. Some religions have gotten away from claiming the priests' necessity for divine intervention and moved back to prayer, some never supplanted prayer--but at all times, prayer has been the most common form of magic in use around the world. BACK
(3) Cardio-vascular health is simply a measure of how well your heart and lungs work under stress and/or exercise. BACK
(4) This is a form of yoga devoted to breath control. As with all other forms of Yoga, it can get complex and advanced, but the basics are both helpful and adequate for our purposes. BACK
(5) There are many, many more Pranayama exercises; it is a compleat form of Yoga in and of itself. If you are interested in learning more about these exercises, or about more exercises, most books on Yoga cover the basics of Pranayama. There are, as well, books on Pranayama exclusively. BACK
(6) Prayer is simply a matter of focusing your concentration on a single goal, and as such it can be seen as a form of meditation. Whether you are asking a higher power for intervention, trying to influence circumstances, or merely giving thanks, prayer is more effective when you can devote your concentration to the matter at hand without thinking about bills, problems or whatever might float across your mind. BACK
(7) Quiescence is simply being quiet or still. BACK
(8) A trance is merely a meditative state, though the latter is usually entered into intentionally while the former is often the "accidental" result paying close attention to something. BACK
(9) Visualization is a technique that has become mainstream in the past decade or so. The first scientific study testing its effectiveness divided a group of seventh and eighth graders into four groups. Each was tested on their ability to shoot basketball free-throws. One group then practiced a half hour a day, one group visualized shooting free-throws successfully for fifteen minutes every day, one group both practiced and visualized, and one group did neither. After two weeks the group that did one or the other both showed improvement scores of 20 to 40%, the group that did both showed improvement scores of 50 to 80%, and the control group (the one that did neither) showed no significant change. Since then, Visualization has been shown to help with numerous physical and emotional changes, as well as being a useful technique in the treatment of several diseases and medical conditions. It has been a standard practice of magic and prayer for thousands of year at the least. BACK
(10) Meditation is simply concentration. It can be on anything, it can take many forms, and it can have many different goals. The "meditative state" is the most common goal, however, and can be achieved more easily with certain techniques. BACK
(11) Transcendental meditation is a form of meditation
whose only goal is to still the mind and remove all thoughts. It is the
realm of Hindu mystics and cheesy occult movies, and their version is nearly
impossible without a lifetime of practice. BACK