Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by J.R. Mascaro, author of the new Seal, Sigil & Call.
As practitioners of the esoteric arts there are many things we can do to grow in our respective practices. This article is not about those things. This article is about doing nothing. When I talk about doing nothing, I’m not speaking about a gap in your day, some all-too-often mythical timeslot that you have no activity to fill. On the contrary; I am talking about making time to actively, purposefully, and whole-spiritedly do nothing. Perhaps paradoxically, I am asking you to see nothing as a thing, to do nothing in the same way one might do Pilates, or calisthenics. I am asking you to experience sacred stillness, and to do it with joyous intentionality.
I am not going to ask you to embark upon this journey without a guide. Stillness isn’t something we often see emphasized in the world at large, which is always thrumming, whirring, and pulsating with the harsh industry of highways and office parks. We are too often told to do, to produce, to improve, to hustle. Rarely are we told to be still. I am asking you to be still. I am imploring you to be still. In stillness the universe speaks. In truth, it’s always speaking. Yet, in stillness, we can hear it with all of ourselves.
In my book Seal, Sigil, & Call: A New Approach to Ritual Magic I describe a meditation to foster stillness, which I call the “listening meditation.” Here, I am going to provide you with three other techniques to foster intentional stillness.
One: Forest Bathing
Forest Bathing is a concept originating in Japan. At its core, it is the idea of going out into nature to bask in the rhythm of the natural world. While not everyone has access to a forest, hopefully you can find some natural area in your vicinity, even just a park. If you do have access to a sprawling forest, please don’t wander into the deep wilds without taking the necessary precautions and informing someone of your intentions.
While forest bathing can take the form of a leisurely stroll through a wooded area, the method I am sharing now is a bit more targeted toward the goal of complete stillness. Find a spot where you can stand alone, or sit if you can do so comfortably, and close your eyes. Reach out with your sense. What do you smell on the wind? What sounds are reaching you? As you breathe in and out at a slow, even pace, pay attention to all the notes of the natural world. Let them flow through you, but don’t hold on to them, don’t dwell on what they may be. Let the sounds and the breeze flow through you, mingling with the music of your spirit, as if you are an aeolian flute standing amidst the trees.
Do this for as long as it takes for you to feel like an empty amphora.
Two: Candle Gazing
Gazing upon a flame is a meditative technique that has arisen independently across the world, as ubiquitous as the human need for fire. Fire is an elemental and deeply significant force, and it can teach many lessons. In this meditative technique we focus on where the flame meets the wick, and the fire teaches us that, despite its endless motion, it remains anchored to its source, just as we do.
Before you begin, please assure that your candle is in a safe area where it cannot ignite anything. You will want to light your candle, and then shut the lights off in the room so the candle is the only source of light. Sit in a comfortable position facing the candle. Do not sit too closely to the candle; you will want it to be beyond arms’ reach to be at optimal distance for this exercise.
Now that you’re sitting and gazing at the candle, focus on the area of the candle where the flame springs forth from the wick. Do your best to blink as little as possible, and do not shift your focus from this single spot. Breathe slowly and rhythmically, pausing for a heartbeat between inhaling and exhaling. Visualize yourself as the place where the flame meets the wick, a place where solid matter dissolves into effulgent energy. Clear your mind of any other thought aside from your shining. Inhabit this space for a time.
Do this until your eyes need a break from the brightness of your own glow.
Three: Echo Meditation
This final exercise will require a bit of equipment. You will need something that makes a note. I have always found that a simple flute of wood or bamboo works best for this, but I have also found success with chimes and singing bowls. Anything capable of making a single clear note will serve. This exercise is less about the notes you sound than about the silence between them, like vast oceans between two still-hopeful lovers.
Begin by sitting in a calm, silent place. If you cannot find such a place, go for the closest thing you can find. Hold your instrument in your hands and begin to breathe slowly and calmly, pausing for a heartbeat after each inhalation. Take note of the silence or ambient sound around you. After a few minutes of this, sound a clear note on your instrument. If you are using a woodwind, feel your breath go through it slowly, feel the vibration within it that produces sound. While your note is sounding, feel it resonate in the air around you.
When your note is done, feel the silence. Make note of the stillness that is the absence of vibration, discern the subtle and tangible restfulness of silence. Then, sound your note again. Repeat these steps, each time extending the duration of silence between notes.
Do this until you understand the tangibility of nothingness.
It is my sincere hope that these exercises bring you some benefit and help you to welcome sacred stillness into your life. It is infinitely healing to be one with the stillness of existence, the gap between notes, the space between worlds, the emptiness between atoms that comprises most of existence. In stillness we can place down our burdens, and free ourselves from the worries that exist in any moment beyond the infinite, restful now.
Our thanks to J.R. for his guest post! For more from J.R. Mascaro, read his article “A Sorcerer in the Library: An Introduction to Integer Bibliomancy.”