Thursday, September 24, 2009

Training the Will

At the September 6 magical chat session, we were discussing how the Page cards of tarot can apply to taking on new disciplines, and one of the topics that came up in relation to this is the problem of will power. This is an issue addressed by Elmer and Alyce Green in their book, “Beyond Biofeedback.” They point out that our bodymind systems settle in to and try to maintain a “homeostasis,” which is a static condition of being that includes both the good and the bad. So, whenever we try to make a change—even if it’s a change for the better—our bodyminds reflexively rise to resist the change by throwing all kinds of obstacles in our way and undermining our willpower. However, if a person can persist and do enough to unsettle the status quo by introducing different sorts of changes and carrying out large and small acts of will, the bodymind’s efforts at maintaining homeostasis can be disrupted to the point where it is possible to establish new patterns. This allows the bodymind to eventually settle in to a newer, healthier condition of homeostasis. Also, because the bodymind is a unit, any things you can do to work on the body will also help the mind, and things you do to affect the mind will benefit the body.

Consequently, when you want to cultivate will power, think of different things you can do to exercise your will. These acts of will don’t even have to specifically apply to the sort of changes you want to bring about. As an example, the Greens cite Robert Assagioli’s suggestion of standing on a chair for ten minutes a day, just to be doing something different enough to be laying down a new discipline. (This is also an example of how unusual actions can make a special impression on the bodymind--which is why shamans often incorporate outlandish acts and gestures into their practices.)

Some simple things that a person can do as daily practice might include taking the time to brew and drink a cup of healthful herbal tea (especially if, like me, you’re the kind of person who would climb over a mountain of herbal tea to get at a cup of coffee), or greeting the rising sun (possibly with the yogic “sun salutation” exercise), or giving up a regular TV program in order to do something more productive, or doing various other things that are good for you but which you normally wouldn’t take the time or have the inclination to do. You could also make a practice of daily spiritual devotions, little magical spells, or other types of simple rituals. Reframing attitudes can also be part of daily practice. So, if you get into negative feedback loops by dwelling on regrets, push those thoughts out of your mind and replace them with positive.

This business of asserting your will in things both small and large is also an area where the tarot can help. You can approach the cards with a question like, “What can I do as an act of Will?” Then shuffle and cut, and pull the top card, interpreting it as a card of advice rather than a card of prediction. Think about how the card’s traditional meanings and its graphic imagery suggest actions that you can carry out. (This technique of interpreting the cards in terms of what suggestions they have to offer is the subject of my book, “Tarot, Your Everyday Guide.”) Alternatively—or in addition—you could go through your shuffled deck to find the Magician, which has a lot to do with asserting the will as a way of attaining mastery in the world. The Magician’s tools are the elemental powers of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, so look to the cards flanking the Magician to see which elemental forces are highlighted, then consider how these, along with the flanking cards’ meanings and imagery might suggest ideas for entraining your will. You can turn your reading into a tarot spell by envisioning yourself as the Magician, carrying out the actions you want to incorporate into your routine.

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