Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Going Mad: An Analysis

I've spent the past year trying to process some of the insights about myself that I gleaned from my extended manic episode in January. I had a second manic episode recently that led me to seek treatment for bipolar disorder, and now that my mood is more stable, I'm having an easier time separating the wheat from the chaff. So these are some of my recollections, feelings, and insights about madness itself, from the perspective of someone who has very clear memories of a lot of the time in which he was crazy.

But first, a little explanation about me for those who might not know. As you might be able to tell from the topics listed at the top of this blog, I have a very strong interest, some amount of training, and many years of experience in live-action roleplaying, ritual theater, method acting, and psychedelic shamanism / psychonautics. In January, I made the mistake of combining all these things in rapid succession, which led to an altered state so deep that I was unable to escape from it by myself. I'm very glad that benevolent police and skilled psychotherapists were able to catch me and rescue me from the hole in my own psyche that I dug.

But here's the curious thing: I don't remember ever losing my sense of self, at least not completely. No matter how crazy I became, I still knew that I was Jason. There were points where I thought that I was also a fictional character like Superman, or one I made up in my childhood called Huesplash. There were times when I was conversing with spirits, but I practice spirit magic and shamanism even when I'm not manic, so those things only look crazy to people who don't understand them. I won't claim that I was completely lucid in January, because I know that I wasn't. What I'm saying is that it's very difficult for me to discern whether the parts I can't remember were because I eventually experienced ego death and forgot who I was, or whether I just have amnesia because they fed me three different antipsychotics at one time.

I've acquired all my psych papers from prison and from the hospital, and they have been very helpful in telling me what my behavior was like at that time, and also a little bit of what I said. I made reference to Asherah, one of the main spirits I was dealing with at the time, and I have distinct memories of talking about Anansi the spider. A LOT. I remember thinking that my prison slippers were Anansi's traveling shoes... and being confused about my glasses, because I thought they were his, but I was told that they were definitely mine.

This is why I feel that January was a shamanic initiation by spirits: if Anansi was really there (which of course is always in question, because nobody can really know for certain if spirits are actually real or not), then telling me the glasses were mine instead of his was an attempt to teach me how to distinguish between spirits and myself. In other words, the spirits were trying to keep me sane. Trippy, no? In addition to that, even while it was happening and certainly afterwards, I treated it like an extended trip. I know some people have preconceived notions about psychedelics, so let me explain what a trip means for me.

I have only ever really taken psychedelics for the purpose of experiencing the presence of the divine or learning more about myself and working on my psychological issues. As a result of that, even while I was going mad, I was constantly looking for insights and useful information about myself. As the walls and assumptions dissolved into insanity, a lot of useful information bubbled up out of my unconscious mind. From the place that Jung called the Shadow: the repository of all those things we are too frightened or not yet ready to face about ourselves. The abilities and qualities that we're afraid we might abuse and hurt people, or that we fear could lead us into addiction.

A friend placed a bear spirit in charge of me ahead of time because she was worried I might get into trouble, and that spirit did a fantastic job of making sure my body was safe. The worst I suffered in that whole two-week period was a skinned knee. Some shamanic initiations culminate in near-death experiences, or even the person's heart stopping for a while, so I really feel like I got off pretty light. It was quite harrowing, and it helped me to conquer my two greatest fears - losing control of my own mind and going to prison - but at no point did I fear I was going to die. I knew that I was in good hands, that I was with people who would protect me if I couldn't protect myself. That is huge and I'm very grateful for it. I'm also very grateful to my friend Sophia, who had the good sense to take me to the hospital when I got out of prison and was trying to talk to people who were in other parts of the country.

Kabbalistic and Buddhist sources that I don't know the names of (but my teachers have talked about them) warn of the danger of certain altered states of consciousness. Sometimes if you're in an intense bliss state, which is very much like mania, you can become addicted to it and sort of drift off into the ether. There's a very real danger of losing yourself for a while, or perhaps going mad permanently. I didn't understand that this was literally true, but now I definitely do. It's true for method actors, as well; look up the story of how Daniel Day-Lewis drove himself mad by staying in character for way too long and had to be institutionalized.

I was just looking into a local Sufi center tonight, because I've always had a strong interest in it, because it's open to anyone, and because it seems to have very evolved notions about what being a mystic means and how to do it properly. They have an upcoming workshop on how to cope with ego death, and how to make sure you return to normal consciousness afterwards. I know some methods from magic (banishing), and some ritual theater methods involving masks and costumes, but I feel like it would be very valuable to get some training in how to recognize unhealthy thought patterns around mysticism itself.

I never realized such a thing could even exist until I got lost in my own fantasy worlds and possessed by normally benevolent spirits because, in Tarot terms, I put my sword down. In plainer language, that means I abandoned my reason because I thought the spirits had my best interests in mind. Perhaps they did, and they were trying to test me through suffering. I believe that's quite likely, but I wasn't consenting at the time, and as a result of that I came out of it very confused, disoriented and damaged.

Never abandon your reason completely; that way lies madness. Take it from one who's been there. Intuition is wonderful and beautiful, but if you don't mediate it with your reason, you're either a fool, a zealot or a madman.

Finally, if you and I are close friends or family, and reading this post made you worry, consider that it might just be that I believe in spirits and you don't. That's perfectly fine and as it should be. Believing in things that you don't doesn't make me crazy, because I acknowledge that they might not be real. Just like God, or muses, or Athena. When I'm manic, my critical thinking disappears and I think that I'm a prophet or a guru. Bad news. In normal consciousness, I understand that I'm still a student and that I probably always will be. Which is exactly how I feel now, because I'm still sane.

Feel free to interview or quiz me if you want to verify that fact. I welcome it. Just know that a large contributing factor to my mania in January and more recently was the presence of Wellbutrin in my system, which I no longer take. Also, I'm now taking a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic. As a result, the chance I'm manic is virtually nil. But I still want you to check my thinking, just in case. I could always be deluding myself and seeing what I want to see, like anybody does sometimes.

Also, I got more than just personal insights out of my January experience. A story that Anansi told me turned into a freeform storytelling game about animal spirits. My addled mind was obsessed with weaving fictional worlds together and assembling characters who rarely interact, so I also came out of it with a really interesting story involving Superman, Flash, and the Linear Men, characters from the DC universe who seem an odd trio without knowing the plot. It's almost as if there was this giant web or knot of stories that I got tangled up in, and it's taken me almost a year to start to unravel all the threads and put the plot points in chronological order. There is probably still more that I'm not thinking of right now.

Did I mention Anansi is the only spirit I know of whose mythos claims he's the lord of all stories?

Also, spiders weave webs. And a storytelling spider might be really good at weaving webs of plots and characters.

Just food for thought. I think Anansi is cool, but that's because I'm a storyteller. And I consider him a worthy opponent and a skilled teacher, after what happened in January. Your mileage may vary, though, and that's fine.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Way of Paradox: Seeking Enlightenment In Chaos

Core Values:

  • Personal Freedom
  • Radical Self-Reliance
  • Radical Self-Expression
  • Passion
  • Innovation
  • Knowledge for its own sake
  • Creating art


  • Be an adult. Know your limits. Handle your shit.
  • Consciously examine and reevaluate all your assumptions about yourself. Regularly. When you need help, consult your therapist or your best friend about your blind spots. Assumptions like "I should do things this way because that's how it's always been done in the past" or "I should do this because others might judge me harshly if i don't" are almost always useless. The same is usually true of ones that start with "I can't".
  • Discard any useless assumptions or limitations you or others have placed on you. The easiest way to identify useless assumptions is to familiarize yourself with common logical fallacies.
  • Be awesome all the time, however you define awesome. Set goals and annihilate them. This is how you level up in real life.
  • Emotions are not commands. Neither are other people's opinions, or whatever that judgmental voice in your head has to say today. Listen to what they have to say, evaluate it while looking for useless assumptions, and then decide whether to accept or reject. Then make a free choice based only on your personal core values.
  • Help those who desire and deserve your help. Don't waste your time and energy on the lazy or the closed-minded. Always help a friend in need if you can, though. Friendship requires regular maintenance just like anything else.
  • Practice mindfulness every day, multiple times a day, in as many different ways as you can. The goal is to pull you into the moment so that you can experience more fully the parts of life you enjoy most. Your brain has two basic waking states: mindfulness and autopilot. Make sure you're using the autopilot for menial tasks like washing dishes or finding your way someplace you've been many times before. If you catch yourself on autopilot during a conversation or while creating art, pull yourself back.
  • Create something every day. Art counts. So does writing. So does magic. Creation is food for the soul.
  • Cultivate positive addictions, such as daily meditation, exercise, yoga, martial arts, etc.
  • Determine your own personal practices for the pillars of earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Make sure you base them on not just your strengths but also your weaknesses. As far as possible, practice at least one of each activity every day. Doing your astrological chart will be useful for determining your relative strengths and weaknesses, elementally speaking.
  • Develop a plan to transform each of your weaknesses, if not into a strength, then at least into something you're passably okay at.
  • Find a way to monetize whatever you're good at. Having a job that you love and that fulfills you improves quality of life more than anything else, since most people spend over half their conscious hours working.
  • Practice embracing a thing and its opposite, then dwelling in the resulting cognitive dissonance. It may be scary, unsettling or uncomfortable at first, but stay with it and you'll eventually come to enjoy it. This will prepare you for accepting the reality that things are never as simple as they seem, that many apparently contradictory things can be true without them being able to be reconciled, and that poeple can disagree with you without automatically being wrong or stupid.
  • Practice paradigm shifting regularly. Try seeing things from your enemy's point of view, not to understand them better, but just because it's difficult. If you hate doing a particular, compare it to other things you hate doing and see what they have in common. Usually you'll find a wrong base assumption there that you can correct.
  • Determine your base assumptions about life through introspection, conversation or writing. Examine them and figure out which ones are potentially self-defeating, then rewrite them so that they're empowering instead.
  • Always strive to improve yourself. Relentless improvement is the key to self-respect, and it also helps you with being awesome all the time.
  • All sources of information are valuable. Your intuition is your unconscious mind's way of warning you about danger, so listen. Similarly, if you find abb idea you think is wise or good advice in a work of fiction, write it down. Keep a journal of such quotes. Looking through it periodically for common themes may help you to identify core values, useless assumptions, or blind spots.
  • Read and watch as much as you can about whatever your interests are. This may seem obvious, but many people don't give themselves permission to do the things they enjoy. Don't be one of those people.
  • Abandon guilt in favor of regret. Guilt is always useless because it leads to self-shaming instead of change. Regret, on the other hand, implies a desire to do better next time, which is far more useful. When you fail - and you will, especially at first - analyze the reasons why and adjust your actions and assumptions accordingly. Then do better next time. Deciding that you're wrong or bad or sinful or stupid is not going to help things at all.
  • The less often you make absolute statements, the less likely you are to look foolish in retrospect. Someone with different base assumptions is usually going to find a counterexample that you haven't considered. Feel free to express your opinion whenever you like, but avoid saying things "are" a certain way (rather than "i think ____" or "i feel ____" or "it appears to me that _____") because it leaves no room for differing opinions. Avoid "always" and "never" for the same reasons.
  • Mirroring helps set other people at ease. If they're very to the point, then only tell them exactly what they need to know. If they like to chat a lot about random things, feel free to share about your life too. When listening about something that doesn't particularly interest you, you can still be happy for the other person because it's something they're into. There's no need to say things like "i'm not into that" unless they're trying to convince you that you should be. Doing that unnecessarily makes people feel rejected.
  • Never put your Sword down, but don't be overly skeptical either. Balance in all things.
  • Don't take things personally. Other people's reactions are rarely about you. They're about that person's habituated behavior patterns and assumptions. 
  • Strive to be assertive, respectful, kind, fair, and calm. Other people have no right to tell you what to do, but telling them so will tend to upset them, especially if they disagree. Avoid asserting your will over others unless they are harassing you in some way.
  • The Paradox Rule: Any apparent paradox or contradiction you notice hints at a flaw in someone's understanding. Make it your business to find the faulty assumption underlying any paradox you notice, so that you can learn from it. Paradoxes allow you to pierce maya to see the deeper layer of truth that lies beneath.
  • Use the most precise term possible for whatever you're trying to describe. For example, avoid "good", "bad", and "evil" in favor of more useful distinctions such as helpful/unhelpful, useful/useless, or cruel/kind. The former terms are laden with eons worth of guilt and shared assumptions, while the latter ones are far cleaner.
  • Words have the power to create or destroy. Do not use them lightly. Calling a person or thing bad or stupid creates an expectation in your mind that this will always be so. Which, in turn, leads to useless assumptions. Conversely, striving to keep your word at all times creates the expectation that when you say something will happen, it is almost certainly going to happen. This is what real power looks like.
  • Some of these tenets may not suit you. Contemplate the reason why, looking for useless assumptions as always. None of these ideas are set in stone. This is an open source document, so if you find no useless assumptions around a tenet, you should modify it or delete it. Personal enlightenment is personal. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. Go be awesome.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Fallen Angels: A Midrash

This is a story the archangel Raphael told me today during my daily meditation / prayer. Being a writer, I embellished it a bit of course.

Long ago, when this incarnation of the universe barely had the shrink-wrap taken off, God created the angels. Or perhaps it might be more correct to say that God (the Elohim) noticed the angels, as the each angel is to God as a cell or an organ is to the whole human body. (The same is true of humans, but that's a story for another time.) So perhaps the Heavenly Host's hive mind became self-aware and decided to be called YHVH, or conversely, perhaps the great YHVH noticed one day that all of its appendages possessed singular intelligence and purpose. This chicken-and-egg problem is also an argument for another time. However, it does point to the possibility that those humans with multiple personalities ("dissociative identity disorder") might very well be created a bit more in the image of the Host than the rest of us, being both singular and multiple at once, but also neither.

All was well within the great heavenly hive-mind system of the Elohim until creation began. Each of the angels was tasked with creating and tending a particular type of thing - a tree, perhaps, or an animal, or clouds or soil. Even a single blade of grass has its own angel, the rabbis tell us. But when the humans Adam and Lilith were created, this was when trouble began. The angels saw that humans had something they did not - not only physical bodies with which to enjoy the universe more fully, but the free will that allowed them to choose to do so. Lilith was free to leave Adam when he refused to respect her autonomy, and in response God created a lesser creature, Eve, out of Adam's side. Could God be fallible after all? There was dissension in the angelic ranks about this point, and so the archangel Samael took it upon himself to test the theory.

What would happen if, in addition to free will, the humans had knowledge of what would and would not harm them (often pronounced "good and evil")? Samael wanted to find out, so he assumed the form of a snake and made it happen. Only those of the Elohim who were also curious about the Host's fallibility knew about this plan, so when it succeeded, the group came together and ejected Samael from their number. The other Watchers who had been with him also decided to remain on earth, as it had become clear to them that their brethren were stuck-up and pompous sticks in the mud. They went on to teach the humans magic, science, architecture, and all sorts of interesting sexual positions and generally to enjoy themselves on earth as they liked.

But here is the point that no one seems to get, which Raphael underscored for me this morning: None of this would have been possible had God (Elohim / the Host) not removed the fallen angels' desire to serve God first. An angel cannot act against its nature; its very name compels it to behave in a particular way and to fulfill a particular function. It's only without the desire to perform that function that said angel can gain something like free will, and so we come to the conclusion that the Host expelled the Fallen not as a curse, but out of love because it was what they wanted. It was only by wandering in the Desert of the Real (to steal a term from the Matrix) that the Fallen could come to appreciate their own particular gifts and heaven itself.

If you love something you've created enough, set it free, and one day it will come back to you when it realizes it loves its creator back.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Some Thoughts on Magical Models (or: Whither Chaos Magic?)

The problem with chaos magic has always been that when compared with traditional systems, it goes about everything more or less upside-down, backwards, inside-out and sideways. Before going any further, let me add some basic principles that will make this guide far more understandable to anyone whose background may be different from my own:

Principle 1: Chaos magic grew out of, and owes a great debt to the philosophy of, Discordianism. Reading the Illuminatus! Trilogy is nice, but you will need a firm grounding in the Principia Discordia to get started on understanding chaos magic. How does one get a firm grounding in a book that is made up mostly of in-jokes, hearsay and quotes from books that don't in fact exist? I'm so glad you asked: The core of the philosophy can be found here: Psycho-Metaphysics

Principle 2: The best text for learning chaos magic is Oven-Ready Chaos by Phil Hine. I say "best" because, based on my own reading, it is the most objective and scientific one freely available online. While Peter Carroll is excellent reading, Phil Hine is better both at explaining in general and at distinguishing his own personal views from universal truth

Principle 3: Chaos magic is not a system but a meta-system. In the same sense that NLP is a meta-system for human communication and integral thought is a meta-system for human development, chaos magic is a meta-system for describing improbable coincidences (in the timeless words of Peter Carroll). Its strength and weakness has always been in its ability to eff the ineffable, to quote a good friend of mine (in other words, to explain that which traditionally has been thought to be inexplicable).

Why does this matter? Because chaos magic has succeeded in infecting all other magical systems to the point that Andrieh Vitimus (who should correct me if I'm misquoting you) said at Crucible this year that nearly every book on magic published today would likely have been considered a chaos magic book ten to fifteen years ago. Wicca remains influential, but like the Christianity its members sometimes react so vehemently to, it is a system that asserts universality while the reality is anything but. Just ask anyone who used to believe all goddesses are the same, or that all witches must necessarily be Wiccan. The usefulness of a system like chaos magic, which tries to distill practices down to only what works, and that also tries to apply the scientific method to the Work, cannot be overstated.

I was chatting today with Jason Miller about the four models of magic, which seem to be his least favorite bit about chaos magic in particular. Let me address those here, because they are the reason this blog post happened at all. Roughly, the four models are the energy ("Magic works through directing energy"), spirit ("Magic works by calling and working with spirit entities"), psychological ("Magic works through embedding information in the unconscious and/or collective unconscious"), and cybernetic ("Magic is a primitive word for hacking the Matrix"). Jason and I agree that these models are artificial, that there's really no reason to use any of them exclusively, and that servitors (which are cybernetic in focus) are really no different from homunculi or even some versions of the ancient golem, which means (as Phil Hine rightly says in Oven-Ready Chaos) the cybernetic model dovetails right back into the spirit model, which is normally considered the oldest of the four.

But I like the models because they're artificial, not in spite of it. Why? Because as a privileged white boy who had strict rationalism thrust upon him, it comforted me a great deal to know there were others out there who needed to be flat-out told that the psychological model is *not* somehow superior to the other three. Who needed to be beaten over the head, in fact, with the knowledge that non-rational does *not* equal unreal. Please raise your hand if you're with me on this.

So what should any of us do when someone says, "I'm a spirit model person" or "I prefer the psychological model" or even "I only believe in energy healing"? There's always a choice: Speak that person's language or don't. But there's a reason I mentioned NLP earlier, a method to my madness as it were, and that reason is called mirroring. In NLP it's often described through auditory, visual or kinesthetic language - for example, someone who's a kinesthetic learner might be more inclined to say they grasp what you're saying, while an auditory person might say "I hear you" or simply nod their head, and a visual person would probably just make really good eye contact or maybe add "I see what you mean." This is an NLP technique developed from watching three very different therapists with very different assumptions and styles, all of whom did it intuitively because of how well it works for developing a genuine rapport quickly.

Mirroring the person's language helps the person feel at ease with you; it helps them let their guard down because they know you've heard them, and on an unconscious level, they know that you've adjusted your speech patterns just a little so that you can meet on shared ground. The same is true for magical models: If someone tells you their preferred model and you respond by explaining things in some other one, you'd better have a bloody good reason for doing so, and first you'd better explain yourself. The most common reason is either that no explanation exists for a given phenomenon in the model the person specified, or possibly that you're not familiar enough with that model to know what the explanation is.

Being conversant in all four models is helpful, but even if you aren't, just acknowledging that you've changed the subject because you have a model limitation of your own will help you to laugh at yourselves, move on, and avoid getting bogged down in cock-measuring contests of language instead of figuring out a way to communicate. When in doubt, almost everyone knows a bit of the energy, spirit, and psychological models, so feel free to weave them together with a nice helping of fictional terminology if that's all you know of. Mage: the Ascension is particularly useful for effing the ineffable, as is the game Unknown Armies.

Now you may see why I emphasized the Principia Discordia so emphatically above. (See what I did there?) Reality really is the original Rorschach.

Verily! So much for all that.