Step Two opens with a section titled "Auto-suggestion or the Secret of the Subconscious". This describes a relatively simple technique wherein the student formulates a positively stated phrase pertaining to an aspect of self that is in need of improvement, and then proceeds to repeat this phrase over and over, until it becomes rooted in the subconscious mind.
This is not a stand-alone technique -- it will not assure permanent change in and of itself. To truly effect change in one's self, affirmation must be joined with direct action. This is elaborated further in the section "Magical Schooling of the Soul".
Where this technique is most effective is for keeping the positive alternative to a negative trait at the forefront of one's conscious mind. By implanting the positive affirmation into one's subconscious mind, it will naturally arise each time that the corresponding negative trait rears its head. When combined with a commitment to direct action, this is an invaluable asset.
In my experience, the best times to do this repetition are immediately upon waking and just before falling asleep.
It is very important that the affirmation be phrased in the present tense and in a positive manner. For example, "I will quit smoking" does not suffice as it is both negative and not in the present tense. Far better would be "I am a healthy, happy non-smoker." Avoid phrases which include the word 'not'.
It is in this section that Bardon introduces the idea of working with a string of beads (or knots) to keep track of the number of times that the affirmation is repeated or to keep track of the number of interruptions incurred in the concentration exercises. This is a handy tool. I work with a length of yarn in which I have tied 40 simple knots. At each repetition or interruption, I simply move my finger past one knot. This is advantageous in that it frees me from having to count my repetitions or keep track of the number of interruptions. Thus, keeping track does not itself constitute an interruption or distract me from the task at hand.
The student must have reached the recommended degree of success with the Step One meditation exercises before beginning this section of the Step Two exercises. The ability to concentrate is essential to the work which follows.
With this section of the Step Two training, the attention is directed toward the five physical senses. The practice serves as an introduction to a type of meditation commonly called "creative visualization". But, as with many things in IIH, this is more than what is commonly meant or understood as creative visualization.
These exercises are an important first step toward the development of the subtle astral and mental senses. They are designed to achieve the following things: 1) To hone the student's powers of concentration. 2) To teach the student how to separate out one sense at a time. 3) To hone the student's physical senses.
The description that Bardon offers of these exercises is very straight forward and simple. The doing of them however, can be quite difficult for the average student.
Most students notice that the exercises with one sense will be more difficult than those of another sense and this is absolutely normal. The reasons for this are two-fold. First is the fact that we rely upon one or two senses more so than the others and so some of our senses will not be as well developed as others. This is easily remedied by focusing upon the sense at hand and consciously using it throughout the day. For example, if you have trouble bringing up the aroma of a rose, then go smell a few roses and concentrate upon their aroma. Pay special attention to how things smell and this will help develop your olfactory sensoria.
The secondary reason for the difference between one's senses has to do with the Elemental balance. Each sense is related to an Element and so when an Element is lacking, the corresponding sense is also lacking. Which of these exercises is easy and which is hard can tell you a great deal about the current state of your own personal Elemental balance. As you work at crafting a greater balance of the Elements in your personality (see Step Two, "Magical Schooling of the Soul") these discrepancies between the senses should ease.
The exercises with the sensory concentration should be carried out exactly as Bardon describes. Be sure to work with just one sense at a time. For example, if you are working with the smell of a rose, shun all images of the rose and all remembrances of roses past as they intrude upon your consciousness.
The sequence of senses should also be followed. They are presented in this sequence for very good reason and you should not spend five minutes with visualization, followed by five minutes with smell, etc., in a single sitting. Each sensory exercise should be mastered before beginning work with the next sense.
Choose simple images to work with when you are beginning the visual concentration exercise. I advise against using complex images or objects such as Tarot cards. This tends to make the exercise much more difficult to master and serves no good purpose at this stage. Likewise with the other senses, choose simple things to work with.
Please note that in Bardon's description of the "sentience or feeling concentration", he refers only to overall body sensations such as heat and cold, and not to tactile sensations such as rough and smooth. It will do no harm however, to include tactile sensations in your work, but it is not a requirement.
1) Does auto-suggestion really work? Why?
Yes, it does, but not as a stand-alone technique. To be truly effective, it must be combined with direct action.
This is a very common technique these days, so much has been learned about why and how it works. Cutting away all the fancy language and superstition, the simple fact is that by repeating your wish frequently, you keep the thought in your surface awareness. Of course, this also integrates the thought into your subconsciousness. But of main importance is that it helps you keep the thought in your conscious mind and from there, it impacts your other thoughts and actions.
2) What is the proper phrasing for my wish?
Your phrase should be entirely positive (no 'not's) and in the present tense (no 'I will'). For example, "I am a healthy, happy non-smoker" is preferable over "I will not smoke."
Furthermore, when it comes to using auto-suggestion for self-change, your phrase should address the root of the problem, not the mere symptom.
3) I can't visualize for beans, how do I overcome this?
Number one, keep trying! Secondly, try looking at things more closely. Pay attention to their color, texture, size, shape, etc. As with any of the sensory exercises, the more acute your physical senses, the easier it will be to do these exercises. Persistent trouble with the visualization exercise can be indicative of an imbalance of the Fire Element, so if this is the case for you, then working at rectifying your Fire imbalance should make your visualization exercise go easier.
4) Why are some of the concentration exercises easy and others difficult?
There are two factors at play here. First is the acuity of your senses -- we tend to favor one or more of our senses over the others in our day-to-day lives.
The second factor is your Elemental balance. The senses are associated with the Elements and so when one sort of sensory exercise is more difficult, it may be due to an imbalance in the corresponding Element. Addressing that imbalance may help with your sensory exercise.
5) I'm practicing Bardon's visualizations. I can imagine objects with closed eyes, but I still can't imagine objects with my eyes open.
The main reason that doing the sensory exercises with your eyes open is so difficult is because with your eyes open there is more visual stimulation than with your eyes closed. When your eyes are closed, all you generally see is blackness and this allows you to easily concentrate on just your visualization. But when your eyes are open, all the images of your surroundings interfere with your concentration upon the visualization.
There are several ways to make the transition between eyes closed and eyes open a bit easier. One method is to work in a darkened room. This reduces the amount of visual distractions during the eyes-open phase and mimics the blackness of having your eyes closed. Once you can manage your visualization with your eyes open in a darkened room, then gradually increase the light in your room until you can master the visualization, with eyes open, in a fully illuminated room.
A second method is to stare at either a black surface of a plain white surface when you build your open-eyes visualization. This will also reduce the amount of visual distractions.
A third method is to stare at a wall or into space with your eyes slightly out of focus. This blurs your surroundings and thus diminishes visual distractions.
A fourth, and probably the most difficult method is to first build your visualization with your eyes closed and then, holding firmly on to your established visualization, open your eyes. Once your eyes are open, try to hold on to your visualization and let it float before your open eyes.
The key in any case is to ignore the increased visual details of your surroundings when your eyes are open. Truly all you should concentrate upon is your visualization itself.
Many of the exercises require this sort of transition from mastery with the eyes closed to mastery with the eyes open. This is designed to teach the student how to make these abilities things that can be employed at any moment in their daily life.
When any exercise presents a difficulty for you, be inventive and try a variety of different methods to overcome the difficulty until you find the method that works best for you. I'm certain that in the above case, there are more than just these four methods for overcoming your difficulty. I hope that these examples will at least stimulate your imagination and inspire you to devise a method that works well for you.
6) Is it okay to skip from sense to sense or should I follow the sequence that Bardon infers?
The order in which Bardon presented the sensory exercises is important and for a reason. It is no different in the work of accumulating the Elements -- you follow the sequence of Fire, Air, Water and then Earth. The reasons for this are complex, but suffice it to say, you can trust Bardon on this. You will be wise to follow his directions exactly as stated. It is all too easy to fall into favoring one sense/Element and this violates the intent of a balanced magical training.
While the Step One "Schooling of the Soul" concerned the analysis of the personality, the Step Two exercises put this analysis into motion. Here the focus is upon what I call "self-crafting", wherein the student begins the process of transforming what has been revealed by self-analysis, into a more positive manifestation of who the student wants to be.
Bardon recommends starting to work with the most bothersome aspect of the personality, but adds the proviso that if the student's will is weak, then she/he can begin work with a minor negative aspect. Truly, starting with the thing you want to change the most is the better way to go. But, if you really are lacking in will power, then starting small will build both your will power and your confidence.
It is of vital importance that you persist with your chosen item until you meet with the success that you desire. Do not ever give up half way to your goal. If you feel stuck, then spend some time reevaluating your approach to the problem and see if you can come up with a better tact.
Choose only one item at a time and devote all your personal resources to its successful transformation.
Bardon suggests a three-pronged attack, as it were, consisting of meditation, affirmation and direct action:
Meditation -- Once you have decided upon an item to work with, spend a goodly amount of time in contemplation. Try to uncover everything about this item that you can. Each negative trait serves a positive purpose -- what makes it negative is that these aspects of ourselves usually are formed as subconscious responses. Delve deeply into the negative item and try to uncover the positive purpose that lies at its root. Then craft for yourself a more positive way of meeting this root need, one that is a fully conscious choice instead of a subconscious habit.
Affirmation -- Enough has already been said in this regard in the opening section on the secret of the subconscious. The important thing here is that your affirmation be carefully crafted to support the positive alternative to your negative item. Use what you have learned about the magic of food and water to also support this work of self-crafting.
Direct Action -- There are two aspects to direct action worth mentioning here. The first is the moment-to-moment kind. Simply put, this means that every time your negative trait arises in your day-to-day life, you must immediately stop yourself and concentrate upon your positive alternative. Replace your negative response with a positive one. This is a very powerful form of self-transformation which will directly strengthen your will. The second aspect of direct action is more occasional. Here, one must plan certain actions which support the positive alternative and meet the needs of the aforementioned root purpose. For instance if the root purpose behind your negative trait is to provide you with a sense of connection with others, then instead of satisfying this valid need through a negative manner, plan positive activities that will bring you closer to others in your community or family.
Practice makes perfect and after your first success, your next will come all the more quickly and easily. This work is very, very, very important to a steady magical rise and no effort should be spared. Since we are constantly changing beings, this is a work that never ends -- it only gets easier. Soon enough, you will get the hang of it and self-crafting will become a joy.
Please remember that the Elemental Equilibrium is not an absolute, static state. It is a thing that takes constant attention. You are not expected to achieve an absolute Equilibrium before beginning Step Three. What is expected however, is that you will have made major advancement toward Elemental balance. A basic balance of the Elements within the personality is essential for the work ahead. Without this basic balance and the commitment to constantly improve upon it, the student risks damage to their psyche and their physical health.
1) Where should I start?
It really is best if you start with the one item in your negative soul mirror that bothers you the most. Stick with it until your transform it to your satisfaction.
Conceding to a weak will is a dubious practice in my opinion. I know that Bardon says you can alternately begin with a lesser item and work your way up to the more important ones. But that really is not the best method. A strong will is essential to the magician so why not do yourself the favor of cultivating it from the outset? This might not be easy work for you, but none of it is impossible. Instead of starting with a small item, work with a big item and go at it in small, manageable increments.
2) Am I supposed to change only my negative traits or am I supposed to tone down my outstanding positive traits as well?
This is a common question. The Step Two work should be focused upon transforming your most powerful negative traits. At this stage, the greatest use for your positive soul mirror is its value as a guide to the rectification of your negative traits -- many times, the answer to what you should change a negative trait into, lies within your positive mirror.
Some will say that too much of a positive trait indicates an imbalance of the Elements. This is only partially true, for an overabundance of a positive trait is actually a negative trait and should be logged in the negative soul mirror as such.
3) Help! I'm not making any progress with this, what do I do?
Well, though I'm sure you're tired of hearing this, keep trying! Sometimes, you will need to go back and entirely reevaluate your approach. Look again at the item you wish to transform, make sure you've penetrated to the root of the problem, and make sure that all the techniques for self-change you employ fit the item exactly.
Sometimes, true and lasting problems with this part of the work stem from not having the degree of commitment that is required. If this is the case, then work at developing your commitment, as well as your ability to assure yourself that your desired change is inevitable or has in fact, already come to pass.
The Step Two "Schooling of the Physical Body" exercises build upon those of the first Step. Here, we shift our attention from normal lung breathing, to what Bardon calls "pore breathing" or breathing with the whole body.
The pseudo-scientific rationale behind magical breathing is that the cells of the body are constantly regenerating themselves. They die off and are replaced on a fairly predictable schedule that varies from one type of cell to another. Our nutrition and our state of mind determines the health of the new cells. When we practice the magical inhalation of an idea, that idea becomes integrated into the structure of our new cells and thus we slowly transform our entire physical structure. This is why it is so important that the inhaled idea be circulated throughout the entire body.
The pore breathing technique is fairly simple and requires only a little imagination to accomplish. Bardon uses the dry-sponge-dipped-in-water analogy, but another good analogy is that of centering one's attention in the physical bones of the body and sucking in the air from there. Either way it is described, the feeling should be that one is inhaling air through the whole body at once. Please note that this is not something that is merely visualized, but rather, it is something that should be FELT by the entire physical body.
The first exercise in pore breathing involves the inhalation of what Bardon calls the "vital energy". Unfortunately for the new student, Bardon says very little about what this vital energy actually is. Consequently, this is a question that is frequently asked, so I will take a few moments to speak about the vital energy in the following Q&A section.
The exercises of this section of Step Two begin with the whole body pore breathing of the vital energy. Remember to avoid altering the breathing cycle during these exercises. Here, just as with the Step One exercise of inhaling an idea through normal lung breathing, it is the mind which does the actual work, not the breath itself. As before, take empty breaths to accommodate the lag time between your ideation process and your normal breathing cycle.
Once this technique of pore breathing the vital energy is mastered, the student's attention is turned toward adding an idea to the Akasha principle (of the vital energy or of the raw air itself). Here, the idea is inhaled through the entire body in the same way it was inhaled in Step One through the lungs alone.
Next comes the practice of the magical exhale. This follows the same principles as the magical inhalation but focuses instead upon ridding the body/psyche of a specific thought or ideation (usually the negative counterpart of the inhaled idea). Again, it is important to not force a change in the normal breathing rhythm -- take those empty breaths as needed. If you've mastered the magical inhale, then the magical exhale should be very easy to master as well.
When focused upon the same concern, the magical inhale combined with the magical exhale, constitutes a very powerful method for self-change. Its potentials for positive impact upon the physical and psychic health of the practitioner are uncountable.
The Step Two exercises close with a section on physical discipline. Specifically, this concerns the primary working asana (or bodily position) that the student will use throughout the IIH work. Bardon recommends a sitting posture (some call it the "King" or the "Throne" posture), but a kneeling posture will work just as well for most students. It really matters little which particular posture you choose for this as long as it is one in which you find bodily comfort. For example, if you choose a lotus asana and can do it without your legs falling asleep from lack of blood flow then by all means use it, but if the lotus asana puts your legs to sleep, then choose another posture that does not have this effect.
This exercise can (and in my opinion, should) be applied to ANY posture the student finds themselves in throughout daily life. The point here is to attain the ability to be in any position and still be able to achieve both comfort and uninterrupted concentration.
As with Step One, it is equally important that the student not move on to Step Three until all of the Step Two exercises have been mastered. If one part of the exercises goes quickly for you then spend your time improving upon your abilities until you have completed the rest of the Step Two requirements.
1) How do I breathe through my pores?
Bardon uses the analogy of a dry sponge which absorbs the water. This is good, but I prefer the idea of breathing from the inside of your bones. This way you are drawing in the air from the inside of your self. There is no way to really describe how this feels, but with a little practice you'll get the hang of it on your own.
2) What is the vital energy?
There are two questions about the vital energy that invariably arise: "What is the vital energy?", and "What does the vital energy feel like?" The first question is less important than the second at this stage in the training but nonetheless, it is worthy of an answer.
The vital energy is a specific energy that has a specific constitution. It is composed of the Elements (Fire, Air, Water, Earth and Akasha) and the Fluids (Electric and Magnetic) in a ratio that has an affinity with living (animate) matter. When an animate being is surrounded with the vital energy, it naturally draws from the vital energy as much of the Elements and Fluids as it requires. Thus a blade of grass will draw a slightly different array of Elements and Fluids from the vital energy than will a human body.
The vital energy is an astra-mental substance -- it is not, in and of itself, something measurable through the use of physical instruments (although many of its physical effects are measurable). Since it is astra-mental, it has an affinity for physical matter and does directly effect the structure of physical things.
The specific ratio of Elements and Fluids composing the vital energy expresses a slight preponderance of the Fire Element and the Electric Fluid. It also expresses the positive polarity of the Elements and Fluids with greater strength than it does the negative polarity. This gives it the quality of vitality reflected in its name.
Most often, it is visualized as a slightly golden brilliance (due to its preponderance of the Fire Element and the Electric Fluid). It is also visualized by some to be of a pure white brilliance instead of having a golden tinge, but in my experience this is not the vital energy that Bardon speaks of here. This pure white (totally colorless) energy is also vital, but its effect is more universal and not as specifically suited to animate, living matter. In other words, the pure white energy will have a greater effect upon the structure of inanimate matter but will have less direct an impact upon animate matter than the gold tinged vital energy. Since the focus here in Step Two is our own physical body, I highly recommend working with a vital energy that has a golden appearance.
3) What does the vital energy feel like?
As to the second, more important question about how the vital energy feels to the student's body, the main clue to this is found in the name this energy is given. This energy feels vital and it is stimulating and energizing to the human body. When performing the Step Two work with the vital energy, the student should feel this stimulation throughout the nerves of their entire body. Little more can be said for it is up to the student to find, through experimentation, their connection to this energy for themselves. With these clues and directions, you should have little trouble in this regard.