The common theme in all of the Step Two exercises is creativity. Re-creating your personality, learning to create sensory impressions and exercising creative choice in regard to how you react to physical discomfort. The key then is to approach the work of Step Two with the spirit of creative play.
The sensory concentration exercises and your first experiments with pore breathing rely upon your innate ability to imagine and pretend. When exercised, strengthened and used with conscious intention, this innate ability of imagination becomes the magical faculty of “creative imagination”.
In Hermetic practice, the creative imagination is a tool that is used in very specific ways and with very specific goals. Many think that the point of developing the creative imagination is so that eventually you will be able to materialize objects out of thin air just with the mind, or that you will be able to alter reality to suit your desires merely with your thoughts and will power, but neither of these ideas is true. Its primary function as a tool is to connect self with other. Not to alter something external to self, but rather to alter one’s own self. Let me explain . . .
A fundamental aspect of the mental plane, made use of throughout the Hermetic training, is the Law of Attraction: like attracts like. In mental plane terms, things that share commonality, that are alike or similar, exist in close proximity; while things that do not share anything in common or which are opposites, always remain separated by the mental plane equivalent of distance.
This means that when you insert an ideation into the mental plane with your creative imagination, your creation will be magnetically drawn to whatever it shares commonality with in the mental plane. For example, if you create the idea of happiness within your own mind, and support it with the creation of appropriate astra-physical sensations, then similar ideas will surround your awareness on the mental plane. Very quickly your creation becomes a factual reality because it is supported by what is occurring in the mental plane.
Another example can be found in the practice of mental wandering. To get to the Venus sphere, one uses the creative imagination to fill one’s awareness with all the symbols that represent the essential meaning of the Venus sphere and thus one is automatically drawn to the Venus sphere. It’s by these means that one navigates within the mental realm or plane.
This is also the foundation of the Step Three exercises with the Elements. By creating with your imagination all of the sensations and ideas associated with an Element, you eventually connect with the factual, non-imaginary Element within the mental realm. Once this mental connection is established through repeated practice, it follows very quickly that there is no further need to imagine the effects of the Element. In other words, as magicians, we use the tool of our creative imagination to lead us to factual experience and perception.
Naturally, the Step Two sensory concentration exercises are quite important. Bardon designed them in such a way that they train your creativity with each sense independently and thoroughly so that by the end of Step Two you should be able to create any sensory impression you want and hold it steady for as long as you desire.
The basic technique is really quite simple and straight forward. We begin with direct perception, move on to memory and then go from there to true creativity which is not dependent upon memory. For example, with the visualization exercise, we begin by actually looking at the object we wish to visualize, in this case a simple pencil. First we look at a real pencil with our physical eyes and note all of its details. Then we close our eyes and call up the memory of the pencil we’ve just looked at and try to hold that memory-image solidly in our mind for as long as possible.
Ordinarily, when we look at something, such as our pencil, our visual cortex responds and specific synapses fire within the brain. This initiates a chain reaction of chemical messengers throughout the body. And when we remember the thing we just looked at, the visual cortex responds in the exact same way, followed by the same initiation of chemical messengers throughout the body. In other words, there is no difference to the brain between perceiving a thing and remembering a thing. And ultimately, there is no difference to the brain between something we have created with our imagination and something non-created that we have actually perceived.
The Step Two exercises with the senses are rooted in this fact. We begin by remembering the object/sound/taste/etc. we have just perceived, but then we depart from the "normal" by focusing our awareness exclusively and extendedly upon this image that we have brought forth in our memory. This prolongs and amplifies the firing of the brain's synapses, causing the memory to become something more than just a fleeting image/sound/taste/etc.
Once we are able to prolong the remembered image, we can then manipulate its appearance as if it were made of clay or some other easily changed substance (i.e., use our "plastic" imagination). In other words, we take intentional, conscious control of the image/sound/flavor and therefore determine its nature independent of our memory. This is when we begin to create.
You see, this is really very simple! As with most of the Hermetic techniques, it’s merely an intentionally focused prolonging of something we do all the time.
With practice, you will quickly become able to create images, sounds, smells, sensations, etc., that are original to your experience and which do not arise from your memory. This is the goal of the Step Two sensory concentration exercises.
Bardon laid out a very specific sequence to these sensory exercises: first sight, then hearing, then tactile, then smell and finally taste. And while it is best to preserve this sequence it is not essential that you do so. Each person is different when it comes to the sensitivity of their senses. Some of us are primarily visual and will most likely find the visual exercises the easiest to begin with, while others are primarily tactile and will find those exercises easier to begin with, and so on. What matters more than adhering to Bardon’s stated sequence is that you meet with success with one sense fairly quickly. Once you have achieved success with one sense, the rest of the exercises become very easy to master.
Several years ago I met with a fellow who had been essentially stuck on the visualization exercise for a couple of years and he was very frustrated by his lack of success. Upon meeting him I recognized that his strongest sensory affinity was with hearing sounds so I suggested that he switch to working with the auditory exercises and gain his first success there, then move on to the other senses. He returned the next morning to say that the auditory exercise proved to be extremely easy for him and that his success with the auditory exercise informed him of what was meant by “success”! He then mastered all of the sensory exercises in a matter of a few weeks and finally progressed to Step Three after so many frustrating years of fruitless devotion to the sensory concentration exercises.
What is very important to adhere to though is Bardon’s instruction to keep the senses separate from each other during the exercises. For instance, if you are creating the sound of a bird’s song, you do not want to split your focus by also creating the visual image of the bird singing. Focus your creativity in just a single sensory impression at a time and, if you must, forcefully disallow any images to accompany your sounds, or smells to accompany your tastes, etc. This isolates each sense as you are developing it and results in much more refinement and power than if you mix the senses at this point in the training. Multi-sensorial creation comes with Step Three after each sense has been trained separately.
One side-effect of these exercises that I have experienced, and which I believe most who do this work experience, is that training your senses in this way heightens their sensitivity and you are enabled to perceive more subtle nuances than before. For example, when I smell an aroma now, I smell it very deeply and perceive multiple layers within what used to be just a simple smell. This fact has greatly increased my appreciation for what the sensory world has to offer in terms of its beauty and variety. While this might seem inconsequential it must be noted that it is through sensory perception that we receive much of our astral-emotional nourishment. Who has not experienced the sense of well being that comes from observing a beautiful sunset, for example? Observing a sunset or anything else for that matter, with trained senses heightens and enriches the nourishing aspect of sensory perception. It’s like the nutritional difference between eating a highly processed, pre-cooked, packed-in-plastic vegetable, verses eating one you’ve freshly picked from your garden.
The Art of Self-Redemption
Redemption means to either give something new value or to return a thing to its original worth. Imbuing our personality with value, re-making it into an expression worthy of our deepest Self, is what self-transformation of the character is all about. We look into our soul mirror and discern what is already a worthy expression and what is not. Those aspects of our personality that do not measure up to what we want to be and that shame us instead of serving us, are dissected and transformed into traits that are worthy expressions of Self and which do serve us.
Many experience this as an extremely serious and difficult work, one rife with struggle and repeated self-defeat. Witnessing this always saddens me because I know what a joyous, liberating and empowering experience self-transformation can be!
I remember very clearly that moment when I first realized down in my bones that I had actually and truly transformed a very negative and very strong character trait into something productive and beautiful. That was a moment of true freedom as I realized that I really and truly had the power to be who I truly wanted to be. Not some idealized superhero or some other archetype of human superiority, but to simply and completely be my Self. In that moment I knew it was not just possible but that it was now inevitable. This realization turned the work of self-transformation into an adventure, an opportunity to exercise my creativity upon myself and indeed, turned the work into an exciting and pleasurable practice.
I hope to convey to you some of the passion that I experience for the work of self-transformation and to increase your own understanding of practical ways to go about transforming your character.
Bardon began Step Two with a short treatise titled “Autosuggestion or the Secret of Subconsciousness” in which he explained the mechanism by which our conscious intention can be used to transform subconscious habit. Several years ago some one published an article very critical of one of Bardon’s assertions in this treatise, calling it one of Bardon’s “errors”. What was criticized was Bardon’s association of the intentional consciousness with the cerebrum or front of the head, and the subconsciousness with the cerebellum or back of the head. Clearly from a physical, scientific perspective Bardon’s assertion makes no sense and would indeed constitute a sort of error in understanding the physical structure of the brain. However, Bardon did not intend it as such a literal statement. Instead, he was restating a bit of very ancient knowledge about the structure of human awareness.
In the ancient Hebrew kabbalah, the intentional awareness was associated with the Letter ‘Resh’ which means, “front of head or face” and the subconscious awareness was associated with the Letter ‘Qooph’ which means “back of head”. In this case, the terms “front” and “back” must be understood in a symbolic sense; “front” meaning foremost, leading or exposed, and “back” meaning secondary, following or hidden.
On the Hebrew Tree of Life, the Path of ‘Resh’ corresponds to the Sun and is the emanation of Tiphareth (the seat of the Individual Self) unto Yesod (the seat of the personal self). This illustrates the fact that the intentional awareness of the Individual Self is meant to be the radiant power that illuminates the astral personality and, conversely, that the astral personality is meant to be a reflection of the Solar Individual Self.
The Path of ‘Qooph’ on the other hand, corresponds to Pisces and the Moon and, on the Hebrew Tree, is the emanation of Hod (the seat of the lower, primarily subconscious thinking awareness which generates the surface mind chatter) unto Malkuth which symbolizes the mundane, every-day awareness. This illustrates that it is the subconscious mind that ordinarily exerts the greatest formative influence over our day-to-day interactions with our environment.
However, the relationship between ‘Resh’ and ‘Qooph”, between Sun and Moon, illustrates that it is within the power of our conscious intention to determine the content of that formative subconscious reflection and thus transform its effect into a clearer expression of our Individual Self.
In other words, our conscious intention is capable of transforming the content of the subconsciousness. We cannot halt or eliminate the formative influence of the subconsciousness but we can surely transform the nature of that influence to such a degree that it consistently agrees with and conforms to the deeper will of the intentional awareness of our Individual Self.
Transformation of the personality or character is a matter of using the conscious intention to change the nature of the ingredients of the subconscious psyche. Once the nature of an ingredient has been transformed, it will exert a likewise transformed influence over the mundane awareness. Thus we take advantage of the way in which the subconscious and conscious levels of awareness naturally interact and use that interaction to our benefit. The subconscious will exert a formative influence over our mundane awareness, so when we change the nature of that inevitable influence we simultaneously transform the nature of our mundane awareness or personality. In this way, our subconsciousness becomes our greatest ally in the work of character transformation!
It does no good to treat any part of self as an enemy. Self-transformation is not an adversarial process! Your subconsciousness is not your enemy!
Your negative character traits are not your enemies either. They exist because they were at one point in time the best solution you could come up with for the question of how to meet your needs. Their original intention was to serve you in the best way possible. It’s just that with time they became outdated and ultimately antagonistic to your true needs. So all that’s needed to redeem them, to give them a renewed value as positive servants of your true will, is a bit of updating; a little of your conscious attention.
The vast majority of your negative character traits were formed without your conscious, intentional participation. This means that your present personality is basically the product of subconscious choices of convenience. So just imagine for a moment what it would be like if your entire personality were based upon mature, conscious, intentionally formed and well informed choices.
That is the ultimate goal of the character transformation work: An intentional personality that clearly expresses and reflects your true Self.
Most of us come to this work with an unintended personality over which we experience very little formative control and which more clearly reflects the influences of our environment than the deeper aspects of who we truly are. So when we conceive of the sort of self-transformation that initiation demands, we at first are a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude and unfamiliarity of what must be accomplished. It’s only when we’ve made some actual progress in transforming ourselves that it becomes clear that such work is in fact easy and pleasurable.
When we understand the mechanisms at play and how to employ those natural mechanisms to affect change, then transformation of the personality makes sense and becomes easy to accomplish. And when we understand that through this work we can actually become the person we feel truly comfortable being and proud of being, then the work becomes fun.
The first issue in beginning to transform your personality is the question of where to begin. I recommend that you start with the trait you’d most like to be rid of or which you feel the most automatic motivation to change. Let your innate motivation help you along, especially with your first experience in using these techniques.
So meditate upon your lists of negative character traits for a short while and pick one trait to begin your work with.
The second phase in the process of self-transformation is to come to a very deep understanding of the character trait. This requires a much deeper probing than what was required in Step One. So apply what you learned in the third mental exercise of Step One, namely the ability to focus your attention upon a single idea. In this case, your focus will be upon this single character trait. Examine it from every angle possible with an absolute honesty and openness. Let it reveal itself to your awareness as you penetrate deeper and deeper into it.
Each character trait, whether positive or negative, has at its root the fulfillment of some need. Your aim must be to discover exactly what need is at the heart of this character trait specifically.
Once the root need is discovered, it must be evaluated. First, is it still a genuine need now that you are an adult? The subconscious psyche is a creature of habit. It always strives to preserve the status quo, to keep everything always the same and thus safely familiar. So sometimes we will find that a character trait is the product of a need that no longer really exists as a need per se, but yet the mechanism that was meant to satisfy that need continues on out of subconscious habit. In that case, the character trait itself no longer serves any need.
But if it is still a valid need, then you must discover a more productive and positive way of meeting this need. How can you see yourself meeting this need while remaining true to your intentional self?
All of these questions must be answered in meditational contemplation of the character trait with the most severe and piercing self-honesty. If you lie to yourself about yourself then there is no point in pursuing this work. Only an absolute honesty will suffice to get at the true root of things internal.
The third action then in the process of self-transformation of the character is to devise a plan of action. True and lasting character transformation requires action -- all the better when that action is well thought out and planned in advance.
In a case where the original root need that gave birth to a character trait is no longer a valid, living need, then all that must be accomplished is the breaking of the subconscious habit of repeating this pattern of behavior. So in your planning, design an auto-suggestive phrase that counteracts the habitual behavior. For example if the trait is that you are needlessly and habitually critical of others, then an appropriate phrase might be something like “I do not need to criticize others.”
And also design a replacement action that counteracts the habitual behavior. For example with criticism of others, an appropriate countermeasure might be something like seeking out one of the person’s positive traits and focusing on that instead.
If, on the other hand, the original root need is still a valid and active need, then the auto-suggestive phrase will need to be slightly different. Not only does the old habit need to be disrupted, it also needs to be replaced with a new, more positive way of fulfilling the root need. In other words, it becomes more than just breaking a destructive habit; it must also encourage the new growth of a replacement habit that satisfies the root need in a new way.
So, working with the previous example of criticism of others, let’s say the root need has to do with feeding your own sense of self-worth. An appropriate auto-suggestive phrase then might be something like, “I see the good in each person, including myself.” This counters the old habit and encourages a new, positive replacement habit that ultimately fulfills the original root need in a positive manner.
The replacement action will also need to be expanded upon if the root need is still valid. In this case you need to design two actions, one immediate action to break the old habit and one long term to truly fulfill the root need. The immediate action is what you do the moment you recognize that the negative character trait is manifesting. In our ongoing example of criticism of others that originally served the need for increased self-worth then the immediate action of “seeking out one of the person’s positive traits and focusing on that instead” is still a valid example in terms of breaking the negative habit and replacing it with a positive habit, but it does little to address the long term need of increasing one’s sense of self-worth. So an appropriate long term action might be something like learning and implementing interpersonal communication skills, for example. Ultimately it must be some long term action that fulfills the root need in a way appropriate for you.
Once your phrase and replacement actions are designed you can begin the actual hands-on work of transforming your character trait. I recommend very strongly that you apply every resource at your disposal to transforming this character trait. Devote your meditations; your magic of Air, Food and Water; all of your pore breathing; your auto-suggestion regimen; and, your practice of mindfulness to this one singular goal.
First thing in the morning just as you’re rising into conscious awareness and at night just as you’re settling in to sleep, repeat your auto-suggestive phrase at least 30 times. And during your morning and evening meditations spend some time contemplating the character trait. Whenever you are practicing the magic of air, food and water, impregnate the substance with your auto-suggestive phrase or with your desire to affect this specific self-transformation. Each time you pore-breathe, also inhale the intention behind your auto-suggestive phrase. Regularly pursue your pre-designed long term action and fulfill the root need of the character trait in a positive way.
And, perhaps most importantly, be always aware of your inner state to the point where you immediately recognize the negative character trait as it arises within you. This of course, is a form of the mindfulness you learned in the second mental exercise of Step One. It’s a sort of perpetual mindful introspection, in which you are continuously monitoring how you express yourself and what you are thinking and feeling while it is occurring.
Self-transformation is at its most effective when it occurs at the very moment a negative trait begins to assert itself, but this does not mean that a minute, an hour or a day after the fact is not also a fruitful time to act. What is important is that you act immediately once you’ve recognized that the negative trait has asserted itself.
The only moment in which we can ever truly exercise our own power is right here and now in the immediate present moment of time-space. This is the only moment in which we truly exist and the only moment in which the world around us truly exists. It is our true “place of power”, so to speak, this bubble of now-ness that we inhabit. So the practice of mindfulness, which brings our conscious awareness firmly into the present moment of our existence, is of critical importance in the work of self-transformation.
The instant that you become consciously aware that a negative trait has surfaced, you must do the following things: First, stop. Stop the negative trait from continuing on its habitual course. Simply detach from its power over your behavior, much as you detached from the power that your mind chatter exerted over your intentional awareness in the first mental exercise of Step One. Detach and observe.
Second, begin repeating your auto-suggestive phrase inside your mind and third, implement your pre-designed replacement action.
Do this every time you recognize the negative trait asserting itself without exception.
Again, the three steps:
First, stop the negative trait from continuing.
Second, begin repeating your auto-suggestive phrase.
Third, implement your replacement action.
Stop. Suggest. Act.
All of this might sound like a lot of work but please believe me when I tell you that it gets easier and easier the more you do it. At first you might already have made a complete ass of yourself before realizing that it’s your negative trait in action, but with each successive time you do catch it, the time it takes you to realize what’s happening becomes less and less and quite quickly you find that you’re catching it at the very moment it begins to arise. That is when the self-transformation rate of the character trait really speeds up and you start to notice the significant difference you’re making.
Of course all of the other work you’re devoting to this transformation -- your meditations, your magic of air food and water, your autosuggestions and your pore-breathing – support and empower everything you do in that moment of recognizing the trait’s arrival. All the fruits of your meditations, all the benefits of your work with air, food and water, all the changes to your subconscious mind wrought by your repeated autosuggestions, plus the regular satisfaction of the root need provided by pursuit of your long-term action, all converges in that moment to provide you with a truly awesome power to transform yourself.
Do not stop until you know in your bones that you have permanently transformed your character trait in the way you desired. Do not move on to working with a different or an additional character trait until you have met with success in regard to your first trait.
It’s common for doubt to creep in about the correctness of your auto-suggestive phrase or about the appropriateness of the replacement action and even about the wisdom of your choice of character trait. But unless you have truly given it your all for a reasonably long period of time and have still made absolutely no discernible progress, you should not change anything. It takes time and repeated effort to transform the contents of the subconscious psyche so you must give your work enough time to prove itself. If after a month or perhaps two of sincere effort nothing has changed then go ahead and revise your auto-suggestive phrase and perhaps your replacement action and give that another month or two before judging its effectiveness. If nothing seems to work then this means you need to go back to the beginning and dig deeper into the root cause of the character trait.
Achieving success in the transformation of your first negative character trait is a magical moment in and of itself. An extraordinary feeling of accomplishment and powerfulness arises which will inspire your continued movement forward along your path of self-transformation. For the first time you will know without any doubt that these methods work and this will imbue your subsequent efforts with a new level of certainty and self-assurance.
You will also without a doubt notice that your whole soul mirror is changed by the transformation of just one character trait since all parts of self are interconnected. The “secret”, if you will, of character transformation is that it gets exponentially easier each time you gain a success.
As Bardon explained, the goal with the Step Two phase of character work is the transformation of your most prominent negative traits. It is imperative that you respect and meet this goal before moving on to Step Three. Bardon did not state any time frame in which this is to be accomplished but this does not mean that you should progress at a leisurely pace! Go at it steadily and consistently without any breaks and you should reach your Step Two goal in a timely manner.
Mind you, this is just the Step Two goal. The ultimate goal as I stated earlier is the positivization of your entire personality. This should be achieved by the end of your Step Three work and before you move on to Step Four. Nonetheless, the transformation of your character is a lifelong work. Positivization of the character is not so much an end result as it is a process, a discipline that must be maintained throughout your incarnation. As long as you inhabit an astral body, you will be faced with the management of an ever-changing inner psychic landscape. So do make this discipline a matter of joy!
Before I close, I need to mention one attribute or rather an attitude that will aid you along the way, even with your initial foray. It is what I call “magical certainty”. Bardon often mentioned the need for the development of an absolute belief or confidence that your work will succeed and this is what I mean by the term “magical certainty”. Unfortunately Bardon gave no clues as to how one is supposed to achieve this degree of certainty other than a fairly vague reference to meditation.
The degree of certainty required for it to be truly a magical certainty is equal to what you experience when, for example, you hold a stone at arm’s length and let go of it. You know, with absolute certainty that the stone will fall to the ground because that has been your experience of gravity since birth. The stone has never floated upward instead of dropping so you automatically assume it will fall. If it did not fall, you would be shocked beyond belief and all of your assumptions about how the world works would be shattered.
This is the degree of certainty needed to generate a truly magical effect in your initiatory work. You must enter into the task with so much confidence it will work that you would be truly shocked if it did not work. This is the polar opposite of self-doubt.
The only method I have discovered for attaining a magical certainty in the face of self-doubt is, as Bardon hinted, through a very specific meditation. Focus your mind upon an example such as I gave of dropping a rock, or any action that you know without any doubt must result in a predictable conclusion. Concentrate upon that feeling of certainty until it completely fills your awareness and then transfer that feeling to your initiatory work. The goal is to become so certain of success that you can’t even conceive of failure.
Conscious pore breathing is just an elaboration of the Step One magic of air, the main difference being that instead of breathing with just the lungs, you are learning how to breathe with your whole body.
While we call this breathing, the pore breathing doesn’t have to be associated with the breath. Clearly, you are not drawing air in through your pores in the same way you draw air in with your lungs. Instead, what you are drawing in through your pores are all the energetic constituents normally inhaled during regular breathing. In other words, you are drawing energy plus the Akasha into your body with pore breathing. And of course, when you tie this to normal breathing you are simultaneously inhaling the air with your lungs, but this is inconsequential to the exercise itself. It’s tied to normal breathing only because this makes it easier to learn – it’s simply easier to draw something insubstantial into your body when you mimic the act of inhalation. And besides, it feels very much like regular breathing does in that you feel an internal expansion as you draw the vital power into your body.
It is very important however, that you understand the magical aspect of pore breathing is not accomplished by your lungs – it’s accomplished by your mind. So you do not want to engage in elaborate breathing practices such as taking extra deep breaths or holding your breath or counting your inhale and exhale, etc. Your breathing pattern and rhythm should be perfectly normal and unaltered during your exercises.
Eventually, in later Steps, you will learn how to simply coalesce energy, Elements, Fluids, Light and ideas into an object, for example, merely by willing it to occur, but how you get to that point or level of ability is by beginning here with mastery of pore breathing. So do give this exercise your full attention.
I recommend that at first you don’t worry about whether or not you are actually inhaling the vital power or energy in your pore breathing. Set aside the obvious question of what the vital energy feels like and just focus on the idea and the sensation of inhaling with your whole body. For me, it feels like my physical inhalation creates a vacuum at the very center of my physical body and this vacuum draws air into it through my skin. I feel that passage of energy with my skin and muscle and bone as a physical sensation.
If it helps, use what you’ve learned from your pursuit of the visual sensory concentration exercise and visualize the vital energy entering into your body as you inhale. And if you’ve worked with the tactile exercise then also use your imagination to create the feeling of this entry of energy into your body. Remember, this will build a connection for you with the factual vital energy on the mental plane and thus draw the actual experience of the vital energy to you.
Once you are comfortable with the practice of pore breathing then begin to impregnate your inhalations with your auto-suggestive phrase or some ideation relevant to your soul mirror work. This is exactly what you mastered with the magic of Air in Step One just on a slightly larger scale. In this instance, your idea is intentionally bound to the resident Akasha of the physical air and to the vital energy itself, which ultimately is a more powerful practice than the Step One technique.
And then, you start working with the exhalation phase of the breathing cycle and literally exhale the opposite of your inhaled ideation. For example, you might exhale the essential meaning of a negative trait in order to help rid yourself of its influence. Bardon called this the magical exhalation.
Ultimately this too does not need to be tied in with physical breathing but it is nonetheless the best way to learn the magical exhale. This must be mastered to the same high degree as the magical inhalation because in later Steps you must be able to exhale or rid yourself of an accumulation of the Elements, vital energy, fluids, etc., with an absolute confidence.
For me the same sensations arise with the magical exhale as I experience during the inhalation except that they are reversed. This time I feel a great internal pressure at the center of my body which when I intentionally press down upon it, spreads outward from center with force and exits my body through bone, muscle and eventually skin. Again, I feel these as physical sensations.
I gather the entire negative trait, for example, into that pressurized space and force it out of my body with the magical exhale.
At first, the pore breathing takes a lot of concentrated effort but very quickly it will become as easy as . . . well . . . as easy as breathing! And once it’s mastered, it can be quite fun and educational as well. There’s a whole universe of energies and ideas out there to be inhaled and savored!
So that brings us finally to the last part of the physical section of Step Two: what Bardon titled “control of your body”. Although these exercises were presented in the fairly simplistic context of a physical discipline or self-determination, they are much more subtle than they first appear and have more far reaching implications than you might suspect.
I have always felt that there was something important missing in Bardon’s sensory concentration exercise regimen; namely, the creation of different emotional states. Our emotions are as much a sensory apparatus as our eye sight or hearing and it’s our emotional reactions to what our senses convey to our mind that really determine the quality and quantity of our perceptions.
The creation of a variety of emotional states in the same fashion as you’d create a variety of images, sounds, smells, etc., has many benefits. First of all it is very educational and serves to increase one’s sense of empathy. Secondly, it broadens one’s experiential comprehension of various emotional states that might otherwise remain enigmas due to their foreignness. Third and most importantly, it teaches emotional detachment; or rather, the ability to determine or create your emotional state regardless of how external influences might ordinarily affect it.
I had always recognized that creating emotional states plays a part in the self-transformation of character work since much of that discipline involves self-determination in regard to your automatic subconscious emotional reactions. But Bardon didn’t address it specifically and head-on in the same way he did the senses of sight, hearing, feeling, smell and taste. Considering the initiatory importance of self-determination in regard to emotional reaction and its impact on the astral Equilibrium of the Elements, the only explanation that makes any sense to me as to why Bardon didn’t provide equally explicit exercises for it is that in Eastern Europe of the 1950’s, emotional states were not discussed as openly and readily as we are used to in this day. Whatever the reasons for his lack of explicit exercises concerning the emotions, he did manage to include indirect ways of reaching pretty much the same goal of emotional self-determination.
Sensation is merely the firing of nerve impulses to the brain but how we feel about those nerve impulses determines whether we experience a sensation as painful or pleasant and how we feel about the sensation determines how we react to it. But when you remove the emotional valuation of the sensation, all that remains is pure sensation, to which we may either react or not as we choose.
To succeed in Bardon’s control of the body exercises you must learn how to disconnect from that automatic emotional evaluation of sensation and disempower its instinctive influence over your reactions. In other words, you must choose to inhabit the emotional state we call “comfortable” when you experience what would ordinarily be deemed “discomfort”.
Sitting in the posture Bardon described will most likely be uncomfortable at first until you have learned to separate yourself from the natural inclination to readjust your body’s position. The same with not drinking water when you are thirsty or not eating when you are hungry, etc. Each demands that you first recognize your instinctual reaction and then supplant your unconscious instinct with a consciously intended alternative.
It is very educational to confront these unconscious emotional evaluations of sensation. For example, in real life I am a skinny boy with no protective fat layer so I get cold very easily. To me, cold equals uncomfortable so my instinct is to get warm, but when I set aside that emotional valuation of the sensation, my sense of discomfort disappears and I am then at ease when cold and even enjoy its refreshing quality. The cold no longer interrupts me, no longer influences my actions, and I am then at liberty to do as I please instead of being a slave to instinct.
In terms of your future practice, the ability to disregard physical sensation, whether painful or pleasurable, becomes important when you need to be physically still for several hours at a stretch or physically active for long durations. It’s important that you learn to rule your physical body instead of letting your body’s needs always rule you.
The essence of an Elemental Equilibrium is the power of self-determination. This means that you consciously determine what happens in your mind; what emotional responses you will enact; and what influence your physical body will exert over your behavior. All of these are within your ability to determine for yourself with conscious intention.
As I said at the beginning, Step Two is all about creativity. To me there is nothing as exciting as creating something with my own hands. So I was in seventh heaven when I first began the work of Step Two – what better to create than my self? For me, this is fun work, more akin to play really than work. I hope you too will find this same playful joy in being creative with your self and with how you live your life. Why not make them things of beauty and wonder that grace the world?