Training the Observer

December 21, 2006 by  
Filed under hermeticism, meditation, mysticism, qabalah

Training the Observer

Meditation in Theory

Meditation is the foundation of all magical and mystical systems of all cultures. It may seem a bit beginnerish to spend an entire article on the subject, but I believe this topic to be important enough to cover over and over again. I don’t think that I’ll have to do that here, but I at least want to get out my views on the topic for the general reader.

To give an idea of what meditation is at its core, allow me the presumption of a crude allegory. Consider an unpolished block of marble. This is your mind, complete with rough edges, nooks, points, spines, and crannies of all varieties on every side. Thoughts (my ideas of which will be explained further in a moment) are as snowballs being slung at the marble block. With all of the rough spots, there is ample friction for the snow to stick, and more than enough nooks in which the snow can be caught. Meditation is a process by which we buff, chisel, and polish the marble until it is smooth. At this point, the mud can only stick for but a few moments, after which it simply slides off the nearly frictionless surface. Such are the thoughts that are thrown at a meditative mind.

As stated, this is merely an allegory. No thoughts of my own could possibly tell the whole story, but it gives you a good idea. This allegory, in my opinion, also answers a question that troubles many would-be magicians and mystics. Most of us are taught at the beginning that if we do not achieve complete mental vacuity, we have failed in our meditative efforts. While mental vacuity must be our goal, meditation almost always falls short of this ideal. We are not failures for this. A Zen practitioner friend of mine once told me in response to a question on this that no matter how many years you’ve been at it, there will always be a bit of mental chatter. The goal is to attain a state in which thoughts melt away as quickly as they appear.

Why, some readers may ask, would we want to achieve such a state at all? Isn’t thinking good? Of course thinking is good. Any extremist which tries to tell you that thinking is bad has entirely missed the point. Meditation is useful in numerous ways. The most practical use for most people is that meditation calms the mind such that thinking throughout the rest of one’s day is smoother and much easier to direct and focus.

Additionally, meditation puts one in touch in a very direct and open way with what we may term Divinity or The Source by way of the essential “emptiness” of all things. Meditation does not empty us, but instead aids us in realizing our own preexisting emptiness, or what William G. Graycalls “Nil.” Think of Nil as our essential Self, but likewise Nil is the essence of everything and everyone else, so it is our one true and complete means of unity with all other aspects of existence and even non-existence. For more culturally specific modes of expressing this idea, think the Kabbalistic Yechidah, or the Taoist statement that it is only by a thing’s emptiness that it is made useful.1 A wheel is only usable if it has a central hole for the axle, and a vase is only a vase if it is hollow.

For many magicians, the primary role of meditation in their practice is as a convenient and portable means of casting “spells” or “sigils.” After all, while sitting in your company’s lunch room it’s much easier to achieve a meditative state of mind than it is to jump up and do an ecstatic dance or perform a complete ceremonial invocation! Meditation is indeed quite useful for this purpose, based on my experience, but please do not make the common mistake of believing that this is the only ‘true’ goal of meditation.

Now for the question of the nature of consciousness. Without using any one system’s concept of the structure of a human’s subtle bodies and aspects of Self, I will provide my own theory based on my own experience from 5 years of serious meditation. I hope that it will give somebody a bit of insight into what meditation actually accomplishes and how it does so.

I recommend that everybody try the Neophyte meditation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.2 Spend several minutes performing rhythmic breathing in your preferred fashion. The Golden Dawn themselves suggested the Fourfold Breath (count of 4 in, count of 4 hold, count of 4 out, count of 4 hold, etc.) but this is not necessary as long as you are breathing in a rhythmic, relaxed, and thoroughly oxygenating manner. Now, consider a zero-dimensional point. Focus all of your attention on that concept the best you can. Consider the concept directly (no tangential thoughts, please!) for five to ten minutes, then note down your experiences and insights.

The demonstration this simple exercise makes is that consciousness is very much like that point. That point, in Kabbalistic terminology, is like your personal Kether. Kether is much like the Eye in the Pyramid: the Observer. Aha, now you know what the title of this article means! The Observer is my name for the essential consciousness of each person. The implications of this idea are simply astounding, and make more sense the more one meditates.

We do not create ideas, at least not most of them. We observe them as they float by us on the Mental Plane. Let that sink in for a moment. Read it again. We observe thoughts as they float by us on the Mental Plane. The Mental Plane is not limited by time and space, so when I say, “as they float by us,” I mean that only as a simplification. A proper clarification may be that we observe those thoughts that best catch our attention, this being dependent upon our personality and individual circumstances on the Astral and Physical levels. The untrained Observer is naturally drawn to any shiny and fun thoughts that happen to enter its field of awareness. Meditation is the best method by far for training the Observer; in other words, of gaining and mastering the ability to focus the Observer’s attention on any given idea in particular.

Curiously, I have observed that we can generate certain thoughts. In particular, we generate our self-reflections. These are developed mostly in our Mental Matrices rather than in our Minds proper. A person’s Mental Matrix is the energetic interface developed between the Spirit/Mind and the Soul/Astral Body. These thoughts are generated in the individual’s Mental Matrix, then projected “outward” (or “inward,” depending on perspective) to the Mental Plane at which point they become observable to the Mind-Observer proper. This allows us a more direct mode of self-reflection as opposed to waiting for ideas about ourselves to generate spontaneously in the Mental Plane.

If this seems like a lot of unnecessary theory, you may safely disregard it in your own meditative pursuits. I, however, have found these ideas to be exceedingly useful in my own efforts as well as the efforts of some others with whom I have shared these ideas privately.

Meditation in Practice

There are two major Orders of Operation for meditation, and which one you use is dependent upon your purpose for meditation at that time. For your initial efforts, until you have mastered the techniques involved, I recommend that you stick entirely with the first or ‘mystical’ method. After that, experiment with the ‘magical’ method and get to know the differences for yourself. The practical differences are slight, but the effectual differences cannot be overstated.

The Mystical Method should be the starting place of all Initiates and Initiates-to-be. It can be found in many systems of training worldwide, from Yoga and Tantra to Franz Bardon’s Hermetics. Here, I’ll be using Franz Bardon’s descriptive titles for the steps in the method, and explaining them in my own words.3

  1. Thought Control is not the literal control of your thoughts. That comes later. It’s more the control of your conscious focus and awareness. Do not attempt to grab one thought and hold to it entirely. That also comes later. Your goal here should be learning how to let go. Simply observe your thoughts as they flow by. Do your best to keep track of them, but don’t fall into the trap of focusing on any of them alone or in groups. Merely let them flow and ‘watch’ them as if on a movie screen. Continue with this step alone until you are able to maintain this state of mind for five minutes consistently. Twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, is best. Then add the next step to your routine. Do not replace one with the other, as they are both still important.
  2. Thought Discipline is the next step, and is what most people generally associate with the term “meditation.” In this step, you must determine yourself to focus on one and only one thought, be it of any type of sense-input soever. Each person will find thoughts associated with certain senses to be easier or harder for them personally. For me, thoughts in the form of internal sound (internal dialog, a song stuck in your head, etc.) are much easier to hold than visual thoughts or olfactory thoughts, for example. For you, it could be very different. In this exercise, training our other internal senses is not the goal, however, so feel free to stick with your strongest in order to accomplish your present purpose. If you choose the sentence, “God is in us all,” repeat the sentence mentally for as long as you can without allowing your mind to wander even to tangentially relevant thoughts. Similarly for if you wish to focus on an image (a cross, a circle, or any other simple image is best) or anything else. Work on this exercise immediately after the first one. Do not move on to the third exercise until you are able to maintain this state of mental focus for at least five minutes.
  3. Mastery of Thought is the third and final exercise in mastering the mystical method of meditation. Immediately following Thought Discipline, relinquish the thought you had been focusing on and allow your mind to remain clear. As I said before, there will always be some level of mental chatter. Simply allow this chatter to dissipate. Do not force it out, because that force will merely create further distractions. You will know well when you have succeeded in this exercise, as it is quite unlike any other mental state that you have experienced. Work on this exercise until you are able to maintain this vacuous state of mind for five minutes consistently.

I must emphasize that when I say to work up to five minutes with each of these exercises, I do not mean to limit yourself to that duration by any means. In fact, Bardon suggests ten minutes as a bare minimum before you can consider the techniques to be mastered, and even then do not neglect them, but continue to increase your ability with them by deepening your state of consciousness and advancing your durations. Before moving on to any more advanced techniques of magic or mysticism, a bare minimum of ten minutes each (30 minutes total) should be a consistent standard. We will always have our highs and lows, so do not be disappointed if you usually are capable of the full 10 minutes with an exercise but have a few days during which you cannot go more than two minutes without losing focus. These things happen; simply carry on with your daily work and you will soon find yourself better for it.

The Mystical Method of meditation as described above is mystical insofar as it is a self-sexual process of conception and birth of our own goals for ourselves on the Inner Planes. The thought control exercise can be considered a sort of generation of our Mental Seed. Thought discipline is the conscious choice of one among the many Seeds we have at our disposal and the implantation of it within our Inner Womb (Deep Mind, unconscious, etc.). Thus, the Seed or thought chosen for this second exercise does not have to be of a profound or spiritually abstract nature, but it should be a thought or symbol with which we would wish to inseminate the egg of our own Future Selves. Thus, statements of our ideals, important ideas from our chosen magical⁄mystical system, statements of personal goals (as long as they are compatible with our spiritual growth and do not run contrary to it) are all suitable. We are not truly enchanting for these things, but simply planting the seed for them. Future magical work involving these goals is liable to come to fruition much more easily as a consequence. Finally, the mastery of thought exercise is much like the gestation of the fertilized egg within our own psyches. We are allowing ourselves to become for a few moments (with the goal of eventually becoming on a more permanent basis) our true Inner Selves and to simply ‘be and become’ within the emptiness of our Inner Womb. The Observer may observe purely and without bias toward any one thought or idea.

The Magical Method is very similar, but not identical. It involves a different Order of Operations, but using the identical exercises described above. It is important that the practitioner master the exercises in the Mystical Method before moving on to the Magical Method. We require a handle on our Inner lives before we can hope to strongly influence the Outer with any safety and effectiveness. Power over yourself is more challenging and more rewarding than power over the outside world, and is ultimately the foundation of any healthy outer lifestyle.

The Order of Operations which follows is that used by Peter J. Carroll in his Liber Null & Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic.4

  1. Thought Control is described in Carroll’s book as the physical act of motionlessness, which is accurate insofar as it resembles zazen, or “sitting meditation,” the goal of which is a gradual stilling of the mind by relaxing our eyes and minds on a plain, solid background. This state requires at the very least the ability to stay mostly still and relaxed rather than tensely forcing ourselves to focus.
  2. Mastery of Thought is switched here. We begin from a state of mental vacuity that we may act first as the womb into which we will implant our desire.
  3. Thought Discipline is the final step. In the Magical Method, it acts as the impregnation of our previously empty Inner Womb with our desire.

The basic difference is obvious insofar as two steps are switched, but the functional difference is more subtle. In the Mystical Method, we work toward our essential silence, while in the Magical Method, we invoke our silence in order to more strongly make Inner contact and impregnate our desire into the Inner Planes. This is the secret to all magic, and goes beyond a mere altered state of consciousness if properly understood. An altered state of consciousness can only be an aid to this state. Once meditation proper has been mastered, such methods become redundant (though sometimes still fun).

The simplest magical usage of a meditative state is to spend the third step focusing on an appropriate sigil or mantra.5 This method is generally slow, as your desire must be ‘brought to term’ and born like any other offspring (outspring?). A way of speeding up the process, or at least adding power to it, is to utilize the process of Step 3 to first invoke the aid of an appropriate and friendly god or spirit, drawing the entity into your own emptiness as a means of close communication. Once this entity is fully invoked, or invoked to the depth of your present ability, you may request of it your desire. Do not try to force a god or spirit to do as you say. Ask it if it believes that your desire is wise and, assuming that it is, ask it to bring the desire about for you by adding its own power to yours. If the entity believes your desire to be unwise, ask its aid in reformulating your desire in such a way as to be of actual benefit. This, of course, is only the simplest of magical methods, but one that can become central to your overall practice. It can form the nucleus of larger ceremonies, or stand on its own for more basic wants and needs. It is especially well suited to acts of illumination and behavioral modification, but its power is definitely effective for Outer ends.6

No matter how advanced you get in magic and mysticism, basic meditation as described in this article must not be neglected. It is more difficult for some than for others, but is a worthy use of time and effort for everybody. I have on occasion had people ask me what single practice is most important for a person with limited free time. My answer is always daily meditation. Once daily is good, twice daily is better. Most people can find 60 minutes out of every day to devote to this practice, and those rare few who cannot find such time may surely find 15 or 30! Unfortunately, we are not God with the power to create time when needed, but we do have the power to clear some time from our schedules in order to improve ourselves and open up Inner and Outer opportunities for ourselves and, by sympathy, all of humanity and perhaps all of the Cosmos.


  1. For more on Kabbalah, please see Israel Regardie’s A Garden of Pomegranates, available from several publishers. For more on this Taoist idea, read Tao Te Ching (Skylight Illuminations) by Lao Tzu (Lao-tzu, Lao Tze, etc.) and available in numerous translations and editions.
  2. Available in the First Knowledge Lecture in Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, Llewellyn Publications.
  3. Franz Bardon’s book Initiation into Hermetics is, in my opinion, the single finest training manual in practical and mystical Hermetics. It is available in a new translation from Murker Publication Company (2001).
  4. Weiser Books. This book is definitely a must-read for anybody who has not already encountered it. No matter what system or tradition you belong to, you will find something useful.
  5. See Liber Null & Psychonaut again for practical information on sigils.
  6. For more on basic magical and mystical practice, please see my own book, The Four Powers: Magical Practice for Beginners of All Ages from Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press.

©2006 Nicholas Graham. Edited by Sheta Kaey

Nicholas Graham is the author of The Four Powers. You can read his blog here.

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