Well, it’s that time of year – the beginning of a new one – when it feels like changes for the better may actually be possible. When it seems like there may be something we can do differently, some way we can improve things a little. Perhaps it’s just a convenient time to make promises to ourselves – New Year’s Resolution time. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to change anything, does it? But what if, with no huge effort on our part other than just a little shift in our point of view, we may dramatically change practically everything for the better? What if we could give ourselves a whole new orientation that would simplify and clarify our experience of life?
My best resolution may be to leave my body (again).
Most of our problems, most of the things we wish we could change for ourselves, are obstacles that we’re usually creating ourselves. We all know that already. Problems that pop up again and again and prevent us from reaching what we want or being what we’d like to be. But what might those obstacles look like if they weren’t right in front of us again, blocking our view and dictating our direction? What if we saw them from across the room? Or could look down on them, like a bird looking down from above? They probably would look like nothing much because, in truth, they usually are nothing but the constructions of our human minds.
Our human minds are very insistent mechanisms. They want us to believe everything they say is true. They want us to believe that we are our thoughts. But we’re not. We’re something else. Otherwise, how could we notice how crazy our thoughts can be? How could we say to ourselves I don’t even want to think about that and then not think about that?
You Are Not Your Thoughts
In Hinduism, there is a Sanskrit word sakshi which simply means the witness and it’s a simple idea. It’s an idea that you can assume as your own, because it’s about who you really are – apart from the demands of your rambling thoughts. Sakshi can suddenly shift your perception – your perspective – because it’s the witness that pays little or no mind to your mind. It applies no labels or judgments to what it observes. It’s the simple, pure awareness that looks upon all things with a graceful acceptance, with an objective compassion, as an intuitively analytical eye. Imagine being so cool! Now imagine it a little harder…
I had the mixed (but good) fortune of surviving multiple near-death experiences, and the first was in the classic out-of body motif. I looked down on the auto wreck and witnessed my own body, unconscious and apparently lifeless. Naturally, I suggest you avoid this scenario, but it was instructive. When I think about it now, I engage my memory, but I also engage my imagination – and you can do that, too.
Accessing the Sixth Sense
Imagine yourself outside of your body, being your pure self, unencumbered by the insistent designs and definitions of your mind. From there, you can look down on the limiting definitions your mind imposes on the huge potential of life; the power that’s so easily handed over to your old fears. From that point of view as the objective spiritual entity that you actually are, the world looks much simpler, much clearer. We experience what in Latin is called sub specie aeternitatis, the actual eternal nature of our pure self. The aspect of being that you may think of as an intuitive sixth sense and as a real, spiritual quality that we all as members of the human species possess.
When you identify yourself at that level, where your inner self and the rest of the universe are unified, the problems and obstacles of your life on Earth carry much less weight and power. For example, the guy at work who’s always in your face loses the label antagonist and is observed as simply demonstrating his need to express the demands of his own experience to anyone and everyone – not just to you. In fact, much less seems like it’s happening to you. It’s only happening for you, and because it must.
Becoming a Disembodied Spirit
With this simple change in perspective, you immediately gain a tolerant and empathetic consciousness, an acceptance of people as they are – and of the world – as it is. You are freed from personal expectations because you see them as simply part of the whole, as an inconsequential expression of the moment. This allows you to bring to each moment, and to the world, what you alone can bring to improve things as they are. You no longer have a horse in the race, because you’re watching the race from above with the objectivity of a disembodied spirit. Life becomes more easily acceptable. You can see the shape of every problem, so there’s no problem too large to be overcome.
This condition is a lot like Buddha Mind or Christ Consciousness – in which experiencing a little of either puts you in pretty good company and immediately bestows upon you a whole new definition of success.
A Tourist on Earth
You needn’t be concerned that you may become too detached from your own life or lose the passion you feel you need to inspire yourself. Your new point of view allows you to see your attachments and passions in a much truer context so you may engage them more accordingly. With the spiritual objectivity of sakshi, the size, shape and even origins of your personal obstacles become more apparent so you can see how they’ve fit into your past and how they can be dealt with more effectively as they pop up now. You engage your life as a whole – past, present and future to identify what works, what doesn’t and whom you would like to become.
Imagining that you’re up in the sky witnessing your body and mind (and everyone else’s) actually plants your feet more solidly on the ground. It empowers your actions, your effectiveness and your compassionate consciousness to show up for life with a simpler, clearer presence. Any responsibility can be met. Any obstacle can be dealt with – including those potential catastrophes that may lie just ahead of us all.
In Logion 42 of The (Gnostic) Gospel of Thomas, a rather Zen-like Jesus says, Be passersby, which could certainly stand in for the compassionate spiritual objectivity I’m suggesting – the slightly detached, fully engaged kind of tourist-on-Earth quality that can change our messy struggles into our empowering purpose.
For me, it may be summed up as a New Year’s resolution: I resolve to be a responsible, open-hearted, objective, compassionate witness of – and entirely engaged participant in – the remarkable, indescribable magic of life on this beautiful Earth.
To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible Tao), the whole world repairs. – Tao te Ching, 35
Number of People Practicing Wicca, Paganism Growing Dramatically
The number of people who identify religiously as Wiccan has seen a meteoric rise in the United States, according to census data and a study conducted by Trinity College. Some attribute this witchy surge to an increased interest in astrology and the esoteric, while others say it’s clearly a sign of the times. Whatever the case may be, appropriation and corporate attempts to monetize the trend abound.
According to a study collected by Trinity College between 1990 and 2008, identification with Wicca in the U.S. increased from 8,000 to 340,000 members over the 18-year period.
And that trend continues today, with a 2014 Pew Research Study finding the number of people who identified as Wiccan or Pagan jumped to close to a million people. And yes, there is a difference between Wicca and Paganism, but for the sake of making a point about the demographic, let’s consider them together.
The reason the two have grown so significantly may be due to a breakdown of misconceptions about what these religions actually stand for, many of which have been falsely spread by the church in the past. Unlike the evil stereotypes that have historically been cast on witches and pagans, millennials understand these practices have a reverence for nature, are polytheistic, and averse to the strict dogmas of mainstream religions.
Wicca has no centralized, authoritative body and embraces a number of diverse sects, lineages, and traditions – of course, this generation finds it appealing.
If you haven’t heard recent claims of pop-stars practicing Wicca, or stories of hexes placed on political figures, then this sudden spike in witchcraft may come as a surprise. But for those aware, the recent occult fascination makes sense. In fact, the rise in the number of witchcraft practitioners may have outpaced certain Christian denominations, including Presbyterianism, according to some sources.
But these situations have always presented themselves as a clarion call to corporations looking to profit from a newfound lifestyle interest, leading to cultural or religious appropriation seen in tone deaf marketing and advertising.
A recent article published by Quartz, shows how the cosmetics brand Sephora, was called out for its sale of a “Starter Witch Kit,” which included essential oils and a sage stick to jumpstart the aspiring witchy neophyte. The company quickly pulled the product after true Wiccans expressed their disapproval.
And it’s not just corporations that get it wrong when it comes to esoteric spirituality. Earlier this year we interviewed a couple who run Mountain Magic Tarot in Richlands Virginia – a shop that was told it could not practice tarot readings due to a misperception that it was hostile to the town’s mostly Christian population.
It seems inevitable though, that if you’re going to practice any religion – especially one historically thought to be synonymous with evil – someone will misconstrue your philosophy. Let’s change that paradigm.
To learn more about Wicca and its philosophy check out this episode of Beyond Belief with former-rockstar-turned-witch Fiona Horne: