Alone-ness / Independence
Our essential Alone-ness is disclosed to us by that fact that we are born into this world alone and we die alone. As we live, our awareness – our very consciousness – is always only our own. We never will totally or completely be in another’s perspective; the closest we can get is sympathy and empathy. This is nicely described by Irvin Yalom, an existential psychologist, when he writes that, beyond interpersonal isolation (isolation from others) and intrapersonal isolation (isolation from parts of oneself), “[there is] a fundamental isolation – an isolation both from creatures and the world – which cuts beneath other isolation. No matter how close each us becomes to another, there remains a final, unbridgeable gap; each of us enters existence alone and must depart from it alone.”1 This Alone-ness is a fundamental and inescapable existential fact of being in the world.
Anxiety arises in the face of our mortality, our isolation, and the apparent meaninglessness of having been thrown into a world over whose conditions we seem to have little control. We typically seek to avoid or console ourselves about this fact through wanting things. We think that, by possessing things, especially other people, we can transcend our essential Alone-ness. We seek outside of ourselves for something to have that will squelch this underlying anxiety. In our inauthentic striving to cope with our Alone-ness we unfortunately perpetuate the same discontent and misery that led us to seek distractions and coping mechanisms in the first place. For example, in having a significant other we are necessarily vigilant against any and all signs that we will be left to our Alone-ness by them, and then we consequently act out of inauthentic anxiety rather than authentic relationship based in the mode of Being. Even in “having” a significant other, we seek to possess someone as a symbolic statement that we are in fact not alone. We cannot truly feel authentic in our Alone-ness until we understand, come to terms, and accept our Alone-ness; we consequently cannot truly be with others in an authentic way until we eliminate the anxiety that naturally results from being in the mode of “wanting” and “having” and that inevitably leads to inauthentic relationships with others.
At the core of each of us, the gnawing sense of discontent produces a question in ourselves. The question is not a mental, rational, verbal question, but it arises from the ground of our being – that is, the question arises before any articulation. Our very being poses this question and articulation comes only after the fact. When the question is articulated, it takes form such as “What is the meaning of my existence?” or “What is the purpose of life?” or “To what end?” The question will never be answered by a verbal, rational utterance in the form of “the meaning of life is this or that.” The question sprung from the depths of our being and the answer must come from the same level as the question. The answer is not stated, it is lived. The answer is True Will – but those are just words. Hearing and comprehending these words doesn’t give the answer, it merely points to it. The answer is a profound reorientation of our existence from want to Will, from the mode of having to the mode of Being, from inauthentic and limited actualization of our potential to the authentic and full actualization of our potential. The answer to our question is in our Will; that is, you must, as Crowley wrote, “know Thyself through Thy Way.”2 What we need is not something else to have, some other possession whether internal (such as knowledge) or external (such as wealth or other people). We need a radical reorientation of our very way of being in the world towards the authentic actualization of our own potential, from wanting to Willing.
Conversely, no amount of knowledge in itself can ever bring us to this Will. Knowledge is simply the accumulation or “having” of more and more facts unless the knowledge is itself is understood as a pointer towards the mode of Willing, of Being authentically. Being a Thelemite doesn’t mean constructing a vast super-structure of static knowledge and data. Rather, being a Thelemite involves the transformation of life itself from a state of discontent and limit – i.e. confusion, disorder, and anxiety – into a state of wholeness and purposefulness – i.e. harmony, strength, and joy – that is understood to be the process of coming to know and do your True Will. Our knowledge should, ideally, be pointers toward this end of transformation and reminders of it. In response to the profound need or question of our being, the objects of our endeavors must be optimal reflections of that need or question. As Crowley writes, “What is necessary is not to seek after some fantastic ideal, utterly unsuited to our real needs, but to discover the true nature of those needs, to fulfill them, and rejoice therein.”3 To lose sight of this, to aim at something other than the actualization of our full potential, the fulfillment of the totality of our being, is to cut ourselves off from the vital impulse that drove us to this path in the first place. This is what Crowley speaks to when he writes, “The whole and sole object of all true Magical and Mystical training is to become free from every kind of limitation.”4 Insofar as we forget the profound existential question at the heart of our endeavor of our meaning and purpose, we are liable to fall into a mode of absorption in the dogmas and intellectual structures for their own sakes. That is, we are liable to seek knowledge to be knowledgeable rather than seeking knowledge a means to the end of knowing and Being ourselves. We become stagnant and dogmatic because we seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake rather than as a means to our coming to the fullest and most authentic actualization of the potential of our being. This is what is spoken to in the Qabalistic notion of “knowledge” being a “false Sephirah” on the Tree of Life, i.e. knowledge is the crown of the Ruach or mind that cannot reach above the Abyss to the Supernals wherein reside the Understanding, Neshamah, and the Will, Chiah.
We become so overwhelmed with our sense of isolation and dissatisfaction, as well as with the complexity of the world, that we retreat into the illusory security in “having” something that we think will assuage our gnawing discontent. Whether we are seeking security externally in owning material possessions, having fame or titles of authority, or in having a significant other or whether we are seeking security internally in a structure of knowledge, the same principle is at work. This is the basic characteristic of inauthentic Alone-ness. So long as we look outside of ourselves for the solution to the problem of isolation and anxiety, we will remain in perpetual bondage to this cycle of feeling lack, seeking to rectify this lack by having something we want, and being dissatisfied with our possessions’ inabilities to address the real issue. The Question sprang from within; so, too, must the Answer. Again, the answer is not given to us, it is lived by us – it is the reorientation of our way of being in the world from that of want to that of True Will.
Two ways of actualizing the potential of our Alone-ness
wanting/ having →
The actualization of limited potential in striving to possess material objects, social standing, relationships, or knowledge
Willing/ Being →
The actualization of our full potential in the discovery and expression of the True Will
In our reorientation from wanting to Willing, from having to Being, we need to be constantly on guard against tendencies to slip back into the attitudes of having. We must find the island of Being within ourselves – the island of authentic Alone-ness – and, as it is written in The Book of the Law, “Fortify it!”5 How might we fortify ourselves against these tendencies? It is useful to bring in a concept from Buddhism, though it will be reinterpreted in light of the New Aeon. This concept is that of the Three Jewels of refuge, or the Three Refuges.
It is necessary to understand that the concept of “taking refuge” in no way implies an act of retreat or hiding. To take refuge is to remind oneself, to reorient oneself from what is truly unimportant to what is truly important – one could easily call them the Three Reorientations or Three Reminders if you will. In Buddhism, one would take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. These can be literally interpreted as Buddha as the person who became enlightened and promulgated Buddhism, Dharma as the teachings of Buddha, and the Sangha as the monastic community of Buddhists committed to Dharma. Buddha is, more generally, the state of being enlightened, an awakened one. Dharma is, more generally, the path taken to achieve Buddhahood. Sangha is, more generally, the community who agrees upon Buddhahood as the goal and Dharma as the path to get there. We may therefore see that in taking the Three Refuges, we are reorienting our attention towards the Goal, the Path, and the Community. In Thelema, the Goal is the authentic actualization of our full potential, the totality of our being; the Path has been called Initiation and the Great Work, the progressive shift to a mode of Being; the Community is the “company of heaven”6 of Thelemites, or one’s particular community such as O.T.O., composed of those who are committed to the Goal of True Will through the Path of Initiation. The three refuges are to help remind us to reorient the focus of our Alone-ness from an inauthentic obsession over “having” to an authentic focus on the Goal of Being through the Path we tread with our Community. I will go through each of these in further detail and explain how they can be understood in light of the New Aeon.
The Goal of True Will – In Thelema, our Goal is the achievement of an authentic actualization of the totality of the self. The attainment of the optimum mode of being that is the deepest and most complete expression of our potential is the authentic actualization of our Independence and our Dependence. We call this Goal the True Will.
This is interesting to compare to the goal of Buddhahood. It might be said that the two are identical goals when the veil of language conditioned by temporal and cultural conditions is lifted, yet there are important differences. Firstly, we understand that the expression of the True Will is unique to each person – that is, the Will won’t look the same as expressed in different people. We hold no absolute standards as to how we might expect someone to behave when doing their True Wills; some may be harsh and exuberant whereas others may be gentle and introverted, and some may both at different times. The unique and individual nature of the True Will further shows our Alone-ness; the Goal of True Will and the expression thereof can only be our own. No one can truly know or find this Goal except ourselves. Secondly, Buddhahood is a state and we may be liable to see it as a static object or goal. True Will, on the other hand, is dynamic; it is a process rather than an object, a verb rather than a noun. Crowley writes that the Thelemite understands herself “not as a fixed being of wrath but as the ‘the flying spark of light’ – a pure dynamic vibration. This conception, first formulated in Liber CCXX, and explained already in this Comment, is in fact the first condition of what the Buddhists call Samma Dithi – right views. So long as a man thinks of himself as a being rather than as an energy he attributes to himself not, as the profane suppose, stability, but stagnation, which is death.”7 He also writes, “This True Self thus ultimately includes all things soever: its discovery is Initiation (the travelling inwards) and as its Nature is to move continually, it must be understood not as static, but as dynamic, not as a Noun but as a Verb.”8 The nature of True Will is a continual state of the authentic actualization of potential; the nature of Being is perpetual becoming.
This Goal is not something to obtained, yet another thing to “have” and possess. It is also not some distant, elusive, or beyond-human goal. The Goal is an authentic sense of being, the deepest and fullest expression of who we truly are. The Path is therefore the path inward towards that optimum mode of Being that we call True Will, or as Crowley writes “the true Motion of thine inmost Being”9 and “the true purpose of the totality of your Being.”10 We seek nothing other than our True Selves, the most complete expression of our nature. Crowley confirms this when he writes, “What is the meaning of Initiation? It is the Path to the realisation of your Self as the sole, the supreme, the absolute of all Truth, Beauty, Purity, Perfection!”11 and also when he writes, “Initiation means the Journey Inwards: nothing is changed or can be changed; but all is trulier understood with every step.”12 True Will is, in this sense, the most near and most human Goal of all.
The Path of Initiation – The Path is called Initiation and simply refers to the process of finding and actualizing our potential in the most authentic and complete way; it is the process of approaching the Goal. On this Crowley writes, “In all systems of religion is to be found a system of Initiation, which may be defined as the process by which a man comes to learn that unknown Crown. Though none can communicate either the knowledge or the power to achieve this, which we may call the Great Work, it is yet possible for initiates to guide others. Every man must overcome his own obstacles, expose his own illusions.”13 This does not mean the progressive initiation into the ascending grades of some temporal organization. These “outer” initiations can, even in their ideal state, be mere reflections of that inner process of moving from a mode of wanting to a mode of Willing.
This Path is called the Great Work because embarking upon and treading it involves coming to face our deepest anxieties, doubts, and fears as well as those parts of ourselves that we neglect, distort, or deny completely. This is no easy task, and as a fact of our Alone-ness, “every man must overcome his own obstacles [and] expose his own illusions.” Though others can point the way, no one can do it for you. As Morpheus says to Neo in The Matrix, “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.” Our “shadow,” as Carl Jung would call it, encompasses all those parts of ourselves that we do not want to face, so our exposure and integration of them is necessarily a very Great Work. Our primary tools for treading this Path have been grouped under the two main categories of Magick and Yoga.
The Community of Thelemites – The Community involves all those who have accepted the Goal of True Will as the only satisfactory solution to human existence, a reoriented mode of being rather than constantly and frustratingly striving after the manifold and often contradictory objects of our conscious wishes, desires, and ideals. This Community includes all Thelemites in the sense that they have accepted the Goal and the Path to that Goal. They all are gathered into one fold in order to “bring the glory of the stars into the hearts of men.”14 It is also useful to think of one’s actual local community, perhaps that of O.T.O. for some readers, in this light. Those members are all bound together and united in their acceptance of the Law of Thelema, the Goal of True Will, and the Path of Initiation. Remembering this helps keep our perspective, not letting us fall so easily into the petty interpersonal drama and organizational politics that inevitably arise; instead, we reorient ourselves to remember our real Goal and the Path thereto, embracing and rejoicing in the fact that we have a Community of individuals devoted to this very ideal.
The Three Jewels or Refuges of the New Aeon
1) The Goal
2) The Path
Initiation, the Great Work
3) The Community
We can now see that, in the New Aeon, we may take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, but these are understood as True Will, Initiation, and the Community of Thelemites. We take refuge in the Will, the Way, and the Brotherhood of Stars. To take these three refuges is to reorient one’s attitude and focus, shifting away from the inauthentic actualization of our Alone-ness in the mode of wanting characterized by striving after possessing and towards the authentic actualization of our Alone-ness in the mode of Willing characterized by the personal growth towards the fullest expression of Being, the actualization of the totality of one’s potential. Again, to take refuge is not to run away or hide from anything; on the contrary, we are reorienting ourselves to very directly confront the reality of our situations. To take refuge is nothing other than reminding oneself of and reorienting oneself to hopeful process of actualizing an the authentic mode of Being, of True Will. In this way, the Three Jewels help fortify us in our Alone-ness against the ever-present possibility of slipping back into the inauthentic mode of wanting and having.
Buddhists often take refuge in the form of a short prayer such as, “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.” As Thelemites, we may recite a short prayer of “I take refuge in the True Will, in the Great Work, and the Community of Thelemites” or “I guide myself in remembering the Goal of Will, the Path of Initiation thereto, and the Community dedicated to walking this Path with me” or any other form that speaks to you in a way that feels genuine for yourself. This can be repeated as a meditation in itself, as a prayer before and after a regimen of Yoga and/or Magick, or done at certain times of day. The important point is not to form a rigid sense of exactly when this should be done or exactly how it should be said. The underlying meaning needs to be firmly in mind, that of a radical reorientation from a mode of wanting/having to a mode of Willing/Being so that we may authentically and fully actualize our potential. With freedom comes responsibility, and the responsibility falls on you to find a way that this works most effectively. No one can truly force you to do this nor can anyone do it for you. Only you can move from an inauthentic to an authentic expression of the fact of your Alone-ness. It is only through the radical reorientation of ourselves to accept what we are and the commitment to the Path that leads to the expression of the totality of our Being that we may transcend and finally overcome the anxiety that has resulted from being absorbed in the “wants” or desires that have provided no true solace or joy.
“Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever toward it without allowing aught to stop you or turn you aside, even as a star sweeps upon its incalculable and infinite course of glory, and all is Love. The Law of your being becomes Light, Life, Love and Liberty. All is peace, all is harmony and beauty, all is joy.”
-Aleister Crowley, “The Law of Liberty”