The "Mind Palace" - A First Step in Your GW Mental Skills
Last month's post touched upon the practical matters of Green Wizardry, but there will also be a heavy measure of more eclectic subjects we will discuss. This is the first in a series on the mental and metaphysical disciplines of Green Wizardry, as "I" see them. Hopefully others will be willing to post their thoughts on the matters of the mind and spirit.
(Remember, we support any and all view points and I expect once I have opened this door, we will see quite a few post being introduced on this subject.)
We, as a civilization have seemed to have "lost" our touch to the spiritual. It wasn't that long ago that religion, faith and the mysteries of the spirit was central to everyone's idea of their selves. We knew there was much more to our World than the mere physical realm. We need to relearn that.
Bear with me please, I may come back and do a bit of editing later on this, but as John Micheal Greer's recent blog post "How Not To Write Like An Arch Druid", sometimes it is best to just write and worry about editing later.
Do I believe there is a metaphysical side to Green Wizardry?
Without a doubt, the answer is "YES".
It is a sad thing about this recent experiment we call "Civilized Society" that we have forgotten the darkness beyond the fire. We used to know in our hearts, that strange things lurked past the circle of light our burning wood provided. Somethings that would hurt us, and something that might help us if we gave them the proper respect.
Thousands of years ago, my ancestors and yours, huddled in small shelters made of bone and hide, or if lucky in caves with room. We had our hearth fires and our companionship of kin and friend. We would feast on freshly killed bounty and in the silence after the feast, one of us, the "Wise Ones" would tell us a tale.
They would speak of gods we all believed in, but could never see, of evils that would prey upon us, and in those tales, we would learn how to live.
It wasn't many years ago we all knew that there were monsters in the dark. Funny how so many now, forget that fact.
Perhaps even now those dark demigods are chuckling, awaiting the Collapse John Michael Greer writes so eloquently about on the Arch Druid Report.
Sorry I wax poetically when I'm tired. I really should postpone this, until I have time to plan it all out, but I've been a writer some 40 years now. I never argue with a Muse when she is pulling my ear.
Can you be a Green Wizard without believing in a "metaphysical" universe?
Yes, of course.
Nothing about appropriate tech, of gardens and food preservation, of learning the ways our grandparents used to live by requires a belief in an expanded universe. Its just not believing is kind of like bread, without the butter and jam. It will feed you but it isn't that tasty.
What do I mean though about a "metaphysical" universe?
I mean expecting a world that is just a bit bigger than five sense.
I doubt that even people shaking their heads at this post of mine, have not had an occasion where for no reason other than a "feeling" they had stepped back and reconsidered what they were about to do. Polite society calls these "hunches" and I don't doubt they have made local Lotteries a ton of money.
Remember, we are the product of a fifty thousand generations of a parent who trusted their hunches, and in so doing so, survived the dangerous situation which took our less trusting relative. Evolution has a way of culling the herd, doesn't it.
All of this is just prep for later discussion. For now, even those of us who do not believe in what I am proposing, let us imagine that boundaries are not fixed. That with the right training and sufficent willpower, they can be expanded.
What is then a "Mind Palace"?
If you haven't had the chance, become a fan of the most recent BBC television series "Sherlock". It is an amazing retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories. It doesn't hurt that Benedict Cumberbatch is the lead.
During the series, it was introduced that Sherlock Holmes keeps a tremendous amount of his knowledge in an imaginary place, his "Mind Palace". It has become so real to him, that he can walk among the rooms and libraries of it in his mind, and pick up the information he has stored there when ever he needs it. I learned this technique two decades earlier, but from a different perceptive, so I was surprised at a television show offering it up.
I have mentioned before I grew up in a fascinating time and a fascinating set of places. My father worked on the initial US space program and we lived in Florida during the Mercury and later Gemini programs, as humans first tried to test their wings and leave the Earth. Those were interesting times to be a kid, the Universe was limitless.
While my parents were simple people from Northeastern Oklahoma, I think even they saw a world of infinite possibilities. Remember Kennedy had just been elected. They might have been simple people but they encouraged a smart child to learn and explore.
We weren't particularly religious, though I do remember times at church, because we moved a lot, we never were. Remember this was the 60s, and hippies and their embrace of alternates introduced me to other spiritualities. Having relatives born in Oklahoma naturally lead to a study of North American Indian culture. A "Mother Earth" reverence and the practice of shamanism was popular then. Remember the movie "Hair"? Remember "Dances With Wolves"?
The problem I had with NorAm Indian shamanism is it is a "warrior" tradition and at the time I was much of a warrior type.
I should step back for a moment and discuss "shamanism".
A popular misconception about shamans and their practice is that shamanism is a religion. While most shamans are religious, serving their communities as intermediaries between the Gods and the People, shamanism should be better viewed as a mental discipline separate from the religion of its practitioners.
Think the popular television series of that time "Kung Fu". While Shaolin monks of the series were Buddhist as a religion, their mental discipline was martial arts. Many of the things those monks did, were not fighting skills but mental skills.
In college I was lucky enough to meet and study under an anthropology professor interested in the Western Hemisphere, in particular the importance of early agriculture on the cultures here. I found that while the religion of the priesthood could vary quite a bit across cultures, many of the priests had a common type of skill set. Remote viewing, divination, people skills, an enhanced body awareness, even a bit of humorous common sense.
That skill set is something I think would do well in Green Wizardry.
There are of course shades of skill sets. I mentioned that NorAm Indian shamans were of a warrior tradition. That is they viewed things often in a adversarial mindset. An "us versus them" way of thinking. I had joined the US Army not long after high school and after getting out and going back to school, could relate to such a mindset, but found it ill fitting. Luckily for me, I found a different path.
I picked up Dr. Serge Kahili King's "Urban Shamanism" book. King's description of Hawaiian shamanism, a tradition of "adventurist" skills rather than warrior skills found a ready place in my mind. Rather that viewing Nature as something you must fight against, Hawaiian shamanism views Nature and the Forces that reside therein as something to harmonize with and make your ally.
It also introduced me to the concept of a "Mind Palace", though King termed it a "Garden Tiki".
What is a Mind Palace then?
Your brain is a very curious thing. Its like owning a cat. Well you never actually "own" a cat. Every time you think you understand them completely, they do something strange and surprise you.
Anyone who regularly meditates, know that taking the time to enjoy "quietness" lets your mind process and sort through the sheer avalanche of frak we have to deal with from day to day. We used to be alot less distracted, didn't we? We aren't really meant to be this chaotic. When you live many miles from untamed wilderness, when you needed to get your head straight, it was a simple walks and an afternoon of enjoying the energy that comes from accepting your place in Life. Now try and get a few minutes quiet. Be sure to turn off that cell phone, lol.
That is were some separation is useful.
I own a small fluorite crystal. Its a nice deep blue like most are, of eight sides. Fluorite grows that way, as an eight sided stone. Looking close though, you will find each side has its own unique character. Little flaws and imperfections that make that side very much an individual. A small chip on this side, a ridge on another.. Fluorite is said to have healing properties, to cleanse and purify your spirit and body. I just like the blue color and the feel of it as I roll it around in my hand.
If you study any object for a while, you can build up a mental image of it. You can learn the individuality of its features until you can sit quietly sometimes and roll an imaginary copy of it in your hand.
A Mind Palace is kind of like that, but so much bigger.
EXERCISE ONE: A SIMPLE FOCUS
As this is meant to be a tutorial, not just a rambling post of my past life, here is your first exercise.
Find a "Focus".
This can be anything. A old handball, a well used tool, even my simple fluorite crystal. Over the next month, when ever you have time, take that object and learn its unique characteristics. See its imperfections, see its flaws. Build up a mental picture of it. You are practicing a separation of your mind. Don't worry, even if you haven't been using it lately, your mind is still a wonderful and ready instrument.
Keep at it until you can picture your Focus in your mind clearly.
In addition, begin to open your mind to senses outside of just Sight.
Do you have a favorite place, somewhere if you have the time, you would go to and just sit? Maybe eat your lunch. We all find special places that speak to our souls. I believe in the "other worldliness" of reality, that this Universe is much more than we can see, touch and taste. It lets me get in touch with the "hunches" I sometimes feel. Sometimes just close your eyes and run your fingers across an object to "Feel" the non visual sense of it. When you sit, close your eyes and slide them slowly across something near.
EXERCISE TWO: YOUR GATEWAY
Now that you have some experience "creating" a mental copy of an object, it is time to begin building your "Mind Palace".
I love the sea. I was born in July which makes my astrological sign Cancer. We are a water people and in touch with the Moon and Tides. We also are ones who hide. We carry our shells on our back and when threatened retreat inside of them. My Mind Palace begins with a road on a cliff. There are tall mountains to my right, and the ocean to my left, many feet down. There is a tunnel before me. It is dark and unlit at this time. It beckons but is slightly scary. What will I find when I walk into it?
What kind of entrance to a secret and special place in your mind would you like? Would it be thick wood, would it be a desert plain of mountain spires?
I found it helpful when I began to look for images, on the Internet. We are after all too much, visual animals.
Begin by building just a few feet, around you. I started with a bucket of gravel, which I had in the yard. Run your hands through the stones. Feel the roughness of each piece, feel the dust on your hands. Pour it on the blank canvas of your mind. Feel it under your bare feet as you step on it.
I won't lie, building such a image in your mind takes time.
The plants around my entrance have all been planted intentionally. I can point to the black pepper plant to the mountain side, to the small post with the spider plants hanging to the ocean side. There is a pair of large urns at the tunnel entrance and a small shrine with a bronze plate, inscribe with the "Litany of Fear".
There is a small bell too, that I tap.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
Bene Gesserit "Litany Against Fear"
I would not be surprised at the number of those of you who read the ArchDruid Report and post here, don't have a dog eared copy of Hebert's "Dune" on their shelf. While the later books in the series stretched the boundaries, in my opinion the Bene Gesserit and their mental skills are a classic in sci-fi myth. Ignoring their desire to control the Universe with the perfect vessel, I think of them as shamans of the first order.
I am a very peaceful person now. I know a lot of people let the day to day get to them. Whenever stress gets to me, I can close my eyes and step on that gravel.
And tap that bell...
EXERCISE THREE: YOUR GARDEN TIKI
Tunnels end, and yours should too.
(Unless your Mind Palace is a cave, lol.)
My tunnel opens to a small bay, guarded by a traditional Japanese gate. I can remember the sweat and effort it took to raise those heavy beams. There is a small house on the water, with a dock out into the surf, There is also a copy of this year's garden in the yard. Take your time, build up the residencies of your Mind Palace, so that you know each board and nail. Know which stones are heavy and which ones smooth. Soon you will be able to close your eyes and transport yourself to this mental place when you need.
Why create a mental compartment like a Mind Palace?
Beyond its usefulness of de-stressing us, the mental exercising you will go through to create one, is very useful in your day to day life. I often use mine when I set up my garden in the Spring. I sit among the plastic temporary planters and my new friends, the vegetables I hope will feed me in the Harvest time and simple "ask" them how they want to be arranged.
The ability to compartmentalize your reality lets you simulate all sorts of things.
Your Mind Palace can become a very useful tool for memory.
Do you want to remember a telephone number? Then imagine yourself taking an afternoon, slowly carving wooden blocks, each with an individual number and then placing then on a shelf beside the door. Or perhaps chiseling the numbers into a stone, and putting it beside the path you enter by, The more you do this, the more you re-enforce your skills.
The US Army actually did a study on whether mentally simulating a skill, could help you improve it.
(I can't find the book that references this at the moment. I will and reedit this section with citations ASAP.)
They used the marksmanship training on the venerable US Army 1911, 45 caliber pistol. This can be a hard pistol for many people to learn to shoot well, since it is a large and heavy gun. The ammo is also costly, so anything that could cut down on actual shooting AND produce qualified shooter was something they were very interested in. The US Army took two groups, the first who learned the standard marksmanship training, involving a battery of live firing on the range.
The second group, instead of actually firing the weapon, would spend time just sitting quietly while picturing in their minds the action of raising the pistol and firing. At the end of their respective training, each group was tested for their competency with a live fire.
Not surprising to those of us who have long read Greer, one group did much better.
Care to guess which one?
Many athletes have publicly spoken about how they mentally review and repeat their key actions, and feel that helps them.
So if you want to re-enforce a new skill, practice it in you mind when ever you have a few minutes.
Hawaiian shamanism has a tradition that memory involves the entire body. That you remember a particular occurrence in the muscle group that is under tension when it happens. Relaxing that muscle group, allows you to remember it. Dr. Serge Kahili King gives an example in his book, when he and a friend were out hiking and got lost. They were along a stream and couldn't find the pathway back to their camp. It was only after they paused and took some time to relax, that they each began to remember characteristic of the pathway's turn. Putting together those features, allowed them to look along the stream until finding a place that had those features, and there the pathway was.
Often when I am feeling frustrated at work over some job and my difficulty at doing it, I take a moment to calm myself, take several deep breaths and wiggle my body energetically, to relax my muscles. I find this usually will refocus my mind on my tasks.
EXERCISE FOUR: HELPFUL ADVICE (and jokes too...)
Your Mind Palace is not just for inanimate objects.
You can populate it with Advisers as well.
This may seem surprising, until you consider just how amazing our brains are. Have you ever read a book, where a certain passage can bring tears to your eyes? I have several novels, that when I want to relax and chill, I dig them out of the library and turn on good music. There will often be a particular scene or chapter which I will find makes me wipe fresh tears from my eyes. Good fiction touches our Souls.
That is something else Hawaiian shamanism teaches, the Heart Aspect called the "Ku" does not deferential between Past, Present and Future. For it, all things are immediate and relevant in the Now.
Back to Advisers...
One of the interesting things about a well established Mind Palace, is the potential to populate it with other visitors. At first this can seem like a contradiction. After all, people have awareness and self will.
Just like a focus object, it is possible through repetition and discipline to add others to your mental world. Imagine the famous scientist Albert Einstein. Really imagine him. His disheveled hair and rumpled clothing. Youtube some videos of him and observe his mannerism. Just like that original focus object you used, build a picture of Albert in your mind and in your garden. Keep at it slowly until he smiles back at you, then let him free.
Is there a question you would ask Albert?
Care to add another? Perhaps Marilyn Monroe will offer to help you weed the garden?
You'll be surprised how quickly such mental advisers will develop a Life and a personality of their own. Even crack a joke at times. You find find they can act as a sounding board and even offer so "out of the box" suggestions. Developing a Salon (in the French meaning) of historical and even fictional characters, who can provide you with advise is perhaps the ultimate in Mind Palace skill.
Who would you invite to your Mind Palace, Green Wizard?
For now I will leave further thought on this subject for later.
You need to get to work on your own Mind Palace, don't you, and let me remind you, the palette is Infinite...
(Discuss this further on the GW Forum: "Introducing the "Mind Palace"