Esotericist Mark Stavish writes:
As a young member in several esoteric orders I often wondered how people could belong to something for twenty or more years and then leave. How is it that they could not only drop [out by cancelling their] membership, but also [drop] any or all relations[hips], [and in some cases] even appear to abandon spirituality altogether? In those days of bright-eyed idealism it was easy to confuse the work of spirituality with the vehicle of teachings, and in some instances, even the people who provided them. Such confusion is not uncommon, but also encouraged in many circumstances.
I am sure that each of you has asked yourself the same or similar questions, and maybe you have even come to some of the same conclusions. In Light on the Path – A Study Guide for Qabala, Alchemy & Astrology, some guidelines were provided for those running or wishing to run a study group or formal lodge. The primary focus of those guidelines can be understood in the following statements:
- Spiritual practice must encourage personal responsibility
- Spiritual practice must encourage healthy interpersonal relationships
- Spiritual practice must build upon the previous two points and encourage independence and autonomy
It is clear from many of the experiences each of us has had on the Path of Return, particularly when we walk it with others formally as “Brothers” and “Sisters” or informally, that unless the first two points are achieved, the third — that of autonomy — cannot be fully realized. True autonomy is not leaving your order or group in a snit, or waging flame wars against it or others. True autonomy is accepting things for what they are and recognizing your role in them, and what you want to and can do about it – if anything. Separation is often a part of autonomy as the group mind of an organization or movement may force you out if you are not in a high degree of conformity with it. However, how we respond to this new direction is a matter of how well we have mastered the first two points of personal responsibility and healthy relationships. This is why in the guidelines in Light on the Path we actually encourage creating distance between one’s self and the group after a period of seven to twelve years. This starts with taking on less responsibility and concludes with an actual year off or “sabbatical” to relax and regroup before returning.
If you are wondering what kind of influence your esoteric practices may have on you, influences that are actually detrimental to your achieving personal responsibility and goals (the reason you started the Path to begin with), and healthy relationships with those outside of the group or movements, try this for forty days. Remove all reminders of your spiritual practice from visible daily sight. Place them in storage, or if you have a set-aside chamber or oratory, leave everything there, but strip it to bare minimum. Place all initiation certificates, images, charters, special robes, into boxes, and leave nothing esoteric visible in the common areas of your dwelling – box your books as well.
Then notice what your mind gravitates towards. What areas of your life have you left undone? These will be the areas of your life that you need to apply your attention to so that you may better express your SELF as an autonomous being.
After forty days bring everything back out and pay attention to your feelings and responses to your collection of artifacts. Now, please be clear. During this time you may continue your periods of self-reflection, meditation, and inner work. Simply notice what and how it changes when you truly open up the mystery that is your SELF, rather than the Lesser or Greater Mysteries of this or that tradition, order, lodge, or group. This will help a great deal in understanding the immense power of the group mind as well as the power of suggestion.
Sometimes leaving the Path for a little while is the best way we can come to realize just how well we have mastered it and applied it to our daily life, or if it has mastered us and made us a servant of the dream.