Unlike some “12-step programs,” these steps1 have no particular order. Rather, they work in tandem and harmony. Often the opportunity to demonstrate or experience these proven ways for a more magical life simply comes along. All we have to do is recognize it.
Over time, though, through reflection, intent and practice, these ways become part of our modus operandi, our preferred way to be, and can lead to a more refined and intuitive life, replacing a reactive, or insensitive, style that undermines personal evolution and right relationship.
None of these steps is likely to surprise you, but putting them together may conveniently help you put them together in life. Although more can be said about each step, specific “sub-steps” are woven within most major ones. The article is not meant to be all-inclusive, but simply a contemplative primer for self-discovery and adaptation.
With that said, I’d like to offer this caveat. I mention “allies,” forces and beneficent energies a few times. This implies we live in an animated Universe with seen and unseen beings we can attract for mutually beneficial relationships. My experiences tell me these are present and nothing to fear or avoid. Your experiences may tell you something else.
1. Appreciation – It’s often and rightfully suggested to express appreciation every day and constantly look for new things and people for which to be appreciative. The sensitivity gained from going without something vital to our wellbeing for an extended time heightens our appreciation. Specifically, thirst makes us less likely to waste water, more likely to give a drink to any thirsty plant or animal, and say prayers of thanks to the people who work at water treatment plants and bring clean water to our homes. Periodically doing without something we need or want is one way to extend appreciation into respectful use and compassion.
2. Humility – Getting out of our comfort zone and being put under great duress, especially when we are not in control of the situation, can lead to great humility. One “extreme” example that comes to mind for me is some of the first sweat lodges I was in with native spiritual leaders. I had no idea what heat was until then. When water was poured on orange-hot rocks, the heat and steam were beyond anything I knew was possible to endure. What makes these experiences so profound is that although I literally could not breathe and was almost screaming in pain, the native people around me were singing their hearts out, seemingly oblivious to any suffering at all. I was in the presence of greatness, of a human potential far beyond anything I had. It humbled me; I was in awe.
So when we are tempted to feel arrogant, accomplished or better than someone else, all we need do is remember being someplace where we were humbled, and know myriad experiences and forces exist that can humble us again. We don’t have to look far to find powers greater than ours.
3. Compassion – Compassion never goes out of style. Compassion is not weakness. It is not stupidity. Frequently it simply entails choosing love over fear, kindness over arrogance, respect over neglect. Compassion comes from strength and empathy. Thus, true compassion simply cannot make the recipient of another’s compassion dependent upon it. In other words, compassion strengthens both the giver and receiver. We may fear to show compassion because we fear making a person dependent upon us, or lazy. The fact is, sometimes a handout is exactly what is needed. Unconditional compassion has a place. Be kind.
4. Being present – Being present makes a good teacher great and a great relationship terrific. The power of being totally present in space and time is so elusive, but it focuses and releases our power, which then becomes so inclusive. It keeps our energy from being siphoned off by distraction. Time seems to stand still. This can happen in moments of immense joy, creativity, engagement with another or danger, yet those are not requirements. Being present with danger often means we become more engaged through action, if physically able. There is little or no questioning when there is right action.
When we are present for someone else, our feelings of impatience, indifference or not being authentic go away. We often find that the other person also becomes more open and able to engage with us, thus evolving the relationship. Being present leads us to…
5. Sacred Space – Sacred Space begins in our heart. It extends into our world and beyond. Sacred space creates resonance with the unseen world of support and guidance. Creating, maintaining, sharing and carrying sacred space is one of the most important things we can offer. Beneficent energies and allies respond to sacred space. It is the welcoming environment in which others and energies come in and want to bask in the glow of our presence, our energy field, while at the same time wanting to be of service.
Sacred space is immanently connected to ceremony. Anyone can create ceremony and sacred space anywhere. It does not depend upon dogma or giving away one’s power to be in the sacred space of another. Rather it creates a synergy in which magic and good things take shape.
6. Shapeshifting – Everything shapeshifts. Shapeshifting is foundational to spiritual practice. It is the constant motion and interplay of energy, or, as Nikola Tesla elaborated “…everything is energy, vibration and frequency.”2 A shapeshift can be as easy as changing one’s mind. When we change our relationship to a situation, we change the situation. Interacting with the world with the conscious intent of allowing it to shapeshift for the greatest good is high magic. Shapeshifting the body in a dream, meditation or altered state is an indication of growing personal power, healing or intuitive guidance. This type of shapeshifting can carry over into physical life.
Shapeshifting also means allowing other people, especially those we love, to shapeshift into what they need to become. Often it requires letting go, which requires trust. Sustainability is not the goal. Shapeshifting is the goal. It is the change that creates the charge and the enhancement of the environment and sentient consciousness. Sustainability is an outcome of conscious shapeshifting because we get what we need when we allow change.
7. Giving and Receiving – In the modern world, it is becoming more difficult to maintain the connection with what gives us life. Giving and receiving are types of shapeshifting; they represent the necessary interchange for right relationship. Shapeshifting is part of the natural order; squeezing things out of shape to survive is not. That simply means that when we take too much, more than we need to live well, we undermine the logic and magic of balance. Right relationship acknowledges the connection of everything through the dynamic flow of interaction.
Giving and receiving is an important step beyond gratitude, beyond feeling grateful or giving thanks through word and prayer. These are important, yet giving and receiving in the way highlighted here entails an offering to the energies and entities that sustain our lives in ways that are received by those energies. Indigenous people often do this through ceremony, which range from simple to elaborate, to offer something back for anything received. When we stay in a state of thanks, we stay in a state of grace. This sensitizes us to what and how we take, and we become aware of how our actions today may impact the world and the next seven generations.
8. Surrender – When it comes to having a personal spiritual path, surrender is often mentioned, but surrender to what? Nothing of value happens without taking chances; surrender is no different. It takes courage. This kind of courage means to let go of what does not serve us and of what keeps us from being who and what we are meant to be. Nothing can stop the soul’s inevitable surrender to releasing what must go. It is simply a question of when this happens, not if it will. What we gain from surrender is a greater connection with magic, not a hall pass from action. If not yet ready for the responsibility and greater accountability of a spiritual magician, don’t surrender.
Surrender also means to let go of egocentric isolation and what we ignore in order to connect with and embrace more of what is, by whatever name we call it: God/Goddess, Higher Power, Creator/Creatrix, Source, Great Mysterious, Spirit.
In other words, let go of smallness, surrender to largeness to receive the largesse of the universe. Surrender is a source of true personal power and how we stop giving power away. It is energy paradoxically created through simultaneous fusion with something greater and fission, the release of what needs to go and what needs to be expressed. On the other hand, it is no paradox because being who we are is possible only through a higher power, which is also what we are.3
9. Intent – Intent is defined here as clear, focused energy (action), feeling (heart-centered emotion) and vision (see it manifested) upon a desired outcome while remaining nonattached to the outcome. Life has power and purpose when we have intent and purpose. Intent shapeshifts the energy around us into the form we intend…up to a point. But individual intent never provides us with unfettered creation because we are connected to others and other things, and thus impacted by their activities and creativities. Of course, the stronger our intent, the less distractive outside influences disrupt us. Shapeshifting heart and mind, losing self-importance, and keeping a sense of humor are much more enjoyable ways of using intent compassionately, rather than trying to force something into existence that may cause more harm than good.
When we do what’s best for ourselves, we do what’s best for all. The trick is to know what’s really best for us, whether in the short, mid or long term. We may be born with that knowing, or it may take a lifetime to discern the answer, or anywhere in between. As the ancient Upanishads states, “You are what your deepest desire is. As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
10. Science and Magic – Lakota spiritual leader Jim Miller once said, “What you call science, I call magic, and what you call magic I call science.” The cultural potential for misunderstanding is rife in this statement. Yet, quantum physics merges science and magic — both of which can be thought of as intended creation — into a compatible relationship of support rather than separation. I consider science and magic as the same side of the same coin. Intent is the other. To put it another way, Science and Magic are on the same rung of these 12-steps. When used properly and respected, we gain allies to help us with the processes of personal transformation or to help in the service of another. These allies embody formulae and are embodied in formulae, be they mathematical, alchemical or ritual.
11. Paradox – Paradox creates an enlivening sense of awe and wonder, trumping the boring world in which we think we know it all or have seen it all. Paradox is one of the true mysteries of the Universe and wonders of the world. Paradox reflects our own multi-dimensionality, through which we experience multiple wonders on many levels through a single experience. Nothing is as it seems once we begin to see things as they are. This allows us to see into and experience the fractal nature of the universe while at the same time being a co-creator of evolutionary change. Or, to put it another way, simplicity leads to complexity.
12. Forgiveness – Forgiveness relieves karma. When we do not forgive, whether ourself or someone else, the energy of the past stays with us and can fester; it needs to be released in some way. Fortunately, life presents a cornucopia of opportunities for us to show we’ve learned from mistakes by taking right action. However, with true, heartfelt and unconditional forgiveness, there is no need for us to re-experience “missteps” we’ve taken or step into the karmic steps someone else needs to take. In other words, forgiveness can protect us from getting swept up in the negative actions of others or from seemingly reliving experiences we’ve had. Without forgiveness, we tend to go in circles. With forgiveness, we have a path. We release all judgment. The freedom we experience from forgiveness and non-judgment is almost unfathomable.
13. Bonus Step: Unconditional Love – Let’s look at two words some people use interchangeably when it comes to being in the world: non-attached and detached. However, there are important differences that distinguish these words from one another.
Non-attachment is an aspect of letting go; it is when we intend the greatest good without expecting reward for our actions and without placing conditions on others. Non-attachment does not mean we are disconnected from life, although the word may suggest that. That’s detachment, which means being emotionally distant, self-serving or aloof.
Non-attachment and detachment can be thought of as polar opposites. Intimate non-attached human relationships enjoy a deeper love than conditional intimate relationships. Non-attachment makes unconditional love possible.
1 I’m reluctant to call these “steps” because that suggests some sort of order or hierarchy, but for the life of me I can’t come up with a better word!
3 There is no blasphemy intended with this. Many saints and sages claim and advocate a comparable relationship; i.e., I and the Father are One.
Steve Guettermann is a freelance writer and “teaches” critical thinking at Montana State University. He is currently studying Peruvian shamanism under don Oscar Miro-Quesada, and published an article in the 2016 Planet Waves annual edition, Vision Quest. Steve’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org; you can also visit his website.