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Article ID: 11855

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The Peril of Solipsism in Magical Practice

Author: Taylor Ellwood
Posted: August 26th. 2007
Times Viewed: 3,558

In a recent livejournal post, I was writing about a personal issue and how previous choices I’d made as well as influences from other people had impacted my reactions to this personal issue.

A good friend of mine responded and said that my understanding of the situation was wrong, that no one else was responsible for how I acted. S/he argued that no one else is responsible for my reactions. While I knew my friend meant well, her response bothered me a lot.

It wasn’t that I was trying to duck out of responsibility for my responses. I am certainly responsible for my reactions and whether or not I choose to act them out, or make a conscious choice and deal with whatever situation is at hand with mindful awareness.

And yet while it’s true that I am responsible for my reactions and actions, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing from his/her response.

I realized that what bothered me about his/her response was that I didn’t feel that the impact tat other people had on my reactions was acknowledged. Not too surprisingly I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

One commenter pointed out that the argument was flawed by using the example that if a four year old had just been raped and was experiencing a devastating emotional impact, you wouldn’t tell that four year old that s/he was responsible for his/her reactions to the rape.

And indeed that child would not be entirely responsible for his/her reactions, because those reactions would be a response to the impact that someone had on him or her. There would also be a question of whether she had the emotional and mental capacity to be fully responsible for her emotions.

The example fully illustrated a problem I’ve written about before: that occult practices sometimes advocate responsibility to the point of solipsism.

Solipsism argues that anything outside the mind of the person doesn’t exist because it can’t be known. What this means is that even the people around you might just be a figment of your imagination. You can never know if someone is real in a solipsistic paradigm.

Now you might wonder how being responsible equates to solipsism. Ideally it wouldn’t, but when taken to an extreme, where the impact of others is not registered, responsibility can become solipsism.

Worse, if you don’t fully recognize the impact that you can have on other people, then no matter how responsible you may act, that very act of responsibility can become an act of self-obsession, focused so much on claiming responsibility for what happens in your internal reality that you ignore the impact your actions have on others and on external reality in general.

When we claim that we are responsible only for our own reactions, and not anyone else’s reactions we ignore the principle of connection.

Particularly in U.S. culture it’s not hard to ignore this principle. We are raised on the belief that we are all rugged individuals, self sufficient, not needing anyone or anything. This illusion is a façade, yet all too easily it’s bought into. Self-sufficiency when taken to the extreme leads to a detachment from other people and the environment.

At least in my magical paradigm everything is connected. The choices I make each day do have an impact on me. And the reactions I have to situations are mostly my responsibility. I am, after all the final arbiter in allowing myself to react or consciously act. But in all of my choices and actions there is also an impact on other people around me, and on the environment I am a part of.

My choice to commute by bus as opposed to driving by car has an impact on the environment and other people. On one level that impact is simple. If I commute by bus, it’s one less car on the road, and also that much less pollution going into the air. If I choose to drive my car to work I could have a shorter commute, but I also put one more car on the road and I’m also polluting the air with the fumes from the car.

On another level this choice is complex for it involves weighing and recognizing the impact my choice has on myself and on others. It involves deciding if I’ll drive my car for the sake of convenience, or if I’ll take the longer commute of the bus and know I’ve made a choice that is environmentally sounder. It involves acknowledging not only the responsibility to myself in the choices I make, but also the responsibility I have to others for the impact of those choices.

I’ll tell you a secret, something that has fascinated me about occult texts and indeed discussions. There’s a lot of talk about intent and manifesting intent and being responsible for intent, but almost nothing is said or written about impact, about consequences, about knowing that what you did has a life beyond intent made manifest.

When nothing is said about impact, when impact isn’t acknowledged how can we claim responsibility for our actions or reactions? The answer is that we can’t.

To claim true responsibility doesn’t just involve mindfully acknowledging that you are responsible for your reactions…it is to recognize that you have an impact on others. Sometimes the hardest responsibility to claim is acknowledging that impact on others, especially if the impact has been harmful.

The clichéd saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions is still an apt saying for it shows that no matter how much we intend good, we can still manage to do a lot of harm by not recognizing the consequences of that intent made flesh.

I also look at this issue from another perspective: any person (No matter how consciously aware s/he claims to be) can be manipulated by someone else. If the manipulator knows the right buttons to push it can be easy to spark a reaction. Are you then still responsible for that reaction?

Yes, you are responsible for it, but that manipulator is also responsible in the sense that his or her actions had an impact. A reaction is a choice to do an action again as a way of answering the stimulus that sparked it. There is connection here! Take the connection away and you have nothing to react to, because nothing has impacted you.

Connection is one of the most important principles of magical work. If you don’t have a connection, magic won’t happen. Taking responsibility for that connection means being mindful not only in your reactions, but in also acknowledging the impact you can have on others.

When magic is worked with the recognition of the impact as well as the intent then it can be said that the magician is knowingly responsible for what occurs. The magician knows there will be consequences and accepts those consequences as worth dealing with in order to manifest reality a specific way.

S/he recognizes that responsibility isn’t simply a function of maintaining awareness of internal attitudes or even reactions to situations; rather responsibility is an acceptance that connections can and will be made and how those connections manifest is the responsibility of all involved. This responsibility doesn’t just involve the self, but is a responsibility to the other people involved as well, a shared responsibility.

This kind of responsibility doesn’t create co-dependence, but does it create interdependence, a mindful awareness that we are connected to each other and to the environment we live in. This connection in turn fosters awareness that reality is much larger than just the self.

This doesn’t lessen the magician, but ideally fills him or her with recognition that even as s/he shapes reality; s/he is shaped by it as well. In other words, we can own our reactions, but we must also own the consequences of those reactions.

We gain control and awareness of our reactions when we acknowledge that they have an impact on more than just the self. With that understanding comes reflection wherein a person can acknowledge how his or her choices shape the internal and external reality.

I also think it important to add that mindfully acknowledging that your actions have an impact on others doesn’t make you less authentic in your choices. If anything it can make you more authentic because you really have to face a difficult choice when you know that what you do will displease other people, but you know making the choice is what is best for you and your future.

You still acknowledge the impact, but you also acknowledge that the choice is worth the impact and you make it, choosing to live with the consequences in order to be true to yourself.

You know the price for your actions and you settle with that price and find in all of this a true sense of responsibility to yourself and other people.

You balance your intent with the impact and you make a mindful, conscious choice.

There’s magic in that.

Copyright: Copyright Taylor Ellwood 2007


Taylor Ellwood

Location: Portland, Oregon


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