The mindfulness revolution has introduced meditation to millions in the West. Wildly popular applications like Headspace and Calm bring the various benefits of contemplation—calm, focus and compassion, for example—together into one easily digestible package, ideal for beginners and the mass market.
But at Magick.Me, our intrepid alumni often desire to take their meditation further, by examining specialist disciplines in their long-established context.
Which Meditation is Best for Magick?
Magick.Me’s Hardcore Meditation course takes a deep-dive into Raja Yoga, the Indian practice referenced in Aleister Crowley’s Eight Lectures on Yoga. Published in 1939, the book was way ahead of its time, reframing the supposedly exotic art as a common-sense discipline to improve personal health. (You can find more essential yoga and meditation tomes in our Occult Book Guide.)
Raja Yoga is by no means the only form of traditional meditation out there, though. In the video below, a Magick.Me student who’s come to occult study with a background in zen meditation asks about its relevance to our curriculum.
What is Zen Meditation?
Zen, or zazen, is a Japanese Buddhist form of meditation that aims to promote both awareness and relaxation. Clearing the mind is the goal during practice: For instance, by counting the breath and merely observing thought, rather than getting caught up in it. Zen practitioners sit still—sometimes on a distinctive sloping seiza bench, like Jeremy Irons’ Ozymandias uses in the HBO Watchmen series. As meditators progress, they’re encouraged to leave their eyes half-open. This blurs the line between intensive practice and a general sense of heightened awareness that becomes active even when not on the mat—a permanent meditative state.
Zen practitioners are often studied by scientists investigating the neurological effects of meditation, and experiments have shown that zen has a restorative outcome on the "default mode network," a very recently evolved—and therefore possibly still a little buggy—area of the brain's frontal cortex. The default mode network helps our grey matter deal with the barrage of sensory information that modern living chucks at us. While this can be useful for making decisions, it also instals rigid thinking of the kind that leads to bias, torpor and eventually maladaptive psychological defense mechanisms, including addiction. Research has also shown that psychedelic drug therapy helps reset the default mode network to a healthy, homeostatic level.
When Should You Use Zen Meditation?
But with all that said, how impactful might zen meditation actually be on a magickal practice? Our caller in the video above would like to improve his focus when working with sigils, for example. Would he be better off studying the Raja Yoga that Crowley references?
Jason's response in a nutshell—don’t confuse yourself! All meditation—Raja Yoga, zen, vipassana—is good. Try it all, and don’t get too hung up on the style. If you’re already on a meditative path, it’s probably best you stick to it. Meditative practice originates from the same point. Although it’s associated with Asia in general, Buddhism specifically began in India, and propagated along the Silk Road. Many of these meditation styles, which may seem distinct to the untrained eye, have a lot more in common culturally and historically than not.
That said, if you want to train really heavily in a particular form of meditation, we recommend dedicating yourself to that style alone, rather than mixing it up with magick—and ending up a master of neither.
What Benefits Does Meditation Have?
Any meditation practice will arguably be more effective than magickal tech when it comes to personal insights such as clarifying desire—a key process on the journey towards discovering the True Will. And meditation of course improves all kinds of modern world, real-life stuff, from stress levels to people skills.
Sure, there are subtle differences between the disciplines—but essentially they all interlock. A thorough understanding of exactly how requires the first-hand awareness essential to a rounded grasp of any subject. A more intimate relationship with our internal systems—learning to be "energy literate"—helps hone this insight. Be prepared to do the work, and don’t be tempted to start customizing techniques too soon in the process.
Where Should I Study Meditation?
You can begin your journey studying meditation, of course at Magick.Me. If you're interested in Raja Yoga, you'll find everything you need in our Hardcore Meditation course; while if you're more interested in Buddhist styles like Vipassana, you can get up to speed in the Magick & Mysticism of Buddhism and The Alchemy of Chaos.
See you in class!