“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.“
– Dante Aligheri [1265- 1321]*
[ this article is a prelude to the tome I am writing and contains some of the material from chapter 1 ]
Cartography: the creation of maps and charts. As a child I was fascinated by maps. Many an hour was spent studying the maps included in J.R.R.Tolkien’s books – and upon drawing my own maps. Map-making is an ancient craft. It is usually conceived of as the creation of 2 dimensional representations of 3 dimensional space to guide wayfarer along the right road to their chosen destination in geographical space. For eons humans have used maps to plot expeditions, trace the stars in the skies, traverse huge bodies of water, show where resources or treasures can be found.
Maps have long existed for the physical body too. Charts of muscles, nerves, blood vessels. Maps of human motion. Mapping of the brain. Mapping of the chromosomes and DNA. Then there are ancient maps of the internal atmosphere of the human experience. Maps of the development of a human being towards a ‘higher’ or perfected form; or the the development of arcane powers. Yogic maps [classical and hatha yoga]; Buddhist maps; maps hidden and overt within the Western and Central Asian traditions; maps from China. Native American maps. Storytelling and bardic poems from around the globe. Songlines from the indigenous peoples of my own country.
Humans seem to like cartography.
Within Physical Alchemy one metaphor of the process involving taking oneself (or guiding another) from disenchanted to reenchanted is the age-old one of an expedition through ‘forest dark’. We have – like Dante – found ourselves in a dark and twisted woods. This forest is no ordinary forest, however, and the way out need no ordinary map. The trees move as we rest. The path changes and forks and many places. Across all the many paths lay three Letheian streams. Did we start true and then double back? Have we fallen on to a false path? This path is easy and comfortable – is it leading me the right way..? The expedition we are on is no linear path. Yet there are maps for adventures like this. And more the perilous trip it shall be without the having of a guide to lead you through these labyrinthine trees.
We take inventory: tools – sharp and well chosen; a special compass that always points to the mountain far beyond the forest that is our destination, even when it is lost from sight.
The purpose of this allegory is to reveal the factors and hierarchy of preference when utilizing physical methods as catalyzing agents for reenchantment work within Physical Alchemy. To begin we dissect the different order of maps:
[*] ‘Maps’, ‘False-Maps‘, ‘fallen maps’ and ‘maps’.
‘Maps’ – Maps – in terms of physical body and its training – are the systems we use to direct the ‘tools’ we have. The schemata we use to triangulate in on the training outcomes and physical interventions that needs to happen for a given human body in front of us (or our own body if applied as self-knowledge). Muscles and their innervation, attachments and origins; Movement patterning; brain mapping and hormones; connective tissue meridians; training cycles (micro-, meso- and macrocycling); and so on and so forth. Many such maps exist and continue to refine in competition.
Maps – Maps (in italics) is the term used within Physical Alchemy to describe a system or meta-system that combines ‘science’, lore, practice and oral tradition to lead to the change in state of a human being in their totality in terms of increasing of the essence occurring at any given moment; the opening of new channels of perception and especially in the reduction of habituation and involuntary manifestations of the lower centres [mental, physical, emotional] in all things and at all times (ie not state or location specific).
‘False Maps‘ – these are maps that appear to lead out of the forest but lead only to a going in circles or falling into one of the streams.. dreaming of leaving the forest and guiding people out. Disguised as maps or pathways towards power these are quite often colourful, alluring and promise alacrity of results. Alas, they do not produce the required results and often increase the power of habituation via layering ‘patterning upon patterning’ under the veil of increasing freedom.
‘Fallen Maps’ – these are maps that were once maps but have fallen into disuse and disrepair. Relics from another age – they wait. They morn. They lead somewhere real but people have forgotten how to read the language they are written in, or, they need guides of a special type to be brought back to life once more. How many turns of the disenchanted wheel from Patañjali to ‘asana for Instagram’ [?] They wait, patiently, to be breathed back into existence. Millions can claim them, but if only a handful pass over.. they are fallen.
‘Tools’ in this metaphor are systems of techniques or exercises. These most times come along with a small ‘map’ or ‘manual’ – in terms of their associated metaphysics, systems of perception and the (sub)culture around them. For our expedition it is a necessity that we have sharp tools. The forest reforms around us. It is dark: axe or machete; lantern; cloak and bow. In this era we are actually spoilt for choice in regards to choice of tools.
There is an art to selecting the correct tools for use with maps: the base art(s) one loves and wants to express AND the balancing counterparts that harmonize the skill sets and correct for and reduce imbalance. A machete and cloak are not much use if it is too dark to see or read ones map and one has no food or water. Do not become overburdened by carrying many blunt tools you cannot actually use effectively [hyper-coloured mediocrity] as this will slow you down and can stop your expedition completely.
A tool is not be mistaken for a map. This happens. Even if it were a divine tool like Mjølner [the Hammer of Thor] it is only a useful servant. There must be a directing and keen-eyed wayfarer to select and wield the tools in a specific way and at the auspicious time.
One of the hallmarks of this era is powerful tools appearing (across all domains) but being used in incompetently or for the wrong task.
A guide will always have the ability to use their chosen tools well. One can be a highly skilled practitioner of a tool-set and have no skill as a guide. This is not talked about often.
If you have a full time job and progeny to look after the number of tools you can carry successfully goes dramatically down. These are facts of life. Ignore them and suffer. Remember: we only need a few working tools of high quality to aid us on our mission.
[*] a small(ish) heresy to entertain
The heresy is that if you are working with a map toward deeper change (one of essence) – the ‘tools’ (physical, repatterning and contemplative methods -whatever) are not as important as having a map or a guide (someone who has made it out of the woods). To escape the forest it does not matter if your chosen tools are en vogue or up-to-date as long as they are effective. The presence of a map is indicated by a cluster**.
Chasing the coolest and cleverest new system of exercise/movement/repatterning/contemplation is a good way to stay trapped in the dark wood forever whilst feeling conviction that one is getting out (or is already out). Many council about the superiority of a specific ‘tool’ (quite often their specific tool-set): ‘the most up to date with the research’; ‘the One’; the world’s leading method of ‘x’; ‘proven on 10,000s around the world!’; ‘proven by Science’; ‘the real among the pretenders’ – and so on and so forth.
What matters is that your chosen tools actually work upon and change the physical body in a solid and tangible way – and that they can interface with the map being followed.
People with no map fixate upon ‘tools’. This can manifests as: ‘coolness chasing’ and ‘fad hopping’ (particularly when coupled with disparaging of the ‘tool’ previous to the one currently being studied’); having ones feathers ruffled over people claiming knowledge over tools that you use when they have been using them for far less time than you have; inability to refrain from commenting (verbally or online) when someone is talking about the ‘tool’ and you know better – or simply want to show that you also are knowledgeable about said ‘tool’; squabbling; over-mentioning the benefits of your methods rather than letting the results speak for themselves – and so on. [I have made all of these mistakes]
Again, this heresy is that who you have teaching you is far, far more important that what ‘tools’ (methods) they teach when we are discussing maps. Tools become less relevant with the skill of the guide. Of course this is an artificial condition as if you are a real guide in the way I am using the word there is no way you will lack the discernment and choose inferior tools. The enhanced perceptual apparatus will not allow for it.
As the proverb goes: intention dictates results. If ones compass is not set in the auspicious direction one can – even with the best tools – go far off course. Lamentably this forest has a property whereby it interferes with normal compasses and warps direction. A special compass is essential in this endeavor [more on this ‘compass’ in the tome].
Boon upon boons – to find yourself a guide. Blessing upon blessings [!], I myself have had a truly remarkable series of teachers in a row. One may think they can use and assess maps alone but this is the prime error. Having a great teacher is an accelerent – a catalyzing agent. If one is open and selected correctly in a few years one can learn decades worth of material. Imbibe lifetimes worth of impressions over decades. And this is what we seek to do. As two of my Teachers made emphatic to me: you can learn from the mistakes of your teachers and save yourself enormous amounts of suffering and time. (or you can repeat the mistakes at their amusement and sorrow)
A guide functions as a catalyst. People have the individuality of their respective paths – but, in this particular dark woods you will encounter specific lessons for your strain. There is a hidden pattern to it. Time and place are essential and in this the guide must be patient. Unlike the use of ‘maps’ – which have reasonably straight forward progressions – the use of maps is far more agile and the guide cannot really do anything to make it go quicker or differently than it needs to for the particular individual being guided. The function of the guide is not one of pouring knowledge down the students throat but in seeing and interfacing with the lessons [koans] the individual is encountering within the specific portion of their own particular path through said dark and shifting woods.
Guides can only guide you through the forests they have traversed. Teachers can only bring you up to their level – never more. Pick your guides wisely. Do not be swayed by the glamour of the ‘in tool’ or method. Do not be dissuaded either! It may actually be highly useful for you! Try to see for yourself what makes a guide. […]
Can one go it alone? Hmmm. Yes – I believe certain rare individuals can. I trail-blazed the map I use in that I did not learn it from any of my teachers. Then again the cartography began after long study with my first 3 teachers. I was had access to exceptional ‘tools’, ‘supplies’ (in terms of resources I had built up from training with these teachers) and I had a few other maps that allow the triangulation of my cartography to be possible.
It was also at a specific juncture in my development – one that may well have called for my own self-direction. It was not pleasant. So, the cautious advice is: one cannot trail-blaze successfully until one has amassed a certain specific amount of substance and research and practice within the hinterland and less dense parts of the forest [more on ‘phases’ of the woods and when and when not to trailblaze in the tome]. This strongly applies to maps – but also largely applies to normal physical ‘maps’ and ‘tools’ too in many ways. Some degree of proficiency and embodiment of principles and skills of a physical art are necessary before one improvises and creates (as a number of fine teachers have pointed out).
At the order of maps the skill and presence of the guide is far more important than the tools used. Unlike ‘maps’ where someone who has not traversed the terrain can successfully guide you to you goal – think out of shape strength coach programming a team that wins the championship or a practitioner curing a disease they have never had.
It may be that it is simple not possible (working theory based on all present evidence) to guide someone through a map completely without having done it themselves.
This – believe it or not – is one of my primary reasons for the writing of the ‘reenchantment tome’. I want to see if people at a certain phase of the expedition through dark woods can follow this map successfully without my being physically present as a guide.
I have an honest ‘let us see what strange things happen’ feeling about this. If someone(s) successfully reads the book and utilises the map and compass contained within to produce the result of the map [leaving this particular woods], then I will know something more about the forest. If nobody can use the map to produce the result – then I will know something more about the forest. Partial success, also, something will become known that was hitherto unknown.
One means that who you have teaching you is far, far more important that what methods they employ when we are discussing maps. The other means that the map and ‘special compass’ [ the chelation patterning ] are the essential aspect of using physical work as reenchantment work. Both results are beneficial for my research and for me personally – as the real goal is to increase the amount of humans having their methods work simultaneously upon physical and reenchantment work. And again – this is only one forest – I have other cartography projects to turn my attention toward.
[*] maps II
The perspective emerging from the metaphorical expedition is one of the order of hierarchy of importance for using physical methods as locus for reenchantment work:
The primary interests for me as a guide are in increasing abilities at cartography and improve the skills and art of being a guide. Having in my possession one map I am interested in refining its details – as well as in the studying of other maps that I have no knowledge of. We improve our skills as a guide by leading others through the woods and by having our own guides (for the next, even more perilous and forboding forest – I did mention that this was only one of many forests, didn’t I..?).
The second order interests lay in keeping the tools I already possess sharp. This amounts to practice, research and development of methods you already teach and practice – with the example of myself it could involve working out new ways of using old stretches and postures; creating new stretches and postures; trying new modes of cuing; different sequences of the same stretches; differing lengths of classes; and so on. Never at any time confusing this with a map.
Only then – tertiary – comes the acquisition of new tools. I get a lot of enticing and fascinating leads from my good friends and colleagues to check out new and exciting methods and bodies of work [tools]. In many ways I would love to dive into them all and learn but my energies are primarily in cartography and refining the toolset I currently have because it interfaces really well with the map I use because I am familiar with using it in this manner. Some new acquisition of tools will occur after the completion of my book.
Note, this order is only the preference within Physical Alchemy as it is primarily concerned with traversing these woods.
(Quote posted is an homage to Morris Berman using a smaller version of this quote in either ‘Reenchantment of the World’ or ‘Coming to Our Senses’)
** Cluster: in Physical Alchemy terminology this is a term to describe the production of a certain result in 6 or more humans. So, using the transmutation I call ‘reenchantment’ this would mean that the guide had used whatever tools and maps they have access to via study or cartography to lead 6 or more humans out of the aforementioned ‘dark forest’ – that is they had led more than half a dozen humans to a specific and permanent change in their totality. The cluster is important in the assessment of the presence of a map. Exceptional individuals can and do stumble their way out of this forest – and by varied methods with only the semblance of a clear pattern behind it. Be it from sincerity, resilience, seredipity – or all three – they have made it out the other side. I have seen no individuals who have exited the forest in this manner who could guide others out of the forest [no map].
A cluster shows method. It shows it was happened was not a fluke. A map allows other people to follow your path and arrive at a specific destination.
[A careful refraining from the mention of Koryzbski]