How to tell when your spiritual practice is working

I stayed home from work today after sitting up half the night with spasms of back pain.  My back has been a recurring problem since a really bad incident in 1994, when I had pain that made last night’s aches seem mild and had to be extracted from my fourth-floor apartment on a back board, through the window, by a cherry-picker.  I woke briefly around seven a.m. to call in sick, speak to my pet birds, and see my husband out the door; then, I went back to sleep solidly until almost noon.

This afternoon, I received a phone call from my doctor’s office, saying that the culture they took on Monday evening showed I do have a bacterial infection.  There’s a prescription waiting for me at my pharmacy.

Today’s Tarot card was Lust, Crowley’s re-imagining of the Strength card.  I don’t physically reverse the Thoth cards because the Rose Cross design on the back is not conducive to it, but in this case I think it’s fairly obvious that the reversed or ill-dignified meaning is the appropriate one: Not strength but weakness, not energy but burnout.

How do you tell when your spiritual practice is working?  Step one is that everything goes wrong.

Christianity has traditionally described the spiritual path as consisting of the three stages of purgation or purification, illumination, and union.  What they don’t tell you in so many words is that purification means it gets worse before it gets better.  Imagine a major housecleaning event.  Doesn’t everything look dirtier and more disorganized, worse and not better, in the early stages?

For several months, I have been following the program which the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn recommends to those who have achieved the Portal grade in their order.  It begins very simply with a month of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram followed by a month of the Middle Pillar.  Since I began doing these practices regularly, I’ve had stomach upsets, headaches, the return of my back pain, this infection.  I’ve also started this new blog, experimented with poetry and with original fiction again, and gotten a lead on a beautiful house my husband and I will be able to rent next summer when our current lease expires.

The New Hermetics, the tradition in which I’ve trained to Advanced Adept, emphasizes setting goals for one’s magical work, concrete goals in the areas of work, sexuality, creativity, spirituality, health and finance, emotions and relationships.  I’ve affirmed over and over that I want to lose weight, to get more fit, to eat a healthier diet–but I haven’t done much about it.  So instead I’ve been given ailments that have forced me to eat smaller portions, stop drinking gallons of cola, carry less baggage on my daily walk to work, and, in short, make changes that will lead to fulfillment of my goals.

How do you know when your spiritual practice is working?  When it changes you, with or without your cooperation.

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About padmarosa

K.S. Zangmo is the Dharma name of a writer, singer, library worker, Adept of the New Hermetics, practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, keeper of two cockatiels, wife, and stepmother, all of whom are the same person.
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