Paranoia & Discernment

I know one of the things that can make the gnostic turn uncomfortable for people is that they fear it turning paranoid, or, perhaps, fear themselves turning paranoid. Once you start noticing that all the lines don’t quite converge like you expect them and that some may converge in ways that are disillusioning, it’s easy to start expecting more and more of the same. It’s easy to start expecting more and more of the same defensively, too, so you don’t have to undergo the hard reality of disillusionment again, just your favored simulacrum of it. But we don’t have to get stuck in that, we don’t have to go down that road. We can hold to awareness and in doing so discover that it isn’t just disillusionment all the way down.

Some of it is downright wondrous. The discussion I was having about the Lemegeton has another ramification. Not only are there spirts eager to use us, there are spirits that are eager to help us, that seem to be a part of our personal destiny and whom work with can be intense but rewarding and intimate. Part of the challenge of the work is figuring out who ‘our people’ are so that we are better able to negotiate the wilder and woolier world we have discovered.

The good news, too, is that a lot of those forces that are interested in us aren’t malicious. More often than not, they are just alien and not quite like us. If we keep that in mind, we don’t have to be afraid, just cautious.Just like you shouldn’t walk outside and stick whatever you find in your mouth, you shouldn’t walk into the wild yonder and get your devotion on with whatever you bump into.

While there is no magic bullet to cultivating discernment, no simple set of rules to follow, there are a few habits that facilitate the process. The most basic of those is to keep in mind what made the gnostic turn possible–an awareness of how limited our access is. Keep pushing toward the limits and keep reminding yourself of how clumsy and partial your knowledge is. As a corollary, pay attention to how limited a medium language is. Don’t get too caught up in ideas that can be vocalized or written. Also, don’t stop trying to vocalize and write, because if you do that hard enough you will constantly frustrate yourself with the medium’s limitations.

Cultivate a sense of detachment from ideas, all ideas, regardless of whether they are yours or someone else’s. The ideas of spirits can sometimes sound like they are ‘ours’ and keeping some distance between the idea and the act can be healthy.

Don’t just write and talk. Pray, contemplate, do rituals. Those keep you plugged in to the bigger flows and help you appreciate how much bigger than your ideas these things are. Be responsive but don’t innovate wildly. Speculate freely but work conservatively.

If you find yourself getting overly focused on paranoid connection making, go do something to distract yourself. Meditate, go for a run, lift weights, make dinner. When that is taken care of, find something else to do. If you can’t stop the thoughts, think about taking a break from the spirit stuff for a few days or even weeks; maybe go see a therapist if it is starting to impede your day-to-day life. If you can, cultivate friends who you trust to give you spiritual reality checks. Don’t get dependent on them, but pay attention to them.

Remember that the paranoid habits can manifest through excessive optimism as well as through excessive fear. This optimistic-manic pronoia (to steal and misuse from Rob Brezhny’s dictionary) should be moderated as much as paranoia.

And don’t take too much free advice from strangers.

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