[NB] Work as Primary, Results as Secondary

Gordon’s latest post has me thinking about what it means to have goals in magical work. I often feel like a bit of an outsider to the ‘do magic for x, get x’ school of magical work. In most cases, it feels like if I really want x, there are usually more direct routes toward x than magic. I know, the get it camp tends to favor doing magic as a way of securing the route, but it’s never been a major part of my work.

I tend to do magic because there is a magical world out there and doing magic intensifies my connection to it. It is more about the invisible and the subtle than the manifest. That is where my magic picks up its sympathies with death work, because in many ways the work with the invisible seems to be about undermining the primacy of the visible and egoic. Initiation, death, and taking our place among the invisibles.

So, when Gordon talks about getting the results you didn’t even know were possible, my ears perk up. This sounds a little closer to what I am after. Except, when push comes to shove, it still ends up focused on getting results, even if they are surprising ones. If that is what you want, I’m not trying to give you grief over it. I’m just trying to point out another angle.

If you work with spirit on its terms, working to weaken rather strengthen the egoic attachments that define results, the results become secondary. Take that language seriously; I mean secondary, not irrelevant. The results, the outer manifestation of the inner process, like the ripening of fruit on a tree or the blossoming of a flower or the surge of the heron toward the fish.

Do the work, follow the course. See what results. Like the heron on the hunt, this demands a degree of patience and slowness, an effort to keep the waters clear so that you can spring forward when an opportunity presents itself. What isn’t done becomes as important as what is done.

8 thoughts on “[NB] Work as Primary, Results as Secondary

  1. Well, yes. And no.

    I mean, yes, you have to do the work that you’re called upon to do in the world. But doing the same thing over and over and over again without results… well, that’s the clichéd definition of insanity, isn’t it?

    I feel that the feedback loop matters. We need to be doing the work, but we also need to be evaluating the work. The design community has long recognized that the process of divergent thinking and convergent thinking — brainstorming and critique, in different terminology — need to happen separately from one another. It’s one of John Cage’s rules, actually, but I’ve found value in following that rule, too, magically and as a designer. Put another way, the ritual/magical work, and the analysis of the effects of that work, have to happen independently of one another. We have to critique the work even as we perform it, don’t we?

    I love the image of the heron on the hunt, though. Plucking minnows with patience and grace, making change in an orderly way from the disorder half-perceived beneath the water… elegant.

    1. Io

      I think you may be qualifying a strawman of what I said: I did say that results mattered (‘not irrelevant’), but as secondary elements. Otherwise, I mostly agree with you.

      I want to hold the design language at arm’s length, because it seems to be rooted in the same sort of results-centric discussion as Gordon’s model. I think it’s basically right, but I don’t want it forming an axial or central element in my approach.

      If I were to make a comparison with design, I would probably favor the (admittedly somewhat bourgeois) comparison between an artist and their output. The output is the results, but what they are working through by way of the art? That’s the work.

      I’m tempted to say that what I’m calling ‘work’ is more about thematic elements while the design language is after schematic ones. Just like I want to push results to the secondary level, I also want to push schematics there, too. Not irrelevant (at all), but secondary, qualifying, ancillary. I’ll have to roll that around in my head, though, to see if that sticks. It may have more pith than truth.

      That work can be repetitious, but (hopefully) not the dead repetition of insanity. And, hopefully, it is capable of yielding up surprises in the process, of producing lively and innovative turns.

      And, at some point, you are going to have to engage with results, with schematics, with design, because that’s where the work develops, but the work doesn’t really rest in the results.

      And, again, this is me thinking about my magical work, the invisibles. If it’s about something more practical and visible, then design thinking is probably going to have to take center stage.

      1. I guess I was quibbling with a straw man, or at least putting my own spin on things. My apologies. I’m both an occultist, and a ‘shop 2.0’ teacher, so I’m interested in several layers of invisibles — the intellectual formation my students experience when they build something, as well as my spiritual formation when I encounter something though the work. But I’m also interested in the visible layers — the physical objects that I produce, and the physical objects that the students produce. For me, those three-ish-four-ish things are not separate, and they’re not even to be ranked primary or secondary — because I have to use the physical product or the work to guess at or understand the invisible intellectual formation that is allegedly going on behind the scenes. In that sense, failure is as illuminating as success.

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