Over here, Robert wrote a bit about issues that he has been Struggling with relating to different facets of his personality. In his post he mentions some advice that I gave him regarding not wasting all ones efforts on improving the outer personality. I thought I might take the opportunity to talk a little bit about that here.
There are really three things that people try to do with magic:
1. Change outer circumstance
2. Make self improvements
3. Attain Enlightenment, Gnosis, Union with the Divine or whatever you want to call moving towards ultimate truth.
All of these can be perused at the exclusion of all else, but in a well rounded Sorcerer all three are seen as interdependent. A lot of magicians and spiritual people do not see the difference between number two and number three. It is this connection that I want to speak about in this post.
There are some spiritual paths that rely upon self improvement as the primary means of spiritual development. You route out your flaws, you cultivate your virtues, and eventually you move further and further towards the sublime. This is a valid path. It is a very safe path. It is not a very straight path and also takes a long long time. You can spend lifetimes tweaking the personality and becoming "pure".
The ultimate truth does not require this. You are in fact not very far from it right now, no matter what state of mind or stage of development you are in. This is the operative concept behind Tantra - that you can through skillful transmutation of energies and manipulation of primordial experiences propel yourself into the experience. This is also one of the mysteries in Christianity, that you do not need to fulfill all the laws of Leviticus, you simply need to open up to the experience of Gods Love. This is why Aliester Crowley wrote that anyone at any grade could cross the abyss and become 8=3. This is why most people who get a taste of the high spiritual states, and even manage to establish themselves in the high spiritual stages, say that the great secret is that you are already there.
We all have things that we are good at and things that we are bad at. We all have hang-ups and things that we struggle with. Realization of higher states does put this in a different perspective, but it does not eliminate flaws automatically nor does it create virtues.
You may look upon the face of god. You may experience union with the cosmos. You may experience the symbol-less Gnosis. You may experience the non-dual state. You may do all this and still get angry at your spouse over stupid crap, be selfish and uncharitable, be bad with money, and still not be able to stop smoking.
So how much should I worry about Self Improvement? Here are three rules that I use as guidelines:
RULE 1: is to let go of the idea of being a fully actualized perfected persona. Unless you solve the problem of physical immortality, you will NOT perfect your egoistic personality. You cannot be all Myers Briggs personality types rolled into one. There will always be things that you are better at than others and there will always be things that you are just not good with at all. Get over it.
RULE 2: is to figure out which weaknesses are simply things you are bad with and which weaknesses are actually causing you problems. For instance, I can anger pretty quickly. If I angered to the point where I became abusive to people or found myself having violent episodes this would be something that I need to work on. As it is, I can control my anger pretty well and transform its energy constructively so it is not a priority to work on. I am also a fast food addict. This was in fact causing me physical harm as well as hampering certain dimensions of spiritual growth, so this was an area of self improvement that was vital to work on.
RULE 3: is to work more on enhancing your strengths than fixing all your weaknesses. If you run a business and you are great at the marketing end of things, but not so good with the accounting end of things your time will be much better spent focusing on marketing than accounting. Focusing on accounting may appeal to the part of you that wants to be all things to all people, but you need to remember Rule 1: you can't. Go hire an accountant. Now, if you are so terrible at accounting that as the owner you cannot understand what your accountant tells you, or even have a clue as to whether your costs are more than your income, this brings in Rule 2 - you need to work on your accounting skills. Only just enough to be competent though. You are not looking to master accounting, just the 20% or so that will get you able to communicate with the experts.
Using the example of someone looking for a lover I use these three when advising people. Some guys get so into the self-improvement that they never move on to actually asking women out on a date. If you remember rule 1, you will know that while our features make us attractive, our flaws actually make us lovable. Being too perfect is not attractive. If however you are so bad in certain areas that it makes you repugnant to the opposite sex (hint: "I want to cum on your tits" is not a phrase to utter within an hour of meeting someone) than you need to remember rule 2 and go ahead and work on that. If however you are an insightful person, you can use Rule 3 and offer a quick tarot reading or even a cold reading (all is fair in flirting) to build some value for yourself.
Now lets turn our attention back to ultimate truth. It is true that you can access the enlightened or gnostic state no matter what personality issues you have. These states, being by nature transpersonal, are not blocked by our petty issues. To take that temporary spiritual state and integrate that awareness into your living levels of consciousness and action however is a whole other story. To take the state and make it your next stage, usually take a bit of work on the personality. You still do not have to become perfect (Rule 1). You just have to work on those issues that present themselves as obstacles to achieving that state (Rule 2). You will then reflect that state outwardly through your strengths (Rule 3) which is why different enlightened beings manifest in different aspects.
Thus endeth the lesson.