Draft Mystery School Curriculum

Following my previous blog on what a modern mystery school might be like, I received a wonderful engaged response. Thank you!

I now want to take a further step. I want to spend some time fleshing out the school’s curriculum. In the previous blog I made a brief attempt at this. In this blog I want to begin to expand the list. It is very rough. It is work in progress.

What I welcome from readers are suggestions as to what is glaringly missing.

GATEWAY
The applicant meets these criteria:
– My heart has opened and I prioritise compassion.
– I have a sense of connection with a benevolent cosmic mystery (known by many names.)
– I have a sense of subtle energies, patterns and archetypes.
– I am humble in the face of this wondrous cosmos.
– I am responsible for myself.

METHOD
There would be taught introduction-overviews to each topic.
Students would then do their own research and action-learning supported by tutor groups and masterclass seminars.
We would create a Wiki of resources from the world’s diverse traditions, ensuring students explore and find their own insights.

YOUR CENTRE
Map where you live – geology, landscape, historical maps, peoples.
Map where you were born – geology, landscape, historical maps, peoples.
What of significance is N, S, W, E of where you live?
Attune to the land. Give a gift or ceremony.

EMBODIMENT
Techniques of earthing.
How it feels. Purpose.
Inner smile – cauldron, bowl, tree of life, etc
Map what you know of your ancestry. Acknowledge/bless them.

EARTH, SUN, COSMIC MOTHER
Locate, map, acknowledge your place in space. Which planets? Stars?
Creation myths. Astrology

CONNECTION
Develop daily practice of connecting, yielding, emptying, surrendering, soaking.
Open-Close. Psychic protection.

PSYCHIC MECHANISM
Your mode of cognition and interpretation.
Reflective practice.
Oracles etc
Projection, imagination, perception, assessment, discernment

PLANES, DIMENSIONS, BEINGS
Metaphysical maps
Metaphysical beings, spirits, angels, souls, avatars, etc

ESOTERIC ANATOMY
Chakras, meridians, dantiens
Modes of healing

METAPHYSICAL CONTEMPLATION (OCCULT MEDITATION)
Daily practice of quiet scanning and interpretation

ENERGY WORK
Sacred space, magic circle, altar, grove
Ethics
Laws of magnetic resonance; correspondences; manifestation; talismans.
Channelling. Radiation, Invocation. Healing.
Cooperation

SOUL’S JOURNEY
Whence, why, whither?
Birth, life, death . . .
Contracts, karma, constellations

PSYCHOLOGICAL DYNAMICS
Ups, downs.
Dark nights, emergencies.
First aid.

OUTCOME
Deep daily practice of
–       Mystic connection
–       Metaphysical contemplation
–       Energy work (magic) that compassionately serves
+ Ongoing peer support and community

What is a Contemporary Mystery School?

So here you are.

Your heart has opened. You have an instinctive sense of compassion.

At the same time, your psychic abilities have woken up and you find yourself sensitive to energies and atmospheres, perhaps with some mystic intuitions and impressions.

Where do you go now?

In the Greco-Roman culture two thousand years ago, you would have sought entrance to one of the Mystery Schools. There, through ritual, sacred drama and direct teaching, you would have been introduced to the Mysteries.

Across the world, other traditions were providing similar mystic and esoteric trainings, but using different ceremonies and symbols. Look to the Druids, or Taoists, or Hopis, for examples.

In this blog I want to suggest some features of a contemporary Mystery School.

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First though we need to recognise some profound transformations that have happened in our social and cultural circumstances. These developments must, in my opinion, be influential. Let me briefly list them. They are fairly obvious, but often we do not appreciate their implications for spiritual study.

  1. Global Village
    The first shift is that we now live in a global village of shared knowledge. It is no longer possible for any school or teacher to claim any special access to wisdom and spiritual connection, when there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other schools and teachers, some of them very good. A thousand years ago we could travel thirty miles on a good day to find a teacher. Today we can travel anywhere digitally in the blink of an eye or click of a keyboard.
  2. No More Secrets
    Second, the core secrets of the Mystery Schools are now open knowledge. Historically these secrets were only divulged privately, usually after an initiation. Today they are commonplace in movies, television shows and books. Here is my brief digest of these once esoteric secrets:
  • Within and behind the material world perceived by our five senses, is a more subtle world of energies, patterns and archetypes. They influence and determine the material world. We can develop senses to perceive them more fully.
  • Using imagination, thought and other strategies it is possible to cooperate with and influence this subtle world and its manifestations.
  • We are not just material human beings with one life, but we are souls on a long journey of learning and development; and we are supported by souls who are further along this path. More love. More compassion. More connection. More consciousness.
  1. Hierarchy to Democracy
    Finally we have also to acknowledge a profound change that is happening in social and cultural structures. There is a general shift from top-down, often bullying, hierarchical leadership, towards democratic communities of networked and equal individuals. Seniorities by virtue of age, birth, gender, ordination or lineage, are being replaced by egalitarian mutual respect and natural wisdom. You will recognise that this particular shift is currently creating friction, as old hierarchies have trouble accepting this new reality.

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Given these substantial shifts – not to mention astrological and cosmic dynamics – how then might we imagine a contemporary Mystery School? What might its features be?

Here are a few ideas.

Entrance

The applicant to a Mystery School needs to self-assess as meeting these criteria:

  • My heart has opened and I prioritise compassion.
  • I have a sense of connection with a benevolent cosmic mystery (known by many names.)
  • I have a sense of subtle energies, patterns and archetypes.
  • I am humble in the face of this wondrous cosmos.
  • I am responsible for myself.

Curriculum

Now to the curriculum. Here is a brief list of what I suggest would be the essential components of a contemporary Mystery School.

  • Spiritual Experience
    Using person-centred teaching methods each student is enabled into a deepening daily practice of spiritual connection.
  • Reflective Psychology
    Students learn the psychological dynamics of spiritual development and how to manage them. Bliss to shadow – and back again.
  • Esoteric Meditation
    Students learn how to be quiet scanners and receptors, wisely guiding and assessing subtle sensations and impressions.
  • Soul’s Journey
    Before birth, through life and after death, students explore the nature and purpose of this journey.
  • Psychism
    Students understand their own psychic interpretive mechanism, and how best to manage and develop it.
  • A Map of Subtle Dimensions and Beings
    Students explore and develop maps of subtle dimensions and beings.
  • Compassionate Magic and Energy Work
    Students learn how to cooperate with and influence subtle energies to the benefit of all.

Lifelong Learning

The course, I imagine, would need to last between one and three years. After that, everyone would be supported in an ongoing community of peer support and lifelong learning.

 

Teachers

The teachers would need to be people who themselves practise and have experience of the topics. Most importantly they would be emotionally intelligent and could teach-facilitate in a way that respects each student’s individuality and learning style. The guru-acolyte model would be replaced with mutual respect and collegiality in the context of experiential learning.

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So those are my thoughts.

In fact, I have been pondering a modern mystery school for decades and waiting for such a school to appear.

Years ago l would have applied to be a student.

Today I might have the chutzpah to apply to be on the faculty.  I once thought that the Findhorn Foundation might be a Mystery School. Perhaps it still could be.

Over the years I have also noticed a few esoteric schools, but they have all been glued to a particular teacher or teaching, and have not practised, in my opinion, a holistic and contemporary method of student-centred learning.

Good education, including spiritual and esoteric education, builds on personal experience and not, in my opinion, on sacred texts. Authoritative and sacred texts, though, can be crucially helpful in unpacking and expanding personal experience, but this requires teachers who are wise facilitators and not proselytising a particular tradition.

One thing we need to hold in our hearts about mystery schools is their purpose.  They enable independent and self-managing adults, who are supported on the Path of Liberation, to the service of all.

All of that said, maybe it is sufficient for life itself to be the Mystery School.

On the other hand, a helping hand from loving companions is always useful.

More love. More compassion. More connection. More consciousness.

What Is the Angel of Findhorn? An Enquiry

This article is an enquiry into what people mean by the “Angel of Findhorn.” At the end of it I hope that you will add your own thoughts and interpretations.

First, though, advance warning that we are going into metaphysical territory and concepts. Materialist intellectuals – beware.

Second, for those of you who do not know Findhorn, we are talking here about what many consider to be Europe’s most important and influential eco-spiritual community. It is located on the east coast of Scotland between Aberdeen and Inverness.  Out of respect to the actual village of Findhorn, which is beautiful in its own right, we should properly call the community the Findhorn Foundation.

A bit of background: The Findhorn Foundation was started in the 1960’s and has been hugely influential in pioneering a contemporary approach to spiritualty, that integrates mysticism, metaphysics, ecology, and a holistic approach to wellbeing and personal development. All faiths and none are welcome.

One its most successful features is that it has also managed to avoid the usual pitfalls of utopian communities. It is free of gurus and sectarianism. It has also sustained a balanced culture, avoiding excesses in psychedelia and random partnering.

Most important there is, as nearly everyone who visits it says, a magic to the place. In fact, one of the first books about it was titled ‘The Magic of Findhorn.’

Of course, many places have a magic to them: sacred sites, temples, beautiful buildings and areas of landscape that radiate a blessing and harmony.

Buildings at Findhorn

But something else happens at the Findhorn Foundation, which has a certain uniqueness. People’s spiritual awakening is quickened and this is accompanied by a new awareness of how enjoyable it is to be connected to everyone and everything.

Here, I notice, is the difference between a normal spiritual awakening (if there ever is such a thing) and an awakening that happens at Findhorn. The Findhorn type of awakening has, it seems, a unique vibration in it. I am struggling for appropriate words. A gentle glee. A happy knowing. A sense of graced revolution. Like a snake discarding an old skin and emerging as . . . the same snake but with a freshness. All with an agreeable awareness that all life is connected.

So here is the question: how and why is this transformational effect achieved? A shorthand answer has always been that it is the work of the “Angel of Findhorn.”

Let’s explore what this might actually mean.

To begin, it is worth knowing something about the founders and their vision. These founders are Eileen Caddy, Dorothy Maclean and Peter Caddy. I also want to add David Spangler who set up the foundation’s core educational programmes.

I am fortunate to have known all of them and to have spent relaxed time with them. They blessed me with friendship and collegiality.

I want to propose what I think are the concepts and beliefs, which sit deep in their hearts:

  1. They were practical mystics, believing and experiencing that the universe is an ocean of unconditional love that seeks to express itself in and through everything.
  2. They acknowledged that we are all souls on a journey, and our purpose is to develop more love, compassion, connection and consciousness.
  3. They also experienced and were sensitive to the metaphysical world of subtle energies and beings with whom we can cooperate to the benefit of all.
  4. They believed too that our planet and species are at a crucial stage of evolution, and their purpose was to cooperate and support this evolutionary step forward —through the project of the Findhorn Foundation.
  5. They also believed that the Findhorn Foundation was part of a divine plan and they followed inner guidance on how to lead its development.

Thought-Form

One possibility then is that the Angel of Findhorn is the combined thoughts of these four founders. Energy follows thought. These combined energies created a ‘thought-form’, a cloud of inspirational, good ideas. This thought-form then influences anyone who comes into its aura and radiance.

 

Angels of the Mystery Schools

Another possible source of Findhorn’s magic builds on this idea of the thought-form.

It suggests that this thought-form became the clothing, so to speak, of a great archetypal being, or beings, who were attracted to incarnate into it. Thus, the cloud of thought energy is a vehicle that is inhabited and dynamized by one or more spiritual beings.

Who is this other being or beings? There are contenders. There are many archetypes, angels and spirits associated with the ancient mystery schools that focused on our souls’ journeys, and how to cooperate with subtle energies, beings and forces. Angels. Gods. Goddesses.

In the western mystery tradition, for example, these beings are known by names such as Hermes, Sophia, Athena and many more.

 

Avatar of Synthesis

But all these suggestions so far do not explain that magical Findhorn experience of something new, exuberant and vital. So let’s explore more deeply the metaphysics.

All four founders of the Findhorn Foundation were trained in metaphysics and esoterics. By this I mean that they were educated and practised in the principles and concepts of subtle energies and their cosmic context. Their major sources were the Rosicrucian, Hermetic and Theosophical schools.

One important feature of all these schools is their teaching that planets, solar systems, stars and constellations are all beings. They have identities, and they have consciousness and purpose. Just as a tree is a being, so too is a galaxy. Hinted at in astrology, the being of a constellation is a huge cloud of awareness and influence.

Within this worldview the cosmos is itself a consciousness that we humans can hardly even begin to understand. Billions of stars . . .  The apparent infinity of space . . . Dimensions beyond time and space . . .

In the writings of Alice Bailey, who was the secretary for a wonderful Tibetan teacher, Djwal Khul, there is this idea that humanity is a single entity or being. You and I may think of ourselves as self-contained individuals, but  we are also part of a collective, our species – and our species as a whole has a character, personality and consciousness of its own.

Humanity is a single being. Moreover it is a single being that needs help.

From this perspective as humanity emerged from the terrible world wars, there was a wonderful opportunity for growth. We were recovering from mass trauma and at the same time entering a new age of electronic communications and global interdependence.  We needed help. As a single species we collectively created an unconscious mass request-prayer for support and aid.

The cosmos responded.

Or to be more exact, a particular energy, or being, or avatar heard and responded to this inchoate call.

This avatar carries a vibration and experience of joyful connection. It can perhaps be understood through the metaphor of the hologram. I am in you and you are in me and we are all in each other and everything. At the same time it has an upbeat vibration. It is not just a sober knowing. It is permeated with a soft joy. It recognises and seeks to soothe the pain and suffering, yet is positive and bouyant

If we are touched by the Avatar of Synthesis, then our whole being – body, mind and spirit – is magically inoculated and tingled into an upbeat sense of connection.

In the writings of Alice Bailey this being is sometimes referred to as the “Avatar of Synthesis.”

So the suggestion here is that the Findhorn Foundation was purposefully created as a vehicle through which the Avatar of Synthesis could land and help humanity and Gaia.

As well as touching down through the Findhorn Foundation, I have heard people suggest that it also landed in other places such as the Esalen Institute in California and Auroville in India. There are, I imagine, other localities which I do not know.

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So here we have some interesting possibilities for understanding the Angel of Findhorn. It is:

  • The thought-form created by the combined energies of the founders
  • The spirits and angels that incarnated into this thought-form and energy field
  • The Avatar of Synthesis
  • All three working in synergy together
  • A mystery

Whatever the Angel of Findhorn actually is, it is a force for good. What intrigues me now is how its vibration and initiatory energy can also inoculate people without necessarily having to visit the actual place. Of course, visiting Findhorn is a great thing to do. I do not want to replace it.

Yet at the same time, this Angel, this avatar, can deliver its inoculation in at least two other ways.

  • It can happen through shared meditation and online meetings
  • As a benevolent infection it can also be carried by us as individuals

Whenever and however it is experienced, its wonderful influence can inspire in all of us a felt idealism and a lived experience of how humanity can develop.

It is, I believe, contagious. Not through our communications, talk and activities, but through our vibration and our attitude.

More love. More compassion. More connection. More consciousness.

 

Please join the conversation in Comments below.

Curiosity Is Wise and Intelligent

I like curious people. I do not mean people who are funny-peculiar curious (though I usually like them too.) I mean people who are enquiring and inquisitive.

This curiosity is, for me, a sign of intelligence and wisdom. Atheistic scientists can be endlessly curious. So too can spiritual seekers. Equally, both the atheists and the spiritual can imprison themselves in a fixed belief – and avoid further exploration.

There are so many mysteries.

No one can articulate how and why the cosmos came into being.

Explain what transcends time and space.

What is beyond infinity?

In neuroscience there is the forbidden territory often simply called the “C word.” C stands for consciousness. The best professors of neuroscience and psychology cannot explain how consciousness exists.

Curiosity is built into life.

We can see it in a toddler trying out anything. I once saw a toddler placing CDs into a bread toaster . . .

Perhaps plants reach up to the sun out of curiosity as much as seeking light for photosynthesis.

One perspective on spirituality is that it is never-ending curiosity. But our instinct to be curious is not only relevant to how we explore the world outside us. It is also crucial for our inner world, how we think and feel about ourselves, how we identify who we are.

This is one of the beautiful elements of psychotherapy and meditation. In those two practices we can enquire into the very essence of who we are, our emotions and thoughts, our instincts and intuitions, our relationships and habits.

Who is the I who is writing this? And why?

Why do I believe in Oneness? Perhaps it is a multiverse.

Why do I say that the universe is benevolent? Maybe it isn’t. Even then, I opt for Love.

Some cynics make passive-aggressive comments about people who are exploring spirituality. They suggest we are looking for something because we are needy, trying to fill a gaping hole of existential angst.

That criticism, perhaps accurate sometimes, completely misses that spirituality is about exploring and about expanding consciousness, curious about love, energy and connection.

Spiritual curiosity is the opposite of needy. It is sophisticated and often requires courage to ignore cultural conventions and to address our own inner shadows and negativity.

I love meditation. Inside the safety and privacy of that quiet space, I can enquire into everything. My limitations can be melted by expanded consciousness.

I am not sure what prompted this blog. Maybe it is because I have recently been meeting people on both sides of the vaccination debates and culture wars, who drop so quickly into the body language of defence and aggression (pursed lips, narrowed eyes, tense shoulders) and seem to have forgotten their intelligent and wise curiosity. It takes a while to bridge their defences and enjoy a conversation.

I love dialectics, which is the art of discussing the truth of opinions. In good conversation there can be a classic dialectic. My opinion meets your opinion, and together they create a third opinion. This resulting opinion then goes on to meet another opinion, which creates yet another opinion . . . Expansion and curiosity . . .

But like a snake swallowing its own tail, or a spiral, spiritual enquiry always seems to come home to a familiar place. Whatever my opinion, whatever your opinion, our curiosity requires benevolence and compassion.

Self-Healing, Internal Martial Arts and Mystic Love

Self-Healing, Internal Martial Arts and Mystic Love

There is an important connection between the internal martial arts practice of ‘bone marrow breathing’ and the mystic concept that ‘God loves you.’

They are not philosophical or intellectual ideas. They are both felt experiences that positively support us. 

Moreover, both experiences have strategies for deepening them.

The internal martial artist may seem very different from the mystic, but they are working with similar principles.

I was thinking about this, lying in bed, recuperating from a tough couple of weeks. I had been knocked out by a kidney infection and then, partially recovered, found myself caring for other members of the family facing health crises. I was exhausted to the point of irritability.

But I teach and practise self-care. So, I turned up the volume on my bag of self-healing strategies. 

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How do we turn up the volume?

For stronger and deeper healing, we have to become softer. Our attitude and mood need to resemble the lightest touch of the most delicate feather.

In yoga and internal martial arts (Qi Gung) there is a saying:  the softer, the deeper. For the healing energy to sink more fully into your body, it needs to be soft, gentle and subtle, not vibrant and intense.

This is explicitly taught in the Taoist approach to health, Taoism being the source of Qi Gung and bone marrow breathing. In the Taoist model, the universe is a flowing, moving, ocean of change. It is essentially benevolent and to benefit from this goodness, we need to place ourselves in harmony with it and become part of its flow. One crucial element in this harmonisation is for us to soften, become lighter, more flexible.

Just as the Tao is benevolently harmonious, so too the mystic’s experience of deity is benevolent.

For the mystics who want a deeper spiritual connection and experience, there is also similar practical advice. They are asked to empty and yield softly to benevolence and love.

In mystic poetry this is often described as a form of swooning — but your lover is the Divine. Dissolve me like sugar in warm tea, wrote Rumi the Sufi mystic.

In practice, this mystic emptying and yielding is, I suggest, the same felt experience as softening to go deeper.  

I notice too that there are parallels in the practices of many spiritual traditions. The metta practice of Buddhism, for example, points in the same direction. May I be at ease in my own body . . . May I develop compassion . . .

Different cultures have different ways of expressing the same concept, practice and experience.

 

A Quantum Leap

To even better experience the softness, the love, the flow and healing, there is also a quantum leap we can make.

This is a sincere personal surrender and commitment to the love, benevolence and compassion of the universe.

You, and you alone, know whether you have made this shift.

Having committed to this love, we are not perfect. It is always work in progress. We still have the usual human faults, but essentially we are at peace with the universe.

This means that our self-care and self-healing can go ever softer and deeper. Good for us. Good for those around us.

 

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Be as comfortable as you can.

Patiently contemplate that the cosmos is benevolent.

Notice any good feelings.

Soften your attitude and mood.

Allow the goodness to sink into you. Yield. Breathe it in.

Practise this again and again.

New Evidence for Health Benefits of Spirituality

Some good news.

JAMA the journal of the American Medical Association has just published new evidence for the physical and mental health benefits of spirituality.*

“This study represents the most rigorous and comprehensive systematic analysis of the modern-day literature regarding health and spirituality to date,” says Tracy Balboni, lead author and professor of oncology at Harvard Medical School. “Our findings indicate that attention to spirituality in serious illness and in health should be a vital part of the future of whole person-centred care.”

In summary the conclusions of the paper are clear: People who describe themselves as spiritual tend to live longer, smoke and drink less, and have better mental health.

This research mirrors exactly what was found in Harold Koenig’s 2012 paper** which reviewed over 3,300 studies of health and religion/spirituality; and also in the 2009 paper by McCullough and Willoughby***, which analysed eight decades of rigorous research and concluded:

‘Believers performed better, had better health and greater happiness, and lived longer than non-believers. . . . were, on average, 29 % more likely to be alive at any given follow-up point . . . 25% reduction in mortality….’

How are these benefits achieved?

Here is one way of understanding it.

Your body is an interdependent and holistic system.

Connection with Spirit (by whatever name)

— Helps develop harmony, calm and flow

— Brings a sense of Oneness and community with nature and cosmos

— Creates meaning and purpose in a confusing and complex world

— Supports and encourages love, service and compassion

All of this can cascade through your mind, emotions and body, improving wellbeing.

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To support people in exploring spirituality and how to put it into practice, we in the Spiritual Companions Trust have developed this free resource Secrets of Spiritual Health and we also deliver a 10-hour practical programme. For more  information: https://spiritualcompanions.org/secrets-of-spiritual-health

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References:

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2794049

** Harold D Koenig : “Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications”, International Scholarly Research Network Psychiatry Volume 2012, Article ID 278730

*** Michael E. McCullough and Brian L. B. Willoughby, ‘Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations and Implications’, Psychological Bulletin, January 2009