Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Godphone: Lesson Four - Dissonance & Mental Noise

Godphone is often considered to be a wonderful thing. When it works, there is this idea that we have complete confidence in it and that we will always know when it is correct. It is not so simple. If I have not made it clear before now, this form of divination requires a great deal of self examination and a very deep knowledge of oneself. Even with experience and a great deal of practice, there is a significant amount of time where time will be spent just looking at the information and questioning it.

It doesn't help much that Western society tells us that it is alright to talk to the Divine but when it answers back, we must be experiencing psychosis. The subtle narrative that is built up around us by society at large that tells us this 'truth' invades our thought processes. As much as we may wish to set it aside and sincerely believe that this 'truth' is not actually an absolute truth, there will be an echo of it. It leads to us questioning our experiences pretty hard. A measure of skepticism is always useful in magical studies, it helps keep us out of serious trouble, but at some point there needs to be an acceptance of the 'absurd' when Occam's Razor winnows it out as the only answer that makes sense.

The best way to describe the effect of the cultural attitudes that serve to make it difficult to engage in pretty much any form of magical study, in my experience, is that it is mental noise. It is that background hum which we generally ignore but when we are put in a situation where ignoring it is not an option it turns into an overwhelming cacophony. Mental noise sometimes presents as your first reflexive thought upon something. Other times, it is a persistent sense of doubt that leads you to question what your senses and intelligence is telling you to be the case.

There is a meditative exercise that helps reestablish the ability to put aside the background noise of the attitudes which were steeped into our education. It consists of visualizing some sort of device making noise with an adjustable dial or other control. As you turn the control to a quieter setting, envision the mental noise decreasing to a more tolerable state. It sounds like a silly exercise. It is, however, surprisingly effective with some practice.[1]

The other major challenge that isn't really talked about with mentally based magical disciplines is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is something of a thorny problem. Everyone has it for some reason. It is generally fairly hard to overcome. It is a case of one's thinking conflicting with evidence presented to them, resulting in the evidence being rejected somehow in favor of preserving the initial idea (which is usually fairly heavily entrenched).

A good example of cognitive dissonance in action is politics. (Now, this is not going to be a political post, but this is probably the most accessible example I can think of right now.) Imagine, if you will, a person who habitually votes for a given political party. They strongly identify with said party to the point where they have memorabilia and actively work to encourage others to associate with this party. This is something that is a part of the way they view themselves and they are quite happy and proud of this. Now, a person running for office in their region is supporting legislation that runs directly against this individual's personal interests.

How do they handle this challenge to their idea that this party promotes their welfare? They will reject the idea that the legislation even exists, in some cases. In other cases, they will deny that it is actually harmful to themselves personally (including people like themselves as being immune from harmful said effect). They will try to excuse said harmful legislation as a minor component of a larger, more beneficial action. The list of ways they try to justify their continued support of the politician supporting the harmful legislation is long and varied.

All of those methods, however, fit the same pattern of behavior. When presented with information that threatens their identity or their belief, they deny said information and reject it. This is often followed by some sort of assertion that their belief is valid. Unfortunately, the only way to address cognitive dissonance is by continually challenging it. It is difficult and in many cases, it leads to very uncomfortable situations.

In handling cognitive dissonance, we must remember that we are manipulating something of a protective function of the brain. It serves to help us cope with difficult situations until we can process them or disregard them. Thus, when you encounter it, seriously question what it is working to 'protect' you from. Also, remember that mental noise and cognitive dissonance is not an inherently a bad thing. They can present some challenges to building your skills and make it difficult to godphone, but they can serve useful functions as well.

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