It was in early 2002 I found myself working in a champagne bar in Leicester; I'd open the bar in the late morning, complete the cleaning and maintenance and then have a lot of time on my hands as the bar was not busy until the evening. During those hours I studied the Kabbalah alongside a number of different subjects including bio-psychology, endocrinology, philosophy, history and comparative esoteric sciences using actual physical books. Not only was I intent on immersing myself in the world of the Sefer Yetzirah I was also intent on ''wiring'' my newly acquired knowledge into the Tree of Life (in my mind) with the general intention of improving my cognitive abilities, memory, speed of reference, psychic powers, etc. I was aided in this respect because I had already sworn myself off fiction and had worked (through Raja Yoga) to develop the concentration and study skills necessary to just read textbooks. In many ways I had been a very fortunate student (as I recalled a great deal of information from the memory palace of a former incarnation) but I wouldn't say I had ever been a good student up until this point. I had relied an awful lot on my silver tongue and good memory to blag my way through various situations but I realised that what lay ahead was a study bridge that no-one was going to cross for me. I had to transform into the person that I needed to be and I had no teacher but myself.
Getting to the point of this post, I'll be honest there is no way I would have completed these essential studies or this transformation in the presence of a smartphone (I managed to avoid these devices until fairly recently, getting my first one in early 2017), optimistically it would have dented my productivity by at least 50%. I would have repeatedly dropped out of study mode to respond to people online or just browse the web. Rather than reading the chapters of my set text I would have randomly wandered off at tangents or got into chats, etc. Continuing this behaviour would have completely shattered my nascent willpower and reinforced appalling study habits. I avoided getting a smartphone because I could see around me the destructive effect it was having on people's minds (and personalities) and restricted myself to desktop internet. I struggle to mitigate the negative effects on my behaviour now I do have one.
When I have hit my students with the reality sandwich of actual reading and studying they are going to have to do in order to grasp the Qabalah and the Western Mystery Tradition at levels beyond beginner they nearly puke at the thought of it. It is far easier for the student's ego to re-frame their esoteric identity as an open minded explorer of the occult whose sense of curiosity and wonder will open doors to insights at the ''right time'' (i.e. as a permanent beginner) as opposed to truly appreciating the academic grind that is necessary for advancement. The vast majority of texts that you need to complete this study are available for free online so there is no way you can justify your lack of study by lack of books (as used to be possible) so the ego has to invent other ways*. Obviously its not only reading that is important, finding the time and will for practical work is also seemingly beyond most students. Most of this training also has to be done in private and that means detaching yourself from the grid. There is no point meditating, attempting astral projection or completing ritual work with your smartphone on and your mind in ''smartphone mode'' - restless, attention seeking, anxious, etc.
Finally I want to say that the students' behaviour in class is impeccable - they are attentive, disciplined and ask great questions - it is the personal study that is shockingly lacking. I asked them at the beginning of the lessons how much nagging they wanted about completing work and what the level of hostility should be - I think they were surprised by this question but I reminded them that it is impossible to move on in building the temple, so to speak, without adequate foundations. This post is not a moan about the students themselves, although it could be seen as such, rather its an understanding of the new difficulties faced by students today and a reflection on what I can/must/should do as a teacher to help them. As a director, I can't learn actors' lines for them and as a teacher I cannot complete my student's personal study. I know that the challenges are fundamentally a lack of willpower (that everyone starts off with) compounded by a lack of willpower to develop the willpower you know you don't have, compounded by smartphones eroding any chance you ever had - so what to do?
- inspire/lead by example
- punish/reward for non-achievement/achievement
- teach studying/thinking (and espouse its virtues) alongside content
- be physically present during studying (incredibly difficult in reality, probably highly effective)
- isolation study retreats (along with the above)
I do do many of these things already and I should make sure I focus on them as much as I do on the content which of course I am highly passionate about. As a teacher its easy to get lost in that content and forget its all meaningless unless it ends up stored in someone's brain in some kind of coherent way - because if it doesn't I am not really a teacher I am providing esoteric infotainment. For various reasons the Baby Boomers have failed to pass on the tradition in a recognisable way and a lot of the Gen X practitioners/teachers are really into ''material'' (don't ask too many questions) sorcery (which is not all that intellectually challenging or demanding) and/or identity/psychological issues as opposed to what I would consider a more mystical/mathematical approach to magic. As I transformed myself into a more effective student, I now have to transform myself into a more effective teacher and just like before no-one is going to do that for me.
*Although studying online means you are likely more exposed to the various distracting forces of the internet - the demons of chat messengers, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook groups, etc. But it is ''free'' (or certainly cheaper) from a money point of view. If libraries exist use them if you can.