Conformist Culture and Magical Initiation

What is the System?

Here “the System” is used to describe the prevailing structure or organization of society or culture in general.  It is synonymous with “the social or cultural establishment,” as in: to work within the System instead of trying to change it.  Specifically, the System can be defined as a vehicle for “the set of values and beliefs people have about how the world (both nature and society) works as well as the norms of behavior derived from that set of values” (see Gorodnichenko and Roland 1).

Those within the System think with its mind, which is a function of conformist culture.  It stresses obedience to social norms according to the economic class into which a person is born.  If you are middle-class, you are handed middle-class values; the range of your acceptable life choices is middle-class; you earn a middle-class income; you have middle-class fears and desires.  The same holds true for upper-class and lower-class individuals.

The System can be said to create a false consciousness to the extent that it interposes itself between the individual and the endless variety of potential experiences in life, channeling and conditioning the individual’s perceptions and behavior as a means of control.  It is the ultimate panopticon, the ultimate command-and-control hierarchy.  The fundamental benefit of the System is that it organizes human experience and behavior to increase productivity and decrease instability in all areas of society.  But to do this, it must unjustly and violently (primarily as a matter of structural violence) interpolate people into its mechanisms from birth without giving them a chance to opt out.

However, an initiatory shock can cause an individual to question the class values and assumptions that make up the perceptual categories through which he or she has been conditioned to find and invent meaning.  An initiatory shock exposes the System as an artificial construct, a perspective that can be chosen or discarded.  One does not have to accept the class values and assumptions imposed at birth.  In fact, one does not have to make any choices to affirm any part of the System; though, the System will, like any social construct (discourse) seek to defend its existence, its status quo, by alienating and demonizing those who question its legitimacy and its version of reality. 

There is, more or less, a psychological struggle taking place in every person who chooses to think for him- or herself instead of with the mind of the System.  The struggle is grounded in messages of fear: get in line or you will be rejected and shamed.  Get in line or you will starve and suffer.  The fear that this creates in some people can be intense enough to (temporarily) keep even a questioning individual from abandoning his or her preordained role in the System.  If the person does not give in to this pressure, he or she enters into a relationship with the System characterized by having to live in a state of social alienation punctuated by continual attempts on the part of the System to reassimilate the individual.

One cannot exist in this state for very long, even if one has the emotional and financial resources to remain apart.  The instability of living in a state of radical alienation from society can result in mental illness, addiction, and even certain physical dangers that come with isolation.  One reaches the point where it is necessary to create a separate peace, what Hakim Bey, in the Temporary Autonomous Zone, calls a “pirate utopia.” 

The developmental trajectory from the first shock to existing in a pirate utopia is both initiatory and counter-initiatory.  It is initiatory in the sense that one is initiating oneself into one’s own miniature truth system—a system that contains an idiosyncratic set of values and assumptions that reflect the good life one has discovered and created for oneself through introspection and mindful action.  Some of these values and assumptions will coincide with those of the previous conformist System.  However, the initiate’s “pirate utopia” will not exist within or as a function of that.

It is counter-initiatory in the sense that once the person attains his or her “separate peace,” it is impossible to effectively reintegrate into conformist culture.  When one realizes that it is possible to exist and even thrive apart from the System, one becomes impervious to most fear-based assaults.  One has developed a set of eyes that see beyond System-authorized categories of meaning and prescribed fields of System-supporting endeavor.  One has grown in ways that prevent fitting back into the mold.

Having attained this state, one is also able to operate inside the System, entering and exiting at will.  One might be considered dangerous, but only to the extent that one is visible to the modes and instruments of enforcement the System uses to protect and perpetuate its existence.

Only two questions remain for the initiate at this point: (1) What do you want?  And (2) What do you need?  These questions are dependent on each other.  The initiate creates and maintains a “pirate utopia” that satisfies his needs.  From that foundation, he pursues his wants.  He actualizes his wants by building (conceptual or physical) structures in his utopian autonomous zone.  In the process, he discovers new desires.  He augments or rebuilds previous structures, while creating entirely new ones.  This is why schools of the Left Hand Path sometimes refer to such coming into being as the process of becoming more of what one already is

In order to answer the question, “What do you want?” one engages in a lot of illustrative self-work and non-linear perspective shifting (i.e. magic).  But the individual’s progress from initiatory shock to a separate peace (and beyond) is never smooth or simple.  Her preexisting roles within and connections to the System will result in many reversals and contradictions as she tries to develop an extra-System awareness and, by extension, a unique way of living in the world.

Parts of the System will eventually become aware of her and react aggressively to her burgeoning awareness, trying to intimidate and distract her back into a state of compliance.  But that sort of norming doesn’t work for long.  Once a mind becomes slightly free, it inevitably seeks greater freedom.  Once an individual breaks away from imposed control, it is impossible to authentically return to the previous state of subjection—no matter how much one may want to go back.

As mentioned earlier, fear and distraction are the two weapons used to keep original thinkers in line.  Not surprisingly, fear and distraction are co-dependent.  Remove one of them and the other will soon follow.  Therefore, it is essential that the initiate turn inward to find his or her idiosyncratic values and focus intensely on them.  If this is accomplished, the “consequences” communicated by the threatened System will have less impact and the System’s attempts to sidetrack the individual will be less effective.

The message that the individual needs the System and cannot make it outside the System’s boundaries will be frequent and inevitable.  This message may originate in the natural human tendency to fear the unknown but, whether it is intentional or instinctual, it is always false.  There may be safety in numbers from predators.  But the exceptional individual, who has learned to survive apart from the herd, becomes an apex predator in his own right.

Sometimes, when the System can’t scare or distract the individual into submission, it will attempt to conscript the person as a high-level agent, offering him or her a high status and the opportunity to be seen as a successful result of the system’s processes.  This is a seductive form of assimilation, which, while it seems to offer relief, still requires a deep-seated submission—the willingness to abandon self-development in exchange for a more exotic form of (distraction) sleep.

At this point, one faces and hopefully passes the final test, that of dedication to the singularity of oneself at the deepest level.  Having accomplished this, one essentially disappears from the awareness of the System and its subjects.  One has become sui generis to the extent that the perceptual categories of the System neither recognize nor describe his or her state of being.

Likewise, the wants and needs created as motivation for the inhabitants of the System are no longer relevant to the individual.  This is the “dynamic solipsism” of the completely idiosyncratic individual.  The person has “crossed the Abyss” in the sense that she no longer relates to culture in a conventional way.  And yet the basic personhood of the initiate remains intact.  He is who he has always been, only more so.

Because fear and distraction seem to get in the way of this development, the competent beginner learns to engage with the mundane aspects of her life in a way that changes them so that they serve her initiatory process.  Shortly after the first initiatory shock, the inexperienced magician evaluates the resources at her disposal—how she can meet her basic needs without capitulating to Systemic pressure. 

The more experienced practitioner takes a different approach.  After functioning in the way of the beginner for a time (and perhaps because of early attempts to repurpose the mundane) she reaches a point at which her basic needs are being met almost effortlessly.  Instead of changing the mundane so that it serves the initiatory, she learns to recognize the initiatory value of things in themselves.  She consequently operates on a much deeper, more profound level, moving through a magical landscape that gives more than it takes.  From then on, she may decide not to interact with the System at all, given that she completely trusts and dwells almost entirely within her subjective universe.  Any additional interactions with the System or its denizens will be entirely at her discretion. 

The emphasis and attention in one’s self-work can thereby shift away from the spectres of fear and distraction conjured by the System in favor of the personal, private, idiosyncratic system that is constantly under development.  The wise magician realizes that the punishments threatened by the System for non-compliance only exist for those submitting to its jurisdiction.  However, because the System contains humans but is not human (perhaps it is inhuman), it cannot conceive of anyone or anything existing beyond its authority.  It resembles a maniacal dictator commanding a distant mountain range to obey. 

Put another way, the System is more like an artificial intelligence than a living person.  It is capable of drawing complex conclusions within established parameters, but it is not original or spontaneous, such that it can design novel ways to reassimilate disaffected, disenfranchised, or otherwise alienated individuals beyond its preconceived boundaries.  Its tactics are always the same: intimidation, then distraction, then seduction.


Are you human?

Are you human? Birth, life, death. A self-propelled sleep cycle for most people. Doing what they’re told. Getting married at the time they’re supposed to. Kids. Jobs. Praying at the right churches. Eating the right foods. Saying the right things. Voting for people just like them. Most people are, sadly, culturally conditioned automatons. But you can live in conformist culture, do all those culturally expected things, and still own your experience. You don’t do it by attacking the beliefs or behaviors of others or “burning it all down.” That just creates a violent tribal reaction against you. Instead, you become human by turning inward. You ask, “Why does this thing I do matter? And how does it matter to me personally?” At the same time, you try to show compassion to others because, believe it or not, being critical and elitist is the ultimate conformity—all systems of dominance and submission are based on some form of criticism and elitism.

So you examine yourself and you show kindness and understanding toward others, whether or not they are doing the same to you. You try not to cause harm to others because you know you’re not wise enough to fully understand life. And you decide to believe that your existence matters in itself, that you don’t have to prove yourself or be useful to some power structure in order to be worthy. You may believe in a particular spirituality or you may be a reductive materialist atheist. The important thing is that you believe you exist and that you find such existence to be inherently good. This is the path of initiation. And it is open to everyone.

Performing the “Headless Rite” with the Members of Studio Arcanis


This is an invitation I’ve made to the advanced practitioners on Studio Arcanis, which is a magical forum I help moderate.  I include the information here in case my friends, clients, and the readers who follow this blog wish to also participate.  I will not be including the “sigil of binding” on my website here.  For that, you’re going to have to become a member of the Studio Arcanis community (which is easy—you can just register and post an introduction—and it would be fun if you let me know or mentioned in your intro that you were directed to SA from my website). 

But there is nothing to prevent you from also performing this very powerful, sometimes dangerous, ritual on your own.  Keep in mind that  SA is a group of advanced magical practitioners.  This means I do not provide these prefatory comments in my invitation there.  But if you’re interested in doing this working, please note the following.

The Headless (or “Bornless”) Rite Can Be Dangerous

By way of warning, I will excerpt a passage from White’s Chaos Protocols where he talks about the implications of this ritual:

In conversation with the author Jake Stratton-Kent, the world’s foremost authority on Goetia, he suggested that the rite is designed to associate its performer with a very large and powerful spirit that has the requisite authority over lesser spirits. It orients the magician in a higher position relative to an ambivalent spirit world. There is much to recommend this interpretation, especially when one reads of Osiris as king of the spirits of the Land of the Dead in the Pyramid texts. Also, Moses is the typological “law giver.” His word— and thus the magician’s word— is the word of God.

If any of this sounds too much like bullying spirits, I recommend taking the ayahuasca/ shamanism route mentioned at the top of this chapter instead. It may serve to re-frame your opinion away from cartoon fairies at the bottom of an Edwardian garden more toward the intense and occasionally unpleasant realities of extradimensional contact. The spirit world is certainly holy, but that does not mean it is nice. Shamanism, for instance, is better described as “wrangling and trading” with the spirit world than anything we might consider worship. Besides, these bombastic phrases are more for the magician’s benefit than the spirit’s. We announce ourselves loudly and then we make friends.

The secondary reason for suggesting this rite as a means to triggering initiation is that it is largely interoperable with whatever your resting belief system happens to be. All too often when reading a magic book, the author seems hell-bent on converting you to his or her belief system. I have no such inclination. The Headless Rite deals with spirits and the spirit world. These concepts are for all intents and purposes universal. You do not need to swap out any of your gods or festivals to work it. You could take yourself off to mass or a sabbat or Diwali immediately afterwards.

Perform once and then see what happens over the ensuing couple of days. Then perform several more times, randomly and/ or as needed. The rite may trigger initiation, but it is not an initiation rite. Like an old friend, you can return to it whenever you feel like it. . . . The sensation is difficult to describe; it is almost as if you have dropped a depth charge into the ocean of the spirit world. Some things get cleared away, some things get shaken loose and some things come swimming.

(White, Gordon. The Chaos Protocols: Magical Techniques for Navigating the New Economic Reality

My own experience with this work has been difficult, to say the least.  However, as I note below, one of the long-term effects has been that the outcomes of my workings have become more successful more often.  That is priceless and worth the bumpy ride, in my opinion.  Still, if you want to participate in this, please do so with a modicum of sanity and deliberation.  Read about the ritual (which you should always do in any case) and take the performance of it very seriously. 

With respect to research before the work, I recommend you get a good copy of the PGM.  Betz’ 1992 translation is just fine.  For context (and to broaden your sense of how this magic can be construed by working practitioners), I would also recommend Dr. Flowers’ Hermetic Magic (which I reference below), Gordon White’s text, and that you find some scholarly resources for context. 

Key searches should center on terms like Greek magic, Hermetic magic, Western Esotericism, Western Mystery Tradition, classical magic, and “Hermes” as a magical symbol.  A solid invocation to Thoth (or, really, Hermes) before entering a university research library would be ideal.  Don’t rely only on the internet.  Get your hands on physical books and do some old-fashioned university-level research.  There is an immense amount of magic in that process as well.

Below, I include the complete text of my invitation post.  Clearly, if you are not a member of Studio Arcanis, I am not asking for your results.  But I want you to have a good overview of what this group project entails nonetheless.  I hope you will benefit in some way from this information.

Re: the Headless Rite, first some perspective.

The last time I performed it was on 23 October 2017 in Paris. I adapted Gordon White’s version given in his Chaos Protocols, rewriting his invocation of the four demonic kings to correspond with information on them in Poke Runyon’s Book of Solomon’s Magick, including their sigils. The immediate outcome was interesting but not altogether pleasant.

Now over 9 months have passed. In that time, I’ve performed 121 magical workings for myself and for others. Of these, there was one direct failure and four outcomes that could not be verified. My results timeline, in most cases, runs to 3 months at the longest, which is admittedly an arbitrary limit, but imposing a timeline for your workings is a great way to stay sane and avoid lust of result. I mention these numbers not to toot my own horn but to point out that, because I keep track, I can say that the success rate of my operative work increased noticeably after performing the Headless Rite.

So I’m thinking about another performance of this. This time, I’m going to use the version given in Dr. Stephen Flowers’ Hermetic Magic on page 182, “The Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist or the Rite of the Headless One” (PGM V.96-172, 350 C.E.). It’s simpler and I will not be invoking the four demon kings. However, I will be using the “General Magical Invocation” (PGM V.459-189, 350 C.E.), given on page 196 as a frame ritual.

The Invitation

The members of Studio Arcanis are also invited to perform a version of The Headless Rite, whether they prefer Liber Samekh, Gordon’s version, Dr. Flowers’ version, or some other. The performance does not have to be synchronous. I will include a sigil in this thread at some point, maybe this evening, that will bind all workings of this together to accomplish three things: (1) amplified power in the outcomes for all participating magi; (2) benefits accruing to Studio Arcanis itself as a magical entity (if you know what I’m talking about here, you need not ask / if you don’t know, don’t ask); and (3) a greater sense of community here. I firmly believe (along with a few of the old timers from EM), that this forum has potential not only as a knowledge resource, but also a powerful magical engine. So I’d like to see a bit more collaboration. Instead of complaining about it, I’ve decided to step up. 

There are only three working rules I ask the participants to observe:

1. No whining. If “shit jumps off” in your life as a result of performing this ritual, don’t blame me or SA. Blame your unresolved baggage, daddy, or karma. Suburban housewitch phobias about “threefold return” and “blowback” have no place in an advanced forum. If stupidity were painful, mentioning this would be largely unnecessary. Unfortunately, it needs to be said.

2. Report your results. Look at how I have written this post. First, I give background on what I did, where, and why I performed the rite. Then I talk about the praxis I intend to use. Then I speculate about the outcomes / theories. If you use that model, you will be offering at least something to others here from your hard work.

3. Try to keep the UPG to a minimum. Obviously, you’re going to have to report your subjective impressions as well as the objective steps you took to do this work. But if Ronald Reagan shows up in a gold Cadillac to take you to Aleister Crowley’s Enochian rumpus room in the fifth level of Baator or whatever, maybe ask whether that is going to be of any use to your colleagues here. Similarly, if you scare yourself silly in the process of doing this, try not to foam at the mouth too much on these forums. The bottom line is providing value to the community.

I want this to be a useful experience, but any kind of “initiatory magic” takes an investment of time, focus, and consideration. If you want to be part of this, please feel welcome. 


I discuss my earlier experience of the Headless Rite in these threads:
↑ I’m pretty hard on the ritual in these comments, but I do believe the benefits outweigh (and, at least for me, have outweighed) the costs.

Download an excellent template from the original rite in the PGM from The Scribbler here:

Magic: a Definition in Progress

Here’s a new definition for magic that I’ve been refining.  I think there’s more to it, but I’m trying to approach this in a thoughtful, methodical way.  The other day, I brought it up in a talk with a client and it’s still tapping me on the shoulder, asking to be born.  So, tentatively, I’ll let it be what it is at the moment: Magic is the subtle art of taking responsibility for yourself on all levels: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in terms of right perception, right action, right feeling, and right knowing—in order to advance your development and well-being in a way that is in harmony with the flow of all things.  This definition intrigues me in a number of ways.  For now, I’ll just put it here and continue thinking about it.

Initiation, Magical Teachers, and Personal Accountability

I’ve written before about the revised Rosicrucian Code of Life and how appealing those ideals can be, especially this passage: “Never cause anyone to believe that members of the Order are sages who are in full possession of the Truth. To those who may ask, present yourself as a philosophical person who is seeking Wisdom. Never pretend you are a Rose-Croix, but say you are a perfecting Rosicrucian.” 

I’ve also noted Paul Foster Case’s idea that to be a “Rosicrucian” is to accept a way of relating ethically to the world; it is not primarily an outer affiliation with a mystical order.  It is an inner state of being and consciousness.  This makes it tantamount to a philosophical, initiatory decision on a personal level, which is where all magic begins and ultimately ends.  There are many esoteric groups in the world, several of which currently bear the label, “rosicrucian,” but there is only one Self.  There is only one workshop in which the individual can dedicate and rededicate him- or herself to the Great Work.

With this in mind, I believe that if we are seeking magical initiation (i.e. “a way to begin”), our first and most reliable teacher is our “holy daimon” or “holy guardian angel”—the part of us that exists beyond the vagaries of form and time.  Attaining the “knowledge and conversation” of this teacher can become a spiritual quest in itself or it can amount to a surprisingly quiet revelation: that we are not “in full possession of the Truth,” but that we are always “perfecting” towards a more complete realization of it.  And part of us, the part that is god, is already there, unfolding its mystery for us as we progress.

In The Secrets of High Magick, Francis Melville notes that “One of the most significant experiences on this path is known as the ‘Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.’  This is a transformational encounter with your inner master, higher self, or guardian angel—the Inner Divinity within all things.”  As far as concise definitions for the K & C of the HGA are concerned, this one is good because it ends on the idea that divinity cannot be partitioned or objectified.  It is “within all things,” including you and me. 

Perhaps this is the what Trithemius refers to when he asks, “Is it not true that all things flow from one thing, from the goodness of the One, and that whatever is joined to Unity cannot be diverse, but rather fructifies by means of the simplicity and adaptability of the One?”  According to this, magic, both low and high, would be just as much an articulation of the one thing as anything else under the sun.  As most translations of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes put it, “What is above is like what is below, and what is below is like that which is above. To make the miracle of the one thing.”  Realizing this “miracle” on the deepest level is why were are here.

It is also the reason we cannot offer our initiation for another.  In other words, if we are magical teachers (as we most surely are), all we can do is open a space for the student to experience initiation.  In the neophyte ritual of the Golden Dawn, the Hierophant accepts the individual into the Order by saying, “Child of Earth, long hast thou dwelt in darkness. Quit the night and seek the day.”  Note the emphasis on personal volition in this language.  This is not a Marvel Comics Dr. Strange initiation where the master knocks you upside the head and grants you cosmic perception (as fun as that would be).  It’s an act of accepting accountability for one’s own development.

In this sense, teachers are wonderful but they are primarily facilitators.  We don’t have to wait for someone’s permission to accept this magical burden or this personal quest.  We can do it right where we are, right now.  It is completely up to us.  The thing we’re all looking for waits at the top of the mountain.  Many paths go up and they all terminate at the same point, the same existential realization, the same knowledge and conversation of and with the Self.  This is true no matter whether we are saying a simple child’s prayer, working a bit of hoodoo, performing a lodge ritual to attain a deeper level of gnosis, or rising on the planes.  The mountain remains.  And if we keep at it, we ascend.

Living a Magical Life

Up to my ears in client work (and mundane work) this week.  So today I offer a podcast that’s been making the rounds for some time.  Still, it’s an excellent one if you’re interested in going beyond simple one-shot workings.  Are you interested in initiation?  Do you wonder what it would be like to make your entire life magical, to lead a “magical life”?

Do Your Best

I have a neighbor who looks like the separated-at-birth twin of Slavoj Žižek.  Rain or shine, Monday morning or Friday evening, he looks utterly dismayed at the stupidity of existence.  Perhaps there is some value in that perspective.  But, to me, he just seems consistently miserable.  I passed him this morning on my way to the market and would have said hello if he’d looked up.  He didn’t.  There were dark and gloomy things to entertain on this bright Saturday morning in Southern England.

Ah, I thought, maybe next time.  Maybe, at some vague juncture in the future when things are somehow better than they are right now (and it is possible for him to accurately determine this), he will smile. 

He’s a pretty good neighbor because I never see him.  But, when I do, I’m reminded of that (overused) line from Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  He’s a university professor, lives in a very nice house, has a vivacious young French wife and two bright and healthy daughters.  And still: mordred in the black pit of despair every time I see him.  Well, maybe that’s just his style.

Sometimes, I wonder if his face is merely fixed that way, not unlike Grumpy, everyone’s favorite obsolete meme-cat.

This is actually Grumpy Cat smiling.  And I think we all know people like this.  They’re never happy unless they’re miserable, at least on the outside.  Many such people have a melancholy disposition even in the best of times.  These are the most difficult people to help.  They turn to magic as a solution when everything else has failed because they don’t really believe, deep down, that anything can make them satisfied or happy.   So why not something totally unreal and fake like magic?  It makes no sense when you think about it.  Of course, extremely depressed people are not expected to make sense.

As I walked to the market, my encounter with Clone Žižek got me thinking about conjure and about how aggrieved certain clients are when they contact me, how convinced they are that nothing will be able to fix their complex and insurmountable problems.  They want to believe in a spiritual solution.  But, really, they think they’re doomed.

Therefore, the first step when they contact me is to explore the possibility that other outcomes exist.  I do a short tarot reading, write up my insights and recommendations, then we talk about it.  Usually, that gets to the heart of the problem (which may be entirely different than what the client thinks he or she needs at first).  And if the cards show that work is indicated, I’ll lay out a range of possible solutions, send the client an invoice, set up a timeline and, as soon as payment is received, we’ll get moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, I usually give out a lot of free folk magic advice on things the client can do to help him- or herself in little ways.  Folk magic can be immensely useful psychologically (decreasing lust of result, attaining necessary inner calm) and practically (putting yourself, your magical intentions, and the natural world in dynamic harmony). 

But there’s an even deeper piece of advice that I can give you right here.  It comes from one of my 7 Practices, common sense ideas I like on how to lead a tranquil satisfied life: “Acceptance.  I take everything life offers and use it to become smarter, stronger, and more joyful.  This may at times be difficult but, when it is possible, it is the best course of action.”

Ah-so,  you may be thinking, wisdom of the ancients!  A Hare Krishna gave me a free pamphlet on the street corner last week that said the same thing.  And I will agree with you that this principle is neither surprising nor original.  But it’s perhaps more immediately useful than 100 spell books on how to get paid and laid.  If used properly, it is a more powerful formula than any work of operative magic because it constitutes life-changing initiatory magic—as in, you are initiating (beginning) yourself in a new way.  You’re experiencing a new beginning.  And there is no separation between that magical intention and the target (you).  All it takes is desire and mindfulness.  

People think acceptance means making the best of things as they are.  Wrong.  How do you feel when someone says, “Just make the best of it.”  Do you feel good?  I’m willing to bet that you feel worse and probably a bit angry.  Being put in a position where you have to make the best of a bad situation or a problem feels like being trapped, admitting there is nothing to be done, and the problem is never going to change.  It is inherently defeatist and puts you back in Clone Žižek Land where the sky is always falling and everything is always horrible.

Instead, you initiate a new course of action-experience-being by “doing your best.”  Do you see the subtle difference?  “Making the best of what is” is not the same thing as “doing your best”—which has less to do with “what is” and more to do with “what you want it to be.”  “Doing your best” says that maybe you won’t be able to fix the whole thing.  Then again, maybe you will.  You have agency in the situation.  You are not being controlled by all-powerful forces taking away your options.

It goes without saying that you want to do your best in every problematic situation because every situation is problematic, at least in some small way.  Nothing is perfect and if we look hard enough through our grumpy glasses, we’ll see the inevitable defects.  Conversely, even in the worst situations, there are positive transformative elements.  I’m reminded of Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, where he describes his school of psychotherapy (logotherapy) as a method that “focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning.  According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.”

With this in mind, the “acceptance” I’m talking about here is dynamic rather than static.  It’s doing rather than making the best of it.  It’s an active search for something that means more.  And if practiced sincerely and mindfully in daily life, it is a profound form of Greater Initiatory Magic—magic that leads to powerful self-realization and happiness.

The best way I know to practice “doing your best” comes from the modern Stoic philosopher, Dr. William B. Irvine, in his book, A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joywhere he talks about setting internal rather than external goals:

I think that when a Stoic concerns himself with things over which he has some but not complete control, such as winning a tennis match, he will be very careful about the goals he sets for himself.  In particular, he will be careful to set internal rather than external goals.  Thus, his goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control).  By choosing this goal, he will spare himself frustration or disappointment should he lose the match: Since it was not his goal to win the match, he will not have failed to attain his goal, as long as he played his best.  His tranquility will not be disrupted

. . . . . 

Although they value tranquility, [Stoics] feel duty-bound to be active participants in the society in which they live.  But such participation clearly puts their tranquility in jeopardy.  One suspects, for example, that Cato would have enjoyed a far more tranquil life if he did not feel compelled to fight the rise to power of Julius Caesar— if he instead had spent his days, say, in a library, reading the Stoics.  I would like to suggest, though, that Cato and the other Stoics found a way to retain their tranquility despite their involvement with the world around them: They internalized their goals.  Their goal was not to change the world, but to do their best to bring about certain changes.  Even if their efforts proved to be ineffectual, they could nevertheless rest easy knowing that they had accomplished their goal: They had done what they could do.

In other words, by looking inwards and focusing on internal goals, which is to say, personally meaningful things, one does one’s best.  This is the way to initiate a new way of life.  It’s a reset button for bad situations.  And it works.  It’s not simply trying to use a New Age affirmation to convince oneself of something that isn’t the case in reality.  It’s not just “the power of positive thinking.”  It’s more like creating a new reality for yourself, in yourself, through an active search for meaning.

Just remember: don’t make the best of it.  Do your best.  And you will avoid the fate of Grumpy Cat.