18 July 2015

Book Review: Nonviolent Communication - A Language of Life

I am firm in the belief that effective communication skills are vital to the successful practice of magick.  The way I see it, if you cannot articulate what you truly want to another person how can you articulate it with your magick?  Due to this belief I've spent a fair amount of time honing my ability to listen and communicate well.  I'd heard a lot about nonviolent communication in recent months so I decided to check it out.  I picked up the Kindle version of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg.  Never in my life have I had a harder time deciding if I liked a book or not. 

TL; DR - Recommended with reservations. See below for why.

The raison d'etre of Nonviolent Communication is teaching people to speak effectively and to listen well - a worthy goal.  Rosenberg does a good job at giving readers the tools necessary to do so.  The book is very well written and easy to understand.  It's formatted beautifully for both skimming and referring back to it later without needed to highlight and mark it up.  As someone who likes to reread books for their salient points I thoroughly appreciate this.

Some of the most important ideas from the book revolve around learning to how to separate the observation of facts from the drawing of moralistic conclusions.  A huge number of the conflicts in our lives stem from the difference between the judgments we make and what is actually happening around us - particularly when it comes to inferring the thoughts and motivations of others from what we see them do and hear them say.  The book does a great job helping the reader to learn to see their own though process more clearly and be more objective.

The book then goes on to try to teach the reader how to better understand their own needs and desires and how to articulate themselves so that they can actually have their needs filled - also a worthy goal.  This is where the book begins to stumble a bit.  Rosenberg makes it seem like being able to clearly articulate what you want to others is some kind of magic bullet for getting what you want.  While there are undercurrents that can be inferred as saying, "if what you want is selfish and irrational you really need to reevaluate whether you should really get it," it's glossed over.  In fairness, if the book were to delve deeply into all the concerns about understanding our own desires it would be a multi-volume tome rather than a slim, readable book. Rosenberg does about as much as he can within the framework he's designed for himself, but I found this section a bit lacking in reality checks.

Then the book goes on to chapters on listening and empathy.  This is where I really had a hard time, not so much with the tools and techniques described, but in the examples given.  Rosenberg talks about the importance of sincere and attentive listening and having empathy for others and making sure that you've understood what they're trying to communicate rather than whatever your brain turned it into when you heard it.  This is probably the single most important skill anyone can develop in terms of improving your interactions with other people.  It is absolutely critical.  However, in the example scenarios Rosenberg seems to make a lot of assumptions about what other people are feeling rather than letting them tell him.  I think it stems from the fact that Rosenberg is a psychologist and thus has been trained to help teach people about their feelings.  It comes across as arrogant and really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  In mediation folks are taught to never, ever presume they understand what someone wants or feels unless that understanding is specifically validated by the person who's actually doing the thinking/feeling. 

Overall I think that Rosenberg communicates some really important ideas about communication and human understanding.  I don't always like the way he demonstrates his techniques, but I do like the techniques themselves.  Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life has some really good ideas that I think just about everyone who has to interact with other people (aka everyone) can benefit from learning.  Just keep an eye on how much you buy in to how the author demonstrates his techniques and you'll get a lot out of it.

03 July 2015

Exoteric Magick

Those of you that are interested in Pop Culture Magick should check out my new blog over at Pagan Square - Exoteric Magick.  It's focused on approachable pop culture magick for people from any path and at any skill level.
My first post, Finding Pop Culture Magick, talks about the circumstances that brought me to pop culture magick and gives some insight into the strange cauldron that is my brain.  I hope you like it!

Magickal Defense Without Permission

One of the most debated issues in magickal defense is whether or not you should do magickal defense for someone else without their permission.  In this post I'll take a look at a few of the situations where you might be tempted to do defensive work for another without their permission and the various issues they entail.
A general protection sigil.
A little disclaimer: I'm coming at this from a mainstream Pagan perspective in which one always wants to get consent before doing magick of any kind on another person.  I know there are other traditions out there that don't really take issue with doing defensive work without permission and I respect that.  This post is my personal perspective based on my own ethics – take it as you will.

Due to my education (code for "law school warped my brain"), I tend to see any issue of consent and defense in a legal light.  This means that, for me, there are two circumstances in which I can pretty much always do defensive magick without getting express permission from the person I'm defending: 1) there is an imminent threat of non-trivial harm to the target, and 2) the target of the magick lacks the capacity to give consent.

The first situation in which I’m comfortable doing defensive work without permission when there’s a non-trivial imminent threat to the target.  An imminent threat is something immediate, something that will happen in a matter of moments if it isn’t stopped – think of an out of control car careening towards someone.  It’s the kind of situation where there really isn’t time to ask permission, so I really don’t feel bad acting on instinct.  In terms of defensive magick I always have to add a “non-trivial” qualification to the situation before I act.  Most situations that necessitate the use of defensive magick are actually fairly mild in the short term – sure an attachment will do a lot of harm over time, but it’s not going to be any more dangerous or difficult to remove if I wait the few minutes to get permission to act.  For me a situation needs to be a serious threat to life, limb, or sanity before I act without permission.  While I have no problem warding someone when an infernal comes into the room whether they ask me to or not, I wouldn’t do that for a pixie’s arrival.  If something is actually dangerous and needs to be acted upon quickly, then do what you’ve got to do and ask for forgiveness later.

The second situation is where the person needing the defensive work lacks the capacity to give me permission.  When I say "the target lacks capacity" I mean that the person you want to defend is unable to give consent either because they're too young to understand the situation, they're drunk, extremely ill, unconscious, mentally unsound, etc.  Under those circumstances I try to get a hold of someone with the authority to give consent for the target (e.g. a parent, spouse, sibling, etc.).  If I can't, then I'll use my own knowledge of the person I want to defend to decide what I think they'd want.  For example, if you have a relative that is in a coma and you want to ward that person you can feel good about doing so, as long as that person wouldn't have religious objections (I'll talk more about that in a minute).  However, as soon as that person came out of the coma you should take down the wards and ask permission before putting them up again.
Deciding to do magick without permission when you can’t really ask them is fairly easy.  But what about when you ask and you get turned down?  That’s a different and much trickier situation.  If you think someone is in danger there is often an intrinsic need to help that person – whether they want your help or not – particularly if it’s someone you care about.  Here are a few situations to think about that you might find yourself in.

What do you do when you feel that someone needs a defensive working but that person does not believe in magick or any type of metaphysical threat?  If you’re anything like me, you probably have friends and relatives that do not believe in what you do.  If you’re lucky these folks will give you permission to do magick on them just to make you feel better.  If you’re not so lucky then you’ve got a difficult choice to make.  For me the deciding factor would be just how bad things could get without a working.  If we’re talking about a violent poltergeist in someone’s attic do you wait until someone gets hurt and your friend comes crawling back for help, or do you so some subtle preemptive work?  What if the target itself needs a serious cleansing due to possession or oppression?  I’m more likely to do magick surrounding a person (e.g. warding their attic) than anything directly to a person (e.g. a cleansing or banishing) who doesn’t want it.  Further, there would have to be some pretty dire consequences to staying my hand before I’d do magick on someone when they’ve told me not to, just as a matter of personal respect.  In fact, this is the kind of situation where I would call in a second or third opinion before moving forward with any magickal working.  When in doubt, don’t act alone.

An even trickier, if sadly common, situation is when the target has a religious opposition to magick of any kind.  I have some friends whose religion is strictly opposed to magick (to the point where I occasionally marvel at them for being friends with me in the first place) and I would never perform magick on them without their express permission unless I thought it was a life or death situation – and that’s seriously unlikely to occur.  I know I wouldn’t want them trying to “pray” evil away from me so I will respect them by not doing the same magickally.  The strictly religious almost always have “proper” channels they can go through for paranormal issues.  If you sense something happening, encourage these folks to seek the help of their priest/pastor/exorcist/etc.  Give their religious beliefs the same respect you want them to give yours – even if you secretly think they’re nuts, I’m sure they feel the same way about you.

The issue of permission becomes that much more difficult when the person in question is a roommate/housemate.  Someone who shares your personal space has a significantly greater effect on your safety and wellbeing than anyone else.  If you share a dorm room with someone who is being haunted or oppressed by a spirit it is going to have a huge negative impact on your life.  If you’re in a situation where you share living space with someone (and moving out isn’t feasible) then doing some pretty heavy workings, even if you’re denied permission to do so, might be warranted.  At that point you’re really working in self-defense due to the target’s proximity to what should be your safe space.  If you don’t feel energetically safe in your own bed because of your roommate’s paranormal problems, then you’re probably justified in doing something about it.  The closer the proximity of the target to your personal space the easier it is to justify doing defensive work.  If it’s someone you share a bed or a room with you can pretty much do what you need to in order to be safe.  (Note – if you’re sharing a bed with someone who’s being haunted or oppressed and they refuse to allow you to help them you might want to rethink your relationship.  I’m just saying.)  If it’s a housemate that you don’t share a room with, then it should depend on the impact the other person’s problem has on you and the amount of harm being done to the person.  If it’s someone who’s just down the hall or in the building, then you should probably stay out of things.  Basically, use proximity and the likelihood of serious harm to make your choice.

Now, there is a bit of a loophole with this whole permission thing.  It’s not exactly the most upright thing to do, but just because someone doesn’t want you to do magick on them doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do magick to address the source of the problem.  If someone is being haunted you can, more or less, do whatever magick you want on the entity doing the haunting.  You can theoretically dissolve the magick of a curse without magickally touching the target of that curse.  You can make healing energy available to someone without forcing them to take it.  You can ward the exterior boundaries of a property without doing anything to someone’s home.  These little loopholes can allow you to address the source of many metaphysical issues without technically doing magick on someone who doesn’t want it.  Does this sort of thing go against the spirit of honoring someone’s refusal? Yes, absolutely.  Exploiting loopholes may be a bit underhanded, but if it’s a matter of being trixy or watching a friend suffer unnecessarily I will chose trixy every time.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether or not a situation warrants doing defensive magick on someone without their permission.  I look at the immediacy and severity of the situation along with how personal the magick involved needs to be and then weight those factors with the strength of the target’s opposition to the work in order to decide what to do.  If I feel strongly that magick is necessary in the situation I’ll use my loopholes before I go disregarding someone else’s will.  Respecting the autonomy of others is very important to me, so things need to be pretty bad before I’ll go disregarding it.  In the end your ethics are up to you.