My 8th grade English teacher decided one day that each of us should stand up in front of the class and give an impromptu speech. Yow!
Some students gave passable speeches. I did not. I did not to the extent that my 8th grade English teacher, perhaps in consultation with the school counselor, decided that I needed to go to a special school-wide speech therapy class.
I resented this decision, since it singled me out as somebody who had to take a special class. But I went along. I attended the classes. And, reluctantly, I did the drills, exercises, and homework.
Not surprisingly, early puberty racked my body and my sociability.
What's more, I believe that I was still experiencing some minor neurological impairments as I continued to recover from my car accident (although there's no clinical evidence, since I passed the slate of reflex and response tests.) I had uncertainties in my fine motor control. My hands exhibited constant tremor. And I had some hitches in my articulation.
Maybe, I thought, this speech therapy class would help, somehow.
The class consisted of a group of six or seven students and a teacher. We met for several months one or two times a week, while school was in session, for a regular 50 minute class period. The teacher, whose name I don't remember, was a middle aged woman, a speech therapist. I believe that she had some background in meditation and the occult, and perhaps in the emerging human potential movement. But she never mentioned anything.
The class met in a small classroom with standard school furniture--student desks, a larger teacher's desk, some chairs, a window in one wall.
We did a variety of drills aimed at easing some of the hitches in our articulation. The ones I remember best had us say tongue twisters. She gave out a bunch of several page mimeographed collections, and one homework assignment was to say each one several times, speaking faster each time.
But the exercises that I remember, the ones that made a life long impression on me, revolved around relaxation and awareness, energy and intentionality, creative imagination and living with some skillfulness. Some of the fundamentals of meditation and magic, if not the whole of them.
I'm cataloging these exercises here, identifying them with terms that I learned years later, describing them according to notions and theories that I never knew at the time.
Yes, I learned a complex of practical skills of meditation and magic. But, no, I did not know what--in words--I was doing. I just did it. Because what I was doing had some benefit, I kept on doing it.
My first teacher gave me practical instructions, but she made no reference to any ideology or world view explaining these practical instructions. She instructed me and the others to carry out actions, not to think about anything or to believe anything.
The only context was the little speech therapy class.
The only touchstone was a change for the better in my ordinary life.
Did my hand tremors diminish? Could I articulate words more easily and clearly. Did I gain in self confidence? Could I cope better with strain and stress?
The exercises that I learned in the beginning focused on more or less simple relaxation. Simple bodily relaxation linked with steady breathing. I just sat comfortably in the room, darkened as if for a movie or slide show, relaxed as best I could, and breathed steadily.
I did not learn to count or time the inhalation, the exhalation, or the periods in between. But I gained some ability to breath more deeply, taking longer to inhale, exhale, and, here and there, to hold my breath between.
My teacher passed along two further skills next, and I don't recall which came first. But because the class was limited in time, she did give instructions about one skill at a time. Both are fundamental skills.
The bodily technique that she taught me is called *Progressive Muscular Relaxation.* This involves alternately contracting muscle groups and relaxing them for increasingly long periods, beginning with the hands and feet and top of the head, incorporating more and more muscle groups until the entire body is tensing and un-tensing. This technique leads to deep whole body relaxation.
The psychological/spiritual technique that she taught me was how to locate or to create a perfectly safe place, how to access it and exist within its protection, and how to, at need or at any moment of threat or difficulty, to go to that place at once. She convinced me that this was possible to do, and that I, with some trying, could do it. She was right.
Then she taught me a cluster of techniques revolving around imagery and journeying and visualization. The basics of guided visualization, active imagination, and awareness of other worlds, inner planes, enchanted realms.
Learning this cluster of techniques put me in touch with the land, the things that live on, in, and above the land, and with the land's story, past, present, and to come.
She then taught me about energy in the body and beyond the body, how to access it, cause it to act according to my intention, how to move it within my body and beyond my body for nearly any distance, and how to use this energy in healing.
Healing myself, for the most part, but without excluding the possibility of healing others using this selfsame energy.
The techniques of energy management that I learned involved different color qualities. No particular color qualities, however, necessarily linked to any certain event or condition. Rather, color qualities offered a means to manage energies according to the needs or preferences of the exercise or whoever was moving the energies. No mandated tables of correspondence.
In later years I discovered that post WWII occultism had changed its notions of energy sources accessible via meditation and magical work. Earlier notions led practitioners to draw upon their own inner, bodily sources. Later notions pointed toward outer sources in the land and sky. I recall my teacher talking about sources in the body, being careful not to exhaust them. But I also recall tapping sources in the land and sky.
Now this speech therapy class was just one among several regular school that I was taking.
I felt some changes for the better as a result of the practical exercises and drills that I had learned. I kept on doing them, on and off.
But I was much more strongly interested in other subjects and in improving my competence as a creative intellectual. That's, to the limited extent that I had a notion of my self and what I wanted to do, how I saw myself. Participating in the creative culture of poets, novelists, critics, thinkers, writers, people of ideas who knew the ins and outs of our historical culture and other historical cultures.
What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that if anybody had announced that they were going to teach me fundamental techniques of meditation and magic, I would, as an 8 grader, have balked. I had no interest in meditation or magic then, except for how it functioned in the movies I watched and the science fiction and heroic fantasy books that I read with fannish avidity. I didn't want to do these things. More correctly, I didn't want to do those seriously.
I messed around with these notions for fun.
They didn't suit my nascent self image as a reasonable, rational, creative person.
Some years later, at university, I grew curious about Buddhist and Hindu forms of meditation and spirituality. I was majoring in cultural anthropology and South Asian studies. Such things offered useful ways of understanding other cultures, other religions, as well as possible new personal insights.
As I read texts and commentaries, as I undertook practical exercises suggested by Buddhist or Yogic schools, I found, to my surprise, that I was already quite familiar both with experiences being described and with techniques intended to bring them about.
I had, it appears, been meditating all along, without even knowing that I was. What's more, I had, without paying much attention, gained some skill sets and had gone through many of the experiences described in the texts.
A little less surprisingly, the same turned out to be the case when I investigated the relatively new and growing Neo-Pagan Craft movement. Lo and behold, I could do a lot of the things described as magical, I had been doing them since the 8th grade, and I was pretty good at some of them. What's more, I had quite a similar world view. I was a Neo-Pagan Witch, although a solo one, which at the time posed a greater challenge for me than it does these days.
To sum up. I learned fundamental techniques of meditation and magic in a speech therapy class offered over several months in a public junior high school. My teacher skillfully passed along a constellation of practical techniques and doable exercises that have served me fruitfully for a life time.
But she did not offer any concepts, theories, or ideologies to define what we did or to locate what we did in a metaphysical or spiritual system. The only test that mattered was change for the better in ordinary life circumstances. There was no examination by school officials, and we received no grades.
Because my life circumstances did change for the better, I continued to do these exercises I'd learned, build on the practical skills that I'd learned. I did so without a clue at the time that I was meditating, that I was doing simple but powerfully transformative magic, that I was building a secure and solid foundation for a practice to come. Only five or six years later, in the course of my anthropology studies at university, did I realize what I had been doing all along--meditation and magic.
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