The Bends

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

“I’m pretty advanced magickally. I don’t need to do that anymore.”

Oh really? I get it. I’ve been there before myself, but there is a reason why certain techniques remain, why certain core practices are, well, core. But in the days of quick fixes and shortcuts, we can be oblivious to both why this is true and what the consequences are when we forget. And then we wonder why we are having problems. After many years of observation and experience, I liken the phenomena to the bends.

What are the bends, you ask? The most common form is from diving deep and coming up too quickly, which can cause decompression sickness (DCS) as dissolved gases in solution in the body, such as in your blood, form bubbles as you depressurize. Do it slowly, you adjust. Do it quickly, you can subject yourself to a variety of symptoms from rashes, difficulty breathing, pain, damage to the lymph system, nerve and tissue injury, and sometimes even death.

What are the spiritual bends then? When we go into something too quickly or come out of it too quickly, we then spiritually short circuit, though the symptoms may show up later, making it hard for some people to see direct causality. The “I’m pretty advanced magickally. I don’t need to do that anymore” is usually followed sometime later in the day with “I have a severe headache” or “I suffer from digestion problems/allergies/respiratory illness/nervous exhaustion/endocrine imbalance.”

There are long ways “in” and short ways “in” and reasons to do both. An adept magician can dive in and out in daily life to make something happen. They feel truly called in that instance, but that is in one moment and not the everyday default. People who are often very naturally talented, or grow more powerful with practice, often toss away core techniques as training wheels that are no longer needed. While true for some, many others then find themselves experiencing symptoms from rising and falling too quickly on a day-to-day basis, a condition akin to the bends. They didn’t wear their suit. They didn’t prep their vehicle. Just because they are capable of the deep dive without prep doesn’t mean they should do it, or do it often. Doing so means that later on, you probably won’t be capable of it.

We live in a time when our living spaces are generally not tuned to the spiritual, even if we have an altar on every available flat space. There is not the harmony and synergy to have it all work together to provide the support as there is with a traditional temple space tuned to a tradition and the work of that tradition. Many of us don’t learn the techniques to really build the body of light to traverse clearly and safely in our magickal work. Others disregard the entry and exit points in traditional vision, or the lowering and raising techniques of trance consciousness. Frequent failure to take it slow and steady, or even long and ecstatic, results in things like headaches, ungroundedness, delusions, paranoia, and bodily imbalances particularly of the nervous and endocrine system, those that carry the voltage of magickal current. It’s not a race or contest.

I belonged to a magickal study group where one person in the group, newest to the mystical, got fascinated with brain-synching binaural beat recordings played upon headphones as the answer to enlightenment. He was impatient with meditation, mantra, and ritual work. While I’m not against exploring new uses of technology, someone deeply versed in traditional techniques and cultures said, quite profoundly, that there is a reason why the yogis spent years alone in caves to seek enlightenment, and previous to that, worked in the sacred scripture and traditional techniques. A shortcut might not lead to where you want to go. And I do agree. I feel the same way about entheogen, those I have used. They punctuate important experiences, but are not my daily practice. Those who often open the gate with only substances or technology find they can’t quite ever reach that level again and struggle with maintaining a practice and going deeper.

Sacred space is both our vessel for adjustment and our recompression chamber when we are experiencing these symptoms. Taking more time in sacred space, in stillness and in balance, is a remedy. Taking time to adjust in and out—to experience and enjoy the experience rather than jumping frantically from one reality to another—is key to avoid the bubbling of the bends within your consciousness.

Temple of Witchcraft