Wednesday, December 16, 2015

THIS Butterfly -- Smashing teacups for a better tomorrow

This is a followup to two different posts (which you may want to go take a look at if you haven't):
In Which Butterfly? I suggested that the most interesting use for divination was not to tell the future, but to identify what actions now will get you to the future you want (which butterfly do you startle to get the right hurricane, see?). The reading in this post is a first pass on that kind of thing (there is a more elaborate general reading in the works). In the second part of my Antifragile series, I mentioned a fourth option for dealing with fragility in your life -- smash it.

So many choices...

But first a clarification. In the risk management post, I talked about four options for dealing with risks: 
  • Accept: Do nothing and accept the risk as is.
  • Avoid: Dodge the situation so that it doesn't affect you. 
  • Strengthen/Mitigate: Reduce the impact by being more robust or mitigating the risk.
  • Benefit/Gain: Turn the risk into a positive by finding an upside or becoming more antifragile.
Having a fragile area in your life is a risk, but it's also an issue. It's a risk in that the fragility could make you more prone to negative effects. However it's an issue because you are already fragile right now. My example was a teacup. The teacup is fragile and there's a risk of breaking it. You can accept the risk and keep using your teacup, avoid the risk by selling the teacup and using a plastic tumbler, mitigate the risk by never using your teacup and storing it safely in a cabinet. But how do you turn the fragile teacup itself into a benefit?

Or for a more realistic example, let's say your job is fragile. Because of economic forces beyond your control, you have a high probability of getting laid off in the next year.* Well, you can accept the risk and do nothing. You can avoid the risk by hunting for a new job. You can mitigate the risk by doing really good work and saving a cushion to cover your expenses. But how do you turn the risk into a benefit? 

* Pop quiz, if you work, what are your odds of getting laid off in the next year? 

One of the things that Taleb talks about are environments that are prone to having extreme effects come from very minor causes. He calls this Extremistan, and we all live there. Small inputs can have outsized results -- Black Swan events. We already looked at using divination in order to see those events coming in order to either dodge/mitigate (for negative) or embrace/strengthen (for positive) them. There we were focused on the outcome. But what about the inputs?

One of the reasons we live in Extremestan is because our world is very fragile. There are lots of places that are super sensitive to shocks and the system is set up so that outcomes are unequal and outsized. You don't have 100,000 excellent singers each making a modest living. You have one excellent singer who makes millions and 99,999 more who get nothing. Our society isn't set up for the median, the average, the run of the middle, the middle of the road -- Mediocristan. The disappearance of the middle class is an excellent example of this. You are either a rarefied member of the 1% or one of the huddled masses.

This can be depressing. There's clearly an element of luck involved in wining and few good options for being number two (let alone number 49,998). Just working hard and being good isn't enough.

But for magicians, this can be exciting news. If practical magic is changing the odds in your favor, then the more you can leverage small inputs for big results, the easier it is to make change. And systems that have lots of inherent chaos are optimal magical targets.

Note, as I've written about before, this is why the lottery is a shitty magical target. Yes, the odds are long, but the real problem is that they are also extremely hard to shift. The lottery is random, but it's not chaotic at all. It's randomness is completely controlled. It's a bad magical target. Good magical targets are those things that are easy to shift, that have lots of chaos in the system, that can have outsized results. Good magical targets are fragile.

Which brings us to my fourth option for dealing with something fragile in your life -- SMASH IT.

Right. That's better!
I realize this advice flies against everything we're taught about how to be a grownup in the world. We're taught that if something is fragile, you have to take really good care of it. If it's not going well, you have to work harder to maintain and protect it. Many a terrible marriage is based on this flawed and faulty premise. If things aren't going well -- AKA if your marriage is fragile -- you need to expend more time and energy maintaining and protecting it.

Now, certainly, if you have a reasonably strong marriage, I'm not recommending you run at the first sign of trouble. My spouse and I have always had very strong, stable marriage, and a few years ago we learned that it wasn't just stable, but antifragile. -- When things were tough, our relationship got stronger.

But if you have a relationship (whether it's a marriage, friendship, family bond) that is highly fragile, maybe it's better not to baby and protect it, to pour every erg of your energy into it. To keep it limping along. Maybe you should just smash it. Rip off the band aid. Declare it over and move on.

Ditto with work. I think it goes without saying that most people really need a job to pay their bills. They aren't independently wealthy and would find being unemployed a financial strain or even impossible to deal with. So what happens? They get trapped in terrible, fragile situations, sometimes for decades. They hope for stability, but what ends up happening is that the terrible stress and constant expenditure of energy leaves them unable to find something new. And for a person with a mortgage and a car payment (or alternately, someone who's desperate for the money to have a roof over their head at all), smashing it sounds like the worst possible advice. But for a magician, it might just be the right thing to do.

Or where you live. I grew up in a shitty little town with no economic prospects but drug dealing and nothing to do except drugs. And as soon as I could, I moved as far away as I could manage. And over the years we've moved several more times. Where you live (from your roommate to your continent) has a huge impact on who you become and what your life can be. I mean that seriously and from personal experience. If you don't like the place you are, if it's fragile for you, then take the leap and go out into the world.

Now please note, I'm not recommending just breaking delicate parts of your life without any preparation. I'm talking about using your fragility as a magical tool. For carefully enchanting around the fragile area and only then smashing it -- and using the energy and chaos released from that act to effect the change you want. And that's going to take some thought and planning before you get out the hammers.

And I have to say that breaking may only seem like breaking. I had a moment in my life where I had to take a fragile (and very stressful) family relationship and literally smash it wide open. I thought it would be the end. But instead of ending up with no family, I ended up with a better and stronger relationship. One with healthier boundaries.

If you've been working along with the risk management posts, you probably already have a good idea of where you are fragile in your own life. So which do you baby and which are up for destruction? Time for some divination.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

The Black Swan Divination is all about telling the future. Finding out what things are coming and then, for the negative things, what you should do about it. This is the reverse. The goal here is finding out what will happen if you make certain choices now.

First of all, all caveats from the Black Swan Divination apply:
  • I've done these for myself, but haven't fully finalized the process. This is a work in progress. 
  • Feel free to use, but don't publish -- point people back here for information.
  • If you'd like me to perform this reading for you, I will do so for free, for a limited time, as long as you give me feedback. See the Services page for more information.
  • This is written for tarot, but other kinds of random sortilege systems should work too.
  • This is tech and not foo, feel free to add whatever religion or ritual you prefer.
To start, you need a short list of your fragile targets. This reading works best with no more than two or maybe three items. If you have a giant stack of fragility, you will want to pick the top two (in terms of risk, or stress, or instinct) and proceed in batches. If the result of the first two look positive, then stop there and get to work. You can worry about the rest later. Be specific. Unlike the Black Swan Divination, where you start with broad areas of your list, here you want to get into the details. So, Day Job at (Company) rather than Career and Relationship with Husband rather than Family.

Put each target at the top of a small sheet of paper (slightly larger than tarot card sized is good).

Now under each target, write a short list of the magic you will do surrounding that target. For example:

Day Job at Company
  • Perform working for a new job with X, Y, Z characteristics.
  • Cast drawing spell for new business opportunity that lets you be your own boss.
  • Enchant sigils for financial security through times of change.
  • Perform attraction and networking magic for financial backing for a new venture.
  • Call on (spirit/Deity) to silence the tongues of those who would speak against you.
  • Offer to ancestors to increase your confidence.
Relationship with Husband
  • Perform working to find safe affordable place to live.
  • Enchant sigils for increasing cooperation.
  • Complete healing spell for emotional wounds.
  • Create honey pot to sweeten any legal aspects.
  • Offer to ancestors for amicable custody resolution.
These are just examples. Your personal situation is obviously going to dictate the magic you do.

A couple of important points:
  • The question you will be asking in this reading is "if I do this magic and smash this target, what is the result?" So each bit of magic starts with a verb and is in the present tense.
  • The lists are relatively specific, but not overly specific. They outline what you are committing to do, magically, before you get to smashing. So you need to leave enough room for flexibility in the actual enchantments, but be detailed enough so that the reading can be accurate.
  • If you really aren't sure about workings, spells, or offerings, just preface everything with "Enchant for" instead.
  • Remember you are enchanting for what happens after you break what's wrong now. You aren't enchanting to keep the current situation going. So in the second list above, "Enchant sigils for increasing cooperation" isn't to make your marriage go more smoothly... it's to make your divorce go more smoothly. Keep that in mind. If you are really just going to do magic to make the current fragility more tolerable or more robust, that's a different project entirely.
Lay your sheets of paper out on your reading surface and take a second to review them. This kind of reading is more complex and subtle than just "past" goes here "future" goes here. Image yourself really doing the magic and then smashing your target. So for the first target above, you picture all the enchanting and then imagine walking into your boss' office and saying "you know what, I'm done." Imagine yourself spellcrafting into the night and then presenting your husband with divorce papers. Don't try to imagine the results. Just play your tape up until the point where you SMASH IT... and then pause. The goal here is to infuse the reading with your intent. This isn't a future you are considering, this is what you WILL DO... now let the reading tell you the outcome.

And by the way, calling a meeting to talk to your boss about your work environment or asking your husband to go to couples' counseling it's not smashing. Quitting is smashing. Demanding a promotion and pay raise or you walk right now is also smashing. Divorce court is definitely smashing. Those things are scary -- of course they are. And they might not be the right thing to do. But that's what we're trying to find out, so don't water down your reading at the key point.

Shuffle the deck in your usual manner (I always shuffle seven times and cut three) and then deal three cards onto each sheet of paper. Don't deal the cards around to the different targets. Focus on one at a time and again, visualize the magic and the mayhem as you deal the cards.

If you are into stating intent while reading (a technique I use) you can state:

"My job with (company) is fragile"
"I enchant for (key thing or things from your list)"
"And with my magic I SMASH this fragile job" (or break this harmful bond or dissolve this broken union -- whatever feels right).

Read reversed cards as reversed. Outcomes can be practical or spiritual, specific or archetypal. You may have a mix of both positive and negative outcomes. You may have a negative and then a positive, with the implication of moving to a better outcome (sure you may be sad and lonely after your divorce, you may be broke for a while after you quit your job, but the key is where you are headed).

Of course, only you can decide whether the outcome is worth the work and the risk. Lonely but content may be better than living in a constant state of low grade stress. Broke and struggling with your dreams might be, for you, the right thing to do. 

If so, then you have your magical to do list right there. If you want the outcome of the reading, you will have to fulfill your commitment to yourself. And that means doing all the magic you listed and then, finally, the scary break. No excuses.

If not, then there are the other alternatives outlined above: Accept, Avoid, Mitigate. These might be perfectly correct choices for you, but only if you make those choices from a place of strength and will, not out of fear. Choosing to accept a bad situation from a place of strength can actually help mitigate the effects of that situation on you. You chose this, for now, and for reasons that you accept.

It's my nature to always recommend the most proactive option. If you can't smash, mitigate and avoid. If you can't take the leap, at least keep making the baby steps. And if you must accept something that is risky and terrible, make it a retreat, but not a surrender. Rethink your plans and regroup before attacking the problem from another angle. 

But only you can tell you what do to. You do what you want.

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