October 3, 2011

On the Magic of Exhaustion

(Or, Sleep Cycles and the Land)
(Or, why my sleep schedule really sucks)

As some of you may know, up until very recently I had spent my whole life living in Florida. What you probably don't know is that during that time, I had never even visited a place where the climate was all that different from my home state. Many trips to the Caribbean, sure; once to southern California; a few excursions to the desert, but never anywhere with any real sense of seasonality to it. This never bothered me in any particular sense, but given my lack of perspective, I never had any idea what effect the Land had on my magic.

Once you get past the picturesque beaches (and then, past the beaches filled with drunken college students), Florida feels... leathery. Even the water feels tough and dry; where it's not salty, it's tannic; where it doesn't immediately run down through sand, it has all nutrients quickly sucked out of it, supporting only the toughest of life. And the life is tough. Plant-life is waxy, hard, bladed, and grasping for footholds. Some suck moisture right out of the air to avoid the astringent waters. Wildlife is either leathery, of the swarming, bloodsucking variety, or hidden in the trees.

I once read (and damned if I can find it again now that I want to link it) a quote from a magician visiting an American desert from England, about how she was amazed any magic at all could  be worked there, because the Land seemed so lifeless. There was nothing to draw on, she said, nothing to work with. The magician to whom she was speaking then told her of the magic of Endurance, and how it required a remarkably different approach than what she was used to.

I learned early on that the key to good magic was endurance and exhaustion. My best spells (such as they were) were cast while using a single focus to rail against my mind and body trying to sleep, and just after my body did fall asleep, and just after my conscious mind shut down, if all went right (and it frequently didn't), an Awareness would remain. If my focus was good and my intent was simple enough, it was the work of this Awareness that would preform the spell, ideally before my conscious mind "snapped to" (with my body quickly to follow, sort of the mental equivalent of your leg jerking you awake at night) or I fell asleep entirely. At 12 years old, my first brush with "beyond consciousness" was had in this manner, trying to stay awake all night simply because I could. Not much changed over the years, though oddly enough, rather than finding myself constantly exhausted all the time from these stints, I found that I needed less sleep after a good bout of magic.

Until recently, that is. And dear Christ what a shock to the system that was. My first few days here were great; I was full of a "lush" energy I had rarely felt before, tapping into the elements of the place seemed remarkably easy, I was incredibly excited about the feel of the place, and eager to use it in my magic. So I stay up late, push myself to the point of involuntarily passing out, try to form my idea in the "beyond" and... nothing. There was no Endurance here, I was just... tired. And staying up late completely wrecked me the next day. So being a good magician, I... tried it again. And again.

Some of you may have an idea of how terrifying it is to have all of your magic suddenly dry up on you; I hope the rest of you never experience it. But of course, instead of being a good self-reflective little mage and asking myself what could have been wrong, I panicked. And oh my what a panic it was. But eventually, a bout of crippling exhaustion coincided with a weekend, and when I woke up, I felt... fine. Which you have to understand, is new to me. Normally if I get a "good night's sleep", I feel awful the next morning. I've always needed a schedule that kept me relatively "exhausted" in order to feel alive the next day. Endurance was necessary. Until it wasn't.

It must be hilarious on the outside looking in, such revelations like "eight hours sleep make you functional" and "meditation works better when you're not fighting to stay awake". But then, I'm fighting 23 years of conditioning, and habits like "I write better papers at 4 in the morning" die hard.

But they're dieing. Learning to work with the energy of this place is my next big project; for now I'm just letting myself acclimate, making offerings and asking that any unhelpful Land-related habits I have be pointed out to me. And they are. Who knows? Maybe soon I'll finally be able to call a circle where more than the Fire quarter lights up for me.

...crap. It's three in the morning, isn't it?