Step One --
In my opinion, the most important thing that differentiates Bardon's system from most all of the other modern systems of magic is that it begins at the beginning. The crucial nature of these elementary, beginning steps is all too often overlooked by other systems and this does an ill service to the novice.
True success with magic is built upon a foundation of simple things -- the firmer the foundation, the farther the student will be able to rise. In Step One, the student will find the basics of the rest of the course: Meditation, Introspection and Self-Discipline. I cannot stress sufficiently how absolutely essential these three things are to genuine magic.
With Step One, the "Schooling of the Spirit" concerns three basic types of meditation. The first is titled "Thought Control", but this is sort of a misnomer. What is meant here is not direct, active control of what thoughts arise in your mind; rather, what is referred to is establishing yourself as an active observer of your thoughts. When the observer-perspective is established, the multitude of thoughts that normally arise, will naturally slow of their own accord.
The second type of meditation is titled "Thought Discipline" and has two phases of practice. The first phase is enacted in day-to-day life and involves disciplining your thoughts so that they pertain only to the task at hand. For example, if you're driving to work, you practice the shunning of thoughts that have nothing to do with the act of driving. The second phase of the practice is performed as a normal meditation (i.e., sitting with your eyes closed). Here, one chooses a single thought and shuns the intrusion of all other thoughts. It is best, in this instance, to begin with a simple, captivating thought. Each time your mind wanders, bring it firmly back to the chosen thought.
The third type of meditation is titled "Mastery of Thoughts" and involves the attainment of a vacancy of mind or an absence of thoughts. For those unfamiliar with meditation, this is often the most difficult task. It requires a good deal of will power and persistent effort. When thoughts intrude, you must learn to willfully shun them and regain your emptiness. I assure you that this is not an impossible task!
1) What is "thought control"?
In the initial exercises of Step One, Bardon describes three sorts of mental discipline or meditation. The first type involves merely observing what goes on in your mind. In this exercise, the student does not block any thoughts, s/he merely observes what is present. Given time and repeated practice, you will notice that the flow of thoughts naturally slows down. But what is really happening is that you are re-tuning your mind to another, less cluttered, level of mentation. This is not something that you can force, so it does little good at this stage to be blocking certain thoughts while letting others through, etc.
Of concern here, is the other distractions that arise, such as that car alarm that keeps going off in the distance, or the bark of the neighbor's dog. These sorts of incidents can distract your attention from the observance of your thoughts. While such occurrences are not within your ability to control, your response to them is within your control. So, you must learn how to quickly dismiss these distractions and refocus your attention to the task at hand. At first this may be difficult, but with persistent practice, your ability to refocus will become so quick and absolute that such external events will no longer distract; or rather, the distraction will be so brief that it will not interrupt your practice.
Another sort of distraction is that you will be tempted to pursue the thoughts that arise in your mind. The point here however, is to distance yourself from involvement with your individual thoughts -- you are to be only an observer, not a participator. At first, this is also very difficult, but with persistent practice, you will learn how to distance yourself and observe.
No matter how difficult this exercise may at first be for you, do not give up. This is an essential precursor to the exercises which follow. You already possess the natural, generally unconscious, ability to do everything taught in IIH -- all that the training does is bring what has previously been unconscious, into the realm of a conscious ability.
2) What is "thought discipline" or "one-pointedness"?
The second type of mental discipline or meditation described in Step One, concerns the one-pointedness of mind. Here you focus your thoughts upon a single idea and shun all other intruding thoughts. This practice eventually re-tunes the mind to a still higher level of mentation. If you have learned to manage external distractions with relative ease and have reached the state of an observer of your quieted mind, then all you have to do here is select a single thought and focus solely upon it. The sorts of distraction you will encounter here is the intrusion of associated and non-associated thoughts, and the habit that your mind has of involving itself in these extraneous thoughts.
If we consider the analogy of re-tuning the mind, it becomes obvious that the mind functions in predictable ways at each frequency. At the frequency of our normal day-to-day lives, thoughts come with great frequency and variety, and we exercise little control over them. At the frequency of the observer, the mind contains fewer thoughts, but the mind itself is still also functioning at the level of the day-to-day. The observer exercise merely shifts the focus onto another frequency, it does not make the day-to-day frequency disappear altogether. The same is true of the one-pointedness frequency -- the observer and the day-to-day frequencies still exist, only the mind is now tuned to a higher frequency. It's as if the background noise of the other frequencies still exist but are relegated to the background and taken out of the current focus.
Dealing with the intrusion of unwanted thoughts during the one-pointedness exercise is much like the management of external distractions you learned during the observer exercise. Part of getting your mind tuned into the correct frequency for one-pointedness, involves learning how to quickly dismiss these extraneous thoughts and refocus your attention. The more you do it, the quicker it becomes, and eventually, it happens so quickly that these distractions no longer interrupt your exercise.
Do not "battle" the natural workings of your mind as this leads only to frustration. The best tact is to coax your mind. You control your mind, not the other way around, and all you need do is take the control that you already have and make it a more conscious thing.
Again, do not give up if at first you fail. This is also a vitally important ability to master for the future exercises.
3) What is "mastery of thoughts" or "emptiness of mind"?
The third and final type of mental discipline or meditation covered in Step One, involves the emptying of the mind ("vacancy of mind"). If you have sufficiently mastered the dismissal of distractions in the previous two exercises and learned how to limit your mind to a single thought, then reaching an emptiness of mind is the next logical step. This is still only a higher frequency of mentation, but it is a very difficult one to tune into unless you have mastered the observer and the one-pointedness exercises.
Perhaps the easiest way to reach the emptiness of mind is to go by stages. First reduce your mind to a single thought and then eliminate even that thought. If you are facile with the dismissal of distractions, then the distractions at this level will be quickly managed.
Before progressing to the Step Two exercises, you should have made good headway with your emptiness of mind exercises. Even a small few minutes of true emptiness will suffice to begin with but you must constantly improve upon this initial success if you wish to make headway further along the course of IIH. This is a basic magical technique which serves as a foundation for the rest of the work -- without this degree of mental discipline, many things are impossible in magic.
4) Should I keep track of all my distractions or just the major ones?
I recommend that on your first trial of each exercise, you do not bother counting your distractions. Focus instead upon managing them. In the case of the first exercise with the observer perspective, after you get the hang of it, start counting your external distractions -- the ones that actually interfere with your exercise. If you are able to manage a distraction rapidly and it doesn't interrupt you, then don't bother counting it.
With the other exercises concerning the one-pointedness and the emptiness of mind, count all the distractions that interrupt your flow of consciousness. Again, count only those that actually serve to interrupt you.
Counting and keeping track of your disruptions is not a necessary part of mastering these exercises. Its only importance is when it comes to gauging your progress. It can be very beneficial to be able to compare how many interruptions you experienced yesterday or last week, to how many you encountered today. By making these connections, you will be able to see exactly how much progress you have made.
In Step Two, Bardon mentions using a string of beads or knots to keep count of your interruptions during your exercises. This is a good technique once you get used to it. Eventually, counting off another bead or knot becomes second nature and takes no interruptive thought at all.
5) Why is five minutes the goal to aim for?
Five minutes is one of those "at least" sort of goals. It is an arbitrary, but nonetheless good, rule to follow. The idea is not that you should strictly adhere to exactly five minutes; rather, the idea is that you should set a goal that is beyond the reach of your normal activity and one which will take a certain degree of commitment to attain. Never be satisfied with five minutes as the ultimate, end all goal -- always push beyond this limit. Ultimately, you should be able to reach and maintain these states for as long as you desire, regardless of whether that's for five minutes or three hours.
6) Doesn't keeping track of my time cause a distraction?
It can if you let it be. The way I work is I give the exercise a go and when I reach the state required, I flow with it for as long as I am comfortable with. When I'm done, I open my eyes and check the time. But while I'm doing the exercise, I don't think about whether I'm doing it long enough.
Another tact is to work at it until I suffer a major interruption. At that point, I open my eyes and check to see how long I went before I was interrupted. When I find that at least five minutes have passed before I was interrupted and that I can go for the same amount of time consistently, I then feel comfortable in assuming that I have attained my first goal.
How you measure your time is up to you and requires only a little inventiveness. I use a simple electric clock that doesn't tick, placed at my feet or otherwise within view. The problem with this is that I must remember what time it was when I started. Another alternative is to use a simple stopwatch, but that requires starting and stopping. All in all, use whatever method works best for you and affords the least interruption possible.
In my opinion, this process of establishing the positive and negative soul mirrors is THE most important phase of initiation. The repercussions of this form of self-analysis will be felt throughout the entire life of the student and will be of great benefit regardless of how far into the Steps of IIH one penetrates.
What is required here is a radical self-honesty. The student must ruthlessly penetrate through all of his/her illusions regarding who they are and how they act in the world, and excavate the unadorned root of the matter.
Doing this may be very troubling as you face up to parts of yourself that are unappealing. Thus, it is a good idea to be especially kind to yourself as you go through the process of introspection. Treat yourself to enjoyable activities and pastimes that you might not otherwise entertain. Remember that the unsavory parts that you uncover are simply who you are at this moment in time -- never forget that you have the power to change these parts of yourself!
The point of this exercise is not to simply make you fell bad about yourself, but rather, it is to clearly define where you must begin in the process of self-change. If you do not have a clear grasp upon who you really are, then you have no reliable means of knowing what you wish to become, nor little means of getting there.
In this process of self-change, the student transforms what is already present into something better. It is not a method which simply rids your personality of its negative aspects. Instead, it takes the energy of a negative aspect and changes it into a comparable positive manifestation. Here nothing is discarded or lost -- it is all transformed.
In the Step One work, the focus is upon taking stock. The work of transformation is relegated to Step Two. So while you are searching out the positive and negative aspects of your personality, temporarily set aside thoughts about how you want to transform them and leave this part of the task to Step Two.
An important consideration in setting up your positive and negative soul mirrors is that this task is best done with complete privacy. Never should you share your mirrors with another human being! This is important in that it supports the sort of radical self-honesty that the task requires. You must engender the feeling of absolute safety as you write down things, many of which you would never share with another.
A medium sized spiral-bound notepad is sufficient. I advise against using a hard-bound journal because you may find yourself ripping out pages, especially as you begin the work of transferring your list of items to your Element sections. Besides, a spiral binding has the practical advantage of lying flat and does not need to be held open. [NOTE: Do not type your lists on your computer! Writing your lists by hand upon paper personalizes the process and makes it considerably more intimate.] Without being paranoid about it, store your written mirror in a place where you can rest assured that its privacy will not be violated.
Begin, as Bardon advises, with the analysis of your negative traits. Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Place yourself back into the different events of your life and see what there is to find. Keep track during each day of items that arise in the present. Meditate each day about who you are and in this way build a deep understanding of your negative side.
Franz Bardon suggests that you continue this analysis until you have a list of at least 100 items. Many people balk at this total, but I concur that this is a good standard to shoot for. If you find your list growing beyond 100 items, then go with it and continue until you feel satisfied that you have completely uncovered everything. If you find it difficult to make 100 items, then continue relentlessly until you do.
As you analyze your faults, make sure that each item is really something that YOU consider to be a fault. It is you who are judging yourself -- your list should not include the judgments of others.
Bardon suggests a time limit of one to two weeks for this part of the exercise (it is very rare in IIH that he sets out a time limit). This is important because this initial process of self-analysis should have a beginning and an end. It is not something to be dawdled over nor is it something that should be rushed, but it is something that should be attended to within a predetermined amount of time.
At the same time, the process of self-analysis is a life-long responsibility for the serious magician. I have, over the years, gone through this Step One procedure three times. Each time was separated by a few years and each time netted new results. This is another way for me to keep track of my progress, as well as being an exercise that is very helpful to my progress.
The magician must at all times be aware of who she/he is. The process of crafting the personality into what you desire to be is life-long -- achieving true absolute perfection is not possible as physical human beings. The best we can hope for is to be constantly involved with actively improving ourselves.
At any rate, to get back on track with the concerns of Step One: It is tempting, during the construction of your list, to rely upon the list of faults associated with the "Four Tempers" that Bardon included in the IIH text. I advise against this as the items he lists are too general. Your list should be as specific as possible.
Where the Four Tempers come in most handy is in the next phase -- dividing your list into five sections by way of the Elements.
The division into Elements is often a very difficult task, but the important thing to remember at this stage is that it doesn't have to be perfect. Do the best you can (meditating upon the symbolism of the Elements will help immensely) -- you can always move an item to another category later if you find your original designation to be incorrect. In my first go at this process, my "Aethyr/Unknown" section was bigger than any of the other sections! It may take a while to figure out where they truly belong, but don't let that difficulty stop your progress.
Bardon does not specify any particular time limit for this phase, but try your best to accomplish this task within a week, or at the most, two weeks.
The final phase of this part of Step One is to divide each of your five sections into three categories of importance. Bardon suggests that this be done within a week's time, so don't get too carried away with this part of your analysis.
That completes the basic Step One work with the negative mirror and one now shifts to crafting the positive mirror. The same processes and time limits apply to this process. Devote as much effort to this list as you did with your list of negative items. With this phase, instead of trying to avoid feeling too bad about yourself, you will need to avoid getting a swelled head. :)
The end result is two mirrors of 100 or more items each, each divided into five parts containing three categories. This whole process should take no more than three months to accomplish.
Should the other exercises of Step One take you longer than three months to master (which, by the way, is quite common), then it will be wise for you to spend that extra time studying your mirrors. Try to understand your present state of Elemental equilibrium. Look and see how the different items from your lists relate to one another. Often, you can in this way uncover "complexes" built of many items working together. Spend a good amount of time getting to know yourself through this medium.
In closing, I repeat to you, this is a very, very important part of IIH and no effort should be spared in this regard. Even if you come to IIH after many years of introspection and feel that you know yourself very well already, do not skip this step! Even if you have made some progress in the past and then set aside the work for an extended period of time, still do not skip this task -- a repeat of it may go very quickly for you, but still it should not be skipped.
1) What if I can't come up with 100 items for each of my soul mirrors?
Then keep trying till you do! The 100-item requirement is a good one since it pushes you to dig as deeply as you can. This is not meant to be an easy exercise that you could do without much effort. The idea here is to completely cleanse your soul and to hone your skills of introspection. This is a learned ability just like the mental discipline.
2) When do I stop making my list? Should I continue indefinitely?
This is the opposite of the first question. Some find hundreds of faults and have difficulty knowing when to stop for now. The point of this first exercise in introspection is to set a limited goal. If you find more than 100 items, then instead of continuing on indefinitely, limit your efforts to two weeks.
This is important because it is all too easy to wallow in self-criticism and thus avoid moving on to the part about changing yourself. Don't think of the overall process as being divided into sections so much -- it is a cycle, composed of two very important parts: introspection and subsequent self-transformation. Self-analysis alone doesn't accomplish much if there is no motive to change and improve what one finds. Likewise, self-change alone doesn't work for long if you haven't taken a thorough stock of what you already have to work with.
So, set yourself a limit of no more than two weeks for this phase of the cycle. This will suffice for now. You can (and should) always go back and add things to your lists later -- it does not have to be absolutely perfect on the first round.
Which brings me to the subject of the endless nature of this cycle of introspection/self-change. This is truly a life-long habit for the true magician. Over my time at this work, I have constructed three such mirrors of the soul, each separated by a few years. This is a process of constantly perfecting oneself -- there is no resulting absolute state of perfection. This is a dynamic and continuous process since, as humans, we are constantly changing and encountering new parts of ourselves.
For the purposes of Step One, you must see to your forward progression through the exercise along with your dedication to doing the best you can with it. This is only possible when you set goals and limitations for yourself. By approaching it in this manner, you learn the fundamentals of the process and you are then better prepared to continue working with it as the years stretch before you.
3) What should I do if I can't figure out which Element corresponds to a specific trait?
At this stage, don't fret over it. Simply assign the item to which ever Element seems most appropriate and those you absolutely can't figure, assign to that wonderful category titled "unknown". As you work with the Elements, your understanding of them will increase and you will be better equipped to decide if you've been wrong in your assignment.
At this point in the ten Steps, the actual Element each item belongs to is of less importance than the degree to which the item effects you. For the purposes of self-change itself, the second division into three categories of importance or frequence, is far more relevant than an item's Elemental correspondence. This is true because the actual techniques of self-change that you will be working with are not dependant upon the Elements themselves.
In the Step Two work of self-change, the changing of your traits will balance your Elemental composition regardless of whether or not you have assigned your items correctly. The main use of the Elemental division is that it gives you an idea of the quality of your overall Elemental balance or imbalance. This is when an accurate designation by Element becomes truly important, but at this stage it is of minor importance.
This does not mean that you should not try your best to determine the correct Elemental correspondence. You should commit yourself to pursuing your "unknown" category until you assign each item to an Element. Also, as your understanding of the Elements improves, review the items you have assigned and see if you still feel that you got it right. One advantage to not having to carve your soul mirrors into stone is that you can always go back and change your mind!
Some have found that researching the character associations of the zodiacal signs of astrology is very helpful as they try to discern which item goes with what Element. Some find solace in the more recent works on psychology, and so on. At any rate, there are written resources that will help. But by far, the best aid is if you spend time meditating on the subject.
Another bit of practical advice is that when you encounter a truly puzzling item, look into it further. Often times, an uncatagorizable item is one that is too complex and that can be broken down into more specific parts. Usually, those specific parts are easier to categorize into individual Elements than is the whole complex of traits. Again, meditation is the magician's handiest tool -- most answers are just inside, waiting to be discovered.
4) Under which of the elements would one place an addiction to substances, such as tobacco? I know FB himself dealt with this entity.
Well, as you've already guessed, there is no quick and easy answer. There are so many factors that contribute to an addiction that it is better if you break down these factors for yourself and deal with them individually instead of under the umbrella of 'addiction'.
I am also a smoker and have grappled with this issue at very close quarters. I quit smoking for three years and while it was very beneficial for the development of my will power, it had no effect upon my underlying addiction. From it I learned a great deal about how to manage my addiction, but it did not address the underlying emotional and mental aspects of my addictiveness.
Any addiction is composed of many more factors than the object of addiction. For example, my body is physically addicted to the periodic rush of nicotine. This is true of any truly addictive substance, whether it is something inhaled, eaten, injected or drunk. This is also true of the emotional states or activities that we are addicted to -- they each initiate chemical reactions within our physical bodies to which we can become addicted. While we can ameliorate the impact of the physical consequences of an addiction through abstinence, this does not address the other components of the root addiction (in many cases this has the opposite effect of amplifying those other components).
For me, smoking satisfied a certain inclination toward self-destruction. And it satisfied other needs as well: my need for social acceptance (this was back when everybody smoked); my need for something to keep my hands busy (probably the bane of every artistic soul); my need to distance myself from others; my need to have something entirely my own; and last, but by no means least, my need for pleasure (I actually like to smoke). Of course I could list a few more, but I'm sure you get my drift.
By breaking my addiction down into its component parts, the assignment of the parts to the Elements was made relatively easy. And this gave me the key to remedying the root addiction. Very often in any work of healing (and what else is the transformation of one's character other than a healing process?) it is the root disease that is more important than its symptoms. This is especially true when it comes to the work with your soul mirrors. We can be going right along in the smug assumption that we've managed the symptom (e.g., I quit smoking) quite admirably, when all of a sudden we realize that we did nothing to remedy the root disease (i.e., my addictiveness) and, poof!, all of our hard effort was for nothing. Until you reach to the root of an addiction and tackle all of its parts, the addiction itself will persist. In my case, after three years of not smoking, I started smoking again. In fact, at no point during those three years was I NOT addicted to smoking -- all because I hadn't addressed the other components of my addiction.
When I first assigned the item "smoking" to an Element in my first go at my negative mirror, I listed it under the heading of the Air Element. There were, for me, some very Airy aspects to my smoking but this really didn't work for me in a practical sense. When I began to break it into parts, I found that initial item spread out all over the place. In the end, it belonged to no single Element, and I'm certain that where the parts fell into place for me will be very different for each individual. So much of the soul mirror cannot be given a universal Elemental correspondence. Where such universal standards apply accurately is only at a very superficial level of generalization. This is why the list of the character traits associated with the four temperaments that Bardon gives in IIH is not all that useful -- it is too general.
Any time I have difficulty determining what Element to assign an item in my soul mirror to, I try to break it down into smaller parts. Invariably, this has solved my confusion and provided me with the handle by which to grab hold of and transform myself.
5) Why should I make a negative AND a positive soul mirror? Isn't just the negative mirror enough?
Granted, the primary purpose of the techniques of self-change is to equalize one's negative traits, but that is ultimately only half of the whole process. It is of equal importance that you nurture your positive traits.
It is also important in the process of introspection that you not look only at your negative side. This can be very depressing if you don't balance it with an equal look into your positive side. The magician must walk in balance, as it were.
Another important reason why both mirrors are essential to the overall process is that often the answers to your negative traits are found amongst the list of your positive traits! In this way, you are already your own best friend.
This section of Step One opens with suggestions for a few simple daily exercises. The first concerns bathing and advises that the student bathe in a cold shower and brush the skin with a natural-bristle brush. This may sound silly but I urge you to actually try it. It is especially beneficial to the beginning student in that it very effectively opens the pores of the skin and facilitates bodily health. If you are arising very early to make time for your exercises, this technique will assure that you are fully awake.
The second set of recommendations concerns the establishment of a daily regimen of exercise. Again, this is especially beneficial for the beginning student as it draws the student's consciousness into a closer awareness of their physical body. This need not be taken to extremes -- the important aspects being the maintenance of flexibility and bodily vitality.
While these exercises are not strictly "magical", they are nonetheless, of importance and are pertinent to the further, more "magical" exercises.
The next section is titled "The Mystery of Breathing" and forms the basis of many of the exercises to come. It is important therefore, that the student pay attention to the mastery of this simple technique.
Please note that what concerns the student here is not the physical constituents of the air that are inhaled (oxygen, nitrogen, etc.), nor does it concern the vital energy inhaled. This is not "pranayama" nor is it an exercise to hyper-oxygenate the blood. The only thing of concern at this stage is the idea inhaled with each breath -- this idea represents the quality of what is taken in and is attached, by the mind, to the Akasha principle of the physical air.
It is vital that the student maintain their normal rhythm of breathing during this exercise. One should not lengthen the inhale or exhale and should not hold the breath at any point. It is normal for the beginning student to automatically lengthen the breath cycle because it takes a few moments to get one's thoughts in order. The result is usually a longer inhale while the mind is establishing the idea to be inhaled and a lengthy holding-in of the breath while visualizing that the idea is penetrating the whole body. The reason this occurs is because the student is unfamiliar with the building-up of the idea and the visualization of its action upon the body, so to compensate, the breath is extended.
The problem that arises with this is that if this habit is continued then the student eventually associates the ability to breathe in this manner with extending the breathing cycle and it becomes impossible to accomplish this task with the normal breath. Learning to do this exercise within the confines of the normal breath is important because the magician may not always have the opportunity to slow the breath in order to perform the later exercises such as accumulation of an Element, etc.
With practice, the building of the idea and the circulation of it throughout the body, can be accomplished in a nanosecond. The trick to learning the exercises without altering the breathing cycle is to disassociate the ideation from the breath. For example, establish your normal, comfortable breathing rhythm and breathe normally as you build up the idea in the air surrounding you. Then, when the idea is well established, inhale a normal breath of the impregnated air. Do not hold your breath at this point, but instead resume your normal breathing while holding the idea in your body and circulating it. Let your exhale be just of air and not of your idea.
In other words, it is your mind which does the work, not your breath. The breath is only the carrier of the idea and it is not necessary to alter your breathing cycle to accommodate the speed of your thinking. With practice though, you will get used to the mental work and it will become fast enough for you to not have to insert extra "empty" breaths while you think. Eventually, your rate of thinking and visualization will match the rate at which you breathe.
Other important factors are:
1) The nature of your idea. The thought you inhale should be positive and concern your own spiritual well-being.
2) The degree of your conviction. You should cultivate an attitude of absolute assurance that your idea is quickly becoming a reality.
3) Persistence. You should persist with a single idea until your goal is realized before passing on to another idea.
The next two sections are titled "The Conscious Intake of Nourishment" and "The Magic of Water". These techniques are based upon the same principles as the mystery of breath -- an idea is attached by the mind to the Akasha principle of the physical substance. Again, this has nothing to do with the physical properties (vitamins, minerals and other nutriments) of food and water. Our only concern at this stage is with the idea that the student must attach to the physical substance.
The same requirements (i.e., the nature of the idea, the degree of conviction, and persistence) apply to these exercises. This work with food and water should be carried out simultaneous with the breath exercises. In other words, you don't need to master the breath exercise before beginning this work with food and water.
These exercises should be made a daily habit. Do the breathing exercises every morning and every evening, and do the food and water impregnation with each meal. With a little inventiveness, you will be able to impregnate your food and drink unnoticed by others, even when you sit in a crowded restaurant or at a table filled with family members.
1) Do I have to give up smoking, drinking and sex?
No, you don't HAVE to do anything. But, if you want to succeed at the initial work of IIH it is advisable that you temporarily eliminate all mind altering substances. These substances remain in your blood stream for extended periods of time and they will effect how much control you are capable of exerting over your mentation. The idea of a magical initiation is that you must learn how to reach the equivalent altered states, of your own accord and without an artificial crutch to get you there. The well trained magician can match any altered state that a drug can induce -- AND control the nature and duration of the experience.
Once you have mastered your own mind, there is no reason why you may not indulge yourself in mind altering pleasures with moderation. Eventually, the only issue is whether or not the mind altering effect interferes with your magical practice. With attention to your timing, this can be avoided.
As to giving up all sexual expression, this is neither necessary nor advisable in the long term for the magician who seeks balance. Sexual abstinence breeds imbalance. Invoking this sort of specific imbalance may at times be of use to the advanced magician, but only for periods of short duration and for very specific tasks. If you have what is now called "sexual addiction", then a temporary abstinence may be a helpful component of your recovery. But alone, denial will not resolve an addiction -- one has to reach to the root of an addiction and work at it from the inside AND the outside.
2) Do I have to become a vegetarian?
This is a common question and there are always disagreements as to whether vegetarianism is required of the student. At best, it's a good idea if your body feels comfortable eating only a vegetarian diet and you feel comfortable preparing only vegetarian meals. But, it is not a requirement. The potential benefits to one's health are undeniable but this is not an essential part of learning magic.
What is far more important is to eat a well balanced diet. One that provides your body with the nutrients and energy resources it needs, will suffice. Try to avoid over- or under-eating.
3) Does this mean I have to start taking up yoga or go to the gym every day?
Not unless that is what works best for you. The idea behind what Bardon calls "daily gymnastics" is just to keep your body limber and fit. You don't need to go to extremes in this regard. Another important thing here is that daily exercise brings you into a closer contact with the state of your physical body.
4) How does the magic of breath, food and water work? Does the water have to be cold?
It is only the Akasha Principle that is worked with in these matters. The Akasha permeates all things. By its nature, it is succeptable to any thought impressed upon it and it will transmit that thought to the matter it encounters. Thus, when you impress your thought into the Akasha permeating the air you breathe or the food and water you ingest, the Akasha will transmit that thought to the Akasha permeating your physical, astral and mental bodies. Through the agency of the four Elements, the thought will become a part of your physical makeup at a cellular level. This changes your body at every level.
This takes time -- it does not, at first, happen over night. With practice however, this can become a very effective tool for self-change and the rapidity of its effect will increase.
The temperature of the food or water you consume is not a factor in regard to the impression of a thought since it is only the Akasha you are working with. Where the coldness of the water becomes important is when you are accumulating the vital energy, an Element or a Fluid into the water. Then, it is not the Akasha (which permeates cold and hot water equally) upon which you are impressing your will -- it is the physical or astral substance of the water itself and the colder the water, the more readily it will accept this sort of accumulation.
5) Do I have to bless each meal and glass of water I consume?
No, you don't have to, but by doing it every chance you get, you will be increasing the effectiveness of this technique. Eventually, it will become second nature to you and no one else will even notice that you are doing it. If I remember correctly, it takes about seven years for your body to completely renew every cell. You can, in theory, insert your thought into the structure of each new cell that is born and thus, directly transform your physical body.