Though magic may appear to be about fancy paraphernalia and items collected from hidden places in distant lands, my experience is that some of the most powerful magical items are highly practical and in plain sight in our everyday lives. For example, one of the most potent magical tools I've encountered is found in the personal productivity section of bookstores: a daily checklist. In this context, it's a checklist with areas for tracking my ritual and meditation practice each day, both in terms of whether I completed them and how well I performed them.
I know that even the notion of this may seem extreme to some of you, and I relate. I began practicing magic in childhood, and by the time I had something resembling a formal practice, I was a rebellious, anti-authority teenager. The idea of having a spiritual practice be anything other than spontaneous and self-directed horrified me. At some point though, through a series of synchronistic events, I began an intensive daily Hatha Yoga practice and experienced the benefits of spiritual discipline. Soon after, I initiated into a Hermetic order, where I was also encouraged to have a daily practice, this time of ritual and meditation, and which presented me with the checklist to aid with that.
I don't remember what I thought of the checklist at first, or whether I attributed any significance to it, but as I began checking off my rituals and meditations each day, I felt momentum building around my actions. Once I reached certain critical points, like six months of daily meditation, I was confident that I could maintain and expand my level of practice. Due in no small part to the checklist, I've meditated every day for over 15 years, and I've kept a daily checklist as long, with the contents changing a bit as what I decide to monitor varies.
In most spiritual traditions (as well as in psychology) there is an awareness that when we attempt to make changes in our lives, part of us resists. On the one hand, we're creatures of habit, and altering our status quo will inevitably provoke resistance because of that. Beyond that though, there's also a part of us that fears change because it doesn't know what it can predict from new conditions, especially grand frontier change like what can accompany a daily spiritual practice. This part of us is often called the ego in spiritual traditions, and its number one priority is making sure that we don't veer far from our status quo and comfort zone, even if that comfort zone is decidedly uncomfortable.
As long as we don't stray much from our routines and patterns, we won't tend to encounter much ego resistance, but when we do, it becomes noticeable. Most of us experience this when setting New Year's resolutions and realizing that even something that seems totally healthy, like exercising regularly or eating better, can provoke significant resistance within us. It's actually quite difficult to make sustainable, healthy changes in our lives, even in honor of realizing our dreams, because the ego resists them.
In my new book, The Little Work: Magic to Transform Your Everyday Life, I explore this topic in-depth and provide a host of strategies for dealing with this issue, but fundamental to that process is maintaining our awareness of our behavior. Have you ever had the experience of setting a goal or intention only to blink your eyes and realize months have gone by and you've barely thought of it? That's how sneaky the ego can be when it resists something, but with the magic of a checklist, we never fully lose our awareness of what we intend because we've held space for it in our lives. We see, day after day, if we're doing what we said we would or not.
Another reason the checklist is powerful is that it's an objective form of measure. Though there can be acceptable reasons not to do what we said we would, a pattern of that is a problem, and it's invaluable, especially over time, to see trends in our behavior. Maybe there are certain times of year when when tend to waver in our practice, for example. This holds for tracking our level of focus, too. For instance, maybe we maintain our daily meditation practice, but our level of concentration within it has been lackluster for months. Without a checklist, we may simply move along oblivious to that, or that it's such a trend. Recognizing that I wasn't showing up to my practices with as much attentiveness as I once did was what inspired me to integrate this evaluation process with my checklist, and since doing that, I've consistently practiced with a higher degree of attentiveness.
While keeping a checklist, it's important to mind being realistic with what we intend to do and track, and to be compassionate with ourselves throughout the process of our inner work. The point of this isn't to stare at a blank checklist day after day and feel guilty or ashamed because we haven't done something we know is good for us or want to do. If that's what we keep finding ourselves doing, it usually means we overestimated our capacity and would benefit from scaling back. For example, if a daily ritual and meditation practice is too much for us now, how about a small ritual daily and meditation once a week? In my experience, it's far easier and more sustainable to start small and build than to strain ourselves and falter only to give up completely (which many of us have experienced with New Year's resolutions).
That said, even though we may feel uncomfortable looking at our performance level, it's important to be able to accept the reality of where we are in our practice. When we admit and accept where we are, we can strategize doing something to help ourselves live more in alignment with our intentions. That's unlikely to happen if we allow ourselves to consistently make excuses for not doing what we said we would, and after a certain point, the excuses become flimsy. This is a moment when it can be helpful to remind ourselves why doing what we said we would (in general and in particular) is important to us, ideally in a documented form we can revisit and add to later if need be.
Without the aid of a checklist, I have little doubt that magic and meditation wouldn't have been part of my daily life for over fifteen years. I imagine at some point, perhaps many, I would've come up with reasons not to prioritize my practice, and it would've faded from my awareness only for me to hit the start of a new year and resolve to practice again. Because of persevering with my practice, I can confidently say that I've experienced vistas of consciousness and flowerings of magic that were unknown to me before, some even beyond the scope of what I had imagined was possible for myself.
Since beginning my daily practice, more conventional magical tools have come and gone, and when I think about what has contributed the most to my practice, it's the checklist: the most surprising, ordinary-seeming yet super powerful tool in my kit. I can't recommend it highly enough, and your checklist can be composed of whatever you feel it would be beneficial for you to track.
Here are some ideas:
To make a checklist like this, create a document that has a table with the days of the month on the top row, and the items to track in one column on the left. Then, as the month progresses, check off the items as you complete them. Remember to be kind to yourself during this process, and that the purpose of this checklist is to sustain your awareness and help you stay motivated, not to cause you to feel badly about yourself. This is about helping us live in alignment with our intentions, which is one of the most magical things we can do.