Lesson 5) Occlumency
How successful were you at understanding your own thoughts? Was it easy for you to explore how you think about something? Did you end up where you expected to as you thought about the word “wand”? Though these questions seem unimportant, as demonstrated in your assignment, these types of questions are forms of the questions that Legilimens ask each time they attempt to probe someone’s mind. Knowing how someone may have ended up at a particular thought is one of the most important skills a Legilimens can possess.
Today, we will be continuing our discussion of the mind by delving into the mental practices associated with Occlumency, the companion art to Legilimency.
What Is Occlumency?
Occlumency is the art of closing the mind to exterior forces that may attempt to penetrate it. This is done through many different practices, which we will go over shortly. What many scholars debate is whether Occlumency is truly a branch of magic. While it is most certainly a counter to Legilimency, which is without a doubt a type of magic (with a spell and all), there is no “Occlumency Spell.” You can’t wave your wand and raise mental barriers that prevent someone from reading and interpreting your thoughts. Instead, this mental strength can only be developed through time and practice. In all reality, a Muggle could practice the art of Occlumency, as there is no real magic to it, though a Muggle would be incapable of preventing an attack from even a beginner Legilimens.
What is occurring, then? As previously mentioned, Occlumency is the art of building mental barriers that prevent an opposing force from using Legilimency to read your thoughts. These mental barriers, though, are more accurately describes as an absence of thought. When you are practicing and performing Occlumency, you are attempting to erase all thoughts from your mind and present your opponent with a blank slate. As most of you should be aware by now, thanks to your meditation practices, it is much easier said than done to completely clear your mind. Stray thoughts always seem to arise at the most inopportune moments and, once a stray thought arises, it is very easy to fall down the rabbit hole and end up on a variety of topics that can provide an assailant with more information than you intend to present.
What, then, can an Occlumens do to clear the mind? Well, there are many techniques that can be chosen, and some more skilled Occlumens have so much control over their minds that they are capable of controlling their thoughts so that lies appear to be truths and truths appear to be lies. At this point in your mental training, I do not expect any of you to be able to produce that kind of misdirection. Instead, I will present a few options, with explanations about how to do them most effectively, that are more appropriate for your skill level.
Though there are many techniques that Occlumens use to control, suppress, and redirect their thoughts to protect their minds, I have found several techniques have worked. Many of them work in tandem and, therefore, will be presented as a single technique. For the purposes of this lesson, I will present as much information about the mental processes that are occurring with each technique, but will also present external reading for those of you who wish to understand in greater detail the techniques and how they work.
Distraction may seem like a relatively obvious option, yet it is one with more psychological backing than may first be noticed. The first technique that can be utilized in order to help clear the mind, in a sense, is to distract yourself by thinking about something else. This requires that the mind is not cleared, but is actively focusing on one particular thing. Focus your mind on a single thing. The mind, which can truly only focus on one thing at a time, will in turn block out all other thoughts than the one you are focusing on at the moment.
This will develop your mental shields against a Legilimens, but only if you are careful with the thought you choose to focus on. If you are attempting to block a Legilimens from finding out information about your family, it would not do to focus on the thought of what you need to do at home, or what your house looks like. Each of these would be thoughts that a skilled Legilimens would be able to use in order to learn about your family. While some of the tasks can be harmless enough, simple slips happen. For example, if you think about cooking dinner, you will likely think about the time that you want dinner to be ready. This tells someone a time that you and at least some of your family will be home. Take that thought further, and if you think about what you are making, they can learn a lot about your family’s dietary habits. Perhaps you think about needing to substitute apples in a recipe. This would tell the Legilimens that you are either out of apples or that someone in your family is allergic to apples. If you are out of apples, then you may soon be planning a trip to the grocery store to get apples; if someone is allergic, they now have a weapon to use against your family.
This technique is one of the reasons I had you perform the exercise that you did last class session. You need to be aware of what people can learn about you through the simplest of thoughts. I encourage you to continue this practice - thinking about what someone could learn about you based on simple thoughts.
The next technique is one that I tend to prefer: the technique of substitution. The substitution that occurs does not have to be as simple as “replace something important in a thought with something unimportant.” In fact, substitution is most effective when you, to an extent, use distraction to put the whole mind to work. Do not just substitute one thing, substitute the whole room, instead. In your mind, substitute your current position with a position in a safe place. Develop this safe thought to the extent that it takes up the entirety of your mind. Make it so prominent that no other space in your mind can exist. Focus on every little detail.
As an example, the space that I have developed as my safe thought is a place in the woods. When I go here, I am sitting on the stump of an aspen tree, the same type of tree that has given me my wand. The sun is warming my back as it sets. There is a brook that flows near me and I can hear the water trickle by. There are a variety of different birds that inhabit my space, including cardinals, hummingbirds, and hawks. There are also many magical creatures such as Billywigs, Bowtruckles, imps, and the occasional Swooping Evil. I can smell the grass, freshly mown, as it sways in the gentle breeze. I am wearing what I always wear: my emerald green robes with a black, cotton shirt on underneath it. My pants are loose and comfortable, but not so loose that they would get in my way should I need to move, though I know there is no reason for me to move.
If a Legilimens would attempt to enter my mind, they would enter to grove and see the scene I have just described above, but in much more detail. They would attempt to go further by leaving the grove, but at that moment I am in control of them. I create the paths out of the grove. The trees and underbrush grow so thickly that the assailant has no choice but to follow the paths that I create. All paths will always lead back to my grove. However, I have provided one detail that I would normally leave out. One particular aspect of that grove would provide a Legilimens with a pathway into my mind. Can you determine what it is? If not, you should consider revisiting that scene and figuring it out. Remember, find the details that stand out.
By now you should all be well set in your meditation practices. You have been meditating since Year Two, and have had much time to improve your own ability. Now you have a real opportunity to use those skills in a more practical way. Those meditation skills that you have been honing have the ability to help you focus your mind to the point that a Legilimens would find the mind to be effectively empty. In order to accomplish this, you will need to add a new component. It is not just enough to meditate and clear the mind. As you should well know, even the clearest mind is prone to stray thoughts. Those stray thoughts can lead a Legilimens in. Therefore, you need to add a component of mindfulness to your meditation.
What is mindfulness? To simplify it as much as possible, it is being totally in the moment. This means that you are aware of everything that you are experiencing right now, in this classroom. What do you hear? Your first reaction may be to say my lecture, but what else do you hear? Do you hear the chatter of the students in the hall, talking about their Alchemy lesson that they just got out of? What about the click of my feet against the floor as I walk around the room? Next, think about what you physically feel. You may say that you feel the chair against your rears while you sit, but that is not wholly accurate. You are feeling the clothes you are wearing. How do they feel? On what parts of your body do you feel the most pressure while you sit?
If you remember back to your early work in Transfiguration, you were taught to explore the objects you want to transform by utilizing all of your senses. This is simply an extension of that to place you so fully in the moment and to fill your mind so completely with the here and now that anyone attempting to read your mind will have no way to explore further than what you are experiencing right now. Just take care not to think of your here and now experiences with relations to other thoughts. Focus entirely on right now.
I have given you a lot to consider, and I am sure some of you already know exactly which technique for clearing your mind and developing a shield against a Legilimens you prefer. For your homework, I want you to attempt the development of a safe thought. Create a space that so completely fills your mind, and that you have complete control over, that you could use to protect your thoughts against an assailant. As promised, you also have a midterm examination to take.
Next lesson, we begin our discussion of creatures of the mind. These creatures will require thought to defend yourself against, not just brute strength. I hope you all are prepared.
Bergland, Christopher. “5 Neuroscience Based Ways to Clear Your Mind.” Psychology Today,
15 April 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/5-
“Getting Started with Mindfulness.” Mindful, 2015, https://www.mindful.org/meditation/
Bergland, Christopher. “Mindfulness: The Power of ‘Thinking About Your Thinking.’” Psychology
Today, 9 April 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/mindfulness-the-power-thinking-about-your-thinking.
“Getting Started with Mindfulness.” Mindful, 2015, https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/.
Note: Some sources may contain advertisements. The professor of this course and HiH are in no way affiliated with these websites. The provided links for reading are purely for the information that is presented on the pages provided.