Musing #10: Magic
Don't be afraid, child. Just cautious.
I was only twelve years old when Magic first broke my heart. Back then, birthdays were still a big deal for me, and the gifts I received dictated the theme of my happy new year. I mean that literally because my birthday falls on January 1st. For the first eleven years of my life, magic was something I watched adults do at other kids’ birthdays. Then, one cold winter brought in my twelfth cycle on Earth, and with it a most peculiar gift: A Magician’s toolkit.
The kit had all sorts of things: A disappearing coin cup, an appearing flower, a finger chopper, several multi-sized cups, a growing wand, a shrinking rope, a deck of floating cards, a bunch of rainbow rings, and a cute little magician top hat. A simple instructional manual was enclosed. It blew my mind that a kid like me can make magic happen.
I ignored all my other gifts (back then I would get more gifts in one birthday than I do now in ten), and I practiced these magic tricks as much as I could. I got the validation I needed from my six-year-old sister, as I still do now 22 years later. I did the disappearing coin pretty well, and had various levels of success with others. Come spring, I decided to put on my first (and last) show.
It happened on a family and friends trip. My parents, three sets of married adults, and five children, were all sitting in my forced audience. I had spent most of the trip practicing in my room and avoiding people. I set all my objects on a table in the wide open shared living room, as the families collected themselves.
I sensed my faltering at the very beginning as I opened the show. A looming awkwardness that jerked out of me, in response to the thirteen pairs of eyes that were staring and waiting to be entertained. My opening was supposed to be funny, but all I remember of it is the wet blanket of silence. I tried the disappearing coin, but the coin stayed where it was. I attempted the growing wand, but it only grew a quarter of the way. I took a leap of faith, in one last attempt to impress them by reading Aunt Suzie’s card. I was off on both shape and suite. Suzie laughed with an echo.
There was laughter where there was supposed to be awe, and words of encouragement were there was supposed to be applause. It was the last time I did magic tricks. By summer, the kit -alongside my cute little magician top hat- lived in the darkest corner of my closet, alongside skeletons of other toys that had lost their joy.
I grew out of it, and by my 18th birthday, I was celebrating having become a man of science. A doctor-to-be. A no nonesense healer of the world, with no time for “tricks” and “art”. Those were for the weak. Medical books became my closest friends (and enemies), and I stayed focused, stressed out, dropped basketball, and picked up smoking and coffee instead.
I took a lot of pride in my “Scientific Mindset”, which had no room for mushy abra cadabra and wishy washy cats that spoke about “their feelings”. I killed that curiosity around magic, and kept its body buried in my closet, alongside my old toys, my medical school skeletons and cadavers lay on top of it.
The first time magic re-entered my life after that, was through two movies that happened to come out back to back in 2006: Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman’s The Prestige blew my mind, and then, Ed Norton’s The Illusionist was even better! Magic was suddenly cool again, and I can talk to people about it, thanks to these movies. (PS: The Illusionist is way better)
I let magic slowly reenter my life. This time it was not about tricks, both these movies helped me understand that magic is about transformation more than anything. I was however so resistant to transformation in my own life, because I was stuck in the confined possibilities of a medical student. Something trickled down into my subconscious though.
I finished school, did my internship, and made it to the most prestigious Tufts Medical Center. I was so miserable. I remember my 22nd birthday in the snow and how sad I was. Sitting in the medical intern room and wondering where I had gone wrong. Everything I worked for and believed in, turned out to not be good for me. I felt suffocated by life, and there was a deeper need for something that just was not there.
I started having some strange thoughts at first. I just wanted to run away, not sure where. Brazil was high on the list, Thailand too. I didn’t care what I did, I just wanted something to yank my soul and shake it back to be amongst the ranks of the happy and well citizens of planet Earth. Deep down, I know that the magic was in me, I just could not access it. Just like Tantalus, I would reach for it, and it would disappear.
I had to be pushed so far, under the cold and calculating weight of science, to realize that magic was too important to not pursue. I let go of my white coat, and put on an invisibility cloak instead. I traveled far and disappeared. That is when the little magician started reappearing, the twelve year old kid started crawling from beneath the dust, through the -literal- skeletons in my closet, and surfaced sometime after my 25th birthday.
Once again, I was a curious monkey. Somehow everything I felt I missed out on, was once again possible. Life’s flower opened up its petals once again, and offered me its sweet nectar of transformation. I sucked it all up, and even though Science was still what paid the bills, Magic was what the bills were for.
Today, I write this as I inch closer to my 35th Birthday, and I find that Magic is everywhere. Without it, we are devoid of what makes life worth living. The problem is that we are putting in juxtaposition to Science. As if one of them is better than the other. But what happens when we see them as different languages for the same thing?
Today, I see magic in our understanding of psychology. I see magic in flowers and I know that bees and pollen and nectars are involved, but what I see are vivid colors, awe and an attraction that is stronger than anything science can explain. I also recognize fellow magicians, and see initiates everywhere I go.
I also see the abuse of magic in the world. I see those who seek it, and those who pose with some authority behind it. These shadow magicians convince those seeking magic, that their purpose is the higher one. I also have been in the presence of real shamans, ones who really do understand the layers of souls and the purity human transformation. These are very humble creatures, but the ones with the big shiny wizard hats - those are definitely the ones you should be cautious of.
There is an essay called SSOTBME, which keeps blowing my mind and I will be sharing much of what I found in it over the summer with you. Here is a great quote:
“If you dismiss, say, Jungian psychological approaches to magic because you insist that ‘real’ magic is all about robes, incense, barbaric conjurations and ritual sacrifice, then you are doing no better than someone who insists that scientists are not ‘real’ unless they have hair like Einstein, thick spectacles and white lab coats; or that ‘real’ artists must be penniless; or that ‘true’ religious believers must be dogmatic fundamentalists.”
Dukes, Ramsey. SSOTBME Revised – an essay on magic .
I see the world today as divided between strict Magicians and strict Scientists. I call bullshit on both. Stop seeing the world from one lens because you are too lazy to perceive it in a new way. You are the problem, not the other guy. So the next time you think someone is too rigid, or too woo-woo, perhaps you can ask yourself why they see the world that way.
And when you are angry in an argument, think about what this situation might have taught you. Because it today’s world my friends, we need both. Over the next few weeks I will be exploring the themes outlined in SSBOTME around how Religion, Art, Science and Magic all intertwine and interact.
May you have a little more hocus pocus in your life this week,
If you made it all way here, then you may appreciate this post I wrote nine months ago:
This line is so powerful: "I see the world today as divided between strict Magicians and strict Scientists. I call bullshit on both." So much of our thinking right now is either / or. I've been really into Iain McGilchrist's work lately, and he argues that there's a similar division between science and philosophy. His belief is that they both need more of each other. I think he's right.
Great writing as usual. I get the magic part totally, I see it everywhere ❤️