I have been interested in magic tricks since childhood. Like many kids, I had my own magic set and learned and performed the basic tricks for family and friends. In adulthood, I have enjoyed learning about the history of stage magic and how many of the tricks are done. (I have no interest in performing since that takes a lot of time, practice, stage presence, and showmanship.)
There are many great magicians, and the greatest is life itself. The greatest magic trick of all is that anything exists at all. Another is that the one appears as many, and even temporarily and locally takes itself to be separate from the whole. And the magic of life is, obviously, what allows our human lives and everything we are and do and experience. It’s also what allows our small stage versions of magic.
What does stage magic have to do with healing and awakening? Healing and awakening require us to see through some of the magic tricks of life. We need to go behind the scenes and see how emotional wounds are created, and how a sense of being (ultimately) a separate being is created.
How does stage magic work? It relies on a solid understanding of human psychology and especially how our mind uses shortcuts and fills in the gaps in our perception. The magician also makes use of misdirection, of distracting our attention away from where and how the trick is done.
The same principles are behind how our mind creates emotional wounds and a sense of being a fundamentally separate being.
How does the mind’s ability to fill in the gaps play a role in stage magic, healing, and awakening? I’ll write more about this below. In essence, the mind operates on limited information and assumptions.
A stage magician may show a woman in a box with the head out one end and the feet out the other. The box is cut in half, and it looks like the woman was cut in half along with the box. We assume the head and the feet belong to the same body, so she has to be cut in half. And yet we know that can’t possibly be the case so we feel bewildered, amazed, and entertained.
A trauma or emotional issue is formed in a similar way. Something happened. We felt overwhelmed and couldn’t process it very well. And we told ourselves scary and stressful stories about the situation and what happened. When we examine those stories, we see that they created the emotional issue, they hold it in place, and they are not accurate. There are other ways of interpreting the situation that are more accurate and kinder and allows the emotional issue to heal. (That’s obviously very simplified.)
Similarly, the mind creates the appearance of being a fundamentally separate self through limited information and assumptions. We may notice the human self operating and that it’s always here. We may not notice that we are not that (but what which is space for it). We are told that we are this human self, and others take us as this human self. So the mind takes itself to fundamentally be this apparently separate human self. It’s innocent and understandable. It happens through assumptions and the mind making use of shortcuts. And stage magic makes use of the same processes of the mind.
Let’s look at misdirection. How does misdirection work in stage magic? With the example above, there is a subtle form of misdirection that allows the trick to be believable. The box often appears much more shallow than it is. For instance, there is a bright side on the box so the box appears as shallow as that bright area. Below, there is a black area that may be set in and appears as just part of the construction of the box. The bright section isn’t deep enough for anybody to curl up in and it distracts us from noticing that there is actually a lot more space in the box than it first looks like.
More common forms of misdirection are words – saying something that isn’t true but sounds plausible. And movement – bringing attention away from where the secret of the trick happens.
How does misdirection work with emotional issues? How does life – or the mind – use misdirection to hold an emotional issue in place?
In order to heal emotional issues, we often need a combination of investigating the thoughts holding it in place, and meeting, feeling, allowing and befriending the emotions and physical sensations connected with the issue. The mind applies misdirection in order to avoid this.
It may be uncomfortable to examine the thoughts, and it’s often uncomfortable to feel and befriend the emotions, so the mind brings attention somewhere else. This misdirection takes the form of reactivity (a reaction to the discomfort) and can come out as compulsive blame, shame, guilt, defensiveness, fueling stressful stories, attaching to ideologies, anger, addictions, and so on.
And how does misdirection work when it comes to awakening? How does life (temporarily and locally) use misdirection in order to take itself as a fundamentally separate being?
Life has to take attention away from what’s here and what’s pretty obvious when it’s noticed. We are that which all our experience happens within and as. We can say that we are consciousness, and to us everything happens within and as consciousness.
The misdirection happens as soon as our mind holds any thought as true, as saying something fundamentally true about life, the world, and ourselves. As soon as that happens, the mind identifies with the viewpoint of the thought and in the process takes itself to be a part of the content of experience (and not that which all experience happens within and as). It takes itself to be a separate being, someone in the wider world.
This becomes a habit. It’s reinforced by people around us who do the same. And it’s reinforced by a lot of different psychological processes.
How is the magic trick actually performed? The main trick has to do with our sense fields (sight, sound, sensations, taste, smell, thought) and how our mind combines them into our experience of the world. As we know from mainstream psychology, the mind is excellent at shortcuts and filling in “the gaps”, and that’s (roughly) how emotional issues are held in place, and it’s also how we come to take ourselves as fundamentally a separate being (and not consciousness all experience happens within and as).
There are many aspects to this. We can say it happens when the mind believes its own stories. When it identifies with or as viewpoints created by these stories. When the mind associates sensations with thoughts (images, words), and the sensations lend a sense of reality and solidity to the thoughts (so they seem true), and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations.
These sensations are typically created by the mind through physical tension. This allows the sensations to either be chronically available or to become available as needed in order for the mind to perceive a thought as true. This is why emotional issues are associated with physical tension (sometimes chronic). And it’s why taking ourselves to fundamentally be a separate being inherently comes with tension and stress.
I have gone more into these mechanics in other articles. Mainly the ones related to Living Inquiries (a modern form of traditional Buddhist inquiry).
Finally, what’s the purpose of stage magic? The purpose of stage magic is to amaze, bewilder, and entertain.
And what’s the purpose of life’s magic? It may not be so different. It’s the play of life. Or the play of the divine – Lila. Existence expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. Existence amazing itself. Existence temporarily bewildering itself. Existence entertaining itself.
- Magic tricks, healing, and awakening
- the greatest magician, life itself, Spirit itself
- from oneness to (temporarily) appear to itself to be many and separate
- can see through
- magic trick – can still be amazed, impressed, enjoy the performance even if know how it’s done, and one of the delights is to figure it out, learn how it’s done, see through it (several delights – take it as presented, learn, enjoy the performance even if know how it’s done)
- misdirection, assumptions
- distract ourselves bc don’t want to rest with uncomfortable sensations/thoughts (scary)
- only stay on the surface, surface appearances of what our mind produces for itself
- e.g. how it appears to us is how it is
- when thoughts have sensations combined with them (associations in our mind), that means what they say to us is true
- accept the illusion as reality
- e.g. thoughts combining with sensations in our mind so thoughts seem true and sensations meaningful
a senseof being a separate self, and everything else with a charge
- aligning with reality, essential for healing and awakening
- need to go behind the scenes, see what’s actually happening, the mechanisms
- the greatest magician, life itself, Spirit itself
How the mind creates its experience of reality
Psychology / who we are
Spirituality / what we are
Sense fields, combine
The whole of reality, as it appears to us, is a magic trick
Spirit creating a magic trick for itself
magic tricks & the divine play
The divine playing a magic trick in itself, is the performer, audience, and the stage and props
appearance of something happening that’s not really happening, e.g. conventional world as most of humanity sees it (isn’t wrong, but is far from the whole picture)
misdirection -> attention somewhere else so miss what’s really going on, the same when the mind identifies with ideas/thoughts, gets distracted away from a direct noticing of all as the divine
The mind creates its own experience, ties it all together into an apparently coherent story, makes a lot of assumptions, fills in the gaps etc
What does stage magic have to do with healing and awakening? Healing and awakening requires a conscious alignment with reality, whether it’s spontaneous (or, at least, appears spontaneous to us since we don’t see what’s happening behind the scenes) or invited through conscious and intentional work on our part (which is a local expression of what’s happening in the larger whole).
So, in a sense, healing and awakening require us to see through some of the magic tricks of life. We need to go behind the scenes and see how emotional wounds are created, and how a sense of being (ultimately) a separate being is created.
How does stage magic work? It relies on a solid understanding of human psychology, usually both intuitive and explicit. And it relies on a great performance. The psychology makes use of misdirection, of distracting our attention away from where and how the trick is done. Universal assumptions about how the world works built into us through evolution, culture, and personal experience. And people accepting what they see – and assume they see – as reality, at least at some level,
And that’s exactly how life and our mind creates emotional wounds and a sense of fundamentally being a separate being.