Magic tricks & Awakening

I have written about this a few times before, but wanted to revisit it briefly.

Magic tricks take advantage of the mind’s ability to take shortcuts. We don’t process everything from scratch, and it wouldn’t even be possible. We operate from our biology and assumptions based on experience and what we learn from others.

Most of the time, this works very well. We see a head sticking out from behind a tree and legs poking out on the other side, assume there is a person behind the tree that the head and legs belong to, and it’s usually correct. We drop something, assume it will fall, and it almost always does.

And it’s what magicians take advantage of. They set up a situation that’s familiar to us, our mind automatically makes assumptions and takes shortcuts, and that’s how we are tricked. We imagine something happening that isn’t. We experience the dissonance between what we think happened, based on our assumptions, and knowing it couldn’t have possibly happened that way.

We see a woman in a box with the head and feet sticking out. The box is sawed in two. And we imagine there is half of a woman in each part of the box while knowing that’s impossible. (In reality, there is either one real woman in one section and artificial feet in the other, or one real woman in each part and half of their bodies hidden from view.)

Assumptions & shortcuts

How does this relate to awakening?

The same principles are what prevent us from noticing what we are. Life is the magician and tricks us into thinking that what we fundamentally are is this human being, and the way it happens is the same. Our mind operates from assumptions and shortcuts.

A central assumption is that we most fundamentally are this human being, so that’s how we perceive and live. We make it come true for ourselves, in our own experience. And we have many other assumptions that branch out from and support this assumption and make it seem even more solid and real.


Another central principle of magic tricks is misdirection. Our attention is led away from where the magic is happening. A magician holds a ball in one hand, appears to put it in the other, holds up the closed hand we now think is holding the ball to bring our attention there, while the first hand – which is still holding the ball – drops it in the pocket.

How does misdirection play a role in the context of awakening?

Our mind is fascinated by stories it holds as true. That’s the misdirection. This distracts us from the actual magic, which is how our mind creates its perception of reality. And it distracts us from what we really are, which is capacity for our world.

Learning how the magic tricks are done

For me, there is a double enjoyment of good magic tricks. First, from the initial and often baffling performance, and then from learning how it’s done.

Sometimes, the effect may be good while the method – if based in gimmicks more than skill – is a bit disappointing. Other times, the method makes me appreciate, admire, and enjoy the trick even more.

When we examine and see how our mind performs its magic tricks, both apply. In one sense, it’s almost laughably simple and it seems baffling that we are able to trick ourselves that way. In another sense, it’s very impressive.

How can we see through the main magic trick of the mind?

The main magic trick of the mind is to create a sense of us, most fundamentally, as this human being.

So how can we see through it?

To notice what we are, our assumptions need to be set aside for a moment.

This can happen through a long practice and investigation process. We can do basic meditation and notice and allow what’s here, which allows our identification with our thoughts to soften so it’s easier to notice what we are. We can also chip away at one assumption and belief at a time, through inquiry. (The Work of Byron Katie, Living Inquiry.)

And we can notice what we are relatively quickly through guided inquiry. (Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.) We can find ourselves as Big Mind, or as capacity for our world.

In most cases, these slow and fast approaches work very well together. The slow can create a more solid basis, and the fast gives us an immediate taste of what it’s about.

The real magician & lila

So who is really the magician? We can say it’s life, Spirit, or our mind.

And who is the audience that’s temporarily tricked? Again, it’s life, Spirit, or our mind.

Another word for these magic tricks is lila – the play of Spirit, existence, or our mind. It’s how this awake capacity can experience time, space, multitudes, taking itself as ultimately a being, and everything that comes from all of this.

It’s how…. the timeless can take itself as time and being within time, the spaceless as space and happening within space, the no-thing can appear as a thing, the one as many, the seamless whole as separate, the void as substantial, and so on.

A few more details

I’ll add a few things for clarification.

When I say “capacity for our world”, it means capacity for all the content of our experiences – thoughts, feelings, sensations, sights, sounds, smell, and so on. We are capacity for this human self and the wider world. It’s all happening within and as what we are. To ourselves, this is our fundamental nature.

When our mental field (mental images and words) combines with sensations, it’s because our mind associated certain thoughts with certain bodily sensations, and these thoughts give meaning to the sensations and the sensations give a sense of solidity and substance (reality, truth) to the thoughts. This is how a thought or assumption appears true to us. And when we explore this, the “glue” or associations tend to weaken and we may even recognize what’s happening as it’s happening.

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