A guest posting by Pseudogordon Budapestensis*
God was it embarrassing!
You have to picture this, all you magical dudes and dudettes: there I was ensconced at a table in the Cafe Angelica, playing my iPad and my Nexus cell phone with VanCliburn virtuosity, planning the next jet-setting, globetrotting, multimedia feat of awesomeness I will unleash upon an unsuspecting and largely undeserving world. I was basking in the glow of my worldliness and the admiration of the blond real-estate dealer at the next table, in her candy-apple red suit with a flashy orange and yellow neck scarf, who was was leading a pheromone-drunk Russian investor by the nose. I could see he was going to buy whatever she was selling. It was awesome.
Red Suit kept smiling approvingly as I was breezing through tables and graphics and typing text and binding them together into a formidable Gesamtkunstwerk of a presentation that would make Chuck Saatchi look like an amateur. I desperately wanted to unbutton the collar of the Yves shirt and loosen the Boss tie I bought yesterday, but knew it would put a dent in my look (you have to suffer to be awesome).
And that’s when it happened.
This fifty-something bloke in wrinkled black chinos and a blue and black herring-bone tweed jacket that had seen better days came shambling into the room with his tastelessly overstuffed black leather briefcase, and then crossed straight over to my table. He stood opposite me and fixed me with his black-ringed but very intense blue eyes and said, in his American-ish mid-Atlantic accent “PB, we gotta talk.”
“Do I know you?”
Bloke looked oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place him.
“You should. You’re my alter-ego after all.”
Bloke sat down at my table without being invited and banged me in the shin with his briefcase.
“Ouch! What do you carry in there? Bricks?”
“Look! I have some work for you.”
“But I have a presentation to give tomorrow!”
Bloke just waved his hand dismissively and went on.
“Fact is, I’ve gotten tired of the whole energy debate that’s been sucking up all the oxygen in our blogosphere lately, and my weekly deadlines are wearing me out. But I got a brilliant idea the other day, and I thought it was just the sort of thing you’re good at writing.”
I cast a quick glance over to the next table. They were examining floor plans together, and the Russian guy was artlessly using the opportunity to squeeze close to her and to “accidentally” touch her hand while pointing at things on the plan. She looked up at me, and a faintly quizzical expression colored her face, expressing the thought, “Who is that decidedly unfashionable codger at your table,” Oh, God. How unawesome! I prayed that someone would call from Paris right then so I could ostentatiously speak French on the cell phone and recapture some of my suavity.
Bloke was unrelenting.
“You see, my wife gave me a guitar for my birthday, and I’ve been doing internet tutorials, and…”
“And what’s this got to do with me? I don’t have time for this now. I have a presentation tomorrow at…”
“No you don’t. There is no presentation. You’re a projection of myself. Whether you like it or not, you have to do what I want.”
I felt like he had just poured a bucket of cold water over my head. Now I remembered this guy. He’s the one who uses me to fantacize about his lost youth. It’s humiliating to be created and used that way.
“…and while I’ve been learning and practicing” Bloke went on “it’s hit me that learning guitar is a metaphor for, well, just about anything. And I got to thinking about those cheesy, um, er, I mean ‘commercial’ service articles you’re so good at whipping out. You know: the kind of thing general circulation publications love so much, like ‘Three Ways to Recycle Leftover Paella,’ or ‘How to Politely Tell Your Boss He’s a Hopeless Weenie’. I was thinking of a posting called ‘Why Magic is Like Learning to Play Guitar’. What do you think? It’s just your sort of thing.”
I absent-mindedly moved some objects around on the iPad screen, half-heartedly pretending I was still “working”, while trying to think of a way to talk my way out of this lame project. Red Suit and the Russian had, in the meantime, ordered champagne. It seems a deal had been made and they were celebrating.
“Oh! I almost forgot” Bloke said, and began cramming around in his jacket. While searching the pockets he emptied their contents onto the table top: several crumpled tissues, a pen drive, a tube of lip balm, no less than two orthodontically correct pacifiers, a Lego brick, two small notebooks, a butane lighter, two tea lights (one partially burnt), a wood-bead rosary…
Red Suit was laughing raucously and starting to get physical with the Russian. A waiter appeared at our table with a small bottle of champagne and two glasses. “Complements of the gentleman” the waiter said, tilting his head toward their table as he popped the cork, after which he poured us each a glass and discretely disappeared.
“Ah! Here it is!”
Bloke produced a dog-ear piece of folded paper and began flattening it out on the table with the side of his hand. I impatiently gestured that he should remove all this rubbish from our table, which Bloke completely ignored.
“Now these are the notes I made while riding on the Metro this morning…”
“I haven’t actually agreed to…”
“I think you’ll easily be able to flesh them out.”
And then he slid the paper across the table to me, stood up, and began stuffing things back into his jacket pockets.
“You really don’t expect me to…”
He abruptly cut me off by thrusting his fist toward me with his index finger pointing straight up. He fixed me with those grey blue eyes and authoritatively whispered “Yes I do. By tonight at midnight. Oh. And one more thing. No black swans. They’re getting to be a cliché.”
At this he picked up his briefcase, took a quick sip of the champagne, turned toward the door and headed away. I heard the cell phone in his pocket play The Rolling Stones’ “Little T and A”. He stopped at the entrance to the room and pulled it out of his pocket.
“Hi sweetheart… Mmhhmmm… I just had a little business to attend to on the way home… Mmhhhmmm… a kilo of flour and a carton of sour cream… Anything else?”
He turned and fixed me again with his grey-blue eyes and menacingly mouthed “midnight”. Then he turned away and left. I could hear his voice trailing away in the distance.
So there I sat, alone. The only evidence that he’d been here was a half-empty champagne glass with lip marks on it, and a pacifier he’d missed while gathering up his things. Oh. And the wrinkled piece of paper with his scribbled notes.
Red Suit and the Russian were leaving arm in arm. As they passed my table, the Russian placed his business card on my table and gave my shoulder a friendly pat. So now I was all alone. I picked up the notes and read them. And like a dutiful alter-ego, set to work for my alpha personality. So, without further ado, here is:
Why magic is like learning to play guitar
So, Bloke (Hereinafter Scribbler, since that’s how you lot know him) seems to think this is profound. I’ll humour him and parse this out in the classic list of seven. (Cheesy! Commercial! Why, the nerve of him!)
1. The Danger of Getting Obsessed. The thrill of actually being able to play a chord or two and get the guitar to make pretty sounds that really “sound like something” infected Scribbler with the desire to sit for hours a day plinking away at the ol’ git-fiddle. But he was wise enough to realize that, not only would the fingertips on his left hand turn into minced meat, but he could easily burn out his enthusiasm and lose interest in a few weeks. One must pace oneself for the long haul. Learning guitar is a marathon, not a sprint.
The same goes for magic. It is all too easy to spend all your spare time reading “many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”, and planning your next ritual, potion, incense, talisman, etc. But you have to be careful. Magic is like a strong spice. You add bits of it here and there into your life to make it into an interesting and delicious dish. Add too much at one time, and it can become unpalatable and inedible. And you become a bore. Nobody likes someone who always talks about the same thing all the time.
2. Daily Practice. For skating it’s school figures. For Japanese martial arts it’s katas. For the beginning guitar player it’s finger exercises, or scales, or strumming patterns. For magic it’s visualization, or memorizing god names, or pranayama, or basic rituals (depending on what path you are following). But you won’t get anywhere unless you do whatever you have set out to do with regularity. It can be boring. As a matter of fact, the person who succeeds in their given discipline is the one who works through the boredom by applying one-pointed concentration or finds a calm settling of the being in the regular practice.
3. Theoretical knowledge and practical. You can spend years in institutions of higher education studying musicology, even earning PhDs with dissertations that nobody but a handful of scholars with a similar interest will understand. Music is a bottomless subject. And there are many theoretical and abstract things (e.g. how half steps and whole steps make up the seven-note scale) that have great impact on how easily or how well you learn the guitar. And (in theory) the greater your knowledge of the structure and theory of music, the more subtle and nuanced your skill at playing will be. But the relationship is not one-to-one, and you begin to get diminishing returns for the time and effort you put into theoretical study (at least in the short run). But you also won’t get very far focusing exclusively on hands-on practice of technique. You have to decide on what is the right balance for you and your purposes.
Do you see the parallel to magic (think of a spectrum from high-minded armchair magician to spiritually shallow-but-deadly effective sorcerer)?
4. Expensive pass times. You can spend a bleeding fortune on the supplies for both of them if you aren’t careful. Let me see: capo, carrying case, guitar stand, electronic tuner, music stand, song books… And then there’s: herbs and oils, ready-made incenses, various papers and pens for talismans, metals for talismans, candles of all sizes and colors, dagger, notebooks, crystal ball, gemstones, books, tarot decks, wood burning tool…
5. As Plato said… They both quickly make you aware of how much you don’t know, and how much there is to learn.
6. Incremental rewards. Within a few days Scribbler learned a perfectly dreadful three-chord version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” that he’s willing to inflict on any family member who isn’t moving through the room fast enough. But the harmony between the vocal and the guitar when he switches from the A chord to the E chord in the verse gives him goose bumps every time, and the satisfaction that he is making music. If, during your early involvement with magic you sincerely engage in some sort of regular practice (not just reading) in your magical training, you will get some sort of result, however subtle, but still perceptible. And it will give you goose bumps.
7. Black Swan. I don’t care what Bloke says. If he wants me to write this for him, there’s going to be a bleeding black swan in it. And, I mean, there’s a black swan here as big as an elephant. The day before his birthday, Scribbler had no idea he was going to get a guitar. But look at him now! He’s rearranging his schedule to have a little time to practice every day. He’s surfing for videos of old songs he knows to see how hard the guitar part is. He’s stopping to watch street musicians and observing how their left hands form chords.
And he has no idea where this will all lead.
OK, Bloke. I’ve done my duty. I’m emailing this to you and then buggering off to another cafe where… I. Hope. You. Won’t. Find. Me.
By the way. The Russian placed his business card on my table face down. When I turned it over, just now, I saw a large long-necked dark-feathered water fowl in the upper right-hand corner. The name of his firm is Black Swan Investments.
I think I’ll give him a call tomorrow. Maybe I’ll show him my presentation.
*a posting à clef
There are still faint echoes of the Great Energy Debate reverberating around our corner of the blogosphere. A little over a week ago Patrick Dunn and Jason Miller took up the cudgels and duked it out. (Like gentlemen, of course. Marquess of Queensbury and all that. Though Jason did accuse Patrick of a shot below the belt with his straw man argument.)
Patrick is a real purist. Not only does he have quibbles with the semantics of the term “energy” – which many agree exists in some way, but shouldn’t be called by that name – but insists that it plays no part in magic whatsoever.
For all of the energy doubters out there, and perhaps to lend support to the energy-positive crowd out there, let me give you something to chew on.
Several years ago I discovered the Heartmath website, and have visited it many times since to read the many articles and publications available there. It has made a profound impact on the way I perceive the nature of the human vehicles, that is: our many bodies.
Although I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of scientific research to prove the truth of mystical doctrines (I am satisfied with the anecdotal proof that they work for me and people I know), I am highly impressed and appreciative of the work the Institute of Heart Math has done. Through their studies, these doctors and scientist are providing proof that the human heart is everything it is reputed to be in myth, art, folk wisdom and esoteric doctrines. And then some.
And this isn’t fuzzy pseudo science either. These are full-blown double-blind experiments using standardized scientific measuring instruments, analyzed with accepted statistical methods, and producing repeatable results.
But, now, with that introduction out of the way, let me tell you some of the discoveries and concepts these folks publish on their site.
— The greatest electromagnetic field generated in the human body does not — as one might think — come from the brain. Not by a long shot. That honor goes to the heart. As a matter of fact, the heart projects a field that instruments can detect several meters away from the body. The effects of this field on a glass of water can be detected several meter away from the body.
— The heart is part of our thinking processes. The complexity of its neural system is second only to the brain itself. Not only does evidence show that there is some manner of cognition going on within the heart, research shows that the heart actually regulates the brain through its connections to the hypothalamus. These systems work best when the heart is in charge, telling the brain what to think, rather than the brain running rampant and making the heart malfunction. The brain is supposed to be the servant of the heart, not the other way around.
— The rhythmic signal broadcast by the heart field serves as a clock to all the cells of the body. All cellular and organ functions react to the pattern of its electromagnetic pulse.
— When two people are within one another’s heart field, the patterns shown on their EKG readings adapt to one another, that is: features of the one person’s heart rhythms show in the other’s.
— Well-being is reflected by and induced by what is called “heart coherence”. That is: the more regular the interval between beats, the more regular the elements of the heartbeat, as well as the consistency of the amplitude of the pulses, the better all of the body’s processes function.
—This coherence is measurably induced by thoughts of love for fellow human beings, memories of happiness, and contemplation of beauty, as well as slow, rhythmic, deep breathing. This is the raison d’etre of the Heatmath Institute: to discover practical methods individuals can use to establish ever more coherent heart functioning and to teach these methods to everyone in need. Their track record with improving the quality of life of the people who use their methods is impressive. I have incorporated some of their exercises into my regular routines.
—The proximity of an individual with a very coherent heart rhythm has a measurably beneficial effect on the heart patterns of the persons they are near. But their research has revealed something even more amazing. They have measured this same effect at distances of many miles. They monitored pairs of individuals at great distances from one another. One individual would do exercises to establish greater heart coherence (mostly breathing, visualization and emotional manipulation) and then concentrated on the other individual. The EKG and other readings of the object individual would become more coherent and show elements of the sender’s heart signature.
This is where I ask how this phenomenon can be explained without resort to some sort of psychic “energy” theory. The effects of one heart on another at close range can still be explained by electromagnetism (which is still a very “physical” kind of energy). But 25 miles away? There’s some other kind of energy exchange going on here.
At this point I’d also like to introduce some — albeit anecdotal — personal experience.
There is an exercise I learned from Joseph Weed’s book The Wisdom of the Mystic Masters that I have used daily for years. It is simplicity itself, and I have adapted it to several uses and have developed more elaborate versions of it. It works like this:
1. Activate the psychic center of the heart (methods of your choosing).
2. Visualize and feel the heart center projecting a luminous rose-pink cloud around your body.
3. Through an act of will, separate a portion of that cloud and send it to the person/entity/body you wish to benefit. As you see the cloud surrounding your target, feel love in your heart for whom you are sending this heart “energy”.
4. Consider the goal accomplished. Get up and go about your business and avoid dwelling on the thoughts about the exercise you have done.
Depending on the severity of the person’s difficulties (health, financial, marital, etc.) I will do this exercise daily for someone/something (my object was once a kindergarten) for anywhere from one week to three months. Although I occasionally do this service without being asked, I usually ask a person if they would like my metaphysical help. Too much helping without asking is meddling. I have seen results that are nothing less than miraculous. I know one woman who feels undying gratitude for helping her turn her life around. And that’s often what happens.
It seems to “fortify” people. Whatever it was that they might have known (consciously or unconsciously) they really needed to do, once they get this extra boost of vital force/heart energy/love/whatever you want to call it, they seem to gain the strength to see clearly and screw up their courage to tackle their problems. At first I was willing to believe that it was all coincidence, but over the years it has become obvious to me that the odds are against people suddenly happening to get their lives together at the very time I am doing this exercise for them.
The point of this whole posting is that I have a really hard time explaining all these phenomena of the heart without seeing it from an energy perspective. And it’s not just a matter of explaining it or intellectualizing it. Energy is the way I perceive it. There are sensations – both physical and emotional – when the heart is activated and the rose-colored light radiates. There is a sensation of contact when the target is surrounded with the light. I’m not about the begin doubting my own inner perceptions of what’s happening just because someone has a model of what happens in magic that doesn’t take these aspects into account.
To give the Information Model its due: I am certain information plays a role. In order for information (a signal) to be communicated there needs to be a carrier (energy in the form of vibrations) and a pattern encoded into this vibratory energy flow. I’m certain that anyone with well tuned psychic senses, when sensing the influx of energy sent through my exercise, could easy detect that it came from me. That’s because the energy is imprinted with information that is unique to me. I think this is a vital key to the phenomenon.
This also keys into the Spirit Model. Spirits are also embodied in energy vibrating at a very high frequency. We can recognize various spirits because they each have a unique vibratory nature, i.e. they embody different information. The way spirits interact with us is to affect the part of us that vibrates at the same rate/level that they do, i.e. they interact with that particular “body” of ours that is most like them. But since they themselves are physically disembodied, and therefore don’t have the characteristics we are accustomed to associating with individuality and personality, their interaction with us is not subject to the sharp us/them me/it distinction we are comfortable with. This explains the whole “Are they separate from me or a part of my psyche?” debate. The answer is both: they are distinct beings, but when they are interacting with you, the line blurs a bit. The ramifications for the Psychological Model should be obvious.
I ask the ladies and gentlemen of the jury to accept this late entry to the The Great Energy Debate.