By Bob Makransky
(This essay originally appeared in the May 2009 Magical Almanac Ezine. Used here with the author’s permission.)
It’s difficult to understand what magic is without understanding the nature of the self and reality. This is not an irrelevant question which is best relegated to Philosophy 101 – meaningless, empty talk which philosophers debate about endlessly to no purpose. Rather, understanding what the self and reality really are cuts to the very heart of magic. It’s a question of everyday life, of where we focus our moment-to-moment attention. It is by scrutinizing this question and not allowing themselves to be fooled by superficial appearances that magicians obtain whatever advantage they have over most people, not by supernormal powers. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our society that the antics of so-called celebrities, and the latest fashions, buzz-words, and gadgets, are much more important to most people than the questions, “Who am I?”, “What am I?”, and “What the hell is going on here?”
A fundamental principle of magic is that reality – what we experience when we are awake – is but a specialized form of dreaming. Dreaming came first evolutionarily, and being awake is a later adaptation, rather than vice versa. We believe that what we experience when we are awake is real. However, it is also true that we believe that what we experience when we are asleep is real – at least while we are still dreaming. It is merely the belief that what we are experiencing is real that makes it real. This seems to be a very difficult point for people to understand. We indeed create our own realities. There is no outside reality impinging upon us, in spite of superficial appearances to the contrary. What we experience as the outside world, or reality, is no more real than the dreams we had last night.
Why then does the world that we experience while we are awake seem so real? This is due to our constant thinking, our constant inner dialogue, which holds our waking reality together for us. If our self-referent thinking stops, so too does our reality.
If you objectively examine the contents of your inventory of habitual thoughts you will discover that most of them consist of thoughts of glory – receiving approval and approbation from other people, and shame – hatred of your looks, your actions, and your feelings. Glory and shame are two sides of the same coin: the me-me-me coin. If you stop thinking these thoughts, then the “me” – the sense of a separated, continuing self who is alternately exalted and debased – ceases as well. When this lower self collapses, so too does the so-called real world.
There are other societies, magical societies, in which people don’t think as much as we do. The reality the members of these societies experience in their daily lives is more magical than ours is. The world of the Mayan Indians of Guatemala is a good example. Freidel-Schele-Parker, in their book Maya Cosmos, contrast the Spanish and Mayan world-views through their respective descriptions of the decisive battle in which Pedro Alvarado defeated Tecun Uman, the leader of the Kiche Mayans, on February 22, 1524:
“According to Alvarado, this was just another battle among many. In a letter to Cortez, he said that several thousand Kiche warriors approached his troops while they were taking a break for food and water. They let the Indians close the distance. Then they attacked and routed the Indian army, pursuing them until they were trapped against a mountain. … He mentioned that one of the Kiche chiefs was killed, but he did not even record his name. The Kiche account is told as if a totally different series of events had unfolded.”
The Kiche Mayan version is a battle between the magic and gods of the Mayan Indians and the magic and gods of the Spanish: the Virgin Mary and her attendant angels. In the Kiche version, Tecun Uman assembled an army of 8000 warriors to oppose the 700-man Spanish army, then he used magic to transform himself into an eagle and flew against Alvarado, but “he could not kill him because a very fair maiden defended him; they were anxious to enter, but as soon as they saw this maiden they fell to the earth and they could not get up from the ground, and then came many footless birds, and those birds had surrounded the maiden, and the Indians wanted to kill the maiden and those footless birds defended her and blinded them.”
Whose version of the battle is correct? The Spanish themselves credited their God and the protection of the Virgin Mary with their stunning victories against overwhelming odds, even if they weren’t able to get the same visual take on the thing that the Mayans got. Modern historians, whose worldview is even less magical than the sixteenth century Spanish view, try to explain the outcome in purely materialistic terms. From the magicians’ point of view, none of these views are correct; or rather, they all are, because people create their own realities based on what their social training and personal experience of the world have led them to expect. The reason why most modern people experience so little magic in their lives is because they’ve trained themselves to be closed-up and insensitive, and to expect life to be routine and dull.
Our constant thinking, and the customary moods and concerns which this thinking conjures up, is a screen which keeps our intuitive perception of the world under wraps. Without this screen the world becomes vivid and magical, teeming with life and meaning. My book Magical Living describes a simple technique for following feelings and for opening ourselves to the magic of the world. When following feelings we shift from the closed-up mindset of thinking awareness into a state of enhanced awareness in which we can feel what plants are feeling, sense emanations of power from the earth, interact with spirits, and so on. The world of enhanced awareness is a world of constant surprises and delight. However you couldn’t balance a checkbook or interview effectively for a job in this state. The point is that what blocks our magical perception of the world is our fear; and our anger; and our fear of our anger; and our anger at our fearfulness; etc. etc. That is our constant inner dialogue. This is the reality which most of us have created for ourselves.
In actual fact, there is nothing out there whatsoever. Reality actually consists of nothingness. Any reality which we perceive is our own invention: a gloss over the basic stuff of the universe, which is void. The Buddhists call this Shunyata, or emptiness. It’s sort of like the fact that a movie is actually colored celluloid with light passing through it. Now if we can go one step further and imagine that even the colored celluloid and light don’t exist either, then we’ve got a picture of what’s really going on. God doesn’t exist; the universe doesn’t exist; existence doesn’t exist. This happens to be the truth; but since truth doesn’t exist either, we may as well just let the subject lay.
Magic, in fact, is the only logical, reasonable, rational worldview since it is completely illogical, unreasonable, and irrational. An important principle of magic is that magic is a false view of reality, since reality can’t be viewed. It cannot be comprehended with the mind, by thinking. It can, however, be glimpsed with the feelings, by direct knowing.
It is important to understand what the self really is if we expect to understand what reality is. The myth of a separated lower self – a body – and the myth of an external reality arise together. These are two ways of looking at the same basic falsehood. In actual fact we are not separated from the world, and the world is not outside of us.
What fools us is our linear view of time. We mistakenly believe that things happen to us, and then we react to them. For example, first we get laid off from our job, and then we feel depressed and helpless. However from the magical point of view, the decision to feel depressed and helpless is primary – is made “first”. The getting laid off is conjured up “later” to justify our feelings of self-pity. Face it: there are lots of options – feelings we could conceivably feel in any given situation. For example, if we get laid off we could just as easily feel relieved, glad that one’s over, hopefully looking forward to a new career. The choice to feel self-pity about what happens to us is always a free choice.
The choice to feel self-pity at the things which happen to us – as if we didn’t bring them to us in the first place – is what creates the illusion of a separated self at odds with an outside reality. What we consider our self is just self-pity. Since this point is the entire basis of magical training, it bears repeating: the lower self is nothing more than self-pity, and when self-pity is eradicated the lower self dissolves also.
If we’re going to understand this point of view we have to get over our prejudice, which is all it is, about time being linear. The fact is that time is not linear. Survivors of near death experiences often report having seen every single event that ever happened to them during their lives flash by them in no time at all. Sometimes they report seeing everything that ever happened to them zip by, but still being able to see each scene discretely, in a few seconds’ time. Others report seeing each individual event of their entire lives in one, complete take. In any case, it would seem that we experience the thought forms of our lives twice: once in linear fashion over a lifetime, and then in a non-linear fashion at the moment of death.
This idea that time can be non-linear is easiest to see in dreams. Dream time is sequential, but not linear in the same sense in which waking time is linear. Dream time doesn’t have the same cause-and-effect inexorability that waking time has. This is because there is less importance in dreams, so everything is more here-and-now. We don’t feel moods and concerns as acutely in dream time as we do when we’re awake because we don’t think so much. Things happen too fast and too intensely in dreams to dwell upon. Everything is just too vivid and too now.
Infants and young children are basically doing what we adults would consider dreaming even while awake. Being awake – and our sense of linear time – are something we learn as we grow up. That’s why it seems to us that childhood lasted forever (while we were still children): because our sense of the passage of time wasn’t yet fully formed. Linear time is a byproduct of our ability to think.
In life-threatening situations, such as while we are having an automobile accident, or during a big earthquake, time slows way down. We can see everything that is happening with great clarity, in great detail, as if it were unfolding in slow motion. This slow motion perception of time is closer to the truth. It is more like dream time perception and less like our normal, everyday, gloss-over-things-quickly-and-superficially perception of time. However, we are incapable of acting in the normal way in this slow motion perception of time because we can’t think. If we are going to act or react in this frame of mind, we can only do so on intent, on our gut-level instinct, not on thought. Therefore the slow motion perception is not as useful in performing all the humdrum tasks of everyday life as is normal time perception; but it is the more useful form of perception in the practice of magic, where decisions have to be made faster than normal thinking allows.
When time slows down enough we lose our sense of separated selfhood and move into altered states of consciousness. Indeed, “timelessness” is how people usually describe such states. Altered states can occur due to shock, psychedelic drugs, or even spirits. Some spirits have the power to temporarily erase our self-pity so that we experience a state of selfless grace. Enlightenment is such a state – people who are enlightened can move into and out of timelessness and selflessness at will, by focusing their attention one way or the other. But even enlightened people don’t exist in a state of nirvana all day long. They have normal lives to lead too, and altered states are not particularly functional in everyday society.
Normal, everyday life is the battleground, the place where the real work has to be done, the place where it all begins and ends. Altered states can be inspiring, can give us a glimpse of the goal we are shooting for, but they are always temporary. The goal is to bring an awareness of timelessness and selflessness into the routines of our everyday lives. We do this by detaching from the self-important, self-pitying me-me-me with its endless fluster of moods and concerns.
The essential tenet of magic is that you create your own reality. This means that the things which happen to us are attracted by our moods and concerns. It’s only by controlling our moods and concerns, our thinking, that we can control our reality. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done. Our moods and concerns have a tremendous momentum of their own. To turn back that tide means to literally rewrite our personal history and to let go of the past; to release our expectations and let go of the future.
There are ways of doing this. One technique in particular, recapitulation, involves reliving our memories to discharge the energy pent up in them. There are also many other techniques for self-transformation. These usually take years and years of dedicated practice before we start seeing concrete results: controlling our realities by controlling our moods and concerns, our moment-to-moment thinking and moods.
The purpose of Creative Visualization is to take a short-cut to creating your own reality, without all the years of work. Creative Visualization is described in detail in my book Thought Forms. The point is that the difference between the magician’s reality and most people’s reality is that the magician makes a thoughtful, informed choice of what his or her reality will be. Most people, on the other hand, accept willy-nilly, unquestioningly, the version of reality inculcated by their society – their parents, teachers, church, government, academia, and the media. Neither is right or wrong, it’s all Shunyata, emptiness; but one choice leads to freedom, and the other leads to slavery.
About the author:
Bob Makransky is a systems analyst, computer programmer and professional astrologer. He lives on a farm in highland Guatemala where he is a Mayan priest and is head of the local blueberry growers’ association. Check out his free downloadable Mayan Horoscope software, free downloadable Planetary Hours calculator, free downloadable Primary Directions / celestial sphere mathematics textbook, complete instructions on how to channel by automatic writing and how to run past life regressions, articles, books, stories, cartoons, etc. etc. at www.dearbrutus.com.