I spent a part of Boxing Day trying to explain what I mean when I say “I believe in magic” to one of my oldest friends who is a civil engineer. I suspect that the word “magic” makes her head implode a little bit. She can do the kind of mathematic formulas that will ensure a bridge stays up and a pipe has the right dimensions for the volume of water that will flood through it. Terrifyingly complex things. High-stakes things. Things that trigger lawsuits when something goes wrong. Big lawsuits. Magical thinking won’t work when she sits down to her desk.
But I’m not talking about magical thinking when I am trying to wrap words around my sense that there is something more available to us, that we’re not accessing. Some skills or superpowers that we have, that we’ve forgotten. Things like the breath, attention, and the power of working in alignment with someone else. It’s very slow and subtle, I think, at least, as I am trying to encounter it. Can I possibly know if paying attention to my houseplant, or my child, makes it flourish? Running the double blind experiment just isn’t an option. I can certainly see how vigorous the plants of my friend, who devotes lots of tender energy to his plants, are. I can see how much my kid seeks out our attention. I can make some assumptions, do some napkin-equations of my own. I don’t know that I’d bet a bridge on them. But I am, in a way. I am betting my entire life on them. I am saying, it’s more important to me to be able to be present for my kid than to be a CEO, so I’m making career choices in that vein. I remember what it felt like when a bookclub chose an article I’d written to discuss, and invited me to attend via zoom, and the quality of attention they gave to those ideas I’d been exploring, felt like the sun had come up and some inner part of me was blossoming. I remember what it felt like when Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams read the article I’d written about her, and she said, “I can see that you worked hard on this” and I felt like a seven year old who’d won the prize and there is no gold star I could be given that would feel as delicious as that specific kind of attention that she gave me, recognizing something that rarely is commented on – the effort and care. So, if I can feel myself flourish within, from thoughtful attention, is it not possible that the people around me, or the herbs in my garden, or the trees along the driveway, would also flourish from me noticing them, and paying them a sincere compliment, grown from genuine noticing?
I have tried to explain magic to a child who has been told by science-minded folk that magic is made-up, that magic is real, it’s something that needs us to be its hands and feet, to work through us. It feels to me like the creative force, the energy that I experience as inspiration, but it goes nowhere unless I sit my butt down at the blank page or screen and begin writing. Like the CryptoNaturalist said in his instagram post, shared below, we have to meet it halfway.
And if our attention is inconsequential, I have to ask, why do the tech companies who currently dominate the capitalist landscape, who are literally the richest entities on Earth, solicit it so obsessively? How have they managed to make gazillions by capturing and controlling the flow of our attention?
When I think of it this way, I remember that my attention is a superpower, and it’s mine, and I want to be intentional about where I place it, and I don’t want to mindlessly scroll and shop and add more zeroes to the net worth of the dark wizards of the inter web. The future that I dream, I think, is far more delicious and loving and green and vital than what they’re creating… so I’m going to deploy whatever secret superpowers I have in the play/work of dreaming it into being. I’m going to offer myself to the magic of the world, that longs to be flowing and fuelling beauty and life all around us. With intention and imagination, and hopefully a few great comrades along for the ride.
I will use my imagination, and my friend will use her engineering genius, and together, we can step into the role of bringing forth the kind of future we’d be happy to leave to our kids and grandkids. As Rilke says, the future has to move through us, in order to come into being. Which is really another way of talking about magic. Isn’t it?
Shall we make 2023 the year we really embrace it?