Magic and the power of intentional belief
Let’s explore some ideas and see where it takes us.
Try thinking of anything you do as magic and see how your perception of it changes.
If your mind resists the idea of magic, just pretend for a moment. For science. Imagine that every movement and every intentional thought is animated by magic and sends ripples of magical effects outward, affecting the world beyond your apparent influence, and sending ripples deep into the unseen depths of the unconscious.
Think of art as magic and see how it changes. Think of music as magic. Think of walking through nature as magic. Think of sex as magic and see if it’s different. Imagine you’re being affected by the magic of what you’re reading now. Believe this for a moment and see how the experience changes.
Beliefs don’t have to be concrete. We can use belief to change the narrative our minds create, to shape our experience. A chosen or temporary belief can shift the context of a situation and change how you feel and interact.
When I talk of magic or mysticism, this is all I ever mean. We can explore our own mental processes and shape them into different patterns. It starts by choosing principles and beliefs with intent. I’m not talking about choosing to believe in disproven ideas (that’s delusion). I’m talking about making an active choice to perceive the world through a chosen filter and to discover useful interpretations from within the vast realm of possibilities. Then, with new eyes, look at the world directly, accepting the outcomes with as little delusion as possible, and see the results.
It starts by believing in magic—believing that your creative works and actions send magic into the world, changing it and shaping it, and that the world sends back magic, guiding you if you’re willing to listen.
By shifting beliefs consciously, over time, the mind becomes more flexible. More creative. More liberated. A mind that believes without examination forgets that beliefs are just figments. If you can see that you created a belief, you can see that it’s just a tool. You know the tool’s intent, because you created it. If the beliefs you choose don’t work for you or don’t jibe with reality, you can let go of them and try something new.
The meanings of words
In a bit, I will explain how a person can get started down the magic path. But first, let’s define what we’re talking about.
Why do I choose loaded words like “magic” and “belief” if I don’t mean them in the way many people understand them?
I’ve tried to use different words, and nothing works the same.
No word other than “magic” invokes the creative state of limitless possibility required for the unconscious depths of my mind to release themselves into writing or sound (my chosen mediums). No other word brings the world to life with the radiant energy I perceive when I think of it as magic. No other word invokes the same fascination and awe that I feel as I walk around my magic world. Thinking of things as magic adds a sense of fun and mystery to whatever I’m experiencing or doing. It elevates my curiosity. This makes me interact differently with the experience.
“Belief” is the best word I know to express the cognitive framework needed to direct my magic—so long as I’m able to distinguish between soft/temporary beliefs and hard/dogmatic beliefs. Henceforth, when I speak of beliefs, I’m speaking of temporary, soft, chosen frames for the experience of reality. I find dogmatic beliefs, in contrast, are hindrances. Think of a dogmatic belief as a brick wall that blocks your vision of anything outside of its perimeter. Think of soft beliefs as signposts along an infinitely forking path that help point you in an optimal or creative direction. I often think of my shifting beliefs as the turning of a kaleidoscope, subtly and powerfully changing the shapes and colors of experience.
As long as we can agree, for the duration of this piece, on what we mean when we use those words, we can find an understanding.
The power of story to shape and reshape reality
We think in stories. We shape our experience of reality with the complex weaving and layering of those stories. If we can change the stories we’re telling ourselves, we can change our experience of reality. That’s the essence of magic—the ability to alter the story as it’s happening.
Magic without movement is impotent, and stories are how we make it move.
Stories are how people organize the chaos of reality in a way that gives it meaning and allows one to thread the personal story through the collective story unfolding from their perspective.
Our ability to shape the story, both personally and collectively, has power we greatly underestimate. A collective story might drive us to save or destroy the environment we live in. Autocrats and their followers believe a story that places the leader, personally, as the hero at its center. Revolutionaries believe a story in which they, the heroes, must bring down a tyrant for the good of the collective. I tell myself a story in which I’m a writer rather than a pilot, though, at some point, I considered pursuing the latter. My story is my identity, and every group or community’s story is its identity.
The stories can be changed when they’re not working, and it’s as simple as it sounds, even when it’s not easy.
Every time I explore new beliefs and stories, I broaden my mind with new perspectives, and I always come back a better person, a more compassionate person, a less judgmental person, a more peaceful person, and a more creative person. And every step in that direction is (and feels) wonderfully liberating.
The responsibility of personal power
To practice magic is to believe in one’s own power. To believe in one’s own power is to carry the responsibility of that power. It is to understand the gravity of our presence in this world, and hopefully to use that power with kindness and wisdom—and you can only earn wisdom with effort, experimentation, and experience. It takes more than good intent.
Our creativity has a real effect on the world, and we don’t always know what the effect will be. If we don’t accept our own power, we use it irresponsibly and ignore both good and ill effects our influence has. If we believe we’re capable of powerfully affecting our own experience, the experiences of others, and the world, then we take seriously what sort of energy we’re putting out, whether through action or inaction, and we’re more vigilant of the ripple effects. We may never reach perfection, but we find ourselves compelled to do the best we can.
Examples of useful beliefs
A person who survives a serious car accident can see that incident two ways: “That’s just my terrible luck to be in a car accident,” or “I’m very lucky to have survived such a terrible accident.” It’s up to you to decide which. Both are equally valid.
There’s evidence that people who believe they’re lucky often are luckier. Some of this is a result of confirmation bias. If you believe in your own good luck, you’re more likely to notice good luck as it comes and dismiss bad luck as anomalous.
But it’s more than that. Believing in your own good luck may lead to an objective increase in good luck. As your mind scans and organizes your experiences, it’s on the lookout for incidents of good luck to confirm your belief. Many of these incidents come in the form of opportunities. If you believe yourself unlucky, you may not notice when opportunities come along, but if you believe you’re lucky, you’ll not only notice the opportunity, but you’re more likely to take it, thereby further confirming your good luck.
Pronoia: mysterious forces are out to help you
This is the opposite of paranoia. With paranoia, you may believe some conspiracy is at work in the world, attempting to bring you (or people like you) down. With pronoia, you may believe some conspiracy is at work attempting to guide you toward inspiration and make sure you get what you need to make the most of your life and find whatever enlightenment means to you.
So why not choose to believe that there is a secret conspiracy leaving clues and providing opportunities, clearing a path to help you find your way through the chaos of life, and helping to find inspiration for your creative works? I do this, and it works for me.
Eternal recurrence as a guide
Eternal recurrence is the idea that this Universe (and thus this life) will repeat, just as it is, from birth through death, throughout all of eternity. I read about this in Nietzsche’s work, though it’s an idea that far predates him, and I have my own take on the concept that I think is a damn effective lens through which to view my life.
On the surface, it’s a terrifying idea because it means we must relive every bit of suffering and loss we’ve ever endured or ever will endure.
What eternal recurrence offers me, though, is the determination to make this life, to the best of my abilities, the one I’d want to repeat. I might dread the worst parts of these repetitions, but through the horrors and ecstasies of life, I can work toward becoming the person I would want to be for all of eternity.
More pragmatically, when I’m feeling unmotivated, I just ask myself: would I want my repeated life to include more television or more of my creative works put into the world?
Lest you think this is too much pressure, would you want to repeat a life in which you’re perpetually angry at yourself or one in which you forgive yourself for your shortcomings and keep moving forward? I’d like to repeat a life in which I try, and when I fail, I forgive myself and try again.
It also helps to gain some perspective. I’ve often chased happiness to the detriment of my work, but when I really let myself believe in eternal recurrence, I realize that if I were constructing this life from the outside, I would care little if I was happy. Happiness is ephemeral. I would only care what I’ve contributed and how I felt about myself—defined by how well I stand by my principles and whether I had the strength to put my ideas into the world.
If you look at the world through the lens of eternal recurrence, you may find the same values, or yours may be different from mine, and that’s the point. It helps to find what matters most to you.
Inspiration from beyond
Creators often feel their inspiration comes from elsewhere, outside of themselves, and may interpret this as the whisperings of spirits, muses, angels, demons, or gods. And why not believe in the possibility of such spirits if it helps your mind find a receptive state that can get that “other” consciousness to gift you with inspiration?
If I had a conversation about the scientific nature of reality, I would say I don’t believe in spirits, muses, angels, demons, or gods, and that would be true. But I also believe spirits are whispering ideas to me regularly because that’s my experience, and believing in it has worked well for me. It makes me receptive. I listen for the spirits because they’ve done a good job of guiding me when I’ve paid attention to them. The more closely I listen, the more I can hear them.
I believe I’m being guided by a race of super-advanced aliens who communicate telepathically with those willing to listen and manipulate small variants of chance to create instances of synchronicity. They’re prepared to welcome us into the galactic community, but only after we’ve proven ourselves worthy by learning to coexist and by creating works of inspired art. They won’t interfere directly, but they try to leave us clues to find our way. It’s up to us to pay attention.
This is an idea explored by many others before me, and it’s the one that resonates with me. I don’t believe, necessarily, they objectively exist out there, but I keep listening, anyway, and they’ve yet to lead me astray. If they do, I’ll start looking elsewhere for clues. Again, judge your beliefs by the results.
I believe many such things, and when reality directly contradicts my chosen beliefs, or when they no longer work for me, I shed them fairly easily, knowing that each time I eliminate a delusion, I’m one step closer to reality and a little closer to the path I want to follow in life.
Life is a laboratory in which every one of us is the scientist of our own life, and we must perpetually experiment to find what helps us navigate the chaos of our lives, find meaning, thrive, and be creative.
If you want to create artistic works and live your life with power and creativity, experiment. Be creative in trying out different beliefs and frameworks. Try the ones you’re taught or that you discover, but don’t assume those beliefs and patterns will work for you as they do for others.
Not only do we all have different destinations in life, but we have different origin points. Imagine discovering a map I’ve left behind. I’ve drawn lines showing how I got to my destination from where I was at some prior time in my life. If you follow that map, you’re more likely to get lost than find your way because you’re coming from somewhere I’ve never been. And let’s not assume I’m an expert navigator of my own map. I believe each of us has only found but a narrow interpretation of a tiny perspective of a tiny sliver of reality.
None of us know what the hell we’re doing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t share some clues as we find them.
As seekers and creators, all we can do is look at other people’s maps, scan them for clues and landmarks, and feel our way forward through the darkness the best we can. We have to take ownership of our own destinies because there is no other choice.
Find teachers. Learn all you can from them and test their teachings. See for yourself if those teachings are:
A. Consistent with reality
We should then constantly test and evaluate our own assertions and never assume that the truth we’ve discovered is the final truth. Firm beliefs mark the end of progress.
For me, this process has led to insights and artistic ideas. Staying within the frameworks provided by others is not creative. To be creative is to revolt against convention and explore new territory, test new belief patterns, and perceive the world through new lenses of our own imagining.
Art by Benjavisa Ruangvaree.