Living By Magic
Wilhelm is my Austrian friend. Tall and stout, with a heavy accent and infectious smile, he is one of those people who really know how to enjoy the good things in life. From a rowdy round of soccer (football, as he calls it) to those very expensive restaurants that serve tiny meals on beautiful plates, he is both my good friend and private fashion police. “Robin,” he said while celebrating a special occasion with an especially fine wine, “you're in the amazing business.”
I laughed, already slightly happy from the wine, until I was struck with the truth of his words. I am in the amazing business. So are we all.
Magic––that amazing something that happens through us when we live by deep inner truths and clear intention, for the good of all––is not reserved for rare occasions, nor for only the “special” leaders, visionaries, and changemakers. It is available to anyone. You just have to know what any good magician will tell you: There's a trick to every feat. All you need to know is the process. All you need to do is practice.
How do I, and the countless others like me who live in, around and through beautfiul magicical means, actually come to accomplish it? I can't speak for other magicians, but for me, the first step in the process is the hardest. You must open yourself up to grief. Yours, and the worlds. There is darkness out there, and if you're going to go searching for magic––real magic, the kind with Light––there's some deep sea diving with grief you'll have to do first. There is no other way I know.
That usually stops the questions, but a few brave souls want to know more. So I tell them a little of my story. My favorite babysitter was pushed out of a car and killed when I was five. My best friend died suddenly of Leukemia when I was nine. Less than a month later, my parent–sponsored “new best friend” came to stay overnight, got sick, went to the hospital, and died during an emergency appendectomy. My father died of lung cancer when I was nineteen, and two years later my beloved little brother killed himself.
When I say deep sea diving with grief, I'm not kidding.
“You have to go through all that?” they ask.
“No,” I reply, “but it helps.”
Fortunately (and I do mean that), we all have grief. Maybe not to the extreme I encountered, and maybe more extreme. Whatever the degree, no one I know has gotten through too much of life without a brush of grief's destructive fire. Which means we all have the flint to spark a Divine encounter. We need only stop running from it.
“Think of yourself as a piece of wood,” I explain, “destined to become a divine flute. You must be hollowed out, at first coarsely, then sanded down and refined. Holes must be drilled with great precision. It may seem these invasions are random, as if some crazed God up there has chosen you for an extra dose of suffering. But if you open yourself, let the grief whittle away at your blockages, soon enough you'll start to feel a truly Divine Wind blowing through you. You will start to hear a few clear notes.”
They look dubious, but I share that this experience is headier than the finest wine; this kind of being chosen the highest honor. “You'd pay for this paring down,” I assure them, “if you only knew how stunning it feels.”
Once someone has come to terms with their own grief (at least enough to start hearing the music), I suggest they quickly move on to invite the grief of the world. We are all connected––cells in the body called humanity. If one is not well, the whole of us is at risk. This may seem overwhelming, but once a person has done their own grief work, there seems a natural ability to transmute that of others without nearly so much direct anguish. We must learn how much we can take at one time and what we need to do to replenish ourselves when we grow weary, but a point of balance can be found.
If, after all of that, my questioning friends still want to know more, I explain the next step. You must discover what you are good at, and whatever that is (be it exciting or ho–hum “that's too easy” stuff), start doing it. For some, especially those who are clouded with self–doubt, or those who feel shame anytime they shine their own light, this is also tough.
To them I quote the poet David Whyte: “You are not a troubled guest on this earth. You are not an accident amidst other accidents. You were invited from another and greater night than the one from which you have just emerged.” Or, as Maryanne Williamson says, “Your playing small does not serve the world.”
The truth is, everyone is good at something, and there is simply no point in trying to do magic with someone else's bag of props. You have got to gather your own, play with them, see where they flow with ease and where they stick. Test out their strength, then find their true market. Trust me, if you have a gift, the market for it is out there. It may not be something that has an immediate monetary currency, but there is a need for everything good.
So if your gift is with paint, don't try to be a professional golfer or a accountant (they have their own magic, to be sure). If your gift is fashion, as my friend Wilhelm's is, do magic in the fashion arena. After all, every soul who shows up looking to be dressed is really asking the same questions of the tailor as they bring to the shaman: “Who am I? Where do I fit in? How can I feel good about myself?” If you are helping those you serve to ask those questions directly, you are as much a healer as any sage–waving native.
The next step, I explain, is to ask for magic to appear, and that the Great Musician of Life allow you to be the conduit of it in the lives of others. That's right. Just ask. Step out there, yell “You–Hoo” to the sky, or the earth if you are really brave, and say “Put me in the game, coach, I'm ready to play.”
I always tell people not to worry that they have no faith there will be a response to their request. If you have enough faith to make yourself available, you have the faith of the mustard seed. I have it on good authority that is enough.
Now, what you might want to concern yourself with (let's not use the word “worry,” shall we?) is a few realities that come with this asking. In my experience, it's something like declaring a major in college. “I'd like to study marine biology,” you say to your advisor with a bright, enthusiastic smile. To which she pulls out a six page description of the prerequisites you have to master before even taking the core courses.
Again, I know no other way. There's some things you're just going to need to know about doing your kind of magic before you go out there waving some ungrounded magic wand around. You can take heart that the course is already designed (even if your prerequisites seem hidden to you) and that this design ensures even the slowest plodder will get there. But trust me, we magicians all sigh a lot. A lot.
“Once you have asked,” I tell the very few still listening, “the next step is to give up and let go of what happens.”
If you have truly given up on the outcome, “put me in the game” could mean any game. “I'm ready to play” could mean any role. We think we know what we're here to do, what we want and how we want it, but it may well change. You're dealing with magic, after all. Slights–of–hand are not uncommon.
“Give up what?” my inquirers invariably want to know.
“Everything, if you want to be really good.”
“Everything what? Everything to do with what stands in the way of magic? Or do you mean more My house? My pension? My husband?”
“The more the better,” I reply.
“You mean leave it all behind?”
“No,” I reply, “just be willing to.”
On this point I am quite firm. Because if you are asking to do Real Magic, you truly are asking to be a flute in the hands of the Great Musician. It's not just a metaphor. It's a way of life. Mother Theresa made that request. St. Francis of Assisi, too. A small handful of my friends have. And yes, I have. I have been shaking in my boots each time I've done it, but I've done it. So have countless others walking among us, shopping in our very own grocery stores.
What this asking entails is dying to your small self, so that your larger self can be born. Or, since most of us know little of how to accomplish this dying on purpose, just standing firm as the killings come. Letting the all too natural course of life kill our dreams, one after another, taking up no new dreams but that of being the flute. Watching our true loves die, or simply walk away. Feeling our illusion of security burned by fire. Being open to whatever emerges from the rubble of the facade that was once our life.
It sounds bad, I know. I won't lie to you, for a while it is. But then the Great Musician begins to play you in earnest, sending magic through your hollowed out spaces. Not just notes, but a song. A new life emerges, the life of your true dreams. Dreams you didn't even know you had. Your body gets the chills, then vibrates, then hums along in such a way you know something is different. Something has happened.
You begin to make magic. Perhaps you meet a woman and somehow know to tell her that the candles she keeps lighting in her deceased daughter's bedroom are not serving either of them anymore. Perhaps you dare ask Ms. Jones if that dress everyone agrees is in vogue really reflects her creative spirit, and you hold her as she begins to cry. Perhaps every encounter and every crossroads and every coincidence begins to feel magical to you, and the beauty you see in them creates an inner beauty that naturally inspires others, even the most heart weary and down trodden.
It doesn't always work, of course, and you're not always the conduit you want to be. But being hollowed out and hopeful, you find the magic comes more often that not. You also find your friends are there to remind you, when you are wondering what new form of dying is coming next and if you will be able to withstand it, that you are in the amazing business.
At this point, most people who have asked how I do what I do will have scattered. They really only wanted to know the material world formula for the trick, and this I cannot say. I don't know how I do what I do. I can't even tell you much for certain about the Great Musician that blows the magic through me. I can only tell you how I've become who I am, and how that translates into the magic of how I do what I do.
Even so, I'm not worried. I let the curious questioners go, as I let go of everything else. The magic will bring them back, if not to me then some other magician who will attempt an honest answer.
It has to bring them back, because you see, it's all magic. Everything. Every brick, every tree, every baby born, every sudden death, every healthy heart and every disease. All magic. Like a river, it moves us along toward Itself. We are hollowed out by grief whether we embrace the process or not. We learn our prerequisites whether we have intentionally declared a major or not. We give up each dream we realize, because upon attainment of it, we realize it was not, and could never have been, our greatest dream. That dream is too great to know at the beginning of the journey.
We are, each one of us, the flute the Great Musician plays. And we will all, one day, wake up to find that the hand that has carved us, as well as the breath that blows through us, is Our Own. Like I said, it's a trick. If you want to do it consciously, all you need to know is the process. All you need to do is practice.
That night with Wilhelm, I explained all of this with great passion. When I was done, he leaned back in his chair, smiled, and nodded. “I have no doubt all you say is true,” he offered, “but right now, you must stop being so very serious and enjoy your pretty plate of food. And please, please, promise me that you will never wear those shoes with that outfit again.”
Ah, the magic in us all.