Magical Thinking – Part I by Janine M. Donoho

No, this isn’t about Joan Didion’s touching year of madness after she lost both her life partner and child, although this blog may shine light on lesser misfortunes. Instead, it pertains to a mutant germ of magical thinking that has begun to permeate our culture. At least, that’s how I perceive the bizarre and perplexing sort of beliefs that encompass THE SECRET and other marketing devices of its ilk.

 

To begin, can we agree that magical thinking could equate with misapprehension? This subject’s tricky, considering anyone who creates also walks a fine line between imagination and madness. I mean, aren’t we somewhat delusional to believe that what we produce might resonate with another person? Perhaps. Maybe there’s comfort in the old political saw that if one person feels a certain way about an issue, there are at least 100 others who feel the same. That would be our herd. However, first we need to eliminate the possibility that we are actually lunatics. Not Nietzsche-style insanity, though. He did end his life locked away, after all. So, when we leave a room and close the door, the room’s still there and the same color as when we left. Okay?

 
Yet I know people who walk too fine a line, then cross over to inhabit the never, never land zone. As mentioned, THE SECRET touted such ‘magical thinking’ with the premise that you could wish what you want into being. When this was first presented on a nationwide broadcast of Oprah, I had this visual of humans everywhere lying in their beds thinking hard about mounds of cash, Lotuses and Lamborghinis in their 12-car garages, and a string of mansions from coast-to-coast. In other words, lots of stuff. Meanwhile, my brain’s screaming, “What about preparation? What about mastering your skills to make this happen?” A few months later, the gurus associated with this remarkable social phenomena issued another directive. You must prime yourself to receive this bounty via preparation, mastery of skills, etc. Whew! Bullet dodged.

 

Or not. Evidently, that message didn’t reach all the people who need to hear it. Thus in my neck of the woods, there are people who, due to lack of preparation, send chills down my spine and cause me to wake up panicked at 3 a.m. Yes, these are people I care about who have decided to accept the original premise. They see nothing wrong with lying on their backs staring at their ceilings…


Can I now add a caveat that just because we can’t perceive a thing does not mean it isn’t there? I mean, it’s only in recent years that science could effectively view a virus. And what about that crazy radiation–unseen but heard via telemetry. Okay, and yes, I have a special place in my heart for masses of fairy folk and others that crowd our world. And synchronicity–that I depend upon. After vast amounts of groundwork, that is.


Without mentioning names, there’s a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Before that, she attended and held meetings of local faith healers, women who believed in variations of healing via prayer, thoughts, touch or almost touch. Again, just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. However, when this woman, who is also a mother, learned of her diagnosis, the healers scattered to the four winds. She still speaks of this event with greater hurt and sadness than the actual cancer, which she treated and evidently eradicated through Western medicine. Yet she and the others had built this world in which healing occurred by other means. Until it didn’t.

Then I’m acquainted with a talented artist, shy as any woodland creature, who lives in a house so tiny that it’s beginning to find fame in today’s less-is-more culture. She creates visual art, then trucks it to farmers’ markets from late spring into mid fall in hopes of generating enough sales to get her through winter. In previous years, before this year-of-the-shoulder, my guy and I delivered loads of firewood to her woodstove-only place along with boxes of human and kitty foods along with other supplies. Her belief has cemented into the view that if she needs something, magically it will appear. In fact, this belief system dominates her life to the point that she refuses to take work-for-pay when it’s offered. Yet last time I saw her, her appearance shocked me. She’s too thin and has begun to lose teeth. Yet she still subscribes to this magical thinking that to me has become frighteningly delusional. I want her to accept a job, fix her teeth and actually pack her own chute. It worries me that we have enabled her illusion of reality. The thought of her causes me to awake in a panic on winter nights when even our 4-wheel Toyota can no longer reach her. What’s the option, though? Finding her frozen and starved body when the spring thaw arrives?

Stories of this kind of delusional thinking continue to grow. Perhaps it’s our tough economy that makes it feel so necessary to so many people. Perhaps it’s a general state of immaturity and unwillingness to accept reality and work to change our circumstances. Where’s critical thinking when you need it? Flabby and unused in the recesses of our brains perhaps? Let me say again that I believe preparation and hard work leads to synchronous occurrences that take me to the next level. I suppose that’s a belief system, too. What about you? Do you pack your own chute or wait for it to magically occur?
 

In part II, we’ll explore how to construct the necessary suspension of belief inherent in building magical worlds. Warning, it requires critical thinking.

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