How Your Creative Pursuits Make Magic
Last summer my niece showed me a magic trick where she made her father levitate. He lay on what looked like a board covered by a sheet. A group of about six of us huddled outside on the lawn at dusk and watched mesmerized as his body rose up into the air. My niece stood behind him, her arms hovering above. I could see her little legs under the board with her father on it, so I knew that he was actually rising. At least that's what it looked like to me.
"How did you do that?" I asked her after it was over. She laughed and said, "If I tell you then it will ruin it for you."
She was right, I didn't really want to know how she did it because I wanted to prolong the magic.
I, a grown adult, was fooled by a 10-year-old, yet it felt O.K. to be in that place of not knowing.
In David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous, he talks about how, after putting himself through college as a slight-of-hand magician, playing nightclubs and restaurants in New England, he travelled through Asia in hopes of meeting actual sorcerers.
It was these encounters that taught him that magic lives at the edge between the human and larger, "more-than-human field," and that by performing rituals, magicians ensure a balance between human and non-human society.
Abram describes 'magic' in a 2015 discussion with Rupert Sheldrake, English author and researcher, as the "experience of being alive inside a world that is itself alive."
Magic has come up for me many times during my creative process as a force for good, a mysterious combination of being embodied, love, and trust. Typically, when we speak of magic it's something that happens infrequently like miracles.
Yet I don't consider magic to be just a sometime thing where the creative process is concerned, and here's why.
Pretty much every time I sit down to write, the very act of doing this brings me to magical places that I wouldn't have known about had I not made an opening in my life for creativity to swoop in. Magic comes to me many times as I sit alone in a room wondering what to write next. Wondering if the characters make sense the way I'm describing them, if the setting is real enough, and if anyone will care a whit about the book once it's done. It comes when, in spite of all my wondering, fretting, whining and doubting, the very fact that I opened the door, has meant that I begin to write vivid stories of people, places, and things that I seemingly know nothing about.
Notice that in my title I said "creative pursuits make magic" and not that they ARE magic. Creative acts, whether music, art, sculpture, fashion, landscape design, cooking, are all very rigorous disciplines that demand a LOT of the creative person in terms of diligence and regular practice.
Though it's in this 'regular practice' of a creative pursuit and not in simply sitting there waiting for something magical to happen, that I feel the presence of magic. The more I indulge my creative ambitions by showing up, the more I go down those paths that are unknown to me, the more I catch glimpses of magic. EVERYWHERE! And the magic doesn't just happen with the creative work itself, it takes place within myself as well.
The experiences or experiments in creativity help me to access parts of myself that were prevously hidden. It's the allowing or opening up to the creative process that enables me to connect to the magic that's all around me, and to see that it's also a part of me.
In tribal societies, magic is a daily occurrence. Yet from a European standpoint, there’s a right thing and wrong thing, and there can only be one right thing. Our society's not willing to accept things that fall outside our perceived knowing, and so we simply discount them. Yet in some tribal cultures, they see no contradictions between various ways of belief co-existing. Everything moves in our world, however some things move more slowly than others. Though just because we can't perceive those things as alive doesn't mean they don't exist.
We’re fascinated by magic because it reveals certain truths about the world we live in, that we often fail to grasp. Yet when we sink into the fact that we don’t need to figure everything out with our minds, but rather we can simply FEEL with our bodies, what becomes evident to us is that existence contains many different ways of being.
If we stick with our creative pursuits like a dog with a bone, accepting that magic exists, then there's no limit to the beauty and wonder we'll encounter along the way.
HERE ARE SOME WAYS TO BRING MORE MAGIC INTO YOUR CREATIVE PRACTICE
1) Make a date with yourself to write or do another form of art-making every single day (or close to it). Try not to break that date. Even if it's only 10 minutes one day and 20 the next, getting into the habit of doing your creative thing, will allow your guides, muses, or whomever you call on, to see that you mean business, and they'll begin sending magic your way. Try it and see!
2) Drawing on rituals or ceremonies such as a meditation before your creative practice, or a mantra that you devise, will help to not only ground you but will also open the door to magic.
3) In my 21 Day Writing Meditation course I talk about bringing objects into your creative space that have meaning for you such as a rock or shell you might have found on the beach one day. Or a brilliant orange fall leaf you spotted in a local park. Bring some fresh flowers or a plant into your space, a special cushion you sit on or luxurious shawl you wrap yourself in while writing. Finally, buy a pleasing notebook that inspires you to write and has a magical quality to it. Objects are alive and hold a resonance just like you and me do. Consider bringing the following items into you space to set the stage for magic to happen:
Inspiring artwork or nature photos
Pictures of family or friends
Colorful cloth or cushions
Statues or pictures of spiritual gurus or guides
A book of inspiring aphorisms or prayers
4) Do things--either meditations, rituals, chanting, heart-focused mantras, showing kindness to others--to help you come into relationship with the heart. The heart pumps blood into your body to give you life, yet it's also the centre for unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance. Connected to grief, depression and heartbreak, sadness resides in the fourth or heart chakra, and begins in the chest, travelling to the throat and up to the eyes to form tears. Emotional wounds can arise here that stem from childhood or later. Sadness, when blocked in these areas of the body, can lead to heart or lung problems such as asthma, throat or voice problems, and eye issues.
We all experience the energy of the heart in different ways. Perhaps you feel a pulsing or warmth in your chest. Or perhaps you sense an expansion or a pleasing flicker of light. Each day that you practice a heart-based ritual or mantra you can witness the heart awakening a little more. The more you understand the ways of the heart the easier it will be for you to fully open to others and to the world--and to invite magic into your life.
5) Practice writing exercises that allow you to see the wholeness of all that is, and can be. Take a notebook with you to a local park or forest and record what your senses pick up. Most often we think of ourselves as separate from the trees, buildings, plants and cars going by; we merely sense the movement of these things as they rub against our consciousness. Sometimes the sensations may be pleasing, while other times they may cause stress and anxiety. Yet we typically experience these external things as distinct from us. Accepting this precious gift of oneness with the world further stretches us creatively and gives us confidence that we're moving in the right direction.
When we're present, we learn to see the world and ourselves as part of life's interwoven tapestry. We hear the screech of an eagle and become intimately linked to this creature. Our creative practice benefits from this sense of wholeness because we're better able to understand our subject matter. If we become present with the experience of truly seeing a tree, then we will tend to use more vibrant language to describe or paint it, bringing a life-affirming presence to our creativity.
6) Change your perspective. At a recent creative non-fiction conference, I took a workshop with Betsy Warland, author of Breathing the Page who had us do an exercise where we selected a preferred spot we liked to sit in a public indoor space. She told us to sketch out what that spot looked like, locate ourselves in that space, and then to see our writing from this angle. Some things I recall her asking us to consider were, What might this perspective teach you about how you approach your art? Why do you tend to sit in this spot and what might that mean symbolically for your art (e.g., like being in the centre of the action or off to the side with a view of everything going on)? I encourage you to do a similar exercise and ask the same question about your creative work.
7) Other ways of seeing are to partake in something called psychogeography. This terms refers to exploring your urban environments by simply drifting to give you a new awareness of your environment. Visit all the alleyways in your neighbourhood. All the florists or places where artists have painted wall murals. In Magna Knight's article, Psychogeography - the Art of the Derive she writes the following.
Whenever you go on a derive, always take a notebook. You’ll end up having surprising thoughts, going off on a tangent – and forgetting them immediately. Any notes you get – descriptions of people, ideas about how your city is used, amazing graffiti you found – all these thoughts are your own, not taught you by anyone. So they’re precious. Whether they’re for song lyrics, an art project or just a bit of a self-journey – an internal derive – you’ll be glad you had them one day.
8) Poetry is often seen as a highbrow art, which is a shame because it's one of the best written forms for self-reflection and idea-making. I'm also absolutely convinced that it's magic in words! Poetry can equip you with an emotional map for how to piece together life's disjointedness. I often turn to American poet Mary Oliver when I'm having trouble navigating the road in front of me. To make accessing poetry even easier, the Poetry Foundation has a free app that allows you to search poetry by emotion (i.e., lovesick, jubilance, fear), which is pretty cool. And uber-talented spoken word poet Sarah Kay is definitely worth checking out, especially her If I should have a daughter that's received almost five million views on YouTube.
9) Free write or free paint or sculpt. I initially came across the expression “first thoughts” in Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within. In her book, she counsels to keep writing even when you feel like stopping to read what you’ve written. Allow the pen to continue across the page and don’t cross out anything. Goldberg’s “first thoughts” or what other writers might refer to as “free writing,” helps you trust yourself and open to the creative process. It allows you free reign to write and not worry about what you are writing.
Try this exercise: Pick up your pen and begin to write down the first thought that comes to you. Keep writing, staying with that first thought, and not looking back to judge whether what you wrote was good or bad. Enjoy the flow of the thoughts that are coming to you and just write them down. Try to stay with this burst of thought for as long as it carries you. It might last five minutes or it might only last 60 seconds. Once you feel that the first thought is complete, put the pen down.
10) Listen to inspiring music. In Michael Cho's article, The Magic Of Music And What It Does To Your Productivity, he says that "When you listen to music, a part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens activates. This triggers the release of the “pleasure chemical” dopamine, that lives in a group of neurons in your brain called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA)." I recently attended a concert of Deva Premal and Miten that included Eastern-based chanting and Western folk-based music. The music is infused with gentleness and joy; it made me feel open, relaxed, and attuned to others around me.
Take more time to listen to whatever music makes you happy and intuitively serves as medicine in your life. You'll be amazed at how it can transform an otherwise dull or "disasterous" day, bringing an element of magic to it.