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In Praise of Magical Thinking

The other day I was watching a TV program on the housing meltdown.  The man they interviewed had been a NY times expert on the financial market and had warned the public not to get caught up in the mortgage scams.  Then he turned around, bought a high priced home with a huge mortgage, thinking that his wife’s salary would pay for living expenses while his salary would pay for the mortgage.  Trouble was, his wife wasn’t even working.  They assumed she’d get a job and all would be well, but that never happened.   In fact, in the interview, he gave the impression his wife never had the desire nor intention to find a job.

The interviewer asked “How could you, of all people, who warned us this was happening, do this?”

“We just got caught up in magical thinking”, he said.

This gave me pause to think about that phase magical thinking, as if there’s something wrong with it, as opposed to rational thinking.  Personally, I would not call what the NY times expert got himself into magical thinking.  I might call it Not Thinking.

I think we’re all predisposed to thinking and feeling in magical ways.  I might suggest we’re even wired for that.  And to go further, we need that.  Thinking non-sequentially, allowing the mind to float through time, to daydream, to make odd connections and think even bizarrely, comes from a deep place, a wellspring, the source of creativity.

I got to pondering that, possibly, in today’s modern world, there is no room for this expression, so it comes out in odd and edgy ways, as it did with the finance expert.  Because we’re so overloaded with rationality in our daily lives, our natural expression of magic and synchronicity is relegated to the fringes of our existence.

Living outside in a natural setting, magical thinking is well placed, useful, and even a survival skill.  Yet this idea of magical thinking is only the tip of the iceberg, an expression of a deeper and unexplored realm that our modern lives can not afford to allow, for if we did, society might just slow down too much and who knows what could unravel.

Deep in our past and collective unconscious there is the living remembrance of the natural world, there are the animals who live with us, and there is the constant vibrating pulse of Life, and there is death that is a daily part of this thing we call Life.  In our wisdom we recognize the circular, even spherical nature, of existence, intuitively.  Long ago, every day we took time to observe a sunset for it foretold the nights’ weather.  Everyday we noticed animal sign, as it contained our next meal or spelled danger.  We watched animals and they gave us information about other animals, or weather, or even unexplainable events such as earthquakes.

In our past, animals were emblems of the spirit world; animals were observed to be deep contemplatives.  The bobcat sitting still for hours is one expression. But even the busy bees who seem to never relax:  go into a hive and their buzzing has a deeply calming, meditative, effect.  Economical in their physical needs, alert when needed, and falling into contemplation the rest of their waking time, animals drew us into this ‘magical’ realm of spirit.  Our ancestors knew this and that is why animals were a clear and present connection to spirit.  That is why they said their thanks to the animal before they killed them.  That is why their stories of creation and myth give great powers to animals.  All around them (and us today although we have lost contact with this in our ‘modern’ world) was the magical means for a deep living connection with Presence and Spirit.IMG0102_1

Living in a world where wild animals are confined to parks, we are not in contact with their daily expressions in our lives.  Even in rural areas where there are more human/animal interactions, our lives are not intertwined with them, nor are we dependent on them for our survival or information about the world around us.  We have no need to understand the daily movements of the deer in our yards or pastures, where they bed down, what they prefer to eat and when. We no longer dress in their skins and ‘become’ them, dance as them, sing their songs, to the point that we know them as channels, a magical entrance to a different way of seeing and knowing.

Sometimes it is just good to be overwhelmed.  Lewis and Clark talked about seeing 10,000 bison with packs of ‘Buffalo Wolves’ (as they were called because they followed the herds), elk, and deer, all in one glance upon the prairie.  Sometimes that sense of overwhelm puts us in our natural place.  Sometimes we need to be deluged by natural forces for our minds to go quiet so something else can come into play in our lives.  That is what I call magical thinking.

Conduits to another World; the pure herd.

Conduits to another World; the pure herd.

Water, the universal solvent

Water, the universal solvent

2 Responses

  1. Do you think it’s right to say that magical thinking is opposed to rational thinking? Why not say that magical thinking is a kind of rational thinking and that a lot of thinking that passes as rational is perhaps neither magical nor rational?

    As you know, my Web site is called The Magic of Yellowstone, but as a thinker, I identify strongly with a strain of rationalism (not the scientific empiricism, which strangely today passes as rational). I don’t think there’s anything antithetical to rationalism in the magical. Why would it be irrational to suppose that there are experiences whose explanations are simply beyond our ability to understand them? Yes, from a God’s eye view, that wouldn’t make sense, but we are people, finite in our perception – we certainly experience things whose causes we cannot understand from the available phenomena. If we limit ourselves to the idea that it all can be explained, we will close ourselves unnecessarily to the wonderful – we will be not only closing ourselves to magic but to reason itself.

    Who can touch some of our experiences in this magic land? No one. Yet, certainly we can think on them, deduce from them, and feel them as intensely as we feel all those things we supposedly have a better grip on.

    I think you and I are coming from the same place, but I think it’s worth pressing this point. I like when you said what was called “magical” thinking by the person in the Times was not thinking … but not because we are “overloaded with rationality” in our lives … indeed, we’ve cut ourselves off from it like we have our neighbors like we have our world … like everything else in this strangeness we call civilization.


    • Hi Jim, nice to hear your comments. I too would say its not one or the other; and certainly a lot of ‘rational’ is just in the realm of the emotional, hucksters, con artists, etc. I suppose I was just commenting on today’s dominant view of the world as a ‘solid’ physical place, as opposed to taking into account its ‘psycho-physical’ nature, with all the elements–the rational, the magical, and much more that we can only know in the realm of feelings, intuitions, dreams.
      Thanks again for checking in. Always appreciated. Leslie


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