“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
― Roald Dahl
“Do you believe in magic?”
A friend asked me this question earlier this year, and my immediate response was that yes, I do believe in magic, in the sense that there are events, feelings, connections and coincidences that happen that we can’t explain. And it seems that the more attention I pay to those things, and give gratitude for them, the more they happen.
It’s possible that one day there will be a scientific explanation for this kind of magic – maybe something to do with quantum entanglement, or the underlying nature of reality, or wormholes through time. But I think it would be a shame to know exactly why and how magic works. Quite literally, the magic would be lost.
So I try not to examine it too closely, in case I break the spell.
I only discovered this kind of everyday magic about 17 years ago, around the time I went to Peru, which was in itself a magical experience, and I feel like my life has been touched by magic ever since. I had just read The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield, a spiritual novel that proposes that there is no such thing as coincidence, that every event and encounter has significance if we are only willing to see it. It’s too long a story to relate here, but even the path of synchronicities that led me to Peru was magical in itself, and things got even more crazy-magical once I got there (including an extraordinary night when I found myself in the main square of Cuzco watching a lunar eclipse with Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet – and no, I wasn’t on drugs – although copious quantities of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc were involved…).
I suppose that whether or not you claim to believe in magic depends on how you define it. If you picture Harry Potter-style wand-waving, then no, I don’t believe in it. But I wouldn’t want the kind of magic that leads to instant gratification. This was, in fact, my friend’s next question:
“What would you do if you were gifted with a magic wand?”
This question had me baffled for a while. At first I thought I should say something lofty, like “world peace”. But we all know that if we had world peace on a Tuesday, humans would have found something to fall out about by lunchtime on Wednesday.
So then I tried to think of something more personal – financial security, owning a house and garden, wishing for good things for my mother or my friends – but that all seemed too prosaic.
And eventually I realised that if I did have a magic wand, I would put it in a nice glass cabinet and admire it, and know I had the power to use it if I really needed it one day, but I would leave it untouched for now. Three reasons:
1. If it was for me to decide what was worthy of my one wish, I would probably come up with something too small. My best ever idea wasn’t my idea at all. The notion to row across oceans came from somewhere else, for sure, and was far more audacious than anything I could have come up with. I felt as if I’d been called to adventure. The collective intelligence of the universe is much greater than mine. My job is simply to recognise the call when I hear it, and to say “yes”.
2. I believe life is really about the journey. When I did the obituary exercise that changed my life, I found out that I wanted to live many different lifetimes in one, to live as rich and varied a life as possible. So it’s not about a result I want to “have”, or even something I want to “do”, it’s about a way I want to “be”, and that has to unfold in its own way, with all its ups and downs, snakes and ladders.
Following up on that last point, when I was on the Atlantic, and having a really, really hard time, I wanted nothing more than to reach Antigua. If I’d had a magic wand, I might have been tempted to use it. But then when I look at the video of me finally arriving after 103 days at sea, and remember how utterly euphoric I felt, I know the sense of satisfaction – and the learning – wouldn’t have been as great if I’d taken the shortcut by magicking myself there.
3. The suspense is so much fun! If I could wave the magic wand, it would be like skipping to the last chapter of a book. The “not knowing” is such a deliciously enticing stage of the story. Even if you think you know the eventual outcome, there are lots of times when you don’t know if or how you’re going to get there. Hope and doubt, optimism and pessimism… even elation and despair. The magic wand would take all of that away. Imagine the romcom where the guy gets the girl (or the girl gets the guy, or the guy gets the guy, or the girl gets the girl) in the first scene. No flirtation, no misunderstandings, no “will they, won’t they?”. Where would be the fun in that?
So, in summary, magic wands are highly overrated. But magic… that is something wonderful. And it’s all around us, all the time, if we just choose to see it.
[And lest we forget, to someone alive a thousand years ago, our current lifestyles would appear magical in the extreme. Electric lights, TVs, computers and mobile phones are, of course, pretty damn magical, but even the fact that ordinary people (in the developed world, at least) can simply buy whatever they want in the way of food, clothes, and books, and have hot and cold water literally on tap, would blow the mind of a time traveller from 1020.]
For more on magic, here are two beautiful books that I highly recommend – I listened to them both on audiobook:
Yes, I know we don’t do Thanksgiving in the UK, but in 2020 it seems more important than ever to focus on the things we can be grateful for, rather than the myriad of things that have not gone quite as we hoped.
On that note, a reminder that TEDxStroudWomen will NOT be taking place this coming Sunday, 29th November, as we had planned, due to the current COVID restrictions. I have applied for a new TEDx license, and we will hold our rescheduled event in the spring – I will update you as soon as I have any definite news.
Meanwhile, we have a wonderful series of FREE webinars for your delectation, on the theme of what goes into creating a TEDx event, kicking off next Wednesday with me in conversation with two TEDx organisers who have trodden this path before me. Liu Batchelor has curated TEDxFolkestone for several years, always in real life. Thibau Grumett curated his first TEDx this year, in virtual format. I look forward to learning from their contrasting experiences, and hope you will join us by registering below – and please forward this email to any aspiring TEDxers who might be interested!