Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Illusions and Secret Pockets

The greatest illusion of a magician is that there is an illusion. The rabbit that lives in the hat, it must eat food a few times a day. So must the doves. The silk handkerchiefs, the golden rings, the top hats and magic wands—they are all real.

Someone sewed secret pockets inside the magic suit, and those pockets are as real as the truth.

I am fortunate to have lived in several such secret pockets. When I worked at a summer camp on the top of a little mountain, people would say how leaving the mountain was returning to the real world. As if all the moments that passed between the people in that place, between the air and the stars, were only an illusion. I know my heart to be knitted together with people of that pocket of the world in ways more real than words.

Similarly, when I worked in a different capacity, as part of a different community, in the same mountains, people coming through would ask when any of us mountain-folk were going to get real jobs. The tactile immediacy of that work, the physicality of it, the shared labors, the lessons I learned and the love I felt—I have spent long years in search of everything that offers anything close to the real beauty and camaraderie of that job. I have scars on my skin from this time—I touch them at times to remind myself of all that was good and real of that time and place.

Friends who have spent time in theaters and on farms, on sailing ships and pilgrimages, field jobs and little explorations of everywhere on earth, any and every pebble of time and space that is apart from average—they tell me of the reality of those secret pockets as well. We’ve lived as the handkerchief of the trick, flying through the air and in doing so, breathing thoughts of magic into the astonished audience who did not believe such things, such ways of being, were possible.

Escape from normal is possible, is highly encouraged. But you cannot know unless you are exposed to that possibility, to the magic of these real places and times. Try asking anyone you know where they have been happiest.

My friends from these pockets, we can be a little harsh. We speak in terms of who “gets it” and who does not. We’re getting kinder, mostly, in recognizing that not everyone we love wants or needs the same things, at the same times we realize it, that everyone is trekking along their own path and hopefully, going along as best they can, by the light of what they “get.”

Roughly, though, "getting it" equates to having zero tolerance for bullshit. Particularly the bullshit of what much of American culture tries to foist onto supposedly free and independent people.

I think this intolerance comes from having witnessed so much truth in the pockets. I know more about my heart, the world, and my place in it for having been a mountain hermit than I could learn any other way. I know that nothing I can purchase will ever come close to bringing me the joy of being above treeline with people I love, or watching starlight on the water. I’ve lived at the mountaintop, I know how much richer life is when its simpler, and it makes me crazy to be told by every subliminal and heavy-handed message outside the pocket-worlds that the truths I hold most dear are illusions.

Frankly, I think that many people in powerful places have a vested interest in keeping those of us pocket-dwellers quiet. It is easier, sometimes, to live in their illusions than to act on our faiths in the truth of our own souls.

We who get it, we who have lived out happy times with fewer clothes on our backs, more birdsongs than iPods, less and cleaner or absent electricity, fewer showers and billable hours, where our feet not our cars have circumscribed the distance of an hour, who have risen to the strange needs of circumstances and found ourselves gloriously capable, we need to rise up and live as we know how.

The world threatens to crumple like an old suit at times. What I worry and fear could fill a book that no one would want to read. With wars and climate change and over-consumption and health crises and poverty and all the rest, we are more or less complicit if we continue living as if our deepest truths of how to be were only illusions.

When I was nineteen and living in a yurt in the woods for college, I wrote in my journal that I didn’t want that time to be something weird that I did as a college student, that I worried I would look back on and laugh cruelly at my idealism and na├»vete, to be nasty and say it had not been the real world. I have tried, since then, to live a life that that honest, romantic, and passionate younger self would be proud of. Or at least, would not run heartbroken away from. Of course, we all grow and learn, but there are ways to be true to the promises we make ourselves in the pockets, to the truths we knew in those times and places. 

Beyond quelling the sickly, skin-crawling feeling of being untrue to your own heart, to return to living more as you did in the pockets, is—I believe—the key towards changing the world. If we live as we know to be better, then it follows that the world will change. This is turning the suit inside out, exposing all the secret pockets, telling how all the tricks are done, dispensing with chicanery and illusion and exposing—instead—the actual magic of what we are capable of.

In his new book, "Radiance of Tomorrow," Ishmael Beah writes, “this wasn’t a place for illusions; the reality here was the genuine happiness that came from the natural magic of standing next to someone and being consumed with the fortitude in his or her humanity.”

This is the magic I believe in. I have zero tolerance for anything less real. 

(photo from Presto, the 2009 Pixar short. Watch it and see how what lurks in the pockets truly has more power than the magician.)

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