The magic of the unknown lies behind every corner. Sounds a little like a line from a children’s story book right? Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to it the first time I read it. I was thirty-one and my husband was in the hospital with a critical illness. The prognosis wasn’t good. While anxiously trying to pass the long hours waiting in his room, I came across this sentence in a book. At the time this simple phrase gave me a flicker of hope that regardless of what we were going through at the time, life can be long, and one day we’d be on the other side. There is an unknown magic behind every corner. The story is not yet written. Who knows what could happen?
Seven years later, after my husband passed away, that same phrase supported me as I faced a new phase of life without him. I wrote it on a yellow post-it note and taped it to the glossy white subway tile on the bathroom wall in my first place on my own after he passed. I wanted to be reminded every day that if I stayed open, the magic of the unknown might find me...or that I might invite it to. And it did...self-discovery, romance, a baby, the magic found me over and over again because I refused to focus only on the reality of my current situation.
Being open to magic isn’t that hard. It just means being open to the idea that just as “negative” things can happen unexpectedly, so can wonderful, miraculous things. What if we put more emphasis on expecting good things to happen? What if we just paid more attention to the idea that wonderful things are coming our way? What is the downside to that?
In my last letter, I wrote (from personal experiences) about how we experience a situation is 90% how we perceive it. And that it is 100% up to us how we choose to perceive an experience.
The Cambridge dictionary defines the word “perceive” as “to come to an opinion about something, or have a belief about something”. It is also defined as “to think of something in a particular way”. We can choose to think of something in a particular way. Our ability to choose our perception is so powerful as it can completely transform how we experience an event, or any event in our lives. Our ability to choose how we perceive a situation is true freedom.
In Ryan Holiday's recent newsletter, he touches on exactly this, using the example of John D. Rockefeller during the Panic of 1857, when the market epic-ly crashed:
Rockefeller could have gotten scared. Here was the greatest market depression in history and it hit him just as he was finally getting the hang of things. He could have pulled out and run like his father. He could have quit finance altogether for a different career with less risk. But even as a young man, Rockefeller had sangfroid: unflappable coolness under pressure. He could keep his head while he was losing his shirt. Better yet, he kept his head while everyone else lost theirs. “The more agitated others became,” biographer Ron Chernow wrote, “the calmer he grew.”
The formula for being open to magic involves equal parts expectation (or you could call it faith) and perspective. Being open to magic is to intentionally choose how to see a situation while expecting that good things are coming around the corner.
I hear the skeptics now - is this kind of thinking “unrealistic” or are you “putting your head in the sand”? No. It doesn’t mean you don’t prepare for potential scenarios, or plan ahead or take precautions. But you don’t have to get emotionally attached to gloom and doom thinking or outcomes. And, as I wrote in my last letter, if you feel your thoughts going there, you can remind yourself that even if those negative scenarios did play out, you can handle it. It just doesn't make sense to emotionally live them in advance.
How to stay open to magic:
Stay informed, but don’t emotionally absorb what you hear in the news. The news is often presented as fact when there are few facts known. There is always, always an agenda to how it is presented to us and it is designed to make us click and keep clicking and keep wanting to click. Try to take it in intellectually, without letting it affect you emotionally. Be conscious of the thoughts that come up after you’ve read the article and give yourself a moment to choose better ones.
Remember that actually NO ONE knows how this is going to go. Intelligent people make models and predictions but there is no certainty in those. As one of my wise mentors says, take it in “huh, that’s interesting” but you don’t have to believe that that is how things will go. You just never know. (I touch on this from my own experience in the last letter too)
Focus on the good things. Remember that good things are still happening every single day regardless of the pandemic. We may not hear about them enough but they are happening all around us. Let’s look for and lean into those.
Cool it. As my Dad used to say to my sister and I, in his deep rumbling voice when we were getting too worked up about something- “Cool it.” Don’t get caught up in the hysteria. Don’t let anyone tell you what to think or how to feel.
Find something to get excited about. It could be anything - a business idea you’ve been sitting on, an article you want to write, a project you couldn’t find the time for before, a cake you want to make, a hobby you’ve been meaning to explore. The energy you’ll get from diving into something that’s exciting to you will create an opening for more exciting things to come.
Call magic when you see it. About a month ago, when my Mom came back on one of the last flights to leave India before lock down there went into effect, I went to the grocery store just after the peak of toilet paper hoarding to get her some things. As I headed down a mostly empty aisle, my eye spied two packages left on the shelf. I saw a couple approaching the shelf quickly while I was still a ways off. Oh well, no toilet paper for Mom, I thought. But no, they took one and I got the very last one. Magic. I bet if you pay attention you’ll notice more of it every single day.
“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