Upon entering Jamaica on holiday long ago when I was younger, I wrote on the application for my tourist visa in the space provided for occupation: magician. I don’t know what possessed me. At the time, I worked in a mental health center as a clinical social worker, a psychotherapist, studying and practicing NLP and hypnotherapy, and had an inflated view of my abilities to conjure profound changes in the lives of my clients. I liked the idea that I could trick clients into becoming the persons they wanted to be. I enjoyed using indirect hypnotic tools to induce trance, telling rambling, often boring, stories, with the understanding that I was the expert and the client engaged me specifically to practice such deception. People paid good money to change and yet, with every fiber of their being, resisted such transformation. How to help? How to bypass the resistance and engage that small fraction of self that hoped to move into new, uncharted territory? It was all about magic and illusion. Reframing a tragic situation as one that provides growth and opportunity. Providing a different perspective that encourages movement. Magic. Smoke and mirrors. Hope.
My career as a psychotherapist and later, as a life coach, spanned more than 30 years and during that time, I was astounded by how the issues presented by my clients mirrored my own in many ways. Everything from infertility to alcoholism to hair loss. If they had it, so, it would seem, did I. I don’t understand how it happened. I used to think such coincidences were gifts from the Universe. I’d work out and learn about my life challenges through the work my clients did in and out of my office. Maybe it wasn’t so odd, after all. Maybe there are only a limited number of challenges human beings face, and the challenges my clients brought into my office were bound to match up with my very own some percentage of the time. Nonetheless, it always seemed a magical coincidence, and delighted me in each and every instance.
These days, the magic shows up in different ways. In my paintings, for instance, and in my stories. I work in these media with very little interference from my analytical thinking center and instead let myself fall into trance and let slip out whatever is inclined. One of my classmates in studio painting class looked at an abstract painting I was sitting with and asked “this comes just from your mind?” And the honest answer I gave was, no, it comes from my hands. My mind is not involved in the process. I have no image of which I am even remotely aware when I paint. I just pick up a color and apply it then pick up another and apply it, too. With no sense of what is meant to develop. And that’s how I write, when I am at my best. Even now, the magic is in not knowing where this piece is taking me and how I will get there. It’s a journey into the unknown and that’s what’s so thrilling for me. That’s what makes it fun and engaging.
I used to think that I needed to know what the story was going to be about, what the image was meant to look like, in order to create. Now I know that for me, the joy is in the not knowing, the emptiness of mind and trusting the right strokes to take me somewhere delightful. And if I am not delighted, I can always revise. It amazes me every time I paint or write something that I like, and it’s happening more frequently as I learn to surrender to the joy of not knowing. I wonder if my love life will be affected by this same process. Surely I have surrendered to not knowing what’s in store for me in the romance department, but have I done so with joy? I don’t know the answer to that question. It changes every day. But magic is surely the only way romance will ensnare my heart, for the heart is on its own journey and I haven’t any control over it, and never have.
I sit in my living room surrounded by paintings I enjoy. I have painted all of them. Two years ago, I did not take delight in my paintings, but was learning only to tolerate and not reject them. Something has changed, and I think it’s the notion of control. I paint the way I live. I take the easy path, the path of least resistance, the path that is fun, pleasurable. I have chosen not to try and develop my skills in areas that are woefully deficient, like shape and perspective and copying reality. Instead, I’m creating my own reality, using skills that are inherent to my being, my pleasure and sensitivity to color. No one will ever praise the life-like quality of my paintings. Just as no one will praise the structure, discipline or craft of my writing. I am learning to surrender to my strengths and let my deficiencies shine through with affection. I am too old to learn the hard way. I trust in magic.