Roal Dahl writes “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.” Magic, according to Arthur C. Clarke, is just a name for any technology we do not yet understand. If we take the simplest definition of technology (skills, methods, and processes used to achieve goals) the workings of the universe could certainly be considered just that.
Knowing how something works is not a requirement to believe in it, or to experience it. Within each of us is the ability to choose how we see the world. The sprouting of a flower can be seen as the inevitable outcome from the forces of seed, soil, water. Or it can be seen as a magical expression of creation. An unexpected introduction could be seen as luck: right time, right place. Or it can be seen as guidance, purposeful, created by some skill, method, or process of the universe.
Our daily life is filled with opportunities to see magic, if only we look for it. Any struggle you face — worry about money, loss of a job, stress about kids — can blossom into beauty with a question: “What is this teaching me?” There is no requirement to believe in magic, or even an ordered universe, to benefit from this question. Simply put, it is a way to train yourself to see opportunities, hidden teachers, and lessons.
“Rather than waiting and hoping for teachers to appear,” explains Gregg Levoy in his book Callings, “we can create teachers by asking of whatever comes our way, ‘What is the teaching here? What can I learn from this?’”. Any struggle can provide opportunities for personal growth, for new awareness, or even for a change of pace.
The current Coronavirus pandemic can be a source of stress, anxiety, and hopelessness for many. But asking the question, “what can I learn from this?” will give rise to lessons in gratitude that overshadow any anxiety. Harvard Business Journal recently published an article about the opportunities for business leaders during the pandemic, including “a huge opportunity to develop a trust-based culture rapidly”, recruiting the best workforce by adopting remote work protocols, “mastering the leadership skills to tell the truth”, and learning how to adapt quickly.
Individuals can find lessons in slowing down the pace of life, reevaluating priorities, and taking time for self-care. Since the pandemic, the internet is filled with stories of random acts of kindness, people working together, and families growing closer.
None of these things will stop the pandemic, just as searching for the lesson in being fired will not get your job back. What asking the question “What can I learn from this?” does is change you — your mindset, your self-talk, your way of seeing the world. It helps open your eyes to the magic all around you.
You might say, “well if it isn’t going to change anything, why bother?” And to that, I ask: If you have the choice to be miserable or happy, ashamed or grateful, rude or kind… which do you choose? If the outcome is the same either way, why not make it easier on yourself by choosing to find the good in the situation?
In addition to searching for the hidden lesson of each moment, we can also look back into our past for teachers previously passed by. Indeed, we create our own reality by the way in which we choose to perceive past events in our lives. I can see myself as a victim, lost to circumstance — or, I can reframe the question, search for the gem of wisdom within the past, and collect it like a treasure hunter, with glee.
Someone said to me recently, “the only thing keeping me from my future is my past.” I know what it feels like to be stuck there. Being a victim of my past self was a shadowy theme in my life for longer than I’d care to remember. I can’t quite trace back the path of what changed in my mind and in the way I look at the world to free me from the bondage of victimhood. How did I transform from persecuted to co-creator of my life? I think the biggest step was taking complete responsibility for everything I experienced — good and bad.
Whatever befell me, I had to look at it and honestly assess what role my hand played in it. And if I was promoted, successful, or gained any other accomplishment — well, I had to take responsibility for my role in that, too.
There’s a new power I discovered by coolly recognizing my own role in my life. There were others who played their own roles too, of course. But I’m the only person I can be responsible for; I get to make my own choices, and that’s the beautiful thing about being alive. I cannot make a choice for a single person other than myself. And no other person can make a single choice for me. I am the sole and exclusive responsible party for my own decisions.
The ability to make a choice is an important authority, a divine right. The founding fathers of the United States declared man had “unalienable rights”, fundamental rights of humanity that can never be forfeited. Choice, I believe, is the most important one, because it is the biggest expression of personal power.
It’s easy, throughout life, to assume there are times you simply “don’t have a say.” But we always have a choice. “I have to keep working this job I hate because it pays the bills and I can’t find a better one.” — There is still a choice in the matter. You could quit your job, find something else, or find a way to live with less… Perhaps the hindrance is not in lack of choice, but an unwillingness to accept the consequences.
Consequences are inherent; but just like choices, they are ours and ours alone. Each of us shoulders exclusively the responsibility for our own choices and the consequences of those choices. Just as no one can make a choice for me, no one can accept my consequence for me. And it is not a bad thing to have to face the results of choices head-on. Rather, both choices and consequences are gifts. According to Levoy, they are the “teachers in the raw encounters of life… gifts of wisdom and anguish rolled into one.”
Claim power over both choice and consequence, decision and outcome, cause and effect. And you now have the power to perceive things as you choose. What you did and what happened in the past no longer has a hold on you; both prior action and eventual outcome are within the realm of your control in the present moment to make a choice — the choice of how you interpret events. Look into the past and see the prior action for what it really was: everyone doing the best they could. And ask questions of the memories you see in your mind — “what can I learn from this?”
And you just might find a bit of magic.