The key to the illusionist’s art is the power of distraction. While your eye is looking at one hand, the other is busy hiding something up a sleeve or in a pocket. That moment when your attention is drawn away from the actual ‘mechanics’ of the trick is key to the success of the magician’s act.
It’s interesting how susceptible we all are to this kind of deception. It’s as if we want to believe, we want to see magic, so we allow ourselves to be tricked, distracted for the moment that it takes for magic to manifest. We are so open to this, in fact, that we have an astounding ability to do it to ourselves.
Our lives are fairly complex in that they involve a number of co-occurring aspects – some interrelated, others barely having anything to do with each other. Within a single day, we juggle several, if not all, of these aspects: work, love life, hobbies, finances, physical activity, rest, hygiene, self-image, food and drink, interpersonal relationships and so on. Because there is so much happening all at once, it becomes very easy for us to make ourselves the subjects (or marks, to use the magician’s jargon) of a con game we devise ourselves.
What am I talking about? Let me make an example of my own life: having gone freelance at the beginning of this year, I now need to ensure that I always have enough work coming in to cover costs at the very least. Having previously been an employee, this was not really something that I had to deal with before – at least not with any direct responsibility. So now, in the career aspect of my life, I have a daily need to draw up plans, get in touch with existing contacts, make new contacts, get existing assignments done as quickly as possible. Since I am my only employee, solely in charge of my own marketing, with unpleasant consequences at the end of the month should I not do the necessary, these are tasks which ought to take top priority. But it can be overwhelming and I can feel, at times, that I have reached the limits of my resources and my ability to create new work. So what do I do? I would like to say that I stick at it and find new doors to open but that is certainly not always the case. Instead, as is human nature, I look for the path of least resistance and turn my attention to an area of my life that is easier and where I am seeing better and more immediate results. So I may go to the gym and have my trainer push me through a routine that demonstrates my increased strength and stamina. I can then feel gratified about my improved fitness and, hey Presto! I’ve forgotten about my work worries.
There is nothing wrong with walking away from a challenge that appears insurmountable. Doing something else can often clear your head and enable you to come back to the challenge with a fresh new approach. But sometimes this is not how it plays out. The next day I may go back to my work challenges and find that they are just as intimidating as the day before. I may carry out some perfunctory actions to convince myself that I have done what I can but then off I go to the gym again, or to whatever other activity makes me feel better – and the work still is not done.
It’s this ongoing diversion of our attention from challenging aspects of our lives that constitutes the magic trick of distraction and denial that I am referring to. Something becomes too difficult for us to face and so we keep pushing it aside and focusing on things that we can handle more easily. The focus on these easier, happier parts of our lives makes us feel better, that everything is okay. Then suddenly we think about that difficult aspect again, pushed away into a corner, and our hearts sink as we remember that it still hasn’t been dealt with. So we turn our focus to something happy again to make us feel better – and on it goes.
What’s the solution? How do you stop being your own mark in this ongoing illusion you’re creating for yourself? The first step is to realise that it is a trick. Become alert to the magician’s tactics. When you feel yourself looking in one direction, force yourself to look back at what you are trying to distract yourself from. Once you have that persistent problem in your sights, decide what to do about it. Do you tackle it once and for all? Do you look for help? Do you perhaps decide that you don’t need it in your life at all any more – that you can simply do without it? Once you have decided on that, take action accordingly. Devise a strategy to deal with it or change it and then pursue it. At times when you feel compelled to look away, force yourself to continue or change the situation until that difficult aspect of your life suddenly no longer makes you want to look away, no longer feels difficult, no longer prompts you to distract yourself from it.
It may be that all of us are illusionists – that we are all innately capable of pulling the wool over our own eyes but what we have here is the opportunity to convert that ability into the power of a true magician or alchemist. By using the power we normally use to distract ourselves to instead face a situation head-on and transform it, we can perhaps convert what appear to be leaden weights into golden opportunities.