Magical Thinking by Wayne Saalman

Red sunset and flowers

“MAGICAL THINKING” is a term with multiple meanings.


For some, it is about giving one’s fantasies free expression, most notably in order to keep the spirit buoyant in the wake of the death of a loved one or after some form of tragedy in one’s life. It may also provide a way to relieve stress, for engaging in “magical thinking” for many is about slipping off into fantasyland in order to escape the pressures of the “real” world, which is generally a harmless activity, unless one takes one’s fantasies a step too far and does something violent or criminal based upon those fantasies.


For others, magical thinking is about the pursuit of salvation or enlightenment. It is about breaking from conventional thought and pondering the metaphysical or spiritual aspects of life, and the seeking of transcendental levels of experience. To believe in “magic” for such people is about taking action at a “higher” level, in the sphere of the “higher mind” or what Jung called “the collective unconscious”. Using deep states of meditation, a “magician” believes that he or she can influence events by bringing about synchronicities that will be of benefit in some way. Perhaps one can win someone’s love or bring a better job into his or her life, or a position of power or a large sum of money to oneself. Magical thinking, in this case, spans the full spectrum of activity between the physical and the mental, or metaphysical, realms.


The question, of course, is this: Is “magical thinking” for real in any way, shape or form, or is it a totally delusory undertaking by people who are essentially living on a “hope and a prayer”, or a people who are a bit desperate for better circumstances in their lives?


The answer is far more elusive and uncertain than most diehard, pragmatic materialists would like or generally unfailingly contend. After all, hardcore materialists do not even believe that we humans have a “soul”, let alone one that we can liberate, illuminate or empower.


It is a given, no doubt, that this topic is going to be of interest, almost exclusively, to those who already “believe” that a human being “has” or “is” a soul and that there is indeed a “spiritual” dimension to life as humanity knows it.


As an open-minded “free soul” and “syncretist” – one who studies the many religious traditions of the Earth, searching for whatever inspiration and wisdom that appeals (while purposely eschewing formal membership in any particular tradition) – I can only offer up insights that I have gained over the decades and express my viewpoints in order to, hopefully, show how humanity is more united spiritually than many might believe.


My contention is that, despite the apparent divisions that we see in the world – the many religious traditions and sects, and differing beliefs, dogmas, doctrines and orthodoxies – most of those divisions stem from a purely cultural bias, not from any spiritual absolutes. For example, there is not a religion on Earth that doesn’t extoll the virtues of kindness, charity, love, compassion, humility, gratitude and so on. Which, of course, begs the question, Why do we see so much conflict, persecution, ill will and outright violence, murder and even genocide in the world if such is the case?


The answer, I think, is down to the lack of clarity on the part of the individual, for every group of people can only be as wise as the persons who comprise the group. Which is why working at an individual level is doubtless the best way to go about improving human unity. As Gandhi once advised: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”


That’s not always easy, for life is often hard and unfair, and the vicissitudes of life can be extremely challenging. Sometimes those vicissitudes can even be life-threatening, but if we all work together to solve our problems, rather than working against each other and being greedy and cruel in the process, I think we really could all live together in peace and plenty.


That there is corruption, politically and socially, at the top, among the governing elite of this world, is also doubtless a given, which means that many, perhaps most, people are at a serious disadvantage from day one. Still, one can stand on certain principles and foster personal integrity for oneself, while working at a grassroots level to be the change that is needed in this world.


I believe that if we do work together, then all aspects and challenges in life can actually enrich us spiritually and that liberation can follow in the wake of that enrichment.


One must make the effort, however. That entails making a concerted effort to uncover the hidden gems of wisdom that lie in wait for us. Such gems are like chippings off the philosopher’s stone of legend, but one need not be a philosopher in order to grasp the essential message that such gems are intended to convey: namely, that the vicissitudes of life are, crucially and decisively, the very forces that impel the spirit onward and ultimately compel the soul to evolve.


How? By exposing the individual to both positive and negative, good and bad, wonderful and tragic, experiences which must be dealt with whether we want to deal with them or not.


The vicissitudes of life offer an upside and a downside. They give us cause to celebrate and cause to mourn. But if we humans did not experience the full range of mental, physical and emotional happenstance that can, and does, occur in this world of ours, we would never be able to empathize with one another, nor would we ever come to deeply comprehend how complex, precious and amazing our lives are.


Life is miraculous no matter how it began. The odds of us existing at all were astronomically against us from the moment it sprang into being. That we don’t have all of the answers as to how or why life began only adds a measure of mystery to the enigma that should leave us with our mouths hanging open in awe.


Some get that, but millions in this world seem not to get it at all that even at its most mundane, this life of ours is staggering and phenomenal.


Unfortunately, when people miss this point, they tend to ceaselessly spin their wheels and simply go around in circles forever, instead of using their amazement to climb upward on a rising spiral to a higher, more enlightened, perspective.


Needless to say, we all die, but say it we must, for otherwise we might pretend, not only that death doesn’t happen, but that it will never happen to us.


That it will happen doesn’t mean that we are all bound for oblivion as it appears on the surface of things here in this world. Not if we take seriously the hundreds and thousands of reports of the mystics, sages and yogis that have been handed down to us over the centuries, as well as from the more recent testimonies of those who have returned from what is known as the Near-Death Experience.


Those mystics, sages, yogis and returnees from the Great Beyond come from all cultures and quarters of the globe and, as any unbiased reading of the literature from the many and various spiritual traditions of the Earth readily attests, these accounts are thoroughly illuminating and offer great hope.


Yes, there are those who will argue that there is no objective proof of what we call the “soul”, nor proof of states of being such as “enlightenment” nor “salvation”, and definitely no objective proof whatsoever that a human being lives on once he or she has physically passed from this planet. To such a person, the meaning of life and spirituality in general is a totally subjective phenomenon and always will be.


The subjective nature of spirituality, however doesn’t automatically disqualify it from having validity. After all, even as scientific a pursuit as quantum physics admits the vital role of the subjective observer. Consider what Gary Zukav wrote in his acclaimed work on quantum physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: “Our experience tells us that the physical world is solid, real and independent of us. Quantum mechanics says, simply, this is not so.”


In other words, scientists admit nowadays that there is no such as thing as a purely objective world.


So, yes, spirituality has never availed itself of objective proof, but neither have quarks and gluons to date. Quarks and gluons are inferred to exist from the results of experimentation and inductive reasoning, not from direct evidence.


The otherworld of the mystic and yogi, and that of the “near-death” returnee, are inferred as well. Only the mystic, yogi and returnee knows what actually occurred on some other “plane” of existence and how “real” the experience was. The experience itself cannot be shared with anyone else directly.


What we can share with one another, however, are our own inferences… Our thoughts, our speculations, our sincerest and best guesses about the phenomenon of “spirituality”, the meaning of life, the nature of reality, the verity of “magical thinking” and about the possibility of an Afterlife.


There is no need to be combative about those beliefs though. One can make one’s point and offer up one’s insight on any topic under discussion purely to clarify one’s own thinking on such matters and for getting feedback on those thoughts.


No one, however, can claim to know anything absolutely.


What we do know is that what one believes to be true on any subject is not the same as something being absolutely and indisputably true.


What we know in concrete terms is that we are a single species sharing a single planet in a universe so huge as to be unfathomable. We share the same biosphere, the same physicality and very similar sense impressions.


At this juncture in history, unfortunately, the people of this world are badly divided and to help turn the tide on that, I think, is a wonderful and positive thing to do. The hope here is that if as many of us as possible will take the time to look for what we all have in common and appreciate the many aspects of unity that we do indeed share, then life on Planet Earth will get better.


Views can and do evolve over time. That is a good thing, despite how politicians try to make it a virtue to hold fast to a single viewpoint forever. Viewpoints should change as better data emerges. Which means that there is something very right about views changing over time, for that is a sign of high intelligence.


An evolving and deepening viewpoint is precisely what can result in spiritual enrichment, whether that enrichment comes from magical or mundane thinking.




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