The Danger of Magical Thinking In The Hands Of Would-Be Mentors Cannot Be Overemphasized If Your Serious About Your Success!
Every couple of days I drop my my Facebook page to see who’s posted what – and today what came up for me is the foolishness of magical thinking, especially when it’s presented by someone who’s out there mentoring people.
Today I began writing a long response to someone on Facebook who is a well known trainer running mentoring programs and offering mentoring to individuals about magical thinking based on a post he put up. I decided after about three minutes of writing to delete it not to embarrass a colleague in a public forum, however the bitter taste of his folly still lingers and I need to spit it out.
While I don’t spend hours a day doing “social media” there are a couple of groups there I participate in on occasion. Most of these are about NLP, hypnosis, changework, performance or transformation … and posting in the last category often get my goat, because they so often wander into the land of magical thinking.
However, before you think this is going to be a posting about Facebook, LinkedIn or any other social networking site in the interest of full disclosure you need to know I’m far from being the “social networking maven.” Despite my familiarity and knowledge of the medium, it’s just too time consuming to be everywhere all the time – and make no mistake about it that’s what it takes to be a social networking maven … huge commitments of time, energy and effort.
I’m reminded of my own rejoinder to folks about how to create outstanding results where you want them …
“Where you put your attention, is where you’ll get your results.”
This in turn reminds me of another idea a colleague and friend of mine, Matt Furey, first introducted me to:
The Law of Practice
“The Law of Practice” is Matt’s companion to the “Law of Attraction” that makes a magical idea practical IMO.If you want to get more of how Matt thinks about this I recommend his book, “Expect to Win, Hate to Lose” it’s incredibly inspiring, informational and entertaining as hell too, if you haven’t read it yet, go and buy it now.
I’ve been on about the idea of putting your attention where you want your results for over ten years now. To me this is akin to the law of practice at an attentional level, i.e.: keeping your focus where you want to see the results and outcomes of your life happening. Matt’s idea of The Law of Practice takes this another step forward IMO.
To sum up Matt’s idea briefly it’s that while there are a ton of people who are talking about The Law of Attraction, and the The Secret that it supposedly holds, almost no one is revealing that you only get your results when you add in The Law of Practice, i.e.: you have to take action. The practice Matt refers to is two-fold, practice as in the continual refinement and honing of your knowledge and skills, and practice as in taking continual action as in a disciplined way of acting in the world. I couldn’t agree with Matt more on this one … I think he’s not only right on, but without The Law of Practice, The Law of Attraction isn’t only ineffective, it’s downright dangerous!
But I’m probably a bit ahead of myself here … so I’ll slow down a bit and take it step-by-step with you.
Magical thinking often goes something like this …
“In the beginning there was a unified singularity smaller than a grape. Then something shifted in that singularity – badda bing, badda boom – and the Universe as we know it began at what is now known as the Big Bang!
From that single event and that grape sized mass all of the known Universe emerged, speeding away from the place where it all began at incredible speeds. First the debris from the Big Bang began to collect in clouds, and under the force of gravity those clouds began to collect and become stars. Because those stars where packed in a space much smaller than the Universe occupies today they collided and from those collisions new stars were born, some smaller and some larger … and those stars spawned other forms of matter … denser than the matter of stars. From this more dense matter planets, moons, asteroids, comets … were formed as well.
Over billions of years as the Universe expanded it cooled. Some of the stars collected systems of denser matter around them by the force of their enormous gravitational field. These became solar systems, and in even larger collections of stars and solar systems loosely knitted together by forces both known and unknown, galaxies formed as well. Yet everything there ever was and ever will be was contained in that single grape-sized mass at the beginning. Here on Earth some of that matter spawned life, and again over more billions of years life evolved to become humankind, made of the same stuff as the stars. So you can say you are made of stardust … and that would be accurate.
Well we also know that at the quantum level all matter is connected. When you split an atom and observe the separate particles racing away from one another you can measure their spin as positive or negative, a clockwise or counter-clockwise spin. However, what’s amazing is that when you act on one particle and change it’s spin by forcing it to pass through a strong magnetic field the other particle that was paired with it instantly changes its spin as well. Despite begin separated by vast distances, the two particles remain entangled with one another energetically.
Since we are made of the same stuff that the particles are made of then it is reasonable to acknowledge that once we’ve connected with someone we remain energetically entangled with them as well. This is the miracle of quantum entanglement and energy. It’s what the mystics have said throughout the ages and now science is giving us proof that they were right all along. In fact when we look at the world at a quantum level we realize there’s nothing there, literally … there’s just potentiality until we observe it, at which point the potential becomes manifest depending on what we’re looking for in it.
The mystics and sages have been telling us this as well, that the entire Universe is a projection of our consciousness … that we create reality with our minds. Before we project our consciousness into the Universe it’s just random potentially, and only when we do does it become manifest and real. We have the potential to create our realities at the quantum level by learning to project our consciousness in specific and concentrated ways to manifest anything we desire. This is the essence of The Law of Attraction that the mystics and the sages have known all along …”
Of course I could make the story longer and more complex, but that covers at least the basics … and a good hypnotic tale it is too! It presumes a hermetic, tautological reality. It uses logical chaining and cognitive inertia to pull the reader/listener along. It presents seemingly convincing science to support the argument being made. It’s emotionally compelling, i.e.: most people want to believe it. These are all sound hypnotic storytelling techniques, and there are more, but that’s not what the point of this post is about today – let’s leave it at saying that to/for an untrained, non-critical reader this is very believable story on the surface.
The problem with this story and all others like it is that it’s pure bunk wrapped up in pseudo-scientific speak. Sure some of the facts are true enough based on our current state of cosmological understanding, e.g. the Big Bang theory, basic quantum physics ideas like entanglement … but they are presented out of context and used to support a spurious argument at best.
The most significant aspect of this kind of telling is that it satisfies our G-d quest, i.e.: the desire to have the mysteries of the Universe explained. This may or may not be a result of a G-d gene that programs us to seek a metaphysical answer to the realities of the Universe that we confront as humans, but regardless of the cause the quest persistently remains a part of our longing. I refer to this as an ontological longing, a desire to know what and who we are … and to fit that into an understanding of our place in the Cosmos.
However as soon as we begin to apply even the most basic scientific analysis to the “science” used in magical thinking it begins to fall apart rapidly. Here are two simple examples …
Claim: “We are made of stardust.”
Analysis: Yes, we are formed of the same atomic and sub-atomic particles at the physical level as stars. However stars are made up of elements all much lighter than iron when they are living and active. As soon as iron begins to form in stars as a result of the process of nuclear fission occurring within them, they begin to rapidly collapse, die off and go nova. The physical world we live in, are constructed from and contain within us, is comprised of elements much denser than iron that are stable and required for life as we know it in human terms. No star could survive in a “human condition.”
Claim: “We are energetically entangled.”
Analysis: Even particles that display quantum entanglement show no evidence of being entangled energetically. There is no transfer of energy that is discernible, nor is there any time that can be discerned for this transfer of energy to occur in the instantaneous response of the entangled particles to the state change in the other. This can only be accounted for as informational, not energetic. The brilliant quantum physicist, David Bohm, makes this clear in his seminal work, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” about the role of information at the quantum level and the hidden variables required to create a satisfactory explanation of quantum behavior at a macroscopic level. David Bohm uses the representation of a holographic universe to make sense of the role of information as enfolded or unfolded in physical reality, a much better way to explain entanglement than energetically.
Now here’s the major problem with all of this … people are pre-disposed to believing magical thinking, they want to believe it and they will believe it despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – in matters where the evidence matters. For instance there is no escaping that we are a superstitious species, most likely the only superstitious species that ever evolved on the planet. Yet most people can discern the difference from superstition and what’s real, e.g.: breaking a mirror is not really going to create a seven-year bad luck streak. But when presented with magical thinking, the same impulse that gives rise to superstition, i.e.: spurious cause-and-effect linkages, rushes up and takes over … because, unlike with much superstition, the suggested result is so desirable in so many instances of magical thinking.
When someone who is a trusted source, e.g.: a mentor, is added into the mix, the potential for being misled by magical thinking mantras becomes wildly exaggerated. There are thousands of people who have been under the sway of husksters selling false belief to the tune of millions or maybe even billions of dollars fueling this fire of misinformation.
Magical thinking satisfies the ontological longing in the same way meth-amphetamine releases the rush of dopamine that produces extraordinary sensations of satisfaction and pleasure in the brains of addicts.
In the world of modernity or post-modernity, where as Nietzsche put it “G-d is dead.” (German: “Gott isht tot.”), there is a innate compulsion to experience the satisfaction of having the answers to unanswerable mysteries of the Cosmos, the understanding that comes with having those answers and the sense of profound relief and pleasure at having something to look to for the explanation that satisfies our ontological longings and desire … and magical thinking fulfills that desire brilliantly.
Myth, Mythos and the Mythosphere
In the work I do mythological form plays an extremely important role, allowing me perceive, access and modify the narratives that my clients are operating from, both individual and organizational clients. I normally refer to this as the semantic structure, meaning the entire representational form of the gestalt worldview of the client. This is how the client perceives, represents and relates to what they think of as “real” or “reality” in a conscious, i.e.: representational, way.
The reason I refer to it as mythological has to do with the structure of conscious, representational awareness. The renowned comparative mythological scholar, Joseph Campbell, gave a form to the structure of mythology when he published his seminal work, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.” Rather than present myths as stories that were told, he used those stories to unveil the structure beneath them. This structure is form of what he referred to as “becoming human” … the journey from birth and immaturity to adulthood and maturity. Within that journey he speaks of the phases of human experience moving from dependence, to independence, to interdependence – thus becoming fully human. What’s interesting of course is that not everyone becomes fully human according to this model, with some people never moving beyond dependence to independence, and many people finding themselves stuck at independence, and others stuck in the transitions between phases, e.g.: dependence-independence or independence-interdependence.
The relative position – from dependence, to independence, to interdependence – that someone occupies within the structure of the “Hero’s Journey” is revealed in the Life Story they hold and operate from in their life.
The autobiographical narrative is held and told with very unique and specific characteristics, depending on where a person resides in their journey to becoming fully human. The story someone is living is their gestalt worldview, and one way it can be interpreted is using the filter of Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” model leading from dependence to interdependence. Along the trajectory of this journey the desire to satisfy the ontological yearning to know who we are is encapsulated in the narrative that is a person’s Life Story in any given moment. To what extent the ontological yearning is satisfied will be revealed by the structure of the story someone holds, i.e.: their gestalt worldview in terms of their autobiographical narrative.
The advantage of using mythological structure to analyze the autobiographical narrative someone reveals in the way they express their Life Story is that it offers clues about what to be doing to help them move along the trajectory to becoming fully human as Campbell put it, and also to relieve the pressure of the ontological longing. Unlike magical thinking, mythological form is fully vetted over many millennia of human history. Rather than working with magical thoughts that are perceived to be representative of extant reality, mythology treats the stories we hold as metaphorical. The distinction that myths suggest possibilities and pathways versus absolute truths or cosmic laws of some kind is overwhelmingly significant from the point of view of the mentoring process. Mythology, again according to Joseph Campbell, should be treated as connotative rather than denotative.
In the mentor’s role using mythological form creates access to the autobiographical narrative … the gestalt worldview … and an elegant means of shifting it to a more mature and useful position. This is the entry point to creating transformational change at the conscious level of what I’ve referred to as representational reality … the way we perceive the world to be, and the way we represent it to ourselves and others. This is the structure we use to make sense of the world. Changing the structure of the autobiographical narrative changes what things mean to us, and how we experience the events of our lives. However the most powerful aspect of working mythologically is that it takes the control out of the hands of the mentor and gives back the control to the client. This distinguishes working mythologically from magical thinking in a radical way … rather than being subject to the whims and winds of the Universe, the individual who possess mythological knowledge takes control of their life.
Maybe this is most clearly presented in Joseph Campbell’s stated four functions of mythology:
1) To explain the mystery and awe of the Cosmos
2) To present the cosmology of the times according to the latest scientific and technological understanding of the times
3) To inculcate and teach the social mores and rules of the culture and society
4) To reveal the path of self-knowledge to uncover one’s essential identity, relieving the ontological yearning to know oneself
The wonder is that when working mythologically a mentor can walk with a client sharing all four of these steps on their journey to becoming fully human.
While not every mentor is mythologically trained or capable, those that are stand apart in their ability to expose the magnificence often lying dormant in their clients waiting only for the fresh breath of inspiration to awaken and be realized. Owning and applying this knowledge, skill and ability as a mentor could be called applied wisdom … because after all the first Mentor was Athena in disguise … another role familiar to the best mentors, the trickster provocateur.
P.S. – Check out my newest workshops: Experiencing Transformational Performance, 2 Extraordinary Days with Dr. Joseph Riggio: Experiencing Transformational Performance (http://tiny.cc/hs5rbw)