Tuesday, April 5, 2011


When I was a kid, and for many years thereafter, I was interested in magic ... conjuring, that is. I was never really any good at it, but I was for a time a member of The International Brotherhood of Magicians and the honorary legal officer of its Sydney Australia ring.
The man whose photograph appears opposite as well as at the very bottom of this post – Canadian magician Joe Stuthard (the 'Canadian Funatic' or 'Mr Svengali') – who was long resident in Australia, but who toured the world with his magic act, was a wonderful man and a great pitchman. I would watch him perform close-up magic for hours on end.

By the time I first saw Joe perform in Sydney, Australia---he was demonstarting the Svengali Deck at the time---he had been working with that deck of cards for some 40 years and was a master exponent of that particular deck. I also recall him producing candy from the nose of a kid, but in his heyday he had toured the world with a large stage variety act.
Joe Stuthard was also a prolific inventor of magic tricks which he sold in department and variety stores as well as being the author of several books on conjuring. By the time he settled in Australia around 1960 he had made more than 30 television appearances [see here and here]---as a magician---in the United Kingdom alone, and my research has revealed that he also appeared at least twice on an early (for Australia, that is---1961), quite classy Australian television variety show called Revue '61 which was compered by Digby Wolfe. (Merlini [Robert Robbins] was the first magician to appear on TV in Australia, in 1957, when the new medium was in its infancy.)

Joe Stuthard, who with fellow magician Harry Baron cofounded The Kaymar Magic Company, was without doubt the best card magician I have ever seen, and he was a dexterous master of misdirection ... that is, when the attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. Misdirection is the psychological aspect or component of the physical act of deception.

Mindfulness meditation involves a misdirection ... of sorts. (Note: There are types of misdirection that are to be avoided. Belief systems, for example. They distort reality and are in the nature of a delusion.)

Misdirection is based on two laws, one physical and the other metaphysical, so to speak.

The physical law is as follows---the human mind can concentrate on only one thing at a time. The metaphysical law is the so-called 'law of indirectness', namely, that when trying to put something out of the mind, do so indirectly as opposed to directly. There is less opposition---resistance---that way.

Now, this is what I have in mind ... ... ...

You just concentrate on breathing in ... and breathing out ... focusing one’s attention on a spot where the air comes in and goes out (eg nostrils) ... taking that as the subject of awareness ... and returning, as mindfully as possible, attention to observing the breathing pattern whenever there are any 'distractions' (eg scattered thoughts), which are to be simply acknowledged before one lets them go gently.

Call it misdirection, if you like. It is a means of distraction ... to avoid and prevent distractedness.

Now, this is important. Never---I repeat, never---become 'attached' to your breathing ... or any other thing for that matter.

You may well ask, 'Why focus on one’s breath?' Well, breathing is natural, which is why there is less of a likelihood of one becoming attached to that form of misdirection.
That is why mindfulness meditation, in my view, is many times better than other forms of meditation where contemplative attention is directed to mental or physical constructs (eg mantras, sacred words, Buddha images, candles, etc). Attachment, in my experience, is much more likely to occur in connection with the latter ... because they are more artificial.
Happy misdirectioning!



  1. I remember Joe doing his tricks and selling his wares at GJ Coles Wynyard (Sydney) store during my lunch hour during the early 1960s. Wonderful memories, with a wealth of cheap and easy to perform tricks which he used to sell himself from behind the counter at Coles. I still have 2 packs of his Svengali cards, which are showing their age now, but still work a treat after more than 50 years.

    1. Thanks, Wayne, for taking the time to post a comment and share your memories which are the same as mine. I watched him for hours perform the same tricks over and over again at G J Coles in George Street, Sydney. In his heyday he had been a giant in magic. Later, at the IBM, I got to know him on a personal basis and his step-grandaughter writes to me from time to time. The Trilby Deck, which he invented in the late 1940s, has recently been re-launched. It's a combination of a kind of stripper deck and a svengali deck. Not the easiest to master, but very useful. Again, I appreciate your writing to me to share your memories---and all the very best to you. Cheers, Ian EJ.