Friday, April 19, 2013

MINDFULNESS AS THE SUSPENSION OF BOTH DISBELIEF AND BELIEF

We all know that things are not always as they appear to be.

In an earlier post I made reference to a great magician of yesteryear---Joe Stuthard (pictured left as well as below). He was one of the greatest close-up and card magicians of all times, but he also toured the world for a number of years with his large stage act. In his performing lifetime he worked in nightclubs and big vaudeville and variety theatres, at carnivals, fairs, showgrounds and circuses, in department and variety stores, and on street corners peddling and demonstrating tricks, many of which he had invented. He was such a great pitchman of magic. As a kid I would watch him for hours, mesmerized.

Joe Stuthard also performed magic on television both in the United Kingdom and Australia, where he finally settled. In fact, he was the first magician to do a gambling exposé with cards on BBC-TV. He also wrote several books and booklets on magic, a few of which (eg Stuthard’s Trilby Deck) are real collectors’ items today. 

Source: The Magigram, 24:12, August 1992, p 29

I have several of Joe's little books including Stuthard’s Svengali Subtleties, which is inscribed by the author, being ‘a book which revealed him as a master exponent of this particular deck’ (The Gen, January 1951), and Stooging Around!, which is all about working with---yes---stooges in your act. Then there’s his Easy Magic Tricks, which was the first book on magic I ever bought and read. I could go on---and I suspect I will. For a while, anyway. Sorry.


I have been thinking a fair bit about Joe Stuthard in recent times. (He died about 20 years ago, and I still miss him greatly. I like pros---that is, people who truly excell in their particular craft or profession.) Not only was it he who created in me a real interest in magic---an interest that persists to this day---but one of his magical creations, the Trilby Deck, has been re-issued recently, and it’s a real gem. For the uninitiated, the Trilby Deck is a combination Svengali Deck and Stripper Deck---assuming that means anything to you. Anyway, once whilst travelling on a train through Canada, Joe was playing with a Svengali Deck---he travelled the world performing and selling Svengalis---and a Stripper Deck, and he wondered if he could blend the two decks together. He did. Hence, the Trilby Deck and the Bi-Co Trilby Deck, the latter being a variation of the Trilby Deck, ‘Bi-Co’ standing for bi (or two) colour, a reference to the two colour backs. The Trilby Deck was, at least initially, a one colour version.

Anyway, the Trilby Deck is much more than a trick pack of cards, it is a whole gaffed deck. In addition to the two above mentioned trick decks, the Trilby Deck now being re-issued is also a colour changing pack as well. If Joe were alive today, I know he would be delighted to see his Trilby Deck available again. (By the way, it’s called ‘Trilby’ after the character and novel of that name written by George du Maurier, a book in which there is a character Svengali, who is a hypnotist.)

In general terms, magic works on a number of different levels but most involve what is known as a suspension of disbelief. When confronted with the ‘magical’ and the seemingly (and actually) impossible---say, the spectacle of a woman being sawed in half---we suspend out innate tendency to disbelief in order to enjoy what is being presented. I always feel sorry for those people---and there are a quite a few of them---who are seemingly unable to suspend disbelief for even a moment. They may be watching some slapstick on television, and all they can say is, ‘How silly! That never happens in real life.’ All very sad, really.

Now, those who are regular readers of my blog know that one of my major themes---some might say it is a ‘fetish’ of sorts---is my assertion that, in order to know, understand, and experience life as it really is, that is, as it unfolds from one moment to the next, we need to give up all---yes, all---beliefs. Beliefs are a barrier, as well as a distorting lens, between what is actually happening, externally as well as internally, and ourselves (that is, the person each one of us is).

But here’s the rub. Although we are always in direct and immediate contact and experience with things-as-they-really-are, we do not always see things-as-they-are at all. Magicians know this so very well. You may think that you see things unfolding before your very eyes as if it were all being captured by a movie camera, reproducing everything in all its detail. In fact, we tend not to see the whole picture but rather only bits and pieces, or patches. We then fill in the ‘gaps’ with memory, conjecture, prediction, expectation, and peripheral vision.

Indeed, we tend not so much to take in the whole picture but rather ‘construct’ or ‘reconstruct’ it. In my earlier blog I referred to the magician’s tool of misdirection, where the magician distracts your attention such that your attention is focused on one thing so that you don’t focus your attention on something else, where the real action (hocus pocus) is taking place. Misdirection works on the principle---and fact---that we miss things simply because we aren't looking at them. That is true in ‘real’ life as well.

Not only do we not see things that are happening before our very eyes, we can also---and this is really fascinating---see things that are not actually there at all. In magic there is a trick called the ‘vanishing ball.’ The magician throws a ball repeatedly into the air and catches it. Then, on the very last throw, the ball ‘disappears’ in mid-air. In fact, the last throw is not a throw of the ball at all. It just looks like it. We see what looks like the  upward trajectory of the ball, but the ball has been palmed by the magician. Now, if the illusion is performed masterfully, we actually ‘see’ the ball ‘rising’ into the air on the last throw and ‘vanishing’ at its apex. It’s a virtual---no, an actual---hallucination of sorts.

So, not only do we routinely not see all that there is, we can even see things that aren’t there at all.

Back to my theme. Do you want to see things-as-they-really-are? Well, give up all your beliefs and misbeliefs about life and how you think, or have been told, it should be---or supposedly is, for that matter. Yes, we need to suspend---indeed, give up, which is even better---not just disbelief but also belief, the latter referring to what we think is the case, what we think we know, what we are told is the case, and so on. We need to direct---gently, not forcibly---our ‘bare’ but intentional attention to and ‘choiceless’ awareness of the here-and-now, that is, the present moment as it unfolds from one moment to the next. Yes, we need to witness directly the nature of reality---and not just witness it, but actually experience it.

So, stop misdirecting yourself, and don’t let yourself be misdirected by others, except when it comes to entertainments and the like. Suspend---indeed, give up---both disbelief and belief.


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