Over Thanksgiving, I dug in to instances of what I call Practical Magic (for more on this concept, you’ll love Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear). After a particularly dramatic day, my fibromyalgia went haywire and I felt myself becoming overwhelmed, unable to stop it, and furious with myself for this inappropriate timing. What did I do? I got a hot shower, the release the water allowed me was striking. I was able to let go of all the effort I had made to keep it together all day long. The liquid hitting the top of my head felt exactly like a spell designed to remove the tension. Real life magic. I was so happy by that comfort that I cried. Let’s talk about what actual magic is and how to create more of it in your life:
Practical Magic Method #1: Engage with the elements in full vulnerability
Water, fire, earth, air. Dare to depend on them for comfort. Humanity has always done this, and we continue to do it – we use it for our creature comforts. We transform and bend them to our will. The magical effect of being in nature is often missed because when we do get out there we don’t always feel that peace all at once – there’s a lot to sift through. To focus on an individual element and the way it speaks to you is more accessible, more timely, and more intuitive to your daily life. You don’t have to change yourself or your habits to appreciate it. It can meet you wherever you are.
These methods kept running through my brain, while I was on vacation, and I practically wrote this piece as dressed in pajamas and I laid on my air mattress.
Practical Magic Method #2: Embrace your surroundings with every one of your senses
Notice which one needs soothing, and adjust. Light a scented candle. Clean your bathroom/take out the garbage. Turn off the background noise. Turn down the lights. Turn down your bed early and be heavy in each of your limbs. Dress in comfy clothes, do away with jeans.
My little brother asked if I was ok, I nodded, saying I was just too heavy to move and couldn’t come play video games with him, even though I really wanted to…it’s our thing when we’re together. To beat back the morning light with a Pepsi (or beers now that we’re older) and junk food and blast some zombies or The Flood until we can’t giggle any more our throats are so sore.
READ THIS: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Practical Magic Method #3: Practice Rituals
The repetition of company, action, setting, and intention, complete with food and drink. They stand the test of time. They, in fact, take you out of time, and out of yourself. And into the unity that that ritual grounds you in.
My brother understood, he left me there in the dark, and I sat there visualizing comforting things. And my recently acquired hobby came galloping into my minds eye: horseback riding. I visualized the horse, his tack, our pace, when I’d somehow coaxed him to a steady pace, and when I hadn’t, and how I’d successfully managed to learn how to post while trotting. I remembered how thrilled I was to not be as sore as previous lessons once I’d dismounted. Yoga was still healing my body, maybe I ought to do it now…?
Practical Magic Method #4: Exercise
No denying it, magic happens when you delight in exercise. Endorphins, right? Bottom line: you can’t hate your body when you’re too busy using it.
Just as I was about to get up and do some restorative yoga poses, my older brother’s dog, Sonar, leapt into bed with me and started nudging at the top of my covers. Bemused, I lifted them and she crawled down under them and promptly curled up in between my shins. Immediate warmth and comfort radiated through my legs and out the bottom of my feet.
Practical Magic Method #5: Silent, easy companionship
Easiest for me to get this through animals, but you can get it through the right kind of loved one or stranger, too. It’s this unspoken recognition that you’re enough before you do or say anything. The acknowledgment that your existence is pleasure/fulfilling/purposeful enough to the world. By giving and receiving this kind of permission to be from a companion, your most vulnerable state finds peace.
As I lay in the dark, thinking I’d write all of this down as soon as I got home, I remembered two other instances of magic that consistently help me release the hateful hold on myself.
Practical Magic Method #6: Artistic Expression
It doesn’t always have to say something. You can do it just because it’s beautiful. That says enough. That says that you see beauty in the world, nay, in fact, that you’re adding to it. It’s a gift.
As I had sat in the waiting room for my nephew to be born, the room was so tense, I was so anxious, that I sent my well-wishes, my hopes, my dreams, my love for this little baby boy into a blanket I was crocheting. This siphoning off of emotion into this blanket became an active meditation, similar to how I feel in the moment on stage, similar to painting portraiture, similar to playing the piano…the vein of presence we tap into when we tap into our creative selves is pure magic.
Practical Magic Method #7: Storytelling
To let yourself be swept away is to let yourself go, and with it all of your worries and concerns. If it’s a good one, it’s repackaged into other situations and characters. Watching them, rooting for them, relating to them, helps you when the finale rolls around and you realize you’ve actually learned about yourself. Of course, joyful storytelling is hampered by thinking you’re being told a parable or when they talk down to you or the integrity of the telling is overshadowed by heavy handed tone. I repeat: it’s about being swept away. It’s about enchantment. It’s about exploring another world, realizing maybe simply that there is more out there to experience. And you’re not defined by your limitations or your description. Character is not who you are or say you are or think or feel. Character is what you do.
So, what do I do? I never stop trying, I just stop trying in ways that haven’t worked before. I think I have to trick myself out of self-loathing (more on that here). We all have our burdens, our crosses to bear. Our curses, if you will. I won’t settle for coping, but I suspect I won’t get rid of this mental pattern forever. It’s a part of me, so to deny that I loathe myself isn’t helpful. If I accepted that, I think I can accept the good parts, too, eventually. To stay safe and sane, and enjoy the tree, the lights, the food and the traditions of my holiday season, for example, or during any other overwhelming time in my life, I have to look for reminders that I’m more than a single attribute on its own. While I can inhabit the space created by my thoughts, my feelings, the sum of my actions – I don’t have to stay there. I don’t have to just love myself or hate myself – I can take all of those emotions into one, by employing these methods, that I know work for me. I hope they work for you, too. Because I think if we get magic on our side, coax it to work for us; by living with magic, not against it, we can finally live fully.