Sunday, October 3, 2010

THE PSYCHOLOGIST AND THE MAGICIAN


When I first became actively involved in alternative spirituality in 1984, attending lunchtime meditation classes twice a week at the, sadly, now gone Unity of Sydney, a most enlightened woman who ran the meditation classes gave me a tattered old copy of this curious short story to read.

The story is called The Psychologist and the Magician: A Psychological Study in Story Form (1920), and it was apparently written by an American metaphysician by the name of Ernest C [Christopher] Rodwick (c1859-1944).

Here's a link to the story.

Set in 1910, the story takes place in a certain mountain cave known as Black Cat Cave, up in the Himalaya Mountains. The story concerns, yes, a psychologist (Professor Herman von Scholtz), described as “one of the ablest scientists of Europe”, and a magician [or “hypnotist”] (Marbado), who is said to have “no peer in India as a magician”.

Like so many spiritual or metaphysical stories, this one also concerns a “journey” or “quest” of some kind. The psychologist (who is generally referred to in the story as either “the Professor” or “von Scholtz”) agrees to undergo what is described as an “ordeal” – the ordeal of life. The psychologist must “go to the end of this cave and out again regardless of what [he] will see, hear, feel or think, and regardless of what becomes of me”.

The story was promoted and popularized by Herbert W Eustace CSB who was an independent Christian Science teacher and writer and who had been anathematized (lovingly "excommunicated forever" [!] for daring to think differently) by the Mother Church in Boston. Eustace was one of the members of the board of trustees of the Christian Science Publishing Society overthrown and excommunicated by the board of directors because, so I have read, he stood loyally with his leader and her deed of trust rather than yield to the power grab of others back in 1918 and 1919. 

Eustace had been instrumental in establishing Christian Science in California, and during his long lifetime he toured the world lecturing and teaching as an independent Christian Science teacher and practitioner. His last lecture tour was at the age of 90 when he went to Australia. He wrote an introduction to the story in 1950, and included the story in his bulky book Christian Science: "Its Clear, Correct Teaching" and Complete Writings. Eustace died in 1957, but his many books, pamphlets and some spoken word voice recordings he made are still commercially available.

Now, I have no brief for Christian Science, and you don't have to believe in Christian Science in order to enjoy and derive some spiritual insight from this short but amazing allegorical story. Indeed, there is nothing inherently "Christian Science" about the story.

The Psychologist and the Magician is an allegory containing a wonderful lesson about the power of the mind, as well as its limitations and misuse. The story illustrates the way we are so easily hypnotized (that is, deflected and led astray by things that have no power in themselves at all except the power we give them through our attention). Our minds tend to operate "hypnotically", especially when we place beliefs---yes, beliefs---between ourselves and reality. Beliefs distort our perception of reality; indeed, they veil the truth---that is, that
which is---from our vision and understanding. Beliefs are the direct and immediate cause of so much of our anguish, for they prevent us from seeing things as they really are. The result? We cripple ourselves; we weaken our power. Power comes from seeing things as they really are. Eschew beliefs! Bugger beliefs! Beliefs are a form of self-hypnosis. They are illusions---misbeliefs, all of them. I note that Herbert W Eustace writes, "You must cheerfully give up cherished beliefs if you would enter into the kingdom of your birthright." As I see it, we must give up all beliefs---cherished or otherwise. None of them are any good.

The story The Psychologist and the Magician tells us that every problem, difficulty or obstacle we face in life--in the story, the various encounters with cobras, Bengal tigers, deep crevasses and so forth---is an "initiation" of sorts by means of which we can either progress or regress, and reminds us that our environment is, for the most part at least, a shadow cast by our consciousness. If you mindfully see things as they really are, and give up all your illusions, all power---and success---will be yours. In the words of the Professor:

"It soon dawned on me that I was not in the water at all, but in a submarine in which I found myself giving orders to its crew as if it were my accustomed duty. The vessel was completely under my control, delving to the bottom of the sea or rising at will to its surface by manipulating a series of levers placed conveniently at hand."

If you bother to read the story---and I hope you will---you will note that when the psychologist first went through the cave he saw that there was nothing in it that could harm him. However, things turned out differently after the magician had started his "magic". Fortunately, the psychologist had already fortified his mind, and was (with only a couple of lapses of attention) mindfully aware at all times of what was taking place from one moment to the next.

The story has some important things to say about the relationship between one's "subjective" (or unconscious) mind and "objective" (or conscious) mind. Suffice to say that even if the conscious mind is in error, if the unconscious mind is rightly directed and in its proper "place" (state), all will be well. The story also reminds us of that important psychological and spiritual truth that we ordinarily tend to do whatever is our strongest desire. That is especially important with respect to giving up bad habits and recovering from life-threatening addictions. Here's someting else that's enormously important:

"'I see my mistake,' said the Professor, throwing away the rock as if disgusted with himself at his blundering. 'To try to knock the wall down is to admit that it is there and but adds to its solidity by hammering away at it. The truth is, the wall does not exist as an objective fact. I should have walked on and not slapped, kicked and hammered at it ... .'"

In other words, what we resist persists---the metaphysical or psychological "law of non-resistance". Also, more often than not the indirect---as opposed to the direct---approach is best in mental working, especially when one is trying to deal with, say, unwanted thoughts. That's called the "law of indirectness". Never---I repeat, never---try to drive an unwanted thought out of your mind directly. You know what happens if you do that. Yes, enough said about that matter. There's a huge lot of wisdom in this story.

So, what are we to do, when we see cobras, Bengal tigers and deep crevasses?  Remember, our particular cobras and tigers may take the form of lust, sensuality, and cravings and appetites of various kinds (all silly little "I's" and "me's")---as well as beliefs of all kinds. Simply say, “Who is speaking?” Say it loud and clear, “Who is speaking?” No voice answers back, for hypnotic suggestion is neither presence nor power. We must release our belief in the supposed independent reality of our mental states, being merely hypnotic suggestions of various kinds brought about by the illusory belief in the supposed separate, independent existence of an "I" and "me", made worse by sensory overload.

And what are we to do in this life, when confronted by difficulties and troubles? Listen to the instruction given by the magician to the Professor: “[Y]ou go to the end of this cave and out again regardless of what you will see, hear, feel or think, and regardless of what becomes of me." That takes courage, but we must do likewise. Yes, there will be difficulties and problems, but we must press on nevertheless. And notice those words---"regardless of what becomes of me" [emphasis added]. Yes, the "me"---that false self in us---must go if we are to make any real progress in life.

Enjoy the story ... and remember to stay mindfully aware at all times. Be not deceived by anything other than reality---not even that. You, too, can conquer illusion and make it safely through, and to the end of, the "cave of life".

[For those who are interested, here's a link to a longer article I've written on The Psychologist and the Magician.]



3 comments:

  1. Thank you so very much for your kind commentary about Herbert Eustace. I also have some commentary of the referenced story of The Psychologist and the Magician. A large part of my metaphysical blogging, and of my healing and consultation work as a Christian Science practitioner has been inspired by Mr, Eustace's work, in which this story is to be found. I will be inserting a link to you on my site and blog. Please visit me at www.stirlingwattscs.com

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  2. My link to you can be found at http://stirlingwattscs.com/?page_id=29

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    1. Thank you kindly. I am very grateful. Spiritually yours, Ian.

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