I was walking along the beach on a beautiful spring morning in South Australia, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the magic in the air, the kind that reminds you that you’re part of a great and mysterious universe.
Being in my mid-50s, I felt moved to ask myself, “If this was it, if it all ended now, would that be enough? Is there anything left undone?” My youngest child has just turned 18, I’ve had a positive impact on some lives through my work and other activities, and I’ve written the “must do” book. If it all ended today, would that be okay?
By the time I arrived back at our digs, still full of life, it was clear what I needed to do. One of my articles, “The Gift of the Truculent Teenager,” was quite popular and I hope useful. But I’ve left the early years unattended.
One great sadness in my life is the seeming lack of magic that can, when tended, illuminate people from the inside. These are the people who, when we meet them, give out a real sense that here is someone doing justice to a life. It manifests as joie de vivre, a spark, an excitement about all there is to explore. It’s the stuff that can make for a life of wonder and awe, connecting us to something greater than ourselves, yet at the same time allowing us to experience that we are an essential part of whatever it is. It gives us the courage to be daring and adventurous, to be truly ourselves. And the beauty is that we all have it… though for many, it has been long repressed and neglected. Yet there are moments when it makes itself known… and too often, we experience these moments as a threat to all we think we’ve constructed for ourselves. Perhaps it feels like an existential crisis.
It seems to me the world is too full of caring about what people think of us or how well our bank account is faring. There’s too much worry about careers, planning for the future, getting organized, trying to make things work out. The magic that I speak of takes care of all that, putting it in its proper perspective. It isn’t some kind of airy-fairy nonsense that gets in the way of carving our niche. It’s our innermost driver that leads us to create a niche of our own choosing. It puts our outer security in its proper perspective, in the service of our unique unfolding.
So how does the magic get inside us? It is part of our human inheritance and comes with the package. As we grow, we add increasing layers of human capacity to who we are — reason, logic, morality, complex communication — but the starting point is the life force that takes hold of us and builds us up, creating the foundation that will serve us for life. This life force comes from different sources: the love that surrounds us, the rhythms of life, the quality of the food we take in, and also, importantly, the forces of nature that surround and penetrate us. It exists in the natural world as the same force that animates all living things and connects the human to all that exists. (If you need evidence of the connectedness of all things, you can start by exploring either science or mysticism.)
Young children are not fully contained in their bodies. They live in their whole environment. This can be a fearsome thing, depending on what surrounds them, but also a great asset if approached with wisdom. We can help by accessing environments of softness and wonder, by allowing questions instead of answers, through giving free rein to imagination and play. It happens best in a natural environment. We don’t need to give children Lego blocks or a plastic playground. Creativity is an essential part of the magic. Get out into nature. Raise your children in small towns rather than big cities. It doesn’t take much sensitivity for us to feel the difference between the impact of an urban street environment versus a quiet rural environment. Let them find their own sacred places. That’s the softness I refer to. It helps create a pliable, magic inner life.
If we let our lives be driven by the loud external voices of the media with their political and economic agendas, there is a danger we will grow into an existence that is not freely chosen — one in which the inner voice is drowned out. When that happens it’s sometimes difficult to rediscover it — ask many people in mid-life. The best way to fortify us and to hang on to an awareness of what’s really important about a human life is through the cultivation of this elusive magic at an early stage. This is an important thing we can do for our children. Like a bit of yeast, it will grow to become a powerful force in the life of the human who has it. And if enough humans have it, it could become a powerful force in life on a larger scale.Read about Garry’s one-to-one midlife counselling