Have you ever been to a place over and over again and then suddenly one day, you notice something that you never noticed before? Maybe it’s a building that must have always been there, but it somehow never quite registered in your mind. Or maybe you look at a wall and think, “Was it that color yesterday?” and you are sure, absolutely positive, that it was some other color before. Sometimes you can ask your family or friends, and they will tell you that this thing that you just noticed is exactly as it’s always been. “How funny that you didn’t notice it!” Other times, they’ll be right there with you, wondering about this strange thing. You all agree, it was different before. Something changed in an instant, from one day to the next, in some way that couldn’t possibly be explained by anything so mundane as new construction or a night time paint job.
This is one of a group of phenomena that my close friends and family chalk up to “dimension shift”. We say it half-jokingly, half-seriously. “Wo! Dimension shift!” We exchange knowing nods.
Rational science tells us that these are tricks our minds play on us. Faulty memories. You can prove that this “dimension shift” thing is all in your head. There are pictures that show things as they’ve always been. There are plenty of people you can ask who will tell you exactly when that building was built, or when that mural appeared on that wall. Somehow something in your experience over-wrote a real memory with a false one, or you were simply too inattentive to notice details before, and your mind filled in the blanks with something from your imagination or from another place and time. There are repeatable experiments that show exactly how this works.
It has an explanation. There’s no magic to it. The mystery is solved.
I will say now, without shame, that I think of these two as being simultaneously true. When put together, the paradox of the trick of the mind and the dimension shift are a koan to contemplate.
One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that the more active my meditation and spiritual practice, the more often I will experience these moments of confusion. Sometimes it’s very obvious that the thing I have suddenly noticed was there all along. Other times these moments lead to long, strange conversations with friends as we try to piece together the version of reality that we remember versus the version staring us in the face.
There is one definition of magic(k), attributed to Dion Fortune, that it is the “art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.” This might help release some of the tension of the koan. I do magickal practices, they change my consciousness, I perceive reality in a new way.
When we lean towards the rational side of this koan we can solve the whole thing by saying that nothing in reality has changed. Only my perception changed. And perhaps when my perception changed, I pointed out my perception to a friend and their perception shifted, too. Same reality. New understandings.
But then sometimes that option doesn’t satisfy at all. Sometimes two or three or ten people all come to this new perception separately, without direct communication until after the fact. How does the change in consciousness of one person explain the change experienced by the others? Any answer to this question that I could put forward will inevitably be shunted aside by the rationalist as being “airy-fairy” or “new agey”.
The problem remains a knot to be picked at, bit by bit. It may unravel as some of the secrets are explained away, but more questions remain. In that hole of unknowing is where we rely on less repeatable forms of experience — an anecdote, a legend, a myth.
As long as the insights gained by these forms of knowing are useful, as long as they allow us to act in ways that give us expected outcomes, we can call the whole thing good. One tricky aspect of this thing that we call “magick” is that it often brings us totally unexpected results. If we were talking about drug research, we’d call these unexpected results “side effects”.
So, I was walking in the park last week, after having talked to a tree the day before and saying that I intended to spend more time there, in prayer and meditation. I found a place that I should have known was there — it was signposted, after all — but even my local friends were surprised to learn of it. And when I left that place, walked away to the North on a more-or-less straight path, I came out of the trees just to the South of where I started.