Excerpted from the Time, Myth, and Magic, a work in progress by Ned B. Johnson
I awoke one morning after a forgotten dream, but with a scene lingering in my mind from the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” In the film, mathematician John Nash hallucinated a little girl for many years whom he believed was real, but whom no one else could see. She was part of his psychosis. Then one day he saw her again, and for the first time realized that she had not aged a bit in all that time. He recognized immediately that she could not be real, because real children grow older. At that moment he knew that he was hallucinating her, and he was never able to take her as real again. He used this newfound insight as a wedge to pry open his insanity, and it ultimately gave him back his life and a Nobel prize in the bargain.
I call this kind of sudden recognition “wisdom of the ageless child.” The power of despair rests on our acceptance of its “causes” as real. Without that acceptance, it simply has no power. To withdraw that power requires a clear and certain recognition that it is not real. The problem is that from within the hallucination, there seems nothing to grab hold of with which to do that. But there is.
For John Nash it was his realization that real children age, and that his illusory child did not, ergo she could not be real. He used that knowledge, that certainty, to pull himself back from the quicksand of his own insanity. The hallucinations did not immediately end, but their power over him did, because he no long took them as real.
There are always ageless children in every illusion, no matter how compelling, no matter how terrifying, no matter how enduring. We must learn to find the ageless children in our own insanity and to use that knowledge to wrench ourselves free of the limitations and even suffering with which we have believed we must live.
There are no magic bullets in this challenge. Each delusion is unique and individual, therefore the answers must be tailored to each specific case. Yet all illusions have loose threads, like the back side of a tapestry, that when pulled, unravel the very fabric of the those illusions. When we know how to look for them, we can find them, and having found them we are never again at the mercy of the unreal.
These illusions are not always the enemies they might seem to be. They can, in fact, be critically important stepping stones on our path to growth and fulfillment. Often we must become completely immersed in our own illusions, to take them absolutely seriously. Nothing less will do. And we have to stretch them out as long as necessary, until we reach the point where we have learned what we needed to learn or experienced what we wanted to experience. Nor can we shortcut the process. If we see or understand too much too soon, it ruins the whole thing, because we no longer take it with the seriousness required to attain our goals.
You’ll know you are nearing the end of such a process when you begin to realize that the delusions you have been using to limit yourself, or in other ways diminish the quality of your life, are not real and never have been. Until that time, you give yourself the perfect situations, with the perfect states of heart and mind, and the perfect supporting cast, and the perfect stage upon which to play it out. And when you finally see it, you are thankful for being so merciless to yourself, for that kind of mercy would have ruined everything.
Perhaps it was Descartes himself who had the first recorded ageless child moment, the one in which he asked himself, “What can I know that it beyond question, beyond my prejudices, beyond my beliefs?” What he realized was that something was “happening,” something he chose to call “thought.” He then reasoned that for thought to exist, there had to be a thinker, whom he called “I.” This led to the now-famous conclusion that because he thought, he must exist. It may seem like hair splitting to a casual observer, but when you’re after absolute knowledge, nothing less will do.
I have discovered ageless-child wisdom myself many times. Sometimes it was much like Nash’s experience: sudden, spontaneous, rootless. On other occasions it was triggered by something I’ve read, or done, or heard, or seen. But always it is unexpected, and always it is a blessing that changes my life in beautiful ways I never before imagined. In fact, that is precisely how this book came to be. I just found myself thinking about the most important things I had learned in my life, and they all fell into three categories: time, myth, and magic. And that’s when it happened. I realized that was the title of the book I had been trying unsuccessfully for over 30 years to figure out how to write. Now it was finally time to do it, and you hold in your hands the proof.
Every system of reality, every system of organization, has certain root assumptions upon which it rests. In our system space, time and matter are among these. We take them for granted, which makes their assumptive nature invisible to us most of the time. But we can step outside of that framework. We each possess the capacity to watch ourselves watch, to think about thinking. When we do so, we can experience ourselves and our reality in new ways, and in the process we recapture the power we must necessarily lose when we surrender to our root assumptions. That power is based on choice.
When you are so immersed in the apparent passage of time that you cannot see beyond it, you forfeit your ability to recognize the full scope of your own experience. You become the servant of time rather than its master. The same applies whenever you acquiesce to any assumption or belief, no matter how compelling or seductive. And nowhere is this clearer or more important than with root assumptions.
Yet we can, at any moment, choose to look directly at these assumptions and beliefs, even those that ordinarily seem unquestionable, and see past them. That is the true source of our power: choice. This is what Nash did with his child. This is what Descartes did with his mind. This is what set them free. And this is what will set you free if you have the curiosity, the courage, and the integrity to insist on knowing the Truth behind the truth of your own being and experience. And this is the journey upon which you are about to embark.
So this is not just chalk talk. This is the real deal. In the pages that follow you will, I hope, find triggers that will awaken the wisdom of the ageless children within yourself. You will see for the first time knowledge and insights that have been there all along, but which were invisible to you until now, hidden in plain sight. And you will know why you did it that way, and why you are discovering it all now.