Magic in Mundanity

We long for altered states in life.

Is this a bad thing? Is sobriety, the unaltered state, more virtuous? Is it more rational? Is it more real?

Or should we aim to exist in altered states as much as possible?

It seems like everything we love in life is similar to a drug-induced experience.

Sometimes, it’s literally a drug.

Marijuana will get you high. So will cocaine (so I’ve heard). And millions of us consume caffeine every day.

In altered states, you’re taken out of the realm of the ordinary and transported somewhere else.

When you’re in love, for example, everything changes. Your dopaminergic subcortical system lights up and your body releases extra amounts of oxytocin, cortisol, and dopamine. Love is a drug we seek and adore and cherish.

When we’re enveloped in an engaging hobby, we might enter “flow state,” where we experience an altered perception of time, a feeling of utter control, and a lack of self-consciousness.

When we’re drunk, we feel loosened up, less inhibited, and happier (most of us, at least).

We delight in the thrill of roller coasters, the all-encompassing bliss of worship and meditation, the nail-biting suspense of scary movies, and the spell a captivating video game or book can cast over us.

And even watching TV takes us to an altered state. We just . . . turn . . . off. The buzz and flurry of images wash over us, and we unwind.

And when we’re on our phones (who isn’t?), we’re receiving pings of endorphins every time we check our notifications and discover new updates.

Even when we have no external stimuli, say, in a sensory deprivation tank (imagine floating in the dark in body-temperature water), our minds create their own hallucinations.

Altered states of mind are magical. We all seek magic. Why? Because magic feels good. It feels special. It feels . . . right.

You would think that, given the amount of time we spend seeking altered states, they must be a rare commodity. And yet, sometimes, seldom, rarely, or maybe even never, are we ever just “being.” Just sitting, watching, and listening, with nothing special going on. And yet, I think there is a special type of magic here.

Just think: in magical worlds, magic breaks or circumvents the laws of physics. Imagine – a world where unicorns appear out of nowhere, the wind carries people and their umbrellas up and away into the stratosphere for no reason at all, and cotton candy rains from above. Magic everywhere and no control at all. People in that world would look at us and see magic in our mundanity: our predictable rules, our ability to enact meaningful change, our ability to observe and learn, and our ability to empathize with characters in our stories.

Thus I will keep pursuing these altered states (legal ones only for me – I’m a square), and I will keep thanking God that my unaltered state is one in which I possess a great deal of freedom, rationality, feeling, and power.

25 thoughts on “Magic in Mundanity

  1. There is a beauty in the mundan, a comfort, never more obvious than in its contrast to the “altered state”, the exceptional. We need both. We are both.


  2. Great post, right up my current street! My current preoccupation is with an idea in Fraser’s ‘Golden Bough’ that science has replaced the old magical viewpoint and that both are in opposition to religion – they’re about power and it is about weakness and self-abasement. Could an artistic alliance between knowledge and re-enchantment defeat fundamentalism which is essentially passive-aggressive? Anyhow, your post helps me articulate my ideas … for that, thanks!


  3. Great commentary on altered states. Currently battling problems with balance and being light-headed (really) and it almost takes me back to my border line alcoholic days. The other morning as I was looking at the floor in the doctor’s waiting room I was able to envision the pattern on the rug moving. Same thing with the doctor’s little rolling chair. The commedian Steven Wright does, or did a segment in his show where he would say someone asked him how he was feeling. “You know that moment when you’re leaning back on a chair, and then you catch yourself, right before you fall backwards. That’s how I feel all the time.” Here’s a vote for unaltered states.


  4. I don’t want to miss what’s going on, so much to my kids frustration I won’t get a smart phone. I want to be open to experience and I watch people glued to their machines and it seems they are missing the chance to expand their consciousness in one way or another.
    Thanks for the like!


    • It’s funny that you say that – because most young people have a smart phone precisely BECAUSE they don’t want to miss what’s going on – what’s going on online! I’m torn between both. I have a Windows phone, which is smart but not that smart 🙂 I thought eventually I would stop being annoyed by people on their phones, but the annoyance continues …


  5. Interesting. “It seems like everything we love in life is similar to a drug-induced experience.” This is a bit scary but fully correct. I think that various industries are catering to these pings we crave. Actually, various addictions are something I’ve been fighting against all my life, before one can even develop. Sometimes I’m too late, as with smoking (did it for 20 years but am now 9 years free of it), reading (internet killed that addition), internet (waiting what will kill this one). It would be so easy to feed each new craving, so that’s why I don’t.

    As for “our ability to enact meaningful change”, I seriously doubt it in the light of recent events.


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