As children we live in a magical world. Many of us grew up with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. It was disappointing to realize that these supernatural beings didn’t actually exist, but even as adults we remain fascinated by the possibility of magic. Witness the popularity of the bestselling Harry Potter books about Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Magic, according to the dictionary, is “an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source.” But the roots of the word “magic” don’t involve supernaturalism. Rather, magic is simply about power and having power. When we leave the magical world of childhood behind we enter into a very rational world that is the hallmark of the mental plane of human function. Magic doesn’t exist in this world as far as many people are concerned. We use the derogatory term “magical thinking” to refer to people who think their actions have an effect that cannot be rationally explained.

So we live in a scientific and mentally focused age, in which the so-called “Enlightenment” divorced mysticism and magic from rationality and has kept them separate ever since. Magic is and was feared and dismissed by the rational mind. In Salem, Massachusetts, the Salem Witchcraft Trials took place in the 18th century. This reflected a rejection of the supernatural part of American life that was very much present at the time. But nowadays people are rediscovering, sometimes quite by accident, that we do in fact live in a magical, powerful and mystical universe.

Consider a few examples from science that are piercing the veneer of rational thought. An esteemed researcher at Cornell University named Daryl Bem has contributed many influential theories to the field of psychological science. He recently published a paper on precognition, showing that people seem to be able to predict what is going to happen before it actually does. His research was published in a respected academic journal, where it ignited a maelstrom of criticism. Surely, the critics thought, there must be something wrong with the experiment design or the statistical methods since precognition does not exist.

In physics, for some decades scientists have been developing the theory of quantum mechanics. A recent article from the MIT Technology Review, which is one of the more rational publications on the planet, talks about the phenomenon of entanglement as part of this theory. Here are some excerpts:

Entanglement occurs when two particles are so deeply linked that they share the same existence…. Entangled particles can become widely separated in space, but a measurement on one immediately influences the other, regardless of the distance between them. Einstein famously called this ‘spooky action at a distance,’ saying it was impossible according to his theory of special relativity, and therefore quantum mechanics must be wrong, or at least incomplete…. But experiments have shown definitively that entangled particles somehow instantaneously influence each other at speeds faster than light, which is the fastest known means of communication…. The phenomenon of entanglement has left much of the mystery of physics intact, and today it is the subject of intense focus in labs around the world.

There’s no magic in the sense of “supernatural.” There’s nothing that’s not part of nature, of life. Calling things “magic” indicates that we simply have not yet understood the full range of life’s awesomeness and power. Because much of our human experience functions at a very gross realm of experience, the knowledge and the power of life have not yet been fully available to us so we tend to interpret as magic the things that we do not yet understand.

We’re discovering that the capacity for true power lies in the subtle realms, in which everything is animated by the keenly intelligent, loving current of life. This is the part that science hasn’t quite gotten yet. Our bodies and our minds and hearts are utterly wired to be in tune with and to manifest this current. Part of what’s happening now is we are collectively refining our substance to be aware of and to operate in these more subtle realms.

Magic is about the subtle, but it is also about the mystical, the mysterious. Mysticism has roots in the Greek word mystes, meaning “one who has been initiated into the mysteries.” Spirit is subtle and also mysterious in its power. It’s incomprehensible to the human mental faculties, but it’s fully comprehensible to who I am, and available to all those who are pure of heart. As we gain more understanding and access through science and other realms into the subtle and mysterious way that the universe operates, our responsibility grows commensurate with this knowledge.

Dynamo Jack is a qi gong master who spent many years cultivating certain powers and understanding how qi energy operates. He was the subject of a British documentary that filmed him (view YouTube video below) performing “magical” acts like healing people, setting paper on fire with his hands and blocking a bullet shot from a gun with his hand. He explains that his powers are a function of a deep understanding of yin and yang qi and how to gather and then project it.

Towards the end of the video he’s out to dinner with a group of people who are part of the documentary and he tries to push a chopstick through the table. He can’t get it down through the top of the table because it’s hard Formica. So he comes up through the bottom through an inch of wood and the chopstick seemingly melts a hole in the table. But something went wrong with the trick, which caused his hand to bleed and a sliver of the chopstick flew off and hit a woman between the eyes and caused her to bleed too.

The incident was laughed off at the time, but the next day Dynamo Jack reported that he was up all night being visited by his long-dead master who chastised him for showing off in public and for violating a principle of his sect: never to cause harm. Jack realized he had misused the training that had been given to him. He disappeared from public, refused to accept new students, and never allowed himself to be filmed again. With power comes responsibility, and Jack realized that he had abused his.

As we collectively are discovering some of the deeper principles of how life operates, the question we might ask ourselves is “What is the responsibility that comes with this understanding?” There’s a quote often attributed to Nelson Mandela, written by Marianne Williamson, which says: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”  We may be unsure of how to handle the power that comes from an awareness of the true power of life.

Yet we can also know that “To whom much is given, much shall be much required.” (Luke 12:48) We can certainly discern a right attitude, an on-tone expression, and it’s definitely not manipulative in the way that Dynamo Jack was using his apparent power to show off for others. It’s about allowing and moving in harmony with spirit. It’s not self-serving. It serves the truth. And it’s certainly not about fascination or sensationalism. There’s nothing supernatural or separate from nature. An attitude of awe, respect, and humility is what will allow us to exercise responsible stewardship for the power of life.

Prior to her PhD work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Kate Isaacs earned an M.S. degree in Technology and Policy from the Engineering Systems Division at MIT and simultaneously worked towards an M.A. in Conscious Evolution from the Graduate Institute. She holds a B.S. degree in Biology, magna cum laude, from the Oakland University Honors College in Rochester, Michigan. She currently lives in Concord, Massachusetts and enjoys biking, skiing, yoga, and running. kisaacs@mit.edu