Misdirection: A Key Tool for Magicians and the Negative Ego

Most of us have heard that one of the most valuable resources for a magician is the ability to misdirect the audience’s attention so the illusion will appear even more magical. Here’s what Wikipedia says about misdirection:

Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. Managing the audience’s attention is the aim of all theater, it is the foremost requirement of theatrical magic. Whether the magic is of a “pocket trick” variety, or, a large stage production, misdirection is the central secret of all magic. The term is used to describe either the effect (the victim’s focus on an unimportant object) or the sleight of hand or patter (the magician’s speech) that creates it.

The words that jump out for me in this definition are “distract” and “unimportant object.” The magician distracts the audience, getting them to focus on some unimportant object instead of where the sleight of hand is going on. Dariel Fitzkee, himself a magician and author of several books on magic, notes: “The true skill of the magician is in the skill he exhibits in influencing the spectator’s mind.”

It occurs to me that this is quite similar to what my negative ego does if I allow it to. It tries to distract me from what is important and meaningful so I will instead focus on something relatively trivial. For example, it will tempt me into a conversation that is largely about gossip rather than have me participate in a more meaningful conversation that could generate something positive. Another misdirection my negative ego likes to do is to tempt me to complain, which often sucks others into complaining – an activity in which nothing is achieved other than venting anger or discontent and burdening one another with those negative emotions.

My negative ego is as wily as a fox, or for this context, as tricky as a magician. If I allow it to, it can misdirect me to any variety of shiny glimmering objects that might hold my fascination. But these distractions do not serve my greatest good. They may “keep me busy” or idle away the time but they don’t contribute to my personal development nor to society in any way.

The key words here are “If I allow it to…” I must remain awake, conscious, if I am to recognize the temptations of my negative ego and, therefore, choose not to take the bait when it is dangled in front of me. Glimmering baubles can catch the attention of infants, even adolescents, but I am adult now and my attention is one of my biggest assets; where I put my attention determines how I will live, what values I hold dear, who I care for and my sense of purpose.

If I allow my attention to get misdirected by my negative ego, I am compromising my integrity, selling a bit of my soul, and wasting energy by engaging in meaningless distractions.

Our attention is the scarcest resource we possess. It deserves to be directed to meaningful endeavors rather than meaningless distractions, wasting our time and energy which could be applied much more wisely.

  • Peter Turla

    This seems to say that you have a negative ego that is an independent, real thing that actually does things.

    A negative ego also implies that you have a positive ego, whatever that is, and that it is an “it” as though it has a separate existence. Could having an ego be a false notion that you are a separate, distinct self?

    You’ve often written about giving up or going beyond the ego and false sense of a separate self. Egoless: awake, conscious. One with all things, operating out of oneness, wisdom, compassion. Being part of the “we-space” or unity consciousness.

    • johnrenesch

      Peter, this is the challenge of knowing separation and dualism is an illusion, yet most of the communication in our society is steeped in dualistic language. I see these as two paradigms, similar to knowing quantum mechanics is the way things work yet most of us still talk and behave as if Cartesian physics is still the prevailing paradigm. Some years ago I wrote about paradigm straddling and this may be another example of it.

      As I read the literature on Advaita, it seems we need to communicate in the illusion until we see that it is illusion and accept oneness. I suppose it is like a youngster learning Cartesian physics before stepping up to quantum mechanics.

      While there is unity consciousness, almost everyone operates as if the dualistic paradigm is dominant as I was when I wrote about the shadow side of ego, what i prefer to call “negative ego.”

      • johnrenesch

        I’m reminded of something Werner Erhard said many years ago:

        “Even the truth, when believed, is a lie. You must experience the truth,
        not believe it.”

        I think this applies to this discussion. Nonduality or unity consciousness can be our experienced truth or simply something we believe. For it not to be a lie we must experience it, not simply believe it.

    • johnrenesch

      Peter, to your question “Could having an ego be a false notion that you are a separate, distinct self?” I suppose it is from a nondual perspective, as are all notions of separateness. Here is the Catch 22 from my POV. It would seem we have reality that some call eternal that is truth and another one that some call interim that is illusion, yet most people spend most of their time in this illusionary reality pretending it is real.

      Sperry, what’s your take on this one issue?

    • johnrenesch

      Peter, I did some work with Chris Davis this past weekend on what he calls the “Wa exploration.”
      Rather than pursuing oneness his focus is removing any obstacles to the experience.

      He talks of two frames for holding nonduality (Frame #1) and duality (Frame #2) where certain ways of speaking (and thinking, I suggest) apply depending on which frame you are coming from.

      Talking about negative ego, the mind and any “other” is a Frame #2 conversation or narrative, such as my article. A Frame #1 conversation would not have objects such as mind, ego or anything seen as separate.

  • Sperry Andrews

    Hello Peter, John asked me to join your dialog. My own ongoing research in attention management and group intelligence shows subjectivity and objectivity are integrated and displayed through the quality and presence of our attention. I have found that whenever we are aware of the void-like nature of our awareness—whether alone or together—our ability to receive and reflect is significantly enhanced.