Who Is The Real Harpo?
So the other day I was hanging out downtown. Maybe a week or so ago, I can’t recall the exact date. I had originally gone downtown to see the latest movie that has finally made it’s way to my neighborhood, only to find out that the time listed on their web page was incorrect, so I had an hour to kill. I hadn’t planned on hanging out any longer than it took to see the movie and head on home, so I didn’t bring a book or anything to read. I don’t really like just sitting in a coffee shop unless I have something to read, so I figured I’d just wander around for a while.
I came across this stretch of road where the street performers usually hang out. It’s on this covered area where cars and bikes aren’t allowed. It’s only for pedestrians to wander around. The performers are the normal kind, mostly amateur musicians belting out some tunes they’ve either written or borrowed from somebody. There’s usually this guy with this white parrot that he’ll put on your shoulder and take your picture for a few dollars, or a few hundred yen as the case may be. Once in a while they’ll be somebody doing magic or juggling or something.
That particular afternoon is a rather interesting show. It was this man/woman team that did all these really cool unicycle tricks. They had all means of props and costumes and personalities they would switch in and out of all the time. They even borrowed members out of the audience to involve them in their tricks. One trick involved several guys laying on the ground, and then this girl ride at them and somehow jumps them with her unicycle. She spent all kinds of time building up to the actual trick, which in and of itself was very entertaining. I was impressed with her skills. Although she spoke very little, she communicated quite a great deal. I was reminded of the episode of “I Love Lucy” where Lucy dresses as Harpo Marx, and then the real Harpo shows up. They are both on either side of a partition, and they do a bit where they each come out from either side of the partition and are strangely mirroring each other exactly. They do this several times, and the joke, of course, is who is the real Harpo and who is the imposter.
The jig is up when the real Harpo drops his hat, and it magically returns to his hand. Lucy of course, doesn’t have that trick hat, and hers falls to the ground.
As I was remembering this episode of a performer pretending to be another person pretending to be another person, while watching a performer putting on different personas at will, I was amazed at people’s vast capacity for self-deception. Now before you accuse me of being a cynic, I donâ€™t mean self-deception in any negative sense. Self-deception is a hugely useful trait that has undoubtedly been passed down to us through successive generations of people that have slowly increased their effectiveness in surviving in a harsh environment.
A recent medical study showed that children have the capacity to use their imagination to make pain physically go away. There are thousands of documented cases of hypnosis being used in place of anesthesia in surgery, dental procedures, and other cases of pain control.
That gifted performs such as Harpo, Lucy, and that lady doing the unicycle trick can tap into that capacity is truly a gift to humanity. I’m reminded of a course I took once in hypnosis. The instructor started out by asking who the best hypnotist we’d eve encountered was. Most people couldn’t really think of any. When we all thought of hypnotists, we all assumed he was talking about a stage hypnotists, or a therapist or something like that. He surprised us when he said George Lucas was an example of a great hypnotist.
When you think of hypnosis of being way to capture and focus your imagination on a particular topic, that makes perfect sense. If you go to see a hypnotist to quit smoking or lose weight, he’ll sit you down in a comfortable chair. You’ll lean back and he’ll start talking to you in a soothing voice. And as you listen to this voice, and start to feel yourself sinking into that chair you are sitting in, you will start to forget about things that you used to worry about. You will start to let those thoughts that normally bother you slowly drop off the edge of consciousness as you let those other thoughts take up the main stage of your mind. Once you are in this relaxed, focused state, the hypnotist will start giving you suggestions, suggestions you will hopefully take as authoritative and truthful, and affirming. Such as you only breath fresh clean air, you only eat healthy food, you respect your body, and you get plenty of rest every night and so on.
Compare that to seeing Star Wars. You are sitting in your comfy chair, relaxed, leaning back. The everyday distracting thoughts are drifting away as you are focused a created reality that you will lend your thinking to for the next couple of hours. The lights dim, the crowd hushes. Then you see the words on the screen:
A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Awayâ€¦.
And magically, all conscious connection to normal reality is gone, and your imagination is handed over to Lucas as he takes you on a Campbellian tale of epic proportion.
Of course, this human capacity is a double-edged sword. Just as we can give our mind over to a false reality for entertainment, or to temporarily dull pain, we can also fixate our minds on things that don’t help us one bit. Fears that aren’t true, limitations that don’t exist, and anxieties about events that likely will never happen seem to take up a lot of space in our brain. The trick is to not be too quick to let go of our critical factor when such images seem take hold of our minds.
Nobody likes the skeptic who continuously points out all the violations of the laws of physics or the plot holes of an otherwise decent movie. But that skeptical attitude is exactly what we need to kick out the false fears and seemingly but untrue reality that has taken up residence in our minds.
If you are having a good time, let it be. But if you aren’t, and you suspect a negative false reality has snuck in past your conscious gatekeepers, try asking yourself these questions:
Is It True?
How do I know?
How would I know if this wasn’t true?
Who would I be if this were false?
What could I do if this was false?
Can I find any evidence that this is false?
Is this true for everybody, or just me?
If this is not true for them, how can I make it not true for me?
And see what happens.