Storytelling at Work
December 17, 2019
My Introduction to Black Magic


There are a lot of things I have never been into. Biodynamic gardening is one of them. Shopping at Wal-Mart is another. And black magic. I realize, of course, there is a value to biodynamic gardening. It's good for the earth. Shopping at Walmart, I suppose, also has its advantages. Like the option of buying three months of toilet paper in one fell swoop. But black magic -- the use of supernatural powers for evil and selfish purposes? Nope. Not my cup of tea. Not even close.

Ever since I was a small boy, I've always thought of myself as one of the good guys -- a light bearer, a healer, a champion of the oppressed. Black magic was as far off my radar screen as learning Swahili. But that all changed for me one rainy Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, in 1982.

Having just arrived from New York on a three-day business trip, I found myself being invited by a friend to join him for a "different kind of evening" -- an evening, he explained, with a trance medium -- a psychic who, apparently, had the ability to channel Merlin the Magician, King Arthur's chief advisor.

Curious, I accepted my friend's invitation and made a beeline, the day after, to the hotel on the outskirts of town where the gathering would take place.

Not in the mood for small talk, I found a seat in the back of the room, signing no guest book, wearing no name badge, and speaking to no one. In front of me, a highly animated group of LA types talked non-stop, anticipating, it seemed, some kind of cosmic experience that awaited them.


Me? I was in a different kind of mood, slipping slowly into my East Coast alter ego -- Big Vinny from Brooklyn -- the pizza-eating, wise guy nihilist with a low tolerance for anything that smacked of woo woo. Let's just say that Vinny wasn't all that impressed by what he was seeing in the room.

And then, show time -- the Merlin-channeling channel made his appearance, stage right, wearing a blue blazer, his shoes much shinier than mine. All eyes were upon him as he sat down, mumbled a few, unimpressive words of welcome and closed his eyes.

And then? He started shaking and twitching, which quickly morphed into a kind of full-body shuddering, apparently vacating the premises to make room for the 800-year old featured speaker of the evening. When he opened his mouth to speak, his voice was very different than the one that had welcomed us just moments before. It was a booming, British voice. Serious. Shakespearean. And apparently in charge. This continued for an hour or so, Merlin tuning into various members of the audience and saying things that sounded alternately profound and a Saturday Night Live sketch.

"Bullshit!" Big Vinny screamed inside me. "Total bullshit!"

Intermission came none too soon. I stood, made a bee-line for the parking lot, found my rented Toyota, and turned on the Mets/Dodgers game. The score? 5-2. Pitching? Ron Darling, just back from three weeks on the disabled list. Bad hamstring, I think.

The New Yorker in me wanted to stay in the car -- at least until the Mets took the lead. The rest of me didn't, semi-concerned that my disappearing act would seem to be a slap in the face to the friend of mine who had invited me. And so, I begrudgingly returned.

As soon as I entered the room, I got chills up my spine. Major chills. The hairs on the back of my next stood up. Whoa! Something, I could tell, was going to be very different than before.

In walks the trance medium. He sits, closes his eyes, shudders, and speaks. "There's a man in the room," he announces, "who is a scientist of ideas. He knows all about white magic. But where he's going in this world, it's black magic he will need to understand. And his name is Mitchell."

OK. Badaboom, badabing. Now he had my attention. Everything he was saying was totally true. I was a scientist of ideas. That's what I did for a living -- helping people in corporations navigate their way through the maze of their minds and develop game changing ideas. And yes, it was also true that as a former poet, monk, and hippie, I knew a lot about white magic. Benevolence was my middle name, We Are the World my theme song. But in the dense, patriarchal, aggressive, hyper-competitive, bottom-line focused, take-no prisoners-world-of-corporate America I was, shall we say, over my head -- Mr. Magoo at an Illuminati convention.

My approach to corporate America, up until then, had been on the light and fluffy side -- a curious blend of Bodhisattva, Woody Allen, and Einstein. Black Magic was not something I noticed upon walking the halls of power, although I did see other things that gave me pause -- like mind games and power plays, selfishness, greed, maneuvering, manipulation, fear, and a kind of icy cold addiction to logic that gave me the creeps.

Maybe it wasn't black magic, per se, I was seeing, but it was definitely on dark side of the spectrum. Like maybe gray, perhaps. Or, on a bad day, dark grey. Whatever color it was, one thing was clear: I was not a master at dealing with it.

The trance medium continued. More sage counsel issued forth in his booming British voice. Merlin, apparently, wasn't satisfied to merely share his 800-year old counsel with me. He also had a very specific reading list he wanted to me to know about -- a bibliography of heavyweights whose books I had shied away from whenever frequenting a spiritual book store: Like Madame Blavatsky, for instance. Alistair Crowley and Alice Bailey. Ouspensky and Gurdjieff.

These were not my peeps. Nor were they the peeps of my peeps. I was more a Rumi and Hafiz kind of guy, with a sprinkling of Zen Buddhism thrown in for good measure. The Mentalists, they of the furrowed brow? Too mental for me. Too heady. Too dense. Too convoluted.

I have no recollection how that evening ended, no memory of how I got back to my car or what I did later that night. All I know is I never read the books Merlin recommended. No, I didn't. But I did manage to hold them in my hands a few weeks later and turn the pages. In a strange way that makes no sense to me, just the act of holding those books shifted something inside me that changed the way I approached my work. It was, as if, I'd been given a homeopathic dose of something or other that tweaked my sensibilities and the way I operated in the business world.

Slowly at first, and then with a steady progression, I found myself moving away from my New Age, smiley face mindset into a much more grounded one. Slowly, I began paying a different kind of attention in the marketplace. Yes, I continued seeing the good in people. And yes, I continued giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. But I didn't stop there. Goodness, indeed, was a good place to start, but it wasn't the whole story. There was shadow, too, that I needed to be mindful of.

And so I started paying attention to a more subtle dimension -- a kind of unspoken corporate hieroglyphics: The tilt of a head... a change of expression.. the clasp of a handshake... eye contact.. or the lack thereof.. how long a glance was held.. and why... a joke... a wink... the feeling I had when someone entered the room... or left... what was said.. what wasn't said...and how what wasn't said wasn't said.

It was, for me, as if a veil was lifting and I began experiencing something I had either ignored or been blinded to for years -- what dogs hear that their masters cannot. Not the invisible elephant in the room, but the invisible elephant behind the invisible elephant. The jealous rock 'n roll road manager skimming an extra 5% off the top while the band parties on.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Take a moment now to think about the various scenes you are in these days -- especially business scenes. Where might there be some subtle black magic going on? Or, if not black, grey. Who might be withholding information... or trying to deceive you... or maneuvering around you in a way that doesn't feel right? What are you seeing that you would rather not see? What are you feeling?

If these questions make you uncomfortable, good. Think about them, anyway. Open your eyes. Open your mind to what is unspoken verbally, but still speaks loudly in other ways. Is there any action you need to take? Is there something you need to do differently, going forward?
Storytelling for the Revolution
Idea Champions

Photo: Samuel Zeller, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at December 17, 2019 05:48 PM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
Do you want to know more about the book before buying it? Click here for Mitch's response to frequently asked questions about Storytelling at Work – the perfect book for people who think they have no time to read.
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Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
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Want to establish a culture of storytelling in your organization or community? Looking for a simple way to help people to share their meaningful, memorable stories with each other? Here's how.
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Click here to view and listen to a series of interviews with the author of this blog. Go beyond the written word. Listen. Feel. Elevate the conversation. Understand what the big deal is about personal storytelling.
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If you like this blog, you might also like Mitch's other two blogs: The Heart of Innovation and The Heart of the Matter. Mitch is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
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When Mitch isn't writing, he's captaining the good ship Idea Champions, a leading edge innovation consulting and training company based in Woodstock, NY. What their clients say.