The power of the mind over the body. Widely touted, rarely proven, entirely immeasurable. Yet it is undeniably present and influential.
The All Blacks were destined to win last weekend. Why? Because they were at Eden Park, where they have not lost a game since before I was born. And the cause of that? Not me, but a dose of some variety of immeasurable mind magic, whatever kind comes from a home advantage.
When I say immeasurable, I do not do so because I am a sceptic. In fact, I am more sceptical of things which are categorised as measurable. Take river flow for example. The first image that comes to my mind is a man in waders, standing in the shallows, frantically bailing the Waimak out into some comically large measuring cup using an icecream container.
However, river flow is measured not in litres, but rather cubic metres per second. So in reality, this man instead stands a little further out, holding one of those wooden metre ruler sticks we illicitly jousted with in maths, and frenetically turns it which way back and forth whilst counting aloud. I'm fairly sure.
Anyhow, I personally believe in the power of the mind over the body because a few years back I had a problem.
One afternoon in Wellington, I was giving a speech to a room of people who had very kindly asked me to be there, paid my way, and were eager to hear my address. The crowd enthusiastically stared back as I spoke for half an hour or so. And then I got a tickle in my throat.
I cleared my throat, paused, sipped from the glass of water placed by the lectern like a safety net in the event of tickly throat emergency, and continued.
I made it about four words before I coughed, unexpectedly and with such abruptness that the audience physically recoiled, as though the dog they were stroking had snapped at their fingers. It reverberated through the speaker system in the room. Women went wide eyed and men lowered their eyebrows. I paused, drank, apologised, continued.
Three quarters through the next sentence it fell apart. Spluttering, stuttering, growling as I cleared my throat. Words came out in bursts of two or three whenever possible, with the canter of a death metal song coming out of a stereo as a toddler fiddles with the pause and play buttons joyfully.
I gulped water, puffed, fumbled clumsily for the mute button on the microphone pack that was in my back pocket. The glass of water had run out, and I reached for the jug to refill the glass, juggling them clumsily and spilling water on the stage as I stepped around off balance. If the glass is the safety net, the jug is the fire alarm button. People looked up from their notes and watched with pens held aloft and pensive looks.
The way story telling works is much like climbing a cliff with your readers or audience. Once you have begun, you cannot disembark and leave them halfway. The brain has some inbuilt craving for perfectly well-rounded stories, such that it has created fairy tales, happily ever after movies, and some would even say the concept of an afterlife.
Instead of feeling satisfied with what they've consumed, our brains crave the remainder they are not able to. We are left perplexed, even if we understood perfectly well until that point. You would not stop reading this now and feel satisfied with the conclusion.
Likewise, I could not wrap up 30 minutes into a one-hour keynote and walk off stage to collect myself somewhere. It would be like eating a burger with a bottom bun, all the filling, and no top bun.
I saw the shore, about 30 minutes of spluttering in the distance, and had no choice but to swim or drown. So I chose to swim, and subjected the audience to more irritation than my throat had, and a nice dollop of second-hand embarrassment I'm sure.
Got through it though, was fairly pleased I'd probably never see any of them again, left and laughed about it. All was well until my next speech, when this same issue happened again, and for the next string of about half a dozen speeches where it kept happening with the same disastrous consequences.
At this point it was becoming a bit of nightmare in all honesty. Public speaking is my career, and now clients were paying me for a product I was delivering damaged. I tried throat lozenges, chewed, sucked, stuck between my gum and cheek. The latter led to a rather charming incident when I mistakenly used a numbing lozenge, and began to dribble midway through the speech. And then I started to cough, which didn't spray out well. Nothing worked.
I went to my doctor, because doctors fix. "I need help," I told him, "my boss is about to fire me because I can't do my job, and worst of all, I'm self-employed. Is there some magic medicine you can give me that will fix me?"
I looked back at him with pleading eyes as he used a torch to look around in my mouth. He "hmm-ed" and "hrmm-ed" in a doctorly way, and then like an elderly martial arts master in a movie, he sat down, looked me dead in the eyes, and said "the magic is within you. All you need is within your mind".
He told me before my next speech to forcefully tell myself that the tickly throat thing wouldn't happen, and to see how it went for me.
Word count fast approaching, long story short, it did work and has ever since.
Moral of the story? Take the advice of Dr Miyagi. The magic is with you, all you need is within your mind. Tell yourself forcefully that the All Blacks will win the World Cup.