Working Magic When You’re Overwhelmed + Doubting Yourself

Have you ever reread a book from childhood and discovered secret keys

…that happen to be precisely what Adult You needs right now?

Well, I recently got a hankering for my old John Bellairs books, starting with The House With a Clock In Its Walls

Most of the book was comfortingly familiar, and I was amazed at how even tiny details in the illustrations came back to me…

like it was just yesterday I’d been camped out under my rainbow bedspread, reading by flashlight.

(Man, that was the best.)

But what I had somehow entirely forgotten was the climax of the book…

…specifically, how the main character, Lewis, managed to turn around seemingly unbeatable odds through a very peculiar strategy. 

Without losing ourselves in the plot weeds, the gist is that Lewis and his Uncle Jonathan (a wizard) and their good friend Mrs. Zimmerman (a witch) are faced with an evil genius who wants to end the world.

[Dum, dum, DUM…]

It seems as if all is lost, because the villain appears to be an exceedingly powerful magician who is always two steps ahead of them. 

But then, something happened that adult me didn’t at all remember reading as a kid. 

Mrs. Zimmerman had painted a rather dour picture of their chances…

…saying that the villain’s “magic is logical. It proceeds from A to B to C in nice, neat steps. As logical and neat as the movement of a hand around the face of a clock.”

In a flash of inspiration, Uncle Jonathan replies, “Then there’s no point in our being logical, is there?”

edward gorey house clock walls

The others are totally confused, so he explains…

“We’re no good at that sort of game. Our game is wild swoops, sudden inexplicable discoveries, cloudy thinking. Knights’ jumps instead of files of rooks plowing across the board. So we’d better play our way if we expect to win.”

He continues,

“It all seems clear enough to me. Lewis, what I want you to do is this. Get a pencil and paper, and dream up the silliest set of instructions you can think of…Make it as goofy as you can.”

Lewis runs with the idea, sequestering himself in the study for fifteen minutes…

…before emerging with a list of instructions, the first of which made Jonathan “throw back his head and laugh loudly.”

And here’s the thing:

Those “nonsensical,” laughable instructions ended up winning the day and saving the world.


Here’s what I noticed while reading the text as if it’s filled with secret magical wisdom (‘cause it is). 

First, the whole group got on board without reservation or sarcasm.

No one was bitching about how stupid the plan was. They were all enthusiastically, whole-heartedly participating as if this were exactly what the situation called for. 

And so it was. 

When they acted as if, they called into being the reality they had imagined. 

Viewed another way, they took the intuition and the messages of the unconscious seriously. 

How often do we dismiss our dreams as merely “random” or “weird,” or our gut instincts as a case of “just being too sensitive”? 

But here, the non-logical (though not, what I would call, illogical) was highly valued.

Second, they trusted that things would become clear after they began engaging with the process. 

After rushing through the house, carrying out the first batch of oddball instructions, the three regrouped in the parlour, and Uncle Jonathan asked Lewis, “What’s next?”

To which Lewis replied that they needed to play a game of poker until the “Ace of Nitwits” appeared.

Jonathan replied, “And what, may I ask, is the Ace of Nitwits?”

“I don’t know. It just came to me. I guess we’ll know when we find it.”


And so they proceed to play–again, whole-heartedly–and what do you know? A half hour into the game, Lewis “picked up a card and found that he was staring at the Ace of Nitwits.”

How often do we hem ourselves in, fearful of taking the first step without knowing the fifteenth? 

Trusting that guidance will appear when we engage with life beyond the confines of our mind is a powerful act of magic. 

We’re giving the Universe potent energy and intention to which it can respond with equal gusto and enthusiasm.

Imagine the reverse, a situation we so often find ourselves in: 

We’re hesitant, maybe even a little suspiciously pessimistic about our chances…

…and we become stuck in our heads, trying to micromanage the details before we’ve even begun.

Here, the Universe is offered constricted, circular energy to respond to…and it does.

In these scenarios, it’s easy to start seeing obstacles everywhere we look, and our self-doubt is amplified with every pass around the mental track.

And this isn’t because the Universe is “out to get us.”

It’s simply responding to what we’re broadcasting, magnifying our energy with more of the same.

So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck in patterns of self-doubt, take a cue from this magical text:

Listen to the nudges of your intuition,

engage with them whole-heartedly,

and trust that, when you do, guidance will emerge, precisely when and how you need it. 

P.S. Want to amplify your magical power even more?

Check out my free course, How to Alchemically Transmute Difficult Shit Into Electrifying Satisfaction.