As I think and imagine so I become.
One of the rewards of writing a column over the years is to record the development of people who have appeared previously in this space. Keith Demlinger of Fullerton is one of them.
Demlinger had just turned 20 in 1978 when I first told of his prowess as an escape artist, emulating the feats of the late Harry Houdini, such as extricating himself from a straitjacket while suspended head down in midair. There were physical resemblances between him and Houdini--medium stature, strong physique and short, curly hair. The two had an irrepressible exuberance and an optimistic outlook on life.
Demlinger had read everything on Houdini he could lay his hands on, and he had reveled in the movie in which Tony Curtis played Houdini. Demlinger had thrilled to the applause his escape work earned him, but there were deeper personal satisfactions that seemed to him unfulfilled.
He also dabbled in conjuring tricks and feats of mentalism. It was in the mentalism field, in which a knowledge of practical psychology is a necessity for success, that Demlinger found intimations of what he now considers his life’s calling.
He began studying in earnest what he calls “the magic of the mind.” He studied yoga, hypnosis and the paranormal, and eventually was graduated with a doctorate in metaphysical science from the University of Metaphysics in Hollywood.
The notion that metaphysics is a science amused him the other day. He suggested to me that it was no more of a science than psychoanalysis, palm reading or witch doctoring. He grinned broadly.
“I am now into meditative analysis therapy, and in a way I am the Wizard of Oz. Consider the Wizard of Oz. He helped people to shed their negative attitudes. For one, he gave the Cowardly Lion courage because he helped the lion to believe in himself. And that’s magic!”
Demlinger, now 26, explained that he is into an expanded concept of magic. Magic is the opening theme of his counseling practice. It is also the thread that unifies the whole.
“The thing that is the magic is the dynamics between people, within themselves and with God. It’s belief. When you believe in something, you give it power. There are many amazing things that happen in counseling I don’t understand, but they are true, and that’s magic.”
Demlinger calls himself Orange County’s Magic Doctor. His counseling sessions usually begin with some sleight-of-hand tricks, jokes and pleasantries. He uses this technique to break down reserves and create rapport with the patient. This is his “laugh therapy.” His conjuring is his ritualistic approach to helping people solve their problems.
“Good therapy uses ritual,” he says. “See the ritual and believe in me that I can help you. Or see the diplomas on the wall. See and believe in this.”
Fundamentally, Demlinger said, “as a metaphysician I point people toward God. Frankly, worship of God--it doesn’t matter which particular religious persuasion a person is--can take care of most people’s problems.”
Except for his magic tricks, Demlinger’s counseling, enhanced by his cheerful supportive attitude, is fairly conventional. Basically, those who come to him, he says, have lost their sense of reality, their sense of perspective. He encourages them to talk freely about themselves. In the talking out, most people recognize their anxieties and their problems and they begin to find their way again, he observed.
At one point in our conversation, Demlinger and I talked about birthdays, and there, I admitted, I had a problem. I would be 65 come March and the thought of being that old dismays me, I said.
I’m not sure Demlinger’s counseling on the matter did me a lot of good, but I liked his creative approach to aging. It went something like this: “Think of yourself as a spiritual being in a material world, not a physical being in a physical world. That way you regard yourself as a ‘thing’ and that’s dangerous and depressing. Your body ages, your mind ages, but remember that your soul doesn’t. Your soul is forever unique and young.
“It’s like flowers in the sun. It’s magic.”