The Magic Within

Ananya Sri Ram Rajan

In the movie Nanny McPhee, Emma Thompson plays a rather unattractive, almost scary, looking nanny who comes to care for seven unruly children. When she arrives and finds she is unwelcomed by them (they in fact tell her to leave), she quietly informs them, "When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go." Using her magical powers, she eventually gets the children to behave. The oldest child, who is the most unruly and stubborn of all, is Simon. His understanding of the lessons he needs to learn come a bit slower because his anger gets in his own way. But eventually he too softens, becoming more congenial and gentle.

As in any children’s fantasy movie, there is a progression from darkness to light. While the children are slowly accomplishing their lessons, Nanny McPhee’s face begins to change. She starts with a bulbous nose and several warts. Her teeth are crooked with one that seems to protrude out of her lip. But as the “ugliness” of the children’s behavior changes, so does her face. The warts slowly disappear one by one and eventually a lightness begins to shine through. No different than the light that surrounds us when there is a calm order in our lives. By the end of the movie, Nanny’s true features come forth just as the true nature of each child surfaces.

I love this movie for many reasons. But one is that I find the line “When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I must go” rather profound. Perhaps I am a simpleton, but it seems to me that such a phrase represents the lessons in our lives that seem to keep repeating themselves. They are the ones we need to learn and keep coming back until we do. As humans, we tend to be hard headed. We force things to work the way we want them to, not understanding that nature has its own rhythm (which we are part of), and we get angry and frustrated when situations or events don’t turn out the way we think they should. Our attitude takes on a look much like Nanny McPhee’s face when she first arrives.

When I was younger, I remember someone comparing our inner growth to the removal of an onion skin. Peeling an onion layer by layer is tedious, but it is a perfect representation of the way we slowly soften as individuals. Every lesson we learn and truly accept joyfully, removes a layer of crust in which we surround ourselves. It is amazing how much amour we wear to deflect the things we do not like. And as the world progresses, there seem to be more and more things we feel we need to fight against or fight for. Discussions lately have become arguments depending on who we are talking to. In turn we keep adding more layers to our being instead of taking them off.

While we all wish we could have a Nanny McPhee help soften our hard surfaces, one way we can slowly rub away the callousness in our personality is by giving our full attention to another being when we are with them. Whether it be our plants, pets, or our neighbors, we are often thinking about something else when we are with them. We rarely are completely present. We often think, “If I can just get this done, then I will have time to do (fill in the blank),” so we are time bound. And we want things to move according to our time frame. Fast if we don’t like something and slow if we are enjoying it. So we are never really present, giving complete attention to whatever we are doing or whoever is with us. This adds to our hardness because we are never relaxed.

When we stop and truly commit to being present with whatever we are doing, time takes on a different meaning because there is a change that takes place in our connection to the being we are with. We may notice things we had not noticed before and we might realize that there is little difference between the being we are focused on and ourselves. We move into a whole new dimension because we are no longer focused on the “I.” Suddenly we may discover that there is so much more to the word “relationship” than we thought.

The magic Nanny McPhee had within her is no different than the magic we hold within ourselves. We just need to know ourselves a little better. But it is difficult to do that when we spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from that which we don’t care for. When we take an open approach to those around us with the intent to see them as they are and not as we’d like them to be (ugly or beautiful), and take an approach of curiosity instead of judgment or fear, and truly commit to this, we might begin to find a few cracks in our armor that slowly allow our true nature to shine through.