Lucas Handwerker was transporting adults into a world of childhood wonder with his mastery of magic, even as a young boy.
Beyond the Door
Lucas Handwerker’s search for the world beyond
By Steve Israel
Photos by Michael Bloom
YEARS BEFORE HE WAS A TEENAGER who could memorize two encyclopedia volumes in 11 minutes, Lucas Handwerker was a toddler who had a dream about a door. In one of his earliest memories, Handwerker is walking through the woods when he sees a door, a freestanding door in the forest. When he tries to open it, he can’t quite reach – or see – what’s beyond.
Twenty-year-old Lucas Handwerker of Woodstock has spent the rest of his short life doing what philosophers, poets and scientists throughout the ages have tried to do: learn what’s beyond the door of physical reality.
Not long after he could walk, Lucas would look through the hedges bordering a playground in the state of Florida and hope to find a world where people spoke backward.
By the time he was 6 years old, the slight boy with platinum blond hair and bright blue eyes was transporting adults back into a world of childhood wonder with his mastery of magic, and to astound people when he recited the first few sentences of a page that they selected at random.
As a teenager, he really began to tap the untapped power of the mind when he used hypnotism to seemingly cure a big football star of his fear of roaches. He used self-hypnotism to memorize those encyclopedias.
And now, a much larger slice of the world is discovering Lucas Handwerker’s quest. He’s joined such deep thinkers and innovators as Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs in being selected to present a TED (Technology Entertainment Design) talk. Handwerker’s topic in May in his home state of Florida was “How hypnosis can change your beliefs.”
“I guess what astronomers are to space, I’m to the mind,” he says as modestly and matter-of-factly as some of us might say “I’m a teacher” or “I’m an accountant.”
“For someone at his age to take on and master such a complex aspect of work is just jaw dropping,” says Handwerker’s magician mentor, “Reality Thief” Brad Barton.
The head of Lucas’ high school, the Woodstock Day School, goes even further in his praise – and wonder:
“Mozart was born complete at age 4, so you do get these prodigies,” says Jim Handlin. “He’s definitely a prodigy. He’s got intuition. He’s got energy. He’s got creativity.’’
But as far as his search for what’s beyond that door has already taken him, Lucas Handwerker has not yet been able to find what’s there. To do that, he just might have to wait to learn what’s on the other side of the one door no one has been able to open: the door beyond death.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying. “I’m looking, literally, for another world to go to,” says Handwerker. After all, ever since he could walk and talk, Lucas Handwerker has been searching for something beyond the door of everyday reality.
When his mother, Michelle, a nutritionist and certified Amma massage therapist, tried to put him in a standard nursery school where the kids played with blocks and trucks, little Lucas virtually cried out “boring.”
“Please don’t put me there,” he pleaded.
It wasn’t long before his parents learned of Lucas’ need to discover something beyond everyday life, when they gave him a Lego set and Lucas would stay in his room for five or six hours – not bothering to eat lunch – so he could create a Harry Potter castle or a spaceship to take him to another world.
“And he always talked about dimensions,” his father, Steven, says, recalling Lucas saying, “I know there’s another dimension to reality.”
That’s why his parents enrolled him in a magic camp, where he progressed so fast, he was soon doing shows for wide-eyed, laughing grownups.
“A great feeling to see adults turn into little children,” says Lucas.
Of course, Lucas’s search for a world beyond this one was helped by parents who encouraged his exploration. Not only is his father a licensed psychologist who was the American Psychological Association’s first chairman of its division of Peace Psychology, he and his wife are founders of Long Island’s pioneering Wholistic Health Center. So every Sunday morning, while the other kids on the block were watching cartoons or attending traditional churches, Lucas and his family would gather in the living room for their weekly Sunday Service, where they spoke of “higher realities” and “being present now.”
So it was only natural that the family would find its way to one of the Northeast’s centers of alternate lifestyles, Woodstock.
That’s where Lucas enrolled at the Woodstock Day School and really expanded his mind, studying Plato, Aristotle and Hegel, while writing essays on spiritual books like Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” and doing his senior thesis, which included a film, on hypnosis. To earn money, he did table magic at Joshua’s restaurant on Tinker Street.
He also persisted in his exploration of what was beyond the proverbial door, getting deeper and deeper into hypnosis and self hypnosis.
In fact, he went so deep at one performance that someone who had never before spoken another language sank into a trance and, in a small voice, began speaking that foreign language.
“And I couldn’t bring the person out of the trance; I was freaking out a little bit,” he says, adding that he was finally able to do it. “To this day, I can’t explain it. It was the closest thing to real magic. …”
At another performance at the Bearsville Theater, Lucas invited two people on stage, gave a textbook to one of them and asked him to choose a word from the page or two he read. The second person, who stood at the opposite end of the stage, was hypnotized by Lucas and did some “free writing” of whatever came to mind – while the first person silently screamed the word he had chosen.
The person doing the writing would often write the word the person doing the reading had chosen.
But Lucas Handwerker soon tired of performing for others, especially when they tried to pigeonhole him as a magician. You see, despite performances at places like the Bearsville Theater, life for Lucas Handwerker hasn’t been about sleight of hand or trances. It’s always been about learning what’s beyond that door he dreamed about as a toddler and learning to try to take others there by showing them where the mind can go.
That’s why, after a break from performing, he’s developing a new show he calls “an exploration of the mind and what it means to be human. It will draw inspiration from everything I have done and learned so far.
“It’s not about magic. It’s not about hypnosis. It’s about the door,” he says. “It’s about the door.”
So now he’s trying to conduct his search of the mind through other media besides performance, such as writing and film, while also helping others go beyond everyday reality to help cure a fear of roaches or even a fear of tests.
“I want to experience it myself and bring out little souvenirs,” is how he puts it.
So the young man his father calls “an explorer and facilitator of multidimensional reality” will keep trying to learn what’s beyond that door.
Even if it means exploring a place no one has explored before.
“Knowing that this is not all there is,” says his mother, “he’s kind of looking forward to death, to see what’s on the other side.”
“That’s just one of many, many, many doors,” says Lucas Handwerker. “The end of one thing is the beginning of another.”
Revealing the ‘Hidden’
In an excerpt from an upcoming film, “The Hidden,” Lucas Handwerker demonstrates what he calls “the untapped power of the mind” while testing his ability to recall details from an encyclopedia. In the video, posted on You Tube, Handwerker asks a panel of judges to pick a page at random from a volume he has just spent 11 minutes studying. He then is able to recollect from memory the first word at the top of the selected page, to the amazement and delight of the panelists. Handwerker uses a process he describes as “hypnosis” to completely absorb whatever he scrutinizes. See a preview of the film here.