Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Into The Magic Shop by James R Doty : Book Review


Just read this book, Into the Magic Shop, by James R Doty, MD. It bills itself as a "Neurosurgeon's quest to discover the mysteries of the brain and the secrets of the heart."


A wonderful read – it has been a long time since I finished a book in a single sitting. It is much more than what it claims to be. It is a heart-warming story of success against all odds, about life's vicissitudes and about passion, to one's profession, and towards whatever one wants to manifest in one's life. But it also more than that.


The story is quite simple. Poor buy fights against all odds to reach success. Becomes a neurosurgeon. Becomes famous. Loses all his money in the dot.com crash. Then he picks up the pieces and builds his life again. Ends up as Director of CCARE – Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, for which the Dalai Lama is the Chief Patron. So far, nothing very different from the usual heroic-achiever stories.


But it is different in the way he achieves his success. When he is a boy, he finds a teacher who teaches him the secrets of manifesting whatever he wants in his life, by desiring it deeply. It is the same trope of "the universe conspiring to give you what you want, if only you believe in it strongly enough", except that the path to achieving it, is set out in exceedingly simple terms.


His teacher starts first by teaching him how to relax. The technique is exactly the same as that used for Savasana in Hatha Yoga. Swamit Satyananda Saraswathi of the Bihar School of Yoga, while talking about meditation, spoke about how important it is to relax first. Most people fail to see this connection.


From relaxation, the teacher leads him on to techniques of concentration, which are very beautifully laid out – the book touches on the three most effective techniques for concentration (which leads to meditation)  - focusing on one's breath, staring at the flame of a candle, and chanting a mantra. It is all done in a natural way, like when you would explain to a twelve year old, for that is how old the author is when he is learning all this.


And then, it talks of visualization, and manifesting whatever you want in your life. The Dhammapada, in its first two verses, says "1. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. 2. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves."  (The Dhammapada,  Eknath Eswaran's translation)


The teacher first teaches him to "open his heart" which is the seat of wisdom, and then the techniques to bring into his life all that he wants manifested.  The techniques are described in a very simple way, but it is one of the best manuals on meditation I have read, explained in a few, simple, concrete steps, devoid of all jargon.


The book is written in a very direct, simple style, and it manages to do what all good books do – put you in the shoes of the protagonist and make you look at life through his lens, and share in his journey.  All in all, a good read, short, sweet, and insightful.

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