Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into a store and be handed an instruction manual for living a happy and healthy life? A man named James Doty was offered exactly that back when he was twelve years old. This last week while I was researching another topic, I stumbled upon a podcast by James Doty and immediately knew that his story had the potential to change lives. Of course, even when we have a map right in front of us, that doesn’t mean that we always take the right turns at the right time or the path is without peril. Still, Doty’s story offers us all a glimpse of things we can each do to create the life we feel called to live.
So, who is James Doty and what makes his story worth telling? Doty, MD, is a clinical professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University School of Medicine. While his current credentials are quite impressive, he started with extremely humble beginnings. Living below the poverty level, with a father who was an alcoholic and a mother who was an invalid, he was well on his way to being a juvenile delinquent. By his own admission, he felt hopeless like a leaf being tossed around in the wind. No control. No future.
One day he found himself wandering the streets of Lancaster, CA. In a lone strip-mall,l he saw a magic shop and went inside. There he met a grandmotherly woman named Ruth who was filling in for her son who owned the shop. When Doty asked her how magic worked, Ruth explained that it worked because most people aren’t that aware to begin with. She told him that although our brains are very busy, they are also extremely lazy, and easily distracted. But rather than being distracted by hand gestures, most of the time people aren’t even watching the magic in the first place. Instead, they are regretting something they did yesterday or worrying about something that is supposed to happen tomorrow. Magic works because it is easy to trick people who aren’t paying attention.
After talking for about 20 minutes, Ruth told Doty that she would available for the next six weeks and if Doty returned every day to talk to her, she would teach him real magic. Doty admits he had no great illusions of grandeur—he simply had nothing else better to do. So, for the following six weeks he came to the store every single day and Ruth taught him the magic that changed his life.
In case you are wondering the whole and complete story about what Doty learns and where it leads him is explained in his book, Into the Magic Shop. I did not read the book although I am definitely tempted because of the powerful reviews. What I did learn was available by doing some research and I think the points made are a wonderful introduction into the so-called-magic that Ruth taught that so fully transformed his experience.
Relax the body
Sounds simple right? Yet, even those of us who know the benefits of such a practice often convince ourselves that we don’t have the time. Basically, Ruth first taught young Doty a few simple techniques that helped him focus his attention on his body, to become more mindful in the present moment, and to relax—all important for a young and reactive young man.
Tame the mind
Once the body is relaxed, the next lesson is to focus on quieting the mind and bringing it in to focus. The primary technique Ruth taught young Doty was mediation. By meditating on either the breath, a candle flame or a simple mantra, Ruth explained that Doty would be able to eventually calm his thoughts and concentrate on ideas and sensations that were helpful and uplifting.
Of course, Ruth also explained that this takes time and should be done every day for 20-30 minutes. Plus, it isn’t something you do a couple of times and have it perfected. It can easily take weeks (or much longer) before any significant changes occur. However, the more you practice it, the more you will be able to simply observe without attachment any thoughts that are negative or distracting. You should also be able to disengage from any emotional reactions that are not helpful. Eventually, this ongoing practice keeps your mind at peace while also holding your body in a state of relaxation and wellbeing.
Clarify your intent
After you have relaxed the body and fully focused the mind, the next step is to visualize those goals or experiences you wish to be or accomplish. Once your vision is clear, imagine as much detail around the goal as possible. See yourself having acquired the goal, or see it after the experience is over. What does that feel like? Where are you and who is with you? The more clarity you can provide the better. Repeating this activity once or twice every single day will help the vision become clearer and more detailed. Eventually, you will find yourself living the life you have imagined.
Doty does reveal that the pathway to what you say you want is seldom a straight line. At times it might seem that what you want is impossible to achieve, but similar to much of what Abraham-Hicks and LOA (Law of Attraction) teach, if you trust the process and stick with your vision it will eventually unfold.
So how did these life lessons work for James Doty? Spectacularly. After six weeks with Ruth, Doty believes his brain gradually rewired itself—reinforcing the idea of neural plasticity. He truthfully admitted that even though his outward circumstances didn’t change—he changed and that made all the difference. Gradually he was able to stop responding to the negative dialogue running through his head. Eventually, instead of believing he was stuck without potential, he started believing he had unlimited potential. Not only did he finish high school, he went on to college and eventually became a very successful and wealthy neurosurgeon and businessman.
Unfortunately, at the pinnacle of his so-called success, he realized that he wasn’t that happy or fulfilled. Even though his goals had manifested in every way possible, he realized that money and success was only a reaction to that poverty-stricken young boy he used to be. Only after losing nearly all his wealth, status and many of his relationships, did he finally remember the other lesson that Ruth had taught him years ago.
Open your heart
Years earlier in that magic shop, Ruth had explained that the greatest of the four lessons was the ability to open his heart. Regrettably, Doty missed most of that when he was young. A big aspect of that heart opening was to realize that we are all connected, and it is only through that connection and heartfelt awareness that we ever arrive at a place of peace and wellbeing. When we see others as ourselves and do what we can out of a compassionate heart, we will find the peace and happiness we desire. Having all the success and money in the world matters very little if our heart is closed and we are unconnected with the people we love.
So yes, all of these lessons are available for any of us to use beginning right now. Certainly, all of these ideas have been promoted and taught by writers, teachers, and sages throughout the centuries—so they aren’t magic at all. But as with most magic, many of us aren’t paying attention anyway. As Ruth said in the beginning, people are usually too busy worrying about what’s to come or regretting what we did or didn’t do in the past, so that we never take the time to believe in ourselves and be here now.
And let’s also admit that most of us are too busy running around trying to make things happen in the world around us—instead of taking the time each day to shift our consciousness and allow things to change. I realize that relaxing our body, focusing our mind, visualizing and creating with an open heart isn’t rocket science. But what each of them certainly offers are SMART ways to design a life that we say we want. It’s true that some of us start with more advantages than others, but ultimately we always have the ability to respond in ways that serve us and lead to greater possibilities.
The good news is that the story doesn’t just stop there. James Doty went on to use the same techniques to then re-create a life for himself that teaches the magic he learned to anyone who wants to listen. At the very center of his teaching now is the idea that compassion, and its companion kindness, are the most powerful magic of all. In fact, Doty admits that the greatest gift Ruth gave him was her time and attention. He is now convinced that we are wired to connect and care for one another and that the only way we will ever find the happiness and health we strive for is when we practice loving compassion with others and ourselves every single day.
Okay, your turn. Have you ever studied any of these lessons before? Do you believe it is possible to turn your life around by practicing them? Please share any thoughts you have about “magic” in the comment below.