So what’s new in your life? Familiar question, right? Though for most of us, at least since the advent of COVID-19, there hasn’t been a lot of exciting news to share. On the upside (and I am always looking for the upside!) the slowing down and creating new routines has allowed me to rediscover an old passion – READING!
I suppose every writer loves to read, but my passion for books began long before I became interested in writing. Ever since elementary school, I’ve cherished my time in libraries and bookstores. I still do! But “adulting” sometimes means I get so busy doing all the things that need to get done that I don’t make time for simple pleasures like reading. Slowing down has reminded me that I’m in control of my happiness and that I CAN make time for the things that bring me joy, which is why I’ve been devouring books as of late. Since writing is another passion that fell by the wayside a while back, I thought I might combine my pursuits to highlight some of my favorite reads in the past year.
Look for my Friday Favorites over the next few weeks where I’ll tell you about some of the great stories I’ve stumbled upon. If any of my suggestions resonate with you, settle in with your own copy and let me know what you think.
Here’s my first pick:
Into The Magic Shop by James R. Doty, MD
Loved this quick read! (Finished it in 3 days, reading mostly before bed) It’s a true rags-to-riches kind of story, both in a material as well as a spiritual sense, and the author, who goes by Jim, is a young teenager as the story begins. He describes in heartfelt details the traumas of growing up in poverty, dealing with a mother struggling with mental health issues, and trying to appease a father who is too often violent and intoxicated. Without much nurturing or guidance from his parents, Jim is left to fend for himself and care for his younger brother. Although Jim’s life is often hapless and confusing, he does have a passion for performing magic tricks that, thankfully, diverts his attention away from his troubling circumstances.
One summer afternoon, in search of a “plastic thumb tip” to help him perform a certain magic trick, Jim stumbles upon the Cactus Rabbit Magic Shop, which is tucked into a strip mall in his hometown of Lancaster, California. When he enters the store, he is hopeful about learning new tricks, but he is greeted by a woman who knows nothing about slight-of-hand trickery. Her name is Ruth and she’s the mother of the shop owner, who happens to be out of the store that day. Ruth can’t help Jim find the “thumb” he wants, nor can she answer any of his questions. But she does have some questions of her own.
“Would he like to learn about a different kind of magic,” she asks, “the kind you can’t buy in a store and that will make anything you want actually appear?” Jim has no idea what she is talking about, but he senses her kindness and welcomes the attention. He’s also intrigued. By the time he leaves the store, Jim has made a commitment to return every day that summer to learn about Ruth’s magic.
Thus begins Jim’s tutelage on the secrets of meditation, consciousness, and the power of our minds to attract that which we desire and think about. Ruth has a special way with kids and seems to sense that Jim needs these lessons to bring a sense of calm and hope into his life. Though we discover that every lesson he learns is tested by the forces around him, we also see a boy develop into a young man who learns to summon confidence in the face of fear and determination when confronted with obstacles.
By the end of summer, Jim is convinced that Ruth’s magic is real. In one final session before Ruth returns to her home in Ohio, Jim is instructed to “open his heart” during meditation and make a list of ten things he wants most out of life. Although Ruth is surprised – and a bit concerned – at the items on his list, she teaches Jim how to visualize those wishes as though they had already happened. One of Jim’s greatest desires is to become a doctor, even though his grades are well below average.
Against all odds, including that Jim fails to complete his undergraduate degree and his GPA is a dismal 2.5, he manages to persuade Tulane University’s medical School to grant him provisional acceptance. There seems to be no end to the setbacks and challenges of becoming a prominent neurosurgeon, but Jim stubbornly keeps applying the knowledge he learned from Ruth back in his childhood. Eventually, his goals materialize and multiply, turning him into a multi-millionaire, another of his ten wishes that he wrote down that summer long ago. Although Jim knows that none of it would have been possible without Ruth’s lessons, he stubbornly has refused to embrace the one teaching that Ruth insisted was most important – that of opening his heart. But one disaster after another causes Jim to reassess what Ruth had been trying to teach him about, leading him to make some crucial decisions about his path forward. In the end, his greatest lessons come when he learns to unite the power of his heart with his mind.
What I loved most: From the start, you want to cheer Jim on. His situation is one that no child should have to face, and as the old saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Ruth’s wisdom and ability to nurture bring that glimmer of hope which all stories need. Yet, had Jim’s life suddenly turned into a fairytale, it wouldn’t have seemed real. He struggled to apply Ruth’s lessons and he had to go through some tough experiences, just like most of us do. His courage to keep going and to keep believing was inspiring. Plus, meditation has changed my own life so Jim’s story resonated with me. It also inspired me to set some new goals of my own. (For those of you who don’t know, the title to Dianna De La Garza’s book, Falling with Wings, which I co-wrote, came to me during meditation early in our writing process.)
Why I’d recommend it: It’s well written and emotionally, it’s very touching. Whether you’re curious about meditation or you are already a practicing meditator, the story will be entertaining as well as enlightening. And, who doesn’t love a man-against-the-world type of drama that reaffirms the fact that chasing dreams is what we are meant to do!
Favorite Quote: “Anything is possible if you believe in yourself, if you stop the voice in your head that tells you who you are is based on who you were.”
Want to know more?
James R. Doty is currently a professor at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Compassion International. His travels and talks have allowed him to form friendships with world leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
Learn more at: https://intothemagicshop.com
Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality
~ Thich Nhat Hanh