Book Review: Into The Magic Shop by James Doty

Book Cover for Into the Magic Shop by James Doty, MD

“Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart” by James R. Doty (MD) has a bit of magic that everyone should know. 

Magic – What more could a young boy, on the cusp of adolescence, want?

Magic is something that Doty has chosen to share with the world and I am ever so thankful that he did. Doty has a sincere, and yet objective, tone throughout “Into The Magic Shop”, even as he recounts his past. A past that is no doubt painful and difficult. Yet, his retelling of his childhood family experiences are portrayed with the child-like lens that he experiences them through.

“My family had little money, and I was often hungry. I didn’t like being hungry. I didn’t like being poor.” (pg 13)

As he paints a picture of his nowhere town, it is clear that Doty was quite aware as a young child – although this could be contributed to his abusive and neglected upbringing, as a hyper-awareness can develop in the name of safety. Doty recounts the negative and positive about his childhood and the full perspective truly helps to bring the story to life.

I found early on that we had something in common: we each had a wooden box where we would keep prized possessions. For Doty, his items were: a notebook of doodles, poetry and random facts, along with a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. I found it fascinating that someone so young had a copy of a book that most adults won’t even bother to read today. Knowing he cares enough to study himself at a young age, I am more than happy to join him on his adventure to the magic shop.

Enter Ruth (or rather, enter Jim).

Before he enters the magic shop in town to find another thumb (if you do magic tricks, you’ll understand why losing your thumb can be a bummer), Doty has only been known by Bobby. When he enters the shop though, he tells the older lady behind the counter that his name is Jim. Instead of a thumb, he finds Ruth casually sitting behind the counter of the store, admitting to hold a seat until her son returns. Ruth is quite the intuitive and Jim is inherently drawn to her. They converse about how often Jim practices magic and as they continue to discuss magic’s inner workings, with Jim’s aware nature at the fore, Ruth’s first bits of mind blowing wisdom bubble up:

” “I think the magic trick works because people see only what they think is there rather than what’s actually there. This thumb tip trick works because the mind is a funny thing. It sees what it expects to see. It expects to see a real thumb, so that’s what it sees. The brain, as busy as it can be, is actually very lazy. And yes, it also works because people are, as you said, so easily distracted.” ” (pg 21)

Quote - Everyone should have their minds blown once a day Neil deGrasse

Ruth’s insight into the mind is a tell for the wisdom she passes on to Doty. Once he agrees to her teaching him the ultimate trick, he anticipates learning but… not exactly the lessons that Ruth has in mind.

Ruth’s Tricks

Ruth teaches Doty daily for the duration of his summer and passes on to him the following four tricks:

Trick #1 – Relax the body

For anyone who practices meditation, this is the first step. Using breathing techniques paired with muscle relaxation, Doty learns to relax from toes to head (yes, in that order).

Trick #2 – Tame the mind

Thoughts are traffic in the mind. There are ones that we are very aware of (“I need to get out of bed”) and some that are automatic or learned (“Breathe in, breathe out” or “I’m just like my mother”). This step is difficult to get your head around, especially if you are someone who wants to action/fix/tend to each thought. Taming the mind is not about clearing it but watching it. Your mind will think regardless of whether you attend to it or not. Let it go. This is where Doty learns about mantras.

Trick #3 – Opening the heart

Ruth’s lesson here is succinct but this lesson is the hardest for Doty (and arguably anyone) to grasp: “But here’s the trick about the things that hurt us and cause us pain – they also serve an amazing purpose. When our hearts are wounded, that’s when they open. We grow through pain. We grow through difficult situations. That’s why you have to embrace each and every difficult thing in your life.” (pg 90). Something that we need to do may be simple but it may not be easy. It could be leaving a non-fulfilling but comfortable friendship. It could be forgiving someone. This trick is all about unconditional love, giving and receiving it. “What matters is that you have an open heart. An open heart connects with others, and that changes everything.” (pg 105).

Trick #4 – Clarifying your intent

Today this would be called manifestation or visualization. I love this title for the exercise, as it gets to the human side. It’s about the feeling that is achieved when the goal or mission is carried out. Digging deep into belief, this exercise shows the practitioner that they are capable of achievement and, most importantly, they are capable. Taking the time to add details to the vision every time creates a compounding effect that helps the vision to become a reality.

Mariner's Compass - Pointing South EastNow that he knows what to do, what does Doty do with his lessons from Ruth?

Doty’s Journey

Ruth’s lessons and her time with Doty is only the first half of the book.  Doty’s continues on his journey into the medical profession. He creates a Goliath set of mistakes for himself. Then he returns to the employ of each of Ruth’s tricks. This makes up the second half. The latter part of the book is as important and impactful as the first. I am thankful for his work with the practitioners that he is fortunate enough to partner with. The second part is where Doty truly finds meaning in opening his heart and clarifying intent.  Don’t miss out on that – it’s a beautiful journey. If you want to go on your own journey, there is a plethora of extra information: exercises, podcasts, and a reader’s guide.

What I love most about this book is how it integrates so closely with what I’ve learned in The Happiness Advantage, Emotional Overeating, and The Thank You Economy. Learning about different ways to work with my mind and enhance my experience of life exhilarates me and encourages me to keep going.

Certainly a must read for anyone who is interested in: meditation, creating life goals or purpose, exploring how their mind works, and/or is curious about whether or not the tricks work.

 

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