The Boy in the Magic Shop

Posted on October 20, 2013


In the car I was listening to Conversations on 702 ABC Sydney. The man being interviewed was James R Doty. I only heard about his childhood experiences and was fascinated with his story as a boy in a magic shop learning how to visualise and change his life. When I had time, I went back to his interview and listened to it:

I discovered wonderful interviews with @StanfordCCARE

James R Doty is a Professor of Neurosurgery who grew up poor on public assistance, with an alcoholic father and an invalid mother who threatened to suicide a number of times. With a woman in the magic shop he learned how to rewrite the script of his life and he teaches by example.

Somewhere he talks about experiencing low level anxiety every day, which is a consequence of trauma. During this interview he says 18.40 “When you grow up in a background like I described to you, when you have chaos around you, what is it that you think you want? You want control right? You want to feel that you can get rid of chaos in your life and that you can control external events. And if you come from poverty you think that is manifested by having money. And the wonderful gift of those events happening … everything was gone.”

I discovered a world which I am interested in. He donated money to become the Founder and Director of The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. He is also Chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation.

I read a book by a Tibetan monk ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ while living in Alice Springs in the mid 1990’s. In my 20s I loved a man and the pain of breaking up drew me towards the Adyar bookshop in Sydney which has since closed. There were so many books about meditation. I was drawn towards Thich Nhat Hanh’s books but didn’t know anything about him so I called in to visit some friends.

As a child in Sydney, in first class, a girl came into my class. She had a beanie on, as her sister did, from the head lice from the refugee camp or the boats they had escaped on from Vietnam. I took her to the school canteen and pointed to an apple and taught her the word ‘apple.’ Mai Mai and her sister Nguyen Mai are now both doctors. I visited their house and their mother Bac Mai told me about being a student of Thich Nhat Hanh at university in Saigon, who they call ‘Thay,’ which means teacher. I read all his books and sister Chan Khong’s ‘Learning True Love.’ I did retreats with the Sydney sangha who practice Thay’s mindfulness meditation.

In 1997 I went to Plum Village in France to live with Thay’s nuns and monks for 6 weeks. I attended many dharma talks and woke up at 5am for meditation each day. I had the pleasure of a one on one dharma talk with sister Chan Khong and I served tea in a tea ceremony to Thay who said, “Enjoy your tea.”

To complete my Master of Teaching at Sydney University I had to do an internship. I chose to go to Hanoi to teach doctors English. Bac Mai was very worried about me. She warned me about how much the communists lied, but I didn’t take her seriously enough. Years later I discovered what she meant. The hard way.

As a consequence of relationship challenges, I did couple counselling and went on to study psychotherapy. I discovered that psychotherapy is much more helpful in helping people understand why they are attracted to what is “familiar.” We recreate our family of origin, we are attracted to people like our parents whether we like it or not. It’s familiar. It takes conscious effort to change patterns of behaviour. Repetition compulsion is the psychiatric term for the spiritual concept of karma. In my experience, psychotherapy has been far more helpful in knowing how to make better decisions in life. Young people need help, they need an older wiser person looking into their patterns of behaviour and guiding them to a better way. They need someone to look at how they think, feel and act, to challenge their behaviour. If as a young person I had a choice between learning psychotherapy or mindfulness meditation, I would choose psychotherapy. I think it is far more helpful and important, especially for young people in choosing partners in relationships. John Gottman’s evidence-based research into what makes relationships work, should be compulsory high school study.

James Doty talks about the insight people can get from mindfulness

What I like about his talk is that he combines knowledge of compassion, psychology and neuroscience.

The power of compassion TEDx James Doty @StanfordCCARE

This is a lovely story

I told my 11 year-old son about Jame’s Doty’s life and he said it would make a great movie. He also compared him to “evil” Rupert Murdoch. Liam grew up occasionally going to peaceful retreats in the bush eating vegetarian food with a sangha which is a mixture of former Vietnamese refugees and Australians, following Thay’s teachings on mindfulness. He loves to be with our kind friends walking in the bush. We’ve heard so many stories of how they escaped Vietnam and started a new life. Thay says suffering is the compost which enables the flower of enlightenment to grow.

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