A guide to life

A guide to life

The Magic
Rhonda Byrne
Simon & Schuster
2012, pp 254

What’s a self-help or ‘mind, body and spirit’ book doing in a literary review? Don’t look here for literary flourishes, memorable flights of fancy or striking imagery that stays with you long after you’ve read the last page. What readers will get is common sense, everyday advice spelt out in plain language in a systematic and at times repetitive manner. That being said, books such as this occupy an important place in today’s world.

The first two books in Rhonda Byrne’s series, The Secret and The Power, became global bestsellers translated into 47 languages and with over 20 million copies in print. One of the purposes of literature is to create a human connection of the spirit; of trying to make sense of a chaotic and often hostile world. A book, however un-‘literary’, which has struck a chord among millions, can in the broadest sense be included within the scope of literature.

Technology keeps us constantly connected to people around the globe. Yet, we have never been more alone. Though we all have the mandatory 1,000-plus ‘friends’ in social networking sites, the connections are superficial and fleeting. Swamped by an avalanche of information, we cannot give our attention fully to anyone. While we are in touch with millions, we remain unaware of the inner lives of our next-door neighbour or the colleague in the next cubicle. As our focus becomes increasingly self-centred, we isolate ourselves and face an overwhelming emptiness in our spiritual lives.

This book attempts to fill the void. It tries to teach us to comfort ourselves when the negativity and chaos of the world overwhelms us. “This magical practice is not about right or wrong. No matter what you feel someone has done to you, no matter what someone said or didn’t do, you can magically heal the relationship, and you don’t need the other person in order to heal it. The ultimate point you want to reach is where you don’t have any bad feelings towards the person anymore, because it’s your life that is harmed by your feelings.”

Such common sense, homespun practical advice is not earth-shaking in insightfulness. But it is necessary, because human closeness is diminishing, as is our involvement with formal observance of religion. We rarely have close friends, philosophers and guides to hold our hand at every step as we struggle through life.

The book, all 254 pages of it, is about channelling the power of positive thinking. It is about filling our lives with gratitude for what we have, rather than cursing fate for what we have not. The writer gives step-by-step advice on how to be thankful and make the most of opportunities, however small, that life daily offers us. She shows us how “it doesn’t slow you down or take any extra time, because you can do it naturally as you go about everything you do…you can harm yourself the most by thinking negative thoughts without realising you’re doing it. There’s no room for harmful negative thoughts when your mind is focused on looking for things to be grateful for. After this practice you will go into your day feeling much happier and more confident that the day ahead will be great — and that is when you will see the magic happen before your eyes.”

Each chapter goes on in a similar vein, dwelling upon different ways in which we can channel gratitude to make different aspects of our lives flourish, and change ourselves for the better. “No matter what your temperament is now, gratitude will give you more patience, understanding, compassion, and kindness.”

In the chapter on magical health, the author elaborates upon relaxation techniques already used by therapists. She advises readers to relax and focus on each part of the body, feel conscious of the part each plays in our well-being, and feel grateful. Then she warns us that “just as giving thanks to others will always lead to our life magically increasing, so must taking things for granted always lead to our life decreasing.”

The book is rather simplistic and repetitive. “Blame is never going to make a relationship better, and it’s never going to make your life better.” In another page, the author tells us; “When there is some kind of sickness…in your body, it is understandable that you may have negative feelings about it, like worry…or fear. But (this)…does not restore health. In fact, it has the opposite effect — it reduces health even more. To increase your health, you need to replace the negative feelings with good feelings, and gratitude is the easiest way to do it.”

This simplicity helps anyone to understand and benefit from the advice. Repetition helps many of us who need to be constantly reminded about what’s good for us. If books such as this give solace to even a few despondent souls and prevent them from committing desperate acts, they serve their purpose.

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