5 out of 5 stars
Hindered or helped by our minds
Hannah Lane is seven years old and lives in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. She has terrible asthma and has learned to think of herself as not much good at most of what she sets out to do in life. She does, however, have an active imagination and has been interested in fairies for quite some time. She has a collection of fairy dolls which she plays with often. Imagine her surprise, though, when one day she finds Brenda, a fairy, in her garden. Brenda is not so convinced that Hannah is without talent. She sets about guiding Hannah to a wiser and happier life. Hannah’s 11 year old brother Harvey thinks she is a little “crazy” (Book 1, Ch. 2) and that Brenda’s advice is a bit beyond belief. Is Hannah crazy and will she ever really improve her life?
Particularly as children, but also through most of our life, we all have secret wishes and hidden dreams about the person we would like to be. Remember that fantasy career you longed for but never went after? We convince ourselves that we are not good enough to achieve these goals, that we are unrealistically aiming too high, and perhaps that we do not really deserve such fulfilment. It is not unusual to reach 40 years and ask, “What happened?” and “Does what I have done really mean anything to me?” If you are in this situation Don De Lene’s book is specifically for you. The book is subtitled “a beginner’s guide to lasting happiness”’ and is filled with interesting, surprising and useful advice on how to achieve exactly that. This book is part novel, part self-development manual and part spiritual philosophy. Those who are “open-minded” (Book 1, Ch. 6) and have “a little willingness to believe” (Book1, Ch. 4) will benefit the most. The book is aimed at children and youth, but adults can certainly enjoy it and benefit; indeed, perhaps more so.
De Lene’s book was originally written as a trilogy and is still divided into three books, however, the text very much hangs together as one unit, being very united in content development and plot progression: the ideas and the story progresses neatly from beginning to end. At the end of each “Book” the reader may want to put the text aside for a short period in order to digest the content. It is best, though, to pick the book up again soon as what first seem like simple ideas are elaborated and expanded later in the text. Criticisms of De Lene’s ideas, for example, which at first may occur to the reader are often dealt with in the next “Book”.
Book 1 Hannah’s Power deals with the title character, and concentrates on the problem of the conflict between fear and happiness. It introduces the idea of “the power in our own minds” (Bk. 1, Ch. 2) to handle every situation that arises in a positive way. Harvey is the main character in Book 2 Harvey’s Miracle. This section of the text takes a more complex look at the general subject of happiness. It examines the problem in terms of the conflict between the “ego”, that is “the self-centered” part of ourselves (Bk. 2, Ch. 6), and the “Self” (Book 1, Ch. Ch. 13), a ‘higher’ part of ourselves referred to throughout the whole book as “the power”. This section of the text concentrates very much on disbelief and counter arguments. Book 3 Jonathan’s Dream once again takes Harvey as the main character and looks again at the basic question of happiness in the same terms as Book 2, that is ego/power. This last book, though, very much examines the real life implications of the ideas, dramatizing how choosing one or the other side of our selves, can result in life taking a very different course. This is the least ‘instructional’ part of the text and most narrative driven.
The characters in the novel are very likable and we immediately associate with them and wish the best for them. Hannah does not have a good opinion of herself, but is cheerful and good natured. Harvey is outwardly boisterous and has a level head. He is by nature cautious and the reader likes him because he expresses many of our own questions and doubts about the personal development ideas contained in the book. Brenda is both wise and funny. In one incident her “garland of flowers” (Bk. 1, Ch. 4) repeatedly goes awry. Caesar, a talking German Shepard and Harvey’s advisor, is both gentle and stern. We like him, as we would like any pet, but we also respect the advice he gives. Hannah and Harvey both very much have an arc of development and the novel leaves us with a feeling that we have truly gone somewhere. Of course people are not necessarily exactly what we think they are and De Lene plays with the varying point of view of the novel to surprise us and keep us interested.
One point of criticism is that the plot of Book 1 is at times slightly unrealistic. We expect Hannah to learn about life, but she learns just a little too well. In one incident, for example, she goes from being the slowest runner in her class to suddenly beating all the girls. Surely it is more likely that there would be an intermediate state, and perhaps it would be more believable if she simply improved rather than came first? No doubt De Lene would accuse us of ego driven self-limiting doubt, but that is exactly what the book is about and these are the thoughts of his readers. Perhaps children are more open to such ideas and so more likely to actually excel with them, and perhaps not. Interestingly this sudden outstanding achievement is not the case with Harvey, for example with his bad spelling (Bk. 3, Ch.4), and indeed Books 1 & 2 do much to make up for the slightly exaggerated ethos of Book 1. Plot wise Book 3 is certainly the most interesting and imaginative as the story takes a more surrealistic turn with alternate futures, shifts back and forth in time and a slightly science fiction twist. There is in this last book one truly ‘Oh my God’ moment to grip us and keep us turning the pages. The whole book is set mainly in Australia; however, readers from other counties will not have any cultural difficulty or misunderstandings reading it. This story could take place anywhere, at least in the European world.
As I have already said, the book is part self-development manual and De Lene has used various techniques to emphasise his ideas. We see direct instruction from Brenda and Caesar, and repetition of this instruction with further elaboration. We see important points written in italics. We see some of the instructive points illustrated by dramatic events. In Book 1 Chapter 5, for example, Hannah acts out her ego driven fear by literally building a ‘fort’. On occasions we also see more symbolic elements which illustrate on a more unconscious level. The most obvious symbolic element is of course the idea of fairies who stand for the intuitive, ‘magic’ part of our mind. Interestingly all the techniques I have just listed are used in hypnosis. Milton H. Erickson, an eminently successful hypnotist, maintained that trance “is a common, everyday occurrence” that occurs, for example, when “reading” (Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_H._Erickson). Erickson recommended the use of “story” and “metaphor” (Wikipedia). Christopher Hyatt and Calvin Iwema in their book Energized Hypnosis (New Falcon Publications, 2005), which is in essence a hypnotic induction script, use italics to add emphasis to critical wording. De Lene, in his book, specifically recommends the hypnotic techniques of deep breathing and mantra like repeated phrases to induce personal change (Bk.1 Ch. 13 & following).
The core message of De Lene’s book is summed up in the words:
“Don’t resist life’s’ experiences. Embrace them with the willingness to learn from them.” (Bk.1, Ch.1)
This is an essentially Eastern idea. It is, for example, also the key notion in Chris Prentiss’ Zen And The Art Of Happiness (Power Press, c2006). Beyond this De Lene advises the reader to: (1) be aware of your personal circumstance, (2) remember that wrong thinking causes problems, and (3) ask the power within your mind (your higher self) to help you (Bk.1, Ch.4 & following). Awareness is a key notion in Eastern personal development theory. Awareness: the key to living balance by Osho (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001), for example, is one of many books on this approach to life. Observation is of course also the first step in the scientific method. Correcting wrong thoughts is the key notion of cognitive therapy (Albert Ellis. How To Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons: Citadel Press, c1994, Ch.1). Martialling our natural, inner resources of relaxation and focused concentration, that is “the power within” (Stanley Fisher & James Ellison. Discovering The Power Of Self-Hypnosis: 2nd ed.: Newmarket Press, 2000, Ch. 1), is a central aim of hypnosis. Carl Jung proposed that the human mind (including its resources) was comprised of more than what we are consciously aware of (M.-L. von Franz. The Process Of Individuation, in Carl G. Jung, ed. Man And His Symbols: Doubleday, c1964, p. 161-163) and also maintained that there are parts of it that are independent, like personalities that can be addressed by our consciousness (Anthony Stevens. Jung: a very short introduction: Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 13 & 17).
Of course De Lene’s book contains much more advice than what we have noted above. What I have tried to indicate is that his ideas have a strong background in both spirituality and psychology. To provide just one more example of the psychological accuracy of the book it should be noted that De Lene includes a good description of the physiological responses associated with “resistance” (Bk. 1, Ch. 6). The wandering mind and sleepiness which Harvey feels in response to Caesar’s advice (which he does not want to believe) are close to “demifugue” which is essentially stress response, that is, an inbuilt capacity to ignore, to in essence ‘fly away’ from a problem in our mind (Martha Stout. The Myth Of Sanity: divided consciousness and the promise of awareness: Penguin, 2001, p. 35-36). Stout gives specific examples of this exact sleepiness (Stout, Ch. 10).
Some readers may be a little worried by the ‘spiritual’ aspects of the book, however, it should be noted that De Lene takes a mainly practical, rather than religious approach to those facets. It is true that Hindu reincarnation is mentioned, but this is not a necessary or key part of the main thesis. Intuition, for example, is simply described as knowing something which is not really obvious from the 5 senses (Bk.1, Ch. 4) and “the power of knowing or understanding something immediately, without reasoning or being taught” (Bk. 1, Ch. 8). As Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking (Penguin, 2005) points out, scientists have known about swift unconscious thought for quite some time. Synchronicity is another apparently mystical idea which De Lene refers to, however, much of it is simply explained by the notion that things occur to a pattern and that elements of this patter repeat, so we experience similar events to those we have experienced before (Bk.1 Ch. 10). As James Gleik describes in Chaos: Making A New Science (Penguin: rev. ed.: 2008) even chaotic events have a form of order and this order includes repeating patterns in a fractal like structure.
As has been mentioned this book is written primarily with children in mind, though that certainly is not the limit of the possible audience. As a consequence De Lene makes simple statements without going into too complicated a discussion. This may at first lead parents and adult readers to conclude that the book is misleading. In Book 1 Chapter 6, for example, Hannah is encouraged by Brenda to do what she really wants, but we may well object that some people’s inner prompting are hardly the ‘right’ thing to do even when they think they are right. Brenda’s advice to “follow your heart” (Bk.1, Ch. 9) seems naive. The problem of evil is certainly very real in the world, even in children’s lives. De Lene certainly realizes this and it is best to keep reading as deeper issues like this are dealt with later in the text. Books 2 and 3 certainly detail the emotive ego-traps we can fall into, which we can mistake as our “heart” and which can lead us into deep trouble.
Of course De Lene’s novel contains much more than could possibly be summed up in this review. The author has written a simple story which contains much, and which a child will discover in increasing degrees as they grow older. A child of Hannah’s age, 7 years, may only read the first book, but an adolescent of 15 or 16 will gain much from the whole book. As I have indicated adults, also, will certainly be entertained and learn much. This is truly a multi-levelled book.
In The Power, The Miracle and The Dream De Lene has written a novel which is both (1) endearing and entertaining, and (2) deep and insightful. While containing ‘spiritual’ elements it is not deeply religious. The book has a strong background in both psychology and eastern philosophy, but these ideas are put to the reader in a very agreeable manner. This is not at all a dry, scholarly tome. At just 240 pages it is a quick read: ideal for children and excellent for busy adults. De Lene’s novel was truly a delight to read and I am happy to rate it as 5 stars out of 5.
The Power, The Miracle & The Dream (Book ed.)
The Power, The Miracle & The Dream (Kindle ed.)