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
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The award-winning New York Times bestseller about the extraordinary things that can happen when we harness the power of both the brain and the heart.
Growing up in the high desert of California, Jim Doty was poor, with an alcoholic father and a mother chronically depressed and paralyzed by a stroke. Today he is the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University, of which the Dalai Lama is a founding benefactor. But back then his life was at a dead end until at twelve he wandered into a magic shop looking for a plastic thumb. Instead he met Ruth, a woman who taught him a series of exercises to ease his own suffering and manifest his greatest desires. Her final mandate was that he keep his heart open and teach these techniques to others. She gave him his first glimpse of the unique relationship between the brain and the heart.
Doty would go on to put Ruth’s practices to work with extraordinary results—power and wealth that he could only imagine as a twelve-year-old, riding his orange Sting-Ray bike. But he neglects Ruth’s most important lesson, to keep his heart open, with disastrous results—until he has the opportunity to make a spectacular charitable contribution that will virtually ruin him. Part memoir, part science, part inspiration, and part practical instruction, Into the Magic Shop shows us how we can fundamentally change our lives by first changing our brains and our hearts.
- Published on: 2017-02-14
- Original language: English
- Dimensions: 8.00″ h x .70″ w x 5.40″ l, .63 pounds
- Binding: Paperback
- 288 pages
“Into the Magic Shop is pure magic! That a child from humble beginnings could become a professor of neurosurgery and the founder of a center that studies compassion and altruism at a major university, as well as an entrepreneur and philanthropist is extraordinary enough. But it is Doty’s ability to describe his journey so lyrically, and then his willingness to share his methods that make this book a gem.”
—Abraham Verghese, MD, Author of Cutting for Stone
“This book tells the remarkable story of a neurosurgeon’s quest to unravel the mystery of the link between our brains and our hearts. From the moment in his childhood when a simple act of kindness changed the course of his own life to his founding a center to study compassion at Stanford University. Jim Doty’s life illustrates how each of us can make a difference. We can make the world a more compassionate place. I’m sure many readers will be moved by this inspiring story to open their hearts and see what they too can do for others.”
—His Holiness the Dalai Lama
“Into the Magic Shop offers a gripping, well-told journey into the mysteries of the human mind and brain. Neurosurgeon James Doty has written a heartwarming tale of courage and compassion.”
—Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of Emotional Intelligence
“Into the Magic Shop is a captivating journey of discovery. Neurosurgeon Jim Doty’s well-told personal story illuminates for us all the power of insight and empathy to transform our lives and enhance our world. Read it and you too may find magic in the mystery and majesty of the mind to bring health and healing to our individual and collective lives.
—Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.,Author of Mindsight
“Part memoir, part scientific exploration, Into the Magic Shop is a powerful work of emotion and discovery, showing that we all have within us our own small magic shop, a place of calm and beauty we can return to whenever we need it. As James Doty compellingly shows, we simply have to open the door, and let ourselves in.”
—Arianna Huffington, author of Thrive
“A moving memoir on the power of compassion and kindness. Neurosurgeon James Doty shares his inspiring story of growing up with seemingly insurmountable challenges, receiving a gift that changed his life, achieving remarkable success but then losing it all, and discovering that the mind is shaped as much by the heart as the brain.”
—Adam Grant, PhD, author of Give and Take
“A powerful, eloquent, deeply spiritual and exquisitely beautiful book. Real magic!”
—Dean Ornish, M.D., author of The Spectrum
“This is one of the most compelling and inspiring books I have ever read. We’re with Jim at each step, as he struggles with poverty and trauma, becomes a world-class brain surgeon, gains and loses a fortune, and learns deep lessons about the magic in each person’s heart. Gripping, profound, extraordinary.”
—Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Hardwiring Happiness
“Dr. Doty’s powerful book, Into the Magic Shop, is a testament to how faith and compassion extend beyond religion, race and nationality and can help an individual overcome adversity and personal limitations. It is an inspiration.”
—Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living Foundation
“Into the Magic Shop will literally rewire your brain. A candid and personal story about a life transformed by a chance encounter in a magic shop. It is a truly optimistic and inspirational testament to the power of compassion and the ability to overcome adversity and discover your true potential.”
—Glenn Beck, nationally syndicated radio host and founder of The Blaze
“An optimistic and engagingly well-told life story that incorporates scientific investigation into its altruistic message.”
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
James R. Doty, M.D., is a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), where he researches the neuroscience of compassion and altruism. He is also a philanthropist funding health clinics throughout the world and has endowed scholarships and chairs at multiple universities. He serves on the board of a number of nonprofits, including the Charter for Compassion International and the Dalai Lama Foundation.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The day I noticed my thumb was missing began like any other day the summer before I started eighth grade. I spent my days riding my bicycle around town, even though sometimes it was so hot the metal on my handlebars felt like a stove top. I could always taste the dust in my mouth—gritty and weedy like the rabbit brush and cacti that battled the desert sun and heat to survive. My family had little money, and I was often hungry. I didn’t like being hungry. I didn’t like being poor.
Lancaster’s greatest claim to fame was Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier at nearby Edwards Air Force Base some twenty years earlier. All day long planes would fly overhead, training pilots and testing aircraft. I wondered what it would be like to be Chuck Yeager flying the Bell X-1 at Mach 1, accomplishing what no human had ever done before. How small and desolate Lancaster must have looked to him from forty five thousand feet up going faster than anyone ever thought possible. It seemed small and desolate to me, and my feet were only a foot above the ground as I pedaled around on my bike.
I had noticed my thumb missing that morning. I kept a wooden box under my bed that had all my most prized possessions. A small notebook that held my doodles, some secret poetry, and random crazy facts I had learned—like twenty banks are robbed every day in the world, snails can sleep for three years, and it’s illegal to give a monkey a cigarette in Indiana. The box also held a worn copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, dog-eared on the pages that listed the six ways to get people to like you. I could recite the six things from memory.
1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.
I tried to do all of these things when I talked to anyone, but I always smiled with my mouth closed because when I was younger I had fallen and hit my upper lip on our coffee table, knocking out my front baby tooth. Because of that fall my front tooth grew in crooked and was discolored a dark brown. My parents didn’t have the money to get it fixed. I was embarrassed to smile and show my discolored crooked tooth, so I tried to keep my mouth closed at all times.
Besides the book, my wooden box also had all my magic tricks—a pack of marked cards, some gimmicked coins that I could change from nickels into dimes, and my most prized possession: a plastic thumb tip that could hide a silk scarf or a cigarette. That book and my magic tricks were very important to me—gifts from my father. I had spent hours and hours practicing with that thumb tip. Learning how to hold my hands so it wouldn’t be obvious and how to smoothly stuff the scarf or a cigarette inside it so that it would appear to magically disappear. I was able to fool my friends and our neighbors in the apartment complex. But today the thumb was missing.
Gone. Vanished. And I wasn’t too happy about it.
My brother, as usual, wasn’t home, but I figured maybe he had taken it or at least might know where it was. I didn’t know where he went every day, but I decided to get on my bike and go looking for him. That thumb tip was my most prized possession. Without it I was nothing. I needed my thumb back.
Most helpful customer reviews
119 of 124 people found the following review helpful.
Kindness Is His Religion . . . .
This book is an interesting one that I read in one night. It is both a memoir and a metaphysical book, and is written by a neurosurgeon. The introduction has a graphic description of brain surgery which I stopped reading long before it was over. Chapter One then goes back to Lancaster, California in 1968, where the author is a twelve-year-old who feels like he is most unlucky where his family is concerned. His father is an alcoholic with unsteady employment, his mother is depressed and sometimes suicidal, his older brother is always frightened, and eviction is always a possibility. But then he walks into a magic shop one day, where Ruth, the owner’s mother, decides he would be a good candidate to teach the “magic” of metaphysics.
What she basically teaches him is meditation and visualization. Those are two topics I’ve read much about, since I’ve read hundreds of metaphysical books, but have never been truly enticed to practice. No, I’m not going to add “until now”. Although if you are interested in those two things and don’t won’t to get bogged down in “heavy” reading, this book would be an excellent one to read. What you will learn is “relaxing the body”, “taming the mind”, “opening the heart” and “clarifying your intent”. There are step-by-step instructions, of two to three pages, about each of those techniques after they are discussed. There are also audio versions of those instructions at a website mentioned in the book. Thus, this is a bit of a self-help book, too.
Dr. Doty describes how his childhood is tremendously changed after spending six weeks learning Ruth’s lessons. His family life doesn’t really change, he is the one who changes. Sometimes while reading this book, it seems unreal a 12-year-old American boy in 1968 would have the patience and desire to learn those lessons, but I will believe that the good doctor is telling the truth. He then goes on to describe the rest of his life, where he beat all odds to go to college and medical school, and became a very successful and wealthy neurosurgeon. With success came arrogance, however, and there were some disastrous happenings. But once Dr. Doty realized he was listening too much to his brain and not enough to his heart, he balanced out his life and began teaching compassion and altruism. Like the Dalai Lama, he says kindness is his religion. The author has certainly come a long way from his days as an angry, envious child, who was afraid his life would always be defined by his unhappy, poor family and circumstances beyond his control. A good read.
63 of 64 people found the following review helpful.
One Doctor’s Prescription for a Much Better World.
Back in the 1970’s, I took a meditation course with a well-known Hindu teacher named Swami Rama, who was one of the first yogis whose significant mental powers were studied by Western scientists. What I learned from him about the tools of relaxation, meditation, focusing on a mantra were very effective in my life. But like so many others, my best intentions were waylaid by daily living, and after a few years I stopped meditating. This was to my detriment since the constant stress of working, raising a family and trying to keep my head above water financially created havoc with my health.
In the meantime, Swami Rama became a controversial character after being accused by several women of being sexually abused and exploited by the “holy man” in his Ashram. This kind of revelation has become almost common place as we’ve come to understand that great teachers can all-too-often possess a great ability to take advantage of those he or she teaches and who place so much trust and love in that person.
Today, “mindfulness” is almost a buzzword in everything from sports to business as meditation has been studied and proven to be beneficial and rewarding to those who practice it.
As I read through the first few chapters of “Into the Magic Shop”, I felt a definite deja vu as Dr. Doty describes the “magic” he was taught by Ruth in the magic shop of his youth. I purchased the book because the blurb about Dr. Doty seemed intriguing, but I soon felt like the book was nothing more than a self-help book disguised as an autobiography, and while I understood that the magic described in the book is indeed powerful, I already knew all about what he was describing as the “magic” and was about to put the book aside; disappointed that the book never felt like it was going anywhere.
I’m very glad that I didn’t, however, since once Dr. Doty began to relate the amazing journey he took from Lancaster, California to the pinnacle of financial and professional success, the book became one I couldn’t put down. The remarkable arc of his journey becomes a life lesson for so many people hell bent on success at all costs.
Dr. Doty is frank about his failings in relationships and about how the magic he learned got him everything he wanted materially, but let him bankrupt in many other ways. It was only when he began to understand that only through Kindness, Compassion, Empathy and Love does a life truly become fulfilled that he understood how he had misused the magic he’d learned.
In our society, the words above are used often, but they are not taken to heart, which is the organ Dr. Doty believes be the true seat of our greatest human virtues; not the brain.
Dr. Doty’s story of how the magic he learned as a child can be used toward good or ill is a vitally important one in a society that values material wealth, fame and irresponsible consumerism as the most desirable. Not one to just talk about Kindness, Compassion, Empathy and Love, he created the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. CCARE states as its mission that it “investigates methods for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society through rigorous research, scientific collaborations, and academic conferences. In addition, CCARE provides a compassion cultivation program and teacher training as well as educational public events and programs.”
“Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart” is both a fascinating journey of a successful neurosurgeon and entrepreneur as well as a remarkable prescription for creating a much happier and healthier individual so that those same benefits can be shared with the entire human population. It is an ambitious goal, but one that more and more people feel dedicated to achieving; especially in a world where hatred, injustice and intolerance seem to predominate in our media and in our politics.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful.
One of the best stories ever that corroborates decades of research on fostering resiliency “for kids like Jim.”
After 25 years teaching, writing, and dialoguing with thousands about human resiliency, I am considered an expert in the field. This is one of the very best books I have ever read on the subject. I am not sure Dr. Doty even understands how much of what helped him “succeed despite the odds” (for kids like him) is in alignment with the growing body of resiliency research. There were and sadly are a myriad of kids like Jim, but the question to be answered is, why did he “make it” and so many others -probably some he went to school with, and certainly his brother and sister- did not? One finding from resiliency research is “the power of one person”, especially the right person at the right time in a child’s life.
One reason there are not more “Ruths” in the world is that many people have the erroneous belief that a few hours or a few weeks of caring, support, positive mirroring, teaching life skills, and encouragement such as Ruth gave Jim can’t hold a torch to the daily stress and trauma of poverty, alcoholism, and mental illness in a child’s home.
Dr. Doty’s story effectively challenges this myth. The story also provides evidence that “even a little bit” given to a child in need can make an amazing difference and it corroborates the research on resiliency now proliferating in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and sociology. Yet nothing is as powerful as a human face, a real story, behind the research statistics and Dr. Doty’s story is as powerful a story as I have ever heard (and I have heard hundreds). Yes, this is a great book for a struggling young person, but it is just as important for neighbors, educators, ministers, youth workers, community volunteers, and everyone who has ever been inspired to try to help a struggling child.
Was it the “magic” Ruth taught Jim that helped him so much? We have a growing body of brain research that suggests what she taught might have changed his young brain. But we also now **know** that the kind of kindness, compassion, caring and belief Jim got from both Ruth and her son Neil, when he had it no where else in his life, create the foundation for fostering a resilient outcome for all kids like Jim.
–Nan Henderson, President of Resiliency In Action, author of The Resiliency Workbook