My attraction to read Into the Magic Shop was generated through Krista Tippett’s On Being interview called The Magic Shop of the Brain with neurosurgeon and author James Doty, MD. I had no idea who he was. But sincerity flooded his voice as he spoke about the need and effects of compassion. To have a medical doctor speak in this way is so unusual⏤given the hurried, sterile treatment patients in this country normally receive. When Krista asked him to speak of the ritual he underwent prior to neurosurgery, he had me. Rather than having a nurse prep the patient in the operating room he does so himself. After the patient is anesthetized, he shaves the surgery site himself, saying it connects him to the patient as a human being and grounds him in the procedure he is about to take.
From the book:
It is a ritual I do. And as I slowly shave the head, I think of this precious little boy and go over every detail of the surgery in my mind. I cut off the first bit of hair and hand it to the circulator to put in a small bag for the boy’s mother. This is his first haircut, and while it’s the last thing on his mom’s mind now, I know it will matter to her later. It’s a milestone you want to remember. First haircut. First tooth lost. First day of school. First time riding a bike. First brain surgery is never on this list.
What were the influences that made James Doty who he is today with an outlook and behaviors so unusual in his field? He was born into a troubled family where he received no support. He felt alone. He had low self-esteem. But one day he wandered into a magic shop and found his saving grace in an elder named Ruth who was visiting her son, the owner of the store. She saw something in this boy and invited him to return the next day and every day for the next six weeks. She promised to teach him.
…I know how to turn a flicker into a flame. Someone taught me and now I think it’s time that I teach you…It’s going to take a lot of work and you’re going to have to practice the tricks I teach you even more than you did your thumb trick. But I promise you, what I’m going to teach you will change your life…
This is James Doty’s memoir and includes a long learning curve as many spiritual journeys do…because he neglected to include one of the most important teachings Ruth gave him. Ultimately he remembers but not without many trials. And when all her teachings finally took hold, the most powerful magic happened.
Today Dr. Doty is the Founder-Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education⏤of which the Dalai Lama was an original funder⏤and clinical professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.
In many ways Into the Magic Shop reminded me of an all-time favorite book: Illusions by Richard Bach. I always held that the story must be true; Donald Shimoda must have been a real person. I longed for it to be so. But Into the Magic Shop is…without a doubt.
I highly recommend this book. Available on Amazon and elsewhere in print and e-book.