Friday, 26 March 2010

[Book] Snake Oil

I’m pretty sure there isn’t a week goes by in which my body doesn’t do something to surprise me. Something unpleasant I mean. More often than not there’s a reason for this. Sometimes there isn’t. At the moment, for example, my left elbow causes me great pain whenever I touch it, and I think there’s something loose moving around under the slack and gnarled skin. Similarly my knee is rather sore and wearing the small hat of a large scab. These pains, however, are quite clearly the result of my spectacular fall last weekend, when I slipped on a rogue CD case whilst sprinting for a bus in Camberwell and bounced along the wet pavement, landing in a heap in a puddle in considerable pain.

Then there’s my anus. At the moment my anus seems constantly angry and when I poop it bleeds. This of course is merely a reflaring of my haemorrhoids, which occurs every few months and which I put down to poor diet. Too many Wispas and pizzas, not enough spinach and bran.

So far, so logical.

Every now and then, however, I get a pain I can’t explain. Like the gut-stab that came a couple of years ago and still occasionally recurs. The doctors I saw couldn’t explain it either and in the end I put it down to stress. I reckon it probably was stress too. I’m a great believer in the power of the mind to make manifest physical unpleasantness. I also believe that the mind can cure things, merely by thinking positively. I also believe in telekinesis and spoon-bending. Fuck it, why not? In for a penny….

So recently, when a reader of this here blog with whom I’d been in email communication offered to send me a copy of a book which, she promised, would be good for everything that ailed me, I said sure. I said of course. I said why the hell not.

Heal Your Body by Louise L Hay arrived in the post last week. In the foreword to the book, Ms Hay writes the following:

‘This little book does not “heal” anyone. It does awaken within you the ability to contribute to your own healing process. For us to become whole and healthy, we must balance the body, mind and spirit. We must take good care of our bodies. We need to have a positive mental attitude about ourselves and our life. And we need to have a strong spiritual connection. When these three things are balanced, we rejoice in living. No doctor, no health practitioner can give us this unless we choose to take part in our healing process.’

Now I don’t know about you, but I like this kind of rot. It appeals to the old hippy in me, to the white witch who wants to strip naked and run through dew-drenched glades scoffing mushrooms and rubbing dock leaves on my farmers.

She continues:

‘I suggest you make a list of every ailment you have ever had and look up the mental causes. You will discover a pattern that will show you a lot about yourself. Select a few of the affirmations and do them for a month. This will help you eliminate old patterns you have been carrying for a long time.’

So, that’s what I did. Affirmations by the way - or 'new thought patterns' - are stock phrases which, through repetition, help to instil positive mental attitude.

When I’d made my list of ailments, I discovered there were quite a lot. Here are a few, together with probable cause and appropriate affirmation, of the most choice:

Now, at this point you’re either nodding to yourself and thinking, ‘Yes. Yes I can see that kidney stones are most probably caused by undissolved anger’, or else you’ve got an IQ of more than four and you’re thinking, ‘This woman is nuts’.

Well, that’s probably your resentment talking.

When I first dipped into this book, I was amused. Then I grew furiously angry. Then I calmed down a bit and just felt bemused.

I don't think she's nuts though.

Louise Hay is actually an enormously successful, enormously wealthy self-help guru and self-publishing sensation. She’s sold tens of millions of books through her own publishing company, Hay House. Her life story has been made into a film. Millions of people love her and credit her with having – through her words and her philosophy – helped them to heal themselves.

To the cynical eye, however, just about everything about Hay smacks of charlatanism. From her unconfirmed claims that she cured herself of ‘cancer of the vagina’ to the free audio download available on her website, which is entitled ‘Receiving Prosperity’. From the life-coaching and spiritual learning centers to the fact that she studied under notorious transcendental fornicator Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Charlatanism, however, is in the mind of the charlatan, and therefore only Hay herself can know if she actually believes that which she preaches. If she believes it, then she’s genuine. If on the other hand, she doesn’t believe it, then of course she’s merely a thoroughly bad egg, lining her pockets with the gold of the gullible and desperate.

Or is she? Even if that were true I mean, even if she were making the whole thing up and laughing all the way to the bank – if people still find comfort in her teachings, does it actually matter? Just like God, you may not approve or believe, but if it works for people, you can’t really deny or begrudge them that, sad simple creatures though they clearly are.

But then there’s this:

This is difficult to come to terms with. Being told that blackheads are ‘small outbursts of anger’ is one thing. Being told that the human immunodeficiency virus is caused by self-denial and sexual guilt is quite another. Because it’s not. It’s a virus. And Hay’s take on it smacks of homophobia. Citing sexual guilt is one step away from claiming AIDS is a punishment from God for a sinful lifestyle.

So it’s tempting to imagine Louise Hay as some puritanical old bigot, surreptitiously campaigning to bring an end to sexual deviance throughout the globe. Well, that would be convenient. However, as it happens, it seems to run contrary to the truth.

The fact is, Hay began holding spiritual counselling groups for gay men with AIDS in the early 1980s. It began with just a few men eating dinner at her apartment and grew to around a thousand a week in huge stadium-type venues. Apparently she helped many of these men a great deal, encouraging them to think themselves into remission, or presiding over the funerals of the ones who weren’t so lucky.

Then came the book, the AIDS book, rather prosaically entitled The AIDS Book: Creating A Positive Approach. Another bestseller.

So it’s unlikely that Hay is a homophobe.

Or is it?

According to a New York Times article from 2008, ‘Without the AIDS epidemic, Hay House wouldn’t exist… AIDS gave Louise Hay a following.’

Could it be that Hay just used AIDS as a hook on which to hang her particular brand of Religious Science bunkum? Could it be that she maliciously squeezed her millions from the terrible despair of the terminally ill?

Or is that taking cynicism too far?

The fact is, we’ll never know. And also, it doesn’t really matter. Motivation and action are worlds apart. And if Louise Hay gets positive results, then who am I to condemn her?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. It doesn't work for me because, well, for many reasons. Here are a few...

...and my personal favourite...

Also, as if that weren't enough, and it really is, the new thought patterns are horrendous. Just saying them actually makes me physically ill. Which is odd really, because many of them I actually believe. Most of the time. I really am at home in my body. I really do move with ease through time and space. I really do love and approve of myself. Like I say, most of the time. If you felt like that all the time though, you’d just be a dreadful self-satisfied bore.

With this in mind, I’ve made a couple of my own affirmations. Hopefully these will allow me to heal myself when malady strikes, but also allow me to live with myself and not feel compelled to drive rusty nails into my neck.

‘I am a reasonable person, most of the time. I am filled with love and joy, certainly, but let’s be realistic here. I am also filled with despair, hatred and a fair degree of self-loathing, most of which is not warranted. I am decent and honest and kind to animals. Why, only last night a cat came from nowhere and sat in my lap. I enjoy giving oral sex. Life is good. You know? It’s all right. Cheers.’

This affirmation will be equally effective for pretty much any illness, but if you think you might have AIDS, Hodgkin’s disease, cystic fibrosis or cancer, I recommend you go see a doctor.

Have a nice day now. Oh, and do let me know what you think...

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Katja | Driving Like a Maniac said...

'Represents leaving the movie of life.'


I'd like the movie of my life to make as much money as Avatar, please. Also, my character should be played by someone with the face of Eva Green and the sexual magnetism of Angelina Jolie. Can you organise *that* with positive thinking, Louise? No? Shame ...

Catofstripes said...

Good post.

Anonymous said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter: I find your affirmation terribly comforting. Cats DO like me; I need to bear that in mind.

AndrewM said...

Beer cures all that bollocks.

nondisbeliever said...

We'll likely never know her motives, but similarly it's impossible for us to say it's her 'positive mental attitude' that is improving these people's quality of life, rather than coincidence. Whatever the case may be, she had made herself revoltingly wealthy as a by product of others' suffering, and if she really wanted to help she would donate the lion's share of her profits to organisations researching tangible therapies, vaccines and cures.

Anonymous said...

Having read your wonderful book, I'm wondering if the cat sitting on your lap and the oral sex reference are connected. Was thinking maybe you were returning the favour to the feline community for the marmite incident....

Anonymous said...

This sort of stuff really depresses me: both that people will believe it and other people will exploit that belief.

Would it be worth starting a campaign of sabotage? Compile a list of books containing demonstrable bollocks that could lead to people making poor health decisions, and next time you pop into Waterstones, open that book, and write 'this is bollocks - see a doctor' on the offending page or just 'this book is bollocks' on the inside front cover. If Goldacre plugged it we could have every bookshop copy bollocksed-up by summer.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a lot of American horseshit - hate to be cynical about my people, but we are fucking lemmings as a nation. We have no breadth of thought and rarely question what gurus try to peddle - especially where therapies are concerned. That's why I love, love Brits. I love you guys!

Positive affirmation is all the rage in the US at the moment - until Americans move on to the next fad and someone like Ms Hay makes gazillions off the back of it. But well done Ms Hay.

There's another fad in the US called Emotional Freedom Technique - EFT. You tap yourself in specific areas around your body, reciting positive affirmations as you tap. So, you might say (while tapping): "Even though I have piles growing out my ass, I still love myself. I still value myself. And I still think I am worthy." Your piles will beat a hasty retreat in no time! Try it.

Having said all that, there is something to be said for not holding the world and everything in it in contempt. Ever meet people who have a permanent scowl on their face and find no joy in anything? I figure it's coz they haven't got the knack of acceptance: accepting the people you allow in your life as they are, which makes it possible to love people as they are.

That's my rant over. Stan, go to the pub. Have a stroll around Soho. Eat pizza, drink, get high and make merry. And have sex if you possible can. You'll feel better for it.

Oh, yeah... and as for constipation, drink more water and eat flax seeds. Spoon some onto your cornflakes. Or eat more aubergine. It works, honest.

A Twitter friend

Charlene said...

Self-help guru's are annoying to me.

When your efforts at curing yourself of your ills becomes more about the success of the author of a book and the fascination of them and their millions, it isn't a self-help book any longer. It's hero worship.

Make your own journey and know thyself.

Antipo Déesse said...

I hereby confirm the efficacy of flax seeds.

Stan, you write wonderfully, as always. You don't need to do any of that positive self-affirmation bollocks - surely you get enough from us?

Jones said...

The AIDS Book: Creating A Positive Approach.

That's quite a pun.

CarolH said...

If blackheads are little outbursts of anger and cellulite is stores anger, how do you explain the appearance of Naomi Campbell then?

Anonymous said...

How old are you, Stan? From 35 or so the body starts to give up! Seriously. Next stop: in bed at 10.30pm on a Friday night.

kbxmas said...

I think thought and emotion have incredible power and have the potential to transform our lives. I also think Louise Hay is ridiculously simplistic and a little silly. I watched my mother cite her affirmations as she died of liver cancer. I think your writing is simply fabulous. I don't have cancer of the vagina, but I think I would enjoy the self-love exercises anyway.

gongman said...

I lived in southern Spain for two years,in the mountains behind Marbella.There are more false gurus per square kilometre than you can imagine.Combine the rich lost folks of the coast,including those that fly down especially,with the gurus with their mountain retreats and you have the perfect scenario for them.
I left.

I have used my gongs and Tibetan bowls to help people.They are powerful instruments.Brought a young guy out of a 5 month coma.
Helped two people through the final stages of cancer.Didn't cure them (that was never on the cards)but helped ease their pain.

I have never asked for money for any work I do.
The more we give,however,the more we other ways.

La Bête said...

Hi Katja. Me too. Money and sex are great, aren’t they? One day I shall have them. I sense it.

Thank you, Stripey. Good comment.

Anon, yes, I think it’s a worthwhile thing to remember. They don’t like everyone. And anyone who tells you that they only like you because you’re a soft touch or because you smell vaguely of haddock is a liar.

Oh, Andrew. You are silly.

Nondis, maybe she does. Eh? I know, I know, but you never know.

Anon. For shame. All of that is behind me now. And not in that way.

Nostril, come come. What you suggest is nothing short of Goebbelsesque. People must be free to follow whatever old codswallop they choose, and without suffering the vandalistic ire of those who consider themselves superior. After all, if you’re going to write ‘this is bollocks – see a doctor’ in bogus self-help books, you might as well write it in 97% of everything else that exists too. And there just isn’t time.

ATF, EFT sounds pretty damn good. In fact, as soon as I’m finished replying to these comments, I’m going to tap myself to fruition.

Amen, Charlene.

Antipo, you underestimate the mammoth proportions of my neediness. And I thank you.

Jones, oh yes, so it is. I hadn’t actually noticed.

CarolH. I don’t. I would though.

Anon, no, no, no. Your attitude is all wrong, I’m sure of it. Life begins at 40. That’s what I've heard, and I’m really hoping it’s true.

Hey, kbx. Yes, I agree with you. Sorry about your mum. Pleased about your vagina.

Gonga Din, I think I might visit you one day if you’ll have me, and play your gongs with you. I think I’d enjoy that. You might not. But I might.

Sky said...

She sounds like an idiot. Just because she i succesful doesn't mean she is intelligent.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone noticed that the probable causes are a little too literal? Boils? Yep, you're 'boiling' over with anger. Constipation? Yep, you're 'holding things in'. Hirsute? It seems you're 'covering' something. That'll be ten pounds please.
On another note, I am working my way through your previous posts and read the 'Second time with a woman one' which TERRIFIED me and the school reunion one which made me want to cry and dish out some revenge on those horrors who tied you up. Why didn't the school do seomthing?
Hope you're still friends with those two women and, yes, the reference to the huge member is almost as obvious as the above possible causes.
Going to get your book soon.
Can't wait!

Anonymous said...

Well, I thought I'd just had my head cut off, but it turned out to be a combination of low self-esteem and pent-up resentment of my overprotective parents.

So I repeated the mantra 'I embrace myself and forgive those around me' a few times - and what do you know, it grew right back again!

The blackheads round my nose had gone as well, which was nice.

Gotta love that Louise Hay...

kiki said...

how you can contract i virus simply by having bad thoughts is beyond me...

but if you want something enough, maybe it'll happen. Isn't that also the premise behind the (batshit) Secret?

Chloe said...

Apparently if your IQ is less than 9 you are too thick to breathe. I reckon you could appreciate that book with an IQ between 12 and 15.


me said...

Hi! I just want to say that I first read Louise's book when I was 12 and have somehow managed to keep her holistic approach in mind while facing each illness that came my way. I have a bad short term memory however and never remember the wording of the affirmations... anyway, i rediscovered her thru the heal yoru life movie last week and am SO INSPIRED! i actually noticed the "green light effect" for the last 3 or 4 days in that everytime i went to cue up for something, a new cash register opened up and i was ushered thru to be first in line. down side is over-confidence however, and i almost broke up with my boyfriend yesterday, accusing him of being negative and a fun-buster. so anyway, i couldn't ignore this post :-)