Life imitating art

Not long after publishing a series of novels with a medical theme, and my previous blog post about the portrayal of illness in fiction, I was overtaken by some real medical dramas. Both my husband and my mother required emergency hospital admissions followed by major surgery, and I developed some health problems of my own. All this reminds me of the saying about “life imitating art”. This is attributed to Oscar Wilde, although I don’t think he meant it in quite the literal way I am using it here.

The similarity between the content of my own writings and the events in my family was too general to be truly remarkable. All the same it was perhaps an illustration of the Law of Attraction: the idea that continued mental focus on a topic, in this case sickness, will result in its practical manifestation.

There have been other much more striking instances of fiction seeming to predict future events. One example is the novella called “The Wreck of the Titan” which foretold the sinking of the Titanic in considerable detail. Some readers dismiss this as coincidence, others believe in a metaphysical explanation.

There is also a saying about “art imitating life”, which means that creative work can be inspired by true events. Certainly, most writers do base their stories to some extent on personal experience. But whether the traumas of recent weeks will provide material for my own fiction in future is too soon to say. Some aspects  – for example the responsibility of having to make life-or-death decisions on a relative’s behalf, the complexities of the mind-body connection, the pitfalls which can delay the diagnosis of a serious disease, the search for meaning in illness – could certainly be woven into an interesting plot, though it would require a more skilled writer than me to do them justice. But dealing with long-term illness in the family also involves a lot of sadness, worry, waiting, tedium and hard work – which hardly make for interesting or uplifting reading. I shall try to find more cheerful subject-matter for my next book.

Why troubles never come singly

Just as our lives were beginning to settle down, with Brian recovering from his heart surgery and its subsequent complications, our household was hit by another health crisis. A few days ago Clare, my 91-year old mother who lives next door, developed acute abdominal symptoms. For the third time in recent weeks I called the emergency ambulance, and for the third time spent most of the night helplessly keeping watch by the hospital bedside of a desperately ill relative. The surgeons were doubtful whether Clare could withstand the operation which would be necessary to save her life. I pressed them to try, for the alternative would be an agonising and undignified death, but they were reluctant to attempt such a major procedure in the middle of the night. Meanwhile repeated large doses of morphine and other drugs were failing to control Clare’s pain, nausea and distress, though eventually the anaesthetists performed an epidural which brought her some relief.

There was better news next morning. The surgeons did decide to operate, and Clare survived the removal of large sections of necrotic bowel. So far – though it is very early days – she is making good progress in hospital.

It seems incredible that our lives, so contented and well-ordered for the last few years, have been suddenly disturbed by this sequence of traumas. Sayings such as “troubles never come singly” “it never rains but it pours” and “bad things come in threes” suggest that negative events do have a tendency to cluster in time. I noticed this when I carried out my own research study to investigate “Life events and breast cancer prognosis” which involved repeated interviews with over 200 women over a three year followup. While some of these women reported very few happenings during the study period, there were others who experienced a whole series of disasters. Sometimes it was possible to identify a chain of events leading on from one another. Sometimes all the events seemed to stem from one single cause, which in some cases appeared to involve the personality and behaviour of the person concerned. Few of the events could be considered totally independent from those who experienced them.

Were the recent misfortunes of our own family linked, part of a cascade of events beginning with Brian’s heart attack? I have always tended to be sceptical of the theory that most illness is due to “stress” (the results of my own study, cited above, gave no support to the popular notion that stressful life events promote the growth of breast cancer). But there is no doubt that psychological stress can lead directly to imbalances of the body’s neurological, endocrine and immune systems, as well as to impaired self care due to missed meals and lack of sleep. I have no doubt that anxiety, overwork and exhaustion since Brian became ill have contributed to my own recent health problems of high blood pressure, sinus tachycardia, a posterior vitreous detachment of the eye, and delayed healing of biopsy wounds.

“Stress” is not the only possible explanation for the clustering of events, and maybe there are also metaphysical causes. According to the Law of Attraction, negative thoughts and feelings in response to adversity are likely to result in more of the same. And an astrologer friend, who like me was born under the sign of Aquarius, has cited “the ghastly Saturn square Pluto events which have befallen Aquarians of late”. I am trying to “take one day at a time” and appreciate good things like the spring roses blooming in our garden.

big pink rose

“Letting go of the outcome” for writers

My earlier books were published in the traditional way. My own role was limited to writing the text and checking the proofs. I knew nothing about marketing, and was content to wait for the royalty cheques to arrive once or twice a year. Those early books sold well anyway, because they had a ready-made market in medical circles.

How different things are today, when the ease of independent publishing has resulted in a vast number of new books. Even traditional publishing firms now expect authors to promote their own work. While some books still achieve high sales, the majority sell only a few copies. Self-published writers are bombarded with advice on marketing and many spend huge time and effort, and sometimes a great deal of money, practising the recommended strategies with only modest success. They often become frustrated; feeling uncomfortable with the concept of self-promotion, resenting the time and energy spent on marketing instead of actual writing, unable to resist obsessionally checking their sales figures online.

Maybe it would be better to follow the advice of the spiritual gurus and self-help experts who teach about the Law of Attraction. These principles, of course, apply in all aspects of life besides writing. In summary: Do what you love, focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want, visualise the desired results, and cultivate the positive emotions you would feel if they had already materialised. Take practical steps when required, but don’t struggle to achieve your goals. If you intuitively feel you are on the right path don’t be diverted by outside criticism, by your need for approval, or by your hope of financial reward. Instead of trying to control the exact nature and timing of the outcome by conscious effort, do your own part as best you can, and then hand the process over to the wisdom of the unseen forces which you may choose to call Spirit, the Universe, Fate, or God.

These powers work in mysterious ways. Many times in my own life, I have found that the result of actions I have taken is different from what I had expected or hoped for – and even if disappointing in the short term, it has often turned out for the best later on. Having the publishing contract for Persons not Diseases fall through at the last minute was the temporary setback which gave me the stimulus to explore the new world of  indie publishing. Conversely, sometimes the desired outcome does materialise but in unexpected ways. Last week I sold several books not as a result of deliberate marketing, but through chatting to some people at a party, and through writing a blog post about cats.

As regards timing, we may want and expect quick results, but with modern publishing technology – ebooks, and print on demand paperbacks – books can easily be updated and need never go out of print. Some of those which did not do well after their first release will go on to become late bloomers. But even those which never sell many copies will have been worthwhile if their authors benefited from the process of writing them, and just a few people benefited from reading them. After all, with rare exceptions, authors never hear from the readers whose lives have been touched by their books.

Trust in the Law of Attraction needs to be balanced with practical action. I have recently set up a Mailchimp newsletter which will come out just two or three times a year with details of any new books I have written, or any special offers. If you would like to sign up to receive it, please click on the link or paste it into your browser.


Life’s Labyrinth

I’ve just published my first e-book!

Life’s Labyrinth: the path and the purpose

Were you born with a spiritual purpose? Do you have free will to choose your path through life? How can you best find happiness and fulfillment? This book does not claim to answer these questions, but gives a practical framework for exploring them. The text is illustrated by many true life stories, drawn from interviews and correspondence with about 40 people from New Zealand and the UK.

It’s published on and you can find the details, read a free sample or buy the whole book through this link.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this project which has taken several years to complete.

Bach flowers and the Law of Attraction

The idea that our thoughts and feelings create our personal reality has been around for centuries, but has only recently become widely known. My own introduction to it came through the teachings of Abraham-Hicks, which have inspired thousands of people in recent years. But it is only since release of the The Secret movie in 2006 that the ‘Law of Attraction’ entered popular culture. A simple formula for manifesting anything you want – ‘Ask, believe, receive’ – swept the world.

Some of the excitement wore off when many people discovered that this formula did not seem to yield the desired results for them. Skeptics say that the Law of Attraction lacks a sound scientific basis and there is no formal evidence that it works. In contrast, most of those in the modern self-help and ‘New Age spirituality’ movements still claim that it is valid, but that there are many factors both conscious or unconscious which may block its success.

Here is a light-hearted look at some of the common blocks, and which of the Bach flower remedies might help in overcoming them. For illustration I will take the classic example of wanting a red car – although Dr Bach, who lived by the value of Simplicity, might not have approved of such a materialistic goal.

Lack of clarity about your desires: You doubt your own judgement about what sort of car would be best, and keep asking other people to validate your choice (Cerato). Or you keep changing your mind, unable to decide between a red car and a blue one (Scleranthus).

A negative mindset: You have little hope or expectation of getting the car you want (Gentian or Gorse). Much as you want the red car, you do not feel you deserve it (Pine). Or you doubt your ability to manifest such a fine vehicle, let alone drive it properly (Larch). For success with the Law of Attraction it is essential to be positive, and focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want.

Passivity: You would like a beautiful red car to appear by magic, but you tend towards day-dreaming rather than taking action (Clematis), or feel resigned to putting up with your old vehicle (Wild Rose). Besides putting your requests out to the universe, you need to play your own part on a practical level.

Over-control: You have rigid exact requirements about the car you want (Rock Water), are so determined to get it that you wear yourself and others out with your enthusiasm (Vervain), or cannot you wait – you must have the car NOW (Impatiens).

We cannot always control the timing of things, hence the maxim ‘let go of the outcome’. And sometimes, when our desires never manifest at all, this turns out to have been in our best interests; perhaps you would be better off with a bicycle, or by directing your intentions towards a more spiritual goal than getting a red car.

For detailed information about the remedies mentioned above please visit the Bach Centre website.

Self-responsibility for healing?

Many self-help teachers claim that ‘you are 100% responsible for everything in your life’ and that ‘you create your own reality’ through your emotions, thoughts, beliefs and behaviour.  Though not everyone would accept such statements as literally true, there is no doubt that a person’s mental outlook makes a huge difference to the way they perceive and deal with their world.

Research studies show that those who believe they have a large measure of choice and control over their own lives tend to be healthier and happier than those with a more passive approach. This works through a combination of better self-care, with diet and exercise for example, and direct mind-body relationships. Self-responsibility is a key feature in most cases of remarkable recovery from cancer or other serious disease. But there is a fine dividing line between self-responsibility and self-blame, which makes people feel guilty about having become sick or failed to recover. After all an illness may be at least partly due to factors which are beyond personal control, such as genetic makeup or exposure to passive smoking. In many cases the cause is not known.

This said, a sense of self-responsibility can certainly enable improved coping with difficulties, as illustrated by the story of one recent client of mine. In the past few years she had faced huge challenges including the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, divorce, loss of her home and the need to start supporting herself financially in her late 50s. Not surprisingly she often felt low and anxious, and to make things worse had fallen into a pattern of feeling sorry for herself and looking on the negative side of things. For example rather than giving herself credit for having completed a training course and obtained a first job in her chosen field, she continually complained about the irritations at her place of work.

According to the Law of Attraction, if we focus on what is wrong with ourselves and our lives, we are likely to draw even more unwanted things into our experience. Negative feelings are a natural response to adversity and it is helpful to acknowledge and express them. It is not helpful to get stuck in them. Looking for positive aspects to appreciate in the present, and imagining more of these in the future, can be the key to turning them around.

I gave this client a mixture of several Bach flower remedies to deal with different aspects of her case but the one most relevant to today’s post is Willow. Dr Edward Bach recommended this remedy ‘for those who have suffered adversity and misfortune and find these difficult to accept without complaint or resentment … feel that they have not deserved so great a trial, that it was unjust … ‘ The Willow remedy helps such people to move away from the victim role and take control of their own destiny.

When my client came for followup she looked transformed for the better. She had made a shift towards self-responsibility by using both visualisation exercises and practical actions to further her long-term goal of developing her own business. Meanwhile she was being proactive about improving her present work conditions, and balancing her lifestyle with some new leisure activities. She wanted to take an active part in selecting the contents of her next bottle of remedies, which is to be encouraged with this therapy because according to the Bach Foundation’s code of practice, clients ‘remain at all times responsible for their own well-being’.