With its almost child-like motif of a rainbow-colored heart on the cover, You Can Heal Your Life offers a message of non-judgmental love and support that has endeared it to people everywhere. Since release it has sold three million copies in 30 countries, and Hay is now a matriarch of the self-help, New Age and holistic healing movements. She attributes the book's success simply to her ability to 'help people change without laying guilt on them' and in fact the book has the calmness of a person who has gone through the worst and survived. This is a survivor narrative, and the title only really makes sense when we read the final chapter, a plain-speaking record of Hay's difficult personal history.
Born in Los Angeles, Louise's mother had early on tried to foster her out. Raped by a neighbour at five years old, Louise continued to be sexually abused until the age of 15, when she left home and school to become a waitress in a diner. She gave birth to a girl a year later, but never saw the child again, having had it adopted out. She left for Chicago, spending a few years in menial work, before basing herself in New York, becoming a high-fashion model. There she met an 'educated, English gentleman' and married him, leading an elegant and stable lifestyle until, 14 years on, he met someone else and divorced her. A chance attendance at a Church of Religious Science meeting changed her life. She became a certified church counsellor, and got into Transcendental Meditation after attending the Maharishi's International University in Iowa.
Becoming a Minister and developing her own counseling service, she wrote a book called Heal Your Body, which detailed metaphysical causes of bodily illness. At this point she was told she had cancer, and through a combination of radically changed diet and mental techniques, was healed. After spending most of her life on the East Coast, she moved back to Los Angeles, and was reunited with her mother before her death. Now in her seventies, Hay is one of the world's best-known motivational speakers and writers, often touring with the likes of Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and James Redfield.
You Can Heal Your Life is the message of a person who has crawled out of victimhood, and this aspect of it has had enormous appeal, particularly to women with similar histories. The essence of Hay's teaching is love of the self and evaporation of guilt, a process that Hay believes not only makes us mentally free but physically healthy, as the study of psycho-immunology attests. Affirmations are vital in becoming the person we wish to be, and the book contains many to choose from. All the familiar self-help messages are given attention, including breaking free of limiting thoughts, replacing fear with faith, forgiveness, and understanding that thoughts really do create experiences.
Some of the main points:
Disease (or 'dis-ease' as she calls it) is the product of states of mind. Hay believes that the inability to forgive to be the root cause of all illness. Healing requires us to release the pattern of thought that has led to our present condition. The 'problem' is rarely the real problem. The superficial things we don't like about ourselves mask a deeper belief that we are 'not good enough'. Genuinely loving the self (but not in a narcissistic way) is the basis for all self-healing. Chapter 15 in the book lists just about every illness and its likely corresponding mental 'blockage'. Skeptics may find the list to be remarkably accurate if they open their minds a little.
Affirmations are about remembering our true selves and utilizing the power of that self. Therefore, trust in the power of affirmations to manifest what you want. They must always be positive, and in the present tense; for example, 'I am totally healthy,' or 'Marvelous work opportunities are coming to me.'
Prosperity: 'Whatever we concentrate on increases, so don't concentrate on your bills.' You will only create more of them. Gratefulness for what you do have makes it more abundant. Become aware of the limitless supply of the universe - observe nature! Your income is only a channel of prosperity, not its source.
Security: 'Your security is not your job, or your bank account, or your investments, or your spouse, or parents. Your security is your ability to connect with the cosmic power that creates all things.' If you have the ability to still your mind and invoke feelings of peace by realizing your are not alone, you can never really feel insecure again.
Self-love: One of the first things Hay will say to people who come to see her is 'stop criticizing yourself!' We may have spent a lifetime doing this, but the beginning of real self-love - which is one of the main ingredients in healing your life - happens when we decide to give ourselves a break.
This book will not be for everyone. It is quite New Agey, fitting into the 'journey to wholeness' mould of writing that is now so common, but remember that Hay was a pioneer of it. For those who have read a number of self-development books, it may seem a bit simplistic and contain nothing new - it is certainly no intellectual undertaking to read it. On the other hand, it has a directness and enthusiasm that makes it stay in the mind, and intuitively makes sense.
In the true spirit of self-help, the book is not content to fix problems but to strip all authority from them. This outlook, which on first consideration seems naive, is in fact philosophically rigorous: dwell on your problems, and they become insurmountable; consider your possibilities, and they provide hope and motivation. Millions have had similarly difficult lives as Hay's, but not everyone has the will to leave their problems behind or even the knowledge that they can; deprivation forms the illusion that 'this is all there is'. Hay's insistence to herself that pain and setbacks would not define her, led her out of multiple psychological black holes. Her book has the credibility of the successful escapee.
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Hay has spent a lot of time working with people with AIDS, and created The Hayride Support Group to that end. In 1988 she wrote The AIDS Book: Creating a Positive Approach. Her first book, Heal Your Body (the 'little blue book') was also self-published. Later works include her edited Gratitude: A Way of Life, and Millennium 2000, both with numerous contributors, and Empowering Women: Every Woman's Guide to Successful Living, along with many audio and videotape programs.
Hay is still doing select tours, and her Dear Louise syndicated column continues to be published in over 30 magazines in the US and elsewhere.