Tag Archives: United States

Could Louise Hay heal Francesca’s life?


Louise Hay speaking in London. Image by Heiko Antoni, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many years ago I was dragged along by an actor friend to a small pub theatre in north London to see a one man show featuring a burly, six foot two transvestite whose roots lay in a traditional Nottinghamshire mining family. My sole memory of the performance was a scene in which he dressed up in a frock to deliver an impersonation of Louise Hay gently rocking on a garden swing, reciting affirmations to the general amusement of the predominantly gay audience. Later, in the bar, I overheard this strapping young man continuing to mock and deride Miss Hay, again to much mirth from his coterie of friends and admirers.

For those who aren’t familiar with her, Louise Hay is the queen of the mind body spirit world. Having just celebrated her 87th birthday, she is best known for her 1984 book “You Can Heal Your Life”, which to date has sold over 40 million copies in some 30 languages (I could be so lucky). From her headquarters in Carlsbad, California, she oversees one of the largest and most profitable independent publishing empires, whose stable boasts many of the heavy hitters in this field, with the likes of Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson and Christiane Northrup firmly under her maternal wing. You can follow the Hay House conference circuit around the world, treat your inner child to a Hay House cruise and even bring out your very own healing or recovery book through their self publishing arm.

With her positive outlook on life and emphasis on saccharine affirmations (try staring into a mirror and saying I love and approve of myself ten times), Louise Hay presents a tempting target for a confused, self loathing young man with deep unresolved gender issues to take pops at. It was only much later, when I learnt more about this remarkable woman, that I fully appreciated the irony of that otherwise tedious evening.

When AIDS first hit the west coast of the USA in the mid 1980s, it triggered elemental, widespread panic. People diagnosed as HIV+ were treated like modern day lepers, often disowned by their own families, and certainly shunned by society at large. Such was the extent of the hysteria guests began to bring their own cutlery and glasses to parties out of fear of contagion.

Into this climate of stigmatisation stepped Louise Hay, then practising as a private therapist in the Los Angeles area. Where many so called professional healers and carers didn’t want to know, she embraced these terrified men (at the time most of them were men) and set about creating a support group for them, which rapidly grew and eventually became known as the Hayride.

It’s a chapter in her life many evangelical christians, who have been scathing about Hay’s scornful stance towards original sin, guilt and the need for redemption, might do well to contemplate. It is hard to think of someone who embodied Jesus’s admonition “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40) with greater authenticity and dedication. Where were you, hellfire and brimstone preachers spewing damnation and judgement, when these people reached out for help?

Yet beneath the hugs, the warm, fuzzy affirmations and the soft rainbow colours of the Hay House aesthetic, there’s steel in Miss Hay’s spine. The central message in “You Can Heal Your Life” and its multiple spinoff volumes is that our thoughts create our reality. The implications behind this seemingly innocuous statement are massive and profound, and the principal reason why, alongside her diehard fans, she arouses such anger and contempt, particularly within the academic and theological communities.

What these critics find so offensive is that Louise Hay places responsibility for one’s life firmly back in the court of the individual. If your life sucks, stop blaming everyone and everything else for your problems. Abandon the pose of victimhood and wallowing in your misery; identify the root causes of your troubles and do something about it.

Liberals are another group who find the Hay medicine difficult to swallow. They have invested a huge amount of emotional energy in the opposite idea, that people’s thoughts and feelings are a direct consequence of their reality, usually a reality that has been imposed upon them, be it by corrupt governments, multinational corporations, global capitalism, abusive families, take your pick. It’s all very well for Louise, sitting on her mountaintop surrounded by her wealth and fawning acolytes; what about the single mother struggling to feed and clothe her child on welfare, the refugee from war-torn Syria, the baby abandoned in a Swaziland AIDS orphanage?

Rich and famous though she now is, Louise Hay has been no stranger to adversity. A child of the depression, she was raped when she was five by a neighbour, suffered sexual and physical abuse as a young woman, was cast aside by the husband she had finally learnt to trust when he tired of her, and experienced long periods of financial struggle and professional adversity.

It made me wonder how the heroine of my novel Francesca would respond to her. Could Louise Hay help her heal her life? Is it possible for a human being to “get over” something as traumatic as the holocaust, or being caught up in the horrors of a military invasion and its subsequent mass murders, such as that visited upon the people of East Timor by the Suharto regime? And what about the idea that somehow you might be responsible for these atrocities you suffered, that you manifested them in your life as a direct consequence of your thoughts? That’s a tough one, even for the most ardent Hay supporter.

I like to think the two of them would get along. For all their differences in background and culture, they share a remarkable life force, a willingness to accept life on its terms combined with a will to fashion it according to their desires. I think when they stared into each other’s souls they would see a reflection of the greatness and the power that lay within them both. I think they would share a common understanding of what it is to be human, to suffer, to force oneself to look at the very worst man can do to man, and yet still not be discouraged from reaching out to embrace the love, the goodness and the light.

You can order your copy of Francesca here.

Character Sketches 6: Peter Adisono, shadow of a giant

Photo by puroticorico

How do you live up to the reputation of an intellectual giant, a leader of the masses, a martyr murdered by the Suharto regime?

Such are the concerns of Peter, son of the famous leftist intellectual, Rudi Adisono. Plagued by indecision, prone to well intentioned sentimentality, Peter seems to make a mess of everything he turns his hand to. Yet wherever he bungles he is protected from the consequences of his actions by his rich and influential family.

Whereas his father may have been an agitator who made the regime feel uneasy whenever he made one of his pronouncements or calls to action, no one is the slightest bit interested in anything Peter thinks or has to say. He would probably have been squashed years ago, or tossed in jail and left to rot, were it not for his connection through marriage to the notorious Benny Surikano. Uncle Benny, as he is ironically known, is married to the sister of Peter’s mother, both women being themselves the daughters of a once prominent general. Needless to say, uncle and nephew eye each other with mutual loathing, contempt and distrust.

So when Peter, who’d been set up in a nice comfortable teaching position, exposes his high school students to some slightly radical ideas, it’s not Peter who ends up in jail for sedition, but one of his luckless charges. Peter is removed from his post and found a position where even he can’t cause much trouble or mess things up too badly, teaching Indonesian culture to the children of the American and European expats.

Much like Eddie, Peter has drifted through his teens and twenties, letting life happen to him. It takes stumbling into Francesca’s orbit to introduce him to the virtues of decisive action…

Character Sketches 5: Reverend Ron Milliner


Photo by frozen chipmunk

What does it take to winkle a senior evangelical pastor out of a prosperous small town American church and drop him in the middle of the inhospitable Borneo jungle? And what on earth is he going to do with himself when he gets there?

Could it be the humiliation of being left by his wife, Patti, awakened from her little woman persona by the radical feminism of the early 1970s? Or a sense of degeneration from a life that had become too complacent, too easy? Or disillusionment with the public morals of American life in the wake of Nixon’s resignation? Or the alienation of his children over his inability to accept their views on the Vietnam war and the sexual revolution?

There’s probably something in each one of these catalysts. Whatever the reason, 53 year old Ron Milliner finds himself abandoning his comfortable life to run a primitive mission station in a tiny kampong kissing the Equator, a good five mile hike from the nearest link to civilisation, a camp run by one of the American oil companies.

Ron is not the only one bringing his truth to the villagers. He faces stiff competition for their hearts and minds from the oil and logging companies, with their easy money and western vices. They may be happy to kit Ron out with the medicines he needs, but has he forgotten that out here there’s a price for everything? Neither will he be allowed to forget the spectre of the communists, ruthlessly purged by Suharto’s troops, their survivors hiding in the shadows.

Will Ron be able to overcome the physical challenges, the leeches, the snakes, the oppressive climate, the physical deprivations, to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of the jungle? Or will the sheer enormity of it overwhelm him and eventually dull his evangelical zeal? One thing’s for sure; the people to whom he ministers are not the only ones who will be forever marked and changed by the experience.

Character Sketches 4: Doubting Eddie

Photo by expertinfantry

There are times when thinking too much can get you into more trouble than not thinking at all. So it proved with Eddie Vanderberg, former US Army helicopter pilot and current paramour of Amanda Cole.

Brought up in the American Mid West as the son of academics, Eddie grew up questioning everything around him. When contemporaries were being drafted into the Vietnam War, Eddie neither accepted his fate nor dodged the draft. In what he later came to see as a half assed piece of adolescent nonsense, he decided instead to volunteer for flying training with the US Army.

Flying hundreds of missions in Bell Hueys he managed to survive the war, but not without deep emotional scars accompanied by a profound sense of alienation from his country. He despised the ignorance of people who called him a hero, and yet failed to connect with others who had condemned the war. Eddie’s not even sure the war was all good or all bad; as with everything he has his doubts.

With his services no longer required by the military, Eddie took his flying skills back to Asia to find work with the oil companies who ferried equipment and personnel out to offshore rigs and into inhospitable jungle clearings. Increasingly he is disturbed by the emptiness of his life; the boozing with his fellow pilots, the occasional recreational drugs, the loose women, the long working hours punctuated by bouts of R&R in Singapore, Bangkok or Manila.

Image by Mr. Q

Image by Mr. Q

In Amanda Eddie sees the chance to escape the future of a broken down, debauched expatriate. For the first time in years, he is alive to the possibility of something approaching a normal life. And would that be such a bad thing? Eddie realises he has nothing against the American Dream per se, it was the fact everyone assumed he should want it that stuck in his throat.

Eddie is ready to come in from being “out there” in so many ways. He is mesmerised by Amanda’s innocence, but he also has a respect for it that holds him back. It’s not her fault, he reasons, that he got himself messed up over Vietnam, and a part of him feels it’s not right to lay that burden upon her. Amanda, for her part, has no such reservations…

Character Sketches 2: Benny Surikano, Mr Fixit

Benny is the glue that binds together so many characters in Francesca; there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t owe him for a favour or has turned to him for an introduction, a deal on the side, a way out of a scrape.

During the 1970s and beyond, it was hard to overestimate the pervasive influence of the army on all aspects of Indonesian life. Photo by Studio Titus

Benny is a former colonel in the Indonesian army who is now on the payroll of Constar Oil of Texas. His job description is as vague as his purpose is clear: to brush aside any obstacles Constar encounter drilling for and extracting oil from the land and sea around East Kalimantan.

As a former Indonesian Army officer, Benny is a man whose contacts go right to the top. It is even rumoured he’s on friendly terms with President Suharto, an exaggeration Benny doesn’t feel the need to correct. Yes, they served as young officers together and have always supported the same political goals, but there was never any personal chemistry between them, and in his heart Benny wonders whether the President even remembers him.

How you view Benny depends very much upon who you are. For the American and European expats he is employed to serve he comes across as a bit of a buffoon, with his Playboy sunglasses and stacked heels; Backhand Benny they call him behind his back, always out for a cut of any action. In spite of that, no one wants to alienate him, for you never know when you might need Benny and his valuable contacts.

For the Indonesians who encounter him as he goes about amassing a personal fortune through his various businesses, Benny is a man to be feared. There are no jokes here, this is a man who has the connections, combined with the complete absence of any moral scruples, to get you killed or seriously hurt should you stand in his way.

Benny’s redeeming feature is the deep and genuine love he has for his only son, Rollo. He will do anything for his boy, now in his twenties and fresh out of a brief spell in the Indonesian Army. In Rollo Benny sees all the promise of a new generation who will lead Indonesia into its rightful place in the world; others however see a spoilt, pampered brat whose path through life has been eased by his ruthless and powerful father.

Coming next… Amanda Cole


Invading East Timor. What was Suharto thinking?

East Timor Grunge Flag, powerful symbol of a quarter of a century's resistance. Image courtesy of domdean/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

East Timor Grunge Flag, powerful symbol of a quarter of a century’s resistance. Image courtesy of domdean/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There is no doubt that when Indonesian troops invaded East Timor in December 1975, it was a deliberate decision taken at the highest levels of the Indonesian government and personally approved by President Suharto. The question remains, why did he do it?

Suharto was notoriously inscrutable, capable of hiding his true thoughts from all around him. He was also highly skilled at playing different factions off against each other. Aloof and impenetrable, his true motives were never easy to discern. However, it is possible to isolate a number of reasons why Indonesia might have chosen to annexe East Timor. Here are the main ones:

1. Oil. Indonesia was blessed with massive reserves of oil, and there was good reason within the geological community to suppose similar reserves lay under the Timor Sea. Incorporating East Timor into Mother Indonesia would give the country control of these potential reserves and access to the wealth they promised.

Having said that, Indonesia had never made any territorial claims on East Timor, and certainly not while Portugal was in control. Whilst Suharto was a tough dictator, he was no Saddam Hussein, and didn’t have a history of aggressive expansionism. He was also sensitive to his reputation in the West and was scrupulous about ensuring he would not upset the United States before embarking upon any foreign policy adventure. Besides, he had enough on his hands controlling the 3,000 or so islands that made up Indonesia without taking on additional troublesome commitments. Indonesia was already mineral rich, Suharto’s problems lay elsewhere.

2. Fear of Communism. Suharto loathed communism, and presided over the 1965 bloodbath that effectively extinguished communism as a political force in the country. The idea of a socialist state setting itself up on his doorstep would have been anathema to him; taking decisive action to crush it would have been a fairly easy sell to the Americans, still reeling from defeats in Vietnam and Cambodia.

3. Opportunism. The collapse of the Salazar regime in Lisbon created a power vacuum in East Timor, and although the socialist leaning Fretilin attempted to fill it, they were no match for the economic or military might of Indonesia. Neither was Portugal, despite their protests, in a position to do anything. With the covert blessing of the United States and the reluctance of Australia to stand up to Indonesia, Suharto could be excused for seeing East Timor as a gift handed to him on a plate. All he had to do was turn up and march in.

No doubt each of these factors played a part in Indonesia’s decision to go ahead and take East Timor for themselves. What is harder to ascertain is the relative importance each factor had in the equation. To do that one would have to get an insight into the workings of Suharto’s mind, something few, if any, individuals ever came close to achieving.