The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield

It's amazing how people are diametrically opposed about this book. One group feels the book is incredibly simplistic and regurgitates messages already clearly explained by many other books. Another group feels the book is amazingly powerful and brings new insights not seen before. I think that very gulf shows why the book is so important. The book holds information both groups say is very important. The first group says "but you should have read this before, and understood it more completely, without the dumbing-down". If the second group is saying "this is new and amazing!" it's pretty clear they had never heard the message before despite the other books. This second group was now hearing it in a language that appealed and made sense.

In essence, James has studied many religions and philosophies, and distilled many of the common core thoughts down into a "9 step program". He's wrapped it up in a Peruvian / religious atmosphere, and then had an average, every day guy learn about it in less than a week. We, the reader, get to learn it along with him. Each step is even numbered and clearly explained to you, in very simple words and ideas.


The nine insights are:
1. Life is full of meaningful coincidences
2. Mankind decided to focus from 1500-2000 on simply creating a happy material life
3. An invisible energy field exists everywhere, based on beauty
4. Mankind competes for this psychic energy - feeling good at each others' expenses
5. If you appreciate beauty and love people, you share psychic energy rather than steal it
6. You need to understand your childhood-based issues to overcome them
7. Trust in your intuitions, listen to your dreams
8. Others bring you new insights, but avoid being addicted to a person for energy
9. Groups energize members jointly helping all to become more happy

So it's an odd mix of philosophy and spiritual beliefs. Of course, I really like that #1 makes it hard to criticize all of the amazingly silly plot devices in the book. How can you question the coincidences, when insight #1 says that coincidences magically appear when necessary? Heck, that means any badly written book is simply on its way to spiritual enlightenment :)

A number of the 'basis' for these beliefs are simply untrue. #2 says that in 1500, because we turned our back on religion, we focussed suddenly on making our life an easier one. But any student of history knows that man has *always* worked to make life easier - and that we have always sought religion. Sure, we sought a 'change' in the 1500s - but we sought a change in year 0 with Jesus. We sought changes many times over the years, and religions have evolved to match our current needs.

I have a serious issue with the many references to beauty meaning "long, slender" women and vivid colors. The point of beauty should be to appreciate each person in their natural shape - not to swoon at long, slender women and bright red flowers. Every object has an innate beauty which is not necessary slender nor bright. The push on vegetarianism is a little over-the-top. The "seeing smoke between fingers held an inch apart" is actually a well known child's optical illusion, where you see a floating finger if you unfocus your eyes. Having scientists who claim "how can you postulate the existence of anything before you get proof" is plain silly - the whole point of science is to have experiments to prove or disprove things. You *always* start with a postulation to then prove or disprove.

It also really bugs me that the "hero" cares so little about the people around him. He's started on his quest by Charlene who really wants to find the manuscript - but never thinks to call her and tell her of his discoveries. A guy he meets on the plane is shot down right next to him, but the hero abandons him and rarely thinks of him. There are occasonal "ooops I hope she's OK" (mostly about the girl he lusts after) but that's it. And this for a guy who is on the spiritual fast track.

There are also oversimplifications that are quite wrong. They claim that the only reason conflict occurs is that one side "holds on to irrational positions for energy purposes". Ah, so apparently when you have a couple where the guy wants to have children and the woman does not, one of them must be irrational. Sometimes conflicts exist because two people simply want different things for very rational reasons.

But on the other hand, there ARE many quite useful pieces of information in here, for people who have honestly never heard them before. Maybe they simply don't read books about philosophy or have friends that enjoy these discussions. There is a great section (insight 6, for those keeping track) about how most people learn in childhood to be an interrogator, intimidator, aloof or poor-me person. It develops as a reaction to your parents' styles. If your parents tended to yell at you a lot, you probably learned to be meek to get them to stop. If your parents ignored you a lot, you probably acted out to get their attention. These are things talked about in many pyschology books, but they are nicely distilled into easy-speak here. And truly, if you've never thought about these things or looked to understand why you are the way you are, it can be very educational to take a step back and find a way to move beyond your childhood issues.

There are also many feel-good messages in here. You're told to keep your goals and 'questions' in mind, and look for positive assistance in your daily life. You're told to take each hurdle as a new opportunity to grow, and to have a positive outlook on life. You're told to avoid dwelling on negative images, to instead build positive images and goals in your mind and work towards them. This is rather good information for any human being. You're told to seek true happiness in your own world - and then to share it with another. You're told not to become co-dependent - not to seek another to "make" you happy. You need to be happy as an individual, and then share your happy world with others.

There are even more specific feel-good messages. You're told to eat slowly, savoring each bite with the pleasure and nutrition it brings you. Many, many doctors have found that this leads to more healthy eating, healthy digestion and a maintaining of a good body weight. You're also told to only have as many kids as you can give a lot of healthy attention to. If you have a lot of kids, you have to divide your attention up between them, setting the stage for sibling rivalry. Also, the kids begin to 'raise each other' - meaning now the kids have inappropriate 'kid' role models teaching them poor lessons of how to be a 'happy person' - vs having a mature adult being a role model. Having other kids around as friends is great - but there always needs to be ample adult full-time attention so that each child has as much adult time and attention as they need.

The book really fizzles at the end, though. Where at least the main story had these insights sprinkled in with the silly coincidences and super-fast, super-shallow progress, the end seems like it was tacked on. It's not really an ending - it's more of a "Oh! There's a 10th insight, but you'll have to read the next book to learn about that." We learn that in the next 500 years, we will have a life with a ton of food and money, but that people will not become lazy or overindulgent. Yeah, right :) Remember us in the 1500s? If they saw our life now, they would think we had a life of incredible wealth and ease. Most of them were starving peasants with no books, heat or air conditioning. Only a tiny few were wealthy and well fed. So here in modern times many of us live the life of luxury - and we are fat and lazy :) To think that in 500 years the entire human population will suddenly become balanced and in love with each other is rather optomistic. Some might - but some will always resist.

So in the end, the book is a great, simple introduction for many people into the basics of philosophy and psychology. Hopefully it will get those people to take a look at their lives and try to be more positive and more aware of how they affect others. Many it'll encourage them to discuss issues with friends and family, and to read more books on the topic. If the book really achieves some of those goals, then its Indiana-Jones storyline and oversimplification can certainly be accepted as the 'chewable vitamin' method of delivery!

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The 2004 figure of sales is 12 million copies around the world.

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