I've always remembered the advice given by Deepak Chopra at a corporate conference that the secret to success for any leader was to be able to tell a good story. And, of course, he proceeded to tell a wonderful one.
Harry Palmer, founder of The Avatar Course and author of The Avatar Path: the Way We Came, is another consummate story teller and it's undeniable that his skills and personal charisma have been instrumental in the remarkable success of the course which, we're told, has spread to more than 72 countries and produced tens of thousands of graduates.
So what is Avatar? In his clear and often humorous way Palmer explains it is a method of making us aware of how our beliefs condition us and generally limit us to experience more of the same in all aspects of our lives.
Based unashamedly on the Universal Laws of Attraction, as is any powerful self development program, it acknowledges that our beliefs cause us to attract or create the situations and events we experience as our life - the bad along with the good. In a nutshell, Avatar aims to equip the individual with the tools to explore their own limiting beliefs and modify them to make life a more satisfying and empowering experience. The ultimate aim is to reach a state Palmer calls "Source Being, an effortless state of being". Many will understand this more readily as the transcendent states of nirvana in Buddhism, or awareness of Brahman in Hinduism, something that is essentially beyond definition. Palmer's advice is not to grapple with its complexities butv,"just relax and enjoy the experience".
While it is a big claim to be able to teach in days or weeks the skills that Eastern beliefs have been espousing for thousands of years, the success of this course demands acknowledgement. Palmer tells us of a prominent New York psychiatrist who sent his entire staff to do the course and afterwards enthused that its teaching methods of consciousness transformation were more effective than anything he'd learned in eight years of psychotherapy training. Of course, it comes at a significant cost, but Palmer is very transparent with the costs of each element of the course clearly outlined.
Overall, it is the openness of Palmer's approach in The Avatar Path that I found most appealing, whether he's telling us about his personal growth from working 60 to 70 hours a week for a religious organisation, what he calls a "10 year stint of poverty", incidents in his childhood that rooted deep fears he has recognised and "recreated" - being dosed with ether to have both his appendix and tonsils removed figures prominently - or his own qualms about whether he could draw any paying clients to share his insights. His first Avatar audience was "sixty people, two babies and a dog." Clearly, he's been persuasive.
Avatar's call to take responsibility is something that resonates with me as a holistic magazine editor and I particularly enjoyed a chapter called "Preserving your Creative Source Power". Palmer talks about "living deliberately", focusing on simplicity, integrity, service and acceptance. In living with awareness, others would say consciously, we preserve rather than fritter away our source power. When these qualities are in balance, Palmer tells us, we recover our power to create and shape realities.
The Avatar Path: The Way We Came is an appealing book, dotted with small illustrations, margin quotes to make sure we grasp the point and excerpts from some of Harry Palmer's speeches back in those early days of the late 1980s. As I said he's a great storyteller.
Margaret Evans has a background in teaching, journalism and publishing. She is the editor of NOVA Holistic Journal.