Louise L. Hay talks about her books, her business, retirement, and the power of thought and word. By Ray Hemachandra, Editor-In-Chief of New Age Retailer
LOUISE HAY SAVED MY WIFE’S LIFE, so she always has been on my good side.Like so many of us — most of us, perhaps — my wife, Loree Hemachandra, endured some dark nights of the soul, and the words and practices of Hay helped carry her through to a better place. To this day, Loree spends time each day quietly writing affirmations, minding her words and thoughts, to create a life of wonder, abundance, and joy.
My wife hardly is alone. More than 35 million copies of Hay’s eminent work, You Can Heal Your Life, have been sold around the world. Hay’s company, Hay House, publishes the books and spoken audios of more than 130 authors in 33 countries. Located in Carlsbad, Calif., Hay House has grown to employ a full-time staff of more than 60 people.
I spoke with Hay in Las Vegas in April, the day after she gave her keynote address at Hay House’s I Can Do It! event. In her only scheduled public appearance of 2005, Hay was full of excitement and vigor as she spent the weekend on her feet — signing books, attending events, and, mostly, hugging. More than 4,000 people attended the weekend event, and just about all of them wanted at least one of those special hugs. Magazine editors were no exception, I can diligently report!
RAY HEMACHANDRA: I am told you have taken up ballroom dancing.
LOUISE HAY: Yes, and it is something I started rather late, about two years ago. For whatever reason — for many reasons — I was always frightened of it. I kept saying things like, “I’ll do it in my next lifetime.” Then one day I thought, “That’s pretty stupid!”
I walked past a dance place, and they said, “We teach you to dance one step at a time,” and I thought, “I can do that!” So, I went in. I remember I held my breath the entire first lesson. But I kept going back. The self-help teacher talks about her books, her business, retirement, and the power of thought and word.
One day my teacher said to me, “Louise, I see the fear come into your eyes. Where is it coming from?” I couldn’t answer her, but when I went home, I thought about it. “Where is this coming from?” I thought. “Why am I so frightened of this?”
I got the answer. I felt that if I did it wrong, I was going to be slapped. I thought, “Oh, my, that goes back a long way, and I am still holding on to that!” And this understanding broke it for me.
I went back, and I told her what it was. When I realized what the problem was, that made a whole difference. And then, from there on, we had a lot of fun.
HEMACHANDRA: You have been doing this work now for more than half your life?
HAY: I know! About half my life! But you still uncover something else.
HEMACHANDRA: I think that really is useful for people to understand. Even the greatest teachers who spend their lives doing the work still have some things to work on and work out.
HAY: Absolutely. Doing it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. What I like to say is you get the boulders out of the way, and then you can work on the gravel, or the smaller chunks. But you get that big stuff out of the way first. Even then, there always is something there — always! You didn’t know what answer you were going to get to that question, did you?
HEMACHANDRA: No, I really didn’t. Are you still ballroom dancing regularly?
HAY: Yes! I try to go once a week if I can.
HEMACHANDRA: In You Can Heal Your Life, which first was published in 1984, you describe your daily work — exercise, meditation, prayers — in great detail. Would you describe your daily work today?
HAY: Oh, my! Well, I wake up, and I do my gratitude stuff before I get out of bed. I get up, and I hang. I have a bar on the bathroom door, and I hang.
HEMACHANDRA: How long do you hang for?
HAY: Not long, but it is a really good stretch for my body. I have a cup of tea. I go back to bed, and I read something inspirational. Then I do a crossword puzzle, which keeps the brain alert. Wake up the brain and make it move!
I go for an hour walk. I come back, and I make breakfast in a blender. I have a Vita-Mix, and it will beat up anything. I put six vegetables in and unsweetened cranberry juice and flaxseed — all the things that are hard to eat individually but are good for the body. I make this shake that is a real power thing.
Then I get to work. My assistant comes in, and we start doing what we do. Every day is different. You can’t say what a typical day is for Louise Hay, because there are so many different things happening and so many people to work with.
And there has to be time for me, too. Put in the dance lesson, for example. I also go to Pilates a couple of times a week.
HEMACHANDRA: I also know how important gardening is to you, so I was surprised to learn you recently moved to a condo in the city.
HEMACHANDRA: Why the move, and what is it about gardening you find powerful?
HAY: “Why the move?” is the sort of question I can never answer. Something just feels right to do at the time.
I do have a terrace, so I have pots. My gardening is limited. I cannot do all the things I did before, but I still grow a little food. I think it is very rewarding. You put a seed in the ground, and this thing blossoms. It is a miracle of life just to watch it happen.
HEMACHANDRA: What spiritual approach did your family practice when you were growing up?
HAY: Nothing! My mother was a lapsed Catholic. The only time I ever heard her say anything negative in my life was when she saw some nuns having lunch and said, “They shouldn’t be out in public!” Oh, my!
My stepfather was an atheist, so there wasn’t anything in my childhood except three weeks of Christian Science Sunday school at one point in my life. That was it. I did not believe in being a Christian, because according to what I understood, you wore a hair shirt, and you were fed to the lions. And that did not make sense to me!
So, I really had no religious upbringing, which is unusual. But I think it saved me, because when I found the theory that I wanted to follow, I did not have anything to unlearn. I had a lot of negative messages from childhood, but they were not religious. They were not God-based. That was a blessing for me. I think God-based messages are hard to let go of, because there is this presence around them.
HEMACHANDRA: In the autobiographical portion of You Can Heal Your Life, you describe an extremely traumatic childhood.
HAY: Yes. Worse than many, not as bad as some.
HEMACHANDRA: Some New Age thinkers see childhood suffering as part of karma, or as part of an angelic agreement people make to help others learn lessons. Why do you think some children are put in such circumstances and others aren’t, or is there no reason — just random, unfortunate chance?
HAY: I do believe in reincarnation, so I think that we have lessons to pay. I have had some past-life readings, and while I do not pay a great deal of attention to them, I can see how you need to do things differently in different lifetimes and experience different things.
HEMACHANDRA: You describe some very negative thought patterns developing out of your childhood. Even when you achieved better circumstances — when you were happily married, when you earned professional successes — you still retained those negative thought patterns about yourself.
HAY: Yes, we do keep those patterns, unless we learn how to release them and even that we can release them. Most of us don’t know that we have a choice.
HEMACHANDRA: Why do negative thought patterns emerge even in people with happier childhoods?
HAY: We develop habits. We develop habitual ways of looking at life. A lot of it is learned. We learn it from the people around us, and then it becomes habit.
HEMACHANDRA: Between family, society, and religion, there are a lot forces at work on all of us. Do you think human beings have a natural inclination toward positive or negative thoughts?
HAY: I think that we are neutral. A lot has to do with what is around us. There are people who are born in rather difficult circumstances and who just do not buy into it at all, but they are pretty rare. Most people buy into it, and then they never let go.
HEMACHANDRA: Do you still feel the impact of your childhood trauma?
HAY: Occasionally, like when I started to dance — obviously it was there.
HEMACHANDRA: What brought you to Science of Mind, and what was the context of your choice to become a Science of Mind minister?
HAY: Well, it wasn’t a choice. I just stumbled into it. They say when the student is ready the teacher appears, and I must have been really ready.
A friend called me up one day and said, “I hear there is a really good lecture happening at this place, and I would like to go, but I don’t want to go by myself. Will you go with me?” I said, “Sure, and I’ll meet you there.”
He never turned up, but there I was. I heard somebody say that if you are willing to change your thinking, you can change your life. And I thought, “Really? Really?” So, I hung around!
They were teaching classes, I discovered. They taught the first-year book Wednesday afternoons and Thursday evenings. I went to both classes for the first year, and I didn’t even have the book for a couple of months! I just went and listened and listened and listened. This was a new awakening for me.
HEMACHANDRA: When did you decide to become a minister?
HAY: Well, I just hung around there. I was taking the classes, and after three years you are eligible to become a practitioner. So, I became a practitioner!
I started seeing people. You would come and tell me your problems, and I would do a prayer for you. And it worked! Then the next step was taking the ministerial course, so I did that. That’s it. It just happened.
I think Science of Mind has a very good method of getting your mind straightened out. I have suggested to many people that they take the first year, or the first half of the first year, just so they can take some classes that will really help them in straightening out and separating their thinking. Science of Mind is good at that, and that is where I got my basis.
HEMACHANDRA: Is Ernest Holmes an important writer and thinker for you?
HAY: Yes, but there is a whole slew of them. He wrote the book, and he started the thing, and that was good. He never wanted a church. He wanted an institute. That’s why he called it Science of Mind. But they talked him into a church, and, of course, once you get a church, you get politics. The Science of Mind churches are good, but it depends a lot on the minister — how good the minister is — and how well the lessons are taught.
HEMACHANDRA: And that’s true with most every church and religion, isn’t it?
HAY: Yes, every church.
HEMACHANDRA: As a young woman, you were a model in New York City for Bill Blass. How did that come about?
HAY: Oh, I just fell into it. Really, I had no training for anything else, and I was tall and skinny!
I didn’t do photography. I was a house model in the garment district. They built clothes on me.
HEMACHANDRA: Would you talk about your art? You do oil paintings, correct?
HAY: I am doing them now. Over the years, I have found different art classes from time to time. I also have done watercolor and different things. About four years ago, I came across a really good teacher for me. Her name is Lynn Hays. She brought stuff out of me I didn’t know I had in there.
It is very joyful for me to paint, and I really like to work with a teacher. When I sit in front of a canvas and say to myself, “Paint anything,” I don’t know what to paint! I just go totally blank. I like to be told what to do, and then I do it to the best of my ability.
I am enjoying painting. I do not do as much of it as I would like, though. I like it best when I can go to a class on a weekly basis. But when I moved a year ago to my current home, Lynn moved to Arizona, so I lost my teacher. I haven’t found one to replace her.
HEMACHANDRA: That parallels what you were saying about religion and the importance of finding the right minister, doesn’t it?
HAY: Yes! It has to be right. It has to get a spark for me. I have tried a few other teachers, and they are OK, but I can tell they are not what I need.
HEMACHANDRA: If your initial ballroom-dance teacher hadn’t resonated with you, you may never have grown to enjoy ballroom dancing.
HAY: Yes, yes, yes, yes!
HEMACHANDRA: Even with self-help materials, the teacher who presents the material, and the way the material is presented, can make a huge difference.
HAY: Yes, they can. But, you know, all teachers are good for someone. There are some teachers out there who I cannot stand, for whatever reason. I cannot even bear the sound of one teacher’s voice. Yet they are wonderful teachers for other people. They just are not for me.
HEMACHANDRA: Do you find that people now are more or less receptive to you and your message than, say, 20 years ago, when You Can Heal Your Life first was published?
HAY: There are people who will never be receptive. Born-again Christians do not wish to hear any of this, because they do not want to have power. But if people are open, I think they get it quicker now, and I think more people are open today.
People are so open that they are flying in from all over the world to come to the I Can Do It! conference. We have people from Russia, Poland, Ireland, Bolivia, Peru, Rio, Australia, and so many other countries and places. People will listen to good messages. People want to hear them.
HEMACHANDRA: Your books are sold in many different languages in more than 30 countries. Has there been a country that surprised you because its people had such strong resonance with the material?
HAY: You know, it all surprises me! And it delights me to know that people are open in many, many places — in Peru, in Japan, everywhere.
I don’t know that one country stands out, but here is a something that really surprised me: Two years ago at BookExpo America, a man came up to me and said, “I have a store in Katmandu, Nepal, and you are my biggest-selling author.” I am the best-selling author in his store in Katmandu!
I said, “Give me your business card!” I have it on my desk now, just to remind me of how far-reaching it all is.
HEMACHANDRA: Why do you think the American audience for self-help and New Age titles primarily is made up of women?
HAY: Because women are more open. They are more open, so they start. The audience is women, gays, and then men. We are getting some more men now. I also wonder if people like Anthony Robbins, who is a very manly man, attracts more men. I don’t know.
I’ll tell you something else that surprised me: A few years I was in Barcelona, Spain, and I spoke to a huge audience. Ninety-eight percent of them were couples — him and her. They came together, and I thought, “Oh, my, all these men!” It was very interesting.
HEMACHANDRA: When I read You Can Heal Your Life, I always am struck by how practical, applicable, and on-target the information is. And that flies in the face of generalizations in the general public and news media about the work you and other New Age authors do — the airyfairy, pie-in-the-sky stereotype — that also might contribute to the disinterest of many men. Are there ways the market can project a better image to the general public, so that more people will be open to this material?
HAY: They have to be ready. Again, they say when the student is ready, the teacher appears — and not a moment before. You can’t force this down people’s throats or their minds or their ears. You can’t force it. They have to be ready to make a step.
HEMACHANDRA: When people first encounter affirmations in particular, they often resist, or even belittle, the idea of them.
HAY: Sure, because it’s something new. They don’t know about it.
HEMACHANDRA: What are some tacks for getting people past the resistance of their preconceptions?
HAY: Explain to people that everything they say is an affirmation. Everything they think is an affirmation. Everything! What you want to do is to get control of what you are saying and thinking, so these things bring you good experiences in life rather than rotten experiences.
I have trained my ear to hear what people say. I can immediately tell where they are going wrong for what they want. If people can just understand that everything is an affirmation — they are affirming that life sucks, or they are affirming that life is good, or all the different variations — they will learn how to heal their lives.
HEMACHANDRA: Let’s talk about the business Hay House. When you launched the house, did you have business training?
HEMACHANDRA: What made you decide to start the business, then, and how did you finance it?
HAY: Six credit cards. Bounce, bounce, bounce — from one to the other!
It started itself. I printed my own books. First of all, I printed the little one, Heal Your Body, which was 12 pages, by myself, because I didn’t even think of anything else. I printed 5,000 of them, and I sold them in two years.
Then, I started to print more and expand upon it. I did my second book myself, because I didn’t want to go to anybody else. I didn’t think that the big boys would accept it, and even if they did, they would want to change what I said or how I said it. I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it, and I wasn’t going to change those things, so I did it myself.
I did a tape, but it still was just me. Then, at some point, I printed somebody else’s book. That’s when you become a publisher!
So, it started out very, very slowly. I brought in somebody to help me, and then, when it got too much for the two of us, I brought in somebody else. It was a very slow process, but we got bigger.
In the early days, I didn’t have the money to pay decent salaries, so I didn’t get good people. I got nice people, but I didn’t get good employees.
HEMACHANDRA: There is a difference.
HAY: There is a difference. And poor Reid Tracy, who now is Hay House’s president and CEO, first came to us because we needed a CPA. He had a terrible time the first year, because we really did not have any money.
HEMACHANDRA: Reid told me he was working for a different company whose services you were using, and at some point you just said, “Why am I wasting all this money on this company when I can hire you myself?”
HAY: Yes, but the interesting thing is that I thought we were hiring the other guy. I didn’t know it was Reid! Now, I thank God every day Reid is in my life. I think we have past-life karma together, and he owes me!
What Reid has done is make Hay House a company. I was just a person who was teaching workshops. In the early days, I was not even in the office. I was constantly out teaching. I was teaching every weekend on the road, and I would come back and then start off
So, when we began, we were working with six credit cards, but we finally got stabilized.
HEMACHANDRA: When you select authors for Hay House, is there anything special you do in the process?
HAY: Oh, I don’t know what other houses do. But I know that we treat our authors better than anybody else, and that is why they love us. If they ever have worked for another house, they adore us.
Once in a while, they will leave us to go to the big boys, and they are sorry, and they come back. We do not give them the huge advances that Random House can give — we can’t do that — but we treat them very well.
HEMACHANDRA: Are there major goals for the business you still would like to accomplish?
HAY: No. I don’t have goals. I never have had goals. For me, that is not what works. I just go along with life, knowing my life is wonderful and only good lies before me. So, what difference do goals make?
Now, I am different from most people in business in that I am not out for the money. My thing about the business is that if we make enough money to pay the salaries, pay our bills, and have a little left over, we’re fine. I’m not into “profits must increase every year.” That is not the place where I come from. Reid has more of that feeling, but I don’t put pressure on him at all. He is pretty free to do what he wants.
We talk every morning, and every night I talk with Ron Tillinghast, the vice president and my senior employee. We have worked together for almost 20 years, even longer than Reid. To tell you how little this place was, when Ron came in, he was the receptionist.
HEMACHANDRA: Twenty years ago.
HAY: Yes, 20 years ago! Ron went to accounting school on his own in the evenings, because he could see what lay ahead in my business that I had no idea was happening. I was busy doing workshops. He went to accounting school, so he started to work in that area in the company, and now he is in charge of all the purchasing, the printers, and all that stuff. Reid will say, “We’re going to do this book at $18.95,” and then it is up to Ron to get all the pieces together and have it ready at that price.
These are the two most important people in the company for working with me, but all our employees are fabulous. Now I can pay people decently, which is nice. We attract wonderful people, because we really are a great company to work for. We treat people right and well, and we respect them. Everybody is a hard worker at Hay House.
HEMACHANDRA: What is your vision for the company down the road, with you in full retirement?
HAY: I think the company has the ability to run long after I am dead, if they just keep up what they are doing. We have the reputation. We have respect. We have wonderful people. Authors come to us, and they want to be part of us. I think it can go on long after me.
HEMACHANDRA: I found it so interesting last night when you said in your keynote address that you now see there really are two root causes of dis-ease — fear and anger. After doing this work for decades, what other overarching conclusions have you come to?
HAY: Our thinking creates everything — our thinking more than the words. The words are what come out, but the thinking goes on continuously. Candace Pert says it so beautifully when she talks about neuropeptides in the body and how every time you think a thought, different chemicals go through the body. They either are poisoning the body or they are boosting your immune system. It’s all thinking. We all are responsible for what we have in our lives. We create our own experiences. That’s the main thing.
HEMACHANDRA: I recently have been hearing a very explicit, empowering message coming from you: that people need to be able to look at themselves and treat themselves. It seems to me, almost in preparation for your retirement and even your death, you are giving the message, “You don’t need to come to me for the answers, because you have the answers yourselves.” Is that fair?
HAY: Yes, yes, it’s true. It’s very true. You have to be willing to look, and you have to be willing to change. A lot of people do not want to look, and they do not want to change. Because if you look at yourself, you get embarrassed. You go, “Oh, my God, I’ve been doing that?” Then, you realize that all your friends have been seeing it for years! (Laughs.) And if you are smart, you make the change.
HEMACHANDRA: Some of your readers look at you as almost iconic and as someone with all the answers. But there is no panacea with any teacher, is there?
HAY: No, because your story is different. The stuff you carry is different. But it still comes under the anger or the fear and what you are thinking. I really would like people to create their own affirmations, because those affirmations become more important to them. People need a little guidance to start with, though, because they can create negative affirmations when they think they are creating positive ones.
HEMACHANDRA: The country seems full of strife these days — politically, economically, to some extent socially — which happens from time to time. Americans seem to be feeling a lot of stress in their lives. Should people turn inward and address that stress by working on themselves, or is it a time to turn outward and deal directly with some real-world issues?
HAY: Well, you can do both. If you can deal with a real-world issue, do. Help the planet. That is a wonderful thing to do. But, mostly, you cannot fix all the world’s problems. If you stress yourself out because of something that is happening even just across town, that is not doing anybody any good. It doesn’t help them. It doesn’t help Iraq. It doesn’t help anything. I see a lot that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I concentrate on what is important to me and what I can do something about.
HEMACHANDRA: You have done a lot of charitable work, including work in the AIDS community.
HAY: Yes, I do what I can. But I also realize that some things are bottomless pits. You can’t get to the bottom. So, I just do what I can, and I don’t get upset about what I cannot do.
HEMACHANDRA: You turn 79 this year, and you look great.
HAY: Thank you.
HEMACHANDRA: What are some things you have found out about getting older that have surprised you?
HAY: I have tons of energy. I just don’t see that age makes a difference. Jerry and Esther
Hicks — Abraham — never talk about age. They do not celebrate birthdays. They are not interested in those numbers. People connect with the numbers. When you tell them a number, they expect you to behave or look in a certain way. The number influences them. You go to the eye doctor, and the eye doctor is going to tell you that everybody by 45 has to have glasses, and that is not true! I think a lot of people buy into it.
I am not saying that by 45 a lot of people do not need glasses, but I don’t think it is something that has to be. Numbers make people say you cannot do certain things. I’m trying to think what the difference is for me at this age. My voice is a little gravelly — I have noticed that — but I really do not see a lot of difference.
HEMACHANDRA: Our magazine’s audience is made up of independent retailers who sell books, giftware, and music. What advice do you have for them?
HAY: Oh, my goodness! Get up in the morning, and bless your business. Bless the business! Bless the transportation you are going to use to get there. Bless the front door and every piece of merchandise in your store. Bless everybody who works for you and with you. Bless all the suppliers. Bless them with love. Bless every person who walks in that door with love.
Mentally put so much love and joy within and around your establishment that it is a magnet for people. The worst thing you can do is say, “Oh, business is bad, and the economy is poor,” and all that crap, because that surrounds your business and indwells your business with poverty thinking.
Instead, you say things like, “My business grows — constantly grows! My prosperity is constantly increasing. This store is fabulous! It is a magnet for people!” That’s the sort of mental attitude a store owner needs to have.
With that attitude — and by practicing it on a daily basis — you will be amazed at what happens with your business. And F. U. C. K. the economy! Your store’s well-being has nothing to do with the economy. It has to do with your consciousness.
The last thing at night, before you go to bed, just bless everybody with love and say, “Life, you handle my store. I’m going to sleep.”
And so it is!
HEMACHANDRA: Have you given any thought to your legacy and how you would like to be remembered?
HAY: Oh, they’ll remember me the way they want to. That has nothing to do with me or what I care for.
I will tell you one thing I would like. I would love to have a rose named for me. I think that would be a nice thing. A beautiful rose that would go on for a long time. Every time somebody saw it, it would be beautiful. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but: Life, I want a rose named after me!
See, I don’t talk to God. There are too many negative connotations about God. People say God this and God that, but if you ask them, “What does God mean to you?” you get some really interesting answers.
So, I talk to life. Now, you could say that life is another name for God, and it probably is, but I don’t see it as a being.
HEMACHANDRA: Any final words?
HAY: Drop the pain. Just drop the pain. Stop thinking those thoughts that make you feel so miserable. As Abraham says, “There’s nothing more important than that you feel good.” That’s the whole point. As I have always said, love yourself and heal your life.
HEMACHANDRA: Thank you.
HAY: You are welcome.