Yesterday was Christmas, a holiday I grew up celebrating and one that has a lot of deep emotional meaning to me. So I thought to celebrate this beautiful holiday, I’d share some ideas from my absolute favorite story of all time—Harry Potter. Now, rather than just pick one book, I actually scoured the books and picked one big idea from each novel to share just how clever and witty JK Rowling could be.
I will try not to spoil anything for those who may not have read the books before, but as I will be discussing some plot points and ideas that carry over from book to book and carry the plot, this is a SPOILER warning.
So, let’s jump into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and find all the wisdom we can gain from the popular Boy Who Lived.
Kicking off with Book one, The Philosopher Stone: The Mirror of Erised
“‘So,’ said Dumbledore, slipping off the desk to sit on the floor with Harry, ‘you, like hundreds before you, have discovered the delights of the Mirror of Erised.’Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
‘I didn’t know it was called that, sir.’
‘But I expect you’ve realized by now what it does?’
Harry shook his head.
‘Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help?’
Harry thought. Then he said slowly, ‘It shows us what we want . . . whatever we want . . .’
‘Yes and no,’ said Dumbledore. ‘It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.'”
The Mirror of Erised. Harry looks into it and sees the family he’s never known surrounding him. Ron looks into it and sees himself as Head Boy holding the Quidditch Cup. What do YOU see when you look into it?
There’s a longer philosophical chat to be had about the passage but for now let’s focus on Dumbledore’s wisdom at the end: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
When witches and wizards get lost in that enticing Mirror, it reminds me of how many of us get lost in the real-life equivalent of a Vision Board.
Now, science says that reflecting on what’s important to us and where we’re headed is actually a wise thing to do, which are what Vision Boards are meant to help. But we don’t want to get lost in the IDEA of our goals. We need to focus on the PROCESS of achieving our goals rather than just how it will feel when we’ve achieved our dreams. Looking at a board that depicts what we want doesn’t get us what we want. We have to WORK for it.
Back to Dumbledore: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
Furthermore, concerning the Mirror, at the end of the book, Harry saves the Philosopher’s Stone from Quirrel and Voldemort via the Mirror of Erised.
Dumbledore’s brilliant idea? Only someone who wanted to *find* the Stone but not use it for their own selfish ends could get it. Harry didn’t want the gold or the everlasting life. He simply wanted to get the Stone to keep it safe–in the process, serving something bigger than himself.
Tom Morris, who actually wrote a book called If Harry Potter Ran GE says: “The happiest people in the world are people who love what they are doing, regardless of whether wealth, fame, power and elevated social status ever come their way. The most fulfilled people are individuals who delight in their work, whatever it might be, and strive to do it well.”
So, let’s reflect on our own lives. Why are YOU doing what you do? What visualization of greatness do you see yourself achieving? And how can you make that a reality for the benefit of others as well as your personal self?
Chamber of Secrets: It Is Our Choices…
“‘Professor Dumbledore . . . Riddle said I’m like him. Strange likenesses, he said. . . .’Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
‘Did he, now?’ said Dumbledore, looking thoughtfully at Harry from under his thick silver eyebrows. ‘And what do you think, Harry?’
‘I don’t think I’m like him!’ said Harry, more loudly than he’d intended. ‘I mean, I’m in — Gryffindor, I’m . . .’ But he fell silent, a lurking doubt resurfacing in his mind. ‘Professor,’ he started again after a moment. ‘The Sorting Hat told me I’d — I’d have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin’s heir for a while . . . because I can speak Parseltongue. . . .’
‘You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,’ said Dumbledore calmly, ‘because Lord Voldemort — who is the last remaining descendent of Salazar Slytherin — can speak Parseltongue. Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure. . . .’
‘Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?’ Harry said, thunderstruck.
‘It certainly seems so.’
‘So I should be in Slytherin,’ Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore’s face. ‘The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin’s power in me, and it —’
‘Put you in Gryffindor,’ said Dumbledore calmly. ‘Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift, Parseltongue — resourcefulness — determination — a certain disregard for rules,’ he added, his moustache quivering again. ‘Yet, the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.’
‘It only put me in Gryffindor,’ said Harry in a defeated voice, ‘because I asked not to go to Slytherin.’
‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore, beaming once more. ‘Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’”
That scene is packed with wisdom from Dumbledore, and it’s wisdom that is REPEATED throughout the next five books.
First, there’s the insight from Dumbledore that perhaps Harry has a bit of Voldemort in him. I like to think all of us have a little bit of Voldemort in each of us. None of us are perfectly good. (Just as none of us are perfectly evil either). So how do we differentiate whether we belong in Slytherin or Gryffindor? It is the CHOICES we make.
For the record, even choosing Slytherin isn’t the choice of evil. I do not believe your house dictates whether you are good or bad. For example, I am a Slytherin. As are several very good characters in the Harry Potter series. I am ambitious, almost to a fault, and cunning, almost to a Ravenclaw level. My creativity helps with my goals. I do not believe these qualities make me good or bad, it is how I CHOOSE to use my skills and characteristics that make me so.
I choose to use my skills to help change the world—help people find their way in fitness and in saving the planet. But I could easily use my ambition, cunning, and creativity to make a huge corporation that makes me millions of dollars. Or maybe I couldn’t, for all my ambition and creativity I horrible at marketing…
Anyways I digress.
What are some of the ways you can use your choices and your characteristics for good? What choices can you make today to help others and help the world? How can we harness both the light and the dark parts of ourselves—our Harry and our Voldemort to help make the world a better place?
There is no good or bad, there is only our choices that define who we are. Thank you Dumbledore, for reminding us we ALWAYS have a choice.
Prisoner of Azkaban: The Patronus Charm
“Professor Lupin had taken out his own wand, and indicated that Harry should do the same. ‘The spell I am going to try and teach you is highly advanced magic, Harry — well beyond Ordinary Wizarding Level. It is called the Patronus Charm. When it works correctly, it conjures up a Patronus, which is a kind of anti-dementor — a guardian that acts as a shield between you and the dementor.’Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry had a sudden vision of himself crouching behind a Hagrid-sized figure holding a large club. Professor Lupin continued, ‘The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementor feeds upon — hope, happiness, the desire to survive — but it cannot feel despair, as real humans can, so the dementors can’t hurt it. But I must warn you, Harry, that the charm might be too advanced for you. Many qualified wizards have difficulty with it.’
‘What does a Patronus look like?’ said Harry curiously.
‘Each one is unique to the wizard who conjures it.’
‘And how do you conjure it?’
‘With an incantation, which will work only if you are concentrating, with all your might, on a single, very happy memory.’”
The Patronus Charm. Okay, so this is one of Rowling’s most genius ideas in the book. How do you defeat the despair and overwhelming effect of the dementors? EXPECTO PATRONUM! Concentrate on your happiest of thoughts, and you are well on your way.
So, what are YOUR happiest memories? Think about it for a moment.
While you are conjuring your happy memory, keep in mind that science actually agrees with Lupin. Robert Emmons talks about the research done in gratitude and how it helps ward off symptoms of depression. In his book Thanks Robert says: One simply cannot be relaxed and stressed at the same time. Try it. You can’t. Relaxation drives out anxiety and vice versa. The Buddha said that ‘Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.’ You cannot be grateful and resentful at the same time, or forgiving and vengeful. When we are savoring the moment we cannot be regretting the past.”
Here is the science of a Patronus Charm—so try with all your might. Remember your happy memory, and when life, or dementors, gets you down, EXPECTO PATRONUM! You got this!
Harry showed us all how powerful believing in yourself can be, at the end of the story. Harry just saved everyone from the dementors by conjuring an epic Patronus, which Hermione, our studious witch remarks is incredibly advanced magic. How’d he pull that off?
He knew he could do it because, well, as the story goes, he actually saw himself doing it. With the help of a magical device called a Time Turner, Harry actually witnesses himself conjuring a full-blown corporeal Patronus. But I don’t think we need magic to KNOW we can do something as fantastically incredible. We need to practice, and practice as many different ways to train the brain to react without even thinking.
First, we have Henry Ford who famously said “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” It turns out there’s more truth than just wit. Knowing in our heart we can do something means a lot.
But can we see ourselves doing it before we actually do it? Lanny Basham, famed athletic coach, seems to think so. In his book With Winning in Mind, Lanny tells us “If you consistently rehearse what you want to achieve, what you imagine can become reality.”
He proved it with his own example when he wanted to set the record at 400 in sharp-shooting, a perfect score. “But I had never actually fired a 400, even in training. Nonetheless, I vividly rehearsed shooting the first 100, then another, and another. I rehearsed what I knew would happen at that point: I would realize that I was above the record. Next, I rehearsed hearing a voice say, ‘That’s OK. I do this all the time.’ Then I imagined shooting the final ten easily and saying to myself, ‘A Perfect 400, that’s like me.‘ In my first competition since beginning the rehearsal, I started with a 100 kneeling. My next two targets were also 100s. I began my last series with ten, ten, ten, ten. Only five more to go. Ten. Ten. Ten. Then reality set in. I was above the record. I heard an internal voice say, ‘That’s OK, I do this all the time.’ I shot two additional tens, setting the national record at a perfect 400.”
Harry’s version, “That’s like me. I just conjured an epic Patronus. Let’s do this!”
What’s your Patronus, your happy thought to drive the darkness away? What is your epic challenge to produce such a Patronus? Let’s win first in your mind. Think of some past successes. See success in this project. Know you can do it, because you’ve already done it.
Goblet of Fire: Play to your Strengths + Keep it Simple
“‘So . . . got any ideas how you’re going to get past your dragon yet?’ said Moody.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
‘No,’ said Harry.
‘Well, I’m not going to tell you,’ said Moody gruffly. ‘I don’t show favoritism, me. I’m just going to give you some good, general advice. And the first bit is — play to your strengths.’
‘I haven’t got any,’ said Harry, before he could stop himself.
‘Excuse me,’ growled Moody, ‘you’ve got strengths if I say you’ve got them. Think now. What are you best at?’
Harry tried to concentrate. What was he best at? Well, that was easy, really —
‘Quidditch,’ he said dully, ‘and a fat lot of help —’
‘That’s right,’ said Moody, staring at him very hard, his magical eye barely moving at all. ‘You’re a damned good flier from what I’ve heard.’
‘Yeah, but . . .’ Harry stared at him. ‘I’m not allowed a broom, I’ve only got my wand —’
‘My second piece of general advice,’ said Moody loudly, interrupting him, ‘is to use a nice, simple spell that will enable you to get what you need.’
Harry looked at him blankly. What did he need?
‘Come on boy . . .’ whispered Moody. ‘Put them together . . . it’s not that difficult.’
And it clicked. He was best at flying. He needed to pass the dragon in the air. For that, he needed his Firebolt. And for his Firebolt he needed —”
So, I love the allegory of facing dragons, and I just want to point out that this is what I say a hero’s story is all about. We aren’t on a quest to fight LIZARDS, we want to face DRAGONS, that is where the true epic adventures lie. So, when you are facing dragons (or dementors, like in Year 3), what do you need to persevere? To triumph?
Well, as *ahem* “Professor Moody” (sort of) tells us, we need two things. 1. Focus on your strengths. 2. Keep it simple.
So what are some of the dragons you are facing? First off, be grateful for the dragons rather than the lizards. And next, how are you going to persevere and succeed?
#1 What are your strengths? What do you enjoy doing, are you good at doing, and what are some of the things other people look to you for advice or suggestions?
#2- What is the simplest, easiest route to let your strength shine through in this challenge or struggle you are facing?
“Come on . . .” whispers our Big Why. “Put them together . . . it’s not that difficult.” 🙂
Order of the Phoenix: A Power the Dark Lord Knows Not
“‘There is no shame in what you are feeling, Harry’ said Dumbledore. ‘On the contrary…the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength…‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
‘I don’t understand’, said Harry.
‘Voldemort tried to kill you when you when you were a baby because of a prophecy made shortly before your birth. He knew the prophecy had been made, though he did not know the contents.‘
Dumbledore place his Pensieve upon the desk and raised his wand to his own temple. A silvery strand of thought clung to the wand and Dumbledore deposited it into the basin. Swirling the Pensieve for a moment, a figure rose out of it. Draped in shawls, Sybil Trelawney’s eyes were magnified to enormous size…
‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…’ ”
What power does Harry possess that the Dark Lord knows not? The most tremendous power on earth: LOVE.
Love is what drove Harry to the department of mysteries. Love is what protected Harry from being possessed by Lord Voldemort during the battle. It was love that saved his life in the first place. And love is what kept Harry going, even after losing so many of his loved ones. Which is essential for a true hero.
As Christopher McDougall writes in Natural Born Heroes, “What Plutarch taught them is this: Heroes care. True heroism, as the ancients understood, isn’t about strength, or boldness, or even courage. It’s about compassion. When the Greeks created the heroic ideal, they didn’t choose a word that mean ‘Dies Trying’ or ‘Massacres Bad Guy.’ They went with hērōs—‘protector.’ Heroes aren’t perfect. What tips them toward greatness is a sidekick, a human connection who helps turn the spigot on the power of compassion. Empathy, the Greeks believed, was a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, the more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into.”
I repeat, Heroes CARE. Hero doesn’t mean “defeater of bad buys”, “slayer of demons”. It means PROTECTOR. A hero has strength for two. They have love.
And this whole idea of a hero relies on love and compassion—powers the Dark Lord knows not—is well-known as the major theme of the Harry Potter stories. As an avid Harry Potter fan, I became enthralled with a style of music called Wizard Rock, starting with a band amply named Harry and the Potters. They sing a song called The Weapon, and it is one of their most famous songs, the main song they end their concerts with as it is always a crowd favorite.
Watch the way Harry and the Potters motivates the crowd. While they are no rock star icons, they definitely know how to get a crowd on their feet. It’s the chorus that gets to me-
“Because there’s one thing that I’ve got
One thing that you’ve got inside you too
One thing that we’ve got
And the one thing we’ve got is enough
To save us all
The weapon we have is love”
The weapon we have is indeed love. It is a power the dark lord knows not. So brandish your weapon proudly and stand up a hero.
Half-Blood Prince :Walking into the arena
“But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents — that there was all the difference in the world.”Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
There are two ways to walk into the arena that is our lives: Like we’re being dragged in or with our heads held high.
The first thing I thought of as I read this passage was Brené Brown’s amazing book, Daring Greatly, which is named after the man in the arena speech by Teddy Roosevelt in 1910: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Makes me think of the Goblet of Fire, in Book 4: Dumbledore announces to the students of Hogwarts, Beauxbaton, and Durmstrang who might be contenders in the TriWizard Tournament:
“Finally, I wish to impress upon any of you wishing to compete that this tournament is not to be entered into lightly. Once a champion has been selected by the Goblet of Fire, he or she is obliged to see the tournament through to the end. The placing of your name in the goblet constitutes a binding, magical contract. There can be no change of heart once you have become a champion. Please be very sure, therefore, that you are wholeheartedly prepared to play before you drop your name into the goblet.”
We do not enter our name and accept the challenge that life is calling to us lightly. We are committed, we go ALL IN. With our head held high, knowing what answering the call entails.
What challenge is beckoning you into the arena today? Let’s walk in with our heads held high and hearts full of courage!
Deathly Hallows: The greater good
“Aberforth seemed lost in contemplation of his own knotted and veined hands. After a long pause, he said, ‘How can you be sure, Potter, that my brother wasn’t more interested in the greater good than in you? How can you be sure you aren’t dispensable, just like my little sister?’Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
A shard of ice seemed to pierce Harry’s heart.
‘I don’t believe it. Dumbledore loved Harry,’ said Hermione.
‘Why didn’t he tell him to hide, then?’ shot back Aberforth. ‘Why didn’t he say to him, “Take care of yourself, here’s how to survive”?’
‘Because,’ said Harry before Hermione could answer, ‘sometimes you’ve got to think about more than your own safety! Sometimes you’ve got to think about the greater good! This is war!’
‘You’re seventeen, boy!’
‘I’m of age, and I’m going to keep fighting even if you’ve given up!’
‘Who says I’ve given up?’
‘“The Order of the Phoenix is finished,”’ Harry repeated. ‘“You-Know-Who’s won, it’s over, and anyone pretending different’s kidding themselves.”’
‘I don’t like to say it, but it’s the truth!’
‘No, it isn’t,’ said Harry. ‘Your brother knew how to finish You-Know-Who and he passed the knowledge on to me. I’m going to keep going until I succeed — or I die. Don’t think I don’t know how this might end. I’ve known for years.’”
If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, you know that Harry is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice—to give up his life for the greater good. A responsibility he knowingly and courageously accepts. And believe it or not, we are ALL called to do the same. Perhaps not in such a literal sense, but in a way no less powerful and meaningful.
In The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, he says: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
All of which leads us to ask: To what have you given your life? Your family? The animals? Conservation? All of these are valid and valiant efforts.
We need it. We need YOU. Now more than ever.
Unleash Your Inner Hero
Sending love and heroic courage to you. For seeing the good and visualizing what we want in life, making our choices, remembering the good times and practicing our convictions, playing to our strengths, remembering our greatest asset as a hero is love, standing tall and courageous, and become the hero for all to adore and admire.
Sending you wonderful wishes this holiday season. Happy holidays and a wonderful bright new year to you and your family. Take care! And I’ll catch you all next time!