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Miracles in the making

THOSE of you entering day three of that post-Hogmanay hangover fug may want to look away now.

I'm attempting to ignite a new year-inspired lifestyle overhaul – and it's not going to be pretty. So where to start? Never one to shy away from a spot of bandwagon-jumping, I've managed to get a sneak peek at the latest book by US self-help guru Gabrielle Bernstein, the go-to life coach who has been dubbed "a new role model for New York's former Carrie Bradshaws" and "one of the hottest spiritual voices around".

Bernstein, meanwhile, describes herself as "a raconteur for love", her musings peppered with snappy soundbites, fabulous frou-frou language and eyewateringly earnest mantras ("my dedication to miracles got me to this groovy state"; "the act of forgiveness is to the miracle worker as lettuce is to the raw foodie").

I won't lie to you. The opening pages read so saccharine-sweet my teeth ached more than when I polished off an entire tin of Quality Street in one sitting last weekend. But I'm intrigued by the title: May Cause Miracles.

Bernstein promises a "six-week kick-start to unlimited happiness", broken down into bite-sized daily blocks. Given the subject matter, I'm fully expecting a hemp-wearing, barefoot, earth mother type who, when not meditating cross-legged on a tatty mat, talks incessantly about unblocking her third eye and hugs trees.

As it turns out, the 33-year-old author is none of the above. Rather, as the photograph on her latest book cover confirms, she's a willowy blonde with tumbling locks and a blinding Hollywood smile. Effortlessly chic in a simple white T-shirt and skinny jeans, Bernstein looks more like Kim Kardashian's cool best friend than the expected crusty hippy.

She has a compelling back story to boot, her voice drifting down the line from New York. Having founded her own public relations firm at the age of 21, Bernstein once embodied an entirely different set of values, her life a cautionary tale for the work hard/play hard masses.

Employed to promote Manhattan's trendiest nightspots, she found herself seduced by the city's mesmerising glitz and glamour which, in turn, led to a spiralling set of addictions Bernstein lists as "love, drugs, food, work, fear". The watershed moment came in 2005 when, strung out and emotionally fatigued, she reached her lowest ebb and realised something major had to change: herself.

"When I was 25 I had been running my PR business for five years and was really spun out from that New York City nightlife scene and all that goes along with it," she recalls. "I had hit rock bottom in my life. I decided to get sober."

With fancy celebrity parties, swanky cocktails, romantic dalliances and the next pair of expensive shoes all having failed to sate her quest for happiness, Bernstein began to look inward and tapped into the teachings of Marianne Williamson, a spiritual activist and author of A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles.

"I turned back to the spiritual roots I had planted as a child to help pick myself back up, to support and heal myself," she says.

"I quickly realised it was time for me to carry those messages and be a messenger for my own generation."

It was this which founded the basis for Bernstein's own subsequent writing as she deftly repackaged and tailored the teachings for those, like her, who lived life to excess in a bid to fill a gaping inner chasm. The end product is an achingly hip, post-modern brand of pop spirituality, the essence of which is to meditate, forgive, learn self-love and let go of the fear in return for unlimited happiness. Or so it promises on the tin.

Bernstein certainly seems to be doing something right. Her first two books, Spirit Junkie and Add More ~ing to Your Life, were Amazon bestsellers, she can command upwards of £6000 ($10,000) on the public speaking circuit, counts Oprah Winfrey among her fans and has seen her group coaching sessions grow from a handful of people in her New York apartment to filling vast venues across the city (with countless more tuning in online).

She has almost 45,000 Twitter followers, a dedicated legion of listeners for her weekly Hay House radio show and a social networking site, HerFuture, tackling topics such as body image and overcoming addiction.

In addition, Bernstein is soon to launch her own Spirit Junkie Alarm Clock app which sends daily affirmations direct to subscribers. "Rather than turning to your phone, going through negative emails and jumping right into your day, the alarm allows you to tune into something more positive first," she enthuses. "It's all empowering messages coming through."

In her latest book, May Cause Miracles, published in the UK next Monday, Bernstein talks frankly about her own past demons, laying bare their root cause.

"Looking at my own fearful patterns with food, such as binge eating and obsessing over the next meal, I could understand that my compulsive overeating was a reaction to the childhood anxiety I'd picked up at the dinner table," she writes.

"At one time, my mother struggled with overeating. She turned to food to anaesthetise her own inner turmoil. Her compulsive overeating affected me because I unconsciously picked up her anxious energy around the dinner table. This seemingly minor experience created a lot of anxiety for me when it came to eating. Unconsciously I took on my own fear around food.

"The fearful thought: 'There's never enough' became an internal dialogue that plagued me at every meal. I'd overeat and speed through meals. I never tasted my food. I never even enjoyed it. I lived in this tortuous cycle for years until I became willing to look at the fear underneath my behaviour. Once I looked at my fear, I understood that it was based on that false belief that there was never enough.

"I spent decades in fear of not having enough to eat. I'd chosen to carry that limiting belief into my present and replay it in my day-to-day life. And that's the thing about limiting beliefs. They're just smoke and mirrors, a bit of mental sleight of hand that leads us in the wrong direction in life. Through my willingness, dedication to miracles and infinite patience, I was guided to all the resources I needed for healing. In time, my food addiction lifted."

Shifting patterns of self-sabotage when it comes to food is one of six weekly chapters tackled by Bernstein as she attempts to teach us how to reprogramme our thoughts "from fear to love". Others include confronting that which has held us back from romantic bliss, prevented financial success or blocked our paths in life.

"The key step in all these chapters is the willingness step because, if we are not willing, the change cannot occur," she says. "That is crucial. The other point that is consistent throughout the book is being nonjudgemental to yourself.

"There are going to be things that we will do right in the new year – and there are going to be moments when you fall off [that path]. The real work is about self-forgiveness, compassion and being kind to yourself as you go throughout this process."

So far so twee? Perhaps. But for all my initial pessimism, reading Bernstein's words do have an effect. It's a bit like the feeling you get after you watch a tragedy unfold on the news or read a particularly moving obituary. It serves as a jarringly pertinent reminder about the importance of not sweating the small stuff in life.

While I struggle with the notion of preparing my body "to be a vessel to receive loving energy" or to "dig deep into your love bank and grab some gratitude for yourself" – it all sounds a bit too Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – cut through the cheesier self-help lingo and Bernstein has devised a clever pick'n'mix to tap into.

There's a smattering of basic cognitive behavioural therapy (which endeavours to break negative thought patterns), alongside her referencing a "greater power" (undoubtedly gleaned from addiction rehabilitation programmes) and extolling the importance of "the F-word" – in this case forgiveness – which she believes is an under-utilised notion: "Forgiveness is like air: we need it to survive" (more powerful than you would think).

As for Bernstein, her belief in miracles is resolute. "Before I made the decision to move on this path, I was a very anxious person," she says. "It was hard for me to wake up in the morning without anxiety and fear. Now I wake up fully free, excited to get up and begin my day. My obstacles I see as opportunities and I do genuinely practise what I preach. I can genuinely say I love my life – and that's not how I was seven years ago." Me? Maybe a little more than I did yesterday.

May Cause Miracles: A Six-Week Kick-Start To Unlimited Happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein is published by Hay House on Monday, priced £10.99. For more information, www.gabbyb.tv

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