• Alice McDowell
  • [Behind the Book] Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns that Hide Your True Self
[Behind the Book] Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns that Hide Your True Self
Written by
Alice McDowell
October 2017
Written by
Alice McDowell
October 2017

Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns that Hide Your True Self

When I was 11 years old, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. I started questioning everything. Why did this happen to me? What is the purpose of life, anyway? Why am I here? This started me on my quest to discover the truth about life. The journey included exploring religious studies in graduate school and then teaching courses in mysticism, world religions, depth psychology, and women’s studies. Knowing that while academics could orient me toward—but not actually give me—what I was seeking, I started meditating, going on retreats, and working with a spiritual guide.

My journey also led me to explore my interest in spirituality and health by participating in a four-year program on energetic healing. The most salient part of the program was working with the five personality patterns described in my book. This changed my life and the lives of my fellow classmates. I decided to develop a three-year program called Finding the Hidden Treasure, which is now in its 19th year.

Students from all ages and walks of life have experienced life-altering transformation and growth from this program, particularly through learning about these personality patterns and doing the exercises to heal or soften them. Witnessing this transformation, I asked myself, “Why not offer this to more people?” This idea spurred me to write Hidden Treasure.

Bumps on the Road

At the end of the 2nd year of the HT program, students write a paper on how they have been affected by these patterns. I knew the book would come alive and help readers remember the concepts if I incorporated some of their life stories into it. My writing coach agreed, but said the stories needed to be more vivid and engaging, and suggested another coach to help me. Oh, no, I anguished, do I have to go back and redo them all? The answer was yes!

This led to a further quandary. How could I add color if I didn’t want anything made up, anything that didn’t come from the students themselves? To solve this problem, this new coach and I devised a plan in which she would read the stories and then ask questions specific to that story that could bring out more flavor. These included questions about the scene in which the story took place, what the writer’s feelings were at the time, and other details—the music that was playing, a look on another’s face, the atmosphere.

I took each set of questions back to the students. Some wrote out their answers and others preferred that I interview and record them. I was able to enliven the stories without compromising my desire for the truth. I now love the stories—some are funny, some are heart-breaking, and others reveal deep truths.

Another issue came up around the present-day political scene and whether it would contribute to or detract from the message in the book. For example, one of the personality patterns fits Donald Trump to a tee. I questioned whether I should mention him as an example near the beginning of the chapter or place him in the section on historical/cultural examples towards the end. Mentioning him near the front would vividly bring home the behavioral and psychological characteristics of the pattern, yet readers might be thinking about how this applies to him rather than to them. For this reason, I decided to put him near the end, so readers could benefit first from their own self-understanding. They could always go back and read the chapter with Trump in mind, if they wanted to.

The Questionnaire

I thought it would be fun to develop a questionnaire for individuals to discover which of the five pattern(s) applied to them. The tough part was figuring out how to construct questions that would yield valid results. I asked my Sangha—graduates of the Hidden Treasure Program who want to deepen their spiritual lives—to take the questionnaire and then comment on how the questions did or did not work for them. In a lively exchange, we went back and forth, arriving at better, more nuanced wording to make the questions hit home—all the while laughing in the process. The result was a more accurate questionnaire, which I have since tested on other HT classes.

Thank-You Dinner

My students’ life stories comprise a significant part of Hidden Treasure. For privacy reasons, I couldn’t acknowledge them publicly. How was I to thank each of them personally? I decided to honor them by holding a thank-you dinner, during which they got to meet the other contributors and share excerpts from their testimonies. They were deeply moved by each other’s stories, giving me hope that others will also be touched as well.

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