January 31, 2007

The Law of Attraction, or the Lull of Distraction?

Lately many people I know have been super-excited about a DVD called The Secret.

According to The Secret's official website, the movie reveals how to have "unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted." Furthermore, "The Secret...utterly transformed the lives of every person who ever knew it... Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein." Not to mention real people interviewed for the film who have applied these principles and found true love, big bucks and perfect health. Add to this the testimony of a quantum physicist from the equally popular film What the Bleep Do We Know?, along with some of today's bestselling spirituality and prosperty authors—household names like Jack "Chicken Soup for the Soul" Canfield and Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale—and you've got a bestseller. (The older version of the film, now out of print, also contains footage of the popular Abraham/Law of Attraction channeler/teacher Esther Hicks, deleted from the most current version due to "differences" with the producer.)

Examples abound in The Secret of ways to attain money, cars, homes and other items of material wealth through "attraction principles" (which involve using autosuggestion techniques such as "treasure mapping," affirmations, visualizations and setting intentions). Some material is included about achieving spiritual growth, bringing about world peace, the importance of gratitude and "loving what is" (most notably those sequences with Dr. Michael Beckwith of Agape Spiritual Center in Los Angeles)...but these areas are not given nearly as much airplay in the film as the commodities are.

I have some issues with The Secret. First of all, The Secret is no secret. Books about manifesting abundance and success have been around since the early 20th century; my mom had a little booklet in her night table called "It Works!" which was published circa 1925 and is still available today. Other books like Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich appeared around the same time and continue to be popular.

Another issue I have with the film lies with its promotion of magical thinking: keep focusing on that Rolls Royce and one day it will be yours! I know of no one who has materialized a car out of belief alone. If you want a car and someone gives you one, that's wonderful...and it could be that your neighbor, who has no car, has chanted many more attraction mantras—and with more faith—than you. Some would say the neighbor must not be vibrationally aligned to get the car. I'd say she's not supposed to have a car now...which could change tomorrow. (So could your current automobile ownership.)

This is not to say that belief isn't powerful. When we believe something terrible will happen, we live in a world that is already terrible; we're terrorized. When we have the mindset that reality is kind, we don't experience anything as terrible, with or without riches.

The Secret is about a story of a nonexistent future in which we will have something we want, which may create stress in the present because that something is not here now. There is nothing in The Secret that shows us how to be satisfied and happy and rich in this moment. For that we must question what we believe.

Focusing on material gain may indeed get you a Rolls Royce if that's what you truly desire. However, based on this philosophy, you'd better make sure to include in your treasure map that you want to be able to keep your Rolls Royce once you get it...or to keep it in perfect condition...and to not soon grow dissatisfied and needing something else in order to be happy! There's the flip side: if you don't get what you want, you're just not doing it right. You weren't specific enough. You didn't do your due dilligence, metaphysically.

The Secret does not open us to something greater than the temporary pleasures of "stuff." What if a Rolls Royce is not for your highest good? What if something other than that could lead you to your perfect path? Would you still want that Rolls more than you want what you have now? Can you know you'd be much happier and better off if you had it? (That doesn't mean you won't get the car; it's just that the car is a bonus.)

A recent New York Times article entitled "Do You Believe in Magic?" (January 27, 2007) revealed that the human brain is wired to buoy itself with claims of specialness as a way to ward off fear and distress. This is the same brain circuitry that imagination comes from, but in some cases the propensity to create specialness can result in counterproductive magical thinking and disabling compulsive behavior, ranging from mild superstition to major delusions to obsessive-compulsive disorder. The more we are under stress, the more desperate we feel, the more likely we are to espouse magical beliefs. War zones are full of such things.

Can belief really keep you safe? (Safe from the pain of unfulfilled desires, for example.) Not if you still think there's such a thing as "unsafe." The mind that understands that all is well may not see so-called poverty, illness, or even death, as awful. This doesn't mean we lay down and do without and die. Without that fear there may be presence of mind to get out of the war zone, be it physical or mental. We can remain open and available to having and enjoying a Rolls Royce, even though we're just fine with our used Prius.

In order to know there are no limits, we must question the beliefs that stand in the way of our perceived limitation; acting "as if" has never worked; there must be deep conviction, which self-inquiry provides beyond a doubt. What arises from this simple exercise in discovering our own truth—answering four questions and turning our thoughts around—is often sheer gratitude for "what is."

Imagine the freedom to be rich right now with things just as they are! That is a symptom of an open mind...and an open mind is much more likely to "attract" all the wonderfulness available to us in this universe. As Byron Katie says, "Just when you think life can't possibly get any better, it does; it's a law." And that's not a secret.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


Patty said...

I can understand your point of view on the movie "The Secret", but don't fully agree with you.

I see this movie as an opening for "discussion" and "inquiry" about The Law Of Attraction. Similar to the "inquiry" and "discussion" created by 'What the Bleep' and also 'the work'.

It is a "movie" not a full fledged factual documentation. The thing to keep in mind in any kind of presentation or work, including "the work" is too keep our critical thinking skills intact as we keep our hearts and minds open to discovery.

I think and have seen people who are amazing manifesters, but they also have done a lot of work on themselves and dug into limiting beliefs.

There are many paths to mecca. In using inquiry it just might be that this movie might lead someone to 'the work' to aid them in opening to the law of attraction. That's my two cents. Thank you.

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Patty, I do see your point. The Secret, What the Bleep, The Power of Now and other things that I'd label "pop spirituality simplifications" (some see The Work that way as well!) do some good in that they open people to the "parallel universes" available to us all. Oprah Winfrey has done the world a great service in making available on her show the writings and teachings of folks like Iyanla Van Zant, Suze Orman and Gary Zukav to people who might never have given a thought to greater possibilities for their lives than what meets the eye.

The Work isn't even The Work, there is in my experience something else going on around it that cannot be told. Just answering questions won't transform anyone into a Buddha, but the process does allow us to glimpse that things are not as they seem and for many of us, something greater unfolds. The Secret could do the same, as you say.

Many are putting all their eggs in one Secret basket however, and those who think that life is all about getting what we want may become disappointed and disillusioned. As it should be, of course. I don't expect anyone to agree with me; I just call 'em as I see 'em. I appreciate your point of view, thank you for posting.