Imperfect Serenity

Atom Site Feed

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Secret

Have you all heard about The Secret, which has been flying off the shelves quicker than Borders can restock? Apparently the book was featured on Oprah! and received such an overwhelming response that she had it on again a week later. I heard a bit of that second show on the radio and was intrigued enough to look for it at Borders, where the staff people just shook their heads and gave each other a look that said, “What is it with this book?” That, of course made me more intrigued, until I finally hunted down a copy. Now that I’ve read part way through it I’m struggling to articulate what it is that’s bothering me about its approach.

First, the thesis: “The Great Secret of Life is the law of attraction.” The numerous spiritual teachers who were part of this project all agree that our thoughts have a powerful effect on our lives. Expecting success brings success. Expecting conflict brings conflict. That sort of thing. But they also go further and suggest that we manifest whatever we think about, even if we’re thinking about how we don’t want it. On Oprah! they gave the example of people gaining weight when they start focusing too much on their weight, which certainly has been my experience. I also have had experiences where my positive expectations had a positive impact. I’ve had even more experiences where letting go of anxiety was followed by positive results, even ones that could not be directly attributed to my actions. When I wrote my first book, I was amazed at how many women met the person they married right after they gave up anxiously looking. I’m convinced there is some universal spiritual law that involves letting go of anxiety. As the authors of The Secret argue, this idea runs through all major religions.

The other TV example that rang true was the “War on Terrorism.” One of the authors said that if a society is afraid of terrorism, that is what it will invite. I agree, though I think this is a result of our actions as much as our “energy vibrations.” If you look at the history of any country that has tried to crush terrorism with brute force (South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Israel come to mind), the result has always been more terrorism, which the US is now breeding in Iraq. It’s the result of our policies as much as our perceptions, though perceptions are important. If we are looking for conflict with Iran, for example, that is exactly what we’ll find, though if we look for reconciliation, we might find that. (Read this if you need to be convinced.) But if I and everyone who reads this blog tries to visualize a peaceful outcome to the escalating conflict with Iran, and George Bush continues to visualize conflict, is there really a guarantee that we’ll get what we want?

The problem, I think, is that The Secret implies that the law of attraction is the only law in the universe, as if we have only the law of magnetism, but no law of gravity. Yes, a magnet will generally stick to metal, but if you make a refrigerator magnet that is too heavy, the law of gravity literally outweighs the law of magnetism, and the magnet falls off. For me the counterweight to our individual thoughts is our social circumstances: our culture, the time we live in, and the constraints of our time. For example, Oprah, who is a big proponent of The Secret’s thesis, certainly achieved her success partly because she believed in herself in an unusually strong way. But if Oprah had been born a hundred years earlier, she would not have become the Queen of television. It would have been impossible for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that television didn’t exist. Maybe she would have become another Harriet Tubman, or something else great, but she wouldn’t have been what she is today. It’s just not true that any of us can have or be anything if we just have positive thoughts about it.

Then there is the question—the enormous question—of how any of this relates to God. Oprah said on her show that she didn’t find believing in the law of attraction to contradict her Christian faith, and I agree, up to a point—the point where I recognize that there is a greater truth in the universe than what I want. There is a certain kind of spiritual author, including some quoted in The Secret who implies that God wants everyone to drive a BMW and have a big house, as if getting what we want is the purpose of life. Of course, many of these authors admit that we have to be acting out of “our highest self,” though I haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet. Still I’m aware that everyone having big houses and driving big cars is hurting the earth, and there is something dangerous about telling millions of people that they can have more, more, more.

Overall this book is helping me to think more deeply about my own book and The Wisdom to Know the Difference between what we can and cannot change. I absolutely believe that we can change--individually and as a society--much more than we generally assume, but part of what enables us to have positive thoughts is the ability to be at peace with the things we cannot immediately change. It's partly accepting our limits that expands our possibilities, not denying that those limits exist.

Monday, February 19, 2007


It’s so true that we learn by teaching, or even preparing to teach. Since I’ve said yes to leading a workshop on Simplicity and Transformation with my friend Hollister Knowlton, I’ve been noticing all the ways my own life could be simpler. It reminds me of Gandhi who realized he needed to give up sugar before he could, at a mother’s request, lecture a young man on the evils of sugar. Knowing that I’m going to be speaking on Simplicity in March is challenging me to remember all the things about simplicity that I’ve learned over the years and periodically forget.

As Hollister and I began planning, I remembered a picture I drew in my journal several years ago. It was a depiction of me juggling too many balls. I had labeled each one for the responsibility it represented. The one that was making me feel overwhelmed was my dying Uncle Joe who had no children to visit him in the nursing home. My mother and I had taken up that role, but dragging a two-year-old and a five-year-old to the nursing home every other day was starting to get old. I was clear that being there for Uncle Joe was the right thing to do, but I had to face that I couldn’t do that and continue all the other things I had been doing. My little diagram was helpful because it gave me the chance to see which balls I could drop, and which I could pass to someone else. Then I showed it to another working mother at meeting who gave me a deeper perspective: she said that her life felt more grounded when she could see all the things she did as being about God, rather than as separate disconnected activities. Wow, I thought, How do I manage to think like that every day?

Well, the truth is, I don’t—not every day anyway. But I do feel that comment and the picture of the juggler helped me in moving toward a more integrated life. Still, there are moments when I have to step back and see if I’m juggling any balls that weren’t tossed to me by the Spirit. Just asking this question periodically seems helpful. After pondering it last week and sitting with it all weekend, including in meeting for worship yesterday, I felt confirmed in the sense that I’ve been carrying one ball that never really was tossed by the Spirit. As has often been the case, my main obstacle to dropping that ball has been the fear of letting other people down, of not being reliable and responsible, even though I know that carrying too much is a way of not being responsible to God and myself. Once I thought of it that way, it was relatively easy to write my resignation letter.

Another helpful exercise was writing a brief mission statement for my new web site, which is still in process. It reminded me of a book I read years ago about writing a mission statement for your life. The book recommended that you define your life’s purpose in a way that includes both your personal and professional work. Mine was pretty close to what I wrote on the web site, focusing on helping people hear their inner voice and trust it. From time to time I find it helpful to remember what my main purpose is, especially when someone is asking me to do something new. It always brings me back to the need to listen and trust myself.

On another note, my apologies to anyone who got e-mails announcing old posts when Blogger updated its program. I certainly don't want to complicate anyone else's life with unnecessary e-mails!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Parental Guidance

I’ve been writing about discernment again, so I’m thinking a lot about how we know what God wants us to do. This always makes me more conscious of my own practice. I want to take time, listen inwardly, test what I’m hearing. I remember an older Quaker man who people said paused to discern before he did anything. Unfortunately this is hard to do when I’m faced with rapid fire choices from my preteen daughter: “Mom, can I have Heelies? I could use my own money.” “Mom, can I see Dreamgirls? All my friends have seen it and they say it’s only PG-13 because of one curse word.” “Mom, can we rent 13 Going on 30? Pleeeease!”

My daughter is 10 going on 13, and the “All my friends can” refrain is becoming more common. Instead of stopping and discerning the answer to each and every question, I generally just give a pat, “No,” or “We’ll see,” or “I’ll have to watch it first” response. This is partly a defensive stance against the onslaught of popular culture, though there is a little bit of the Quaker idea that you don’t act until you’re clear. Still, I feel I need to figure out some clear guideposts as we move into a new phase of parenting, one where I have less control over what my children are exposed to.

When I’m at my best, I avoid getting annoyed, though that was not the case this morning when Megan asked for $60 Heelies (again) while I was drying my hair at 5 to 8. But the other night we did reach a little clarity at the dinner table. After a few queries, we uncovered the root issue for Megan: she feels left out when all her friends are talking about things she’s shut out of. This gives me more compassion for her, but doesn’t necessarily tell me exactly where to draw the lines. I remember when Luke was in nursery school, his best friends were really into the Batman cartoons (the new more violent and scary ones, not the hokey old Adam West ones I grew up on). I didn’t want to let my three-year-old watch them but recognized his sadness at feeling left out. I decided to check one Batman tape out of the library, preview it, and select a part that would be suitable for him to watch. I felt like a great mother—until after Quaker meeting on Sunday when I found Luke had built a “Batmobile” out of the little chairs in the First Day School room and was teaching the glories of Batman to some kids who went to the Waldorf school, where they’re not supposed to watch any TV or videos.

My newest idea is to write queries (questions Quakers use to aid in discernment) to help me distill how God is guiding me to guide them. The first one that comes to mine is: What is my daughter’s greatest (or deepest?) need at this moment? If others have queries to share, they’d be most welcome.

Who Links Here