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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.


Blogger naturalmom said...

I rented the DVD after hearing lots of buzz about it and reading your blog entry. I had the same reaction you did. The first part of the movie really turned me off because it focused so much on using the law of attraction to get wealth and material goods. The second part was much more inspiring -- talking of social change, etc. I hope the book was the same. I suppose the law of attraction can help one get material wealth, but how one goes about it and what one does with it are still moral choices that need to be made. And I do think that God cares about those choices.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you. very wise

7:25 AM  

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