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Thursday, May 17, 2007

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Secrets and Lies

I learned years ago that if I was going to dismiss out of hand every idea I found hard to swallow, my uptake of new information was going to be severely limited, and I would turn into the ideological equivalent of an orthorexic.

My first experience with consciously supressing my mental gag reflex was with Artist's Way. I had taken a stab at reading the book on my own and tried to absorb its principles in theory. In other words, talk the talk without walking the walk. Of course, I got nowhere with it, but instead of tossing it aside like I'd done with a hundred books before, something (desperation) pushed me to take another stab at this one. I recruited a handful of friends and we committed to meeting weekly and doing—not just talking about—the exercises. Even though some of them made me roll my eyes and retch, I decided to look at it as an experiment in suspending disbelief, a kind of yoga. Some of it was going to be a real stretch for me. But it wouldn't kill me.

It didn't kill me. It changed my life.

Since then, I have tried to keep my mind and spirit limber. I try to balance critical thinking with leaps of faith. I shoot for a belief system that is baked halfway between calcified and jell-o. And I have learned that ideas of real wisdom and value can come in the most annoying packages, from the mouths and hands of the most broken people, in spite of the most cynical of intentions. Real wisdom has a nonstick coating. It shines through all the shit. just look at the Bible. Talk about some screwed up people. Talk about some spin. But there are diamonds in there that the muck of ages can't obscure.

What all of this is leading up to is the disclosure that I watched The Secret yesterday, and although it made me roll my eyes and retch so much that I had to take an eight-hour intermission halfway through, there is some good stuff in it. Stuff I needed to hear and be reminded of, and that you could probably use too. But I suggest you put on rubber boots and gloves before you go wading into it.

The presentation is a low-budget fusion of The Da Vinci Code and What the Bleep Do We Know!? (several of the Bleep "scientists" are on board for the Secret as well). Like both those productions, it plays fast and loose with science and history to sell its point. But just as Davinci did with the supresssion of the feminine aspect of Christianity, and Bleep did with the power of mind over matter, it nonetheless raises worthwhile questions and points to underlying truths. None of which are really new.

Or even much of a secret. In a nutshell, The Secret is simply a rehash of the power of positive thinking. In this incarnation, it is called the law of attraction. Whatever you call it, the central idea is as old as time. I am currently reading The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life by Emmet Fox, an advocate for "scientific prayer" (not Scientology). It was the must-read of 1934. The language is archaic, and it has an overtly Christian bias (although Fox's interpretations of Christianity would make most churches extremely nervous), but it is basically the same message as The Secret: what is going on outside of you is determined by what is going on inside. Thoughts manifest reality.

But Emmet Fox places this assertion in a higher context than The Secret does. The Secret spends so much time talking about attracting money that I kept expecting the infommerical guy in the question mark suit to pop up among all the other talking heads. Fox, on the other hand, doesn't assume that the highest good you or I can concieve of is a sports car. The Secret's emphasis on material gratification seems stunted and immature. Like the sort of thing you might expect from an unimaginative child who has been granted three wishes. In fact, it veers dangerously over the line in places into magical thinking, where people bring everything onto themselves by virtue of their thoughts. This really is dangerous, and irresponsible. I got angry (oops) at one point where they talk about how hazardous it is to "feel bad", and that, at all costs, you must strive at all times to "feel good". Because thoughts and feelings aren't something you can, or should, supress. Even, and maybe especially, the icky ones. We do have a choice as to whether we let negative thoughts and feelings move on, or whether we nurse them at our bosom. But to listen to The Secret, you need to do whatever it takes to filter out "negative vibrations". You know, maybe if you have the will and the single-mindedness to do that, you do win the big house and the fancy car. But what have you shut out of your experience in the process? Are we really here for the cash reward? Is the universe really, as the film says, "our catalog?" How disappointing if so. It sounds like the "sell seeds for prizes" ad in the back of a comic book. I thought it would be something more.

The Secret's chief flaw is in its overarching fervor. Like people tend to do with spiritual truth, they get evangelical, dogmatic and overly-simplistic in the effort to carry the message forward. I believe that thoughts do influence matter. Powerfully. And I need to be reminded to notice where my thoughts and feelings are taking me; where my attention is. The truth that "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" is an equation. Invert it and it remains true. Where your heart is, there is your treasure. But I don't believe that the law of attraction is the only force at work in the universe. I believe there is a unifying law that binds them all, and I for one, am glad, because I don't always know or want what is best in the big picture. If my will were left completely in charge of my destiny...well, talk about a monkey with a revolver.

Also, we all know people of fantastic mental disposition on whom perfectly horrific things have befallen. I do not believe that the fault was in their thinking. This bit of dogma reminds me of original sin doctrine. What does The Secret have to say about all the bright and hope-filled children in the world who suffer? Maybe it makes some people feel better to imagine that that sufficient mental discipline can spare you from suffering, but as my father used to say, "the mortality rate is still at 100 per cent". There are shades of gnosticism in it as well, as if a physical body that is vulnerable to age, hunger, disease and accident is somehow profane and beneath our true nature.

In spite of its flawed claims, and its wild-eyed peddlers—some of whom sound like they could just as easily be hawking kitchen applicances or timeshares at the flea market— I think The Secret has merit. It has very solid things to say about the problems of a scarcity mindset and about taking responsibiity for yourself in relationships. I incorporated some of its attraction principles into my day yesterday morning, and had three totally unexpected developments in the areas of my focus. Small, but enough to start the dough leavening. One more ingredient to add to the mix.

Or it could be the ja-ja weed. Thanks, Tom, for putting me onto this SNL sketch. Perfect.

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Blogger Lisette said...

I first read about The Scret when I browsed Amazon looking for the movie 'MirrorMask' (wonderful movie, by the way). I think my reaction was about the same as yours. I may be a romantic, but too much New Age fluff leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

YOu have no idea how many ideas you presented that I have pondered myself. You portrayed them in a wonderful way, as you always do. ;)

Besos from Argentina,

8:02 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

There was a wonderful SNL sketch on The Secret--it's funny but it also hits the nail on the head. You can see it here:

11:06 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

I found the Secret's focus on bringing material goods in the form of cash and cars to you through the power of positive thinking distasteful (though tempting;)). Seems to me if the power of positive thinking can actually change the way the world works than as a race we should be putting that power toward less selfish ends.

It was that focus on material goods that revealed the biggest 'secret' of The Secret to me: think about a way to convince people that they can make money by thinking about it and you can make a lot of money. So does that prove that The Secret actually works? Now that's a melon twister...

6:42 AM  
Blogger jen lemen said...

k--this is really great analysis. i've been avoiding the secret for a variety of reasons--you put words to my internal arguments. i love the idea of leaving behind a scarcity mindset, but i'm uneasy about equating suffering with some fault in a person's thinking.

9:47 PM  

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