Yesterday I found a free way of watching "The Secret," so immersed myself for 90 minutes in an ocean of New Age platitudes. On a pad of paper I jotted down such pearls of positive thinking wisdom as:
Thoughts become things
The Law of Attraction will give you what you want every time
What you think about, you bring about
You are the designer of your destiny
Life is meant to be abundant
The universe must have wanted me to see "The Secret." (A hugely popular book and DVD, as noted in this TIME article). But not spend $4.95 to watch online.
Which raises a criticism my wife had after watching part of the movie: instead of us choosing desires that design our destinies, it's possible that our destinies cause us to choose those desires.
Einstein quotations appeared several times in the movie. Not this one though:
Honestly I cannot understand what people mean when they talk about the freedom of the human will. I have a feeling, for instance, that I will something or other; but what relation this has with freedom I cannot understand at all. I feel that I will to light my pipe and I do it; but how can I connect this up with the idea of freedom?
What is behind the act of willing to light the pipe? Another act of willing? Schopenhauer once said, "Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills."…When you mention people who speak of such a thing as free will in nature it is difficult for me to find a suitable reply. The idea is of course preposterous.
Yet not to the various spokespeople for "The Secret" who appeared in this attractively slick production. Some of them had appealing titles such as "visionary" and "metaphysician."
The hardest science type was John Hagelin, "quantum physicist." His Google results page contains a lot of "world renowned" references, which leads me to think that he isn't. He is, however, professor of physics at Maharishi University of Management, for whatever that's worth.
Not surprisingly, those 90 minutes of positivity left me feeling pretty darn positive. I liked how "The Secret" spoke about the power of the placebo effect in healing (absolutely true), and the benefit of visualization in athletic activities (also true).
And I resonated with emboldening statements such as, "When you have an inspired thought, you have to trust it. And you have to act on it." Plus, "You are the designer of your destiny. You can break free."
The question comes to mind, though: To what extent am I the designer of my destiny? Also, from what and to where am I breaking free? I'm standing beside (more accurately, behind) Einstein on my answers, which are considerably at odds with "The Secret."
Undeniably the universe is seamlessly interconnected. No one and no thing stands alone. My thoughts and actions arise from many sources: genetics, family influences, education, nature, and so much else. Indeed, everything that I've experienced during my life has helped make me the person I am now.
So the notion expressed in the movie that "Whatever you're thinking and feeling today is creating your future" masks a grander reality. What I think and feel today arises from my past. Similarly, what I think and feel tomorrow will be a product of all the preceding yesterdays, as well as the evanescent present moment.
"The Secret" would have me believe that I am a shopper with no limit on my free will credit card, capable of choosing whatever I want from the universe's catalog of possibilities. Wealth, health, love, a cool car, close-in parking space—all I have do is follow a three step ordering process:
Step 1. Ask. Let the universe know what you want. The universe is your catalog. Place the order.
Step 2. Believe. It is already yours. You don't need to know how it will come about.
Step 3. Receive. Feel the way you'll feel when it arrives.
Well, I'm often late driving through Salem to a class or appointment. I habitually think with all my might, "May all the lights be green." Occasionally they are. Can I change the pattern of the traffic signals through Ask, Believe, and Receive?
Undoubtedly there are other drivers on the cross streets who are just as late as I am. They too are asking the universe for a green light. But one of us will get a red. It has to be that way to avoid chronic intersection wrecks. Like the Rolling Stones sang, "You can't always get what you want…"
Nor should you, or I, want to. To live in an interconnected universe is to be part of a whole, not just a part. Would any of us want it any other way? If I could break free from everyone and everything in the cosmos, where would I be? And who would I be?
I don't know. But my guess is that I'd be in a lonely void, wishing (if I still had wishes) that I could return to waiting at a red light, anxiously glancing at my watch, seeing a steady stream of cars pass in front of me, feeling powerless to be on time—wonderfully part of an often frustrating, yet delightfully engaging, world that is beyond both my comprehension and my control.
"The Secret" claims to be a distillation of ageless spiritual wisdom. Not really. It's much more a justification for egocentric materialism, a New Age version of the prosperity Christianity that preaches, "God wants you to be rich!"
Images of the Buddha are shown repeatedly in the movie. I seriously doubt that someone whose teaching centered on extinguishing worldly desires would endorse "The Secret." Wanting, according to the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Plotinus, and many other sages, only leads to more wanting.
Even if the Rolling Stones are wrong, and you can always get what you want, the nature of this universe is change. Health deteriorates. Wealth declines. Parking spaces are driven away from. Green lights turn red.
I was told that "the Law of Attraction will give you what you want every time." Please, spare me this hellish possibility. After fifty-eight years of wanting and getting (along with not getting), what I'm attracted to now is the Law of Unattraction that Buddhism, Taoism, Neoplatonism, Sufism, and mystical Christianity have told me about.
That's the super secret beyond "The Secret." I'd say more about it, but it's difficult to reveal what you're still trying to discover.
All I know, or strongly suspect, is that there's more to life than wanting and getting. My happiest moments have been marked by a peace that passeth understanding. It didn't have anything to do with Jesus. Nor with, obviously, anything else understandable.
It just was. And I wanted more of it. In that wanting, I lost it. So deliver me from the Secret. Give me the Super-Secret. Yet not in a way that I can understand. Surprise me, universe, with what lies outside of wanting and getting.
(Here's another critical review of "The Secret" that I mostly agree with.)
[Next day update: Just read in Matthieu Ricard's "Happiness" that "those who believe themselves to be happiest are also the most altruistic...The interdependence of all phenomena in general, and of all people in particular, is such that our own happiness is intimately linked to that of others."
Regarding research with students: "The satisfactions triggered by a pleasant activity, such as going out with friends, seeing a movie, or enjoying a banana split, were largely eclipsed by those derived from performing an act of kindness."
In "The Secret," I can't recall a single mention of intending a good for others, rather than for ourselves. Yet even me, a selfish soul, has been known to park around the block from a meeting place when I knew others would be arriving after me, because I have no problem walking a fair distance and I know that others do.
This isn't really selflessness on my part, because I got more satisfaction from this little act of altruism than I would have from zipping into a nearby parking space.
The guy in "The Secret" who is so proud of his ability to manifest close-in parking spaces might consider whether a better intention might be, "May the universe give me what is best for all concerned."]
Some people want to know the secret to shedding the burden of compassion and charity. The instruction is to organize my world view so that everyone is responsible for their own material lack and gain. A metaphysical "blame the victim" construct.
Your example of the traffic lights just skims the surface: I would need to understand all of the implications of all of my desires in order for all of the timing to fall correctly. One negative thought brings down the house of cards... Yikes.
Storming through the green lights of my self-fulfillment, I miss the serendipity that my friend Ray pointed out: car, car, car, bus, car, car, car, motorcycle, car, car, rainbow, rainbow.
Posted by: Edward | February 22, 2007 at 04:59 AM
I see your point and to be honest, I'm glad to see your skepticism. There is more than a touch of self-indugence wrapped up in the new-age, self-help movement.
Also, I haven't actually watched the movie and suspect I won't. I have read that Hicks book and been to their website and I have also read the Lynn Grabhorn book which is where I first heard about the whole 'law of attraction' thing.
I quite like the law of attraction and have chosen to put it into practice in my life. We could have endless debates about whether I am in fact deluding myself but the simple fact is that believing I will get what I want or need, eventually, at the right time makes me calmer and happier and probably more likely to get 'it', whatever 'it' may be.
It works for me and that is the ultimate test for any hypothesis I may enact in my life.
I don't think there is any need to participate or contribute to the LoA industrial complex that appears to be gaining momentum though, coaches, courses, movies etc. That just seems like opportunistic hucksterism. The law is a very simple, basic concept and if people need their hand held and a 100 page course guide to put it into practice then chances are they won't.
Posted by: Maxine | February 22, 2007 at 07:57 AM
I think being aligned with the law of attraction means being aligned with the highest and best good for all concerned.
If I dedicate myself (or red-edicate myself) to the proper use of my own will (whatever my "will" is) and I intend the outcome that will be best for everyone, then the universe supplies me with endless information, feedback, sustenance, inspiration, money, etc. If I have a need and it goes unfilled, the law of attraction says "something better" is coming in its' place.
Being fallible, I forget even the most basic lessons. For me, The whole question of need and desire and the laws of the universe are simple. That is why I so often forget them altogether.
Self-fulfillment is not for me the answer, self-knowledge is a glass that runs opaque forever.
Posted by: benandante | February 25, 2007 at 05:46 AM
I just read your review of the secret. I couldn't agree with you more. In highlighting the point of the supersecret, you really bring to light that living the "secret" isn't just selfish but ultimately dangerous (think intersection). As someone who has gone through an existential crisis, I emerged with a new stance on life success which I call "leap of faith". Its not too unlike ask, believe, receive. However, my personal success is directly linked to the betterment of my family, community, and the world. One must consider the world if they hope to attain this so called secret. Why? We aren't the only ones on the road.
Posted by: Jason Redding | February 25, 2007 at 10:50 AM
I've found that sometimes what I don't want (or don't know I want) is exactly what I need. The element of surprise in life is enriching.
"Thoughts become things
The Law of Attraction will give you what you want every time
What you think about, you bring about
You are the designer of your destiny
Life is meant to be abundant"
I got pretty much the same basic message from my partial free viewing of the movie, and I wondered at the time: Who on this planet hadn't already heard those messages over and over again? What's so new and amazing about this movie? It felt to me like an infomercial, and I kept waiting for it to get to what was for sale and for how much.
I agree with the comment by Edward, that this way of thinking can lead to a "blame the victim" mentality, the same kind of thinking that blew my mind years ago the first time I heard someone talk about how someone else "caused" her own illness. It's the kind of thinking that leads to lack of compassion, and the idea that status = merit. A particularly capitalistic rendition of new age thought, if you ask me.
Posted by: Barbara | February 26, 2007 at 05:04 PM
It strange but a matter of Irony that 99 % of the time what we call happiness is actually derived from somebody elses lacking or not having something. Ex - " I am happy because I have a wonderful wife " which in other words means " At least I am not like those losers out there who have a pit-bull for a wife ".
Posted by: Ashwin R J | March 02, 2007 at 01:37 AM
THE SECRET ON LARRY KING LIVE TONIGHT!
I thought you and your readers would be interested to know that the Law of Attraction and the teachers of “The
Secret” are on TV again! One of the teachers of “The Secret,” James Arthur Ray, will be interviewed on Larry
King Live tonight, March 8, 2007. To get the showtimes for your area, or to get free transcripts of previous Larry
King Live interviews of the teachers of “The Secret,” you can go to
This is the THIRD show that Larry King has done with the teachers of “The Secret.” The reason he continues to
give the teachers of “The Secret” international TV airtime is because of AUDIENCE FEEDBACK. So, watch the
show, and send an e-mail afterwards telling him that WE WANT MORE!
Posted by: BJ | March 08, 2007 at 01:32 PM
Use the law of attraction wisely:
"What happens when someone with a good intention, who is totally focused on their goal, finds someone standing in their way? One possible outcome is that they may decide to trample over whoever they find standing in their way. "
Posted by: w2trfw97vyp2 | April 09, 2007 at 12:44 PM
Posted by: Moongoes | October 19, 2011 at 04:28 PM
To Brian: According to the Secret 96% of the worlds money is controlled and has always been controlled by the elite 1% of the population...by using the principles of The Secret....If this is such a big secret then how has it been allowed to be made public? Surely the elite 1% would have ordered a hit on the publicist....mmmm.....perhaps it is the elite 1% who have published The Secret and remaining 99% of us have either purchased the book or/and D.V.D. and are contributing to the elite 1% amassing 96% of the worlds money! Moreover.....the Law of Attraction can't satisfy everybody..The Secret states that there is an abundance of goodies to go around....excuse me but there is only one Megan Fox and I want her all to myself thank you very much!
It's books like these that give positive thinking a bad name as it is just plain silly and over the top like a Bollywood film!
We should all strive for happiness and personal success so please don't get me wrong but we seem to live in a society which is so desperate for the temporary fix of self esteem that they will buy into anything....p.s. Deepak Chopra is on that D.V.D. The Secret too! He is omnipresent it seems!I was watching him get "owned" by Richard Dawkins recently....have you seen that clip?
Posted by: the specialist | October 20, 2011 at 05:53 PM
and there is another movie too The Opus
Posted by: Moongoes | October 27, 2011 at 01:37 AM