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
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."]