Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Secret

A friend of mine loaned me the DVD of the movie The Secret this past week, which I have dutifully watched about half of ('scuse dangling preposition). I don't know anything about the background of the movie beyond what you can find out by watching it, although I did see the book in Borders last week, so I know there is a book, too. Probably also seminars and weekend retreats and a newsletter and a website. But I digress.

Basically, the movie is about a woman who, in a time of great personal despair, finds out about an ancient secret that has been known by various wise and well-known people throughout the ages, but through some sort of conspiracy has been hidden from your average Joe/Josephine. If we had all known about this secret, our lives would be completely different, because we would all be millionaires if only we'd known. The secret is the "Law of Attraction," which, simply stated, says: like attracts like. So if you think about and/or visualize the things that you want, you will attract those things into your life. If you think about the things you don't want (debt, loneliness, whatever), you will attract those things, even if what you're thinking is that you don't want them. Otherwise known as "Your thoughts create reality."

Of course there's enough truth in this to make it pretty compelling. It is true that the way you think about a certain situation will entirely color your experience of that situation, thus in effect changing your reality. I could relate dozens of experiences with this in my own life, some of them fairly profound. For example. You already know how hopeless I am in social situations. If I go into a social event feeling paranoid and anxious, I am sure to project paranoia and anxiousness, thus attracting experiences befitting paranoia and reinforcing my belief that I am hopeless at social situations. Or I can go into exactly the same event feeling a little nervous, but hopeful that I might see a friend or two and it might turn out to be a pretty good time, and what the hell, even if I make a fool of myself, I might meet a new friend who doesn't mind social misfits. And what do you know-- almost invariably if I have that attitude, everything turns out fine. And occasionally I even manage to get away with looking like a socially competent person, because I'm not such a nervous wreck that I look like a weird, anxiety-filled dork.

So I can buy that. And the movie adds the interesting twist that even if you are thinking that you don't want something-- I hate being lonely, I don't want to be lonely, why am I always alone? -- you are still attracting what you're thinking about. So the antidote to loneliness isn't thinking about how much you hate it, but thinking positively- hopefully, optimistically- about making new friends, ways you can get involved with other people, etc. That's not really a secret, it's just common sense. But it's still news to some of us, and it's a good thing to learn.

So from that limited perspective, this is a great movie to watch, because it's like a 90-minute infomercial reminding you to think positively--- and those parts of the movie are quite well done and motivational. But where I quickly lose interest-- wait, that's not strong enough-- but where I quickly become completely disgusted-- is when that is taken a step further to "if we just think positively, we can all be millionaires." If you imagine checks arriving in the mail, checks will start arriving in the mail. If you imagine owning an expensive gold necklace you see in a jewelry store window, before you know it, someone will give it to you. If you imagine your small business becoming a multinational conglomerate, there you'll be in a couple of years. And so on.

First of all, if this is true, why haven't we all won the lottery by now? I've never bought a lottery ticket on my own, but every few months, my office mates and I all donate a dollar and someone goes and buys a fistful of lottery tickets. Then we spend our whole lunch hour thinking, visualizing, and talking about what we'd do if we won the lottery.

Hasn't happened yet. Nor has it happened for millions of other ticket buyers who spend a whole lot more than their lunch hour dreaming of winning the lottery.

Secondly, I have no patience with any spiritual practice that has wealth as one of its goals. Please. I could write a whole post just about that. Every major world religion I've ever heard of speaks of materialism as an obstacle to spiritual growth. Love people, use things, not the other way around. It just makes me mad thinking about it.

And the more you think about it, the more appalling it becomes. Let me make an aside here before I really get into rant mode: the movie consists mostly of snippets of interviews with various spiritual leaders (described as authors, metaphysicians, teachers, etc), not all of whom talk about wealth, so this may not apply to all of them. But let's just take one in particular. Jack Canfield is one of the main speakers. I'm assuming this is the same Jack Canfield of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" fame. This is almost a direct quote: "And you can see that it [the secret] works because look at me!! I live in a four and a half million dollar home, I have a wife that's to die for, I travel all over the world and have great adventures..." I'm not kidding, that's really in there. How in the world would human society continue to function if we all lived in 4 1/2 million dollar homes? It's little better than a pyramid scheme, if you ask me. Just listen to me (buy my book/DVD, pay to hear me speak, pay $500 a pop for an hour-long personal consultation, pay who-knows-how-much for a weekend retreat) and you too can be fabulously wealthy just like me. And of course they always have the easy out: if it doesn't work for you, it's because you're not thinking positively enough, or because your subconscious is working against you, or or or...

I think the reason why this feels so wrong to me is because of familiarity. It's like a revival speaker or a faith healer or a snake oil salesman. It worked for me, and if it doesn't work for you, it's because you didn't have enough faith, or you didn't pray hard enough, or whatever. And the fact that in the meantime I got rich off of unsuspecting people like you, well, it's what you deserved, because you're just not quite as good as me. Whatever. Ack.

Ok, I'm done. Excuse me while I get down off my soapbox and pack it up.

Aunt-y BeaN

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