THE GREAT SECRET CORRECTED
Now that Rhonda Byrne’s runaway bestseller, “The Secret,” has garnered more than 2,400 reviews on Amazon.com, the crack DharmaCafé editorial team has decided to swing into action and offer its own review of the book.
Everybody’s talking about “The Secret”—so much so, it might be said, that the “secret” might not be considered such any longer. “The Secret” is now a bestselling book and a wildly popular DVD; it has even featured on Oprah. But what actually is it?
“The Secret,” it seems, is basically the “power of attraction”—the capacity to attract to yourself anything you desire, by means of your creative thought. As we’ll see, this is far from a new concept. What is new about it, and what is attracting people in such momentous numbers, is its successful convergence with American consumerism.
“The Secret’s” creators claim that, using this power of attraction, you can achieve the American dream pretty much straight away—the house, the car, success, money, love, power. All you need to do is change the way you think, be more positive, and discipline your inner mental processes. This, they say, will be enough to change your life—and it might even make you “spiritual”.
Most of you will have heard the popular saying “You become what you think”. I’m a firm believer in this saying—so long as its conditions are properly understood and met (more on that later). If we really consider it, most of us can feel the evident truth of this principle. If John thinks he’s useless and incapable of success, if he’s constantly repeating in his mind and to others that he’s good for nothing, he has no chance of achieving anything worthwhile. Conversely, if Mary puts her attention on achieving tenure at her university, if she works to clear her mind of doubts and obstacles about this goal and puts all her energies toward it, presuming it will happen, chances are it will.
Fundamentally, for both John and Mary, it’s the same principle in action, a fact of life anyone can verify: in the long run, you become what you put your attention on.
People who write books on positive thinking usually try and make us believe that the capacity to think positively, and to effect change in our lives by doing so, is a great new secret. Even a cursory look at history, though, will reveal that it’s an ancient principle.
As far back as a hundred thousand years ago, the first nomadic shamans of the magic cultures knew and used this principle, as did, in more recent times, the prophets of the mythical cultures. Major religious figures, such as Buddha and Jesus, while transcending the magic and mythic ideologies, still recognised and spoke of this phenomena in one form or another. As Jesus says in Matthew, “Ask, and it will be given.”
In our modern world, however, where scientific materialism has become the unquestioned dogma, knowledge of this principle has, to a certain degree, been lost, which is why people are so excited: they feel as if they are discovering a truly magic secret, one that, up until now, has been completely hidden. With society transfixed by the scientific point of view for several generations now, the notion of creative thought really does seem like quite an innovation—even if it can’t be proven, or even tested, by the scientific tools of the day. Were it to be proven, or even more widely known, this principle would surely upset the countless devotees of the “God of Reason”—who among them would want to admit that some interior, invisible force possesses special powers? Rational thinkers—who now, by and large, carry the positions of greatest weight in our power structures—might fear that such a belief as “The Secret” espouses, if it really caught on, might even unseat them. After all, they couldn’t support it, or acknowledge its existence—they would instantly lose their cachet, and become just another one of those discredited religious/new age/psychic/spiritual believers. Admitting that a non-rational force really exists, or that there are any things in the universe that they can’t account for or explain or control, would be tantamount to ideological suicide.
Take Mary, for instance. Now a tenured university professor, Mary can’t really deny the power of prayer. But, after a lifetime in the halls of academia, the word “prayer” makes her nervous, so she prefers to use the words “positive thinking” or “creative thought”. Calling it something else, she feels, might endanger the very position this principle helped her attain.
When it comes down to it, though, the law is the law. It makes no difference whether Joe the plumber is a materialist, a religionist or a spiritualist; if Joe puts his constant attention on his intention to become a real, bona fide plumber, he has every chance in the world of becoming one. By the time I was ten years old, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I didn’t waver in this thought, and eventually I became one.
These days, such an intention is a little too modest for most. Most of us, believers and non-believers both, want to be millionaires. If we put our unflinching concentration on such a goal, as many among us do, we can perhaps develop the disposition and work at creating the events that eventually achieve this end. But how profound is this, really? Though the principle at work is mysterious, it is really just putting in action a psychic process, for which the power of attraction is just one name. None of this, though, should be confused with a spiritual process—spirituality, as we’ll see, involves a lot more than thinking positively.
So the power of attraction, or the power of attention, is something real, something that can work in our own case. Great. But that’s not all. There’s something else we’re not accounting for, something that “The Secret” and positive thinking programs of the same ilk probably won’t tell you. And that is, when you put your mind to something, you need to know what it is you’re actually asking for. Let’s take the case of Alfred. If Alfred thinks of, or focuses his mind on, acquiring some ego-based gratification, that’s what he’ll get in the long run. But along with the egoic gratification he thinks he wants, he’ll get everything that goes with it—namely, the consolidation of his mental contraction and a continuation of his little self-centered persona and its attendant internal suffering.
Is this really what we’re talking about when we refer to the Great Secret? Shouldn’t it be something more expansive, something less narcissistic? We should watch what we wish for. We might just get it—and all its consequences!
Even if, let’s say, by the power of your prayers or your positive thinking, you end up with your dream home, or your first million, or the love of your life, what are you going to do with it if you’re not already happy? If you haven’t learned how to handle your conflicting emotions, how to master your rational mind, how to harmonize your relationships, how to clean up your inner garbage, how to clarify your dysfunctional relation to money, food, and sex, what will any of your wishes be worth?
Achieving the great romantic American dream by manipulating our psychic powers is just another form of the spiritual materialism our culture is so fond of. Rather than getting down to the real business of spiritual or even human growth, “The Secret” represents just another way to exploit so-called spirituality and religion as a means to glorify the narcissistic, egocentric self.
Using transformative thinking as a tool for growth and a better life is a profound practice, one that requires enormous attention, vigilance, and determination. It is not a silver bullet, and it doesn’t provide immediate gratification. Simply learning how to maintain a positive inner disposition requires a prolonged practice of concentration. But this reality is not very marketable.
We are all driven, to varying degrees, by an unconscious mechanism that the ancients referred to as the “ego”—that puny, neurotic self that dissociates us from our emotions, sensations, relations, and conceptions, and cuts us off from the fundamental Reality (or God). Even if the ego persona works up the intention to repeat the magical words to get the process started, it’ll soon get bored and frustrated by the time and effort such an enterprise actually takes. Soon enough, it will discover that “The Secret,” like all the self-help books, spiritual lectures, and bestselling self-improvement techniques it has tried, doesn’t work, and for the same simple reason: once the positive, hopeful words have been uttered, the ego will unconsciously return to its negative inner monologue, disabling the process before it can even start. The miracle recipe will backfire in the ego-stove. Then it will be time to head back to the spiritual supermarket for another quick-fix. When enough of these approaches don’t work, the ego persona might start getting angry at the authors of the bestselling self-help books, or at religion, or even God. Primitive instincts will resurface—the tendency to denigrate others, to complain, to blame, to try and resolve love-relations through conflict, to look for instant satisfaction without observing the negative effects of one’s own action.
What “The Secret” and all the other quick-fix techniques masquerading as spirituality won’t tell you is that authentic spirituality and real growth require a prolonged practice of another type: silent inspection of self, taking responsibility for one’s inner motives and tendencies, learning to let go, submitting to a Great Reality, connecting with the Source of Happiness, and putting one’s attention on a real Spiritual Master.
Positive thinking and the power of attraction are a part of this authentic practice, but not in the way “The Secret” and other similar approaches would have you believe. As any true practitioner will tell you, if you really become what you meditate upon, then wouldn’t you then meditate upon the Highest Force, the transcending Force? Positive thinking engaged outside the realms of spiritual practice might just give you what you think you want in the short term. But will it give you the highest prize? Will it give you the power of love, profound consciousness, wise action and peace in your soul?
Popular bestsellers rarely talk about true spirituality. You won’t find them exhorting you to transcend egoic impulses, surrender to the fundamental Reality, or contact the Higher Self, the Great Spirit, the Big Heart, the Bright. Instead, New Age writers tend to offer a range of psychic gadgets to help you feel good in the present and (hopefully) the future: tarot, pendulums, precious stones, spiritual books, lectures, and techniques for positive thinking. All these toys are fine, and have their value. I’m not trying to denigrate them. It’s just that, despite the fervent claims of their proponents, they do not lead people toward authentic spirituality.
Let’s be frank: the last thing ordinary individuals desire is to transcend their narcissistic impulses. The suffering egoic self wants to strengthen and console…the suffering egoic self! What the ego is really looking for are superficial consolations that it can use to eradicate, or at least calm, its constant internal suffering. So, using approaches like that proposed by “The Secret,” it goes looking for what it thinks will do the trick, whether it’s wealth (which is fine), better sex (excellent!), an adrenaline rush (great!), Olympic medals (wow!) or some limited form of self-control. There is nothing wrong with the attaining of these things in and of themselves. What is a problem is that, in the pursuit of all these things for the suffering self, the underlying trap is not seen—and, as a result, something unconscious and toxic is continually generated. Eventually, the trap door snaps and you’re done.
In this way, separated from true spirituality, positive thinking is a kind of poisonous candy. But you won’t hear this from the self-help gurus, or the people behind The Great Secret. Nor will they tell you that there is something more powerful, serene, grounded, complete, and radical than the technology of transformative thought, and that this something, like the power of attraction, has been around since time immemorial. They won’t tell you because this something still requires what it requires, no matter how many bestselling breakthroughs they come up with in the meantime.
As is the case with everyone, I’ve passed through many events in my life, some difficult, some easy. Now, in my seventy-sixth year, there’s one thing I’m beginning to learn: when I put my attention on the Divine, in my case on my Spiritual Master, things always happen in the right way. I don’t mean in the way I want it to be—the “good life”—but in the way it should be. There is a wisdom there that is not of my conscious doing. I experience as many hardships as I ever have, and things don’t necessarily go my way. Crises seem to happen more often than not. Yet life seems to be wonderfully surprising; solutions to so-called problems seem to arise mysteriously, hardly ever as I would have foreseen. There is calmness here, a peaceful happiness amidst the storms. The power of attraction is truly working, but in ways I cannot control. If that is not the Great Secret, I don’t know what is!
Roger Savoie (http://www.rogersavoie.com) is a philosopher, writer, therapist, and translator. He has written for such prominent magazines as La Revue 3e millénaire and is the author of La Vipère et le Lion: La Voie radicale de la Spiritualité, Le philosophe chat: ou, Les ruses du désir, and the forthcoming La Caravane humaine.