Musings #3 – March 2007
The Secrets Behind “The Secret”
I finally saw the popular alternative film “The Secret,” when the DVD was given to me. Unfortunately, it was everything I had feared it would be. It seemed like a propaganda piece from the corporate world to encourage material consumption, cleverly disguised as a spiritual teaching.
Here’s the secret presented in the film: We humans can manifest anything we want, by holding a strong image for what we want, and creating a strong intention to have it. It’s called the Law of Attraction.
I’ve had the good fortune in my life to be exposed to lots of exciting ideas. Many younger people have not had such exposure; for them, this film is no doubt a revelation. And therein lies the problem. This is but one “secret” among many, and taken out of context can actually cause great harm—to the individual and to the larger community of Earth.
I would like to share some of the other secrets that we need to understand and integrate into our intentions and manifesting, to assure that we create the best possible life and world for all beings.
Secret One: The Medium Is the Message.
Marshall McLuhan transformed many people’s thinking during the 60’s with his book of this title. He taught us to think more deeply about culture, communication, and advertising. One of his basic teachings was that the medium that carries a message to us is as influential as the message itself.
I mention him here because I learned from him to pay more attention to the trappings of a message. I could see even then how a TV ad that had Mr. Clean teaching a woman how to clean a floor conveyed as much about male supremacy and woman’s role as it did about cleaning products.
So what images does The Secret use to show what people can attract? Fancy cars, fur coats, mansions, and skyscrapers lighting up the night. The message conveyed is that these are the sorts of things we should desire, and that presumably will make us happy. Materialism is the subtext of this video, not spiritual aspiration.
When I have spoken of this concern to fans of the video, they tell me that the Law of Attraction is neutral, that it can be used for good or for ill. That is no doubt true, but through its images, this video promotes the Law of Attraction being used for personal material gain and very little else, with no mention of the effects of that materialism on the environment, on global climate change, or social inequity. That’s hardly neutral.
Secret Two: What You Want May Not Be What You Really Need.
One of the Rolling Stones’ most famous songs tells us: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” If the Law of Attraction works so simply, we had better be very careful how we direct it! How do we decide what we want? And is what we want really what we need? Will it turn out to bring us more grief than joy? How will it affect our relationships to others, and to the larger world?
Let’s say I want a bigger house, and I focus my intention on attracting one. It works! Somehow or other, I get what I want. But now I have a higher heating bill to pay, more rooms to clean (or that I must hire someone else to clean). My kids have their own wing of the house, so I see them less and less, and in their isolation and loneliness they start using drugs. Some of my old friends feel uncomfortable in my mansion, so they quit coming around. Meanwhile, I attract other new “friends” who really only want a piece of my apparent wealth.
I suggest that rather than deciding to attract monetary wealth or material things, we need to explore what we think the money or material thing would bring us, what it would enable us to do. We can then use the Law of Attraction to attract that, in whatever way the universe can work it out. Maybe it comes in the form of money, or a job offer to do the work, or a grant to support our project, or some other means. Then we really get what we want—or need. We could realize our calling, not just our ego-desires.
I learned from someone attending the Unity Church that when people there prayed for something, they always added “or something even better.” Other people I have known ask for only what will serve the highest good. Personally, I prefer to leave myself open and receptive to whatever life or Spirit brings me; how can I be so sure that I know what’s best for me and for the world? It seems to me that most of the most blessed events in my life have come to me unbidden. Some I could never have even imagined before they manifested in my life.
Secret Three: We Are All Interconnected Within the Web of Life.
One aspect of “The Secret” and its message that troubles me most is the emphasis on individual desires, and the manifestation of them. Seems to me it’s all about ego—what I want, how I can attract things to me. The essential insight of our times is our basic interconnectedness within the web of life. No one exists apart from everything else, not even for a moment. Everything we do and everything we think affects the world around us to one degree or another. So when we decide to attract something to us, especially of a material nature, that house or money or car does not come to us in a vacuum. It comes to us through the extraction of resources (metal, oil, wood, chemicals, etc), the labor of many people, and wastes left in our air, water, and land. Global climate change is one result of a socioeconomic system that values consumption above caring for the Earth and one another.
Unfortunately, with some laudatory exceptions, the more money people have, the larger the ecological footprint they tend to inhabit. Big houses and cars and extravagant life styles use up considerably more energy and resources, which means they also pollute more. “The Secret” completely ignores that fact, seeming to assume that we can all live the high life without any ill effects on our common life support system, or on social justice and equity around the globe. Oil wars and global climate change are proving such an attitude to be more than naïve; it is a major culprit in the perilous future we all face today.
As Chief Seattle is credited with saying, “This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Secret Four: Happiness Lies in the Present Moment—and in Service
The teachings of every major spiritual tradition remind us to live fully in the present moment, with appreciation, gratitude, and joy. All we really have is this present moment anyway, no matter what our dreams and aspirations. The present moment can include plans and intentions for the future, but our primary attention needs to stay with what is, right now. An attitude of gratitude enriches our lives moment to moment, without our having to “attract” or “manifest” anything more. Living fully in the present moment brings us the true spiritual power of Being.
This is the “secret” that Eckhart Tolle has brought to us in his two books, The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. In the second book, he offers this specific advice:
Make sure your vision or goal is not an inflated image of yourself and therefore a concealed form of ego…Also make sure your goal is not focused on having this or that, such as a mansion by the sea, your own company, or ten million dollars in the bank. An enlarged image of yourself or a vision of yourself having this or that are all static goals and therefore don’t empower you. Instead, make sure your goals are dynamic, that is to say, point toward an activity that you are engaged in and through which you are connected to other human beings as well as the whole. … Feel yourself being an opening through which energy flows from the unmanifested Source of all life through you for the benefit of all. (p. 304-5)
Let us seek ways to use the Law of Attraction for fulfillment and service in the world. And may all our lives be blessed with the true riches of friends and family, art and music, satisfying work, and deep connections with the more-than-human world.
Mount Shasta California
Tolle, Eckhart. 2005. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. New York: Dutton.