Friday, March 09, 2007

What's so secret about "The Secret"?

Here we go again with the "phenomenal new ideas" presented by Human Potential Movement hucksters who want to make lots of money from vulnerable people. The seminars are priced currently at $997.00 for one weekend.

The book itself is based on the "Law of Attraction", part of a loose set of principles which drove the "Human Potential Movement" of the 1960s. The basic premise of the Law of Attraction is that if you think about "it", dream about "it", you will attract"it". (As is fairly predictable, the majority of it is about material wealth and none of it about Right Action which is the natural extension of the Law of Attraction.)

I personally find the false hope presented in such a shallow and incomplete presentation of the Law of Attraction to be vile. When it is peddled by an outside agent, it is reprehensible. Hope has to be matched to realistic expectations or it is fantasy and wishful thinking which is bound to lead to frustration and disappointment. One of the things I found most disturbing about the New Age movement in general (from which this particular interpretation of the Law of Attraction spawned) is the idea that if you experience failure, illness or disappointment, it is somehow your own fault. Can you imagine telling a cancer patient that it is his or her lack of positive thinking that brought about the disease? Can you imagine blaming the poor for their own poverty? That is the primary underpinning of the Positive Thinking movement. We attract what we believe and what we think about, therefore it is our own fault if things go wrong. So just stop thinking negatively, dammit!

If you do not know what expectations are reasonable and what execrations are fantastic, what on earth to do?

Easy! Lighten up on the expectations.

Rather than approaching life with expectations, why not approach it as an adventure and a journey and just see where it takes you? (That is not to say the lunatic fringe elements that take a mistaken cue from Eastern mysticism and preach that "living in the present" involves no examination of the past nor planning and anticipation of the future are any better. That's just nuts.) Discontentment and unrealistic expectations are very close cousins. In general, especially the "Human Potential Movement(s)" of the 1960s have resulted in millions of people who don't have a clue about the difference between fantasy and reality, imagination and possibility.

Those who have at least a reasonable degree of maturity know that life brings both positive and negative things. Sometimes it is the pinnacle ~ and sometimes it sucks. Suffering is as normal as contentment. It's Samsara ~ the life cycle. Expectations lead to resentments. These are fairly basic and solid principles. The idea that we can have everything we want by thinking about it is just plain childish.




Penny said...

Hmm.. I am going to respond to this post on my blog, as soon as I can find some time between exams - I completely hear what you are saying, but I think the orignal message of positive psychology got lost in all the self-help (self-blame) books.. sort of like the original concept of feminism (gender equality) becoming radical.

There is a 'new' positive psychology out there. I plan to work in cognitive behavioral psychology employing the power of positive psychology and maslow's self-actualization theories and christian values and teachings all into one super-healing type of deal.. lol.

But, essentially it is up to the patient.. which essentially is up to the therapist to guide.. baby steps.. chicken and the egg.. but, blame is not the way to go.. responsibility.. but not blame.

I'll write more, sooner than later.

Good post, Chani!

jen said...

i have to admit, it is intriguing me a bit. folks in my circles - therapeutically minded folks - are raving about this. folks are using it staff meetings. i haven't seen it, but it makes me want to.

i've never heard that sort of energy about a pop psych phenom before.

Thailand Gal said...

Jen, if you mean my energy around it, the reason is simply that such pop culture phenoms seem to take root, especially with those who are vulnerable. That leads to some rather harsh, judgemental thinking about those who don't live up to the culture's expectations of wealth and constant happiness. That's just not real life.

If you mean the energy in general, there seems to be something every two or three years. There was a book on "the four rules" or somesuch. There was Gary Zukav in the late 80s. There's always someone, somewhere, trying to make a buck by pretending they have The Answers. Never mind that civilization has been around for multi-thousands of years and no one has discovered The Truth yet.



Penny, I like that approach. Isn't it called RECT or something like that? Aside from the cultural bias, it does make a lot of sense. I think of it as being an offspring of Epictetus.

Correct me if I'm wrong, please. I don't want to be spewing misinformation. LOL


Thanks, guys :)



Julie Pippert said...

I cannot possibly take up as much space as I need to rant and rave about Misused and Misapplied New Ageism.

My sister and I dealt with it growing up and ohhh the damage to the psyche.

I'll never forget my mother saying, oh so faux sagely about a friend whose daughter contracted lyme disease, "She was always so paranoid about ticks in the woods. She should have let go...she brought this to her, attracted it with all her negative energy worrying about it."

Chani, you nailed it:

"One of the things I found most disturbing about the New Age movement in general (from which this particular interpretation of the Law of Attraction spawned) is the idea that if you experience failure, illness or disappointment, it is somehow your own fault. Can you imagine telling a cancer patient that it is his or her lack of positive thinking that brought about the disease? Can you imagine blaming the poor for their own poverty? That is the primary underpinning of the Positive Thinking movement. We attract what we believe and what we think about, therefore it is our own fault if things go wrong. So just stop thinking negatively, dammit!"

I saw Oprah have the show about The Secret and I heard that man say you attract what's in you and I felt an instant nausea.

I think I will spend my entire life getting over new ageism and positive thinking.

As with any philosophy, it should be buffet..applied *discretely*, with conscious thought and deconstructive evaluation.

Not point by point, as in the how tos.

OMG that this is resurging in popularity makes my blood run cold.

"The idea that we can have everything we want by thinking about it is just plain childish."

Oh yes, and that we have this much power.

You know, I oughtn't be surprised. It always follows after a time of feeling powerless and fearful.

Full circle back to the 70s. Even the clothing styles.

God help us all.

Oh well maybe there will be a resurgence of true feminine empowerment, too, not the grrrl power thing.

Well sucked up too much real easte anyway. Sory. But you hit one of my triggers.

Penny, I'll be interested to see that post. Maslow is intriguing to me. Your idea sounds fascinating. Andyes, I agree, misunderstood, misused, and misapplied.

The problem here is people get it in Oprah soundbites and how to books.

Julie Pippert said...

I may have to blog about this as well. Hmm thinking hat on.

I did mock it in a recent blog post, LOL.

I think it was my weekly recap last Friday, actually. Possibly so. I think I joked that if the positive psychology and new ageism have it right, then I have a lot of plumbing problems inside me, LOL.

meno said...

Remember EST? Remember "Who moved my cheese"?

I know there are many others that i just can't put my mind's finger on at this moment. They all possess some basic kernels of truth. But the hucksterism surrounding it is disturbing to me.
I have a new ageish aunt who once told me that "we choose our own parents." If that's true you and i have a lot to answer for for doing a lousy job.

Thailand Gal said...

Meno, oh, yes. I am one of the suckers who took EST in the late 70s. Heck, I was newly sober and looking for answers. Rawk rawk

As for parents, yeah... If we choose our own parents, call ME stupid! LOL


Julie, it is one of my hot buttons, too. I so strongly dislike the fact that these idiots come along and suck money out of the people who can generally least afford it ~ and give them a bunch of tripe. It basically just reinforces this culture's edict that only those who are wealthy, pretty and perpetually happy have any value.

Pooey on them!

How was that for childish? (sticking out my tongue)



Lucia said...

My issue with this is What Does It the larger world? Does it mean if I'm a Lahu woman in northern Thailand, and I know these amazing principles, that I'll attract enough money to get my child health care? That the hold in the roof will be fixed if I just dream about it? That my husband will come back?

Wait, no, I wouldn't even make the $997 in a year to attend the seminar!

Thailand Gal said...

Lucia, of course it means that. And if that Lahu woman doesn't attract enough money for those things, she just doesn't want it badly enough. If she doesn't want it badly enough to accept the truthfulness (truthiness?) of the principle, then she won't have it and it's her own damn fault! Otherwise.. you know.. she'd get it. Right? Um.




Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this theory will encourage people to hope and dream instead of plan and work.

She's selling Dumbo's magic feather- but remember, it wasn't the feather that made him fly.

Ginnie said...

I've been reading all your posts, Chani, and about the only thing I can add is that the older I get the more I realize that I need to keep my life SIMPLE and not let others try to influence me. I literally don't give a damn if they don't approve or like's their loss. Just be yourself and some lucky guy will find you.

jen said...

chani, no, i meant the energy around it in the circles i am in - not your energy...

usually psych-folks mock this sort of stuff, usually for the reasons you stated but this time, it's a full embrace. makes a sister curious!

Thailand Gal said...

Jen.. hm... That would make me curious, too. Usually those who work in that field know a scam when they see it.

Interesting. :)


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I, too, have been incredulous and dismayed to see all the 60's stuff recycling and all the NEW New Agers getting even richer than Shakti Gawain, who popularized (and took credit for) what she called "Creative Visualization." She's been running retreats at her villa in Kawaii for years at megaprices. Every generation puts a brand new name and a slightly different spin on it.

It seems that not only clothing styles recycle; ideas do, too, and especially, get-rich-quick schemes.

I would shrug it off as harmless but for the better mousetrapism and even more, the fact that as you and some of your guests have pointed out, if good things come to those who want them badly enough, the converse must also be true, that bad things are the lot of those inadequate folks who just can't muster enough positive yearning or have enough good qualities to attract their twins, to say nothing of enough hard cash to learn how to do these things from the experts.

It always sickens me to see people taken advantage of. The fact is, most people do not have everything they want, which makes them vulnerable. I also detest the smugness I see in those who subscribe to this stuff. It's obvious that they feel terribly superior and favored by God for being smart enough to hold such beliefs.

It's hard to believe in a la la bountiful universe with enough for everybody when people in many countries are starving or dying of exposure. The world's wealth is unevenly distributed, and a privileged few have far more material goods than they and their families could use for 7 generations. If they could give some of that surplus to others in dire need, it would be a step toward creating the kind of balance that would benefit everybody.

flutter said...

Wouldn't it be great if instead of spend thousand(s) on a seminar, everyone would just meditate for 15 mins a day?

Anonymous said...

I actually bought that DVD the other day and boy was I angry when I watched it. I felt like I had been lied to, deluded, you name it. I had seen part of an Oprah show that was talking about it and thought it sounded interesting, I didn't know what it was all about. But the "Law of Attraction", what a load.

Live and learn I guess. As for postive thinking, I think it's a good idea for feeling better but won't prevent suffering. Suffering is as much a part of life as joy.

Laurie said...

I have done some reading about this in the past, although I haven't seen anything about this particular seminar.

It sounded like new age mumbo-jumbo at first, but upon further consideration I realized that there was at least a little something to it.

I found that when I expected things to go poorly, they usually did. Maybe it was coincidence, I don’t know; but I find that things in my own life go better when I anticipate a good outcome. Please don't think I’m saying that I believe someone with a dread disease has somehow asked for it. I think that is simplistic and ridiculous. I just think there is something to be said for expecting the best, rather than the worst.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree with Laurie's comment about self-fulfilling prophesies. Our expectations often coincide with results.

But that is not the same thing as merely wishing for something and having it drop into our laps the next day. And having those expectations is dangerous and guaranteed to cause heartache and disillusionment.

People who prey on have-nots and wiggle off the hook of responsibility by telling them in advance that if the magic doesn't work it's their own fault should be severely punished. It's unconscionable to toy with peoples' emotions and their perceptions.

Hel said...

It was great reading this post.

I have been struggling to cut out the voices of "It could be better if you allow it" all week.

Bloody cognitive therapists mean well but in the end it all boils down to control issues.

liv said...

Chani, Thanks for having the energy that I do not to talk about this subject. I have a lot of yoga students who, as you might imagine, are bringing the notion of The Secret to class.

I try to stay grounded and keep them thus. My feeling is that you can put out all the positive energy and good will that you want, but it's for nothing if your fourth chakra is not ready to receive. This response is essentially generated out of hearing so many people complain that they try so hard to be good and do good, and that nothing comes back to them.

I first think that there are no guarantees or promises that good will come to anyone. Secondly, as stated above, I feel as if you must be prepared to receive what the Universe has for you. If you are shut down, and not leading from the heart, it seems unlikely to happen.

Thanks for your comment reminding me of Samsara. Refreshing!

The Atavist said...

Wherever there is a buck to be made there will be an unprincipled huckster to take advantage of it. That is not to say that positive thinking is not a good thing, though. If you expect failure at every step, you will most certainly find it.

My philosophy on this is to always expect the best but be prepared to deal with the worst, if necessary.

Great post!

Pam said...

I believe that positive thinking is the best way to help ourselves manage our journey through life. No one is positive all the time, but a good outlook whenever possible can affect us mentally and physically.

It can be a tough road and bad things happen. But good things happen, too, and to think we have control over it all makes no sense. What we do have control over is how we handle what does happen, good or bad.

Anvilcloud said...

I was unaware that some of these "teachings" went to such lengths. To me, when I heard about it on Oprah, it seemed like a ho-hum truth that everybody should know: that to some extent you attract people like yourself. If you're happy and well-adjusted, you'll tend to have happy and well-adjusted friends. I suspect it's not so much that you attract those people but that you can't be bothered with the other kinds. Anyway, it didn't shake my world.

MsLittlePea said...

Yeah! I'm all for positive thinking, trying to make the most out of a situation, and being proactive in bettering ourselves. I don't understand why it costs a thousand dollars to be told to think positive though.

Anonymous said...

One of my friends pointed this out to me, and after he said it it was so obvious I'm surprised I didn't see it immediately.

He said "There perspective is off. What they want isn't moving towards them, they are moving towards the stuff they want."

Anonymous said...

(Man, I hate it when I make a stupid grammar mistake and realize it only after clicking "Publish."


bubandpie said...

Blaming the victim is so convenient and comforting that I think there will always be a market for that kind of thinking. The New Age version talks about "energy," the Christian version says "If you had more faith this wouldn't have happened..." It's tripe no matter how it's dressed up.

Alice said...

I discovered your blog through the "Just Posts" and I am eating it up.

I read The Secret because everyone and his dog told me I HAD to read it - it would change my life, they proclaimed. I was struck by how self-centered the message is. And who seriously thinks that if we all just believe we weigh 116 lbs, we will?! I think I am going to imagine that I am married to George Clooney while I am at it.

The only truth of it is that what we project outwardly does mirror back to us and reality is very much a consruct of our own minds. You project happiness, you are more likely to perceive that you live in a happy world.

But no amount of positive thinking is going to make my child-bearing hips disappear.