OK. So, I finally got around to watching the whole of this movie that has such buzz in the spiritual community. Yoga teachers are talking about it. My friend is at a massage school where the teacher's are suggesting that the class watch it together. Another friend is in a graduate course for Somatic Psychology where the professors think it is an important piece of spiritual cinema.
I held out for a while, but finally I thought I'd go and see what all the fuss was about.
Why have I held out you might ask? Two reasons. The first has just three words: What The Bleep.
Perhaps you've heard of it? It's that popular spiritual movie funded by the female cult leader who claims to channel a 3,500 year old warrior king from Lemuria (little old red flag for ya there..) and produced by her (his?) students. This film takes bad interpretations of quantum physics, puts them alongside junk science claims of water and it's ability to retain the "energy of thoughts" and then drives towards all sorts of misguided spiritual and psychological conclusions that leave it's audience more confused and ignorant about spirituality, science and the relationship between the two than when they first sat down.presumably scratching their heads and saying "what the bleep?"
My second reason, you innocently ask?
Well, that's a little more complicated and has to do with my having been around the spiritual community my entire adult life and being perennially surprised, amused and infuriated with what people call "spiritual" and with the naivete, superficiality and gullibility of most "spiritual" people, as well as the basically banal nature of the material that gets recycled and marketed to it's willing consumers year after year.
'The Secret' takes the cake though.
Let's begin at the beginning:
The movie starts with a dramatization. A sexy/disheveled aging blonde Australian lady is clearly having a rough time - her father has died, her relationships are a mess, she has worked herself to exhaustion. Then she opens her suitcase and sees a book. A post-it note on the cover says "Mom, this will help. xxox"
Whatever could it be?
It turns out (the montage tells us) that she is holding in her hands a glimpse of the ancient secret that has been passed down through secret societies along the ages, that people have persecuted and killed for, the knowledge that the power elite have used to keep the masses oppressed and that was known by everyone from Emerson to Shakespeare to Plato to Lincoln to Hugo to Newton to Beethoven! No hint as to how her daughter or son happened to slide this precious information into her suitcase
In her mind's eye we see Romans and Egyptians, Templar Knights, priests, scheming white cigar-smoking men in boardrooms, all passing the secret document back and forth, chasing it, hiding it - presumably until one of them passed it off on the troubled Australian lady's child?
Finally, in a breathless climactic moment, she is lying on her bed, head flung back, - a tight shot of her face, eyes closed, lips glossy as she earnestly and not a little seductively asks, "Why doesn't anyone know this?"
After another exhausting rapid research project, our short-lived Australian heroine has found those among us who know the secret today and leaves us now in their able hands.
Pretty exciting, huh?
What could the ancient secret knowledge be? So mysterious. So powerful. Who are these modern teachers of the ancient mystery, the wise ones who are the contemporary bearers of the secret knowledge?
The Masters of 'The Secret'
The set combines beautiful backdrops with state-of-the-art computer graphics, and each speaker has their name in both typeset font and signature form at the bottom of the screen, along with a title that, we assume, qualifies them to be speaking. Their titles range from "philosopher" to "author" to "quantum physicist" to "writer" to "visionary" to "entrepreneur" to my personal favorite - "feng shui consultant."
Only one of the "writer/authors" is well known and has his book "Chicken Soup for the Soul" included in the computer graphic backdrop behind him. One can only assume that none of the others actually have published anything - nonetheless they are writers or authors who are in on "The Secret."
One of the speakers with the title "philosopher" appears by the letters after his name to be a chiropractor with a degree in science. OK
But while their titles and qualifications may vary, on one thing they are all resolutely in agreement, and this is the ancient secret, shrouded in mystery, repressed, hidden, revered by the best minds of history, finally available and delivered by this coalition of the brilliant and the brave. Are you ready?
'Your thoughts determine your experience.' Shocking, isn't it?
That's right, you create your own reality. I know, I know it's complicated and deep, but we have decoded the golden thread of all the secret ancient wisdom traditions and the knowledge that made Emerson, Shakespeare, Newton et al such great men, and this is it!
The movie goes on to suggest, through well-made video dramatizations and repetitive rhetoric that "the Law of Attraction" is at work all the time responding to your thoughts and your feelings, serving up from the universe whatever you are putting out there. For example:
That parking ticket, those bills and piling up debt, your cancer, gay people who are harassed by homophobes, lonely folks who can't get a date and so onall of these are without exception manifestations of bad thoughts.
If you are focusing on not wanting to be late as you drive to work - guess what, you will be!
If you think about your bike being stolen and are extra careful to lock it up tight - it'll be stolen. But if you visualize that rock-star parking in front of the store you need to go to - it will be there!
If you focus on how stressed out you are about your credit card bills - guess what, you'll only create more debt!
If you spend time thinking about your cancer it will be more likely to kill you and even better, if you just focus on good things, watch funny movies and feel good after your diagnosis, it could take just three months to completely destroy the tumor - hey it did for this lady
then there's the little boy dying of a rare form of hepatitis. Full recovery because his family ordered up some extra special "gratitude rocks" from one of our "writers"
What's more all of this has been proven by science.
Cool, huh? Not really.
The film uses authoritative names, meaningless titles/qualifications, very badly constructed arguments, category errors, logical fallacies, scientific seeming images that then never go anywhere to strengthen it's points, and examples/case histories that are anecdotal at best.
The matter-of-fact "scientific proof" is alluded to by various graphics, impressive looking images of experimental scenarios, and vague verbal references, but never really appears.
What you may ask could be wrong with a hopeful, inspiring film that empowers people to use their minds?
Well how about the little boy who focuses hard enough on the bicycle so that he gets it? Or the young woman who gazes with just the right combination of longing and belief through the jewelry store window until a man magically appears to give it to her? How about that woman who cured her breast cancer by laughing? Or the little boy in South Africa who magically recovered from near fatal rare hepatitis because his father had gratitude rocks from California delivered to the door? How about Jack Canfield implying that he made a million dollars on his first book because he used the Law of Attraction i.e. he thought about it a lot? How about the assertion that by protesting, say, the war in Iraq, you only perpetuate it by giving it your focus?
We see a "case history" of a young gay man who is depressed, picked on, constantly humiliated by homophobic co-workers and street thugs. No more once he applies the secret. Done.
In fact the audience at a comedy club cheers his proclamation of being "such an incredibly gay man" Nice! He is happy and everyone magically either accepts and supports his homosexuality or, - get this - transfers out of his office - so strong is his intention!
You see the makers of The Secret want us to believe that if your mental focus is strong enough and the intentional "joy" in your being is brimming over enough, everything will happen as you want it too. That's the highest spiritual truth and the secret to life.
We see scenes from a brutally dysfunctional relationship. Shoving, yelling, faces contorted in anger and hurt. The solution? Write down what you appreciate about your abusive partner and watch them transform before your eyes to match the energy you are magnetizing them with!
They assure us that the reason a tiny percentage of the world's population has so much of the wealth is because they know this secret.
Never mind social conditions. Never mind racism, homophobia, colonialism, world history, psychology, trauma, and real-world economics. Everyone, absolutely everyone could be wealthy, happy and in love if they just knew how to use the Law of Attraction. Um, what does that mean for people who are not happy, wealthy or in the perfect relationship? Well, for lesson number two - see lesson number one. You're just not doing it right, silly.
Of course we never hear about the implied (and clearly flimsy) connection to the list of historical luminaries. You should have seen Shakespeare park that horse exactly where he wanted to on opening night.Beethoven - died in the black. Deaf, but solvent - right? Newton - never got sick.
Friends, this is not a recipe for anything but a frontal lobotomy. This is not high spiritual truth passed down through the ages, it's narcissistic delusion, bordering on the psychotic, plugged into the akashic records by a tinfoil hat.
It is a complete abdication of depth in favor of a supremely superficial analysis of life.
It is a marvelous example of everything wrong with the new age movement and is so insulting of the true nature of suffering, so ignorant of the realities of privilege and oppression, so authoritative in it's endorsement magical thinking and judgment of those who are not doing it right as to set any nascent spiritual development and self-awareness back a good 5 to 10 years.
So what is the real secret?
An Intelligent Path
Well there are really three broad areas that need attention, and this movie beautifully illustrates why:
1) Critical Thinking
Gotta have it. Without it spirituality is filled with the unicorns of childhood fantasy and the poison kool-aid of manipulation and dishonesty. In order to have critical thinking one needs healthy rational development. Educating the mind by studying actual philosophy, psychology, literature and art that grapples with the universal spiritual themes that great minds have been expressing since at least the Greeks.
A healthy dose of critical thinking will cut through the kind of nonsense these kinds of popular spiritual vehicles are selling. It will also allow one to side step the very real suffering and delusion that comes from buying into very, very poor interpretations of spiritual reality like these.
Rest assured, if The Secret and What The Bleep sound like deep truth to you, there is either a complete lack of critical thinking, or you have become convinced of the fallacious spiritual argument which says that critical thinking is the enemy of spirituality. Not so. Critical thinking is the enemy of false spirituality. It is the trusted ally of authentic adult spirituality. Use it!
2) Your Shadow is your Friend
Contrary to superficial and fragmenting prescriptions like those offered by What the Bleep and The Secret, the instruction here is to actually work with your shadow material and learn from it.
Your so called "negative emotions" have value and meaning. They are communications from your psyche. Be curious about them. Compassionate. Follow a path of inquiry into what lies beneath the surface of your reactions, fears, anger-triggers, unsatisfied feelings, sadness etc. The way to be free of these is to embrace them and listen to what they might be telling you about your shadow - the part of you that you have disowned and disconnected from.
Working with and ultimately integrating shadow material through a process that takes you beneath the surface into the actual meaning that your triggers have for you is the way toward ending self-sabotage, not just trying desperately to impose a junta of "good thoughts" on your mind from the outside in
3) Spiritual Practice
Spiritual practice is absolutely distinct from spiritual beliefs or ideas.
Spiritual ideas might give you a map of the territory in preparation for and in analyzing the experience of spiritual practice.
Spiritual beliefs are usually best left alone as they tend to hinder authentic inquiry which is at the heart of spiritual practice.
Spiritual practices actually require that you do the work, that you sit down and meditate. Start a yoga practice, journal, dance your demons and shake your Buddha. That you be present to your emotions, your body, your mental patterns and learn the art of self-observation, introspection and that most harrowing of skills - honest communication.
Spiritual practice requires that you turn to face your shadow. That you get real about your social conditioning, your political situation, the distinction between what you have power over and what has power over you.
Spiritual practice is inspiring, but it's also deeply humbling. It does not tell you that you can have anything, be anything do anything, without limit.
Sorry. That's the kind of fantasy high the Secret promises - and the hangover is a real drag.
But real practice does give you tools and resources to deal with the inevitable disasters, disappointments and struggles that make up every human life.
And this is perhaps what is most problematic about the ideas promoted by movies like The Secret. Most likely the audience is looking for some real tools. Looking for some real practices, techniques and resources to help make sense of life and it's complexities, to help them to grow and feel supported. Yet what these ideas offer is a short lived illusory hope that fades to reveal only one area of deepening - that of denial, fragmentation and self-judgment.
The Ethical Problem
Not too much searching online reveals that the movie is part of an elaborate advertising campaign to get people interested in working with the various "teachers" it features. Just like What the Bleep is a recruitment vehicle for Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, The Secret is an infomercial for its talking heads. On a purely business level, it's brilliant. Too bad this is the last thing it's target audience actually needs.
1) The movie suggests something impossible.
2) Gullible and desperate people will try really hard to apply the law of attraction. They will have some success with it because intention has a certain amount of impact. They will have a lot of failure with it, because it is nonsense. I already know of a few people who are watching the movie obsessively to try and master it's bogus teachings.
3) The ones with money will buy the book, attend the events, and contact the teachers for help on perfecting their skills, which of course is, by definition impossible, so they will have a captive audience.
The dynamic described by the above three points is "The Secret" to these hucksters making a mint!
Julian Walker is a contemporary integrator of Eastern and Western traditions of self-inquiry. He is a yoga, meditation and ecstatic dance teacher, a body worker, a DJ and a philosopher who writes on the relationships between spirituality, psychology and reality. Julian's central premise is that in a post-911 world neither old world religion nor naive New Age spirituality are sufficient or appropriate to the human condition. To subscribe to his blog and stay tuned to his groundbreaking work go to www.julianwalkeryoga.zaadz.com