"The Secret" - Part 1

We've received numerous emails asking us to comment on The Secret, the massively popular New Age offering on how consciousness allegedly can be used to attract health, love, and prosperity. First off, one has to hand it to Rhonda Byrne and the crew at Prime Time Productions, who put together this collection of New Age wisdom on the subject, for their keen sense of what would appeal to a mass audience. The packaging is unquestionably first-rate. Even a cursory reading of the book, however, reveals that if offers no secret at all, but only a reheated collection of the same instruction that's been available in the New Age literature since the 70s on a cultural scale, and since the 1800s and early 1900s somewhat less visibly in the work of New Thought writers such as Phineas Quimby, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, Ernest Holmes, Florence Scovel Shinn, Emmett Fox, and others. The essence of this teaching, to which Field theory takes exception, is that one can, through visualizing or using affirmations or prayer or otherwise embodying a consciousness of fulfillment, create corresponding conditions in the world. Note that Field theory does not deny that the outer world corresponds to the inner, but points out that one cannot use this "principle of correspondence" by setting out to use it. There is an element of paradox built into the principle that Field theory regards as central, and which the various New Age offerings on the subject, including The Secret, miss. This paradoxical element becomes obvious once it's stated, but it is nearly invisible until then: If our belief creates reality, and we seek to create, say, prosperity, then it is unavoidable that we must already be believing in a lack of prosperity (else why would we set out to try to create it?) and this belief casts the vote of our faith, as it were, mobilizing the principle of correspondence against our desire. It should be apparent that any attempt to use consciousness to solve a problem presupposes believing in the problem. Therein lies the paradox.

The idea that we can create conditions through consciousness techniques is nearly irresistible to anyone who has suspected that our inner life and our outer life are mysteriously commingled, but those who have made the experiment have learned quickly and sometimes the hard way that desire alone is not creative, and that visualizations and affirmations fail as a rule to have any creative effect on the world, which seems to roll on indifferent to our fantasies. We can want something with every atom of our being, we can visualize and affirm it till the cows come home, and still find the universe unresponsive. Of course, writing a book that tells us otherwise, that fosters and perpetuates the popular misconception that we can have, say, prosperity at the same time that we're believing in its absence and consequently the need to create it—writing such a book may well fulfill the author's expectation of prosperity, because there will always be a huge market for the idea that we can have what we want simply by wanting it, that "wishing will make it so," but in such cases, the authors have made use of something like a pyramid scheme. As long as these writers can keep "selling" the idea, prosperity follows surely enough for them, but the tab ultimately is passed to those at the bottom of the pyramid who run out of customers, and are left wondering why this seems to work for others while they can't get results. I don't say that the authors of these books are doing this intentionally. My guess is that they got excited about an idea and mean well, but this is the effect nonetheless.

The fallback position for the New Age's mistaken approach to conscious creating has been essentially the same as the fundamentalist's, who infers from the failure of prayer that we must not have had enough faith. So, the New Age practitioner may wonder or even worry what he "did wrong" when the universe fails to deliver the goods. It doesn't occur to him that the whole model is wrong, that the principle of correspondence (also called Law of Assumption, Law of Attraction, Law of Creation, Law of Mental Equivalents, etc.) is elegant and unfailing but also in this sense ruthlessly thorough and efficient, and that he overlooked something essential, viz., that what we get in life corresponds not to what we want but to who we are. The person who believes he lacks prosperity sufficiently to be trying to create prosperity uses the law perfectly, and ends up with more lack, though this was not his aim. Here, then is the paradox: We cannot use the Law of Creation to create anything. We can, however, assume the identity we desire for its own sake, that is, solely for the sake of the inner fulfillment. Paradox requires that practice stop there. Anyone who could practice this far and no further would find the Law delightfully surprising him, and at that point indeed would have discovered a great secret.

Nearly every student who has come to Field study came from some New Age approach that, in the end, had not "worked." What Field theory gave these students was an entirely different standard for what counts as "working" when it comes to consciousness-as-cause, one that leaves behind "magical thinking" and its paltry justifications that depend onpost hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. It taught them that, as we say endlessly, "the aim of practice is alignment, not manifestation." It taught them to recognize, appreciate, enjoy, and work with the paradox of consciousness-as-cause. And it freed them from the pervasive and obviously still very popular misunderstanding that we can have anything in the world that we haven't earned by right of identity. Instead, through their willingness to look beyond the popular model, they saw firsthand that identity is the generative force of creation, that what we want also wants something of us, that we cannot have anything we believe we lack, and that we cannot make an end run around these living principles through pretending, visualizing, repeating affirmations, or any other strategy.

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