"The Secret": New Agey Mind Cure Still Pretending "Positive Thinking" Will Solve Everything
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“I must begin each day with a positive thought,” an acquaintance of mine explained, eyes wide. We were sitting in a café over breakfast on a bright autumn morning. “We naturally wake up in sunlight, don’t we? It’s important that the first shimmer of awareness is constructive. Create optimism in your mind and life will go well.” She was quite evangelical.
And she was a convert. She has bought—and bought into—Rhonda Byrne’s latest smash hit, The Power. This book is the follow-up to The Secret, a small, glossy tome that has sold by the wagon-load all over the world. It’s been translated into 46 languages. In The Secret, Byrne ‘revealed’ the law of attraction. Now read The Power, she urges, and you’ll be, well, more empowered.
I was tempted to mock. Surely the second book is just cashing in on the first, in a cynical way demonstrating the law of attraction, which might be partially summarized as ‘success breeds success’? But I stopped myself. For both books are only articulating, if in a simplistic form, an approach to living that has ancient roots. Which is not to say it’s right.
The law of attraction is likened to magnetism. “Everything in the universe is magnetic and everything has a magnetic frequency,” Byrne explains in The Power. Thoughts and feelings have magnetic frequencies too. Hence, what you feel sets your frequency, and so what you will magnetically attract—be that money or poverty, health or illness, good relationships or disasters, and so on.
She describes a methodology. First, imagine yourself having it. Second, feel yourself with it. Third, receive it—for by then the magnetic force of the cosmos will be working through you. If you don’t receive it, that must be because you messed up steps one and two.
Take money. “If you don’t have enough money, naturally you don’t feel good,” Byrne says. But you won’t have money if you keep feeling that way; you’ll only attract more bills and expenses. So feel easy, at peace, and relaxed about money: “that feeling is magnetically sticky.” And that means cash will stick to you too. “One man wrote a check for $100 to a charity,” she cites in a brief case study. “Within ten hours he’d closed his biggest sale.”
Alongside such ‘evidence,’ pseudo-science is rallied to the cause too. For example, Byrne latches onto the ‘tipping point’ phenomenon, interpreting it to mean that if 51% of your thoughts are positive, you’ll attract more and more in an exponential curve—what people colloquially refer to as a lucky streak. There are nods to quantum physics and Werner Heisenberg’s description of the universe as a sea of ‘potentialities.’ No notice, of course, is taken of the massive destructiveness of the quantum world, which is the source of energy for nuclear weapons, and which Heisenberg was also referring to.
Yet Byrne is writing in a tradition that can claim, in part, a long and serious pedigree. In particular, ancient Greek Stoicism bears comparison. Stoicism’s founder was Zeno of Citium, and the story goes that he was shipwrecked off the coast of Athens while delivering a load of porphyry. Zeno loathed the life of the merchant. Ever since his father had started bringing home copies of Plato’s dialogues, he’d longed to make his way to philosophy’s capital city. Now, he had his chance.
Once on land, he abandoned the ship, and made straight for a bookseller. The first book he picked up was a copy of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, a memoir of Socrates written by one of his first followers. Zeno turned to Book Two, in which Socrates discusses how a child should be educated. The sage voices a complaint: children are taught all kinds of things, he notes, but not basic skills like how to withstand pain or nurture happiness. Training in such matters would be useful, Socrates observes. And Zeno agreed.