Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The dirty secret about The Secret

Everybody's talking about how everyone's talking about The Secret. Occasionally a spiritual fad sweeps through the cultural landscape -- the last one in recent memory was The Celestine Prophesy -- and suddenly it seems everyone is talking about it. Thankfully, this time it is more culturally acceptable to talk trash about it.

I have not read Rhonda Byrne's self-help book, beyond a short exerpt online. That was enough. I had already gathered from the media buzz that the Secret was another variation of "your mind controls your reality" New Age philosophy. Ok, I thought, there's enough truth in that to perhaps do someone some good. Lots of genuinely useful self-help gurus have affirmed the power of focusing the mind upon one's desires. Napoleon Hill had done essentially the same thing with Think and Grow Rich 70 years ago. Richard Rose once told a group of his students: "If you just read [Think and Grow Rich], and replace the word "money" with "God," you'll have the formula [for a spiritual path.]"

Such self-help gurus usually attributed certain mystical attributes to a focused positive mindset: somehow the universe would hear your request and, through a series of synchronicitous events, conspire to give you what you want. But it was, I think, used more metaphorically than literally. Most gurus knew that the reason controlling your mind was important was because your mindset determines your habitual actions, and it is your actions that determine the outcome.

Byrne, however, skips right over that "mind controlling action" bit, and goes straight to the payoff:
Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is
responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight.
Remember, thoughts are primary cause of everything, and the rest is effects from
those thoughts. Think perfect thoughts and the result must be perfect weight.

Such "magical thinking" formulas contradict everyday experience and common sense so drastically that only someone who has mastered the art of suspending rational thought could begin to believe them. That is: people who buy diet pills, respond to get-rich-quick spam, and every other form of infantile wish-fulfillment.

What people who crave such "mind over matter" powers don't understand is that Mind is actually a hell of a lot harder to manipulate than matter. We actually have very little, if any, direct control over our minds. Almost all traditions aimed at true transformation of mind and spirit do just the opposite: use the world of matter and circumstance to change the mind. Music, prayers, chanting, incense, artwork, quiet words, posture, breathing, the company of others, the absense of others . . . all spiritual disciplines are attempts to structure circumstance to affect a transformation. Of course, as Augie would say, "The arrows go both ways": mind affects matter, and matter in turn affects mind. But let's not kid ourselves here. Alcoholics Anonymous also preaches the power of a transformed mind . . . but the whole process is useless if you don't actually stop drinking.

So, when someone declares, "I've got it! I've found the secret! Just change the way you think and everything works out!" I am not inclined to disagree with them. I would just ask, "So . . . how exactly do you go about changing the way you think?" And suddenly you are right back to where you started: daily discipline, habitual action, hard work.

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