The Troublesome Paradox of "The Secret"

I've had numerous emails asking me to comment on The Secret, the latest and massively popular New Age offering (available as a best-selling book and a DVD movie) 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 it 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 training 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 training does not deny that the outer world corresponds to the inner, but points out that one cannot use this "Law of Correspondence" by setting out to use it.
There is an element of paradox built into the principle that Field training 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 Law 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 Law 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.
A few weeks ago, I received an angry email from someone who had visited the Field Center site, looked at our "how we're different" chart, and accused me of saying that other models "suck" as he put it.

Most of what he found upsetting, I never said and wouldn't. But even responding charitably, I don't see anything wrong with stating that one approach is better, more revealing, more thorough, or more useful if it really is. And we don't just allege this; we explain why.

Furthermore, we don't claim that Field training is the model. It's a model, certainly not for everyone. That said, nearly every student who has come to Field training came from some New Age approach that, in the end, had not "worked."

What Field training gave these students was an entirely different standard for what counts as "working" when it comes to deliberately taking on the great adventure of living consciously, complete with its creative implications.

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.

"The Secret" - Part 2

Last week, on 25 June, the Associated Press ran this story: (below)

The Secret: Big Sales, Loud Criticism.

Here's an excerpt: "While The Secret has become a pop culture phenomenon, it also has drawn critics who are not quiet about labeling the movement a fad, embarrassingly materialistic or the latest example of an American propensity
of wanting something for nothing.

Some medical professionals suggest it could even lead to a blame-the-victim mentality and actually be dangerous to those suffering from serious illness or mental disorders.
As with many publishing hits, the 'Oprah Effect' played a role.

Winfrey devoted two shows in February to The Secret, and Larry King and Ellen DeGeneres also featured it on their shows.
It was spoofed on Saturday Night Live when a man portraying a refugee in the Darfur region of Sudan was blamed for having negative thoughts.

However, the fear that The Secret will lead to a blame-the-victim mentality is a serious claim of critics.
For example, the book dismisses conditions such as a genetic predisposition to being overweight or a slow thyroid as 'disguises for thinking "fat thoughts."' And during times in which massive number of lives were lost, the book says, the 'frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event.'

So, according to The Secret, the victims of the Holocaust were responsible for their extermination, the rape victim is asking for it, and the people in Darfur are being murdered because of negative thinking.

You see, this is a prime example of the sort of oversimplifications and confusions typical of the New Age approach to consciousness-as-cause, and one that Field training regards as particularly egregious and shameless.

Our response when asked how we explain the Holocaust and other calamitous or tragic events is that we don't.
We recognize that decency places a limit on how far theory can or should be willing to go, and we don't speculate about the experiences of people who are not present to take part in the conversation and present their experience firsthand.

We don't preserve our theoretical model at their expense.

It is true that many who have come through Field training who endured and survived such experiences found that they were not beyond the reach of Field practice to revise and redeem, and that the principles applied even in such severe cases, but this was their call to make, not ours, and this is perhaps why our program doesn't appear either on Oprah or Saturday Night Live.

The great mistake of The Secret and the many models, some of them far more rigorous and thoughtful, is the failure to recognize and incorporate paradox and what we call the "dialectic" into its principles and practices.

As stated in Part 1 of this piece, believing in a problem sufficiently to set about "consciously creating" its solution already places one in a position of checkmate. The game is over, because belief, not willful intent, not visualizing, not prayer, not affirmations, not wishing or hoping or knowing "the secret" is what creates.

This has a far-reaching implication, namely that we cannot use our creative consciousness to create conditions.

We can, however, believe in the desired conditions for their own sake, or as we say, for the sake of alignment rather than manifestation.

This is where practice must stop.

This is the oasis in a desert of contradiction to which we banish our practice the moment we allow it to be strategic.

And this indeed appears to be something of a secret.

At least the New Age doesn't seem to know about it.

This essential element of paradox...
This is one of the first things we give our students,
and it changes their view of who they are,
of what it means to be conscious and creative,
and as a result, their lives in many ways, all for the better.

There is no "secret" that will bring us to anything that we do not earn through the willingness to live up to the version of self to which that thing corresponds, and moreover, to live up to it for its own sake.

Conscious creating, it turns out, is an act of love, an act of giving the self to the ideal rather than trying to get things from the world.

We cannot escape the assumptions of our own consciousness.

When the creative moment is entered into lovingly rather than for some desired effect, then and only then are we operating at the level of cause. This means that it isn't enough for us
to visualize and such.

We have to become the thing we want, until all experience of lack has vanished in the joy of our having come home
to our ideal.

Then, as far as we're concerned, the world can come along
or not.

And the one who practices this way will discover a great secret indeed.

the field project



Faith is a state of openness or trust.

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.

When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.

-Alan Watts-

Click HERE to see what happens when Alan Watts meets the creators of South Park.

An Observation

If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back, it was and always will be yours.
If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with.

If it just sits in your living room, messes up your stuff,
eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money,
and never appears to know
that you actually set it free in the first place,
then you either married it or gave birth to it.

The Doing Now

It doesn't matter what thing you've done.

It only matters what thing you do.

...Because you can't resist in the past tense.

You can only resist in the powerful Now.

You might have started a pattern before
and you might be continuing
a pattern, but...
It's the doing now
not the 'have done'
that matters.



There is one constant steady Stream of pure positive Energy flowing to you at all times, and in any moment, you, as an individual, are allowing or resisting that Stream. When you’re allowing the Stream, you feel wonderful, you feel clarity, you feel vitality, you feel health, you feel abundance. You feel good. But if you are not allowing the Stream, you don’t feel so good. That’s what blame or doubt or fear is about.

You came forth into this sea of diversity, this sea of contrast, but you did not intend to make that contrast resistance.

Contrast is seeing all the stuff to choose from—sort of like a breakfast buffet—and choosing from it what you want. That’s saying, “Ah, I don’t like that. Don’t like that. Ooh, I like this. This is better. Ah, this is what I am wanting.” That is benefiting from contrast.

Most physical beings are oriented to push against what they don’t want because somehow you got some idea that that stuff has the ability to assert itself into your experience. And so, most of you believe that if you don’t get real strong and real capable of holding bad things away, that they’ll slip in and get you. So you’ve gotten very, very good at developing a resistant stance, believing—wrongly—that, in your resistance, you will keep it away, never dreaming that, in your resistance, the only thing you manage to hold away is your own Stream of Well-being.

When you start feeling how your thoughts feel, then you start recognizing when you are allowing and when you’re resisting. But as long as you are just thinking thoughts, those old habitual thoughts feel normal even though they’re full of resistance.

Now we know that sometimes things get quite a bit of momentum going, so much so that you can’t stop it, or so it seems. Sometimes a nice lobotomy would help, or a bit of unconsciousness, a little slumber or nap, some sort of distraction from whatever terrible treadmill you are upon. But the more you are in conscious connection with your resonating pure positive Energy Source, the less able to tolerate any deviation from it you become, and, therefore, the more aware at the early stages when you are stepping into that sort of situation.


Hard Core Love

To Whom It Does Concern

Do you believe me when I say / you’re beautiful
I stand here and look at you out of the vision of my eyes
and into the vision of your eyes and I see you and you’re an
and I see you and you’re divine and I see you and you’re a
divine animal
and you’re beautiful
the divine is not separate from the beast; it is the total crea-
ture that
transcends itself
the messiah that has been invoked is already here
you are that messiah waiting to be born again into awareness
you are beautiful; we are all beautiful
you are divine; we are all divine
divinity becomes apparent on its own recognition
accept the being that you are and illuminate yourself
by your own clear light

(Lenore Kandel)

"The paradox of Lenore Kandel is that she is one of the very best and most significant poets of the modern era, and also one of the least read and critically appreciated. Kandel came of age during the 1950’s and 1960’s and (excepting a few small chapbooks with minimal distribution) published only two books of poetry: The Love Book and Word Alchemy. Those two books alone should have established her as one of America’s foremost poets. Certainly no other poet has exceeded her in depth, breadth or daring of poetic vision. Her work exhibits clarity, technical excellence, style, passion and courage in venturing into the terra incognita of the human heart. Yet, the literary establishment has relegated her to a footnote in the history of the Beats and Hippies, and gives more weight to The Love Book’s prosecution for obscenity than to the book itself..."

Turn Your Attention Someplace Else

Well-being is just a thought, that feels good, away.

You could have every deadly disease known to man,
within you, today,
...and if you chose different feeling thoughts,
...tomorrow, they would all leave your body.

They are not physical things that have jumped into you.

They are the reflection of your not allowing
your natural Connection.

It’s nothing more complicated than
choosing better feeling thoughts.

For example, you just had a weak moment,
and now you feel guilty.

Guilt causes cancer ... and all kinds of other things.

You felt fear.

Fear causes cancer.

Fear or anger or jealousy, or guilt, are your indicator
that the thought you are choosing
is contradictory to, and is, hindering,
the Source Energy.

The key is to not give anything that you do not
want much of your attention.

As soon as you realize it doesn’t feel good,
... do your very best to turn your attention ...
someplace else.



The World is Not Wrecked

The world is not wrecked.

It is like a magnificent steamer
with the engines in place
and the machinery
in perfect order.

The bunkers are full of coal
and the ship is amply provisioned
for the cruise.

There is no lack of any good thing.


Every provision Omniscience could devise has been made
for the safety, comfort, and happiness of the crew;
the steamer is out on the high seas tacking hither and thither
because no one has yet learned the right course to steer.

We are learning to steer, and in due time will come grandly
into the harbor of perfect harmony.