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