Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The Secrets Behind “The Secret”:

an open letter to the new age movement

Nov, 2006

A few months ago, the word started going around the New Age scene about a ‘must see’ video called ‘The Secret’. Like so many other books (see. The Celestine Prophecy, Conversations with God, The Disappearance of the Universe etc) I noted but ignored it.

I’ve read my share of New Age and personal development books over the years. In fact, I’ve probably read your share too. From ages 12 until 27 or so I read everything I could get my hands on.

But over the past few years I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the rhetoric and views purveyed in the movement. But often unable to put my finger on it. It had, I suspected, something to do with white veils, glassy eyes and ascended masters but I wasn’t sure what. Maybe it was the incredible whiteness of the movement. Maybe it was the massive oversimplification of things.

Almost certainly it had to do with the way I lose much of my humanity in it in ways I’m just now beginning to piece together.

My housemate upstairs had watched it five times, showing it to anyone who’d watch it.

One day I happened upstairs right before a screening.

“Well, what the hell . . .” I thought, and sat down.

At the end of the hour I felt deeply disturbed and after a weak attempt at conversation about it I went back downstairs and filled a page in my journal, point form, with my discomforts about the movie.

I write about it here because I think that what this movie stands for is symbolic of what much of the New Age stands for and what it ignores.

To be sure this video was a labour of love. It’s visually gorgeous. Incredibly high production value. The people interviewed are clear passionate, sincere people who are deeply committed to service in their life. They have, I am sure, worked extraordinarily hard to get to where they are. They probably give lots of money to charities and are good with kids, give the kids at the lemonade stands $5 instead of 10 cents - the whole nine yards.

In addition, there’s much in it that even the most radical of activists could stand to remember: that we must focus on what we want, not only what we don’t want likely tops the list. We probably spend more time bitching than serves us. There comes a point where we know enough and must start acting.

The notion in “The Secret” that we attract things based on our dominant emotions may be wildly oversimplified (more on that later) but it’s also important not to ignore it. There are many radical activists who are, frankly, a downer to be around. It’s not enough that we have a clear, intellectual analysis but that we become embodiments of what this revolution means to us. Throwing ourselves pity parties for how hard it is, and whining about why “no one understands us” isn’t likely to win us any friends or influence people towards the visions we hold. If we mope about, angry at the world, that helps no one.

Plus we can’t possibly suffer enough to fix things anyway.

We need to find a way beyond the blind hope that is offered us (whether by the system that we will be saved by technology, Jesus or the Photon Belt) and the deep pessimism that human’s are inherently evil and we’re fucked and there’s nothing we can do about anything so what’s the point.

We need a way forward that honours the possibilities and the limitations of the times we live in.

We need a way forward that isn’t based on hope (or the lack of it) but on honesty and vision.

We need, above all, strategies that work to help us create just, thriving and sustainable communities full of happy and healthy people. Strategies that will effectively stop the unnecessary violence in the world.

And we must be willing to acknowledge, perhaps above all, that what we’re doing now isn’t working. We must be willing to admit that there are things we don’t know; and things we know that aren’t so.We must be willing to acknowledge that we have grown up in the most violent and destructive culture the world has ever know - and that we have been deeply affected by its worldview. We must be willing to question; and question deeply.

* * *

Many of my challenges with the video had less to do with what was said and more to do with what was left unsaid. So, to be fair, this video is about an hour long and they can only cover so much ground. They had to make a clear decision of what this video was going to be about - and they did - the Law of Attraction. They picked that focus and stuck to it impeccably. No easy feat to keep that kind of focus. So, in my critique, let me acknowledge openly, that I understand this video can not be all things to all people.

And it wasn’t that I wholehearted disagreed with their message about the Law of Attraction (which I promise never to put in all caps again). I do believe that focusing on what we want instead of what we fear is useful. I do believe gratitude is important. I do believe that this universe is made up of more than mere physical matter - and that this living universe responds to our thoughts, feelings and intentions.

But it made me think about my first (and so far only) time in Brazil in 2001. I’d gone down to the World Social Forum because, to be honest, it seemed like the ‘in’ thing to be doing.

After missing two flights on my way there, I was exhausted. We were taken out to our lodging 30 minutes outside of Porto Allegre - an old boy scout camp. We would have stayed in the city except that every single hotel and hostel room was taken up. The city was overflowing with radicals and progressives. Everywhere I walked I saw posters saying, “BUSH! Terrorist #1!”.

By the time I went to bed the first night, I was exhausted and, despite excitement to be there and see old friends, I passed out seconds after getting into bed. I awoke many hours later feeling much refreshed and very chipper. Over breakfast I noticed that all of my cabin mates were feeling . . . less so.

“Why is everyone so . . . surly?” I asked.

Someone said something in Portuguese that I didn’t understand (given that I speak no Portuguese beyond how to ask for uncarbonated water this was not a surprise - but I’m very good at asking for that and was proud to have many shop owners respond to me in Portuguese).

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Mosquitos. They ate us alive last night.” said my friend Osmar translating.

“Really?” I said. “I didn’t notice anything.”

And, of course, it was at this point that several people look up from their food and said, “Oh my God! Tad! You’re face!!”

I had, apparently slept on one side of my face and given the little vampires free reign over the other side. This led to a predictable series of conversations over the coming days.

“This is my friend Tad, he’s from Canada.”

“Oh! Good to meet you! Welcometoohmygodwhathappenedtoyourface?!!”

It wasn’t itchy and I refused to look in a mirror for the next five days lest the sight of it start me to scratching.

Brazil is far too hot for me. I think a lifetime growing up in Canada has set my internal thermometer far lower (as I write this I am still shivering off last nights -40 degree weather) than I would need to survive there.

Two of the biggest highlights of my trip came in food form. Coconut water on the cheap and raw sugar cane juice (crushed and juiced by a machine larger than a lawn mower). That sugar can juice is sweet but it contains all of the trace minerals, its natural waters and is wonderfully healing in moderation (not that I observed moderation). Now, refined sugar is straight up addictive nerve poison but this juice isn’t.


I think the New Age (again, capitalized for the last time ever) is like refined sugar.

It’s insights come from very deep and true sources, but all of the context has been ripped away, all the subtlety, all the surrounding understandings - and all we’re left with is these little nuggets. And, in that form, it does more harm than good. It’s not that it comes from a bad place, it’s that the process its gone through has deeply denatured it.

And much of this is represented not only in what was said but what wasn’t said. More concerning to me than the overt messages about “manifesting” and “feeling good” are the hidden, secret, implicit messages that this film (and the new age movement in general) carries. I’ll attempt to unpack these secrets one by one.


XDude said...

I think you're sweating the small stuff.

Bottom line: they had to take "FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WANT" and extend it into 90 minutes. Of course there's going to be a couple things in there that not EVERYBODY on Earth is going to agree with. Like with anything, you take the pieces that are personally relevant to you and move on with your own life.

You typed a lot of text... and, in my opinion, wasted a lot of energy. I'm not sure how this blog brings you closer to any of your life's goals. I know reading it didn't bring me any closer to achieving mine. ;)

Anonymous said...

Tad. My own sense with not only the New Age scene at large, and with what Ken Wilber calls "Boomeritis Buddhism," but with just about any conglomeration of so-called "religion" and "spirituality" these days (including Evangelical Christians, Pagans, Wiccans, and the list goes on) is that there is a real unwillingness for people to undertake the sophisticated and truly transformative work of looking at the shadow.

Of course we all know that the law of attraction works (like attracts like), etc., but what Canfiled and his ilk are overlooking (which C.G. Jung spent a lifetime trying to draw attention to) is the very powerful reality whereby disavowed aspects of the individual and collective shadow are JUST AS MUCH a determinant of reality as what we hold in our conscious mind. The shadow dimensions of the individual psyche, and the collective unconscious, can become a very powerful piggy-backed signal of energy that shapes reality.

The most powerful act we can do as human beings--on a spiritual path, in a relationship, as a parent, as an employee within a business, or as a leader of a nation--is to learn how to pull back our projections and to transmute the whirlwind energy of the shadow.

...and, in my own way of thinking, that's the REAL "secret."

Angie said...

Hi Tad - You did spend a lot of energy on this. Wow. I agree with Frank. When i saw the movie one of the biggest things that jumped out at me is that no one mentioned our underlying / subconscious belief systems, and human emotional issues. For example, it's fine to say "i choose to attract...", but not neccessarily enough if they have deep issues of unworthiness.

Eilalean said...

I think it's great when People spend a lot of time on things that are their Passion, if not their Mission, i.e. contributing to the Transformation of Culture, and helping make us aware where the cracks and broken places are. I love intense, smart, and deeply detailed Work!

And...I don't think the "Secret" is new. Back in the 80's the rebirthing community taught the same thing, only called it "Thought is Creative". And before that, Ernest Holmes from the Church of Religious Science taught the power of Mind and the science of manifesting. It isn't new. It's a new generation who has inherited a great historical burden of unconsciousness and dysfunction and who has morphed into it themselves ~ getting excited over finding a way out (and a false one at that) to this great shadowed burden and the pain in the self and in the world...The only way out is through it, together. And moving through this great personal and planetary charge of Shadow is one of the deepest spiritual and human experiences I've ever gone/am going through.
If the human being is the collision point of Spirit and Matter, then the New Age represents human beings trying to forget the Matter part of the equation. Not!!!