The Secrets Behind “The Secret”:
an open letter to the new age movement
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
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
“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.
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.