This happened one week after the entire staff of my company watched The Secret.
When I arrived at the office that difficult morning, my boss greeted me exuberantly, saying, "Law of Attraction, Algernon!"
"Laws of the State of California, Thyonne!"
She laughed. "You attracted that to yourself!"
To which I said, "I attracted it to myself because I was speeding."
"You were probably thinking about getting pulled over!"
"I thought about it when the policeman drove behind me flashing his lights."
"See, you made that possibility, and brought it right to you."
"I made the possibility by breaking the speed limit."
She shook her head sadly. I wasn't getting it.
* * *"The law of attraction" is not a law; it's not even a theory. The expert commentators that appear in the video claim that attracting things to yourself with your thoughts is as real and consistent as gravity. These claims are not measured by any scientific process. It is a notion that comes to us through eastern religion. It's New Age theology. Instead of calling it a "law of attraction," they could simply refer to this "secret" as Spanda - what the idea was originally called in Hindu philosophy.
Forgive me for my limited understanding of Hindu philosophy, and Shaivism in particular, but here's where the idea comes from: The Creator of the universe has a certain primal energy that is marked with the constant flux of emergence and submergence. This energy is constantly in motion as the goddess Siva. The way this teaching goes, things appear to be coming and going all the time - they just APPEAR to be. So the appearance of emergence and submergence is created by thinking. The world of our experience, then, is like a reflection in a mirror - created by thinking. You individual consciousness has the same creative power as the Creator of the Universe.
This idea is 4,000 years old. Despite what is claimed in The Secret - available for purchase on DVD or as a pay-per-view internet show, making a handsome companion to the best-selling book - it hasn't been exactly a secret. The video claims that "the secret" has been suppressed throughout much of human history, across civilizations, by the wealthier classes. They provide no historical information about this - they just say it.
Moving on, the producers say that an important aspect of the secret - which all those bad rich and powerful people failed to grasp - is that it should be shared openly with all of humanity.
Which is why the DVD is now available for sale along with the best-selling book.
Well, my secret is available to you for free. All you have to do is walk over here and pull my finger.
* * *
One of the "teachers" who appears in The Secret is Joe Vitale.
This guy is an internet marketer, a man who gets rich by telling people they can get rich, who gives voice to some of the more controversial claims in the video, particularly about disease. It is one thing to tell people that through the power of their thinking, they can stop bills from arriving in the mail and "attract" checks instead. It is one thing to tell people that the universe is a mail-order catalogue, and you can attract any experience you want for yourself.
It is quite another to assert that you cannot contract a disease unless you believe you can. What about those first AIDS cases, Joe? Those five gay men in Los Angeles who presented with a strange pneumonia in 1981? Nobody had any concept about "AIDS" or the HIV retrovirus back then. Did they visualize a retrovirus no one had ever head of, or did they visualize pneumonia? How did they contract it?
I'll tell you how, Joe, but it's a little graphic.
Joe says the Law of Attraction always works - no exceptions. If that is true, I am going to put it right to work, and here is what possibility I dream of realizing:
Would you care to join me?
Let's visualize Joe Vitale sitting in a room. He is surrounded by aging Holocaust survivors. These are people who survived the unspeakable death camps. I visualize a gentleman describing to Joe how he was separated from his family, imprisoned and tortured, on the point of death at Birkenau when the camp was liberated, who never did find his family again. And the gentleman finishes by asking: "Tell me, Mr. Vitale - how did I attract that to myself?"
I am having trouble visualizing Joe Vitale's answer to that question.
Indeed, I have trouble visualizing how Joe Vitale lives with himself. Perhaps he employs a similar cognitive bias used to defend his claims about "the law of attraction," his slick and profitable repackaging of the spanda karikas.
* * *
The world comes to us through six gates of perception: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Our world is an experience. The experience is a creation of thinking.
That Friday morning, I was thinking, "I am running late. I need to be there on time. I need to drive faster than this." I gave myself permission to break the law and exceed the speed limit. A police officer saw me doing that, and he did his job.
Though our world is made by thinking, we are not in a position to choose reality. By putting ourselves in that position, we meddle in forces we are not equipped to understand, and the end result is suffering.
In closing, here is a story about Huang Po, a ninth-century Zen Master. Legend has it that Huang Po took a walk through a valley with a man who did a lot of magical practice. They arrived at a deep riverbed. The wonder-worker smiled and walked across the water, right on the surface and from the other side of the river, urged the Zen Master to do the same. Instead, Huang Po shouted at him: "If I knew you were that kind of fellow, I would have broken your legs."
Care to take a walk through the valley with me, Joe? There's a river I'd like to show you.
* * *
Lest I be too hard on Joe Vitale, a guy who's just trying to make a buck in a media-driven capitalist economy, I return to myself and my own spiritual arrogance.
Truth be told, I've tried walking on water plenty of times, and have been equally deserving of Huang Po's treatment.