Blood On The Hands of “The Secret.”

Via on Jun 23, 2011

One of the personalities in spiritual movie phenomenon, The Secret, has been found guilty of the negligent homicide of three people on his 2009 “Spiritual Warrior” retreat in Arizona. Due to his high profile as a proponent of the “Law of Attraction,” James Arthur Ray was able to command a fee of around $10,000 per person from the almost 60 participants at his week-long event. Sentencing will happen at a hearing a week from now, and the prosecution will continue to rely heavily on direct quotes from Ray about how participants would have to go beyond the fear of death to become true spiritual warriors.

“The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you’ll ever experience is the fear of what? Death,” Ray said in a recording played during the trial. “You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it’s OK to die.”

Read more here. Or stay with me as we go deeper – I’ll come back around to James Arthur Ray at the end, I promise – and show how bad ideas produce bad consequences.

THE SECRET

You remember “The Secret.” It was the mega-selling Oprah-endorsed self-help New Age sensation from 2006 that manifested a bajillion dollars for it’s makers by insisting that everyone who watched it could do the same thing –  though following the brain-numbingly simplistic the “Law of Attraction.”

Simply put: your thoughts create reality, and the universe gives you EXACTLY what you put out there through the power of your intention, every time.

Amongst other well-crafted techniques, the movie used:

* Impassioned interviews with their charismatic expert “teachers”

* Images that suggested some kind of scientific basis for their claims, and

* Emotionally persuasive montages to sell their idea and make stars out of their personalities.

Evocative mini-narratives featured:

A woman staring really sincerely at diamond necklace in jewelry shop window – and suddenly a strange and handsome man magically places the necklace around her neck!

A young boy meditating intently on a picture of rad red bike – and hey it appears outside his bedroom door!

Another woman laughs her way out of cancerous tumors!

A man walking down to his mailbox who visualizes a million dollar check arriving for no reason in the mail – and it appears!

In the movie it ALL works, perfectly. There is a direct correspondence between your beliefs and the reality you “create” – regardless of any other factors, because that’s how “the universe” works. Underneath all this is a fundamental incorrect assumption: there is no such thing as reality distinct from your beliefs and thoughts.

As we shall see, reality is (in fact) a bitch, and she not only has different ideas – she has the teeth to back them up….

In the movie a gay man who is being harassed by homophobes finds that they magically all are either fired or transfer out of his office, once he takes responsibility for his power and stops creating the reality of being picked on. A sick little boy in Africa gets a shipment of magical gratitude rocks from a Californian spiritual teacher and his formerly incurable disease disappears.

In the movie we are told that thinking about being late as you drive through traffic will manifest that reality, while believing otherwise will clear the traffic from your path. Likewise, protesting the war in Iraq will only “give it more energy” – you should rather ignore it and focus on other things, because you see if enough people pretended it wasn’t there, it wouldn’t exist.

Now, I know – being positive is good. Fo’ sho’. I know, setting goals and dreaming big is a good step towards living the life you want to create for yourself. Yes. I am so down.

THE PROBLEM

I know you probably think I am unfairly caricaturing the movie. I am not. Watch it again. This is literally what it says – and the place where positivity turns the corner into delusional thinking is the problem here, for several reasons:

1) People who buy into these beliefs lose touch with reality - and as we know, reality bites. More to the point reality will bite you hard and deep if you just ignore her – and she has big teeth, and you bleed real blood. Period.

2) We live in a world where multiple factors influence the course of our lives: sociopolitical, economic, genetic, psychological - and those gosh-darned other people who intersect with our trajectories, each with their own goals, agendas, biases and intentions that they are seeking to “manifest” as well, right?

3) The big problem of blaming the victim. A unintentional side effect of magical thinking is that it creates the bizarrely inaccurate, psychologically damaging and spiritually un-compassionate perception that victims of oppression, violent crime, poverty, incest, catastrophic illness etc are entirely to blame for their own plight, because they have at some level “created this reality” through the “power of their intention” and the “Law of Attraction.”

Well, this is absolute nonsense and it makes for an ironic distortion of what real spirituality should do – namely make us more humble, more honest and more compassionate toward the reality of suffering in our own and other’s lives. Oh – and good spirituality should help us to think more intelligently and see reality more clearly, not  abdicate critical thinking and common sense in the name of nutty beliefs.

EXHIBIT A: THE PRIME EXAMPLE

So what’s the connection between my diatribe, James Arthur Ray and the carnage he has left in his wake after rising to New Age prominence on the fairy-dust-laden winds of The Secret?

Beliefs about thought created reality do create a reality: one in which you have an unrealistically inflated sense of your own powers!

They perpetuate narcissism, they encourage you to believe in belief, and to believe that the logical progression of your spiritual growth is to become powerful enough to shape reality as you wish through your thoughts. With no deeper, more intelligent and grounded model for what the essence of integrated spiritual growth looks like this sounds about right to those of us expecting spirituality to be about tuning up our Jedi Mind-tricks, right?

Don’t even get me started on how this gets woven together with a mangled interpretation of quantum physics to somehow “prove” this fantasy that is as silly as it is popular… And we haven’t even touched on the out of control materialism and culture of entitled privilege that is not only what these ideas support, but what created a market for the film in the first place.

Here is the man himself in a clip from The Secret:

YouTube Preview Image

James Arthur Ray followed his own advice too well – he believed he could put people through hell, send them on a 36 hour fasting vision quest (with a reasonably-priced $250 blanket on offer to keep them warm outdoors in the desert) before squeezing them too tightly into a sweat lodge sealed with plastic.

He believed his power of intention was not only responsible for pulling in around $600, 000 for the event, and manifesting all those people, but doubtless that no-one would be hurt if he just put that possibility out of his mind. He believed he could take people to the brink of death and something magical, powerful and worthy of the price tag would happen – and all under his absolutely committed and authoritative guidance. Can you feel the power?!

Turns out he was wrong. The price he commanded was a function of his media profile, the people who came were most likely there because they were desperate and gullible, and his ignorance of their safety and belief in his powers resulted – as is always the case, in reality biting hard with razor sharp teeth.

There was blood.

It didn’t matter what anyone “believed.”

Here’s the kicker: Ray’s lack of thinking actually created a tragic reality.

The thing he wasn’t thinking of is what “manifested.” The whole flimsy belief system should fall apart right there – but you know what, most people I know will keep believing some form of magical thinking anyway – because we let ourselves perpetuate the false idea that spirituality should exist in a compartment free from critical thinking, free from testing in reality – that whatever anyone wants to “believe” is their choice, is harmless, and who are we to say what is really true, if there even is such a thing, right?

Wrong.

Please let’s get this right:

There actually is such a  thing as reality – and having our beliefs be a reflection of reality is not only  a good idea spiritually, but it defines the line between sanity and insanity. It also makes us less likely to go down the deluded road not only of a James Arthur Ray, but also of the people who made him (and his Secret cohorts) a gazillionaire before this debacle.

Turns out – truth matters, and truth is what is, regardless of what you believe you are manifesting with the power of your thoughts or the bogus “Law of Attraction.”

Don’t get me wrong. Dream. Dream big. Set goals. Transcend your FALSE perceptions of limitation, just don’t lie to yourself about the REAL limitations of being human.

This is my sincere wake-up call to teachers, healers, authors and therapists: encourage psychological honesty and critical thinking, encourage real embodied practices and a model of spirituality that moves beyond the infantile fantasy of omnipotence, magical powers and being invulnerable to reality. It matters.

So: I feel sad for James Arthur Ray. I feel outraged about the people who’s deaths and hospitalizations he caused through following crazy beliefs. I feel devastated on behalf of the families who have lost loved ones in this sick and avoidable way – loved ones who were willing to pay ten grand a pop to become spiritual warriors under the guidance of a man who made his name by being a personality in the biggest selling DVD of all time that teaches both the single most popular and the single most delusional spiritual idea in our current zeitgeist.

I hope we can learn from this.

In a recent pair of articles, 10 Obstacles to Sane Spirituality Part One: The Dance of the Psyche and Part Two: What is Truth? I discuss a path out of the delusional, denial-based extreme relativist version of spirituality that is so popular – check it out!

Also, when the movie first came out I was inspired to write a very critical review of the film that garnered around 30 thousand readers, created a lot of debate and ultimately got me interviewed by Ken Wilber on his Integral Naked website.

My condolences to the families affected by this horrible tragedy. I do also hold James Ray with compassion in my heart. The guilt and humiliation must be immense. My hope is that we all can heal and grow from this chain of events and the bad ideas underneath.

About Julian Walker

Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian's writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com. www.julianwalkeryoga.com

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125 Responses to “Blood On The Hands of “The Secret.””

  1. Janet says:

    This is an excellent article. My favorite part is this: "Transcend your FALSE perceptions of limitation, just don’t lie to yourself about the REAL limitations of being human."

    Do you remember when Joe Vitale, another "The Secret" guru, told Larry King that 9 year old Jessica Lunsford attracted her fate of being raped and killed by being buried alive by a convicted sex offender? I have detested "The Secret" ever since.

  2. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    I drew a picture of this post on my vision board and it appeared. Explain THAT!

    Great post!

  3. cbhananda says:

    Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us. I hated that movie with a passion for this very reason. But you've expressed it better than I ever could. I appreciate it.

  4. Tama says:

    That is so tragic! I never read or saw "The Secret" – it always seemed a bit too "get rich quick" to me – and non-spiritual in the way of "it's all about me". Not to mention The Power of Positive Thinking came out a looong time ago and several other people have been proponents of manifesting a better life through visualization and that kind of thing. I do have to say that I believe there is truth in altering your state of mind to produce better results, and throwing it out to the universe – my successes have been fairly non-specific, but a general better atmosphere.A couple of years ago I went through a string of terrible stuff, and after one incident that resulted in personal injury, my mantra became "only good things from now on". It worked, actually, and things started happening that I needed to have happen. Good grief, meander much?

  5. Brianna Ecklid hedgebree says:

    This was a brilliant article. Very well written!
    I agree with the "law of attraction" to a point. There is something to be said about people like me (pessimistic! it's true) We kind of walk around believing everything will go to hell and I think we can surround ourselves with people and situations that fit that ideal. In a way we cause our own problems because we just cannot think nicely about anything.Something bad happens and my first thought is "go figure, saw that coming." Does that mean that I somehow "attracted negative juju to mess with my job and cause me to lose it?"

    Naw, it just means I am a bit grumpy from time to time =]

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      yea the important distinction is between the very really phenomenon that we both perceive reality through our lens and so sometimes distort it and think it is true, as well as that our attitude does affect how people treat us to some extent and whether or not we see doors of opportunity etc – all of which is the reasonable description of a kind of positive awareness being helpful in life….. but this is NOT "the law of attraction" – it says something else very specific, very unreasonable and very deluded.

      the point of real spirituality is to find a way to both perceive reality more clearly, as well as to be able to move in the direction of our dreams – but not to distort reality through dangerous and willful delusional beliefs!

      • Brianna Ecklid hedgebree says:

        I agree!

      • Yes! This was a great piece, and thank you for adding this point about the distinction between how our ATTITUDE affects our perception of reality (as well as our relationships), and the "Law of Attraction." I can't tell you how much I appreciate your insight about the spiritual fantasy land so many people are mired in. As a yoga teacher and kirtan singer, I have seen so many colleagues encouraging this sort of delusional fantasizing, and it's heartbreaking to see people rushing to open their wallets, minds and hearts in their desperate search for a way out of their suffering. This part in particular went straight yo my heart:

        "They perpetuate narcissism, they encourage you to believe in belief, and to believe that the logical progression of your spiritual growth is to become powerful enough to shape reality as you wish through your thoughts. With no deeper, more intelligent and grounded model for what the essence of integrated spiritual growth looks like this sounds about right to those of us expecting spirituality to be about tuning up our Jedi Mind-tricks, right?"

        The New Age (and "alternative healing", for that matter) world is full of charlatans, snake oil salesmen, and false gurus. True spiritual masters are so rare and precious, and their message often falls on deaf ears—people hear what they want to hear, and interpret the teachings to suit their own agendas. If we truly want to "wake up," we need intelligence, discernment and humility. Thanks so much for your frank, thoughtful and wise reflection.

  6. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    yea i know the kistchy schtick about the secret being handed down from galileo to shakespeare to ben franklin and now to rhonda byrne! lol

  7. Kundalinimama says:

    Thank you for writing this..

  8. [...] via Blood On The Hands of “The Secret” | elephant journal. [...]

  9. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Thanks Julian!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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  10. Harmony says:

    I so distinctly remember 2 friends inviting me to dinner, then popping this dvd into the player. They were ooohing and ahhing all the way through it, but it made me uncomfortable on so many levels. I just never really got into it. So thanks for this article…all these years later so very validating for me…

  11. Beth H says:

    I have an old friend who likes to say / joke: 'This is all an illusion…but if we hit that wall over there at 60 miles an hour, it's gonna FEEL really REAL". ;-)

  12. belias2 says:

    white men should not run sweats. Yeah don't trust new age bull shit, you know it when you hear it!

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      i agree with your second sentence, but think white men, asian women, gay latinos, black lesbians and transgendered native americans could all be capable of running sweats just fine if they knew what they were doing! :)

  13. Barbara Goodrich says:

    I depend on articles like this in Elephant Journal to cut through through the shadow and claptrap in the New Age. Thank god someone is talking about it. This isn't the first "new age"; there have been many. I, myself, at 62, have lived through at least 6 predicted apocalypses that many people took as written in stone. Morning came and…..

    The real business of spirituality is not business nor it it magic or power

    Thanks, Julian

  14. Angelica Galland says:

    Well done Julian. I never imagined my health taking the turn that it did, but I saw this film while in the midst of it. I just couldn’t figure out how or even why I or anyone would manifest a tumor. Absolute BS! And the comment about the 9 year old makes my blood boil. The web of causes and conditions make it nearly impossible to be utterly reductive in our thinking. Yes, the priming of our body/mind is important but action is still necessary to make things happen along with an honest appraisal of our situation. Look to the light but don’t get blinded…

  15. just me says:

    ‎"This is my sincere wake-up call to teachers, healers, authors and therapists: encourage psychological honesty and critical thinking, encourage real embodied practices and a model of spirituality that moves beyond the infantile fantasy of omnipotence, magical powers and being invulnerable to reality. It matters."

    well said, and a most excellent call to action. – thank you for shining a light on the truth for all to read!

  16. sad says:

    Correct, "secret” movie is far from perfect and neither is this article unfortunately, for they are both created in the end for just ink on a paycheck. That is what distorts reality sir!
    "just don’t lie to yourself about the REAL limitations of being human" is sad. It's world run by fear in pursue of control, so careful because this is how Ray got himself where he is now.

  17. ikcewicasa says:

    James Arthur Ray murdered those people. He had absolutely no business using Native ceremony in his spiritual warrior retreat. This tragedy was a long time in coming. The new age and self help people have been picking at our ceremonies for a very long time. They take what they want, twist it to their purpose then pack it, rack it, and sell it. They never stay long enough to go through the proper training.

    He is a murder because there is no such thing as a warrior sweat. It is the job of the leader to be compassionate and carefully monitor the health and well being of everyone in that lodge. The sweat lodge is not a place to test endurance or prove strength and fortitude. It is a place to pray and purify. Whatever James Arthur Ray was doing in there it was not a sweat ceremony and to call it such is not correct.

    Maybe the new agers and self help gurus will finally heed the calls of Indian people and stop the appropriation and twisting of our ways.
    http://ikcewicasa.wordpress.com/

  18. matthew says:

    Hey Julian — good work on a tragic story. Happily, James Arthur Ray and his followers are a tiny minority of the demographic of this book/pitch/concept.

    I wonder about the “extinction rate” for The Secret, in behavioural psychology terms. How long will people actually try it for, given that it doesn’t render the desired results? The material results they do perceive come through subjective validation and confirmation bias – but these tend to wear out.

    But before the behaviour goes extinct it will have cognitive results – perhaps some positive ones — attitude shifts, for instance. Or perhaps resistance to learned helplessness.

    • NotSoSure says:

      matthew: Unfortunately the behavioral psychology extinction rate for magical thinking is close to zero. A byproduct of magical thinking is the ability to reorganize reality in ways which provide positive feedback for magical thinking.

  19. sashen says:

    My vision board had a picture of a naive self-help guru going to jail for the tragic results of his misguided thinking. See, The Secret DOES work!

  20. kjk says:

    Unfortunately, the movie The Secret, is a very superficial explanation of rather complicated concepts. I don't believe that anybody can get it after having only seen this movie. Try looking at Jane Robert's The Nature of Personal Reality or The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events (Seth Books), and maybe, just maybe, you might begin to understand concepts that are truly revolutionary.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      yea i read those books in the early nineties. they are nonsense. sorry!

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        no matter how complex you make magical thinking (or astrology, numerology, prophecy etc) it is still bullshit.

        • MKJ says:

          You do not know what you are talking about Julian. You have taken a narrow look at a narrow subject and made it bad and your truth. You cannot totally understand anything until you experience it then have an educated opinion. Your opinion is just that and not based on facts or experience. Knowledge is only knowledge, but experience with knowledge is wisdom. Its like saying, "I read a book about India and I know all about India" but until you have gone to India you don't know jack.

  21. Lisa says:

    How about each of us taking responsibility for ourselves and not allowing others to manipulate, control, direct us, and tell us what to feel/think/believe? How about listening to our own inner voice and trusting that we indeed have the power and the knowledge to create a better life for ourselves? We so easily put all of our faith into one idea, one person/guru to guide us and lead us and show us the way. I think if we empower ourselves more and do the work that needs to be done for our own growth and transformation (whatever that looks like to the individual…be it the Law of Attraction, or facing "reality" as you say in your article), tragedies like this won't happen. And it is so easy to throw stones (or worse) at Ray and focus all of our anger and disgust towards him, but how about looking at your own life and recognizing the places where you hold on to others' ideas, opinions and beliefs as your own. Have you been a follower in your life? Is that where some of the disgust and anger might come from? Perhaps it is time to start looking in the mirror, loving what you see, and working towards self-empowerment and freedom. Perhaps not. Just a thought.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      all good points – not sure they have much to do with me or the article; but thanks!

    • MJK says:

      I agree with most of what you have said. However, tragedy will always happen. This is a part of living on this planet in the human experience. I agree, taking personal responsibility and accepting the outcome to our actions, if they are joyous or upsetting or anything in between. It is so easy to tell others how wrong they are or point out a tiny bit of information and thinking it the whole subject is a matter of self righteousness, a false sense of power and control and a big dose of egotism.

  22. Bill Turner says:

    Of course, this is just the “new age” version of the long-standing Christian belief that god will give you what you want if you just pray long and hard enough. Notice that what these people always seem to ask for is some material boon — money, a new car, a boob job, etc. Never an end to war or hunger or anything selfless like that. It is true that some elements of reality depend on collective belief — the space shuttle, for example, only came to be because lots of engineers believed in the possibility of a reusable space flight vehicle. But that’s a good example of faithful engagement with reality, as you recommend.

  23. Powerful stuff, Julian. It seems like you outdo yourself every time. Thanks for being here.

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
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  24. Amy Champ Amy C. says:

    I think you raise some good issues, but the Secret does have both good and bad points. There are two major issues for me– the exorbitant price tag on the retreat, and the fact that here is a white man trying to do a Native American ceremony and totally screwing it up. Not many people seem to mention this. People have been doing sweat lodges for thousands of years.

    What ikcewecasa said!! There is sometimes an apolitical tone to this rhetoric which also denies real inequalities between the New Agers and the cultures where this stuff comes from.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      what matters is he ran the sweat unsafely and it resulted in deaths. i dont care that he is a white man – that does not handicap him anymore than being an asian woman, black lesbian, or transgendered polynesian would have – had he been better prepared.

  25. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i respect your right to champion your traditions but frankly think that is a bunch of hokum! :)

    40 years ago people were saying the same thing about westerners teaching yoga.

    there is no special healing power that can only exist within a culture and be passed down in special magical ways.

    he should have run the sweat lodge safely, but could have consulted with people of any ethnicity who knew how to do so.

    what you are both saying also honestly also sounds both like a mythologizing of ancient culture and like some reverse racism.

    • John Pappas John Pappas says:

      Sorry but you are missing my point. I didn't say anything about whether it is hokum or not. I said that certain rituals are not for non-natives. Sweat-lodge being one of them. I said nothing of magic but only mentioned tradition. My statements were not reflecting anything concerning Mr. Ray did.

      My comments are not about mythologizing a culture but from my experiences of how natives feel about the appropriation of their rituals by non-natives. You can call that racism if you like. There are still divisions in native communities over whether any ritual or celebration should be open to whites.

      Some reading for you: http://www.hanksville.org/sand/intellect/NAbibBelhttp://www.uapress.arizona.edu/Books/bid1398.htm
      Also "The Journey of Crazy Horse" does a wonderful job of explaining this view or you know, talk to a few natives.

      Cheers,

  26. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    there is no baby. :) simply because there is no magical causality.

    goals, intentions, positive attitude – yes, sure – go all the way. "manifestation?" give me a break.

  27. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    the problem is matthew, people who get into this stuff think that reason and evidence are the enemies of spirituality – so they resist thinking critically about their beliefs.

    they also are very good at selectively attributing the kind of causality to events that make it seem as if their magical thinking is "working" – it is called "confirmation bias!"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

    • Yogini5 says:

      Oh, I forgot about that. "Confirmation bias" – close cousin to "halo effect". Halo effect being justification for much of the discrimination (age, size, race, etc.) that goes on today.

  28. John Pappas John Pappas says:

    I suppose we all have the right to appropriate cultural pieces as we see fit. White drum circles, white sweat lodges (I call them saunas) etc.

    Most natives I have met were more than open with their spiritual practices but some (not all) will ask you to leave when they sing "sad" songs. These songs are of a religious, personal and private nature. I can imagine what those songs are about and I respect that they ask me to leave for them. Does it sting a bit? Yes. But that is just pride.

    Could I recoil and complain about reverse racism? Yes, but that would be short-sighted. There is a culture and religion to be shared and a culture and religion that is meant for the tribes only (even then only some tribes).

    Cheers,

  29. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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  30. I'm a late comer to this discussion, but here's what Waylon and I were debating a year and a half ago about this topic in the comments to We here at elephant have always been huge fans of the transformative power of The Secret. (Burp):

    Bob Weisenberg 76 weeks ago
    I do not see a very sharp distinction between what I see in "The Secret" and much of what is presented by organized religions of all stripes, including Buddhism. And I wouldn't say any of these are necessarily ineffective or wrong. They may not appeal to our particular intellectual or spiritual bent, but they certainly appeal to a great majority of the world's people.

    It's easy to find logical fault with something like "The Secret". But it all gets very tricky when one considers the mind-body connection. Anything that someone believes in deeply has the power to transform, regardless of how illogical or ridiculous it is.

    So "The Secret" may have a beneficial impact on many people's lives, regardless of what I think about it personally. It's no different than reincarnation or sacred stones or astrology or heaven or divine lineage, etc. etc.

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

    elephantjournal108p · 76 weeks ago
    Well, it's very different from Buddhism, which holds that negative thoughts are bad, but that positive thoughts are, while less bad, still thoughts. The point is not to "not think," but if we have a clear mind, heart, we see reality just as it is, or are one with reality, rather, and that's the highest form of happiness, and spiritual and temporal success, it's a state of bliss, freedom from suffering, it's generosity and compassion!

    So imagining our way into happiness is, ultimately, Spiritual Atkins. Not sustainable.

    Bob Weisenberg110p · 76 weeks ago
    I certainly did not mean to say that "The Secret" is the same as Buddhism. Glad we cleared that up! I was referring to Buddhism as an organized religion, not Buddhist thought. And I said, "much of what is presented…", not the whole kit and kaboodle.

    That said, there are certainly passages in the Dhammapada and the Yoga Sutra which approach "The Secret" in controlling the mind toward the positive.

    I really shouldn't be saying any more without actually breaking down and read "The Secret"!

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

    Bob Weisenberg110p · 76 weeks ago
    Upon further reflection, I think your last sentence above, "So imagining our way into happiness is, ultimately…not sustainable" is wrong. I think many people imagine their way into both happiness and success.

    "Imagining is not the same as "self-deception" which is perhaps what you meant. I think it's the quality and results of the imagining that determine it's value, not its literal truth. For example, literal (as opposed to metaphorical) reincarnation, which to me personally is imagining, is a very positive force in many Buddhists' lives. So I wouldn't try to talk them out of it, even though for me it would be self-deception.

    One person's reality is another person's imagining or self-deception.

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

  31. (Contin.)

    elephantjournal108p · 73 weeks ago
    Interesting. Still, if something is a positive force but ultimately not "real," it's little more than a feel-good stop-gap for samsara. Reality will get you, better harmonize ourselves, quick and dirty fixes don't last!

    Bob Weisenberg110p · 73 weeks ago
    I still like my example of reincarnation. Right here without even going outside Buddhism itself we have perfect example of one person's ultimate reality being another's ultimate self-deception. Half the Buddhists I know believe in literal reincarnation and the other half either openly disdain it or at best accept it as metaphor.

    Bob Weisenberg110p · 75 weeks ago
    Just came across this book on Buddhism that makes the same sharp distinction I made above between Buddhist thought and Buddhism as organized religion:

    "Buddhism Without Beliefs" by Stephen Batchelor http://bit.ly/5h0C7a

    Bob Weisenberg 110p · 76 weeks ago
    Forgot to mention that I haven't read "The Secret". I only know it through Oprah and lots of reviews.

    If I did read the book, my personal opinion would probably be consistent with the "critique mentioned by Duff" by longhorn24, which goes into some detail about how empty and manipulative the book is.

    But I've learned to appreciate anything that helps people make something of their lives, even if it's not my cup of tea.

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

    Bob Weisenberg 110p · 76 weeks ago
    I hate to stir up the pot here (you're saying, "Sure, Bob never likes to stir up the pot!"), but, leaving the vacuousness of "The Secret" aside, where is all this anti-success rhetoric in some of the above comments coming from?

    Figuring out how to make a living and how to put one's kids through college are at the heart of a great many people's lives. I think any spirituality that doesn't support that is going to have limited use at best.

    We may dislike "The Secret", but let's dislike it because if it's misleading and ineffective, not because it promotes success. Most people who embrace "The Secret", or any of the other more solid "self-help" methods, are just trying to make a living and make life better for their children.

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      watch the movie!

      there are better ways to approach success, personal empowerment and spiritual growth that don't employ delusional thinking and teach people dangerous denials of reality.

      i do agree though – the secret is a distillation of the lowest common denominator in all religion: the human desire to believe we can find a magical edge, special prayer, personal supernatural deity or paranormal ritual to somehow make things go the way we would like, be it on the hunt or in the harvest, on the battlefield, in the boardroom or in our love lives.

      by that token, yea sure it is on a par (though much more simplistic and banal) with things like astrology, psychics, and even buddhist beliefs in things like reincarnation.

      where we may differ is i have no problem saying all of that is pure nonsense! :)

      i think that what is true actually matters and that genuine spirituality should include an inquiry into what is actually true.

      i think that because truth matters, approaches to spirituality that are about falsehoods, while they may appear to be beneficial on some level, are actually deleterious to our genuine growth in awareness, compassion and wisdom.

      the secret and the metaphysical worldview it is part of is merely the flipside of the assertion i criticized in my first article – namely that we can interpret the japanese tsunami in terms of "the karma of the people" who lived there, or that by focusing our minds together we could rid the ocean around the nuclear explosions of radiation.

      it really disturbs me how widespread is the idea that spirituality (which is of course about what we think is ultimately MOST important) should be the domain of complete absence of critical thinking, complete embrace of extreme relativism and a laissez faire attitude that anyone can believe whatever they want, because who are we to say what is really true!?

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        from the above article:

        "Here’s the kicker: Ray’s lack of thinking actually created a tragic reality.

        The thing he wasn’t thinking of is what “manifested.” The whole flimsy belief system should fall apart right there – but you know what, most people I know will keep believing some form of magical thinking anyway – because we let ourselves perpetuate the false idea that spirituality should exist in a compartment free from critical thinking, free from testing in reality – that whatever anyone wants to “believe” is their choice, is harmless, and who are we to say what is really true, if there even is such a thing, right?

        Wrong.

        Please let’s get this right:

        There actually is such a thing as reality – and having our beliefs be a reflection of reality is not only a good idea spiritually, but it defines the line between sanity and insanity. It also makes us less likely to go down the deluded road not only of a James Arthur Ray, but also of the people who made him (and his Secret cohorts) a gazillionaire before this debacle.

        Turns out – truth matters, and truth is what is, regardless of what you believe you are manifesting with the power of your thoughts or the bogus “Law of Attraction.”

        Don’t get me wrong. Dream. Dream big. Set goals. Transcend your FALSE perceptions of limitation, just don’t lie to yourself about the REAL limitations of being human."

      • I agree truth matters, but it's not the ultimate value. The ultimate value is how we act toward each other. My parents' irrational Catholic beliefs made them among the warmest, most caring, moral and ethical people I've ever known. It's impossible to separate their irrational believes from who they were as people.

        Human results are what's important, not whether something is literally true or not. I've seen people whose seemingly rational beliefs led them to be horrible human beings. Does that mean that all rationality is to be discarded?

        Hypothetically, what if a solid scientific study proved that people who believe in a personal God are healthier, live 10 years longer than those who don't, and die happier. Now you have a problem, even a scientific problem. Which is more rational at that point, to believe or not believe?

        That's an extreme example of course, but my parents aren't. My parents are typical. What matters is whether something turns one into a good person or not.

        It's not at all clear to me that, on the whole, highly-rational people are better people than those with some irrational beliefs that they, in a way that can be part of healthy human psychology, lean on for daily sustenance. There are truly fine human beings on both sides of that fence.

        Great discussion here.

        Bob

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          ah yes i get what you are saying bob.

          fair enough and a great observation.

          i think in the case of james ray we can make a pretty strong case for the relationship between inflated delusional beliefs and pretty poor consequences.

          though i agree that there are wonderful people with irrational beliefs and horrible humans who are quite rational in most ways – i am pretty confident in saying that it is irrational beliefs held with zeal that has caused the bulk of the world's suffering per crusades, inquisitions, holy wars, totalitarian regimes, racism, religious terrorism, cult suicides etc etc…

          • I'm sure you're right, Julian. But also a lot of good stuff, too.

            Luckily, we don't have to figure out which is predominant, just make good judgments about what's going on today, case by case.

            It's not a rational approach to think that you can persuade highly religious people to be less religious, any more than to persuade an unaffiliated person like myself to be more religious. And, of course, many religious people are highly rational in practice and many a-religious people are not.

            It IS highly rational to suggest that religious people and non-religious people can meet in the middle with the mutually held ultimate ideal of the Golden Rule.

            The debates are always going to be fascinating and engaging, and I will always enjoy them. But coming together in common basic morality is the only solution in practice, I think.

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            hahaha yes that is an excellent point bob, regarding the mental health benefits of religion for some folks…. i believe those studies had more to do with going to religious services than with specifically belief in god, no?

            i have a few thoughts about that:

            1) i think belonging to a religious group serves certain deep needs that we have – for community, shared experience, belongingness, a sense of being united in a set of values etc…. that have beneficial effects on our neurochemistry – however i don't think studies have been done of people who get those needs met through other kinds of community or practice like yoga or say a hiking group or book club etc…. i would bet those people would have similar profiles.

            2) i think too that just because something (like religion) meets certain needs that maintain a sense of ok-ness this does not make it virtuous – as we have seen with the catholic church for example, which has been a way of meeting those needs for a long time, while enacting a covert shadow in the form of priestly pedophilia that was covered up to preserve the illusion, as well as perpetuating what i see as a bizarrely fetishized S&M aesthetic of the bleeding christ on the cross dying to save us from our carnal sinfulness…

            in short i think we can do better and i think that the argument that religion is ok even though it is not true if it makes people feel better and can be demonstrated to produce certain neurophysiological benefits is a flawed one.

            again i think truth, beauty and goodness are all ultimate concerns and should not be sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism beyond a certain point.

            also i think it is rational to love, rational to be ethical, rational to enjoy the arts and i think the common false dichotomy between reason and say emotions or spiritual meaning is as unfortunate as it is inaccurate.

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            just saw your last comment – all very reasonable of course and i do are with what you are saying.

            i am always going to be an advocate for the possibility of an integrated contemporary spirituality that does not have to sacrifice reason, psychological honesty, scientific method or an authentic, embodied, sexually alive, existentially awakened human-ness!

            its just the way my mind and heart work and the journey i am on personally and professionally. :)

          • I hope it's obvious that I enthusiastically support everything you are doing here, and I especially love that your articles generate such robust and meaningful discussion.

            One point of clarification. My talk of a study was a pure hypothetical construct. I am not even aware of any actual studies.

            Thanks for everything.

            Bob

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            and i hope to you find it obvious that i enjoy discussing such things with someone as eloquent, well-informed and nuanced as yourself bob! :) whether we agree on all the details or not…

          • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

            there are also studies that show that the more religious a country is the more violent it is, the worse its social services (so much for caring for the poor!) the higher its rates of oppression of women, teen pregnancy, std's etc – and the less religious a country is the less violent, more socially enlightened, better quality of life for citizens etc…..

            also remember back in the last election there was a whole analysis of the red state blue state split and how the most conservative and religious states had the highest rates of divorce, abortion etc…

        • dan says:

          http://www.hds.harvard.edu/news/bulletin_mag/arti… 2007 argues against secular=peace, pointing out the vagueness of language.
          I haven't had time to look this one over, it's a 2009 overview of many studies, Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions (pdf), but looks pretty thorough http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman
          However, http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/reli… 2011 suggests that being in the religious minority, religious or not, shrinks your brain…

  32. CethR says:

    Great article Julian, almost on the money. Just about everything you have expressed is true. Except one. This is something a lot of people are going to have a really hard time with, and will probably refuse to believe until they have woken up to the truth of who they are and what this reality actually is. The truth is, no matter how much people are afraid to take responsibility for their own lives, is that there is no such thing as a victim, ever.

    What many have discovered is that their thoughts are not what is actually creating this reality. Most people who have taken the time to earnestly and honestly go within and observe themselves, their thoughts, and their emotions will discover that we (our lower ego personalities experiencing this level of reality) are not the ones creating those thoughts. What creates the illusion of our thoughts creating our reality is the perseption of continuity between certain thoughts and desires manifesting in our minds, and then certain events playing out subsequent to those thoughts. To the unaware and asleep, it will appear as if our thoughts are creating these events, but the true causality remains hidden.

    Think of a line of dominos. The dominos represent our thoughts and events in our lives. We see the dominos falling over – one thought gives rise to another thought, and an event, and another event, and another thought. Domino by domino our lives play out and thoughts are experienced, but what about hidden hand that pushes the first domino, or gives a second push down the line when there is a block in our path? This is where the truth lies, and that truth is that it is an illusion of the lower ego to believe that we have free will in this reality. Observe how your ego reacts to this truth, how it resists this notion that it is not in control. How dare he tell me i'm not in control of my own life? The ego personality needs to feel like it is in control of reality, but this is a major farse. Now ultimately, we DO have free will, but that only comes from a much higher level of our multi-dimensional self. Our higher self (which is immortal, eternal, and infinite) is fully responsible for creating every experience we ever have down here in the lower dimensions of the universe. You can continue to perpetuate victim consciousness all you like, but ultimately you ARE responsible for what you experience.

    We must get over this idea that this reality is a mistake. We are not here to only experience positive things. This universe is made of light, which inherently gives birth to duality. The lower dimensions of this universe are far more dense and the duality is far more pronounced than anywhere above. We came here to experience it ALL. ALL the good, all the bad, all the love, all the evil, all the light, all the dark. We have all been the most incredibly evil beings you could possibly imagine and we have all been the most incredibly loving and benevolent beings you could possibly imagine. It is not about judgement as religion would have you believe, it is about balance, and experiencing everything this reality has to offer. We have all killed and been killed, we have all raped and been raped. You can continue to play the blame game, but this is the ultimate truth that can only be realized by going within and re-connecting with your multi-dimensional aspects. So while you are correct that it is not your thoughts that attract such horrible things in your life, you miss the deeper hidden causality that you have actually created these experiences from a much higher level of your being.

    Continued below…

  33. [...] Blood On The Hands of “The Secret.” [...]

  34. dan says:

    What I mean by “calling people names” is this: adjectives whose purpose is not to describe meaningfully but to demean. Examples used in the article: brain-numbingly simplistic, nutty, bizarrely (inaccurate), fairy-dust-laden winds, flimsy. (Many more in the comments, where slights go with out explanation; consider if one says, “yoga is stupid and vapid, it is nonsense that people do it,” and what it implies about what the yoga-er “is”.) In similar vein, the article also uses a lot of emotional language and writing, like irony, drama and rhetorical questions, which is fine, but carries no weight if this device is argued against (third bullet point). And of course it presumes to read Ray’s mind (the Secretarian, Ray did want or inadvertently create the situation and its consequences), and asks the reader to believe correlation=causation.

    Rhetorically, if you want someone to agree with you, agree with them. Use their language, and show them that what you want them to think they were thinking all along. (Alternet has just (re?)published a story discussing a few studies about what it calls the “backlash effect“, where information that contradicts one’s opinions actually strengthen their conviction, a variation on cognitive bias called biased assimilation; warning labels can also have the opposite effect- but you’ve studied The Secret, so you know this :))

    Yesterday I read the book, did some internet research on the characters and history of the ideas it presents then watched the movie (Netflix stream), and discovered that I did not need to see the movie or read the book to make my points about the lack of clarity on important terms and the misrepresentation of the technique of The Secret, though I was wrong on my specifics- it isn’t new, and does in a way require following a teacher (the student is to use the teachers as examples of success to emulate). The movie was quite entertaining, perhaps because I like both movies that spend least half their budget on the first few minutes and drug commercials (which is what the rest of its hour and a half was like, though without disclaimers about liver failure or operating heavy machinery). The material they present met my assumptions: a bunch of “stuff” to “get”, some gems for living a happier life, and a lot of “psyching up,” the last of which is inseparable from self-helping.

    The technique is simplified as Ask, Believe, Receive: Ask the universe once and clearly, write it out several times and even be extravagant, it should be something you actually want and framed positively; Believe that you have it; and Receive it, accept it as a gift and part of your life. The “Believe” aspect is the only one the article mentions, and does not include the central technique to achieving the belief, namely a gratitude, which is said to be the key to success (all the teachers, especially Ray, go off about this in both the book and movie); feelings are used to monitor thoughts- if you’re feeling bad, your thoughts are bad, so feel good. This is for me the central failing of The Secret, a shallow “just do it,” with only few concentration exercises (but a lot of encouragement) to support this shift toward positivity. The Law of Attraction (an idea developed in the late 1800s, inspired in part by yogins; concepts like cultivating the opposite and not stealing to get “all jewels” are in the yoga sutras) is said to be as universal and integral to the universe as gravity, and so upsetting to materialists. Yet, if one thinks, “I am liked/scorned” they will act as if they are likeable/scum, so there is certainly some truth to it. This is my favorite part of The Secret, both that it acknowledges and encourages embracing the plasticity and possibility of our lives, and that there is “some truth to it” (as mailable as that “some” may be).

    The beauty and necessity of Receiving is concisely explained in terms of sexuality in the recent ej article elephantjournal.com/2011/06/the-art-of-receiving-pleasure

    The examples given to success at The Secret all take time, usually months and years, though the LofA is said to have the potential to work instantly. New users are advised to start small, asking for coffees and parking spaces, even as they vision their future. The “time lapse” in the LofA is said to be a space to clarify goals. While the user always has the excuse, “I’m just not doing it right”, this can be found anywhere, including from doctors (you’re doing too much/not enough of the regimen) and therapists (you need to try harder), too. Critical thinking, is for some only done correctly when it comes only to certain conclusions, despite a complete lack of parameters which could include: material/physical/empirical experience; what is useful or useless based on values/goals; a completely open, opinion free space to explore anything.(“actually make sense, are coherent and reflect reality” – what “makes sense”, what defines coherency, and reality how; not to be too snotty, but these are too subjective without a value system, hopefully one where a lack of contradictions show “truth” (soundness) and from no “truth” can you derive a contradiction (completeness)… because of of the breadth of the LofA and ease with which it excuses almost anything, The Secret, as a system, fulfills these qualities.)

    While it is very materialistically focused, and may be weak “self-help”, The Secret, like “gym yoga” creates opportunities for awareness of one’s mind and breath that weren’t even in the discussion before, and from a non-foreign setting that addresses what is seen as a pressing need (exercise or debt). If there is a way to wealth The Secret advises, it is through creating self-help products and services, which is the industry almost all the teachers in The Secret are in… perhaps we all need to make our own 8 cd set and organize a retreats. Perhaps because I am gullible, but have a memory, anything that requires payment looks like a scam.

    Yes, it is fun to make fun, and I wonder why talking to a wall is worth it- obviously I’m just sorting things out (any audience either agrees with me or doesn’t to begin with) but nevertheless I try to remember cognitive bias applies not to some Other, but to anyone, that distorting a viewpoint or system to make my own point is dishonest, that calling people names makes people call me names, that things like violence, secular, cultural, religious and spiritual are shifting terms needing definition before they are dissected, and that as tragic as a death by negligence is, it happens every day in nursing homes, and by insurers refusing to pay for treatment, by pill pushers pushing the latest pill, and by me and everyone else who says suffering is someone else’s fault.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      look: my article was intended to be punchy, funny, it has a contemporary style and attempts to get at the heart of some very delusional ideas and why they are so problematic and in fact are the antithesis of healthy spirituality.

      this is a hard thing to do – especially when the ideas/beliefs are hugely popular.

      i think i pulled it off. the article has reached over 4 thousand people so far in 4 days – it is creating discussion and debate about a set of ideas that are the staple in alternative spirituality. the vast majority of comments and emails and FB requests i am getting are from people thanking me for saying something that needed to be said or that they weren't able to articulate or didnt have the courage to say…

      this is my objective.

      you criticism are tangential to that objective – though i appreciate your passion and rigor.

      i see what you were getting at about the adjectives. i stand behind every single one – they are descriptive of the material i am critiquing and i think they are accurate. they are not intended to be scientific or philosophically rigorous, just common-sense descriptions of a totally superficial and delusional worldview and piece of media.

      • dan says:

        In other words, it was written to +1 yourself and those who already agree, and by that popularity, nudge those caught up in [negative adjective] beliefs, and further the nudge with insults.
        Oh Shame! May I praise you as I use you. (that was sarcastic :()

  35. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    oh my goodness – sounds like you have enough here for your own article!

    publish it on EJ, challenge me and i will write a response article – could be fun! :)

    seriously – i promise if you can organize your criticisms into an article and get it up on here – i will respond to your points in detail and you can get your voice heard on the issue while pointing out the problems with what i said – deal?

    • dan says:

      I suppose it was a bit long, I may put up an article if I have the time to, but on the vacuity of arguments that refuse to define their terms (ie. understand what is being said) and the excuses we use to validate and excuse our biases.

  36. Sunita Pillay says:

    Regardless, as I stated initially, I love the idea of magic in the world. And although I have an intellectual notion of the neutral attributeless Absolute, I still consider myself religious – in the sense that I pray daily, multiple times. Lately I have been praying to Jesus. I was raised a Hindu, but I love all religions (minus the historically tyrannical aspects). And I like to worship whichever god or goddess I choose at anytime. It's a beautiful thing for me, and even though in the highest contemplative traditions, the deities aree ssentially none other than "Me," I still feel a deep love for my conception of God, as a compassionate force in the universe. (cont'd)

  37. Coffey says:

    Great read…

  38. [...] the fundamental flaw often lies in the core philosophy. As Julian Walker points out in an excellent current article in The Elephant Journal, it’s no surprise that spiritually materialist beliefs, like “The Secret,” [...]

  39. Atmaram says:

    There is some truth to The Secret as there is some truth to what is written in this article. However, I believe there is an equal danger in your readers herding off to another "camp." While enduring substantial child abuse, I vowed at the age of twelve to never treat a child as I was being treated at the time. I not only kept my vow, thank Grace, but have a beautiful seven-year-old who well knows of his divine nature (along with that of all other people), and a mother with dementia who lives with us and who remembers nothing of her abusive behavior, which is OK with me, for not only is all forgiven, but forgotten as well. This would not have been possible if I had not worked intensely on becoming an extreme internal-loci-of-control person, the benefits of which seem to be dismissed in the section, The Big Problem of Blaming the Victim…

  40. Atmaram says:

    …My healing has only made me more compassionate, precisely because I realize that healing for both victims and victimizers is often obtained through great difficulty. Because I strive to live profoundly gratefully and peacefully, I do not hold anyone to the very high standards I hold for myself. I hope that readers will find that there is a higher truth to be found within themselves, that transcends The Secret, the article referred to or the simple words I have expressed.

  41. Guest says:

    They are using a very similar thing in schools now called px2, teaches the same sort of thinking…it's crazy! you should check it out!

  42. Yasodhara Ashram faithhay says:

    I agree. The movie promotes a kind of narcisistic thinking.Yes, it's true. You do get what you want, what you visualize, etc, in my experience, but hey, is it really all about me?

  43. [...] Secret” work for me? ~ Tom Lietaert Photo: D'Arcy Norman So why am I only now writing about The Secret? It’s passé, blasé, already been analyzed and criticized. The Secret has sold over 19 million [...]

  44. Dearbhla Kelly Dearbhla says:

    Thank you Julian for this insightful, clear and rational article. You do a really nice job of balancing the importance of staying connected in the heart with that of sustained critical thinking and reflection. As yoga practitioners and teachers it's so important for us to ground our spiritual practices in reality, which as you pointed out, is not whatever you want it to be.

    Bravo and pranams.

  45. [...] join – but many are seeking charismatic teachers who claim supernatural knowledge or ability. James Arthur Ray from “The Secret” is perhaps the most recent and tragic tale, but there have been and continue to be other cults and [...]

  46. Keren says:

    Tough lessons for some. Thanks for spelling out the reality.

  47. [...] there was also James Arthur Ray, beloved Christian Science/New Age teacher who claimed to be able to teach the magical power of [...]

  48. [...] of New Age teacher (famous for being part of the mega-selling Oprah-endorsed DVD “the Secret”) James Arthur Ray to 2 years in prison for negligent [...]

  49. [...] bet he hopes so. He’s currently serving time for three counts of manslaughter stemming from a sweat lodge accident at a “Spiritual Warrior” retreat he [...]

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