“The Secret” Authentic Spirituality? Or Spiritual Materialism?

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It’s time to go a little further with an intelligent discussion about “The Secret,” Secret followers, and the claim that if you want something in life, all you have to do is manifest it and create a vision board.

After all, this website has a lot of spiritual content and is even known to challenge spiritual materialism. The Secret and its principles need to be addressed.

I’ve heard a lot of heated debates about The Secret, but Stuart Davis calling the movie/movement “spiritual narcissism” in his latest blog post pushes this debate even further. [elephant journal printed a couple snarky reports on The Secret back when ele was still a print magazine, our primary charge was that it was using good techniques for materialistic ends ~ ed.]

A few months ago I finally rented The Secret and couldn’t get through the whole movie. I was both inspired and irritated at the same time. The constant barrage of using your thoughts to manifest material goods was overly simplistic. But at the same time, it had me really, genuinely curious about the law of attraction.

As many of you know, The Secret has a huge following [Oprah even lauded it].  Law of attraction coaches and healers are everywhere these days, claiming that they too can teach you the tools that the teachers teach in the secret. I mean, all you have to do is change your thoughts. You create your own reality right? The secret says so, it must be so.

In his post, Stuart Davis uses Integral theory and his own experience to differentiate between the self, the Self and what the Secret is really teaching in terms of spiritual laws and truths. He also writes candidly & wisely about the notion of a “genuine” spiritual path, but not from a “my spiritual path is better than yours” stance.

Here is an excerpt from Stuart’s blog:

The Secret.

It’s all the rage. The book and movie have garnered the enthusiasm of millions. Everyone from Oprah to Montel is extolling Rhonda Byrne’s spiritual juggernaut. The premise of The Secret is simple; The power of attraction. Like attracts like. What we think, what we feel, acts as a magnetic signal, attracting its correlate from the Universe. The Secret says our thoughts and feelings manifest that which we desire. In fact, according to the teachers of the Secret, this works 100% of the time, for 100% of the people who use it. The Universe responds to our wishes, providing whatever we desire. This is because “we create our own reality”, and The Secret says science confirms this.

As with most things, The Secret is a Good news / Bad news scenario. First, the good news. The secret is (partly) true. Our thoughts and feelings are of consequence, and positive thinking and feeling can significantly characterize our experience of reality, even influence the way reality unfolds. The Secret cites everyone from Martin Luther King to Einstein as examples of people who knew -and employed- The Secret. Martin Luther King had a dream. Einstein said God doesn’t play dice. And so on.

The Secret uses valid (but partial) suppositions such as:

Our thoughts and feelings are powerful

and inflates them to a Kosmic (and false) scale, giving us: Our thoughts are the most powerful things on Earth.

The secret takes a statement like

Thought can influence reality

and amplifies it to “Thoughts create reality.” Not just any thoughts, but YOUR thoughts.

(By the way, are you a rape victim? I guess you created that reality with your… read the rest here.

Please read the rest of his post before you comment. I would love to hear some of you Secret believers out there challenge Stuart on his notion that the Secret is spiritual hokey pokey.

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anonymous Oct 14, 2012 3:54pm

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anonymous Jan 5, 2010 10:14pm

[…] always been huge fans of the transformative power of The Secre…blech. To quote Colbert, I just vomited in my mouth, a […]

anonymous Oct 12, 2009 3:13pm

People flock to the fads like the Secret to battle unhappiness, when there are much easier ways to do that. If the law of attraction works for people that's wonderful; if they their egos are fooling them, perhaps it's the very thing they need. I just wrote an article on this on my site.

anonymous Jun 30, 2009 4:46pm

Didn't they take Hicks out of the new version of the video. Which I think is good. as a majority of people in that video have no business teaching, as they are so repressed in their emotions that they actually do damage to some people. (no matter how long they have been listnen to Bill Harris audio's : ) But I am sure they help may others with their hype.
What I find really interesting. is that this site says that this section is Non-new age (which is really old age anyway, stolen from various cultures and turned into bunk) but you guys are all on about a topic that was channelled in by someone who would be considered in the New Age realm!! LOL! What are you afraid of there?? what are your thoughts and why the exclusion then? LOL!! have a great one!

anonymous Jun 18, 2009 8:02pm

I'd like to add my voice to the mix here. I just posting something in my own blog on this exact topic. While I do see some commonality between LOA and the dharma, I think it DOES need to be thought through a little more carefully! Here's my post: http://www.mindfulpurpose.com/blog-home/a-buddhis

anonymous Jun 15, 2009 11:27am

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anonymous May 31, 2009 8:48pm

The Secret…. hmmm. I have had many thoughts about it over time,mostly that it is an over simplification of what is written into most religious doctrine in verse or prayer form … that after reading Deepak Chopra's "Seven Spiritual Laws of Success", the Secret was a sort of baby feed rerun,requiring the belief that THE EGO has some power and control over the acts of the Universe. Thanks for your thoughts. I believe that the UNIVERSE/ GOD/ My HIGHER POWER/ my SACRED SELF brings me exactly what I NEED at any given time good or bad. I do Laugh sometimes when I get a parking place close to my destination that the SECRET "parking angel" has assisted me… No seriously. we all have a process, lessons to live through in this dimension that bring us further along our Spiritual way. I believe I am deserving of good things, finer things and have believed deeply for sometime. Yet no big checks are appearing in my mailbox. Yet I have a satisfaction and a peacefulness of life and Self much of the time… not ALL of the time. I believe THE PLAN for my life is just what I was meant to experience. I am exactly where I am SUPPOSE to be at any given time. I try not to worry about the future though it is part of my human experience and DNA to do so. I find in my meditations I can regain my awareness that truly LIFE experiences will come to me, people will come into my life as I am ready or not to recieve them. Good or bad they are my Blessings,,, meant to teach me and guide me to my Greater SELF which is Spiritual and human until I breathe out my last breath. But if you do find a way to get the PRADA shoes,live in only places that encourage the essence of your being,,, and find that your bills are all magically paid… let me know right away. I was not born into such circumstance, but in the circumstance in which I was born the Universe has blessed me with simple things. Sometimes I believe that I am far happier then those whose"SECRET" deposits a check in their trust fund account and they have yet to realize that it is not enough to just FEEL BADly when they see the poverty depicted in movies like SLUMDOG Millionaire. Perhaps THE SECRET has not yet shouted out from within their SACRED self that Life is as much about GIVING as it is about Receiving… but again, all to our own PROCESS which takes time… Creating goodness for SELF is a matter of simply KNOWING that it is WITHIN SELF to be open to the lessons.

anonymous May 25, 2009 4:23pm

By the way, Abraham-Hicks does many events a year in the U.S. Where people can go up and can ask Abraham any question. Would be great for a Wilberite (perhaps Stuart or even Ken himself) to get up in the hot seat and actually debate Abraham about all the stuff that they seem to take so much offense to. I think you would find that Abraham agrees with much of what you object to .. and is actually saying and is in agreement with what much of Integral is about. Would be a fascinating exchange. Ken Wilber and Abraham … now I'd love a front row seat to that one!

    anonymous May 25, 2009 5:01pm

    Christina. Great point about having a more thorough analysis of LOA materials in there too. Any good debate needs a thorough description of both. I like your suggestion. Perhaps you can point the reader to such an analysis other than attending an Abraham-Hicks event?

anonymous May 25, 2009 4:17pm

continued ….

Like the post above, I prefer the work of Abraham-Hicks (who pulled out of The Secret … but who's language and concepts are still woven in the movie, being mouthed by others). It is their Emotional Scale that is used as a backdrop (and is referenced in some of the comments above). However when Abraham teaches the scale, they do not negate sadness, anger, grief etc. They do not advocate spiritual by-passes. They encourage people to lovingly be where they are and then to slowly and softly reach for a better feeling thought (vibrational shift) from there.

LIke any field, there is crap and there is good stuff. For once, instead of just going for the easy dig with the pokes at The Secret, it would be nice if a more thorough analysis of the LOA materials was done. And AQAL folks would own that yes, there are actually some good things to harvest from LOA. It is not necessary to completely throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    anonymous Jun 8, 2009 7:13am

    Christina – well said (all 3 posts) – The Secret is definitely entry level, but people need to start somewhere and if it get's their attention and get's them interested in looking at things in a new way, then it has served a valuable purpose, so thanks for pointing that out! Love Abraham – great stuff! 🙂

anonymous May 25, 2009 2:49pm

The Secret is indeed way over-simplified and sort of Hollywood styled. I appreciated reading the teachings of Abraham (Esther and Jerry Hicks) much more. But none of these methods that propose to bring happiness are enough in themselves. Salvation is reinvented for every individual.
Still, it's important that these ideas are out there, and we are being generally educated about the importance of positive thinking.
Truly, the very most enlightening book about the spirit that I ever read was Chogyam Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

    elephant journal May 31, 2009 5:40pm

    Amen, Mary. I hated the Secret when it came out…it made me quesy. A good friend of mine, whose life manifests the success that the Secret holds forth, kept pushing it on me…eventually, like Jayson, I managed to get through half of it.

    Now, a few years down the road, I actually appreciate the movie. It reminds me, a cynical Buddhist, to think and dream big—but, with my Buddhist training, I don't dream big for mine own materialistic fulfillment, merely, but rather that I might play some part in helping a world in need on many fronts.

    A final note: The Secret espouses the power of positive thinking. Interesting, in Buddhism, where meditation serves as a "self-cutting sword" or spiritual matierialism bullshxt detector, good thoughts are considered obscurations of enlightened mind just as much as bad thoughts, or nearly so. The ideal is to see the world directly, without the cloudy filter of one's desires, fears and self-centric games.

anonymous May 25, 2009 8:02am

Over the past six months, I've attended Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City several times and have met Michael Bernard Beckwith. Some of his teachings have really resonated with me and I attended the premiere of "Spiritual Liberation" on behalf of Elephant Journal. Perhaps it would be worth checking out for further study? Cheers!

anonymous May 25, 2009 7:36am

I am not a LoA enthusiast, but I will comment on the subject, as I've thought a lot about it.

The Secret to getting what you want in life is congruence. If you are congruent about your outcome, you are more likely to experience synchronicities in your pursuit of it. This experience truly is magical.

One question is "how is it best to achieve congruence?" The technique recommended by all the books on LoA is to act-as-if, and especially to visualize having what you want in all 5 senses (really just visual/auditory/kinesthetic) and to affirm what you want, in present, positive "I" language, again and again with great emotional intensity (i.e. pump yourself up).

This one technique goes back to the original New Thought religious movement books that form the foundational texts of personal development literature including Think and Grow Rich, The Science of Getting Rich, As a Man Thinketh, etc. as well as modern texts such as Awaken the Giant Within, The Law of Attraction, The Secret, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, etc.

Most people when they act-as-if or visualize themselves having what they want experience some sort of inner objection. How should we treat such objections? The conventional answer is to frame objections as "resistance," "limiting beliefs," "old tapes," etc. and simply continue repeating the affirmation, visualization, or physical anchor (Tony Robbins "power moves"). This effectively overpowers any objection through force, but does not integrate any information nor correct any limiting self-images or internal voices.

To truly achieve congruence, one can simply accept and welcome each objecting part, ask for the positive purpose of each ("what positive purpose do you want for me?"), and integrate the positive intentions–being open to the original outcome changing in the process. This is similar to servant-leadership, Holacracy, or Matrix management instead of command-and-control management, except within your psyche instead of a corporation.

For most people, if you start with a highly egocentric outcome like "make 1 million per year," some serious objections will arise that when integrated will mellow the goal to be more reasonable. Inquiring into the deeper purpose for wanting 1 million a year will also generally bring the goal back down to earth.

Pumping yourself up will more likely lead to inflated goals, as you are literally cultivating ego inflation through forcing away unwanted parts of yourself. Not a good long-term strategy for inner peace and happiness! 🙂

Anyway, if you find that interesting, I've written a lot more about things like that on my blog: http://precisionchange.com

Peace and happiness,


    anonymous May 25, 2009 2:11pm

    While I lover your wisdom, and while your approach seems way better than the secret, I was hoping to hear some comments about Stuart's blog and the notion of spiritual narcissism . Perhaps by sharing your way of leading people through transformation, that was your feedback? My guess is you have more to say……hmmmmm

      anonymous May 25, 2009 7:47pm


      I read Stuart's blog post several years ago. Originally I found it insightful. Now it appears to me to be an angry rant. At the time I too felt angry, which is a good sign that I was not comfortable with my own spiritual narcissism, if you wish to call it that (I don't find that categorization particularly useful in helping to change my experience nor guide others to change their interest in the subject).

      I prefer to see the best in people who have felt drawn to the Secret/LoA and guide them towards what they are wanting–experiences of synchronicity and fulfillment.


anonymous May 25, 2009 2:15pm


Well said about "good" and "bad" feelings. That was a very tragic aspect of the movie, as if being sad or angry is "bad." That sounds to me like a big fat ego trip—grasping pleasure, avoiding pain. The true spiritual path involves relating directly with our pain and not turning away from it to just be upbeat and act positive. Per Duff's point above–Servant leadership.

anonymous Jun 11, 2009 2:13am

Well spoken, Sariputra.

anonymous Dec 19, 2010 12:49pm

I was just about to comment when I read your comment, Bob. As a perpetual reader of the Gita, I have a difficult time with The Secret as it is so goal oriented. The message of the Gita, in which we do our duty not for the fruits of our labor is indeed a complete opposite philosophy. I would feel so materialistic if every morning I woke up and imagined myself as a wealthy person and then went for it. The law of attraction may be real, and an awesome tool for working to fulfill material needs, but I personally can't devote as much energy as it seems to require. I just don't care whether or not I am ever going to be wealthy; I am just trying to make all my actions originate from love. It keeps me busy and I'm not really even that good at it yet! 😉

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