Blood On The Hands of “The Secret.”

Via Julian Walker
on Jun 23, 2011
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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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7TPoaguupQ

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.

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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

Comments

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

  1. 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,

  2. NotSoSure says:

    "TRUTH": Really, that is the best you can do? Julian's article does a fantastic job of crushing the idiocy of this belief system.

    "you can't disprove any part of it". an absolutely ridiculous statement. Proving is the responsibility of the person who makes a claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Magical thinking is not extraordinary evidence. Julian correctly pointed out that this entire belief system is based on magical thinking.

    Another equally ridiculous statement is "If something makes someone feel good, and connected to god, then let it be". Err, no. Belief systems based on lies are harmful even when they make the believer feel good. On September 11 ,2011 several airliners where taken over by people who felt "good" and "closer to god".

  3. NotSoSure says:

    annieory:
    I applaud your call for taking personal responsibility and I admire that you do not want to be put on a pedestal by overly enamored students. And for the record I enjoy reading your thoughts.

    I agree everyone is responsible for themselves. But it appears you are not taking into account there is responsibility for taking part in an action and a separate responsibility for the results of that action.

    Everyone one in that lodge was responsible for being in the lodge. I'm with you there.

    The responsibility for the results injury/death is shared between the participants. Mr. Ray is not fully responsible for the deaths, but he still shares in the responsibility. Mr. Ray was not charged with capital murder. He was convicted of negligent homicide, a lesser charge than capital murder. Why a lesser charge? Because Mr. Ray responsibility for the results did not meet the requirements for capital murder.

  4. dan says:

    Transcendental Mediators, the folks at http://www.shreemaa.org and one of the guys into the Indigo Children (to name three, there are many others) all do variations of personal and group meditations on peace for all.

  5. NotSoSure says:

    "I call them saunas". That totally cracked me up.

  6. NotSoSure says:

    dan: If all "The Secret" did was "empower (ing) oneself with one's own vision" as you stated in your post then my guess is that Julian would not have authored his article.

    But you are redefining "The Secret" when you say that. The Secret made claims that one could influence reality simply by thinking. Sorry but the world does not work that way. You can think a path through traffic all you want, but that will not make it so. The magical thinking comes into play is that when a path does appear then the "magical thinker" assumes he/she made a path with intentions. Julian correctly pointed out that magical thinking is the result of mistaken beliefs based on fantasy.

  7. 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.

  8. yogijulian says:

    this is a scathing attack dan! thanks for caring enough to go there…

    would you give some examples of the names i am calling people please – i am not sure what you are pointing out.

    by critical thinking in this case i mean asking oneself if the claims made in the secret are actually true. ie thinking critically about spiritual ideas instead of just buying into them…. i mean following the arguments being made in the movie (which you should watch by the way if you want to have a leg to stand on in a discussion of the subject) through and thinking critically about whether or not they actually make sense, are coherent and reflect reality.

    ju gadda pro'lem wid dat?! 🙂

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

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  10. yogijulian says:

    you have not explained. i refute this notion in the same way i refute the cultural idea in the middle east that reading and driving are only for men, or the idea from 60 years ago in the usa that the front of the bus was only for white folks, or the idea that only indians should practice or teach yoga, or the tradition in the catholic church that only men can be priests.

    these ideas are all based in conservative, superstitious, narrow conceptions of reality, whether they come from islam, catholocism, yoga or native americans.

    i am not lumping all cultures together – everyone is entitled to their culture, but the romanticizing of the any culture as having some special secret, private spiritual knowledge that is not permitted for gaijin is very old world and not something i think we should perpetuate.

    again i don't think there is any problem that james ray was running a sweat lodge – the problem is he did not know how to do it safely and he was basing his retreat on dangerously delusional ideas of his own powers and of the way "the universe" functions.

    they could have had a powerful and beautiful experience with a white man, native elder, lesbian african or transgendered asian person facilitating the experience.

    the experience of spiritual process (be it yoga, dance, sweat, psychedelic sacraments, etc..) transcends culture, belief or dogma and is rooted rather in our shared human bodies and brains.

    do you get the distinction i am pointing out?

    i am refuting the idealized notion of any cultural practice as having some super sacred, mysterious, ethnically exclusive aura – that is just outdated baggage.

    the assertions about this being a problem because he was a "white man" would be seen as horribly offensive if we were saying a jewish woman shouldnt be teaching yoga, or a black man shouldnt be a psychotherapist…… somehow our politically correct white guilt turns this into racist comments about white men being ok – why?!

  11. 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

  12. (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

  13. yogijulian says:

    magical thinking is less a "label" and a more a description of a kind of thinking that is not grounded in reality.

    here are some absolutes for ya:

    1) those three people are absolutely dead.

    2) james arthur ray will most likely be absolutely stripped of his freedom.

    3) in both 1) and 2) the reason for this is that bad results come from absolutely bad ideas.

    any questions?

    extreme relativism is a temporary attempt to sidestep enduring questions – if you are truly open minded and wanting to consider something beyond such devices, read this one and get back to me: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/10-obstacl

    peace unto you as well – i know you mean well.

  14. 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!?

  15. 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."

  16. NotSoSure says:

    No study that I know of. Just my opinion based on my (jaded) observations. So as proven facts go my statements to not measure up to that standard. But I believe them to be true.

    "Believe". bugger. there's that damn word again. My believe based on my observations without empirical evidence to support my conclusions. See what you have done to me with you question and the studies. My head is starting to hurt.

  17. 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

  18. 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…

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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. 🙂

  22. 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

  23. 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…

  24. 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…

  25. matthew says:

    i'm vision-boarding you a tylenol. or some willow bark powder, if that's your thing…

  26. 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…

  27. […] Blood On The Hands of “The Secret.” […]

  28. My thoughts exactly. Tell Waylon I want whatever Julian's getting.

  29. yogijulian says:

    your idea of responsibility is confused.

    your knowledge of the ray case is vague.

    your interpretation of people making good and civil arguments in response to your over-stating of absolute personal responsibility as being somehow taliban-esque is ridiculous.

    fundamentalists don't make arguments, they don't tell you why they think what they think, they just tell you what the truth is because god told them directly.

    i too find the yoga community a little like born again christians – but that is not what is being exemplified in this thread. not even a little.

    what is going on here is that you are being given good well-reasoned arguments for why waht you are saying makes no sense, along with great examples to try and stimulate your mind and heart and you are holding onto a rigid black and white position about responsibility.

    there ARE victims. there are perpetrators.

    i wonder if you are having a big reaction against anyone ever making themselves vulnerable – don't you think sacred spaces are places where people can be vulnerable and those holding the space have a responsibility to play their role with compassion and care?

    as for as the murder charge – it is negligent homicide – meaning his negligence led to their deaths. there is simply no argument against that – but you are stuck in this weird ayn rand-esque loop about wanting to blame the victims….. wassup?

  30. yogijulian says:

    if you need to ask what grounded in reality means we can probably just stop right there.

    have a nice day! 🙂

  31. yogijulian says:

    fair comment matthew.

    often people say to me: why be so mean, people are just going through a phase? i hope this is true, but i think the marketing genius of the new age material is that it actually prevents people from moving forward by creating a circular confirmation bias, anti critical thinking, just have faith no matter, if it is not working you are doing it wrong what kinda mindset…

    i also have known three other people personally who are dead too as a result of believing that the power of their intention would a) be enough to prevent passing on HIV and b) that informing their partners of their HIV status would be a way of manifesting the reality of it and so better to just act as if it wasn't there… pretty tragic.

    i have also known people who used the idea of manifestation and trusting the universe etc to justify prostituting themselves in the name of "not judging how the abundance comes though" from the universe etc….

    i have also worked with many people who have had their childhood trauma or rape interpreted through the lens of magical thinking a la the secret and have had to do a lot of work to untangle the confusion created psychologically and existentially on top of an already difficult healing process…

  32. yogijulian says:

    wow mariel that is chilling. he sounds like a sociopath – no surprise i guess…

  33. 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.

  34. 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…

  35. YesuDas says:

    " don't you think sacred spaces are places where people can be vulnerable and those holding the space have a responsibility to play their role with compassion and care? "

    Yes.

  36. Thanks for the interesting links, dan.

  37. 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?

  38. 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.

  39. matthew says:

    I hear you. The excesses must be exposed. I guess what I'm realizing is that our true and powerful anecdotes create their own confirmation bias. I wish we had the money and organization to understand the overall ramifications of bad philosophy more clearly. Until we do, we must expose what we can, and in as many styles as possible.

  40. yogijulian says:

    nicely said – though i think the legacy of delusional beliefs (be they spiritual, religious, psychological or political) causing suffering is a pretty powerful one…

    for me the bottom line is that truth matters and when we are invested in beliefs and ideas that are not true, that deny reality and that ask us to put our faith in something dishonest and in direct opposition to what is actually the case it has to bite us in the ass.

    the inquiry into what is true and how inner and outer reality actually function and are related to each-other is i think central to engaged spiritual inquiry, and even if my anecdotes and the ray case (both resulting in death btw) were not extant, for me the sheer fact of a spirituality being based in magical thinking or mythic literalism means that it is deluded and therefore will create compartmentalization, rationalization, denial etc in the service of maintaining the belief system – the results (whether dramatic or subtle) simply cannot be good overall…

  41. 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)

  42. yogijulian says:

    yupexactly – the causal connection is not really apparent.

    using visualization to get yourself in the zone and set goals is wonderful – claiming that this has magical powers of manifestation is deluded! 🙂

    i think the blade of rationality is exactly as sharp as it needs to be – and need not exclude devotion, awe, wonder and compassion – in fact it is in service of these qualities!

    ray's story is a parody, a perversion, an absolute betrayal of what real spirituality is and can be, period.

  43. yogijulian says:

    mystery is beautiful, attitude is powerful, there is no such thing as "manifestation!" 🙂

    i covered the importance and value of goal setting and positive attitude in the article.

    if you think that prayers are answered you run into a big philosophical problem regarding who's prayers and why and why innocent people who pray are still tortured, murdered, raped and poor etc…

    if you think manifestation really works you are suggesting that our minds can magically get 'the universe" or "the divine" to bring us what we want and you are basically still operating out of very early human religious superstition that says: sacrifice the goat, spill blood on the earth, perform the ritual x number of times, chant the special magic spell etc and you can influence the outcome of the hunt, harvest, war etc……

    basically one is at the same level as the football player who thanks jesus for winning the superbowl – see?! it worked, he prayed to jesus and won the superbowl, right?

    not really.

  44. yogijulian says:

    if i ever have to eat that bullshit i will gladly bow down to you and let you hold the spoon and serve me the first bite! 🙂

    it will never happen.

    i have been involved in the spiritual community for 20 years – and am very familiar with the things i am critiquing, in fact i even believed in some of them when i was younger…..

    as for your other observations – fair enough – and YES to the importance of doing the deep emotional work! 🙂

    what i have found and observed is that the more one does that kind of deep and real work the less the magical thinking, literalized mythology and supernatural fantasy holds very much interest…

  45. Meindabindi says:

    "Mystery is beautiful, attitude is powerful, there is no such thing as manifestation! "

    I'm going to spray paint that on the wall of my studio.
    xxx

  46. yogijulian says:

    beautifully, compassionately and astutely stated.

  47. yogijulian says:

    haha – honored i am sure…

  48. yogijulian says:

    there is absolutely nothing significant, meaningful or interesting about these random occurrences and incorrect statements. sorry! no offense to you personally, of course.. 🙂

  49. Dove says:

    lol, none taken 🙂 … bless your heart, as they say here in the South 😉

  50. 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 :()