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Let me get right to the bottom line: the Law of Attraction assumes we live in an equal society. It assumes wrong.
Over my years as a spiritual seeker and teacher, I’ve been enamored with the idea of the Law of Attraction.
In fact, one of my favorite movies ever is “What the Bleep Do We Know?“, which touts the belief that we “create our own reality.”
I also loved the movie “The Secret,” and read many books, such as Ask and it is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther and Jerry Hicks.
If you’re not familiar with these ideas, the theory is that the universe will bend to our will if we directly and consistently align our thoughts and attention to what we want—be it money, relationships, happiness, or opportunities. The more devoted we are to our imagining, the more likely the desired outcome will appear.
It teaches that, in general, energy (and all that energy converts into—time, money, success, happiness) is a neutral force that simply searches for matching energy to pair with. “We are like magnets,” Rhonda Byrne, the creator of “The Secret” says. “You become and attract what you think.”
Despite the fact that this is not how magnets actually work, the philosophy suggests that the more you think about what you want, the more likely you will be to get it. At the same time, the more you think about what you don’t want, the more likely you will be to get it. This is the Law of Attraction.
A vision board is a Law of Attraction exercise in which we focus intently on what we want to attract into our lives by cutting out pictures from magazines that capture the energy we wish to manifest. We then glue these pictures onto a piece of tagboard, which we place in a prominent spot in our home or office.
Want a successful, financially rewarding career? Add pictures of people who look like they’ve made it.
Dreaming of the perfect man? Find some pictures of what he might look like, and then sit back and wait for him to show up on your door with roses!
Imagine yourself owning a beach house? All you have to do is decide if you want rolling beaches or crashing waves!
I’m making a little fun now, and for the record, I don’t think vision boards are evil or anything of the sort. I’ve created my fair share.
As an exercise for clarifying our goals, they’re great.
As a way to hone our focus, visuals are helpful.
As a relaxing, hands-on activity to help us get into a more creative frame of mind, I personally have found it therapeutic.
But as an actual technique to “create our own reality,” I think they are dangerous.
“Create your own reality” is little more than a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that puts the onus on ourselves and ourselves only for the outcomes of our lives.
Try taking this mantra into the poorest societies in our world, and see how it goes over.
Try telling anyone growing up in a dysfunctional family that they should simply adopt an attitude of gratitude while collecting pictures of happier families.
Try telling a woman in an abusive relationship that she should simply manifest her way out of it by visualizing a healthier one. That she must be attracting (read: deserving) this abuse and only she has the power to stop it.
This phenomenon of “like attracts like” might actually be true, scientifically speaking. But using this as a way to manifest our wildest hopes and dreams in our modern world while some people don’t have a place to sleep or food to eat is a societal sickness. It ignores cultural, legal, social, and political barriers. It assumes things like racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, and all the other isms and phobias don’t exist. It underestimates the power of implicit biases.
Energy doesn’t travel in a straight line in an unequal society. It turns into a pretzel, knotted over and over again by a culture that keeps us divided and “in our places.”
How different is this from other mantras we’ve heard and maybe even passed along?
You can be anything you want to be, we tell children.
Hard work will pay off, we tell young adults.
Wait your turn and keep your head down—all good things will come to you, we tell older adults.
And when these things don’t happen? There’s no one else to blame but ourselves. We had the same opportunity, but we must not have tried hard enough, prayed hard enough, or visualized hard enough. Obviously.
The narratives from our everyday world, the religious world, and the New Age world might sound different, but they coalesce here: we have reaped what we have sown. There is no one to blame but ourselves.
Whether in New Age language or “Get Rich Quick” language, the narrative boils down to personal responsibility, wanting it badly enough, doing the work, and making the necessary sacrifices.
Not only is “create your own reality” simply a remake of these same bullsh*t mottos we’ve been told all our lives, but it keeps us from coming together as a whole, identifying, and then working to dismantle the actual barriers set up to sabotage certain groups of people, namely, the low and working class, people of color, LGBTQI+, and women.
As long as capable, intelligent adults are making vision boards like children write up Santa lists, they’re not on the ground making pathways possible for themselves and others. They’re ignoring the actual structural blockades. They’re forgetting the truth that the Millennial generation will be the first generation to not be better off than their parents. They’re letting the wealth gap yawn wider while turning a blind eye to corporate greed and political corruption.
How convenient for the grifters and the wealthy and powerful who can now keep grifting and gaining wealth and power.
Even if it’s true that “like attracts like,” what good is it if that energy can’t find us in the tangled quagmire that is our world?
Even if we had the gumption needed to create our own reality, we can’t do so if we have no access to the resources or the support we need.
We can’t chase it all down. We can’t scrap our way from rags to riches by sitting in front of a vision board any more than we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps if we don’t have boots.
There is no such thing as a self-made person. Anyone who thinks they are is expressing hubris and selfishness, forgetting all those who gave them a leg up, a chance, an open door. Undervaluing their unique setup, privileges, and access in their lives.
No matter our skills, our ambition, or how hard we work, all success is dependent on others to help us get there. There are mentors, supporters, door-openers, and believers underlying every success story.
Likewise, there are plenty of talented, capable people who have not had these mentors and supporters show up for them. Intellect, capacity, willpower, and drive are doled out equally among all humans. But the opportunity to tap them is not.
The Law of Attraction assumes we live in an equal society. Well, if there is something worth manifesting, then let us manifest this equality and not lavish beach houses. And let us do so not by collecting egalitarian-looking pictures, but by making change happen right where we are.
Let’s put down the glue and scissors, stop waiting for change, and instead come together and make change happen.