Updated: Jul 14, 2019
“Jim, what do you think of ‘The Secret,’ and the power of our desires to achieve happiness?”
It’s often the case that religion creates dysfunction in people by telling them that their feelings and desires are unreliable, dangerous, selfish, and sinful, and should be mistrusted and denied. This is why people coming out of religion are often compelled by what they discover in “New Age” teachings. Of course by now, “New Age” is not much different a term than “Christianity” in that the definition depends on who you’re talking to. And predictably, some corners of Christianity demonize anything that could be classified as “New Age.” Nonetheless, one reason why people are drawn to New Age themes and teachings is because they view our feelings and desires as a good, central, reliable, and powerful aspect of our spiritual and life journey. This is but one of many aspects of the “New Age Movement” that I appreciate.
There is great wisdom in what is often referred to as the “law of attraction.” You could also refer to it as the law of “sowing and reaping.” What I like about this is the way it encourages personal responsibility for one’s experience of life. Rather than approaching life passively or through a victim mentality, New Age teachings invite people to shift their understanding of themselves in relationship to life, namely to see themselves as the creators of their life.
I believe it is true that how we approach life determines our experience of life. In any given moment for all of us, life is simply just what’s happening. How you see it, take it, understand it, interpret it, and respond to it determines your experience of life. Two people could be faced with an identical set of circumstances, but their experience of it will be different. Thinking of the law of attraction or the law of sowing and reaping, I think it is self-evident that if you have a fear-based mentality, this will negatively affect the quality and dynamics of your life. Or if you are a compassionate person, this will positively affect your experience of life. A hate-filled person will experience life differently than a love-filled person.
I watched the film, The Secret, and felt there were many insightful understandings to be taken from it. What concerned me about it was the way it seemed to apply the concept of the law of attraction in materialistic terms. My concern was twofold:
(1) It implied that if anyone desires something strongly enough they can and will have it. This has a familiar religious undertone: “If you had enough faith….” Therefore, if you desire something and you’re not getting it then you must be the problem – you’re not trying hard enough. This mentality resembles the formulaic and magical thinking of religion - you do this, God does that.
(2) It concerns me also that the film implies that true happiness is measured by or based upon material things, ego pursuits or personal circumstances – having the nice car, the big house, financial and professional success, etc. A deep truth is that you find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by discovering and actualizing who you are at the deepest level. Both religion and the law of attraction can become a system people work in hopes of being "blessed" with better circumstances.
Even If your desires were powerful enough to draw to you everything you desired in the material and temporal world, it would not last because all such things are characterized by impermanence. A happiness that is based on circumstances or materialism is a conditional and fragile happiness. While it's true that life has a natural ebb and flow of ups and downs and peaks and values, a more solid, stable and sturdy wellbeing is based on elements such as virtue, love, altruism, the fulfillment of one's potential, and the development of one's body, mind and spirit. Within every human being is a self-actualizing tendency. At the root of our human personhood, we long to grow, evolve, deepen, and expand into the fullness of who we are. The process of self-actualization is rewarding and a source of deep meaning and fulfillment in life. Unlike fame or fortune, the net gains of this kind of personal growth are never lost.
In my view, our feelings and desires are a central part of what it means to be human and creating meaning for our lives on earth. But as true as that is, it is still the case that our happiness and well-being doesn’t require the control of or any particular set of circumstances.
Having said all that, I think one profound lesson one should take from The Secret is the understanding that putting actions to one’s intentions is a powerful tool for a person to create the life they want to live, and be the person they want to be. Most people are not aware of the power they posses, and I am grateful to the New Age movement for awakening many people to their personal power, and the possibilities available to a person as a result of this discovery.