The self-help industry that has grown up around the so-called Law of Attraction, popularized by Rhonda Byrne’s pop-psychology hit, The Secret, wants you to think that you can have everything you want with very little effort on your part. All you have to do, the theory goes, is ask the universe for what you want by thinking about it, and the universe will gladly oblige. The conventional critique of this pitch is that it forgets about the not-so-insignificant role of action in bringing about those results. Both the pitch and the conventional response are inadequate, for neither view helps us to really understand the remarkable process of human creativity in its entirety. And since life is short, we really can’t afford to spend any more time laboring under misapprehensions.
In this post, I want to be as realistic as possible about the problems you will encounter as you try to apply the Law of Attraction. We will look at real-world issues that don’t figure prominently within the glossy covers of masterfully-marketed information products. Hopefully, some of the points we address will resonate with you, and you’ll recognize something that has been holding you back.
Debunking the Debunkers
The conventional critics – the men of action, if you will – aren’t worth much time here, for they are not even willing to try New Age ideas, and simply dismiss them on their face. They seem particularly offended by the implication that, if things aren’t going well in your life, it is your own fault, an attitude they regard as tantamount to blaming the victim. It never seems to occur to them that being able to take responsibility for the conditions in your life empowers you to change them for the better, and that the only reason things aren’t good now is because you never understood how life worked. And how could you? No-one teaches New Age principles in elementary school; if anything, as children we are more likely to be brainwashed into believing all manner of religious nonsense that is even more absurd than anything ever presented by Rhonda Byrne and infinitely less useful. It might be more helpful to human enlightenment if the critics would focus their ire on the Catholic Church, an institution that does demonstrable harm around the world. To tar the New Age movement with the same brush – the one labeled “ignorant superstition” – is to admit that you can’t be bothered to look for answers within yourself or don’t think you would find any if you did. And that brings us to our first problem.
Introspection is Not an Option – It’s Required
We live in a world that prizes physical action, athletic prowess, and rampant materialism. Most of our energies, mental and physical, are directed toward interacting with the physical world in some way. Particularly in the West, our culture does not encourage quiet introspection or meditation; its attitude toward such inner pursuits could be summarized with the question, “What’s the point?” The point is that if you don’t look within, you will have absolutely no chance of understanding what’s happening “out there.”
While I have many problems with Rhonda Byrne’s book (as discussed in our separate review of The Secret) I have to give her grudging credit for at least getting people to wonder if their inner, mental activities might have something to do with the quality of their lives. The problem, however, is that working with beliefs, mental images, and emotions requires introspection, and some personality types are particularly loathe to do this. In fact, mastery of the human creative process requires a great deal of inner examination – a completely different way of living. You must constantly examine the contents of your mind and the events of your life in great detail, looking for possible patterns of causation. This is an incredibly difficult, often-frustrating, painstaking task. Practitioners of meditation techniques have a head start, but for most readers of The Secret, the necessary work does not come naturally and, unfortunately, will not get done. For all of those people, the Law of Attraction will continue to work, but they will not think so because they have no idea what, exactly, they are attracting. The rules work, but are you working the rules?
What Do You Want, Anyway?
One of the greatest defects of The Secret was its failure to require readers to engage in some serious thought about what it is that they really want out of life. The book just assumed that, if you think you want a BMW 750iL, you should concentrate on having one in your driveway. This superficial thinking no doubt contributed to the book’s commercial success; after all, people don’t want to be challenged and they like simple solutions. We will come to the “simplicity” of the solution in a moment, but we need to do a little challenging first.
When you realize that you create your own reality (and skimming a book does not equate to full realization), you realize next that you had better be careful about what you choose to create. And this, in turn, means asking yourself whether the things you think you want – certain possessions, a particular relationship, social status, etc. – are really going to make you happy. We’ve all heard stories of lottery winners who are miserable. You probably don’t need the same income as a hedge-fund manager to be happy; in fact, you might find that most of what you want already exists.
There is a saying posted on the wall of my hairdresser’s shop (admittedly not the sort of place where one would expect to find real pearls of wisdom) that says, “Happiness is not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.” This is important to bear in mind as you sally forth on your creative adventures, particularly when you get results that don’t seem – at first glance – to match up to your “requests.” Maybe the universe knows more than you’re giving it credit for; maybe it knows you better than you know yourself. In the introspection department, being honest with yourself about what you really want in life must be near the top of the list of priorities. Are you mature enough to do that?
The “Equivalency Problem”
The single greatest failure of The Secret was its over-simplification of the creative process. Readers were told they would get exactly what they asked for, and numerous anecdotes were sprinkled throughout the text to supposedly corroborate that expectation. So why, you might have wondered, after visualizing that BMW like you were told, don’t you have one?
Over many years, I have come to think about reality creation in a slightly different way from the textbook versions. In my experience, life makes it easier for you to think/feel/believe what you think/feel/believe. (Sorry about the slashes, but I can’t simplify it any further.) If you spend a lot of time looking at a picture of a car, life will make it easier for you to see that car. You might start noticing such vehicles more on the road. You’ll see it on television, or while surfing the web. It doesn’t have to be in your driveway for you to see it. That’s why visualization alone rarely produces the results you desire.
If you want to actually own that vehicle, then you must generate within yourself all the feelings that come with ownership. You must try the experience on in your mind – mentally rehearse it – and pretend it is real. This is difficult for two reasons: first, you’ve never had that experience before, so you don’t really know what it does feel like; and second, your conscious mind is screaming at you that you are being silly because you don’t have it. Feelings are immensely powerful, but infinitely complex and fickle. It is almost impossible to consistently generate the necessary feelings within yourself.
Furthermore, even if you do manage to do some good work internally, you must understand that all the other thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that are going on within you don’t just disappear at the flick of a switch. When you add a positive concentration to the existing mix, it is effectively diluted in your baseline mental “solution,” losing some of its force. So what often happens is that you see your life move a little bit in the desired direction, giving you a watered-down version of what you want, but falling (far) short of a full-blown success. I have long referred to this as the equivalency problem, and it has often been a source of frustration. But it is important to take heart from these semi-successful creations, because they prove that you can make a difference in the quality of your life. There is no turning back once this fact has sunk in.
Patience Is A Virtue
Here’s another major problem, especially in America (and even more especially for New Yorkers!). We want what we want and we want it now. Sorry, but that’s generally not possible. And if you stop to think about it, that might not be such a bad thing after all. For if life were so responsive to you that it gave you what you wanted immediately, it would also give you garbage immediately whenever your thinking is negative (which is more often than not). Unless you have mastered your thoughts to the same degree as the Buddha, you do not want life to be that responsive!
As a general rule, if you’re looking to effect long-term changes in your life, there will have to be a long-term change in your thinking beforehand. The recipe for successful manifestation includes intensity (of emotion and belief) and persistence. Of these two factors, intensity is by far the most important, but also – as we have already discussed – the most difficult. Unfortunately, you will most likely see intensity at work when you are intensely negative. Indeed, if I could have the critics of the New Age do one thing to test their viewpoint that thoughts and feelings do not affect their reality, I would have them indulge in some absolutely grisly emotions and see if they can get away with them. If they had the self-discipline and intellectual integrity to conduct such an experiment, a few of them might actually see the light. (But I won’t hold my breath.)
The Role of Action
Understanding how actions fit into this process is a breakthrough the critics will never make. It’s only going to make sense when you actually work with these concepts and observe accurately what follows. What you will see is that actions take care of themselves. Once again, this is a lesson that is easier to learn the hard way. When you set yourself up for disaster by engaging in profoundly negative expectations, you are likely to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, do something that upsets somebody else, or make a mistake that has serious consequences. And because of the brain’s innate tendency toward negativity – an unfortunate evolutionary hangover – there is a good chance that you will have multiple opportunities to observe this phenomenon at work. Of course, as we noted above, all of this observation requires a level of careful introspection that may be a new skill for you; you need to become something of a detective and develop a sixth sense for your own particular M.O.
(Refer to the earlier post on the human constitution for another way to think about this.)
Balancing “Fantasy” and Reality
In the quest to generate intensely positive emotions, the resistance of the conscious mind is a perennial handicap. Even if you understand the principle that you create your reality with your beliefs, and you have actually seen real-life examples, your conscious mind still pulls you back to the facts of your current situation. And we need to be forgiving about this, because that is its job. To be able to function in this world, you must be able to perform a myriad of tasks that require concentration and alertness in the here and now; living in a fantasy land would impair you in a profoundly dangerous way. What we are looking for, therefore, is a balance between present-moment competence and future-oriented belief modification.
In other words, there is a time and a place to work on your creation sessions. You may be able to do it “interstitially” and fit it in the mental gaps between various daily activities, but most of the time you will be better off allocating a distinct period when you will not be distracted or disturbed and can maximize your focus on the desired objective.
A Little Helping Hand….
Even in ideal situations, when we are sitting quietly by ourselves and are completely free to think whatever we want, the chatter of the conscious mind can be difficult to overcome. An excellent way to help yourself leave present-moment concerns is to listen to music – preferably instrumental so that you can hear yourself think. Well-chosen music can help you reach mental and emotional states of great power in a relatively short period of time.
Over the last few years, music itself has become more powerful than ever before. The new audio technology of brainwave entrainment uses specially-engineered, subsonic frequencies to coax your brain into altered states of consciousness. For belief modification, the states we wish to target are the Alpha and Theta frequencies in which the subconscious mind is more amenable to re-programming. Alternatively, for powerful concentration on a desired objective, the advanced Gamma state places the brain in an incredibly powerful, synergistic condition. Either way, the brain has been taken away from its normal, everyday state, which is characterized by Beta waves. It can come back later, but while we’re working, we want it to take a little breather….
Refer to our Home page for specific guidance on choosing the best meditation audio products for your needs.