In 2006, a DVD called The Secret was released. The DVD, which later spawned a book of the same name, purported to reveal the “law of attraction,” a so-called secret teaching that had been handed down through the ages. This secret, which has attracted the interest of Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and millions of others, claims that there is a “universal intelligence” that will manifest our desires. In other words, our thoughts can create real world events.
The idea that God is a genie ready to respond to our whims is all at once seductive, juvenile, and almost immediately falsifiable. If you doubt the latter, buy a lottery ticket tonight, and see how far “the secret” will get you.
In Disneyland, from 1957 until 1993, there was a ride called the Motor Boat Cruise. You piloted a boat down a waterway. You never hit the rocks or other obstacles because you were not really steering. Sooner or later on the ride you made a wrong, even dangerous, turn; but the boat kept going in the right direction. Nonetheless, it would take children quite a while to realize that they were not steering.
Wayne Liquorman uses this ride as a metaphor for our lives. He asks,
Now, is it not extraordinary, that through this whole process, it never occurs to you, the thought never enters your mind, that this wheel isn’t connected to anything? Despite all the evidence to the contrary! You look at your life, all your intentions, all of the times that you were absolutely certain of what it was that you wanted to do. And then you worked so hard and diligently to do them. And your life went that way. Time and time again, your best efforts did not yield the desired results. And yet you say, “I’m the master of my destiny. I choose what I want to do.” But your wheel isn’t connected to anything! And yet you don’t see it! How is this possible?
I would like to take a stab at answering Wayne’s question, “How is this possible?” Chances are that most readers of this blog have a standard of living that is higher than most people who have ever lived on this planet. More often than not, things have gone reasonably well in our lives. And, as the boat ride story illustrates, it is natural to assume that this is the result of our efforts to control the world and prevent the myriad of unfavorable outcomes that are possible.
The ancients believed that the earth was the center of the universe. We laugh at them and then turn around and place our ego at the center. Desires to control our environment and events are somewhat shared by almost every ego. Let us be glad that reality is not controlled by our egos.
The runaway success of The Secret is predicated on the idea that we understand our own best interests. This idea is clearly absurd when looked at by any perspective other than our ego. To be sure, our ego has its particular view of what our best interests are. But at the top of the ego’s list is the desire that it be perpetuated. The ego wants to make sure that we will never take a good look inside and see that in each of us is another voice that we can listen too. That voice is not dominated by the ego’s petty aims and desires. That voice does not believe that happiness can be achieved by a new car or bigger house. That voice does not believe that God is a genie who will reward us for thinking “good” thoughts.
If you look back with honesty over your life, you can recall many events that—although when they occurred they seemed to be unfortunate—worked in your interest. Similarly, events that at the time they occurred seemed wonderful to you led to unfortunate outcomes further down the road.
Let me suggest an alternative to “The Secret”—become more spiritually receptive. This receptivity begins with interest, not in getting more of what our ego wants, but interest in being the highest expression of who we truly are.
To that end, George Barnard Shaw offered sound advice:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.