*Larita Kutsarita - n. see THE AUTHOR
*Spoonfuls - n. articles/dispatches/scribbles by Larita Kutsarita
(Background photo by Aiess Alonso)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Secret: The Do-It-Yourself Guide on How to be God (book review)

The following is a review that I wrote on the phenomenal "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne (in upper photo). I'd like to extend my thanks to Ate Nikki, my roommate, who lent me her copy. ^^

The Law of Attraction. This is the not-so-secret essence of the self-help book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Although, technically, she didn’t write it all, as she quoted extensively almost every best-selling self-help author/financial guru—and in her words—“avatar” alive (some have already passed away, though). Aside from quotations and repetitive teachings on “thinking out one’s reality” as declared by a handful of self-help authority (think Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul and John Gray of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus fame), there are also testimonials sent out by The Secret “practitioners” who would’ve probably bet their lives on its effectiveness.

Well, I guess everyone’s got a “The Secret moment.” For instance, I first came across the Law of Attraction in U. P. Los Baños where I went in my first year. It was late February and I was attending to some very important papers for my transfer to U. P. Diliman. The office buildings back there are ridiculously built kilometers (I swear) apart from one another, and it was already afternoon, and I was DRAINED, man. All of a sudden, though, I met a friend along the way—a brother, actually, as he had been part of a religious community I once joined in. He was chuckling because I told him it was my first time to walk along the Engineering departments since I sort of got lost in my building-hopping [mis]adventure and I was a true-blue Humanities kid. He asked me what my errand was all about. Strangely, because of this meeting by chance, he was one of the first to know about my plan to move schools—despite the fact that we weren’t really as tight as Piglet and Pooh—and I appreciate the fact that he was really supportive. I was careful not to share too much with anyone, see, lest it migh not push through--this mentality being just another product of, y'know, the common Pinoy saying, "baka maudlot." I never regretted spilling it out to him, though. I remember him recounting a professor’s lesson in which he mentioned about the Law of Attraction, how all that you want can be attracted by your thoughts, and that everything is connected by this law, this force. After this little story, he then parted with some words of advice on how I could move to UPD if I believed hard enough and if I just put my heart on it. Up to now, I still remember the exact date of that fateful day. I'd never become that optimistic about a huge choice that I had to make in life. In fact, I sent my application for transfer thru LBC that very afternoon.

I don’t remember having consciously used the Law of Attraction to my advantage, but here I am, currently in my third year in the College of Arts and Letters in U. P. Diliman. If I get lucky--no, if I study my a** off, I'll be able to graduate next year, and "hello, world!" it is for me. In secondary school, I listed B. A. Speech Communication as my primary choice. I did not make it because I flunked Math in the UPCAT. The only reason they allowed me to enroll in UPLB was my test scores in English and Comprehensive Reading, or so I was told. However, my mind was set on SpeechCom so intensely that I vowed to run after it no matter what. To borrow a line from a nice little indie, it was "SpeechCom or NOTHING!" I was pretty happy in Elbi--no, extremely happy, in fact--but I knew that I had to pursue my calling in Speech Communication (naks!).

Even before UPCAT, I was certain I’ve always wanted to be a UP student eversince I made the UP banner my mobile phone’s wallpaper when I was in third year high (damn right, "feeling talaga!"). Mama also confirms that the first color I was able to spell that exceeded four letters was M-A-R-O-O-N and I was, like, four or five then (Awc'mon! Don't you think it's a rather startling coincidence?! LOL). So, I not being aware of the Law of Attraction in the past, is it still responsible for my being a UP Speech Major now?

To be completely honest, I am not a fan of self-help books. After reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, I just decided not have a shot at self-help anymore. From the first chapters through the middle pages, I really thought that my life was about to make a 180-degree turn (I think the book intentionally meant to make its readers feel that way). I was incredibly inspired by what I’d been reading that I even asked my parents for a Bible so that I could study it more closely, and I almost read the entire Old testament, including Numbers--and that was a pretty hard book to get by...whoa! Talk about inspiration, eh? Then came the last few pages wherein Warren already sounded like some sort of recruiter. Being a Catholic just didn’t appear to be quite enough for one to find his/her purpose. It seemed to say, “Do good, and you’ll find bliss. However, for maximum results, go and be reborn.” Of course, everything was like a euphemism that should lead you to conversion. It felt like being Born Again Christian was the purpose, as if it really were the key to finding God—the entity of which is supposedly everyone’s purpose, no matter what kind of dream he/she may want to pursue. Then again, every religion/sect seems to claim that its god is the real God, so I was disappointed that Warren should be so biased with his own religious beliefs—just like any other evangelist—when I thought that finding and living out one’s life purpose was the business of everybody and not just a select few, i. e. Born Again Christians. What was worse was learning that The Purpose Driven Life was a huge franchise including daily devotionals, newsletters via snail and electronic mail, bookmarkers, greeting cards, and the whole shebang. I just could not help but feel bad that they’re making money out of virtually everything. I mean, I’ve always believed that the Ultimate Truth—whether it is finding out your own purpose, or uncovering the Secret, or meeting your one, true soulmate, or finding your G-spot for that matter—should come for free.

This has since been my problem about self-help sources: they are overly commercialized. They are little puking cash machines. I can totally understand if J. K. Rowling, Paulo Coelho, Joyce Carol Oates, and even Nicholas Sparks (although I personally think that his works are a bit too weepy) or Dan Brown (highly far-fetched conspiracies) get to be top-selling names. At least people still have the taste and time for literature (I don’t like the Dan Brown part very much, though), which, I believe, needs a lot of nurturing this day and age of the Internet. My only worry is that self-help books, especially those that promise wealth and success—and all other euphemisms for “money,” actually—are the ones which are stripping shelves naked, making their way into the society’s coffee tables, bedside tables, study tables, and libraries both private and public. It is somewhat saddening that most people only care about getting rich. And with what? The green stuff (the blue, in our case)…bread…moolah…mucho dinero. Whatever happened to being rich with relationships and “living, loving, learning” (Leo Buscaglia)? And even if the focus weren’t so much on “money making the world go round,” it’d have to be about dating, i. e. dividing the world into Mars and Venus or being bitches because men seem love 'em (Why Men Marry Bitches by I-forgot-who). And all these--because they have to sell like hotcakes, or more accurately these days, like those overrated, disposable jelly shoes—whatever the subject matter, lead to money, money, money, and more money. The elders were right: it’s not like you can bring it along with you to heaven.

Speaking of heaven, Byrne did not mention the afterlife in her record-breaking book. Neither was there any mention of sin and the evils of the world nor death. According to Byrne and the 29 co-contributors/avatars/teachers of the Law of Attraction, everything in the “Universe”—which has always been capitalized and usually synonymous for "God"—vibrates on a particular frequency. The only time you’ll ever receive wealth is when you think in harmony with the frequency of something, that is, to think only of wealth. You’ll have to attract it to you, whereas, if you think about your debt, you will receive nothing but debt. You attract what you think about. It is your thoughts that will have to determine your destiny. Donald Whitney, prominent spiritual conference speaker and writer, wrote:

In the final analysis, The Secret is nothing more than Name It-Claim It, Positive-Confession, Prosperity Theology (without God and the Bible), built on a foundation of New Age self-deification. In other words, the book is just another version of what some TV preachers have taught for decades, namely, if you will sustain the right thoughts, words, and feelings, you will receive whatever you want. But The Secret adds this important twist: your thoughts can bring anything into your life because you are god (emphasis mine).

This, in fact, is no exaggeration, as Byrne proclaims:

You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet (p. 164).

If it is not Megalomania that this book is teaching, then I do not know what it’s called. Nevertheless, there is a brief chapter on The Secret and relationships. Of course, it still talks about bringing about the perfect romantic partner by thinking that he/she is already practically yours. Here comes the creepy part: Mike Dooley, one of the teachers featured, had a story to tell. It was of a woman who wanted to attract the man of her dreams. She did everything right. She got clear about the traits, both physical and on the inside, and visualized him in her life. Despite all these efforts, her prince charming wasn’t showing any sign of existence. And then one day, fresh from work, she was parking her car in the middle of the garage, and she just gasped all of a sudden. You see, she realized that if her car were in the middle all the time, then there wouldn’t be any room left for her partner’s car. So she immediately changed her position and began parking on one side. She also changed the rest of the setup in her house. She made room for her partner in her closet and she started sleeping on only one side of the bed. And when she met up with Mr. Dooley for dinner, she even had an extra seat for her imaginary—no, “visualized” partner. Dooley claims that this woman is currently happily married with a real, tangible man, thanks to—tadah! The Secret. This, to me, is the most disturbing part of the book. Dooley has somehow narrated some events from the life of a schizophrenic, and yet, they call it a miracle brought about by quantum physics (since they claim that the Law of Attraction is very much in the field of quantum physics and other impressive-sounding sciences).

There is one thing that I like about this chapter, though. The Secret stresses that “one’s job is oneself.” Lisa Nichols says that “inside relationships, it’s important to first understand who’s coming into the relationship, and not just your partner. You need to understand yourself first (qtd. in Byrne, p. 117).” James Ray, another teacher, verifies this by posing a few questions: “How can you ever expect anyone else to enjoy your company if you don’t enjoy your own company? And so again, the law of attraction or The Secret is about bringing that into your life….Here’s the question I would ask you to consider: Do you treat yourself the way you want other people to treat you? (qtd. in Byrne, p. 117)” Love and respect. Those two inseparable elements must be present in our relationships with ourselves. Prentice Mulford has also put it ever so nicely:

Undoubtedly to some, the idea of giving so much love to self will seem very cold, hard, and unmerciful. Still this matter may be seen in a different light, when we find that “looking out for Number One,” as directed by the Infinite, is really looking out for Number Two and is indeed the only way to permanently benefit from Number Two (qtd. in Byrne, p. 119).

Unless we fill ourselves up first, we have nothing to give anybody. Byrne says that we must “attend to our joys first” (p. 119). Then again, there’s a part that’s hard to stomach:

Many people have sacrificed themselves for others, thinking when they sacrifice themselves they are being a good person. Wrong! To sacrifice yourself can only come from thoughts of absolute lack, because it is saying, “There is not enough for everyone, so I will go without.” Those feelings do not feel good and will eventually lead to resentment. There is abundance for everybody and it is each person’s responsibility to summon their own desires. You cannot summon for another person because you cannot think and feel for another. Your job is You. When you make feeling good a priority, that magnificent frequency will radiate and touch everyone close to you (Byrne, p. 118).

This I cannot seem to accept because I firmly believe that love, more than anything else, is sacrifice. If one does not know how it feels to sacrifice, then I doubt that he/she knows about loving at all. The Secret also emphasizes that the Universe is infinite, that there is no such thing as “lack.” So how do they explain people below poverty line? Are they incredibly negative about their lives that they’ve become as miserable as they are? Is it really all their fault? I know rich people who can’t even appreciate a good thing when they’ve got it.

On a lighter note, though, Byrne did mention something about making relationships work. She says that in order for you to do this, you must focus on what you appreciate about the other person, and not your complaints about him/her. Because it is only when your focus is on the strengths that more of them will come to you. However, other than these, Byrne does not mention anything else on how to deal with people. All the book talks about is how to have this, have that, and how to be whoever you want to be. It is too “self-help” if you know what I mean. Almost everything is self-ward, which isn’t really surprising since The Secret even discourages all thoughts that emanate from the outside world. Instead, it teaches that one considers oneself as the Universe itself, and that foci on things other than the self will not bring anyone happiness. For example, if one has cancer, The Secret blames him/her for having brought the disease unto him/herself. The book stands by its conviction that we are a product of our own thoughts. Everything negative that happens to us is a result of all the negativity in our minds which is apparently the same negativity that we summon from the Universe. What’s even more dreadful is the fact that some fans have so devoted themselves to The Secret that those who were diagnosed with serious illnesses have refused medication because they believe that positive thinking will have to cure them eventually. Talk about being SICK! Oprah Winfrey—ironically one of the reasons the book became a household name in the first place, after having it aired on her show which is basically every woman’s TV bible—once urged a guest to seek medical attention for cancer by saying, "The Secret is merely a tool; it is not treatment (emphasis mine).” Alas, even its once stark—and probably most influential—supporter now knows that there really are limits to The Secret. It isn’t as pervasive and an almighty law as what Byrne and 29 other New Age thinkers might have claimed after all.

Karin Klein, editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, called The Secret "just a new spin on the very old (and decidedly not secret) The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) wedded to the ‘ask and you shall receive’” kind of mentality. The editorial, in one of its strongest criticisms, asserted that Byrne "took the well-worn ideas of some self-help gurus, customized them for the profoundly lazy, [and] gave them a veneer of mysticism” (qtd. in Wikipedia). Tony Riazzi, columnist for the Dayton Daily News, also questions the phenomenal book. "The Secret's ideas are nothing more than common sense. Take out the buzzwords and pseudo-religious nonsense about what you 'manifest' for yourself, ignore the vague prose and you get the message that thinking positively serves you better than thinking negatively," says Riazzi (qtd. in Wikipedia).

Moreover, James Ray, one of the teachers featured in The Secret was interviewed by Harry Smith on The Early Show (CBS) in an episode that was aired on March 1, 2007:

Smith: If I get this straight, the secret of The Secret is, "ask—believe—receive." Is it as simple as that?

Ray: Well, that's one of the author's interpretations. I believe that you have to think, feel, and act...(qtd. in Wikipedia).

I guess James Ray pretty much summed it up for us and even for Byrne herself.

Thing is, one cannot possibly live in this world and turn a blind eye to all the negativity, i. e. poverty, racism, global warming, war, and what have you--also known as REALITY. This place is indeed filled with madness, but I believe that it is because of this dark side that we still know what is good, what is bright, and what is beautiful. This knowledge enables us to appreciate the good stuff, and that’s where love comes in. If I were to be asked, the hippies of the late 60’s are still right: All we need is LOVE. We do not need to proclaim ourselves God. Sure, we chart our own destinies and much of our lives depends on our own hands—not etched lines on palms, but actions…deeds…initiative. However, life has taught me the hard way that not everything is within our control. I have been humbled many times before and have since realized that my say does not really matter in all the things that happen to me and to the ones I love. Maybe the mind really is a powerful thing, but to shun the concept of suffering if only to make yourself believe that you are as powerful as God and that the world—the Universe, even—is some cosmos built in your brain, would be to defeat the purpose of being human. It is not every time that you can put on a genuine smile on your face. Because once conflict is obliterated for the benefit of HARDCORE POSITIVE THINKING, then I am afraid that The Secret is proposing a world of no interpersonal communication at all. To focus all of your energy unto yourself and yourself alone, without the slightest pain to spare for others would be to isolate yourself from the world to live in your own little corner where you can be eternally happy playing God...and come off as some retarded bloke in the process.

Frankly, The Secret is like “Building Your Own Planet for Dummies.” It is not even Utopic in a sense that it betrays the entire notion of an ideal unified society. It is narcissistic, materialistic, and utterly megalomaniac thinking. “Egotistical” is a term that does not even quite touch upon it. I honestly do not understand how anyone could've taken this book seriously. Then again, the number of sales that it’s made—which is fast surpassing that of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, last I heard—may be explained by the marketing and packaging of the product which, I must note, is not only a book but a documentary on DVD as well as a limited pay-per-view video on the net, not to mention a whole package of The Secret: Extended Edition and The Secret: Gratitude that may come along with the first book for an extra amount of charges, of course. The Secret has also been promoting itself as “The Secret to everything—the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted” without even saying what it really is all about. Imagine how much of the public imagination and curiosity they have spurred. It’s an incredibly deceptive way of introducing “a most important secret” to the world. It's even reminiscent of cheap, commonplace sales talks ("But Wait! There's MORE! Call ***-**** and you'll get **** for fu**ing FREE! CALL NOW!"). And The Secret has, in fact, been widely criticized for being a mere infomercial. It's poor literature, really. It’s like the Da Vinci Code and Donald Trump in one. I would never rely on it to save my own relationships, thank you. I believe I have been dwelling on myself far too long now for me to even consider to be more “self-ward.” If you want to have good relations with other people, then by all means start from within, but know how it is to love and sacrifice for them, for it is only when you do that you realize their value. If there is one secret that the world deserves to know, it is love. And they don’t even have to buy a pricey book that comes with a DVD and the rest of the self-help caboodle just to gain from it.

Albert Einstein, one of those who believed in the Law of Attraction, as claimed by Byrne, of course, once said that “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.” Oh, and this wasn’t quoted in The Secret, by the way.

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