“Faith Without Works Is Dead”

The title of today’s blog post is lifted directly from 12-step literature. But the rest of the post is my response to Mark Manson’s recent post entitled The Staggering Bullshit of “The Secret”. You can read the full post on his blog (http://markmanson.net/the-secret).

In essence, his post says in a 15 minute read what the 12-step literature says in a short sentence. It is ridiculous to think that just by sitting on your couch and thinking happy clappy thoughts that all your most awesome dreams will magically be delivered direct to your doorstep. And, I totally agree. But, I don’t see a need to bash the faith part of the deal… and there is certainly no downside to taking on a practice of choosing to consciously focus on the good stuff and direct one’s thoughts toward positive desired outcomes.

Manson goes on to denigrate the concept of The Secret by pointing to its scientific bare bones skeleton name of “confirmation bias” and making it seem somehow wrong for people to leverage the concept to one’s advantage. That’s what we humans do… leverage ideas, tools, concepts… to our advantage and in a more grand way leverage to the advantage of others as well. I notice that Manson seems to look at the way The Secret is worded through a lens of attack. For instance, he claims that The Secret “tells you to become delusionally positive” until the confirmation bias kicks in. Delusional has a negative connotation and is defined as having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions. The word is commonly associated with “crazy”. He then follows with granting that the positive delusion that The Secret suggests might have some value “for people who have some pretty fucked up and delusional negative beliefs about themselves”. I would propose that given the widespread lack of emotional education, ignorance, and dearth of compassion that has plagued humanity for as long back as recorded history, that quite a lot of us have some pretty fucked up and negative beliefs about ourselves.

Then, Manson interprets The Secret as a mandatory lock into fear-based perfectionism. He writes that The Secret, “requires that you never doubt yourself, never consider negative repercussions, and never indulge in negative thoughts.” Really? Requires? The backup quote he inserts in the footnote is as follows:

As Byrne puts it, “When you allow a thought of doubt to enter your mind, the law of attraction will soon line up one doubtful thought after another. The moment a thought of doubt comes, release it immediately.” (p. 89)

One could take Byrne’s instructions as a prod of fear (required hyper-vigilance of all negative thoughts… or doom will befall!) or as an invitation to step up one’s introspective game and commit to a practice of growing more conscious about one’s choices and focus.

He even gives ridiculous examples to prove that The Secret’s confirmation-bias-with-good-intentions strategy is dangerous. The example is too full of specifics and individual ego rather than positive focus to align with The Universe. He makes it seem as if The Secret condones people forcing their specific agenda on the world and/or being an excuse to overlook real issues and deal breakers. His examples remind me of the difference between the pure theory of communism and the ridiculous and dangerous ways those in power have tried to force feed it to the masses and in the very act of the forced feeding automatically pervert actual communism into fascism. I must conclude that with regard to The Secret, Manson just doesn’t get it. Take his assumption that choosing a practice of positive focus equates to the binary of repressing anything negative. In my experience, The Secret does not encourage repression. Repression takes up too much energy and The Secret encourages using as much energy as possible toward the positive practices of meditation, visualization, and making emotions a choice and not something we are victims of. Unpleasant thoughts and emotions can be useful. The Secret merely suggests that we not dwell on that unpleasantness… sort of the misery loves company theory. Like attracting like, and all that, wouldn’t you rather increase odds of experiencing more pleasantness?

Later in the article, Manson goes on to assert that “when taken to its logical extreme, it [The Secret] encourages you to always be wanting something, to never be content.” In my experience working with people, a flag goes up when I notice extreme words such as “always” and “never”. Extreme words are usually indicators of emotional activation and are often used by children in upset. The Secret’s invitation is logical in that we are living creatures and it is in our nature to want. Wanting does not necessarily indicate a lack of contentment. I take a page from the Buddhist teachings that attaching to what we want leads to suffering which trumps contentment. In my experience, The Secret encourages mindful attendance to what we want but not stubborn, intractable attachment. If from childhood, I notice that when asked what I want to be when I grow up I happily respond “a doctor” again and again over the years, reinforcing that with researching medical schools and various options within the field, seeking out friends and mentors who practice medicine, and happily daydreaming of my future as a doctor, chances increase for me to notice and manifest opportunities and tools to drive more action toward my desired outcome. Maybe I wanted to be a brain surgeon originally… but then as I learn more about myself and the requirements, my vision might crystallize more toward family medicine or pediatrics… Proponents of The Secret encourage flexibility as opposed to rigidity. My job is to notice what I want, focus my positive thoughts and feelings in that direction, and then notice how things might change along the way and let that be okay too.

Okay, so then we get to the part I agree with – action. The Secret and its premise The Law of Attraction do not encourage inaction. There is nothing that says stay put and wait for sunshine and unicorns and rainbows to be bestowed upon your intently meditative self. It merely suggests that we are all capable of choosing our focus. There is no guarantee that we won’t be stuck in lines at the store or post office, that we will never encounter stop and go traffic, road ragers, stomach aches, spilt milk, breakups, or burnt bridges. The Secret merely offers an alternative to letting all that normal bumpy stuff make us even more crabby and upset, pessimistic, and depressed.

It’s not a delusion to choose to see silver linings, to choose to focus on people and things and situations that feel pleasant. It’s a type of empowerment, of self mastery to practice accepting what is in the moment and CHOOSING to not let it mean more than what it is in the moment.

Viktor Frankl. Look him up. He wrote Man’s Search For Meaning. He was in a concentration camp during WWII. Atrocities, lack, fear, violence, oppression, the very real specter of death constantly hovering… HE chose to focus elsewhere and to guide his emotional world toward living beyond what he obviously had to accept in each moment he was interred. AND, he took whatever actions he had to take toward manifesting his life after surviving the war.

I’ll end with a few of my favorite quotes from Frankl as I see him as a person who embodied the very nugget of truth found in The Secret.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“A human being is a deciding being.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

What do YOU think?

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