Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

The Law of Distraction

Posted by jembendell on August 10, 2007

Heard about the Secret? I watched the DVD at a meeting of a ‘book club’ in Geneva. After an hour I started to get a bit uncomfortable… and as others got excited about it, I wondered how much of a party pooper I was going to be. Something just felt really wrong about this DVD… especially so given that it featured brilliant people like Michael Beckwith saying some great things, but weaving it all together in the most selfish and compassion-free worldview possible.

The film has became a publishing phenomenon — helped by being featured on two episodes of Oprah, I guess. And the use of Da Vinci Code style branding. It reached number one on the Amazon DVD chart in March 2007. A book version, also called The Secret reached number one on The New York Times bestseller list. For much of February through April both the book and DVD versions were #1 or #2 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

I thought ‘The Secret’ was a commercialised and hocus-pocus repackaging of the simple fact that we see things as much as we are as they ‘actually’ are. This has never been a secret. “We see things as we are not as they are” is in the extremely non-secret Jewish Talmud.

The implications of this are taken much further than ‘the law of attraction’ does, in Buddha’s teachings about peace and happiness arising from our transcending the need to bring anything into one’s life at all, because flow and change is inherent in all reality, and so suffering comes from becoming attached to things that will inevitably flow away. Another dimension to Buddha’s teachings are that things are ultimately one. The ‘law of attraction’ as presented in that film doesn’t approach this properly, being stuck in the selfish separative ego mind of the individual that wishes to receive more and more from the outside world for their own purposes. Indeed this hyper-egoism is illustrated by the idea that everything in the world happens because of us… i.e. we think good things, we get them, we think bad things, we get them.

Both Buddhism and ‘law of attraction’ approaches can fall into spiritual solipsism… meaning that we think that our own state of happiness means that the world outside our minds is doing fine, or is irrelevant. When spiritual teachers sometimes imply that we should ignore the negative, like famine and war, they are focusing on a separative view of humans. It is another thing to focus on why we don’t like famine and war, and frame our concern as an aspiration for what we do want. But that still means that the pain of reality at odds with your aspiration is still present. The goal is then for a sense of peace to persist while one is engaged in what is an often painful world. We need spirit in the world, the messy troubling reality of the world, not spirit found away from the world, on top of a mountain, in a corporate self-help course, or in front of a DVD.

Faced with problems we might unfortunately move from denial to despair. Neither is positive. However, we need to move from denial to action. For those who are not able to make the choice to act on problems facing humanity, it can be easier to block these out, and to chose to believe that this blocking out of others pain is somehow ‘right’ in some spiritual way… for instance by suggesting that we will even make more hunger occur by focusing on it! Nuts.

That is the real danger of the ‘law of attraction’ stuff – it offers a way of removing ones subconscious sense of guilt for turning ones back on the world and focusing on ones mental peace. In this sense the message of The Secret almost appears as the ultimate temptation – called ‘the devil’ in some cultures. So perhaps it highlights a ‘law of distraction’ – that people seek to distract themselves from their fundamental unity with everything and the inevitable passing of every pattern they identify with, including their own lives.

Don’t bother buying it. Use peekvid.com or somesuch to check it out. If you want to buy a DVD combining spiritual wisdom and the latest science, I’d recommend “What the Bleep do we know”… a bit cringy, but worth those moments of grimacing. see: http://www.whatthebleep.com

These vids might indicate a trend… spiritual tv. Which makes me wonder… I live in Geneva, the Rome of the Reformation. We host one of the first English language bibles ever, next to the church I can see from my window. It was the printing press that made the Reformation possible… it meant the translations could be shared around Europe rapidly and cheaply. The internet is as important a communications leap as the printing press. So…. the conditions are right for a spiritual renaissance, a transformation of assumptions concerning our place in the universe. I’m quite excited.

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The Secret was well produced and wonderfully marketed. And the exposure it gave its producer Rhonda Byrne, helped us to see just how nutty and superficial her view is. In an article on how to lose weight, she wrote: “If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17317691/site/newsweek/page/2/. Yeah, fat boy, get out of my face, you’re expanding my waist!

That article came out the same week Newsweek ran a story on climate change being a hoax. If only by forgetting about climate change it would go away. If only. Sadly it won’t. And, sadly, neither will The Secret, or Rhonda or her secret-suckers if I just ignore them. But it’s tempting…

Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_(2006_film) for more on the saga of the Secret.

 

There’s alrady a whole industry out there in helping people apply this stuff. For starters, there’s the “6 Week Extreme Life Makeover” e-book that aims to “Flood Your Life With Riches, Fulfill All Of Your Hearts Desires, And Start Living The Life Of Your Dreams – In Just 6 Weeks!”, closer followed by the Revolutioniz” which says its “The Most Complete Resource On The Law Of Attraction And Reality Creation” and the more sober sounding “Reality Creation Secrets” which provides the “Most Powerful Knowledge In The World About How To Create The Perfect Reality You Desire And Manifest Super Riches, Total Freedom And Extreme Happiness!” Nice. Perhaps they’re even more nutty than the Secret. If you check one out, let me know.

5 Responses to “The Law of Distraction”

  1. Jay said

    I believe the minute we seek “self-help” material we fail to truly help ourselves… but for the un-initiated – I understand that education, in fact “any” education applied to yourself is a good thing – it means that an awareness is creeping in. It is the sustainability of it that is the trick. Don’t quote me on my quote but apparently Ghandi said “if the cause is right – the means will come”. If the cause then is selfish – the means many not come… I believe Spiritual awareness is your connections to people, places and things… I am overjoyed at the prospects of Planetism creeping into our awareness because it will create connections and spiritual awareness that is as unique as I am – and you are – and they are… thanks for the blog spot… nice to know there is someone else out there🙂

  2. Leo said

    Thanks Jem. Interesting and thought provoking. I have had the book unopened for about a month now and superficially I picked up on the ‘well marketed’ nature of it and the DVD which has put me off actually looking into it. I will now look into it partly to learn what there is to learn form it and yet moreso to learn more about the aspect of the commercialisation of the spirituality and the growing marketing of pretty much anything in the world. And that trend could not be more poignant than in the marketing of spirituality… What an irony and maybe even a very valid indicator of just how warped things can get. Philosophers have long debated about whether there is a ‘real world’ that is distinctly seperate from the world as it appears to each and every one of us as an ‘occuring world’. I am sure now is the time when we have a synchronising of scientific, spiritual, religious, political, economical and so many other ‘professions’ all looking at this through eyes that only they can have, and the sharing of these views allows those of us who care to look a unique multi-faceted perspective, incresaingly wholistic view of just what is occuring in our world!

    On your point about ‘what we see is what/who we are’ and this concept of the ‘law of attraction’. Well I have not before heard of this law of attraction other than the underlying law that ‘we see what we are looking for’. In practical terms (dare I call this reality) ‘we’ certainly all are united and unified and therefore any view other than this is IN FACT an illusion. I cannot win if you lose… years of cheap oil, underpriced goods etc. for the few is now being paid for by the many.

    The early European powers ‘get rich quick schemes’ (scams?) of turning our forests into boats to go out reaping and pillaging the ‘free world’, enslaving other people to power our growth, killing off our wild animals to protect our ‘civilisations’… All these practices now are taboo for less developed civilisations to follow. Ans so what are they to do? And more to the point what with? The few ‘rich/powerful’ get the goods and the rest pay for them. Sounds like a scam, as maybe the real secret is that this view is also a scam as we all suffer rich or poor if civilisations collapse in our future in the same way as they have done in mankinds past then it looks like the game is over for all the players…

    For me this is all part of what you are exploring and thanks for doing it – very thought provoking, great work and good effort!

  3. jem said

    Thanks Leo. I recommend the book “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight” if you are looking to enhance your ability to connect solutions to the current climate crisis to ancient wisdoms and some problems of “modernity”. Info is at http://www.thomhartmann.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=197&Itemid=91

  4. Joshua said

    I like the perspective in this post. I do, in fact, listen to “The Secret” almost everyday because I truly have seen how focusing my thoughts and taking action has made profound changes in my life. I use it more of a tool to motivate myself to act upon the things I desire, and I don’t believe them to be totally selfish, and I don’t think they will come to me through magic or without effort or at least some orientation toward being open to receive them.

    Also, I’d like to point out that the book instructs “What you resist persists.” So, we too have to accept the current circumstances and be reflective of the actions taken and the choices made that brought about or brought us into them and resulted in our current state, be it “good” or “bad” — again a subjective perception.

    What I think The Secret does a great job of teaching is GRATITUDE. It’s when we start to appreciate what we have that we can more easily act to bring more happiness into our lives and into the lives of other just by our very mood and countenance.

    While I understand the book and DVD were highly commercialized, an aware, educated, and analytical mind can leverage the teachings in combination with other bodies of knowledge about self-development, -esteem, and -actualization to live a better life. For someone who might feel they have no options, a glimpse into something like The Secret might restore faith and hope. I feel like that’s an excellent place to start, as long as it breeds openness and honesty with ourselves and with others.

  5. Ferinannnd said

    Спасибо за статью оказалась очень полезной.

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