Okay, I suppose it’s possible that the reason I am not as happy, rich, famous and world renowned as I could be is that I didn’t read “The Secret”, the blockbuster bestseller that proved the effectiveness of “The Law of Attraction” for one Rhonda Byne, the author who “magnetized” millions of happiness seekers as purchasers of her book and DVD, by first “giving intent” that Oprah Winfrey would do that thing she does, which is turn self help authors into overnight sensations, such being the “manifestation” power of the Big O.
On the other hand, I DID read a book that, from what I can tell, is nearly identical to it, which came out about ten years earlier than “The Secret”. That book was titled, “Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting!”, and it also sold quite well. In it, author Lynn Grabhorn makes the same points that Ms. Byne makes; essentially, everything we could ever desire, including, say, a European sports car right down to make, model and color, is there for the taking if we just feel strongly enough about having it. According to both books, the all important tool to use is “The Law of Attraction”, an aspect of this universe that simply can’t refuse us anything we want, provided we are so attuned with our desire for it that we have no doubts whatsoever about its arrival, and are able therefore to experience it as if we already have it; in other words, feel it into being.
Well, it seems pretty obvious that this “secret” doesn’t work as well as advertised, because if it did, we wouldn’t need to have these books pop up in stores every ten years or so, would we? And certainly, no one who bought Ms. Grabhorn’s book would have needed to buy the Byne one, right? But, you want to bet some did? Yet there is an even more glaringly obvious fact of life that makes it clear that there is more to fulfilling our desires than what the two books teach. That being, and correct me if I’m wrong about this, babies don’t simply dematerialize their restrainers and fly over to the toy they want to play with. I mean, babies? Certainly they don’t have the “negative mindset”, the “poverty consciousness” that messes up the smooth functioning of the Law of Attraction for us neurotic adults, do they? They just got here! If anybody knows how to “feel” strongly enough, it’s a baby. He sees that toy, and it’s the only thing in the room, in the universe, for him. His eyes light up, his hand reaches out, and then somehow, unfathomably, his hand fails to grasp the longed-for object. Hey, no problem for the baby. He’ll just make everything between him and the object disappear, grab the sucker, and then…..still doesn’t happen! Now it’s time for the poverty consciousness to kick in. The baby wails like life has no meaning, as he sits trapped in his high chair. Poor dear! What could have possibly gone wrong?
Well, it could mean that there IS no “law of attraction”. In the first place, calling it a “law”; what is that? Is that meant to make it sound like some scientifically demonstrable universal phenomenon like gravity? Was it called a “law” just because that makes it easier for self help gurus to deceive the gullible? On the other hand, it could also mean that there is some truth to be found there, that our life experiences do, in fact, tend to mirror our outlook on life, at least in certain ways, but that the authors have just overstated its power. We all know some glass half full types, and glass half empty types. Give each type the same boss, and for the latter, they end up wondering why they “ALLLways have to take orders from such assholes!”, while the former often ends up winning the boss over and getting a promotion. On yet another hand (which I am magically manifesting now using this all-powerful tool), it could be something far more, to me, wonderful and mysterious that is happening. And that is that this universe is very complex, and we humans are very complex as well. At any time within our consciousness, all sorts of ideas, memories, patterns, images, etc. are at play within us as we go through each moment of life. We can’t reduce ourselves, the universe, or the results that we experience in our lives to simplistic formulas that fit into a paragraph of gushing, exclamation point-laden prose from a self help author. Would we really want to? Would we want either ourselves, or the universe, to be so flat, so one dimensional? Even if we managed to manifest a Ferrari for each day of the week, would that kind of basic, yes/no, ones and zeroes universe, completely lacking in nuance (both authors liken it to a copy machine) suit our souls?
But then, who am I to judge success? In the New Age world of the self-help movement, a bestseller bestows a great deal of credibility on its author. Since the purpose that compels people to purchase such books is to achieve more in life, the fact that someone does just that, by writing a book and becoming rich and famous, makes them, de facto, a person to be emulated and listened to. A guru. And then, the bonanza begins. The tapes you can listen to in your car. The workshops and seminars and DVDs. The crowded auditoriums from Fresno to Jacksonville to Melbourne. The overpriced cruise ship tours to Mykonos and Hawaii in the company of the teacher. As the success trajectory shoots upward, the author can begin to start wearing white all the time, to have beatific photos of themselves doctored to make it look like they have halos. They must appear to be happy at all times, enlightened beings who show the rest of us how far we still have to go. Their critics can be easily dismissed as being “negative”, “not ready to heal” and “still under the spell of poverty consciousness”. Poor things, stuck in kindergarten while the newly wise followers of their rich, famous,newly-minted guru prepare to graduate to a form of existence where only benevolence prevails.
And here’s the thing. In the New Age, you can write the most outlandish things in order to get that book up there in the Oprahsphere, and hence up the New York Times chart. Because we’re talking about, you know, the Universe, it can pay (literally, and handsomely) for the claim to be as outlandish as you can make it. For example, you can claim, as Neale Donald Walsh did, that lil’ ol’ you had a conversation (actually a whole bunch of conversations) with God! His Conversations With God series has sold tens of millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages. Mr. Walsh, with his long flowing white beard and impeccably white robes, was obviously so impressed with his conversation partner that he decided to copy His fashion sense! Or, you can claim, as one Gary Renard did in his bestseller, The Disappearance of the Universe, that two attractive “Ascended Masters”, one male and one female, just happened to appear in your living room one day, from the future no less, to share with you cosmic wisdom, along with instructions to share it with the remainder of humanity that doesn’t have beings from the future materialize in their living rooms on a regular basis. Maybe they liked his CD collection?
But even those claims fall well short, on the hubris meter, of what I consider to be the most outlandish claims I have ever encountered from any author (I’ve forgotten his name), in any book, (the title of which escapes me). His book didn’t go on to become a bestseller, but I can assure you he was none too disappointed about that. Because, you see, according to the book, this individual has had many incarnations on this earth plane, and was always a king and a leader, even the founder of religions. In order to be coaxed, grudgingly, by his Spirit Guides to incarnate just one more time (this current life) he accepted, on the condition that he “[wouldn’t] be worshipped again!” I kid you not. The only other thing I remember about the book (interesting how little of its actual content stayed with me) is a passage that describes him visiting a psychic of considerable power. As she read his energy field, she became increasingly astonished at just who was sitting in front of her, thinking perhaps he may have been one of the Twelve Apostles, and then finally exclaiming to an onlooker that – wait for it – “this guy taught Jesus!”
Such extravagant claims for oneself is an area where the New Age excels, and it is not simply because its adherents are gullible, foolish, and easily misled, although that certainly figures into the equation. More significantly, it is that the New Age is a unique field of human experience, one where the goal is to be as “high” as possible. People who delve into it are seeking, above all else, enlightenment. And it doesn’t help to have a lot of “judgment” and “negativity” floating around in your head if that is your goal. New Age authors and teachers are thus able to make use of a loophole that nearly all their followers would, a bit red-facedly, admit to, regardless of how intelligent and thoughtful they are. They want to believe in a world where something as extraordinary and desirable as their own enlightenment is possible; they want to be able to do things with their own minds, and experience things in their own reality that, if not as hard to believe as the claims of the teachers, are nevertheless far outside of our everyday world of frustrations, disappointments and heartbreaks. If they, the followers, feel that being positive, non-judgmental, accepting, etc. is going to put them in the right energetic space to receive the teacher’s messages and move closer to that goal of enlightenment, whereas being “negative”; i.e., using their critical thinking skills and God-given bullshit detector, will only serve to keep them stuck in their unenlightened condition, they will feel an internal pressure to choose to approach the material with the former attitude. Suspension of disbelief never had a higher incentive!
Now, it would be all too easy at this point to clutch one’s Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan books close to one’s chest and say that the whole New Age deal is just one enormous mountain of hokum. That it only exists because certain “memes” about the nature of reality have hardwired themselves into our awareness since long before the Scientific Method was ever developed, and that some very flaky folks with loads of ambition and no problems stretching the truth have decided to exploit those memes for maximum profit and self-aggrandizement. I can certainly understand why people would hold this view. But I, personally, will not go there.
Because despite all the flimflam, all the grandiose claims, all the marketing excess and fallen heroes of the New Age movement (including Rhonda Bynes, who has been sued by some of her earliest collaborators on “The Secret” for not paying what she owes them), I am convinced, as I am of anything in this world, that the existence of the New Age “movement” (and it should be said that nobody involved in it really thinks of it as such) is attributable not merely to human gullibility. Rather, it has emerged from mankind’s eons-long associations with some very real aspects of this universe, and very powerful ones. I think that people do themselves a disservice, and pay a price for it, either by attempting to turn these universal forces into a hyped-up, dumbed down industry, or by denying them altogether as unscientific woo woo.
If you live in a fairly large city, and you spend any time exploring the New Age community there, you will meet some truly exceptional people. Well educated, intelligent, clear minded, open hearted, fit and youthful, hardly conforming to the stereotype of suckers lining up to buy the latest snake oil. Furthermore, you may note that they are not at all defensive about the low regard with which they are held by the scoffing, science minded, “rational” types whose views adhere to Dawkins and his ilk, and are convinced we are living in an essentially stupid, dead and mechanistic universe. If anything, they are bemused; certainly you won’t hear the vitriol that comes from the other side, the pejoratives such as “whack-job”, “nutter”, “loony”, etc. Indeed, one reason for the lack of animosity will be that many of them, perhaps even most of them, have been in a similar state of mind at some point in their lives. Having seen through the baloney of their childhood religions, they went through a period of questioning, doubt and agnosticism that those who scoff at them still inhabit. When one can look at one’s own history and recognize that ten or twenty or thirty years ago, one was in precisely the same position as the scoffers, it is hard to feel overly sensitive, or needlessly retaliatory.
Some among the people you encounter will be practitioners who have trained in, and offer services in, such esoteric “healing modalities” as reiki, psychic reading, feng shui, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, shamanism, channeling, past life trauma work, Rolfing, tarot, crystal, etc., etc. You will hear from people you talk to that some of these healers have extraordinary skills or talents. They may have the ability to see auras, for example, or have experienced numerous out-of-body experiences, and so on (indeed, one of the reasons that New Agers are receptive to the outlandish claims of the megastars of the field is that even in their own circles there are people they admire and trust who have some pretty amazing experiences to tell of). Furthermore, many of these teachers will have achieved a considerable reputation, at least at the local level, and have a following of people who can testify that without question their lives have improved immeasurably by working with them. They wouldn’t be paying large, sometimes very large, sums of money for the workshops, one-on-one sessions and so forth unless they were experiencing tangible results. Furthermore, those who visit the teachers and healers are themselves not just spiritual wannabes. Many of them will also have experienced (as I have) truly extraordinary, transformative, revelatory experiences, the kinds which are far too lightly dismissed by science-minded atheists who consider all such things delusional nonsense.
So it’s not that there’s no there there. There is. The problem lies in how, in our commerce-driven world, even the mysteries and powers of the universe end up being corralled into a moneymaking “industry” that doesn’t always benefit those who get caught up in it. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time exploring the New Age, I have come to the conclusion that it is indeed very problematic when The Big Questions become Big Business.
We all gotta make a living. That’s the way the world is set up, isn’t it? But when one has “been to the mountaintop” (i.e., had a numinous experience of some kind), it can seem like a real drag to go on working the same boring job, and continuing to share office space with folks who “just don’t get it”. It can easily cause you to lose your high. When a spiritual awakening occurs, it doesn’t simply find a nice little place to inhabit in the back of your mind. Spiritual awakenings are powerful things, and don’t comfortably settle into your consciousness; they tend to blast all the doors and windows open and tear up the lawn! They quickly become the most important thing in your life, and your goal becomes staying in that energy, and moving it forward as much and as quickly as possible. This is not some small, egotistical thing. It is in fact very analogous to the sexual awakening that young people experience, when all of a sudden, family, jobs, studies, etc. fade to insignificance as one’s attention fixates almost exclusively on this new, immensely powerful energy in one’s life.
It is only natural that when this happens, many people feel a strong urge to change their jobs, to make their work about spirituality and healing, so that they can spend the majority of their time in that energy, commingle with like minded people, and give something valuable of themselves to the world and the universe. This should not be looked down upon as mere vanity or delusion. This is both an appropriate response to the transformation one has experienced and a clear indication that the spiritual energy has begun to put down roots in one’s consciousness.
And that’s where the problems occur. Because ours is not a society that has the slightest notion what to do about spiritual awakenings. We’ve barely managed to deal with sexual awakenings! Consequently, all too often what happens is one decides to get “certified” in some special esoteric field so that one can then begin to charge a fee for services of some kind. In some cases, this is a very good thing. There are many reputable schools of alternative healing therapies, any number of really good teachers out there, and lots of genuine healing happening in this world as a result. But there is also a lot of what can only charitably be called dubious in content. There are courses being offered in all sorts of “energies”, “mastery courses”, courses that teach you how to become a channeler, etc, etc. Often as not, and this should throw up a red flag for anyone, the courses become increasingly more expensive as you move up the ladder and attain different levels of certification, so that you can ultimately go on to become a teacher yourself. This “certification” process has become downright silly. I know of a person who developed a very unique and quite wonderful spiritual art program, and subsequently started up a “certification course” when she herself had only been doing it for a few years and had only a small following. I’m sure she figured, “hey, why not? It’s my program, so I can choose my own way of certifying that others are able to begin teaching it, right?” Well, actually, no. For certification to have any meaning, it clearly must be administered by a body that consists of more than just one person, and it must involve a discipline that has been well observed and tested, by numerous practitioners, and over a number of years.
But at least she wasn’t selling enlightenment! Seriously, that’s what some of these courses do. As you move through their various esoteric courses, each revealing an even more wondrous and mysterious power that the universe withholds from all but a select few, each costing many hundreds, or even thousands of dollars (because, hey, the universe needs to eat too, right?) you will become a “master”. Well, whoop de do! While some people blow twenty grand on something as silly and material as a car, you just went and purchased yourself the same status as the people in the old dusty books! All you need is to go out and find some apostles!
As a result, in the New Age movement, there are thousands of “masters”, anywhere from their late twenties to early forties, certified, set up, offering their services, and (at least many of them) working with some very real and powerful energies, and passing these on to paying customers. In a more enlightened society, with a saner approach to the numinous, these young and middle aged people would still be apprentices. They would still be spending years of their lives in discipleship to a true master, who would demonstrate to them as clearly as possible that what they are working with is not something to take lightly, nor to pass on to those who are not able to handle it. There can be consequences, really devastating ones. Furthermore, the work shouldn’t essentially be about helping others, to begin with. It should be about self mastery, and then, as a result of that, if one happens to be graced with some healing powers, then these can be offered discriminately, and under the teacher’s tutelage. One has to be absolutely clear about one’s motivation for becoming a healer, as there is a lot of glamour involved in that term and it is very easy for the ego to reduce one’s work to a caricature of true spiritual practice. What is required more than anything is patience, and patience is the first casualty of our crazy, money-centered world.
Several years ago, I experienced a personal tragedy, the suicide of someone I’d known my whole life. This happened in January, shortly after the Indian Ocean tsunami that had wiped out whole villages, and caused the death of upwards of 200,000 people. Those two events, coming so soon one after the other, affected me very strongly, and as a result I was at a very low point in my life. I had been a spiritual practitioner for many years, mostly meditating, but having also participated in various spiritual study groups. I had many friends who were engaged in various esoteric practices. During a get-together at the house of one of these friends, a very lovely, deeply spiritual, woman in her mid-thirties announced that she had something to offer anyone there who was interested. She had just returned from an ashram in India, and while there, had studied with a renowned guru. He had passed on a powerful healing energy to her, and explained that she would be able to pass it through her to others. She had experienced this energy as very beautiful and very healing, and wished for those of us who were willing to experience it as well. Feeling that I needed something to help me shake my blues, I gratefully accepted her offer.
I got into a meditative pose, perched upon a stool, and she held her hand near me as I sat there, eyes closed. Almost immediately, I began to go into a deep trance. I experienced an incredibly blissful energy moving through me. I felt as if I could have stayed there forever. I was aware, vaguely, of all that was going on around me, such as snippets of conversation and so on, but my overriding state was one of absolute bliss that seemed to get deeper and deeper the longer I stayed in it. There was no desire on my part to move myself out of it, so I let my body go stiff as a statue, in that precarious perch on the stool. Other people also received the energy, but no one in the room experienced it as powerfully as I did. Perhaps no one else welcomed it in as deeply as I, because it had been a long time since I had even felt good, much less blissful. Eventually, after perhaps an hour, I had to be nudged, gradually, out of that trance so that I could return to the world of the here and now.
What followed in the subsequent days and weeks was not as wonderful as the feeling that I had experienced that day. Soon afterwards, I began to feel quite strange. My identity seemed to grow more and more precarious. I felt sometimes like I was losing my mind, at other times that I was hollowing out somehow, perhaps even losing my soul. I couldn’t explain these feelings to anyone, and tried to hide what was happening. To make a long story short, eventually I fell into a deep and hellish depression. Only after about six months, and after finding the right type of traditional medication, was I able to recover, slowly and agonizingly.
Now, I can’t say for sure what influence, if any, my experience at the party had on the events that followed. Human psychology is very complex, and I am sure that a mixture of many things, most certainly the personal tragedy, the entry into middle age I was experiencing, different problems with work and relationships, etc. contributed to the depression. Furthermore, I cannot say that even if that energy had played a role, that that was necessarily a bad thing, considering my life as a whole. As difficult as that period was, as I recovered new talents and personal qualities began to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere. Before my depression, I couldn’t have imagined writing these “visual essays”, for example. I am happier now than I have ever been at any time in my life, and it is possible that going through that dark period was exactly what my soul required in order to grow and ripen. Nevertheless, on that day I possessed neither the wisdom nor discernment to know if accepting that very powerful energy at such a vulnerable time in my life was the right choice. I don’t think the lady who passed it on to me did either. Without question, her intention was purely altruistic. She simply wanted to freely share something beautiful with her friends, no strings attached. But there was no warning that I may be biting off more than I could chew, either.
I feel this episode reveals that much of what is referred to as the “New Age” is rooted in things that are indeed very powerful, and must be treated with great care and respect. They are not something to be packaged in bright, appealing colors or passed around like a new cake recipe. We occupy a precarious place in the universe, the nature of which we ourselves are quite uncertain about. It is unwise to cavalierly experiment with energies that have been here since before our ancestors wiggled out of their prehistoric lakes and rivers, or to audaciously attempt to fit them into our monetary system and reduce them to mere products to be sold. “The Secret” may be over-hyped nonsense, but The Great Mystery is something else entirely.