Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reflections on The Secret

(Originally submitted to Joe Vitale's blog on Feb.24)

I am simultaneously amused and saddened by the discourse surrounding The Secret, as it seems to be a metaphor for the intense polarization that has long replaced true introspection and exchange of ideas.

On the one hand, supporters of the Secret/LOA claim that they represent Universal Law, yet rationalize that any event which might appear to be inconsistent with its status as law is merely a misinterpretation of the "law" or the event itself, along with the implication that the observer misses the point due to his or her own lack of spiritual evolution. This is merely the perpetuation of the early dogmatic teachings of a priest class eager to maintain control over the unsophisticated masses. Such condescension might keep some "believers" in line, but does not serve the quest for spiritual growth.

On the other side, there are those who dismiss any theory which has not been proven with empiric data in numerous studies as being the product of deluded fools. In so doing, they attempt to elevate themselves as being intellectually superior to others. Again, condescension replaces honest efforts to discover truth.

What these people fail to consider is that all instances of human progress were borne of efforts to establish a "truth" that was not previously considered, much less proven. Had Edison followed such a mindset, he would have known - thanks to extensive prior research in metallurgy - that a tungsten filament would not work in an incandescent lamp. He proceeded, however, his enthusiasm based in what *might* be, while facing scorn from the *scientists* of his day.

Somewhere in the middle, there is (IMHO) the presence of real Truth, as opposed to the polarized interpretations of truth. To claim that the universe is like a catalog, and that it is our highest calling to browse that catalog and focus upon our desires runs contrary to the lessons of all major spiritual teachers.

I am especially put off by the notion that in order to achieve a positive life, one must turn one's focus upon what is desired, and away from all things negative. Christian tradition is based upon embracing the less fortunate, and Buddhist tradition is founded in the realization achieved by Siddhartha after he finally emerged from his protected life and observed the sadness that arose from the insatiable fulfillment of desire. He understood that attachment to the "good," as well as avoidance of the "bad" were merely the two sides of the same coin.

He also understood that Right Thinking was powerless without Right Action. Focusing upon a desired outcome was essential, but failure to expend the logical effort to achieve that outcome rendered that Right Thinking powerless.

My greatest objection to the Law of Attraction/Secret phenomenon is that it serves to perpetuate an imbalanced approach to life. I realize that the marketing phenomenon surrounding it is very successful, and that (Vitale is) to be credited in no small part for that success. But I am left to wonder: When sales of this latest, greatest Path to Enlightenment begin to dwindle (as have those previously marketed by the proponents), will yet another, even greater Path be "discovered?" If so, perhaps The Secret/LOA consumers should objectively ask themselves what it really is: A spiritual path or a marketing exercise.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Attack of the Eternally Right

Well, the Rev has obviously been out of school too long. Looking back, I can remember the little cliques that considered themselves “intellectuals.” By and large, they emerged from the Science or Philosophy Clubs in high school, where they would gather to reaffirm their uniqueness in a culture which demanded a conformity and social finesse they somehow lacked. These self-proclaimed intelligentsia were admittedly interesting to talk to, until they began their cerebral wagon-circling, bemoaning the inferiority of those outside their circle. At that point, they became pretty toxic and frankly, boring, and those of us who merely visited on their periphery would inevitably wander off in search of more positive interactions, leaving the kids (typically labeled losers or weirdos) to their cerebral circle jerk.

I’d frankly forgotten about these kids, having long ago discovered that actually living a life was more rewarding than sitting on the outside taking shots at it, and that a sense of wonder was more enriching than pessimistic disenchantment. The other day, however, I discovered that the kids are still around, and just as alienated as ever. Only now, they call themselves skeptics or critical or rational thinkers.

One of them made a statement on a friend’s blog which I didn’t accept, claiming that acupuncture was a magic-based system that had definitively been proven ineffective. I responded that his conclusion – along with the debunking study he referenced – didn’t wash (my first mistake – never engage someone who claims irrefutable rightness!). He fired back that I had offered no studies to support my claim. It hadn’t even occurred to me to do so, as I was under the impression that I had joined in an informal, friendly discussion, where ideas could be exchanged. I went ahead and performed a quick search, which provided studies by the Mayo Clinic, NIH, and the like – hardly lightweight studies – thinking that would be the end of it. To make a very long story short, I was met with a tirade proclaiming the invalidity of the information I provided, peppered with some dismissive name-calling. As you can imagine, I was taken aback, but maintained enough of my naivete to think that some meeting of the minds was possible.

It didn’t take too long before I realized that the individual was more concerned with being right than with enjoying a discussion, and I tipped my hat and exited the pissing contest. Not content to just let it end without his desired resolution, the guy then proceeded to take the dialog up on his own blog, even going so far as to publish a private communication from my lady, whose inclination is always to take the high road and restore civility. I (foolishly) tried to respond to the guy’s rants, which only set him and a few of his fellow “critical thinkers” off even more. It was actually quite similar to incidents I remembered from the old high school days, where we would intentionally push the “intellectuals’” buttons by challenging one of their assumptions, then walk away, leaving them thoroughly agitated and struggling to reassert their “rightness.” Sure, it was mean on the same level as giving my mother's chihuahua an onion to fight with, but it was fun, in a perverse way. I realized (remembered?) the futility of engaging people like that in anything more than superficial dialog, and turned the page on the whole matter. As far as I know, they’re still going on about it, but I’m not interested enough to go back and check.

The whole affair left me with a sense of futility and some sadness. Those feelings, however, are somewhat offset by the knowledge that there will probably always be those who are so heavily invested in their own self-image that any challenge to anything they say or do will be taken as a direct attack upon that self-image, and upon their inherent worth. The challenge for me is to simply walk away from people like that at first sighting, and to allow them to wrap themselves in whatever image makes them most comfortable.

I freely admit to not being a “critical thinker,” as I’d much rather revel in the sense of wonder that is life than to seek out things to endlessly analyze. I further confess to not choosing to be a skeptic about life, but rather a realist. I do not require empirical data to prove to me the existence of things which I do not understand, but neither do I blindly accept that which common sense tells me is false. And I am quite comfortable with acknowledging that I do not have all the answers, since those who make such claims are inevitably shown to have asked the wrong questions, anyway. I live with a woman whom I love deeply, and who loves me, yet if asked to prove it, I would be hard pressed to provide the satisfactory “data.”

And despite the vitriol sent my way, I really hope that one day, these “rational” people will find something besides negativity to fill their lives, and will put aside their obsession with being right long enough to find that life can truly be filled with joy, if one will but clear a space for it.

Note: To all who have been so supportive in their responses (as well as the one individual who attempted to taunt me into rejoining the fray), I want to say "thank you." I have chosen not to publish any of the comments I've gotten - positive or negative - for the same reason I disengaged from the little tempest in a teapot in the first place. It served no positive purpose, and I will not do anything to perpetuate the rancor. Those who need the conflict are certainly welcome to continue it on their own playgrounds. Have a nice day.
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