The Real Secret is
This one is prompted by an episode of Conspirituality Podcast that, among other topics, explores the narcissistic mental masturbation of Mikki Willis, responsible for the excreta known as Plandemic. Listening to it today, I was once again struck by how obvious (retrospectively) so many in the wellness/yoga/new age world of magical thinking would fall for the myriad pandemic conspiracy theories. One common thread that all these true believers share? That would be The Secret and the delusional notion that “thinking so makes it so.”
Believe me, as someone who enjoys daydreaming and fantasizing, I feel it would be AWESOME if just imagining something – thinking about it with one-pointed focused attention – would make it come to pass. But I know that such magical thinking seems to offer a power and control that we simply do not have! Such magical thinking is proffered under many names, by folks as diverse as Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, and ex-presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. Variously referred to as “the law of attraction,” “mind over matter,” “magnetism,” “manifestation,” and other such vacuous terms, the bottom line is that it's simply magical thinking without a shred of scientific, empirical evidence to back up any of its outlandish claims. But that doesn’t stop charlatans, con artists, and perhaps some true believers among the bunch, from writing thousands of books and producing almost as many YouTube videos, not to mention such vapidity as the films The Secret, Universal Law of Attraction, Quantum Communication, and the pseudoscience of What The Bleep Do We Know? Apparently, from the evidence of that “documentary,” not much!
Now, as usual, there IS an authentic teaching common in many “spiritual” traditions that offers these hucksters the grain of truth that they then distort, contort, and force into the shape they want in order to rationalize their magical thinking. For instance, in the very opening of The Dhammapada we read:
All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.
The translation above, by Guy Fronsdal follows the original Pali quite closely. The idealist, Thomas Byrom “translates” the same passage beginning with:
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Not quite what the Buddha is reported to have said. Byrom and his ilk seem to think – again in accord with their idealist philosophy – that the world is literally a creation of mind; that the world is a projection of consciousness. This may be what cult leaders like Michael Roach preached, but the Buddha was not an idealist. Like Patanjali, he taught that there was a real world. However, he was also a phenomenologist: what we know of the world, he said, is what we experience through the bodymind. As he taught in the sutta known as Sabba (“The All”):
I will teach you the All. Listen. What is the All? It is eye and visible object, ear and sound, nose and scent, tongue and taste, body and feelings, mind and thoughts. This is the All.
If anyone says, “This All is not enough. I will proclaim another All,” can it be done? The speaker might believe it can, but he will not be able to show another All.
It is as a phenomenologist, and in that sense, and in that sense only, does the Buddha mean we can be said to “create our world.” What the Buddha is saying in the opening to the Dhammapada is that, for instance, if one chooses to face the breakup of a relationship as certainly painful, AND also as an opportunity for growth, then of course they will have an amazingly different “reality” than someone who meets it with anger and bitterness. But the breakup is still something that really happens. I witnessed this when I was diagnosed with cancer. While I wasn't happy to receive the news, decades of practice allowed me to meet it with a calm heartmind. Many of the other patients were suffering from fear, anxiety, anger, and depression. But the reality is we ALL had cancer and we were ALL going through the same treatment.
When put to the test by real scientific methodology, we find that not only can we not change the universe by merely thinking, attempting to do so can be counterproductive! For instance, a study done by Lien Pham and Shelly Taylor compared “effects of process- versus outcome-based mental simulations on performance.” What that means is the researchers had a group of students think about getting a good grade on an upcoming exam (outcome-based), and another group were told to think about the process of studying and taking the exam (process-based), and compared these two groups to a control group. The students asked to imagine the process did better than the control, but those who imagined getting good grades did worse. So-called “positive thinking” by itself is worthless, a waste of time and effort, and undermines the real control people can have through more practical action. Imagining the PROCESS you need to go through to attain a goal is useful because it leads to actually doing what needs to be done!
Relevant to the bullshit promulgated by people like Willis, J. P. Sears, and Zach Bush throughout the Covid pandemic, magical thinking can lead people to ignore, deny, or delay real, evidence-based treatment while attempting to “manifest” away the disease! Over the decades, I have witnessed many yoga practitioners, under the influence of such magical thinking as the "law of attraction" add painful mental anguish on top of a serious or terminal diagnosis, questioning what they did wrong, and wondering how they "manifested" their illness! This is the “second arrow” that the Buddha warned about… adding the mental anguish on top of the reality of aging, illness, and death which are realities for the noble; those willing to face the truth of existence.
Finally, such magical thinking as taught in The Secret props up the neo-liberal ideology that emphasizes the individual as the site of all responsibility, and in this way, it disproportionately negatively impacts the weak, the poor, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised. Telling such people that their situation is due to their “wrong thinking,” and that all they need to do is to use the power of positive thinking and their status will change is cruel, shaming, and ultimately disempowering. Rather than putting energy, resources, and effort into changing the real causes of the obscene disparity we find in society, we simply place the burden onto those most in need of support.
* I use the word "bullshit" here and in the blog post not scatologically but as a precise philosophical concept as defined by the philosopher, Harry Frankfurt.
This essay owes much, especially the research elements to the fabulous resource for critical thinking, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.
10/19/2022 03:04:49 am
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Poepsa Frank Jude Boccio is a yoga teacher and zen buddhist dharma teacher living in Tucson, AZ.