I must have been one of the last people in the western world to see the film "The Secret". But one way or another, I’ve been involved with manifestation for over a decade. I believe "The Secret" is an important film, bringing a strong positive message to the world in a time of crisis and disorientation. But I have deep reservations about some aspects of it which I will attempt to explain in this and my next three articles.
WHAT ARE MANIFESTATION AND THE LAW OF ATRACTION?
According to wikipedia, manifestation is “the belief that one can by force of will, desire and focused energy, make something come true on the physical level.” In other words, manifestation is influencing material reality and our lives through mental activity alone.
Similarly, wikipedia describes the law of attraction as follows:
"It states people experience the corresponding manifestations of their predominant thoughts, feelings, words, and actions and that people therefore have direct control over reality and their lives through thought alone. A person's thoughts (conscious and unconscious), emotions, beliefs and actions are said to attract corresponding positive and negative experiences "through the resonance of their energetic vibration." The "law of attraction" states "you get what you think about; your thoughts determine your destiny." Many proponents of the idea claim that with practice a person can use the law of attraction to change their lives."
A more holistic but rather complex definition was given by David Spangler, about whom I’ll say more later. According to him, manifestation is “the art of fashioning a co-creative, synchronistic, and mutually supportive relationship between the inner creative energies of a person's own mind and spirit and their counterpart within the larger world in order to bring a new and desirable situation into being." I hope the meaning will be clearer by the time you have read this and the next entry.
The process of manifestation is normally described as having three key steps:
• Clearly and specifically identify and visualise what you want, and ask the universe to provide it;
• Think, feel and act as if this desire has been fulfilled already without allowing doubt or other negative thoughts to creep in;
• Be open to receiving what you asked for.
To these is sometimes added a profound and regular practice of gratitude for what we already have, and in anticipation of future benefits.
The process requires a consistently positive frame of mind no matter what is happening in our lives. We can’t monitor all our myriad thoughts, but our emotions act as indicators of their tone. Positive feelings of joy, peace, love and so on reflect a positive state of mind; and feelings of fear, anger, aggression, etc reflect a negative state of mind.
Hence, "The Secret" claims that we manifest what we’re feeling, not what we’re thinking. If we feel healthy, prosperous and loved, those things will appear in our lives. So when we’re feeling down, we should do something to change the situation, like playing music, or feeling our love for a pet. This is effectively the same strategy that William Bloom advocates in his book "The Endorphin Effect" as a way to promote production of feel-good brain hormones.
Simple as these steps may appear, they contain many challenges which may limit the effectiveness of the process, or lead to unexpected results. Believers in manifestation often say that you get what you need rather than what you want – and the two may be quite different!
"THE SECRET" WAS NO SECRET
"The Secret" contains no secrets, and its success probably owes a lot to this packaging. As the film itself acknowledges, the idea of the law of attraction (or manifestation as I prefer to call it) has a long history stretching back to early Hinduism and the law of karma. The Buddha is quoted in the film as saying that we make the world with our thoughts.
In the western world, there are clear parallels with some forms of prayer which also have a long pedigree. For example, when a Christian asks God to do something with complete faith in its efficacy, that is manifestation. And Jesus himself said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (which is very tiny) you can move mountains – or heal the sick, or feed the hungry, or whatever. Notice, incidentally, that Jesus’ use of manifestation sprang from love and a desire to serve, not a quest for personal gain. I’ll return to this theme later.
In a secular context, the idea of manifestation appears in recent decades as the art of positive thinking, the power of visualization, and so on. Personal develop¬ment facilitators, sports coaches, art and writing teachers, business management consultants, planners, politi¬cians, visionaries and others all harness this power, and are convinced that it works. Many of these fields were touched upon in "The Secret".
There are also similarities with the concepts of synchronicity and grace. Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe situations in which two or more events occur at more or less the same time that are not connected by cause and effect but nevertheless have a meaningful relationship. Examples include meeting an old friend by chance on the day you were talking about them, or accidentally coming across a passage in a book that answers a question you have been asking. Grace, in the religious sense, is the free or unmerited favour of God. Both these imply that manifestation works through unconscious as well as conscious thoughts.
Manifestation was one of the founding principles of the Findhorn Community over 40 years ago, and is still an important part of life here today. In the early days, the community regularly manifested everything from the bag of cement that fell off a truck, to donations of money to build the meditation sanctuary that still serves us. I'll describe more recent examples in my next article.
One of the early leaders of the community, David Spangler, taught manifestation in the USA for decades, and wrote a wonderfully insightful little book called "Everyday Miracles: The Inner Art of Manifestation". Sadly, it has been out of print for many years now, but used copies are available. His article on "Spiritual Economics" is still well worth reading after nearly 25 years. (http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC02/Spangler.htm) I owe David a great debt of gratitude for deepening my understanding this subject.
On a more personal note, my wife and I have been practising manifestation in various ways for over a decade. Looking back over these years, we can see its results very clearly but they were not always what we expected, or what "The Secret" might lead you to expect. I will use examples later to illustrate some of my points.
THE LAW OF ATTRACTION IS NOT A LAW
In one form or another, belief in manifestation, or the power of mind over matter, is widespread throughout human history. Could it be that so many people have believed a fantasy? Or could there be some creative power of mind and spirit at work? Is there, in fact, a law of attraction?
The idea that our conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings attract corresponding things, people and events to us in the physical world is presented by "The Secret" as a law of the universe. By implication, and a few side references to quantum physics, this gives the impression that it has the status of a scientific law of nature. This is untrue . In saying so, I don’t want to argue, as many scientists and critics do, that the idea is without foundation. But I want to be quite clear and open about its true status.
To qualify as a valid theory or law, any hypothesis must be testable and falsifiable. In other words, it must be possible to devise and carry out experiments that will reveal whether or not the hypothesis works in practice. This is not possible with the ‘law’ of attraction. Imagine a person tries to manifest a new car. If the car duly arrives, their reaction may be “Wow! This really works.” If, on the other hand, the car fails to arrive, they may think: “There must have been something wrong with what I did. Perhaps the vision of what I wanted wasn’t clear enough, or some negativity crept in, or I wasn’t really open to receiving it.” As we can’t observe our own subconscious thoughts, let alone those of other people, this conclusion can never be tested.
In other words, the evidence in favour of the ‘law of attraction’ is anecdotal. The ‘law’ is a generalisation from the many stories of successful manifestation, and remains a belief rather than an established theory. However, this does not necessarily mean that manifestation does not happen.
In my next article, I will examine the evidence for manifestation, and possible scientific explanations of how it works.