The Secret

The Secret is not just a moronic hymn to greed and selfishness; it nastily suggests that victims of catastrophe are the authors of their misfortunes. — Catherine Bennett

In case any bubble dwellers happen upon this page, allow me to give away the secret to the universe, as explained in the frighteningly popular movie and book, The Secret. Here it is. Ready? You can get whatever you want, as long as you really, really want it. Shhh, now don’t go telling the secret to other people, because they might want the opposite of what you want, and then you’d all get nothing, and wouldn’t that suck? At least, this is what I’ve gleaned from people who have actually seen the movie. I refuse to suffer through a viewing. I only made it ten minutes into What the Bleep Do We Know?— a kind of documentary, kind of fantasy film that implied human brains have the capability to reshape reality into any form people wish it to take. It wasn’t the subject matter that bothered me (reshaping reality is easy, I’ve done it myself — all you need is a sugar cube that’s been soaked in lysergic acid diethylamide); what pushed me to the edge of apoplexy was the sheer quackery of the “scientists” interviewed.

I am a skeptic. I used to think that being skeptical made me smarter. But recently, someone I love and respect has shown me how arrogant I’ve been — that it’s one thing to disbelieve, and quite another to condemn believers. I used to think that having facts on my side made me “right.” What I’ve learned is, being “right” has nothing to do with the facts.

My sister Jane was the first person to invoke The Secret in my presence. We were discussing Jane’s hopes to have someone clean and organize her garage when she made the comment, “It’s like the secret, you know, I’m putting it out there.” When I asked her what she meant, she answered, “It’s the magic formula — ask, believe, receive.”

“That’s a fallacious formula if I ever heard one,” I snapped. Jane took my strike in stride and asked me if I wanted more coffee. But I felt compelled to fully explain myself. “Positive thinking is great; it keeps you from getting depressed, but you create the life you want by doing things, not wishing for them. The formula should be ‘ask, do something, and your chances of receiving increase.’ You’re not a successful businesswoman, wife, and mother because you sat around visualizing your career and family; you’re successful at those things because you took the necessary steps to achieve your goals and worked your ass off to get where you are. If I want a Mini, I’m not going to visualize the car into my garage, I’m going to go out and buy one.”

“You’re right,” said Jane, smiling impishly. “I am successful.”

By the time I’d finished my second cup of coffee, I felt as though I’d convinced Jane to see the errors of The Secret’s ways, and I left her house feeling like a parishioner of the Rock Church who had just scored another touchdown for God. After all, I reasoned, New Age thinking is just another doctrine. They may have replaced the word “God” with “universe,” but the underlying belief (that some unknown power is mapping the way and we must have faith and submit to the will of that power, or “go with the flow”) is the same, no matter which word is used. “Putting it out to the universe” and hoping to get what you want seems no different than praying, and to me, praying is as effective to a situation’s outcome as plucking petals from a flower and saying “He loves me, he loves me not” is an accurate way to gauge someone’s feelings. It was my deep belief that the harder one hopes, the more bitter the disappointment one suffers when faith proves, as it does more often than not, to just not be enough. I thought I had saved Jane. It was only after I tried to save my father that I realized the extent of my hubris.

One cold, gray Monday afternoon, I was staring at the rain pelting my office window when Dad called. He wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed Monique Marvez’s standup-comedy act. He had found her so funny that when he got home from the show, he looked her up on YouTube and suggested I do the same. He chuckled as he relayed some of the jokes he could remember and then mentioned how delighted he was to hear the comedienne reference some of his “Science of Mind” principles, one of which maintains that positive thinking can physically alter the composition of water molecules, a concept made mainstream by Masura Emoto, one of the “scientists” interviewed inWhat the Bleep Do We Know?

When Dad mentioned that Monique had brought up the water-crystal thing (that water molecules become beautifully symmetrical if you shoot good vibes at them and distorted and ugly if you project negativity), I couldn’t resist the urge to melt his perfect snowflake. “Dad, you know that’s B.S., right? That guy Emoto has been debunked a hundred times.”

“No, I haven’t read much about it, but I still like the idea,” Dad said. Returning to his initial reason for calling, he said, “Anyway, I liked Monique a lot. She’s hilarious. I wish you could have been there. Look, honey, I have to run, I’ll call you later.”

But I wasn’t done. As soon as we hung up, I did a few quick Web searches and emailed Dad a handful of articles ridiculing Emoto’s theory. Dad was gracious in his response, “If you don’t believe it then it won’t work for you, and that’s okay!”

Believing Dad’s soul was at stake, I couldn’t allow myself to let the matter drop. I aimed at a weak spot — Dad’s dedication to the kids he helps through the Make-a-Wish Foundation — and took my shot: “No amount of positive thought or prayer has even been proven to cure leukemia. If one child survives the disease, do you really believe that it is because that one child wanted to live more than the others? I do believe that positive begets positive, and that confidence begets positive results. What I don’t believe is that my thoughts — like telekinesis, or words that only have the meaning we give them — can change the formation of a water crystal.”

I waited with bated breath for his response, nervous that I may have gone too far and offended him, excited that doing so might help me achieve my goal of saving him. Finally, the message arrived: “Honey, I’m taking vacation time for the rest of the day to take one of my Make-a-Wish kids, Michael, shopping for some things that will make his transition easier. My positive thoughts will not bring back his leg or make the cancer that pervades his body go away. In my mind, though, every drop of rain that falls today anywhere near us will contain water molecules that look like beautiful snowflakes. How do I know that? I don’t. Of course I don’t. I can’t see water molecules; never have — at least not firsthand. Seen pictures of ’em. So, since I can’t really see them, I can imagine that they are in any shape I so desire. Some of them even look like Sophia Loren, in my parallel Universe. I like it there (here); no, I LOVE it in my parallel space. It works incredibly well for me. I am in the flow and the ride couldn’t be any easier because I just ‘let it go.’ Barb, out beyond the ideas of rightdoing or wrongdoing there is a field — I’ll meet you there. I’m there, Honey, holding out my hand. Take it when you are ready. Ciao Bella! Love, Dad.”

Consumed by my mission, I had broken my life’s creed: Don’t tell me how to live my life and I won’t tell you how to live yours. Dad responded to his daughter’s audacious attack with patience and wisdom. Staring at my father’s words on my laptop screen was like gazing into a mirror through which I could see the disfigurement of my own soul. As I read his words over and over, a secret was revealed to me, one that Dad had known all along: I still have a lot to learn.


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