Easter is my favorite Christian observance. It’s a redemption song...
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-=[ Magical Thinking ]=-
I remember as a child I would tie a towel around my neck and pretend I was Superboy. It was a lot of fun, however, it never gave me the power to fly. People who sell the pop psychology “power of positive thinking, or shit like The Secret, remind me of myself as a boy, running around the house, ruining my mother’s towels, and pretending I had superpowers.
I recently posted a critique of the wildly popular, narcissism-enabling pabulum, The Secret. What is the “secret” of The Secret? You create your own reality! You are responsible as the source of whatever arises in your life. Got cancer?!! You created it! Were you raped? You brought it upon yourself! Moreover, if you’re a loser it’s only because you haven’t come up with the right affirmation or powerful positive thought.
It would be almost impossibly difficult to overstate how cruel and insulting such a notion is. It’s a sick premise. I would shut up if it weren’t for the fact that literally millions follow this snake oil “spirituality.”
There is a basic flaw in the “power of positive thinking” (and let’s face it, the Secret is just warmed over power of positive thinking bullshit), but it never stops certain people from getting rich selling it. There are many aspects of reality, different dimensions. The Secret is not only selling a shallow dimension of self and reality but it is also only acknowledges one aspect of self.
Let me be fair: The Secret works in one realm and it actually serves a useful function. Positive thought is important. We can change the way in which our thoughts and feelings work together produce healthier behavior. That’s a good thing.
What pisses me off is that this isn’t the full story. We have an inside, and an outside. We are individuals, but we are also social beings. These aspects of reality are all part of who we are. All four aspects come together at once -- they co-arise as reality. No one aspect “creates” the others. Each is equally important. The interior of an individual (where thought occurs) does have parallels in the exterior of the individual (measurable as biological change). We are beings with inner and outer worlds. Fortunately, reality is not composed of individuals. We are also relational beings, with shared interiors such as culture, collective consciousness, and all that goes with the inner world of We. That shared inner world is accompanied by an outer world, the world of nature, the biosphere, and all that can be observed and measured in physical form. There are four aspects (Four Quadrants) of reality:
The Interior of an Individual (where thought occurs, for instance)
The Exterior of an Individual (the body, what can be measured and seen objectively)
The Interior of the Collective (Culture, invisible features of similarity, inter-subjective social)
The Exterior of The Collective (Biosphere, planet, infrastructure, the inter-objective realm)
While the positive thinking clique promotes it as the magic wand for everything, thoughts actually deal with one part of one realm, and misrepresents itself while doing it.
To claim any one of them “creates” the other is a disaster, and is, unfortunately, a common practice. Whenever you find a discipline which focuses on a particular domain (which can be healthy) you find it often claims that one quadrant is the only “real” one, or the only “true” one, or the only important one (which is unhealthy). That is the major defect of The Secret or “positive thinking.” It takes one perspective (The Interior of an Individual) and claims it creates all the others.
YOU, your thoughts, create your body. And the biosphere, and the entire culture, and history of the planet, origin of species, all the cities you could visit, all the planets in the Galaxy, all the Galaxies, all... and you’re so fuckin powerful!. And so wrong. Terribly wrong. Your thoughts, your feelings, while being important and valuable, are but two aspects of a much more complicated reality.
Your thoughts and feelings are not the basis for reality, they are only two of its features. You do not “create” your reality, you participate in it, and in certain circumstances, under certain conditions, you can influence it. And it is good and useful to cultivate that influence, to positively nurture that as much as possible, in the interest of love.
It is seductive to a person’s desire to attain, achieve, and better their personal station. It is promising you a better personal narrative. And that is indeed one level of spirituality. But it’s the lowest level, and inflating it keeps people unnecessarily stuck in a cycle of suffering.
For me, a true spirituality includes all four domains (inner, outer, individual, collective) and does not advantage one over the other. It engages them as co-arising. It sees them as inextricably intertwined, yet distinct in important ways. Spirituality includes every level of every domain, and values each of them, but also understands their differences. Spirituality includes every methodology, every way of knowing, but it also understands what they do, and what they don't do. The Secret or the “power of positive thinking” offers but a method, and it will not set you free from your personal drama. In fact, it will probably suck you deeper into it. It promises money, power, increased attraction, and tells you it is “spiritual” practice.
Here’s a fresh idea: use the right tool for the right job. I think it is good to improve our financial situation or to have an exciting love life. That’s why I seek financial advice and why I’ve been to therapy. I want to improve my relative reality, but I don’t need to invoke a magical-narcissistic mysticism (or quantum mechanics) to do so.
Even if you could (as I believed as a child wearing my mother’s towel) bend reality with your thoughts and feelings, chances are you would still be a terribly miserable creature. For as long as you’re neurotically attached to the small story of your small self, you’ll never break free from human bondage.