Do you know the (secret?)

[13 April 2007]

By Jennifer Garza

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Claudia Morales has sold self-help and spiritual guides at East West Books for years. But she has never seen anything like The Secret.

For the past few months, staffers have regularly restocked the shelves with The Secret DVDs, books and CDs.

It has become the store’s biggest seller ever.

“It’s huge. Almost every person who walks in the door now is asking about it,” says Morales, the store’s co-owner. “They’ve heard about it and want to see for themselves.”

The bookstore has received so many inquiries that the staff hung a banner outside that tells potential buyers what they want to know. It reads: “We’ve Got ... The Secret.”

Chances are, you do, too. Or at least you’ve heard about it. The Secret has been plugged on two episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show, has climbed to the second spot on the best-seller list at Amazon.com and is being discussed at The Secret classes at churches and spiritual new-thought centers. Earlier this month, the publisher announced that another 2 million copies soon will be available.

Don’t know what the fuss is about? Here’s a simple explanation: The Secret is based on a centuries-old concept called the law of attraction, which says our emotions and thoughts control what happens to us in the real world.

In other words, if you visualize and really believe you’re going to get that new 52-inch plasma TV, then you’ll soon have it hanging on your family room wall. Think about it and it will—as the self-help experts on the DVD say—“manifest.”

Sound far-fetched? Not to about a dozen people who showed up on a recent rainy Tuesday night to discuss The Secret at the Science of Mind New Thought Center in Sacramento.

“These principles helped me with the most traumatic event in my life,” says the Rev. Sandy Freeman-Loomis, who says she began seriously applying the law of attraction after her daughter Alex was killed by a drunken driver 20 years ago. Since then, Freeman-Loomis has visualized a better life—and she says she’s found one.

She decided to offer the class after receiving calls about The Secret. Freeman-Loomis is thrilled that something she has studied for years is getting so much attention.

“It may have a different name now. But the basics are the same, and I know it works,” says Freeman-Loomis. “It’s no secret around our center.”

From Norman Vincent Peale to Wayne Dyer, the self-help message has long been a popular one. The Secret has tapped into this market and may become the biggest seller of them all.

Rhonda Byrne, an Australian TV producer, came up with the idea a few years ago. On Oprah, she said she was going through some rocky times in her life when she discovered a 1910 book called The Science of Getting Rich, which explained the law of attraction.

Byrne became hooked. After reading various teachings, she came up with the idea of a movie based on the concept and gave it a new name that was sure to draw interest.

It worked. The Secret DVD, initially sold on the Internet, was an instant hit. The film—which opens with scenes of monks writing on parchment and quickly hiding their scrolls before soldiers arrive—evokes a Da Vinci Code conspiracy mood.

The message? “They” (political leaders, business executives) don’t want you to know something because they want to keep the power and wealth to themselves. What is it? The Secret.

The film then goes to a panel of self-help experts who spend the next 90 minutes explaining the law of attraction. A few, such as Jack Canfield of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, are well known.

Over and over, they deliver the same message: Think about what you want and you’ll get it. A boy is shown yearning for a new red BMX bike. Soon, an elderly man (presumably the boy’s grandfather) shows up on the back porch with a bike. A woman who wants a new diamond necklace finds it being placed around her neck. A man who visualizes a BMW is soon driving one.

If that seems shallow, well, a lot of critics agree.

“On an ethical level, The Secret appears deplorable,” writes Newsweek. On Salon.com, it’s called a “bottle of minty-fresh snake oil currently topping the best-seller lists.”

Why such a negative reaction? Partly because of The Secret‘s emphasis on materialism and wealth. And partly because The Secret implies that people are also responsible for the negative things that happen in their lives.

If you’re sick or a victim, the thinking goes, it’s your fault. In the movie, a woman says she recovered from cancer through visualization and by watching funny movies, a claim that alarms medical experts.

“There is no credible scientific evidence that positive thinking can cure cancer or that negative thinking can cause cancer. Such claims are irresponsible,” says Ted S. Gansler of the American Cancer Society in a statement responding to The Secret.

Still, The Secret clearly has struck a chord. Supporters point to other messages in the book such as the power of visualization and the importance of gratitude.

Marci Shimoff, an inspirational speaker from Marin County, Calif., appears in The Secret. She says people approach her every day to tell her how much it has changed their lives. She adds that the media is focusing on only certain aspects of the film. “This is not about getting things to make you happy,” Shimoff says.

The law of attraction is more than positive thinking, she says. “It’s how our feelings and our thinking” affect our actions and reality.

“This book has sold millions and is having such an impact, so of course there is going to be criticism,” Shimoff says. She says that Byrne is an example of the concept’s success.

“She used the law of attraction every step of the way, and the results have been phenomenal.”

At the recent Secret class in Sacramento, several people talked about how the law of attraction changed their lives.

“The law of attraction made me think about my life and where I was going,” said a hairstylist who visualized owning a salon near the beach. “I was more aware of making things happen.”

She later opened that salon.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/do-you-know-the-secret/