Updated: Dec 29, 2020
A number of years ago, a book (and DVD) called The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, became all the rage in New Thought circles and quickly spread across the country and throughout the world. When I watched the DVD, I was struck by several things: First, what it had to say wasn’t secret. The great thinkers from every religious and philosophical tradition throughout the world have known it—and taught it. Second, it focused too much on financial rewards. (But as my wise friend Claire maintains, money is one of the easiest things to manifest, so we can learn a lot by starting there.) Third, it skimmed too lightly across the essential aspects of emotion, gratitude and service.
My own thinking started turning in this direction in the mid-eighties. I participated in a motivation/success program that focused on goal-setting, and while much of it made sense to me, something was missing. Eventually, I began to see it’s not just about willpower, the emotions play an extremely essential role. What we decide with our heads has no power at all without the emotional support of what we believe in our hearts. I can practice piano with all the same diligence as a concert pianist, but as long as I believe I have no talent, I will remain a mere technician at the keyboard. (I don’t know what would be possible if I believed I had talent; I do know I’d get a different result.)
Early on, I decided if we (as human beings) have the power to manifest or create what we want, that power has to obey natural laws. We may not yet know the law (after all, gravity behaved the same way before Newton wrote his law as afterward, and relativity was relativity before Einstein.) The universe works because natural laws conform to some kind of order.
After several years of certainty that we all create our own reality, I started seeing evidence that perhaps we don’t each create our own realities. Bad things happen to good people. What about babies with birth defects or cancer? What about accidents? What about genocide and tsunami victims? About 20 years ago, I had a pretty bad bike accident, broke my face, and spent a night in ICU with a concussion. I couldn’t see any way I was “attracting” such a personal disaster; and besides, I believed I was invulnerable. Then 9/11 happened. I knew 3000 people didn’t have a death wish—and the many thousands of their families and friends did not all have some subconscious wish for pain and grief.
And what about the times when affirmations worked for me and when they didn’t? For instance, at one time during my career as a romance novelist, I decided to put what I knew about manifestation to work. I took the cover off a real book, then I pasted the name of my book over the real title and my name over the real author’s name. I tacked this visual representation of what I wanted right above my computer. I decided a reasonable time by which my book would be picked up by an editor. I focused my attention on this outcome. Months before that date arrived, my manuscript was rejected. (So I gave up writing for life—for the fifth or sixth time.)
A couple of manuscripts later, I worked with the affirmation, “Every day in every way, the value of my work grows in the minds of others,” for a couple of months. On New Year’s eve, an editor called offering a contract on my book—when everyone knows the publishing industry pretty much shuts down between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. (Note: when I submitted the completed manuscript, the editor didn’t like it. I ended up revising the story completely three times before they accepted it and published it. More about that later.) So why did this effort at affirmation work when the previous one had not? Was it pure coincidence, or did I somehow influence the result?
If that had been my only experience with manifestation, I’d probably attribute it to coincidence, but I’ve had dozens and dozens such experiences—and so have my clients. After years of observation and of processing and reprocessing, I’ve identified a significant pattern. I believe the difference between my first attempt at “creating” the sale of a manuscript and my second was my emotional state.
The first time, my heart wasn’t in it. My head did all the right things: setting the goal, visualizing, affirming, focusing, willing it into existence. But it was only an intellectual effort. I certainly wanted it, but my motives were money and validation. Maybe I cared about that particular story, but probably not, since I can barely remember it. Mostly I had been writing for years and wanted something to show for it. I wanted to prove I could do it, contribute to the family coffers, get rich. Perhaps I even wanted to show the mind has power over matter. At this point, it’s important to note that I never much liked romance novels, and I didn’t even believe in romance.
The second time, I had left all those motivations behind. I had become much more interested in being true to myself, in being in tune with my talents and abilities. I wanted to use those talents and abilities the best way I could, and I didn’t care whether it was through writing a novel or some other means. I had become willing rather than willful.
When I look back at my bike accident, and the choices I was making at the time, I see a similar thread running through that event. About three years earlier, I really had given up writing for life—at least writing romance novels. Not having a plan for what to do instead, I went back to school and earned by B.A. After graduation, still not having a plan for what to do next, I moved in with my parents to help care for my ailing father. An opportunity for work came my way, and I took it—not as a life work, but as a good way to make a living and a good way to postpone choosing what I would do next. The closest I can come to my contribution to that accident is that I wasn’t on purpose. I began to speculate that if one isn’t living on purpose, one is living by accident.
Perhaps most of us live by accident most of the time, and the key to “The Secret” is to start choosing. And perhaps the key to choosing is to choose something that is true for us. When I decided to become a writer, that was true for me. When I decided to become a writer of romance novels, that was not true for me. When I (finally) decided not to write romance novels any more, that was true for me. When I stopped writing entirely, that was not true for me.
Many of you have heard me say, “What is up to us. How is up to the universe.” The more I’ve worked with this and observed it, the more I believe it’s true. Most of us jump directly into the how at the first indication of a problem, but when we jump into the how before we know the what, we end up with the wrong what. We put our efforts into fixing symptoms instead of problems, we focus on the vehicle rather than the goal. I am coming to see that how is not about action, but about emotion, and therefore how is as much up to us as the what. First we have to choose what we want, then we must choose the emotions that will facilitate it.