Thursday, May 24, 2007


We Americans are self help junkies. We have been ever since Ralph Waldo Trine sold over 2 million copies of his best selling book in 1897, In Tune With the Infinite.

A few years later, American Psychologist William James spoke and wrote about ‘the religion of healthy-mindedness’ as the only uniquely American religion. Later Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller promoted the power of positive thinking.

Even orthodox Christians have gradually and smoothly transitioned over to this gospel of self help. Yes, they still work in “Jesus died for your sins” in order to erect the facade of the old time gospel to cover their biblical self help philosophy, but the majority of today’s most popular Christian chu rches and TV programs are about self improvement. They tell you how to attain better self esteem, how to organize your finances, have better sex, successfully raise your children, build a prospering business, eat nutritionally and heal your body. Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are three of the hottest Christian preachers in the country, routinely speaking to thousands in person and millions on TV about living successful lives. They preach a gospel of self improvement and personal success, in the name of Jesus of course. I do wonder if they ever stop to reflect on the fact that Jesus owned virtually nothing, was a convicted felon and crucified as a failed Messiah. No matter…the facts aren’t important.

In New Age circles, we have The Secret, recently lauded by Oprah and Larry King. This so called ‘secret’ is the latest in a long line of slickly packaged and brilliantly promoted programs to control the Universe and get what you want from it. The book portrays a neutral Force which functions as a vast trinket-filled spiritual shopping mall just waiting to be manipulated by our thoughts to give us what we want. It is called the Law of Attraction and promoted as a ‘science’. It is interesting to note that the word science is used these days to automatically give dogmatic credence to everything from toothpaste to religious teachings. If scientists say so, it must be true.

Modern medical science has given us amazing technology. However, Scientism is science given the unexamined dogmatic authority of the old Medieval church, the officiants replete with special robes, healing symbols and the all-healing holy sacraments.

The Secret teaches that like attracts like – and that if you fill your mind with poverty thoughts and feelings, you will attract more poverty, but if you change your thoughts to prosperity, you will attract the same. Few stop to think that real scientific experimentation has discovered that opposites attract, not smilar objects. If you place the two positive poles of a magnet together, they don’t attract, they repel each other. The Chinese Tao Te Ching applies this true science to the realm of spirit and arrives at a very different conclusion than that of The Secret.

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.

It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and give to what isn't enough.

Tao Te Ching 77


The other secret is that we are not completely in control and cannot manipulate the Cosmos. We live in a very large Universe; we sometimes call It Nature. We may forget that Nature/The Universe has it’s own Wisdom – not just for assembling and dissolving clouds and solar systems, but for humans too. That drives many of us self-helpers a little nuts. Remember, the American chant is, ‘we will not be victims, even of the gods!’ The Greeks had a word for this, hubris.

To be a victim is the worst thing that can happen in this age of control via spiritual techniques and psychotherapeutic systems. We will pray, think, counsel, affirm, speak the word, medicate, meditate and do any number of steps and procedures to be in control of our lives. We hate the idea of ‘being done’ by someone or something else. That is why we prefer our Gods and Goddeses to be harmlessly ancient and docile. Conservatives want them to be bound in holy books they can safely interpret. Liberals want them to be impersonal forces or pliable energies that can be customized like designer clothes.


This is the era of liberation and rights. Nearly everyone is somehow oppressed, abused and fighting for rights and empowerment. There are vociferous groups everywhere proclaiming it is time that they be heard and honored.

And I say, “Good for you!” Stand tall, take control, stop being victims and take responsibility for your life. Be assertive, be creative, be positive and speak your truth. Utilize the power of intention and be in control of your own destiny. Act. Assert. Say 'Yes" to life! Do not be a whining victim. Stop making excuses, stop blaming Mom and Dad, the President, the Pope and price of gas!

However, let me just toss in a simple, and unpopular, reminder - namely that this philosophy of self help, personal control and positive thinking can take us only so far. The other secret is that there is a Realm of Invisibles – sometimes called Gods, Goddesses, Jesus, The God, Intelligences, the Stars, Daemons, Fate, Guardian Angels, canonized Saints, Destiny, Providence, Necessity and a host of other titles which have been assigned throughout human history.

And guess what. They DO us. Yes, we are being done; we are being made, we are being chiseled, carved, molded, guided and nudged along. I am not suggesting Calvinistic predestination or some sort of Stoical puppeteering, making us nothing more than manipulated objects. I am suggesting that we exist in a Universe of soul-making, something like that spoken of in the Tao Te Ching - where there is a bending of your personal life-bow to adjust excess and deficiency in the various experiences of life. The string will not fit snugly onto your bow and prepare it to fire powerful arrows unless both ends are equalized through the variety of events we will encounter in our time on earth.

Each individual and each culture is moved along a path allowing the Yin and the Yang, Chaos and Order, Positive and Negative energies to swirl around us in order to cause progression and expansion.

The relatively new science of Fractal Geometry demonstrates that our soul-making experiences are similar to what we see in tree branches, cloud formations and weather patterns. None is the same and the little twists, turns, coalescences and dissolutions are uniquely unpredictable to each organism, growing it downward, upward and outward.

Sometimes we are exalted like gods and other times we are squashed like bugs. Sometimes we experience richness, beauty and brilliance – others times we experience poverty, ugliness and stupidity. Most of us spend much of our lives walking the Balance Beam somewhere in between the two extremes, no matter how much we try to control and manipulate events. The Universe isn’t worried about being politically correct or ‘fair’ by human standards. Meteors and tsunamis arrive at the most inopportune times, rearranging geography, yet also containing the seeds for the new creative order. Similarly, disasters strike each of us emotionally and intellectually via dreams, imagined and actual diseases, depressions, addictions and a host of other phenomena over whose arrival we have no control. Like Job, our spiritual consciousness may be pristine one day and the next we are suddenly bowled over by some unexpected and ‘undeserved’ disaster. The supple bow bends, and years later we find that the string fits better and the arrows fly straighter.

I am not stating this as dogma. In fact, I don’t necessarily always like what I’m discovering. I often prefer and want more control, I want to manipulate the Universe to make me wealthy and healthy, and I want to know more about why and how it works.

But after years of living life and examining psycho-spiritual systems that try to explain the ‘whys and hows’, this universal process of soul-making just seems to make the best sense of the scanty data. Either there is some Realm of Invisibles making soul beyond the plethora of observable events of daily existence, or the universe is totally off the hook and out of control. The various universal mythologies agree that some Psychic Realm, like an artist chiseling marble, is alternating between harsh hammer blows and soft puffs that remove bits of dust. There is some sort of telos or end. It seems that all objects in the Universe are part of a soul seed that has been buried deeply in the soil of Psyche, is cracking apart, rotting, sending root tendrils down into dark realms, growing little shoots into the gorgeous light and awaiting the full blossoming of what will be some great flower.

Yes, we have some control. We get to discover our talents, individual propensities, gifts of genius and personal visions – and we get to use something like The Secret to create a purposeful life. Yes, we get to set intentions and affirm the Good.

But we must balance that out by realizing we are also being intended and affirmed by The Invisibles, by Guides and Intelligences beyond our agendas. This paradoxical dance is beyond understanding.
Perhaps the Tao Te Ching states it best when it says that the Tao (Soul):

…adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn't enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.

Tao Te Ching 77

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I look at the self help books differently... Maybe because they help me.. But let me see if I can be articulate enough to explain my thoughts!

Don't you think that "self-help" is a secular catagory that they introduce Christian minister in?

I feel that the miinisters who are invading secular arenas do that by injecting spiritual context in a format that the world's system will accept...

As long as Christ is preached does it matter that they are catagorized as "self-help"? the world doesn't have a God help catagory......

Now I know the books have some messages of "self-help" in them... but they are often filled with a lot of material about God and reach an audience that would otherwise have no exposure at all.

I guess I am saying that going into all the world may require becoming all things to all people that some might be saved... and yes, I know they make a lot of money... but Steven King writes about devils and gets paid. Why shouldn't the one who labors not get a reward as long as that is NOT the motive of the ministry.... What do you think?