Friday, November 5, 2010

Mystical Narcissism: The Law of Attraction Meets the Law of Opposites


In the Middle Ages, the Roman Church sold Indulgences or spiritual insurance policies created by the clergy for a profit. People were absolved of Purgatorial punishments by paying money to the Church. The more they gave, the more time off from bad behavior they received. They could even pay to release their deceased relatives writhing in the woes of Purgatory. The bottom line was that one could manipulate God.

The movie, The Secret, reminds me a little of those old Catholic Indulgences. Both teachings ignore or play down co-creative soul-making by placing humans solely or primarily in control. They ignore or forget the realm of Archetypal Intelligences that work on, in and through humans to guide their destinies, create Character and make Soul. Both forget that there is an unseen drama at work beyond human understanding. Both views cross over into spiritual narcissism, a state of mind that really believes the individual creates ALL reality and is at the center. This is normal and fun for small children, but emotional suicide for adults. Mysticism is 'being one' with all, but mystical narcissism is 'being the only one'.


Like three dimensional chess, the game of life is played on at least three levels:

1. Solo-making: Working on myself; realizing my potential; all self help and most individual psycho-therapy programs.

2. Social-making: Working on my relationships; realizing union with others; community building, relationships and group therapies.

3. Soul-making: Being worked on by Invisible Guides; character is being built in every circumstance of life and death.

At the first two levels we are the creators, exercising freedom. At level three we are the created objects of a Soul-making Universe. The Secret beautifully addresses level one, Solo-making, and touches on level two, Social-making. But The Secret virtually neglects level three, Soul-making.


There is an Invisible Universe called Soul which co-creates, sometimes applying 'Laws' that seem to contradict the Law of Attraction. I understand that the aim of The Secret is to focus on realizing personal potential and success, but to ignore Soul-making can have severe consequences for the person thinking that life occurs only in the first two dimensions - especially those who can't quite seem to apply The Secret and turn their lives around like all of the glowing anecdotal stories in the film.

In my opinion the real forgotten or lost Secret in this culture is that of the Soul-making dimension. At that level, there are many Archetypal Intelligences (plural) that arise from The One Mind. These Presences are making Soul in addition to, or sometimes in spite of, our positive or negative thoughts and intentions. We cannot ultimately manipulate these Energies to give us what we want by thinking or feeling.


The Law of Attraction (
I call it the Probability of Attraction) can work to change our external circumstances, to a degree – but it is not the only Law in the Universe. The Universe primarily conspires to make souls, not wealthy and healthy egos. We must not forget the Law of Balance, or Law of Opposites.

To make souls requires both the positive and the negative poles, which means that soul requires going into the dark depths and divine chaos as much as it requires rising into the light and divine order. We see this equilibrating principle at work in the world of physics with electricity and magnetism. There is no power (empowerment) without negative and positive currents; you do not have light (enlightenment) without negative and positive poles. You do not have Soul-making with only the Law of Attraction.

Another example is the Law of Gravity. As an only law, gravity would leave birds and humans grounded. Fortunately, for birds and those of us who benefit from air travel, there are the corresponding Laws of Aerodynamics to expand reality beyond a one dimensional grounded experience. These other laws ultimately do not contradict the law of gravity, but work in conjunction with it.

Similarly in psychology and metaphysics there is a Law of Balance which works with the Law of Attraction. The Law of Balance teaches that the Universe always seeks equilibrium.
Over 2,000 years ago, Plato wrote in the Phaedo, "Everything arises in this way, opposites from their opposites" (section 71a). Prior to Plato, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that "cold things warm, warm things cool, wet things dry and parched things get wet" (Fragment 126). He used the analogy of the strings stretched on a bow and lyre when he wrote that many people "do not know that the differing or opposed thing agrees with itself; harmony is comprised of reflexive tension, like the bow and the lyre" (Fragment 51)).

The ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching, Poem 77, states the same idea:

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.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don't have enough
and gives to those who have far too much.

In the modern world, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called this phenomenon 'enantiodromia,"
the notion that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. For Jung, this referred to the tendency of the unconscious mind to introduce material into the psyche which would balance out the conscious mind. These opposites or balancing events often show up externally as well in people and circumstances in ones daily life. The man who is hyper-sensitive continues to meet domineering women, the child who is timid is fascinated by outspoken people, the demure religious woman who loves to read stories about serial killers, etc.

The universal recognition that Nature is in a state of constant homeostasis, balancing one extreme with its opposite, is a critical "Law" to recognize for mental well being. When things go "wrong," these opposites provide the necessary and normal conditions for making a soul or developing a full character.


It is also important here to remind the reader that we must be careful to avoid the usual attitude taken by some when they say, "Oh yes, we have to go down in order to grow up, we must have the bad to see the good." This subtle distinction prejudices the scales--making it sound as though growing up is the real aim of all negative experiences.
The danger in this attitude is that we are always waiting for the negative experience to end so we can get to the "real" experience of the beneficial outcome. As much as I do not like to say this, the fact is that sometimes people spend many years or a whole lifetime in circumstances that are less than beneficial. The 10 million people who died in Nazi Concentration Camps did not get to see the "benefits" of their nightmarish ordeal. The millions of young men who died in war did not get to see the "good" in their sacrifice. The soul does not distinguish "good and evil," as our metaphysical and psychological systems so often do. It is true that we often do get to see the "good" or beneficial result, but not always. Even so, all experiences are purposeful.

These opposites are not on a horizontal, hierarchical scale of good and evil, but rather on a vertical scale of negative and positive--looking much like a teeter-totter going up and down rather than a thermometer escaping the cold basement. On this teeter-totter, the unifying principle is purposefulness rather than good feelings or happily-ever-after outcomes. It is great to hope, pray, hold mental equivalents and intend the Good outcome, but that is no guarantee that the circumstances will automatically and always change. This realization, at first, will be very depressing for some who live in a child-like fantasy world. But as time goes on and all of the "laws" of existence are realized, there is a kind of peace that transcends good and evil, dark and light. We do not have to enjoy the negative experiences, but we can have faith they are purposeful and containers of profound meaning if we embrace them and open our eyes and ears.


Those of us who appreciate The Secret need to be cautious. We are perilously close to heresy. I am not talking about the heresy of believing in the wrong religious dogma, but the original meaning of the word heresy. Heresy means 'to choose'. Real heresy is choosing one side of a Truth-paradox to the exclusion of the other side – it is choosing up over down, the masculine over the feminine, or particle over wave in the realm of physics. Heresy forgets paradox and denies wholeness. Some see wholeness as perpetual health, happiness, order and success. Soul-making wholeness is embracing the opposites, all aspects of the complicated and fascinating multi-verse we call a Universe, the good, the bad and the ugly.


We Westerners sometimes take too much credit for our successes and abundance. That is not to say we have nothing to do with our prosperity, we often do. I enthusiastically teach classes on the amazing Law of Attraction; I use the principles daily. Clearly our mental attitudes affect internal and external circumstances. An optimist is more likely to be happy than a pessimist. We hugely increase our chances of health and wealth by thinking positively.

However, there are poor optimists and wealthy pessimists; there are sick optimists and healthy pessimists. The simplistic one to one correlation of positive thinking to wealth and health cannot be demonstrated. I know lots of 'positive thinkers' and most of them have life experiences that are pretty much the same as 'negative thinkers' – both groups are comprised of folks who are concerned about money, holding their marriages together, raising troubled children and staying healthy. The one difference is that the positive thinkers find meaning and soul in their daily challenges, even if they can't manipulate these problems away with happy thoughts.

Soul-making recognizes that there is a grander plan in the Universe than attracting perpetual success and happiness through some thought manipulation. This formulaic approach can easily degenerate into a kind of New Age legalism, a sort of optimist's version of the Ten Commandments.


Occasionally we see some of the most optimistic celebrities and greatest advocates of Positive Thinking leveled by horrific disasters. Health and wealth teachers get caught in financial scandals, optimistic celebrities end up in rehab, politicians and televangelists have sexual affairs. This is the Law of Balance at work - the Universe is not being controlled by humans alone. These disasters make Soul as well or maybe even better than all of the successes.

The old Greek gods would not tolerate human hubris – translated arrogance. The brilliant classical scholar Elizabeth Vandiver of the University of Maryland tells us that the oft quoted phrase from ancient Delphi, 'know thyself', was to remind those entering the Greek temple of Apollo that they were not a god. 'Know thyself' was not used the way it is often used today, implying that we ought to do some self introspection in order to discover insights about our interior mental processes. The phrase at the Delphic Temple door was there to remind the entrant seeking a prophecy that he/she knew nothing when compared to the soul making gods.


A similar notion is found in the dramatic Hebrew story of Job. He was a righteous man; dare I say a positive thinker that knew and used The Secret. He did everything right. His consciousness was perfect. He obeyed God's Law, loved his neighbors, cultivated prosperity thoughts, fed the poor, encouraged his children and was an all around optimist and philanthropist. You know the story – he loses it all in one disaster after another. Most of the narrative is spent explaining how he defends himself against his three friends who tell him over and over that he has sinned, or to put it in modern terms, how he had been thinking negative thoughts.

Some Bible interpreters have even dared to blame Job from his own words, "That which I have feared has come upon me." But Job defends his pristine consciousness to the end. Finally, God speaks. The essence of God's message is similar to the slogan at Delphi. God says, "Ultimately Job, you know nothing compared to the Almighty." Prior to that lesson Job thought he had God under control. Job thought he knew 'The Law' and how to use it. He was sure he had reality harnessed and could control exactly how it worked. But the ancient story reveals a Universe that is vastly more complicated. At one point Job considers that he may be undergoing a soul-making experience when he says, "I have been tried and will come forth as gold."


In the very last paragraph of Tolkien's book, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is wondering out loud about his crucial role in changing the course of events on Middle Earth. He wonders whether or not there were other invisible Powers and Prophecies at work in some grander plan.
Gandalf the Wizard answers, "Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

"Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.


Martha said...

I am somewhat confused. I understand that life has both positive and negative people and experiences but I did believe that wholeness meant happiness, health, purpose etc. I don't want to embrace the bad and ugly. I know it exists but as much as is within my control I want to distance myself from it.
And as much as everything in the article makes sense, I walk away feeling kind of defeated. I used to naively believe (and wish I still could) that if you live your life right and put good into the world that you will get that in return (and vice versa). The thought that no matter how you act or think has nothing to do with what happens to you is frightening. I know it's true in that I've seen many good, positive people have more than their fair share of difficulties and many wicked people live a rewarding life. But fully accepting that makes me feel like what's the point of trying. If the universe is going to do whatever it wants regardless of how I live my life than what's the point of being good. I know being "good" or "bad" isn't always a choice. You are what you are. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did some of the things I see others doing but it makes me angry as to why I am the way I am. Life is so much easier for those people who have no empathy, remorse, shame. They can do anything they like, get a good sleep and still get rewarded. What's the point of it all? If we have no control over what happens to us then why wouldn't people choose to embrace the dark side, indulge their basest urges?

Michael (Mike) Bogar said...

As I see it, it's not a matter of "no control" or "complete control". Both are extreme poles and don't correspond with the circumstances of life. We are co-creators, not sole creators or non-creators. Like students in a classroom, life often gives us assignments that are not of our choosing; we get to respond to the assignment.