Tuesday, January 25, 2011

But for the grace of God go I

For my birthday last week, my dear friend Janet gave me the book The Power, which is the much-anticipated follow-up to the bestseller The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

Even though I never read The Secret, a number of years ago, Janet and I were big fans of the Law of Attraction (LOA) after our discovery of the writings of Florence Scovel Shinn, who wrote about the phenomenon during the 1920s.

As anyone who is a fan of these books can attest, when you first learn about the Law of Attraction, you can feel quite excited, as suddenly you’re given this road map to life that actually has hard and fast rules to live by—rules that if supposedly followed will bring limitless joy and prosperity into your life.

What I always loved about Shinn’s work was that she didn’t just write about the LOA; she actually gave you exercises to do to activate it in your life. And what was so exciting was that when I began to employ her ideas, I did indeed see my life begin to change. I began to practice gratitude, I did my daily affirmations, I envisioned a better life for myself and I have to say, it began to be something of a heady experience—to live by these guidelines and have them produce an actual result in my life, for never had I felt so joyous and free, so in tune with a power that was greater than myself.

So why then when I read The Power this week did I feel like punching Rhonda Byrne?

The book is filled will relentless optimism, basically saying that when we activate love (which is “the power” of which she speaks), everything will change, and if we can activate it enough, we’re guaranteed a blissful existence beyond our wildest dreams. She peppers the book with extraordinary tales about ordinary men and women who made simple attitude adjustments and then found themselves in the midst of a miracle, be it a reinvigoration of a marriage, restored health or gargantuan amounts of money.

While few could argue that a positive attitude in life generally produces more positivity, what has come to frustrate me about the Law of Attraction is that it can create a false sense of security, so that when life throws in a random catastrophe, the believer is then left wondering what he or she did wrong to attract this horrific event, and frankly, I find this cruel.

This was certainly true of me in 2004, when a series of unbelievable health traumas left me in this state of chronic pain. When I look back on that year, I was probably living one of the happiest periods of my life, and I see now that I was living with a type of hubris that set me up for the fall. I was a full believer that my whirlwind of positive energy had me encased inside a type of protective shield, and I wonder now if I thought I was just a little bit better than the next guy as my belief system seemed to be working so well. Like the evangelical Christian who believes God is on his side, I was so in touch with “the universe” that I wonder now if I was holding my head just a little too high.

In that sense, I suppose I’m grateful for the fall, which are words I never thought I’d hear myself say. I’ve since let go of my absolute beliefs in the Law of Attraction, realizing now that anything good happening in my life back then was the result of positive thinking, for sure, but also just a streak of good luck. I was feeling healthy and robust after a few years of stressful health issues, and frankly, I was probably a bit manic as well, which is when mental pathology feels good for once. I seemed to have limitless energy, endless creative ideas, and bottomless motivation to make those ideas come to fruition.

While I’ll continue to employ the helpful aspects of the LOA, never again will I believe that there are no accidents in life, as I know now just how dangerous that thinking can be.

We all want to feel safe in our worlds, and the Law of Attraction can lead us astray in thinking that we’re safer than we really are. If we can blame ourselves for every bad thing that happens to us (that gossip session yesterday brought on today’s headache, that fear of not having enough money brought on today’s arrival of a huge bill—these examples are detailed in The Power), then life doesn’t seem so random, so strange, so frightening.

But the truth is that sometimes, life IS random, strange and frightening, and instead of causing a panic attack, a full-on acceptance of this uncomfortable truth ignites something far deeper and more beautiful, and that’s compassion.

The affirmation that comes to mind right now is “But for the grace of God go I,” which means that as we look around us, we bear witness to the awful suffering human beings can go through day in and day out, and we recognize that any one of us is just inches away from befalling a similar fate.

Instead of looking at our brothers and sisters with judgment, that they somehow attracted these horrendous events into their lives with their erroneous and negative thinking and is thus their own fault, we see them instead as children of the universe who truly are sometimes just the hapless victim who deserve our love and deepest sympathy.

I missed all that when I believed too deeply in the Law of Attraction.

The bottom line is that sometimes, bad things do indeed happen to good people, and there’s no sense to it at all. What a relief.

While we’re certainly responsible for our own happiness, finding that happiness is harder for some than for others, and it’s not their fault at all. There are all kinds of horrors in this life—third-world poverty, abusive homes, dying children, murderous rampages, falling skyscrapers, to name but a few, and most victims are just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that's about as deep as it goes.

But for the grace of God go I.


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