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I’ve Got The Secret

The self-help program The Secret promises to unlock the door to lifelong happiness and prosperity. Rebecca DiLiberto plays test chump–er, chimp–to find out if it actually works. She'll chronicle her progress on Faithhacker as she undergoes her Secret transformation. Below: … Read More

By / April 9, 2007

The self-help program The Secret promises to unlock the door to lifelong happiness and prosperity. Rebecca DiLiberto plays test chump–er, chimp–to find out if it actually works. She'll chronicle her progress on Faithhacker as she undergoes her Secret transformation. Below: her first four entries. Check Faithhacker regularly for updates.

It's Kind of Like Scientology

By now you’ve read about the self-help phenomenon that is The Secret. You’ve probably heard that the book is number one in its category on the New York Times bestseller list, and that the DVD is number one on Amazon (with the book second only to the new Harry Potter). The Secret's cadre of experts has been featured on every major talk show, from Oprah, to Larry King, to NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Unsurprisingly, the media is fascinated by our country’s infatuation with a philosophy that insists you can get everything you’ve always wanted…simply by pretending you already have it. That’s right, The Secret is, above all, about the power of positive thinking. Its central tenet is the law of attraction. According to Bob Proctor, one of the gurus on the DVD and in the book, “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life…Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you.” Okay, so this is nothing new. This is what self-helpers through the ages have always believed, it’s why they go around smiling their gooey smiles and inviting random strangers to meditation meet-ups and community kitchens—in order to attract other self-helpers to meditate and cook and join in self-congratulations. You are what you seek: This is what Scientologists believe, what people take home from the Landmark Forum, what they learned from EST–the precursor to Scientology–back in the day. So what makes The Secret so different from all these “self-actualization” groups, which many of us think of as cults? It requires nothing of you. You need not spend anything beyond the cost of materials to reach your full potential–$34.95 for the DVD, $23.95 for the book—even less on Amazon. You don’t have to go to classes with people who annoy you, or fear being seduced into a pyramid scheme, or believe in Xenu, or force your bladder into submission during an overlong revival at some airport Hilton. The Secret fits perfectly into the lazy, thrifty hole in the soul of America. It also plays into Americans’ faith in omnipotence and our magical thinking. Who among us hasn’t believed they might be discovered while walking down Hollywood Boulevard, or made a billionaire by purchasing a Powerball ticket? Who doesn’t fantasize about instant success without effort? Transformation without perspiration—a total life makeover in one thirty-minute segment—that is the real American dream.

I am no different from most Americans in my desire for change and my lack of motivation to affect it. But I am not the sort of person who usually consults self-help books. As a rule I find them obvious, poorly written, cheesy, and, most important, uncool. The lameness factor doesn’t necessarily come from the way these books are executed, but from the general sentiment behind them: I don’t want to admit that I want to be the best I can be. I don’t think I am alone in this. We in our twenties and thirties, who grew up listening to Nirvana and encouraging our hair to cover our faces, are used to playing down our accomplishments. We want to be gifted, not driven. We want our successes to happen to us—so we don’t feel guilty, so we don’t have to try too hard, so we feel special. Recently, though, I thought: What if my desire to be cool is impeding my capacity to be happy? What if my snobbishness is robbing me of the wisdom I need to self-actualize? Maybe people with correspondence degrees and life-coaching businesses really do have a lot to teach! Maybe I am surrounded by mopey complainers because I am a mopey complainer! So, I have decided to try The Secret. I will watch the DVD and read the book and for three weeks I will do what they tell me to. I will practice the law of attraction. I will think happy thoughts. I will close my eyes and pretend to drive an imaginary Ferrari. While 99 percent of me thinks this is a silly idea, 1 percent of me really hopes—okay, believes—that it will work. That at the end of three weeks I will have a book contract, a perfect husband, and a 26-inch waist. So stay tuned and I’ll let you know what happens. At this point, I’ll settle for one out of three.

***

The Secret: Strong Enough for a Man, Made for a Woman?

Years ago I interviewed an actress for a beauty story—an actress who happened to be a Scientologist. She was delightful: warm, funny, smart, and, of course, gorgeous. And she looked preternaturally young for her age. When I asked her what her anti-aging secret was, she brought her teacup down from her lips and, gazing deep into my eyes, she said, “I believe I am going to stay young, and so I do. It’s part of my religion.” I don’t know if she performed some Jedi mind trick on me or what, but at that moment, I wanted to be a Scientologist. In fact, I let her tell me about it for the next 45 minutes. She managed to convince me—temporarily—that L. Ron had discovered the way to self-actualization (“There are Jewish Scientologists, you know…”). At the end of our conversation, she ran into the back wing of her Brentwood mansion and came back with two huge adult-size coloring books—one on Dianetics, and one on Scientology. A surge of power pulsed through my arms as I accepted the books—I felt like Harrison Ford at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I zoomed out of her driveway toward my hotel so I could lock my door and read—okay, color—the books. Of course I didn’t believe that what was inside them could make me look like a movie star—even if I became a believer, that would require years of auditing and some trips to the Celebrity Centre. I was freaking out because I had top-secret information! In my possession were books that usually cost serious cash, books that were carefully kept out of naysayers’ hands. The information in these books had convinced some of the world’s richest, most successful people to believe in aliens.
So now you want to know what those coloring books said. Admit it: You’re feeling a little bit of nervous anticipation. (Go to Amazon if you really want to know; they’re available there for $13.95, much to my chagrin.) Now you may be able to relate to how I felt when a brown box appeared at my door, holding a copy of The Secret.

Yes, I had ordered it. But still, my pulse sped up, just as it had when the starlet handed me the Scientology books. Like everyone else, I had experienced the hype surrounding The Secret, but no one I knew had actually seen the DVD. While the PR campaign for the “movement” had been extensive, only snippets of the video had been shown on television. It seemed that none of the TV or radio hosts who interviewed The Secret People had actually seen the video—they relied on their interviewees to refer mystically to the concepts in it, while nodding with the requisite broadcast mix of excitement and hesitation. Opening the DVD, I half expected it to ignite or grab my hand or talk to me or something. The faux-wax seal on its cover made me feel like a character in my own personal Da Vinci Code. Instead of PLAY, the DVD menu encouraged me to REVEAL THE SECRET. The opening sequence of the video played directly into my mood, featuring singing monks and the breathless whispering of a mysterious woman who was later revealed to be the Australian television producer behind The Secret, Rhonda Byrne. Turns out Rhonda “discovered” The Secret when she hit rock bottom (thus brilliantly allying herself with millions of other downtrodden folks, i.e. customers), in a hundred-year-old book given to her by her daughter, called The Science of Getting Rich. Even though my brain had already called bullsh*t, a little voice inside it whispered, “This is my discovery! I am Rhonda, Rhonda is me.” The Secret’s marketing works because it makes us feel we’ve found something other people don’t know about, but that’s always been there. It appeals especially to women, I think, not only because Byrne is female, and women love that whole you-are-not-alone thing, but also because magical transformation is a particularly feminine motif (think fairy tales, like Pretty Woman). And because we like the idea of discovering something dormant inside us, waiting to bloom. Being a woman, and a particularly suggestible one at that, I wanted to reveal The Secret enough to sit through 92 minutes of materialistic philosophizing (tape a one-hundred-dollar bill to the ceiling above your bed so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up) and clunky scenes illustrating The Secret’s principles (stubbing her toe upon waking, a young woman is convinced her day is going to go crappily, and so it does). Like the Scientology coloring books, The Secret’s revelation was disappointing, but I was still determined to find my takeaway, just to be sure I hadn’t passed on the key to the universe.

Watch some of The Secret below and see if you get sucked in. I am going to make a Vision Board now.

 

***

The Secret: Vision Quest

The Secret is big on visualization. Visualization is one of its more logical concepts, actually, considering the role it’s played for years in managing pain and chronic disease. Visualization is certainly a better proven pathway towards success than the Aladdin’s-genie-lives-within-you tenet, or the your-feelings-tell-you-what-you-are-really-thinking belief. A guy named Mike Dooley, described as an “author and international speaker,” introduces the concept of visualization in the video:

Look at the back of your hands, right now. Really look at the back of your hands: the color of your skin, the freckles, the blood vessels, the rings, the fingernails. Take in all those details. Right before you close your eyes, see those hands, your fingers, wrapping around the steering wheel of your brand new car.

(This is perhaps a good time to note that The Secret People don’t make any judgments about what you want to use The Secret for. It’s perfectly fine to ask the universe to give you a Maserati, for example, rather than the job that would earn you the money to buy said Maserati. I find The Secret’s unabashedly materialistic bent simultaneously refreshing and sinister.) After Dooley, a guy called Dr. Joe Vitale—who is a “metaphysician, marketing specialist, and author”—chimes in:

This is such a holographic experience—so real in this moment—that you don’t even feel as if you need the car, because it feels like you have it already.

Yeah, right, I thought, as I leaned back on my couch to try it. But, as this assignment to write about The Secret allows me to embrace exercises I would normally consider too embarrassing, I held my hands out in front of me. I looked at their chubby snowman structure, their week-old chippy manicure, the way that, gripping an imaginary steering wheel, they resembled bear claws. Gosh, I think it’s time to start waxing my arms. Eeew. I have really hairy arms. No! I have hairless arms. I believe I have hairless arms. I am sending out a hairless-arm vibration. Genie!

I closed my eyes. I saw my hands in front of me and felt my body start to shake in anticipation of nervous laughter. I gripped my imaginary steering wheel. It was wrapped in leather like the ones in Merchant Ivory movies. My right toes moved toward the floor instinctually to engage the gas pedal. Whoa. Does my body think it is driving? A brief moment of sincere consideration, and then, an uncontrollable wave of goofiness takes over my face. This is ridiculous. Am I really doing this? Keep your eyes on the road, says some inner voice. I am overwhelmed with a smiley feeling reminiscent of a high school nitrous buzz. As silly as I think this is, I feel better—happier—than I did five minutes ago. Maybe The Secret People are smarter than we think; like shrinks, maybe they have a hidden agenda. Maybe they have us do the car thing to solicit a sense of true, deep hilarity, which, in turn, improves our mood and thus makes us more open to the “truths” that come later in the DVD? In seventh grade, my friend Barry told me that if you force a smile, even if you’re feeling rotten, endorphins will show up to the party and make you happy. I opened my eyes. “Wesley!” I yelped to my friend who was getting dressed in the other room, “I was driving! Really driving! Is it possible this works?” “Rebecca,” he said, his tone and countenance that of a 1950s sitcom dad teaching a lesson, “You are in your living room. You are not driving.” “Yes, obviously now I’m not, but I was—I mean, I guess I’m just surprised to be so suggestible.” If Wesley couldn’t accept the new-and-improved Secret Rebecca, surely none of my other friends could either. Should I visualize all my friends embracing the me-with-hairless-arms, in front of my Maserati? No time… “Hey, visualize no traffic and an instant table at BLT Burger.” So, I did. I don’t mean to freak you out, but, on a Friday night at 8 p.m., it took us 13 minutes to get from 96th St. to 11th St., and there was virtually no waiting until we were seated at the only six-person table at NYC’s most popular burger joint.

No, smartass, we didn’t take the Maserati.

***

Meet Secret Rebecca

For the last week, I have been asking myself the same question countless times per day: What would Secret Rebecca do? Secret Rebecca was born out of my inability to see myself on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, or waking up in a $10 million house in Malibu, or leading my 10-child brood—half birthed, half acquired—through the more complicated harmonies in the Sound of Music score. The Secret requires constant positive visualization, but when I’m sitting on my couch watching Sex and the City on demand with an empty bag of baked Cheetos (come on, they’re baked!), it’s hard to pretend I’m a skinny person who has eschewed TV for the meditative, life-affirming power of a saltwater fish tank. Secret Rebecca is that person. Secret Rebecca looks like me, except she’s thin and her hair is less frizzy. She loves waking up at 6 a.m. for yoga and she thinks that if fruit and ice cream had equal nutritional values, everyone would choose fruit because it really does taste better. Secret Rebecca is not creatively paralyzed—neither by fear of failure, or success—and so she manages to churn out one excellent book a year. She’s not delusional—she knows she’s no Phillipa Roth—but she sees no reason she shouldn’t be able to earn a living by writing quality trade paperbacks. (So many dumb people do!) But Secret Rebecca doesn’t think of them as dumb people. Why waste time and energy harboring negative emotions? Secret Rebecca thinks, Good for them!They’re following their bliss! They’re doing the best with what they’ve got! Unlike Rebecca, who thinks, if I had just a little less obsessive self-awareness I could have published ten books by now and bought myself a nice little pad overlooking the Barnes and Noble on Astor Place from which I could drop water balloons on all the entitled double-stroller-pushers attending chick lit signings with their nannies.
Secret Rebecca moonlights as a chick-lit writer under a pen name, just for fun. She donates all the proceeds to an anonymous send-a-nanny-to-college fund.

Don’t think that Rebecca and Secret Rebecca are always at odds. Secret Rebecca is a touchstone for Rebecca, a beacon of hope: Above her, written in the clouds, is a message: Your very same DNA could have gone this way. The fantasy is oddly comforting and very liberating. Could I really be a completely different person just by doing different things? Working with this same set of cells, could I fashion myself a happy, successful, highly contributing member of society instead of a high-functioning underachiever who feels a sense of accomplishment every time she empties the dishwasher? So I am trying to trick myself into becoming Secret Rebecca (surely I’d be happier free of my self-destructive—okay, masochistic—reflex?) by asking myself what she would do in the face of my daily predicaments. W.W.S.R.D.? Secret Rebecca wouldn’t hit the snooze button with the fervor of a Jeopardy contestant. She’s got miles to run, words to write! Besides, she goes to bed promptly at 11 each night, after a cup of chamomile tea and half an inch of The Brothers Karamazov (books after 1970 only on weekends), so she’s had plenty of rest by 6:30 a.m. Secret Rebecca wouldn’t take an impulsive $20 cab ride just because her feet hurt; she knows that money would better serve her—and the world—put away in a green-growth mutual fund. After all, $20 per day is $600 per month! She’d be invited to sit at Al Gore’s table at the Obama inauguration! Secret Rebecca’s resolve wouldn’t shrivel at the sight of a Starbucks—S.R. knows that not only does purchasing a double-tall nonfat caramel macchiato increase her diabetes risk, but also impacts the guy slumped in the cab of the tin truck on the corner. You see, Secret Rebecca is a trendsetter, so if people see her buying her coffee—black, no sugar—from Mario’s Koffee Kart, they’ll follow suit, and his business will increase 20 percent! Then it’s just a matter of time before she convinces him to go organic.
Secret Rebecca wouldn’t hold a grudge if a date bailed out of dinner at the last minute. She wouldn’t order two full entrees from the Japanese delivery place, shamefully asking the waitress for three sets of chopsticks for her imaginary friends, and camp out in front of the Gimme a Break marathon on TBS. She would go to the restaurant alone with a red rose in her hair and let the chef order for her. She wouldn’t even bring a book. She’d sit there, eyes fluttering in gastronomic ecstasy, savoring every bite of young eel offal, and her wine and dessert would be free. Three waiter/actors would fall in love with her self-possession and adventurous palate. Do you hate Secret Rebecca? My friends and family do. Not because of who she is or how she acts—after all, I think everyone in my life would like to see me a little more pro-active and positive—but because her mere existence sort of renders me certifiable. I seem to be suffering from A.A.O.M.P.D.—Acquired Adult-Onset Multiple Personality Disorder. I think it is the exhilarating sense of escape this alternate, Sliding Doors-self offers that has me wondering what Secret Rebecca would do, more than the possibility I might one day shapeshift into her. Though a “better” life might be an ancillary benefit.

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