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The Secret, a self-help book, focuses on quick fixes
(2007-04-14)

If you thought the 1980s was the Me Generation, you haven’t read The Secret.

It’s the newest, hottest, slickest, bestselling self-help book and DVD on the market. Its premise: If you want something badly enough, your very thoughts will attract it to you. A car. A necklace. A check for $25,000. Three hot dates a week. A soulmate. A cure for your cancer.

In the book, philosopher Bob Proctor expresses it this way: “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. It’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind.”

An example in the book and on the DVD is stunningly simple: A boy wants a bicycle. He asks for one. He cuts out a picture of one. He visualizes getting one. A man, possibly his father, gives him one.

Jeff Rivera, a Miami author, is a believer. After working 12 years on a novel, Forever my Lady, he says he used The Secret’s visualization technique to vividly picture in his mind an editor reading his book and loving it. The publisher called the next day, he says, and his book hits shelves in July.

“It’s really just visualizing it in your mind,” he says.

Marta Manrique-Reichard, Ph.D. psychologist at the Baptist/South Miami Regional Cancer Program, has doubts. She’s troubled by The Secret’s assertion that a woman’s breast cancer was cured after she merely pictured it already cured in her mind.

“If you feel positive, does that get rid of the cancer? No. You get that through medical treatment.”

Either way, The Secret has struck a national nerve. Published in November 2006, it has 3.75 million copies in print. Sales exploded after it was featured on TV by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Ellen DeGeneres. It has been on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

SHOWN IN HOMES

Its slick, 91-minute film version is full of breathless prose and mysterious scenes in dark hallways reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. It’s shown not in theaters, but via DVDs in the homes of devotees who invite their friends for viewings and discussions. Broadband users can see it on pay-per-view for $4.95 at http://thesecret.tv. It has an “Internet social networking community” that links fans to each other via blogs, forums, photos, profiles and an official newsletter, The Secret Scrolls.

It’s in the popular culture. Saturday Night Live has spoofed it. On last Tuesday’s episode of ABC’s Boston Legal, reprobate lawyer Denny Crane, played by William Shatner, tried to use The Secret’s visualization technique to conjure up Raquel Welch in his office. (Something went awry; he got Phyllis Diller.)

But The Secret’sstrongly materialistic tone has drawn detractors.

“I think it’s defeatist,” says the Rev. Laurinda Hafner, senior minister at Coral Gables Congregational Church. “It’s about material things — if you want a Mercedes or a Jaguar and you visualize it, it will appear. It takes away the element of working for it.

“You can get beat up that way. We can dream, but life doesn’t always work out that way. You end up wondering if the universe is against you.”

And The Secret is nothing new, psychologists and religious experts say.

“It’s old news in new packaging,” says Lesley Northup, dean of the Honors College at Florida International University. “This stuff has been floating around in metaphysical circles for millennia. But it’s attractive packaging; I can see why it’s a hit.”

Hal Urban, psychologist and author of Life’s Greatest Lessons, agrees: “It’s just a repackaging of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking from the 1950s [1952] and a lot of other books.”

“It’s the basis of cognitive therapy,” says Janice Lindsay-Hartz, a Ph.D. psychologist at Baptist Health System. “You try to help people become aware of their patterns of thinking, to see the negative patterns and try to replace them with more positive ways. It works for some but not others. Your mind isn’t a computer that lets you pull out one program and put in another.”

Market researcher John LaRosa says The Secret is the latest entry to a national U.S. self-improvement market that hit $9.6 billion a year in 2006 and is growing at 11.4 percent a year. LaRosa is research director for Marketdata Enterprises, a Tampa market research firm.

“It’s geared toward affluent women,” he says, “Baby Boomers concerned with New Age topics like alternative medicine, holistic healing, mind-body approaches to life. They’re the same people who turn to gurus like Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil.”

Written by Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne, The Secret compiles views of 55 experts, from philosophers to corporate trainers to quantum physicists. Proctor, the philosopher, states its central tenet: “If you see it in your mind, you’re going to hold it in your hand.”

Testimonials in the book are equally simple, concrete:

• “Cathy Goodman,” who is not further identified: “I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I truly believed in my heart, with my strong faith, that I was already healed. One of the things I did to heal myself was to watch very funny movies. From the time I was diagnosed to the time I was healed was three months. And that’s without any radiation or chemotherapy.”

COULD BE RISKY

That could be hazardous to her health, says Manrique-Reichard, at the Baptist cancer center: “Positive thinking is an asset, but you really need medical advice.”

• David Schirmer, stock trader and investor: “When I first understood The Secret , every day I would get a bunch of bills in the mail. So I just visualized a bunch of checks coming in the mail. Within just one month, things started to change. Today I just get checks in the mail. I get a few bills, but I get more checks than bills.”

“I’m a little concerned that it’s so overly focused on material things,” says Susan Bernstein, a career coach in Mill Valley, Calif., who uses The Secret in training classes for young managers. “I don’t think that’s what people want — a necklace or a fancy car. The biggest thing my clients want is to feel connected to the people they work with.”

But The Secret’s emphasis on the self doesn’t bother Thomas Norris, minister at The Church of the Way of the Messiahs in Pembroke Pines and Kendall, who holds sessions in his home to show the DVD to 20 to 30 of his congregation at a time.

He says: “From a Christian perspective, Jesus said, `Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Some people forget that last ‘thyself’ part. I see people giving to everyone but themselves. We try to bring balance to that. When you love yourself, you’re better at loving others.”

Despite the controversy, The Secret continues to grow; a sequel is in the works.

“I don’t think it’s terribly dangerous,” says Northup, the FIU religion professor. “It’s probably true that if you think positively, your chances are better than if you assume you’ll never improve yourself.”

Source: www.MiamiHerald.com • Fred Tasker, ftasker@MiamiHerald.com

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