The Sacred and the Lore of Attraction

My commute material last week included the audiobook of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I had a few concerns about the book, which were partially addressed in the book There is More to the Secret by Ed Gungor, which I read over the weekend.

This “secret” is very similar to other short books I have read in the past 18 months, most notably As A Man Thinketh by James Allen and especially The Science of Getting Rich by William Wattles, which she specifically mentions. Earl Nightingale summed these works up in six words: We become what we think about. (I must shamelessly add that you’ll find Allen’s and Wattles’ works in one convenient package by clicking here.) Many modern thinkers have adopted this theory – the whole process of visualizing your goal, believing it has already been met, is an outgrowth of what Byrne calls The Secret.

As Gungor points out, there is something to this law of attraction that Byrne describes – as far as it goes. She goes astray (and, I would argue, so does Wattles) when she attributes the law to a perfect but amoral Universe rather than God. I had a little trouble matching her arguments to my reality until I noticed a trick of the ear.

She kept talking about “getting in touch with the sacred,” and that puzzled me. Her book really is not about that kind of supernatural power. The only direct reference I heard to Jesus, for example, was in a list of philosophers known to have tapped into the law of attraction. My first epiphany came when I realized my aging ears were mis-hearing her Australian accent. She wasn’t saying “sacred,” she was saying “secret.”

But when I started listening with an ear tuned to how The Secret complements what I know of The Sacred, the concept seemed to click in my mind. I was further aided by her accent when it came to what sounded like “the lore of attraction,” which of course is how she pronounced “law.” Those pronunciations became my aural cues to think in terms I could see in real life – When she said “lore,” I thought “Lord.” She was so close to the real Secret – just one letter off!

Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. (Matthew 21:22)

I said “my first epiphany.” More to come on this subject.

Freedom is not for the faint of heart

You are free to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. All you have to do is be prepared to accept the consequences — for example, time in jail or prison, and/or civil suits by people injured in the ensuing panic, or their survivors.

You are free to blame a madman’s actions on your political adversaries. All you have to do is be prepared to accept the consequences — for example, looking like a damn fool when the madman’s friends confirm he was apolitical and paid no attention to your adversaries.

Freedom comes with responsibility, accountability for your words and actions. It’s not always easy to speak your mind publicly, because just as you have every right to express your views, those who hear have every right to offer their opinions in response. Sometimes other people’s opinions of yours won’t be pleasant.

Never mind what Big Brother said, freedom is the opposite of slavery. The solution to foolish or angry words is a reasoned response. The solution is not silencing the foolish or angry speaker by the force of new law – and the solution is certainly not violence. Not ever.

Freedom is not for the faint of heart. Freedom of speech means sometimes we will hear things we’d rather not hear. Stupid and/or evil folks will abuse freedom, and you can count on that. But the actions of a few do not justify stealing freedom from the many.

Freedom is not a gift of government. You were born with certain, inherent rights. Governments are formed to secure these rights, not create them. The most tyrannical government cannot remove these rights, although (as governments are designed to do) it may impede the exercise of freedom, and often does.

Freedom is the default mode of a human being. We relinquish our freedoms at our own peril. Think hard before you advocate for restricting any of them.

They hate our freedoms

In the aftermath of the unspeakable incidents Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and elsewhere, many people said the terrorists did what they did because they hate America’s freedoms.

In the aftermath of the horrific incident Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., it’s a bit disheartening to see the extent to which Americans hate America’s freedoms.

Rather than place the blame for the deaths of six people and the wounding of 12 others where it belongs — in the hands of a deranged individual — politicians and pundits have blamed instead the increasingly nasty tone of political discourse in this country, or the availability of guns.

In response to a madman’s actions, laws have been proposed that would further restrict free speech or gun sales. One bill would criminalize comments that could be conceived as threats against congressmen — one wonders what to do with the president’s remark “If they bring a knife to a fight, bring a gun.” Another lawmaker would re-establish the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” that neutered political speech on the radio and television airwaves for decades.

The problem, it seems, was not that Jared Loughner was left alone to grow sicker until he became homicidal. The problem was that people were saying too many bad things about left-wing politicians.

Once upon a time, a famous statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire summed up what I believe was the great American creed: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

This was the nation where the Supreme Court ruled that anti-Semites have a right to march through a Jewish community, and we applauded the Constitution that protected even the nastiest and most offensive political speech.

Now, we have a college professor who changes the words of the American literary classic Huckleberry Finn, because a word then commonly used to describe African Americans is spread liberally through its text. Never mind that Mark Twain’s novel is a landmark triumph in the battle against racism. The professor disapproves of what Twain said and will raise not a finger to defend his right to say it.

Now, there are those who, faced with statements they disapprove, advocate that the speaker be silenced.

And of course, now, the opponents of the Second Amendment have polished off their favorite bills designed to confiscate weapons not just from the deranged, but from all citizens.

Two centuries, a score and 15 years ago, a new nation was formed, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the notion that we are created equal with certain, inherent rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In the Bill of Rights, these rights were spelled out in more specific detail, with the government of our “more perfect union” prohibited from regulating freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and many more rights and freedoms — inherent rights we hold from the moment of our birth, not because a benevolent monarch or other political entity bestowed them upon us.

Some of the statements heard in the public arena today are hateful and offensive — “Save Mother Earth, kill Bush,” for example, or derogatory remarks based on President Obama’s skin color.

But even more hateful and offensive is the notion that the right to speak freely should be taken away.

Even more hateful and offensive is the notion that because a lunatic abused the right to bear arms, everyone’s right to bear arms must be infringed.

Even more hateful and offensive is that because people have committed crimes against humanity, then all of humanity must be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, at risk of being held without charge or speedy trial, and otherwise treated in violation of the founding laws of this once proud nation.

Those who would tread on those founding laws aim to silence those who believe those laws still have relevance 235 years later, and they will use any means necessary to achieve that aim — even if it requires using the actions of a lone madman as an excuse to intimidate and even enslave millions. But we who still believe in freedom will not be silent, not while those who hate our freedoms are shouting so loudly.

The essential difference is this: I could not disagree more thoroughly with those who shout such hateful and offensive ideas, but I will defend to the death their right to shout them. Sadly, 235 years after America declared its independence, many would deny their political adversaries even the right to whisper.

UPDATE AT 3:14 P.M. 1-12-2011: OK, that’s enough of being disheartened. I now switch away from worrying about how some people hate our freedom and back to loving our freedom. I now switch away from being afraid our freedoms are in jeopardy and back to refusing to be afraid. I apologize for my lapse.

Thoughts on the opening of the 112th Congress

The new governor of Wisconsin raised some eyebrows the other day with something noncontroversial that he said during his inauguration speech.

Gov. Scott Walker said, among other things, “Our rights as free people are given by our creator, not the government. Among these rights is the right to nurture our freedom and vitality through limited government.”

Some made a small fuss about the insertion of a supernatural creator into a secular event. They had little recourse, seeing as Walker was quoting from the Wisconsin Constitution when he talked about being “grateful to almighty God for our freedom.”

For centuries and even millennia, humanity has operated on the presumption that some people are better than others, that common people are born to serve superior people, and that the kindest superior people bestow freedoms on commoners who find favor with them.

In 1776 the Founders of the United States of America turned this notion on its head, declaring that we are born free.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” declared the Founders, “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

They instituted regular elections, a peaceful way of securing the next clause in their declaration: “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

Now, you can quarrel if you wish regarding whether this creator exists, but it would not change the basic fact on which American government was founded: Public servants live to serve the people — the people do not live to serve the government.

Each individual is created with certain, inherent rights, beginning with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, comprise what has been dubbed a secular 10 commandments, but rather than God prescribing individual behavior — you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery — these commandments are directed at the government: You shall not restrain what people say, you shall not search their persons or property in an unreasonable fashion, etc.

From the beginning the struggle has continued between those who believe in these principles and those who believe having a king was a better idea. Indeed, it was many years before a majority acknowledged that the words “all men are created equal” really do apply to all men — of all skin colors and faiths — and to women, as well.

As a recent president put it so well, “as government expands, liberty contracts.”

For at least the past four years — and I would argue it has been much longer — the majority in power has held to the belief that the people exist for the government, which is comprised of superior people who know better how the common people should live their lives.

For all of my lifetime, the president of the United States has been accorded the kinds of perks and honors previously reserved for monarchs, and those who work for the government have increasingly applied the notion that they exist to dictate terms to the people.

In the last election the notion that all men are created equal, and that government serves the people, seems to have prevailed. We shall see whether those who were elected really believe the principles that got them elected.

They will have to struggle against those who still believe that government exists to govern, with or without the consent of the governed. It is a struggle that began in July 1776. The revolution, it seems, never ended.

Opening the book on a new year

Lyrics to a little ditty I wrote back in the day …

Live Till You Die

Nobody said that it would be easy,
Everyone said it could not be done,
But nobody said it would not be worth it,
So go for it now — you’ve only just begun.

There’s no shame in failing before the end comes.
While there’s life, there is hope, there’s a seed.
It’s better to try, give it all that you have,
Than attempt to do nothing and succeed.

There’s just too many people out there
Not caring if they live or die
There’s just so much to find out there —
You can’t laugh if you’re afraid to cry.

So this is my plea: Live till you die.
There’s no reason you should give up now.
Tomorrow’s a blank page to write what you wish —
The rising sun will show you how.

Cross posted to Uncle Warren’s Attic

Find Your Passion

Nearly halfway through my fifth decade on this world, I met a little red-haired girl. Well, “girl” is a bit of a misnomer, since she had also spent almost four and a half decades on this planet. When I began writing newspaper columns, she became Red — well, actually, her dad had been Red, and she was known as Little Red when she was a little red-haired girl. But for all practical intents and purposes, she is Red now. And more than a decade later, she is still my best friend and dearest companion, a relationship I suspect will continue until my last breath.

Red is a joy to behold in a garden. She will spend hours digging in the soil, trimming wild growth into some semblance of order, planting seeds and nursing them into bloom. Sometimes I will step into our yard, where wildflowers and roses and morning glories and cedar trees compete for the eye’s attention, and am overcome with the beauty of the fruits of Red’s labors. I can only imagine what she feels when she steps back to see what her dirt-smudged hands have wrought.

Well, I can do a little bit more than imagine, because she has converted me to the cause to a certain extent. I need a little more a reward at the end of my journey, so my focus has been in the realm of growing food. I know the thrill of biting into a radish or a tomato that I planted, and I know the frustration of tending a plant that never yields what it promised, so I guess I have an idea how Red feels about her gardens.

But as wise souls know, in many many ways the journey is the reward. Although there is some satisfaction in the finished product, the point of digging in the soil is the joy of digging in the soil. Red just has a passion for working with the natural processes of nurturing and growing. Often the results are spectacular, sometimes not so much — but as she follows her passion, she retains a focus that simultaneously settles, recharges and energizes her soul.

I have a similar feeling when I sit at a typewriter keyboard typing words like this, or holding my guitar trying to coax a new song out of it. I suspect the process of creation is inherent to human nature.

The X-Files was a popular TV series of the 1990s, and at the end of each program creator Chris Carter inserted the sound of a child’s voice saying with pride, “I made this!” It was a charming moment. An indescribable exhilaration accompanies the completion of a project, as you step back and admire the task and then realize, “I made this!” Studies have shown that people feel more motivated when they have a sense of ownership in what they create during the course of a workday, whether it’s a physical product or a more existential or intellectual handiwork.

We were built this way. It is said that God made human beings in His image, and “In the beginning God created …” The act of creation puts us in touch with something essential to our very being.

And especially gratifying is when we can step back, examine our finished creation and conclude, “It is good.”

How do we maximize the number of moments when we can cry “I made this!” or sigh with satisfaction, “It is good”?

Find your passion.

What is it that you enjoy doing so much that it feels more like play than work even when you’re working on it? What makes your heart beat faster when you do it or even just start thinking about it? What gets your attention to the point that when you’re learning about it or finding out how to do it or readin about it, hours can go by and it’s like time stood still? That’s very likely your passion.

Happy is the soul who is making a living doing what he or she loves best. Those are the people who have found their passion, for whom “work” is more like play. Well, maybe not quite — people who love their work still work hard; it’s just that the drudge work doesn’t seem so bad. For Red digging in the soil is a release and a source of satisfaction; for someone who is not passionate about gardening, it’s just digging in the dirt. When I’m not writing tomes like this or composing songs, I’m a small-town newspaper editor. Editing can be a time-consuming and repetitive task, but often the end of the workday takes me by surprise, because I enjoy the work.

“Hang on a second,” you might be asking at this stage. “Is Red a gardener by trade? Does she ‘make a living’ digging in the dirt?” Good question. No, she isn’t and no, she doesn’t, at least not as of this writing. But she is more fully alive because of the time she spends following her passion, and that helps her focus on her chosen field.

When you are following your passion, it’s easier to remain conscious. Your attention zeroes in, your senses are fully engaged, and your thoughts are focused. It’s possible to look up and discover that hours have gone by. You have stayed “in the moment” for many, many moments. You were here now, and many many “nows” have gone by.

It is a scream of consciousness: I love doing this!