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THE SHRINKING UNIVERSE

Can you keep a secret?

VIJAY NAGASWAMI

If you are living life in victim mode, some essential reading to get you going on a positive, fulfilling path.


The Secret, Rhonda Byrne, Beyond Words Publishing, Simon and Schuster,

Rs. 550. ISBN 9781582701707

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,

David Burns, Avon Books, Rs 246.

ISBN: 9780380810338

One unquestionable axiom of contemporary existence is that life is noisy. There is pressure all around us. Television, the print media and the Internet dictate our opinions, thought processes and general lifestyles. The morning commute sets the tone for our emotional state through the day. Relationships that we enter into in all good faith and with lots of good intent, make us envy Robinson Crusoe. The stock market’s capriciousness defeats our belief in rational processes. Add to this, our own ambitions and aspirations to achieve the kind of success that all those high-energy motivational speakers tell us is within our easy reach, and you have a potentially deadly recipe for early burnout. Little wonder then that most urban professionals feel they lead treadmill-lives, not knowing why their cheese keeps on moving and unsure if when they finally get to it, it will turn out to be stale and smelly.

Forgive me if I’m depressing you on a perfectly pleasant Sunday morning. I am ordinarily a reasonably positive person, and am only trying to portray the experience of a state of existence described by psychologists as “the victim mode”. Individuals in this state see themselves as victims of an unpredictable environment and therefore retreat into a state of what Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, described as “learned helplessness”. To them, it appears that they have little control over their lives. As it did to an Australian lady in 2004. Rhonda Byrne’s life appeared to have fallen apart. She had overworked herself into a state of exhaustion, was traumatised by the death of her father and her personal relationships were in turmoil. Around this time, her daughter gave her a book called The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles, published in 1910. Reading it, Rhonda had something of an epiphany and discovered what she calls “The Secret”. Her search of The Secret’s origins led her to living masters and practitioners of The Secret and with their help and support, she made a documentary film, “The Secret”, which took the United States by storm, resulting, as such unqualified successes usually do, in an entire industry surrounding it ( www.thesecret.tv ). And in 2006, the book version of The Secret made its best-selling appearance.

New life to an old idea

So, what then is Rhonda Byrne’s Secret? It is based on what has been described as a Universal Law — The Law of Attraction, an idea that has been around for millennia. Based on the principle that “Like Attracts Like”, it spawned what can be referred to as the Positive Thinking Movement that prevailed over the latter part of the 20th century. In 2004, it received a fresh shot in the arm with the publication of a whole series of books like Ask, And It Is Given, The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham etc by Esther and Jerry Hicks. Byrne’s video, book and seminars, as well as a much-publicised interview on the Oprah Winfrey show, have brought the concept bang into the mainstream of American, and in recent times Indian, popular thought.


The Law of Attraction basically postulates that human beings are rather like thought magnets. In other words whatever thoughts we think, we tend to attract similar thoughts to us. So if we think negative thoughts, we are encouraging the Universe to send negative thoughts our way. But if we think positively, we attract positive energy. Some quantum physicists have described the law as functioning by displacing energy and magnetic fields in as yet incompletely understood ways. In The Secret, Byrne, along with the several other gurus who are also credited with the book’s authorship (including, among others, Jack Canfield, the creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) describes the three steps involved in making the law work for you. The first of these is that you should Ask or command the Universe for whatever you want. This should be stated in a positive way, otherwise you would attract something negative to you. The next step is to truly Believe that what you have asked for is already yours and behave as if you have already got it. Visualise it clearly and experience the sense of fulfilment that you expect from it. The final step is to Receive it. You can receive it only when you are prepared to and allow yourself to receive it. You need to recognise that it’s coming your way and embrace it.

This, in a nutshell, is The Secret. If you want to understand this better and with examples and clear descriptions of each step of the process, I would recommend you invest Rs. 550 and read it. Handsomely produced, The Secret, even though a tad cheesy in places and sometimes a bit evangelical in its approach, serves to communicate the essentials of the Law of Attraction very effectively and can be inspiring to someone who is feeling victimised by life. I have found that some of the people I have recommended the book to have responded positively to it. Whether or not all their questions have been answered, I do not know. Whether they are really thought magnets, I cannot tell. Whether the Universe has conspired to make their dreams come true, I have little idea, even though this seems to stretch my rational mind somewhat. But I do know that they have felt better for having read it and have given themselves a jumpstart towards greater positivity in their lives. For those who require more pragmatic processes to get themselves out of their state of Learned Helplessness, I have also recommended, with some success Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns.

A different approach

The new mood therapy that Burns describes in his best selling classic is based on the principles of Cognitive Therapy, developed by an American psychiatrist called Aaron T. Beck. Where The Secret approaches the issue of positive thinking from an emotional-spiritual perspective, Feeling Good looks at it from the end of thought or cognition. Based on the understanding that negative thoughts result in negative feelings rather than the other way round, the book helps the reader to understand how these negative thoughts form automatically in one’s mind, thereby leading one in the direction of negative feelings and eventually negative actions. Burns goes into exhaustive detail and discusses a number of techniques that one can use to identify one’s negative thought processes and correct them by replacing negative automatic thoughts with more positive and healthy ones. Unlike The Secret, Feeling Good is not a curl-up sort of book. It demands more time, more application of thought, and some paper and pencils if you are going to get the best out of it.

Probably the most important insight that both these books provide is that to make your life better, you have to want to make it better. You are the master of your destiny and it is only when you get your act together, will you be able to overcome life’s speed breakers, even if you are not the one that put them there in the first place. I would suggest that if you feel you have hit a bit of a roadblock and are feeling victimised and helpless, you might consider reading both the books. Then perhaps The Secret of Feeling Good will be yours for life.

The writer is a psychiatrist, columnist and author. His latest book , The New Indian Marriage – Laying the Foundations is due out in late 2008. He can be contacted at vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com

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