Ok...so I pay attention to a lot of personal development/self-help material out there. There is so much out there and to be honest, sometimes it hurts my head. Some if it is very loud, and very in your face bossy.
However a lot of it is gentle, open, vulnerable and kind.
I'm honestly losing some tolerance for the loud, overbearing, Law of Attraction (like The Secret) personal growth messages out there. There is something that feels very disingenuous and fraught about those messages to me. I've seen articles floating around with messages like, "how I manifested $10,000 in 10 days. You can do it too!" or "The universe never asked you to struggle, it is simply answering your mood." or "Force the Universe to give you EVERYTHING you ever wished for."
The general consensus of the meaning of the Law of Attraction (LOA) is that it's a universal "law" that says human beings are powerful and have the innate, almost supernatural ability to attract and manifest things into our lives with our thoughts and intentions, whether that be positive or negative. Generally, the masses tend to boil it down to attracting stuff/success...especially in a lot of the business material I've been reading–all about manifesting money and success.
Now I certainly agree with the concept that positivity attracts positivity and that negativity breeds more negativity. For sure. But I see it as being a lot more complex than being about our bank accounts or personal trophies.
I went to an event earlier in the year, and although I got a lot out of it overall, one thing that didn't sit right was a vision-boarding exercise. The leader of the event had us cut out pictures of material things we want in this life (cars, big houses, diamonds, money), and glue them on our boards. Then we were instructed to manifest these very specific things (down to "the colour of your future Mercedes, because you don't want to confuse the universe") into our lives–by sending out our wants and desires to the universe. "It is important to hold back doubts. If we have doubt in our hearts or anything negative, we will surely sabotage our success." (Because the big, expansive universe can't get past our little bit of foggy doubt....)
This thinking fosters entitlement, not contentment.
Entitlement will never be satiated.
Contentment fosters well-being.
I've never been a math person, but honestly, math is partly what makes this whole idea not resonate with me....Say there is a finite amount of money in the world (which there is), and for this purpose we'll say there's 10 people. There are many economic flaws in this scenario, I'm just trying to make a simple point–bear with me.) In this scenario there is $1,200,000 in the world and all 10 people want a million dollars. They are setting intentions and putting the message out to the universe that they will earn a million dollars this year. Clearly there is not enough money for everyone to make a million dollars. So one gets a million and the others get the remnants in varying amounts. There is room for much disappointment, because not everyone will be a millionaire. Who says being a millionaire is indicative of happiness anyhow.
The truth is that we ALL fail.
We ALL struggle. We ALL hurt.
Understanding this universal experience of pain is a big component of self-compassion.
The Role of Pain and Struggle, and There is a Role.
I also believe that it's important to honour ourselves, especially in the pain we experience. We have to sit with it, feel it, contemplate, learn from it, and eventually get past it. Sometimes we are doing the best we can, and life just sucks. Sitting with the pain and struggle is actually very valuable. It changes our paradigm. I don't regret anything, and I know that the pain I have felt in my life, has made me who I am today.
Pain changes us, and makes us stronger. This is also a very important component of self-compassion.
When self-help "gurus" never speak of pain, discomfort, doubt, and fear, I always see a red flag.
As I mentioned before, I think the biggest flaw of mainstream law-of-attraction thinking is that we attach the philosophy to the acquisition of material goods.
Most of us have a sense that the meaning of life is not about what we own, yet we are soooooo drawn to wanting more, more, more. Our commercial culture nurtures the need for constant want, rather than cultivating feelings of contentment, whether spiritual, emotional or material. It saddens me that the yardstick of success in the first world is the size of your bank account.
Wayne Dyer says, “Most people’s mistake in trying to apply the law of attraction is they want things; they demand things. But God doesn’t work that way.”
What about the role of discomfort?
When we live life with a sense of entitlement, chasing constant bliss, we miss out on learning from pain, fear and discontent. I have little kids, and it's amazing to see them learn new things. Every new stage of development is filled with struggle, failure, fear and fierce determination.
I watched my oldest daughter learn to ride a bike. She wasn't a kid who picked up a bike and just rode with no practice. There were many tears, many scrapes and a whole lot of falls. I realized that I had to create space for her to learn. Which meant that I had to sit with my discomfort–the desire to protect her from the struggle. She had to push past her discomfort, and understand that falling is just a part of the growth process.
A few years ago we took that same daughter to her first skating lesson at our local ice rink, and we saw a friend who played hockey there. He came over to her, knelt down beside her and whispered "falling is the fun part of it, don't be afraid to fall."
I don't know if he had any idea of how profoundly important those words were to her, and also to me. It was something she often repeated throughout her lessons which got her through, and something I've tried to live by.
“You seem to look upon depression as the hand of an enemy trying to crush you…Do you think you could see it instead as the hand of a friend, pressing you down to the ground on which it is safe to stand?” ~ Parker J.Palmer
Have you heard the allegory of the butterfly shedding it's cocoon? A man watched a butterfly struggling to get out of it's cocoon. The butterfly struggled and struggled for hours trying to get it's body out of the tiny hole. So the man, desiring to help, snipped the end of the cocoon. The butterfly easily emerged. The thing is that it was swollen and had shrivelled wings–never having the ability to fly. The discomfort and pain of shedding the cocoon is what gives a butterfly the ability to fly.
Things happen in life. We get to assign meaning to those events. If we choose to change the meaning we assign to events that cause discomfort, pain, struggle and failure, we see those events as an important part of our growth process. A rite of passage, perhaps. It stings a bit less.
We see struggle as character building. It teaches us joy, it prepares us for gratitude.
“Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression. In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed. My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul.”
~ Parker J. Palmer
Blame, Shame and Disconnect
Another thing that really bugs me about some the LOA name it and claim it thinking, is that I see the potential for so much blame and shame to be attached to it. "Well....this bad thing happened to me...it's my fault, because I was putting out negative thoughts out there and I sabotaged myself. If I change my thinking, send out only positive vibes to the universe, the universe will bless and reward me."
To me, mainstream LOA seems like a very middle/upper middle class first world phenomena.
What about people living in war torn places like Syria, or people who are starving in Africa? What about all the innocent people who died in the holocaust because they were Jewish? What about babies who are born into poverty or with severe health conditions? What about children diagnosed with cancer? What about the child who experiences abuse, or the teen who starts experiencing symptoms of psychosis? Are all these bad things happening as a result of sending out negative energy to the universe? Golly...if that's the case, it doesn't actually seem that the universe has my back.
Bollocks. Poppycock. Bad things happen in this world that are way beyond our control.
Life isn't so black and white. We need to allow ourselves to see the different shades of grey out there.
We crave to make sense of things, like tragedy and pain, by thinking that we can control what happens to us by our prayers or manifestations. This kind of simplistic thinking helps alleviate our fears, but it's so far from the full picture. It may be a piece of the truth–like the blind man who touched the trunk of an elephant and swore it was a tree.
It's a snapshot of how things work–it's a tiny piece of the greater whole.
This LOA philosophy also holds the capacity to create disconnect from others around me. I have felt judged by people who see the world primarily through that lens when I have expressed my sincere feelings, whether it be about fears, or doubt. It creates a disconnect from deep meaningful interaction when the person listening believes that we are creating and perpetuating our own negative experiences.
“When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured. If your problem is soul-deep, your soul alone knows what you need to do about it, and my presumptuous advice will only drive your soul back into the woods. So the best service I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher. “But holding you that way takes time, energy, and patience. As the minutes tick by, with no outward sign that anything is happening for you, I start feeling anxious, useless, and foolish, and I start thinking about all the other things I have to do. Instead of keeping the space between us open for you to hear your soul, I fill it up with advice, not so much to meet your needs as to assuage my anxiety and get on with my life. Then I can disengage from you, a person with a troublesome problem, while saying to myself, ‘I tried to help’. I walk away feeling virtuous. You are left feeling unseen and unheard.” ~Parker J. Palmer
Joy Over Happiness. Connection Over Selfish Gain
“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness-mine, yours, ours-need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”
The example I gave you at the beginning of this article talked about a vision boarding exercise all about stuff. What if we did a vision board that was all about choosing things like joy, connection, creating intention around how we want to feel? This feels refreshing and hopeful, and about the important things in life. The things that money can't buy.
I can be intentional about how I want to feel, about how I choose to show up in the world, and how allow others to experience me.