Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Law of Attraction

A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine got really into positive thinking, and I saw her life start changing rapidly for the better. I was inspired and started to try hard to think positively too - waking up and deciding to have a good day, that kind of thing. It didn't keep things from going wrong, but it did keep me from spiraling into a terrible mood when they did. I wrote to my acquaintance to thank her for the inspiration, and she recommended I watch The Secret.

I watched it, and found some parts of it ridiculous - it seemed to imply that if someone's cancer doesn't go away it's their fault for not believing hard enough - but I thought the idea of the law of attraction was interesting, and spent some time grappling with whether it could be true.

I was, however, interrupted from pondering this when a friend's son died two days later. He was a sweet, innocent kid of only 13, and he left us suddenly and unexpectedly. He had multiple disabilities and I had been newly hired as his caregiver - and let me tell you, I cannot be heavily involved in taking care of a child for even a short length of time without getting attached. I think if you have any sort of maternal instincts, then once you've given a kid baths and changed his diapers, that kid has a piece of your heart forever.

The point I'm getting to here is that all that "positive thinking" went out the window pretty fast after that. I'd been hit hard in the face with the fact that happy thoughts can't guarantee a pain-free life, and for a long time I forgot about all this "law of attraction" business.

But lately it's been creeping back up, because for reasons I'm not really sure about, a lot of unschooling moms are way into the Law of Attraction. (Most simply call it LOA without clarifying, assuming everyone on Earth must of course be familiar with this philosophy.) So I've been thinking about it again, and here's the conclusion I'm at now:

Yes, the "law of attraction" absolutely works, in a limited "makes your life better but does not prevent death or hurricanes or Nicholas Cage" sense.

No, it does not work because of mystical voodoo moon prism power or whatever. I do personally believe someone or something, God or "the universe" or whatever you want to call it, is out there. But whatever that thing is, it cares not that you want a Rolex and a free trip to Tahiti. If you think it does, you are confusing God with Santa Claus. (I hasten to point out that this kind of thinking is not exclusive to LOA practitioners; I've known plenty of Christians who use prayer in a similar manner. This is a problem of attitude, not of religion.)

It works because of a simple, non-religious, non-magical thing: human psychology. It makes TOTAL SENSE, in a completely logical, rational way, that if you focus on getting something you are more likely to get it. Of course if you have a picture on your wall of all the happy things you'd like to accomplish, you'll have them in mind and be motivated to work on them. Of course if you believe you can find a way to go to Tahiti, you'll be more likely to get there than a person who just shrugs and says "nope, can't do it".

Early this summer I hatched a plan to go to the Northeast Unschooling Conference and Dragoncon. I had no money and no idea how I was going to get to either. But by deciding that, by god, I was going to find a way, I focused my energy and thought of creative ideas. I sold some books, offered to do odd jobs, looked into selling a car and some old furniture (ended up avoiding that because I'm a little leery of Craigslist). And a housesitting job came, and friends offered to send me gift cards to help cover food, and I made it, and I'm going.

All that stuff didn't come along because the universe manifested it, or whatever. (I mean, I guess in the absolute most literal sense you could say that, since my friends and I are part of the universe. But in that sense the universe also manifested the pancake I cooked this morning, even though I clearly cooked the damn thing myself, so this is kind of a circular point.) It came along because I decided I was going and decided to figure out how. I tried HARD to find ways to go. I told everyone I know that I was planning on going, and they knew how much it meant to me. A job wouldn't have come along if I hadn't looked for it. I wouldn't have sold any books if I hadn't dug them up and listed them on *I* did the work. Positive thinking just helped me do it. I could have just said "oh, I'd love to go to that, but I can't" and put the thought away without actually thinking about if I could go or not, and of course I would not be going. Duh.

This, I think, is the only connection shared between unschooling and the law of attraction: they are both largely about not squashing dreams, about finding ways to say yes. Unschoolers see the world as full of possibilities, and tend to have a "where there's a will there's a way" attitude. The whole LOA thing seems to be designed to foster that attitude in people who aren't used to thinking that way, who talk themselves out of dreams because it's too expensive and it will be too hard and I'll look stupid and it was a stupid idea anyway just forget I said anything. If you're deeply mired in that kind of thinking, I can see how it would be encouraging to be told that you can wriggle your nose and have whatever you want. And when you first change your attitude and things start happening more easily, of course it will seem amazing. Our society tends to devalue positive thinking, and many people are unfamiliar with just how much power a shift in attitude can have. Changing your thinking can lead to such profound, wonderful changes that it's easy to convince yourself there must be some kind of magic at work.

But calling it magic means you don't get to take credit for what you did for yourself. It takes the cause and effect out of it, fogging the mirror so that you can't clearly see what strategies you used to get the thing you wanted, so you can't reuse them next time. You're stuck hoping "the universe" cuts you another break, and so instead of building a toolbox, you're forever hiring a handyman.

If you want to believe in magic, believe in the strength of the human spirit, and the goodness of life. That's magic enough - and to many people, it would seem, it's a secret as well.

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