Anybody who is thinking or reading about conscious creation these days will soon come up against “the law of attraction,” a powerful idea that has been circulating for more than a century, rising and falling in public discourse and now, thanks to the Internet, reaching its largest audience ever.
It seems to have been first introduced to the reading public by the traveler, spiritualist, occultist, and founder of the Theosophy movement, Madame Helena Blavatsky.
Madame Blavatsky was a larger-than-life character well known to the spiritual and creative communities of her day. She plays a cameo part in my literary-historical novel Her Secret Rose, about the Irish poet and occultist WB Yeats.
Like most gurus, Blavatsky was a controversial figure. To her champions she was an enlightened inspiration; to her critics, a charlatan and fraud. What is undisputed is that she was a whizz at PR. According to her bio, as a young woman she was given “secret lore” by “masters of the ancient wisdom,” who dispatched her to deepest Tibet to develop her psychic powers.
Out of this, she created a movement called Theosophy, a “synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy,” which, she claimed—much as Rhonda Byrne was to claim more than a century later—was the secret at the heart of all the world’s religions.
Her opus, published in 1888, was called The Secret Doctrine, and Theosophy was her version of what later came to be called “the perennial philosophy,” served up with large helpings of mumbo-jumbo, arcane language, outlandish claims, much smoke, and multiple mirrors.
It is still practiced today and has influenced thinkers from Aldous Huxley and Krishnamurti, through the Beat poets, to the counterculture and hippie movements of the 1960s and the attendant yoga, meditation, and mindfulness movements.
LoA was taken up and popularized by one of the cofounders of the Theosophical Society, Irish lawyer and esotericist William Quan Judge, who attempted no new revelation of his own, but to illustrate in his own words Madame’s theosophical teachings and their ideal use. He wrote, in summation of his deepest belief:
All our troubles in life arise from ourselves, no matter how much they may seem to come from the outside; we are all parts of the one great whole, and if you try to center your mind upon that fact, and to remember that those things that seem to trouble you are really due to your own way of looking at the world and life, you will probably grow more contented in mind… It is your own mind you should watch, and not the circumstances in which you are placed.
Or as the writer Anais Nin put it a great deal more succinctly, “We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
Furthered by various New Thought writers, LoA went in and out of fashion throughout the twentieth century until 2006, when it was revived for a new generation by Rhonda Byrne, who used clever marketing methods and new technologies to publicize her film and the subsequent book and website, spreading New Thought sayings far and wide until they have become almost household slogans: Thoughts become things; What you believe, you conceive; and, most controversially, Like attracts like.
The Downsides of LoA
LoA has given rise to many gurus on the Internet, promising easy solutions to serious problems in breathy language. Here’s one, chosen at random from the first page of a Google search just now, fronted by a woman called Katherine Hurst and claiming a community of 2.3 million people in more than 100 countries.
Pulling us in with promises and a surfeit of exclamation marks, Katherine invites us to:
Activate the power of Intention! Experience your original state of limitless abundance you felt as a child! Believe deep in your heart you can have, do, and be anything you want in life! Envision yourself manifesting everything you ask for! And feel what it’s like to live on your terms! I want to give you the same opportunity I was given years ago, to open up and allow the Universe to provide everything you want, once and for all! Be our next success story!
All of which sits uneasily with the (almost invisible) small print at the bottom of the page:
In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we want to make it explicitly clear that the customer letters we have received are based on the unique experiences and circumstances of a few people only. We cannot promise that you will experience similar benefits from using our products. The generally expected performance of our products in regards to any specific disease has not been scientifically validated.
It’s easy to make fun of those who are drawn to LoA, as a Slate article written around the time of publication of The Secret does, concluding with a line of Einstein’s that purports to explain its popularity: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
Yes, we can all be stupid, most especially when we are feeling desperate as so many of those who turn to LoA are, but the massive appeal of the theory is not so easily explained away.
And any creativist or creative will recognize many of the recommendations of LoA as being very similar to the creative principles and precepts we follow: setting clear intentions and aligning thoughts, speech, and actions to those intentions; accentuating the positive; applying focus and creative visualization; trusting in inspiration and the creative process.
But from the perspective of conscious creation, LoA teachings fail on four fronts.
LoA Presents Wanting as a Problematic Lack
Many of the people who are involved in “teaching” LoA are speakers, seminar sellers, or life coaches who present what you want as a problem to be solved (for a fee). Your material-mind is likely to experience its desire that way too: If only you had a million dollars, a dream partner, a certain kind of work or home or family, everything would be just perfect.
This if-only syndrome is highly seductive. Your desire is presented back to you as a lack or a problem, and the sense of incompleteness that is a universal trait of the mind when it’s in material-mode is attenuated.
Conscious creation—you want something, you set out to make it happen—is not a problem. Wanting what we want and taking the actions toward it; satisfying (or dropping) that want, then wanting something new: Another word for that is life.
Creative life, unfolding as it should.
This is a universal, necessary, process. A human given. Wanting is the spark that fires conscious creation, whether it’s making our next meal or our next million. We’ll always be wanting, as long as we live. Happiness is not receiving what we want but taking the actions needed to make it and enjoying the making.
Just imagine, for a second, a world that did actually run on ask, believe, receive. How boring would that be?
LoA Leaves out Five Stages of the Creative Process
As we have seen, the same process that creates one thing creates everything, and it has seven stages, divided into three phases. But LoA centers only on the first two stages: the intention and incubation stages of the vision phase.
No wonder it’s failing to work for so many. The wonder is that it works at all, for anyone. The reason it does is because engaging with those two stages is still quite powerful, more creative work than many people otherwise experience in our materialist society. This, not human stupidity, is one of the main reasons why LoA has such widespread appeal. It’s the first experience most people have of tapping into the vast reservoir of their own creative power. And it feels good.
Just those two stages of the process taken together can be powerful stuff, enough to see some creative success. They are certainly enough to break the grip of conceptual thought, which is always a liberating and enjoyable experience, mentally and emotionally.
Once that sense of freedom and relief kicks in, stages three to seven can sometimes happen at the subconscious level, seemingly of its own accord, with so little effort we may not even know we’ve been through them.
If it’s a large project or intention, that’s not likely. We can write a poem at a sitting and not know that we’ve been through the seven stages above, but that will happen only rarely with a novel. We can create a family dinner without getting too conscious of the process, but if we wanted to organize a large banquet, understanding the stages can really help. We might be able to bring in a few hundred dollars unconsciously, but not a million. Even a lottery winner will have gone through later stages of the process. A ticket has to be bought. Numbers have to be chosen.
By giving people less than one third of the creative process to work with, LoA can create more blocks and frustrations than flow.
LoA Tries to Think Its Way out of Thought
The American writer Audre Lorde once wrote: “The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” What this means in relation to conscious creation is that we cannot think our way out of a problem created by thought.
Using affirmations and bold statements without any supporting creative practices, LoA tries to get material-mind to bring about what only creative-mind can deliver.
LoA has many of its followers going around locked into an internal dialogue that goes something like this:
“I don’t have enough money/love/friends [insert lack/want here].”
“No, no, I can’t think that or else I will create that situation. I do. I do have enough money/love/friends/whatever. Money/ love/friends/whatever are already mine.”
“But… I don’t really have enough money/love/friends [insert lack/want here]…”
And so it goes, “I have enough, I have enough,” repeated compulsively while trying to ignore the persistent denial bubbling up in response: “I don’t really believe that. I don’t really have enough,” which is then followed by more denial for denying it…
This can lead people into a really painful creative cul-de-sac.
Adding more thoughts, no matter how “positive,” is a poor way to solve a problem that has been generated by thinking itself. We need a deeper understanding of the process.
LoA Encourages Passivity
“Whatever you want will arrive,” says LoA, “if you just imagine it fully enough. You don’t have to do anything.”
This is the most pernicious thing about LoA, and not just because it implies that people who have “bad” things in their lives have attracted them in by thinking “bad” thoughts. It also fosters the Cinderella complex, a widespread delusion that works against autonomy. Prince Charming—in the form of a new partner, a new job, a new house—will arrive, fulfill all our dreams, and kiss away all the bad stuff.
Supposing that were true, and we were able to conjure up whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. What would we then do with our lives?
What we want to create changes as our life unfolds, but the creative process is timeless, unchanging, enriching, and rewarding; and always available to us right here and now.
The stuff it makes—the money, the relationships, the experiences—these are by-products. The very point of life is to be creating, to experience the growth and evolution of the process, the actions it induces, the presence it generates, the practices it prompts, the connection with self and others that it demands.
Going creative both asks more of you and delivers more to you than the willed mind-switch encouraged by LoA.
NEXT TIME: The benefits of going creative