The Real Secret of The Secret
By RICHARD SMOLEY
The latest in the blockbusters of alternative spirituality is The Secret, now both a film and a book. Both have been huge successes. The film version has sold 1.5 million copies in DVD format, while at this writing in early June 2007, the book version of The Secret has been on The New York Times’s best-seller list in the US for “advice nonfiction” for twenty weeks, and currently sits on the top.
No wonder. In breathless, gee-whiz language, The Secret’s Web site promises the key to human existence: “The Secret has existed throughout the history of humankind. It has been discovered, coveted, suppressed, hidden, lost and recovered. It has been hunted down, stolen, and bought for vast sums of money. Now for the first time in history, The Secret is being revealed to the world over two breathtaking hours.”
Well, then, what is the Secret? Was it the source of the success of great men throughout history, including Plato, Aristotle, Galileo, Napoleon, and Einstein, as its promoters claim?
The Secret as a film is the brainchild of Australian documentary producer Rhonda Byrne, who began reading self-help literature while going through a rough patch in her life in 2004. Through such books as The Secret of Getting Rich, The Master Key System, and The Secret of the Ages, Byrne was exposed to an idea that has long fascinated seekers and self-promoters alike: your health, wealth, and success in love, work, and life depend not on what you do but what you think. “That principle can be summed up in three simple words: thoughts become things,” proclaims Mike Dooley, one of the ‘teachers’ featured in The Secret.
That, in essence, is the Secret. Whether it was “hunted down, stolen,” or “bought for vast sums of money” and whether Plato, Aristotle, and other great men had any knowledge of it remains highly open to question, but there’s nothing particularly astonishing about the Secret itself. As the film’s promoters concede, the idea has been a part of occult philosophy for centuries, although it entered the mainstream only about 150 years ago.
The seminal figure in promoting the Secret was a now little-known American healer named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–66). Quimby, like many men of his time, was a jack of all trades. He started as a clockmaker but eventually became a healer. Eventually he realised that it didn’t matter what remedy he prescribed; it was the faith of the patient that made the difference. By simply convincing the individual that he or she was already well, Quimby became a tremendous success. His office filled with patients, many of whom went away feeling completely healed. He often treated people for free when they could not pay.
Around 1859, Quimby began to write down his ideas. Believing he had discovered the secret by which Christ had performed his miracles, he wanted to make his discoveries known to all. “My philosophy,” he said, “will make man free and independent of all creeds and laws of man, and subject him to his own agreement, he being free from the laws of sin, sickness, and death.” The cardinal tenet of this philosophy was this: “Every phenomenon in the natural world has its birth in the spiritual world…. Instead of your happiness being in the world, the world’s happiness is in you. Here is your true position, and this is the struggle you will have to go through. Shall the world lead you, or shall you lead the world? This is the point that is to be settled in your mind.”
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