Saturday, May 26, 2012

Law of Attraction and Non-Duality: A contradiction?

If you have been around spiritual circles over the last 5 years, I am sure you have heard of the law of attraction, which was highly popularized by the 2006 movie The Secret. And I am sure you are aware of the explosion of spiritual gurus and teachers of the law of attraction ever since then. The basic idea is simple: think positive, good-feeling thoughts and the universe will bring into your physical experience matching positive, good-feeling things for you to observe. So if you want the fancy car or the wonderful romantic relationship, think thoughts that are a vibrational match to how you imagine those things will make you feel and then you will draw those things into your experience. There are slight variations to how various teachers give expression to this, but roughly that is the main idea.

Non-duality on the other hand seems to say something very different. There are again slight variations among different non-dual paths, but overarching them seems to be the theme that it is important to accept reality the way it is. And it is only by accepting reality the way it is that we can open up to wholeness, divinity, enlightenment. Consequently, if you are upset about your car breaking down, accept that your car has broken down and accept that you are upset about it. But this seems to go against what the law of attraction people say: change the way you think about the situation so that you aren’t negatively focused or if you are unable to do that just focus on something else. Actively trying to change the way you think doesn’t sound like accepting the situation the way it is, and focusing on something else almost sounds like an encouragement to dissociate from reality and live in some imaginary fantasy land instead.

Because of this tension and apparent contradiction, I found it very difficult to come to terms with the law of attraction material. It felt like to me that either the law of attraction people had it wrong and were just a bunch of misguided wishful thinking gurus or there was a piece of the puzzle that was missing to make sense of it all. My questions or prayers got answered by a combination of a deeper understanding of non-duality and a much better and more subtle understanding of the law of attraction material. The latter is in great deal thanks to the so called Abraham-Hicks material, a refreshingly clear exposition of the law of attraction by Esther & Jerry Hicks. This deeper and clearer understanding of both subjects did not come overnight and I believe all in all it took me about two years to achieve. For although I understood or thought I understood that from a non-dual perspective there is nothing wrong with working on your personal psychology and changing the way you think or feel about certain things, I felt that all of that psychological work ultimately seemed a bit superfluous and what was really important was to awaken. Furthermore, although the audiobooks by Esther & Jerry Hicks made a lot more sense to me than The Secret and I enjoyed listening to them immensely, I continued feeling this tension between being with reality the way it is and the desire to change things and make things better. I took a very non-dual approach to all this. I allowed myself to vividly feel and experience the tension between these seemingly opposite approaches to spirituality. I held onto these questions in my awareness whilst also being mindful of not rushing to find a solution to this apparent contradiction. What emerged from that holding of opposites surprised me. I had failed to realize how non-dual the non-dual approach actually is. Here I was trying to find fault or at least futility with the law of attraction approach, when I realized that all of these law of attraction processes for changing the way you think and the way you feel are actually contributing to awakening to greater wholeness. It seems paradoxical, because if we are already whole and we just need to awaken to this, then there is no real point in trying to change ourselves. So why even bother? However, the law of attraction processes as well as any other form of psychological work is actually making us more prone to open up to wholeness and is thus perfectly compatible with a non-dual approach. Psychological work alone may keep you stuck in the realm of the personal if you become entranced by the constant quest for self improvement, however the psychological work is also what enables us to have a sufficiently strong foundation to even begin the process of awakening.

Interestingly, both the non-dual approach and the law of attraction approach ultimately seek to bring us back to greater wholeness and joy. The law of attraction work emphasizes changing the way you think so that you can feel better and by changing the way you think to experience better feeling thoughts. And then by experiencing better feeling thoughts you end up more connected and aligned with the broader perspective of who you truly are. In other words, by doing the work of feeling better you actually end up opening up to the wholeness of you you are. The non-dual work approaches this through spiritual practices that directly challenge the personal only perspective. And as the personal only perspective gets more and more challenged and makes more and more space for the impersonal, it brings people back to the wholeness of who they are through that route.

So does that mean that the difference is merely methodological? Yes and No. Both approaches end up in the long run bringing people back to wholeness. And at least from the perspective of the Abraham-Hicks material that is actually the goal. It’s not about the stuff, it is about living a more happy, joyous life. And the vast majority of the techniques offered to do so are for the most part at the level of personality, which is very different from the non-dual way. There is however another very striking difference besides just the methodology and that is the audiences that these two topics attract. I would dare say that the majority of people attracted to law of attraction type material are drawn to it at least initially because they believe that it will enable them to have the fancy car, the wonderful house, the gorgeous mate and all these other things that they believe will make them feel better when they get them. In comparison though, people who are drawn to buddhism, zen, advaita and other non-dual spiritual paths are generally more inclined to be seeking enlightenment or some form of ultimate self-realization. And for some of these people, there may even be a certain aversion or disdain of material wealth, because they erroneously believe that having such things is not spiritual and that having them or even just desiring them is an impediment to self-realization. The way I look at things now, maybe the universe has opened up these seemingly very different approaches to returning to wholeness precisely because the one size fits all approach doesn’t work. The world is a wonderfully messy place, so it makes sense that the business of returning to God would also be wonderfully messy. I would like to end this for now with an old Sufi proverb: “There are as many paths to god as there are souls on earth.”

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  1. Very interesting article. I liked the way you end it, sometimes is not about the ways you get there is the getting there that is important as long as we don't start claiming: 'my way is better then yours' :) or we will fall into what so many religions are getting so wrong... thanks x

  2. Beautifully framed Henrik!

    Having come across the Law of Attraction material, initially through The Secret and then through the infinitely more helpful, playful yet almost "grounded" Abraham Hicks material, and starting now to understand a little of the the non-dual teachings, I can wholly empathise with everything you say here.

    And the final summation says it all - I believe these vibrating atoms chose to incorporate in this body, in order to live this "life" and have these particular experiences, on their unique & individual journey back to wholeness.

    There are truly "as many paths to god as there are souls on earth":)

    Many thanks, and Namaste

  3. Thanks for the very intriguing blog.

    Thinking about it, it seems the law of attraction can be thought of as using the mind to set goals. Setting goals in ones life is definitely not unspiritual. But Eckhart Tolle says that becoming attached to goals is unconsciousness.

    The problem with the Law of Attraction it seems (I am no expert) is that its processes are very deep in that it attempts to change your mind patterns and beliefs. Is this is promoting attachment and duality? Or is it merely improving ones ability to see the glass as half full most of the times?

    I would like to believe it is a form of positive thinking but implemented on a subconscious level...

  4. Non-dual practices usually focus on quieting the mind as is very evident in the work of Eckart Tolle. Law of Attraction usually focuses on changing the way we think so that we are more aligned with our source of inspiration. The interesting thing is that quieting the mind actually takes you to that space of inspiration directly but it does so by bypassing the mind altogether.

    So do you want to get that place of inspiration by changing your thoughts or would you rather quiet your mind? I think both methods are useful. The more we can align our thoughts to source, the easier things get almost in auto-pilot (i.e. positive thinking implemented on a subconscious level). The more we are able to quiet our mind, the more we can live, act, be with direct inspirations from source and the mind only comes up as a useful, faithful tool when needed in service of our higher self and the inspirations from source.

  5. Hi, just came across this post in a Google search. I know this is an old post, however I'd like to add my input :)

    Non-duality is about non-duality :) There is no duality. We are not separate from our Source. We are One.

    At our deepest level, we are Pure Consciousness, the Source. However, we are also our own unique manifestation of that Source.

    Source created the Universe with Thought. Similarly, we create our reality with our thoughts. That's a tad simplified. You can see however, that there is no contradiction between Law of Attraction and Non-duality. It rings true for me.