Emily Yoffe Learns ‘The Secret’

Emily Yoffe at Slate.com recently wrote a piece for the Human Guinea Pig column regarding The Secret. I haven’t read the book myself, but I did read The Power of Intention which I am to understand is a similar concept. Emily retells her two month account of following the book’s advice and finds inspiration for her comic genius.

As self-absorbed as I already am, I loved the permission the book gave to sink deeper into a Jacuzzi of megalomania. As The Secret points out: “You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life.” Just as I’d always suspected!

She exemplifies my biggest problems with the latest sweeping fad in intentional living. Materialism is one of the more obvious ones. I realize that these books include other ideas for using intention, but I suspect that the authors and marketers all know that pushing grandiose ideas of wealth attainment are sure-fire methods to lock-in people’s attention.

The appeal is obvious. Forget education, effort, performance. Everything you want—money, power, comfortable shoes—is yours simply by wanting it enough.

Amy and I talked about it at length. She’s a fervent supporter of the ideas of intention and recognizes this type of energy work, along with many others, as being ancient wisdom that the world has ‘forgotten.’ I agree with caveats. Which is another way of avoiding an actual argument over the details, when at the core we’re saying mostly the same thing. Essentially, we’re both on board with the idea of positive versus negative thinking and the direct effect on your perception and dealings with the world around you.

What I don’t like is the new bubble gum wrapper that’s been applied to the philosophy – I liken it to Yoffe’s discussion on watered-down Eastern philosophy. But it’s hard to make a best seller if you don’t present its teachings in a way that the mass public can understand. Despair.com reminds us that “none of us is as dumb as all of us.” So instead of writing a qualitative essay on setting goals and remaining optimistic – we could even push the energy aspect and explain the sociological effects of our attitude – the author of The Secret and other author’s modern adaptations of age-old concepts have chosen to ‘market’ these concepts to a mass, oft fickle, audience. I can easily see the argument against writing a technical essay on individual energy projection. If you don’t dumb it down some, you’re not getting your message out to people that wouldn’t have otherwise come to these ideas themselves. Unfortunately, I think the only way to teach complex philosophy is to live it. It requires success, failure, and time.

Byrne writes: “A shortcut to manifesting your desires is to see what you want as absolute fact.” … Secret-speak requires this odd future-present construction, which my husband came to call, “sounding like a moron.”

Yoffe captures my concerns about the modern inception of philosophical teachings. Not by coming out and saying it, but by a simple inference from her experiences. I’ll remind my readers that I’m not bashing these teachings, only the glossy cover and Cliff’s Notes by which so many establish their adoption.

I’ve Got The Secret: What happened when I followed the best-selling book’s advice for two months. — Emily Yoffe


  1. Wanna hear the real secret? OK here goes:

    “A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.”
    “Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!”

    I believe that this translation originally appeared in “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” by Paul Reps. My current favorite version of this philosophy is by Warren Zevon who gave us a nice reply to the question of what facing certain death by inoperable cancer had taught him: “Enjoy every sandwich!”

    I like zen but I love sandwiches!

  2. As we’ve discussed previously, I think there is a healthy level of positive thinking and an unhealthy level of expectations for what positive thinking can get you. All things in moderation.

    Cliff Bostock has a really interesting article in the Loaf recently.

    “it would be unhealthy to look for failure in all areas of one’s life. But, in many cases, it’s essential. Indeed, one could reasonably argue that it was George Bush’s blind optimism and reliance on his “gut” that allowed him to invade Iraq without listening to those who anticipated failure. The refusal to consider the negative has mired us more deeply than ever in the negative.”


  3. I think that’s where Emily Yoffe really nailed her piece!

    The Secret is not only drivel—it’s pernicious drivel.

    Absurd optimism can be the death of you. Take the medical profession, for instance. As the Creative Loafing article you mentioned relates,

    …initial-care personnel have been trained to study data and look for treatment and prevention failures that, once remedied, have reduced the death rate among wounded soldiers from 25 percent during the first Persian Gulf War to 10 percent now.

  4. vPolar cities in the far distant future to house remnants of humankind
    who survive the apocalypse of devastating global warming? The casual
    reader might think I am an alarmist or a mere scare-monger, but I am
    neither. I am a visionary.

    Polar cities are proposed sustainable polar retreats designed to house
    human beings in the future, in the event that global warming causes
    the central and middle regions of the Earth to become uninhabitable
    for a long period of time. Although they have not been built yet, some
    futurists have been giving considerable thought to the concepts

    I know, I know, the very thought of “polar cities” sounds like some
    science-fiction movie you don’t want to see. But it might be
    instructive to think about such sustainable Artic and Antartic
    communities for the future of humankind. If worse come to worse, and
    things fall apart, perhaps by the year 2500 or the year 3000, we must
    might need polar cities. And perhaps the time to start thinking about
    them, and designing and planning them (and maybe even building, or
    pre-building them), is now.

    Here is more food for thought, from an entry in Wikipedia:
    “High-population-density cities, to be built in the polar regions,
    with sustainable energy and transportation infrastructures, will
    require substantial nearby agriculture. Boreal soils are largely poor
    in key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, but nitrogen-fixing
    plants (such as the various alders in the Artic region) with the
    proper symbiotic microbes and mycorrhizal fungi can likely remedy such
    poverty without the need for petroleum-derived fertilizers. Regional
    probiotic soil improvement should perhaps rank high on any polar
    cities priority list. James Lovelock’s notion of a widely distributed
    almanac of science knowledge and post-industrial survival skills also
    appears to have value.”

    Oh, I know it’s fashionable to mock global warming alarmists and doom
    and gloom futurists with no credentials except a keyboard and a blog,
    but there’s a method to the madness of thinking about polar cities.
    Maybe, just maybe, if enough people hear about the concept of polar
    cities and realize how serious such a possibility is, maybe, just
    maybe, they will get off their tuches and start thinking hard and fast
    about how we humans are causing climate change by our lifestyles and
    inventions and gadgets and need for cars and airplanes and trains and
    ships and factories and coal-burning plants across the globe — and
    then maybe it won’t be fashionable to mock global warming alarmists

    The future does not look good. But we can do something now. No, not
    building polar cities now. That’s for the future to decide. What we
    can do now is stop what we are doing now and start planning in a more
    sane way for the future of the species. If we even care. I do. We must
    stop all human acitivity that is responsible for emitting carbon
    dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. Now. It’s getting later earlier
    and earlier, I tell you.

  5. yes, enjoy every sandwich. live each day fully.

    what about polar cities? please check the wikipedia entry for “polar cities” and get back to me on this. thanks. DANNY


    see my blog too. thanks

    do you think we might need them? say year 2500?

    email me at


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