Rhonda Byrne says that her life is virtually “unrecognisable” from what it was before she discovered The Secret. A 2006 documentary-style film, it featured a string of interviews with people who used the power of positive thinking and the law of attraction (thoughts become things) to get their desired emotional or material pursuits.
Later that year, Byrne followed the film with a self-help book by the same name. The book became a bestseller and got translated into over 40 languages.
“My life is unrecognisable when it comes to harmony in the areas people consider to be the most important – relationships, health and money,” she says, in an early morning phone call from Los Angeles. “But one of the most incredible things is that the mind has become quiet. No matter what’s going on in the world, I have peace inside of me because I know everything’s okay. That’s worth everything.”
Unlocking the code
Byrne has had challenging times, especially in 2004, when her father suddenly passed away. She was working on six documentary films, and things began to go wrong. One night, her accountant called to say she had lost six million dollars on the films and that there was more at stake.
“I collapsed into despair. My mother didn’t want to go on without my father. It felt as if I was being hit from all sides. There didn’t seem to be enough of me to go around or to help everybody deal with everything,” she recalls.
Her daughter then gave her a copy of Wallace D Wattle’s The Science of Getting Rich, and Byrne decided to focus on positives rather than negatives. With a background in TV production in Australia, she set about filming the experiences of people she called ‘secret teachers’ whose belief in the law of attraction had changed their life.
“The Secret was the beginning to show people to put themselves, and not somebody else, on a pedestal… My job was to help people break free from the conditioning of limitation and unworthiness,” she says.
Four books later, Byrne has recently published How The Secret Changed My Life, a compilation of stories from readers who applied The Secret’s teachings in their daily lives. From a man in Sydney using it to realise his dream of singing with Stevie Wonder, to a Los Angeles-based Indian woman getting an extension on her Green card, the stories are varied and dripping with optimism. There are letters from as far off as the Canary Islands to Lebanon. The 73 stories were chosen from over 30,000 submitted to their website. “These stories were chosen just for the variety and the diversity, the way people used The Secret. They demonstrate how easy it is,” says Byrne.
Byrne has also had personal interactions with people attempting to use the law, such as a 40-year-old woman who had been told she could never conceive. “I had her behave as if the baby was already there. One month later, she was pregnant,” says Byrne.
Laws and limitations
Many have criticised the book’s teachings, stating that it gives false hope to people and does not encourage dealing with the root cause of problems. When Byrne’s second book, The Power – which urges people to believe in love and gratitude – was released in 2010, the New York Times wrote a disparaging review, titled Fight ‘The Power’, saying it was useless to argue with books like these. Byrne shrugs off the censure. “The Power sold millions of copies and was a really big NYT bestseller. I’m often asked how I feel about sceptics… I don’t feel anything. I’m just giving what I have found, which changed my life. And if that helps people, it’s amazing,” she says.
In January 2007, Byrne was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show along with four teachers from the film. The appearance plunged her into the mainstream, taking the message of The Secret to millions across the world. Oprah had endorsed it herself, when in an interview with Larry King, she said its message was what she’d been trying to share with the world on her show for the past 21 years. “The message is that you are responsible for your life,” said Winfrey.
In fact, just two months later, Winfrey had a woman on her show, who, inspired by The Secret, had decided to ‘heal herself’ after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Trying to dissuade her, Winfrey had said, “The medical community has been able to perform what many people call miracles. It’s irresponsible on your part to not take advantage of that...” Referring to the incident, Byrne says that Winfrey wasn’t being critical. “While she didn’t deny the law of attraction, she said that it wasn’t the only law. And she’s right.”
Byrne’s discoveries have also suffered the old-wine-in-a-new-bottle syndrome, with critics saying that positive thinking has existed for centuries and that she had merely repackaged an existing notion.
“That’s true. It’s been there since the beginning of time. I was recently reading Yogananda’s autobiography, and his master is explaining the power of thought to him. And this was a couple of hundred years ago. And if you go back thousands of years ago, to the ancient mystery schools in Egypt, they knew what thought creates,” she says.
So during her research, Byrne decided to make the law of attraction more accessible. “I decided to make it tactical for everyday life. And I think that’s why it became so big, because it was written very simply,” she says.
Byrne doesn’t think the principles of The Secret propagate materialism. “If somebody wants more money, I understand that because even I’ve been in difficult times. Somebody wanting more money is very different from somebody who will harm other human beings to get it. I don’t want to contribute to the idea that the former is bad,” she says.
And despite her successful franchise – there’s a Hollywood film and another book she plans to write next year that will be “a very big revelation” – money is the last thing on her mind. “My spiritual journey, my work to help people, my search for truth, to expand my consciousness and happiness – that’s what I focus on,” she says, adding that she’s also been very mindful since The Secret came out. Is that why she does very few interviews? Yes, she says. “I have a lot of respect for the media, but I’m a really private person. I don’t want to be put on a status that is incorrect. I just want to do my work, help people and have them know that I’m exactly like them. If they’re special, I’m special. There’s no difference and it’s important to me to maintain that.”
To sceptics, she says: “Forget about the words ‘the law of attraction’. Instead, just ask yourself, do I feel better when I’m positive? Do I feel bad when I’m negative? The fact is, if you give your attention to positivity, your life will become unrecognisable.”
Just like her own.
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From HT Brunch, December 18, 2016
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