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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Law of Attraction coach Jeannette Maw works with clients by e-mail and phone \— some as far away as India.

Perhaps you've already seen a movie called "The Secret." Perhaps a friend invited you over to watch it and together you rolled your eyes at how hokey it was. And then perhaps you went home, mesmerized by its message, vowing to change your life.

"The Secret" claims to have uncovered The Law of Attraction, which it says was known to elite thinkers for millennia but was suppressed by a series of unnamed institutions and rich people. Frenetic footage as the movie opens features men in robes, and men in wigs, and men dressed as Roman Centurions, all of them doing something mysterious involving scrolls of paper. This is followed by 90 minutes of interviews with self-help gurus, including "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author Jack Canfield. There are also short fictional segments depicting people receiving new cars, necklaces and boyfriends.

Through word-of-mouth and online viral marketing — and without a penny spent on advertising — 750,000 copies of "The Secret" DVD have been sold, plus nearly a million books based on the movie, and a million copies of the soundtrack. The numbers are likely to rise following an hour devoted to "The Secret" on Oprah earlier this week.

The gist of "The Secret" and The Law of Attraction is this: Our thoughts create emotions that have vibrations that attract similar vibrations; so whatever we focus on, good or bad, we draw to us; whatever we want — if we think, feel and act upon it — the universe will provide.

The Law of Attraction, under various names, is nothing new — although it's been dressed up now with quantum-physics terminology. The 2004 movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?!" was another version of the same idea, although it didn't create the same amount of buzz, or any wristbands ("Ask, Believe, Receive") or other paraphernalia (silver-plated Secret Lamps and silver-plated Secret Scroll document holders at $49.95 each).

According to Richard Cohn, whose company Beyond Words published the book version of "The Secret," Utah ranks among the top five states in sales. At Golden Braid Books in Salt Lake City, "we've sold hundreds of copies; we can't keep it in," says manager Wendy Wilburn.

"The Secret" sits on shelves full of other Law of Attraction-type books, DVDs and CDs, including predecessors such as Lynn Grabhorn's "Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting," Michael Losier's "The Law of Attraction" and "Ask and It Is Given" by Abraham-Hicks (actually Esther Hicks channelling a group of beings who go by the name Abraham).

Hicks' book is "the Bible for the Law of Attraction," says Jeannette Maw, a Law of Attraction coach who lives in Salt Lake City. Maw's journey to the Law of Attraction, however, began about seven years ago when she was browsing in a bookstore and came upon "How to Get Everything You Ever Wanted" by Adrian Calabrese.

Eventually, after reading more books, Maw began seeing an "abundance coach." In 2003 she quit her job as a retirement specialist at Wells Fargo Bank and began seeing Law of Attraction clients of her own. Because she does her coaching by e-mail and phone, those clients live as far away as India.

To understand the theory and mechanics of the Law of Attraction, the News listened in on a conference call between Maw and seven clients one evening last month. Maw calls the sessions "scripting."

At one point in the conversation, one of the women begins to describe something that happened earlier in the day — writing out a check to cover a business loan. "Today is a huge, huge, huge day for me," she tells the other women. "I can finally say I am debt-free." In the background you can hear the other women shouting "woooo" and "right on, girlfriend." Then the debt-free woman says, "I've been doing the happy dance all day."

At another point in the conversation, a different woman talks about her new boyfriend. "His name is Paul. He's, I want to say, 6-foot-3, and he has amazing blue-green eyes."

The significant point is that there is no Paul. And the woman who did the "happy dance" still has credit-card debt.

While the conversations may thus seem delusional, the Law of Attraction posits that in order to attract money or boyfriends or anything else a person might want, it's important first to let the universe know your intention. And not only to announce your want but to create the enthusiastic emotion of already having what you want.

"That's the secret: to emote, to feel as if it's already happened," explains another Salt Lake Law of Attraction coach, Roxanne Hunt. "When you desire something so strongly, and you align with it, the universe will conspire with you to bring it in."

Another way to project euphoria, the theory goes, is to be grateful for what you have now. "Gratitude begets more things to be grateful for," Hunt says.

There's no denying that gratitude changes your perception of the world. And that a person who is upbeat — who interprets and reacts to whatever life brings in a positive way — will have a more upbeat life. In this way, yes, you can "create your own reality." Does this mean, also, that whatever it is you "intend" the universe will "deliver"? And, at the risk of being a Law of Attraction party pooper, what about people, whole continents even, for whom bad things happen? Did focusing on their negative realities and fears create their famine, their cancers, their tsunami?

"I think there is random luck out there," says Salt Lake psychologist Daniel Sternberg, who uses elements of the Law of Attraction in his practice. Did people who have cancer create their own cancer? No, he says. On the other hand, he notes, there is a growing body of scientific research that "our beliefs affect our immune system."

Sternberg agrees with Law of Attraction devotees that if we become aware of our "limiting" beliefs and learn to consciously shift away from them, "then we can move toward more control over our lives." Sternberg sometimes has his clients watch "The Secret."

At The Bridge Health Recovery Center near St. George, patients are also encouraged to watch the movie, says physician Mark Passey, a Salt Lake pain medicine specialist. At the level of metaphor, he says, the Law of Attraction is powerful. "There's value to being aware of where the focus of your mind is, and understanding that where that focus resides, hour by hour, determines how your life will turn out," he says.

The movie focuses much of its attention on material possessions — sports cars are featured prominently, as are multimillion-dollar houses and actual cash.

"Your job is to declare what you would like to have from the catalogue of the universe," metaphysician Joe Vitale explains in one segment. "Well, if cash is one of them, say how much you would like to have." Author Canfield says he once made a fake $100,000 check and taped it to the ceiling over his bed so that he would be reminded every morning what his intention was. Within the year he had made nearly that much in additional income. Focusing simply on getting out of debt, the movie instructs, will only serve to keep you in debt.

Attraction coach Maw has a long list of success stories, including: "A salesman quadrupled his orders in our first month together, another salesman hit the annual quota that his employer said was impossible to do ... (and) an office administrator manifested love in a super-small town where she said there was no one available to date. That was in a month of work together."

Karen Curinga, a local "transformational coach," talks about a New York client who was skeptical about the Law of Attraction and who also tended to be a bit stingy about donating money. At Curinga's prodding, the woman wrote out a check to a charity and, "that very night she got a call from her real estate agent. Her house, which had been on the market for eight months without a nibble, had sold for her asking price." Was it coincidence? Curinga doesn't think so: "You see so many of these things happen. I honestly don't believe things happen by chance."

It's pretty heady stuff. Which brings us, then, to questions — about the merits of suffering, and the merits of being other-focused rather than simply wanting more for ourselves, and the question of where God fits into a belief system that says we can create our own reality. Is it just another name for "faith"? Or is it simply "faith in faith" without "relational trust" in and commitment to a creator, as Salt Lake Theological Seminary academic dean Tom McClenahan suggests.

"If God has been reduced to just another finite player who can be influenced or manipulated by other finite players, that's a different perspective than the Christian world view," he says.

Robert Higginson, an attraction coach in Utah County and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has no trouble reconciling his belief in his religion and his belief in the Law of Attraction. "God's will is for us to be happy," he says, and when the Law of Attraction works, "God's will and our will are the same thing." By "blessing us with an understanding of the Law of Attraction, God is simply teaching us how to become more like Him," he adds.

"The Secret" prefers the word "universe" to the word "God," but there are occasional mentions of a deity, as in this quote from James Ray, identified in the movie as a "philosopher." Every great tradition, he says, "has told you that you are created in the image and likeness of the creative source. That means that you have God potential and power to create your world."

It's a message that apparently resonates in a world trying hard to get ahead. Australian producer Rhonda Byrne is planning a sequel to "The Secret" later this year.

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com