The members of Charles Dalton's Law of Attraction Group believe you can get anything your heart desires by concentrating and sending positive vibes into the universe. The idea is pretty basic: You ask for something. You visualize that thing and believe it's coming to you. Start your entreaty with the phrase, "Wouldn't it be nice if ..."
As in, "Wouldn't it be nice if I lost five pounds this year?" group member Julie Frank says at one recent meeting. "Or, 'Wouldn't it be nice if my car worked beautifully for the rest of the week?' Then you don't expect instant results, but know that eventually your cells, your body will adapt to this." For the magic to work, she added, you have to stanch all doubts. You can't bemoan the fact that those five pounds haven't melted off yet, or the car isn't running. "That's not really you," Frank assures. "That's the voice in your head."
Dalton started leading his group almost a year ago. The group meets every Saturday morning in the living room of his home on a quiet Concord street with squat houses and manicured lawns. Between five and ten people show up on average — today there are six — some of whom drive from as far as Berkeley's Elmwood district, like regular Mary Tansey. Dalton provides coffee, Ritz crackers, and dried fruit. He sticks a white board in one corner of the room so that each person can get up and deliver a lecture on some law-of-attraction-oriented theme, such as the recent Time magazine feature that asked, "Does God Want Us to Be Rich?"
Dalton is what you might call a career spiritualist. Raised Catholic in Baltimore, he switched to Hinduism as a teen and moved to Hawaii, where he learned yoga and ate a strict diet of sprouts and tofu. Eight years later he became a Buddhist. Then he moved to Berkeley to work as a massage therapist. Dalton found out about the laws of attraction fifteen years ago, after answering an East Bay Express personal from someone who wanted to study the teachings of best-selling author and motivational speaker Esther Hicks.
In his meet-up group and private consultation business, Dalton provides distilled versions of Hicks' teachings — cribbed from a CD of recorded lectures and a series of books with titles like Ask and It Is Given — along with lessons gleaned from Rhonda Byrne in her popular 2006 book The Secret, which followed on the heels of an ubiquitous self-help DVD of the same name. All of these texts promote a similar "Law of Attraction" — the notion that "like attracts like" — with slight variations in presentation. Hicks, for instance, claims that her entire text is received from a group of divine beings, collectively dubbed "Abraham." Several of these guides became publishing phenomena. Most popular of all was The Secret, which garnered fervent endorsements from Larry King, Ellen DeGeneres, and Oprah, who assured, in a 2006 interview with King, that "the message of The Secret is the message that I've been trying to share with the world on my show for the past 21 years."
Dalton, who typically starts his group off by chiming a Tibetan bell and plays meditation music throughout, says that he actually knew about the law of attraction years before Byrne rendered it a household name. But he doesn't begrudge her success. After all, Byrne and Hicks gave him the ammo to turn a spiritual muse into a bona fide business venture. He's in good company. Other entrepreneurs like Walnut Creek massage therapist Tamara Shulim and Alameda life coach Nicola Ries Taggart have launched their own consulting businesses or meet-up groups, some of which reprise teachings they got from the bestsellers.
"A lot of people are searching for answers and searching for some way to have control in their life," Ries-Taggart said. "I think what's appealing about the laws of attraction is that essentially what it's saying is that you do have control of your life. I think it shifts people from being a victim of, like, 'Life is just happening to me, I don't have any control.' It shifts them to the driver's seat. I think that's what's appealing to people. It's just a very empowered approach to life.
Although The Secret's national visibility may be on the wane, its true believers are still going strong.
The so-called "law of attraction" is at the core of many self-help regimens, from Dale Carnegie, to Norman Vincent Peale, to Tony Robbins. It's basically just common-sense stuff — i.e., think positive, and good things will happen to you. The appeal of The Secret was its mixture of such advice with the notion of some type of higher power — all converted into the can-do language of a twelve-step program. In The Secret DVD, a kid cuts out a magazine ad for the bicycle he desires and takes it to bed with him. In the book, "success coach" Jack Canfield said he tacked a fake $100,000 bill to his bedroom ceiling and its positive energy launched him into a lucrative publishing enterprise. A bachelor who wanted a relationship painted himself with three women and hung the image in every corner of his house. Stock market educator David Schirmer claimed that in a time of financial hardship he started whiting out the totals on his bank statements and replacing them with a more desirable figure; shortly thereafter he was getting checks in the mail. Local healer-in-training Mary Tansey contends that you can use the Secret to imagine parking tickets out of your life — just keep the image of a ticket-free window on your mind's visual screen.
Many of these acolytes claim they've actually known about the laws of attraction for a long time. Walnut Creek massage therapist Shulim said she encountered a similar doctrine in the "MasterMind" workshops she started attending nine years ago. "This is a funny thing," said the red-haired, 47-year-old speaking in a sharp accent that betrayed her Moldovan origins. "Oprah bought it, you know, but it's been already for a long time because the classes for how to attract — you attract relationship, attract money, attract boyfriend, attract, I don't know, anything. It's a long time, it's everywhere. But I was teaching it and then I said, 'Why didn't I go to Oprah?' I could have gone on Oprah and been a millionaire too."