There’s a popular New Age aphorism: we create that into which we put our energy. It’s generally understood to mean that we get what we focus on, that if we spend our time and energy on what we desire, the universe will manifest it. The same thing happens with what we fear. It’s meant as encouragement, as a reminder that we can get what we want out of life, as long as we keep focused and stay positive.
It’s also bullshit.
Self-improvement gurus sell it under the name “The Law of Attraction.” The self righteous imply that it explains why the poor are poor and the sick are sick.
The reason it’s bullshit is that it’s a vast oversimplification of a complex phenomenon. We are co-authors of our realities, that much is true, but it’s not a matter of simple intent, or focus of imagination.
Our actions shape the world we live in, within certain limitations. We might be poor because we have bad habits with work or money, but it’s not because we spend time thinking about being poor. If we’re healthy, it’s because we make choices about how we exercise or what we eat, not because we visualize ourselves as thin and happy.
There’s more to it than our actions and choices. Physics and luck are part of it, but not everything. The present is built on the past, on the choices made by our parents and neighbors, and the generations before them.
I am who I am, in part, because three hundred years ago, a Swiss man decided to emigrate to the new world. And because my grandparents decided to move off the farm and into the city after World War Two. And because my father took a job in Missouri, and another in Iowa. Because my mother decided to be a nurse on a psych ward, and was disabled wrestling with a violent patient.
I am where I am because American polititians used the concept of Manifest Destiny to promote western expansion, and because the Mexican government ceded California in 1848. The Gold Rush and Hollywood made San Francisco a promised land.
And let’s not forget the work of folks like Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, and Victor and Cora Anderson, and the generations who studied with them, some of whom taught me.
We’re the product of our choices, our parents, our teachers, and history. We need to remember that, and to understand how the past affects us, if we want to make the best choices we can in the present.
This is why I believe we have to revive and maintain traditions of ancestor reverence and hero cultus. Simply remembering the past isn’t enough, not if it’s just facts from long ago. The relationship has to be personal, to be kept part of the present. Active relationships with the ancestors and the mighty dead keep them alive, or at least present to us.
Those who came before us, who left us the world we now live in, had all the human flaws and weaknesses we might have. To forget that, worse, to hide it, would be to disrespect them. We can’t ignore the bad they’ve done, the ways in which they fell short. If we do that, we risk losing connection with that part of the world. We forget that we owe it to our descendents to clean up the messes left to us, and to try and make less of a mess for them.
I can’t ignore that my ancestors owned slaves, or that some of the heroes who have influenced my life were addicts or abusers. How could I correctly account for their influence on my present life if I did?
If we forget our past and our dead, if we do not honor the good they did, and make restitution for the evil as best we can, how can we ask our children, our students, and all those who come after us to thank us for the world we leave to them?
It is not only by our actions that our world is shaped. Our dead live on, invisibly and subtly shaping our world. The past lives on, the bones of the present. The universe manifests not what we desire, but what we do in relationship with all those who have gone before us.