The Past is Not Gone

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.

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About Lon Sarver

Lon Sarver is a polytheist priest of Dionysos, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and contemplating (with a healthy amount of dread) making a second attempt at a career in Marriage and Family Therapy. View all posts by Lon Sarver

8 responses to “The Past is Not Gone

  • Berin Kinsman

    I am a firm believer in two of the steps the “law of attraction” hucksters peddle: visualization and gratitude.

    You need to be able to visualize what you want, to see yourself having it, to believe that you can get it, in order to have the chutzpah to make a plan to get it, and stick to that plan. If it’s whats on your mind, you start to see the opportunities, and you think of things in terms of “does this put me closer to or further from my goal?”.You manage what you monitor, but it won’t just fall out of the sky and into your lap.

    I also believe in gratitude. Thank people who help you, whether they did so on purpose or not. Be thankful for the opportunities that open up. Be thankful for being clever enough to recognize the opportunities and take advantage of them. Gratitude is good for your blood pressure, and it also makes people more likely to help you if they know they’ll be appreciated.

    All of this requires work, however.

    Like

    • Lon Sarver

      What gets me about the way the Law of Attraction is commonly portrayed is that the emphasis is firmly on the “imagine good things happening” end, and the work required is barely mentioned, if at all. The importance of work, and awareness of contemporary and historical context, is entirely absent. It’s always hit me like folks who insist that they’ve gotten all they have through hard work, and anyone could have done the same, without consideration for any advantages or privileges they might have had helping them.

      Like

  • Kelley Harrell

    18 hells yes.
    Intent is a huge part of life, but it’s not all of it. LoA has become New Age victim-blaming, if it was ever anything but.
    Thanks for sharing this perspective!

    Like

  • facingthefireswithin

    Reblogged this on facingthefireswithin and commented:
    We owe much to those who went before us, be it Blood, Spirit or Thought.

    Like

  • Yeah, I Don't Like "The Secret" Either.

    […] week Lon Sarver wrote a fantastic post called The Past is Not Gone, about how the Law of Attraction is utter bunkum. For those who aren’t aware, the Law of […]

    Like

  • aeddubh

    Reblogged this on The Words Swim, Waiting and commented:
    A useful discussion of the so-called “Law of Attraction” and an intriguing approach to the necessity of ancestor veneration.

    Like

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