The Secret of Success

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The DVD is called The Secret, but it didn't remain one for long. Even though you won't find it at your local Blockbuster or Barnes & Noble, it is selling briskly through new-age bookstores, New Thought churches like Unity and Agape and its own website In a little over six months more than a half-million units of the DVD have shipped; it ranked in Amazon's Top 5 sellers during Christmas week; and a tie-in hardcover book just cracked the Top 10 on the New York Times bestseller list.

"It's become the biggest selling item in the 30-year history of our store," says Harmony Rose Allor, a buyer at West Hollywood's popular metaphysical bookshop The Bodhi Tree. While DVDs do well to sell a few hundred copies there during the busy holiday season, The Secret has been selling in the thousands. All this for a low-budget documentary revolving around a centuries-old concept commonly known as The Law of Attraction.

Some call The Secret a "transformative" message movie. Mixing the ancient conspiracy hoodoo of The Da Vinci Code with the psychic science of 2004's cult hit What the Bleep Do We Know!?, it interweaves computer graphics, historical recreations and interviews with "experts" into a study of "intention-manifestation" — the philosophy that contends our emotions and thoughts can actually influence real-word events. In other words: if you really, truly believe you can beat the lottery and visualize scratching off a winning ticket, you can do exactly that.

It's a message that has resonated throughout history, from Proverbs 23:7 ("As a man thinks in his heart, so is he") to Norman Vincent Peale's 1952 self-help bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking. The Secret — created by Australian reality show producer Rhonda Byrne — is so hokey at times you have to roll your eyes. But to a lot of enthusiasts, it makes perfect sense.

"I was resistant at first," says Julia Holmes, a Los Angeles resident who saw the DVD on the day after Christmas. "But after watching it, I decided to play a game. I was late for a yoga class and I thought about a particular place in the room next to a wall that I wanted to be in. When I got there, the space was open. I went through the rest of the day smiling to myself and thinking, this stuff works."

The secret to The Secret's success is the effective way Byrne edits her interviews with 24 so-called "teachers" — prosperity preachers, chiropractic healers, relationship gurus, life coaches, motivational speakers and other empowerment hustlers — into one clear, cohesive voice. The teachers, many of whom have large audiences of their own, were also instrumental in promoting the DVD, touting it in e-mails to millions of their followers. "The film delivers a timely message in a way that's accessible, whether or not you've ever explored this direction before," says Hale Dwoskin, one of the two dozen featured teachers. Dwoskin, author of the personal growth guide The Sedona Method, believes "the world is hurting and in turmoil. The distance between that trouble and our everyday lives has dissipated due to the widespread availability of cable news and the Internet. People are ready to find a way out beyond the normal paradigms we all live in."

Critics of The Secret, and even some fans, are bothered by its obsession with using ancient wisdom to acquire material goods. In one segment, a kid who wants a red BMX bicycle cuts out a picture in a catalog, concentrates real hard, and is rewarded with the spiffy two-wheeler. The Secret"is like having the universe as your catalog," says Joe Vitale, who is called a "metaphysician" in the film but whose website bills him as "Mr. Fire" — a marketing consultant with the power to sway consumers with a "hypno-buying trance." "The get-rich-quick parts really bothered me," says Bodhi Tree buyer Harmony Allor . "It's my hope that people won't use creative visualization to obtain wealth for themselves, but in more positive, altruistic ways."

The film's backers say they deliberately aimed to make "wealth enhancement" a major element of the project. "We desired to hit the masses, and money is the number one thing on the masses' minds," says Bob Rainone, a former IBM salesman and telcom exec who now serves as Byrne's U.S. business partner. Wealth enhancement is also part of the The Secret's business plan. Among the spinoff books expected in 2007 are The Secret Workbook and a collection of The Secret Success Stories. Byrne will also begin filming a sequel to The Secret in January, for an August release; Rainone says it will explore "the next step, the next level" in the process of achieving one's life goals. Meanwhile, the original DVD is about to be distributed in Europe and Asia; German, Spanish and Portuguese translations are nearly completed, with French, Japanese and Chinese to follow.

"The Da Vinci Code was entertaining, but this film is a personal tool for people who want to change their lives," says Rainone. "It's a gift to the world, to help humanity." Or, as another empowerment teacher, Madonna, sang in her own 1994 hit Secret:"Happiness lies in your own hand."