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The Philosopher's Stone
Newsletter - 2011

January 4, 2011

Pain is Friendly

Henry launches into Elizabethan English for his little dialogue between the Soul and Pain in the meditation accompanying Suggestion 16, PAIN IS FRIENDLY. Victor Serenus: A Story of the Pauline Era (1898), his novel based on the life of Paul the apostle, is also full of thees and thous. Just why he chose to do this is unclear. It is useful in that it indicates that the material is from an earlier era, in the case of Paul; and other authors of his time did the same thing. His overall writing style in his later works changes to become less Victorian; for example, compare the 25 Suggestions from Ideal Suggestion (1893) with the later 12 Suggestive Lessons (The New Thought Simplified, 1903).

Anyway, Pain has a message for the soul: "My face seems repulsive and cruel, but my character is only revealed upon acquaintance." Concerning its mission, it states, "I am a warning monitor to save thee from thy baser self, an angel of mercy to lift thy consciousness—even though by goads—to higher life and harmony. Accept my judgment and profit by my discipline, and my cruel features will be transformed." Soul finally gets the picture: "Thou dost link bitterness to sin to turn us from it. But for that, we should forever disregard divine law, and finally destroy ourselves." This is a matter of scientific fact; I once read about a child born without the ability to feel pain, which at first might sound delightful, but it means no alert that one is being burned or otherwise harming one’s body. Obviously this is just as applicable to the soul.

This gives us another opportunity to map across into process thought or process theology: God doesn’t have to micromanage in the old irritable Oriental potentate manner with his finger poised over the SMITE button; God micromanages by supplying initial aims (perfect possibilities) for each occasion of experience, each tenth of a second. Now that’s really micromanaging! God created—or more precisely, cocreated—a lawful universe in which the lawful operation of events nudges us back into line: "We are punished by our sins, not for them." Sin, in case you have forgotten, just means missing the mark. It is not habitual unless we make it so; we can always choose with each new occasion of experience to accept God’s perfect possibilities and head ourselves back on track. God can go right on loving and luring us into better, more useful behaviors.

Before he even gets to the 25 Suggestions and meditations at the back of Ideal Suggestion, our Henry sets forth the laws of mental healing in simple, lucid prose. In "Planes of Consciousness", we first encounter the "upper, sunny apartments":

The ruling daily and hourly consciousness is all the time building up the soul-structure with material of its own quality. The great majority of the human family are strangers in the supreme zone of their natures, and remain persistently below, until forced upwards by the discomfort and decay which they invite by arresting development. Many who rarely mount above, are almost unaware of the existence of their upper, sunny apartments, or at least have no appreciation of their beauty and healthfulness. (Page 67)

Henry revisits this theme in his fifth Suggestive Lesson: "We are subject to ills when we live in the basement of our nature. It is a kindness that, at length, we become uncomfortable there, for then we will earnestly seek the higher, sunny apartments." (Page 180). It’s a favorite of his; see the eleventh Suggestive Lesson:

My seeming trials and pains are not really against me. They are like the purifying fire which burns up the ‘wood, hay, and stubble,’ leaving the real self unharmed and beautiful. . . . Bitterness and penalty are linked to sin to turn me from it. They come to make me uncomfortable in the lower consciousness so that I may be pushed higher. . . . I do not like friction, and therefore look about to see if I may climb above it. Its friendly goading comes to drive my thoughts upward to harmony and life, and nothing less bitter would do the work. My recognition of the real purpose of pain takes away its sting. To see it as an enemy intensifies my distress. (Pages 192-3)

Healings are rarely instantaneous. Their beginning may be, as in Myrtle Fillmore’s insight described last week. Sometimes after years of work they appear instantaneously, as in the ten-year "overnight success". But in between is a lot of starting and stopping, climbing and backsliding, in the effort to "take every thought captive" and throw a saddle on the brain (apologies to Bandler and Grinder). Sometimes finding the perfect solution for the ills of body or mind can feel like Edison inventing the light bulb (accounts vary as to whether it took 2, 5, or 10,000 iterations through all the ways that didn’t work to find the one that would work). Pain is the signal that what you are doing isn’t working, that something is still wrong and needs to be set right. It is easier to endure and understand in that "sunny apartment" upstairs.

 

January 11, 2011

I Listen

Suggestion 17, I LISTEN, is obviously very close to our Henry’s heart. Henry Wood (1834-1909) sets up his accompanying meditation with "I go into the silence and open my inner hearing to the ‘still, small voice.’" At its end, he reminds us, "The Lord was not in ‘the wind,’ ‘the earthquake,’ nor ‘the fire,’ but in the ‘still, small voice.’" Hearing it is the purpose of going into the silence and listening.

The body of this meditation is noteworthy:

The sanctuary of soul is the "Holy of Holies;" the trysting-place of the divine and the human. The tribunal of God is at the soul-centre of man. The divine likeness is here unveiled. It is the "manger" where the Christ-consciousness comes to birth, while external discords are only the beasts of the stall. It is the angel who brings "good tidings of great joy." Here the resurrection take place, when the stone of the lower self-consciousness is rolled away. Here is the divine affinity which feels its oneness with God. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or there! For lo, the kingdom of God is within you." That kingdom includes wholeness, harmony, and health. The sun of righteousness arises with "healing in his wings."

The "kingdom of God" quotation is from Luke 17:21. "The Sun of righteousness . . . with healing in his wings" is from Malachi 4:2, borrowed by Charles Wesley for "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". Note how well our Henry knows his Bible. He later repeats his entire paragraph verbatim in his Sixth Suggestive Lesson from The New Thought Simplified. He begins by stating, "I retire within, in consciousness, and open my inner hearing to the revelations of Spirit" (page 182), a slight revision of the Seventeenth Meditation. What he wants us to realize is that because "the kingdom of God is within you", it is within our souls that we are to listen for that "still, small voice". That is his affirmation accompanying the Sixth Suggestive Lesson: I HEAR THE STILL SMALL VOICE. Just in case we didn’t get the message, we find in the Tenth Suggestive Lesson, "The divine voice within, which has been drowned by external noises, must become articulate. I listen to it! I utter it! I hear it! I obey it! I am one with it! I am it! In my new experience I turn within, and am led to exclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!" (Page 190)

Sitting in the silence is one of the oldest and best-known New Thought techniques for building one’s relationship with God. Jesus frequently went off by himself to a desert place, and whether he sat or did a walking meditation, he renewed his strength through his relationship with the Father. As a good Jew, he knew the scripture, "In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." (Isa 30:15) It is so simple, and yet one must make a really determined effort to carve out the time from a busy day, or even from one just filled with petty distractions. Listening for God in the silence is vital for healing, as it complements any physical measures taken.

Just in case we have missed the point, Henry returns to the topic a fourth time in The New Old Healing (1908), in a little piece titled "BE STILL":

The world outside is filled with noise, clatter, roar and uproar. We cannot change this objective fact, though we can change and even control our relation to it.
But the world inside is all our own. What will we do with it? It may be a most enjoyable realm.
Even in the inner world, we are not alone. There is the "still small voice," but it is noiseless. This is the source from which the long line of prophets, early and later, received their respective messages, to which they gave outward expression.
Let us not deal with this great truth of the trysting-place of the divine and the human, merely as a passing theory, or even a beautiful abstract truth. It must be brought into concrete practice and live in us, if we would realize its power. It greatly helps to bring it home to consciousness to affirm it in the first person singular.
I retire within the sanctuary of soul and bar the door to the external world. The divine voice is interpreted to my inner hearing. I harken to it! I hear it! I feel it! I obey it! I am one with it! I am it! Dualism is merged in unity.

OK, Henry; I get it!

Lagniappe: The Philosopher and I have been having a running debate about divinity. I dutifully sat at his feet by the stone and transcribed the following:

Everything is experiential. Within that totality some experiences are personal; most are not. Within the persons, one Person is the giver of the possibilities made available to the lesser units of experience, persons and subpersons. We call the highest giver and ultimate recipient and keeper of all experiences, God. God is divine; everything else is non-divine. This does not concern God’s nature, but rather the degree of complexity of experience and the manner in which it is directed.

I respectfully disagree. God is our creator, and everything created reflects at least a little bit of its creator (think of a child’s kindergarten drawing hanging on the refrigerator). Whether you choose to think in terms of God’s initial aim in each occasion of experience, which would seem to cover the waterfront; or simply note that we are divine the way little Johnny Jones is Jones, we don’t have to see ourselves as God to see ourselves as containing a spark of the divine. I think Jean Houston once referred to us as "Godlets". That would seem to work at least for us persons.

 

January 18, 2011

I Make Harmony

The word harmony sounds almost saccharine today, bandied about as it is by those who seek to pour oil on troubled waters in the political arena or the day-care center. But it deserves more careful consideration. In the history of music it crowns the development from a single line of unaccompanied melody, to two or more lines coming together at intervals (punctus contra punctus: counterpoint), to "the combination of simultaneous musical notes in a chord": harmony. From there the dictionary takes us to "pleasing or congruent arranging of parts", "correspondence, accord", and "internal calm: "tranquillity".

Why does our Henry consider harmony important enough to single out for his seventeenth Suggestion: I MAKE HARMONY? In the accompanying meditation, he describes our interconnectedness with all that is in such a way that we are constantly exchanging messages that affect everything else, which in turn affects us; therefore it matters greatly what we are sending out. He concludes, "I create a harmonious environment by projecting thought only of the good. God created all things good, and in the kingdom of my own consciousness I will do the same. I will think only harmonious thoughts, and thereby make harmony."

This should remind us of the sixth Suggestion, I AM PART OF A GREAT WHOLE. We begin to see what our role should be in that whole: to create harmony through what we send out and in turn get back. Harmony is on the long list of "ALL THINGS" that "ARE YOURS" in the seventh Suggestion. In the twelfth meditation, accompanying I AM FREE, we learn, "Freedom is harmony with Law. Law is not only universal, but beneficent." It concludes, "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). God made the universe lawful not to harass us, but to assist us, provided we operate in harmony with the "universal, beneficent" law. If we don’t know what some of those laws are, the universe will demonstrate them for us in a heck of a hurry. In the meditation accompanying 14. I LOOK UPWARD, Henry notes, "We are on the way towards the ‘Father’s House.’ . . . Present discord will glide into the harmony of the future." Getting a little ahead of ourselves into the twentieth meditation, we will learn, "Health is natural. The natural is that which is in harmony with orderly law. All law is beneficent, therefore the degree of harmony in anything is the test of its naturalness. . . . Inharmony, disease, and unhappiness are unnatural, because they are discordant with all that is normal and ideal. . . . The universal order speaks only of wholeness and harmony."

Henry was anything but a goody-two shoes. Like Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore, he was a hard-headed, practical businessman. He follows the law because that is what works, what leads to success in whatever realm it is applied. Be it business, science, or literature, when we discover the applicable laws, we heave a sigh of relief because things go more smoothly, more harmoniously. And when we discover a higher law that trumps the one we were following, we happily move up to that.

The 94 pages of introductory material in Ideal Suggestion aren’t there just to take up space; we are expected to read them, and it takes more than one reading to absorb. Henry wants us to know "The Laws of Mental Healing" along with "some of the difficulties which are encountered, not only in its practical application, but also in its popular acceptance as a system having a real and scientific basis" (page 15). P. P. Quimby didn’t live long enough to document adequately what he was doing in a way that others without his particular gifts could emulate, although we are grateful for what he and his amanuenses have left; be sure to visit the magnificent work that Ron Hughes has done at www.ppquimby.com . Our Henry has picked up where Quimby left off, as the baton is passed to a team member in a relay race. On page 20, he tells us, "Mental healing is entirely based upon law, which, though belonging to the higher domain, is orderly and exact. It enjoins human compliance with existing law, already perfect and incapable of improvement. . . . If God be infinitely and eternally perfect, His part is already complete, and it only remains for man to come into harmony with truth, which is the divine method."

Quimby believed he had rediscovered the lost healing methods of Jesus. Henry believed that anything available to Jesus back then is still available to us today. He concludes his introductory material on page 94 with a mention of the healing at the Beautiful temple gate:

That wonderful power has not been withdrawn from the world, for God never takes back; and it only needs the same consecration and positive spiritual clearness in some modern Peter and John for like manifestations now. Love is the great universal spiritual law of attraction which binds God and all His creatures into harmonious unity, wipes away all tears, and heals all seeming infelicities.

 

January 25, 2011

I Rule the Body

We have already encountered Suggestion 8: I AM NOT BODY, which dealt with the underlying metaphysics of idealism. Henry wanted us to understand that "all primary causation is from within, and that "our receptivity is the primary and real cause", concluding with "I deny the rule and tyranny of body, but affirm its utility as a servant and instrument." Now we are to pursue this topic further. Before we do, you may want to go back and reread the November 8 newsletter.

In the meditation for 19: I RULE THE BODY, Henry states, "When the body rules, it soon becomes an unrelenting tyrant, but, if it occupies a secondary place, it is serviceable and beautiful. Man must assert his superiority." Later he adds, "I deny the rule of the seen, sensuous, and the material."

But our Henry was no ascetic. His first novel, Edward Burton, paints a lovely picture of an abundant yet responsible lifestyle, with much beauty and comfort to enjoy. On page 42 of Ideal Suggestion he states:

Asceticism was a mistake, or, at most, only a half truth. The body is not a thing to be repressed and mortified, for the reason that it is inherently good. When the conscious life-energy and thought has its chief outlet and exercise through the higher and spiritual nature, the body will need neither watching nor repressing. As a subordinate, it will be divinely harmonious. ‘Take no thought for your body.’ Thought centred upon the body presses downwards and obstructs its harmonious and free expression.

It is the soul, not the body, which must call the shots. Henry explains:

[Man] should make his home in soul; in the body but not of it; and this will give him such a grasp and control of his corporeal structure that it will not be open to every discordant wave that is wafted towards him in the sensuous atmosphere. The body was not intended to be an opaque shell to obstruct the inner light, but rather the pure crystal through which the rays shine out, beautifying itself and illuminating its related environment. (Page 43)

Henry takes this idea farther on pages 89-90:

The Christly consciousness is life, health, and peace, and this causes all its seeming opposites to vanish. Such terms as the devil, hell, a roaring lion, an angry God, the consuming fire, and many other objective terms, represent states of consciousness. These are produced by an idolatrous mistaking of the unreal for the Real. "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve," or build into the mind-structure. Lip-service is naught, for all real homage is "in spirit and in truth." The belief in physical causation has been the great racial mistake. . . .

This reminds us yet again of the work of the father of New Thought, P. P. Quimby, who sought to make his patients aware of these negative ideas held in consciousness and dehypnotize them from such beliefs (he would, of course, not have had the word dehypnotize).

Another way in which we rule the body is to give it wholesome food and drink, rest, and exercise, as appropriate and in appropriate amounts. People in Henry’s day did not have to contend with snacks and sodas laden with high-fructose corn syrup or other toxic chemicals that throw the body out of kilter and encourage cravings, but they had their share of temptations to what Henry referred to as "inebriety" and other addictions. But the work still begins in consciousness as we listen to the guidance of the still small voice; then the "I will" has a fighting chance of winning the day.

Lagniappe: Healer Agnes Sanford grew up in China as the child of Presbyterian missionaries, in a culture in which even people of very modest means had household help. When she married an Episcopal priest, she expected to remain free of housework and cooking, but she suddenly found herself struggling to rear her children in addition to being stuck with her least favorite indoor sports. As you can imagine, her consciousness at this time in her life was not ideally high. She did manage to learn the power of affirmative prayer to help her recover from the inevitable accidents that her low state of consciousness attracted. Here are a couple of illustrations of what our Henry has taught us about ruling the body, from Sanford’s book, The Healing Light, pages 74-76:

We can assume that we have the power of God within, and act upon it. In order to do so, we need only to remind ourselves of our real being as children of God and of His light that shines within us. If we do this with a real conviction, something shifts within us almost as rapidly as a car shifts into high. We leap immediately, as it were, to a spiritual platform of peace and safety. For instance, I once slammed a very heavy door upon my finger, turning it black. If I had said "damn" and had fought the sickening pain, the finger would have continued to hurt. But being very conscious at the time of my own power and authority as a child of God, I held my finger up before Him and blessed the pain therein, congratulating it as one of His healing agencies. Then I thought, "I am a spiritual being, a child of God. My spiritual body has a finger, and that finger doesn’t hurt. The pain ceased instantly, as if I had somehow shifted my sensations over into the spiritual kingdom where there is no pain. . . . The nail resumed its normal color and kept it, suffering no ill effects whatsoever.
Being a speedy and casual cook, I have many a time spilled boiling oil on my hands while officiating over the cookstove. If I lose my temper at such times, the hand is burned. If I do not lose my temper, the hand is not burned. One’s reaction to boiling oil is exceedingly speedy. And if one gives way to temper first and allows it to burn, it is too late then to remove the burn by prayer, for by that time we are delivered to the judge of our own inner consciousness, which in faithful obedience to the thought-suggestion of fear and wrath has directed the hand to burn. "Agree with thine adversary quickly,"  said that most profound of psychiatrists, knowing the tremendous power of the first thought suggestion sent down into the body. It is unnecessary to stop frying potatoes and pray. We have already prayed for the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. Let us then act upon it, assuming the dominion that is ours as children of light and assuming it in any simple words that come to mind. My own power-thoughts at such times would be quite unacceptable in any book of prayers, for I am apt to meditate in kitchen language. " I’m boss inside of me," I’m apt to think. "And what I say goes. I say that my skin shall not be affected by that boiling oil, and that’s all there is to it. I see my skin well, perfect and whole, and I say it’s to be so."
"But that’s not a prayer at all!"
No. I have already been charged that day with the power of God’s indwelling life, so it is not necessary to ask for it again. I am assuming it and acting upon it, and my remarks are the following-up of prayer, inadequately expressed by a busy woman who must cook, clean, wash, iron, raise children and befriend a parish, and cannot be on her knees all day. All thoughts of power, conscious or unconscious, are the follow-up of prayer—the rounding out of our prayer-work in our lives. The woman who thus controls a finger that has encountered boiling oil does so in the sure knowledge and feeling of God’s power within, whether she mentions His name or not.

 

February 1, 2011

Health Is Natural

Early New Thought author Henry Wood (1834-1909), whose collection of 25 Ideal Suggestions for imprinting critical spiritual principles in our consciousness we have been considering, wants us to know that, as his Suggestion 20 states, HEALTH IS NATURAL. It is worth noting before we proceed that today we might say that wellness is natural, for to us health simply means the absence of specific illness rather than an optimal mental and physical state.

In 1893, when Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography first appeared and the name New Thought did not yet exist, our Henry seems to be echoing P.P. Quimby when he writes on page 74, "Man’s wrong consciousness and false thinking are expressed in disorderly externals, and he therefore believes that he is ill. He is divine and cannot be ill." Quimby’s primary concern was remediation; patients came to him, and he used his power of clairvoyance to see and describe their difficulties, winning their trust. He was then able to argue them out of the toxic beliefs that had led to their ailments. Henry, who did not consider himself to be a healer, added to the emphasis on the power of thought to hurt or heal an emphasis on prevention, both in constructive thinking and in proper care of the body. On page 79 he states:

A careful study of all the factors involved leads to the conclusion that health is teachable. Mental healing is not a result of the influence of one personality impressed upon another, but comes through the agency of Truth, made operative by correct thinking and ideal delineation. No healer, however eminent, has any inherent power to restore the health-consciousness, but he can point out the road, and, arm in arm, lovingly conduct his willing brother along its gradual ascent.

How does one teach health? One begins, according to Henry, with emphasis on one’s relationship with a loving Father who is the source of life and who is to be discerned in nature. The year before the publication of Ideal Suggestion, Henry wrote, in God’s Image in Man:

The Kingdom of Nature intermingles with the Kingdom of Spirit. Each is the complement of the other, and no arbitrary boundary exists between them. Truth is a rounded unit. . . . If [the scientist] dissociates Nature from her vital relations, his accomplishment can be but partial. So far as he fails to recognize her as a Theophany, he misses her true significance. Likewise the theologian, who has eyes only for the supernatural, fails to find the vital supports and relations of his own chosen realm. Each thereby makes his own system incomplete and untruthful. Nature and spirit can no more be divorced than a stream and its fountain. The attempt to translate Religion into an arbitrary, supernatural realm, has robbed it of its spontaneity and vitality. To the world the supernatural is unnatural, and the unnatural is morbid. . . . The methods and transmutations of the natural world are a relation of the Father. The spirit of Nature and the genius of the Gospel are in perfect accord because they have the same source. (Pages 32-33)

On page 45 he adds, "Nature may always be trusted, for natural laws are divine methods."

In the meditation accompanying the twentieth Suggestion, Henry states, "The natural is that which is in harmony with orderly law. All law is beneficent, therefore the degree of harmony in anything is the test of its naturalness. God is the Author of nature, and natural law is divine method. . . . Inharmony, disease, and unhappiness are unnatural because they are discordant with all that is normal and ideal." You will recall that the eighteenth Suggestion is I MAKE HARMONY.

Henry has more to say on the subject of natural law in The Political Economy of Humanism (1901), in the chapter titled "Natural Law and Idealism":

Law is only a comprehensive name for the orderly methods of the Creator. The supreme uniformity and reliability of phenomena prove that they are divine manifestations, and that only. An approximate human conformity to our highest interpretation of Law we call good; and such a lack of, or non-conformity as is below this standard we designate as evil. Only a higher and truer standpoint than the external and material will enable us wisely to interpret many forces of the physical and economic domain which seem destructive. (Pages 286-287)

He continues, "Law is not a great, blind, mechanical force, crushing its violators and opponents, but an infinitely potent agency to be intelligently wielded and utilized. Its wonderful possibilities are placed at our service. They are like the mechanical forces of the screw or lever to the artisan, but extend in all directions and through all relations."

On page 288, he explains further:

The fact that Law, in its immutable lines, can never be bent nor diverted in the least degree, is all that prevents the cosmos from becoming chaos. Retributory action in every department, physical, mental, or moral, is universally inherent and corrective and never arbitrary or from the outside. Our mistaken and antagonistic attitude towards it reflects our own hostility back. If we were to receive it as a necessary educator instead of an angry opponent, its face, to us, would be transformed so as to express its natural friendliness.

Sounds a lot like Suggestion 16, PAIN IS FRIENDLY. So the Suggestions are starting to work their way into our minds, and their effect is cumulative. Let's give Henry the last word with another chunk of the twentieth meditation:

The spiritual should mould the material, the inner the outer; and all human experience proves the reasonableness of such an order of relation. It follows that human vitality can be increased only from within, and that drug-medication is abnormal and adds no new life. It deals only with effect, and is clearly unnatural and irrational. Man must hold before him an undeviating pattern, and thereby grow into its likeness. Nature is not "sickly," and for man—its crowning feature—to be disordered proves his continual "fall" into materialism [philosophical materialism, as contrasted with Henry’s favorite idealism]. Nature, rightly interpreted, is spiritual. The universal order speaks only of wholeness and harmony.

 

February 8, 2011

Mental Healing is Scientific

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a bulletin from the Philosopher, who has emerged from the cave but did not see his shadow last week:

Matter is those collections of living experiences that the laws of physics describe. Collections may be living or nonliving, but the experiences that constitute them are always living and mental/psychical in nature. Scientific laws describe the interactions of collections of living experiences, including the collections of living experiences that make up a person’s body. Metaphysics describes the inner workings and interrelationships of actual entities (living experiences) and how they come to form collections.

Resuming our scheduled broadcast, Suggestions 20-22 need to be placed side-by-side in order to discern their subtle differences. Last week we looked at 20, HEALTH IS NATURAL. This week, we contemplate 21, MENTAL HEALING IS SCIENTIFIC. Next week we are scheduled to peruse 22, HEALING IS BIBLICAL. We are going back and forth between healing the body and healing the mind, which of course overlap enormously. Even the body is mental in nature because it is made up of living experiences, as we would say in process thought. We have built up the pattern of the past one experience at a time so that it is much more difficult to change, for better or for worse.

I usually only quote portions of the meditation that accompanies each Suggestion, hoping to entice you to go to the original and read it (just click on the Henry Wood blue tab, then on the link to the PDF file for the book), but this week I am going to make an exception and print the whole thing, since Henry has summarized the topic so nicely:

Science is systematized truth, as manifested under the operation of law. The great obstacle to the general acceptance of mind-healing has been the mistaken popular notion that its elements were mystical, occult, magical, or capricious. Nothing could be further from the truth. The laws of spiritual science are as exact as those of mathematics. Every hour of positive high affirmation of the ideal perfection of mind and body, tends directly to actualize such conditions. When this principle is intelligently grasped it is at once seen to be scientific. There is no more uncertainty about its trend than there is about our nearing an object if we walk towards it. Even though orderly mental forces may sometimes be set in motion by pure superstition (as through shrines and holy relics), the result is no less logical. The usual limitation of "science" to the realm of matter is its degradation. There is no fact better fortified than that mental states and qualities tend to embody themselves. Thousands of instances, illustrations, and analogies prove such a sequence to be scientifically accurate.

And, I might add, a ton of research in psychology. It’s also interesting to note that Whitehead was the coauthor of Principia Mathematica.

Our Henry has already pointed out, in the introductory material in Ideal Suggestion:

Turning to therapeutic systems, mental causation is in substantial harmony with the highest and best thought of the seers and philosophers, from Plato down to the present time. It is only medical science as it has gradually degenerated into a great drug prescription system, that seeks for primary causation in the inert clay of the body. The wise physician makes a mental, as well as a physical diagnosis and is logically led to the utilization of immaterial forces. (Pages 18-19)

Most physicians can tell stories about patients who got well who didn’t seem to have a chance, and about patients who should have gotten well but didn’t. The difference is in the mental realm.

Henry goes on to explain the difference between "faith cure" and "spiritual healing":

The general identification in the public mind of mental healing with "Faith cure," is another prolific source of misapprehension. While there are many sincere clergymen and laymen who believe in "miraculous" healing in answer to prayer and anointing, simple justice requires that a broad distinction be noted. Faith healing, as generally understood, involves a direct and special interposition on God’s part, in response to petition. It implies that He is subject to changeableness and improvement, and that the expected result is an exception to, or reversal of, universal law. On the contrary, mental healing is entirely based upon law, which, though belonging to the higher domain, is orderly and exact. It enjoins human compliance with existing law, already perfect and incapable of improvement. While a vital faith on man’s part is a powerful healing element, it should have an intelligent and scientific basis. The divine order cannot be capricious. If God be infinitely and eternally perfect, His part is already complete, and it only remains for man to come into harmony with truth, which is the divine method. Faith healing, defined as a local exceptional action of God, improved and set in motion by petition, is a relic of decaying supernaturalism. It is true, however, that many cases of healing take place among its disciples. Even pure superstition—as illustrated by the result of pilgrimages to shrines and contact with sacred relics—often heals, because, though the modus operandi is misunderstood, it starts into action saving mental and spiritual recuperative forces. (Pages 19-20)

The contrast is lawful operation in the natural world as opposed to the supposed suspension of law, the working of "miracles", God changing his mind in response to pleading.

Henry summarizes:

We read that "the prayer of faith shall save the sick;" but since the days of the primitive church—judging from its fruits—that kind of prayer has not been general. The prayer of doubt and uncertainty, or the petition that salvation may come, does not avail. The kind of prayer that is needed is the realization that salvation is already complete, and that its full expression devolves entirely upon ourselves. The usual petition that we may be submissive to disorder, pain, and trial, has not made, and never will make them normal or lovable. The formulas of theology practically deny the power and inclination of God to work among men as he formerly did, and yet they declare him unchangeable,—the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. If those who profess Godliness manifested its fruits and outwardly showed its attestations, the world could not help believing and accepting. (Pages 91-92)

Lagniappe: For more on the prayer of faith, I have added some more quotations from healer Agnes Sanford on the Garden by the Sea page (just click on the blue tab to the left). I think that Agnes would agree that in praying, we don’t change God’s mind; we just make God’s job, which he is already doing, easier.

 

February 14, 2011

Healing is Biblical

In his meditation accompanying Suggestion 22: HEALING IS BIBLICAL, Henry is very matter-of-fact. The Bible, especially the New Testament, is crawling with examples of healing. There is no room for doubt that literal physical and mental healings as described in the Bible are possible for us today:

The whole tenor of the Bible indicates that healing is expected as the natural result of the quickened spiritual life. Preach the gospel and heal the sick, are both included in the great divine commission. They are the inner and outer sides of one whole. The external is the visible sign and attestation of the genuineness of the spiritual and internal.

Henry then quotes John 14:12, Matt. 10: 7-8, and Mark 16:17-18; and reminds us, "The Psalms are full of declarations, to the effect that wholeness is the natural result of abiding in God. Healing is biblical." Note the bit about "abiding in God": we must do our part to build a relationship with God, to install those beliefs about God in our consciousness.

Earlier in Ideal Suggestion, Henry has dismissed the notion that healer Agnes Sanford later ran up against, that we "live under a different dispensation", whatever that means; but it indicates that a door that was open to the apostles is closed to us. Henry spells it out:

When the Founder of Christianity gave his great commission, "Preach the gospel and heal the sick," did he not mean all that he said? Is the power of Truth partial, local, and limited to a single age? If God be infinitely good, unchangeable, and orderly in His manifestations, could He withdraw powers and privileges that had been already bestowed? If divine law is not suspended nor violated, the same "gifts of healing" that have once been exercised must be operative to-day, under corresponding spiritual conditions. (Page 6)

Note the important qualifier, "under corresponding spiritual conditions". We must do the work in consciousness to prepare for our healing. Jesus seemed to know who was ready to be healed.

Then Henry addresses the notion of miracles being a suspension of the laws of nature:

On the divine side, spiritual law must always be uniform, otherwise God’s methods would be self-contradictory. Many eminent men of advanced thought in the church who now admit the immutability of law, spiritual as well as material, have apparently failed to observe its logical outcome. It follows that the direct assurance of the Christ that, "These signs shall follow them that believe," either limits true believers to one epoch, or else proves that "works of healing" have a permanent and lawful basis. Does it not appear that worldly policy, intellectual theology, and ceremonialism, as they came into the church in the time of Constantine, extinguished the early, simple, vital, spiritual potency which since that transition has never been fully regained. (Page 6)

We are all to ready to believe in the immutability of the physical laws of science, but we hesitate to believe that the mental and spiritual laws are just as dependable when properly adhered to.

Years later, in The New Thought Simplified (1903), our Henry returns to the subject in the chapter, "The New Thought and the Bible". Here he is trying to get people to make proper use of the Bible to become intimate with God. "An inadequate interpretation of the Book has put the Father far away." He scolds the traditional churches: "Institutional religion—in consequence of taking the Bible superficially and intellectually—has largely become a matter of belief or assent to certain statements, whereas spiritual truth is only spiritually discerned. . . . The use of biblical texts merely as words, or as proofs of some special doctrine, virtually hides their inner and spiritual significance. To be enslaved by words is to lose the underlying harmony and oneness which glows beneath the letter." He warns, "As the Bible is an Oriental Book, in which truth is cast in terms of symbolism, metaphor, hyperbole, allegory, parable, and general poetic expression, literalism has largely stripped it of its power." To Henry, "the Bible is the best book in the world, and it is right for all to retain it as their text-book. Each will find—as in a mirror—that which corresponds to his own growth and present state of spiritual development."

In 1905, Henry published Life More Abundant: Scriptural Truth in Modern Application. In it he discusses the importance of "the emancipation of the Bible from literalism and formalism. He notes that "professional and technical scholarship is so widely engaged in Biblical interpretation and criticism" and "the clerical profession, to its honor, is taking up anew the study and solution of the inner significance of the Scriptures, and the general search for truth for its own intrinsic value was never before so keen and thorough." Yet he comments that even the best critics are affected by the bias of their denominational training, and they serve scholars better than they serve "the popular mind". Henry seeks to fill in the gaps that appear, to preserve "all that is intrinsic in the Written Word". He seeks to restore our faith, and sadly, our times require it even more than did his. He writes:

If any wonderful work has ever been performed contrary to orderly law, then God must be capricious and the moral order disorderly. But many marvelous transactions have taken place in accord with laws with which we have been, and still are, unacquainted. Such an administration is reasonable, and confirmed in every direction; and it is entirely unlike the dogma, so long and universally held, that miracles are special and unique and given as signs. . . . What a burden upon faith, and its hospitable reception, is the belief of a spasmodic interference at human request, by God with his own beautiful and eternally established methods! The apologists of the past have marred the religion which they earnestly endeavored to explain and defend. (Pages 98-99)

Without question, Henry’s approach to his own healing and his instructing others in how to learn it, involved one’s relationship with God and a thorough grounding in the Bible as one’s principal textbook. Healing is indeed Biblical, and it is there that our search for healing must begin.

Lagniappe: In Life More Abundant on page 257, Henry quotes in its entirety a lovely little poem. I tracked it down and discovered that it is by Minot J. Savage and was published in Scribner’s magazine in 1876. Here it is:

Where Is God?

"Oh, where is the sea?" the fishes cried,

As they swam the crystal clearness through;

"We’ve heard from of old of the ocean’s tide,

And we long to look on the waters blue.

The wise ones speak of an infinite sea,

Oh, who can tell us if such there be?"

 

The lark flew up in the morning bright,

And sung and balanced on sunny wings;

And this was its song: " I see the light,

I look on the world of beautiful things;

But flying or singing everywhere,

In vain I have searched to find the air."

 

February 22, 2011

Prayer is Answered

Finally we reach the point where the rubber meets the road, the practical part of Christianity. People who are hurting plead for relief from their pain, whether of mind or of body. Henry assures us in Suggestion 23 that PRAYER IS ANSWERED. He defines prayer as "communion, aspiration, soul-contact with God. The ideal prayer is not a petition for things, for Infinite Love has already bestowed the best, though we may be unconscious of it." As the Philosopher puts it, "What God can do, God is already doing." As Isaiah puts it, "Before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Isa. 65:24). Henry gives us the reason: "To expect a change on God’s part would imply that He is imperfect." Prayer is not impassioned pleading, like a child jumping up and down while pulling on a parent’s arm, "Pleeeease!" The parent may wear down and say, "Oh, all right"; God will not, because God’s loving character does not change, and God is already working for our highest good, unless we somehow block that good. Prayer is our aligning our minds with the Mind of God, thus making God’s job easier. Henry elaborates, "True prayer wields divine forces and makes them ministries of blessing."

Notice that Henry says "true" prayer. What does he mean by that?

The ruling desire of each soul is its prayer, therefore each one prays "without ceasing," wisely or unwisely. If it be for wealth, pleasure, renown, or sensuous gratification, the answer is upon the same low plane. The response comes, but proves unsatisfying. . . . [True prayer] wields divine forces and makes them ministries of blessing. It discovers and utilizes divine law. . . . If ruling desire binds me to God, I shall receive what is God-like.

This principle of divine law is one of the foundation stones of New Thought in general and of Henry’s teachings in particular. The universe operates lawfully so that we can have free will. A lawful universe is a neutral universe: if I can make it rain on you and not on me, it won’t do much for your free will. The laws of mind supersede the physical laws.

One of the most challenging things to learn is the shepherding of our thoughts, especially the ones that go astray and get caught in the brambles, where they just keep bleating day and night. Paul the apostle calls it taking captive every thought: "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor 10:5). The people who master this skill are the people who are able to heal themselves and others. What we must do is to picture what it would be like to have the prayer answered: "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them." (Mark 11:24) Note, as Henry says, the "have received" verb tense; it’s as if it were already here. This is so often illustrated in terms of something such as the new Ferrari convertible parked in the driveway, which is child’s play compared to the difficulty of picturing the income stream to support it, or of imagining a level of wellness that allows one to perform the macho leap over the driver’s door without opening it. What do you really want? The train of thought must be headed in the right direction, must run far enough to get all the way there, and must not get derailed by a bunch of negative "What if?" thoughts. I am describing it whimsically, but for most of us it is the work of a lifetime to master.

One of the keys to prayer is love. Everything we think, say, or do needs to be permeated with love, as Jesus taught in his two great commandments. If the love isn’t there, the prayer is not aligned with God. Author "Carnelian Sage" describes this well in her little book, The Greatest Manifestation Principle in the World. Henry has already dealt with love in his second Suggestion, DIVINE LOVE FILLS ME.

Lagniappe: As if to demonstrate that no one denomination has a corner on truth, our Henry includes in The New Old Healing this item, titled "The Prayer Cure":

Said that great divine, (philosopher and scientist as well,) John Wesley: --
"I earnestly advise every one, together with all his other medicines, to use that medicine of medicines — prayer. Where is the cure for either lingering or impetuous passions that either furiously overturn this house of earth, or sap the foundations of health and life, by sure approaches? The whole materia medica is of no avail in this case. What can cure it but the peace of God? No other medicine under heaven. What but the love of God, that sovereign balm for the body as well as the mind. The passions have a greater influence on health than most people are aware of. All violent and sudden passions dispose to, or actually throw people into acute diseases. The slow and lasting passions, such as grief and hopeless love, bring on chronic diseases. Till the passion which caused the disease is calmed, medicine is applied in vain. The love of God, as it is the sovereign remedy of all miseries, so in particular it effectually prevents all the bodily disorders the passions introduce, by keeping the passions themselves within due bounds. And by the unspeakable joy, and perfect calm, serenity and tranquillity it gives the mind, it becomes the most powerful of all the means of health and long life."

 

March 1, 2011

I am Healed

We have nearly reached the end of our self-programming with the 25 suggestions supplied by Henry Wood (1834-1909). Presumably, they represent the route that our Henry traveled to reach his own healing, beginning in 1888. We do not know what resources or teachers he used; only that by his own account he was so ill that he had to retire from business. All but one of his dozen books were written after his recovery. In the same year (1888), he suffered the death of his only surviving child, Helen Margaret, in her eleventh year. Undoubtedly that contributed to whatever he was experiencing. In his first New Thought book, the novel Edward Burton, two characters experience healing from life-threatening illness through spiritual/mental healing. One of them is a businessman caught up in his businesses to the exclusion of any balance in his life until his business fails, leaving him bankrupt physically, mentally, and spiritually. Is any of this autobiographical? Henry never tells us, saying only of himself, writing in 1908:

It is now twenty years since, when at the age of fifty-four, he was in a mental and physical condition where life seemed a burden, and an overwhelming depression prevailed. More specifically, a long period of chronic neurasthenia, insomnia and dyspepsia was experienced which gave no promise of recovery, or even of partial relief. With the round of conventional means for betterment practically exhausted, in the natural order the termination seemed not far away. The forebodings and sufferings of a temperament of keen intensity may be but faintly imagined, except by the few who have dragged anchor in the treacherous quicksands of a similar experience. A plunge was made without reservation, from a supposedly correct, moral and ethical life into the practice and philosophy of the higher thought with new ideals. A sharp corner was turned and a new path entered which led to results which were remarkably favorable. Whatever may occur in the immediate or more remote future, the past score of years stands entirely to the credit of the principles of mental science, even though they have been imperfectly lived. Not only the time added, but everything accomplished within its limits is entirely due to the strength derived from the new departure. (The New Old Healing, pages 6-7)

In the meditation for Suggestion 24, I AM HEALED, Henry presages Stephen Covey’s "All things are created twice" notion from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: "As the building is complete in the mind of the architect before it appears outwardly, so the divine innermost is already perfect, waiting for me to bring it into the external." He then elaborates on the idea that spirit is not sick, and that this wellness moves into the physical body. "I bolt the door of thought against every mental picture of imperfection and disorder. I hold only the perfect, and affirm nothing less. . . . I will forget the evil and remember the good." To think in this manner, having already installed the notions of a good and loving God who is the source of our life flow, helps us to align with the will of that good God and to make God’s job of healing us easier.

In 1895, Henry was invited to read a paper before the Unitarian Ministers of Boston’s "Monday Club". It was titled "Has Mental Healing a Valid Scientific and Religious Basis?".  He began by explaining that he had "no professional interest along this line, his position being that of an independent investigator and seeker for truth . . . .one who, from force of circumstances, has been led to some appreciation of great principles, a knowledge of which the world greatly needs." He added:

A personal experience, some years since, of unusual depth and intensity, involving an application of the new philosophy, was the starting-point of a most thorough, impartial, and conservative investigation which has followed. An intense philosophical desire to probe as deeply as possible, without fear or favor, was awakened. With such a vivid subjective attestation of the power of a law not yet generally recognized, no one possessing any altruistic spirit could quietly settle down to silence, simply because his own immediate personal needs had been satisfied. (Studies in the Thought World, pages 113-114)

Henry then describes his "careful study of [New Thought’s] best literature, philosophy, and practical demonstrations" along with "extensive correspondence, in which are included accounts of a great number of personal experiences" as part of his "honest and impartial search for truth for its intrinsic value". He is seeking "orderly forces in the realm of mind, the utilization of which is more important to mankind than those recently harnessed in the electrical domain" despite "some charlatanism, extravagance, and a spice of disorderly logic " that have "swathed themselves around this new development", for "it is clearly in the line of legitimate philosophical inquiry, as well as humanitarianism, to find, through impartial research, if it have laws which are of exact definition." He notes, "We are ever ready to study political, social, moral, and other objective economics exhaustively, but strangely omit that one which is nearest and most vital." He then differentiates New Thought from Christian Science, faith healing, or "merely another therapeutic system added to the various ‘pathies’ now extant." He reminds, "even in the external world it is not matter, but the immaterial energy which moulds it, that produces all phenomena." (Process thinkers, note that "immaterial energy".) He also observes, "Although there is truth above reason, as ordinarily defined, there is none against reason. There is spiritual as well as intellectual common-sense." He continues to demolish numerous straw men that may interfere with his audience’s acceptance of New Thought principles. He makes his important distinction between food and drugs: "One is normal, the other abnormal; one contains nourishment, the other does not; one furnishes natural material for the life-forces to grasp and build up, the other proposes to alter and correct the life-forces themselves. Can they ever be wrong? They are the divine energy in humanity, and never need correction."

He discusses the use of both mental and physical means of healing in extreme illness but advises, "If primary causes for mental and physical ills are resident in the clay of the body, there is no warrant whatever for healing through mind. If, on the other hand, causative forces are located in the mental realm, there is no logical basis, per se, for anything else." He goes over the instances of the power of suggestion in history, and he describes the patient as "like a discordant instrument which needs tuning. A successful healer must be an overflowing fountain of love and good-will. He makes ideal conditions present. The patient’s mental background is like a sensitive plate, upon which will gradually appear outlines of health and harmony as positively presented." But, he explains, there are also things one can do for one’s own physical ailments in terms of self-development by getting rid of undesirable "mental tenants". He then outlines the system that he has unfolded in Ideal Suggestion. Finally, he points out that this "is in accord with revelation, and with the purest ideals of all religions", especially "the principles of the Sermon on the Mount". Searching for "the great secret of matter" is a quest for the "living among the dead". "Life is all around us, ready to flow into the manifestation of the sons of God. . . . Paul was not merely a religionist, but a scientific idealist, when he declared, ‘All things are yours.’"

Many people listened to Henry. Now that we have process thought, which includes the discoveries of quantum physics, it is even easier to see the validity of his position that this somewhat mystical, spiritual approach to healing is scientific; and that science and religion can indeed come together.

 

March 8, 2011

"Be Ye Therefore Perfect"

Having coached us in reprogramming the subconscious mind (one of the latest scientific wrinkles of the day) and installing beliefs that will serve us well in our search for spiritual growth, how does Henry round things out at the finish? For the second time, he quotes Jesus in Suggestion 25: "BE YE THEREFORE PERFECT". The first time was in Suggestion 10: "I WILL: BE THOU CLEAN." The two are connected, and the whole Jesus Christ teaching is woven together in the meditation that accompanies Suggestion 25.

I WILL: BE THOU CLEAN appears in all three synoptic gospels: Mark 1:41, Matthew 8:3, and Luke 5:13. It was Jesus’ response to a leper who knelt before him and said, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Jesus compassionately reached out and touched him, saying, "I will; be thou clean." There is a ton of teaching packed into this story: first, we see the leper’s faith that Jesus can indeed heal him leading him to approach Jesus (take action toward healing); second, we see Jesus modeling God’s always willing our highest good, so of course he was willing; and third, we see Jesus urge the instantly healed man to go show himself to the priests as public confirmation of his healing, which is the first step in resuming a normal life. Strong, focused faith was rewarded.

BE YE THEREFORE PERFECT appears in Matthew 5:48, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. This chapter really contains the nub of New Thought, saying not to worry about prosperity; "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." It comes after the remarks about not serving two masters: God and mammon (material wealth or possessions). There is absolutely nothing wrong with riches per se; they can be used to do enormous good in the world, but the relationship with God must come first, with the riches following as appropriate. Too many people end up "possessed by their possessions", with the tail wagging the dog.

God wants us to live in "lavish abundance" as the children of a king would expect to live. To do this, we must live as God has outlined for us to live, in harmony with God’s laws for the operation of the universe. It doesn’t work for us to stay stuck in the past, in old ways that don’t work any longer, in old mistakes. So Henry starts his final meditation of the series with another Bible quotation:

"But Jesus saith unto him, Follow me; and leave the dead to bury their own dead."
I hereby bury my negation, weakness, fear, selfishness, and all doubt under a mountain of positive, intense, living Truth.

He then gives us a list of positive affirmations that we can use as a blueprint. Henry’s main emphasis was on healing of mind and body, because he had already pretty well mastered the lessons of prosperity of pocketbook; but the approach is the same. The passage is from Matthew 8:22, where some would-be disciples of Jesus are making excuses for not following him immediately. One man asked to be allowed to first go home and take care of his father until he died, when the man would presumably be more free and prosperous. Jesus isn’t buying any of these excuses for not getting started on "the way", which is what the earliest Christians called the movement. There’s an old saying: "This week, next week, sometime, never." Next week we’re going to start eating right, or making a budget, or improving our relationship with that problem person. That great American philosopher, Robert Ringer, has stated this as his Fiddle Theory: "The longer a person fiddles around with something, the greater the odds that the result will be negative." (Winning Through Intimidation, page 139). Numerous psychological studies support this theory, but Ringer is much more fun to read. Henry, having equipped us with a mental makeover, wants us to get going.

The year before he published Ideal Suggestion, our Henry published a book of essays titled God’s Image in Man: Some Intuitive Perceptions of Truth. He modestly describes them as "glimpses through the vision of the intuitive faculty; interpretations of the inner consciousness, rather than an intellectual or argumentative effort. They are inspired by no spirit of controversy, but are searches for Truth for its own sake; and their aim is to recognize it wherever found"(page 3). But research shows that the best way to develop intuition is to first program the mind with whatever solid facts and reasoning are available, then let it all incubate. Henry has definitely done this. In "Revelation through the Son", he asks:

Did Jesus forgive sins? "And Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; they sins are forgiven." What is the forgiveness of sin? Not the remission of penalty, nor a suspension of the law that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is rather the putting away of sin, and only by and through that means, an escape from penalty. All the sin of the world is eternally forgiven by God. Our sins are unforgiven—to us—when we are unconscious of such forgiveness. . . . Forgiveness is the loving interpretation of the divine Mind by the Son. . . . Following in the footsteps of the Son of God, any son of God may announce the divine pardon; that is, forgive. If forgiveness were not an eternal act on God’s part, it would imply alteration in His Mind. (Pages120-121)

On another occasion, Jesus hunted down another person whom he had healed and advised him, "Behold, thou are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee." (John 5:14)

By now we should be able to put it together: lack and limitation, including illness, nearly always come about because we have failed to live by the divine laws of the universe. The sooner we start pulling ourselves into line with the Father’s will for us, the sooner we will reap the benefits of a happy, prosperous life. We do this by listening for the still, small voice in the silence. Instead of looking for loopholes, we strive for perfection. BE YE THEREFORE PERFECT.

Lagniappe: On the title page of God’s Image in Man, Henry has a bit of verse:

"I searched for God with heart-throbs of despair,

‘Neath ocean’s bed, above the vaulted sky;

At last I searched myself—my inmost I—

And found Him there."

Henry does not identify the source. Two other Google book authors quote it, but both are later than 1892. If Henry had written it himself, he would not have put it in quotation marks.

* * * * *

After debating various possible paths for more Henry Wood (1834-1909) research, I have decided to check out his Suggestive Lessons, written ten years after Ideal Suggestion. They are an appendix to The New Thought Simplified (1903), in case you want to download the book and have the new meditations available. It should be interesting to see how Henry’s thought might have evolved. I hope you will come along for the ride.

 

March 15, 2011

Henry, Ten Years Later

Our hero, Henry Wood (1834-1909), thought he was down for the count in 1888, when by his own account he was "in a mental and physical condition where life seemed a burden". I quoted the whole passage two weeks ago. This appears to be the year when his young daughter died. He had been a successful, prosperous businessman and author of Natural Law in the Business World published in the previous year. After his collapse, he somehow discovered New Thought, even though it had not yet acquired that name. Two years later—the same amount of time it took Myrtle Fillmore, who wanted to do the work unassisted so that she could understand it better—he was well and energized once again, writing his "metaphysical" novel, Edward Burton; soon followed by God’s Image in Man and the book we have been studying for the past six months, Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography (1893). Ten years and several books later, he published The New Thought Simplified: How to Gain Harmony and Health (1903). Meanwhile, he had helped to found the Metaphysical Club and served as its president.

What restored this once- "hard-headed businessman"—as Charles Fillmore once characterized himself—from despair and death to firing on all cylinders? Henry has explained it in the accompanying material in Ideal Suggestion, but that is admittedly Victorian in style, with no aids to the reader. The physical and psychological principles involved in installing the Suggestions are sound, but most of us would like to see something a bit more streamlined. So we can approach The New Thought Simplified with the same excited anticipation as we would a new release by any of our favorite authors who have proved helpful in the past, knowing that his ideas have surely evolved and that practice has polished his ability to present the ideas clearly and concisely. Here we go on our new adventure with our Henry!

First, we notice the new brevity and clarity of print. Although Henry continues to describe himself in the formal third person, we sense the streamlining in the Preface:

It frequently has been said that presentations of the New Thought are made in terms not readily intelligible to beginners. In the nature of the case, it is not easy to set forth a psychological and idealistic system so that it shall be lucid to all.
It is also true that there is a decided though often unconscious inclination among the exponents of any movement to fall into a mannerism which is distinctive. Writers upon the New Thought are no exception to this rule.
In this volume, the author does not claim to be exempt from such a tendency, but simplicity is his earnest aim. (Page 3)

Then follows a series of short chapters, perfect for bedtime reading, covering the New Thought basics of thought, law, faith, and scientific prayer. There are also chapters comparing and contrasting New Thought with hygiene, the Church, the Bible, Christian Science, modern reforms, and the medical profession. The appendix supplies "mental and spiritual gymnastic exercises" with "specific practical directions"and a set of twelve Suggestive Lessons. As veterans of Ideal Suggestion, we of course understand how these work.

The first three chapters discuss thought:

As thinking is the fountain for all action, it should not be turned loose to run at large. What a disorderly mob of thoughts smuggle themselves into the mind! Stand at the gateway of consciousness and see the procession enter. Could it be pictured upon a moving panorama or be acted upon the stage, what a dramatic medley would appear! It is all because they think themselves. It is true that but a small part of them ever reach the climax of form, but they all tend that way, and are fluttering to get loose. Every one of them wants to be hatched, have a body and try its wings. Those which succeed will have the stripe and color of the average that is within.
The brain is like a menagerie. Its caged mental forms bear close resemblance, in their nature, to various beasts, birds, and reptiles, tamed and untamed, gentle and savage. Perchance there may be a side-show of monstrosities, but we will not look in.
Mind is peopled with all this motley assembly because it has left the door swinging on its hinges and the windows wide open. The governor has abdicated, and the doorkeeper is off duty.
A mind floating in a chaotic sea of thoughts, without a ruling aim and positive ideal, is like a rudderless ship, at the mercy of winds, waves, and breakers. (Pages 9-10)

Notice the bit about thoughts thinking themselves. They take on a life of their own if we do not take steps to regulate them. This is what we in Process New Thought call the pattern of the past. The only time in which one can act is now, but as we reconsider old thoughts in the now, we wear traces in the brain rather like beaten-down tracks in a field. We thereby reinforce old thoughts for better or for worse. We can take control of this process. This is a far more parsimonious explanation for much that goes on than "malicious animal magnetism" or other complicated explanations that allow us to duck responsibility for our thoughts and actions.

There are equally wonderful passages concerning the power of thought habit and thought selection. Henry then proceeds to a chapter titled "The Laws of Life", and as we know, he is very big on the importance of working in harmony with such laws. He explains how to use our thoughts to bring ourselves into that harmony.

At this point in its history (1903), New Thought is still squarely based on the character ethic: good character is postulated. Ethics is woven into every chapter of Henry’s business books. The country had not yet faced the world wars, but it had faced and survived civil war. Life was not a walk in the park even for a well-to-do person such as Henry, who had faced the destruction of his business by fire, the death of his only daughter, and the usual vicissitudes of business encountered by any entrepreneur. Henry is reaching out to help others in various ways, and as a Christian, is basing his conduct on the teachings of the Bible. He is also clearly a lover of nature.

Next week, we shall begin our consideration of the first Suggestive Lesson.

 

March 22, 2011

The Great Fatherly Presence

For Henry’s first Suggestive Lesson in The New Thought Simplified, he chooses the text "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). It’s very popular with Process New Thoughters as an example of prehension. The lesson is all about getting in touch with God: "I lift my consciousness into contact with that mighty, healing, loving, Divine Life...." "I open my nature for an influx of life, love, harmony, and strength from the Overflowing Fountain." Henry quotes Isaiah 40:31 : "They that wait upon the Lord" (hold him in loving thought)....This is not merely biblical poetic sentiment, but scientific and psychological law." He is emphasizing the fact that we are not isolated from God, and on God is where our attention needs to be: "Consciousness when centred upon material things becomes restless and disorderly." He reminds us, "What we mentally dwell upon we grow like, and this law is as constant as gravitation"; and then he comes up with one of my favorite Henry-isms: "The ‘Holy Spirit’ is not a rare theological visitor, sent from a distance, but an every-day practical working force." This is a good, solid unitarian Judeo-Christian viewpoint; and in view of what we now know about the dirty politics surrounding the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century, it’s probably a good place to be. New Thought is creedless, and one is free to believe as many as eight impossible things before breakfast, but it’s worth remembering that Jesus was a Jew, and his creed was the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut 6:4). Two good books on the subject are Richard E. Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome and Anthony Buzzard’s Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian: A Call to Return to the Creed of Jesus.

But they were not available to our Henry; he would have had to content himself with Channing and Emerson and Asher Moore. He ends his meditation with more an affirmation than a suggestion: I OPEN MY WHOLE NATURE TO THE UNIVERSAL SPIRIT. He has dealt with this theme earlier in the book in the chapter, "How to Get Into the New Thought". People understand that hearing about it is not being in it, that some demonstration may have aroused their interest and desire, "But perhaps, after a little effort, they give up the pursuit, and except for some slight intellectual appreciation drop back into the old rut. There is no half-way work about the New Thought." A toe in the water, or a spectator-sport approach, just doesn’t do it. "If you are to get into the New Thought and get it into you, you must, for a time at least, make it the leading subject of consideration and desire." Think of how people obsess over improving their golf game. We’re talking about your whole life here, folks. "The pure New Thought is sane, normal, and, in a true sense, conservative. But there must be a strong habitual cultivation of a higher consciousness which will be powerful enough to supersede the ordinary objective and materialistic trend of thought. An earnest and persistent effort will be required." Putting practice for the golfer, scales for the musician—Henry expects us to buckle down and do our daily work in consciousness: "The heart and essence of the New Thought can be most readily acquired by what is known as ‘going into the silence.’ No amount of intellectual study can reveal that which only can come through spiritual perception and feeling." He then elaborates:

Our minds are so crowded with objective facts and events that there seems to be no room for the higher consciousness. We must at times push back the clamoring world which presses to monopolize us, and also strive to displace physical imperfection and sensation. It is profitable often to forget the fleshly organism and think of one’s self purely as a spiritual being. . . . The infinite life is waiting to take up its abode with us, and it includes health, love, light, and strength. . . . We are not to expect something later, but to realize that the Presence is with us now. . . . Do not expect a miracle. The beneficent results will be a natural growth. Progress is in accord with law and the faithful use of means. It is exact and scientific. (Pages 36-37)

Remember that this is coming from a businessman who was very fact-driven and disciplined, who dealt with material goods in his business.

Henry warns us to expect "ups and downs", stating that the "usual difficulty" encountered by people seeking to learn New Thought is "the lack of persistence". He suggests using "any wakeful hour at night" for spiritual growth:

No one should allow a procession of the common objective thoughts of the day to pass and repass through the corridors of the mind at night. Such a habit leads to insomnia. At such an hour, the world with all its turmoil should fade away in the distance. Upon retiring, turn it off as completely as you do the gas or electricity. Keep company with the Universal Spirit." (Pages 39-40)

The chapter ends with a comment on the importance of prevention, "being vastly more valuable than cure, though far less appreciated." Still, the main emphasis is on "growth of soul and the unfoldment of the higher selfhood."

Lagniappe: I came across a web site that is a delightful break, a sort of mini-meditation: www.donothingfor2minutes.com . There is a lovely scene of sun over water, with the sound of waves for those who have sound on their computers. If you touch your mouse before the two minutes are up, a nasty red FAIL appears in the middle of the screen. If you succeed in doing nothing for two minutes, you are rewarded with a WELL DONE.

 

March 29, 2011

Consciousness-Lifting

Henry advocates a lot of consciousness-lifting. He began it in the first Suggestive Lesson and continues it with the affirmation accompanying the second: I LIFT MY CONSCIOUSNESS FROM THE SEEN TO THE UNSEEN. By now our consciousnesses should be well muscled.

After all, these Suggestive Lessons are billed as "Mental and Spiritual Gymnastic Exercises". We don’t want any mental and spiritual couch potatoes!

For this Suggestive Lesson, Henry lapses back into Elizabethan/Quaker English: "O soul within, how little hast thou been aware of thy grand opportunities and privileges! How hast thou timidly groped thy way through material fogs and mists when thou mightest have lifted thyself to the plane of spiritual verities! How thy whole horizon has been black with clouds which were only the shadows of thy dark thoughts and imaginings! It is unlikely that Henry had any experience with airplanes in 1903 unless he traveled down the coast to Kitty Hawk, so he couldn’t have experienced a plane lifting above the clouds; but he often tries to coax us from the basement up to the "sunny apartments". He wants to install in us at a deep level the belief that what we really are, our underlying substance, is spiritual/mental, not material: "I am a living soul, and not a fleshly being of mere physical sensation. I never have seen myself nor my nearest friend. What my eyes behold is only outward expression." If we are grubbing around on the physical plane of material stuff, believing only the evidence of our physical senses, we are missing all our "grand opportunities and privileges". "I—the real I—am impervious to illness and to so-called death. Nothing in the universe can injure me but my own false and mistaken thinking."

Since Henry’s time, much research in medicine and psychology has supported this idea. Process thought, taking into account quantum physics, refines it only slightly, from the good being formed "from the infinite supply of spiritual substance which surrounds me" to a series of occasions of experience/ideas/thought building up the pattern of the past, which becomes so entrenched that it is hard to change for better or for worse. We go from a substance view of things, like a still photograph, to a process view, seeing these occasions of experience like frames of a movie going past at about a tenth of a second apiece.

Recently the Philosopher and I have been rereading aloud a book by business consultant Kurt Wright, Breaking the Rules: Removing the Obstacles to Effortless High Performance. Wright looks at some of the scientific research that supports his ideas for being on a roll, which he believes is our natural state. He touches base with Nobel prize-winner Roger Sperry, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, and others to demonstrate that our analytic, ordinary waking "mind" cannot determine whether a statement is true or false. For that, we have to turn to our intuitive "mind". We do this by asking not what is wrong with a situation, but what is right. This plugs us into a much wider, more powerful source of wisdom and interconnectivity. The right questions are "What’s right (or what’s working)? What makes it right/work? What would be ideally right? What’s not yet quite right? What resources can I find to make it right?" Henry would have loved this approach, which is basically a refinement of New Thought principles. Wright asks, "What are you and I like at our very best?" He states, "Obstacles cannot be removed by putting our attention on them." Henry’s version, from our current meditation, is "I continually suggest the good to myself. Day by day I extract it from seeming evil." To do this is to kick ourselves into overdrive, to blow past the limitations of what Wright calls "the rational mind". Flipping back to last week’s lesson, "What we mentally dwell upon we grow like, and this law is as constant as gravitation. The ‘Holy Spirit’ is not a rare theological visitor, sent from a distance, but an every-day practical working force." We are dwelling on what’s good and right.

Aligned with the omnipresent God, the "material fogs and mists" lift.

In "How to Get into the New Thought", our Henry comments, "An unlimited field for the New Thought is found in the way of prevention. This is all-important, being vastly more valuable than cure, though far less appreciated." He is thinking of preventing physical illness by proper health habits, but he is also thinking of developing the necessary relationship with God before a crisis develops: "But great as is the value of physical harmony and improvement, they are of far less moment than the growth of soul and the unfoldment of the higher selfhood."

In "Two Different Minds in One", he gives us a crash course in consciousness:

The subconscious department—called by some the subjective mind—is a growing and ever unfinished depository of thought, emotion, and experience. In proportion as its laws are understood, it is susceptible to discipline and improvement. It includes the sum total of past states of consciousness, which, though laid away, remain intact. Like any other accumulation of slow growth, its quality is subject only to gradual change. At special times, it or some part of it come to the front, and for the time being seems like an independent personality. It may reason, hope, fear, love, hate, or will, all below the surface of the conscious mind, the latter being unaware of its special operations and conclusions. (Page 44)

He explains how this "hidden partner" directs all involuntary activities and "recognizes external facts, conditions, limitations, and even contagions, on its own account. (This is a giant "as if", not to be thingified into some malevolent presence.) Henry then provides an analogy to show us how we can control and change this body of "submerged intelligence":

A cistern may have a stream of water constantly flowing in, and this may be clear and sparkling, or foul. The quality of the great body of water on hand depends upon the character of the stream it has been receiving, and therefore the former can be changed only by a different quality of inflow. In the same way the great accumulation of past impressions is constantly receiving new additions of conscious and current thought. What kind shall it be? Every product of the imaging faculty is deposited, and not one is lost. (Pages 45-46)

Do you suppose that "right questions" might lead to a "clear and sparkling" stream?

Weakness, disorder, fear, envy, anger, and every negative or evil thing, never can burst forth and come into expression unless it has been stored up previously within. When fleshly coverings and limitations are removed we shall be like a ship which has a manifest nailed up, that plainly shows the composition of the cargo. (Page 48)

And Henry the businessman adds, "Thinking is capital at interest, and pays in its own coin. It will be well to become a capitalist of this kind." Then, foreshadowing what process thinkers would call the building up of the pattern of the past, he states, "Each high and positive thought is like a brick in a great edifice which finally towers up with intelligent design and beautiful proportion."

If we stand upon the shore of a lake we see only that insignificant portion which is upon the surface. Hidden beneath is perhaps ninety-nine hundredths of its volume beyond observation. In like manner the mind stuff which is out of notice contains layer upon layer and deep below deep. (Page 49)

We have quite a job to do to clean out that old cistern:

We are led to conclude that the hidden counterpart is a compound of former wisdom and foolishness, logic and nonsense, and these work in a personal and independent way. It is a great unstable force to be dealt with. It often refuses cooperation with its lesser but more active and wise companion. It is very "set," and will change its opinions only by slow degrees. . . . Only by persistent repetition can [the conscious mind] build a barrier that will hold. . . . The lazy and unresponsive hidden partner can only be brought up to the standard of the wiser and more alert conscious mind by continual concentration and self-suggestion. (Pages 50-51)

Now all this may seem contradictory: Henry is saying that the hidden partner needs to be brought up to standard; Wright says that the intuitive mind is wiser than the rational mind. But I think that perhaps a few clarifications of definitions will sort it out. There is only one governing mind per person, not two, even though that mind works through a brain with two hemispheres, like a station coming in to a radio with two speakers. That governing mind uses reason and intuition. Intuition involves alignment with the mind of God, who is present in the form of an initial aim in each occasion of experience. Those occasions, in each of which we have said yes or no to God’s perfect possibilities in varying degrees, make up that dirty old cistern. By consciously choosing the good, asking ourselves what’s right instead of what’s wrong, we are assuring that the new occasions going into that cistern are more in line with God’s initial aims for them. So Henry and Kurt Wright are both right.

 

April 5, 2011

What Does Love Think?

The third Suggestive Lesson is a reprise of the second Suggestion. We are going from DIVINE LOVE FILLS ME to "LOVE THINKETH NO EVIL". Obviously love is a topic that needs to come up frequently for Christians—indeed, for all human beings—of any stripe. In the second Suggestion, the idea was to feel that love; in this third Suggestive Lesson, we are contemplating what love does and the effects of our loving. In my musings on that Suggestion, I quoted what Henry had said earlier in Ideal Suggestion, on page 94. Henry loved what he had written there so much that he repeated it under the title "Love as a Living Current" in his last book, The New Old Healing. It deserves a second look:

Love invigorates. Its electric thrill sends new life through sluggish minds, weak bodies, and paralyzed limbs. At the Beautiful temple gate, Peter and John concentrated such a current of healing love upon the lame man, that he at once walked, leaped, and praised God. That wonderful power has not been withdrawn from the world, for God never takes back; and it only needs the same consecration and positive spiritual clearness in some modern Peter and John for like manifestations now. Love is the great universal law of attraction which binds God and all His creatures into harmonious unity, wipes away all tears, and heals all ills. (Pages 253-254)

Purists will note two small changes.

The first time around, in the Second Meditation, Henry begins, "Unselfish love is divine. God is not merely lovely, He is Love." He ends, "Divine love cures." At that point, we are concentrating on getting to know God as everywhere present in our lives and affairs. Where God is, love is. This time, we are concentrating on love in action: "Love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10) Henry adds, "As we embody its spirit we incarnate and express divinity. It is an all-surrounding atmosphere in which we live, even though unconsciously. In proportion as we send out love we receive it. Love heals. . . . ‘Love never faileth.’" We know it is present because God is present. So what happens next? Things change: As we cease to resist our supposed enemies, —personal and impersonal,—they, by a subtle law, turn about and serve us." And what is the affirmation for this third Suggestive Lesson? "LOVE THINKETH NO EVIL."

Hmmm, I think I’m seeing a pattern here. Last week, I mentioned business consultant Kurt Wright’s book, Breaking the Rules: Removing the Obstacles to Effortless High Performance. Wright is getting us to concentrate on what is right instead of what is wrong in any circumstance, which sounds to me like a pretty good description of love in action, which reminds me of I Corinthians 13, from which the affirmation comes. Love (Charity in the King James Version) "is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." Henry is going a step further and assuring us that by loving and not resisting our "supposed enemies", they are going to somehow "turn about and serve us" by some subtle law, possibly the Law of Attraction, by which, as Henry puts it, "Antagonistic thoughts manifest themselves outwardly in restlessness and disorder." If love is thinking about what’s right instead of what’s wrong, and if switching to such thoughts instead of "antagonistic thoughts" gets rid of "restlessness and disorder", that alone would be helpful. But it’s even better than that: our supposed enemies are going to "turn about and serve us", knowingly or unknowingly! Loving thoughts do not mean that we have to turn into doormats, just that we keep focused on what is good, on what our own standards and objectives are. And all of this is a virtuous spiral: "As I radiate love in every direction it is reflected back to me. Through such an activity I build up the kingdom of heaven within. That kingdom includes health, harmony, and happiness." So it gets easier, all by emulating God/Love and thinking no evil.

Our "supposed enemies" include illness, addiction, people problems, financial problems, and nut cases trying to overthrow the government, not to mention people who think they know what is best for us, whether they do or not. We can see why we first need to get a sense of God’s love as present and available before we can be willing to think love. Love is said to be the glue that holds the universe together, and the full name of process thought is process-relational thought, indicating that love that binds us all together. A force—even one that is good and powerful—cannot love us. We humans can love, and so our Creator must be able to love even more. This points to a Creator who is personal: not anthropomorphic, not an ill-tempered, capricious Eastern potentate, but one who is self-aware, rational, and values oriented; one with the strengths of good character but not the limitations of personality, pictured as masculine merely by tradition but encompassing qualities of both sexes. "God whose name is love"— in Bible times, one’s name indicated one’s character. Henry seeks to return that love: "I love God and all humanity. I send out thought ministration to all about me. Thoughts are real forces—living messengers of power. Love thoughts, even when brought to bear upon our pains and trials, transform them and make them educational. ‘Love never faileth.’ Its fruits are perennial."

Lagniappe: I have just added to our respective Articles pages the papers that the Philosopher and I wrote to be read at last year’s Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion session at the Annual International New Thought Alliance Congress. If you click on the respective blue tabs to your left (scroll up a bit if necessary), they will be on top. Both papers discussed a book published posthumously by our friend and colleague, Divine Science minister and New Testament scholar Dr. Robert Winterhalter, The Healing Christ. Although they were recorded, some glitch in the process meant that only half of one paper and none of the other made it onto the cd. Our good friends, Reverends Shirley and Sam Bowman, did the reading for us.

 

April 12, 2011

The Soul’s Temple

Henry’s fourth Suggestive Lesson is a reprise of the fifth Suggestion (go to October 17, 2010). It is not only true that I AM SOUL; I AM A LIVING SOUL. This affirmation crowns a series of denials and affirmations, beginning with "I affirm spiritual freedom" and adorned with several quotations from Romans and Corinthians. The fifth meditation described the need for using the Christ mind to dispel "works of the Devil" (illusions of evil); the fourth Suggestive Lesson works as a treatment for doing just that. Halfway through, Henry quotes I Cor. 6:19: "Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you?" He then elaborates, "Its inner court is the banqueting-house of the divine and the human. There are two in one, and one in two." A living soul, then, is one that is walking the talk, living in the blueprint.

For the fifth Suggestion, I quoted extensively from an essay by Henry, "Saving the Soul", in The New Old Healing. He talks about the rethinking that has been done on the whole idea of salvation and what it requires, spilling over from soul into divine selfhood. Salvation is not to be found in "intellection and material science", but in "the unfoldment of the higher part of man—or rather of the man himself. Even theology in the ordinary sense is not of it. . . . It must include the normal development of the intrinsic and eternal Christ-mind or quality. . . . An intellectual giant may be a spiritual weakling. He requires saving no less than his more ignorant brother who seems so much below him."

But then the conclusion is a surprise, coming from Henry the successful businessman who enjoys and encourages moderate, balanced earthly pleasures:

The business man needs to be saved from his business, the lawyer from his law and the capitalist from his capital. Each is inclined to give his soul to these things. It is not enough to send his theories, his philosophy, his beliefs, his theology, or even his religion higher: he must go there himself. Full salvation involves the evolution of a divine self-consciousness; the building of a soul-structure of imperishable materials. The ego must form an organic union with eternal and living verities. (Page 287)

On that basis, one would never need to ask whether someone was "saved"; it would be evident in the person’s daily life, shining through. The point is not to "trust in riches", but to trust in God. Riches are fine so long as one seeks first the Kingdom of Heaven. Even St. Augustine advocated, "Love God, and do as you please" (in that order). Author Stephen Covey in his blockbuster best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People: Restoring the Character Ethic (1989) picks up this theme in terms of what we are centered on; for example: spouse, family, money, work, possessions, pleasure, a friend or friends, an enemy or enemies, church, or self. None of these are bad, but centering on them can have huge unintended consequences. The only thing that works well is to be principle centered. "Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural [moral] laws that cannot be broken. As Cecil B. DeMille observed of the principles contained in his monumental movie, The Ten Commandments, ‘It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.’ . . . "Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident."  Henry would wholeheartedly agree.

In The Symphony of Life (1901), Henry had written about "The Human Body as a Temple". Here he is working from the other end, admiring the "grace, proportion and perfect adjustment to environment of man’s physical organism, which is "also a marvelous demonstration of the principle of co-operation". He then asks why the human body, which is inferior to the animals in so many ways, is "so intrinsically unlike any other material organism? Because it is a TEMPLE. . . . If the body be a temple, it is or should be consecrated. . . . It is evident that that which consecrates the body is a peculiar quality of thought." Where he is heading with this is the definition of "Holy Spirit" as "the Spirit of Wholeness". He admires St. Paul’s "profound, and even scientific psychology": "Paul was wonderful, not only in Apostolic religious zeal, but in the degree of his philosophical insight." Henry continues, "Unlike temples made with hands, the sanctuary for the use of man is built from within. The thought and ruling mental pictures of its owner outwardly articulate themselves, not only in its facade, but in the proportion of every architectural detail." The owner, of course, is the soul. Henry then launches into a discussion of one of his favorite topics, hygiene. If you think that sounds stuffy or dated, think again; one of our great difficulties today is the physical ailments resulting from poor choices of food and drink, rest and activity for our individual body temples, which vary one from another in their specific needs. We may have more choices and temptations than Henry did, but the importance of self-discipline still holds. Passing thoughts cannot substitute for appropriate physical habits.

But Henry’s main emphasis this time, in his Fourth Suggestive Lesson, is the soul rather than the body it inhabits, the self that you have never seen, the immortal part of you that is free and cannot be harmed by any physical means. It is a spiritual entity, and the laws that govern it trump the laws of the physical universe. Still, while it inhabits its current body temple, it needs to be a good steward of the premises.

Lagniappe: The Spring 2011 issue of New Thought is now available, so I have just added my Winter 2011 editorial to this web site on the "New Thought Editorials" page. Just click on the blue tab to your left (you may have to scroll back up in order to see it). The title is "Living the Truth", and it has much to do with the character ethic.

 

April 19, 2011

Using Thought to Rule the Body

The fifth Suggestive Lesson in the series from The New Thought Simplified is an interesting conglomeration of ideas, many of which are themes that Henry has used previously. He begins with a series of affirmations: "I have overcome the world, the flesh, and the evil [sic]. I am pure. I am strong. I am healthy." Then he explains what he is up to: "Through the power of the mind I affirm soundness of body." Henry as a good Bible scholar is well aware of the importance of verb tense, so he affirms "I have overcome". The rest of the meditation is various thoughts and affirmations concerning the power of thought and how it works, mostly stated in the form of affirmations. He concludes with his major affirmation: I RULE BODILY CONDITIONS.

This takes us back to a couple of our mental photography Suggestions: 8. I AM NOT BODY and 19. I RULE THE BODY. There is no way that any of us grasps these ideas in one exposure, and Henry knows that. He is not a theoretician; he has walked this way himself, picked up another twenty years or so of productive life, and helped tens of thousands of people. So let us revisit 8 first: I am not body because I am soul/spirit. I rule, the real me, not the space suit I presently inhabit. Meditation 8 deals with the law that "we show forth, and are, the total composite of past thinking"; therefore "all primary causation is from within". The devil didn’t make me do it. The good news is that if I did it, I can undo it, or do it differently. I am therefore in control. On this basis, "I deny the rule and tyranny of body, but affirm its utility as a servant and instrument. I will think such things as I wish embodied." Easier said than done, it requires constant vigilance, particularly over the tongue, for spoken thoughts tend to linger and solidify.

It is then easier to see the connection with 19. I RULE THE BODY. "When the body rules, it soon becomes an unrelenting tyrant, but, if it occupies a secondary place, it is serviceable and beautiful." The body and "the bodily mind" are jerking us around by habit, by addiction to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or even high-fructose corn syrup or aspartame or sucralose, which make such hash of our metabolism that we get horrible cravings. Ruling the body is not accomplished by will power alone, but also by being willing to learn about our own bodies and our own personal metabolisms and care for them appropriately. We can still enjoy delicious food and drink, which are part of God’s creation. "Asceticism was a mistake, or, at most, only a half truth. The body is not a thing to be repressed and mortified, for the reason that it is inherently good."

Returning to the fifth Suggestive Lesson, Henry reminds us of the importance of nourishment for mind and spirit as well as body: "I live not by bread alone, but receive nourishment through every influx from the divine overflowing." The habit of dwelling on the negative attracts bodily problems: "We are subject to ills when we live in the basement of our nature. It is a kindness that, at length, we become uncomfortable there, for then we will earnestly seek the higher, sunny apartments." Henry loves those sunny apartments and returns to them frequently. He concludes, "Nothing is impure and unholy, in and of itself. Only wrong thinking makes it so. I will think no evil, and try to think of no evil." We’re back to the idea, "What’s right about this?" Evil is the absence of good or its misdirection, not a person or thing. (That’s how the devil lost his d in the first sentence.) We aren’t pretending that things are peachy when they’re putrid, but we are noting in the putridity what might be good or useful, like MacGyver locked in the miserable little tool shed or storage locker. God is active and therefore present in every occasion of experience making up that tool shed, and God is certainly presenting perfect possibilities to MacGyver in each occasion of experience, if he will only choose to accept them in whole or in part. It helps to remain calm so that you can notice God’s offerings, a.k.a. initial aims, a.k.a. the mind of Christ. The body and the bodily mind both work better when fed a diet of positive thoughts along with nutritionally dense foods. Also, we need to detoxify our minds as well as our bodies from time to time in appropriate ways. Someone in extreme circumstances with extreme challenges might need to really double down on this for a while and live on exceptionally pure foods and thoughts.

In The New Old Healing (1908), our Henry includes a piece titled "Honor the Body". In it, he discusses the ways in which the human body has been "diversely valued" at different times and places:

While materialism was dominant, the ideal of beauty was so connected with " the human form divine," that it seemed to temper it with an atmosphere of spirituality. During the long and gloomy period between the decay of classic culture and the Renaissance, the swing of the pendulum was to the extreme in the opposite direction. The poor body was under the reign of dishonor and mortification. Under the belief that it was the enemy of the soul, scourging and flagellation were meted out to it, as a high and sacred duty. Contemporary art was correspondingly sickly and marred, and even the ideal models of the Christ were anaemic and emaciated. The disgrace imposed upon the body was mistakenly thought to be inherent. Even in the midst of the light of the opening decade of the twentieth century, there still lingers the subtle shadow of an unwarranted asceticism. Is it not just possible that even within the ranks of the New Thought, the intense desire for the rapid growth of the spiritual consciousness—most worthy in itself—may sometimes produce an unsymmetrical and too exclusive result? While we are spiritual in our Being, and the higher life is our earnest aspiration, it is not wise to grow away from the body. There should be no intervening chasm created, conscious or unconscious. (Pages 85-86)

Henry then gets into what the relationship with our bodies should be like:

Physical health depends upon the degree of mental control a person has upon his material counterpart. He is at the head, and upon the character of his rule depends the order and harmony of his fleshly kingdom. The complete grasp and dominance of the ego expresses itself in the full measure of health. Such beneficent authority must be conscious and strong. Our sway is not to be arbitrary and monarchical in character, but cooperative, while positive in leadership. Every kind of a body whose executive weakly gives up his unitary pervading force, at once begins to disintegrate. But the inmost, divine life-forces, which are stored in the subconscious realm, are always working in the direction of health. What we call illness or disease is only an effort of the deeper self to overcome obstructions and more freely express itself. The incidental pain or suffering is simply the friction which is engendered by a beneficent process. (Pages 89-90)

Henry concludes:

Praise the body and rejoice in its fullness of life, in its good red blood, in its suppleness, its vigor, its elasticity, and not less but rather more, if for the time these qualities are not very evident. . . . What is not at once apparent will thus be brought into manifestation. (Page 91)

Once again, we are looking for what’s right.

You may want to go back to November 8, 2010 and January 25, 2011 to reread the posts for Suggestions 8 and 19.

 

April 26, 2011

Opening the Inner Hearing

Our sixth Suggestive Lesson, ending with the affirmation I HEAR THE STILL SMALL VOICE, takes us back to the seventeenth Suggestion from the earlier series: I LISTEN. You may wish to go back and reread the January 11, 2011 post. Henry repeats what he feels is most important, and this is one of the most important Judeo-Christian teachings, as we tend to forget that we have two ears but only one mouth; and we spend a lot of time "[troubling] deaf heaven with our bootless cries" (to borrow from the Bard of Avon). The Old Testament gives us "be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46), but the ancient Hebrews weren’t any better at it than most of us are. Jesus set us a good example; he frequently withdrew to be alone and pray.

When we are in difficulty, we do tend to howl for help, but to do this is to forget that what God can do, God is already doing for us: "Before they call, I will answer" (Isa. 65:24). The challenge is to hold still long enough to switch from our analytical mind to our intuitive mind, as Kurt Wright would put it. God works through our intuition, especially once we have programmed it with all the data presently available to us. Relaxing the physical body allows the mind to work more efficiently, and flashes of insight can more readily break through. Once again, I recommend the little website, http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com . But if the mental wheels are constantly turning, the flashes of insight may be overlooked as the still small voice gets drowned out. When we manage to hold still, we become aware of God’s direction: one fork in the road looks more appealing, one piece of fruit has more of the yellow cast of ripeness, or we suddenly see a way that one idea might be successfully executed. "OK, God, what’s right about this?"

Now, I do not write this way because I am so good at listening; I have always been one of those people whose motto is, "When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" I am one of the people who need Henry’s refresher course: when I can manage to calm down and notice "the divine affinity which feels its oneness with God", my performance usually improves. But as the son of a friend of mine has observed about himself, "When I find myself alone in my head, it’s scary in there". For me, a walking meditation and/or some sort of mantra are helpful. My favorite technique comes from the ancient Hawaiian tradition of ho’oponopono, which one of its practitioners, Mabel Katz, defines as "to make it right; to correct an error". She states, "Everything that shows up in our life is a memory, a program playing (an error) and it shows up in our life to give us an opportunity to let go, to clean, to delete. Ho’oponopono is the delete key on the keyboard of our computer." (The Easiest Way, page 134) The practice consists of repeating aloud or silently, "I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you". These comments are addressed to God. They are a sort of shorthand, heavily freighted with meaning. They can be repeated in any order. They serve as a sort of mantra, and they do have amazing results, because they tend to erase the errors that cause problems or keep things from going smoothly. At first, the good results seem like coincidence, and you may tend to dismiss them; but eventually you realize that building your relationship with God in this fashion has had a definite effect on the outcome. There is an article of mine on this subject on my articles page (scroll up and press the blue tab marked "Articles—Deb").

Another point that Henry makes in the sixth Suggestive Lesson is to reinforce the idea that "we have the mind of Christ" (I Cor 2:16):

The Christ represents the universal and eternal divine sonship, —the highest possible inner consciousness. In most men it is latent or but feebly developed. It was locally and historically expressed in full degree through the personality of Jesus, but by no means limited to him.

In process thought, another name for the mind of Christ is God’s initial aim, given to each developing occasion of experience. In this way, God is everywhere present and available. In New Thought, we like to think of Jesus as our Elder Brother and Way-Shower, someone we can look up to and emulate, but who did not want to be worshiped. In the meditation accompanying the fourth Suggestion, Henry explains, "The ‘mind of Christ' is the Saviour of humanity. It knows neither sin, disorder, nor death. It manifests the perfection and divinity that before have been only latent. As we embody the Christ-mind we become ‘sons of God.’"

The words of an old hymn just flashed into my mind: "Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s tempestuous sea. Day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying ‘Christian, follow me.’"

I hope that you are managing to keep straight the 25 Ideal Suggestions that we have already worked through and the twelve Suggestive Lessons that we are now pursuing. Where there is reference to an earlier lesson, I have furnished the date to make it easier for you to find it.

 

May 3, 2011

Scientific Faith

Henry’s seventh Suggestive Lesson bears the affirmation I HAVE FAITH and begins, "Faith is scientific. It is not mere expectation, but present substance." We have looked at Henry’s ideas on faith in connection with the tenth Suggestion, I WILL: BE THOU CLEAN, on November 23. Henry has repeated much from that meditation in this one, notably "‘I will’ is a projectile which hits the mark—a power that ‘removes mountains’", and "‘I will’ is the pilot that grasps the helm and steers the human craft God-ward." It takes faith to make such statements, and such faith gives you "present substance" to work with.

Earlier in The New Thought Simplified (the Suggestive Lessons are in the appendix in the back of the book), our Henry has a chapter titled "Faith". In it, he elaborates on the notion of faith as scientific:

We live in what is called a scientific age. In great degree, it is also an unbelieving and faithless era. We pride ourselves upon proof and demonstration. The proof of a proposition in physical science or chemistry may be witnessed by the organs of sense, but spiritual laws and principles which are no less veritable are often denied, even after practical demonstration. It is thought that some other possible explanation for the result must be found. If none appears one is usually imagined. While during the days of the primitive Church there was far less intellectual development and technical acquirement in material things than at the present time, there was more prevailing faith, and therefore more "wonderful works" which came as the result of its exercise. (page 66)

It would be another 45 years before journalist Claude Bristol wrote his classic work, The Magic of Believing (see my editorial in the Spring 2011 issue of New Thought). Splinters of the "True Cross" picked up from the sidewalk have healing power because of someone’s belief that they do, not because of any property of their own. Henry continues, "Faith is scientific in a true sense, because it is a law; philosophical, because it reveals a method of operation; and an art, because it has a cultivable adaptation of means to ends. But in modern life there is ‘no room in the inn,’ and it must be domiciled in a manger. History repeats itself."

Henry admits that it’s harder "to invoke a great genuine faith" in an age of "prevailing materialism", but he believes that we can work toward it by divining the laws of faith. "A steady recognition of the spiritual power which is stored within his own being, and its vital oneness with the Universal, develops the desired result. If Jesus’ declaration, ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole,’ were ever true, it expressed a law which is not subject to change."

In another chapter, "Varieties of Faith Cure", Henry explains:

In varying degree, and just in proportion that startling and mysterious things awaken faith and expectation, they accomplish their purpose, at least temporarily. They change bodily conditions through the mind and consciousness. They cause a strong surge of new psychic activity which displaces the sense of pain and disorder. The helpful result was plain, but the working of the process was a mystery. But it is entirely evident that all the results were gained through the unconscious exercise of various grades of faith and expectation. (pages 122-123)

He points out that it is possible to have faith that is "genuine" yet "wrongly based", faith in material objects. "Such a faith is likely to lose its power and gradually give place to doubt and uncertainty after the earlier unquestioned belief and compliance." But we are New Thoughters:

The New Thought, in its purity, teaches that faith should be lifted from things which are seen and temporal to the unseen, spiritual and eternal. Such a faith is as scientific as it is religious. It cannot be invoked on demand, but must grow through well-defined laws. It increasingly includes positive strength. . . . It is the mission of the New Thought to elevate faith, broaden its scope, and make it practical. Through well-ascertained methods of meditation and concentration, its validity and expansion may be made certain and continuous. Real faith has substance and momentum. Many have wrongly regarded it as composed of uncertain hope, more or less mixed with credulity. Faith is an ideal of Reality. In proportion as its mental picture is firmly held, it tends toward outward visibility and expression. (pages 126-127)

Two years later, in 1905, Henry returns to the topic of faith in Life More Abundant in a chapter titled "Faith and the Unseen":

Faith in God, in his infinite intelligence and rule, is the great power which moves the world. . . . As a real force, which is governed by exact law, it is both scientific and cultivable. The recognition of the reign of "natural law in the spiritual world," as the overshadowing truth of the divine order, is the glory of the recent time. . . . The highest tribute which was paid to the eminent characters of the Bible was that they were filled with faith, and it has lost none of its old-time potency. (pages 247-248)

And, as Jesus pointed out, it takes only the tiniest amount of faith "as a grain of mustard seed" to produce tremendous results. Henry comments, "Jesus did not teach doctrinal theology, but in season and out he discoursed upon the value of vigor in the inner life. This formed the substance of his oft repeated aphorisms and was enforced with all the wealth of Oriental imagery."

What Henry wrote in 1905 is just as true today:With all the wonders of modern scientific development, the present era is notable for unbelief and faithlessness. The conclusions of the Spirit seem like foolishness to the logician. Even "a sign from heaven" to find acceptance must pass through the retorts of the laboratory. Spiritual laws and forces elude us because we demand evidence which does not belong to them. Analysis is useful in physics and chemistry, but spiritual values cannot be laid open for dissection. (page 253)

We’re back to our affirmation as a blueprint: I HAVE FAITH. The more we contemplate it, the more we bring it into existence.

 

May 10, 2011

The Power of Thought

The eighth Suggestive Lesson in this series by Henry Wood (1834-1909) begins, "We are members one of another. The race is a great organism." This reminds me of the description of a grove of trees whose roots were so completely tangled that it was impossible to distinguish one from another; they were literally one great organism. It also reminds me of Henry’s sixth Suggestion, I AM PART OF A GREAT WHOLE, from his book, Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography, which we have just spent 25 weeks examining. You may want to go back to October 25, 2010 and reread my comments about it.

This time around, Henry’s emphasis is a bit different: THOUGHT MINISTRATION IS WINGED WITH POWER. He begins with our relationship of interconnectedness, but this time emphasizes the give and take of it: "I heal and am healed. I restore and am restored. The outgo and the influx together form the ideal unit. Neither can exist alone." Then he links the two ideas: "I hereby recognize every human brother as a son of God. I know his divinity, and will help him to uncover and express it. I send thought ministrations, and thought is winged with power." Now we see where he is headed: "My love for near friends is only the training-school for a universal attraction. I cannot live in and by myself." We mature, as author Stephen Covey has explained, from dependence to independence to the highest level of development: interdependence. Only a fully independent person can work interdependently, which requires the strength of a well-developed character to deal with the complexities of multiple interlocking relationships. So it is the mature Henry who can state, "I send everyone a God-speed and an awakening call to the divine self, or Christ within. I affirm peace, healing, and love. I receive what I give out. By seeing the perfect ideal in everyone, I thereby help it into actuality and expression."

People who are new to New Thought often begin with the zeal of any new convert to apply New Thought principles with abandon and without discretion, making sweeping statements and generally going off half cocked. While enthusiasm is always good, we need to continue to grow in understanding. Henry addresses this in the chapter "Avoid Extremes" in The New Thought Simplified: "To keep a ‘level head’ is as important in the New Thought as elsewhere. . . . It is very desirable . . . to show that we are not illogical or dominated by a single idea. There is no movement, however ideal in itself, which does not attract and take on some elements in which there is ‘a zeal which is not according to knowledge.’ It works out its own cure." Yet here is where the interdependence kicks in:

With the mingling of enthusiasts and conservatives, radicals and old fogies, the evolution of truth is hastened. This is true in every system, church, and party, and the New Thought is no exception. We agree to disagree. It would be as easy for all to look alike as to think alike. We may reason with one who differs from us without condemnation. A long chain of previous causes and conditions beyond his control, in which he is but a link, has made him just what he is. We may criticize ideas rather than personalities. Some unnecessary prejudice against mental and spiritual healing is aroused by extreme and unwise statements made in good faith but yet unduly idealistic. Great works are possible and lawful, but not yet common. While the half has not been told of the potential power and value of the new spiritual awakening, yet owing to the local limitations in its application, its possibilities have not yet dawned upon the ordinary observer. Do not antagonize him by extravagant claims for your own system and attacks upon his. Truth has inherent vitality, while error is self-limited. The light of reality dissolves that which is unreal, and no conflict is necessary. Works and experiences tell a stronger story than words. (pages 90-91)

Henry the idealist is also Henry the practical businessman. He wants us on board, not overboard.

That the primal and root causes—but not always the occasions—or disorder are mental is true, but it does not follow that the body can be greatly changed ‘while you wait’ by a superficial change of mind. Such a claim cheapens a great and deep truth which only is realizable through gradual and persistent soul growth. Logic is good, but it should not be abused. Because a man can lift three hundred pounds it does not follow that he can lift three thousand, even though the principle be the same. Laws and principles which abstractly are perfect must find conditions which are not unfavorable for their working and application. The best seed will not germinate in a soil which is utterly destitute of fertility. To deny the universal principle of growth and progress and arbitrarily insist upon the complete abstract at once or nothing, discourages the seeker for truth. He has not become, but it is inspiring for him to be consciously becoming. This because he has imperfection yet in evidence. (pages 92-93)

In this way we help each other along the spiritual path to maturity.

Henry then gives two examples of being absurdly overboard in the application of New Thought principles. Sadly, we see them as much today as he did over a hundred years ago:

An unfortunate extreme consists in an assumed contempt for reasonable prudence and hygienic observance. "Eat and drink whatever you please, and do what you please, and all is right provided you think right." Absurd! No one does think right, and it will require some time for him to think approximately right. Without being in slavery to hygiene, he should until developed far above the usual average, give it reasonable attention. "To be a law unto himself" lies some distance in the future. Some are so anxious to "demonstrate," that they are willing to soak themselves in a rain, unnecessarily, as a testimony. Better leave that to the ducks. Growth should be normal. While it should be persistent, it must not be forced. (page 93)
Growth in spiritual power is as gradual and orderly as in the realm of nature. The idea of "success vibration" has been overworked in the name of the New Thought. Material prosperity is desirable, and the higher individual development tends to tone up and invigorate every faculty, including the efficient administration of business affairs. But no one can sit down and think money into his pocket, and another cannot do it for him. If so, success would be so cheap as to have little value. The legitimate New Thought contains wonderful orderly power but no charm or magic. Material advantage must be incidental and subordinate. . . . It is legitimate to "make money" in an honorable way, but it is a degradation to make the new philosophy a money-making scheme. (pages 94-95)

Henry concludes the chapter by returning to the subject of character development:

The greatest Teacher the world has known directed all his efforts toward the evolution of spiritual character in the individual, well knowing that social, political, and ethical standards would respond. If politics are to be purified, social systems bettered, and popular conditions improved, all can be reached more effectively through the higher life of the individual than in direct surface work. For the latter there always will be an abundance of workers, while for the former, "many are called, but few are chosen." The body politic is made up of individuals, and no stream can rise higher than its source. (pages 95-96)

As the saying goes, if it’s to be, it’s up to me. The more I develop my individual character, the more I have to contribute to the human race as a whole; and the more I am able to benefit from the resulting improvement. I improve myself, and that in turn improves my neighborhood, my nation, and the world, which in turn reflect back that improvement to me. In process terms, as I say yes to God’s perfect possibilities in a series of occasions of experience, they build up the pattern of the past into something ever more approaching what the Creator had in mind.

 

May 17, 2011

My Own Mental Museum

The ninth Suggestive Lesson deals with one of our Henry’s favorite themes: the creative—or destructive—power of thought. He begins, "We are all—consciously or unconsciously—engaged in drawing mental pictures. Every thought has character, proportion, and energy. My unseen delineations seem to fade out, but in reality they are more durable than granite."

It is interesting to note that Henry did not deal with this theme in his original 25 Suggestions in the book Ideal Suggestion, but he devotes a large section of the preliminary material on "The Laws of Mental Healing" to "The Power of Thought". He quotes Daniel Webster: "Mind is the great lever of all things; human thought is the process by which human ends are ultimately answered." He emphasizes the investigation of thought at the time he is writing (1893), stating flatly, "Thought is the universal substance and basis of all things". That is, of course, the credo of the philosophical idealist.

The thought or volition of God is the basis of all phenomena; and man is now learning that his own thought-power is a force, the intensity and utility of which has been almost undreamed of. The intuitive comprehension of this truth is no longer limited to a Plato, Paul, or Emerson, but is grasped by many minds who are striving to give it articulation.
If man be the "offspring" of God, made "in His image," what more natural than that some thought-correspondence should exist between them? The search-light of an intelligent and earnest desire for universal law—as a great harmonious unit—is being turned upon many problems which have been regarded as settled, and they are receiving a careful and scientific reconsideration such as heretofore has been impossible. Many dogmatic formulas and theories have been built up, and, when they have become hoary and respectable, it has been assumed that if any facts did not fit them, so much the worse for the facts. They were at once waived aside as unworthy of investigation. Whether or not it were possible, everything had to be bent to conform to what Authority thought truth ought to be. (pages 47-48)

Sadly, over a hundred years later, we still face a ruling class of intelligentsia with a "My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts" mentality. Henry continues:

Two great groups of forces are striving for mastery. On one side is ranged "realism," pessimism, and the Without; and against them, idealism, optimism, and the Within—a war of "Gog and Magog." From the dawn of human history, with a local and partial exception in the times of the primitive church, the forces of the Without have held sway; but now the legions of the Within and the Ideal are mustering in unparalleled power.

And the battle is still raging. But Henry can give us a glimpse of what is possible:

As human thought traces, follows out, and harmonizes with the divine thought-pattern, it takes on wonderful potency. It becomes re-enforced and indorsed by that almighty power of the divine economy called Law.
In the human physical organism thought is at work, like a carpenter in a house, either building up or pulling down. Thought, or thought-quality, gives tone and character to all the chemical changes and transmutations which continually go on within the bodily structure. Materialism recognizes the mind as a bodily function, thinking as cerebration, and ideas as brain secretion. Were this a fact, mind could never exist apart from its physical base. . . . Though we cannot consciously explore our own mental recesses, we can trace and understand the laws which govern their courses and activities. The most fundamental of these laws relating to thought-sequence is, that the body is a general expression of the quality of past thinking, not merely of yesterday, last week, or last year, but of its composite for the past life. (pages 49-50)

Now we can understand what Henry is driving at in our present lesson:

I am obliged to occupy my own mental museum, and there is no escape from it, here or hereafter. This companionship may make a very real heaven or hell. If I fill the corridors of my mind with pictures of evil, disorder, disease, and deformity, its multitudinous spectres will ever leer at and mock me. If, in my off-hand drawing, I carelessly or unwittingly set up the unreal, and let it stand, it puts on reality to me. Our thoughts are our very near neighbors, with whom we sit face to face. We may shape them gradually either into angels or demons.

People don’t smoke one cigarette and fall down dead; the effect is gradual and cumulative. The same is true of our thoughts: it is what we think habitually that makes a difference.

Henry concludes by giving us a series of affirmations to use as blueprints:

I will employ only perfect models. I will think loving and beautiful companions into intimacy. I will specify and suggest such qualities as I wish in embodiment.
I will turn the formative power of my thought upon love, joy, harmony, and purity until they become photographed upon my soul in all their sweetness and perfection.
I AM BUILDING THE WORLD IN WHICH I MUST LIVE.

It reminds me of the remark by Winston Churchill: "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."

 

May 24, 2011

We Need God

Henry begins the tenth Suggestive Lesson by reminding us, "We do not need things, but we need God. To the God-consciousness is added everything needful." This of course reminds us of the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt 6:33). Henry elaborates, "Our life is a divine infoldment and a human unfoldment. Though seemingly hidden, it is made in God’s image and after his likeness." In the course of the meditation we move in consciousness from a state in which the "divine voice within" has been "drowned by external noises" to a state that matches the concluding affirmation: I AM AWAKE TO MY OWN DIVINITY.

In between, Henry explains how this happens: "The Christ within shows us the Father. As soon as the prodigal ‘came to himself’—his real self—he turned toward the Father’s House." Earlier in the book, there is a chapter titled "The Right Idea of God", which provides even more explanation. Henry begins:

If one wishes to discover the secret of the healing influences of the New Thought, the greatest step in that direction is a better concept of God. It must be larger and truer than that which prevails. This necessity is general, both in the church and outside. In fact, it is theological dogma mainly which has given us unlovable ideas and ideals of our Heavenly Father. (page 73)

He goes on to define God in the Biblical sense: "God is love". "It is not, God has love, but God is love." Since God is omnipresent, this means "love everywhere": "God (Love) ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’" (Acts 17:28). He then takes us on "a flying trip through space" to make his point. (Note: the Psalmist already did that in Psalm 139, verses 7-12.) And neither one of them had gotten any closer to a rocket ship than Jules Verne!

Then he explains the catch: "There is one startling exception! Only one. Man can shut it out of his own consciousness. The Bible calls this condition ‘outer darkness.’ It cannot exist unless one ignorantly make it for himself." Later, New Thought minister Emmet Fox made the same point by describing the gates of hell as swinging doors, where we put ourselves in or out.

Henry proceeds to get us away from the idea of God as a giant human being with names "associated with human characters which are changeable, imperfect, and unlovable. The name of God should be lifted high above such associations, because these qualities have been linked to it in human consciousness". He lists some alternative names and "ideals of divine manifestation" but assures us, "We need not give up the use of the term, God, because it is possible to purify it from its lowering associations. No man can worship anything higher for God than his own highest ideal of God. Even in an ‘unknown God,’ he can imagine nothing beyond."

As the greatest of all healing and reforming forces is God present in the human consciousness, it is of supreme importance that the divine ideal or concept be as high, pure, and attractive as the mind is capable of holding. . . . The ruling God consciousness is defined truly as salvation. This is belief in God and oneness with him, while in general, theology is only belief about God. The difference is inexpressibly great. There is no healing agency comparable to the recognized Presence. An unworthy concept of God has little power. Only love can call out love. (page 76)

One of the important points in process thought is the idea that God’s power is persuasive, not coercive: God is forever luring us on to greater possibilities. A quarter of a century before Whitehead ever laid eyes on Harvard, our Henry was articulating this: "God cannot be welcome in the human consciousness unless we are drawn—not forced—face to face with him." Henry also explains the relationship between Christ and Jesus: "Christ is the name of sonship—God, in us. Jesus personally expressed that relation, supremely, ideally. But he was not a ‘scapegoat,’ substitute, nor an interposition. Must anything interpose between love and love?" The chapter ends:

How can we "yearn" for something which requires a shield to keep it from us? If we are to receive healing from God, he must be supremely attractive—the sum total of all that is ideal.

As the glorious sunlight dissipates fogs, clouds, and dampness, so God in the human consciousness will displace evils, disorders, ills, and depressions, mental and physical. Concentrate upon the highest! (page 77)

We’re back to the "sunny apartments"!  In our Suggestive Lesson, Henry states, "As the sun radiates heat, so my spiritual inmost sends out abundant light, life, and love through every avenue of my organism." He concludes with a series of affirmations: "I now behold my own ideal and potential completeness. I lack nothing. I am well. I am whole." And he signs off with a little comment: "The Christ method of healing is normal because it is in accord with the laws of being."

Lagniappe: The Philosopher has just had a rather lengthy letter to the editor published in the June 2011 issue of The Searchlight (Volume 20, No. 2), the newsletter of the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies. It is titled "A Response to President Serio" and refers to the president’s previous discussion of the 1907 MacDougall experiment (measuring the weight of bodies just before and after death), which Alan characterizes as "helpful empirical evidence of an ordinary sort pointing toward personal immortality". It includes a short but pleasant tour of Descartes, Whitehead, epiphenomenalism, abstract vs. concrete, and absolutism/pantheism. If you happen to be a member of this august body, be sure to check out the most recent issue.

 

May 31, 2011

A Refiner’s Fire

The eleventh Suggestive Lesson harks back to the sixteenth Suggestion, PAIN IS FRIENDLY. You can review the sixteenth by scrolling down to January 4, 2011. Suggestion 16 consists of a dialogue between Pain personified and Soul. Suggestive Lesson 11 reminds me of Malachi 3:2-3, not to mention Handel’s Messiah: "For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."

Henry gets right to the point this time: "My seeming trials and pains are not really against me. They are like the purifying fire which burns up the ‘wood, hay, and stubble,’ leaving the real self unharmed and beautiful." There is a wonderful old children’s book—the kind that adults can enjoy even more than children—by Scottish minister George MacDonald (1824-1905), The Princess and the Goblin. Our Henry may well have been familiar with it along with its sequel, The Princess and Curdie. They are described as "allegorical fairy stories", for they have a huge spiritual component. MacDonald was a great influence on C. S. Lewis, who writes him into his vision of the afterlife, The Great Divorce, where MacDonald acts as a sort of guide for Lewis. Anyway, in the Princess books, the princess’s grandmother, who has mystical and spiritual powers, keeps a fire of roses into which she has people put their hands—and on one occasion, a person who is in the body of an animal is told to run into the fire—for purification. It is painful, but well worth the pain.

Henry also includes Jesus’s advice to "resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39): "Nothing can antagonize me. I have no impatient or rebellious spirit toward person, place, thing, or condition. I disarm every seeming adversary and win it to my side by vibrating with and not against it." Jesus was speaking metaphorically, for when he was struck by one of the officers who arrested him, he did not "turn the other cheek", but answered him, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?" (John 18:22-23). There are numerous examples, from stopping a team of runaway horses to martial arts techniques, to illustrate the wisdom of not resisting, but rather going along with an adversary. Physical pain hurts worse when we resist it, because we tense up. This is not to say that we should go along with moral evil, but that we do not confront it full face if we can possibly avoid it. Instead, we "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). We have discussed this concept before, with the image of a cistern full of muddy water being gradually replaced by fresh water, or the process notion of building up the pattern of the past one occasion of experience at a time. Our affirmation for the eleventh Suggestive Lesson is NON-RESISTANCE IS A DIVINE LAW.

Henry has an entire chapter on the subject earlier in The New Thought Simplified: "Agree with Thine Adversary Quickly". He wants us to be aware of how scientifically and psychologically accurate the fundamental statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are. They are not merely "high grade moral maxims, but impractically ideal".

What is an adversary? Not usually a person, but oftener some condition, environment, state of the weather, dilemma, disease, or whatever seemingly is opposed to one’s comfort. If rightly interpreted, the offender would be found within. Our own attitude determines our friends or enemies. (page 53)
All those manifestations in mind or body which we call disorderly are due to violations of law, physical, psychical, or spiritual. Whether they occur consciously or through ignorance, the educational penalty, thus invited, at length puts in an appearance. Messengers, perhaps in the shape of a headache or a dyspeptic twinge, come to arrest our attention. Nothing milder would serve the purpose. We call them evil, count them as enemies, and wish to dodge the physical sensation. But their purpose is to teach us lessons and lead us to correct our mistakes. See them as friends, even though in rough attire, and with out change of attitude their bitterness becomes rapidly dissipated. So soon as their purpose has cordial recognition, their business is ended, and they bow themselves out. This is scientific healing. Though seemingly paradoxical, the enemy will persist just in proportion that it is considered an enemy. (page 55)
In effect, invisible telegraphic wires keep us in communication not only with material objects but spiritual entities, and currents of attraction or repulsion are ever passing over them. The stars, the sky, the rain, the temperature, the landscape, events, transaction, joys, fears, good and ill, all flash back reciprocal messages, which in quality are the echoes of those we send. (page 56)

Is it any wonder that in today’s disturbing and uncertain conditions, we attract frightening weather conditions? Forget global warming; concentrate on mental calming!

Every experience which comes to us, negative or positive, seeming evil as well as seeming good, painful as well as pleasurable, is potentially, and may be actually, an aid in our spiritual evolution. Whatever comes is capable of being "a means of grace." If painful, it pushes from behind and below, thereby pleading with us to lift our consciousness higher. If ideal, it attracts us forward. . . . Though the law of non-resistance is looked upon as weak and impractical, it is divine and conquers. (page 57)

If you are resisting anything, your attention is on what you are resisting. Your attention needs to be on what you really want and on whatever is right about the present situation.

Lagniappe: I am writing this on Memorial Day. It is a day of pride in country and gratitude for what those who fought and died for it won for us: the opportunity to have parades and picnics and family fun. We honor them by living up to the highest and best in us, including enjoyment of the pleasures that are available to us because of their sacrifices.

 

June 7, 2011

Answered Prayer

This is the twelfth and last Suggestive Lesson in our series from The New Thought Simplified by Henry Wood (1834-1909). Henry begins by repeating the fourteenth Suggestion from his earlier series: I LOOK UPWARD. You can reread it below on December 21, 2010. For this Suggestive Lesson, Henry takes a different tack, as he so often does, and as we all do when going over the same material again. It may be the same, but we are different, literally new every moment. Now where have you heard that before?!

This time, Henry is looking upward in prayer, in elevated consciousness:

Prayer in its highest form is communion and aspiration. Petition is not needed to change God, because he is already perfect. True prayer wields divine forces and makes them ministries of blessing. It discovers and utilizes the higher law. Every prayer for the best is eternally answered, —on God’s part, — but not to us — unless we come into at-one-ment.

He then goes on to quote Jesus twice: In Mark 11:24 Jesus states, "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them." Henry adds, "Note the ‘have received.’" Amazingly, Jesus anticipates New Thought—not to mention a few dozen psychologists—by a couple of thousand years. We are to get into a state of mind in which we are imagining already having what we are praying for. This is why giving attention to negative things that we do not want is so harmful: it attracts them. The second quotation is Mark 16:17-18, "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Henry quotes only the beginning of this in his Suggestive Lesson, then asks, "Are ‘them that believe’ limited to a single country or period? What are the ‘signs’?" Too many ministers and churches teach that what Jesus did was peculiar to him and his time, but that is not at all what Jesus said. This is not an invitation to tempt fate by deliberately handling serpents or drinking poison; it is a quiet statement of faith in God’s power to protect those who align themselves with him. It is also an invitation to continue the healing work of Jesus. We should turn to physicians and pharmaceuticals last, not first. We have barely scratched the surface of what is possible by the power of thought.

It is interesting to note that when we are looking downward, we go into a kinesthetic state that is most likely depressing and disempowered. It is a direct access to our feelings, which does have its place, but not as a steady state. In the Old Testament, Daniel, during the Babylonian captivity, used to pray by kneeling before his open windows and looking upward toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10). Jerusalem is Uru Salem, the City of Peace, so Daniel was in an uplifted state of peace.

Televangelist Robert Schuller uses an image to describe effective prayer: If you bring your small boat up to the shore, and while just a few feet out, hurl your anchor so that it lodges in the wet sand and you are then able to haul your boat in by means of the anchor line, what have you done? You have not pulled the shore to the boat; you have pulled the boat to the shore. In this way, we align ourselves with God in prayer: we do not draw God to us, for he is already here. We draw ourselves into alignment with God. We allow God to dominate our thoughts. As Henry puts it, "If ruling desire binds me to God, I shall receive what is God-like. I link myself there and not to dust. I pray to be whole, and on God’s part the answer is eternally complete. To pray is to lift the soul into unison with the Eternal Goodness."

A standard New Thought teaching is that the Christ mind is available to all of us, but Jesus made the highest and best use of it. Henry elaborates, "The ‘Christ mind’ is the full-orbed consciousness of divinity within. It grows in me. I have it. I feel it. I embody it. It soothes. It restores. It heals. I yield myself to the higher harmonies."

Earlier in The New Thought Simplified, in a chapter titled "Scientific Prayer", Henry explains:

Can prayer be scientific? A very natural question, since science and prayer for so long have been looked upon as incongruous and even antagonistic. But the New Thought atmosphere, which is subtly diffusing itself far beyond the limits of its avowed adherents, is softening former prejudices and bringing reconciliation.
The primary meaning of science, as given by Webster, is "Knowledge of principles and causes: ascertained truths or facts." There is no valid reason for confining the term to the domain of material things.
Whether in mind or matter, spirit or body, a knowledge of principles and causes, their sequences, relations, and expressions, is scientific. Wherever the action of exact law can be traced, and means intelligently employed to produce definite ends, there is science.
We only have to point out that prayer is in full accord with the human constitution and also potent in spiritual development and accomplishment. Since Drummond wrote his "Natural Law in the Spiritual World," there has been a rapidly growing apprehension of cause and effect, order and regularity, in the spiritual realm. It would be indeed a strange incongruity if the lower world of matter were responsive and amenable to regular and beneficent procedure, while in the world of spirit there were chaos and disorder. Such a contrast is unthinkable. (pages 104-105)

He continues:

Prayer needs to be redefined. In its essence it is soul hunger, a yearning after oneness with the Eternal. It is the breath of the spiritual nature, the native air of the soul. It is a vital law in man’s nature that this highest faculty shall be exercised. . . . Prayer is an effort toward a realization in consciousness of what already is. (page 107)

The twelfth Suggestive Lesson concludes with an affirmation/explanation: UNDER THE DIVINE LAW THE HIGHER PRAYER PROVIDES FOR ITS OWN ANSWER. In process thought, we say that what God can do, God is already doing. We just have to accept it and let it into our lives.

This concludes the second series of lessons derived from Henry Wood, but our newsletters will continue. We shall undoubtedly revisit Henry at divers times and in sundry places, since he has so much to say that is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it over 100 years ago.

 

June 14, 2011

The Nature of God

The second New Thought book authored by Henry Wood (1834-1909) was a collection of essays titled God’s Image in Man (1892). His first New Thought book was the fictional Edward Burton (1890), and he had subsequently written a number of articles published in periodicals such as The Arena, several of which are included in God’s Image. In the Preface, Henry modestly claims not to discuss "historic or scholastic theology" as a layman, but to "give glimpses through the vision of the intuitive faculty; interpretations of the inner consciousness, rather than an intellectual or argumentative effort". They are "searches for Truth for its own sake; and their aim is to recognize it wherever found". The first of these essays, appropriately enough, concerns the nature of God and bears that title.

What is our Henry’s view of God?

Our highest concept of the One Universal Power, Life, Intelligence and Will, we call God. Other nations and peoples have designated their supreme ideals of the Infinite, as Jehovah, Buddha, Allah, the Great Spirit, and many other names, in the vain attempt to adequately express Him through the feeble power of language. . . . Various suggestive definitions have been given to his name as aids in perfecting our conception of Him. He is infinite Love, Wisdom, Goodness; and there is no space, place, time, state, nor condition where He does not live and express Himself. To him nothing can be added, and from Him nothing can be taken away. The divine life is also manifested to us in Order, Law, Harmony, Peace, Wholeness, Truth, Intelligence, Beauty, and Happiness. Our Heavenly Father is perhaps the fittest appellation to apply to that superlative mental picture which is our representation of Him to our own consciousness. (pages 11-12)

Then Henry launches into the subject of other titles for God that are misleading:

As applied, they have humanized God instead of deifying man. The King was not God-like, but God was made King-like. Fatherhood and Kingship are almost at antipodes. The former signifies love, care, mercy, discipline, tenderness, sympathy; the latter is a synonyme [sic] for pride, ambition, haughtiness, inaccessability, and severity. Caesarism and imperialism stamped their impress upon titles and governments long before there was any general idea of human brotherhood or of republican institutions, and their dark shadows covered medieval theology. Kingship is arbitrary and artificial, while fatherhood is natural. The word Sovereign as applied to God is not found in the Bible, and yet sovereignty is the emphasized centre of Calvinistic theology. (pages 12-13)

He clarifies some of the names applied to God inappropriately and why:

The haughtiness and tyranny which characterized Oriental despots were such important elements in all government, that their false analogies colored all the theology of the early church fathers. Calvin and Luther were also dominated by it, and still later the prevailing current of thought expressed by Jonathan Edwards was Divine Sovereignty as manifested in unconditional Force and Will. By contrast, how natural, lovable, and fatherlike are the New Testament delineations of God. How the utterances of Jesus and the writings of the beloved disciple glow with warmth and tenderness in their portraiture of the divine nature! (pages 13-14)

So why do we care?

It has often been demonstrated that man’s mental and even physical well-being has vital relations with his concept of God. This is an old truth (all truth is eternal), but our recognition of it needs to be awakened. The most impartial and scientific research shows that a wholesome and normal apprehension of God distinctly tends to express itself in harmony and healthfulness of both mind and body. God includes all primary causation. All springs, roots, and causes ultimate in Him. . . . The Scriptures are crowded with broad and practical promises which have lost their significance because of our gross materialism. Paul says, "Ye are [not shall be] {Henry’s brackets} complete in Him." But we have lost the consciousness of such completeness. A self-centered sense of sufficiency has taken its place, which brings forth the bitter fruit of incompleteness. (pages 14-15)

How have we lost this faith of primitive Christianity?

Our trust in the breadth of the divine beneficence has been mainly theoretical, and therefore we have turned to external systems instead of the Overflowing Fountain. God is our life, and it is only when the conduits which connect us with Him are obstructed, that we are conscious of dryness and leanness. If we "abide under the shadow of the Almighty," [Ps. 91: 1] His glorious wholeness will impress its influence upon both soul and body. Thought has a wonderful moulding power. "As a man thinketh, so is he." [Prov. 23:7] (pages 15-16)

Why do these concepts of God matter so much? "Any name, even that of God, is only the outward label for a mental image. When it is presented to the eye or ear, it calls up a mental delineation which has real existence in us, whether correct or deformed." So it is vital that we develop a lovable view of God. "Towards any true divine concept, humanity is drawn naturally and unconsciously. Man feels the link which binds him to God so distinctly that atheism would be almost impossible, were it not that a falsity has been set up and called God." And although one’s intellect is vital, "God cannot be seen through the intellect. Dogmatism has built up a logical and institutional Deity, and though he be moral and lawful, he is not lovable. In order to kindle love in the breast of man, he must behold that which in its own nature is attractive."

We smile over the idolatry we read about in the Bible, but, as Henry points out, "Idolatry was never more prevalent than at the present time. It is only when the gods of worldly ambition, of mammon, of fleshly appetites, of the baser self and the material body, are hurled from their pedestals, that our clarified vision begins to discern the Eternal One." And Henry is just getting started:

We also pay unconscious homage to modern material invention and scientific achievement. We are looking forward to some Golden Age which will be ushered in by a new social order; nationalized land, impossible poverty, perfected legislation, improved medication, sanitation and communication. When these external ideals occupy the thought, and form the great desideratum, they become idols. The belief that mankind can realize completeness and happiness in these achievements, rather than in God, amounts to an idolatrous homage. However desirable, they are secondary. (page 21)

And if anything, it is even worse today, after over 100 years of political "progressivism". We need to get back to the vision of our founders, rooted as it is in Judeo-Christian values, carved into our monuments in Washington, DC.

Henry then raises New Thought eyebrows by insisting on a personal God, but amazingly, his definition of personal is in line with that of the personalist philosophers. He warns against the limitation of anthropomorphism, and cautions us that human language is "impotent" for "the expression of Divinity." "Unless the term person is enlarged and lifted infinitely above that which it signifies to most minds, it is too circumscribed to define the All in All." He warns, "Man creates the God he worships." We need to go beneath "the letter" and worship God "in spirit and in truth". "Religious teachers" and "theological systems" have presented God as "the Author of evil, trouble, and disease", exercising "hate, wrath, and vengeance", but we are supposed to love such a God "supremely, under the alternative of endless punishment", giving us a choice of "eternal woe, or a moral impossibility".

How do we get rid of these false views of God? "To clarify our vision we must centre our pure desire and aspiration upon the Supreme Good, and hold it there until the surrounding negation fades out of view."And Henry summarizes:

The cry of the human soul after God, and its restlessness until it finds Him, is because of its intrinsic oneness with Him. God is the counterpart and complement of humanity. Man is like a discordant musical instrument until he comes into recognized unison with his Maker. (page 31)

"The counterpart and complement of humanity" means that all creation is co-creation, a process thought idea that is also found in New Thought. If we are made in the image of God, and God is good, how bad can we be? Not very, as long as we remain centered on God.

 

June 21, 2011

The Path of Least Resistance

Something recently led me to reread yet again a book that I acquired some twenty years ago: the revised and expanded edition of Robert Fritz’s The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life. At the time, I loved it, but there seemed to me to be conflicts with other areas that I "knew" to be true, so I more than once set it aside. I just hadn’t read carefully enough. This time it all hung together for me, and I had repeated aha!s as I saw connections with other fields that I am familiar with.

Robert Fritz is a composer who at one time taught music at the New England Conservatory in Boston. As a creative person, he became interested in the process of creation, not only for artists, but for any form of creation for any creator, from artists to business leaders to God, whose creative process has been nicely documented in Genesis. For many years he has been giving workshops on creativity to tens of thousands of people. Along with organizational expert Charlie Kiefer and MIT’s Peter Senge, he founded Innovation Associates, a business consulting firm. The idea is to have a business be a learning environment. To my joy, when I searched for him online, I found that Fritz is alive and well and living in Vermont, still doing all sorts of creative things. You can check them out for yourself at http://www.robertfritz.com .

I can scarcely get into a newsletter the concepts that took Fritz 285 pages to cover, but I will try to give you kernels of it, hoping to tantalize you into pursuing it further. Fritz appears to be down on what he tactfully calls "pop" psychology and "New Age", but what he is down on is what is being promulgated that absolutely does not work and cannot work, for reasons that he explains. Both psychology and New Age, not to mention Christianity in both traditional and New Thought forms, could learn a lot from him.

Fritz begins with the streets of Boston: if you have ever been there, you have probably wondered what demented intellect laid them out. Actually, they are overgrown cow paths. The cows in their wanderings followed the path of least resistance, as do all living creatures, including ourselves. If they came to an obstacle, they just moseyed around it. Fritz explains:

The cow moving through the topography tended to move where it was immediately easiest to move. When a cow saw a hill ahead, she did not say to herself, "Aha! A hill! I must navigate around it." Rather she put one foot in front of another, taking whichever step was easiest at that moment, perhaps avoiding a rock or taking the smallest incline. In other words, what determined her behavior was the structure of the land. . . . As a result, city planning in Boston gravitates around the mentality of the seventeenth-century cow. Once a structure exists, energy moves through that structure by the path of least resistance. In other words, energy moves where it is easiest for it to go. This is true not only for cows, but for all of nature. . . . You got to where you are in your life right now by moving along the path of least resistance. (pages 3-4)

This, says Fritz, leads to three important insights: "You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance." "The underlying structure of your life determines the path of least resistance." "You can change the fundamental underlying structures of your life." This boils down to "Structure determines behavior", be you cow or human being.

What sort of structure supports the creative process? To answer that question, Fritz first has us look at the basic structure that stops creativity cold. It is one that we are all too familiar with: Fritz calls it the reactive-responsive orientation. We all learn what not to do and what to avoid, which in turn teaches us that "circumstances are the dominant force in life": encounter circumstances and respond appropriately, or distance ourselves by reacting to circumstances. Reacting and responding are poles of a continuum, and we either respond favorably to circumstances or react negatively to separate ourselves from them. Explains Fritz, it’s as if we stood midway between two walls, each representing a goal or principle that is in conflict with the opposite wall. We have two giant rubber bands about our waists. As we move away from one wall, the rubber band from it tightens as the one for the wall we are moving toward slackens. For example, we eat until we can’t stand how fat we are and then diet until we can’t stand how hungry we are, oscillating back and forth in a no-win situation. Another name for this structure is "problem solving". Yes, of course it has its place, in which it is wonderful; but unless it is approached with a very different structure, we are going to stay stuck in the problem. Problem solving is not creating. The real problem is, as Fritz puts it, "The reactive-responsive orientation contains the basic presumption that you are powerless." That means that the circumstances are all-powerful. It looks like this:

The problem

LEADS TO

action to solve the problem

LEADS TO

less intensity of the problem

LEADS TO

less action to solve the problem

LEADS TO

the problem remaining

In this structure, continuing to react or respond is the path of least resistance. Says Fritz, "No matter what your problems are, for the most part, solving them won’t solve them. You will always have a new problem if you do not know how to create what you want. And creating is no problem."

Creating, on the other hand, is not driven by circumstances, positive or negative. We create solely for the love of something, for its own sake. We must choose to create something. This produces a totally different and empowering structure.

How can we go from the reactive-responsive orientation to the creative orientation? Here you are:

Don’t just do something; stand there.

Stop struggling; stop oscillating. How do you create something? Know what you want. What do you really want? You have to get away from the "closed and circular" system of oscillation and just sit still until the picture clears at least enough for you to recognize what you want when you get it. It is from the love of what you really want that the energy comes that drives the creative process. But how do you create the "What" in "What do you really want?" YOU MAKE IT UP. You make up the result that you want to create, and then keep noticing whether or not you have it yet.

Fritz elaborates on all the miserable things you don’t have when you are creating instead of reacting-responding, such as the feelings of powerlessness or failure when you don’t reach your goal on the first try. As New Thought minister Terry Cole-Whittaker once put it, "How is none of my business." Your business is the what. You don’t pressure yourself or brainwash yourself with a million affirmations. You let the creative tension that comes into being because of your love of what you want to create supply the energy. And you find that you attract what you need to bring the creation into existence. The creative tension comes between what you want and what you currently have: a basic tenet of control theory, which is systems theory. Fritz spends much time explaining how to assess current reality (what you currently have; whether you like it or not doesn’t matter, but you must learn to assess it accurately).

What makes this whole thing fun for me is that systems theory leads straight back to Whitehead, one of the architects of process thinking. Note: when Fritz says "process", its opposite is outcome; when Whitehead says "process", its opposite is substance or still photograph instead of movie. When I mentioned that, the Philosopher pricked up his ears. He just might choose to create an understanding of the creative process in the language of Fritz to enhance Whitehead’s explanation of traditional metaphysics in terms of "the creative advance into novelty". Hmmm....

Lagniappe: The International New Thought Alliance (INTA) is having its annual Congress in Mesa, AZ (near INTA headquarters with its archives) July 12-16. 2011. Its theme is "Yo, Spirit Now!" It includes a session of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religions (SSMR), which the Philosopher had a large hand in creating. I have created a new paper on Henry Wood (1834-1909) to be read at the SSMR session. In keeping with the theme, I was tempted to title it "Yo, Henry!" but I resisted the temptation. The Philosopher has supplied two previous writings on early New Thoughter Warren Felt Evans, who wrote the first books in what later became known as New Thought. He has also written a brief introduction with some personal details concerning Evans. We are unable to attend the Congress in person, but Rev. Susan Osborn is arranging to have the papers read, and there will be recordings for sale afterward. For more information, contact INTA headquarters at (480) 830-2461. Rooms at the Embassy Suites Phoenix-Scottsdale Hotel are $69-99. The food and service are great at that hotel, and we have always had a good time at Congresses there, hanging out with like-minded people.

 

June 28, 2011

Farther Along the Path of Least Resistance

I couldn’t just shelve The Path of Least Resistance again. First, I had to continue rereading it all the way through. I came across so much that I had forgotten, including this reference to God:

According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as expressed in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis, human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. Since the first description of God in the Bible is as a creator, it follows that humans made in the image and likeness of a creator are made to be creators. (page 246)

Fritz then shows how the Genesis description of God’s creative process matches the stages he outlines in his workshops and in the book:

The stages described in Genesis for each day of creation include germination, assimilation, and completion. Germination is initiated in a sequence of choices made by God: "Let there be light," "Let the waters be gathered together," "Let the dry land appear," and so on. Assimilation occurs as the parts of the cosmos form themselves into their full manifestation, as described in the text. Completion occurs when God declares that the results created are good, for example, "And God saw that the light was good." The repeated declaration, "And God saw that it was good" is an act of acknowledgment. Each day of creation had its own acknowledgment. In the creative process, acknowledging the steps you have taken toward your goal is an important act of completion. "And on the seventh day God rested" was an acknowledgment that the entire creative process was complete. (page 247)

I am now inspired to reconsider all areas of my life, asking myself what I really want, what I would love to create, and what my current reality is in those areas. It’s an interesting and ongoing process. I am free to get myself out of a number of reactive-responsive situations as soon as I can recognize them for what they are. This doesn’t mean that I don’t slide back into them at times, but recognition and extrication comes a bit sooner. Long-dormant creations are arising again, and I am seeing them differently both because I am different and because I have a better understanding of the creative process. We all have created successfully in the past; we just haven’t noticed what we did that worked for us.

The last section of the book is "Transcendence", which includes chapters titled "Signs of the Future, Signs of the Times" and "The Power of Transcendence". You might think that a book last revised in 1989 would be out of date, but it could have been written yesterday. As the founders of our nation understood, human nature doesn’t change very much. Fritz observes,

"One of the ironies about those who are most worried about the end of the world is that they still use the same type of reactive-responsive thinking that brought the world to this very situation."

He then explains:

There are two direct streams in history. One is the story of a reactive-responsive world. Events that shaped the lives of people and civilization emanated from the existing circumstances. The other story is that of the builder, the explorer, and the creator. Events that shaped the times were based on a different aspect of humanity, that of the quest to build, create, and know what was around the next hill. This instinct has always been an important force. These two streams have operated somewhat independently of each other. Sometimes they collide, and sometimes they collaborate. During times of war they have often done both. In different ways these two streams have both been dominant. Even though there have been great wars, political shifts, intrigue, economic manipulation, and power wielding; building and creating have always been a dominant force in the development of civilization. (page 262)

Fritz defines transcendence thus:

There is another force inherent in the orientation of the creative that is senior even to mastering causality. This senior force I call transcendence. Transcendence is the power to be born anew, to make a fresh start, to turn over a new leaf, to begin with a clean slate, to enter into a state of grace, to have a second chance. Transcendence makes no reference to the past, whether your past has been overflowing with victories or filled with defeats. When you enter a state of transcendence, you are able to create a new life, unburdened by both the victories and the defeats of the past. Transcendence is more than just the accurate realization that the past is over. It is also a realignment of all dimensions of yourself with the very source of your life. (page 276)

He then describes the character Scrooge in Dickens’A Christmas Carol as epitomizing the power of transcendence:

When you reestablish your relationship to your natural goodness, you give a new life to what is highest in you. From the moment he awoke on that Christmas morning through the rest of his life, Scrooge was truly changed. The change was not merely a superficial change in behavior. Rather it was a change in his entire life orientation. Scrooge realized the preciousness of each moment and his ability to aspire to the greatest good in each moment. Had Scrooge merely had a "peak experience," he would have experienced no fundamental change in orientation. Although a peak experience might have temporarily changed his behavior, in time he would have reverted to his old, miserly ways. Because Scrooge’s change was orientational, he was fundamentally a new person, as if he had been born anew. From that point on, his past was irrelevant, and the nature of his change filled each subsequent day of his life. (page 277)

Fritz concludes with an analysis of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son that would have done credit to any New Thoughter with a background in symbolic interpretation of the Bible.

So of course I can’t let it rest there. I am now rereading Fritz’s next book, Creating: A practical guide to the creative process and how to use it to create anything—a work of art, a relationship, a career or a better life (1991). I had read and marked it but not learned nor inwardly digested it. I am reading it aloud to the Philosopher, who has just dived back into Eugene Peters’ process primer, The Creative Advance. Stay tuned.

 

July 5, 2011

Free to Create

The Philosopher and I are still engrossed in the work of Robert Fritz, who has specialized in the creative process: the way any creator creates anything. As I am writing this on July 4, Independence Day for those of us fortunate enough to be living in the United States of America, the subject of freedom is very much on my mind. Yes, we need political freedom for the pursuit of happiness, but even if we have it, we may not be mentally and spiritually free to take advantage of it. Fritz spends much of The Path of Least Resistance discussing the difference between the creative orientation, in which one is free to create; and the reactive-responsive orientation, in which one is not. Any time that we are oscillating back and forth between two conflicting goals, we are not fully free to create.

Creating involves bringing something into existence for the love of it, not out of necessity, not out of a sense of duty or obligation, not to avoid consequences. It is not about change for the sake of change. Fritz says in Creating: "I do not think you need to change. Change, when it occurs, is a by-product of creating what you want. It is not a goal in and of itself. . . . Do not change unless it supports a specific result you want to create. You are free to be the way you are."

New Thought has fallen under the sway of a lot of New Age ideas that sound good but don’t bring results, because they do not help one assume the creative orientation, the desire to create for the love of something. Although there is some truth and usefulness in many of these ideas, we need to work with the real forces, not manufacture some. "The real forces are better than the fictitious ones that ‘programming the subconscious’ techniques attempt to foster." Fritz goes on to explain:

The "program your mind" people often point to the phenomenon of hypnosis to prove their point. If someone is told under hypnosis that he will be burned by a hot flame, he often will develop blisters when touched by a pencil as if he were burned. Therefore, these programmers reason, you can tell your subconscious something that is not true, and it will rect as if it is. Great, I say. Then tell the subconscious to be a good musician, or a good pilot, or a good surgeon. If the subconscious doesn’t know you are not a musician, or a pilot, or a surgeon, you can slip into those professions without any training. That ought to save a lot of time and effort. But the truth is that you would not perform to the capabilities of a person trained in these areas. If hypnosis demonstrates that the subconscious is so powerful, why can’t the hypnotist simply tell the client to have a wonderful life, and the person suddenly and permanently does? Why aren’t there more masterpieces of literature, or music, or engineering created by a group of well-hypnotized people? The so-called experts will tell you that "previous programming" interferes with the results. Perhaps it is merely previous programming that makes them think it is previous programming. The creative process does involve subconscious operations, but on a level completely different from that which the "mental power" folks seem to know about. It is possible to amplify something through your subconscious that you have set up consciously. (pages 204-205)

I believe that this creative orientation is what Jesus must have had in mind when he said, "Resist not evil, but overcome evil with good" (Matthew 5:39). Resisting is part of the reactive-responsive mode, in which you bounce back and forth between two conflicting goals. The good that overcomes is the creation. Process thought (and of course Process New Thought) teaches that God co-creates with us in each occasion of experience, supplying initial aims tailored just for each of us in each occasion. We choose how much of the past to retain and how much of the possible, the initial aims, to accept. As the Philosopher likes to put it, "Past + Divine Offer + Choice = Co-Creation". In New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality he called this the Creativity Formula. You haven’t read New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality? Demand it (apologies to Neil Cavuto) at your local bookstore, or get it from Amazon here:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1410701727/ref=nosim/neweverymomen20

You can also get both of Robert Fritz’s books from Amazon, but I have been unsuccessful in creating links to them. However, here is the link to his site, where they are also for sale:

http://robertfritz.com. Click on "Books" and scroll down to find them.

 

July 12, 2011

A Philosophical Sketch

The Philosopher, who had been sunning himself on the stone and looking cute in his turquoise and lemon parti-colored bikini, was driven inside by a sudden shower. After he had arrayed himself in a terry-cloth toga, he began to recount his most recent ponderings, so I grabbed a quill and parchment and took notes:

* * *

Arguably the most important statement in the history of philosophy is that of Alfred North Whitehead in his 1929 magnum opus, Process and Reality, p. 254: ". . . apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness." Common sense may pronounce this the silliest thing ever said, for how can a collection of experiences make a human being, a brick wall, or a daisy? But when one realizes that this view was held by a man who had mastered mathematics and quantum physics, one may want to give it serious attention.

Probably all of us have heard that experience is the best teacher. This understanding of experience is in accordance with the dictionary definition of experience as "the act of living through an event or events as they occur". But as always, in seeking the utmost simplicity, philosophers have introduced complications that challenge understanding. The definition of experience in the Runes Dictionary of Philosophy is

The condition or state of subjectivity or awareness. (The term differs from Consciousness by emphasizing the temporal or passing character of affective undergoing. Usage, however, is not uniform, since its definition involves a theoretical standpoint. Thus [Francis Herbert] Bradley identified it with Consciousness, while W[illiam] James used it to mean [a] neutral phenomenon, a That or Given, without implications of either subjectivity or objectivity.

In other words, experience is a process of awareness. Most of us assume that in order for there to be experience, first there must be something to have experience, whereas the great revolution of process thought is that experience comes first and somehow makes things. This, of course, is the position of all forms of metaphysical idealism. Some process thinkers are so reluctant to be called idealists that they call themselves panexperientialists, rather than the older terms idealists or panpsychists.

Attempting to put the essence of process thought most concisely, reality always has been and always will be a giant seesaw in which God, the ultimate succession of experiences, makes offers to arising lesser experiences as to what they most wisely could be. They must choose between God’s suggestion (initial aim) and the various influences of earlier-developed units of experience. Those earlier units have completed their split-second development and become everlasting non-experiencing objects that influence later-developing experiences. Life itself is the name for that which has initial aim, creative activity, and satisfaction therefrom.

Ordinarily we tend to think of science as being in the forefront of new knowledge. However, in relation to what sometimes has been referred to as the dematerialization of the atom (or, more accurately, the reformation of our understanding of it), philosophy led the way. Bruno and Leibniz came up with the conception of the atom as psychical, calling it a monad. ["Wasn’t Bruno the last person to be burned at the stake?" I queried. "Was that why?"]  Philosophers were important enough at that time to be burned at the stake for their religious views. Science caught up with this dematerialization only at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, with the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thomson and the quantum nature of energy by Max Planck.

Although Whitehead is known as difficult to understand, it should be easy to grasp that he has provided us with solid philosophical grounds for recognizing the indispensability of our basic experiencing as the key to understanding all that is.

* * *

"But", I protested, "you’ve made this so complicated that I can barely understand it, and I know what you are trying to say. You remind me of Polonius in Hamlet, who after announcing, ‘Since brevity is the soul of wit, I will be brief’ goes on for several pages." He gave me a baleful look, shed the toga, and headed back outside for the once-again sunny stone.

 

July 19, 2011

Who Am I Really?

Long ago, I read in a book about Myers-Briggs Type Indicators a description of a particular type of person who goes around trying to answer the question "Who am I really?" (I was unable to locate the passage, so I am quoting all this from memory.) This type of person is forever taking workshops and doing exercises in the effort to answer the question. A more down-to-earth type would be inclined to a riposte, such as, "I’ll tell you who you are; you’re an airhead!" The seeker’s response to that is, "Now that I know I am an airhead, who am I really?" And so the search continues.

Robert Fritz, the instructor in the creative process, has an interesting chapter in Creating titled "Who?" He deals with this concept of self-knowledge:

Most people presume that the question Who are we? is important. I once spent an evening with a charming man who had written many books on philosophy and metaphysics [Metaphysics is a major branch of philosophy. It makes no more sense to speak of metaphysics and philosophy than to speak of pancreas and body or of Unity and New Thought.]. "Who am I? is the most important question you can ever ask yourself," he said. No one had ever questioned his premise before he met me. I didn’t agree. "The way to answer the question is simple," I said. "First ask this question: Who wants to know?" (page 296)

Fritz is not being a smart-aleck; one would appropriately describe oneself quite differently depending on who is asking and in what milieu: business or social. But more importantly, the answer to the question ultimately depends on who "I" am. Fritz continues:

Why do we need to know who we are? Plato’s axiom "Know thyself has been taken to the heart of humanity without question. But why know thyself? So you can be a better person? So you can be better adjusted? So you can be more successful? So you can experience yourself as bigger, more meaningful, more enlightened, more whole, more connected with the universe?
In the East, "Know thyself" comes with a prescription of what it is you must come to know. "Know thyself" really means "Know yourself to be God." [pantheism] If you do not know yourself to be God, you fail to know yourself, we are told. In the West, "Know thyself" usually comes with a prescription of what you must come to know, but the answer can be quite different. "Know yourself" to be your Gestalt, your psychology, your competing drives and instincts, and so on. It can also be "Know yourself to be a sinner who can be saved."
The question Who are we? is often a prelude to a worldview that presumes an answer that is consistent with that view.
I think it is a good idea to know what you do, how you do it, what you want to create, what you like and don’t like, as well as your personal rhythms, your loves, your opinions, your history, and your current reality. But none of these insights can tell you who you are. (pages 286-287)

Fritz sums up his observation over the years of watching people pursue the question of who they are and concludes, "These people usually are not very good creators." He adds, "You do not need to know yourself." He elaborates on why he reaches this conclusion, "If you are creating your life, you are not your life." This is an important point concerning any creator and creation. Fritz also points out that it is easier to say what we are not than who we are (remember Michelangelo cutting away all of the block of marble that was not David), and that we are not our experiences (which term he is using in the conventional sense, not the Whiteheadian process thought sense).

If you are trying to figure out who you are, your attention is turned inward, not outward towards the world and those in it. Neither the Christian God nor Jesus is into navel contemplation. If you want to emulate either one, that is clearly not how you go about it.

If that seems to be turning away from New Thought, I urge you to go back to early New Thought. Quimby did not—so far as we know—spend a second on self-contemplation; his attention was focused on other people and how he could be of service to them with his unusual talents. He was coming from a Christian universalist background, not from anything Eastern, even though Eastern thought may have a lot to contribute. Warren Felt Evans likewise may have been a mystic and spent time contemplating God, but his primary efforts were toward helping other people. Which brings us to our Henry [Henry Wood (1834-1909)], who has an interesting chapter, "Know Thyself", in The New Old Healing (1908). He begins with the two bits of ancient wisdom, "Know thyself" and "Nothing too much", and then at first seems to be departing from our current approach: "Instead of heeding these deliverances of some of the greatest of human minds, the great majority of men have . . . studied their bodies, but very little careful thought has been bestowed upon themselves." But he continues:

A sharp line of demarcation needs to be drawn between introspection, in the ordinary sense, and a vital and discriminating self-knowledge. The former concerns itself with an attempt to scan the more superficial feelings, passions and relations which belong to the emotional nature, especially in its inharmonious moods and states of consciousness. Not recognizing the deeper selfhood and the power of idealism, it dwells mainly upon what is merely phenomenal and often morbid. Thus, through the creative power of thought, wrongly directed, the transitory and unreal are accentuated and become ruling. They need to be corrected and sweetened by an intelligent and constructive spirituality. The external husk of things is taken for the starting-point, and the result is disorder. The mind is lured into inharmonious mazes, until it finally becomes enslaved by its own productions. (pages 158-159)

He goes on to explain that it is one thing to survey one’s "mental processes and psychical currents", but quite another to "lose himself in them. They must be kept secondary and subordinate." The real search within is for the Father within, and for "the Christ, which had full and free expression through the historic Jesus."

Yet there needs to be a balance. In another chapter, "Hypnotized by an Idea", Henry states:

A true and well-developed individualism furnishes the only immunity against psychic invasions. Just now there is a popular tendency toward a depreciation of the individual, as the result of a dominant desire to lean upon some association or the State. One will help the world most by making the most of himself. The working out and expression of self-development is not selfishness but rather its opposite. But even the religious denominations are falling into the prevailing drift of substituting altruism for spirituality. To lead men to lean upon something outside, whether the State or anything else, makes subjects of them and delays the advent of higher conditions. A normal individualism contains a due proportion of the social element and it is the great necessity of the present era. Many leaders who exhaust their energies upon some doubtful scheme expect a great reward for such effort while in reality they are making both themselves and their followers flabby and helpless. Salvation must come from within. Be kind and give words of cheer and courage for often well-meant commiseration is demoralizing. (page 194)

I think Henry and Robert Fritz are on the same page. Henry created a successful business and a series of successful books that are still helping us today. God stands ready to help us co-create in every new occasion of experience.

 

July 26, 2011

Metaphysical Musings

Regular readers of this newsletter already know that both the Philosopher and I are much given to metaphysical musings. Here are links to an award-winning article by the Philosopher, Metaphysics Multiple Meanings,

http://neweverymoment.com/articles/article/3114300/45815.htm

and an article by yours truly titled What Is a Metaphysician?

http://neweverymoment.com/articles/article/3114323/115922.htm

You may also wish to go back to the May 15, 2010 newsletter for some recent observations by the Philosopher.

Most recently, I decided to check out what Henry Wood (1834-1909) had to say about metaphysics. As you may already know, Henry as a New Thoughter was an enthusiastic idealist, one who periodically mulled over philosophical notions and even put them into the mouths of characters in his novels. In Life More Abundant (1905), in the chapter "The Bible and Nature", he gets up a nice head of steam:

As the truth of the Copernican system was gradually confirmed, the so-called conflict between religion and science became intensified. There was a clash with the letter of Scripture at every point. But now under a symbolic and evolutionary interpretation, the latest and most rational cosmic philosophy is in full accord.
There is a so-called science of Nature which is materialistic, unspiritual, and agnostic in character, but this is evidently diminishing and does not represent the best thought of our own time. The naturalism of the seventeenth century which presented the universe as a cold mechanism and man as an infinitesimal part of the same, continues in the materialism of the present time, though in a more complex and refined form. It virtually interprets life as a series of physical sensations. But philosophical idealism furnishes a spiritual and religious basis which inspires and uplifts humanity and counts life, not as mere animated matter, but as mind and spirit expressing itself through material phenomena. The term, Nature, should be rescued from a formal, inert heartlessness with which it is associated by certain minds which are pessimistically inclined. Nature, as defined in the realm of sense, is secondary and subordinate to mind. The Divine Mind and Spirit is not Nature, but is within it rather than apart from it. Its processes are the object-lesson of Divinity in outward expression. God is Spirit, and Nature is spiritual. (pages 50-51)

Henry continues in the chapter titled "The Bible and Idealism":

It is a common impression that that which is called ideal, defines not only the unknown but the unreal. But the higher trend of modern thought would identify it as the ultimate real. Perhaps no term has been more abused. It is often employed, not only as the antithesis of reality, but as signifying what is illusive and even purely visionary. "A barren ideality" is often said of something to express contempt. Eminent makers of fiction, interpreters of ethics, and even of religion, often pride themselves upon their realism. Its thinly concealed definition is materialism rather than that which is truly real. There is a higher thought called idealistic realism. But many will not yet admit that the Ideal is the highest and most deeply real. The abode of conventional realism is within the realm of the physical senses. But validity more correctly belongs to the unseen. Saint Paul affirms that the things which are seen are temporal, while the things which are not seen are eternal. The Ideal is a vision of the Infinite. "The pure in heart shall see God." This is no mere platitude or poetic sentiment, but scientific and psychological truth. We may increasingly feel our superiority over matter, or rather a sense of rule over external conditions. Our ideal is a keen tool, and by its skillful wielding we may carve the surface of outward conditions into high or low relief. (pages 63-64)

Today we would say that what is real is ideal, since ideas/experiences underlie everything, despite material appearances. Material stuff is not unreal; it is simply a dense or congealed form of the ideal, something like ice with respect to water or steam. But quantum physicists split the atom into finer and finer particles, and ultimately find—no-thing. It is the thought, the idea, the experience, that is real. Matter has its laws of the physical universe to govern it, and we ignore them at our peril, but we need to understand what is ultimately real.

Lagniappe: The Philosopher doesn’t like my saying that matter is congealed mind. Matter, he says, is a particular combination of units of experience, which can be measured scientifically. Experience is awareness, a basic given; Whitehead therefore calls experience "the ultimate irrationality". Fleas, billiard balls, and petunias are collections of units of awareness/experience, which means that they are abstracted from particular experiences. A table (we were sitting at the breakfast table at the time) is a collection of experiences that we call material. Awareness is feeling, which can rise to a level of complexity that we call consciousness. When it gets all the way up to self-conscious, rational, and value oriented, we call it a person. We prefer that persons not be congealed.

 

August 2, 2011

New Thought and Christian Science

Our Henry (1834-1909) was thoroughly familiar with Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), the founder of Christian Science. In his search for his own healing, he most likely explored Christian Science, particularly during the years that he lived in the Boston area; and he commented, "To any intelligent observer who is watching ‘the signs of the times,’ the Christian Science movement cannot fail to be of deep interest." He would surely have been aware of the controversy surrounding Mrs. Eddy’s use of Quimby’s methods, including the "Deadly Parallels" in the 1904 New York Times, and the seemingly endless series of lawsuits and newspaper articles concerning the subject. As a colleague of Horatio Dresser in the Metaphysical Club, he would have been familiar with the New Thought side of the story, since Horatio’s parents were Quimby patients, as was Mrs. Eddy. It was to Horatio’s father, Julius, that Mrs. Eddy first turned for help after her famous fall on the ice shortly after Quimby’s death, but he told her that he was unable to continue Quimby’s work. Possibly because of this controversy, Henry did not mention Quimby in any of his writings, but he did include two essays on Christian Science as chapters in The New Thought Simplified (1903) and his last book, The New Old Healing (1908).

Henry took a fair and balanced approach to his discussion of Christian Science, mentioning similarities and differences with New Thought, and strengths and weaknesses of Christian Science. In "The New Thought and Christian Science" (Simplified), he begins by describing the aggressiveness of materialism, which had "subtly permeated science, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and therapeutics, and even the Church was not exempt from its penetrative influence. Realism, pessimism, agnosticism, and atheism had become pronounced, and a new spiritual uplift was due, and nothing could hold it back." He then introduces the two movements:

Out of the rapidly developing spiritual consciousness, including a recognized healing potency involved in the wide movement, there grew two separate and distinctive systems, having interior resemblances, but outwardly and philosophically quite unlike. One was esoteric, impersonal, without central authority, creed, or general organization, and of free and individualistic spirit, and this, at length, came to be designated as the New Thought. The other, with strong outward organization, authority centred in one person, absolute in doctrinal detail, and denominational in form and polity, was called Christian Science. (page 147)

He continues:

Though entirely distinct in doctrine and framework, and with differences most marked in method and theory, the New Thought has intimate spiritual agreements and points of contact with Christian Science. While these correspondencies are wholly internal, no worthy representative of the New Thought will fail to be highly appreciative of the good in Christian Science, and friendly in general relation. Many of the observations already made regarding common ground with the Church, are equally pertinent in this connection.
No spiritual revival is fully intelligible from an intellectual and conventional standpoint. It can be interpreted only from within. With limited and exceptional outcroppings, a most vital body of truth has lain dormant since the period of the primitive Church. The modern practical application of spiritual power for the assuagement of mental and physical ills was not a discovery or special revelation. It was a divine and eternal law, though largely out of intelligent use and application. (pages 148-9)

Mrs. Eddy, he feels, whatever her "incidental mistakes", deserves "honor and respect".

Henry then mentions the basic difference:

It is granted that if the adherents of the New Thought find their general free system best suited to their needs, no less there is also a great class of minds who prefer authoritative guidance and interpretation. Here, with all good-will, we agree to think differently. Outwardly moving in two almost opposite lines, in basic principles and ideals there is nearly a parallel course. (page 150)

In "An Unbiased View of Christian Science" (New Old Healing), Henry continues his effort to "hold the scales evenly":

The varying estimates of Christian Science furnish a significant example of current dogmatism favorable and unfavorable. It is the universal summum bonum, or system of nonsense, with some different shades of opinion scattered between. (page 224)

To Henry, the future of Christian Science depends not on the personality of Mrs. Eddy or her history, but "the boundary-line between the truth and error in the system in question". Mrs. Eddy must occupy her leading place for "some valid and adequate reason". "The starting-point of interest for the great majority of its adherents had been its demonstrated healing power", often "not resorted to until remedial measures of the material sort proved practically ineffective." No volume other than the Christian Science textbook, despite its competent critics, "has taken such a hold upon the public thought". Here is Henry’s hypothesis of why:

There is a strain of mysticism in the mental makeup of a large class of minds, which does not crave lucid statements in plain language. They are neither logicians nor dogmatists, and therefore the imagination delights in an ample and elastic field for exercise. Mysticism will get out of a book what it reads into it. It might be almost the same if it were written in an unknown tongue. Mystical hunger demands what is plastic or kaleidoscopic, rather than matter-of-fact solidity. A subtle or cloudy atmosphere possesses a peculiar charm. With a thick veil of metaphor or allegory, some apparent contradiction, and nebulous drapery, everyone can see . . . his own ideal or fancy enveloped within. Under such conditions he finds a true reflection of the highest within himself. A suggestive mirror is furnished for him. He gets not especially what he understands, but rather what he feels. . . For such reasons it must be admitted that a text-book of indefinable and paradoxical character is not without its real advantages. Through a medium of mysticism and spiritual idealism one may behold not so much his own plainer features but those of ideal and delectable perfection. (pages 228-9)

He elaborates:

The great problem in an age like the present is, how to arouse a living faith of sufficient power to take hold of the deeper subconscious processes and nerve-centers of the organism, so as to change conscious feeling and visible expression. It is plain that measures which have been more or less potent in simpler times and in an environment of less scepticism and unbelief, would be quite ineffectual in the present dense thought-atmosphere.
The general psychological principles and suggestions which are active in all mental therapeutic systems, though not definitely admitted or recognized by name in Christian Science, are present and active in its operations. Being universal in their scope and often unwittingly employed, no single system can rightfully claim their exclusive possession. The basic doctrine of the "allness of God" as presented in Mrs. Eddy’s philosophy, acts as a very powerful suggestion to the mind to lift it from the plane of the lower self-consciousness, and away from the plane of the lower self-consciousness, and away from disorderly physical sensation. The dogma is not merely a theological statement but also a psychological inspiration. There musts be some proposition of such a startling and unusual nature as to displace depression, both mental and physical, the latter being a result of the former. The rather hackneyed expression, "mind over matter," is well as a brief general statement, but how, by what method and under what laws, would make a subject for a volume? (pages 232-3)

Using an analogy with homeopathic doses of medicine, Henry asks, "If the cure is secured, is the technical validity of the ‘potion’ so very important?"

But there are two sides to every story:

While there is much that is good and beautiful in Christian Science it has its negative aspects. They may be briefly noted: (1) the lodgment of supreme authority in a person instead of the "Spirit of Truth" within; (2) in proclaiming the unreality of matter and the body; (3) in an exclusive rather than a democratic and open-minded spirit, and (4) in inculcating the fear of "malicious animal magnetism" instead of ignoring and overcoming it. Any hostile power is self-induced and gains entrance through fear, and is thereby doubly armed. The bondage of such a bugbear should be thrown off by positive teaching that the higher self and the felt divine presence and consciousness are adequate to the work. (page 234)

Henry feels that it is "unwise" to teach the "positive unreality" of matter and the body. "When normal, the "temple of the Spirit" ranks as the most perfect and beautiful of material creations. It is scantily honored by being counted as an unreality and it seems inconsistent to claim to cure that which is non-existent." Further, "An apparent self-isolation in Christian Science from the good elsewhere and everywhere, is not attractive or ideal. It is well to be able to see some good outside of one’s own organization." He is also bothered by Christian Science as a closed system:

There appears to be no acceptance of the universal principle of growth. The system is finished and there is no room for further revelations. Nothing is said of evolutionary progress, or of anything as tentative and educational. There is no friendship displayed toward comparative psychology, psycho-therapeutics, New Thought or mental science. One is expected to take the whole abstract philosophy or nothing. Healing is done, and it is assumed that Christian Science is the agency, while it is rather the strong faith which is hidden within it. Faith is not bounded by the limits of any institution. (page 235)

Henry predicted that Christian Science over time would soften some of its edges. He described it as it was at the time he wrote, but on the other hand, he had not seen some of the revelations that have come out since, for better or worse.

For more recent comments about New Thought and Christian Science, see my review of Gillian Gill’s biography of Mary Baker Eddy, link below:

http://neweverymoment.com/articles/article/3114323/46699.htm

 

August 9, 2011

Not to Worry

As this is being written, the stock market is tanking for the second time in recent memory. There are riots in the streets all around the world, and uncertainty and lack of confidence are spreading. In short, people are worried.

Our Henry has a piece in The New Old Healing (1908) titled "Why Worry About Worry?" We are all told not to.

This is well, but who wants to worry, or who does it on purpose? One might as well say to the consumptive person: "Don’t cough," or to the victim of hay fever: "Don’t sneeze." Worry is the symptom of a condition, and it is the condition rather than the result or symptom which needs attention. Say to the nervous invalid: "Don’t be nervous," and you make the whole subject of nerves more vivid, for his attention is already centered far too much upon them. (page 102)

Henry has already given us his remedy for worry:

It is what may be called the law of displacement. One cannot drive darkness out of a cellar, but let the light in and it will do the work. The negative condition gives place to the positive. This law is universally recognized, but is ignorantly or inefficiently applied. . . . To seek a new place does not insure new thoughts, and these are what are needed. How to get a new mental lens so as to see things in a different light is the problem. The great majority . . . are not willing to take the trouble because they cannot understand the whole process in advance. They want to see the end of the path before entering it at all. (pages 102-3)

But all these principles bear repeating, because we tend to forget, especially when we are upset:

The first step in the displacement of worry is the understanding that it has a negative goodness, and is not necessarily an enemy or calamity. Worry is to be avoided, but when in evidence it has a mission and never comes otherwise. The purpose of its advent is to drive the consciousness from the low and inharmonious plane, which is the home of worry, to one higher, more ideal and spiritually illuminating. It appears in a guise which is very disquieting and its features are those of an enemy. It roams in the damp, dark basement of the mental realm, so that this "adversary" makes us decidedly uncomfortable. (Pages 103-4)

Is this starting to sound familiar?

But suffering at length makes us look about for a way of escape, and we finally discover a stairway which leads to the sunny apartments above. If we mount and gain a subjective residence, the beauty of which we before were unaware, the "enemy" has really done us a favor. . . . Our real enemy is ignorance, and even this in the last analysis, by its penalties dispels our indifference, sets us to thinking, and enables us to interpret correctly their tendencies and the laws of their operation. (page 104)

Henry then summarizes the basic New Thought approach:

Choose a convenient hour daily when one can be alone and also utilize any wakeful hour at night. Instead of permitting the usual procession of depressing thoughts to drift through the consciousness, one must seize the helm and lift the mental activity higher and higher. Concentrate it strongly upon goodness, beauty, love, harmony, peace, and most of all in communion and oneness with the immanent Universal Spirit. . . . Gradually a habit will be formed and a new road blazed. . . . In biblical terms, it is called: "The secret place of the Most High. It is represented as a "dwelling—place." In a deep sense, one dwells in a place or state where his thoughts are centered. (pages 105-6)

This reminds me of 1) Psalm 91, and 2) Emmet Fox’s Golden Key.

New Thought author Florence Scovel Shinn, who brought Emmet Fox to the United States, writing in The Secret Door to Success, in the chapter "Crossing Your Red Sea", describes how the children of Israel got cold feet and started "murmuring" to Moses. She then quotes Moses’s answer: "And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace."

We might say that Moses pounded faith into the children of Israel. They preferred being slaves to their old doubts and fears (for Egypt stands for darkness), than to take the giant swing into faith, and pass through the wilderness into their Promised Land. There is, indeed, a wilderness to pass through before your Promised Land is reached. The old doubts and fears encamp round about you, but, there is always someone to tell you to go forward! There is always a Moses on your pathway.

Televangelist Robert H. Schuller says that when times get really tough for him, he goes back and rereads his own books. Taking his advice, I went back to Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes, a book on which I did the writing, which the Philosopher went over and left a lot of fingerprints on. The final chapter is titled "The Black Hole", beginning with theodicy (the problem of evil, which is only a problem if God is good; otherwise, what would you expect?) and continuing through "Did Brother Lawrence Have Bad Hair Days?" and "Sin, Original and Unoriginal, Which It Mostly Is" to "What to Do When the Roof Falls In". Along the way, I commented, "We don’t overcome evil by giving attention to it; that just makes it grow. We overcome evil by giving our attention to what we want, to the good." And I told a story from the Talmud about a rabbi and a rooster:

The rabbi was walking along a road that ran along the edge of a forest. He was carrying a torch in one hand and had a rooster he was taking to market under his arm. Suddenly, the rooster jumped free and ran away. Did the rabbi curse his bad fortune or cry, "Why me, God?" No, he just observed to himself, "This will be for the good." Then, a while later, a gust of wind blew out his torch. Again the rabbi had faith and said to himself, "This will be for the good." With no torch to light his path, at dusk the rabbi left the road and went into the woods to sleep. He had no sooner settled himself quietly than a band of robbers came down the road and passed by without noticing him. Then it dawned on him that had he still had the torch and lit a campfire, the robbers would have spotted it, and he would have been beaten or killed. Had he still had the rooster, its noise would have attracted the robbers. Truly, the seemingly evil events had been for good. . . . If evil has been done to us, we need to look to see what we have left, not what we have lost.

If you would like to have your own copy of Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes, click on our Book Store tab. The Book Store has a link to Amazon, or you can order the book through your local bookstore if you tell them that it is a Print-On-Demand book, published in 2000 by Author House (formerly 1st Books).

 

August 16, 2011

How to Make a Religion

The Philosopher’s patron saint, Alfred North Whitehead, gave the Lowell Lectures on religion at King’s Chapel in Boston in 1926. He was a newcomer to the area, having arrived there from Britain only in 1924 after a lifetime of teaching mathematics and physics, in the course of which he co-authored with Bertrand Russell the famous Principia Mathematica. In "retirement" he was invited to come to Harvard and embark on a new career as a philosopher. This was his second set of Lowell lectures, the first having been Science and the Modern World in the previous year.

After years of sitting at the feet of the Philosopher and absorbing Whitehead second hand, I was finally persuaded to sit down and actually read Whitehead’s own words. Previously, we had read aloud together the writings of journalist Lucien Price, who was a regular visitor in Whitehead’s home and recorded their conversations, which Whitehead later looked over and verified. But Whitehead is notoriously difficult reading, so I was a bit apprehensive. To my surprise, I truly enjoyed this second set of Lowell Lectures, Religion in the Making, even though I was treading water at times.

Here is an assortment of tidbits from the Religion Lectures, thoughts that are useful to the Philosopher and me as we continue to develop (with apologies to Garrison Keillor) Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion (Process New Thought). I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

The aim of the lectures was to give a concise analysis of the various factors in human nature which go to form a religion, to exhibit the inevitable transformation of religion with the transformation of knowledge, and more especially to direct attention to the foundation of religion on our apprehension of those permanent elements by reason of which there is a stable order in the world, permanent elements apart from which there could be no changing world
It is the peculiarity of religion that humanity is always shifting its attitude towards it.
Your character is developed according to your faith. This is the primary religious belief from which no one can escape. Religion is force of belief cleansing the inward parts. For this reason the primary religious virtue is sincerity, a penetrating sincerity. A religion, on its doctrinal side, can thus be defined as a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended.
Religion is the art and the theory of the internal life of man, so far as it depends on the man himself and on what is permanent in the nature of things. This doctrine is the direct negation of the theory that religion is primarily a social fact. Social facts are of great importance to religion, because there is no such thing as absolutely independent existence. You cannot abstract society from man; most psychology is herd-psychology. But all collective emotions leave untouched the awful ultimate fact, which is the human being, consciously alone with itself, for its own sake.
Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. It runs through three stages if it evolves to its final satisfaction. It is the transition from God the void to God the enemy, and from God the enemy to God the companion. Thus religion is solitariness; and if you are never solitary, you are never religious. Collective enthusiasms, revivals, institutions, churches, rituals, bibles, codes of behaviour, are the trappings of religion, its passing forms. They may be useful, or harmful; they may be authoritatively ordained, or merely temporary expedients. But the end of religion is beyond all this.
[W]hat should emerge from religion is individual worth of character. But worth is positive or negative, good or bad. Religion is by no means necessarily good. It may be very evil. The fact of evil, interwoven with the texture of the world, shows that in the nature of things there remains effectiveness for degradation. In your religious experience the God with whom you have made terms may be the God of destruction, the God who leaves in his wake the loss of the greater reality.
The age of martyrs dawns with the coming of rationalism. The antecedent phases of religion had been essentially sociable. Many were called, and all were chosen. The final phase introduces the note of solitariness: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, . . . and few there be that find it." When a modern religion forgets this saying, it is suffering from an atavistic relapse into primitive barbarism. It is appealing to the psychology of the herd, away from the intuitions of the few.
Rational religion is religion whose beliefs and rituals have been reorganized with the aim of making it the central element in a coherent ordering of life—an ordering which shall be coherent both in respect to the elucidation of thought, and in respect to the direction of conduct towards a unified purpose commanding ethical approval.
Rational religion emerged as a gradual transformation of the preexisting religious forms. Finally, the old forms could no longer contain the new ideas, and the modern religions of civilization are traceable to definite crises in this process of development. But the development was not then ended; it had only acquired more suitable forms for self-expression.
You can only speak of mercy among a people who, in some respects, are already merciful.
The new, and almost profane, concept of the goodness of God replaces the older emphasis on the will of God. In a communal religion you study the will of God in order that He may preserve you; in a purified religion, rationalized under the influence of the world-concept, you study his goodness in order to be like him. It is the difference between the enemy you conciliate and the companion whom you imitate.
It is a curious delusion that the rock upon which our beliefs can be founded is an historical investigation. You can only interpret the past in terms of the present. The present is all that you have; and unless in this present you can find general principles which interpret the present as including a representation of the whole community of existents, you cannot move a step beyond your little patch of immediacy.
The common character of all evil is that its realization in fact involves that there is some concurrent realization of a purpose towards elimination. The purpose is to secure the avoidance of evil. The fact of the instability of evil is the moral order in the world.
The order of the world is no accident. There is nothing actual which could be actual without some measure of order. The religious insight is the grasp of this truth: That the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life, and the mastery of evil, are all bound together—not accidentally, but by reason of this truth: that the universe exhibits a creativity with infinite freedom, and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities; but that this creativity and these forms are together impotent to achieve actuality apart from the completed ideal harmony, which is God.
The kingdom of heaven is not the isolation of good from evil. It is the overcoming of evil by good.
God is that function in the world by reason of which our purposes are directed to ends which in our own consciousness are impartial as to our own interests. He is that element in life in virtue of which judgment stretches beyond facts of existence to values of existence. He is that element in virtue of which our purposes extend beyond values for ourselves to values for others. He is that element in virtue of which the attainment of such a value for others transforms itself into value for ourselves. He is the binding element in the world. The consciousness which is individual in us, is universal in him: the love which is partial in us is all-embracing in him. Apart from him there could be no world, because there could be no adjustment of individuality. . . . He is not the world, but the valuation of the world.
The present type of order in the world has arisen from an unimaginable past, and it will find its grave in an unimaginable future. There remain the inexhaustible realm of abstract forms, and creativity, with its shifting character ever determined afresh by its own creatures, and God, upon whose wisdom all forms of order depend.

 

August 23, 2011

A God Worthy of Worship

Our Henry’s first non-fiction work of New Thought was God’s Image in Man (1892). In the Preface, he refers to this collection of essays as "simple lay studies", coming from a "non-professional and thoroughly independent standpoint", and "clothed with no external authority". However, he also states that he believes "that the cultivated human intuition has something of that exactness and perfection of which instinct on the lower planes of life is a prophecy. He elaborates:

Divine truth is ever seeking to reveal itself through the channel of the Holy Spirit. "He will guide you into all truth." The soul-centre of every human "image of God" is the highest and ultimate tribunal, before which principles, creeds, systems, and even bibles, must receive their interpretation. There is no purpose other than the plain unfoldment of Truth and the delineation of living realities. No attack is made upon any existing theological system, as such, but rather an effort—in these days of creed disintegration—to conserve and hold up all that is intrinsic, but, at the same time, to discriminate between the real and eternal on the one hand, and the incidental, traditional, and external on the other. Truth is an harmonious unit; and religion, nature, science, and evolution—when stripped of their misconceptions—mutually supplement and confirm each other. The persistent retention of outgrown creeds as unchangeable statements of truth has caused a reaction towards materialism, atheism, and pessimism; and it behooves every lover of his kind to aid in turning the unwholesome current. (Page 4)

This strikes me as a refreshing point of view. In the past century, we have seen both extremes: clinging to the theology of the past at all costs, and embracing the perspective of science in a narrow, reductionist manner that excludes God. Too often, traditional creeds—including those that treat science as a religion—box us in and leave us without a sense of support when problems or troubles arise.

Last week we dipped a toe into the Whiteheadian waters of process thought, with a very different perspective on God, yet one that remains in close touch with the Bible. Whitehead reunited religion and science through philosophy, stating that he was looking for "a God worthy of worship"; in other words, not reducing God to a deist watchmaker (wind things up and walk away), an Archaic Terrorer (to quote the Philosopher), or a collection of warm fuzzies. Whitehead was the son of an Anglican priest and thoroughly familiar with Christian teachings, yet Bertrand Russell describes him as agnostic during one long period of his life. He lost a son in World War I, but that seems to have driven him back toward God rather than further away. Lewis Ford (The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics 1925-1929, 1984) outlines the evolution of Whitehead’s ideas from nontheist to theist; as he puts it, "The Lowell Lectures are quite consistent with a thoroughgoing naturalism. Whitehead rejected the notion of a transcendent creator, and did not embrace theism until the concept of God could be disentangled from that notion" (p. 6). In Science and the Modern World, Whitehead’s first set of Lowell lectures in 1925, he states:

[Religion] is the one element in human experience which persistently shows an upward trend. It fades and then recurs. But when it renews its force, it recurs with an added richness and purity of content. The fact of the religious vision, and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience.

And lest we think that might be reduced to a nontheistic stance such as Buddhism, in the same address Whitehead adds, "Religion is the reaction of human nature to its search for God."

Whitehead, when he sat down to design a metaphysical model of the world, found that it must include God, but not the God boxed in by the traditional creeds. Whitehead’s new take on God is somewhat discernable in the Bible, but is a newer, fresher view of God, one that is intertwined with nature, fully present within it, and fully compatible with the findings of modern science.

As Ford describes Whitehead’s views, "The advance of science is . . . an opportunity to discover how the claims of religion should be qualified, made more precise, and freed from irrelevant accretions" (p. 108). Ford continues:

We see that Whitehead had a fairly definite idea as to what God was not. He was not (a) a radically transcendent reality arbitrarily disconnected from basic metaphysical principles, nor (b) an all-controlling power, responsible for evil as well as good, nor (c) a power operating in terms of force rather than in terms of persuasion. . . . His description of the essential character of the religious spirit is an intuitive, proleptic statement of what he was searching for, deliberately couched in paradoxical terms. He did not yet [in 1925] have the conceptual warrants to justify these claims, but they serve as a lure towards which his thought moves. . . . it is not merely religion but God he is seeking to describe. . . . However much Whitehead might be persuaded as to the reality of God, any affirmation of his existence, if not coupled with any fairly precise account as to his nature, would simply mean the affirmation of one of the traditional images of God which he had rejected. This would simply mean the existence of a discarded idol, not of God.

Henry seems to foreshadow this, even though he preceded Whitehead by nearly thirty years; by now we realize that Henry’s God is definitely worthy of worship.

At the same time that the Philosopher pulled me in to reading Whitehead, I have been reading a book on time management (about which I may write later) that seeks to develop the ability to allow one’s intuition to guide one as to what task to do when, although it does of course involve structure and discipline. What if we could really trust our intuition to that extent? What if we could rely on wisdom from outside ourselves yet somehow available from inside? Aren’t we talking about Henry’s "cultivated human intuition?

Isn’t this what we all really yearn for: a relationship with the divine such that we can rely on him operating as "intuition" for constant guidance in our daily lives? And aren’t we humans forever interconnected with every other human being, brothers and sisters under the skin? Hmmm, that starts to sound like the Two Great Commandments identified by Jesus: Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Couldn’t this be the long-needed housecleaning that both science and religion have been waiting for, one that enables them to mingle their households in an intellectually honest way?

 

August 30, 2011

Up Close and Personal

In our part of the world it has been an exceptionally hot and humid summer in an area known for its hot and humid summers. Forays outdoors consist of a stroll twenty feet to the mailbox or a trip from the car into the grocery store. Seeking for indoor diversion, then, I have been more tolerant than usual of the Philosopher’s rummaging through his old graduate school philosophy texts. After all, if he goes out and sits on the stone, he’s going to end up poached.

For the last two weeks, he has had me actually reading Whitehead and his interpreters; now he is heading for what for many New Thoughters is the third rail, the section of our New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality that many people simply skip over with a sniff. It played a prominent role in Whitehead’s rediscovery of God and putting him at the center of his systematic metaphysics. It was for many years one of the jewels in Boston University’s philosophy department’s crown, embraced not only by the Philosopher but by such luminaries as ministers Martin Luther King, Jr. and Norman Vincent Peale, who expressed great admiration for New Thought denomination founder Ernest Holmes. One of the Philosopher’s instructors, Dr. Peter Bertocci, studied with Whitehead at Harvard and also taught Dr. King and Dr. Peale. At B.U., the three B’s are Bowne, Brightman, and Bertocci. Their philosophy deals with how God can be transcendent and also up close and personal. It’s a lot more important than you might think. It shows definite Whiteheadian influence, even though it would be an overstatement to call it process. We’re talking about Boston personalism.

What we are most emphatically NOT talking about is anthropomorphism: regarding God as a giant human being, usually some ill-tempered, capricious Oriental potentate with a long white beard, sitting on a golden throne and hurling thunderbolts. Personalism holds that the highest, most complex entity that we have any concept of is the person, defined as one who is self conscious, rational, and value oriented. All human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings: consider angels and dolphins. The creator of all us persons must be himself a person—the Ultimate Person—or you have a situation in which the creator is inferior to the creation. We humans can love, but a thing—an it—cannot love. The title God is associated for many people with an anthropomorphic view of God, but it is nonetheless a convenient and traditional way of referring to him. We could skip the personal pronouns and stick to God, God’s, and Godself, but that gets tiresome in a hurry. Although the Ultimate Person is without gender (not because of some lack or deficiency but because he actually has qualities attributed to both sexes, and after all, human beings are androgynous in many ways), masculinity symbolizes the active principle, making it more suitable for God than "Goddess", which introduces traditional human overtones that don’t work very well for us. Jesus called God Father, and we find that that works just fine.

Personalist philosopher Ralph Tyler Flewelling was a good friend and mentor to Religious Science (Science of Mind) founder Ernest Holmes. Unfortunately, most of his teachings seemed to have rolled right off of Holmes, who never put together a decent set of metaphysics, which—sadly—makes him pretty typical for New Thought. Flewelling was the founder of the journal The Personalist, and he studied with the original personalist, Borden Parker Bowne.

Let’s go back to Whitehead wrestling with his new metaphysics. At the beginning, he didn’t have much of a notion of God. Ford (see last week), speaking of Whitehead’s first process book, Science and the Modern World, points out that only in the chapter titled "God" is the existence of God affirmed "as an integral part of Whitehead’s philosophy. The "Religion and Science" chapter "focuses upon Whitehead’s hopes for reconciliation between science and religion, but makes no mention as to how his particular concept of God as the principle of limitation . . . might aid in effecting this reconciliation." He continues:

To be sure, the topic he was asked to address by the Phillips Brooks House at Harvard was religion, not God. But then the topic he agreed to speak on for his second course of Lowell Lectures in 1926 was a development of the very same topic . . . "‘Science and Religion,’ i.e. on the scientific criticism of religion."

Ford then quotes Frederic R. Crownfield with reference to the Council of Trent, in a book "which he assumes was part of Whitehead’s theological reading". Crownfield comments:

What dawned on Whitehead as a result of reading [a book on the Council of Trent] was that the attitudes of both scientists and papal delegates exhibited the same spirit. In reaction to the excess of scholasticism, truth was to be arrived at not by an appeal to reason but to some supposedly objective authority. The scientist appealed to the hard facts given as revealed words. What Whitehead realized was that this attitude was ultimately disastrous for both." (p. 102)

Ford notes:

If in middle life [Whitehead] became—in [Bertrand] Russell’s words—‘emphatically agnostic," this may have been more a rejection of Victorian theology and apologetics than of religion per se. He became convinced that that which is supremely worthy of worship could not be portrayed as an omnipotent tyrant, but that the quest of worship is not thereby gainsaid. (p. 103)

Whitehead was far too logical and rational to fall for the self-contradictions of pantheism, but how did he get back to a theism that his followers now label panentheism? He had introduced God into his metaphysics because of the necessity of a general principle of limitation, which Ford calls "a strange entity to call God". He notes, "‘God’ is fundamentally a religious term. It signifies that which is supremely worthy of worship. Any justification of the identification of God with the principle of limitation required such an exploration." (p. 127) Better men than I have devoted their entire careers to explaining Whitehead’s God, and I am not about to attempt it here, just to indicate that these are ideas worth entertaining. Ford elaborates:

It was not destined to remain Whitehead’s concept of God, and the more elaborate conception developed in his later theory bears greater affinities with traditional concepts of God. For the time being, however, it was a concept by means of which Whitehead could once again affirm theism. This God was not the omnipotent creator of all there is, ultimately responsible for the evil as well as the good. Rather, "if He be conceived as the supreme ground for limitation, it stands in His very nature to divide the Good from the Evil" (SMW 179). Nor is he obviously a power that acts by force rather than by persuasion. On the positive side, if limitation could be the means of generating possibilities for value, God could be fittingly conceived as such a limitation. (p. 113)

You may have noticed in the past two weeks that Whitehead always referred to God as masculine, even though he surely did not mean to imply anthropomorphism. But why did he call a metaphysical principle of limitation "God"? Ford answers, "Because it is a cosmic source of order in the universe. The time-honored teleological argument infers from the existence of order in the world to a divine orderer." This is no Archaic Terrorer, nor Pure-Bred High-Nosed, nor is it a World Woofer, quietly woof, woofing in the background. (See the Philosopher’s book, A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, a book designed along the lines of a dog book, a sort of dyslexic guide to the deity.)

You can delve more deeply into these concepts if you wish, but you can also quietly pursue your own relationship with the "Fellow-Sufferer Who Understands" (Whitehead’s ultimate view of God, and about as personal as one can get) in any way and by any metaphor that works for you. I will conclude this for the moment with a quotation from Bowne:

The objections to affirming a Supreme Person are largely verbal. Many of them are directed against a literal anthropomorphism. This, of course, is a man of straw. Man himself in his essential personality is as unpicturable and formless as God. Personality and corporeality are incommensurable ideas. The essential meaning of personality is selfhood, self-consciousness, self-control, and the power to know. These elements have no corporeal significance or limitations. Any being, finite or infinite, which has knowledge and self-consciousness and self-control, is personal; for the term has no other meaning. Laying aside, then, all thought or corporeal form and limitation as being no factor of personality, we must really say that complete and perfect personality can be found only in the Infinite and Absolute Being, as only in Him can we find that complete and perfect selfhood and self-possession which are necessary to the fullness of personality. In thinking, then, of the Supreme Person we must beware of transferring to him the limitations and accidents of our human personality, which are no necessary part of the notion of personality, and think only of the fullness of power, knowledge, and selfhood which alone are the essential factors of the conception. (Personalism , 1908)

Note that our Henry—Henry Wood (1834-1909)—might possibly have known Bowne (1845-1910) or at least been familiar with his writings.

 

September 6, 2011

Relating to God

Henry is forever saying things that make me blink with amazement. Most of God’s Image in Man concerns our relationship with God and how to cultivate it. In the chapter "Direct Revelation", he remarks, "It has been said that God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves; but if we are unconscious of the Presence, it has no meaning." He is probably thinking of Tennyson’s "The Higher Pantheism": "Closer is he than breathing, nearer than hands and feet." God’s presence involves God’s activity, which is sometimes easier to relate to than to God as personal, for those who have difficulty getting past anthropomorphism. A giant human being could not be "closer than breathing", but we can feel a flood of God’s healing, love, or strength.

Henry continues on the next page, "The method of spiritual revelation to the human consciousness is not so much by gradual development as by glimpses and flashes. The influx of truth comes by means of new standpoints suddenly reached, quick turns made, and grand summits gained, which open up glorious and unexpected vistas." We must remain vigilant lest we miss these opportunities. Yet after a while, it apparently becomes easier: "The law of revelation presupposes gradual preparatory development, after which spiritual transitions are made in bounds. . . . We do not grow into a consciousness of the divine communication, but we awaken to the Presence already within. Divine truth is ever seeking to reveal and express itself." This reminds me of Francis Thompson’s "The Hound of Heaven", relentlessly, lovingly pursuing one: "O fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He whom thou seekest!" Thompson’s dates are 1859-1907 and Tennyson’s are 1809-1892, so Henry may well have been familiar with both.

And Henry anticipates Whitehead in his understanding that God persuades rather than coerces:

As God is waiting to reveal Himself to man, there is no bar to reconciliation and unison but man’s unreadiness. Humanity is unqualified for such Deific intimacy because of ignorance and blindness. The sun is not limited nor partial with his rays; and so God is waiting to fill every vacancy in the soul which we will make for Him. He will not force himself into the human consciousness, but wait to be made welcome, because man’s spiritual freedom is sacred. A coerced development would not be growth, for all growth must be voluntary and from within. (page 58)

He also explains how we can find "the Father within": Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea sought safety from the storms by diving the Nautilus beneath the waves; Henry by contrast always seeks the higher "sunny apartments" :

God makes His dwelling-place in the higher zone of man’s complex nature, and the human ego may there cultivate divine intimacy. This is the common meeting-ground between the Father and His children, face to face. Here is the serene refuge from the tempests which continually surge over the murky depths below. As man rapidly grows into correspondence with his mental environment, a homelike abode in the supreme zone of his being transmutes him into God-likeness and thus brings into manifestation the divine human type. (page 60)

Then Henry tees off on the church practices and teachings that have separated us from God:

Formulated theology with all its accompaniments, including a literalized Bible and an authoritative sectarian standard of belief, has largely concealed the divine audience-chamber which exists in every "image of God." Current theology has put the Father far away, and usurped the place and authority of the Spirit, which is the agency that is able to "lead you into all truth." A myriad of scriptural texts which plainly teach the positive indwelling of the Spirit, are practically ignored in scholastic systems which have their foundation in external and strained interpretations, not in harmony with the great truth of the Divine Presence in the soul of man. Dogmatic teaching has made it appear that the Spirit was a gracious influence sent occasionally from a distant God, in answer to earnest importunity, but has failed to recognize its ever-present companionship, and also that it is a "Teacher." Is not such a non-recognition "the sin against the Holy Ghost"? That He may abide with you forever," are the words used by Jesus, but such a basal principle finds scanty recognition in conventional systems. God is Spirit; and God is everywhere. (pages 60-61)

He’s just getting warmed up:

Systematic theology has missed much of the divine overflowing in the soul of man, because of its rigid mechanical theories, which practically bury all revelation in the Bible, taking it for granted that the scriptural channel is the only one. Thus the Book has been seriously misinterpreted by its zealous but injudicious defenders. It lays no claim to a self-limited inspiration, but proclaims its office as the Word which quickeneth; as the great auxiliary influence to guide the world to direct inspiration. It points out the road to divine munificence, but makes no claim to a monopoly of its possession. (page 65)

To Henry,

the great and real heresy of the present age is the non-recognition of the "Comforter." Such an offence is directly against the indwelling Spirit. The rejection of the Holy Spirit makes forgiveness impossible while such an attitude continues, because the question is one of condition, and not of punishment from without. Forgiveness is not a remission of penalty, but a change of character; a substitution of the Christ Mind for the mind of the flesh.  (page 66)

He sees salvation as forgiveness, an "invariable result" of regeneration.

The world and the theologies are still strongly inclined to know Christ after the flesh. The cross and the death receive that emphasis which belongs to the imparted life. Jesus was not the Christ, except as He was His embodiment. It is the living Christ of to-day which the world needs, rather than His material expression of eighteen centuries ago. . . . "These works shall follow them that believe," and them that believe are not limited by time nor condition. Healing was one of the "works," but it has not "followed" since the times of the primitive Church. The "greater things than I have done" which Christ promised, have been signally lacking in their realization. There can be no valid reason given why all the "works" ought not to abound in the church of to-day. (pages 68-69)

He complains:

Conventional theology has practically made the Holy Spirit a rare and unfamiliar visitor. Can we have the divine companionship upon easy terms and under every-day circumstances? Yea, verily, if we expect and welcome it. We must feel it as a present Companion and Guest. When the noise of the outer world is hushed, and its cares and ambitions barred out, if we listen we may hear the "still, small voice.". . . For man, —made as he is in "the image of God," —spiritual rule is normal, logical, and scientific. The reverse condition is inverted and abnormal, and its penalties inherent. (pages 73-74)

If we are successful in developing our relationship with the Father or with his Spirit, we can be safely guided by our intuition into the way of wisdom and peace.

Lagniappe: Last week I had intended to include in the discussion of personalism a quotation from Anglican scholar and process thinker Norman Pittenger, but I overlooked it. Here it is:

The way in which [God] has been described has come in the main from the observable facts of experience and from our observation of how things go in the world. . . . is such a God in any sense describable as "personal"? Here we are obliged first of all to define what should be meant by the adjective. Whitehead, for example, seems to have been in two minds about the viability of the idea of God as "personal", largely because he felt that as commonly used the term was overtly anthropomorphic and did not provide adequate explanation of that kind of experience which stresses the sheer "given-ness" of process. We must agree that if "personal", when applied to deity, means that God is to be taken as an enlarged replica of what we know as person, as if he were (so to say) "a very big man", then it is obvious that the adjective is entirely inappropriate. If, on the other hand, we define more carefully what is meant by "personal", perhaps there can be no objection to employing the word when speaking of deity. By "personal" we can and I believe we should mean such characteristics as awareness and self-awareness, capacity to communicate or enter into active-reactive relationships, freedom of action within the limits of consistency and possibility, etc. All these characteristics are quite readily applicable to deity as seen in process-thought. In that sense, then, God may properly be called "personal"—provided of course, that we are constantly on guard against restricting the sense of these "personal" elements in him to the merely human level on which we ourselves know personality. — Process Thought and Christian Faith (1968), page 34

 

September 13, 2011

Halfway Up the Mountain

Beloved Unity Minister Martha Smock, for many years Director of Silent Unity, wrote a book of writings titled with the name of the first piece: Halfway Up the Mountain. She points out that we all sense, at least at times, that we are unique creations and shouldn’t settle for mediocrity. "The true nature of man, the Christ, that lies all but buried in most men, breaks through now and again in moments of insight and clarity and reminds him of who he is and what he is." Then she tells us that the word mediocrity comes from a Latin word mediocris meaning "halfway up a mountain". "Somehow this puts a whole new slant on this idea of mediocrity. It is not something to be disdained or to be ashamed of. Rather, it is a halfway mark. And it does not necessarily indicate that this is as far as you can go. It says, "This is as far as you have come." I checked. She’s correct: it’s from medius (middle) and ocris (stony mountain).

I have no clue whether this is the halfway mark on my project of resurrecting Henry Wood (1834-1909) for the New Thought movement, for which he was one of the early mentors. There is so much more to be learned from our Henry’s writings that I have probably only just scratched the surface. And I hope to be writing weekly columns, sketches of my thinking for future larger writings, for a long time. It did seem appropriate to stop long enough to take a deep breath and note how far we have come.

If you go to the bottom of this file of newsletters, you will find the first post, which was March 1, 2010, "The Beginning". It was my attempt to catch you up with what we are all about and get myself back into harness as a column writer. Columns were sporadic at first, but then on April 1, 2010, I wrote the first Henry column, "A Visitor to the Philosopher’s Cave". Right about then, the Philosopher and I were reading Henry’s works aloud and becoming familiar with them. In August 2010 ("Summer Memories, Summer Not"), I launched myself on a weekly series of columns about Henry and his work as an early New Thought author and promulgator, one who had himself been healed by New Thought principles, then known as mental science, mental meaning spiritual as opposed to material means. I decided to warm up with a set of mnemonics for remembering Henry’s 25 Ideal Suggestions, from his most famous book, Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography. You can download the book as a PDF file and keep it on your desktop to read in bits by clicking on the blue Henry Wood tab (near the top of this page to your left), where there is a list of links to all Henry’s online books. One of Henry’s favorite metaphors is a cistern full of dirty water being slowly cleansed by putting in a steady stream of clean water, or for your mind, clear ideas. That is what you are doing with these 25 Suggestions.

I have continued steadily ever since, with occasional kibitzing by the Philosopher and forays into other related topics. Gradually, we are working on Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion: Process New Thought, developing bits and pieces of it along the way. We are New Thought Christians, going back to primitive Christianity and primitive New Thought, which is to say Quimby, Warren Felt Evans, and a few authors such as Henry Wood. We are setting it on a better metaphysical foundation than was available to the earlier people: Alfred North Whitehead’s process thought, with some contributions by Charles Hartshorne, David Ray Griffin, and other process thinkers. We are squarely centered on the teachings of Jesus, our Wayshower and Elder Brother, using the Bible as our main textbook, complete with New Thought’s symbolic interpretations. You can’t get more cutting edge in science than process thought, which comes in part from quantum physics. We seek to reunite science and religion in some intellectually honest way that doesn’t shortchange either one. And because of New Thought’s emphasis on the individual, we are squarely centered on the values and vision of the American Founders: a constitutional republic with the rule of law and limited government.

In keeping with this theme of individual freedom, I will wind up this recapitulation with a quotation from Horatio W. Dresser, A History of the New Thought Movement (1919), pages 169-70:

Mr. Wood was fond of saying that when the possibilities of mankind were in a measure realized, each man would be his own priest and physician. Deeply religious by nature, he lived according to his theory that the individual has a right to maintain priestly relations with his God without ministerial agency. Shortly before his death, in response to his wife’s suggestion that he might possibly desire the presence of a clergyman, he said, "I need no intermediary." His publishers say of him, "He passed away as he had lived, honorably, reverently, and peacefully." . . . . Mr. Wood did not claim originality for any of his views, but called the attention of his readers to their own resources, especially to intuition as the power of realizing the divine presence and attaining truth in one’s own right.

This is in no way a criticism of those who minister to others or those with skill in the physical healing arts, or of those who seek the aid of such people or join in corporate worship. It simply indicates that we should first establish our relationship with God, and turn first to him. Too often, those whom Quimby called "the priests and the doctors" only serve to separate people from the healing love and wisdom of God. It is that separation that our Henry—and we—are criticizing.

 

September 20, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It

On my way home from the post office the other day, I swung into the library for the first time in quite a while. I always check the new non-fiction section just to see whether there is anything interesting. What caught my eye this time was a new book by Napoleon Hill, Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success. That’s right: new, written in 1938 and never before published. Well, of course I couldn’t pass that up, so I checked it out and brought it home for the Philosopher and me to read aloud.

It seems that Hill’s wife, later her nephew, and assorted advisors all thought the manuscript was too controversial for publication, so it languished in the foundation’s vaults for seventy years. Today’s directors felt that the book was perfect for our troubled times, and so it is. Eerie though it may be to get this blast from the past, the success principles that Hill uncovered in a quarter of a century of interviewing both successes and failures are still valid. But why isn’t everyone able to embrace them and succeed? Since they are pretty much identical with New Thought principles, that’s an interesting question for us as we develop Process New Thought.

The book reintroduces Hill’s material in an intriguing review format: Hill purports to be interviewing the Devil, who had nearly done him in with the financial reverses surrounding the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed. Hill provides numerous personal details for the first time, describing his own personal turnaround in 1923, which put him in a position to be helping others get through tough times. Think and Grow Rich was published in 1937, and Hill seems to have immediately begun work on this book as a sequel. Hill explains:

While you are reading the interview with the Devil, you will recognize from the brief description I have given you of the history of my life what a desperate effort the Devil made to muzzle me before I gained public recognition. You will understand also, after reading the interview with the Devil, why the interview had to be preceded by this personal history of my background. Before you begin to read the interview, I want you to have a clear picture of the final fling the Devil had at me, and be it remembered with profit that it was this final fling which gave mercy a chance to turn and twist the Devil’s tail until he squealed out his confession. (page 52)

What makes this especially intriguing is that it reminds one so much of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, but according to Lewis, "It was during the second German War that the letters of Screwtape appeared in (now extinct) The Guardian." So Hill could not have been influenced by Lewis, and Lewis could not have been influenced by a ms. that had never been published. Demonic, or heavenly?

Who or what is the Devil? This puts us squarely in the middle of theodicy, the attempt to answer the problem of evil by justifying the ways of God in the world. Evil is only a problem if God is good; otherwise, what would you expect? But without evil, how would you know what good is? Yet a God who is totally good could not have created evil, so where does it come from? New Thought deals nicely with this by defining evil as an absence, like cold (the absence of heat) or darkness (the absence of light) rather than an entity in itself.

A lot of people think that God should just have made us to always do the best thing. But process theology rejects this. Cobb and Griffin (Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1976) state:

There could not be beings who would be like us in all respects—i.e., who could enjoy the kinds of values we enjoy, but who would not really be free. Hence, God did not bring about creatures such as us, with our great capacity for discordant self-determination and destructive instrumental value, simply because freedom is in itself a great value, but because beings capable of the values we enjoy must necessarily have these other capacities. The question as to why God did not make sinless robots does not arise. God is partly responsible for most of what we normally call evil, i.e., the evil of discord. Had God not led the realm of finitude out of chaos into a cosmos that includes life, nothing worthy of the term "suffering" would occur. Had God not lured the world on to the creation of beings with the capacity for conscious, rational self-determination, the distinctively human forms of evil on our planet would not occur. Hence, God is responsible for these evils in the sense of having encouraged the world in the direction that made these evils possible. But unnecessary triviality is also evil, since it also detracts from the maximization of enjoyment. Hence, the question as to whether God is indictable for the world’s evil reduces to the question as to whether the positive values enjoyed by the higher forms of actuality are worth the risk of the negative values, the sufferings. . . . Should we risk suffering, in order to have a shot at intense enjoyment? Or should we sacrifice intensity, in order to minimize possible grief? The divine reality, who not only enjoys all enjoyments but also suffers all sufferings, is an Adventurer, choosing the former mode, risking discord in the quest for the various types of perfection that are possible. (pages 74-75)

So God is responsible for evil but not indictable for it. In choosing Judas Iscariot of one of his disciples, one who could have been the greatest of all, Jesus was imitating his heavenly Father.

Then who is the Devil? Napoleon Hill the journalist and master interviewer says he believes the Devil is just who he says he is in this interview. He says he has "uncovered the secret code" by which he can pick up the Devil’s thoughts. Who does the Devil say he is? "I am a force best described to you as energy. My favorite physical dwelling place . . . is the minds of the earthbound. I control a part of the brain space of every human being. The amount of space I occupy in each individual’s mind depends upon how little and what sort of thinking that person does. . . . I cannot entirely control any person who thinks." He continues to answer Hill:

I am powerless to influence or control you because you have found the secret approach to my kingdom. You know that I exist only in the minds of people who have fears. You know that I control only the drifters who neglect to use their own minds. You know that my hell is here on earth and not in the world that comes after death. And you know also that drifters supply all the fire I use in my hell. You know that I am a principle or form of energy which expresses the negative side of matter and energy, and that I am not a person with a forked tongue and a spiked tail. You have become my master because you have mastered all your fears. Lastly, you know that you can release all of my earthbound victims whom you contact, and this definite knowledge is the blow with which you will deal me the greatest damage. (pages 99-100)

Comedian Flip Wilson had an alter ego named Geraldine, whose favorite excuse for assorted peccadillos was "The Devil made me do it". Not exactly. The book is delightfully written and well worth while.

 

September 27, 2011

Back to Basics

In the life cycle of any organization there needs to be a period of stocktaking, of determining what is currently going on and whether or not it is working. This is just as true of New Thought, as a loosely organized movement, as for some giant corporation. To what extent have we departed from the vision of the founders of the organization? What was that vision? What were the early beliefs, and are we better or worse for having departed from them, if that is what we have done?

Since the entire world at this point in history is far from its brightest and best moments, many of us are looking into the vision of the founders of our nation and of our faith. Have we progressed, or have we strayed from the path, failed to "keep on the beam", as New Thought author and minister Emmet Fox liked to put it?

History of religions scholar J. Stillson Judah, in The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America, comments on the early days of these movements, one of the principals of which later came to be known as New Thought:

Even though the metaphysical leaders may have been unacquainted with the philosophy of deism, they were allied with the transcendentalists and deists in opposing creedal theology including the belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. They considered him as a wayshower and teacher of morals. The metaphysical movements teach universal salvation and consequently no eternal punishment for the damned. Such beliefs were held by the Universalists, whose first church in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1778, preceded Unitarianism here by thirty years. By 1870 there were already over sixty Universalist societies in Vermont alone, and Universalists were numbered among those interested in the new metaphysical philosophers. (page 25)

"Father of New Thought" P. P. Quimby had ties to the Universalists. For more information, visit Ron Hughes’ splendid website, http://www.ppquimby.com.htmwww.ppquimby.com .

Judah contrasts New Thought with traditional Christianity on twelve points. The first of these is that New Thought "tends to be pantheistic or close to pantheism". He elaborates:

The extreme doctrine of God’s immanence makes man divine in nature. On the other hand, there have been others, like Henry Wood [1834-1909], who criticize this dominant trend. Concerning God, Wood said:
"While he is in and back of all things, it would be pantheism to say that everything—as we behold it—is God. Immanence and transcendence are complementary aspects. To rate him as ‘principle’ as that term is generally understood, is unworthy and such a concept will never fill the void in the human constitution."
Horatio Dresser also defended Wood’s statement and criticized extremists who might say, "I am God," or who would reduce the idea of God to an impersonal principle. (page 179)

Although Dresser did not always agree with our Henry, who was usually right, he did support him on this occasion. However, he parted company with Henry in that Dresser believed that "the secret of happiness was not in self-love and self-glory, but in loving service to others". Notes Judah:

Henry Wood’s view at the close of the last century became more normal for New Thought. He spoke at a time when some, like the Dressers, were being influenced by the trend in the American churches. Speaking of the aim of New Thought, Wood said [in an address to the International Metaphysical League]:
It does not deal directly with surface phenomena, but with their inner springs of causation. I believe the danger that most threatens the New Thought of today is its more or less intimate amalgamation with other reforms, whether real or theoretical, upon lower planes. If we scatter our energies in the attempted repression of mere effects, the true momentum of the movement will be lessened or lost. Without uttering a word pro or con concerning political socialism, or theoretical land systems, tax systems, labor systems, and other political questions, I believe the New Thought should be kept above and distinct. A true moral socialism will result from a free spiritual individualism. . . . The New Thought believes in the potency of God and Law, and that an aggressive pessimism, emphasizing the evil of human conditions, is unscientific and harmful, even when well meant. (page 182)

These views of God as personal or impersonal, immanent or transcendent or both, underlie the rest of our theory and practice. In God’s Image in Man, in the chapter titled "Man’s Dual Nature, Henry gives us both practical instruction and the theology supporting it:

How can the ascent be made, in order that the abode of spiritual sunshine may be reached? By inward aspiration and a settled non-recognition of all that is not divine and spiritual. By steadily gazing upward in thought, as well as in performing external duty, and by shutting evil and negation out of the field of vision. Look within for God, rather than towards a faraway heaven. Think of Him as Infinite Life, Love, and Truth, rather than as an imperial Ruler upon a throne. Let positive oneness and harmony with Him grow and glow in the consciousness. This is grasping the higher selfhood. . . . Obedience to divine commands, as coming from a source outside, has in itself little transforming energy. We are possessed by that which we dwell upon, and give large thought-space to that which we love. (page 180)

Note that God is still Him, not It, but "closer than breathing". Henry continues:

True life comes through openness toward God. The traditional far-away God is not a "Present Help." The fact must come into human consciousness that the soul is in God, and God is in it. Dwelling with such a Presence the world becomes a living Theophany, the soul substantial rather than the body, and nature so transformed that it seems ready to melt into spirit. Character is a solid entity, while wealth, power, and pleasure are ephemeral appearances. Communion with heaven is through inward states, and not by way of tidings and messages from without. We are not souls imprisoned in fleshly tabernacles, but egos possessing powers of expression from within and without. The highest proof of immortality comes not from external evidence, reason, or analysis, but from the fact that man can become thoroughly emancipated from the dominion of the body while still using it. (page 183)

And finally, Henry has some thoughts about healing:

"Take no thought for your body." Our ills come from our subservience to its demands, appetites, pride, and delusive selfhood. It is well in its secondary place, as expression; but when it holds the chief place it becomes an unrelenting tyrant. It will pursue and persecute the fettered soul until the higher part, re-enforced by divine consciousness and oneness, turns and achieves a spiritual victory. . . . As man begins to feel himself spirit instead of body he grows into spiritual conditions. Here is the whole basis of spiritual healing, both as practised in the primitive church and since that time. Healing is simply improved spiritual consciousness outwardly manifested. (pages 184-5)

Time for the higher part to get turning and achieve that spiritual victory.

 

October 4, 2011

Head and Heart Meet in the Gut

This anatomically strange statement is a favorite of mine because it breaks up the dualism of belief that either head or heart is superior. Some people lead with their intellect; those who don’t may call them eggheads. Other people lead with their emotions; those who don’t may call them airheads. The population splits approximately fifty-fifty into these two groups. But sooner or later, we all need to use both our heads and our hearts, metaphorically speaking, no matter which one we start with, in order to be balanced, whole, fully functioning persons.

Research that regularly gets overinterpreted has shown that the left hemisphere of the brain pretty much governs logical, linear thought; and the right hemisphere governs holistic, imaginative, emotional thinking. One of my secondary school teachers used to quote her brother, who in typical brotherly fashion would tell her, "Sis, if you had half a brain more, you’d be a half-wit!" But we have two hemispheres, not two brains, and those two hemispheres are joined by the all-important bridge known as the corpus callosum (it’s wider in women, who also have bushier dendrites. God made Adam first just for practice!

Moving from psychology to process thought, Alfred North Whitehead held that our basic method of taking in information was not the physical senses, but rather feeling the feelings of others, for which he coined the term prehension, which drives journal editors crazy. If you think of apprehend, comprehend, or even a prehensile tail; if you think of taking in, or grasping, you have the idea. We’re not talking about emotions here, nor are we talking about linear, analytical, logical thought.

Now slide over just a short way into control theory, which is synonymous with systems theory, which is in Whitehead’s back pocket. Psychiatrist William Glasser and physicist William Powers collaborated on a model for human information processing to replace older models such as Freud’s psychohydraulics or Skinner’s psychotelephonics; we can call the Powers-Glasser model psychocybernetics, which may make some of you think of plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz. For Glasser and Powers, information from the "outside world", an incoming perception, comes into a metaphorical comparing station where it either matches a reference perception stored in the brain (generating pure pleasure) or doesn’t (generating pure pain, and causing the behavioral system to turn on and try to get those perceptions to match up. Before it gets to the comparing station, the incoming perception goes through a set of perceptual filters, which represent the brain/mind’s attempt to make sense of them. Only the first of these filters is in direct contact with the "outside" (physical) world, which also includes the body. If you are an engineer or a physicist, you are probably more or less familiar with this model with the terms "reference signal", "incoming signal", and "nested hierarchy" (that describes the filters). All living creatures function as input control systems (psychology and physics have very different jargon). In these perceptual filters, emotions are second-order perceptions, very complex sensations. Pure feeling is generated at the comparing station. Glasser’s book, Stations of the Mind (1981), describes all this with appropriate diagrams on the end papers. Glasser writes:

Powers explains—and essentially I quote—"We live as if the perceptions in our head are perceptions of the real world, and we suspect that there is a real world out there which begins just a fraction of a millimeter outside any of our receptors. But almost all of our perceptions are not of that particular world. They depend upon it, but the form of that dependence, the way they occur and present themselves to our brain, depends much more upon what goes on inside our head than upon the intensity signal (energy) that started the process." (page 97)

Author Philip Goldberg, in his book The Intuitive Edge: Understanding and Developing Intuition (1983), begins:

Until recently intuition has been treated like an employee who, forced to retire, keeps going to work because he is indispensable. Attitudes about him vary: some people don’t know he exists, some downgrade his contributions as trivial, some revere him privately while trying to keep his presence a secret. A growing minority are exuberant supporters who feel that credit is long overdue and that such a valuable asset can function even better when recognized and encouraged. This book is in the latter category, part of the corrective effort to bring intuition out into the open, to demystify it, to see what it is, how it works, and what can be done to cultivate its full potential. (page 15)

He continues:

The institutions that teach us how to use our minds, as well as the organizations in which we use them, are so skewed toward the rational-empirical ideal that intuition is seldom discussed, much less honored or encouraged. . . . we are taught to emulate the idealized model of scientism in our thinking, problem solving, and decision making. As a result, intuition is subject to various forms of censure and constraint. . . . Psychologist Blythe Clinchy said . . . "We do not actually stamp out intuition; rather, I think, we drive it underground." (page 19)

He explains, "Reductionism inevitably reaches a point at which it leaves mechanism hanging in the lurch. Science has not, in fact, reduced life and matter to biochemistry; it has gone far beyond that concept. . . . Matter is not solid little molecules of solid little atoms; it is an intricate web of an abstract, vibrating, nonphysical something that we have so far called energy."

Which gets us back to quantum physics and Whitehead. Dive down into the nucleus of the atom and you find "there’s no there there". But let’s take this full circle: Intuition, which is pretty much a right-hemisphere concept, is fueled by left-hemisphere thinking, taking in data in linear, logical fashion and letting it incubate in the other-than-conscious mind.

Research has continued since the 1980s. The brain is not totally in the head; we have "brain" cells in our gut, because processing is faster that way. In a book that came out last year, The Healing Code, authors Alexander Loyd and Ben Johnson explain that scientists used to believe that memories were stored in the brain, but starting with side effects of organ transplants (people started craving strange foods and having thoughts and feelings of the organ donor), "many scientists are convinced that memories are stored in the cells all over the body, not localized in one particular place."

And, oh yes: Loyd and Johnson define heart as "unconscious mind + conscience + spirit". Which brings us back to God, our Co-creator, communicating with us through our intuition, our "gut feelings".

 

October 11, 2011

From Head and Heart to Healing

After his own healing, our Henry—Henry Wood (1834-1909)—warmed up on a novel featuring New Thought ideas about healing, then on a collection of essays, some of them articles reprinted from The Arena. He then developed his most famous work, Ideal Suggestion Through Mental Photography. He was struggling—as are all New Thought authors—to describe the change, the metanoia, that one undergoes in experiencing a lasting healing. It was not physical, although Henry stresses the importance of proper diet, exercise, and sleep. It was certainly not mesmerism, nor even the more sophisticated hypnotism. Yet something was different. Going back to Jesus himself, those who had been healed felt the difference in their outlook on life, and knew that things would never be the same again, for they had found—not a path to God, but the availability of the Father within.

To Henry, we have two distinct selves, one material, one spiritual: two egos, one illusive, the other spiritual:

The spiritual perception, whose voice in the great human majority is so faint as to be almost inaudible, brings into the consciousness the true ego in just that degree of clearness which past unfoldment has enabled it to reach. . . . Jesus, who through his personality completely manifested the divine self, declared, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing." The human spiritual ego is in at-one-ment with the Christ mind, and therefore divine in its nature and characteristics. (God’s Image in Man, pages 172-3)

The work of metanoia must be done from within:

Holding God in the consciousness is "Godliness which is great gain." Obedience to divine commands, as coming from a source outside, has in itself little transforming energy. We are possessed by that which we dwell upon, and give large thought-space to that which we love. (page 180)

To this day, people are inclined to think in terms of material means of healing (mostly drugs or surgery), or to see obedience to God as conforming to outside laws of conduct. That is not what Jesus taught, nor is it what healed Henry, or Quimby’s patients. Certainly drugs and surgery have their place, but they should not be the first things one turns to. Too many people still associate spirituality with "pie in the sky in the sweet by and by". Henry disagrees:

The world, and even the church, have been accustomed to associate the spiritual consciousness mainly, and often almost wholly, with the next state of existence; but it should be a present experience and life. Our mentality is so crowded with shadowy externalities that no personal consciousness builds up the selfhood of the higher life. True spirituality is composed of nothing ghostly, nor of that which is thrust upon us after the breath leaves the body, but its essence is present life and love. The act of laying off the physical expression does not change the spiritual character. The higher consciousness is the atmosphere from whence the ego draws its nourishment, both here and hereafter. It is the influx of the overflowing divine vitality, and comprises the realm of eternal substance and reality. If the material part were practically regarded as the shell or the husk, all would be well; for shells and husks are useful in their places, but not wholesome for subsistence. It is our high privilege to luxuriate in the beauty and sunshine of the spiritual world now. As the ego of the higher life is unfolded, it attracts that which is like itself, and builds its own delectable environment. (pages 181-2)

Henry then explains how this happens: "True life comes through openness toward God. The traditional far-away God is not a ‘Present Help.’ The fact must come into human consciousness that the soul is in God, and God is in it."  (page 183)

Merciful goodness; that makes Henry a panentheist! In case you just tuned in, that represents the synergy of traditional theism and pantheism, minus the problems with either. The term was coined by the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, coming from "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). En pasi panta theos (that God may be all in all , Eph. 1:10, I Cor. 15:28) was a favorite passage of Scripture for French mystic and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who wrote it on the last page of his journal as one of his three basic articles of belief. (Michael H. Murray, The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin: An Introduction.)

Lasting healing must be spiritual. Illness begins in the spiritual/mental/ethereal body and spreads to the physical. The physical body is by no means unreal or illusory, but it is not the source of the trouble, unless perhaps you have a pebble in your shoe. Henry elaborates:

"Take no thought for your body." Our ills come from our subservience to its demands, appetites, pride, and delusive selfhood. It is well in its secondary place, as expression; but when it holds the chief place it becomes an unrelenting tyrant. It will pursue and persecute the fettered soul until the higher part, re-enforced by divine consciousness and oneness, turns and achieves a spiritual victory. . . . To improve the reflection we do not manipulate the glass, but change the object which is reflected. As man begins to feel himself spirit instead of body he grows into spiritual conditions. Here is the whole basis of spiritual healing, both as practised in the primitive church and since that time. Healing is simple improved spiritual consciousness outwardly manifested. That religion which makes salvation a plan, creed, sacrament, or substitution, cannot heal, because the physical rather than the spiritual consciousness remains present and ruling. It is not merely the fact that men outwardly are overt sinners, but that they dwell upon the plane of materiality. (pages 184-5)

Head and heart are not material body parts. Only as spiritual realities can they come together as carriers of our divine intuition.

 

October 18, 2011

Portrait of God

There’s an old story about a little girl busily crayoning a picture. Inquiry produced the response, "I’m drawing a picture of God."

"But nobody knows what God looks like."

"They will when I get through!"

What God looks like is going to have infinite variety, far more than even the Wizard of Oz, for God has a finger in every pie and is going to appear in every creation, which is always co-creation with him. For this reason , we can see God everywhere we look. Of course, we will be more aware of him in some settings than in others, notably in the beauty of nature, but God can even be seen in ugliness, in despair, and in chaos: there are always the seeds of something better waiting to sprout.

Sometimes we don’t see God because he is behind us; he has our back. Sometimes we don’t see him because he is carrying us; remember the famous little "Footprints" story. But mainly we don’t see him because we are not allowing him to appear in our lives, not because he isn’t there, but because we aren’t letting him in.

Actually, it is more important to feel God’s presence and activity; you were paying attention two weeks ago when we talked about prehension, weren’t you? There’s another old story about a little girl (was it the same one?) who was helping her daddy water the garden, but she kept stepping on the hose and cutting off the supply of water. Life went along much more smoothly when she discovered her mistake and stopped doing it. This makes one of the Philosopher’s favorite process-thought points about God: what God can do, God is already doing, but we don’t always allow it to come through. God always persuades, never coerces.

The problem with an anthropomorphic view of God is just this: like a capricious Oriental potentate, he has to be placated, wheedled, and coaxed into acting. Like impatient children who swing on a parent’s arm, whining "Ple-e-e-ase", he has only so many nos until he can be brought around to yes. We think that we must pile up our prayers until the heap reaches all the way to his feet, and even then, it has to be a good day for us. For this reason, many people have slid into the subhuman pantheistic view of God. They have trouble picturing the Ultimate Person, the only complete person, according to personalist philosopher Borden Parker Bowne. They can’t imagine a God who can love so abundantly that he is already giving life and love and healing and wisdom in a steady stream, without our having to say "Mother, may I?" or pass some other shibboleth. Then they ignore the relationship that they must build with this Ultimate Person in order for them to relax, to be still and know, to trust in that steady stream that guides us with what we call intuition. Trust must be earned; God has to earn our trust, and he does, but only if we are paying attention to what he is constantly doing for us in order to earn it.

In this respect, there is nothing new about New Thought; it simply seeks to bring us back to parts of our Judeo-Christian heritage that keep getting lost in the shuffle. And Process New Thought, a.k.a. Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion, simply seeks to put New Thought on a sounder, more up-to-date metaphysical foundation, one that takes into account the findings resulting from quantum physics and other scientific developments.

"Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O Lord."

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Henry tells us:

The highest human consciousness is that of God, and this is "Godliness which is great gain." To change from a controlling self-consciousness to a ruling God-consciousness, is to find harmony and health. The vision must be clarified so as to behold God everywhere, within and without, as all Life, all Love, and All in All."

And Whitehead tells us:

The religious insight is the grasp of this truth: That the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world, in the whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life, and the mastery of evil, are all bound together—not accidentally, but by reason of this truth: that the universe exhibits a creativity with infinite freedom, and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities; but that this creativity and these forms are together impotent to achieve actuality apart from the completed ideal harmony, which is God.

Harmony and health: that’s what God looks like.

 

October 25, 2011

"Is God a Weakie or a Meanie?"

Let’s get to the point fast: he’s neither. "Is God a Weakie or a Meanie?" was the title of a chapter on the problem of evil in the Philosopher’s first book, The Problem Is God, which was the unfortunate title given it by the publisher, not by the Philosopher. The problem with it was that nobody wanted to see God as a problem, having enough of their own already. Evil is only a problem if God is good, because otherwise, what would you expect? God is clearly not a meanie, for how can you explain the good in an evil world without postulating it as somehow coming from God? This could lead to the conclusion that God is a wimp/weakie who somehow couldn’t stop things from going wrong on his watch. Who needs a wimpy God? He would hardly be worthy of worship. Let’s admit it: there are times when we really would like to see "the Lord of interstellar space" come riding in on his chariots of wrath, hurling thunderbolts at all the miscreants and generally restoring order. Almighty God needs to be capable of knocking a few heads together, at least.

But then here comes the process God, whose power is persuasive, never coercive. He is all-sufficient, but he is not illogically omnipotent. He is a perfect gentleman who never forces people to do his bidding. At first, that may seem pretty wimpy, until you realize that God in creating the world and then giving us, his prize creation, free will, is taking a huge gamble. God is betting that he can eventually pull or lure us in his direction without coercion, having us do what is right of our own free will. That is the best of all possible worlds: one in which we do what is right by returning on our own and of our own free will the love that God gives us. We imitate God: "God so loved the world that he gave. . . ." And God still has quite a few tricks up his sleeve: for starters, he orchestrates, and he mitigates. Working at the occasion-of-experience level, he can micromanage things without interfering with anyone’s free will. He can assist us by orchestrating events through persuasion or luring us, and he can mitigate bad events by bringing good out of seemingly hopeless situations, by limiting the damage in various ways. He also gave us a level playing field, so that the rain raineth on both the just and the unjust. Then he gave us a guidebook (the Ten Commandments) so that we would know just how best to get along in this world. The people in Old Testament times saw this as a set of commands and thought that God was going to "get" them if they violated them, but today we understand that we are punished by our sins, not for them (did Elbert Hubbard first say that?). Here’s where God’s genius comes through: He has set up the universe so that he can play Good Cop/Bad Cop with the laws of the universe functioning as the Bad Cop. Think of the Law of Attraction (Thoughts held in mind produce after their kind) or the Law of Sowing and Reaping (As ye sow, so shall ye reap, also known as the Law of Karma). Sooner or later bad guys do themselves in, except that Christ is Lord of Karma, and Christ is a title we can all earn. In process thought, the Christ mind is known as God’s initial aim for each occasion of experience.

The process God is not aloof; he is right in the middle of things; he knows exactly what is going on and how we feel about it. He feels our feelings (prehension). He rejoices when we rejoice and suffers when we suffer, just as any good parent would. Jesus saw God this way, as a loving father, long before process thought came along; but we somehow clung to the ill-tempered Oriental potentate notion. Or perhaps we got sucked into the impersonal pantheistic view of God and lost the love and guidance. Happily, we in New Thought are free to unpack our ideas about God and rethink them from time to time, knowing that God goes right on being God no matter how mixed up our views of him may be. This is why the Philosopher wrote what he originally titled A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, a dyslexic guide to the deity along the lines of a dog book (and we later expanded those chapters and self-published them under his original title. We still have a few copies left.). In it he included a simplified version of a serious philosophical chart of competing views of God with five categories (ETCKW) supplied by process philosophers Hartshorne and Reese in Philosophers Speak of God (1953). Our Philosopher boiled it down to four categories: Inside, Outside, Upstairs, and Downstairs; which indicate immanent (I), transcendent (O), inactive/changeless/eternal (U), and active/growing/temporal (D). To make a long story short, only the God of panentheism has all of these qualities. So Process New Thought features a God who is personal, processive, and panentheistic, not to mention persuasive, which is where we started.

And if this all seems new and strange, consider what our Henry had to say in 1892:

As God is waiting to reveal Himself to man, there is no bar to reconciliation and unison but man’s unreadiness. Humanity is unqualified for such Deific intimacy because of ignorance and blindness. The sun is not limited nor partial with his rays; and so God is waiting to fill every vacancy in the soul which we will make for Him. He will not force Himself into the human consciousness, but wait to be made welcome, because man’s spiritual freedom is sacred. A coerced development would not be growth, for all growth must be voluntary and from within. (God’s Image in Man, page 58)

We don’t have to settle for an inadequate vision of God. And God is waiting for us to come up higher, to be all that he has envisioned us as becoming.

 

November 1, 2011

Henry’s Early New Thought Theology

Our Henry’s remarkable healing from serious and seemingly terminal illness is shrouded in mystery because we have so few details. It appears to have taken place in 1888, since he mentions, in his 1908 book, The New Old Healing, that it had occurred twenty years earlier. He explains:

A plunge was made without reservation, from a supposedly correct, moral and ethical life into the practice and philosophy of the higher thought with new ideals. [The name New Thought did not appear until around 1895.] A sharp corner was turned and a new path entered which led to results which were remarkably favorable. Whatever may occur in the immediate or more remote future, the past score of years stands entirely to the credit of the principles of mental science [one of the early names for New Thought], even though they have been imperfectly lived. Not only the time added, but everything accomplished within its limits is entirely due to the strength derived from the new departure. (pages 6-7)

After his healing, Henry, who was already a successful business writer, first turned his hand to fiction: a New Thought novel, Edward Burton, in which he could tentatively introduce his findings from around that "sharp corner" and contrast them with the old thought that had led so many people into illness. His eponymous hero, having completed college at Dartmouth, had originally planned to go to Andover Theological Seminary and become a missionary but learns from his local pastor that it has changed its approach to one that was "unsound". His close friend, William Tapley, carries out his plan to go to Andover, but Edward decides to attend Princeton Seminary instead. Overworking in the closing weeks of the semester, he becomes ill and faints as he is reaching for his diploma. He hovers between life and death until he is healed with the help of his friend, who has acquired what later became known as New Thought principles. Henry tells us that Tapley

Was gifted, not only with a keen intellectual apprehension of truth, but his spiritual and intuitive insight was even more remarkable. He looked upon all external expressions as but the superficial register and manifestation of preceding spiritual forces. To his idealistic vision, the materialism and externalism of the present time were the great obstacles to moral and religious progress. Spirit was intrinsic and realistic, and, in contrast, matter was not only secondary, but, in the ultimate sense of the term, unreal. His clear perception of spiritual verities revealed to him the fact that logic, law, and sequence were as real and unvarying in the immaterial as in the material realm. Science, with him, did not abruptly stop at the boundary line of materiality. Love was as much a mathematical and universal force as gravitation, and no less well defined in its laws. His research and observation, also, convinced him that physical disease and discord are but the externalization of preceding inharmonious or false mental conditions. (page 51)

As Edward prepares to leave for home to complete his convalescence, he notes in his diary:

My former theology was scholastic, dogmatic, historic; I reverently trust that it is now more definitely spiritual.
God was an anthropomorphous God, infinite in power, but in some sense possessed of human characteristics; changeableness, passions, emotions, and having a local habitation: Now, He is "All in All," the only Real—the only Life; in the language of Scripture: "He is Love," not merely lovely. "He is Spirit."
Christ: is more than the personal, historic Jesus: He is the ever-living Divine manifestation of love to man; "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
Heaven: is not a place, but a condition. It is, harmony with God. It "cometh not with observation." "Behold, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you."
The Church: is not an end, but a means; it is useful in just the degree that it awakens in man spiritual consciousness, which is "the mind of Christ."
Faith: is the practical exercise of the spiritual eyes.
Spirit: is the only true substance. The spiritual body is the real man. The material man, except as an external expression, is false, and in a deep sense unreal.
The Bible: is not a fetich, but a progressive revelation of God to man. Truth is eternal, but our understanding of it is progressive, which was also true of the Bible writers. Revelation was not closed with them, but is continuous: "Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth."
Miracles: are real, that is, the occurrences so denominated are true; the miraculous quality, however, belongs to the material standpoint. They are in full accord with unvarying spiritual law, which is superior to material law. They are peculiar to no age, for God does not withdraw any blessing, once conferred. "He is without variableness or shadow of turning."
Inspiration: is spiritual, not verbal. "The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."
Prayer: is more than verbal petition; it is communion, oneness of spirit. "Pray without ceasing."
Scholastic Theology: is a burden to the church so far as it substitutes rituals, dogmas, systems, and their intellectual acceptance, for spiritual Christianity, which is, Christ incarnated.
Religion: is normal, manly, attractive, joyful; not an unpleasant necessity, but a glorious possession. Its essence is spiritual harmony with God.
The Fall: is the descent from spiritual consciousness, and the acceptance of material conditions as the real and ruling.
Sin: consists in various forms of idolatry; a worship of material things as real forces, instead of God. Turning our faces towards Him, sin disappears, because its seat is in the carnal nature which is put off. "That which is born of God cannot sin."
Love: is the law of the spiritual, as gravitation is of the material universe. The opposite of this law, selfishness in its thousand forms, controls the material man.
Physical Disease: is a deviation from spiritual harmony externalized. When the centre is brought back to God, the circumference adjusts itself. Knowledge is subjective. The mental quality and tone gradually find corresponding expression in the physical man.
Supernaturalism: nothing is supernatural, for natural law pervades the spiritual as fully as it does the material realm.
The New Birth: is the human incarnation of the Christ, a substitution of His mind for the mind of the flesh.
Retribution: is inherent; what we make for ourselves, not vindictive. (pages 64-66)

But remember, gentle reader, that this is a novel, with a heroine waiting in the wings. Much of it is set in Bar Harbor, Maine, a famous summer resort, with sailing, picnics, and hikes. Our hero must perform feats of physical derring-do as well as spiritual near-miracles, New Thought style, in order to win fair lady. I’m just drawing your attention to the parts you are likely to skim in order to follow the plot! To be continued...

 

November 8, 2011

A Crash Course in New Thought Theology

After a pleasant summer in Bar Harbor, "the mellow, golden days of October" find the central characters of Edward Burton back in their usual residences. Tapley stops to visit Burton in his New Hampshire village before returning to his own dwelling. The two young men find the town in the throes of a revival meeting that has created consternation. Some of the town skeptics

suddenly avowed themselves as atheists and materialists. A few had become defiant, and full of ridicule toward the injudicious but well-meant efforts put forth in the stern presentation of their duty. On the other hand, many of the more sensitive children and youth were suffering in various degrees from a kind of terrorism. Edward found that his young sisters had hardly slept soundly since the graphic delineations of Satan and hell, and learned of several other families whose experience was similar. . . . As Edward Burton learned of the condition of affairs in his native village, a vision of his own youthful experience flashed before him. He took his young sisters, one upon each knee, and soon, under the spell of his loving influence, the morbidness faded from their minds. (page 188)

At the closing sermon by the visiting firebrand, people are

left no choice between a literal acceptance on the one hand, and a sceptical rejection on the other. The letter of the text was worshipped, while the spirit, which could make men free and lead them into all truth, was largely unrecognized. The preaching in this little meeting-house was the strongest force in the village, and they who questioned its conclusions were rated as unbelieving and irreligious. (page 190)

But help is on the way. The local clergyman, "instinctively feeling the desirability of giving the closing meeting a more happy turn", invites Edward to speak. Edward outlines "a few fundamental principles":

"We need, first, to have right conceptions of God. God is love. Paul says that ‘our God is a consuming fire.’ ‘Our God’ means the Christian’s God. If ‘God is love,’ and also a ‘consuming fire,’ then Love is a ‘consuming fire.’ Love will consume, not souls, but evil, sin, malice, selfishness, and unrighteousness. God is not a vindictive judge, but our Spiritual Father, and we are His children and made in His image. He is good, and also omnipresent. He therefore is omnipresent good. Where, then, is there room for evil? There is no place for it, as a God-created power, or entity, so that it only can exist as a condition. Goodness and righteousness are positive entities, for they are of God. He made all that was made, and pronounced it ‘very good.’ If He did not create evil, the only vitality it has comes from what we give it. We are not creators in any real sense, therefore evil is a negation. It becomes real to us in proportion to our loss of spiritual consciousness as children of God. The lower self is alive to material things, therefore has lost its life to those verities which are spiritual. The ‘carnal’ or false self must be cast out, and man must regain his spiritual heritage. Religion is a life, not a creed, system, plan, or sacrament. It is not effeminate, austere, or disagreeable, but normal, manly, joyful, noble. It is a recognition of and compliance with spiritual law, as adapted to man’s nature, and all observed law is beneficent. Punishment is inherent in sin, and is self-inflicted. When sin is destroyed, punishment ceases. Punishment is not arbitrary or vindictive, but corrective and disciplinary. Christ came, not to placate an angry God, but to impart His life to us." (page 192)

Not too shabby for a man just out of a "sound" traditional seminary and new to "mental science" to come up with on the spur of the moment, and not too shabby for our author, businessman and layman Henry Wood (1834-1909). Edward continues with a nifty interpretation of blood:

"The word ‘blood,’ as used in the Scriptures, signifies the life, and not the death. It has been literalized to express suffering, purchase, expiation. Blood is the symbol of what is inmost in the person, his essential and intrinsic quality. We speak of blood as referring to lineage, race, or family. To be saved by the blood of Christ is to be saved by possessing the same type of inward character and life. Salvation is the quality of Christ, living and incarnated in man. Christ’s triumph over death was an object-lesson, to show us the nothingness of material law as compared with supernal or spiritual law. He is not merely the historic Jesus of eighteen hundred years ago, but He is the ever-living One, waiting to come in and fill our life with His own. He is that light ‘which lighteth every men that cometh into the world.’ He is the ever-present spirit, and the ‘still small voice,’ which waits for our recognition. In the dust and fog of the material world, we hide ourselves from Him. Even sacraments, rituals, and creeds are often like veils which intercept our spiritual sight of Him, face to face. He is the Father of our spirits, and we are spirits and not bodies, even on the present plane. The everlasting love, which expressed itself externally through Jesus, is the spiritual ‘law of gravitation.’ The Bible makes no mention of expiation or substitution, but such terms are plentiful in scholastic systems. Through the blood or the life of Christ, the pulse of humanity feels the heart-throb of God." (pages 192-3)

After quoting Unitarian Transcendentalist William Ellery Channing, Edward continues:

"My dear friends, ‘the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance.’ Christianity is not a system; it is not an outside thing to be obtained, but it is Christ in us. His life, or blood, which may become ours, is joyful, lovable, normal, wholesome. That soul is normal which is rounded out and symmetrical, and which lives the divine life, and not the life of the lower self. Let love flow out to God and man, for love is the fulfilling of the law. Do not misunderstand me, and fancy that I advocate merely a humanitarian religion. That which is divine is the All-Embracing, and the humanizing element forms but the subordinate part of it. . . . If we hunger and thirst after God, He will fill us. Demand brings supply. Open your hearts, and He will flow in, and the communion will be sweet." (pages 193-4)

Everybody loves Edward’s speech except the clergymen, who find it "unsound" and say it has "taken away the solemnity of the meeting". But the local clergyman, pressed by his congregation, then invites Edward and Tapley to deliver a week’s worth of evening addresses on "various aspects of advanced, practical Christianity". Our Henry thus gives us a glimpse into how what later became known as New Thought made quick inroads against toxic religions, and changed lives.

Lagniappe: Here is a link to a paper on metaphysics that the Philosopher delivered eons ago and later published on his old web site, which cannot be reached for revision but is maintained by Brad Jensen, who supplied it in the first place. Enjoy! www.websyte.com/alan/metameta.htm

 

November 15, 2011

Old Thought Christianity vs. New Thought Christianity

In 1890, the year that he published his first New Thought book (the novel Edward Burton), our Henry, with the zeal of a new convert, was full of the differences between traditional Christianity and the breath of fresh air that soon became known as New Thought. He fits these difference descriptions into his novel, but readers are too often caught up in the plot of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back, they-live-happily-ever-after to notice other descriptions and comments. So let us zero in on Colonel Tapley’s library, "a month subsequent to the revival meetings" that we peeped in on last week, where newly minted ministers of the gospel Edward Burton and his friend (the Colonel’s son) William Tapley are discussing their plans for the future, which "recent changes" have "rendered it necessary" to reconsider:

They were overflowing with a warm spiritual enthusiasm, and longing to infuse some of its glow into needy souls around them. The question they were considering was, Through what channels could their service, love, and character-inspiration be sent forth most effectually to brighten, purify, and inspire mankind. . . . All clergymen are naturally expected to work in grooves—denominational grooves, which have already been carved out, and to which they must conform. . . . Every minister must teach what his particular branch of the church has marked out, and refrain from teaching all else. His creed, system, and church polity have been designated with mathematical exactness. If he grows, he is "disloyal." He is fettered by the very system of which he becomes a part. If the Spirit give him new light and experience, or confer upon him wider knowledge, he must stifle such advancement, otherwise break with his environment. It would be as reasonable to enforce seventeenth-century methods in science, invention, and transportation, as in theology. God and truth are unchangeable; but human apprehension and recognition of them are constantly improving. Nineteenth-century spiritual wine cannot be put into seventeenth-century theological bottles, any more than the steam and electricity of to-day could be applied by that measure of knowledge which was possessed by the Pilgrims. If any man sacrifices his honesty and his spiritual discernment for the sake of denominational office or emolument, he is unfit for a spiritual teacher. (pages 212-13)

As we seek to reunite science and religion by means of process thought, we face the same situation more than a century later. God’s loving character is indeed "unchangeable", but God grows as we grow. We, too, can be "fettered by the very system" of which we become a part, unless we can learn to think systems and pay attention to structure.

Edward Burton has a broader vision:

"If there were an organized church," said Burton, "which was the exponent of the simple Christian principles which were enunciated by Jesus, our duty would be plain. His summing-up of the whole law as love to God and love to man, has been greatly overlaid and obscured by human accretions and assumptions. But there is a great, unorganized, spiritual church which ‘neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem worship the Father,’ but ‘who worship Him in spirit and in truth.’ The world sorely needs a church, not bound together by the metes and bounds of scholastic dogma, but one pervaded by a divine spiritual life,—the Christ-life incarnated in men. Thousands who would like to enter such a spiritual fold are kept out of visible organizations by theological bars and bolts of human device."
"It is evident," said Tapley, "that neither of us can fit ourselves into existing systems until they are greatly spiritualized and simplified, and therefore, our work must be done outside of the regular ecclesiastical and denominational channels." (pages 213-14)

Long story short, they decide to "establish a magazine which should be an exponent of fundamental spiritual truth and advancement", called The Spiritual Life, with Burton as managing editor. Tapley—and later, the fair-maiden love interest—are to contribute to its columns. Colonel Tapley, whose pockets are deep, will fund it. Henry thoughtfully includes its entire prospectus: it is "to set forth the principles of an inner spiritual Christianity, and of that practical Truth which makes men free", "a deeper and more practical Christianity than that produced by creedal systems".

It will recognize God as omnipresent, which signifies Good everywhere present, as an active Controlling Force and Eternal Entity. Evil will not be recognized as a veritable power, as is its opposite; but rather as a condition, a non-recognition of good by the lower self. The physical part of man is looked upon as the external expression of the aggregate of previous mental and spiritual conditions. All evils, including mental and physical diseases, are believed to have just that measure of power and dominion which has been conferred upon them by the [human] race fears, theories, acceptances, and beliefs which pertain to the sensuous (or carnal) mind. A positive recognition of the real, spiritual self, and of its normal oneness with the All-Pervading Holy Spirit (the spirit of Wholeness) is able to lift men above prevailing sin and disease to which the race is now in bondage. (page 215)

The prospectus then explains that we are created in God’s image, and our "fall" is the loss of our spiritual heritage, conceiving of ourselves as body rather than spirit:

A practical recognition of our spiritual completeness in God transforms our low conception of life. This is the living Christ within. It makes God an ever-present, loving Father; Christ an ever-abiding strength and refuge; wholeness, physical and spiritual, an attainable condition; and human life a beautiful aspiration—a prayer ‘without ceasing.’... [The] new era of spiritual life and freedom . . . will be the New Testament gospel made practical. The cloudiness of theological complication is passing away, and the sunlight of spiritual love brightens the clear azure of the horizon. ‘Gifts of healing,’ which on account of prevailing materialism dropped out of the church at the close of the Apostolic Age, are becoming common, and no longer regarded as miraculous. Man is gaining a consciousness of himself as a ‘living soul’ linked to God, and as able to come into at-one-ment with Him. The church has largely lost all distinct appreciation of the fact that the Spirit is a Teacher which will ‘guide you into all truth.’ Is not that ‘the sin against the Holy Ghost’? Instead of listening to the ‘still small voice,’ men have worshipped the external letter and text of ‘the Book.’. . . No mere belief in a particular doctrine, or in the fact of a purchase or sacrifice accomplished by the historic material Jesus, can save men from the results of sin. Salvation is the Christ within—the Christ-quality and life incarnated in humanity. Unless sin be put off and destroyed, it becomes incorporated in character. The garnered crop will correspond with that which was sown. We need not importune for a visitation of the Spirit, for He dwells within, and only awaits our receptivity and recognition. In the din of material and even of ecclesiastical systems, our ears are deaf to the ‘still small voice.’ Practically dwelling ‘in the secret place of the Most High’ has brought many into comparative physical and spiritual wholeness, and it is able to do the same for all. Such are the conditions under which the apostle affirms, ‘All things are yours.’ ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ Heaven is not place, but harmony. When to the human apprehension, Love as the universal law is the true definition of God, humanity will earnestly respond, and no longer shrink back or be repelled. To bring about a more general consciousness and recognition of these grand principles and realities, will be the object of this magazine." (pages 216-17)

It’s interesting to note that Henry never attended seminary, but devoted his New Thought career to writing his books and articles for various periodicals. He also played a huge role in the Metaphysical Club. He seems to have lived out his Edward Burton persona to a large extent—or was he Mr. Bonbright? To be continued........

 

November 22, 2011

Was Mr. Bonbright Henry?

One of the central characters in Edward Burton is Mr. Edmund Bonbright, at whose "imposing summer residence" in Bar Harbor, Maine much of the action takes place. He and his wife are the parents of Adelbert, twins Helen and Rosamond, and young Tom.

Mr. Bonbright, whose city residence was on Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, was a banker by profession, stately and erect in personal appearance; ostentatious and haughty in manner, but courteous in bearing and address. His hair was of a silvery gray, and his closely cropped moustache and scrupulousness in attire gave him the air of a gentleman of the old school. His general deportment indicated a rich, self-satisfied man of the world; a patrician, possessing not only a family history, but also having personal energy and executive ability. (pages 16-17)

So far, we don’t have much of a match. Our Henry was not gray-haired— at least, not by 1890. Although his father was a justice of the peace in Barre, Vermont and well-respected in the community, Henry’s background was hardly patrician. His father-in-law, however, was a banker in Iowa who perhaps met this description. Henry, having graduated from business college and been a very successful wholesaler in Chicago, was certainly familiar with business theory and practice. In his "Prefatory Note", he provides the usual author’s disclaimer: "In this narrative no individual has served as a model for character outline"; yet an author surely draws on life for much of his inspiration. Henry may not have been "ostentatious and haughty in manner" or "a rich, self-satisfied man of the world", but let’s read on:

On the day after the dinner-party, Mr. Bonbright returned to the city. He was interested in many great financial schemes which required his constant attention. Even in midsummer, he was in his office early and late. As his town house was closed during the absence of the family, he was domiciled at a leading hotel. He could hardly content himself to prolong his visits to Bar Harbor beyond two or three days, on account of his impatience to again plunge into the currents of business. During his brief vacations, he was in constant receipt of advices, reports, and telegrams. Files of letters, despatches and quotations were piled upon his desk, until the library at his summer cottage had the appearance of a counting-room.
Though naturally fond of society, affectionate to his family, and of generous impulses, his absorption in business had increased until vacations had become dull and recreation insipid. The enjoyment of anything outside of finance had well-nigh become a "lost art." The world that he lived in was a world of stocks and bonds, and these were with him by day and by night. When he scanned his daily paper, any item bearing upon values and markets at once caught his eye. . . .
Mr. Bonbright, however, was not mercenary, much less penurious. He entertained hospitably and lavishly, both in Commonwealth Avenue and at Bar Harbor. A devoted husband and kind father, he was also charitably inclined towards the poor and needy. He was esteemed both in society and in business circles. Although intensely devoted to finance, it was not so much for mere accumulation as for power, standing, and success. Business to him was a legitimate game, and his interest and delight were more in winning victories than in securing stakes. As the world counts honesty he was honest, but at the same time shrewd, far-reaching, and ambitious. He prided himself upon his sound judgment and expertness in forecasting results. As a matter of preference he would rather lose a few thousands than have his predictions unfulfilled. Mentally, he was like a busy mill, filled with machinery, running at full speed day and night. The "Divine Architect" is the only creator of realities; but, in a deep sense, men also are creators. They form the particular world in which they dwell. (pages 113-14)

Parts of this might be autobiographical: living in a world of business, out of balance; but particularly the mind "like a busy mill . . . running at full speed day and night". Bonbright is a man of good character, and so was Henry Wood. We do not know with certainty why our Henry abruptly left wholesaling, but even if it was from illness caused by overwork, he still might have supported himself well by means of "a world of stocks and bonds".

Some chapters later, we encounter "Mr. Bonbright’s Failure": his stocks have declined sharply, and he is no longer able to meet margin calls. Unscrupulous "bear operators" pounce on his stock and force "the fatal demand for additional collateral". A panic in his securities ensues, and at the close of business, his firm has failed. His health has been "precarious" since the previous summer, as his finances have had him "sick at heart". "For months past, insomnia and nervous prostration had harassed him, but by the vigorous exercise of a tenacious will-power, he had persistently held the reins, until this crowning catastrophe snatched them from his hand." His entire way of life has been swept away, and "soon they would be compelled to give up their luxurious residence, prominence in society, and even social position". His wife and daughter Rosamond are of little help; only Helen "maintained her calmness and self-possession". Burton has visited occasionally, but the family regards him as "plebian", with only Helen showing him any cordiality. After the collapse of the firm, he waits a day and then pays a visit. Helen asks him as a favor to her to sit by her father’s side for a while. Burton points out to Bonbright that he has not lost all: "I have seen no imputation upon your business honor and integrity, and surely these are not destroyed. . . . Integrity is more valuable and enduring than wealth or sagacity. The qualities of moral character belong to the real man, but wealth, and even financial acumen, are only incidental." Bonbright is inconsolable, but Burton perseveres:

Pardon me if it startles you to suggest that what you feel is the loss of all, may eventually prove to be the best thing which ever has happened. When business pursuits fill the whole horizon of life, and are separated from their higher connections, their pleasure and profit soon fade out. That which is material is but the lower half of an ideal life. . . . You have time now in which to develop another life, which will be real. An exclusively material life is veritable death, and no one finds his higher or real life until his lower or sensuous life becomes subordinate. (page 243)

Burton goes on to explain that "power of accumulation" is fine as a means, not an end. "The vital fact to the soul, or the real man, is the recognition of his wholeness in his Maker. . . . Out of our weakness may come our strength, and I feel assured that this will be the case with you." He urges Bonbright to lay the foundations for a "real and new" life rather than "mentally live over your past life". He tells Helen that he feels that her father will "rally from the shock, and from the negation of his past life. The law of compensation has broad and wonderful applications, and, despite his present conditions, it is indeed quite possible that the seeming disaster may prove a ‘blessing in disguise’."

"Mr. Bonbright grew weaker in body and more distressed in mind", and the doctor tells the family to expect the worst. Burton, at Bonbright’s request, comes to visit again and finds him weak but cheerful. He tells Burton, "I have found the new environment and am living in it." Burton urges him to "utterly disregard all suggestions that you are about to die." "Grasp hold of spiritual forces which are waiting for your recognition, and they will find outward expression in bodily vigor." He convinces Bonbright that this involves logical and scientific principles, and quotes Jesus and Paul. "In so far as we can free ourselves from materialistic slavery, and deny the prevailing race acceptance of physical and mental disorders as God-created entities to be feared and expected, and constantly affirm our wholeness in God, our minds and bodies will express health."

Bonbright then improves both physically and spiritually. By spring, the family is happily living in a "vine-clad, rural cottage". Five weeks after the failure, Bonbright is back in his office. "Things were delightful to him which before had no attractiveness. He had removed from the damp unwholesome basement to the warm sunny upper story of his nature." His life is now in balance between work, family, and spirituality. The following summer ... but you need to read the book to learn how it all ends. For now, it is enough to note that much of what befalls the fictional character may have been based on our Henry’s own experiences: even though Henry’s firm did not fail, it did survive a serious fire a few years before the Great Fire of Chicago. At least some of the spiritual turnaround may also have reflected Henry’s experiences, although he does not appear to have ever been so materialistic as his fictional character. For more details on Henry’s approach, read Ideal Suggestion.

 

November 29, 2011

Subconscious or Intuition?

In 1896, "in response to frequent requests from friendly co-workers and students of truth, Henry Wood (1834-1909) published as Studies in the Thought World a collection of "disconnected studies" that had appeared as articles in various periodicals along with "lectures and essays which have not before been published". Our Henry was always "urging forward the great cause of the higher life, and of a general human incarnation of the divine quality". He recognized the growing interest in "the power, quality, and exercise of the human thinking-faculty", and he sought to supply "vital truth", which, he believed, "needs repeated and positive delineation in order that it may become mentally graphic". He elaborates:

All truth which is above the plane of the intellect should be accepted, not upon external authority, but just in the measure that it receives the full sanction of the inner "Guide," or spiritual intuition of the individual. To aid in and point out the law of the development of this supernal faculty to his readers is the writer’s earnest desire and effort". (page 6)

Intuition comes from the Latin intueri to look at, contemplate, and has been around since the fifteenth century. It refers to "the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference". Henry, always seeking to reunite science and religion, wants to make it as rational as possible without destroying it by reductionism. In the chapter titled "The Sub-Conscious Mind", he sets out to clarify the relationship between intuition and the conscious or subconscious mind: "Any radical misapprehension of the normal relations of the great silent or submerged mentality to its more active counterpart must be fraught with serious results to human welfare and progress." He dislikes the terms objective and subjective, used by Thomson J. Hudson and others in place of conscious and subconscious. He explains:

In attempting to define concisely what we believe to be the functions of the submerged mentality, we may first negatively suggest that, though in close connection, it is by no means identical with the intuitive faculty. The latter—often called the spiritual perception—is that clear-cut vision which the developed ego possesses to discern truth at sight, or without the employment of a logical process. It is a quick discerner of the grade and value of principles and things, and by exact measurement is able to gauge and compare them with the normal Universal Good. None are without it; but with the great majority it is yet only rudimentary. It is the supremest sense belonging to humanity, while both the conscious and sub-conscious domains are included in the changeable and growing personality. The sub-conscious mind, therefore, while hidden, is quite differentiated from the spiritual or divine selfhood. It is rather a growing storehouse or depository of thought, emotion, and every-day experience. It is susceptible to discipline and improvement, in proportion as the laws of its operation are understood. It is a kind of sum-total of past states of consciousness, laid away, but not lost. Like any other accumulation of slow growth, its quality is only subject to gradual change. In many respects it seems like an independent personality. It reasons, hopes, fears, loves, hates, and wills all below the surface of conscious mind, the latter being often entirely unaware of its operations and conclusions. (pages 251-2)

Henry then notes that the subconscious "acts automatically upon the physical organism", for "Matter is never the actor, but always acted upon." He continues to explain that this "silent mental partner":

is a compound of almost unimaginable variety, including wisdom and foolishness, logic and nonsense, and yet having a working unitary economy. It is a hidden force to be dealt with and educated, for it is often found insubordinate and unruly. It refuses co-operation with its lesser but more active and wiser counterpart. It is very "set" in its views, and only changes its quality and opinions by slow degrees. But, like a pair of horses, not until these two mental factors can be trained to pull together can there be harmony and efficiency. (page 253)

He compares the subconscious to a cistern "into which there is constantly flowing a small stream of conscious thinking", which can only gradually be changed. Still, "no thought is lost. Each mental creation not only goes out in objective vibrations, but also registers itself in its subjective repository." Then he delivers the punch line:

In the light of these principles, what a tremendous responsibility is involved in every action of the creative imaging faculty! Nothing has been so lightly regarded as a thought, and yet objectively we are thinking to the world, and subjectively into an indestructible habitation of our own. The "every idle word," for which men shall be judged, when rightly interpreted, is a scientific statement, but the judgment is inherent and continuous. But sequential penalty is not less serious than that which has been supposed to be arbitrary. (page 254)

The auto-suggestion that Henry has outlined in Ideal Suggestion is then seen as of "immense utility" in the "intelligent exercise of the conscious mentality in projecting instalments of its quality into the sub-conscious domain." Henry even approves of thinking "good thoughts mechanically". He winds up his essay:

The cumulative energy and quality of the subconsciousness, while automatically exact, is almost universally unappreciated. To lay one brick or set one stone is not to build a house; but continue the process with intelligent design, and at length the structure towers up in beautiful proportion. With scientific exactitude one may make himself what he will, by thinking his thoughts into the right form, and continuing the process until they solidify. But careless and lawless thinking sets in motion forces which pull in opposite directions, and rending and confusion are the result. (page 255)

We should always be striving for "better and higher", says Henry.

The supernal aim should be, receptivity to the Universal Spirit of Wholeness (theologically called the Holy Spirit), and this has a positive transforming influence. "The intellect, will, memory, and even the physical organism, gradually articulate the pent-up forces of the inner realm. Thus the "Word is made flesh" by coming into ultimation and visibility." (page 255)

Whitehead would be dancing a jig if he could read this. This describes surprisingly well the process of piling up occasions of experience to enrich the pattern of the past, until finally the step into what is desired is small and easy. We will pursue this for the next few weeks, with side trips into intuition and structure as they relate to process thought.

 

December 6, 2011

Subconscious by Intuition

From Studies in the Thought World (1896), let’s jump forward roughly 70 years to 1963, when Joseph Murphy, a New Thought minister and author well known both inside and outside of New Thought, first published The Power of Your Subconscious Mind.  Murphy, an engineer with multiple doctorates, is often subject to distortion by the get-rich-quick crowd, but he has much to say that dovetails with what our Henry has to say.

Murphy compares the conscious and subconscious:

The conscious mind is like the navigator or captain at the bridge of a ship. He directs the ship and signals orders to men in the engine room who in turn control all the boilers, instruments, gauges, etc.  The men in the engine room do not know where they are going; they follow orders.  They would go on the rocks if the man on the bridge issued faulty or wrong instructions based on his findings with the compass, sextant, or other instruments.  The men in the engine room obey him because he is in charge and issues orders which are automatically obeyed.  Members of the crew do not talk back to the captain; they simply carry out orders.

 The captain is the master of his ship, and his decrees are carried out.  Likewise, your conscious mind is the captain and the master of your ship, which represents your body, environment, and all your affairs.  Your subconscious mind takes the orders you give it based upon what your conscious mind believes and accepts as true. (page 26)

This is a marvelous analogy.  The men in the engine room have all the power that drives the ship, but it is the captain who must do the reckoning and tell them what to do.  Murphy continues:

There are two levels of your mind—the conscious or rational level, and the subconscious or irrational level.  You think with your conscious mind, and whatever you habitually think sinks down into your subconscious mind, which creates according to the nature of your thoughts.  Your subconscious mind is the seat of your emotions and is the creative mind.  If you think good, good will follow; if you think evil, evil will follow. . . . The main point to remember is once the subconscious mind accepts an idea, it begins to execute it. . . . The law of the subconscious mind works for good and bad ideas alike.  (page 30)

It is worth noting that this is only true when your thoughts are structured in such a way as to permit you to advance.  If they are structured so that you oscillate between “Here’s what I want” and “But I can’t have it”, you end up stuck, nowhere, spinning your wheels.

Murphy notes that much research shows that “the subconscious mind is incapable of making selections and comparisons which are necessary for a reasoning process. . . . Your subconscious mind will accept any suggestions, however false. . . . [It] is impersonal, non-selective, and accepts as true whatever your conscious mind believes to be true.”  (page 32)   He goes on to clarify:

Your conscious mind is sometimes referred to as your objective mind because it deals with outward objects.  The objective mind takes cognizance of the objective world.  Its media of observation are your five physical senses.  Your objective mind is your guide and director in your contact with your environment.  You gain knowledge through your five senses.  Your objective mind learns through observation, experience, and education. . . . The greatest function of the objective mind is that of reasoning. . . .
Your subconscious mind is oftentimes referred to as your subjective mind.  Your  subjective mind takes cognizance of its environment by means independent of the five senses.  Your subjective mind perceives by intuition.  It is the seat of your emotion and the storehouse of memory.  Your subjective mind performs its highest functions when your objective senses are in abeyance.  In a word, it is that intelligence which makes itself manifest when the objective mind is suspended or in a sleepy, drowsy state.  (pages 32-33)

Note that no analogy is ever 100 percent perfect; a real ship would not care to be functioning if the person in charge on the bridge were asleep.  This is still a marvelous analogy because it reminds us that the big power is with the other-than-conscious part of the mind, which is fueled by intuition.  The captain needs to respect that engine room crew.

But the subconscious “cannot reason like your conscious mind”, “cannot argue controversially”.  Hence, it is much like Henry’s cistern full of murky water, because it accepts whatever falls into it.  Despite all its power, you must ride herd on it.

The subconscious mind can only perceive by intuition if you work to develop your intuition, which is your connection with God in the form of the Christ mind.  This requires a firm desire to deepen your relationship with God and the mental self-discipline to carry out your desire.  Positive thinking alone, insight alone, affirmations, may be of some use but cannot get the job done without that relationship and the proper structure.  This is why secular attempts to utilize New Thought don’t get very far.  To whatever extent you are aligned with the laws of the universe, you will succeed, but you won’t be able to keep it up for long.

 

December 13, 2011

The Inner Light

We have been looking at the non-physical forms of guidance, both intuitive and subconscious. Our Henry has a lot to say on the subject, for as a good New Thoughter, he of course believes with Shakespeare that "there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so". Beliefs—habitual thoughts—that we may not even know we harbor may be jerking us around mentally and even physically, and the subconscious mind is like an open sewer that takes in whatever falls into it, since it lacks the judgement of the conscious mind. We therefore very much need God’s guidance in the form of intuition, and we must develop the ability to hear that "still, small voice" within. As Henry puts it in the preface to The Symphony of Life (1901), "The authority of the inner Light—which is God in the human soul—may gently replace dictation from without. Truth is impersonal and a mirror-like subjective [subconscious] response to its presentation is the final test of genuineness for every man."

The chapter "Thinking as a Fine Art" foreshadows the work of Mark Forster (How to Make Your Dreams Come True) (2002), and Robert Fritz (Your Life as Art) (2003), both of whom see us as creators of our lives, moment by moment, as we would express it. Structure, not beliefs, is what determines our success as creators, but unconscious beliefs can mess up that structure. Henry could not have had a systems understanding of structure, but he did have some notion of a life as art:

Art is the systematic application of knowledge or skill in effecting a desired result. In a broad sense, it is nature humanized, or re-expressed through the power of the human mind. Man studies the laws of nature, and becomes familiar with her forces, and then intelligently combines, re-arranges and re-presents them in forms that accord with his own ideals. Art is a skillful use of materials. It covers every wise employment of means for the accomplishment of desirable ends. Man is a secondary creator. While nothing is created anew, it is his office and privilege to reproduce, recombine and apply. As he comes into sympathetic at-one-ment with divine laws and methods, he commands and embodies their accomplishments. (page 191)

Henry goes beyond the conventional classification of the arts into trades; liberal arts, including philosophy and "the various sciences", and the fine arts. Art, says Henry, is

mental ability to image correctly. We speak of the cunning hand of the artist. But though the muscles of the hand seem to acquire a kind of education, they are only the passive instruments, and the more perfectly passive in their relation to the imaging faculty, the better the product. (page 194)

Then he heads in the direction taken later by Robert Fritz: "All expert mental activity for the accomplishment of desirable ends is artistic, and the higher the motive, the finer the art. True art cannot be degraded to the economic or material plane. . . . A symmetrical mind and personality is a higher artistic accomplishment than a beautiful statue. (pages 194-5)

Henry reminds us:

The mind dwells in the midst of its own creations and cannot avoid them. Says Milton—
A mind not to be changed by place or time,
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

He concludes:

We are like children in the early stages of kindergarten work, molding plastic clay into crude and grotesque forms. We unwittingly shape images of fear, weakness, disorder, decrepitude and old age, and then fall down before the works of our own hands and do them homage, and grow into their likenesses. Our inner vision being blurred, we see so dimly, that we think God formed them for us. (page 202)

As co-creators with God of our own lives, we need to follow our intuition for guidance. In process terms, we say yes to God’s perfect possibilities for each moment of now. We also need to be alert to what has gotten into our other-than-conscious minds, our pattern of the past. Henry returns to this topic in The New Thought Simplified (1903) in the chapter "Two Different Minds in One":

Turning to the subconscious mind (that which is under or below the conscious) perhaps we best may liken it to a great covered reservoir in which is stored up the total aggregation of past mental states and activities. The conscious mind is so immediately before us that we cannot help watching its ever-flowing current. But the more silent subconscious counterpart, with its uses, opportunities, and educational methods, is far more hidden and mysterious. . . . The subconscious department—called by some the subjective mind—is a growing and ever unfinished depository of thought, emotion, and experience. In proportion as its laws are understood, it is susceptible to discipline and improvement. It includes the sum total of past states of consciousness, which, though laid away, remain intact. Like any other accumulation of slow growth, its quality is subject only to gradual change. (pages 43-44)

Henry goes on to describe the various qualities and functions of the subconscious mind, directing all our involuntary physical activities. He explains how the subconscious can "take" a disease because it "unwittingly has formed the habit of fearing and expecting it". He then returns to his favorite cistern metaphor:

A cistern may have a stream of water constantly flowing in, and this may be clear and sparkling, or foul. The quality of the great body of water on hand depends upon the character of the stream it has been receiving, and therefore the former can be changed only by a different quality of inflow. In the same way the great accumulation of past impressions is constantly receiving new additions of conscious and current thought. What kind shall it be? Every product of the imaging faculty is deposited, and not one is lost. Each thought not only goes out in objective vibrations—like a message of wireless telegraphy—but it also subjectively registers and deposits itself in the subconscious storehouse. It may be covered and forgotten, but it cannot be destroyed. The little rill of conscious thought is always flowing in; and, as in a chemical compound each drop adds something of its own shade and quality, so it is with mental accumulation. In the light of these unchanging principles, what a responsibility is wrapped up in simple thinking! . . . There is a continuous creation, and its products are ever living and growing. (pages 45-46)

This is why I have said for years that New Thought is simple, but not easy. We must ride herd on our thoughts, on what we expose our consciousness to in our daily life, and in what we allow ourselves to ruminate on. It is indeed habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline.

 

December 20, 2011

Christmas with Henry

Henry Wood (1834-1909), in "A Christmas-Tide Musing" (The Symphony of Life, 1901) turns to two themes connected with Christmas. The first is love:

The principle which dwells back of the innumerable Christmas activities, many of which may seem trivial and unworthy, is that which alone will finally assure the salvation of the world.
This dynamic force, with the exercise of a wholesome optimism will logically help forward a coming age, when selfishness, wrong and materialism will have become outgrown, because of the transformation of the spirit which is back of them. As is the average individual, so is the mass, and all institutions are secondary and resultant. To turn the hearts of a people, will in due season mold legislation, government and ethical and even political standards into complete correspondence. To hold the best ideals for men, and see their best side, is the most efficient means to bring these into actualized manifestation. Here at the opening of the twentieth century, amid the intensest moral questioning and spiritual hunger the world has ever known, there is an unbounded field for every well directed effort for character upliftment. Aggression, animalism and the settlement of international differences by brute force, cannot be overcome by pessimism, nor by descending to fight them upon their own plane, but only through the force of moral ideals.
The spirit of love must everywhere be mingled in the complex life of mankind, for it is the only conserving element. (pages 182-3)

Love requires good character, or it decays. Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. A hundred years and two world wars later, we are still waiting for our Henry’s prescription to be filled. The loss of the character ethic in New Thought was pointed out by Richard M. Huber forty years ago in The American Idea of Success. As I stated in New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality:

Despite Huber’s numerous cheap shots, his basic premise is valid: there is a noticeable lack of emphasis on developing good character, not just in much of our current success literature, but in our society as a whole. Public schools are forbidden to teach such character builders as the Ten Commandments, children are taught to esteem themselves complacently even when they are behaving irresponsibly and incompetently, and the discipline of spirituality is never discussed. But Huber offers no remedy . . . . Certainly, it is possible to misuse and abuse the power of the mind, to pick up the new and the positive parts while overlooking the thought and the thinking parts. The founders of New Thought all postulated good character; they simply took it for granted. The 1904 Constitution of the New Thought Federation (a forerunner of the International New Thought Alliance) included the phrase "health, happiness, and character." And Emmet Fox used to say, "You have to have your wishbone backed up with a backbone." . . . The discipline required to make New Thought work is an aspect of character. Certainly, mystical alignment with God must constitute the supreme aspect of high character. (Revised Edition, pages 167-169)

Henry’s second theme is the Incarnation. He has already explained in God’s Image in Man (1892), "The Incarnation was not necessary to show that God could take the form of man, but that man can become like God. The divine quality of the Christ-life cannot be believed unless it be felt" (page 109). Now in 1901 he returns to that theme:

The historic and local incarnation had a world-wide significance because it was an ideal and object lesson of developed humanity. It was the first ripened fruit of a great coming harvest. Man was filled with divinity, and nothing less than this in any age can normally round out his complex being. But if the historic manifestation were entirely unique and unapproachable, or were an experience in matter of any quality of soul extra-human, it would have little significance for man. Being infinitely beyond his reach, it could neither be an ideal nor an inspiration. But how natural and compelling as a supreme specimen of moral and spiritual attainment! How thoroughly practical and important as a goal for which to strive! It exhibits man in full stature, permeated and controlled by love. If "God is Love," Love must be the substantial principle of the universal economy. It means fullness of life. It is the rich exuberance of the Deific overflow. Its growing subjective dominance in man, is the prophecy of a general incarnation.
The Christmas spirit which finds concrete expression in giving and loving, is a fore-gleam of a universal state of consciousness. In this brief hint is wrapped up the promise and potency of an assured coming condition. It is not only a religious, but a scientific necessity, that from the law of its nature Divinity seeks expressive instruments. Jesus recognized the intrinsic oneness, but through the ages such an inspiration or supreme consciousness has been veiled and mystical. But under the searchlight of recent thought, which may be defined as idealism made practical, there is a veritable renaissance. . . . Man can know God only through the development of the divine sample—love—in his own soul. (pages 184-6)

He goes on to quote an old German hymn by Angelus Silesius:

Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
If he’s not born in thee thy soul is all forlorn.

And he concludes:

The idea of a general incarnation in no sense renders the historic ideal less impressive or beautiful, while it potentially lifts all mankind toward the same level. The Prince of Peace is yet to set up a nativity in the common heart and life of the human family. (page 190)

In process terms, the Christ mind, God’s initial aim, is born into each occasion of experience; and the world is made up of numerous strings of occasions of experience. God’s love is born along with each. When the pattern of the past has built up into critical mass, the wheels of the universe will turn, and the influence of that love will spread throughout the world. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).

May the love and light and peace of Christ be born in you at Christmas and carry you into a bright and prosperous new year.

 

December 27, 2011

Was Our Henry a Personalist?

Many, if not most, New Thoughters confound a view of God as personal with the old view of God as anthropomorphic. Did our Henry also slip into this error? The personalist philosophers were beginning at Boston University at the time that Henry was in the area; he could well have been exposed to the writings of Borden Parker Bowne, who died the year after Henry did. Henry was aware of the pros and cons of this issue, but where did he ultimately come down?

In "The Nature of God" (God’s Image in Man, 1892), Henry writes:

Our highest concept of the One Universal Power, Life, Intelligence and Will, we call God. . . . Our Heavenly Father is perhaps the fittest appellation to apply to that superlative mental picture which is our representation of Him to our own consciousness. . . . we find Him designated by other titles which are misleading. . . . As applied, they have humanized God instead of deifying man. The King was not God-like, but God was made King-like. (pages 11-12)

He is very clear about the problems this leads to, the "distorted view of God", and notes that "Calvin and Luther were also dominated by it" as contrasted to "the New Testament delineations of God", "the utterances of Jesus and the writings of the beloved disciple". He encourages us to "hold in the inner chamber of your soul the healing thought: ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’" (Acts 17:28), a text often used in defining panentheism. He is aware of the damage that anthropomorphism has done:

If the spoken name of the Deity brings before the mind any image having material quality, it is a graven image, and therefore an "other" god than the One who is Spirit. The gross ideals of the mediaeval church, and also those of later periods, were grotesquely expressed by the old masters, who represented the Father as an aged man, with flowing hair and beard, and stern, dignified bearing.
Anthropomorphism has insisted upon the conception of God as a person. In a sense we may call Him personal, and yet the term, to most minds, conveys the idea of limitation. To whatever degree our concept of Him involves such a quality, it is false, and therefore idolatrous. How impotent is human language for the expression of Divinity! Its narrow definitions do not fit the Infinite. Beware, Beloved, lest we hastily call our brother an atheist or a pantheist, because his idea of God does not quite coincide with ours. Of the two, his concept may be the truer and larger. The Infinite Love, Life, Will, and Intelligence, is the true God. Unless the term person is enlarged and lifted infinitely above that which it signifies to most minds, it is too circumscribed to define the All in All. Any mental image of God which has to do with changeableness or with any materialistic form, locality, height, breadth, or depth, is false, and with a wrong beginning every logical outcome will be perverted. All true religion must have for its basis a right conception of God. (pages 22-23)

In short, our Henry is crying out for a God who is not a giant human being, but the Ultimate Person, whose loving character does not change, who has all the wonderful qualities of personhood, which is the highest thing of which we humans can conceive. The Philosopher now comes to his rescue with the personalist perspective:

* * * * *

Most of us are well aware of the danger of thinking of God as if God were simply a greatly bigger and better sort of human being. That error, of course, is known as anthropomorphism. Surely it deserves to be rejected, but is it possible to go too far in rejecting it? In answering that, it is important to distinguish person from human being. All normal human beings are persons, but not all persons are human beings.

A person is a being characterized as having self-consciousness, rationality, and value-orientation. Although there was some use of the term personalism before the start of the twentieth century, the first to emphasize systematically the importance of the person was Borden Parker Bowne (1845-1910). In his 1908 book, Personalism, he wrote:

Only in [God] does one find that complete and perfect selfhood and self-possession which are necessary to the fullness of personality. In thinking, then, of the Supreme Person we must beware of transferring to him the limitations and accidents of our human personality, which are no necessary part of the notion of personality, and think only of the fullness of power, knowledge, and selfhood which alone are the essential factors of the conception. (pages 266-67)

While we may be certain of personality only in human beings, we reasonably can conclude that the characteristics of personality are so vital that they must be shared with God, and probably angels, some of the higher animals, such as dolphins, and probably various forms of extraterrestrials. We cannot conceive rationally of anything higher than personality. If God is at least as advanced as we are, he must be a person. To think of God as being impersonal (not to be confused with impartial) is to consider God as being less than we are. Presumably personality is not limited to God and human beings.

To say all this is not to prove the existence of anything, but we scarcely can imagine that there is nothing. We know that something exists, because we do. From our own experience we have some sense that some things are better than others; and if there is a highest being, capable of loving, guiding, encouraging, and enjoying others, that ultimate entity must be a person, and we commonly call that person God.

To be nonpersonal is to be subpersonal. Although personalism was not originally a type of process philosophy, it at least came close in that it asserted a self psychology, rather than a substantial soul psychology. I have done my best to unite process thought and personalism in my Process New Thought.

(Here endeth the Philosopher’s musings.)