The Philosopher's Stone
For those of you who tuned in late, The Philosopher's Stone , Alan and Deb's newsletter, was first launched in Spring/Summer 1993. The masthead listed Deb as Editor and Alan as Publisher. Graphics included our smiling faces, vintage 1991, and a Debsketch of a stone with a lantern next to it. In later iterations, the stone appeared on a low, wheeled platform, as the Philosopher sought a new location down among the sheltering palms, which were pictured after he/it arrived there. The newsletter went into hiatus as Alan's and Deb's lives became complicated in other areas. It has now reappeared here regularly. If you are new to the Henry Wood (1834-1909) series, you may want to begin near the bottom of the file at August 2010 and work your way upwards to the most recent. The Henry Drummond (1851-1897) series begins in earnest on September 25, 2012, although he is mentioned in a couple of earlier posts. "Evolving New Thought Worldviews" begins on May 28, 2013 and runs through July 30, 2013. "Adventures in Adventures" begins on October 29, 2013 and ends on March 18, 2014. The Happiness series begins on April 8, 2014 and runs through June 24, 2014. The column series on David Ray Griffin's God and Religion in the Postmodern World (1989) runs from October 18, 2016 and ends on December 6, 2016. Julia Anderson Root's Healing Power of Mind (1884) column series begins on February 21, 2017 and ends on April 18, 2017. To subscribe, email me at email@example.com, and I will add your email address to the list of newsletter subscribers to be notified when the new issue is available.
June 20. 2017
Overview: The Seven Habits Model
The Seven Habits model consists of three platforms separated by two levels of three habits apiece. The seventh habit runs in a circle around the whole shebang. This somewhat strange-looking diagram requires a bit of background explanation. Covey supplies:
Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” the maxim goes.
Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness . . . or ineffectiveness. . . .
Habits can be learned and unlearned. But . . . it isn’t a quick fix. It involves a process and a tremendous commitment. . . .
Habits . . . have tremendous gravity pull—more than most people realize or would admit. Breaking deeply imbedded habitual tendencies such as procrastination, impatience, criticalness, or selfishness that violate basic principles of human effectiveness involves more than a little willpower and a few minor changes in our lives. “Lift off” takes a tremendous effort, but once we break out of the gravity pull, our freedom takes on a whole new dimension.
Like any natural force, gravity pull can work with us or against us. The gravity pull of some of our habits may currently be keeping us from going where we want to go. But it is also gravity pull that keeps our world together, that keeps the planets in their orbits and our universe in order. It is a powerful force, and if we use it effectively, we can use the gravity pull of habit to create the cohesiveness and order necessary to establish effectiveness in our lives. (pages 46-47)
Covey defines habit as “the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.” We may realize that we need to listen and know how to listen, but unless we have the desire to listen, it won’t become a habit. “Creating a habit requires work in all three dimensions.” It can be painful. It has to be motivated by a higher purpose and involve delayed gratification. But this is what produces happiness: “Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually.”
But we still aren’t ready to tackle the basic Seven Habits diagram; we first have to learn about the maturity continuum:
The Seven Habits are not a set of separate or piecemeal psych-up formulas. In harmony with the natural laws of growth, they provide an incremental, sequential, highly integrated approach to the development of personal and interpersonal effectiveness. They move us progressively on a Maturity Continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence. (pages 48-49)
A human baby is completely dependent on others. Gradually, over a period of years, it develops into an inner-directed, self-reliant person who can take care of him-or-herself, an independent individual. “As we continue to grow and mature, we become increasingly aware that all of nature is interdependent, that there is an ecological system that governs nature, including society.” Furthermore, “the higher reaches of our nature have to do with our relationships with others . . . human life is also interdependent.” Covey continues:
On the maturity continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you—you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn’t come through; I blame you for the results.
Independence is the paradigm of I—I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose.
Interdependence is the paradigm of we—we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together. (page 49)
We go from needing others to get what we want, to getting what we want through our own effort, to combining our own efforts with the efforts of others. Somewhere in the back of your head, a little voice should be saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Covey goes on to explain that our culture currently overemphasizes the importance of independence: we think we don’t need others, ignoring them and their needs in order to serve our own needs. Some of this is a reaction to dependence, a breaking free from “having others control us, define us, use us, and manipulate us”. But this will not get us what we really want: as “metaphysical” poet John Donne observed, “No man is an island”. And ironically, it is only by banding together and acting together that we can fend off attempts to brainwash and subjugate us. This is even more apparent today than when Covey wrote.
To be continued.
June 13, 2017
Covey quotes Albert Einstein, who famously observed, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Korzybski got us into systems theory last week, telling us that the map is not the territory. Control theory, developed by psychiatrist William Glasser and physicist William Powers, is the doorstep to the rest of systems theory. Human beings, like all living creatures, function as input control systems, who seek to control the input coming from the outside world into our head, because we want those incoming signals/perceptions to match those maps or models in our head. (Physicists say signal; psychologists say perception. I want them both to feel at home. ) If the incoming signal/perception is a match with our map or model, we feel a little burst of pleasure; if they do not match, we experience a bit of pain and start to behave in some fashion that we hope will change that mismatch into a match.
Let’s back up just a bit: the incoming signal from the outside world is only in touch with that outside world at the lowest level, a silly millimeter beyond the tips of our fingers. The signal then passes through a series of perceptual filters, a nested hierarchy—if you want to get technical—as our brain tries to make sense of it all. Perhaps you remember that William James (ye gods; another Bill!) described the world as “one big blooming buzzing confusion”. Now we have a technical background for the Einstein remark: there are ten levels of filtering, and if there is a mismatch/perceptual error, we have to go higher or sometimes lower in our perceptual filtering to resolve it. But sooner or later, we have to get a more accurate map or model of the outside world into our head to use as our reference signal or perception, the one we are hoping the incoming signal/perception will match up with.
Another metaphor for this map or model of the world is to think of it as a picture album. If the pictures are accurate in describing the territory, the outside world, we are more likely to get a match instead of a perceptual error signal. To illustrate this, Glasser likes to describe the idea of mother. We all have a picture of mother in our mental picture album. If mother dies or goes away, we experience a huge perceptual error and continue to do so until we remove that old picture of mother from the mental album and replace it with something else. Meanwhile, we are behaving in some fashion that we hope will comfort us for our loss. Covey comments:
Can you see how fundamentally the paradigms of the Personality Ethic affect the very way we see our problems as well as the way we attempt to solve them?
Whether people see it or not, many are becoming disillusioned with the empty promises of the Personality Ethic. As I travel around the country and work with organizations, I find that long-term thinking executives are simply turned off by psych up psychology and “motivational” speakers who have nothing more to share than entertaining stories mingled with platitudes.
They want substance; they want process. They want more than aspirin and band-aids. They want to solve the chronic underlying problems and focus on the principles that bring long-term results. . . .
We need a new level, a deeper level of thinking—a paradigm based on the principles that accurately describe the territory of effective human being and interacting—to solve these deep concerns.
This new level of thinking is what Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is about. It’s a principle-centered, character-based, “inside-out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness.
“Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. . . .
The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves precedes making and keeping promises to others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves.
Inside-out is a process—a continuing process of renewal based on the natural laws that govern human growth and progress. It’s an upward spiral of growth that leads to progressively higher forms of responsible independence and effective interdependence. (page 42)
In other words, we have to change those mental maps/models in our head in order to get better results from the outside world. Those maps will only be accurate if they take into account the laws of the universe, those principles that govern everything. Covey believes that many of those principles “are deep within us, in our conscience and our common sense”. He has shaped them into a model for us that starts with private victories and then leads us into public victories. We will look at that model and what it is based on next week.
June 6, 2017
The Maps in our Head
Stephen Covey, author of the blockbuster best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, spends a lot of time going over background material and concepts before he gets into his basic model of the 7 Habits. We have looked at the character ethic and seen that it must come before the personality ethic; and we have looked at being principle centered and values driven as part of that character ethic. Covey also wants us to understand that we are not our thoughts and that “the map is not the territory”. https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/The_map_is_not_the_territory supplies us with the source of that quotation:
The map is not the territory metaphorically illustrates the differences between belief and reality. The phrase was coined by Alfred Korzybski. Our perception of the world is being generated by our brain and can be considered as a ‘map’ of reality written in neural patterns. Reality exists outside our mind but we can construct models of this ‘territory’ based on what we glimpse through our senses.
Korzybski gets us into the roots of systems theory, and from there, many of us have been introduced to neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), not to mention process thought, all of which keeps us theoreticians off the streets. Covey, as a business school professor and business consultant, wants us to know that he has done his homework! But he keeps it practical:
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People embody many of the fundamental principles of human effectiveness. These habits are basic; they are primary. They represent the internalization of correct principles upon which enduring happiness and success are based.
But before we can really understand these Seven Habits, we need to understand our own “paradigms” and how to make a “paradigm shift.” ....
For our purposes, a simple way to understand paradigms is to see them as maps. We all know that “the map is not the territory.” A map is simply an explanation of certain aspects of the territory. That’s exactly what a paradigm is. It is a theory, an explanation, or model of something else. (page 23)
Covey then describes how silly it would be to try to find our way around Chicago with a map of Detroit, especially if it was incorrectly labeled “Chicago”. You could try changing your behavior or your attitude, but you would still be lost. Your map needs to be accurate.
Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities, and maps of the way things should be, or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we’re usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be.
And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions. The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act. (page 24)
The bottom line is, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are—or, as we are conditioned to see it.” In other words, “two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It’s not logical; it’s psychological.” But we can become aware of our paradigms: “examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions”. This can result in a paradigm shift, and here comes another bit of useful theory in the form of Thomas Kuhn’s famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where Kuhn introduced the term paradigm shift. Sometimes this shift is a gradual change, but sometimes it can be a sudden “Aha!” experience. However, Covey warns us: “Not all paradigm shifts are in positive directions. As we have observed, the shift from the Character Ethic to the Personality Ethic has drawn us away from the very roots that nourish true success and happiness.” He adds: “Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately our relationships with others.” He also notes, “Paradigms are inseparable from character” and “Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world.” This brings us to “Principles are like lighthouses”.
Problems arise when we attempt to shortcut the process of understanding other people and ideas, which, Covey points out, makes no more sense that trying to “cram”—as for an exam—on the farm rather than allowing time for things to unfold from planting seeds and watering and weeding them, to the harvest. “The way we see the problem is the problem”. We need a new level of thinking: “a principle-centered, character-based, ‘inside-out’ approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness”: “Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives.” The quick-fix, outside-in, personality-ethic approaches just don’t work.
To be continued.
May 30. 2017
What’s A Principle?
The Philosopher, being a philosopher, used to fuss a bit over Covey’s use of terms such as principles and values. They didn’t form precise enough categories, or something. In any case, nobody without an ulterior motive complained about them because Covey told enough stories and gave enough illustrations to make his meaning plain. One of the best examples of this comes early in the book, on page 33. Covey has just explained, “Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world. The power of a paradigm shift is the essential power of quantum change, whether that shift is an instantaneous or a slow and deliberate process.” Under the heading, “The Principle-Centered Paradigm”, he continues:
The Character Ethic is based on the fundamental idea that there are principles that govern human effectiveness—natural laws in the human dimension that are just as real, just as unchanging and unarguably “there” as laws such as gravity are in the physical dimension. (page 32)
He then gives a memorable illustration as recounted in a naval magazine:
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.
Lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”
Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, “I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.”
I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply, “You had better change course 20 degrees.”
By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, “I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”
We changed course.
The paradigm shift experienced by the captain—and by us as we read this account—puts the situation in a totally different light. We can see a reality that is superseded by his limited perception—a reality that is as critical for us to understand in our daily lives as it was for the captain in the fog.
Principles are like lighthouses. They are natural laws [Alan thought it should read moral laws] that cannot be broken. As Cecil B. deMille observed in his monumental movie, The Ten Commandments, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.” (pages 32-33)
Covey goes on to discuss these principles or natural laws, commenting: “[T]he degree to which people in a society recognize and live in harmony with them moves them toward either survival and stability or disintegration and destruction.” These principles transcend any one religion, but rather are built into “most every major enduring religion, as well as enduring social philosophies and ethical systems. They are self-evident and can easily be validated by any individual.” He then lists fairness, integrity and honesty, human dignity [which appears in our Declaration of Independence], service, quality or excellence, potential, growth, patience, nurturance, and encouragement. These are, of course, qualities to be found in people of good character. He clarifies:
Principles are not practices. A practice is a specific activity or action. A practice that works in one circumstance will not necessarily work in another, as parents who have tried to raise a second child exactly like they did the first can readily attest. . . .
Principles are not values. A gang of thieves can share values, but they are in violation of the fundamental principles we’re talking about. Principles are the territory. Values are maps. . . .
Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. They’re fundamental. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident. . . .
The more closely our maps or paradigms are aligned with these principles or natural laws, the more accurate and functional they will be. Correct maps will infinitely impact our personal and interpersonal effectiveness far more than any amount of effort expended on changing our attitudes and behaviors. (page 35)
To be continued.
Lagniappe: Principles are rules. The school principal is your pal (at least, we hope he or she is)! And we hope he or she sees to it that you learn spelling, grammar, and homonyms.
May 23, 2017
Restoring the Character Ethic
For Easter 1998, the Philosopher gave me a little volume titled Daily Reflections for Highly Effective People: Living the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Every Day. It is inscribed, in the purple ink that we always used for autographing books, “Happy Easter Deb from Alan 1998”. It is one of my little treasures, and I consult it daily during my early morning quiet time. This was something the Philosopher had picked up for me at some sort of special event at Curry College, where we both taught. We used the book on which the little one was based, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as a text for one or more courses that he—or we—taught at Curry.
Stephen R. Covey, the author of 7 Habits, was a remarkable man: a college professor, in-demand business consultant, and practicing Mormon. Some say that only a Mormon could have written such a book. Be that as it may, he did not trumpet or even mention at all his faith in the book, other than to make it clear that all of us are best served by a principle-centered life, far better than centering on church, spouse, or self; and that those principles are seen as coming from God, however conceived. Covey’s work braids business and personal life together because of his firm belief that it is not possible to be a great success in one and a giant failure in the other.
The subtitle of 7 Habits is Restoring the Character Ethic. Early in the book, Covey describes the history of American success literature from Benjamin Franklin onward, clearly showing that good character was for many years postulated, taken for granted:
As my study took me back through 200 years of writing about success, I noticed a startling pattern emerging in the content of the literature. Because of our own pain, and because of similar pain I had seen in the lives and relationships of many people I had worked with through the years, I began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past 50 years [writing in 1989] was superficial. It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes—with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.
In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success—things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is representative of that literature. It is, basically, the story of one man’s effort to integrate certain principles and habits deep within his nature.
The Character Ethic taught that there are basic principles of effective living, and that people can only experience true success and enduring happiness as they learn and integrate these principles into their basic character.
But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. Success became more a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, that lubricate the processes of human interaction. This Personality Ethic essentially took two paths: one was human and public relations techniques, and the other was positive mental attitude (PMA). Some of this philosophy was expressed in inspiring and sometimes valid maxims such as “Your attitude determines your altitude,” “Smiling wins more friends than frowning,” and “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve.”
Other parts of the personality approach were clearly manipulative, even deceptive, encouraging people to use techniques to get other people to like them, or to fake interest in the hobbies of others to get out of them what they wanted, or to use the “power look,” or to intimidate their way through life.
Some of this literature acknowledged character as an ingredient of success, but tended to compartmentalize it rather than recognize it as foundational and catalytic. Reference to the Character Ethic became mostly lip service; the basic thrust was quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes. (pages 18-19)
The Personality Ethic began with the work of Dale Carnegie, best known for his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie was himself a man of excellent character. To that character base, he sought to add some lubricant for greasing the wheels of social interaction, and there is nothing wrong with that, provided that the Personality Ethic rests on a preexisting base of good character. Many of those who came along after Carnegie, often known as progressives (who are the people most liable to be critical of Covey’s work), sought to strip out references to character or God, or even principles other than a desire to level everyone to mediocrity—or worse.
7 Habits quickly soared to the top of the best-seller list and remained there for so many years that the New York Times eventually sought to give it a category all its own so that someone else might have a shot at the spot! Book stores, unsure how to categorize it, shelved it in both business and self-help sections.
Covey begins by providing a diagram of what he calls the 7 Habits Paradigm, which shows how we mature from dependence to independence to interdependence. Mastering the first three Habits makes us independent; mastering the second three makes us interdependent, the highest and most useful level. The seventh Habit encircles all the rest, binding them all together and helping us to renew them. Mastering the first three habits is a private victory; mastering the second three is a public victory. We aren’t ready to go public until we have done the work in private.
Covey is a master storyteller, recounting tales on himself as well as others. He uses stories as illustrations, including such classics as “clean and green” (teaching his son how to keep the yard picked up), or making sure that you tend to both the golden eggs and the goose that lays them in the fable. My favorite story doesn’t come from Covey himself, but is told on him by his wife, Sandra, in one of his sequels, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. It begins on a day that Covey was supposed to be taking his nine children for an outing but was delayed by a business phone call that dragged on interminably. The children, reasonably and understandably, got tired of waiting. They went out to the kitchen, collected jars of peanut butter and red raspberry jam, and proceeded to smear them on their father’s famously bald head, crowning their messy efforts with a slice of bread! Covey couldn’t react because of the business call; he just had to tough it out. That wasn’t the end of the story, though. A few weeks later, a church group was having a scavenger hunt, and one of the items on the list was to have Mr. Covey reenact his experience! The first group showed up, begged for his help so they could win the hunt, and he good-naturedly went along with the gag. He had no sooner cleaned his head off and toweled it dry than the second group arrived, and so the afternoon went.
If you haven’t read 7 Habits, run, do not walk, to the nearest bookstore or library. If you only read one book per decade, this should be the one.
May 16, 2017
Have You the Patience of Job’s Turkey?
The book of Job is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible, “the fruit of a movement among ancient oriental people to gather, preserve and express, usually in aphoristic style, the results of human experience as an aid toward understanding and solving the problems of life”, according to the New American Bible. It is written as a play, with a prologue, several scenes, and an epilogue. It deals with the subject of suffering, especially by people who appear to have done no wrong but rather endeavored to lead righteous lives. To contemporary readers, it seems a bit long and tedious, even though it has a happy ending. That’s because we don’t have the patience with which the longsuffering Job is credited. But it isn’t a lot of laughs, so maybe I can supply a couple.
In the Prologue, Satan as an employee of God’s, gets God’s permission to test the faith of the prosperous and righteous Job by taking away all of his wealth, including all of his children, in a series of swift catastrophes. When this does not shake Job’s faith, Satan then gets permission to afflict Job’s body with sore boils, so physical suffering is added to his other woes. His wife, a little ray of sunshine, then says, “Are you still holding to your innocence? Curse God and die.” (Apparently for Satan to take Job’s wife away might have been a blessing instead of a curse!)
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, three friends show up to “console” Job, which they do by implying that he has some secret sin for which God is punishing him. Job firmly and utterly denies this. Then a fourth, much younger friend shows up and claims to have additional insight that has not occurred to the others. This self-righteous little puppy proceeds to harangue the rest of them for the next six chapters until even God can’t stand it any longer and addresses Job out of the whirlwind in a marvelous speech that says, basically, Where were you when I was creating all the wonderful things of the earth? “Who is this that obscures divine plans with words of ignorance?” This only takes four chapters. Job then “repents in dust and ashes”. Unity’s Elizabeth Sand Turner, in Let There Be Light, points out that repent has two meanings:
One of them is to be penitent or regretful of one’s conduct. This is the type of repentance advocated by Job’s friends and the thing Job refused to do. The second meaning of repent is to change the mind, and repentance signifies a turning from the mortal to the spiritual. Job’s repentance came after he listened to Jehovah and understood why he should lose personal concepts and take on spiritual ones. (page 278)
She adds, “[L]ike Job, we are apt to build self-defenses that close our ears to all but the fury of our own misery. When we eventually exhaust ourselves, we call on the Lord and in the stillness of our hearts we hear him....”
In the Epilogue, God restores everything Job has lost, giving him twice as much as he had before, including a long and happy life with ten more children: seven sons and three daughters. The daughters were named Jemima, Keziah, and Keren-happuch. My mother, a Hazen, was one of five children: three girls and two boys. When the third girl was born, her grandfather sent her father a check made out to “Keren-happuch Hazen”, along with a note that read, “I looked it up in the Concordance, and it means ‘horns of paint’. Make it red!” By this he meant, “Paint the town red to celebrate”, since the daughters of Job were all beautiful and rich. God also bawls out the three so-called friends (the puppy seems to be beneath notice), “for you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job”.
So how does Job’s turkey figure in all this? Everyone always emphasizes the dire poverty of Job in his accursed state. The idea is that anything associated with Job would be poor indeed, since Job was so poor. The expression arose, its origins lost in the mists of time, “as poor as Job’s turkey”. Since there were no turkeys in Job’s vicinity back in the day—except perhaps the kind without feathers—it is a bit of a silly expression. One XIX century wit elaborated on it by specifying that the turkey was so poor that it had only one feather in its tail and had to lean against the fence in order to gobble”.
With lovelier, more inspirational wisdom available in the Bible, why would we bother to read the book of Job in the first place? Because when we, like Job, are sitting on the metaphorical ash-heap, covered with painful boils (physical ailments), with our dreams and lives in ruins, we need to be reminded of the need to rise in consciousness, to allow the energy and possibilities of God to flow freely through us, rather than remaining in a Why me, God? stuck state. It doesn’t matter how we got there; what matters is how we get out. Depending on which translation you use, there’s a unicorn in there.
May 9, 2017
The Step You Are Standing On
You may perhaps have noticed that truths of life have a way of turning up again and again in different guises, with different metaphors to describe them. This is all part of our Creator’s divine plan for educating us chuckleheads.
If you are standing on the bottom step of a staircase and wanting to go up the stairs, you must use the step you are standing on in order to push off. Our fertile little brains immediately go to work to think up a way around the dilemma, such as leaping over the step. Sorry; there’s a flag down on the play because you had to push down on that bottom step to get off it onto the ground from which to leap! And if you are silly enough to attempt sliding gracefully up the banisters—which Mary Poppins in the book was supposedly able to do—you (she started from terra firma, not from the step) will still have to use the step you are already standing on in order to accomplish it.
Unpacking this metaphor, or interpreting this parable as Jesus often did for his disciples, the step represents current reality (the Philosopher of course would prefer to say current actuality). Using current reality means first taking into account that it exists, that it is not imaginary. Perhaps the wood is rotten, or the step has been freshly painted and you failed to notice the WET PAINT signs. And are you certain that this is the staircase you really want to ascend? Is it dark at the top of the stairs, and is that helpful or not? Do you actually know what is at the top of these stairs, or is it a mystery? How could you learn more about them? What do you plan to do once you get up there? Is there a Plan B, depending on what you encounter along the way?
I first learned of this particular metaphor from an old book in the Prentice-Hall self-help series: William E. Edwards, Ten Days to a Great New Life (1963). My edition was the tenth, published in 1970, so it must have been successful! The metaphor appeared in a chapter titled “Improve Your Circumstances Rapidly”. All of the ideas in the book are basically ways of getting you to think outside the box, and this one was offered to people who felt stuck in their present circumstances and needed a reframe. The example in this case was “Bill”, who had “a measly little job and he’s perfectly justified in being dissatisfied with it.” As the author points out, it’s okay for him to feel dissatisfied with the job, “but he refuses to use it (which is disastrous).” At the end of a particularly boring day, the author asked Bill whether he had resigned. Bill’s wide-eyed response: “One doesn’t simply give up a job.”
The author went on to point out to Bill that if he didn’t resign, he decided to stay on it. “As long as you’re on this job and refuse to use it there can be no life force in you.” He continues:
The number one problem for most people is to find some way to get themselves to make use of things as they are today whether they like them or not. This can make you or break you. Without this realism you’re “oomphless”. Without this realism the mechanisms that supply you with energy, that fill you with hope, that give meaning to life, simply aren’t running. I gave Bill the following simple example:
Think of yourself in your present set-up as a person standing on a step in a flight of stairs. You don’t like the step you’re standing on—and it’s O.K. not to like the step that you’re on—but if you’re going to get off that step you have to use that step for the purpose of moving off it. It must support your weight as you push yourself off it.
What you’re doing is refusing to acknowledge the fact that you’re standing on that step and as long as you resist that fact you’re going to be stuck on it.
Tough realists always make use of their environments whether they like them or not. They don’t let themselves get bogged down in something just because they don’t like it. (pages 230-31)
For the first time, Bill tried to understand his job and what the company was trying to accomplish by having him do it. This led to an unexpected opportunity to improve it, which in turn made him able to think of taking steps to get out of it. He got himself transferred to another department far more suited to his talents, with a raise and a far more congenial boss into the bargain.
Another version of the same underlying idea comes from Reality Therapy, where the two first basic questions are, “What are you doing?” “Is it working?” The rubric for this is: “If what you are doing isn’t working, try ANYTHING else!” Really wacky, off-the-wall ideas can sometimes pay off in their own right, and even more often, lead to an idea that will work perfectly.
You also need a sense of when to hang on and when to let go of a situation. There’s an old song that goes:
“You got to know when to hold’em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.
You never count your money
While you’re seated at the table;
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealing’s done.”
This is a little bit different perspective, but it represents a range of perspectives on that step you are standing on. You fold in your previous life’s experiences and a bit of intuition, which is the still, small voice of God guiding you.
But when it’s time to get off that step, you have to find the courage and the guidance to stride out. In one of the old Indiana Jones movies, instructions have been given to step out into what appears to be empty space. Stepping out will cause the path to appear, but that really requires strong faith, belief that you are leading a God-directed life. Sure enough, taking that step changed the angle so that Indy could see a previously hidden path, wide enough to be secure. A similar occurrence is in the Old Testament, when the priests carrying the Ark have to step into an apparently rushing river, but their stepping in causes the waters to disappear, and they and the Ark cross over dry. (Joshua 3:13)
Finally, you may have been too busy and preoccupied to hold still and be guided by insight into ways to get off the step. In that case, the “anything else” is to be still and know, for a while, until the rest and silence allow your thinking to clear. “Peace; be still.”
May 2, 2017
Now Is the Month of Maying
Fa la la la la la la! Yes, something snapped. After computer woes last weekend (quickly and peacefully resolved with the aid of my trusted computer wizard), this weekend, it’s the HVAC. It appeared to have sprung a leak, but it actually proved to be a crudded-up drainpipe. Ah, but this required extensive research, and guess who was stuck bailing out the drip pan and hauling the bucket outside multiple times. Pasco County is currently suffering from the worst drought in its history, and when six drops of rain fell this morning, we got all excited, but to no avail. And seemingly no good news from anywhere.
But I am writing this on May 1, May Day, a traditional public holiday and day of general revelry. In recent times, it has become confounded with military displays and celebrations of organized labor, but it used to be a day for celebrating the end of winter and good wishes for abundant crops and other prosperity. Given a choice between fake rockets paraded past on trucks and soldiers or laborers marching in rows, I’ll take the Maypoles and flowers, thank you. (P.S.: It did rain the morning of May 2, a nice, soaking rain.)
England probably first comes to mind, with beribboned Maypoles and Morris dancing on the green. Someone gets crowned Queen of the May, and children sneak around hanging May baskets of flowers or candy on someone’s front door, ringing the bell, and running away to hide before anyone answers. Most of this probably dates back to pagan traditions, but Roman Catholics often bedeck a statue of the Blessed Mother Mary with flowers to crown her Queen of May on Mary’s Day. The idea is to celebrate springtime, looking towards fertility of the soil, livestock, and people in the upcoming growing season. Seeding time is generally completed, so it is a good time to give farm laborers a day off, and we might as well make it a party for the whole village. The tree known as the May tree is the common hawthorn, and its flower is known as the May blossom. Traditions here and there include hanging front-door wreaths of wild flowers—now usually from a nearby flower shop—till midsummer night, when they are gathered and set alight in bonfires, rather like burning Christmas trees on Twelfth Night.
Puritans, who often get a somewhat worse reputation as mirthless sourballs than they deserve, did ban May Day celebrations during Cromwell’s reign, but they were restored under Charles II. And, speaking of Puritans, the first Maypole revels in what later became the United States of America were held in May 1627 on Massachusetts Bay. On May 1, 1707, the Act of Union joining England and Scotland was signed, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain, a great reason to celebrate. In Oxford, it is traditional to sing madrigals at 6AM at the foot of a landmark tower after being up all night celebrating. Many students would then jump off a nearby bridge into the river, which, unfortunately, was only two feet deep at that point. That never ended well, so the bridge is now closed on May 1, but some still jump. Students at the University of St. Andrews sometimes run naked into the North Sea at sunrise, proving that youth is still wasted on the young.
Nowadays, most of the U.S. doesn’t make much of May Day, but Hawaii does celebrate its island culture on Lei Day. European nations have quite a collection of traditions associated with welcoming spring: Finland, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria (where they have rituals to protect one from snakes and lizards), and Romania (where they pray for protection for people and farm animals, and if you don’t take the day as a holiday, bad things will happen to you). Greece celebrates the entire month of May for the goddess of fertility, Maia, and the victory of life over death. Remember the story of Persephone, who during a visit to Hades swallowed six pomegranate seeds and was hence compelled to remain in Hades for six months of the year.
I remember reading somewhere that Unity, one of the three main divisions of the New Thought movement, has a lovely story of its cofounder, Myrtle Fillmore, being crowned Queen of the May at a time when, sweet and pretty as ever, she had been married to Charles Fillmore for many years. Usually, the May Queen is a Sweet Young Thing with beaux swarming around her.
Well, at least this has given us an opportunity to think about pleasant things such as spring, flowers, ribbons, dances, and abundant crops to come. New Thought teaches us that what you give your attention to, grows.
“Now is the month of Maying, when merry lads are playing, fa la la......
Each with his bonnie lass, together on the grass.”
“Tra la; it’s May, the lusty month of May, the time of year when everyone goes blissfully astray.”
Lagniappe: In the interest of disambiguation, the term May Day has another meaning totally separate from these springtime traditions. For some reason, a decision was made to change the international distress call from S.O.S. to May Day. At the time, French was the international language, and the call became M’aider, which in French sounds like May Day. It is short for Venez m’aider (come to my assistance).
April 25, 2017
Head or Heart?
Are you led by your head or your heart? Sooner or later, you will need to consult both, but where do you usually begin? Approximately half of us begin with the head; the other half begin with the heart. Typically, one group thinks the other is a bit strange.
Head and heart are metaphors for the intellect and the emotions. As long as we are in that particular metaphorical field, head and heart meet in the gut. That’s a bit strange anatomically, but there is more wisdom in it than you might imagine. Contemporary research tells us that the gut functions as an auxiliary brain, and there are direct connections between the gut and the brain in your head. This is one of the reasons for the emphasis on the importance of nurturing one’s microbiome (the world of assorted gut bacteria and other critters, good and bad; and even the “bad” ones are useful up to a point). Not only that, but each cell of our body— including gut cells—contains a bunch of mitochondria, ancient bacteria that morphed into little batteries for generating energy, and they can turn genes on and off, but only when they are well nourished and in tip-top shape.
We say we have a gut-level feeling, by which we mean an intuition, a hunch. Intuition kicks in after we have supplied all the intellectual support we can lay our metaphorical hands on and then turned the whole thing over to the other-than-conscious mind. A hunch is a sort of calm, quiet emotion coupled with a thought, an idea. Our internal computer has shuffled through all the data we have supplied it with, plus what it has received by prehension (the process term for nonsensory perception), and gently spit out an answer. Whether we do this before or after we have dealt with a raft of emotions connected with the issue at hand depends on our personality type. You may be a type that requires some sort of peace and quiet, perhaps a meditative state, to calm the emotions before using an intellectual approach. Or you may be a type that begins with reason and rides it as far as it will carry you, before you even notice what emotions come up for you. The ideal team for any purpose includes at least one of each type. By either route, it’s lovely when the cartoon light bulb appears over your head.
Since I’ve opened this particular can of worms, I might as well finish it. You may have heard of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory, created by a remarkable mother-daughter team and particularly popular with business people trying to build a team or just get an office full of people to get along with each other. This stuff goes back to the ancient Greeks and has gone through innumerable iterations over the millennia. Most scholars have ended up with four basic types, although there’s always somebody who has to go complicate things. One of the most recent scholars to devote his life’s work to additions and corrections to Myers-Briggs is David Keirsey, who made his transition in 2013. Keirsey corrected some terms inherited from Carl Jung that were unclear and imprecise. Then he mapped the whole thing across to people’s occupations, making it more observable and more directly useful. Here is a summary of his accomplishments, employing the Myers-Briggs letter codes that represent the four most important personality designations. If you aren’t familiar with those, you can read Keirsey’s Please Understand Me II and get caught up, should you find this intriguing and feel that it is important for you to have this information at your fingertips.
What separates man from the other primates are two things: use of words and use of tools. Words are either abstract or concrete. If a word is an abstraction, you can’t put it in a wheelbarrow, and it probably involves a lot of metaphors. If it’s concrete, it involves the five physical senses. Tools (and a tool can be anything from a screwdriver to a house or car) are either utilitarian (useful) or cooperative (What will the neighbors say if I do it this way?). Set this all up as a matrix, and you can see at a glance what type a person generally falls into. (There always are a few mavericks who have an X or two in their types, so you can’t pigeonhole them.) From this, Keirsey can tell you which occupations a person is likely to shine in. Examples: grades K-12 in school are loaded with SJ teachers, and a poor little NT can have hard going but comes into his/her own at the college and graduate school level. Many ministers are NFs, and SPs are outdoorsy and/or athletic. But that just scratches the surface!
According to Keirsey, I-E (Introversion/Extraversion) is the least important of the pairs, although it does make a difference in the way energy works for people. Extraverts gain energy from crowds: one party sets them up to go on to the next party. Introverts lose energy from groups: a party exhausts them so—even if they enjoy it—that they need to go home and perhaps have a quiet chat with just one or two other people to recover. That’s why you don’t see Is or Es in the four critical pairs of letters. Each of the four types has two Introvert versions and two Extravert versions.
So you can probably see how personality type affects whether one leads with intellect or with emotions, but how does God fit into this picture, or this picture fit into God? For ideas, let us look at an essay by Emmet Fox, “The Seven Main Aspects of God” (Alter Your Life). He goes over the difficulties we may have in picturing or contacting God, then lists his Seven Main Aspects (he never does say where he got them from). Aspects are “attributes of [God’s] nature, and the Seven are the most important. “These are seven fundamental truths about God, and all the others are built up of combinations of some of these seven. These truths never change.” Why do we care? “The quickest way to solve a particular problem is to meditate on whichever aspect is the most appropriate in that particular case. Thinking of any Aspect of God will solve a problem, but if you select the right Aspect you will get your result more quickly and more easily.” So what are they? Life, Truth, Love, Intelligence, Soul, Spirit, and Principle. Quick disclaimer: The Philosopher loved Emmet Fox, as we all do, but there were times when as a philosopher, he perceived certain things as out of whack. I am not going to attempt to straighten these out, but just plow ahead, realizing that trained philosophers in my audience may also be a bit bugged here and there. It wouldn’t be the first time!
What I want to emphasize here—and we don’t have to get involved with how many philosophers can dance on the end of a category error—is the Love Aspect of God and the Intelligence Aspect of God. In a burst of insight, I realized one day that these are both names for God, along with the 72 others from traditional Judaism. “There is no condition that enough Love will not heal”, says Fox. On the other hand, he also says: “When things in your life seem to be going wrong, treat yourself for Intelligence”. The fun is: “There are many attributes of God such as wisdom, beauty, joy, and so forth, but they are compounds, made up of two or more of the Seven Main Aspects. Wisdom, for example, is the perfect balance of Intelligence and Love.”
So we’re all fine!
April 18, 2017
Healing Power of Mind Q & A
Julia Anderson Root’s questions and answers are as fresh and interesting as the rest of her book. They have points of theology embedded in them, mostly the newer theology that cuts us free from some of the old Christian teachings that can feel like such a strait jacket. Yet she stays close to Scripture, especially the teachings of Jesus, although not the teachings about Jesus. Here are the questions:
What is God?
What is Truth?
What is Creation?
What is Mind?
What Is Matter?
What is Evil?
What is Time?
What is Religion?
What is Space?
What is Science?
These vary in length. I will give you the first one in its entirety:
God is the divine intelligence that creates, upholds and governs all things. He is self-existent—had no beginning and can have no ending. He is the great Fountain of Mind from which all other minds derive power and intelligence. He is not separated from His work, but “lives through all life and extends through all extent.” Neither is he [sic] separated from man, but will at all times hearken to the cry of those who seek him [sic] aright. The idea that God made this world as a mechanic makes a machine and sits apart to watch its operations, is a crude idea and worthy only of barbarous ages. [Gee, Julia, tell us how you really feel!] God is in His works. He is never idle, but is ever breathing the breath of life into and through all animate things. As a single lamp will light a million tapers without being in the least diminished, so countless billions of souls emanate from God without diminishing His power. (pages 191-192)
Notice that although Root refers to God as “divine intelligence” (impersonal), she retains the masculine pronoun with two exceptions that may have been editing errors. This supports the personalist philosophers in their belief that since personhood is the highest thing of which we humans have any knowledge, God must be at least that, which is a floor rather than a ceiling. “Lives through all life...” makes him everywhere present (today we don’t use so many capitals). She forcefully rejects deism (the Watchmaker notion). We also get the process notion that what God can do, God is already busy doing; we don’t have to beg or plead. At the end, she gives us the old Buddhist notion of one candle lighting another, which foreshadows a process version of the self/soul.
For Truth, she quotes Locke that it is “an affair of language” but explains it a bit differently from Alan’s “Truth is the property of a statement”: the idea that all statements are approximations of truth, and we seek ever closer approximations. Root seeks to distinguish truth from fact. We can rattle off facts as things done or events that happened, but “we cannot properly call these facts truths”. Rather, “Truth is the exact relating of these things as they exist and occur. But a truth may also be a principle, an inherent quality, a tendency—a something that has never taken place or been acted out.” Likewise, “mental and moral principles . . . . are all equally truths”. “Truth is an emanation from God”, and Root suggests that we “discover and act upon” the “rays of truth . . . streaming in every direction around us”. Alan never did like the term emanation, surely with good reason, but I never understood exactly what his reason was.
“[Creation] is the outward and visible manifestation of an inward creating intelligent power. It is the precipitation of the divine mind.” It had “no beginning”, “is a river that has flowed eternally . . . and will forever continue so to do”, and “is never finished”. [This points squarely toward process thought.] “Evolution is not opposed to creation, but rather adds strength and wonderment to it.” Yet “astronomy proves to us that worlds are still in process of formation. . . .”
Root’s definitions of Mind and Matter match Whitehead’s “Nature alive” and “Nature lifeless” to come. “When harmonious impressions are made upon the mind the results are health and happiness; when those impressions are discordant they produce pain and disease. How careful should we be then in subjecting ourselves to impressions.” Some consider matter to be “the only substantial and lasting thing in the universe, yet in truth, it is restless, fleeting, and unsubstantial. It is for ever and for ever undergoing change.” She adds, “The eye sees the chains of mountains, the firm rock that for thousands of years hath withstood the lashing of mighty waves, but these are ever changing.” Shades of Heraclitus! “As the clay is in the hands of the potter, so is visible matter in the power of invisible mind. And while this matter passes away, mind endureth forever.” She also emphasizes that she is absolutely not denying matter’s existence. Process, here we come!
“Evil”, says Root, “is an opposing force to that which is good, but it is not an equal force with goodness. Some persons call evil undeveloped good. If so, undeveloped good is evil. . . . But evil is not lasting; it passeth away. . . . Evil cannot destroy evil; this can only be done by truth.”
The Philosopher delighted in teaching his classes the example of one’s throwing a large block of wood at a drowning man, which hits him, so he drowns. But was the drowning man a friend whom one sought to help, or an enemy whose demise one sought to hasten? Intention, then, seems to play a role as well. The ill-fated attempt to help a friend would not be labeled evil. Good and evil, then, are value judgements, labels that we assign. Evil, Root continues, is out of harmony with God’s laws. “The aim of the mind-cure is to destroy evil by producing harmony and to bring every sinful man back to the laws of God.” Root objects to defining evil as being “nothing in itself—a mere negative of positive good, the same as cold is in itself nothing but a mere absence of heat”. I, too, have often objected to the “nothing but” reductionist approach to anything, as opposed to “something else”. Evil, like darkness and cold, has no substance; when you walk into a dark room and turn on the light, you don’t have to chase the shadows out of the doors and windows. Alan and Julia could probably have come to a meeting of the minds on this.
Root’s answer to the question of Time is long, and involves the idea that time is the condition in which forces [such as sun, rain, the laws of nature] operate but has no force of its own . . . .” Author Charles Hobbs, in a book on time management, defines time as “the succession of events one after the other” rather than something mysterious. You can’t manage time; you can only manage your mind. Alan and I used to teach a course, “Self Leadership Through Mind Management”.
The answer to the question of Religion holds that there are many answers given, but any definition “will be found more or less incomplete. The metaphysical healer, in dealing with the Bible, gives to it a spiritual significance, while many look at it entirely from a materialistic standpoint”. This is one of the shorter answers and is less satisfying that some of the others. Personalist philosopher Edgar Brightman defined religion as “a set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality”. By this, science and atheism are both religions, and many who hold to them believe that there is no Ultimate Reality. We can copy someone else’s religion or construct our own, but either way, we need to give it a lot of thought as to where it will take us.
“Space”, says Root, “is boundless and eternal. It is a sea without limit, without shores. In it all things swim and float. Without space no real existence is possible.” She continues, “Wherever we go, whether in body or mind, eternal space and its twin brother time are our companions.” And she was writing when Einstein was still a young child!
Finally, Science: “It is a common thing for people to use the word Science without having any definite knowledge of what it means. In brief it is only another word for knowledge. When this knowledge is classified and directed to some particular end, then we give that science a name.”
Root then quotes “Professor Huxley” as saying:
True science and true religion are twin sisters, and the separation of either from the other is sure to prove the death of both. Science prospers exactly in proportion as it is religious, and religion flourishes in exact proportion to the scientific depth and firmness of its basis. The great deeds of philosophers have been less the fruit of their intellect than of the direction of that intellect by an eminently religious state of mind. Truth has yielded herself rather to their patience, their love, their single heartedness, and their self-denial, than to their logical acumen.” (page 206)
Root wants to consider “the science of metaphysical healing as also a religion, or . . . a branch of religion”. Nowadays, we would be more inclined to consider science as involving a systematized approach to the study of a subject. The Philosopher and I have long emphasized that science and religion meet on the lap of philosophy, and we used to demonstrate that in our seminars. What we now refer to as science was once a part of philosophy and only split off in modern times.
This concludes our dip into Root’s book. The lady was amazingly ahead of her times in her understanding and practice.
April 11, 2017
Healing Power of Mind (8)
Mrs. Root wraps up the book we have been discussing with three chapters: “Necessity of Conditions”, “Moral Effects”, and “The Mortal and the Immortal”. She then adds, as a sort of appendix, “Questions and Answers”, which consists of a collection of what amounts to definitions of key terms.
“Necessity of Conditions” begins with a look back:
All through the pages of this book we have sought to make the widest possible distinction between mind and matter. We have also aimed to show that the invisible is the only real and permanent thing in the Universe. All the mighty changes that are forever and forever going on around us are simply the results of invisible mind, which in one direction or another is stamping itself upon dead, dull, inert matter. Hold in your hand a watch, and with its springs, levers, wheels, brightly polished, finely adorned metals, it is a thing of beauty—a thing of life. What has produced it? Mind! That mechanism was once dull, shapeless, inactive matter. As a watch, it owes its existence to mind. So it is with our houses, ships, palaces, monuments, machines, temples, and all things that entitle us to the name of civilization. A man that we call a sculptor, comes along with the unseen image of the beautiful imprinted on his unseen mind—he finds a senseless, ill-shapen block of marble, and upon this he carves the image of his mind. Behold the statue! What made it? Mind! Turn in what direction you please—put your question in any form you desire, and the answer will come back to you—it is mind! mind! that produces these mighty results. What is it that animates, moves and controls these muscles of the body—that makes the eye to see, the ear to hear, and the tongue to speak? It is mind, mind, everywhere. Watch the silent stars at night; hear the rushing of the cataract; the booming of the ocean; see the mighty forests, the gladsome flowers, and the countless forms of life that everywhere prevail, and ask what produces all these? The answer again comes—it is the mind! (pages 175-176)
This is very much a description of the era in which the author lived; today we would see different illustrations. But even in a world in which the latest wrinkle was the telegraph as a means of “forwarding messages”, a very mechanical world, her point is irrefutable: People who discount or dismiss thought, “invisible mind”, are deliberately or inadvertently ignoring what is everywhere to be seen.
But that is not Root’s main emphasis in this chapter:
Now, although we thus attribute everything to mind, and give to it a creative, a remedial and curative power, let it not be supposed that we entirely ignore the necessity of complying with conditions in order to obtain and preserve our bodies and minds in a healthy state. . . . Undoubtedly there are conditions which we now, in our imperfect state, have to comply with that by-and-by we shall entirely ignore. . . . We had at one time to comply with the conditions, sails, winds and currents in order to cross the ocean. Today we have rendered these conditions unnecessary. . . . And Utopian as it may seem to many, we believe that the age will come when even the telegraph will be superseded as a condition of forwarding messages. . . . Thus, one by one, man is overcoming conditions, and putting them aside as useless or harmless. These views will apply to man and his conditions of health. (pages 176-177)
Root gives as an example “the habits of the inebriate”. Mind power may enable us to “win a man from his inordinate craving for strong drink”, but that is not to say that should he revert to his old habits, “the drink will have no effect upon him”, or even that he will never again crave liquor. But, she says, we can give him the knowledge to enable him to become “the master of his appetite, and he shall never again become its slave”. Sickness and disease may come about through “sheer ignorance”, but “the inebriate and some kindred cases” are people who “know better than they act—they sin against knowledge”, and such cases “require a different kind of treatment”. We don’t have to encourage the equivalent of snake-handling to prove the strength of our faith, but we do have to educate and reform:
We know that the sanitary condition of our cities and houses everywhere requires to be improved. Ventilation in sleeping apartments, especially, is in the worst possible condition. Food is eaten that never ought to be taken into the stomach. The results are disease, suffering and premature death. Against these things we wage an uncompromising war. Our weapons are not drugs, for this would be putting one devil into the system to drive another out. (page 179)
As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (The more things change, the more they remain the same). The reformers of Root’s day did not have to contend with the damage done to bodies and environments by such “devils” as high-fructose corn syrup in the food, glyphosate in the fields and gardens that then gets into the food, fluoride in the drinking water, and the foxes in charge of the hen houses—but don’t get me started! As our elder Brother and Wayshower put it, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”. Root continues, remonstrating against “the habits of some medical men in telling their patients that their cases are serious, that such an organ is diseased, that the functions of another are disturbed, and another almost gone. This practice is as dangerous, if not more so, than the administration of drugs.” She encourages us all “to get out of bad conditions as speedily as possible—to expose ourselves to those conditions as little as possible; but when, through exposure, neglect or ignorance, disease is contracted, let them not add disease to disease by the use of poisonous drugs.” At the time she wrote, there was a cholera epidemic in France, and “skillful physicians cannot agree” about its cause. “It seems, however, to be conceded that fright kills more persons than the disease itself. Many have become insane through fear, while others have committed suicide. This is another proof of the effect of the mind upon the body.” She concludes the chapter, “[B]y far the greatest of all conditions in warding off disease of any kind, and in curing the same, is the condition of the mind itself.”
From here we move along to “Moral Effects”. Here, too, the more things change.... “When mind-cure study and practice have become universal . . . . it will change the face of society.”
There is need of change, look in what direction we will. The church, the school, the home and all institutions are afflicted with a great unrest. Disease, sickness of some kind, is in nearly every home of the land. This is lamentable and oftentimes heartrending. Look at war—that is an evil. Sometimes it is a necessity. But there are moments when the cannon has ceased its roar, the fierce charger is harnessed to the peaceful plow, and the proud sword sleeps in its scabbard; yet the black banner of disease is ever afloat—its victims are perpetually passing to untimely graves. (pages 183-184)
She could have been writing today. She goes on to state that mind-cure can help with people who are “peevish, stingy, and fretful.... These people are often disagreeable against their better nature”. New Thought principles and practices can often lead people to the solution for the cause of such frames of mind, whether dietary or otherwise environmental. But the person has to be open-minded and positive enough to be receptive to the solution when it appears. There’s an old New Thought adage, “God will reach you through whatever channel you can be reached”. Root adds: “We know of many instances where the habits and moral conduct of persons have been improved since they commenced the study of mind cure, and they have been made more charitable in their views of the moral deficiencies of other people.” She concludes:
[Mind-cure] has caused many persons to search the scriptures, with benefit to themselves, who had never read them before, or having read them had ceased their studies. We know that this science is the stern foe of atheism and materialism. There are instances where men and women have been led to a better and higher appreciation of the character and life of Christ from having seen the cures, heard the lectures and read the works of mind-cure scientists. (page 186)
This brings us to “The Mortal and the Immortal”: “We frequently speak of the mortal and the immortal part of a man. We also use the terms body, soul and spirit. In the Scriptures and also in common conversation we often use the words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ synonymously.” Root seeks “to keep these terms distinct, and to give to each a separate and definite meaning.” She starts out well enough:
Spirit: “that which is made in the image and likeness of God, and cannot err.”
Body: “that portion of a man which . . . has neither life, sensation, nor intelligence.”
Soul: “occupies an intermediate position between the spirit and the body. It is capable of entertaining and reflecting the divine principles of the Creator. And in proportion as it does this, man is free and happy. But in its fallen, darkened condition, soul reflects only error, discord and disease.”
At this point, she states: “Sometimes we call the soul in its darkened condition the mortal or carnal mind, in contradistinction to the spirit or immortal mind.” She seems to fall into the old trap of presenting the Devil in a new guise. One’s ego is one’s executive function and is very necessary and positive. (Ego simply means “ich”, I in German.) Egos can become diseased, unhealthy. She does state that Spirit can “drive away these darkened images and bring light and peace”. But rather than treat the body, she wants to treat the “mortal mind”. I think the Philosopher might word this a bit differently. Matter is real; yes, it is congealed mind, and current reality must be dealt with. Often, ground must be cleared before a new structure can be erected. But perhaps it’s just a question of wording, and we all may be on the same wave length after all.
To be concluded next week with “Questions and Answers”.
April 4, 2017
Healing Power of Mind (7)
In today’s excerpts, Julia Anderson Root discusses “Antiquity of Mind-Cure” and “Insanity”. In “Antiquity of Mind-Cure”, she begins by pointing out that even though it is spoken of as if it were new:
The truth is, that the mind-cure is as old as the [human] race. Read the history of any nation, peruse the narratives of all travelers, and you will find that in some form or other a belief in the power of mind over matter, and a practice of mental healing, have always obtained. We are aware that its antiquity does not prove its truthfulness, but it relieves it of the charge of modern invention or discovery. (page 161)
Ironically, “it is the very simplicity of the method that brings it into disfavor with many persons, especially with those who have pored over books, passed through colleges, and spent much time and money in placing them just where they stand.” They huff at the idea that “ignorant people” can effect cures when they with all their “skill and knowledge” fail. She goes on to mock the newly minted pedant examining a sick child and describing its condition with a collection of Latin words: “And pray, most learned doctor, give us an English name for that terrific disease. ‘Oh, ah, yes; well, it is the measles.’ Thank you for the modern name; you can keep the terms of antiquity for use on some future occasion.” She adds, “There is, at least, about the mind-cure the merit of simplicity. And this . . . should be the merit of all systems.” Rather than concern ourselves with whether something is antiquated or modern, “Let the inquiry be, Is it true, is it effective? . . . . Men need to be taught to trust more and more to their intuitions. It is by these, more than by learning and philosophy, that the world has been carried forward.” She could still learn a thing or two from my household Philosopher, but that is a separate subject.
Root here shifts gears to turn attention to the modern  attention to mind-cure in the United States: “Its progress here of late years received its greatest impulse from Dr. P. P. Quimby, a native of Belfast, Maine”, and supplies a long quotation from “Dr. Dresser, of Massachusetts”, describing Quimby’s practice, his character, and his cures, as an eyewitness [I think she may have inadvertently conferred a doctorate on Julius Dresser, who was a journalist, as distinguished from his eldest son, Horatio, a Harvard Ph.D. in philosophy. But New Thought is infamous for sprinkling around unearned titles or titles earned at unaccredited institutions. Admittedly, some honorary degrees conferred by academia or by popular acclaim—as for Quimby—are deserved.] Julius Dresser includes a description of a closet full of “crutches and canes that had been left there by people who had come to the doctor in various crippled conditions, and had gone away without the need of these supports.”
Root continues, referring through indirect quotation to a Boston journal description:
In Boston there are four schools of this system, and all of these hold as their fundamental idea that disease does not come from God, and that He has nothing to do with its perpetuation, but that it is one of the errors of man, which can be cured by truth; the application of this truth is not by faith, but by an intelligent understanding. The schools, however, disagree in regard to later developments, some claiming to be farther advanced than the others. (page 166)
The heads of the four schools she describes as Dr. [Warren Felt] Evans, Mrs. Eddy, Dr. E. J. Arens, and Dr. J. A. Dresser, along with “about a dozen others who practice the mind-cure as a profession, and who teach to classes of young and old the methods of curing.” She next describes her own recollection of Quimby:
Of Dr. Quimby, we remember when a girl, of his going round the country effecting cures that were looked upon by many as being miracles. There was an anecdote told of him that we think has not before found its way to print:—When near Portland, Maine, he called at a house, to the inhabitants of which he was a stranger. He found a middle-aged man seated on the verandah, and asked if he could obtain a drink of water. The man replied that he could, but as his people were away, and he was lame from rheumatism, that he would have to help himself. Quimby replied that he did not think he was lame, and believed he could walk. The man said, “It is a long time since I have been able to walk, or even to move about, except by the aid of crutches.” Quimby replied, “I realize that you can walk; give me your hand.” He took the man by the hand and caused him to walk back and forth on the verandah; and before he left, the lame man had no use for his crutches, and could walk as well as he ever could. When his people returned, greatly to their astonishment, they found him walking in the garden. He asked Quimby for his name, but this he refused to give, for the reason that he hated notoriety. He would “do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame.” Of such stamp was this modern apostle of the mind-cure. (pages 167-168)
Root concludes the chapter: “India, China, Japan, Egypt, Syria, even our old Scandinavian mythology, are rich with accounts of cases that have yielded to this silent, unseen influence, when all other means have failed. Fortunately, we have both antiquity and modern times on our side.”
The chapter on insanity is brief. “No man has yet been enabled to draw the line of demarcation between sanity and insanity.” But just because there is not a clear line, “we must not contend that there are not two distinct conditions of mind. The use of one term to express a condition, necessarily implies the opposite. Otherwise, we are all either sane or insane.” She mentions several inventive geniuses who were initially labeled insane, as well as people “deemed insane on one point and some on another, while others are insane at one period of time and at other moments are deemed perfectly rational and intelligent. . . . It is purely a matter of opinion.” She lists some of the “many causes” of insanity, such as loss of money or friends or children, “the use of opiates and narcotics, fright, starvation”, and in at least some cases, it is inherited. Then, she lets us have it, both barrels:
Now, there must be something rotten about our boasted civilization, or else about our physical and mental doctors, when this scourge is a thousand times more distinguishable among civilized than among uncivilized nations. . . . Our asylums are but institutions for the preservation of insanity. (page 173)
She has not yet had an opportunity to try curing a case of insanity, but “we shall certainly try the experiment without fear of the result. We hope to see the time when the mind-cure will be given as fair a trial for treating the insane as is now given to a system of close confinement and drugs.” Today, there are far fewer cases of people shut up in insane asylums, but many roam the streets, restrained only by mental chains created by drugs. Since it is “an utter impossibility” that the spirit can become insane, and that insanity “can have its origin in matter, is, to us, simply an absurdity”. She believes that we should look for the cause “in the unconscious mind, or in the disarrangement of that condition of vitality and sensation that is brought about by the influence of mind upon matter”.
Even today, less attention is paid than should be to the effects of malnutrition on the mind as well as on the body. Doctors have long been aware of extreme deficiencies in—for example—certain B vitamins, which deficiencies can cause insanity. But why does one person succumb in, say, starvation conditions in a prison camp, while another comes through pretty much unscathed? The power of thought for better or worse is apparent.
To be continued.
March 28, 2017
Healing Power of Mind (6)
With today’s chapters, “Personal Experience” and “Instructions for Healing”, we’re getting to where the rubber meets the road. Mrs. Root begins with her own experience, described using the editorial we:
When we began to investigate the claims of this science, we did so with the determination of making our researches thorough. We had previously investigated a number of the isms of the day, but we could find no resting place, and were mentally starving for something to believe in and feed upon. The more we studied and thought, the more brightly the light dawned upon us, and we soon found that the mind-cure was capable of doing all that its most ardent advocates claimed for it. About the first practical truth that we had of its efficacy was when we were cured of diphtheria in about twenty minutes by a lady who had had some experience in the science. We then commenced studying the system. (page 131)
Well, yes; that would tend to get her attention. Root doesn’t say who diagnosed her or what her symptoms were, but let us give her the benefit of the doubt.
She then continues to describe her own first patient, a lady suffering from neuralgia and in a great deal of pain for days, unable to sleep:
On her chest and sides were numerous mustard plasters, which had afforded her no relief. We told her that if she would follow directions, and would remove her plasters, we would treat her for her complaint. This she did, saying she would do anything to get rid of her pain. We then gave her a treatment of about fifteen minutes, at the end of which time she felt almost free from pain, and expressed astonishment at the result. That evening she retired early, slept till nine o’clock the next morning, and rose refreshed and perfectly free from pain. When we called upon her she expressed great surprise at the cure. We then gave her instructions how to treat herself. (page 132)
Root adds, “[T]his act gave us more confidence in the mind-cure than all the reasoning in the world could have done.”
The chapter continues to describe a dozen or so cases ranging from nervous disorders to organic disease. “We have given the above testimonials, not for the purpose of parading our own skill, but as so many facts, proving beyond a doubt that the mind-cure proved effective where the skill of the best medical men, aided by the power of all the drugs in their pharmacopaea, had failed.” In the time since the first edition of this book came out, Root had healed large numbers of people and taught people to heal themselves and others. No method of healing bats 1,000, and even Jesus was unable to heal where there was insufficient faith. In Root’s own example as well, faith clearly means belief that healing is possible rather than belief in a particular theology or worldview. She points out, “He who teaches a new science must necessarily meet with the opposition, misrepresentation, and ofttimes with the persecution of the world.” Still, “we have cause to rejoice at the success we have met with and the treatment we have received. While we have frequently been misrepresented through the press, we have also, through the same channel, received many words of encouragement and praise.” She continues “to meet honest skepticism with arguments and facts.” The chapter ends with several examples of cases Root was able to cure with mind-cure after the medical profession had failed. One of the most striking was the case of a teenage girl who had mistakenly swallowed a few drops of lye. Her mother gave her cream to swallow, but she misunderstood and held it in her mouth, so that her esophagus was terribly damaged and months passed with suffering. A physician was able to stretch the esophagus daily, keeping it from closing completely, which would have been fatal. Such cases are apparently rare, and the girl’s mother thought that complete recovery was “unknown”. She states:
Mrs. Root gave her treatment for one week, when she was able to swallow without external pressure and without the disagreeable attendant noiselike croaking that was so annoying, and she has eaten and swallowed beefsteak this week for the first time in five years, and I feel that very shortly there will be a complete cure.” (page 142)
Root concludes the chapter: “These, we think, ought to be sufficient to satisfy the most skeptical of the efficacy of this science to entirely cure organic as well as functional diseases.”
So, after all these chapters to set us in the right frame of mind, what are the “Instructions for Healing”?
All that we have advanced in previous chapters has either a direct or indirect bearing upon the subject of the present chapter, and it is absolutely necessary that the positions we have taken should be thoroughly understood, otherwise the student is not likely to meet with success in curing disease, either in himself or others. The conviction must be thoroughly implanted in the mind, that mind and matter are two distinct things, whether matter is in an organized or unorganized state. Next, that it is mind only that can feel, think and act, and the only thing in creation that possesses force. (page 147)
I can about hear the Philosopher shouting from somewhere in the vicinity of the Great White Throne that the statement as written is dualism, but Root is nonetheless trying to make an important point, one that Quimby also struggled to make. Matter is mental in nature; I like to describe it as congealed mind, which Alan didn’t really like either, but he was willing to put up with it. Matter is mind that — as Whitehead would say—has concresced into a past occasion of experience and is hence a lot harder to change than an occasion that is still forming for an entire tenth of a second or whatever it is. The only time in which we can act is now; we can only change the past by piling up more moments of now on top of it. We can visualize what we want for the future from the vantage point of now, and influence the other-than-conscious mind, our success-seeking servomechanism, to go to work for us. But Julia Root didn’t have that understanding yet; let’s stay with what she did have, which is also vital here:
For the truth of this proposition we do not rely simply upon mathematical demonstration and visible facts, but also upon that which is equally convincing, namely innate consciousness. When a person says, “I have a headache;” “I have pain in the stomach;”, what is the ‘I’? Plainly, it is not the head nor the stomach that speaks. It is something outside and independent of these organs, for it speaks of them as being distinct from itself. . . . Here the ‘I’ speaks of ‘my’ things—that is, that the ‘I’ is not these organs, but that it owns them. They are not me, but mine—that is, I am something independent of them. This something is the soul.
The position we take is, that the body and its organs are but the correspondences of a spiritual body and organs. These spiritual organs are the real and lasting, while the material are but manifestations, and are not lasting. These material manifestations cannot control the spiritual, but the spiritual can and does control the material. (pages 147-148)
Root continues with a page-and-a half all-purpose treatment, which one can tailor to the patient and the circumstances. This is just a toe in the water; there is, as she says, so much that even experienced healers don’t understand yet:
Everything is possible that is not morally impossible. The impossibilities of one age become the possibilities of the next. The old practitioners in drugs have pronounced it impossible to cure certain cases, but the metaphysical healer [I wish she wouldn’t call them that] has cured many of them. (page 50)
Too much importance cannot be attached to the influence of the will in effecting cures. Not that the will itself is a curative agent, but it directs and concentrates forces which are healing agents. It also keeps off evils. A person, to be a successful healer, either of himself or others, must believe not only in the power but also in the freedom of the will. A believer in the necessitarian or fatalist doctrine need never hope to meet with success. . . . Necessity is a true doctrine with regard to some things, and so also is freedom of the will. Two opposites explain and limit each other. . . . Will is a first cause—it is self-originating, hence its power. (pages 152-153)
Root repeats the earlier warning that although someone is fully cured of something, it may return “if the patient is exposed to the old conditions and influences. Also, a condition sometimes appears at first to be growing worse” [this is sometimes referred to as chemicalization , as the body regroups and cleans house.] “It must always be remembered that we are not treating matter, but mind. We must try to lift up and cherish the spirit, so that it will rise above all discord and inharmony.” Now perhaps even worse than then, we so often push ourselves to keep going despite all kinds of stress, never giving ourselves time off, or recreational pleasures.
The true healer must have something of the missionary spirit in him if he would be successful. . . . and, like a true missionary, the healer must not fail to take into account the power of kind words and acts. The worst way to reform the world is to condemn it, and the worst way to heal diseases and cure persons of their errors, is to condemn the individual. . . . We do not find physical perfection anywhere. So in our moral nature we can find defects in every human being. This should teach us charity; and whether the disease be physical, mental or moral, treatment that is based on sympathy and kindness will prove effective when uncouth and censorious measures will fail. (pages 158-159)
Our heavenly Father, however conceived of, is always there ahead of us. Don’t ever try to leave him out of the equation; he supplies the possibilities: Past + Divine Offer + Choice = Co-Creation. Root gets a bit close to this in the next chapter.
To be continued.
March 21, 2017
Healing Power of Mind (5)
Today’s discussion of Julia Anderson Root’s Healing Power of Mind begins with a chapter on the efficacy of prayer: “What is prayer? ‘It is the heart’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed.’” She points out that humankind here (as in so many things) can be divided into two classes, “those who expect too much from praying, and those who flatly deny its utility.” She continues: “There are good prayers, and there are vain, foolish, and even malicious prayers. The time has come when it behooves our churches to look a little more closely than they have hitherto done at the uses and power of prayer.” Examples of not-so-good prayers would include those for blessings that the pray-er “is too indolent to labor for”, or those that do not take into account all the stakeholders, as with two monarchs going to war against each other, believing in the same God, and both praying for success in their armed ventures. Another such would be two adjacent farmers, one praying for rain, the other for dry weather. As Root points out, Jesus taught us to pray to the Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Those who do not believe in the power of prayer, and possibly do not even believe in God might ask, “But will not God do His will without our praying to him?”
We answer that God and the Universe will do that which is right and proper for us when we supplicate aright. Prayer alone is a useless thing, but prayer with work in the right direction is a combination of power that nothing can resist. There is not a man on earth who does not, at some time or other, pray. An inspiration is a prayer; and there never yet was a man who aspired to, and prayed for, a good and needed thing that was not drawn nearer to that goodness, and its attainment thereby made more easy. . . . May not a true prayer be an appeal to a law, or to the invoking of a law? We know not. We find that our own intense desires are often communicated to other minds, even without our uttering a word. (pages 106-107)
We may have no idea how this process works, but there is abundant evidence of answered prayers. I am reminded of “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24), stated by the father of the child possessed by a “deaf and dumb spirit”. That father had still had sufficient faith to seek out the assistance of Jesus, and the child was healed. But Root also points out that a man suffering from extreme hunger does not need one’s prayer; he needs to be fed: “In these cases good deeds are the only effective prayers”. She elaborates:
Christianity makes one better by purifying the erring mind; it is the right thought which brings forth the right act. Not prayer of words, but of works; in other words, the understanding of God is the pure fountain wherewith to purify the streams and destroy error, sin, sickness and death. Praying God to forgive our sins would be like asking the principle of mathematics to work out a problem for us, or to forgive our mistakes. Principle neither forgives nor punishes; it is stationary and unchangeable. We must reach it with thoughts, not words; and through the understanding of it, destroy error or “cease to do evil and learn to do well.” (pages 109-110)
The Philosopher would want me to add quickly that it is a philosophical error to regard God as Principle, for Principle is an “it”, an abstraction, and God is concrete. But the analogy given here still holds true. “Asking God to do our work is asking amiss, and we receive not. ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap also.’” [I recall that businessman Gardner Hunting wrote a book with the title, Working With God (Unity, 1934).] “Instead of asking God to forgive sin and heal the sick, we should seek the understanding of God, Truth, Life and Love, and this pure fountain will cleanse the mind and destroy all error. The incorrect views entertained of God hide the understanding.” Oh, my! Could this be where our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909) got his cistern metaphor?
Having our thoughts in union with God on all that is right and good, and opposed to all that is wrong, our body, governed by this mind, could not be sick. . . . [W]e should place no faith in drugs, neither pray to Almighty God to heal us, and act against our prayer by taking medicine, denying in practice what we admit in statement, and showing that we hold drugs superior to God. Prayer of words will become obsolete, and thoughts and works more than words, as we understand God better. (page 111)
Root concludes the chapter by stating, as did Quimby, “The people are not correctly taught by the clergy or by the doctors. These teachers, as well as the people, are all in the material. They are not spiritual. . . . You cannot get into the new unless you can get out of the old.” If sickness begins in the mind, then its remedy must also begin there.
The next chapter, “Instructions to Mothers”, is briefer than most of the other chapters, possibly because it is of less universal application; however, each of us is acquainted with at least one mother! With no biographical information on Root, we do not know for sure whether she was herself a mother, and she gives no indication one way or the other in her writing. Her point is that children have “a right to sound and healthy constitutions”, yet in her day more so than now, she quotes Herbert Spencer: “Seriously, is it not an astonishing fact, that though on the treatment of offspring depend their lives or deaths and their moral welfare or ruin, yet not a word of instruction on the treatment of offspring is ever given to those who will hereafter be parents?” Today, much guidance is given, especially to mothers, about how to care for the physical needs of an infant or young child, but how much guidance is given concerning eating wholesome food instead of junk, living by the Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments, and upholding the laws outlined in our U.S. Constitution, which is based squarely on Judeo-Christian principles? Other points: As well as belonging to its parents, a child belongs to its country and to God. “It is in the power of the mother, to a very large extent, to mold and make the character of her offspring.” Also: “Mothers should be taught to know the influence that mind has over matter, and then, for the sake of their children, they should use that knowledge.” There is nothing wrong with “taste in dress”, but there are “higher aims in life”.
The third chapter for today is “Declaration of Principles”. It recounts an invitation extended by the San Francisco Evening Bulletin to Root while she was there engaged in curing and in “teaching the science of metaphysical healing”, to “make a brief statement of our views and claims for publication in that paper. This we did . . . . “ She then reprints her communication and the editor’s answer, which appeared in the same issue. Root’s main points were: 1) All diseases are mental in nature and are “but effects, having their origin in the regions of mind and not of matter”. 2) Although drugs may temporarily cover up diseases, they eventually reappear. Many people, though admitting cures by mind-cure, claim that “the diseases so cured are always . . . of a nervous nature. This is not true.” 3) “The early Christians always practiced the gifts of healing—and declared that those gifts came from God”, even though many Christians “seem disposed to doubt whether these powers have descended to modern times” [as true today as in Root’s day. She then refers to the power of magnetism and of departed spirits, which she has discussed in an earlier chapter of this book.] 4) “Disease is a discord, an error, and we recognize no power beneath the Divine to remove it. When this is recognized and acted upon, the problem of disease or discord in God’s children will be solved, and harmony, health and happiness will reign upon the earth.” She signs herself, “Respectfully, Julia Anderson Root”.
The editor’s response states that Root “does not agree with the views expressed in this journal”. He continues, in a piece twice as long as Root’s that distorts what she said, to claim that only certain diseases can be treated in this way, but that “the last stages of consumption” cannot be cured in this way [and Quimby wholeheartedly agreed]. He goes on to describe illnesses “limited to the nervous system and the mind of the victim” that have “room for the play of all sorts of quackery”, and states that bread pills were “an old application of the faith cure”. He does seem aware that many mental illnesses are actually caused by nutritional deficiencies, but he clearly does not know that up to 90 percent of all illnesses are of this mental/nutritional nature. “But when one is run over by a locomotive and his legs are mashed to a jelly, the faith cure must be counted out.” He is not the first to confuse faith cure and mind cure.
Root, however, has the last word in her chapter. She states, referring to the reply: “[I]t so well illustrates the fallacies and errors into which so many fall, and the misunderstanding of the words ‘mind-cure’ [part of the reason for later changing the name to New Thought].” Disease may also originate “some time or other in the error, mistake, or discord of the mortal mind [the human race consciousness]. Man is mysteriously connected mentally with his fellows.” [You bet!] She continues:
Christ himself recognized the necessity of conditions in effecting cures. What does it mean when it is stated: “And he could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief”? Here was an admission that belief or faith was a necessary element to success in those particular cases. If a man should come to us with a disease and obstinately refuse to believe that we could cure him, or strongly doubted that we had any power whatever to do him any good, these fears and doubts would go a long way in keeping him in his diseased condition. But with the perfect knowledge in the mind of the operator and a perfect faith in the mind of the patient, we recognize no limit to the cure of any disease. (pages 129-130)
She concludes: “What [the editor] urges mainly against the mind-cure can be urged against cures by any method or process whatever.” Today we have far more support from research in psychology as well as other sciences to support New Thought principles and practices, and we have a process understanding of God and the operation of God’s laws, which God knows we aren’t familiar with most of.
To be continued.
March 14, 2017
Furthermore Healing Power of Mind
Julia Anderson Root seems to be delving into topics related to mental healing rather like petals of a flower. We begin today with “Death”, and she hopes “not to make this chapter either gloomy or in any way disagreeable”; and she supplies a quotation from Percy Bysshe Shelley describing death as “wonderful”, even though, as Root points out, “Death has been called the king of terrors”. She goes on to say that all the negative things we have been told about death are “not now speaking of mind, but of physical organization”. A plant that can no longer use earth, air, rain, and sun “is withered and rotted by the very things which before nourished it.” Death, she concludes, “means a dissolution of physical organism and a destruction of form. But the word death is often used . . . . to express a state of torpor or indifference, or a want of certain qualities and things. . . . By these expressions it is not meant to convey dissolution, much less total destruction.” She adds, “[I]f we live in constant dread of death there is something sadly wrong in our condition”, for in such state we cannot “enter into healthful diversions”.
Root also wants us to understand, “we do not enter eternity at death—we enter it at birth.”
If we would be well and happy—if we would see and learn the fleeting, the mortal and perishable, from the immortal, then we must shut our eyes on the outward and dying universe, and open them to the inward and living universe. This is what may be called the interior insight, and to this there can be no death. So that we may say that the true mind-cure scientist believes in living and not in dying. There is no death only to that which emanates from the carnal mind—in its own beliefs it creates its own images, and to itself these are real. We are told that the carnal mind is at enmity with God; consequently this condition of things can only be destroyed by an understanding and application of truth. (page 77)
Moving right along into “Scriptural Arguments”, our instructor tells us, “We have as yet taken no position for which we cannot find scriptural authority.” Reminding us of how freeing from the past this movement eventually appropriately titled New Thought is, she continues:
We are advancing no new doctrine, but only aiming to give force and vitality to an old one—a doctrine taught and practised by the Master. It appears to be assumed by large masses of church members, that Christianity consists in passing a life of praise and prayer, and preaching against the moral evils of the world. Christ taught both by precept and example that one of the chief duties of life was to cure suffering and banish bodily disease. The ancient temples were at once church and hospital. The early Christians were healers, conceiving it to be their imperative duty to follow in Christ’s footsteps, for they felt the truth of the saying, “Except ye have the spirit of Christ ye are none of his.” We feel that it is one of the most damaging omissions in the lives of modern Christians that sufficient prominence has not been given to the healing of disease. . . . [T]hough they speak of faith as a necessary thing to spiritual salvation, yet they have lost sight of it as a word full of meaning, and having direct reference to the curing of all bodily disease. Christ constantly spoke of faith as the great and requisite in everything, especially to the curing of disease. (pages 79-80)
Root goes on to state that Jesus did not use drugs. Even if one concedes that today’s science has made some advances, he did not recognize drugs as “useful or necessary agents”. She then quotes several descriptions of healings, calming the tempest, and the parable of the sower. She makes the points that Jesus in some cases refers to lack of faith or part-time (“little) faith, and in some cases counsels the former sick person, “Sin no more” (sin being the translation of a Greek archery term meaning to miss the mark). She mentions specifically the statement, “And he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” If even Jesus required that there be faith at least as much as a tiny mustard seed, what can the rest of us expect? Every case is different, and Jesus used different means of curing the same ailment at times. However, I would mention that at times a person is too sick to pray for him- or herself, and at such times “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”.
Root concludes the chapter by reminding us, “we do not believe in miracles—that is, as the popular mind understands them”. As we have recently discussed in connection with early and late modern philosophy, so-called miracles do not set aside or contravene the laws of God. “They are the results of laws that are brought into play, of which the mass of people are ignorant. Christ never claimed to perform miracles. What he did was entirely in accordance with the laws of God”, and he even told his followers that they would do such works themselves, and greater. Sickness is not an affliction of God; it is a violation of God’s laws (see Lamentations III, 33). “Since the days of Asa, just how many have slept with their fathers because they ‘sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians’. . . . As many more have lived lives of suffering because their whole system has been poisoned with drugs.” Today, accurate figures would reveal that the second leading cause of death is iatrogenic (doctor-and drug-induced) illness.
But we do not dwell here; we turn to “Heredity and Longevity”. Today, we know that heredity does not account for nearly as much as it was once thought to do, although it can account for good things as well as bad. A couple of years after Root’s first edition of this book was published, Unity co-founder Myrtle Fillmore attended a lecture and came to her great realization: “I am a child of God, and therefore I do not inherit sickness.” Two years later, she was well of hereditary tuberculosis and remained so for the rest of her long life. Root concludes this chapter by stating, “Metaphysical science [sic] says, desire to live long, but also desire to live well. Good actions are of more importance than longevity, but if we live in accordance with God’s laws, both are attainable.”
Our final chapter for today is “Spiritualism”. Root nails her colors to the mast from the get-go: “The mind-cure is the most spiritual of all sciences and systems. We have no desire to enter into a controversy with that large body of citizens calling themselves Spiritualists.” She adds, “[W]e neither practice clairvoyance not consult the spirits of the departed when performing our cures.” Yes, Quimby was clairvoyant, but that is not an absolute requirement for mind-cure. “We do not deny that some of these things may afford temporary relief, but we doubt their efficacy in effecting permanent cures.” Since Root’s time, it has been pointed out that cures effected by mass healing services are often not permanent because the person caught up in the emotion of the service has not done the necessary work in consciousness to be permanently healed. “We take the position that for effectual cures of disease we must draw from the Divine Fountain of our being, and this we can only do by placing ourselves in harmony with God. . . . While on this earth we are as much spirits as those who have gone beyond the veil.”
Root continues, setting aside a couple of other possibilities:
We recognize no benefit from the mere contact of the hand, for this would be an admission that there was a curative property in matter. What magnetism is, we know not. . . . Certain it is that it is not mind itself. Neither do we pretend to know what mind is, and it may be we shall never know. (page 100)
Research since Root’s time has shown the usefulness of touch in healing, but not in the context in which she speaks. And magnetism was long since discredited, beginning at the time of Quimby, who himself helped to discredit it; however, magnets do have healing properties, again in a different context that was not known back then. Also, she mentions doctors from the spirit world recommending drugs, and comments: “Now, as we entirely ignore the use of drugs, of what use would it be to us to call upon these spiritual doctors? We have quite a sufficient number of M.D.’s of that stripe in this sphere of existence without seeking to call back those who have left their nostrums on earth.” Yes, doctors and drugs have helped many people, but they have also done a great deal of damage. I have said before that we should begin—as Root has indicated—with the laws of nature concerning wholesome food and drink, rest and exercise, turning to doctors and drugs only as a last resort.
Root winds up her chapter with a discussion of Swedenborg and Andrew Jackson Davis. Swedenborg at least claims to receive his information and instruction “directly from the Lord”, and Jackson himself denies being a medium. Root comments:
[I]f Swedenborg received information from the Lord, why should not other men, and all men according to their spiritual condition? Has God selected only a few men in thousands of years to make his desires and ways known to his children? He is unchangeable [in his loving dependable character, for process thinkers] and no respecter of persons. If A. J. Davis can drink from unfailing fountains of wisdom, are those fountains sealed to every one except Mr. Davis? Is it not right and reasonable to suppose that every one can drink thereat, receiving according to his own capacity of receptivity? . . . . [W]hy cannot the teacher and believer in mind-cure go to the Great Infinite Spirit or the Great Infinite Fountain for their supply of health or their power to banish disease? . . . . If God is the God of all knowledge, so is He the God of health. If ignorance is the enemy of God, so is disease; and for power and knowledge to banish them both, we should go direct to the Great Infinite Source. (page 103)
To be continued.
March 7, 2017
Still More Healing Power of Mind
We have been delving into the whole subject of the healing power of mind by perusing an early New Thought book with that title, by someone who as a little girl knew Quimby: Julia Anderson Root.
In her chapter, “Mission and Duty of Man”, Root is at some pains to point out to us that we humans sooner or later ask ourselves, Why am I here? “I cannot carry [pieces of gold] with me [when I die]. . . . of what use are they to me? ... to what end have I lived?” Her reply: “Man . . . . is but one of the products of the great intelligent force that lies behind and produces and moves the whole universe. . . . We, in common with all things, animate and inanimate, are alike products of the divine intelligence. Can the clay judge the potter?” Then why do we have a conscience? “Why are we, in spite of ourselves, compelled to condemn cruelty, untruth and injustice? Simply because we have something of the godlike within us. . . . There is no man so low down, there is no soul stained so foully with sin but is compelled to love the good, the beautiful and true, and hate that which is false.”
This immense “power behind nature” . . . has not made anything in vain . . . . [W]e are, in fact, workmen placed here to carry out the wise and beneficent plan of God.” She elaborates:
An architect plans a temple, and his specifications are only so many directions to workmen what they are to do for its erection. . . . And thus he places his workmen in the various positions where they can be useful. But any of these workmen might say, “Of what use is my work. I can see no good, no use in it. It is incomplete in itself, and must end in nothing.” But the architect who placed these men at their different tasks knew that if every man faithfully performed his own work all their labors would harmonize in the end, and the result would be a temple of beauty. . . . God can see that if we will faithfully perform those tasks they will harmonize in the end, and the results will be of benefit to ourselves, of use to others, and glory to Him. (pages 56-57)
She then ties this back to the subject of health:
Amongst the chief duties of man is that of obtaining and preserving health. A man may possess the wealth of a continent, but if he is the constant victim of disease and suffering, he is a poor man compared with the day laborer, whose pulse beats with health by day and whose nights are blessed with refreshing sleep. (page 57)
She concludes the chapter with a long quotation from Emerson extolling the advantages of wellness. From here, we launch into a chapter, “Power of Mind over Body”. Our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909), laid much stress on the idea, “I rule the body” (see my new Sunny Apartments: The Thought of Henry Wood, available in softcover or Kindle editions from Amazon.)
Root begins by stating her disbelief “in what is usually styled an axiom in philosophy, namely, ‘that every effect must have its cause, and every cause must have its effect.’” She explains:
Both as a matter of reason and consciousness, we deny this. What, for instance, is volition? It is force in energy directed to some particular end. Whence comes this force? We answer, it originates in the invisible mind. Mind is in itself a first cause, so far as volition is concerned. And the same thing cannot be observed of matter. The materialist assumes that mind is not distinct from matter, or that mind is not an entity separate and apart from matter. If this assumption was true, then it would make man a mere machine to be acted upon and moved by physical causes. If matter has properties peculiar to itself, so has mind, and one of these properties is that it can originate causes. . . . [M]ind can gain such mastery over the material body. It can animate and move it. It can fill it with health when wrongly directed with disease and suffering. When rightly directed by faith and knowledge, it can purge the body from all pain and impurities. (pages 59-60)
Root then paraphrases a lengthy newspaper quotation from “a prominent London physician” on the importance of the patient’s making up is mind that he is going to get well”. She adds, “The very first condition of life is hope”. She summarizes, “[T]here is an invisible something that has an incalculable and wondrous power in curing disease, when the visible drug proves ineffectual.” Allopath, homeopath, or magnetic healer may wrangle, but no one form of cure is effective in all cases. French scholars tried to attribute the success of magnetism to “imagination” (suggestion), but Root points out, “This is another admission of the power of mind.” We are then treated to other healing examples and another long quotation from an English physician on the subject of the effect of mind on body, including remarks: “[A] man is just as well as he feels”, and “Disease kills more victims through the mind than by the body. . . . I believe that more persons are killed by ‘the fear of death’ than by disease.” Root comments, “Who can be blamed, after such opinions as these, for doubting the power of drugs to cure disease?”
The next chapter is “Disease and its Remedies”. Root begins, “What is disease? It is the result of a departure from the spiritual laws of God. Its true cause is not . . . the presence, absence, or decay of any part of parts of the human system.” These are effects. “To remedy this state of things we have not to seek to build up materiality, but to aim at once to call to our aid the power of spirit.” Then “with what agents should we approach these mental causes? Matter . . . does not control or move mind. It is mind that controls and moves matter.” Things do appear to become simpler as we learn more about them. “Now, the names [sic] of disease is legion, but we trace them to one cause, and for them we have but one cure.” She comments, “It is too often the case that people reverence what they do not understand”, and this certainly applies to medicine. She then nails her colors to the mast: “But whatever may be said of the other sciences, we deny that the science of medicine, as a curative or preventive system, has advanced one step—and this is because the agents it employs are false.” The study of medicine divides the human system into four parts: “With the first two, anatomy and physiology, we have no quarrel, but against pathology and therapeutics we proclaim a bold and open war. The practice of medical men . . . has been fraught with incalculable mischief to the health of the community.” Some have been honest enough to admit it.
Root concludes the chapter by describing how physicians accept the notion that certain diseases have certain symptoms and require certain drugs in certain quantities and with certain methods:
[I]f, through the vitality of the patient or by the power of mind, a cure is effected, he tries to convince his patient that his recovery is entirely due to his careful administration of the prescribed drugs. Thus a false over-arching faith has grown in the efficacy of these poisons. The Israelites of old are no more to be condemned for their worship of the golden calf set up in the wilderness, than are the masses for their idolatry of the medical drugs set up amidst humanity in these days of enlightenment. We are endeavoring to wean them from their false faith, and point them to the only true God. The magicians have thrown down their rods, and now we throw down our rod of mind-cure, and it will swallow up all the rest.” (page 72)
Your humble servant adds that from the vantage point of the 21st century, it has gotten even worse, despite great breakthroughs in sanitation and understanding of the need for fresh air, sunshine, and wholesome food along with appropriate rest and exercise. Any industry or discipline that sweeps its mistakes under the rug, conceals what it knew and when, and disseminates flat-out falsehoods cannot learn from those mistakes and thereby prosper us all. Some wag once observed that a doctor covers his mistakes with sod, an architect with ivy, and a bride with mayonnaise.
To be continued.
February 28, 2017
More Healing Power of Mind
The New Thought movement did not acquire that name until 1895, since it took a while for it to take shape as a movement. We will see it referred to as mind power, mind cure, mental healing, or even (horrors!) “metaphysical science” to differentiate it from classic Christian faith healing or from various forms of physical treatment. Julia Anderson Root published Healing Power of Mind in San Francisco in 1884, followed by a second edition from Peoria, IL in 1886. It is entirely possible that our Henry (Henry Wood 1834-1909) came across one edition or the other in his search for healing. Conflicting information as to dates make it difficult to pin anything down, but Henry’s first book, Natural Law in the Business World, appeared in 1887. His first book dealing with New Thought principles was a work of fiction, Edward Burton, published in 1890. Unity co-founder Myrtle Fillmore’s healing was completed by 1888. Henry himself writes in 1908 that at age 54 (1888) he was a physical wreck seeking healing. He may have retired from business in 1868 but lived in Chicago until 1882; in any event, there is no record of his business dealings after 1868, when his firm suffered a devastating fire, well before the Great Fire of Chicago. The death of his young daughter in 1888, recorded in Boston, almost certainly contributed to his challenges.
In any case, make no mistake that the taproot of New Thought was Christian. We will later be encountering an entire chapter, “Scriptural Arguments”, in Root’s book. Unity at one time was know as Practical Christianity. Quimby was equally rooted in Scripture, and the Universalist influences on New Thought are well known. Many people added New Thought to their traditional Christian denominations. Our Henry had a Christian upbringing at Barre Academy, and there are numerous references to Christ in the Ideal Suggestions (see my Sunny Apartments: The Thought of Henry Wood 1834-1909 (2016), available in softcover or Kindle editions from Amazon. These early New Thoughters may have been liberal in their Christianity, but Christian they were indeed.
Resuming our introductory study of Root, we find her stressing with all the science in her possession at the time, that the invisible is even more important than the visible:
[W]ith regard to the so-called material things, that it is the invisible mind that corrects and properly informs our sense; next, that of all things in the universe it is the unseen which has power, that moulds and fashions the things which are seen, and that it alone endures forever. (page 38)
She continues to discuss man’s relation to God and creation, stating that humans must throw aside intellectual pride and become, as Jesus taught, as little children, teachable:
Jesus taught this doctrine. He proclaimed that God acted through Him, that God spake through Him and that if we wanted to see God that we could do so in Him, and in ourselves when we thought and believed as He did. . . . He himself tells us, that His power was from God. He never spake of disease as difficult or dangerous. He never employed drugs of any description. In fact, He in all cases implied that the cure from these diseases was not to be found in visible matter, but in invisible mind. . . . Whenever Christ used the word faith, He evidently gave to it a meaning and power that were more potent for good than that possessed by all the other human powers combined. He spoke of faith as a law of God as real in its operation as the law of gravitation or any other law by which this universe is guided and governed. (page 44)
She goes on to discuss what Jesus meant by our being one with God, citing specifically John 10: 30, 17: 11, 17: 21, among many others. Then we are treated to a gem of a chapter on the laws of nature, responding to questioners:
[W]e work in accordance with the laws of God, and not in opposition to them. The only difference between us is, that we call to our aid the laws of invisible mind, not the laws that bind and govern material drugs. There are men calling themselves philosophers, who write very learnedly about the laws of nature—they use technical terms and reason after the most approved scholastic methods of logic—but though they turn their logic mills very artistically, yet they do not grind us out one kernel of nourishing corn. . . . After all the learned treatises that have been written about the laws of nature, what do we know of them, what can we say of them? The only complete definition that we can give of the laws of nature is, that they are the laws which produce the phenomena of nature. We cannot go behind them, and we cannot explain the why or the wherefore of either the laws or the phenomena. (page 48)
She explains nicely in the terms available to her:
We are accustomed to say that the laws of nature act with unerring uniformity. But what do we know of their uniformity? That uniformity may be cut off or abrogated by the intervention of some other law. . . . It is a law of nature that if water is subjected to a certain cold temperature that it will become solid ice, but that law will be rendered inoperative and overcome by the warm rays of the sun. They are both equally the laws of nature, though acting apparently in opposite directions. These examples will serve as illustrations of the fact that there is no such thing as constant uniformity in the operation of any law. Other laws are brought into play that render these laws inoperative. So that we can lay down no laws for nature and say that they are never contravened. All we can do is to observe the operations, record them, and learn wisdom and humility. (pages 49-50)
And it’s nearly another 20 years till heavier-than-air flight!
“Now what do we know of the laws of mind? We answer, almost nothing.” Well, today, we have the benefit of a lot of research in psychology, not to mention the work of Whitehead and his followers. But we still must be “sure that our minds are one with God, so in proportion to our understanding of the laws of mind, and faith in their power, we shall be enabled to overcome all other laws and effect cures. . . . for we hold that in the direction of our work all things are possible with God.”
To be continued.
Healing Power of Mind (Julia Anderson Root)
If you have been following this little odyssey for the past few months, you will recall some of the discussions—particularly David Ray Griffin—on the subject of modern metaphysics, concluding by noting that the only constructive postmodern metaphysics is process thought; the rest are all destructive. Oh, they promise to rebuild after they have wrecked things, but somehow they never do. Before postmodern, Griffin took us through early and late modernity, when first God was kicked upstairs to protect him from the sorcerers, and then, when people just couldn’t swallow such supernaturalism, they turned to atheistic materialism in the name of science. If you weren’t a materialistic atheist, you weren’t scientific.
Meanwhile, in a quiet corner of New England, far from the madding crowd, P.P. Quimby was healing people, sometimes in cooperation with the medical doctors; more commonly, just one on one with his patients, disputing with them the idea that they needed to be sick. Since his time, we have learned that the tendency of the subconscious is lifeward, which supports his whole approach. Remove the sick ideas and the body sets to work to heal itself as the Creator designed it to do. A positive mental attitude and a healthful environment (food, water, air, exercise, rest) are also vital. Quimby believed that he had rediscovered the lost healing methods of Jesus.
Quimby’s patients for many years assisted him in attempting to write a book on how he cured and what his underlying philosophy was. Warren Felt Evans, another Quimby patient, is credited with the first book about Quimby’s mind cure method. Evans did cure people, but he slid off into Swedenborgianism, and I don’t know whether he was trying to train others in his methods. In any event, what eventually came to be known as the New Thought movement had its origins with Quimby as a healing movement, healing by the power of thought as differentiated from faith healing (petitionary prayer to God to set his rules aside and intervene for the sick person). Later, people realized that the same principles could heal pocketbooks and relationships as well.
According to Horatio W. Dresser, son of two Quimby patients who met in his offices and later married, one of the earliest authors in the San Francisco area was Julia Anderson Root, whose book (mentioned here a couple of weeks ago) was first published there in 1884. The second edition was prefaced in Peoria, Ill., August 1, 1886. From the Introduction:
[M]ost people allow certain privileged classes to do their thinking for them, and as a consequence we are surrounded by an atmosphere of mental and moral slavery. More particularly is this true of diseases and their remedies. Now, we want the moral courage that will dare to cut aloof from these old medical traditions, and take this matter of health and disease into our own hands. . . .
All the blessings that we enjoy under the names of civil and religious liberty, all the improvements that have taken place in science, have sprung from the small minority of daring and advanced thinkers. It is sad to think how large a number of men do their thinking by proxy, which is the same as saying they do not think at all. . . . It is mind that is everything, and before its powers matter is as nothing. It is this great truth that we shall endeavor to set forth in the following pages. (2nd ed, pages 3-5)
Sadly, things do not appear to have changed much today.
Numerous attempts have been made to reduce principles of healing to psychological principles, leaving out God entirely and marketing the result as American success literature. Sometimes that seems to work—for a while, but then the minute it hits a speed bump, it all comes unglued. Root instead offers us a fresh perspective on God, beginning with Genesis 1: 26, 27:
We must put a reasonable and intelligent construction upon these sentences. Man cannot be made in the image and likeness of God in power and intelligence. The finite cannot be like the infinite. God is not limited in knowledge and goodness, but man is. But man may be like unto God in the essence of his being, because he is a spark of the celestial fire. . . . And though man is in one sense the image and likeness of God yet he is not like God in all things, for He has infinite and eternal powers not possessed by man. Nevertheless, this divine likeness, or, if we may so call it, this divine kinship, should awaken in the breast of every man a conscious grandeur of his divine origin and mission. (pages 18-19)
Root goes on to point out that eyes and ears do not see or hear, but are instruments that convey impressions to the mind:
Look at a human body when the life has departed from it. All the organs are there—the nerves are still in existence, but there is no sensation, and the body, whether you dissect it or burn it, can suffer no pain. And why? Because the invisible power that felt, that saw, heard and performed all the other powers, has departed. . . . [M]atter , in itself, has no intelligence nor feeling, and does not possess even the power of motion. . . . Brain is the organ of the mind. It does not produce mind, but is acted upon by it. The body does not produce life, but is acted upon and vivified by it. . . . [W]e know of no limit that the invisible mind, when used under the powers of science, has over matter. In one sense we may call it all-powerful. (pages 29-30)
Much later, Whitehead would explain that a dead body or a rock, though dead itself, is an aggregate of living experiences. Those experiences are mental in nature. Our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909) makes a similar point to Root’s about dead bodies, which are unaffected by chemicals such as drugs. Root emphasizes the difference between organic and inorganic, which is fine as far as it goes, but we need the later elaboration of Whitehead and his followers, with God present in each occasion of experience as its initial aim and hence, everywhere present.
Root winds up her chapter by citing some of the old research that endeavored to demonstrate that there was no life in matter. She then concludes:
When man possesses spiritual understanding he will instantly perceive that he is distinct from his physical body and the material universe. Man does not derive his strength and glory from his body or brain. “As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God. He is nourished by unfailing fountains, and is fed according to his need by inexhaustible powers.” (page 34)
As our Henry later pointed out, “I RULE THE BODY”.
To be continued.
February 14, 2017
Healers and Metaphysics
Before we get started, happy Valentine’s Day! King Hildebrand poked his red-crowned royal head into the ladies’ dressing room on the day of the last performance of Princess Ida to supply us with a huge heart full of assorted delicious caramel and fruit chocolates accompanied by a note explaining that they were from all the gents in the cast. Although men have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards chocolate, research (can’t you just picture it?) shows that women invariably go nuts over it. A highly satisfied female contingent trod the boards that day.
With all the rancor in the world lately, it is lovely to be observing a day for celebrating love, to walk into the stores and be greeted by huge varieties of ways to say “I love you” to various special people in our lives.
Returning to the topic of healing, which we began investigating last week, it should be clear to anyone with an interest in philosophy that one’s underlying metaphysical system has a very great deal to do with healing. If you embrace a system of metaphysics that doesn’t allow for healing by one means or another, you are up a creek without a paddle. This would include any system that didn’t accept the existence of thought. To put a floor under this, let’s go back to chapter 2 of Alan’s and my little New Thought primer, to a section written almost entirely by the Philosopher:
Is There a Metaphysician in the House?
The endless rational search for the deepest level of truth is what philosophers call metaphysics. This is one of the most often misidentified or variously labeled birds in the linguistic woods. New Thoughters often refer to New Thought as metaphysics and to themselves as metaphysicians. This is disconcerting to anyone who is educated in philosophy. In that discipline, metaphysics is the branch that deals with the basic nature of all that is. The term goes back to Andronicus of Rhodes, who arranged the writings of Aristotle (382-322 B.C.) A few centuries after Aristotle’s death. Andronicus put the writings that Aristotle called First Philosophy or Theology AFTER the writings on physics, hence META physics : after physics. So the term had a very prosaic original meaning. In the traditional sense, to call someone a metaphysician says that the person is interested in the topic of metaphysics. It does not tell us which beliefs about reality the person selects.
Many people use the term metaphysics to suggest attention exclusively to a realm beyond the physical, but metaphysicians traditionally have sought to understand that realm and the more familiar one by explanations that may or may not go beyond physics. Metaphysicians seek that which could not be otherwise, irrespective of whatever appearances it may take.
If metaphysicians believe that everything in the universe is really matter, they are called materialists. If they believe that everything in the universe is really mind or ideas, they are called idealists. If they believe that mind and matter are equally real, they are called dualists (and a few less complimentary things). . . . [The parenthetical statement was added by the editor.] (New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, rev. ed. 2003, pages 14-15)
So a study of metaphysics has to include the whole ball of wax: the physical world plus every thing “beyond” it. You should readily see that some sort of idealism is probably going to be the most useful in any sort of spiritual healing effort. Don’t forget to include the cleaned-up version of idealism that is found in process thought: panentheism. It dovetails nicely with the findings of quantum physics and other scientific sources. At the same time, if your metaphysics does not exclude such beings as angels (“God’s messengers”, “beautiful thoughts”), they can help keep your thoughts shepherded onto what you want and off of what you don’t want. They can also be very useful in areas where existing science falls short. Philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote an entire book titled The Angels and Us, in which he argues in great and glorious detail why it is perfectly philosophically sound to postulate the existence of such orders of being as angels, who have a long and extensive history in numerous religions. But then he ends up by saying that he just doesn’t happen to believe in them himself. Talk about beating your head against the wall! The fact that no angel was ever recorded as giving him some sort of richly deserved zap would seem to support the ideas that angels do not intervene unless asked and are totally supportive of human struggles, however short of the mark they may fall.
I don’t propose to get into any detailed discussion of the three main metaphysical positions listed above, because we have already done that over and over, but if you are interested, go back and read New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality again. What I do propose is to have a look at the head-led approaches of various New Thought and other healers, because if you do indeed “change your thinking”, you can change your life to a much healthier one, or help your fellow creatures along the path.
February 7, 2017
New Thought and Healing
The New Thought movement, which did not acquire that name until 1895, began as a system of healing variously referred to as mental healing, mind-cure, or metaphysical science, with a taproot running back to Jesus of Nazareth and even earlier. Julia Anderson Root, who as a little girl knew Quimby, observes:
In all ages of the world there have been persons who have cured diseases that learned medical practitioners have pronounced incurable. These cases have been effected by the power of mind, and we are confident, from our own experience, that the more this invisible agent is brought to bear upon the human system, the less sickness and suffering we shall have in the world. . . . It is sad to see the lives of so many of God’s children embittered by disease when the remedy lies in their own hands. (Healing Power of Mind, 2nd ed, 1886, pages v-vi).
Beyond question, the “father” of New Thought (for he was not a minister and did not seek to found a church), was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866), who only sought to heal as many people as possible by the method that he had stumbled onto through his own keen interest in such science as was available then, combined with his own discoveries. The practice of medicine at the time left a great deal to be desired; as the Philosopher and I noted:
In order to understand Quimby’s interest in mesmerism, we must note that this was the Age of Heroic Medicine, of leeches and lancing, of calomel and belladonna, of doctors who probably killed more than they cured. In desperation, people would turn anywhere in search of help. After he became involved in healing, Quimby remarked that people “send for me and the undertaker at the same time; and the one who gets there first gets the case.” Then too, this was an age extraordinarily interested in this relatively new and fascinating thing called science. (New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, 2nd ed, pages 26-27).
Sadly, things aren’t a great deal better today. Yes, there have been some great strides made in science, leading to the prevention of many diseases through better sanitation, having doctors wash their hands between patients, greater knowledge about proper nutrition, and greater access to fresh air and sunshine. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes, M.D. observed, “If all the drugs were cast to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.” And French surgeon Ambroise Paré commented, “Je le pansai, Dieu le guérit” (I bandaged him and God healed him). All too often, medical arrogance instead of this sort of humility costs lives. Also, people stuff themselves with assorted very harmful junk foods, being reassured by vested interests in food and agriculture that they are fine. Individually, we are the experts on our own bodies and need to pay attention to what those bodies are telling us, as well as keeping up with the knowledge that comes from alternative medicine, coupled with conventional medicine where appropriate. But doctors and drugs should be a last resort, not a first. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained M.D., famously stated that subtle manifestations of illness precede gross ones, at a point when they can be nipped in the bud. All too often, we ignore these subtle warnings and press on in the face of assorted stresses. Wisdom, according to New Thought minister and author Emmet Fox, is a blend of love and intelligence. Information—raw data—only becomes wisdom when it is duly processed.
In the absence of the proper positive frame of mind, none of the above is of much use. New Thought is “the religion of healthy-mindedness”, according to William James. Mainly, healthy-mindedness involves the belief that healing can and will happen. Jesus said in several ways, “Thy faith hath made thee whole”. By faith, he obviously meant not believing that it couldn’t be done, rather than whether you believe in the Great Pumpkin or the Tooth Fairy. He spoke of little faith, which means part-time faith, rather like a lamp with a loose wire. New Thought teaching helps us listen for the still, small voice, opening a channel through which God can reach us. Alan liked to remind us, “What God can do, God is already doing.” Opening that channel might mean anything from encountering the person with the wisdom to help us, reading an article with useful information, meditation of some sort, and/or fresh air and sunshine, coupled with relaxation. New Thought (Science of Mind) founder Ernest Holmes liked to say, “Change your thinking, change your life.” The prayers of others, particularly when we are too sick in mind or body to pray for ourselves, “availeth much”. Prayers of thanksgiving for healing that we know is on the way, or affirmative prayers rather than petition (“Pleeeease”!), are helpful. Process thought teaches that God is the great exemplar rather than the great exception; he doesn’t only grant prayers when enough people plead hard enough, like the Parable of the Unjust Judge. There is a ton of New Thought literature available to help us get to the proper frame of mind, and among the earliest is the work of our Henry (Henry Wood, 1834-1909). In the next few weeks, I will be exploring some other authors; meanwhile, there is my new book about the thought of our Henry, Sunny Apartments, available in softcover and Kindle editions through Amazon by clicking on the links.
Next week: What metaphysics has to do with health and healing.
January 31, 2017
A Practical American Spirituality
When Mike Leach, the then-publisher of The Crossroad Publishing Company, asked the Philosopher and me to write a New Thought primer, we were thrilled! Mike, a staunch Roman Catholic, had had a New Thought grandmother and was hence far more familiar with New Thought than most. He was also familiar with Alan’s impeccable academic credentials in philosophy and religion. My function was to prevent the whole project from vanishing into the clouds, keeping it down to earth for the general public while maintaining respectable academic standards.
We immediately set to work, outlining the chapters to be included and dividing them between us, each of us drafting half of them, then trading off for editing. When the book first appeared, our friends amused themselves by trying to figure out who had written what. It took two cracks at it to come up with the “Something New in New Thought” chapter about process thought in a form that Mike could follow, but we did it!
The first (Crossroad) edition featured a blue-skies dust jacket with a lovely picture of a Roman Catholic church. The blue skies were to reassure New Thoughters that this was indeed a book about what philosopher/psychologist William James called “the religion of healthy-mindedness”; the church was to reassure Roman Catholics that their distinguished publisher had not lost his mind! There aren’t just hordes of New Thought Roman Catholics, but there are some out there, mostly keeping a low profile. I like to remind people that Unity minister Dell DeChant, who also happens to be a professor of philosophy and religion at USF, recommends the Catholic Personal Study Edition of the Fireside New American Bible for New Thoughters. I like to go back and forth between it and my battered old KJV. More ministers from traditional religions are influenced by New Thought than you might imagine, especially by such publications as Unity’s Daily Word when they are hard up for sermon topics! If you recall the definition of New Thought that I cobbled together: habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline, it starts to make sense that this could be “leaven for the loaf” of traditional Christianity.
Alan drafted the Preface, and I think he wrote it last. It is virtually unchanged in the revised edition except that we are in a new century/millennium. It continues to amaze me how many people attending New Thought churches have never heard of New Thought, which title the movement has had since 1895. Here are some excerpts:
This is a book about a distinctive, yet typically American, outlook—a practical yet spiritual way of life. It is written for people who know little or nothing about New Thought and for those who have been in New Thought for years without finding out much about what it is or its relationship to the larger spheres of religion and philosophy.
The book is intended to be both informative and inspirational, but inspirational in a way that is directly useful in the workaday world—useful with regard both to understanding and to application. Most New Thought books, largely self-help books, make no use of the term New Thought and ignore a comprehensive perspective in which New Thought is most fully understood. This book places New Thought and its applications in a philosophical and historical background.
Probably most Americans, if not most people in the world, accept large parts of New Thought teachings, although they may never have heard of New Thought by name. People may make such remarks as “It’s all in your mind” or “If you believe you can, you can” (or its negative form, “If you believe you can’t, you’re right”), or even sing a bit of an old song that advises, “You’ve got to ac-centuate the positive, e-liminate the negative,” without realizing that they are echoing teachings associated with New Thought. Many have heard of positive thinking or even have read the book The Power of Positive Thinking by the late Norman Vincent Peale, or listened to or read Robert Schuller on possibility thinking; all without knowing that they are absorbing New Thought a step or two away from the direct expressions.
New Thought is a do-it-yourself religion or spirituality, in the sense that you have to remake your own beliefs/attitudes/expectations, to take responsibility for where you are now if you are to be able to get to where you want to be in the future. But to say do-it-yourself is not to say do-it-by-yourself. The prime belief of New Thought is that God is here and is directly available for anyone who chooses to co-create constructively with him. So New Thought is really an allow-God-to-do-it-with-you spirituality. . . . New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003), pages xi-xii.
The taproot of New Thought is unquestionably Judeo-Christian. Its teachings are Biblically supported. All but one of the founders of its major denominations were Christians. Many people, especially in New Age, have attempted to secularize its principles and set them forth as some sort of secret success teachings. That may work temporarily here and there, but it omits the basis of good character; and without the vital co-creation of Ultimate Actuality, a. k. a. God, what is to keep one going during the inevitable rough patches?
If you are new to New Thought and puzzled by its origins, its twists and turns, I invite you to try our little primer, available from Amazon in softcover and Kindle editions. New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality
January 24, 2017
Is God Like Mathematics?
Two weeks ago, the Sunday Quimby quote was titled “Foundation of Religious Belief”, which begins on page 283 of your handy dandy Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond. What? You don’t have a handy dandy copy? You can get one from here, or sign up for the free daily dose of Quimby wisdom at http://www.ppquimby.com/contact/quotes.htm. Anyway, the excerpt for that day concerned beliefs, which of themselves cannot heal you no matter how strong or orthodox they may be. Quimby states:
Why does not your God cure you? Is it for want of faith on your part? If that is the case, then faith is the cure, so if you have the cure that is your faith. Faith is not wisdom but the substance or cure. Like water to the thirsty soul, it is his cure, but wisdom leads him to the fount of living water so that he will not thirst. Then his faith will be lost in sight for his wisdom prevents his thirst. Therefore to know God is to get wisdom, but to be separated from God is to be religious and believe that there is a fountain of water large enough to quench the thirst of everyone if they can find it. This is religion. But to the wise, it is to know this fountain is in yourself, a well of water springing up into everlasting wisdom. Then you will ask of this wisdom, and just as you understand, you will receive and your wisdom will teach you that you cannot ask of wisdom by your belief and have your prayers answered. God is like mathematics, for mathematics is wisdom put into practice or reduced to man’s comprehension. To receive an intelligent answer in mathematics, you must ask in wisdom, not in opinion, and just according to your wisdom, the answer comes. (page 284)
You may have to read this over several times before you really comprehend it; nobody ever said that Quimby was easy going! He himself said that his explanations would make sense only to the sick, for the well did not need a physician (words of Jesus, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31, Matt 9:12). Quimby’s writings are larded with quotations from Scripture, almost never with citations (I looked these up for you; you’re welcome, but for now on you will have to spot them on your own and chase them down). In the passage just quoted above, you may recognize the scene between Jesus and the woman at the well recounted in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. The woman at first doesn’t understand that Jesus is not speaking of literal water but of water that “shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life”. Quimby, like any other author, has the right to supply his own definitions, provided he is internally consistent in them; but it causes his readers to backtrack repeatedly until they understand what he is agreeing with or disagreeing with.
But he is telling us that beliefs aren’t worth a tinker’s curse! So why is he seeming to give us definitions, presumably to be installed as beliefs? He is trying to help us break free of nineteen (now twenty) centuries of old beliefs that are downright harmful so much of the time. So was Jesus, while at the same time trying to retain what was good in Judaism. We just went over a lot of that towards the end of last year in the series of columns on David Griffin’s book God and Religion in the Postmodern World (1989). Griffin was explaining about the two halves of modernity and how the extreme beliefs of the first half led to the even worse beliefs of the second half. Quimby liked to refer to God as Wisdom, an impersonal abstraction. He is not saying that we have to do likewise, just giving us a fresh perspective. To believe in a personal God used to automatically involve a bunch of anthropomorphic ideas that interfered with our spiritual growth. The Philosopher and I have repeatedly raised the notion that personal is a floor, not a ceiling, that personhood is the highest thing that we humans have any notion of, and so God as Creator must be at least that. But personal and impersonal are beliefs, which in and of themselves aren’t going to get us anywhere. If contemplating them leads us to be more open to understanding how to contact that living water, that is growth in wisdom. Emmet Fox liked to define wisdom as a blend of love and intelligence. Intelligence—raw data—won’t get you very far, except possibly into trouble. The point is that it doesn’t really matter whether you believe xyz or pqr, as long as you are open minded and don’t believe that what you desire can’t happen. Remember the healing of the centurion’s servant.
Process thought will give you a place to stand while contemplating the universe with religion and science united, for it insists on a God inside of us humans, not in outer space somewhere. That’s where we get the term pan-en-theism. We are en theos.
Later in this selection, Quimby states:
All wisdom is outside of man’s opinion and belief and that which does not come to his senses is to him a mystery. So the mystery is his God. To know the mystery is to know God, and when the mystery is understood, the religion vanishes. One great trouble comes from teaching us to believe in a overruling providence in the shape of a God who will answer our desires without our making any effort. It makes man indolent and superstitious and a burden on society. (page 285)
If you take religion to be the set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality and remember that atheism is a religion that has no Ultimate Reality or worships the laws of physical science, this all starts to shake down. Meanwhile, God goes right on being God.
January 17, 2017
New Thought, New Shoots
January is named for the Roman god of the doorway, Janus, who is traditionally pictured with two faces: one facing forward, one backward. It well behooves us to honor this ancient god by looking back to our roots and forward to our shoots as the new year begins, which we have been doing for three weeks now. We look back to our roots to determine what we have been doing right, that has worked out well and that we should be continuing. We also look back at what has not worked, or not worked as well as we might have liked, so that we can jettison it and make a new start. Here is the appropriate time to carefully entertain new ideas, not in order to junk all and start over, but to sort out what to keep and what to lose, then freshen the keepers with new ideas. Reminder: all novelty comes from God, our Creator, who offers us perfect possibilities for the start of each new forming occasion of experience. It is up to us what from the past to keep and what to discard.
Religious Science churches—which may have assorted other names today, but owe their New Thought origin to Ernest Holmes—traditionally devoted the first few weeks of the new year to reviewing the Science of Mind textbook. Alan came from a Religious Science background and had a hand in founding one or two Religious Science churches, at one of which both he and I were frequently invited to speak, so I have had a crack at digging out roots and encouraging shoots. Unity and Divine Science, the other two historic divisions of New Thought, had their own ways of accomplishing the same end. Holmes was very outspoken about his respect for P. P. Quimby, and the Fillmores acknowledged that heritage as well, as clearly recounted by Neal Vahle in Appendix Two to his biography of Myrtle Fillmore, Torch-Bearer to Light the Way. The admirable Emma Curtis Hopkins can be looked to as the founder of New Thought as a sociological movement, but without P.P. Quimby, there would have been no Emma Curtis Hopkins, so don’t get the cart before the horse. Two New Thought scholars, brought together in what had been billed as a giant rumble, irenically agreed on this point: one was my household Philosopher; the other was religious studies scholar and Hopkins expert Gail Harley. However you may have gotten into New Thought, you need to investigate its roots (one simple primer is our New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, rev. ed. 2003, available from Amazon in softcover or Kindle editions). Now, let’s look at some shoots.
The biggest single shoot is, of course, process philosophy, to replace and update previous metaphysical teachings. Atheistic materialism is passé; even though it still dominates our culture, stalking around like a zombie. Idealism needs an overhaul to correct it, which is what it gets in process philosophy. Pantheism, which has been widespread in New Thought, gets updated to panentheism by synergizing traditional theism with pantheism, the two being mutually corrective. Physics, “the king of sciences”, has turned into quantum physics, paving the way for Whitehead and his followers. People with their heads firmly screwed on figured out long ago that other views would have to change to accommodate these new understandings. We vary greatly in our ability to comprehend and pursue some of these ideas, but we need to go far enough to reassure ourselves that religion and science can indeed be united on solid ground: they meet on the lap of philosophy, specifically, process philosophy.
Another big bunch of new shoots comes from psychology, which always has a way of overlapping religion. I keep up with recent findings by reading Dr. Joseph Mercola’s daily column, available for free from his web site, www.mercola.com, the largest alternative wellness site. Research continues to pile up concerning the power of thought to affect the entire course of one’s life, from health to wealth to happiness. People who should get well don’t, and people who had been given up on recover, mostly because of the nature of their habitual thinking. Near-miracles happen in all areas of life when one continues to focus on one’s heart’s desire, always leaving God some wiggle room, of course. One’s metaphysical position, even if not identified as such, has a lot to do with this. If you believe you can, or if you believe you can’t, you’re right! If you can find a book or a teacher who keeps you optimistic and upbeat, stay with him/her/it. But your beliefs must lead to habitual actions, most probably different from the ones you have had in the past (well, yes; you have to persevere, too). New Thought has always worked to justify belief in a good God, an abundant universe, and a set of moral guidelines seen as coming from that good God. Half of us lead with our intellects in substantiating such beliefs; the other half lead with our emotions, our feelings. Sooner or later, we will need both.
The latest upbeat habit I have heard about came yesterday from Joel Osteen’s Sunday morning tv talk. He has a mechanical button on the desk at which he writes his weekly talks, which were very difficult for him to write when he first took over from his late father. He somewhere acquired this button, which when pressed, audibly states, “That was easy!” He pressed it after completing each talk, and somehow, it sank in. Slowly but surely, writing his talks became easier. You might want to precede it by asking the question I picked up from somewhere else: “How easy, how simple, how absolutely delightful could I make this task?” You don’t really need the button if you can just acquire the habit of saying, “That was easy!” for yourself. With this approach, you might actually keep some of your new year’s resolutions!
January 10, 2017
New Thought, Old Roots
Last week, we took a brief look at the immediate roots of New Thought in the life’s work of P.P. Quimby. Depending on where you are coming from, you can go back and take a look at Universalism, or the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Any way, you will be confronted with the healing miracles of Jesus. One of the rotten old roots attempts to say that “that was then and this is now”, but that is not what Jesus said. He said, “Greater works than these shall ye do.” On top of that, he not only healed the sick; he raised the dead, and then God raised him! And God does not renege on his promises. Religious-type people who like to jerk other people around hastened to find ways to sweep all this under the rug. Even if they considered themselves faithful Christians, they mumbled things about special dispensation or some such to explain why they couldn’t do what Jesus said they would be able to do. But even Jesus couldn’t do many miracles where there was no belief on the part of the recipients to support them (Mark 6: 4-6).
Another root is the developments of early and late modernity as traced by David Ray Griffin in the series last year from 10/18-12/6. Early modernity stressed supernaturalism: it kicked God upstairs to keep him safe from the intrusions of the magicians and occultists. This pushed things to such an extreme that it was no trick for late modernity to demolish the whole shebang as unnecessary in a world of science. Much as we abhor this, we seem to be stuck with it at the moment: supernaturalism did itself in, and atheistic materialism has infested our entire culture.
But not so fast: postmodern philosophy—what’s left of philosophy being mostly deconstructive and falling on its own sword—stubbornly has to include the one constructive postmodern philosophy: process thought. I like to compare New Thought principles to a magnificent old mansion resting on rotten foundation timbers (ok, underneath them is the rock). All that is necessary is to jack the old house up and substitute sound timbers in order to restore New Thought to the life-changing promise that it inherited from Jesus. Don’t be silly; of course you can’t turn Jesus into a process philosopher, but process thought is foreshadowed in all sorts of places, from Heraclitus (“You can’t step into the same river twice”) on down. God knows what he’s doing! And don’t forget that Jesus was a good Jew, and all Christians are first of all Jews, even though most of them don’t realize it. That is a very long and distinguished history, even though it is pockmarked with assorted ways of falling off the path, since it always involved human beings.
So one of our biggest present-day tasks is to go back, prune away the rotten roots of New Thought, and water the good roots that have been allowed to wither under the influence of the Zeitgeist. What good roots? The biggest of all is the example of our Wayshower: “Greater things than these shall ye do”. The second biggest is the character ethic. Chapter 7 of New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003) deals with it at length as part of a discussion of New Thought critics, particularly Richard Huber, who studied American success literature from Benjamin Franklin on down. In that chapter, Alan and I remarked, “Success literature after Franklin and his early nineteenth-century successors is almost entirely based on New Thought principles, whether or not they are identified as such. Huber’s criticism, therefore, is implicitly of New Thought . . . .” He pointed out the absence of the character ethic from the literature of the past fifty years or so. We commented:
Huber points out that writers such as Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) concentrated on what he calls the personality ethic, making oneself pleasing and influential to others. Character, on the other hand, involves qualities such as integrity, fairness, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and service to others. . . .
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. (pages 167-168)
And it hasn’t gotten a bit better in the past 13 years! But, we continued: “Happily, another writer has made a study of the success literature and noted the absence of emphasis on the character ethic. Unlike Huber, he offers a simple remedy: Put it back.” He is Stephen Covey, author of the immortal best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Our book—in softcover and Kindle editions—is available from Amazon, as is Covey’s. Covey, a business management professor for many years, stressed that you can’t divide your life into watertight compartments, separating your family life from your work life; sooner or later, difficulties in one spill over into the other. To get it all together on a good-character base allows you to grow spiritually and re-energizes you. In our book, we noted:
The founders of New Thought all postulated good character; they simply took it for granted. The 1903 Constitution of the New Thought Federation (a forerunner of the International New Thought Alliance) included the phrase “health, happiness, and character.” . . . . References to the importance of the character ethic are frequently found in New Thought literature. But the writers didn’t dwell on character or single it out for special attention. The emphasis in New Thought has been on the freedom that it offers those who have felt oppressed by some traditional religions and on undoing some of the damage that negative, limited thinking has done in people’s lives. In the process of showing pity to victims, it may at times have neglected to emphasize the importance of strong character as the principal means of taking control of one’s life and ending victimhood once and for all. 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. (pages 168-169)
January 3, 2017
New Thought, New Start
Everybody loves the idea of a fresh start, the idea that the old slate can be wiped clean of errors and we can hit the reset button. At the same time, we rely heavily on past learnings and past successes; we really don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. Can we have our cake and eat it too? Absolutely! We just have to be willing to go into an empty space where we can sort things out, deciding what to let go of and what to keep. Easier said than done, yes, but so well worth doing now and then.
“There’s nothing new in New Thought.” Yes, and no: New Thought is a new perspective on the millennia-old Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible captures the history of humankind’s struggle to understand God. God is this; no; he’s that; and all the time, God goes right on being God. Most of us are quite familiar with many of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of religion, many of them in direct opposition to what was supposedly being taught; in this case, love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. The background changes, especially once we reach modernity and then—God help us—postmodernity. Once technology gets going, everything speeds up except our ability to think it all through and sort it out. We are all too willing to follow the latest attractive fad or the latest attractive leader who seems to have all the answers, and forget all that we learned from our mistakes and the mistakes of other humans, which is why it is vital that we all study history. Or we just sweep it all under the rug and pretend that we don’t make mistakes, which is the biggest mistake of all.
The founders of the United States of America were either themselves—or the children of—people who were seeking first for religious freedom, freedom to worship as they pleased. They were mostly Christians of various stripes, with a sprinkling of Jews. But no matter what their individual beliefs, they all united under an approach to government derived from Judeo-Christian principles. They had enormous disagreements along the way, but they synergized it all into a set of checks and balances that protected the whole, never forgetting that the individual states’ rights must be preserved at the same time that there must be sufficient central government to accomplish the relatively few but important things that states could not do for themselves separately. Yes, things came up that the founders could not have foreseen, but the overall system for handling them was in place. And they left detailed accounts (the Federalist Papers) of what they meant by what was compiled into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments, which were necessary to answer certain concerns of the individual states before they were willing to ratify the Constitution). The Constitution in turn had been crafted out of the Declaration of Independence. It included the means of amending it as needed, but only with considerable difficulty, so that people would think long and hard before they altered it. The founders had pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to this new nation, and they made good on that pledge, if you read their histories. Has this nation made its share of mistakes? Unquestionably, and at the same time, it has arguably done more good for the planet and its people than any other nation in the history of the world.
Into this climate of freedom such as the world had never known before came New Thought, a philosophico-religious movement springing up in mid-nineteenth-century New England. Its father—for he did not seek to found a religion—was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a man of average education for the time, with a bright mind inclined toward science. He was a clockmaker and repairer by trade, who held several patents. He was a charter member of the local Universalist church. He became interested in healing, for himself and others, and quickly concluded that people were being harmed by the beliefs they picked up from those he labeled “priests and doctors”. Bottom line: people’s beliefs were making them sick, and “my explanation is the cure”. He constantly quoted the Bible and was very familiar with it. At this point in time, people were just beginning to learn about environmental things that were harmful and could be corrected; well and good. But the main difference we are seeing is that Quimby was an idealist: he believed that the basic building blocks of the universe are thoughts/ideas, and that “material stuff” was the result, denser and much harder to change than the original thought. We have traced the history of these developments in the past year in these columns. Quimby saw what later became known as New Thought as leaven for the loaf of existing churches much more than as a new denomination. Today we have both; take your pick.
A hundred years later came what is known as New Age, which is generally dated to the time people took their clothes off on stage in a performance known as Hair. New Age, according to its own experts, is a hodgepodge of ideas and activities, some of which overlap New Thought, most of which do not. At the turn of this century, many New Thoughters including yours truly expected New Thought to dominate as being based on a more solid and consistent set of values. Sadly, that has not happened, at least not yet. New Age cannot be said to be “bad”; for one thing, it is so convoluted that it is hard to identify one thing as good or bad. But it does not warrant your faith and allegiance, and it definitely should not be confused with New Thought! Youthful curiosity is a good thing, but youths must eventually grow up. Dilettantes we don’t need more of.
Backing up a bit, this country was founded on a burning desire for religious freedom, but there are many people who want to force others into their religious straitjackets. Religion by definition is “a set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality”. Most of us would spell Ultimate Reality G-O-D, but atheism is also a religion, which holds that there is no Ultimate Reality. Scientism is a religion whose tenets are the laws of the physical universe. Many proponents of those two religions are trying to cram them down everybody else’s throats and in some cases to prevent others from the free expression of their religions. Whatever may be the truth about Islam as a religion, there are Islamofascists who seek to inflict their beliefs on everyone else and barbarically punish those who do not believe as they do. The founders could not have disagreed more: multifaith services were held in the Capitol in Washington, DC from Day One of its existence. Small towns frequently arranged multifaith services or rotating use of public space for different religious observances. Thomas Jefferson was particularly associated with such practices.
Moving forward again, New Thought quickly expanded from its beginnings as a practice for healing bodies to a means of healing pocketbooks and relationships as well. The principles are the same; it all begins in mind, as Jesus and his spiritual forefathers had taught. At the same time or shortly thereafter, advances in science brought us quantum physics and other breakthroughs. Pioneers in uniting those new findings with philosophy and with spiritual development were Alfred North Whitehead and his colleague, Charles Hartshorne. Summarized under the name of process-relational thought, this philosophy in harmony with science provides a far more adequate basis for building a religion than any heretofore. My household Philosopher, C. Alan Anderson, Ph.D., who was an ordained New Thought minister as well as a professor of philosophy and religion, spent most of his professional life endeavoring to illustrate the great synergy possible by uniting New Thought and process thought. If Process New Thought Philosophy seems like too much of a mouthful to you, perhaps you would prefer Alan and Deb’s Pretty Good Religion, with apologies to Garrison Keillor! If you are happy with your present religion, it can serve as leaven for the loaf. If you are looking for a new religion, be our guest: it is as close to a do-it-yourself religion as you are probably going to get.
So for a bright and promising 2017, let’s come up with an appropriate blend of roots and shoots, old and new, looking back to the past and forward to the future. The essence of process thought, the creativity formula, as Alan liked to say, is PAST + DIVINE OFFER + CHOICE = CO-CREATION. It is neither heedless nor hidebound. God offers perfect possibilities tailor-made for each moment; the choice is ours. All creation is co-creation between God and us. We don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, nor do we continue to soak in a dirty tub. A steady stream of clean water eventually purifies even a miry cistern.
For more information about early New Thought, see my new book, Sunny Apartments: The Thought of Henry Wood (1834-1909). Available in softcover and Kindle editions through Amazon by clicking on the links.